#HarryPotter20: One of the greatest friends I’ll ever have.

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In 2000, sitting on the carpet as an innocent and naive year 3, (approximately aged 8 for those international folk), our substitute teacher decided that for the last ten minutes of class she would read us a few chapters from a book she was reading. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by JK Rowling. She got out her copy, which was the adult edition, with a black and white steam train on the front, and began to read. Safe to say, I was hooked and pleaded with Mum to get it from the library, along with Chamber of Secrets and the Prisoner of Azkaban, both which had been released.

Every night, Mum would sit by my bedside and we would read about the adventures of Harry, Ron, and Hermione and what they got up to at Hogwarts. By the time that Goblet of Fire was released that summer, just before I was due to turn 9, I wanted to start reading them independently, as a few chapters a night wasn’t doing it for me anymore. I HAD to know what happened next.

I had all four books in my collection, but as the three years without a new Harry Potter book passed, I had a lot going on in my home life that caused me to miss the release of Order of the Phoenix. My father was getting ill, we had to move from our lovely patchwork home that I’d grown up in, to a bungalow which was so unlike my previous home, and I’d started High School. It was an eventful year, and before I knew it, I’d been at High School for two years and Half Blood Prince was being released.

My brother, sister in law, and nephew were going on holiday to Spain to see my niece, and taking with her a copy of Half Blood Prince for her to read whilst she was traveling, and she wanted the UK edition to match the rest of her collection. I decided I would buy a copy too and read it on the plane over, but first I had to read the Order of the Phoenix and find out exactly what had happened where I left Harry, Ron, and Hermione nearly five years ago! Cue my first ever binge read!

So I was all caught up and ready for the final book in the series to be released! The Deathly Hallows! I had to wait two more years before I could get my hands on it but boy was I ready. At midnight, I went to Tesco with my niece and got in line with everyone else from my small town. We purchased Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and went home to read it immediately. Three days it took me because I paced myself and because I didn’t want it to end. My boyfriend at the time managed to read it in 8 hours whilst he recovered from tonsilitis. And suddenly, as the epilogue finished, the series was over, and the hole in my heart that I already had from losing my father grew bigger and bigger. Yes, I still had the films to watch, which was exciting of course, but it wasn’t the same.

Harry, Ron, and Hermione had been escapism for me, to help me through a time in my life that was truly terrible. How would I be able to cope without knowing another book was coming? Perhaps I needed to confront the hole in my heart instead of trying to fill it? And that’s what I did.

Long story short, twenty years on, I’ve come back to the series which I loved so much and read it again, eighteen years on from that day when I first heard those opening chapters. I loved it then and I love it still, and opening those books will always feel like a respite from the world. But now I don’t read them to fill the hole in my heart, I read them to remember what it feels like to love and have lost, and most importantly be human. Harry’s pain and grief validated my own, and having that transcend above all else means more to me than I could ever fathom.

Great Reads: Grief

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As a person who has been, and continues to be, bereaved, reading books that represent the emotions I’m going through is really important to me. Finding works of literature, songs or even films that put into words exactly how you’re feeling are just priceless, and so these are my top five favourites that deal with the subject of grief.

Please note that these books and further content of this post may contain triggers for grief and bereavement. 

1.

Looking for Alaska by John Green

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Loss: Best Friend / Love Interest 

Miles “Pudge” Halter is abandoning his safe-okay, boring-life. Fascinated by the last words of famous people, Pudge leaves for boarding school to seek what a dying Rabelais called the “Great Perhaps.” Pudge becomes encircled by friends whose lives are everything but safe and boring. Their nucleus is razor-sharp, sexy, and self-destructive Alaska, who has perfected the arts of pranking and evading school rules. Pudge falls impossibly in love. When tragedy strikes the close-knit group, it is only in coming face-to-face with death that Pudge discovers the value of living and loving unconditionally. – from Goodreads.com

This was the first grief related book I ever read and was struck about how honest and raw Pudge’s account of bereavement was. It makes a point of addressing the fact that although Pudge didn’t know Alaska for very long, she still made a huge impact on his life, which really validates those grieving for friends.

2.

The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson

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Loss: Sister

Lennie Walker spends her time tucked safely and happily in the shadow of her fiery older sister, Bailey. But when Bailey dies abruptly, Lennie is catapulted to centre stage of her own life – and, despite her nonexistent history with boys, suddenly finds herself struggling to balance two. Toby was Bailey’s boyfriend; his grief mirrors Lennie’s own. Joe is the new boy in town, with a nearly magical grin. One boy takes Lennie out of her sorrow, the other comforts her in it. But the two can’t collide without Lennie’s world exploding. – from Goodreads.com

Although there is a lot more to this book than just the death of Bailey, Lennie has a lot that she must accept which is the biggest struggle for her. Lennie must continue with her life without her sister, and paints a very real picture of life after someone passes.

3.

Far From You by Lisa Schroeder

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Loss: Mother

Years have passed since Alice lost her mother to cancer, but time hasn’t quite healed the wound. Alice copes the best she can by writing her music, losing herself in her love for her boyfriend, and distancing herself from her father and his new wife. But when a deadly snowstorm traps Alice with her stepmother and newborn half sister, she’ll face issues she’s been avoiding for too long. As Alice looks to the heavens for guidance, she discovers something wonderful. Perhaps she’s not so alone after all. – from Goodreads.com

Not only is this a book on grief, it’s also written in verse! It also tackles the topic of the afterlife which is something I haven’t really seen done in many novels about grief. It truly is one of a kind. This book also means a lot to me because I lost a parent, just as Alice did, and so it paints a very real picture of life without a parent and having a step-family.

4.

PS I Love You by Cecelia Ahern

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Loss: Husband

Holly couldn’t live without her husband Gerry, until the day she had to. They were the kind of young couple who could finish each other’s sentences. When Gerry succumbs to a terminal illness and dies, 30-year-old Holly is set adrift, unable to pick up the pieces. But with the help of a series of letters her husband left her before he died and a little nudging from an eccentric assortment of family and friends, she learns to laugh, overcome her fears, and discover a world she never knew existed. – from Goodreads.com

 Like some of the previous books in this list, PS I Love You deals with letting go, moving on and accepting the loss. Holly is eased back into life with the help of her husband Gerry who leaves letters for her posthumously.

5.

The Secret Year by Jennifer R. Hubbard

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Loss: Girlfriend

Colt and Julia were secretly together for an entire year, and no one? Not even Julia’s boyfriend knew. They had nothing in common, with Julia in her country club world on Black Mountain and Colt from down on the flats, but it never mattered. Until Julia dies in a car accident, and Colt learns the price of secrecy. He can’t mourn Julia openly, and he’s tormented that he might have played a part in her death. When Julia’s journal ends up in his hands, Colt relives their year together at the same time that he’s desperately trying to forget her. But how do you get over someone who was never yours in the first place? – from Goodreads.com

This novel is similar to Looking for Alaska but presents the story of grieving for a girlfriend/boyfriend in a different way. It tackles the similar themes of Green’s piece too, as well as presenting a death due to accident rather than illness, and puts some mystery around the death too, which makes it even harder for Colt to deal with.

These are my choice picks for books with themes of grief. I hope that people looking to read books that deal with bereavement will find this list helpful. Do you have any to add to the list? Let me know in the comments!

Top 5 Countries I’ve Traveled To

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I would be lying if I said I wasn’t proud of my traveling achievements. To date, I’ve been to 11 countries all around the world. But it’s not the quantity, it’s the quality, and I’ll be counting down my top five countries I’ve traveled to. (So far!)

These countries are in no particular order.

France

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(c) clarebearhh

You’re sitting in the airport lounge between your yawning parents. It’s early, but that doesn’t matter because today you’re going to Disneyland Paris! You’ve never been on a plane before, never been outside the UK before, and you can’t contain you’re excitement. Next, you’re on an art trip, admiring the beautiful architecture of Paris, eating baguettes and sharing a room with your best-est friend in the whole wide world, thinking it can’t get much better than this. But lastly, you’re on a beach in Nice, watching the sun go down, having spent nearly a month on the road with the same best-est friend. They say everything comes in cycles, and this one might just be your favourite.

Italy

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(c) clarebearhh

Once again, you’re sandwiched between your parents, this time in the back of your brother’s car, driving through the rolling hills of northern Italy. You admire the vineyards, the mountains, how everything is so green. Ten years later, you come back, with a heavy heart and minus your parents. You try to relive every memory you ever had here, trying to search for your lost loved ones as if they had come here to escape their illness. It’s your own little patch of heaven, and in some ways, you can still feel them with you in every step. It’s not just northern Italy that captures your heart. In your Europe Road Trip you glide through the cities, eating pizza, pasta and gelato, enjoying the country in true Italian style.

Hungary

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You’re sitting in the bay window of your hostel, looking down on the locals whilst you read. You’re reading Looking for Alaska by John Green, which you picked up for less than a pound in an English Bookstore. You marvel at how a book can perfectly summarise the grief you feel, and capture the wunderlust you ache for. You carry it with you through the rest of the trip, and for a long, long time after that. Budapest is the perfect rest stop, with the famous bathes to sooth your aching shoulders, goulash to settling your stomach and roommates who really make the stop exciting and fresh.

Austria

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Your inner child is squealing with joy, as you sing the songs from The Sound of Music and marvel at the filming locations. They even have a Julie Andrews exhibition, as if you weren’t excited enough. Salzburg is filled with deja vu, as is Vienna, which inhabits the stereotypical big city high street stores you would find at home. But if you look hard enough, you will find the back alley authentic Austrian gems, like the Naschmarkt, selling fresh fruit and vegetables, meat kebabs, and accessories and other trinkets made by the locals.

America

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(c) clarebearhh

Your J1 visa dictates a cultural exchange, you must work to earn your keep, but also have some adventures in equal measure. New York City is your favourite, the concrete jungle whisking you up in it’s frenzy. Times Square dazzles you with it’s bright lights, Broadway theaters and levels upon levels of shops. You celebrate the big 22, wearing a long, glamorous dress and having cocktails at TGI Friday’s, a burger a Planet Hollywood and a matinee show. You feel like a Princess, making it one to remember, and flying bright and early next day to Florida. Harry is waiting for you at the Islands of Adventure, where Ollivander gives you your wand, Willow with Unicorn Hair, ten and three quarter inches.

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That concludes my top five. It was really difficult to choose from all of the wonderful places I’ve been to, and as you can tell some hold incredible memories for me. In the second part to this post, I’ll look at the places I really want to visit and haven’t yet. Are there any you think I should add to the list? Let me know in the comments!

Writing a Book: My Tips & Tricks

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I have written a book, which is a phrase I never thought I would say, no matter how much I wanted to. It’s always been a headliner on my bucket list, and last November after a grueling attempt at NaNoWriMo, I managed to tick it off.

I have not ever published a book, but I’m working on it, and hopefully one day I’ll be able to tick that off the bucket list too. But after four years of would-be-novel writing, I’ve picked up a few tips and tricks to help you on your way to a finished manuscript.

1

Make a list of genres/narratives/plot devices/settings you love.

I sat in front of my bookshelf, looked up at all of my well-loved books and asked myself “what is it about these books that I love?” Here were some of the answers I came up with:

The sea, lyrical writing, boarding schools, room mates/flat mates, no parents, freedom and independence, letters, philosophy, candidness of feeling, metaphor, living in sections/houses/districts/factions, snow, road trips, epic romances, being stuck somewhere, elements, magic, mystery, royalty, marriage, death/grief, group dynamics, history and many more.

2

Make a list of names for characters you love.

You can do this by either going on a baby name website, or for something more periodic you could always go and look at the gravestones of people from a certain time period. This may spark some thoughts as to the identity behind the name, or character traits. Some names I love and plan on using are:

George, Corey, Greta, Matthew, Sasha, Kendra, Laurie, Harry, Lisel, Brodie, Annalise, Catelynn, Ida, Lydia, Teddy, Karen, Shay, Daya, Torin, and many more.

3

Make a summary or short synopsis of your story.

Take the plot devices and the names you have just picked out and try to construct a story idea from the elements you’ve chosen. Don’t worry too much about your story sounding like something that’s already been published, some people believe there are only seven basic plots in the world. If we all worried about whether our story was original or not, we wouldn’t have much time for writing! See also: the thirty six dramatic situations.

For example, I could write a story about Laurie, a college freshman and History student, who writes letters to her future self about the lessons she learns from life, whilst slowly falling in love with her room mate.

4

Buy a notebook, small enough to fit in your bag/pocket and big enough for your ideas!

If you are a writer, then there is a large chance you are also a stationary fiend. Writing a book gives you license to go to your local retailer and stock up on pens, post-it notes, highlighters, paper clips and a notebook (or a few). If you carry around your notebook with you at all times, you can write down an idea when the moment strikes, which is handy if you are particularly forgetful.

When I was working on my NaNoWriMo project, I had my notebook with me at all times!

5

Write an outline, however vague or detailed.

My outline was similar to a script format. I detailed where the scene was taking place, who was there and important factors worth noting. I also wrote the bare bones of the dialogue between the two characters, or bare description of what a character was doing in the particular scene. After I had done this for the beginning, middle and end of the book, I went back through it and added in description, building the image of my scene from the ground up. The structure I had gave me something to work with, which really, really helped during my writing period.

And lastly, set yourself a goal. Whether you aim to write a hundred words a day or a thousand, it’s important to stay focused and disciplined.

I hope this little article has helped inspire a few of you to get writing. Let me know down in  the comments if any of these tips work for you!