The relationship between ambition and self-doubt…

I was at a party recently talking to one of my friends about a work trip. She had delivered an important, high pressure presentation, sharing her expertise and generally being a fountain of wisdom and know-how. I can imagine the whole build-up to the event itself was very nerve-wracking, and after the trip I was listening to her intently (albeit gorging on crisps and dip) when she said “I just couldn’t believe I was giving this presentation to all these people. They were listening to me, telling them about my work.”

As I sat there, listening to said friend, all I could think about was how talented she is, and how it was very right that she was the person giving that presentation because well, she rocks, and she knows what she is talking about. From my point of view, she was just the woman to do it and of course, she made a great success of it all because that’s just how she rolls.

Another friend of mine has recently become a teacher. I’ve known her since we were six-years-old and running around the playground and bickering about which of our imaginary unicorns was the best. On an evening walk she told me how surreal it seemed that she would soon be teaching full time, even though she was really excited about it all. I can’t imagine a better girl for the job, she’s creative, intelligent and a fantastic role model. But when she spoke I nodded in agreement, remembering how I felt when I got my first book deal. It was a mixture of total happiness and shock that my work was going to be read by more people than a handful of close friends and my mother. Infact, it’s still a bit of a surprise (well a total surprise) when I am contacted by a reader. It makes me SO happy.

Then I remembered a theory I read in the paper ages ago about something called Imposter Syndrome. Ok, it does sound a little dramatic, (don’t worry, it doesn’t involve a fever or any kind of strange rash…) but the basic idea behind it is fascinating.

If you haven’t heard of it yet, Imposter Syndrome is a theory or phenomenon that is very common in ambitious people, both men and women, who basically think they are a fraud within their position, or that their appointment to that role/position is some kind of mix-up or mistake. If you want to find out more about it, give it a Google, there are reams of stuff online about it. It seems, talking to many amazing people over the years, that this feeling is pretty common. It doesn’t just apply to celebrities and scientists, it can happen to anyone, no matter what they do.

I was 23 when I got my first book deal and I was still daunted by basic things like cooking anything other than pasta, paying bills and generally being a proper adult, and to be honest I felt that it was all some kind of elaborate joke. I remember going to meet my agent for the first time and being so nervous that I could barely see straight and nearly walked into the men’s toilets. How could this have happened to me? It was so amazing, so wonderful, that it wouldn’t quite compute. I morphed back into the gawky kid I used to be, unable to string proper sentences together and knocking things over all the time.

Strange thoughts kept buzzing through my mind. What if I accidentally re-wrote something I watched or read years ago without even realising? What if my first book was a fluke and upon attempting the second, I would simply sit in front of the laptop watching 4OD and wondering how to type basic words? What if I only had one book in me? It was very interesting how my brain responded to this amazing thing that had happened to me and I remember it so well. Even though I was estatically happy about it all, there was this nagging self-doubt somewhere in the background.

Even now those feelings come back sometimes, but I try and talk myself out of them. I go for a run, or make a coffee, or read one of my favourite books and it all goes away.

I think that a small amount of self doubt is (most of the time) not a bad thing, although I can imagine that for some it unfortunately becomes a serious anxiety issue. Not being excessively confident keeps me on my toes. It keeps me grateful for everything that has happened and it keeps me focused on the future. It is the nagging doubt in me that prompts me to always try to improve and get better at what I do. Writing is a life-long journey, and just like you grow as a person, make mistakes and enjoy successes, this also happens in your writing too.

Sometimes it’s good to know that other people feel the same. It’s comforting in a way to know that the people you admire and respect experience the same kind of feelings as you, and it’s positive that people are always assessing their position and how they feel about it.

For the readers of this blog who are thinking ‘Yes! I totally get that!’ – you must be confident in yourself. You are doing what you do not by luck, or fluke, or through some kind of catastrophic mix-up. You are doing what you do because you deserve it. It’s all because you studied hard, or learnt how to do something yourself through hours and hours of practice and hard work, because you are talented, because you persevered, and because you are good at it. And most importantly, don’t expect to start a new job/promotion/project/fitness challenge/novel and be perfect at it.

There is room to grow and learn and that’s totally ok…

Great films… 500 Days of Summer

Zooey Deschanel who plays Summer in 500 Days of Summer

Zooey Deschanel who plays Summer in 500 Days of Summer

This weekend I watched 500 Days of Summer.

Saturday’s viewing of this film was probably the 500th time I’ve seen it too… I have to be honest here, I’m a 500 Days of Summer geek. I know it well, too well. I know the words to each and every song as the film unfolds, I know what line is coming next, it’s all got a little out of hand.

I remember the first time I went to see this film at the cinema. For me, it was one of those rare times you watch a movie and feel so inspired by it that you want to write. I absolutely adored it, and still do.

It was a major inspiration to me when I wrote This is a Love Story, and as TIALS was the first novel I wrote, it brings about very fond memories.

There are so many reasons why I love this film, and here are some of them…

(***WARNING: May contain spoilers***)

1) The whimsical narrative: Richard McGonagle does a great job of saying sweet, simple, and beautiful things about Tom and Summer’s love story as it unfolds against the backdrop of some fabulous plinky plunky music. It’s so honest, well written, and gorgeously quirky. It just works. It’s always stuck in my mind as the kind of narrative voice that would work beautifully in fiction and a great example of the things you can learn while watching films and writing books.

2) Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt: She’s the non-committal, mixed-message giving, mesmerizingly beautiful heroine, he’s the good-looking, painfully shy, and totally adorable lead guy. They work so well together and I can’t imagine a better pairing for this movie. When Zooey and Joseph become Summer and Tom, they act out a story almost everyone can relate to. She’s everyone’s indie girl-crush, he’s so lovely you can’t help but feel she must be a little crazy, and you are desperate to find out how it ends.

3) The soundtrack: From Regina Spektor’s excitable and breathy ‘Us’ to ‘There Goes the Fear’ by Doves, the soundtrack oozes cool, and in my opinion the tracks couldn’t have been picked better for the film. The musical high for me is ‘You Make My Dreams’ by Hall and Oates, and THAT scene in the park (ohhh c’mon, everyone’s been so happy they’ve held a cartoon bluebird in their hand, right?).

4) The mystery: The film shows us enough about Summer to make her loveable and relatable, and yet we never really understand why she is how she is. It keeps you intrigued, while Tom is much more of a open book. The secrets she keeps are continually interesting. Why is she so hard to get close to? Why is she so unpredictable? Why can’t she see what she is doing to Tom?

5) It’s realistic: Tom has fallen in love with Summer. That’s the simple bit. But Summer is as easy to understand as a jigsaw puzzle with several pieces missing. So Tom does what most people do in his situation, he continually justifies it, despite fighting this inner gut feeling that something isn’t right. It’s so interesting how people do this, they hang on to any thread of positivity they can in the desperate hope that the outcome will be different. It’s common human behaviour, and it fascinates me.

6) The storytelling: 500 Days of Summer is played out in sections that don’t run in chronological order. You only know where you are at through the use of the numbered days in their love story. It’s a really cool way of unravelling a plot. There are hundreds of thousands of wonderful love stories out there, but I adored the style of this one.

7) The role reversal: This isn’t a movie about a neurotic woman crying into her cornflakes over an emotionally unavailable guy who doesn’t give a damn. This film turns all these all too common gender stereotypes upside down, and it’s refreshing. Despite all this, Tom isn’t left looking like an idiot. It’s well done, and it doesn’t make either gender look perpetually stupid. Yes, men do fall in love, and yes, men get upset and misread signals. It doesn’t just happen to women, and that’s absolutely ok.

8) It’s energising: Tom is consistently struggling with his suitcase full of broken dreams. A man who works in the greetings card industry who really wants to be doing something else. He’s clearly talented but it takes for something big to happen before he considers acting on it. Why leave it so long? It’s great to see the change in him, but it also prompts you to think about things you want to achieve and how things can get harder before they get better, and it’s inspiring.

9) The imagery: From Summer’s gorgeously decorated apartment to the places the pair hang out in during their dates, the film is loaded with lovely things to see. Ok, realistically, I don’t know how the characters could afford all the trappings of their beautiful homes given their circumstances, but it sure is inspiring to see. Warning. You may watch this film and have a strong desire to head to your local Ikea/Urban Outfitters/Zara Home and splash out on fabulous accessories.

10) Not all love stories work out as expected: Tom and Summer’s love story is unpredictable, but that’s ok because real life works like that sometimes. The romantic encounters that leave you temporarily suspended in grief and regret can be the ones that teach you the most, and this film encapsulates all that, and how there is always hope after heartbreak.

And there you have it, just some of the many reasons why 500 Days of Summer is one of my favourite films. If you haven’t watched it yet, you know what to do!

Lost in a manuscript…

I’ve been a little quieter than usual the past few days. This is partially because I’ve helped my parents move house, and also because I am in that strange timeless zone I like to call ‘finishing a book’…

It is during this time that the following things happen:

1) I stop communicating with the outside world almost entirely because I am so lost in my latest manuscript. I lose all social skills and the ability to compose a decent text message or hold any kind of coherent/interesting conversation (bar the odd tweet or inane Facebook comment.)

2) I forget to eat some days. Normally breakfast and lunch are the first meals to go, followed by the realisation at 6.30pm that I am absolutely ravenous (and the subsequent pig-out session that goes with it.)

3) I cannot stop thinking about the characters. I am dreaming about them, I am pondering their next move while brushing my teeth, I’m wondering how they would like their toast, or how many sugars they would have in their tea. It’s giving me a headache.

4) I forget to brush my hair, and do other stuff that civilised people do like washing up. My writing space looks… well… bloody awful. I should be ashamed of myself.

5) When I do eventually crawl out into the daylight, it is all VERY bright. Think The Gremlins at a fireworks display and you’ve just about got it.

6) I have been writing so furiously that letters are actually jumbling before my very eyes and I can no longer spell quite basic words. This both shocks and worries me.

7) I am in a world where time no longer means anything, the only significant break is to step outside to get a few breaths of fresh air or have a coffee and I very much resent having to leave the laptop, for anything.

Ok, this is all a little exaggerated for comedy value…. but I’m sure lots of other writers will be able to relate to this. It this part of writing a book where I really do find myself in a ‘zone’.

During the first three quarters of the novel writing process I’m certainly glued to it, but there’s a real marked difference for me when I am getting to those last, few vital chapters.

Naturally that’s because the last few chapters close the story. The plot that you have carefully thought up, discussed with your editor, turned inside out and upside down is happening right here, right now, in Microsoft Word. (Yipeee!)

The last few chapters always hold, in my opinion, the most exciting bits. There’s the big reveal (or reveals), the crunch moments, the ‘I love you’s’, the closed doors, the new beginnings… It’s one of the most fantastic parts of the process, in my opinion, and yet the most antisocial too.

I have two chapters left to write of my third book. I plan to finish the first draft tomorrow, before it then goes through a rigorous editing process. I have no idea if I have hit on something really special, or if I have written 112,000 words of absolute dross. Clarity will only come during the re-reads and luckily there is plenty of time to perfect it. It’s daunting, but very exciting.

Friends and family, I will be back out in the wide world very soon… my hair brushed and everything…

I’ve missed you!

Five love songs that inspire my writing…

Writing about love can be difficult… There, I said it.

I spend a lot of time as a writer creating love stories, using language to dream up two people who will somehow find a way to each other’s hearts. But of course there are always a few bumps in the road… I try to ensure my plots look at real-life issues from homelessness to serious illness and crime, but at the centre of it all is usually at least one love story.

Now don’t get me wrong, I adore writing love stories. If I wasn’t keen on it then you could probably accuse me of being in the wrong job. However, I think the most important thing to think about when writing romantic fiction is the creation of multi-dimensional love stories… Love isn’t simple in real life, so why should it be in your novel?

One of the most important things I have learned is that there are so many different kinds of love, different phases of it and different stages. Love is not a fixed, simple thing. Sometimes it’s amazing, sometimes it’s frustrating, and sometimes it’s really painful.

I am a huge fan of Lena Dunham’s script writing in the HBO series ‘Girls’. This is mainly because of Hannah’s dysfunctional ‘relationship’ with Adam and how well Dunham has encapsulated this angsty, complicated pairing and its consistent power struggles. It’s interesting how Hannah has to work so hard to understand Adam, and how much she puts up with along the way, and yet somehow the power balance switches round.

I find that as I write, there are some go-to songs that have reminded me of all the different kinds of love that can and should be portrayed in fiction. It’s not always simple, it’s not always easy, and these songs conjure up the imagery and the feelings that help me to write. I thought it would be nice to share them with you. Some of them are older songs, others are much more recent and are helping me with book three…

1) Two Way Street – Kimbra

This song in my opinion is the soundtrack to the typical frustrating relationship. It’s pensive and negative, but yet it’s so hopeful too. The feel of the song swings from one side to the other. It reminds me of the confusion that comes with mixed messages, the hope that is always there, and the ultimate realisation that “I can’t make you fall for me, love is a two way street”. The lyrics are beautiful, there is so much imagery. This song is really inspiring book three.

2) Jealous – Faith Evans

I love how playful and full of life this track is, despite the subject matter. Jealousy… it’s a tricky subject. Some people never get jealous, for others it’s an emotion they really struggle with. Most people will have felt that flash of green envy at some point in a relationship. This song sums it up, with humour too.

3) Falling Slowly – Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova

For me, this is the perfect dramatic, tear-jerking love song. I first heard this when I watched the film ‘Once’ (which I recommend if you haven’t seen it yet). I sometimes listen to this song when I want to create a devastatingly romantic scene. It’s the kind of music that goes with the crunch moment, the first kiss, the break-up, the pain of a long distance relationship. It works with so many concepts you encounter when writing.

4) Starry Eyed – Ellie Goulding

This song reminds me of the process of falling in love. For me, it captures the excitement of it all. Those first few weeks or months where everything is utterly magical and you feel like you are wandering around on a unicorn, sprinkling a bag full of glitter all over the place and grinning like a fool. I’m not sure if this is what Ellie intended, but I listen to this song when I’m writing about new, dizzy exciting love.

5) Bad Religion – Frank Ocean

Now I am a little biased when it comes to Frank Ocean, because I am pretty obsessed with his lyrics as it is. I think his whole Channel Orange album is jam-packed with stunning visual imagery, but this song was the stand out track for me. Bad Religion for me portrays the most painful kind of love. Something you want so much, but something that for one reason or another doesn’t come back your way, and how painful that is. I couldn’t find a video for this, so there’s a live version of another song of his here. I call on his song Bad Religion when I want to describe how painful love can be…

Beautiful books… Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?

Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? By Jeanette Winterson

Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? By Jeanette Winterson

While away in Paris I read a book that I felt compelled to blog about…

Amid the excitement of being on holiday, I picked it up whenever I had an opportunity (even while battling travel-induced nausea on the Eurostar) finding myself lost in this raw, stunning memoir.

It’s called Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson.

I recommend it to readers of this blog, as I know many of you are writers. It’s one of those books that made me yearn for my laptop, desperate to just write… stuff… anything… something.

Jeanette writes about her difficult adoptive childhood in a small, terraced home in Accrington. It tells of the horrors of her youth, somehow elegantly, and how they affected her adulthood. The reader is then taken on a journey as she tries to fit the pieces together. Her thoughts on the subject of adoption are particularly striking.

Winterson’s writing is exceptional. I found myself snorting with laughter on many an occasion, then welling up with tears, often grabbing my boyfriend’s arm to read him delicious sentences that I couldn’t help but scan over and over again…

The author of this memoir has an astonishing wisdom. In the middle of harrowing descriptions of her experiences, she weaves spot-on observations about our existence that wowed me. 

Thank you Jeanette for writing such a fantastic memoir, it’s now on the bookshelf on my desk with my favourites.

http://www.jeanettewinterson.com

 

 

Three Little Words launch party and Paris…

*Warning* This will be a long post, packed with pictures and words like ‘amazing’ and ‘lovely’ and ‘exciting’ because I’ve had the best seven days ever!

Image

This time last week I was feeling REALLY nervous, but super excited about the launch party for the UK eBook of my second novel, Three Little Words. It brought back so many memories of the This is a Love Story launch. I’m glad to say it was another successful evening where I found myself, yet again, blown away by the support and kindness of my family and friends.

The event was held at The Haberdashery in Crouch End, and it’s a great venue that I would recommend to anyone looking to hold a similar party. It’s beautifully decorated, full of fairy lights (huge bonus) and provided the perfect atmosphere to celebrate book two. Food was great as well… There were some copies of the UK export edition for guests to take home on the night.

Launching a book is such a strange mix of emotions……You are delighted but nervous all at the same time. I want to thank everyone who came along on the night and made it such a fantastic evening I will never forget.

The oddest part of it all is that you work so hard to write and perfect a book, and then when it comes out it still seems like a surprise that people are reading it!

I’ve had some lovely reviews and messages about Three Little Words. It’s wonderful to hear from readers, whether it’s on Facebook, Twitter or by email, and particularly lovely to hear from those who enjoyed This is a Love Story and purchased my second book. Thanks to everyone who has got in touch about it.

As I’ve mentioned previously, Three Little Words will be published in the UK as a paperback in August this year but is available now as an eBook.

After the launch I headed to Paris with my boyfriend Andy for five days. It was wonderful! I went to Paris a few years ago but I couldn’t remember it well, so it was great to come back and really spend some time in such a magical city.

We stayed in the gorgeous Hidden Hotel near the Champs-Élysées, and packed in loads of sightseeing including visiting The Latin Quarter, Opera, Montmartre, The Louvre, The Roue de Paris and even the very top of The Eiffel Tower (I felt like I was going to faint by the way…) When we were at the top of the tower it started to snow, which was an incredible thing to see… you can just about make it out in this photo.

View from the top of the Eiffel Tower in the snow

View from the top of the Eiffel Tower in the snow

While visiting some shops, I was delighted to spot some hand made prints by Zeena Shah, who designed the cover for This is a Love Story. I picked up one of her ‘penelope pin cushions’ (below), desperate to explain the whole story to the shop keeper but held back for fear I may confuse her with my appalling French…

One of Zeena Shah's pin cushions I fell madly in love with a black and white dress (pictured below), which I found in a vintage shop in the Opera area. The detailing on it was stunning, and I just stared at it through the window slipping into a daydream! If I’m not mistaken, I think it was more than fifty years old… That really got me thinking. I thought about the woman/women who have worn it, and the memories it holds. It’s a stunning dress, so I’m glad I managed to get a photo of it to remember what it looks like!

Beautiful vintage dress

Beautiful vintage dress

I forgot how beautiful Paris is, everything about it is elegant and gorgeously presented… We had some lovely meals, and visited a really cool champagne bar that I would recommend called The Flute E’toile. Paris was a much needed break away after a really busy time, and I feel refreshed and raring to go again!

Now work continues on book three…

Something a little different…

I was digging through some of my old poetry and stories recently… Amid the cringing and laughter, I found this poem about friendship. I wrote it years ago (I think I was in my late teens if I remember correctly.) I revisited it, and made some tweaks to it. It isn’t about anyone in particular, but I remember at that time being interested in how people and friendships change as they get older. I wanted to create something that started off light and fluffy and then evolved into something different, something darker. It was a great way to experiment with visual imagery… Anyway, it’s certainly not perfect, but I thought it would make a nice change to share this with you …

Friend with the embroidered heart,

Do you remember the colourful past?

Leaving town, tearful cuddles,

Praying the friendship would last.

 

Do you recall the days of our childhood spent,

Gilding an imaginary lily?

The sweltering heat of summer days,

Drunk with freedom so silly.

 

In the field we could be anything we wanted,

Or those day trips out to sea.

Tracing a future in the sand,

Our song pure soul reverie.

 

I remember our cupboard was Narnia,

Yet under the stairs a cave.

Together we would wait there,

For our handsome prince to save.

 

Giggling breathless, over dinner

Whilst watching the TV.

Blowing bubbles in the milk,

Everything carefree.

 

The world was ours, all for the taking,

No ambition out of reach.

Summer holidays were a lesson,

Scraped knees a moral to teach.

 

Movies were captivating beyond the screen,

We became the story.

It was all a magical Disney dream,

Played out in technicolour glory.

 

My horse’s name was Shimmer,

What was yours again?

To ride off into the sunset,

Our wish when we were ten.

 

I won’t forget holding your hand,

Whilst standing in the park.

I won’t forget the castle of sand,

As it sank into the dark.

 

Some nights you couldn’t sleep,

And lay awake just singing.

What you felt was just too deep,

In your ears the pain was ringing.

 

I never knew it at the time,

But inside you did suffer.

I thought you sang a carefree rhyme,

But it was just you getting tougher.

 

I miss the days of you and I,

We were the best of friends.

Tracing shapes in the sky,

A precious thing God sends.

 

How are you now dusky eyed stranger?

Now the glitter has gone.

What happened to fill your heart with danger?

What muffled your youthful song?

 

From your hands, cigarette smoke,

Masks your Shoreditch smile.

To see you once more makes me choke,

So much has gone awry.

 

Dark chipped nails wipe your eyes,

Sultry, laden with Rimmel.

A half-way smile, your thin disguise,

Now that you’re a woman.

 

To me you’re still the beautiful girl,

You always used to be.

And all our precious memories,

they, live on inside me.

 

Come on old friend, it’s been so long,

But we are still the same,

Let’s go get ice cream with a flake,

And laugh away the pain.