Challenge Betsy, Writing

A novel in progress – Live in Five – Part 1

Like every big day in my life, I take care with my outfit. I’m lacking in just enough confidence that if I think I’ve over- or underdressed, or simply misjudged the sartorial dress code in any way shape or form, I want the ground to open up and swallow me. According to the book I’d bought – the one that had helped me get the job in the first place – the world of television was a casual one, casual, yet peopled by designer labels slyly resting against skin. I didn’t own any designer clothes. Of any capacity. Not even a pair of fancy sunglasses from last year’s supermarket sweep of duty-free. Or a pair of Calvin Klein knickers. However, what I did have, thankfully, was the ability to dodge the corporate suit bullet, so at least I could wear my designer-free clothes with some semblance of relief. I didn’t look good in a suit. Pear-shaped woman rarely look good in suits. And pear-shaped women who can’t walk in high heels and have a phobia of bootcut trousers look even less good.

Jeans were my thing. So I pulled on a trusty pair of black skinnies. Well, they had been black when I bought them. Now they were a sort of blue-y grey colour with bobbly bits on my inner thighs where they dared to rub together, but hey ho, they were the smartest jeans I owned and they were like old friends. So on they went. I’ve never met a leopard print I could resist and a pair of calfskin leopard pumps had been my favourite purchase of the last few months, so I slipped my feet into those.

I surveyed the result so far in the cracked floor-length mirror resting gingerly against the wall. I screwed up my mouth, satisfied, if not exactly happy, with what I saw – a half naked woman whose skinny jeans mercifully had a rise high enough to contain love handles and a tummy pooch, running down to smart pumps that no one else need know had been bought from an orthopaedic shop and boasted not only gel-filled foot pads, but some sort of system for camouflaging the hideous knobby bunions I’d inherited from my mother.

I always found dressing a minefield. Once, I’d got ill at university and dropped to an unheard of weight. It wasn’t healthy. It wasn’t sustainable, and it certainly wasn’t intentional, and yet for the first time in my life, I found clothing delightful and dressing a positively enjoyable experience with all the zips doing up precisely as they should, buttons pulling seams together neatly, and no lumps, bumps or bulges to be seen. The fact that my ribcage was sticking out, I had a xylophone chest and no bust was an unfortunate aside.

Sighing, I dismissed my constantly disappointing figure and turned to the important issue of tops. After much deliberation, I chose a tight fitting vest top that had a Spanx-like effect on my torso, with a cream lace blouse layered over the top. With three layers to control it – jeans, vest top, and blouse – my muffin top had a tough job ahead of it. Finally, I grabbed a jersey blazer, and rolled the sleeves up. Body hang-ups aside, I thought I had managed to hit the right note of young creative quite nicely.

Now, for my face. Make-up makes me happy. It always has, and I’m pretty confident it always will; its beauty lying in the very fact that it always fits. Size 10 or size 20, you can wear the same foundation, so halle-fucking-lujah. It didn’t take me long to figure this, so while my make-up aged ten was very much of the lavender eye shadow and orange concealer variety, by the time I was studying for GCSEs, I had it down.

And I mean down – primer, foundation, concealer, highlighter, bronzer, blusher, eyebrow pencil, eyeshadow, eyeliner, mascara, lipstick, lipgloss – voila! The perfect ‘no make-up’ make-up look. It would take a skilled eye to see it had taken me fifteen minutes to craft this work of art. I almost felt sorry for the girls that were content with a sweep of clear or brown mascara, and some lip balm; and I definitely felt bad for men who didn’t have access to the good stuff. I’d got so adept at putting on ‘my face’ that I hardly ever remembered the time I was teaching myself the sexy cat’s eye flick with black eyeliner and ended up at the doctor’s surgery with a prescription for antibiotics and eye drops. Or the time when I accidentally used black mascara in an attempt to tame my eyebrows. Or when I thought Impulse body spray was a legitimate fragrance option…

With a final look in the mirror and the realisation that I’d now hit full procrastination, I grabbed my handbag and headed out of the door. I’d already researched the best bus routes for getting to work, but decided on this, my first day, I’d take the tube. I felt that it cemented my status as a true Londoner. When I reached the underground station, I fumbled in my bag for my Oyster card and proudly swiped it across the scanners, walking straight into the gates, which refused to open. I frowned and swiped my card again. Nothing. The crush of commuters was building up behind, and I smiled nervously. I swiped my card again, and this time, sweet relief flooded through me as the gates opened and the crowd swept me towards the escalator and down into the depths of the tube, and fortunately, as I scrunched my eyes up to read the digital sign, to the right platform.

The next train was due in two minutes. Perfect. And then it was approaching, and I panicked as once again, the crowd swept me forward, and this time past the yellow line that you must stay behind at all times, and towards the furiously blurred carriages of the train which suddenly slowed down, and the doors opened. Despite being at the front of the crush, I was left baffled several seconds later when the doors closed and the train pulled away, and I was left standing on the platform. How the hell had that happened? I looked to my left and right and saw that I was surrounded by a different set of strangers; clearly other people had made the jump.

When the second train arrived minutes later, I was ready. I moved forward purposefully yet still waiting patiently to one side to allow passengers to depart, but no one got off. Instead the pressure built up behind me again, and with stories flashing in my mind of unsuspecting commuters squashed like strawberry jam on the rails of the tube after slipping between the platform and the train, I stood firm, and, like a rock, allowed people to move around me to squeeze into the carriage in front of me. I shut my eyes, and heard the train move away.

Taking a deep breath, I forced myself to open my eyes. I needed to get on the tube. I needed to get to work. So when the third train arrived, despite no one descending to make room for new travellers, I pushed myself forward with the best of them, and suddenly popped, like a greasy olive, through into a gap between one man’s right shoulder, and another man’s armpit. It was a tight fit, and an unpleasant smelling one. The man whose armpit had become my temporary dwelling place, looked down with a sigh at this intrusion into his personal space, shook out his copy of The Metro in the blissfully empty space above our heads, carefully folded it over, placed it on my crown and carried on with the Sudoku.

I could feel the pressure of his ballpoint making contact with the paper, but after one aborted attempt to extricate myself which resulted in a pointedly irritated look, I resigned myself to newspaper ink in my hair and the fact that I was fairly certain he’d already put a 6 in that box.

Resigned, but not relaxed, I was constantly aware that my journey was not a simple one-liner; it required a change, and currently I couldn’t see the tube map. At each stop, more and more people had forced themselves into the train, and even if I had wanted to move, I couldn’t. The temperature was a good five degrees warmer than it had been outside and I could feel the sweat beginning to bead at my hairline.

As I felt the train slow down for the next stop, people around began to shift, and when the doors opened I felt an instantaneous release as scores of commuters departed. Sighing in relief, I glanced at the name of the stop, and shot like a bullet after them. By sheer luck, I was at my change over and I followed the mass across to another platform where another train was conveniently idling, determined not to leave until every single inch had been filled. Anxiously watching the second hand tick around my watch face and the minute hand move closer to my starting time, a fully formed drop of sweat trickled slowly from the nape of my neck before picking up speed and sliding to the waistband of my jeans.

When I finally poked my head above ground after thirty-five gruelling minutes, I clung to the nearest wall and gasped for air like a tsunami survivor. I’d never considered myself claustrophobic, but if that was tube commuting, I’d be taking the bus from now on. Despite the rising panic I’d felt earlier, thanks to my persistent habit of allocating far too much time to anything, I still actually had twenty minutes before I was due to show my face, and throwing up a prayer of gratitude to the gods of Google Maps, I followed the plotted out course from the station to the office with relatively little fuss.

The building loomed up above me, but coming from York, every building seemed to loom above you. And it was ugly – greige and square – shiny silver revolving doors did nothing to hide it. But it was my new work, and there was a beauty in that, I supposed. I pushed my way through the doors, and headed for the reception where two women sat – one with a phone wedged between her ear and shoulder, the other banging on the keyboard in front of her. I waited patiently, and smiled as widely as I could when the phone was replaced, and it was my turn.

‘Hi,’ I said. ‘My name is Stella Monroe. I’m due to start work at Wakey! Wakey! today.’

‘Are they expecting you?’

‘Erm, I hope so,’ I replied, temporarily flummoxed. I really bloody hoped they were.

‘Ok. I’ll call up for you. You’ll need a security pass. Look here.’

‘Look where?’

‘Take a seat over there, please, and someone will be down to collect you.’

‘Oh. Ok.’

‘Hang on; here’s your pass. Keep this with you at all times. If you don’t have this, you don’t work here. Ok?’

‘Ok,’ I said, taking the plastic pass from her. I cringed. ‘Is there a toilet around here?’ I asked her.

She smirked. ‘Just over there.’

With my head down, I scuttled over to the toilet, and ran to mirror. I had a thick black smear of grime across my forehead. I looked from my reflection to the pass in my hand. What a fucking bitch! The disgruntled owner of greasy skin normally mattified within an inch of its life with powder, the commute had caused huge shiny patches to appear; throw in the black mark and my cross-eyed and harried expression as I searched for a hidden camera, and the security pass I had to carry with me at all times would definitely never become my prized possession.

Patching up the damage as best as I could with my emergency kit, I reappeared into the lobby five minutes later. A tall slim man was standing with his back to me around the chairs I’d been directed to. His well-fitting slim leg indigo jeans were undoubtedly designer, while the dark grey jumper atop was probably cashmere and the smart suede brogues from an exclusive boutique. His jet-black hair was cut short at the sides, and as he turned, I saw full eyebrows framing blue eyes. His mouth broke into a smile, and I realised I was staring at a familiar face.

‘Simon!’ I said.

‘Stella. You’ve arrived. Welcome to Wakey! Wakey!.

 

 

 

Standard
Challenge Betsy, Writing

A novel in progress – Live in Five – Stella’s Guide to Renting a Flat in London

 

  1. Visit property websites and earmark your favourites
  2. Realise you’d been looking at the rent per week, not per month
  3. Panic and realize you have to vastly downgrade your expectations
  4. Search again
  5. Realise you can’t afford to live in the area you fancied
  6. Realise you can’t afford to have a garden, or two bathrooms
  7. Realise you can’t afford to live on your own
  8. Desperately look around for someone to live with
  9. Find a friend of a friend of a friend
  10. Make awkward contact
  11. Try to establish the same budget and expectations
  12. Downgrade even further
  13. Settle on six mutually agreeable and barely affordable flats
  14. Contact estate and lettings agents
  15. Control panic when told that all the flats have been let
  16. Register with as many agents as possible, and give them your specs
  17. Make sure your phone is on loud
  18. Pounce on every call
  19. Arrange a viewing instantly for any flat that comes on to the market
  20. Arrive at agents and hide disappointment as you’re told you’ve missed the boat
  21. Repeat steps 16-20
  22. Arrive at agents, and jump in a Mini Cooper driven by a young man with slicked back hair and try to hold on to your lunch as he negotiates the area
  23. Arrive at flat. Hide disappointment as you establish it’s a squat. Not like a squat, but an actual squat. Or only has one bedroom. And an outside toilet. And it’s still above your budget
  24. Repeat step 23
  25. Arrive at flat that ticks all the boxes. Hide your excitement from the agent in case they try to up the price. Nonchalantly put in an offer
  26. Throw phone and any object within arm’s reach at the wall in frustration as agent informs you next day someone put down deposit IMMEDIATELY, so you’ve missed out again
  27. Repeat steps 20-26
  28. Ring parents in panic that you’ll never find somewhere to live. Consider sofa-surfing as a life choice
  29. Arrive at flat that ticks all the boxes. Throw money at agent. Sign every, and any, piece of paper they put in front of you. Hope you still have your soul. Realise in earlier panic you’ve gone over your budget, it’s nowhere near a tube stop, it’s unfurnished and there are neighbours above, below and on both sides, and ‘hang on, isn’t it the same flat you saw and disregarded two weeks ago?’ but you DON’T CARE
  30. Celebration drinks in local pub with flatmate who you now a) love having shared all your trials and tribulations or b) loathe because they’re a lazy bastard who let you do all the work. Spit out mouthful of wine when see price of wine
Standard
Hepworth Wakefield Museum by David Chipperfield
Travel

City guide – Wakefield

Now Wakefield might not sound like the sexiest place to live, there’s more to see and do than you expect. One of the guys – Stu – from work, has given me his city guide. Enjoy!

Favourite bar – Eddies

Favourite restaurant – Bella Roma

Favourite pub – The Hop

Favourite pub – Newmillerdam

Unmissable – The Hepworth Museum and Yorkshire Sculpture Park

Places to avoid – The chav-infested bus station (!) and the rip-off car parks

Best time to visit – During the summer

Best way to get around – the free bus!

Best shop – the shopping is rubbish; it’s all Pound Shops. Go to Leeds

Further afield – Nostell Priory

So there you have it, ladies and gents – a short, sweet and honest guide to Wakefield.

Standard
Challenge Betsy, Writing

A novel in progress – Live in Five – Prologue

Prologue

You’re meant to start at the beginning. I do know that. But that paints a rather rosy picture and I want to draw your attention instead to the girl currently falling arse over tits down the escalator at Charing Cross tube station. I think (I hope) that you might like her more this way.

Ladies and gentlemen, meet Stella Monroe.

‘Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuck,’ she cried, as the sole of one rain-drenched Converse shoe slid out from underneath her, dragging its pair and partner in crime along for the ride. There was no comical slowing of time as she desperately tried to grasp on to a handhold (be it steel handrail or passerby); instead, she found herself landing, bum first, on the metal slatted edge of the bottom step within a matter of seconds. When that step treacherously flattened out in preparation to disappear under the floor and make its repetitive ascent, she was carried along in an inelegant wave to end up in a crumpled heap at the very foot of the escalator.

It wasn’t so much the loss of the helium balloons she’d had to brave the sleeting grey skies of London’s Strand for, that moments ago she’d been clutching in her sweaty palms, that finally broke Stella; rather, it was when the first set of feet simply walked their owner over the top of her pathetic looking pile, and made a quick dash for the approaching train without sparing her a glance, never mind a helping hand. She promptly burst into tears.

‘I fucking hate London,’ she wailed. When the second pair of feet did in fact, stop, crouch, and a set of strong arms pull her up, she found herself muttering, ‘It wasn’t meant to be like this,’ instead of the thanks that would usually have tripped so gaily from her lips.

She cast her eyes to the ceiling where the six revoltingly expensive silver and gold balloons bobbed with abandon, bitterly regretting declining the equally expensive balloon weights ten minutes earlier, she turned to her left, taking the escalator upwards and back out into the grim tourist-packed thoroughfare above.

It doesn’t take a genius to work out that I am Stella Monroe. And I now have a bloody great bruise blooming painfully from my left arse cheek. And I’m pissed off, not only because I have to go back and get those fucking balloons again, and it’s chucking it down, but it really truly honestly wasn’t meant to be like this.

Let me explain. I’m fairly unremarkable, if I’m honest. Today I’m wearing skinny jeans, the aforementioned lethal Converse trainers (you’ll be binned later, you treacherous bastards), and an old university hoody pulled up in a cocoon around my ears, because, you know, it’s freezing. I’ve got blonde hair, blue eyes – the whole ‘my ancestors were pillaged and raped by Vikings hundreds of years ago’ package – which is neither here nor there in England. I’m pretty enough, in an average kind of way.

And now, patience rewarded, I’ll take you back to the beginning, just for some perspective. I grew up in Yorkshire. I have two parents (still together), an older brother (Charlie), a family dog (Deefa, as in ‘D for Dog’ – oh, how we laughed…) – went to private schools (first Prep and then Secondary), but only because my parents scrimped and saved. And if it appears from the surface that I made every sports team, hovered near the top of every class, and had a large group of friends around me, it’s only because the schools were so small everybody made the team. It’s not hard to be a big fish in a little pool; trust me. Then along came uni, hardly a doddle, and a slightly bigger pool, but, to a certain extent, if you go to the lectures, you do the work and you study for the exams, you’re going to do OK.

Fast forward to graduation (passing many many drunken nights and hazy mornings) and I was on the job hunt. I did what I always do in major life situations: I bought a book about how to succeed in said situation. I decided I wanted to get a job in TV. Just like that. And not just any job, presenting. So I researched production companies diligently, narrowed them down to a shortlist, applied for work experience placements, and finally won a fulltime permanent position as a Programme Assistant at one of the country’s biggest television channels. All of this in a matter of months. But there was nothing so surprising about that; after all, I’d done my research, I’d put in the hours, and now, I was receiving my just desserts.

So, you’re almost up to date and you’re probably sick of me already (I mean, who actually likes the girl who’s good at everything?), but it’s OK, not only have I just embarrassingly and painfully fallen down an escalator, I’m now screwing up my life completely. It’s my own fault really; I should never have ignored the tiny voice at the back of my mind telling me from the very first day that I walked through the doors of Wakey! Wakey! that I had made a terrible mistake.

Standard
CHALLENGE BETSY ROUNDAL
Challenge Betsy, Writing

Challenge Betsy – The Novel…

One of my biggest goals is to be a published author – one of the has a ‘glossy and pleasingly weighty hardback sitting on a display table in your local Waterstones’ kind of author. I’ve written a few books already – one under the guidance of No Plot No Problem / NaNoWriMo, which was a hearty tale of smuggling and lusty wenches. The emphasis of the challenge is quantity, over quality – you have to write 50,000 words in a month. Oomph. So I figure I was allowed some Mills and Boon-esque shenanigans.

Since then, I’ve written another novel – Mad Alice Lane - which I submitted to Curtis Brown and had a really favourable response (e.g. they want me to make some edits and come back to them). I’ve also got pages and pages of ideas whizzing around my head, but as every published writer will tell you, having the idea is the easy part, the hard part is writing the damn thing.

So, I’m toying with another book at the moment; working title Live in Five – a very chatty women’s lit book about a young graduate struggling to make it in the television world (anyone who knows me well will spot the autobiographical elements pretty easily!). Now, I’ve always been someone who works well with a deadline, and with some accountability, so I’ve decided to set myself another writing challenge – this time, I have until the New Year to complete my first draft of the book. This means writing, a lot of writing, every single day. Geez Louise.

This time, I’ve abandoned the traditional approach of a planned plot and character synopses, instead, I’m just going to go with it. And each day, at the end of every day, I’m going to update my progress to the blog. Bear in mind, it’s going to be incredibly rough, with no editing whatsoever, but I’d really appreciate your thoughts and comments.

So, watch this space…

Standard
ING_38192_01586
Betsy Loves, Fashion

Best of the fashion bloggers

I’m a fashion blogger groupie. Almost every single day, I click (and pin) my way through a list of tens of bloggers; I’m always on the lookout for new ones to add to my lists and every month a few come and go, but the ones I’m sharing here have stayed the course. If you’re remotely interested in fashion, these guys are pretty inspiring; and if you don’t have the time to check out every single one, you could always follow me on Pinterest where I share my favourite images.

My Absolute Faves:

Fashion Me Now – home to Lucy Williams. This Londoner has my favourite fashion style that I love to try to imitate. She writes about fashion, travel, beauty, living and more. More than just pictures, her writing style is great too.

They All Hate Us - less of a personal outfit blog, and more daily fashion inspiration posted by Aussie team – Tash Sefton and Elle Ferguson.

Sincerely, Jules – where it all began for me. Julie Sarinana’s personal style blog is a gateway drug; I’m warning you now.

Garance Dore – I adore Garance – a Corsican Street Style photographer and illustrator. Her blog is seriously inspiring with great images and writing.

My Big Time Likes:

Jeanne Damas – the French cool girl, who updates her personal blog sporadically with intimate snaps from her life. Charming.

Le Blog de Betty – another Frenchie, but this one with her finger firmly on the fashion and blogging industry. You’ll find collaborative shoots here, as well as outfit inspo. I have major fringe envy. Those in the know might recognise Betty from appearances on the Sincerely Jules blog.

The Blonde Salad – the blog of the ridiculously photogenic Italian – Chiara Ferragni. Blogging about fashion, travel and her inspirations, she also has her own shoe line.

Atlantic-Pacific – Blair Eadie posts her quirky outfits with lots of colour.

Ring My Bell – Actress Ashley Madekwe shares outfit inspo and her enviable legs.

Stockholm Street Style – one of the original Street Style blogs.

The Sartorialist – Another long time Street Style guru, Scott Schuman is a heavyweight in the fashion commentary world.

We Wore What – another personal fashion diary; this time of New Yorker Danielle Bernstein.

Death by Elocution – drawn in by the name, this Tumblr account has become a favourite.

En Brogue – After spotting Hannah Rochelle’s book of the same name, I soon began to check out her blog dedicated to flat shoes regularly.

Maja Wyh – If you like the Olsens’ look, you’ll like Maja.

Tuula – Jessica Stein’s diary of travel and fashion. Great legs.

Spin Dizzy Fall – Fashion blog of Sydney-sider Emma Lucey. Another one with great legs. Sigh.

Harper and Harley – still a new discovery for me, but I like Sarah Donaldson and her blog a lot; not model or fashion skinny, she still styles greta outfits.

We The People – blogger and photographer Jessie Bush

Look De Pernille – former model, Danish Pernille is a bloggers’ favourite, and is a successful stylist.

Camille Over The Rainbow – half English, half French, former lawyer, Camille Charriere is a freelance stylist.

Hoard of Trends – the style and fashion of Berliner Magdalena I.

My ‘Worth A Look':

Always Judging – American Courtney Trop might look like she never cracks a smile, but her style is worth logging on for.

Brooklyn Blonde – personal style blog of Helena

The Coveteur – allowing us a glimpse into some of the most coveted wardrobes in the world.

Song of Style – Aimee Song shares her outfits and inspiration (and she also has incredible legs – sigh).

The Wall – Elin Kling – Fashion journal founded by Swedish Street Style star Elin Kling.

Little Black Boots – I don’t check this every day, or even every week as Jill Wallace’s hippy boho style isn’t 100% to my liking but it’s still worth visiting every now and then.

Le 21eme – adamantly NOT a Street Style Blog, nevertheless, the ‘photo-journalistic view into the daily world of fashion’ is pretty darn good.

The Not Vanilla – fashion, beauty and lifestyle blog from Sonia Evers.

The Styleograph – Street Style blog, great images.

Dallas Shaw - officially the blog of ‘fashion illustrator, brand collaborator, and tastemaker’ but less pretentious than that.

Natalie Dressed – fashion diary of Natalie.

Adenorah – French fashion blogger of the same name.

The Fashion Guitar – personal style of Danish Charlotte, who now lives in NYC.

My ‘Misc':

Into The Gloss – beauty, rather than fashion, and an easy way to lose a few hours…

Standard
8018608_fpx
Beauty

On the scent

I have the ultimate First World dilemma. Let me introduce you to women and perfume. This relationship can go one of two ways – either you’re an ardent supporter of a single scent and wear it all day, every day; or you’re fickle and flutter from one perfume to another depending on your mood, season, etc.

Until recently, I’ve been the signature scent kind of gal since falling in love with Jo Malone’s Pomegranate Noir about ten years ago. Every now and then I had a spritz of something else but I mostly remained faithful, and it’s what people associated with me. But then, suddenly, one morning, I woke up and wasn’t in love any more, at all. (And no, I wasn’t pregnant.)

Since then, I’ve toyed semi-seriously with another Jo Malone – Vetyver – but that’s being discontinued (sigh) and Liz Earle’s Botanical Essence No.15 which, while delicious, sadly lacks staying power; more recently I’ve dabbled all over the shop – from Chanel to Chloé – but I’m not head over heels for any of them.

Shopping for a new perfume is an olfactory minefield: what smells lovely on paper, can smell completely different on your skin, and then, after you’ve tried several scents, you can’t distinguish between them all anyway. After a couple of years of searching, I got so desperate recently I went back to Pomegranate Noir just to see if I’d changed my mind again. I haven’t.

I’ve grown up adhering to the first perfume principle that without my signature I’m all at sea; my perfume had almost become part of my personality and now I’m adrift. First World problem or not, any suggestions will be gratefully received. Until then, I’ll continue to sidle up to strangers, sniff deeply, ponder, before asking the all-important question, ‘What perfume are you wearing?’

Standard