Get to know me – Q&A

Hello there!

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Me at Speedy’s Restaurant in London – aka where the BBC Sherlock series is filmed. It was a very good day.

I’ve seen quite a few bloggers do this, specifically my friend Meg, (I’ve stolen your questions I hope that’s okay!) and I decided it might be a good idea for me too, since I’m relatively new to this and I think it’s only fair you know who you’re talking to. So, here we go. I hope you find this somewhat interesting…

1. Are you a morning or night person?

Well…I might actually have to say neither. I’m sort of in the middle. Is that normal? I like staying up late but only when I’m alone on my laptop, otherwise I just get really tired and irritable! Likewise, I like having a lie in some mornings but not too late otherwise I feel unproductive and like I’ve wasted the day. Do you see what I mean? I’m very versatile to be honest. I can do both.

2. Describe yourself in 5 words.

Creative. Driven. Interested. Honest. Resilient.

Sounds a bit arrogant, doesn’t it? Maybe if there was a sixth one I’d add emotional or something. Or bad at spelling… but shh! I’m trying to sell myself here. No one ever writes the bad things online, do they?

3. Any guilty pleasures? 

If enjoying Will Young’s music counts as a guilty pleasure then…yes.

Joking aside, other than that, no not really. I’m not guilty about the things I do and like because I don’t really care what anyone else thinks of them, you know? If I enjoy it (and it’s not ridiculously weird) then I’m not ashamed of it. Unless you count spending my entire yesterday binge watching Peep Show. I suppose I am slightly ashamed of that.

4. Any tattoos or piercings? 

No. I don’t know, they’re not really for me. I might get a tattoo someday, but I’m not too fussed. I struggle with the decision of what sandwich to buy for lunch let alone choosing a pattern that would permanently mark my body.

5. If you could visit anywhere in the world, where would you go?

Everywhere really, apart from all the generic boring tourist places like Ibiza (ooh I know – so unorthodox!). I’d like to see everything, from the busiest cities to the most remote jungles. I find countries that are the most different to my own (England) the most fascinating.

6. Summer or Winter?

This is a funny one because I can’t decide. This winter I was moaning about how fed up I was of the rain (I know, typical Brit) but then now it’s really hot I’m craving the days of scarves and hot chocolate. So I suppose neither. Autumn or spring are probably the nicest.

7. What is your favourite drink?

Gotta say chocolate milkshake, or maybe a Coke if it’s from a restaurant with ice (it just tastes so much nicer with ice, doesn’t it?)

8. What’s your go-to outfit? 

Loose fitting jeans and a baggy jumper, there is no comfier, more content way to be.

9. Favourite blogs?

This is tricky because I don’t actually read that many. I suppose:

  • Meg (As I mentioned earlier) Has a blog similar to mine but a bit more personal with interesting bits and bobs from her life. Lifestyle, beauty and travel.
  • Tiffani  A bit like Meg, Tiffani is quite personal on her blog and it’s lovely. There are lots of pieces really, book reviews, articles, opinion columns, poetry…oh and Lush products. If you like them then that’s the place to go.
  • Carys  Is one of my closest friends who has her travel/adventure blog. The place to go for amazing photographs and inspiring stories.
  • Olivia  Another brilliant travel blog, all about adventure and saying yes. Again another friend – I was there when she started it!
  • Jasper Is an incredible filmmaker and blogger and photographer and writer and just ugh, everything. Jasper is really cool and it makes me jealous, jokes. But also not please share some of your skills with me. (I know Jasper in real life too, it’s fine, he will get this.)

10. Can you cook?

Ahahaha, no. University is going to be a laugh. I can do toast, pasta and soup and anything else that is basically really easy. But that’s about it. I could do it if I made an effort and followed the instructions – but who has time for that? I tend to just chuck it all in the pan.

13. Are you a tidy or messy person?

Definitely a messy person. I wish I wasn’t, really. But I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s just part of who I am. My bedroom is a mess. I always get crumbs on the table, occasionally spill soup in my car… that sort of thing. (The soup incident did actually happen.) It’s not attractive really, is it?

I don’t think I’m annoyingly messy, though. I’ll always clear up after myself and I do tidy my room at least once a week. And I never let anything get messy or lost if it’s important, like work or study.

13. What are the small things that make your day better?

Texts from people I love. Photos of cute animals. A nice news story. Writing on my phone. Messages from friends on Instagram. Comedy on the radio. The feel of a warm cup of tea in my hands. Gripping the steering wheel as I turn a corner. Taking photos. Fresh air. My cat rubbing against my legs. Chewing gum. Books on the train. Music. Laughter.

All that lovely stuff.

14. Are you always early or late?

Traditionally I’ve always been a late person because my family are very disorganised. But in the last year I’ve had a lot more control over my life and how I travel (I got a car) and I’m not late anymore. Definitely not for anything important at least.

15. What was the last film you saw?

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.

Not like that was predictable or anything.

16. Biggest fear?

I guess dying or becoming seriously ill because then I’d lose everything I have, and never be able to do all the things I’ve always wanted to do. Being denied the chance to have a good career or have a family would be pretty devastating.

17. What did you do for your last birthday?

Travelled to France with my family. Pretty dull to be honest.

18. Do you believe in love at first sight?

Definitely not. I believe in finding someone attractive and having an emotional connection, but love? No. That comes afterwards.

19. Favourite film?

It has to be Skyfall, from the James Bond movies. I won’t say too much about why because I’m already writing a post on all my favourite films and we wouldn’t want to spoil that, would we?

Finally, thank you.

Thank you so much for reading this. I’m both surprised and grateful. It’s not the kind of post I would normally write but for once I felt like it, and it was a lot of fun.

On that note, I just want to say a proper thank you to anyone who has read my writing because I’ve really enjoyed blogging properly these last few months. It’s been fun, and my words have been far better received than I ever expected them to be. It feels very nice, thank you, and it inspires me to keep going every time I read an encouraging comment or see a hit on my page.

Please don’t hesitate to contact me on social media (Twitter, Instagram), if you ever want to chat about any of the posts I’ve written or topics I’ve talked about. I’d love to hear from you and I’m always open to making new friends.

I hope you’re having a wonderful day.

Em xx

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Waving goodbye to the assholes in life

Have you ever been stood at a party or someone’s house, staring into the eyes of a ‘friend’ who just insulted you or made a rude joke at your expense, and thought to yourself: why am I here?

I have.

Throughout secondary school I made some new friends. Funnily enough, people actually warned me not to be friends with them before I even was, but I still got close anyway. You know, being all lonely and insecure like I think most teenagers are when they’re twelve.

Time moved on, and I’m not going lie, we had a great few years – and I’m not salty about that. I will always treasure those memories. But a couple weeks ago the relationship finally turned sour, which I think a part of me had always expected really, considering the type of people they were.

It doesn’t mean there wasn’t some degree of hurt, though.

I’m not going to delve into the details, obviously. But it didn’t end well. When I saw they’d been deliberately malicious (again), I took a deep breath and did what I’d been meaning to do for months: wipe them from my life. This meant unfriending them on social media and leaving some Facebook group chats. It meant taking down the old photos on my wall and resisting the urge to tear them up. It meant moving on, for good.

And there’s no going back.

Now, this may sound like an immature move from me, but actually I don’t think it was. It wasn’t a rash decision, I took weeks and weeks to think about it, and I decided I wasn’t gaining anything from their presence in my life anyway.

It had become a toxic friendship that mainly left me feeling sad and unhappy; and that is not one I wish to partake in any longer.

So on that day, after a few surprisingly easy clicks, they were gone. Poof. And I definitely feel better for it.

The reason I think it’s important to talk about this is because I’ve just experienced a fairly normal situation in life, and some of you may encounter it too. A particular Tumblr post I spotted the other day  (created by the online counselling college) is worth mentioning here. My old friends literally ticked every box. Every. Single. One. So here are a few questions that you could apply to your own situation – if you ever find yourself struggling with this problem.

When feeling unhappy in a friendship/relationship, ask yourself:

1. What am I getting from this relationship? Is this person there for me when I need them most? Do they build me up and bring out the best in me?

2. Is this friendship draining, or is it mainly negative? Do I feel like I’m being used? Are things always about them?

3. Can I be genuine and real – and just myself – with this person? How are they likely to react if I share my honest thoughts?

4. Do they care about my feelings, my views and opinions? Or do they treat my like an object whose feelings don’t count?

5. Am I putting up with things because it’s started to feel normal? Am I scared that no one else would want to be my friend?

In my view, having no friends is better than clinging onto people who don’t treat you right. You’ve got to let go sometimes. People change and go in different directions. That’s fine. It’s okay to drift apart. It’s also okay to realise you’re not happy anymore and do something about it. That’s life. People move on. They will say horrible things sometimes. They will turn into people you thought they weren’t. They’ll surprise you. But their words don’t define you and your actions.

It’s fine to say you’ve had enough.

I hope, in my own humble experience, that I’ve been able to relate to some of you. I think this happens to everyone at some point, and it really can be a big deal, so let’s not be afraid to talk about it.

For me this is certainly a change, and hopefully a step in a new direction. I will never forget those friends, but I will never regret my decision either.

Adios, bitches.

Why writing fanfiction isn’t as crazy as you think

Fanfiction. Feared by all. Mothers hide away their children, teenagers joke and laugh or run for the hills. Most people probably won’t even know what it is.

But I do 😉

Of course, I’m joking, fanfiction isn’t really that bad. It is not a monster of any description, nor is it dangerous or evil, but it does have a bit of a bad reputation.

Before, when I was an ordinary person and not part of the so-called Sherlock fandom (a group of people who obsess over the BBC show – something I’ll get into another time) I didn’t really know what fanfiction really was, so here’s the definition for you:

Fanfiction: fiction written by a fan of, and featuring characters from, a particular TV series, film, book, etc.

So there we go, it’s as simple as that.

The fact is, no matter what way you wrap it, shape it, or slide it slyly into a conversation, fanfiction just ain’t cool.

Which is a shame really, because it’s the best thing I ever started writing.

The things people generally associate fanfiction with are nerds, weird sex, weird storylines, and generally very poor writing. While all of the above can be true in many cases – and hell, I have definitely read some weird and awful things – that’s simply not the truth about it.

Fanfiction is creative writing. It is taking characters or a setting that people already know and doing your own thing with it, and that is SO much fun; both for the readers and the creators.

I have read tragic love stories, fast-paced action, historical fiction, thrillers, you name it, if you want it from your favourite TV show, it’s probably out there waiting for you – you just have to find it.

And the best bit is the majority of it is not bad – not by any stretch. Some of the stuff I’ve read is actually better than the original work it was created from. The writing can be excellent, the stories can match the length and depth of any bestselling book, and it’s all created by talented volunteers who do it for free – simply for the love of writing.

Isn’t that great? Shouldn’t we be celebrating that?

I definitely think so, but for some reason it’s not talked about – or not in a good way at least. I guess with popular shows such as Sherlock it might be becoming slightly more mainstream, but I think we’ve still got a long way to go yet.

So, the next question is, where can you find these alleged pieces of art?

Well here is a list of popular fanfiction websites:

  1. Archive of Our Own

This is the main site – and the one you really want to be using because it’s where everyone and everything good is. A non-profit organisation that was established by fans in 2007, the site was literally created to serve and share the many forms of fanfiction. It’s mainly for writing, but you can also upload and view fan art among various other things.

Now, as a website, it can seem slightly complicated at first, but trust me it’s really great. You just have to stick with it. This is where you’ll find the highest quality and longest stories. You can search by the amounts of kudos (likes) or hits (views) to filter the best from the worst. You can also search by specific ships (couple pairings) or fandoms (TV shows/films) to get exactly what you want.

The best thing about this website – meaning it ranks higher than anything else in my opinion – is that it uses a list or news feed based system. So no matter how many subscribers you have or how many works you have previously posted, when you publish something, even as a complete and utter beginner, it will go on a certain list based on its tags and/or fandom and get views.

This is really great for creators because it means everyone gets the opportunity to interact and engage with an active and friendly audience – regardless of follower count or experience. The bottom line is, if your work is good, then it’ll probably get read.

This is where I do all my writing and reading and I would definitely recommend it over anything else. You can also upload original works too! It doesn’t even have to be fanfiction at all if you don’t want it to be.

  1. Wattpad

I didn’t really know what this was until people on Instagram started mentioning it, and to be honest I’m not really a big fan of this particular site. But I’ll tell you about it anyway.

Wattpad is a fairly recent creation. It’s more of an app than a website (although it can be used as both unlike Ao3), and it has a much larger following than any other writing-based app out there.

It gives anyone the opportunity to write and publish their own story online. The difference is that it’s centered around original works and novels rather than fanfiction (possibly why it has a much larger readership) which means there are all kinds of stories avaliavble – but fanfiction is still a prominent section.

The app is much clearer in its setup for writing and reading than any other and it’s generally easier to use. It is much more simple, compatible, and appealing, but sadly (in my experience at least) it is let down by a few major flaws.

-The writing quality is generally very poor. I don’t want to be rude but all the top works I’ve read on there are just awful, they really are – yet some have thousands of views. This is a mystery I am still yet to solve. You’re probably thinking it’s just me and my judgment, but honestly, check some of the works (specifically in the fanfiction section) and I think you’ll understand.

-When you upload a story it seems to get lost in the internet void. Unless you have a large social media following to promote your work, your story is unlikely to get views. It will just sit there forever, floating silently in the abyss, oblivious of any possible audiences or interactions. You will have to actively bring people to your website/profile if you want to get anywhere.

So this is definitely an option, and it does seem to be the latest thing people are talking about. But I’ve tried it and my personal advice would be not to bother.

  1. Fanficiton.net

Now I don’t know too much about fanfiction.net and I’m not going to pretend that I do. I know it functions well as a website and is fairly clear and easy to understand, but I don’t think it offers anything particularly new over Ao3, and when I joined a few years ago, it seemed like it was more for children rather than adults – if you get what I mean. I just didn’t like it, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be perfect for you if the other two didn’t appeal to you.

So those are the main websites I’ve come across. If you do actually want to start reading or writing fanfiction or just try something new, then perhaps test them all out and find what’s best for you, because I am only speaking from my own personal experience here and some people really love Wattpad and hate Ao3, so I suppose it’s just down to the individual.

But, websites aren’t the only places you can find fanfiction. People literally write and produce it for a living. Don’t believe me?

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These are all famous examples of works that originated from an earlier idea/book/story and are essentially fanfiction. They are all highly successful and popular in their own right.

So if there are people out there earning an actual living from it, why is it still considered shameful? Why do I brace myself for the good-natured teasing that inevitably comes when I  admit to someone I enjoy reading and writing fanfiction (and why have I used the word ‘admit’ as though I was guilty of something nasty?) Why is it the good-natured intent of the teasing still makes me feel like I’m doing something I shouldn’t be talking about in public, let alone admit to enjoying?

I don’t really know the answer, but I wish it wasn’t like that, because for all its stereotypes and flaws fanfiction can actually be very good. It’s what really got me into writing in the first place, and now I want to be an author and create my own original work. My dream is to publish a novel or write and direct my own screenplay. I enjoy reading and creating more than I ever did before, and more than that, I want to share this part of myself with people. I want to say to them, look at this story I’ve just created, without them thinking ‘oh, what a loser’ inside their head.

Above anything else, I want more people to give the bloody thing a chance so they can see its depth and beauty for themselves. There are so many talented authors out there, and so many people with the potential to grow into one. That just wouldn’t have happened to me if it wasn’t for fanfiction. I simply wouldn’t be so inspired to do what I do today: write

“I think fanfiction, or as it should be called, ‘Fiction’, is a wonderful thing and a brilliant way to start and continue writing, because it’s not self-indulgent in any way. Oddly enough, it’s the opposite of self-indulgent. You’re writing this, generally speaking, fan fiction for other people. You’re trying to entertain someone. You’re actively engaging in the business of storytelling. You will learn more from writing fanfiction or doing fan art, any of those things; you will learn more from doing that well, than you will from any writing course you go on. Because writing fiction of that kind is the job. It’s not like the job; it IS the job.

“Writing is not defined by whether or not you have successfully monetised it, although successfully monetising it is ace, it’s defined by whether or not you’ve written or created something people want and like. It is a brilliant and wonderful thing, and it is a joy to be involved in something that promotes and creates so much of it.”

-Steven Moffat, showrunner, writer and executive producer of the television series Sherlock and Doctor Who.

(I do not own copyright to any photos used in this article)

My visit to Hinton Ampner

Recently I visited a place called Hinton Ampner, which is a Georgian-style stately home and gardens in Hampshire, England, near to where I live. After receiving some unexpected interest on social media, I’ve decided to share a few photos and some interesting information I learnt about the place. Enjoy!

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The view from the back of the house. It was built in 1790 but then remodelled in 1867. When Ralph Dutton (1898 – 1985) became the owner it was remodelled again in a Georgian style to what it would have been like in 1790. It was also restored fairly recently after being badly damaged in a fire in 1960.

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The main sitting room, which was without a doubt my favourite room. I really liked the colour scheme and the splendour it had about it.
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This painting reminded me of Sherlock’s Reichenbach Fall, so I instantly took a liking to it.
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This was a treasure box used to hold all the interesting items that were found and collected in Georgian times.
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Beautiful books in the library. The best room of any house in my opinion!
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More books. Sorry, I couldn’t stop taking photos of them.
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I really loved the red wallpaper here.
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This was one of the rooms upstairs. For some reason, this image didn’t really come out as well as it should have done. I’m still adjusting to the camera on my new phone, so hopefully these will be better the next time I do a photography piece.
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My own photo of the front of the house. Sadly I couldn’t get one without people in the way!
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This was probably my favourite view, taken from the side. It’s the one place I remember most when I visited as a child.

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Yes, ok. I’ll admit it. I signed up for membership. At the tender age of 18 I have achieved granny status. Overall, I had a very nice trip. All the staff were friendly and inviting, and it was nice to be able to take photos, as a lot of places it is banned. I would definitely recommend a trip there if you happen to be in the area.

Is exam stress getting to you?

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It’s that time of year again, when parents increase the nagging by 110% and all the young people begin tearing their hair out. Yes, let’s cut to the point, we all know it’s exam season, and that means…

STRESS!

But never fear. I am here, as an actual young person who has recently lived through 15 years of the cruel education system and survived (with only a few minor breakdowns), to give you my humble advice. So, let’s get started, shall we? Here are my top tips:

  1. Try your best.

Ok, hear me out here, this is really important. The phrase on its own sounds stupid and meaningless and it’s probably one of the last things you want to hear right now, but this is literally the first step on the ladder to exam happiness.

Because the thing is, if you try your hardest then you won’t have anything to feel guilty about if you fail. It’s as simple as that. Maybe it’s just me, but the only thing worse than flopping an exam is knowing you failed because you didn’t try hard enough. If you tried your best, and actually put the time in; no one, not your teachers or your parents or even yourself can get mad. Because it’s literally not your fault. Exams aren’t for everyone, and perhaps you just had a bad day, a bad year, or a bad subject choice.

But that’s okay, there’s no shame in admitting that if you gave it a good shot. Some things just don’t work out. Maybe it was a really important exam, but they’re not everything. Breathe. Calm yourself. If you want to get somewhere you will. There’ll always be a way around it I promise (I’ll share some of my own examples later).

But how do you try your best? Really? You hear teachers say it all the time, but what does that phrase actually mean in this context? Well, here are some more detailed tips:

  • Start revising early. Just an evening here and there, or the occasional Saturday morning at the library. Just start. You don’t have to create a timetable if you don’t want to (because I find them incredibly annoying personally) but you should set yourself a goal. Something realistic such as an hour each day. It hurts to say this but you really should use the Easter holiday and half terms to revise too. Just a few hours in the morning, that sort of thing.
  • Organise your notes and go through everything systematically. Maybe this is just me, but I like knowing I have covered everything start to finish, so make sure you allow enough time for that. Be organised. Highlight and prioritise. Put things into folders. It helps, and can also be a good way to procrastinate.
  • Do past papers. This is really important. It’s amazing how many people (former me included) revise but never actually look at the past papers – except perhaps in lessons. You need to understand the answer’s they’re looking for and how to write them. (Commonly called exam technique). This is literally half the challenge of passing an exam in the first place, so don’t be one of those people that miss it out or leave it to the last minute.
  • Look up specific methods of how to revise and find what works for you. Mind maps, flashcards, extra classes, acronyms, the lot. There are hundreds of different ways to revise, and in school we’re rarely taught what to do when the time comes. So look these methods up, try them, and then settle for the one that works best. I personally like taking notes and then turning the newly learnt information into a question. This way when I go through and try and answer all of the questions later, I know if the knowledge has actually gone in or not. (And a lot of the time you’ll find that it hasn’t.)
  • Ask for help, seriously, don’t be afraid. I know a lot of you won’t have a problem with this, but I did. Teachers can seem evil (and I believe many of them are – especially at secondary school ) but the trick is to identify which ones aren’t and will help. Even the horrible ones will probably look at you differently if you turn up at lunch with a question. If your teachers won’t help then try a tutor, your parents, or your friends.

Right then, now that’s done, let’s back to the general revision tips:

2. Don’t revise in your bedroom (or an area where you regularly relax).

This is another bit of solid advice, because when you revise in your bedroom, you’re less likely to be in the mindset for work, and will get distracted. When you want to revise, make sure you get up (early is best, perhaps 9) shower and change, before going out somewhere and settling down in a new space. Try a quiet table in your house, a cafe or a library. This way you’re automatically ready to sit down and learn something in a work environment, unlike if you were just crunching on some toast in your pyjamas. I found going out to the library really beneficial, as it meant leaving the house and separating my home life from work. It’s also nice to get back and not worry about doing any more revision, because you’ve already done your bit for the day.

3. Get plenty of exercise.

It’s common knowledge that a healthy body leads to a healthy brain. Exercise can also improve your memory, so it might help to try and do some if you don’t already.

Now I know what you’re thinking, if you’re not a naturally sporty person exercise is horrible. I hated it at school, but trust me, doing it on your own terms is another experience entirely. Going out, whether it be for a walk, swim, or cycle, you name it, can be so refreshing. Taking an hour in the morning or the evening stops you from feeling like you’ve wasted the whole day inside revising. It also keeps you healthy, and really helps with your mental health. Whenever I start to feel myself slipping, I step up the exercise and time in the sunshine, and it really does help me feel better.

3. Put the phone away.

This point is pretty obvious, and I’m sure you don’t need me to say it, but we all get distracted by our phones sometimes. So make that urge even easier to resist by putting it out of sight. You can check it in one of your breaks, and use a computer (preferably not your own) to look things up instead. If you want to learn properly, then you just have to put it down.

It sucks. But it’s only a few hours, and the internet really isn’t going anywhere.

4. Reward yourself with regular snacks and treats. 

You did 45 minutes of solid revision? Yay! Go you, take a whole 15-minute break and get yourself a snack to celebrate.

Breaks are important. They allow our brain to relax and refresh so we’re ready for the next bit of learning. We can only concentrate for roughly 40-90 minutes anyway. So if you’ve done a sizable chunk of work, take a break, relax, and check your phone. You deserve it. I find setting a timer (say, 45 minutes?) and not moving for my break until that timer goes off is a great way to keep track of the revision you’ve achieved.

5. Get lots of sleep.

Gosh, I really am starting to sound like your mum here, I’m so sorry.

Life for a young person is stressful. I hate people who try and belittle our problems and pretend that it isn’t. Exams are stressful. Friendship/relationship drama is going on, and on top of all of this social media is constantly begging you to be checked and updated. It’s the biggest distraction in our modern society. It’s part of our lives now, and it can seem impossible to switch off (which is something no one over the age of 25 had to deal with when they were at school.)

I’m being a bit of a hypocrite here because I still struggle with this, but try and put the phone down get as much sleep as you can, mainly because it’s vital if you want to remember anything.

6. Keep your notes organised (and get lots of cool stationary)

I sort of already talked about this, but there is actually nothing more satisfying to look at than nice clear revision notes, trust me. Buy yourself a cute notebook and fill it with pretty gel pen colours and highlighters, whatever works. Ditch that boring black notebook your mum got you and go to town with a shiny rainbow one. Take pleasure in the small things, because for some reason, for me at least, it makes everything a little more bearable.

7. Try the Mind Palace Technique. 

This should excite any Sherlock fans out there. If you want to be a bit quirky, then you can try what I like to call ‘the Mind Palace technique’. This is where you create a load of posters or notes, and stick them up in different areas around your house; putting one on each wall in a room, or grouping them into subject topics or whatever. Then you run around every room calling out the information on each wall. (You might want to make sure no one else is in for this part.)

You can do it however you like. You could dedicate one room per subject, then split the topics up by using the walls, or use the whole house for a certain topic you’re struggling with. It’s completely up to you.

When you’ve finished running around like a lunatic and calling out names, sit down at your desk, close your eyes, and imagine yourself visiting each room and reading the information – which is how you remember it. I tried it for the theorists in my English Language A level, and I was surprised at how well it really worked. You will look like an absolute clown, but it’s worth it. If you like a more active way of learning, then give this a go.

8. Don’t surround yourself with other people who are getting stressed. 

There’s always that one friend who is constantly freaking out, and exams are no exception. (This includes any stressful online group chats you’re in too.) The people panicking may be nice friends, but their stress will only make you more stressed, which is really bad for your learning. Above anything else stressing out only wastes time and will just make you feel awful.

In short, avoid all the stressed people and just focus on yourself and your work. Like I said, if you’re trying hard, you shouldn’t have anything to worry about anyway. It will be fine.

9.  Read the timetable so you actually know the date of your exams. 

Have you ever heard your mum’s friend gossiping about that one child from your school who forgot the date of the exam once and actually missed it?

Don’t be that person. It may sound obvious but things like this can creep up on you. Make sure you know all the dates and note them down, and make sure you’re aware of exactly which questions you’ll have to answer too; as often it can be confusing in subjects such as English literature. Do your research and be prepared. Don’t be that one kid every year who attempts to answer all six 40 mark questions in an hour. They don’t tend to do very well.

My story:

Finally, I would like to share my story with you; because despite reciting all this advice, I have never been an A* student.

I don’t know where exactly it all went wrong at primary school, but I suddenly fell behind with the basics in English. I remember being put into special groups and workshops – so I suppose they did try and help me catch up – but by the time I reached secondary school there were some serious gaps in my knowledge. I did well in SATS and got placed in a fairly high English set, (because the tests were on creative writing and word association etc) but the truth was I suffered severely with spelling, punctuation and grammar.

I distinctly remember my first English lesson at secondary school. We did a spelling test out of twenty, with very basic words. But you know what I got?

Nine. Out of twenty. The next lowest score in the class was 17. I’m not going to lie to you, it was pretty embarrassing. I remember blushing and wanting to die on the spot. Yet, no help was given, and so, because I was too nervous to ask, I went through the majority of school not knowing the basics. I scraped along by copying friends and faking ill to avoid spelling tests, but when GCSE’s came along, I got a D. I retook it and got a C eventually, but I’d failed. Clearly, I wasn’t good at English, even though it was what I enjoyed most.

Despite this, I still wanted to take it at college, but you needed at least a B to study it, which obviously I didn’t have. However, (and I’m not a strong believer in fate) a miracle happened.

They messed up my GCSE results and I didn’t get the correct marks, which meant on the day of college enrollment, when they asked, ‘”But will you have a B when your proper results come through, right?” I panicked and said:

“Yes. Definitely. I think did really well in that exam.”

Ha. I started on the course, and low and behold, when my real results came through, it was not the B I had hoped for.

But it didn’t matter because I was already in! I was on the course! And they never checked to see what my actual grade was.

The first year of college began, and it was a bit like school. The struggle continued, I was too embarrassed to ask for help, and at the end of AS (the first part of A levels), it wasn’t really a big surprise to see I’d ended up with an E.

But did I give up?
Nope. I just filed for another retake.
Standing in that office, filling out that form, was the moment I realised that if I wanted to have any hope of being a writer, I was gonna have to buck my ideas up. Really. So that was it. I googled all the advice I could, I went to extra classes, followed all the tips I’ve just given you here and then really tried.
And it worked, in the end I got a B at A Level, something, at times, I never believed would be possible.
Now, a year on, I’m training to be a journalist at my local paper. I frequently have work published and have done freelance work, written short stories, poems, this blog; and in September I’ll be off to university.
I think I’m finally getting there. And I do believe I have what it takes to be a professional writer.
Exams. Aren’t. Everything. Grades don’t define you.
I didn’t even need high grades to get into the course I am on now. There will always be a way around things. You just have to be proactive and look for it. Of course good results help, which is why you should try hard, but they’re not everything.
If you want it you will get there. Just believe in yourself and try your best. You’ve got this.

Schizophrenia – A short story

Prompt:

‘Write a scene that takes place in a rose garden. (300 words)’

We meet on the same day, at the same time, of the same month, every ten years.

It’s what we agreed would be best, all that time ago.

The first year the winter was at its worst. The plants were brown and shrivelled and the grass crunchy underneath my feet. We sat on a bench at the far side of the garden. The towering brick wall supporting my back. He thought about holding my hand, I could tell, but he didn’t.

I hardly recall saying anything.

The next was a decade later, but he’d hardly changed. A few faded lines around the eyes, a new freckle; more obvious dimples in his cheeks. He seemed happier than the last time, like he’d almost forgotten.

That made me angry. I left and swore he wouldn’t see me again.

But he did. The third time I tried to talk to him properly. I needed closure. I explained what I thought we could do, and how we could see each other on a regular basis.

But after a silence, he shook his head and said “It would be too dangerous, Ann. You know that.”

It hurt because he was right.

I didn’t show the next time, or the date after. I was done with it, I told myself. I was done.

But at what is surely the final time, I am here. Stood in the old crumbling garden.

Yet now, he is not.

I stand for a while, the brambles and thorny rose bushes clasping at my ankles. My carer reaches out for my shoulder.

“Time to go,” She says. “Who were you supposed to be meeting?”

But my answer never materialises, because I can’t remember his name. I can’t even remember what he looked like.

Perhaps I’ll never remember what was real.

Why – A (very) short story

5 years old.

Alister’s face is unhealthily pale, like a sheet, his mother used to say. The rest of him is weedy and thin, a ragged mix of bones that stick out and ribs that occasionally show through his t-shirt. He has deep brown eyes that make people uncomfortable. This he knows because adults always fidget with their fingers and look away. Other children stare warily before turning their back.

But what he doesn’t understand, is why.

In fact, there’s not much he understands about the world that surrounds him. He doesn’t know why his mother is gone, and now that she is he misses her – with her mousy brown hair and faded smile – desperately. The memories he has are already starting to dissolve faster than he can stop them, cracking and deteriorating in his mind. Why wouldn’t she wake up that morning, with the glass bottle and collection of small white pills curled in her hand? And why was that hand stone cold?

He’ll never forget what that felt like.

But what’s most confusing is why she would leave him alone with father. Because father is horrible.

Six feet tall, with greasy coal black hair and hunched shoulders, he’s a brute of a man. His eyes are constantly bloodshot red; clouds of cigar smoke forever seem to shroud his face; cling to his beard. He shouts, never shaves, and almost always smells of whisky.

Alister’s not old enough to fully understand hatred yet, but he will. He’ll feel it tingling within every fibre of his being. Vibrating, constantly. Every minute of every day. It will burn within him like an unstoppable force, an untamable fire. A concept impossible to forget.

As the weeks slip by he starts to spend long days and sleepless nights staring out of the window in his bedroom, his big brown eyes dark and murky. He longs to hug the woman he never really knew; to sink into her arms and cry as she cradles his head, just like she used to.

But he can’t hug her ever again, and as he grows older, he realises it was his own father who made sure of that.

And he’ll pay for it.

 

*

 

28 years old.

Alister Thornley lets the chewing gum travel slowly to each corner of his mouth, pushing and easing it around with his tongue. He tilts his head back. Tonight is a good one. He’s lounging on the top of his very own apartment building, staring out across the purple-tainted skyline, watching as the cool evening air settles over the city. Sorry, his city.

London hums quietly beneath him. The faint sound of buses trundling across bridges, people travelling back to their homes; disappearing through their various front doors and turning the key.

But there isn’t one of them he couldn’t unlock. Not a single person he doesn’t, or couldn’t, control.

He takes another slow drag of his cigarette and exhales slowly, thinking, watching as the smoke swirls high into the sky above.

He hates reminiscing about his childhood, because it’s always a painful and predictable experience, but sometimes he forces himself to do it.

He can’t forget.

It’s good to remind himself exactly why he’s like this. Mad. Insane. Unstoppable. Smart. Intelligent like no one else is.

It’s better this way. He’s free from all the tiresome emotional baggage, from everything that could possibly make him vulnerable. He just has himself, the power of the world on his shoulders, and the occasional flashback.

I’m sorry she’s gone, Al. I didn’t mean to hurt her. It was an accident, she killed herself. I won’t hurt you again, I promise – please don’t –

They’re not traumatic though. Sometimes he just gets visions from the day that blood first stained his fingers. The sticky lukewarm liquid that wasn’t too dissimilar to his own, biologically of course.

He smiles.

Life ain’t too bad after all.