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

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 Master’s 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

top titles of 2017

And that’s a wrap on 2017. So here’s my top ten books of 2017 that I’ve enjoyed reading over the year (some more than once.)

There’s some I always go back to, some I’ve read as a proof edition and cannot wait to be published, and some I’ve just stumbled across and absolutely loved.

1.Sophie Kinsella – Finding Audrey

2. Sara Bernard – Beautiful Broken Things

A stunning debut from my fave bae. Barnard writes so beautifully and the emotions in the book, although quite dark and mystical at times, are stunning. A Quiet Kind Of Thunder is another of hers I love.

3. Jennifer Niven – Holding Up The Universe

A great example of contemporary YA. Niven’s style is original and makes for light hearted, easy reading with all the juicy bits plugged in for good measure. All The Bright Places is another filled with goodness.

4. Jandy Nelson – The Sky Is Everywhere

The most beautiful title for the most beautiful book. I almost wish I was a character. A hopeful spin on teenage life that is relatable and current.

5. Nicola Yoon – Everything, Everything

I finished this book sat outside the Louvre fountains. What a wonderful place to end a wonderful story. I was so attached to the characters and empathised with Maddy the whole way through the book. (Read it before you watch it!)

6. Graeme Simsion – The Rosie Project/The Rosie Effect

An incredible portrayal of ability. If you’re a reader, go and read it because it is written so well. As I read it I continued to be amazed by the fascinating characterisations. A very good role model for writers.

7. Jojo Moyes – Me Before You/After You

Amazing. Amazing. Amazing. Moyes is the god of writing emotive and colourful books which ooze energy and a lot of love. Oh how I hope I’m half as good as her! I hope I find my Will Traynor one day.

8. Sara Barnard – Goodbye, Perfect (proof)

Barnard is back. And what a book. The excitement of it being a proof makes the reading experience even better. I absolutely love her style and she has YA down to a tee! I’m excited for this to be published in January so I can hear what you all think of it!

9. Giovanna Fletcher – Some Kind Of Wonderful

I thoroughly enjoyed worming my way through this book. It put a whole new spin on relationships and took the pressure of being in one away from the main plot, focusing instead on what we each want as individuals. I took a lot from it, amongst many things was the desire to find myself and do things for me before getting tied up. A really lovely, honest spin on romance.

10. Roald Dahl – The BFG

I couldn’t write this without including my favourite children’s book. I reread it again this year in preparation for my MA applications. I included it in my personal statement as well as in interviews.

I just love Roald Dahl. What a hilariously imaginative writer. I absolutely loved reading him as a child and know that he definitely inspired me to want to write. He does humour, friendships, and family, along with a few odd quirks for good measure. What a man. What a writer.

 

I hope you enjoyed my top ten. It’s difficult to cut it down to so little when I’ve read so many, but I’ve enjoyed looking back over the year and reflecting on which I enjoyed. Writers read. If they don’t, they’re doing themselves an injustice. I learnt a lot from all of the books on this list, and will continue learning from all the books on my reading list.

love sophie

soundtrack series: december

December is such a throwback month for music, dusting off cobwebs from some Christmas favourites I wish could be played all year.

Compiling a list of my favourite songs this month was so hard as I wanted to list most of the charts. There’s nothing better than singing along to a Christmas classic whilst baking up some winter goodness.

I’m not a big music buff, and dip in and out of genres and artists, so I’ve enjoyed sharing my soundtrack series this year, in the hope it might introduce you to artists you haven’t heard of before. I find that if you like one specific genre, it can be easier to stick with it instead of venturing out into the unknown. (My dad is a stickler for this – apparently music from his era is the only ‘good’ music out there!)

So I bring you my 12 songs of Christmas (because 5 just wasn’t enough)…

1.Fairytale Of New York – The Pogues

Always at the top of any Christmas soundtrack I write, Fairytale of New York is my ultimate Christmas singalong. Whether I’m at home, driving in the car, or out and about, it’s on every playlist I listen to in December. Who doesn’t love The Pogues?

2. River – Eminem & Ed Sheeran

I like this song so much that it’s often on repeat and the volume is turned up as soon as I hear it. It’s quite catchy and good to listen to if you’re wrapping presents and not yet in a very Christmassy mood.

3. Let Me Go – Hailee Steinfield

A great background song which at first, I really didn’t like. After a few listens, however, I’m a fan. Not my favourite song from 2017 but it’s a good one.

4. Anywhere – Rita Ora

A good for everything song which I think is one of my faves from 2017. Not usually a huge fan of Rita Ora but I like the chorus (and know all the words which helps).

5. New Rules – Dua Lipa

I need Dua Lipa to write me a rule book to life because it’s just so true. The lyrics of this song are great and it reminds me of dancing around the kitchen in Edinburgh on a girly weekend away.

6. Band Aid – Do They Know It’s Christmas?

Another Christmas classic comes from Band Aid. I love the original version but the modern one is equally as good. I always associate Christmas with a small collection of songs, this one included. It wouldn’t be Christmas without it.

7. Christmas Lights – Coldplay

I absolutely love Coldplay, and would say they appear in most of my playlists. And I’m not usually a fan of modern day Christmas songs, but I absolutely love the mellowed out sound. The piano introduction is really magical.

8. I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday – Wizzard

I adore this song. It’s incredibly cheesy and corny, but it’s so catchy and I really do wish it could be Christmas everyday sometimes!

9. Reggaetón Lento – CNCO & Little Mix 

I might not know any of the words, but this is one of my favourite songs of this year. I make up the lyrics when I sing along because I love it (and wish I could remember the words.)

10. Havana – Camila Cabello

Such a good song to do anything to. Not too loud, but loud enough to enjoy wherever. great for driving (and singing along to) and great lyrics. An easy listener.

11. Perfect – Ed Sheeran & Beyonce

Although I wasn’t originally a huge fan, the Beyonce version of Perfect has definitely grown on me. I love Ed and his music, and like Beyonce and hers but didn’t imagine them ever crossing over. But I like.

12. Roots – Grace Davies & Paloma Faith

I’m not a huge fan of The X Factor anymore, but I watched the final this year and loved the addition of original songs. This one was one of my favourites. It’s such a humble song and I adore the lyrics. Paloma is also a gem.

So there you go! It was very tough to whittle it down to just twelve, and there are lots more which I’ve loved listening to that will no doubt make an appearance in the new year.

Have a good one x

love sophie

the big traditions: the present swap 

There’s just something about traditions. They usually involve meeting up with people you don’t see too often, or doing something you wouldn’t normally do, which is why I absolutely love them.

One of our main traditions around this time of year is with university friends of my parents. Our families have grown up together, but living in separate cities means we only get reunited for special occasions (or the occasional fundraiser!)

The annual pre-Christmas present swap takes place in York, and each family brings a different course. I love it because it’s possibly the only time we are all together and catching up. I’m the youngest ‘child’ at twenty one, and with the older ones in full time jobs (I’m too busy with my MA) we are rarely altogether.

After a couple of rounds of prosecco and some general chit chat, we make our way to the table (adorned with Christmas delights and crackers.) The most prized gift from the crackers is the fortune telling fish, which makes it’s way around the table between courses every year (one of the many traditions of the evening.) It usually assures me I’m independent and then by the time it gets to the end we’ve exhausted it. The poor thing no longer moves.

As well as amazing food (often vegan or vegetarian to cater for everyone) there is hilarious entertainment from the questionably talented Pete and Steve (my dad) who sing a rendition of their classic song ‘Christmas in the Clink’ (which is in its fourth year.) Pete strums guitar and Steve sings the lyrics he’s written to fit the events of the year. We’ve heard everything. We’re all primed to join in with the chorus and are sometimes even allowed to join in with percussion (although the latter not as much.) We joke every year that they should have made Christmas No’1 but it’s yet to actually happen.

This is followed by an orchestrated cacophony of music as we all receive a pitched whistle and become a whistle choir (each numbered so we know when it’s our turn.) Cue a lot of laughter, whistles flying across the room from excessive blowing, and several missed notes. It wouldn’t be Christmas without a ridiculous game of some sort, would it!

We’ll crack open the jokes from the crackers and wear our hats, and then one by one (we’re very diplomatic) we’ll take it in turns to say our joke. This year we even added some of our own.

After dessert, and several more drink top ups, we stay at the table and natter. It’s amazing how many random topics twelve people can talk about. Then out comes the tea and coffee along with a fine spread of chocolates to add to the food baby we’ve grown.

Before you know it it’s half eleven and the night has flown. We usually say our goodbyes over the course of half an hour (is this just us?) We’ll get up from the table and move to the kitchen. Talk. Put on our shoes. Talk. Find the coats. Talk. Collect up all our belongings for the food. Talk. And then remember to swap the presents, the main purpose of being there.

We’re in the car by midnight (on a good night) and then it’s back to Leeds we go, after a little more chatter whilst we load everything into the boot.

It’s the one night that always gets me feeling Christmassy, even if I wasn’t before, and I hope the tradition continues far into the future as it’s definitely one of my favourites.

Do you have any traditions you have at Christmas? Or generally throughout the year?

Let me know!

loce sophur

lactose free loves: mince spies 

The most frustrating thing I find at Christmas time (as well as other times throughout the year) is the lack of free from options for all the lovely treats. So much so that my mum actually mentioned it to the Manager in M&S when she couldn’t find a single cake in the shop that was free from dairy.

She and I both bake at home, and know how easy it is to swap some things around to make it lactose free. So why is it so difficult for M&S (who you’d think would be up on this stuff) to stock a single cake?

I really dislike food shopping at the best of times; I hate trawling through aisles of food that I know would make me really sick. I usually tend not to do it, and if I do I’ll just run around quickly for the basics which I know I need.

Going down festive aisles full of lovely treats and food which I would have once been able to eat just makes me so sad. (Seeing my mum put it in the trolley for the others makes it even worse!)

So, post-frustration, I came home and found myself in the kitchen, adamant I was going to make something I could actually eat.

So I made some mince spies (as we call them in our house.) The lactose free recipe is below for anyone else who struggles at Christmas.

(And M&S, if you’re reading this, it’s piss easy!)

Ingredients:

pastry:

4oz (100g) flour (and a little bit for rolling)

20z (50g) lactose free butter

a pinch of salt

3 table spoons of water

 

filling:

mince meat (I used 75g however this depends on how big you make your pies)

one shot of rum (for extra flavour, am I right?)

 

method:

1. Preheat the oven to 185 degrees. Rub together the flour and butter until small breadcrumbs are made. (If you have a food processor like I do, you can bung it all in there and it will do the hard bits for you!) Pop a hole in the middle of the crumbs and add the water a little bit at a time until the mixture forms a dough.

2. Roll out the dough on a floured surface (mine was roughly 5mm thick) and use cutters (or a knife and an imagination) to cut out twelve circles. Pop these into a bun tin. Then with the remaining pastry, cut out smaller circles (I did stars) for the lids.

3. Put the mince meat into a bowl and add the rum. Mix together and then add one teaspoon to each pastry circle. Top the filling with the pastry lid.

4. Cook them in the oven (at 185 degrees) for 22 minutes (or until lightly golden.)

5. Coat in a dusting of icing sugar to make them look nice, and enjoy!

love sophie

 

 

one hand wonder: a silver lining

So, to top off having a delightfully painful shoulder surgery (not just a little hurt, A LOT OF HURT) I got my arm trapped in a door for added shits and gigs yesterday.

Spoiler alert: NOT FUN!

(Post op, would not recommend leaving the house unless you have a large selection of body guards in tow, or after several G&Ts to take the edge off. I had neither.)

It’s most frustrating because it’s really bashed my confidence (and pain threshold) to the point where now I get anxious on buses and in busy crowds. Not good for someone relying on them for transport to uni or to get home for Christmas.

I’ve gone from being stuck inside unable to go anywhere, to being stuck inside too anxious to go anywhere.

Since my op in November, I’ve been *attempting* to manage with one arm since one is, for the near future, trapped in a sling. It’s not easy. I found it was the things I thought that would be easy, or didn’t worry about, that turned out to the the things I struggled most with.

And everything takes aaaaages! I could be pulling on my jeans for at least ten minutes. Or brushing my hair for half an hour (even longer if I had to wash it!)

Which is why I’m trying to find a hilarious silver lining to help me through recovery.

Behold: ‘A list of five things that are difficult with only one hand.’

  1. slicing bread.

You’d think I’d just buy sliced but it just isn’t the same. Picture the scene: I’m stood in the kitchen, delighting in the fact I managed to reach the shelf with the bread on in the first place. Then I get the bread knife and, with one hand, attempt to saw a piece off.

Spoiler alert, it ended with crumbs everywhere, and the bread acting like jelly and going all over the place (I think it even landed on the floor at one point.) Safe to say I gave up and wedged the packet between my legs and pulled a piece off in anger. It was much more effective.

On a general, cooking is really difficult. Lifting heavy pans full of food is impossible, even with the good arm. As is getting things in and out of the oven. The microwave is just about possible because you can slide things in and out straight off the counter.

I’d recommend a balanced diet of biscuits ( although you might have to get someone to open the packet), houmous and carrot sticks, raspberries, and pasta.

And that’s without me even mentioning cutlery.

2. ‘doing’ my hair.

As a general, I didn’t really care what I looked like for the last few weeks. I was at home, everyone was AWOL so I spent most of the time under a blanket on the sofa with a cuppa and the television. I didn’t do much, and when I did it was so cold I’d just shove a hat on or wrap my scarf around my head to cover it all up.

One thing I love to do (if I’m just doing nothing all day) is having my head on top of my hair in a might big bun. It’s not the most aesthetically pleasing thing in the world but it works for me.

A fun fact about me is that I really don’t like having my hair down. It gets frizzy, especially in the latest arctic temperatures, and never does what I want it to.

So this factor was a nightmare! I had to compromise with a weird twirled up bun which I’d make with one hand and just tuck the end result into whichever top I’d managed to pull on. Voila!

3. making a brew.

I mean, seriously. I’ve just had a lovely operation and now I’m tortured with the fact I can’t even make a cup of tea without some sweat.

Step one is boiling the kettle. But I couldn’t lift the kettle. And I definitely couldn’t lift the kettle and work the tap at the same time. In the first week, what I’d do was put the kettle on a tray which I’d carry across to the sink with my good arm and then put in the sink to fill, carrying it back the same way. Tetris.

Step two is getting the tea bag. It’s alright if you’re already in the packet, but if you’re unfortunate like me you have to go and acquire assistance from a neighbour. It is really hard to pull packets apart if you’ve only got one hand.

So the brew is on the go, but how am I going to carry it whilst turning off the lights as I go, and then put it down within easy reach. Impossible.

In comes my grand invention of the swirly chair tray. You put a tray on a swirly chair and slowly (you don’t want to waste any tea) push the tea to it’s desired location. (Yet to be approved for stairs.)

4. reading.

So I’ve sat down with my cuppa, finally got warm from the frost outside, and I’ve got a new book I’ve been looking forward to reading.

But all I can do is hold it. I can’t flick the pages over (you have to rest it down to do that) and you can’t hold it for too long otherwise it feels like you might need an operation on your other shoulder.

And that’s before you mention wanting to sip on your tea at the same time. Not even a straw will reach that far.

It’s the most frustrating thing because in the end, you don’t want to read the book. You just give up and drink your tea (or at least attempt to.)

5. writing.

I’m a writer.

I study it. I read about it. I do it.

So there’s nothing more frustrating than not being able to.

Whether it be the brain mush that occurred in the weeks after my op, or just the tediousness of typing on a keyboard with one finger, my writing took a real hit this past month. I’m back now, and although I still struggle I’m getting there. But it was the hardest thing for me to have to deal with.

I could live with tucked in hair and botched bread, but losing my creative vent was difficult. Even when I had an idea, my brain would sieve it out before I even got round to finishing the first paragraph.

…until I discovered dictation. And oh my goodness what a wonderful thing that is!

It saved me from many creative meltdowns and made sure my brain (all be it mush at this point) was still trying to chug away.

 

I’m much better now, I’m doing more and more each day and I’m finally starting to feel myself again (who knew it would take eight weeks!) I’m appreciative of the time I got to just be by myself and mindful. It was actually nice to have a change for a bit (even if I did have to rearrange life to accommodate it.)

For anyone in a similar situation, you’ve just got to take it as it comes. Don’t get disappointed if you can’t do something you could before. Just be creative. It doesn’t last forever (and I think I could make a killing with my swirly chair tray invention!)

loce sophur

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