1:1 Creative Writing Virtual Tutoring

Lifestyle, Mental Health, Writing

If staying at home is getting you down and you need something to focus your mind, I’ve got just the thing…

I’m offering some one-to-one Creative Writing tutoring sessions for kids, teens and grown-ups! Prices are totally flexible and can be negotiated between the two of us, and all ages are encouraged. At the moment, I’m teaching a handful of teenagers, a couple of ten-year-old’s (adorable) and a few grown-ups as well. So far, everything I teach is focused on writing fiction rather than poetry or short stories as I’ve more experience in that area (but if you’re desperate for a poet, drop me a line and I’ll see if I can point you in the right direction…). I’m currently offering three different Storytelling courses for these ages:

children (8-12)

teenagers (13-17)

grown-ups (18+)

Together, we’ll look at the basics of writing a story; how to create realistic characters, settings, and plots. You’ll have control over how many times we’ll meet (for most of my students, we have between 1-2 hours a week), how long you’d like to meet for (this can be anywhere between 2-6 weeks), and what you hope to learn by the end of the course.

The course is focused on getting you inspired and motivated to write the story that you want to write. For one of my current students, we’re also looking at what to do after her book is written; for example, how to write Agent Query letters and how to network as a writer. This is also something we can cover if you already feel confident in your writing but just need a little extra help with what comes next.

I’m also offering a number of free classes to children (8-12) from low-income backgrounds.

One to one tutoring is perfect for children who enjoy literacy, reading and writing, and who are missing having this creative time without school at the moment. It’s also ideal for teenagers who are looking to improve their writing, or maybe are even looking to continue creative writing at a higher academic level.

Classes will take place via Zoom, so access to a laptop and a half-decent internet connection (as well as a notebook and pen!) are required. ♡

As well as having first class degrees in Creative Writing (BA Hons) and Writing for Young People (MA), I’ve been leading freelance writing workshops for just over 3 years and have been tutoring kids & teens for 2 years with Oxford Summer Courses. I am also fully DBS checked and have worked with young people for many years.

Please do get in touch if you’d like to chat more about courses, dates, prices, or anything in-between. If you’re interested in specific course details, I can whizz my syllabus across (for 8-12s / teens) for you to look over. My email is tomlin.bethany@gmail.com and I aim to respond to every enquiry within 48 hours.

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Update: places are filling up quickly for June and early July, so drop me a line if you’d like to reserve a slot in the next few weeks.

long live the night owl: taking advantage of the witching hours

Lifestyle, Mental Health

It’s one a.m., and you’ve been lying awake for hours. Already, the anxiety of the coming day has started to creep in through the curtains and the racing thoughts are making your body restless. Unfortunately, the only logical thing to do is to lie back and force yourself to get some shut eye… Or is it?

For years I’ve been a self-acclaimed night owl, but it’s only recently that I’ve started to embrace it (admittedly because self-employment often means I can plan for an afternoon nap). I remember during my master’s, I had a job in a bookshop, one doing freelance festival production, and I had my manuscript to write at the same time. On top of this, I really wasn’t sleeping well (looking back now, I’m not sure how I managed). I’d be lying awake at at two or three in the morning planning the next opportunity I’d get to sleep — what time would I start work, get home from work, how much uni stuff did I have to do, etc… Eventually, I just started using those hours in the middle of the night to get stuff done.

I fell out of habit of embracing the night time for a little while when I was working in a cafe with regular hours, because I had time during the day to utilise and get my work done – and I fell into a good sleeping pattern because of the regularity of work. But there will always be periods of my work life and personal life when sleeping patterns are irregular; often I get enough sleep – just not at the same time as everyone else!

Who made up the rule that we have to sleep at night, anyway?

I mean, getting a decent amount of sleep is just common sense. But if our jobs mean our day starts at ten a.m. instead of seven, surely we don’t have to sleep until later either? As long as we get the classic six to eight hours, does it really matter when we do it?

Maybe it does. I’m not a scientist (or a doctor), but my tried and tested theory (albeit on just the one test subject) is that we don’t have to waste hours trying to sleep if it isn’t coming naturally. This isn’t to say that you should be running marathons or taking up a new hobby in the middle of the night, but you can do things that require movement and actually set yourself up for the next day and maybe even wear yourself out at the same time.

I’m writing this in the middle of the night, just for context, so doing a little blog post is my way of feeling productive, getting some creative juices flowing, and hopefully tire my brain out at the same time. Here are some other things that I’ve personally deemed appropriate night-time activities:

  1. Put the washing on. Do you know how nice it is to wake up with a load of washing done in the morning? What’s that, you have a life? Whatever — stick the washing on and wake up to one task crossed off your to-do list. (I’m also sad and find folding and ironing very therapeutic so this is a fun morning activity for me. Shut up.)
  2. Listen to an audiobook — or a podcast! My audible choice this month was the last Harry Potter book (again, I find this super therapeutic and it’s like forty hours long so I feel like I’m getting my money’s worth?) I’m up for podcast recommendations if you have them, but I listen to an eclectic mix. Favourite at the minute is the ten minute TED Talks series on Spotify.
  3. Read a book. Sounds like a boring old classic but it always does the trick for me. I can’t count the times I’ve woken up with the lights still on and a book balancing on my nose. Try to steer clear of the thrillers and pace-y page turners and go for something a little lighter that won’t leave you wanting more. My favourites for nighttime reading are non fiction books because I feel kind of like I’m learning something but, most of the time, I’m happy to put it down when my eyelids start drooping.
  4. Tidy your living space and then sit on Twitter for an hour. Light some candles (not if you’re super sleepy, let’s be sensible), make yourself a snack, curl up with a (decaf) brew and scroll on the internet. Tweet the other people who are still awake. Make a friend. Have an interesting discussion (steer clear of politics if post midnight). Be kind.
  5. Watch the stars. Sorry if you’re in a city. At the minute it’s pretty stormy here and cloudy at nighttime, but I still always have my curtains open (I’m optimistic that the neighbours aren’t creeps) so that I can have a cup of herbal tea whilst watching the moon and pretend I’m in a period drama or something.

You’ll have your own list of nighttime activities, I’m sure. But my point is – under the assumption you live with people that don’t mind a bit of rattling around the house at night, or you live alone – take advantage of the time you’re awake. Don’t lie there and become heavy with anxiety as you overthink every tiny detail of your life. Don’t let your bed – a place of comfort, rest, and Netflix binges – become somewhere laden with worry and fear.

Distract yourself from your racing mind (we’ve all had that if I go to sleep now, I’ll have this much sleep, if I go to sleep now… thought) and do something that makes you feel better. Sometimes it’s nice to just open your window, breathe in the witching hours, and know that you are one of the special few who are awake to witness them. There’s something really magical about being one of the few still awake in the dead of night. Everything is at a standstill – but you.

You don’t have to sleep because everyone else is sleeping — not every night, anyway. The world won’t end because you decided to do your dishes at three a.m..

Anyway… I’ve got tea to drink, edits to make and, if I’m honest, probably a bit of laundry to do, too.

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Comment with your favourite podcasts and audiobooks at the moment — I always need more.

transient vs long-term: redefining friendships as a grown-up

Lifestyle, Mental Health

Over the last couple of days, I’ve had the chance to reconnect with some friends I haven’t seen in a while. With my oldest friends, there’s rarely any awkwardness to stumble over, even if it’s been years since we last caught up. We had time to speak about friendships – and the extra value we’ve started to place on our closest pals as we approach our mid-twenties.

This last year has felt quite a transient one, friendship-wise, with some of my closest friends moving geographically further away, and some of the friends I saw every day turning out to be less reliable than I thought. I’ve started to realise that perhaps, in some circumstances, I’ve set myself up for disappointment by expecting more of people than I should have. Some of the friendships that I’d valued the most last year, for example, I’ve had to re-evaluate this year – asking myself, do I mean as much to this person as they do to me?

On Saturday, I met up with my friend Josie, who has been one of my closest friends since we met in high school, aged eleven. Our friendship has spanned over a decade, and she is one of my most trusted and valued friends. Meeting up with her made me think about the other friendships I formed in high school, and how most of the people I used to be so close to in those pivotal teenage years I no longer keep in contact with. I think the reason behind that is probably because so many of my teenage friendships were based around convenience. I was put in classes, year groups, after school clubs – and if I didn’t get on with at least some of the people I had to see every day, I would have really struggled.

So I picked my friends based on who I liked best from the people that I was stuck with – as harsh as that might sound. And some of those people, the ones I had a real connection with, like Josie, have stayed in my life since we left school and parted ways. Josie and I only really see each other once or twice a year, now (sometimes not even that much – adult life is busier than we’d anticipated it being), but every time we meet, we pick up where we left off. There is no awkwardness to stumble over, no small-talk to tiptoe around; the love is just there.

Even though I’d come to this realisation about my younger self’s friendships, I’ve noticed that I’ve fallen into similar scenarios in adult life. Sometimes, the genuine connection with people you see every day is just there, and sometimes… Sometimes, I think I’ve forced friendships that might have been better off as passing acquaintances. I think I’m learning that I’m someone who is quite eager to make meaningful connections with people — and this means I often find myself committing my time and energy to one-sided friendships. It’s time I learnt that not every person who comes into my life is meant to stay. Sometimes, people are just there to teach you something about yourself (or vice versa) that you can take on with you into the next stage of your life.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been asking myself questions whenever I feel a friendship might be a little one-sided, problematic or, frankly, not really a friendship at all. Being able to analyse my motives and emotions towards certain situations is a skill I’m still developing, but one I’m proud of. I’ve found it helpful to ask myself these three questions.

~

What does their friendship mean to you?

Sometimes, I can go months and months thinking I’m really close with someone. We see each other most of the time circumstantially, so their friendship is convenient to me. We seem to care about each other an equal amount. Sometimes I find their views and opinions problematic – but they’re always there for me. Then, I’m out of the city for a few weeks. That time passes, and I don’t think about that person once. Chances are, they aren’t thinking about me, either. Our friendship certainly served a purpose, and we were there to be each other’s crutch when we needed it the most – but perhaps neither of us was as invested in our relationship as we thought we were.

~

What does your friendship mean to them?

Are you just a placeholder for when their other friends are busy? Don’t let people use your friendship to pass the time. Do they just see you as a colleague, whereas you thought they were a really good friend? Sometimes it’s hard to recognise that you might only play a small part in someone’s life – someone who has turned out to be quite a big part of yours. Reevaluating friendships like this can often feel like going through several painful break-ups at once, but it’s necessary. It’s unfair for you to be pouring time and love and affection into someone’s life that doesn’t recognise or give back the energy you’re putting in.

~

How easy is it to maintain this friendship?

So many of the people I consider closest to me are the ones that I don’t have to speak to every day. The ones that, when we meet up, regardless of how long it’s been, nothing seems to have changed between us. I feel that the best friendships are the one’s that are relatively low-maintenance. I don’t want to have an argument because it’s been a week and I’ve forgotten to message. I don’t want to feel like I’ve been a terrible mate because I didn’t have time to meet you for a drink this month. I want to feel there’s mutual love and respect between us, even after we’ve grown up and into better versions of ourselves.

~

Friendships, in my eyes, should be the light of our lives. Sometimes, it’s good to acknowledge that we – or they – might just need that light in a moment of darkness. Some friendships are transcient, and that’s okay.

But some friendships – the best ones – don’t just serve a purpose for a little while. They are the ones that stay and bloom and adapt around each other’s changing lives and circumstances. They are the ones that, now, at this point in my life, I value the most.

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I was heartbroken to hear about the death of Caroline Flack on Saturday. Please, take this opportunity to reach out to your friends and check in with them. Tackle the tabloids by avoiding click-bait and celebrity gossip, taking extra care about how you present your opinions online, and – as Caroline would say – #BeKind.

seeking permanence in creativity

Lifestyle, Mental Health, Writing

For most people, deciding on a career path will often determine their physical location – or at least give them a nudge in a certain direction. If I was pursuing a career in nursing, for example, my location might be determined by which hospitals are closest to me geographically, or maybe which institutions, regardless of distance, had vacancies. With writing, it feels a little different. Particularly freelance writing, or writing when you haven’t yet been published, means that – as long as you’ve got somewhere to write and something to write on – it doesn’t really matter where you’re based.

Hence: impermanence.

It’s the same kind of deal with freelance writing (or, let’s be real, any kind of freelancing): there isn’t often permanence when it comes to steadiness of work or financial income. Most of the writers I know in this situation, myself included, pin down a few different jobs a year in order to support their creativity. But since these jobs often come second to writing, the permanence of part-time work is often not really necessary.

For me, impermanence is something that I’ve struggled with for about a year now. My housing situation is rarely secure (I’ve stayed on countless friends’ sofas and even when I had my own flat it was short-term), my financial situation is rarely secure (between cafe work, festival work and teaching, I don’t often know when the next load of cash is coming in) and my creativity is not always reliable (I sometimes have weeks when words just… don’t work). But permanence – however temporary – is really important in order to have a baseline for good mental well-being so that we can juggle everything else life throws at us.

So, how can we seek reliability in something which is, for the most part, pretty unpredictable?

Something that I started doing this year (new year, new me or whatever) is trying to create some kind of accountability for myself and my writing. Each Sunday, my friend Callen and I (Callen is a wonderful writer and one of my closest friends) are sending each other a weekly email. Our weekly email updates mean that we’re constantly creating a structure for ourselves and keeping each other in the loop with our writing progress. This doesn’t mean that we have to have written a hundred thousand words every week, but it does mean that we have to have done something that contributes to our creative work. For example, this week Callen sent over a really beautiful mood-board for one of his characters, and I sent back a blurb and a couple of chapters of a new project. Knowing that every week I’ll be telling Callen what I’ve been up to means that I’m mindful during the week. When I have a spare couple of hours, I feel more motivated to get something creative done, because I know I’ll be catching him up about it on Sunday.

Finding friends in similar situations and staying in regular contact is one way I try to find some stability in my writing and my creative life – but it’s not the only way. Setting realistic goals is also a great way to create creative structure. I’ve never been a fan of the ‘x amount of words a day’ approach, but looser goals that involve less pressure and more motivation. For example – I want to have at least 2 hours of creative time a week. I can spend my creative time planning or doodling or writing – being creative in whatever form I feel like on that given week. Finding writing competitions to enter or setting time aside to read books that have been on my list forever are also ways of managing my creative time.

I guess the thing I’m trying to change this year is my own mindset towards how I feel about my creativity. Maybe writing will never bring me financial or geographical stability, but there are ways I can make it a constant driving force in my life. I can afford to work five days a week as long as I have time to commit to my creative life. I can afford to say no to going out for a drink if inspiration strikes, as long as I’m managing my creative and social life well. For me and so many others, my mental health is dependent on having a handful of constant things that make me happy and bring out my inner passions. I feel motivated and committed and more like myself when I’m writing: surely this means I should make time for it among all the other things life demands I make time for?

Let me know how you’re finding permanence and structure in your creativity this year. (On another note, tune into my Instagram to join my girl gang and fight against toxic diet culture / the patriarchy / whatever else I feel like rioting about).

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where the heart is: re-imagining the concept of home

Lifestyle

Picture this: I’m on a train from Glastonbury to Oxford. Having been away for a few months, I’m finally heading home. I have no contract on a house – no roof over my head to return to – though, somehow, things don’t seem daunting. I’m heading home.

Isn’t it strange how a place can feel like home, even when you’re not necessarily returning to a bed in a room with material possessions? A few weeks ago, I was sitting on that train with a bursting-at-the-seams suitcase and a backpack twice the size of me, knowing that I’d spend the next few weeks on the floors and sofas of my friends. Even though the concept of being without a physical home was, at times, terrifying, I was so ready to be back in the city I love, surrounded by friends that feel like family.

It’s safe to say, I’ve been thinking a lot about my own concept of ‘home’ recently.

I suppose, for the last few years, physical ‘homes’ have always felt quite temporary to me. I mean, I lived in a tent for a little while – one of my favourite homes so far – but I always knew that it couldn’t last forever. It was a great few months, whilst the weather was good and our jobs permitted us to travel, but then it ended. After a rocky transitioning period of maybe-living-in-a-caravan and maybe-ending-up-sleeping-above-a-pub-in-Witney, we finally found our little studio flat. Even then, though, Beth and I shared such a small space, and I stayed on a pull-out bed on the floor; that home, too, felt temporary.

Maybe that’s how physical homes always feel, though? I’ve always been a little jealous of friends that still have parents that live in their childhood homes, because that idea feels a little more solid to me. A little more permanent. I had one main childhood home, but from the age of fourteen, we moved house a bit – always in the same village, but still different houses. When I moved to university, my family grew with my mum’s new partner and his daughter, and they rented a few different places before buying the house they now live in. Sometimes, I’d go home for Christmas to a house that I hadn’t even seen before.

Yet still, when I say I’m going back to see my family, even though I’ve only been to their new house a handful of times, I say I’m going home. Because home is not a physical place for me. It never has been.

If I’m heading back to the North to see my family, I’ll always be going home. I have connections to every village neighboring the one where my family now live: school days in Chorley, sixth form and nights out in Wigan, day trips to Manchester, iced coffee on park benches in Bolton… When I head back to Bath – the city that I lived in for four-and-a-bit years – I say I’m going home. Of course I am, because there are still people I love there. Maybe if I go back to Glastonbury next festival season, that will feel like going home, too – because of the people I met and the connections I made there.

Bunkabin living: a metal box in a field that my sister made cute and cosy for us

Edinburgh is a city I’ve always been to alone; a city where I finished my first book and found so much of myself in the cobbled stone streets and teetering stacks of well-read books. It will always feel like home, maybe not because of the friends I made there, but because of the characters I created, the scenes I painted, and the conversations I wrote whilst travelling on my own.

Maybe I’m fortunate enough to have left pieces of my heart in cities all over the world.

So, here I am. Back in Oxford. I’m home. I’ve been sofa surfing with some wonderful friends for a few weeks, and I’ve finally found my own flat. It’s a one bedroom apartment in a building due to be demolished (not in the near future, don’t worry), so I’ll be a property guardian, which essentially means the rent is cheap and they can give me a month’s notice -as can I with them. It also means I have to commit to 16 hours of volunteering a month, something I’ve been wanting to do for a while anyway, and I can decorate however I like.

It’ll be the first time I’ve ever lived alone, and the first time I’ll have the freedom to paint and decorate and furnish my own place. I can’t invest too much time or money into it, because I could be given my months notice at any time, but that doesn’t mean I can’t make it my own. It will be temporary, like all of my other homes so far, but that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy the time I have in it. I can make it cosy and unique and a place where I can relax and write and grab a few hours of peace at the end of a long day.

I’m slowly learning that just because things are temporary, it doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy them.

Another example of something temporary but wonderful: a two-week creative writing course I led with these talented young writers

If I’m only in this flat for a few months, that’s fine. It’s impermanent, but still special. Time will pass and things will change and I will still have a home. I will still always have a home, because I don’t just have one.

My homes are in the company of those I love, scattered across cities where I lived and loved and left and came back.

Home is where the heart is – and my heart is, truly, all over the place.

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7 new year’s resolutions (that don’t involve losing weight)

Lifestyle, Mental Health

It’s January; the dreaded ‘diet season’, and the worst month for those of us already struggling with negative body image. But guess what? It’s not too late to make New Year’s Resolutions – and we can resolve to ignore society telling us that shedding a few pounds is the only way to have a great 2019.

So, here are some resolutions to make this year that might actually change your life because, trust me, losing weight won’t change a single thing.

  1. Stray away from routine. When your body is bored, your brain is bored. Walk a different route to work in the mornings. Go to a different cafe for your morning coffee (and, as a barista, I’d recommend going to your local independent, rather than your local Starbucks!). Change what you have for breakfast every day: there’s more out there than toast and cereal, I promise.
  2. Keep a journal. I can’t stress enough how much writing can benefit your mental health. It’s something I’ve been studying (and practising) for a few years now, and I’ve found that sometimes, even just scribbling down a few lines about why I’m so irrationally angry can really help me find rationality. Writing your feelings down validates them on paper, and suddenly makes this invisible emotion visible again. And if it doesn’t work for you therapeutically – it’s always funny to read back over and wonder what the hell you were thinking…!
  3. Try something new each week. This is a classic resolution for me, but it’s a great one. Similarly to straying from routine, trying something new once in a while stimulates your brain and keeps you from falling into dull, repetitive actions. Trying new foods, reading new books – even buying a new item of clothing. Keep life exciting by keeping it unpredictable.
  4. Speak to strangers. I’ve made some great friends at bus stops. You’d be surprised by how many people are quite happy to be spoken to – and actually how many people’s days you can truly improve with a simple hello. Working in retail and hospitality can be a great way to do this (hear me out – every cloud has a silver lining…). Barista-ing is such a nice way to have an excuse to talk to people. And let’s skip the ‘how’s your day going?’ and start asking more interesting questions. Where’d you buy your shoes? What’s your favourite dairy alternative? Etc, etc…
  5. Listen to more podcasts. Podcasts are a great way to learn things without even trying. I’ve started listening to podcasts instead of music before I go to sleep, now, and every so often I’ll play one on the bus into work in the morning. Some of my favourites are Fearne Cotton’s Happy Place (great inspiring, funny conversations with celebrities on real-life topics) and The Guilty Feminist (hilarious, motivational – give it a go!).
  6. Revel in your independence. See the latest #FreedomFriday for an expansion of this – but really, you are your own person. You could change your life in a single day if you wanted to. You are in charge of every decision you make – and you should enjoy every bit of independence you have. Be proud of the choices you make. Try not to second-guess yourself. Be brave.
  7. Realise that the only person who needs to think well of you, is you. I’ve spent most of my life so far worrying about what people think of me, and trying to get people to like me. Recently, after moving to a new city, I decided to see what would happen if I just let myself choose, what to do – rather than let others’ opinions of me decide. Let me tell you; I’ve been wearing the same pair of dungarees for weeks and I’ve ditched all make-up aside from my eyebrow pencil – and I feel great. If you feel most confident when you take time to do your hair and make-up in the morning, then start setting your alarm earlier to make sure you have time to feel good instead of rushing around at 6a.m. If you feel good about yourself and your appearance, that’s all that matters. Nobody really cares what you look like, they all just care about what they look like to others; but you only start to truly realise when you stop caring, too.

Be kind to yourself this January. Ignore everything you’ll see this month that implies your self-worth is based on your weight. You’re fine just how you are, and your confidence in yourself is both radiant and contagious.

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Dealing with disaster: mid-week reflections

Lifestyle, No Fixed Abode

I think it’s safe to say that our move to Oxford didn’t go totally to plan. For those of you who haven’t heard about the madness we’ve endured this week: saddle up. I’m about to re-live the whole thing…

So, it’s Sunday. The day of rest. Beth and I set off on our five hour drive from Cornwall to Oxford, on the way to our lovely little caravan. We’d been liaising with our soon-to-be landlord for months; she’d sent us video tours of this beautiful two-bedroom static, pitched on what seemed to be private land attached to a residential property. £400 a month between us, all bills included, no council tax… In hindsight, we should have known it was too good to be true.

We drove through some beautiful little villages on our way to the caravan, and kept commenting about how we felt like we were going to drive right up to Hogwarts. We were getting more and more excited: until we actually reached the site. Then, we realised what we’d got ourselves into.

The ‘private land’ we’d thought the caravan was pitched on was completely ruled by Irish travellers. It was like nothing I’d ever seen before. There were hundreds of caravans, all encircling the walled-off area that ours was situated in. To begin with, we couldn’t find our pitch, so I hesitantly got out of the car and wandered over to ask someone. I was then told by a lady that this land was ‘family only’, and even when I tried to explain that we’d planned to rent this for months, she was adamant that we wouldn’t be staying there. It was clear from the get-go that we were absolutely not welcome.

This might be a good time to mention that Beth and I both have family histories of travellers. We’ve got heritage way-back-when, but I think our combined accents were enough to put them off and let this particular clan know that we were outsiders. But just so you know – neither of us are prejudiced against the traveller community, and I actually don’t think I would’ve felt so threatened, had they not been so… uh, threatening.

Finally, we found the lady we were renting off, who was lovely and charming and very sympathetic when I told her I didn’t feel safe staying there. She wasn’t a traveller herself, but knew the other residents and just kindly explained they were ‘set in their ways’. This did nothing to reassure me. Beth and I sat in the caravan, listening to the ruckus of the site around us, and knew for a fact that we wouldn’t be safe staying there. As of that moment, we were homeless.

With very little money, and no other plans of accommodation, we hastily checked in to the nearest (and cheapest) inn, on top of a pub in Witney. We called our parents, sobbing and feeling utterly useless as adults. We couldn’t believe we thought it might work out – and Beth started her Master’s degree in only three days time. We had no plan. Nothing. So, we did what we do best – went downstairs to the pub and ordered the largest glass of wine they could offer.

That night, we met a lovely lady called Bernadette; her daughter had just started at the same university as Beth, and she’d come all the way from Paris to help her move. She’d also had a few days from hell, and we all wallowed together, then met up for a hangover breakfast the next day. One of the ladies that worked in the pub overheard our conversation about being homeless, and offered us live-in accommodation if we went and worked there. It was a lovely offer – and a great back-up plan – but with Beth completing her degree as well, it might not have been ideal.

So, on Monday morning, after waking up with both hangovers AND stomach bugs (which we’re now, finally, at the tail end of), we set off to find a home. Never has a task felt more important before. We went around every letting agency Oxford had to offer, and were told time and time again that our options were slim. Every two-bedroom flat was either a minimum of £1500 a month, too far out of the centre, or – because I don’t have a contracted job yet – would need the rent for the year paying upfront.

By midday, we were hopeless. As a last ditch attempt, we went to the university and told them that unless we could get a flat sorted, we’d have to go home. A wonderful, wonderful lady there found us a studio flat in about an hour. Probably assuming we were a couple (who doesn’t assume we’re a couple these days?) we were given a studio flat with a double bed, but I popped out and bought a single as well so that we don’t have to be that much of a couple. We have a bedroom, a bathroom, and, after months of tent living – a kitchen. With a fridge. 

One more night in the inn with our new friends, and then we moved into our flat on Tuesday. Safe to say, everything worked out in the end. Today is Beth’s first day of her MSc, and while she’s at her seminars, I’m blending in with the Brookes students by chilling in the library and getting on with my work. My final submission for my own Master’s degree was signed and posted yesterday – so that manuscript has now gone off, too! Both of my book babies are awaiting judgement from publishers or marking tutors, so it looks like I’m going to have to find something new to write soon…!

In the meantime, this Saturday will be the first session of my Mindfulness Writing Masterclass, at 3pm in Common Ground, Oxford (in case you’d forgotten). Today, I’m doing my finishing touches and getting some handouts together, so I’m excited to finally get started and start building a life here in Oxford.

What a week! I’m so thankful for all the support we’ve had from friends and family to get us through. It was a minor disaster – but one we overcame. We might be back in halls again with all the eager first-years – but I guess it’s alright being those ‘two old lesbians upstairs’…

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If you’d like to come along to my course on Saturday, go and grab your free ticket here on Eventbrite.

Emptying my house: a voyage of discovery

Lifestyle

For those of you that don’t know, my tenancy for my house in Bath is ending in a couple of weeks, and my wonderful friend and current housemate, Beth, and I will be moving. Where to? I hear you ask: well, we’re still not sure. But we’ve bought a tent and we’ll take it from there.

Beth and I are polar opposites of each other when it comes to collecting physical ‘stuff’; she’s very minimalistic, whereas I am a huge hoarder. There is clutter in my bedroom that I can’t even remember the significance of, yet still seem to have some emotional attachment to. But because we don’t know where we’ll be moving to, or for how long – and we know we’re likely to be living in a, uh, tent… Well, I’m having to be firm with myself on how much actual ‘stuff’ I can take with me. So, I’m clearing out.

I wanted to write a blog post about all of the interesting things I’ve found in my bedroom so far, but I’ve just chosen a couple of them to write about today because it’s late and I have a lot of packing to do. Beth and I have been living in this house together for three years now, so I didn’t actually think there’d be many surprises. But wow. The underneath of my bed is a treasure trove of well-read Creative Writing textbooks, socks, and cereal bar wrappers. There was a whole draw in one of my cupboards that I’d completely forgotten about, and I somehow managed to discover some kind of weird parallel universe of old matching pyjama sets.

Amongst all of the absolute rubbish, though, I have found a couple of gems that I’d like to share with you. The first: a diary from 2014. This diary is absolutely brimming with weird dreams I’d had – I must’ve been in a phase of writing them down – so it’s been interesting to read through how gloriously disturbed my mind was back then! I was also far more creative than I am with my notebooks now (there are lots of pretty quote pages… I was probably procrastinating.)

IMG_0739As well as those, I found a piece of writing from when I was stuck in Tamworth station on Christmas Eve, waiting for my delayed train home to Manchester. I remember I’d been in this station for hours and there was still no sight of the train. It was getting close to midnight. I was at the end of my tether. Here’s a little snippet:

My day has already stretched over sixteen hours. I’d take a quick nap, but I know the minute my eyes close, the train will come. It’ll be like that episode of SpongeBob, where he’s waiting in the rough end of Bikini Bottom for a bus home, and every time he goes to get a snack, a bus goes past. I think it must’ve mentally scarred me as a kid. It’s all I can think about, staring at the vending machines opposite me. If I go and put a quid in the machine, a train will pull into the station and leave without me, I’m sure of it. The twix isn’t worth it.

Another wonderful find is the soft toy I grew up with: Tutu. Tutu is a little pink monster that I used to carry around as a kid. I don’t know why she was in my wardrobe or how the hell she got from Bolton to Bath at some point over the last three years without me noticing, but we were happy to be reunited.

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There’s so much more that I’ve stumbled across during my ‘clearing out’ and I am absolutely useless at throwing things away (how am I going to reduce my room into just a few boxes? how?) but I haven’t time to write about everything. Stay tuned and keep up to date with the blog to read about the whole process: moving house, living in a tent and, uh… living in a tent.

Things are about to get wild.

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Turn your ‘should’s to ‘could’s: and see results in your motivation

Lifestyle

Research for my latest novel has me delving into therapies, recovery activities and exercises for motivation. One particular activity I was introduced to yesterday was, “Write down your rules for life.”

Your rules for life, so to speak, are not necessarily rules that you stick to all the time. Your rules can be things that you feel you should be doing, or maybe things you feel guilty if you don’t do. Here are some examples:

  1. I should go for a run every day.
  2. I must not be selfish
  3. I should always text back straight away
  4. I must never be late for work
  5. I should always put make-up on before leaving the house

In my research environment, we were then told to change these negative, authoritarian words like ‘should’ to something that was kinder to ourselves. I thought this was a really interesting phrase to use, and noticed that many of the others in the environment were changing their rules to more tentative words: I could, I can, I might…

After speaking to my housemate later that evening, she pulled up an article she’d read about the impacts of using the word ‘should’. As the article says, although should’ may occasionally give good guidance, more often than not it “induces guilt, and decreases the desire to do something you might otherwise want to do.”

In this article, psychologist Susan Heitler suggests to use the words ‘could’ and ‘I would like to’, rather than ‘should’ – and the more thought I put into it, the more it made sense. Even from a simple, stripped-back perspective: if you tell yourself you would like to do something, rather than you should do something, you’re surely more likely to do it, right? It just makes more sense.

Similarly, if you use the word should when addressing others, you’re very likely to make them feel guilty for not already doing said thing. Therefore, they’re less likely to feel motivated to do said thing because, let’s face it, nobody likes being told what to do. Telling others that they should be doing something is appealing to that little bit of rebel we all have inside of us: the voice saying, “If I should, then I ain’t gonna. Don’t tell me what to do.”

For example, if I said to my housemate (which would never happen, by the way, because she is far cleaner than I am): “You should have done the washing up today. You should really help out more.”

(God, it felt weird even writing that.)

She’s not going to do it. Actually, she’ll probably be pissed off that I’m telling her to do something. But if I said, “Could you do the washing up today?” I reckon she’d be more likely to pick up the sponge.

Using the word could implies that you have an option. You could do the washing up, but there’s no pressure. You could also not do the washing up, no biggie. Similarly, if I’m speaking to myself (happens a lot), I can change I should go for a run every day, to I could go for a run every day, if I feel like it. Hey, no pressure. If I don’t feel like going for a run, I’m not going to bother, but I have the potential. I totally could, if I wanted to. But I don’t need to feel like I should be going for a run, even when I don’t want to. I tried this technique out on myself this morning, because I have a whole host of things to do and very little time to do them in. I wrote myself a little list of things that I should be doing / have already done, but used the phrase would like to instead.

Things I would like to get done today:

  • Finish off my publishing portfolio
  • Edit my manuscript submission
  • Write another synopsis & query letter

Things I could also do, if I want to:

  • Email various people waiting for work and thank them for sticking with me while I’m busy
  • Call a lady about renting a tent pitch

Just seeing these little lists already makes me feel like I’ve no pressure to complete any of my tasks – but that makes me want to do them even more! Not because I should, but because I could – and why waste that potential?

Susan Heitler’s article Should You Use This Word? on Psychology Today explains this concept far better than I can, so go and give it a read. Also thank you to my housemate, Beth, for pointing this out to me! It was too helpful of a concept not to share.

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laughing on the outside: rainy day writing, manuscript soundtracks & more

Lifestyle, Writing

When I was doing my A Levels, my best friend Amy would send our group of friends an email every single Friday wishing us a good week and linking us to The Cure’s Friday, I’m in love. That was my soundtrack this morning, when I was cleaning my house; I danced around with my mop and vacuum and thought of how simple life was back then… As it stands at the moment, I have edits to do on one of my novels, plotting and writing to do on the other, a part-time job, and a Masters degree to contend with. Oh, younger Beth, you really did have it easy, kid.

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After blitzing my house (a regular past-time whenever I get a day off work), I escaped to my nearest coffee shop – which is now, amazingly, about three minutes walk from home. God bless Costa for opening a store on every street corner. My laptop is fully charged, which is a miracle in itself, and I’m armed with notebooks and iced tea – all the necessities for a good writing day. My background music for today is the soundtrack of The End of the F**king World, which, by the way, was a pleasure to watch. I’ve already stolen several songs from the soundtrack to add to my own manuscript playlist…

Speaking of, manuscript playlists are something that I find hugely helpful when writing. My current work of progress has very dark vibes and a confusing and fragmented narrative, and I find it so much easier to get into the head of my protagonist when I’m listening to music with the same kind of twisted undertones. I’m forever trawling through Spotify and YouTube for more songs to add to my playlists: I always feel better when they’re 2+ hours long, so that I’m not distracted by hearing the same songs over and over and can focus on my writing.

Yesterday was deadline day (hooray), which means the first five chapters of my latest novel have now been submitted to my manuscript editor for review. I don’t have to think about edits for that one until the end of February now, so in the meantime… I’m writing. Beginning a novel is always my favourite part of the process: probably because I’m not really a planner so when I’m writing, I tend to have little to no idea of where my characters will be taking me. A little uncertainty is always fun.

Anyway, I’m 14,000 words in at the minute and really enjoying the motifs that keep cropping up and the characters that kind of seem trustworthy to start with and are slowly becoming less so as the plot thickens. I’m hoping to reach around 70,000 for this particular manuscript, as it’s for a YA audience. My first draft of my first novel ended at around 55,000, but now I’m discovering that I have far more words to play around with and probably should have written way more to begin with – while I was in the flow of that particular story.

I’m thankful I headed to Costa when I did, because it’s just started pouring down outside and I didn’t bring a coat. It was sunny earlier! Unpredictable British weather. You’d think I’d have adapted by now to living in the South of England by carrying an umbrella or bringing a spare jacket or something, but that rarely happens… I think when you’ve come from the North, there’s a certain element of pride when it comes to cold weather. Duh, I’m from the North. I can hack it. Brolly?? ‘Course I don’t need a brolly.

I should probably get back to working on the manuscript. I hope everyone has a great day! It definitely feels like a day to be creative, if you’re that way inclined. Enjoy.

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“New year, new me!” and other lies we tell ourselves

Lifestyle, Mental Health

Before you sign up for your gym membership and book yourself onto the next skydiving course because you’ve always wanted to do it, let me offer you some advice on why changing yourself probably ain’t going to change your year.

Look, we hear the same thing every time it gets to this time of year. It’s routine by now. New year, new me! we all chant, arms laden with all the useless crap we’ve picked up in the Boxing Day sales; crap that will surely aid us in our self-development come January. We convince ourselves that it’s absolutely necessary to kit out our wardrobes – start the new year in style, right? The healthy eating kick starts then, too, so lets stock up on salad and those plastic water bottles with fruit filters.

We go through this whole charade every. Single. Year. And I swear – by February the gym membership is gathering dust and we’ve already lost the filter-thing for our water bottles. With this in mind, here’s how I plan to set realistic ‘resolutions’ that I might actually be able to keep… and ones that don’t require changing much about myself. If I did the New year, new me! every year, Christ knows who I’d be by now.

  1. Focus on realistic things that I want to do.

Not things that I think will make me a ‘better’, ‘prettier’, or ‘more accomplished’ person – just things that I want to do. Simple. If the things I choose to do help me grow as a person as a result, then wonderful. But I want to pick things that I feel genuinely excited about, rather than stuff like ‘Run a 10k.’ For some people, this is a huge source of happiness: for me, running a 10k is the equivalent of torture, so it’s staying far away from my list.

Beth’s List examples: Learn to drive, visit another country, find one dish that I like that involves avocado (I hate avocado).

2. Set several short term goals, rather than one end goal.

Okay, so, if your aim for 2018 is something like loosing weight, then you don’t want to stick ‘Lose 2 stone!’ on your resolution list. Because, let’s face it, your weight is going to fluctuate throughout the year and make you feel like a failure come NYE 2018. Set little goals that will change your behaviour and help you to lose weight – like ‘Drink at least three bottles of water a day!’.

Beth’s List examples: read a book every fortnight, write something small everyday, stop drinking coffee late at night.

3. Realise that NYE is just…. another day.

It’s great that many of us can channel our energy into this fresh start – a great change for us to start anew and really focus on our goals. But not everyone succeeds in seeing the new year as a blank slate. Let’s all sit back and realise that, despite the fact we now change one number when writing the date down, it’s just another day. Focus on the positives and don’t crumble under the pressure of what 2018 might become, or how you’re supposed to change yourself this year in order to make your life better. You’re great as you are; and regardless of how much you change, the year is likely to be wild and unpredictable either way.

My advice to you, then? Reflect on the year, party the night away, and carry on with your life the next day. Write your New Year’s Resolutions with your own happiness in mind, focusing on who you already are, rather than this elusive person you think you should be.

Party hard. See you in twenty-eighteen!

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In a lemon-honey-ginger haze: thoughts on being home

Lifestyle

You know what’s fun? Travelling home for the holidays to find your family have come down with a seriously nasty chest infection. You know what’s even more fun? … When you feel like you’re starting to catch it.

So, I made the 200 mile journey back up North a couple of days ago – a hellish series of train journeys that landed me in Worcester, then Birmingham (neither of which is where I live) until finally my mother picked me up from Moor St and we drove home. I’d been working all day, dragged my heavy suitcase to the train station and then spent the rest of the evening navigating delayed and cancelled trains until I ended my journey (and promptly fell asleep) at 2am. Needless to say, I was tearful, exhausted, and mentally drafting a letter to Great Western Rail by the time my day came to a close. Not the best start to a trip back home.

It was, however, beyond perfect to have all of my little sisters in the same room for once. Particularly Lauren, my oldest little sibling, because we rarely get to see each other – what with me living in Bath, and her in Newcastle. I only got to soak up her attention for a few hours as she was catching her bus back, but it made our time together more precious and we managed not to bite each other’s heads off (!!). There were some emotional farewells at the end of the night when Lauren’s boyfriend drove her back up to Manchester to catch her bus: we will all miss her dearly, but I’m going to plan a trip up to Newcastle ASAP. Distance won’t keep us apart for long, kiddo.

Catching up with everyone and seeing my mum, her partner, and my very many sisters again has been lovely. I still have a few more days here (and lots of other catch-ups scheduled with various pals – and my Nana!) so I’m excited to have a little more time to chill. It’s been nice to wake up in the mornings without knowing that I’ve got work to do in some form or another; I’m so used to early mornings by now that my body still naturally wakes me up around seven. Heartbreaking when you want a lie in.

My mum and her partner are both dying with this horrendous chest infection; my mum has now properly lost her voice and coughs about every three seconds. After feeling the beginning tickles of a cough last night, I texted Callen for the recipe to his emergency fix-it lemon drink:

B: how do I make your magic lemon ginger water stuff? dying x

C: *responds in less than a minute with huge essay on how to make magic lemon ginger water*

I have never been more thankful for our friendship. I got lemons, ginger, honey and boiling water and washed / peeled / chopped everything in keeping with Callen’s meticulous instructions. I distributed mugs of magic lemon water to every contaminated person in the household, myself included, and I can honestly say that I think this might be a breakthrough. I love this magic water! I think I’m going overboard on the honey, Callen, if I’m honest, but it tastes great and I’m probably going to drink this every day for the rest of my life.

I’m all cosy-ed up for the night, ready to do a little bit of writing before bed. Tomorrow is my little cousins birthday, so it’ll be lovely to head out and celebrate with the family (all wrapped up warm, of course!). I hope you’ve all had a lovely Christmas if you celebrate it and are looking forward to a fresh new year!

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A Different Kind of Christmas

Lifestyle

If I’d been asked to work in retail over Christmas last year, I would have point-blank refused. Christmas is the one time of year that it seems totally necessary to travel the 195 miles it takes to get me back home and be with my family. However, I am so in love with my job at a local bookstore that I agreed to work Christmas Eve and Boxing Day without a second thought.

But that second thought always, eventually, comes.

“I can’t go home for Christmas Day. I’m going to be alone, pulling a Cameron-Diaz-in-The-Holiday kind of stunt, drinking mulled wine from the bottle and dancing around to The Killers.

Fortunately, that was not entirely the case.

I’m very lucky to live with my best friend (also conveniently named Beth), and she was also roped into working over the festive season. Discovering that both of us would be sharing Christmas together was a wonderful moment, and immediately the preparations began. We did our Big Food Shop a few days ago, buying vegetables and pigs-in-blankets like we were soon due an apocalypse and might never eat again. After we’d set ourselves back at least sixty quid, we’d stocked up the cupboards (though we still managed to build up our anxiety thinking about everything we might’ve forgotten…)

I was woken up on Christmas morning by a phone call from my mum, her partner, and my four glorious sisters back home (who had somehow managed to open all of their presents before 7.30am), which was just like being there with them. Beth woke up shortly afterwards, and we had our morning brews to a soundtrack of Wham! and the rain on our conservatory roof. We paced our presents throughout the morning, first opening our presents from each other, then Beth’s parents, then mine.

We skype’d Beth’s mum and grandparents, called other family members and friends, then opened the little shoe-boxes of presents my family had sent down for both of us while video-chatting them. Between us, we cleared a bottle of mulled wine by midday – and I don’t know why we ever thought we’d run out of chocolate on Christmas Day; we have at least enough to share with the rest of our street (not that we will).

We’ve binge-watched First Dates, our current guilty pleasure, and watched The Muppet’s Christmas Carol while we ate our absolute feast of a meal – all thanks to chef Beth. Too tired to do anything else (aside from squeeze in some Christmas pudding), we then proceeded to nap for an hour or so and are now eagerly awaiting the Eastender’s Christmas special.

I’ve had a lovely day with one of my favourite people, and although I’ll be working tomorrow and the following day, I get to go back up North on the 27th for a week to see my family and have Christmas Round Two.

They say you should always be with family at Christmas time – and I’m very lucky to have family down here in Bath in the form of Beth.

I hope you’ve all had a wonderful Christmas and (if you’re not working in retail like some of us) get to enjoy the rest of the festive period! Eat, drink (exclusively mulled wine if possible) and be merry.

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♡Ways to spend a rainy day♡

Lifestyle

Today, it is raining. It’s that Southern rain that I’ve become accustomed to these past few years: a fine, drizzly mist that will soak you through no matter how many layers you’re wearing. I usually like to use bad weather as an excuse to revel in the weight of the world’s problems, sitting by my window with a cup of coffee and a sad novel… However, today I’m up, ready, and waiting in town to catch up with some of my favourite people.

Something you should know about me is I’m one of those friends that doesn’t really keep in touch. I’d call myself a low-maintenance friend, but I think the most accurate phrase would probably just be, uh, bad friend. I’m the kind of friend that will go weeks without seeing you and then hold a three-hour-long coffee meeting so we can catch each other up on the month’s happenings. And repeat. I feel like I have more of an excuse with my friends that live far away (I didn’t forget about you, I just live far away, duh), but I have amazing friends that live in the same city as me and are rarely factored into my busy (ish) schedule.

Saying this, I never fall out of touch with people. You can bet your ass that whether it’s been weeks, months, or years – if our friendship is important to me, I will find a way to claw my way back into your life. Working, doing an MA and trying to write a novel decent enough to get published means that I have to schedule in Catch Up Meetings whenever I find a spare day. Today, as rainy and gloomy as it is, is that spare day.

Having stayed over at a friend’s last night, and just met another friend for lunch, I’m now waiting patiently in Starbucks for my aforementioned coffee meeting with friend number three. I’d say I’m smashing my Catch Up Day so far!

There’s a lot of other things I need to be focusing my attention on as well, so this nice little break in my Catch Up Day is being well spent working on some of the deadlines I have due in December. I’m so excited to start my new job as a bookseller on Sunday, but until then, I need to make sure I’m ahead of all my Uni work and manuscript deadlines, to take a little bit of weight off my shoulders before Christmas.

Today, it is raining. But I will be essay-planning, creative writing, manuscript editing, coffee-drinking and catching up with old friends… so I hardly think I’ll notice the rain at all.

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Click here to read all about why I think ‘getting our lives together’ is absolutely overrated. (Let’s be messy together.)

Let’s stop trying to get our lives together

Lifestyle, Mental Health

You know what I realised the other day? Now that I’m in my twenties, the most common conversation I seem to have with my friends is how do we get our lives together?

You know when I had this revelation? Five a.m. I was trying to make a cup of tea for my friend and I, having been awake essay-planning for many, many hours, and I dropped a bag of sugar on his floor. He doesn’t have a hoover. There was bleary-eyed laughter and fumbling over the dustpan and brush and the inevitable conversation: when do we become real adults?

Will there be a time when we magically transition into adulthood? A time when we own sugar-jars and hoovers and have more than two forks washed up and ready to use in the kitchen? At what point will I know the words to God Save The Queen rather than literally every Taylor Swift song? When can I expect this magical transition to happen?

Every part of my life as a twenty-one-year-old is focused on trying to set myself up for the future. Get that degree, that Master’s under your belt, get a job, work experience, build up your writing portfolio, remember when the bins go out,  learn how to cook chicken properly… But I wonder when I’ll actually stop trying to get my Survival Pack for Real Life together and be able to enjoy everything that’s happening now.

When I was doing my BA, I was working towards getting onto my MA. Now, I’m on it and coming to the end of my first term and… where’s my sense of achievement, universe? Why is there always something else to work towards?

“I always wanted to be somebody. Now, I realise I should have been more specific.”

There’s nothing I hope to achieve from writing this post, as I realise this is probably something that most of us in our twenties feel (and, hey, maybe the Real Adults feel this way, too?). I just… I don’t know why we aren’t laughing at ourselves more! Why does it have to be such a worrying thing that we have no goals or direction in life? Can’t it just be hilarious? Safety in numbers, guys. And at this point, we can really only laugh… or cry.

Some of us still don’t know how to cook chicken without inadvertently poisoning ourselves. We’ve tried putting fairy liquid in the washing machine when we’ve run out of laundry detergent and ended up with a sea of bubbles coating the carpet. We’ve rocked up to lectures unprepared, sleep-deprived, still drunk from the night before. (These are all totally hypothetical, by the way. Totally.)

What I’m suggesting here is a group pact to not take ourselves so seriously. To not let the looming threat of Real Life force us into forgetting how much fun we’re having right now. We have to assume that at some point we will morph into Real Adults and we’ll know exactly where we’re going in life, so… we should probably enjoy this clueless-ness while we still have it.

So, next time I drop a bag of sugar at five a.m. and ruin my friend’s kitchen floor, I’m going to revel in that moment. Look how hopeless you are, Beth, I will say to myself. Look at how hilariously hopeless you are.

I will laugh, because that’s all there is to do. Life doesn’t have to be a super-serious, inescapable web of council tax and University fees. I reckon, no matter how daunting the future seems, if we try hard enough… we can probably laugh it off.

We’re millennials, for Christ’s sake. Everyone else is laughing at us, anyway.

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Why is it SO important for girls to be feminine?: A good-natured rant

Lifestyle, Mental Health

Oh, guys. It’s such an issue. Even when you think things are starting to get better in the world, and there are more toys and clothes and TV shows that are gender-neutral… it still isn’t enough. There’s such a pressure, not just on young girls, but on ALL WOMEN to be conventionally attractive and feminine. WHY?

Why, when my friend goes to work wearing heeled boots, does she have to hear from her female co-workers, “Wow, you look so nice today! You actually look really feminine!”, as if this is the be-all-and-end-all of what is considered attractive?

Why, even if I leave the house feeling confident with no make-up on, do I have that niggling thought in the back of my head saying I should have put more effort in today. What if I see someone I know?

Why do we compare ourselves to edited pictures of Instagram models EVEN THOUGH we know that standard of beauty just isn’t achievable?

“Is fat really the worst thing a human being can be? Is fat worse than vindictive, jealous, shallow, vain, boring, evil, or cruel? Not to me.” – J.K. Rowling

I don’t want to bang on about the whole ‘society is to blame’ thing, because we all know that’s true, for the most part. And I’m sure there are things we can do to combat this, but it’s easy to feel helpless when the issue is so above and beyond something that one person can solve.

Please know that this isn’t a dig at women who are feminine, and are comfortable and happy being that way – I am too. I wear make-up, most of the time. It makes me feel more confident, and I know it’s the same for a lot of women – but I find myself questioning on a regular basis… why? Why does it make me feel more confident when I’m, effectively, pretending to be something I’m not? Wouldn’t it be nice to live in a world where being attractive doesn’t even cross our minds? Where we can focus on our intelligence or our passion or our kindness and not have to think about which clothes we’ll look best in or whether we’re too spotty or fat or unfeminine to succeed in life?

That’d be Utopia, right? Totally unachievable. But is there a way we can at least try to bring other women up, instead of inadvertently and unintentionally bringing each other down? There’s nothing I can do to change society – let’s be real – but there are things I can do to change my own outlook, and self-monitor my thoughts when I’m subconsciously judging myself or others.

If I meet a friend, and they’re not wearing make-up, I’m not going to ask them if they’re okay or if they’re feeling ill, like so many of my friends, co-workers and even teachers have said to me in the past. I’ll compliment them in the same way I would if I liked their eyeliner, or the shoes they were wearing the other day. Better yet, I’ll congratulate them on their achievements and encourage them in their pursuits, because there is so much more to life than just. Being. Pretty.

I’ll never steer my sisters away from Action Man and towards Barbie, just because that’s what’s expected of girls. I’ll encourage them to be who they want to be, and they’ll know that if they want to be the prettiest, girliest girly-girl the world has ever seen, that will be their choice, not a requirement. It’s important for kids to know that every single person who has breathed and is breathing on this planet is completely different. We don’t need to strive to make ourselves carbon copies of what society finds beautiful.

Here’s an idea: be kind. Be confident. Be ambitious. Be feminine or be masculine or be whatever the hell you want – but do it because that’s who you are. 

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Set short term goals and create your own timetable for life

Lifestyle, Mental Health

Tonight, my wonderful friend and I were talking, and she was telling me about how she feels a failure when she has to ask for help with things, or when she isn’t at the same point in life as everyone else, because she’s in her mid-twenties now. Life can be so difficult when we convince ourselves we should be doing something or should have achieved something by a certain age – and there are so many pressures around us that we have to fight to create our own timetable in life.

Creating your own timetable means recognising your strengths and weaknesses, and being able to set realistic goals to achieve without restricting yourself with time limits.

Creating your own timetable doesn’t mean deciding you’re going to be married by twenty or have your first novel published by twenty-five. Creating your own timetable means recognising your strengths and weaknesses, and being able to set realistic goals to achieve without restricting yourself with time limits.

It’s also important to remember that your life isn’t just a big timeline of everything you’ve done. It’s everything you’ve learnt and achieved along the way – the little things that help you build the person you want to be.

Everybody marks success in their own different ways – and it’s vital to remember that when you’re setting your own goals for the future. I don’t want to be a chef, or an athlete – so I don’t need to train hard in the gym or spend my days preparing for my Masterchef debut. Someone else’s success of running a marathon might be my equivalent of eating a cheeseburger – our different achievements are equally valid, but rarely perceived that way by others.

It’s also important to remember that your life isn’t just a big timeline of everything you’ve done. It’s everything you’ve learnt and achieved along the way – the little things that help you build the person you want to be. Think about what you’d like to achieve in the long-term, and rather than setting a date you want to achieve it by, think about the steps you can take every day to get there.

For example, I want to write another novel. I’m not setting myself a date that I want to complete said novel by – because if I don’t meet my self-imposed deadline then all I’ll feel is guilt and failure. What I can do is set myself a little goal of writing 1,000 words a day. That way, I know that I’ll have a draft of my novel in less than six months, and then I have lots of time to edit and polish that draft before sending it to publishers.

Sometimes, even small goals (like 1,000 words a day) can be risky – any kind of goal can be risky, when you think about it, because it opens you up to the prospect of failure. It can be a vicious cycle, but I always remind myself; if I don’t set goals, I won’t feel like a failure… but I won’t feel like I’ve achieved anything, either. The only way to achieve success is to set yourself reasonable goals to achieve. You’re working towards something. Learning. Growing.

If little goals seem insurmountable (and they often do, depending on how we’re feeling), then set yourself a goal that has a little more flexibility. Another example – if I’m having a busy month with lots of writing deadlines and other commitments, I set myself a writing goal of 5,000 words a week. That way, I can get away with writing nothing on a couple of days, and 1,000 or 2,000 words on others. I can trick myself into meeting my target by making things just a little bit easier for myself in the short term.

When you take a break – from work, your studies, whatever is causing you stress or unhappiness – you have time to listen.

Moving on to things that aren’t wholly creative – those ‘real world’ jobs, for instance – we also need to factor those into our life timetables. Sometimes, we need to recognise when our mental or physical health is taking a turn, or when we just aren’t happy in the place we’ve ended up. Taking time off from your job, or taking a break in your career, can help you to truly understand yourself and your needs.

When you take a break – from work, your studies, whatever is causing you stress or unhappiness – you have time to listen. Listen to yourself. Listen to your body. Just by quieting the other things around you, you can learn when you need to sleep, eat, create – and let your body and your mind fall into a routine again.

Below are some little short term goals that I’ve set myself (with no time restrictions or limits to achieve them):

  • Write 500-1,000 words a day (more, if you feel like it!)
  • Read something new every week (a novel, a children’s book… even a blog post!)
  • Try cooking a new recipe once a month
  • Make your bed every morning
  • Clean the house (properly) at least once a week
  • Say yes to new opportunities (if they feel right)

I tell myself this all the time, so I want to tell you guys, too: there will always be people who seem ‘ahead’ of you in life. There will be people who are married with kids before you are, people who put a mortgage down on a house before you do, who get a dog before you do, who finish a novel before you do… and there will be people who complete these things way after you – or not at all. You are individual, unique, and worth no less than anyone who seems to have achieved more.

Your timetable for life will be just as unique as you are. It’s all about moving forwards.

What little goals have you set yourself recently? Let me know in the comments below.

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How do we balance our creativity?

Lifestyle

There are too many things I want to write / paint / create – and I have to squeeze a real life in my schedule, too. I imagine this is a problem that lots of Creatives have. There are so many things we want to dabble in – so many projects that we start but never finish because we get distracted by something equally wonderful – so how do we combat it?!

Balancing my creativity is something that is a huge issue for me. As well as writing children’s fiction, I’m also a singer and songwriter, with a bit of a thing for art as well. Tonight, for example, I know that I have to edit the final chapter of my novel. It needs work, I have a deadline on Friday, and I actually want to get it done. But then – BAM – out of nowhere, I get an idea for a song that is just screaming to be written. So… I’ll just sit down and write it, right? Surely that’s the only way to get it down and out of the way?

How am I supposed to manage all of this creative energy?

Sounds easy enough to just take five minutes out of my editing schedule… But then, that five minutes magically morphs into two hours, and I’ve written two and a half semi-decent songs that I know I will do nothing with… and done none of the edits on the final chapter. As if this wasn’t enough, I can now feel a short story idea blooming and have a sudden craving for hummus.

Alright, so the hummus thing isn’t that creative. But how am I supposed to manage all of this creative energy? How do I balance trying to be creative in so many aspects of my life – and also do “normal” things like go to work and pay the rent? IS THERE A SIMPLE ANSWER?

I spoke to my mum recently about getting a job that will be flexible enough to fit around my studies. She suggested doing some bar work.

“It’ll just be evenings and weekends,” she said. “You can fit it around university and still have time to write!”

My response?

“… But evenings are when I write.”

My mum sighed. “Well, can’t you just write in the mornings instead?”

I wish it was that simple to change my creative pattern, Mum. But things never seem to work out that way. Sometimes, I sit down at my desk at 9am and bash out a few thousand words before proceeding to tell myself I am basically Stephen King now and I can retire in a mansion brimming with pride. Most of the time, though, I go an entire day feeling terrible because I haven’t written anything, go to bed that night… and then wake up suddenly at 3am with a wonderful idea that insists I sit and write until 7.

Sure, it’d be great to get those wonderful ideas at a more convenient time. Would I like an undisturbed sleep pattern? Yup. A nice job doing bar work in the evenings to get some extra cash? Sure. But can I sacrifice my creativity just so things are a little easier for the time being? … Probably not.

Alongside this, I have the classic problem of never being able to finish anything. Sure, I finished that one novel, but the edits are taking forever and I can’t keep my mind focused on it enough to get everything sorted. I have another novel I’m writing on my MA that I’m super excited about and want to give all of my attention to, a picture book that needs a fair bit of work, songs to be written, paintings to be painted… There must be a way to stick to a project without getting distracted. Right?

Basically, I’m writing this post to let you all know that I’m screwed. We all probably are. I can’t seem to find a way to a) have a normal life without sacrificing my creativity and b) stick to one project and finish the damn thing. 

I found an article called A Much Better Way to Think About the Work-Life Balance, which includes some good advice like finding out when you’re most creative and integrating that into your schedule, being open to change, finding time to do the things that you love… I just have such a passion for writing and being creative that I feel like sitting in a part-time job, just to make rent, would just be soul-destroying. So dramatic, right? I keep taking short-term, temporary jobs in creative fields (reviewing shows, working at festivals) to keep myself afloat, but in the long-term, I might need a more realistic plan. But being realistic is not really my strong point (and it’s boring).

Have you found a way to balance your projects and your personal life? Or are you in the same sinking ship?

Who knew being creative could be such a nightmare?

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♡ Productive days (and why they’re fun) ♡

Lifestyle, Writing

First off, let me just say that I am probably the least productive person on the planet. So, when I actually have productive days, it’s something of a surprise. A miracle, some might say.

This morning, I started my day by blasting Taylor Swift’s new tune and cleaning my kitchen. Laugh if you will, but dancing around gets me moving and wakes me up – and the only way I can suffer through cleaning is by making it (semi) fun. Call it what you want (get it?), but I’m calling it productive.

I cleaned, I got dressed, I made breakfast – all huge achievements. While I was relaxing with my green tea, my good friend Callen was on his way over to my house, and we spent the day manuscript editing (because my deadline is Friday, in case you’d forgotten. I most certainly have not). My novel is split into Part One and Part Two, and today we smashed the edits on Part Two. I have lots of revisions to type up, and a final chapter that needs reworking completely – but I’m going to tackle all of that tonight.

It was really helpful to talk through all of Callen’s notes, and to decide which characters I can afford to lose, and which one’s need to be developed further. We have our Master’s course on Wednesday’s, and I’m heading to London on Friday… So, I only have three solid days in total to finish the rest of the revisions. Which is fine. Totally fiiiine. *Inserts Ross Geller’s overreaction GIF*

We’ve drawn up a timetable for the chapters that need the most work, so I’m feeling confident about what needs to be looked at. I have five chapters to do tomorrow, eight to smash on Tuesday, and, uh, the rest of the novel on Thursday. (I’m fiiiiine.)

Overall, I think today was super productive, and I’m thankful I have such a wonderful writing buddy to rock up at my door with co-op meal deals and endless words of support and encouragement (and sometimes firm, “Nope, cut it” ‘s that are equally important and appreciated).

Anyway – I’m procrastinating now. Lots to write / edit / cut out completely. Enjoy Bonfire Night everyone! Be safe!

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Fireworks & family

Lifestyle

Happy bonfire night everyone! I don’t usually do little updates but I couldn’t think of much to write a blog post on today, and I just wanted to make sure I was, you know, actually writing…

On Wednesday evening, one of my many younger sisters came down to see me. We had a lovely couple of days together; I took her around Bath (she is eleven and loves Lush and Bubble Tea…), to the cinema (to see the new My Little Pony film which I thoroughly enjoyed) and to Avon Valley country and wildlife park (where we fed goats and reindeer and spent a long time on the zip wire). One of the things about having so many younger siblings (and having them live so far away!) is that I rarely get to spend time with one of them by themselves. Often, if I do see my sisters, we’re all together, or a couple of them are with me – which is obviously wonderful, still – but it was great to spend time with one of them alone. We had some lovely quality time together.

On Friday night, Charlotte (11) and I went to go see a big firework display up at the Racecourse. It was a beautiful display, and there were lots of (hugely overpriced) stalls and fairground rides for us to waste our money on. The event finished around nine pm, and then my mum (who had been driving from Manchester since about four…) came to Bath with another of my sisters, Jessica (7) and stayed the night.

Saturday was spent shopping with my mum and two youngest sisters – we went to Wells which, as well as being the set for one of my favourite films Hot Fuzz, has a quaint little farmer’s market on a Saturday morning. We browsed the market and my mother and I nicked all the free samples of mulled wine while the kids stole all of the cheese samples. I’m sure the people of Wells really appreciated our custom. We then went to the Clarks’ Outlet Village in Street – somewhere I would highly recommend if you want decent brands at discounted prices! Radley had a 70% off sale (we were tempted, but have sense), and the kids indulged on sale lip-glosses and eye-masks in Claire’s Accessories.

My family left last night (always an emotional time – but I’ll see them again at Christmas!), and I got in some tidying and cleaning before bed. So productive. I have a manuscript submission due on Friday, which is hugely nerve-wracking, but my fellow writer friend Callen is heading over today to help me smash out my last bit of editing. Keep your fingers crossed! And enjoy the last dregs of your weekend – and Bonfire Night tonight! I’m sure I’ll hear the fireworks as I’m slaving over plot holes…

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(P.S. Our wonderful friend Sophie headed off on her trek across the Oman Desert yesterday – all in aid of boob-loving charity CoppaFeel. Sophie studies the MA in Writing for Young People alongside me and Callen, and has been a close friend of ours for years – we are both immensely proud of her!! If you could spare a few quid towards her cause, it isn’t too late to donate! Please head along to her fundraising page and leave a little bit of cash if you can.)

(Figuring out) how to be organised

Lifestyle

My current job is working on organising a local Literature Festival – which, don’t get me wrong, I love – but the festival starts on Friday… So, I won’t be having a day off for another two (and a bit) weeks. When I get home from work, the last thing I want to do is spend time thinking about all the other things I have to do. The novel I have to write for my MA, friends I don’t want to neglect, washing that really can’t keep gathering dust in the corner of my bedroom…

With this in mind, I want to be organised and prepared for the week(s) ahead of me. There are things I’ve done today to try and get myself in order, and there are things that I want to keep doing to save myself time, money, and energy.

  1. Take a flask of coffee and a packed lunch to work every day. Today, I managed to scavenge an SU travel-mug from a Uni freshers fair (I still look 18, right?), so hopefully I’ll save some money on my morning coffees by taking them myself. I also need to invest in a lunchbox, so I can take some nice lunches with me and don’t have to feast on pathetic squished sandwiches at midday.
  2. Get to bed by 11pm each night. This one is going to be tricky, as I am the definition of a night owl… and I have far too much fun with my housemates. We’re going to have to schedule our deep late-night therapy sessions a little earlier in the evening so I can make sure I’m ready and refreshed for the next day.
  3. Find 30 minutes each day to read. Whether this ends up being half an hour before bed, during my lunch break at work, or on the morning commute, I want to make sure I’m taking the time out of my day to read. After all, I’m a writer – and I’m working at a Literature Festival. If there’s one thing I should be able to find time for, it’s reading.
  4. Write to-do lists for the next day before leaving work. In my job, there are always a lot of last-minute ‘Can you check this for me?”s at the end of the day, and it’s such a source of anxiety for me that I might forget something or do something wrong. I have a notebook that I leave on my desk at work, and I want to write myself a little list each evening, so I know exactly where I’m supposed to be the next morning.
  5. Use evenings wisely. This week, before the festival actually starts, I finish work at 5 every day. I want to make sure I see my friends, as they are all so wonderful, so I need to find the odd half an hour to schedule a coffee & catch up, or even a quick phone call. Finishing at five means I have plenty of time to have a shower, have food, tidy my room, do some reading, bash out a quick blog post… Usually, I find it so easy to sit and watch Netflix until midnight and then feel like I’ve wasted my evening, which I really want to avoid.
  6. Only spend money on necessary things. Costa, Beth? Not essential. No Starbucks, either. And steer clear from Waterstones. I need a coat, because it’s getting cold and I don’t have one, and I need a bag that’s big enough to carry all of my Uni stuff. Don’t waste money on stuff that isn’t 100% necessary for your survival. (You are skint.)

Anyway, I’m sure I could think of more ways for me to be organised, but it’s already almost midnight so I’ve broken one of my rules already. Sigh. Well, there’s always tomorrow! Bring on Monday.♡

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Self-care Sundays

Lifestyle

If there’s one day a week that most of us (minus the unlucky few) have off work, it’s a Sunday. The day of rest – and the day of taking care of yourself before you have to start your busy life all over again tomorrow. I’ve compiled a little list of things I do on Sundays that help me prepare myself for the week.

  • Tidy the house. 

Sundays are my day for tidying: I clean my bedroom, do my washing, and make sure everything is organised and ready to go for the rest of the week. I work 9-5 during the week, and the last thing I want to do at the end of the day is come home to a messy bedroom. A quick tidy will make you feel productive (even if you stay in your PJ’s the whole time and dance around to Abba whilst hoovering) and get the chores out of the way so you don’t have to worry come Monday.

  • Make to-do lists.

Speaking of organisation – writing little lists really helps me to make sure I’ve remembered everything I need for the week. Even if it’s just remember to take your umbrella to work, I feel more prepared if I write things down.

  • Leave the house.

It’s so easy to fall into the trap of just lounging around watching Netflix all day. Lounging around watching Netflix is 100% acceptable for the most part of the day, but I always feel a bit groggy and out-of-touch if I spend my entire day indoors (unless the weather is terrible – this is the universe giving you permission to stay in bed). Pop to the corner shop to stock up on stuff for the week, go to Church in the morning if that’s your thing, take a nice 10-minute walk around the block, arrange to go to a friend’s house for coffee… anything!

  • Relax.

This should be obligatory for every Sunday. My favourite self-care routine is lighting candles, taking a bubble bath, and sticking a face mask on while I zone out to re-runs of Friends or The Office.

  • Have ‘me time’.

I love spending time with the girls I live with, but I feel like it’s important on Sundays to spend a few hours to myself, reading or writing or painting – doing a solitary activity to clear my mind and chill me out before I have to handle the week again.

Sundays are You days, so spend them in whatever way best prepares you to start the week.♡

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