Deep Dive: Living in England & The Visa Conundrum

Let’s cut to the chase: I’m an American citizen who has lived in England since 2014. Over the years, I’ve been asked about how to be “an expat in London too.” Well, I have jumped through many a metaphorical hoop and spent many an hour researching.

In this post, I’m going to:

  • Describe my journey
  • Give a brief overview of the different types of visas
  • Dispel some myths that I’m pretty sure, collectively as a society, we internalised via rom-coms
  • Offer questions to ask yourself if you’re considering taking the leap
  • Display the power of creative thinking in action
  • Round up the post with some of my favourite aspects of London life

Disclaimer: I am not qualified in any way to give legal or immigration advice. This article is based on my personal journey in the UK and is for information and narrative purposes only. Brace yourself for some gifs and general merriment, and please do not make any life-altering decisions based on my jolly rambling. 🍻

My Journey

Mandatory Robin Hood pose outside the castle. Robin Hood wouldn’t be crouched down so low if he was wearing skinny jeans.

I first visited the UK in 2010 for a semester abroad at the University of Nottingham. One of the reasons I chose my US college was because of its strong study abroad program: pay your normal tuition fees and they’d handle rest. ✈ Winning.

Without going into too much detail, I made lifelong friends and came to adore this absurdly tiny island across the sea obsessed with the price of tea (to paraphrase Hamilton). A huge bonus was that my lack of a car didn’t impact my enjoyment of the country, where this was an issue back home. Fuelled by the freshly ground coffee that my mother posted after I bemoaned the grey rubbish served in the student dining hall (it was magnificently dreadful), and armed with my trusty rucksack and walking shoes, nothing could stop me.

When I returned to the US after my semester overseas, I had a new goal: graduate college and make my way back over to England, where I would write, dress like a trendy European, walk on cobblestone streets, and regularly travel by train.

The question was how.

Types of Visas in the UK

A visa is formal travel authorisation required for entry into a foreign country. Broadly, there are four different categories in the UK, defined by the applicant’s main reason for being here, and there are several types of visa within each category depending on the length of stay and other factors:

  • Visit
  • Study
  • Work
  • Family
  • Special that doesn’t fit above (like investors, entrepreneurs, ancestry, exceptional global talent, etc.).

For the three main categories that people tend to use for longer stays (study, work, family), a sponsor is required.

A sponsor is the key to gaining entry (and staying in) the UK. In the case of a work visa, this would be the employer. For students, it’s their school. And a spouse, partner, or other family member would be the sponsor for a family visa. Basically, an eligible person or organisation (business or school) already established in the UK needs to extend a friendly hand to make it possible.

I certainly haven’t had a linear journey. Over the past decade, I have been in and out of the UK on a variety of different visas:

Ladies and gentlemen, this guy. The government declared this guy was a suitable sponsor.
  • Study abroad/short term student visa
  • Visitor visa
  • Tier 2 work visa
  • Tier 4 student visa
  • Tier 2 work visa
  • Family (partner) visa

This last one means my fiancé is my sponsor and I have to keep tabs on him to make sure the power doesn’t go to his head. Once I’ve lived here for a qualifying amount of time, I can apply for permanent residency (called “indefinite leave to remain”).

Dispelling myths

#1 — Falling in love = problem solved

I’m sorry to ruin your romantic daydreams…but falling in love isn’t a golden ticket into living in a country with no strings attached. And upon saying “I do,” you do not automatically acquire your spouse’s nationality or “become British.”

I’m not sure where this myth has come from, but perhaps it stems from the fact that only roughly one-third of Americans have a valid passport and forty percent say they’ve never left the country. There are many reasons to dive into here (income inequality, cost and time it takes to travel overseas, sheer size of the US means you can visit the tropics, mountains, and desert without needing a passport, etc.) but perhaps not enough Americans know people who have spent substantial time overseas or fallen in love with a foreigner.

The Eve of submitting the Partner Visa – see that stack of paperwork? See my face? Good thing he’s worth it.

In the UK, the Family Visa allows a qualifying citizen or permanent resident to sponsor their partner. But there are a whole host of caveats, such as unmarried partners must prove they’ve been living together for at least two years through official means (such as tenancy agreements, utility bills, and a bank account in joint names).

This is a huge hurdle for a lot of young couples. My now-fiancé and I were caught by this: we’d been co-habiting for several months at the end of my MA, but this wasn’t long enough for him to be eligible to sponsor me. Our relationship was growing, we both had an inkling that we’d found The One, but neither of us fancied rushing into marriage, particularly a multi-jurisdictional marriage that would involve several different countries. We’re pragmatic romantics – hence the work visa.

Even if you are married, there are other hurdles: minimum salary requirement for the sponsoring partner, character assessments, teeth-grinding visa fees and surcharges looming into the thousands, and the stack of paperwork to prove the relationship is genuine. That buys you less than three years…and then you have to do it all over again to renew. And all over again plus some extra hassle for indefinite leave to remain.

Excluding the study abroad/visitor visas, I’ve racked up nearly 7 years of living in the UK…and I am still 3+ years away from permanent residency and 4+ years of any hope of dual citizenship.

International star-crossed love has a lot of perks, but easy residency sadly isn’t one of them.

#2 – I’ll head over & find a job

Steady, now. Put down the passport and step away from the suitcase.

A few years ago, my father sent me an email asking for some wisdom to pass along to a friend. His friend’s daughter had decided to try living in England. She needed tips on job hunting after she arrived. Her plan was to hop on a plane with a little lump of savings and figure it out when she got here.

Don’t get stuck at the border looking like this. Make sure you have a visa so you can have the joy of looking like this on the Underground instead.

I gently replied that unless she had a UK or European passport, she should hold off on booking that plane ticket. Rocking up to the border with no plan, no job lined up, no sponsorship, and no correct visa is a recipe for disaster: immigration would turn her around and put her back on a plane to the US. A condition of entering on a visitor/tourist visa is that you aren’t eligible to seek work, and you need to demonstrate you already have the means of getting back home.

I sent some links about different visa pathways and options but never heard back. It’s awful crushing someone’s dream, but much worse to have that dream crushed 5,000 miles away from home by a stone-faced immigration agent who is frankly quite unimpressed with your lack of planning and greasy jet-lag hair.

#3 – My work will transfer me

Similarly, several years ago a friend of a friend reached out to ask about my experience of life in London. She worked for a chain in the US and seemed confident it would be easy to get a transfer because her company also had locations in the UK.

We had a back-and-forth chat and, again, she hadn’t done much research. To start, I couldn’t see her company on the register of companies in the UK that held a current sponsorship license. This information is publicly available.

She also hadn’t spoken to her company or known anyone who had successfully transferred, nor was she aware that she’d need a visa to live and work in the UK. Again, hated to crush the dream, but a lot of people seem to think it’s as simple as having an idea and the money for the plane ticket. Reality is complicated.

#4 – If I graduate from a UK university, I can stay

Halloween 2018: Student Debt & Writer’s Block. Beaten out of first place by the Addams Family, but we still won a six-pack of beer.

The short answer: maybe.

The regulations are kinder to international students than when I was studying. When I was completing my MA, there was a rather short grace period to find a job, secure sponsorship, and transition to a work visa. I think it was something like two or three months, which had me in a panic and eyeing up potential employers over a year in advance. Now there’s a scheme where a student can apply to stay for at least two years post-graduation – giving the option for travel, casual employment, and finding more permanent work to stay longer.

Also note that your term-time working hours may be restricted to ensure you’re focusing on your studies. I was limited to 20 hours/week, which was infuriating because the temp agency I worked through assigned day-long shifts that lasted 7 hours — meaning I couldn’t work 3 days which would bump me over by 1 hour. This made me much more dependant on my student loans than I wanted.

Some questions to ask yourself

First, addressing the elephant in the room: COVID-19. We’re going to gently side-step the pandemic and focus on the heart of the matter: the desire to head overseas – if not permanently, for more than a quick visit.

Why do I want to go overseas?

Do you just want an adventure? If so, would saving up and travelling be a better option?

Moving abroad doesn’t solve problems. If anything, it amplifies them. Have a hard look at the reasons you want to move. If they’re internal conundrums, they’re just going to follow you. If your heart is set on going to a new country, fix these first, and your time overseas will be much more rewarding and enriching.

Also beware of romanticising foreign locations — don’t get me wrong, London is fantastic, but there are grumpy people, litter on the streets, buffoon politicians, bills that need to be paid, and everything else that comes with day-to-day life. That doesn’t go away in a different country.

What stage of life am I at, and what’s most sensible/feasible?

If you’re a young person fresh out of school/uni and have limited working experience, temporary or seasonal work might be your best bet. You may be able to secure a short learning course (versus a formal university degree), which cost less. If you get along with children, you could look for work as a nanny or au pair (just make sure you do your due diligence and go through a reputable organisation — while I have several friends who had wonderful au pair experiences in Europe, I’ve also heard horror stories!).

If you’re a working professional, you may be able to source a work visa, particularly if your field is listed in a shortage occupation list. This means the requirements may be relaxed slightly to make it easier. If you have dependant family members, you can apply to bring them too – but this incurs extra fees.

If you’re somewhere in the middle, maybe you’d be interested in studying to change careers or further your existing career. Completing a degree abroad adds an extra layer of challenge and adventure. If you love your new home, you may be able to apply to stay – and if not, you can return with a new degree, a boost in employability, and some great stories to tell.

It’s worth noting that US federal student loans are available for most reputable universities overseas. Master’s degrees typically take one year here in the UK, and a bachelor’s degree is three, both shorter than the US standard.

Am I up for the challenge?

Be honest with yourself.

I’m not going to pretend that moving to England from the US is an unfathomable cultural shift – it’s a Western, English-speaking country. But the devil (and beauty), for me, is in the detail: when you’re stressed, busy, or unwell, those little details matter.

Like the first time I came down ill and stood in the aisle of Boots (pharmacy chain that perplexingly also sells fresh packaged sandwiches), staring at the sea of unfamiliar brands in the Cold & Flu section. The lime green box labelled “Night Nurse” was especially disconcerting.

As a couple, we’re close. Literally. Here we are in our “one butt kitchen”. Ah, London life.

Or that your washing machine will be located in your kitchen and you will not have a dryer. Nothing says domestic bliss like dropping your fiancée’s knickers on the floor while she drops pasta on your head and then she smacks you in the shoulder with her bum as you both bend over at once. Not that I’m speaking from personal experience.

Or the fact that everything is officially in metric, except miles per hour, pints of beer (which are bigger than US pints), daily life where things are still referred to in inches and feet, and the fact people weigh themselves in stones. Don’t get me started on that last one.

Or the fact that zucchini is called courgette, pants = underwear, fries are chips and chips are crisps, and the first time a schoolchild asked me for a rubber, I was speechless until I realised they were asking for an eraser.

Or the fact that, as a US citizen, you are legally required to file a tax return every single year. Even if you haven’t lived in the US for years and have no US-based income. There are taxation agreements in place to prevent paying in two different countries, but it’s still a reporting pain. The US is one of the only countries in the world that imposes taxation and reporting requirements on non-resident citizens. There are other reporting and compliance requirements, for example the FBAR, and noncompliant or “delinquent taxpayers” can suffer harsh penalties.

Or the circular headache that comes when you need to open a bank account, but the bank requires formal proof of address such as a utility bill. But you can’t set up your utility bill without a bank account for the direct debit. You see where this is going.

And, it should go without saying, you’ll need to be diligent to make sure you learn and follow local laws and courtesies. Especially if it’s in relation to what you can/can’t do according to your visa rules (like the cap on your working hours if you’re on a student visa). This is not where a Pirates of the Caribbean approach will work.

Creativity in the face of stringent rules

Let’s change tack and talk about creativity. And I don’t mean arts/crafts/jazz hands — I’m talking about dynamic, flexible thinking and problem solving.

Psst: creative disguised as a proper grown-up with a real career. Don’t let them know!

Like my career path. I’m a weirdo: I have both a BA and MA in Creative Writing, I’m nuts about anything involving the arts, and one of my favourite jobs was working as a camp counsellor for two summers in the mountains in Arizona where I taught art outdoors to a heap of feral children. But my full-time day job for the past 5 years has been in finance.

How did this happen? I knew I wanted to write and live in England in general, later in London. That was the goal. I’m here and it happened, but not because everything went according to plan.

I graduated with my BA, did some research, and reality hit me that this England journey was a long game. I’d have to be patient. I went back home, obtained my substitute teaching license, and lived with my parents to save up. I spent the better part of two years explaining that I didn’t need a husband to befuddled Mormon children who apparently never had a single female teacher before me.

I tried being an English teacher in the UK. I got a work visa as a paid trainee teacher learning on the job while also studying a PGCE (Postgraduate Certificate in Education). Great on paper, but a disaster in practice and I ended up quitting in the new year.

Aside from trying to organise my visa in these conditions, I also had a fraudulent charge on my debit card during the week I was staying in this tent with 8 preteen girls. My bank conceded that I probably wasn’t buying knockoff Disney merch while I was stuck in the woods.

I knew I wanted this particular MA for years. In the two-month grace period between quitting teaching and my visa expiring, I applied and interviewed to four MA programmes in London. The dream programme accepted me before I’d left the UK. But I still had to fly home to apply for and re-enter the UK on the student visa.

I spent the summer working as a camp counsellor, organised my student loans over dodgy wifi in the counsellor’s log cabin, and flew back to England that autumn.

While studying the MA, I signed up with a temp agency and worked anywhere they sent me. Those temp jobs led to a connection who offered me a part-time admin role in finance. When my student visa was running out, that same employer agreed to sponsor me. My now-fiancé and I knew that he’d be able to sponsor me if we continued living together for another year and a half. Even though I’ve since switched to a family visa, I’m still working for the same employer and just passed my first professional exam.

What I’m trying to illustrate is the power of researching with an open mind, and when a door opens, taking a very good look even if it’s not the opportunity you expected or wanted.

Take your time. Make notes. Brainstorm. Jot down questions. Look on the country’s immigration website and browse the different options – something might jump out at you. The internet is your friend and there is a wealth of blog posts and articles from people who have seen and done it before. Stay open-minded and realise the answer might come in a roundabout way. Part of the fun of life is seeing which paths open up that you didn’t expect.

In closing

Rather than be discouraging, this post was simply meant to boost a little reality into the image of double-decker red buses, castles, rolling green hills, and quintessential British pubs.

I’ll close with a few aspects of London life that I can’t get enough of:

  • The British sense of humour. I love it. It suits my personality perfectly: dry, a little bit of sarcasm, self-deprecating, and a lot of puns and wordplay.
  • Public transport. The London Underground is spectacular and the cleanest subway system I’ve encountered.
  • Public parks. London is one of the greenest cities. You’re never far from a patch of grass to refresh and watch birds.
  • The sheer variety of things to do. On any given evening or weekend, my fiancé and I have hundreds, if not thousands, of options within an hour’s walk or public transport journey. Museums, theatres, cultural heritage sites, outdoor spaces, sports, and restaurants in every imaginable type of cuisine from around the globe. And then there’s the wacky stuff like paddling down the Thames in a cow-printed kayak.

I hope this whirlwind visa overview was informative and a little bit entertaining. If you enjoyed reading, or if there’s a special topic you’d like me to explore, I’d love to hear from you – pop a note in the comments or contact me using my webform here.

Talk Nerdy to Me: The Bullet Journal

We have this running joke about Mom’s planner. Mostly it involves my brother wailing and flailing as he struggles to flee but insists it’s too powerful: It has its own gravitational field! It’s like a black hole! There’s no escape — I will be consumed! (He collapses to the floor and claws at the tile.) Help me, dear sister!

The Troublemaking Trio. Poor Mom.

Imagine, if you will, the mid 2000s/early 2010s. Three kids: two immersed in middle/high school/college, and one in the small minion stage where they can’t have scissors without supervision. Add two cats and two dogs. Add rural desert where you have to drive over an hour to get anywhere. Think of the doctor, dentist, and vet appointments alone; roll in homeschooling, cars that need servicing, swim team practice, music lessons…hence the Planner of Doom and my brother gasping for breath on the tile, a final foot twitch signalling his demise.

I’ve always liked the idea of a planner. I bought academic planners for uni, but if you were to line them up, you’d see manic activity in September, a flurry of exams and final papers in December (filled in months ago with the syllabi), and a half-hearted attempt to reengage in the spring. Pathetic.

I’ve managed to bump along in life with a combination of my phone’s calendar, short-term memory, post-it notes, and luck. But I knew there was a world of organisational bliss out there where people hopped on marshmallow clouds with little rainbows over their heads. I felt doomed. Nothing clicked. Then I heard whispers of a different way: the bullet journal. Track what you want to track. Make your own system. Make it work for you.

It took me a few false starts, but daily journaling over the past year and a half has led to a gradual evolution of a style that makes sense to my brain. The basic structure is that each day has its own page, and those pages are laid out like this:

Things I Gotta Do

Health stuff



My daily layout – and then the last third of the page is free space for
random notes, events, or anything else I fancy jotting down.

Confession time: I had a serious inferiority complex when I bought my first dotted journal. Just search “bullet journal” in Insta, and the results are a dizzying array of gorgeous art. People actually use these to organise their lives? You’ve got to be joking.

The problem was that I was focusing on style over substance. It’s like learning penmanship: first you learn the letters. Then combine them into words. Then you learn cursive or italics to make it something more artsy. Then you develop your own handwriting style, bit by bit. But you can’t start with the funky embellishments before you understand which way around the b or d goes.

A Real Life Example Page of my BuJo with some of the dull personal stuff blurred out (sorry internet, you don’t need to know my calorie consumption, slow running stats, or bra size)

But back to the BuJo Method, baby.

It took me a while to get here. I tried a list format, I tried special pages with trackers (bar graphs, filling in with colour each day such as number of steps, etc.) but nothing stuck. Then I settled into my box system. I have a separate bullet journal for work, which is similar but involves a two-page spread where one page is exclusively for call notes and scribbles. I’ve never felt so calm at work.

Time for another confession: I fight rigid structure and routines. I like a loose schedule to guide my life, but I absolutely loathed school with its classtime blocks and period bells. It’s not a byproduct of being homeschooled — I think being homeschooled was so great for me because I’ve always been like this.

This method I’ve built works for me because it’s just enough structure to keep me engaged and focused, but there’s wiggle room for creative expression, changing priorities, and super hectic days where I barely manage to breathe. Most importantly, it has room for Herman, my faithful companion.

Herman started as a doodle a few years ago, and then he went away for a while. I realised it was because I hadn’t made a special space for him. My bad. Now Herman is a daily fixture in my life and here to stay.

Found: Saxaphone

On Thursday the weather finally started to behave like late May (we’ve had weeks of rain). After dinner, we decided to go for a walk. Little did we know this walk would change the course of my Friday.

It was mild and quiet, with a few other people and dogs having the same idea as us. Then we spotted it leaning on the fence around the children’s playground: forlorn, nearly invisible in the dusk light, the Beanie Baby plush keychain stood out more than the grey and black case.

We called out and scanned the playground, but we knew it was futile: we hadn’t seen any kids the entire walk except for the smoking, littering, drinking teens further afield.

We opened up the case and all the pockets for clues or contact info, but all we had to go from was a colourful tag with a girl’s first name and set – not even the school’s name.

The start of the rescue mission. (And yes, I’m rocking a Canadian tuxedo. Don’t judge me.)

As I peered through the various saxaphone paraphenalia, I thought, “I swear, if after all this time, I contract Covid from some kid’s spitty reeds…”

There was nothing to do but take it home, hop on Google, and make some calls in the morning. It was well past 8:30pm at this point, so it was bedtime for poor Little Miss who was likely distraught and in a bit of trouble for losing her saxaphone.

It was the right thing to do, but there’s something inherently dodgy about taking something home that doesn’t belong to you. And, as we walked home, I realised that saxaphones are really bloody heavy.

I messaged our street’s community WhatsApp, asking if anyone recognised the music department’s logo on the nametag. The flat downstairs messaged up to make a suggestion. Next door chimed in agreement. I said thanks and I’d call the school in the morning.

Before 9am, I had a message from a neighbour down the road who said she knew who it belonged to. I called and left a message for the mum, who rang me back less than 10 minutes later. Never underestimate the power of the group WhatsApp.

Mum was very relieved that Little Miss’s instrument was safe. “You found it on the playground, didn’t you?” she said flatly, and we both laughed. I could hear a bit of chaos in the background and said I’d be happy to drop it off at the school on my lunch break to save her an errand. She said thank you and that it’s amazing, here, in London, people were so nice to help others and return items to strangers. Who knows, maybe Little Miss was destined to be the leader of a new wave jazz momement – we had to get that saxaphone back into her little hands!

Again, saxaphones are really bloody heavy, I thought as I made the trek to the school that afternoon. On the approach, a cheerful man with a colourful tie grinned at me and said, “Alto sax?” and pointed.

“Um, I think so?” I replied, holding it up and shrugging. “I found it on the common, just returning.”

Ferdinand the Fennec Fox (nicknamed “Nando”) & Saxaphone Pup say goodbye for now.

“Ah, well,” he paused. “Thank you and good luck,” he waved and continued on his way. I wondered if that was the music teacher. And I liked that he wished me good luck – the hard work had already been done, but maybe it was a wish for life general, not specifically related to The Great Saxaphone Rescue Mission of May 2021.

The receptionist – an older woman with kind eyes and wearing a floral dress, exactly the kind of person you’d imagine on reception at a primary school – took the saxaphone. I mentioned Little Miss’s name and said I’d spoken with her mother. She repeated Little Miss’s name. Her eyes smiled under her mask. “I’m sure she’ll be very relieved it’s safe.”

Outside the school, I texted Little Miss’s mum to let her know the saxaphone was at the school, and for her to reassure Little Miss that her puppy keychain had a fun slumber party with her new best friend. I sent the photo.

It was a fun adventure, and a silly and sweet reminder of the power of community, kindness, and that if you keep your eyes open, you never know when you might find a small adventure to liven up your week. It also made me appreciate another layer to the complexity of having children – stuff. Kids come with, and generate, lots of stuff. And no matter how good or smart they might be, kids are little space cadets who live in the moment and who may, at any point, forget their saxaphone on the playground.

On Being an Official(ish) Writer Person

It’s Day 6 of the 14 days to a kickass writing habit. Yay!

Today was hard. We were asked to think about our writing habit (or lack thereof) and figure out the conditions that make our writing thrive.

Bingo. The root of my writing problems and the reason for signing up for this course in the first place:

1. Right place – um. See below.*
2. Right time – while I like the idea of being a morning person, I am distinctly not a morning person. But I’m also not a night person. Maybe I am a potato person, preferably toasty warm and accompanied by cheese.
3. Right amount – more than I’m doing now…?

Behold: two butts in a one butt kitchen. Rebels with a cause…lasagne.

*BELOW: I work a desk job full time. Except that desk job has been from the tiny 100cm x 100cm Ikea table in a one bedroom flat’s combined living room/dining room/extension of the one-butt kitchen for the past 13.5 months. I can’t quite scoot my chair out all the way because then I’d bump into the built in shelving and cabinets, disturbing the books a-flutter and wine bottles a-chime and espresso machine a-hiss. And then there’s me, the bumbling clumsy human with my puny writing needs.

And staring at a laptop at home for 7-8 hours a day definitely takes the shine off the privilege of spending extra time per day staring at a different laptop to do writing.


All the grand, beautiful things done in this world are done by tired people making time out of nothing.

Gremlin sighting

So I hereby promise (writing this out to y’all to hold myself accountable) that I’m going get up early this coming week. That’s right. I am a goblin in the morning, but so help me, I’ll cling to my coffee for dear life and squeeze in 25-30 minutes of uninterrupted writing time before work/studying for financial exams/blah blah blah.


P.S. This is where I tell you about my greatest writing inspiration: The Boy. My fiancé. The scruffy dimpled Australian of my dreams. This guy woke up at or before 5am every morning to finish the draft of his novel to meet a deadline. That deadline was a competition. And that competition was the Fogarty Literary Prize. He landed the longlist, which became a shortlist, which became a publishing contract, which became a fully-fledged shiny Where the Line Breaks published by Fremantle Press in April 2021. Which is now flitting around on Instagram with happy book people, in snapshots of book reviews, and one particularly gorgeous human made a special torte in its honour and now I’m craving cake. But his Instagram says it best (click the pic):

His book on cupcakes I was actually allergic to = big fianceé points

To sum, you never know what will happen. But I know for certain what happens if you sit around feeling guilty for not writing: nothing.

Don’t Annoy the Javelinas

I’ve just signed up to “14 Days to a Solid Writing Habit” on Writers’ HQ. Why? To sum, the pandemic has thrashed my brain and sucked up my writing mojo. Turns out I take a lot of inspiration (gasp) from the real world.

Also turns out you can’t just sit in your flat and eat cheese for a year and expect magic creative writing things to happen. It was a tough experiment, but after 13 months of scientific research, I have definitively proved once and for all that novels will not write themselves. In case any of you were wondering, I’ve done the hard research for you. You’re welcome.

I should be fair and kind to myself. I’ve done other creative things: lots of reflection, organising, painting, drawing, and thinking. This is all good…but my first true love, writing, has been woefully neglected.

This 14 day course promises to set up good writing habits and the community is fantastic. The Boy and I went down to one of their in-person writing marathon days in Brighton two summers ago and it was incredibly helpful, supportive, and fun. So why not?

To kick things off, today we watched an 8 minute video pep talk and were sent off into the abyss for a timed 15 minute free write on our fundamental human truth. It sounds more intense than it is – fundamental human truths are flexible and open to discussion. My 15 minutes turned into a little cheerleading sesh/free writing ramble.


I have no idea where this 14 days of jumper cable ZOLT infusing into my writing life is going to go, but I’m going to grab my flashlight and water bottle and go venturing into the dark because if summer camp taught me one thing, it’s that you don’t need to be afraid of the forest at night. Nothing will eat you. But don’t piss off the javelinas.

(Not sure if that’s spelled incorrectly or Microsoft Word is woefully uneducated about Arizonan feral bristly swine that run around snorting and eating rubbish).

And it turns out Giphy also needs some updating/educating, because this is the only thing that came up when searching “javelina” to add a gif to my post on the Writers HQ website…though I do rather like this rainbow flying tusked pig:

animated flying bristled pig on a rainbow
Found via Giphy, but original source is apparently the Nomadic Agency in Scottsdale, AZ…no surprises there!

But back to the writing: I believe that storytelling is an utterly essential and fundamental part of the human experience. I’m not just talking about books or fiction, here: telling your partner about a funny thing that happened at the shops or translating an idea into visual art (hello, javelina rainbow gif) count too.

I saw something floating around social media that “languishing” is the word to describe the last year. Basically that state of not moving forward and improving – lying prone upon the sofa, channeling the energy of a potato. Yep, that’s been my writing life.

But no longer! From this point forward, I shall channel the energy of this smiling, tusked flying feral pig. It’s not the elegant metaphor I need, but the one I deserve.


Decade of Dreams™

Our last photo of 2019. We rang in the new year with good friends, a bit too much wine, vegan snacks, silly card games, and not socially distanced dancing in our friend’s living room. (Remember when you could HUG your friends??)

Ha. HA. Back in January I wrote something that went like this: “Seven days into the new year and new decade, we’re on the brink of WWIII, half of the southern hemisphere is ablaze, and I think I’m coming down with a cold. Still, nothing can dampen my spirits: folks, like it or not, this is the Decade of Dreams™. Buckle up, buttercup.”

A dearly adored colleague of mine said it back in late November in a voice bursting with screw-you-2019 enthusiasm and the term stuck. I was using it for everything: annoying, passive-aggressive person I don’t want to deal with? Stop spoiling the Decade of Dreams. I swipe the last almond croissant? Bring on the Decade of Dreams! Southern Rail is late again? Obviously they haven’t heard it’s the Decade of Dreams.

It was my alternative New Years resolution. I’ve never had much time for those – if I want to make a change, I make it now. I started weekly yogalates (yoga + pilates = feel the burn, but be mindful about it) in September*. I made joint financial goals with my partner in November*. I loosely planned the next decade of my life in June*.

My phone couldn’t handle the lighting on the train and decided to automatically apply this edgy filter.

Oh naive, sweet Katherine. You had no idea a global pandemic was about to get all up in your – and everyone else’s – business: #WFH becoming commonplace, wrecking holidays and tips to see family, cancelling plans, grounding planes, overwhelming hospitals, forcing families to contend with sudden “crisis schooling” (people, I was homeschooled – believe me, you’re doing an amazing job for just trying), all complete with the cherry on top: blubbering spluttering useless politicians who slander science and ignore those in need.

I digress.

The Boy and I are well. We’re healthy. We’re safe. And aside from London melting (it’s been above 90F/32c for a few days in a row and we live in an adorable Edwardian [I think] building that was designed to entrap heat), we’re fairly comfortable.

Maybe it’s not the Decade of Dreams we planned, but it turns out I don’t look half bad in a face mask, especially when that’s a cobalt face mask was made by a lady named Geraldine in the Midlands who included a handwritten note in cursive to tell us to stay safe, wash our hands, don’t touch our faces, and reminding us that her masks were not medical grade.

**Welp, anyone know any great recipes with figs? Preferrably with goats cheese and carbs?

And there are the sweet neighbours across the road who texted me to ask if The Boy might be able to help them pick some figs in their back garden (in order to reach the figs, “you need a ladder which we have and long legs which we don’t have”), and afterwards we sat socially distanced in their conservatory to drink beer and share stories. The Boy and I don’t particularly like figs but we agreed to take one or two home. We were given four, individually wrapped in a paper towel each to cushion the long journey back across the street. Now I need to find a recipe.**

I’m trying to look on the bright side. Some days are harder than others – but today, even on less than 6 hours of sleep and slowly melting into my sofa, everything seems ok.


*Plans altered due to COVID-19.



Photographic Evidence of a Novice Adult: somewhere in Idaho with puppy, stolen baby blanket, listening to Coldplay. (Photo credit: Mom.)

An invitation: stop what you’re doing and read about my dog. Face it – it’s been a tumultuous week for all of us. As the very last thing that could have snapped me in half, on Thursday, I lost one of my best friends. My mom was so upset that my brother bravely volunteered to inform me.

We brought Remus home as a fuzzy, clumsy, eight week-old puppy back in 2007. It was the summer before my senior year in high school. We had pick of the litter. Among the four boy pups, we chose the one who kept falling asleep while we were playing with him.

Photographic Evidence of a Novice Adult: several weeks later, probably post-lifeguarding, and learning that pup is rapidly outgrowing lap. Grateful that someone else was an awkward adolescent. (Photo credit: Mom.)

His first night away from his littermates was spent in a hotel. Worried his cries would wake other guests, my mother traded places with my little brother to sleep on an air mattress on the floor. Rem snuggled to her chest and neck all night, breathing smelly puppy breath in her face. Over a thousand miles’ drive, two eleven-hour days from Washington State to Southern Nevada, he slept in-between my baby sister (five years old) and me, on a makeshift dog bed we fashioned out of a pillow on top of the cooler. Every time the kiddo wanted a juice box, I had to pick up the pup.

Among his characteristics and habits, one dominated: his dislike of a fractured family unit. We were his pack and we belonged together. His squealing and leaping when Dad came home was excitement to see him, but I suspect it was equally to do with his happiness that we were all
once again within trotting distance.

Meeting Mr. Benjamin Kitten, aka The Benny Loaf (pre-Loafishness). (Photo credit: Mom.)

For nine and a half years, we had the privilege of calling ourselves his humans. We’ve had six dogs to date (two Miniature Schnauzers, two German Shepherds, and two Border Collies). We have loved each dearly, but I think it’s safe to say that Remus was special. I can’t think of a single fault; he stayed close to us out of the house, he reacted to aggressive dogs with a benign perplexity and indifference, he coexisted gently with the cats, and he loved children and didn’t so much as flinch if they grabbed his nose or fell on top of him.

Photographic Evidence of a Novice Adult 2.0: literary endeavours encouraged by a dog of refined taste. This is what homeschooling looks like in our house. (Photo credit: Mom.)

We joked that he was a stellar Shep Ambassador – any visitor who didn’t like or was afraid of dogs was treated to a display of manners. It was obvious what he was doing, and comically magnified by him being 85-90lbs. He’d be even more friendly and well-behaved, tail wagging, imploring them to see he was a good boy. We lost track of the number of people who told us, “I never understood why people loved dogs so fiercely…until I met Remus.” A close friend of the family went from being afraid of dogs to sneaking him bits of steak in the span of one visit.

We invented a command for him: “Go settle.” We deployed this command when we didn’t need him in our lap. To him, it meant, “I need you to keep watch and keep me company.” Rem would retreat a polite distance of six to ten feet, plop down on the floor with a customary Shep groan, and watch us or nap.

Handsome boy. (Photo credit: Mom.)

He was docile, gentle, emotionally intelligent, and friendly, with a personality so strong that I think we forgot he was a dog. If he was lying in my way, all I had to do was say, “Rem, excuse me, please,” and he’d hop up to move a few feet over. We couldn’t help speaking to him like that, asking him about the weather and what book we ought to read next. I didn’t notice how much we did it until we brought home the collies – bubbly, spitfire personalities who always remind us that they are dogs. Rem was born a gentle old soul.

The last time I saw him was in September. The morning of my flight back to London, I did what I do every time I leave home: I crouched down at eye level. I told him he was my best boy. I gave him a thorough back scratch. I pet his face and gently folded his ears down, watching them spring back up. He did what he does every time I leave home: fixed me with a stare, licked under my chin, leaned on me, and gave me a smile.


All photos in this post were taken by my mother. Thank you for letting me use them, Mom, and for bringing Remus into our family. I love you.