Mentor Me: Jennifer the Production Assistant

This week’s mentor, Jennifer Njoku, is working as a production assistant at Warner Brothers. Her stories and tips are revealing and genuinely helpful for those of you who haven’t even got your foot in the door yet. Whether you want to be a production assistant or not, Jennifer shares some brilliant insights into why you need to be your own promoter. Great mentors not only tell us what to do, but what their challenges and lessons from them were. Read on for an edited and condensed version of my conversation with Jennifer- on how she cam to kill it on the entertainment circuit.

At the moment, Jennifer is working as an Art Production Assistant for Warner Brothers, set to work on the upcoming SCOOB! movie. Go Jennifer! But her journey to this spot was far from perfect. Take solace from the fact that her challenges only served to help her get to her spot, and her career path has been littered with lessons she’s learned. These have now been transcribed into lessons shared.

Jennifer starts her story at the beginning. “Immediately after graduating, I knew that I wanted to work in the Entertainment industry. I submitted countless applications to all of the major studios, went to a handful of interviews which didn’t lead to anywhere.” Jennifer then tried her hand at networking, which, as for most people wasn’t her favourite thing to do. After no success cold calling, she started to turn to people she knew: “I started to look to the people around me for any connections they may have.”

Eventually, one of her sister’s coworkers set up a meeting with someone that worked at Warner Bros. “They were impressed with me and then recommended me for a job within the company. I went on an interview and eventually didn’t get the position.”

However, rather than stay downhearted, she reached out again a few months later. “I was then recommended for another interview which then lead me into my current job. I got into my field by not being afraid to ask for help, using the network around me (you never know who knows who), and being persistent to get my name put forward (but not annoying).” “I had to learn the hard way that you can’t always do everything yourself, especially breaking into a new industry with little to no direct experience. I had to learn not to be afraid to ask for help and that most of the time, people do want to help you!”

Importantly, Jennifer never gave up. Even after countless rejections before her interview with Warner Brothers. “The hardest part of breaking into the industry was staying motivated – it is incredibly discouraging to continue submitting applications and having no-one recognize your potential and all the effort you would put into the role. It is tough when you don’t know any-one who can directly recommend you either.”

For this reason, finding someone to recommend you is vital, “I think one of the hardest things about breaking into any industry is finding people who can recommend and root for you. I’ve noticed that people only hire people that they can trust to do a good job – which is why people who are personally recommended often get jobs.” Hard pill to swallow then, but it seems nepotism is still as strong as ever.

But I hate Networking and I don’t know anyone to recommend me! Jennifer acknowledges this but offers her support: “Networking used to be the most daunting thing for me but now that I have worked in the industry and established confidence in my skills – it has become easier for me. I’ve learned that it is a necessary part of the job and it really isn’t that hard – just be nice to those you interact with, stay positive, and follow up whenever you can!”

Jennifer’s Networking 101? “Reaching out to people, politely following up, and paying thanks to those who help is the best way to keep people in your network. They will all be motivated to see you succeed.

One of the most unobvious thing about her industry is the importance of navigating personalities. “People are different and have different things that tick them off, or different expectations of you. You really have to learn how to recognize their patterns and get round them to not let the job get the best of you.”

An out of industry secret to doing what I do is making sure to not let work become your entire life – always do your best to have a social life/hobbies outside of work or else you can find yourself drowning in your job because it becomes your entire life.

When asked about what she wished the path into her industry was like, she spoke candidly about the difficulty of the culture. “I wish that people who don’t necessarily have all of the required experience would have a better chance at finding work in this industry. It can be very hard to find someone who “vouches” for you. There is so much lost potential in this industry because it’s so highly dominated by “man know man” hiring. It’s likely that those who don’t have someone to recommend them because they are new in the industry will work harder an adapt quickly.

It doesn’t even involve looking too far to find people who will vouch for you. “My sister taught me how to pitch myself to others from a young age. She taught be how to be a professional and was always there to give me guidance throughout every part of my career.” Not just professional support, Jennifer’s sister let her know she believed in her. “She never let me get down on myself when I was having trouble finding a job that I wanted.”

Positivity shines through as perhaps one of the most important lessons: “If you work hard and never lose faith in your abilities, you will achieve great things.”

Telling yourself that you can do this is a great mantra, and a habit to pep yourself. Jennifer laughs that, she’s “lost count [of how many times she says “I can do this”] Honestly, I still say this to myself to this day. If I were to give a number [of how many times I say it]- it would be in the hundreds!

For Jennifer, the path was difficult and if she was 16 again she would have chosen a different tack. “I would have focused on producing my own content instead of working so hard to try to get a major studio to notice me, and then land a PA job. Both paths would potentially lead to the same place but one would have been more fulfilling and would have allowed for more personal growth.”         

So, for those of you who want to be creative being a PA might be for you; there are lots of opportunities for growth. “Being a PA allows me to get insight into so many different career paths that I never knew existed. I don’t have to follow some strict guideline or career bubble, as everyone that I work with has achieved their goals in so many different ways.”

There you go. Meet people, exchange details and don’t be afraid to use the connections you have. It can be scary, but it seems if everyone else is doing it… you’ve got to put yourself first too.

A few quickies…

What is your daily habit that you swear by to get shit done?

To be honest, my daily trends often differ. One thing that I try to do that has helped me is drinking a warm cup of lemon water every morning – it makes me feel invincible! 🙂

What do you think all mentors should do?

All mentors should be available and comfortable sharing their personal stories, successes and failures alike. I find that being transparent about your own struggles working in the industry is incredibly helpful for those that are just starting out. It gives them a sense of direction, helps them avoid making similar mistakes, and provides them with invaluable experience in navigating an industry that would otherwise be daunting.

Do you offer mentor services?

I always make it a point to be available to anyone who asks me for help, advice, or just needs someone to help get their foot in the door. I know how hard it was for me to get where I am – so I’m always happy to share my story to those who need it.

What do you think all mentees should do to get the most out of their mentor?

Be honest, don’t be afraid to ask questions, and always be respectful! Share details about yourself and your goals and past experiences, this helps your mentor find ways to relate to you and allows them to give you better advice! It isn’t a one way relationship – your mentor can definitely learn things about themselves through you as well!

What three books/ podcasts would you recommend for someone looking to break into your industry?

“The Ride of A Lifetime” by Bob Iger, basically any podcast created by a comedian, and “Becoming” by Michelle Obama. All of these options teach the public how to be confident despite having limited experience, how to persevere despite rejection, and how to feel reassured in their potential for greatness.  

What should someone spend money on, and what shouldn’t they?

Definitely spend money on the things that make you happy over material things. Experiences are worth it because of the memories that stay with you throughout your life. Only buy material things if they help your personal or professional development. For example, you shouldn’t feel bad about buying that new Iphone or camera if you’re going to use it for marketing yourself!

7 Story elements in 7 minutes: JoJo Rabbit

What a movie. WHAT a movie. Go and see this masterpiece. It builds up a little boys vision of the glorious hitler youth and documents it’s breakdown. Instead of portraying Hitler as bad from the get go- the film starts with a likeable Hitler. He’s funny. Yes, obviously we all hate the real Hitler, but the film bravely shows us how a boy could idealise him and then takes on the challenge of dismantling that for us. Very well done Mr. Taika Waititi.

The acting is phenomenal, Rebel Wilson doesn’t grate as I thought she would, and actually delivers some funny lines. (“What a great year to be a woman”) Sam Rockwell’s character takes a huge 360 and you can’t help but cry at the end when…. I’ll try not to ruin it. But then you shouldn’t really be reading this as the 7 story elements will 100% have spoilers in.

Please read on for my 7 story elements in 7 minutes. Comment if you believe them to be different! I’d love to see another perspective.

The Hero

Little Jo Jo Rabbit. A little, German boy who lives with his mum.

The Flaw

He’s naive- of course, and soaks up everything he’s been told by Nazi Youth leaders. He doesn’t think for himself, and though his mother insists he is “in there somewhere”, the tough exterior created by the SS hardens him to the love of life.

The Hero’s Ally

Elsa, the Jewish girl in his attic. Yes, his mother acts as an ally too, but it is Elsa who is responsible for bringing him round to a love of freedom at the end. Hitler, his imaginary friend who stays with him throughout the movie on the face of it looks like the ally, but he acts more as a symbol of Jo Jo’s changing mood towards nazism.

The Opponent

Elsa. Like most dynamic stories, it is the ally of Jojo who forces him change. Elsa opposes all of the values JoJo has learnt and must eventually un learn.

The Enabling Circumstance

Nazi Germany and his enrolment into the Nazi youth. His lack of a father (due to – we think- his involvement in the resistance) gives him no physical father figure which could be seen as theoretically filled by Adolf Hitler/ Nazism.

The Life Changing Incident

The discovery of Elsa in the attic. JoJo is forced to look his beliefs in the face, and watch them get slowly overturned.

The Jeopardy

Jojo won’t hand in Elsa once he understands that his mother will be sentenced to death for helping Elsa if they find out Elsa exists. After his mother is hung for being part of the resistance, Elsa is all JoJo has, and so losing her matters more. The stakes also rise for Elsa- the SS are cracking down and getting more desperate the closer they come to losing the war.

7 Story Elements in 7 Minutes: Le Mans 66 (Or Ford v Ferrari)

Each week I post a breakdown of a new movie in 7 minutes. Either you’re a screenwriter or you’re just interested in how movies work! The movie I saw this week was Le Mans 66 (Or Ford v Ferrari, depending where you are in the world). A bit of a slow start and some scenes were acted out with bizarre British accents. Those same accents are disarmingly endearing though and ensured I cried buckets at the end.

Here are the 7 story elements:

*Spoilers will be coming, don’t read if you still want to watch it!*

The Hero: Ken Miles (Christian Bale)

The Flaw: He’s not a people person. He doesn’t know when to stop (That’s what wins him the race and eventually kills him)

Enabling Circumstances: He throws hammers around, wins races but then doesn’t get paid. He knows his passion but he has the garage instead. He is ready to get a real job. He lives with a wife and kid that he needs to support. 

The Opponent: Ford. Though Ford offer him the opportunity to race in Le Mans 66, they throw curve balls at him every step- well, the vice president does. The vice president despises everything that Ken Miles is: a ‘beatnik’, unruly and not the typical ‘ford’ man. Ken Miles fucks up his relationship with the VP the first time they meet each other, in the car show room for the launch of the new model. 

The Hero’s Ally: Shelby. He’s his best friend and the person who comes back to him again and again with opportunities. Ken fucks it up in the first ten minutes of the film when the German’s want him, but goes all in when Shelby comes back with Ford’s offer. Ken’s wife is also the Ally- she persuades him to take the job, and not to give up on his dream.

The Life Changing Incident: When Ford ask Shelby and Ken to takes part in Le Mans 66. This is everything that Ken has ever dreamed of. Shelby can take Ken to the top…if only Ford will warm to him, and if only Ken will stop pissing people off. 

Jeopardy: This is what Ken thinks his son thinks of him. ( I think). At the start, Shelby asked Ken if he brought his son here just to watch him be an asshole. Ken lobs a wrench at Shelby, but it misses. Then, we see the son and father get closer and closer, culminating in when Ken nearly dies practicing. The son is very worried after that. In fact, it is not just losing his son’s respect- it is losing his son either physically or in this way. (At the end of the movie when Shelby gives the son the wrench it is a nod to this sentiment. And we are told that perhaps they could never lose each other.)

Leave your comments below about what you think the 7 elements were, and if you think differently!

Mentor Me: Novelist Josephine

This week’s Mentor on Monday is novelist Josephine Greenland. A self-starter, she’s done it all: Poetry, short stories and novels. Her publisher Unbound helps her nature focused, mysterious and often slightly fantastical visions come to life. A “writer in exile” from homeland Sweden, Josephine shares her tips and lessons learned from the writing world.

1. How do you sit down and write?

When writing the first draft of a story, I prefer sitting in my own flat at my desk in peace and quiet, where I can concentrate on the task and there are no distractions. I always have my notebook in front of me with my ideas and will add ideas/points to it include as I go along.  When editing a story, I prefer sitting in a different space, such as a café, as the new setting helps me approach the story from a new angle, and often makes me notice things I didn’t notice while working on the first draft.

2. What writing is important to you? (encourages, empowers, shares…)

For me, writing is a means of questioning the status quo: society, our own position within or outside society, invisible rules we take for granted, etc. This in turn leads onto making things visible: both on grand scales such as social injustice, prejudice and hate crime, and on the minor scale in terms of family secrets and interpersonal intrigues. I believe that bringing attention to these kind of issues, which people may deny or ignore, leads to the empowerment of individuals and marginalised people.

3. What writing do you do?

I write fiction: mainly novels, but also short stories. Occasionally I dabble in poetry. I write both for YA and adults, generally in the genres of mystery, drama and crime, often with a hint of folklore and the supernatural. Nature and people’s relationship with the environment is a common theme in my writing.

4. How did you get onto that?

I got into writing already as a child, once I’d learnt to read. I read a lot of fantasy as a teenager, but as I grew older I moved more into magical realism and exploring how the supernatural works in realism. I further developed this focus at university in my creative writing courses, where my undergraduate dissertation was on modern fairy-tales. During my MA in Creative Writing I became more interested in the role of nature and the idea of writing back to your home country, a bit as a writer in exile, which explains why my first two novels are both set in Sweden, where I’m from.

5. What connections did you have to make?

I had to make connections with other aspiring writers so I could have proofreaders, and also published writers for professional feedback and advice. In order to be updated on what magazines and publishers were accepting submissions, it was also important to establish a social media network, mainly on Twitter. In order to understand the writing, editing and publishing process, I had to listen to author talks and panels at book festivals and events held by the university creative writing departments.  

6. How did you make them?

Through my creative writing courses at university where all lecturers were published writers. Through book festivals, creative writing workshops and guests lectures and, most recently, through Facebook and Twitter. My publisher, Unbound, has a Facebook group for all its authors and this is has enabled me to communicate directly with both emerging and established writers who have experience of both self-publishing and traditional publishing.

7. How did you keep them?

Through active use of social media such as Twitter. This is a very effective way of getting in touch with the wider writing community as well as discovering new magazines, journals, publishers and agents. In all, expanding and developing your network is crucial in maintaining writer connections. Through Twitter I have been able to follow my old university lecturers and keep them updated on my own work. Being an active member of the Unbound Author Facebook group helps me build a rapport with the other writers there. We have our own community where we can share ideas, stories, concerns, get guidance from other writers who have got their books published, and make use of their contacts.

8. What did you find hard when breaking into the industry?

Developing pitching skills for agents and publishers. As a creative writer especially, I think it can be hard to sell and market your work a bit as one would a consumer product. It’s a kind of language that it takes practice to harness and use effectively. I still need to improve marketing skills such as managing my author website and blog, as I’m generally not a social media person and not experienced in technology.

9. What used to be hard but now isn’t?

Concerning writing, the process of finishing a novel used to be difficult as I often failed to finish the story and just ended up revising the beginning again and again. Working on my debut novel with my tutor at university helped me overcome this barrier. Since joining Unbound I have become better at networking and more confident in reaching out to writers and agents to make my name heard. The more contacts you have, the bigger the chance you have of properly getting your foot in the door and breaking through, so I believe that taking initiative in networking is crucial for any creative artist. Having gone through the novel submission process once, I am more comfortable with writing pitches now. Again, this is something that will keep improving the more you do it.

10. What shortcuts are there available?

The Writers and Artists Yearbook which is updated every year gives a great overview of the agents and publishers you can submit your manuscript to and includes some useful advice on pitching. It saves a lot of time that would otherwise be spent google searching publishers. Writers and Artists also host multiple events and workshops on editing, pitching and advice on hooking agents, if that is available to you. A great kick starter into starting or completing a body of work are the Arvon Writing Retreats hosted by the Arvon Foundation. They have three locations across the UK and host courses in a wide array of genres and styles. I got started on my debut novel at one f their courses for Childrens’ and YA Fiction. All course tutors are published and established writers.

11. Is there someone you accredit your success to, apart from yourself?

My parents, who have always been avid proof-readers, editors and supporters of my work. Finding proofreaders can be difficult as people sometimes don’t commit due to time/work and life in general, but I’ve always been able to rely on my parents to proofread and give me feedback. Also my university lecturers, particularly my first creative writing tutor in my first year of undergrad who believed in me and encouraged me – I believe their support has helped me stay true to my writing voice  and keeping it unique. Also my dissertation tutor in my MA who helped me understand how to plan and structure a novel. I’d also like to give special thanks to poet Jo Bell, who’s critical and very constructive feedback during a One-to-One Writing Surgery probably is the reason why I got two of my poems published.

12. How many times did you have to say “I can do this” before you did it?

I think I have always known that I had it in me to get published, even as a 12-year-old when I started writing my first novel. It was such a passionate dream of mine to be a writer, that this passion alone fuelled the work and perseverance that resulted in my first publication, so I did not have to say “I can do this.” It was more after the first publication, after which I got quite a few rejections, that my confidence wavered and I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to keep up my previous success. I think it is the pressure of following up a success that results in a lack of confidence and the need to remind yourself that “Yes, I can do this.” I had the same experience when starting my second novel (at which point my first novel had been crowdfunded and sent to editors), as I wasn’t sure I’d be able to live up to the first novel and produce another publishable manuscript. I think reminding yourself that “I can do this” is something you have to do consistently throughout the creative career as each project you embark upon is different and tends to be more ambitious than the last.

13. What is your daily habit that you swear by to get shit done?

Turning your phone and internet off when you sit down to write. Even though you need to google things now and then as you write, it’s best to have the internet off as it’s easy to, with just a few clicks, get distracted from your work and end up wasting twenty minutes. Be rigorously organised. Designate one hour of every day to non-stop writing without distractions or pauses. On the weekends, try to allocate at least three (breaks in between such as a walk then recommended).

14. What is the most unobvious thing about your industry that you have to do? (e.g. exercising, eating well)

Writing involves a lot of sitting still, so exercising and keeping yourself healthy is definitely a top priority. I find that a run or walk clears my mind (and airs it out to), and often helps me come up with new ideas or solutions to plot problems.

15. What out of industry secret is there to doing what you do?

Not quite sure what would be out-of-industry, as I work like I think most writers do. The only thing I can think of is the music I listen to sometimes to get me started with writing. As my novels are set in Sweden I find that listening to ambient, Nordic background music helps me find the mood and tone of my story.

16. If you could start again, go back to being a 16 year old, is this the path you would take?

Absolutely. I’ve always wanted to be a writer and I don’t think I would have started out in any different way than I did.

17. What do you wish the path into your industry was like?

More straightforward and completely independent of markets and profits. Traditional publishers are very much dependent on current trends and guaranteed sells for survival, so many novels that push the margins or sit in between two styles often get turned down, simply because publishers don’t know where to place them in the market.

18. What is the path like?

It is free, open and gives authors a better chance of making a solid living out of their writing. Authors would be independent masters of themselves and not dependent on what kind of stories their publishers and the market wants.

19. What do you think all mentors should do?

Be critical, honest and encouraging. Push your mentees, challenge them even if you what you say may seem daunting. It pays off in the end.

20. What do you think all mentees should do to get the most out of their mentor?

Ask your mentor about their own writing experience and path to publication. Ask to see some of their work. Be completely honest and open about your strengths and weaknesses in writing and any new genre, technique or area you want to explore. Always ask for detailed feedback. Challenge your mentor at times. Even if they have more experience, you are the author at the end of the day and it is up to you whether you take on board their feedback or not. Some editing suggestions are based on personal taste and all authors have different tastes when it comes to writing, even if there are only subtle differences. Also, ask them what contacts they have in the writing industry, as these could be useful to you.

21. Do you offer mentor services?

I have offered mentor services in the past, when I was a mentor for Manuscription Magazine, a journal publishing writers aged under 18. I would happily do so again, as I believe the mentor learns as much about writing as the mentee.

22. How should someone get in contact with you to be their mentor?

Find my contact details through my website at www.josephinegreenland.com or send me a message via Twitter at @greenland_jm, or my Facebook page Josephine Greenland Writer.

23. How fulfilling is your job? If so what makes it fulfilling.

My job as a writer is the most fulfilling profession I have as it allows me to be myself and explore parts of myself I didn’t know existed. Creating stories is a way of discovering and re-discovering both yourself and the world. It helps you understand the world better, and I never feel as alive as I do when writing, because I get the chance to live multiple lives.

24. What three books/ podcasts would you recommend for someone looking to break into your industry?

The Writers and Artist’s Yearbook, new edition comes out every year. On Writing – A Memory of the Craft by Stephen King. If you want advice from an author, you may as well learn from a master. I don’t listen to podcasts that often, but one I’ve heard of is Minorities in Publishing by Jennifer Baker, which discusses “the lack of diversity in the book industry”. This can be of particular interest to emerging writers struggling to get their foot in the door.

A nostalgic look at childhood camping

Camping has always and will always be my fuck you to the business ran shit storm that is the world. Universities have become just another cash cow for Deans, and people are talking about running the NHS like a business. You can’t run a national healthcare system like a business- it ISN’T a business. In moments of rage induced clarity I can’t help but wonder what it would be like if we all just picked up a tent and went. All of us, camping together as a strike on the ‘world ran as a business’. We could all gather on fold out chairs with little plastic mugs, drinking instant hot chocolate in a really disorganized manner. Ah, the dream. 

Why is camping so utterly great? It’s as far from corporate lifestyle as you can get. There still remains little pockets of English countryside which invite you to gather together to roast politicians alongside your corn on the cob.

I grew up on campsites. Every year my mum took us camping to the same few campsites in Wales. A lot of my childhood memories have been formed on lush green fields dripping with morning dew and urine from campers who didn’t fancy a 2am trek to the loo.

A list of the best to follow.. please note they are just called “Campsite #..” because growing up that’s what they were. I didn’t know the names of cities that they were in, just that they were fields we set our tents up in.

Campsite #1

The first campsite we frequented sat right next to a huge, dense evergreen forest. The campsite was only small, and like most of them, backed onto a farmer’s house. Me, my twin and older brother took to this forest with an adventurers relish. We nipped through the barbed wire (back when you’re young enough to get away with shit like that) and trekked over cackling twigs and rough, fallen bark. We looked for dark spaces to hide in and jump out at each other from, but then we reached the middle of the forest

In the middle we found a passage had been cleared: a huge, man made circle. In the middle there was a giant pile of animal bones. Cow bones, OX bones, definitely sheep bones. We had stumbled across a secret cult that burnt dead carcasses. White brittle pieces of bone tickled our feet. (This is how I remember it). I escaped with barely my life. We ran back the way we’d come, not caring that the branches were hitting our faces with a force unparalleled.

When we reached the dirt road we were changed. With twig shaped scars on our faces, we were each Rambo in our minds. We concocted theories about the cult which we meant to spend the rest of the trip unravelling. We would literally solve real life fiction. The next day we took our spades down to the nearby beach for some good, safe, fun instead. 

Campsite #3

The social life at a campsite was richer than the most illustrious instagram account. We upgraded our annual visit to a campsite in Anglesey that was teeming with kids our age. (Mum took us there after we were charged at by a ram at the smaller one.) That’s when someone first told me I looked like Selena Gomez- yes please, thank you. I actually had that running for a few years and then it stopped, I don’t know what happened. At this camp we would form a little crew and play football together. I once spent a whole afternoon doing cartwheels with a girl who’s younger brother refused to put clothes on. The girl and I sat cross legged throughout a whole afternoon, explaining the ins and outs of our religions to each other and discussing our respective gods. I think our Jewish and Christian parents were having palpitations as we single handedly saved our generation. 

I caught butterflies in our lanterns and kept them as pets- this was before I realised that loving animals meant respecting them, not entrapping them for personal use. They all died and left that dusty trail of butterfly must behind. If I didn’t cry then, I’m crying for them now. My mum probably laughed at me when I told her I wanted to be a vet, waving those sticks of death. 

I followed toads back from the bathroom at 10pm and found it hilarious when we found them in someone’s trainer the next day. I used to shine my torch like a walking lighthouse for them, so they could see where they were going. I couldn’t stand the thought of them being crushed by a clumpy wellington. I was an RSPCA inspector aged 7 and no one knew. That’s the sort of purpose you can secretly laud over your parents when you got in trouble. 

We heard a rustling one night in the tent and my mum crept out ready to shoo a feral fox. It was our uncle sneaking a kit kat from the tin foil freezer bag. 

Campsite #4

I fancied my first ever farmer called Steven at a campsite. He was 12. I was 10.  He had a quad bike and a huge Kinex. My brother got to play with it, and I tried to be the cool younger sister who didn’t give a fuck, “happily”  standing in the corner and watching. I was really counting my inward tears. 

Campsite #5 (that was number 1 chronologically speaking)

I also remember wetting the sleeping bag at 6 and feeling so embarrassed that I emptied all my clothes into the middle of the tent and tried to curl up under them so as not to wake my mum. It was freezing. My mother woke up grumbling but her heart broke as she told me off for trying to sleep in minus temperatures under a pile of M & S knickers . I can’t remember how we sorted out my sleeping arrangements but I know I wet the bed every other night without fail.

Campsite #6

I remember sitting at the table that was raised up behind the toilets so you could see the site,at 14. My brother sneaked us Jack Daniels and we had a shot each, feeling like underground gamblers who perhaps had a panache for outdoor and vegetation settings for games. We giggled, spoke about important stuff all night and shivered; all whilst marveling at the changing colours of the sky. Dark blue to navy to pitch black to dotted with iridescent stars. 

Later that night I went to the toilet and the sky was fuschia, yellow and a burning red. I ran back to the tent to grab my sleeping bag and shuffled back to the table. I really felt like I was experiencing something magical and profound. It is the feeling you get when you experience something incredibly private but huge. For me it had been sitting at a table by a toilet, spying on the sky as it changed itself. 

And so..?

Camping creates itself in cold days and a few hot ones. You can spend a day carefully paddling a stream and then trip over a guy lines in the evening several times. Camp nights are the distant noise of campfire songs, and the strumming of your own guitar to which someone from another pitch will (maybe annoyingly) join in with. Little patches of bonfire light up a field’s corners so that you can warm your hands by the darkness. 

If you went every year like my family you’ll know you develop traditions; who does what (my sister was fucking great at putting up tents – I just stirred the pot (thanks Mum) and brought back “injured” animals who just wanted to go back to the spot I’d dragged them from, screaming, “I’m going to be a vet.”) 

Even though you’re twelve and cold beyond belief, you know if you unzip the tent door, the world would be waiting. Anything is possible when the stars are literally metres away, seemingly metres above you.

My message to you

Buy a tent. Take anyone and go anywhere remote. Or not remote, as long as you’re making the camp yourself. Rely on yourselves instead of the TV and take refuge in the fact you can survive if they decide to privatise everything but roadkil:  Making a fire’s a piece of piss. 

I wore all my clothes to the airport and here’s what happened…

Not heat exhaustion. But very nearly.

 

When RyanAir ask you to pay £20 for hand luggage, what do you do? Not pay it. For those who don’t know, RyanAir now expect you to pay to bring bags over a certain size onto the plane. Now the world is getting smaller and more people are travelling cheaply, packing lightly has become easier than ever. You know you can buy everything you need once you get to a destination. Or, like me, people realise they can stuff two weeks worth of bikinis and sarongs into a hefty carry on.

RyanAir must have clocked that everyone was stuffing two weeks worth of gear into a fake Louis Vuitton bring on, and not shelling out an extra £40. Can’t imagine why… the more luxurious of us do travel with them.

I decided therefore to do it. To do that thing everyone always says they’ll do: wear everything to the airport.

Three things I picked up:

  1. It was exhausting.
  2. I definitely nearly got heat exhaustion.

It’s nerve-wracking. Air Stewardess’s check nowadays that your hand luggage is no bigger than the size of a small Chihuahua if you haven’t paid for it.

I tried producing my first vlog entry for this, but am having some technical difficulties uploading it. In lieu of this, I have below the diary entry that I wrote whilst I was panicking in front of the first frontier: The RyanAir ticket and passport station. I was sat in 7 layers of clothing, puffed up and dripping with sweat on a bench. It was twenty minutes before boarding and I could see the tapping feet of the awaiting ‘checker’s. They even had a cage which was a size that no hand luggage item could fit through.

I was shitting it- having also not slept at all.

Please note the writing is a tad delirious, it being over 36 hours since I had last slept. I had been up all night putting on my clothes and arranging them as surreptitiously as possible. Although no one could see the different layers they could see that there was a girl with an abnormally small head for the size of her body.

Diary entry at RyanAir to Kiev:

I seem to be at the last frontier. I have tried and failed to put on all my clothes ont he ladies toilets that sit just outside gate 55. I have joined the soon to be masses at the station and hope now that fate deals me a fair hand. I indeed only have the one “bag” followed by another duty free. I look like a grandmother umpaloompa and now just hope that I have someone who is not a jobsworth seeing me through. Someone who is fed up with their job, hates their boss and curse the name “Ryanair” every time they call their mum or step out the airports grounds.

If I get pulled up on it I will have to say “fine, how much is it to be priority? I tried to do it online but I couldn’t see the option. And it was too late to add baggage”

Hopefully they will not know priority is filled up and let me on. If not, I shall of course give way graciously to hold luggage. To be honest it may be easier. Though irritating since I’m wearing half of the bloody case.

I made it through! Hurrah! The demi frontier- now all that’s left is Kiev’s station before Dubai’s flight. With the sweet victory feeling soon comes the realisation that I haven’t slept, I have a tonne of crying babies behind me and all I want to do is curl up and go to bed. I’m also wearing 8 layers. Hot and sweaty just adds another layer of irritation to an otherwise victorious moment.

So I woke up after two awful hours of sleep, punctuated by period pains right in the core of my uterus feeling utter shite. I then had the genius idea to use the bathrooom! I had these mini farts that kept rolling and then stopping short of doing out and I knew I just had to let rip. Once in the toilet my saddened face looked back- it only was I tired beyond belief I was probably hugely over heating! I stripped off happily and frantically and when I came out the bathroom this special woman with fake lips and peroxide hair looked utterly aghast and bewildered at my huge pile of clothes in my hand. Well fuck you .

 

What would the takeaway be?

It’s not worth it.

A Poem: When The Horses Come

When the horses come, white and brave i’ll stay here watching you,

Unless they sweep me up on their journey home,

Mountains passing,

Sea’s crashing

Horses amassing- hundred and thousands of tight, sinewing muscles under black fur pumping and a couple of whites.

Away, away hurtling down a spiky dune path, where the green sticks are battling,

on and on,

Thud,

Thud

Galloping, galloping

Until we open out onto a thick beach and the horses disappear like a dream.

Mine lingers though, on this

White beach. Misty shoreline.

When I see you on a horse next to me, it’s muscles smoking,

I wonder that I could have thought I left you behind when here we are, dreaming of the same horses.

This poem was based on the pictures I took on Cape Town, South Africa. We went on a morning sunrise ride, and were surrounded in this beautiful white mist.

Enjoy reading 🙂

Should I Visit…. Boulders Beach, South Africa?

Boulders Beach, the home of the African penguins. Just outside of Cape Town, nestled on the coast is a penguin colony. They dip in and out of the sandy rocks that look like they have been dropped by a landscape designer.

A girl in a red bikini sits on a rock, surrounded by African Penguins. It is sunny and there is a blue sky.
[Image Description: A girl in a red bikini sits on a rock, surrounded by African Penguins. It is sunny and there is a blue sky.]
A sea of black and white burbles and chirrup- they honk angrily at each other and also the occasional tourist (of which there are many.) Who wouldn’t want to come to a beach that was not only stunning, but filled with animals that we normally expect to find in much colder regions?

A girl in a red bikini sits on a rock, surrounded by African Penguins. It is sunny and there is a blue sky.
[Image Description: A girl in a red bikini sits on a rock, surrounded by African Penguins. It is sunny and there is a blue sky.]
Boulders Beach, just next to Seaforth in South Africa is a top attraction. In 1982 the colony began when a few of these little angels found shelter between the large rocks. If you come to pay them a visit (it does cost) you’ll be able to see up to 2,500 penguins. Although they’re an endangered species, the African Penguin can find refuge on this protected and clean beach.

A girl stands next to a boulder in the sea, that has an African penguin in top. It is a sunny day with a blue sky.
[Image Description: A girl stands next to a boulder in the sea, that has an African penguin in top. It is a sunny day with a blue sky. ]
What’s really great about this beach however is the proximity you can get to the inhabitants. You can swim with them, follow them into their houses and sit beside them. However, they are wild so don’t be surprised if they honk at you or even bite you! One of our friends recalled for us a time when he had been to friendly and felt the repercussions. We think he must have really pissed them off because they were nothing but lovely to us.

Two girls sit smiling on a beach, with two African penguins behind them.
[Image Description: Two girls sit smiling on a beach, with two African penguins behind them.]
I would definitely recommend going. The numbers are dwindling, and even this protected area is feeling the detrimental effect of over fishing, pollution and irresponsible tourism activities. Though the area is well cleaned it is imperative for those visiting to clean up after themselves and not stress out the penguins too much. Though they do take matters into their own hands if they feel threatened!

6 Tips for Making Friends whilst you’re Living Abroad

I’ve lived abroad twice this year- hectic. Cape Town for three months from January until April, and now Dubai for a month. Sorry skin, hello tan. Part of moving abroad is the inevitability that you won’t know anyone there. Exciting or scary? Or both?

The thrill of meeting new people and forming new connections is the stuff of life. There’s probably a quote somewhere along the lines of, ‘you can have a group of friends, but it’s only until you make a hundred that you can turn around and see the qualities you want in one.’ If no one’s said it I will. I’m pulling that quote baby.

Below is a list of methods I’ve tried and tested to make friends abroad. It can get super lonely at first, or even midway so it’s important to make the effort.

Friendships are formed on shared experiences, and some of your best friendships will be made with others who have also departed from their native country.

 

1. Use Tinder

When I was in Cape Town, all my French friends were using Tinder to find people to hang out with. My mind was blown. A friend from Germany who was finishing her internship just as I was starting mine, spent her last week meeting up with a different guy from Tinder each day. We were all at work so she made use of the dating app to pass the time during working hours.

They went on hikes up Devil’s Peak, sunbathed on Camps Bay…one guy even took her on his motorbike to a beautiful, shimmering waterfall. Be warned, however: Like most guys, these guys in Cape Town couldn’t completely cross off the possibility of a romantic ending and only a few were genuinely on the same page as her.

I’m in Dubai now and staying with a best mate who works a nine to five. Though I’m here to primarily write, tan, and ‘go gym’ in the week it can still get lonely. Ergo, I have downloaded Tinder to see what happens. I’ve already had some very interesting propositions though they’re not very friendship-y. I’ve found a French guy who I think wants to meet up JUST to practice French though I’ll be seeing what happens. He is cute. Literally can’t help myself.

The jury is still out on whether this could genuinely be a friendship making tool, but you get to pick friends who are easy on the eyes- bonus. Try it out and see what happens.

2. Live in Shared Accommodation

This tip cannot be emphasized enough. Whilst in Cape Town, the interning agency I used gave me three options for my living situation. 1) Live in my own flat 2) Live with a local family for free 3) Live in shared accommodation.

Always go for number 3. Though number 2 sounded quite cool and cultural, and number 1 just plain boring, number 3 turned out to be crucial to my Cape Town experience. It is always better to live with other people your age who are undergoing similar experiences. I met over twenty people who I would call my friends, a few of whom are now close ones. We went clubbing together, on hikes together, to meals and the beach… everything you do is with the same 10 or so people. We went to festivals together and dressed up, hell we even went on a weekend road trip! Of course, you kiss the same people too… it’s all very conducive to warm, long-lasting friendships.

3. Get Recommendations from Friends

So living in shared accommodation is best for when you don’t know anyone. If you are living with a really good mate but they’re gone during long periods of time for whatever reason, you want to get local recommendations. That could be a bar where people your age hang out or another specific place.

I’ve found Dubai to be quite…skyscrapery. Especially where we’re living. There’s a communal pool where to be fair I got talking to quite a fit Geordie, but people only go up to tan for an hour at a time in heat like this. (Obviously, I’m racking up 3 hours a day, sorrrryyyy skin.)

However, there’s a sports bar called Kickers a 10-minute walk away from our apartment which I can go to if I want to work. Last night we met a guy from Stockport who proceeded to give our mate boy advice for half an hour. We listened intently and cheered on the random good looking boys who were sweating it out on the football pitch. An evening well spent.

4. Go to Bars

Or any place that encourages social gatherings. Bars can be hard because there can be connotations that people are looking to get laid, especially, for some reason in Dubai where sex outside of marriage is illegal. However, once you establish a conversation with someone that doesn’t involve sweetly telling them to fuck off, just get those details! Arrange to meet up on other nights out. There are usually bars of all different types, and I’ve found the ones that offer pool tables and an eclectic playlist work the best for conversation.

5. Make Friends with Friends.

When you’re abroad there’s no time for jealousy. “Oh no, I made friends with him first I can’t believe you’re texting him” Suck it up; when you’re out in the flats of Australia or new to a bustling town in Delhi a friendly face is friendly for all. Don’t be afraid to text that person just because you didn’t meet them first. They’re probably just as eager to hang out and explore new places, so send out those WhatsApps to all those friends of friends and see who replies first. It may not be who you wanted at first but we all need some form of social interaction.

6. Make Friends.

The most obvious, and I’m sorry to be pratty, is just to go out and make friends. There is no more straightforward way. Be proactive on nights out- in a very fun club called Atelier over Eid I got the contact details of three people who we were dancing and playing pool with. One was even a writer- fun, fun, fun! One, unfortunately, was a model who was only here for a week, but now I get to see piff pictures of her and weep on Instagram. (Yay)

When we got back from the club, we got chatting to a man feeding cats outside the building. It only struck us as odd later that he was doing so at 4 am. It turned out he lived in the building, and we ended up having an awesome time bringing in the sunrise from the rooftop running track and listening to UK rap. We have since been on a night out. Just chatting to people and offering to exchange details is a welcome phenomenon in a world where people are so engaged in the online one. I promise you chatting and asking for details is easier than you think.

So there are my tips! Stay safe and vet who you go out with, but if you trust your inner creep-o-meter you should be fine. Socialising is one of the great joys of living, and whether it turns into something hotter or remains fun and tepid you can explore the world best through the people you meet.

 

“It’s only until you make a hundred friends that you can turn around and see the qualities you want in one

 

Should I go… to Sofitel Spa, Dubai?

Sofitel spa was the opening gift from my friend when I arrived in Dubai. When I arrived I wasn’t fully sold on the city’s glamour. I refused to be suckered in by the clean cream blocks of stone that furnished nearly every road, or the palm trees that swayed, some with their leaves still bound in nets from the distributor, alongside the waters edge.

But Sofitel spa shoehorned me into Dubai’s rich culture like a manicured hand into a cashmere glove.

There was…

The Valet

Valet is the single most life affirming thing to happen to a person next to being proposed to. It doesn’t matter what car you drive (sorry Beccles); the unnecessary service if having your door opened and car parked is an experience glorious for the uselessness entirely. When you’re rich you get to do absolutely nothing.

The Greeting

The hotel Sofita had its spa tucked away to the left as you walk into the grand lobby. At reception when you arrive you are seated by a gently dribbling water feature and given two small glasses filled with lemon infused water. Mother may I? We were handed some forms to fill out regarding what areas we liked massaging best, and I couldn’t help but make my own box in the section, “What do you see when you look in the mirror?” Fuck dark under eye circles, I see a “Strong, Independent Woman.”

The Facilities

We were given a tour of the spa first. The spa consists of a locker room for showering and changing. The shower comes complete with its own LOVELY smelling own brand shampoo and conditioner, a complementary gown and some slippers.

There are four pools: A hot, steamy jacuzzi pool; a icy cold plunge pool; an outdoors infinity pool and one long pool that lines the inside of the spa, snaking round the massage waiting area and to the left of the plunge.

There is a sauna and steam room.

One item I had never seen at a spa before- not even at the nudist one I went to in Norway- was the Ice fountain. A little silver jet spouted shaved ice chips out of a generator and collected them in a blue back lit pile. You rubbed them directly onto your face and made you really want a drink. Bizarre.  

The waiting area for the massage treatments has six large, cushioned, bamboo backed chairs that relax you the moment you sink back. There is a selection of magazines to choose from once sat down: Yacht and Debonair. Next to that table is a spread of almonds, apricots, cashews and apples of both kind- Granny Smith and Red Galas. Two different types of teas are heated up in quaint china teapots by tea lights.

Our time

We spent most of our time outdoors on sun loungers facing the infinity pool. I was fresh off the plane and I wanted sun and heat fast.

We had to move the umbrella between our chairs so Beccles wasn’t in the shade- after being used to valet I could tell her affectation or manual labour was no joke.

The open plan and splendent greenery made the spa a perfect place to have a photo shoot. We giggled as others posed for pics in the pool… and then spent the rest of our time posing with teacups on the other side of the pool.

Because the water dispenser was inside in the part where you wait for your treatment, you end up having to make several trips inside. Your eyes having to adjust aside, the intended ‘Hollister’ effect is replaced by the “someone forgot to turn the lights on” construction sites vibes. Candles lit the way but somehow the corridor felt too big to rely on just candles for illumination.

The steam room featured a stone vulva which I nearly tipped over by mistake. It also offered a hose which we determined was to pour over the vulva which somehow created steam. We didn’t mind the vulva and since it was a female only section no offense was caused. (Yes, all the facilities I have just described are for females only. Only the outdoor pool is mixed.)These four huge atriums were just for us of the soft and dainty flesh.

The sauna was much more unbearable and featured a huge furnace of hot coals which we got to pour water on using an oversized wooden spoon.

The Massage itself

I helped myself to a big teacup of Moroccan mint tea and sat down in one of the luxury chairs. Just as I went to take a sip my mate beckoned me to the changing room. Ah yes, the special black knickers for our treatment were to be adorned after a shower.

I returned to the lull of the waiting room, clean and much more naked only to find my tea gone! I poured another one quite happily but as I brought the white China up to my quivering and slightly sweaty lips a Polynesian woman with thick black glasses clattered over the wooden floorboards: “Hannah?”

“Yes!”

I wanted the tea but I wanted the treatment more. I strutted over with the calm sashay of a massgee and willingly derobed down to my bizarre knickers. I lay on the table and my head fit snugly into the hole. After a few mishaps where my jugular pounded into the neck brace in response to her kneading, I finally readjusted to massagee perfection.

The massage was easily the best one I’ve ever had. I’ve come to realise, like with sex, it’s best to tell your masseuse when it’s good. Because if you just stay silent they’re going to be disheartened! Yes it’s a paid for experience but people perform better when you show some appreciation and support. I told her at least twice it was “amazing” or “that’s so good.” She laughed embarrassed both times but the massage definitely improved after each time. She even told me where I had the most tension- bonus.

All in all…

Yes I would recommend this. You feel like an absolute princess and the service is impeccable. The snacks are genius an the magazines proved invaluable to someone who needs material to read whilst sunbathing.

What to bring…

Nothing! Everything is provided, even towels. Just a change of undies for when you dry off.