Me Before You | Jojo Moyes | Michael Joseph | 512pp | $14rrp
Another one of my personal challenges this year, besides reading more non-fiction, is to read from my shelves. Let's face it, we all buy too many books, and we don't read them all. Me Before You has been on my book shelf for the better part of twelve months.
According to Goodreads, it has been eight days since I finished reading Me Before You. Like all good books, though, I’m still thinking about it.
My first attempt at reading Jojo Moyes’ bestseller about a quadriplegic, his eccentric carer, and his choice to end his own life, had me putting it down after sixty pages. It just didn’t grab me in the way I wanted it to. This time, however, was different.
In the midst of a rewrite for my own book, I found myself distract. Just one more chapter. One more. My own efforts at writing were coming out a jumbled mess, so, when my editor suggested I needed to take a bit of time off and just chill the fuck out, that’s what I did. I read half the book in a day.
And I cried.
I bawled like a fresh baby. Howled like a losing football team. Threatened to throw the book across the room.
It’s funny how picking up a book at two different points of life will change our perception of it. Last time, not so interested. This time, I was all over it like ants on sugar.
With writing that is ridiculously rich, scenes and characters, memories and personality shine from the page. Will Trainor is, at first, an angry and frustrated man. And who could blame him? An accident, through no fault of his own, has left him wheelchair bound for the rest of his life. No cure, no escape. His carer, Lousia Clarke, presents as a somewhat stumped individual. From my reading, she kind of held her family together financially when no one else could and, of course, people took advantage of that in their own selfish ways.
Selfishness plays a huge role in this film. As a reader, we’re asked to question who is right, who is wrong, and just who is the selfish one as Will (Sam Claflin) moves toward a life-altering decision. Louisa (Emilia Clark) tries to change his mind, while other people have their own opinions on what he should and shouldn’t do, but just who has his interests at heart?
When presented in film, we’re handed a more eccentric Louisa, which plays to the comedic value that a film of this subject needs. Amazingly, for me, I’d managed to avoid all spoilers of the book and film until I’d read the book. I’d had discussions about the book limited only to, ‘Have you seen the film, yet?’. Of course, I would answer, ‘No, I want to read the book first.’ Recently, that earnt me the descriptor ‘dedicated’, which is kind of fitting. I just really enjoy the compare and contrast. The more I step away and take each as their own, the less I’m bothered by the differences.
With a supporting cast including Charles Dance (The Imitation Game, Game of Thrones), Janet McTeer (101 Dalmatians), Brendan Coyle (Downton Abbey), Matthew Lewis (Harry Potter), and Stephen Peacocke (Home and Away), the film adaptation is fantastically fun, even if they do gloss over or remove pertinent elements of the book. Gone is Will’s sister, and a piece of Louisa’s background, which I thought went a way to explaining why she is who she is, and why she hasn’t experienced as much of the world as Will expects her to.
Also, I just really love the cast. They were all great picks, and it's always fun seeing Australian actors on screen.
I feel strongly about films such as Me Before You, and Third Star, which deal with the topics presented in this story (euthanasia). After all, fiction is another way we learn and adapt to the world around us. It helps to shape our social norms and opinions, so to see people tackling sensitive issues helps encourage discussion, something that needs to happen more in these circles.
Sad, uplifting, funny, frustrating, Me Before You is one that I’ll return to again, even if it does mean I’ll need shares in Kleenex.
Next up: #sciencenonfiction
I thought it best that maybe I talk a little bit about the 2018 Reading Challenge, because I haven't really explained much of it until now. You may have seen this image floating around Instagram, or maybe you haven't. It certainly hasn't gone viral like last year's did, but that's okay. You can get a hi-res version here.
The rules are simple. This year's aim is to read more non-fiction. I know I often fall into the trap of reading the same books (rom-com) over again. There's nothing wrong with that, of course, but I felt like I needed to mix it up a bit. As for each hashtag, here we go:
#bookpublishedin2018 | Simple, pick up a non-fiction book published this year.
#bannedbook | Scandal! Horreur! Find a non-fiction book that's been banned. If you can't obtain one, fiction will do fine.
#WW1nonfiction | Ever wanted to learn more about the Great War? I have.
#WW2nonfiction | World War II, there are so many facets to this you won't struggle to find a book.
#currentroyalty | If you know me, you know I adore Queen Elizabeth for being the badass that she is. World War II mechanic, and being thrust into a role she wasn't born into? Give the woman some props. Or, if you like, pick your own royal family, there are plenty around the world to choose from.
#pastroyalty | Been binging Victoria on ITV? Me, too. Learn more about your favourite (dead) royal here.
#politicalleader | Now, more than ever, world politics is a seesaw of Twitter, big, shiny red buttons, and pissing contests. Pick your favourite political leader to brush up on.
#ChineseAuthor | Great chance to explore some new translated fiction you may otherwise have ignored. Go on, you never know what lurks in the library. Non-fiction works well here, too.
#RussianAuthor | Second verse, same as the first. I've talked about exploring other cultures through fiction, but have never done it. Non-fiction works well here, too.
#AfricanAuthor | Go on a virtual safari, learn about customs different to yours. Non-fiction works well here, too.
#culturalhistory | Fascinated by the Egyptian empire? Romans? Get your chariot to the bookshop and find yourself something Nero would be proud of.
#traveldestination | Where will this year take you? Learn a bit about that country before you get there. You never know the odd customs you learn about before you arrive.
#ManBookerNominee | This one's simple. Any book that's been nominated for the Man Booker. The possibilities are (not quite) endless.
#mycountry | Discover some local talent (Australians, hello!) with your choice of fiction or non-fiction.
#bookmyparentread | Were your parents avid readers? My Dad is. This year, I'll ask him for a recommendation.
#translation | So long as the book has been translated into your native language, you can choose it for this one.
#friendrecommendation | Friend been pestering you about reading their fave? Give it a crack. Even if you don't like it, you might learn more about your friend.
#bookfrommyshelf | Another random one. Slash that TBR pile right here.
#sciencenonfiction | In the age of climate change deniers and putting limits on scientific language, buck the system. Read about science. Read about the climate. Read about something techy.
#guiltypleasure | For me, that might be re-reading the James Bond: Vargr comic for the tenth time. For you, it might be a bodice ripping, panty dropping romance. Either way, grab the choccies, pull up a blanket, and get pleasured.
#debutauthor | Debut authors, where do I begin there? Just give one a go. We all start somewhere, and there are some amazing debuts coming out in 2018.
#musicalhistory | Are you more Beethoven or Bieber? Mozart or Metallica? Expand your creative horizons with some musical non-fiction.
#historialfiction | This is one genre I don't read enough of. Maybe you can recommend a book?
#literaryfiction | Fancy! Often chewy, but oh so worth it.
#comedy | Lighten up with any type of humour you like. It's good to laugh.
#femaleauthor | Despite my love of rom-coms, I do often slip into the pattern of reading male authors, so let's break that, and give the ladies some love.
#nonwhiteauthor | With the author world dominated by white male authors, we thought we'd reach out and pick someone else. Especially important if we haven't made a conscious effort to do so already this year.
#filmadaptation | The book was better! We know.
The Dance of Anger | Harriet Lerner | William Morrow & Company | 243pp | $17rrp
One of the aims of my 2018 reading challenge is to read a wider range of non-fiction. Fiction is great for escapism and the sheer enjoyment of reading, but non-fiction is, obviously, a great learning tool. It's also something I haven't embraced as much as I should have.
So, I'm pleased to say that my first book of the year, #friendrecommendation, was The Dance of Anger, by Dr Harriet Lerner. It's one that's been recommended to me over again by a friend and family member, so out it came.
Reviewing a book like this is fraught with danger. If I tell you it feels like the author has splayed out my life in book format, people will ask questions: Who are you angry at? Did you write that review about me? Did you read the book because of me?
The truth is, we all have anger in our lives, whether it's friends or family. None of us will go through life without ever being angry. This book simply lays out some examples, situations we all may face at some stage, and provides handy hints and tips for dealing with them.
There's discussion about society's historical roles for women, familial relationships, and how birth order and generational relationship patterns often repeat themselves. Think about it, I'm sure you can come up with some examples yourself.
In future, I feel like I'll return to this book. It's one that needs to be read multiple times, as not everything can be reinforced through a single sit. I'll also be recommending it to anyone with ears, male or female because, while this book is targeted at women, I feel the men in our lives could also benefit from reading it.
All the best for the 2018 Book Challenge. Onto the next one: #bookfrommyshelf
Most people associate me with Bryan Adams. They hear him on the radio and send me a text, or pop up in a Facebook chat. Or, like recently, a tour is announced. I get tagged in 473 group posts about getting the old touring team back together and hopping around the country for the concert jaunt of a lifetime. Then, my notifications light up like a Christmas tree.
‘See you there, B!’
‘Bet you’ve got tickets already.’
‘Belinda, I hope you know about this?’ (Totally, by the way)
Alright! I get it! Bryan Adams is touring. Sweet. Let me check my bank balance.
My first BA (those of us ‘in the know’ only ever refer to him as BA) concert was on February 10, 1997. Flinder's Park Tennis Centre was dark and sweaty, full of pumping, heaving bodies, mums dressed up like they were going to take ol’ Adams home for the night, and groupies.
Then there was me. Fourteen years old, covered in pimples, and wearing tracksuit pants. At that age, I wasn’t up with the notion of ‘outside’ pants. You know, jeans, slacks, etc. All I knew was these were my clothes, and they went everywhere. I looked like a dill.
For a teenager, their first solo concert is an almost religious experience, especially when you check your bank balance the next morning and scream, ‘Christ!’, over just how much you spent at the merchandise stand ($600 from memory – it was a lot of pocket money back then, too).
I floated on a cloud through the rest of my teenage years. I mean, come on, I’d been within five feet of my idol. Squee, splort, sploosh, add your sexually suggestive adjective here.
See, the thing with music is it’s kind of transformative. Certain songs remind you of specific moments in life, or can just pull you out of a shit day when you need it most. Maybe that doesn’t happen for everyone, but it does me. Music is my great calmer, to the point that I often sleep with headphones on and music tapping away at my ears.
And it continued like this through the years. I caught on to other artists; Chris Isaak is brilliant live, if you get the chance. In the end, I always returned to BA.
In March 2005, I spent a week travelling around Australia with a dear friend. We took in every BA concert except Perth. We ate ham and coleslaw rolls for lunch every day, shared beds in cheap hotels, had lukewarm showers, hired dodgy cars, and caught red-eye Jetstar flights each morning to our next destination. One night saw us cosying up to BA in the lobby of a Brisbane hotel, before partying with the roadcrew until dawn and, with zero sleep, on the plane at 7am to the next concert.
I haven’t eaten a ham and coleslaw roll since, though it’s a running joke in our home.
To me, that trip was everything I could want as a fan. Lack of sightseeing aside (we weren’t there for that, after all), I met an amazing group of friends, solidified the friendships I already had, and managed to meet BA. Finally.
While I’ve done a couple of interstate concerts since, I haven’t felt the need to do another full tour. In hindsight, it’s exhausting, even if it is the most fun you can have with a bread roll and deli salad in your hand. Plus, life has changed.
During the 2005 tour, I knew my husband, but we hadn’t started dating. Apparently, there was a time when he wasn’t in my life, but who knew? Back then, I was kind of dating this weird English guy. He looked like Hugh Grant thrown in bleach and shrunk. When he decided to join a cult, that’s when I got cut loose. Consider that bullet dodged. Enter: The Husband.
I’m glad that Shane has been able to entertain my weird BA thing. Because, let’s face it, it is weird. He’s been subjected to the same albums on repeat in the car. He’s blagged the designated driver role for concerts, and hung out with my friends and I while the only topic of conversation was: Reckless is way better than Waking Up the Neighbours, what planet are you on? No, Get Up! was not that great an album.
In 2013, BA toured Australia as part of the Waking Up the Neighbours 20th anniversary tour. The Melbourne show was on April 20, four days before my birthday. It was, to this day, the best Bryan Adams show I’d ever seen. Even Shane walked out of that concert and said, ‘Finally, I think I get it.’
Four days later, on my 31st birthday, I was in a car, driving toward Bathurst. For the next few days, I sat on a balcony in a hotel that overlooked Mt Panorama. As stupidly expensive cars whipped down the straight, people yelled, cheered, and screamed as they narrowly avoided damage. It didn’t seem right.
It was then that I began to re-evaluate what I was doing with my life, what I wanted to do and achieve, and why, at thirty-one, I was nowhere near as accomplished as my peers. I mean, at thirty-one, BA had one of the biggest selling singles of all time screaming up music charts around the world. What was I doing? I was pissing my days away in a dead-end job with less support than a fishnet bra.
Perhaps my feelings had more to do with the fact I was desperately unhappy in my job. I was at a company that used bullying and intimidation to get things done. A week after I left, I received a text from a male colleague that read, ‘Just so you know, Chris wasn’t the one who organised the bullying against you.’
Well done for a) pretending to be a friend, b) not doing anything about it, and c) becoming a bully by virtue of doing nothing.
Even now, I have nightmares about having to return there, having to beg for a job to pay bills.
I digress, though. It was a shit time, but one of great enlightenment. I went back to school, learned to balance a budget on less than 50% of the income we had before, and got back into cooking. I also had time to read.
Reading lead to writing, which was something I’d always kept to myself. It was my hobby and, through comments made in the past, I honestly felt a little bit ashamed of it. I was embarrassed by it. I would tell people I wanted to write, and they would laugh at me, couple it with an insult, and send me on my way. Even now, people ask when I’m going to get a ‘real job’.
But still, she persisted. I had some great life experiences in the interim. In early 2014, Shane asked what I wanted for my birthday. I jokingly replied, ‘Benedict Cumberbatch’. The next morning, he was announced as an OzComicCon guest. Guess what? For my 32nd birthday, I had dinner with Sherlock.
Somewhere in conversation, the question was asked of him, ‘Did you ever worry about working in the arts? It’s so cutthroat, was there ever a question of failing?’. His response was blunt: ‘No. I knew I was good enough, so I just kept working at it’. If I ever take one piece of advice from anyone on earth, that there would be it.
I threw myself into writing, churning out two books in three months. In hindsight, my version of editing and marketing was a piece of shit, but twelve months later, I released my first book. By August 2015, things were changing quickly, rapidly, and my poor brain was struggling to keep up.
While a lot of friends had been overseas before, I hadn’t. In July 2015, I packed a bag and headed to the UK for six weeks of travel, and a performance of Hamlet. Seeing Cumberbatch on a London stage was the excuse I needed to get me off my ass and start exploring the world. But I didn’t get what I bargained for on my trip. I got more.
My holiday was everything I needed. I stepped off that plane at Heathrow and was immediately smashed to pieces. Disoriented in a foreign country, with no husband to lean on. I had to work it all out myself, which seems like a funny thing to say, but you never do quite realise how much you rely on your partner to ‘do’ things for you, even if it’s just a second voice of approval. Over the six weeks that followed, I picked up the glue and put little pieces back. I learned about myself and my marriage, about what needed to change, and what needed to stay.
It was sometime in August 2015 that BA released new material. I remember this, because I was staying with a painter in Sheffield, and spent the morning bouncing around my room listening to ‘You Belong To Me’. The song was boppy, infectious, and I hoped that the rest of the album lived up to this, because I was so in love with the song.
Sadly, it didn’t. Well, either it didn’t, or I was changing. It was maybe the latter.
Sheffield holds strong family connections for me. My grandmother was born there. Her house no longer stands, but just being there was enriching. From the moment I arrived, I felt like I didn’t need a map. My body just knew where to go.
I spent days with strangers who became fast friends. People who wrote, and had their own thoughts on my writing and that I should throw caution to the wind and just do it. We ate vegetarian food, drank coffee at the Rude Shipyard, and I got completely drunk and gave my only jumper away to someone.
When I left Sheffield, I was adamantly set on my path. I didn’t care who liked it or not, I was going to succeed in my writing. It was what I loved. I had loved it as a twelve-year-old, put it away under the pretence of ‘being an adult’ when I shouldn’t have, and I had lost time to make up for.
Back in Melbourne, I stepped off the plane in completely different shape to what I’d been when I left, physically and emotionally. My travels were, essentially, a profound experience. I will write about them in more detail one day, but for now, that’s how I’ll describe them.
And back to BA.
He toured in 2016. I didn’t really want to go, but went because all my friends were. It was okay, but I didn’t love it. There wasn’t anything wrong with the performance, it was just exactly the same as the other eighteen concerts I’d seen. Life was just, different.
I had different goals, different views, and different priorities. Somewhere along the line (Sheffield, I suspect), my life split off on another path. Rocky, uncertain, but exciting, it was time for me to follow that.
Shane and I have been married ten years in March 2018. We wanted to celebrate in style. Cash has been super tight the last few years but, still, we wanted to do something big, something for us, and I desperately wanted to share with him the experiences I brought back from the UK. So, in March, we’re headed to the UK for six weeks of books for me, cars for him, and pop culture and history for the both of us.
We’ve saved hard to make this happen, and it’s shifted our priorities when it comes to nights out. Now, we have a bucket list of bands we’d like to see live. ELO and Peter Gabriel are at the top of that list. I’d also like to see BA at O2 Arena in London, but I don’t need to see him in Melbourne again. I don’t even need to see him in Geelong.
Life is about enriching experiences, trekking your path, and growing. I no longer feel that I’m going to achieve that by watching the same performer work through an almost identical set list from last time. I want to be moved. I want to see plays in Galway, read books in Hay-on-Wye, climb rope bridges at Giant’s Causeway, eat croissants in Paris, drive a Jaguar through Yorkshire, ponder life over a coffee in Roald Dahl Plasse, and write decent literature. Quite simply, I want more.
I need more.
That’s why, this tour, I’ve decided not to go. Perhaps BA performed a function in my life, kept me treading water as a teenager. Though I don’t listen to it as often, I still love his music. I’ve got a small list of people I’d like to work with in this life, and he’s among them. So, it’s not like I’m sitting here proclaiming a dislike for him. I just need something more than what he’s offered in the past.
So, if you’ve invited me recently (and a lot of you have), please know that it’s not you, it’s me.
If you are travelling to the concert (and I know my house will be full of friends for a few days there), please enjoy yourself. BA puts on an excellent concert.
What a very special time for me . . . or so the song goes.
It's been a while, hasn't it? I have been here, reading, writing, and reviewing. This year has provided a host of challenges and surprises - some of which I can't discuss yet. Nevertheless, it's going to be an awesome 2018. What have I got planned? Glad you asked.
- France, England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and New Zealand.
Wait, what? That's right. I'm headed back to the 'homeland'. It's my wedding anniversary in March and, because Shane and I have been married ten years, we (I) decided the UK would be ask good a place as any to celebrate that. The coolest thing is, we'll be in London for my birthday, so it's drinks at The Gherkin and pretty frocks at ten paces. Are you ready for a madcap blogging adventure? I sure as hell am. The last trip provided all kinds of fun, and I'm sure this one will be no different.
Books. There will be books in 2018. I can't say too much right now simply because I haven't finalised everything yet, but I promise it's going to be a massive year.
Speaking of challenges this year: I failed miserably at my 2017 Reading Challenge. I blame life and laziness in equal measure. Still, that hasn't stopped me putting together a 2018 Reading Challenge. You'll find it on the homepage if you're keen. If not, that's completely okay, too.
I had planned that 2017 was going to be the big year where I put out a whole heap of posts about how to write and when to write and what to write, and hints, tips, and book reviews galore. It didn't quite turn out like that. I hope 2018 proves more fruitful on that front. I'd love to share what I know with you.
Lastly, but most importantly: thank you to all of you who have purchased books this year. Mine, or another author's. Thank you for keeping us going. I promise 2018 is going to be a bigger, more exciting year, and I can't wait to show you what's in store.