Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Miss Cole's Tea Time - Twining's Winter Spiced Christmas Tea!

Oh yes, it's time to break out the Christmas spice blends because December is nearly upon us!

I've been saving this tea for a more festive time of year, which is why this year's caddy looks so different to the one in my picture. The caddy (with tea inside) was a gift last year from my middle brother and sister in law. This tea is Christmas in a cup. One sniff of the leaves and you'll fall into the festive mood.

It's like a mince pie and a great afternoon tea all rolled into one. The spices give the Assam such a good kick, and that after-tingle you get thanks to the spices will really warm you through. Perfect for chilly weather, especially when your hands have gone numb from the cold after hours of typing at your desk.

I brewed for a good four minutes and added a dash of milk. Personally I think sugar will really overload the taste of the spices. Drink with a mince pie or some ginger bread for a perfect Christmastime treat.

Well, this is the last tea review of 2015! I hope you've found some new blends to try, or been tempted to try tea for the very first time. I'm sure I'll be back with more tea in 2016. Let's see if anyone buys me some new blends for Christmas ;)

Friday, 20 November 2015

Beat the Writer's Block With Fandom Inspiration

I am a big fan of cheering myself up with my favourite things. And sometimes favourite things are inspiring things.

Writer's block is a very real thing that stops us from writing. I appreciate that some people can write their way out of it, but plenty of writers can't. It's the same as all things in writing - what works for one may not work for others. Personally, I have to inspire myself out of it. The idea that gets me writing again might not be one I see through to querying, but it's part of the journey. I used to feel awful if I started a project that petered out before its conclusion, but now it's just part of my process.

And another part of my process is diving back into the things I love for comfort and inspiration.

It's easy to despair when you're really blocked. Maybe your ideas aren't working out right now, or life's gotten in the way, or you don't have any ideas that can turn into novels. It really can feel like there's no end when you've got a bad block.

When I'm really stuck, I love to turn to my favourite fandoms and seek inspiration. I should probably add I don't do this as an exercise. I don't make notes or anything like that. I'm just relishing the stories, settings, themes and characters I adore. I frequently finds doing so unlocks my own imagination. Maybe I'll watch a few every episode of a favourite anime or TV show. Maybe I'll watch some films and remember why I love the characters and their journeys so much. You're also quite likely to find me replaying a favourite game or re-reading my all time favourite books. I enjoy returning to stories I love, whatever their format, because they can inspire me both creatively - I'd love to write a story with a similar setting but a different thematic outlook - or technically - I LOVE how this part of the story ties into that little snippet back at the beginning.

Inspiration from your fandom is a great way to fight off a block. Remember, fanfiction or fan art are brilliant ways to get yourself back into a creative mindspace, as is playing music from your favourite scores if you're a musician.

And remember, your writer's blog will pass. Find a method of fighting back that works for you and go for it!

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Miss Cole's Tea Time - Keemun from The Tea House

I'm really enjoying pulling blends apart and drinking the separate tea types that go into them. Take toady's Keemun. It has just a hint of the smokiness you'll find in a Russian Caravan, and the maltiness from English Breakfast teas. However, standing alone, you'll taste a lighter, sweeter taste. The leaves have a lovely, fruity aroma, too. It's a very refreshing cuppa. I quite like it in the morning to shake off the drowsiness.

If you're brewing for one, I recommend a minimum of three minutes. If you're brewing a pot for more people, you need to give it five minutes to fully blend, otherwise you'll lose the taste. It'll have a lighter brown colour, similar to a Ceylon. It can be enjoyed with or without milk.

Do you enjoy exploring the separate teas that go into your favourite blends? Share your favourite 'neat' black teas with me ^_^ I'm always looking for the next great cuppa!

Monday, 16 November 2015

Writing Space Geekery

Your writing space is an extension of yourself, which probably explains why mine is kinda messy.


It's become home to numerous characters I love over the years.

Even my notebooks reflect my fangirl loves.

Sometimes, I'm kind of amazed there's still space for me to sit and work :P

Is your writing space double up as an expression of your geekdom? Share your desk, and if you do, link me to the post in the comments :D I love looking at other people's writing spaces.

Friday, 13 November 2015

A Violin Retrospective


Nearly three years ago, I decided to make one of my lifelong dreams come true. I decided to learn how to play the violin. I knew nothing. I didn't even know how to make the violin play notes other than open strings. Now, I can play a lot better than I could back then and I'm developing a vibrato... I just need to fix my intonation and my bow hold and about a million other itty bitty details.

However, I shouldn't focus on the negatives. Since 2012, I've gone from playing this:

To this:

I've worked really hard and I have an amazing teacher. All three of my teachers have been amazing. I definitely appreciate their time, patience and talent.

Playing the violin is a hobby. Unlike writing, I never intend to make this a day job. I do it out of love for music. And it's a great way to take a creative break from writing. Not only can I give myself some space to mull over plot issues, I can tune into my own emotions and channel it into my writing later on. And it's so exciting to see how much I've learned in the past three years. I'm a looooooong way from perfect, but I can definitely play more complicated pieces now. It's a real confidence boost - you're never too old to start something new. And it's so cool to keep on trying and hear the improvement.

Oh, and yeah, learning to drive was way easier than learning to play the violin.

Although I still struggle to hit the right notes, my theory knowledge is lacking, and I may need help finding the right rhythm, I am a far better violinist today, and tomorrow I'll be even better.

Practice, practice, practice!

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Miss Cole's Tea Time - Afternoon Tea from Fortnum and Mason

Well, after saving the pennies with the last review, I blew the budget this time!

Aaaaah, it's been too long since I had a Fortnum's tea. I was in London a few weeks back to attend a workshop and afterwards I had to make my tea pilgrimage. I've been meaning to pick up their afternoon tea for a while. So glad I did!

This is a good, strong Ceylon blend tea. Very refreshing in the afternoon, especially after your lunchtime lull. I recommend at least a three minute brew, although if you want a taste to really boot you into action, go for five and limit the milk. I'm enjoying it right now as I'm splitting my time between the day job, a WiP undergoing major rewrites, and my coursework as I'm training to become a NVQ Assessor. All in all, 2015 has been a year of adaptation, ready to make 2016 a year of BIG changes. I'm pretty excited!

Sometimes, you just have to treat yourself to a tea that's just a little bit extra special.

What's your favourite Treat Me! tea?

Monday, 9 November 2015

An Obsessive Fangirl Character Study - James Bond

Since Casino Royale, we've been able to peek beneath the surface of an otherwise pretty stereotypical action hero character. Not that Bond as a character has completely shrugged that off, but I feel his attitudes now have roots and reasons. He's also more of an antihero now - just watch what he does to Dominic Greene in Quantum of Solace. He's far more interesting than before. There's a sense Bond comes from somewhere. Also, the fact that his character was once so bland and is now more nuanced is a great exercise for any writer looking for ways to develop their own characters. And, due to the visual nature of film, studying his character development provides loads of examples of 'show, don't tell'. Always a great tool for any writer.

Before I start, there will be mild spoilers for SPECTRE and Quantum of Solace, and major ones for Casino Royale and Skyfall. As Casino Royale is a reboot, I'll only use the older films for comparison.

Bond is very loyal to the cause and to the people who earn his respect, but deeply mistrustful of anyone else. He uses people (typically women, although also poor sweet Q) to help him achieve his goals with little thought for their desires or safety. He sees himself as always being right, and will go out alone to prove that - sometimes to the detriment of himself and others. He's very arrogant, but that arrogance covers up for his insecurities. He refuses to talk about his past, papering over his trauma with charm, a good suit, a lot of alcohol, and a gun. In SPECTRE, he's happier to talk about being an assassin than he is about his childhood.

However, there are a few people who see beneath that surface, and one of them is Vesper Lynd. For someone who hasn't trusted another person for a very long time, Bond opening up to Vesper is a real sign of character development, and one we really hadn't seen before Casino Royale. I remember watching this film for the first time and being genuinely amazed at how it appeared to be ending - Bond quitting his job and travelling the world with the woman he loved. Such a pity it wasn't to be. Her death continues to haunt him, reminding us he's a human being who hurts deeply. Is Vesper's death part of the troublesome "women in fridges" trope, meaning her death serves only to motivate the male character? Eeeeeeeeeeh... It doesn't quite fit. Bond initially sees Vesper's actions as a betrayal, and despite his very clear anguish at her death, he tries to cling onto his anger until M corrects his opinion. His need for vengeance comes second to his duty to his country, even in Quantum of Solace, and after that he buries his anguish. This is a man who, after being orphaned at a young age, can't face up to the death of another loved one. He uses anger and a lot of alcohol to distance himself from his true feelings. 

You could argue we have seen Bond react to the death of a woman like this before in 1969's On Her Majesty's Secret Service, but it happens right at the end of the film and the only time (I recall) seeing any kind of reaction to it is in 1989's Licence to Kill (which is another of my favourite Bond films). But Vesper's death haunts Bond. He carries it with him; he's still crushing his feelings for her all those years later in SPECTRE. It shows us that Bond is a man who cannot always shrug off a death. He holds Mathis in his arms as he dies in Quantum of Solace, despite previously believing the other man had betrayed him. He's awkward, unsure what to say, cracking jokes at first only to apologise later in his own way. He listens to Mathis' final words, although he won't really hear them until the film's conclusion. Bond is not a complete machine, even if he possesses the ability to shut down his emotions and get on with the job. Beneath that stoic surface, an emotionally troubled person exists. When handled correctly, that makes for a fascinating character. And it's always shown in Bond's reactions. We aren't told he's upset or angry. I appreciate that's easier in a film, but you can do it in a book, too.

The newest Bond films are a deconstruction of the 'legend' that is Bond. Beneath that posh, educated, and suave exterior is a man who's emotionally shattered. His alcohol consumption and casual sex are now coping mechanisms and character flaws whereas before they were just part of his appeal. To start out with in Casino Royale, Bond's about as un-suave as he could get, but that cool attitude of his improves with each installment, like he's getting better at covering his ineptitude and frailties. Remember the brilliant airport chase sequence in Casino Royale? The bit that sticks out in my mind is how, instead of sauntering away from a crashed truck the way we the audience expected him to, he falls out. This is a character who doesn't really know what the hell he's doing, and instead he's making this stuff up as he goes. Only experience makes him better at it and looking more natural and slightly less "good thing that worked out!"

...Until he gets shot in Skyfall and loses everything he gained due to injury and alcohol use. That's when the Bond beneath the surface comes through. We see a man who is in pain, who is lost and broken. His body no longer does what he needs it to do. He runs away when confronted with the name of his childhood home. The only thing that keeps him going is his loyalty to his country and his desire to protect it. Or, perhaps, protect the idea of it. By the end of the film, he has his usual persona back in place, but it's cost him a lot to get it all together again.

On the surface, anyway.

There's this brilliant scene in SPECTRE that reveals more about Bond than in any other moment in any other film. We see his flat, his home, the one place that should reflect some part of him. The walls are blank, it's dimly lit, there's a few odd bits of furniture, and the only sustenance on offer is alcohol. In fact, the only even vaguely personal thing we do see is the Union Jack dog he inherited from his mot-oh, I mean M, his former boss. I'll get to her in a minute.

Moneypenny comes in and says "Have you just moved in?" to which he responds with a slightly perplexed "No", as if everyone lives in as sparse a manner as he does. It is such a stark contrast to the finery and luxury you associate with Bond. We usually see him in grand buildings dressed in the finest suits, driving cars that cost more than our houses, or strolling around exquisite hotels beyond the imagining of us ordinary types. There's such an emptiness to his home. It's like a bubble completely disconnected from the world Bond so desperately, and painfully, seeks to protect. As I was watching this scene, my writer brain was just in awe of the simplicity of the visuals. It is the perfect example of 'show, don't tell'. Moneypenny doesn't say anything else, Bond doesn't try and explain himself, it's just those two short lines and then we, the audience, get to see this makeshift home of his. It was so telling of his character.

And the fact that he allows Moneypenny into his home proves how much he trusts and respects her. This is not a woman he will use and throw away. Moneypenny won't allow that. She's brilliant. And, honestly, I was so slow in Skyfall and at no point guessed who she was until she told me.

SPECTRE needed more Moneypenny.

There's something missing in Bond's life. It's never been explored prior to Casino Royale. Unlike previous Bond films, these new ones have made a real plot point out of him being an orphan. In another great example of 'show, don't tell', the film never outright tells us "Bond is messed up because he grew up without his parents", but the clues are there. In SPECTRE, he tells Madeleine he felt he "never had a choice" about his line of work. Why? The films would suggest his lack of grounding in a family have rendered him rootless. In Skyfall, M points out that orphans always make the best agents. Is it because they don't have any family and are therefore more willing to put their lives on the line? Or because they latch onto the purpose of protecting Queen and Country better than a person with parents, siblings, partners or spouses? Bond certainly is driven, but whether its because of his personal vendettas or his "pathetic love of country" is up for debate. Or perhaps Bond finds it easy to kill people because he's never properly dealt with the trauma of losing his family. The reasons are completely open to interpretation.

And here's where I feel M and Bond's relationship is truly different than it was previously. We've only had a female M since Goldeneye, but for the sake of comparison, if you look at Brosnan's Bond and his relationship with M, it's a bit frosty. She calls him a "... a sexist, misogynist dinosaur. A relic of the Cold War..." He doesn't like her because he is precisely that and not much else. However, cut to Casino Royale, where M exclaims "Christ, I miss the Cold War!", she treats Bond like he's her wayward son. He infuriates her, yes, but she's also gentle with him at times. She calls him 'James' in a motherly way. She trusts him above all others, even to the point of them accusing her of blindness where Bond's concerned. She's the only person who knows "the whole story" about what happened after his parents died. Look at how far he goes in Skyfall to save her. Even in Quantum of Solace, after she expresses her concern about his physical and mental well-being, he doggedly hunts down the person who tried to kill her. He's quite determined to protect her, telling her he has to find the person who tried to kill her even after she tells him to return to base. Camille even asks him if the woman he's protecting is his mother, to which Bond replies "she likes to think so." And look at his reaction when she dies. He cries. James Bond cries. This isn't a man whose boss just died. This is a man who's lost someone he cared for deeply.

Bond respects M even if he challenges her. He refers to her as his friend. He trusts her, and she's the only person he listens to. I really love the dynamic between them because I don't think it's one we see very often. We usually see wayward young men have father figures. Giving Bond a surrogate mother serves to highlight his need for such a figure in his life. His responses to her reveal so much about him. There is even a track in the Skyfall soundtrack called Mother.

So, there you have it. I really could go on, but I had to cut myself off before this got any longer. If you're struggling to build a character, the rebooted James Bond is a brilliant exercise in character development. It's also a great way to learn how to show and not tell your character's development, and how to bounce your main character off of the secondary characters around them.

Aaaaaaaaaaaah, that feels better. Got all my Bond feels back in a nice, orderly row.

And be sure to read Charlie Higson's and Steve Cole's Young Bond novels. They are AMAZEBALLS. Some of the best YA thrillers available.