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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Goodbye Civilization

No Fixed Abode

It’s going to be a summer of tents, caravans, sofa surfing and – hey, quite possibly – maybe a couple of nights in a cardboard box. But since we reached the end of the tenancy on our house in Bath and decided to renounce city living altogether, we have truly committed to having no fixed abode. The first leg of our unconventional journey began yesterday, when we packed up a three-story house and moved into a tent instead.

It’s no surprise that we were fully unprepared for the amount of pure crap we had to move out of our home. We happily went swanning off with our friend Olly to go out for dinner, blissfully unaware of just how much needed to be done. I think it’s safe to say, our smiles faded when we arrived home at 9pm to pure mayhem. We spent the next five (six? seven?) hours cleaning, throwing stuff out, finding more stuff to throw out, running out of bin space, seriously considering fly tipping… Random junk from tenants previous suddenly became our responsibility to get rid of and it took us a long time (and a whole lot of recycling) to finally get the house to a good standard.

The next morning, packed and ready, we awaited the arrival of the new tenants for the momentous Key Handover. Despite having lived there for the last three years, I still don’t think it’s really sunk in that we don’t live at number 25 anymore. We loaded half of our stuff into the car (because that’s all we could fit in the car) and left the other half to pick up later in the day. It seemed like a great plan until we got in the car and it felt like the vehicle might just crumble under the weight of our two-tonne tent.

And so, we said goodbye to number 25, and hello to… well, a field. It’s important to me that everybody knows that on the tent instructions, it said the assembly time was 3hrs 30mins. We put up this bad boy in 50 minutes (coffee & lunch breaks included).

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It was a work of art. We were thrilled. Finished assembling the tent by 3pm, we then battled traffic to get back into Bath and pick up the rest of our stuff – stopping off on the way for ‘supplies’, aka lots of bottled water, custard creams and minstrels. It was definitely one of the hottest days we’ve experienced this year, and we were in a field with no shade, so there was definitely a whole lot of sweat and sunburn going on. We organised the inside of our casa – until it looked like the most adorable and civilised living space – and then went to scope out the campsite showers.

There are only two toilets and two showers on our site, both in little adjacent cubicles, so Beth and I have now taken our friendship to a whole new level by maintaining conversation whilst showering and peeing.

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After freshening up, we received truly adorable directions from the campsite owner to the local pub. Those included ‘cross the field, climb the style, and follow the church spire until you see it’. We’re only half an hour down the road, but this feels a long way away from city life in Bath.

The weather is glorious, and even though we had to wake up at 6.30 this morning to get ready for work, our morning commute was really beautiful. Time to get to work now, but I’m sure the day will be easier knowing I get to go back to my little tent at the end of the day. I have never known a place to have so much birdsong and so little light pollution!

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To keep up to date on our adventures, follow on Instagram or go like Quills & Coffee on Facebook!

♡Ways to spend a rainy day♡

Lifestyle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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