Reviews, Uncategorized

Non-fiction book review: Diary of a Young Naturalist by Dara McAnulty

A few weeks ago, my nan told me about a book written by an autistic teenager that recently won the Wainwright Prize (which is a UK award focusing on books about nature) and offered to buy me a copy. Naturally, having a great love of nature myself and also wanting to read more autistic voices, I said I’d love to read it. (Though, amusingly, the book is yellow, which is the one colour that is absolute sensory hell for me – an easy fix though, as I simply turned the dust cover inside out.)

The book is written in journal format and is compiled into sections based on the four seasons. It’s difficult to fully articulate my feelings on it, but I’ll try. (A warning, though: this is likely to be a long and rambling post detailing some of my own life experiences rather than just focusing on the book. I promise it will be relevant, though!)

Firstly, Dara’s writing is very evocative and poetic – I had serious writer envy on this one. He seems to have the ability to place you exactly in the situation he’s describing; every detail fed to you as if your own senses were picking it up. At least, that’s how it was for me – maybe it’s because the way my senses work are very similar to his, but judging by the amount of praise this book has had, I doubt it’s just that. This did, however, present something of a problem in that it was sometimes too much for me to handle. My head would be reeling after reading a section just like it does when I’m experiencing sensory overload. I was also a little intimidated at the beginning by the sheer knowledge he has; every species and sub-species mentioned is identified, which meant a lot of names to get my head around. I did get used to it once I got past the first quarter, but it took some time. But nature has been central to his entire life, so it makes sense that his knowledge is so vast.

Secondly, his passion leaks from every word, and while noting the intricacies and completely fascinating things, he also goes into detail about the very real threats to the world (I would say the natural world, but we are part of nature rather than separate from it): climate change, deforestation, hunting, pollution, just to name a few. Now, as mentioned above, nature is one of my loves too, and I’m very passionate about protecting it. But over the years, the apathy and unkindness of others has beaten down my willingness to express why it’s important to me. I used to share all the petitions I sign on my social media pages, but now only share a handful, and in 2013, I tried fundraising for a charity (Cool Earth – check them out if you can) by getting tattooed in the armpit, only to have very little response. Realising that I’d pretty much silenced myself without even knowing came as quite a shock. And I felt like I’d let myself and the environment down, that I wasn’t doing enough.

But I kept reading, and as Dara also documents his mental health, having experienced intense bullying at school because of his interests, I came to understand that the key to why I stopped was because my own mental health wasn’t good enough to handle such negativity. That, and I get so overwhelmed about how much of a crisis the world is in that I feel like I might be crushed by it.

However, I also came to realise that though I haven’t been as vocal as I would like, I’ve still continued doing things to try and bring about the changes I’d love to see. I still sign petitions, and when my finances allow, I donate to relevant charities. I also sneak bits into my books to generate awareness, like including several stories focusing on endangered animals and deforestation in my short story collection, When the Bard Came Visiting, and having characters interact with nature in quite profound ways. So, while I might have too much anxiety to go to a climate march (not that that would be a good idea during the current pandemic), or experience too much overwhelm to constantly share facts about how much the rainforests have been cut down or the oceans have been polluted by plastic and oil spills, I can continue to do the little things within my area of expertise. And if I spark even one person’s passion for the environment, then it’ll be worth it.

Now, back to the actual book.

Dara’s ability to reflect on his experiences is really what makes this book come together, and though at first it seems quite simple, it covers an awful lot of ground. As I mentioned above, he talks about mental health and bullying, and how it’s often quite hard for autistic people to express themselves. I know from my own experiences how difficult it is – the ideas are there in my head but refuse to come out in any intelligible way. He also splashes in bits of Irish and world mythology here and there, which creates yet another layer to what he’s reflecting on. I really loved reading those parts.

In short (after taking far, far too much space going over the ‘long’), this book is a beautiful exploration of our world and being part of a minority within it, and despite the mental turmoil it caused within me, left me with an awful lot of hope, too.

If, as I would urge, you decide to pick up a copy, you can get it here. I would also encourage you to check out his blog and Youtube channel too.

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Expectations of the Homo Sapien has a new cover!

Recently, I was introduced to Canva.com by the Facebook page Books Go Social, and discovered that I could make my own ebook covers either for free, if I didn’t use any images, or at a small fee ($10) if I used an image and wanted it for multiple uses. So, after much deliberation (well, not too much, because I knew it needed to be done) I made a new cover for my novelette, Expectations of the Homo Sapien, a story about a young professor attempting to teach the working classes evolution in Victorian England – a task which doesn’t go too well.

I knew my old cover didn’t really give any hints about what genre the story was in, and though I liked it for its simplicity, it didn’t have any intrigue to it at all:512ckcMx6aL

So I decided to make one with an image and font that gave a sense of the time period. Here’s what I ended up with:

A Novelette

The setting of the image is similar to one detailed in the story, and I like how the model appears to be waiting, or indeed, expecting, something, which I thought worked well with my title. I also love how dark the room is, because even though the story isn’t really dark, it does have its moments.

Anyway, I’m quite pleased with the results and find the new cover much more appealing. The Kindle version is live on Amazon now (though for some reason, when posting links on Facebook, the old cover still shows up in the page preview), and the paperback version should be live in a few days.

Reviews

Review: Arma-garden – The Diary of my Allotment During the Zombie Apocalypse by Tracey J Morgan

Arma-garden is a light-hearted, fun take on the popular zombie apocalypse trend of horror stories.

As the name suggests, the story follows the diary of Susie, a young woman who keeps an allotment to grow fruit and veg as a way to escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Except that one day, she sees an old woman attacked by a youth. Not just attacked, but thrown to the ground and having her face gnawed off. Immediately, Susie knows something’s wrong, but she’s lost her keys to the gate and can’t get out to help the old woman – the metal fence surrounding the entire perimeter of the allotment is too high, and spiked to boot. However, as soon as realizes the reason for this attack, that the youth is actually a zombie, she’s quite grateful for that impenetrable fence. To her luck, the allotment happens to have all the supplies to survive – fresh food, running water, and a few sheds for shelter, and, in the form of the old woman’s dog, who squeezed through the fence in sheer terror, a companion.

As the story progresses, we’re introduced to more characters who add a lot of humour and I really did laugh aloud several times while reading this piece. There’s a mysterious jogger always running past listening to several on point songs (really, one of them is ‘Thriller’) despite the crowd of zombies, a vegan zombie, the girlfriend of the vegan zombie, Susie’s boyfriend, a cat, and a 100 year old bed bound woman who always asks for sweet food to eat.

I really, really enjoyed this story and would heartily recommend it to anyone who likes ‘Shaun of the Dead’ and other tongue-in-cheek zombie tales. It’s well written, well thought out, the main character is likeable and witty (despite her desperate survival situation)

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Expectations of the Homo Sapien

So, after going through the proof copy of my novelette and making all the necessary changes (there really are errors that only jump out at you when you’re reading a physical copy and are desperately hoping that there won’t be any errors) and then checking the revised proof, I am proud to say that Expectations of the Homo Sapien is now available on Amazon, both as an ebook and in print.

For those of you interested in what it’s about, here’s the blurb:

Oh, for the suddenness of it all!

When Professor Marcellus Kingston is given the opportunity to travel around England giving lectures on evolution, he finds that not only are members of his audience objectionable, but they lead him to have several altercations, and also a run in with the constabulary.

Will he stay true to his task, or will he be overcome by it all and take his leave?

And, for a more in depth explanation, it’s basically a story written as the diary of a Victorian professor (originally it was a final project for my OU course in creative writing, and as I’m a big fan of Murdoch Mysteries and had also just read Dracula, I was really itching to write a piece that took place in Victorian times) and though he teaches geology, he actually has a keen interest in evolution.

Because the professor, Marcellus, tends to drift into other topics while lecturing to his students and frequently discusses evolution, the Master of Clare College, where he teaches as Fellow, picks up on this and decides that it might not be a bad thing for someone to travel around England and teach the lesser educated about what evolution really means. And that person should be Marcellus.

Of course, because of the controversy around the issue, especially during that era, Marcellus has some trouble controlling his audience. Hence the run in with the constabulary.

It’s not meant as a serious in-depth story (after all, it’s only 69 pages long), but my hope is that it is at least entertaining. Also, considering the amount of research I had to do for it, I though it was a bit sad just to leave it tucked away in a folder on my desktop without ever seeing the light of day. So technically, I am now published. Yay!