The small beauties

The sky was incredible in the early morning. I couldn’t sleep, which more and more seems to be the new normal, so I got up and went for a walk. Agnes Obel in my ears. Cool air. That amazing smell of rain that’s just been, and rain that’s almost arrived. Above me was a deep blue sky with white fluffy clouds just tinged on the edges with grey. Sunshine peaked through the tree tops.

(By the by, as an complete offside, Agnes Obel seems the perfect music for grey-tinged cloudy days and foggy wintry ones, just in case you’re compiling a mix tape).

It was entirely glorious, absolutely perfect.

My little cat, Laks, chirped at me while I was eating breakfast outside, not wanting to leave the sunshine. She has a new game where she hides behind a little bush of flowers and waits until I’m not looking to leap up and steal the avocado from my toast. This is the cat who prefers to play with fish, and leave it under my bed (hooray, best game ever) rather than eat it but will turn into Tom Cruise from Mission Impossible scaling the walls for some avocado. Obviously. Laks is entirely demented and I cannot imagine breakfast (or life now in general really) without her.

One of my closest friends called and I picked up the phone to an eardrum-shattering ‘Kathyyyyyy’ as only my small god-daughter can do, usually with her entire lung capacity. It seems to alternate between my name and a dinosaur roar, both of which scare Laks into hiding and leave me breathless with laughter. There’s nothing quite so all-encompassing as the devotion of a small child who wants to tell you everything about their day ever.

Now, sitting in the office catching up reading a student’s thesis, watching the clouds turn increasingly dark and rain occasionally rumble on the window and the sheep bleeting in between the showers, there is just this sense of…not calm exactly…but that, right now in this moment, things are OK. Which feels strange in itself given that I’m working on a weekend, stressed because I’m behind in this reading and don’t want to let my student down, but there it is…

And I’m beginning to realise how much these small moments matter in feeding me (my spirit and colour) amid all the stress and uncertainty and never-ending competing deadlines of what life is now, and what it’s been for the longest time. I’m not sure how to make life better in a grand over-arching sense, and what those type of changes would really truly look like and how they can actually be undertaken. There may always be a gypsy-esque part of me that always wants to go somewhere else as the wind changes, small cat in tow, But right now, if I push the stress away even in the vaguest, most metaphorical sense, and concentrate on the moment – an amazing thesis written by a tremendously hard-working student, beautiful light from the sky, and the smell of the rain – then the small beauties make right now all the better. Sheep always help as well.

This sense of OK-ness in the right now may not last and may fall away at the next stressor – and then I have to remember to find it again, that it was there. It’s becoming one of my six impossible things before breakfast – finding where the colours will be in the grey that can so easily intrude on the every day. More and more though, the sense of knowing these small beauties are waiting for me to see them brings my breath back, even when I’m still working through how to capture larger beauties and certainty in my world.

What are your small beauties?

Love and the history of the world

Yesterday was spent writing a paper about images of violence against women. It was a pretty heavy day.

Strangely enough though, I’ve been thinking about love all night. The love that Shakespeare wrote about in his Sonnet 116. I know it’s been used during a billion weddings, a million sentiments half thought out.

It’s the lines “love is not love which alters when it alteration finds, or bends with the remover to remove” that hit me every time. You know those poems (or songs or whatever) you feel in your stomach, the lines that are so true they stop your breath just for a moment…?

I wonder whether the things you read when you’re young shape how you fundamentally look at life afterwards… Much like I will always have an abiding fondness for little old ladies in small english villages (thank you Agatha Christie), my belief in love has been shaped.

“Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds, or bends with the remover to remove…”

Since reading that Sonnet , love, for me, has always been being able to allow the whole person into your heart – their perfections and imperfections – the bits that make the world sunshiney and the bits that make you want to set them on fire. You love them just as they are for all of who they are (to mangle poor Shakespeare with Bridget Jones).

And there’s such a beautiful vulnerability in that – and something that can be utterly terrifying. I never truly realised just how frightening it could be – I drank the sonnet koolaid a long time back – until I fell in love with an Irishman a little while ago. The great long distance relationship. He was a truly beautiful, good soul but he worried that I never saw the darker parts, the less beautiful parts – the parts of him that were broken. He couldn’t believe I could love all of him. And it’s not that I didn’t see them or ignored them. We all have our broken bits. It’s just that I didn’t see the point in bringing them up in everyday conversation when we were so far away from each other and they weren’t impacting on us.

But then it all started to impact on us and the distance began to feel too far away. Life got in the way of love because it does sometimes – but then I wouldn’t have given up that experience for anything in the world.

So in my heartbreak, I sought solace in another english male writer. The short story ‘Parenthesis’ in my desert-island-end-of-the-world book ‘A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters’ but Julian Barnes:

“We think of [love] as an active force. My love makes her happy; her love makes me happy: how could this be wrong? It is wrong; it evokes a false conceptual model. It implies that love is a transforming wand, one that unlooses the ravelled knot, fills the top hat with handkerchiefs, sprays the air with doves. But the model isn’t from magic but particle physics. My love does not, cannot make her happy; my love can only release in her the capacity to be happy. And now things seem more understandable. How come I can’t make her happy, how come she can’t make me happy? Simple: the atomic reaction you expect isn’t taking place, the beam with which you are bombarding the particles is on the wrong wavelength”.

The great romance that  love will change us into superheroes (no one ever loves like a first love). Love doesn’t change us in the way we expect but in ways so much better than we ever imagined, sometimes I think because there’s so much beauty in love’s messiness and imperfections. There’s something incredible about the potential in love that Barnes talks about.

And even when it ends with a heart so shattered it feels unmendable, it remains our “ever-fixed mark”. So I hold closely Shakespeare’s unshakeable belief and Barnes’ words as well – “We must believe in it, or we’re lost. We may not obtain it, or we may obtain it and find it renders us unhappy; we must still believe in it. If we don’t, then we merely surrender to the history of the world and to someone else’s truth”.

At the end of the day, I would rather be able to feel heart break because it means I’ve been capable of love, able to be open that vulnerability of being my whole self, broken and beautiful and all. And the love of an Irishman opened my eyes to a whole new world of writing to be inspired by, which could never be a loss.

It was a beautiful thing – just as the next time I fall in love will be as well.


Me and my rejections

It’s been a somewhat hard-knock life this week in the aftermath of a grant rejection. Rejections aren’t that surprising, or uncommon, but they do knock your ego, even if just a smidge and just for a moment. So I’ve been reflecting on what I wrote in response to a gorgeous friend’s blog ( and how you carry on when all you want to do is throw said [insert rejecting thing here] in the river and walk away from it all. Move to a windswept cottage on an Irish coast with a roaring fire and spend the rest of your days writing. You know, just as a hypothetical.


It’s this strange, naked thing to be a researcher sometimes, and I imagine this nudity is inhabited by anyone who offers their work up for public consumption and acceptance. There’s a vulnerability in offering something up you’ve brought to creative life. And research has always been a creative outlet in a strange way with me – I’m imagining the sighs emanating from my lovely quantitative and scientific colleagues right now, but that’s always how it’s sat with me. Research is about finding something that may not have been found before, or not seen in the same way before. You’re bringing together literature, findings (in whatever form they take), and your way of doing and writing and being. And that’s always felt creative.


And the creative has not always come easily. It’s more often than not – far more often than not – damn hard work. I’ve always loved reading about how other writers write – to know that words that flow so effortlessly on a page were the product of sweat and blood. Sylvia Plath who always had a thesaurus with her as a way to constantly find the most beautiful, perfect fitting words. F Scott Fitzgerald who wrote draft after draft after draft of his novels. There’s something calming in knowing that other writers have stared at a blank page frozen and uncertain…


Maybe that’s why rejection can be so heartbreaking. In my head, criticism is easier to manage as there’s a get-out-of-jail card, there’s a way to fix it. Sometimes, maybe. But rejection just sits there, leaving you without a way out. It’s a hard space to sit peacefully in.


So I have embraced the words of two amazing writers – once again and always – to pick myself up and start again.

The hopeful despair (despairing hope) of Samuel Beckett who wrote: Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.

And Elizabeth Gilbert whose TED talk on the failing makes me feel better in mine:

My mantras and my songs right now…


How do you find your way back to start again after rejection?

Girl walks into a bar…

Boy asks: ‘So, where do you work?’

Girl replies: ‘At the uni’.

Boys says: ‘Oh yeah, what do you do there?’

Girl answers: ‘I do research around suicide prevention’.


Boy stumbles: ‘Oh you don’t look depressed’.

*more silence* *boy finds excuse to move away*

(not quite the Hollywood meet cute)

I have never been very good at introducing myself. Although no doubt no different to a lot of people, in my head I feel deeply socially awkward and shy, with moments of charm that feel all too fleeting. But I’ve always been fascinated by people’s responses to the work I do. Lots of people see it as just another job, something different to talk about, and we engage in conversation – lots of people are very cool. The people who respond with silence or with rages of vitriol are another story and, in some ways, the vitriolic are easier to deal with. I am entirely capable of fighting the good fight and raging back at them; pulling out all the evidence I can to try and shake the stigma, in whatever way i can. It’s the silence that’s harder because there’s less to work with and the whole thing just makes me feel more awkward than normal.

Admittedly when I was younger, particularly after a long day, I veered between wanting to avoid the silence altogether (‘I am a writer’, ‘I am a researcher’ and then dodging any prompting questions) and wanting to have that discussion in an open-hearted and full-blooded manner (because this is the work that makes my heart beat and I will always be interested in how people live well after trauma). As I’ve become older, I care far less about pretending to be what I’m not or creating euphemisms for what I study and, most importantly, I’ve realised the beauty in having important conversations in random places.

So this blog will be, in many ways, my stumble towards grace as I pull apart things interesting things and try and find beautiful words for the important conversations, and sometimes the far-less-important ones.

How have you coped with trying to introduce yourself?