14 Ludicrous things my roommate has said….non ironically.

You get the dream opportunity to live and work in Italy for three months…you sit, nerves mixing with excitement, sipping enough coke that the bile in your stomach can, well, stomach. ‘I’m going to eat pasta, and gelato, and drink wine, and meet fascinating people for three months – and feel like an Italian person (even though my Italian is worse than Katy Price’s attempts at marriage), what could go wrong?

*Thunder claps* DUN.DUN.DUUUUUN. *whispers* Three words…three words is all it takes.

Not ‘I love you’, not ‘Leonardo DiCaprio here!’, no no, ‘share.a.room.’

“It’s fine!! I try to get on with everyoneeee!” I say, hopefully, to friends, family, friends of family and family of friends…what’s the worst that can happen? Fast forward three tiresome weeks, and a gaggle of priceless quotes later, and ding ding ding we’ve got ourselves a winner.

So sit back, *grits teeth* in your NON-shared, happy-place bedroom, and spare a thought, for those who are living with idiots against their will, as I take you on a journey of the most saddening, human-race-future-despairing comments that I have been subject to over the last few weeks…I hope you’re sitting down.

1. We arrive in Palermo. Hooray – Ryanair didn’t lose our luggage or our bags! In a few moments time I will just lose my patience….

Let’s call the person in question: P:

P: ‘How do I read this?’ *Pointing at machine in Italian

Me: ‘Click the British flag and it’ll come up in English?’

P: *hesitantly*…’which one’s the british flag?’

SHE IS BRITISH. Say no more

2. ‘Ooooh The Hobbit – is that the film about Golum? Oh wait, no. Not Golum…it’s about Sam isn’t it..not Golum’

3. “Ooh the Super Bowl! Is that bowling?” *mimics ten pin bowling action*

4. ‘Is pizza from Italy?’

5. ‘What’s a Thor?’

6. ‘Who is Tom Hiddleston?!’ (Holly, I am so, so, sorry about this one)

7. *Sings Little Lies by Fleetwood Mac*

Me: Oooh I love Fleetwood Mac!

P: ‘Who’s Fleetwood Mac?’

8. ‘I don’t want to speak to him anymore….he doesn’t speak good enough English.’ Says P…in Italy…and she cannot speak any other languages…

9. ‘I left the gas on all night – big deal, it’s not like I nearly killed us, it was just ONE SMALL ERROR’

10. ‘What’s wifi?’

11. ‘Freddo! That’s that cat shaped cake thing in England isn’t it?’ It’s a frog shaped, overpriced, chocolate. No.

12. ‘Your MA was in Poetry?…I thought it was in English’

13. ‘Kick Ass isn’t a thing…is it a thing?’

14. ‘The Great Gatsby is a book? I thought it was just a film?’

And there we have it ladies and gents….a gaggle of priceless quotes from my roommate of whom I had no idea prior to arriving at the airport to come to Palermo.

I guess the comments I hear on a daily basis give me something to laugh about/feel cleverer in myself…when I’m not rolling my eyes to the heavens and counting in my head to ten while deep breathing. A lot.

We no speak Italiano…but we try.

Well I guess I should firstly remind you who on earth I am as it’s been that long since I last blogged. Truth be told, Christmas consumed the majority of my time and energy last month, and then suddenly it was 8th January and I was frantically stuffing three months’ worth of possessions into a case with a maximum weight of 20kg (damn you Ryanair).

I guess the phrase ‘better late than never’ rings true for my Sicilian experience at this moment in time, when it comes to writing a post on how it is going. I have had an overwhelming amount of messages from family, friends, and people that fall into any other category not covered by friends and family, so I felt it would be easier to write a blog post as opposed to sending a round robin email about my adventures…though I am sure I will eventually stop eating spaghetti and do this too at some point.

Why am I in Sicily?

Basically – I have secured a place on the EU funded Leonardo Di Vinci programme….established to bring about mobility in graduates alongside encouraging people to live and work abroad for a set amount of time. I picked Italy as my destination of choice on my application form because I have always wanted to work in Italy somehow. Having a distinctively limited knowledge of the Italian language, I was concerned I’d never fulfil my dream of working in my boot-shaped favourite destination – luckily for this particular scheme, Italian lessons are provided, and the Italians here are particular gestural, just like me. One of the funniest moments I have had here so far (I am sure there are bound to be 133545 more) was trying to communicate with a shop-owner to buy a towel…’Do.you.have….*runs hands all over arms and torso* towel? dry dry dry? *remains patting upper half of body while jiggling bottom half sporadically*’ needless to say she did not have the faintest idea of what on earth I was trying to purchase…and I’m sure if she did it would have been incredibly different to my intention. Luckily – I saw a flannel (think angel choirs singing and bright light shining down spot light style onto said flannel) and gestured ‘GRANDE.’ It was like something out of a horrendously bad sitcom, but nonetheless I have my new favourite flannel piece.

Aside from making locals laugh at my ludicrous attempts of communicating, I am here for three months to work at Centro Astalli; a non-profit organisation that seeks to help asylum seekers and refugees. I have had an eye-opening experience already and i’ve only been here just over a week. I get to partake in the Italian lessons provided, and have made a ‘language gang’ comprised of Doris, a lady from Ghana with the most beautiful smile I have ever seen, and two guys; one from Morocco, and the other also from Ghana. They are a lovely bunch, and while we cannot communicate completely in Arabic, English or Italian, we do bloody try. When I’m not making up Italian phrases about where I reside, where i’m from, and how happy I am (Io sono molto felice as I write this!) I am serving the breakfasts to the shelter visitors, or sorting the endless boxes of donations that are given to the shelter. On Friday, the boss has got me teaching my first English lesson…..(oh em gee, help, someone send help, asap) and even though I haven’t got the faintest clue what I will do, I am going to try my best and attempt to put my BA and MA in English into good use! (Poems anyone?)

I think what has been the most crucially new (or nuovo if you want to show off your new knowledge of one Italian word like I do) part of this experience is the fact that I am currently living in Sicily…living.in.Sicily. It feels surreal, but marvellous and incredibly inspiring. It is challenging, but exciting, and even just feeding my new love for cappuccino in Italian, or eating gelato at 11pm at night are all perks of this whirlwind adventure I am on until April. I have danced to Italian rap music under the stars until the early hours of the morning, chatted to locals until 7am, discovered a new love for beer I never knew I had, found bottles of wine sold for ONE EURO FIFTY. I REPEAT, ONE EURO FIFTY, (I promise there’s more on this list NOT alcohol related, give me some time), laughed with people from Birmingham, Wales, Bangladesh, Italy, Spain, to Brazil, Latvia, and Argentina…something that while I love Essex, it simply would not have provided me with in such a short space of time.

It has been hard work, but living in a country that is not familiar to you with a language that you are scraping the back of your mind’s year 11 Latin knowledge to some success is not going to be a walk in the park. But this is okay….I am not here for a holiday, I am here to enhance my prospects and gain some experience in a place that I have only experienced prior to this as a tourist. For once, I am actually living in Italy, and living Italy…it’s only week one, sure, but the instinctual happiness I have being here will keep me going when I’m waking up for 9am and finishing at 7pm. I am making a difference while eating carbs, and I could not be more enthusiastic about it.

A walk about Paris will provide lessons in history, beauty, and in the point of Life.

644501_10151978341337929_1225074803_nAround a month ago I swapped my crisp and chilly surroundings, Essex for an even crispier but more exciting venue, Paris. After two hours of avoiding falling asleep on the suited French male next to me, I was in Gare du Nord waiting to meet two of my favourite people ever, Joanna and Bethany. Liverpool University handed me a lot of adventures and beautiful friends (in exchange for an amount of fees we will not discuss as my bank balance will sob), and it was time to relive our Liverpool days, only this time with a wintry Parisian backdrop.547873_10151978339977929_1337197461_n

Despite being mistaken as Dutch, Spanish, Parisian, it remained fundamentally clear that I could not and still cannot speak French. Surprisingly, the streets did not smell of Chanel No 5, but it was everything I imagined it would be. I haven’t visited the capital since I last went aged 8, and at that point my interests lay solely with Disneyland Paris, not the Eiffel Tower or Champs-Élysées. Swerving Mickey and Minnie this time, and full of delicious pumpkin soup, Bethany and I made our way around Paris while our wonderful host was working (being a mature adult and shiz) nearby.

Bethany and I became friends while completing a Reading for Pleasure project in our second year of University. This tongue-tying role required us to read poetry to those suffering from 1394150_10151978336627929_743906205_nDementia in various degrees, in a care home. It was a challenging but incredibly enriching experience, one that we both recall fond and funny memories to this day. Fast forward two years, two degrees, a year in Spain (for Bethany…I am inept at languages), and we were strolling past stuffed rats in shop windows (yes they look as disgusting as you’d imagine), consuming Pain au Chocolat on the Metro, browsing Monet and Van Gogh beauties (they look insanely beautiful in the flesh) and fearing the fierce metro doors…as our new white suited friend can vouch for.
Going out in London is always eventful, but this would not gear me up for our first night out in Paris. Cue ‘can I have your number’ times 13243536, enough rain to fill Niagra Falls, and gaggle of new friends, where else would we go apart from a bar eloquently entitled ‘Dirty Dicks.’ Dirty Dicks is as delightful as it sounds, where speakers in the toilets play seagull coos to keep you company, before walking down a dark corridor with only Pufferfish lights to guide your way, yes, real (deceased) pufferfish lights. No, we had not had too many cocktails, DD is just different…and I loved it.

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It always seems to amaze me just how much you can pack into a relatively short amount of time somewhere. Give me four days in England and I will probably go out once, watch about 5 films, drink a lot of wine, read ten poems, see good friends, and sleep for 30 hours. Give me four days in Paris and I’ll see the Moulin Rouge, visit the Louvre, walk majestically around museums about architecture (Bethany, you are SO majestic) eat all of Joanna’s culinary delights, and make friends with two lovely Americans. Filled with nutella crepes, it was time for our Eiffel Tower photoshoot, and after some members of the public’s photography skills leaving a lot to be desired, we gave up and took our own.

1374904_10151978344177929_446336154_nThe thing (well one of) that I love about J&B is their ability to stay positive, fun, and exciting all the time. Clambering over tables at a fondue restaurant, drinking wine out of baby bottles, and getting a bit too inebriated in the centre of Paris was exactly what I wanted out of my time in Paris. To spend time with two amazing girls, in a beautiful city, and I even hit it off with a French guy who was totally lovely and charming, so hey, it was a good weekend! Aside from having B’s phone stolen (resulting in us talking to an Algerian journalist in the Police station), it was a cracking weekend, and I even got ‘the nod’ from an elderly man whose leg I helped untrap in the metro doors. That sealed the weekend, for sure.

Pre-Paris Clare was a shell, embittered by unsuccessful internship applications, countless ‘you were so close but the other 1461028_10151978391752929_1064691284_ncandidate can breathe fire’ and other equally unhelpful feedback. Pre-Paris Clare was aware how tough it is to find full time work in London at the moment, but post-Paris Clare was far more energetic and revitalised to keep trying.

Paris filled me with a confidence that I would never have expected to gain from a few days abroad. It provided me with the opportunity to see J&B again, meet new friends (if any of you are reading this, you know I think you’re all wonderful, and I cannot wait to come back and hit up Dirty D’s again), and to take some photos of things that aren’t my dog, food, or my face.

However….Paris spurred me on to pursue my dream of finding work abroad. I am thrilled to say that I’ve been successfully accepted onto the Leonardo Da Vinci programme, a scheme that offers EU funded placements for a limited number of residents abroad. I am currently waiting to hear back if my application to a company I have applied to work at for three months in Italy is successful, and if it isn’t then I’ve been assured that they will find work for me in Spain, Germany, or France, so it will be Bonjour, Hallo, or Hola in January 2014.

Keep your eyes peeled, I will let you know of my travel plans as soon as I know more!

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Phoebe, Bethany, Myself, and Joanna

12 things Durham University taught me

As I sit here, gazing out of my window, inhaling the Essexian-air, that contrary to popular belief, is not a concoction of fake tan, perfume and desperation, I can’t help but stare at my ‘Trevelyan College’ mug, sitting bold as brass on my window sill, taunting me.
It would be an understatement to say that my year of studying at Durham University was delightful, challenging, incredible, and a little surreal, after all, it is a magical cobbled ‘city’ stuffed with friendly Geordies, intricate cafes, and pristine colleges….oh, how I miss it.

So. Instead of dwelling too much on where I *could* be right now (PHD anyone?), I decided to comprise a list of the favourite, select things that my year in Durham taught me, but don’t you worry, I’m not going to burst into the histories of Shelley, Wordsworth, and Langston Hughes, I’m not that sad,   I’ve got an accordion to go and learn. (Seriously).

12. Durham is as pretty as the pictures you see

Trudging through the snow, sleet, wind, rain, and hail may create picturesque Durham to appear a tad greyer, but it does not detract from its historical charm. The cobbles may be dire for anyone willing to wear 5 inch heels out to Loveshack one evening, but this is not Coronation Street. Durham is a warm, (not temperature-wise, this isn’t the Bahamas), friendly, bustling, city whose embrace leaves you with a rosy glow in your cheeks even a month after you part. Think Pot Noodle hug in a mug, but bigger, and less…wet, and you’re nearly there.

11. It basically is Hogwarts

The sheer urge to bellow ‘TROLLLLL….IN THE DUNGEON’ during the Matriculation ceremony (every student goes through this in the Cathedral) is too much to bear at times, but, give it time, after a few months, and you’ll be whisking your guests and visitors around the cathedral talking about *that* corridor, and *that famous office*, there’s no way you can avoid it. Sure, there may be no Draco Malfoy (believe me, I searched high and low), but there are a lot of goblins, and that’s just the people you find in Jimmy As!

10. If you don’t love Klute automatically, by the end of your studies, you will

Okay, okay, okay. I know you’re sitting there thinking ‘but Clare HATED Klute, what the hell is she on about?’, well, if you are, ten points to Slytherin, you’re semi-right. I loathed Klute at first, I think I wrote a status branding all freshers comatose on blue WKDs as ‘morons’, and hey, if you saw them, you’d agree. And yet, fast forward about 7 months, and four ‘quaddies’ (Liverpool people take note, it’s no longer about the quadvod) later, and you’ll see yourself gracing the Klute dancefloor with your equally inebriated chums, competing in Dance-offs, crying to Friends, and singing PSY a bit too loudly (is there such a thing?)

9. College bars are FAB

Despite the use of me using the word ‘fab’, some of the most disastrous but incredible evenings of my time in Durham were spent in college bars, predominantly Trevelyan bar *roars of college support* Whether you’re after an ‘under-a-ship’ feeling located in John’s bar, ‘wining and dining, dahling’ in Castle, or ‘next time you go to the toilet, take this leek with you’ in St. Cuths, I stress that this did actually happen to me, Durham has a home of alcoholic delights for all, (non alcoholic too, obvs). Think of disney land, but for adults..and fewer caricature mice, and more googly eyed students.

8. You haven’t lived until you’ve attended a Formal

Now, I know you are sensing a pattern emerging. Alcohol, night out, alcohol, night in bar, alcohol, formal dinner. But i’d be lying If i left this out of my list, as they were a big part of the Durham student culture, and rightly so! Formals were some of the highlights of my year, it enabled me to meet new people (and enjoy making a racket with well acquainted people), visit different colleges for formals, and even to stand on the tables in Castle..but keep that between us, yeah?

Which leads me pleasantly on to

7. How to down a bottle of wine before a starter

Now, if you knew me in Liverpool you would know that I am a fan of the odd beverage, and who isn’t? However. This is nothing compared to some of the expectations of formal behaviour. When the Prof’s around, it’s a bottle of wine to yourself, when the Prof isn’t around, it’s a bottle of wine to yourself, when there’s no one else around, it’s a bottle of wine to yourself. Just make sure you don’t sit with your glass swinging around off the table….you’ll be greeted with her majesty in the bottom of your glass.

6. How to embrace the college vibe

One of, if not, the most special element of my time in Durham was living in college. I was fortunate enough in Liverpool to experience living in halls, living in a 10 bedroom house in what felt like the middle of nowhere, and then in a smaller house in the central hub of all things student, but the most enjoyable part of my year in Durham was living with so many like-minded people in an incredible environment. Sure, the light may take 13253636 hours to come on in J ground’s toilet, but learning to live with so many outstanding individuals made having a less-than-ideal kitchen far more bearable. Trevelyan college members, if you’re reading this, this is down to you. *insert heart emoticon, smiley face, love-eyed face, tongue face here*

5. There are not as many ‘Rahs’ as you think

I’m not exactly the most well spoken of folk, init. I must admit that I feel a little ashamed when I feel how nervous I was about attending Durham simply for my ‘less van kween’s inglish, aksent’ and being surrounded by what I envisaged being ridiculously well spoken, lardy-dah human beings who would instantly take a disliking to me. How.unfair. I get annoyed when anyone else prejudges Durham students, but I was definitely one of them. I’ve learned that actually it was not a reflection of how negative I thought they’d be, but rather how insecure I was in my own self. (This is the only deep point, promise)

4. It’s not about how long you’ve known someone, but how well you know them

Having lots of people around me, lots of friends to chat to, laugh with, and go on late night Tesco trips (Nina, this is you) has always been an ideal of mine. Leaving Liverpool was hard, and it left me incredibly sad to say goodbye (what actually is more like adieu) to my friends of three years, and imagine making new pals in a new, smaller, quainter place. However, I sit here, with an arm’s length list of new favourite people in my life, and thank whoever is in charge that St Andrews stopped running their Romantic Victorian course for 12-13, because it meant i’d be meeting some of my good friends on my English MA in Durhz. I also am grateful for whatever circumstance led me to being plonked in Trevelyan college, a prison-appearance place with incredibly friendly inmates, I would not change it for the world.

3. If you have a tattoo of the Subway logo, you’ll get free Subway food

One of my favourite highlights, finding someone who actually had a tattoo of the sandwich chain. Not a lot more to be said here really, I wonder if David Mitchell will befriend me If I get a tattoo of his face on my…

2. Funny things will happen to you if you surround yourself with funny people

Jumping into a cupboard shouting ‘NARNIA’, ending up near Scotland when you’re just going on an impromptu ‘beach trip’, lying face down hungover in the corridor only to be laughed at by the cleaner, and, waking up in the shower face down with your duvet at 4am, only happens when you’re in a fun place. Man, Durham was fun.

1. 2012-13 will be the best year of your life

One final thing I learnt? NOBODY wants to study poems! ‘Raise your hand if you’re doing the MA Studies in Poetry’….*crickets sound, tumbleweed blows past* ‘oh, just me?..wonderful(!)’

For now, I think I have summed up pretty much the reasons why this past year will be one to remember, and if you’re from Durham and you’re reading this and got to the end, firstly, well done – you deserve a medal for perseverance and patience, but secondly, thank you – for the best year of my life. At 22, there are still plenty of opportunities for amazing years, experiences and friendships, but right now, I’m bloody content with the last 12 months.

Who knows, maybe I’ll do it all again and do a PHD (I hear my Mum and Dad cry with fear and hide all the credit cards)

Love,

S ‘ n S xx

I got 99 problems but a pitch ain’t one

You’ve done it. You’ve done so much research and detective work into finding an editor’s email address that you’ve put Poirot to shame, and now it’s time for the final rehearsal…the pitch.
Pitching is not a challenging concept, but the etiquette surrounding it, is. Learning how to gauge your ‘email voice’ while displaying enough personality to omit any robotic sounding sentences brings its difficulties, but it can be done. It just needs some work, and some fine tuning.

I’ve learnt the long, and the hard way. The long and winding road of discovering what editors want to see, and what they absolutely do not. Along with contradicting a promise of your articulate nature by sending a two page email comes the big no-nos…how to aggravate your editor in less than 3 seconds flat. I won’t say it has been easy, I won’t say it’s been uplifting constantly, but it has been a great journey into learning how to ‘sell yourself’ without actually having to harvest your organs.

So. Lesson one. If you were an editor and you’d read this post so far, you would have pressed ‘delete’ already.

1. Consider your audience

With a plethora of magazines, online newspapers and websites out there waiting for you to contact them with post ideas, it should not come as a surprise to do some research and know what they’re expecting before hand. Taking a brief look at their blog section will not do any harm when it comes to gauging what sort of posts they’re after. You’re always going to have a distinctive voice on a topic that matters to you, but the difference lies in where you send that voice to, and why. Pitching Brides magazine about a feature on why N*Sync need to get back together permanently (no, this is not my subconscious talking) may give you experience in the thought process of pitching, but it isn’t likely to end in a successful result for you. It may seem obvious, but so many times Editors are faced with pitch ideas that are completely irrelevant to their section. You’re employed to ease the process, not hinder it after all.

If you’ve got this far and are confident your pitch is the best it can be, it won’t harm to find said website on Twitter and send a direct tweet asking politely if 1. they accept guest posts and 2. whether they could direct you to the person you need to pitch to. It could save time rooting through website after website, circling the ‘Contact Us’ page like a word-hungry-vulture.

2. Do your research

Some of the most successful and unlikely pitches I have come up with have been after doing a lot of research, for example, I emphasised the absence of any media coverage on post-university-depression when pitching a big Newspaper about my potential piece on said topic, and this helped me greatly. Equally, some of the better ideas have been completely random and out of the blue – but again, ensure that it is relevant, and that you’re not pitching to write on the fall of I.T contractors to be featured in Heat.  It is all about a balance, finding what you want to write about, and finding who will want to feature it.

3. Have your main ideas written or in mind

Inbox (1) awaits you on a blustery Monday morning, you sit shaking with nerves as you click on the response of your beloved pitch brain-baby, and success! ‘Sure – let’s give this a go, pitch me 500 words of your idea’ is staring at you in the face….but oh no, you haven’t thought past the title or opening thread of your article. This is not a categorical disaster but it is more time-effective to have sketched out a plan of your article idea, with the thought in mind ‘well if X won’t publish it, then I can pitch it to Y instead so it doesn’t go to waste.’ Editors are naturally, going to be incredibly busy and strapped for time, so if you’ve got a pitch almost ready the turnaround between submitting and their proof reading will lessen, resulting in your time waiting to be published lessens too. Win/Win

4. Keep It Snappy

Word.
I can’t emphasise this enough. Editors’ inboxes are flooded and inundated with pitch ideas if you’re applying for mainstream Magazines and National newspapers, even if you’re targeting smaller establishments. Say who you are in one sentence, two maximum and then focus on the pitch and only the pitch. Don’t blab on about “I did an MA once, and then I lost my cat, but actually I do prefer the colour purple to mauve” because it just is not relevant to the task at hand.
Draw on any statistics or experts you are going to contact/quote if you’re writing on a topic like mental health or something that requires greater depth than just your opinion. Say what you want to pitch, with a potential title where they can clearly see it, and then say what is already out there in the media world (or isn’t if that’s how you’re going to swing it).
So many posts are rejected due to rambling, wordy paragraphs (take this paragrah as an example even) when after some pruning, the pitch idea could be perfect.

5. Be professional

Harder to gauge than the length of Jordan’s latest marriage, keeping the tone professional but friendly is another must. Starting with ‘Dear Sir/Madam’ will not cut it when websites clearly express who their editors and sub-editors are. Do some research, especially if you’re claiming you’re an avid researcher. My tip is to keep it friendly but formal ‘Good Morning Lucy’ is a good one, or ‘Good Afternoon Tom’ as it keeps it friendly but not chatty ‘What’s up Tommy K?’
Similarly, ending it is another barrel of worms. ‘If you don’t know who the F you’re talking to, you write Yours Faithfully, if you do? Yours Sincerely’ is a tip my English told me in year 10. Opting for ‘Thanks for your time – I really forward to hearing your thoughts’ is equally pleasant, and more conversational. Again, use your noggin’ and decide what is most appropriate for the website you’re pitching to.

6. Have the answers

Sometimes, editors may ask you for clarity on a particular part of your pitch. Ensure you are open to this, and are keen to amend your work. If you’re not happy with editors amending your work, guest writing is probably not the best area for you. Make sure you have the answers, and don’t create more problems. And never, ever email saying ‘I’m happy to do what you tell me to.’ This may seem polite and helpful but it’s similar to a friend saying ‘I’ll proof read your dissertation, but after you’ve written mine for me first’ (can you tell it’s nearing the time of the dreaded hand in?) – it is only counterproductive and you may as well have not bothered.

Finally

7. Wait, be patient, and if they’ve not replied after two weeks, think about contacting them

You don’t have to go Liam Neeson style on your editor, simply send an polite email asking if they 1. received your initial email, and whether they’d like you to send further articles or ideas. Writing is about communicating, so communicate.

And there you have it.

Clare’s cracking corkers for bagging that guest spot. Taking initiative and pitching ideas will not hurt you. Rejection may dent your pride, but this isn’t primary school disco slow dance time, it’s the real world and by following ‘if you don’t ask, you don’t get’ you can get one foot onto the long and exciting ladder that is guest writing.

Trust me, once you’ve had the back and forth conversations, catered to the editors’ demands (they’re actually not bad at all) and delivered what you promised you would, seeing your name on the website will make it all worth while, and hey, if you impress them you can go away with some handy connections and even a potential full time blogging position. Then you’ll see that you’ve got 99 more problems but your pitch technique ain’t one.

Walk first…then run

Where do you draw the line between planning ahead and making the most of the present? Is worrying about the looming post-University future making me worry even more? Yes. Is feeling uncertain about mid-September ruining my remaining time in Durham? Sadly, yes.

Wishing time away is one of the worst things one can do. It’s very well wanting time to speed up so that an exciting date in your diary grows ever closer to you (I may be talking about Creamfields here), but when does it become wishing away time that you shouldn’t be wishing away, time that you will never get back.

I am not usually one to be hit by sentimentality while watching musicals…but this week saw myself and three other postgrad chums heading to see Avenue Q:  it did not disappoint. Opening with the burning question on my lips a year later “What do you do with a BA in English?”, the mood soon changed from ‘I’m that 23 year old person with no job they’re humorously singing about’ to getting a tad emotional at the song “I wish I could go back to college.”  Now don’t worry, I’m not going to splatter tears on this post, and get overly sentimental, but I am going to be realistic, because I feel it is required to help me enjoy my final weeks in Durham.

It’d be an understatement to say Durham has been one of the best things that has happened to me, leaving Liverpool was heartwrenching and rather terrifying, and faced with my acceptance letter to one of the top Universities in the country, safe to say I was feeling a bit nervous….but excited too. Now, fast forward 10 months and I’ve got a gaggle of people in my life that I don’t know how I previously survived without them, and a lengthy dissertation to complete my beloved MA, and then that’s it. It’s back to the ‘real world’, and a realm of possibilities.

And yet, this week has seen me obsessively checking my email account (not claretigger, my ‘professional’ ‘business’ email account) to see if any of the 40 applications I sent off for internships and work experience had been fruitful…and our survey says??? Eh-ehhhhhh.
Nothing. Aside from feeling a bit disheartened and frustrated, it is for the first time in my life where I am completely uncertain what I will be doing in the next stage of my life. You go to primary school, you know the following years will be at school, then senior school, or college, and then maybe university, and then maybe even another university for higher education. Then suddenly, it’s all change and you’re out there with everyone else, fighting and searching for the jobs.

I am not saying that I expected it to be any different to what my friends from Liverpool who graduated alongside me this time last year had to endure, but I’m actively going to make an attempt to stop worrying about September, and instead enjoy the rest of the weeks I have as a student. It feels like you’re mourning the death of someone who is still alive, or feeling bloated after a meal you’ve not even eaten yet…So this post is my first step to a new attitude of ‘I will cross that bridge when I get to it’, and luckily for me, Durham has a hell of a lot of bridges to cross in the meantime.

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Spending time with The Times

the times

If you’re anything like I am, then you’ve always had an ambitious goal that you’ve strived toward. For the past three years, for me, it has been to get into journalism, and to write as much as I could, for a range of papers and websites on a collection of topics. With my travel writing internship coming to an end, a few months ago I applied (and successfully was given) a work experience placement at the biggest newspaper in Britain; The Times. Luckily for all, Facebook has not yet invented a ‘what did you just sound like?’ status box, because, for many of my friends I was talking to, they’d be on the receiving end of a lot of high-pitched screeching and excitement…perhaps not too different from everyday life, admittedly, but still intense nonetheless.

It was with great excitement I replied to the lovely employee who dealt with Work Experience placements, opting for a week with the Weekend Desk; and is one of the best things I could have done. It was not long before weeks went by, thousands and thousands of words worth of essays handed in that it came to be ‘the week’. Safe to say I was incredibly nervous to begin my placement, understandably, but as soon as I entered the impressive News International building, the butterflies transformed into excitable little bumble bees, and I knew it was time to make the most of my time at The Times. SO…this has prompted me to write a post providing you with some tips on how you can make the most of your placement. With The Times only offering one week placements I had a limited amount of time to try and let my personality come across, while getting the jobs done I had been assigned, and to make the most of the resources while I was there. Phew!

  1. Be realistic

You’re going to be dazzled by the sheer amount of glass utilised in the building’s construction for one, but don’t be dazed into thinking you’re going to go straight to the top and prove yourself. You’re going to be surrounded by some of the country’s best journalists, and they’re not going to constantly have time to ask you about your interests, what you’ve been up to, and what you think of comic sans. It is up to you to make the most of your experience, so remind yourself that you’re there for a reason, due to a number of reasons, and be confident in your ability in doing any jobs you’ll be given. I was lucky enough to sit near some of the journalists whose articles I read on a daily/weekly basis, so once I got over the initial ‘oh my goodness i’m sat near these people’ and realised that they too, are people who are excellent at their jobs, i eased into the surroundings and it wasn’t long before I was figuring out the tea and coffee machines, and attempting to learn everyone’s name and preferences in close vicinity of my desk.

2. Don’t sit around twiddling your thumbs

While work experience is greatly about what a company can provide you with, don’t expect to be given a step-by-step catalogue of jobs you’ll be completing. By all means you might be asked to research, proof-read and even write articles for publication, but this doesn’t mean you should let the time fly by if you find yourself waiting for something to do. Your supervisor will be (if anything like mine) incredibly helpful, and give you exiting new tasks to complete, but if you find yourself staring blankly into the screen…do something about it. Come up with potential ideas, research companies, or people, maybe even take a look at what the opposition are publishing to see what is going on out there, outside the glassy walls…a popular favourite of mine was to keep the Twitter feed of The Times, and other newspapers open on my computer, so I could keep constantly updated with what was being published online when, and what was being ‘most read’ on an array of websites, you learn a lot about what people are reading about, and even start to see some trends.
When I worked at Liverpool FC the phrase “if there’s time to lean, there’s time to clean” was often instructed to us, and the same principle applies wherever you are, paper, magazine, local or national. You probably used initiative to get the placement in the first place, so keep your head and continue that streak.

3.Always be polite

This naturally goes without saying, but if you’re going to leave a lasting impression on a group of people whose job it is to mingle and integrate and communicate with other people, then you’ll need something extra to stand out. Offering to make tea or coffee, or even hot water as one colleague preferred, and asking if anyone wants anything when you take your lunch break are both incredibly simple but also things you should ask out of courtesy. It won’t harm either party either; win win!
Sometimes I felt as though I wasn’t vocal enough during my placement (‘that’s strange’ I hear some of your brains think) but there is a fine line between being polite and diligent, and being a shadow, and it’s up to you to gauge it and get the balance right…which I’m sure you will.

  • 4. Along with being polite, being enthusiastic is key

Now I don’t mean you rock up on day one with a load of merchandise, screeching to anyone who will listen about how excited you are to be there, as with anything, balance is key, and you can be enthusiastic without being overbearing. Saying ‘yes of course!’ when being given tasks, and asking questions if you’re unsure about something all show genuine enthusiasm for being there, without the need of wearing a ‘I love The Times’ t-shirt. If you’re researching the worst weeds to encounter, or what Mariah Carey wore last night, no matter the nature of the topic, be as professional as you’d want to see someone else be, and do the job to the best of your ability. My supervisor asked if I wanted to sit in the weekly News meeting, where the topics designed for the next week of news were discussed, so of course I said a massive ‘yes please!’ It is being outside what you know that you begin to learn more, so anything suggested to you is worthwhile, within reason.

  • 5. Maintain your relationship with your new contacts

The evening I logged off the computer for the last time, and put my beloved mug in the sink, I was greeted by genuine comments of “you must stay in touch” and the like. This was one of the high points of the week; bidding farewell to the excellent people around me, who I greatly admired and respected, with a final bid from my supervisor to make sure I keep the contacts, use them as contacts, and maintain a relationship with them afterward. Luckily (or maybe not so for them) I’m the sort of person who adopts a ‘you can’t get rid of me’ approach, a bit like a tame and friendly virus who may be useful in the future. So, it was with great pleasure I promised I’d keep in touch, and add their names to my little ‘contacts’ book, because they’re not just ‘contacts’ on a page with a number and an email next to them, a couple of them became more of a mentor figure for the week, and for that my time at The Times was completely helpful.

Work experience placements may be unpaid, but the experience you gain, I thought, was invaluable. More than anything, spending time in the big, beautiful but at first intimidating offices, confirmed to me that writing is exactly what I want to pursue, and that my hard work from the last three years has not been completely in vain. So if you’re fortunate enough to get work experience with a paper you adore, ask questions, speak to the person sat next to you, offer to help with emails or finding clippings, it won’t hurt. For me? Perhaps it was the confidence I gained in my abilities to adapt to a new working environment, with people who I always put on a bit of a pedestal that taught me that, actually ‘yes, I could be good at this’ , so my time with The Times gave me more than I probably left behind…for now at least!

Buongiorno bella Venezia!

gondola

First of all, a massive hello and welcome back to my blog!

It has been a very long time since I have blogged and this has been for a number of reasons. First of all, what a wonderful year 2013 is shaping up to be. I hope you’re all having a lovely year so far.

So…what’s new? Since I last wrote to you I’ve lost two relatives, been to Venice, ended up with kidney stones, attended a lot of formals, met up with some incredible friends, gained work experience with The Times, written guest posts for all sorts of fantastic travel websites, written over 10,000 words worth of poetry-themed essays for my MA, lost 7 pounds of weight (slowly but surely!), wrote two posts for The Independent and found out that this blog has reached over 114 countries. Phew! What a busy term this has been.

Safe to say, it has been an incredibly emotional term in Durham. Not simply because of personal family losses but on the other end of the spectrum – finding out just how happy i am in my new surroundings, and how many genuine friends i have made in such a short space of time, it’s the quality of time that counts, not the quantity after all!

blog 1Easter has been truly lovely – i’ve over indulged in social activities, visited old friends, met up with new friends, spent some quality time with the family and taken some time off from work, and made the most of the break. This has had an incredible outcome and has been a real benefit to my health, mind set and happiness. I feel refreshed and excited to get back to my new love, Durham and continue studying what I enjoy so much. I feel incredibly privileged for all opportunities i receive and gain, so it is with great pleasure that i can prepare for my work experience with The Times commencing in early May. There may be the small big issue that I am yet to start my 4 essays…but that’s for another day, carpe diem and all that!

SO…onto Venice. This is actually the third time i have visited, but the first time of writing about it. It is a blog 2truly beautiful place rich with history, a beautiful language and interesting tales of the past of Venice..it’s a lot more exciting and sometimes revelrous, a bit more than we may imagine. Thanks to my wonderful Dad and his incredible social skills, our family were offered to stay in a Venetian Palace courtesy of his friend and client who is a fascinating character in himself. So that being covered, we spent 5 glorious days basking in the water-filled-streets, lapping up the venetian masks, and consuming copious amounts of spaghetti…it would be rude not to, right?

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The palace is the one on the left. <<<<

It was beautiful, with a gorgeous interior, and inspiring views. I already miss the morning wakeup call the seagulls so kindly provided us, and the relaxing sounds of the water nearby. *sigh*

What a lovely way to end an equally marvellous Easter break. However it is a little alarming that i am convinced i’ve finished my MA…when in fact it’s not even half way through! My family and I spent Easter weekend in our Caravan and beach hut by the sea, and was a different but necessary way to spend the weekend, in the sun! The dogs loved it, as did we, and I’m sure one of these days I will return home from Uni and my family will have moved there permanently…hopefully with some more warning than that however.

If there is one thing I have learnt this year so far, it is that seizing the moment is of paramount importance. When we lost Uncle Fer it was a difficult time, and it left me realising how short life can be. Not to be morbid or pessimistic, but i prefer to have found an optimistic twist, where i make the most of each day and do at least 1 nice thing for someone daily. So keep an eye out – you could have a message in your inbox telling you why i like you and why i’m glad you’re in my life.

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Now, for the upcoming months. I’m going to be celebrating
a lot of friends birthdays, and even my own in late June
when I will be turning 22!
When I return to London for my week at The Times, I will be dining with friends from Liverpool in the evenings and generally enjoying the time i’ve got back here. After that, it will be numerous antics in Durham including a college musical, before getting on with the big D(dissertation).

For now, I think that’s enough warblings. Keep an eye out on my upcoming posts for The Independent, they’ve been an utter joy to write and I am looking forward to when they’re published in June. I will keep you all posted with various other writing exploits!

Take care for now and keep positive!

Love,

S ‘ n ‘ S

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Your future begins in a minute

2013. The aspirin shelves have been raided, enough alcohol has been consumed to sink a submarine 100 times over, and the New Year resolutions have been declared on Twitter/ignored completely. So…what is the first thing you’re going to achieve this year? Lose those pesky pounds the clotted cream and mince pies helpfully contributed to your big W number? Learn to drive? Learn to love…again? Whatever it may be, I hope this dark (post 4pm) Thursday 3rd January is treating you well, and you’re not already reluctant to be back stuck in to the 9-5.

This post has been inspired by a few conversations I’ve had with various friends over the past couple of weeks. Is it me or does time pass by even faster each 365 days that pass by, each year that you grow closer to becoming ‘older’? I’m so sure I blinked when looking at the tree and it was 31st December 2012.

Regardless of what your resolution(s) may be, the point is that 2013 is a fresh, new, exciting year for all. ‘Happy New Year! May all your wishes for the year come true’ was a lovely sentiment that sprung across both my Twitter and Facebook feeds and left me thinking…what am  I wishing to happen this year?

Last year, *see my last post* (shameless plug) in a nutshell told you lovely readers what I’d enjoyed and experienced the past year. A pretty solid set of events paved my near-future; turning 21, graduating with my BA, beginning my MA at a new, and top University, makes 2013 a tough act to follow. However, never settling to be the supporting actor in my ever eventful life, 2013 is going to be just as, if not even more memorable than the happy, comfortable, and generous 2012.

Discussing love lives, career plans, University concerns, and everything under the sun, if there was a commentator reporting on our lives and goals in a horse-race like fashion, I know for sure who would be racing ahead, leaving me behind for dust, a jockey bolted by his own horse. How very selfish of me. ‘Who would be racing ahead, leaving me for dust’, however is it totally un-natural and ‘inhuman’ to compare with our friends? How could you not look at the amazing prospects your friends have, and compare with your own ‘I guess I’ll have x, y, and z.’ Not that I’m envious or jealous, there’s nothing in the world I want more than to see my friends be successful, happy and healthy, except perhaps Richard Armitage declaring his undying love for me, but that’s another story.

I guess the one big thing I’ve already realised this year, is that we’re all on different pages of a fascinating story book that is entitled ‘Life’. While some friends are already at page 47; engaged/in a solid long term relationship, even pregnant, I cannot help but feel stuck traipsing through, word by word, on page 26. But hey, slow and steady wins the race….right?
What makes it so hard about this race to the final post is the shift in ‘being in it together’ in Deck chair blazers, suffering the endless hymns in our Convent school masses, to suddenly growing apart and potentially going our separate ways.
I’ve never been one to ‘settle’. An avid traveller, I know i’m happiest when I’m learning something new, meeting someone new, or acclimatising to somewhere new. It’s just what I’m like. Though i’ve learnt now that the thing i always did take for granted is that my relationship with people would always stay the same, in the same location, forever and ever, until the pub no longer needs to I.D us for drinks (PLEASE this day don’t come anytime soon), when in fact, that’s never been something I’ve wanted for my future.

“Your future begins a minute after I write this. It’s already begun, it’s always there, and it is up to us when things happen, but I bet they will all happen in good time” was my response to a friend having a similar crisis. Perhaps this wordy, over-lengthy post is just a precedent to a forthcoming post ‘When you know you’re a grown up..’
We shall see, until then I’m going to continue googling Grad schemes, travel internships, ANY internships, and then go and play with some lego for a while…

Lovin’ life 2k12

This blog is beginning to sound like a broken record/blog but it has indeed been another while since I last put mind to fingers to WordPress.
Safe to say, 2012 has been a remarkable and memorable year for an array of reasons. The collaboration of Queenie and James Bond, The Olympics, and a wealth of medals later, Great Britain shone as a shining star in not just Europe, but the entire world. GB pride? Absolutely.

Not only has it been a great set of events to reflect on as I sit by the fire, warm cider to my right, for the first time in 5 years I stay in, keeping my sister company, to see in the New Year.

Inevitable ups, and some downs, 2012 has all in all treated me wonderfully, and I could not be happier. Similar to the BBC studio when Mo Farah came first in both of his races, I have been left feeling flushed from marvellous experiences, friends, family moments, academic opportunities, journalistic roles, and lots of laughter.
I thought it a nice way to round up 2012 for me, as a Graduate, and now, 21-year-old woman to reflect on achievements, big and small.

Despite being burgled while I was in the house back in April, while talking to some of my closest friends on Facebook Chat, and getting third-degree burns from some mis-sold sunburn in Morocco, the bad was far outweighed by the good. A testament that hard work does pay off, this year has done my confidence the world of good.

Graduating from The University of Liverpool as a holder of a 2:1 degree in English, it was the perfect conclusion to three fantastic years in a city that I will forever adore.
Gaining my place to study an MA Studies in Poetry at the prestigious Durham University affirmed that my appreciation for education, and poetry, (yes I probably am the only person in the world to like it), was still true.
I sit here, four months later into my MA, happy and content in my new beautiful surroundings, with a bundle of fantastic peers and new friends. They say it’s not the quantity of time you have with your friends that matters, but the quality of the friendships, and they are absolutely right.
Writing for Channel 4 back in September was an absolute joy, and is something I will be forever proud of. Defending the value of Degrees and University education, it reminded me exactly why I appreciate the privilege to study, and to do so freely.
I’ve not once written about my love life on this blog, and I don’t intend to that much (too gushy gushy) but this year has been lovely. If anything, it has taught me to be honest with feelings sooner, and tell that special person that you like them, but then again, better late than never!
Travelling to Madrid to see one of my best friends in her place of study, and having one of the best weekends EVER while making new Spanish amigos – too.much.fun
Going on possibly one of the last Family holidays for a while, travelling around Florida, seeing Spain, France, and going to Morocco with my best friend from Uni, so many photographs and even more memories.

So…what a year it has been. Nationally and personally, I won’t be forgetting 2012 for a long time. I hope all you reading this have had an amazing year, and I wish you the very best for a repeat next year!

Love and champagne!

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