Hello, and welcome to the Book Club Review. I'm Laura. I'm Kate. And this is the podcast about book clubs and the books that get you talking.
Our guest today is Miranda Keeling, a woman of many talents. Actor, voiceover artist, and author of The Year I Stopped to Notice, a book that grew from her interest in observing the small everyday details of the world around her. So listen in as we sit back, slow down, and consider books that encourage us to notice things.
Miranda, it's so nice to have you here in person in the shed. Thanks for joining us.
It's really nice to be here. Thank you.
And I am very excited because I, too, am in the shed, having flown in from Vancouver a while back.
It was so nice to see you. I feel like as soon as I walked into the room, it was like I saw you yesterday.
I know – well that's partly pandemic timing, of course, right? Like what happened in the last three years? no one could say.
We should say to listeners, because you two are old friends aren't you. You were originally in a book club together?
I joined your book club,
We met at a picnic. And within about three minutes, I had invited her to join my book club. You just meet someone sometimes and you're like, 'Oh, you're my friend. You've always been my friend. Haven't you always been my friend?' Yeah. And then I was so so lucky that I got to spend time, actually with both of you, during the early days of motherhood when I was kind of losing my ... swear word. And Miranda and I went on many long walks. You know, I remember you jotting things down. I don't know if I literally saw you jotting down some of your observations, I almost feel like you would go to a certain place in your mind when you see these things.
I feel like you must have done because I was just doing it all the time. I was either putting it into a notebook or I was putting it into my phone.
We've all come a long way, haven't we and or, and Laura and I now have this podcast and you have this book, The Year I Stopped to Notice. And so it started, didn't it, out of this idea about observing the world. And then originally you were putting things on your Twitter account.
Yeah, I was using a very fledgling Twitter account as a kind of diary. I think, especially because I wasn't doing social media at the time, otherwise I didn't really conceive of how many people might end up seeing this thing. It was like I was just writing it on the Internet somewhere. I honestly had no idea where it was going to end up, I didn't realise that people would slowly start following it and sharing it. I've gone from somebody who had, I don't know, maybe ten followers, and I was an anonymous account with a ginger cat as my icon, to this thing that people follow every day from all over the world, it's been a real journey.
It seems like a really lovely thing, then, to have the opportunity to then be able to actually capture all that and take it out of this very ephemeral world, the online world, and have it be a physical object. And so you've got this lovely book, what was that process like for you?
Everything that I hoped it would be? My mum was a writer and editor and I grew up around publishing and around books. And so to have this real tangible object that you can pick up and leaf through, it is completely different to the experience of looking at something online. And I feel like one of the processes that was so lovely for me, because my mum was an editor and I saw how she used to work with her authors was to work with my editor Kiera Jamison on this. That relationship was really wonderful when it works really well, and you have somebody who can see what you're trying to do without you even telling them and you kind of mould it together. And one of the things I'm happiest with is that it has a quality to it that's very heavy for a small book. It has a nice weight to it, it has a nice feel to it. And I think all those things were really important.
We have been a little remiss because we haven't had you read anything yet. And listeners who don't follow you online or who haven't seen the book won't quite know what we're talking about here.
Well, that said it feels like it's not so straightforward, is it, to read from because it's all these little snippets. But if you've got a little bit that you think would work read aloud...
If I read you the first one that will help anyone who doesn't understand what I'm doing, see what it is because it's kind of representational. 'Little girl on the bus. Nice notebook. Me. Thanks, little girl. Is it a diary? May I write about things I see little girl like me? Me. Exactly. Little girl. Cool.' And so that, for me sums up exactly what's been happening. So this is a conversation and I've put myself in it unusually, normally the overhead stuff is strangers. But there are also lots of tiny, I guess I'd call them prose poems in a way, the little observations of human life.
I have described them to people, almost as contemporary haikus, they are in no way a haiku. But they have something of that self-contained compact storytelling.
You're absolutely right. And they're not haiku. Technically, they're not and I wouldn't pretend that they were but I've heard haiku described as trying to distil the sea in one single drop of water, and I feel like that's really relevant to what I'm trying to do. It's like a miniature window onto something that has a bigger picture beyond it. So things like – this is a very little one –Outside a fruit and veg shop in Wood Green, a little boy touches the outside of a pineapple suspiciously'.
My favourite one I can do off the top of my head isn't overhearing and it's a woman on the bus. What blusher do you use, and her friend says, oh, cold air brisk walk alcohol, or sometimes the menopause, you. And just this sort of, that's quite a big subject. But in a tiny, tiny way,
I've got a couple that jumped out at me because I think everyone who reads this is going to find different things that really resonate with them. I liked 'A little girl on the doorstep manages to negotiate an entire piece of toast while having her coat put on by her mum.' And there's a book-related one here, 'A woman pretends she isn't reading the book of a man beside her on the bus, he pretends he isn't holding it so it's easier for her to do.'
So what I think is quite interesting about this book is, once you've read it, you feel a bit inspired then by that spirit of observation. So you start looking around with a slightly sharper sense of the things that are going on in the world around you. And I was on the bus the other day, and I saw one, I thought to myself, 'Oh, I've seen a Miranda thing to notice, I was coming along on the bus. And there was a young man, quite sort of cool-looking with his headphones on. And he was passing this primary school, and the children's ball had come over the fence and was on the pavement in front of it. And as I passed, he lifted it up, threw it over the fence, and then they all cheered. They sort of jumped around and cheered. And he smiled and they smiled. And that was the really lovely thing. It was that moment of everyone just being really happy about it. And I had just observed it. But then as I continued on the bus, I sort of reflecting about the way that I bring that little story and thinking, what I suppose I want to draw people's attention to is that I do think there is something about the way that you write them, that adds something. I think there's a certain creativity in the way that you express them that's one of the things that makes this book more than just observations.
I think that that instinct is coming from an acting background, I'm always aware of writing a tiny little play or a little joke, or there's a setup there. And I think a lot about that structure when I'm writing them. So often in the notebook, I'll write it in kind of, you know, 'woman in a purple hat, looks like an owl, sandwich' or whatever. And it's as I start to write it up that I see what order the bits have to come in to surprise the reader or to give them that thing that makes them go oh, so they might look like they've just fallen out of my habit, there's quite a lot of crafting going on under the surface.
That's what I think is funny. When you try and write one yourself, then you're like, 'oh, it's not that easy'
It's very hard.
The other thing I was very surprised by as I knew what this was, before it came I had seen on your website, I've read a bit about it. And then it came. And first thing is it was smaller than I expected. Which was funny because you see things on screen and you don't know what size they are there. And it's actually it's just a little pocket book. And once I'd read it, I thought, well, that's just so perfect. It's a little book full of little things, and yet it's somehow weighty. But what I really loved was the way it made me feel. I love the way it made me feel. I love the way that reading these little observations made me just feel warm towards the human race in general. It made me feel interested in my fellow man and charmed and excited. And there's a magic there, which I really love. And what did you think, Laura?
I'm not surprised, but I am intrigued by the fact that this book, and crucially, these moments that you have been reporting on for almost a decade, have resonated around the world. Because you know, I've been diving more deeply into the physical book only since I've been back in London the last few days. And there's so much immediacy to what you're seeing and doing, because I know, London, I lived here for a decade, I know the people and coming back from North America, seeing them slightly with fresh eyes, it feels very celebratory of Londoners, and how they interact in this big, ruthless, hard hitting city that there are these moments of kindness.
That's really interesting. I've got followers from all over the world, which is fascinating to me, because people are often seeing what I'm writing at completely different times of day, for example. So I will write something in the evening, and I'll get a message from somebody on the other side of the world saying, I'm reading this over my morning coffee, here's what I'm seeing, and they'll say, you know, wherever they are in South Africa, or whatever, and I can see these things. And I think that what both of you said, they sort of tie together really nicely the sense of kind of what is human what makes us human? What are those things that we can all relate to?
I really enjoyed getting your message Kate, when you said 'I like the way this book makes me feel.' And I wanted to say 'well how does it make you feel? You know? And you were saying 'warm' just now. And yet I think if you go into the book, it's not all whimsical loveliness. And a lot of the moments that people find themselves nodding over things like that guy who struggles to put that sign up on his own for absolutely ages and then he finally sits down and lights a cigarette and gives up on the sign that he's trying to put up and it says 'team-building', we nod because we go, 'Ah, I've been there' or 'I've been on my own in those moments' and I get him and recognise him. I find it interesting that even though some of the things that I'm observing aren't essentially joyous, the fact that we recognise them from South Africa, from Canada from London, the resonance of that brings a warmth to it, I think.
Were you always an observer?
And so did you take notes before Twitter came around? Or did Twitter become the format for you to think through what you were observing and put it down into writing
feel like Twitter was really wonderful for I've been doing it since I was a child, my mum was the same, we would just walk around and in the middle of we have quite, you know, she had on I have quite tangential brains, I guess is that the way to describe it. So you're walking along talking about something and you suddenly notice something in the corner of your eye and, you know, start talking about the woman with the gold issue now one of them. But Twitter was really good for me, because I'd write a diary for a very long time, which was essentially a travel diary, because I lived in different parts of the world when I was a kid. And then I was sketching for a while at art college, I was drawing people on the tube and in cafes and stuff, that's lovely. But it can be a bit intrusive, because people realise they're being sketched, and they might even change what they're doing. And so you're altering the reality that you're observing. And then Twitter had this really tiny character limit when I started 140 characters, is now twice that. But it meant that I had to condense everything I was doing. And I'm a real I can overuse. Anyone who knows my writing will tell you adverbs and metaphor, I just with the team, I tend to kind of like, you know, what they say about you throw a metaphor into the pond of writing. And then you have to let the concentric circles that form clear before you throw in the next matter of what an iron might, you know. So it, Twitter is the medium by which I reach people with them. But it's also the constraining aspect that makes them better.
Well, I love the fact that, although the book is done, you're gonna carry on with this, aren't you and you're never going to run out of material.
I don't see an end point. I guess I could start writing them down. But I'm always going to be seeing them
and feels like a practice more than a performance. Oh, that's
an interesting thing to say, performance in the sense of,
Well, Twitter and social media is very performative. But I think as you said, you started with 10 followers, it was almost as if he thought it was an anonymous space, just kind of put it out into the ether. And I think that whenever we do something and tried to do it habitually, becomes a bit of a practice like something that is important for us to do rather than a performance like because let's be honest, like tick tock is clearly all performance, as I think what you're doing is not something that's really something crafted and part of your day to day.
That's really interesting. And actually, as I started to gain followers, initially, there's a wonderful person on Twitter called Musa Lena, I don't know if you guys know him, but he's a brilliant artist on there. Anyway, he told people that I existed, and I suddenly had from 10 followers, I remember getting 100 followers and just everyone's looking, everyone's looking, I have to say something interesting. And that's not good for your practice, is it? When you're trying to produce content to be interesting? Well, maybe it is for some people. But for me, and what I'm doing is the opposite. It needs to be literally the opposite of trying to be interesting, because it has to be recognisably true.
about books then that help us get beneath the surface of things, capturing something magical in the ordinariness of life. Those were themes that I was thinking it'd be really nice to pick up on and come up with some more recommendations for things people might like to try. Miranda, we're gonna let you go first, as I feel you're the expert. So what books have you brought along with you today?
Ah, there were so many options. But the first one I've got is called and nobody told me my Halloween Nish. She's an incredible poet who I went to see because my friend had a spare ticket because she has young children and she and her husband turned out not to be able to go together. So I was her husband for the evening. And I remember watching her listening to her deliver these poems and just thinking, I mean, I was laughing, we were in tears, it was astonishing. And what Holly does is she goes to the heart of something really difficult and just says it and doesn't worry about the exposure of that. Nobody told me it's part diary part poetry collection, and it takes her from the moment she found out she was pregnant at Glastonbury Festival, where she had intended to have a very intense time and now clearly couldn't, because she was pregnant all the way to her daughter being three. And I feel like her writings relevant to mine, because it's about the humanity of the shared experience of being a person of being a mother of being a breastfeeding mother, especially in public and all that sort of thing. And there's also real immediacy.
And is it fiction or is it a memoir?
It is a memoir. So this is the first one in the book, after kings crossed toilets after a Blue Cross. After hands and face with confused and laughing sobs. I found this spot in the middle of a field at the back of a tent with no one around. After the train journey there three hours staring at three tests, after deciding face to face was best and despite itching lips Not to phone him yet. That gave me three days left. No one knowing but me. And I found this horizontal Haven at Glastonbury. I remember reading it, I got goosebumps reading it again, because I love Glastonbury Festival. I've got a background and circus and magic and I used to perform there. I know it so well, I know the chaos of it. And to find out that you're pregnant, there would be so strange. And then also remember that feeling of the in between, where you get a test result like that, or you find out something in your life. That's huge. But for some reason, you can't say it yet. It's like this really odd time, this spaciousness, whether it's good news or bad news. And so a lot of what she does is just very simple, but it's very vast.
And what's the other one?
The other one is out run by Amy lip trot. Amy was an addict, mostly to alcohol, and she needed to get clean. And again, it's a memoir, actually, Ah, interesting. How have I done that I read so much fiction. It's a memoir of her journey from being addicted to getting clean. It's London, you know, this place that I'm constantly writing about? That's too much for her. And she's from Orkney originally, and she has to go back to Orkney, and slow down and start to really focus in on wild swimming and the natural environment in order to get her head into a place where she can start to heal. I found it really powerful. I think we read it at Laura's book
club. We did. And we did because one of our book club members wrote for the Edinburgh student newspaper with Amy Lectron, who has a new book out actually she does her time in Berlin,
called the instant by the way, so I haven't read it, but possibly picking me up on this idea of little fragments, moments and time.
I can't wait to read them and just read a little bit of her one. She's back on Orkney at this point, is midsummer it barely gets dark. She says I am lucky to have an excuse to stop and listen, it takes a few seconds for the car's engine to stop running and quieten. And then for my personal velocities come to a halt. Heartbeat to slow close to stop rustling of the noise in my head to fall away. And the sounds of the night to reveal themselves. And I don't know about you, Laura. But I've felt I enjoyed the sections that were in London, but because they were so familiar. It was really nice for me to get to Orkney, it was like a breath of relaxation. And maybe that's just also her skill as a writer. She's taking you between those two environments, feeling the same way she did. But yeah, I think her book is about being present as a practice that really resonates with me. Of course,
I do recall though, in that book, when she goes to Orkney, the internet is also her lifeline. Remember, she's on all the social feeds. And so actually, you know, there is I think in both your book and this one, something to be said for being in the moment, but still creating connections around the world through Twitter, the internet. Yeah, but it's not a dichotomy. One is not better than the other. They are different.
She's often looking at the sky as well, isn't she she's using some sort of star app to map the stars when she's looking at them. So there's very much you're right, a sort of modern technology meets this very, I'm gonna describe Orkney as bleak I've been there bleak doesn't sound right, because it doesn't have positive but it's um, bansa is really a Spanish
word or vas. Yeah,
I'm keen to read the instant because I love the outline. But I was suspicious of myself at the time and that I thought, am I loving this? Because I'm loving this or am I loving this because of the whole Orkney amazing nurse wild swimming in the clear, cold sea like all of that was just such catnip to be I felt like I couldn't separate my feelings about that from how I felt about her writing. So I am super intrigued to read the instant and see how that one lands with me. Yeah, me too. Laura, what have you got?
I am going to recommend no one is talking about this by Patricia Lockwood, which is not an under the radar book by any means. And indeed, we talked about it on our Women's Prize, possibly in another episode, too.
Yeah, we talked about it. It was it was shortlisted for the Women's Prize. And yeah,
I think it's really fitting though, because Patricia Lockwood is also deeply enmeshed in social media. And she herself rose to some level of fame with her viral tweets. And so this book we talked about, this is billed as a novel, but it's actually very much a memoir. It's a memoir. It's a memoir, and it's a memoir of two halves. So the first half is really her stew in the spiral and kaleidoscope of social media tweets. And you and I commented that it was actually quite outside of our sphere, although Miranda probably would know what she's talking about half the time. And then the second half, there's a shift in focus really, to the personal and the private because of a family tragedy that sees her gathering more closely with her loved ones. It's not a book I expected to like In fact, I thought it was science fiction when I first heard about it because they talk about the portal and they talk about the dictator. And this is all code just for Twitter and Trump but there was Something about it where I thought we were actually in a slightly different universe or maybe five years on and No, no, no, it's our universe. And I'll read a bit to give you a sense of her writing. It is written in the short paragraphs. She lay every morning under an avalanche of details blissed pictures of breakfasts and Patagonia, a girl applying her foundation with a hard boiled egg. A shiba inu in Japan leaping from pod a pod to greet its owner, ghostly, pale women posting pictures of their bruises, the world pressing closer and closer, the spiderweb of human connection grown so thick, it was almost a shimmering and solid silk. And the day still not opening to her. What does it mean that she was allowed to see this? It's more than the sum of its parts. You know, it starts off as if it is just tweets and then it really gathers pace. I think it's doing something really interesting and complimentary to Miranda's exercise and using social media to do more to connect at a different level in a different way than humanity is used to, but still do use social media for connections.
I was inclined to be a bit dismissive of it when I read it. But I have been slightly humbled by the extent to which it has stayed with me. And the extent to which I still am finding it relevant and almost something that I want to refer to so that I'm really feeling like I would like now to reread it and refresh my memory of it. Yeah, really interesting book really interesting. I want to recommend a book by Lauren elkon, who is very glamorous academic. She's very cool. French, I think, maybe Hall French based in Paris. I think. Deborah Levy is a big fan. She said, Lauren Elkins is one of our most valuable critical thinkers, the Susan Sontag, of her generation. She wrote a book a few years ago now that I absolutely love and it was called planners. And she was exploring this idea of the Flanner, the man, typically, well, exclusively, who was able to walk around the streets of 19th century Paris or whatever city and observe the world and then write about it. And this was a thing, it was a cultural thing. That was not something that was accessible to women, it was not something that women were able to do. Women can't just walk around the streets without anyone noticing them at that time, particularly, but even today, it's not really something that's so easy to do. And so it's such an interesting book. If the word Flanner conjures up visions of Bowdler boulevards and Bohemia then what exactly is a flat nose in this gloriously provocative and celebratory book Lauren Alcon defines her as a determined resourceful woman, keenly attuned to the creative potential of the city, and the liberating possibilities of a good walk. Part cultural meander part memoir, planners traces the relationship between the city and creativity through a journey that begins in New York and moves us to Paris via Venice, Tokyo and London. Exploring along the way the paths taken by the planners is planners who have lived and walked in those cities. It's been a while since I've read it, but I just absolutely loved it. And I just did want to read a little bit from the opening. So it begins the first thing you see is this photograph. It's a very striking photograph of a woman about to light up a cigarette. And then she goes on to explore a little bit what we're seeing when we look at that photograph. On a street in Paris, a woman pauses to light a cigarette. She holds up a match with one hand, its box and a glove in the other. Her tall figure aligns with the shadow of a lamppost, two forward slashes on the wall behind her as a photographer closes the shutter. She is fleeting, pausing, permanent, there are clear instructions on the wall. Default stuffy che affair, Oka Depoe long disk, and the warning is interrupted by the frame. Default stiff issue. The walls of Paris often protest no advertisements. A late 19th century ban intended to prevent the city from becoming a wasteland of billboards above the sign some letters or stencilled defiantly, or were they there first announcing that Shaka Jovi could once have been attained there are nearby. Below that someone has drawn the crude outline of the face. It is 1929 Women smoking in public has become more of an ordinary sight. But the photograph still retains an element of transgression. The day will end the woman will move on, the photographer will move on, the sun itself will move on and the lamp shadow with it. But for us, this is all we can see if this place in the past, a woman visible against the wall behind her in a field of prescriptions and Defiance is about to light up a cigarette. She stands out in her anonymous immortal singularity. So it's full of observations, looking back at women in history and how they have observed the world about them and sometimes the strategy gems that they were forced to employ in order to be able to do that and it's a really, really enjoyable read. I should just flag up as well. I just heard her on the list. refraction book calls talking about her new translation of a book by Simone de Beauvoir Lizanne set the hub. I think it's called the inseparable. And I loved hearing her talk about that. It sounds so good. So if you like the sound of Lauren alkyne and you want to hear more than I do recommend that episode, it was excellent. How's this
for coincidence, as I'm listening to you and flipping through Miranda's book, I came across this observation. In the window of a diner in Montclair, New Jersey assigned reads biggest cookies in the world. A woman standing outside, takes one final drag on her cigarette, throws it away and walks back incite. A very different woman, a very different type of advertisements and yet fitting for your, for your flat nose.
Yeah, something isn't it about just making you perhaps a little bit more sharply observant of the world around you in the stories contained in you know, just really simple things. Not the book, I wanted to flag it was very different, very different, and almost slightly hard to define. It's called Leonard and Hungary pool. And I read it because it was the one Dublin one book pick last year, I think this is this really lovely thing they do in Dublin, where every year they have a kind of mass city wide book club. I love this. Why don't we do this in London, this is so great, when everyone is encouraged to read the same book, and then you know, to comment on it and to get have conversations about it. And this is the book they chose. And I was curious. So I read it. It's the story of two men, they are friends. And one of them's called Hungry pool for reasons that are never explained throughout the whole book that might annoy you. Or you might love that. I was like, why is he called Hungry pool. But maybe that's good, maybe it's the way that you carry on thinking about it after you finished. And it's very much a book that celebrates ordinary things. It just celebrates ordinary life, ordinary families, ordinary evenings, it does give you this quite nice warm fuzzy feeling when you read it, which I can only equate with the feeling that you get if you're familiar with the programme goggle box, you know, gogglebox, this programme where we see people sitting at home on their sofas watching TV, and they're commenting on it. But what's interesting about it and enjoyable I think is not so much what they're watching as the interactions between them about what they're watching, and their conversations about what they're watching and how that then sparks off little things that they're thinking about or whatever, and let them know hungry pool has something of that quality. There's something really nice about observing this family and the interactions of this family and the very ordinary everyday things that they're doing and things do happen in this book, but nothing incredibly dramatic or disastrous happens. I actually, because I have a slight Heart of Darkness found it a little bit too nice of a read. For me it was almost a bit too cosy. I wanted it to have more bite and it's not really that book. I don't think that's what he's trying to do. But I did really appreciate it for what I think he was trying to do, which is capture something about ordinary life and why even when we're not out doing incredibly exciting and dramatic things all the time we're still living and the simple pleasures of just playing board games or eating a meal together and looking after one another. So it's very sweet. I recommend it it's less than hungry pool by Ronan Hashim the blurb says London hungry pool is a story of two friends trying to find their place in the world. It's about those uncelebrated people who have the ability to change their world, not by effort or force, but through their appreciation of all that is special and overlooked in life.
The little things well, that feels very fitting for our subject matter today.
Well thank you Miranda, so much for joining us. It's been so great to hear your recommendations and the Juris Doctor notice feels like a precious gift the book thank you for sharing it with me Yeah,
you are so welcome. It's been an absolute delight to be here to talk to you.
Kate may not remember this but you actually Canvas me and therefore her about the cover. Yes. Which is so beautiful. A cover with quotes no less from Philip Pullman and Neil Gaiman. Yeah, a friend
of mine said they haven't actually read it though. And I said no, no, they
went over long. Exactly. That's all for this episode. Books mentioned were nobody told you by Hollywood Nish. The outranked by Amy lip drop. No one is talking about this by Patricia Lockwood planners by Lauren elkon. And Leonard and hungry Paul Ronan Hashim Brandis book the year I stopped to notice is published by icon books and is available to buy now. For more you can find her at Miranda keeling.com. That's MIRANDAK Double E L I N G all go to the source and follow her on Twitter at Miranda Keeling. No matter when you listen to this episode, you can always drop us a comment and let us know your thoughts at our website, the book club review.com.uk. There you'll find the episode page with full show notes on the books we've recommended a transcript and comments forum where you can drop us a line. They go straight to our inboxes and We'd love to hear from you. Next up for us is book club. And we're going to be venturing off to Greenland with Laura's most recent book club read it Michelle, the giant and African in Greenland. As regular listeners will know, we love the frozen north and south. And so with this slimmest of excuses, we're turning it into an ice bound recommendation special. Don't miss it. This episode was edited and produced by me Kate sauce over. If you enjoyed this show, check out our website where you can find our archive of over 100. Other shows for browse through book clubs. standouts include Booker Prize winner the promise and non tastic novel matrix by Lauren grove. You can also catch up with what we've been reading outside of book club in any of our bookshelf episodes. Listen in, and let us help you find your next week. If you'd like to see what we're up to between episodes, follow us on Instagram or Facebook at Book Club Review podcast on Twitter at book club, our VW pod or email the book club review.co.uk. And if you're not already do subscribe rate and review wherever you get your podcasts which helps other listeners find us and brings us joy. Tell a friend that's good to tell them on social media. That's even better. But for now, thanks for listening and happy reading