Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Lessons learned from Karren Brady (the ultimate #GirlBoss)

She's the strong, silent and ever-so sassy advisor on The Apprentice. That's how I knew her and not much more.

Browsing for my next read I stumbled across Karren's autobiography and thought it might make an interesting read. And that it was!

Having skipped the traditional route of university Karren went straight into the world of business and was Managing Director of Birmingham City by the age of 23. 

She's built up an overwhelmingly impressive career and has learned a lot. She shares this with solid advice to inspire confidence and behaviours that will help guide you through life and work (not just business). Just to look at her life and career is inspiring but the way she writes is genuinely rousing and energising. 

Karren dismisses the idea that a good leader is founded in gender-related qualities (obvs), yet she doesn't shy away from engaging with issues surrounding being a woman in business, specifically in football-based business: both raising a family and dealing with other people's bullshit. She's a proud feminist, fighting to get more women on boards. And that's wonderful.

Anyhow, I found myself constantly underlining little pieces of wisdom so I thought I'd do a post to share some of those. But do go read the book.

On confidence

"I learnt never to belittle my contributions, and to say thank you when people paid me a compliment about my work. I didn't say, 'It's nothing', because it wasn't nothing. And if I didn't value it, who would?"

"Self-esteem eliminates fear... [it's] about valuing yourself and your opinions and not being afraid to voice them."

"...nobody will champion you or your career if you don't. I never waited for someone to say, 'You did a good job.' I'd be saying to people, 'Look at what I've done! Isn't it great? Shouldn't I head up the next project?' To me, that was a more straightforward approach."

On dealing with difficult people

"I have never let people put me down, make me feel inferior or say that I wasn't good at something. It's about being able to say, 'I'm sorry, you may think that's acceptable, but I don't.' I think that comes from that inner belief in myself."

"Handle the difficult men with class. It's important to be decisive and shut down a problem effectively and quickly. You must stand up for yourself and show that you cannot and will not be intimidated."

On determination and hard work being the most important factors to success

"I meet a lot of people with great ideas, but they lack the energy and determination to see them through. But if you're determined, with a steely core and a can-do attitude, you're an entrepreneur."

"People should do the things that need to be done, when they need to be done, whether they like it or not."

On taking risks

"A lot of people fear failure so much that they can't achieve anything."

"Calculate the worst thing that can happen and be comfortable with it."

On dealing with difficulty

"If you panic in the face of a problem, you're going to have an unhappy life because life is a series of problems. How happy you are relates to the solutions you find to deal with them...For me, a problem is an opportunity to show off my talent and put everything I know into action."

"No matter how bad things are, no matter how hard the battle you face, you have to accept the reality of the situation and embrace the pressure. You just have to take the view that it has to be done."

"Before you achieve success you nearly always face temporary defeat - sometimes total failure....success is about having the backbone to work a way through."

On the power of personality

"No matter how much you know, you have to have the personality to deliver it. People need to have confidence in what you're saying."

On leadership & team work

"It was about creating an environment where everybody had a role...every role was respected and every role was important."

"Great leadership is as much about paying attention to the nitty-gritty as it is about sounding the part."

"The best leaders are not afraid to work with and listen to people across a broad spectrum, and they get excited when they meet people better than them. That's because they are confident in their own ability."

On gratitude 

"...in an ideal world everyone would have a near-death experience that turns out all right. It teaches you an awful lot about yourself....it teaches you the importance of doing the things you want to do. About aiming high and asking a lot from life."

On feminism

"There's this idea that if you're a woman and you put yourself out there, you've got to take on the chin whatever anyone wants to throw at you. But why?"

"I want to defeat this view that successful women are a special breed - actually you just to have to work bloody hard, to have an idea, go for it and be dedicated to it."

"Have confidence. Walk tall. Be direct. Never be afraid to be a woman."

On balancing having a family with a career 

"What I now appreciate, and didn't understand then, was that a career spans a lifetime, and that taking a few months off would not have harmed mine." [Karren took just three days' maternity after her first child.]

"In my experience, there is never an ideal time and worrying about when will often mean you leave it too late and miss out. If you think about things for ever, you can come up with as many reasons not to do something as to do it, so you have to just go for it."

And a reassuring truth

"Sometimes I just think, oh shit."

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Some thoughts on Caroline Horton's Islands

Photo: Ed Collier

"It failed/Failed to hit the mark/To solve the problem/To represent the issue/So much more could have been said/What a waste."

I came out of Islands feeling jubilant. It was exciting, it was crazy, and I'd loved it. I'd gone alone and felt the need to talk about it. So I turned to Google and to reviews.

I knew it had divided critics and opinions in general but reading the reviews felt so disheartening.

Many of the critics felt they hadn't got what they'd expected but also seemed to imply a certain kind of obligation when making political theatre.

Perhaps it was an expectations thing. To go in when the show began, having read the copy, you'd expect a play about these issues. It wasn't that. 

It feels futile to labour over what something is sometimes. It's a play but it's not. It's the Rocky Horror Show meets Shunt meets The Dresden Dolls meets Ubi Roi meets something entirely new.

It's not people discussing tax havens in a straight, dramatic but angered manner.

[Maybe it's like when you go to drink what you think is orange juice and it's actually water and it tastes disgusting. But it's not. It's just a surprise and yet it tastes grim.]

I went on the last night of the show. I'd not been too aware of reviews but seen a lot of buzz on Twitter and in person too, talk of it riling people up, of it being shocking, of walk outs and it being something you should see, even if you won't necessarily like it.

With all that in mind my idea of what Islands would be was inevitably different to what those first audiences would have expected. I went in pretty open. If anything, really ready to be shocked, which I'm not sure that I was.

So sure, I get that expectations affect enjoyment. But I reject the notion that this should have been more political.

Politics in art doesn't have to be, and probably shouldn't be, stuffy. It doesn't have to be subtle or didactic or anything else for that matter. It should just say something. Somehow.

I don't get what the critics wanted. Or how it was a missed opportunity.

Did they want facts? Did they want opinions and anger? The latter was there I feel, but really, we can watch the news and read the paper and watch Question Time and we all know it's wrong, but is that what you want to put on a stage? 

Surely the exciting question is what can theatre do that journalism can't?

And the answer is this. It's visceral, grotesque, ugly, garish and wonderful. It makes you feel as well think and that's entirely necessary. 

It's also very funny. ("Comedy is simply a funny way of being serious." Peter Ustinov.)

It's glamorous and nightmarish and you feel on side with Mary to begin with, she's an outsider, she's an anarchist, and yes she's right, it is a bit of a "shit world". Something needs to be done. And then we realise she's just as bad. And it doesn't matter if you're an artist, "a good person that went to university". It doesn't matter that it's a legal loophole. Even if you think the whole system's shit and you're riding above.

And there's the scary real-world voiceover and they're put in their place with a slapped wrist but then they bounce back and celebrate being good and order out, a flight to LA, caviar, whatever, and it's infuriating. And it's this party, and no one is stopping them, and we're watching it happen.

It plays with ideas about power and the media circus and politics and how it's all linked. 

I don't even want to write too much more about the show because I'm not sure I know how, but I do think that this is exactly the kind of theatre we should be seeing, even, and especially, in relation to big issues. It's exciting, it's new, and for me, it was really enjoyable.

Challenging is fine. Not liking something is also fine. Maybe you didn't get what you wanted from it, but what did you get? Look at that.

And if you're still not convinced, can we still please celebrate theatre that is trying something new? Yeah? Cool.

Do check out Dan Rebellato's review - a brilliant, worthwhile read.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

I was depressed, I'm not now

Image via Uplift Magazine.

I was depressed.

I was sad and and numb and slow and frantic and scared and angry and sometimes drunk but always hopeless.

But I'm not now. I'm well, quite content, and worlds away from these feelings.

Sure, I get sad now and then, like we all do - but it's not all-consuming. It's healthy. It's normal.

In March 2012 I wrote a blogpost about the day to day experiences of living with depression and how it felt.

It resonated with people and seemed to help. It was how they felt too and so maybe it made them feel less alone. But I didn't really talk about moving forward. So now I wanted to do that.

Because if I would have known back then how different I would be now, to leave that depression but also to be more comfortable in my own skin, confident even, well - I wouldn't have believed it. Because hopelessness really is part of the depression package.

But I want to tell you, if you are struggling, that it can, and does, get better.

I can't tell you exactly how, because that will vary for everyone, but I can tell you that it can and does, and how it was for me.

The first time I was depressed (2009) I went for ten sessions of counselling but struggled to get anything out of it. I just couldn't engage. I stopped going to work and I stopped going to university. I basically put my life on pause.

Over time and having to help other people I came through it, and made some big changes in my life. I took a year out of university and worked full time in my retail job. The pressure was off and I got myself together. Or at least I thought I had.

Around a year later, when I was back at university, it came back. Less sudden this time and more of a creeping sensation, slowly being dragged down and knowing of what was happening without being able to stop it.

It was worse this time. It was horrible. I dreaded each day, not wanting to go to bed because it would bring the next day closer. Again, I'd started counselling but it wasn't enough.

At this point my mum encouraged me to go to the doctors. I couldn't just stop everything again, and yet I couldn't keep going like this.

So I started on citalopram. It didn't work immediately, but then, it did. Slowly but surely I started to feel better. I'd really resisted it, for no good reason, but it was what dragged me out of that terrible depression.

Once the depression began to lift I could engage with the counselling: I was open to it rather than completely hopeless about anything helping.

Then, I read self-help books. I've talked about this before, but if you're new here then basically Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers changed a lot for me.

It sounds very peppy and it is, but ride out the twee and you get some incredible life lessons. Rather than being about seeking the courage to do something specific, it explores how life is more about how you respond to what happens to you than it is about what happens to you.

It gives you practical exercises to find a healthier way of thinking and to feel more positive.

I think if I was still in the midst of depression I wouldn't have seen it through, it would have seemed a bit too much so maybe it's one to start on when a bit better.

And maybe that won't be the book for you, but maybe another will. You might cringe at the idea of self-help books but it could really help.

Once I was better I started having Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (the waiting list was long). The principles were familiar to me but the process was so helpful, even though I was by this point not depressed. I had issues to work out in terms of my behaviours and attitudes.

While my depression was acute, my self-esteem issues were pretty chronic and I was able to work on this. I learned how to know I was good enough. Even little behaviours I had that bugged me I could work on.

The other thing that helped me get and stay well was being wary of alcohol. If I was feeling low and then drank, I'd drink to excess, feel terrible emotionally that night and the next day, I'd cry, I'd do stupid things and it wouldn't help - not at all. As much as I seemed to think it was a good idea each time.

I still drink now, but not if I'm feeling sad, and not all that often. I don't need it now, because I'm ok with being myself, on a normal playing field. That was a big change.

Something else that comes into moving on from depression is remembering it. Even though I've actively fought the stigma through things like blogging, until recently I still felt a lingering sense of guilt.

I felt bad about how I acted at the time, for some of the things I did. I thought if some of that was "post-depression" then it wasn't an excuse. I realise now I really wasn't well for a good while, and that wasn't my fault.

I can't even recall what made that click into place but it felt like such a relief. It wasn't my fault, I wasn't well. I could move on. Properly.

By helping myself I've helped others, which still helps me. When depressed, or even if not, in this big old world it's easy to feel insignificant, and think why bother, but in a million ways you can help.

Firstly your loved ones - you can be there for them and also they can just generally enjoy your company. You're more valued than you know.

But also in a broader sense. You don't have to have money to give, or even all that much time. Just you.

You could give blood or your time or your truth (a tweet or a blogpost, you wouldn't think it but it could be just what someone needs) or a bit of organising (collecting for a foodbank/refuge/homeless shelter).

You'll feel involved and you'll be doing something.

And that's not coming from a preachy place. It's just true what they say about helping others helping you and boosting your mood. It really does - and also gives you many much-needed moments of having your faith in humanity restored. Depression is a dark place to be, so seeing how wonderful people can be is a brilliant antidote to that.

However you get there, you will get there. 

And you will look back and it will all seem quite strange, and maybe a little sad.

I'm able to talk about this easily now, online or in real life, but once in a while I'll remember certain aspects of it and it will be upsetting. I'll feel upset for my past self, that I used to think that way, that when depressed I didn't know I was worth anything.

I know now, and I am so very glad of that. Life can be quite brilliant, or even just plain old fine, once you get past depression. And it feels all the more special for it.

Basically, you matter. Your shame is wrapped up in your illness, it is not you. You are good enough, you are more than enough, you are wonderful. And you will see that again.

For information, resources and where to get support, visit the Mind website.

I've also written some general advice on how to stay positive, incorporating what I've learned from CBT and reading. You can also read more about my experiences with depression and anxiety.

Please share your thoughts in the comments if you feel able: where you've been, where you're at now and what helped you get through depression if you did. Let's try and help eachother.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Who Are Our Audiences and How Can We Engage with Them Better?

 A Dialogue event

Yesterday I spent an afternoon at Canada Water Culture Space in brilliant company: a room full of theatre marketers, critics, writers, artists and even audiences themselves - all wanting to talk about how to engage better with audiences and also with each other.

The event was courtesy of Dialogue leaders Jake Orr and Maddy Costa, and Amber Massie-Blomfield, Executive Director of Camden People's Theatre.

I'm not going to attempt to draw any coherent conclusions from what we talked about. There was so much discussed and from completely different perspectives, which felt like a real rare opportunity.

I might delve deeper into specific issues another time but for now, these are pretty much my notes. Just little fragments of interesting things which could lead somewhere. As we talked about, each venue and each artist will have different objectives when it comes to engagement: it's not one size fits all.

I'm sure the organisers themselves will get something up, which will be much better articulated, but I thought it might be helpful to share these, even as a long, rambley, and very note-based post. So here goes...

We kicked off with a brief talk from The Guardian's Lyn Gardner coming at the discussion from a press perspective.

She shared her thoughts on the current state of relationships between critics and venues/artists, that it's not very grown up and a bit of a with-or-against situation.

There was a sense of frustration at the idea from venues that it'd be the critic's job to help sell tickets - that without four or five star reviews their show will flounder. That's not the responsibility of the critic. From this, the issue of star ratings came up and how problematic and simplistic they can be.

Then, crucially - how do you tackle the idea of people thinking theatre is "not for me".

We discussed:

Social media & online platforms for discussion
  • Twitter/blogs and the collation of these via Storify to give a voice to the audience: more diverse.
  • Social media being social, not just a broadcasting medium. Interesting content, questions and knowing your voice.
  • Taking Q&As online, not just post-show: engage people beyond those who already know the show or the area. Link up with publications to host.
  • Example of Forced Entertainment's Quizoola24 with new people clicking on as it took over Twitter. People shared quotes and discussed and became part of the event.
Ways to look at reviews & star ratings
  • The Rotten Tomatoes style of giving an average out of five from all reviews.
  • Word Bubbles to pick up common words/phrasing from reviews and social media.
  • Exeunt having collaboratively written and creative reviews.
  • Stars are difficult to pin down but a concise indicator for audience.
  • Economic impact of star ratings, particularly on London venues and smaller companies.
Encouraging new audiences
  • Press using plus ones to take people who wouldn't ordinarily attend, or to different types of theatre. How to encourage this behaviour outside of press.
  • Issue based theatre providing marketing and post-show discussion (in venue and online) opportunities, as well as different press angles.
    ie Finding Joy and NHS/dementia charities: a way into mask and theatre generally.
  • Theatre as a destination and as a night out. Show as after thought. Takes pressure off venue. A sense of trust in programming/willing to take a risk.
  • Theme nights ie Soho's twenties night with fashion bloggers.
  • Comps/dynamic pricing to encourage attending in beginning of run, to try something new.
  • Who is the man on the street? What does he want?
  • Company's responses to critics: conversation is good.
  • Blogger and theatre relationships: only the big bloggers? Newspapers writing for everyone, bloggers writing for arts elite? 
  • A relationship beyond press night invite/reception. Following up ideas, and keeping a show interesting.

We then had Stewart Pringle, Artistic Director at the Old Red Lion Theatre, to talk us through forward thinking, using Caroline Horton's Islands as a springboard. How much is revealed to the audience pre-show? How much is helpful?

There is a common perception that new writing, new work in general, should "speak for itself" - is this fair? The idea of other voices available at point of purchase beyond marketing copy, and curated by the artists themselves. Then following this with interesting and informative freesheets/programmes.

We discussed:

Additional content
  • Feeling involved in the theatrical journey can lead to a sense of personal investment in, and engagement with, the production. This could be via rehearsal videos, blogs, work-in-progress/open rehearsals, etc.
  • Education packs are emailed to schools, but what about the rest of the audience?
  • Additional information not as a paid for luxury or a one-off preview piece but as an essential offer (then up to audience to decide). Helping new audiences feel comfortable.
  • Targeted routes for content, not just social media.
  • Brochures that are also magazines with editorial content. Or at least links to extra content.
  • Linking up different mediums. More interesting content in emails and print: not just for social media or blogs.
Creativity & making the most of limited funds
  • Same level of creative thinking to marketing a programmed work as to a produced piece. 
  • Thinking beyond limited budgets: what can you do that's exciting and linked to the show, and maybe even free?
  • Guerilla marketing ie Northern Stage's 1984: reading the book in shop windows.
  • Old Red Lion Theatre running photography exhibitions alongside show - thematic or specific to production. Small, simple, old-fashioned but makes it an experience, plus an interesting press angle.
  • Dynamic websites: how does it open to a new booker? A regular booker? A genre-specific booker? Can certain people unlock extra content?
  • Training smaller theatre companies to upskill with their marketing/press.
  • Theatre trailers developing: what you'll get/themes/mood of piece. 
  • In cinema, people enjoy pre-film trailers as part of their overall experience. Directly affects their booking. What can we learn from this?
  • Are trailers newsworthy? Maybe only if provocative. 
  • RSC trailer release --> increase in sales.
PR firms & press nights
  • The expense and effectiveness of PR firms. Sometimes myth that you're buying the benefit of personal contacts. Lyn wouldn't necessarily be persuaded any more so than by press release first coming through.
  • Presence of Artistic Director at press nights. A chance for a rich exchange.

We finished with Amber, Executive Director of Camden People's Theatre and Head of Communications at The Albany, talking through her experiences from both venues. 

She discussed focuses on supporting new artists, and the community too - with examples such as homeless groups using a culture space. There's no naive assumptions they will go on to be bookers, but just a genuine, alternative way of engaging in the arts.

Helpfully, she asserted that you can't be all things to all people. For example, visiting a venue on one night and seeing a not very diverse audience and presuming there's no thought/strategy - it's not realistic.

It's about specific schemes, specific shows and venues - what are they looking and planning to achieve? Then it's also about clarity around this and transparency as to what you're doing.

We discussed:
  • Journalism on the business of theatres - this is lacking, but The Stage as good example.
  • Data and accountability: for small organisations as well as large.
  • The sharing of statistics and certain venues reluctance to share. The use of Freedom Of Information where applicable and if this would lead to conflict (it shouldn't).
  • Purple Seven reports being shared, but then these don't tell the whole story: what is the audience's behaviour across other venues? (Particularly with London) How else can we find out about our audiences?
  • Artists' fear around sharing of their process and business.
  • How we keep our cards close to our chests, and how we could be better with open-ness about successes and failures, in general but relating to audience development projects to help each other. Culture Hive as one way of sharing.

So, a lot to think about! As I say, these were just my (limited) notes from what was said, but perhaps helpful anyhow, if only to prompt further ideas.

Hopefully I'll get to another of these - it was so nice to share frustrations and potential ways forward, with such a wide range of people.

Find out about Dialogue here.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Previously on this blog

I've just seen I'm pretty much at 150 posts on this blog, which seems kind of crazy!

I thought I'd do a little "best of" post, to share with you the posts that really mean something to me and that people have really responded to.

How to be positive (even when everything is a bit rubbish)
This is probably my favourite post. Because it pulls all the experiences into something practical and something hopeful.

My experience with depression
Here I talked about the day to day experience of living with depression. It's kind of sad to read back on, as I'm thankfully so far from that place now. It seemed to help people which was wonderful and made what was a difficult post so worth sharing.

What is anxiety?
This one is on anxiety, a few weeks after it had resurfaced. Again, maybe helpful if you've experienced.

When did you last pray?
About praying, my beliefs and my doubts.

Myths and truths on alcoholism
Sharing mine and my family's story was scary but I'm glad I did. We've moved on with mental health stigma but addiction lags behind. This is important.

The style of this kind of picks up on my frustrations with the situation of my chronic illness and how surreal it had all been. If that's of interest also peruse The POTS Posts - a blogpost with links to everything I've written on it.

No More Page 3 & The "lads mags" debate
These are very much linked, and are things we need to keep talking about.

Thank you to anyone who has ever read or commented - it means a heck of a lot!

Sunday, 4 January 2015

Making the private public: how "honest blogging" made me braver in real life

The lovely Emma Gannon recently posted a piece with her blogging predictions for 2015. One of these was the rise of "honest blogging", with a prediction of a rise in thoughtful bloggers sitting outside categories of beauty, fashion, food, etc.

While excited by the potential of this (I love a good read), the phrase itself, "honest blogging", really stuck with me.

I've thought about this a lot - in terms of how honest I am online: how much I share through this blog and how this affects what I share in real life.

While my day-to-day life I tend to keep to myself, there are some big issues I've shared on here.

I was saying over drinks not long ago how weird it is that if I were to meet someone, it wouldn't take them much online stalking to find out some pretty deep stuff about my life: I have a chronic illness called Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome, I've suffered from acute bouts of depression and anxiety, and my dad is a recovering alcoholic; to name a few.

In terms of sharing these were very much conscious choices. Each one I considered, reading and re-reading, and imagining from other people's potential perspectives, and sometimes sharing with family members, before eventually clicking publish.

I'm still allowed to find it a little strange though. Especially when you scroll through and see them one by one, a little catalogue of my darkest moments all there for anyone to peruse.

But I don't regret any of it.

So much good has come of me sharing these personal things. If one article would have helped one person that would have been wonderful and worthwhile. It turned out, thousands read and hundreds tweeted or commented.

That freaked me out at first. The depression post went a little crazy, and as the numbers rose I wondered if I'd made a big mistake.

Then, I'd read the comments - that someone was able to share the post with their partner so they could understand what they were going through, or that they would finally go to the doctor to get help. And I was a little bowled over, but also stopped freaking out about the numbers.

I never realised I could be helping people from behind my laptop in my bedroom. It was weird and it was also kind of exhilarating and inspiring.

But asides from it feeling amazing to help other people, it's also helped me a lot too.

By that I mean that blogging honestly about these issues has maybe made me more honest in my everyday life. It's not that I'd be dropping these things into conversation with any old acquaintance, but say the subject of mental health arises - I no longer shy away from it.

I think through putting it out there online, it's made it less of a big deal. These things have happened to me, it's there for anyone to see, it's not some big bad secret I carry with me.

And through that healthier attitude which blogging has nurtured, I'm more able to engage in conversations. As well as tackling stigma from the safety of a laptop or phone, I can also now do that in actual real life casual conversations.

It's still hard, but it gets easier.

I think I'm often most scared about posting a new article, say the alcoholism one, because of reactions from people I know in real life. It's not that I would expect them to be judgemental, just that maybe they'll be different somehow.

Then, I post it, and people I know are nice, they're normal, they do mention it or they don't. The world moves on.

Society breeds stigma, but by keeping these stories behind closed doors, sometimes so do we. Even if we have the best intentions. We perpetuate it by thinking these normal, more-common-place-than-we-realise, stories of illness such as addiction, have to be secrets. Maybe they don't.

It's all very well to say "fight the stigma", but maybe the way to do that is by sharing and listening openly. If you feel able.

That doesn't mean you have to share your story. None of this does. I'm not saying if you share your secrets you're saved, you'll be happier and more confident, nor that it's the "right" thing to do. Because it's not the same for everyone but it's also not as revolutionary or life changing as that, not in an obvious way anyhow.

I'm also aware that discrimination is still out there, and how lucky I am to have had a hugely positive response. If you know your boss or friends hold certain beliefs, to share these things would be a hell of a lot more difficult. I get that.

While it's most likely fine, the uncertainty can be real scary too. My Dad even commented when talking about the alcoholism post about a level of safety he felt in it being published post-retirement with his part-time job secure. And he works in mental health.

There's also another benefit to this blogging malarkey. Writing honestly can help anyone (and I'd recommend it, it really doesn't have to be shared) but something about sharing some of this stuff has also given me a bit of accountability: to try to understand more when my Dad's struggling, or if I were to get ill again to ask for help and to be honest.

If I preach it then I should live it, even if that's hard.

To some though, what I do would be called oversharing. Like I say, not everyone could do it, nor should they have to and that's fine: it's not for everyone.

Though I wonder at what point it becomes oversharing. Is it when it's mental illness rather than physical? It's still a little taboo?

Maybe it's when it becomes emotional. Because that's scary. Because sometimes it's easier not to hear these things about someone else. Maybe because it makes you think about yourself.

I don't know. But I do know that, for me, it's healthy and it helps - not just me but others. Whether online when someone can relate or in real life.

I'm braver and bolder with what I share since positive reactions to my honesty, both online and otherwise, but that's not to say I share it all.

Even in the situations and stories I share, not all the details are there. The aim is to be helpful not just to share my hurt, and so they're edited. Because some things you keep for yourself.

So, how much do you share? And how much should we share?

Saturday, 3 January 2015

My top reads of 2014

So it's another end-of-year review! I thought I'd round up some of my favourite reads from the past year (though not necessarily released in 2014).

Like many, I'm wanting to read more in 2015 so do let me know if you have any recommendations.

In no particular order...

The Humans - Matt Haig

The Humans is a witty, charming exploration of the human race via an alien sent to earth to disrupt our intellectual advance. Don't steer clear if you're thinking you're not a sci-fi fan, it's not like that at all. It's, as the title suggests, a very human story, and very funny.

While "in no particular order" stands, this was absolutely my book of the year. I'm looking forward to reading Matt's new non-fiction book on mental health in 2015, Reasons To Stay Alive. Read his blogpost of that same name here.

This is the story of the CEO, Creative Director and founder of Nasty Gal, a fashion brand (no longer just online) now worth over $100 million. 

It's part life bible and part business book, with an infectious sense of determination and creativity. Sophia started from nothing, she taught herself, and she worked damn hard to get to where she is today.

I devoured this book over one weekend and was so impressed and energised by Sophia's story and attitude.

Interspersing anecdotal experiences with neurological knowledge, this book gives an informative, accessible and humorous look into how the brain works.

If you have an interest in mental health, this might be one for you. I've read many books about how we work, and how we can help ourselves, but never from this perspective.

Ruby also recently wrote an article, articulating her feelings while in the midst of her depression. It's brilliantly honest and quite heartbreaking and you should read it here.

The Drowning Of Arthur Braxton - Caroline Smailes

I wasn't sure about this book to start with. From the perspective of an awkward teenage boy (amongst others), it felt a bit young for me perhaps, but I soon went with it and I was so glad I did.

Described as an urban fairytale, this has something of the Angela Carter about it. With the mythical and the everyday sitting side by side, it's unusual and dark but also just magical, and you can't quite forget it.

Divergent - Veronia Roth

This might be more for the young adult market, but having unexpectedly loved The Hunger Games I chose Divergent as my summer holiday read. I ended up a bit addicted and read the whole trilogy in the space of a week.

I actually preferred this to The Hunger Games, and while these are easy reads I was absolutely gripped by these pretty intense stories.

Not That Kind Of Girl - Lena Dunham

Lena is such a superstar (a #GirlBoss if you will) that it's refreshing to read her memoirs as you would hope they'd be - humble and completely honest, not shying away from any awkwardness or difficult real life situations.

I find it odd that these memoirs are constantly referred to as essays. While not unique in format (both #GirlBoss and Mindy Kaling's Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? followed a similar structure), the style is just a new way to write an autobiography surely - structured by theme rather than a chronological account of life events, which is perfect for this relatively early stage of life.

Anyhow, it doesn't make much odds, just a personal gripe, but yes - this is quite a beautiful read.

The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Alborn

Reading this not long after my wonderful grandad passed it took on a different resonance than it might have had. This is a really poignant story of one man looking back on his life, and the encounters that shaped him through the perspective of others - taking him by surprise and making him think.

Despite a posthumous perspective, this is no Christmas Carol story: for our protagonist it's too late to make any changes. But for the reader it's not and I suppose that's why it stays with you.

Artful - Ali Smith

Ali Smith always provides challenging, satisfying reads and this is no exception. As much a reflection on our relationship with literature and art as it is on love and grief, the book flits between genres, between fiction and non-fiction, giving you a story grounded in so much more than you first expect.

The Accidental is still my absolute favourite novel of hers, but I always look forward to reading whatever she releases next - and am planning on starting How To Be Both soon.

This wasn't a book I would have chosen for myself, and yet it was one of my absolute favourites. It's a gorgeous, epic, Canadian story that I don't feel I can adequately describe.

It was such a satisfying read, seeing it all come together, but also these little beautiful moments. There was one chapter where I had to just go back and read it again almost straight away, it felt like such perfect writing.

No One Belongs Here More Than You - Miranda July

These brilliant short stories seem to focus on the strange things we do for/when in love, and how far we will go for it.

They're strangely charming despite being quite intense and at times a bit grim: these little twisted snapshots of humanity and how weird and wonderful we can be.

Do point me in the direction of your book round-up if you have one, or else please let me know any book recommendations either from the past year or beyond!

And if you're a theatre fan, here are my 2014 theatre highlights.

Happy New Year!