From Bath to Bude: another day, another tent

No Fixed Abode

Well, it’s been a couple of weeks since I’ve written anything on here: I’ve been off in Dorset working as part of a festival production team, spent a few days back home in Manchester seeing my family, and now I’m back with Beth, living in Cornwall for the summer.

It was so strange being in the north again – not because of where I was, but more because I was spending the night in a real life house for the first time in what felt like ages. Sure, I was staying on my mum’s sofa, but still being in the confines of four walls felt totally bizarre! Even when I went to work on Larmer Tree festival, I was staying in a tent, so it kind of felt like a home away from home. Still, it was wonderful being home for a short time and seeing everyone again!

Even though it felt like nothing had changed in Manchester, it was weird to go to the same places I’d always gone as a teenager and see nobody at all that I knew. I went back to the town I went to school in, and didn’t see a soul that I recognised. How times have changed! I reckon everyone has moved on by now. Even my Nana had popped off to Skegness when I went back…

I managed to squeeze in some coffee dates with people that were still hanging about – like my best friend Josie who has just come back from backpacking around Indonesia (seriously, I’m so jealous!) and my ex-teacher and wonderful friend Fran, who gave me bags of writing advice and life-coaching, as usual. Recently, I feel as though I’m even more appreciative of the friends I have that I don’t see all of the time: even though our meetings are few and far between, the love is always stronger than ever.

My oldest younger sister, Lauren, and I, spent a lovely evening in a hotel in Manchester (a stay-cation, if you will), where we had dinner with her boyfriend, went out for some drinks, and I got another cheeky tattoo. I had a wonderful time seeing everybody again, and then I hopped on a seven hour train journey to meet Beth in Exeter, where she picked me up and drove me to our new home.

So now we live in Bude – for the time being anyway – which is probably one of the prettiest seaside towns I’ve ever visited. We’ve spent the last few days popping in to see all of Beth’s family (I really do feel like I’ve been meeting the in-laws… When you share the same tent and get invited to family barbeques, it’s no wonder people think you’re together). She’s taken me to some beautiful places (including an old, haunted church…) and every member of her family seems to want to feed us all the time, which is great for the old bank account (and they’re all super lovely!!).

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We’ve even managed to swing a great deal at the campsite we’re living on, where we essentially live for free by doing work on the site like cleaning, feeding animals, social media stuff… So, everything is lovely down this way! The weather has been perfect so far, but apparently we’re expecting some thunderstorms over the weekend. I’m so excited – I’ve yet to experience a thunderstorm in the tent and it’s bound to be wild.

Meanwhile, I still have that novel to write, so I’ve been working on my manuscript for a few hours each day, and I’ve also been thinking about more writerly things… I’ve had a lot of time to commit to this over the last week or so, and I’ve launched my plan into action today.

So I’m very pleased to announce that I’ll be running my own writing workshops from September onwards! My very first workshop will being Saturday September the 22nd in Common Ground, Oxford (UK),  and will be titled Mindfulness Writing. I’ve never publicly spoken about my experiences with mental illness, and it still doesn’t feel like the right time, but what I will say is that I have absolutely used my writing as a form of therapy these past few years, and I’m ready to pass on what I’ve learnt to others.

If you’re interested in coming to my very first adult workshop (suitable for ages 14+), and you happen to be around Oxford in September – or you know someone that might be interested – you can have a little look on the facebook event group, or keep up to date with this blog for more information.

Anyway, Beth’s lovely mother is cooking us dinner, so I must dash. It’s a beautiful Cornish evening here, and I hope the sky is as blue wherever you are.

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2 weeks of tent living: things we’ve learnt so far

No Fixed Abode

Today marks the two week anniversary of our transition from city-living to, uh living-in-a-field living… Here are some things we’ve learnt so far.

Washing clothes is hard

You might think it seems simple. You have a bucket, some water, and some hand-washing detergent from Sainsbury’s. They did this in the olden days, right? Only, it doesn’t seem so simple when you can’t get all the detergent out and your white T-Shirt is tinted blue, or when you’ve scrubbed your clothes but they still smell vaguely of sweat and grass… Drying your clothes is a whole other kettle of fish: I washed a shirt a couple of nights ago that was still soaking the next morning. I ended up holding it out of the car window on our commute to work, praying that mother nature would be my tumble dryer, and it was still kind of damp when I got there…

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Finding things is… also hard

How does everything get lost so quickly? It’s just one tent! Yet somehow – even when we’ve tidied – it’s a chaotic pit of shampoo bottles and plastic cutlery. Where is the hairdryer? A pen? Those earplugs you lost last week? We may never know.

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Don’t. Leave. Chocolate. In. A. Hot. Tent.

Seems obvious. Let me tell you, it’s easy to forget you’ve left that bar of Lindt under the table. (Though you do then get the absolute joy of watching your friend try and lick it all off the packet).

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Always put the bug net up

I can keep telling Beth but she’ll never listen and, at this point, I’m as bad as she is. Remember to put the damn bug net up or you will spend half an hour of your evening trying to chase a cricket out of the tent (it’s hard. They jump a lot).

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Learn to shower with spiders

It’s not that bad, really. They just want to hang out. Side note: don’t get attached to the spiders in the bathroom and start giving them names and saying hello to them every time you go in. Some other camper will squish that spider and leave out his body in a grotesque display of power. It will break your heart.

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There are many different ways to make salad

For reals. You can put salad with anything, and you’re going to want to make lots of cold evening meals to save you having to struggle with the gas cooker. (Beth chants Quiche! Quiche! Quiche! in the distance).

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Ear plugs are your friend

I did not realise this was a thing, but Beth gave me a pair last week and I’m never going back. Don’t get me wrong, the campsite is beautifully peaceful and quiet — but there are noises that seem much louder when you’re trying to sleep. Sheep, for example. Cows. Birds. Nature in general gets pretty indignant when you’re trying to catch some Z’s.

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Make friends with other campers: they might have dogs

Campers come and go all the time on our little site, and I would say a solid 90% of them have brought adorable doggos with them. If you want the opportunity to cuddle with someone’s cute dog, you make friends with them. Simple.

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Take lots of reading material

I finished my last book (it was so wonderful it barely felt like reading at all) in less than a week, then Beth finished the same one in a few days. So, now we’re out of reading material and have to actually talk to each other in the evenings (ugh, gross). The struggle is finding a book that was just as good as that one… Recommendations welcome.

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Do not expect to be satisfied with city living ever again.

We moan a lot, but it’s wild really. I love living in our little tent in our beautiful corner of the Mendips, and I don’t know how I’ll ever go back to living in a house in a bustling city again.

Luckily, we haven’t made plans to do that anytime soon…

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Avoiding the void: staying social as a writer

Writing

I think it’s safe to say that most writers would consider themselves quite solitary people. Let’s face it – writing is a solitary activity, there’s no getting around it. But nobody ever made a bestselling novel by holing themselves up in their room for three years. As writers, we need the support and inspiration from people around us to feed our writing – and there are so many different ways we can keep in touch with the outside world while still focusing on our works in progress.

One wonderful way to stay in the loop without even leaving the comfort of your home is social media. That’s right: get tweeting people. I find that Twitter is one of the more useful platforms for writers. Set yourself up with a profile if you haven’t already, and really delve into the different writing hashtags that crop up every so often. For children’s authors in particular, Twitter is invaluable for showing new and upcoming writers what agents and publishers are looking for. There are different conversations happening all the time, and sometimes there are scheduled chats that you can get involved in. There’s always room for new ideas – and sending your opinion via a tweet is so much less nerve-wracking than if you piped up in person. Get involved!

Beth’s Tips: Children’s and YA authors should try looking out for #ukyachat #MSWL and #manuscriptwishlist!

Another great way for us writers to stay in touch with the dreaded ‘outside world’ are writing groups. This can be a terrifying concept for some people, but the only way to find out if you like a writing group and the dynamic the writers share is to go and find out. Try out a few different writing groups and see how you feel, see if there’s anyone you click with, anyone who’s writing similar stuff to you, anyone who couldn’t be more different but seems like a laugh… Writing groups are really wonderful places where you can seek manuscript feedback before sending your work out to agents. If an agent is given a manuscript with spelling or syntax errors in the first few pages, they won’t be looking much further into the piece. This is why it’s so important to be involved with the writing community to get support editing and beta-reading your work before it’s sent off!

Beth’s Tips: Rather than relying on Google, UK writers should check out Writing Magazine for tips on what writing groups are available in their local area.

Writer’s festivals are also a wonderful way to meet like-minded people and off-load all of your writing problems. When I visited my first Writer’s Festival, I was blown away by the amount of people who swarmed together to complain about all things writer-ly: the amount of celebrities taking over the children’s book market, the uselessness of Scrivener, having to waste their lives at boring jobs to support their writing… Writer’s know how to complain, and it warms your heart to be able to share in it together. Festivals are also great places to attend inspiring and motivational lectures and seminars, and to share your time and experiences with writer’s who are in a similar position to you. So much knowledge and advice is exchanged at festivals – there really is nothing like it!

Beth’s Tips: My favourite UK writing festival is the Winchester Writer’s Festival – I had a wonderful, inspirational time when I attended last year. Scholarships are available worth £400 if you’re between 18-25 and passionate about writing. Find out more on their website here.

Finally, the support network that is already in place – your friends and family – can be a great way for you to avoid slipping into the dreaded void of loneliness. Schedule breaks in your writing to give your mum a ring, or meet up with a friend. Something I regularly do is make plans to have a coffee with a friend at about 2 in the afternoon. This means I have the whole morning to write, I can then walk twenty minutes to town, have an hour or so chilling with my friend, walk twenty minutes back and get right back at it. Be sure to always give yourself breaks when writing – the moment it starts to feel like a chore, the harder it’ll be to get those words down.

Beth’s Tips: When you have a designated ‘writing day’, draw yourself a cheeky timetable the night before so you know which chapters you’re supposed to be focusing on every hour – this way you can also schedule in some time with friends or family to break up the day.

I hope you found this article helpful! If you’d like to add any other ways to stay social as a writer, please do leave a comment below. Happy writing!

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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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Interviews with Aspiring Writers: Niall Cunniffe

Aspiring Writers Series

Aspiring novelist Niall Cunniffe talks vampires, teenage fiction, and finding your own place in the writing community.

Could you give readers a brief introduction to what you’ve written, and what you’re currently writing?

To date, I have written one and a half books, including several short stories. I wrote my first book one summer while at University, having failed to find a job and wondering what to do with all my time. I’d been studying English Literature, so I thought, why not write a book?

I didn’t have much of a plan, apart from write a modern Gothic story for today’s readers. The book is called Elm, a character I was then obsessed with. I got up every day, started writing at 10am, and didn’t stop until I wrote 2,000 words.  Only about half way through the book did I actually know where the story was going. I think I finished it in about a month, and have been editing it since – that’s when the real work begins!

I am also currently writing a vampire book, and hopefully series, for teenagers as part of NanoWrimo. I’ve just hit the half-way point so wish me luck!

Do you have a place you always go to write, or somewhere you feel most inspired?

I wish I had my own ‘writing place,’ but my current lifestyle doesn’t allow for such luxuries. It’s difficult to find somewhere quiet in London. I tend to write best at home, in Ireland, as there are few distractions and I can let my mind wander. Thinking is very important, and undisturbed time. Libraries close too early, so that’s out. I get very distracted writing in cafes, as I am drawn into conversations and sometimes find them more intriguing than my writing! It’s terrible, I know, but I think all writers are curious like that.

Who is your favourite author at the moment?

Oh gosh – I admire so many for different reasons. I don’t think I have a favourite author. I mean I admire J.K. Rowling, Stephen King, Dan Brown, but all for very different reasons, like how they have contributed to the publishing industry and beyond, not necessarily because of their writing. In terms of writing, if Madeline Miller has a follow-up to The Song of Achilles, let me know.

Do you think having a writing community is a good idea for aspiring writers?

Absolutely. It is important to stay motivated, and having others around you for encouragement definitely helps. Writing is a lonely pursuit, plagued with self-doubt. Ensure you surround yourself with encouraging people, unless of course you are one of those lucky few who have the utmost belief in themselves.

What is your favourite age range and genre to write for?

I would say teenagers and young adults. I read a lot of books as a teenager, so I feel I know how to write for that age group. Books helped me a lot as a teenager, so I feel I should help others struggling in that age group too. My favourite genre would be horror. There’s so much you can do with it, and so many sub-genres to explore.

If you have one piece of advice to offer to young aspiring authors, what would it be?

Believe in yourself. There won’t be a word on the page if you don’t believe in yourself.

 

You can keep up to date with Niall’s writing on his twitter or on his blog. Big thanks Niall for taking part in the Aspiring Writers Series!

If you are an unpublished writer with your own writing journey to share on Quills and Coffee, drop me an email at quillsandcoffeeblog@gmail.com. 

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Interviews with Aspiring Writers: E.F. McAdam

Aspiring Writers Series

From her hometown of Manchester, aspiring author E.F. McAdam talks noisy writing places, the importance of Young Adult fiction, and why you should grab yourself some writer friends, ASAP.

Firstly, could you tell us a bit about yourself and your current writing projects?

I’m Eleanor McAdam and I’m a Bath Spa Creative Writing graduate. At the moment I’m working on a seven book series of which I’ve completed two and started the third (that’s not including editing). The series is about a post-apocalyptic world in which Gods can be seen in human form: sitting on clouds, trampling cities and the like (I’m sure you can see now why it’s post-apocalyptic). The series follows Hara, Demigod of Sin, who is struggling to find his place in the world and protect the people he loves, namely Liliana, a girl who he gifted at birth. In a world with monsters, magic and some seriously messed up cults, the series follows Hara and his companions in the hope to regain a semblance of balance between the Creator Gods, Life and Death.


Are there certain must-haves for you to create your writing environment? 

For me (and I know I’m weird on this one), I need noise. I write best with other people, with music, in a bustling environment. Ideas come best to me walking on or the bus, so I’m sure to carry a notepad wherever I go. But when I need to get some serious words on paper, I usually sit in a coffee shop. The downside to this? It’s expensive! At home, I struggle to write, especially if it’s quiet. I can write while watching TV or a film, but mostly prefer it when my boyfriend is playing a game (and it helps when the genre is the same to inspire me!). But other than the actual environment, all I need are my notepads, coloured pens and my laptop. Then I’m good to go!


What are your favourite age ranges and genres to write for, and why do you think it’s important?

I am a fantasy and science fiction writer mainly, and usually stick to either adult or YA (most people tell me I’m best at YA). Everyone knows why YA is important: it’s the safety of a children’s book with all the real life issues and tragedy of an adult’s novel. My own novels (if they are indeed YA as I’m starting to believe) are horrifically awful, but that’s the point – it lets teenagers read it from the safety of their own lives.

I believe fantasy and science fiction are undervalued as a genre. They not only allow imagination to grow and an escape from our own horribly boring world, but they are often metaphors for real life. I can never completely make up a new world, whether fantasy or alien, so I use our own world as a base. I take the weird and wonderful and often atrocious events and places from our own world and explore. It’s the perfect way to highlight the terrible things we do: such as colonising a new planet and killing all the aliens, just as colonists have done hundreds of times in our lifetime.


Where’s your favourite writing place?

It’s changed over the years: first, the end seat on the sofa at my childhood home. For some reason, I’ve always loved that spot. I’d spend days on end there, barely moving (apart from snacks) and it has produced a lot of stories.

When I went to university, I was amazed to find my bedroom in second and third year was perfect. I didn’t use my desk, just sat in the chair and had my legs up on the bed. From that position, I could see through my window and watch the traffic of Bath bustling by.

Now, it’s a cute little café Nero by the river in Manchester. I love the barristas and I love my little booth at the back (anyone who follows me on Instagram will know that!). I’ve written both the books in my novel there, and I intend to keep that spot for as long as I can.


Do you think it’s important for writers to have a writing group to workshop with?

Before university, I wouldn’t have agreed. I hated showing anyone my work, but after that got beaten out of me at Bath Spa, I loved it. I value every single one of my friends’ opinions and I know they are honest and truthful. The key is to not only find someone with whom you’re comfortable enough to share honestly, but someone who writes just as well as you do. Non-writers are great readers to give a clue of the audience’s reaction, but real editors your own age are the best. I’m so lucky to have met so many at Bath Spa!


Finally, what advice do you have for young aspiring writers?

It’s cliché, but just keep writing. It was one of the hardest things to get my head around, but you need to just write. Don’t get too crazy on the right word in the right sentence; just write something and move on. My first drafts are awful, but my second is better. I’m a total ‘write first edit later’ writer. If somethings on the paper, not only will you feel better about yourself, but you’ll be able to finish things much quicker.

And lastly, believe in yourself. Anyone can be a writer and anyone can get published. You just have to want it.

 

Big thanks to Eleanor for a fun and inspiring interview! If you’re an unpublished or aspiring writer and would like to be featured on Quills & Coffee, drop me an email at quillsandcoffeeblog@gmail.com. Or if you’ve been motivated by this interview – leave a comment 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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