How A Good Book Can Change Your Life

In the months I’ve been labouring through the latest edit of my wretched manuscript, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the writing process and the impact that certain books have had on my life.

Open book, lit up with fairy lights.
Photo by Nong Vang on Unsplash

I would like to clarify that my desire to have my own book published isn’t a narcissistic dream to become successful, living in LA and directing the movies to my stories. My motivation has always been to help other parents in our situation and to destroy the stigma around mental illness, i.e. to increase education.

And likewise, to learn about something new remains my main reason for reading.

In hindsight, I suppose I could have written a non-fiction account of what to expect from our situation – which, I imagine, would have been slightly easier to get published. However, I wanted to create a fictionalised account because 1) There are few fictions out there about ADHD, and 2) I believe that a good story resonates so much more. To tell my story in a non-fictionalised account, I would have to mask parts of the truth, to protect the privacy of others; in a fictionalised account, I can make my readers privy to the true feelings of the protagonists’ experience.

The power to change a mindset is crucial to me, because I am used to being on the other side of the reading process, and so many books have influenced my path.

I’ve missed books. And sadly, as a result of too many house moves, a shortage of space, my husband’s obsession with clutter, and our recent attempt at a minimalist lifestyle, we don’t own many any more.

That’s something I intend to change in the future: Firstly, because the living rooms I am always drawn to on Pinterest are the ones with metres of bookshelves; secondly, as much as I love its versatility, I’ve decided that the Kindle is a poor imitation of a book – God! I miss book covers – albeit that the screen version is much cheaper here in Australia; and thirdly, now I’ve seen how much pain the authors go through, I understand what a sacrilege it is to chuck them out.

We’ve kept certain books that mean something to us on a personal level. The old man has a dog-eared copy of some guide to golf by Nick Faldo, and a copy of Sapiens – a recent read that he believes changed his life, although not his ability to wipe down a bench top. And I have a copy of Little Women – which gave me so much pleasure as a child for the simple reason that the author had the same name as me. And The Rosie Project – Graeme Simsion’s story of a neurodivergent mind – that resonated with me so much it inspired me to write my own interpretation of life as a kid with ADHD.

In fact, I loved “The Rosie Project” so much, I sent Graeme a fan-girl tweet about it that made it onto the inside cover of the UK version.

Then there’s Schindler’s Ark, a book the old man recommended to me when we started dating. The story of Schindler was undoubtedly my awakening to the imbalances in the world and the start of my crusade /against them. It was also kind of a freaky choice, because several years later when I was three months pregnant with NC – a very ill-thought-out plan in the first trimester of a pregnancy when you are permanently tired and cannot drink – we found ourselves watching the movie in a theatre in New York.

Clearly, I was very hormonal at the time, but the memory of that experience at the movies will always haunt me.

The story is obviously highly emotive, but when you watch the movie in the company of a mainly Jewish audience, their reaction stays with you. For that reason, I couldn’t watch it again, although I do believe that stories such as Schindler’s Ark have their place on the high school curriculum.

There’s a finale to this story. You see, a few years ago, I persuaded the old man to accompany me to a talk at the Sydney Writer’s festival where Thomas Keneally (the author) was interviewing another author. I wanted to put a face to the words of a book that had been so influential on me in my younger years. Back in my twenties in the UK, little did I know that the author was Australian, and lived a stone’s throw from where we live now.

And I would like to add that the man is a true character in every sense of the word, fully befitting of his reputation as a national treasure. He is one of those writers who sits passionately and publicly left of centre and is as compassionate and funny as you would hope.

You can imagine how appalled the old man was that I had (inadvertently) booked front row seats to the event, and yet during that hour in Thomas’ company, I didn’t even notice his awkward wriggles in the seat next to me as I hung onto every word that came out of the author’s mouth. It was one of those rare “moments” in life where everything felt like it had come together – literally from London, to New York, and finally, to Sydney.

Imagine if I had known as a child that one day I would find myself at a writers festival, sitting metres away from my icon. Le destin, as the French call it.

I do have one terrible admission when it comes to books, however. I am one of those awful people who can never remember authors’ names or the titles of their books – which, as you can imagine, has worsened in menopause. I couldn’t even tell you who wrote the book I’m currently reading, or its title, even though I am thoroughly enjoying it. And often, I will start a book, only to realise a third of the way through that I’ve read it before.

And yet, there’s something quite wonderful about that, as well. It’s like bumping into an old friend, who gently dislodges those precious memories that I filed away in another era, and takes me back to a place I wouldn’t ordinarily choose or have the opportunity to visit again otherwise.

The power of a good book to change the way we think is why I will continue to read and live vicariously through the lives of the many fascinating characters out there. It’s why I will always buy books. Minimalism is about spending money on experiences, and books fit that idea for me. They can be expensive, however, their ability to change the way we think in a healthier, organic way than social media, for example, is why they will be at the top of my Christmas shopping list this year.

‘Making Self-Love Habitual’

‘Self-lovers don’t diet. They eat what they want, when they want, but do so mindfully.’ (Jacinta Tynan, Sydney Morning Herald)

reading-925589_960_720Admittedly, I’m still working on the ‘mindful’ part of this comment, but I’ve been doing a lot of research recently about loving yourself and this article – How To Make Self-Love An Instinctual Habit – confirmed to me how easy it is to change your outlook if you look at it as something that needs and deserves the same care you give the rest of your body.

Ie. If you value yourself.


I also rewatched Tim Minchin’s Nine Life Lessons again  – frankly, one of the best video clips online, in my opinion – in which he recommends embracing life and taking a positive approach wherever possible, even if (naturally) you err on the side of “glass-half-empty-dom” or like him, take the piss out of people for a living. 

Recently, I have tried to mix things up a bit within the confines of my own personality – to adopt new interests and remove bad habits, so that I embrace life more proactively. Recent health studies into dementia stress the importance of learning new skills – crosswords aren’t enough, it seems, (much to the old man’s disdain) – and so, after my last stay in the Doldrums Hotel, I’ve introduced nine habits of my own (below) that I’m forcing myself to do I’m cultivating within my lifestyle to help improve my mental outlook:

  1. Reading – As a teenager, I was an avid reader – anything from Mills and Boon to Jane Austen, and loads of Jackie Collins in between. It provided escapism, fuelled my eschewed dreams of romance and relaxed me when I was feeling anxious. And then I had kids, and the opportunities for reading time dried up. I tried various book clubs – that forced me to read books I wasn’t interested in – and when I began to write seriously, fiction had to be replaced by articles, how-to-write and self-help manuals. Anyhow, recently I’ve forced myself back into reading before bedtime, and not only am I sleeping better, I’ve also been inspired by what I’m reading from both a creative and educational standpoint. You’re never too old to learn.
  2. Fangirling – I know it sounds as pretentious AF – and by way of a pathetic excuse, I will say that this new pleasure of mine is somewhat tenuously linked to my writing – but I love to listen to author talks. NC and I attended a Q and A with the writer Emily Maguire last weekend, which included High Tea and Champagne.  What better way to spend a rainy Saturday afternoon?
  3. Masterchef – After a sabbatical of seven or eight years, I decided to give Masterchef another go and I’ve dragged the old man in for the ride. Neither of us has massive culinary aspirations – and I’ve ignored the notebook he passes to me each time the show starts – but what’s not to love about watching the journeys of this likable, brave group of amateurs, who are willing to make mistakes so publicly in search of their dreams?  The arrogance and bizarre eating habits of the chefs are equally entertaining as is the occasional public slaying of the professionals. Miss you, Brendan – talking of fangirling!
  4. Exercise – Admittedly, I never thought I’d include this one in a list such as this, and after years of wobbling down my street in a vain attempt to shed weight, that’s no longer my goal. These days, I exercise to keep my brain fit and healthy. Nothing too strenuous – mainly walks and swimming – but just enough to stop my mind reaching into those dark corners where it prefers to reside.
  5. Simple cooking and eating – I’ve always been an advocate of four-ingredient cooking (preferably three), and recently I’ve turned my hand to a few new dishes. Soups have been my thing in these cooler months and I’ve worked out that you can basically knock up any sumptuous vegetable soup with one hero vegetable and a base of potato, onion, and stock. Comfort in a bowl. I sprinkle a handful of crisp bacon on the top to disguise the fact it’s vegetarian from the boys.
  6. Friends – I know – obvious, right?  And yet ageing and menopause can conspire to push you back into the doldrums more than you’d like, making you socially anxious. And one day, the thought of staying at home under a blanket with the dog on the couch sounds far more appealing than making an effort to see people. Having moved back to our old neck of the woods, I’m so grateful to old friends for forcing me out.
  7. Writing/Journalling – For me, writing has been a life-saver. It’s cheap therapy for me, and really, I should be paying you for listening. There was a while back there when I was so focused on my manuscript that I rarely left the house, when I felt like I had nothing much to say and I parked the blog for a while. But recently, I’ve got back into it with a renewed fervor. My world hasn’t suddenly developed more layers, but it has evolved and developed different layers, and I have begun to enjoy the writing process again. I’ve also started writing a new blog about interior styling here for anyone who is about to sell their home or is passionate about interiors.
  8. Resting – I haven’t resorted to nana naps (just yet), even if some of my friends swear by them, but I do force myself to sit down occasionally. Over-stimulation fuels my anxiety and when I am impulsive and rush, I make mistakes. This has been one of the hardest disciplines for me.
  9. Medication – In the wake of recent events, I can’t emphasize this example of self-love enough. There is no shame in taking medication for an illness – many people are forced to. There should be no stigma attached to taking medication to live a normal life, especially when a normal life is not being afraid to leave your house. Obviously,  I would love all my nine points to be based on organic, holistic ideas, but the reality is that some people need more than that. To enable a quadriplegic to ski, he needs the assistance of a specially-designed chair;  to help someone with anxiety leave their front door, a pill can work. So, what’s the problem?

My Son Has Never Read A Book

To have to admit that at the age of nineteen my son has never read a book fills me with the sort of bad-parent angst and shame that I imagine I would experience if I stood in front of an AA meeting and admitted to being an alcoholic. children-studying-670663_1280


He reminded me of this fact yesterday when we shared a rare hour together when he didn’t hate me and we went to return a shirt that I bought for him for Christmas, in the hope that he would look smart on the day. Like a lot of teenagers, he is so particular about clothes that he would prefer not to have any, rather than wear something he doesn’t like, and he has a penchant for particular brands – expensive ones in the main, most of which do not suit our pocket – so when I saw the designer shirt at half-price, and it had the sort of insipidly hippy pattern that he loves, I jumped on it.


Inevitably, he hated it, although in fairness to him, he did some excellent role-play on Christmas morning that convinced me that those thousands of dollars spent on drama lessons were worth every penny, and that he did like it, but wanted to save it for a special occasion. Sorry Jesus!


Anyway, as bonding hours are few and far between, yesterday I managed to resist the temptation to trigger a fight in the way that only mums of teenagers can, which would have involved me asking any of the following questions:






Instead, I asked him if he would do me the honour of reading my manuscript, now that it’s close to the end, and maybe because one of the character’s bears an uncanny resemblance to him and I don’t want him to find another excuse to do fuck all by suing me when my book is turned into a movie.


‘How long is it?’ he grunted back at me.


’80,000 words,’ I said, proudly.


‘Are you f…cking kidding me? That’s like all the books in the world, isn’t it?’


It saddens me that my son is not a “reader” like the rest of the family.


Don’t get me wrong; it wasn’t for want of trying. We ruined most nights of his school life with those twenty-minute reading sessions and I remember visibly shaking as soon as I saw his book bag clutched in his sticky hands at the school gates. That was on the rare occasions when he remembered to bring it home.


Most of my exhausted comments in his school reading book were along the lines of ‘refused to read’ or ‘no reading tonight, Kurt was tired….’ Somehow, I refrained from writing the truth, such as ‘Kurt had an major meltdown and I cried all night.’ I tried reading to him to encourage him, bought him books that I hoped would engage him, but even when we snuggled up in bed in what should have been those special moments of togetherness at bedtime reading, he would struggle and squirm next to me until I lost my rag and stormed out.


Not entirely his fault, I now understand. The ADHD brain is only capable of digesting information of interest, and in hindsight, perhaps a book about the life and times of Pablo Escobar might have been a better fit.


So the only way he can have learnt to read is via the Internet, in search of articles in connection to his passion for music. It must have happened organically, and all those nights and parents’ evenings when I felt such a failure as a parent, reached for the wine (which I suspect ultimately caused me to become the functioning alcoholic I am today), were completely unnecessary.


We learn at different speeds and in different ways. I’m still learning now. So don’t be too hard on your kids if they aren’t reading Harry Potter at age 2. Kurt didn’t speak until he was three, and when comprehensible words eventually tumbled forth, there was an abundance of them, an array of intelligent vocabulary that even his sister couldn’t spell, and he’s never stopped talking since.


Reading, not so much.



Giving Birth To Your First Literary Baby

Newborn child, seconds after birth. The umbili...
Newborn child, seconds after birth. The umbilical cord has not yet been cut. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

She’s been in the womb for a while now, this gestating book of mine. Its been a long pregnancy this one, which is why her current working name is The Fucker.

But I think that (FINALLY) her due date might actually be getting closer, and now I’m getting quite nervous about the labour.

Which is why I’d like to tell you about a conversation I had with the old man about it the other day.

You see I’ve written the first draft, edited it a few million times and changed as much as I possibly can without transforming the plot completely and having to start all over again.

So I now have to take that brave step of showing my baby to someone – which is nerve-racking if I’m honest. It’s like the first time you show your real baby to the world and even though you know it’s probably quite ugly, because all newborns are, you still don’t want anyone to actually tell you that.

It took me four months before I told anyone that I’d been writing a blog, so you could say that self-confidence is not my strong point. You have to be brave to reveal your true persona publicly – which writing obviously does – to put yourself under the spotlight and allow people to judge you. And I admit that I’m as sensitive as a fucking cockroach to light when it comes to criticism.

I’ve ummed and ahhhed about who to hand my baby to for the first time. The obvious choice is the old man but he can be a harsh critic, and not as objective as I’d like. And the truth is that I’m more stung by his criticism than anyone else’s. But then again he knows me the best and secretly I would like his approval.

But there are two problems with him reading my draft. The first is that the subject matter of my material is not what I usually write about. Sure, I occasionally attempt ‘serious’ in my blog but the old man yawns impolitely when I do. There is some humor in the book but the plot has predominantly serious themes and undertones running through it, about death and relationships, dysfunctionality and all that serious shit.

All those things that the old man has never had the maturity to understand and spent a lifetime walking away from when confronted.

I bought of copy of Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus recently and each time I catch him reading it furtively, I can see the signs of utter amazement on his face when he reads about Venus and women’s natural traits.

The second problem with him reading my manuscript is that he limits his choice of reading to fantasy.

So asking a philistine, who only reads fantasy books and quotes Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings to our kids when trying to discipline them, might appear foolish. Not forgetting that he has never expressed a raw emotion in twenty years of marriage and I’m beginning to suspect that John Gray actually based the inhabitants of Mars on him.

Yet there is this gnawing duty within me that won’t go away. In some bizarre, marital- harmonising way I feel that I owe it to him. He has allowed me the time to grow my baby and to try and turn my dream into a reality and if he is my soul mate he should be able to put his own ideas aside and remain objective.

‘I think I’m almost ready for you to read the first part of my book,’ I mentioned casually over the weekend.

‘What’s it about again?’

‘Relationships – there’s this tragic event that rips a family apart leading to blame, depression and the crumbling of the familial infrastructure.’

‘Is it funny?’

‘Not exactly. It has its moments…’

‘Are there any dragons in it?’

‘No, no dragons.’

‘NO DRAGONS? Well, do any of the characters have superpowers?’

‘No, I can’t think of any superpowers other than love, compassion and integrity.’


‘Isn’t there anyone else you can ask to read it?’

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Magazines and A Cougar-Crush

Magazines (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My favourite thing in the whole wide world is reading trashy magazines with a glass or six of Chardonnay, in bed.

What can I say? I’m a cheap date.

Magazines have always been my vice since I bought my first Just Seventeen at the age of twelve.

Since I was a little girl, one of my unfulfilled dreams has been to have a piece published in a glossy magazine; to see my name in print.

Which is why I signed up for a magazine writing course at the Sydney Writers Festival recently – where I not only lost my writers festival v-plates but I also fell in love with the very lovable Benjamin Law.

My first writers festival and my first cougar-crush on a gay man.

I’m not exactly sure what I expected to take away from the festival but I came away inspired to learn more about ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING. How funny is it that when we are young we often resent education and learning simply because we are force-fed it, and when we mature into middle age we suddenly crave learning, only to be hampered by dying brain cells?

Timing has never been my strong point.

As you are aware, there have been some fundamental changes in my outlook recently. Not only have I become a feminist (here) thanks in part to the Women and Power debate, but I’ve also decided to chase my dream of becoming a magazine writer as well.

Put it down to being a late-developer, but one of the things I truly love about life is our ability to constantly evolve – I truly believe that we can be anything we want to be with the right passion.

And this year I want to be a writer.

Benjamin Law (sigh) is a successful freelance writer and he was teaching us aspiring writing newbies how to write for magazines. You may already know Benjamin –  he is this rather cute – looking Asian Adonis with a wealth knowledge in the writing field, having written for magazines such as Frankie and Good Weekend as well as his own book Gaysia – Adventures In The Queer East.

He was an inspirational teacher – passion for one’s craft is very sexy infectious.

I was rooted to the spot for the whole three hours of Benjamin’s talk like some sad old groupie – partly because Ben wanted to cram so much into the session that he refused to let us out of the room for even a toilet break, (and I was worried that if I uncrossed my legs I might embarrass myself, Ben obviously being too young to understand the  correlation between middle-age and the untrustworthy pelvic floor), and partly because I was absorbing all this wonderful new information.

But what was really interesting was finding out which magazines our little group of aspiring writers read on a day-to-day basis.

Benjamin made each of us pick three magazines we read and then we had to share them with the group, along with our reasons for selecting them. It was so much better than the usual ‘describe yourself’ cringe-fest.

Although daunting. You could see everyone initially rack their brains in search of their most cerebral picks, (while I hastily crossed out Hello and OK from my notepad).

You see your choice of reading material is one of the most personal pieces of information you can divulge to strangers – it reveals so much about who you are.

My choice merely served to reveal that I am in fact a liar when faced with a ‘fight or flight’ situation.

Most of the magazines I read these days are articles that I cherry-pick from Twitter. Like most people, I am time-poor when it comes to reading. However, I do still like a good old-fashioned Sunday glossy, so my first choice was Sunday Life Magazine. Time Magazine was my second ‘up-my-own-ass’ read (because I do vaguely remember flicking through a copy in the doctor’s waiting room in 2011); my third choice was an online magazine called ADD Mag  because I am eternally in search of the solution to Kurt and his idiosyncrasies.

So what did my choices say about me?

I still like a ‘lazy’ comfort read that covers a good cross-section of fluff as well as more thought-provoking content, (preferably facilitated by a cold glass of white wine); I like to think of myself as a latent intellectual until I actually open the pages of Time Magazine when my eyes begin to glaze over (particularly if I get stranded in the technology section); and my main aim in life is to make my son conform to my will.

Whether you’re a literary snob, a budding feminist or a secret ‘thinker’, here are some of the other magazines that were recommended by the group:

Dumbo Feather – (  ‘Behind extraordinary ideas there are extraordinary people’

Bitch Media – ( ‘A fresh, revitalizing voice in contemporary feminism’

Meanjin – ( ‘A literary magazine that reflects the breadth of contemporary thinking’

Lip Mag – (  ‘wonderful new female artists and musicians, a fresh outlook on feminism, and enough sass to shock the fainthearted’.

The Hoopla –  ( ‘An online news and magazine site for a community of wise, warm, witty and wonderful women’.

What do the magazines you read say about you?