Interviews with Aspiring Writers: Charlotte Rhodes

Aspiring Writers Series

Young writer Charlotte Rhodes talks to us about where she finds inspiration, her own writing process, and her brand new blog, Teacup Chapters.

Firstly, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself and your writing?

I’ve loved stories for as long as I can remember, whether that’s reading them, making them up in my head, or actually writing them on paper. I always knew that writing was something that I wanted to pursue, so that’s what led me to my current degree in English Language with Creative Writing.

My writing style has changed slightly over the years, but my intentions have always been the same – to uplift the reader in some way and hopefully make them smile! Reality has a habit of being grey sometimes, so if we’re given the opportunity to create brand new material, why not make it positive?

I do of course, for realism purposes, touch on sad topics too, but when I do I try to end on a positive note as a reminder that there is always a sliver of hope to hold onto, no matter how small.

What was the last book you read that you really loved?

All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai. I picked it up on a whim when I was using Waterstone’s as an escape from uni stress (the best way to select a book), and it exceeded all of the expectations that I never had. It’s set in the future and is essentially about time travel, which was completely new reading territory for me. I was wary that it might be far-fetched or unrealistic, but I can honestly say that it is written so beautifully and flawlessly that every word is believable.

Can you describe your writing routines and how you find inspiration?

The best inspiration usually comes when I’m not looking for it. And it can come from anywhere. You know when you watch a film and there’s a minor character in it who’s just brilliant and you kind of wish you got to see more of them and how their story pans out? Or they hint at a storyline but you don’t actually get to see it happen? I might take these seedlings of ideas and turn them into their own story. Or it could also be as simple as a stranger who gives me inspiration for a character, a name that I overhear, or maybe I see a kite in the sky and decide to use it as a symbol in a story.

Ideas usually start as a cluster of words, (I use Google Docs on my phone to jot them down), and I slowly develop these into a loose plot outline and eventually a piece of writing.

Reading also plays a huge part, particularly if I’m lacking the motivation to actually begin a piece. I can spend hours reading, usually material from the same genre that I’m writing in, (e.g. articles if I’m doing a blog post). Watching films/TV shows about writers can also give me a boost to start writing. It sounds like procrastination but I consider it research.

Where do you feel most inspired?

I like to be somewhere with a window. My flat at uni last year was the perfect spot because my desk was right under the window overlooking a lovely canal. If I got a bit lost with a sentence or couldn’t find a phrase then I’d just sit and watch the trees and the water for a while. Sometimes I’d open the window too so that I could hear the birds and the leaves rustling – it was the perfect set-up.

What piece of advice would you give to other young aspiring writers?

Don’t worry about making your writing too ‘ordinary’. I can get struck with some pretty random ideas, and I used to fight them off for fear of people not understanding or thinking that I’m weird, but it turns out that they can make for great stories. I once wrote a love story about a clown and it developed into one of my better pieces. If you get an idea that you think is a bit odd – run with it. If anything, it will keep people intrigued.

Finally; you’ve recently set up a blog and I just loved your post How to be alone without being lonely. Could you tell me a bit about the blog and how you’ve found the process of starting it?

The blog is very new so I am still getting the hang of things, but it’s something that I’ve been wanting to set up for the past year or so. I was waiting for the right time, the right name, the right content, but this summer I decided to just set the plan in motion!

Choosing the name was the most gruelling process, but everything else seemed to click into place after. I had already written a couple of articles for Society 19, so that somewhat prepared me, and I knew that I wanted my blog to be quite a positive space to share my creativity, so I took that idea and went with it!

A big thanks to Charlotte for this wonderful interview – she really is a young writer to keep an eye on! Head over to Charlotte’s blog Teacup Chapters and have a little explore, you won’t regret it.

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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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I learnt to drive in a field (and other fun things that happened this week)

No Fixed Abode

It’s still about thirty degrees and we haven’t seen any sign of the promised thunder storms yet. I swear, Beth and I have spent our days moaning about the weather like typical Brits, unable to accept that the weather won’t actually do what we want it to. It’s almost like the world doesn’t revolve around us or something.

Despite the weather driving us mad, we’ve found time in between bitching to do some interesting things this week. One of those being Beth attempting to teach me to drive on our little campsite. I, personally, think that I did quite well. Having only just gotten my provisional license at 22 years old and never getting behind the wheel before, I’m still not sure I fully understand what a clutch is or what it’s supposed to do.

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Still, I managed not to hit anybody’s caravan. I was very proud of being able to drive between two picnic benches like an absolute pro without totalling Beth’s car; though I did end up pulling up next to somebody’s campervan in a panic and then watching with despair as they waited patiently for me to get out of their parking space. You win some, you lose some.

Another wonderful thing that happened this week is that I finished the book I’ve been reading and have popped it on my Top Ten Books of All Time list – whic9781784294007.jpgh is really saying something. If you haven’t read Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill, you really, really ought to. It’s so beautifully written and interesting and current and feminist. Only Ever Yours is just amazingly reflective of today’s society and the pressure that is put on women to act, look, be a certain way. I can’t stop raving about it. I finished the final chapter last night, curled up on the floor of our tent, gaping at the page and muttering incoherent thoughts at Beth and then re-reading the chapter again. It’s very rare that I am so profoundly impacted by a book that I want everyone to read it, but yes. Wonderful. Bravo, Louise.

36469019_10212082063595800_3202880257929510912_n.jpgOn another note, we have now had Quiche for our dinner four (five?) nights in a row and are still not bored of it. Did you know there are, like, a million different types of Quiche? And you can just put some salad with it, and it’s a meal! We love it! Perhaps we will have to stray away from the Quiche soon, though, as to not wear it out… (Or not. We love Quiche.)

A few new tepee-style tents have been put up on our campsite, which has thrown a bit of change into the mix. Usually we spend our evenings on our little picnic bench, watching people walk their dogs around the field and passing comment on the outfit choices of our fellow residents, but now… Now we have something new to watch. We have been speculating about the use of these mysterious yurts, and we think they have been set up to house people at a festival nearby this weekend. Apparently, the tents will be packed up on Sunday. We will see.

The cows were pretty loud last night. The poor bastards in the yurts probably didn’t sleep a wink. Beth and I thought maybe they were being taken for slaughter, but the mooing commenced at about six p.m. yesterday and was still going at seven thirty this morning when we left for work. I have never heard anything like it. I am buying earplugs today.

Anyway, I got exciting news yesterday that my book is ready to be sent off to publishers, so today I am madly writing my synopsis and author bio ready to send out! This afternoon, while Beth is working, I’m going to walk back to my old road (I can’t believe we don’t live there anymore!) and see my lovely neighbour Kath, so that we can have lunch together like the good old days.

Enjoy the weekend sunshine while it lasts. I’m betting on a thunderstorm very soon.

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the wednesday wind-down: day 6 of tent life

No Fixed Abode

It’s the sixth day and, so far, nothing terrible has happened (touch wood). The weather has been glorious – almost to the point of being suspiciously glorious – and Beth and I have managed to navigate this country-living thing pretty smoothly. We’ve figured out what time we need to leave in the morning to both get to work on time (the crack of dawn, by the way), how much time we have in the evenings to cook, shower and wash up before the sun goes down… Our days revolve around how much light there is, and it’s a surprisingly peaceful existence. If I’m honest, I expected our new lifestyle to be one of those things that gets real dull real quick. Like, camping holidays are fun, but I thought that as soon as we moved into a tent, it would kind of take the fun out of it.

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This is what I expected, anyway, but it isn’t even the case a little bit. Driving onto our little field at the end of a busy workday is such a lovely feeling, and being able to sit outside and watch rabbits run around your home is pretty darn cool. I think both of us got so used to this busy, repetitive, city monotony, that we almost forgot how quiet the countryside can be.

Not only is there physically nobody else there (aside from the other campers, of course), but there’s mentally fewer people there as well. Back in our house, even if it were just the two of us there, we’d be thinking about paying our gas bill – or the electricity, or water, or council tax… – there’s always someone who needs something from you. Out here in the wilderness (I’m so dramatic – we’re not that isolated), there’s only the campsite owner to pay once a week, and petrol to put in the car. Our minds are clearer, the streets are quieter, and there’s a whole lot more sheep.

Of course, there are always a few things that you totally forget to factor in when you’re doing the ‘hey, let’s move into a tent!’ thing. For example, we had a mad and wild panic the other day about leaving our electrics on, and now we have to make sure we turn the electricity off at the socket before going to work. Lighters can’t be left inside the tent, in case they, uh, explode… We had a great experience the other day where we left some butter in an empty lunchbox and came back to a nice oily mess. But we’re working our way around it. The chocolate we bought last night is currently sitting in Beth’s fridge at work, so that we can properly enjoy some solid food later.

We’ve learnt ho36326970_10212063864180826_1268439322957185024_nw to make salads interesting – and so far have made three or four different varieties for our dinners. Buying just enough fresh ingredients for the both of us on our way home from work is so much easier than trying to cook hot food on our gas stove (though we do still have that as an option!). As always, Beth cooks and I do the washing up — which is a perfect arrangement; if I were in charge of food, it would be far less impressive than some of the masterpieces Beth creates.

Another thing that tends to slip your mind when you’re spontaneously deciding to live in a field is washing. We briefly discussed the concept of washing our clothes before we moved here, and picked up some hand-wash detergent from the supermarket to keep in our supply box, but we didn’t really have to face it until we both ran out of underwear. Then we were digging around for plastic tubs and figuring out the best way to hang our knickers out to dry whilst still maintaining some dignity…

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Last night we met a lovely couple (and their adorable puppy, Sky) on site whilst filling our kettles, and they gave us lots of helpful advice for when we move to Oxford. We’re likely to be the campsites longest standing occupants, so it’s nice to see the other campers come and go, and hear all about their travels. Even nicer when they have cute dogs for you to spend your evening cuddling.

On another note, I’ve discovered I’m much more of a scatterbrain than I originally believed myself to be. Three days in a row, I’ve forgotten to take my bank card out of the tent with me, I’ve walked to the shower block only to find I’ve left my shampoo behind, and I struggle finding my toothbrush every single morning. But, to be fair, I think I was like this before we moved into the tent. Maybe I didn’t notice my disorganisation as much when we were in an actual house…

We’ve gotten into the swing of things over here in the Mendips – and I’m not sure I’ll ever get tired of sitting out with a brew and watching the sunset each night. If anything, I’m kind of disappointed that we spent four years miserably throwing a grand and a half a month at a private landlord, for a house we were only in a few hours a day… when we could have been living like this the whole time.*

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*Maybe not in the winter months. That’d be daft.

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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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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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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Keep your eyes open: inspiration is everywhere

Writing

It was only this afternoon, when I spotted an abandoned antique shop on the way to Callen‘s house, that I realised how much of my writing is influenced by normal, mundane, everyday things.

A bit of context for you – I was heading to my friend’s house because he has the new Taylor Swift album and, uh… I need to listen to it. On repeat. So, I was POWER-WALKING through Bath, desperate to go and listen to some banging tunes, and then I saw this antique shop. It’s kind of run-down. Decrepit, really. It’s so dirty that the windows look grey, and there are old rusting bars across the door, and Scott’s Antiques is written along the top in a creepy, willow-y font. I had to stop. Look. Take it in.

I’ve already decided that this particular antique shop will be picked up from picturesque Bath and plonked wherever I decide it needs to be in my novel. I have so many ideas already – haunted objects, illegal squatters… All of this came from that one shop, a shop that I’ve walked past a thousand times and never noticed. Maybe if I had been even more desperate to listen to Taylor, or if I’d crossed the road at a different point, I never would have seen it at all.

“You cannot wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.”

Every Creative Writing lecturer or guest speaker will always tell you the same thing – carry a notebook everywhere. I used to just kind of ignore that little bit of advice. Uh, I have things to do? I can’t just whack out my notebook in the queue at Starbucks because I see some woman has cool hair that I want to use for a character. But, flash-forward a few years, and I rarely go anywhere without a notebook / laptop / some form of writing instrument.

It’s not just settings either – cool antique shops or whatever catches your eye – it’s everything. People can inspire characters, certain places invoke certain feelings, and any kind of sensory experience is absolute gold-dust when you’re writing in first person. As a writer, I believe your brain is already hard-wired to look out for this kind of stuff. You’ll store anything you see automatically, but you might not actually use it unless you’re paying attention. When you see something that inspires you, make a note of it so you can integrate it into your creative work later.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, if another writer tells you that it’s important to always have a notebook… don’t ignore them. You’re wasting time. Get a cheap (or expensive, whatever floats your boat) notepad and just keep it with you. Because, honestly, ideas can flit so quickly out of your head. You know when you have a cool dream and then you can’t remember it in the morning? Same kind of deal. Just make sure you have something to WRITE with when inspiration strikes.

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Interviews with Aspiring Writers: Naomi Louise Jenkins

Aspiring Writers Series, Writing

Aspiring author Naomi Louise Jenkins (teatimewithnaomi) talks mental health, writing essentials, and how she’s finding the process of writing her first full manuscript.

Tell us a bit about your current work in progress.

It’s about a young woman in her mid-twenties, rebuilding her life after a failed suicide attempt. The novel is set in Wales, where my protagonist tries to reintegrate herself into family life and resolve conflicts that have been years in the making. Through a series of flashbacks, the reader learns about what pushed her over the edge, and why she so desperately ran away from who she used to be, and where she came from. I’m really enjoying the process of getting to know these characters; it’s a novel about relationships, mental health, and more than anything – new beginnings. There’s always time to start again – to chase the life you really want to lead.

You focus a lot on mental health issues in your current novel. Why do you think it’s important for readers to engage with literature that tackles tough subjects?

You know, I think mental health is so stigmatised. It’s getting better, but it’s still not something that people openly talk about, so I think literature is our way of having a silent conversation with ourselves. When you think of reading books, you think of going on these wild adventures, but sometimes a character’s adventure is more introspective and emotional. And sometimes – that’s the adventure we need to read.

So many people suffer from mental health issues these days – my main hope is that people will come away from the novel with a sense of understanding, and maybe even a sense of belonging. One of the worst things about mental health is how lonely it makes you feel, but that can change. I want readers to know that it will get better. It will. And maybe the novel will be able to help the friends and families of sufferers – these people are the support systems, and sometimes it can be hard for them to truly understand how their loved ones feel.

Where do you feel most inspired?

I love writing in cafes. I love watching people interact, listening to conversations – I especially love sitting near a window with natural light, and just really connecting with the world around me. Although my eyes tend to be glued to my laptop, I am, essentially, writing about life, so I like to be somewhere where life is bustling on around me.

Do you have any writing essentials?

Without a doubt, I have to have a cup of tea. Always. I have to have a notebook with me, even if I’m writing with my laptop. It’s kind of my anchor, in a way. If I get stuck on what I’m writing, I’ll turn to my notebook. I’ve always found it easier to write when I’m putting pen to paper – the traditional way.

I used to listen to lyrical music, but now I prefer classical or ambient mixer. I like to find ambient sounds that match the scene I’m writing – it’s a great way to connect to your fictional surroundings and really immerse yourself in what you’re writing.

Who is your favourite author at the minute?

Louise O’ Neill. Her honesty is just beautiful. Her courage to write about important, and sometimes difficult, topics is hugely admirable. She’s the author I take most inspiration from, and I aim to have the same kind of honest, raw emotion in my own work.

How do you find the process of switching between writing your blog, and writing your manuscript, a much longer piece of work?

At times it can be difficult, especially times when I’m deep in my manuscript and know I need to write a blog post. There have definitely been times when I’ve neglected to write a blog post because I’m just too committed to the novel and the path it’s taking. However, the break is nice, and sometimes it’s good to write something shorter and grounded in my world, and then flit back to writing about these fictional characters. Often, my blog posts will inspire certain elements of the manuscript as well, or prompt me to think more deeply about an element of my plot. So they kind of go hand in hand!

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

Always have a notebook with you. Always. Don’t compare yourself to other writers because the work you’re reading has been edited a million times, and you’re only just beginning. Write the story you would love to stumble upon in a bookshop because, chances are, there’s someone else who wants to read that book, too.

 

You can keep up to date with Naomi’s writing journey on her blog.

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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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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.)

Quick Fire Questions: Sophie Victoria Rowe and Callen James Martin

Aspiring Writers Series

Sitting in their favourite writing spot, budding authors Callen James Martin (Type Write Read) and Sophie Victoria Rowe (write me wild) answer a series of writerly questions over several rounds of tea and poached eggs. (The tea was for Sophie… the eggs were for a slightly hungover Callen, who channelled his inner Gaston).

What is your favourite genre to write?

S: Contemporary, because I feel I can connect more with the characters. They’re more vivid in my imagination.

C: I’m not really fussy. I like an element of Gothic in my stories; the aspects of mystery and the need to solve something really resonate with me.

 

If you could be any fictional character, who would you be?

C: I’d want the bookish smarts and moral sense of right and wrong of Hermione Granger, with the fierce loyalty of Katniss Everdeen.

S: Sophie from the BFG. She was my childhood goal, and I saw her ambitions as my ambitions.

C: Could I also have Matilda’s independence and her… what do you call it?

S: Gumption?

C: I’d have her gumption. Her go-get-it attitude; here is an issue – and I’m going to solve it.

 

What is your favourite age range to write for?

S: Definitely Teen. I feel like I know a lot about being a teenager, and I know a lot of teenagers who are able to help me make my characters as realistic as possible. When I was a Teen reader, I’d look for books that had protagonists that I could see parts of myself in – whether that be physically or emotionally.

C: It used to always be YA… recently, though, I’m discovering a passion for Teen and Middle Grade. I’m really liking Teen at the moment. I like realistic characters making their way into unrealistic worlds.

 

Do you find it easier to write protagonists that are the same gender as you are / that you have lots in common with?

C: Absolutely not. It’s only recently that I’ve been able to write a male character, and in a way… I’m finding that harder. I keep wondering whether I’m writing this male character from my own experiences, rather than something that will be relatable to a wider audience of young boys.

S: In some ways, I find it easier. I can imagine it, and I know what it’s like to be a girl. Particularly when covering female topics or issues. When it comes to teenage boys, I find myself struggling to create a realistic character. I’m more likely to slip into stereotypes to write my way through.

C: See, I only had girl friends growing up, which is why it’s probably easier for me to relate to a female readership. Like Sophie said, I do worry about slipping into stereotypes.

 

Can you both give me a brief overview of your current writing projects?

S: I’m currently working on a contemporary novel, for a Teen readership. It dabbles with a variety of conflicts that arise at that age; social hierarchies, first loves, friendships and personal development. The novel follows Piper and Erin, two fifteen-year-old’s who used to be best friends, but have grown apart over the years. They are forced back together when Piper’s mum becomes ill and Piper has to move in with Erin and her family (including Erin’s brother – Piper’s crush, Ethan). Throughout the plot, the girls have to figure out how to deal with the situation, whilst trying to retain their social boundaries.

C: I am studying an MA in Writing for Young People, and my current project is a contemporary coming-of-age novel for a Teen readership. In a nutshell, my novel is about choosing to be who you are, not who others want you to be. It follows Noah, aged fifteen, as he deals with his sexual identity, his restrictive home life… and a stalker who knows everything about him – things he doesn’t even know himself. (Oh – and there’s a dog, called Chestnut!)

S: …who I named.

 

Who is your favourite children’s author at the moment?

S: Sara Barnard. Without a shadow of a doubt. She just has such an elegant way of displaying such personal disasters. Her characters are my friends by the end of the first chapter, and I’m hooked on their journey until the last page. You never know what’s coming next with Barnard, and I’d love to be able to take readers on the same journey. Characters in Teen fiction are so important – so having ones that a reader can really identify with really makes a difference.

C: My current Oh My God author is Robin Stevens. She has a knack for creating fully-rounded antagonists that, as a reader, you can’t help but feel things for. Not only that, but she’s not afraid to comment on cultural and social differences between characters. As an author, she deals with the Big Things – she makes you laugh, cry, or feel whatever you need to feel for the characters at that moment… Like Sophie said, she creates characters that I want as my best friends. Hazel Wong and Daisy Wells — where you at, gals?!

 

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

S: Write, write, write. Read, read, read.

C: I agree. For myself, the biggest learning curve that I’ve recently realised is sometimes, you can plan a novel and everything seems to flow… but other times, you’ll sit there with a blank piece of paper and nothing will come. Some ideas can’t be planned, you can only figure them out by diving in and blindly writing them.

S: Yeah, I never plan. I know the basic idea of what I want to write, and then I just write. It’s never in the right order, my scenes don’t match… and sometimes they don’t even get included.

C: –very true. When you’re blindly writing, be prepared to throw away thousands of words – not everything is going to be included in the final cut. It’s important to have done it anyway, though – through it, you’ll get a better sense of character. It’s all part of the world building.

S: No matter whether it’s included or not, it gets you into the routine of writing. Even if it is rubbish. It’s words on a page. It’s something. Write, write, write.

C: …read, read, read.

 

You can read Callen & Sophie’s blogs here.

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Editing your manuscript: how to start and what to look out for

Writing

So you finished your manuscript! Congratulations! Now comes the hard part… editing that bad boy to high heavens. *Taylor Swift voice* Are you ready for it?

The first thing to do when you’ve finished your manuscript – when you’re sitting in front of that final page wondering how the hell you managed to do it – is make yourself a brew and revel in your achievement. You’d probably benefit from leaving your manuscript for a week or two and just enjoying that life you weren’t able to have whilst writing it… But, if you’re like me and you just want to leave it a few hours and get cracking – here’s what you want to do.

Identify the elements you need to look for. Good ones to start with are the broader elements: plot, characterisation, setting and voice.

  • Plot – When you’re rinsing through your manuscript looking at the plot, you’re focusing on plot holes and inconsistencies. Sometimes it helps me to write a timeline as I’m reading through, so I can see exactly what I wanted to happen to the characters, and what actually ended up happening.
  • Characterisation – Time to whack out those character profiles – you know, the ones you drew up six months ago…? Get them out, pin them up, and make sure that you’ve been consistent with each character throughout the novel. This is not just about your protagonist! Every little walk-on or secondary character needs their own individual plot-line and motivations. (Top tip: look at your protagonist in the first and last chapters — have they developed enough? Or not at all?)
  • Setting – Setting is something that you don’t need to get too caught up on, but you still need to give a significant amount of thought to. Have a rinse through the novel and see how frequently the setting changes, and when it does – have you been consistent in your descriptions? If you’ve described an empty church at night-time, make sure it isn’t sunrise five minutes later – that kind of thing.
  • Voice – This is a big one. There are some incredible novels that use the voice of their protagonists to show character development (see: How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff). Does the voice of your protagonist employ this technique? Do they start off with an accent that slips a few chapters in? Is there a certain phrase you wanted them to use throughout the story? …You get the gist.

When you’ve had a look through and narrowed down the broader aspects of the plot (and bear in mind, this might take anywhere from a week to several months…), you can move on to looking at the smaller elements. I say ‘smaller’, but these things are equally important. Grammar, syntax, layout… Allll the boring stuff that is actually ridiculously vital if you want a publisher to even pick up the manuscript.

There are standard formats and layouts that most publishers or literary agents will be comfortable with (clear fonts like Arial or Times New Roman, double spacing…) – but it is 100% worth checking the website of who you are likely to submit your work to. Its almost a guarantee that the few agents you pick out will be asking for the same kind of thing, but it’s always worth checking. Always.

If grammar isn’t really your thing, this is where you want to get your beta readers involved. These are a few people that you trust – and nah, this doesn’t mean your mum. Often, you can just drop a tweet into the inter-webs and see if anyone is up for reading your work. If you’re writing YA, for example, you’re going to want someone who likes to read YA and might be a potential reader in the future – these are the kind of readers who know what they’re looking for in a character or plot. You want to choose a few people (I’d suggest 3-5) who have an impartial opinion (aka not your mum or granny) and might actually know what they’re on about.

I, personally, wouldn’t bother paying a professional editor if you have people in your life that are decent with grammar and punctuation that could help you out. Don’t waste your cash. If you can get your formatting and syntax sorted for agent submission and manage to bag an agent on the quality of your plot and characters, an editor is something that they will sort out for you further down the line.

I hope all of this makes a decent amount of sense… good luck, guys! Happy editing – and if you have any questions about editing, manuscripts, or the whole process of finding beta readers for your novel, drop them below.

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Writers for children should cling onto their imagination for as long as they can

Writing

An important question: can adults still act like kids and get away with it?

(An important answer: yes.)

I’m lucky enough that two of my closest friends are following the same career path as me. We are all aspiring children’s authors, which is wonderful and wild and an awful lot of fun, but sometimes it’s easy to slip, from writing kids stories, back into adult mode. Particularly when you have to flit from thinking of a great name for a magical kingdom, to wondering what date you’re supposed to pay council tax…

This weekend, my two budding kids lit writers and I had a sleepover. It was wild. I think – particularly if you’re writing for a teen (11-14) audience – having grown-up sleepovers is hugely important. It’s wonderful to forget how old you are for a second and immerse yourself into the nostalgia of your teenage years.

Of course, there are little details that remind you that you’re still kind of in the adult world. For example, rather than getting our mum’s to drop us off at Callen’s house, Sophie and I drove to Sainsbury’s to pick up all of the necessities (junk food, face masks, etc) and then dropped ourselves off at his house. Weird. But, still.

When we arrived, it was an immediate let’s all get into our PJ’s and listen to Taylor Swift on repeat moment, which is obviously the moment we’re all waiting for at a sleepover. We watched Beauty and the Beast (the new one, obvs! Emma Watson is stunning) and then took a ridiculous amount of photos – most of which ended up looking like awkward family portraits.

The point of this is: after we all went back to our respective houses on Sunday, I sat down to immediately write. There’s something about acting like a bit of a kid that will really open up your imagination, and suddenly it’s as if you are literally fifteen years old and you can delve right into the head of your character.

Getting into the heads of your intended target audience is a very common (and practically compulsory) technique when writing children’s literature. If you are writing for 8-12’s (middle grade, for American readers), then why aren’t you outside making magical ‘potions’ in the garden – or curled up in a makeshift sheet-den watching Spongebob Squarepants?

Maybe it’s easier for those writing for young adults (14+) because that’s the age we were most recently… but even so, get out there and do whatever your character does on their average evening. Go roller skating (if you’re skilled enough), or shopping with your friends, or go drink smuggled alcohol in a bush or smoke behind the bike sheds (no judging – if that’s the kind of character you have, roll with it).

Allow yourself to be a kid, for as long as you need to be. Think like your character, become your character – and then you can write in their voice so much easier.

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Read Callen’s blog here.

Interviews with Aspiring Writers: Soothing Sense

Aspiring Writers Series, Writing

The author of soothingsense.com talks Nanowrimo, favourite writing places, and the importance of seeking out a writing community to feed your inspiration.

So, first of all, could you tell us a bit about yourself as a writer?

The first time I really learned about the craft of writing was at university, where I began to find my writing voice through my undergraduate essays. I then stayed to complete postgraduate studies, including a PhD. Writing my thesis gave me a taste of the challenges and rewards of completing long writing projects, with the final piece totalling around 70000 words. There were so many times I thought I wouldn’t complete it but I’m glad I stuck with it now!

It was just as I was finishing my PhD that someone sent me a link about NaNoWriMo. The aim of NaNoWriMo, which stands for National Novel Writing Month, is to write 50000 words in the month of November. Having just finished my PhD, the last thing I wanted to do was to embark on another long writing project and so the email sat in my inbox for the next eight years or so! Happily, I completed my first NaNoWriMo in 2016 and I’m just preparing now to have another attempt at it. Taking part in NaNoWriMo has helped me to rediscover my love of writing and, although it’s difficult to fit in around work, getting in touch with this creative side of myself again has been life-changing. It gave me a sense of purpose at a time when I was feeling quite lost.

Tell us about your novel! How are you finding the process of writing and editing a longer piece of fiction?

The novel I wrote last year was a young adult fiction with a working title of Imperfect. It’s about a girl called Ella who is struggling to deal with the pressures of school and exams. Food is her only comfort but even that isn’t straightforward and, as the year progresses, Ella’s feeling of inadequacy grows stronger. The book explores Ella’s struggle with confidence and the conflict between wanting help and the fear of letting people into her inner world. I am editing Imperfect at the moment and hope to have it completed in the spring. NaNoWriMo was a great way of getting a basic outline and it really helps to be able to participate in sprints online. The editing process is feeling brutal in comparison! However, I am working with a writing mentor and her support makes such a difference! It keeps me focussed and is teaching me a lot about how to improve my writing too.
This year for NaNoWriMo, I am aiming to complete the first part of a story that examines a client’s journey through therapy told from the perspective of both the counsellor and client. The working title for this is Stupid Clocks because I always hated it in counselling sessions when we ran out of time!

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

I like writing for lots of different age ranges and this can sometimes make it hard to stay focused! Generally, everything I write has a strong emotional component to it and I love to write things that can perhaps inspire self-care and make it less scary for people to seek support from others. Even my PhD had a lot to do with emotions so this is a theme that has been there from the start and I continue to explore it in my blog, Soothing Sense. Although all my work has been for adults so far, I would love to write something for children one day.

Do you have any favourite places to write? Where do you feel most inspired?

I tend to write at home but I’m most productive when I’m on holiday and don’t have to juggle writing with work. One of my favourite places to go is Brighton. I’ll sit on the beach, find a lovely cafe in the Lanes or go to the local library. This is my idea of heaven!

Finally, do you have any advice to share with other aspiring authors?

My main advice would be to think about getting support in your writing journey. That could come from a process like NaNoWriMo, which can connect you to other writers online or in your local community, a writing group or from a mentor. It really helps when your confidence is low to have other people to support you! The other thing would be to think carefully about the software you use because it can make a real difference to the ease of the writing process. For most of my writing now, I use Scrivener but OmmWriter is a beautiful piece of software, which I use on days when I feel I need something a little more gentle. Finally, don’t be afraid to say no to things in order to create time to write. If you’re like me, creativity is perhaps an important part of your self-care so it’s worth an investment of your time!

You can follow Soothing Sense’s writing journey next month at https://nanowrimo.org/participants/soothing-sense, or visit their blog at soothingsense.com. A big shout out to Soothing Sense for their honest and thoughtful responses!

If you’re an aspiring writer and you’d like to be interviewed on Quills and Coffee, drop me an email at quillsandcoffeeblog@gmail.com. And if you’ve felt inspired by, or have a response to this interview – leave a comment below!

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Calling all unpublished / aspiring writers

Writing

Are you a writer currently working on your first novel, second novel, collection of poetry, script, blog, or, like, any other project? I want to interview you!

One of my favourite things about the online writing community is, a lot of the time, I can pick up advice and support from people who are in the same boat as me. Many of us writers are just starting out on our journey – and there are many writers out there who have been writing for decades and have still yet to be picked up by a mainstream publisher. Whether or not your work has been published or widely distributed to the world – if you write, you are a writer.

I’d like to start a new series on Quills & Coffee where I publish one interview a week with an aspiring writer, novelist, poet, etc. I think it’d be great for us to hear more about other writers’ processes, favourite writing places, most helpful bits of advice… And it would be a great way to promote your writing if it’s out there on the internet for us all to see!

If you’d like to be featured, please send an enquiry to quillsandcoffeeblog@gmail.com or comment on this post. Send me a few lines about you – what you’re currently writing, where you’re from, and if there’s anything you’d like me to promote on the post. When I hear from you, I’ll email you back and let you know if I’d like to feature you, and then I can send you over some interview questions!

I’m really excited to hear from you! Writing is a solitary activity, this is something that all of us know, so it’s always good to have a great online support network to root for you and keep cheering you on.♡

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Favourite writing places: part one

Writing

Sometimes, I feel like I arrive at a place and immediately feel as though I’m home. These are the places that I feel I can properly write; it isn’t just that the words flow freely, it’s as though my creativity takes hold and it’s almost effort to reign it in. For me, Edinburgh is one of those places.

I’ve titled this post ‘part one’ because I’m lucky enough to have felt this magical connection with more than one place. For now, though, I want to tell you about Edinburgh – the last time I went there, anyway – and the relationship it has with my writing.

Before I booked my tickets in January, the city had been calling out to me for a while. I kept telling my friends and family that something wanted me to go there, whatever that was. I’d walk through a bookshop and knock something off a shelf, pick it up… and it’d be an Edinburgh Travel Guide. When I went travelling Italy, I (cleverly) didn’t book a return flight, and when I went to find a flight home, the cheapest one by far… was Edinburgh.

I went there with my family when I was around sixteen, and I remember wandering off by myself to sit in a cafe and study for my A Levels. This time, I was wandering around the city, alone, stopping off in cafes and writing and feeling like a real writer. Everywhere I stopped to write or edit my novel, people were asking me what I was writing, where I’d come from, whether I wanted another coffee (maybe that one was them doing their jobs… but still). I’ve never felt more inspired than walking around this beautiful place in early February, when there was still a chill in the air and snow always threatening to fall; with the voices of authors echoing around every bookshop, and stories of ghosts lurking on every street corner.

Its hard to describe how at home I felt: how at one with myself I was. One evening, I booked a late-night ghost tour and explored the hidden tunnels underneath the city, and the famous graveyard where J.K. Rowling found the inspiration for many of her character names. I managed to finish the first round of edits for my first YA novel there, on the top floor of the Waterstones on Princes Street, on a table overlooking the beautiful Edinburgh Castle, shrouded in fog.

I’ve thought so much about moving to Edinburgh, or at least going on another writing retreat where I can commit all of my time to focusing on the beauty of the city, the culture, the history – and the people. Maybe when I’ve more money, and more time (probably after I’ve finished my Masters), I’ll finally be able to go there again. It will always feel like returning, rather than visiting.

What is your favourite writing place? A room, a city, a particular cafe, or park? Let me know!♡

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(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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