Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Some Thoughts on Anxiety and Progress

Three years ago I dropped out of school, stopped leaving the house, and lost all but one of my friends in the process.

Two years ago, I was finally diagnosed with chronic anxiety and panic disorder.

One year ago, things hadn't changed much. I was leaving the house, but I was still struggling to do normal things.

Today? I've just got home from yet another job interview. It's boiling hot and I'm wiped out, but I'm still going to the cinema with friends tonight - the fourth time this month. Today's interview was my second of the summer, and I have two more later this week.

And whether I get a job at the end of all this or not, I class it as a success. 

Because three years ago I couldn't stand outside of my front door for more than a minute without being consumed by anxiety and retreating inside. It took months of exposure therapy to start going out again: first with my parents, and eventually on my own. It was like learning to walk again, like building up to where I'd happily been before the winter of 2012. 

Agoraphobia wasn't my only issue. Speaking to anyone other than my parents was a Big Deal I often avoided by hiding in my room whenever we had visitors. And there was my Emetophobia, too, which meant lugging around supplies 'just in case' wherever I went, no matter how inconvenient.

And I still struggle with these things. Today's job interview made me so anxious I couldn't eat - but I didn't run away from the situation like I used to. I got on the train, I walked through the narrow, cobbled, crowded streets, I stopped outside the shop where I'd applied for the job, and took a few deep breaths, gathering myself together, before walking in and saying, 'Hi, I'm here for a job interview?' Firm handshake, wide smile and perky YouTube persona switched on, and anxiety pushed to the pit of my stomach.

I was friendly, polite and professional. I felt hot, sick, and like my heart was racing at 100mph. But no one would have thought I was anything but completely normal and unfazed, and it was fine. Nothing bad happened. I didn't freak out. All was well.

Resource: Talkspace, an online therapy app that connects users with licensed professionals.

The same can be said for the other job interview I had a few weeks ago, and I'm sure it'll be the same again for my two other interviews at the end of the week. 

Anxiety is hard no matter how old you are, but when you're a teenager, it can be even trickier: everyone around you is working, learning to drive, maybe even moving out - and you're stuck on the sofa with a book and a bag of crisps to call friends. 

I still have anxiety. There are a lot of things I really struggle with - I know I wouldn't be able to go to a mainstream school all day every day, and there are certain places I just couldn't work in regardless of how much I needed the money. Sometimes a wave of panic will hit me for absolutely no reason. Who knows, this time next year I might be back in a place where normality is impossible once again.

But what I've done this summer proves that it doesn't have to be forever. Anxiety changes, and so do you.

To the people who are where I was three years ago, bored out of your mind, worried that you'll never be able to earn a living, wondering if this is it forever - you'll get through it. Time heals, and progress is always possible.

Friday, 26 August 2016

#AskAmber: Books, Bands and Tiramisu

Waddup, favourite Internet specimens? A while ago I tweeted to see if you had any questions for me (always awkward...) using the hashtag #AskAmber, and it turns out quite a few of you did. I've always done Q&As as videos on my YouTube channel (gotta get that promo in) so this time I decided to mix it up a bit and do it here on the blog.

Beaches are better than mountains because they're flat and I'm lazy. I don't drink because I don't like the idea of not being in control of myself, and relying on a drink for fun. I mean, I'm also underage, but it's not like that stops anyone... And as for tiramisu? Nope, I haven't had it. Yet.

Something I've come to realise over the years is that I don't have a favourite colour - I like them all. But the colour scheme in my bedroom is white, grey and yellow, if that means anything. There are two places I want to visit most in the world, and they are Paris and New York City. My favourite band is Cimorelli (any other fans here?) and my favourite food is my own version of the Californian burgers you can get at Gourmet Burger Kitchen.

I think the best things you can do are, firstly, to let them know that you are there for them and, secondly, to encourage them to get help. And if the help they get doesn't seem to work, remind them that there are so many other options and just because one thing doesn't help doesn't mean nothing else will. It's also worth asking them what you can do to make things easier for them.

As someone who has had to support my own friends with their mental illnesses, I also want to say that it's not your job to look after them. Support them and care for them when you can, yes, but you have your own life to live and if you find it's stressing you out/having an effect on your own mental health, don't feel bad for taking a step back. Professionals are there for a reason and while it's important to do what you can for your friend (and I know they'll really appreciate the fact that you're sticking with them through this) you have to remember to take care of yourself, first and foremost.

The first review I ever wrote was in June 2009 and it was for Bindi Babes by Narinder Dhami. I still love Dhami's books, but it wasn't Bindi Babes that made me want to write a review... it was Chicklish, one of the biggest book blogs in the UK. They were looking for reviewers and, after stumbling upon it, I applied. The rest is history...

If you haven't read The Infernal Devices by Cassandra Clare, don't highlight this: Jem. *cries* So there we go.

I LOVE THIS QUESTION. Teletubbies, apparently, although looking back it's more than a bit creepy. Tweenies, Mona the Vampire, Jakers!, Underground Ernie, Grizzly Tales for Gruesome Kids, 64 Zoo Lane, Come Outside, Lazy Town (I know...), Balamory (again, I know...), Charlie and Lola... I was also partial to a bit of Fireman Sam, although it gave me nightmares more than once. I was a sensitive child, clearly.

I don't mind dogs, but cats are way better - you know it's true. So I'd never pet a puppy again, because I could still have kitty cuddles and eat my favourite food. Boom.

Thanks for sending in your questions, and sorry I couldn't answer them all! If you want to watch the last Q&A I did, click here.

Monday, 22 August 2016

10 Reasons You NEED to Read The Graces by Laure Eve

Title: The Graces
Author: Laure Eve
Published by: Faber & Faber
Publication date: 1st September 2016
Pages: 432
Genres: YA Contemporary/Paranormal/Magic
Format: Paperback
Source: Review copy from the publisher.

Everyone said the Graces were witches.

They moved through the corridors like sleek fish, ripples in their wake. Stares followed their backs and their hair.

They had friends, but they were just distractions. They were waiting for someone different.

All I had to do was show them that person was me.

Like everyone else in her town, River is obsessed with the Graces, attracted by their glamour and apparent ability to weave magic. But are they really what they seem? And are they more dangerous than they let on?

1. The story focuses on The Graces, who are powerful siblings and minor celebrities in their town but for all the wrong reasons. Bad things happen around them. More specifically, bad things happen to anyone who challenges them. The Graces are almost four-dimensional and I was completely drawn in by them.

2. It's ridiculously gripping. There were so many little twists that I physically could not stop reading. Was I bored at any point? Never. I'd just be getting comfortable and, boom, plot twist, otherwise known as a metaphorical bucket of cold water to the face.

3. The Graces is a duology and, judging by the greatness of the first instalment, there's going to be a lot of hype about the second book next year. Best to get in early.

4. The attention to detail is phenomenal and the writing was so rich and vivid. It's one of those books that you finish and think, damn, I wish I'd written that. 

5. I was kind of in love with the setting. Picture this: a large house full of random but important objects, with a kitchen always full of the most delicious foods. The house is perched on a cliff, with sprawling gardens, and is right next to a beach. I'd want to live there if it wasn't so witch-y... but doesn't that sound like a beautiful place for a story?

6. The Graces messes with you. As the synopsis says... are things really as they seem?

7. There isn't enough witchcraft in books. The Graces, however, has it all.

8. This book is insanely good and I immediately craved more of Eve's enthralling way of storytelling. 

9. The dialogue is punchy, chilling and easy to lose yourself in. Before you know it, it's nearly 3am. (This actually happened. Last time I looked at the clock, it was 11pm. I was very confused.)

10. Without a doubt, this is one of my favourite books of 2016. 

Thursday, 18 August 2016

In Which I Introduce You To Phillip

A few months ago, I got my first car. His name is Phillip. He likes petrol, being clean, and not going above 60 because he's almost as old as me which means, in car years, he's a pensioner. However, he's still looking fiiiiine.

Before Phillip, I drove a 1966 Beetle called... um, I don't think I ever gave it a name. Aw. We just didn't hit it off and now it's sitting unused somewhere, gathering rust and probably quite a lot of dust. Still proud of myself for learning to drive in it, though. Vintage cars are vintage for a reason.

Recently, a specialist car insurer for young drivers got in touch. (#Spon #spon #spon, don't ever say I'm not transparent.) They're called Marmalade and they're trying to get rid of the stereotype surrounding young drivers on the road. They wanted to know: is there a correlation between lifestyle choices and driving ability? Are the public's perceptions of what makes a good driver correct? Are young drivers actually stereotyped?

To that last question, I'm going to say a big fat yes. I've experienced so many annoying drivers who glimpse an L plate and go on a power trip. Only twenty minutes ago, some guy driving an unnecessarily large and annoying Audi decided to just keep on driving when he was clearly meant to stop, nearly ploughing into my side. LEARN TO DRIVE.

*takes deep breath* I'm not annoyed, I'm perfectly calm. Promise.

Marmalade have created a quiz to see if our lifestyle choices, like our music tastes and what kind of clothes we like to wear, affect our driving ability. Loads of research has gone into it which you can see here, and it's actually pretty fun! Here's what I got:

I do have good and bad days on the road but I think you'll find I'm a lot better than so-so. I even strap in my takeaway pizza. I am the definition of cautious.

I'm not entering because Phillip would get jealous, but after doing the quiz, you even have the chance to win a new Vauxhall Corsa which I can imagine is going to make someone's day. It's worth checking out the facts behind their research, too: interestingly, the age-group that most judges other drivers is... young people. I guess because we've had lessons most recently, so the 'proper' way to drive is more ingrained in us, whereas the older you get, the more used to it you are and the less you have to think about it.

Also, did you know bookworms are some of the riskiest drivers? 


What did you get on the quiz? And for a bit of fun, tell me your most embarrassing driving moments, if you dare...

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

MINI REVIEWS: Confessions of a Guide Dog by Joanne Roberts and Cuckoo by Keren David

Title: Confessions of a Guide Dog: A Dog's View of his Blind Owner's Life
Author: Joanne Roberts
Publication date: 23rd September 2014
Pages: 77
Genres: Non-fiction
Format: eBook
Source: Gift.

Buy the book

You know the tale of the little girl with a curl in the middle of her forehead? Well, my guide dog Uska’s a bit like that. I only say a bit because when he's good, he is very, very good. He does however, have his moments. Oh, I have mine too. When it comes to being blind, I'm not very good at it and Uska has to cope with that. I guess some days we drive each other nuts, which is hardly surprising because we truly are a 24/7 partnership. Mind you, I do love the bones of him and not just because he's totally changed my life.

Since I first got him, I've been wondering what is really going on in that head of his, especially when he's working with me in supermarkets, or at parties, or on trains and even in hospital casualty wards. During the early months, he was the only dog I knew who could make his harness look rakish, like a lovable rascal in an old Hollywood movie. If he'd spent as much time learning to work with me, as he spent on artfully dodging his way to any dropped chips, he'd have been Guide Dog of the Year. As it was, he managed to guide me down the aisle and a rock sliding mountain. He played paramedic for a day and stayed right by my side as my health got worse and worse. All this before he was 3 years old. 

Confessions of a Guide Dog is a brilliant insight into life with a guide dog - and it's from his perspective! Or pawspective. No? Alright then... in all seriousness, this book is inspiring, humorous and full of raw honesty. It was such an interesting read and made me think about things I'd never properly given the time of day. Even better, this book was written for a good cause.

Did you know that each guide dog costs £50,000? That covers research, breeding, owner support, food, vet bills, and training. Despite that, the charity receives no government funding, so Roberts is donating 25% of the book's royalties to Guide Dogs for the Blind in the hopes that she can raise enough money to sponsor another guide dog. If you'd prefer to donate a different way, you can...

  • Donate by post: cheques should be made out to 'Guide Dogs' and posted to 'Uska Appeal, Guide Dogs, Hillfields, Reading Road, Burghfield Common, Reading, RG7 3YG'.
  • Donate by phone: Call 0870 240 6993 and say that you want to donate to the Uska Appeal.
  • Donate online: via the website.

It's a brilliant book, and seeing how much of a difference Uska made to Roberts' life was completely heartwarming. It's not much, but I wanted to highlight the charity aspect. It's a great cause, and a great book.
Title: Cuckoo
Author: Keren David
Published by: Atom
Publication date: 4th August 2016
Pages: 352
Genres: YA Contemporary
Format: Paperback
Source: Review copy from the publisher.

He's a household name... without a home.

Jake is an actor, a household name thanks to his role on the UK's most popular soap. But his character went upstairs to his bedroom six months ago and never came down again, and now Jake is facing an uncertain future. Add to that his dad's anger issues, the family's precarious finances and the demands of a severely autistic brother; Jake's home feels like a powder keg waiting to explode. It's easier to spend nights on friends' sofas and futons, but what happens when you feel like a cuckoo in every nest?

It's that time of year again where we're treated to a new book by one of my favourite authors, Keren David! Her latest novel, Cuckoo, is entirely made up of transcripts and comments from YouTube videos filmed by Jake, our protagonist. He was a member of the nation's most-loved family in the nation's most-loved TV soap, until the show was cancelled for reasons that aren't immediately obvious.

You'll probably either love or hate the format. Personally, I think it's edgy, original, and ensures the pacing is spot-on. The addition of YouTube comments means minor characters get to have their say, which was really interesting - who was telling the truth about why the show went off air? I also love that it shows a side of acting that most people don't consider. Someone might be on TV every night but that doesn't mean they're rich... it's unstable and unpredictable.

As with all of David's books, I absolutely recommend this.
Saturday, 6 August 2016

INTERVIEW: Keren David on books, musicals, and inadequate trousers...

Today is my stop on the YA Shot blog tour, meaning I get to interview one of my favourite authors, Keren David! YA Shot is a one-day annual festival in Uxbridge, and this year's festival will take place on October 22nd. Around 70 authors will contribute to workshops, panels and signings, and if that wasn't enough, the festival also raises money to support local libraries and schools year-round.

In this post, you'll be hearing from Keren David, one of the country's greatest YA authors. Enjoy!

Hi Keren! For people who haven't read them (they really should!) can you tell us a bit about you and your books?

Hi Amber! I'm a journalist and a mum, I live in north London, but I grew up in a small town and have lived in Amsterdam and Glasgow. I think the most important thing about me is that I love people and I love writing about them. My books are mostly about ordinary teenagers to whom interesting things happen, whether that's going into witness protection, winning the lottery, going to live abroad, or being reunited with your long lost sibling. I never want my books to feel heavy or dull, and I hope they never do, but I want them to explore themes in depth, things like justice and truth, identity and values, family, culture and society. My books reflect our multi-cultural world. They are never ever 'issue books', they are about life.

What piece of advice do you wish you had been given when trying to get published?

There's a lot more hard work to be done after getting published than there was in getting published. May not be true for everyone, but it was for me.

I recently wrote a piece on the importance of libraries. Why are they important to you?

Libraries are the front line in the battle against inequality. Within a library you can educate yourself and you can study, you can turn your life around.  My husband was a working class boy who failed his 11plus, he studied for his O and A levels at Manchester Central Library and got into Oxford. The writer Alex Wheatle, grew up in care, was sent to prison, educated himself at Brixton library and is now a playwright and author. My own kids had bedrooms too small for desks, and scoured London to find the best libraries to revise for exams. I work in libraries and so do many authors. When I was a child my dad took us to the library every week, and there I found the books that I loved. There was no bookshop in my town. Libraries made me who I am.

There aren't any bookshops in my town, either, so I get that. Bit of a different question: What is the most embarrassing thing that has ever happened to you?

Oh so many to choose from! The one that springs to mind is the time I was speaking in a town far from my home, got up at 5am, got dressed in the dark. Got to the first school and realised that I'd put on the wrong trousers... ones with a hole in the crotch, due to a trailing thread that was still unravelling. By the second school, the trousers were basically falling apart. I did the whole talk with my legs firmly clamped together. I didn't have time to buy a spare pair before getting the train home, so then had to cross London with a pair of severely inadequate trousers.

Oh no! A slightly less horrible, though difficult question... is there a book by someone else that you wish you’d written?

The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler. Not one word wasted. Brilliant characterisation. And for YA, Helen Grant's Silent Saturday and C.J. Skuse's Dead Romantic. Helen is the mistress of twisty thrillers, with characters you care about and C.J. writes lines so funny that they make me cry, and that I want to rip out of her book and implant into mine.

*adds to TBR* Your next book, Cuckoo, is out this month. Could you tell us a bit about it? I loved it!

So nice of you! Cuckoo is about a boy called Jake, who is 16. He's been an actor almost all his life and for three years he played Riley Elliott in a popular soap, Market Square. But then things go horribly wrong for Jake. When the book opens, Jake's making a YouTube video apologising for his part in getting Market Square cancelled. His video turns into a web-series, and the whole book is told as either episodes from the series, or comments from viewers.

What else are you up to?

I've been working on a musical version of my book Lia's Guide to Winning the Lottery, with composer Paul Herbert and lyricist Lesley Ross, and we're hoping to have a performance with musical theatre students in 2017. I'm also working on another two books, which haven't been announced yet. And I've just started as Features Editor of the Jewish Chronicle, which was the newspaper where I started my career as a messenger girl, quite a few years ago. So I'm pretty busy!

Wow, I look forward to the musical, and to the next two books! Thanks for stopping by at The Mile Long Bookshelf. Now, if any of you are pining after a copy of Cuckoo, never fear, because I have a copy to give away! This is UK only and entry closes on August 13th. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

What's A Girl Gotta Do? by Holly Bourne

Title: What's A Girl Gotta Do?
Author: Holly Bourne
Published by: Usborne
Publication date: 1st August 2016
Pages: 421
Genres: YA Contemporary/Feminism
Format: Paperback
Source: Review copy from the publisher.

Lottie is starting a supersonic feminist experiment. For one month she's going to call out every instance of sexism she sees. But when her project hits the headlines, the trolls come out to play – and they are VICIOUS. Lottie's not a quitter, but best friends Evie and Amber are worried. What if Lottie's heading for burnout... or worse?

Am I Normal Yet? saw Evie struggling with an OCD relapse. How Hard Can Love Be? focused on Amber dealing with family issues as well as love and acceptance. What's A Girl Gotta Do? is Lottie's story, where she fights for equality no matter how many hurdles she faces in the process.

I loved those books, and I loved this one, too. Holly Bourne captures the teenage voice perfectly every single time, and the attention to detail never fails to blow me away. I've said it before and I'll say it again: she just gets it. How a friendship can disappear in the blink of an eye. How sometimes the only thing you can do is retire to bed with a pile of snacks. How saving the world is even more difficult when you've got exams to think about, but that with determination, you can make a change. How you can 100% aim to do it all, but also that it's okay to take a break and put yourself first.

Out of all Bourne's books, I think What's A Girl Gotta Do? has the heaviest focus on sexism. Being completely honest, Lottie used to be my least favourite character, but I soon warmed to her and admired her ambition. I also loved catching up with Evie and Amber. Especially Amber, whose dialogue was hilarious and on point, once again. It must be an Amber thing.

But back focusing on the feminism aspect... I read a review a while ago that didn't like that the characters occasionally slip-up and do things that aren't typically feminist. However, that's one of the things I like most about these books. No one is the perfect feminist. Not even Emma Watson. The thing is, it's more realistic this way - and it's not like they don't realise their mistakes or learn from them, because they do. We've had so many crap ideas forced on us by society from birth. That's going to take a while to filter out of the population, but we're making progress, slowly but surely.

Do I recommend this? OF COURSE. You know it's a good book when you find yourself smiling throughout. This whole trilogy is well worth reading. (And it's not over just yet, because there's a Spinster Club novella coming in November - woop!)
And here's my video with the author herself! 

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Parallel Lives | #TogetherWeCan

This might primarily be a blog about books, but when you have a platform, no matter how big or how small, I think it's important to highlight other issues when you can. That's what I'm doing today.

The Prince's Trust is celebrating its 40th birthday, but it's not all cake, balloons and presents. Instead, they've launched a new campaign called Parallel Lives to show the future some of the young people they support could have had if they'd been left to battle the world on their own. The video was first brought to my attention in an email, and I watched it for a second time when it appeared before a film (Ghostbusters, if you're wondering) at the cinema. I was there with four friends, and we'd been chatting between ourselves, getting comfy, snacking... and the video silenced not only us, but the entire cinema, which was obviously packed because, hello, Ghostbusters.

It's an incredibly powerful video.

This time last year, I was stuck. I wanted to continue my education and do A Levels, but we couldn't afford it. Luckily, I'm part of a hugely supportive and wonderful community of people, and together, you changed my path in life.

That's what The Prince's Trust is doing, too; they work to rehabilitate young lives, and help them get in to higher education, the workplace, and further. Like you did for me, they work to change young people's life paths.

I didn't know about this until that video popped into my inbox. Now I know that #TogetherWeCan save young lives and change people's paths, by spreading the word and helping out in any way we can when people are stuck and struggling to get to where they want to be.


What did you think of the video?

It might sound like it, but this isn't sponsored. A PR company sent me this video and asked if I could blog about it, and I'm always happy to do my bit for charity, so I said yes. Also, the PR company aren't getting paid to work on this campaign either - they're giving up their time voluntarily. How cool?