Recent writing: My Mad Fat Interview With Rae Earl

7 things Rae Earl wants you to know about mental health

I recently had the opportunity to interview one of my heroes: author, feminist, and badass mental health advocate Rae Earl.

Rae’s iconic memoir My Mad Fat Diary, and the TV series it inspired (both brilliant – do check them out if you haven’t already!) have been so influential in shaping pop culture discussions around teenage life with mental illness.

Her latest book for teenagers,  was published in August. It’s an absolute bible of teenage mental health issues, covering depression, self-harm, anxiety, OCD, eating disorders, drugs, alcohol, relationships, and absolutely everything a young woman might need to know about keeping her mind well.

I interviewed Rae for teen magazine Betty, and we had such a giggle together. You can read an extract below, or click to read our interview in full.

7 things Rae Earl wants you to know about mental health

Now, ten years after letting us all read her teenage diaries, Rae’s latest book is part memoir, part guide to all things mental health. It’s packed full of everything she wishes she’d known when she was your age, with medical expertise thrown in by Radio 1’s Dr Radha.

We sat down with Rae to get the lowdown on It’s All In Your Head: A Guide To Getting Your Sh*t Together, the book she describes as “a brain beanbag, to have as a reference by your bed, and flop into whenever you want”.

So what are the top seven things that she hopes you’ll take away from It’s All In Your Head?

Everything can be survived

“Basically everything can be survived, and you can get through it. Just give yourself time,” Rae says – and she’s living proof. “As a teenager I was very embarrassed about being on a psychiatric ward, and mental health issues don’t usually get better over night. Most conditions have to be managed throughout our lives, but I’ve reached this age now where I’m fine to talk about those things.”

Everyone is struggling, and you don’t have to do it alone

“Everybody thinks they’re a freak, everybody’s struggling, even the people who seem to be swimming through all cocky; everybody’s having a crisis. Nobody’s perfect or got it all together. I was going to say it’s that age, but actually it’s just life – I’m 46 and I’m still winging it!” Rae laughs. “When I was at school, we never had that conversation. But if we’d had that chat, that feeling of intense alienation and loneliness could have been alleviated,” she adds.

“I think if I’d felt able to have those chats with my friends, I would have felt far less lonely, and far more able to make change, because I wouldn’t have felt so disabled by the fact I was on my own. I denied myself so much, and absolutely invalidated myself from life – it was all such a waste. Having that chat would have been so important to me, I think I would have said yes to a lot more.”

Be careful about over-sharing online

“It’s a cliché, but the biggest thing that’s changed since I was a teenager is social media,” Rae says. “If I imagine putting social media into my life at that point, I don’t think I would have managed that well at all. I would have over-shared and that would have left me vulnerable. I think it would have exacerbated my problems with my body more. But then, on the flip side, perhaps seeing other people share their experiences would have helped me accept it,” she adds.

“My diary was private, it was a place to vent everything I felt in a perfectly safe space – so I think I had more freedom to make enormous mistakes without it going viral. Now we share so much, but you do still need to have somewhere private and safe.”

Continue reading at Betty…


IF YOU NEED SUPPORT

Please note that I am NOT a psychologist or healthcare professional. If you are struggling with mental health problems, contact Mind on 0300 123 3393 or Rethink Mental Health on 0300 5000 927. In a crisis, call the free, 24/7 Samaritans helpline on 116 123.

However, if you would like to get in touch about your own experiences, or a story that you’re keen to tell, please feel free to drop me an email.

Balance: August 2017

Yesterday, after six consecutive weeks of finally making some breakthroughs, I was discharged from therapy a week early. It feels like such a small thing now, but 15 weeks ago this entire journey felt totally insurmountable. 31 weeks ago today, an A&E nurse told me I was lucky not to be dead or paralysed. And they’re the kind of words that make you reassess absolutely everything.

For about the first 25 weeks, I was pretty harsh in my assessments. I let myself be totally consumed by grief, guilt and shame – that I didn’t deserve to have survived, that I’d let everyone down, that I might as well have died because I’d never, ever be the same again. I imagined spending the rest of my life as a miserable bundle of panic and anxiety; that I’d never feel able to drive again; that all my plans – long-term and short-term – had been put indefinitely on hold.

Then, it was like a switch was flicked in my brain. I realised how counterproductive it is to beat yourself up for not recovering quickly enough. You can’t bully yourself into feeling better, any more than you can bomb a country into peace and stability. And so, on a disgustingly hungover Sunday morning in July, I had this epiphany that the more I hated myself, the more I was hurting and pushing away those I love.

Or, in the inimitable words of Mama Ru, who I can never resist quoting: “If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?”

As I wrote in last month’s post, those first few weeks afterwards were a big, creative, emotional process of figuring it all out; learning to swap resentment and self-loathing for gratitude and self-compassion. I realised I needed to carpe diem; to make my life extraordinary; to live deep and suck all the marrow out of life; basically to Dead Poets Society (yes, that’s a verb now) the hell out of my existence. So August, for the most part, has been utterly joyful – and, my god, has it raced by after seven months of time dragging its heels!

Living deep

This month I’ve immersed myself in work that I’m passionate about. I’ve witnessed the most breathtaking evening of athletics, at London 2017. I’ve enjoyed quality time with so many of my favourite people – not least the world’s most wonderful and beloved grandparents. And my back has hugely benefitted from one-on-one Pilates classes in the sunshine with Han. Seriously, is there any greater Pilates studio than the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park? I don’t think so.

I’m still not sure how it’s ended so soon, but I finished August with a wonderfully enjoyable and refreshing long weekend walking, eating and drinking in the Derbyshire Dales, with my two favourite uncles, my husband, my brother, his girlfriend, and my newly-rediscovered camera. Plus their dog and a lot of sheep, of course. It really is such a beautiful retreat from reality.

Reading has been a bit sparse this month, focused on quality over quantity, with Beta: Quiet Girls Can Run The World by Rebecca Holman, editor of The Debrief, and Odd Man Out by Nige and Elloa Atkinson.

Rebecca is one of my favourite editors to work with and Beta was such a refreshing, reassuring insight into her experience as an introverted beta boss in a working world that’s  largely set up for alphas and extraverts. It made me realise a lot about how neatly freelancing fits with my own personality, why I’d rather be my own boss than anyone else’s, and the areas where I can really channel my strengths and stretch my comfort zone.

Odd Man Out  has been tougher going, but in a good way. It’s an incredibly raw, challenging account of male mental health, anger, violence, and vulnerability. I actually only got about halfway through before lending it to a (male) friend who I realised needed it more than I did – but I’m looking forward to finishing it once he’s done!

Back to school…

It might just be all the vitamin D talking (check back in November!) but between all of that, therapy, and a secret photography project I’ve been working on*, I finally feel like myself again. In lots of ways I’ve got a real ‘back to school’ feeling about September – the anticipation of a fresh start with new possibilities, and just a tiny bit of stress and anxiety.

*More on this next week…

Balance: July 2017

Creativity is sacred, and it is not sacred.
What we make matters enormously, and it doesn’t matter at all.
We toil alone, and we are accompanied by spirits.
We are terrified, and we are brave.
Art is a crushing chore and a wonderful privilege.
Only when we are at our most playful can divinity finally get serious with us.
Make space for all these paradoxes to be equally true inside your soul, and I promise – you can make anything.
So please calm down now and get back to work, okay?
The treasures that are hidden inside you are hoping you will say yes.

Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert

At the risk of tempting fate, July has been a bit of a game-changer for me. After a shock to the system early on in the month, I’ve spent the rest of July learning to practise more compassionate acceptance. (Hello, can you tell I’m almost 10 weeks through therapy?!) It’s bloody hard work. I’ve got so used to wallowing in a cocktail of self-pity and white wine, endlessly ruminating about the past or panicking about the future – or, more often, both! – that living mindfully in the moment has proven to be a real stretch. But, after months of demanding reasons and answers that no one could give me, it feels like the best option I’ve got left.

One of the big frustrations I wrote about last month was feeling that I’d been shoved off course so forcefully that I was struggling to even make it back to square one. Like falling down a snake that wipes you off the board entirely, and then scrabbling about in the dark for any ladder that might help you back on track. Lots of the things that happened early on in July forced me to accept that there’s no point trying to get back to square one. I am where I am, it is what it is, and all I can do from here is keep moving forwards. I have to start from where I am now, use what I have available to me, and build something new.

But I’m not going to write much about the emotional journey this month. Instead, I want to focus on the doing: how I spent July tapping back into my creativity, and gently nurturing the things that bring me joy.

Reading

Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert

If June was 2017’s month of sun, sand and sea, then July’s theme was – without a doubt – Big Magic. So let’s start there. There really aren’t many books I describe as life-changing – although I’m conscious that this is the second I’ve described as such in as many months! – but Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic really was exactly what I needed to read this month.

The timing of what happened in January – coming so hot on the tails of my restful week of goal setting and planning ahead – has left me feeling really lost and directionless ever since. I started the year with so much creativity, inspiration and passion but, after the crash, fear has blocked pretty much everything in my life. I’ve coasted through the last six months, torturing myself and putting my plans on hold. Big Magic was just the kick up the arse that I needed.

Gilbert is so straightforward in her discussion of creative living, and of the courage, enchantment, permission, persistence, trust, and divinity required for “big magic” to happen. It really highlighted so many of the obstacles I’ve been putting in my own way, and helped me rediscover the inspiration that’s felt so lacking since 27 January.

Voices from the ‘Jungle’: Stories from the Calais Refugee Camp

I mean, nothing puts your own struggles in perspective quite like a book of stories from the Calais refugee camp! But, beyond my personal journey, this book is wonderful on so many levels.

Created as part of a project by the University of East London, it centres the voices and experiences of a group of refugees who otherwise feel voiceless, misjudged and maligned.

But, unlike many of the refugee stories that have come out of Calais, Voices from the Jungle also succeeds in presenting each author as a whole person. Warm, happy memories of home are presented alongside tales of extraordinary hardship and persecution. The struggles of ‘jungle’ life are described in parallel with each author’s hopes and dreams for the future. And stories of abuse, violence and deception sit side-by-side with fond recollections of camaraderie, friendship, support and compassion.

My full review of Voices from the Jungle will be in Wasafiri International Journal of Literature’s asylum-themed issue, which I’ll share here once it’s published.

It’s All In Your Head: A guide to getting your sh*t together, Rae Earl

When the TV adaptation of My Mad Fat Diary came out it was (and I think probably still is) the first, best, and most authentic representation of teenage mental health struggles that I’d ever seen on television. So I was really excited to receive an advanced copy of author Rae Earl’s forthcoming book for teens,

is a comprehensive mental health guide for young people – covering everything from eating disorders, self-harm and OCD, to parents, friendship, drugs and alcohol. Like My Mad Fat Diaryit’s packed full of Earl’s trademark wit, no-nonsense advice and raw honesty. It might be written for teenagers, but it also helped me no end!

Listening

July has been a bit of a nostalgia-fest in terms of my listening habits. Years since we last went to a gig together, this month my husband and I went to see both Green Day and Blink 182 – bands that were giants on the musical landscape of my teens. In fact we were at the O2, waiting for Blink 182 to come on stage, when I heard the devastating news of Linkin Park frontman Chester Bennington’s suicide.

You don’t ever really move on from the music that defines your teens, because it’s the first music that really seeps into your heart and soul. It’s the soundtrack to all the best and worst of those tempestuous and formative years. There are songs, like 57 – Biffy Clyro or The Middle – Jimmy Eat World, that can instantly transport me back to some of my happiest memories. Equally though, albums like Hybrid Theory and Meteora undoubtedly got me through some of my darkest times growing up.

As a literature graduate it feels almost sacrilegious to admit, but the first poetry I ever truly loved, engaged with, and felt understood by was the poetry of men like Chester Bennington. It felt raw, honest, vulnerable, and authentic. Back then, it touched parts of me that couldn’t yet put my own feelings and experiences into words. It made me feel in the way that all great literature should. RIP Chester, I hope you knew what a difference your words made to the lives of so many noughties emo kids like me. We must keep this conversation going.

(If you’ve been affected by Chester Bennington’s suicide, please call the Samaritans’ free, 24/7 helpline on 116 123 or visit mind.org.uk. Talking saves lives.)

Creating

For creative people, not creating is destructive. I’d never really thought about it that way until I read Big Magic, but Gilbert is exactly right: when I’m not channeling my energy into creating I, like her, am usually channeling it into destroying something instead. And lately that something’s been myself.

It’s not that I’ve stopped creating this year. I haven’t – far from it. But I have put limits and restrictions on myself. I’ve focused on the necessary – creation for survival – at the expense of the joyful. I need creativity to do more than simply pay my bills. I need it to nurture me, guide me, and keep me open to inspiration. So rediscovering the “just for the love of it” side to my creativity has been an important part of rediscovering myself this month.

Photography

An unexpected side effect of everything that’s happened this year is that, in July, I picked up my camera again. I’ve had my Nikon D40 DSLR for nearly ten years, since my 18th birthday. During so many of my most difficult periods since then, it’s got me out of the house and out of my own head. In my late teens, during my first year of university, and during my year abroad in Paris, photography provided an outlet to literally reframe the world around me.

Between September 2010 and September 2011 I completed a Project 365, documenting daily my life in Paris, my summer adventures, and the start of my final year. And then I stopped. Just put my camera down and didn’t ever pick it up again. I’m not really sure why. Admittedly I’d been looking forward to not having to lug a heavy camera around with me all day every day, but I quickly got out of the habit of taking it out at all. Final year took over. My Flickr account started collecting dust, while iPhone photos and Instagram became the extent of my relationship with photography.

Almost six years later, this July, I picked my D40 back up again. Thanks partly to an unlikely muse, and partly to a night time photography course with my mum, photography has again become an important creative outlet in my life. It’s also got me walking lots – which is especially great now that I’ve finally accepted running is just too high impact for my back right now. I’m excited to see where it takes me!

Being ManKind: The crowdfunding campaign exploring modern masculinity

Masculinity is in crisis. As a feminist, and as a journalist covering mental health, it’s impossible not to notice. Suicide is the biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK. Men are less likely than women to seek help for mental health problems. They’re significantly more prone to substance abuse than women. They both commit and suffer from more violent crimes.

And, while men benefit from many privileges under patriarchy, they also suffer from limiting and sexist gender roles just like women do.

The more work I do in this area, the more convinced I am that men’s mental health is a feminist issue. And tackling it has to start with some frank and honest conversations about what masculinity really means for mankind today.

Being ManKind

I was thrilled, back in December, to meet the team behind Being ManKind – a collaborative, educational project, aimed at challenging stereotypes and getting men and boys talking about what masculinity really means in the modern world.

Being ManKind is the brainchild of Darshan, Priya and Jenny from social enterprise Super Being Labs. I knew I loved this organisation as soon as they explained that the child in their logo represents their company ethos: “be curious, be creative, and don’t be a dick”.

The initiative aims to use men’s own stories and experiences to challenge traditional stereotypes of masculinity and provide positive role models. It all started with their gorgeous coffee table book, Being ManKind Vol. 1, a collection of inspiring stories told by men from all walks of life – from a paratrooper living with the loss of his legs, to a comedian grappling with anorexia, and a foreword by boxer Anthony Joshua.

The book is a fascinating read, and beautifully put together with photos capturing the whole diversity of men and masculinity. According to the Being ManKind team, their aim with the book is to “offer an opportunity for boys to draw on a diversity of experiences, to decide for themselves what it means to be a man. The book wants to show that once you get past polarised gender expectations, you find that the only unbreakable code in humanity is kindness. The idea is that through the stories told, boys and men will be inspired to forge forward as kind and confident individuals, both for themselves and those around them, allowing everybody to succeed together.”

Gender education

For every copy of the book they sell, another copy is donated to a school or youth organisation – along with educational resources and lesson plans – in a bid to spark conversations amongst young people from across the gender spectrum. “Unfortunately, the world still defines people by their gender, rather than their humanity. These gender stereotypes create expectations that not only damage those who are burdened by them, but they also cause harm to the people around them too,” explains Being ManKind co-founder Darshan Sanghrajka.

“After all, you can be powerful but compassionate, strong but weak, competitive but giving, courageous but scared… the list goes on. Gender has nothing to do with it. We need to help the next generation understand their roles as individuals, and only then can they start to positively understand their relationships with those around them. Without this, we can’t ever have an equal and just society; fear and greed will rule, rather than kindness and unlimited potential. It’s why the team and I have embarked on this project – it’s important to a just world and now, more than ever before.”

Crowdfunding

With volume 1 already under their belts, Being ManKind this week launched a Kickstarter campaign to take the project to the next level. With a £75,000 target, and more than £8,500 raised on day one, their goal is to take the Being ManKind conversation to a bigger audience, by extending their work with schools, youth organisations and charities, creating an outreach programme, and continuing to tell more men’s stories through their digital platform and future book volumes.

Please do support them if you can – I’ve pledged £35 to secure my copy of volume 2!

Being ManKind – The Mission from Super Being Labs on Vimeo.

Book editing – Putting It Out There: Life in Full Swing

I usually blog about my recent work as and when it’s published, but I missed this one somehow…

Putting It Out There was a book editing project I worked on for a big chunk of last year. Excitingly, my very own, full-colour, signed copy arrived from Shanghai this week!

Its author, Andy Griffiths, is one of my oldest friends. He’s also a ridiculously well-travelled golf coach, amateur life coach, and all round go-getter, whose life makes me exhausted just thinking about it. Putting It Out There documents the adventures, misadventures and culture clashes of his first year living and working in Shanghai, and is packed full of far more wisdom, insight and inspiration than I would ever have believed Andy capable of back when we were at school together!

It was a real honour and privilege to work with Andy on editing, re-editing and proofreading his hugely entertaining and often poignant writing. Even my much-loved, well-thumbed A Level English copy of A.S. Byatt’s Possession has not been read as many times or as thoroughly, and I’m very proud of the finished product. As an editing project, Putting It Out There was a big learning curve. There’s a world of difference between editing articles or blog posts and editing books – not least the length! I was conscious, as always, of the need to tighten Andy’s copy without diminishing his huge personality and distinctive voice, which make the book read so much as if he were chatting to me face-to-face.

One of the things I love most about freelancing is having the freedom to work with so many different, interesting clients, on such a diverse range of subjects and styles of writing. This particular project made me laugh, cry, and inspired me to be better – often all within the same working day! If you’re interested in golf, travel, or top advice on how to squeeze the most out of every moment life brings, I’d thoroughly recommend giving Putting It Out There a read.

Congratulations again Andy – I’m only a little bit jealous that you got round to writing your first book before I did – and see you in Shanghai this October!

Edited by Sarah Graham (sarah-graham.co.uk)

Editing services

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Summer mental health resources

Mental health resources to help manage your wellbeing throughout the summer holidays – part of my ongoing content marketing work for RSCPP:

Managing stress throughout the school holidays

Originally published at RSCPP:

Parents with kids at swingsSchool’s out and the summer holidays are here! If you’re a parent, this can be a mixed blessing – while it’s a wonderful time to spend with your children, it also means increased pressure to keep them entertained all day, every day, as well as possibly adding to the daily balancing act of work and childcare.

As Accredited and Registered Counsellor and Psychotherapist Jan Baker says: “The thought of the school holidays looming can be enough to turn what should be a fun and relaxing family time into a stressful six weeks. While children might look forward to long sunny days, with no homework, and a few late nights, parents can soon feel under pressure to keep their children amused, and spend extra money that they don’t have, causing stress to escalate further.”

But the summer holidays don’t have to be an ordeal. We asked RSCPP therapists for their advice on making the most of summertime with the kids, without letting it take its toll on your mental wellbeing.

Continue reading at rscpp.co.uk…


How to boost your wellbeing during the holidays

Originally published at RSCPP:

summer vacation in the hammockIn our increasingly ‘switched on’ lives, it can be difficult to take a proper break and switch off during the holidays. The summer is an important time to spend with family and friends, soaking up mood-boosting sunshine, enjoying fresh air and exercise, and getting plenty of rest to recharge your mental wellbeing.

We asked RSCPP therapists for their advice on how to really give your mental health a boost over the summer holidays.

Continue reading at rscpp.co.uk…


RSCPP’s top 16 summer reads on mental health

Originally published at RSCPP:

Woman reading bookWhether you’re jetting off or planning a staycation this summer, you’ll no doubt want to make the most of the holidays to catch up on some reading.

Whether you’re after a self-help book, or inspiring memoir, to help you plan some changes for your post-holiday return to ‘reality’; an intellectually stimulating read on the latest developments and research within the field; or a bit of psychology themed fiction, we’ve put together a list of the 16 best summer reads on psychology and mental health, using recommendations from RSCPP therapists.

Continue reading at rscpp.co.uk…


Managing eating disorders during ‘bikini diet’ season

Originally published at RSCPP:

Friend Celebrate Party Picnic Joyful Lifestyle Drinking ConceptLiving with or recovering from an eating disorder is never easy, but there are certain times of year that can make it extra specially difficult. Over Christmas and New Year you may feel under pressure to over-indulge, while the summer holidays bring their own set of problems, with pressure from all sides to get ‘in shape’ for the holidays.

From media ‘bikini diets’ and ‘beach body ready’ advertising, to conversations with friends and family about slimming down for the summer, it can be incredibly difficult to resist negative body image and focus on maintaining a healthy diet and sense of yourself – particularly for women, but also for men struggling with eating disorders. We asked RSCPP therapists for their advice on how to manage eating disorders during the summer period.

Continue reading at rscpp.co.uk…

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Sex Myth: The hidden ways you’re made to feel ashamed of your own sex life

Originally published at The Telegraph:

 

Rachel Hills was 24-year-old when she started writing a book on sex.

She was also a virgin.

At the time, she says, “the dominant story you’d hear around 20-somethings and sex was similar to now in many ways – everybody was more sexually promiscuous than ever, girls were wearing skimpier clothes, and young people weren’t having relationships anymore, just having casual sex.

“Even then I could tell that was bulls***,” she says.

As a journalist and a feminist, Hills, now 32, became fascinated by the gap between these stories and what was actually going on in people’s lives – her own included (back then, she’d just never found the right person to lose her virginity to).

Eight years on, not only has her own sex life developed, but she’s also interviewed hundreds of people – male, female, gay, straight, bi, trans, polyamorous, monogamous, kinky, vanilla, inexperienced, asexual, and everything in between – about theirs.

Those interviews, combined with academic research and her own story, make up The Sex Myth: The Gap Between Our Fantasies and Reality, a book uncovering quite a different picture of young people’s sex lives across the UK, US, Canada, and Hills’ native Australia.

“I was inspired to write The Sex Myth because I felt like a misfit when it came to this really sexually active, sexually competent ideal,” she tells me.

Continue reading at The Telegraph…

Review: ‘The What The Frock! Book of Funny Women’ by Jane Duffus

WTFrockWhat The Frock! is one of just three all-female comedy nights held in the UK. Based in Bristol, WTF! was founded in 2012 to prove a point about the abundance of funny women (and the abundance of people eager to see them perform), and recently celebrated its third birthday.

Despite its relative infancy, WTF! is a seriously passionate, ambitious brand, committed to promoting women in comedy. After just three years, WTF! has already expanded beyond Bristol, hosting shows in nearby Bath, appearing as part of the Women In Comedy Festival in Manchester, and even putting on a show at the Southbank Centre’s iconic three-day Women of the World Festival. The WTF! Newcomer Award is now in its third year, and WTF! has been featured by BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour, as well as ITV, and BBC TV and radio.

So, obviously, a book was the next natural step.

I should confess at this point that Jane Duffus, the woman who single handedly runs What The Frock! and the author of this book, has been a friend since we met through feminist circles on Twitter back in 2010. I’ve been a WTF! supporter and (occasional) audience member ever since she founded it, as well as doing odd bits of content writing and social media management for the brand. So I write this not without bias, as someone who really loves and believes in what Jane is doing for women’s comedy in the UK (and who has the tote bag, car sticker, badges, fridge magnets, bookmark, but not yet the T-shirt, to prove it!)

The The What The Frock! Book of Funny Women is a relatively skinny book, smaller than I’d expected, but it packs a punch. Jane writes on the assumption that her reader already knows women are funny – there’s no time wasted on debating ‘are they or aren’t they?’ because this book is all about letting the funny women’s work speak for itself. After briefly running through the histories both of women in comedy and the WTF! brand, Jane gets straight to the women.

With a little help from contributors including Viv Groskop, James Mullinger and Kate Smurthwaite, Jane profiles a diverse array of funny women from the last century-and-a-bit, curating their achievements and career highlights in a way that makes you go ‘god, I really want to spend the rest of the day watching French and Saunders on YouTube’. Not brilliant for your afternoon productivity if you happen to be reading it during your lunch break (as I was), but great inspiration if you’re in need of a laugh and bored of the same old men on Mock The Week.

The book’s aim is to celebrate the funniest women ever to have made us laugh, and features 71 funny women in total, in what Jane admits is far from a comprehensive list. But with highlights including everyone from novelists Jane Austen and Helen Fielding to US superstars Tina Fey, Ellen Degeneres and Sarah Silverman – with British legends Victoria Wood, Julie Walters, Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders, and so many more in between – it’s difficult to dispute the fact that Jane has made a pretty impressive start.

Besides the obvious choices, the book also features many women I’d never heard of, including Hollywood icons and music hall stars. It’s not just a perfect antidote with which to silence the tedious ‘women aren’t funny’ brigade, but also a great resource for discovering women of comedy history and lesser known funny women of today.

It’s probably not a book to read all in one go, so save something else for the beach, but the bite size chunks celebrating each of the 71 women make it ideal for dipping in and out of – you’ll be binge watching Dinner Ladies and Ab Fab in between anyway, or buying tickets for Sarah Millican’s next tour.

You can buy the What The Frock! Book of Funny Women here.

Review: ‘Walking on Custard & The Meaning of Life’ by Neil Hughes

cover-preview-front-onlyI’m fascinated by psychology, mental health and self-improvement, but I’ve always felt slightly ambivalent about self-help books – with my attitude generally falling somewhere between intrigued and cynical.

When Neil Hughes first contacted me about his book, he managed to appeal to the former and, as I read  Walking on Custard & the Meaning of Life: A Guide for Anxious HumansI realised his writing is informed by a similar self-help cynicism to my own. The result is something endearingly down to earth: Walking on Custard is a self-help book for people who don’t really like self-help books.

Walking on Custard draws deeply on Neil’s life and personality: his experiences of anxiety and self-doubt, his many adventures and misadventures, his cheeky sense of humour, and his loves of physics and sci-fi – and yet, despite this, manages to avoid becoming a book about Neil Hughes.

Hughes’ Guide for Anxious Humans blends accessible physics analogies (including the eponymous non-newtonian custard) with silly fiction, entertaining anecdotes, witty footnotes, thoughtful exercises, shedloads of humour, and an enormous amount of wisdom. All this is peppered throughout by the self-deprecating voices in Neil’s heads, most notably his inner critic, who is both intensely irritating and completely relatable.

(Neil, I have to admit at this point that my own inner critic has been giving me an awful lot of grief about how long it’s taken me to read and review your book – sorry!)

Hughes’ down to earth, sometimes silly, humour and self-deprecation make him an ideal guide through the journey Walking on Custard takes you on; approachable, honest, empathic and human. This isn’t a self-help book written by a self-proclaimed expert, and that’s actually a big part of its strength. It’s well-informed, well-researched (including a ‘Further reading for anyone interested’ section) but it’s also written from the heart, by someone with first-hand experience of everything he describes.

As a guide for anxious humans, Walking on Custard covers a lot of ground – from the big, existential issues like death and the meaning of life, to the more everyday challenges like self-awareness and personal ‘monkeys’, relationships with others, and plenty more besides. At times it’s a bit ‘blokey’, but so many of his experiences and insights struck a chord with me, and it’s clearly a book that has a lot to offer anxious humans everywhere. It’s inspiring without being over-ambitious; challenging without being preachy; insightful without making you cringe (too much!); and funny without being dismissive.

In short, Hughes manages to achieve what many self-help books lack: warmth, humour, and relatablity, but without compromising on wisdom, insight, and practical, useful advice. If nothing else, it’s helped me picture my own anxiety as a giant swimming pool full of custard – and it’s remarkable how much that loosens its hold on you.

Click here to buy  Walking on Custard & the Meaning of Life: A Guide for Anxious Humans