Sunday, January 30, 2011

Bertie and Boo's

In Calgary there was a little tea shop I visited frequently. Oolong Tea House served as my sitting room away from home, my personal office space and my writers studio all in one. It is, in fact, one of my favourite places on this planet. I would arrive first thing in the morning, just as the staff were taking chairs off of tables. I'd take my place at the table in the front window, leaving my rucksack on my seat, before going to the tea wall to peruse the selection. They divide their tea into green, black and herbal. I'm not a fan of herbal as it usually smells delicious but tastes bitter or sour. I am a fan of green tea when the mood strikes me. But it's black tea that I adore and black tea I would order most often. I tried every flavour I could - Raspberry Black, Market Spice, Pacific Sun, Earl Grey Cream, Russian Caravan. Each pot was enjoyed over a conversation, the writing of a blog entry, editing of a novel or investigation into other artist's blogs.

I have been on the lookout for a similar space here in London since the day I arrived. I figured it would be an easy task as the requirements weren't terribly great. A tea shop with a nice atmosphere, excellent selection and free wireless.

I can't say I've been successful with this mission but today I did find a place that met quite a bit of the criteria. Bertie and Boo is a cafe, not a tea shop. There is a tea selection but it's your standard fare of Earl Grey, Darjeeling and green. But the staff are friendly and the space is cozy. There are a few sofas and some counters with high seats at them. The tables that dot the space are old wooden hinge-top desks. Today I ordered a Darjeeling (They were out of Earl Grey.), perched myself at one of these tables and pulled out Sheffield.

The writing course I'm on is less about editing and more about mini assignments to help work on your writing. I really did want something more editing based as I don't really need to explore how to write a conversation or create a character. I have a lot of characters and a lot of conversations. I have entire journals full of biographical information on the characters I've created. Most of my writing is about relationships so conversations are frequent and varied throughout. But from six to nine every Monday I'll be sat in a room with a group of fellow creatives and forced to focus on just one of my novels. In the remaining five weeks I plan to get this book completely filled out and edited to my own satisfaction, so I can then pass it along to someone else to edit. Today I began that editing.

It was lovely to sit there in that comfortable, cozy space, feeling the buzz of community around me whilst my written words held my attention. I'm starting to really get into this editing thing. It's far less intimidating and as I re-acquaint myself with a book I finished writing about three years ago I'm finding myself able to be critical when necessary and appreciative of what I've written really well. I'm also pleased that I've found a space in London where I feel comfortable working on my writing. I can hardly wait to go there again.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Manic Month

Wheel of Fortune progress
Justice progress
The Chariot progress

This past week has been manic! In fact, this entire year feels like it's been absolutely packed. I'm stunned that it's still January.

CS5 arrived last week. I uploaded it to my computer, fully ready to start the layout for an ad and the newsletter I've been assigned at my day job. I was absolutely giddy as I loaded it onto Sheffield (My laptop). Once that was finished I opened Finder so I could drop the icons onto my docking bar. I found Illustrator, Photoshop, Dreamweaver and Flash, but no InDesign. Picking up the box I scanned it for InDesign and realised the wrong CS5 have been ordered. Rather than Design Premium, I had Web Design Premium. I cursed and my manager asked what was up. I explained that the wrong version had come and it didn't have the program I needed in order to do layouts, create ads and develop informative material for the charity. Cool as anything, he said we'd just have to order it as a download from Adobe so I'd have it right away.

It wasn't a 'right away' thing but the faffing involved was minimal so by Thursday I had it successfully on my system and was able to begin the first few steps into being a graphic designer in a professional setting.

In addition to this development, my writing course began on Monday. It isn't what I'd expected from the course description but it's still beneficial in that it's getting me to spend three hours on my writing once a week. In fact, I'm finding myself thinking about writing more and more often. I am finding the return of a familiar feeling, one I've not experienced in such high doses for quite awhile. Its the feeling of tapping into another world, into the storytelling flow of my imagination. I've picked the first book I'm going to revisit and plan to use this course to fill it out and finish the required editing.

On top of that, I'm nearing the completion of the eighth book I've read in 2011. It's an absolutely brilliant book and I think every artist should read it. I use the term artist to mean anyone who creates. Whether you write, paint, draw, act, dance, or make music: The War of Art is essential reading. I cannot begin to explain how sensible, helpful and significant this book is. In everything I've done this week, from dinner at a friends to going to the Science Museum Lates, the book has not been far from my thoughts if not in my bag. This morning my partner and I went to Borough Market. On the train and over a second breakfast I kept talking with her about the concepts it was presenting to me. I only have a page left to read but I'm leaving it, as something to be enjoyed slowly. I don't doubt I'll just start reading from the start once I finish. I tend to turn certain books into 'bibles' for a time. They become an ultimate reference when their words are what I'm ready to hear. I feel very receptive to them and very positive about the energy they provide. The energy fueled my painting today. I have pushed on with all three of my final tarot cards and I'm really chuffed with what I've managed to accomplish today. My plot is to finish at least one of them in the next week. If all three could be done by the end of February that'd be smashing. Then it's just about planning a gallery showing and concentrating my energy on my writing.

...and so 2011 began, and it was good.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Next Big Thing

The past few weeks I've been working on my final three tarot cards in turn - The Chariot, Justice and The Wheel of Fortune. I usually split my time between two each time I set up to paint. Sometimes I focus more heavily on one for a few days, sometimes I add bits to all three. Either way, the progress is showing and I'm beginning to think about my next big project.

My followers and fans seem to be in the same mind-set, asking me what I plan to do next, hence this entry.

For just over two years I have endeavoured to complete the major arcana of a tarot deck in my own design on 24X36 inch canvases. I have worked on other pieces, such as my Buddha paintings and Dragon a Day project (I'll always dabble and potter and play), but this has been the all consuming thing on my mind as I go about my days. Not having it there doesn't worry me at all. The end of something is always the start of something new and we cannot hope to grow if we do not change our passions and focus.

Of course, sometimes it's about renewing an old passion, or a passion that has always been there but for whatever reason - fear, apprehension, uncertainty - has been put to one side as something to do later.

On Monday I attended my first ever course on writing. I signed up for it over the New Year break. It was described as an "advanced course for writers with a completed manuscript looking to improving their editing skills and prepare for publication." I have one piece which has been edited by someone other than myself. I have several other pieces I've begun to edit. I'm not focusing though and by spreading myself thin I know I'm successfully multitasking my way into not completing anything.

I say it again and again. I am a writer. I've always been a writer. But my soul will not be content until I'm an author, holding a published and bound book of my very own creation. step one has been signing up for this course. Step two is to pick one story, just one, to focus on for the next six weeks.

I will continue working on my paintings until my tarot cards are complete, but the next big project will not involve brush and canvas but pen and paper.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

London Journal - Art Everywhere

I love walking in London. The weather here is quite cold and grey in the winter, but occasionally the sun will come out and the urge for me to stretch my legs and wander the streets is impossible to ignore. I love hopping onto a double-decker bus, going to the top, and watching the world go by until I reach a place where I know I'm comfortable walking distance from some final destination. Or when I've spent the day going here and there and I've got a window of time to myself where I know I can easily walk to my next obligatory stop. This walk could be half an hour or two hours, but it always proves to be a fun result.

It's not just people watching, which I love, and it's not just the freedom of being outdoors in golden winter light under a bright, blue sky. It's the discovery of it all. I love coming around a corner and encountering some magnificent piece of graffiti on the side of a building. Or I'll see a stunning sculpture from afar and the closer I get the more excited I become. I discover little architectural gems or almost unnoticeable street art and it fills me with absolute joy.

I've said it before, the streets of London are an art gallery unto themselves.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Nigel the Marzipan Dragon

My C3 and C4 vertebrae are being pulled to one side due to poor posture as a result of too much time spent in front of a computer or leaning forward to paint a canvas. This, combined with the fact that I grind or clench my teeth when sleeping, has resulted in a five day headache. After a trip to the Physiotherapist I was told that the combination of injuries from my car accident two years ago, my jaw stress and tilt of my head is pinching a nerve and causing my suffering. In short, I need to take a break from the computer screen and canvas. Admittedly, this is something extremely difficult for me to do as I hate feeling lazy and I was quite looking forward to painting as much as possible this weekend. The universe is telling me to take a break, relax my muscles, and work on my posture.

But I was able to make something marvellous out of marzipan yesterday. This is Nigel, the Marzipan Dragon. Like all Marzipan creatures his one desire in life is to be consumed. Together with some lemon loaf he made a delightful dessert.
I think marzipan is one of the most magical substances I have ever encountered. Not only is it fantastic for sculpting, but it's also incredibly scrummy. If you can get your hands on some I really think you should and definitely have a go at making a dragon...or some other critter.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Link Sharing is awesome!

I got an email a few days ago from someone putting together a German based Tarot website. They'd found my website and wanted to know if they could write a review of my Major Arcana paintings and include a link to my site on theirs. I asked for them to send me a copy of what they would be writing, before it was published, just for my review. They sent me the google translation (Engrish lovers rejoice!) of what would be put on their site in German:

Today I would like to introduce you briefly paintings by Kaitlyn Hatch, is this is aseries of artworks for major arcana of the Tarot. Painted with acrylics on canvas, youmay well be the classic tarot - symbolism recognize, but which is enriched in highly creative background design by animal figures and evocative. The paintings are about 60 × 90 cm, and are commercially available to purchase on the website of the artist.Examples can be found below the hermit, the tower, and the High Priestess. In the case of interest - for picture may be subject to $ 800. Perhaps it is also once the mplementation of the card as a normal tarot deck?

How neat is that?

Sunday, January 9, 2011


I talk about Pema Chodron quite a lot on this blog. It was my psychologist who introduced me to her writing by recommending Start Where You Are. Since that first introduction I fell in love with her way of writing and sharing her thoughts with the world. Though we have never met I admire her spirit and the energy she shares through her interpretation of Buddhist teachings.

Another strong, inspiring woman my psychologist encouraged me to look up was Hazel Dooney. An Australian artist, Dooney is proof of what dedication to ones craft can result in. She accepts that she cannot help but be an artist and in doing so she accepts that it is her responsibility to make her life happen. She keeps a blog of her experience as a self made, self marketing creative. One of the reoccurring themes in her blog is her general distaste for art competitions.

Today my love for Pema Chodron's teaching and my respect for Hazel Dooney's convictions came together in what could have been a moment of utter frustration, the story of which started last year at about this time.

When I first arrived in London I was overcome with the abundance of opportunity. I had lived most of my life in a city who's population had only just reached one million. It has one museum, a small theatre block, a newly opened art space and a handful of art supply stores. Compared to London, home of the greatest theatre district in the world, over two hundred museums, countless galleries and dozens of art supply stores, Calgary is a wasteland. Don't get me wrong, I adore Calgary and it will always be my home, but London just has so much more! A trip on the Underground is a parade past posters, billboards, signs and video advertisements for music, film, theatre and art. I immediately began scanning and filing away the advertisements I was seeing, and thus I noticed the BP Portrait Awards. I looked it up and discovered a competition open to any artist over eighteen to submit a portrait which could be selected and displayed in
the National Portrait Gallery just off of Trafalgar Square. The deadline for entries was only a month off, however, and I knew rushing something just for the sake of submission wouldn't be a wise choice. Besides, it was a yearly competition so I could just wait until 2011.

Flash forward several months to the summer. My partner forwarded me an email regarding an opportunity to attend a portraiture painting class at the National Portrait Gallery. Hosted by Sadie Lee, it seemed like a wonderful way to spend a Saturday and without hesitation I paid the fee and signed up. I quickly discovered that Sadie was a past winner of the BP Portrait Award and that her painting had not only been selected for the NPG showing, but was used to advertise the event. She described the odd sense of uncomfortable pride experienced at seeing her portrait displayed on the back of double-decker buses and along the platforms of the Underground.

Her story renewed my desire to create a painting which could be submitted to the competition but I was still struggling with who I could paint. Inspired by Sadie's passion for female artists I focused my mind on creating sketches of inspiring women, putting any thoughts of portrait painting to one side. I figured it would come to me when it came to me and I'm a strong believer in not forcing creativity. As it happened, the decision of who to paint came only a few weeks later. I was sat out in the garden, enjoying the shelter of the pergola on an extremely glorious summer day. I'd been working on a few sketches at once, one being Pema Chodron. I finished the shading and pulled my camera out to take a shot for my blog. The more I looked at what I'd drawn the more pleased I was. Sometimes I create something so incredibly good I'm
stunned that it's actually my own work. I was feeling this and thinking this when it occurred to me that the ease I felt when drawing Pema came from the admiration I feel for her.

I knew that hers was a portrait I would love to paint.

I began my initial sketches in the autumn and have been working on the portrait ever since. I referenced several different photos of her to create my own image. I also explored several different techniques using both acrylic and oil to create an effect which focuses on her robes being the punctum of the portrait. The flatness and smooth sheen of the acrylic on her robes and in the background contrasts wonderfully against the texture of the oils I used for her face. The text fits with the theme I've chosen for my Buddhist paintings, where I choose a Buddhist quote and write my own re-iteration of it. In this case I have explored my feelings on the student/teacher relationships in life based on the quote:

"Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense. "
- Buddha

The greatest teachers in my life have all taught me that I know the answers to all my own questions and that none of those answers are ever written in stone. Which brings me to today.

This morning I arose early, prepared my oils and brushes and set to work. I knew today was the day this painting would be complete. I always know because I get this feeling of contentment when I feel at ease with the canvas. There was very little left to do so I took my time, enjoying the earl morning quiet as I applied brush to canvas. When her face was done I set my brush to one side and pulled out my journal, which had notes I'd taken for the text. I began sketching the text out on a pad of paper, getting a feel for how the words would look.

Wanting to savour the moment I decided to go to the BP Awards page and look up all the submission details so I knew I'd have everything ready for the 2011 submission, the submission I'd been preparing myself for since this time last year. I read through the rules, satisfied myself that my painting was perfectly suitable, and clicked the online submission link. Halfway through the form I came across a tick box with a red asterisk indicating it as a required field. The text next to it read "I confirm that I have met the sitter".

I can't say that my heart sank, exactly. It was more a feeling of bemusement and mild frustration which took over. The rules had stated the portrait needed to be done from a sitting or study from life. I figured photographs counted as a study from life and I'd been covered. I didn't realise that the study from life only counted if the photograph had been taken with my own point-and-shoot.

The painting I'd been working on for months to submit to this contest could not be submitted to this contest. I wasn't quite sure how I felt and so I cried a bit, ranted a little, but ultimately I wasn't terribly upset. All my reactions felt more like what I thought I should be doing, when really I was quite calm about the whole thing. I wasn't even particularly frustrated with myself for getting it wrong. And that was when I understood Hazel's comments on competitions and galleries. When I truly appreciated what she meant when she said a competition takes away from the abilities of the artist.

It is inarguable that art is in the eye of the beholder. If art can only be defined by the artist or the person who appreciates the piece, how can we possibly judge one piece of art against another unless they are identical studies? I didn't want to start over with another portrait just for the sake of having a portrait to submit. I hadn't painted this portrait for the sake of having a portrait to submit to a contest. I'd painted the portrait because I wanted to. I knew upon starting it that I wanted to give the portrait to Pema. I painted it to strengthen my skills. I painted it to show my respect. I painted it to put my feelings down on canvas and offer them to the world to admire or hate or feel indifferent towards. I painted it because I'm an artist, and that's what I do.

I'm awarding myself the 'Portrait in oil and acrylic' award for this piece which I've titled 'Bodhisattva'. The award for having completed the painting is the opportunity to finally meet Pema Chodron as I intend to deliver it to her by hand.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

London Journal - January 7th 2011, One Year ago today

...Excerpts from my journal...

January 5th, 2010
Well, this is it! Nothing left to be done other than the disassembly of my bed, which I probably shouldn't do alone.
Delirium is sitting on my luggage, looking like her springs might be about to sprung. Just the two of us for at least another half hour.

Freshly fallen snow has covered up all the grit and grim from cars. I don't feel trapped by the weather though, as I normally would about this time of year. Soon I'll be in an entirely different climate. An entirely different city. And at the end of the month: Paris!

My life is about to change in an incredible way.

January 6th, 2010
... I like watching the water race across the plane window. Outside snow blankets the fields in white, criss-crossed with black highways. We're about to go above the pillowy clouds, obscuring the ground from sight. The horizon is soft and pink, blending to yellow and then blue.

My best friend cut off my rat tail last night...

January 7th, 2010

I've arrived.
I'm home.

It's amazing how different life can be in a year. We are rarely ever doing the same thing on the same day a year later, but the shift can be so extreme it's almost startling. I love that about my journal. I love looking back year on year, seeing where I've been, seeing how I've grown, seeing how I'm always growing.

Why London? The big question.

Do I regret any of it? First, a clarification. Regret, to me, does not mean wishing something hadn't happened or that it had happened differently. Regret is acknowledging something I shouldn't have done and promising not to do it in the future. So the question of regret, to be specific, is would I upheave my entire life and move to an entirely new country again?

Good question.

I suppose I would, because I'm stubborn and nomadic and adventurous. If I make up my mind to do something it's because I've come at it from all angles and my heart and head are in on it full-on.

And what of the next year? I've been sorting out my general 2011 goals list (finish the Tarot Card project, hold a gallery showing, editing manuscripts, developing design skills) and plotting trips to the places I'd like to see.

But then there's the most important question. Not the question of the past nor the question of the future. The question of right here and right now, today, in this moment. Gotta say, it's pretty fabulous. It's been raining all day, staining the whole city a darker shade. I've been home ten minutes but my glasses still show signs of the steady drizzle as they are dappled with raindrops. I've just opened a card which arrived in the post sometime whilst I was out. It's from my best friend and includes a lovely, silly drawing of she and her partner decorating their tree. This is adding to my smile, which has been growing since my own partner sent me a text calling today my anniversary. I'd not really thought of it as an anniversary. Once she put the thought in my head though, it stuck. I decided it was cause for celebration so after the day job was done I went to Charing Cross road to treat myself to some art supplies.

Afterwards, on my way home on the tube, I was playing I-Spy with the colour purple and listening to music. The new art supplies leaned against my legs in their red and white bag. I watched a dread-headed guitarist down the car bobbing to whatever it was he was enjoying on his headphones. When the train reached Tooting Bec I took one of my business cards out and wrote on it:
What makes you dance so?
I walked down the car and handed it to him. He smiled, pulling his headphones out of his ears. I slid mine back on my head.
"Prince," he said, with a stellar smile.
"What about you?"
"To be honest, I don't know what it's called," I don't, really. It was a song from one of many mix CDs my best friend has blessed me with over the years.
The next stop was his, but he before he had to get off he gave me a CD for his band and said to email them if I liked it.
I've just finished uploading the song to iTunes (It's pretty decent!) and must say, between getting a card from my best friend and the potential of a new friend, this moment is pretty awesome. Tonight I'm going to snuggle up on the couch with my girlfriend, a delicious dinner from Deliverance, and a good film all the while listening to the sound of London rain.

Breaking The Habit - Kait's Mixtape

Resolutions are hooey. I figure, if you're going to improve yourself, you can do it anytime. I got this thought stuck in my head as I was traveling on the tube listening to my iPod. Linkin Park's 'Breaking The Habit' began to play. Somehow in the transfer of all my music files from my PC to my Mac, several files went missing. I've not re-set my iPod yet as a result and a good thing too, because this is one of those songs that cropped up and made me realise it's currently missing from my OCD playlist.

To make up for having not listened to this song in ages I listened to it for the remainder of my journey, including the walk from the tube station to my house. Once inside I put it on the stereo and gave it three more goes.

Thing is, this song has a really good point, or it does to me anyway.

I don't know why I get myself worked up into a froth about silly things, or why I push myself to do so much when there are only so many hours in the day. I don't know why I gripe about the same things sometimes, harping on an irritation from my necessary day job. I don't know why I let myself get stuck when I know it's my own doing...

It's important to remember that the way we think is as much of a habit as the things we do. I get up and brush my teeth everyday because it's built in as a routine. I work myself up into a froth because I've made it a routine. But habits can be broken, especially when acknowledge them. And what better time to break a habit than right now? Tonight, even?

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

So you're an artist?

My psychologist is more like a business and life coach than the typical stereotype of a 'shrink'.

If there even is a typical stereotype.

But I digress.

My psychologist twigged me onto a great Blog by a fellow artist who is also a musician and author. Summer Pierre is author of The Artist in the Office, a book my psychologist insisted I seek out. I'm ever so glad that I did!

I read the opening pages aloud to my partner. She cut me off part-way through to ask if I was certain the book had not been written by myself. I laughed but it's true that, as I read Summer's words I felt a strong sense of camaraderie.

This was all just before the holidays and I put the book to one side. I wanted to wait until I was back at my day job and more able to appreciate the worksheets provided throughout the book.

This morning, in the few minutes I had after getting ready and before I must leave to catch my train I curled up on my day-bed, The Artist in the Office and a pencil in hand. I didn't get far before I found my assignment for the day:
Evidence Collecting.

I actually ended up thinking about it as more of a treasure hunt but the outcome is the same. Spend the day collecting things you encounter and paste them to a sheet of paper or in a journal. Below is my end product, of which I am very pleased! It's a peculiar mis-match of my daily tasks and observations.

The other assignment I went for today was playing I-Spy on the train. As I was alone I needed to make it a personal challenge so I decided to pick a colour to seek out. I did a quick scan of the car to see what colour stuck out. There was a lot of red and a lot of navy and then my eyes fell on the headphones of a rather beefy gentleman sitting across from me. The long and twisted chord leading down to his black iPhone stood out quite noticeably against his black shirt, hoodie and sweatpants as it was bright orange.

I wrote the headphones down in my journal and began seeking out more orange. Initially it was quite difficult. I spotted an orange pencil in the hand of a man sitting further down the car. He was working on a Sudoku puzzle or a crossword. Then I recorded that the London Overground is shown as a double orange line on the tube map. Next to me on the seat was a crumple Oyster Card registration information pamphlet, coloured a light orange hue.

Once orange was stuck in my head it became much easier. There are the squares in the pattern of the Northern Line seats, the date line on the cover of an Evening Standard, the orange stripes on my rainbow scarf, the arrows and word 'Open' by the doors, Ryan Gosling's shirt on a movie poster when we stopped at Balham and of course, the scrolling text which announces what station we're coming up to and where the train terminates.

Suddenly orange was as abundant as the navy and red had been. I filled an entire page of my journal and could have filled another but my stop was coming up.

This book is turning out to be quite fun. I'm excited to play I-Spy tomorrow and to read on and discover more clever ideas for keeping my creativity flowing whilst working an almost entirely uncreative job.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

What Did You Read in 2010? - Part Two

Continued from previous entry...


The Places That Scare You - Pema Chodron
Whenever I've chosen to read a Pema Chodron book it's usually when I need to remind myself of my own inner strength and abilities to cope. By July being so far away from friends and family was beginning to wear on me. It takes time to make significant friendships and it feels all the more difficult in a city like London. You'd think the high density would mean an abundance of opportunities for me to make friends. I have always been very proud of being able to approach most anyone and start a conversation. All the conferences I'd been to in my youth, the trip I took to Australia when I was nineteen, the trip to Palm Springs in 2009, have all proven to me that I have no problem getting to know people and making new friends. London is a very different world though. The huge population is a mix of so many people from so many cultures and backgrounds it's like its own country.
Londoners travel in a bubble, eye forward, headphones on. Tourists are in their clumps, speaking all sorts of languages and there for the sites. Immigrants settle into pocket of communities where everyone speaks the same language, creating a miniature version of their own country. There is a sense of not having time, time to visit, time to get to know someone new, time to just hang out.
As a social butterfly this has often been a very scary place for me to be but a good way to remember to be my own best friend and not let the culture around me change my own beliefs about smiling at strangers, lending a hand and taking every chance given me to meet someone new.

Stephen Fry's Incomplete and Utter History of Classical Music - Stephen Fry
I quite like a lot of classical music but as most of it doesn't have lyrics I find it difficult to find the songs I like. I just know I like them. I like them a lot and listening to classical whilst painting is one of my favourite things to do. I decided I needed to get educated and as Fry is one of those people who seems to know quite a lot about quite a lot this book felt like the perfect choice! It was quite fun to read but I regret not writing down more of the songs he spoke of. I feel like it would have been more enjoyed as the BBC radio programme it was based on or with an accompanying CD.


Lamb - Christopher Moore
The third time I've read this book, which is one of my favourite books on the planet. I suggest it to everyone I meet and I don't doubt I will read again and again.
I chose to re-read it this time as it definitely is one of my 'Best Friend' books. I read books for comfort just like I drink tea for comfort.


Unseen Academicals - Terry Pratchett
Another classic from Sir Pratchett! This was one of his wizard stories, which are usually my least favourite, however, given that I had just experienced the World Cup whilst living in the UK, his take on football was brilliant to read! I love how, the more you read and the more you travel, the more hilarious his writing becomes as all the allusions and cultural references come out of the woodwork.

Somewhere Towards the End - Diana Athill
One evening my partner and I curled up together on the couch and watched a documentary about Athill, a woman I knew nothing about. Throughout the incredible documentary this book was referenced. My partner purchased it right away and I snagged it as soon as I could. I think this is one of those books that everyone can appreciate in some way. Finding a book written about the end of life is a rarity, especially in a society so terrified of death as ours. I have always appreciated that life is what we make it and the most inevitable fact we all must face is that we will die. Athill looks back on her life and reflects in an incredibly honest way, sharing her learned wisdom with gorgeous prose.


Remarkable Creatures - Tracey Chevalier
An incredible historical fiction account of the legendary Mary Anning, a fossil hunter in the 1800's who is credited with discovering the ichthyosaurus. This was more than just a look at Mary and her fossils. This is a comment on how such discoveries shook the foundations of a society that held women in low regard and religion in high. Mary Anning really is a Mighty Woman and I think more people should know her story.

I Shall Wear Midnight - Terry Pratchett
The fourth and final instalment of the Tiffany Aching collection. This was a great contributor to my decision to use a hare for my Judgment card.

The Bad Beekeepers Club - Bill Turnbull
Bill is one of a team of two on BBC breakfast. He and Sian never fail to delight me. This book is an account of Bill's experiences as a hobbyist beekeeper. I have always loved bees and reading this just gave me more reason to do so. Throughout this story Bill did manage to colour his beekeeping skills with a stain, but he does redeem himself and remains one of my favourite BBC personalities.

The Clocks - Agatha Christie
I'd not read any Christie for awhile so I felt like revisiting her. This was a particularly elaborate plot but it got me back into a Christie mood and was shortly followed by...

After The Funeral - Agatha Christie
I do love Poirot.

How to Practice - Dalai Lama
A wonderful referential piece of writing. I actually started reading this very early in the year, about January or so. I would pick it up occasionally, dip into a few pages and replace on the shelf until I felt the need to visit again.


Everything is Illuminated - Safran
I found this sitting on my partner's bookshelf. I had nothing to read and it was time for bed. I find it extremely difficult, if not entirely impossible, to fall asleep without reading. I picked this up and thought, "Why not?"
It's not the best book to start as one is planning to drift off to sleep. Initially I found it very disjointed and confusing, but as I began bringing it with me to read whilst on the train I found myself getting more and more wrapped up in it. Sometimes I'd be so engrossed I'd nearly miss my stop. It is an endearing and quirky novel and I'm not very interested to see the film adaptation.

Thank You Jeeves, The Code of the Woosters and The Inimitable Jeeves - P.G. Wodehouse
A delightful romp, reading Wodehouse. Quite fun. It did make me a bit envious of the 'idle rich' but if I had the money Wooster had I would be anything but idle.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog - Muriel Barbery
Sometimes you go out for a meal and find the entire experience utterly gorgeous. It's not just that the food was delicious. It was the setting, the attention to detail, the way the dish was presented and the fluidity of the service. Reading this was like enjoying a delicious meal of words. Barbery's style is poetic, smooth and rich. She pulls you into her characters through the language they speak and the appreciation they have for words and punctuation.


Johnny & the Bomb - Terry Pratchett
Another re-read, the last of the year. Once again I found myself without a novel just before bed. I first read the Johnny series when I was still in Junior High. It was a treat to get re-acquainted.

The Amazing Maurice & His Educated Rodents - Terry Pratchett
I love how Pratchett writes young adult novels. They're suitably dark and a credit to the intelligence of the reader. This story was an extra special treat for me as it was both entertaining and monumental. Upon completing this book I realised I have now read every Terry Pratchett novel to date. He is a credit to the craft and I admire his work more than words can express.

Sorting Out Billy - Jo Brand
Jo is an English comedian I discovered since crossing the pond. I was at a garage sale warehouse type place when I noticed this book. They had quite a few decent paperbacks and were selling them for a pound fifty for five. This deal was obviously too good to pass up so I began collecting titles off the shelves, this one being the first I selected.
I can't say I enjoyed it much. I do love Jo's humour but I think she makes a better stand-up comedian than an author.

Bridget Jones, The Edge of Reason - Helen Fielding
Another light read. I was looking to get into a chilled out head space in preparation for my parent's arrival. Upon completing this novel I found my journal entries began losing the use of first person pronouns. This only lasted a short wile and I'm not back to my usual way of writing.

The End of Mr. Y - Scarlett Thomas
Not nearly so light as the previous two books, this novel took me on a cerebral trip through the imaginary writing of a Victorian author and scientist. It was full of thought provoking snippets on evolution, creationism, quantum physics and philosophy. It was charmingly weird.

And finally...

A Spot of Bother - Mark Handon
I've had Handon recommended to me, but not this title. I am very glad I discovered it on the shelves with the book deal. This snapshot of the members of a family about to embark upon a wedding was both engrossing and amusing. I found myself wishing it would never end but also unable to put it down. I did finish it, on the 31st, in fact.

Not sure what the next year will bring. I have an idea of how many novels I'd like to read in 2011 but I know that I'm a busy person and between all the writing, painting and editing I do, not to mention keeping a day job and exploring London, I don't always spend as much time as I'd like with books. Still, we shall have to see, won't we?

Saturday, January 1, 2011

What did you read in 2010? - Part one

Growing up without a television in the house meant my brother and I spent a lot of time reading. For me, having a new book to read is like making a new friend. I love getting to know a book over a cup of tea or curled up under a cozy blanket with a cat curled on my lap. I can't leave the house without my journal and a book as I never know when the urge to write will take me or a book will be required to pass the time.

Last year my dad announced that he had read well over 50 books in 2009. The year before his number was in the 60's and the year before that it was in the 70's. I've never really kept track of how many books I've read in a year but I can honestly say that I rarely go more than a day between finishing one book and starting another as the idea of not having a book to read makes me quite uncomfortable.

In 2010 I entered into a vague competition with my dad to see if I could match him book for book. I say vague because neither of us are particularly competitive and it's not really about how many books we could read but comparing what we had read and why.

I kept track of the books I read in a blue notebook, recording the title, author and a brief reflection on it. I wrote them down according to month. I think it's been interesting to look back on my year as reflected in the books I read, thirty-eight in total.


When Things Fall Apart - Pema Chodron
I adore Pema. She has been one of my greatest teachers. I have great respect for her and the teachings she shares with the world. When I read this book it was as I was adjusting to an incredible upheaval to my life. Born and raised in Calgary I was suddenly embarking on an entirely new way of life in a new country. I didn't have a job yet, nor very much money in the bank. Without my friends and family close at hand I had to rely very much on myself and on the support of my partner. I'm fiercely independent and sometimes this can be a detriment to my well-being. Reading this book acted as a reminder that being groundless is a great place to be as it will result in so much growth and change. It can be the source of inspiration and creation and should be seen as an opportunity. When things are at their most difficult is when we see where we need to change and where we are indestructible.

Nation - Terry Pratchett
An entirely whimsical, lovely tale, as only Sir Pratchett can create. His writing never ceases to bring me great comfort and fill my head with ideas for my own writing.

Walks In Hemingway's Paris - Noel Riley Fitch
A novel to accompany one on a trip to Paris. I began reading it a little before I myself embarked on the incredible London to Paris train journey. I can't say I'm a particular fan of Hemingway himself but the book is full of many other authors he was known to fraternise with. The entire trip was coloured with an insight to the creatives who lived and visited Paris in the 1920's, 30's and 40's.


The Diving Bell and the Butterfly - Jean-Dominique Bauby
A poetic reflection on life and what makes us who we are. It's also one of those stories which puts ones own situation in perspective. We are each of us so very lucky to have a human life and every opportunity we make for ourselves, no matter what our situation.

Big Stone Gap - Adrianna Trigiani
This book reminded me of my childhood somehow. It was the sort of chick-flick storyline in films I'd go to see with my mum and her best friend. It was a bit fluffy but comforting in it's own way.

No Time To Lose - Pema Chodron
A re-read. I have read this book four times now and each time I do something different sticks in my head. I don't think I can explain how beautiful it is to read and I don't know it's a book I can actually recommend as it might be a bit like suggesting someone read the bible. If you need to read this book it will find you, I'm sure.


Hickory, Dickory, Dock - Agatha Christie
I've never before read an Agatha Christie, but she is an English Institution and as my partner has every book she's ever written it seemed a natural choice. I chose this title for the illustration on the cover (A way of choosing novels which I can find no fault.) and it starred the delightfully endearing Poirot. Christie's way of creating characters is marvellous and I think this really was the perfect choice as my first Christie novel to embark upon.

Nietzche, a Graphic Guide - Laurence Gane & Piero
I understand many people are dubious about the merit of graphic novels as 'book'. Many believe this is just a glorified description for a comic book but I disagree. The best way I've found to explain it is with a comparison to television programs. A comic book is much like a soap opera. It might have the same cast of characters but the plots change drastically in a short period of time and the stories are never ending and often become repetitive. A graphic novel is more like a mini-series. It has a distinct beginning, middle and end. Graphic Novels: The Sandman Series, Maus. Comic Books: X-Men, Archie
In this case I'd found a sort of biography/study of Nietzche accompanied by the artwork of Piero. It was thought provoking and started me thinking that it would be an awful lot of fun to be a philosopher.

Cat Amongst Pigeons, Murder is Easy and Dead Man's Folly- Agatha Christie
I did a small binge on the Christie novels and got a bit of a headache. I do love her character development but I've never been a huge fan of mysteries. I decided to take a break.


Blackberry Wine - Joanne Harris
Unfortunately Joanne Harris is not as well known as she should be. Most people do know her work and don't even realise it. She is the genius behind Chocolat (Although my favourite novel by her is The Five Quarters of the Orange) and Blackberry Wine does have a nod to the characters in that novel.
I really do love the way she writes. Her stories are brilliant and this did not disappoint.

Wasting Police Time - PC Copperfield (Alias)
An airport novel based on a blog kept anonymously over a year by a member of the the English police force. A light, amusing read that got a bit whiney in bits but didn't fail to entertain.

The Psychology of Happiness - Samuel S. Franklin
I picked this book up on a visit to Cambridge, with a discount thanks to a friend. It was fantastic as it expressed so much of what I have found and believe in with Buddhism without the Buddhist language. I often struggle with wanting to share my thoughts on living a good, happy life with people without it coming across as preaching. I like to say that the teachings are the same but the packaging can be of your choosing. This book packaged my thoughts in a different way and I am grateful to Franklin for writing it. I was also pleased as punch to get an email from him when I mentioned the book in an earlier blog entry.


Eats, Shoots and Leaves - Lynne Truss
I picked this up whilst in Amsterdam. It was delightful to read although I wish it had covered a bit more, such as the use of * and /.


Gentlemen and Players - Joanne Harris
I love the diversity of her work. This was quite tense but in that wonderful captivating way. I couldn't out the book down but at the same time I didn't want it to end so I tried stretching it out as much as possible. As you can see from May and June I was quite busy. Reading was low on my list and I found myself only able to do so for the ten minutes before I fell asleep each night. I do not recommend this particular tale for helping one drift off to sleep. I think it actively kept me awake a few nights, but still, it was well worth the story.

...To Be Continued...