Stuff I’ve Been Reading

Life, my friends, is getting in the way again. I’m busy, distracted, not altogether in the peak of health, and struggling with tiredness like nothing I’ve ever struggled with before.

I’m fine, of course. All will be well. But my own work has ground to a crushing halt (which I deeply regret), and I don’t have any pithy advice to dispense, and I am all out of clever ways around writers’ block (unlike these guys), and I certainly don’t feel like much of an authority on anything these days, besides self-pity.


This is a post about some stuff I’ve read lately which I’ve found particularly inspirational, interesting and/or useful. Not all of it is about writing – some of it is just about life. But it’s all good. Put the kettle on, relax, and share a cuppa with me, won’t you? Good-oh.

Aaah. Lip-smacking good! Photo Credit: markhassize11feet via Compfight cc

Aaah. Lip-smacking good!
Photo Credit: markhassize11feet via Compfight cc

On Being a Fat Bride

Some of you who’ve been around these parts for a while may know about my struggles with body image, weight and self-esteem. It’s something I take a huge interest in, this cultural obsession with thinness, and particularly the ‘health trolling’ which can surround commentary about women (in particular) and their bodies in the media. People feel it’s their right to treat those with weight issues like they were less than human, sometimes, and worthy of nothing but disrespect and ridicule. I hate that more than I hate almost anything else in the world. I am a person who struggles. I am a person who has struggled all her life. Most importantly, I am a person, and I deserve to be treated as such – not simply as a person who is fat. Sadly, this is so often not the case.

Several years ago, I got married. I felt great on the day, but I had trouble finding a suitable dress in the weeks and months leading up to the event itself. I had to think about things like covering myself up, pulling myself in, camouflaging things I hated about my appearance, and making sure the gown I chose was ‘flattering’. So, when I read this article by journalist Lindy West, about her own wedding day and how she was a happy, joyous, celebratory – and unapologetically, unashamedly fat – bride, it made me well up. Like Lindy, I loved my wedding day. Unlike her, I didn’t have the same sense of freedom around my appearance. I regret that I didn’t allow myself the space to enjoy my body, and that this is something I generally have trouble with. The article inspired me. I loved it. Have a read. But if you come across any comments, either relating to this version of the article or any of the numerous versions of it which were reprinted in other media outlets, do yourself a favour and skip those. Trust me.

On the label ‘MG’ and what it signifies

I love Philip Reeve. He’s a creative powerhouse and a central figure in the world of children’s books, both as a writer and an illustrator. He wrote a blog post in recent days about the label ‘Middle Grade’, or ‘MG’, and why it gets attached with such alacrity to children’s books outside of the United States, where the term ‘middle grade’ is meaningless. This is something which has bothered me, too, for a long time, but I could never articulate it quite the way Reeve has done. Perhaps his take on the issue is rather contentious, and somewhat divisive, but I largely agree with him. And, for once, the comments are ace and well worth reading (probably because most of them are written by children’s book professionals!)

On Illustrating, Illustrators, and the Hard Work of Being Creative

Sarah McIntyre (who has, incidentally, regularly worked with Philip Reeve) is another children’s book professional whom I admire hugely. She is an illustrator and a creator of picture books, and for a long time now she has been building a campaign online under the tagline #PicturesMeanBusiness, which aims to ensure illustrators start to get the recognition they deserve. I will hold my hands up and say that before I came across this campaign, I was a typical ‘text-fixated’ type; illustrations (whether they were on the cover or dotted inside the book) were, for me, an added bonus, but not something I thought about too deeply. That has all changed now. Before, I used to make sport of finding the illustrator’s name (usually in tiny type somewhere on the back of the book, or in the copyright/publication metadata at the front, and sometimes not included at all); now, I’m not happy unless illustrators get full credit, whether it’s online or in clear font, somewhere visible on the book jacket. I hope more people will get on board with this, and that we’ll see a change beginning in the world of publishing. For more, see Sarah McIntyre’s recent blog post on the process of producing illustrations, and how it’s a lot harder than it looks.

On Being a Weirdo (and Why it Rocks)

I’ve never read Laura Dockrill’s books, despite the fact that she seems like a fascinating person with a unique voice. This article, which she wrote for the Guardian during the week, might make me take the plunge into her wacky imaginary world, for once and for all. In it, she talks about the importance of being yourself, no matter how weird you might be – in fact, the weirder the better, it seems. This is one of the reasons I love books for young readers; they have such power to shape thinking, to alter the course of a life for the better, to influence and affect and make a difference. Not only do children’s books possess some of the most imaginative world-building, language use and characterisation in literature, but they make the children who read them feel part of something bigger, comfort them in times of challenge, make them see they’re not alone, and (hopefully) help them to be happier in their own shoes. And what could be better than that?

Nothing. That’s what.

And finally there’s this great list of reads from some of the contributors to the site (gasp!) Middle Grade Strikes Back, which details what people are bringing off on holiday with them to keep them company by the pool. I’ve read several, but most are new to me. Maybe they’ll inspire you, too.

Au revoir for now, poupettes. Stay well. I hope I’ll be back soon – and that there’ll actually be some writing news to tell you!

6 thoughts on “Stuff I’ve Been Reading

  1. Jenny Duffy

    I am a big fan of Sarah McIntyre and Philip Reeve! The Laura Dockrill article is really interesting, thanks for sharing 🙂 Sending lots of good wishes your way, take care and remember to be kind to yourself!

    1. SJ O'Hart Post author

      Thank you! I’m glad you enjoyed the articles. I thought the Laura Dockrill one was just amazing, and such a comfort to my inner weirdo (I wish I’d read it as a teen!) Thanks a lot for your good wishes; I hope all is well with you, too. 🙂

  2. Maurice A. Barry

    Over my way life’s been getting in the way, too. The summer has been a particularly busy one–busy in a good way, ind you, but still busy. You wouldn’t believe the weather here. Typically 10 or 11 by day and 7 or 8 by night, and ever-present rain, drizzle and fog. It reminds me of the second-last time I was in Ireland. It was the late 1970’s and my mom, dad, sister and I spent around 5 weeks in Kilester that time. It was awful–you couldn’t go anywhere and, worse, dad got pneumonia and spent the whole time in bed.

    1. SJ O'Hart Post author

      This is why I love your comments. They’re always so full of your life and experience and they’re always so interesting. I’m sorry your dad had such a bad time on his trip to Killester (even if it was such a long time ago!); it sucks to make such an effort to visit ‘the old country’, particularly back in the day, and it’s a shame he couldn’t enjoy it. I’m glad you got a chance to rectify that in recent years. 🙂 Hope you and all the Barry clan are well.

      1. Maurice A. Barry

        We’re all fine. Lesley finished school and is off to Memorial in the fall. She has no idea what she wants so we agreed that a year of general studies at MUN will not be a waste of time. She’ll be taking first year English, Math, Chemistry, Psycholoy and, if she can get off the wait-list, Business. Alan graduated in May and is working as an engineer with the new Nickel processing plant that was just built about an hour out of town. He car-pools. Alexander and Brendan are both working for the summer and return to university in the fall. Josephine is as saucy as ever 🙂 This fall I have relented and will teach one course at MUN. I’ve been asked before but declined as I did not want to be spread too thin, but for now I figured I’d better give it a go before becoming too rusty. It will be an education course for primary-elementary pre-servce teachers on how to use various technologies n the classroom. I’m rejigging it from 36 one-hour classes into 12 2-hour workshops. Instead of talk-talk-talking about what’s out there we’ll focus on kearning how to do it. Right now it looks like we’ll start by building wordpress sites, one per student, then move to searching (including academic searches on the university library system). From there it will be on to recording & editing sound, then video, on to digital posters and then to digital storytelling. That stuff will be housed on the wordpress site, which will grow as the semester progresses. We will also work concurrently on developing lessons for use on the electronic whiteboard and will syart each workshop with the students showcasing decent iPad apps they’ve found. I’m looking forward to it.

      2. SJ O'Hart Post author

        Great news (I’m particularly glad to know Josephine has kept up the sauciness! :)) Your course sounds fascinating – good luck with it, and give my very best to Lesley. I hope one day to meet your ‘boys’, too. What a credit your children are to you and Josephine; you must be one proud papa. 🙂

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