Hello to the very few who will be reading this very first of my blogs! I’m really excited – not entirely sure why. But maybe it’s about just having my very own platform, to share my own thoughts with no one being able to butt in and interrupt me! Oh I know folk will be able to comment and contradict etc, but not while I’m actually talking! I can finally have my say on something I care about without being able to see anyone pulling their face, or going “Well, that’s all very well, but…..” or “You can’t honestly believe….” – you know the sort of thing – all the stuff that can put you off your stride and make you trip up on your words or mess up your thoughts and stop you being that eloquent, erudite speaker that you know you truly are. At least deep down in your dreams anyway.
Well, you may already be asking – so why do you want to blog at all? What’s the point? I guess it’s because I know I’m opinionated (gosh, what a confession to make! My friends – quickly deny this indictment!!!). But really, it’s because I enjoy expressing myself through writing. I always have. I love to scribble or type away. I write all sorts. Creative stuff – sketches, stories; I’m even working on a novel. (Although it’s probably going to be published posthumously the time it’s taking me!). I’m a lay reader with the Anglican Church and I preach regularly – I write all my sermons. I write letters to fictional characters. I write essays about all sorts of things. (I actually loved the essay writing when doing my MA recently – though didn’t always write the sorts of essays they actually wanted!). I keep a journal and write at length in it about my feelings, my thoughts and I berate God through it too! Although of course, I also praise him, thank him, ask him for things and question him. I also write about how I think/believe he is talking to me through his word.
So, I read some of this back recently. And you know what? It’s not bad. I mean, some of it is terrible; some very average, even boring; but some is deeply moving; some very funny; some quite clever, though I do say so myself; some decidedly and expressively passionate. But much of it, I decided (and this may sound immodest), much of it is worth reading. That’s another of my passions – reading. I’ll read most things but I love fiction particularly. Most genres – although science-fiction doesn’t really set me on fire. Historical (such as Hilary Mantel), or contemporary , I enjoy both. I don’t have a favourite author of this age – although at any one time I will be delighting in a particular author. (Andrea Levy and Sarita Mandanna and Jenny Diski and Jeanette Winterson and Sebastian Faulks are just a few who immediately spring to mind among my memorable greats – but there are so many more who have moved me, enriched my life and stretched my mind). Trying to imagine not being able to read, or being prevented from reading, fills me with terror. I couldn’t bear not to have books around me; not to know what I’ll be reading next. When I’m reading something I have to know there is another book waiting for me; it helps alleviate the feeling of bereavement that comes over me as one book comes to an end. When I’m reading, if it’s a good book that is, I feel sometimes as if I am living with those characters. So much so that I have found myself wondering what they are doing when I’m not actually reading the book! Last year, I successfully completed a Masters in Reading in Practice. Two years of immersing myself in some of our greatest literature! Mostly, apart from the pressure of wanting to pass, it was just one of the most joyful experiences of my life. Middlemarch, A Christmas Carol, Stuart: A Life Lived Backwards; Wives and Daughters; Villette; The Assistant – when I saw the titles on the reading sheet for the first term I almost swooned! Forced to read a book and week and write something on it was a challenge, but an excellent discipline. Reading takes us to places we may never visit; it helps us find places within ourselves that have been hidden even from us and where the most fabulous thoughts are birthed – thoughts we have never even knew we could think. Reading helps us find a voice for our fears, our longings, our fantasies, our inarticulations (and I know that isn’t even a word!). Reading can brighten the most miserable of days. It gives us a place to run to when the world feels frightening, boring, irritating or disturbing. Without reading, the world, for me, would be a more dismal, dark and joyless place. Yet, so many people have not discovered the joys reading for themselves or, through the busy-ness of life and work, have lost the knack of reading.
In the past year I’ve set up two reading groups. These are entirely different to book clubs. In reading groups, the reading is done at the gathering of the group – and those who wish to, take turns to read aloud. We spend around 15 minutes reading a passage from a novel and sometimes a poem or two. Then we share together what thoughts that reading has led us to have. It’s not criticism or anything grand at all. Everyone is able to say whatever they want. The only banned utterance is “I don’t like that”. That’s just lazy! All reading stimulates some thought – even if it hasn’t particularly moved you, it will have led you to think something. There will be at least a word or an expression that perhaps made you slow your reading, or made you wrinkle your nose, or raise your eyebrow. We’ve found that to be the case with everything we’ve read. And there have been some great surprises. Members of the group look forward to meeting and friendships have formed. More so, people tell me they have found solace, comfort, joy and reassurance through reading in the group and, although I cannot measure this, believe it to be a great way of lifting their spirits. It has to be good for emotional health. Well, The Reader Organisation – and you could read all about this fabulous organisation at http://www.thereader.org.uk/ – certainly believe this to be the case. Through their innovative shared reading models and in partnership with Mental Health Trusts, they have seen lives transformed. Do visit their pages to read about how people have increased in confidence and improved self-reflection and self-awareness. A quote on their website currently reads “I have learned more of what it is to be a human being”. I’ll go with that. We connect with our humanity through great literature and in reading together we connect with a wider community of a piece of that humanity.
So you see what I might be blogging about? Things that I am reading, or have read, and the thought paths it has taken me on. The thoughts evoked through that reading. Maybe we can establish something of a virtual shared reading group? But it’s not just reading – as my domain will have suggested to you. My second love is for walking. I guess it’s because I know I might get enormously fat if I just read all the time! I can’t go a day without walking somewhere. I live now in West Yorkshire – in the beautiful Holme Valley and I have walks right from my front door. But there are loads of places I love to walk and plenty where I haven’t walked yet, but would like to at some point. I have a delightful companion in my daft cocker Spaniel – Billy Bobs – and he too can walk for miles. We have some great adventures, I can tell you! During my walks I can often put the world to rights in my head – I can plan meals – plan sermons – plan what I’m going to say to someone. I can turn over things that I’ve read and make sense of them or allow myself to dream of where I might go one day. All this whilst taking in the views, stopping my dog from leaping over strangers and fighting off clouds of midges on a hot day!!
I have already rambled on too long! For now, I will say no more. but prizes will be given for identifying the photograph on this blog! Let’s meet minds again soon:))