Inspiration from unlikely sources

It sometimes saddens me that I don’t have the same allocation of time as I once did for blogging. I am woefully behind on reading all of my favourite blogs, it may be impossible to read everything ever typed. If I was perhaps more organised, I would arrange my posts at the start of the week, timing them to post every other day. But the thing is, that’s not what blogging is about for me. It reflects my life in a particular moment in time. Something may have caught my eye that I feel the need to express an opinion on. Or I’ve made something that I am keen to share. I am envious of organised bloggers who consistently write engaging posts. But alas, it’s not my way. Thank you all for sticking with me and sharing your thoughts and comments on my posts. I truly appreciate it.

My flat is pretty free from distraction. I have no internet, nor a television. The evening’s entertainment mostly consists of reading – I’m working my way through the stock at the library! For days when I’m not at work, I find it much easier to fall into my writing. I’m currently working on a teen fiction fantasy novel, which is still in the planning stages. But I have begun actual writing on another project, a non-fiction piece. And this is the book that prompted me to write it . . .

IMG_0605

My partner bought this with a voucher and was quite pleased with his purchase. Being an inquisitive cook, I decided to take a gander at it’s pages. I found it disappointing, but my boyfriend accused me of being unfair. For a beginner’s book, it does have basic recipes regarded most suitable for students; Bolognese, omelettes and so many versions of the same mayonnaise-laden pasta salad, I lost count. Sure, it’s fine. By solely using this book, it would nourish you better than takeaways.

But the book did serve a purpose. It prompted something in me that I felt the need to respond to. And so, I’m writing my own student advice book. It’s a recipe book, a funny book, an advice book and an all-encompassing document on student life and how to deal with it. I feel qualified to write such a piece after three years at University. I’m hoping it will evolve into something quite special.

The best course of action.

Important decisions are not easy to make. If something’s worth doing, it’s going to take both time and effort to complete it properly. The art of balancing is what I think University life is all about. It’s a complex period of negotiating your time between work, play, family and friends. The past two and a half years of my learning here at Winchester all culminate in a final assignment that is worth the biggest proportion of the final grade. The dreaded d-word: dissertation.

For my creative writing degree, this takes the form of the opening chapters of a novel, alongside an essay describing your own writing process. It matters, this piece of writing. It’s a daunting prospect to a novice writer like myself. 10,000 words seems impossible right now. So I’ve made the decision to focus entirely on my dissertation. I need to put in 100% effort if I want to achieve the grades I think I’m capable of.

I will be taking a blogging break commencing now. I shall hopefully return by mid-March, once the dissertation deadline has passed. I hope my kind followers will stick with me through this break. I’m not leaving my blog permanently, just for a short time to concentrate solely on my degree. I’m sure you understand.

Best wishes to you all.

It’s all in your head

I have to offer my most grateful thanks to those who have left comments recently. I can’t tell you how much you have boosted my spirits. It was nice to be reminded that I’m not a big failure after all.

I have many challenges in my life, both academic and personal. But I am starting to realise that I also have many tools to tackle these challenges and overcome them. The most powerful tool I have is my mind.

It’s easy to say “mind over matter”, but when the matter seems daunting, it can be hard to remember. However, a little self-belief can go an awful long way. As soon as I decided that I was perfectly capable of finishing my assignments, the words started to flow. I thought I was a writer and that’s what I became. I am inching ever closer to my word count. It’s easier to put pen to paper now that the mental blockade has vanished.

The same is true on the domestic front too. Instead of worrying about the cost of the next food shop, I took a step back to survey what I already had. I told myself I was perfectly capable of making do with what I’ve got. I’ve made a veggie curry today, and there are plenty of vegetables left over. So I’ll avoid the supermarket for now and save my coins for another day.

It feels good to be in charge and in control. By reassuring myself that I am perfectly capable, I seem to be getting more done. Try it, or let me know what works for you when you’re suffering with a cloudy mind.

Crossing the bridge

Forgive me for the self-indulgent post I published yesterday. I do realise I am in a very fortunate position and realistically, I don’t have much to grumble about. But sometimes factors in life do build up and become overwhelming. I feel better that I addressed them, contained them within a blog post and now I can move past them.

One of my favourite mottos is “little and often” and it applies to most areas in life. You’ve got lots of cleaning to do; just start with one room. You have five books to read in a fortnight; start with the largest one and work your way down. You have three assignments due; write little and often each day. I like to remind myself of this whenever I feel daunted by the bigger picture. It’s a helpful tool for me to keep moving forwards.

I went to a talk by Sarah Lean last night, a masters graduate from University of Winchester who is now a published author. She was very easy to listen to and I felt pleased that many things she spoke about, I was already aware of. But also, she confirmed for me what I’ve been learning throughout this year. Writing is less about one spark of talent. It’s about the effort and graft you put in day after day to create a text that is edited, rewritten and revisited hundreds of times. That’s what writing and authors are about in this day and age. I find that to be a real comfort, that you get out what you put in. It ties in nicely with another favourite motto of mine; hard work reaps rewards.

Ah me . . .

I was so hoping I wouldn’t have to type out any quick “fly-by” posts, just to keep up with the NaBloPoMo challenge. But alas, here we are.

1) I have spent most of the day with a new short story, in which I question whether looking at the 1950’s with rose-tinted glasses is a good thing or not. The character of Betty Hart (or Rachel Hartley as the case might be) is blossoming beautifully.

2) Gallivanting around your room wearing a headband does constitute as exercise, I promise.

3) I’m going to make dinner now, a different take on cottage pie. That will make a much more coherent post tomorrow.

Better switch off now before an imagined school matron tells me off for breaking curfew! Gosh, I’m definitely in story-writing mode today . . .

A self-imposed curfew

The internet is a wonderful thing. It contains a vast amount of information on every subject imaginable, and is being added to all the time. It provides a means of communication all around the world, uniting families and creating friendships. It gives all causes and associations a platform for portraying their opinions. Granted, some don’t use this gift in the right manner (the trolls and their cyberspace bridges come to mind), but it’s still incredible that this is possible.

But I spend far too much time trawling the internet. Click after click, webpage after webpage. I use catch up services, like Iplayer, but also there are a huge number of programmes on YouTube that I love watching. I can lose myself in a fascinating blog and two hours have gone by in a blink. As grateful as I am to the services the internet provides, I do feel that this is perhaps not the most efficient use of my time.

I cannot abandon the web completely. Not only because I couldn’t tear myself away from my beloved blogging, but because it is such an integral tool in University life. The tutors communicate with their students via email. Constructive criticism outlets can be found on Facebook. All details surrounding our submissions and assignments are all found online.

I cannot sever the tie completely. But I can impose a ban on the mindless browsing that normally takes over my evenings. No screens after 6pm – that is my new rule. Now, this will not be the case for every night, I couldn’t give up movie nights either. But I’m hoping this rule will allow me to focus more on my writing, as well as turning my attention towards other hobbies. I would like to read more books, and not just the ones outlined on my course. I would also like to do more crafting, especially in the run up to Christmas. I’m looking forward to immersing myself in other activities. And then blogging about them, naturally.

(PS Thank you kindly for all the lovely likes and comments I’ve received about my brownie recipe – they made me beam!)

Rebecca’s Recipes: Mama’s Brownies

Recipes that have been passed down through the generations are often tried and tested favourites. My mother is very good at baking. Some might even call her a master of the art. Even when I threw down the gauntlet of being gluten-free, she performed majestically to create the best gluten-free Swiss roll I have ever tasted. That’s right, she made gluten-free cake batter ROLL. Cake-making alchemy at its finest.

I am a novice compared to my mother, but I do have a few tricks up my sleeve. I will admit to learning most of them from her though. I’m here to share a recipe that flew from her recipe book to mine, taking the gluten free route. Chocolate brownies. Just saying that prompts a goofy grin from almost everyone. I couldn’t wait to road test my new scales – which work like a dream by the way. Plus, I bought a block of dark chocolate for my sweetie ration just for such a baking occasion.

(Side note, I haven’t had any other sweeties outside of my ration so far this month. I think this is worth a mention, as sweets were always my downfall in previous rationing challenges. I have had crisps on occasions; does anyone know the rationing value of this snack? Thanks!)

DSCN2275

DSCN2276My baking uniform is not complete with my CK apron and obligatory fluffy slippers.

            I have been doing a serious amount of writing today to make up for yesterday’s awol behaviour. I took a baking break just after lunch. These are motivational brownies, trust me.

Gluten-free brownies

Ingredients:

110g butter

110g dark or plain chocolate

225g caster sugar

2 eggs

Splash of milk

110g GF plain flour (I use Doves Farm)

½ tsp GF baking powder (again, Doves Farm)

 

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Line a rectangular tin with baking parchment.

Melt the butter and chocolate together using the Bain Marie method (saucepan and hot water – you got it.)

Combine the sugar, flour and baking powder in a large bowl.

Whisk the eggs together with a fork and add the milk.

Add the eggs to the flour mix, then the melted chocolate. Stir to make your brownie batter.

Pour into the tin and bake for 20 – 25 minutes. I like my brownies on the gooey side (who doesn’t?) so I took mine out after 22mins.

DSCN2278

DSCN2280

I do hope you enjoy the recipe. I shall put the link with the others on my “Rebecca’s Recipes” page. Please let me know if you try it out, I’d love to hear what you think.

Am I lazy?

Students are the epitome of lazy, apparently. The stereotype suggests that we don’t surface from our smelly rooms until midday. We spend what’s left of the day dressed in hoodies, dragging ourselves to class. We then cram in our studying during the early hours of the morning, accompanied by a ready meal and a beer. Well, no, actually.

I’m a morning person, which is a good thing for a student. I like to be at my desk by 9am, notebooks ready and waiting. When you only have nine hours of face-to-face teaching a week, you have to make the most of the rest of the time available. University is all about self-motivation and self-study. If I’m not in the library gathering research books, then I’m reading them with a cup of tea. Or I might be reading fiction, learning what makes them work so I can reflect this in my own writing. I do an awful lot of writing, from plans to essays to timelines to the actual stories themselves. Although creating stories can be time-consuming, I normally find that the time flies by.

Not today though. Today, I have reached for the hoody. All I can think about is getting into pyjamas and watching films. I am burying my head in the sand with regards to upcoming deadlines and progress for my stories. Even my characters seem to be ignoring me today, no one wants to come and play on the page. There is no spark in sight. I feel like hiding under a blanket and forgetting that my responsibilities exist.

Does this make me lazy? You do indeed have to push yourself to get things done, but I would argue it is acceptable to give yourself a break every so often. I’m awful with anxiety about getting things done and completing tasks correctly. When I spend so long with my work during the week, sometimes I do want my weekends to be story-free. I don’t think that’s laziness. I think that’s me attempting to find harmony and a work/life balance. I will only have myself to blame if the balance is off kilter and my life is affected. I can accept responsibility for my own choices, whatever the outcome might be.

(Budget challenge update: A little expenditure today, but nothing too overwhelming. £3.35 for train ticket, 85p on flapjack and £1.50 for bus far = £5.70. So, £48.30 to last 21 days.)

An oxymoronic way to write

Here at Number 34, Wednesdays have been christened Slob Day Wednesdays. This involves staying in the house, wearing the ceremonial dress of oversized jumpers and tracksuits and getting lots of work done.

There is no sarcasm to be found in that last statement. We do get lots of work done on Wednesdays. Staying indoors gives us the necessary time to complete assignments. Comfortable clothes are the best option when you’re spending the majority of the day tied to a desk.

DSCN1197

The various ways of getting work done fascinates me. I have a friend who cannot write a word unless she is within the formal setting of the library. At the other end of the spectrum, another friend does her best work in bed, kitted out in pyjamas. As for me, I opt for the middle of the road. My outfit today consists of light grey tracksuit bottoms, a long-sleeved top and a heavy-knit cardigan. But I set up my laptop on our dining room table, a cup of tea close at hand. I use the old trick of tying my hair up to generate motivation, does anyone else do that?

This morning, I have added the finishing touches to my pre-writing rationale essay, the bulk of which I wrote on Monday. I was surprised to hear mutterings of “not-having-started-yet” during class yesterday. As previously mentioned, there is no right or wrong way to go about tackling a piece. But it is arguable the more effective methods take more time.

I’m so grateful for the additional time I now have since leaving my job. Although budgeting remains a challenge, the time I have to spend on my essays and my stories is priceless.

No snakes, just ladders

On Monday morning, I have my Creative Vigilance and Metafictions class. My lecturer (who also happens to be head of the programme) is fond of reminding us that we’re third year students. Very soon, he says, we will be leaving the comfort blanket of University life. This never fails to prompt a groan from several students.

But for me, I see no reason to grumble. On one hand, I am lucky. I know exactly what career I want to move into and the active steps to take to get there. My various tutors have been invaluable in sharing their knowledge about the publishing world. I’ve had kindly advice in abundance and even an offer to set up a work experience placement. But I don’t believe it’s just luck that has set me on this path.

You see, on the other hand, I’m a stubborn hard worker. Even going right back, I had to work for my A-levels to get onto my chosen degree course in the first place. Now that I’m in my final year, I attend every single one of my lectures. I complete the additional reading and homework tasks. The library has become my second home. I know I’m not the only one that has adopted this intense working ethic, and we’re the ones who don’t moan. We’ve used the opportunity of higher education to its full advantage and are prepared for the world outside. Personally, I’m not only prepared, I’m excited for it! Having a clear view at the mountain in front of me makes me feel content.

Young adults today are so often told how hard it is in the “real world” that they’re giving up before they’ve even had a chance. Sadly, they think that because there are no easy options, that must mean that there are no options at all. This is not the case. I’m not going to take the smooth route and move back in with my parents next summer. I’m going to take the rocky path, budgeting my life in order to live in my very own home. I will work long hours in a low wage job in order to get a foot in the door to be on track for the career of my dreams. It’s not luck that will make me Head Editor one day, it will be rolling-your-sleeves-up hard work. Something, I fear, that is drifting further and further away with every escaping moan in the classroom.