Writing: I’ve Got A Feeling.

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“When I open them, most of the books have the smell of an earlier time leaking out between the pages – a special odor of the knowledge and emotions that for ages have been calmly resting between the covers. Breathing it in, I glance through a few pages before returning each book to its shelf.”
– Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore

 

There is so much bumf out there about how to write about emotions.

Whether it is writing about your own emotions as a form of therapy, or describing emotions in creative works, someone somewhere has got something to say about it.

The most important thing about writing a great story is to transport a reader to the mind and world of a character or, in some cases, several characters. If a story lacks empathy it becomes less engaging because we want to be able to relate to this world that’s been created, we want to recognise ourselves in these people we are reading about.

I don’t agree that we have to necessarily like every character in a novel, or even sympathise with their plight, I don’t think it’s even important for a reader to like any character in a novel; they can hate them all if that’s how they feel, the important bit is that it makes them feel something. They can identify emotions and relate on some level.

I have a friend who doesn’t like to read contemporary fiction and would much rather read science fiction, for example, because it is a complete escape from her every day world. However, even at the heart of these novels, we can identify basic human emotions.

But how can a writer describe these emotions? How can we keep a reader engaged in the story without hamming up the tear-jerker stuff?

While researching this topic, I came across a blog that described how to describe emotions in fiction writing:

An abstract noun is the labelling of a cerebral concept that is not solid and cannot be seen. Emotion words fall into this category. Examples of abstract emotion words are: guilt, fear, love, sadness and grief. These words have such broad meanings and associations they are impossible to get a fix onto. Overuse of abstract nouns of this nature can leave the reader suspecting the writer cannot make the effort to write exactly what is meant by this word. Like passive writing, the overuse of adjectives and adverbs, inclusion of too many emotion words will have a detrimental effect upon the writing.

In short, emotions should really come under the category of “show, don’t tell.” It’s not a good idea to merely say, “He was sad,” or “she was angry,’ because they are inherently vague concepts and tell us nothing concrete about a character. It’s more of an authorial opinion and adds nothing to the character.

Instead, try this. Think about how we recognise emotions in other people. How do we know people are happy, sad, or angry when they don’t tell us? What’s happened to make the character feel a certain way? How does this manifest itself in their behaviour? Is it reflected in their appearance? For example, a sad person might be unkempt and have no pride in appearance, or they might be the opposite. They might hide behind a mask of make-up or expensive clothing to fool others into believing they are OK.

Is it how they view the world or other characters? Are they hostile towards others, or perhaps they are too loving, needy? Is it an emotion they want to keep hidden? Perhaps it only occurs during certain times of the day, month, and year, like an anniversary. Perhaps the character can’t stop thinking about this particular emotion – take love, for example. Does the character busy themselves with other, more trivial tasks, such as work, to distract from feeling a certain way? Does it work? Or does the emotion creep in?

Another great way of expressing emotion is to write the internal dialogue of a character. What do they see? What triggers the emotion? Are they reflecting on a scene that has just come before?

Personally, I think its fine to put a little bit of “tell” in there when you’re writing in the first person because we have access to the character’s thought process. Andy, my central character, uses a substitute she spots in a park to project her emotions on to. She decides that they are similar and goes on to explain why.

How do you write emotion in fiction? Do you struggle? Do you pick up on your own emotions during the writing process? I know I do. I recently wrote some of the below in my journal and altered it to fit how my central character would feel about a similar situation and how she might describe that emotion.

**

I never really thought about what it’s like to be lonely. Not properly. There has always been someone around. My life has never been truly silent. The house always creaking with the sounds of windows and doors. I wanted to be alone, just have some space of my own and quiet so all my thoughts didn’t rattle around in my brain like scrabble tiles, and I could try to make sense of them. I wanted to do it without someone else telling me what they should say.

I’m sitting on a bench in a park I don’t know. It’s not like the parks back home with their little patches of green and designated kid’s playing areas – slides, climbing frames, those little hopper things with giant springs that go back and forth, and toddlers on swings screaming to go faster – this one is big, sparse I think the word is, just an endless stretch of unkempt lawn, balding in places and overgrown in others. A couple of people walk dogs around the edge, just walking in one loop after another and never straying from the path.

Kyle’s playing with Spike, I can see them in the distance, chasing each other around and laughing. Every now and again Kyle picks Spike up and swings him in the air and I can hear Spike screeching, delighted and a little bit fearful.

I thought I might feel like that. That I’d come here and everyone would be happy to see me, that they’d want me stay. They’d welcome me with open arms in to their homes and lives because I was family and they missed me. If I’m honest, I wanted them to say it was all my mum’s fault, or my dad’s, so I could get rid of feeling like I’ve done something wrong and shrug it off like old skin. In my head it would go like this: they’d tell me that everything – the thoughts and nightmares – are all in my head, things I’d made up to fill the gaps that they hadn’t.

In reality all I feel is darkness. It’s black in the pit of my stomach. If you were to cut me open you’d see it swirling, this black hole, threatening to swallow me from the inside out.

I pull my coat tightly around me, its cold now and we’ve been here for a while.

There’s an old man on the bench across from me. He’s wearing his loneliness like a comfortable suit. I can see it in the way he dresses: old fashioned, smart, a pallet of greys and browns, nostalgic for another time or another life, maybe.

He totally owns it, you know, as he sits out here in the open. There’s no cover, no pretence of nearby friends or family, no newspaper open on his lap or book in his hand. He’s not like me. He doesn’t keep well-rehearsed words under his tongue, doesn’t make out that his life is going the way he had hoped, nor is he over-dramatic in that way some lonely people are, always weeping and moaning like you see on those shows like This Morning or whatever, where they tell you how to feel better if you just wear that certain shade of lipstick or go to the bingo or take up salsa dancing. You just keep buying stuff and saying stuff and watching stuff because its supposed to help, its supposed to make a difference.

The man, in his drab clothes, is honest. I wonder how long it took for the black hole to take over.

He looks over at me but he doesn’t smile. He doesn’t need to.

I’m starting to think that its is a bit like belonging to a club. All the members recognise one another but we never talk because part of being in the club is that we suffer in silence.

We regard each other only with quiet recognition – the man and I – because we can both see the darkness in each other’s eyes.

Let’s talk about sex, maybe?

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” I don’t think we should talk about this
Come on, why not?
People might misunderstand what we’re tryin’ to say, you know?
No, but that’s a part of life.”

Salt ‘N’ Pepa – Let’s Talk About Sex

 

Attempting to write fiction for teenagers is tricky.

For starters, there’s the whole ‘getting in the mind-set of today’s Yoof’ thing that’s expected. I mean, teenagers are way savvier, more street-smart, and achingly cooler than I ever was (you can tell this from the fact that I just said “achingly cool” like a complete and utter nerd). It’s such a challenge to try and imagine the thought process, opinions, and worries that a teenager might face in the digital age. The world is a far different, more tech-orientated, and slightly scarier place than when I was a fifteen year old.

But, obvious stuff aside, there’s also the challenge of what’s deemed “appropriate ” for a teenage audience.

Even now, parents are calling for certain books to be removed from the shelves. We like to think we’ve come a long way since the 70s where books like Forever by Judy Blume were deemed unsuitable and taken off library bookshelves, but have we really?

For a generation where having a smartphone is the norm, and access to the internet in all its weird, wonderful and dangerous glory is rife – don’t we have bigger fish to fry when it comes to deciding what material is harming our children?

Now, I’m one of these people who believe teenagers are wonderfully bright beings who know far more than they are often given credit for. Even that sentence makes me ashamed as it sounds so patronising. You only have to look at the wonderful teenage bloggers doing the rounds on the Twittersphere to realise they know exactly what is going on. More so than us twenty/thirty-somethings do anyway.

I swear like a trooper and this can be reflected in my writing. Should I keep this sort of language out of my novel? Is there a formula? Twenty pages of fluff for every ‘fuck’ or ‘shit’ used? Should the same rule apply for sexual content?

I mean, come on!

With the exposure to online media, teens are also less sheltered than we’d like to imagine. The stuff I got up to, and knew as a teen, pale in comparison to the sort of knowledge teens have access to in modern society. At the age of 15, the most shocking thing I got up to was getting pissed in the local park and snogging boys (I still remember my mum catching me kissing a boy at the end of our road – it is still mortifying to this very day).

It was a different time – our internet connection was slow at best, my dad always knew when I was online just by picking up the telephone, and Facebook and Twitter just didn’t exist. We had Myspace of course, but all I was concerned about was rearranging my “Top Friends” list and picking the perfect profile song.

It’s a whole different ball game now young people have smart phones – Snapchat, Youtube, Whatsapp – it’s so much easier to hide things.

While researching this blog post, I came across a 2013 article in The Telegraph about sex in teen novels (read the full article here), in which Dr Lucy Pearson, a lecturer in children’s literature at Newcastle University, says its nothing new:

“Sex has always been an issue in Young Adult fiction, but historically a problematic one… A turning point came…with Forever by Judy Blume (published in 1975). [Forever] is noticeable as a book which tells of teens who want to have sex and do have sex and nothing bad happens…It’s still rare in that aspect – there aren’t many Young Adult novels out there which feature healthy sexual relationships.”

In my opinion this is sort of terrifying.

In a recent study, 45% of teens said that sexting (pictures and graphic content) were considered the norm. It’s got so bad that police are even warning that teens will face criminal charges if caught circulating explicit pictures. After all, the people involved are minors.

With this in mind, I think teenagers have a right to be informed about life – about love, sex, death – and, in my opinion, this is exactly why YA is such an important –and popular – genre. It addresses these issues. Or it should do.

It provides a platform – in a world where sexualised images can be seen on the side of a bus or on a magazine at the supermarket, and more graphic images can be passed around an entire school at the push of a button – where issues about sexuality and body image are explained and explored.

It’s a genre that makes young people feel less alone in what they are thinking and feeling, and reaffirms that whatever these thoughts and feelings are, they’re OK. Its all fine.

I struggled when I found two of my teenage characters discussing sex.

But why?

Firstly, I was worried that the conversation they had would portray female sexuality in a bad light. I didn’t want to be seen as suggesting that women who enjoyed sex should be vilified for doing so, or that women were only seen as sex objects by young men. This is not only dangerous, but its annoying. I hate reading about stereotypical young people who fall in to roles – the outsider, the popular kids, the geek – and I really wanted the character of Sarah to be more than the girl who sleeps around. I wanted her to be carried along by a certain attitude – an attitude that is perhaps perpetuated by these views regarding sexting, porn etc. – widespread amongst our younger generation. The girl that, like many others, accepts these behaviours as “the norm.” She’s also a bit of a bitch but there’s not much I can do about that.

Secondly, it also occurred to me that my central character would regard Sarah’s behaviour in a negative light. She overhears her “rival” talking about a boy she has a crush on and reacts with jealousy.

And thirdly, is the sex necessary to the narrative? I think in this case, it is. There’s a danger of putting sex in for ‘shock value’ in any genre of literature. I think the best thing to do is make sure such scenes are never too graphic, over-descriptive or included unnecessarily. Teenagers talk about sex. Some of them even have sex. And most the time nothing bad ever happens and people go on to live normal and brilliant lives. Shock. Horror.

But it’s a tricky one to get right. It can easily come across as contrived.

Is it even possible? Take a look and see what you think of my writing below. Does anyone else experience the same problems when trying to write for teens? Is sex – and changing attitudes to sex – best left out of YA fiction, or do you – like me – believe it’s the best way to explore such issues?

 

**

   ‘But it was nothing like I thought it would be.’

I’m sat in the toilet with the door locked. I came in here to eat my lunch because they’ve made it clear I’m not welcome in the tutor room anymore, and you can’t eat anywhere else in school without getting a detention. Well, apart from the canteen, but eating in there on your own is social suicide and I’m already dying.

‘It was nowhere near as nice.’

I’d recognise that voice anywhere: the bratty, dissatisfied tone, and I know if I could see her she’d have a pout bigger than one of those girls from that TV show about Essex.

Sarah laughs. ‘What did you think it would be like?’

I hug my knees closer to my chest at the sound of her voice, place my feet firmly on the toilet lid. I feel exposed, like all of a sudden the door is made of clear plastic and my heart is beating as loud as drum.

‘I don’t know. Better, I guess. More…’

‘…romantic?’

‘Yeah.’

Sarah laughs again, like someone’s told her a joke. ‘You are too cute.’

‘Fuck off.’

‘Don’t be like that, Beth.’ Sarah’s still laughing. ‘I just mean you should probably get your head out of that Twilight crap and back into the real world.’ I hear a zip being unfastened, the clank of someone rifling through make-up. ‘Look, I lost my V-plates in, like, year nine or something. It’s not that great.’ She sounds proud, almost boasting and I wonder why, if it’s not that much fun, she even bothers doing it.

‘Really?’

‘Yeah, I mean sometimes it can be good, you know, when they know more stuff, like with older guys, and then you start to know more stuff as well, but at the beginning… I mean it’s totally normal not to enjoy it when they’re slobbering all over you like a dog.’

At this point I want to open the door and tell Sarah to shut up, perhaps suggest she go see a psychiatrist because she’s obviously got issues if she believes the advice she’s spewing out. Of course I don’t do that. I just keep my eyes fixed on the door because I am me. There’s a metal thing on the back of the door that people use to hang their coats or bags on and it kind of looks like a drunken octopus. I keep my eyes focused on that instead.

‘Seriously, Beth. All boys at this school care about is getting themselves off. It’s the older ones that really know what they’re really doing. You should come with me to Redditch one night. I know a doorman who’ll let us in for a favour.’

‘Really?’ Beth says. ‘What kind of favour?’

Sarah laughs. ‘He’s a friend of my brother’s and totally gorgeous.’

There’s a pause where I’m not quite sure what’s happening but then I hear Beth say, ‘My mum says with the right person it’s better than anything else,’ Beth’s voice is small and young. I imagine her looking down at the sink or twiddling a strand of hair around her finger like kids do.

‘Are we still talking about this?’ Sarah moans. ‘Look, your mum’s a massive hippy. She’s probably off her face whenever she’s doing your dad

‘Ewwwwww!’ Beth screeches. ‘My parents do not ‘do it.’

I look down at my shoes. I wonder what Beth looks like now. I guess she hasn’t told Sarah about her Dad’s affair and the thought makes this tiny bubble of hope form inside my chest. He’s been at it for years with a woman from work. They go off on fake business trips to Skegness or Leeds or somewhere shit like that, but really they’re just screwing in cheap hotel rooms. Beth told me her mum knew but didn’t care. He paid the mortgage and the bills. They barely speak to one another anymore. It’s kind of sad when you think about it.

Sarah starts laughing in her cruel-girl way again. ‘I bet they do. I bet they shag all over that big house of yours. I bet your mum is filthy and your dad loves it.’

‘It hurt,’ Beth continues. ‘And he kept saying all this stuff to me.’

‘Like what?’

Beth lowers her voice and I wonder if they’ve noticed the locked door yet, start thinking of an escape route. There’s a window above the toilet but its proper high up and I’ll never fit through it. Knowing my luck I’ll most likely slip and land in the bowl and then I’d have to walk around all day covered in bog water. ‘Like really rude stuff…’ Beth’s voice trails off and I can tell she’s on the verge of tears.

‘Totes normal.’

‘Yeah?’

‘Defo. Boys love saying stuff like that,’ Sarah says matter-of-factly. ‘Have you never watched porn?’

‘Oh.’

‘Speaking of which, let me show you this really rank thing on my phone that Michael sent me. It’s these two girls who-’

‘-Have you ever been with him?’ Beth’s voice is biting. I stop trying to figure a way out of my imprisonment and start listening.

‘Of course not.’

‘Promise?’

I read somewhere that when someone’s voice rises in pitch they are lying. Sarah’s answer is bordering on shrill. ‘I promise!’

In the safety of the cubicle I allow myself an unkind smile. But then she says it, the thing that I’m not expecting, and it’s like all the wind has been knocked out of me like when you have a bad fall and you can’t breathe for those first few scary moments:

‘Anyway after what happened Friday night, you know I’ve only got eyes for Kyle.’

SLAGGY SARAH. SLAGGY SARAH.

‘I thought you were over boys at this school?’

‘He totally knows what he’s doing,’ Sarah says and I’ve never wanted to punch someone in the face more in my life.

 

 

 

 

 

Writing: Never Gonna Give You Up

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“Never give up! Never, never, never, never give up. Never!”

– Winston Churchill

Note. That above heading should be sung to the tune of Rick Astley’s 1987 “hit.” I expect funny voices to be adopted and some serious shapes to be thrown.

 

Writing is fickle. It can make you feel both absolutely ecstatic and horrendously shit in equal measure. A bit like a McDonald’s happy meal or that fifth or sixth gin and tonic. Some days things can go really well – I’ll be typing away, completely enjoying the process and excited to see where things are going next – and then other days I can come away feeling like I can barely string a sentence together and my brain is made from play-dough.

I don’t know about you lovely lot, but I find that there’s no middle ground with me when it comes to writing. I can’t scribble away for hours when I think something is “only OK”. I sit and sulk and huff in front of a screen like it’s some magical rain-dance-type-affair that will suddenly bring me some inspiration.  I am either writing – and loving it – or staring at a blank screen with nothing but tumbleweed rattling around in my skull.

I think one of my biggest problems is thinking too much about what happens afterwards. What happens to all the time and energy you’ve put into finishing the damn thing? The next step comes like a slap in the face. You can no longer hide behind the guise of writing a novel, the bloody thing is written. Finished. Time to get pedalling those wares. Or at least let someone else read it. Cue massive freak out and high anxiety levels.

So let’s talk for a moment about this Fear of Failure (FOF)? Is it irrational? No, I don’t think so. It’s different from writer’s block – this is about rejection. It’s that inner voice that stops us from doing stuff (and sometimes this voice is very welcome) that might bring failure to the yard. When the thing is fully realised – the novel/story is drafted, printed, bound, whatever, and hidden in your knicker drawer – there are no more excuses.

Easier said than done, right?

Well, right. Mostly. The best bit of advice I have ever been given is to give yourself an ultimatum. Its now or never. Either you finish it/send it/submit it or you don’t. I think that’s pretty sound advice to carry with us through every aspect of life. You want to give up that job? Its now or never. You want to run away and see the world? Its now or never.

And we have to remember that we’re not alone with our FOF. Its a very real anxiety that all writers face.

So what if it does happen? So what if we are knocked back? It doesn’t mean that we can’t do it. It just means we might need to try a little harder, or look somewhere different, try someone else.

There are lots of famous people who have experienced rejection in their careers, but insist it made them more determined to succeed.

Here’s some advice from a few well-known peeps:

J.K Rowling – “Often, you have to fail as a writer before you write that bestselling novel or ground-breaking memoir. If you’re failing as a writer – which it definitely feels like when you’re struggling to write regularly or can’t seem to earn a living as a freelance writer – maybe you need to take a long-term perspective. Take care of your writing life, so it takes care of you!”

Neil Gaiman“Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.” 

David Mitchell – “I got a rejection letter from an editor at HarperCollins, who included a report from his professional reader. This report shredded my first-born novel, laughed at my phrasing, twirled my lacy pretensions around and gobbed into the seething mosh pit of my stolen clichés. As I read the report, the world became very quiet and stopped rotating. What poisoned me was the fact that the report’s criticisms were all absolutely true. The sound of my landlady digging in the garden got the world moving again. I slipped the letter into the trash…knowing I’d remember every word.”

Sylvia Plath – “I love my rejection slips. They show me I try.” 

See! It happens to even the best writers!

One way I overcame my FOF was to begin writing a blog. It’s not a big step – I’m not firing off short stories or novels to publishers/agents/competitions – I’d have to finish something first – but its my own little bit of risk-taking. I am doing something different and sending it off into the ether.

 

So how do you guys cope with the dreaded FOF? Is it something you experience? Do you have any handy tips for banishing such nasty thoughts from your head?

Writing: The Art of Spying

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Do you like people watching? I love it. I’m one of those nosy types who sit in café windows so they can watch the world go by. My coffee will go cold but I’ll sip it anyway, just so I can stay another few minutes.

If you’re OK with being a nosy parker, its a great writing exercise. Take a look at someone standing with a group of friends or sitting alone and write what you think they might be feeling or thinking. Write about what they’re wearing, what the items of clothes mean to them. Write about where they’re possibly going or where they’ve been.

That’s the beautiful think about writing – you can make up anything you want. And who knows where these little descriptions might fit.

Don’t edit either. There’s time for that later! When the first draft of your novel, story or poem is complete.

Here’s a short extract from the chapter I’m working on at the moment. I saw this girl in a shopping centre but decided to give her a brief cameo in Central Library in Manchester, one of my favourite places.

There’s this girl looking at a sign by the stone staircase. She’s got a red dress on and these black biker boots that come up to her knee, studs glitter in the leather like stars. I wonder what it feels like to be her. I imagine her getting up in the morning and choosing what to wear. In my head, she chooses the red dress because it’s her favourite – she likes the way the skirt flares out like the petals of a flower when she spins – and she’s got a date later with this really cute boy in her English class. She puts the boots on because she knows it’s supposed to rain but she doesn’t mind though, she likes the way the boots look with the dress. They remind her of these wellies she had when she was a kid and, now, every time she walks down the grey Manchester streets, she walks straight through the puddles like she did when she was little. Sometimes she’ll splash about a little, but only when no-one is looking. Before she leaves the house she takes a look in the big mirror, the one at the bottom of the stairs, applies some lip gloss and smiles. Her first class of the day is poetry or something like that. She looks like she’d like poetry.

Home, Sweet Home

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“You haven’t really been anywhere until you’ve come back home”

-Terry Pratchett, The Light Fantastic

I’m in the middle of planning an amazing trip for 2015. It’s proving to be a lot of organising and, if I’m completely honest, sometimes I’m not even sure where to start – so all help, advice and tips will be greatly received by this novice solo traveller.

I’ve had my nose in a pile of travel guides every chance I can get, soaking up as much information as possible, and reading about all the wonderful and exciting things that I’m going to get to do.

And its easy, when you’ve got your head in the clouds, to forget about all the beautiful things on your own doorstep. When I’m sat at my desk feeling glum, in an office in lovely historic Stratford-upon-Avon, its easy to dismiss the place and long for pastures new.

I grew up a few miles from Stratford-upon-Avon, in a small market town that’s all white and black buildings, country pubs, and hanging baskets. Its postcard-perfect But, in a typical teenage manner, I really couldn’t wait to leave the place when I went to university. I couldn’t wait to start a new adventure, somewhere completely different.

I moved to Manchester where I spent 8 wonderful years and then London where I spent 1 very busy and exhausting year, but ended up back in my home county in January 2014. Obviously, me being me, it wasn’t long before I was planning my next adventure, but reality bites, and anything worth doing usually requires a bit of cash, something London left me lacking. Fast forward six months later and I’m busy squirreling away my shire-earned gold.

And, although this isn’t the place I’d like to settle (usually the notion of “homesickness” puts me in mind of Manchester) it is where my family and some of my very good friends live, and its where my roots are.

It is also incredibly beautiful. It takes years of city living to realise just how lucky I was to grow up in such an idyllic place (even if it did take forever to get used to being woken up my cows mooing rather than the hustle and bustle of Westminster). Days spent catching the bus through country lanes, hanging out on the rec, playing rounders, flirting with boys down the skate park are fondly remembered (well, for the most part).

Look at the RSC, for example. How lucky am I to have one of the world’s best known theatre companies on my doorstep? With an ever-changing programme of fabulous plays from Shakespeare (modernised and traditional) to musicals like Matilda, children’s plays like Wendy and Peter Pan, and – with over 30 writers currently working to produce new material – various other one off wonders, its hard not to find something worth watching, even if Shakespeare isn’t your bag.

In 2010, the theatre reopened with a brand new look after a brief hiatus and spruce-up. The new 1000+ seat thrust stage auditorium is amazing, and really brings the audience and actors close together. Just after Christmas, I took my niece to see Wendy and Peter Pan, a wonderfully modern version of Peter Pan, which portrayed Wendy as the heroine (it was all about girls saving the boys for once – and Wendy becomes an excellent fighter of pirates).

It was magical to watch the look on my niece’s face as we witnessed fairies flying around, a pirate ship appear on stage and other world’s pop up from beneath the floorboards.

It’s also a great space to walk around in the daytime – especially if the kids need a bit of entertaining – with dress up boxes and costumes dotted around the red-stone corridors. You can also head up The Tower (kids go free in the summer holidays) and look above and over the town and the river.

There’s also a pretty fab café for the grownups with some of the most beautiful looking cakes, tasty coffee and a wonderfully scenic outside space right on the River Avon (and there’s plenty of wine and good food in the restaurant if you – like me – are partial to a tipple or six).

But – despite the over use of his quotes for business names – Stratford is more than just William Shakespeare! Its also unbelievably pretty.

There’s plenty to do along the River Avon and you’ll be sure to find something for everyone.

From row upon row of barges (including restaurants, ice cream shops as well as people’s homes complete with cute dogs in neckerchiefs!) to sprawling green lawns perfect for picnicking or playing games with the kids. There are also rowing and motorised boats that can be rented out, a quirky little ferry that the kids seem to love, historic churches, and plenty of riverside places to stop and have something to eat or drink. The Dirty Duck is a particular favourite of mine, or – if you’re looking for hearty pub fare – The Garrick Inn is situated a short walk away in the main High Street. Its Stratford’s oldest pub and well worth the visit, even just for a gander at the exterior and a swift cider.

There are a number of other great attractions nearby. If you ever find yourself in sunny Warwickshire, pop by Stratford-upon-Avon, and if none of the above float your boat, perhaps try one of the below.

As for me, I’m going to enjoy my time back in my hometown. Probably with a G&T in my hand, a few more plays under my belt and far too many pub lunches consumed.

Because its true what they say, you know, there really is no place like home.

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