books

Jane Austen: 200th anniversary

One of Jane Austen’s earliest works of fiction – completed in 1803, though left unpublished until 1817 – this new production marries the author’s wit, charm and dry humour with performances from some of the UK’s leading actors.

Above: Eleanor Tomlinson

Produced by Audible’s Grammy-award winning Audible Studios, Northanger Abbey stars Emma Thompson, Lily Cole, Douglas Booth, Jeremy Irvine, Eleanor Tomlinson and Ella Purnell amongst others.

Douglas Booth

Ella Purnell

Jeremy Irvine

Lily Cole

Audible describes the production as:

'A coming-of-age tale for the young and naïve 17-year-old Catherine Morland, Northanger Abbey takes a decidedly comical look at themes of class, family, love and literature. Revelling in the sensationalist – and extremely popular – gothic fiction of her day, the story follows Catherine out of Bath to the lofty manor of the neighbouring Tilneys where her overactive imagination gets to work, constructing an absurd and melodramatic explanation for the death of Mrs Tilney, which threatens to jeopardise her newly forged friendships.'

Northanger Abbey is directed by the multi-award winning Katherine Thomson, best-known for her radio work with Kate Winslet, Roger Moore, Derek Jacobi and Stephen Fry amongst others. 

Emma Thompson, who narrates as Jane Austen, said: 'The chance to interpret the work of Austen is a thrill for any actor, particularly ahead of such a momentous anniversary, so I was delighted to perform in a witty and charming drama for Audible. It’s a tale that shows a different side to Austen – satirical, irreverent and deeply knowing – so I invite you to find a spot of sun somewhere in the countryside, make yourself comfy and bask in this wonderfully appealing story.' 

Northanger Abbey is available to pre-order now at audible.co.uk/northangerabbey - one credit for Audible members, £19.59 for non-members or free with Audible’s 30-day trial.

culture

by Psychologies

New fiction: The Hourglass

The latest book from Amy Snow author Tracy Rees explores the often complex dynamic between mothers and daughters, against a backdrop of love and loss, reinvention and reconciliation.

How much do you know about your mother's life before she became your mother? This is something Nora finds herself thinking about when her relationship with her own single mum becomes strained, even though they've always been 'close as close'.

Nora's at something of a crossroads, having left her job and broken up with her boyfriend. She's always been completely together and now everything seems to be falling apart, and at the back of it all she's feeling drawn to a beach in Wales she's only ever been to once as a child, something she's only admitted in her counselling session so far.

Nora's mum grew up in Wales, but when Nora goes back to Tenby and starts seeing her grandmother regularly, she realises that she knows very little about her mother's early years - it's almost as if life for her began at the age of 20 in London. If Nora doesn't know who she is any more, she's now not sure she's ever really known who her mother is either.

Approaching 40, out of work and struggling to make sense of her muddled feelings, Nora is aimless when she arrives in the small seaside town, but slowly through a stroke of good luck getting her flat rented and having time to herself, making new friends, and the healing power of walking on the coast, she begins to find herself again, and what she learns will change life for her - and her mother - forever.

Told from the point of view of Nora in the present day and Chloe in the 1950s, this moving tale has warmth and wisdom galore, and shows it's never too late for new beginnings.

The Hourglass by Tracy Rees (Quercus, £7.99) is published on 4 May.

 

culture

by Psychologies

Reconnecting with your mother through astrology

When I signed up for the Astro Twins 'Become Your Own Astrologer' retreat in Tulum, Mexico, I had no idea it would have a profound healing effect on my relationship with my mum. But, looking back, I can absolutely credit lessons I learned that week with us having the sort of mother-daughter relationship now that I never thought would be possible for us.

Like many women, a distance began to develop between my mother and I as I transitioned into my teens. I no longer needed her in the same way, and as my independence grew, I became aware of the differences between us. She was highly emotional and family-oriented; I was adventurous and career-focused. As I grew older, following a path in fashion journalism, her work in the healing space seemed a million miles from the world I now inhabited.

The distance had grown considerably when I moved in with my then boyfriend aged 18. I maintained regular contact with her, but our monthly lunch dates felt like a duty, the conversation mainly revolving around what was going on in her life. There wasn’t much point in my sharing anything from mine, since I felt she wouldn’t understand. Any 'advice' she did have for me felt intrusive, and often landed wide of the mark.

Not that it registered as a problem, the fact we didn’t seem to 'connect'. If anything, I viewed friends who described their mothers as 'my best friend' with suspicion. Was it even healthy to have maintained such strong ties? And it wasn’t as if there was any animosity between us. We were affectionate with each other, and had never had a big bust-up. I would have told anybody who asked that we had a loving relationship.

But things came to a head after I moved to New York in my mid-thirties. Our relationship moved to Skype, further emphasising the lack of connection. And then there was the discomfort of spending three whole days in each others’ company when she came to stay. After one particularly awkward trip, neither of us mentioned another visit. It seemed the physical distance had driven the wedge further between us, and, increasingly, I was saddened by the thought that we’d only grow further apart as the years went by.

It was shortly after this that I signed up for the Astro Twins’ retreat. Having always been fascinated by astrology, I was in the process of setting up my website, The Numinous, an online magazine covering all things esoteric but through a chic and aspirational lifestyle lens. A “Become Your Own Astrologer” retreat in chichi Tulum would make a great story, and I was a fan of the Twins’ down-to-earth approach to the science of the stars.

Before setting off, along with our own time, place and date of birth, we were asked to provide birth details of somebody whose chart we wanted to examine in relation to our own. One of the workshops would focus on astrology as a way to help us get along with anyone 'even that person', as the Twins’ put it. When I emailed my mum to ask for her time of birth, I could tell she was intrigued. As was I.

The workshop in question was on 'Synastry', which involves looking at two birth charts side-by-side. The idea is to compare the position and distance between the planets in your chart and another person’s, the 'aspects' these formed giving clues as to how you relate. In astrology, some aspects suggest harmony and ease, others tension and conflict (studying the aspects planets make to each other being how astrologers read the skies to deliver daily, monthly and annual horoscope forecasts).

There were certain planets to focus on when examining my chart in relationship to my mum’s: The Moon, representing our emotional needs; Mercury, our communication style; Venus, how we give and receive love; Mars, how we express anger; the Sun, our innate personalities; and the North Node, or karmic destiny point. And wouldn’t you know, every aspect between these planets in our charts pointed to friction, the need to compromise, and to make some hard adjustments.

The Twins describe astrology as a tool for 'radical forgiveness', meaning it can help bring some perspective to our relationships with others. Rather than take things personally when somebody else treats us a certain way, we’re able to appreciate the differences between individuals as being somehow “written in the stars.” Not to mention, as valuable opportunities for our personal development.

For example, my Moon being at 20 degrees of Cancer and making an exact 'semi-sextile' aspect to my mother’s Moon at 20 degrees of Gemini, helped explain to me a very succinct difference in our emotional needs. Namely, her need to share every aspect of her emotional life and my need to keep my emotions private. The semi-sextile suggesting that we each had something to learn from (and forgive about) each other’s emotional 'style'. How I chose to use this information was on me.

Sharing my astrological discoveries with my mum was the first step, my new understanding of her emotional and communication needs helping me 'open up' in a different way. And as soon as I did, I felt her love—which I realized I’d been denying myself by shutting her out of my emotional life—flood in. This alone has helped me feel supported by her in ways I never knew I needed.

And over the past three years, brick by brick, we’ve built a new foundation for our relationship that feels solid as the Earth’s core. To the point that when I finished the manuscript for my book Material Girl, Mystical World—which details my transformational journey from working in fashion to creating The Numinous—the first person I wanted to read it was her. It’s even dedicated to 'My Pisces'—referring to both my husband, and my emotional, intuitive, compassionate, and ultimately loving mother.

Material Girl, Mystical World: The Now Age Guide for Chic Seekers and Modern Mystics (£12.99, Harper Thorsons) is out May 4.

wellness

by Psychologies

How to write a novel: don't lose the plot

You’ve had a month to explore ideas and characters that interest you, and you should have a few floating about in your head. So what now? You might decide that the answer is: ‘Think of a plot.’ But what if you can’t?

Many a brilliant novel has been crushed at conception by plot paralysis. But you don’t need one yet. I’ve no idea how I came up with the storylines of my novels; they emerged from the subconscious. The trick is working out how to find them.

Let things evolve

Your story will be very important, eventually. But, for now, you don’t need a clear idea where you’re going. My most recent novel, The Night Visitor, is a multi-layered story involving two character viewpoints, complex backstories and an historical subplot. But I never sat down and thought, ‘I’m going to write about a glamorous history professor/TV presenter and an awkward 60-year-old housekeeper who knows her darkest secret.’ In fact, all I had – for months – was a gut feeling and some burning curiosities.

I had been introduced to a scientist at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History and, as he showed me tray after tray of tiny, perfect dung beetles, I knew that one of my main characters would be a beetle expert.

I was also fascinated by a sleep disorder called sleep paralysis, and an unsettling story someone told me at a dinner party about a child and a pair of scissors. I didn’t know where any of this was going, so I wrote some scenes involving a beetle expert. Slowly, her character started to take shape. Then others emerged. After nine months of this, I had two protagonists, settings, and some key scenes: a first draft. It was only then that I began to think about plot: to redraft and rework it.

Of course, not all writers approach plotting like this. If you already know your story, by all means create a chapter-by-chapter outline, and produce a long synopsis. I know novelists who write each scene on index cards, or use spreadsheets, to plan out their story.

It’s all in your head

So, get a notebook and jot down the scenarios, themes or characters in your mind. Write scenes for your characters and see what they do. These don’t have to hang together, but keep going, because you’ll find ways to link them. Trust that your story is already in your head. If you play around, giving your subconscious room to breathe, you’ll begin to find it.

Read the first part of Lucy's 12-month plan to writing a novel here

Lucy Atkins is author of the novels ‘The Missing One’ (£7.99), ‘The Other Child’ (£7.99) and ‘The Night Visitor’ (£14.99, all Quercus). Find out more about Lucy at lucyatkins.com and follower her on Twitter: @lucyatkins

Photograph: iStock

work

Award-winning novelist, Lucy Atkins, invites you to take yourself seriously, but to tell no one you are writing a novel, in her first column for us

by Psychologies

by Psychologies

Steps towards recovery: OCD and me

A few years ago, I wrote a short story about a reclusive boy called Matthew who witnesses something shocking from his window. In the story, Matthew had an undisclosed condition that rendered him housebound and he spent his days watching the world pass by outside. I went on to write more short stories, but when it came to writing a full-length novel, Matthew’s ‘voice’ was very clear in my mind – this funny, intelligent, 12-year-old boy still had more to say.

While I was thinking about the book I stumbled across a documentary on Channel 4 presented by the comedian Jon Richardson, called ‘A Little Bit OCD’. Like many people, before seeing this programme I thought Obsessive Compulsive Disorder meant you were maybe a bit tidier than the ‘average’ person, or perhaps you washed your hands more often or liked to arrange your books in a certain way.

This was far from the reality.

This programme gave me my first insight as to how utterly debilitating OCD can be and how it can completely wreck lives. I knew that this is what was making Matthew so scared to leave the house: he had OCD.

I met with a psychologist who specialises in the condition, and she explained the various forms it can take. Most people think of a fear of dirt or germs but there are many ways it can manifest itself; from intrusive thoughts through to routines that can take so long to complete to feel ‘right’, that the sufferer finds themselves unable to leave the house.

In The Goldfish Boy, Matthew has the most known form; an overwhelming fear of germs. But I also wanted to build awareness of other anxieties, so he becomes increasingly stressed when he sees the number thirteen (or ten-plus-three as he prefers to call it). Sadly, the psychologist said she was also seeing more children with OCD, some of primary school age.

I went away and read some books and I also followed some young people talking openly about their OCD on charity website forums. These stories of young sufferers trapped in an exhausting cycle of compulsions was heart breaking. I posted on Facebook about the book and a few friends sent messages saying they had personal experience or knew someone else who suffered. One friend told me he had OCD since childhood but managed to hide it from his family until he was in his twenties.

One of the most important things I learnt during my research was that OCD is unlikely to get better without help, and that it is very treatable, although the road to recovery can be a long and difficult one.

The two main routes for help are through your GP (who will refer you to a psychological therapy service if necessary) or to refer yourself (the NHS website lists services close to your postcode). The main treatments are psychological therapy (usually cognitive behavioural therapy - CBT) and/or medication – most likely to be a type of antidepressant called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) that can help by altering the balance of chemicals in your brain.

In The Goldfish Boy, Matthew takes a tiny step towards his own recovery and it was very important to me that the reader felt a sense of hope when reading the book; that one day, Matthew was going to be able to conquer his fears.

For further information about OCD and support visit: ocdaction.org.uk

Lisa Thompson worked as a radio broadcast assistant first at the BBC and then for an independent production company making plays and comedy programmes. During this time she got to make tea for lots of famous people. She grew up in Essex and now lives in Suffolk with her family. The Goldfish Boy is her debut novel.

The Goldfish Boy (Scholastic, £6.99) is available now.

Photograph: iStock

self
living with OCD

Intrusive thoughts are something almost everyone experiences now and again, but for those who suffer from OCD, it can feel like they are impossible to turn off. David Adam tells what happened when he finally accepted his situation and sought help

by Psychologies

by Psychologies

New Fiction: The Wangs Vs The World

Charles Wang has lost everything in the financial crash. Determined to return to China to claim back his ancestral lands, he heads across America in his maid’s car, with his second wife, son and youngest daughter, en route to see his oldest child, the disgraced art world ‘it’ girl, Saina, who has enough troubles of her own.

A brazen comedy that reveals the downside of the American dream. This is Jade Chang's debut novel. 

'The Wangs Vs The World' by Jade Chang (Fig Tree, £14.99) is out now. 

Read more book reveiws in our culture section. 

culture

by Psychologies

New Fiction: The Underground Railroad

The Underground Railroad is a razor-sharp story of slavery and escape.

At the heart of the tale is Cora, who is subjected to relentless violence at the hands of her owners, but whose spirit remains undaunted.

Stealing away from the Georgia cotton plantation, she heads along on the tracks and tunnels of the underground railway and encounters all kinds of hell on her journey to freedom.

Colson Whitehead's book has won the National Book Award for Fiction as well as being a #1 New York Times bestseller. 

'The Underground Railroad' by Colson Whitehead (Fleet, £14.99) is out now.

Read more book reviews in our culture section.  

culture

by Psychologies

New Fiction: The Easy Way Out

Evan is a nurse – a suicide assistant, helping terminally ill patients take control of their dying.

He’s moved in with his mum, who is succumbing to Parkinson’s, but is determined to maintain her contrary way of living. So, it’s no wonder he’s starting to question everything, including the meaning of life and the idea of a ‘comfortable death’ in this thought-provoking novel.

Author Steven Amsterdam is a pallative care nurse based in Melbourne when he is not writing fiction.

'The Easy Way Out' by Steven Amsterdam (Riverrun, £12.99) is out now. 

Read more book reveiws in our culture section. 

culture

by Psychologies

New Fiction: Under A Pole Star

In this gripping tale, the setting is the forbidding Arctic, and the qualities needed to endure the freezing temperatures and the landscape’s scant resources are grit, perseverance and luck.

Add in overwhelming curiosity, and you have a portrait of heroine Flora Mackie, the Snow Queen, who loses her heart to the region – and to fellow scientist, Jakob de Beyn.

This is Penney's third novel. 

'Under A Pole Star' by Stef Penney (Quercus, £18.99) is out now.

Read more book reviews here. 

culture

by Psychologies

Donal Ryan: The book that made me

I already loved Roald Dahl when I was given The Wonderful Story Of Henry Sugar And Six More (Penguin Books, £6.99) by my parents, aged nine. Up until then, he’d only ever made me laugh and cheer the good guys on to their ineluctable victories. Then I read about a boy who seems too kind for this world, and another who’s bullied close to death. And, suddenly, the certainty of good’s triumph was gone; here was cruelty without its gargoyle mask of wicked comedy.

Add in a first look at the great man himself – being beaten at school; flying and crashing fighter planes; accidentally becoming a writer – and this book, though full of hard truths, brims with joy and magic, and changed the way I saw myself, and the world.

Donal Ryan is author of All We Shall Know (Doubleday, £12.99)

culture

by Psychologies