Book Review; Shtum by Jem Lester

Last week, whilst sitting in the sunshine, I finished the beautiful Shtum by Jem Lester; and incredibly moving and thought provoking novel following the life of a young boy with Autism and his family’s struggles.

Jonah is ten and doesn’t communicate at all. He is severely autistic, with speech and language difficulties, still in nappies and prone to violent outbursts. Shtum largely centres around his parents fight to get him into an appropriate secondary school, battling the Local Authority’s view that he should attend a provision they have deemed unsuitable for his complex needs.

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Working in Special Education myself, I was immediately drawn to the book and felt such ties as I was reminded of the battles these families face to get the best education for their children. It is a stark reminder that, some children are hugely lucky in their educational environments, whilst others struggle under the weight of mainstream school cuts and unsuitable provisions.

Having spent years in mainstream, watching children with additional needs struggle to have their needs met, largely through the lack of money ploughed in from the government, I could wholeheartedly sympathise with what Jonah’s parents had to go through, in order to meet his needs.

I also loved the way in which the novel explored the relationship between his parents and the guilt and hurt they faced every day, due to their son’s needs. Parent’s have enough pressures and stress at home, dealing with their children’s additional needs, without the need to worry about their education also. Too many families are facing tribunals, costing them thousands of pounds, which most do not have, in order to fight for their children, who cannot fight for themselves.

It angers me that there are still too many children, in unsuitable educational settings, with staff having to go the extra mile to ensure their needs are met, despite a lack of funding and space to do so. Each and every child has the right to an education, one that is suitable to their own specific needs. We shouldn’t still have families fighting, schools struggling and unhappy children – it doesn’t need to be so hard.

I was completely moved by Jonah’s story, relating to every word as I watched parent’s I know fight for their own children. It is a stark reminder of the struggles these children and their families face on a daily basis, and the ignorance and stigma that still surrounds their very complex needs.

Jem Lester writes so beautifully and honestly, reducing me to tears on several occasions throughout Jonah’s story. And, whilst I was glad to see his journey reach a happy conclusion, that is not always the case for so many children just like him.

I strongly urge anyone with a background in Special Educational Needs or anyone with a desire to learn more, to pick up this beautiful, heart wrenching novel. You won’t be disappointed!

Much love, Manchester.

This isn’t the sort of thing I’d usually write about but sitting outside, enjoying the sunshine today, my thoughts were pulled back to those innocent victims who wouldn’t be doing the same thing and I felt compelled to get my thoughts and feelings out.

Monday night’s atrocity instantly reminded me of my childhood; spent gallivanting around London enjoying concerts from many beloved artists… particularly Girls Aloud! Now, in my twenties, those memories are some of the happiest times from my childhood, and I still have friends whom I met on those journeys. But now, I wont ever step foot inside another concert arena without the chilling reminder of what everyone faced that fateful night and how their experiences have been ruined, forever, because of it.

My first concert was in fact Hear’ Say, back in the days when mobiles and digital cameras weren’t a big thing so (un)fortunately I don’t have any horrifically embarrassing photos to share… But I’m sure my Mum does somewhere! My older brother and sister-in-law were the lucky beings who got to share in my first concert experience with me, and I felt so proud and grown up being beside them… and of course staying up late on a school night!  We laughed, we danced, we sang and I left with a beaming smile, decked in the latest Hear’ Say merchandise, ready to recount my experience to anyone who would listen! It was a magical night, a right of passage for any young child, and a memory the three of us still recount fondly today.

Later I went on to attending shows with friends (when my sister in law didn’t beg to come – as much as she pretended she didn’t like them!) Some I’d even met through the artists themselves. Girls Aloud tours were an annual thing back then, and most definitely the highlight of our year. They took many weeks of careful outfit planning, dance routine practising and rushing to ensure we were there hours before the event, in case we chanced a glimpse at the girls themselves. I longed for those tours, to be in a room surrounded my people who knew what I felt, who loved the music as much as I did. They were some of the most carefree moments of my youth.

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Seeing those five girls, who I idolised, up-close and personal, singing our hearts out and feeling completely carefree is a feeling that I still remember so well today. It is a feeling every person in the Manchester Arena was robbed of on Monday night. They should all be spending this week in a bubble of excitement, recounting the night over and over, but instead many are facing the week in hospital, in pain and mental torture, and 22 of them will never make it home.

I’ve always looked forward to the day my nieces and nephews, and maybe one day even my own children, are old enough to go to a concert. I’ve wanted desperately to be the one to take them, to share in that magical experience of their very first concert and to make it as special as I possibly can for them. But the constant reminder of how that went so very wrong, for so many people attending Ariana’s show on Monday, will forever be imprinted in my mind. Those names and faces who lost their lives and their loved ones, those who fought so bravely to help those in need, will be constantly reflected in every concert I now attend. And I know I’m not alone.

It saddens me how such wonderful memories from my childhood, have been destroyed for so many young people there on Monday night. No one should go to a concert, somewhere that should be filled with joy and happiness, and not return home at the end of it. The only comfort I can find, is remembering that buzzing feeling that flooded my body immediately after a concert. It was one of the greatest feelings, a true sense of happiness, and that is what everyone there experienced in the moments before the tragic event.

I know words are not much, but they are all I can offer. My thoughts and love are with every single person affected by Monday’s nightmare and they will be, forever. I cannot begin to comprehend the unimaginable grief those families will be going through, as I struggle to make sense of it all myself. To those who lost their lives, may they sleep peacefully, and to those who battle on, may you find peace.

Much love, Manchester.

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Theatre Review; The Addams Family

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Everyone’s favourite, kooky family are currently touring the UK and last night I headed to The New Wimbledon Theatre to spend the evening with The Addam’s Family.

Being the first professional production of The Addam’s Family in the UK, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. Other than a few glimpses into the rehearsals on YouTube, I had nothing else to go on, so headed into the evening fairly ‘blind’. But, from the minute I heard that it was touring, I knew I had to experience the magic.

The production has a wonderfully, talented cast, with some famous names in the line up – Eastenders Star, Samantha Womak, stars as head of the family, Morticia, with Les Dennis playing the hilarious Uncle Fester by her side. But, equally as amazingly talented are the other members of the company, who may be less well known than their famous co-stars. Personally, I was completely blown away by Carrie Hope Fletcher’s portrayal of Wednesday Addam’s and her phenomenal vocal talent. An up and coming talent in the theatre world, she was someone I was extremely excited to see announced for the role and she definitely doesn’t disappoint.

The entire show had the audience laughing from start to finish; it’s well built-in jokes and hilarious one liners were well timed, in between some equally humorous musical numbers that will be stuck in your brain for weeks to come. The show perfectly captures the kookiness of the family; including the wonderfully weird, Lurch, who has a side-splitting solo near the end of the show that reduced the audience to tears … of laughter!

With the obvious challenge of being on tour and constantly on the move, the set was an impressive design, featuring some of The Addams’ gruesome home decor, such as the stretching wrack, and the clever use of Uncle Fester as a sort of narrator to distract your attention from the bigger set changes.

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All in all, I adored my evening with The Addams Family and it completely topped my expectation. I truly couldn’t recommend the show enough and urge anyone who loves theatre, hilarity and the kooky Addam’s Family of their childhood, to go and see it in a theatre near you soon! This production is touring until November so there is plenty of time to check it out.

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A (Very Late) Theatre Review; An Inspector Calls – The Playhouse Theatre.

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The weekend before I flew out to Australia, I was lucky enough to catch the final show of An Inspector Calls at the Playhouse Theatre London.

This is a play I studied at GCSE, and like the geek that I am, absolutely fell in love with the clever way in which it was written and the morals embedded deep within it. Since then I have been desperate to see it performed live, and have been waiting (rather impatiently) for it to return to the West End at a time when my schedule coincided.

I took my best friend, as a sort of joint birthday treat as I would be missing her birthday whilst I was away. I organised it quite last minute so our seats were pretty high up, but actually still provided a wonderful view of the stage. The theatre itself is situated on the banks of the River Thames and is a fairly small, but equally beautiful theatre.

The production was also a small affair; just an hour and a half with no interval, a small cast and a minimalistic, but incredibly clever, set. The entire play is set, and performed, in the house of The Birling family; a well to do, upper class family, with plenty of money. The house has large windows and doors so that the audience can see in at the beginning of the show, when the family are sitting down to a dinner party. As the show goes on and the investigations get under way, characters begin climbing from the doors and windows, onto the balcony and the street below. The house is the largest and main piece of set that is used throughout the entire show, with only merely props to accompany it.

The show centres around a police inspector who makes a surprise visit to the Birling Family, looking for information about a woman who was rushed to the infirmary after swallowing disinfectant. Initially, each member denies anything to do with the woman or her unfortunate situation, but in time they each realise they did in fact know of her in one way or another.

What I have always loved about the play is the fact that the it encourages you, the audience member, to become a part of that family, a part of that young girls life, and to think about your own morals, judgements and actions. A line that has always stuck with me, since my very first read, is ” One Eva Smith has gone but there are millions and millons of Eva Smith’s and John Smith’s still left with us, with their lives, their hopes and fears, their suffering and chance of happiness, all intertwined with our lives, and what we think and say and do”, which I think is a very thought provoking line and very prevalent in the society in which we live in. It’s easy to forget the tiny interactions we have with people who are near strangers; in the shops, on the train, walking along the street, and how easily the things we say or do can have a much greater impact on their lives than we realise. For we are just one piece of a huge puzzle, and we know nothing about the lives they are living and the struggles they may be facing. The entire show really forces you to think about being more understanding, less judgemental and an all round better person.

I am thrilled to have caught the play in it’s final run in London and only hope that at some point in the near future it returns for more. And if it does, I urge anyone to buy a ticket and head down to see it, because it really is a life changer and an utterly fantastic show. You won’t be disappointed!

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Fun in the sun and a little book review.

It’s been ages since I’ve written anything on here! *Slaps wrist* But there’s a good reason for my lack of posts… I’ve been in Australia! I flew out at the beginning of April to spend three weeks in the sun with my big brother and three gorgeous nephews, who have lived out there for seven years now.

I had an absolute ball, jam packed my schedule and managed to do so much while I was out there. I went to an underwater observatory in the middle of the sea, fed Kangaroos and interacted with Koala’s, snakes and wombats, visited the residents of Gnomesville on the way home from our road trip, fired a cannon at the Freemantle Roundhouse ceremony and went speed boating up the Swan River into Perth City… all in the space of three weeks, so it’s no wonder I’ve not had time to write!!

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Australia is beautiful and there’s so much to see. I’d definitely urge anyone thinking about going to get out there to get on that plane in a heartbeat – even if its only for a couple of weeks – you’ll be surprised at just how much you can fit in.

But there was more to this post than re-living my holiday and staring longingly at my photo’s whilst wondering if I should pack up and hop on the next plane back out to Oz…

Whilst on holiday, I picked up a wonderful book, The Light Between Ocean’s by M.L. Steadman, that I wanted to review. The book is set, unbeknown to me when I jammed it in my case, in Australia, on a little island called Janus, in a lonely lighthouse with connection to the mainland only occurring every three months.

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It follows the life of Tom, a lighthouse keeping, and his loving wife Isabel, as they are faced with some devastating circumstances and some difficult choices. When a boat washes up on their little island, with a dead body and a crying child, a complicated web of stories and lies is woven. The book is about the fine line between right and wrong, about doing what you believe is right and living with the consequences.

I loved the fact it spoke so often of Freemantle, a place I adore and always insist on visiting whenever I head down under. Even though it was set many years ago, I could easily picture the towns and the buildings and imagine the lives that had once been lead there. It only added to my love of the town this time around.

The story line was utterly compelling and I found myself dying for a down day so that I could delve into the lives of some very cleverly written characters (Which is easier said than done when you are staying with a ten year old, a seven year old and a six month old!)

At times it bought me to tears, but it also made me smile, as I lived the roller coaster of a story along with them. I rated The Light Between Oceans 5 stars and would wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone looking for a compelling mystery. And it definitely made the best reading companion for a trip to Australia!

Now I just need a cure for the holiday blues…

My Go To Authors

As an avid reader, I struggle to actually pin point my favourite genres of books. I find it all depends what mood I’m in and what catches my eye. I’m open to trying anything and everything, as you never know where your next favourite book might come from.

However, there are a set few authors that I find myself reaching for over and over again and, (im)patiently, awaiting the arrival of their next book. So I thought I’d share a list of my favourite, go-to authors, who I’d highly recommend checking out.

Lisa Jewell.
I’d probably even go as far as saying that Lisa Jewell is my all time favourite author. I was introduced to her by my sister-in-law, who bought me her first novel, Ralph’s Party, from a charity shop when I was still in my teens. Both she and my brother had loved the book and, as always, I wanted to be just like her. I ended up loving Ralph’s party and going on to collect all of Jewell’s other books and devouring them one by one.
Her style has changed from the days of Ralph’s Party, now leaning more towards mysteries and psychological thrillers, but my love for her books has remained. She never fails to create wonderful worlds, full of well written and relatable characters, and just minutes after finishing her latest book, I’m always left wanting more.
I’d definitely recommend checking her out and below are a few of my very favourite books.

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Jane Green.
Another of my all-time favourite authors and someone whom I am endlessly waiting for my next fix, Jane Green is definitely someone I’d recommend. I first picked up her novel Jemima J, in my late teens, when I was still finding my way in the world and very impressionable. It was such a relatable and eye opening read, that I quickly found myself collecting the rest of her novels and loving them.
She usually releases around my summer holiday’s from work, and her books make fantastic beach reads, whilst soaking up some sun! Green has had me both laughing out loud and crying on several occasions, with a whole host of lovable characters thrown in the mix. And since reading her books, I now have a major desire to visit Nantucket… You’ll soon see why.
Here are a few of my very favourite’s…

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Giovanna Fletcher.
A relatively newer author, Giovanna first came to my attention on YouTube and I was pretty excited when she released her debut novel, Billy And Me. I remember, vividly, the moment I finished the book; sitting in my garden, tears streaming down my cheeks and devastated that it had come to an end.
From that moment on, I was hooked on her writing and have read every one of her books since. Her writing style is such an effortless read, that gives that warm and fuzzy feeling as you plough through the stories of her much loved characters. I adore all of her books but, particularly, Billy and Sophie’s story spread across two amazing novels and one Christmas novella.

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Book Review; Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

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Dubbed “The modern day To Kill A Mockingbird”, I just knew that I had to read Small Great Things as soon as I got my hands on it.. And Jodi Picoult didn’t disappoint.

The book centres around the death of a newborn on a small, labour and delivery ward of a hospital. After a nurse is banned from looking after the baby, by his prejudiced father, just hours before the infants death, there’s no doubt who the finger of blame is going to be pointed at.

Small Great Things is one of the most moving and thought provoking novels that I have read in a long time, forcing you to think about your own unconscious bias and moral judgement. It is the story of power and prejudice, equality and division and ultimately urges us to consider whether we would stand up for what we know to be right, even if we might be seen as wrong.

Beautifully written, I swung from anger to sadness, joy to disbelief, as I devoured the story, feeling as though I, myself, was a part of the jury with this difficult decision to make. At times, I was confronted with my own ignorance, the blind eye that I so often turn without thinking about things from someone else’s perspective. We so easily move through life, without thinking of those who have it harder than we do, ourselves.

Small Great Things has definitely caused me to question some of my own thoughts and beliefs and made me far more aware of my unconscious bias, that little nagging voice that happens just seconds before your reasoning kicks in. We can all pretend we aren’t stereotypical, quick to judge people who are different to us, but that would be a lie. It only happens for a split second, but it is there… In all of us. It’s what you do with it that counts.

Praise to Jodi Picoult for this wonderfully written, moving novel. I urge any keen reader to check it out and challenge your own thinking.