Saturday, 31 December 2011

Dear 2011, the year that was.

Oh how the times do change. This year has been great. Ok, so I don’t have the job I love (yet!), I didn’t win the lottery or get engaged to Richard Armitage (yet!). But I can honestly say that 2011, you have been good to me. Before we hit 2012, here are 12 things that 2011 taught me:

1. Things can only get better. This time last year I thought that things could only get better because they couldn’t get any worse. I know that things can only get better in 2012 because the foundations have been laid in 2011 for a great year and a great future.

2. Good times and bad times make a friendship. They say you learn who your true friends are when the shit hits the fan. But you also learn who really cares when things start coming up roses. Also you can stay friends with someone, even if they have buggered off to Australia. In-depth conversations about Buffy the Vampire Slayer are go! 

3. Having direction brings positivity. This year I finally realised what I wanted to do with my life. Or, more accurately, how I wanted to pursue it. In only a matter of weeks I will be starting a course, training as a make-up artist. This thrills and terrifies me in equal measure.

4. Never go back. Whatever old feelings might come crashing back, the past doesn’t change. Always move forward. Like a shark. Let it go and you open yourself up to much cooler things.

5. Personal style is important. I always used to say that I didn’t really care what I looked like, that what was inside was what mattered most. At the same time I didn’t want to look like everyone else. But this year I took control of my appearance. I threw away every item of clothing that I didn’t like, didn’t suit me, didn’t wear. I started to think about what I wore, how I did my hair. I started to think about what I bought. I bought and wore only things I loved – both new and vintage. It’s amazing how much a bright outfit that you feel really good in can make the day start in such a great way.

6. Dancing is essential to life. Not only is the best work out ever – I know this because I ache the next morning – it puts you in the best mood! No matter how crap your day, how tired you are or how blue, shaking it on a sticky dance floor to epic tunes will fill you with joy. Don’t even get me started on Zumba!

7. People are inspirational – find them. I have found such inspiration in the following blogs: (check out her book Love & Sequins – too good!); A Beautiful Mess; Bangsandabun.

8. Kundalini Yoga is an addiction. It just makes me feel so good – so calm and exhilarated afterwards. I’m totally addicted to it. I’m not the world’s greatest runner, this is much more my thing. I still try to run at least once a week though. Exercise really does make you feel great in your own skin.

9. Natural beauty is the ultimate. I use raw cocoa butter from Akoma which I melt down in silicone cupcake cases with a drop of olive oil and a few drops of essential oils. I use it as a massage bar and it is a delicious treat. Also, Lush facial skincare has been wonderful to me.

10. TV steals your soul. All right, that’s a bit dramatic. But I live in a house with people who worship the great soap trinity: Eastenders, Coronation Street, Emmerdale. I’ve always watched them too. Out of habit I flick on the TV when I’m cooking, cleaning, generally whenever I enter a room. I’ve well and truly shaken that habit and I’d encourage you to try it. These days I live for Doctor Who, Merlin and Downton Abbey (which jumped the shark big time, which I sort of love) but otherwise I rarely watch TV. It’s freed up so much time for exercise, writing, reading and chatting with friends.

11. Validation is important. Much as you might tell yourself that you are talented, much as your friends and family might agree, there is something really powerful about being told you’re good by a stranger.

12. Positivity breeds delight. Nothing is so awful that it can’t be faced. Look for the good and you’ll find it as surely as you’ll find the bad.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

The Blog That Was: 2011 edition

So the blog has been running for over a year now and I’ve been reviewing for Vulpes Libris for over two years. As I’m planning stop blogging in 2012, I thought it might be nice to revisit some of the posts I’m most proud of as well as blogs from other people that have had a particular effect on me.

Dear London: In which I write a love letter to my city in the aftermath of the London riots.

Lessons to be Learned: In which I address the sneaking incipience of casual racism.

Define Thyself: In which I define myself. Obvs.

Ten years ago today: In which I give my personal memories of 11th September 2001.

Over to Vulpes Libris, where I say Goodbye to Harry Potter and friends and look at Arthurian Legend.

Now for other blogs:

This is porn to an organisation junkie like me: A Filofax love affair!

Inspiration for gloomy days: The Radical Self Love Manifesto and The Sad Trombone List.

Whenever procrastination hits, this is where I go: The Wild Donkey Guide To Getting Things Done

For happy days read My Top 50 Awesome Happy Things List and for giggles, watch Bangs Goes Rap.

And, last but not least, you should check out The Pursuit of Life. She’s a great friend of mine and she’s doing something pretty amazing!

Saturday, 3 December 2011

The fat lady sings!

After a very long blogging break, some conclusions have been reached…

Firstly, just to let you know WHY I disappeared. I was working on the play. I handed in the final draft on the 30th November, but I’m not done with it. I’m planning to go back and start over with another strand that wasn’t able to this time round. The plan is to finish this version before the end of the year and then I can totally focus on my course.

But it wasn’t just the play that kept me from blogging. Life got a little in the way. It’s just that time of year for getting sociable and doing overtime. Add to that the sudden – frankly quite shocking – acquisition of a boyfriend, I haven’t exactly had time on my hands.

So, I’ve been having a think about the planned relaunch. I had such plans – weekly updates on my course, fashion/style posts, inspiration posts! It was going to be goooood. But unfortunately, given that I’ll be juggling my course, work, learning to drive, a relationship, my friendships and social life, not to mention continuing to write, something has to give. And unfortunately, I’ve decided that it’s this little blog.

Hopefully I’ll be back. I’d love to continue blogging once I’m more settled and have a few less things to focus on. That’s the plan at the moment – a sabbatical. But rather than just go dark like I did for the last month plus, I’d like to say so straight up.

Coming up over the next few weeks are a couple of winding down posts. Just to sum up the year I’ve had and the year I hope to have.

2011 has been pretty pivotal for me. Things changed massively. I was really glad to be able to share some of that with you.

Thanks Smile

Monday, 24 October 2011


Found on StumbleUpon and I agree with every single word:

“I may still not know what I want to be when I grow up, but I do know that someday I want to live in a house filled with my books and travel souvenirs. And the walls that aren’t covered in bookshelves will be covered with photos of my family and friends. When I leave the house I will be going to a job I love, and I’ll return to a person I love. So, that’s my dream I’m working on.”

~Amber Morley

[Currently AWOL while I work on that play. The editing is killing me, I have started talking to myself and acting out parts.]

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

A new career.

I started this blog just over a year ago when I was unemployed and determined not to let it get me down. A lot has changed over a year. I got a job – not the job I wanted, granted, but it put money in the bank and paid my bills, which makes me luckier than many.

But over the year I’ve been thinking hard about my next step. Do I throw up my hands and just accept my life as it is? Do I hell. Quitting isn’t really my thing. Admitting defeat comes after the last resort. But the time had come for a re-think.

I knew what I loved. I knew what I loathed. I knew what I thought I would love to do every day and I knew what would make me want to leap out of the nearest window. So after months of thinking, I came to a decision.

I’m never giving up writing, it’s just what I do. Even if nothing I write makes it onto shelves, screen or stage, I’ll still do it. But I have decided that I’m not really designed to write for a living – it’s far too solitary a pursuit. That’s why I wrote so little when I was unemployed – when I’m busy and purposeful, I write so much more. So I had to figure out what job I wanted to do.

And I did. On Saturday, I put my deposit down and in January I will be starting to train as a make-up artist for tv, theatre and film. I am so excited by this. At the open day on Saturday, I was fascinated by everything and really appreciated being able to talk to the tutors and students.

I also decided to learn to drive. As a Londoner, I’ve never really felt the need. It’s just another expense, parking is a nightmare and it’s just so easy to get eveywhere by bus or tube. But if I can drive I’ll be able to take on so many more opportunities, I won’t have to worry about whther or not the trains will be running.

And it means that one day I will be able to fulfill my life time ambition of owning a Mini Cooper. But that’s by the by.

I feel like a year ago I was a totally different person. I have had such an incredible year and I already know that 2012 is going to be even better.

So, as I said before, the blog will probably change in the new year. I’m planning to do a weekly post about my course and also blog about the people and things that have inspired me this year and spurred me on. Things are in the pipeline.

Thanks to everyone who has read and commented on this blog over the last year. I’ve really appreciated it Smile

Monday, 10 October 2011

Play it again

(Also known as – Announcement Number One)

A few months ago, a friend found a very small advert in the local paper. Angle Theatre were looking for new submissions. You had to submit three scenes with no more than five characters. Thankfully I had quite a while before the deadline because I totally blanked on ideas.

Then, on an incredibly hot summer day, I printed off my scenes and promptly decided to scrap one scene and write a new one. So I didn’t really hold out much hope given that I took it straight to the post office before the panic set in.

So off my little play went and I promptly forgot about it because I’m of the opinion that my thinking about it and worrying about how it is received doesn’t help anyone, least of all me.

Then last month I heard back. Not only did they like my play (!) I had actually made it onto a shortlist of six.

*Keels over*

Unfortunately, I received this news at work. We have recently been taken over so it’s likely that I scared my new boss because I totally freaked out.

I heard again this week that they won’t be producing my play in their January season as it’s not finished. However, they want me to finish it by 30th November in the hopes that it can get taken on by someone else.

But the absolute BEST news? A masterclass at the National Theatre Studio. So looking forward to this – I’ve only just finished reading about how they developed War Horse in that studio – and I’ll get to meet the other five on the shortlist. Will definitely be telling you all about that. There will be exclamation marks. You have been warned.

Sunday, 9 October 2011


(With apologies to David Bowie)

A lot has been happening in good old real life lately, but I haven’t been sharing them on the blog because I’m wary of jumping the gun. I mean, it’s one things to ring up your family and mates in a babbling mess, but to announce stuff on your blog can be very embarrassing if nothing comes of it. And, as we know, I am nothing if not proud.

So coming up over the next couple of days are two big announcements. The first is a stroke of luck that still has been pinching myself and I am so excited, I can’t describe it.

The second announcement is something that I’ve been considering for a very long time. It may also lead to a change in this blog as I will be a world away from the reason I started this blog in the first place. Life is about growing, shrugging off old skins and trying on new ones. I would like this blog to grow with me. But that’s for another post…

I have split my announcements into two posts so as not to bombard you. I have had an excellent weekend, I hope all of you have too. Really looking forward to sharing this stuff over the next couple of days!

Sunday, 25 September 2011

The personal post.

2027577Coming up is a personal post. As in, I’m not about to pass judgement on books or drama or riots. I’m here today to pass judgement on myself. So here goes.

I have always been pretty determined, some might say stubborn. Oh, all right, I am stubborn. This is not always a bad thing – it means I’m pretty focused on what I want and I am notoriously hard to talk into anything I don’t really want to do. (If you ever think you have me wrapped round your little finger – think again!)

However, the last few days I’ve been thinking about pride. I once had a row with someone and vowed never to speak to them again. I knew it was all blown out of proportion, but I did stick to it for, oooo, six months. We made up in the end, enough to almost embark on a romance. When I said that we shouldn’t get together, his response was “Is it because of your pride?” My first response was laughter – after all, the real reason had nothing to do with that and everything to do with the fact that we would have killed each other.

But it did give me pause. For someone to notice that about me must mean it’s a big deal. I don’t think I’m arrogant or anything like that, but I sure can stick to my guns, even when I know that I’m being silly. I’m just too proud to go back on something that I’ve said.

This is stupid. I mean, I didn’t speak to a friend because I vowed, in the heat of the moment, never to speak to him again. What sort of madness was this?

Part of that was knowing that if I apologised, he’d take the mick. But when we finally made up, it was relief on both sides. Six months, people! Six months of awkwardness, wondering what he was up to. Six months of not having my mate about.

So there we go. There’s my flaw – I am far too proud. It’s fiendishly difficult to overcome for various reasons. But I’m going to try. There’s just nothing to be gained from it is there. Maybe I won’t overcome it. But there’s something to be said for realising that about yourself.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Ten years ago today.

Ten years ago today something happened that changed the world as we know it. We all know what that was.

Where were you?

I was at 14 and I was at school in North West London. Not a word was said while we were at school, something I still find odd and wonder if I’m actually remembering that correctly.

At the end of the day I waved goodbye to my friends as I left the school and crossed the road to where my Grandad always parked down a side street opposite. He was quiet, but then he always was. As he pulled away from the kerb, he said:

“Two planes have hit the twin towers.”

“The what?”

“The twin towers. In New York.”

“By accident you mean,” I said. Because it honestly didn’t occur to me that it could be anything else, even though he had said two planes.

He didn’t answer, just stared straight ahead and shook his head slightly. I remember opening my mouth, but I said nothing. I wasn’t even sure that I was thinking of the right place, at that point they weren’t part of my mental landscape.

We had drawn level with the school, moving slowly against the rest of the traffic. The road was dense with cars parked, cars inching slowly along, the spaces between filled with students, arms linked, jaws working against gum, earphones plugged into just one ear. I remember staring out of the car window, the noise of teachers shouting at the girls dodging between cars, the cries of adolescent boys after those girls in the short skirts with their enviable confidence. The world had changed and no one seemed to have any clue.

We drove home in uncharacteristic silence. We sat on the sofa at home and watched the replays – as though replaying it would make sense of it. We reached blindly for the phone to call our American relatives – two of whom lived in downtown New York at the time. The room was filled with fragile puffs of air because every time we tried to say something none of us could find words big enough. It was the first time I realised that actually, sometimes words are not enough – sometimes words provide no answers, no comfort. It was a realisation that made me feel adrift and lonely. The first certainty of my life was cut.

The next day at school was strangely tense. By that point people were talking about Al Qaeda, throwing around the term “Islamic extremism.” My school was a melting pot of religions and I will never forget that sudden “us and them” that sprung up, despite the assembly that warned against it.

It was fantastically naive of me, but I was so surprised by that – we had been friends, we shared Bunsen burners during our Chemistry classes and swapped pens and made up dances in the playground.

11th September 2001 left a mark on all of us, to greater or lesser extents. The images of each collision, the towers crumbling, the heaving cloud of dust and debris that moved like a monster through New York that day, still chills me, makes the hairs on my arms stand up.

I hope it is not still naive of me to say that I hope that more love was born that day than hate. I hope it taught us to cherish those we love, to make the most of every day. If we have learnt that people can do horrific things that have the power to freeze the entire world in one moment of shock, then I hope we have also learnt that people have untold capacities for bravery, love and compassion.

My thoughts today are with the families of those who were lost that day, not just in the Towers, but at the Pentagon and on flight 93.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

In the pink.

I mentioned my life list in an earlier post and dying my hair pink was another thing on that list. As I’ve mentioned in my hair posts, I’m lazy when it comes to my hair. I dyed my hair brunette in my first year of uni and after two weeks my roots were showing. I couldn’t be bothered to dye it every couple of weeks, so I went Back to Blonde.

As I’ve never been that adventurous hair colour-wise, mainly because blonde suits me, but I wanted to do something a bit different. As I’ve got a week off, I decided to seize the chance to dye my hair pink. It’s only semi-permanent and will probably have washed out completely by the time I go back to work and that’s ok.

We were going to go for all-over pink and then thought that as I’m so pale it might not suit me. I don’t think it would have, so I’m glad it’s just highlights. Still, I love it!

So here’s moi, rocking the pink hair.


Funny how hair colour can make you feel so different. I’m walking with a rebellious spring in my step. I’m planning to bang out a solo at karaoke this week (another life list ambition) and I think the ‘tude this hair gives me is really going to help!

Tuesday, 16 August 2011


Something really weird happened to me yesterday. I was on the bus to meet a friend and I was standing in front of the back doors. I looked around to see if there was any seats and spotted one in the back.

Only it was in front of a guy who appeared to be filming me.

He was holding his phone up, the camera part clearly visible. The way he was holding it was that caught my attention – he wasn’t texting, he was holding it up clear of the pole and the people in front and it was pointed right at me. I looked around – nope, definitely pointed at me.

He had on the sort of pitch back glasses where you couldn’t see a thing through them, which unsettled me even more.

It’s happened before – someone opposite me on the train once took a photo of me, only he’d forgotten to turn the camera sound off, so at least then I had a reason to say “Excuse me, are you taking a photo of me? What in the hell do you think you’re doing?” (We were just pulling into a station and he scarpered, so no, he didn’t explain himself).

This time I had no evidence, but you know when you just know? I found it really creepy and was really happy when he got off the bus.

Seriously though – what is the etiquette when you think someone is filming or taking secret photos of you? Where do you stand? Is it harmless or an indication of something more sinister? Should I have been flattered or creeped out?

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Dear London

I love you. Given what's gone on over the last few days, I know I shouldn't say that. I know I should be thoroughly ashamed that you are the city I was born and bred in, that I count myself a Londoner as surely as some of those people do. I know I should no longer see the beauty in you.

But I love you, London is written through me like a stick of rock. It's marked everything from my accent to the way I act, so it's not that easy. London has a place in all my memories.

I love to eat chips, hot and salty out of the packet on the Embankment, right where I can see St Paul's. I love the solid cold stone of the seats at The Scoop, the twinkle of lights as the sun goes down over Regent's Park theatre. I love the close heat of the underground, the phantom gusts of wind as I miss my train. I love weaving through the crowds on Oxford Street on a sweltering June day, the heavy Christmas decorations and the slush on the pavements. I love the post-club crush on the bus, the long walks home in blistering shoes.

I once kissed someone, pressed up against the wall of my house one New Year. I once had a Hollywood kiss at 3am on Camden High Street. I fell in love in Harrow and my heart broke in Kensal Rise. I have eaten cupcakes in Brixton and enjoyed music on the South Bank. I meet people under the clock at Waterloo station. I have collapsed on the top of Primrose Hill and then hauled myself up to make a fool of myself as I did a circuit in front of Sunday picnickers. I have had my wallet nicked in Camden Town and my hand held in Golders Green.

London is something that lives and breathes for me. I feel that it is mine in a way I cannot describe. And to see what I have seen on the news these past few days makes me sick. Where are those sweet strangers I have chatted to on the bus? Where are the people who give up seats on the train or help you pick up your dropped shopping?

I'll tell you where they are - they are out with brooms, sweeping up the mess left by a minority. Because it is a minority - that is not the true face of London, not the London I know at least. The London I know is full of brilliant people - bright, funny people who make music, hold their drink and are not to be beaten by a bunch of hooligans.

But these people are Londoners too and as much as I want to see them punished for what they have done to our beautiful city, how they have shamed us, I also want to understand them. My friends and family, have sat and watched all of this unfold on the news. Some of us have gone out to help with the clean-up. All of us would quite like a new computer, a new pair of trainers or a snazzy new plasma. None of us have gone out to grab one. I want to know why these people thought that would be ok. Punish them, yes, of couse they deserve it. But I hope that someone, somewhere, will figure out the why so that we can make changes and so that this will never happen again. We should be - we are - better than that.

Today, parts of London are blackened ruins. Businesses, the products of people's dreams, have been destroyed. More damage has been done to our city than was done on 7th July 2005. But we fought back then and we shall fight back again. With brooms and spades and plastic bags. And humour and love and respect.

That is what London is - full to bursting with people who are unbelieveably tough. We have this city in common. No matter our race, our religion, our sexual preference - London is our city.

London, I still love you. We can get through this.

(We shouldn't forget that these riots are no longer just occurring in London. But I've been heartened to see the clean-ups going on all over the country. I am really proud to see this - this pulling together should be the enduring legacy of these riots)

Sunday, 7 August 2011

The girl gets fashionable.

auburn hairI’ve been feeling pretty underwhelmed by my wardrobe for a while now. When I have to be up at 6am for work I tend to reach for old faithfuls – jeans, boots and a shirt. But it’s not really me. I’d like to think I have a bit more style than that (cue canned laughter).

So last weekend, as I was planning to go to a vintage fair on the Sunday, I spent the Saturday going through my wardrobe. I was utterly ruthless. My trouble is that if I see a pattern or a colour I love, I often overlook the shape, so my wardrobe is stuffed with things that don’t quite suit me but I love.

No more! If it didn’t look good on, it went into a bag, ready for the next clothes swapping party or boot sale.

On the Sunday I bought some vintage hair scarves – it was far too warm and too crowded to really hunt for clothes. Monday, the last day off before my 10 days of 12hr shifts, I watched some videos on hair styling and tried them myself.

Coming up are some posts to show off my new hair styles. I’m not someone that does much with my hair – my friends will attest to the fact that I tie up it every morning and that’s it. I’m not that good at styling my own hair so I’m very proud of my ‘dos.

Monday, 1 August 2011

More lessons.

As someone who writes I try to avoid cliché at all costs, but clichés don't just occur in writing. When responding to a comment on my last post Lessons to be learned I said that although there are people who scam, we need to realise that this is a minority and not use it as an excuse for prejudice.

But racial clichés abound. Scottish people are tight. The English are snobs. The Irish are stupid. Arabs are greedy. Americans are lazy.


I mean, seriously, in this day and age?

Yes, I know that some of these are used in jest, but some people think this racial stereotyping is accurate. Isn't that sort of terrifying?

In the comment that prompted this post I said "If a man steals a car we don't assume that every man on the planet is a car thief." That sort of sweeping generalisation isn't believed in (we'll get into the female "Men are rubbish!" generalisation another time!). So why are racial generalisations believed in?

Is it because we feel the need to define something different? For example, I personally would find having to wear hijab very restricting. It's not something that I would be comfortable in. I haven't been brought up with it, it has nothing to do with my religious beliefs. And while I don't really understand why you'd choose to wear it I'm not going to say "It's oppressive to all women!!" Why? Because what the hell do I know about it? For all I know, this is their choice and they embrace it happily for whatever reason. It's not for me, but it's also not for me to tell you how to dress. Some people, because they can't understand why this might be someone's choice, perhaps it's easier for them to decide it's a symbol of oppression. That's something they can get.

Is it easier to relate to people if you can lump them into a certain category? I can only imagine that this is the reason for this casual racial stereotyping.
We're all guilty of it, I'm sure. So maybe next time a generalisation rises to your lips, you can pause, reconsider.

All right, enough of the heavy stuff now, I promise. I’m actually planning another post on fashion and hairdos.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Lessons to be learned.

I would just like to express my horror about what has happened in Norway. Over the last few days I've been watching the coverage with increasing unease. It was such a chillingly calculated attack - that sort of coldness really scares me.

But what really scares me is the increasing racism I see about me every day. Breivik was a Nationalist who attacked the Labour party because he believed they were allowing "the Islamification" of Norway and Europe. It would be a relief to be able to dismiss this as the belief of a crank, someone who - given his actions – was clearly an extremist. But...

Only days after the attack someone told me that they sort of understood where he was coming from - "foreigners taking over and all that". I was stunned. I mean, apart from the comment itself, when did it become ok to voice those views to someone you barely know? I - perhaps naively - thought that was the kind of sentiment you only revealed to people you knew well, who you trust to have similar views. The fact that it's now something that you can casually mention to someone you barely know suggests that this is a feeling that is growing in acceptance and that really scares me.

I grew up and still live in a very multi-cultural area. As a white girl at my school, I was actually in the minority. It never bothered me - it never occurred to me to be bothered. Everyone rubbed along well enough. But in the last couple of years, I've heard derogatory words bandied about like it's nothing. Racist sentiment seems to be on the rise, I’ve heard it and my friends have been on the receiving end of it. It is disgusting.

I really think we need to stop and think about this. I'll be honest - I am frustrated by people who move to our country and then just go on benefits. I'm as annoyed with them as I am with Brits who do the same. But I have no problem with people coming to our country, looking for a better life for their children, more opportunities. Surely we should be proud that when people want to get a better life for themselves they think this the place to do it?

We're all grown ups, can't we be mature enough to respect each other? When I mentioned this to a friend she said "It all kicked off with September 11th, didn't it?" The so-called "War on Terror" started and what it's mutated into is a war on difference. Why are we so terrified of people being different? This is the 21st century - we should have learned by now to be more inclusive, accepting and understanding of all walks of life.

I applaud the Norwegians for deciding that they will respond to these attacks with democracy rather than violence. There's definitely a lesson to be learned there.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Midnight Matinee.

Dr-Faustus-The-Globe-300x209Making a life list is a bit of a trend at the moment, isn’t it? I’ve written mine. Got almost 60 things to do. So far I’ve ticked off two things. One of these was seeing David Tennant on stage (which I did a little while ago in Much Ado About Nothing at Wyndham’s Theatre). Last night I ticked the second thing off.

I saw my very first midnight matinee at the Globe. I’ve heard about these for a while and always wanted to go so when I went to get tickets for a few plays this summer my friend and I decided to get tickets for Dr Faustus on 23rd July – the midnight matinee.

We left just after 10pm, which felt weird – if I’m out I’m normally out by then! And got there in plenty of time. We even got chatting to some French tourists at Southwark station, they were going to the Globe too so we showed them the way.

The play was really good – a great cast. Arthur Darvill, of Doctor Who fame was fantastic as Mephistophilis, as was Paul Hilton who played Faustus. Felix Scott, who took several roles, is one to watch I think. I’d really recommend it.

There’s always a good vibe at the Globe, but it was even better last night. I think there was more camaraderie because it was something a bit different. Everyone really loved the “jam session” at the end. It was great fun!

It was a bit of a trek coming home, I’ve got to admit. But at 5.30 I was tucked up in bed with a cheese and onion toastie, watching the sunrise.

An excellent night. I’ll be doing it again next year!

Monday, 18 July 2011

The Weekend That Was

I once said that I’d grow up when Harry Potter did. And guess what, people? According to the films, he’s barely 18! (Epilogue? What is this Epilogue of which you speak?)

This weekend, I saw the final film. I loved it. I told myself I was going to enjoy it and not pick it to pieces like I normally did. And I did enjoy it. There were two things that I really think they should not have changed (Neville’s hero moment and the final Harry vs. Voldemort showdown – won’t say how they were changed for fear of spoiling people). But then they included something that made me squeal (again – won’t say what because of spoilers). Thank you to Janice for putting up with my continued crazy.

And actually, thanks to J.K. Rowling and everyone – actors, crew, production, special effects – who created these films. I seriously think Rowling needs to be my home girl. I know that when I start shouting Expecto Patronum at shizzle, she’d be down with it.

But enough of Harry Potter! I have a life outside of Hogwarts, you know. (Oh the ways you can interpret that sentence).

In other news:

I have given up on Camelot – nothing on earth should be that big a disappointment.

I like writing like a demon.

I am yoga-ing to my heart’s content. Hello, abs!

I already know my week off is going to be fab. It’s going to start with a dye job, which may or may not be utterly ruined by Bikram Yoga. We shall see.

And next weekend I’m seeing my first midnight matinee at the Globe. Can’t wait! Swiftly followed by a vintage fair. What more could a girl want?

So you know those moments where you think “Well, Bradley James has yet to declare his undying love, but apart from that life is pretty sweet”? I’m having a lot of those moments lately.

P.S. For some reason I can’t comment. Who knows why! So – DOT, just to say I agree with the comment you left. Humbug indeed!

Saturday, 16 July 2011

So that’s that…

harry-potter-deathly-hallows-2-posterYou may or may not know that I often do reviews at Vulpes Libris, the book review blog. I’ve done a couple of long pieces, including The Death of Arthurian Legend, a review of the Lord of the Rings trilogy and a piece on Why I Love Shakespeare.

Today I posted this piece – my farewell to the Harry Potter series. With the final book published and the credits rolling on the final film, I just wanted to say – a somewhat tearful – goodbye to a series that I have adored.

Thought I’d share the link to that. I know there are lots of people out there that just don’t get the Harry Potter thing, but I was one of those girls that always wanted to be a witch. Combine that with the age I started reading the books (I was about 11, Chamber of Secrets had yet to come out) and you can see why it coming to an end is a bit of a big deal for me. And if you don’t, well, read that piece if you’re interesting in finding out why!

Does anyone remember the ”Previously…” trailer before the Buffy s.5 finale? It encompassed everything from s.1 onwards. HP7.5 should have that.

Thursday, 7 July 2011


Cracked-Fanfiction-storyHas anyone seen this, in the Guardian: Ten Rules for Writing Fiction (Part One)?

It made me think. If I was a best-selling author, what would be my advice? Well, I’d probably agree with several of the rules stated above, particularly Margaret Atwood’s advice:

You chose this, so don’t whine.

But there is one original thing that I would suggest:

Write fanfiction.

Yeah, I know. I can hear the tumbleweeds. But that's actually how I started out.

I always knew I wanted to write, when I was about 11 I started a work of non-fiction called Why Did Dinosaurs Die? This was going to be the definitive work, epic in its scale, the foundation for my ground-breaking thesis. Then I moved onto fiction (more dinosaurs!) But I was young, so of course, these books came to nothing. Then, when I was about 16, I discovered A little while later I posted my first story, a one-shot, and that was it - I was hooked.

I actually consider fanfiction my apprenticeship. I was using characters that already existed, creating my own tangents from stuff that had already officially happened. The pressure was off - I didn't have to do all the hard work of creating real people and real worlds, I just got to play in it.

I learnt a lot. Fanfiction is a cruel business – if you're making a character do something they wouldn't do, if the plot is boring or unbelievable, reviewers will tell you. You quickly learn about pacing, plot, rhythm and keeping people interested. Even learning to recreate a character’s voice is useful.

Soon though, you'll want to commit one of the cardinal sins of fanfiction - create an original character. Generally referred to as a Mary-Sue. I'll hold my hands up, the last thing I wrote was an OC. But my reviewers liked her. I had learnt enough that I actually managed to pull it off (I'm still quite proud of this). And that gave me the push I needed into my own original fiction.

Be warned - the move into purely original fiction is not as easy as you think. Yes, you've now got yourself into a writing habit, you've got a clearer idea about pacing, rhythm, if you're lucky you're even well on your way to finding your voice. But now there's no safety net. You can no longer rely on Steven Moffat for your plots, Joss Whedon for your characters. It's all on you now. And that can be scary. You can start by twisting some of your short fiction - turn your vampires into accountants, maybe. Lift one of your plots (maybe you’ve got Harry Potter taking Ginny Weasley on a date to the cinema) scour out everything that isn’t yours and shape it into something that is unrecognisable as fanfiction.

I actually just got cracking on stuff that came to me, but the idea from my first novel actually had a fanfiction base. I saw a made-for-TV film, thought about how I would have changed it and that was the starting point.

Try it. It might work for you. It worked for me.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

A date to remember…

I’ll have a proper post soon, I promise. But I’ve been a tad busy with writing. Yes, that’s right – bye bye, writer’s block. Hellooooo juicy words!

I’ve also been getting a wee bit excited about the 16th July. The final Harry Potter will be out, Part Two of The Deathly Hallows. I’ll be there. I read Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone when I was 11, so the books are part of my childhood. I have my issues with the films – some casting I love, some I loathe, some stuff should not have been cut! – but I always go and watch them. It would have all ended back in 2007, but we’ve eeked another four years out of it thanks to the films and I CANNOT WAIT to see the last one. I’m going to LOVE it.

Here’s the trailer:

(Nowhere near enough Neville in this trailer)

16th July 2011. Put it in your diaries. The day you’ll all discover that I was right all these years. Neville Longbottom is a B.A.M.F.

Monday, 30 May 2011

The Dreaded Block.

imagesCAO7951USo it’s been a while, eh, blogosphere? Much as I would like to blame my busy and exciting lifestyle (which would be sort of true, given that I haven’t had a proper lay-in in, oooohhh, a month?) it wouldn’t be wholly correct.

Confession time: I think I may have writer’s block.

Now that’s not exactly shameful. Not like kicking puppies or stealing sweets (neither of which I condone. Obviously). But it is really hard for me to admit because until now I never believed in writer’s block. I was pretty vocal about it too:

“I don’t believe in writer’s block. Just write. If you feel blocked write your way through it. Anything else is laziness.”

Oh the naivety. Also, what an annoying git I sounded – why did no one smack me upside the head??

Whether it’s flash fiction, short stories or novels, it always takes me a while to get into the story. The first 100 – 5,000 words are never great. It’s like wearing in a new pair of shoes. I start by feeling my way, then once it’s comfy I can go back with a new awareness of what I’m doing and tighten up (or scrap!) those first words. But with this new story I’m suffering The Curse of the Second Album. The first novel flowed, I could think of nothing else, I enjoyed every word, half the time I couldn’t type quick enough. I was really proud of it in the end.

But now… I had a big writing sesh, saw the problems and stopped to regroup. Only instead of regrouping in came the doubts. Could I really churn out another 100,000 words of coherent plot and character? The ideas evaporated or just couldn’t be heard anymore. And the truth? Haven’t touched Novel Number 2 for a month.


I thought writer’s block was a lack of ideas and I’ve been there before – how do I get out of this corner? What happens now? What is she going to say to that? And yes, writing can get you out of that because it gets you thinking. Turns out that I was wrong though, at least as far as I’m concerned.

Writer’s block is fear. It’s the fear of not being able to do it again, not being good enough, it’s the fear of having no ideas.

But I still think I was right. The solution to any writing based problem is to WRITE MORE. Yes, the first 100 – 1,000 – 5,000 words will probably suck but there’s no other way to shift the block, to clear away the debris and come up shiny and new again. The beauty of writing is that you don’t have to stick with what you got the first time round, you can change, polish, rearrange. No one has to see your purple prose!

So now I’m going to take my own advice. In between the weddings, the cinema, the BBQs, I will be writing. Fear be damned!

Saturday, 30 April 2011

The Royal Wedding.

kate and willsI have to admit that I was not up for this. Mainly because the coverage was so intense from the moment William and Kate announced their engagement, so I reached saturation point pretty quickly.

But my Mum kept watching these documentaries about how they met and I thought what a lovely pair they seemed. Forget the fact that he’s a prince and will one day be King of England, he’s just a lovely bloke (and doesn’t sound half as posh as David Cameron or Ben Fogle, which is strange). And she is sweet.

So yes, it dawned on me that it wasn’t just a royal wedding, but the wedding of two people who, despite the pressures, are very much in love.

I’d been working 12hr shifts most of the week, but I was up bright and early to watch the wedding with the fam.

She looked beautiful – what a dress! He looked handsome, the best man looked dashing and the Abbey looked stunning. Me and sis are planning to check it out on Tuesday after work. I have already decided what to wear. Just in case.

We are currently living in turbulent times and perhaps this wedding and the all day coverage seemed frivolous in comparison to what is going on in Syria and Libya. But it reminded me that there is joy to be found in this world. Joy, beauty and, most importantly of all, love.

Monday, 25 April 2011

Writing myths

Anyone even vaguely interested in writing will have heard several key phrases about how to go about it. Some of them are golden rules that really help you and should be obeyed nearly all the time. Some though are of the pick and mix variety – use them if they work for you but don’t feel guilty if you decide to chuck them out of the window.

Kill your darlings.

Yes. This is a good one. I’m not saying that if you find yourself looking at a sentence going “Cor, I’m a genius. That is really good!” that you should immediately hit the delete button. But you might find yourself unable to remove something even though you sense that it probably needs to go or someone has suggested it doesn’t work. Sometimes people are wrong when they say that line needs to go. But if several people have said it and you’re still stubbornly sticking by it, claiming that it’s “too good” to lose, then you might need to reconsider.

Don’t just delete it because someone has told you to. But take a step back. Don’t look at it for a while. Go write something else, ride a horse, dance the conga, do something to clear your head of it. Hopefully you’ll be more objective when you come back. The idea is, never get so attached to a line, a scene, a character, a plot that you are willing to sacrifice the story to keep it. The beauty of taking time a break from the story is that when you come back and realise it does need to go, you’ll have distance and it won’t hurt to hit the delete button.

Write what you know.

This one I have some issues with. Mainly because I find it restrictive in its literal interpretation. If I only wrote what I know then all my characters would live in London, be part of single-parent families and have working class chips on their shoulders. Boring! Boring for me to write more than once, boring to read and boring for the characters because everyone will be pretty much the same.

I think this literal interpretation has stemmed from the idea that all writing is in some way autobiographical. If you write a story about a girl who’s not allowed to see her boyfriend – that must have happened to you. If you write a story about a guy who steals a motorbike – that must have happened to you. I find that really frustrating because it’s not always true. Yes, there are things in my life that have inspired my writing, but no more than the books I’ve read or the films I’ve watched have inspired my writing. It’s an argument that falters when you consider something like Jurassic Park.

However, I don’t think that this advice was ever meant to be taken literally. I think it’s true on a deep level – you need to understand, to know, your characters and what they feel in order to write something that rings true. Say you sit down to write about a girl who wants vengeance on the gang that killed her brother. You really have to think that through, think how you’d feel, what you’d do, before you start to write. It’s all very well to write what you think is the correct response but it’s not going to be truly complex, compelling and real until you’ve understood it. Walk a mile in your character’s shoes, only then are you going to know them well enough to write their stories.

Write. Just write.

In the words of Sally – yes, yes, yes, yes, YES!

I once read that Alan Bennett’s first draft of The History Boys was terrible. But it has since become a critically acclaimed hit and was made into a film. Not bad for something that wasn’t great from the word go, eh?

Because that’s the secret – nothing is ever great the first time round. Nobody is ever so good at something the first time that they never get any better. The same goes for your writing. Get it out, get it onto the page, the screen, wherever you’re most comfortable with and worry about whether it’s any good later. You cannot polish something that isn’t there.

My personal mantra is:

Write now. Worry later.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

It’s been a while…

Wow, that hiatus went on longer that I had planned. Sorry about that! It was brought on by madness at work and madness at home. I felt like I was constantly rushing through a To-Do List that was getting ever longer. Things have chilled out slightly. I’m still pretty busy, but I’m managing things a bit better now.

Yesterday I went to Leon with some pals that I haven’t seen if fo’eva! It was so good just to sit there and chat and catch up. I was also all over that hummus and that lemon, ginger and mint drink. I love good and simple food and this was delicious.

In other news, while I’ve been away (running, doing yoga, wondering about trying Kundalini yoga because I’ve never tried it before) I’ve read Popco by Scarlett Thomas. I finished it yesterday and oh, the joy! I already loved Our Tragic Universe, but Popco really made me think. And then I read this about veganism: What I Discovered When I went Vegan for 30 Days. It’s interesting because it’s not just about the ethics, but the fact that it actually made this guy healthier. I don’t drink milk anymore – I am now totally addicted to rice milk – but I’m still eating cheese. I hardly ever eat butter but I do consume vast quantities of peanut butter because it’s just too good! I phased out meat until one day, realising I could do it, I cut it out altogether. So I think I’ll try that with veganism. I’d be interested to see if it has the same physical effect on me as the guy in the article.

Right, I promise I won’t be away forever like last time. I’ve already got a new post planned!

Thursday, 24 March 2011


Due to frankly mad things occurring in real life including Work! Computers! General Social Meltdown! my Project 21 is going on hiatus. As I am for a week or so, just till I can get things straight.

See you on the other side of the madness!

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Project 21.

“Life isn't about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.”
- George Bernard Shaw


That's a pretty well known quote, one that's probably been heard so often that it's lost all its meaning. I definitely heard it a lot when I was a teenager, it seemed apt for such a time of change. But I didn't like it, I thought it meant falseness. After all, I was also being told to love myself for who I was so surely that was at odds with Shaw's sentiment? What was so wrong with me as I was that I needed to "create" myself anew? 

But the times are changing and suddenly I'm feeling fonder of that phrase. When you were a teenager you may have consoled yourself with the idea of who you were going to become. When you were struggling zits and unrequited love did you imagine that wonderful "one day" when you'd be gorgeous and glowing, with the ability to win the hearts of everyone? We all did, right? (Or am I just giving way too much insight into my teenage angst?)

Thing is - what's stopping you being that person? Some things that you wanted when you were 15 you no longer want. Others things stick with you. Several things stuck for me and while I wish that they would come naturally - heaven knows it would make life easier - they're not going to. So Project 21 is about my attempts to "create" myself. 

Three weeks seems an excellent length of time to embark on something, to see if I like it, can integrate it into my life and whether I think it's actually worth hanging on to. I'll choose something I want to try and make a part of my life and do it for 21 days. I'll blog once a week about it because every day is probably a bit excessive!

My first Project 21 is going to be yoga. I was very into it a few years ago when I was in college, before my uni schedule swept it away. Since then I've thought longingly of those early morning and late night stretches, but once you're out of the habit it's hard to get back into it.

I intend to practice yoga every day for 21 days, starting today.

I'm going to check out my local Jivamukti centre for and at the very least I'll be practicing a 20 minute or so Sun Salutation, preferably in the morning although my twice-weekly 6am starts will mean a couple of evening sessions. The aim is just to do it every day. 

I've already got an idea for Project 21 take 2 so here's hoping this first one goes well!

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

24 before 25.

Today is my 24th birthday. I’ve got the day off work so I’m off for a facial and massage with Mum and Nan (thank you, Groupon, for the dead cheap voucher) and then perhaps to Camden. The day is to be rounded off with some yummy food and some cake.

But I’ve been thinking recently that a birthday should be more than just an excuse to pamper yourself and get presents. It’s your own personal New Year!

I was inspired by this post last year and decided that I would do my own list. Reading over my list, there’s an awful lot of craft and learning based goals. Trying something new or rediscovering something I used to love. Here’s hoping these goals will really enrich my year! Some of these goals are ones that will have a result at the end of it, some of them are a little more fluid.

untitled1. Actively pursue looking for an agent. I need to focus on it, rather than just browsing sites when I have a minute and then forgetting to do anything about it.

2. Get faster, go further. Seriously want to improve my running. I already have a regular monthly running date with a friend, so I  really want to focus on upping my personal best each time. And then totally smash it.

3. Finish up Novel Number 2, The Daddy. Slightly more of a challenge than I thought it would be as I’m still finishing up the edits on Novel Number 1.

4. Buy (at least) 3 vintage/second-hand/charity shop dresses. Better for the environment and I’ll have something no one else has. Already planning a trip to a vintage fair on Sunday!

5. Sew a new item of clothing for myself, I haven’t since I made a skirt when I was 15. I might even treat myself to this kit.

6. Knit a jumper. I can knit a scarf, but I want to make clothing. And this also means learning to read a pattern. Which may as well be in Hindi for all the sense I can currently make of them.knitting

7. Give up bread! This isn’t some bizarre diet attempt. I absolutely adore bread, but it makes me lazy. If I can’t be bothered to cook, I know I can fill up on a couple of slices of toast. If I vow to eat less bread, then it will encourage me to cook more. Expand my culinary repertoire!

8. Visit an outdoor adventure place. I don’t think this needs more explanation really does it?

9. Look into a course about web design. I know precisely nothing about anything technical, but I’d love to know more. I can’t think of a better way to learn than by going back to school.

10. Finish up that epic poem and make it up into a book, complete with illustrations! I started it in 2009 and I’m very fond of it so I want to see it finished to see how the story ends. When I did GCSE I particularly loved the drawing stage, I found it really relaxing, even if some of the designs were beyond my sewing capabilities! But now I put it off because I’m not that good at it so I think it’s about time I rediscovered the fun and perhaps with practice I’ll get better!

11. Listen to more radio programmes. I kept hearing about someone in The Archers falling off a roof and realised that radio can get you talking just as much as TV. Also, I need to get out of this habit of getting into watching something just because it’s on in the room I happen to be in.

12. Knit a sock. Yes, just the one. Two if I can manage it, but I hear tell that socks are fiendishly difficult so one would make me very proud indeed!

The_Splits10[1]13. See the very last Harry Potter film and really enjoy it. All too often I think – not as good as the book and terribly cast. But this series has been part of my life since I was 11 years old and thanks to the films I didn’t have to say goodbye when the last book was published in 2007. So I’m going to enjoy this!

14. Do the splits! Yes, this is a dream of mine.

15. See three new plays. I love the theatre, but I find it expensive and booking tickets always seems to be such a hassle (is it just me? But I can never find three seats together on the same night that aren’t the price of a champion racehorse!)

16. Make a real go of some freelancing work.

17. Join a club. I haven’t really thought this one through because I don’t know what club! But I’m going to keep my eyes peeled for something interesting and hope I can meet some inspiring new people. A London writers club would be wonderful. Any ideas, let me know!

18. Go to a big sewing/knitting/vintage/craft event. I love craft, do-it-yourself and vintage and all the blogs seem to find these events a lot of fun. So I’d like to join in on that fun and maybe learn something new.

19. Visit an antiques fair. I blame Kirsty Allsopp for this.

20. Visit Wales. I hear they have great trails there. And a howies shop…800px-Horse_riding_in_coca_cola_arena_-_melbourne_show_2005

21. Go horse-riding. I think the last time I rode I was about 14 when I was working in a stable. Then came the GSCEs, the A-levels and university. Time to get back in the saddle I reckon!

22. Join a pottery class or at least make a coil pot at home. Again – enough with the “Ooo, that looks good, I’d like to try that.” I’m going to do it!

23. Do a poetry open mic night. It’s one thing reading out your work to a seminar group, it’s quite another to get up on stage and do it. So I’ll admit that I’ll probably visit somewhere that does this a few times before I actually try it. There's no reason to sacrifice myself unawares to a baying mob! Any recommendations of places/events to check out, let me know please!

24. Take up tennis. I get addicted to Wimbledon every year and I’ve got a tennis court about a 45 minute walk away from me. There’s no reason not to have a go myself!

So here’s to my own personal New Year. Let’s see how many goals I can fulfil. I may do another post about my birthday weekend of fun next week, we shall see!

Happy Birthday to any fellow Pisceans and Happy Un-birthday to everyone else!


Monday, 21 February 2011

The Inspiration Hook.

Apologies for the lapse in posting, I’ve been wading my way through Le Morte Darthur by Sir Thomas Mallory since the beginning of the month and only just finished it (keep an eye on Vulpes Libris).

But I haven’t just been holed up in my room, feverishly turning pages and untangling archaic language with a furrowed brow. Oh no. I’m ever so much cooler than that, my friends. In the last few weeks I’ve taken advantage of A Night Less Ordinary (a special thanks here to my “sis” who arranged the tickets on both occasions). For those that haven’t heard of it ANLO offers free theatre tickets for the under 26s. I’ve seen several plays thanks to this scheme and I recently saw Tiger Country at the Hampstead Theatre and Twisted Tales at the Hammersmith Lyric. 

Tiger_Country_home-300x137 I enjoyed Tiger Country while I was sat there watching it. I was engaged, but once we started talking about it on the way home, when I started thinking about in the days after, I realised that I was a little disappointed. Why? Because as an avid viewer of Holby City and an occasional viewer of Casualty, it was nothing I hadn’t seen before. We had the bossy female registrar, determined to succeed in spite of her race and her sex, ready to give up anything for it, ultimately redeemed by family love and loyalty. Then the good doctor, struck down by cancer, forced to become a patient. And of course, the idealistic junior, determined never to lose a patient, slowly coming to realise that her handsome boyfriend is not all she hoped, her head turned by her grumpy superior who is repressing his love for her. In long-running serials these clichés can be well-done, events, character and the sheer luxury of time can elevate them. But Tiger Country didn’t have the luxury of time and scuppered itself further by including too many characters, too many narrative threads. Yes, it gave a good sense of the fragmented life of a doctor, the unsociable hours, the hard work, the need for someone to understand. But I just felt that too much was going on and therefore it had to rely on stereotypes to tell the story. There were moments though that caught my attention – that snagged the part of my brain that stores away inspiration. It’s thanks to this play that a few more pages in my ideas notebook was filled.

Twisted Tales I loved from start, finish and homeward-bound dissection. The arrival of a chatty stranger into the daily commute ofRoald-Dahl three reserved men sparks the play as he tells them several odd stories. It’s a strange piece, much as the stories themselves are. There’s the man who bets a young American that he can’t light his trusty lighter ten items in a row – he’ll wager his car if the young American will bet the little finger of his left hand. There’s the woman who receives a mink coat as a parting present from her lover and comes up with an elaborate ploy to keep it from her husband. Each story has a little twist that you don't always see coming. Nearly all of them make you squirm, laugh and slide to the edge of your seat. I think of all the stories there was only one where I knew what the twist would be. The staging, the company, all did a wonderful job at producing these savage little tales. I loved every single minute and determined to dive back into Dahl’s short stories which I haven’t read in years and can hardly remember.

While we left the Hammersmith Lyric bubbling with praise and chatter about the stories, my inspiration hook snoozed. It could not be tempted awake by murderous old ladies or bullying public schoolboys. Why? Why did something I think was bloody brilliant not inspire me the way something I thought was pretty flawed did?

Because there was no moment where I thought I could take it and run off in another direction with it. There was nothing I felt ought to have been done another way, a different road taken. Twisted Tales was such a complete piece, so neatly finished that it demanded to be admired, not improved. Tiger Country, with its mad spill of characters and half-finished scenarios presented more possibility for my discerning inspiration hook.

So you see, anything can be of benefit to you, nothing is ever wasted. Do I think that I could have written Tiger Country better? Certainly not. However, my brain cannot stop ticking over the tangent that I spotted that was left fluttering and unexplored, my inspiration hook demanded that I hang something on it…

[Sadly, ANLO is coming to an end very soon, due to cuts I believe. So I would urge everyone that is eligible to take advantage while they can.]

Thursday, 3 February 2011

The vital ingredient.

Talent + Self-Belief x Hard Work (+ Luck) = SUCCESS.

We’re all agree that those are major components in the ongoing search for success, yes? And not just in writing, the same could be said of any industry from journalism to acting. It’s all pretty obvious – talent is nothing if you don’t put the work in and everyone could do with the good luck of being in the right place at the right time. But it’s the self-belief that actually makes you sit down day after day after day and face that blank screen or page.

But what makes self-belief? Where does it come from? Some people are just born with it, others have to acquire it along the way. Here’s what I think it is:

Support + Optimism.

Without optimism, that cheerful hope that one day it will all be worth it, why would you do it? If you sit down thinking “Well, this will never see the light of day,” why are you wasting your time? If it’s for sheer love of writing then I applaud you because although I love to write, I write with a view to sharing it. Even if it’s only ever seen by a family member or friend I work in the hope that something I write will make someone grin and say “I loved it!” Making it the best that it can possibly be for that shadowy future reader is what keeps me going. That and knowing that it’d smart to hear that something I’ve written is crap.

And then there’s self-belief, that tricky little bugger. When you stall at 10,000 words because you’ve written yourself into a corner or have happened across the single most clichéd line in the history of the written language (and ye gods, you’ve written it!) you have to have the gumption to open your eyes and face it. The “I can’t do this” attitude leads to Googling funny pictures of kittens (been there) instead of figuring out how to get your character out of that locked toilet.

If you write, you probably read a lot. I know I do. Perhaps your self-belief comes from having read something awful and just knowing that you can do better. The “If they can do it, so can I!” attitude. Or perhaps someone else believed in you so much that you thought that maybe then were onto something and that grew into believing in yourself and your own abilities. The latter is how it happened for me….

I always went crazy for writing in school. Especially when we got fountain pens. At least half the pleasure for me was the act of writing itself. Creating neat blue curly writing on smooth white paper. That’s something I still enjoy, the simple, sensual pleasure of writing something down.

But I also loved stories. As an only child I would chatter away to myself when I was playing. I once managed to convince myself there were wolves in the little wood next to the top field where our weekend caravan was. I’ve never run home so fast and I’ve never enjoyed gossip as much as I enjoyed describing that wild chase to my rapt family. Writing down my tall tales was just natural progression and sometimes I went a little overboard:

Year 7 History homework – Write a short story about how Mary Stuart felt after Darney’s death. Cue an 8pg response from me about her wig, her accent and – oh yes – her feelings.

Year 8 English homework – Write a short story about homelessness. A holiday project, which meant I produced a front cover, illustrations, the whole she-bang. A crush on the teacher probably helped that one along…

But then there was Year 9, which was the turning point for me. Our half-term project was to write our own whodunit. I wrote a story about a crime of passion in which you were supposed to side with the killer. I vividly remember the first Friday after half-term. English was the last lesson before lunch and everyone tore out to get their hands on chips, but I was asked to stay behind. I assumed the teacher had noticed me smuggling fingerfuls of muffin out of my bag. But apparently not. She said, “I read your story. I loved it. I’d like to put it in the school magazine.” Once more I’d made it up into a book, complete with illustrated front cover and here was my teacher, hugging it to her chest and telling me she wanted to publish it. None of my friends really got why that was a big deal for me, but I was lucky that my family always thought writing was a good thing. Not something that ought to make way for a proper job – like being an palaeontologist, which was my first ambition (I was going to write the seminal work on what wiped out the dinosaurs).

My Grandad was a stickler for spelling and grammar, to the extent that he bought be a pocket spell-checker. Because if you’re going to do something – do it properly. Mum just thinks everything I write it totally brilliant, which is great for when I need a boost. And Nan isn’t afraid to ask awkward questions or say if she thinks something doesn’t work.

So many times in this post I’ve started to write “I’m not published, but I think…” or “I’m not that good, but…” but why should I qualify my opinions? No, I’m not published, I’m not the world’s greatest, number one writer – these are just the facts. But I do write. But I do know what got me started and what keeps me going.

If you’re finding it a struggle to face the blank page, have a think about what you’re missing. It could just be the vital ingredient.

[Also, at the moment, Egypt is in the midst of a great turning point. The people are determined to see the back of Mubarak. You might want to read this post about it. Thanks.]

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Exhaustion = Inspiration?

After an exhausting week I find myself facing a busy weekend. In fact, looking at my diary, not only am I working a 12 hour shift as well as my regular 10 hour shift next week, but I’m not due any down time until next weekend. You have no idea how much I’m looking forward to that weekend. I can see it now: me, in my slanket, a book, a cup of tea, the sofa. I’m only leaving the house for jalapenos, black beans and a gentle little run (maybe). Because sometimes, I just need to recharge my batteries. So don’t even try to get me out and doing anything more energetic than a jog. It ain’t gonna happen.

I am gradually getting into the routine of my new – hopefully permanent – rota. So now I’m slowing adding to my week. This week I successfully added in the hours that I can collaborate with my script-writing partner (although that’ll take a battering this week with that big fat 12 HOUR SHIFT). This week’s challenge is to fit in at least three runs while figuring out how to work Run Keeper from my Android phone. This is possibly a challenge too far…

Still, despite the long hours at work and the hours wasted travelling there and back I am not lacking in inspiration. The strange thing with me is that when I have all the time in the world, words are not forthcoming as when I’m trudging to the train station at 7am with my flask in one hand and brolly in the other. It’s like they know I really ought to be making productive use of the day.

In fact I always found at uni that I was at my most productive and creative when it was term-time and I was juggling lectures, deadlines, reading and my part-time job. In the summer, when I always intended to write loads and steal a march on the upcoming year, I always ended up craving fiction. My brain just refused to produced – it wanted to consume. The same happens on my weeks off and during those vast sands of unemployment. What my brain demands is a rest from producing and thinking. What fiction is for me and my brain is grist to the meal because when I’m back at work or wading through a to-do list that reaches my belly-button, I’ll be musing vaguely on something I just read or watched and through a convoluted train of thought I’ll arrive at a spark of an idea.

It also helps that being busy, having a life beyond the tapping of keys and the glow of a computer screen brings you into contact with people, events, snippets of conversation… gossip basically. I have to admit to lapping up the tales my friends tell – everything from funny things that happened to them and stuff that happened to their friend’s-brother’s-cousin-in-law’s-wife.

And yes, I have to confess, some of those stories have made their way into my notebook.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Define thyself.

I’ve been AWOL for a bit due to more hours at work. It’s still not full time, but the travel and the early mornings (ergo, early nights) have meant that I haven’t fancied sitting down in the front of the computer more than I have to. I’ve also had less time for reading, but I will have a review up on VL this week. I’m also planning a big one for mid February – comparing a 15th century text with its modern-day counterpart. I shall say no more till then…

Apart from that, I’ve been wondering the last week or so about definitions. How do you define yourself? It’s pretty important really. Your definition of yourself affects how you approach the world. But who can define themselves in one word? There’s probably a handful of words that you would use to define yourself, to say “This is the person I am” – cheerful, ugly, intelligent, happy, pessimist, sexy, creative, lucky. But do you also define yourself by what you do, by your job?

When I was at uni, despite also working at least two days a week I defined myself as a “student” because that’s what I was. I was only working in retail because I was a student. As I’m currently working 4 days a week as a receptionist and my days of being a student are over, I’m wondering how I’d define myself now. Say I get talking to someone in a bar and they ask “And what do you do?” How would I respond? I would probably say, “I’m a receptionist,” because that’s what I am, that’s what I’m paid for. I’m also not very comfortable telling strangers “I’m a writer.” You inevitably face the “Have I read anything of yours then?” question which can be very embarrassing if, like me, you’ve only had a couple of short stories and poems published. The only person who has read my complete published works is my Mum. An unpublished novel is not half as impressive once people realise that it’s just unpublished, not unpublished-at-the-moment-but-it’s-due-out-in-March.

But in my heart, I don’t consider myself a receptionist. It’s what I do to earn money, to pay bills, buy clothes, books and paper. It is not who I am. In my heart I am a writer. I write every day, even it’s just my diary. No, I’m not a career writer. I don’t have things regularly published and it doesn’t pay my bills. But I think about it constantly. My characters live in my head. I will write on anything, including my arms, in the middle of the night when I can’t find my notebook (everyone knows when this has happened because it ends up on my face) When I’m in the bath, I chatter away into a Dictaphone (the best present ever for someone who narrates long passages when up to her neck in bubble bath and then can’t remember a word of it when she can touch her notebook without water logging it). I read books and have one of three reactions:

1. Here’s where I think they went wrong...

2. Hmmm, I would have done this… (believe it or not, but that’s the genesis of Novel Number 1).

3. That was brilliant, I wish I had written it.

Even if my published tally remains a couple of short stories and poems, I won’t stop writing. If you told me I’d never publish another word I’d still write because I wouldn’t know what to do with myself otherwise. I’d have to take up… oh, I don’t know. Oil painting. Dog breeding. Pottery.

So, should you ever meet me in a bar and I say I’m a receptionist, remember how I really define myself:

Londoner. Vegetarian. Optimist. Passionate. Writer.

Friday, 7 January 2011

Kill your darlings!

PE01602_ A little while ago I said that I was returning to my first novel because something that had been niggling at me suddenly made sense and I was embarking on changing that particular strand of the story. While I was at it I realised the death of another character felt a little off too. Not that she died, but the manner in which she died. So I've been thinking and thinking about that and I've come up with another way of killing her off that is much better. At the moment she dies of meningitis, which she catches while nursing a young soldier that reminds her of her son. I'm keeping the part where she nurses the boy soldier, but that's not what kills her in the end. So now there's no death-bed confession which I always felt was a little awkward. The death-bed confession is a bit of a cliché, but there were lines in her death scene that I loved so much I was loathe to cut it. I could hear my lecturers screaming "Kill your darlings!!" but I couldn't at that point. Now that I have the distance and am editing another element of it I'm able to look at it more objectively and see that what I'm planning to do now works a lot better. It creates a much more believable reason for her husband to be guilty which is very important to the story.

It really is amazing how much of a difference a break can make. I was working for about six month solid last year on actually writing and then I ploughed straight into editing. I know now that that was the wrong thing to do because I was very quickly bored. I'd been churning out on average 1,000 words a day and for that to come to an abrupt halt really didn't help the editing process, which is a frustrating, lengthy and quite boring process anyway. Next time I think I'll start on something else and get that going before I come to edit something. That way I've got something to write as a "reward" for doing some editing.

I'm also only just really learning that the phrase "Kill your darlings" is totally true. The two plot strands that I'm changing - the marriage of the hero's lover and the death of his wife - were ones that I doggedly hung onto because they made the story go a certain way. A way I needed it to go for the rest of the story to happen. However, given time and space I've come up with much better ideas that avoid death-bed-confessional clichés, create more truth, are more believable and still drive my story in the direction I want. But much more smoothly than in it did in the original. I used to scoff at the phrase - they're my darlings for a reason. And this is my story and surely I know best?? But I know now that it's true - you can never be precious about anything in your novel because then you can't be ruthless enough to cut something that's dragging it down.

But that's not to say my darlings have gone completely. They've been re-homed in a "Scraps" file should a home become available.

Monday, 3 January 2011

Hello 2011!

Remember me saying that I was certain 2011 was going to be a great year? Well, I still think that but it didn’t get off to a flying start. I started to feel a little odd on Boxing Day and then the next day, I woke up feeling a little achy and thought I must have slept funny. By that evening though it was clear that I’d caught something. Turns out I got the norovirus! I popped out Monday before I got really ill and today was the first day out since then. Felt absolutely rotten and bored beyond all possible belief. I had such a great pile of books for Christmas (mindful of how many Arthurian books I’d taken out of the library, Mum got me a stash of my own!) and I couldn’t read one, just didn’t have the energy.

Mum also got me Our Tragic Universe by Scarlett Thomas for Christmas. I read it last year and thought it was wonderful. I read it when I was in my government-funded job and was feeling just as lost as Meg in the book. I reviewed it on Vulpes Libris and it was my pick for November’s book of the month at the Big Green Bookshop. So to ease me back into reading I’m re-reading it. I’m finding Thomas’s prose just as delicious the second time round, but I’m curious to see if I respond to it as enthusiastically now that I feel more settled and focused.

So my big New Year wasn’t the greatest party ever. I admit to sitting in bed, hugging a hot water bottle and scowling when I could hear all the fireworks and the laughing and singing. This virus made me lose 4lbs! I had a new dress! I was going to look great and have a great time! Still, there’s always next weekend. But I did manage my usual New Year ritual of having a clear out. I like to start the year with a clean slate.

I’m back to work tomorrow. I was very annoyed that I had to take Thursday and Friday off last week, given that I’ve only been there five minutes, so I’m glad to get back there. I’m also going to ease myself back into my running, that’s one of my resolutions and another one is to always carry my alcohol hand rub with me! I don’t want anymore viruses!

And last but by no means least, I was very sad to hear this morning that Pete Postlethwaite, “the best actor in the world” according to Steven Speilberg, died yesterday. I really admired this man, he seemed a genuinely good bloke and was a brilliant actor. I first saw him in Dragonheart, years ago and he never disappointed me. I have a list of actors I really rate and want to see live on stage and he was on that list. I’m sad that I’ll never see him on stage, but I’m just glad that he’s left behind such a wealth of great film and TV work. He will be very sadly missed.