Favourite Books of 2017

Last year I read nineteen books.


In the world of the Goodreads Reading Challenge where 50+ books is the norm, I guess 19 seems like a pretty small, arbitrary number. However, after the reading slump I experienced in the first quarter of 2017, I think 19 is a pretty decent number.

So, in celebration of this, here's a rundown of some of my favourite reads of the year:

At the top of my list is Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz. Set in the late 1980s, this is the story of teenager Ari, and Dante, the boy he meets at the local public pool. Sparsely and poetically written, Aristotle and Dante delves into the duos struggles with racial identity, sexuality, and class.

In 2017 I also read my first Laini Taylor novel, Daughter of Smoke & Bone, I picked this book up after some considerable encouragement from my twin sister. Daughter is the story of Karou, a teenager raised by supernatural creatures, and the war she can't remember. Daughter is set in two worlds: a version of our own and the world of Elsewhere. I may be in the minority here, but my favourite sections of the book were not actually those set in Elsewhere but in Prague. Taylor's rich, gorgeous descriptions of the city perfectly capture the city I remember and make me yearn to visit it again someday soon. Daughter is a fantastical and unpredictable novel, ending with one hell of an emotional gut-punch. Months later, I think I'm only just ready for the sequel, Days of Blood & Starlight.

In June I finished reading The Girl With All The Gifts by M. R. Carey, a haunting tale of survival set in a future dystopian England. Whilst I'm not normally drawn to this genre, I've found I haven't been able to forget this book. It's difficult to describe without giving anything away–in fact I'd go so far as to recommend you don't even read the blurb. It's a story best started with little prior knowledge.

Throughout September and October I read all four books in The Raven Cycle series by Maggie Stiefvater. This was another series my sister recommended i.e. insisted I read (I'm grateful really. I love this series! Thanks B!). After getting off to a slow start with the series I soon found myself caught up in the Welsh-based mythology, the unfamiliar Virginian setting, and the individual, and intertwined journeys of Blue and her Raven Boys. These books have made me a fan of Stiefvater, and I can't wait for her upcoming sequel series.

My final read of 2017 was also one of the best: The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night by Jen Campbell. The Beginning is the first full short story collection I've ever read and one which will be hard to top. The stories range from whimsical to heartbreaking, disturbing to mesmerising (or, as is often the case, several of these things at once). My favourite story is the collection's namesake, closely followed by Jacob, Little Deaths, and Aunt Libby's Coffin Hotel.

How about you? What were your favourite reads of 2017? Do you have any frontrunners for 2018? So far I've read three excellent books, each very different in genre to the other and style, (with no reading slump in sight!).

Until next time,
Miss Fif






The Artist's Way: Reading Deprivation

If you feel stuck in your life or in your art, few jump starts are more effective than a week of reading deprivation (Cameron, 87).

Of all the tasks and exercises I mentally prepared myself for when I began The Artist's Way, reading deprivation was not one of them. I had accepted the likelihood that I would have to do tasks I didn't want to do (Cameron recommends completing at least half the tasks at the end of each chapter, choosing those you find most appealing and those you feel the strongest resistance to), but this–this I did not expect. My initial response was one of dread.

A week without reading.

A. Whole. Week.

Seven days. I can hear Samara whispering it now.

It's basically my own personal idea of hell. Even when I was stuck in my now broken reading slump (more on that in a few weeks) I was still reading articles and books … I just wasn't finishing any of the books. When I broke the news to my twin sister (my fellow Artist's Way student) her reaction was slightly more pronounced than mine, her expression turning to one of horror as she responded with a resounding, emphatic 'I'm not doing that'. According to Cameron, our negative responses to this exercise are normal. She explains,

Reading deprivation is a very powerful tool–and a very frightening one. Even thinking about it can bring up enormous rage. For most blocked creatives, reading is an addiction. We gobble the words of others rather than digest our own thoughts and feelings, rather than cook up something of our own (87).

As a serial procrastinator. I especially recognised myself in that last sentence, and with this knowledge and a strong desire to complete Week 4 (after two weeks of putting it off) and move onto Week 5, I finally embarked on my own week of reading deprivation.

So far I've had both positive and negative experiences. On the positive side, I've had some new ideas, including some new topics I want to write about in future blog posts, and I can still listen to music. On the flip side, I want to read all the things! And listen to podcasts (you're not supposed to fill up your reading-free time with the radio. I'm assuming podcasts fall into that category).

To give myself some encouragement I made a list of some of the things I could do instead of reading, including some of the suggestions made in The Artist's Way.

  • Listen to music
  • Go cycling (I keep intending to do this one and then never get around to it. Maybe this week I can change that)
  • Explore my local suburb
  • Meditate
  • Practice yoga
  • Pay bills (done and done!)
  • Sort my closet (time to KonMari the rest of my wardrobe)
  • Cook meals that take longer than fifteen minutes to prepare (a challenge on my patience)
  • Catch-up with friends and family
  • Practice calligraphy
  • Write
  • Plan content for this blog

Some of these things are banal, some are nourishing or productive, and some of them I already do. But, most important, they don't involve reading (except for the things I write) and they are all achievable. And maybe they'll lead to an epiphany or two. Finger crossed.

Until next time,
Miss Fif









Maybe I Can: Dutch Braids And A New Mantra

Moments of clarity can strike you in the most unexpected or unremarkable moments. For me, that moment involved a pair of double Dutch braids.

All through high school and primary school I didn't know how to braid. In primary school I didn't care about this fact and in high school I came to the conclusion I just didn't have the skills for it. I decided it was too difficult, something beyond my own capability. But the truth is I never tried to learn properly, I only attempted to figure it out on my own and when that failed I accepted it wasn't meant to be.

Fast forward a couple of years and I finally asked one of the hair stylists at my local salon to teach me how. And I proved my teenage self wrong. Sure, I was all thumbs at first and my braids weren't perfect, beautiful creations, but I learned regardless. I was successful. I followed up this success by placing new limitations on my abilities. Yes, I told myself. You can style a simple braid, but that's it. And so I concluded that anything more complicated was simply beyond my capability.

Jump forward to the Easter weekend, 2017. My sisters and I were on a mini road trip to our childhood home when my big sis asks me if I can do boxer braids. At first I didn't know what she was talking about. What are boxer braids? It turns out she was referencing Million Dollar Baby (I've never seen it. Neither has my twin–but she still got the reference straight away. I swear those two have their own separate wavelength for all things concerning spirituality and home decorating). Once I understood what she meant I told her I couldn't.

But, using my big sister as my model, I ended up giving it a try anyway. I'm not sure why. Maybe my subconsciousness had decided it was time. Or maybe it was just one of my whims (I get those sometimes e.g. deciding to run a marathon. I still haven't checked that one off the bucket list). My first attempt didn't get beyond dividing her hair into two sections. I had no idea how to proceed. Cue the YouTube search. I flicked through the Carli Bybel tutorial (a good one if want to learn how to do double Dutch braids) and then tried again. And it worked out. It wasn't great, but it was a start. My next try was much better.

Since then I've tried out a few different Dutch braid styles on my twin (sisters come in very useful when you're learning to braid–and you don't have to put in any effort to convince them. At all). Each new braid looks better than the last.

I'd like to think I'm a pretty positive person, but I know I have a habit of seeing particular skills and situations as something I can or I can't do, ignoring the middle ground. But I had an epiphany after my little Easter accomplishment (and maybe influenced a little bit by The Artist's Way) and I've decided to adopted a new mantra, maybe I can. I just have to try.

Until next time,
Miss Fif

French 101

I used to have an obsession with France, a preoccupation which began in high school and continued into my early years at university. I had a burning desire to visit France and experience its culture, and to learn the French language. When I went to university I studied a semester of Beginner French. It didn't stick. At the time I wasn't interested in putting in the hard work the classes required. And so this desire lessoned and, over the years, my obsession with France faded. Of course, I still want to go there, to experience Paris and travel through the south, but it's no longer at the top of my bucket list.

I never lost the desire to learn a language, something I've mentioned to my sisters several times over the years following my ill-fated French lessons, mostly in a wouldn't that be cool kind of way. I'd encounter or read about people who were multilingual and admire them for this achievement.

Last week I came across a tweet about Duolingo*, an app for learning languages, and thought why not? Why not give it a go? So I downloaded the app and its companion, a flash cards app called Tinycards, and got started. And, as it turns out, learning this way is pretty fun.

I've started started from the beginning, with Basics 1 and 2. So far I've learned about the different words in regards to gender (woman, man, he, she etc.), the masculine and feminine uses of the and a, and a few other words and sentences. I'm spending five to ten minutes (sometimes more) learning most days. I know that doesn't sound like a lot, but it's enough for me. I'm not expecting to become fluent, I just want to learn (and be able to order a coffee in French–a very important task). Each task challenges my brain a little and leaves me feeling like I've accomplished something for the day. Why not try it?

Until next time,
Miss Fif


*This post is not sponsored.

Life As A (Probably) Identical Twin

'Is that girl your twin?'

'Are you identical?'

'Do you like being a twin.'

'Can you read each other's mind?'

'Have you always been identical?'

'Who's the evil one?'

'I thought I was seeing double'.

For as long as I can remember I've been asked these kinds of questions and been subjected to that 'joke'. The short answers: yes, probably, yes, no, um … yeah …would you like to find out? And the 'joke'? I probably shouldn't write my dream response to that one down. Too many f-bombs.

So … I have a twin sister, B. We look alike (note I used 'alike' and not 'the same'). Our hair colour, eye colour, height, skin tone–all similar. If the police made an identikit image of B I would also match it (don't go getting any ideas B!).

But the truth is, we might not even be identical. You see, the 'identical' in identical twins isn't actually referring to physical appearance. Identical, or monozygotic, twins 'occur when one fertilised embryo splits to form two individuals'.

What does this mean?

Well, among other things, it means B and I could be identical twins or we could simply be fraternal twins who bear a strong physical resemblance to each other. It's actually quite a weird position to be in. One day we'll have the zygosity test (DNA test) done and we'll find out for certain. There's no rush (i.e. it's pricey and I don't really care about the answer). Besides, regardless of the truth, when people look at us they see identical twins. When they see us they're curious. They have questions. Usually the same questions. Again, and again, and again.

'Is that girl your twin?'

'Are you identical?'

'Do you like being a twin.'

'Can you read each other's mind?'

'Have you always been identical?'

'Who's the evil one?'

Honestly, most of the time these questions don't bother me. There's a certain level of charm to their curiosity. My all-time favourite question is, 'have you always been identical?' It wasn't asked of me, but B tells me it was presented to her in all seriousness. I guess someone skipped biology that day.

I'm also constantly amused by the people who, perhaps feeling a little shy, ask if B and I are sisters before going on to ask the twin question. Like there's a high chance they've got it wrong. When I do feel annoyed it's usually because I'm having a bad day and I just want to experience the one thing we all deserve–to be seen as individuals. Is that so much to ask?

When I was in primary school I remember a classmate wanting to know why I wasn't buying lunch on the same day as B, as if I was doing something wrong. Look out! The twins aren't eating the same lunch today! The world is going to implode! And we still experience this. People will ask, 'where's your sister today?', as if I've got her micro-chipped like a pet dog or cat, or we possess some kind of mental link which enables us to track each other down at any given moment. She's in the city, trying to decide on a latte or a flat white. She's going to choose the flat white, we are Australian after all. It's part of the 'mind-reading' question. Some people genuinely want to know if we share some kind of mystical bond, one that lets us know when the other is in pain or allows us to communicate telepathically. We don't, although that would be cool (pop culture has a lot to answer for). Well, not the pain part. One round of period pain is enough, thank-you very much.

And then there's that idiom, the 'joke' that just. Won't. Die.

'I thought I was seeing double'.

Usually these words are proceeded or followed by, 'I thought I was going crazy'. I know it's meant in good fun. I know it's just small talk. Just word,s thrown into conversation. So I act accordingly. I smile and I laugh and I play along because I know the speaker didn't intend to offend me. Didn't intend to make me feel like little more than a copy of my twin. But they did, they do.

'I thought I was seeing double'.

The truth is, they're still seeing double. They're not seeing two individuals with separate personalities, separate identities. Sure, we may fall into the same Meyers-Briggs category (a post for another day) but that doesn't mean B and I aren't two separate individuals. We're not a hive mind. In truth, it can feel like I'm being told I don't matter. That I'm not my own person, that B is not her own person. That I could cease to exist and it wouldn’t matter. I know that's melodramatic, but sometimes it feels like the truth (B concurs).

If you have made this joke, or asked one of the above questions before, that's okay. I'm not trying to make you feel bad. But maybe next time you meet a set of twins you can resist the urge to ask these same, make the same jokes. Because I can almost guarantee they've heard it all before.

Until next time,
Miss Fif






TFFF17: Planetarium

Every year Palace Cinemas holds a French Film Festival and every year I tell my friends and family we'll have to go. We never do.

This year my sisters's and I finally broke the cycle and attended a session of the film Planetarium. It was … not what we were expecting.

Planetarium is described as the story of two American sisters, Laura (Natalie Portman) and Kate (Lily-Rose Depp), 'who earn their living through clairvoyance'. They meet Andre Korben (Emmanuel Salinger), a movie-producer determined to capture proof of the supernatural on film, and the sisters' find themselves drawn in to this enterprise.

The problem is Planetarium can't decide exactly what it wants to be. Is it the story of Laura, losing herself in her acting roles? Yes, for awhile. Or is about a rivalry between two sisters? Briefly. Not really. Perhaps it's an exploration of anti-Semitic paranoia in 1930s Paris? Sort of. Or the tale of a predator, obsessed with a teenage girl? Not exactly.

The film, directed by Rebecca Zlotowski and co-written by Zlotowski and Robin Campillo, introduces all these story-lines and more, jumping from one to another, interested only in the ideas at the the surface level, sometimes abandoning them altogether. For example, in the first séance between Kate, Laura, and Korben we meet a faceless man. Who is he? Korben calls him his brother. Kate tells Laura he's not. We never find out the truth. After a few more scenes with the man the film simply moves on.

Where Zlotowski and Campillo do succeed is in the story of Korben's obsession with spiritualism, exploring the effect it has on his friendships, his career, and his mental health. It's interesting to watch Laura and Kate's different roles in this endeavour, as Kate willing gets drawn into Korben's research while Laura just wants to move on from that stage of their life.

And where the screenplay falters, the cinematography of George Lechaptois shines, such as the motif of stars in the night sky, the gorgeous visuals book-ending Planetarium and subtly repeating throughout the film.

If you're a fan of the look of a film, if you're less concerned with story, Planetarium is worth your time. As well as Lechaptois's arresting visuals, editor Julien Lacheray uses dissolves and other scene transitions to give the film the feel of an Old Hollywood movie. My favourite scenes involved the process of 1930s film-making, such as the techniques Korben's team use to depict séances on screen. If, however, you're more interested in plot I'd skip this one entirely. The jumble of story-lines will leave you frustrated.

Until next time,
Miss Fif

Travel Highs and Lows

The first time my sister and I went overseas we received a crash course in the unpredictable nature of travel. Things went wrong. Accommodation fell through. Phone batteries died (Google maps were tragically lost), and my sister got sick. I may have lead us in the wrong direction once or twice …

But for all the lousy things that happened there many more wonderful moments. We got to experience cultures both like and unlike our own, to wander through the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew and explore the grounds of Magdalen College.

We got to visit the Neues Museum and view the stunning bust of Nefertiti, safely encased in her glass box, while security watched over her. We got to drink warm punch on a freezing day in Prague and explore the city's cobbled, winding streets.

We saw wild deer for the first time, sampled the famous spa water at the Roman Baths (yes, it tastes as weird as it smells) and visited the Royal Crescent. And we climbed Arthur's Seat, and discovered a love for hiking neither of us was aware of.

This year we're going to explore New Zealand with our brother (we represent the red-haired contingent of the family). We're going to visit many National Parks, go for lots of hikes, and (obviously) tour Hobbiton. And if anything goes wrong–well, that's okay. Because there's always something wonderful waiting, just out of sight.

Until next time,
Miss Fif



Competitive Streaks and Reading Slumps

I have a competitive streak. I think this would surprise some people, but to my family it's a well known fact, a trait exhibited throughout the years, usually where card or board games were concerned.

I have a particular talent for games of chance, and less of one for those involving strategy. My battle tactic for chess is basically just kill them all. I'm also terrible at scrabble. I hate scrabble. And boggle. All the word games really. I'm well aware of the irony.

In contrast, my twin sister is very skilled at word games. She also doesn't get annoyed when she loses and she's never flipped a chessboard over in frustration. Not that I've ever done that … I believe there's an extra level of competitiveness involved when your opponents are also your siblings. And when one of those siblings happens to be your twin … well, let's just say that competitive feeling is amplified.

Lately this feeling has extended beyond games to our individual reading lists. While my twin powers through book after book, I'm having trouble finishing just one.

Yep, I've hit a reading slump.

At present I'm half-way through two books, 'Paris Letters' by Janice MacLeod and 'A Conjuring of Light' by V. E. Schwab. While I'm having no problems reading a range of articles I haven't been able to concentrate long enough to finish either book, reading and rereading the same paragraphs over and over until the information sinks in. It's incredibly frustrating. The ridiculous thing is I'm enjoying both stories. 'Paris Letters' is an engaging and illuminating memoir and 'ACOL' is the conclusion to my favourite trilogy.

The last time I hit a reading slump it went on for months and was only broken once I found a new series to hold my focus (Sergei Lukyanenko's 'Night Watch' trilogy, except it's no longer a trilogy. Douglas Adams would approve). But this time I'm reading a book ('ACOL') I desperately want to finish ( I need to know how it all ends! I have this horrible feeling someone is going to die. Please don't let it be Kell. Or Lila. Or Rhy. Or … just anybody) and so I'm trying a different approach.

Yesterday I had an epiphany: buy the eBook.

I know this might sound odd. My reasoning is this–I only have a couple of paragraphs to read per page and, in theory, this means my mind won't be able to fixate on previous paragraphs quite as much purely I can't see them on the page. I also won't have a physical representation of all the pages I still have to read.

Of course it's only early days, but I think this might just work. I might beat this reading slump (and my sister–just a bit of healthy competition!) yet.

Until next time,
Miss Fif

The Artist's Way: Week 1

When I was child I made several attempts to maintain a diary, each one short-lived, with my commitment lasting no longer than a few weeks. Suffice it to say, my history as a diarist is fickle.

Warning: the following paragraphs may contain phrases like 'spiritual task', 'shadow artist' and 'creative affirmations'.

If these words makes you cringe, if they send up red flags, or conjure up images of placards declaring 'Back Away! Back Away!' I promise I understand. I felt the same way. Sometimes I still do. But I can promise you this is not an article about Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus and its ilk (although, if you want to listen to a hilarious discussion about this book check out episode 10 of the Banging Book Club podcast). If you can get past the self-help lingo–even better, erase the dreaded word from your vocabulary–I promise you that there's wisdom (not mine) to be found below.

Last week I started a 12-week course designed to recover and discover your Creative Self (cue the eye-rolling). Basically, it's supposed to help you sort your shit out. The course was created by Julia Cameron, a writer, director, and teacher, and is laid out in her book The Artist's Way, a self-help guide to freeing your creativity. I first learned of The Artist's Way through my twin sister who in turn read about it in the memoir Paris Letters by Janice MacLeod.

The Artist's Way is for 'anyone interested in living more creatively through practicing an art'. Although Cameron uses words like the 'Great Creator' and 'God' a belief in God is not necessary nor compulsory. Camerson writes, '… you may substitute the thought good orderly direction or flow. What we are talking about is a creative energy'. Personally, I like MacLeod's verson–a Mr Miyagi-clone she envisioned giving advice and projecting a sense of calm onto herself.

Before the weekly chapters, Cameron introduces the two basic tools of the course–the morning pages and the artist's date.

The morning pages are simply three pages of stream-of-consciousness thoughts, a 'brain dump' of anything that crosses your mind. Morning pages are a form of therapy, intended to eventually help you realise your (suppressed) hopes, dreams, and dissatisfactions with life. So far I'm enjoying this part of the course. I've managed to write three pages everyday, although I have failed to complete each entry in the morning. Still, I'm considering it a win. I'm able to write about the good things and acknowledge, and often move forward from, the bad. Of course, stationery geek that I am, the start of the morning pages was proceeded by a trip to Dymocks to buy the perfect notebook for the task because–priorities. In the end I went with a sunny yellow Zap notebook.

The artist date is intended to nurture 'your creative consciousness'. Ideally you go for a solo excursion for a couple of hours. I admit I'm cheating a little this week. I'm going to practice calligraphy at home, maybe go for a long walk or retreat to the park to read afterwards. After all, it will all still nurture my creative self or, as Cameron puts it, 'opening yourself to insight, inspiration, and guidance'. Next I'll week do it properly (I will!).

On top of these two tools, each chapter contains an essay, a list of exercises and tasks, and a weekly check-in. Week 1 challenges your core negative beliefs, exploring the notions you have developed over time that are holding you back. The chapter introduces the concept of shadow artists versus real artists and the use of affirmations to help with your self-improvment. I have to admit, I can't help but think of the self-help seminar in the Sex and the City episode (5x02). Not a great example of affirmations. Fortunately, Cameron writes in a relatable way, providing real life examples of participants in her workshops. For me, it's all about getting past the self-help language to the simple truths. In six weeks time I'll be checking-in again with a post about my experiences and opinions at hitting the half-way mark. Hopefully it will all have been worth it. 

Until next time,
Miss Fif

First Month Fails, Moving House, and Moving Forward

It's been two weeks since I started this blog–not long in the lifespan of a blog, but long enough to realise what isn't going to work. Namely, my Monday and Thursday schedule. In hindsight, starting a blog the same week I was moving house didn't exactly set me up for success. I was too impatient to get started, not wanting to put it off for yet another week, and so I chose to do both. My Mum tells me I'm stubborn. She may be onto something.

The last time I moved house I was leaving my fully furnished student accommodation, and I had much less to take with me. This time around I experienced moving properly (i.e. like an adult) with all the furniture, address changes, packing and the many boxes that comes along with it.

My week got off to a fortuitous start when I slammed my foot into a chair leg. A. Chair. Leg. I then spent the duration of the move limping and walking slowly as I carried my things up many flights of stairs. But hey–at least I (probably) didn't break my little toe. And I had family to help. I also got loads of exercise.

Three things I learned about moving house:

  1. You will always need more cardboard boxes than you think you do. Always.
  2. Bottle shops are an excellent source of free boxes, especially once you've used up you're original quota. Seriously, they have loads. Plus, alcohol boxes are strong and excellent for filling with books.
  3. If you can take a few days off work for the move–take it! Your aching limbs will thank you.

In response to the entire exhausting process and the very stressful lead-up I decided to make a small list of things to watch, read, or listen to to make everything more bearable. To cheer you up or help you relax, whether you're in the process of moving or you've have just had a really bad day.

  • 'Heroes' by Peter Gabriel. Turn it up loud and close your eyes. Gabriel's cover is one for when you're feeling overwhelmed.
  • 'Boy: Tales from Childhood ' by Roald Dahl. Sometimes funny, sometimes sad, always engaging anecdotes from the inimitable author.
  • Hunt for the Wilderpeople. A funny but poignant New Zealand-set film about a boy called Ricky and his foster father.
  • The Fantastic Beasts soundtrack (stick with the cheery, hopeful scores). You can check it out on Spotify.
  • And finally, this YouTube video of John Hurt performing Lewis Carroll's poem 'The Jabberwocky'. Just watch it. It is everything.

Oh, and from now on I'll be posting on Tuesdays and Fridays.

Until next time,
Miss Fif

Modern Calligraphy and Me

I know that colouring books for adults are supposed to be therapeutic, a mindful way to relax and de-stress, but for me they just seem like the opposite. I don't want to get caught up over-thinking (and then getting annoyed by) my colour choices (which I would) but I would like to reap the benefits that come along with the practice.

I think I've found my alternative, modern calligraphy.

I'm drawn to attractive typography and to the beautiful cursive writing of my parents and my aunties. I loved comparing their handwriting on last year's batch of Christmas cards. Modern calligraphy feels like the natural progression of this interest. I get to learn a new skill, improve my currently hideous cursive handwriting, and get the therapeutic benefits that come along with it. Sold.

I decided to begin learning modern calligraphy by using the book Nib + Ink* by Chiaro Perano, a professional calligrapher, illustrator, designer, and founder of the studio Lamplighter London. Perano first came to my attention when she was featured in a vlog by Lily Pebbles (skip to the 1:55 mark for the relevant section). From this video and a scroll through Perano's Instagram I knew I liked her style of modern calligraphy and, after a little research, I believed Nib + Ink would be a good practical guide to the craft. It's essentially a workbook (remember your primary school copy books?), providing a short introduction to modern calligraphy–

'a term that has come to describe the new, more immediate and fun handwritten styles which have evolved from traditional types of calligraphy (12)'

–and the tools and paper to get started (FYI, you'll know if calligraphy is for you if you find the information about the tines interesting!). It contains a variety of tips, tricks, and instructions and a section of lined pages to practice on.

Of course, once I'd purchased the book I needed to buy the tools to get started. After a fruitless search for a retailer in my area I ended up choosing an online supplier, Calligraphy Supplies Australia. I mainly chose CSA because they ship from within Australia, which shortened the delivery time, but their prices are reasonable too. Of course there are cheaper options available (Amazon etc.) if you don't mind waiting longer. I bought a straight pen holder, three nibs–the Brause 361, the Nikko G, and the Gillot 303–and a jar of black Higgins Eternal ink and set to work. Before I'd started I had been hoping I would have a natural aptitude for calligraphy. I don't. I'm not terrible, but sadly I'm no modern calligraphy prodigy.

The first exercise in Nib + Ink is mark making. The idea is that you perfect your mark making techniques before moving on to letters and then, eventually, joined letters and words. Like a real grown-up. Naturally, I skipped straight to writing letters. I mean–how could I resist?

Since then I've been going back and forth between practicing mark making and practicing letters because–spoiler alert!–mark making is boring. Very boring. On the other hand, letters are great. I can happily go two hours just practicing letters. I'm currently using an A4 cartridge pad to practice in, it's not the best option as the ink bleeds a little but it's good enough for now.

I've also been practicing Perano's alphabet in pencil in an effort to build up some kind of muscle memory. For this activity, and for practicing with the ink, you can buy lined calligraphy layout books or you can download and print a lined calligraphy guide sheet from Perano's website. I chose the latter option. Alternatively, you can rule up your own pages (I tried it once, but it takes forever and despite careful effort my lines still didn't end up straight). I'm using an Art Studio A4 Bank Layout Pad from Riot Art & Craft for this activity, the paper is just the right thickness to allow me to see the lines of the guide sheet underneath. For now I'm just working on the letters 'A' to 'J', my goal is to master them before continuing on to the rest (although, Mother's Day is coming up in May so I need to start including 'M' and 'u' in my practice routine soon).


In the beginning I hated writing the letter 'A' but I've since worked out the the example I was using just wasn't the right one for me. In Nib + Ink Perano gives three examples. The first was the one I struggled with. I like the second example but I've found the third example is the one that suits me. If you find yourself struggling with a similar problem I highly recommend you try a range of different styles until you find one that works for you. It's basically a Goldilocks situation. Now that I've figured this out, 'A' is one of my favourite letters to write. 'H' is the the other.

At the moment I'm finding the hardest letters to replicate are the curviest ones: 'B' (the first letter of my surname and half of my family's first names –oh joy), 'C', 'D' etc. It's like they exist to to test my commitment to the task (or maybe just to torture me). Despite the frustration I can feel trying to get these letters (and the calligraphy marks) right I find the whole activity very calming and enjoyable. After all, you're supposed to use the book to develop your own style, not to replicate Perano's letters exactly.

You can read a sample of Nib + Ink on google books and view Perano's calligraphy work on her Lamplighter London Instagram. If you are looking for an alternative to colouring books or other mindfulness methods, or you just want to improve your handwriting, modern calligraphy could be the right hobby for you (also I need people to geek out about calligraphy supplies with!).

Until next time,
Miss Fif


*This post is not sponsored.

Podcasts: Soundtracking with Edith Bowman

I'm not musically gifted. Sure, I can sing aloud without bursting the eardrums of those around me (usually just my flat mate), but that's about it. I'm particularly inept at humming, something my twin sister will readily attest to. I have (on a good day) around a fifty per cent accuracy. I can manage the classic themes–Star Wars, James Bond, Doctor Who ... well, most of the theme to Doctor Who.

And I did once learn to play Greensleeves on my friend's keyboard, an accomplishment I was very proud of at the time–for the few hours I could remember how to play it (sorry Don, you were a very patient teacher).

In spite of all this I do like music–from indie rock to hip hop to film scores–and I like listening to other people talk about music. I only discovered this latter fact late last year after I stumbled upon a newer edition to the podcast scene, Soundtracking with Edith Bowman.

Soundtracking is a bi-weekly podcast about music in film (and sometimes television and theatre), hosted by broadcaster and writer Edith Bowman. Each week Bowman chats with a different person working in the film and television industry (usually a director) about their own relationship  with music, and the use of music in their films and other works. An affable interviewer and true music aficionado, Bowman asks interesting questions which her guests readily respond to, offering up music-related anecdotes from both their personal and professional lives.

Boasting a strong back catalogue of interviews, Soundtracking is well worth your time if you enjoy all things music and/or film and television. My favourite instalment is Episode 1 with Ben Wheatley but other highlights include Episode 22 (J. A. Bayona), Episode 11 (Andrea Arnold) and Episode 26 (Danny Boyle). It's also the most professional podcast I've come across so far. The sound quality and editing is always excellent, the music mentioned by Bowman and her guests seamlessly woven into each episode. 

That's all for now. Until next time,
Miss Fif

Audio Plays, The Lion King, and the Chestburster

I like stories. Stories of the past, and stories of the future. Stories of real worlds and of fictional ones. Of flawed heroes and complex villains. As a child I experienced these stories through the books I read and the films and television shows I watched. Then, in my early teens I was introduced to yet another kind of storytelling–the audio play.

Audio plays are an aural form of storytelling that have been around since the 1920s. They were originally broadcast on the radio (they're also referred to as radio plays, audio dramas etc.) and were immensely popular in the pre-television eras of the 1930s and 40s. In an audio play stories are conveyed through sound alone i.e. through narration, dialogue, and sound effects. The rest is up to your imagination.

My first encounter with audio plays came via my friend Hannah. You know how in high school you have that friend? The one whose childhood was, in many ways, different to yours? Hannah was that friend. For example, when I was five years old I fell asleep at the cinema watching The Lion King. When Han was five years old she saw Alien for the first time. While I was being terrorised by an evil cartoon lion Hannah was witnessing the infamous chestburster scene. Like I said, slightly different experiences.

As our friendship developed she became my go-to friend for all things sci-fi, specifically the sci-fi of the 1970s and 80s, from Blake's 7 to Red Dwarf. One day she decided to introduce my sister and I to Jeff Wayne's Musical Version of The War of the Worlds, an adaptation of the classic H. G. Wells novel (the official website calls it an 'album' but in my mind it will always be an audio play). It's a bizarre, fun concoction of progressive and symphonic rock, narrated by Richard Burton. Yes, that Richard Burton.

It would be another ten years before I encountered my next audio play–but once I was reintroduced I became hooked. Maybe you will too. Keep reading for some tips and recommendations for getting started.

First of all, BBC Radio 4* (and Radio 4 extra) is your new best friend. Their plays are available to stream free from their website (within a specific time period, often thirty days), and can be streamed from anywhere in the world. They have a range of categories, from period drama to science fiction to crime, all of which can be played on compatible smart phones, laptops, and tablets. There is currently a small range of Doctor Who episodes (starring the Fourth Doctor) available for streaming. They're also midway through a mini-series adaptation of Terry Pratchett's Eric (episodes one and two are currently available).

If you want to try the paid options, I recommend starting with Big Finish Productions, Audible.com, and iTunes**.

Big Finish produce both original and adapted content (including the previously mentioned Doctor Who episodes. They have a license to produce Doctor Who plays featuring many different incarnations of the Doctor). My favourite range is The Confessions of Dorian Gray, a series of plays based around the premise: what if Dorian Gray was a real (immortal) man whose life was the basis for his friend Oscar Wilde's famous novel? Some series feature Dorian recollecting select stories from his past–sometimes featuring famous fictional or historical figures–while others follow a serialised, present-day narrative.

If you think you like the sound of this series you can sample the range by purchasing individual episodes from the Big Finish website. I recommend the fan-favourite 'The Heart That Lives Alone' and, one of my personal favourites, 'Murder On 81st street', featuring the writer Dorothy Parker.

For a more conventional adaptation, you could try Neverwhere, How The Marquis Got His Coat Back, or Good Omens. All three were adapted by Dirk Maggs and are hugely enjoyable and impeccably produced works featuring star-studded casts. You can buy them from Audible or iTunes.

Finally, if you're a Pride and Prejudice fan you must(!) keep an eye out for the Radio 4 adaptation. Jamie Parker (the adult Harry Potter of The Cursed Child fame) makes for a swoon-worthy Darcy. Trust me (you can thank me later).

If none of these recommendations sound like they're for you don't be discouraged, there's a huge variety out there–just remember the golden rule, Radio 4 is your best friend.

Until next time,
Miss Fif


* Sadly (for the author), this post is not sponsored by BBC Radio 4.
** It's also not sponsored by Big Finish Productions, Audible.com, or iTunes.