Ma Chambre

So here’s my room. I moved to this small unfurnished flat in October, and until the New Year I didn’t have a bed or enough shelves, so everything was in boxes all over the place, and it didn’t look great. The other room has both the living room stuff and my desk, which isn’t ideal. Photos of that will have to wait because it’s currently covered in a load of paperwork and art stuff.

Pictures stuck to the wall- an assortment of postcards, photos I’ve taken, and prints friends have given me. I found the 70s bedsheets when I was clearing out my nan’s house (I now have about 7 different duvet covers because of this). The cushions were a gift from Morocco.

The chest of drawers also came from my grandparent’s house. The glowing thing on the left is one of those essential oil vaporisers. I mostly use a mix of lemongrass, cedar and bergamot oils in it (I have one in the other room too)

This flat has no storage outside of the kitchen cupboards. I would love to have an actual wardrobe and get rid of the clothes rail. See the edge of the fake Marimekko curtain. I realised when I moved that I actually previously had it hung up upside down, and the hem is weighted with a chain.

Lots and lots of books and cameras. The shelves are modular ones from Muji made of recycled paper. Each row is a separate unit. Every time I move house I think “my life would be so much simpler if I wasn’t interested in books, music or art- I’d have no stuff” (The records and art stuff are in the other room). I guess you can weigh up that trade-off yourself.


Diana Wynne Jones zine

I have a zine of articles about children’s writer Diana Wynne Jones (of Howl’s Moving Castle et al) I wrote this zine in 2011, also managing to interview her before she sadly died (you can also read the interview online here). The original edition was 1/6 of an A3 sheet, made on a Risograph machine. This was great when I still had access to an A3 Riso machine, but after I didn’t it was very expensive and difficult to reprint, so it went out of print. Recently I did a new edition, with all-new illustrations, in a much more convenient standard A6 size.

The zine is available here on its own for £3.50 (currently around US$4.50 or €4.20) or as bundles with my Japan zine or a Fire and Hemlock inspired print.

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Miyazaki’s Reading List


I think everyone knows Studio Ghibli‘s magical films. Howl’s Moving Castle is based on a book by Diana Wynne Jones, one of my favourite authors (who I also have a zine of essays about). The film follows the basic outline and characters of the book, but differs in a lot of ways (for instance Howl is Welsh in the book, and the secret black door leads to suburban Wales). No-one really cares though, as it preserves the spirit of the book, and all the changes work well with the story and it’s a wonderful film. You can see some of Diana’s thoughts about it in this interview I conducted.

When I was in Japan I went to the Studio Ghibli Museum just outside of Tokyo. Sadly pictures were not allowed inside, but I wrote about it in my zine of the trip. I highly recommend the museum, it’s magical. The bookshop was also stocked with Miyazaki’s own favourite books, as well as books related to the studio’s films. I didn’t buy anything, as they were all in Japanese, and it would take me forever to read anything, but I noted down a lot of less well-known books I saw in the shop to compile a reading list (helpfully the copyright tends to list the author’s names in roman text rather than try to make it fit katakana). Unfortunately I wasn’t able to write down the Japanese author’s names in most cases as reading unknown names written in kanji is very tricky. However Miyazaki made a list of classic children’s books (including a lot of the usual suspects like The Secret Gardenelsewhere which also includes some Japanese recommendations.

Charity shop finds


I haven’t found as many good charity shop items lately as over the summer, but there’s been the odd few things. I got this vase for £2, which I’ve planted an aloe vera in, for my own plant version of Sideshow Bob.


This box of Chris Ware stories, which hilariously was put in the children’s section as a board game for £7. Definitely not suitable for young children.


This bananagrams game for £2. This one is suitable for all the family.

A bit part in your life.

knitting ghost(Knitting ghost from the Moomins)

So it’s October now. The last few weeks I’ve been bouncing back and forth between Kent and Sussex. Job-hunting is boring and tedious, and has pushed back moving house. All my things are packed up in boxes, ready to go, but the going isn’t happening yet. I’ve also had tonisilitis for the last week, which is finally clearing up. I’ve got too many of my own projects I need to finish. So not the most fun of times, but hopefully it won’t drag on forever.

Here’s some interesting odds and ends:

Godless heathenry



The next issue of Being Editors will be about C.S.Lewis and Phillip Pullman. As a sneak preview, and to give contributors an idea of what my own religious (or more to the point, non-religious) background  is, here is the article I wrote which leads in to another about why That Hideous Strength is a guilty pleasure- if you’d like to contribute, find out more here

That Hideous Strength has always been a weird guilty pleasure. I’m not a Christian, never have been, and didn’t grow up in a religious environment. People enjoy the Narnia books because they’re good children’s books and written with charm and wit, and they don’t Jesus you too hard (except for the last one). That Hideous Strength is nothing like that, the plot is weirdly cobbled together, and it’s full of railing against every single one of C.S.Lewis’ personal bugbears as a sexist old Christian university don of the 1950s, and he doesn’t bother to hide it. The relentless sexism, homophobia and evangelising makes me want to throw the book against the wall as the godless hell-bound pinko lefty I am, but it’s just so gleefully bizarre that I actually quite enjoy it and have re-read it countless times.

I didn’t grow up with what you could really call any form of religion at all. There was none in my family, and it didn’t play much meaningful part in my surroundings. Although England, the country I grew up in, has an official state religion in the form of the Church of England, most people aren’t very religious (I’m sticking to England here because Northern Ireland is a very different proposition, and Wales and Scotland have their own local factors). The CofE is a pretty wishy-washy, non-committal form of sort of Catholicish Protestantism that’s just there as a sort of backup default option if you want it and don’t have another religion. There were plenty of Catholics, Sikhs, Muslims and a couple of Mormons at school, but none of them were particularly devout either. There was one girl whose family belonged to some obscure extreme Christian sect whose name I can’t remember, and she seemed to be banned from joining in anything fun, which made people feel sorry for her. The overt religiosity of a lot of American culture seems pretty alien to us. If you are very religious, it’s seen as pushy, creepy and over-sharing to talk about it in great detail to people who didn’t ask about it, and even worse to try to convert them.

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15 fun ways to learn languages better

international harry potter

(Spanish and French editions of Harry Potter)

British people are really, really bad at learning foreign languages, because we can arrogantly rely on English being an international language, and it can be quite an insular culture. People whose native language is spoken by fewer people have to learn another language, unless they want to spend their whole life in their home country only exposed to local things or whatever someone has translated. I don’t think our school system helps at all either. Everything is focused on exams and box-ticking, and learning and regurgitating vocab lists and grammar points gets you better grades than genuine communication. Most of my lessons at school were in English, with endless exercises from the textbooks and little opportunity to have real conversations or make mistakes.

With my own history with languages, I learnt French as a child, and have no formal qualifications in it. My spelling is still appalling, like a dyslexic French person, but I understand pretty much everything, and happily read books in French without a dictionary. I don’t speak it often though through not having many opportunities to do so, so I struggle for words sometimes talking on the fly, and don’t feel like I express myself in the way I’d like to. I know the words, but I can’t quite summon them to mind fast enough these days.

I learnt German the “proper” way, via school lessons and a year at university. I took 6 years of classes at school, resulting in an A-level, and took a C1 level class at university. That was thirteen years ago though, so I’m not sure where to officially put myself on the level system now. I used to visit Germany and Austria a lot for work, and spoke it a lot more then. My A-level classes weren’t that great, and what we were doing in class didn’t reach the level that was expected from the exam, so I had to find ways to study on my own. University was another step up again, we were reading Kafka stories and historical texts, and watching Expressionist films and having debates. Quite a few of the other students hated it, because it strayed outside the safe confines of the school textbook material, but I loved it, and would have continued it throughout my entire degree if that had been an option. I also took a year’s accelerated class in Italian for speakers of French or Spanish, and a year’s course in Modern Greek.

Once I left university, I started teaching EFL. I had a lot of students who had studied English at home under much the same conditions as me at school and who hadn’t really got anywhere, and had come to the UK to try to improve matters. They found it frustrating not being able to communicate with people in real life, and wanted as many tips as they could to help themselves. I also used to teach a lot of teenagers both in the UK and abroad, and the tips worked for them as well. It’s a common New Year’s Resolution to study another language. A lot of people buy a cd set, and play a bit of Duolingo, do some grammar drills, maybe even pack an evening class into their tiring schedule and then give up because they’re not getting anywhere. Here’s some tips to help you get somewhere, and hopefully enjoy the process

(Whenever I write “the language” here obviously I mean the language you’re studying).

1) Don’t be afraid of looking stupid by making mistakes

At school in a lot of countries it’s often better for your grades if you just stick to the material taught and try to replicate it as accurately as possible, and you’re often penalised for trying to say something more ambitious and getting it a bit wrong. Unfortunately in real life you can’t stick to discussing how you played tennis with Jean-Baptiste and Rachida last Wednesday and asking people how many brothers and sisters they have. In real life you’re going to have your own ideas and opinions and things happen to you, and have real conversations with other people who say things that weren’t in the textbook. Try to have proper conversations with people and piece together what you’re trying to say with words you already know and ideas you have about how sentences work. You might not get it 100% correct, but hopefully people will understand. If you don’t know the word, try paraphrasing. If you don’t know the word for coat hanger, try saying “the thing you put clothes on in the wardrobe” and the person you’re talking to will probably provide the word. A lot of people will be thrilled you’re trying to learn their language especially if it’s not one that’s often studied abroad, and will be keen to help you. No one is deducting marks or failing you on some eternal marksheet of life. That time you got the irregular past tense of that verb wrong doesn’t go on your permanent record.

No matter how long you’ve been studying, you’re going to make mistakes, and sometimes they’re very weird or funny mistakes. I once cheerfully told my landlady in Austria that when I’d been for a stroll in the mountains I’d nearly fallen in some open graves full of slurry. She looked at me in horror, until we both realised that I’d got the words for graves (das Grab, plural die Gräber) mixed up with ditches (der Graben, plural die Gräben), and I remembered that the German word for mud Schlamm can also mean slime or slurry. “Ich bin fast in zwei Gräber voll mit Schlamm gefallen” turns out to be quite different to “Ich bin fast in zwei Gräben voll mit Schlamm gefallen”.

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