My 5-Step Process for Making Creative Photographs

Disappearing into the libraryPeople often ask me where my ideas for creative Instagram pictures come from – a question that I haven’t been able to answer fully.  I’ve always had an interest in the world of imagination – mainly through stories and art.  I drew a lot as a child and have written a number of unpublished children’s novels so making stuff up comes quite naturally now (I’m still a terrible liar though). But if you ask me to put my finger on where that spark catches, who knows? Much of it is subconscious – a sheet slowly unfolding until I see the final picture, but I do follow a rough process. I’ve shared the steps I generally take here:

Choosing My Own Path

My number one driver. My best ideas have mostly come when I’ve followed my instincts even if others have said that my designs probably won’t work.  At the inspiration stage, I stand completely back from all platform considerations such as feed and audience and think about what I’d really like to make. I have zero strategy when it comes to my photography because I want the experience to be playful rather than a means by which to gain followers and influence.

Let the Sparks Fly

Broccoli Hair

What do I love? What stirs me up – for good or for bad? How do I feel? I let these influences shape my creativity.  Often I can’t quite see the connections that have inspired my pictures until afterwards. For instance my broccoli hair photo not only came from finding out that my hairdresser had left the salon and The Hobbit book cover, but also from a growing interest in veganism and a liking for autumnal greens.  I also have a thing for colourful stripes and play that out in re-occurring rainbow motifs and bookshelf shots.

Gentle prompts are great too. Instagram’s Weekend Hashtag Challenge (#WHP) is one of my favourites as it makes me see the world in a different way.

Drafting It Out

Rough FacepaintingOnce I’ve hit on an idea, I’ll try to manifest it.  Often my first attempts don’t work out and that’s fine. I’ll either let them brew for a while longer or if I’m fairly close, I’ll try out a few more versions.  At this stage, I work fast because of time constraints.  If it’s not working then I’ll park it and trust that a solution will come later.  Here’s my rough attempt of my face painting photo – wrong in so many ways but enough to tell me that the crazy thought had wings.

Sometimes I get frustrated if stuff isn’t coming together but I’ve learnt to let this go pretty quickly by reminding myself that it’s just an art project. If something wants to get made, it will happen eventually.

Focusing On The Details

I begin to refine once I have a workable canvas. I don’t post that often because I like my images to be as well-made as possible and also because I don’t want to overload my family.  As an amateur with basic equipment (a Google Pixel 2 phone and VSCO editing software), I have to work hard to get the fundamental structure right. That usually means harnessing the most effective light, lining up angles properly and placing models/props in the best positions.

I add details to enhance the layers in this last phase too. The R on the teacup was a last-minute decision to make the surface more interesting.

A teacup pouring rainbow booksEditing

The edits sprinkle the final bit of magic on the photo. I’m a colour fiend so I generally turn up the brightness, contrast and add a dab of saturation. I use VSCO most of the time and am relying less and less on presets. Occasionally I use Photoshop to make something but find I’m veering towards using perspective and props to achieve unusual effects.

Overall it takes me from around an hour to five hours to complete a photograph depending on the level of complexity and I fit this around my working day.  Content creation has become my main hobby – something I never planned to do – but I see it as an alternative to drawing or painting and if it makes others happy too then that’s a real bonus.

A Literary Stay at Gladstone’s Library

reading rooms gladstones library

A stay at Gladstone’s Library has been on our wishlist for a long time and last week we finally spent a night there to celebrate our 13th wedding anniversary.

Founded by William Gladstone himself, Britain’s only Prime Ministerial library is situated near Chester in the Welsh village of Hawarden. The Grade I building has 26 bedrooms, a bistro – Food for Thought, and the famous historic Reading Rooms which residents and day readers can use between 9am and 5pm each day (up to 10pm in the Theology Room for residents).  Although very welcoming, this literary sanctuary is definitely an adults-only destination – a place for quiet contemplation and study.

Booking and Checking-In

I booked our one night stay at Gladstone’s Library via it’s online booking system about 8 weeks in advance and most of the rooms had already been taken so if you would like to stay over, then I advise planning ahead.  2018 room rates range from £66 for a standard single room (not en-suite) to £100 for a double en-suite – all including a continental breakfast.  There are discounted rates for students, clergy and members of the Society of Authors.

We arrived at lunchtime, two hours before the 2pm check-in, but it’s fine to leave your bags at reception and explore the building in the meantime.  I’d mention that Gladstone’s Library isn’t a hotel though so don’t expect lots of amenities, room service or luggage assistance. I’d describe it more as a luxury hostel or a retreat centre – simple with added comforts.

Accommodation

Our bedroom was small, yet light with mullioned windows and a compact en-suite.  There are no TVs in the rooms, but they all have a Roberts Radio so we happily tuned into that and stacked up our books on the lovely Melin Tregwynt blanket that covered the bed.  You can also access free Wi-Fi during your stay and if you’ve brought a laptop, you can borrow DVDs from the extensive collection at the top of the main stairs.

There’s no need to take towels or toiletries as Myddfai Trading Company miniatures are provided. This social enterprise supports local young people with learning difficulties and gift sets are available in reception.

The Book Collection

With a collection of almost 150,000 printed materials, we definitely weren’t going to run out of books! The historic Reading Rooms house the main collection. You have to obtain a pass to enter and once inside, there’s a code of complete silence. Non-residents can catch a 5 minute Glimpse by joining sessions that start at 12pm, 2pm and 4pm (bookings at Reception).  There’s also an annex joining this section which contains titles on a range of subjects.

If silence isn’t your thing then you can find a more relaxed area in the Gladstone’s Room, a communal lounge with lots of comfy sofas, an honesty bar and a library full of recent fiction which can be borrowed.  There’s also a garden with picnic tables and benches if the weather is fine.  This place specialises in book nooks of all kinds!

Food

All that thinking stirred up a healthy appetite so we were glad of the licensed onsite bistro, Food for Thought. It’s open 10am – 5pm seven days a week for snacks, lunch and afternoon tea (check specific times when you arrive).  Dinner is served between 6.30pm and 7.30pm although you can remain in the dining room for a few hours afterwards.

The standard continental breakfast is laid out in the main dining room (8am-9am). If you want a hot dish then you can order it from the counter for an extra £2 per person. The hearty food was tasty and the chef was able to cater for Al’s gluten and dairy-free diet so it suited us perfectly.  We didn’t try any of the pubs or cafes in Hawarden, but there were several options available.

Further Afield

Hawarden is a pretty village and it’s worth exploring.  We were particularly taken with the Hawarden Estate although parts of it were cordoned off for tree-felling so next time we’ll go when all the paths are open and will also check out the Farm Shop.  If you’re staying at Gladstone’s Library for a while then Chester is very close by and you can reach Liverpool fairly easily too.

Staying at Gladstone’s Library was just the tonic we’d hoped for and I’ve only just covered the basics in this post.  Aside from the colossal collection, the library also hosts numerous workshops and events as well as an annual literary festival, Gladfest. If you’d like to see a video tour then I highly recommend watching the Live in A Library Vlog by SavidgeReads.

Forget 5 star hotels, this is the dream ticket for all bibliophiles out there. Comfortable, quirky and with the nicest staff – oh and enough books to last one hundred lifetimes. Maybe we’ll see you there next time! x

 

My Year ‘Off’ Work – Nine Months In

Self Reflection

How did that happen?!

I’m almost three-quarters into my year away from the traditional workplace – a liberating yet also slightly scary realisation.  Since Little M has  returne to school, I’ve been in review mode. What have I achieved? What do I still need to do? Has it all been worth it (so far)?

The answer to the last question is definitely YES! I started this journey with a very loose set of goals (you can read my three month review here) to allow for spontaneity – and the lack of structure has definitely opened up some amazing and unexpected paths.  Just after I’d written my first review post, I was featured by Instagram as part of their WHP Challenge which kickstarted a whole new creative chapter and led to mentions in online magazines, HiFiPublic and frolic.  Then surprisingly I was featured by Insta again four months afterwards for #WHPdailylife! I know the platform has had some bad press recently, but it’s been really a fulfilling experience for me.  Not only have I got to know many lovely like-minded people, I’ve also been able to meld my interest in photography and books in a fun way.  I’m not sure where I’ll go from here but I’m enjoying the journey.

Continuing the bookish theme, highlights of the year have also included attending the Bookstagrammer’s Breakfast at the Hay Festival and being part of the Slightly Foxed giveaway – two wonderful experiences I would never have dreamed of six months earlier.  Trips to Addyman Books and the Ironbridge Bookshop were the icing on the cake – go and visit them if you can!

The immersion in social media has clarified my career goals too.  Since the beginning of the year, I’ve been working as a social media evaluator and in spring, I started to successfully manage the digital marketing for a printing business.  I’ve always enjoyed being involved in online projects and now I’m taking this to the next level by launching as a freelance digital marketer at Cuppasocial.  It’s very exciting to be taking this step after dreaming about it for years.

All this has taken time to set up though, and invariably something has had to give. On this occasion sadly it’s been the writing. I have a very rough first draft of a children’s book, which I’m sitting on, and am planning an adult ghost novel with Al, but these are longer-term goals rather than the main focus now.

So what’s planned for the next three months? Well the business obviously! I’ve only just launched officially so I realise it may take time to build my portfolio.  I’m keen to keep on stretching my creativity via my Instagram and Pinterest accounts – perhaps by taking a small photography course. We’ve had to be frugal this year but it’s really made us appreciate the simpler things in life.  We’d like to develop this further by cutting down on waste, enjoying what we have and contributing towards our local community in some way.  I’ve just discovered that a new zero waste shop will be opening in town this month so hopefully these goals will happen sooner rather than later!!

On a final note, I’d like to say thank you to everyone who has supported our family this year. We’re lucky to have so many friends, both near and far.  Your company has been the best part of all xxx

 

 

 

 

 

A Beginner’s Guide to Buddy Reading on Instagram

A little girl reading with her dog

One of my favourite things about being a bookstagrammer is being able to read books with other bibliophiles all around the world – a practice known as buddy reading (also called readalongs). When I started out I had no idea that these existed, but as soon as I found out I was straight in there and during my 18 months on the platform, I estimate that I’ve taken part in around 15 of these.  I’ve written this blog post to give a little background on the process and also to share some thoughts from fellow book lovers following a series of polls I ran on Instagram.

So what exactly is a buddy read?

It’s where you agree to read a book at the same time as an online friend so you can discuss it together – either during the process or after you’ve finished.  A bit like a book club without the ongoing commitment or geographical restrictions.

OK sounds interesting, but are there any other benefits?

Well firstly you get to pretty much choose which book you want to read.  And then there’s the bonus of all the potential global perspectives on the text.  If that’s not enough, you might meet new bibliophiles too. In the poll (1), 43% of people said they’d met new friends after joining a buddy read. Oh – and it’s quite addictive – 24% (2) of participants said they’d participated in over 5 shared reads in the last year.

I’m sold, how do I get involved in a readalong?

If you post about books on Instagram then there’s a fair chance that you’ll see users mention readalongs from time to time.  If you spot a book that you want to read then either DM them or add a note in the comments.  Most bookstagrammers will be happy for you to join in.  Alternatively, why not organise your own buddy read by inviting people to participate?

How many readers will there be?

Personally I prefer smaller groups as they’re easier to coordinate and 76% of responders agreed that 1-5 members is about right (24% didn’t mind) (3)

What happens in a buddy read?

Usually the coordinator will set up a private group in Instagram so you can agree guidelines.  Everyone needs a chance to get hold of the book and some will want to order it from the library so it might take a few weeks to get started.

Every shared reading experience I’ve had has been different.  In response to the poll (4), 62% of readers liked structured readalongs and 38% preferred unstructured so if you’re new to buddy reading then I recommend trying out a few groups first to see what works best for you.  Here are some aspects to consider:

  • End Date – this needs to account for all reading speeds and other commitments.
  • Review points – do you catch-up each week or at the end?
  • Questions – do you circulate a set of prompts beforehand or go freestyle?
  • Round-Up – do you want to finalise everything via text or will you one step further and host a live chat?

What kinds of questions can I expect?

If you love books then you’ll have lots to discuss. Here are a few ideas:

  • Which character did you like most/least and why?
  • Did the ending satisfy?
  • What was your favourite line in the book?
  • Were there any re-occurring themes? What do you think these signified?
  • What were the strongest/weakest elements of the book?

What if things don’t go to plan?

They most likely won’t! Sometimes life gets in the way so flexibility is key.  Try to commit but if you’re unable to or someone else is delayed then just keep on talking.  Above all, the experience needs to be fun and if a readalong doesn’t work out, there will be plenty more to choose from.

Are there other kinds of buddy reading groups?

Buddy reading is popular on Goodreads too. If you want to find out more then check out this post by the moon who listens.

Poll ran on Instagram 18/09/18: Samples sizes (1) 125 (2) 114 (3) 154 (4) 111

 

 

 

When You’re Not in the Gang – Dealing with Feelings of Online Exclusion

shadow woman reading a bookThere’s a lot of buzz about community in the online world, but what about when you’re not part of the set? Whether we admit it or not, virtual groups aren’t that different from those we find in real-life society  – the hierarchies and interactions are very similar which undoubtedly means that some users will feel left out.

I’m very lucky to be part of several supportive networks, but there have been times in the past when I’ve felt the sting of rejection – whether that be through having an unanswered comment, or through not being followed back.

So how do you cope with not being accepted into an online circle?

First and foremost, remember that these people don’t really know you. They don’t know that you typed that lengthy comment just after you’d had a rubbish day at work/school. They don’t know that you put your elderly neighbour’s bins out every week or that you have a difficult family life.  They only see one side of you and in many cases, just your curated digital persona – not the living, warm, complicated human. When I feel overlooked, I always take a moment to step back and appreciate my real-world self with all its intricacies.  I consider the physical connections in my life – family, friends, pets, colleagues. The online sphere has value , but it’s not everything.

Understand that it’s not personal.  The people who haven’t responded to you might have restrictions on their time, which means they can only connect with a certain number of people.   As an account holder, I’d love to be able to include everyone, but I already struggle at keeping up with posts of the people I follow.  Social media is just one facet of my life so I have to manage it carefully otherwise it could easily encroach into family and work time.

Appreciate the online friends you do have. Nurture them, do something fun together – maybe set up a hashtag challenge or arrange a buddy read.  Stop chasing what could be and be thankful for what already exists.

Take a moment to reflect on your own communities – could you be more welcoming to new members? Have you taken the time out to help others or build new connections? Whether we realise it or not, we’re all tribal to a certain extent – it’s up to us whether we break our own algorithms.

And if all the above still doesn’t work then seriously consider taking a break from social media for a few weeks.  Indulge your interests, reward yourself in other ways – maybe organise a trip away or take a course. Make time to develop yourself and if you decide to return, you’ll have a new perspective on everything. As with any situation, if being in a certain place isn’t making you happy then you can leave, and with social media it’s even easier.  All you need to do is switch off your phone and walk away.

 

 

Book Review: The Familiars by Stacey Halls

Processed with VSCO with  presetTo save her child, she will trust a stranger. To protect a secret, she must risk her life . . .

I first became aware of The Familiars when it was acquired after a nine-way auction and applied for an advance copy as soon as I could. Being partial to a bit of sorcery, I was instantly drawn to this historical re-imagining of the Pendle witch trials told from the perspective of pregnant 17-year-old noblewoman, Fleetwood Shuttleworth.

From the outset, I could understand why so many publishers battled for this story. The writing is incredibly fluid, pitch perfect with just the the right amount of lyricism.  We see Fleetwood’s world so clearly – her decadent lifestyle juxtaposed against the real fear that a third miscarriage could lead to her death.  With such high stakes, it’s inevitable that she becomes desperate for help even if it arrives in the form of Alice Gray, a mysterious and impoverished woman who has ties to the hated Pendle witches.

The growing bond between the two women forms the backbone of the story while events twist and turn around them.  The pace is handled nicely – enough plot to move the action along but also richly descriptive.  I felt for the characters, particularly Fleetwood who never gives up although she is at the mercy of her husband and her own body throughout the novel. Although Alice isn’t as clearly drawn, there are reasons for her enigmatic nature which become evident later on. These are women whose lives are restricted by society and they must tread carefully if they are to survive.

Unusually for me, I flew through the book which says a lot about the writing.  I was compelled to find out what would happen and although the ending seemed a little rushed, it was also satisfying on a number of levels.  I was left with a sense of wanting more – always a good sign. One thing I would mention though is that despite the title, don’t expect a paranormal novel. There is a suggestion of witchcraft, but the references are incredibly subtle.  The role of the familiars is a minor one and never quite explained so if you’re hoping for overt magic you won’t find it here.  However, if you’re looking for an atmospheric historical read with touches of weird then this is perfect for dark evenings and windswept days.

The Familiars is due to be published 19 February 2019. You can pre-order here.

 

 

 

 

A Visit to the Magical House of MinaLima (Harry Potter fans step inside!)

The House of MinaLimaI wasn’t planning to blog about our recent trip to this magical destination in the heart of London but the visit was so memorable that I felt it deserved a post of its own.

It’s not easy to sum up the House of MinaLima. I was expecting an art gallery and shop but it’s much more than that. The owners, designers Miraphora Mina and Eduardo Lima, are most famous for creating the wonderful props in Harry Potter so the place is full of HP memorabilia – most of which you can buy! I was also excited to see a full floor devoted to the MinaLima editions – a series of interactive books which have been produced in collaboration with Harper Design.

The shop can be found at 26 Greek Street, just behind Cambridge Circus where Harry Potter and the Cursed Child runs at the Palace Theatre.  The ground floor is packed full of affordable Harry Potter merchandise. I was so bamboozled by the choice that I didn’t take a photo but I did manage to capture the sign on the door that leads to the basement.

Basement sign House of MinaLima

If you climb the rickety stairs, you find the MinaLima editions in a room that’s pure fairytale and stacked with plenty of display copies to leaf through. You can buy these more cheaply online but we purchased in store as we wanted a signed book.

You re-enter the world of JK Rowling on the third level. I was very taken with the Marauder’s Map that covers the floor.

Standing on giant Marauder's Map

Up again and you find a stunning installation which shows the Hogwarts invitations flooding out of the fireplace as well as smaller rooms dedicated to Fantastic Beasts.  They were so cosy that I felt quite at home there.  The staff were incredibly welcoming too – all friendly and happy to chat.

I could have seriously spent hours looking at the prints but with a tired small child in tow, we decided to call it a day after buying a copy of The Jungle Book and a Sirius Black card.  The house definitely caters to little people (although there are no toilets or other facilities as well as restricted access because it’s in a conservation zone) and Little N was entranced by lots of the features but I’d say it’s better for kids aged 7+, especially if they’ve seen the Potter films.  Next time, Al & I plan to go back on our own with more money to spend! Apparently the displays change fairly frequently so there’s always something new to see. This wondrous place is now is a firm fixture for future London visits.

Opening hours:  12-7pm every day.
Weekends can be very busy so you may be allotted a timed entry (recommended to visit on Mondays, Tuesdays or Thursdays)

Address:
26 Greek Street, Soho, London, W1D 5DE – https://goo.gl/maps/yKtT13ZCWsn

Nearest Tube Stations:
Leicester Square, Covent Garden, Tottenham Court Road and Piccadilly Circus

Bus Routes: https://tfl.gov.uk/plan-a-journey/