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Book review: A Year of Living Dangerously by Del Hughes

16 Jun 2024 5 minute read
A Year of Living Dangerously by Del Hughes is published by Cambria Books

Suz Mendus

If you’ve ever considered whether heaven might be incredibly boring, found yourself spreadeagled in 10 inches of brine, or questioned why you’re panting on all fours at witching hour, then meet Del Hughes, because you’re going to get along great.

As the book’s title suggests, the award-winning feature writer and ‘eternal optimist’ is on a mission of experiences. Though each hold specific significance, no voyage is stand-alone.

Every outing – no matter how ostensibly light-hearted its retelling – embodies a truth much deeper than aforementioned brine, or pints of cider necked at an Orchard Wassail.

During ‘A Year of Living Dangerously’ we’re quickly familiarised with Del’s wild spirit in a tenor well and truly trademarked as hers. Del strives to explore the realms of the physical, the mystical, the fanciful, the emotional – and the spaces that exist in between.

What initially appears as a deep dive into Del’s self-set challenges, firmly rooted in extroversion, these exploits are soon revealed to be a telling revelation of coming to terms with ‘it’: loss, grief, menopause, disability, the fact you’re stuck in a budget hotel off the M4 watching the ‘Alan Partridge of psychics’.

Intriguing

Before the narrative has even begun, we’re hurtling past intriguing details; how Del learned to clean, load, and shoot a pistol in Estonia, that she has an acquaintance who’s an ‘under sea welder in Iraq’, that Microsoft Copilot accused her of cyberbullying.

But suddenly, we handbrake turn into a silent art gallery, and the catalyst of Del’s new, dangerous era.

Del quickly establishes herself as a nonconformist (and non-artist) citing the birthplace of her riotous year: a life drawing session where Del’s advised she may be better suited to a potato printing workshop.

Armed with only a black graphite and a trusty pal by her side, Del’s mind is made up: she’s going to try, do, see, craft, love, loathe, and document her way through a plethora of exploits.

With characteristic self-deprecation, these capers include (but are not limited to) imagining you’re a world-famous surgeon when removing a Covid mask, the beginnings of wiccan ceremonies at ancient sites; the ends of wiccan ceremonies in the boot of a Renault Kangoo, being slathered in petroleum jelly, fire walking, and disproving of gong rituals.

Profundity

Throughout the collection of essays, we’re brought back to the fundamentals of living well, and the art of doing and trying, not just ‘succeeding’.

As we breeze through seemingly light-hearted retellings, shadows of emerging profundity are cast through the adventures.

Huge topics and heavy scenes initially seem unexplored, only to make reflective appearances later on – a reminder from the author that for all the book’s fun, ‘A Year of Living Dangerously’ comes from a place of lived experience of the mortality of your most-loved, and yourself.

The absence and presence of Del’s parents are felt in equal measure, underlining the book’s themes. We experience her mother’s funeral and wake (under strict instructions to stay until last orders). We hear her mother’s voice, echoing through cavernous lulls of acute grief, telling Del to persevere.

Though a screening of The Hobbit shortly before her mother’s death prompts Del into action, it is her father who’s credited with her adventurous streak, derived from a childhood fuelled by visits to historical sites, The Mabinogion, and Yellow Pages-inspired party tricks.

Candour

Del possesses a candour when dealing with life’s starker moments: her own health, the diagnosis and treatment of a friend. Reflections of a ‘passive past’ as she’s grappled with her own fluctuating wellbeing add a sincere preface to pagan ceremonies on Cefn Bryn.

During an interview in Shoreditch, she notices ‘a whole host of hidden neuroses and insecurities waiting to…erode what little confidence I have’.

But the great thing about Del is she’s fighting back.

She’s exploring the world in person, or through an iPad gifted to her by her mother. She’s dreading her turn at poetry slams and sitting through ballets she can’t stand before having her mind changed.

She’s telling us adventure is what you make it, and the importance of it is in the doing, the trying, the failing, the winning – plus making time to get ‘quietly hammered on G&Ts’.

Strength

Del’s writing is unfiltered, offering heartfelt insights into the driving force of these adventures.

She’s living unashamedly, finding strength in vulnerability, mostly winning, but accepting when she doesn’t.

Moreover, A Year of Living Dangerously is telling us to do The Thing, try The Experience, drink the Kool-Aid – and don’t be afraid to admit if you don’t like it.

A Year of Living Dangerously by Del Hughes is published by Cambria Books and available here.


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Del Hughes
Del Hughes
28 days ago

Thank you, Suz, for such warm words. Am so glad you enjoyed it 🥰🦌

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
27 days ago

Lets not forget the Ukulele…

Del is an exemplar in many ways but her writing was an instant hit with me and its nice when the horse’s head you backed wins…

Hope there is a book signing tour…

Del Hughes
Del Hughes
27 days ago
Reply to  Mab Meirion

Maybe, Mab. Geoff, my Kangoo, is back on the road, so who knows where we’ll pop up next? 🐴😉

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