Telling a story.

I’m very well versed in the stories of my own life.

I have phrases deftly crafted to get the right levels of hilarity, tension, and tenderness in every anecdote, told firstly at work, then the pub, then at a dinner party, then recounted over email, and perhaps again at work many months later. This effort is so vigorous, that my only concern when sharing one of my tales is that the listener (/reader) might have already been on the receiving end of this one, and therefore notice how nuts I am for using the exact same phrasing twice. Key events (first day of university,  terrible day at the office, trip to Venice, etc) are on hand, script ready at any given moment. In short, my boyfriend’s nickname for me is ‘Farrah Three Stories’.

Obviously everyone does this to some extent. I continue to tell my retellings with a happy heart. So this weekend, when I told a group of strangers a story that left me in tears, I was a little stunned with myself.

I was sat in a fabulous little old lady’s front room talking creative writing at Laura Jane Williams’ How to Write Words People Want to Read. (You might have already noticed, but I have a blog, and I’m doing my darndest to motivate myself into writing for it once more. Hence the creative writing workshop.) Through the magical power of inspiration, empowerment and doughnuts, we were invited to write about the first time we’d met a significant person. Right. Pen to paper.

I worked on it hard and with pride for five hours. It was only when it came to reading it aloud did I realise the impact this one little memory had on me. Each word that had been put down in innocence now formed a narrative about my own life I had ignored before. Through no conscious decision, I had chosen my own #tragicbackstory. How embarrassing.

There are parts of our lives we choose to engage with. Then there are the other parts. They might be boring, sad, embarrassing. We skim past them, we all-out forget about them, we direct our attentions elsewhere. We fill in the gaps with the things we are prepared to engage with. This is our narrative.

Through this workshop I realised that this narrative is a powerful thing- so powerful that it can inadvertently tap into feelings long since thought of. We spent the afternoon together talking technique, inspiration, editing and critiques, but I think the most impactful thing about this day was the very real realisation of the gentle power of telling a story well.

I was at first frustrated with myself- it really doesn’t shout ~be my friend, I’m super cool and creative~ to be bursting into tears like that. I was mortified, mate. Yet here we are, on reflection, and on reading the very sweet message Laura Jane left in my copy of Becoming, I’ve come to see that this lil’ outburst of mine is the best outcome I could have asked for.

I don’t have to resort to the same stories and the same words on rote. There is a creativity lurking about waiting to be caught and put to work, and if crying in a room full of strangers has taught me anything, it’s that I may as well get imaginative with it.


Reads Recap: August 2016

Once I’d ploughed through the last (available) instalment of GRRM’s A Song of Ice & Fire, I was craving something a little more real-worldy. Don’t get me wrong, dragons and demons have their place on my bookshelf, but this August I wanted to check in again with the human world. I found myself picking up four female-authored books (two memoirs, two fiction), devouring them all at quite the clip and doing lots of public crying and laughing during my commute reads in the process.

Ctrl Alt Delete Emma Gannon

Ctrl Alt Delete, Emma Gannon

One of my early summer reads, this hit of nostalgia takes you straight back to days of dial up, of learning to take gawkish selfies and figuring out how to love yourself as an insecure girl with a heavily filtered profile photo. Emma’s memoir has so many hints of my own experiences online that #relatable doesn’t cover it. This was a great, quick read to muffle your laughter on the bus to- and also to cringe in recognition of the situations that seemingly every 16 year old in the early 2000s went through (a belated thank you to my mother for never getting round to buying us a webcam in the MSN heyday). Her career and lifestyle, so entwined with being online, paint a positive picture for ambitious young women in a world that spends more time bemoaning ‘millennials’ than it does celebrating digital creativity. A great snapshot of the  how and what next of this generation of ours.

The Glorious Heresies

The Glorious Heresies, Lisa McInerney

This less than flattering portrait of the working class criminal underside of County Cork, Ireland is as flawless as it is damning. Lucid sentences pile together to give the reader a hit of adrenaline akin to so many of the vices explored in the story- that of a cantankerous old nana offing a hapless addict and the subsequent sprawling fallout. Corking one liners, gruesome detail and lines that leave you – sometimes physically- reeling with the power of them. Even the offhand throwaways are a delight- “It was a skit of the highest fucking order“, and characters are encapsulated in just a smattering of smart words- “for her their was no authority but the Holy Trinity: the priests, the nuns and the neighbours“. This book is a mastery of language and a masterful portrayal of the heartbreak, hilarity and reality of the Irish underworld.

Becoming Laura Jane Williams

Becoming, Laura Jane Williams

Dingdingding- we have a winner. This book has rocketed into my all-time favourite reads, and will now be the first thing I reach to when lost, and also is about to land in every girl friend’s Christmas stocking. Laura’s journey of self discovery through sex, celibacy and a few drunken crying sessions define every girl’s path to become wholly herself after a heartbreak. There is no exaggeration in saying I felt stronger after reading this book- I recognised so much of Laura’s effervescent personality, her quiet vulnerability and her determination to let herself define herself, thank you very much. Becoming spoke to me like that friend who perches on the edge of the kerb with you as you sob through your shattered woes- strong, warm, smart, and so funny that you snort laughs through your snotty, tearstained mess until you feel better.

Jojo Moyes After You

After You, Jojo Moyes

Any much-hyped sequel to Hollywood hit is going to be fraught with expectations, and one of my favourite things about Jojo Moyes’s writing is that she dares to potter off down paths you didn’t expect. With the world watching- Marian Keyes readers and literary critics alike- After You has enough personality to stand alone- though not quite stand up to- it’s predecessor. With a questionable plot twist very early on, lovable Lou Clark plods through life not quite eliciting the sympathy Me Beofre You did, but just as many good natured laughs (a highlight for me was the reliable chortle in “I’ve booked myself in for a back, crack and- what is it?”). Moyes gives us a pleasing end to the phenomenon, and her talent for making me ugly-cry in a public place runs as strong as ever.


Tequila, tequila!

Revered and feared, tequila is a spirit that brings most people out in a shudder, recalling bass-thumping clubs and bad decisions. For me, tequila brings back a specific memory: too drunk and/or stupid to understand the process of taking a shot (1. salt, 2. tequila, 3. lime, 4. regret), I panicked, bit the lime, shotted the drink (missing my mouth, for the most part) and stood stunned looking at the salt shaker I had just tipped upside down in the process.

Infinitely more sophisticated now, I found myself at Mestizo in Warren Street, with a row of tequila bottles lined in front of me. It looks like it might be the beginning of a particularly gruelling initiation ceremony, but I am in fact here -as an adult- for a tequila tasting session.


And what better place to dig out more on this misunderstood spirit- Mestizo has London’s finest collection of tequilas and mezcals- 260 line the bar.  We are introduced to a few of them (I might be young still, but not so young that knocking back 260 shots on a school night seems like a fun idea any more) by Gaby, a tequila specialist.

Tequila is one of the world’s most regulated spirits, that can take anywhere from 6 to 12 years to produce. Once fully grown, with the best of the world’s suppliers not in continual growth (these el jimadors are pretty chilled out, it seems), imported ex-cognac and Armagnac barrels house the tequila as they ‘rest’ for any time from a week to several years. All this waiting around improves the taste- making patience a virtue for tequila fans and meaning these spirits are there to be luxuriated over, not necked back to the tune of Justin Beiber’s latest banger in a strobe lit sweating room.


Gaby guided us through a Blanco (white, fairly young, a feisty glass), Resposado (rested, a little subtler, smoother) and Anejo (aged, dark in colour and more depth to the flavour- almost sherry like) from the respected Don Fulano producers- a family run specialist. The Anejo was my favourite- the Blanco reminded me too much of those student clubbing days- and the darker, sophisticated flavour of Anejo had less bite that it’s younger companion.

And it wouldn’t be a Mexican celebration without food, and lots of it. Mestizo piled upon us traditional Mexican fare- and though we couldn’t stay for all ten courses I can certainly vouch for their empanadas and tamal. With a series of Mexican Independence Day events and parties lined up to celebrate the 15th September (including a hangover brunch- these guys have it all covered off) Mestizo certainly has the spirit of Mexico in spades, as well as lining the bartender’s shelves.


Mestizo, london.mestizomx.com, 103 Hampstead Road


Dining at the Tabl: Amba Chefs

One cancelled train, five buses (one in the wrong direction, one back again) and a few serious words with the Transport for London Twitter account later, I clattered into the London Cookery Project.

When my evening gets off to a bad start after a long day in the glare of my Mac and fielding calls from clients and PPI salesmen, I want to retreat into myself and be away from screens and other people. Tonight, sulking wasn’t an option- I was walking solo into a supperclub- in need of food, new friends, and a very large glass of wine.

The hosts of Amba chef’s supperclub fluttered over to me the moment I arrived, both flustered and late. Placing a cocktail in my hand- a great start- Monica brushed off my apologies with a warm smile and immediately launched into how excited she was for this evening. Her passion caught me, and with a little help from the peach sangria, I relaxed.

Amba Chef Supperclub

I find my seat, marked with a small printed menu and my name. Next to me is Lily. We immediately begin a conversation that lasts, almost breathless, for three hours straight, despite having never met before. My grump lifted, Lily reminds me why I love Tabl so much- there is immediate connection with strangers when sharing food. We soared through topics happily all night.

The food was wonderful. Each dish a celebration of summer, sharing and Spanish cooking. The courgette flowers with light, fresh crab & courgette salad were summery and light, the monkfish mussel & chorizo stew pleasing, and the lam skewers juicy and bold. Shared between the long tables of dinner guests, every morsel was shared, the clatter of forks cutting away portions and being passed across conversations. Supper clubs make the best dinner parties.

Amba chefs wine

To match the summer feel of dinner, I chose a Spanish rose cava, light, crisp and oh so needed. Feeling full and tiddly, Lily and I made our goodbyes. I ran after the bus giggling, clutching my bottle of cava, beaming at the bus driver as I embarked on my sixth bus journey of the night.