Life Snapshots

Conversation: Out of the Ashes

When I wrote my first book, I felt I had all the time in the world to write it. But as I discovered last year, having a publishing contract changes the way you write drastically. Which is why the past few months have been manic, stressing and distressing to say the least: as my deadline came and went, and my extension deadline joined it, I realised I couldn’t – and would probably never have – the luxury of writing the way I was used to: only when inspiration struck, and at a pace that suited said inspiration.

In February and March 2014, a mixture of shame and realism forced me to write the entire first draft of my second book (bar six chapters which I had laying around from 2013) in around five weeks. In between, I worked the hardest I ever worked at my day job (the irony that said job was quiet for the first four years I worked there until 2014 hit did not escape me) + moved out of my apartment + planned a complete overhaul of this site. By the time the first draft was finished, I had a week’s escape to Tasmania (more on that later) before I settled into more life stuff: turning my little cladded house into a duplex + briefing designers on what I wanted for my new-look site + planning school tours and visits.

My husband meanwhile, who’s already away from home regularly for his day job, has gone back to university via distance education. In between all our adventures, we got ready to welcome our first child into the world, a process which involved exhausting decision-making about prams and weariness about mummy cliques (the Facebook posts were enough to scare me). But despite all the havoc, we were optimistic about our deadlines: we even spoke enthusiastically about having Christmas at our place.

How naive we were.

It turns out, life deadlines are even worse than writing ones (case in point: I had this post filed away in ‘drafts’ for much of 2014). I moved in with family in April thinking I’d have a brand new house at the ready by November, but to date, the old place hasn’t even been knocked down. My builder, who happens to be my brother, suddenly got more pressing and more financially-rewarding work (because his sister gets the family discount of course), which means I’ll still be living with family for much of 2015. Re-launching the site took way longer than anticipated, for a myriad of reasons that will probably make their way into future posts. My new publisher at Harper Collins is even busier than I, so my edits took about six months to come back to me, pushing back my second book’s release date for at least another six months. And then there’s the baby, and believe it or not, she’s the least of my worries – she eats, poops, plays and sleeps exactly when she’s meant to, which kind of made it easy for me to do things like file an article for Collective magazine ten days after giving birth.

If The Husband and I still love each other by the time 2015 2016 rolls around, we would have accomplished something massive, because right now, it feels like we’re swimming against the tide, at least where first-world problems are concerned anyway.

But despite all the craziness, wearisome days and excessively long nights, this is the first time in a long time that I have felt REALLY content in my writing life. When I started Wordsmith Lane in 2009, I was newly redundant, young and naïve, and read maybe two blogs. I didn’t have a clue about blogging, and because I never recognised its worth, I never gave my blog the attention it deserved. Truth be told, I never held any aspirations for it. It was just another thing in my life. (Another case in point: One of my first-ever posts had a comment on it by Allison Tait, who started her blog some time later – and because she was (more) disciplined with it, managed to make it something great. You can catch her talking about flitting between writing genres and styles in an upcoming post).

But despite all the struggles and lack of direction that characterised my blog in the past, I still wanted to write. I’m still extremely passionate about helping aspiring writers. It’s evident in the work that I do, the emails that I answer, the talks and workshops that I give at literature festivals and schools. I also really believe in second chances – and I sincerely believe that it is time for me to give my blog the chance it deserves to be what I set out to make it: the always-available mentor to the aspiring writer, fuelled by real life tips, advice and experiences of writers of the more established kind – and from a variety of genres.

Last year, when I initially planned its re-launch, too many things (the kind that were out of my control) went wrong with it, and even though at the time I vowed not to let it break my stride, it did. I had lost money, motivation, readers and business. I just couldn’t motivate myself to work on something that wasn’t the fit I imagined it to be. This time, things are already looking better – so I’m one stop away from where I started, but I am carrying many more lessons in my little heart. The biggest one? Hone in on your brand: I wandered off the path so many times in the past, following PRs and promos and influences that didn’t go the same way I was going.

This time, my blog is all me: a digital scrapbook of the everyday experiences, wellness pursuits, dreams and inspirations that fuel my work: conversations with people chasing their dreams, the books I read and performances I watch, the destinations that capture me and the experiences that wow me, and all the little tidbits of my happy, humble life.

I’ve come and gone many times, and I can’t promise that my long absences will never happen again, but this time, I have invested so much more everything into the new site that should hopefully make it harder for me to leave it.

This effort is my do-over, and I feel really thankful for the second chance. If you’ve stuck around, I thank you immensely, and more so implore you to overlook my mistakes of the past, and give me – and my beautiful new site – a chance at a bigger, wordier future.


 

The Re-Launch Celebration

I celebrated my return to my digital space with a Middle-Eastern-inspired High Tea at home, alongside a few inspiring and encouraging women who are just ace at all things blogging, media and social media. Thank you Cheri, Rachel, Viola and Chloe for joining me, encouraging me, and eating chocolate baklava with me when everything was done and dusted. Well, not necessarily dusted – there are still a few niggly things to fix – but I’m almost there.

Sarah Ayoub

 

Sarah Ayoub

 

Sarah Ayoub

 

Sarah Ayoub

 

Sarah Ayoub

 

Sarah Ayoub

 

Sarah Ayoub

 

Sarah Ayoub

 

 

 

 

 

10 things I want to do after finishing my manuscript

My publisher resigned in November last year. Admittedly, I have milked her absence a little bit (as well as the holiday break) because it’s given me a little more time to ‘write’, which basically translates to lie down on the couch unable to think of anything else but writing, and yet not write a single word. My new publisher starts in about three weeks and I really need to make more progress on my manuscript, so over the past few weeks I have tried my best to put myself on a little wordsmith lockdown – prohibiting myself from doing much of anything until I at least had 50,000 words of a first-draft. Today, however, I’m busy filing a couple of freelance stories and booking in school/reader’s group dates for the year ahead, but with so many things I want to do on my mind, I figure I’d write them all down so I have something to look forward to (and be distracted by) when the powers-that-be are reading my first draft. Fingers crossed I’m done by March 1st!

So without further ado, and in no particular order, here are all the things I can’t wait to get stuck into:

  1. Watching Seasons 2 & 3 of Girls. Yup, I am that far behind.
  2. Reading. Gosh I miss reading the most. I cheated a little bit after Christmas and read two YA titles – Kasie West’s The Distance Between Us (ok) and Huntley Fitzpatrick’s My Life Next Door (great) – but there are still so many books on my list, including The Book Thief (Markus Zusak), The Tailor’s Girl (Fiona McIntosh), The Intern (Gabrielle Tozer), The Fault in our Stars (John Green) and How to Convince a Boy to Kiss you (Tara Eglington). I realise I may be the only word nerd on the planet who is yet to read The Book Thief & The Fault in our Stars, and yesterday (thanks to Gabrielle Tozer) I learnt what FOMO meant and I don’t want to have it. On a side note, this makes me wonder if Gabby is better suited to writing YA than I am!
  3. Pitching. I have had a couple of great freelance articles come my way lately, but I am looking forward to getting myself out there and workshopping my own ideas.
  4. Snapping pictures with my brand new camera that husband got me for Christmas. I suck at taking photos, but he bought it for me to practice with, so I might as well give it a workout.
  5. Baking a Pavlova. I love baking, but I avoid recipes that involve separating yolks from whites. Cheri at Ms Critique is having a bit of a Pav obsession at the moment, and her posts are motivating me to get over my fears and give it a go.
  6. Doing one of those short make-up application workshops. I always look like I have been punched in the face when I try to apply my own eyeshadow, so I just stick to liner. And don’t get me started on lash application. This year, I want to be a little more girly, so I am going to do one of those one-hour store sessions and see how I go.
  7. Write down my notes for some author talks and workshops I am booked to do in the middle of this year. I am thrilled to be going out to schools to share Sophie’s story with teens, and I want to be able to prepare for that without worrying about Charlie and Gillian, a couple of characters from my current manuscript.
  8. Stop being a deadbeat. I am going to a lot of things that I am invited to, but I want to be able to wake up and head to the markets for a day without worrying about whether or not my wordsmith brain will want to cooperate when I get home. Basically, I want to be a little liberated from the pressure for a while.
  9. Go to putt-putt. I have asked the husband to go for Valentine’s Day, but I might have to post-pone it if the words are flowing, which I really want them to be. But I want to be able to do a lot of miniature golfing and bowling for some reason. (Strange as they are things I have never been into.)
  10. Psyche myself up for Draft 2, because I know that once I have chased a little fun and I have some words and feedback to work with, it won’t be as daunting as it is now.

Conversation: Australia Day Blessings

Our parents and grandparents left everything they’d ever known to create better lives for us. They left a country where they belonged, and made long and difficult journeys to come here, knowing they’d be ‘the other’. This wonderful country didn’t turn them away. It opened up its homes, its hospitals, its neighbourhood communities for them. It gave them special schools to help them keep a little part of their heritage in their lives; it provided government benefits for those who are parents, or students, or elderly, or looking for work. Its justice system aims to be fair, and everyone is innocent until proven guilty. None of these things were available where our parents came from…and all of these things were instituted by the ‘skips’ that some of us here wish to exclude. If someone doesn’t want to be a part of this wonderful country with its offer of a second chance, they are more than welcome to leave. The question is, would they actually want to?

– Sophie speaking to her Lebanese classmates in my book Hate is such a Strong Word.

My parents came from a beautiful country with a rich heritage. Bordering the Mediterranean sea, it’s home to glorious beaches as well as snowy ski fields, ancient ruins and world-renowned party hot spots, old-world souks and modern luxurious shopping malls: a whole bundle of history and culture and family and tradition. But it wasn’t enough, because as a whole, there was so much missing. My life in Australia is a mix of their old-world and the one I’m fashioning for myself from the remnants of my heritage and their memories. And of course, the blessings this country has given me.

Migrants who have made this place home have so much to be thankful for. Sure, the past of this country may be a little sketchy, and the present almost the same, but the beauty of this place is that instead of stealing from the people or just letting it rot in the filth of its problems, every phase of its life has seen its people and its leaders try to find solutions to problems, and answers to questions. Sure, I have experienced a little bit of racism, been frustrated at the government leaders, thought the rising of cost of living quite ridiculous.

But I actually have been to cities that never close down, including New York, Rome and old London town, and in all honesty, no matter how far or how wide I have roamed, I don’t still only call Australia home, I call it one of my life’s biggest joys. Despite the shortcomings that every place has, this country, and its people, political systems and overall attitude, boasts too many merits to number.

I am so fortunate to have this day to celebrate everything about my wonderful homeland – the place that has given the freedom to mould myself into the perfect mix of my parents’ past and my childrens’ future. This is what it means to be young and free.

Happy Australia Day to all!

Image Credit

VIDEO: LAUNCH OF HISASW

It’s been a really long time since my last post, and I must say I am awfully disappointed in myself. I have a long list of ideas for posts, but they’ve been no match for the competition: colds and flus – even during the festive season, low motivation levels, and an all-round flustered attitude as I think about book deadlines, changing staff on my publishing team (my publisher resigned late last year, and her replacement doesn’t start for another month) and everything that comes with life – weddings and social engagements, housework, spending time with family and friends.

My husband gifted me with a rather cool camera this Christmas – specifically to put to use on the blog, he told me (given he’s well-aware of my bad photography skills) – so I hope there’s a sunny day in sight, but until then, I plan to lay low until I feel motivated enough to get back into it without it compromising the writing of the novel I’m almost half-way into.

Until then, I’ll share something I have forgotten to share in all the craziness – unless you follow me on social media that is – and that is a little video shot on the night of my debut book launch for Hate is such a Strong Word. It was rather strange hearing that my voice sounds the way that it does, but of all the feedback received on the video, my personal fave was probably this comment:

“Don’t ever lose your wog accent, Sarah. It’s very endearing.”

I think Sophie would find some comfort in that.

PS I know I am waffling, but I had forgotten my speech at home.

Conversation: Regrets

I’ve noticed that it’s unfashionable to have regrets. Looked down upon even. I can’t say how many times I have heard sayings bemusing regrets, or celebrities harping on and on about how they don’t have any. But I’ve suddenly realised that I actually don’t mind having regrets, because all the regrets that I do have promise to teach me something about my future, and how to make decisions with the future in mind.

This occurred to me over the weekend when I stuffed a canvas bag with items from my closet that hung in there, hardly worn, waiting to be altered. Skirts, pants, jumpsuits. Things that need to be hemmed, taken in, or have buttons or zippers replaced. The bag of clothes transported me back to Year 8, when I was choosing my elective subjects for Year 9 and 10. I had trouble deciding what my third subject selection would be – and the offerings were all of the practical kind. I had never been into practical subjects, and my two already-cemented selections (commerce and history) were a testament to that.

A frustrated teacher sat with me and my bestie and our parents as we tried to identify a suitable subject, but none of them appealed to me. Art, Music, Woodwork, Textiles and Computers. Yuk. While our mothers gently suggested Textiles, we scoffed. What did we need with sewing machines and dress-making, we thought. I went on to make what I believed to be an informed decision (selecting computers) and my bestie chose music. Neither of us ever benefited from our choices. She doesn’t play any instruments and can barely recognise a melody, and I, the girl who made her choice based on the truth that computers were the “way of the future” quickly realised that it was a rather uninspiring class of textbook computing. To this day, the only thing I ever remember from that class is what RAM stands for (Random Access Memory, FYI).

If I had taken Textiles however, I would – like my sister who took it some years after me- know how to sew a button or hem a skirt. And no matter how unfeminist that might be, it’s a skill I think all women need to have. It’s not like we have uniform sizing or prototype bodies.

So there, that’s a regret: choosing the wrong type of subject. And I am entirely ok with that, because I am learning from it. In fact, my liberated thought has led me to list a few other regrets that are teaching me things, or at least propelling me to go out and be taught. Regrets like only taking writing subjects in my journalism degree. How I wish I learnt some video production skills, or taken some radio classes, so that I would be more employable in my media career. Or regrets like getting the much older lady in the street to cut my hair when I was 15, instead of someone more younger/trendier who knew what the Mandy Moore pixie-cut looked like.

I guess it’s not so much a big deal having regrets, it’s whether you learn from them that matters. Which is why I love the three images above – they’re all a testament to the fact that we’re not liberated by our lack of regrets, but by recognising that we’re liberated by doing something about them. Learning something, trying again, or simply admitting that were wrong at one point in your life and doing the best thing about it – moving on.

Do you have any regrets that have taught you something? I’ve now resolved to take a sewing class, learn indesign, and play with my windows movie maker so I can practice video blogging. Who knows, I might earn myself some more regrets lessons in the process, like never hem your own dresses.

 

RETRO REVIVAL: THE BLACKTOWN DRIVE-IN

It’s no secret that I have a penchant for by-gone eras, and the 50s are no exception. Apart from the threat of nuclear war hanging over people’s heads and some of the blatant gender inequalities we’ve come so far from, they seemed like a pretty cool time. Just watch Grease and you’ll get it: car racing, dancing that featured actual dancing (instead of gyrating and grinding), big skirts and milkshakes. Everything seemed so safe, happy and carefree.

So when Husband heard that Event Cinemas Blacktown was re-opening the Drive-In, he knew it would make a thrilling date night for yours truly. Not only was it a concept that was foreign to my generation but something we’d heard loads about from our parents, but also because it would allow me to do what I do best: daydream about what the experience would have been like back in the day.

True to form, I spent the entire day before we went fantasising about what it’d be like. I’d read that they’d recreated a 50s diner – complete with checkerboard flooring and neon colours, and menus that featured cheeseburgers, milkshakes and fries. Even the staff wore red and white striped uniforms.

I pictured staff on roller skates (my fault, the article said nothing of the sort), milkshakes in proper glasses, and plates of burgers and fries which I’d then pump with ketchup. Unfortunately, while the venue itself looked the part, the whole diner experience (that I was dreaming out) fell a little short. Turns out, you shouldn’t believe all that you see in the movies. There were no milkshake glasses and I had to pay 50c extra for this little packet of sauce, but it took a while before I got it: the ‘experience’ was optimised for the movie-goer, so everything was designed to be eaten from your car as you watched the flick. Burgers were pre-packed into boxes ready for ordering, and drinks were served in plastic/paper cups. Just like you would get at an ordinary movie screening.

By the time we headed back into the car and saw the screen come to life, I had regained my excitement. Regardless of my whimsical-driven ideas, there was something about watching a modern movie in an old-school way that really made it an experience worth having.

Diner1

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Diner2

 

DinerNext

 

Skyline Menu

 

 

EVENING STANDARD

The weather’s warmed up and the invites are rolling in. But dressing for events can get a little complicated for such festive times. There’s the matter of finding something stylish, budget-friendly and which doesn’t require strategic planning to wear (think spanx, clever bras, or having someone on hand to zip you up while you inhale). And if you’re a Lebanese girl, you have to strategise (and shop) a million times over. A couple of weeks ago, I attended a Black Tie wedding. Considering I’ve been attending at least four weddings a year since I was 16, I am not averse to dress shopping, but I’ve never had to worry about dress codes before (Lebanese wedding dress codes are easy: cocktail length if you’re not a close relative, black tie if you are a sister/best friend/close first cousin to the bride or groom). This time, however, there was a lot of fretting. I’d just returned from a few weeks overseas and I wasn’t prepared to part with a lot of money – and most suitable items came in at around the $400 mark, minimum.

Then I came across a few floor-length dresses at Sheike. Averaging at around $200 each, their mixed bag of maxis proved to be just the ticket for my situation. I went with a fail-safe option – black – and by the time I added a nice belt, statement cuff and a gorgeous clutch purse, I knew I’d hit the nail on the head.

For all the talk of it as boring, classic black with statement accessories always works, and as I have discovered, is the perfect way to set an evening standard in case I’m ever again at a loss for what to wear.

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| shop the look |

Sheike Amaze Dress ($199 – available in store in black, and online in Lilac + White) |

Sheike Belt | Colette Clutch | Samantha Wills Cuff