Why I am a Terrible Student

Why I am a terrible student
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Why I am a Terrible Student

I thought we’d take a break from Emma ends up in a bush stories (#1) (#2) this week, and talk a little about how university is going.

This will come as a shock to many, but I am a terrible student. I know, I know. That doesn’t sound right. I get good grades and participate in class, and I’ve always done the reading. But I promise you, it’s bad:

I have just spent 1 and a half days re-watching the first 2 seasons of How to Get Away how-to-get-away-with-murder-1with Murder because I’ve been locked in a semi-comfortable bubble of procrastination. The only reason I’ve climbed out of bed to write this is that I lured myself out of with coffee and the promise of meatballs and pasta for tea.

I’m a procrastinator. There I said it.

This isn’t a new thing. I remember as far back as A Levels, working out how long it would take me to memorise a textbook of research, and then waiting until the last minute to revise. I could normally cram everything I needed for a Psychology exam into my brain over 3 or 4 days, sit the exam, and then rinse it all out with 10 hours of video games.

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Me…during my BA. Procrastinating.

When it came to my bachelor’s, I discovered that I could also turn essay writing into a fine art. I could knock out a 2-3000 word essay in 3 days, and then spend a few more editing until I hated the sight of the thing. And I always submitted a day or two early, so I didn’t have to stand in the queue coming out of the English office.

For some reason, in the world of work, procrastination was never an issue. There were a few parts of my job that weren’t particularly thrilling, but I would always schedule time for them and make sure they got done. Honestly, after 3 and a half years outside of education, I thought I’d kicked the habit. That I had rid myself of the procrastination bug. I thought that when I went back to being a full time student, I would be able to work 9-5 (or let’s be realistic, 10-5:30) Monday to Friday, and I would be super productive all the time.

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Essay notes from last semester.

Yet, here I am, having spent a good portion of the morning going “one more episode”, “after this one finishes”, tucked up warm in bed, with that curl of anxiety sitting in the pit of my stomach.

 

Of course, in days gone by, I used to sit on that feeling until it burnt up my insides and I literally couldn’t rationalise not doing the work for a moment longer. You would have been lucky if you’d seen this blog post by 11 pm this evening (GMT). These days, however, I like to think I’ve found ways to work with myself, that make life easier:

 

  1. I’ve learnt how to tell when I actually need time off – Thursday was a good day, but a long day, which ended with myself and a friend stuck in a car park for 2 hours, due to traffic in the centre of Birmingham. I didn’t get to bed until 1am. So Friday, I was not in the mood to move.

2. I’ve learnt how to time manage – because I took Friday to recover, everything had been pushed back to today. So I got up early, knowing how long it was going to take me to get motivated on a Saturday.

3. I’ve learnt how to nudge myself along – this usually involves step 1) get laptop, step 2) get back into bed. My house can get cold during the day, so I sometimes catch myself in a procrastination loop because I don’t want to get out of the warm place. Once the laptop is in the bed, I have little excuse not to work. If I do little things that make working easier, I get more done.

4. I keep an eye on how I’m feeling – that anxious curl in the pit of my stomach, is both why I procrastinate, and why I need to do things. So if I find myself getting antsy, I use that energy to push myself forward rather than sitting on it. Even if it’s just sending and e-mail or making an essay plan, it’s all progress that counts.

5. I’ve learnt how to forgive myself – there was a time when I would get really irritated with my procrastination. I would sit for hours beating myself up about it, but now I sort of role my eyes and think okay, friend, time to get going. This is normally followed by me standing up with a groan like an old man and making myself a cup of coffee before I’ll do anything more (I may be on decaff, but coffee is life.)

So yes, I’m a terrible student, but luckily enough I’m a fantastic procrastinator. Adjusting to my MA has been something of a whirlwind, but I’m getting there. I hope.

I’d be interested to know how you folks deal with procrastination? How do you get motivated? I’ve noticed I’m getting readers from all over the place, so I sort of want to know if procrastination tips differ from country to country.

 

 

 

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Kidiot: Emma ends up in a bush #2

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Kidiot: Emma ends up in a bush #2 

A Preface:

Unfortunately, I’m out with a friend today, and because I had to travel back to Wales yesterday, I didn’t have time to write anything shiny and new. However, I’ve been meaning to post this little article here for a while now.

The following short piece was the first thing that I have ever had published (bar an interview about being emo that I did for Sugar magazine…yup). The article was published in 2015 in Oh Comely magazine, Issue no.24, p.119. The original title was ‘lost: pint-sized indiana jones’. Those of you who have been following this blog for a long time may remember my excitementOh Comely is a great independent magazine, full of thoughtful articles and beautiful images. You can find out more about it here. They stock Oh Comely in W.H. Smith and Waitrose in the UK, or you can by copies from their website. I highly recommend it if you fancy something that goes beyond celeb gossip and TV news.

The Story:

When I was five, I got lost in the wood. It was at a holiday camp; my mother was helping with crafts, my brother was playing football. I was bored, and the thick line of trees that edged the campsite called to me. As an excellent smooth talker, I made short work of convincing two others to join my expedition team.

“We’ll stick to the path,” I told them, “It won’t take long.”

The path was a dirt trail, sign-posted with a series of animal pictures. Eventually, the track disappeared, and we had to rely on the pictures to navigate. That’s when it happened. We couldn’t find the purple octopus and so were lost for good.

My team began to sob, but I was ecstatic. This was exactly what I had hoped for. In my head I was Indiana Jones, trekking through the undergrowth, holding back vines (stinging nettles) for a couple of second-rate explorers who couldn’t find the back of their own hand if it slapped them in the face. I remember the valley of brambles we passed through, the river we hopped across. I feel the surge of triumph that swelled in my chest as we emerged from the bushes unscathed.

The truth, my mum tells me, is that my expedition group was lost for twenty minutes in a patch of fenced woodland less that half a mile square. Still, when I’m nervous, I summon that memory and use it to find my sense of adventure once more.

An Epilogue:

So recently I’ve been thinking about this story again, and I’d like to make a couple of points.

Firstly, the “two others” who were with me were both older than me by a couple of years, yet somehow I not only convinced them to come with me, but got them lost, and then un-lost in the space of twenty minutes. Me, the five-year-old.

Secondly, the purple octopus part of this story is a very distinct memory. However, it makes no sense. The previous day we had, as a group, followed this trail of images and they were all woodland related animals. This means that either I hallucinated the purple octopus when we did our first walk, or I deliberately made it up because I was bored and wanted to get us lost so I could adventure.

I mean, basically, this could be a story about me lying to make myself look like a hero. Which makes me Gilderoy Lockhart.

I mean, to be honest, I’m fine with that. Dude’s fabulous.

 

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Age 19: Cosplaying school age Gilderoy Lockhart outside the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff (now known as Principality Stadium).

 

Kidiot: Emma ends up in a bush #1

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Kidiot: Emma ends up in a bush #1

A quick preface:

Over the past week I’ve been jotting down blog ideas in a SNote on my phone. And uh, when I was flicking through them this morning I realised that 1) there are a lot of stories from my childhood…where I am idiot (kid+idiot=kidiot) and 2) many of these involve bushes, or hedgerows, which I’d like to say is a result of me growing up in Wales, but not all of them take place at home.

Oh, also, there is some mild injury related grossness in this one, so you have been warned.

Anyway:

I thought I would start with a tale from the summer of 2004. I was 11, set to start secondary school in September. But the summer had just begun, and I was excited to get out and play with friends.

Now, to set the scene a little bit, my parents house in Wales is part of a relatively modern housing estate built on a hill. It’s not a ridiculously big hill, but it is steep. Yet for some reason, my friends and I decided it was great fun to ride up, down and all around it on bikes and scooters. I was a particular fan of riding from the very top of the hill on my bike. I’d even give myself a run up before throwing myself down it. Momentum is a wonderful thing.

8e038377e3e03cfa2515b75efd20c0daHowever, on this particular day in 2004, I was on my micro-scooter (#90sKid). It was a tiny silver thing with blue wheels, an adjustable handle bar and a little metal thing on the back wheel that functioned as a break. My friends suggested we play “bike-scooter-tag” i.e. chase each other around trying to smack each other on small vehicles. Unfortunately, I was the only one on a scooter. I may as well have just thrown it to one side and run. But that wasn’t the game here.

I was “it” within minutes and remained “it” until one of the lads took pity on me and let me get him. At that point, I decided on a new plan. I would hide. And this is where things start to go horribly wrong.

There were parts of the estate I didn’t go very often, but just a few weeks earlier, someone – I think the parent of a friend in a different housing estate – had walked me home up a very narrow, sloped path tucked down the side of some houses. There was a nice tall fence on one side, and a thick hedge on the other.

A brilliant place to hide! I thought. They’ll never think to look there!

After a few minutes, I located the entrance, and started to scoot down the path. I knew that there were steps at the bottom, followed by a metal barrier, and fairly busy road, so I readied my foot to brake.

I grew a little concerned when I started to go faster. The path was steeper than I remembered, but I wasn’t too worried. I still had a way to go. Then the steps came into view, and I pressed down on my brake.

I slowed for a second, but the scooter didn’t stop. And then it started getting faster again. Too fast.

So there I was, with two options:

  1. Keep going, fly off the steps at the bottom, crash into the barrier and potentially flip and end up in the road.
  2. Throw myself off the scooter…and into the hedge.

I, of course, threw myself into the hedge.

My head ploughed into the foliage, my scooter fell to the floor and slid away. I took a couple of deep breaths, spat a few bits of tree out of my mouth and did an internal assessment of the damage.

I felt alright. I was a bit sore, but there was no real pain…except for my left leg. That kind of hurt.

When I opened my eyes, I discovered that it wasn’t just a hedge I was in. My lower body, had smacked into a chain link fence. There was no blood that I could see and I didn’t appear to be caught on anything, so I slowly pulled myself out and stepped away.

With great difficulty, I rolled up my trouser leg up (I have always been a fan of the skinnier jean), and I’m not gonna lie, I was a bit alarmed to find what looked like a second knee on my leg. Midway down my shin was a large round swelling, with a tiny scratch at its centre. I immediately assumed that I’d broken my leg, but was confused by the fact it could bear weight.

Fortunately, I had a mobile phone. It was a Sony, pre-Ericsson buy out and even pre-sony-cmd-j6-3SonyEricsson. It had a stubby little aerial and a black and white display, like a calculator. It also had a game on it where monkeys threw bananas at each other. Mum had convinced me it was better than a Gameboy, and right there and then, I was inclined to agree.

I phoned her, and explained what had happened. The rescue party (my mum and Alun) arrived quickly. They balanced me on the scooter and wheeled me to the car, then drove to the hospital.

After many hours, the swelling went down and the A and E doctor informed us that my leg wasn’t actually broken. We were all very confused about this…and I was slightly disappointed that I wouldn’t get to have a cast. But I could enjoy my summer, that was the important thing.

Cut to a couple of weeks later:

I was on holiday at a camp in Yorkshire. I woke up in the middle of the night because my leg was hot, really hot. I grabbed my torch from under my pillow, unzipped the sleeping bag a little, and dug myself in a bit. I didn’t want to wake anyone up, so wanted to block as much light as possible with my bedding.

I turned the light on and blinked. A lot. It took a while for my eyes to adjust. When they did, however, I discovered that my leg was VERY red and hot to touch. I sat there, having a prodding it for a bit. Then, as 11-year-olds do, I shrugged, turned off the light and thought, Eh, I’ll tell Mum in the morning.

The next morning, I walked over to Mum’s tent across the field. Not long after I found myself in Doncaster hospital where I was told the tiny scratch on my leg, that had been overlooked by the previous doctors, had resulted in an infection. It was simple enough to resolve (you know, if you overlook the fact I’m allergic to penicillin) and cleared up fairly quickly.

But, Emma, why are you telling us this? What’s the moral of this story?

~Thinks~

Oh, oh! The moral of this story is that sometimes, when you almost kill yourself by mistake, but instead throw yourself in a hedgerow, it means you don’t have to do the cross country run (to sort you into groups for PE) when you start secondary school, because your leg still hurts from the infection. That’s the moral. Yup.

Stay safe kidiots.

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The field school made everyone run round…while I watched 😉

 

 

Get the Idea: Then vs Now

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Get the Idea: Then vs Now

I’ve been thinking recently about how I came up with the concept for The End of Atlas vs how I used to come up with the ideas for previous novel projects.

Before Atlas my usual technique was to build a world around a character, which I think started

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Lawrence III from Pokemon 2000

 when I was 8. Pokemon 2000 had just come out on VHS and I became obsessed with the villain (then nameless, now Lawrence III or Jirarudan). I built a whole world up around him and whenever I was bored or getting ready for bed, I would tell myself a little chunk of his story.

As I got older, I got really good at pulling character ideas out of nothing, from Lily the eccentric coffee shop owner, to Carson a devious criminal psychologist. I would build my story by saying, what if this happened? What would they do? Who would they go to? What are they like? And so the world would branch out around them.

But at some point during university, something else got added to the idea making mix.

Moving Day, EM Harding

Franco the Giraffe from Opportunity Cost

First year, I did the same thing I’d always done. The characters came first, then the plot. At the beginning of second year, I created a Douglas-Adams-esque version of the previously mentioned Carson (Clarence) and put a lot of research into how you would go about stealing a giraffe.

Then, as the year went on, I hit something of an emotion crisis, and found myself thinking:

“For the love of God, I wish people would just do what I want them too!”

Shortly followed by:

“That would be a terrible idea, Emma. Don’t wish that.”

That moment was when Olivia, the female protagonist of Atlas and the original narrator, came to life. Whereas my previous characters had come from “it would be cool if this person existed”, Olivia came out of a necessity to express and idea.

I started with a very short story about a girl rescuing a guy from a mugging using her

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My bed in 2013. Struggle was real.

mysterious ability to influence others. Through a thick, morose monologue, the girl revealed that the guy used to be her best friend, until she fell in love with him and he fell for someone else. Not wanting to be around him, she’d erased his memory and spent her life grumpily avoiding him.

As I said, I was having something of an emotion crisis, but let’s not read into it.

I loved the concept and I liked Olivia, but I struggled a great deal with her voice. It had a monotonous “I hate everything” ring to it and I knew I was never going to be able to sustain that kind of narration for a whole novel.

Still, I knew this was the idea I wanted to use for my dissertation. By the beginning of third year, I’d drafted the opening multiple times. Many drafts were from Olivia’s perspective, but one version was voiced by Alec (male protag and current narrator). Of

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Section from Alec’s perspective. Good luck reading my handwriting.

course, in that version he was a police officer investigating a vigilante…who was his wife…who he couldn’t remember despite the wedding ring he always wore. We’ll call that an alternate universe and move on.

The important thing about that Alec draft was that I realised Alec was so much easier to write. Without having the burden of ridiculous power to worry about, he can express a wider range of emotion, internally and externally. So I went back through my older (less absurd) drafts and rewrote a couple of scenes from his perspective. Bingo.

Over the years my ideas have gone from, “oh, man this would be cool” and a few questions to drive the plot, to very much emotion driven. The characters, plot and themes of  The End of Atlas all come from a frustration that hit me hard in 2013, and

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Trying to work out how old minor characters need to be.

writing this novel has been a continuous reminder that no matter how tough things get, there’s a way through.  We’ve had our ups and downs, me and Atlas, but my interest in experimenting with it’s core concepts has been enough to bring me back from the verge of quitting multiple times.

For those of you who want to write something longer and who struggle to keep yourself interested (as I do), I strongly recommend finding something that drives you emotionally; something that makes the impulse to pick up a pen (or tap on a keyboard) so strong that even when you’ve fallen out with your fictional characters, and you’re crocodile wrestling with how to make your plot work, you still feel some comfort in sitting down and getting what’s in your brain, out in words.

After all, is it really a good idea if you can’t bring yourself to follow through?

 

 

Featured Image taken by a friend in Amsterdam (2013).

 

 

Growing up Starbucks

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Growing up Starbucks

Over the years, my obsession with Starbucks has been met with raised eyebrows, scoffs and looks of disgust. On a couple of occasions, I’ve been berated for not supporting “local” business (including the 50 store strong chain, Coffee #1), despite the fact that Starbucks is a franchise, and therefore the stores you see are usually owned and run by local people who pay a sum to use the Starbucks branding.Photo-0466

However, the fact is my love of Starbucks has never been political.

As a child, I never really went in coffee shops. My mother can’t stand the smell of coffee, so she avoided them like the plague. So, my relationship with Starbucks – and journey through caffeine addiction – didn’t start until I was 13/14.

My best friend at the time was a sarcastic boy with Tony and Guy hair, limited addition converse and a penchant for caramel macchiatos. He would drag me into the dark gloom of a Starbucks, and I would drag him swiftly out again, intimidated by the noise, smell and complicated menu. I still remember the first time he gave me a sip from his mermaid embossed cup; we were standing in the Virgin Megastore in Cardiff (RIP), and I had to struggle not to spit the sickly sweet coffee all over the CD’s.

It was, by no means, love at first sight. I really didn’t get the appeal, but on one occasion I succumbed to peer pressure. I was desperate for a drink, so asked my friend what he would a_cup_of_history_by_emortrecommend. Something with no coffee. I ended up ordering a Strawberry Cream Frappuccino. It wasn’t great – it tasted like jam and regret –  but we were in there so often that I began experimenting with my order, until I stumbled across the Iced Mocha. My gateway drug, an summer love. The chocolate disguised the coffee just enough that I grew accustomed to the bitterness, and  it wasn’t long until I graduated to unflavoured lattes.

Friendships shifted, and I took to spending almost every Saturday in my local StarbucksDSC00070 (also RIP), tucked up the stairs on a bar stool by the window. There were only two seats, so I could be completely alone and write. First came 20,000 words of a vampire novel, about the teenage vampire with a pulse, that got swiftly abandoned when Twilight became popular. Then came Idiots, the first novel I ever got anywhere near to completing. It involved a fictional retelling of the lives of myself and my two closest friends – tall, lanky heroes who got me through hard times – living and working in a coffee shop in London. I still have my eye on an old fire station, hoping one day it’ll go up for sale and I can convert it into my dream store.

I got older, went to 6th form college, and my social circle expanded. Starbucks became the place I brought people at the end of days spent in town, but only good friends made it up to that balcony seat at the back. It was odd how private I was over a very public space, but it became an in joke. They were my seats, and I would sit with friends and glare at any strangers who dared to take them.

Then the day came for me to head off to university in Birmingham, leaving behind my 11255209_10152987978808897_4982465154794542299_nold home on the high street. My first major concern was establishing which of Birmingham’s vast array would be my Starbucks. You laugh, but I was literally 100 miles away from creature comforts. So the research and dedication I put into this was 100% necessary and I don’t know why you’re looking at me like that.

Fortunately, a couple of friends had provided me with Starbucks gift cards to go away with. Unfortunately, the Starbucks on university campus did not take these cards. Not to mention it was ridiculously busy all of the time, which quickly ruled it out as my new place. However, I lived close to the city centre in first year, so I had options. I took a walk, and found four possibilities on my first try; two in the Bullring, one on New Street and one just off Victoria Square.

I won’t tell you which I chose, but it was a fairly easy decision. After all, my criteria were: height, bar stools, and a view.

My current Starbucks has seen me develop as a writer and build The End of Atlas into what is almost a complete manuscript. It’s also the first Starbucks in which the baristas have learnt my name…and my order. Which was weird, so I dyed my hair just to confuse them. That didn’t work. I have a problem. And I have a gold membership on the app now, which I consider to be all the more impressive since I quit caffeine in 2012.

21034348_10155084615918897_4212018558492282820_nOh. I can also literally find a Starbucks anywhere, from Brighton to Barcelona. I’m a human radar. It’s impressive.

So I guess, what I’m trying to say is, my relationship with Starbucks isn’t political; it’s historical. It’s where I spent a decent portion of my time forming as a writer and a human. Want to take me somewhere else? That’s fine. But if I’m alone, I will always choose to hunker down in a shop with a two tail mermaid in the window.

 

Please note: All of the images in this article are mine. Some of them were taken on a Samsung SGH-D500 from 2005 (hence the quality). Oh, and yes, I made the tiny Starbucks logo on miniature lollipop sticks. It was a graphic design project at AS level. Don’t judge.

 

 

 

 

 

#Goals

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#Goals
In my post earlier this week, you may have noticed that there was a general theme of #Goals.

Not many people know, but since 2014, I spend some time on the 1st of January making a list of New Year’s Resolutions in the back of my latest journal, and I’ve gotten quite good at completing them.

Okay, finishing The End of Atlas has been on that list since I started this practice, but I didn’t say I was perfect.

Last year’s goals included:

  • Get into a regular writing pattern.
  • Read at least 12 books.
  • Get MA offers.
  • Get MA funding.
  • Go on holiday.

And I’m happy to say I ticked all of these off. My writing pattern is now knocking out 1000 words in Starbucks on Sundays, and Grace the barista has taken to coming and asking how the novel’s going. I’ve read a considerable number of books, then switched to a 100 pages of research a week when my MA started, so I consider that a success. Lancaster and Birmingham both offered me a place for my MA, and after choosing Birmingham, I managed to get an MA scholarship from the College of Arts and Law. In August, a couple of friends and I went to Barcelona. It was the furthest away and hottest country I had ever been too, and while I can’t say my pasty-white-self was built for the weather, I had an amazing time.

Not everything worked out  exactly how I had planned it, but 2017, all things considered, was a good year.

This year, I really want to focus on my writing, my career and getting Atlas off my resolution list once and for all. So, I thought I would take a leaf out of Jenna Moreci’s book and make a quarterly goals list. I normally update my resolutions list anyway, but this will mean I get into the habit of regularly reviewing it, and keep up the momentum throughout the year.

From January through to the end of March, these are the #Goals I will aim to achieve:

  1. Update Atlas with edits from Writeryjig Clubamabob (WC).
  2. Reach the 90k mark for Atlas.
  3. Redraw Atlas timeline.
  4. Write a blurb for Atlas.
  5. Celebrate 1 full year of WC.
  6. Write a blog post at least once a week.
  7. Redesign blog.
  8. Rebrand blog.
  9. Write 2 linguistic essay drafts before the Easter Holiday.
  10. Read all the required material for my classes.
  11. Try and read 1 extra article/chapter a week.
  12. Write MA dissertation proposal.
  13. Vet possible fanfiction profiles for MA dissertation data suitability.
  14. Talk to personal tutor about ethics for MA dissertation.
  15. Keep daily question journal up-to-date.

On top of this I’m going to set 5 private aims, that I’ll keep track of in my diary. At the end of March I’ll do a review, let you know how it went and what I want to do for the next quarter. ~Fingers crossed~ I’ll have a whole draft of The End of Atlas and an MA to show for my pains by the end of the year!

The Sequel Part 2: Return of the Sequel

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The Sequel Part 2: Return of the Sequel

On the 7th of June, 2014 at 12 am, I posted a super short blog post called “The Sequel” that, to this day, has 1 view. It was my way of drawing a line under the work I had previously done on this blog, and starting afresh.

The way I did that was by creating a schedule and producing some really rigid boxes that I had to tick off every week. In a way, while I was just post graduation and unemployed, it was an excellent idea. It kept me focused and it gave me something to break up the monotony of job applications and failed interviews.

But, when I finally went back to work, it became clear pretty swiftly that I was not going to be able to stick to that routine.

So here I am in early 2018, drawing another line in the sand and starting afresh once again. You find me now doing a Master’s course in Applied Linguistics, something that I have long wanted to do, but finishing my MA is not my only goal.

My plan for this site is to return it to what I always intended it to be. I started this blog in the first year of university with the intention of making it a platform for me and my creative work, and then I got the ususal writer’s paranoia about putting things online, so it turned into something very different. Don’t get me wrong, I still read my old articles and smile, which is why I won’t be privatising them for this reboot (feel free to have a flick through if you fancy). 

Instead, I’ve made a goal to fill this site with actual blog posts about life, thoughts about writing, and *shock horror* samples of my work. Those of you who follow me on Facebook, Tumblr or Instagram already know that I have been working on my novel The End of Atlas (previously known as Rimjhim…don’t ask) since the final year of my degree, and I’m happy to say it’s almost finished. I’m aiming to have a completed first draft by the end of the year, at which point I will be sharing snippets, talking about editing, and moving on to how the hell am I gonna get this thing published.

Basically, I want this blog to reflect who I am and what’s happening in my life. The plan is to post every Saturday, and if I find the time, I may throw in the additional bit here and there. For those of you who have been following this blog for a while now, I hope you’ll enjoy the switch up. For those of you new to the site, hello! I hope you stick around 🙂

Welcome to The Sequel Part 2: Return of the Sequel

Prepare for change!