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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
In this second issue, we have poetry from Danny Steele, artwork from Sophie Victoria Rowe, and I talk openly for the first time about creative writing and mental health recovery.
every time with you matters
I wonder what it’s like for you I say wonder as sometimes i don’t know or can’t hear or don’t hear or won’t hear
I carry on, like an elephant trampling through the wild grass thinking ahead
time waits for noone spending time as us has been toxic, ‘us’ has become toxic, reactionary, defensive the kryptonite cutting through the ice, a blackened flower wilted in the heat.
rage pain rage repeat
in this, in this there is hope, there is potential through the pain: There is always room for celebration, there is always room to hear what is really being said
growth love growth repeat every time with you matters you are important, we are significant i enjoy it most when we just be
by Danny Steele
Writing yourself well: my creative journey
It’s so easy to lose ourselves. There are always things that need to be done, relationships we need to maintain, responsibilities we just can’t escape. Not to mention, holding on to the essence of who we are is becoming harder and harder as technology develops. We create different versions of ourselves to present on social media, to our bosses, our friends, our parents. So how can we find the courage to be truly ourselves in a society that tells us who we are isn’t good enough?
I struggled with my identity for many years. I was such a perfectionist, and so desperate to be equal parts successful and likeable in whatever pursuits I chose, that I created so many personalities I couldn’t keep track. At work, I wanted to be a loveable colleague and a valuable employee. At university, I wanted to be effortlessly successful and get the highest grade I was capable of. At home, I needed to be a perfect daughter and sister, always available to help and love and support.
But I was spreading myself too thin with all of the things I wanted to be. I’m a perfectionist anyway – a risky trait that I’m still trying to work on – and maintaining the high standards I’d set for myself just wasn’t realistic. My mental and physical health was suffering, and I had to find a way to get back to myself before I forgot who I was completely.
At nineteen, I was diagnosed with depression and began to develop an eating disorder. It started subconsciously, and without any effort to lose weight, but soon began to snowball out of control. Because I’d have periods of restriction and eating normally, my weight fluctuated, and this made it hard to ever admit that I had a problem. Somewhere inside, I knew I was grasping at control by using food and exercise, but I never fully understood why. As long as I wasn’t stick thin, I didn’t have to admit to myself – or anyone else – that there was in issue at all.
Over the next year, as my University workload increased, and I pushed myself to continue getting top grades in every assignment, I became more restrictive with my eating. People began to congratulate me on my weight loss, and this only fuelled my disordered thinking – leading me to believe that this was something else I was succeeding in. Every day, my disordered behaviours were more prominent, and the illness felt more and more like a part of my identity.
I continued my cycle of revolving personalities until I couldn’t anymore. A friend convinced me to go to the doctors, where I was diagnosed with Atypical Anorexia and assigned weekly weigh-ins, blood tests and ECG’s to monitor my physical health. But there was no psychological support available, and this lack of resources only convinced me I wasn’t ‘sick enough’ to receive treatment: something that I realised, much later, was a common belief in anorexic and bulimic patients. I was put on a waiting list for a specialist treatment program. I waited eleven months and was underweight by the time I was admitted.
It’s my first time writing about any of this, and terrifying as even most of my family and friends have yet to hear my story. It’s strange writing about a time when I was so unhappy, when to the outside world, it probably didn’t seem that way at all.
The ten weeks I spent on the program at an eating disorder unit in Bristol really were beneficial. The girls I met there were incredible, and I’ll always treasure our heart-to-hearts at the end of every session. Group therapy was something I’d never done before – in fact, I’d never done any kind of therapy before – and I was surprised to find that most of the sessions involved writing of some sort.
Spoiler alert: the story is less depressing from here on out.
Almost every group therapy had us writing something. Sometimes it was letters to our future selves, to our bodies, to each other – but the biggest piece of work we produced was our Life Map. Each week, one of us would present our life to the rest of the group. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to write (harder than this post, even!), but after reading my story to the rest of the girls, it was like a weight had been lifted that I didn’t even realise was there.
The treatment ended with us writing letters of encouragement and support to each other and taking home a little envelope of kind words. I still have mine now, and I hope I always cling onto it. At the end of the day, that envelope holds more than just kind words: it holds hope for the future, for all of us.
Figuring out that I could use writing as a form of therapy was an epiphany for me. The end of treatment was scary and isolating, but I had something that I could take with me and use in my recovery. This will sound like greeting-card levels of cheesiness, but I really did get back to myself through writing. Having that initial courage to explore my emotions and problematic aspects of my personality on paper was the hardest part, but once I’d started, I never stopped.
Around the time I finished the program, I had just started my Masters degree. Had it been a few months earlier, the anorexia would have been pushing me to get perfect grades, never hand in anything that would get less than a First, attend every lesson… As it happens, I started my manuscript for the course with one thing in mind: to get back to who I really was.
I started with an exercise that I now teach in my writing workshops for mental health recovery: splitting the self.
When I was starting my Masters, I was still clinging onto my eating disorder. If there was one thing I learnt in hospital, it was that eating disorders develop for a reason, and often that reason is to help you cope. They are helpful, in a twisted way, and that makes them hard to give up. Writing about my disorder was still too raw – and I knew, somewhere, that it would do me more harm than good. So, I took my writing in a different direction: not autobiography, but fiction.
Exploring yourself through fiction is great. Honestly, it’s wonderful.
I began by taking two identities I had: Beth, who, let’s be real, I was kind of losing sight of, and this disorder. I took them away from myself, separated myself completely from them, and made them into two different characters: Etta, and Violet.
My manuscript I AM ETTA was born. I began with a writing exercise that I’d encourage you to try yourself, if you’re looking to do a little soul searching.
It starts with picking an identity.
I am a daughter.
I am a writer.
Et cetera. Pick your identity, and split it.
I am a good daughter, and I am a bad daughter.
I am a motivated writer, and I am a lazy writer.
You have two different identities now, but they’re so much more than that. They are two different characters. The good and the bad. Or, as one of my students described it, “Myself, and my shadow self.”
The next thing you do is give your two identities names. They aren’t you anymore. They are completely separate. It’s important to humanise these characters, and to make them into fully independent, fictional beings – because it’s hard to examine our flaws on paper. It’s hard to admit that we might not be so great in aspects of our personalities, but when you think about these characters, you will start to realise that there is a motivation behind everyone.
Even the worst parts of yourself have joys, loves, goals. Every antagonist is the protagonist of their own story, in a way.
Once I’d given my characters names, I started to jot down some words, images, and phrases that I could associate with each of them. I made two little tables, looking something like this:
Etta – “Well self”
Violet – “Ill self”
Childlike curiosity Stacks of well-read books The colour of the sky Kindness Chalky poetry on pavements Bravery
An unexploded bomb Manipulative Hailstones on bare skin A cloudy sky before a storm Flashes of manic laughter Neon colours that hurt your eyes
Do the same for your characters. Think carefully about emotions and descriptions.
With my writing workshop groups, I usually get students to put their two characters into different scenarios. Where might they meet? How might you think about bringing them together through a narrative?
What might they learn from each other?
Writing I AM ETTA helped me to explore my own emotions and motivations through a completely separate and fictional narrative. More than that, it helped me paint a picture of recovery for myself. I walked with Etta through her darkest moments, cried as I wrote about her suffering, but then I brought her up. I watched her grow. I was right there with her as she started her first steps towards recovery.
Through writing my manuscript, I was able to write myself well again.
I brought the focus that was on my eating habits onto my writing instead. Through nourishing my body, I had more time and energy to put into honing my craft. I graduated my Master’s degree with a Distinction, and feedback that I AM ETTA was a deeply moving and publishable piece of work.
The manuscript now sits on the desk of my agent, awaiting feedback, but it won’t matter to me if a publisher doesn’t decide to pick it up. Writing that book was the therapy I needed; a piece of writing that healed me in ways I might never fully understand.
The point of this essay is not only to shed light on a story that I’ve kept in the dark for so many years, but to show others that writing might be the way to wellness for them, too. Now several months into my recovery from depression and anorexia, I’ve been running workshops in Oxford on writing for mental health recovery. I’ve received wonderful feedback from students on all the different ways they’ve found pieces of themselves in their writing, and I’ve hope for the future that I’ll find more ways to heal myself and others through the simple act of creativity.
You can read the blurb for I AM ETTA on the Bookshelf website here, and in February 2019 you’ll be able to read an extract from the first few chapters of the manuscript.
Thank you for reading my story. It took courage to write, but that’s the whole point of #FreedomFriday. If you have your own story, poetry, artwork or creative writing to share, contact me at email@example.com.
It’s January; the dreaded ‘diet season’, and the worst month for those of us already struggling with negative body image. But guess what? It’s not too late to make New Year’s Resolutions – and we can resolve to ignore society telling us that shedding a few pounds is the only way to have a great 2019.
So, here are some resolutions to make this year that might actually change your life because, trust me, losing weight won’t change a single thing.
Stray away from routine. When your body is bored, your brain is bored. Walk a different route to work in the mornings. Go to a different cafe for your morning coffee (and, as a barista, I’d recommend going to your local independent, rather than your local Starbucks!). Change what you have for breakfast every day: there’s more out there than toast and cereal, I promise.
Keep a journal. I can’t stress enough how much writing can benefit your mental health. It’s something I’ve been studying (and practising) for a few years now, and I’ve found that sometimes, even just scribbling down a few lines about why I’m so irrationally angry can really help me find rationality. Writing your feelings down validates them on paper, and suddenly makes this invisible emotion visible again. And if it doesn’t work for you therapeutically – it’s always funny to read back over and wonder what the hell you were thinking…!
Try something new each week. This is a classic resolution for me, but it’s a great one. Similarly to straying from routine, trying something new once in a while stimulates your brain and keeps you from falling into dull, repetitive actions. Trying new foods, reading new books – even buying a new item of clothing. Keep life exciting by keeping it unpredictable.
Speak to strangers. I’ve made some great friends at bus stops. You’d be surprised by how many people are quite happy to be spoken to – and actually how many people’s days you can truly improve with a simple hello. Working in retail and hospitality can be a great way to do this (hear me out – every cloud has a silver lining…). Barista-ing is such a nice way to have an excuse to talk to people. And let’s skip the ‘how’s your day going?’ and start asking more interesting questions. Where’d you buy your shoes? What’s your favourite dairy alternative? Etc, etc…
Listen to more podcasts. Podcasts are a great way to learn things without even trying. I’ve started listening to podcasts instead of music before I go to sleep, now, and every so often I’ll play one on the bus into work in the morning. Some of my favourites are Fearne Cotton’s Happy Place (great inspiring, funny conversations with celebrities on real-life topics) and The Guilty Feminist (hilarious, motivational – give it a go!).
Revel in your independence. See the latest #FreedomFriday for an expansion of this – but really, you are your own person. You could change your life in a single day if you wanted to. You are in charge of every decision you make – and you should enjoy every bit of independence you have. Be proud of the choices you make. Try not to second-guess yourself. Be brave.
Realise that the only person who needs to think well of you, is you. I’ve spent most of my life so far worrying about what people think of me, and trying to get people to like me. Recently, after moving to a new city, I decided to see what would happen if I just let myself choose, what to do – rather than let others’ opinions of me decide. Let me tell you; I’ve been wearing the same pair of dungarees for weeks and I’ve ditched all make-up aside from my eyebrow pencil – and I feel great. If you feel most confident when you take time to do your hair and make-up in the morning, then start setting your alarm earlier to make sure you have time to feel good instead of rushing around at 6a.m. If you feel good about yourself and your appearance, that’s all that matters. Nobody really cares what you look like, they all just care about what they look like to others; but you only start to truly realise when you stop caring, too.
Be kind to yourself this January. Ignore everything you’ll see this month that implies your self-worth is based on your weight. You’re fine just how you are, and your confidence in yourself is both radiant and contagious.
In this first issue, E.F. McAdam talks ditching the career job to benefit her mental health, Alice Bethan Thomas explains how CBT helped free her from anxiety, and we have fresh, emotive artwork from Dayna Ortner‘s latest exhibition – as well as top tips for first-time solo travellers.
Breaking free: the dreaded Career Job by E.F. McAdam
I got a job in an office, because that’s what I was supposed to do.
I went to my sixth form because that’s what my parents wanted. I went to university because all my friends went; Bath Spa to do Creative Writing. Don’t get me wrong, I loved it and met some amazing people, found my independence and grew up a lot, but I didn’t really need to go.
Either way, when I graduated and moved to Manchester, I was looking for office jobs. Nothing in particular, and I was given a job within a company doing invoices.
It was boring as hell. And I was told that was normal.
No one likes their jobs.
It’ll lead somewhere.
It’ll get better.
But it didn’t get better. It slowly got worse, making me spiral into depression, until I finally realised;
What am I doing this for?
So I quit. Commence the first stigma I faced – unemployment.
It’s one thing to face a bit of worry from family and close friends, but a whole other to have peers telling me I was a ‘leech’ to the system, even when I didn’t even go on the dole. I didn’t want to – I had savings and very supportive family to help me out for the few months I didn’t have a job.
Of course, I found another easily enough – in the service industry. Enter the second stigma – that a service job isn’t a ‘career’ job, an ‘adult’ job… a ‘real’ job.
Where has this come from? Who decided that the service industry was lesser than the regular 9-5 office job? When did working eight to ten hours a day, on your feet, helping people, smiling and serving food and coffee, become lesser than sitting on your arse and answering the phone?
Who did I help in my office job? A handful of people who happened to use the company and wanted a refund, or to tell me the invoice was wrong, or to tell me I was useless and unhelpful and want to ‘talk to my manager’.
In my current role, I make people smile. I give out free drinks and make someone’s day. I spread a smile and happiness and good food. I haven’t met an angry customer. My team are my friends and my managers super supportive. In the few months I have been here, I have been told how great I am, how smiley and happy, and have been put on progression pathways.
Still, my friends and family think my job lesser. How? Why?
I just don’t understand. Our generation is stuck in service industry roles, and I get that it’s not for everyone. I get tired, I get fed up of it. But to think of my time in an office, the monotony, the upset, the feeling that I just didn’t want to get up in the morning – I’m better off.
And it upsets me when people say that they have to get an office job. Like it’s the only way to progress. To ‘move forward’. To ‘be an adult’.
What I say is – think for yourself.
I’ve found I work better on my feet, meeting people and having a changing environment. By all means, if an office job suits you better, do it. Just don’t follow the conventions and dismiss something as ‘going backwards’ or ‘beneath you’ because that’s what you’ve been taught to think.
Do what you love. Be independent. And please, be supportive of those who feel differently from you – we’re all individuals, after all.
Just don’t follow the conventions and dismiss something as ‘going backwards’ or ‘beneath you’ because that’s what you’ve been taught to think.
Independence from anxiety: a journey through CBT by Alice Bethan Thomas
When I say I have anxiety, I mean that I wake up every
morning with a ball of tangled thread for a brain. I don’t know what will
unravel when I choose a string to pull on. I don’t know what else will be
caught up in that mess. I don’t know what I’ll be afraid of today.
Well, it wouldn’t be that hard to take an educated guess.
There are often a number of repeat offenders in there.
You are not enough
It’s your fault
this terrible, awful thing happened
You never do the right
thing. Everything you do goes wrong
It’s taken me years to understand these are anxious
thoughts, because they weren’t always this little voice in my head telling me
how terrible I was. They looked more like this:
I’m not good enough
This awful thing is my
fault. It must be. I did something to make it happen
I never get anything right. I
always do the wrong thing
There’s only a two letter difference from the word ‘I’ to
the word ‘You’, but it changes everything.
When there isn’t a separate voice taunting me, but an echo
that looks like my conscience observing, these thoughts begin to sound like the
truth. They master the art of imitating me until they’re near impossible to
separate from the actual truth. And I believe them.
I have believed
them for most of my life, not realising it was not myself speaking but an
anxiousness instead. I thought I must just be the worst person in the world,
and nothing I tried would ever change that. I thought I deserved to feel this
way, that it was normal, that I was fine. This is just what it feels like to be
If you’re far enough from the shore, drowning can look like
treading water. The chains around your ankles – well maybe they’re not weighing
you down but holding you in place.
So, sticking with the water metaphor, how did I learn to
swim?In real life it takes time and patience, a good coach on your side
cheering for you, and it’s probably best to start in the shallow end.
The first step I took in defiance of anxiety was admitting
it existed. I accepted it was there, and I had a mountain to climb. And then it
took me far too long to accept I also needed to ask for help. My GP referred me
for cognitive behaviour therapy. CBT is a talk therapy; you talk through your
negative patterns, find the roots and triggers for them and learn new
techniques that rewire the way you think and react.
One of the worst parts of anxiety can be the lack of control
you have. You cannot control what thoughts come into your head, or the physical
way your body might respond to it, or the things you’re unable to do today.
However, CBT did help me see that I had a choice over my
reaction, and how I chose to treat that thought when it took up residence in my
head. To be honest, not everything I learnt in anxiety helped me and I don’t
remember all that I should. I wasn’t in the most stable place when I started
therapy, so probably wasn’t fully prepared to begin recovery properly.And in
all honesty, it didn’t ‘fix’ me, or send me back home anxiety-free.
But, slowly, word by word, it did start to help me. I learnt
that everything that had made a home in my head did not belong there. I
understood that I had the power to remove what should not be there, and to
write a clear line between truth and lies.
One of these sessions became the forge where I built my most
effective weapon against anxiety. It was an exercise called ‘Judging Thoughts’.
This kicked off a visible shift in my recovery journey; I left feeling the
change for once, feeling that I wasn’t just going through the motions, stuck in whatever cage anxiety
had chosen for me that day. I had dug down into the dirt and found a key.
My therapist described this exercise as putting your
thoughts on trial. In a court of law, the side defending and the side
prosecuting will each present their arguments, with credible evidence to back
up their claims. Based on these arguments the judge or jury present a verdict.
And this is what I did. We created a table with whatever
hideous thought that was plaguing me in the first column. Next, I had to present
the evidence for this thought being the truth. It couldn’t be a feeling or a
‘just because it must be’. It had to
be solid and actual fact. Next we thought of the evidence against this thought.
I had to grade how much I believed the thought, then based on the evidence
whether this was a truth or not. If it was not, I had to amend it for the
The more you do this exercise the quicker you’ll get at it,
to the point that you won’t need to write them down and can just judge their
worth as they appear. But the effect of seeing the words I had accepted as absolute
truths discredited beyond doubt, to see them written down next to a stark,
white ‘Evidence For’ column was life-changing.
This is not my truth.
This person whose skin I have lived in for so long is not me. I am free.
The biggest question the universe can ask you is probably ‘Who are you?’. It’s all we ever look for, the light we chase from ocean to ocean. It’s why people have passions, why they move cities, why young adults leave their parents and home behind. The search for independence is an act of finding yourself, or at least the version of yourself you most want to be.
But I had no chance at finding independence while I was a
prisoner to anxiety; it didn’t want me to learn who I should be. Anxious lies
latch as closely as they can; they will find a truth and nestle beneath it,
they will bite it apart and take some of it to wear as a coat. Hiding in plain
sight, they pass as a truth.
CBT was difficult and scary, but it was also a torch I was
able to throw into the dark places of my mind. The more I used it, the more the
lies began to splinter and run. The more real truth I uncovered, the less hold
anxiety had over me and the easier it became to spot.
I know what anxious thoughts sound like now. I can catch
them and judge them before I begin believing them too deeply. It’s no longer
allowed to speak to me in my voice; and it’s so much easier to tell an
independent thought to shut up than yourself. With a calmer mind, the reality
of who I am whispers clearly.
I’m no longer paddling in the deep end; I’m walking towards the shore.
The biggest question the universe can ask you is probably ‘Who are you?’. It’s all we ever look for, the light we chase from ocean to ocean. It’s why people have passions, why they move cities, why young adults leave their parents and home behind. The search for independence is an act of finding yourself, or at least the version of yourself you most want to be.
Alice Bethan Thomas
Travelling alone for the first time: tips and tricks
Whether you’re planning your first little solo holiday, or you’re ready to jet off travelling by yourself for a few months, make sure you’ve planned ahead. I’m all for spontaneity, but travelling alone requires a little more thought than when you’re off out with the squad.
Check the safety of your location, especially if you’re female. I know, I know. It’s 2019 (!) now, and us ladies shouldn’t have to take extra precautions. But we do. If you’re off alone – particularly if you’re off for the first time – make sure you do some research online. The first time I travelled to Italy, I was totally naive about the *cough* forward-ness of Italian men. I didn’t realise British girls are immediately targeted and flirted with – and at 18 it was quite scary. The second time I went to Italy alone, I had already memorised how to say ‘I have a husband’ in Italian, and I felt so much safer and in control.
Try and master the basics of the language beforehand. Following on from before: a few key phrases can put you back in control when you’re by yourself and feeling vulnerable. Learning the phrases for ‘No, thank you’, ‘How much is this?’ or ‘That’s too expensive’ could save your life in a crowded market, when vendors try and get you to buy things you don’t want. We often feel guilty when we’ve no one else with us, and it’s easier to be backed into a corner. A firm ‘No, thank you’ in any language should get them to back off without you feeling rude.
Pick activities & places that will help you grow. When travelling with friends, we have to go sightseeing and shopping and make sure everyone has okayed all of the days itinerary. When travelling alone – it’s all up to you. This means you can pick things that will not only look good on instagram (because, really, who cares?), but will make you feel good. How amazing will you feel if you manage to climb that mountain, or explore those caves? Plus,if your plans fall through, and you’ve no mates there to say “Let’s just head back to the hotel, then…”, you often have more adventures. You have to figure things out for yourself. It opens up a whole world of opportunity.
Talk to people. Talk to strangers. Talk to everyone. People love it – and once you’ve jumped over that initial fear, you’ll love it to. The biggest boost to your confidence in your own independence is randomly speaking to someone and making a friend by accident. In a small mountain village, I heard two Australian’s chatting, and they were the first people speaking English I’d heard in days. I started chatting to them, we had lunch, then spent the whole day together. In Venice, I asked some Americans when the bus was, and it sparked a friendship that is still going now.
Be brave. When you’re alone, you need to grow ten times more courage than you already had. There’s no one you know looking out for you, so you need to be aware of where to go for help, should you need it, and you need to be confident enough to ask for it. Speaking to people you don’t know can be hard, but one of the good things about travelling alone is the fact that nobody is there to watch you fail. It’s harder to be embarrassed when nobody knows you, or will ever see you again! Be brave, have fun, and speak up. Ask someone if you don’t understand something, speak to the group of people who look like they’re having a good time, and feel liberated by your independence.
Stay afraid, but do it anyway. What’s important is the action. You don’t have to be confident – just do it, and eventually that confidence will follow.
Make it your new year’s resolution to feel independent this year.
Feel good about the decisions you make – not guilty. Take chances that effect only you, and do things that will benefit your mental health and personal development. 2019 is the year to become your own person, and feel confident in the choices you make.
Thank you for reading this first volume of #FreedomFriday. Contributions are welcome every single Friday – from essays and articles to poems and artwork. Any creative work can live here. Just email it over to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Big thanks to the wonderful fierce ladies who contributed to this week’s theme of INDEPENDENCE. Next week’s theme is COURAGE on the 11th of January. See you there!
Young writer Charlotte Rhodes talks to us about where she finds inspiration, her own writing process, and her brand new blog, Teacup Chapters.
Firstly, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself and your writing?
I’ve loved stories for as long as I can remember, whether that’s reading them, making them up in my head, or actually writing them on paper. I always knew that writing was something that I wanted to pursue, so that’s what led me to my current degree in English Language with Creative Writing.
My writing style has changed slightly over the years, but my intentions have always been the same – to uplift the reader in some way and hopefully make them smile! Reality has a habit of being grey sometimes, so if we’re given the opportunity to create brand new material, why not make it positive?
I do of course, for realism purposes, touch on sad topics too, but when I do I try to end on a positive note as a reminder that there is always a sliver of hope to hold onto, no matter how small.
What was the last book you read that you really loved?
All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai. I picked it up on a whim when I was using Waterstone’s as an escape from uni stress (the best way to select a book), and it exceeded all of the expectations that I never had. It’s set in the future and is essentially about time travel, which was completely new reading territory for me. I was wary that it might be far-fetched or unrealistic, but I can honestly say that it is written so beautifully and flawlessly that every word is believable.
Can you describe your writing routines and how you find inspiration?
The best inspiration usually comes when I’m not looking for it. And it can come from anywhere. You know when you watch a film and there’s a minor character in it who’s just brilliant and you kind of wish you got to see more of them and how their story pans out? Or they hint at a storyline but you don’t actually get to see it happen? I might take these seedlings of ideas and turn them into their own story. Or it could also be as simple as a stranger who gives me inspiration for a character, a name that I overhear, or maybe I see a kite in the sky and decide to use it as a symbol in a story.
Ideas usually start as a cluster of words, (I use Google Docs on my phone to jot them down), and I slowly develop these into a loose plot outline and eventually a piece of writing.
Reading also plays a huge part, particularly if I’m lacking the motivation to actually begin a piece. I can spend hours reading, usually material from the same genre that I’m writing in, (e.g. articles if I’m doing a blog post). Watching films/TV shows about writers can also give me a boost to start writing. It sounds like procrastination but I consider it research.
Where do you feel most inspired?
I like to be somewhere with a window. My flat at uni last year was the perfect spot because my desk was right under the window overlooking a lovely canal. If I got a bit lost with a sentence or couldn’t find a phrase then I’d just sit and watch the trees and the water for a while. Sometimes I’d open the window too so that I could hear the birds and the leaves rustling – it was the perfect set-up.
What piece of advice would you give to other young aspiring writers?
Don’t worry about making your writing too ‘ordinary’. I can get struck with some pretty random ideas, and I used to fight them off for fear of people not understanding or thinking that I’m weird, but it turns out that they can make for great stories. I once wrote a love story about a clown and it developed into one of my better pieces. If you get an idea that you think is a bit odd – run with it. If anything, it will keep people intrigued.
Finally; you’ve recently set up a blog and I just loved your post How to be alone without being lonely. Could you tell me a bit about the blog and how you’ve found the process of starting it?
The blog is very new so I am still getting the hang of things, but it’s something that I’ve been wanting to set up for the past year or so. I was waiting for the right time, the right name, the right content, but this summer I decided to just set the plan in motion!
Choosing the name was the most gruelling process, but everything else seemed to click into place after. I had already written a couple of articles for Society 19, so that somewhat prepared me, and I knew that I wanted my blog to be quite a positive space to share my creativity, so I took that idea and went with it!
A big thanks to Charlotte for this wonderful interview – she really is a young writer to keep an eye on! Head over to Charlotte’s blog Teacup Chaptersand have a little explore, you won’t regret it.
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!!).
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.
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…
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.
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).
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).
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.
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 chantsQuiche! Quiche! Quiche! in the distance).
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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 – which 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.
On 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.
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.
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 how 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…
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.*
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).
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.
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!
To keep up to date on our adventures, follow on Instagram or go like Quills & Coffee on Facebook!
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.)
As 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.
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.
I loved celebrating International Women’s Day yesterday, but let’s face it – one day just isn’t enough to celebrate all of the strong and influential women that help mould our lives. In honour of International Women’s Day and – hey, why not? – just women in general, I’ve picked out three female-oriented and wonderfully written young adult novels to celebrate with you guys.
These three young adult novels hold such a close place in my heart, and I wanted to share them with you all. Each of the following novels was written by a talented female author, with intricate and beautifully written plots and equally intricate female protagonists.
The Taste of Blue Light by Lydia Ruffles
This novel is Ruffles’ debut, and it’s written in such an incredibly visceral way that she’s bound to have set herself up for a successful authoring career. The story follows Lux – a student at a prestigious art school in London, who has recently developed synaesthesia, a condition that makes her taste, feel and smell colours rather than see them. The narrative of this piece is so disjointed and often disturbing, but never so much that the reader can’t follow Lux’s journey. Through Lux’s panic attacks and repressed traumas, Ruffles really captures the reality of mental health conditions for young people.
“If Sylvia Plath wrote a novel for young adults, The Taste of Blue Light would be it… Beautiful. Visceral. Gripping. I loved it.” – Louise O’Neill
Lux is strong, resourceful, and often too independent to accept help and support from others. As readers, we’re very much in Lux’s head as she tries to come to terms with her condition, uncover the mysteries of her past, and navigate school and home life. One of the more refreshing elements of The Taste of Blue Light is the supporting characters: Lux’s wonderful female friends that never waver in their support, even when they aren’t sure how to help, Lux’s teachers, her mother – the women around her that hold her up, even when she doesn’t think she needs holding.
I can’t recommend this novel enough – there are so many lines throughout the novel that are so poignantly phrased that they may as well be poetry. You can purchase the novel online here. (Content warning: Lux is a complicated girl, and the book does include depictions of drug use.)
Clean by Juno Dawson
I’ve always been a fan of Juno – a female writer who is a huge advocate for the LGBTQ+ community – but I think she’s really outdone herself with Clean. Protagonist Lexi has grown up living the life of a celebrity, hanging out with Victoria’s Secret models and her father’s limitless credit cards; then her heroin addiction lands her in an exclusive rehab facility in the middle of God-awful nowhere.
It’s only in rehab that Lexi learns about her addiction and can grow into the person she truly wants to be. Everyone she meets in the facility is struggling from their own addictions, whether it be food, sex, or drugs. The supporting characters – particularly the females – in this novel are just as inspirational as Lexi herself becomes. The female owner of the centre is strong, successful, and has turned her grief into something beautiful with all that she has achieved. Kendall, a transgender girl suffering with anorexia, teaches Lexi the values of being non-judgemental and open to support.
“Compulsively readable and touching – I loved it.” – Marian Keyes
This is a novel that is as deep and gripping as it is light-hearted. There are tear-jerking moments, but Lexi’s sarcastic nature will always leave readers feeling warm. I was given an ARC of Clean, but it will be out in stores April 2018, and it’s worth pre-ordering! (Content warning: those currently suffering with addiction might want to avoid due to triggering situations. Mild drug use, anorexia, binge eating disorders, abuse and death are all mentioned in this novel.)
We Are Okay by Nina LaCour
Firstly, I think we can all agree that the cover art for We Are Okay is overwhelmingly stunning. Can I pretend I didn’t buy this one just for the cover at first? Anyway, LaCour has published many novels for young adults now; another favourite of mine is the novel she co-wrote with David Levithan, You Know Me Well. This novel, however, is one of the best young adult novels I can think of for female YA readers.
Protagonist Marin is at college in New York, far away from her old life on the Californian coast. It’s winter, and every other student has gone home for the holidays – except Marin, who doesn’t have a home to go to. When she is visited by her best friend from her old life, Marin has to face up to some truths and confront her past.
“Short, poetic and gorgeously written. . . . The world LaCour creates is fragile but profoundly humane.” — The New York Times Book Review
The entire novel is set over the space of a few days; Marin and her friend are snowed in, alone, and forced to explore their past relationship and why they’ve both been so distant with each other. This is a novel about sadness, grief, loss and love. And it’s the right time of year to read this one – We Are Okay is a novel to read while you’re curled up with a hot beverage and snow is falling outside. Perfect for readers looking for realistic and sensitively written LGBT fiction. Buy it here. (Content warning: grief, loss, death.)
Buy, read, enjoy. Although I’ve attached Amazon links to the above novels, please support these wonderful authors by buying through your local bookshops if you can!
Phoebe Morgan, debut novelist and author of psychological thriller The Doll House talks writing, editing, and her advice to young authors with Niall Cunniffe.
Could you give readers a brief introduction to what you’ve published, and what you’re currently working on?
My first book, The Doll House, was published last year. It’s a psychological thriller about two sisters who find themselves the target of a stranger seeking revenge. I’ve just sent my second book to my publisher after doing a structural edit with my agent, so it’s all quite nerve-wracking! It’s another psychological thriller, but the title hasn’t yet been confirmed as yet. Watch this space!
You’re a commissioning editor for a trade publisher by day. Do you think this has helped you improve your writing or editing process and, if so, how?
Yes, definitely. I’m an Editor first and foremost. I work with a long list of authors, so I see both sides of the process. Working as an Editor in publishing has given me a wider understanding of the commercial market, I think, and seeing it from both sides helps me empathise more with authors, and gives me a different perspective. I’ve found comfort in the fact that I know how the publishing process works, all the ins and outs that go into making a book and getting it into readers hands. There’s a lot of work involved!
Do you think aspiring authors should get some experience in the publishing industry to help with their writing and career?
No, I don’t think that’s necessary. I would suggest they read widely and read around their chosen genre. They should keep an eye on what’s doing well and becoming successful – and figure out why certain books are more appealing or gripping than others. But writers should always be true to themselves, too – the market is an ever-changing beast so you’ve always got to keep your own voice and write what you love.
Do you think it’s becoming increasingly common for writers and authors to also have a full time job nowadays?
I think this depends on what stage of the journey they’re at, really. I know a lot of writers who balance writing around full time jobs, some of whom have children as well which is awe-inspiring! As a general point, writing isn’t always the most financially rewarding career in the world, so it’s very common for people to juggle multiple jobs, especially when starting out. I love my job – I always wanted to be an Editor, and I wouldn’t want to simply write on my own, I think I’d go mad! Of course, some authors do write full time; I think it’s a very personal choice.
Do you have a place you always go to write, or somewhere you feel most inspired?
I can write anywhere, though I’ve got a new desk recently which I’m really excited about. The shelves above the desk have some little reminders – a plant my agent gave me, a poster with an inspirational quote, my books about publishing. It’s really nice to have your own space to write, so I guess I’m lucky. However, I wrote most of The Doll House while babysitting in the evenings, or sitting in cafés at night.
How much planning and outlining do you undertake before beginning to write your novel?
I don’t plan at all, to begin with. I find it really difficult. I did write a synopsis for my agent and publisher for my second book, but that’s the extent of it. Everyone works in different ways. I prefer to get the first draft done and then edit it. I’m not one of those writers who can plan out a whole novel with sticky notes and spread sheets. I probably end up writing more drafts. I’m an editor by nature, so I’m most comfortable editing a lot than extensively planning.
Do have any other hobbies and passions, outside writing and publishing?
I’ve very passionate about the Society of Young Publishers; I’m co-chairing the London branch this year. Writing and publishing are where my main interests lie – I’m fairly terrible at everything else! Although I am trying to learn how to cook… with mixed results.
If you have one piece of advice to offer to young aspiring authors, what would it be?
Be persistent. You have to keep going. It’s a good idea to perhaps have your writing read by other people and be prepared to take editorial feedback. Focus on your own journey, and make sure you’re doing the best you can. Don’t fall into the trap of comparing yourself to others – just keep your head down, do the work and make the most of every opportunity.
Keep up with Phoebe’s journey on her website, where she frequently posts about writing, editing and the world of publishing. You can also follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
A big thank you to Niall for organizing such an insightful interview with Phoebe! Keep yourself in the loop with Niall’s work by following him on twitter and checking out his blog.
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.
When I was doing my A Levels, my best friend Amy would send our group of friends an email every single Friday wishing us a good week and linking us to The Cure’s Friday, I’m in love. That was my soundtrack this morning, when I was cleaning my house; I danced around with my mop and vacuum and thought of how simple life was back then… As it stands at the moment, I have edits to do on one of my novels, plotting and writing to do on the other, a part-time job, and a Masters degree to contend with. Oh, younger Beth, you really did have it easy, kid.
After blitzing my house (a regular past-time whenever I get a day off work), I escaped to my nearest coffee shop – which is now, amazingly, about three minutes walk from home. God bless Costa for opening a store on every street corner. My laptop is fully charged, which is a miracle in itself, and I’m armed with notebooks and iced tea – all the necessities for a good writing day. My background music for today is the soundtrack of The End of the F**king World, which, by the way, was a pleasure to watch. I’ve already stolen several songs from the soundtrack to add to my own manuscript playlist…
Speaking of, manuscript playlists are something that I find hugely helpful when writing. My current work of progress has very dark vibes and a confusing and fragmented narrative, and I find it so much easier to get into the head of my protagonist when I’m listening to music with the same kind of twisted undertones. I’m forever trawling through Spotify and YouTube for more songs to add to my playlists: I always feel better when they’re 2+ hours long, so that I’m not distracted by hearing the same songs over and over and can focus on my writing.
Yesterday was deadline day (hooray), which means the first five chapters of my latest novel have now been submitted to my manuscript editor for review. I don’t have to think about edits for that one until the end of February now, so in the meantime… I’m writing. Beginning a novel is always my favourite part of the process: probably because I’m not really a planner so when I’m writing, I tend to have little to no idea of where my characters will be taking me. A little uncertainty is always fun.
Anyway, I’m 14,000 words in at the minute and really enjoying the motifs that keep cropping up and the characters that kind of seem trustworthy to start with and are slowly becoming less so as the plot thickens. I’m hoping to reach around 70,000 for this particular manuscript, as it’s for a YA audience. My first draft of my first novel ended at around 55,000, but now I’m discovering that I have far more words to play around with and probably should have written way more to begin with – while I was in the flow of that particular story.
I’m thankful I headed to Costa when I did, because it’s just started pouring down outside and I didn’t bring a coat. It was sunny earlier! Unpredictable British weather. You’d think I’d have adapted by now to living in the South of England by carrying an umbrella or bringing a spare jacket or something, but that rarely happens… I think when you’ve come from the North, there’s a certain element of pride when it comes to cold weather. Duh, I’m from the North. I can hack it. Brolly?? ‘Course I don’t need a brolly.
I should probably get back to working on the manuscript. I hope everyone has a great day! It definitely feels like a day to be creative, if you’re that way inclined. Enjoy.
I think it’s safe to say that most writers would consider themselves quite solitary people. Let’s face it – writing is a solitary activity, there’s no getting around it. But nobody ever made a bestselling novel by holing themselves up in their room for three years. As writers, we need the support and inspiration from people around us to feed our writing – and there are so many different ways we can keep in touch with the outside world while still focusing on our works in progress.
One wonderful way to stay in the loop without even leaving the comfort of your home is social media. That’s right: get tweeting people. I find that Twitter is one of the more useful platforms for writers. Set yourself up with a profile if you haven’t already, and really delve into the different writing hashtags that crop up every so often. For children’s authors in particular, Twitter is invaluable for showing new and upcoming writers what agents and publishers are looking for. There are different conversations happening all the time, and sometimes there are scheduled chats that you can get involved in. There’s always room for new ideas – and sending your opinion via a tweet is so much less nerve-wracking than if you piped up in person. Get involved!
Beth’s Tips: Children’s and YA authors should try looking out for #ukyachat #MSWL and #manuscriptwishlist!
Another great way for us writers to stay in touch with the dreaded ‘outside world’ are writing groups. This can be a terrifying concept for some people, but the only way to find out if you like a writing group and the dynamic the writers share is to go and find out. Try out a few different writing groups and see how you feel, see if there’s anyone you click with, anyone who’s writing similar stuff to you, anyone who couldn’t be more different but seems like a laugh… Writing groups are really wonderful places where you can seek manuscript feedback before sending your work out to agents. If an agent is given a manuscript with spelling or syntax errors in the first few pages, they won’t be looking much further into the piece. This is why it’s so important to be involved with the writing community to get support editing and beta-reading your work before it’s sent off!
Beth’s Tips: Rather than relying on Google, UK writers should check out Writing Magazine for tips on what writing groups are available in their local area.
Writer’s festivals are also a wonderful way to meet like-minded people and off-load all of your writing problems. When I visited my first Writer’s Festival, I was blown away by the amount of people who swarmed together to complain about all things writer-ly: the amount of celebrities taking over the children’s book market, the uselessness of Scrivener, having to waste their lives at boring jobs to support their writing… Writer’s know how to complain, and it warms your heart to be able to share in it together. Festivals are also great places to attend inspiring and motivational lectures and seminars, and to share your time and experiences with writer’s who are in a similar position to you. So much knowledge and advice is exchanged at festivals – there really is nothing like it!
Beth’s Tips: My favourite UK writing festival is the Winchester Writer’s Festival – I had a wonderful, inspirational time when I attended last year. Scholarships are available worth £400 if you’re between 18-25 and passionate about writing. Find out more on their website here.
Finally, the support network that is already in place – your friends and family – can be a great way for you to avoid slipping into the dreaded void of loneliness. Schedule breaks in your writing to give your mum a ring, or meet up with a friend. Something I regularly do is make plans to have a coffee with a friend at about 2 in the afternoon. This means I have the whole morning to write, I can then walk twenty minutes to town, have an hour or so chilling with my friend, walk twenty minutes back and get right back at it. Be sure to always give yourself breaks when writing – the moment it starts to feel like a chore, the harder it’ll be to get those words down.
Beth’s Tips: When you have a designated ‘writing day’, draw yourself a cheeky timetable the night before so you know which chapters you’re supposed to be focusing on every hour – this way you can also schedule in some time with friends or family to break up the day.
I hope you found this article helpful! If you’d like to add any other ways to stay social as a writer, please do leave a comment below. Happy writing!
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.
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.
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!
Aspiring novelist Niall Cunniffe talks vampires, teenage fiction, and finding your own place in the writing community.
Could you give readers a brief introduction to what you’ve written, and what you’re currently writing?
To date, I have written one and a half books, including several short stories. I wrote my first book one summer while at University, having failed to find a job and wondering what to do with all my time. I’d been studying English Literature, so I thought, why not write a book?
I didn’t have much of a plan, apart from write a modern Gothic story for today’s readers. The book is called Elm, a character I was then obsessed with. I got up every day, started writing at 10am, and didn’t stop until I wrote 2,000 words. Only about half way through the book did I actually know where the story was going. I think I finished it in about a month, and have been editing it since – that’s when the real work begins!
I am also currently writing a vampire book, and hopefully series, for teenagers as part of NanoWrimo. I’ve just hit the half-way point so wish me luck!
Do you have a place you always go to write, or somewhere you feel most inspired?
I wish I had my own ‘writing place,’ but my current lifestyle doesn’t allow for such luxuries. It’s difficult to find somewhere quiet in London. I tend to write best at home, in Ireland, as there are few distractions and I can let my mind wander. Thinking is very important, and undisturbed time. Libraries close too early, so that’s out. I get very distracted writing in cafes, as I am drawn into conversations and sometimes find them more intriguing than my writing! It’s terrible, I know, but I think all writers are curious like that.
Who is your favourite author at the moment?
Oh gosh – I admire so many for different reasons. I don’t think I have a favourite author. I mean I admire J.K. Rowling, Stephen King, Dan Brown, but all for very different reasons, like how they have contributed to the publishing industry and beyond, not necessarily because of their writing. In terms of writing, if Madeline Miller has a follow-up to The Song of Achilles, let me know.
Do you think having a writing community is a good idea for aspiring writers?
Absolutely. It is important to stay motivated, and having others around you for encouragement definitely helps. Writing is a lonely pursuit, plagued with self-doubt. Ensure you surround yourself with encouraging people, unless of course you are one of those lucky few who have the utmost belief in themselves.
What is your favourite age range and genre to write for?
I would say teenagers and young adults. I read a lot of books as a teenager, so I feel I know how to write for that age group. Books helped me a lot as a teenager, so I feel I should help others struggling in that age group too. My favourite genre would be horror. There’s so much you can do with it, and so many sub-genres to explore.
If you have one piece of advice to offer to young aspiring authors, what would it be?
Believe in yourself. There won’t be a word on the page if you don’t believe in yourself.
You can keep up to date with Niall’s writing on his twitter or on his blog. Big thanks Niall for taking part in the Aspiring Writers Series!
If you are an unpublished writer with your own writing journey to share on Quills and Coffee, drop me an email at email@example.com.
From her hometown of Manchester, aspiring author E.F. McAdam talks noisy writing places, the importance of Young Adult fiction, and why you should grab yourself some writer friends, ASAP.
Firstly, could you tell us a bit about yourself and your current writing projects?
I’m Eleanor McAdam and I’m a Bath Spa Creative Writing graduate. At the moment I’m working on a seven book series of which I’ve completed two and started the third (that’s not including editing). The series is about a post-apocalyptic world in which Gods can be seen in human form: sitting on clouds, trampling cities and the like (I’m sure you can see now why it’s post-apocalyptic). The series follows Hara, Demigod of Sin, who is struggling to find his place in the world and protect the people he loves, namely Liliana, a girl who he gifted at birth. In a world with monsters, magic and some seriously messed up cults, the series follows Hara and his companions in the hope to regain a semblance of balance between the Creator Gods, Life and Death.
Are there certain must-haves for you to create your writing environment?
For me (and I know I’m weird on this one), I need noise. I write best with other people, with music, in a bustling environment. Ideas come best to me walking on or the bus, so I’m sure to carry a notepad wherever I go. But when I need to get some serious words on paper, I usually sit in a coffee shop. The downside to this? It’s expensive! At home, I struggle to write, especially if it’s quiet. I can write while watching TV or a film, but mostly prefer it when my boyfriend is playing a game (and it helps when the genre is the same to inspire me!). But other than the actual environment, all I need are my notepads, coloured pens and my laptop. Then I’m good to go!
What are your favourite age ranges and genres to write for, and why do you think it’s important?
I am a fantasy and science fiction writer mainly, and usually stick to either adult or YA (most people tell me I’m best at YA). Everyone knows why YA is important: it’s the safety of a children’s book with all the real life issues and tragedy of an adult’s novel. My own novels (if they are indeed YA as I’m starting to believe) are horrifically awful, but that’s the point – it lets teenagers read it from the safety of their own lives.
I believe fantasy and science fiction are undervalued as a genre. They not only allow imagination to grow and an escape from our own horribly boring world, but they are often metaphors for real life. I can never completely make up a new world, whether fantasy or alien, so I use our own world as a base. I take the weird and wonderful and often atrocious events and places from our own world and explore. It’s the perfect way to highlight the terrible things we do: such as colonising a new planet and killing all the aliens, just as colonists have done hundreds of times in our lifetime.
Where’s your favourite writing place?
It’s changed over the years: first, the end seat on the sofa at my childhood home. For some reason, I’ve always loved that spot. I’d spend days on end there, barely moving (apart from snacks) and it has produced a lot of stories.
When I went to university, I was amazed to find my bedroom in second and third year was perfect. I didn’t use my desk, just sat in the chair and had my legs up on the bed. From that position, I could see through my window and watch the traffic of Bath bustling by.
Now, it’s a cute little café Nero by the river in Manchester. I love the barristas and I love my little booth at the back (anyone who follows me on Instagram will know that!). I’ve written both the books in my novel there, and I intend to keep that spot for as long as I can.
Do you think it’s important for writers to have a writing group to workshop with?
Before university, I wouldn’t have agreed. I hated showing anyone my work, but after that got beaten out of me at Bath Spa, I loved it. I value every single one of my friends’ opinions and I know they are honest and truthful. The key is to not only find someone with whom you’re comfortable enough to share honestly, but someone who writes just as well as you do. Non-writers are great readers to give a clue of the audience’s reaction, but real editors your own age are the best. I’m so lucky to have met so many at Bath Spa!
Finally, what advice do you have for young aspiring writers?
It’s cliché, but just keep writing. It was one of the hardest things to get my head around, but you need to just write. Don’t get too crazy on the right word in the right sentence; just write something and move on. My first drafts are awful, but my second is better. I’m a total ‘write first edit later’ writer. If somethings on the paper, not only will you feel better about yourself, but you’ll be able to finish things much quicker.
And lastly, believe in yourself. Anyone can be a writer and anyone can get published. You just have to want it.
Big thanks to Eleanor for a fun and inspiring interview! If you’re an unpublished or aspiring writer and would like to be featured on Quills & Coffee, drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or if you’ve been motivated by this interview – leave a comment below!
It was only this afternoon, when I spotted an abandoned antique shop on the way to Callen‘s house, that I realised how much of my writing is influenced by normal, mundane, everyday things.
A bit of context for you – I was heading to my friend’s house because he has the new Taylor Swift album and, uh… I need to listen to it. On repeat. So, I was POWER-WALKING through Bath, desperate to go and listen to some banging tunes, and then I saw this antique shop. It’s kind of run-down. Decrepit, really. It’s so dirty that the windows look grey, and there are old rusting bars across the door, and Scott’s Antiques is written along the top in a creepy, willow-y font. I had to stop. Look. Take it in.
I’ve already decided that this particular antique shop will be picked up from picturesque Bath and plonked wherever I decide it needs to be in my novel. I have so many ideas already – haunted objects, illegal squatters… All of this came from that one shop, a shop that I’ve walked past a thousand times and never noticed. Maybe if I had been even more desperate to listen to Taylor, or if I’d crossed the road at a different point, I never would have seen it at all.
“You cannot wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.”
Every Creative Writing lecturer or guest speaker will always tell you the same thing – carry a notebook everywhere. I used to just kind of ignore that little bit of advice. Uh, I have things to do? I can’t just whack out my notebook in the queue at Starbucks because I see some woman has cool hair that I want to use for a character. But, flash-forward a few years, and I rarely go anywhere without a notebook / laptop / some form of writing instrument.
It’s not just settings either – cool antique shops or whatever catches your eye – it’s everything. People can inspire characters, certain places invoke certain feelings, and any kind of sensory experience is absolute gold-dust when you’re writing in first person. As a writer, I believe your brain is already hard-wired to look out for this kind of stuff. You’ll store anything you see automatically, but you might not actually use it unless you’re paying attention. When you see something that inspires you, make a note of it so you can integrate it into your creative work later.
I guess what I’m trying to say is, if another writer tells you that it’s important to always have a notebook… don’t ignore them. You’re wasting time. Get a cheap (or expensive, whatever floats your boat) notepad and just keep it with you. Because, honestly, ideas can flit so quickly out of your head. You know when you have a cool dream and then you can’t remember it in the morning? Same kind of deal. Just make sure you have something to WRITE with when inspiration strikes.
Aspiring author Naomi Louise Jenkins (teatimewithnaomi) talks mental health, writing essentials, and how she’s finding the process of writing her first full manuscript.
Tell us a bit about your current work in progress.
It’s about a young woman in her mid-twenties, rebuilding her life after a failed suicide attempt. The novel is set in Wales, where my protagonist tries to reintegrate herself into family life and resolve conflicts that have been years in the making. Through a series of flashbacks, the reader learns about what pushed her over the edge, and why she so desperately ran away from who she used to be, and where she came from. I’m really enjoying the process of getting to know these characters; it’s a novel about relationships, mental health, and more than anything – new beginnings. There’s always time to start again – to chase the life you really want to lead.
You focus a lot on mental health issues in your current novel. Why do you think it’s important for readers to engage with literature that tackles tough subjects?
You know, I think mental health is so stigmatised. It’s getting better, but it’s still not something that people openly talk about, so I think literature is our way of having a silent conversation with ourselves. When you think of reading books, you think of going on these wild adventures, but sometimes a character’s adventure is more introspective and emotional. And sometimes – that’s the adventure we need to read.
So many people suffer from mental health issues these days – my main hope is that people will come away from the novel with a sense of understanding, and maybe even a sense of belonging. One of the worst things about mental health is how lonely it makes you feel, but that can change. I want readers to know that it will get better. It will. And maybe the novel will be able to help the friends and families of sufferers – these people are the support systems, and sometimes it can be hard for them to truly understand how their loved ones feel.
Where do you feel most inspired?
I love writing in cafes. I love watching people interact, listening to conversations – I especially love sitting near a window with natural light, and just really connecting with the world around me. Although my eyes tend to be glued to my laptop, I am, essentially, writing about life, so I like to be somewhere where life is bustling on around me.
Do you have any writing essentials?
Without a doubt, I have to have a cup of tea. Always. I have to have a notebook with me, even if I’m writing with my laptop. It’s kind of my anchor, in a way. If I get stuck on what I’m writing, I’ll turn to my notebook. I’ve always found it easier to write when I’m putting pen to paper – the traditional way.
I used to listen to lyrical music, but now I prefer classical or ambient mixer. I like to find ambient sounds that match the scene I’m writing – it’s a great way to connect to your fictional surroundings and really immerse yourself in what you’re writing.
Who is your favourite author at the minute?
Louise O’ Neill. Her honesty is just beautiful. Her courage to write about important, and sometimes difficult, topics is hugely admirable. She’s the author I take most inspiration from, and I aim to have the same kind of honest, raw emotion in my own work.
How do you find the process of switching between writing your blog, and writing your manuscript, a much longer piece of work?
At times it can be difficult, especially times when I’m deep in my manuscript and know I need to write a blog post. There have definitely been times when I’ve neglected to write a blog post because I’m just too committed to the novel and the path it’s taking. However, the break is nice, and sometimes it’s good to write something shorter and grounded in my world, and then flit back to writing about these fictional characters. Often, my blog posts will inspire certain elements of the manuscript as well, or prompt me to think more deeply about an element of my plot. So they kind of go hand in hand!
Finally, do you have any advice for young aspiring writers?
Always have a notebook with you. Always. Don’t compare yourself to other writers because the work you’re reading has been edited a million times, and you’re only just beginning. Write the story you would love to stumble upon in a bookshop because, chances are, there’s someone else who wants to read that book, too.
You can keep up to date with Naomi’s writing journey on her blog.
Tonight, my wonderful friend and I were talking, and she was telling me about how she feels a failure when she has to ask for help with things, or when she isn’t at the same point in life as everyone else, because she’s in her mid-twenties now. Life can be so difficult when we convince ourselves we should be doing something or should have achieved something by a certain age – and there are so many pressures around us that we have to fight to create our own timetable in life.
Creating your own timetable means recognising your strengths and weaknesses, and being able to set realistic goals to achieve without restricting yourself with time limits.
Creating your own timetable doesn’t mean deciding you’re going to be married by twenty or have your first novel published by twenty-five. Creating your own timetable means recognising your strengths and weaknesses, and being able to set realistic goals to achieve without restricting yourself with time limits.
It’s also important to remember that your life isn’t just a big timeline of everything you’ve done. It’s everything you’ve learnt and achieved along the way – the little things that help you build the person you want to be.
Everybody marks success in their own different ways – and it’s vital to remember that when you’re setting your own goals for the future. I don’t want to be a chef, or an athlete – so I don’t need to train hard in the gym or spend my days preparing for my Masterchef debut. Someone else’s success of running a marathon might be my equivalent of eating a cheeseburger – our different achievements are equally valid, but rarely perceived that way by others.
It’s also important to remember that your life isn’t just a big timeline of everything you’ve done. It’s everything you’ve learnt and achieved along the way – the little things that help you build the person you want to be. Think about what you’d like to achieve in the long-term, and rather than setting a date you want to achieve it by, think about the steps you can take every day to get there.
For example, I want to write another novel. I’m not setting myself a date that I want to complete said novel by – because if I don’t meet my self-imposed deadline then all I’ll feel is guilt and failure. What I can do is set myself a little goal of writing 1,000 words a day. That way, I know that I’ll have a draft of my novel in less than six months, and then I have lots of time to edit and polish that draft before sending it to publishers.
Sometimes, even small goals (like 1,000 words a day) can be risky – any kind of goal can be risky, when you think about it, because it opens you up to the prospect of failure. It can be a vicious cycle, but I always remind myself; if I don’t set goals, I won’t feel like a failure… but I won’t feel like I’ve achieved anything, either. The only way to achieve success is to set yourself reasonable goals to achieve. You’re working towards something. Learning. Growing.
If little goals seem insurmountable (and they often do, depending on how we’re feeling), then set yourself a goal that has a little more flexibility. Another example – if I’m having a busy month with lots of writing deadlines and other commitments, I set myself a writing goal of 5,000 words a week. That way, I can get away with writing nothing on a couple of days, and 1,000 or 2,000 words on others. I can trick myself into meeting my target by making things just a little bit easier for myself in the short term.
When you take a break – from work, your studies, whatever is causing you stress or unhappiness – you have time to listen.
Moving on to things that aren’t wholly creative – those ‘real world’ jobs, for instance – we also need to factor those into our life timetables. Sometimes, we need to recognise when our mental or physical health is taking a turn, or when we just aren’t happy in the place we’ve ended up. Taking time off from your job, or taking a break in your career, can help you to truly understand yourself and your needs.
When you take a break – from work, your studies, whatever is causing you stress or unhappiness – you have time to listen. Listen to yourself. Listen to your body. Just by quieting the other things around you, you can learn when you need to sleep, eat, create – and let your body and your mind fall into a routine again.
Below are some little short term goals that I’ve set myself (with no time restrictions or limits to achieve them):
Write 500-1,000 words a day (more, if you feel like it!)
Read something new every week (a novel, a children’s book… even a blog post!)
Try cooking a new recipe once a month
Make your bed every morning
Clean the house (properly) at least once a week
Say yes to new opportunities (if they feel right)
I tell myself this all the time, so I want to tell you guys, too: there will always be people who seem ‘ahead’ of you in life. There will be people who are married with kids before you are, people who put a mortgage down on a house before you do, who get a dog before you do, who finish a novel before you do… and there will be people who complete these things way after you – or not at all. You are individual, unique, and worth no less than anyone who seems to have achieved more.
Your timetable for life will be just as unique as you are. It’s all about moving forwards.
What little goals have you set yourself recently? Let me know in the comments below.
There are too many things I want to write / paint / create – and I have to squeeze a real life in my schedule, too. I imagine this is a problem that lots of Creatives have. There are so many things we want to dabble in – so many projects that we start but never finish because we get distracted by something equally wonderful – so how do we combat it?!
Balancing my creativity is something that is a huge issue for me. As well as writing children’s fiction, I’m also a singer and songwriter, with a bit of a thing for art as well. Tonight, for example, I know that I have to edit the final chapter of my novel. It needs work, I have a deadline on Friday, and I actually want to get it done. But then – BAM – out of nowhere, I get an idea for a song that is just screaming to be written. So… I’ll just sit down and write it, right? Surely that’s the only way to get it down and out of the way?
How am I supposed to manage all of this creative energy?
Sounds easy enough to just take five minutes out of my editing schedule… But then, that five minutes magically morphs into two hours, and I’ve written two and a half semi-decent songs that I know I will do nothing with… and done none of the edits on the final chapter. As if this wasn’t enough, I can now feel a short story idea blooming and have a sudden craving for hummus.
Alright, so the hummus thing isn’t that creative. But how am I supposed to manage all of this creative energy? How do I balance trying to be creative in so many aspects of my life – and also do “normal” things like go to work and pay the rent? IS THERE A SIMPLE ANSWER?
I spoke to my mum recently about getting a job that will be flexible enough to fit around my studies. She suggested doing some bar work.
“It’ll just be evenings and weekends,” she said. “You can fit it around university and still have time to write!”
“… But evenings are when I write.”
My mum sighed. “Well, can’t you just write in the mornings instead?”
I wish it was that simple to change my creative pattern, Mum. But things never seem to work out that way. Sometimes, I sit down at my desk at 9am and bash out a few thousand words before proceeding to tell myself I am basically Stephen King now and I can retire in a mansion brimming with pride. Most of the time, though, I go an entire day feeling terrible because I haven’t written anything, go to bed that night… and then wake up suddenly at 3am with a wonderful idea that insists I sit and write until 7.
Sure, it’d be great to get those wonderful ideas at a more convenient time. Would I like an undisturbed sleep pattern? Yup. A nice job doing bar work in the evenings to get some extra cash? Sure. But can I sacrifice my creativity just so things are a little easier for the time being? … Probably not.
Alongside this, I have the classic problem of never being able to finish anything. Sure, I finished that one novel, but the edits are taking forever and I can’t keep my mind focused on it enough to get everything sorted. I have another novel I’m writing on my MA that I’m super excited about and want to give all of my attention to, a picture book that needs a fair bit of work, songs to be written, paintings to be painted… There must be a way to stick to a project without getting distracted. Right?
Basically, I’m writing this post to let you all know that I’m screwed. We all probably are. I can’t seem to find a way to a) have a normal life without sacrificing my creativity and b) stick to one project and finish the damn thing.
I found an article called A Much Better Way to Think About the Work-Life Balance, which includes some good advice like finding out when you’re most creative and integrating that into your schedule, being open to change, finding time to do the things that you love… I just have such a passion for writing and being creative that I feel like sitting in a part-time job, just to make rent, would just be soul-destroying. So dramatic, right? I keep taking short-term, temporary jobs in creative fields (reviewing shows, working at festivals) to keep myself afloat, but in the long-term, I might need a more realistic plan. But being realistic is not really my strong point (and it’s boring).
Have you found a way to balance your projects and your personal life? Or are you in the same sinking ship?
Who knew being creative could be such a nightmare?
First off, let me just say that I am probably the least productive person on the planet. So, when I actually have productive days, it’s something of a surprise. A miracle, some might say.
This morning, I started my day by blasting Taylor Swift’s new tune and cleaning my kitchen. Laugh if you will, but dancing around gets me moving and wakes me up – and the only way I can suffer through cleaning is by making it (semi) fun. Call it what you want (get it?), but I’m calling it productive.
I cleaned, I got dressed, I made breakfast – all huge achievements. While I was relaxing with my green tea, my good friend Callen was on his way over to my house, and we spent the day manuscript editing (because my deadline is Friday, in case you’d forgotten. I most certainly have not). My novel is split into Part One and Part Two, and today we smashed the edits on Part Two. I have lots of revisions to type up, and a final chapter that needs reworking completely – but I’m going to tackle all of that tonight.
It was really helpful to talk through all of Callen’s notes, and to decide which characters I can afford to lose, and which one’s need to be developed further. We have our Master’s course on Wednesday’s, and I’m heading to London on Friday… So, I only have three solid days in total to finish the rest of the revisions. Which is fine. Totally fiiiine. *Inserts Ross Geller’s overreaction GIF*
We’ve drawn up a timetable for the chapters that need the most work, so I’m feeling confident about what needs to be looked at. I have five chapters to do tomorrow, eight to smash on Tuesday, and, uh, the rest of the novel on Thursday. (I’m fiiiiine.)
Overall, I think today was super productive, and I’m thankful I have such a wonderful writing buddy to rock up at my door with co-op meal deals and endless words of support and encouragement (and sometimes firm, “Nope, cut it” ‘s that are equally important and appreciated).
Anyway – I’m procrastinating now. Lots to write / edit / cut out completely. Enjoy Bonfire Night everyone! Be safe!
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…
(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.)
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?
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.
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.
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.