Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Vikings, Kenya and Why I Love Jane Austen

I forgot how to blog. My blog broke, or I broke, or something. Life is weird. Priorities are hard to manage. Life whirls on, and deciding how to spend time is tough. Do you ever go around wishing you could blog/read blogs/paint/other random hobbies that aren't quite your Main Thing (my Main Things being writing, reading and academic work), and then when a sliver of time to do those things presents itself, you freeze, unable to decide how to fill it?

man, the man is non stop
[source]
But I feel like blogging should be a stress-free environment, and I should be able to drop in whenever I can and post whatever I want and not need to fear a loss of relationships. I may not be a “successful" blog in terms of a steadily growing readership, regular posts, etc. But that's OK. I can keep going as I'm going and keep the friends I have, rather than worrying about accruing followers / blogging in the “right" way.

This is all getting a bit deep, sorry, folks!

I mean, I'm literally just here to post mini-reviews for Back to the Classics. Not meaning to get emotional ... we're British after all.

SO ANYWAY.


This is a challenge hosted by Karen @ Books and Chocolate. To participate, you have to read twelve (or six or nine) classics from different categories. To read the rules and categories, click here.

what can I say?: beautiful people : july edition (but not really)
[source]

A pre-1800 classic // The Saga of Gunnlaug Serpent-Tongue


A far pre-1800 classic: this Viking epic was written down around 1270-1300. It was a look at an old, brutal world with which I'm not familiar: the Scandinavia, Britain and Ireland of the 13th century. Strange to think that my ancestors dwelt there. (And maybe yours, too, US/Aussie followers! Weird, right?) This saga features kings, goddesses and warrior-poets, as men vie for the hand of Helga the Fair.

“The woman was born to bring war
between men -- the tree of the valkyrie
started it all; I wanted her
sorely, that log of rare silver." (p42)

Mostly the story is told in blunt, plain English -- I love this brand of #VikingSass -- but poems like the one I quoted intersperse it. In that society, poetry was the top form of prowess, along with fighting. I enjoyed peeking into this other world (I'm looking forward, albeit with trepidation, to studying Old and Middle English at uni, Beowulf and the like). And it's only fifty pages long. What's not to like?

[source]

“The slander-wary god 
of the storm-sword's spark

mustn't court the cape of the earth
with her cover of linen like snow." (p33)

A classic set in a place you want to visit // The Flame-Trees of Thika

Elspeth Huxley was 1913 when her entrepreneurial, dreamer parents moved the family to Kenya to farm. I read this book in Kenya, but I'm popping it in this category because it is set in Thika, a region I never visited. This is an amazing memoir. I loved seeing in its pages the Kenya I came to know, but also the vanished Kenya of a century ago.

I love this story because it shows British people plunged into Kenyan life, having to adapt.

“I had never before seen heat, as you can see smoke or rain. But there it was, jigging and quavering above brown grasses and spiky thorn-trees and flaring erythrinas. if I could have stretched my hand out far enough I could surely have grasped it, a kind of colourless jelly." (p14)

And they adapt so well! Elspeth is only a child, fascinated by the world around her, and Robin and Tilly, her parents, are quite wonderful in the new life they make for themselves. I loved reading about the way they preserve some British customs and leave others behind. The ventures Tilly throws herself into. They become part of a community of British ex-pats, and these interactions between the adults, seen through a child's eyes, form the compelling “plot" of the book.


This is where I was when I was reading this book!
It's a beautifully written, evocative book. Gosh, this review is making me a bit sad! Kenya, take me back ...

“the crimson sky, the golden light streaming down the valley, and then its obliteration by the dusk, as if some great lamp had been turned down in the heavens, filled me with the terrible melancholy that sometimes wrings the hearts of children and can never be communicated or explained. It was as if the day, which was unique, and could never come again, had been struck down like the duiker [a type of deer] and lay there bleeding, and then had died with it, and could never be recalled. I felt it desperately important that the moment should be halted, the life of the day preserved, its death indefinitely postponed, and that the memory of every instant, of every fleck of colour in that tremendous sky, should be branded on my mind so as to become as much a part of my existence as an eye or hand." (p122)

But the moment cannot be halted. 1913 could not be halted, moving inexorably into the First World War; Huxley's childhood could not be halted. Nor could my time in Kenya, my advent to Oxford, the days and weeks that flash by us like the sun setting again and again.


A classic by a woman author // Mansfield Park

Austen is like a cup of tea and a biscuit and also a comet crashing into earth but without disturbing the cup-of-tea-biscuit-ness and I think that's pretty darned amazing.

Mansfield Park was my last unread Austen novel and, based on the other five, I had high expectations. They were met! Austen herself described this book as “not half so entertaining as Pride and Prejudice", but in my opinion that's pretty unfair. It has a slower pace than some of the other novels, and Fanny is certainly a different heroine to Lizzie Bennett or Emma Wodehouse. They remain my two favourites of Austen's heroines -- I just love their spunk! -- but Fanny Price is also pretty great. She is sweet and shy and quiet, but not annoying. She is admirable.

I found this book so compelling. That's why Austen is amazing. She writes novels set in the stifling world of eighteenth-century England, where so many people seem so preoccupied with husband-hunting and the purchase of new hats. And yet her novels are fresh, original and exciting. This one kept me hooked! And of course the writing was exquisite; on almost every page I would sit back thinking, “wow, that was a great sentence." I'm pretty certain that Austen is one of the all-time greats, and I can't wait to reread all her books.

Also, it contained this golden bit where one of the characters is talking about being ordained, and another is saying  “oh, not the clergy, so boring, go into the law instead!" And he says, pointing at the countryside in which they're walking:

 “Go into the law! You might as well tell me to go into this wilderness!"

I now say this to anyone who asks me if I've considered being a lawyer. (It happens pretty often.)

[source] // RIDING ON A WAVE OF AUSTEN FEMINISM // SHE WAS A WOMAN WRITER IN A TIME WHEN THAT REALLY WASN'T A THING // WHAT A COOL LADY??!
[source]
~***~

What are you reading at the moment? What's been the best book of the summer? Have you read any Old English lit? What's your favourite Austen novel? And which book has given you wanderlust?

Friday, 1 September 2017

Footnotes: September

This post comes to you from the past. I am currently living my dream: I'm on an uninhabited island with no electricity or WiFi. Literally only sheep. It's pretty much my favourite place in the world.


No but seriously, remember that lighthouse thing I shared in my most recent post? (If you don't, a) how dare you not internalise every pixel of my blog, I'm offended, and b) scroll down.) It was about wanting to live in a lighthouse. But where I really want to live is a reservoir tower.

[source]
There's a train I often get that goes up from the countryside through the south side of Glasgow, and going through the green country the line passes a couple of beautiful reservoirs. I love that railway -- the trains are old and creaky, bodies painted dull red and yellow, cheerful somehow -- and I love those lakes. And I always look at the reservoir towers as I pass and have a surge of longing.

Anyway, I'm getting away from the point.

It's the first of September, which means it's time for Footnotes!


Ashley and I began this link-up last month. It's quotation based -- each month we post a prompt asking you to choose a quotation on a particular theme, and you respond pretty much however you like! Thanks to those who got involved in August! This month's prompt:

A quotation that makes you laugh.


~***~

Ana Rosa
[source]
[source]
~***~

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

A lot of life updates // a book haul

It's been so long since I did a life post, recap, or book haul that I've forgotten how. I do have these blogging crises sometimes, when I'm like, what am I doing, why do I spend so much time writing about myself and taking photos of books, nobody cares. And then I remind myself that I love reading other people's writing about themselves, and looking at their photos of books, so why shouldn't I do it, too?

I could dwell on my angst further, but instead let's plunge into THE BOOKS (that's why we're here!).


So, this is what happens when you don't do a book haul post from December until August. OOPS.



// lobster pots are fun. And this edition is so pretty I could cry.
These four -- Shadow and Bone, Finnikin of the Rock, A Darker Shade of Magic and Neverwhere -- were all Christmas presents from my great brother. (My family has finally figured out that I want books for presents. It's taken nearly nineteen years but it's happened and it's wonderful.) There are all super pretty and, more to the point, the entire blogosphere is OBSESSED and throws them all at my head. (Maybe not so much Finnikin (which is in the picture with Shadow and Bone, hiding), but the other three? Pftt. I can't leave the house without the bloodthirsty chant of “Schwab, Schwab, read some Schwab!" rolling into my ears.)

Have I actually read them yet? Considering I've owned them for eight months? Hahaha. As if. I need a healthy four years to make it through my TBR ... (I hate myself.)


 Despite being Scottish, do I ever read Scottish literature, ever? Nope. I could count on one hand the number of Scottish books I've read IN MY LIFE! (I mean, I would need about twelve fingers. But let's not bore ourselves with the details.) So here's two Scottish books.

Trainspotting was a Christmas present from my lovely friend Cat (along with I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings). It's an iconic book about the Edinburgh drug scene. According to a friend who has read it, The Goldfinch alludes to it. So I'm there! (Metaphorically there. Literally, who knows when I'll read this book. I'm a travesty of a sham, asphyxiating under a TBR pile.)

Nil Nil is a poetry collection by Aberdonian poet Don Paterson. I got this book last December from an incredible place in Oxford called The £3 Bookshop. They sell NEW BOOKS for £3 EACH?!! How does that business make money? I HAVE NO IDEA. When I go to Oxford, will I fritter away my life's savings in increments of £3 and buy everything from the entire shop? Yeah, probably!


Also bought in The £3 Bookshop! What a place. This is one of my FAVOURITE BOOKS EVER and I can't wait to reread!

A Further Stack // the university edition


Yup, these books are all new (to me) for the purposes of my degree! Ahahahaha. Who needs education, right? I think I'll pack it in, move to Paraguay and herd alpacas. I do love South America ...

I got my reading list for Oxford a month ago. It is ... what's that word? Long. As you can tell from those books! I'm meant to read all those by October?! As well as Great Expectations and Moby Dick, (not pictured because I already owned them)?! The alpacas look more and more inviting ...

I did have a small crisis when I got the list. Suddenly the next three years of my life lay stark before me: read through the list. Go to uni. Study, write essays, die a little. Get reading list for next term. Go home for Christmas holidays. Read through list. Return to uni. Study, write essays, fall further into Tartarus. And repeat for three years??

You hear people say it, don't you, that studying books ruins the love of books. Allow me to be a massive narcissist for a minute and quote myself. This is what I said on this blog on 1st October, 2016 (which is actually not far off a year ago. WHAT IS THIS THING WE CALL TIME):
I'm currently going through the uni application process again.  I have unexpectedly had to navigate people telling me a) not to apply to the uni I want to go to and b) even more bafflingly, not to apply for English Lit ... 
my exact face
But, Emily, studying English means studying books and thinking about books and writing about books and criticising books and you've not been taught it in school the way it will be at uni! AND YOU'LL STOP LOVING BOOKS!"

 
I'm not trying to be an annoying 17y/o who disregards adults' advice and generally yells “YOU DON'T KNOW MY LIFE, MOM*" ... but equally, don't patronise me and tell me that what I think I want is not actually what I want?! In fact, I know what I want. And I'm not expecting uni to be the same as school, obviously, and even if I do get there and hate studying English I can always drop out and still like reading, it's not as if I'll be like “SHAKESPEARE IS A LIE AND GATSBY NEVER HAPPENED!" 
*To clarify, it's not my actual mom" who has said these things. She's a great lady. 
So you can see, my past self was mighty convinced that this Stopping Loving Books thing would DEFINITELY NEVER HAPPEN. “Don't patronise me and tell me what I think I want is not actually what I want?!" I said in a rather angsty way. I STILL STICK BY MY ANGSTY PAST SELF. But I did have that moment of horror where I wondered, what if I could find my degree a grind?

I don't think so, though. Because I've had such a great time with the books so far. I've read Moby Dick, which was blimming great, and Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction -- fascinating -- and some great poetry by Browning, and I'm now really enjoying The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, so I can confirm that I do not hate books. And anyway, since getting the list I read The Mark of Athena. I'm not going to stop reading YA and fantasy. That just isn't going to happen. I WILL ALWAYS MAKE TIME FOR PERCY. (Gosh, though, my Percy emotions are running high at the moment. SOMEBODY HOLD ME.)

I'll leave the angsty rant there for today, but send me good vibes for getting through the reading list!

Peter LiversidgeĆ¢€™s-everythingisconnected:
[source]
In Life

SO IN JUNE I MET ASHLEY.

Ashley! As in the blogger behind [oddly novel title], the co-hoster of Footnotes, the beta reader of my first novel, and my great friend of several years! 

SHE CAME TO SCOTLAND AND WE HAD LUNCH.

throwback to when I had dreads
My mother was very concerned. She kept saying things like “but are you SURE she's a real person?" and “don't get in a car with her!" There is quite a lot of stigma surrounding internet friendships -- firstly, the assumption that the people we talk to online are definitely secretly 50y/o men, and the idea that “internet friendships aren't real friendships". It was absolutely wonderful to meet an internet friend face to face! We had such a nice afternoon. Unfortunately we spent it in a rather down-at-heel small town north of Glasgow -- I wished Ashley could have seen better parts of Scotland than that! -- but in spite of the less than inspiring setting, it was pretty delightful. Have you ever met an internet friend? Don't forget to hit me up if you're ever in Scotland!

AND SHE GAVE ME A BOOK?!


Basically, 90% of our friendship is based on Sherlock gifs. Ashley is a better person than me and has actually read some of the books, instead of just watching the BBC series (side note, I still haven't finished series 4?! It came out while I was in Kenya!), and is encouraging me to do the same!

Such a good day, folks!


In July I went to Dublin!

I went on holiday with my Kenya team and it was really lovely. I have always been very attracted by the celtic magic of Ireland, the myth and the music. Dublin is a great city, both exciting and traditional. We got lost around the cobbled streets; walking out in the long July evenings live music would float from the beautiful pubs and bars. Once I did a bit of impromptu ceilidh dancing in the street, to the tune of a busking fiddler. There was so much character in each lovely Georgian building, and the River Liffey, winding through the city's heart, was gorgeous.

I always think there is something so atmospheric about straight beams of sunlight, something divine. The glory of the Lord descending through clouds.
It was a hilarious holiday of art galleries and museums, of cooking pasta in a youth hostel, of walking until our feet blistered because we refused to pay for public transport. Sitting drinking wine by the Liffey, reminiscing about Kenya, wondering about the future, laughing about the present.

One glorious day we walked to the beach. I love cities by the sea.


Image may contain: 6 people, people smiling, people standing, sky, ocean, cloud and outdoor
It was so nice to spend time with these girls. Ft. the fun skirt I got made in Kenya.
Of course, no holiday would be complete without some secondhand book-buying! Because I really have nothing to read .... *ahem*

Chosen because The Road by McCarthy is one of my faves.


It was a great holiday! (I spent a lot of time looking out for Derek Landy, who lives in Ireland, but somehow didn't manage to spot him. It's so fun, though, seeing the place where your fave books (in this case, Skulduggery) are set!)

[source]
In Writing

I am redrafting Stay In the City!


No but seriously! It was November when I finished the first draft of this book! That's like half a year ago! Heck, that's like nearly a whole year ago! It's just SO NICE to be jumping back into the story with my beloved team of characters. I loved working on the first book in May/June/July, but I always had this knowledge that their story had continued past that book, and they needed me in the future! Now it is the future. If that makes sense.

If you want to know more about the book (bless you) you can click here.

This morning I finished reading it and made a Redraft Action Plan. I'm very professional, me.


This is only the second book I'll ever have redrafted! It's a learning curve, right? Right. Ahahahaha.

Seriously, though, I'm excited.


So, I was going to talk about stuff I've been reading recently, but I think I may die if this post gets any longer, and goodness knows how you're feeling! If you actually read this, you're a hero. Anyway, TELL ME ALL THE THINGS: what are you writing? What are you reading? Have you been to Dublin? Do you ever have blogging crises? Are you an internet friendship success story like I am? Have you ever been to the setting of your favourite book and got stupidly excited? Any recent book haul excitements? Share it all!

I'll leave you with this, my most recent favourite thing.

I want this life a painful amount

Until very soon!

~***~

Friday, 4 August 2017

Other Worlds


Footnotes is a new link-up hosted by Ashley and me. For quotation obsessees (and isn't that all of us?). This month's prompt is: a quotation from an author.

Adams Carvalho
[source]
“Characters pre-exist. They are found. They reveal themselves slowly – as might fellow-travellers seated opposite one another in a very dimly-lit railway carriage.” ~ Eudora Welty

I had to Google this quotation to find its source, Eudora Welty. A Goodreads search told me she’s a twentieth-century writer from Mississippi. I did not know this before. These words were simply written on a scrap of lined paper, stuck to my wall: a jotting from an English lesson some year or two ago, copied down without reference. Nonetheless, I have long loved this quotation and often thought about it.

Characters are not names and eye colours and favourite foods, bullet pointed in a notebook. They are not stick figures. They are at first the whisper of an idea, a shadow, and slowly they move out of darkness and the writer sees them, fully human, having waited there all along.

Often the characters I write surprise me; they do, say or think things completely unexpected, and I look down at my hands, my pen, and think, I am a vessel for someone else.

Is a writer therefore a creator or a conduit? I am a prophetess, looking through the veil from this world to another. Think of fantasy lands; do they not spread, real and vast, far beyond the brains of their writers? Does George RR Martin know every complexity, every inhabitant, of Westeros? Did Tolkien look upon Middle Earth with the benevolent smile of a god; or did he gaze up at its hills and wonder? I think it was the latter. I think there is a third space, between our physical world and the writer’s abstract brain, where all the multitudes of voices from fiction dwell. A parallel universe? A series of parallel universes, bobbing against each other like a conglomeration of stars? Perhaps.

Because it’s true, isn’t it, that readers find things in books which the author did not knowingly place there. Think of those times when you find in a book something so exquisitely specific, so pertinent, it makes you sit back, blinking with recognition. Haven’t you found yourself in the books you read? You have known the book, as the author themselves did not know it. But the truth you have found is real, valid, not merely a cheap insertion of your circumstances or emotions. It is there, shining from the page. Must it not, then, exist somewhere, somewhere neither the author’s brain nor yours?

It amazes and excites me, this shadowland of people, places and ideas, just waiting for someone to discover then. All the books I’ve not yet written, all the characters I haven’t met, seem to float around me, like fish lying deep out of sight in a still dark pool.

To return to Welty’s image of the train: I am a passenger on a journey, heading I don’t know where, and all the possible destinations fill me with wonder. What a privilege, to pull back the curtain and look upon another world, here in the dimly-lit railway carriage.

Agata Wierzbicka_Hidden
[source] // Agata Wierzbicka
ft. my wall
~***~

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Introducing Footnotes (new link-up, get excited!)

If there's one thing readers, writers, bloggers and even normal humans love doing, it's quoting each other.

AA Milne wrote, “[A] quotation is a handy thing to have about, saving one the trouble of thinking for oneself, always a laborious business." I enjoy the irony of this -- when he wrote these words, did he picture future generations wanting to quote it, yet not wanting to quote it for fear of hypocrisy, and laugh to himself? Maybe there's truth in it, too; maybe sometimes we hide behind the words of others. But I'm sure that our yen for quotations is more than a cheap recycling of others' thoughts. To explain what I mean -- and, in the explanation, give an example -- I'm going to quote F. Scott Fitzgerald.

It's all getting a bit meta, isn't it?

F. Scott Fitzgerald

We quote others because, when their words match our feelings, we find ourselves part of some great and unstoppable tide of literature. Others have stood where you stand now. Others have felt what you are feeling, and translated that heart into language, and spoken it out. “You belong."

Now, do you remember way back in the dark and misty past of October 2015?

Hahaha, me neither, but reliable sources tell me that was the month when Ashley and I started a link-up called Starting Sparks. 

Starting Sparks has since reached its conclusion -- to quote (see, there's a theme going on here, folks) a wise Kenyan baker, “Everything that has a beginning has an end." But your favourite dynamic link-up hosting duo is back, and, to quote someone somewhere, “it's going to be fun!"


It's an easy concept, really. On the first of each month, Ashley and I will post a quotation-related prompt. You will choose a quotation and tell us why. That simple. This month we're starting easy:

A quotation from an author.

Hope to see you around!

~***~

(And, to start us off on a good note, comment one or more of your favourite quotations!)

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

What I Learned On My Gap Year

1. The world is bigger than you realise

Now obviously I'm going to talk about Kenya here, but first, let's slip back to those far-off autumn days when I worked in a lowly shop. Last September and October, I was a shop assistant in a cheap little shop in Glasgow selling tacky jewellery, sparkly shoes and other low-grade paraphernalia. It showed me a side of the city I'd never seen before. If you have the opportunity to work in a shop, take it! Because meeting the general public each day, with their needs and their desires, is a wonderful way to learn about people.

Also I went to Kenya.


The clouds are different there. More tousled. The skies are huge, because so much of the land is so flat. Once in Tuum, Samburu (Kenya's the rural north), I stood upon a mountain and thought about the size of the view. Here in Britain, the horizon is always so much closer; my eye is brought to a stop by a mountain range, or mist, or the sea. But looking out over Samburu, the land rolled on for hundreds of miles. I have never seen the world like this before. It is vast and beautiful, and it made me realise how great and mighty God is, because He made it all.

2. A woman does not need money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction // you are capable of a lot

It was Virginia Woolf, in A Room of One's Own, who said that's what a writer needs. But in Kenya, sharing a tiny room of four, I wrote a novel. That's one of the things Kenya taught me: to make the best of any situation. Sometimes, what once seemed impossible becomes normal. You are capable of far more than you realise.

Really. I lived without electricity and running water for a month. At one point near the end of my trip, I slept in a goathouse for four nights. That is the weirdest place I have ever slept! When I got there, the man who owned it said, “you will sleep here. Sweep it, but don't sweep the yellow powder in the corner, it's toxic. Oh, and walk around to kill the goatworms." Yellow toxic powder? Goatworms?? But by that point, I was up for anything! And, by the light of a dodgy solar-powered lamp, I swept happily away. (Avoiding the toxic powder, of course.)


3. Books really are friends everywhere

When I slept in that goathouse, I was working on a farm in a village called Waso Rongai. I'd get up at 6:30am and hoe fields, and during the hot part of the day, I'd return to my raw mattressed goathouse bunk bed and read Uprooted by Naomi Novik. I remember, back in my long-ago no-thought-of-Kenya life, looking at Uprooted in Waterstones and thinking how I'd like to read it. Little did I know then that I'd plunge into Novik's fairytale world of trees and magic in between watering and planting kale in the wild north of Kenya! I loved that book. Similarly, I sat in the shimmering, solitary heat of the village of Keleswa, where I met tribespeople and had saw a life I had never imagined, and read The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan. Percy Jackson won't desert you, friends. Books are timeless.

Peter, me and Gerald in Keleswa. Not sure what I'm writing, but I can see my copy of The Idiot against the wall! (Cream/dun cover with a red border and a black circle in the middle. See it?) That was the book I finished before diving into The Son of Neptune.
4. Don't get dreads in Africa if you're white // your appearance is not the be-all and end-all

So a sad thing has happened to me. I no longer have dreadlocks.

I MEAN YOU LITERALLY CAN'T TELL I HAVE DREADS BUT I DID AND THEY WERE GREAT. ONCE.
Basically, Caucasian hair needs to be crocheted into dreadlocks, whereas African hair can just be backcombed, waxed and twisted. Because I got mine done in a salon in Nairobi, they did it the African way. But as the weeks and months went by, it became more and more apparent that the dreads were just unravelling. Also they were gross (full of sand from a recent beach trip, for example) and I was too scared to wash them.

So yesterday I washed/combed them all out!

MY HEART IS BROKEN I'm trying to take the philosophical view.

Which is that it's fun to do fun things with your hair when you're a teenager! It's good to experiment, and I'm still glad I got dreads in Kenya, for the story. Now I just have to live the short hair life for a bit until it thickens out again (I lost a lot of my hair yesterday in the combing process. I mean, a lot. My bathroom bin looks like it has a puppy in it), and then I shall merrily dread again! Properly, this time.

OK but you know the really important thing to learn? Your hair is not that important. It doesn't define who you are. Take risks with your appearance and have fun, because ultimately, it's what's inside that counts.


5. God is good, all the time, and all the time, God is good

That's a saying in Kenya. One person says, “God is good!" and the crowd replies, “all the time!" “All the time!" cries the leader, “God is good!" choruses the crowd.

Really. I have learned so much about God's sovereignty. The two weeks we spent running kids' camps in Samburu were some of the hardest two weeks of my life, and I remember looking at the clock during sessions and literally just praying, “Lord, please get me from now until lunchtime." And He did! Every time! The more I live my life, the more I can praise God for being with me every step of the way.

Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.
(Psalm 139:16)

Isn't that verse amazing? God has planned it all. Yesterday, today and forever.

6. It's OK not to swim in the mainstream

I used to think that taking a gap year was a horrific perversion of the True Course of Life. “But I want to go to uni!" I said. “Not put my life on hold for a year!" Here's what I've learnt: you do not have to sit on a conveyor belt like a bit of sheep intestine being turned into a sausage. You do not have to do what everyone else is doing. Sometimes the unexpected path is the most fruitful.


7. Don't take education for granted

Having a Proper Adult Job like a Proper Adult is exciting. Getting paid is exciting. But sometimes I used to stack shelves in my shop jobs, or wash plates in my Kenya school job, and think, “remember when I used to go and paint and learn about books every day?" When I was at school, I think I took my education for granted. And I cannot wait to start uni, to be back in the world of academia! I want books.

Sunset in Keleswa
8. Don't settle

Why did I take a gap year?

In 2015, when I was still at school, I applied to read English at Oxford. I got rejected.

Before the rejection, I was quite philosophical. Here's what I said on this very blog, December 23rd, 2015:
 I'll find out next month if I have a place or not. A lot of people have said things to me like “It must have ruined you for anywhere else", or, “you'll be so disappointed if you don't get in." I loved it so much that it must be easy to imagine crushing disappointment. But the truth is I won't be heartbroken, not in the slightest. Before I'd even sent my application I knew very, very well that the chances of my being accepted are extremely small. This doesn't upset me, because I think it's very foolish to stake all your hope on something you might not get. If I don't get in I'll still have my family, a country at peace, my novel, books, Jesus. It's called perspective.
At that time, I really did think I'd go to uni in 2016 regardless! But when the rejection came ... I mean, in one way, my past self was right. I wasn't heartbroken. But I did have a strong feeling: this isn't over. So I took a year out, I reapplied, I worked, I went to Kenya. And guess what?

I'm going to study in Oxford in October.

Oxford - Bridge of Sighs Less than an hour and a half, makes a great day out
[source] // The Bridge of Sighs
The other day I was in Waterstones in St Andrews and, on the table beside which I sat, there were some lovely red hardback editions of a book called Lyra's Oxford by Philip Pullman. I've never read any Pullman, but I picked it up and read the epigram, which quoted from Baedeker (a historic travel guide):

“Oxford, where windows open into other worlds ..."

It was a moment of serendipity, a breath of the future with its beautiful cobbled streets.

So don't settle, because if you pursue what you want, you might just get it. (A side note: if I hadn't got into Oxford, I'd still be mightily glad to have done this gap year. It was not a means to an end. Getting into Oxford is just an extra gift God has given me. Isn't He amazing?)

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What have you learned in the past year?

Cow/unicorn, I love it.