It’s rare I want to read a book again before I have even finished it, but that’s the feeling I had when I was reading Mike McCormack’s Solar Bones. Set on All Souls’ Day, a day when the dead are said to return, Solar Bones is Marcus Conway’s elegy to himself. It’s his recollection of the events that took him away and then brought him back to his family’s home in Mayo. It’s a story of a series of ordinary events that come together as something extraordinary when viewed together with their ripples and their lyricism.

Solar Bones is one novel length sentence, broken up by line breaks and other bits of punctuation, like a very long prose poem. Its single sentence runs like a thread looping out to touch relationships, politics, philosophy, religion Ireland, Europe, the world, the solar system, the universe, but always coming back to a family home in Mayo. I love the sheer distance this novel covers in a series of infinte links that is just so clever in a way that doesn’t feel like it’s showing off at all.

McCormack’s choice to write in a single sentence has led to him being compared with the likes of, other great Irish writers, Joyce and Beckett. I can’t deny that it feels like McCormack has taken up something of the great Irish modernist mantle. However, I don’t want comparisons to some of the most difficult writers in the canon to put a large swathe of this novel’s potential audience off, because it is infinitely readable.

While Solar Bones certainly isn’t a thriller, it is a completely compelling read. Once you start reading you’ll find it hard to put down, in part because of its structure and in part because of its engrossing subject matter.

The only problem I had with this novel is that its single sentence structure made it hard to pick up and put down, there are no natural breaks. But that’s more of a complaint about not being able to sit down 6 hours in order to devour it in one go. Perhaps, I’ll try and do that on my inevitable second reading.

If you hadn’t guessed already, Solar Bones comes highly recommended by me. It also highly recommended by some people with a lot more literary know-how, as it won the Goldsmith’s prize last year.

When (not if) you pick up a copy from Tramp Press, Canongate Books, or anywhere else you’d buy books. Here’s my mini guide.

SOME QUESTIONS TO PONDER AS YOU READ

  • How did the single sentence structure of the novel affect your reading experience? Did you change how you read practically? Did you notice the lack of punctuation as you read, if so why?
  • McCormack’s choice to write in a single sentence has been seen as distinctively Irish. How would a similar novel written in England, or America have differed? How did you feel the novel’s Irishness coming through?
  • Solar Bones is a quiet novel of a man’s life, how did that, seemingly unexciting, subject matter grip you as you read?
  • Marcus is an Engineer; how does his profession reflect in his prose?
  • As well as a novel about a man and his family, Solar Bones is concerned with religion and politics, how did you feel they were sewn into the novel? Did you enjoy those interludes?

IF YOU WANT SOME FURTHER READING TRY…

  • The Culture Trip’s analysis of why Solar Bones won the Goldsmith’s prize
  • A lovely review of the novel from Ian Sansom in the Guardian
  • Stephanie Boland on Solar Bones and Irish modernism, and its potential resurrection, for The New Statesman
  • An interview with Mick McCormack in the Irish Times which focuses on Solar Bones but reaches out more widely to cover some of his other thoughts on writing

IF YOU WANT MORE BOOKS LIKE THIS HAVE A LOOK AT…

Why not use the Solar Bones bookmark I designed to keep your place as you read? You can print and download it for free here.

As ever, let me know if you’ve read Solar Bones, or if you have any recommendations for what I should be reading next.

Happy international women’s day! I wanted to celebrate this year by putting together some portraits of a few inspiring feminists along with some of their best quotes. I had so much fun doing this, it’s really made me excited for things to come. So without further ado, these are the illustrations:

How are you celebrating International Women’s Day?

Sometimes my mood just changes in a snap. I don’t get angry at other people. I don’t raise my voice. But I snap and end up being so short with myself. It’s like I’m just walking along, not looking where I’m going, enjoying the view, and then I suddenly fall into a massive pothole of self-dislike. It’s really weird, and I absolutely hate it. Does anyone else do that? Just drop from a solid 48 on the happiness scale to a terrifying -373?

For me those sudden spirals normally happen after something very tiny has gone wrong, and someone else is there. I think it stems from being smart enough at school that when I got a question wrong I would be jeered at and knocked down. Being right and good at everything I try, and the fear of everyone thinking I’m stupid, are so ingrained in my behaviour and sense of self that whenever I feel like I’m in a similar situation I have such a visceral reaction.

So I had to add snapping to my demons to battle list.

I’ve created two weapons to defeat this demon. The first is all about identifying the situations where you’re likely to snap. This is something I started doing naturally as I thought about doing a ‘How to tell your demons to politely fuck off’ on this topic, but I think I’ve pushed it slightly further. It led to a lot of revelations, while I haven’t really put it to the test. I can imagine that knowing a situation is likely to push me into a negative space, must cut the legs off the problem. If you pre-empt freaking out by saying “this situation has the potential to trigger me, so anything my inner voice says to me doesn’t count”, you kind of pre-rationalise your freak out, and make it way less powerful. You can download the snapping journal above for free here.

The other weapon is this breathing gif. Breathing exercises, and meditation, really do work and I use them to relax on an evening. Remembering to breathe and take a second when I feel like I’m falling, is something I’m trying hard to do. I’m not going to lie, it’s hard to remember when I just see red, but as soon as I remember I take a step back, and breathe, and just remember all of the stuff I worked through in the first section.

I’ll admit it, I’m a bit of a “control freak” as much as I don’t like that phrase. I like to know what’s going to happen, and when, and where, and who with, at least a week in advance. I don’t like people springing plans on me. I don’t like people messing with my plans, with my schedule. To an extent, I think that’s all well and good. There’s nothing wrong with having a routine. In fact, it can even be beneficial. It’s not a crime not to be spontaneous.

However, it does become a problem when, like me, you start to find deviations to your routine so stressful that you start to have anxiety attacks about them; when the idea of breaking your meal plan causes your heart to race, when missing the arbitrary laundry time you set yourself because someone else is using the washer makes it feel like there are a tonne of bricks on your chest, when people trying to make plans with you makes you resent them even though you know you love them and want to see them. My need to be in control has made me anxious, angry, antisocial and someone I don’t want to be.

So, my need to be in control of everything in my life is the next demon on my hit list. As ever, I don’t think that I’m ever going to solve the problem, just tackle it a little bit. Plus, as I said at the start, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with liking things in a certain way, and it’s probably quite a key part of my personality.

This one is more of a work sheet that requires a bit more input, because, at least for me, the war against the constant need to be in control is one that needs to be fought on a number of fronts. I went with freeform, slightly irregular boxes to help fight the fight against control one arbitrary wiggly line at a time. While this one hasn’t had an immediate effect on how much anxiety I feel over being in control, has helped me be more conscious of where that part of my personality is being a negative influence, and has encouraged me to try and break some of my bad habits. *

You can print and keep the worksheet using the pdf here, in pink and plain white.

Let me know how you get on with the worksheet and please share anything you’ve tried that helps reduce control based anxiety.

*I’m clearly not a psychologist or a therapist, so yeah, just bear that in mind – this is just me trying to tell my own demons to politely fuck off.

I’ve been living in London for 6 months now, so whilst I’m still certainly not a Londonner, I have taken the tube literally hundreds of times and have just about worked out what I’m doing. During those 6 months I’ve realised there are a lot of things you can do to make your journey go a lot more smoothly that no one really tells you before you have to do it for yourself. So, this is me telling you just in case you’re new to the tube/looking to enhance your journey.

GET AN OYSTER CARD

Just get an oyster card. Unless you’re using a contactless card (I would worry about dropping mine, but I am a bit paranoid), they are honestly the cheapest, easiest, and best way to get around the city.

KNOW WHERE YOU’RE GOING

City Mapper is honestly your biggest asset in the city. It makes it super easy to work out your route before you set off and will let you know roughly how long it will take. When you’re working out your journey it’s good to make a mental note of the number of stops you’re going and the direction you’ll be going in if you have to change lines. There’s nothing worse than having to stop in the middle of a staircase to read the board to work out where you’re going. I’d also check which exit you need when leaving a station because taking the wrong one at bigger stations like Waterloo can leave you in completely the wrong place.

HAVE A PLAN B

Things happen, tubes break down and get delayed sometimes. It’s always good to have an idea of an alternative route if you have to change half way. You don’t always get wifi in the underground so working out your alternative beforehand is the best way to prevent extra stress.

CHECK AHEAD FOR DELAYS

There’s nothing worse than getting to the tube station and only finding out when you get there that there are delays. I have felt that sinking feeling, followed by a panic of “oh shit how am I going to get to work on time now?” too many times. Check your tube lines before you set off using the TFL website, the individual line twitter accounts, or even checking your route on City Mapper. It could save you so much anguish.

STAND ON THE RIGHT WALK ON THE LEFT OF THE ESCALATOR (ALWAYS WALK IF YOU CAN)

Save yourself the ire of rushed commuters by not blocking the left of the escalator. Honestly, Londonners are honeybadgers when they’re on the move. If you’re in a hurry, or like me just hate queueing for no reason, be prepared to walk on the left. For some reason people are prepared to become world class contortionists to get onto a tube but are then happy to queue not to walk up the escalator – why?!

DON’T TRAVEL AT PEAK TIMES, UNLESS YOU REALLY CAN’T AVOID IT

If you can don’t travel at peak times, you can find out the peak times for stations on the TFL website. Why travel when you know it’s going to be overcrowded and unpleasant? I know that if you’re commuting this might seem impossible but you don’t even have to travel wildly outside of peak times to feel the benefit, I now get into work for half 8 rather than 9 and I get a seat most days.

WAIT AT THE ENDS OF THE PLATFORM

The ends of the platform are normally where it’s quietest. The only exception to this I would suggest is if you know there’s another spot that will make it easier for you to change platforms at the other end if you need to.

BE PREPARED TO SQUISH IN

If it’s busy you’re going to have to squeeze in.

REALLY DO STAND BEHIND THE YELLOW LINE

Your safety should always come first. Also, don’t push the people at the front of the platform past the yellow line, even when the platform is busy try and take half a step back. It can be really scary to think you’re going to be pushed onto the platform.

TAKE OFF YOUR BACKPACK

Not only does this help you fit into a tighter space and sit down more easily, it’s also just polite. As someone who’s on the smaller side, this is a personal request after being hit in the face too many times by people unaware of the fact that their rucksack sticks out.

AIM TO STAND BETWEEN THE SEATS

While the area by the doors looks bigger, standing between the seats if the tube is busy guarantees you breathing space and puts you in exactly the right place to nab a seat if someone gets up.

BE POLITE ABOUT OFFERING OTHERS A SEAT

If you do manage to get a seat, be conscious when someone who might need it more than you gets on board. Obviously, anyone wearing a ‘Baby on Board’ or a ‘Please Offer Me a Seat’ pin falls into this category, but anyone with a young child who doesn’t look to steady on their feet should come first too. There’s also a judgement call to be made on someone you’d class as elderly, so be polite if you think they’re on the borderline of being grateful and offended at being offered a seat.

DON’T LEAN ON THE POLES

Other people need to hold onto them – duh.

BUT DO HOLD ON!

It can be harder to stay on your feet than you realise, especially if the tube has to come to a sudden halt after someone’s coat has gotten stuck in the door.

DO TAKE THE EVENING STANDARD

Having the paper to distract me has honestly revolutionised my journey home. It’s also just nice to read a physical paper for once. Just be sure to put it in the recycling bin (normally just outside the station) when you’re done with it.

NOISE CANCELLING HEADPHONES

If nothing else works just block out your entire commute.