Interlude: Canada

Recently, in a bid to leave my day job behind, I took a short trip to Canada.

The ride out was a little bumpy, the ride back was even more so. And, turbulence terrifies me. We didn't bring the right clothes for the weather, which was hot and then cold, and then wet, and then freezing because we were wet. And, I don't like the cold. I injured myself on twigs, car doors, beds, boulders, and docks. And, I'm prone to doing that. The roads were flat, and the nights were long. And, I completely fell in love with Ontario.

At first, we were in the middle of a second summer, and I basked in the sun's rays as Niagara threw up great plumes of water around me. Also we saw nuns with iPads, and I liked the way their blue clothes reflected the water. Later, we traveled into the heart of the wilderness, and chased the sun as it set around us.

And even later than that, I fell off a boulder by the shore trying to take a picture of the water. As a devout explorer, I got the picture before I limped away pretending to seven other people that the incident totally didn't happen.

I found something I thought I might have lost in Ontario. It started with enjoying simple moments, and taking photos of things that meant more to me than they could ever mean to anyone else. It started with breathing in air anew, appreciating every second. It has blossomed into a yearning to capture these moments in pictures and sounds and words. It has bloomed and I feel more myself than ever.

Desk jobs can drain you of that spark sometimes. And I never knew mine had been seeping out until the creativity started to return, and I began proclaiming how pretty everything was.

I felt a deep connection to Ontario, and I'm not entirely sure why. Could have been the canoeing, and peaceful nights spent in a cabin by the fire. Could have been the Autumn leaves and dry air. Could have been the moose we heard (and in my mind we almost ran into) on a night time paddle. Could have been the food. All I know is that the words of a famous Canadian, astronaut, and thinker caught in my mind a few days ago in a science museum thrumming with rain, and they've been clinging on ever since.

I don't intend to let life randomly kick me into the person I don't want to be, Chris Hadfield, and I have you, Canada, those closest to me and the simple beauty of outside to thank for reminding me of that.

Rewrites & New Ideas

I often find that when I am right in the midst of rewrites, battling plot holes, typos, and somewhere deep inside also my inner demons, that a new completely different voice surfaces and starts to tell its story.

I struggle to ignore this voice.

I battle in vain to focus.

And, then, when nothing else will temper it, I jot down its words in a notebook promising it I will return.

I'm not sure if this is the best approach to things -- invariably the voice hogs my pen, making the inner pad of my palm ache as it rattles on -- but its the best thing I can think of for now. I know to completely give in to the voice and take to my laptop would mean the death of my revisions.

Secretly, I hope that it never realises I hand-write the words to slow it down. To make it pause and get bogged down in ink for a moment. To halt the oncoming storm.

I hope that it never knows the lengths I do to in order to force it into pausing, to prioritise what I was working on before.

In some ways I'm scared that if it did ever cotton on it might wander off, and give itself to another, different, more responsive writer. In some ways I know that really, when it comes down to it, the words will always wait for me.

Good ideas fly in circles, I like to think, and sometimes letting them percolate is a good thing. A very good thing, maybe.

How do you focus on rewrites? Has a shiny new idea ever simply just taken over you? I sometimes let them override me for a bit. I like to have dalliances with new ideas. 

Five Healthy Writer Snacks & Delights

When I'm writing I often forget about the outside world and all the little things that on their own are meaningless but as a whole are pretty important to life. Things like taxes, and eye appointments, and insurances, and washing. Things like eating well, and drinking enough water, and sleeping more than five hours at a time. And, I'm not sure about you guys, but recently the eating thing has been getting to me. Either I don't eat at all, or I eat the worst foods imaginable but don't even have the satisfaction of really tasting what I'm putting in my mouth. When I'm writing I'm on auto pilot so I don't really notice what goes in. But my auto-pilot definitely has a sweet tooth. Anyway! To help me with this dilemma I've been exploring the world of healthier, easy, snacks that my auto-pilot can stand (and maybe your's can too!). Here are my top five:

1. Avocado & Seafood Salad
This is fabulous because it's fast and tastes like a big meal. I have a thing for avocados, and with the right seafood sticks from the shop you're looking at a really light meal that fills you up. In the evenings I add rice to make this a hot delicious dish. What do I do: cut an avocado in half and twist to open, scoop out the insides with a spoon, mash with fork, open seafood sticks and cut into tiny pieces, mix together, add some salad leaves (& if you're feeling spicy some lime juice).

2. Eggy Potato
It's in the evenings that my mind wanders to either no food or all the food, so eggy potato has served me well as an alternative. It has some yummy carbohydrates, but also protein and happens to taste delicious! What do I do: bake a potato, scoop out the insides and scramble with an egg, add some exciting extras like peppers or mushrooms or chilli, scoop the mixture back in the potato skins & grill... then you are done!

3. Melanzane Parmigiana
This one takes a little longer but is easy, so easy, to prepare, and really hits the hunger I often get for some kind of pasta but is much better for you!  What do I do: Get an aubergine (egg plant in the USA?) and slice it thinly lengthways, place in frying pan to brown slightly, when brown, place in baking pasta dish (if you don't have one an ovenproof pan will be fab) as you would do for a dish using lasagne pasta, slather in pasta sauce of your choice (or just with some delicious tomatoes and garlic), lightly blanket in cheese, bake & delight in the results.

4. Scrambled Eggs with a twist
My Chinese tutor taught me this one, and Shuya I am so grateful for this recipe! Thank you! Known as Xihongshi chao jidan (西红柿炒鸡蛋) this is delicious and takes under five minutes to prepare! I'm reasonably sure my version is a little different from the kind you'd get in China but dang it if it isn't delightful all the same. What do I do: Scramble some eggs in a pan, dice some tomatoes and add to the mix. Add in garlic and chives. Add some soy sauce if you like and you're done! To really cook in those juices you can add just a little water to the mix and simmer it off. You can also add noodles (or rice) if you're feeling super hungry.

5. Avocado Toast
What can I say? Once you get a taste for avocados it's hard to stop! I love Avocado toast either with some tomatoes or, occasionally, a scrambled egg. It's delicious and instead of rolling out of bed on a weekend feeling awful as I chow down a pop tart hurriedly it really sets me up for a fab day. What do I do: mash an avocado as above, make some toast, and mix em together, add peppers or whatever you fancy to make it a little interesting.

I'm feeling hungry just thinking about these delightful snacks (okay some of them are meals!). What do you eat when you're writing? Obviously these favourites are only good in moderation etc etc, and honestly I still have pop tarts sometimes because man nothing beats that intense sugar rush!

26 Things I Love About Instagram (and you will too)

A little while ago I discovered a love of Instagram that almost transcends words. I love windows into other people's lives, and books, and trying new things on my profile and seeing what it feels like. I'm miahayson on instagram so if you're there I'd love to connect! If you're not, buckle in because I'm going to let you know why its fab for writers, readers, and almost everyone.

1. It's an alternative creative outlet (idk about you but sometimes I get so wiped out but the need to be creative is ever-present, fiddling with pics is a great outlet for when the words are all a little garbled)

2. The books on there are gorgeous! You can follow book tags like #bookstagram and #bookfetish and be blown away
3. Publishers like penguinukbooks and more post just the most fabulous pics
4. You can get super creative like abookreads
5. You can let others inspire you
6. Daredevils like this guy are there making us all feel just a little queasy from those heights
7. You can post little videos too
8. There's this on guy who follows his wife around the world taking pics of her hand
9. You meet people from all over the world
10. It doesn't even matter if you don't speak the same language
11. Pictures transcend words
12. You can use them to inspire you too though
13. It helps you think about how you see the world and how others see it
14. When you feel like words more than pictures, you can post those too
15. It's also a place to discover new books and find reviews

16. You don't have to be the best photographer ever, just a hopeful and enthusiastic person
17. The pictures of books are seriously fab tho
18. Using emojis on there is super fun ✨
19.  In my experience people are super friendly on instagram
20.  I mean I cannot promise all instagrammers are, but I've yet to meet one who is mean
21.  You can use as many hashtags as you want, the sky is the limit!
22.  Meeting people ftw
23.  Like, seriously, you use a hashtag once and suddenly you're bff's with somebody across the globe
24.  It's great for finding writing prompts
25.  I just love playing with colour and pictures in general
26.  I love each and every person I follow on instagram.

There are some disadvantages admittedly! You can't post from your computer (that I know of), or schedule posts, so if those are deal breakers that's not great. I still think if you do have a phone that will post it is fab! 

I'm looking to follow more people so if you're on there let me know!

How to spruce up any manuscript: MAKE-UP EDITION

We all want to know how to get the best out of what we're writing and working on, and this week we're going to explore how to do just that using make-up as inspiration! I hope you're excited as I am! Hold on to your braces, and buckle down your shoelaces, because this is about to get real interesting peeps! Let's dust us down a novel with these five well-known* make-up tricks. Revising is like putting on make-up. You don't have to do it, and I swear your face & book look fabulous without, but sometimes a trick or too is real neat.

1. Lipstick
Some people say start with the foundation or the contours of your face book or blah blah blah but here at literary jam & toast we've never really stuck to any clear system so here's the thing, to polish up you that manuscript you really got to be thinking about how to highlight the best feature of your face book front and centre (your lips) in a way that screams "look at me I am a sassy classy and fantastic person book capable of getting up in the morning and making cereal while only spilling like maybe a third of it on the carpet.  How? Start around the edges of the lips book to really get a feel for what works, also to make them look bigger. Hone in on what suits you. This is where readers and generally helpful crit partners can come in handy! Sometimes you have to try something out before you know what suits you the best. Sometimes it's not even about what suits you, but about what suits the book and its characters. Somedays faces books can be finnicky so don't give up the first time around! This step is totes all about patience as much as it is about lipstick.

2. Clean your brushes
A lot of people think because they are using brushes on their face and their face is clean, that their brushes will be too. This is simply not the case! Remember to clean those brushes on a regular basis, and while you're at it clean out your mind. A lot of people let a face draft stew for a while after making writing it, try this out and see if it works for you. Sometimes polishing immediately after can work for people too, but often words are like brushes. They need a little time to dry on the bathroom windowsill in the summer breeze before we're ready to continue sprucing.

3. Work those lashes
Curl Actually finish your lashes draft before adding mascara really taking an axe to the words and editing down.  It's super hard to finish anything if you're constantly thinking about rewording the last thing you just wrote -- this is something I am still learning as omg I am somewhat of a perfectionist with words -- much like it is impossible to curl your lashes after adding mascara (I think)(I haven't tried this to be sure). If you're feeling bold with edits, that's great! Go crazy and feel empowered. A great tip to steady those who are feeling a little light headed at this point is to save multiple versions of rewrites and edits as you go each with their own identifier (I use the date) just in case you suddenly think you've chopped too far and are not feeling super fabulous.

4. Don't be afraid to get dramatic
Or glittery, or confused, or just a little lost. You are a pioneer into the world of make-up and eyeliner books and words. Understand that half the fun is in trying something crazy out, and finding the line between weirdly brilliant and brilliantly weird. Every step you take is one into the unknown, so work that powerful magic and get creative.

5. Find confidence in yourself
Understand that make-up is only a handy dandy tool for your face book,  and that at the core of this process is one brilliant thing. That thing is you. You are the fabulousness we are working with. Be proud of your fabulousity!

What works for you when you are trying to polish up your manuscript? Telling myself that I am fabulous over and over again in the middle of the night often gives me just enough confidence to really go to town with editing.

*well-known... by me.... would you believe it I've never gone to beauty school... I just pick these things up when I'm browsing fizzy cola sweets in the supermarket