Ten Things I’ve Learned in a Year of Instagram

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To say that Instagram has changed my life isn’t an overstatement.  Joining the community has given me courage to leave my traditional job and try to live in a way that’s a lot more satisfying. When I started posting @thebookfamilyrogerson back in April 2017, I had no idea what to expect and what came out of that initial leap was a lot more exciting and meaningful than I ever anticipated. Here are the top ten things that I’ve learned in a year of being an instagrammer:

  1. Instagram is the most positive social media application on the web. I also hang out at Twitter and Facebook and both have their merits, but neither can match Insta when it comes to supportiveness , creativity and fun.  I count my Instagram followers as real friends.
  2. Bookstagram means you can be part of an international book group and read the same book at the same time with friends all over the world! I know that this sounds obvious, but it blew my mind when I was comparing notes with pals in the US, New Zealand, the Philippines and the UK simultaneously.
  3. If you want to take the pressure off producing for the main gallery then post in the stories instead.  The content is only temporary so it doesn’t need to be perfect – plus you can play with GIFs and stickers.
  4. You get out what you put in. Very rarely can you simply post photographs and expect everyone to react.  Treat people as you would in real life, appreciate it when they reach out to you and reciprocate with goodwill.
  5. Snapseed is a great free tool for editing photographs. If you’re up to paying, then check out other apps like VSCO where you can store presets.
  6. Feel the fear and post it anyway.  Instagram is a great place to stretch your creativity. If you don’t like what you’ve produced, you can always archive it.
  7. Don’t compare yourself to others. This one is really hard sometimes, but everyone will have their own doubts. Better to focus on your own vision, values and aesthetic.
  8. Likewise, try to ignore the algorithm. I’ve had all sorts of mad theories about how to beat it since I’ve been posting but none of them work! One thing I would mention is that quality will get noticed in the long run though.  Share your best and the likes will come eventually.
  9. If you want to develop your account, there’s lots of free quality advice out there. I recommend following Me and Orla, Bookish Bronte, Allthatisshe and Herinternest for valuable tips.
  10. Don’t let Instagram rule your life.  It’s addictive so keep it contained. If you want a break , take as long as you need.  The people who enjoy your company will be still be there when you return.

What are your thoughts about Instagram? Do you love it, hate it or somewhere in between?

Book Review: Tin Man by Sarah Winman

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It begins with a painting won in a raffle: fifteen sunflowers, hung on the wall by a woman who believes that men and boys are capable of beautiful things.

I expected love, jealousy and nostalgia from Tin Man. And I found all those things, yet not in the guise I’d imagined.  The novel is short, less than 200 pages, but Winman manages to encapsulate entire minds and lives within this compact story.

It’s told from two perspectives – that of 46-year-old Ellis, who’s dissatisfied with his working-class existence after losing his wife Annie in a car accident and from Michael, his closest friend, whose wistful recollections are detailed in a journal that Ellis discovers.  Both are historical in the sense that the ‘present’ takes place in 1996 – an unusual choice, but poignant for a reason that becomes apparent later in the book.

With the promise of a love triangle, I anticipated drama, but the novel steers away from high action and veers towards contemplation; the pleasure of living life to the full and savouring the moment.  The relationships are complex and sexuality fluid. There is jealousy, but there is also kindness, respect and mutual affection. Love binds the characters together throughout the decades, beyond death itself – finally bringing redemption.

It’s impossible to share this review without praising Winman’s skill as a writer. Her words are brilliantly concise, and her subtle handling of emotion brought tears to my eyes more than once. The patterning was deft too with clear motifs that steer the reader to key themes – sunflowers, Walt Whitman’s line O Captain! My Captain! (also used to moving effect in Dead Poets Society) and panel beating (the tin man). The structure is intricate with many flashbacks but it holds together convincingly, giving a rounded feel to the novel.

Tin Man isn’t for those who seek plot, but if you are searching for a bittersweet reflection on life and love, then this novel is pretty perfect.  As a new Winman convert, I’m looking forward to reading her other books and will relish my summer days even more after following Ellis and Michael’s journeys.

 

 

 

Our Phizzwhizzing Day Out at the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre

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When I was younger I loved Roald Dahl’s stories and it’s been great fun to read them again with Martha so our visit to the Roald Dahl Museum in Great Missenden has been on my wishlist for a long time.

The museum is fairly compact. There are 3 main rooms: Boy, which details Dahl’s childhood and contains copies of his school reports, an audio recording of him talking about his childhood holidays to Norway and a dressing up box full of vintage school clothes.  The next area, Going Solo, charts his adulthood, first with adventures in the RAF and then moving onto his career as his writer.  His beloved writing shed takes pride of place in the centre of the space with all his possessions laid out in their original places. These were conserved behind perspex but there was a chance to sit in a replica of his chair in the Story Centre (which I took full advantage of to channel those creative vibes!).

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The Story Centre forms the final major section of the complex. This was the most interesting area for Martha, who at 5, was just below the advised 6-12 age range and couldn’t quite take full advantage of the word games but the crafting activities, videos and dressing-up boxes more than made up for it.

All this fun was thirsty work so we took a much needed break at the cafe.  The prices were surprisingly reasonable (around £4.00 for a toasty or jacket potato) and the drinks were brilliant. I tried the Whizzpopper which was a blend of hot chocolate topped with maltesers, crushed smarties, marshmallows and raspberry coulis – utterly delicious!

Processed with VSCO with l4 presetTo round off the visit Al and I paid an extra £1.50 each to see the archives. This was the best bit of the experience for me as we had an opportunity to see some of Dahl’s handwritten manuscripts (all on yellow A4 paper in pencil), letters to his mama, and telegrams from Walt Disney.  The storeroom is fairly small but it was incredibly exciting to know that some of the most-loved stories in the world are contained in those grey boxes.

Processed with VSCO with l5 presetWe were reluctant to leave, but couldn’t say farewell until we’d bought a book to add to our library. The shop is every bit as enchanting as you would imagine and crammed with Dahl merchandise. We had to restrain ourselves but still came away with a limited edition of James and the Giant Peach which I’ll no doubt be bookstagramming about soon. If you’re into Dahl then you’ll find everything you need here.

Processed with VSCO with l4 presetThanks to all the staff for a wonderful day out. I found the whole experience quite emotional as Roald Dahl’s books have inspired me as both a reader and a writer.  We’re looking forward to visiting again when Martha is older so that we can enjoy it all over again.

If you’d like to spend some time at this amazing place, I recommend that you book tickets online in advance.  General opening hours are:

Tuesday to Friday 10am to 5pm
Saturday and Sunday 11am to 5pm

We didn’t try all the extras, but the museum offers free storytelling sessions and paid workshops, which change on a regular basis. There is a public car park about 5 minutes’ walk away from the centre so it’s very accessible.

Have you been or would you like to visit? Let us know in the comments!

 

Life After Quitting the Day Job: The First Quarter

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Back in late December, I packed away my office and quit my day job, a step that I’d been contemplating for several years.  There wasn’t one factor that encouraged me to make this decision, rather a number of reasons – both positive and negative, but the dominant motivator was to find out whether I could follow my passions and make a living from them.  This wasn’t about becoming a housewife or indulging my whims (OK a bit!), it was about finding my enthusiasm for work again – within a finite timescale and with a limited budget.

So how’s it been? Well great on the whole! My first priority was to earn money from a remote-working job, which took a little longer than anticipated but in March I managed to secure a small contract as a social media evaluator.  The role is ideal for me – it’s doing something I enjoy and it’s extremely flexible but I still need additional income – ideally as a part-time copywriter or as a social media co-ordinator – so am focusing on this next (any offers welcome!).

My second aim was to write a new manuscript which again has gone well, if more slowly than I originally predicted (isn’t it always the way?!). I’m two-thirds through the first draft of a middle-grade fantasy adventure and hope to finish it this month then revise throughout the summer. I’ve also been accepted as an emerging author by the Society of Authors, which has boosted my confidence massively.

Alongside all the above, I’ve hosted a writing retreat, been on holiday, built on my Instagram account and have – most importantly – been able to support my little girl during her first year of school.

As with any change, there are a few downsides. I have to be disciplined as my days have been much shorter than I expected (I’m only free during school hours at the moment). I’ve also noticed that I’m busier now because I’m excited about the projects I’m doing and want to work on them so this means being mindful of making quality space for family, friends and myself. The lack of money hasn’t been as big an issue because we changed our spending habits before I quit the day job. My main regret is that I can’t support as many charities or friends with their ventures, something I used to love doing, but I hope this will improve as I find more work.

So what next?

More writing, more image-making, more leap-taking.  My goal is to turn this world of ideas and creativity into a permanent situation – either working for myself, for someone else or a combination of the two.  If you’ve ever gone down a similar route, I’d love to hear from you.  Likewise, if you have any questions for me, please contact me via email or in the comments below. Wishing you a magical day!