Living By The Sea

For almost all of my life, I’ve lived close to the sea. It has a special place in my heart and has always been a part of my everyday life, whether viewing out of my window or wandering along its beaches or up its piers. The last year especially, I lived in a tiny little fishing village. The sea was a stone’s throw away; the harbour visible from my window. As much as last year was cruel to me, I will very much miss being that close to the sea as now I’m living far from it. So, for today’s post I have decided to write about what it’s like to live in a tiny seaside village.

Writing a story set somewhere like that? Here are some things that are obvious, and some things that aren’t.

 

The Good Side

 

It’s almost guaranteed to be somewhere beautiful. The sea is beautiful all by itself. Small fishing harbours, cliffs, beaches – they’re pretty hard to mess up. The setting is good for the soul. As a writer, even the bad weather can be fantastically atmospheric. You know in those old films, where the wild literally howls? That actually happens. It’s easy to dismiss as creative hyperbole but there were times where I wasn’t sure if it was the wind or real voices. Between the wind and the haars—thick, rolling fog that devours everything from sight—even the bad days can really put you in the mood to write. And, if you’re a writer writing one of these dark, spooky scenes, you can take solace in knowing that this isn’t the fancy of some old, overly purple prose. Between screaming winds, consuming fogs, misty rains, and every other type of weather you can think of, there’s plenty of scope to put your characters in whatever atmosphere you need.

Even the tiniest, least touristy places are probably going to have at least one great ice cream shop. And, if you’re anything like me, if you live somewhere like this long enough then you’re probably not going to just save it for the sunny days. There’s nothing unrealistic about your character going out for ice cream in the rain.

Not always applicable if the town is more cliff than anything, but there’s a good chance you’re going to have a beach right there. Depending on what route I was taking, I’d have to walk across it to get to the shops. I skipped across stepping stones that crossed the river right where it met the sea as I walked home from dentist. Seaside towns, especially old ones, have weird layouts.

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In the summer, it becomes dog central. Now, I’m actually pretty timid around dogs but I can appreciate how darn adorable they are. Where do people who can’t afford to take dogs abroad or don’t want to put them into kennels go? The seaside. If soaking in the ambience of strangers’ adorable furry friends sounds like a good time to you, get yourself to the seaside in the summertime. Want a little extra authenticity to your summer seaside scene? Dogs.

There are other critters who are here all year round. Crabs, cockles, fish, jellyfish, sea birds, non sea birds (birds don’t give a damn) – a lot of cool things hang out in and around the sea, including some things you wouldn’t expect. Most people don’t generally consider mallards to be sea birds but you’ll still find them bobbing about close to shore.

 

The Bad Side

 

Winter sucks. And that’s speaking as someone who normally prefers winter to summer. My particular town took the full brunt of the North Sea winds, right in the face. And of course, it was an old town, full of beautiful buildings – which were all listed. That means no insulation, no double glazing, and a very unlikely chance of having decent heaters. We spent as much on heating over the winter as we did on rent, and we were still cold all the time. We lived in one room, because there was no way we could have afforded heating more than that. I couldn’t feel my toes until the end of March.

Every now and then, you’ll wake up ready to face another day, expecting to be gently rocked awake by the soft light of morning. It’ll take you a moment to realise that something is wrong. You frown, confused, and go to open the window. For some reason, you really need to get some fresh air in here. Only when you do, it gets worse. That’s right. We all know it, people are just afraid to say it. Sometimes that great majestic and mysterious body known as the sea quite simply just smells like farts. Often it’s subtle. Other times? It’s not. Just occasionally, it’s so thick you can taste it, like you’re stuck in a lift with that person. The entire town stinks and there’s nothing you can do. You’ve just gotta ride it out.

Another one that is easy to forget amongst the romantic idealistic idea of living next to the sea is that, depending on the town’s layout, there are occasions when the main road and the sea are the same thing. You’ll look out the window and think “wow, the tide’s really in toda- oh.” Good luck catching that bus! Always fun if you really just want to mess with a character’s day.

As mentioned previously, it gets busy in the summer. There’s people everywhere and they’re all in holiday mode. That means they’re walking slowly, taking up the whole pavement, and getting really confused and annoyed when someone is actually trying to hurry somewhere – the same type of people who’d probably kick a granny out of the way to get onto the train on their way to work. Anyone who lives in a holiday destination will probably know this already – people who are on holiday have the amazing ability to forget than not everyone is on holiday. Why in such a hurry, they wonder as they eat their ice cream cone. I wonder whoever sold them it, since everyone is on holiday. If your character is in a hurry in the height of summer, even if it’s getting into the evening, they’re probably going to have crowds to contend with. The town might not even have that many tourists but let me tell you, the older it is, the less it’s going to be designed to accommodate a lot of people.

This brings me to my next point. In the summer, every night is Saturday night. If your character lives between any pubs or restaurants and somewhere people might be staying, they’ll get to enjoy listening to drunks every night. Admittedly, I did have the worst of this as I lived right next to a pub. It was a poor choice.

Your character has a car? Great! They’re going to spend a lot of time swearing and/or parking really illegally. My partner and I used to have a game counting how many illegally parked cars you could spot in one place. The best we got was eleven on one corner. As you can image, this makes getting around—both on foot and by car—more tricky.

 

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That’s right. These bastards. They sit on roofs and squak, swoop down and steal your food, sometimes they just stand in the way and refuse to move. It’s even more annoying than you’d think to walk around a stubborn seagull. Like sure, I’m probably sixty times your weight but I’ll walk around you, bird. Great.  Stories of seagulls aggressively swiping things out of your hands or just point blank ignoring you as you try to walk past it aren’t exaggerated. They’re used to people. They don’t fear you. They don’t fear your character. Not even that cold blooded assassin of yours. They’re watching. They’re waiting. And, if you’ve got a poke of chips, they’re coming for you.

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Woodland Walk

It’s been a while, so how about a photo set?

It’s important when you’re feeling a bit down with writing to think about why you write and what inspires you to write. While I have trouble actually writing settings, I find pictures of places and walking places hugely inspirational. My mind instantly goes to all the amazing things that could have happened where I am, all the potential for adventures.

I’ve been struggling with edits a little so an impromptu forest walk yesterday helped kicked my mind into gear, especially as my characters are stuck in the wilderness at the moment. So here is a collection of setting inspiration pictures I took, I hope you enjoy and maybe even get a little inspiration yourself!

 

That’s all for today. Happy writing everyone!

 

Chilly Inspirations

Writing has been hard this week. There’s been a lot going on in the world and it isn’t the sort of stuff that can be tuned out when you need to be productive. So, today I thought I’d share some pictures I took this morning to inspire myself and my settings. Sometimes the best thing to do is stop and look under our own feet when we need some time out.

So, I hope you enjoy some chilly photos from Scotland!

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The morning was so still that the canal was a perfect mirror. A few of the trees were clinging to their last traces of green for the year, soon to turn into skeletons for the winter.

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The sun spilling through the trees as it rises over the hills and the last of the mist is burnt off.

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A shadowy spot behind the denser trees, the sun beckoning me forward.

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The camera doesn’t do the icy leaves justice. The colours here are warm but the air certainly wasn’t.

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A coot disturbs the water but hides from my camera in the shadows of the bank.

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Frozen nettles for some iced tea? They stood out undisturbed on an otherwise trampled path.

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And finally, a curious swan who seemed to be on a mission. I’m still wondering what it was.

Happy writing, everyone! And wrap up warm.

Printspiration

Just a short—and late!—post from me this time.

The process of writing a novel is a long, difficult and tiresome thing. It can be very easy to lose inspiration, especially when life outside your writing is hard. There are a few little things that I find are great for injecting a little of that passion back and there was a particular one that I was reminded of today.

It can often feel like all this time I spend pounding away at the keyboard doesn’t produce anything. I don’t end up with anything tangible after and sometimes when things are tough that can make it easy to forget the final product.

Today though, in preparation to start my final phase of Through the Black edits, I printed that sucker out. I very rarely actually print my work, partly because nothing ever feels finished enough to waste the paper on and partly because I’m convinced that all printers are out to get me. I was reminded of just how amazing it feels to hold that work in your hand, to flick through the pages you’ve worked so hard on all these years. Even just a print out for scrawling across can be enough to remind me both what I’m working towards and what it’s come from.

So if you’re feeling a little disillusioned with your writing, maybe try printing out a chapter or two and have a read. Touch the words, smell the paper. It might just give you that little boost you’re looking for.

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Boat Trip

Last weekend I was away on a fun excursion on a wildlife spotting boat trip! While we never saw any of the big mammals that like hanging about in the area (bottlenose dolphins, poor porpoises that get battered by the dolphins and a few whales), we did see one confused looking seal that I didn’t get a photo of and lots and lots of birds.

Below are a selection of the photos I took! For your inspiration and procrastination needs.

 

1.) Birds. Here was a big collection of feeding birds taken right at the start of the trip, before I remembered how to zoom my camera. We came over as apparently quite often this can signal a lot of fish under the surface, which attract the bigger mammals.

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2.) Still couldn’t find the zoom but we COULD find some cormorants and a great black backed gull.

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3.) The zoom! Here we have a sea cave tucked into the coast.

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4.) This area has a lot of watch posts left over from the war. Here’s one hidden up in the cliffs.

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5.) This guillemot is clearly hiding treasure in this cave. I just know it.

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6.) Some more caves over on the other side of the firth. They thought they were being stealthy under all that gorse but we found them. It was here that we stopped in the sun for juice and biscuits. Delightful!

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7.) A view of two more watch posts in the cliffs.

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8.) Some lovely Highland coastline.

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9.) An old decommissioned oil rig, which was apparently pretty revolutionary in its day. It was close by here that we stopped next to the marker for the resting place of the crew of the HMS Natal and remembered the tragedy. Moods were lifted by the appearance of a curious seal.

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10.) Back at the harbour, some wildlife! There were hundreds of these little guys all over the shop.

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11.) And finally, a jellyfish. I had to take a photo of it because I’m so used to seeing them washed up instead of happily splotting through the water.

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I hope you enjoyed the pictures. Anyone been on any fun or inspirational trips recently?

Small Goals

Small goals lead to big rewards.

Big goals can be massively overwhelming. Consider writing a novel. First you have to write it. That’s a lot. That’s like 80,000 different words, all supposed to be making sense. Then you have to edit and revise the whole thing. Over. And over. And over. That journey can often seem insurmountable. It’s easy to look at the end game, a queryable novel, and think that that point is so far in the future that you convince yourself you’re never going to make it. I’ve been there a few times, calling myself a hack and pointless and just telling myself to give up, that I’ll never be able to achieve this enormous goal at the end. It sucks but it’s something that almost all writers will feel at some point.

Something I’ve learned the hard way is that sometimes it’s best to forget the end game. Instead break down that overall goal into lots of little milestones. It’s easier to aim for the end of a chapter than the end of a novel, just like it’s easier to jump a stream instead of a river. It’s not just writing where this is relevant either. There are so many things in life that can be made much simpler by just breaking them down.

Take for example weight – losing or gaining weight is a massive struggle for a lot of people. I know, I’m one of them as you may recall from my resolutions posts. With weight loss I’ve broken my goal (originally huge and terrifying) down into small percentage based goals. Every time I get a certain percent closer to my final goal, it comes with a massive sense of achievement and newfound motivation. With writing, I’ve been breaking down my editing process with chapters. The sense of achievement every time I complete a chapter motivates me more, helps push me onwards and reminds myself that I am getting ever closer to my goal.

Whatever minor goals set, they have to be achievable. Even if that means they’re small. That doesn’t matter. What matters is progress and being able to feel like I’m doing something.

Until very recently I had a lot of trouble finding the energy to exercise and it felt like a huge chore. I felt like a massive failure when I couldn’t accomplish it. I would do really well for a certain stretch of time then the will would collapse from beneath me like wet plasterboard and I’d be stuck, unable to get up again. I got myself a FitBit with Christmas money and it’s done me a world of good. It speaks so much more to how my brain likes to operate. There are lots of little goals to try and achieve and you can work towards them all day. Instead of having the one set in concrete objective (let’s take 45 mins on the exercise bike – my previous aim) I have the goal of a set number of steps throughout the whole day (which I’ve been slowly increasing since I got the thing). Every time I get up I go the long way places, even if it’s just a few dozen extra steps. It all adds up over time. Plus, seeing it progress pushes me to keep trying to hit these goals and achieve past them. I believe this is called gamificiation and it works wonders for me.

Lots of folks apply this to their writing, often with stickers for a certain number of words or something similar. I partook in this for a time but managed to let it fall by the wayside. It seems that particular method wasn’t for me, no matter how fun stickers might be.

The secret is to find that little thing that keeps you going, even if it is just a sense of progress and an imaginary pat on the back. That’s what I’ve found working for me. Not thinking of a chapter or a scene as a part of the whole giant work but instead as a thing all in itself – a thing which I’ve completed, an accomplishment and a job well done.

How do you keep yourself motivated while working? What methods have you found work for you?

The Success of Others

In the last year, a few of the writers I follow and chat to on Twitter have published their debut books. That means there’s been a lot of book launch talk and I’ve found it all hugely inspiring. Books from authors whose works I already adore seem to be released in a near constant stream but there is something different with the release of a book from someone with whom I’ve actually shared words, even if we are more minor acquaintances than anything else. These moments are not only monumental in the authors’ lives but also in those of all the less progressed writers who can see. The release of a book from someone who is just breaking their way into the business is a declaration that there is always room for new authors, that someday if you stick at it with all that hard work that could be me. Or you. Hopefully both!

It is far too easy to allow myself to look on fellow writers’ successes with jealousy. There is that deep burning part of myself that is longing to be there as well, to see my book on the shelves and being (hopefully) enjoyed by readers. That’s normal and natural but it’s also important to share in other peoples’ successes. Be happy for them and proud of them. Let them inspire me to work on my own novel, give new fire to my commitment to my manuscript.

The glorious Twitter hype around book launches often sends me into daydreams about my own imaginary book birthday, none more so than a release from someone I’ve shared words with. That grounds the experience, brings it far closer to me than it’s ever been before. It makes it a more real and solid thing, as though this thing I aspire too isn’t such an impossibility after all.

And personally, I find that pretty inspiring.