I Got My Mojo Back

In October, something terrible happened: my husband and I suffered a miscarriage. It was my worst nightmare, something that I had never believed would happen to us. My family back in the UK expressed their regrets about how they couldn’t be here for me. Some people were supportive, others distant or saying the wrong things, unintentionally causing more harm. It was stressful having to tell everybody the bad news since we’d excitedly told everyone we were expecting a baby. I almost spiraled into depression. Almost.

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The thing is, after this terrible loss, something awoke inside me. I suddenly had the urge to fight back. Not the doctor, not my husband, and not myself, but at something. I suddenly became the most motivated person on the planet.

I had been in a writing slump for a couple of years. When I was 22, I got a publishing deal with a startup publishing house. It was a dream come true, but it quickly deteriorated. With horrible staff, little to no budget, and a bunch of people who had no idea what they were doing, I quickly cut ties with them and asked them to unpublish the two fantasy novels of mine that they had published. I felt like I’d missed my chance at being a writer, and it put me off for ages, my confidence destroyed.

Although I did self-publish a short story, The Queen’s Alchemist, for fun and published A Bard’s Lament on this blog, I had lost my love and passion for writing – the sheer joy of creation. I’ve written about writing and publishing, and also did a ton of work for HubPages, but I’d lost my love for fiction. It was very sad.

Somehow, this disaster has kicked me back into action.

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I wrote about how making a to-do list can change your life. It really can. Recently, I’ve been waking up early and doing a ton of work: proofreading, writing, tweeting, blogging, research. I’m working on a new novel which I feel really confident about; it’s easily the best thing I’ve written and I’m hoping to finish it before the end of the year and send it to beta readers. I’m proofreading novels for other writers, writing more articles for extra income, and taking care of my husband and our home more efficiently, too, as well as working hard at my day job.

Today, by 10:00am, I had already finished several tasks I had planned, exercised and showered, and gotten started with other tasks that I hadn’t expected to do until the afternoon. Past me wouldn’t even be awake yet.

I’m not saying what happened was a good thing. I will be sad about it forever. But I suppose that phrase “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” is true.

8 Tips For Making a Daily To-Do List That Will Change Your Life

We’ve all been there: you have a list of things to do in your head, but really all you want to do is play video games/nap/see your friends/curl up on the couch with a book. “I’ll do it later,” you think, and suddenly it’s 10pm, the day is over, and you’re left with nothing to show for your day except guilt and regret.

Hashtag relatable, amirite?

I was like that, too. On my days off, I would promise myself I’d get to writing or planning out my next novel, only to spend the next seven hours playing Dragon Age or Horizon Zero Dawn. Although I love games and it’s completely fine to spend your day gaming every now and then, it started to become a bad habit, and the deeper you are into a bad habit, the harder it is to get yourself out.

When we moved to Musashi-Kosugi, it felt like a fresh start in a fresh new apartment. However, I don’t believe that moving somewhere new really got me organised. What did sort me out was something ancient and extremely simple, yet more effective than I ever could have imagined: the to-do list.

Do it. Do it right now. Open Google Docs in another tab. Label it with tomorrow’s date (or today’s date if it’s still early while you’re reading this) and write a list of things you need to do. Done right, it can help you be more productive than you could ever have guessed.

Here are some tips on your to-do list and how to stick to it.

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1. Make it Realistic

There’s no use sticking eight hours’ worth of solid work onto your list. Start off slow – maybe add one or two things such as “pick up the children from school” and “write 500 words of new book.” Even things you were planning to do anyway should be on there.

Adding too much to your list can just make you feel more overwhelmed than ever, and you’ll end up getting none of it done at all.

2. Add Easy Things for Momentum

I always start my to-do list with two things: “make coffee” and “kiss my husband.” Both of these things are easy and part of my morning routine. When you already have two items on your list ticked, it’s much easier to get started on the next. At the time of writing this article, I’ve already finished the first two things, getting me mentally ready for the third (which was writing this).

3. Prioritise

You might have an enormous amount of things to do: housework, personal projects, freelance projects, things you simply can’t put off, and things you could probably put off for another week. Think about what needs to be done now.

For instance, do you have a paper that has a deadline? Get that done before working on your personal project.

4. Start Early

On days where I’m not working at my day job, I try to start the things on the list at or before 9:00am. That way, by lunchtime I have already finished three or four things on the list.

Starting early, when possible, also gives you the evening to do whatever you want, completely guilt-free. You’ll feel much better when you’ve had a productive day. You may even feel motivated to do more work, but be sure to take a rest, too. Playing Dying Light in the evening is way more enjoyable after a day of getting stuff done.

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5. Be Specific

Adding things like “work on new book” or “practise guitar” is all well and good, but be sure to have concrete goals. Add exactly what you want to get done that day. For example, when working on a proofreading project, I’ll aim to edit 25 pages as one task, which will usually take an hour or so. That way, when the 25 pages are up, the task is ‘finished’ and I can rest for a bit.

Some people may rather put time instead of tasks (for example, “proofread for one hour”), but I personally think tasks are more important. You can easily get distracted by your phone, making tea, or whatever else, and the hour can waste away rather than being a time slot of solid work.

6. Allow Time to Rest… But Not Too Much

Allow small breaks, but stick to them. If a break is fifteen minutes, make it fifteen minutes. You may find your motivation is high after completing tasks on your list, though, so feel free to power through if you want to! I’ve found that ticking tasks from my lists just makes me feel more motivated to start with the next one.

Never feel guilty for taking a break, though. Sometimes your mind needs a short break to refuel. Just be sure that your break doesn’t accidentally turn into three hours of nothing.

7. Add Variety

Dedicating a day to your main hobby, task, or skill development is all well and good, but you’re going to burn out quickly if you just have “work on thesis for eight hours” on your list. Here is a quick example list for a student working on her dissertation.

  • Have breakfast
  • Take a shower and get dressed
  • Write 300 words of dissertation
  • Vacuum room
  • Plan second half of essay
  • Call Mum
  • Email lecturer about deadline

etc, etc, etc.

Breaking up your list into various kinds of bitesize tasks makes it a lot less overwhelming. You also get a lot more done in your day. It’s surprising how much can be achieved in less than twelve hours.

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8. Make Your List the Night Before

Don’t wait until morning to make the list for that day! Before you go to bed, make a clear, easy-to-follow list for the following day, complete with easy tasks like eating meals and showering. That way, when you wake up, you can get started with task 1 with a clear mind.

You may be surprised at how much you can get done with a simple to-do list. In the time I’ve been making a daily list, I’ve completed writing assignments that I’d kept putting off, planned out previously difficult details of a book I’m writing, and proofread a huge chunk of a novel for a client. I don’t think I’ll ever go back to a list-less life, and you shouldn’t, either.

So what are you waiting for? I want to see your to-do list for tomorrow! Get cracking!

How to Eat Japanese Shabu-Shabu at Home

Now that winter is on its way, hotpot dishes such as sukiyaki, nabe, and shabu-shabu are regaining their popularity in Japan. People love to visit shabu-shabu restaurants to chow down on meat and vegetables in various flavours of sauces, along with a beer or two.

What is Shabu-Shabu?

Shabu-shabu consists of one large bowl of some kind of soup. This can be soy-sauce based, spicy, or tomato flavour; some restaurants offer a wider variety or special bowls with two kinds of sauce inside. Shabu-shabu is typically a social meal and is usually enjoyed as a group of two or more people sharing the large bowl of soup.

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Diners order ingredients to put into the soup themselves. The meat is cut thinly so it only needs to be dipped (and then “shabu-shabu’d” or moved around inside the soup to quickly cook it), then mixed briefly into sauce and eaten.

Shabu-Shabu Restaurant Prices

Going to a shabu-shabu restaurant will easily set you back a couple of thousand yen, and more if you plan on having some drinks as well. Red meat, in particular, is expensive in the land of the rising sun and it’s not uncommon for the majority of your bill to be towards a plate of beef.

Some eateries offer special all-you-can-eat deals or special lunchtime prices, but even then you’re looking at a minimum of 2000-3000 yen per person.

Well, we recently decided to buy the ingredients ourselves, and not only did it come out much cheaper, but just as delicious as any shabu-shabu restaurant! Here are some tips on eating this yummy Japanese dish at home, including typical prices, what you’ll need, and how to prepare it.

The Ingredients and Equipment

The priciest part of eating shabu-shabu at home is the equipment. You’ll need a nabe bowl and a gas-powered cooker to go with it. You also need a canister of gas, which you can buy for a couple of hundred yen at most supermarkets.

*Hint for shopping in Japan: check your local supermarket for a point card! Some supermarket offer discounts for point card holders, and some shops such as Foodium give bonus points for not using plastic bags. If you’re living in Japan, make use of the free points system for rewards and benefits.

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Ingredients (for a large meal for 2-3 people):

  • 200g thinly sliced beef. Ideally it should say しゃぶしゃぶ (shabu-shabu) on the packaging
  • 200g thinly sliced pork
  • 1 spring onion
  • 1 carrot
  • Chinese shiitake mushrooms
  • Enoki mushrooms
  • Half a head of lettuce
  • Ponzu sauce
  • Momen dofu (tofu). There are two kinds, and this kind is much better for hotspot dishes.
  • 200g Shirataki konyaku noodles

You’ll also need:

  • One large pair of serving chopsticks
  • One regular sized pair of chopsticks for each person. A fork or spoon will work as well.

Directions:

  • Mix 550ml of the ponzu sauce and 550ml water in the nabe bowl.
  • Chop the vegetables and tofu up into bite-sized but chunky pieces and arrange them on a plate (or two plates if needed)

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  • Prepare smaller bowls of sauces of your choice. This can be the ponzu sauce (add water if needed as it’s a little salty). Another great choice is sesame-based dressing which goes very well with pork.

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Once you’ve got everything ready, you can start adding the ingredients to the soup. Some things, such as carrot and tofu, need a couple of minutes to boil. Other things like lettuce and meat don’t need much time.

Add a bit of everything, and then “shabu-shabu” the meat. Use the serving chopsticks to dip the meat inside and mix it in the liquid. You’ll see it cook in the boiling soup right before your eyes! After around thirty seconds (or when it looks done) you can take it out and add it to the sauce. Some people like to eat it piping hot straight away, and others prefer to wait a bit.

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Pork goes well with the sesame dressing and beef suits the ponzu sauce better. The vegetables are delicious with both. You’ll find that this healthy dish is surprisingly filling!

It’s really easy to enjoy shabu-shabu at home for a fraction of the price you’d pay in a restaurant. The ingredients, plus the gas canisters, cost less than 1,500 yen each (two people) including some drinks! I recommend that everyone living in Japan tries a home hotpot at least once. If you feel confident in making this yummy dish at your place, you can even invite people over for a shabu-shabu party.

Like lots of Japanese food, shabu-shabu is both healthy and delicious. Why not give it a try?

Traditional and Affordable Japanese Food in the Middle of Nowhere

A group of my students sometimes take me out for lunch. They’re a sweet bunch who love English and like to treat me sometimes. I’m very lucky for that.

Today we took a taxi somewhere in Kanagawa from Mizonokuchi, waited in an elevator, and suddenly came upon this traditional restaurant where the staff members wore kimonos and a scent of soy sauce based cooking filled the air.

We all ordered the special set lunch, which had several delicious courses including a dessert.

1. Sweet Cod, Egg, And Daikon Radish

This was yummy. The fish was sweet, boneless, and easy to eat. The daikon was crunchy and refreshing.

2. Sashimi

Next was maguro sashimi (raw fish) with some vegetables and soy sauce for dipping. As a huge fan of maguro (tuna), this was a great bonus! There was just enough to get your appetite going.

3. Tomato Sukiyaki

Sukiyaki is a special hotpot dish. It bubbled on its own mini stove while we are everything else. We took bits out to mix with the half-boiled egg. Sukiyaki isn’t usually served with tomatoes in it but it was delicious.

4. Chawan Mushi

Chawan mushi is sort of like soup but thicker. It has the consistency of soft boiled egg and inside I found a mushroom and a single soy bean!

5. Tempura

We also had tempura, which is deep fried vegetables and prawn. Tempura is a popular dish in Japan and this one, served with sauce and grated radish, did not disappoint.

6. Rice and Soup

There was also miso soup and “Mugi rice” with barley and bits of plum inside, making for a healthier option than just plain white rice. It was an excellent palette cleanser. At the back you can also see “tsukemono” or pickled vegetables.

7. “Azuki” Red Bean Dessert And Green Tea Served with Coffee

We chose coffee as an after-meal drink, and it was served at the same time as the green tea and dessert, which was unusual. As per many Japanese desserts, this sweet bean treat was very sweet so that the bitter taste of the green tea complements it.

I was very full and satisfied afterwards! Can you believe all this food cost just 2000 yen? If you go for dinner, the price will probably double, but going for lunch means you’ll get a real bargain.

(I’m going to check on the restaurant’s name). It’s about a ten-minute walk from Miyamaedaira Station on the Den en Toshi line, which is a bit of a trek if you’re staying in Tokyo. Going here was an inexpensive way to enjoy real Japanese food, so if you find yourself in Kanagawa, give it a try for lunch!

An Indie Writer Gave Me Their Book and it Sucks. What Do I Do?

If you know any indie writers, there is a possibility that you have been stuck in this awkward position: they self-publish their sparkling new novel, and excitedly send it to all their friends and family members for feedback, reviews, and free word-of-mouth news spreading.

The cover might be good, it might not; some new writers wing their own design to save a couple of hundred bucks, and some pay for a cover. You open it and read the first page.

First lines are important, of course; it’s their job to suck you in and urge you forward into the story. Sometimes you’ll get lucky and the writer is genuinely talented, giving you a pleasant reading experience that transforms you from friend to fan.

However, this doesn’t always happen. Sometimes the book might, well… suck. Several pages in and you’re already tired of the clumsy prose, unlikable characters, eye-rolling cliches, and whatever else that puts you off entirely.

Out come the excuses, and you pop it on a shelf where it gathers dust for the next few months. You get on with your life, and hope and pray that your writer friend has forgotten all about it.

Let me tell you this right now: they almost always haven’t.

They won’t ever mention it, because who wants to be badgered with “have you finished it yet?” But the crushing realization comes after several months of nothing, zero, zilch, possibly hurting even more when we come over and see said book on the shelf, serving no more purpose than being some light decoration.

But what’s the alternative? You can’t just say to your friend “hey, I read some of your novel and… it’s just terrible. You aren’t a good writer.” It’s better to avoid such uncomfortable conversations and just let the book sit quietly in some forgotten corner of the bookshelf.

You might have some idea of the time, energy, and money that is spent on producing a book. You might feel bad for them or you might even be able to convince yourself that there’s nothing really wrong with the book, it’s just not to your taste.

I used to be that writer. At 22 years old and with a sparkling publishing contract from a new company, I thought I’d written something really special and I wanted the whole world to see it. I paid for postage and packaging of several paperbacks, sending it to friends, family members, and other writers. I waited for feedback. Probably ten percent of those who I sent it to ever spoke to me about it again.

Excuses

If you find yourself on the other end of this situation, do yourself (and us) a favour by avoiding these excuses, all of which I’ve heard before. We aren’t stupid, and we know what they really mean.

  • “I’m a slow reader.” Give me a break. There’s slow, taking a month to read a novel, and then there’s “I never intend to read it and I’m going to blame my reading speed.”
  • “I’m too busy to read.” Well then, why did you accept the book? If you dislike reading, that’s one thing, but if you claim to love books, you’ll make time. We all make time for the things we enjoy.
  • My personal favourite I’ve heard is “I loved it so much I didn’t want it to end!” Apparently they loved it so much that two years later, they still feel the same way. Uh-huh.

So what can you do in the painful situation of having received a free book, but not being able to read it? Here are some things you can do that will help the writer but not destroy your friendship.

1. Identify What You Didn’t Like

It’s not easy to just say “I didn’t like it” and it’s even harder for the writer to hear it. To make this constructive, identify WHAT you didn’t like.

I’m not telling you to become an editor or offer advice. Absolutely not. But if you see a crummy film and turn it off or walk out of the cinema, you can probably explain why: bad acting, horrible directing, clumsy dialogue, a silly story.

The same goes with the book. Here are some ideas.

  • “I couldn’t identify with the characters.” Characters are the pillars of a story and if you don’t care about them when reading a book, you won’t care what happens to them. Is their main character unrealistic, too perfect, too selfish, or just plain unlikable? Let the writer know.
  • “There is too much description.” It’s easy for writers to get caught up in paragraph-long descriptions of everything. Whereas writers from a few decades past such as Stephen King could get away with this, times change. This kind of feedback can be really useful for writers. If you find yourself skipping paragraphs to get beyond detailed descriptions and back to the action, be sure to tell them.
  • “It’s difficult to follow.” Some stories just don’t make sense! If the story itself is confusing, don’t keep quiet about it. Point out things that you don’t understand; it’s likely other readers feel the same.
  • “There are too many typos.” One thing that happens a lot with indie writing is the amount of grammatical mistakes and spelling errors and other errors. Don’t feel obligated to point out every single one – that is what proofreaders are for – but feel free to tell them that’s why you couldn’t carry on. Typos interrupt the flow of writing and

2. Be Honest but Constructive

Easier said than done – absolutely. Avoid vague things like “it wasn’t my cup of tea” (though this is MUCH more preferable to the aforementioned excuses) and give reasons why.

3. Say What You Did Like (But Only if it’s True)

If possible, start with something you did like about the book. It’s a lot easier to hear negative feedback when it’s accompanied by the positive. Were there some good ideas hiding among the mistakes? A certain character you genuinely loved? Let the writer know. Give them the ol’ compliment sandwich.

4. Give the Book Back

You might think that giving back an unread paperback is the ultimate insult, but I personally don’t think so.

Getting a book back when they haven’t read it provides a bit of closure to me – now I won’t be waiting and waiting for the feedback that will never come.

The financial aspect is also relevant here; if I get back the book, I can offer it to someone else.

5. Assure Them Nothing Has Changed in Your Relationship

Artists can be quite, well… fragile when it comes to their work. The writer might take your feedback on board and use it to become better, and some writers might fall apart. Worst case scenario, the writer might even get angry.

I was extremely embarrassed after getting some negative feedback. I remembered sending my book to dozens of people and realized that they were probably all laughing at me, shaking their heads and thinking “poor, naive Poppy. Don’t tell her she’s untalented and her book belongs in the trash.”

Have you ever watched X Factor or Britain’s Got Talent (America’s Got Talent if you’re across the pond)? When people go on thinking they can sing only to be shot down and heartbroken by the judges?

That’s what it feels like when you don’t bother letting someone know their book needs work. Thankfully, our version doesn’t include humiliation on national TV, for which I’m grateful.

Please, please, please be honest! Otherwise we cannot grow.

Tell them that you love them all the same and you’re excited to see them improve. Assure them that they will get better – great writers become great only after plenty of practice, after all.

A Note to Writers

If you’re on the other side of this situation – the eager writer waiting on feedback – then here is some advice for you, too.

  • Don’t get emotional. Getting upset or even angry is a big mistake when dealing with feedback.
  • Be grateful. People are taking time out of their day to provide honest, free feedback. It isn’t easy for them, especially if you’re both close, so be sure to say “thank you” (even if you’re picking up the broken shards of your heart as you do so.)
  • Take their feedback on board. A Taylor Swift-esque shake it off, haters gonna hate attitude works in some cases, but if this person has given you honest, specific feedback, be sure to listen to it. It’ll make you a better writer.
  • Look for patterns. If you’re lucky enough that several people have talked to you about your book, look for patterns in their feedback. If three people have told you that the main character is too wooden, it might be time for some rewriting. If four have said there are too many typos, hire a proofreader. Feedback is extremely valuable.

Writers adore people who give real feedback! A potentially awkward situation can be a big opportunity for struggling indie writers. Don’t be a “someday” reader who lets their friend’s book sit, untouched, on the shelf forever.

Spoiler-Free Book Review: “Gerald’s Game” by Stephen King

Unless you’ve been deprived of all movies and books your whole life, there’s no doubt you’ve heard of the man, the legend, the award-winning and best-selling American author, Stephen King. Even if you’ve never read any of his novels, it’s likely you’ve seen, or at least heard of, films based off his works such as The Green Mile, The Mist, or The Shawshank Redemption.

It’s a bit embarrassing for me to admit, but Gerald’s Game is actually the first Stephen King book I’ve read. As a twenty-five-year-old supposed book lover, this isn’t what you might call ideal, but there you go.

Many authors who are supposed to be geniuses are really difficult to read; I bought a Hemingway book not too long ago and really struggled to get through the first few pages. I suppose I felt that any of King’s books would be the same. I was wrong, of course; King’s writing is beautifully smooth and I zoomed through the 468-page paperback in a couple of days.

First, the cover.

I’ve no idea if this is the first edition from 1992, though I’ve a feeling it isn’t. I love this cover. By today’s standards, some may say it’s too garish, too simple, but it perfectly covers the glaring horrors that lie with in along with 1960s nostalgia that becomes relevant once you know the story. I actually adore this cover.

“Once again, Jessie Burlingame has been talked into submitting to her husband Gerald’s kinky sex games – something that she’s frankly had enough of, and they never held much charm for her to begin with. So much for a “romantic getaway” at their secluded summer home. After Jessie is handcuffed to the bedposts – and Gerald crosses a line with his wife – the day ends with deadly consequences. Now Jessie is utterly trapped in an isolated lakeside house that has become her prison – and comes face-to-face with her deepest, darkest fears and memories. Her only company is that of various voices filling her mind . . . as well as the shadows of nightfall that may conceal either an imagined or very real threat right there with her . . .”

This psychological horror is the nightmare of “what-if” scenarios. The laughably unlikely happens, leaving Jessie in a terrible situation, her own thoughts and suppressed memories only making her experience more dire.

The story has layers upon layers, making it much more than a simple survival horror story: deep and dark memories which she is forced to relive and may ultimately help her in its own twisted way; events that make us question Jessie’s reality itself, and events that you wouldn’t wish upon your worst enemy. King delivers an expertly crafted exploration of mental and physical anguish and unlocks Jessie’s sad and horrific past, which despite being a long time ago, still clings to her in the present day.

There is a great movie based on this book, though there are several big differences. It’s a Netflix original, much faster paced than its book equivalent but still great. I won’t go into the differences right now as this review is spoiler-free. I recommend reading the book first for the full effect; you’ll feel your stomach dropping like a stone at the last few pages.

After reading Gerald’s Game, which thrilled and legitimately terrified me, I now consider myself a Stephen King fan! Better late than never, yes? An easy five stars for this fantastic novel.

Recommendations of more great King books are welcome! I’ll definitely get round to reading 1408 and The Mist, since I love both of those movies.

(Links aren’t working right now for some reason, but I’ll provide a link to the book on Amazon when I can.)

Thank you for reading! Please recommend your favourite Stephen King novel on my Twitter or in the comments below.

The “Girls in Love” Books by Jacqueline Wilson are Great for Teenage Readers

For late 90s/early 2000s nostalgia (a similar timeframe to the brilliant Darren Shan saga) I picked up Jacqueline Wilson’s Girls in Love. I remember it being a TV show years ago although, like Tracy Beaker (another Wilson book), it wasn’t much like the novel.

There are four books in the Girls quartet: Girls in Love, Girls Under Pressure, Girls Out Late, and Girls in Tears. Most of Jacqueline Wilson’s books are about girls around 8-11 years old, but in this series we follow Ellie, who is 13, and her two best friends in the same year at school.

These stories really reminded me of being a teenager. No mobile phones or iPads, lots of drawing and reading, and the very early times of having one computer per household (any other 90s kids remember the “computer room?”).

In Girls in Love, Ellie and her two best friends, Magda and Nadine, all get boyfriends… kind of. Nadine dates an older guy, Magda is a little jealous of said guy and chases after a boy at another school, and Ellie, self-conscious and green with envy, makes up a boyfriend, named after the dopy and nerdy boy Dan she met on holiday and based on her gorgeous neighbour.

We got to learn a lot about Magda, Nadine, and Ellie in this book. Like many of Wilson’s main characters, she is shy, creative, and self-conscious. She loves to draw and is worried about her friends (who, in her opinion, are much prettier and cooler).

Click here to get Girls in Love.

Girls Under Pressure was much more serious. Ellie develops an obsession with her weight, which threatens to turn into something more serious.

Wilson has an excellent way of writing from the eyes of a teenager, and many people can probably relate to how Ellie is feeling.

Click here to buy Girls Under Pressure.

I also enjoyed Girls Out Late, where Ellie gets her first proper boyfriend!

I’m not sure whether I really like him or not. He tends to get jealous of Ellie’s friendship with the girls and demands a lot of her attention. Still, it’s perhaps more realistic as he’s only 16.

Click here to get Girls Out Late.

Girls in Tears is heart-wrenchingly sad and I actually felt angry and upset myself while I was reading it.

Ellie deals with family problems, her friends having private jokes, and even betrayal from her boyfriend. It shows how difficult life can be for teenagers and Wilson delivers it perfectly.

Click here to get Girls in Tears.

I like these books a lot, and it was fun to engage in some nostalgia in the week it took me to read them. If you have a teenager, she might like these books.

Taiwan Festival in Ueno Park

It’s rainy season at the moment so the weather consists of thick clouds and the odd shower. I didn’t want to sit in the house all day though so we went to Ueno Park, about half an hour away from our house by subway, to the Taiwan Festival.

It was actually surprisingly busy, but most places in Tokyo are at the weekend. There was merry music and an exotic, sweet smell of Chinese cooking in the couple of rows of stalls.

We started with a drink. Ken got some Taiwanese beer and I bought some mango juice. 500 yen felt like a bit of a stretch but it was thick, not too sweet, and very refreshing.

Ken got all excited so we went to get some food as well. Due to the sweet sauces they use, although it was a chicken and rice dish, it tasted very different to Japanese food. We sat on the damp steps of the park and people-watched while we ate. It wasn’t the most glamorous day out but I was full of happiness because I was with my favourite person.

We went to get some dumplings too but upon getting to the front of the line we saw the guy emptying a bag of frozen ones onto the grill! They weren’t fresh, so Ken got some noodles instead and slurped them while I drank a matcha tapioca milk drink. We listened to some taiko drumming, lined up to throw away our trash (which would probably never happen in other countries) and wandered back.

There are a lot of cool little shrines and things in Ueno Park, and we found ourselves at Hanazono Inari Shrine. It’s a cute row of torii gates and apparently a place to visit to strengthen your relationship, whether its friendship, family, or romantic.

We walked down hand in hand down this path and rang the bell to make a wish. Then, overcome by lethargy from food and the drizzling weather, took the long train home.

Little adventures like these are everywhere in Tokyo if you know where to find them by doing some research first. I happened to find the Taiwan Festival on Tokyo Cheapo, one of my favourite sites for finding events in this great city.

Though it was a little far, it was a nice date. Festivals are always done well in Japan so be sure to check one out when you visit… so long as you don’t mind the crowds.

Japanese Alcoholic Strawberry Milkshake

When I arrived at my homestay family’s house on Friday, my ‘Papa’ said to me, “You’d like to drink, right?” Well, I’m not one to turn down kindness, so he promptly bought me a load of stuff. I tried to say no but darn it, he’s persistent 🙂

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Because they live in the countryside, their supermarkets and such tend to be much bigger than in Tokyo since land is less expensive. I was surprised to see a bunch of drinks I’d never heard of before.

You can usually buy individual cans for around 100 yen each. I saw this really interesting-looking strawberry milk… with alcohol in it. It’s called いちご&ミルクハイ or “Ichigo & Milk Hai.”

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Since strawberry milkshakes strike me as something children would be more likely to drink, I thought this was fascinating. So what would it taste like? Well, I just tried it. I poured it into a glass to check out the consistency. It was actually thinner than a regular shake, but I was still hit with a powerful scent of… well, what you’d expect a strawberry milkshake to smell like.

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It actually tastes exactly like a milkshake! You can hardly tell there’s alcohol in it at all. At 3%, it was never going to taste strong. You could easily give this to someone who is unaware it’s alcoholic and for them to not notice.

Papa said that it’s sort of an “initiation” drink for those who’ve turned 20 (the legal drinking age in Japan) because it’s nomiyasui or goes down easily. Other 3% alcohol beverages like this include the Horoyoi range and things like mango or orange ‘hai’s.

Anyway, that’s the Ichigo & Milk Hai for you! Think you’ll give it a try?

Delicious Monja-Yaki in the Heart of Asakusa

My boyfriend grew up in Asakusa, East Tokyo. Since it’s almost an hour away by train from our house in Meguro Ward, we don’t go there very often. When he was in high school, he’d climb over the fence and dash off to the local monja-yaki place, where he’s good friends with the owner. She’d let him sleep, smoke, and even drink beer there when he was fed up with school. She’s been like a cool aunt to him for years.

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We went to that restaurant together about two years ago when we first started going out. This time, I walked in and she grabbed my hand, saying “I remember you. Welcome back!” We also met one of Ken’s old friends and her two children, and ate delicious food (and got very drunk).

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So what is monja-yaki?

Monja-Yaki

Japan enthusiasts might have heard of okonomiyaki – the savoury pancake from Osaka that is a tasty and popular street food. Monja-yaki is Tokyo’s version: ingredients mixed together before they’re fried on a large grill. Okonomiyaki was also served here as well as other foodie bits. We started with sausages and cabbage, nom nom.

Monja works by mixing up all the ingredients in a bowl.

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I don’t know all of what was in there, but monja typically contains cabbage, meat, spring onions, beansprouts, and other things. Water, flour, and soy sauce are added so that you can pour it onto the plate.

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Put the ingredients in a circle then pour the watery part in the middle. It’ll all start to bubble and boil.

After that, you use a little scoopy thing to grab some, press it to the plate to cook it almost to burning, and shovel it into your mouth. It isn’t the most aesthetically pleasing dish, but it’s absolutely packed with flavour. My mouth’s watering just remembering it.

We ate some other things, including the heavenly buta kimchi (pork and Korean spicy cabbage), some weird fish cakes, and scallops. I’d never had scallops before and put the whole, chewy thing in my mouth, which took about eight years to swallow. Won’t be trying that again.

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Food always seems to be better when made by an old dear who’s been doing it for years. The monja-yaki was mind-blowingly good and it was a lot of fun eating and drinking with good people in my favourite city.

The restaurant is super local; I didn’t see any tourists, and we had to walk through residential areas for ages before we reached it. The owner is awesome – would you believe that she is 82 years old?

If you visit Tokyo, do try monjayaki. It’s one of the city’s best dishes! You can often get both monja and okonomiyaki at the same restaurant, so try them both and see which you like the most. They’re both delicious and are both cooked in the same way, but are quite different.