A plume with a hue

The problem with courses

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Have you ever felt excited about taking a course, full of enthusiasm and keen to start, only to discover that the course isn’t what you were expecting and isn’t meeting your needs?

I regularly experience this disappointing situation, most recently in the Critical Reading course I’m in the middle of.

There are lots of free courses available on the internet but I paid for this one because it seemed to cover exactly what I was looking for. And it started off well; I was fully engaged and eager to participate. Then we returned to the same poem and short extracts from novels and I became slightly disillusioned. Week 7 of 10 took a nose-dive: it was focused on essay planning. This week, 8, centres around reading about essay writing, and the entire focus appears to have switched to the final assignment. I have to say, I feel cheated; this is not what I thought I was paying for, and is made worse by the fact that I invested quite a bit of money in it.

Why do I feel let down?

Firstly, I thought we would examine novels as a whole, not a couple of paragraphs from a couple of novels. In other words, I was hoping to look at character and plot development, an exploration of the ways writers explore themes, the overall structure of the novel, the images and their significance, and so on. Instead, we have conducted a close analysis of a passage.

Secondly, out of a 10 week course, only 5 weeks so far have been devoted to critical reading; we are now concentrating on the final assignment.

It’s not that the course hasn’t been good; it’s that there is a huge mismatch between what is being delivered and what I was expecting. I’m not blaming the course for this; it is as much my fault and I am sure many participants are more than happy. It’s not the right course for me, and I think I often set my expectations too high.

I am debating on whether to complete the final assignment. There are a variety of close analysis questions, the most appealing of which is looking at a short story by Katherine Mansfield as I don’t want to analyse a poem but would rather focus on prose. However, the question is about choosing a passage from the text and I want to explore the story as a whole. I don’t need to pass the course so I may deviate from the remit – naughty, I know, but why not?

Anyway, this has got me thinking: I’m a teacher by profession and more than capable of designing my own courses – so why don’t I? Apart from buying books – which I do anyway – there would be no additional financial investment. I can cover what I want to cover, in the manner I desire, and to my chosen timescale.

Consequently, I am in the process of doing just this. I have a collection of magical realism novels arriving this week, together with an academic guide, and will then search for additional resources on the internet and put something together.

It will be interesting to see how this works out.

Intentions: review and setting (week 24)

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I would do far better with my intentions if I had a system whereby I keep checking in with myself during the course of the week. Here’s how I got on last week.

Health and Wellbeing

I haven’t scheduled any commitments this week, although whether that happened by chance or intention I’m not so sure. I didn’t mindfully uni-task; again, it might have happened but not by intent.

This week, I’m going to be more mindful about uni-tasking and check in regularly to ensure I am going through my week in a more intentional way.

Personal Development

I didn’t do week 7 of my Critical Reading course as the topic was essay writing and I couldn’t get inspired about it. I’m afraid this course isn’t quite what I was expecting; I was anticipating more content on ways of reading novels with greater awareness but this isn’t there. As a result, I’ve lost interest. I still have weeks 8 to 10 to complete, plus a 1,500 word assignment, which offers a range of options from analysing poetry to looking at short stories. However, the short story option focuses on a passage from the story rather than the work in its entirety, and of course I would rather do the latter because I’m more interested in the overall story and how its various parts link together, the way it explores and develops themes, and the images used and their significance. As I’m doing this course for personal reasons, I’m thinking of writing the assignment in my own way as it doesn’t matter if I don’t get the ‘pass’ but it matters to me that I consider works as a whole. The challenge would be to meet both my needs and the assignment requirements – could it be done?

This week: I’ll read the two story options and start thinking about my analysis, whilst having a look at the course content and picking and choosing what parts I wish to explore.


I read and watched No Exit by Jean-Paul Sartre for my Literature of the Absurd course and we had an interesting discussion as we grappled with the idea of existentialism.

This week, the course looks at The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka so I’ll be re-reading this novella.


I looked through my writing books and pulled out two: one on short stories, the other on journaling. I spent the Writers’ Hour on two poems, which were very personal and therapeutic in releasing some negative energy.

This week, I’m going to use the short story guide to inform my writing, possibly visiting two stories I have in draft.


I have begun removing the winter coats and footwear from the cloakroom but haven’t got very far.

This week, I will set aside some time to dedicate to this task.

One of the issues with my intentions is forgetting what they were – crazy, but true! This week, I’ve written them in my diary to help me check in with them regularly.

My reading week: 23/52

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Currently Reading

At the moment, I’m reading The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree by Shokoofeh Azar, which was shortlisted for the 2020 International Booker. Set in Iran in the aftermath of the 1979 Islamic revolution, and narrated by a 13 year old ghost, it tells the story of life in these post-revolutionary times through the genre of magical realism.

I’m also reading The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka, the well-known story of Gregor Samsa, who awakes one morning to find himself transformed into an insect. This is a set text on my Literature of the Absurd course.

Recently Finished

I’ve brought a few texts to a close this week. The first was the play No Exit by Jean-Paul Sartre, another set text on the Absurd course. Three characters find themselves condemned to the hell of being imprisoned together for eternity, a torture which is hard to bear. To accompany this, I watched a BBC production from the 1960s, starring Harold Pinter, which was very much of its time.

I also finished All The Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld. The protagonist lives on an unnamed British island where she tends to her sheep, which are slowly being killed by she believes a wild beast. The novel has an interesting dual timeline with alternate chapters set in the UK present and her Australian past. What I found extremely effective was the fact that the Australia chapters are told in reverse chronological order so I was constantly questioning what was happening. This sounds frustrating but was a unique and interesting way of telling this aspect of the story.

Another completion was my audio version of Mrs Death Misses Death by Salena Godden. It is narrated by the author, who is primarily a performance poet and is thus mesmerising to listen to. The novel itself has the rhythm and repetition of poetry. As the title suggests, the theme is death, which is treated in a forthright manner that doesn’t sit well with the way we British seem to avoid this fundamental certainty of life. I do drift a bit when I listen to audio books so at some point in the future I will buy the paperback version and read and listen simultaneously because it deserves greater concentration that I gave it.

The fourth text I read was The Girl Who Wasn’t There by Ferdinand von Schirach, which was chosen by a friend for my June bookclub. The protagonist, Sebastian, experiences synaesthesia and is an uneasy character who doesn’t fit comfortably into society. He is accused of murder but the problem is the victim doesn’t seem to exist. I read some reviews of this novel, which weren’t complimentary about the second half of the story so I wasn’t expecting to like it. However, I ended up finding it utterly absorbing and don’t agree that the second half is weak.

My final read was The Phone Box At The Edge Of The World by Laura Imai Messina. Set in the aftermath of the 2011 tsunami as people struggle to deal with their horror and loss, Yui seeks solace by visiting a phone box where people can speak to the dead. Here she meets Takeshi and a supportive friendship develops. This novel explores the grieving process in a sympathetic and understanding way. The premise is interesting, the subject matter important, the idea of the phone box intriguing, and yet for me this novel fell slightly short, although I am at a loss to pinpoint exactly how and why.

Reading Next

A few novels I’ve read so far this year fall under the genre of magical realism and so I’ve decided to explore this in greater depth, starting with Leaf Storm by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

My quotation this week has to be from Sartre:

Hell is other people.

Intentions: review and setting (week 23)

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Here is my weekly review of intentions. Overall, I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to slow down and focus on uni-tasking so this will be the aim when moving through the forthcoming week.

Health and Wellbeing

I didn’t phone up about the line dancing class as I realised the timing isn’t that convenient for me and I want to be more mindful about my commitments. I did, however, attend the recently recommenced ballroom and Latin classes, where we did some practice on the quickstep and the cha cha. Despite my regular walking and yoga over the past year, I can see that my level of stamina has decreased, probably as a result of spending too much time sitting on the sofa at home.

This week: I intend to be more intentional about scheduling commitments in order to create space, slow down and reduce stress. I will endeavour to concentrate on one activity at a time with pauses in between to transition.

Personal Development

I’m struggling a bit to keep up with the Critical Reading course, not because the workload is too high but because I want to concentrate on prose and there is a lot of poetry. Furthermore, we keep returning to the same short extracts and poems. Although the course is well put together and the tutor knowledgeable and active, it isn’t quite fulfilling my needs.

This week: I will complete week 7 and begin preparing for the final assignment.


I read and watched Six Characters in Search of an Author by Luigi Pirandello for my Literature of the Absurd course – what a great play!

This week: It’s the turn of Huis Clos by Jean-Paul Sartre.


I attended the London Writers’ Salon Writers’ Hour but I didn’t do any creative writing. Instead I worked on forum posts for the Critical Reading course.

This week: As I really want to use this hour to work on creative writing, I will decide in advance of this week’s session what this form will take by reviewing the writing text books that I own.


I have finally completed round one of the culling and reorganisation of my wardrobe. Over the forthcoming months, I will trim this down further.

This week: I will remove the winter coats and footwear from the cloakroom and give it a quick clean and tidy.

My reading week: 22/52

Currently Reading

My main read is All The Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld. The protagonist lives on an unnamed British island where her sheep are being killed.

I am still listening to Mrs Death Misses Death by Salena Godden, and working through the May and June sections of Things I Learned on the 6.28 by Stig Abell.

Recently Finished

The first book I finished was A State of Fear by Laura Dodsworth, which is a well-researched and thought-provoking insight into the way the UK government, aided by the British media, has used fear over the past year to influence the behaviour of the British population. As someone who is passionate about language, I know only too well how the use of words can a powerful tool in manipulation. I think this is a book everybody should read and then decide for themselves to what extent they agree with the writer’s argument, which I feel is convincingly presented and supported with extensive evidence.

I also completed I, The Divine by Rabih Alameddine, which is rather intriguingly told in a series of first chapters. Sarah, who grows up in Beirut before moving to the United States, is ‘having trouble writing my memoir, not being able to figure out how to attack it. I had tried different methods, but the memoir parried back expertly.‘ It is through her struggle that the reader learns about her life. I enjoy metafiction and this novel questions the best way to tell our stories and whether it is even possible to put into words, and assemble into some kind of order the messy narrative of our lives, which is too big and too chaotic to fit neatly into paragraphs and chapters. Where do we even begin? Where is our chapter one?

I also read No Longer Human by Osamu Dazai, the June choice of the Japanese Literature book club. It is an interesting albeit harrowing tale of Oba Yozo’s struggle to fit comfortably into a society from which he feels alienated. It is suggested to be autobiographical and thus even more painful as it was Dazai’s final work before he committed suicide.

My final completion this week was Six Characters in Search of an Author by Luigi Pirandello, a set text on a Literature of the Absurd course that I’m currently taking. As it’s a play, I both read and watched it, and loved it. It is a metadrama that explores the nature of fiction and reality, and the relationship between the writer and their characters. It forces the audience/reader to confront their ‘willing suspension of disbelief’ and question their complicity in the creative process. I would love to see this live on the stage but apparently it is rarely performed due to its divergence from mainstream, popular theatre.

Reading Next

My next novel will be The Girl Who Wasn’t There by Ferdinand von Schirach, which has been chosen for my June book club.

21 for 2021: May review

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I’m still making progress on many of my 2021 intentions, some of which have been fulfilled several times over.

Progress in May

Complete the 52 Book Club 2021 challenge: I read nine books in May, taking my total to 50. This means there are just two categories left to complete. The first is ‘an author of colour’, for which I am in the process of listening to the audio version of Mrs Death Misses Death by Salena Godden. The second is ‘a book by Kristin Hannah’. Although she seems to be an incredibly popular writer, I’m not particularly drawn to reading her novels, which appear to be quite long.

Take a writing course: I did a Writing Inspiration Jam workshop with City Lit. Unfortunately, it seemed to kill my inspiration and I haven’t written anything since!

Blog regularly: I’ve reduced the number of times I blog each week but I’m still doing this on a regular basis.

Practise yoga five times a week: I did 30 yoga sessions so I’m consistently meeting this goal, and feeling all the better for it.

Complete Stephanie Bennett Vogt’s A Year to Clear programme: I’m working through this day-by-day and am halfway through on day 183.

Meditate: I did some standalone practice as well as it being part of my regular yoga sessions. I do feel much calmer and clearer afterwards.

Visit London: Last weekend I went up to central London and it was buzzing. I wandered round Covent Garden and had lunch outside as the weather was beautiful. I feel lucky to live within half an hour’s train journey of such an amazing city.

Try new recipes: I’ve sourced a few recipes online, which have been lovely. I’m enjoying experimenting and it has reignited my interest in cooking.

Have a wardrobe cull: I have now been through every item of clothing and organised my storage areas with the items I wish to keep for the moment. I will continue to dispose on items on an ad hoc basis, and am considering pursuing a minimalist wardrobe.

Implement a cleaning schedule: In the main, this is going well, although sometimes life gets in the way and I fall behind.

Attend a literature course: I’m currently doing a Critical Reading course with the University of Oxford and one on Literature of the Absurd with the WEA.

Try something new: I joined an online bookclub specialising in Japanese literature, an interest of mine. I also attended online the Cambridge Literature Festival bookclub on The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue, and a Southbank Centre event where International Booker nominees and their translators read from their work.

Each week, take one positive step to improve my mood: Some of the things I’ve done this month are a picnic, ballroom and Latin dance classes, Bank Holiday entertaining, I hosted my bookclub get-together, and I’ve attended the London Writers’ Salon Writers’ Hour mingles in Zoom breakout rooms.

Intentions Already Fulfilled

Choose a word for the year: My word is space, chosen with the aim of creating more physical and mental space in my life.

Visit the sea: In April, I had a day out at Goring on the Sussex coast.

No Progress Made

Visit new places to walk: The weather in May was awful – so much rain – so I kept local and didn’t explore further afield.

Fill my art journal: I’ve definitely lost my creative enthusiasm as the pages remain blank.

Tidy the study: I didn’t get any further with this although now my daughter is back in the office for two days a week, I have no further excuse.

Complete six pieces of writing: I didn’t do any this month.

Watch The Merchant of Venice: I haven’t done this yet. Instead I’ve been watching plays for my Literature of the Absurd course.

Attend a mindfulness workshop: I still haven’t found an in-person one yet.

As I’ve made significant progress in many areas, I may have a reassessment at the end of June to see what I want to do in the second half of the year.

Intentions: review and setting (week 22)

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My new way of allocating certain days to certain areas worked well and definitely relieved the stress. Here’s an update on my progress last week, together with my intentions for this week.

Health and Wellbeing

I found a line dancing class locally. However, having heard that there were more men than woman at the newly-reopened ballroom and Latin classes, I figured I’d be able to find a dance partner so I went along yesterday. It was great to be back on the dance floor but I’m certainly out of practice and it made me realise just how much time I’ve spent sitting on the sofa over the past year. My feet are killing and my brain is frazzled so it was a good workout all round.

This week: I’m going to phone up about the line dancing and see if there are any places.

Personal Development

I’m keeping on top of my Critical Reading course.

This week: I’ll complete Unit 6. I’m also attending some Hay Literary Festival events and a London Southbank Centre International Booker event, all of which are online.


I’ve started a new reading journal and am exploring using character and plot maps. Last week, I read Hades, Argentina by Daniel Loedel for an online bookclub taking place soon.

This week: I have two plays to read/watch: Six Characters in Search of an Author by Luigi Pirandello and Huis Clos by Jean-Paul Sartre for a Literature of the Absurd course.


I attended the London Writers’ Salon Writers’ Hour and wrote a monologue for the Critical Reading course.

This week: I’m planning on writing a character description for the same course.


I was supposed to be finishing clearing the underbed area as I am only a few items away from completing this task. It still isn’t done.

This week: It would be good to get this done for once and for all!

My reading week: 21/52

Currently Reading

I have just started reading I, the Divine by Rabih Alameddine, which is unique in that it is written in first chapters. It tells the story of Sarah who grows up in Beirut.

My new nocturnal read is A State of Fear by Laura Dodsworth, which explores how the UK government has weaponised fear. It is fascinating so far.

I’m still listening to the wonderful Mrs Death Misses Death, written and read by Salena Godden, and working my way through Things I Learned on the 6.28 by Stig Abell.

Recently Finished

This week I completed We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler. I very much enjoyed this interesting exploration of the impact that the disappearance of Rose’s sister and the departure of her brother had on her life. More than that I won’t say as there is a surprising twist that I don’t want to reveal.

I also finished Hades, Argentina by Daniel Loedel, which is an interesting look at the choices we make in life, and their impact, set against the backdrop of the political scene in Argentina during the late 1970s. This novel also takes an unexpected turn leading us into the realms of mythology. It’s disturbing in places but has a gripping storyline. I would never have discovered this book if it hadn’t been chosen for the No Book No Life bookclub.

Reading Next

I’m about to start Six Characters in Search of an Author by Luigi Pirandello, a set text on a Literature of the Absurd course that I’m currently taking.

Top 5 books I liked better than the adaptation

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I always seem to favour the book over the adaptation. Why is this? It’s probably because I prefer character-driven novels where I am in the head of the protagonist, something that is hard to translate to the screen. In my opinion, plot-driven novels are better suited to adaptations although even here I find interesting scenes are often omitted and the film or series seems only half done. Here are just five of the books that I liked better than the adaptation.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. The minute this moved from London to the US, I felt cheated. For me, place is so often a character and living in the suburbs of London and commuting into the city centre for years, I had a very strong image in my mind, which was immediately destroyed by this shift.

Before I Go to Sleep by S J Watson. I enjoyed the film and thought a competent job had been made of transferring it to film. Despite this, however, I still think the novel was so much better.

Enduring Love by Ian McEwan. There is no doubt that McEwan is a great novelist, a little too self-consciously clever at times, but great nonetheless. There is a philosophical nature to his work, which gets lost in an adaptation.

And here I have to confess that this is a struggle because when I have loved a novel, I no longer want that joy destroyed by a film adaptation so I now avoid them. With that in mind, here are two novels that I don’t want to watch on the screen.

Where the Crawdad’s Sing by Delia Owens. This story is so beautifully told with exquisite descriptions that have created such vivid images in my mind. I don’t want these to be displaced by someone else’s interpretation.

The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri. Again, although I think this would make a wonderful film, I don’t want it ruined in any way but want to hold on to the moving experience.

And to finish with just one more from a slightly different angle.

I enjoyed the adaptation of Normal People by Sally Rooney; however, I felt there was something lacking. I haven’t yet read the novel but wonder if I might not find that missing piece of the jigsaw within it if I had greater access to the thought processes of the characters.

I think part of the problem with the shift from page to screen is that it destroys the image created in the reader’s mind and omits interesting aspects of the novel, such as the machinations of the characters’ minds.

Intentions: review and setting (week 21)

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I’m not in a good place at the moment and therefore had limited success with last week’s intentions.

I practised yoga regularly (nine sessions in total), meditated daily, didn’t use my phone after 9.45pm (this one is now consolidated), and cut out sugary snacks. As for the news, I seemed to go into overdrive with this – what a week it was here in the UK.

This week, I have a complete embargo on following any news.

Regarding my other intentions:

Health and Wellbeing

I had planned on going back to dance lessons. However, in view of the fact that I would have been waltzing and jiving on my own, coupled with the likelihood that partner dancing will never be sanctioned again in the UK (except for a fixed partner, which I don’t have), there doesn’t seem to be much point in pursuing this. Dancing has been a crucial part of my life for the past ten years; going forward, I think the only viable way of continuing is to find a line dancing class.

This week, I’m just going to continue with the yoga, try to walk more, and research local line dancing classes.

Personal Development

I submitted my Critical Reading assignment (a week ahead of schedule) and almost completed week 4 of the programme. I have just one short activity left to do.

This week, I plan on finishing unit 4 and completing unit 5.


I read and made notes on Convenience Store Woman by Sayata Murata. I didn’t get round to making notes on literature of the absurd and Endgame by Samuel Beckett.

This week, I will make the notes, and finish reading and making notes on Hades, Argentina by Daniel Loedel.


I didn’t do any creative writing.

This week, I’ve scheduled in the London Writers’ Salon Writers’ Hour and will use this time to do a bit of catching up.


The underbed area is still not finished.

By the end of this week it will be!

I’m changing the way I do things this week. Instead of having a long list for the week, I’m having a daily focus, which I hope will allow me to concentrate on one area at a time instead of feeling pulled in different directions. My plan is as follows:

Monday: work admin and preparation

Tuesday: study

Wednesday: life admin, organisation and writing

Thursday: study

Friday: round-up (outstanding work/housework/life admin)

Saturday: pleasure/social

Sunday: study (complete week’s tasks)

I’m hoping this will be a more effective way of doing things.

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