Who I Am In The Summer

I think I’ve been romanticising the person I am in summer compared to the one I am in winter.

Over the last few months, as winter has swelled and begun to ebb, I’ve been making grand proclamations (mostly to myself, occasionally to other people) about what I’m going to be like when warmer weather comes. I’m never going to sleep past 7:30am. I’m going to get my business up and running and have heaps of clients. I’m going to write all the time – in cafés, outside in the sun – and get published all the time. I’m going to exercise. I’m never going to be idle and I’m never going to waste a moment.

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But hold on a second.

Just who exactly is this wondrous-sounding Summer Claire? This person who gets up at dawn every day without ever sleeping in, who walks and does yoga and eats healthily 100% of the time, who kicks all kinds of personal and professional goals and blazes her trail with no setbacks in sight?

I can tell you now: that Claire has never existed – not last summer, or any before – and I doubt she will when summer comes this year.

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Both Nate and my mum often tell me I’m too hard on myself. That I don’t give myself enough credit sometimes (Mum), that it’s sometimes OK to eat chocolate and pizza and sleep after eight (Nate). I agree, begrudgingly, to a certain extent. (After all, what kind of life would it be if you never treated yourself, never rested, never enjoyed a moment of idle time?) However, I also know there are areas in which I could definitely practise more discipline and determination – times where I could set more goals, and work harder to achieve them.

I have had a fair few things going on lately, but if I’m honest with myself, I’ve occasionally been using the season as the basis of an excuse when I’m unmotivated to do certain things. ‘Oh, it’s cold and windy outside – I couldn’t possibly go for a walk.’ ‘It’s just the season that’s getting me down and making me unproductive today.’ ‘Well, it is winter – everyone eats comfort food/stays indoors a lot/slows their progress down a bit at this time of year.’

While these statements are sometimes true, the fact is that if I really want something – if I know the sort of person I want to be and the sort of life I want to lead – then the weather, or the way it makes me feel, should not play a part; not as hindrance nor as help. The goals and lifestyle I aspire towards are objective, concrete. They’re no harder to achieve in winter and no easier to attain in summer.

Having said that, though… I am looking forward to the months ahead.

Late last week, I went for a brisk afternoon walk, for the first time in a long while. It was nice – really nice. The sun was warm and encouraging; the sight of the sea was calming, as it always is. The air hinted at the salty scent of summer from the ocean and the fish and chip shop.

I walked close beside two magpies digging in the ground and paused to watch them (neither paid me any heed – I liked that). I came home and took off my shoes, letting my usually sock-bound feet feel the breeze and the sun-warmed concrete of my balcony. I filled up my new little watering can and gave my new little pot plants a drink. I felt peaceful and warm and content.

If the next few months have more afternoons like those, I definitely won’t be complaining.

When it comes down it, though… Instead of assuming or hoping some magical change will occur with the onset of spring and summer, I’m going to action that change of my own volition. And if the warmer weather helps me do so, all the better.

The magical Summer Claire may not really exist, but I can aspire to be like her all the same.

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Inspiration for Writers

I know Mondays are the most popular day of the week to seek out inspiration – we all need that little something to kick us back into the working week, after all. But poor old Tuesday could do with a healthy dose of creative stimulation, as well… So I thought today was as good a day as any for a little inspiration-related post!

First of all, I have a new article over at Writer’s Edit that wordsmiths might find helpful: 6 Simple Ways To Stay Inspired As A Writer. From time to time, we writers all find ourselves lacking that essential spark of motivation and creativity that’s necessary to our craft. So I’ve looked into some sure-fire ways to help yourself stay inspired, with a few motivational author quotes thrown in as well – ‘cause we’re all suckers for those!

Leonard-Bernstein-Quote-InspirationImage courtesy of Writer’s Edit.

While we’re on the topic of Writer’s Edit, I thought I’d also mention a couple of exciting projects we have happening at the moment, which we’d love all writers and readers to check out and take part in!

Sometimes there’s nothing like the promise of seeing your work published online to get you moving with your writing. For writers of fiction and poetry interested in just such an opportunity, Writer’s Edit has recently begun a new monthly initiative: Short Story and Poem of the Month.

Each month, we invite writers and poets to submit their pieces for consideration, choosing an outstanding entry from each category to be featured on the site. Head over to our Submissions page to read the guidelines and submit your work!

Green Chameleon - StockSnap Creative CommonsImage courtesy of Green Chameleon via StockSnap Creative Commons.

Finally, speaking of publishing – we’re also very excited at the moment about our upcoming anthology, Kindling Volume II. Following on from the success of last year’s Kindling collection, the team has put together another amazing book full of inspiring fiction, non-fiction and poetry from emerging writers, as well as some helpful pieces of publishing industry information and advice. I’ve been lucky enough to read the first proof of the manuscript, so you can trust me when I say that you’ll definitely want to get your hands on Kindling II when it’s published later this year!

If all this inspiration has got you feeling particularly generous, you might like to make a contribution to Writer’s Edit to help cover our production costs for Kindling II. If so, you are truly wonderful, and you can head to our Donations page to contribute.

1528479_384792738362491_6599731009287790857_nImage courtesy of Writer’s Edit.

Happy Tuesday, inspiration-seekers – I hope the rest of your week is full of creativity!

Things I Love Lately: Instagram Edition – Countryside Dreaming

Hello, writer’s block, my old friend.

Actually, I’m not sure if what I have can even be called writer’s block. Usually, people suffering from that particular ailment are in the midst of writing something already, and have simply come to a standstill…but lately, I’m rarely in the midst of writing anything, because what I’m having trouble with is getting started.

You might say instead that I’m having something of a crisis of inspiration. Inspiration is the absolute essence of a creative life; it’s no wonder I feel a little lost without it. It’s a bit of a strange time for me.

I want nothing more than to be writing, writing, writing all the time, so to try to get myself started, I’ve resorted to desperately Googling variations of the phrase ‘what to write about when you have nothing to write about’. What I’ve found, mainly, is what I already know: write about what you know, what you’re passionate about, whatever you’re thinking about. Just write.

So to get myself moving, I decided to get meta and start thinking about what I have been thinking about. And one thing in particular came to mind: the fact that I’ve lately become a little bit obsessed with the idea of the countryside.

Ever since Nate and I stayed at a beautiful bed and breakfast in the Upper Hunter Shire town of Scone a couple of months ago, the countryside – especially the Australian countryside – has been playing on my mind. I’ve often found myself daydreaming of perfect pastoral views and early, foggy mornings brightening into clear days; of big, rustic kitchens and crackling fireplaces; of a lifestyle based on simplicity, clarity and the comforts of home.

Little essences of country lifestyle have been jumping out at me everywhere, too: home-baked lavender shortbreads calling my name from café cabinets; Far From The Madding Crowd bumping its way to the top of my to-read list; Women’s Weekly ‘Country Classics’ cookbooks tempting me from bookshop shelves…and, most of all, a curious trend in the bunch of new accounts I’ve started following on Instagram. You guessed it: they all feature scenes of the countryside and the life that comes with it.

So after another long stretch with no blog activity, I’ve finally come up with this post. It’s just a quick look at five of my favourite countryside Instagram accounts – the ones that fill me with dreams and inspiration. (In other words, the ones that get me feeling the way all writers want to feel, all the time.) I do realise that it may be more focussed on images than writing, but hey – it got me blogging again, so I’m not complaining!

Now, after all that ado, read on to transport yourself to some of the most beautiful countryside Australia has to offer. (All images are courtesy of their respective Instagram accounts.)

Tamsin’s Table @tamsinstable

Rolling, sun-dappled hills, wandering farmyard animals, seasonal food on long timber tables…have your eyes misted over in pure dreaminess yet? If so, you’d best snap back to reality and go check out the Insta-feed from Tamsin’s Table! It’s full of all the things that make country life so idyllic: bucolic landscapes, gorgeous interiors and delicious home-cooked treats.

All this beauty comes from a farmhouse in Gippsland, Victoria, run by Tamsin Carvan and her family. But they’re not the only ones who get to enjoy it: picture intimate lunchtime gatherings featuring homegrown produce laid out on handmade furniture, as well as workshops and masterclasses teaching you how to make the most out of what’s in season – that’s what’s on offer at the numerous special events held regularly on the 113-acre farm. Find out more at www.tamsinstable.com.au.

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The Timber and Stone Retreat @thetimberandstoneretreat

If you’re ever in need of a relaxing, rejuvenating getaway, what’s the first thing you think of? A beachside holiday? A big-city shopping trip? Whatever it is, trust me – after you’ve seen this feed, all you’ll want to do is visit a country retreat the little Victorian township of Malmsbury!

Curated by the owners of the picturesque Timber and Stone Retreat, this account paints a portrait of the perfect country escape through beautiful snaps of the house’s interiors, gardens and surrounding property. The feed as a whole has a beautiful aesthetic, with plenty of muted tones and pops of warm colour.

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Country Style Magazine @countrystylemag

This one is pretty self-explanatory! Australian magazine Country Style is the perfect coffee-table tome for lovers of the most picturesque parts of country life. Gorgeous rural scenery, stylish farmhouse interiors and homely, garden-to-plate food – you’ll find it all in both the magazine and its Instagram counterpart. Somebody please stop me from taking out yet another mag subscription…

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Gold Dust Days @golddustdays

Gold Dust Days is a blog run by friends Jesse and Kathy, who both live in the beautiful town of Daylesford in Central Victoria. Their Instagram feed documents the day-to-day imagery that inspires the pair and shows off the loveliness of their hometown.

The main word the ladies use to describe Daylesford is ‘magical’, and I have to agree with them. Everything about their little town seems to be bathed in the golden glow that their blog name suggests. Their photos reflect this as well – there’s plenty of warm, sparkly hues from all the autumn leaves and sunrise/sunset skies!

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Em and the Wild Things @emandthewildthings

I’ve hardly seen a more dreamy Instagram feed than this one. I couldn’t find out much about Emily, who runs the account, but her bio reads: ‘Grass, landscapes, flowers, kidspam, abandoned, the everyday.’ And that’s pretty much what you’ll find here: a series of beautiful vignettes of country and family life.

From what I can gather, Emily’s on Instagram purely for love, not money, business or self-promotion. It seems like she’s just super passionate about capturing and sharing beautiful moments from her rural life in Central NSW – and no wonder, when it’s as pretty as this!

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If you have any other lovely Instagram accounts you’d recommend following, leave them in a comment below or tweet me @paperbackbird!

Things I Love Lately: Clouds, Clothes and House of Cards

Fictional politics, winter fashion, quiet getaways and views from the top: here are some of my favourite things from the last few months.

House of Cards

Ahh, Francis J. Underwood…the most intriguing (and occasionally terrifying) TV lead since Walter White. I missed the initial House of Cards hype train when the show first started (as I am rather apt to do), but boy oh boy did I jump on board recently! I quickly became fascinated by the ruthless power couple that is the Underwoods, and now I don’t know what to do until Season Four.

HOUSE OF CARDSImage via hollywood.com

Everything about House of Cards perfectly reflects the smooth, cold, calculating nature of its key characters, from the softly sinister tones of the soundtrack to the carefully crafted aesthetic of the cinematography and set design. The colour palette is gorgeous: muted, neutral and often shadowy, dealing mainly in shades of grey, black, blue and white with the occasional gold highlight. It’s beautiful to look at and listen to; throw in some ultra-sharp political drama and a fourth-wall-breaking Kevin Spacey, and you’ve got some damn addictive viewing.

Image via fusion dot net 2Image via fusiondotnet.wordpress.com
Image via fusion dot netImage via motionvfx.com
Image via motionvfx comImage via fusiondotnet.wordpress.com

Autumn/winter clothes

Now, speaking of colour palettes…I’m about to get all girly on you here and have an OH-MY-GOD-I-LOVE-CLOTHES moment, so be warned. In my opinion, the best thing about cool-weather clothes (besides their ability to hide the evidence of all those hot chocolates and warming pastries you’ve been consuming) is the beautifully rich range of colours to choose from.

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On a recent stocking-up trip to H&M, I bought cardigans and jumpers in shades of mustard, oxblood and byzantium (yellow, maroon and purple, for the less shade-savvy/pretentious reader), and picked up staple navy pieces like spotted blouses and striped long-sleeved tops. I can’t wait to pair them with comfy jeans, scarves and brown lace-up boots for all those hot-chocolate-based outings I’ll soon be going on.

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Holidays

A couple of months ago, Nathan and I both took a week off work and treated ourselves to a little holiday. Travelling up the coast to beautiful North Haven, we spent a few days camping, eating, wandering and playing aqua golf, before moving along to a little cabin at Manning Point – a favourite holiday destination from both of our childhoods. We indulged in three-course home-cooked breakfasts, napped, read books on the beach, played board games, walked around the sleepy streets, and visited the local bowling club senior-citizen-style for dinner and raffles.

IMG_1904Stunning views from North Brother Lookout near North Haven.
IMG_1919Fish and chips by the river at Manning Point.

I hate to use a holiday buzz-phrase like ‘relax and recharge’, but in truth, that’s exactly what we did. I felt like I came home in a totally different mindset, feeling much more relaxed and at ease with myself and the world at large, and so did Nathan. The rare getaways we take are usually to big cities and are jam-packed with activity, so it was really nice to have a holiday in the true sense of the word.

IMG_1907Early evening strolls around Weeroona Caravan Park, Manning Point.

Sky views from my balcony

We’ve had some crazy weather where I live lately; the NSW East Coast has been absolutely battered by wind in gales and rain in torrents. By chance, Nate and I had actually been away from home during the worst of the storms, and due to flooded roads we couldn’t get back when we’d planned. But when we eventually did make it home at 6:30am the following day, we were greeted by the most magical morning sky I’ve ever seen.

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Apart from being a welcome respite from the moody cloud-cover of the preceding few days, the gorgeous sunrise reminded me of all the beautiful skyscapes I’ve witnessed from my well-situated balcony. I’ve watched angry clouds amass themselves and spit out purple flashes of lightning; admired painting-esque sunset scenes of puffy clouds hovering on a gilded horizon; and marvelled at the perfect pastel gradient of many a clear afternoon sky. My previous post was even written on my balcony under the calming influence of a brand new day’s sunrise.

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Yeah, I’m pretty lucky to live where I do.

Tailor-Made Targets: How To Actually Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions

Happy New Year! We’re now five days into 2014, and I bet you thought you’d seen the last of the ‘Here’s what I’m going to take up/give up/change/accomplish in the New Year’ posts. If you’re tired of reading about the same old resolutions everybody makes every year, though, read on – I’m about to consider why it’s important not to simply keep making those run-of-the-mill throwaway resolutions (especially if you want any chance of actually keeping them).

Resolutions are hard to keep. The first week of the year is always the best: you’re being a real, resolution-keeping grown-up, doing all sorts of responsible shit (and making sure to tell everyone what a responsible, resolution-keeping grown-up you are). Soon, though, things inevitably start to get in the way of your new goals, and it becomes much too easy to let everything slide. Often, this can also be due to the generalised nature of your resolutions; if you set yourself sweeping, commonplace goals without keeping focus on your individual reasoning for wanting to achieve them, there’s little to no chance that you’re going to maintain the motivation necessary to succeed.

So, this year, I’ve decided that I am going to set myself some pretty general, cliché-sounding resolutions – BUT: I’m going to make sure I tailor them specifically to my own lifestyle and motivational factors.

1. I will be super organised, using all the cute stationery and handy gadgets I have at my disposal.

This year, I’ll be working two part-time jobs while also completing a Graduate Certificate in Editing and Publishing. This is going to require a fair bit of organisation and some pretty good time management. Luckily, a few of my Christmas presents will really help me out: the super pretty 2014 Frankie diary and my new Galaxy Note tab!

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I’m so excited to start my postgrad study – firstly, because I genuinely love studying, and secondly, because it will bring me that next step closer to fulfilling my career goals. It’s going to be a challenge balancing study with enough hours at work to pay my way, so I’m going to try my best to up my productivity, kick all forms of procrastination to the curb, and work as hard as I can – and the only way I’ll be able to do it is by becoming my own little personal assistant!

2. I will actually, deliberately exercise.

I’m fortunate enough to be naturally quite slim – I must have a fast metabolism, because I can (and do) eat A LOT and exercise very little without stacking on the kilos. This year, though, I think it’s about time I paid attention to that old adage quoted by wise mums everywhere: ‘Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should’. Now, I am never going to be a gym junkie – actually, to be honest, I am probably never even going to set foot in a gym. (I’m far too awkward and uncoordinated for all that.) All I want to do is make sure I try to do some form of exercise every day, no matter how small. I’m really keen to look into things like yoga and pilates soon, but to start with, my exercise staple will be walking.

IMG_0188Bar Beach, NSW: my daily walk.

I’ll try to go for a solid walk every day, whether it be the few kilometres to and from the beach, the ten-minute walk to the shops for a few groceries, or simply the hike up and down the steep hill that lies between my bookshop and what seems to be the only free parking in town. (As a sidenote: thankyou, money-hungry city of Newcastle, for making parking in town both difficult and expensive; you’ve inspired [read: forced] me to keep this particular resolution every time I go to work.)

3. I will expand my very average cooking skills, little by little.

I am not a chef. It’s mainly a confidence thing: I don’t trust myself enough to try new things, and I worry that I’ll mess up even the most absurdly simple of dishes. Luckily, Nathan is excellent at cooking, so when he has a night off work he makes us delicious food (interspersed by a few simple pasta dishes from me, which are basically the only things I can make without fretting myself into a coma). But this year, I’ve decided that hey! I’m a grown-ass woman; I want to branch out from spag bol and become an (extremely) amateur chef of my own! I’ve started nice and simple: delicious Mediterranean stuffed capsicums, for which I found a great BBC Good Food recipe.

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The dish was, admittedly, pretty hard to mess up, but it turned out wonderfully and I was so pleased! I think the trick for me is going to be to start small, relish each little new achievement, and gradually work my way up in terms of complexity and range. Here’s to new culinary courage and plenty of lovely meals to try out and master!

4. I will read as many books as I can, and keep track of them all.

I have read a lot of books. I always daydream about there being some hidden counter in your brain that records every book you’ve ever read, showing you the final figure just before you’re about to check out of the big old Life Hotel. I like to think I’ve already racked up a pretty impressive count! But as an interesting way to actively keep track of my reading, tally up my total, and reflect on what I’ve read at the end of the year, I’m going to start keeping a list of all the books I read (as well as the books I want to read – working at a bookshop means that is a virtually never-ending list). 

IMG_0196My 2014 ‘To Read’ list so far.

5. I will think about getting back into creative writing.

During my Christmas shopping, I was on the hunt for books for Nathan’s 13-year-old sister. What an exciting age: the bigger, bolder world of youth fiction is just opening up to you, and you have literally thousands of new books to explore. Researching and recalling some of the titles I enjoyed in my primary and early high school years was such a lovely, nostalgic thing to do – I remembered so many that were such a joy to read and that helped to further my love of books at such an important time in my youth. Fantasy books were especially important to me; Harry Potter, of course, is pretty much the greatest love of my entire childhood, but there were also other fantasy series that really kindled my penchant for the genre. One in particular that I had completely forgotten about is the Deltora Quest series, written by Australian author Emily Rodda. Coincidentally, right after I rediscovered Deltora Quest and the myriad other fantasy books I loved as a kid, I stumbled across this Reddit post about a woman independently releasing her own children’s fantasy series. It inspired me even more and got me thinking that maybe, one day, I’d like to try my hand at writing some children’s fantasy of my own.

File:Forests of Silence Cover Version 1.png So badass.

Now, I’m not locking myself into anything concrete with this one. My resolution isn’t ‘I will write a book in 2014’. It’s very likely that I will have neither the time nor the necessary spark of inspiration to do anything more than simply think about the possibility of doing some creative writing. But I would like to make sure that I do at least think about it. I haven’t written any stories at all since I finished uni, and I really do miss writing them.

2014 Inspiration - Recyclart Image courtesy of Recyclart.

Looking back on my five main resolutions and the strong motivation behind them, I’m pretty confident that I will be able to keep all of them, and that each will help me live the hell out of the coming year! I hope everyone reading this has an amazing year ahead of them, full of dreams and lovely people.

2014, you are looking pretty gorgeous :)

How A Famous Author’s Procrastination Helped Me Overcome Mine

Today, I discovered that George R. R. Martin has a blog, which he updates on a regular, almost daily basis. This revelation led me to realise two things:

  1. People still use Livejournal? (Check it out. It has ‘current mood’ updates and everything. It’s so 2005 and I love it.)
  2. If George R. R. Martin can run a blog (while also writing probably the most highly anticipated 1500-page fantasy novel ever), then so, most certainly, can I.

Since I finished my English and Writing degree at the end of last year, I have been trapped in the following vicious cycle:

  • lament loss of creative outlet/talent;
  • become struck with sudden (usually post-midnight) inspiration for a piece of writing;
  • decide, in morning light, said piece of writing is unusable drivel;
  • repeat.

You’d think I would have long since reached the logical conclusion that, to free myself from this cycle and regain my writing confidence, I should work on a regular blog. My reason – or excuse, depending on how you look at it – for not doing so has always been that I have nothing worthwhile to write about. There are hundreds of millions of blogs on the Internet; many of them are excellent, and many are terrible. Whenever I sat staring at a blank Word document or reading the vague ‘IDEAS FOR THINGS’ note saved to my phone at 12:53am, I’d ask myself questions like: how do you make sure you don’t fall into the ‘terrible’ category by rambling about nothing for the sake of writing something? How do you measure up to all the wonderful examples of online word-wizardry out there?

I’ve since realised that the answer to both of these questions is that you don’t. Who cares if you write a few long-winded rants about stuff that literally only four other people care about? Who cares if you generate no more than six page views per month, and three of these are from you Googling yourself? Based on my newfound understanding, the most important feature of a personal blog should be that the writer enjoys and gains something from creating it.

And so, thoroughly inspired by Mr Martin’s blogging habits (even though I would rather read The Winds of Winter than his thoughts on the latest NFL game … come on, George, you can watch football after you tell me who dies next), I have taken to WordPress to revive the blog I apparently started on July 31, 2012. I’ve left my long-forgotten first post up because I like its main idea: the importance of focusing on the lovely little things in life. I’ll be using that way of thinking as a loose theme for my future posts, in which I plan to celebrate the things I love and the things that make life so awesome.

So, to anybody actually reading this, know that sometimes – maybe even most of the time – I won’t have anything to offer you directly. That said, I’ll try not to be completely useless! I’ll review/post my thoughts on various books, movies and music; I’ll write about some random tips and tricks that I find helpful for day-to-day living; and I’ll try to maintain an overarching theme of appreciation for all the good things life in general has to offer. But sometimes, I will just write for the sake of writing: for the joy of describing an amazing day; for the relief of verbally venting frustration; for something to do, and to feel that I’m doing something.

I hope that you, dear and possibly imaginary reader, are ok with that. :)