Saturday, 17 June 2017

10 Self Care Tips for Tough Weeks

10 Tips for Self Care in Tough Weeks | The Incredible Rambling Elimy- Book Reviews and Creative Writing
Like most writers, I have a tendency towards being highly emotional.  I'm a naturally anxious person, and I stress out about things a lot.  When I was younger, I thought that these bouts of anxiety were unstoppable.  That once bad things started happening, I just had to ride the roller coaster into periods of feeling depressed or irritable or panicked, and wait for it all to be over.

I know that I'm really lucky-- my anxieties are far less severe than those of others-- but today, I wanted to share with you all some of the things that have really helped me this week (which has been a bit rocky) and at other times of my life when I've felt like I was stuck standing in the path of an avalanche.

I understand that sometimes, things really can get a bit much and that none of these things will help  Different things help different people.  Sometimes, none of these will work for me either.

If you're struggling, the number for Lifeline Australia is 13 11 14.

If you have some tips for things you do that help you feel better, I'd love it if you could share those with me in the comments too.

1. Heat packs

I don't know about you, but I tend to experience lower moods more frequently in the winter.  We've been really lucky (or not, I suppose, if you're a farmer) in Perth this year because this is the mildest winter I can remember.  Today it's about 22 degrees, and my apartment is so warm, I'm not even wearing stockings or a jumper.  One thing that I've found comforting this week has been to take a heat pack with me to bed.  I have two favourites-- one is shaped like a lemur with gigantic eyes which is great for cuddling and smells a little like lavender.  The other is a big pillow shaped like a rainbow unicorn, which is perfect for putting on hunched shoulders or sore lower backs.  Cuddling up to something warm helps to unclench tight muscles or sore, stressed tummies and ensures that I can fall asleep when I need to.

2. Long, rambling walks

Sometimes when I'm emotionally exhausted, one of the best things I can do is to physically exhaust myself too-- to get some sunshine, to look at the scenery, and to pound the pavement.  I'm not naturally a person who enjoys going to the gym (although I know I should be forming a more regular exercise habit), but I do enjoy walking around the area near where I live.  On beautiful sunny days, or even gloomy rainy ones, armed with an umbrella and sturdy boots, I find it relaxing to get outside and walk to places I need to go-- such as the library, the post office, or the coffee shop.  If I'm feeling particularly stressed, I extend this walk and take in the sights.  This morning, I went to the library to return some books and stumbled upon a busting farmers' market.  If I hadn't been walking home, I might have come home with a stack of cute cacti or a knitted coat for my parents' dog...  Seeing the blue sky and all the autumnal leaves, and even the smiling faces of other people out and about walking made me feel pretty upbeat, so I highly recommend this.  If you're like me and sometimes need to avoid silence, try downloading a podcast and listen while you walk.  I recommend The Readers, Adventures with Words or the slightly more risque Banging Book Club.  Better Reading also has some great interviews with authors you can listen to.

3. Pamper

Whatever your personal style may be, there are always some slightly self indulgent things you can do to make your body feel good-- whether that's getting into the shower and washing your hair really thoroughly, or painting your fingernails, or having a bubble bath, or moisturising.  Sometimes, I find that getting into the shower and making myself feel really squeaky clean and fresh is a great way to hit the restart button on a mopey day.

4. Read an amazing book

What kind of a book blogger would I be if I didn't suggest this?  What you want to do during tough times is pick a book that is really going to hold your attention.  If I find myself reaching for my phone to check Facebook every chapter, the book isn't doing the trick.  If the book you've been reading isn't working, try picking up something completely different, a book you've loved in the past or even a childhood favourite.  When in doubt, I always go for Harry Potter, Little Women or Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants.

5. Limit phone use

I've noticed that there's a bit of a cycle with me and my phone going on at the moment.  The more stressed I am, the more I check my phone, which makes me more stressed. There's probably some psychological explanation for this, but for now, all I know is that I need to cut back.  If you're the same, try putting your phone on loud so you don't miss any calls or messages, but leave your phone in another room if you're at home.  Ask a friend or loved one to speak up if they see you've been on your phone a bit much.  If you're out and about, leave it in your bag and try to enjoy whatever it is that you're doing.  Whatever it was that was going on across social media will either still be there later, or wasn't that important to begin with.

6. Do something crafty

I feel less hopeless when I have a project, but if I'm a bit down in the dumps, sometimes it can be hard to get to the desk and write.  One of the other things I really like doing in my down time is knitting and crocheting.  I'm better at crocheting-- I can only knit things that are straight lines, like scarves!  At the moment, I am working on a blanket made of crocheted granny squares, which I am making out of left over wool from other projects.  I'm going to join it together with black wool and make it look like licorice allsorts.  Having this to do with my hands helps me limit my phone use too.

7. Watch something that you can just escape into

I've been watching season 11 of Bones, which in my opinion has lost some of the punch of the earlier seasons-- but I can't stop watching!  Every season, the showrunners tease a plotline that draws me in, so I know I'll watch the final season too, because I've seen they're bringing an old cast member back.  I know that the dialogue is cringeworthy, the cases are a stretch of what's plausible and there's no way that they can do some of the things they pretend to do with technology, but I enjoy watching it because these are characters I've watched for a long time, and it's comforting to see them solving murders, falling in love etc.  Likewise, I used to love watching One Tree Hill, for which I have been teased many times, but hey, for some people it's Bones  and One Tree Hill, for others it's Gossip Girl or Orange is the New Black ... or whatever.  You get the idea.

8. Clean things

Organising my physical space helps me feel like my mind is organised too.  If you're needing a project, try emptying out your wardrobe for a big clean out.

9. A little help from my friends

Talk to someone.  Go for a coffee, write them a letter, invite them over just to hang out.  It's okay to feel down about things, and it's okay to be overwhelmed.  There is no shame in letting people know that you need help, or even just company.

10.  Write about it!

Do you keep a journal?  I do.  Sometimes I can't write about things right away, but if I pour out everything that's been happening, and how I feel about it, onto the page, sometimes it's easier to let go of some of the tension that's built up.  Other things I've found useful this week are:
Making lists of things I need to do.
Writing fiction and getting out of my own head.
Planning upcoming projects and looking ahead.


I hope you're all having a great weekend.   What do you do when you feel a bit overwhelmed?  Let me know in the comments below, or on Facebook, or on Twitter.  (My handle is @BatgirlElimy)

Take care of yourselves.

Sunday, 11 June 2017

What Am I Working On? About Between the Sleepers

In a nutshell...

Between the Sleepers is a wrong side of the tracks love story with a twist.  It follows the story of working class Winston Keller, who falls in love with Sarah Willis, the daughter of a wealthy tycoon. Winston not only has to battle the differences between their social classes, but also the feud that has raged between the two families for a generation. In the midst of all this, World War II breaks out, and Winston finds himself working on the Thai-Burma Railway, while back home, Sarah must work out who she really is and what she really wants.

Between the Sleepers is a 90 000 word Historical Fiction novel set in Fremantle between 1937 and 1945.


It would suit readers who enjoy the works of Deborah Burrows, or The Light Between Oceans by ML Stedman.

About the book...

I've long been a lover of historical fiction.  I remember reading Kate Morton's The Shifting Fog for the first time and being totally blown away by it.  That book has always been a little bit magical to me.  As someone who loves history, the fact that great stories continue to be written which combine the past with the present in such a meaningful and exiting way, is something that makes me extremely happy.

I've been known to describe Between the Sleepers as what would happen if Richard Flanagan's The Narrow Road to the Deep North and Kate Morton's The Shifting Fog had a book-baby.  Those two novels would have to be the biggest influences on this particular work to date.  In writing Between the Sleepers, I've tried to be mindful of the deep reverence Flanagan showed for his subject matter and the scene setting and characterisation in Narrow Road, as well as integrating some of the romance and magic of The Shifting Fog.  

Between the Sleepers begins in 1937 and ends in 1945.  It is the story of Winston Keller, a working class boy with artistic leanings, and Sarah Willis, whose father owns a cigarette factory and is doing quite well for himself.  The two meet at a dinner party and are drawn to one another despite the differences in their situation.  However, Sarah's father isn't particularly keen on the match, and when Winston goes to the Willis house to ask for Sarah's hand, he is sharply rebuffed.  Secrets from his father's past will come back to haunt him in this tale of love, endurance and growing up set in Fremantle, Western Australia.  

Part of this book was written while I was Young Writer in Residence at the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers' Centre in 2014, and the most recent reworking of the manuscript has been done as part of a mentorship with WA Writer, Annabel Smith.  An earlier draft of my novel was appraised by Deb Fitzpatrick, who wrote that ‘the strengths of this manuscript are many; the clever use of dialogue to reveal characters and keep the pace ticking along is perhaps my favourite.  The authentic detail you populate your scenes with is another.  You are also adept at describing ghastly events…’ 

This is a story that has taken hold of me and won't let go.  I began writing in in 2008 and have rewritten it so many times that I've lost count.  I hope one day I'll be able to share this book with all of you.  

Friday, 9 June 2017

Book Review: Idaho by Emily Ruskovich

Idaho by Emily Ruskovich
Chatto and Windus 2017
I own a copy


Idaho was one of my most anticipated books of 2017.  If I am being totally honest, it was largely due to the striking cover, and the fact that I was seeing it talked about everywhere in the online book reviewing community.  I saw special bound proofs of it on people's Twitter and Instagram feeds (part of a set of YA books being released this year, I think--- bizarrely, as it's not YA at all), and I even saw a few bloggers raving about it early on.

For some reason, I got it into my head that it was an historical novel.  Bizarre, given that American history is seldom something I am drawn to.  But it's not, it's a contemporary novel which switches back and forth over a period of something like forty years.  It's hard to boil down the premise of this book without over simplifying it.  This is a book which is told from multiple perspectives, shedding light on the aftermath of something really terrible that has happened in a particular family.  But, oddly enough, all of the points of view telling this story are removed either by time, or by proximity to the event, so that the perspective being given is really oblique.  The book begins first with a chapter from the point of view of Ann, who is now married to Wade, the father of the family who experienced the tragedy.  Ann was a music teacher at the school where the two girls went, and she taught piano to Wade before the incident.  Ann and Wade were attracted to one another, and in this section, Ann had begun to wonder if perhaps she was somehow responsible for the terrible incident-- I don't think it's spoiling anything to tell you what this incident is, but if you don't want to know, stop reading now.  One day, the Mitchell family go out onto the mountain where they live to chop firewood with their two little girls, May and June.  During this afternoon, the wife, Jenny, kills May with a hatchet and no one is really sure what caused her to do this.  In the confusion, June is left behind on the mountain and never seen again.

Yikes.

And the thing is, the book keeps reiterating the horrible fact of this event, but it doesn't provide us with any resolution.  It's not going to offer you any insight into what happened to June, or why Jenny really did it.  But what it does offer you instead, is a portrait of this really weird extended family, including cell mates and new wives, and then some segments in the past, that tell you a little about the period leading up the event and then the years that followed, without taking you to the event itself.  In the beginning of reading this book, when I was two chapters in and being talked to (in beautiful prose by the way, this woman can really write) by characters who were so peripheral that I felt like nothing was happening, I was tempted to give up this book.  And I thought of all the rave reviews I'd heard and thought to myself, no, there's got to be a payoff.  So I kept reading.

Was there a payoff?  Not of the sort I wanted, but at the same time, I didn't feel ripped off by the ending to this book the way I did with another book that never resolves its trauma which I really loathed-- The Little Friend by Donna Tartt.  I think the real strengths of this book are its prose and its characterisation, but if you go into it looking for plot you're going to get cross.  It's a book you have to read slowly, but if you're willing to do that, there are some real gems to be found.

I gave this book three stars.

Saturday, 3 June 2017

Not a Review: Joiner Bay and other stories

Joiner Bay and other stories
Edited by Ellen van Neerven
Margaret River Press 2017



This is not going to be a review of the 2017 Margaret River Short Story Competition Anthology... because I have a piece in it, and that just wouldn't be fair.  This is just my thoughts... which resemble a review.

But I did want to say that once again, Margaret River Press have done an absolutely stellar job publishing this collection of stories.  From hundreds of entries, the team of judges (including head judge, Ellen van Neerven, who selected the shortlist) have whittled this year's selection down to seventeen different pieces, showcasing the breadth of talent in the Australian short story scene.

Winning piece 'Joiner Bay', by Brisbane-based writer Laura Elvery shows off exactly why Elvery is a name to watch.  With an impressive list of writing credits to her name, including the Griffith Review and The Big Issue, Elvery is a practised hand at the short form.  At the 2017 Margaret River Readers and Writers Festival, Elvery talked a little bit about the inspiration for her piece, which is about a teenage boy who has thrown himself into running after the suicide of his best friend.  But as much as she'd love to chalk it up to snippets of overheard conversations in cafes, it's plain to see from reading 'Joiner Bay' that it's 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration and talent for this writer-- the story reads effortlessly and is a perfect ending to a collection which spans topics of grief, aging, love, survival, confronting past traumas and other such themes.

This collection also features 'Sheen' by Else Fitzgerald, a speculative fiction piece about the not too distant future which took out second place in the competition this year, and 'Harbour Lights' by Leslie Thiele, winner of the South West Writers Prize, sponsored by ECU Bunbury.  In 'Harbour Lights', a clear sense of Bunbury is evoked on the page, as the main character navigates a routine dinner party that takes a nasty turn.

Other stand out stories for me were 'Oh, The Water' by Keren Heenan, which was simple and understated in the most beautiful way; 'Things to Come' by Charlotte Guest, a heartbreaking story about love and the terror of losing control of one's faculties; and 'Still Life with Dying Swan' by Gail Chrisfield, which left me close to tears.

I feel incredibly privileged to have a story in this collection, alongside these writers.

Joiner Bay and Other Stories is published by Margaret River Press, and you can find a copy at any good bookshop.  If they don't have it, make them order it!

Happy reading.