Only Ever Yours: A Review

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Published by Quercus, 2014

Just finished reading this and it’s been a while since I’ve managed to consume a book in a day! This was recommended to me by my friend Isha a while back when I still worked in publishing in London. I bought the book last year and have been meaning to get around to reading it for a while – as with all my other books, its been gathering dust on my over-crammed bookshelf. I have needed some hermit time for a while now so have cut myself off from social activities and Facebook (hate it so much!!) to re-focus and re-energise and so have finally got around to enjoying my favourite pastime.

The plot takes place in a futuristic society where women – referred to as ‘eves’ – are built purely to fulfill the desires and satisfaction of men – at the age of 16 men decide whether they will become their companion (i.e. wife and bear them plenty of sons), concubine (join their harem) or become a chastity (a chaste woman whose duty is to raise the girls at the school where the story takes place).

The thing that was unique for me about this book is that the main character of this book is brown-skinned (O’Neill has said that she is of Indian descent), although this isn’t apparent at first due to her desire to have paler skin, as she is always comparing herself to the other girls in the school, and believes that this will also make her more attractive to men. I say this is unique as someone who has read a large chunk of the library and rarely comes across a main character who is non-white. Although this never really bothered me growing up (coz I would just imagine myself as the main character anyway) and probably never gave it much thought, now that I’m older, the lack of representation or stereotypical representation of different ethnicities in books sticks out to me like a sore thumb and actually find bothers me a lot. So yes, I was pleasantly surprised that the main girl was brown-skinned but I also understand the author’s reasoning behind doing so – it helps to showcase the expectations and beauty standards around her in more of a vivid contrast.

Although the world building in the book is pretty limited and confined to the school in which the story takes place, and there is a lot of repetitive behaviour, dialogue and thoughts (which can be laborious to read over and over again but I appreciate the effect O’Neill is trying to create – that these girls have had these thoughts and rules grounded into them from such a young age they can’t think beyond them) and the characters are all quite two-dimensional, I enjoyed reading it. It is an exposition and commentary on patriarchy and societal beauty norms and pressures, and it is all frightening real – the story takes place in the future but the experiences of the girls are very much that of today.

For me it was also an interesting insight into the obsession around insane female beauty standards and the pressure to be thin, as this is again not something that I had given much thought to the past always having been more focused on my academia, as opposed to what I wore and how I looked. However, I related to it throughout as it touched upon many things I encountered/felt growing up – being brown and not identifying with the images of beauty that surrounded me, going to an all girls school during my critical teenage years and witnessing the obsession with makeup and boys and thinness, being overweight for a large majority of my life, thinking I’d be overweight for the rest of my life, and then actually having lost the weight etc. and being thin, seen the competitiveness and sometimes rivalry, it has inspired in the women around me.

The book deals with profound issues – from mental health, weight, addiction, eating disorders, paranoia to hopelessness, friendship, the need to be accepted, sexuality, homophobia and more. Overall, I just love a bit of dystopian fiction – it really helps to bring out the the emo in me lol. The downside for me was that the book doesn’t actually endeavour to tackle the issues it foregrounds. Which is a shame really because I feel YA fiction lends itself to very effective components to do so and with a very engaged audience too.

Also, a side note – Quercus there are so many spelling mistakes and grammatical errors in this book I don’t know how it was even allowed to be published in this condition – sort your shit out.

Gonna give it a rating of 3.5 stars. Feeling arbitrary. But also because I don’t think the book was as ‘deep’ as it could have been.

Happy Sunday people and keep reading! X

Introduction to Writing Fiction: Lesson 5 – Sentence Structure

Hey all, many of you may remember my commitment to write up my Introduction to Writing Fiction lesson notes in blog form for the benefit of all would-be writers out there back in November 2015, and many of you may have noticed that I sort of didn’t manage to post anything after the 4th lesson… actually I’m pretty sure no one noticed but it’s nice to pretend I’m Internet famous eh. Anyway, it’s nearly August 2016 now (holy cowww), and I am back on my writing game and wanted to share all the tips Jen left me with at the end of last year. I have started my Instagram mini-side-project #ANovelInAYear to motivate me to complete my initial novel draft by the end of this year, and my desire to enter the Write Now call out by Penguin Random House that I stumbled upon recently, has also re-energised me to get on top of my writing game. I found that re-reading all my writing blogs have been really useful in helping me refocus my writing and refining it, so without further ado, here’s all the useful stuff from where I left off.

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Here we go!

So this lesson focused on sentences and how to make them great. Sentences need intention, purpose, meaning and sometimes, not always, some punch.

Jen shared with us some examples of great sentence structure:

1. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

“Even now that there is no real money anymore, there’s still a black market. There’s always a black market, there’s always something that can be exchanged.”

This is a great sentence as there is so much possibility laced in this. The sentence is ominous and strongly alludes to the character’s (or even the author’s) opinion of human nature/greed, underlining a larger social commentary on society (somehow even if we got past capitalism and money, this black market, the ability to exchange goods would still be there) and setting the stage of the world they live in. Further, there is a beautiful inner rhythm to this sentence. I finished reading this book a few months ago in fact and would highly recommend🙂

2. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

Sometimes I can hear my bones straining under the weight of all the lives I’m not living.”

This is said by a very strange child who is both eccentric and mature due to a great trauma he has experienced. It is a rather overwhelming, emotional sentence; visceral and creates intrigue. Profound. It is good to alternate sentences between poetic and short sentences to move the plot along. I haven’t read this but it will go on my To Read list.

3. The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera

In the sunset of dissolution, everything is illuminated by the aura of nostalgia, even the guillotine.

This is a powerful sentence. It puts you in a certain frame of mind and immediately intrigues the reader by mixing sudden death and beauty.

4. The Angel in the Alcove by Tennessee Williams

“In eight yearstime such characters disappear, the earth swallows them up, the walls absorb them like moisture.

Again, a very powerful image is created, especially “the walls absorb them like moisture.”

5. A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You by Amy Blume

“I have made the best and happiest ending that I can in this world, made it out of the flax and netting and leftover trim of someone else’s life, I know, but made it to keep the innocent safe and the guilty punished, and I have made it as the world should be and not as I have found it.”

An undercurrent of morality is evident here as well as the writer’s technical grasp of syntax and diction.

Alternating Sentences

It is important to alternate between long and short sentences in your writing, otherwise sentences get verbose, chunky and frankly boring. Long sentences enable you to set the scene and tell the story in some sort of stylistic way, and short sentences allow you to create pace and build tension. It is good to try and disperse action and dialogue between longer and shorter sentences.

Key things to do:

  • Intersperse your writing with action and dialogue so it keeps moving forward.
  • If unsure whether your sentence is effective or not, ask: Is the sentence conveying what you want it to? Or is it just exposition to get character?
  • Avoid unnecessary exposition: write with intention and meaning; write what’s necessary, interesting and beautiful, and gets somewhere.

4 Types of Sentences

  1. Declarative/narrative (statement, explains something)
  2. Interrogative (asks a question)
  3. Imperative (instruction, command)
  4. Container sentence (expresses sudden thought or emotion; dialogue and then continues/dialogue exists within sentence)

6 Basic Structures

  1. S-V = subject verb
  2. S-V-DO = direct object
  3. S-V-IO-DO = indirect object
  4. S-V-PN = predicate normative
  5. S-V-PA = predicate adjective
  6. S-V-DO-C = compliment
  • Subject: who or what, noun or pronoun, compound sentence (more than one noun in a sentence)
  • Direct object: receives action directly
  • Indirect object: relates to the action
  • Predicate: speaks to verb or verb associated with subject. If modified, it can be an adjective or an adverb
  • Compliment: words adding meaning to subject or verb; it clarifies meaning in a sentence

How do we create good sentences?

3 rules to follow people!

1. Clarity

It’s easy for meaning to get lost in figurative or fancy language so it’s very important to make sure your sentences are clear. Writing in plain English usually works best. Remember: readers want to be entertained first, educated second and challenged third!

2. Concise

If your concise, then you’re probably clear in your writing – but it’s important not to confuse being concise with being brief. Being concise helps to confirm clarity of sentence structure. As a rule of thumb/quick test check, if more than 4 words separate the subject of the primary verb, then your sentence might not be that concise and so is worth reviewing.

3. Active

Active voice is when the subject performs the action denoted by the verb e.g. the man ate five burgers vs. five burgers were eaten by the man. This is more effective as it takes readers along for the ride with the characters and makes the story/sentences more interesting. It also helps to create a clearer visual picture, tends to be less wordy and sounds more natural – most people speak in active voice.

Jen’s 2 Key Rules of Writing

1. Show, don’t tell

Young writers have a a tendency to tell when they’re writing e.g. Jack was a pretty boy. To make your writing more powerful, interesting and impactful, show that Jack was a pretty boy e.g. Jack had luscious curly black locks that fell into his eyes, which were framed with the most beautifully long lashes. All the girls in class would squeal in delight if he as so much glanced at them accidentally. Always try and show rather than tell, focusing on body language, senses, visceral experiences and using techniques like phonetic sounds e.g. ‘glub, glub, glub’ to make your writing really come alive. If you’re reading a sentence and it seems bland and is telling, and not showing, then get into your character’s head and ask yourself what is the purpose of this sentence? What am I trying to say? Is it necessary for the reader?

Some more examples:

  1. The man was angry -> The man clenched his fists and hissed beneath his breath
  2. The girl was sad -> The girl hid her face behind her hair
  3. The man stabbed his toe -> The man swore loudly as he walked into a table
  4. They were best friends -> Her friend walked into her house unannounced

2. No adverbs

This rule is important as it helps you take a good look at the language you are using and demands you to use the right verb. Adverbs should be avoided at all costs; it should be loaded into the verb. If you have the right verb then you won’t need unnecessary adverbs that chunk up your writing and demonstrates a stronger writer! Examples:

  • I ran quickly -> I sprinted
  • I shouted loudly -> I screamed
  • I walked slowly -> I dawdled

Writing Session 1: Using long and short sentences

Describe a room in one sentence, using as many words as you can.

This is what I came up with:

‘The walls of the room were purple and white with books hanging off shelves that had been fitted so precariously, they looked as if they may fall at any minute on an unfortunate soul in need of a book who had unwittingly stopped by to have a browse.’

Write this passage again using sentences that can have no more than 6 words.

‘The walls of the room were purple. It had white bits streaking through. One wall had some precarious shelving. It was lined with books. All at peculiar angles. Waiting to fall on someone passing.’

Writing Session 2: Show vs. Tell

Examples of Tell:

  1. She’s dead.
  2. He’s single now.
  3. They got lost.
  4. The party is over.
  5. The vase broke.
  6. The child cried.
  7. The car crashed.
  8. He fell down the stairs.

Task: Take all of these and make them longer and more show than tell.

  1. She lay there, her chest not moving up and down, up and down, as I had expected, but still as sea water with all the sea creatures and life removed from it.
  2. I had been watching for a while now, and pleased to hear that he broke up with his girlfriend at the local pub. Yes! He’s single now.
  3. They were in the car and the satnav had decided that it had a life of its own and that it would be entertaining to play games on the driver and the passenger helplessly looking about for a map. The satnav had took them all over the city. The were officially lost.
  4. She ran into the room, her face blotchy with mascara drenched tears and yelled “The party is over! Get out! Get out!” The blaring music in the room stopped suddenly and there was an uncomfortable silence as everyone looked at her, standing there with her fists clenched and her face pale.
  5. I was angry. How can one be ditched so easily by a friend for a stranger. I picked up her favourite vase, and just like that, without meaning to, I dropped it on the floor. It broke.
  6. “I don’t want to be here if HE is here!!” the child cried. Their mother stared down at her daughter angrily, “HE is YOUR BROTHER and he will stay here whether you like it or not.” The child threw her face into the back of the chair and continued to cry at the top of her voice.
  7. It was my fifth driving lesson and my instructor did nothing to quell my fears. Instead he made jokes about my incompetency jovially while I struggled to focus on what was happening on the road ahead. I was feeling dehydrated; it was an unusually sunny day and the heat was burning the right side of my face. My foot slipped. I turned the wheel dramatically. The car crashed into the side of the pavement. I sat in my seat squirming as I heard the wheezing of the front tyre as it slowly deflated.
  8. They guy at work who I had seen last week have two perfectly functioning feet came in today with one broken foot. He was using a pair of crutches to get around and as he was using them to slowly trod down the stairs, I said helpfully, “Hey! There’s a lift just there you know.” He looked up at me, “I’ll be fine thanks” he said, and continued to slowly plod down, one stair and one wonky leg at a time. What an idiot. He fell down the stairs about 30 seconds later.

Writing Session 3

Here are 3 scenarios:

  1. Someone recently bereaved
  2. Man running away from and angry mob
  3. Dull Monday afternoon in a care home

Choose one scenario, write both long and short sentences, and make sure you are showing, not telling.

I chose numero dos: man running away from and angry mob. Here’s my spiel:

‘I am a man. I am unfit man. Running is not something I enjoy doing, or ever wish to do, or ever think about doing. I will only do it if my life is in danger, or someone threatens to interrupt my meal times. So being chased by a mob of football hooligans because I accidentally spilled my Coke Zero over some skinhead as I was navigating down some small steps in the park is possibly the worst thing that had happened since I found that I had killed my 8 year old cat by unwittingly mistaking it for a cushion on my couch. For clarification, yes, I sat on it. Perhaps I should stop running and I sit on one of the hooligans chasing me. That might make them stop.’

Activity

Here’s an activity Jen suggested to get used to writing alternating sentences between long and short and establishing a symbiotic balance that works and look at the different effect/impact they can create.

  1. Write a short story of 500 words
  2. Then re-write with short sentences
  3. Then re-write again with long sentences
  4. Read out loud to friend
  5. Get them to take notes on which sentences delivered the message you are trying to get across most effectively – this will help you figure out what work!

What I wrote for this exercise is really rubbish – a real poor effort on my part (it was the end of the lesson and I was starting to get hungry / lose energy) so I won’t bother sharing it here but it’s definitely a worthwhile exercise to do!

Finally….

Sentences should take you on a journey

Jen gave us a simple story and showed us that sentences should take you on a journey: Towards evening, after all; my mother was a bear. This was really random for my but she divided it and explained it in the following way:

  1. Towards evening, (beginning) -> indicate to reader where we are in the day, little reminders
  2. after all; (middle) -> compounds make for very interesting sentences, connect seemingly unconnected ideas
  3. my mother was a bear. (end) -> being playful, so many infinite meanings/ways to describe people; you can compare them to art, music, movement etc.

Haiku

This tip is about using poetic language and converting it into sentences. Haiku is a Japanese form of poetry based on syllables  (5-7-5):

  • 5 syllables in the first line
  • 7 syllables in the second line
  • 5 syllables in the third line

For example:

What I like the best

Is that no matter the stakes

You don’t bat an eye

Haiku is about the syllables; the poem itself doesn’t have to make sense (apparently). The tip here is that you can convert these into sentences; for instance, look at assonance, alliteration, sentence structure, diction etc. Haiku helps to create a certain rhythm when turned into sentences. Although naturally novels are remembered for their ultimate sentiment, when reading, sentences help to create the experiences.

So that’s all for the short whizz intro on sentences, next lesson: Style, Symbolism, Tone and Imagery!

Photo Project – A Novel in a Year

I am currently in a place where I am hatin on life right now. I think I must have a compulsive habit of overwhelming myself with activities and simultaneously listening to depressing music, which just makes me feel even more nihilistic and gloomisome (I know that’s not a word but I don’t care). After probably the most emotionally traumatic experience on jury service last week (which by the way made me lose all faith in humanity and this country’s justice system), I am expected to return to normal life as though my psychological well-being is still intact. Right now I am trying to balance my CIM Diploma in Professional Marketing deadlines, the coming of Ramadan, prepping for my holiday in Singapore (which is in two weeks aaah!), all alongside the demands of my current job, keeping on top of this #dietlife (hardest shit I’ve ever done, gimme Cambridge finals any day) and, oh yeh, trying to ward off my Mother’s attempts to introduce me to ‘nice guys who can cook and clean’ -_-. Not to mention my flailing attempts at learning how to drive (my instructor recently text me asking how my theory was going -_-… ). I also recently decided that I want to run as a local Councillor – because why not? Government is taking everything to the dogs and unfortunately for them I have something to say about it.

The thing about all this stuff – life stuff – is that it gets in the way of what I really love doing in my spare time – which is writing and dedicating time to my art and photography and – wait for it – creating websites (lol). I mean, I haven’t even had time to upload a blog post for two months – but I have about 15 draft posts on the burner! I just can’t seem to find the time to finish anything off. I guess it’s all about priorities, and the thing about priorities is that they all come at you at once.

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Yup.

At the start of this year I made a devout declaration to myself that I would complete the first draft of my novel by the end of this year. I’ve been writing in a bitsy manner for years and having met an agent at the London Book Fair in 2015 from Conville and Walsh (who gave me some really great advice regarding my work), I decided that I really had to kick myself into gear and WRITE GODDAMIT JUST WRITE WITHOUT FEAR OF JUDGEMENT AND WOTNOT. In 2015, I was a mess and didn’t have much of an idea of what I wanted to write and was really grasping at the straws of other great writers and trying to mash their ideas up and make it my own but it just wasn’t working. I couldn’t take ownership of those ideas because I didn’t feel like they were my own. I didn’t want to return to writing fantasy stories like I did when I was younger – I just wasn’t in that mindset. What I really wanted to write was something that would EMOTIONALLY DESTROY PEOPLE after they read it. But pfffft. No ideas.

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Me being devout and making promises to myself.

At the start of 2016 however, during my standard online wasteful perusal of Twitter, I stumbled upon a competition that The Guardian was holding in conjunction with 4th Estate (book publishers) to get more BAME writers on the scene. Spurred on by this, and the looming deadline, I started writing regularly. Ideas didn’t just come out of nowhere btw; they had been circling in my mind for a while, if not several years, from things I had witnessed in my dreams, images and scenes that my mind had conjured whilst day-dreaming or phasing out while people were talking to me, or when I’m half asleep on the bus. But the competition all of a sudden gave these ideas a clarity and a somewhat coherent storyline that wasn’t there before. The competition also made me feel like I could manage it in my spare time – the limit was 8,000 words. I had also started my diet at that point, which meant that I had my lunch times free as I wasn’t eating as much.

All writing advice that I have come across in some capacity always emphasises the following: write everyday and dedicate a part of your day to writing, everyday. So this was my new routine: writing everyday at lunchtime. This way I incorporated it into my work day so that when I got home, all excuses like I’m tired, not in the mood, I’m hungry, I’m angry etc. etc. could not get in the way. And guess what? I was super productive. I would take my laptop and sit in the sunshine in the cafe next to my building, drinking my Costa and eating my protein bar and I was able to write 500-1000 words within the hour depending on the inspiration flowing through my veins. Sometimes I would tear up because the scenes were so deep (lol – it was actually hay fever). Other times I would laugh like a maniac because what I was writing was so ridiculous (I ignored the stares of people sitting next to me). But it didn’t matter – I just needed to get my thoughts on paper – I could go back and edit it all later. I realised soon enough that I could easily write more than 8,000 words and could turn this short story that I had started into a full-blown novel. To date I have written over 20,000 non-sensical words and passages (only 60,000+ to go yey!). For some reason however, I fell out of this routine after a couple of months, and instead I started to work through my lunch breaks because things got so busy (at work).

And this is where my sticking point is – my writing is important to me, and yet it’s usually the first thing I neglect when life starts to get in the way. Like all meagre human beings, my motivation fizzles fast, and I need a constant prodding in the back to keep me on track. My sisters are good at hounding me on the regular, but what I have found that motivates me a lot are other writers’ posts of their own struggles, challenges and experiences of writing. I find that the writing community and their insights inspire me the most and spur me to action. One such project that I immediately loved upon seeing it, is Catherine Banner’s #YearInTheLifeOfAWriter project on Instagram. I love social media, books and photography – so this was right up my street! Catherine’s aim in starting this project was to explore how social media can be used to tell stories, specifically honest stories about the day-to-day life of a full-time writer. The whole writing process and the hard grind that authors put into writing is in many ways shrouded in mystique. By uploading a picture a day, with insightful captions might I add, Catherine is bringing to light the various elements that go into the writing process and seeing a novel through to fruition. Also, as a Marketer, I think this is probably one of the most creative projects I’ve seen in a long while, and the execution and thought behind each photo really admirable. I was super enthused by this project and have used the hashtag in various Instagram posts of my own relating to my writing efforts. As you know I’m sure, the more popular or widely used a hashtag, the higher the chances of the content being viewed by a greater audience. I always endeavor to support other authors and try to buy books to support the industry.

However, I am not a full-time writer; I am a part-time one and, due to the nature of my personality and as mentioned above, I like to have ownership of things (a bit like Voldy), otherwise I do not truly feel like I can make them my own. Inspired by Catherine’s photo project, I recently decided to start my own one too on Instagram to motivate me to FINISH A BLOODY FIRST DRAFT BY THE END OF THIS YEAR. I shall be using #ANovelInAYear to chart my writing woes and (hopefully) progress. Anyone who follows me on Instagram will know how obsessed I am with the whole channel. I won’t be uploading a picture a day in relation to the project however (that’s too intense for me right now), but as and when I feel relevant or pertinent to my writing process.

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Pretty much got inspired yesterday when I checked these out from the library.

You can follow me on Instagram to keep up to date with my posts. I also plan to reveal bits of the story in the captions along the way, as many of my photos have some relevant part or context to the story I am writing. See here for my very first post and a little ‘reveal’ about the initial setting of the novel. I hope by the end of this year I can upload another blog post saying that I have been successful in drafting 80,000-100,000 words and that this photo project has been a great motivator along the way. High expectations I know. Even if it is an exercise in itself for me, I hope that other writers who may stumble upon it find it useful – or entertaining at the least.

Right, I need to stop writing about writing and actually do some writing! X

8 Women I find Inspirational – International Women’s Day 2016

I’m not a fan of women. I mean who doesn’t enjoy the endless bouts of complaining, bitterness and bitching that escapes their mouths on a daily basis amiright? Joke. Not. It’s kinda true. My friend Tom calls me ‘woman-hater’ on a regular basis and I don’t seem to mind that much at all.

I went to an all girls’ school (this might provide some context to the above) and I struggled to get along most of the time. To be frank, throughout my life I have largely struggled to see eye-to-eye with the girls/women that I have encountered. When I was at school especially, I felt that the majority had largely differing interests to my own – while I was obsessed with books and cake, my peers were obsessed with looks and boys. While I was secretly going through my emo/dark arts phase, it felt like everyone else was going through a slut phase – trying to wear as little clothes as possible and gain the attention of six spotty boys that came to our school to do Business Studies once a week (most random set up ever – the all-boys school across the road didn’t have this class so they were invited to take part in ours). Their arrival always caused frenzy. IT BAFFLED MY MIND.

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Me pretty much through 2002 – 2007

During college, after five years of male deprivation, I was thrust amongst the world of mixed classes. I really didn’t know how to talk to boys and made all the faux pas that the Fashion Police would probably want to imprison me for with my maternity style clothes (lots of fashion experimentation during my sixth-form years is all I’m gonna say – if you care enough to go far back on my Facebook profile you can see the tragic timeline of photographic evidence). At this point in my life, I had two solid female friends and was part of a ‘crew’ (woo) and we were the best of friends etc. so it wasn’t too bad, although I lost a few female friends that I categorised as ‘close’, and other female friendships of mine were challenged greatly during this time. But I made male friends easily through my awkwardness and realised very quickly that I just got along with men better and enjoyed their company equally, if not a lot more.

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I was pretty clueless as to how terrible my dress sense was

This trend continued, and I didn’t really have many girl friends whilst I was studying at university (a sad tale really – no one to go shopping with (boo) or chat about re. boys etc.). Most of my memories involve me surrounded by a room full of men in the most non-sexual way imaginable. My best friends were male and I ended up sticking to socialising with guys most of the time because they made me laugh, didn’t take themselves too seriously and would easily bend to my will (joke). There was very little drama involved (unless there was a girl involved with one of my guy mates – surprise surprise), and overall I had very little grief to deal with. I tried to become ‘besties’ with other girls (on insistence from certain family members), but it just didn’t really work. Most of the women I came into contact with simply just had priorities that were of no real interest to me – from their waning love lives/potential babies/makeup/boy troubles/shoes/rowing/attempts to get married etc. Although I can talk about these topics at length, it brings me very little joy. Towards the end of my time at university however, I did develop strong relationships with a few women that I met through societies, and they remain important friendships for me today, and I am truly grateful for that.

Both socially and professionally however, I have always fared better with men (apart from my love life – let’s not go into that…), but when it comes to people who inspire me and those I look up to (there aren’t many people to be honest) – paradoxically, they are all women. And it is in light of this, and my feminist stance on life, that I write this post, in thanks to the women that have inspired me or have had some sort of impact on me, both directly and indirectly.

8. Margaret Thatcher

Okay hear me out, because I can already hear your mind churning. This woman was, and still remains, the first and only female Prime Minister in the UK, ever. I learnt about Thatcher during A-level Politics and found her to be an admirable and formidable force (although I didn’t necessarily agree with her policies or approach). She had balls; she had a plan and stuck to her guns in office. I really respect that. It takes a certain type of woman to withstand the male-dominated arena of UK politics, especially back in the 1980’s, and she did it with style. This post is about people who I find inspirational – I don’t necessarily have to like them. Thatcher is part and parcel of my Politics background, and I was fascinated by her lack or need to be personable, ‘pretty’ or ‘feminine’ in front of the world. She was a woman that had reached a position of power that in my view, regardless of the steps that had been taken towards gender parity, remained (and still remains) out of reach to women in the Western world. It was her unique stance, ‘The Iron Lady’, and that she was more of a man than most of the men in her cabinet, that struck a chord with me, especially at a time that I was adamant I would pursue a political career as an MP or otherwise some day. She also said: “Being powerful is like being a lady… if you have to tell people you are, you aren’t”. I don’t know how many times I have used this one liner to prove a point. Genius.

thatcher

A few others that I think are great:

“If you want something said, ask a man; if you want something done, ask a woman.”

“What is success? I think it is a mixture of having a flair for the thing that you are doing; knowing that it is not enough, that you have got to have hard work and a certain sense of purpose.”

“I always cheer up immensely if an attack is particularly wounding because I think, well, if they attack one personally, it means they have not a single political argument left.”

“If you set out to be liked, you would be prepared to compromise on anything at any time, and you would achieve nothing.”

“I love argument, I love debate. I don’t expect anyone just to sit there and agree with me, that’s not their job.”

7. J.K. Rowling

Rowling is an inspiration to me in many ways, but I will focus on one: she is the epitome of what it means to persevere in the face of struggle, and shows what you can achieve if you truly believe in yourself. Her journey from “rock bottom” as she describes it, is an incredible one, and not only that, she remains humble and true to herself even today, regardless of the fame and wealth she has achieved. She champions imagination and charity, two things that are very close to my heart. She remains open yet closed, and has shown me the relief and escape you can find through writing and spending time within the hidden wonders of one’s own mind. I have always loved reading and writing, but her books and her passion, continue to inspire me today in my own pursuits as an aspiring writer. If you haven’t already seen it, I would highly recommend watching her Harvard Commencement Speech, on failure, struggle and the importance of imagination. The speech has also been put together in book form – Very Good Lives: The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination. I bought a lovely copy on the way back from Chicago with my left over dollars❤. A handsome % of sales goes to charity as well.

verygoodlives
Highly recommend!

6. Shannon Doherty a.k.a. Prue Halliwell

More famously known as Prue from Charmed or Brenda from the original Beverly Hills 90210. I grew up watching Charmed, a TV series of three badass sister witches fighting demons and sexy people-demons. This is slightly different because I find the character of Prue Halliwell inspiring, as opposed to Shannen Doherty herself, although I am still a huge fan of hers and admire her charitable work with animals a lot. I was a huge fan of Prue as a kid – not only because she had the best powers (telekinesis and astral projection), but also because she was intellectually sharp and her character on the show really had her shit together. I loved her profession/s in the show (working with antiques and then later as a photo journalist). She was the oldest, strong, ‘kick-ass’ sister and the leader of the group. For me, she really represented what it meant to be an independent and responsible woman, with her heart in the right place. Her life revolved around her family and protecting the ones she loved. I really saw a lot of my eldest sister in her (more on my sis later), and thought she was an ideal role model for young girls (although her clothes got skimpier as the show progressed, but she totally owned it so I thought that was great too). She was totally in tune with what she stood for, her sexuality, and although she was navigating various relationships, from romantic to familial, and discovering her newfound witch-hood, she did this all in an empowering and ‘all-in-a-day’s-work’ type attitude.

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If you don’t love this show, we can’t be friends

5. My managers

In my working life all my managers have been female, and 50% have been lesbian (make of that what you will). I’m lucky that my managers have all been really great. They have all had their own unique style and approach to management, from soft to hard-line, and each has motivated me in different ways. They all pushed me in some capacity, and I attribute the rapid growth in my career in many ways to things I have learnt from them. As a manager myself now, I have reflected closely on my seniors, and always try to emulate the characteristics that I admire.

I admire and value my current manager the most. In my professional life, she has given me the autonomy to make effective decisions, be creative and enjoy my working life, as well as develop my skills in marketing and hone my approach when it comes to working with others. Critically, she listens to me and values my input, which has increased my self-esteem and really makes me feel that I can make a difference and grow in the organisation. Key traits that I have adopted: being smiley, open, helpful, diplomatic, understanding, straight-up honest (whilst remaining empathetic), giving clear direction and constructive feedback, and being heavily invested in developing the people I work with and manage.

 4. Joya Chatterji

Joya was my lecturer and supervisor for my module in the History of South Asia in my final year of SPS at Cambridge. She opened up my eyes and brain to my ancestral history and key components of my past, which I had ZILCH knowledge about before starting the module. It was shocking how little I knew about South Asian history, but Joya didn’t despair.

During that year, she inspired an intellectual confidence in me that I had lost a little throughout my first and second year at Cambridge (it has a way of breaking you down and building you back into a crumpled version of yourself). She made a difference to my life, because she ignited a passion – a frenzy more like – a love for the study of Indian history, that I was really never aware of before. This was my third love affair. My first was Psychology, the second Politics and the third, the colonial history of India. I learnt so much and was emotionally moved by the literature; I simply focused on this paper to the detriment of all my other subjects. Maybe because the history was so personal to me, it was easy for me to become obsessed with it. I went to all of her lectures even though they were at 9am on Fridays (this is a big deal because I almost always missed lectures if they were before noon). She would deliver them as if she was having a personal conversation with you. It was an incredibly refreshing way to be taught, and the content of her lectures were always fascinating, and I would have scribbled copious notes throughout, hanging onto her every word.

As a Bengali, it has always been hard for me to identify or find other Bengali women that I could look up to or admire – they are so few and far between. Joya inspired me because she embodied what it meant to be Bengali, to be Indian, so well. She holds her head high and cherishes her roots. She has a gravitas and grace that is really hard to describe in words, and we bonded over the many things we had in common, especially the critical impact that our fathers had in our lives. I will always remember the way she believed in me – about a week before my exam, I was having a little bit of a breakdown and completely freaking out that I wouldn’t be able to remember anything and pass the exam – and she simply looked at me and said in her calm demeanour: “Of course you will.” I left her office feeling strangely calm and light. The fact that she writes and marks the exam helped I suppose.

I plan to return to academia in the future and delve deeper into the study of the History of South Asia, and my desire to do this truly stems from being taught by such an incredible woman.

3. My English teachers

I have been unbelievably fortunate to have been taught by some of the most passionate English teachers. Mrs Cosford, Mrs Jones – who I always remember as never having owned a TV – and Shelley – teachers from school and sixth-form, who truly invested in me and praised me in my ability to express myself through words and form a coherent argument when analysing literary texts and writing creatively.

With Shelley especially, I remember her quirky habits the most and her distinct approach to life. The fact that she had a successful relationship with a man, with whom she had children and been together with for 19 years, yet remained unmarried was tremendously unique and amazing in my eyes. Shelley really helped me understand literature deeply and the life that lives within it. I fell in love with Frankenstein and Poe and Blake and Coleridge under her guidance. I remember how much I loved her lessons and would stay late up into the night writing my essays. To this day, I still find great comfort in the classics and evaluating the deeper meanings the texts reveal about life and love. I always did say that if I hadn’t pursued Politics at degree level, it would have been English Literature.

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Poe – the original emo

2. My mother

My mother is one of the most incredible and beautiful women I know. She is strong, independent, competent, self-sufficient, out-spoken, intelligent, artistic, unbelievably loving and caring and just an all round super-talented female. She is an amazing cook (like most Asian mums), and her standards for everything are pretty high. Without going into too much detail, she has faced an incredible amount of adversity in her life and in the face of these, has remained brave and dignified. She has taught me that resilience knows no bounds, and that things in life can always be 10x shittier, so appreciate what you’ve got and make the most of it. I love the fact that she is most proud of me because I was a fat chubby kid that strangers adored, and am able to buy her chocolate and plane tickets to go on holiday whenever, as opposed to my academic milestones. I am so very happy to be close to home now, especially as we were separated for so long.

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I get it from my Momma #Throwback

1. My eldest sister

My eldest sister deserves a whole blog/web space/shrine of her own. She is the most incredible and inspirational woman in my life. She is my No. 1.

Like my mother’s, her life hasn’t been plain-sailing and she’s had to make a lot of sacrifices, but never has she once complained or even mentioned what she’s had to give up. She has also never asked for anything in return, always very used to holding her own ground and making her own way in the world. She has done so much to support my siblings and me, and her resilience and ability to trust and love others is something I can only ever be in awe of.

Just to give you a little background on how badass she is: at 16 years old she walked out of the house after a spat with my dad, got married to a random who was rather obsessed with her a day later, owned and ran multiple businesses, raised 4 gorgeous kids, bought a beautiful house, divorced, remarried, divorced, remarried again, and all the way has remained a solid rock in our family. She never got to pursue higher education due to the circumstances at the time – but she’s the smartest person I know. She has the biggest heart in the world and men literally fall in love with her after hearing her voice on the phone (fun fact). She is the most amazing person to me because she just gets stuff done! No request is too big – she’s always there to help, even strangers or people she hardly knows. She’s high on the saviour-complex scale. I keep having to remind her to rein it in. She is beautiful, humble, tough and modest, and when challenged, will rise to it unlike no other and continues to remain resilient no matter how many psychos continue to stalk her.

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❤❤❤

She is amazing and I love her to bits and she inspires me and supports me everyday, even though she may not know it. She always puts others first and asks remarkably little in return. All my other sisters and I know how blessed we are to have her in our lives.

So happy International Women’s Day. Celebrate and thank all the women that continue to make a difference in your life, who continue to inspire you and enable you to be the best version of yourself.

Fat to Fit: Top 10 tips for staying on track on the Cambridge Weight Plan

I’ve been on CWP for just over 8 weeks now. I’ve lost quite a bit of weight and have learnt a lot about weight loss and myself in the process. They key thing I have learnt is that with dieting, as with sticking to anything else in life, it’s all about mind over matter. Discipline, self-control and motivation are key ingredients to success on this plan, as well as being able to effectively deal with self-sabotaging thoughts that rear their ugly heads from time to time.

Anyone else doing this plan will know that it can be challenging at times. So I decided to compile a list of things that have helped to make my life a little easier and stay focused.

These are my top 10 tips for staying on track and maximising your weight loss on CWP:

1. Download the ‘Monitor Your Weight’ app on your phone

It’s free and it’s great. It allows you to chart your weight, see it on a graph and provides a good source of motivation as you see that line on the bar graph steadily going down.

monitor-your-weight
See yourself reaching your goal!

2. Get your body moving

I have found that I live a horrendously sedentary lifestyle – it’s no wonder it’s so easy for me to gain weight! To keep the weight off in the long-term and live a healthy and balanced lifestyle, it is critical to be active in your life in some way. Something as simple as making the effort take 10,000 steps a day can make a huge difference (on average we take about 4,000). You can get a pedometer or download an app on your phone to keep track and make the process of getting fit fun! I have the ‘Health’ app on my iPhone which helps me monitor how many steps I take every day.

I would also recommend trying to fit in some gym sessions weekly. My Consultant has advised that on CWP you should only do light-moderate exercise, for about 30 minutes and consume about a litre of extra water that day/throughout the workout session. The recommended exercises are the treadmill, cross-trainer, rowing machine and stretching. You shouldn’t be sweating heavily and if you feel dizzy or light headed at any time YOU MUST STOP.

You can mix it up and sign up for a class or two. I recently signed up to Zumba (I used to go a few years ago quite often, but moved cities a few times so fell out of the habit), but now I plan to go every Thursday after work. It’s good to schedule it in your diary, make it look pretty with some crayola, and stick to a routine.

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#workit

If you’re not a fan of going to the gym, you can take a short jog, do a speedy walk or buy a weighted hula hoop to use at home and get that coke-bottle figure. I recently bought one and have used it only once since but plan to use it more! It does give you a bit of a bruising when you first use it but once you get used to it, it’s fine (apparently).

The other thing that works just as well is housework! I am definitely not the domesticated kind, and never have been really. But again, I decided to make it fun – I put some music on and turned up my speakers and just whizzed through the hoovering, washing up and laundry. I actually found it to be quite therapeutic. Again, it’s all in the mind and about making that mental shift.

3. Keep on top of your water!

Tip to stay on top of your 3 litre water intake during the day: buy a 500ml bottle of water and refill and drink from that bottle that 6 times a day, or if you can, recommended by my brilliant Consultant – buy 6 x 500ml bottles of water, line them up or put them in the fridge and work through them throughout the day so you know 100% you’ve drank 3 litres – you can’t go wrong with that! Having 3 litres a day can be the difference between losing 2 pounds or losing 4 pounds in a week.

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#StayThursty

4. Stay motivated!

We all start rearing to go at the start of a diet, but as time goes on and we encounter hiccups or food-centric scenarios e.g. birthday parties, weddings, socialising with friends, Friday in the office etc. it’s easy for our motivation to deflate and we start having those lovely self-sabotaging thoughts. I read motivational quotes and books regularly, especially when feeling down or just needing something to help refocus on my goal. You can literally just google them.

I would also recommend looking at CWP success stories – on videos, blogs and in the news. It really helps you visualise what the diet can do for you if you persevere with the plan. I am currently reading The Beck Diet Solution. This book is about training your brain to think like a thin person using CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), which is about changing the way you think about things and consequently your behaviour. The book shows you how you can use this approach to follow your diet through to the end, develop a healthy relationship with food, lose weight and keep it off for life. I downloaded the Kindle version, and read it on my Kindle app on my phone on my bus journey to and from work. I am also a huge fan of Dual Dynamics videos on Youtube, where he showcases some of the amazing losses of the women he has helped. I also follow Chanden’s blog, where she charts her weight loss journey and has some great recipes for Step 2 and 3. I would also recommend following positive pages or groups on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, or joining a Whatsapp support group (if your Consultant has one). I follow all the main CWP accounts across all networks, and they’re a good place to go for the latest updates and motivational stories, tips and advice.

5. Invest in a kitchen scale

I recently bought a lovely pink kitchen scale from John Lewis (Salter Disc Kitchen Scale) to make sure that I am 100% on plan. Before that, I was spending my time guestimating when it came to the weight of my veg and meat – and in hindsight have realised that I was actually completely off the mark and was overeating on the meat and veg. Last week I lost a lot of pounds and I attribute that to being 100% on plan and measuring out everything properly. So a kitchen scale is a must have!

6. Keep staple foodstuffs at close hand and start cooking

I am on Step 2 so the list of foods for my additional meal are rather limited. I actually prefer this as it makes making decisions regarding what to eat pretty straightforward. My key essentials on this diet so far have been: chicken, eggs, tuna, lentils, spring onions and broccoli. With these you can pretty much whip up anything. I also like to keep the following close at hand: 1 cal spray, assortment of spices, low salt veg stock, lemon and sweetener tablets for my daily rounds of tea and coffee and to get my ‘sugar’ fix (I even carry them around in my bag!).

I am a rubbish cook (having always had food prepared for me by others, and catered halls during university meant that I never really invested in developing the skill). I have honestly never made an effort to cook before starting this diet – but because of the restrictions, it really pushes you to get creative. Get a notebook or blank recipe book for yourself and make a note of your favourite dishes for the Step you’re on. I have found that doing this has helped me stay on track. If you really want to get into it, you can try and challenge yourself to cook something new every week. Again, it’s all about making it interesting for yourself! Below are some pictures of what have become my regular meals on this diet and take very little effort to cook. Credit to Chanden’s blog for a lot of recipe ideas.

7. Eat out

Eating out and socialising is a normal part of life and the great thing about CWP is that you can still do this while still staying fully on plan. It also helps you prepare for when you’re progressing up the Steps as well and maintaining. You don’t have to feel like you have to be home-bound just because you’re on a diet! I have found that eating out once or twice a week helps me stay motivated because it adds a little variety to what I’m eating and I don’t feel deprived. There are also surprisingly lots of places you can eat out! My staple is Handburger and Co., but there’s also Roosters, Nandos, Deigos, Ask Italian, Pizza Express, various Indian restaurants and more! It’s just important to plan ahead by checking the menu so you’re not faced with too much of a dilemma when you get there. I would also recommend always keeping a product in your bag to stay on the safe side if you’re caught off your guard when you’re out and about and have a stomach lurch. The bars are great for this – I am absolutely obsessed with the Cranberry and Peanut ones!

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200g of chicken and salad at Handburger and Co. I usually get the Cajun Chicken Burger and go bunless/replace with salad🙂

8. Surround yourself with success

Put any awards or certificates you receive throughout your journey regarding your weight loss in visible places in your room or throughout your house so it provides a constant reminder of how far you have come! Be proud of it and let it be a constant reminder of what you can achieve when you put your mind to something.

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1 stone down and counting

9. Visualise your journey

Take regular pictures of yourself throughout your weight loss journey to chart your progress, or look at your past chubby pics to use as a source of determination and energy to keep going. Being able to see the pounds come off in pictures and your old clothes sagging off you is a great feeling and helps the mind stay focused and keep the end goal in sight.

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How people will react when they see you after a while.

10. Make it your lifestyle

We are all creatures of habit: develop a routine that fits in your products, water and meals throughout the day and stick to it, and ultimately prepare as much as possible if you foresee your routine being in any way disrupted!

The aim is to maintain the weight loss once you’ve achieved your aim. The dieting doesn’t stop once you get to your goal weight. You can’t go back to old habits otherwise you will just end up where you were before you started CWP. That’s why it’s critical to start making healthy eating habits and choices RIGHT NOW, so all your hard work does not go to waste when you progress to maintaining. So embrace the plan fully and keep thinking long-term.

Simple recipe for success: 100% focus, stick to the plan 100%, you’ll get 100% results.

Good luck and keep going.

Follow me on Instagram for food-related posts and Twitter for my latest updates.

Read my other post on success on CWP here.