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

Lifestyle, Mental Health

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lifestyle, Mental Health

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

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

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

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

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

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

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What does their friendship mean to you?

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

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What does your friendship mean to them?

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

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How easy is it to maintain this friendship?

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

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

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

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

seeking permanence in creativity

Lifestyle, Mental Health, Writing

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

Hence: impermanence.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lifestyle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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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.

Emptying my house: a voyage of discovery

Lifestyle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Things are about to get wild.

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It’s okay to be a total flake: reassurance from a total flake

Mental Health

Recently, it feels like there’s always someone who needs a bit of my time. There are emails to be answered, appointments to be made, catch-ups and study-sessions and coffee dates to be scheduled… I’m starting to understand why my lecturer’s always seem to have their ‘Out of Office’ automated emails switched on.

It isn’t a bad thing when this happens. I feel very loved and grateful that there are so many people that want thirty minutes of my time, but there aren’t really enough hours in the day for me to do everything I want to do as well as everything I need to. So, if you’re one of the people who feels like I’ve been ghosting you or being one of those friends that forever says, “We need to catch up, it’s been too long!” but is never actually available: I’m sorry. I’ll get round to you, I promise. In the meantime, I need a little time.

Anyone that regularly reads this blog will know that I’m currently trying to juggle a Master’s degree, a part-time job in my local bookstore, and getting manuscript edits sent to my agent so that we can try to sort the novel for publication soon. There are always things on top of this happening as well: meetings with lecturers and authors and doctors that I really can’t postpone. So, yeah, I’ve been terrible at replying to messages, and equally bad about re-arranging our catch-ups to later in the month when I’m convinced I’ll have a little more free time. It even took my mother a few days to get a call back from me. It’s not just you.

But the point of this post wasn’t for me to rant and bitch about how much work I have to do and how annoying it is that I have so many friends – trust me. The point of this post is to call out all of the flakes and ghosters and say hey, it’s cool. We need time for ourselves, time to recuperate, time to think and reflect and pretty much just get our acts together.

It’s really easy for me to catch myself in a web of guilt when it comes to my friends, family, and other commitments – and I’m sure I can’t be alone. Sometimes I’ll spend an evening writing, Netflix on in the background, wondering how I’ve managed to turn down so many plans with people when this is all I’ve ended up doing. I feel like I’m prioritising the wrong things, neglecting friends to stay at home, trading in human contact for the company of my laptop screen… But I have to remind myself: some people work nine to five in their careers, and this is mine. I don’t have your average working hours, but as a writer I have to find time to commit to my writing. It’s so important.

I have to remind myself that when friends message at six or seven in the evening and want to go out for drinks or just come round for a coffee, that’s kind of the middle of my workday. And alongside my career of writing, I’m also having to support myself by working part-time and also do, that, uh, university thing we’ve talked about. I can’t let myself continue to feel guilty because I’m working doing the thing I love most.

“But, Beth,” I hear you cry. “You need time to socialise – to have a life!”

I do, I promise you. I tend to schedule my phone calls and quick catch-ups in my lunch breaks at work or on the occasional evening, but if I haven’t found time for you, please don’t be offended! Please understand my lack of time and total disorganisation! I know I always end up neglecting my friends that live far away, but that’s only because I’d have to commit more than an hour to come see you (and, in some cases, a fair bit of cash that I don’t have either). I’m so grateful for the friends that understand I’m useless at keeping in touch; the friends that are fully aware of my busy life and accept the fact that I care about them, I’m just a big ol’ Cadbury’s flake most of the time.

And I’m grateful to my mum, for coming to terms with the fact that I’m probably alive and well regardless of whether I answer her phone calls or not. Probably.

So here’s a message to all of my fellow flakes: you’re not alone. We all do it, even those of us who seem like they’ve nothing better to do with their time than spend it with you. Every so often, everyone needs time to just go MIA. Ignore your phones, turn on your ‘Out of Office’ emails, and try not to feel too guilty about it. Your time is valuable and it’s always, always, up to you how you spend it.

Stay flaky,

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

Lifestyle, Mental Health

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Party hard. See you in twenty-eighteen!

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

Lifestyle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Different Kind of Christmas

Lifestyle

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

But that second thought always, eventually, comes.

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

Fortunately, that was not entirely the case.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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Self-care Sundays

Lifestyle

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

  • Tidy the house. 

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

  • Make to-do lists.

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

  • Leave the house.

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

  • Relax.

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

  • Have ‘me time’.

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

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

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