Bookshops often lump nature writing together with books about gardening and pets and I’ve always balked at this grouping. Gardens and pets belong to the tamed world of humans, nature writing explores the wild beyond the doorstep. Of course, when I reflect on it, I don’t actually think that. But it’s still my immediate reaction. The implication is that books about gardens and pets are somehow lesser, not worthy of mingling with the likes of Richard Mabey and Robert Macfarlane.
I always thought that if I got a pet, I wouldn’t allow it to “taint” my online persona (whatever that is). But I recently adopted a puppy and screw it, I’m going to write a blog post about him.
Goodreads allows you to set a reading challenge for the year, indicating how many books you would like to read that year. Every year since I joined Goodreads in 2013 I have set myself a reading challenge – usually to read 50 books – and every year I’ve failed to reach my goal. In 2015 I apparently realised 50 books was too ambitious and lowered by goal to 30 books, which I also failed to reach!
As a kid my family and I would go out into the countryside – usually the Peak District – on nice weekends to hike and rock climb. I was a pretty fearless kid and I loved climbing. I was pretty good at it to – I had a flexibility I’m envious of now.
I lost interest in rock climbing as a teenager, but I’m finally getting back into it. Now my husband has the bug too and we’ve started going indoor bouldering (there aren’t any rocks in the Netherlands) twice a week.
Recently, a colleague sent me a link to a campaign by BirdLife to save the Spoon-billed sandpiper. The campaign uses the hashtag #SaveSpoonie and there are pictures of cute, fluffy chicks. Whilst I aww-ed at the pictures I also couldn’t help but wonder, are cute animals being saved at the expense of less cuddly, fluffy animals? Is conservation too cute?
My favourite weekend activity is to go for a long walk through the city, admiring Amsterdam’s beautiful architecture, looking in shop windows and, best of all, walking down new streets I’ve never walked down before.
In fact, this kind of wandering is my favourite activity to do anywhere. I’ve travelled a fair bit now, though I’d hesitate to call myself a seasoned traveller, but I’ve travelled enough that I’ve come to feel wary of the things you’re supposed to do when you visit a place.
I was recently listening to an episode of the podcast Happier, my not-so-guilty guilty pleasure. Every week the hosts of the podcast, Gretchen Rubin and Elizabeth Craft, offer a “try this at home” and in this particular episode their “try this at home” was to write a manifesto. Gretchen Rubin has written a number of manifestos, including a happiness manifesto, a habits manifesto and a podcast manifesto.
The podcast episode inspired me to look at other manifestos and to start developing my own manifesto.
The week before last I took part in #dearwritersautumn16 – a collective effort to write more and offer encouragement to other writers. It was organised by Éireann Lorsung, a writer and poet who runs MIEL publishing and Dickinson House in Belgium. This summer I had the pleasure of spending a lovely day at Dickinson House, writing and sewing and meeting its furry inhabitants.
My partner and I spent the last two weeks cycling through Europe – specifically, we cycled from Prague to Budapest, via Vienna. Outside my familiar milieu of Amsterdam, work and chores, time seemed to stretch. The two week gap between finishing work and today somehow feels looser, as though time were a straight line that suddenly became a puddle.
In my bedroom at my mum’s house there is a cardboard box filled with my journals. Over the years I’ve filled (or partially filled) at least 40 notebooks. I started keeping a journal when I was 9 and my grandma bought me a page-a-day diary with a floral patterned cover. Perhaps I would have started a diary at some point regardless, but that diary catalysed my love affair with journaling and I’ve never stopped since. I don’t write in my journal everyday. At times I go months without writing a single word, at others I write two or three times a day.
I get asked that question a lot, especially by Dutch people – even by the Dutch person who is supposed to be teaching me Dutch. At this point I have a set of pre-prepared answers I can rattle out: because I think it’s rude to live in a country and not make an effort to learn the language; because despite repeated assertions from Dutch people that everyone here speaks English, everyone in fact speaks Dutch; because I’d like to be able to understand the announcements on the train; because I thought it would help me find a job. All of these reasons are true, but at this point I don’t think they are the reasons that motivate me to keep trying.