What do you picture when you think of the writer? A recluse, working in the half-light of winter or in the sun-kissed parklands of summer? Novel thoughts that flow through dainty calligraphy on tanned pages? Web string ideas that will one day sit proud and hardbacked in Waterstones or Foyles. Half an hour to transpose to pixel, twelve weeks to complete, another month or two for luck.
If that’s the vision, let me grace you with the reality, as I find myself propped in a generic coffee shop. The table is scratched as a post, the air sticky and the green chair worn away to the bare threads. There is only one word for it, uninviting. But what does it matter? My leggings are peppered with rips and holes anyway, the stains and the marks, it’ll wash out.
A train goes past, one of those piddly little things that carry children at walking pace, no, slower than that, a snail’s. The driver sounds its electric toot-toot as it crawls by, my right ear left ringing while my left is pumped with coffee grinding and the tinny music of overhead Electric Light Orchestra. The best ambiance £2.25 of tea can buy. I sip the cold fluid with a grimace, bitter and stewed.
It’s gone 18:00, my hair is wet with grease and my young face slightly more etched from another exhaustive day at the office-come-dining table. Eyes swollen, fingers twisted. I worked through lunch, which every psychologist from here to Timbuktu will say is a one-way trip to an early grave, but the extra hour of toil then means an extra hour of freedom now. A fragment of bliss with a half-eye on time. Later, a stranger beckons at my door to collect dusty offcuts from my garage; he won’t negotiate on the timings and I really could do with that £20.
Writers are leather beaters, we take the skin of an idea and scrape, beat and dunk until that piece of flesh returns gold. Sometimes our elbows linger for too long in foul-smelling liquids that the only thing golden is our stained skin, saturated with stench.
Write. Write harder and faster and quicker and smarter and eloquently, until your fingertip pads run smooth and your skin cracks with effort. That’s what writing is. I’d consider myself a very successful woman indeed if I were ever to stumble across my work in a library or charity shop. Maybe that makes me simplistic, or maybe that makes me even more of a dreamer. I scrub my manuscript some more.
I started putting keyboard to laptop in 2014 on little more than a whim and utter boredom, to fill lonely nights in a strange town I barely knew. Eight years later I find myself plagued with a parasitic urge I can barely comprehend. What time is it? When did I last eat? How long before the staff spot my empty cup and kick me to the curb?
I don’t write because I want to, I write because it is an addiction. Leave hollow hope be for there is nothing to be saved.
My colourless eyes glance sideward as the same empty train edges closer once more.
This piece was kindly sponsored by Ben Miller, who spotted my business card on a noticeboard and commissioned me to write a post on “Why I Write”.
Five minutes to type-up a quick review of a recent read. This time, I’m reviewing Seltzer’s collection of ten short stories in her anthology, “Ways of Living”.
Five Minute Book Review: “Ways of Living” by Gemma Seltzer
In this collection many of Seltzer’s short stories can be traced back to common, yet very relatable, themes. It feels quite apt that I’m writing this whilst buried deep in oversized lounge wear, cup of tea to my left. Isolation, personal loss, the constant readjustment of itchy face coverings; these aren’t always the most comfortable visualisations, but the ones we can readily embrace.
The anthology is set around working and living in London, drawing a lot on the author’s Jewish heritage and personal research within broad and diverse communities. Light humour peppers the emotional undertone of most stories, such was the case in Parched, with its protagonist who can’t stop crying, or the surreal tale of a woman who takes to believing her deceased mother is still alive and living in her coat (Some Women Carry Silence in their Pockets).
What Would You Have Said?, depicting the fallout of an enforced office policy of “Quiet Wednesdays” (with strong inklings of Blackmirror) and Handover, a tale about a friendship breakup, introduces some interesting topics for broader discussion. For instance why, in an age where people aren’t as geographically fixed as they used to be, doesn’t popular culture mourn the loss of friendships as much as romantic relationships? Maybe it’s a more generational problem as much as anything else.
These short stories were a nice quick-read during busy working days from home. A moment of urban escapism, within four magnolia walls.
Can I just start with the most middle-class, Cotswold drama to have occured this year at Christmas. Mumma B, setting her prized oven mits on fire, by accidentally placing them over a Yankee candle.
The best bit? Mumma B’s first reaction to my panic was to assume the vegetables were boiling over. I don’t think it quite trumps the time I dropped the Michael Buble Christmas CD in a tray of turkey fat, but it’s a close second.
Letters, Books, Pigeons: Christmas 2021
I’m going to start as we mean to go on, with this:
You know what? The more times I watch it, the more times I think there is nothing in here the great George Michael and Andrew Ridgley of Wham! would take issue with.
From the soundtrack to the casual bit of inter breed dating, I only hope, and I truly mean this from the bottom of my heart, that George Michael was able to watch this before his death in 2016.
(And if you think any of this is tragic just remember, this wasn’t even the worst thing I came across. Nowhere near.)
I’m Dreaming of a White…Pigeon
When it comes to Christmas, everyone has a different interpretation for what festivities look like. Some people have robins in snow, in Swindon we’ve got pigeons bathing in overflowing waste drains.
Beggars can’t be choosers.
While I’m not one of those who puts up decorations super early, I am a fan of Christmas when it does come along. Anything to get me over the trauma of Halloween.
Genuinely can’t be trusted to watch a 12-rated spook film without freaking out at the slightest jump-scare. Years it took me to get over Disney’s The Haunted Mansion, years.
I put up my tree…
…and proceded to smash up my beloved retro starburst clock, by attempting to hang lights off it. The entire glass dial, smashed into a trillion bitty pieces.
Mazel Tov! (Oh, wait, that’s the wrong religion.)
It’s always nice when Jesus graces you with his presence when you’re out and about shopping, even if his eyeless sockets are a little bit menacing.
We buy all these presents, yet not one of them is for him? So humble.
And I’m not going to lie, arguably the gifting has already peaked this year. That happened recently when my family teamed up to buy me a whole set of matching Next kitchenware.
My goodness, it’s so beautiful.
Huh? Sorry, what were we talking about? Oh yeah, presents.
I mean, at the same birthday I also got given this:
Honestly, the embarassment of opening this in front of my family, alongside Next kitchenware. Not just that, reading the blurb out! Trust me, it gets worse. Deary me, my cheeks were not ready for that leavel of red. (Thanks Matt, mission accomplished!)
Now this, this is the sort of tat I can get into.
(But not buy.)
Hang on a second, I’m sure I’ve seen something like this before.
My goodness, talk about nerve!
That was on sale for £2 less in 2019!
It set me up to be in a right unimpressed British emoji-type mood when my younger sister pointed this sign-board out to me.
No, just no.
Ignoring all of the random shop items, this year my best purchase has to be, without a shadow of a doubt, my new fountain pen.
I bought the pen, then proceeded to Google how to make it work.
There’s definetely something ironic in using the internet to lookup the basics of how to use a pen.
One of my favourite things I like to do every year is write Christmas cards. This year, with so many of my colleagues based overseas that meant a bit more spent on stamps but heck, they’re worth it.
I’m still at the stage of life where I don’t have five million of them to write out, and/or pressing life matters that see every night booked up from 1st August, through to 15th January. I can treat myself to the odd night of pure card-writing, jotting out personalised notes to those nearest and dearest. It gives me a kind of buzz.
What can I say? Some people have alcohol, I have cards. We both have wrecked tounges.
Terrible Christmas Films (No, Really)
When I write cards, wrap presents etc, I tend to stick on one of those terribly wonderful Hallmark-type Christmas films on. Predictable and, I used to think, unoffensive. That was, until I saw this clip:
THEY DON’T EVEN EAT THE FOOD!!
What kind of dining-out date is this? Nu-huh, I’m sorry mate, you can stop juggling those oranges, because if I’m not getting a look-in on that Tupperware box, then you ain’t getting this.
(Close friends have also pointed out countless other things that make no sense in this montage, however I’m sticking firm on the lack-of-food being the absolute worst. Three words; girl, gotta, eat.)
On that note… *returns to phone to scroll through her tailored Facebook adverts*
Serves me right for being an insomniac. And, on the topic of sleep, a late night pop to the shops to buy some milk and I spot this:
“…Does it come with a receipt?”
Oh, hey! Almost forgot. It’s December now, so that means my diet is even more whacky than other months* (*let’s be honest, my diet is hardly enviable). Did someone invite me to go around all the coffee shops, drink gingerbread lattes and not eat anything until evening, when I have a three course meal?
(Not that I ever want to have a three course meal, even two courses is an extreme for me, but because it’s December suddenly that’s a thing. Gonna get me a sweet, sweet latte, bigger than my tiny wrist can hold.)
Anyway, yes, yes that’s me. And I will read a book in there and no, you will not have a hope of kicking me out until at least two hours have passed, and not a minute before.
Unrelated note, does anyone else get life this after getting heavily involved with an emotional book?
“Walking through the dark and cold drizzel of town, after a 2+ hour coffee shop reading session. So full of mixed emotions right now, I genuinely don’t know whether to cry or feel inspired. Just me, or does anyone else have to take a lie down when the book feel get this intense?”
Turns out, it’s just me.
“Ink not coming out of fountain pen” is a niche search entry, I’ll give you that. Maybe not quite as popular as Ariana Grande but heck, you’ve gotta keep these traditions alive.
You know what? Stuff it! I’m just gonna book myself on a professionally accredited course to learn about unicorn magic…
…and go watch the Swindon Wildcats play down the local rink.
In fairness, it was such a good game.
Wait, There’s More!
Before you go, remember that video I included at the start of this post? Well, guess what? The creator only went and made an improved version and/or (to be honest I’m not entirely sure which) sequeal a few years later! Yeah, I know!
Better still, the soundtrack features the musical stylings of Cascada, covering Wham!
This post is dedicated to my lovely little sister, Bubba B.
It’s also dedicated to my old photo achieves I’ve been trawling through with zero regard to common decency. She let me take these photographs, she knew what she was signing herself up to five/six years later.
(At least that’s what my lawyers will say.)
*Cough* anyway, here we go.
My Sister, On…
My Sister, On…Contemporary Art
My Sister, On…Prehistory
(My Sister, On…World Domination of Prehistory)
My Sister, On…Geology
India On…Hipster Coffee
My Sister, On…Making Friends
My Sister, On…Interior Design
My Sister, On…Cultural Portrayals of the Female Body
My Sister, On…Wine Tasting
My Sister, On…Home Removals
My Sister, On…Interpretive Dance
My Sister, On…Travel
My Sister, On…Motivational Talks
(And finally – for now) My Sister, On…Questionable Photography
There you have it! Stay awesome, sister of the sea.
(PS, because no one is perfect…)
Yeah, I’ve no idea either.
(There may be an “Alice On…” sequel, or two, coming soon.)
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Candles, erosion excitement and a scurvy-inducing diet, we’ve got all the reasons (and more) why I’ve quite possibly still yet to become one half of a “smug couple”.
Why Alice is Still Single…Probably
First Things First
I can’t help that a pandemic happened.
I don’t proactively choose to shun humans (Yeah, I’ll call up my insurance firm now. “Hello, I’d like to record my profession as ‘Aspirational Spinster’ please? What do you mean, that’ll increase my premium?”)
Although, for the benefit of reassurance, I am attracted to humans.
(But I am also attracted to that part of YouTube.)
I’ve Made My Memory Foam Bed, and it Serves me Well
I live where I live and do what I do. And before you give me that Sliding Doors baloney, “if only you’d taken that fictional job somewhere else, then maybe things would be different”, I mean, sure but…
A) Not God.
B) There are loads of amazing things I’d have missed out on.
C) I lived in London for a year and guess what? Despite getting my bag stuck in the Tube countless times and missing countless more trains altogether, John Hannah still didn’t show up and I’m still not Gwyneth Paltrow.
(But at least my accent isn’t that grating.)
My Cooking is Beyond Questionable
Case in point, I routinely eat leftover Chinese with pasta. I call it “East Meets West” (no, really, I do).
I know what you’re thinking and yes, I am the kind of girl who brings a stapler and a rack of business cards to dinner (and you thought the Chinese was hot stuff).
As a rule of thumb, the dishes I cook involve three ingredients. E.g. scrambled eggs: eggs (no milk), bread, butter for bread. Soup: tin of soup, bread, butter for bread. Chips, fish fingers, peas.
I also routinely snack on dry cream crackers.
I’m Not in the Market of Being Someone I’m Not
I’m so out of habit with makeup I barely wear it nowadays. The idea of putting all this stuff on my face to create something to satisfy everyone but me just doesn’t do anything for me (you can’t see your own face after all).
Looking at this from a positive angle, this is presently the worst I’m ever going to get:
*Well, excluding when I’m chilling out in the back of Shoreditch clubs.
Everything Excites Me…But Men
Things like having David Nicholls, author of One Day, like my Tweet:
(Reason .5 for staying single – I like using words like golly)
I also like seeing the effects of coastal erosion on tiny pebbles:
I didn’t even care they only were available in a men’s size. Why? Because I’m now the proud owner of Picasso socks. Duh.
It doesn’t take much to get me excited, but on the downside, it doesn’t take much to get me excited. I don’t need a guy to be the *sole* provider of my joy…unless you have Picasso socks. And yes, pun intended.
I Have Awesome Friends
Granted, things are a smidge surreal at the moment, but I still have my girl (and guy) friends. And if I can’t meet up with them in real life, I still can connect with them digitally.
Dressing up and dancing around my bedroom, it’s like the teenage years I never had. Back when I was too busy wearing jeans and playing about with hair straighteners and knives.
Oh, Cotswolds, you do crack me up.
Nb, that was taken on my eighteenth birthday. Disney need to do a rerun of that film, 13 Going on 30.
We’ll call it 30 Going on 13, and it’ll be 90 minutes of me struggling to comprehend water installations in urban environments:
Ten years on and I’m still trying to work them out.
Hmm, I think we’ve gone a bit off topic somewhere around here. What were we discussing, again? Oh yeah, why I’m single.
Me, Myself and I; We’ve got Our Own Thaang Going on
I Already Have an Interim Solution, and it’s a Candle
I can’t quite fathom how Glade have done this, but I swear this candle smells like a ‘best of’ man collection. It’s kinda musky and has a nice cologne-like secondary smell. I think it’s a honey and chocolate combo.
I can’t share the smell, but trust me, it’s solid. And no, I’m not backing down on this.
And Then There Are the Creeps
Ooh! Bear with, just got a new match.
Right, let’s open this up…
Your best bet is to cook me something with four ingredients, invest in quirky socks and dip yourself in molten wax.
Guess what? I’m eighteen years old in that one too.
I need to get into teen movies. Where is my non-existent agent?
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“The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there” – L.P. Hartley
A year ago today, I returned from a London city break and published my first post. I’d spent a year living in the UK capital, so for me it marked a refresh of the best bits of city-living, including art galleries, theatre performances and catching up with old friends.
Days after my return I was left encumbered, battling a mystery illness. Those following weeks I pressed on the best I could, putting it down as another one of those viruses which circulate in densely populated environments. A year later I’m no closer knowing what struck me down; we all have our theories.
Back then, my friends and I had whimsically noted the high-adoption of face coverings being worn by the predominantly Asian tourist base. We mused on the foreign illness that was gripping other continents, but to comprehend the possibility that our own country could already be rife with disease was a step too far. We were better than that, we were British. Instead, we continued to pack ourselves into dense sweats to watch live music, feasted in noisy restaurants and embraced fondly.
If only we’d known.
So, with perhaps a naively romanticised view of what were truly the last days of normality (late January 2020), here are all four parts of London Recalling.
Just a quick reminder that I’m still here, earning tumbleweed from my writing (well, actually, tumbleweed would at least be something…)
A big, big thank you to those who have donated so far (you lovely people know who you are). For those less aware, I have an active donation page called Buy Me A Coffee, a platform which helps creatives get money doing what they love and keep producing content for their fans.
If not for me and my coffee spilling antics, it’s worth checking out to discover some hidden gems from people across the world.
I’m always reviewing the page and just recently added two funky new extras you can buy as a one-off. Check out the website to find out more.
Thank you in advance!
This isn’t a sponsored post. Support an unpaid writer like me by donating to my funding page: Buy Me A Coffee
In response to the frequently asked question “hey, Alice, when do we get to read your book?” here is a list of genuine reasons why I haven’t and why I’m not sorry for it.
My manuscript (at time of writing) is c. 70,000 words and nearing 200 pages. That’s a lot, but I want to make it up to the 80,000 mark. My History dissertation back (in 2014) was 10,000 words and took a year of solid research and writing (with no distractions). Go figure.
I realised three weeks ago at least half of it needed rewriting.
I’ve spent about six weeks working on the opening extract (first 5000 words).
I have a full-time job which I have continued to do throughout pandemic.
Up until mid August, I had only take one day off of my allocated annual leave. One day, in all of 2020.
I have to do human things; shop for food, eat, sleep, poop etc.
Shoot me, I get writers’ block/creative fatigue.
Covid-19. Just Covid-19.
I commute frequently from family home to the actual home I pay a mortgage on. A 1.5 hour car journey will just about sap up any energy you got.
Some days I really can’t be bothered to write.
Some days I really write a load of rubbish.
Believe it or not, I do other creative exploits. All writers need the satisfaction of quick-win completion, which is why I’ve also been writing more short stories. I can’t post these on the blog, because then I’d be unable to make money from them at a later date and/or submit for competitions. A ‘short story’ for me is 2000 words. Nine pages (double-spaced).
Bio: “This week I speak to the new Mayor of Stratford, Councillor Tony Jackson, and find out exactly what it is a Mayor does, and to Sophie from Happy Paws in the Shire, about doggy holidays to the beach and fussing and feeding our feline friends. I also speak to local blogger, Alice, who writes the blog ‘My Housemates A Mermaid’, about her very interesting housemate, and she shares her lockdown poem with us.”