It took me a long time to read this month’s book club pick, in fact I was a bit worried that I wouldn’t have a new review to share with you in time. Stephanie Danler’s Sweetbitter isn’t a long book, it’s your average 300 pages or so. But the mixture of a change in work schedule and a lot of things kicking off meant that I lost my regular reading time.

Despite those setbacks I knew that I wanted to read Sweetbitter. It, along with Emma Cline’s The Girls, was one of the most hyped books of 2016. It had a load of things I love in a book, a bit of a bildungsroman, an insight into a world I don’t know all that much about, and some romance. But it was Danler’s descriptions of food I was most interested in; good food writing is one of my favourite things to read.

I think the quote on the cover from Stylist – “think Girls meets Kitchen Confidential” – ended up being the most accurate description I read. Danler’s debut follows the classic coming of age format of a small-town girl moving to New York. However, Tess doesn’t dream of being a star or falling in love, she has no ambitions at all. Danler’s slight twist on the norm, still relies on the romanticism of moving to the big city even if the epigrams she often starts chapters with would claim be too jaded to be swept up by the delights of New York. It’s a tone that’s come to be used to describe the contemporary young woman in her own voice in the last couple of years, and it’s something that resonates me as someone who falls into that category.

Tess finds herself a back waiter at a Manhattan restaurant where meals probably cost more than I spend on groceries in a month. As someone who has never worked in a restaurant, but who has watched and read a fair bit about them, I really enjoyed Tess’s perspective. She’s finding her feet, and in a weird middle ground between front and back of house. Tess also finds herself in the middle of a bizarre love triangle, with a bartender called Jake, who she views only sexually, and the experienced waitress who takes Tess under her wing, Simone, who you could say is her real love interest.

As much as I quite enjoyed reading Sweetbitter, I don’t think it was quite deserving of the sparkling praise it received. It had neither the in-depth documentary style look at a restaurant I wanted nor a thrilling plot, so by the time I finally got to the end I had that slightly hollow feeling of “oh that’s it?”. The novel, like its main character, lacked drive or argument. On the one hand, this makes a lot of sense, and reflects a stasis within an industry where everyone is seemingly only waiting until their big break as an author, actor, singer etc. On the other hand, as a reader as much as I’m happy to read about a character’s lack of direction I still want the text I’m reading to get me turning the pages. That said, I did keep reading and I did enjoy a lot of the time I spent reading.

If you’re looking for a slightly more indie feeling beach read or a casual lunch time companion this one is for you. If you watch Girls, Fleabag, or Broadcity I think you’ll like it, especially if you live in or love New York. If you’re looking for something more, I’m not sure if this one is for you. Now, I’ve read Sweetbitter, I’m really looking forward to seeing what Danler writes next (and I’m sure there will be something) to see if she capitalises on and refines what worked in her first novel.

SOME QUESTIONS TO PONDER AS YOU READ

  • Danler’s descriptions of food, and how she interweaves them with the story are one of the most praised elements of the book, what do you make of them?
  • How well do you feel you know any of the characters in the book?
  • Can you imagine the book as a movie? Who would cast in which roles?
  • Endings, for me, can quite often make or break a book, what are your thoughts on how Danler closes Sweetbitter?

IF YOU WANT SOME FURTHER READING TRY…

IF YOU WANT MORE BOOKS LIKE THIS HAVE A LOOK AT…

Why not use Sweetbitter themed bookmark I designed to keep your place as you read? You can print and download it for free here.

As ever, let me know if you’ve read Sweetbitter, or if you have any recommendations for what I should be reading next.

As you may or may not know I recently relaunched my portfolio and opened a little store filled with illustrated goodies. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long while but it wasn’t until recently that I was confident enough in myself to start selling my work and my skills properly. I don’t really like talking about myself, as much as my regular blogging may suggest otherwise, and I certainly don’t like trying to tell people I’m talented, in part because I’m still trying to convince myself.

Throughout the process of setting up the store, and of writing this blog for over a year, I’ve come up with a few ways to get more comfortable with selling myself as someone who’s very uncomfortable with doing so and I thought I would share my learnings with you too, on the off chance they can help someone else.

DECENTRE YOURSELF

You are not the centre of the universe. No one cares as much about your self-promotion or your latest project as much as you do. I don’t say that to be mean, because as soon as I realised that talking about my work became a lot easier for a whole number of reasons. First, it took the pressure off for my work to be perfect. Second, once I realised there are very few people who see every tweet/Instagram (thanks algorithm)/blog post it dawned on me that it was okay, and actually necessary to talk about my work more than once. Third, it meant that I could, and should sell myself harder. There are very few people I see talk about their work and I go “oh no, wait, that’s super arrogant”. If I see someone doing good work 9 times out of 10 I’m just excited to see it.

MAKE SURE YOU HAVE SOMETHING YOU WANT TO SHARE

This sounds really basic but having something you’re really proud of and want to share with the world makes promoting it so much easier. For me, that means making sure I’m undertaking a project for the right reasons e.g. making things I think will make people happy or serve a purpose rather than just having something to sell. It also meant, for my latest big project, my store and portfolio ***LINK***, testing the website with friends to check that it was ready to go out into the world before I even thought about sharing it with you guys. Things don’t have to be perfect, but you have to be happy with them.

TALK ABOUT THE WORK

Once you have work you want to shout about from the rooftops, make sure you’re talking about the work. If you’re uncomfortable selling yourself, sell the work. It’s way easier to talk about some great greeting cards rather than how great you are as an illustrator. Even when you’re talking about your process rather than focusing on your own artistic epiphany (who even has those) talk about the people you designed for, the tools you used, the problem you want to solve, that way you’re making your work personal without having to talk overtly about yourself. The sneaky trick with this one is that you’re inadvertently showing off your skills.

DIVERSIFY YOUR CHANNELS

If you’re feeling self-conscious about spamming people, diversify where you talk about your work and how you talk about it. Rather than tweeting please buy my hand knitted socks 5 times a day, try writing a blog post about why knitted socks are super cosy for winter, or do an Instagram story of your snug feet, or even try and get featured on someone else’s site. Building awareness doesn’t have to mean hitting people over the head with something. Integrate your promotion into useful content and people are far more likely to engage, and you’re far more likely to feel comfortable about doing it because you’re adding value while writing about yourself.

ASK FOR HELP

Ask your friends and family what they would say about your or how they would sell your products. Using their words can take the pressure off you and help you see your work from someone else’s perspective. If you feel a bit more confident, ask them to share your work as well. That way it’s not always you talking about your own work, and you can tap into their networks too.

JUST BITE THE BULLET

At some point you’re just going to have to accept that you’re wonderful and say it loud and proud. Embrace your inner Beyonce and just own it.*

*I’m still working on this one.

I love tea. I love tea so much I made an illustrated zine all about it. So it may come as no excuse that I also love a good tea break when I’m at work. You can often find me refilling my mug with a perfectly steaming brew, between tasks, in moments of stress or lulls in work.

But a tea break isn’t just about what’s in the mug.

The Story Behind: My Zine

TEA TIME IS BREAK TIME

It’s in its name. A tea break is half tea and half break. That means it’s an excuse to get up from your desk and away from your screen and take a couple of minutes out for yourself. For me those minutes are kind of sacred, to the extent that I will turn down offers of a cuppa so I can get up and make my own. Sometimes you just need a little bit of time out to recenter yourself or just think through a problem without the distractions. There’s just something about going through the motions of making a cup of tea that really opened up my mind, maybes it’s the thing of doing something with my hands on autopilot. Once you get back to your desk with your tea there’s a change in your environment and your thinking. You work between sips, which changes your rhythm and how you’re working in a really lovely way – this has often led to half drunk cold cups of tea though.

IT’S A GREAT WAY TO WARM UP

I think it’s a universally acknowledged truth that no office aircon is ever just right. No one has ever uttered the phrase “oh Barbara, you know what, the temperature in here is perfect”. It will always be too hot, or too cold. I feel like that’s especially true now we’re in a transitional season where no one’s quite sure if the central heating should be on. Making yourself a cup of tea is the perfect way to warm your hands after hours of typing or to rehydrate after you’ve lost every drop of moisture in your body to an overzealous aircon unit.

The Story Behind: My Zine

YOU CAN MAKE SOME NEW FRIENDS

The tea round is a true British office tradition. Yorkshire tea (the best tea company) even made a rap about it. Please go and watch it. The tea round is a way of bringing people together, and showing a little care in the workplace. It’s also a great way to find out who has a weird drink request. Next time you stand up to make a cuppa offer to make a round and bask in the warm glow of office appreciation. Plus, hopefully, making one round of seven cups means you’ll get at least one back in the future.

IT’S A TIME TO CATCH UP

While “blessed be the tea makers” taking on the tea round doesn’t have to be a solo endeavour. Sometimes you just need an extra pair of hands, in one office I worked at a tea round could mean anything up to 11 mugs, which I certainly couldn’t have carried on my own. But calling someone else up to join you on a tea run can also be a great excuse to have a chat. Whether that means networking or having a gossip, almost certainly a gossip, use the tea round as a reason for a natter. If you need a longer catch up, you can always pop out or just as someone to grab cuppa with you and use the brew as a way to open up a conversation.

If you enjoyed this post, or are a tea lover, check out my zine  – it’s an ode to my love of tea and it’s super powers. You can even get 10% off if you sign up to my newsletter in the sidebar!

I changed jobs a month or so ago, so I thought I’d share a bit about what it is that I actually do when I’m not writing and drawing on here. Finding a day job that works for me as much as I work for it has been a bit of a tricky search, but I think I’m just about there and I’m really enjoying what I’m doing and learning now.

For those of you who don’t know, here’s a quick bit of background. In September, I completed a yearlong grad scheme with The Engine Group. The scheme included rotations in a number of marketing and communications disciplines including consultancy, PR (corporate and brand), advertising, customer relationship management, and data, as well as options to work in events, sports sponsorship, media creation and media buying. All of these rotations gave me the chance to try out lots of different jobs and to work out which industry, and which kinds of environments, suit me best. If you’re just starting out in a grad scheme, I’ve written a load of posts about my experience and getting the most out of them.

Eventually, I came to the decision that the place I felt most at home, and the place I felt I could get the most out of was digital consultancy. Thankfully, the consultancy I worked for agreed, and so I’m now a part of the Transform team.

Transform focus on putting digital at the heart of a business, meaning they help their clients make sure they have the right services and skills to make their work actually work for real people in 2017. Their work is anchored around strategy, service design and technology working together. So, they’re not really your typical consultancy. They actually build a lot of the services they come up with the strategy for and design.

You know how you can renew your passport online now? That was us! You know how easy it is to do click and collect with Argos? Yeah, we helped make that happen.

They’re also a small tight-knit team of super smart people, which always helps.

My role in all of this is kind of a business analyst/user researcher hybrid, depending on the project, with a focus on service design. But what does all of that actually mean? 

Essentially, I do a lot of research and testing to find out what people want. I spend a lot of time either in businesses, government departments, or out and about interviewing people to find out how they work and then turning that insight into solutions. Then we prototype those solutions, which is something I’m learning to be able to do and test them to make sure they work for the people who are actually going to use them. Seems like common sense, right? That’s the crux of what I do – taking in lots of information and then coming out with the best, common sense solution to the problem, then making sure it works. Outside of those key elements, I also do a fair bit of analysis, workshopping, presentation building, and pitch prepping. No two days are the same, or even in the same seat, which definitely keeps me on my toes.

So that’s what I’m up to now. I know I normally write more about design and work more generally, but would you want me to share more about my day job specifically and working in marketing as a junior? Is Service Design something it would be interesting to learn more about?

Let me know, I want to make sure I’m making content that’s relevant and useful to you guys.

We’re properly into autumn now, and let me tell you I am in my element. I feel like I was waiting all summer for the leaves to start falling and for the temperature to drop, and now it’s finally happened I haven’t been disappointed.

I absolutely love autumn (and winter and spring) and I want to tell you why, because I know there are some people out there who’ll be sad that it isn’t hot anymore and I don’t want you to miss out on the glory of the season.

First, autumn always feels like a fresh start for me. I think it’s something to do with the school year still, even though I haven’t been at a school that started in September for over 5 years now. I’m not the only one who gets the desire to hit reset as soon as autumn hits, in France the end of August marks the start of the most optimistic time of year:

“And unlike January 1st and the attendant realisation that there’s little to look forward to until spring, la rentrée is full of optimistic possibility. Autumn colours, fall and winter produce, new openings, and a more favorable market for job and house hunters. It’s not about resolutions, it’s about starting a new season with a bit more bounce in your step.” – Lindsey Tramuta

Autumn feels like so much of a better time to start a project or just to refresh. Unlike January, the world is filled with warm colours, rather than the darkest days of the year. Plus, you’re not recovering from the rush of Christmas and new year, instead quite often you’re coming back from summer holidays or slower work periods.

To accompany fresh starts in Autumn, we’re also graced with fresh cool air. Nothing wakes me up as well as a cold breeze as I step out of the house, pulling my coat across my body and taking a quick breath before bracing myself for the walk ahead. I don’t know if it’s just because it’s what I’m used to (#northerner) but I think walking is most enjoyable when it’s cool out. It keeps you alert, and it keeps you from overheating. Then, once you come back inside you appreciate the warmth. You appreciate shrugging your coat and boots off and wiggling your toes into your slippers. You appreciate your cup of tea, held between two hands, warming you right through to your bones.

You slow down and you appreciate in autumn in a way that you don’t in the heady days of summer.

Cool weather means the best clothes of the year. I’m talking soft jumpers, fluffy socks, big coats, and scarves, and mittens not to mention all of the best pyjamas. I would always much rather be bundled up, snug as a bug as my Mother would say, than having to expose more pale sweaty flesh than anyone wants to see.

While you’re inside, all wrapped up in your slippers and blanket you get to enjoy the best selection of TV. Whether you’re into Strictly or superheroes, home design or detectives, the best shows all come back again in the autumn.

If you’re still not convinced of the wonders of autumn here are some ideas to get you enjoying the season:

  • GO ON A WALK – make sure you wrap up warm then head out, it doesn’t have to be for very long. I love going to the park or just walking around the houses when it’s dark an everyone’s living room lights are glowing in the street
  • HAVE A BIG MOVIE NIGHT – I feel like movie nights are some of the best ways to embrace the cosiness, so pick something new or an old favourite and make an occasion of it
  • COOK SOMETHING NEW – while summer is all about salads and barbeques, autumn is the time for busting out warming comfort foods. I’m absolutely loving The Roasting Tin ***LINK*** cook book, everything is simple and easy and super tasty
  • GET CRAFTY – embrace those back to school vibes and get making!
  • SPRUCE UP YOUR JUMPER/COLD WEATHER CLOTHING – new threads, especially soft woollen ones, are sure to put a little pep in your step
  • HAVE A DIGITAL DETOX – hit pause and refresh by tearing yourself away from as much digital media as possible for a day (or two if you can manage it) and reap the benefits all season long

So, settle down, get cosy, pick up a mug of tea and put the telly on while the leaves fall and the wind howls outside – now tell me you don’t like autumn!