a letter from: bangor

With my workload about to creep up, and the magic of Christmas and New Year fading out, I really wasn’t looking forward to January. A ten minute discussion with Meg, a quick scout through AirBnB, and a double check of the calendar, and we’d booked a trip to Bangor. The plan was to start the year on a high, outdoors, and doing something fun and spontaneous. And it was exactly that.

We found a cheap and lovely looking AirBnB in Tregarth (I’d much rather be somewhere homey where I can fully relax and not be bothering anyone) deciding on North Wales as we’ve both been before and loved it. Meg actually went to Bangor Uni and it was my second choice, pipped to the post in the end by Bath.

I’d already set my mission of more adventures and spontaneity at this point, so I was excited to be booking something for a weeks’ time, and only vaguely planning out possibilities of what we could do.

With it only being a couple of hours away, we decided we wouldn’t rush to set off after work on the Friday, and instead managed to miss the rush hour traffic, enjoying a scenic (very dark) drive to our destination. We’d packed a crate of prosecco (emergency rations, just in case…) and spent the Friday night planning our next two days.

We decided as we were only 10 minutes from the centre of Bangor to head into town on the Saturday morning, before driving up to Anglesey to visit Newborough beach (where we ended up going for a swim – much to the amusement of everyone around us), then headed up to South Stack Lighthouse, eating chips whilst watching the sun go down, before driving back to the house. If you’ve never been up this neck of the woods, I’d definitely recommend. As a creative person, there is so much inspiration on every road, or in every building (or sheep) you drive past.

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Newborough is fab, and the tide is never fully in so there is always beach to be played on. Top tip: there’s a rope swing nestled at the very end of the woods on your right as you’re walking to the far end of the beach. It’s close to the edge of the trees so you can see it when you get near, and it is incredibly fun. Surprisingly, not many of the people we saw knew about it. We couldn’t resist giving it a spin (and I can vouch for it being lots of fun!) The parking is £5 for all day, and it is very clean and well maintained. There was even a hot drink/food van, too, for after our January dip!

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South Stack is about a twenty minute drive from Newborough, and neither of us had been before so we thought it would be a good chance to go. It was fab, and we deliberately timed it so we’d get there to see the sunset as backdrop.

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We stopped at a local chippy on the way, stocking up on chips with curry sauce to keep us warm whilst we sat, practically on the edge of Wales, watching the world fall asleep. There’s not a huge amount around to do, but the views themselves are stunning. Definitely worth a pit stop if you’re in the area.

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A few of Meg’s friends from uni were around that evening so we planned to meet them in Bangor for a few drinks and some boogieing. A pizza, some prosecco, and a film later, we got ready and headed out to meet them. I love the simplicity of Bangor town. There’s nothing extravagantly fancy, and if there was it would quite simply be out of place. It’s homely, and welcoming, and the pubs we went in were all full of character (and sold Guinness – a definite win.)

On the Sunday we got up, said goodbye to the lovely cottage we’d made our home (and the most amazing beds in the WORLD!) and headed back to Bangor to collect Meg’s friend, Rob, who joined us on our adventure up the Watkins Path of Mount Snowdon.

A top up of oil and some screenwash (for the car) and we were on our way, tootling up and down, around the windiest roads with the prettiest views. After a reasonably chilly Saturday, we were surprised by the mildness that arrived on Sunday (good news as the whole point of us going up this route was for a dip in the Watkin pools on the mountain.)

We parked on the A498 outside of Beddgelert, just at the bottom of the path. There is a proper car park on the opposite side of the road, but there’s also a little lay-by you can stop in just before the path on the left side. We arrived around lunchtime and there was lots of space left. We took lots of layers with us (prepared to be freezing after our swim) along with snacks and flasks of tea, and set off.

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We weren’t planning on summiting Snowdon, our main aim was to manage a swim in the pools before coming down to warm ourselves back up. The walk up to the pools is only about half an hour. You follow the donkey track over several bridges and woodland until it opens out and you are fully surrounded by mountains. To get to the pools you need to take a path that cuts below the main path, towards a bridge and waterfall which you can see from the main trail. We crossed the bridge, went over a style and we were there. The water in the pools was a Mediterranean blue and looked so beautiful in the surrounding mountains. We already had our swimming cossis on, prepared for a quick dip without getting too cold. The main path up the mountain was slightly above us so we were passed by lots of interested walkers who were a bit surprised to see three eager swimmers in January.

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Rob braved it first, dipping his feet in and paddling around the rocks to the edge of the main pool bit. Meg followed, and then me.

It was freezing, there’s no denying that, but the adrenaline meant I felt on top of the world and was having the best time, ever.

I was first to properly get in, sinking my body under the water a little at a time so it wasn’t a huge shock. Meg and Rob also joined, and we spent fifteen minutes giggling, pulling the weirdest faces, and gasping in response to the freezing temperature.

After ten minutes laying in the pool, I was bright red and frozen. I looked like I’d been sunbathing without suncream for a whole day. Luckily we’d brought several thick extra layers and so we all got dressed and then sat on a rock across the bridge, overlooking the ‘valley’ like view surrounding us. We had brought mini bottles of prosecco (this seems to be a growing theme to the trip…) and enjoyed sipping between them and the flasks of tea, warming up with food and full winter accessories.

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I’d definitely recommend doing it (although I’m sure it’d be more comfortable if it was above 1 degree in the water). If January is your bag, don’t forget the flasks and extra layers (and I’d recommend the prosecco for celebrating being complete nutters after.)

Let’s hope the New Year continues this way, with lots more wild swimming, prosecco drinking, and spontaneous adventures! And here’s to visiting Bangor again many times, because it was blooming marvellous!

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

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