Sunday, 9 April 2017

Lemon Drizzle Cake

I woke up on Wednesday to a sunny spring day, a house to myself, and absolutely no desire to sit in a dark bedroom and stare at a computer screen all day. So, since life is not prone to throwing lemons at me, I walked to the shop, bought some for myself, and made my first ever lemon drizzle cake!

I took this picture with my phone and I'm really annoyed about how good it is. It needed like no editing and it's so sharp. Why do I even bother with my D-SLR???

I used this recipe from the BBC GoodFood website. It makes a delicious, soft, and very lemony cake. Like, so lemony. Like, if you're using quite large lemons I might suggest only using one for the drizzle rather than the one and a half the recipe recommends, unless Sharp is your favourite flavour. It is truly delicious though and, as you can see, by the time I got around to taking some pictures with my proper camera on Thursday, half of the cake was already gone. Good cake just does not stick around in this house.


Friday, 7 April 2017

March Reading Wrap Up

Why, yes, I did forget to take a picture of all the books together this month, but in my defence it's pretty obvious that one of those covers has been photoshopped on and I spent at least some time painting those backgrounds. So, you know, work has gone into this post... a little anyway...

Wing Jones Katherine Webber

First up in March I read Wing Jones, which was beautiful and wondrous and made me feel wholly inadequate as a writer. It was one of those books that I was always thinking about, even when I wasn't reading it. I loved it so much I even reviewed it properly on Blogger's Bookshelf and you can read that here if you want some more coherent thoughts on this amazing book.


The Lux Guardians The Forgotten Saruuh Kelsey

The Forgotten was a re-read and I'm currently re-reading the next book in the series too, both in preparation for the release of the third book next month. Saruuh is a very good friend of mine so I won't pretend I'm not a little bit biased but these really are great YA dystopian science fiction with a twist and I'm currently very excited because the third book is sitting in my inbox waiting for me to read it! #friendperks


City of Glass Cassandra Clare Shadowhunters

Okay so let's just ignore the shoddy photoshop work here. I borrowed City of Glass as an ebook from my local library so I didn't actually have a physical copy to photograph and I thought this was the next best thing? Anyway I have a very complicated relationship with these books but I actually enjoyed this one SO MUCH that I am dying to read the rest of the series and then all the spin-offs and prequels and probably just everything else Cassandra Clare ever writes even though I spend most of my time complaining about her books even as I'm reading them. C'est la vie.



Thursday, 23 March 2017

Writing My Novel: The First Draft

I mentioned in the last Writing My Novel post that I wrote the first draft of this novel for NaNoWriMo in 2015. I had attempted NaNoWriMo before and had actually won for the first time earlier that year in one of the Camp NaNoWriMo sessions with a totally different novel idea. So I knew it could be done. In theory.

I knew this time round would be more difficult for a few reasons. 1) My birthday is on the 4th of November and I'm basically a child so I'm usually distracted in that first week. 2) I hate being cold and generally prefer to spend the entire of autumn and winter in bed reading or re-watching my favourite TV shows. 3) I had no plan for this novel at all. I knew the ending, the basic premise, and the names of the main characters. That was it. 4) This was my first time ever writing fantasy. I wasn't optimistic about my chances of finishing.

I did it though! I started a day late, finished a day early, and my final word count was exactly 50,133 words, but I did it!

The official NaNoWriMo graph for draft 1.

As you can see by the graph I managed to write at least a few words almost every day. I think there were only about four days where I wrote absolutely nothing and I did manage to hit the magic 50,000 words a day early. The most important thing of all though was that I had a first draft. I had been thinking about this novel for months and now I had an actual draft of it. I wasn't staring at a blank page anymore!

I waited a few months before looking at it again, just as everyone always says to. I knew there were a lot of issues with it but I was not prepared for just how bad it truly was. It felt like there was nothing salvageable in it at all. I had been thinking about this novel for so long and what I had written was not even close to what had been in my head. It was barely better than a blank page. 

I left it alone for another few months then and when I read it through the second time things didn't seem so bleak. It still needed to be completely re-written, there was just too much that needed to be changed, but writing that terrible first draft had helped me to figure out some of the plot. It helped me get to know my characters. Most importantly of all it meant that I had actually started. I wasn't just thinking about this novel anymore. No matter how awful the writing was, (and it was awful) I was actually writing it. I had somewhere to start from and it should never be underestimated how important it is to just start.

I'll be surprised if more than 10% of that first draft ends up in the final draft but it did help. It was better than a blank page. And, as so many authors will tell you, that's all a first draft has to be.


Wednesday, 15 March 2017

The Eden Project On Film

A friend of mine was asked to be a judge at the World Pasty Championships at The Eden Project this year so a few of us went along for the day as well. We explored the biomes, saw Fisherman's Friends perform, made it into the background of some Blue Peter shots, and didn't actually eat any pasties. And, of course, I took my camera, which, sorry to disappoint, is what this post is really about.

When my parents were looking for a digital SLR for me I particularly asked for one with a manual focus ring because I had gotten so used to it on my dad's old 35mm. Of course I've never really used the manual focus on my digital SLR. Why would I when I have autofocus right there? I'm feeling the pain of getting out of the habit now that I'm using the 35mm again though, as you can tell by this very out of focus bird. It's one thing to spend ages getting everything in focus when your subject is still, it is something else entirely when it is a tiny bird who keeps flying away.

I get my films developed by the photography shop in town. Colour developing, a set of 6x4 glossy prints, and scans on a CD for £8.98. It's not a bad price but let's just say I won't be switching to film exclusively any time soon. The problem I'm really having though is that the prints I get are professionally colour corrected beauty. They look great in my photo album. Then I come to the scans. The unedited scans. They're lighter than the prints, the colours are different, and I struggle to create something in photoshop that I think looks as good as those 6x4 prints. I'm still not 100% happy with how I've edited all of these.

It's all practice though, right? If I use this camera enough I'll start to remember how it works again. I'll get faster at focusing and I'll remember which switch to flip so I can wind the film back (another small problem I had.) And the more pictures I edit from this camera, with this film, the more I'll learn how to deal with the colours and brightness I'm given. Right???

I mean, out of 26 shots I've ended up with 14 that I really like. On my last roll there were only 9. That's a pretty good improvement, I think. By this time next year I might even, dare I say it, get a roll with as many as 20 passable shots on it.

I think a full roll is maybe too much to ask for. I can remain realistic.


Thursday, 9 March 2017

Writing My Novel: Useful Procrastination

Welcome to a new feature! You may recall that the last time I did a feature it was The Gossip Girl Review Project. This is definitely not that. But it still might end up causing me as much of a headache.

I'm writing a novel and I want to share that process here. The whole thing. I want to go right back to the beginning and hopefully eventually we'll reach the mythical end too. If you're looking for a 'how to write a novel' guide then this isn't it (although maybe I'll do a post about those because I do have... a lot of them). This is about how I'm writing my novel and I'm definitely making a lot of mistakes. And you'll definitely hear about them.

I am going to start from the very beginning and since this is my process, that unfortunately means procrastination. I'm really good at procrastinating. So good in fact that when I started the first draft of this novel for NaNoWriMo 2015, I decided to really lean into it and I found a way to make my procrastination actually kind of productive. Behold, the Pinterest board:

That title kind of gives away a hint of what this novel is about, huh?

A lot of writers seem to use Pinterest boards for inspiration for their projects and I can safely say that I am now one of them forever. This board contains mostly pictures of people who look like my characters and things that remind me of important locations in the story, with a few images thrown in that just evoke the feeling I want the story to have. I'm a very visual person and this is great for when I'm stuck with the actual writing and need to spend a little bit of time thinking about the story in terms of images instead of words.

And it lead me onto the next thing that I have found incredibly useful.

I call these 'character aesthetic collages'. These are the three for my main characters, Jenny, Landon, and Andrew, but I have a lot more. Currently I have them for ten of my characters. Like I said, I'm really good at procrastinating.

All of the pictures for these are taken from Pinterest too. I think of these as a visual version of those character profile sheets that some people do. I've never actually used one of those but I have found these aesthetic collages incredibly helpful in getting a grip on the personalities of my characters. They're also really fun to put together and yes, they too give me that sweet feeling that I am still being productive even though I am not technically writing. I highly recommend them.

Other forms of procrastination that are probably less useful but which I have certainly been enjoying include regularly daydreaming about scenes and plot problems, reading books that are kind of sort of similar to what I'm hoping to do, and now, I'm sure, writing these posts.


Tuesday, 7 March 2017

February Reading Wrap Up

Typically, it felt to me as though January lasted forever this year and then February passed in the blink of an eye. I did read some good books though so it wasn't all bad.

Avalon High: The Merlin Prophecy by Meg Cabot

A friend with a mutual love of Avalon High bought the first part of the manga style sequel for me at the start of the month and I read it the same day. This first instalment is very short and mostly just the set up for the rest of the story but Avalon High is one of my favourite books and I've been thinking about buying these sequels for years. So now I have to buy the next two, obviously.


Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

I knew I would love this when I eventually got around to reading it. I would have read it sooner if I hadn't been reading all the Jane Austen books last year but it was well worth the wait. My one complaint, and the only reason this is five stars instead of four, is that there was a lot of exposition regarding the backstories of the many characters and, although it was interesting and necessary, I felt it distracted me from the main plot at times. But you know, not enough that I didn't immediately jump straight into the next book...


Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

I liked this one even better than the first. Now I knew all the characters and their backstories, I could just concentrate on enjoying the story, which I loved. Also, this book focused on Jesper more and he is my absolute favourite, so that might have been a contributing factor. Either way, I raced through both of these novels and seriously did not want to put them down. I highly recommend them if you want some good old fashioned adventure stories!


Traitor to the Throne by Alwyn Hamilton

After reading Rebel of the Sands last month I couldn't wait to get my hands on the next book in the series. Although I loved Rebel of the Sands I felt a little bit as though it started off as one book and unexpectedly became something else half way through. Traitor to the Throne on the other hand, is firmly in the vein of the second half of Rebel of the Sands and I actually loved it even more than the first book. Now I'm just annoyed I can't have the next one straight away.


Beginnings, Middles, & Ends by Nancy Kress

I have a lot of books about writing. Probably more than most people would deem advisable. I'm sure you'll be seeing a lot more of them this year while I work on re-drafting my novel. Currently the plot is bringing me down big time. I found this book useful for thinking about conflict and how events in the plot should influence character arcs but it didn't really tell me anything I didn't already know, just reminded me of some things I tend to forget.


Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell

Another book about plot. I'm really struggling, guys. I did find this book more useful than the last one though. Whereas Beginnings, Middles, & Ends reminded me of things I really already knew, Plot & Structure made me think about my story in ways I hadn't before. Which is great! But it means I have a lot of work to do now...



Thursday, 9 February 2017

January Reading Wrap Up

I've decided to take part in the Goodreads reading challenge for the first time this year, to try and push myself into reading the frankly ridiculous amount of unread books I own. I've set my goal to a modest 52 books for the year and with six books read in January, I think I'm off to a pretty good start.

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

Mansfield Park was actually December's book for the Austentatious book club and I did start reading it in December but it just seemed to take forever to get through. Even so, now that I have finished it, Mansfield Park definitely stands next to Emma and Pride and Prejudice as one of my favourites of Jane Austen's novels. And I love that I can finally say things like that.


Very British Problems: Making Life Awkward for Ourselves, One Rainy Day at a Time by Rob Temple

There isn't really too much to say about this. If you like the Twitter account on which it's based, which I most definitely do, then you'll like the book. It's a quick and fun read with a few repeats of jokes you'll have already seen on the Twitter account but plenty of new stuff too.


Wigs on the Green by Nancy Mitford

Nancy Mitford wouldn't allow Wigs on the Green to be reprinted during her lifetime and now that I've read it I can understand why. In Wigs on the Green Mitford sends up Oswald Mosley's Blackshirts (and, by extension two of her own sisters) and fascism in general before the second world war in a way that really only she can. Although I thoroughly enjoyed the humour I can understand how some people might find it a little too flippant for the subject matter. Personally, I think it is a great read for the current political climate and one of Nancy Mitford's funniest novels.


Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

Sense and Sensibility was the final book for the Austentatious book club so I can now officially, at last, say that I have read all six of Jane Austen's completed novels. That feels pretty great. However, this is not one I will be reading again. I just didn't really click with Sense and Sensibility at all. It had its moments, and it certainly isn't a bad book, but this one just isn't really for me.


Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There by Lewis Carroll

It was Lewis Carroll's birthday last month and I had Through the Looking-Glass sitting around on my shelf because I bought it after reading Alice's Adventures in Wonderland last year. I enjoyed Through the Looking-Glass a little more than Alice's Adventures in Wonderland but unfortunately neither book is really a favourite. They are fun and I might have enjoyed them more had I read them as a child but as an adult I think I just like something with a little bit more of a plot. Or any plot at all.


Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton

Rebel of the Sands was a delight. I read it the way I used to read as a kid, with a kind of feverishness and determination to absorb the whole story at once, sitting in bed with it for hours and carrying it around the house with me to sneak a few pages in whenever I had a minute. I actually had a bad back while I was reading this. I could barely move and had to sleep on the floor for a couple of nights because I couldn't get into my bed and this book was exactly the kind of story that I needed. I've already ordered the sequel and anxiously await returning to this world.



Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Going Analogue

My secondary school had a darkroom that was literally built inside a cupboard. It attached to the main photography classroom via a door with an elaborate curtain set up to keep the light out and it was my favourite place in the whole school. I would spend entire lessons in there and then stay on during lunch or after school to keep going.

No one else in my class really liked shooting film. I was always the only person in the darkroom after school, our teacher in the next room or sometimes not even there at all, trusting me to know what I was doing (until he walked in once and found me eating a pasty over the enlarger with a coke balanced behind it. Then I got a little bit of a telling off.) To me, film felt like magic. Waiting for a photograph to develop, watching an image appear on a blank piece of paper in the faintly eery glow of a red light, that was the closest I would ever get to Hogwarts.

Digital is safer. That's why everyone else in my class preferred it. You can look at the image you've just taken straight away, there's no cost of film or developing, and Photoshop is always there to help make the image look exactly how you imagined. These are all the reasons I mostly use digital now too and there's nothing wrong with that. I'm certainly not going to stop using Instagram. But I want to use my film cameras again too. I want the excitement of not quite knowing how the image will look until it's too late.

I may not have access to a darkroom any more but I can still have a little of that thrill. Filling my roll of film with images, dropping off that little canister at the photography shop in town, and waiting for that phone call two days later. Waiting to get that little packet of prints, 6x4 on gloss paper. That moment just before I peel back the top of the envelope and see my photos for the first time. I can still watch my instant prints develop before my eyes, the colour slowly fading in, that moment when you think the white is sticking around for a little too long and then the first blooms start to appear.

I'm not quite ready to do a 365 project like Rhianne, on digital or on film (mostly because at least 350 of those images would just be me sitting at my desk staring at a blank page all day) but her 366 project of last year has inspired me to want to take my film cameras out more. This year I want to shoot at least four rolls of 35mm and more shots on my Instax camera. I'll be shooting colour film, which is relatively new to me (we always used black and white at school because the photography department couldn't afford all the equipment for colour printing) and these are films that have been sitting in my desk drawer for years so there's a good chance that I'll only end up with a handful of decent images to share here but that's okay. That's part of the magic too.


Thursday, 12 January 2017

December Reading Wrap Up

Let's pretend that we aren't already nearly two weeks into January and that I am actually posting this in a timely fashion, okay?

Christmas at Little Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan

There is something incredibly warm and comforting about Jenny Colgan's writing. I'm particularly fond of her books set in bakeries and sweet shops and even more fond of the Beach Street Bakery series because of its Cornish setting. I also love Christmas so my enjoyment of this story was pretty much a foregone conclusion.


The Twelve Days of Dash & Lily by Rachel Cohn & David Levithan

My only complaint about this book was that it wasn't long enough. I loved seeing Dash and Lily have a little bit of a personality switch from the first book and I liked that it didn't rely on introducing any new love interests for relationship drama. I just wish we had got to see more of Dash's twelve days of Christmas plan instead of having so much of it happen off the page.


Adulthood is a Myth: A "Sarah's Scribbles" Collection by Sarah Andersen

Sarah Andersen's drawings are so relatable and funny that I would recommend a flick through this to any current 20-something. You're bound to find a truth in here to make you giggle. I received Adulthood is a Myth as a Christmas gift and read it in an afternoon, chuckling to myself in the corner of the living room while my dad did the same with his new copy of The Ladybird Book of The Meeting.


Short Stories from Hogwarts of Power, Politics and Pesky Poltergeists, Short Stories from Hogwarts or Heroism, Hardship and Dangerous Hobbies, and Hogwarts: An Incomplete and Unreliable Guide by J.K. Rowling

What can I even say about these? I know in the last couple of years some people have started to get tired of J.K. Rowling constantly adding to the Harry Potter universe but I am not one of those people. I will always welcome new Potter canon and these were a fun, interesting, and quick little look into the world I love so much.


I did also read about half of Mansfield Park in December but didn't manage to finish it before the end of the month so you'll just have to wait for my January wrap up to see what I thought about that. Judging by the delay on this post that will probably be up sometime in March...


Tuesday, 3 January 2017

New Year

Every year I host New Year's Eve at my house. Or, I should say, at my parents' house. Every year since I was eighteen my friends come over, we listen to music in the living room, we play Jools Holland's Hootenanny muted on the TV until just before midnight when we turn the sound on to hear the countdown, we eat pizza, we drink, at midnight I go outside and pop open a bottle of sparkling wine provided every year by Alice. We all drink a glass and toast the new year.

We tell each other our resolutions, which are almost always the same. I want to finish my novel, Alice wants to finish her novel, Rose doesn't make resolutions on New Year because she is an actual, genuine scientist and doesn't entertain superstition like the rest of us do.

This year I really do want to finish my novel. I want to start driving lessons and pass my test. The same things I wanted to do a week ago and a month before that and seven years ago when we first started these traditions.

But this year I've also decided to do something different, something I saw on Rhianne's and Ria's blogs. Something I've seen before but never really thought about doing myself until now. Until I saw Rhianne's and Ria's posts and something clicked in my brain.

I'm picking a word, just one word, for 2017. Something I will try my best to live by and to remember and to be all of this year. It's a word I didn't actually pick, so much as it picked me. It jumped into my head after I read those two posts and immediately it felt right.

In 2016, with so many heroes dying and so many terrifying ideas rising, I have felt more hopeless and fearful than I can remember. Watching half of my country vote against what I believe in, watching America do it too, hearing about the far right rising in Europe and wars all over the world. 'Hope' might have been a good word too but I don't think that's what I need. I think I've always had that. Fearlessness, that's something else. That's something I've never had.

If I want to complete my resolutions this year then I need to get rid of my fear of driving and of letting people read my writing. I especially, and this will be the trickiest of all, need to get rid of my fear of what other people will think of me.

This post is a start. This post feels more personal than most of what I write here but I need to lose that fear too. 

This year I will be fearless. Starting now.