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A jack of all trades is better than a master of one

Truly fascinating phrase, isn't it? I was made aware of this twist on it through an Instagram reel, of all things. Apparently a similar phrase was used to dismissively refer to Shakespeare, and then to all "generalists" – people interested in and fairly good at multiple things, who chose not to narrow their focus – and this second line seems to have been added on more recently. One of my favourite K-dramas,  Hometown Cha Cha Cha,  features a man who holds a whole assortment of qualifications. Known simply as Chief Hong, he's taken courses in everything from painting houses and being a realtor to fruit plating and entertaining children. (At one point, Yoon Hye-jin actually wonders if he's a certified dentist too, and doesn't seem surprised at the prospect!) We see him speak Russian, read Mandarin, communicate via sign language, repair a boat, make soap, make wine, make coffee, make a jewellery box, cook, patrol, take photographs, read poetry, collect records, f

Editing your own writing

Last week, I created a PDF guide that includes my 6-step process and checklists to help you edit your drafts more effectively.  Here's an excerpt from the introduction:  The secret to editing your work is simple: you need to become its reader instead of its writer.  – Zadie Smith  We're all required to write or create content fairly frequently, whether it's blog posts, papers, cover letters, or social media captions. With the relentless amount of content being published on every platform, it has become even more important to make sure that what we write and share is compelling, consistent and error-free. This quick guide is designed to help you do just that. Editing is a part of the writing process that should never be skipped. Follow this guide step by step once you've written a draft, and use the checklists provided after each section to ensure that your writing is in great shape before it goes out into the world. Get your copy here .

'Tis marvellous

I'm not quite sure whether I'm a plant person.  Let me elaborate. I have some plants, and I do what I can to keep them alive, but they don't always make me happy. There have been many times when I've looked at them with anxiousness, a sinking heart, and sometimes even dread. I'm pretty sure I've had dreams where they all died on my watch. And some did IRL, as kids say. But there are – perhaps more – instances when they've made my heart sing with their green life amid skyscrapers and dust, sometimes surviving despite all odds, or thriving when I'd given up. Nothing makes me happier than seeing a new leaf pushing through. So together we persist.  House plants: early days Chapter I It all began the evening before a cyclone in June 2020. There was a weather warning, and we'd been told to remove (or secure) everything from our balconies. A friend of my husband's was leaving for home, unsure when he would return during the pandemic, and he left four of

Memories of mentoring

I recently launched new mentoring and consultation services for writers , and while creating this framework, I reflected on the three years when I mentored aspiring art journalists on Art Radar Institute's online art writing course. I thought I would share some of my top tips for writing more effectively and consistently . Here is an excerpt. 1. Hit the pause button on your research.   One of the first steps we encouraged was for writers to spend some time on research and create a list of (re)sources to refer to while writing. But the key with research is knowing when to stop. Research can be endless; there's so much to learn, and you can keep finding more and more information.  It's important to know how much is just enough to get you started with the actual writing, and to shift the focus from the volume of research to its relevance. You can (and will) do further research later, in tandem with your writing, to fill in any gaps or add more depth.  Read the full article her

Gingerbread stars from Mary Poppins + one year of Food x Books

Inside the shop they could dimly see the glass-topped counter that ran round three sides of it. And in a case under the glass were rows and rows of dark, dry gingerbread, each slab so studded with gilt stars that the shop itself seemed to be faintly lit by them.  – P. L. Travers, Mary Poppins , chapter 8  The earliest memory I have about Mary Poppins is of my mom and nani singing "a spoonful of sugarrr makes the medicine go down" when we were kids, but I only watched the film when I was in my late teens, and probably not its intended demographic. I remember liking parts of it, including the word "supercalifragilisticexpialidocious", the carpet bag of miracles, the chimney sweeps, and Julie Andrews, of course. I wasn't a fan of the animation.  A few years later, I watched Saving Mr. Banks and realised P. L. Travers hadn't been a fan of the cartoons either. This film was interesting, apart from the long mansplaining at the end, but it was still a Disney film.

My winter of snow and fantasies

I've seen snow falling only twice in my life, but for some reason, I've always been fascinated by it. The first time I witnessed it was magical , and at the time, I never imagined so many years would pass before I could see it again. It's all over my Instagram, but I don't know if or when I'll actually get to be around snow. It's not even cold where I live.  So I've been living vicariously through my latest obsession: Korean dramas. I'm not sure why it took me this long, or what exactly helped me make up my mind to watch them, but there's no going back. As of yesterday, I've finished six shows and one Christmas web series , and that's not a lot by any means. (I can also read/write a bunch of words in Hangeul now!) But a few patterns have begun to emerge, and I'm eager to learn more about this world. All the shows I've watched so far have been essentially romances of different types, so perhaps these features are characteristic of the

Million dollar books

Otis commissioned me to research and write a piece on 10 of the most expensive works of literature that have ever been sold. I learnt so much while writing this piece, and also got a chance to put my auction house experience to good use! Did you know that Casanova (yes, from the film) wrote a massive memoir that was lost during World War II and then recovered? Or that Jack Kerouac typed On the Road on a single scroll that was nibbled on by a dog? Or that it was actually Jane Austen's nephew who titled her incomplete story The Watsons ? Read on for an excerpt from my article . Image courtesy of the William Blake Archive All books are not equal. Some are old and have aged well. Some were published in a first run without enough to go around. And some were signed by the author, or owned by someone famous. ‍Any of these factors might render a book rare, and in recent years, manuscripts such as The Book of Mormon and Leonardo da Vinci's Codex Leicester have commanded millions of d

Writing your family history

Lately, I've been reflecting on the importance of writing down the stories of our family history as a part of ongoing research. I previously wrote a bit about the origins of my genealogy project and where I hope to go with it, and writing and sharing more was part of that. I've already compiled a 50+ page written account for my family members, but I hope to write in new and interesting ways.  Here's an excerpt from my article where I share some starting points to write about family history. Writing and recording your family history is important to pass on stories to future generations. As a researcher, it helps you lay down everything you know, and then identify the gaps and further research questions or areas that you can focus on. If you've been researching your genealogy for a while, writing helps make sense of all the bits of information you've collected; if you haven't, it gives you somewhere to begin. And finally, writing your family history makes it ea

Anxious People order (Swedish) pizza capricciosa

Hello? You're just going to give up now, after all this? Can't we at least order pizza? In hostage films the police always provide pizza! Free of charge! – Fredrik Backman, Anxious People, chapter 41 If I had to, I'd describe this book as a funny but profound hostage drama...sort of. But I wouldn't call it a mystery or thriller or whodunnit, at least as we know those genres. It's really a story about people. It has so many twists that I was left alternately reeling and delighted, and often both.  I really enjoyed Backman's narrative style and Scandinavian (from my limited experience) sense of humour, with short, crisp chapters and a conversational tone for the most part, but with enough lines that took my breath away. For instance: The bridge is covered with ice, sparkling beneath the last few valiant stars as dawn heaves its way over the horizon. The town is breathing deeply around it, still asleep, swaddled in eiderdowns and dreams and tiny feet belonging to h

Nora Seed and the Brazilian honey cakes

Nora watched Joanne bite into one of the cakes and wondered how good any plan could be if it didn't involve eating something so clearly delicious as a Brazilian honey cake. She had no idea who Harley was, but she knew she didn't like them. – Matt Haig, The Midnight Library This is a story  – or  many stories  –  about possibilities. I've long been fascinated (possibly obsessed) by the idea of parallel lives, and I even did a photo series on the theme a few years ago. I suppose it's like FOMO, but a bit more complicated, and I wonder if we all have so much potential that will never be met simply because we are limited and we can only do so much at any given time. And every time we pursue a path, all other paths diminish and become invisible. In The Midnight Library , lives are chosen, which implies some agency. However, the idea that every single choice we make affects the outcome of our lives (and those of others) feels a bit heavy, somehow, because it leaves so much r