"The Little Book of Wonder" is my latest non-fiction book for adults, which was published 1st November 2018. It is about re-discovering your curioisty, creativity and imagination, full of inspiration, provocations and exercises to try, to help you experience wonder. Details about where to buy it are below.
This is why I wrote it:
Saying the M word
I had a meeting earlier this year with my publishers, about what I might like to write next and what ideas I had. I told them I wanted to write about magic.
One of those words that always provokes a reaction, as it means many different things to many different people. It’s a heavy words, loaded with meaning, it gets a reaction (glee, dismissal, excitement, cynicism etc.). It’s a powerful but not very fashionable word. I spoke about what I meant by magic. It was an interesting and inspiring conversation and I realised I hadn’t even begun to explore what I meant by it yet.
“Wonder” I said. “I want to write about wonder”
So we agreed I would write a book about wonder and so I set about that.
If you’re wondering “why wonder?”
I want to write about wonder because I am absolutely smitten with the natural world, how beautiful and incredible it is, also with the positive and impressive things that my fellow human beings are capable of and have already achieved, and because I’d like to feel more positively about myself too. I want to be part of the growing movement of people and organisations who are telling different stories to the gloomy fear driven narratives of much of the media, to suggest creative and imaginative responses which could effect positive societal and personal change, and also to celebrate and find hope.
Loads has been written and discussed in recent years about kindness and self-care and I am glad it has been, I’m happy to have contributed to that conversation and PLEASED that it continues to open up discussion and examination of our behaviour and attitude towards ourselves and each other. Kindness has the power to change the world, self compassion has the power to save you, the two are indivisible to me, still the centre of my belief system, what I always go back to when in doubt… be kind… be kind… be kind...
When you focus on practising kindness you soon find it extends to every part of your life and informs what you eat, wear, act, how you vote, protest, travel, speak, what kind of art you make, what kind of stories you tell. Kindness is magic, because it transforms. So I still look for every opportunity to be kind. I’m working on being kinder to myself.
Yet something was troubling me, and at first I couldn’t put my finger on it. It is something around us humans placing ourselves at the centre of the universe - as if the world and everything in it is simply there to service our needs and this just doesn’t feel right.
What about animals? What about plants, trees, insects, the oceans, the atmosphere? It’s pretty impossible to ignore the very real peril we have put ourselves in by ignoring our effect on the climate and the world, so how to change it? How to go about helping without getting overwhelmed or burnt out/depressed?
This book is my humble offering as part of a solution.
Slow down a minute
Everyone I speak to is so busy, including me. This means we can easily miss the simple pleasures of watching raindrops chase each other down a window pane, looking up and seeing epic cloud formations scudding across the sky, noticing the full moon, or the sunset. We seldom have time to wonder: how does this work? Who invented that and how? Why does this work this way and not another? Could I learn to do that?
Curiosity, creativity and imagination are the cornerstones of this book, and I hope I have provided plenty of provocations and exercises to help readers get some wonder and magic back into their lives.
My hope is that if people experienced wonder and the joy that comes with that, they will cherish and fight to protect everything that gives them that experience, the world and everything in it, each other, and themselves. It’s a pretty big ambition for a small book, but for me this is just the beginning of a much larger mission. this little book is in part a result of conversations I had with both artists and scientists about wonder, and what it means to them. About what real magic is.
So here are my intentions, in a listy list
To encourage the telling and sharing of inspiring stories
To cheer people up (including myself)
To give people hope
To encourage fun and mischief
To encourage an appreciation and love of the natural world
To remind people that small actions have huge power, and therefore empower them
To invite people to experience wonder, awe, magic
To encourage creativity for its own sake
An example of the simple but profound magic of wonder
Yesterday I was in a foul mood, because I had been doing admin all day which mostly consisted of me reminding people to pay me (freelancers will know my pain), then trying to sort out various issues only to be caught in an automated voice mail loop whilst being periodically tortured by muzac (all humans will recognise my pain). I walked out. I looked up, saw geese flying in a perfect v in the sky, a little boy with his nose pressed to a flat window who saw me looking and waved, the lemon moon in the sky, the blink of canary wharf, then I saw a fox, my sisters sparkly shoes, a pile of autumnal leaves, Christmas lights in cosy windows, I heard the swish of tyres in rain and I was happy, in that moment, with those simple wonders.
If you really pay attention,nothing is ordinary
Maybe we have a chance of saving the world if we allow ourselves to appreciate and cherish it and us, maybe first we have to show ourselves and each other how incredible it is and be present and not always be so distracted and worried. Maybe we should all gift each other magic and wonder.
Next year I am going to practise what I preach. I’m working through the book I wrote and I will spent the year experiencing as much wonder as possible. I’m lucky to be directing an adaptation of Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Royal Albert Hall, which will be magical. I am also spending time and working and creating some events at Talliston House, the most magical wonderful house in the whole of England, where i have been made writer-in-residence.
In between I’ll be doing my laundry and washing up and taking my dog for a walk (but all of that is amazing, really when you think about it! That someone invented washing machines, that when I turn on the tap clean water comes out, that there is such a thing in the world as dogs and we’re allowed to hang out with them!) .
All of it is wonder-full
All of it is magic
Join me. I’m going to post a story on Facebook, twitter (@betterussell) and instagram(@bernadetterussell) most days, using #nothingisordinary #littlewonders #magic etc.
Also I’ve started a new club called Salon Wonderland. The inaugural meeting was at the glorious Last Tuesday Society around the sarcophagus table where I launched my book and we assembled wonderlanders drank absinthe, made wishes, and left messages all over London, There will be more Salon Wonderlands to come ….
Be kind, in every direction.
You can buy "The Little Book of Wonder" here or here
Special thanks to the following people who patiently answered my questions and allowed me to interview them during the writing of this book:
Dr Bentley Crudgington (twitter @Incidentallyb ), Kate Baily (http://www.lovesober.com)
Lucy Minshall-Pearson (Natural History Museum London), Dr Dominic Galliano (twitter @PhysicsDom)Kane Sinclair - Sojka (https://www.youtube.com/user/BlackBoxMagicUK) Philipp Oberlohr (http://philippoberlohr.com/wordpress/)
Stephen Wright (http://www.stephenwrightartist.com) Vanessa Woolf (https://londondreamtime.com) Louise Dumayne (http://yukonbushlife.com ) and Dr.Ruth Wareham of Warwick University.