Raising Funds for Papyrus

March 2021 marks ten years since Royan’s brother took his own life. We miss him greatly, and hope he knows how loved he still is.

In 2019 Royan lost his grandad and dad, six months apart. Over the years he has understandably struggled with his own mental health problems, and last August under the weight of all the grief and the added stress of 2020, he reached his lowest point. Thankfully, we were able to get support and his good days now outweigh the bad ones.

Society has come a long way in the last decade when it comes to talking about our mental health, but not far enough. Suicide is still the biggest killer of under 35s in the UK, and 75% of those who die by suicide in the UK are men. We know too many of you reading this have also lost someone to suicide and we want to do something to help prevent others from experiencing the same thing.

With all this on our minds and in our hearts, we’ve created a fundraiser which aims to raise £1000. This money will go to Papyrus – a charity working to prevent young suicide, and will help cover the costs of their helpline, text and email services. Please donate what you can and give the link a share.

www.justgiving.com/fundraising/r-bowerman

Supernatural: The End of an Era

One of my favourite TV shows of all time is coming to an end. It’s hard to express just what this show means to me, but I gave it a go in no less than 2000 words…

It was at some point between late 2007 and early 2008 that I first discovered Supernatural.

I was no older than 20 and the show would have been in its third season. I’d popped into my mum’s room one evening where she sat watching an episode of the show with my brother – Glen – who was then aged 15, and is now a 27 year-old husband and father!

I plonked myself down beside them and five minutes later I was hooked. In short, Supernatural is a genre-blending show following Sam and Dean Winchester played by Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles. They’re brothers who travel the road in their ’67 Impala… “Saving people, hunting things, the family business.” At least that’s how it started out.

This was back before on demand and catch-up so I ordered a boxset which included seasons one, two and three plus bonus material, and gots to the binge-watching. More than twelve years later (maybe closer to thirteen?) I’m still a fan. Mum and Glen didn’t keep up with it, but my aunty Jacki and cousin Yasmin were both fans and are still watching now, so we regularly discuss the show. One of the best things about a good TV series is that it brings people together. And Supernatural has done that in an unparalleled way for fans across the globe.

I watched the show each week and continued to buy the boxsets.

The Winchester boys were with me in 2009 when I moved into the YMCA and began to forge my own path – it was a difficult time. But getting lost in an episode where the boys took down a vamp nest or saved someone from a murderous spirit, provided me with some much-needed distraction. I was rooting for these characters to prevail against the odds, beat the bad and find the peace they were looking for.

I didn’t realise it at the time, but I too was fighting to find peace.

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They were there as I worked hard for my foundation degree at college, and they were there throughout 2011 – a year saturated with change and emotional upheaval. I left the YMCA at the start of 2012 and had four house moves over the space of 18 months… Supernatural helped sustain me. Not just the episodes, but I would find myself watching outtakes on YouTube and listening to the soundtrack – the show had given me a new appreciation for classic rock!

The boys were there when I struggled through university, battling with the undiagnosed illness I’d had since 2007 whilst dealing with more than my fair share of stress. I somehow managed to graduate in 2013 with a 2:1 and an award from the Student Union for my fundraising work. Supernatural was there for me when things weren’t going right, and it was there when they were.

I enjoy a lot of film and TV, but this show is integrated into my life like no other.

When I travelled to America in 2010, I spent a few days in Hollywood and took the WB Studio tour which was brilliant – one of my travel-highlights for sure, plus I got to see the iconic costumes from the show. Once my visit to California was done, I took a flight to Vancouver so I could attend a Supernatural convention!

It was my first con experience and a real eye opener meeting other fans. I don’t recall much from the convention itself, and I actually overslept on the day I was supposed to attend the Jensen/Jared talk (mystery illness strikes again), but Vancouver was wonderful and I saw some beautiful places! Why didn’t I attend a convention in the UK? Well, once I’d realised these conventions actually existed, I had missed the UK one that year, but I did attend one in 2012 with my mum – it was held in Birmingham so much closer to home! Jensen and Jared weren’t there but the guests were still amazing, especially Jim Beaver (Bobby) and Misha Collins (Castiel)… We were enamoured with Misha!

Elsewhere in my life…

Royan (my now fiancé) has never been interested in the show, but for Valentine’s Day many years ago he managed to get hold of a signed photo with signatures from Jensen, Jared and Misha, and to this day, it’s still one of the sweetest things he’s ever done! I keep it on the fridge 😊

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Fast forwarding a few years, I think it was Christmas 2015, Yasmin gifted me with Felicia Day’s memoir, You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost). Felicia joined the cast of Supernatural in season seven. I was a fan of her character in the show, but I also knew her from season seven of Buffy – so, I was going to love her regardless. But as I read her book, I found we had a lot in common and I related to her on a more personal level. I wanted to be friends with this woman! I’m not too shy to admit I had a real fan-girl moment when I tweeted about the book and Felicia ‘liked’ it. Best Christmas present ever, THANKS YAS!

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Towards the end of 2016 I came across an ad looking for voice actors for the fan-made Supernatural podcast drama: Supernatural GenderSWAP.

There’s a wealth of fan art online from fanfic and personal essays to illustrations and handmade prop replicas. You can purchase Supernatural themed scrunchies on Etsy and watch fanvids on YouTube. The creativity is astounding and this radio drama is no exception.

It’s a huge ongoing project where every episode of the show is recorded with voice actors, but Sam and Dean are Samantha and Deana. I’ve had an interest in voice acting for a long time and had taken a couple classes, so when I saw this ad I had to get involved. I had a small role on episode 2.01 – “In My Time Of Dying” as Nurse2. You can listen to it here, if you’re into Supernatural and/or audio dramas you won’t be disappointed. You can hear my terrible American accent at 31 minutes in. I’m credited as Rachel Collins (Royan’s surname) which I thought was more ‘stagey’ than Bowerman!

Watching the boys take down the monsters helped me defeat my own.

I’ve lived with depression and anxiety/OCD for most of my life. The depression comes and goes, the anxiety is around most of the time and is usually manageable, but the OCD is the real monster. I’ve had lots of therapy and am now (or currently, I should say) back in the driver’s seat. I own it, it does not own me.

But there was a period of time where the intrusive thoughts would keep me awake at night. As soon as my head hit the pillow, there they were… a queue of awful thoughts and visions ready to torture me from the inside. (And it became particularly boisterous while I attempted to treat my mystery illness which was identified as late-stage Lyme disease in 2016.) I tried all the usual things for drifting off to sleep plus a few unusual things and nothing was helping. I would try to list things from A-Z like foods or places, but that didn’t work either. I then started listing characters from Supernatural. AND. IT. WORKED.

The list was sparse at first, but I now have around 70 names memorised. The intrusions were strong so I had to find new ways to do it, listing character names in order of appearance and sometimes working from Z-A. It’s no small-task! 🤓

My mind would drift and I’d bring it back to the list, eventually calming my thoughts and nodding off to sleep. The intrusions aren’t currently a problem, so I don’t need to use the list every night like I had been doing for so long – but I’ll be forever grateful to the show and my passion for it because using this technique helped to keep me from drowning in bad thoughts.

It’s funny, because you’d think that a show with so much horror, violence and gore would be a bad idea for someone vulnerable to intrusive thoughts, but I can honestly say I’ve never had a Supernatural-related intrusive thought or nightmare!

I guess watching them take down their monsters, helped me fight my own. And I’m not alone in this, after writing this mammoth essay I decided to pick up a book about the show, Family Don’t End With Blood. It’s a collection of 25 letters and essays from fans, cast and crew expressing their gratitude for the show and each other and detailing how it has genuinely changed their lives. Probably sounds a little nuts to those of you who don’t ‘get it’ but reading this book will certainly open up your mind and get you right in the feels.

Supernatural is so much more than a show…

It’s a show about saving lives that has actually saved lives. It’s a show about family that makes you feel like a family: the #SPNFamily. It’s a show where the actors are close friends in real life, which is evident in their on-screen chemistry.

The cast and crew interact with fans online and at conventions, and they have a big social conscience that continues to inspire, resulting in a wealth of kindness, creativity and fundraising.

Misha co-founded Random Acts, a charity supporting and inspiring people all around the world. He also hosts a rather unique global scavenger hunt each year which includes some pretty weird and wonderful things. I took part in the hunt back in 2015, putting together a team of 15 friends both near and far, co-hosting with my friend Katie in Australia! We submitted a pretty impressive list of things, including this team moustache collage which was item #34…

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And last September I just happened to be in America for Supernatural Day – totally a thing! Hot Topic were selling a special Supernatural tee with proceeds going to Random Acts and supporting survivors of Hurricane Dorian. They/we raised a whopping $280,000!

These guys have been responsible for major fundraising and awareness work over the years, with regular campaigns and events and 2020 has been a big one for them.

Every now and then I’ll have a re-watch binge, a bit like a Disney and duvet day…

Except it takes much longer than a day to get through Supernatural! I was actually in the midst of a DVD re-watch during my MA creative writing studies in 2017 when I submitted a 1700-word article about the show for one of my feature writing projects. The tutor had never heard of Supernatural, but she graded the paper A+ so I must have done it justice! More recently I’ve been able to stream it with Amazon Prime, but they then removed it a few weeks ago – boooo! 😭

The show is now in its last season – season *FIFTEEN*

I have loved many a TV series from Buffy to Scrubs, from New Girl to GOT and TWD, but Supernatural has had a strong and constant presence in my life – for my entire twenties and then some!

It’s featured a wealth of stars like Jeffery Dean Morgan and Sterling K. Brown, and there are at least five cameos from the Buffy/Angel verse – including a whole episode centred on a married witch couple played by Charisma Carpenter and James Marsters aka Cordelia and Spike 🤩

Of course, some seasons are better than others, the writing has been somewhat questionable at times (but exceptional at others) and the ratings have understandably dropped since 2005 – but season 14 averaged 2.07 million US viewers (couldn’t find the UK stats), and that’s still A LOT of viewers.

I’ve stayed for the characters because like most Supernatural fans, I’m invested. We need to see how this ends!

The show has dealt with some pretty heavy topics, the kind you wouldn’t expect to find in a series about the paranormal, but it also manages to bring the jokes, and in addition to all that, it’s provided us with a wealth of GIFs. In fact, Supernatural is probably the most GIF-ed show of all time, there’s even a whole bunch of non-episode GIFs like this adorable clip from an EW photoshoot…

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Supernatural means a lot of things to a lot of people, and the fans are super passionate, so I’ve no doubt that the show will remain in our hearts and our Twitter feeds long after that final episode airs, but it’s going to be an emotional end.

It’s hard to convey what the show means to me or what it stands for. I began writing this blog at the start of the year, it soon turned into an essay and I’ve since been re-working it! But when forced to summarise I’d have to say… I’ve grown with the show. I’m a better version of myself because of it. Watching Supernatural has encouraged parts of my personality to shine that may not have surfaced otherwise. It’s influenced my writing and interests, it led me to my first convention (which led to my second and I have since been to a Buffy/Angel con and am a now a regular at LFCC) it even helped hone my organisational skills to lead a scavenger hunt across countries and time zones!

I guess I just want to thank everyone involved with the show, for more than a decade of entertainment, distraction, inspiration and connections… I’ll see you at the UK convention in September 2021 😊

Hopewell Shadows – the story so far, kinda.

I started writing a novel back in 2017. I was at the end of my Creative Writing MA, and for our dissertation we were required to submit the first 20-40,000 words of a novel.

A Dreamer’s Life was a short story I wrote during the first term.

It was popular amongst my classmates and I was encouraged to develop it into something bigger. So that’s what I did. I took A Dreamer’s Life, made huge changes and additions and ended up submitting Hopewell Shadows at a little over 20,000 words.

It was far more difficult that I could have imagined – beginnings usually are.

I remember being mentally entangled in the most trivial things, and feeling extremely frustrated when I just couldn’t write.

At times, it felt like I was trying to squeeze water from a dry sponge. I learnt that you can’t force creativity and trying to do so will only cause you more stress. You may have a month-long dry patch but when the rain comes, it could pour for days and you’ll back on track in no time. Another thing I realised I was doing with my writing was something that I can on occasion do elsewhere in life, and that’s the tendency to make things harder for myself.

I was wrapped up in trying to make the pieces of the puzzle fit, adding more in to make something in particular work, and then realised (far later than I should have) that I didn’t need that something in particular at all. So out it would go, along with its complicated baggage, excessive fluff and my unnecessary writer’s stress!

Once I got past the initial humps, things began to fall into place.

I was happy with what I submitted, but having worked on its development over the last two-three years since finishing the degree, I can confidently say that I’d be embarrassed to read my dissertation. It has come a LONG way and things continue to change, which means answering the question, “What’s your novel about?” isn’t as simple as you’d think! With that in mind, I took a few moments to mull it over and have come up with the following…

Hopewell Shadows: the most current elevator pitch.

Hopewell Shadows is an emotional thriller with an element of science fiction and a sprinkling of the supernatural. It’s set in 1980s New England and follows the journey of Charlotte Summers, a young woman betrayed by her loved ones and struggling to uncover the truth about her childhood following traumatic events and an experimental treatment gone wrong. With the help of a shady neuroscientist and his dream recording device, what Charlotte seeks could be within reach, but at what cost?

As I post this blog, I’ve just written Chapter 22 and am almost at 50,000 words.

I sometimes feel like I should have finished writing by now – it’s been almost three years! But then I remind myself that I haven’t just been writing, because I’ve spent countless hours editing and researching, I have a day job and books to read (because all good writers must read), and a whole life outside of writing.

We were given plenty of advice/suggestions during our course some of which included, “You must be selfish with your time!” and “Get up at 6am if you have to…”

Well, that approach may work for some, but it’s not for me. If I was to get up and start typing at 6am every day not only would I be miserable, but the quality of my work would be poor and I’d be exhausted. My day job is 90% computer based and tends to leave me feeling drained, so writing after work isn’t ideal either… instead, I usually get my best writing done at the weekends and sometimes I’ll take annual leave to stay home and write!

For me, writing is not the number one priority – finding a good balance is.

So I’m okay with the time it’s taking, and you should be too. If you’ve been thinking of your progress as ‘slow’ or you’ve had an idea in the works for years but haven’t yet started, try not to beat yourself up about it (easier said than done, I know). The thing is, you can’t force these things because they’ll only happen when you’re truly ready for them.

The advice about being selfish with your time, is true in a way though. If you’re ready to write, then that’s what you should do – the housework can wait, those texts don’t need an immediate response, and the dog can be walked later on. Whilst you can’t force it, you shouldn’t deny it either!

In the Face of Adversity

I usually enjoy writing an end of year blog post, but I found it difficult this year.

The last twelve months have been some of the most stressful, trying times of my life for reasons I can’t really share on my blog. (Although I am directly affected by the problem, it isn’t mine to discuss publicly). I will just say that ‘it’ has had a terrible impact and has soured almost every part of the year, which is partly why writing this felt difficult – because it seems dishonest to talk about all the good things whilst avoiding the metaphorical elephant in the room.

Regardless of the elephant, I have still managed to put myself out there and attempt to live my best life. And that is something worth sharing.

My 2019 calendar was filled with things to look forward to and enjoy, so despite the pitfalls that I can’t discuss, I still hold a real sense of accomplishment when thinking about the last twelve months.

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I have been to Paris, completed an escape room, seen three shows at the theatre, attended two weddings, visited Bournemouth for an evening out, enjoyed FOUR nostalgia-rich concerts and a local music festival, attended an LDUK conference with one the world’s top Lyme-treating physicians and the day after that conference I drove back into London to meet friends for lunch – that’s two trips to London in one weekend! Something I would never have done last year.

I had an absolute blast at London Film and Comic Con in July, and there was an abundance of time spent with family and friends throughout the year. We welcomed Rupert to the family in May and I cannot imagine my life without this cheeky and loving poochon pup.

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I spent a week in New Hampshire, which was both wonderful and a real test of strength… 💪

Other travel mishaps include an attempt to visit Prague, but I guess that trip just wasn’t meant to be.

My last big outing of the year was to Winter Wonderland with Royan and we managed to have a really great day out even if we did accidently walk the long way round to Hyde Park and then have zero sleep at a very expensive hotel!

So what else did I get up to?

I stepped down from managing LDUK’s public Facebook page, freeing up some much needed headspace and spare time. I finally swapped my car for an automatic to lessen the strain on my sciatica, and I completed a course of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy for OCD which reared its ugly head towards the end of 2018. I live with it daily of course, but sometimes it flares up and takes over. I’m pleased to say the CBT worked and the OCD is firmly back in its place. I own it, it does not own me.

If you’re in the Bucks area and struggling with mental health I highly recommend self-referring through Healthy Minds.

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I managed another term of choir, doing something good for my physical and mental health that I really enjoy. I wasn’t able to keep up with the last term of the year, but I do plan on going back in January.

I’ve spent countless hours reading, and watching film and TV. I signed up for a writer’s magazine subscription and I had a heavy edit of my novel-in-progress. I signed up to the Curable app to help manage symptoms and have found the science really interesting to listen to. If the idea that the mind can heal the body intrigues you then I recommend taking a look at the Curable app.

I made lots of progress at work and have never felt so professionally fulfilled.

On top of my normal duties, I have also taken on the role of leading the company’s Corporate and Social Responsibility Team which amongst other things, means planning lots of fundraising initiatives and organising activities for staff to take part in.

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The aforementioned elephant was the reason behind several health setbacks, and when coupled with the loss of Royan’s granddad in May and his dad in November, we’ve understandably had our work cut out for us. We have a handle on it now though and with a bit of luck, 2020 will be a smoother ride. We won’t be getting married next year as was the original plan, and we won’t be moving house anytime soon, but we can now address the elephant with the correct support and work out a way to move forward.

With everything going on, it’s not surprising that I wasn’t able to keep up with the gym, choir or actually writing my novel.

But that’s all in the plan for 2020.

Keeping active whilst living with the impact of late-stage Lyme disease is no easy feat. It takes a lot of meticulous planning and organising to ensure I’m pacing myself and keeping my head above water. Some things will slide, but prioritising is key. Learning when to say ‘no’ is also key.

I actually consider the fact that I am still managing a 30-hour work week to be a small miracle, so how I have also managed to enjoy so much of my spare time (whilst living with the elephant) is almost unfathomable. Especially when I think about how much time I have also spent in bed barely able to leave the house.

This year has taught me that I am capable of more than I thought.

It has made me believe in myself, it has opened my eyes to the possibilities that lie ahead and there’s no turning back now.

September Travels

Travelling is stressful at the best of times, but how do you manage when you have a chronic illness? I did everything I could to ensure a smooth experience, but you know what they say about the best laid plans…

Back in 2006 I went on a big adventure across the pond to work at a summer camp in New Hampshire. It was a transformative experience that helped shape the adult I was becoming and I built several friendships that have stood the test of both time and (mega) distance – shout out to Katie in Australia!

My last trip to Camp was in 2011, a full eight years ago. Since then many a thing has happened, including the worsening of health challenges, and as a result my confidence with travel has taken a blow… so much so that I turned down a trip to New York last April.

But an old friend passed away this year and his memorial was being held at Camp over a weekend in September. It was time for a visit.

Continue reading “September Travels”

E of F week eleven: Parasitic Pain

Ughhh this was by far my worst short story. So bad that I haven’t opened it since and don’t plan to either! We had read American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis, and Haunted: a novel of stories by Chuck Palahniuk. The theme was horror but our brief was to write with an unreliable narrator as Bret Easton Ellis did with American Psycho. FYI I do not recommend Haunted to anyone who considers themselves ‘easily disturbed’. It’s intrusive-thoughts central up in there.

Our unreliable narrator pieces were discussed during week twelve, the last class of the module. My piece was called Parasitic Pain and was overly complicated, bouncing around characters and time way too much. Such a shame it was our last written piece of the term and I didn’t ‘go out’ on a high but I learnt a valued lesson – don’t try to be too clever and don’t fuss over the particulars too much. It’s called fiction for a reason!

The books for that week were Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges, and Catch-22 by Joseph Heller. I started Catch-22 but didn’t get very far at all. I must have been too busy making a mess of my short story!

That’s the end of my Elements of Fiction journey, thank you for keeping up with me! You can read a summary of the module and what I learnt in this blog post from December 2016. Where does the time go??

Rachel xx

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E of F week ten: The Fridge of Adventure

The theme of week ten was point of view and we had been asked to read Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka, and Vertigo by WG Sebald. So our brief was simply to produce something ‘uncanny’ for discussion the following week.

I had fun with this and wrote a children’s story about a girl called Hollie who takes a risk and joins Princess Ella on a quest to slay a beast. It’s had a few changes as Princess Ella was originally also named Hollie (it’ll make sense when you gets to the reading) and at one point the title was actually The Land of Animayshun.

I really like this one, there’s a big Once Upon a Time feel to it. Usually, re-reading past work is cringe-a-f but now it’s had the necessary grammar and spelling edits, I can actually read through The Fridge of Adventure (PDF) and feel like I’m enjoying it.

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E of F week nine: Girl Talk

By the end of November 2016 we were nine weeks into E of F. We had a Wednesday morning lecture on writing for children, led by Benjamin Zephaniah and had been asked to read two of his novels. By this point I was seriously struggling to keep up with the reading and couldn’t locate either of the books in the local libraries so skipped them all together. They’re still on my ‘want to read’ list.

The novels from the previous week were both around 3/400 pages long and I only managed to read one of those – The Destructives, by Matthew De Abaitua who just happened to be our tutor (it was a very good read)! The second sci-fi novel was All The Birds In The Sky by Charlie Jane Anders, and I didn’t get round to reading that till June 2017!

Any way back to writing for children… we were asked to write something within the genre that captured an element of fairy/folk tales. I started thinking about The Ugly Duckling and that’s how Girl Talk came about. There’s a sprinkling of Sabrina the Teenage Witch and a little Fight Club too… never thought those two things would be seen in the same sentence! Here it is – Girl Talk (PDF).

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E of F week eight: A Dreamer’s Life

Our fifth assignment was given during global fiction week. We were tasked with reading The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Dâiaz and The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga.

Writing global fiction wasn’t a practical option given our word count and limited resources, so that week we were tasked with producing a short story with a time lapse. I wrote a slightly dark piece about neglected children told from the angle of one of the characters, flash back/forward style.

We skipped assignments in week six and seven as we had mock submissions and tutorials. But we picked the short stories back up again with science fiction in week eight.

Our assignment was to write something with an element of science fiction and to ask ourselves – ‘what if?’

Continue reading “E of F week eight: A Dreamer’s Life”

E of F week four: Megan

Our fourth writing assignment for Elements of Fiction was about relationships. We had read and discussed On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan, and Summertime by JM Coetzee, and were tasked with writing a short story that involved a love story taking place over a one year period of time.

On Chesil Beach was a very interesting read. There’s much to say about this novel but in summary, it’s set in the 1960s and written with intense depth and psychological insight that threatens to make you embarrassed-by-proxy. I’d recommend it to anyone who likes complicated characters filled with anxiety, detailed locations and cultural nuances of the time. The movie adaptation has just been released but I’m yet to see it.

My short story was originally called Teenage Dreams and has undergone several drafts. It started out at 1200 words with a boat load of cringe that then slightly worsened when I rewrote and submitted it for mock-marking in the middle of the term, at 1800 words.

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Cringe.Cringe.Cringe.

I’ve since had another crack at Teenage Dreams so here it is, now called Megan (PDF). It’s written from the perspective of a man who wishes he had treated his first love differently. I took a little inspiration from On Chesil Beach and it’s roughly 1400 words long. Enjoy!

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