Outside, Looking In.

When you ask a child who they want to be, their ideas normally change from year to year, even week to week. As someone who has no children and rarely ever encounters with them, I don’t know if that’s cliche or truth. Or to what extent it is the truth. The past month or so has had me wondering whether that part of us ever really goes away or just narrows down into choices within your specialism instead. I’ve been caught up researching and writing PhD applications lately (or putting them off) and it has gotten to the point that self doubt is my worst enemy. That and application forms, which, I’m beginning to think, were invented to curb rather than encourage you.

Then you wonder why you’re putting off applications for something you love to do. Something you’ve wanted to do since you first wrote a line of poetry that wasn’t a school essay or homework (transgression right there). The truth is, the weight of it is terrifying. The weight of seeking validation from academics, believing in myself, my idea, and wanting to be sure that I’ll come out the other end a better, stronger, intellectual individual and a researcher. And it is true that I will continue researching and writing my novel idea if I don’t get in to do a PhD, but I know that the fact that I will lack the time, dedication and academic expertise/networks/connections while working a day job, will make make all the difference.

I also want to keep myself open to options. To other jobs, internships within my field. A part of me wonders if I’m going for a PhD as it is the most obvious and therefore easy option. Yet it feels far from easy. It seems far from simple when the application form and getting funding itself seems like the biggest hurdle. I guess right now, I just feel like I am on the outside, wanting to get back into it, while trying to open my mind to other options in order to curb disappointment. While the truth is, I have nothing to really lose by sending applications off, and trying again next year if I don’t get in. I keep thinking a lot of it is to do with age, and not having the confidence that comes with age, despite having people around me who do remind me that I am capable.

I just had to type out a blog post because my inner conflicting voice finally got too much for me. Maybe this is too much of a ‘putting out there’, but between rearranging the thoughts in my brain into a sequence of: ‘well if this doesn’t work out, then I can do that, and if that doesn’t work out, then I can try again, and meanwhile keep doing this and trying to do that, and take it easy and work hard and you’ll get there, and it’s not the end of the world if you don’t as that’s not the only way to be happy,’ I figured I must not be the only one going through this. I thought writing it down would make it sound simple, but it hasn’t. It has helped me release, yes, but also made me realise I’m probably setting myself up for more pressure by letting the world know I’m applying. But I’ve been told to be less afraid of being vulnerable and I guess this is a start.

I guess I’m just not fully satisfied with where I am in life yet, even though I have a lot to be grateful for. Yet the more people I meet, the more I realise how rare it is to find a craft that you love and enjoy doing, and to spend 5 years in education honing and getting better at it, to simply not take it further, would be a darn crying shame, right? Writing is for life etc?

The stuff you find on Twitter is wonderful sometimes.

On Keeping a Diary

Earlier this year, I started keeping a diary and I realised how misleading a word ‘diary’ is. There’s a writer’s diary where one may record their thoughts and responses to books, pieces of writing, process of writing. That explanation is pretty self-explanatory. But then there are those personal, journal diaries. It’s pretty boxing to categorise your diary keeping. It might be disciplining, but personally, a diary is always meant to be pretty free-flow and reflective. I used to keep one when I was in high school, like many high schoolers do. “Today I walked home from school with so and so. Today my crush looked at me. Today my parents annoyed me.” Yep, I was that kid. And since growing out of that, the thought of keeping a diary has always come with the cringing memory of the teen-diary I so viciously ripped and threw away many, many years ago. It has also always come with the knowledge that if I started writing a diary, I would sooner or later read back on what I’d written and fall back into the cycle of cringing at myself. Half the time, I don’t want to blog for that exact reason. Because for me, talking about myself or anything related to myself always comes with a part of me that stands back and looks at myself critically, despite how good it feels to get things out, and despite the fact that there are thousands out there making a living from doing just that. So, I decided to start keeping a diary in a new way.

1) Don’t write it daily.

Write it when you need to. When you have some thoughts you want to share but don’t want to tweet, or blog, or write in the form of fiction or poetry. Write it in a diary. Don’t write about the mundane occurrences of your days. Write about the changes, the specific timelines of your life. And these can be a change in the mood, in health, in small goals such as running the extra mile rather than just the big events. Anything that stands out.

2) Don’t aim to write in a specific style.

One day you might write in first person. The next time you might write in second. It might vary from fully written out sentences and paragraphs to disjointed prose. Even lines that aren’t quite poetry. Hell, it might even be 3 lines. Write in the style that feels right at the time.

Credit: ayomide!
Credit: ayomide!

3) Don’t read back unless you have to.

Unless it was a short story idea or poetry idea that came out in the form of a diary, don’t read back. You don’t need to. Sometimes I write just to empty my brain of the excess thoughts and this might be just that to make space and focus for new, better ones.


4) Definitely write using a nice flowing pen. Seriously.

5) Make sure the diary/paper itself feels good.

And this is pretty much what I have been doing as of late, when social media and whatnot has just felt too loud, too mindless, and I’ve felt way too introverted. I should make it into a routine to write in it daily, but I feel like that would defeat the point of it being natural and unforced. Besides, we’re not talking about ‘writing’ as in fiction/prose/poetry. Those exercises should probably be done daily.. But with a diary I feel it has to be more ‘as and when’, from experience. I will probably read back on it at some point.. Just not yet. n the past, I’ve actually used a lot of what I have written as dissertation writing. Lately, I’ve become a strong believer in the idea that there is a time for everything and you end up being at a certain stop/point/situation in your life when you need to be. Otherwise you would be making the change to not be there, right? How do the rest of you keep a diary, if at all?

Book Review and welp, I need to write/blog more.

I’ve been so quiet on here because (a) I started a new job (b) A crap load of exciting life things happened like graduating (c) I reached out to Wales Arts Review about working with them and writing book reviews and they let me! So below is a link to the book review that I did with them. Go check it out.

Book Review| Infinity by Kiára Árgenta

I have a few more blog posts planned and I’m now thinking of whether to PhD or not to PhD (or proposal at least), as well as looking for the next book to review. Juggling things is stressing but oh so rewarding when it’s what you love to do. I also feel like I haven’t done much writing in the last month or so. Not done much critical reading or project planning or blogging except for a couple of book reviews and I’m kind of falling off the swing. So I think it’s time to start thinking of the next project now that I won’t have university deadlines to give me a kick up the back constantly.

Hotel Arcadia | Book Review

Hotel-Arcadia-coverSam, a war photographer infamous for her curious photographs of the dead, checks into Hotel Arcadia after an assignment to wind down, only for the war to turn the tables and come to her instead. Terrorists attack the hotel, taking hostages and killing many of the guests. What Sam initially views as another assignment to capture, turns into something more as she finds herself forming a connection via phone with the hotel manager, Abhi, who escapes to the security of his office. While Sam has spent a lifetime in the midst of war, Abhi has spent his life avoiding it, choosing a path different to the military career laid out for him by his father and brother. Yet now he finds himself in the middle of it, navigating the army outside the hotel, as well as Sam from the inside, as she daringly scouts the floors.

The story is told through the indirect third-person point of view of Abhi and Sam. Where one stops, the other picks up. Yet often the narrative backtracks a little when switching, in order to give each of the protagonists’ whole viewpoint, their thoughts, and actions. This works, yet often becomes repetitive when the reader is anxious to read the next segment.

“She finds the faces of the dead curiously mysterious, like deserted train stations, or abandoned towns, the bodies no longer home to that elusive, fragile sense of life.”

The themes of seeing, being seen, and different ways of watching are recurrent throughout the novel. Sam’s photographs do not simply capture the blood and dead bodies, but something more. For her, there is more to the photography than what pays the bills or is publicly appealing. It is more than a job or a hobby; it is a way of life, the lens through which she literally captures and processes the world. The lens that she shields herself behind, using it as a viewfinder, instead of her own eyes.

“It is more instinct than thought that makes her pull out her phone, switching on the camera, pulling the world back into focus within a clear rectangular boundary.”

The writing is very descriptive. It was easy to imagine the gunshots, the lavish hotel rooms, and even the locations of Sam’s past assignments. Sam’s almost military-like routines of packing and unpacking her camera equipment are described vividly. Sunny Singh has done her research thoroughly into photography as a craft, as well as various war stories. Sam’s attachment to her work, her reliability on it as an escape, and the only thing in her life that has structure and control is a distinct, defining characteristic. The point is reinforced through the novel. Here is a woman who is emotionally detached to the point that she pursues her career and passion at the cost of her relationship with the man that she loves. It was refreshing to read about a woman who doesn’t make the sacrifice and isn’t readily available. Similarly, the fact that she remains as non maternal as ever after discovering a boy trapped under the dead bodies of his parents, is another thing that Sunny Singh does well. It doesn’t become a clichéd plot device through which Sam finds her deeply buried motherly desires. Instead, she bandages the ‘kid’ up and does what any human would do, refusing to be defined by her gender.

The name of the city in which the novel is situated in is not mentioned, and neither are the ethnicities and backgrounds of the characters explored in great depth. I felt that this was a strong decision by the writer. It stopped the novel from being grounded and boxed into categories and genres that would have distracted from the main focus. It prevented the stories from being defined by the ‘otherness’ of location and race. Instead, it brings the point home about how this could be any of us, with any of our stories, trapped inside hotel rooms.

While the issues of terrorism, hostage situations and brutal murders are very reflective of the world that we live in, the situation simply becomes a backdrop for the stories that Singh wants to tell us through her characters. It becomes a structure in which character development happens; locked up in rooms without a choice instead of running from issues, something both of the narrators have been doing all their lives.

The novel is not so much about plot twists and surprises – I particularly like the way it ends. It is instead about the survival of the hotel’s inhabitants. I found myself becoming concerned about the two protagonists and this, as well as the retelling of their individual stories and lives, is what kept the page turning. It is not about whether the army will successfully rescue the hotel’s inhabitants, but the emotional resolve that the two characters head towards. The novel is about people. About loss, societal and familial expectations, and individualism. The reader is left to wonder how and if the two protagonists will return to their lives afterwards, making it a story that will stay with you.


Published by: Quartet Books

Year: 2015

Find Sunny Singh on Twitter at: @sunnysingh_nw3


*Book was sent to me to review by the author, and I’m hugely glad I got to chance to read it!

Aftermath/Moving Forward

So I finally handed in my dissertation a week or so ago. Now I just have to hold my breath and wait for the results and hopefully, a celebratory graduation. I could go into how much I would like to change about it, and the errors that have surfaced since then, but I won’t. What is done is done. I would definitely recommend doing an MA to people. I feel like it has provided me with a transitional environment in which I could get myself together as a person, grow, as well as further develop my writing and literary skills. Compared to when I completed my BA, I feel less lost and ‘thrown out’ into the real world. I still don’t know what I’m doing or what’s going to happen, but ‘lost’ isn’t the word I would use for it. More determined, open to opportunities, confident, optimistic, while still being grounded about the fact that isn’t going to happen overnight. That I’ve just reached a checkpoint, and I’m getting there slowly, and that is okay.

The good thing that has also come out of the MA are the areas that have opened themselves up for further research (if I decide to pursue it). And genuine areas, topics a lot more mature and somewhat up to standard. Because I’ve realised that I can’t sit still. As much as I am grateful for the time to wind down, go out, catch up with friends, watch whole seasons of TV shows, sell books on eBay, clear out boxes of files, and generally do things like get that yearly eye test I’ve been putting off, I know that the novelty will wear off. I know that eventually once I’ve done all this, in a month or so, I will become restless again. Restless for the next project, the next goal and achievement to work towards. And I’m not a crazy workaholic, I like having a balance. I’m lazy introverted as much I can be hardworking and outgoing. But I do know that I feel happier psychologically when my focus is on something I’m passionate about. Something more than the everyday chatter, small talk, ‘fun’, and socialising. Something that will add up to something in the future. Because from past experience, I don’t want to spend another unhappy winter feeling depressed, with anxiety kicking in at the ‘hopelessness of it all’.


The past week, I found myself getting tired from basically doing nothing all day and thought how crazy it was that just a week before that I was running on full energy, on just 4 hours of sleep. I was falling into the bad trap of refreshing social media, staring at my phone over nothing, slowly dwindling into the self doubt and overthinking that happens when your mind is too empty.

But this week it was time to change things, starting with finally writing a blog post. A close friend of mine pointed out that surely blogging should be easier than writing a dissertation. And it is. And maybe that’s why I fall into phases of not blogging. It seems too easy. I keep getting stuck trying not to be another voice on the internet that writes about nothing of much importance. We really are our worst critic. But blogging, like writing, is cathartic and I should do it for that, as well as for keeping connected, and keeping my writing skills somewhat in order. So if all goes to plan, I’ve got some book reviews coming up and further posts in which I promise to talk less about myself. I’ve also planned some projects and things offline to expand my experience outside of academia. I’m trying to be more of a ‘do-er’ and less of a ‘sayer’/’thinker’ and it’s all in the early stages, so let’s not get into all that incase I jinx myself..

#WorldBookNight – The Reading/Writing Cure

I haven’t blogged in a while because I’m so caught up with dissertation-ing and trying to secure placements/jobs and whatnot for after my MA. I’ve probably driven everyone I know insane by harping on about these things; it’s going to stop soon, I swear. Anyway, it’s World Book Night, and I won’t be distributing free books as much as I’d love to, because I have no time. Instead, I’ve been reading some interesting theories about reading different narratives, writing your own and the effects of it on psychological wellbeing.


It’s easy to sometimes forget how much you enjoy Creative Writing as a discipline when you’re working under pressure towards a looming deadline. And how, despite the bleak outlook that it has in terms of stable employment (or so they say), you would not change it for anything. I could get lost in a tornado of research, reading one book to another until I have to remind myself to come back to my focus. Because Creative Writing isn’t limited to just ‘creativity’ and ‘writing’. Those are the key things, yes. But it is informed by almost every other discipline. As an undergrad, I extensively embodied art into my dissertation. As a postgrad, I’m leaning towards psychology, social sciences & well-being as well as the standard fiction/non-fiction books and literary theory. Like I said, I have to keep reminding myself to come back to the focus of my topic and not stray too far, but I’m constantly intrigued by how much you can learn through creative writing and reflecting on it. It makes me feel satisfied within when distant relatives and people you meet generally in everyday life dismiss it as a subject that ‘isn’t serious’ and ‘useless’. Comments like ‘all you do is read and write stories’ actually make me feel bad (and I mean it in a totally non-codescending way) for them as they don’t realise the wealth of knowledge that can be had by the discipline (cliche alert).

So, for World Book Night, here’s to the idea of ‘the reading cure’ and ‘bibliotherapy’. The idea that reading can heal us, psychologically make us stronger, wiser, happier, and help us come to terms with things. The fact that books helps us understand ourselves and the world more. (I’m still hunting for a relevant working definition to cite this).

Hope you’re all curling up with a book tonight (and most nights for that matter).

P.S. If anyone has any further reading suggestions on these topics (writing, wellbeing, mental health), journals or anything, it’d be hugely appreciated.

Writing About Mental Health

Warning: contains an extensive use of the pronoun ‘I’.

My dissertation is about mental health. And from the start, I knew it wouldn’t be easy. My plot is based on a character whose instability doesn’t come about from a specific incident or an event such as death, trauma, loss, but a hinted series of minor troubles in her life, her background and childhood. This sounds like a non-fail summary until you actually get down to writing about it, and realise that a specific event such as death or loss is easier for plot and resolution than well, no event. But I am adamant to do it. I feel that half the stigma about mental health comes from the fact that it is more understandable in cases where there is a specific event. And by writing about a healthy, young, female who slowly begins to have anxiety attacks, agoraphobia, hears voices with no specific reason, is the only way I would be furthering knowledge. Because that is what an MA is about, and the point of doing research, and a postgraduate degree; furthering knowledge. Writing about what hasn’t been written. Though I imagine this has been written about before in some way. People who’ve read my stuff – my tutor, friends – say that my dissertation echoes Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, and I can see that in it. I’m also to an extent playing with Deleuze and Guattari’s idea of schizophrenia as a response to capitalism and culture. (See: A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia). And I have a ton to talk about for my critical reflection which is always good. At first, I let this put me off. I felt like a fraud, drawing ideas from Plath when I didn’t mean to. Maybe her novel had been embedded into my subconsciousness and was therefore coming out. And then I realised that it didn’t matter. My character wasn’t suicidal, didn’t come from a  certain class, ethnicity and background. And that is the spin you have to put on it. The spin that comes from yourself. From putting in little details of your own personality into the narrative. Because really, there isn’t much out there about ethnic minorities and mental health. The issue is still brushed under the carpet and met with confusion in the community. Writing about ethnicity is still limited to stereotypical issues.

My advice to anyone writing about it is to do a lot of research, and then put that research away and carry on. Because while there’s a risk that you might end up writing about what you may not know, mental health has a lot of leeway also. And while I’ve had some experience with mental health, I still felt like I didn’t have a clue sometimes. It is never defined in a straight line. Except the terminology maybe. That one you probably should get right. But delve into psychology books as well as fiction and theory.

I have a lot more to talk about with regards to my dissertation. (I should probably save that for my essay than blog.) The research that has gone into it, the amount of times I’ve written a whole scene and then taken it out because it just didn’t fit. I just wanted to make a blog post because this morning, I’ve still been trying to figure out the big question: HOW DOES THIS END? I always struggle to plan my endings. I wrote a 400 word possible ending, but I’m not fully satisfied with it. It makes it difficult when you don’t want to give your piece a happy resolution, but you don’t want to end it with a suicide, either. Just some sort of a realistic plot twist. And it’s hard to build up to that, and explore the thoughts and activities of an unstable individual in 10,000 words. It doesn’t help that I’m also a very slow writer who double thinks and polishes everything.

I’m not that far off from finishing. I aim to do it by tomorrow so I can fully focus on the critical essay. I feel like this post will actually become some sort of a foundation/ideas board for that. So I don’t feel too guilty about taking half an hour out to type it up. I guess I’m just so enthusiastic about this issue and writing in general that I can’t not hark on about it everywhere. Pursuing what I love is the only thing that is driving me on lately! I have also been meaning to blog about a ton of other things and give the whole site a good makeover except I’m so cut short with time lately, and so that will have to be a post-dissertation summer project along with everything else.

Brain Foods

So there are plenty of helpful articles written about how to motivate yourself, get into a routine, procrastinate less, become proactive, and… I’ve decided to write one about food that powers my brain. Usually for writers (or students) it’s either caffeine, alcohol (apparently!), or energy drinks. And since I’ve cut off coffee, don’t drink alcohol, and most energy drinks are also another form of a temporary, unhealthy high like coffee, I’ve slowly found other alternatives. This is probably pretty obvious and common sense, but healthy eating is usually more associated with weight management, exercise and physical troubles and irritations we have in our bodies. It is often overlooked how much a healthy diet can affect your neurological functioning, fight off minor bouts of depression, anxiety and low moods. It also made me realise how different postgraduate-me is to undergraduate-me who counted choc chip cookies and red bull as a good form of energy! So, here’s some of the food that I find gives me sustained, healthy energy, helps me think, focus and churn out those words.

1. BananasChiquita-DM2-minion-banana-1

Bananas are good for A LOT of things. They sustain your blood sugar levels, by releasing sugars slowly into the bloodstream rather than in one go so you don’t get that dip. They contain magnesium, fibre, protein and vitamin B-6, things that directly affect your brain and nerves. They’re also good for mood and anxiety as they contain tryptophan (whatever that is) which is converted into serotonin (somehow). I’ve loved bananas since forever. I used to work part-time in retail and would literally eat one of these before a shift and keep going for the whole day. I also snack on one after a workout, be it yoga or squats, most definitely during study breaks, or pretty much whenever I feel like I’m lacking energy and instantly notice the difference.

2. Nuts13638843524_bff8358554_z

Almonds, walnuts, and sultanas. In that order, those three are the ones I snack on just before I’m starting to study. In large amounts, mixed nuts can contain A LOT of calories, but in small amounts they can be brilliant. Supermarkets do sell small packs that go over no more than 100 kcal but you could just be wise and buy them in bulk and make your own (or control your hand). I’d definitely say go for unsalted nuts as that’s probably healthier, too. They contain all sorts of amino acids and vitamins that keep you alert and focused.

3. Teapg_tips

I know I said I don’t drink coffee, but I didn’t say caffeine. And by tea I mean simple old British PG Tips tea. Despite the fact that I don’t go around collecting different types and flavours of tea, I can’t live without drinking at least 2-3 cups of tea on a daily basis. Though the other variations of tea have their own benefits, I just can never find one that settles well with my fussy taste buds.

4. Smoothies

Screen Shot 2015-03-26 at 01.14.28

Home-made, fresh fruit with milk ones. Not the bottled ones with sugars and sweeteners. I normally make a combination out of banana, mango, strawberry or apple. But I think recommended is blueberries and avocados. Provide the same benefits as a fruit salad but a mash of them. Smoothies are calming, yummy, give you more energy, better memory, less inflammation and better cognitive function.

5. Fish oil and Vitamin B Supplements

This is more of a weekly or as you need thing, but I find that taking cod liver oil once a week or vitamin B Seven-Seas-One-A-Day-Pure-Cod-Liver-Oil-Capsules-5209gives me a good couple of days or so of sustained energy. Really if you have a healthy diet you shouldn’t feel the need to take these on a daily basis, despite what the labels say, and I tend to take more of the former than the latter as I eat plenty of meat already. Of course, alternatively, you could just eat some salmon or something. Seven seas is the one I eat as I’ve always found it works best.

6. Water and Hydration

I guess this doesn’t count as food, but keeping a bottle of water on the table to drink from while you’re typing out that essay/script/novel etc. is always a good idea. Your brain needs the oxygen.

7. Eggs/A Healthy Breakfast

I’m sometimes a few minutes late to places because I refuse to leave the house without having *some* sort of breakfast. Eggs are rich in protein, which again helps your cognitive performance. I feel more awake usually if I eat a boiled egg for breakfast. Having breakfast also speeds up your metabolism, therefore making you feel less sluggish, and generally more ready to take on the world.

8. Gum.

This also doesn’t count as food but if you’re like me and end up chewing your lip/inside of your mouth when you’re thinking, then you should get a packet of gum. I find it helps me concentrate and produces more thoughts and that’s entirely down to the physical motion of moving my jaw that I imagine connects to my brain or something. Gum is actually pretty bad.

Needless to say, I still junk on pizzas and takeaway for my main meals.. What sort of food does everyone else snack on for brain power?

6 weeks.

6 weeks to write a 5000 word essay up to an academic standard, including researching, after nearly a year of no essay-writing. 6 weeks to also actually complete the last few thousand words of my dissertation and make the suggested changes and make it whole. Excuse me while I sob/scream into a pillow.

6 weeks is a long time, but when you start adding to that the excruciating details, ‘comma or no comma’, ‘which or that’, double, triple, triple-triple checking the years and pages of every citation, the bibliography, too many books, not enough books, mentioning every book, first editions, second editions, balancing theory, personal reflection, and critical analysis. When you add to that the layout, structuring the essay, filling out forms, putting them in the right order, a bibliography, appendices, acknowledgements, the abstract.. Then rushing to the library to print and bind and hand in. 6 weeks becomes very little time. 6 weeks leaves me no time, in fact, to have that short break in-between to step back for a while from the essay and come back to it with fresh eyes and edit it, hone it, polish it. And I remind myself that I wrote my undergraduate essay in 4 weeks and managed to do really well, but the keyword there is ‘undergraduate’ and 3000 words as opposed to 5000 and I had a very clear, concise idea as compared to now. You are not an undergraduate, you are a postgraduate, a little voice in my head tells me. Actually it is hardly little, as it goes on to reminds me that it is also my fault for running off, being distracted by LIFE, by this that and the other, for having a 20-something-graduate crisis/breakdown somewhere in between, and having a job that slowed me down and other personal things I’d rather not list. Though I have been writing through it all along.

Truth is, 6 weeks isn’t my final deadline. 6 months is. But since coming out of the haze that became the end of 2014 for me, and finding myself generally more positive about this whole life-thing since February 2015, I desperately want to graduate this summer as opposed to next. And because graduating after 3 years from an MA seems like a ridiculous idea. Even if I hand in my dissertation in 3 months, 2 months, 7 weeks, I’ll still be waiting until next summer to graduate. And I want it all completed this summer and put away, officially, so I can move on. While a pass is definitely not what I want for my MA, and a distinction would be reaching too high realistically, a merit is something I would like and be happy with. The in-between, the average. But a part of me wonders if submitting in 6 weeks would get me that, despite my decent to good marks that I’ve had so far in my modules.

I also keep worrying about how it’d look on my CV, because while I’ll have jobs and experience on it for all this time, as well as the MA, it still makes me feel a little.. slow. Am I simply overthinking?