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Monday Moments: Literary Passions As Self-Discovery

Introduced By Amber Hall

This month, our theme continues to be ‘Literary Passions And Guilty Pleasures.’ I’ve been thinking about how reading and writing can be acts of self-discovery. Stories allow us to look outwards with a discerning eye, but they invite us to look inwards, too.

Whether we’re drawn to a specific genre, author or series, the books we love usually tell us something about who we are. We’re shaped by the stories we read, but the stories we seek out also reveal who we are. Whether we’re aware of it or not, our identities are shown through our bookshelves.

I’ve never really been drawn to fantasy, although I’ve always loved magical realism and dystopian fiction (the latter speaks to my cynical side, I admit). My reading habits are largely rooted in reality and I’m rarely inclined to stray too far from worldly things, no matter how appealing imagined places might be. Raised on the breadline, my survival has depended on me knowing this world inside out. My upbringing has shaped my worldview, inevitably informing the choices I’ve made (and still make) when it comes to books. As a writer, I’m equally earth-bound, tending towards personal essays and fiction inspired by the people and places I know.

The pieces I’ve chosen for my page this month, explore the idea of writing as self-discovery, revealing how our literary passions (and guilty pleasures) are inextricably linked to who we are.

First, we have a poem by Hongwei Bao, who writes about alienation in a new culture. I was drawn to the honesty of this piece, and the quiet vulnerability that comes through Hongwei’s writing.

Culture Shock

Please don’t
feel amused when I told you
about my loneliness
and homesickness
when you asked me
how are you?

I also thought
it was a good idea
when you suggested
we must meet up again

Then you shouldn’t really
have needed
my constant reminder
of our unmade appointment
three days later,
a week later.

So we met up
in your place
for a drink.
That drink turned out to be
beer and whiskey.
Not tea or coffee.
But that was OK
for I was thirsty.

You told me to
make yourself at home.
So I did.
Perhaps that was why
I missed
the last bus
and had to stay
over and sleep
with you
because your sofa
was too small
and it looked
very uncomfortable.

That turned out to be
a nice surprise.

© Hongwei Bao, 2023

Connect with Hongwei on X (formerly Twitter): @PatrickBao1


Illustrator Laura Oh has created a beautiful piece of original artwork for my page this month, which reflects the idea that our identities and mindsets are informed by our favourite reads.

Find out more about Laura’s work by visiting her website:, or connect with her on Instagram: @bylauraoh.


Next, we have a poem by Isabelle Audiger, about the power of creativity. I love the way this piece reads as a manifesto or a call to arms. We’re reminded just how important the arts are as a means of self-discovery and self-expression, particularly in times of crisis and upheaval. I often think about how radical the act of writing can be; how weighted our words are, and how much they reveal about us.

A Song

Art in a time of crisis and upheaval

One can take a look
Feel the air
Breathe in and out
Feel the pains
The dolorous spots
And wish
They’d all disappear
With a little pill

Sometimes it happens
It’s all it takes
Sometimes you have
To work a little harder
Dig deep
It will cost you

When all you have
Are your looks
And your eyes
You can only wish
For better times
Wish for
Something good to happen
Someone to appear

If not you can always
Try some new words
Peel your eyes
Find some new art
Open your mind
Work for change
Keep moving, keep dancing
For the Paradise within

If you prefer you can
Wait in vain
Turn to the Hell

You carefully build
Day in, day out
With or without us
And go on grabbing
What’s not yours

Don’t blame me
Don’t blame us
If you get stuck
While we move on
Rolling our hips
Feet tapping
Songs flowing
We’re here for a reason

We demand change
We won’t be stopped
We’re here to be creative
Use our imagination
Use our sole power
And it is mighty

Come to me, come to us

© Isabelle Audiger, 2023

Follow Isabelle on X (formerly Twitter): @isaudiger, Instagram: @isabelleaudiger and Facebook: Isabelle Audiger-Auteure


Lastly, I wanted to share a prose piece I’ve written. I’ve been thinking about the term ‘guilty pleasures,’ and, in all honesty, I’m not sure I can get on board with it –  it feels like a contradiction in terms. But my main issue is that it’s usually levelled at work that’s deemed ‘lowbrow,’ and can be a classist idea in that regard. I don’t like the fact that only a certain group of people get to decide what constitutes real art. So many of my cultural touchstones have ‘guilty pleasure’ written all over them. I think we should relinquish the notion that there’s something to be ashamed of if we’re passionate about anything other than the classics, especially as writers. No one likes a snob, after all.

Anyway, I wrote this off the cuff, thinking about an ageing vaudeville performer I once saw in Blackpool. She had wrinkles in her tights and a beehive hairdo, and I thought she was fabulous. She was the kind of character you really only get in working-class communities. What struck me most, was how much she seemed to be enjoying herself. It didn’t matter who was watching; she was completely lost in her own form of self-expression, which I think is admirable. I love old-timey variety performance and wanted to celebrate a part of working-class culture that’s largely disappeared. I don’t know whether that old lady is still dancing, but I like to think she is.

Treading The Boards

Five nights a week Vera walks from her two-up, two-down, towards the pier. In winter, when the days are shorter and the rain falls sideways, she wears a thick woollen coat bought some 50 years before. It keeps out the wind that blows, sea-churned, from the coast. It’s red. A bold, pillar-box red that stands out against the grey sky and rows of crumbling Victorian terraces. She bought it auditioning for a pantomime version of Little Red Riding Hood back in 1974.

Vera never got the part, but she still dances. It’s why the coat still fits. Her arms and legs have the same spindliness they did in her youth. Though her sixth decade shows on her face, she never acquired the paunch of old age. Panstick settles in its lines and crevices, caking in clumps, and she struggles to blend those metallic showtime shadows on her crepey eyelids. She doesn’t care, though. When she’s stood in the spotlight at the Adam and Eve, spinning wildly, Vera feels like a star.

The town isn’t what it was, of course. Fewer punters make their way up to the coast these days. It used to be bursting at the seams every weekend. People came for the cheap thrills of the British seaside. Now, the buses that once carried them here are empty and piss-stained, so the council changed the timetable and practically sealed the place off.

Back then, Vera would always dance to a crowd. The weight of all those people made the old wooden floorboards creak, but there was money in the pot for repairs. They drank and chain-smoked in groups, rowdy and eager to see Vera’s unique brand of vaudevillian cabaret. Smoke clouds rose up and glowed in the stage lights, gathering like halos above her head. She left with phone numbers and wads of cash stuffed in her bra, and always treated herself to a chippy tea on the way home. Everything she eats today comes in a can.

But as long as she’s got an audience, even if it’s just the barman Terry, she doesn’t mind. A pair of eyes is better than none, and she doesn’t have anyone else to look at her. She gave her life to the stage and chose it over men and motherhood. She had star quality, everyone said it. Vera’s friends did all that, but everyone she met wanted her to pack everything in the minute things got serious. They called her a hussy; said she embarrassed them. They complained about her painted face and spangly outfits and told her she couldn’t meet the parents. They’d still come to watch her dance, though. They’d bring along their saintly-looking wives and snatch glimpses of Vera’s thighs when no one was looking.

Occasionally, Vera still sees her old friends, Margaret and June, but it isn’t the same. They’ve gone stale, she thinks, the life leeched out of them. She wonders when they last felt alive – really alive – and counts her blessings. She gets to feel alive five nights a week, six on bank holidays. They pity her, though; she’s sure of it. The way they put their hand over hers when they speak, and look, wide-eyed, into her. As though they’re digging for something. Some nugget of truth she’s refusing to give up. Only she isn’t keeping anything from them – she’s happy as she is; always has been. She misses the crowd, sure, but it won’t stop her dancing. She wishes they’d stop acting like they know what’s best for her. They haven’t a clue.

When she dances, jazz-handed and high-kicking (even at her age), everything stops. The world feels golden, dipped in sepia and dripping in sequins. She spins, losing herself to it, and forgets the rest. It’s a kind of magic. The Adam and Eve, that little bar on the North Pier, is her home. Vera knows she’ll be dancing there until her time’s up, and maybe even after that. She created herself against the backdrop of its velveteen curtains, seagulls sounding in the distance.

© Amber Hall, 2023


Cconnect with me on Twitter: @amber_marie_123 and Instagram: @amber.marie.123

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Whether we’re aware of it or not, our identities are shown through our bookshelves.