How Words Can Help You Cope in Hard Times | Living North

How Words Can Help You Cope in Hard Times

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When life gets tough and you can’t seem to find a way out of the hardships, The Cabinet of Calm could help you through

Many of us have been relying on books as a form of escapism recently, but rather than escape, this book will help you deal with a difficulty by defining the problem you’re facing.

The book has been designed to be picked up whenever you need a moment of serenity. You simply select the emotion from the list that reflects whatever you're feeling and head to the designated page to be offered a matching linguistic remedy. The words, alongside their definitions and stories, aim to bring you a sense of hope because, like language, our emotions are universal, so there's a word to help, whatever you’re facing and feeling.

We caught up with North East author Paul Anthony Jones to find out how language helps him…

Tell me a bit about yourself.
I’ve been writing and blogging about words and language for nearly a decade now as Haggard Hawks, and this is my eighth book. It’s a very strange job: I spend most of my days looking through old dictionaries, researching all the obscure words I find inside, and telling people about the most interesting ones. But for a language nut like me, it’s the best job in the world.

I’m always asked where the name Haggard Hawks comes from, too. A few years ago, I wrote a book called Haggard Hawks that looked at how different words often end up being connected when you look into their histories and origins. Haggard is one of those words we owe to falconry, because a ‘haggard’ hawk was originally a bird captured in the wild as an adult and then kept in captivity, rather than being captive bred. Haggard Hawks seemed like a nice snappy title, and the name stuck.

When did your obsession with words begin?
My grandparents gave me a dictionary for Christmas one year when I was a child, and I became obsessed with it. I ended up reading it cover to cover like a novel; so I think it’s fair to say this has been a lifelong interest. I used to look up words I didn’t know, and write down all the ones I found that struck me as bizarre or extraordinary in some way. I have no idea why I took to it like I did, I think I must just be hardwired that way: we have lots of pictures from when we were kids where my brother and my cousins are all playing with action figures and I’m sat next to them with a notepad and a pen.

From there, I studied English at college in my hometown, South Shields, and then at university in Newcastle. Originally, I had an eye to going into academia and taking what I was studying to research level. But, by the time I’d finished by postgraduate study, I’d become a bit disillusioned with it all, and had kind of fallen out of love with the subject from being sat in classrooms for years and years. So I took some time off and started writing just for pleasure again.

That’s when it struck me that what I was really passionate about was not just studying this amazing subject and keeping it behind classroom doors, but sharing it – and making it fun and accessible and interesting for as many people as possible.

How does it feel to have fans like Susie Dent, Richard Osman and David Baddiel?
It’s very unexpected! And it’s very humbling too, as there are a lot of people who follow Haggard Hawks who I admire hugely. (I’m a big Flight of the Concords fan, so trying to play it cool when Jemaine Clement followed me was very difficult). But it’s lovely to know that what I’m doing is being so warmly received. It makes me think that I must be doing something right, at least.

That’s one of the positives about social media, I think. An odd thing about being a writer is that there is always a bit of a disconnect between you and your readers; it’s not like a shopfront, where you’re dealing with people who are interested in what you’re doing face to face. I can write a book or a blog and put it out there in the world, and then never really have much more interaction with anyone who sees it, or reads it or buys it. Online though, that audience is right on your metaphorical doorstep (for better or worse), so seeing that what I’m doing has attracted such weighty names is really lovely.

Tell me about The Cabinet of Calm: Soothing Words for Troubled Times.
For such a positive book, I’d love to say there’s a lovely story behind it, but the idea actually came out of a really tough time for me and my family. Sadly I lost both my mam and dad within just a few weeks of each other, either side of Christmas in 2018. It was a really horrible time, and it took me and my brother a few months to pick ourselves up afterwards and process everything that had happened.

In the midst of that, something really bizarre happened. I’d walked into town in Newcastle, just to clear my head, and saw one of my dad’s shirts hanging up in a clothes shop. Seeing it there, this awful rush of grief and panic suddenly hit me out of nowhere – but then in a matter of moments it was gone again. And I can remember really vividly walking home after, just thinking ‘there’s a word for this’.

I’d stumbled across an old Scots dialect word, ‘stound,’ in a dictionary a few years earlier. It describes a feeling of grief that hits you when a loss is suddenly remembered. Somehow knowing that there was a word for what had happened in that moment made it a little easier to deal with. It was almost like the language was saying ‘you’re not the only one who’s had to deal with this.’ That’s what set me off on this path. I thought there must be more words that we’ve long forgotten or that have long sat overlooked that could give us a little bit of solace in bad times, if only we knew about them. And the stories behind 50 of them ended up in the book.

How do you hope readers react to your book?
I’d like to think the book does precisely what that word did for me that day, and just provides a little reassurance or food for thought when times are hard. It’s perhaps not a book to read cover to cover (although there are plenty of people who have done that), but rather just to dip into whenever you need a little lift through a difficult period.

Hopes for the future, whatever it may hold?
I think we’re all just looking forward to getting back to a bit of normality at the moment, so that would be nice. I’ve missed seeing my friends a lot throughout lockdown, and have a great bunch of mates at my gym that I’m looking forward to catching up with as soon as it’s safe to do so. But lockdown has at least given me lots of time to put some new ideas down on paper. I’ve actually been working on quite a few new projects throughout these past few months, including a new idea for a book that I’m really excited about. So I’d love to get properly started on those. I’m also working on a couple of things for Haggard Hawks that I’m hoping will come out towards the end of the year, or maybe early 2022 depending on how they go. So watch this space, I guess…

The Cabinet of Calm by Paul Anthony Jones, is available in hardback and paperback in all good book stores, or online at haggardhawks.com

Published in: April 2021

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