Books you need to read now – a.k.a. my favourite books of 2018

I’ve read a lot of great books this year but there have been some that have stuck out as being pretty darn special. Over the next two weeks I’ll be sharing my top 5 favourites. Have you read an exceptional book this year? Let me know in the comments or on social and I’ll add it to my list.


Today I’m going to kick things off with a book that really struck me as something quite exceptional. It’s The Astonishing Colour of After by Emily X.R. Pan. If you haven’t read it, you must.

The book tells the story of teenager Leigh as she grapples with her mother’s suicide. Guided by a mysterious red bird, Leigh travels to Taiwan to visit with grandparents she has never met. There she enters a world of colour and mystery where she tries to fit together all the jigsaw pieces of her life into something that helps her to unlock her family’s secrets and make sense of her immense loss.

Pan weaves in the story of Leigh’s best friend Axel and recounts key moments in their unfolding relationship. Moments that are sweet and nostalgic, moments that sometimes seem to be the only things that are tethering Leigh to reality. Their relationship is one built on a mutual appreciation of music, creativity and art – especially the distinct colours used to describe how they are both feeling.

Pan has this beautiful, visceral way of describing the dream-like world that Leigh escapes into. A world of heartbreaking loss that is painted with these vivid colours.

“We watch the sky turn to purple turn to black, watch the winds ushering the clouds overhead. I wonder: If you peel away all that darkness, would you find that deep YInMn blue? Maybe that’s where all the other colours are hiding – in a dimension of the world we just can’t see, between our sky and the rest of the universe.”

Suicide & mental health

At the core of the story is the suicide of Leigh’s mother and the effect her mental health had on Leigh and her father. Mental health, and suicide, are topics that we as a society need to destigmatize and some of the best ways of doing this are by talking about it, writing about it and reading about it.

As a society we can no longer afford for suicide to be something we don’t talk about and seeing it written about in such a gentle, yet thought provoking way gives me hope that the younger people reading books like this one will be more tolerant, open and accepting to people who may be battling the same demons as Leigh’s mother was.

Final thoughts

Read this book and be prepared for a heartbreakingly beautiful story of love, loss and acceptance.

Make sure you follow Emily on Facebook, Goodreads, Amazon, Instagram and Twitter.

Always You: a short story

I am so pumped to be able to share my first short story is now up on Amazon! I’ve been drawn to short fiction in recent times because I’m a slow reader (I want to speed up my reading though – let me know if you have any tips for me) and I love sitting down for 15 minutes and finishing a story in one sitting.

The format works for me as a writer too because I love fast-paced action. This means, when I’m writing romance, I get to the smooshy stuff quicker! And who doesn’t love smooshy stuff.

Always You is a quick 15-minute read about rekindling love long since past. It’s about forgiving yourself and accepting things out of your control and what it takes to move forward.

You can grab a copy of Always You for Kindle for free right now!

I’d love to know what you think.

Instagrammer of the week #038 – Illustrator Maja Säfström

Argh the cuteness that comes from Maja Säfström’s Instagram account is just crazy. Maja creates some of the sweetest little characters with some of the quirkiest (and funniest) captions. Check out her feed. You’ll adore it!

Follow Maja on Instagram and follow me too while you’re at it!

Creative Conversations – Gillian Dinh

The Marker - Gillian Dinh

Gillian Dinh started her business, The Marker by Gillian Dinh, just two years ago but she’s already amassed quite the collection of fans – myself included. She is a hand lettering artist from New South Wales who creates everything from bespoke hand-lettered names to wedding invitations and wall art. Gillian is super talented and I’m so grateful that she took part in this week’s Creative Conversation. Enjoy!

When did you first realise that you wanted to pursue a creative career?
I’ve always known I’d work in a creative industry as it’s been a passion of mine since I can remember. I’m an Artist by trade, but self-taught Designer and Letterer. I think it first clicked when I would constantly practise my signature in order to perfect it. During high school and university, I almost always re-wrote my study notes if my hand-writing appeared even the slightest bit messy, I was an absolute perfectionist when it came to that.

What artists do you admire most?
With lettering, design and murals in particular, I admire the works of Claire Foxton, Georgia Hill and Gemma O’Brien. But I’ve always been inspired by Australian Photorealistic artist, CJ Hendry since day dot. Her work encompasses so much beauty with seemingly simple hatching and scribbling techniques. It honestly blows my mind how someone can capture such intricate detail so accurately using a single medium and technique. She’s perfected her own unique style and sold an art piece to Kanye… which she presented to him in person! I mean, c’mon, she’s my idol on that achievement alone!

What is the hardest part about being an artist?
The fine line between inspiration and comparison.

What advice would you give to someone contemplating a creative career?
The creative industry is a great big world! So don’t wait. The time will never be right, and you’ll never be completely ready. I took the dive because I thought I’d much rather take risks than live my life with regrets.

What project or design that you created are you most proud of?
I’m proud of all my works, but I’d probably say my ‘All Night Dancing’ mural at The Grand Hotel, Wollongong is my favourite so far. A lot of blood, sweat and tears (literally) went into that project. The harder I work, the more rewarding the end product is. I hand-lettered the design, and due to projector failures I had to hand draw it onto the wall and then hand-painted it. I never realised how much patience and resilience I possessed until that particular project.

What are your words to live by?
Great things don’t come easy.

If you could be anywhere else in the world where would you be?
On the Amalfi Coast devouring olives, cheese, cured meats and drinking wine. Sign. Me. Up.

Follow Gillian on her website, Facebook and Instagram.

[Image credits: Alana Taylor Photography and Gillian Dinh]

Beautiful watercolours by Yao Cheng

I wanted to share these beautiful watercolur prints with you on this sunny Wednesday morning. Yao Cheng is from Columbus, Ohio and she started her design studio in 2012 after working in the fashion industry. She says that she has always had a fondness for creating beautiful works of art. “Painting and drawing has always been an extension of who I am. Ever since my mom took me to my first drawing class at the age of 3, I knew this was it. This has remained the best and most enjoyable way for me to connect with the world.”

Yao’s work is so beautiful. I’m captivated by the Santorini print below. Be sure to check out Yao’s Etsy store too.

Beautiful watercolours by Yao Cheng

Beautiful watercolours by Yao Cheng

Beautiful watercolours by Yao Cheng
Floral Movement in Orange

Office Inspiration #026

Hey there! Happy Monday. I really like this week’s office inspiration (from Waiting on Martha’s one room challenge). The space is simple, neat and uncluttered – pretty much the polar opposite of what my workspace looks like. Even though I know that I work better when my surroundings are tidy, I will continue to struggle in this chaos. I know I’m not the only one who does this (right guys?). In my case, it comes down to pure laziness. I know I should declutter but this chair is really, really comfortable. It’s a very bad habit that I have to overcome and I will…some day.

What’s the current state of your creative space? Leave a pic in the comments or show me on Facebook.

Creative Conversations – Teresa Watts

Creative conversations: Teresa Watts

It’s always very interesting to sit back and watch the artistic growth of someone. That sounds a little creepy but I promise it’s not. Today’s CC guest, Teresa Watts, is a fellow Perthite who I’ve been following on social media for ages. She’s an accomplished graphic and digital designer but she recently turned her hand to calligraphy, brush lettering and hand lettering. And WOW what talent she has!

Here’s what Teresa has to say about incorporating hand lettering into designs. “Hand-drawn elements and typography give a tactile element to an otherwise clean and simple design, grounding it in the real world where ink splatters sometimes happen and not every ‘e’ looks the exactly same,” she says. “The attention to detail and organic feel can be completely tailored to speak to your target audience, imbuing your brand message with visual interest and authenticity.”

Read on to learn more about Teresa’s creative process.

What’s on your desk at the moment?
A million pieces of paper with ink and painted lettering on them. Ink splatters. A collection of pens and brushes. My desk is always a bit of a mess, except when I have to clear a space to take photos and pretend I’m less messy than I am.

Do you have peers who inspire you? Who are they and how do they inspire you?
I’m really inspired by printmaking artists, especially the team at Beau Est Mien and Ann from the Whitman Park Print Shop. Traditional printmaking techniques are so fun, tactile and messy, and always add unique texture to type and lettering. I like seeing how creative they get with it, and their efforts to share their knowledge with the community.

What project/design/book/etc that you created are you most proud of?
I recently made a zine for learning brush pen calligraphy, which I use in my lettering workshops. Everything is hand written/drawn, including a special font I made for this project. It’s the result of a lot of feedback from previous students and has all my best tips, so I’m really proud of it! You can see it here.

When did you first realise that you wanted to pursue a creative career?
I always dabbled in art but never seriously considered pursuing a creative career until in university, when I found out that design was a career option. In retrospect, my habits of rearranging things in colour order an doodling in textbooks should have been a clue.

What is the hardest part about being a designer/artist?
The hardest thing is paying just the right amount of attention to social media – not enough to be distracted or emotionally invested in like/follower metrics, but enough to get your stuff out into the world and get noticed.

What do you do if the creativeness isn’t coming?
I like to go for a walk, or at least get up to make a cup of tea when I get stuck – I find the movement and getting away from the screen or blank page helps bring ideas out. My other trick is to just get something on the page, even if it’s scribbly and unusable – one bad idea leads to a slightly less bad idea, and then the good stuff comes after I’ve gotten into the swing of things.

You can follow Teresa on her website, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest.

Hooray it’s spring!

It’s spring down under and while we’ve had a rainy start to the new season (in my corner of the world) we’re not far from super sunny days. To celebrate spring I’ve put together a list of the cute spring stickers and printables. Have you seen other spring goodies that I should check out? Leave a comment or let me know on Facebook.

Happy Mail Studio

Talk to the Sun

The Supply Haven

The Dainty Studio


Design Sticker Prints

Mee Digi Scrap

Serli Designs

The Resin Rainbow

Happy Happy Bits

Instagrammer of the week #037 – Paper cutter Annabelle Williams

Paper cutters like this week’s IOTW Annabelle Williams would have to be the most patient, steady-handed people ever. It must take ages to create these beautiful and fragile pieces. She must have nerves of steel. I don’t think I could work with something so fragile – I am a super klutz – so it’s safer for me to stand on the sidelines and just stare in wonder.

Follow Annabelle on Instagram and while you’re at it, follow me too!

Creative conversations – Anna Blandford from Able and Game

The creative process has always intrigued me. As a writer, I rely on lots of different tools to help me stay focussed but there have been moments in the recent past that have made me doubt my ability to be creative and productive. Working solo is definitely a draw back in times like these. Without people to bounce ideas off or just engage with it can be difficult trying to move past the block. So I wrote down a list of makers who inspire me and they’ve agreed to share some insight into their creative process. I’ll be sharing a new creative conversation every Friday until December 29th so be sure to pop back in each week.

Let’s get to it shall we?

I’ve written about Able and Game lots and lots of times on the blog over the years. I’m a big fan of their funny cards. I love the illustrations and the messages – they are always quirky and unique and fun. The team behind the brand are Anna Blandford (illustrator) and her husband Gareth Meney (technical stuff behind the scenes) and judging by the followers and reviews they have on their Etsy store they make quite the team. Anna was kind enough to take some time out of her busy day to give us a quick peek into her creative world.

What’s on your desk at the moment?
A new book I have illustrated that is out later in the year, a breast pump, hand cream, phone pumping out white noise for a sleeping baby, sticky tape, our catalogue, Keep cup and drink bottle, piles of paper and mess.

When did you first realise that you wanted to pursue a creative career?
I’ve wanted to do it since I was really young. When I was a teenager, my sister and I had a market stall at a little country market selling stationery made from handmade paper. We also sold sheep manure. I think the manure outsold the stationery.

What do you if the creativeness isn’t coming?
Push through. Write down things that are coming into my head, keep working even if what you’re doing is crap. Later when I come back to this crap work I often see a seed of an idea that I can turn into something really great.

What advice would you give to someone contemplating a creative career?
Just start. Start and then work out problems. Often you think you need to have everything all perfect before you start and I don’t think this is true, I think you need some things worked out, but you don’t need everything.

What is the hardest part about being a designer?
That being a designer is only a really small part of the whole business. You have to do so many other jobs, and be motivated to do them. Taxes are not fun, book keeping isn’t fun. To be fair I don’t actually do these things, but my partner does. I think he enjoys them more than I do though.

You can follow Able and Game on their website, their blog, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Etsy.

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