I’m in Glasgow, holidaying. I’ve done all sorts of exciting things, like climbing The Lighthouse for an aerial view of the city, visiting Kelvingrove Park (I wrote a poem there, like a brooding misery no one should ever aspire to be), and walking Sauchiehall Street from end to end.
It’s been fun, but soon it will be time to go to Paris, and I’m in really quite a terrible state, having spent the past few days holed up in my friend’s flat whilst she works.
I’ve been house-hunting, and my goodness it is an awful, exasperating task.
Having trawled the sites, and sent an obscene number of requests for viewings, the only thing to do this afternoon is see who comes back to me. I feel burnt out, and really not at all ready to start university in less than a month, but if there’s one thing truer than all the rest, it’s that time waits for no one.
Tonight it will be cocktails, a third round of planning the wedding my best friend’s boyfriend has yet to propose, and goodbyes, again.
I think I must be getting quite good at them, by now.
Tomorrow, in the company of my little blue and green suitcase (more stylish than it sounds, I assure you), I’ll be off, back across the Channel, and into my first autumn abroad.
Like, aaah! How is it here already? How is my French still so bad? But there’s no time for theatrics. It’s time for me to grow up, and buckle up, for whatever lies ahead.
I really, really want a distinction for my MA thesis. And I think it’s feasible, but it means I’ve got to get organised. So tomorrow afternoon there’ll be no relaxing after the flight. I’ll be landing in Paris like a storm, and going to get things in order.
Wish me luck! Perhaps I’ll update soon, if this blogging streak continues…?
I’ve just left my family and childhood home behind me, and though I’m not quite back in Paris, I’ve been thinking a lot about the stretch of distance, and its effects on me.
I haven’t experienced homesickness in any chronic sense – at least not yet. I seem to miss things most when I have just left them, and then as a pang, rather than a pining. Give me a few days to settle into being away, and I’m invariably fine.
But that doesn’t mean I never think of what lies back across the ocean. Here is a list of the things that I miss most, excluding the obvious ones like friends and family. Any other expats out there, please feel free to add your own in the comments below!
1. Brambles and country lanes
In Paris, walking is my favourite pastime. Pen and paper in bag, sometimes in the company of a good book, I like to wander, on long walks without destination, in no particular direction. I used to do the same thing when I lived in England, but since my local area was semi-rural, my strolls took place on riversides, or through miles of fields, where I would pick blackberries and sit under old trees watching sheep mill over the grass. I miss the British countryside, with the sound of the wind rustling through the hedges, and the blackbirds with their quick bright eyes.
2. The weather
I came home hoping to experience a downpour, and all the other various extremes of the crazy British weather. Paris has been, in spring and summer, the definition of a holiday destination. It has been lusciously warm and sunny, and I can think of only two occasions during my whole four months there in which things have swayed. In short, the weather in Paris is consistent, predictable, and boring. I miss the unpredictable nature of the British skies, and the way they dictate frantic spontaneity on rare days of good weather.
3. The sea
This one came as no surprise to me, because the ocean is one of my great loves. I like to write about it, read about it, be in it, on it and beside it, sucking in lungfuls of brine. In Paris I can tell that I’m further from the shore. The air is different, and the wind less wild. I didn’t visit the beach that often when I had easy access to it, and I regret that as an opportunity wasted. One day, when I’m white-haired and my sight is failing, I envisage that I will take a little cottage on the coast, and listen to the waves every night as I fall asleep.
4. British men
Whaaat? Deanna, you can’t be serious. But for all that I never predicted this, I am. It has taken going away and being surrounded by men from other cultures to make me realise that I value a cultural connection. French humour is not the same, and as diverse the selection of potential lovers in Paris is, it’s not a context in which I enjoy my foreignness. Culture and language create extra walls beyond the many I already struggle to climb when it comes to relationships. Sad, but true, is the admission that I live in the City of Love, but don’t anticipate much romance before I return to the UK.
5. Rubbish food
Sometimes you just want to eat dirt. Not literally, but something of equivalent nutritional value. In Paris, finding something that isn’t beautifully garnished, seasoned and sauced is a challenge. British food is awful, but I do kind of miss that, along with lots of other little things that I didn’t really notice until I’d left them behind.
I have been summering at home. My stay in England has been idyllic, and something my finances really cannot sustain.
Before arrival I stuffed my schedule full of people, and have spent my two weeks flitting about like a bat trapped in a sheet in a desperate attempt to see everyone, everywhere.
I have been to London, walked three miles in a windstorm down by the coast, and toured the south in search of a sandy beach summer that never occurred. I went to the Ritz for afternoon tea, spent some valuable time with the best South African woman in the world (I’m not modest about the quality of my friends), learned how to put up wallpaper, and after one too many celebratory lunch the weight I lost over the past four months found me again.
I also caught up on what I missed whilst I was away, like my brother’s spontaneous decision to grow a beard, and invitations to two weddings! One next summer, and one the spring after. I am ludicrously excited on behalf of my friends, and have already planned what to wear and who to bring as my plus one (I may be many things, but unprepared for a formal event is not one of them).
Really, if I’m quite honest, I’m not ready to go back to Paris just yet. I’ve seen most of the people I wanted to, but only once or twice, and it isn’t enough. Much as I love my Parisian life, it’s not a life in which everyone can visit me, and sometimes reunion makes a second parting all the harder.
And for the record, I was so completely right that coming home was going to be weird. The feeling was quite unnerving, because it was a new emotion I had never experienced before. A thousand tiny changes have occurred in my absence, funny, insigificant things which do not matter, but at the same time, mean a great deal.
The closest likeness I can draw is the frustrating feeling of finding a perfect sitting position, then moving and being unable to achieve the same satisfaction.
But there’s no time to get quite comfortable, because already my time here is coming to an end, and it’s time for me to head north, on to Glasgow for a week of frolicking about and helping my friend move house. As I will be, when I eventually arrive back in Paris.
New families to work with, and uni to attend have necessitated a move across the city, so September is really going to be a new start for me. Paris: mark two.
For now, I have to pack. Maybe I’ll write from Glasgow. Maybe I won’t. Either way, bon été à tous (what’s left of it, anyway). Life goes on, and I must go.
Progress is slow for me at the moment. I’ve been doing quite well with regular blogging, but my novel is moving forward with all the speed of a legless zombie in the mud (I’ve been watching too much of The Walking Dead).
I had a new idea, for a short story, however, so I’m going to have a stab at that tomorrow on the coach home.
I’ll go in armed with a few new tunes for inspiration, and here they are.
1. Allie X – Paper Love
A super-catchy, zesty piece. I think it makes an ideal soundtrack for badass ladykillers, or badass killers, doing what they do best.
2. Rebecca Ferguson – We’ll Be Fine
Considering what an amazing voice this woman has, she is so underrated. You can find both jazz and pop in her albums. Often her songs have a mellow quality, but this is among her more energetic pieces. I find it very uplifting.
3. Porter Robinson & Madeon – Shelter
Given the monster view count on the official video of this song, I think most people have heard this one, but sometimes the mainstream isn’t all about the money, and jewels break through the surface of mediocrity to be recognised. The official video is also a real treat, if you like having your heart broken.
4. Kronic (Feat. Leon Thomas) – Rendevouz
I’ve had this song on repeat for two days, so it would be unfair to keep it to myself. I really wish I knew places where music like this was played, because this is one for dancing. I’ve been using it to imagine chase and fight scenes.
It’s time I went and packed, but hopefully I’ll soon have a story to share. I’ll keep you posted!
As I mentioned in my Amsterdam post, I’m going home in a few days. It will be the first time I’ve been in the UK for more than a weekend since I moved to Paris. I anticipate that it’s going to be one of the strangest experiences of my life.
I have a friend who emigrated when she was younger, and she says that the oddest thing for her was not the going away and finding a new country different from her own, but the fact that for all that her experiences abroad changed her, she arrived home to find the place where she grew up completely unaltered.
My family and my homeland are certainly not vacuum-packed, and I’m sure that there are things which have shifted since I’ve been gone, but not my room at my parents’ house, or the old streets of the city where I studied and worked, and which is so familiar to me that I can close my eyes and walk the high street from end to end.
I’m going home to a city which has started to forget me, but which remains stamped on my character like a iron-wrought brand. I think if there’s an appropriate time to reflect on my first four months of Parisian life, this is it.
It’s nothing original to say, but I’ve learnt so much. I’ve made a friend not just from another culture, but another continent. I’ve danced by the Seine under the light of the moon. I’ve worked with children, some of them terrible, one of them the loveliest little boy, who made me feel better about everything. I’ve had my first date with a foreigner, and I did it in French. I was misread, and got fired, something I never imagined would happen to me. I left my friends in the UK behind, and in doing so I found out just how much I am loved. I forgot who I was, but then I started writing again. My life in Paris has not been perfect, but it has been my life, to live selfishly, with passion, and in complete freedom.
The most important lesson has been one about myself: I am stronger than I thought.
Paris, like all big cities, is a place where dreams are made or broken, where every day someone finds inspiration, and another person gives up. I have experienced both ends of the spectrum during the past four months.
It’s really difficult to admit that you’re on the wrong path. Harder still when you’ve spent time and money, and made greater sacrifices, just to get so far. But I was not where I was meant to be, and I see that now. I wanted to become a writer because I thought that would be enough for me to express myself. I know now that it isn’t, and I know also that before I wasn’t brave enough to admit what I really wanted to do.
Of course I’m going to continue writing until I’m dead or dribbling, but my aspirations have changed. No longer is writing my be-all-and-end-all goal, and my motives for lifting the pen have changed. These day, I want to use my writing to humanitarian ends, by writing serious novels that aren’t just about action and romance, and by making a switch from a creative career into the hard, analytical world of law.
I’ve been slow off the mark. I know that. 22 is not the ideal age to discover what it is you really want to do. The next couple of years are going to be tough, not just in terms of catching up academically, but also adjusting to exams instead of coursework, providing for myself financially, and proving myself as worthy of a law career as those who knew it was what they wanted from the get-go.
But it won’t be impossible. Paris has given me the confidence that comes with independence. It might take me a while to get there, but in a few years I will be working in London, and hopefully around the world. I just have to maintain my conviction, work hard, and see it through.
So I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m grateful, for being here, living this life, and having the chances I’ve had. My French is getting there slowly, and though I’m still as useless as I ever was when it comes to men, I am freer than I ever was. I have managed, at last, to ‘find myself’, and experience all that cliché gap year personal growth that has made some for cringey writing, and a better relationship with my own soul.
City of vice Amsterdam may be, but it is also a city of tulips, painters, boats and bicycles. It’s a place I was always curious to visit.
Amsterdam is smaller than Paris, and far quieter. There are only a handful of metro lines, and the inner city is connected by a series of trams. The expected bedtime is earlier than you would think, since both these forms of transport stop running at 00:30, but there are night buses which will get you home if you came to party hard.
I didn’t visit for the drugs, or for the prostitutes in any carnal sense. I took the trip with a friend, and considered it something of an intellectual venture (albeit with drinks). I wanted to see, and to learn, and to fill my head up with something new before going home for the summer.
We stayed in a hotel at Bullewijk, which is about twenty minutes from Centraal Station by metro. A word to the wise: don’t try to find decent accommodation in Amsterdam on a budget. Unless you’re willing to share a room with ten teenagers who stink of weed, you’re not going to get anything cheap.
Financially, we were pretty much ruined before we even arrived in the city, but after eight grueling hours on the coach we scraped together enough to buy our 72 hour passes. Transport here is charged by the hour, rather than by distance, or destination. (The price is more expensive than Paris, but still a slashed reduction compared with London).
Our first night out was spent at Leidseplein, a picturesque square which houses an assortment of bars and restaurants, as well as the ever-present Irish pub and McDonald’s which no city I have ever visited seems to be without. Food in Amsterdam can be quite pricey, but there are good deals, including unlimited spare ribs for less than €10, which appeared to be something of a local favourite.
Another note on food is that bakeries, which are situated on just about every street, make a good port of call. There are a variety of European and specifically Dutch fancies, like walnut pretzels, goat’s cheese pizzas, and tartlets in every flavour.
On our first morning we navigated our way to the Van Gogh Museum with a pastry sitting in just the right spot to see us through to lunchtime.
It started to rain. We’re talking a torrential downpour, for which I, sans umbrella, was woefully unprepared. Our plans to visit several museums during the day were quickly scuppered when we realised that there are no admission concessions for young people and students in The Netherlands. In fact, after reluctantly parting with €17 each, we resolved that some serious accommodations would have to be made.
Expensive as it was, however, the Van Gogh Museum is an impressive place, featuring not only a selection of the artist’s masterpieces, but those of his contemporaries, his inspirations, and those who have followed his artistic legacy. There is also a large collection of Van Gogh’s letters, and the museum provides deep insight into him as a person, as well as his growth as an artist over the years of his short, brilliant career.
It was also our first introduction to Amsterdam’s sexual side, since Van Gogh was himself a frequent purveyor of ladies of the night, and they are featured in several of his paintings, including the Japanese-inspired picture above. Van Gogh’s infamous ear even wound up in the hands of a prostitute, when he gave it to her.
Somehow I doubt she appreciated it.
We decided to make a better attempt at having a night out on the Friday, and after traipsing about a variety of clubs we settled in Escape, at Rembrandtplein, and danced the night away, together with a multitude of international tourists and a handful of the elusive local youth.
It’s quite sad to admit, but I think at the mere age of 22, the discotheque has lost its intrigue for me. It was fun, and I won’t deny that I love to dance, but I find it hard to understand how I once thought nightclubs could be gateways to romance. I think as you get older you start to realise what a gulf there is between sex and love. Nightclubs are a good place to go with friends, to dance and let loose, but they are full of bad behaviour, and in Amsterdam most people you find out after dark are, unsurprisingly, stoned.
After a late start on the Saturday we took a boat tour around the city’s picturesque canals (A UNESCO World Heritage site) with a jolly South African captain, and then made our way to the famous Red Light District to see what there was to be seen.
It is a strange place. Really that’s the only way I can describe it. The openness of it is in such sharp contrast to the conservative values of my native England that I found it quite shocking to see the women at their windows, dressed to the nines in their latex and seven inch heels. I can’t imagine what people in my grandparents’ generation must make of it.
There’s a small interactive museum, styled as the brothel it once was, which offers a frank, honest appraisal of Dutch prostitution, as well as an overview of the situation in different countries around the world. I came away not sure what I thought, but with a newfound respect for these women (male prostitution does not seem to be a matter of such open discussion).
They clearly take some pride in their work, and maybe legal prostitution isn’t the most morally upright thing in the world, but I don’t believe it’s that wrong, either. Certainly there is something extremely admirable about the Dutch and their commitment to eradicating trafficking and the other, often unspoken, horrors of the sex industry.
Ruminating on the day’s experiences and unusual sights, we took the metro back to the hotel, freshened up, and decided to make the most of our last night in the city. We went out to a bar near Leidseplein, and discussed the weekend over an obligatory Heineken whilst other tourists danced around us.
In the morning there was time only for one last pretzel before we arrived at Sloterdjik and boarded the coach for the long drive back to Paris.
I wish, I think, that I had visited Amsterdam when I was eighteen, instead of 22. It’s a delightful city, in which the old brushes up against the new in the most elegant fashion, but these days I’m not as wild as I used to be, and I no longer have an adolescent’s rent-free disposable income. Certainly there’s a lot to see in Amsterdam that I didn’t get chance to – the Anne Frank Museum and Rembrandt’s house to name but two.
I think one day I’ll go back to Amsterdam and investigate it further. Certainly it would be no challenge to spend a whole week there and explore the pretty little streets and the dark canals, but not yet.
For now, I have to get ready for my next adventure – after four months living in Paris, I’m going home next week. But that’s a topic for another post.
I’m always on the hunt for more music to write to, so without further ado, here are some of my latest finds.
1. Rae Morris – Reborn
I swear this woman and I have some sort of connection, because literally every time she releases a song it seems to be talking about the place I am in my life. This is an eerie, hair-rising piece about liberty and moving on. For some reason it reminds me of misty moors, and ghost stories. ‘Nothing can hurt or haunt me now. I am rebooooorn…’
2. Kaiser Chiefs – Listen to Your Head
This music video could easily be turned into a full-length movie. I think this song has quite a different sound to the band’s older pieces (I didn’t immediately notice the artist), but it’s also very different to some of their more recent pop releases. Maybe it’s a one off, but that’s a shame, because I think it’s one of the Kaiser Chiefs’ best.
3. Mr Little Jeans – Stitches
Sometimes YouTube recommendations are actually suited to your tastes. This one was a lucky find via the old suggested links route. This song has a solemn, relaxing mood, and the singer’s voice is quite trance-like. I definitely need to investigate this band further.
I hope you like these recommendations. I’m sure I’ll have some more before long!
Characters change as you write them. This is, I think, a natural thing which cannot be avoided. As drafts pan out initial concepts disintegrate and reform in new guises. Sometimes even things as seemingly fixed as names and ages have to be altered to fit new storylines, different settings, and a maturing author’s increasing awareness of realism.
I have been writing the same book since the day before I turned seventeen, and I can tell you from my own experience that five years is enough time for a lot of changes. My five main characters are, for the most part, unrecognisable as the same ones I started out with.
Irrespective of artistic talent (I did an A-Level in Fine Art, but you’d never believe it), there are definite benefits to ‘seeing’ your characters. For one thing, you can make a better judgement on whether they really do look believable. Drawing also offers the opportunity to experiment with new styles and settings in a way that is very time-consuming to write about.
Let’s face it, your characters probably won’t go through their whole story with only one outfit, and how they look at a ball is likely to differ greatly from their battlefield appearance. Even if your characters live out their lives in a series of similar settings, roleplay activities can show us sides of our characters which the stories we are writing do not. My opinion is that seeing characters in different situations, eras, and styles makes them a bit more real in their creator’s mind.
So what do I, who can’t really draw, do?
It sounds a bit creepy, but I use dolls. More precisely, online doll makers, of which there are a wide selection to be found. Looking past the girly-girl pink and purple web designs, DollDivine.com and AzaleasDolls.com are, in my opinion, the best in terms of choice, especially for male doll makers.
There’s an argument to be made that commissioning someone else to draw your characters is a more worthwhile exercise. Not only do you then get to see your characters, but you can also tell whether your articulation of them translates into someone visualising them in the same way. However, I think even the best description is seldom over-specific, and all writings are open to interpretation.
The only way you can really get the pictures from your head out with total accuracy is to create them yourself. Doll makers have their limits, since they are subject to the options provided by the game (lack of body types can be an issue), but using several to create a mood board, is, I think, the most effective way to get a sketchy idea of what your characters really look like, since the middle man has no opinion. The doll maker will let you do as you please, especially if you’re creative enough to fiddle about with the drag n’ drop sections.
Before I go, I’d just like to say that if you have other visualisation methods, please do let me know – I would be very interested to try them.
And finally, here is a list of the doll makers used to create the images featured in this post:
The Lord of the Rings and Hobbit Scene Maker (on both sites)
Yes! I’ve survived another year, and write this with the wisdom of twenty-two years behind me, though I have to say it doesn’t feel dissimilar to being twenty-one.
It was my birthday the other day. A Sunday, my mother tells me, not dissimilar to the one on which I was born, all those years ago.
We went to L’Aquarium de Paris and it was wonderful. They had all my favourite marine creatures, including an octopus, seahorses, and hundreds of baby jellyfish. My favourites were the ethereal sea nettles, drifting in a slow circle of ghostly tendrils, and a gargantuan lobster, who waved, rather menacingly, and scuttled up against the tank wall.
Unfortunately, my first two days of being 22 thereafter were far from excellent. Dropping my mother off at the airport, we were fined €50 for her having the wrong ticket (despite it having let us through the barrier!) and had to make a mad dash for her flight, involving some stressed airport attendants and the longest queue in all of Christendom.
Something rather more serious happened later the same day, which is to say the family for whom I was an au pair decided to let me go, for reasons, but not reasons which were quite fair, or indeed, quite true.
Fortunately, the agency I work for were entirely understanding and have vowed to find me some more hours with haste, but it is a blow, nonetheless, and rather irritating for how easily it could have been avoided with a little more communication.
However, it is not a situation without blessings, as I now have some time to myself. Provided I don’t fritter it stressing over my finances, I think I’ll write. Also, I’ll admit that however much I hate failure and despise being anything less than good at whatever I turn my hand to, childcare is really, really hard, and not my forte.
And finally, it’s now raining in Paris. After weeks of blistering summer heat, there was a real downpour this morning, and that reminded me of home. God, I never thought it would happen to me, with my incessant wanderlust, but I’m going back to England for two weeks over the summer, and I’m really looking forward to it.
I guess sometimes, when bad things happen, there’s something to be said for going to a place of safety and recovering one’s strength. But, however rough the past few days have been, I’m glad I came to Paris early, and had this time here before starting university. I’ve learnt some hard lessons, but I’ve also made a friend, been adopted by a cat, and lived on my own for the first time.
I’ve survived, and I think on some occasions I’ve done more. Come September I will know what I’m doing better than many of the fresh-faced arrivals. I think I will be okay, and I think, even if right now I’m a little unhappy with how things turned out, I have learnt, better than ever before, how to let things go, and move forwards with my life.