A Night At Waterstones: Marina Keegan’s Family

Some people do more in a few years, than other people do in a whole lifetime.

Back in May, I read a book. Not just any book. A book that smacked me right in the face, out of nowhere, like an uncontrollable magnet. A girl with words, who played them like Beethoven having some playtime on a piano. I curled up with it every night for two weeks, scowling at anyone that dare interrupt me, lost in a world of a parallel 20-something in New York who wanted to unashamedly make art with her laptop and imagination. The Opposite Of Loneliness. The words made my eyes sparkle and my palms sweaty and my heart thud. This girl knew stuff. She was 22, and she had the most unique perspective on the world I’d ever come across for someone of that age – and she wasn’t afraid to ask uncomfortable questions or just prod someone into asking themselves questions. She wasn’t safe – but she was likeable. I then ending up Googling her work for hours on end. Every article, every quote, every single piece of writing I stumbled upon unlocked something in my brain. I wanted this young author, Marina Keegan, to be my friend.


In 2012, Marina Keegan died in a car crash. Her book “The Opposite Of Loneliness” is a posthumous assemblage of her wonderful essays. It is honestly one of the best things I’ve ever read, but with this added layer of emotion; a heavy sadness at a loss of such talent. And tonight, I went along to an incredibly special event at Waterstones in central London, where Marina Keegan’s parents, Tracy and Kevin, her tutor Beth McNamara and her school friends spoke about Marina and the reasons behind publishing the book of her essays.

Kevin Keegan, Marina’s dad, opened the evening was something poignant: “Marina wouldn’t have wanted to be remembered because she’s dead – she’d want to be remembered because she was good”. After all, Marina, at the age was 22 was already an award-winning playwright, activist, poet, writer, viral online journalist. Oh, she was good alright. Some work included in the book was written when Marina was just 16, with sentences powerful enough to send shivers up grown-ups’ spines.

Marina’s book is a combination of part fiction, part non-fiction. Marina’s au pair from when she was around five years old read a passage that Marina wrote, describing her the messy homeliness of inside her car. Her friends from Yale read parts of her book that were non-fiction – brilliant excerpts from short stories that involved mysterious, complicated characters who are way beyond her age. Marina’s amazing talent let her write so vividly from one person’s viewpoint, from someone so so far removed from her own life. The dialogue engrosses you, the audience sat there, eyes closed, conjuring up all this interesting people that came all from Marina’s imagination. This is all Marina.

My favourite readings was from “Songs Of The Special”:

“Every generation thinks it’s special—my grandparents because they remember World War II, my parents because of discos and the moon. We have the Internet. Millions and billions of doors we can open and shut, posting ourselves into profiles and digital scrapbooks. Suddenly and totally, we’re threaded together in a network so terrifyingly colossal that we can finally see our terrifyingly tiny place in it. But we’re all individuals. It’s beaten into us in MLK Day assemblies (one person can make a difference!) and fourth-grade poster projects (what do you want to be when you grow up?). We can be anything! Our parents are divorced but we’re in love! Vaguely, quietly, we know we’ll be famous. For being president, for starring in a movie, for writing a feature at eighteen in the New York Times. I’m so jealous. Unthinkable jealousies, jealousies of the Pulitzer Prize–winning novel I’m reading and the Oscar- winning movie I just saw. Why didn’t I think to rewrite Mrs. Dalloway? I should have thought to chronicle a schizophrenic ballerina. It’s inexcusable. Everyone else is so successful, and I hate them.”

Her parents also touched on one of her well-known pieces “Even Artichokes Have Doubts” (her dad made a great point that Marina had a real talent with writing incredible headlines for her pieces). This article touches on the fact that a lot graduates almost subconsciously walk in to careers like “finance” or Goldman Sachs – and she questions why people aren’t encouraged to take a step back think what do I want to do before mindlessly entering to Another One Of Those Jobs. Marina’s message was “it’s never late to change.”

It was a reflective, intimate evening. We had wine. We listened, we asked questions. We sat and watched as her parents shared personal anecdotes, memories, confessions, advice, questions, answers, jokes, their favourite pieces. They shared all of this with us. Us, the readers of Marina’s work.

A brilliant thing happened at the end of the evening – Marina’s university read out a Facebook message that she’d sent him. He re-enacted the words, speaking her words with energy and re-telling a funny story when Marina auditioned for a talent recital with a rubix cube. In that moment, even Marina’s words in a Facebook message had turned into art. It reminded me that written words are meant to be spoken. It was so lovely to hear readings, listen to the words, and hear things we’ve read spoken out loud – everything became so much more real.

At the end of the night, Beth, Marina’s old tutor came up to me and my friends Laura and Zoe as we were all sat on the front row, and we thanked her for the evening. She saw me scribble down the URL to the YouTube video that was mentioned earlier in the talk. She said, I saw you were interested in the YouTube link, you really should watch it. If you love Marina’s writing, you should see her energy when she reads out loud her own poems, her passion. Watch her tonight. Thanks for seeing us tonight. We all just wish she could have been here too.”

I went home and watched the video of Marina and that energy.

I cried. And cried.

The lessons I learnt tonight? Whatever your thing is: make time for it all. Write it down. Go out and do it.

Better out, than in. Because if nothing else, you’re leaving some of your art behind for the people that love you.

Not That Kind of Book


In a strange way, I’m slightly gutted that my awkward teen/childhood has been trumped. I’m not usually that competitive about ‘who’s more of a loser’ but I thought my 14-year-old self was the worst one out there, surely. Surely all those weird dreams, getting into trouble at school, experimenting with baggy jeans and black lipstick and fancying the grossiest of boys made me the worst teen ever?

After reading Lena’s poignant memoir Not That Kind of Girl I no longer feel embarrassed, ashamed, or humiliated anymore, about anything actually (which is quite extraordinary: I have some extremely cringe memories). Instead, I feel purged of my sins and at one with my awkward yesteryears because actually, Lena has tied up all that ‘shame’ into a book, put a bow around it and pushed it out into the world. The result being that now ALL my “skeletons” that used to reside in the closet are now walking around, quite confidently, introducing themselves to anyone they meet. ‘I used to do THIS, how grim is that! I win!’ The internet has allowed us to over-share (or should I say encouraged), and in fact it’s therapeutic. This book gives any millennial the confidence to say: YEAH I WAS WEIRD, WEREN’T WE ALL? And for that reason alone, I applaud it. It’s hard to be honest, especially when your past isn’t that far behind you. Plus, a lot of bad memories unfortunately exist somewhere, digitally online.

Here are the main themes that I took away from the book:

Being a teenager is literally the worst

NTKOG took me firmly by the hand and forced me down a #dark Memory Lane. In some chapters it all came suddenly spiralling back, lots of neglected memories that were once wedged into the hidden corners of my mind where suddenly staring at me, in loud technicolour. This resulted in a mixed feeling of gratitude to Lena and slight resentment: her sharp memory has now made me face up to my past. All those times I felt screwed over as a teen, not yet in control of myself enough to know how to go about solving issues, big or small. Because after all, who wants to face up to potentially the worst years of your life whilst curling up with a book? Those situations in which you test your parents (lying at house parties, getting into trouble, bad school reports, screaming matches) and leave you wondering why they still love you, but they always do – all that drama, all that worry. All of those hormones.  It’s these teething periods of being so hormonal that you could scream the house down and cry in the corner of your bathroom for weeks, just because someone commented on your new hairstyle. Ridiculous in hindsight, but oh so real and raw at the time. I remember thinking to myself you must promise to remember how f*cking awful it is being a teenager for when you have your own teenage nephew/niece/daughter/son to look after one day. Never make them feel ridiculous. 

Don’t deny that us Millennials are all massive geeks

Every mention of Lena’s teen milestones (like first sex, first period, first best friend), and even the smaller things like remembering Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing and odd childhood traits like compulsive lying, made me remember things I’d sort of repressed. Things that, as an adult, I wouldn’t ever willingly need revisit. Even smaller seemly insignificant things like the moment when you were first introduced to a computer. Can you remember where you were when you first sat down onto a computer and ‘bonded’ with it? This big alien white box whirring and purring in the corner of a room, sitting there unused, until suddenly, it all clicks. You are communicating with people, really easily and it’s fun. All those days and nights of “socialising”: i.e. talking to your friends online or invited friends over to sit in front of the screen with you. Talking to boys on MSN together was your social meet-up, except you wouldn’t talk to each other. We practically taught ourselves HTML on Myspace only a few months after exiting the womb. Thinking about how much of life has been spent typing actual makes me feel a bit funny.

Really, really stupid things can disguise as being ‘fashionable’

Lena talks about things that A LOT of girls have done, whether or not you would probably ever own up to it. I too, “attempted” bulimia a few times, and like Lena, gorged and “dry heaved” with nothing coming out. It’s a serious matter of course, and I know true sufferers of this illness. But somehow I found myself laughing inwardly at this paragraph, at my stupidity, at my desperateness. In a similar situation to mine, Lena eats loads of crap food, then falls asleep by accident, and then tries this pathetic attempt at being bulimic for the day but it (fortunately) doesn’t quite work out. It totally sums up the strange teenage landscape of different trial and errors. I tried to be a vegan, vegetarian, not-eating, goth, hippy, gluten-free, Dukan diet, only-eating-Weetabix-diet, all for no longer than a few days. Of course for many others, an eating disorder it isn’t a ridiculous “fashionable thing to try out once”, it can turn into a proper problem which deserves separate attention, but this bit did relate to me, the fact I definitely tried and failed so many diet tactics, for no real reason.

It’s not all on you

“Going along with it” is a major theme of the book too. A difficult theme. Upon reading the story of Lena and Barry, I nodded along at the awful situation she finds herself in after a party. It goes a bit like this: you’re not entirely sure how you got there. You don’t really know what’s happening. You sort of trust this person, but you sort of don’t. You think ‘what’s the worst that can happen’. Luckily, in my situations I had managed to escape. But I could totally relate to these types of episodes, in which guys who lead you astray and you just follow their lead, plodding along. Walking right into the danger zone. Because in the drunken haze you see no warning signs, it’s all fun, and exciting, silly and strange, rather rebellious. But then: you realise, along with Lena’s own reflection, and her friends whom she confides in – that these situations can lead to rape. Suddenly it is extremely black and white, there, written down on the page. However reading the situation, where Lena appears to casually go along with it, you see how it was a spider’s web, a clear trap. A blurry night that can play mind-games with you for years, even though you know deep down it’s not your fault, it’s easy to doubt yourself on a hungover afternoon.


I feel like this is the tip of the iceberg for Lena. She’s warmly introduced us to her talent: her amazing, friendly writing style. It excites me that there is so much more where this came from, more books, many more books. Her writing makes us feel like we know Lena a little better. I do think that this book is for a very specific audience. I’ve read some reviews by much older journalists who just don’t seem to get it – they think it’s self-indulged or cliche. But I disagree. In fact I think it’s cliche that their reviews just comment on her monetary advance from the publisher or dryly comparing it to “the Mindy’s” and “the Tina Fey’s” (who I love, by the way, but why does everything always need the same old reference point?). These reviews don’t comment on how the book made them feel.

I think NTKOG reviews a niche period of time and there are ‘in-jokes’ for Gen Y readers only. I think it’s brave. She never had to open up to all of us, but like the rest of our generation, we like to overshare. We almost need to overshare. “I have to tell my stories in order to stay sane,” Lena wrote. And if like me, reading this book makes you feel even a little bit more OK with yourself, including all your weird and wobbly bits, then that is money well spent, in my opinion.

Available on Amazon: Not That Kind Of Girl By Lena Dunham

Don’t Be Too Much Of A Fangirl, They Said


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I watched The Fault In Our Stars on the plane. Probably not the most intelligent choice of film when you’re feeling mega sleep-deprived, pensive, confused about life and acutely hungover – but often watching a sad film helps with a much needed cathartic release. A friend of mine openly admits to have nights in just to listen to sad music in a dark room because “better out than in”. Anyway, your allowed to sob on a plane because no one will see you and the flight attendant can give you a glass of water and nod sympathetically and leave you to it. It’s the film, I say, just the film.

Of course we all know the book is really sad, and therefore the film is sad. I knew what I was in for. Just like the hangover these tears were self-inflicted. Not having read the book the whole way through I enjoyed the sad suspense of not knowing how it would end. All I knew what that it is a tragedy. A modern day Romeo and Juliet horribly riddled with the C word. Every mention of the word cancer blows away all of the happiness away like a wind machine that gives the characters absolutely no respite. There is a haunting amount of realism too, with depressing lying-in-bed scenes, laptop scenes, Gmail chat, iPhones, normal open parks – it’s a Hollywood film sure, but there is a surprising lack of sugar-coating. And how can it be, with such a harrowing subject? Nothing is particularly glamourised except for their good looks. It makes the film all the more grim to watch, and the many morals of the story hit you over the head with a large frying pan.

Thinking about the author, John Green for a moment, the technique I found the most impressive was the way he wrote a book within a book. A book so seemingly real that I wanted to see if it existed, or perhaps even available on Amazon to read in its own right. I googled An Imperial Infliction by Peter Van Houton, whom the main character Hazel is obsessed with and quotes daily. But it’s not a real book in the real world, unfortunately, it’s planted there by the author as a meta seed. Peter Van Houten isn’t a real author either. And it’s a good job too, because he turned out to be a complete arsehole. A true example of the phrase “never meet your heroes”.

This made me think a little about a recent night out I had when someone said to me that I should stop reading the work of people I admire so much. That I should concentrate more on my own. Because to focus too much on other peoples you are not giving your new ideas the attention they need to blossom. It’s true that there about five writers who I read obsessively. The advice was coming from a good place. But it also jarred with me for some reason.

It was an interesting point to make; because I would never see being a huge fan of someone’s work or to obsessively read books in the hope for inspiration to ever be a bad thing. But I saw the point that was being made. There have been times when I’ve spent hours trawling through a backlog of archives of someone’s work who I admire. Re-reading their pieces again and again. Reading stuff that I cannot necessarily learn anything new from. The other day I went back to 2007 on an archive of articles by a certain writer. I was doing it in order to try and trigger a new idea or be inspired but after a while that doesn’t work. Really, you can only inspire yourself.

The reason why it’s important that Hazel had to let An Imperial Affliction go, is because she was holding on too tightly to it. She was enslaved to the book, to the ending, to the quotable paragraphs. She was so obsessed with the book that she wasn’t writing her own story. None of it was real and she’d become to hooked on it. I have certain books that I cling onto as well, but it’s not always the answer. It could be guiding you in the wrong direction.

I understand why it’s important to step back a little from being a fan of someone and their work. You can be a fan of what someone does but you have to also make sure you aren’t just hanging on to their every word. You need to keep your own thoughts and decisions in check and to avoid being guided too strongly. At some point you will have to create your own words, your own chapters and your own narrative. Something happened recently when I stopped following said writer so closely. I still read it. But I focused more on my own work. And since then, I’ve unleashed more ideas and better work because of it – because you can’t imitate, you can’t compare and you can’t do the same as what someone else is doing.

Go forth and enjoy the work of your idols, but don’t let it get you stuck.

What happens when you can’t tick a box?


A favourite quote of mine is about handbags. Before you roll your eyes and think I’m about to go all pink-and-fluffy on you, the sentiment is actually rather anti-handbag. I will paraphrase the quote; it was something I heard Caitlin Moran say at one of her secret gigs in Crouch End. Essentially, she is against the idea of an “investment handbag” – it’s something you drop fag ash on, vom in to, leave shitty receipts in and always find a pack of chewing gum from five years ago. This “investment” will not be there to save you when your 85 years old. That handbag will not be sold for millions in exchange for a pension. This handbag will be wrinkled and sad-looking in 50 years time, glaring at you from the corner of the room, and you will frown at it bitterly, asking yourself why you parted with £800 on a shitty piece of pleather.

Screw handbags. Get a fabric tote. (See above in my strategically placed picture).

But, seriously now, let’s for a second talk about a real “investment”. That investment is you. This isn’t me about to launch into thousands of words about “personal branding” (although you know I’d love nothing more than to do that) but it’s more about the basics of investing you. You, you, you. The one thing in this life that actually IS an investment.

Number 1) Look after yourself. Seriously. Go the doctor every now and again. Tell your boss you’re going to get yourself looked at, and look him/her square in the eye. Even if you both know that your getting *down there* looked at. Do it.

Number 2) Don’t be a dick, offline or online. No really. Don’t be one. Being a dick will come back to haunt you and no matter how much you think “being a bitchy twat in the office” will get you “further up the career ladder” that is bullshit. Be a kind human being. People remember how you make them feel. If you make people feel shitty, they will get you.

Number 3) Don’t post blurry photos. Ever. Especially not of yourself. And learn to CROP. Don’t ever upload a profile picture that’s badly cropped. Or one that is the tiniest thumbnail that doesn’t even expand. It’s rude. And you’ll look like a criminal. Only criminals are lazy with their cropping. I’m joking, but seriously.

So now we’ve cleared that up – I want to talk “box ticking” with you. Building any sort of presence or brand requires box-ticking right? WRONG.

I want to put an end to this hideous myth. Hardly anyone fits perfectly into a nice neat little box.

For so long I have been a fun-loving, grateful part of the “blogging community”. I really have. I’ve been to amazing events, met incredible people, build relationships I am proud of. But, there’s a catch, I’ve always felt a little bit on the outside, or should I say an “outsider”. This is because I don’t tick a box. Are you a fashion blogger, they ask? (I can’t afford it). Are you a beauty blogger, they suggest? (I own three pieces of make-up). Are you a restaurant reviewer, they enquire? (Sometimes, to be fair, but who doesn’t love food?). But I am none of these things. But at the same time I am also a small fraction of each of these things. I am all things, whenever, wherever the wind may take me. The main thing, I write on this blog, because I LOVE this blog, and I love the people I meet through this blog. My passion is to write – anywhere, everywhere.

I remember my first ever “campaign” I did with Diesel in 2011 where they put mine and four other bloggers faces on the clothing tags as our selected pieces in the new Covent Garden store. My blog was quite new and there I was in a massive shop in London with my FACE on a tag. I love Diesel, I loved the initiative, and I was so happy to be involved. I am still good pals with one the girls there. But I literally stuck out like a sore thumb. Most of the other bloggers there were proper fashion bloggers – they had a photographer, the most amazing statement shoes, the latest clothes, the crazy expensive camera, the poses, the lightening, the personality, the everything.

I literally had my iPhone and I hadn’t washed my hair in three days. I stood in the corner and drank three cups of tea rather awkwardly as I watched the other amazing bloggers try on new outfits, they loved the clothes, the clothes loved them. I stroked a few pairs of jeans and trying to join in. I felt like a phony. What did I know about clothes? Why was I even here? (Two of those bloggers have now gone on to have proper partnerships with huge retailers. This was their thing).

But then I realised: I was there for a different reason. They had selected different bloggers, in order to have different points of view, and different opinions on the new collection. I had never branded myself a fashion blogger, and never would, and they knew that. They were looking for a lifestyle writer in their 20s to review the clothes, as someone who wasn’t actually that clued up on every move of the fashion industry. And it’s OK. It’s OK to realise when something isn’t your thing.

Experiences like this one have cropped up a fair bit, being often surrounded by beauty bloggers, fashion bloggers, vintage bloggers, craft bloggers. Huge blogging ‘categories’ have formed. Businesses will want to work with you if you fall into a category. Blog Awards fall into categories. There are some seriously amazing blogs out there that are incredibly niche and cater for a brilliant audience. But I will never tick one of those categorical boxes. Not entirely. And not everyone has to. You can’t be something you’re not. You just need to work out what it is you want it to say on your business card. The rest is up to you.

If you want to start a blog but don’t have a “thing”, who cares. Just do it anyway. Do it for you. And naturally you will navigate towards more focused interests, as I have with this blog – books, travel, lady news, careers etc. But as I said in this old blog post, I guess I’m just trying to write, and not necessarily blog.

And the next time somebody asks you “what do you do” at a dinner party, your response should be “how long have you got?”


F*ck Yeah: An Open Mic Night For Storytellers


Have you heard of The Moth before? Probably not, as it’s a big New York thing, for New York kids. Well, UNTIL NOW THAT IS!

When I first heard about this event-slash-podcast I was torn between mixed emotions of being really happy that on one hand it existed but then on other I also felt bitter and twisted that it only existed in NYC. I already have daily #FOMO about not living in the Big Apple since the explosion of Girls and subsequent digital love affair with Lena Dunham.

The premise of The Moth nights conjured up a few memories of these poetry night events I used to go to at uni with some uber-intelligent fellow classmates who would wear berets and striped jumpers from my English literature degree. Poetry nights are also a bit blah because you cannot breathe the air without smelling a whiff of pretentiousness, even if you genuinely love the poemz. Back then everyone was trying to get into the whole literature scene – but this event was the adult version of those poetry nights except this time it was with a bunch of people who weren’t trying too hard. Everyone was up for being themselves and talking and celebrating true stories. In a basement in East London.

So, until a few weeks ago I hadn’t heard of it. This incredible creation was not yet in my life. I’m not entirely sure where I read about it, but I just remember The Moth described itself as “True Stories Told Live” – this is totally up my alley. What’s not to love about that? I knew that I needed to go. This was a combination of my favourite things: stories, storytellers and meeting new people. And to my utter delight after some Googling I realised that the first EVER Moth event was coming to the UK, to London. The first ever UK #StorySLAM and I knew I had to go, and be a part of it. Some things you know you just can’t miss.

Since I went along to my first Cringe night in which I read from my teenage diary in a pub in London, in front of 35 strangers, I longed for that same sense of excitement again. Not knowing what anyone would read, how you would respond to it, and what you might be inspired by on the night. It’s that feeling of people just coming together and connecting through real life experiences without any egos or judgment or airs or graces. Basically something I like to get away from occasionally, especially working in an industry with a lot of pretence attached to it. Sometimes you just want to say “we’re all the same, so quit the ego and just have fun”. Hashtag no filter.

So, there are a few rules that you have to abide by at The Moth. First of all: all stories have to be true. You can’t nab someone else’s story; it’s just not cool. Don’t bring any notes, you must finesse the story to your hearts content and remember it, so that it is all natural. Stick to the theme. This week’s was “a first time that was also your last time, something you had to try once”. So in short each story has to be: on time, on topic, a story (not stand-up comedy, an essay, or a rant) and true.

There was a mixture of stories – all were brilliant. I actually couldn’t believe the high standard of the stories. These were people with brilliant speaking voices, public speaking techniques, well-rehearsed stories with a beginning, middle and an end. It wasn’t just grabbing a microphone and talking about yourself for five minutes. It was artistic. It was a mixture between entertainment and raw emotion. As The Moth founder said in the event introduction was “we are all part of the human race, and therefore, we are all clowns. We are all fools”. This was an important thing to note from the start. In that room (and hopefully in life) no one thought they were better than anyone else. It was a place to judge. It was a place to listen and respect other people’s stories; after all they are brave to be sharing it in front of strangers in the first place.

The stories were way more emotionally raw and honest than I thought they’d be. I don’t what I expected but I thought it would be a bit.. shallower, lighter maybe? Is that mean? I guess I thought it would be a funny tale of falling in love at first sight in the “grocery store” that feature heavily in nearly all American rom-coms. It wasn’t that, though. But the point is: it doesn’t matter what the story is. In actual fact, I noticed people responded most to those who were a little bit nervous.

One guy delivered a brilliant story about coming out, about his first time in a gay bar. He was nervous. His boyfriend was listening to him as he spoke to a new crowd of strangers. He told us all about he went in a heterosexual relationship with a girl, and when he came out he realized he was definitely gay – and that never looked back since that night. Another girl gave a very funny comical sketch about her first period. How the family were slightly overbearing with their excitement, telling all the names and shouting around the house screaming that she GOT HER FIRST PERIOD! How she thought that by having a period she would have a BABY! We’ve all been there with that embarrassing stuff. I remember being locked in a bathroom in Cornwall with my aunty telling me “not to come out until I’d tried a tampon” because they were “much better and I had to try one”. AHH! Another girl gave a heart-felt account of buying and losing their first ever pet – a family dog. A woman spoke about her first time being diagnosed with breast cancer. Another man recalled a memory of driving around after work and accidently getting involved with a crime scene.

It was a truly amazing night and I’m so glad to have discovered The Moth in all its glory on a random Monday night. You can download the podcast here, and I really urge you to check out the work of Lynn Ferguson who hosted the night – she was hilarious, funny, friendly, and an example of someone who doesn’t take no for an answer and had the brilliant confidence I can only try and embody myself.