Authors, Travel

The Home of Mark Twain

Last year, I was lucky enough to get the chance to visit Mark Twain’s boyhood home way out in Missouri.

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It was one of the highlights of our trip and I felt so humble to be standing outside his fence and looking around his home near the Mississippi River, room by room. I absolutely love Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn – one of which I read while I was out there to keep me going throughout the trip.

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There was so much to see and so many places to go I actually didn’t end up reading very much, but it was a trip of a lifetime and I’m so glad I could take a copy with me to occupy me on my travels!

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Later on, we went for a walk near the Mississippi River, where a large statue of Mark Twain stood. The heat was so dense (it was August) and the water looked so cool, it took a lot for me not to just jump right in.

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We spent a long while there, just wandering around and sitting by the grass, trying not to get faint from the sun.

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We even got to see a freight train carrying loads of cargo as it passed through the stop sign barriers just before the crossing to get to the river. The railroad looked so atmospheric, so damn Southern, I almost wanted to cry. I love the Deep South and have always been fascinated by it, so to visit this place was such an incredible experience.

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I waited a long time to read Huckleberry Finn and saved it until I could finally go on this trip.

Do you have a favourite classic?

Authors, Publishing

Book Launch: The Bras and the Bees

This week, I attended the launch of a very special book, hosted by Falmouth Booksellers in Cornwall. I’ve been patiently waiting for The Bras and the Bees by FA Notley to come out ever since I heard about it, partly because it sounds like such a wonderful reflection of true life events about a beekeeper-turned-global-business-entrepeneur, and partly because the cover artwork for this book is simply so beautiful.

FA Notley (co-editor for Cornish Short Stories) is the author of this stunning book. It tells the true life events of Brian Sherriff, now 91, who was at one time a beekeeper and factory director manufacturing women’s bras, before he went on to establish his own business selling beekeeping suits around the world. As a leading brand that’s still recognised today, The Bras and the Bees tells a fascinating and inspiring story of how you can go from one life path to the next with one simple idea. Namely, Why aren’t there any safety measures in place when working with bees?

The Bras and The Bees book_launch.jpgThe Bras and the Bees

As a lover of all things literary, I’m always a sucker for any type of author event, so to meet the author, the man the book is written about, and the illustrator, all in one night was particularly exciting for me. How often do you really walk into an author event and leave with not just one, but three signatures within the first few pages of the book?

This night was full of sparkle and I absolutely loved the atmosphere of the evening at this wonderful independent bookshop.

The Bras and The Bees book_launch_BrianBrian signing my copy at Falmouth Bookseller

At the launch, Brian jokingly admitted he never realised his life was so interesting to a smiling audience. He suggested that, to anybody who wants to write their life story, all they have to do is write little anecdotes down about what happens to them, collate them in date order, and then put them all together to create a book. Of course, it’s a little more technical than that, which is where FA Notley steps in and brings Brian’s wonderful story to life with her words.

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Author FA Notley and illustrator Lucy H. Smith

Lucy H. Smith, the illustrator, even signed my copy with a unique drawing of a tiny buzzing bee. As a massive fan of her artwork, I loved that she included this; I’ll be holding this book close for a very long time. The detail on the page is exquisite and I particularly love the wings.

Illustrator Lucy H. Smith signing my copy

The exhibition space for this event was also beautiful. It included one of the corsets made from Brian’s factory on a mannequin so gorgeous I wanted to take it straight home with me. There was also an amusing graphic showing how Brian used to wear his own miniature ‘bra-kerchiefs’ in the front pocket of his shirts, a story which is all detailed further within the pages of the book.

The Bras and The Bees book_launch_exhibitionExhibition space

I’ve never seen anything quite like it – and it definitely added characterful charm to the event, as well as to the entire book.

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Feeling happy with my evening, I left Falmouth Booksellers the way you always should: with a book in hand. My TBR pile might be teetering over the edge right now, and I definitely have a lot of my own writing I also need to get to, but I seriously can’t wait to start reading this delightful tale.

Music, Personal

Nashville: Why I Love Music City

Nashville – a place which has firmly taken up a huge space in my heart. Ever since I heard my first country song, or the unmistakable sound of a fiddle’s strings above the notes of a steel pedal guitar, Nashville has always been right where I truly wanted to be. Forget London. Forget Paris. I’d always dreamed about music city for as long as I can remember, never really thinking I’d ever in my life actually get to go. Nashville is over 4,000 miles away. How on earth was I going to get there if I was terrified of planes and defiant in my belief that if went on a boat across the Atlantic, it would surely sink?

But I took a leap of faith. If I was going to die, at least I was going to die trying!

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With my bags packed and a suitcase half empty just so I could fill it up with cowboy boots, I hopped on that plane and, last year, I finally made it to Nashville. I couldn’t believe I was right there, walking the streets, feeling that fresh southern breeze glide across my face, and taking in the sweet, heady heat of the vibrant music city amid the galore of cowboy boot stores, rooftop bars, and live music venues open all day long. I was in country music heaven. What was there not to love about this?

But it’s hardly just the music. I love the history too. From the bloody battlefield of the American Civil War, where thousands died, right up to the thriving modern city it is today, Nashville is steeped in history with vibrant stories laying open and ready to tell. During my stay, I visited a house that sits on a more unforgiving side of history: Belle Meade Plantation. Previously home to a wealthy confederate supporter, this rich family once boasted the largest slave holding in Nashville. And, astonishingly, almost as rich and powerful as it was over 150 years ago, Belle Meade is still a distinct area for homes belonging to the rich and famous. Needless to say, from a historical, political, and personal point of view, it was fascinating to drive around these stunning homes, many of them proudly flying their American flag high for all to see.

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Belle Meade Mansion

On a less miserable note, I think what I love most about Nashville is the fact that everybody is so welcoming out there. When I visited the Loveless Café with some new-found friends, a famous venue for ‘real southern food’, we had a busy table of over twenty people. When we apologised for being so loud, the waitress simply came back with, ‘Honey, I love a hoopla!’ The people there are full of southern charm and it was a quality I was surprised to notice in everyone, not just in the friendly Boot Barn sales attendant called Tyler (who called me Miss Emily), or the taxi driver who drove us everywhere, or even the pilot on our flight who braved a ferocious thunder and lightning storm, all while keeping us safe up in the air. (Not going to lie, I was terrified!) Of all the cities in this big wide world, there’s just something about this one which screams, ‘Welcome!’ It’s right there in people’s smiles, in their hello’s and even in their general mannerisms. Sadly, I can’t say the same about Chicago. That was a city that instilled all kinds of fear in me.

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Whilst spending time in Nashville, I learned that this sparkling city is the true ‘Hollywood’ of country music, where stars can walk right down the street next to you, or you can bump into them at a local restaurant devouring their favourite dish. This city has so much to offer, with bars, museums, stadiums, and filming locations dotting the famous Broadway boulevard alone.

To end, I’ve always believed that Nashville, for me, is another home from home. I just couldn’t believe my luck that, when I got there, I still felt the same. All throughout my stay, the air was balmy and the food was full of flavour like I’ve never tasted. The smell of the street on Broadway as you’re walking past open doored bars, star studded restaurants and the guzzle of petrol and diesel engines as you’re trying to get to your next music fix, was all incredible. Despite the full-on security of (still friendly) officials checking there wasn’t a gun tucked away in your purse somewhere, I was sorely sad to go home. There was still so much to see.

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A bustling hub of talented songwriters, powerful music and, most of all, endless inspiration, Nashville is an incredible place in this world and – surprise, surprise – I have every intention of going back.

 

Poetry, Publishing, Writing

Sarah Cave and Ben Smith – Featuring Lost in Books!

Last night, I attended a book event in the cosy and intimate setting of Lostwithiel’s very own independent bookshop, Lost in Books. For the event, published poet, Sarah Cave, and debut novelist, Ben Smith, read aloud from their works, speaking about setting and place, how it’s used, and the tantalising consequence of how the absence of human life can have a deep effect on the confines of our minds when left alone out in the world.

Sarah Cave, who has published two poetry collections (with another on the way later this year!), tells the story of Slava, a Russian individual living in the Arctic inspired by the real-life Arctic weatherman in her striking collection An Arbitrary Line. The poignancy of her poetry, echoing themes of loneliness, humanity and the isolation within a huge and harsh climate, such as Northern Russia, is incredibly rich and evocative in its powerful use of language. While her poetry might be deep and wistful at times, there were definitely several shared laughs between her and the audience as she read her work aloud. Inspired by a reflection of the abstract and the effect the human mind can have once humanity has disappeared, this collection is a prize to keep close to your heart. Listening to her work and being drawn in by her rhythmic words was a pleasure.

SARAH CAVE READING FROM AN ARBITRARY LINE

Ben Smith, whose debut Doggerland, a dystopian exploration of family, fear and ever-prevalent climate change, also read at this event. Again, weaving in themes of loss, humanity and an isolated setting, hearing Ben’s prose being spoken aloud was mesmerising. Surviving in a world where the only two characters interact with each other and the sea, Ben’s debut has been described as a stylistic mixture between Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam and Cormac McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic prose. Needless to say, it was a treat to listen to his words and listen in on the details of how he wrote the book.

BEN SMITH READING FROM DOGGERLAND

And where would a fantastic author event be without its fabulous host? Lost in Books, situated along the idyllic riverbank of Lostwithiel, is a gem in itself – and a wonderful find if you happen to be walking that way in Cornwall.

Recently opened, it shares its space with rustic, home decor shop, Atticus & Willow, filled with natural plants, greenery and delicate trinkets and treasures you can just as easily get lost in. The whole feel of the space as you walk in is like stepping into another world. A world of art and books. Doesn’t that sound just like heaven?

The more I visit, the more I believe that this is such a perfect and unique setting for a landscape filled with books. They line the shelves, creep up the walls, and lay stacked in plucky little piles beneath the rustic table centred in the middle of the room. Those books in turn breathe words, and those words weave into much-loved stories. The only thing they need is for somebody to step in, pick one up, and start reading. Did I mention the shop has a cat who visits frequently too?

SARAH CAVE AND BEN SMITH HOLDING BOOKS

Last night was such a wonderful experience to be among the audience for this fabulous event. Lostwithiel is such an ancient town. To know its literary spirit is being kept alive and well is a gift to its community – I hope to be back for many more events to come!

Fancy visiting Lost in Books? You can visit their website here.

 

articles, How To, Writing

5 Ways to Improve Your Writing Mood

Down in the dumps about your writing? Need to edit that novel? Write that journalism article? Commit to that short story idea? This blog might just be able to help you with that.

Here are five ways to get those creative juices flow back into your writing life.

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1) Stop Comparing Yourself to Other People’s Success.

I know. It’s hard. You’re down in the dumps about your own writing and, to make it worse, you keep watching everybody else’s success climb higher than yours. That green-eyed monster in your head is getting meaner, and uglier, and you start to wonder what it is you’re doing wrong. Writing in the face of everybody else’s success can be hard. It can make you feel like you don’t belong here, or you’re not a ‘real writer’. Pretty soon, you’re scared you’ll burn out from watching everybody else soar.

You might be thinking, ‘When is it my turn?’ or ‘Why can’t I be celebrated like that?’, or even, ‘When is it my turn to be a real writer?’  You might even be considering deleting your social media account.

But hold that thought – take a breath – and push that green-eyed devil monster away.

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Don’t compare your own journey to somebody else’s. You are unique. You don’t know how many dips and falls another writer has had to take in order to get themselves where they are today.

Ask yourself this: Where were you at the start of your writer’s journey? How much have you improved since then? What skills do you have now that you didn’t when you started out? With every short story, or article, or chapter you write, you become a better writer. Your words get sharper, cleaner, and your mind gets that much smarter. You still might not be Ernest Hemingway, or even J.K. Rowling, but you are already on your writer’s journey and it’s fantastic.

What’s not to celebrate about that?

2) Be Daring!

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Daily life routines can be suffocating for creative writing, no matter what field you work in. Fed up with working in an office job? Exhausted at the end of the day from all that manual labour? Can your brain just not tune out that annoying customer you almost had a fight with today?

Try something new.

Most of us think we don’t have time, but trying new things doesn’t have to strip away hours of your life. Time is precious – I get that. A break in routine can be as simple as creating a new meal you would never usually choose, or choosing a different route to go down while you’re taking the dog out for a walk. Why not watch a documentary instead of the same old, repetetive show you watch out of habit? Buy a plant and watch it grow along with your writing.

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However, if you’ve got more time on your hands and want to be more adventurous, why not take up an exercise class, volunteer for a local charity, or join a local book club? Meet new people. After all, aren’t people key to creating new stories? Or if you’re feeling really out there, try your hand at hiking up a mountain, skydiving, or even swim with sharks!

Jump into new experiences. With that, you’ll have a whole new breadth of story ideas. You just need to brave enough. And I know you can do it.

3) Take a Breaktumblr_ml7vv56i7D1r0chkzo1_500

Not all of us can crack out 5,000 words a day (and those that can are either extremely dedicated or – dare I say it – superheroes!) – some of us have full time jobs to work, children to care for, the house to run, and bills to pay! Oh, and take the dog for a walk. We can’t do everything at once.

But if your writing is getting you down, just remember it’s okay to take a break. Sometimes, it’s what our body – not to mention our mind – needs. So what if you didn’t make that final wordcount? So what if you haven’t written a good scene or tight piece of dialogue in forever? We are only human. We all need to take a break every once in a while. Since we’re not mindless machines, sometimes it’s good to kick back and relax and spend some time with our family, live a little, and laugh. It’s been scientifically proven that we all need to take some time out regularly to maintain a good, healthy working lifestyle – which helps kick our brains back into gear when the time comes to sit down at our desk.

A healthy balance between your writing life and your real life can really work wonders. Otherwise, we might all just turn into robots. I don’t want to live in that world, do you?

4) Ignore Your Inner Editor

When I’m feeling burned out about my writing, I find it helps to set myself a timer and write as much as possible until that timer bleeps – without editing or looking back. I used to think this was impossible. Now, I do it all the time. Usually, one hour works best for me. It’s not too short; not too long. And it’s usually really surprising – and satisfying – to see the results.

Sometimes, turning your editing brain off while you’re writing can be all you really need to get back into that flow. But I understand. It’s hard. What you’re splurging out onto the page might well be utter rubbish, but what’s amazing about it is that you can keep the gold nuggets that trickle out and edit later. Sometimes, your creative brain can write out golden rainbows. Your editing brain just doesn’t always let you see it.

Try this out. You might be surprised what happens!

5) Write Something New!

Lastly, write something fresh. So your writing might be getting a little stale? Have you tried writing something else? Maybe you’ve been working on the same scene in a novel for weeks, possibly months, and it’s still just not feeling right. You never feel like you’re going to get it done. But take a step back for a moment and focus on something else. Instead of obsessing over what’s not working, try out something new.

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Why not write a poem, or write freeverse about anything you like; keep a diary, or dabble in that short story idea you’ve been putting off until after your current project is well and truly done. When a project starts getting stale, it’s usually a sign that your creativity is being stifled and you need to let your mind wander elsewhere. You can always come back to that novel scene – just with a fresher, less cluttered mind. Give your brain some room to breathe and be flexible with your creativity.

Don’t write yourself into a box.

Feeling Fancy Free?

So how do you feel now about your writing? Do you feel empowered and ready to push on with that article, that pitch, that story idea, or tricky poem that’s been bugging you for weeks? Sometimes, a fresh take on things is all we need to get tapping away at that keyboard again – or scribbling away in that journal. So go ahead and get out there. Write whatever you need to in order to get that tricky project done.

Just remember one thing: only you can write your story.

Who else in the world has the same past experiences and lessons learned as you do? That’s right: no one. You can use that. The whole world is full of endless material.

So, are you ready to write about it?

 

 

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Let me know how your writing is going in the comments! I’d love to hear about your projects.

Cornwall, Writing

Discovering the #5amWritersClub

Today I had a deadline. That deadline was for a local anthology celebrating Cornwall, written by Cornish writers.

When I was first asked to be involved with the project a few months ago, three emotions ran in loud succession through my head.

First, was joy. I was so happy I just got to be included! I’m always so excited to be a part of anything writing related – and the fact that it’s all about Cornwall? That was just a bonus on top of everything else.

Second, was inspired. Living in Cornwall, it’s hard not to be inspired by the landscape and the stories all around me. You only have to take a wrong turn or visit one of our busy little seaside towns, or have a picnic on our cliff trails to be struck by a story idea.

Third, however, was fear. With all that being said, what the hell was I going to write about?!

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Falmouth, Cornwall, at dawn

So, what’s this got to do with the #5amWritersClub, I hear you ask? Well, this morning I was pleased to discover that over on Twitter there is such a thing as the #5amWritersClub – a wonderful community of hardworking writers – usually working full-time, who communicate via Twitter about their current writing projects and cheer each other on simultaneously. The only thing you need to be a part of it? You must write at #5am, in order to join. It’s a great morning wake-up call!

So I got up at 4am (I know, even earlier, right?), silenced my beeping alarm, and got down to it. And you know what? It was actually so beautiful to watch the dawn break across the sky and hear the morning birdsong of feathered friends so early while the rest of the world was asleep – all the while tapping along on my keyboard until my short story draft was finally finished at 6am.

The #5amWritersClub is a great way to meet new people and communicate globally across the world with writers just like you – either with a deadline to catch, or an ongoing project they’re committed to. It’s friendly, it’s fun, and it’s free! What’s not to like?

Later on, (after I got sent home from work for being too poorly and grabbed some sleep), I snatched a chance to write out in the garden with the sunshine burning down on my back. It was blissful, aside from being full of flu and gross, gunky eyes.

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I had my writing plants to spur me along and actually had a pretty productive afternoon, writing blog posts, editing manuscripts and writing an article piece for a local newspaper.

Who says you can’t write when you’re ill?

So if you’re an early riser, or want to dip your toe into a pool of new writer friends, why not try out the #5amWritersClub? They’re a happy bunch, I promise!

Poetry

Somewhere For You And For Me

Waiting for the light to pull open my eyes,

I wake to the still morning with you by my side,

While the birds twitter on and sing their golden song,

I’m reminded of things past, of treasure long gone.

 

For there once was a time in the morning light hue,

When I would wake to pen and paper and write only of you,

But now I am lost and stuck for what to say,

Could you come back, just once, and lie where I lay?

 

But, no, you could never for these things are all wrong,

And where glass once shattered, it now stands firm and strong,

So give me a time where I longed only to be,

In my heart of hearts somewhere true for you and for me.

 

Photo credit.