a letter from: bath

It’s been far too long since I stepped foot in the beautiful city of Bath, and this week made up for that completely. With a double dose in one week (both Graduation and a Kilimanjaro reunion weekend) I am well and truly cream crackered.

It has been blooming lovely, though.

The sun shone, I got to meet up with people I hadn’t seen in faaaaaar too long, and see my words in print as part of our MA Anthology (which was epic!)

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Graduation was lovely, as was seeing all my lovely course friends and writing pals again. It’s surprising how close you get to each other and how much you help each other through the process. It was amazing to celebrate altogether, and surprisingly emotional to be reunited again.

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There’s so much to do in Bath that if you don’t really know the city, just wandering aimlessly means you’ll see beautiful things and stumble across some absolute gems along with gorgeous architecture.

Having lived there for four years, it’s amazing how much I still haven’t seen. We’re famous for never being tourists in our own cities, and I’m exactly the same with Leeds. But, there’s always a favourite place I stumble back to, and the cobble streets and golden stone buildings will always scream ‘home.’

Mr B’s Emporium is one of my favourite places in Bath. Unfortunately (and typically) it was closed for renovation over the days I was there so I didn’t get to step into the bookshop of reading delights (a shame but my purse was pleased!)

We also popped across to BookBarn (my absolute favourite place) which I last visited in June. It’s a twenty minute journey from the centre of Bath, but if you love books (or vegetarian food) it is a real treat. We were even treated to a reading by Dan.

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Most books are £1 (and there are over a million), there’s an open fire, and the freshly made food and tea make it a lovely place to spend a few hours. There’s a kids reading nook, and it’s all enclosed so you can sit in the cafe and leave them to feel grown up, playing or reading to their hearts content.

The Darwin Room is a relatively new addition, boasting spines that are hundreds of years old, alongside first editions and collectables. Unfortunately these aren’t £1!

In between the rugby matches on Saturday, we even managed to sneak in a tower tour up Bath Abbey which was amazing, and a must do – such great value and such great views.

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The journey up is just as good, and the winding corridors and little nooks and crannies you can see and squeeze through make you feel like a kid again. We even got to ring one of the bells from the top! (…I promise I didn’t wear the same outfit the whole time.)

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Glorious sunshine hitting Georgian stone is such a beautiful thing to witness. Visiting Corsham Court after my graduation ceremony was something I’m really glad I did. I was fortunate enough to call it campus for a year and it really is beautiful, more so in the sun!

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(I ditched the heels for my Docs as soon as the photos were taken – if you know me, you know!)

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It felt very good to go full circle and I left Bath with a very cheesy grin on my face!

Let’s hope it’s not too long before I go back for another adventure!

love sophie

writing dates: do they help or hinder?

February was one of those head-down-get-on-with-it kind of months (as well as lets-hit-Sophie-with-the-flu-just-when-she-doesn’t-need-it.) With just shy of 15,000 words due, I was trying to save every ounce of energy up to write my essays, and assignments. But when you can’t even think straight and spend most of the day coughing (my whole January was more like dry cough January than dry January) it’s difficult to get much done.

Cue a lot of writing dates with other writers/peers/anyone who would take me up on my offer of free flowing tea and biscuits, in the hope of it being inspiring and actually making me do some work.

But did it really help?

Here are the things I noticed happening to my work/me:

1. It got competitive

I’m not a hugely competitive person *flips the board of monopoly if she doesn’t get Mayfair* but there’s something about people sitting around laptops, typing endlessly which gets incredibly competitive. Now, this in theory is great, it means that you’re in competition to write the most and do the most work. But actually, what comes out of this (unless you’re a Sara Barnard level A+writer) is a very very very first draft which makes no sense. Yes I managed to write lots, but it wasn’t necessarily good stuff and needed lots of editing when I managed to escape back under the blankets with a cuppa.

2. It can be the world’s best procrastination

So you’re sat with your laptop, you’ve got a brew and you’re ready to get cracking on your next chapter. WRONG. Instead, you end up listening to your friends detail the whole night out that you missed in the classic debrief. You get way too into it, completely forget the reason you’re there, and suddenly you’re watching videos of cute goats on YouTube? (please tell me I’m not the only one?) Three hours later and you’ve exhausted yourself to the point of no work, so you turn to Netflix and drown your sorrows in tea, saying ‘It’s okay, I’ll do it tomorrow…’ even if tomorrow is the deadline.

3. It can be very distracting

This is especially the case if you’re all working on the same assignment. Or even if you’re all trying to do the same kind of thing. When it comes to writing, a lot of research is involved, especially if it’s high fantasy or historical, or you need to be factually correct with characters etc. This is all good and well until someone whips out a truck load of information which is then put on you because you just need to know it too. I think I’ve learnt more from my peers who have been researching for their books than I ever did when it came to researching for my own things. And then there’s the breaks. If someone pops to the loo, makes a drink, or declares lunchtime, it only seems fitting to take a break too. Even if you’ve only written the title.

4. It’s an emotional battle

Just like reading a book, there’s a definite emotional rollercoaster that comes with writing dates. I don’t know whether it’s having someone you can complain to/talk things through with, or whether it’s just because it can be really hard, but writing dates often turn into therapy sessions punctuated with ‘you can do this’ and ‘just focus on writing this chapter’ which is all good and well if you have an idea you believe in. This is when those extra biscuits you brought (just in case) make their way out whilst you shut down all your word documents and cry internally over the fact you’re never going to get published. You then have to sit there whilst the other people, who are still tapping away on their keyboards, continue to casually mosey on through the brick wall ahead. Total writing torture.

5. Everything takes time

When initially planning the date, you have to bear in mind that at least 70% of it will be spent making tea, talking, scrolling through your phone, eating, giggling, watching funny videos, etc. So you only ever really get 30% maximum done. This is something you should take into account when planning when to meet and where. If you meet before lunch, you may be more productive in the morning but end up having more breaks. If you meet after lunch you might have passed the most productive part of your day. It’s a battle you sometimes just can’t win. I try and meet up as early as possible because then at least I’ve given myself the whole day to procrastinate. And even if I don’t manage the target of words I set (or even half of them) I know that it’s more than I would have done anyway.

Let me know if you have any tips on writing in a group, and whether there are any ways it helps you/any suggestions to make it work better!

love sophie

rainy days: inspiration in the weather 

I ventured out of the house today for all of ten minutes. I came back in looking like a drowned rat and my clothes were drenched through with rain water. But I loved it.

I think rainy days, although often miserable because you maybe can’t do what you’d planned, are my favourites. They bring about a spontaneity which you don’t get if your plans go ahead, and everything runs like clockwork.

I’m also a lover of anything muddy and mucky, something many people don’t realise about me. I’d rather spend a day on the beach, mid-winter, making mud pies and paddling in the sea in just my knickers and a jumper than being snuggled up inside watching films all day. And I love riding my bike through big, boggy puddles and splashing mud all over myself whilst steaming downhill. Obviously, the hot bubble bath and film night that follows is still on the cards, I just feel like it’s been earned. And, although cleaning the bike in the dark is a chore, the mud splatters are worth it.

One thing rainy days really help with is my inspiration for writing. I can be on a beach, on a mountain, or tucked up watching raindrops race down the window from inside, and I’ll be able to channel my character, or just be a kid again.

Stomping in muddy puddles – minus wellies – is the best. Yes, your feet get cold. Yes, your shoes get damp. But they dry, and you soon get warm again. The thrill of doing something that nobody else is doing, and something that would normally be suggested as a bad idea makes it all the more fun.

Don’t get me wrong, I like summer. And I like it when it doesn’t rain, too. But for those ten minutes of leaving the house today, I felt like a kid again. I was soaked through to my socks, and had to stuff my shoes with newspaper so they’d dry, but I came in, warmed up, and started writing.

Is there a season you prefer to write in? Does the rain help your writing, too? Let me know!

love sophie

social sundays: the importance of getting out and about when writing

I left the house on Sunday for what felt like the first time in months. (Am I the only one who thinks January is dragging?!) I got the bus (having sucked it up and hoped that because it was a Sunday, I wouldn’t be bashed about) and met up with a friend from uni who I haven’t seen since we both graduated in July – too long!

It was super nice to just get out of the house for a few hours and spend some time in someone else’s company. (It’s amazing how solitary writing can be, and how long you can go without speaking to anyone in person or on the phone.)

We went to Velo Lounge, an old favourite from our student-ville days when it was just a short walk away. We sipped our way through large and small pots of tea, and chatted about life, our jobs, our houses (so adult) before laughing over old videos from our student days (which was incredibly amusing – it’s crazy to see how much we’ve changed in three years!)

It did wonders to be in a different place, out of the house, and in the fresh air. All too often (especially when those pesky deadlines come looming) I’ll barricade myself at the writing desk until they’re all done. It doesn’t help, in fact if anything it makes it 1000x worse. But the thought of being in front of the laptop and fully immersed in it makes me think I’ll actually write.

That’s until I actually leave my room and forget about what I’m writing for a bit. Then it all just flows out of my brain like it’s been scripted. (I know this, so I know I should leave my desk but sometimes it’s just too stressful to step away.) I always take a pen and notebook with me, and I have one in the car for when I’m driving around for inspiration which is actually very very full (night time driving is the cure of the supposed writers block for me). I also use my phone a lot to jot things down, even if it’s just a conversation I hear, or a description of what someone is wearing (a bit weird but I’m a writer so I have an excuse.)

Anyway, after we’d drunk buckets of tea and chatted for several hours, we said our goodbyes and I was automatically inspired to write. AMAZING!

I have to grab moments like these and run with them because they don’t often stay for long. I managed to write a lot of words which was great, but more importantly I got to use what I’d written in my journal that day of all the things I’d seen and done.

I even used things we’d talked about over lunch when looking at my character arcs.

It’s amazing how much can come out of one adventure away from the writing desk.

I’ve been keeping up with my morning pages which has been going really well this month, so it’s nice to get the opportunity to expand and develop little ideas that have been niggling their way to the front of my brain.

Safe to say it’s had a domino effect and I’ve been out of the house everyday since Sunday too (it was only one day but it still counts.) Yesterday I went along to rugby training (which I really didn’t feel up to but I’m so glad I did) and the same thing happened. I came home and wrote words. Actual, proper words that make sense when joined together.

For anyone else struggling with the inevitable block, put your shoes on, grab a brolly and go and take on the outdoors. It doesn’t have to be loads, it could just be a walk around the garden or a trip to the postbox down the street. Take some time away from your writing and it might just catch right up with you.

Let me know if you have any luck!

love sophie

ho ho no

I’m twenty one. I’ve done my fair share of believing in Santa and do enjoy the wonderful festivities that arise when it gets nearer to Christmas. But, this year, I’m simply not feeling it. (I don’t think the week I spent trekking in the desert really helped!)

I’ve tried. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve been to the German Market’s in Leeds (twice), and I even came back to Bath just in time to see the Christmas Market’s up and hustling with crowds of eager shoppers. And I’ve attempted several excursions into torrents of other desperate shoppers to finally get some presents.

But somewhere along the way, I’ve found it’s lost it’s spark.

There used to be something so magical about it all.

When we were younger, my siblings and I used to buy all our gifts from the school Christmas fayre. We’d have a pocket full of loose change and be given the freedom of walking alone around the school hall for half an hour, going to every stall. I’d spend ages deliberating over what I thought my family would really want and put lots of effort into picking the presents for them, looking forward to seeing the excitement on their faces when they opened them. I always thought it was something they would really want and I’d have picked it for a reason. I’d get home and hide them straight away (probably in a really obvious place) and ask Mum for some wrapping paper so I could put them out under the tree in the lounge.

That magic just doesn’t happen anymore.

I don’t like Christmas shopping – I feel like it’s turned into a commercial holiday where you get bashed around and stressed out because everyone’s hard to buy for and already have everything they want. And with the added stress of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, I question if the materialistic takeover is actually worth the effort.

I fear that I’m sounding old and cynical but it’s just a shame to see how much my perspective on it all has shifted.

Last Christmas, I decided I wasn’t going to do big presents. I’m the youngest of three and we all have what we need. If there’s something we want, we’re all old enough to go out ourselves and buy it. I limited myself on how much I was going to spend, partly because I was a student, but also because I didn’t want to get trapped into the saga of meaningless gifts.

Take my mum, for instance. A woman who has everything. What do you get for your mum? She has jewellery, candles, bath sets. She doesn’t want things. She’s said previously that she’d like to be given the gift of time with her, but I don’t think I’d ever thought about it properly. Instead I’d go for a photo frame or scented candle.

But last year, I decided to write her a letter instead of buying her something that I knew she would neither want, nor need.

We have a tradition in our family where ever since we were little, Emily and I have received a bauble every year for Christmas from my Dad’s Aunt and Uncle. And Jonathan would get collectable stamps. This went on until I was eighteen. It was a really lovely tradition and I used to love them arriving in the post and unwrapping beautiful glass, ornate baubles to add to the tree each year. It is definitely something I’d like to continue for my children.

Mum would joke that one day, when we left home, she’d have no baubles on the tree. Now, wherever I go, I bring a bauble back for her so she has her own collection.

As well as the letters, I bought her a small glass heart decoration for the tree.

In the main letter I expressed my thoughts about the year that had just gone. I explained what I enjoyed, what I didn’t enjoy. I shared some of my challenges, some of my accomplishments, and my hopes for the coming year.

Along with the main letter, I included six smaller envelopes. One for every other month after Christmas. These included things I’d like us to do together that month or ideas of ways to spend time together.

Although we weren’t able to realistically live up to all of them, with me being away at University for most of the year, she really appreciated the idea and the thought behind it and I hope it starts another tradition and allows us to spend more time together.

We get so wrapped up in the hustle and bustle of life, buying excessive amounts of food we wouldn’t usually eat, spending hundreds of pounds on gifts people might not ever use, and forget to actually take the time to appreciate the people around us.

This year, it was suggested that instead of buying each other presents, we should all just put the money towards flights for a family holiday. Something we haven’t actually had chance to do in years.

Although I don’t think that’s the plan this year, I like the idea of it, and hope that maybe next year we might decide to jet off somewhere nice together.

It would be a nice excuse to steer clear of the pedestrian traffic, and chaotic few weeks that December brings.

loce sophur