This morning I have the urge to have a chat about something that I feel I have discovered a little late- and in all honesty is a huge reason for how I ended up here on this web-page in the first place.
These days, if you catch me on public transport or really anywhere on my own I usually have my head in a book. I always get to work 20 minutes early ensuring extra time to get a few more chapters down and I’m usually greeted by My boss having a little giggle saying something like ‘here she is, always reading this one is’.
To say that reading has become a big part of my days and one of the few things I do to relax would be spot on. However, anyone that knows me well enough- or knew me before I moved away to uni may be surprised by this. In fact, if you sat me down and told me to read a WHOLE BOOK even a year ago it would have been pure hell for me and torture for anyone watching me attempt the feat.
I used to get stressed out over the words, lost within the lines and really just psyche myself out. Of course, resulting in me being so frustrated that I eventually gave up only a few chapters in.
“I would rather watch the film anyways” the excuses of my past self-ooze out of the unread paperbacks hiding on the top shelf in my living room. Out of sight and unexplored. each containing a range of characters with complex storylines just waiting to leap from their seams. Their unleafed pages and perfectly uncreased spines evidence of my betrayal to each one of them.
But ladies and gentlemen I am a changed woman. now you can’t catch me without 500 pages of thrilling crime fiction in my hands (which was probably a ‘Sunday Times bestseller‘… because when aren’t they?)
“BUT WHITNEY” (i hear you cry)
“HOW DID YOU MAKE THIS DRASTIC CHANGE FROM BIBLIOPHOBE TO BOOKWORM IN THE FIRST PLACE? I AM JUST GAGGING TO KNOW!”
Well, little cherubs wait no longer because I am about to tell you.
First, let me take you back to summer 2017. I had just finished 2nd year of University and myself and my boyfriend had moved back to my seaside hometown to work for the summer. We were living at my mothers (which at the time was home for me) and I had got my boyfriend a job at the chocolate shop I worked in. so life was good.
It was early afternoon and I was on the bus going past the sandy shores on my way into work. The air was thick with salt and the sun was beating down (which is rare in the UK). To make matters a little bit more uncomfortable, the bus was packed- there was no option to sit alone so I chose to sit next to the person that I decided looked the least intimidating and the cleanest of the bunch. Nobody wants to be sitting next to B.O Barry…
As the bus rattled into town passing the ice cream stands, arcades and chippies nestled along the seafront, I opened up my bag and started to rummage for my headphones. Purse… lip balm… uni ID … hairbrush… notebook… name badge… bank letters…. damn. no headphones. Queen GaGa was not going to be keeping me company.
instead, I looked out the window and people watched. It was rare that the centre of town was so busy- with the school holidays In full swing there were families everywhere. mothers desperately trying to entertain their kids with a trip to the beach, juggling buckets and spades along the track to the main sands as their children ran towards the sea.
It wasn’t long before the bus stopped at the station, and most of its travellers alighted. leaving myself and a few others dotted around the seats. spotting an opportunity to sit alone, I darted to empty seats opposite me. giving myself and the woman I was sat next to a bit more room to breathe and some well needed personal space.
With nothing to do but wait I started to examine my fellow bus travellers, being cautious about the length of my gaze so as not to get caught looking or draw attention to myself.
The woman opposite me had soft features and a kind face. she looked motherly and I remember that she was reading a book with a bright red cover. I forget the name of it, but she looked completely engrossed in its pages. turning pages so frequently that I almost thought she must be just pretending to read.
I must have lost track of my gaze, as before I had a chance to look away- our eyes had locked. I had been caught. my cheeks felt hot with embarrassment as I quickly grabbed my bag and started desperately searching for a distraction. I found nothing and in my panic, as the bus rounded a corner my bag slipped through my legs and onto the floor. my possessions spilling out, rolling across the floor with the momentum of the bus as it rattled along.
The woman opposite me, who I had expected to be slightly creeped out by finding me seemingly staring at her, to my surprise, started to help me pick up my things. Both of us crossing the bus to gather the ridiculous amount of pens I travel with for absolutely no reason at all… I sunk back into my seat, cramming my things back into my bag when I noticed I had lost my Uni ID. Panicked I started scanning the floor for the tiny white card. For something so important, they sure are easy to lose.
“what do you study?” Her voice was soft and inquisitive.
she was holding my uni card- scanning its information on me. I lunged towards her snatching the card from her grip. then I came back to myself and realised I was behaving like the worst human being in the world. she had asked me a question… and considering she had caught me staring at her, I probably owed her an answer.
I went on to tell her about my acting, my love for film and theatre, how I people watch to gain physical character traits for my repertoire, as well as taking to opportunity to apologise for freaking her out. she was forgiving and very interested in my craft. telling me she was an aspiring author and asked how much I read of leisure as my age was her target audience. then I said it. ” I don’t read”. even back then I was ashamed.
her face was confused. she asked me how, as an actor, I could get by without reading. how surely I must immersive myself with storylines and characters to keep on creating new ones of my own. and even how as a creative I should not only be reading but possibly writing too.
It had been a long while since anyone had called me out on this, even at uni- they never really cared as long as you read what they gave you and met your deadlines. but I couldn’t ignore how much sense this stranger was making. I was denying myself of so many character types, storylines, emotions and interpretations of truth and not gaining knowledge from the sources so readily available to me. She told me I am lucky to have these things at my fingertips, and have the freedom to go to a library or a bookstore and read what I want. I am lucky to even have the ability to read, as sadly so many people around the world still cannot.
When I got off that bus I didn’t realise how much my world would change. how much she had guided me in that one chance encounter. I left with a new mindset and a list of authors to read. the funny thing is I don’t know her name- and she could very well have put herself on this list and I wouldn’t even know.
Before I went to work that day, I walked into Waterstones feeling lost and out of place. I walked over to the Crime Fiction section and left with one book. I’ll be honest I wasn’t expecting to read it all. I was expecting to fail like I had so many times before. but only this time- I didn’t.
Skipping forward to now I easily get through a book in about 2 weeks. reading on the bus and in my breaks at work. and I love it. Picking up a new book, you never know what it has in stock for you: love? Lust? Heartbreak? Murder? I am always surprised by the twists and turns. I find myself laughing out loud, or holding back a tear. and it’s remarkable.
I am ever grateful to the woman on the bus. and who knows maybe I’ll see her again one day. or maybe I have already been on the bus again with her, but we were both too engrossed in the world between the pages to notice each other.
Or maybe you’re an author, reading this now and it sounds familiar, maybe you once had an encounter with a young woman on a bus in a rundown seaside town and you had forgotten all about it until now. all I have to say is thank you. you changed my life.
And that, my beauties, is how I went from bibliophobe to bookworm. I hope you enjoyed my little story. my message to you all is to read and to share your passions with others around you. as my late auntie would say ‘you never know who you’re inspiring’ ❤