Tag Archives: writing

Happy Anniversary

13 Sep

Today http://www.ourgirlinzurich.com is 6 years old. How time flies!

I started my blog six years ago because this was the time when I found out that I had received a job offer in Switzerland, which I decided to accept. Six years later, I am still in the Land of Milk and Money.

My original idea for my blog was to be able to keep in touch with people back home – sort of a regular newsletter so that friends and family could see what I had been getting up to and I could share some of the highs and lows of living in another country. Although I did take a bit of a break in the middle, I have been regularly blogging since then.

My blog is still a way for loved ones to check up on me but it has also become more than that. I now have a growing amount of followers in many different countries. Some are interested in what I write about life in Switzerland and trying to learn the German language, others are interested in how I am getting on with my #40Before40 challenges. The answer is: very, very slowly!

It’s a wonderful feeling when someone tells you that they read your blog and they are really interested in what I am getting up to. It’s even more wonderful when people tell me that I have a talent for writing or that they have been inspired by the success and ideas in my #40Before40 list.

For me, the most important part of my blog is just writing. Nothing more, nothing less. As a child and and teenager, I loved writing and that passion has never left me. If things were different and my younger self would’ve been more confident, perhaps I would be writing full-time now. But it is never to late to try to become anything that you want to be. And writing a few posts a week for you to read is a good way to improve my writing skills and to keep my desire to write alive. I hope that one day I will be able to write a post about an acceptance letter from a publisher or the date when my new book will be in the shops.

Until then, thank you for visiting and reading my blog. You might not realise it but you are keeping me motivated with you kind, lovely and inspiring comments!

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Writing progress

28 Feb

Finally, I have managed to finish writing, not one, but two short stories, and I have started writing a third. I think the last time I wrote one in its entirety I was still at school.

Undoubtably, going to my Writing Group on a Wednesday has really helped. Writing is a solitary pursuit and it can be very difficult to have the motivation and will to carry on, especially when you don’t feel like you are making any progress at all. Being part of the group makes me has really spurred me on to write more.

There is also a lot of hints and tips that you can glean from other writers. My problem of not being about to finished any storied was partially solved by a fellow scribe assuring me that every first draft is terrible. This gave me the confidence to just get something written and then at least I have a starting point and I can go back to it and make corrections and improve it. Lots of people in the group seem to have this problem as well so it is a bit like group therapy where we help each other through the problems together.

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I am certainly feeling a bit more confident about my writing, even though I am learning and practicing as I go along. I have been attending the group since October last year and last week was the first week that I felt confident enough to read out what I had written. At the start of the session, we are given a writing prompt and we spend 15 minutes writing about it. We are then free to share what we have written but no one is forced to share if they don’t want to. It did help that there weren’t too many people at the session, so I didn’t feel so self-conscious and I was pleasantly surprised about the positive reaction.

Something that has inspired me is that someone in the group has had her debut novel published a few weeks ago. I am completely in awe and it make me realise that it is possible to write a novel and to get it published. Gabi actually quit her job to dedicate time to writing the first draft of her novel. I am nowhere near being about to do this and I know that it is possible to write whilst still having a day job. But it is interesting to hear that there are different way to become a published author – you just have to find the way that is best for you. Oh, and I didn’t tell you the bit that I am possibly most impressed about: Gabi’s novel is in English and English isn’t her native language. Serious respect.

I haven’t been able to read the whole book yet, and I will order the book so it is ready for me to read once I am back from travelling, but you can get her book here if you are interested in reading it.

And as for the stories I have written… they still need a bit of work. (Edit: a lot) Maybe I will share it once I have improved them a bit. Practice makes perfect, after all.

40 Before 40: Challenge #17

2 Feb

I am officially 8.5% of the way through the seventeenth challenge on my 40 Before 40 list. My 17th challenge is to write a diary every day for a year. 31 days of the year have already been and gone so I can be very accurate with how much of this challenge I have completed.

The reason I decided to add this challenge to my list was because I have tried several times to write a diary for a whole year and I have always failed after a few weeks. I’m not sure why I have managed to fail so often but this time I am determined to complete the challenge. Of course, if I fail to complete the challenge again in 2018, I still have a few more years to try to complete it.

Recently I have been wondering why people write diaries at all. Famous diarists, like Anne Frank and Samuel Pepys, would never had known that their daily musings on every day life would be still being read today and the insights that they would be able to give to us into historic events.

I have no doubt that what I sit down and write each time before I go to bed will possibly never be read by a wider audience and probably not even by myself. Personally, it had more to do with the act of sitting down at the end of the day to reflect on what I have achieved and what I have found difficult about the day. I have found, even at this early stage, that it offers time to sit quietly after a day which might have been very busy or stressful. This is something that modern life doesn’t often allow us to have.

I was hoping that it would also help to clean out my thoughts before I go to bed and, therefore, help me in my New Year’s Resolution to get more and better quality sleep. Unfortunately, I haven’t found this helps all that much. People often advise that writing something down that you are struggling with during the day is a good way for you to get these thoughts out of your head. I find the opposite is true. After writing things down, I find that I want to think more about these things and try to solve them if possible.

I will persevere though. It takes 66 days to form a new habit. So I still have a number of days to go until this has become a habit. It does help that I have set a recurring alarm on my phone so that I remember to do it every day and the diary lives on the bedside table. There is no way that I have been able to forget to make my diary entry for the day. Every habit needs a bit of encouraging and I hope that my sneaky tricks to make sure that I write every day will get me closer to ticking off another challenge from my list.

My very colourful diary

My very colourful diary

Article writing

10 Jan

As part of my increasingly desperate attempt to forge a career of some sort in the world of writing, I have started to write articles for my friend’s tea website. I noticed that the blog section of the website hadn’t been updated in a while, so I asked (rather cheekily) if I could write some articles for him. I was delighted that he said yes! After 35 years on this planet, I am finally beginning to understand that the phrase “if you don’t ask, you don’t get” has more than a grain of truth to it.

I never knew that tea was so complicated and how many different types of tea there are. I have had to do quite a bit of research about tea because, apart from liking to drink it by the bucketful, I didn’t know too much about it. There are some very technical aspects to brewing tea, which have been fascinating to learn.

At first I was hoping that I would be able to write about one to two articles per week but work and other commitments very easily get in the way. It’s also easy to make excuses to not write anything. Slowly, I am learning to get into the habit and I am finding that I have more and more ideas about what to write and what people might like to read and learn about tea.

However, I am still writing a bit less than I was hoping to but at least I am writing something. The feedback is that the articles seems to be well received by people on social media and the website, which is exactly what I was hoping for.

Now, here comes the plug. If you are interested in having high quality teas delivered directly to your door, then you should definitely check out Tèaura. First founded in Zürich, Switzerland, all of the teas have been hand-selected from Taiwan, China, Japan and South Africa and can now be shipped worldwide. There is also a UK-based website (www.teaura.co), if you are based outside of Switzerland.

If you look hard enough, you might also find something written by yours truly.

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Photo Credit: Jamie McKee @ Tèaura

#40Before40: Challenge #9

6 Jan

The ninth challenge on my #40Before40 list is to write a novel. This has been something that I have always wanted to do and I have always put off because of my lack of self confidence and a little bit of lack of discipline. When I was younger, I used to like writing stories and making things up but, as I have got older, I have found excuses not to do more writing but this is still a dream of mine.

A lot of people have looked at me in horror when I have told them that this is on the list. The main thing to remember is that it does have to be any good. I only have to write it. I never said anything about being published. This might be a bit of a cop out but this is definitely my line of thinking: get the thing written and then take it from there.

As I mentioned, the key to this task is to get into a habit and develop discipline. It is possible to write a book in six months if you write a regular amount each day. November is also National Novel Writing Month, which was started in the States. In this challenge, you have to wrote about 1,500 words a day for the whole month of November, so that in the end you have a 45,000 word novel. 1,500 words a day is not a lot in theory. Of course, if you then come to a part of the story that you are having trouble with, it could take you an hour to write 200 words.

In an attempt to ease myself into this challenge and to develop my self disciple, I have joined a writing group. We meet every Wednesday at a very interesting place which describes itself as Bar, Bücher und Bühne (in English, Bar, Books and Stage). It’s a book stop but a café and bar and they also hold more creative and arty events, which is the stage part.

I was nervous at joining at first. I had never been to anything like this before but I already knew roughly the format of the session. To begin with we decide on a writing prompt and we have 15 minutes to write about it. A writing prompt is a topic or idea that you use to spark creative ideas and writing. It can be one word, a quotation or even a picture. For example, last week the prompt was “Christmas emergency”. At the end of the 15 minutes, we are free to share what we have written, if we want to. I haven’t yet shared anything that I have written. All of the other members of the group are far too good and I feel like I would sound a bit silly in comparison to what they have written. But they have been part of the group for a lot longer than me and a few of them have given up working to write. In my world that is living the dream.

It is always interesting to hear the different interpretations of the prompts. With “Christmas emergency” one girl wrote about someone going into labour, one guy wrote about the Christmas tree accidentally being set on fire and I wrote about someone opening a very expensive bottle of champagne by mistake. I guess this all depends on how you interpret the word “emergency”. I think this reveals a bit too much about my personal preferences.

After a break, we have between 30 and 40 minutes to write on something that we are working on. Some people work on novels, others on non-fiction articles and I am still yet to decide what I want to work on. I have some ideas for novels but I am a bit unsure if I should plan the whole novel out or just go for it and start writing. For the time being, I have been trying to work on some short stories, with varying degrees of success.

My main problem is that I can’t seem to finish anything. I get half way through a story and get stuck, not on what I want to write, but on how I want to write it and then I never finish it because I take this as a sign what I am writing can’t be all that good. One advantage of the group is being able to talk about these problems. One guy told me that every first draft is rubbish but you have to get something down on paper before you can begin to improve it. It is more than a good point; it’s the truth.

Having said that I have completed the first writing project I have started since I was at school. I have written a bedtime story book of short stories for my niece for Christmas. I am more than sure that no publisher would even consider looking at but my niece likes it and that is enough for me. Unfortunately, my children’s story book is not more than 50’000. So, the challenge is not yet complete. In the meantime, I will keep writing and look for inspiration for my first novel.

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40 Before 40: Part II

9 Sep

Here is the second part of my #40Before40 challenge. This is a short explanation of why items 21 to 40 are on my list.

21. Watch a series of 24 in 24 hours – the idea for this is simple. Watch a complete series of 24 in 24 hours. For those of you who don’t know, Kiefer Sutherland is Jack Bauer, a maverick working for the FBI. Each season elapses over 24 hours. So the season are 24 episode long. I will watch them back to back, as if watching them in real time. I need to get friends to help me with this or I will not stay awake.

22. Learn how to wolf whistle – my mum can do this no problem but I have never been able to no matter how hard I have tried. I think it would be fun to be able to do this spontaneously

23. Try snowboarding – I am not very good at skiing so let’s try snowboarding. I believe it is a lot harder to snowboard in the beginning, but it has to be more pleasurable than skiing.

24. Take an overnight sleeper train – I have taken an overnight bus from Latvia to Lithuania before and got about 10 minutes sleep. I have a romantic idea that it would be very comfortable and luxurious. I am sure that the reality is anything but.

25. Cook every single recipe from one cookbook – about a year ago, I watched a film called Julie and Julia which is a true story based on a woman’s quest to cook everything from the book of the famous chef, Julia Child. Julia Powell cooked 564 recipes from the book in 364 days. And this was classical French cooking. An unbelieveable achievement! I haven’t yet decided on which cookbook to cook from. I may have underestimated the challenge of this. I was looking at cookbooks in a book shop yesterday and cookbooks are really long. By long, I mean easily more than 100 receipes. If anyone has a good suggestion, please let me know.

26. Learn how to fold 40 origami designs – this could be another underestimation. I thought this would take me an afternoon to complete. I watch a Youtube video of a simple folding design and my mind was blown. I thought it would be like thought paper game from the school playground where you choose a colour and then you chose a number and then your friend reads out what is underneath the flap and it’s something like “You stink”. I have no idea what they are called but you know what I mean, right? Anyway, not as easy to make as those.

27. Read 40 novels in German – this is linked to Number 1. Reading is a great way to passively learn a language and I love reading anyway, although it is not always easy in German when I have to look up words to understand the text completely.

28. Take a wine degustation course – as one get older, one should appreciate wines more. I think that is what people say. I have no idea about wines apart from the colours are different and some are sweeter than others.

29. Read The 40 Books Every Woman Should Read – I am a big reader. I realised that I don’t read as many books from female authors as I do male authors. Then I found this list of 40 books that women should read. It seemed like Fate.

30. Solve a Rubik cube – I remember my brother and I peeling off the stickers of a Rubik cube in an attempt to solve it. Of course, then it became completely impossible to solve. I will try this challenge without the wonders of the internet and Youtube. I’m going off grid!

31. Take up a new sport – I like sport. I like trying new things. I haven’t yet worked out what new sport I would like to try but I am sure that I will find the right one to have a go at.

32. Catch, cook and eat a fish – it might surprise you that I love watching the show River Monster, where the presenter goes off to all sorts of destination looking to catch a powerful fresh water fish. Of course, he puts it back afterwards. I would like to catch something that it enough for dinner. Incidentally, I won’t be doing this challenge at the same time that I am going vegan for 3 months.

33. Make an item of clothing to wear – again I am not sure what exactly but I would like to make something to wear. I have already ruled out knitting a scarf because that is a bit too easy.

34. Stop biting my nails – I mainly bite my nails when I am nervous, bored or excited. I hate the way they look but at the same time I can also go for long periods of time for them to grow. I just need to break the habit effectively. Easier said than done.

35. Read 40 non-fiction books – I mainly read crime/thriller fiction books but I have so many non-fiction books that I bought with the good intention of reading.

36. Fly long haul business class – I have never flown business class but I am always so jealous of when I get on or off a long haul flight and you see the seat in business class. I want people to be jealous of me for a change and see if it does make a difference if you sit in economy or business class. I think it could be a marketing con.

37. Have a haircut at least 4 times a year – strange as it sounds, I hate having my haircut. I don’t like very much about the experience at all. I really don’t like that they try to talk to you and be friends with you. As a result, I only go about twice a year. Women should go to the hairdresser every 6 weeks. After I go after 6 months, my hair is not in great condition. Once a quarter seems to me to be a good compromise for the sake of my hair.

38. Be able to touch my toes – I have never been able to do this. I have heard that it is just a question of flexibility and if you regularly stretch it should be able to do it. I remain skeptical. I will post a photo as evidence.

39. Downsize, get rid of anything I don’t need or want by selling, giving away or donating – I say and try to do this all the time but I never end up fully managing it. This means that a lot of books that I have in the basement will have to go as well as toiletries and cosmetics that I have bought and used once and clothes.

40. Start and maintain my own travel website – I had an idea for a travel website/blog a while back but I have yet to do anything about it. One of the issues is the amount of posts and articles that need to be written in order to generate interest. At the moment this remains an idea but soon I am hoping that this will become a reality.

To read the items 1 to 20, click here.

So, it’s time to stop explain and start doing! Wish me luck.

#40Before40

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40 Before 40: Part I

8 Sep

I was slightly surprised by the attention that my #40Before40 list generated, both on and offline.

I feel a lot more encouraged from the beginning and I am feeling optimistic about the whole challenge. But then I have a deadline of 5 years, so it feels like time is limitless. I know that time will quickly come around and before I know it I will be panicking about finishing certain items. I am aiming to avoid this, if at all possible.

I thought it would be a good idea to run through quickly the items on the list to understate the reasons why they are on the list. As I mentioned in my earlier post, some of these may not seem so difficult but I have my own reasons for having them on the list.

So here is a quick explanation of the first 20 challenges:

  1. Pass C2 Goethe German exam – this one is relatively straight forward. I live in a German speaking country and I don’t currently speak/write German fluently. C2 is the highest level of the European Framework of Reference for Languages. This means you are on par with a native speaker: almost no errors in writing or speaking. Could be tricky. I start C1 level lessons in two weeks which is one level below the highest level.
  2. Visit 40 countries in Europe – I didn’t even know that there were this many countries in Europe but there are actually 51. So far, I have visited 25 of them. The rule is that I don’t have to revisit the countries that I have been to before. I would love to do this but my employer would not be so happy.
  3. Go paragliding – this is one of the easier ones on the list. I just have to book in and go, right? I have been meaning to do this for literally years. It’s on the list so I have to do it now.
  4. Enter a photography competition – I am a keen photographer, which doesn’t necessarily mean that I am any good. I would like to improve a few of my photography skills and then enter a competition. There are lots of competitions. I am sure that one of my photos will be worthy of an entry.
  5. Write my will and plan my funeral – by far the most morbid item on the list but something that I have been meaning to do for a while. Hopefully planning my own funeral will take the stress out of arranging it for those who are left behind.
  6. (Re)Learn the flute – at school I was a decent flautist. I gave up my hobby of music to play hockey. I recently bought a flute and some music. I thought it would be easy to return to playing. It turns out that the sheet music now looks like Japanese to me. This will take some dedication.
  7. Go alcohol free for a year – I have, at times, voluntarily gone alcohol free. In the past I have gone without alcohol for 3 months before a half marathon and felt great about it and not really missed drinking. Let’s see if I can last a whole year without it…
  8. Watch every movie on iMDB Top 250 Films list – as with Number 2, I don’t have to re-watch any of the films that I have already seen. From the list of films, I have noticed that there are some films on there that I haven’t even heard of before. It should be interesting!
  9. Write a novel (at least 50,000 words) – this could have been on my list to do before 21 and 30. One of the reason why I have been blogging is to get into the habit of writing. I have at least one book desperately waiting to get out of me. It needs to get written.
  10. Beat at least one of my running PBs for 10k, 10 miles, half marathon or marathon – since writing the original list I have added 10 miles because I realised that I have an official race time for 10 miles when I ran in Liverpool in 2016. My times are not great and they are beatable. I feel that if I don’t do this challenge in the next few years that I will never beat my times. I decided to not limit myself to one race distance because recently I have had some knee problems and I don’t want to put too much stress on myself to beat the time and make my injury worse in the process.
  11. Read the Bible from cover to cover – as a theology graduate, I probably should have done this already. I haven’t. In the beginning, there will be a lot of “begatting”. I will need to power through to the end.
  12. Go to the Opera – another of the more easy ones. Book the tickets and go! Yes, I have been saying that for years. I think I will need to read up about the opera before I go so that I know what is going on. I don’t know any Italian. When I was at the Mozart concert at the Opera House in Vienna, I enjoyed the opera singers more than I thought I would.
  13. See the Northern Lights – this has also been on my list of things to do for years. I really can’t wait to see them but I will need some luck with the weather as they are not always visible.
  14. Go vegan for 3 months –  Why, oh why, did I put this on the list? I’m already regretting and dreading it. What on earth do vegans eat? The aim of this is to focus my attention on what I eat. I am a bad eater, in that I just eat whatever and don’t think about the nutrional value of food. I hope that this will help to correct this bad behaviour of mine.
  15. Have something that I have written published – related to Number 9, although I am almost positive that it will not be the outcome of Number 9 that is published.
  16. Save money for a rainy day – I am getting on a bit so it is time to think a bit about the future and money. The main motivation behind this is the thought of retiring early but maybe I am too late for that.
  17. Write a diary for a year – I did write a diary on and off as a teenager, which was mainly along the lines of “Oh my god, I hate her!” I’m hoping this will be slightly more mature and will be a lovely keepsake of a year of my life.
  18. Hot Air Balloon ride – again, I have wanted to do this for ages and ages. Let’s get it done!
  19. Take part in an Ultra race – an Ultra race in layman’s terms is a race that is longer than a marathon, normally 50km or more. At the moment, I am thinking about a walk, like London to Brighton, or something similar. But I am yet to decide which exact race and when.
  20. Throw a birthday party for myself – I’m not a huge fan of Christmas, New Year, Easter and definitely not of birthday party. It’s not that I am scared about getting old; it just that it takes a lot of organising and people don’t come when they have said that they will etc.. I don’t think I have had a birthday party with invitations and music for the whole of my adult life. I didn’t have anything for my 21st or 30th. This is my (possibly) vain attempt to be more socialable and more optimistic about people turning up. And, if people don’t turn up, I will listen to music and eat the whole of the birthday cake by myself.

I will post in a few days the rest of the challenges and my reasons for having them on the list!

#40Before40

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