Backstories

I find myself increasingly distracted these days, Bookaholics. If I’m watching TV, I’m flicking through Facebook on my phone; if I’m texting I’m also on Twitter – my brain is constantly buzzing. Even when I’m reading I find my mind can still wander and I often pause to Google spurious things like whether Jimmy Tarbuck is still alive (yes, if you’re interested) or whether you can get ill from eating coleslaw 3 days out of date (also yes, don’t do it). So when I find a book that properly captures my imagination and absorbs my full attention, I consider that quite a find. Backstories by Simon Van der Velde is exactly that.

This is unquestionably the most unique text I have read in a very long time. Packaged as a series of short stories, each one captures a snapshot of a famous person’s life with one specific catch – the author never explicitly tells us who they are referring to. This is an incredibly effective hook to draw the reader in.  Cast in the role of detective, I was on the alert immediately, rising to the challenge of piecing together the evidence on offer.  Some individuals were definitely easier to guess than others and I knew within a few paragraphs who they referred to; with others the penny didn’t drop until the final lines of the chapter.  (In the name of transparency I have to confess there is one I still don’t know but NO SPOILERS I AM DETERMINED TO WORK IT OUT). One fact remained consistent right the way through – at the end of every section, my immediate impulse was to go back and reread that particular part to pick up on all the clues I had missed first time.  And believe me, there were plenty.
 
Undoubtedly this is where the magnetism of Backstories truly lies, in the way each clue is hidden within the text without ever being so overt that it ruins the reader’s enjoyment or the climactic sense of achievement in guessing correctly. Van der Velde shows immense skill in creating uniquely different voices for every single chapter, keeping each narrative fresh and individual, whilst also skipping between various periods of history with apparent ease.  The dexterity of this should not be underestimated nor the detailed research it must have required.  If I have one criticism of this book, it would be that I wanted more: each snapshot is so brief yet so engaging that I wasn’t prepared to part with that story when the next began.  This alone tells you how talented this author’s writing is and I look forward to reading anything else he has published.
 
It is difficult to say more without providing spoilers but it probably goes without saying that I fully recommend this to you. I could picture myself with friends reading each chapter aloud and seeing who could guess the subject first or even running competitions to see who could spot the most clues (after all never let it be said I don’t know how to party).  Backstories may be small but it is perfectly formed and is the perfect choice for anyone feeling like all they ever read is the same old stuff over and over again. Try it.  You won’t regret it.

Forever Friends

I have a confession to make, Bookaholics – I am in love.  I am adamant this is not just some schoolgirl crush (pretty sure my uniform wouldn’t fit me these days anyway) nor is it a passing infatuation that will simply burn out with time: I am full on, head-over-heels experiencing the kind of ground-shaking ardour that only the great 19th century authors ever really seem to have understood (although hopefully my fervour will not lead to any Tolstoy-type tragedy). So who, you may ask, is the object of my abject adoration?  Who can have inspired such extravagant expressions of death-defying devotion?  Book Twitter, that’s who. In an online location I avoided for years because of its negative and damning reputation, I have finally found my tribe.  Let me share with you the reasons for my passion:

1) Having spent years being known as the swot / teacher’s pet / boring kid who always had their nose in a book, suddenly I am not alone.  Twitter has introduced me to so many like-minded folk, all of whom are just as obsessed with reading as me.  I no longer stand out in the crowd as the odd one out – I have a group to belong to.  I don’t want to say this too loudly, but sometimes I almost feel popular.  13 year old Becky (with the haircut that made her look like a boy and the sign put on her back by bullies saying “kick me”) would struggle to believe this was even possible. I finally belong.

2) Because the number of people who contribute to the online book community is so vast, you meet people from all walks of life with tastes as varied as can be.  Want to discuss an obscure text none of your friends have ever heard of?  Someone will have read it and want to discuss it.  Have a controversial view about a novel most people loved?  You are bound to find individuals who agree with you.  Want to try an entirely new genre and broaden your horizons?  Within 10 minutes of logging on, your Amazon wish-list will be longer than War and Peace.  The only problem is finding the money to buy all those glossy looking tomes. Turns out bank robbery is actually quite complicated. (Not that I have researched this.  Honest).

3) Whilst we are on the subject of money, Book Twitter is an amazing place to pick up free books.  I have met authors who have provided me with complimentary copies of their latest writing in return for honest reviews (whilst also giving me a chance to read amazing literature I may have otherwise missed) and have even won 2 giveaways of novels I really wanted to read.  There is no more persuasive an argument than “free stuff”, especially when the stuff just happens to be your drug of choice. (I tell myself that at least it isn’t heroin, as I wade through the parcels dropping onto my doormat each week).

4) Most important of all, let’s not forget the people (or the Twitterati Literati as I like to call them) who are the most inspiring bunch of book buddies a girl could wish for.  There are people who are embarking on writing for the first time; others who have already found success with a literary career; bloggers old and new who either bring experience or a fresh perspective to the community; booksellers who employ the most entertaining tactics to win our business; and so many, many readers who always want to share their latest incredible find.  I am meeting a myriad of folk I truly admire and am making many new friends, something I thought was almost impossible now I am in my 40s (I can hardly ask them around to play in the garden, after all). I love it so much.

Despite having met only recently, I genuinely know that Book Twitter is my soulmate and would encourage anyone considering paddling in the online waters to take a leap and dive right in.  You will be greeted with support, encouragement and most of all friendship, something we all need more than ever in this crazy corona-world.  Now forgive me but I have to go – I have at least 7 new blog posts to read from other people and several competitions to enter.  Who needs to leave their house?  I have all I need right here…

A Good Neighbourhood

There are many elements of my existence I take for granted as a middle class, educated white woman in the western world. My skin colour means I am rarely treated as an outsider; I can speak my mind without being pigeon-holed by damaging racial stereotypes; I have a certain amount of confidence that I will be treated fairly by the “establishment” whenever I have to deal with them. But this does not mean I should ignore the experiences of others around me and I have so much still to learn about the enormous inequality others face simply for being born into different circumstances from me. For anyone who feels like I do, A Good Neighbourhood by Therese Anne Fowler provides an expert masterclass in the destructive power of inherent prejudice – it’s a book that has punched me in the stomach and taken my breath away with the force of its message.

Brad is a successful caucasian businessman who has just moved to a luxury new home with his wife and 2 daughters. Their yard backs onto an older, less extravagant property where Valerie and her mixed race son Xavier have lived for years. Initial pleasantries do nothing to warn them how tragically their lives are about to collide. Valerie will be driven to take legal action when she realises work on the new property has killed the ancient oak tree in her garden; Brad will be distracted by his growing sexual attraction to his step-daughter Juniper; and Juniper will fall head over heels in love with Xavier. This is a perfect storm of events that barrels towards an inevitably heart-breaking finale.

Whilst this novel clearly addresses racism head on from the outset (Brad assumes Xavier is a gardener at their very first meeting, based purely on his appearance) it also tackles issues of misogyny and the specific power of white men. At the age of 14 Juniper was encouraged to take a purity pledge, promising to remain a virgin till marriage and to honour her step father till then. She is not allowed to date despite now being 18 and is trapped by a form of paternal control that borders on abuse. This becomes more chillingly apparent as the story gathers pace, as she is stripped of any voice and her story becomes controlled entirely by Brad. Her value is diminished to make way for his, much in the way Julia’s was when she married him.

One of the most interesting choices the author makes is the use of an anonymous neighbourhood voice as the narrator of this tale, a bystander who speaks as a collective mouthpiece for those onlookers several steps removed from the events taking place. Whilst this seems to defy logic, as the story also claims to present the inner emotions of each character as events unfold, it also speaks uncomfortably of the power of gossip and how a whole community impassively watches as lives fall apart.

This is a novel with real impact and therefore not an easy read. Don’t get me wrong, it’s both well written and cleverly structured, but even as the narrative pulls you in it challenges your values at each and every turn. I highly recommend this.

Book Buddies

So a few weeks ago I launched a competition with the prize a chance to be interviewed by me. A fellow blogger was the lucky winner and now is our chance to get to know Monogamist Reader!

First things first, welcome to the Bookaholic Bex blog! Let’s start with introductions – tell us 3 random facts about you…

Three random facts about me: I can’t start my day without coffee, I’m pretty decent at cooking Korean food, I do a LOTR marathon at least once a year.

How did you choose your name as the “Monogamist Reader”?

Once I saw a very cute meme about different types of readers (which unfortunately I can’t find anymore), and there were many examples and one of those was the “monogamist reader”, someone who reads only one book at a time. I thought “Oh, this is me!”. I can’t read two books at the same time, I need to focus on just one story.

You have a day off with nothing to do but read. Describe to us your day.

It sounds like the perfect day, right? I don’t even remember the last time I did it. I would probably get coffee and then just stay in bed the whole day with a book. I would leave my bed only to eat something. If I need a change of scenery, I would move to my reading chair in the studio.

Why did you start your blog?

I actually don’t know how to answer this. I guess, I personally felt I wanted to connect more with other readers and discuss my latest reading obsession. I also have the tendency to start new projects and hobbies (very often I don’t continue them), but after more than one year, I am still blogging, so this hobby was a personal success, ha.

What advice would you give to any aspiring bloggers out there?

In terms of technical advice, I would say, get Canva and Trello, they help me plan and create the contents for my blog. It’s also important to plan in advance, above all when you also juggle a full-time job on the side. In terms of personal advice, don’t let it become your second full-time job. It’s very important you keep having fun blogging, and don’t give too much pressure to yourself over it – read the books you want to read when you want to. If you want a break, take a break. The blogging community is there and will wait for you. (I became a strong believer of #JOMO).

If you could meet any fictional character, who would it be and why?
Gansey from The Raven Cycle. He is such a history nerd, I think it would be fantastic to sit down and listen to all the fun facts about the ley lines.

And finally (I know this is a bit cruel!) if you could recommend just one book to the Bookaholic following, what would it be?
This question is indeed cruel! – stares at her bookshelves for 10 minutes – The Never Tilting World by Rin Chupeco. It may have its flaws in terms of character development, magic system, but it’s the basic idea of this story that really matters. Climate change is a massive issue we need to fix… like… yesterday. We may face some aspects of the world described by Chupeco in the very near future. It’s a story that made me think a lot. It’s beautifully written and it’s so much worth it.

My Dark Vanessa

I am a contradictory soul, Bookaholics. Whilst not immune to the intense hype that can surround a new publication, I am also strangely resistant to then reading said book, and it can languish on my bookshelf for months before I finally cave in and open it. There is something about all that build up and excitement that can put a text on an impossibly high pedestal and when my expectations are so great, I am often disappointed. As a result, My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell sat ignored for some time in my reading room (I make that sound like I live in a National Trust property but think more 3 bed semi on a modern housing estate) before I finally ventured between its pages. I wish I hadn’t waited so long.

Firstly let me offer some warnings: this story is about the grooming and subsequent abuse of a 15 year old girl, so if you are triggered in any way by those topics, this is not the book (or review) for you. Vanessa is a student at a prestigious boarding school in Maine, where she finds herself increasingly isolated following the breakdown of her only friendship. As her English teacher takes a growing interest in her creative talents, she soon becomes fixated on his attention and finds way to spend more time in his company. Not only is this encouraged by her 42 year old educator, but it soon becomes clear that Mr Strane is grooming her with nefarious intent. The novel is told solely from Vanessa’s perspective, both as a teenager experiencing the abuse as it intensifies and as a 32 year old facing the fact Strane has been accused by a number of girls of sexual exploitation. She truly believes that they were in love – reflected in the fact they have maintained contact throughout her adult life – yet at the same time is clearly struggling to cope with the fall out of the emotional damage the relationship has caused. It is this sense of contradiction and paradox that drives the novel forward and it becomes increasingly hard to put down as the narrative escalates.

It feels extremely strange to recommend a book about abuse or indeed to tell you how well it is written, but this is an exceptional novel and I have been unable to stop thinking about it. Russell explores the themes of manipulation, control and love with an expert touch and I was quickly caught up in the roller coaster of emotion that Vanessa was experiencing. The parallels with Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov are clear, emphasised by the fact Strane lends Vanessa his copy as part of his seduction, and this book is no less controversial. Whilst there are moments when I felt flashes of pity for the abuser, who is portrayed as a very human and complex character, there are also several powerfully defining moments that leave you in no doubt exactly who is in control: the first time they have sex, he forces himself on her despite her crying and saying no; his self-protective reaction when rumours threaten to end his career focuses entirely on himself. Russell may play deftly with the concepts of predator and prey but I was left in no doubt who was ultimately in control.

No matter your personal views on the sexualisation of minors, I defy anyone’s heart not to break as this tale unfolds. It is both a disturbing and uncomfortable read, but that makes it no less valuable or in some strange way an incredible book, with the potential to challenge your deepest held values and to even reconsider relationships in your own life as it untangles the complexity of emotional and physical abuse. My Dark Vanessa is not for the faint-hearted but is rewarding in its own way: after all, the best literature embeds itself in your mind and refuses to leave. This could not be more true of this novel.

From My Balcony to Yours

You would think by the grand old age of 41 I would be immune to “the grass is definitely greener over there” syndrome. After all, I’ve had plenty of time to make poor life decisions (check) leading me into questionable situations (check) that had seemed all too appealing compared to the mundanity of my own everyday existence (check). Yet as soon as I realised From My Balcony to Yours by Nino Gugunishvili was a collection of lockdown blogs written in Georgia, I could feel that familiar sense of jealousy start to bubble inside. Tbilisi is somewhere I am longing to visit and somehow the idea of being stuck there during Covid, rather than my own rather shabby home town, seemed so much more romantic. Truth is, of course, no matter where we have been trapped over the last 12 months, our circumstances have generally been very similar and this book vividly captures that sense of shared, universal experience that has brought so many people together.

Written as a series of short chapters addressing topics from dancing like no-one is watching to the joys of interacting over Zoom (does it even count if someone isn’t repeatedly told they are on mute?), it charts a journey we are all familiar with from the initial shock of lockdown to longer term social anxiety of the world reopening. The format lends itself perfectly to the topic, allowing the author to put voice to so many of the thoughts and feelings I too have struggled with over the last 12 months and the diversity of each section powerfully reflects the emotional see-saw we have all found ourselves riding. One example of this is the pressure created to do something meaningful with the time at home – learn a language; teach yourself to cook; use YouTube to become a brain surgeon – and Nino encapsulates skillfully how overwhelmed I too felt in the “sea of information”. As humans we are obsessed with constantly setting ourselves goals at the cost of just “being”, something we are likely to regret one day in the future.

I could also relate painfully to the way the author talks about social media etiquette and the unwritten rules that now dictate our behaviour online – what we like, how we comment, who we tag. Sites like Twitter and Facebook have become such a core component of how we keep in touch when physically distanced that they have frankly taken on a life of their own, with an attendant artificiality that can sit uncomfortably in a world where the personal is now so public. I’ve tried hard to fight against convention over the last year by posting honestly about my mental health struggles, but even I am not immune to enviously eyeing the social media posts of those who seem to have perfect lives. Nino is honest, open and intelligent in her observations and I finished the book feeling like I had made a new friend.

Logically I know the grass is rarely greener on the other side and in fact From My Balcony to Yours encapsulates just how relatable most of our Covid experiences have been. I recommend this book for its effective articulation of those feelings you may not have been able to express out loud yourself or if you simply just want to feel a little less isolated. The world is not as big as we think and you are not alone.

Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number

Take a brief look at the targeted advertising on any of my social media accounts and you will soon see how much our society promotes the pursuance of youth. From face cream to hair dye, photo filters to anti-cellulite leggings (I know, who knew they existed), I am bombarded with items intended to stop me from looking my age. Culturally conditioned to buy into the fallacy that growing older must be avoided at all cost (as I type I am genuinely anxious about the grey roots protruding through my hair, despite only dying it 3 weeks ago) I have recently realised just how persistently society marginalises women as their youth fades: tv presenters lose work; pop stars no longer get air time; and movie stars find fewer leading roles once they are “over the hill”. I have also read many novels that corroborate a negative perception of age – it limits horizons, induces an all-consuming longing to be younger, leads to terminal illness and untimely death. This is hardly an appealing advertisement for what in actual fact is the marvel of maturity, when life experience is in abundance and self-understanding at an all time high. Having encountered two particular books recently that bucked the anti-aging trend, they really brought home to me how refreshing it is to value something other than youth and I wanted therefore to share my reviews with you.

I will freely admit that I read The Switch by Beth O’Leary because I was given a free copy, but once again this proved I should not judge a book by its cover. Struggling with grief following the death of her sister and overwhelmed by life in general, Leena is given an unexpected sabbatical from work. She comes up with a genius plan: for those two months of freedom, she will swap lives with her 79 year old grandmother – exchanging everything from houses to mobile phones – giving them both a chance to experience something new. Accordingly she sets up home in a sleepy Yorkshire village, swapping her charming boyfriend and faithful flatmates for a somewhat more elderly population, whilst Eileen heads down to London to look for love. The adventures that follow completely defy the cultural expectations of each character’s age, as grandma embarks on a purely sexual fling and Leena settles into a world of wellies and planning the May Day fair. Both characters are exceptionally likeable, primarily because they are so open to experiencing new things and taking on new challenges, and it left me with the strong sense that age truly is nothing but a number. We should be able to do what we want, when we want and damn those small-minded enough to judge us.

Whilst I may have been joking (sort of) when I said Confessions of a Forty Something F##k Up sounded like my autobiography, there were many elements within the story I could truly relate to. Nell has moved back to London following the demise of her Californian business and the breakdown of her engagement. All of her friends are now married with children and have moved on considerably from the days of care-free, single-life living. Bordering on broke and renting a room from a draconian landlord who refuses to set the thermostat anywhere above 12 degrees (sounds a bit like my dad, to be honest) Nell lands a job writing obituaries and it is then she meets Cricket, an 80-something widow who is anything but the stereotypical pensioner. Cricket’s passion for life is both inspiring and infectious, not just for our heroine but also for us as readers, and together they defy the boundaries of age expectations. I found myself early on actively hoping the story didn’t take a formulaic turn (if you run out of ideas, killing off the 80 year old is always a reliable plot twist) but the author avoids falling into any of the trite clichés I was fearing. Quite frankly we all need a friend like Cricket and more books like this that challenge our view of those so often dismissed by society at large.

As someone who is consistently made to feel “over the hill” herself, I have at times looked to the future in fear of becoming utterly dispensable as time goes on, purely because of my age. Yet these books illustrate how there is always more than one narrative and we do not have to accept the stereotypes driven home by the media. So I have decided to grow old disgracefully and have as much fun as possible from this point forward, no matter what other people may think – who’s with me?

Chin Music Rhubarb

I hated sport when I was at school, Bookaholics. I was a chubby child and not built for the activities I was frequently forced to do, like running repeatedly round in circles for hours (what IS the point of athletics?) or launching myself over a pole into a soiled-looking sandpit (could we not just build castles instead?). But there was one exception to my lethargic loathing of all things physical – Wombat, a game designed by a maverick middle school teacher who seemed to instinctively know what made kids tick. It apparently combined rounders and cricket with a good old-fashioned pinch of kids running around screaming for absolutely no reason, and we all absolutely adored it. No-one really understood the rules but being allowed to play was the ultimate pleasure. So despite knowing very little about baseball, I do have some understanding of the thrill it can bring – the competitiveness, the camaraderie and the will to win – all of which Chin Music Rhubarb gives us in abundance.

I don’t often read young adult novels but accepted a copy of this to review as the premise (not to mention the title) intrigued me. This is the story of Layton, a teenage boy forced to grow up much faster than many of those around him: his mum has terminal cancer, his step-dad is simultaneously sleeping with his secretary and he finds himself homeless more often than not. Fiercely private, he has also never explained why he ditched his Little League team at the all important World Series game, and simmering resentment from his team mates isolates him even more. Will he overcome his anger at the world to integrate back into High School baseball and meet the increasingly despotic demands of Coach Nick?

From the very first scene, there is a cinematic quality to the writing that makes it easy to picture this as a movie. Yes, I would have benefited from understanding more about baseball (I found myself randomly googling various slang words throughout the novel) but the writing is strong enough that the sense of atmosphere is maintained even without that prior knowledge. This has all the ingredients of a classic coming of age story as we watch Layton grow up before our very eyes: there are the 2 best friends from childhood, Furble and Sucio; the love interest, Monique; and the caring teacher who watches over his development. That’s not to say any part of this is clichéd and it tackles some fairly heavy themes with skill – class, race and peer pressure are all interwoven as the tale progresses. Whilst I was a little disappointed that the issue of homosexuality was seemingly over-simplified (a character confides they are gay, everyone lives happily ever after) I can see this book as a useful springboard to explore such issues in more depth with teenage readers.

As someone who regularly cajoled her mother into writing me notes to get out of PE (thanks mum) I will never be a huge sports lover, but this book reminded me of how team games can reinforce some crucial life lessons. Chin Music Rhubarb is ultimately a story that encourages you to consider some of the toughest issues we encounter in society today, and whilst it doesn’t provide all the answers, it does offer a different take on being an American teen to anything on offer when I was a young adult. But that might just be me showing my age…

Recent Reads Round-up

In the old days – by which I mean 2019 – a week off work simply meant the following: a cheap flight, a new set of summer clothes (last year’s wardrobe is always just so… last year) and a much needed opportunity to clear the backlog of downloads on my kindle. Having optimistically stockpiled my leave for the last 12 months in the hope of a trip abroad (how naive and foolish I am) I now find myself with a whole week off with nothing to do but read, which is actually turning out to be pretty darn cool even without a balcony to sun myself on. If nothing else I have the chance to share with you some of my favourite recent reads, which are definitely worth you picking up if you get the chance.

There’s something about the work of Tayari Jones that captivates me – I loved An American Marriage and Silver Sparrow had me similarly hooked. This is the story of James Witherspoon, a man with 2 families, one the world knows about and one kept firmly behind closed doors. Told initially through the voice of Dana, the illegitimate child, we slowly unravel how this extraordinary set of circumstances has come about and see the bruising impact it has had on her sense of identity. The narrative moves at pace with a gathering sense of impending climax and inevitable crash as two worlds collide. It also speaks volumes about how we perceive the lives of others which are often not as perfect as we assume. I was drawn in by Jones’ language which has a rhythm and creativity all of its own, with characters so vividly captured in words that you feel like you genuinely know them. I highly recommend this.

I think most of us have probably been ghosted at one time or another (even if that term didn’t exist back in the day) and there were painful moments of recognition as I embarked on reading The Man Who Didn’t Call by Rosie Walsh. Having met her dream man and spent 7 amazing days with him, Sarah suddenly finds her new love has disappeared into thin air. Her friends think she has gone crazy – that her paramour has simply had second thoughts about their fling – but she is convinced something more is going on. This book is well-written, cleverly structured (particularly with the way past events slowly become clear) and has more twists and turns than the Big Dipper at Blackpool. I genuinely could not put this one down and recommend to anyone wanting a good escapist read.

My final recommendation is The Overstory by Richard Powers. This was a Book Club pick and when I first looked it up, I admit I was resistant, put off by both its description (five strangers summoned by trees sounded a bit “out there” even by my standards) and by it’s length (for a book about conserving trees, it is ironically heavy on paper). However I found this novel intelligent, ambitious and incredibly moving as Powers cleverly entwines the natural world with the lives of an unlikely cast of characters. The overarching theme is clearly the need for urgent action to halt the destruction of ancient woodland, a message all the more pertinent for me living near the HS2 route and seeing first hand the destruction of natural habitats. As the disparate stories we are offered slowly intertwine, the magic of nature truly comes to the fore. This is unlike anything I’ve ever read and is incredibly powerful. The fact I don’t know how else to describe it says it all but I do know it has left me with a burning desire to support the conservationist cause.

So there you have my round-up. Now forgive me if I dash, I have a very busy week of reading ahead…

Weeping at the World

Spoiler alert: this blog is not about books.

When I was younger I firmly believed that the personal and political were two entirely separate concepts. I genuinely thought I could compartmentalise current events as something far removed from my own experience and was confident they had limited effect on my own day to day existence. This was a clear example of white privilege in action and was unbelievably naive. Yet whilst I no longer have the paradoxical privilege of youthful arrogance, I sometimes wish I did – life was infinitely easier.

Having been hit hard by the events of the last week, I have chosen to write about my feelings to try and process the enormous impact they have had on the way I view my place in the world.

For those of us who have experienced mental health issues, we are all familiar with (and indeed grateful for) the concept of trigger warnings: where an author or content provider cautions us in advance of topics that may activate negative memories or thought processes based on traumatic experience. But how do we protect ourselves when the world itself is one huge activation button for the darkest and most distressing of emotions? Over the last year we have dealt with so much: the fear of catching Covid; physical estrangement from our loved ones; massive upheaval to our daily lives; and the creeping fear that this whole situation is being abused by those in power as a vehicle to erode our human rights. Compartmentalisation is no longer possible, with every single one of us affected. For me last week was the final straw.

There was deep irony to the fact that International Women’s Day dawned with a high profile media figure aggressively dismissing one woman’s brave admission of suicidal ideation. Whilst I do not consider myself particularly for or against the Royal Family, I do know from personal experience the courage it takes to publicly admit those sorts of experiences and Meghan’s words resonated with me on a deeply personal level. I know all too well the way torturous thoughts can haunt my sleepless nights (Why am I not able to cope? Why can’t I find a solution to how I feel? Why am I so broken?) and have painfully prevaricated over offloading my feelings onto those around me when they too have their own battles to fight. Yet the media have polarised this division into one of good and evil, right and wrong, focusing the collective conscience far away from their own inherent guilt in driving a woman to consider taking her own life. With prevailing themes of racism and misogyny, the whole situation has made me angry beyond measure and I am struggling to find a way to channel these emotions into positive action.

But the week did not end there. The kidnap, murder and subsequent response to Sarah Everard’s death has shocked me to the core. Yes, other women are kidnapped and murdered; yes, they don’t all get this level of media attention; and no I don’t pretend that this is right. However, sometimes one case can capture the collective imagination and be a vehicle for change. I only hope the widespread focus on this detestable crime will prompt people of all genders to reflect deeply on their core values as it has done for me. I have always been fearful of walking alone even in busy areas; I too have clutched my keys in my hand as a potential self-defence against the terror of being attacked; like many women, I have experienced male behaviour at its most abhorrent. Most shockingly of all, I have always accepted this unquestioningly as part of the female condition. We should not have to live in fear of either those around us or the organisations supposedly there to protect us. Institutional misogyny is a danger to us all and I for one will not accept it as a cultural norm.

Despite it being a tough week on Planet Bex, there are some glimmers of hope. I have taken consolation in the willingness of men in my own social networks to understand these experiences and actively turn this learning into change. I take courage in the backlash against Piers Morgan and I have some hope that the world can evolve beyond the Neanderthal views he embodies. I just fear how long this will take. Truth is, the anger I am feeling will fade and I will soon go back to the comfort of my relative privilege as a white woman in the western world. But something inside me has been triggered irrevocably and I cannot turn away from the new perspective of my place on this planet. We all have a duty to take responsibility for societal inequality and to address it head on in every way we can. Something has to change. And that something has to be us.