Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Looking Back on 2017: My Favourite Year


It's time for another 'Looking Back On...' post! I usually hate New Year, but after the atrocity that was 2016, I actually felt really positive about the year ahead and was ready to work harder than ever. I hit the ground running...

January: Every year I make a list of my goals for the twelve months ahead, and this year was no different... except for the fact that I managed to tick off the biggest goal before the first month was even over. I chaired a bookshop event. In fact, I chaired two! This was a huge deal for me, as I hadn't done any kind of public speaking in four or five years, and it really showed how far I've come. The first event was with Sara Barnard, and the second was with Perdita and Honor Cargill - all utterly lovely people.

Funnily enough, I started face-to-face CBT (I'd only ever had it online before, which wasn't massively effective) on the day of Trump's inauguration. Excellent timing, NHS, genuinely. I also saw La La Land for the first, second, and third time... obsessed, me?! Pfft... and I discovered that I'm quoted in What's A Girl Gotta Do? by Holly Bourne, which I was very excited about. My first post as a WHSmith blogger went up, too.


February: The madness didn't stop here - in fact, life got even busier, which I found really weird as these two months are usually SO SLOW. But on the 2nd, I headed off to the YouTube Space in London for a party (yeah, me, a party, who knew) and got to take my best friend, which was cool, as she doesn't do social media but she's obsessed with YouTube. Beforehand, we killed some time in the British Library, and it was actually my first visit. I fell in love with the place so much that I wrote a blog post about it at 3am... you can read that here.

Most of my time was taken up by a monumental amount of coursework, but I somehow found time to pass my driving test (!!!) and announce a really cool thing.... I was going to be in a book! Nikesh Shukla, editor of huge success The Good Immigrant, a book of essays by BAME writers, was starting a new project - but this time, the book would be from the perspective of young people about the state of our world. And he wanted me to be in it. (This actually happened in December 2016, but obvs I couldn't talk about it then.) It was announced and people seemed excited about it, so that was fun - and hugely motivating, because I'm not gonna lie, that word count and its deadline were taunting me a little bit.

I told you February was cray... I launched a new series, Wonder Women, where I interviewed the women who inspired me the most. It kicked off with Lisa, a member of my favourite band, Cimorelli - I didn't expect her to say yes when I chanced it and asked, and her answers really showcased what a positive influence they are on the world not only through their uplifting and inspiring music but also through them simply being themselves. The second post in the series was no less exciting, as I interviewed journalist Katie Grant from the i paper. I really look up to Katie and can't thank her enough for everything she's done for me. Her interview was so inspiring!

Oh, and Lorde liked my tweet. I can die happy now.


March: Spring had arrived! On the 7th, I had a really busy day in London, consisting of an International Women's Day breakfast hosted by Theirworld and Sarah Brown at the Institute of Directors on Pall Mall. Very, very swish. I was sat between a woman who used to work 'for Gordon' (our ex-prime minister) and the woman casting the Fantastic Beasts movies. Also in the room was the director of Love, Actually and one of my favourite actors from Holby City but I didn't realise until I was gone. RIP me. In the afternoon I had a meeting at Instagram (and a tour of their super cool offices - they have slinkies hanging from the ceiling, people) and in the evening I attended Sophia Bennett's book launch for Following Ophelia. And in between all of that, I was writing my essay for the Rife anthology in the British Library and Tottenham Court Road Waterstones. So that was... yeah.

This is also the month in which Oscar (my cat) was very ill, and so there were a lot of trips to the vets. He's okay now, though.

Oh, and I had my first car incident. I'm not calling it an accident (even though it was) because that makes it sounds fatal; as it was, my car was the only one which was moving. I just scraped someone's car with mine as I was parking... while they were stood behind me, watching. MORTIFIED. HUMILIATED. NO LONGER ALIVE.

Towards the end of the month, I was invited to the press launch for the new Forbidden Forest expansion at the Warner Bros. Studio Tour. I invited Holly as my +1 and we had a great time - you can see my recap here. That weekend, we were both in London again, but this time for the Unite for Europe march. It was an incredible experience... and a great month all-round! That same day, we also went to Veggie Pret (THE BEST) and the House of Mina Lima, a free gallery in Soho centred around the world of Harry Potter.


April: A good month, but a stressful one: a couple of road trips; a friend's eighteenth; Cambridge Lit Fest; a couple of days in London - one for the Penguin Media Presentation 2017 and to interview Simon James Green at Scholastic, and the other to see Othello at the Globe with Holly. So it was good, but constantly at the back of my mind was... I could be revising right now. Exam stress had well and truly kicked in.


May:
And so I didn't do a lot in May at all. At the beginning of the month I found out that free tours of Parliament were being offered to young people with the aim of encouraging them to use their vote, so even though I already knew I would definitely be voting and probably in every election to come, I decided to go. It was really cool and much more glitzy and palace-like than I was expecting. I really recommend going!

Last year I won a voucher for afternoon tea with a friend, and I realised that it would be expiring soon, so we went. Tiny cakes, tiny sandwiches, tiny everything... right up my street.

There were a couple of pub lunches here and there, too, seeing as the weather was getting nice. I really didn't do very much in May, though, and most days were spent revising for ten hours straight. That's not an exaggeration. It was exhausting.

I also realised that I basically only ever photograph my food. Such a millennial.


June: In May, I'd had my first exam... and then a few weeks of nothing, until June, when the rest took place. It was stressful, but a number of things made the month much better. On the 3rd, I went to see Emma Blackery in Norwich with my friend Willow, and she was incredible. Seriously, the energy was contageous and we both had an amazing night - I'll definitely go again when Emma next tours.

I also went up north to see my Great Grandma for the first time since I got ill, and it was so nice to see her. Definitely a top contender for favourite relative. What? She's a legend.

Back down south, I snuck in a beach trip for Father's Day, attended the Blogosphere Magazine awards in which I was shortlisted for Book Blogger of the Year, and went to the Penguin Random House summer party at Somerset House where I got pooed on by a pigeon in a crowd of 600 amazing authors, publicists, editors, agents, and a small handful of bloggers. Yes, I'm putting this story in a book one day. It's the only way I'll ever recover.

A few days after that, I went to see Adele at Wembley Stadium. This was shortly after the events at Manchester Arena, and I wasn't nervous at all, but at the same time there was a little voice at the back of my mind going... what if this is it? What if this is your last night? What if getting on this train to London is the worst mistake you'll ever make? What if your parents never see you again? I was going on my own, which was fine. I don't care about doing social stuff by myself. But it just felt a bit weird. Because of the events in Manchester, quite a lot of people must have sold their tickets back to the venue and not gone because my mum managed to get one last-minute even though they'd sold out months before. Because of this, we weren't sat together, but it was nice being with someone else. Adele did of course put on an amazing performance which I felt very lucky to see, especially as she then cancelled the rest of her tour dates. COME BACK.


July: The musical fun was not over. Honestly, I went to so many gigs this year and I'm not really sure how it happened. They were all for artists I really, really love, as well?! On the 3rd, we whizzed up to Sheffield to see Green Day - 'we' being my parents and I. See, I don't care about doing social stuff by myself, and I don't care about doing it with my parents, either - we all love Green Day, so why not? They were so, so good, which is lucky because I'd been waiting eighteen years to see them...

A couple of days later, we went to Pinewood Studios to be audience members for the recording of an episode of Taskmaster. If you don't know what Taskmaster is, it's a hilarious show on Dave featuring a bunch of comedians challenged to do the most random crap. It was fascinating going behind the scenes at the studios and being on the actual set I'd seen so often on my TV screen.

A little while after that, I... went to see Busted? They were doing a free gig near me, and seeing as literally nothing exciting ever happens around here, I kind of couldn't say no. To be honest, they weren't that great, but hey - now I can say I've seen another of my favourite childhood bands.

At the same time as all of this, I was applying for jobs and doing a few interviews here and there. I'd known I would be doing this as soon as I left school, because (and everyone's different, I'm not saying anyone who does anything else is wrong) I didn't think it fair that I wasn't able to financially contribute much to the household. I did what I could when I could: paying my own bills, buying my own stuff and sometimes buying my own food, but I wanted to make a larger contribution, and more regularly. I also just... needed regular cash. Freelancing is hard. Luckily, I aced the interview for the job I'd wanted most, and my first day was on the 24th! I'm quite surprised at how quick the process was from leaving school to someone actually picking me from a group and being like, yeah, I want to give you this much coinage per hour. For my first few weeks, though, I really struggled with anxiety at work, and I actually worked through panic attacks at the start of every single shift. I don't know what caused them, especially because I was fine in a very similar job back in December. It was horrific. Looking back, though, I'm really proud of myself for sticking with it. Having a two-hour panic attack every single morning and managing to keep it inside while outwardly smiling and doing my job... a few years ago, I wouldn't have been able to do that. I would've had to leave immediately, and probably would've quit soon after, no matter how much I wished I could stay. There was one morning where it was just too much and I ended up having to tell a manager what was going on and what I'd been dealing with which was awkward but fine. I'd really wanted to keep my anxiety to myself and have a clean slate in my new job, especially as I'd made so much progress health-wise, but it wanted to show it's ugly mug again, I guess. And I'm so relieved that they were fine about it because you never know how people are going to react to mental health issues, especially people you've only known for a few days.

That week was also... YALC! You can read about that in detail here, but we had our very first Teen Bloggers meetup and it was so lovely.

Amongst my shifts, I also slotted in a beach picnic with friends, afternoon tea with Disney, and the completion of my second draft for the Rife book...


August: August was much more chill, though no less busy, if that makes sense. I was working a lot, and when I wasn't working, I was too exhausted to do anything other than sit on the sofa and whine about being tired. More often than not, it would get to a time in the evening where I'd be too tired to get up, go to my room, and go to sleep. My anxiety at work started to improve a little bit, though.

On one of my days off, I met one of my oldest Internet friends, Hawwa. We had a day of photography and veggie burgers in Shoreditch, and it was such a lovely day. We agreed that next time, it'd be me doing the travelling - and a couple of weeks later, I booked my train tickets up to Manchester for mid-September. You can read about our day in London here.

Not long after, it was - you guessed it - exam results day. Being the dedicated content creator that I am (heh) I filmed myself opening them, so you can see that here, nerves and immense cringing and all.


September: The calm before the storm, I went up north to visit family, which involved what is probably the most amount of train mess-ups in a day known to man... and they were my fault, not the train company's. Seriously. The amount of dumb moments I had. Someone wished me luck when I got off the train to make a connection, that's how tragic I was. Anyway, we went for dinner and had a catch-up before I set off for Manchester in the morning to see Hawwa. We'd last seen each other in Shoreditch, but this time I was in her neck of the woods and we had a fun day of photography and nice food.

A couple of days later I was off to Bristol (five-hour drive there and then again on the way back - fun) for #WriteNowLive. This is an annual scheme by Penguin Random House UK which invites people to pitch their works of fiction or non-fiction. Out of nearly 3000 applicants, I made it to the top 150. There were three insight days around the country with 50 people at each, and mine was Bristol. There, we were treated to talks from literary agents, authors, publicists, booksellers and more, as well as given advice and receiving a one-to-one editorial feedback session with an assigned editor from Penguin who had read our submitted work. From there, the list was narrowed down even further to 30 people who would receive a further editorial session by phone... and I got that too. But that's as far as I got, and sadly I didn't make it to the top 10 who get a year of mentoring and the possibility of a book deal. It was an incredible experience though - invaluable - and I'm still so happy that I got to where I did. Put a date in your diaries to apply for next year's scheme, future authors.


October: I kicked off the month amazingly if I do say so myself. I took the 1st off work and hopped on a train to Birmingham to see Lorde with one of my oldest blogging friends, Charli. It was so lovely to finally meet her, and let's be honest: meeting one of your oldest friends for the first time over Ask Italian and Lorde is the perfect evening. Didn't even have any train trauma.

A few days later I went to a trampolining park in Peterborough with a couple of friends because we're big kids at heart (and that's the best way to be.) Diving into foam pits, playing dodgeball on massive trampolines, diving from platforms onto a giant airbag... I mean, I messed up my knee and seeing as the pain is still here a couple of months later, I reckon that's permanent, but hey, it was a fun day.

On the 22nd I finally ticked off the No.1 thing on my bucket list... Paris! I wrote a series of posts about the trip and you can start those off here. I can't wait to go back next summer.

The 28th brought with it my 19th birthday, which I celebrated with my favourite people. Paris was my birthday trip, really, so my actual birthday was fairly low-key with dinner and a delicious cake made by my friend Niamh.

And then I jumped straight into a week of interning at a publishing house in London. Thanks for having me, Little Tiger Group! It was such a good experience and you'll find out all about it in a blog post coming soon.


November: I was still interning at Little Tiger for the first couple of days, and on the 2nd my friend Alex met me for a few hours of shameless tourism: we went up the Shard for the first time which looked incredible in the dark, before walking along the Southbank and going for dinner at GBK (you know me, people, where else do I go?) And then we became more than friends. Literally everyone who knows us in real life saw that coming, but: surprise!

A few days later we went to Manchester to do a couple of Escape rooms, the first being a prison cell situation and the second being a haunted hotel. We lost both games but it was so much fun and we're planning on going back in the summer. Afterwards, we met up with Hawwa and Holly for dinner because they're my favourites and I miss them.

We also had a games night (Cards Against Humanity + Monopoly + Domino's Pizza = yes) before a day of shopping in Cambridge which was funnnnn. As was the media screening for Wonder in Leicester Square which I was invited to by Lionsgate a week or so later. I haven't read the book, which is by R.J. Palacio, but it was such a heartwarming and lovely film and I can't recommend it enough.

The rest of the month consisted of a couple of dinners with friends, and another trip to Birmingham but this time for Cadbury's World... how very sociable of me. *hides under duvet*


December: A horrific month. Don't work in retail at Christmas. I did 52 hours in a week, I got shouted at for three long minutes over the price of two onions which came to the grand total of 44p, and someone complained about me because I was 'efficient' but 'perhaps a bit tired'. However, we had the work Christmas party, and then a squad Christmas dinner a couple of weeks later. Pitch Perfect 3 was also released, which I've been waiting for for SO LONG AND IT WAS AMAZING AND SOMEONE MAKE AN ACAPELLA GROUP WITH ME PLS.

On the 5th I saw comedian Greg Davies on tour which we had tickets for as part of my stepdad's birthday present last year. On the 7th I also went to Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park, as well as the London Eye and then the Shard again, but this time at sunset for a slightly different view. It was such a great day and ticked 3 things off my bucket list. I reckon 2017 was pretty good for that.

And now to present day, no pun intended. Christmas Day was low-key as usual. I bagged five days off work, and on Boxing Day went on a beach crawl (like a pub crawl but more sober) with Alex. New Year's Eve will be spent watching the London fireworks in real life with Alex and Niamh which I am so excited about as it's something I've always wanted to do. Like I said, 2017 was good for ticking things off my bucket list; in fact, it's been my favourite year yet.


2017 has been the best. Here's to many more adventures in 2018. ❤

Monday, 11 December 2017

5 Non-Fiction Books About Writing Fiction


In November 2015, I completed NaNoWriMo for the first time. For those who don't know, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, and it happens in November. The challenge is to write at least 50,000 words of a novel during the month, and if you do, you win! You don't win anything tangible, but trust me, knowing you've made it to the finish line is all the prize you need.

Since then, however, I haven't touched my work. The Word document has sat nestled in its folder on my desktop gathering dust (pixels?) and watching sadly whilst I click anything but it. That doesn't mean that my novel hasn't been on my mind, though - I've thought about it so much. I know it needs a lot of work, and I know it isn't finished. The reason I haven't touched it isn't because I got bored, or because I didn't know what to do with it, but simply because I told myself that I mustn't start working on it again until I'd finished my A Levels, which have taken up most of my focus for the last year.

Like I said, though, that didn't stop me from thinking about it. Thinking isn't the same as actually writing! That's okay, right? It didn't stop me from shopping, either. I bought a couple of books about the writing craft, and was gifted a few more on birthdays or at Christmas. I've said this before, but at some point in my early teens, I stopped wanting to be a writer, which had previously been my ultimate life dream. I lacked confidence, and being someone who struggles to write at length and always has done, I couldn't see myself ever being able to write a full-length novel no matter how much I wanted to. With NaNoWriMo 2015, the dream came back. I proved to myself that I could do it.

So, whilst I couldn't actively work on my novel, I could still try to improve my writing in the meantime. There are so many books on writing out there, and I know from scrolling down the Amazon search results that it's seriously overwhelming, so I thought it might help some of you if I shared the ones I thought looked best!


Complete Creative Writing Course by Chris Sykes

'The only comprehensive creative writing title on the market that goes beyond introducing the basic genres to offering a complete journey along the writing path, including material on editing, redrafting and polishing a piece of work. Featuring the unique workshop exercises to encourage readers to hone their work rather than just progressing through a number of exercises. Takes the reader from complete beginner or committed amateur to the point you've completed, edited and redrafted your work and are ready for publication.'

Master Lists for Writers by Bryn Donovan

This book does what it says on the tin: it contains master lists for writers on characteristics, plots, names, and more. To some of you, it will seem genius. To others, it'll seem downright lazy. I think it's brilliant, because it can be used either as an ultimate guide, where you find something you like and stick it in your novel, or you can use it as inspiration to get you out of a writing slump. 'Write faster...write more! Master Lists for Writers makes 'show, don’t tell' a lot easier and helps you figure out your story more quickly. In this book, you’ll find:

• lists of phrases for describing facial expressions, body language, gestures, physical appearance, and emotions
• 175 master plot ideas, including romance, high-stakes, family, and workplace stories
• lists of words for writing action scenes and love scenes
• inspiration for figuring out character traits and quirks, backstories, occupations, motivations, and goals
• lists for describing settings and writing dialogue
• lists of good character names for contemporary stories... plus medieval England, Regency England, Wild West, and WWII settings
• and more!

Whether you’re writing novels or short fiction, screenwriting, or any other kind of storytelling, Master Lists for Writers is a rich source of inspiration you’ll turn to again and again. This book contains adult language.'

Word Painting by Rebecca McClanahan

'Writing strong descriptions is an art form, one that you need to carefully develop and practice. The words you choose to describe your characters, scenes, settings, and ideas--in fiction, poetry, and nonfiction--need to precisely illustrate the vision you want to convey. Word Painting shows you how to color your canvas with descriptions that captivate readers. Inside, you'll learn how to:

  • Develop your powers of observation to uncover rich, evocative descriptions.
  • Discover and craft original and imaginative metaphors and similes.
  • Effectively and accurately describe characters and settings.
  • Weave description seamlessly through your stories, essays, and poems.

You'll also find dozens of descriptive passages from master authors and poets--as well as more than one hundred exercises--to illuminate the process. Whether you are writing a novel or a poem, a memoir or an essay, Word Painting will guide you in the creation of your own literary masterpiece.'

The Writer's Idea Book by Jack Heffron

'Writers will jump start their creativity with over 500 unique idea-generating prompts, from clustering to role-playing to automatic writing, that get the words flowing.'

Get Started in Writing Young Adult Fiction by Juliet Mushens

Juliet Mushens is a publishing queen and certainly someone who knows what they're talking about, so if you're looking to write YA, this needs to be at the top of your shopping list. 'This is an authoritative and engaging introduction to writing young adult fiction for the complete beginner. It will help you understand how the genre works, the big do's and don't's - as well as giving you the inspiration and motivation you actually need to write. Written by a leading literary agent who knows what it takes to make it in this market, this book will give you the advice and tips you need to stand out. An essential book for anyone hoping to emulate the success and addictive qualities that characterise books like The Hunger Games, Twilight, Divergent and The Fault in Our Stars.'

I can't wait to get stuck into all of these properly, and to get back to work on my 'novel' - there's certainly a lot to do...

Do you have any book recommendations when it comes to non-fiction about writing?