If you need proof that LEAP YEAR, the new book by Helen Russell, actually works, read on! Helen is the author of the bestselling The Year of Living Danishly (and the person who brought hygge to the UK!) – but her new book tackles a much bigger topic: when so many of us are filled with indecision and fear of change, what can we actually do to change our lives for the better, and for good?

We’ve been conducting our own experiments in-house, road-testing the theories from the book, and improving our own lives along the way. In today’s blog, Kate, Senior Editor and the person who has just published LEAP YEAR, takes you behind the scenes and shows you how this book has changed her life (and the life of her desk neighbour!)…

I have many, many character flaws, but if you asked a) my boyfriend and b) my boss/desk neighbour what my biggest flaw is I’m pretty sure they’d say, in unison, SHE IS MESSY. I am. It’s almost a talent; a kind of Midas touch for chaos. I’m Bernard Black in Black Books. When I walk into a hotel room everything I’ve packed leaps out of my suitcase and strews itself across the floor. My desk is a disaster zone.

So when I read the chapter on Home in LEAP YEAR (surrounded by piles of paper and empty coffee cups) I thought that maybe I could use it to try to sort of my desk. And then, possibly, the rest of my life. There are loads of great techniques in this chapter, but the one that I felt I’d be most able to implement was what Helen called The Danish Art of Decluttering. Long story short, if it doesn’t either have a specific function, or enhance your existence through being a Nice Thing, it goes. Doesn’t matter whether it’s a picture of a hedgehog little Horatio painted on a rock for you – unless you actually feel attached to it.

This was phase one and two of the desk clearout, anyway – and it was really freeing to stop worrying about what I thought I needed and just go, ‘Do I need it?’ or ‘Do I like it?’ Another thing that Helen notes in the book is that the longer you do it, the more ruthless you get! Half a day later, and my desk was as clean as a whistle. That’s when stage 3 comes in – putting back a few touches that either make a desk an oasis, or (as in the case of hygge), make a house a home. For me, this mostly consisted of edible things. Tea, vegemite (what? It’s an iconic piece of design.), coffee beans, biscuits…but you might have less food-centric tastes. From that point on I tried to instigate Helen’s ‘one in, one out’ rule’. Working away over the next few months, I felt remarkably…light. And, er, I knew where everything was. And I was less likely to spill coffee on my keyboard. And we all lived happily ever after.

…well, almost.  A few months down the line, I noticed that the mess had crept back. I say I noticed: mostly I noticed that my boss had built a wall of books between our desks so she didn’t have to look at mine. And this is where another of Helen’s techniques from elsewhere in the book came in – in the past, I’d have been tempted to just write it all off as a failure. But actually, I now had the skills to clear it again, and faster and more efficiently: so I did. It turns out, when you struggle to make changes, the only way to fix it is to go right back to the beginning and start again. It’s not the magic fix so many people promise us when it comes to improving our lives, but at the same time it’s not rocket science, and it actually WORKS.

This is our Day 3 in a series of blog posts celebrating Helen Russell’s new book LEAP YEAR. Helen is the author of the bestselling The Year of Living Danishly (and the person who brought hygge to the UK!) – but her new book tackles a much bigger topic: when so many of us are filled with indecision and fear of change, what can we actually do to change our lives for the better, and for good?

We’ve been conducting our own experiments in-house, road-testing the theories from the book, and improving our own lives along the way. In today’s blog, Assistant Editor Becky focuses on her mental health…

I pay a lot of attention to how my body feels and notice when something isn’t right: I feel tired, I have a headache, I hurt my leg while out training for that half marathon (whose idea was that anyway?). But when I got to the ‘Mind’ chapter of LEAP YEAR, I suddenly realised that I spend a lot less time thinking about my mental health. And it’s really something we should be thinking about a lot more than we do.

I sometimes feel a little anxious, a little jittery, a little stressed. I could sleep better. As I read, I realised I wanted to change all that. I didn’t want to feel anxious and jittery and stressed. I wanted a solid 8 hours uninterrupted sleep and I was enthusiastic about trying Helen’s techniques – and the things that appealed most were meditation, and spending less time on social media. I thought ten minutes spent sitting in quiet contemplation a day wouldn’t be taxing, and staying off social media after 8 p.m. would actually be a pleasure.

It helped that I’d just come back from a holiday to Cuba where internet is almost non-existent and where my phone couldn’t even get signal for half the holiday. Did I miss not being on it, did I miss out on any crucial news while I was away from Facebook and Twitter? No. In fact, I didn’t miss out on anything and I didn’t miss it at all. But when I came back home I was right back on my phone, wasting my time, scrolling away. But I knew I could do it and this experiment gave me the incentive to not be on my phone before bed or first thing after waking up. I’ve found that I’m happier the less time I spend online.

As for the meditation side of things, the only prior experience I’d had of this was when, at the end of a particularly hard yoga class, we lay down on our backs and our teacher asked us to meditate on what it would be like to be an amoeba. Obviously it wasn’t the best of starts. But a few minutes of quiet contemplation? That’s actually been quite nice amongst the hectic pre-Christmas mayhem. I’ve only been doing it for a few days but I already feel calmer. I think it’s easier to stick with a new resolution when you don’t make it at the start of a new year and this will certainly be one I’ll be keeping.

We are so happy to be bringing Helen Russell’s new book LEAP YEAR into the world! Helen is the author of the bestselling The Year of Living Danishly (and the person who brought hygge to the UK!) – but her new book tackles a much bigger topic: when so many of us are filled with indecision and fear of change, what can we actually do to change our lives for the better, and for good?

We’ve been conducting our own experiments in-house, road-testing the theories from the book, and improving our own lives along the way. In today’s blog, Assistant Editor Federico finds inspiration on how to change his relationship for the better…

2016 has been a year of big changes for me – and no, I’m not referring to the puzzling events that have changed the world: a few weeks ago I started living with someone for the first time. It’s been a long time coming – my boyfriend and I have been together for just over three years – but it still feels like a big (and I mean BIG) move. So what better time to try and learn new ways of making our relationship work? After all there is nothing more intimate than sharing a relatively cramped space with someone you think you know well… I devoured the chapter in LEAP YEAR devoted to re-charging your relationship, all the while making mental notes on how to apply some of those lessons to my own life: by the end of it I had a plan. Now I only needed my partner to come on board.

The one thing you need to know about Basi (that’s him) is that he’s the quintessential English gentleman: loving and affectionate and incredibly thoughtful, but not exactly accustomed to the idea of talking about his feelings. That’s why experiment number 1 felt particularly promising: following Helen’s words in the book, we both drafted a list of 30 things the other person does that make us love them more. It was somewhat difficult to begin with (30 is a deceivingly large number), but ended up being quite fun, like free therapy.

We both particularly loved focusing on the positives: too often we get upset by small, annoying things and take the good stuff for granted. A random sampling of both our entries includes:

  • Baking dessert for the other person’s friends (“especially since they always come out looking like the book”)
  • Letting the other person sleep until the very last minute (and making sure there’s a mug of hot water waiting for them when they eventually leave the warm comfort of our duvet)
  • Choosing a silly rom-com for our Sunday film night (“so not what I would go for”)
  • Organising short weekends away complete with walks and pub meals (“mostly the pub meal”)
  • Bringing the Christmas spirit home every year by insisting we buy a tree and decorate it while listening to Mariah Carey’s Merry Christmas
  • “When you listen to me talking non-stop about the latest office gossip and you actually care”

Some of the things on Basi’s list I expected, others were a complete surprise. And most of them were small, simple things which made me feel surprisingly relieved: no need for grand gestures, just bake more often!

We’ve also tried to have an imaginary houseguest. And let me tell you: this was FUN. The idea is simple: every time you are about to have an argument just imagine you’ve got someone staying with you. You’d want to be on your best behaviour, wouldn’t you? The best bit was choosing our guests. After a number of unsuccessful combinations (Elton and Britney? Morrisey and Celine?) we settled on a British classic: (Dames) Maggie Smith and Judi Dench. Now every time we are about to discuss my tendency to make a bit of a mess every time I open the fridge to cook dinner, we can just picture Maggie in her best Dowager clothes disapproving of the “loud, bickering help” or lovely Judi looking at us like a slightly disappointed aunt. Works a treat…

Overall I think the greatest thing about the LEAP YEAR experiments was that they focused on the positive things in life, and that they added a bit of fun. Writing that list was hard work, but it would have been even worse had we been forced to write the things that we hated about each other, or the small habits we found irritating. Maybe that’s the key for our life together (and – let’s hope – for 2017 in general): stay focused on the good.

Today at Two Roads we are very excited to be publishing Helen Russell’s new book, LEAP YEAR. Helen is the author of the bestselling The Year of Living Danishly (and the person who brought hygge to the UK!) – but her new book tackles a much bigger topic: when so many of us are filled with indecision and fear of change, what can we actually do to change our lives for the better, and for good?

We’ve been conducting our own experiments in-house, road-testing the theories from the book, and improving our own lives along the way. In today’s blog, Editorial Assistant Louise Richardson embraces the re-invigorating power of hobbies. Over to her…

 

I’ve wanted to do more stuff in my spare time for a long time. Living in London I could easily blame it on lack of funds or time, but to be honest, it’s my own head that’s the problem. I’m often deafened by my inner monologue which always kicks in just when I’m about to start something for fun, making me veer off and onto something far simpler but definitely more important. Something like tidying my sock drawer or washing up a fork, for example. What if I end up wasting my potential?, it goes. Or what if I’m just straight up awful? It’s nails-down-a-blackboard intrusive.

When I read the hobbies chapter in Leap Year, and the bit about using NLP to quieten your mind long enough to start something for yourself, I thought it sounded pretty great. One of the ideas behind NLP, Helen Russell explains, is that we shouldn’t focus on why we can’t do something – that’s not useful. Instead, you should focus purely on how: how are you going to move on from a situation? There are loads of other interesting techniques to try in the book, but this was the one that resonated. If Helen could use NLP to distract herself from her own inhibitions long enough to pretend to be a clock in a truly odd exercise class, I could try to put the chattering part of my mind in a corner and focus on doing something fun.

My housemate happened to be hosting a life drawing class at his comic shop, Orbital Comics, and invited me along. ‘It’s going to be great!’ he enthused. ‘It’s a themed class, completely clothed. The theme is ‘Tokyo Creepshow’!’ What, like Godzilla? I thought. Turned out the models would be dressed as Harajuku dropouts and gothic Lolitas. This sounded brilliant for my experiment – the less serious the class, the less seriously I’ll take it (I hoped). I signed up with my friend Max. Strength in numbers.

When we arrived the main table was already stuffed full of artists with enormous pads of paper and fancy brush pens.  Oh help, I thought, before remembering Helen’s distraction technique. I’m only here for fun. I’m here to see what happens and to try something new. I grabbed a glass of wine.  There was a slumped pink bear in an eyepatch on stage and people were drawing it intently. Max and I were told we could sit at a tall table off to one side. We perched on the stools, unpacked pencils and biros and started some tentative drawings. Mine looked like a melted turnip and we both fell about laughing. We were like Statler and Waldorf up there.

Then the moderator put a J-Pop record on and the first model came out. He was a slender guy in a pink tartan jacket, matching miniskirt and a spiky bubblegum wig. We did a couple of 5-minute drawings to loosen up. OK, I’ve got this. Totally comfortable and not at all intimidated by this yawning blank page. Argh.

And then…

I was ok. I remembered what Helen said about distracting myself from my inner monologue and picked up my pencil. I wasn’t there to listen to all the reasons I couldn’t do it. I drew one figure and then the pose changed and we went again. Another model came out, this one a woman in a dead bunny mask and bandaged corset. They moved through more choreographed poses, each one allowing slightly more time than the one before. I had gulped down a whole glass of red wine before we started but we were hallway through the second half of the class before I realised I hadn’t touched my second.

An hour later I was thrilled with what I’d done. When the moderator said we could leave drawings out for the other people and the models to look at, I didn’t think twice and spread them out. I felt great – light and confident. So this is why people do things for fun! There’s a whole heap of reasons why hobbies are great for you (see Leap Year) but for me, this sensation of floatiness is what I’d needed.

Derailing my train of thought for long enough to actually do several drawings is a huge win. Since the Tokyo Freakshow class I’ve found another life drawing class near home and I’m feeling pretty relaxed about going. Thanks, Helen!

Things I’ve learned about taking up a new hobby:

  • Listening to all the reasons something is frightening isn’t very useful
  • NLP techniques are great for distracting yourself from your inner monologue just long enough for you to get stuff done
  • Extra-curricular pursuits really do leave you feeling invigorated
  • Guys look every bit as cute as women in pink tartan miniskirts

IBW 2016INDIE BOOKSHOP WEEK – Day 5

#IBW2016

On day 5 Lisa travels outside London, all the way up to the Scottish Borders:

 

 

 

I’d like to celebrate not one, but many, independent book shops in the Scottish Borders.
I was lucky enough to be at the Borders Book Festival in Melrose at the start of IBW (yes, marvellous – thanks for asking). It’s always great to be up in Scotland and the Borders Festival is one of my favourites. For those of you who don’t know that most beautiful part of the world (think Sir Walter Scott/Abbotsford and rolling postcardy green hills) it’s especially well served by independent bookshops. In fact there is a Borders book trail featuring some of the best independent book shops in Scotland, if not the UK, if not the universe. There are some fabulous local bookshops on the trail from Mainstreet Trading Company in St Boswells to Masons of Melrose.

Taking time out from the packed book tent at the book festival in Melrose, I walked down the pretty streets to visit Mason’s (which has recently had a smart do-over). Two women coming out of the shop said ‘Oh I do love an independent bookshop, we must keep supporting them’ ‘Ooh yes, said her friend, clutching a book bag’. Well said m’dears, but I was spooked by the coincidence. I think it’s the mark of a good bookshop to have a full display of the best of new fiction and as a fully paid-up member of the Rose Tremain Appreciation Society I happily succumbed to THE GUSTAV SONATA and the inevitable 12 post and greetings cards. I was also very tempted by THE ESSEX SERPENT (Sarah Perry) and GOLDEN HILL (Francis Spufford).

Back to the book tent which was heaving with people buying, signing and talking about books. I think that a festival book tent is one of my favourite places in the world, along with John Lewis and my sofa. It’s thanks to the enthusiasm of readers, writers, and energetic and imaginative booksellers that we have these special places. Long may they thrive.

Find out more about Independent Bookshop Week here. And discover the Borders Book festival here: http://www.bordersbookfestival.org/

IBW2016 - Borders

 

IBW2016 - Borders

IBW2016 - Borders

IBW2016 - Borders

IBW 2016INDIE BOOKSHOP WEEK – Day 4

#IBW2016

Time for something slightly different: for our day 4 we visited London indie comic book Gosh! London.

Fede reports:

 

I didn’t really know I was a fan of graphic novels until I published The Arab of the Future by Riad Sattouf earlier this year (find out more here) and I was introduced to this incredible world. The brilliant people at Gosh! London were very supportive of Riad’s book, and I decided to repay the favour by paying them a visit and celebrate them as part of this year’s Independent Bookshop Week. After all they have a pretty impressive pedigree:

“With a 25-year track record in the industry and enthusiastic, knowledgeable staff, Gosh! Comics remains London’s must-visit store for those who love the medium. From translated European albums to mainstream superhero antics; vintage children’s books to contemporary graphic fiction; compulsively readable manga to cutting edge small press: we’ve got something for everyone.”

And it’s so true. The shop is divided over two floors: the lower ground space mostly holds the kind of comic the uninitiated would classify as ‘geeky’ (think superheroes and manga, including some real gems like a Japanese adaptation of the popular TV series Sherlock). The ground floor has got an incredible range of graphic novels and memoirs, ranging from the classics (Art Spiegelman’s Maus, Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis to name but two), to independently-printed anthologies.

Nora, one of the shop’s booksellers, was literally bubbling with excitement when I told her I wanted to buy a couple of books and needed her help. After a quick test to see what I like reading (‘quirky literary’ was the diagnosis) she suggested the following:

ASTERIOS POLYP by David Mazzucchelli, a tale of an architect fleeing New York after a fire destroys his apartment.

FOR AS LONG AS IT RAINS by Zviane, the story of two lovers and their last night together.

DEAD SINGERS SOCIETY (vol 1), an anthology edited by Paddy Johnston (who is actually one of our colleagues here at Hachette UK!)

The shop also runs a series of events (check their blog here: http://www.goshlondon.com/blog/) and is very active in the graphic community.

So next time you’re looking for something a bit off the beaten track, give Gosh! a go: you will be pleasantly surprised.’

Find out more about Independent Bookshop Week here. And get in touch with Pages of Hackney directly to buy/order a book and support independent retailers: http://www.goshlondon.com/contact/

IBW2016 - Gosh

 

IBW2016 - Gosh

 

IBW2016 - Gosh

IBW2016 - Gosh

IBW2016 - Gosh

 

 

IBW 2016INDIE BOOKSHOP WEEK – Day 3

#IBW2016

Another day, another bookshop.

This time Kate pops in her new local indie, Burley Fisher Books in Haggerston:

 

A few months ago, a little bookshop opened just over the road from where I live in Hackney. Hooray! Books on my doorstep! Over the last few months I’ve dipped into Burley Fisher frequently, but, alas, I’ve just moved and they’re no longer my local, so I thought I’d pick them as my IBW2016 in a slightly gloomy, farewell-to-Hackney-are-there-any-bookshops-in-Wandsworth sort of a way.

Nestled between a kebab shop and a corner shop (of course!), Burley Fisher is an eclectic, bespoke bookshop, with some fabulous and unique displays. They also have a lovely, quiet café with some great coffee on offer – the perfect place for perusing your purchases. Run by Jason Burley and Sam Fisher of Camden Lock Books, this is a bookshop with a great pedigree, but with a really fresh feel.

I came away with two entirely unrelated, entirely unplanned purchases – Edward Gorey’s THE DOUBTFUL GUEST, a darkly absurd illustrated book about a distinctly penguin-ish creature that moves in with an aristocratic family, and EVERY GRAIN OF RICE by Fuchsia Dunlop, a primer on Chinese (particularly Sichuan) cooking, simply because the illustrated/cookery table at Burley Fisher looked SO good.

Find out more about Independent Bookshop Week here. And get in touch with Pages of Hackney directly to buy/order a book and support independent retailers: http://burleyfisherbooks.com/shop/

IBW2016 - Burley Fisher

 

IBW2016 - Burley Fisher

 

IBW2016 - Burley Fisher

 

IBW2016 - Burley Fisher

 

IBW2016 - Burley Fisher

IBW 2016INDIE BOOKSHOP WEEK – Day 2

#IBW2016

Our Independent Bookshop Tour continues with a visit to Hackney indie bookshop Pages of Hackney.

Ruby, part of the Two Roads publicity team, went to explore the shop:

 

 

Pages of Hackney is sandwiched between Spice & Grill and a newsagent on Lower Clapton Road, a busy street in North East London. It’s my local, a ten min stroll from my house and a great place for a bookstore; there are two lovely parks within walking distance or if you like beer with your books, the Windsor Castle, a good pub just across the road. I have spent many a day in all.

I popped in on a Saturday, and Manon recommended three books to me. It was a nice surprise to meet Manon, a fellow Antipodean also from Auckland. She used to work at Time Out Bookstore, which is a fantastic independent bookstore sitting under the shadow of a mountain in Mt Eden Village. So while we bonded over people we knew, and our experiences of living in London, I squeezed in a request for recommendations of books to buy. And I came away with some good ones:

THE GIRLS by Emma Cline – a book very recently published, and described by the Telegraph as a ‘trance-like portrait of the Manson family’. I am resisting reading this right now so I can save it for my holiday next month.

THE ARGONAUTS by Maggie Nelson – a genre-bending memoir, Nelson tells a love story and channels public intellectuals such as Susan Sontag and Roland Barthes.

10: 04 by Ben Lerner – the second novel by this author and recommended to me for its fractured narrative.

The shop has an intimate event space downstairs which also sells vinyl and second hand books and truly felt like someone’s living room (see pic of comfy couches). Their larger events are held down the road at Sutton House and it’s clear when you check out their events schedule that they have incredibly thoughtful programming (find out more here: http://pagesofhackney.co.uk/?page_id=165). There are many events which include local authors on topical themes as well as talks which showcase new releases.
By the time I left with a laden bag, Pages of Hackney was brimming with people of Hackney (and beyond) and I was squeezing between books and bodies to get out.

Find out more about Independent Bookshop Week here. And get in touch with Pages of Hackney directly to buy/order a book and support independent retailers: http://pagesofhackney.co.uk/?page_id=946

IBW2016 - Pages of Hackney

IBW2016 - Pages of Hackney

IBW2016 - Pages of Hackney

IBW2016 - Pages of Hackney

IBW2016 - Pages of Hackney

 

IBW 2016INDIE BOOKSHOP WEEK – Day 1

#IBW2016

We kick-start the 2016 edition of our Independent Bookshop Tour with a visit to new Highbury indie INK @ 84, Fede’s new local bookshop:

 

 

FINALLY!

That’s what I thought as soon as a sign advertising the opening of a new bookshop in Highbury went up. It was wonderful to see books take over what had been yet another estate agent: it happened last December, just a few weeks before Christmas, but INK@84 already feels like an established part of the community.

Opened and run by artist Tessa Shaw and author Betsy Tobin, it’s a small but welcoming and beautifully bright shop filled with a brilliant selection of books. The majority of the bookshop is devoted to fiction and non-fiction, but there’s also a colourful children’s section, a graphic-novels shelf and travel and cookery sections.

The shops also sells a range of quirky and truly original stationery and – major bonus – functions as a coffee shop/cocktail bar. All the drinks are locally sourced: the coffee comes from Shoreditch roastery Nude Espresso, the natural sodas are supplied by Square Root London, the beer by Hammerton Brewery and the gin by Sacred Microdistillery.

But the focus is, of course, books. And Tessa and Betsy are incredibly passionate about literature. When I visited they spent an hour trying to find the perfect book recommendation: their taste is eclectic, ranging from the latest paperback to intriguing classic; from debut authors to established names; from graphic memoirs to crime and thrillers. And they champion authors by organising well-attended events: a list of recent names includes Chris Cleave and Louise Doughty (sign up to their newsletter here: http://www.ink84bookshop.co.uk/#!find-us/c24vq).

I left the shop with two new books: BLACK WATER, the brand new dark tale by Louise Doughty, and LONESOME DOVE, the classic western novel by Larry McMurtry. A slightly odd duo, but that’s the joy of indie bookshops recommendations, right? Summer reading, here I come…

PS: special thanks to Tessa and Betsy who put up a glorious IBW display a couple of days early so that I could take a few pictures!

Find out more about Independent Bookshop Week here. And get in touch with Ink@84 directly to buy/order a book and support independent retailers: http://www.ink84bookshop.co.uk/#!find-us/c24vq

IBW2016 - Ink@84

 

IBW2016 - Ink@84

 

IBW2016 - Ink@84IBW2016 - Ink@84

IBW2016 - Ink@84

TWO ROADS’ 12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS

Bringing you festive, bookish cheer from our authors and the Two Roads team!

Snowflake
DAY 12: FINAL DAY! – Feat. Ross Fraser, Two Roads’ marketing champion.

Two Roads 12 Days of Christmas Day 12Reading at Christmas is a chore.

It’s not because I’m too busy drinking with good cheer, or because I’m watching It’s a Wonderful Life for the millionth time or even because I’ve fallen asleep surrounded by the crumbs of many a fallen mince pie. Deary me no…

The reason is because the choice of exactly what to read can be too daunting. How do I choose between my personal seasonal favourites like A Child’s Christmas in Wales or Ethel and Ernest, and the new ‘good’uns’ like The Fox and the Star or The Explorer’s Guild? It’s tricky…

My solution though is simple: read them all and consume excessive amounts of Turkey and festive Toblerone to keep going – it’s the only way through!

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