soundtrack series: november

It’s been a busy bee kind of month (isn’t every month!?) and I’ve found myself rarely listening to music just for the fun of it. I’ve moved (yep, that’s right. You can read all about it here) and changed jobs and now my usual routine has vanished.

I am no longer singing (and dancing) along to eighties classics from a speaker in an empty bookshop, but rather I’m sat on a tram with headphones in, trying to drown out the tram speakers and the beeping doors constantly opening and closing to let on more commuters.

I’m excited to have a fun few weekends coming up where I’m out adventuring with good friends, good food, and hopefully some good music which will make an appearance in my December soundtrack series.

As for November, here goes:

1.Norah Jones – A Long Way Home

An absolute classic. The Long Way Home has been on my marmalade skies playlist since it was created, and I never bore of listening to it. I love her voice, and her songs are great to listen to at any time of day. I also enjoy listening to the Norah Jones Radio on Spotify. If you have it I’d 10/10 recommend!

2. Bruce Springsteen – Dancing In The Dark

The Boss is back, but this time in true original glory. This one has made its way onto my soundtrack series before, but as a cover. This month the original has been blasted from my speakers more times than I can count. I blooming love Bruce.

3. Tears For Fears – Everybody Wants To Rule The World

It’s all eighties at the moment, especially living with Meg! This is just one example of the tunes blasted out the kitchen radio when Heart 80s is on. We do like to have a boogie when we’re washing up, so what’s better to dance to than the 80s?

4. Sara Bareilles – She Used To Be Mine

I love Sara, but only came across this song when I listened to the Norah Jones radio. I absolutely loved it and added it to my playlist straight away. It’s now a regular running through my ears on my commute, and I love it. It’s good for getting me geared up for work, but doesn’t make me want to dance in public (apparently it’s not appropriate on an 8am tram.)

5. James Blunt – 1973

Last but no means least comes from this beauty. And what a tune. I absolutely love James Blunt and was devastated when I didn’t get tickets to see him when he showed up in Leeds for the night. I started singing the first line to Simon, the cat, when I moved to Sheffield and the song has since stuck.

Let me know what you’ve been listening to!

soundtrack series: september

The final month of my Masters is finished. My novel has been handed in. I am free (aka officially an adult). Here are my five favourite songs from the novel writing process. They got me, and my characters, through a lot of uncertainty, and inspired me in many ways. I owe them a beer (or several).

1. MIKA

Another Kilimanjaro reunion means another throwback artist. This time, one of those classics you just can’t forget. Mika came into full force in the car, with singalongs on the regular. What’s a car journey without some Lebanese love? Firm faves have to be Stardust, Live Your Life, Blue Eyes and Origin Of Love. But they’re all good.

2. George Ezra

A popular one on the soundtrack series this year, and popping up all over the place. One of my favourites, Hold My Girl, was on repeat a lot whilst I was writing the majority of the last half of the book.

3. The Coral

One of those controversial choices, The Coral are fab, and In The Morning was a song that would get me feeling motivated to get up and write (don’t ask me why – the lyrics tell a completely different story entirely!)

4. Fleetwood Mac

Absolute Legends. What more can I say? Dreams, Everywhere, The Chain, Landslide, Go Your Own Way… there are too many good songs to shout about. They were a constant background noise to my keyboard tapping, and I thoroughly enjoyed their company.

5. Birdy

The girl who started it all. I don’t think I would have got through the whole book if it hadn’t been for the beautiful music Birdy creates. Skinny Love was the first song I ever began writing to, and it will always be a firm fave. But there are many more that have made a name for themselves within my novel. What a babe.

What have you been listening to this month?

love sophie

gay in YA

My research project this term has surrounded the growing presence of LGBTQ+ characters, and stories, in YA fiction, among other children’s books.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading books for research around the topic, and learning more than I thought I knew about the topic. It is so easy to become ignorant to topics, so I think it’s really important, especially when writing and analysing it, to be aware of the facts, and talk to the community, being involved and understanding, listening to what they have to say.

I read Kalaidoscope Song, by Fox Benwell, an alumni from my course, as well as Two Boys Kissing, by David Levithan which are both completely different examples of representation, from characters right through to plot. Both authors are also both members of the community.

Something I found whilst researching was that lots of the books covered the same plots and themes: coming out, being accepted socially, self acceptance, bullying, mental health etc. which I didn’t think fully represented the community. Obviously these themes are prevalent, but they don’t equate to everything the characters are feeling. Surely they’d want to read something where the character, no matter what part of the LGBTQ+ community, had the normal teenage life, and where their sexuality didn’t define them?

I think there is such a gap in the market for these books. Many of the books I looked at for research were fairly recent to the market, with only a few years between them, a couple proving to be quite ahead of their time. But more recently, we are seeing more LGBTQ+ books being published, along with authors from the community which is really important.

I hope this brings with it a new wave of publishing for this community. Books are a platform to bring controversial and often unspoken topics into the open and for many they are the way they learn things about the world.

‘These characters and narratives can shine a light into the corners of possibility for children searching for signs that they are not alone in their otherness.’

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

lactose free loves: vegan burgers

I was sous chef for Chris at our post-Christmas family get together in December (I chopped tomatoes and buttered the bread) and he made the easiest (and tastiest) burgers in the world. It’s a really great and filling recipe for anyone who is vegetarian or anyone trying out veganuary. It’s also a cheap meal so good for students (it’s made up from easy kitchen staples too so no doubt you have some of the ingredients in the cupboard already so don’t need to venture to the shops.

I couldn’t quite remember the recipe so I’ve given it a go from memory. And it worked!

So this is what you need:

Ingredients:

2 chillies

1 onion

1 tin of chickpeas (drained)

half a punnet of mushrooms

salt and pepper

Optional to serve:

4 bread buns

salad leaves

gherkins and tomatoes (sliced)

 

method:

1.Slice the mushrooms and onion. Fry the onion on a medium heat until it’s soft. Add the mushroom slices and fry until they’re soft too. Put the oven on to 180 degrees.

2. Chop the chillies (you can use as little/many as you’d like) and add them to the pan.

3. Open the chickpeas and drain them, before putting them in a bowl. With a fork, mash the chickpeas until they’re all squashed. Add them to the pan and stir into the mushroom, onion and chilli, adding salt/pepper to taste.

4. Once it’s all mixed together, take off the heat and leave to cool. In this time, slice the tomatoes and gherkin (optional) and add any sauces to the bread buns.

5. Once the mix has cooled, ball the mixture up with your hands and place on a oiled baking tray. Pat them down into burger shapes. Once you’ve used up all the mixture, put them in the oven for 15 minutes (or until cooked).

6. place onto the bun and top with salad, tomatoes and gherkin. And enjoy!

 

I don’t think mine were as good as Chris’ (I could have cooked them in the oven for longer but I was starving so indulged too soon…) but the recipe was super quick and easy and I was able to do some work whilst they were cooking in the oven. Win win.

They’re so easy to make and require minimal effort (which is great for a busy day). You can alter the mix if you don’t like chillies, or add different sides too. I think they’d be lovely with sweet potato fries and homemade guacamole. And you can ditch the bread bun if you’re not keen. Make them your own.

Let me know what you think!

love sophie

i canuary

I had one of those ‘head in hands’ moments this week.

It’s January, which means I’m tired, broke, deadlines are looming, and all I want to do is eat the treats I got for Christmas (those that made it this far…) and snuggle up in bed with an extra large cup of tea.

But, I’ve got a Masters to finish, and a novel which needs editing.

My mind is also away with the fairies so I’ve been trying some different ways to get my mind back on track to what I’m actually supposed to be doing… and telling myself that I’ve got this. Because sometimes life is just a little bit overwhelming.

Anyone who knows me will know I’m a list queen. I like everything written out (a million times) so that I can see it and know what I have to do and when I need to do it. So, in the amongst the essay writing, I made a couple of lists to lull me out of my stress-head state. And, although some of them got my mind wandering off piste, (I am also the queen of procrastination) I was able to get on with my reading and managed to make lots of notes which I am going to magic up into the essay.

Here are a few examples of lists I’ve made when I’ve been super stressed…

  • Blog post ideas (because blogging counts as productive procrastination)
  • Best bits of the year (this could be what you enjoyed most about last year or what you’re looking forward to this year)
  • Bucket List (of places I want to go to/things I want to see etc.)
  • Book list (books I want to read this month/year)
  • Inspiration List (people/things/ideas that inspire me – Pinterest is great for this)
  • What I’m grateful for (a nice way of reflecting on something you already have)
  • My five year plan (enough to scare anyone back into an essay)
  • A shopping list (of things I can’t actually afford)
  • Meal plan for the week (especially good for anyone doing veganuary etc.)
  • Words of wisdom (for when life really does get tough)
  • Songs to listen to (usually whilst writing/working)
  • My to do list (always include a couple of things you’ve already done and tick them off so you don’t stress out even more)

So they are all just ideas which have helped me to get my mind back. Sometimes when I’m stressed I get so wound up with myself that if I don’t take five minutes out I want to give up.

These lists are a good way of bringing you back from stress island and hopefully will help you as much as they’ve helped me.

(They’re nice things to do anyway if you get the chance. It’s often quite nice to just reflect on what you’ve done/are going to do.)

Let me know what you think!

love sophie

 

 

 

 

 

the morning pages

It’s January so I’ve decided, in the spirit of a fresh year, to rekindle my love for the morning pages.

The idea of the morning pages is that you write three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing, done first thing in the morning. Everyday.

I use it as a tool to develop ideas about my plot or about my characters and the novel’s development. The purpose is to bring about ideas, give you a clearer mind about your plan, and relieve any anxieties you may have.

Now, you don’t have to use all of it. It could all be crap. But the point is that you get in the routine of writing daily, getting your worries out onto the page first thing so that you can move past them and spend the day writing creatively. It can be whatever you make of it.

If you’re not a writer, or don’t want a novel at the end of it, then simply use it as a tool to de-stress from life. You could wake up after the most vivid dream and decide to write it down, or use it to plan out what you’re going to do with your week. Or, you can just use it as a tool to create a diary.

What I love about the idea of the morning pages is the freedom that comes with it. All it requires is fifteen minutes (or so) a day which can be built up or continued if you’d like. It is such a simple way of writing each day, whether it is a diary, a blog, or a novel, you’ll have a book full of your year at the end of it.

I love that you can use it for absolutely anything. One day you could have a chapter from a novel, the next you could include a crazy dream or a recipe, or a list of hopes for the week/month/year.

It’s flexibility means you can take it with you on the go, so that wherever you are you can get it out and add to it for that day.

Journaling is something I find really therapeutic. I am definitely someone who likes to see things written down and find it easier to then continue with whatever I have to do. It’s as if I have to empty my head before I can refill it with the next day. So, for me, this is such an easy way of doing that whilst also helping me with develop my novel.

Some of the snippets I wrote in it last year (in fact most of them) have either been edited into my novel, or have inspired scenes and characters.

So, if you’re like me and get quite overwhelmed if everything’s running circles in your head, why not try it out. For me, I have to put pen to paper, but a laptop works just the same. Grab a notepad or a blank word document and write away.

Hopefully it leaves you feeling assured and organised about what you’re writing/what you’re doing/where you’re at with everything.

If anything, it’s a chance to take fifteen minutes away from the day, with a brew, to just sit quietly, reflect and think.

Let me know how you find it!

love sophie

creative writing vs. essay writing: help

As an author of children’s fiction, and a Masters student, I have to write creatively, as well as formally in essays *cue meltdown.*

Now, I absolutely hate writing essays because I can never get a formal voice going, and I often repeat myself and word vomit all over the page (yes, that is a thing).

Children’s fiction, however, comes out of me wrapped in a bow (although it takes me a while to think up ideas sometimes, when I’ve got one I can run with it.)

So how do I manage to bridge the gap when asked to write essays for my course? Well… the truth is I find it incredibly difficult to channel my inner English Lit girl who quotes amazing works, and actually I resemble something along the lines of my teenage  characters. I usually give up too (and if you know me, I’m no quitter) and spend my day procrastinating, normally drowning in rooibos tea to make up for how I feel.

BUT

New year new me (and all that rubbish) so here I am, fighting fit, ready to take on the essay which I’ve had planned for months (with a fresh pot of tea for support.)

So here is how I plan on defeating it: (if you’re in a similar situation, I hope it helps)

Step 1: Plan plan plan…

I’m not a big planner when it comes to my creative work, I usually just write and see where I end up. But, when it comes to essays, that isn’t an option. Otherwise it just ends in waffle (and not the tasty kind.)

I start off by structuring the essay and working out how it is going to flow, and deciding which points link best. (This takes a couple of days in itself so almost counts as procrastination.)

I think of it like my novel. The book has to flow and make sense to the reader; there can be no room for misinterpretation. This is the same for my essay.

Start by plotting a brief structure, including an introduction, first point, second point, third point, and then conclusion. (Obviously you can tailor this to however many points you have.)

One of the best things I do (or try to do) is make a tick list of the mark scheme and definite things you have to include. Once you’ve finished the essay you can look back on it and see if there’s anything you’ve missed.

Step 2: Bulk it out. (P)

So you’ve got your plan, and now you’re ready to put points onto paper and give yourself proper words to work with.

Start by writing out all your points onto separate pieces of paper, that way you can move them and change the order to get the most formulaic structure. You only need to begin with bullet points.

Once you know your points, and after researching enough to build them up, seeing them on paper makes it easier to put the pieces of the jigsaw together.

Step 3: Get back up. (E)

You’ve got your point, now you need to back it up with evidence. Get out your books (read them) and pick out some quotes that support what you’re trying to say. Search the internet for journals, articles, anything. The more varied the support, the better the grade (hopefully.)

Don’t just pick things because you think they kind of link, pick them because they support your point fully. If you find any that oppose your point, pick them out too. It’s always good to be able to have a counter argument.

Step 4: Why? (E)

Explain to the reader (or the marker) why this quote or research in particular helps to strengthen your argument. What does it say that helps? What specifically is it doing to the point you’re making?

If you can’t explain this, you might need a stronger quote.

Step 5: Link it up. (L)

Connect the point to the next point you’re making/a counter argument. Use further evidence, just be careful not to repeat yourself. Also this is a good chance to make sure you’re properly answering the question in each point. It doesn’t have to be explicit, but make sure you’ve done what you set out to. Conclude in your last paragraph and go back to your introduction. The essay may have changed slightly since you started it so check it all fits together.

Step 5: Reread.

Just like when writing creatively, one of the most helpful things I find is rereading the work aloud. This shows you if there are any jarring bits for the reader, and whether the piece flows well. Make sure you’ve done what you set out to do and argued or explained all the points you’ve made with enough evidence.

 

By using the PEEL paragraphs you’ll be able to incorporate all aspects of the point to recoup the most marks. Obviously, all essays are different and all have different mark schemes so do take this with a pinch of salt. I’m aware this might work for one, and not another. But hopefully you can take the main ideas away from it, even if it’s just with planning.

One of my major faults is that I try and write too eloquently in essays, so much that it doesn’t actually make sense. Don’t do this. The best thing to do is to write the points out (even just in bullet points), finish the essay steps and then come back to look at wording in a draft where you can flesh it all out.

Getting words on the page is always the hardest part so by drafting it out, in a more relaxed way like this, can really help to take the pressure off. It also allows for lots of breaks in between points to refill your tea.

I hope you find this helpful, and if you have any top tips to help me write my essay, or that you think might help others, post them below.

Now, back to the essay…

love sophie