Naming Your Novel

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Firstly, I must say that I am clearly terrible at this blog thing. I go through phases where I don’t post anything for, ahem, months, and then spam my blog in the space of a week. It’s just the way things are for me right now, unfortunately, but I am going on holiday at the beginning of September, so hopefully I will have more ideas for content soon!

Anyway, one of the reasons why I have been so MIA recently is because I have started to re-edit my current work in progress and have been focusing on that. Whoever said writing was 90% editing and 10% creating was totally right. (Has anyone actually ever said that? Or did I just make it up? I think I said it!) It took me all of three months to actually write the thing, but it has now been four months of re-writing.

I think I am almost there, though. But one thing I am stuck on, and one thing I have always had trouble with, is naming my work. Looking back, I have always settled for a title on a story by naming it after the city it is placed in. Usually that is a fictional city that I have imagined in my head, or a fictional forest, or a fictional island with a creepy castle on it, (but that was a terrible story which I’d prefer not to think about!)

But now that I am nearing the end of writing, I really don’t want to fall into that trap again. My story is set, in part, in a fictional city, and I did initially name it after that city, but that was always a working title. I was never meant to actually use it. And now I am googling quotes that I can allude to, or thinking of alliterations, (which is a bit cheesy, I think) and thesaurusing (yes, I just made up that verb) the crap out of everything to do with time travel.

I like the idea of ‘timefaring’, as in seafaring, but in relation to time. But even that has been used before by others and I don’t want a cop out. I always use a cop out when naming my work, and considering this is the first piece of writing in years that I actually like, I want to do the thing justice.

I have a couple of ideas that are rolling around in my head right now, but I always feel like titling the work is sometimes the hardest part. And I always feel like you have to be really clever to come up with an awesome title, and I don’t feel like I am smart enough to do it. How did Steinbeck come up with Of Mice & Men? And how did Harper Lee settle on To Kill A Mockingbird? I mean, I know the meanings behind the titles, but thinking of them and settling on them, is another thing entirely. Everyone else’s work always sounds so much cleverer than my own, and its hard to have enough faith in myself, and belief in myself, to think of a smart but not too confusing title.

Argh!

I am sure I’ll think of something I am happy with eventually, but when your mind goes to mush its hard to believe that will ever happen!

Now … back to figuring out a title for my work. And editing, of course, always editing.

5 Countries, 1 Year

There was a time in my life when I was travelling more than I was staying put, and at one point I had lived in five countries in the space of a year. There was Hong Kong, followed shortly after by Italy, followed again by England, briefly, then Warsaw, Poland and then followed again, after that, by Seoul, Korea.

It was from September 2007 – September 2008, and it was a time in my life when I felt the most uncertain travelling. Because being an EFL teacher is one of the most transient jobs around. People take a yearly contract, stay in one country for a year and then move off again to somewhere new, and you rarely meet them again. It was hard to forge relationships that lasted, and I am really not one for easily forging long lasting relationships in the first place, anyway.

I was twenty five at the time, way too skinny, had really short hair and (in hindsight) very questionable fashion sense. I was fed up with living in Asia in the polluted frenzy of Hong Kong and wanted to rest for a year in the history and culture of Europe. But I never really found a job that suited me well, and after a brief stint in Italy I went back to England for Christmas. But not before eating copious amounts of take-out pizza, drinking sangria in bars by the sea and watching the ferries come and go with tourists and cargo. So it wasn’t all bad.

(However, I was actually living very close to the city of Perugia where the now infamous Kercher murder took place, and was going through my own flatmate troubles at the time too, so I feel like the entire decision to leave was wholly right.)

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But it was okay in the end, as I briefly bonded with another co-worker and we conspired to leave in the middle of the night and make a brief trip to Rome before we headed back to the UK for Christmas. And things could be much worse than a midnight escape through sleepy Italian streets and a weekend in the capital to cap it off with.

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After that, and again after the brief stint in England, I made my way to Warsaw for almost six months. It was, at this point in my EFL career, that I really realised teaching had become less of a joy to travel and more of a means to an end. It was my job, I needed a new contract, and Warsaw was the only place hiring.

Warsaw was a lonely city for me though and I never really felt comfortable there. Maybe if I’d been paid more and maybe if I’d felt more comfortable in my own skin, then I would have stayed there longer. Warsaw for me was wandering through the old town, shopping in the little boutiques for bohemian inspired clothing and wandering up to the Palace of Culture & Science (built because of Stalin, I believe) and shopping at the H&M opposite. It was trips on an empty bus to outskirts of the city to teach a single, creepy CEO above a derelict shopping centre. It was an imperfect job in an otherwise interesting city, and in any other situation I would have stayed.

(This was before Facebook had really taken off in a big way and long before Instagram, so I have very few pictures of my time during this year and the ones I do have are not my best work.)

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But as it was I lasted out my contract until the beginning of Summer and then returned home to see my nephew being born, before heading off back to Asia again; and that was when I immediately realised where I truly belonged.

That year was my hardest, travelling wise. I never really found my place, was searching for it in Europe and at home in England, but eventually came to the realisation that Asia had captured my heart. I had a blast during my first year in Korea, and whilst that kind of lifestyle can never (and should never) last long term, I am entirely happy for my journey getting here.

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Way. Too. Skinny.

Saying goodbye to that first job in Italy was easy, going home was hard, heading to Warsaw was a slog and making the decision to head to Korea was a piece of cake. It took me three more years to meet my husband, and certainly it wasn’t all plane sailing getting there, but if it weren’t for that year of upheaval and uncertainty then I wouldn’t be completely sure that I am in the right place now.

I am a firm believer that you have to live in a lot of wrong places to know when you’ve found the right one; and after a long time searching I have finally found it.

The Proposal

I remember the first time that my husband and I talked about marriage. It was in Itaewon in Seoul, over a bubbling bowl of kimchi jjigae in a basic, grotty restaurant, and we laid out plans on when we wanted to eventually tie the knot. We gave ourselves two years. Two years to work hard, to prepare and plan, and after those two years we’d move in together and begin the rigmarole of the marriage process.

It was very matter-of-fact, very grown-up of me, and I am glad that we did it that way. Mainly because marrying a foreigner is not something that anyone should undertake lightly, mostly due to the extensive vetting process of visas and embassies, and the very unromantic but very necessary trips to bland government offices.

So we didn’t have a proposal, my husband didn’t get down on one knee and embarrass me in public, (thank goodness!) and instead we just came to a mutual agreement over time about what we wanted from life and each other.

Yet with everything in our relationship there are always sacrifices and compromises that we must undertake in order to respect both of our cultures. I wasn’t going to have a wedding, and I didn’t have a proposal, both of which I was completely fine with, but I did, if nothing else, want an engagement ring.

However, engagement rings just aren’t that popular in Korea. People have plain wedding bands, or maybe something cheap from the jewellery district of 종로3가, which is full of cubic zirconia and other such things. Which I mean is fine, if that is what you want, but it definitely wasn’t for me.

So when I told my fiance at the time that I wanted a ring it took a bit of persuading and convincing, but I eventually got him on board in the end! haha.

So about six months before we married, we went to a hanok stay in 북촌한옥마을. Which is a part of Seoul filled with old, beautiful, traditional houses (known as ‘hanoks’).

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The exterior of our hanok.

We barbecued on the small patio outside open wooden doors, and slept on the heated ondol flooring. I had been in Korea for eight years at that point, but had never experienced a hanok stay, so it was a lovely, peaceful experience to have in the city.

The next morning, and once we checked out, we made our way to Times Square in Yeongdeungpo, and decided to have a look at the luxury jewellers there to just get some inspiration for my engagement ring. It was completely spur of the moment, and completely unexpected, but when we were in one particular shop my fiance surprised me by offering to buy me the ring of my dreams.

I know it was partly because he didn’t want to have deal with searching for something by himself, and also because I am incredibly picky when it comes to jewellery. But if I can tell people that my husband, kinda, sorta, not really, but almost, proposed in Cartier then I’ll take it!

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Marrying outside of your culture is always going to be full of compromise, but if you choose those compromises and battles wisely, then it all becomes completely worth in it in the end. And not just because of the hanok stays and diamonds, although those certainly help!

 

Hong Kong

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It feels like a lifetime ago when I first went to Hong Kong. It was my first, real, honest introduction to Asia and I was twenty one. I distinctly remember standing in front of Sogo Department Store in Causeway Bay. I was waiting for the crossing to turn green, and it was the kind of crossing that was reminiscent of Shibuya in Tokyo. (I have actually been to the Shibuya crossing since, and it is nothing like it, but at the time I felt like it was!)

I remember feeling so small underneath the arching skyscrapers, so completely overwhelmed by the sights and sounds, and I remember thinking that ‘this is youth’. Youth for me being: a busy crossing in the middle of a foreign city, completely alone, completely overwhelmed by the sights and the smells, but also completely, and utterly, in love with it.

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Travel has always been ‘in’ me, I think. But it came into clearer focus when I was standing at that crossing in Hong Kong. I was completely fearless and completely determined to live my life to the fullest whilst I was young and still had the chance.

I’ve been back since, of course, but that initial trip to Hong Kong is really what sparked my creativity for my manuscript. It was walking through Central district at midday and marvelling at the glass skyscrapers, and allowing ‘I’m going to live here’ to slip easily off my tongue.

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And although when I did go back it was to experience the real, hard, stressful life of an EFL teacher, and as much as I wanted to leave countless times because of it, I still felt awed by the city. (Actually though, it was that initial stress surrounding my new job that sparked the whole concept around my manuscript, so I guess it had a silver lining after all!)

But it was also the bright, assaulting colours, the foods, the neon signs, and the steam emitting from inside small restaurants and out onto the packed, narrow pavements that fuelled my desire to write sci-fi and steampunk.

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And if at any time the city became too much, too hectic, then I could take a trip to one of the islands (Cheung Chau being my favourite) or across to Lantau to visit the Big Buddah.

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That dichotomy, between the city and the sea, is what really makes Hong Kong special. And even now, after visiting it countless times since, and after thirteen years since I first stood at that crossing in front of Sogo as a bright, young twenty-one year old, Hong Kong still holds magic in my heart.

I still go back to visit, and perhaps, who knows, one day I could return to live there. But until then, I had to encapsulate the city in my writing. Because the magic has never faded, as the smell of the ocean mixed with car exhaust fumes and roasted duck, still transports me back to my youth. I think that is why Hong Kong is special to me, and that is why I wanted to turn my manuscript into a love letter of sorts to it. Because it took me in when I was young and directionless, and it gave me something that I will never be able to return: which is a life, I guess.

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홍콩 사랑해. ❤

Writer’s Block

Starting a new work in progress is tough. Mainly because I am not completely sure where I am going with mine yet, and also partly because I am still not entirely invested in the characters.

My first manuscript was an idea filled with characters and places that I had been developing for years. I knew them intimately. I could imagine their words, their clothing and even their relationships. I even had an idea of the city that they would be living in. So it was easy for me to write them down.

Every character from that story came to me in an entirely unique way. One was borne from an idea I had many years ago, and they evolved slowly over time. Another was based on a person that I knew, and a third quite unexpectedly became a major character the more that I wrote him down on paper.

And it helped that the story was science fiction I think. I enjoy sci-fi because I can create everything, down to the streets that my characters walk upon to the cities that they live in. Everything comes from my imagination so there is no point of reference to hinder me or hold me back and I can really allow my imagination to run wild.

But now I have an idea that I love but it is based in the real world. I have buildings, actual solid buildings that I have visited myself and which I want to do justice to. There are places, ideas and solid facts that I want to incorporate, and that means I need to write them down in a way that is clear and concise.

I can’t just imagine a fanciful creature, (well, actually I can, seeing as my current piece is a modern fairy tale, but still) I have to really wrangle over sentences and tussle with paragraphs to make sure that I am describing everything correctly.

I wouldn’t say that I have a block though. I am never at a loss for something to write, as I always have a back catalogue of stories in my head, but some days I just find it harder to write than others. I can write chapters in a day, 5000 words can spill out of me over the space of a few hours, but other days, on days like today, I feel stuck over a sentence and a single word.

I live for the days when I can write a ton, but today is not going to be one of those days, unfortunately. (Except for this blog of course. haha. I can write all of this in five minutes, but be stuck over a sentence for five hours on my WIP!)

Water

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Jeju-do, South Korea.

When I was eighteen I went on my first travel adventure to South Africa with a group of friends from my school. We went on a safari, saw (four of) the Big Five, trekked through the Drakensburg Mountains, took a brief jaunt across the border into Swaziland and went kayaking down a river of rapids.

Back when I was eighteen I wasn’t the strongest physically, I was small, bony and still growing into myself. So the idea of having to navigate myself through rough, choppy waters was something that I was unsure whether I would be capable of, but I still wanted to try.

Because there is something about water that soothes me; something that calms my soul. Maybe it’s the salt in it, or maybe it’s the sound, but whenever I book a vacation I always opt for the ocean view.

So when we went kayaking I couldn’t have been more excited to try it. However, looking at water is one thing, but navigating your way through it is entirely another. So, to put it rather bluntly, my partner and I were not the most talented at the sport. And, at the end of our dramatic journey down the river, we got stuck at the top of some river rapids that were on a precipitating rocky verge. So, along with help from our instructor, I had to lean out of the boat in order to dislodge our kayak from the rocks.

Our instructor had apparently never seen such a terrible duo of kayakers, and really, we were quite bad. But throughout that afternoon I never felt fear, never flinched (unlike my petrified partner) and leaned quite comfortably out of the kayak in rough rapids to dislodge our boat before we plummeted down the gushing river. I even jumped off a cliff at the end of the day.

So, whether I am beside the idyllic sands of Palawan in Singapore …

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… or looking at the beautiful blue of Bora Bora …

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… or even closer to home on the Han River in Seoul …

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… water will always has a special spot in my heart.

And when I write, when I think of what inspires, it’s always the concept of the ocean or the rivers of the city, or the holidays that I have been lucky enough to go on that help to spark my creativity.

Water will always inspire and because of that it will always have a special place in my stories. Even if it’s just a raindrop on a window sill, it’s still there and it’s still important.

We are planning to go back to Jeju island this summer for our holiday, and even scouring airbnb for pensions right on the waters edge is enough to soothe my soul. I can’t wait to breathe in the fresh sea air again, and sit by the ocean as we barbecue samgyeopsal. Perhaps I will even stay on a few days longer than my husband so that I can write by the ocean and feel the fresh sea air in my hair as I create my next work in progress.

It’s going to be perfect. 🙂

Osaka & Inspiration

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Hong Kong circa 2006.

I’ve been never one for smalltalk; never been one to waste time on things that don’t interest or inspire me. If I don’t like something then I move on and find something else to occupy my time with, and the same goes for my writing. If I am not inspired then I am not writing, and I find it very hard these days to find things that truly inspire. (Hence the ten year hiatus from any form of solid, honest, work.)

In regards to reading I tend to veer towards a very small subsect of literature that involves steampunk, science fiction and the odd, very rare bits of fantasy and horror. There are but a handful of books that I will read to the end, but I could, (and often have) re-read those books to death.

At first there was Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which I read when I was ten and had nothing to do all summer in the South of France with my family. It was left discarded on a bookshelf in an old barn on the lot of land we were staying on, and I absolutely fell in love. Then there was Tolkien, another classic that inspired me during my teenage years, followed by Mieville and Poe in my early twenties.

My favourite book of all time is quite possibly A Tale of Time City by Diana Wynne Jones. It’s an imperfect book in many ways, but its also completely brilliant in others. It reminds me of my young self hiding under the blankets with a torchlight until the wee hours of the morning. (Something I remember doing with Lord of the Rings back in my uni days, when I spent my entire spring break reading it from cover to cover, – when I heard the birds chirping I knew it was time to put it down!)

Its been a long journey getting to where I am now, passed the old lamppost of Narnia and through the mists near Camelot, (The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley – love!) but I have finally settled upon my own niche in literature that serves the writer in me well.

And it came into clear focus sometime last year when I went on a short, unexpected break away to Osaka in Japan.

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Dotonbori, Osaka.

Now, I’ve been to Japan before, namely Tokyo and the infamous Park Hyatt in Shinjuku where I could play out my Scarlett Johansson fantasies as I overlooked the city skyline with Mount Fuji in the distance.

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You can’t see Fuji in this picture, but I promise, it was there!

However, I didn’t get a yearning to go back to Tokyo, but when I went to Osaka I instantly fell in love. Or, more to the point, Dotonbori.

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It reminded me of a steampunk alternate universe, where the streets were too narrow, the lights too bright, the signs colourful and eclectic, and the smells and sounds an assault to the senses. I loved the old mixed amongst the modern. The simple street stalls beneath the enormous ferris wheel, which overlooked the river that you could take a boat down during the day and night.

It was all so impossibly perfect to me, and I knew that I had found my source of inspiration.

I have only ever really had that feeling once before in my life, and that was when I first travelled to Hong Kong back when I was around twenty one. I had just escaped from a terrible job working in Shenzhen across the border in mainland China, and as soon as I stepped off the boat that had delivered me to Hong Kong’s glassy, glittering shores, I gasped and instantly fell in love. I knew that I wanted to live there, (and I did) and although I didn’t know it at the time, I was beginning to re-discover my passion for writing through the places that I love.

Architecture is of huge importance when I write. From the glass skyscrapers in Hong Kong to the small markets and steampunk vibe of Osaka, and even Seoul. I love how it perfectly sets the mood and the tone for the universes I create. And even now, as I begin a new work in progress, I can’t wait to draw inspiration from a small temple I visited in the foothills of Mount Seorak in Sokcho, Korea, to the tall, white buildings of my home city, Bath.

Finding inspiration is something that I have often struggled with in the past, but after all these years of searching for places and people to inspire me I have found that I was actually surrounded by my muses all along.

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Mount Seorak, Sokcho, Korea.

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Bath, England.

A Brief Shoutout to 삼겹살

This won’t be a long blog post, this won’t wax lyrical about the divine inspiration that is Korean barbecue, but it will be a quick missive, if you like, a brief mention of my favourite of all Korean foods:

Samgyeopsal.

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Its not the meat that I like the most about this dish though, (although one can never go wrong with a chubby strip of bacon). But rather the entire experience that goes along with it.

It’s the plastic stools and the extractor fans that hang space-ship-like from restaurant ceilings. It’s the clatter of metal chopsticks, the open doors on fresh autumn air, or better yet its sitting outside of the street next to taxis flying passed you as you down a bottle of soju or two. It’s the entire experience that goes alongside samgyeopsal that really makes this meal my favourite. It’s the side dishes, yes, but its also the spicy soups and the lettuce that you wrap your food up inside of. It’s the metal tables and the smoke from the barbecued, sizzling meats.

I’ve been in Korea an age, but one thing I will never get tired of is going to the nearest samgyeopsal joint closest to home, and spending an hour or two eating the meat there and just relaxing. There are some things after all that England will never, ever be able to replicate, after all, and that is the gloriousness that is this:

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Perfectionism

I can live in a messy room. I can wait a day or two to do the dishes and I am never in a hurry to pay the stack of bills on the table by the front door. I am not a clean freak by any stretch of the imagination, and I am never going to be someone who strives for a perfect, shiny show home.

I do love order but I just don’t love undertaking it. I don’t like hoovering, I don’t like cleaning or dusting and I don’t like the idea of being slave to the mundane chores that everyone has to do, but no one really wants to.

I just don’t care to spend my time doing things that don’t inspire me, and for better or worse, its the way I have always been. Yet in a small subsect of my life, in a tiny slither of my private world, I am quite the opposite. And with my passions, dreams and desires, I am anything but disorganised.

I write all the time now, which is a huge leap from where I was a year ago. Now I enjoy sitting down at my desk and spending a few hours, or even minutes, wrestling over a sentence or two. So its safe to say that I am a freakish perfectionist over the written word.

And I guess that I should be, I mean, it’s what I want to do with the rest of my life after all. But it’s still a struggle for me to know when to let go, and I think it derives from the fact that I don’t think I am good enough. I’ve always been told that I was a good writer, that I had a talent for it and that I should pursue it. But I have never quite matched those words with actual, honest success. So for me, before I take a leap into the world of literary agents, publishing houses and other such scary things, I want to make sure that my manuscript is perfect.

And that is where the problems set in.

I am a perfectionist with my work. I want everything to be just so before I even think of sending it out to anyone. Which is fine and quite a sensible thing really, but it’s also a terrible curse.

Take right now for instance. I have a manuscript, almost finished, but I want to re-read it for the hundredth time before I even send it to a beta reader. I can’t even let go of it for a few weeks without making sure that it is perfect for even that. So I dread to think how I am going to be when I start sending it to agents.

I mean, I want the work to be perfect, and that’s quite natural, but I don’t want to have it sitting in my documents folder for the next ten years because I am too scared to send it out to people.

I just need to take the leap. I know that I do. I need to send it to a beta reader and have their honest, brutal opinion on it. But it scares me, and that is something that I am just going to have to overcome. Mainly because I made a promise to myself at the start of 2017 to not sleepwalk through my life anymore. I was going to try and become published. I was going to write the idea that has been in my head for years and send it out to people. Irregardless of whether it was a success or not, I was going to try.

And then I can die happy in the knowledge that I just didn’t let my passion for writing slip through my fingers the older that I became. And at least, if nothing else, I gave it a shot.

So here’s to next week, and my last read through of my manuscript before I send it out into the world of betas. I don’t want to do it, but I think that I really have to.

Bora Bora

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I am seasoned traveller. I’ve been pretty much everywhere that I have wanted to go, as well as some places that I really haven’t. (The visa office, followed by the nearest local bank at the Lo Wu border between Hong Kong and mainland China? Not so much.) It’s been over ten years of living abroad for me, and yet for the most part the countries that I have been to, I have lived in.

Well Clare, you may think, you have been living an eternal holiday for the past ten years, have you not? The short answer to the most frustrating of questions that every long term expat gets at least once in their life? No. The long answer? Nope.

People assume that because you live abroad and teach English you are on a constant vacation where people drink, travel and generally do nothing for the entire time that they’re abroad. They think that your job is easy and that you are living the good life 24/7.

Well, for that I have one scenario for you: fifteen students, all aged five, one over-heated classroom, one boy lying on the floor for the first ten minutes of class in a petulant rage, no help from a native teacher & me, alone, at the blackboard for an hour and a half.

It takes a certain kind of soul to be able to deal with that, and a certain kind of person to deal with it for eight plus years, (in some form or another). So when the time came for me to finally quit teaching English for good I knew that I would eventually want a long, relaxing holiday with a drink, or ten, to make up for the years of stress that my job had afforded me.

(Disclaimer: I loved my job, really, I did, but the time had come for me to start taking control of my life and my dreams to the point that I was doing something I was truly passionate about, and which didn’t just pay the bills. That and the vomiting children, of course.)

Anyway, when we were planning our wedding (see post here for more details on that) I knew that I would much rather spend the money on the ‘Ultimate Vacation’ than a wedding dress and a fancy ceremony. And to me ‘ultimate’ means an overwater bungalow in some remote part of the world, with pools, the ocean and endless, glorious cocktails.

So we went to Bora Bora. Or, the St Regis in Bora Bora, to be more precise.

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It was the ultimate of Ultimate Holidays. From the five star treatment to the crystal blue ocean, to our very own pool overlooking the main island in the distance, to the obviously cliché, but very necessary, pink flamingo.

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We only stayed for a week, because, well, we’re not made of money, but that week was completely perfect. Water has always soothed me. From the sound of it, to the smell of it, to the sight and feel of it. So to have this as my morning view every day was not too shabby.

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Tahiti is a place that I would absolutely love to go back to at some point in my life, but I’d think I would actually need to become the next J.K.Rowling or something to be able to afford it again. So in all honesty I don’t know if I will ever get to go back to Bora Bora again in my life, but if I don’t then I will be able to check one thing firmly off my bucket list, and be forever grateful for the short time that we spent there together.

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