New Beginnings

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See the warm glow and beautiful autumnal light in these photos? That was about the last time I thought about this poor blog of mine. Actually no that's not true, I've thought about it a lot, but that was the last time I had a chance to consider creating anything for it. I was in France with Tania and we were talking about content and cameras and being creative for ourselves, it was the best of times.

This past year, 2017, was a rough one for my blog. It was the year I went freelance and all of a sudden had to decide where I wanted to focus my priorities. I had become a full time freelancer to work on building myself up as a photographer and that's where I put all my attention, every little bit of it, and so this little space of mine took a back seat.

Now that the new year has started and 2018 is in full swing, I feel a bit more on top of things and quite excited to start sharing again. It's important as this is the space where I get to be creative for myself instead of for my clients. Being creative for yourself is important for growth I think, so I want to keep at it and not give up on this little blog of mine which has already been responsible for so much of my own personal growth - I count it as one of the top three driving factors that pushed me to become a photographer! If it weren't for the work I poured into this blog all those years ago, the feedback I got from so many of you on my photos and the encouragement, I may not have noticed that I was any good - or at least good enough to make a career out of it!

For the past few months I've been coming up with ideas on how and what to share here. Last year I tried YouTube which just didn't light me up in the way I hoped it would - it didn't stoke my creative fire so instead of carrying on with it for the sake of my pride, I let it go. I love filming and I love editing, but the content I wanted to share just didn't seem to fit the YouTube way of doing things. I don't love failing at new projects (and who knows maybe I'll pick it up again one day) but it just wasn't for me. Instead I've been daydreaming about some other ideas which I'm hoping to bring to light in the coming months.

I've got a long list of questions to answer in full blog posts on here, I've got a ton of stories and photos to share, and I've got a few new ideas that I'd like to try out as far as content creation goes - but if YOU have anything you'd like to see or hear from me, let me know in a comment below.

It feels so good to be back - it's going to be a good year and I can't wait to share it with you!

p.s. do you like my new blog design?

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Norway Road Trip Photo Diary

Shooting in Norway is like nothing else I've ever experienced - it's the light... it's just so, different! It's very clear and brilliant for one thing, but there were so many blue tones to work with when it came to editing that I felt a little baffled at first, but I'm so happy with the way things turned out.

When it comes to my birthday I'm a big fan of plan tickets over presents, so this year Adam and I decided to plan a road trip across Norway (width wise, not length wise) from Bergen to Oslo in just five days - and it worked out perfectly. It follows the same route as that epic train journey, but a car so you can stop and take pictures!

My favourite part was days one, two and three: wandering around Bergen, arriving at our second Airbnb on the second day, and then driving even further through the fjords on day three. Day four it was so brilliant and sunny outside, which of course is lovely but frustrating for me because bright and sunny are not my favourite photograph conditions. And also day five was wonderful, walking through the forests near Oslo - that place was pure magic! 

I have to say though, if I had to pick one favourite moment it would be our second Airbnb on the dairy farm! Our host, Knut, was the sweetest man ever and the cabin was probably my favourite Airbnb of all time. Not to mention the beautiful scenery! I mean, we could look out of the window at the foot of our bed at a glacier! And best part: we got to meet Knut's cows, he even had a few calfs who were keen to be snuggled - of course I was only too happy to oblige! I spent the rest of the trip smelling like cow but that definitely doesn't bother me.

If you want to follow the same route and take a look at the places we stayed, you can find the links below. Each morning we chose the most scenic route on the map, stopped for snacks along the way (bonus: early October is apple picking season so I basically ate a whole pie to myself), and looked out for the best spots to stop and take some pictures! Here's the links:

Cosy little place in Bergen for our first night.

My favourite place, on a dairy farm in the beautiful fjords!

Old log cabin with a log fire.

Traditional cabin with no heating and no electricity.

One thing we made a mistake on though was not planning our food. Each evening we didn't make it to a super market on time before it closed so we were stuck eating petrol station cardamom buns, which were pretty good actually, and apple pie. Not ideal for five days but we definitely didn't starve! 

One Epic Day in Wales

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I guess it depends on how long you've been reading here, or following me on Instagram, but it's probably not a surprise to you how much I love Wales - how beautiful I think it is, in all of it's wild and untamed landscapes, friendly people and stunning natural beauty. I'm sorry United Kingdom, but I think Wales wins my heart.

I was on my way back from Canada with some serious post-travel blues hitting me - maybe it was the pile of work I had ahead of me and maybe I was a little reluctant to exchange my camera for my laptop just yet. Either way I thought maybe it was a good idea to jump in the car and head out of London to some wilder places - ease myself back into it, you know? I called up my friend Tania (also about to hit her own post-travel blues) and with almost zero prompting she was in for the adventure and the next day we were off!

The trouble with last minute adventures is, unless you want to sleep in your car, they kind of require some intense pre-planning. The first place I tend to look is Canopy and Stars because I know they usually have something magical going by way of accommodation, which of course they did. Staying in a slate cabin in Pwllheli, right on the coast next the the Wales Coast Path was perfect. It's a pop-up hosted by Epic Retreats and we stayed in the Slate Cabin with a view right out across the water below the Snowdonia mountain range. 

After hours in the car from London to Pwllheli we relaxed in our cabin for a bit, just staring out at the sea, before heading out to walk part of the Wales Coast Path. There are times I become so frustrated with my camera because no photo can do certain light and colours justice, and the blues and the greens of this section of the Welsh coastline are just unbelievable - you just have to see it with your own eyes. We walked for an hour or so, looked out for what wildlife we could find and kept going until it got too dark for us to see the seagulls coming home from a day on the sea.

As we were walking back to our cabin we heard music playing from a tent close by and found other campers gathered around a band playing Welsh folk songs. The whole thing just gave me that tingly feeling you get when everything is just so magical and you couldn't have planned it better yourself. And as much as I would like to take credit for planning such a wonderful experience, I can't - we just booked the place last minute and stumbled into it - but that's pretty much how all my trips to Wales have been, something wonderful always just happens.

It felt like going back in time a little, listening to that music - like it might have been years ago when there were no phones, no TVs, and just your own people to gather with and make your own entertainment. After an evening of listening to Roy Griffiths and his band Hen Fegin play dreamy folk songs about the Welsh people and the sea, we had a couple of local Welsh IPAs (Cwrw Glyndwr to be specific, it's delicious) and went to bed only to wake up to a perfectly clear morning right in front of us at the foot of our bed.

After a quick breakfast and a strong coffee we were off again, this time with a mission. I've been wild swimming a few times over the years, and we decided to challenge ourselves to find somewhere amazing to go for a swim in Snowdonia National Park - after coming to terms with the idea that it might be a little cold. Have you ever experienced the complete satisfaction of going wild swimming and then warming up afterwards with a cup of tea and some warm socks? It's one of my favourite things.

We drove into Snowdonia National Park and looked out for Watkin Path, which would take us to the spot we were looking for - a waterfall along the path up Snowdon (not too far up though, only about half an hour). We wandered down from the main path and found a secret spot to change into our swimming costumes and jump into a little pool just downstream from the waterfall. It was chilly, but it was also just perfect. It was the good kind of cold, the kind that gets your blood moving and your heart rate up and makes you feel truly alive.

After drying ourselves off (we forgot towels and only had Molly's dog towels in the boot of my car - whoops! But at least they were clean), we headed into Beddgelert for a cup of tea and a snack before heading off again.

I can't tell you how peaceful and how tired I was at the end of that day. We swam, pulled over every five minutes to take photos of the beautiful landscape in the fading summer light, stopped to take in every view and breathe the air that smelled of green things and the sea, got lost on purpose, talked about future trips to Wales, and laughed so hard we fell headfirst into a Welsh stream - the last one I caught on video and play again and again when I need cheering up, it still makes me laugh.

These are the moments we'll remember when we're older, the kind of adventures you never regret taking. Wales will always be such a huge source of inspiration to me, and I love it more and more after each visit.

Thanks for having me, Visit Wales - you helped me make some of my favourite memories.

 

 

Win an epic Camera bundle with Visit Wales!!! Visit Wales are offering one lucky person to win an this incredible piece of kit from Fujifilm, the Fuji X-T20. A stylish, powerful yet lightweight mirrorless camera with tilting LCD touchscreen with 4K video Film Simulation modes! Take your photography to the next level, and enter today Click here to enter >

Last Days of Summer

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I'm not sure if I can even stand to hear myself complain about the end of summer, yet again, but as it's only September and I've had to turn the heating on once or twice already to defrost my fingers and get work done, I'm sure you can tell that I really want to.

But counteracting a negative with a positive, I feel so incredibly lucky to have friends who invite me in to their family homes and make me feel welcome. Living so far away from my own family, my heart aches sometimes to feel like I belong amongst a group of people - and there's no better way to feel a sense of belonging than when people make you so completely welcome in their homes.

A few weeks ago Tania organised a trip for us to go and visit her boyfriend's family just a short drive West from London - maybe about an hour or so from Bristol I think? We spent a whole four days hanging out with Michael's awesome cousin, eating toast, going for walks with the dogs, swimming in rivers and playing the world's stupidest but (also my favourite) card game called gubs.

I don't think any of us realised then that that would be the last weekend of summer. The last outdoor bonfire where we didn't need coats, the list river swim, the last humid evening sunset, and the last of that golden summer light.

Of course each season has it's magic, and autumn is a second to summer on my list of favourites, but I do dread winter in London - so I'll be holding these memories close for the foreseeable future, and bringing them to mind when my fingers go completely numb in a few months time. 

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What's in My Travel Bag - The Wash Bag Edition

For a while now I've been wanting to put together a few tips on travel, packing, planning... that sort of thing. I've been traveling a lot over the past few years and when I started out I had a long check list that I would print out and go through item by item as I was packing for a trip. The way I packed for a work trip was definitely different from the way I packed for a holiday, what with all the equipment and clothes required for weeks away from home. Now I've reduced it down to a fine art, this whole packing business, and I hope you find these tips useful for whatever kind of adventure you're getting yourself into!

Starting out with my favourite bit of my suitcase, my wash bag. I tend to think of my wash bag as my mini spa, a little self care kit that will revive me after a day of running around getting sweaty and hauling several pounds worth of equipment through the bush/city/slum, or wherever... Having a little bit of time to myself to take care of my body at the end of the day has filled me up with relief and gratitude more times than I can say. Here's what keeps me going:

1. The bag itself comes from Anokhi in Jaipur. Any bag that can fit a lot of stuff is perfect for me - it doesn't need compartments, I just need to be able to pack it and squish it into a bag. It needs to be washable, but have a plastic inside so that when something leaks (and it will), that something doesn't go everywhere.

2. Refillable bottles from Muji are what I use to fill up on my own shampoos, conditioner, etc... These for shampoo, conditioner and body wash, and these for hair mask and body lotion. I'm not too keen on whatever you can buy in travel size and the idea of buying a mini bottle that gets chucked away when it's empty makes me cringe. I use this OGX shampoo and conditioner and this hair mask - the last of which is definitely a necessity if you have long, bleached hair in a dry heat and you hope to, at some point, get a brush through it.

3. For body and face... I've been trying to teach myself how to make homemade, natural beauty products and so far the only one I've had any success with is this body wash which also doubles as a face wash - it's super moisturising. I tried to make homemade shampoo and it did not go well.

4. Sun protection is a must must must at a minimum of factor 50, especially when you're pale as anything and look like you would be better suited to living underground. This is my new favourite face SPF, I used to use this one which is also good but it's more liquid so it tends to travel down my face and get into my eyes. Lately I've been using this body SPF and so far it hasn't let me down - unless I forget to re-apply.

5. For moisturiser, I love all Aesop products, so I use this one because it smells amazing. I'm not a fan of flowery smells which seem to make up most women's beauty products and often make me feel sick or give me a headache, so Aesop is perfect for me because it's all nutty and herb smells with understated floral scents. 

6. Perfume is also from Aesop and I wear it always, when I'm working and when I'm traveling for any other reason - it makes me feel so good and a little more myself no matter how flat out I am.

7. Aromatherpay is something that has only recently become such a big part of my travel routine, I use this flight therapy because I'm a terrible flyer and it cheers me up when I'm getting all anxious about having to sit still on a plane for a million hours. Also my friend gave me a few samples from her doTERRA kit, and I use them at random whenever I feel like I need to chill the F out.

8. Samples. I always load up on a bunch of samples, especially when I can charm the Aesop guys into giving me extra - which is rare because my powers to charm anyone are basically non existent. But any kind of mini facemask, oil or exfoliant samples I can get, I bring with me. The exfoliant in particular because I've been known to stick my face in some gross things to get a shot (the grossest being a two week old elephant carcass I think...), and it's nice to be able to scrub whatever is under my skin, out.

9. Face oil is my new favourite thing! I use it daily whether I'm traveling or not, and then wipe the excess on the back of my hands to give them some extra care. I love this one because while it says it's rosehip, I think it smells more like toasted seeds or something. I got given a sample at an event one time and it's taken me about a year to track down which one it was. I've had other face oils before and they all felt too heavy - this one feels like magic!

10. Body lotion for me can be just coconut oil, if I put it on at night and sleep in it so it's off by morning. Although sometimes I find coconut oil and smell a bit gross after a while, and it's definitely not going to stay solid in a warm country so you risk getting it EVERYWHERE. Plus it can be bulky and hard to find way to carry it. So sometimes I just fill up one of those Muji squeeze bottles with some of this, it's expensive but it's a massive bottle and one usually lasts me about six months. Also I'm a fan of this hand moisturiser: 

11. Makeup! I don't wear it every day, and usually half way through a trip I give up, but if I'm feeling like I need to feel a little more together I use this mascara, because it's not quite so waterproof that it won't come off in the shower without needing to use a special cleanser, but it also won't come off when you get stuck in a monsoon downpour - I've tested that. And I use this shimmery cheek stuff when I feel like putting in any kind of an effort, would you call it a highlighter? I don't know - but with just these two things I definitely feel a bit more fancy, which is nice sometimes. Oh and this lip balm, because it can de-chap any lip overnight.

12. The rest is just toothbrush, toothpaste, nail clippers (because there's nothing worse than not being able to cut your nails!!!), hair elastics (these for topnots, these for everything else), and tampons or pads if you prefer along with a little bag you may have to keep them in if where you're staying doesn't have an easy way to dispose of them - yup, this happens.

And then here's a fun fact, I don't pack deodorant because I don't need it! I have a genetic variant called ABCC11 which means I don't produce whatever body odour bacteria like to feed on - which means I never produce that particular smell. It also means I don't really produce much ear wax. Bodies are weird.

Photos and styling by Tania

What's in My Travel Bag

A kind of home. Canada Photo Diary.

I left Canada when I was young with a broken heart and every intention of going back as soon as I could. I traveled to the north of England for university and cried every night for a month because I was so home sick - I missed my friends, I'd just sold my horse and it broke my heart, I missed my life. But slowly over time I built a new life for myself without even realising it. For the next five years I walked such a rocky, slippery path that was the most challenging part of my life up until that point, although I didn't realise it at the time - I was becoming myself.

I did go back to Canada. For a summer at first, and then a quick passing visit, and then a four year gap, and then I started dating a Canadian boy (spoiler alert: my future husband) who grew up a few streets over from me. It always makes me laugh that I traveled half the world to marry someone I met when I was eight.

But somehow between that first summer and now, over a decade has passed and I've spent almost no time roaming the city that held my heart so many years ago. It has been a long time since it felt like home and while I loved that time in my life, I couldn't wish for it back again - only because what I have now is so amazing. The life I've created for myself is so much better.

This visit I had a little more time to myself, and I wandered around taking it all in. A part of me realised I'd been holding it at arms length for so long because I almost didn't want to remember, in case it was painful. But it wasn't in the end. I just remembered how much I used to love it and how it used to feel like home. It doesn't anymore and that's ok, it doesn't always have to feel painful to let things go. It feels like a different kind of home now, mostly a home to so many people I love - and a wonderful place to keep returning to.

Wales Photo Diary

I think one of the reasons I love Wales so much is because it's so moody and temperamental - the weather I mean. I love a grey sky, big dark clouds, the threat of rain - if I never had to work with a blue sky I wouldn't mind. I love blue sky and sunshine for myself, but for my photography I prefer a brewing storm or golden hour every second of the day - not to be demanding or unreasonable. So when Adam and I visited Wales a little while ago and it was nothing but blue skies and sunshine I was a little thrown!

But Pembrokeshire and St David's is just beautiful, rain or sun it's glorious and if I could afford to buy a house anywhere in the UK (lols) then I think I would opt for there - ok maybe as a location for a second home because my beloved London Fields would take precedence.

Adam's parents were visiting and they hired a little cottage in a town called Solva for us all to stay in. We wandered the beach and laughed at Molly as she played in the ocean and mistook the buoys for giant tennis balls - we even found some alpacas in a field just down the road! 

Next we visited Ramsey Island which is a beautiful conservation area and paradise for some rare birds, and it comes complete with wild ponies!! If it hadn't been brilliant sunshine the whole time it would have been one of my photography dreams come true - so I'm going to head back in the autumn when we're guaranteed a storm cloud or two. I mentioned on Instagram where we were and it was actually Emma from @fieldandnest who recommended we visit Ramsey Island - don't you just love the internet?

And finally, Haverfordwest for the most brilliant golden hour of all time. Ok so maybe there are benefits to having a storm free sky...

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Senegal Photo Diary

This time around, visiting Senegal, it felt like a completely different country. The last time I was on a shoot there was almost fifteen months ago and I was in such a different place - it was over the anniversary of Robert's death I was struggling a bit. Everything felt just a little bit hard and a little bit sad. I was ok, but still a bit raw, and looking back I can see how that added a lens to the way I was looking at everything. But last week as I was traveling and shooting I felt so differently, I was much more positive and relaxed - the challenges didn't seem so big.

Senegal in general however, is a more challenging country to work in. For me as a photographer, trying to get the shots I like to get - it's not easy. I'm not sure what it is but while some love the camera, kids especially, other's almost seem to hate it and when I ask for permission for a shot and get a "no" it usually feels like there's a bit of anger behind it. I asked Justice, my local contact, what it was about and as a photographer himself, he said he didn't know - he had never experience that. But what I've discovered is that each photographer's experience of a place is different and that's down to so many factors.

But beyond anything, it's an absolutely stunning country with beautiful people. And I mean beautiful! They're stunning. It always feels safe, relaxed and the golden hour there is one of the most beautiful. Check out the vlog below to see what I mean:

Photographing Pakistan

Pakistan is one of those funny countries where I tried so hard to get a trip there for years, and since that first visit I've gone back twice. And I'm going again next week! I thought I would go that first time and it would be a one time only thing - but here I am again all nonchalant about catching a flight to Lahore like it's no big deal. But really it has become so normal these days. 

I always get asked questions about safety and being afraid when I travel to Pakistan and truthfully it feels as safe as anywhere else I've traveled on a shoot. The only difference I find from my other trips is that I have to keep my head covered in the more rural communities and I have to wear long sleeves, we tend to not linger in any one location for more than a few hours, and I can't go wandering off alone. But having said that I've never actually felt afraid of anyone or any situation, I mean at least not afraid of the people. Shooting down a mine isn't exactly a relaxing experience but at least that's a threat I'm subjecting myself to - it's entirely my choice.

We travel along a pristine motorway to our locations, we stop for KFC, chat about where serves the best brownie in Lahore, and I laugh about a chain called Butt Sweets because I basically have the humor of a 14 year old boy - although that also may be sleep deprivation. It all feels very... normal. And it makes me think of how influenced we are by the news, and how much that dictates our fear. There are problems, but they're not "news" as such, they're just ongoing situations - similar to the ones we find everywhere these days, even on our own doorsteps...

The people I'm here to photograph though, they live truly harsh lives. The coal miners are stuck in a way of life that is so isolated and lonely. The women raising their children in a slum and spending their days collecting garbage, they have bruises on their face and they looks so, so exhausted. But from the moment I arrive they're all smiles, the coal miners try to look serious for their photos but they burst out laughing and soon everyone is in fits of giggles, including me. The women are serious, but as soon as you show an interest in their story they're keen to show off their kids and their home - making each other laugh while the little ones hang off my arms trying to look through my view finder to see what I'm seeing.

If I've learned anything from shooting for charities over the past few years, it's that the adverts you see on the bus or on the TV - there's so much more to the life behind that sad looking photo. And that photo, while it's true, the picture it paints is sometimes a disservice. It's too one dimentional. A life in need of help and support is not always a life without love and laughter, it's not all misery and despair, more often its a life without choice or opportunity. And making change isn't about giving things or solving problems; it's about clearing some room for freedom, for opportunity, and giving people the chance to have some options, to make an informed choice.

p.s. my Q&A post is coming up next so keep an eye out! And if you have any last minute questions about my work, or photography or anything, leave them in a comment below.

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One Week in Jaipur

Looking back on these photos I still can’t quite believe December was only last month – it feels a whole world away now! I had to be in Nepal and Pakistan for work and with only a week in between the two trips it seemed so pointless to return to London. So I took a week-long layover in India and hired a taxi for the three and a half hour drive to Jaipur.

Jaipur is like my refuge in the east, and whenever I’m in-between trips or I just need some down time while I’m working I always call up my mum’s friend Devena and ask if I can come to stay for a bit. Her house, which is also a bed and breakfast by the way, is so beautiful and relaxing. And because I always arrive there in the midst of a chaotic work trip, it always feels like heaven on earth to me. She always feeds me up, lets me sleep, and gives me lots of advice on places to go and things to do. And because it’s an artist’s retreat there are always so many interesting people to meet and talk to.

This time was a bit special however, because Adam came to meet me for the week in between my two trips. It was his first time in India and I was so excited to show him around and see if he would love it as much as I do. It’s one of those countries I spend time in where I feel instantly at home, and no pressure for him! but I’m sure he knew how important it was for me that he liked it too.

I’m hoping that the next time we go we can travel around a bit more. I’ve been to India so many times but I rarely get to travel as a tourist and there’s so many parts of the country I would still love to see. But until then, here are a few of my photos from our time in Jaipur…

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Visiting Nepal

Nepal marked the start of my three week journey away from home - three weeks, three different countries. Here is a photo diary from my trip around Nepal...

My time in Nepal went so quickly, I was there for a job and we flew into Kathmandu one evening and flew out the next morning to Nepalgunj. The thing with working and traveling is that you don't really get a minute to breathe and take it all in - I had barely registered that I was actually in Kathmandu before I had to leave again. I feel like 40 years from now, if someone asks if I have ever been to Nepal I might answer "I think so...?". It all went by in the blink of an eye.

Working in remote communities off the beaten path means A LOT of driving. Every trip I go on involves at least one five hour car journey and it's always such a good way to see a country. And Nepal is seriously beautiful. The people, the light, the landscape... all of it is a dream for any photographer.

I did have a few hours to myself to wander around one of the communities we visited at sunset, and that is the part of this trip that I will remember the most - making friends and watching the sun go down. That and flying from Kathmandu to Delhi over the Himalayas, drinking Nepalese tea which is the sweetest of all the teas, and dropping my phone in a (clean, thank goodness) toilet in Kathmandu - that moment before you have to plunge your hand into a toilet is just not something I would wish on anyone. My phone lasted one more week but it finally died on the second part of my trip. But in other news, yeay iphone 7 plus!!

Happiness, not in another place but in this place...
Not for another hour but for this hour.
- Walt Whitman

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Kenya and Life on the Move + a Question

Only a few months ago I'm positive I was talking about how quiet life has been lately - I'm sure of it. And yet here I am, horribly behind on posting about my travels because I've been on the move with no time for writing! 

And now here I am in Nepal, looking back on my first trip to Kenya this year in October, and wondering seriously about where time has gone.

It's not unusual for me to have peaks and troughs where travel is concerned, but I will say that this is the most intense collection of trips I've ever done. By January I will have been on fourteen long-haul flights in three months and I wish I could tell you that I have by now mastered the art of sleeping in economy class, but I haven't. 

And while these photos from Kenya were only taken a month ago, it feels like a lifetime. Which makes me a little sad actually. While I will never forget these people and places for as long as I live, the Maasai women who invited me into their home for tea, the school kids who over-posed so sweetly and hilariously for photos, it all does go by in a bit of a blur. I know I've said it before but I would love to immerse myself for a while in a place and really get to know it, to tell it's story slowly and carefully - not in a rush.

But that's just the way it goes in this job (not always, but usually), you don't get paid to linger, you get paid to work and work bloody hard and long hours to get as much as you can as fast as you can.

And on that note, I have a question for you... do you have any questions for me? I get asked a lot about working as a photographer - what it entails, how I work, how I taught myself to do this, how I made it a career. Is there anything specific you want to know? I'm planning on putting together an FAQ post. So now's your chance - ask away!

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Forgetting to Pack for Berlin

Living life at a million miles a minute is great. But sometimes things slip through the cracks, like when you travel to Berlin for the weekend and the one thing that slips your mind is packing any clothes...

On Friday I arrived home from a photography trip to Kenya at 4:45am and flew to Berlin at 6:30pm - I had bought tickets ages ago as a surprise for Adam. And since I had just over a week to get myself ready to fly to Nepal on Monday (is this confusing? I'm confused...), I had to unpack and do about seven loads of laundry, start the edit on my Kenya shoot, get my camera cleaned, and prepare for another three weeks away from home.

So it wasn't a surprise really when I got to Berlin and opened up my suitcase to find my pyjamas, toothbrush, a summer dress, and... that's it. Needless to say November not summer dress season in Berlin.

It's ok though! I'm pretty used to traveling with not much and having traveled there in leggings and a jumper I resigned myself to living in that for the weekend and buying some new underwear. I love not having to worry about what I'm wearing, and if my choices are limited it gives me extra room in my mind to dedicate to more important things - like hunting down the best potato and cheese dumplings Berlin has to offer.

Traveling with a limited wardrobe is the way forward. A warm coat, this one is my choice from Fjällräven, a good bag - you can't beat a Kånken (especially one so good for the environment), an old cosy jumper and the best leggings ever made. Oh and some good boots.

Packing for three weeks in Nepal, India and Pakistan is going to mean a small suitcase and lots of multi-purpose items of clothing, because who can be bothered with hauling around a heavy bag anyway? 

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A summer life.

Some photos from our trip to Canada this summer, and some thoughts on making decisions.

I feel like it’s been so long since I’ve written anything of any length that I’ve almost forgotten how to write! My ability to put down words is nothing short of temperamental at the moment, and sometimes the mood hits and other times I’m left staring at a blank screen, and then wandering off to make a snack and think about it another day. I’ve become the master of putting things off lately, not because I’m being lazy, but because sometimes that’s the only way I can cope. I put an absurd amount of pressure on myself and the burden of that is sometimes paralysing – in the urge to make myself make decisions, I just don’t. I freeze and then get mad at myself for failing.

So taking the pressure off by telling myself “it’s ok, you don’t need to decide right now” has worked so well for me over the past few months. I’ve just drifted along in a sea of doing things when they “feel right”. And for these past few beautiful summer months I have lived almost pressure free, with only a few lapses into stressful thoughts.

And now that we’re nearing the end of summer and I’ve given myself a good solid break from making any decisions, I now find that I don’t feel like I need to put things off as much anymore. I’ve gone from feeling like I need to give myself some room to breathe, to feeling like it’s time to stop worrying and just go with my gut right in the moment.

I’m so surprised that making quick decisions can feel as liberating as allowing myself room to decide.  But as much as I crave solid rules for life and living (the title of my future memoir – jokes!), the best thing I feel I can keep in mind is that each situation is going to require me to act differently. Sometimes I’m going to have to pause and tell myself “it’s ok, you don’t have to decide right now”, and other times I’m going to have to tell myself, “don’t look, just leap”.
There are no sold rules for life and living, there is only being patient with yourself and taking the time to know when you need to pause, and when you need to run.

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How I taught myself to be a photographer

I get a lot of questions about working as a photographer here and on Instagram, so I thought I would put a few thoughts into a post about it. I just love these photos of this little boy being taught how to box by his dad at the Rafael Trejo Boxing Gym in Havana and I thought they were kind of appropriate.

We all start out as amateurs, and we all have the ability to make something of ourselves, it just depends on how hard you’re willing to fight for it

Last week I came across the first photo I took for work, it was taken in Kenya on a camera I had borrowed from my mum. Back then I didn’t even know how to change my camera setting from automatic, I didn’t know what editing was, and being a photographer seemed like a cool job - for someone else…

Fast-forward five years and being a photographer is now my job. I’ve been published (in a book for the ACTUAL Queen of England), I’ve shot campaigns around the world, I’ve become an expert in photographic branding and I work with agencies, amazing brands and, wonderful not for profits every day. That all feels a big braggy, but my point is I went from no camera experience to enough experience to make it a career entirely on my own. Here’s how I taught myself to be a photographer....

Copycat

My drive to improve my photography came from my blog at first. Since I learn best by doing I set out to copy what other people were producing, focusing on my favourite bloggers and photographers at that time. I would try to deconstruct their editing process, or try to re-create the composition of a photo in a different context. Obviously you can’t take other people’s ideas and call them yours, but you can try to incorporate some of their creative elements into what you create. Trying out different styles is how you find your own voice! I can look at my work now and see elements of influence from so many people, and it kind of helps me see how far I’ve come.

Keep going

My early photos were rubbish! Laughably rubbish! But I love that I tried, and that’s how I learned. No one is good in the beginning and I would say it took me a solid two to three years to confidently produce work I was proud of. Sure I did a few shoots in that time that stood out, but looking back I didn’t do it on purpose. Every day, with practice, your work becomes more purposeful and really it never stops. With photography no one ever stops learning.

Start off with simple equipment

Learning with limited equipment only makes you a better photographer. I had a cheap Canon DSLR and the budget 50mm lens for three years before I borrowed money off my mum to buy my first full frame camera. And I was being paid for my photography before I started shooting with a professional camera! It’s easy to think that having a better camera will make you a better photographer, but that’s not true at all. If you're shooting to publish on the internet, you probably don't need a 5D mk iii. I forced myself to hold off on spending that money until I absolutely had to.

Publish

Start photo projects, put them on your blog, Instagram, facebook, anywhere you can. Keep shooting, keep learning, keep finding ways to get inspired and grow. Scour Pinterest for inspiration, go on insta-meets, keep going and keep publishing, keep connecting with people. So much is about the hours you put in. A lot of my work comes from the fact that I have been at it for a long time, I’ve been consistent in the work I produce for my blog and Instagram and clients can see the full range of what I can do. I worked days, evenings and weekends for about four years to keep up the amount of work I was publishing. That’s just how hard I had to work to get to the level I’m at now, but it’s not the same for everyone. Don’t let the hard work put you off, keep going and if you hate it then stop and find something else you love – photography may just be a stepping stone to something better for you.

Ask for help

I’ve sent out a lot of hopeful emails. I’ve asked dumb questions, looked and felt like an idiot and I’ve been shot down but I’ve also been picked up and dusted off by people who were willing to teach me and help me grow. I’ve been told I don’t get to call myself a professional because I haven’t been working as a photographer for long enough, because I haven’t been professionally trained, etc… Some people can push back hard or be evasive and even defensive when you ask for help or ask questions about work or shooting and editing. Other people will sit down with you and show you their entire work flow. It’s a real mix and it hurts to have doors slammed in your face, but it’s so amazing when you get answers and inspiration from other photographers. And when you're just starting out and looking to learn, youtube is your best friend.

Take chances

Part of how I learned to be a professional photographer was through just saying “yes” and taking chances. I become comfortable with feeling in over my head, I made friends with my insecurities and told them “I hear you but I’m going to do it anyway”. That’s how I ended up in Kenya with that camera I borrowed from my mum. Learning how to comfort myself in situations where I’m pushing myself is something I have found very helpful.  In the beginning I didn't always feel like I knew everything or had all the equipment to call myself a real professional, but I knew at the end of the day I could produce something unique and beautiful, and that’s a good place to start.

I hope you've found this useful! If you have any other questions or want me to write a post about a similar topic, put it all in a comment below and I'll see what I can do.

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Havana - From the Road, a Cuba Travel Diary and Guide.

Here it is! The first of my Cuba posts! I ran into a little trouble with editing my photos so that’s why it’s so late, but I took loads of notes while I was there so I have lots of useful info to share. 

 

What to eat, see and do...


 

Of course because it’s me this is going to be a really heavy photo post, but I’ll put all the information up top for easy access. Also I’m going to write an overall road trip guide on how we got from one end of the country to the other in two weeks without killing ourselves! That’s coming up in a few weeks.

But first, Havana!

We arrived in Havana late at night and our Airbnb had arranged a taxi for us – so we drove in a beat-up soviet car from the airport into town and went straight to bed. The air was warm and close and I said to Adam as we were driving along, “you know how sometimes you land somewhere and you just know you’re going to fall in love with it?”…

The next morning we got up early, had breakfast on the roof and took in the view over the city. The sky was so blue and it was already so muggy, but the heat felt amazing and the strong coffee jolted us out of our jetlag. Everyone told us that we had to change our pounds at the airport and that trying to do it anywhere else in town would take hours. We got to the money exchange at about 8:30 and waited for about half an hour to change our money – much better than the two hour queue at the airport! But I guess it depends what time you can arrive, if you can get there 15 minutes before it opens that’s for the best, otherwise the queue can get massive. 

The same goes for the internet place. In Cuba you have to buy internet for 2CUC (Cuban tourist money), and you can only buy it in one our tickets. The queue for that got pretty long but between money and the internet, Adam and I took a divide and conquer approach.

We spent our first day in Havana just strolling – as we usually do in a new place. We got lost, found ourselves again, ended up down some amazing streets and took things pretty easy. Sure we got harassed a little by people wanting to sell us stuff or take us on tours, but Havana feels very safe overall. 

We had lunch at La Bodeguita del Medio and our first Cuban mojitos! And they are absolutely the best. And way too easy to drink! I’m such a light weight, that we had to head home for a nap afterwards. We hadn’t heard of La Bodeguita del Medio before we arrived in the city, we only found it because of the crowds of tourists taking photos of the front. Adam was really put off but I wanted to take a look, and apparently it’s a pretty iconic Havana bar! And as it turns out, people want to take pictures but not really go in – so it turned out to be quite calm inside, full of history and music.

After our siesta we headed out for ice cream at Copelia – Havana’s famous ice cream parlour! Big mistake. I’m sure it’s beautiful inside but queueing for hours in the sun for just average ice cream just didn’t seem worth it to me. So we decided not to bother - but if you really want ice cream there's a Copelia truck next door selling cones.

Instead we ended up at the FOCSA bar at the top of the tallest building in Havana. The 360 view of the city is incredible, and the history of the building is pretty interesting too – so definitely bring your guidebook. And for dinner we went to El Chanchullero de Tapas because it was advertised as a “Hemingway did not drink here” bar – kind of a fun alternative to most restaurants all trying to say Hemingway was a regular. The mojitos were huge and delicious (of course) and while Cuba isn’t exactly a foodie paradise especially if you’re vegetarian, the food was pretty good!

The next day it was really cloudy so we decided it would be perfect to take a city tour in a classic convertible – everyone does it, but there’s a reason for that. It’s a lot of fun! We just showed up to the square close to the capital building and picked our favourite car – you get accosted by loads of drivers but they respect each other and so they don’t all pile on at once. We looked for a driver that spoke English and had a great time seeing parts of the city we probably wouldn’t have seen otherwise.

As the sun was setting we headed to the boxing arena on the other side of town – where some of Cuba’s Olympian boxers train and where kids spend their time afterschool. Boxing and baseball are two of Cuba’s most popular sports and kids are constantly getting involved in one or the other. The Rafael Trejo Boxing Gym isn’t exactly advertised as a tourist spot (I don't think it's even on Trip Advisor) and it’s in a rundown part of town, but they are very welcoming and of course eagerly look for donations to help train the kids. Also it’s kind of amazing for photos, I’m going to do a separate post on that!

That night and the night after we went to La Lluvia de Oro for more mojitos and live music! It was absolutely incredible. Everything about Cuba is just as you would hope in that it’s truly authentic, but the singing and dancing that went on at La Lluvia de Oro was so much of what I hoped Havana would be and I just couldn’t get enough. We stayed there for hours and had dinner, which was ok, and the waiters were kind of grumpy – but when you’ve had a few mojitos is not really a big deal. But overall it was very atmospheric and felt a bit like a dream.

The next day was our last in Havana and was also the hottest day of our whole trip. We walked around and explored the city again in the morning, but after a while it just became too hot to do much else. We cooled off in the airconditioning and got to planning our road trip in detail, had a fairly good lunch at 5Esqiotas Trattoria and spent some more time exploring. 

On one of his solo walks around the city Adam discovered a really tall building that seemed mostly deserted apart from a woodworking shop in the lobby of what turned out to be an abandoned bank. Adam speaks no Spanish but somehow he managed to ask one of the guys if it was possible to get onto the roof – which showed another amazing view over Havana, and also the inside of what was once obviously a beautiful building now in crumbling. I think we climbed 15 flights of stairs at sunset, sometimes jumping over holes in the floor and sometimes fumbling in the pitch dark – but when we arrived at the top the experience was one of my favourite from Havana.

That night we went to watch more live music at one of the more touristy “organised” nights out – I wouldn’t recommend it and we left halfway through. There is more than enough live music on around Havana in clubs and bars, we didn’t need to pay for a show and I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone.

This has been such a brief rundown of our time in Havana, there is so much more to experience and do, places to eat and sights to see but this has just been our highlight reel. I’ll include more Havana travel tips in my road trip guide

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There's Something I Would Love You to Read

A few weeks ago I decided that I just wanted to put it all out there - why I travel so much, why I found myself in a job that would so often keep me on the road. 

"Travel Far, Return Free"

I'm so proud to have been asked to write a guest post for Free People on their blog, and I would love for you to read it and let me know what you think. 

So rarely do I write something that feels so true to me, and what I'm all about - I often strive to put my heart out there but I don't feel like I've ever done it so well and as clearly as I have done in this post.

Please go and leave a comment over there, let me know what you think.

"Traveling to see the world has always been part of it, but more than that it feels like I am traveling for my own freedom."

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From the Road, a Senegal Travel Diary Pt. 4 Heading Home

This is the last of my travel diaries from Senegal. It's taken me a while to get through posting them all, but I have enjoyed putting them up little by little. It helps to make the memories last. There are a lot of photos to go with this post, some don't really correspond with the story, but I decided to post them anyway.

 

12th February 2016


Meckhe

 

The last few days have flown by in a flurry of villages, interviews and personal stories. We meet so many people, film them and document a few moments from their life to tell a small story that is just a part of a larger picture of change. 

We stop for lunch and Toni Braxton is belting out of the speaker system in the restaurant and it's a struggle not to sing along with over-dramatic hand gestures while eating my pizza. I'm pretty tired from the late nights on my computer, early mornings waking up before the sun, and all day photographing. I'm in danger of losing it in a fit of laughter as one or two of our crew actually do start singing along, using their pizza as a microphone.

We're way of the urban areas now, and you can drive for miles in what feels like the abandoned desert of the Sahal and still suddenly come across a village. I've really enjoyed working out of the city on this trip though, so I'm not sad about the hours spent driving through the sand. The urban areas and markets are such a challenge and I get told off for taking photos with people waving their finger in my face, even when my camera is switched off and hanging by my side. Village life is soft and sleepy, no one is going to run you over when you're not looking for trying to take their photo.

Because our itinerary changes day to day (even hour to hour, some trips are just like that) I'm always unsure if we're going to get some usable stuff each day and we just have to make the most of each location. Some trips have really tight schedules, other trips the schedules get chucked out the window.

It's probably for that reason, or out of sheer desperation, that I find myself at some point sprinting down a highway in the middle of The Sahel salt fields to catch up with a horse that's leaving me far behind in the dust. 

Justice, our local contact, suggests we just sit by the side of the road for a bit and wait for another to come along. It's a long, clear stretch of road and an amazing spot to get some shots with the drone, and we have time on our hands today. The sun hasn't quite risen enough to dry out the soft light of morning and it's almost cool enough to wear a sweater. 

We kill time taking photos of the landscape and each other until another horse comes along, and thanks to the friendly words of Justice the man agrees to let me take his photo. In those moments where there's one and only one shot to get I can sometimes really feel the pressure.
By the end of the day we have a few shots, but really amazing ones and I remind myself that quality is better than quantity and just leave it at that. 

After five days in the field, tomorrow we are returning to Dakar for a day and a bit before our flight home. We've already made plans for our next trip back to Senegal, maybe in the rainy season, and although we don't know when that will be it's clear that The Sahel still had so many stories to tell. I have a feeling I'll be back. 

 

 

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From the Road, a Senegal Travel Diary Pt. 2 Sokone

This is part two of the travel diary I kept when I was working in Senegal last month. To catch up on part one, click here. It's an account of my photography trips overseas, what it's like to work in the field as a photographer, and a few personal thoughts.

 

10th February 2016


Sokone

 

I'm writing this as we sit in a small village in Sokone. There's a meeting going on between all the men left in the village who have not gone to market and I'm waiting for them to finish before I feel like it's ok to start wandering around and taking pictures. 

It's not easy to photograph people here because often they expect payment in exchange for having their photo taken. It's something I've come across in other countries around the world but here it feels like there's a lot less room for negotiation. I wish I had more time to get to know people and make them more comfortable, and I think about those photographers who spend months in one place. There never seems to be enough time. 

I wouldn't mind spending a long time in this village. It's towards the end of the day so the heat is less intense, and there's a tree in flower that's giving off such a beautiful smell. Sitting in the shade I think this would be a really peaceful place to spend more time. 

Anywhere in Senegal would be pretty peaceful to spend more time. In the early morning or even in the evening when the sun isn't so harsh and it's cool enough for long sleeves, everything is still and the light is so clear. This morning we were down photographing by the water and it was so clear in the sunrise, it looked like a completely different place as we drove past it again in the afternoon. 

There is a woman sitting right behind me now, playing with her daughter and they both have the same beautiful smile. I've already asked her if I can take her photo when I met her earlier and she said "no thank you". The scene now in the shade of the tree is just too perfect but I just can't ask again. I'm sad to let the moment go, but really it's between her and her daughter and it just doesn't belong to me. 

I get up and wander over to our truck to let Jeremy, our videographer, know we're getting ready to do an interview. He's flying his drone and the entire village has shown up to see what's going on and watch the kids chase it around. It's complete chaos and pretty funny to watch from the outside, but maybe not so much for Jeremy who's trying to find a safe spot to land it. 

The interview we do in the open air as the sun is setting and it's one of those rare interviews where there is no awkwardness, no hesitation, just a man very passionate and animated as he speaks. 

As the one in charge of these trips and getting the best content we can, these interviews make me breathe a sigh of relief. Even if I can't understand what he's saying I know he's giving us what we need and I'm so thankful for that. 

Jamie does the interviews now. Back when I first started I was photographer, videographer, interviewer, producer, director, and the momentum behind the whole trip. As soon as I could convince anyone to give me some budget and let me bring along some help, I dragged Jamie on a plane from London and gave him the task of talking to people so I could focus on photography and the rest. I've been in his shoes so many times and I knew at first he found it awkward as hell doing these interviews. It really is! Trying to get a good story out of a stranger speaking a different language, it doesn't get much more difficult than that - especially when you're having to work with two translators. But tonight he's really nailing it and I can tell he feels it too. 

Some moments you can capture and others you can't. But I'm so happy to end the day on a good note. And just as we are getting ready to leave for the evening, I manage to capture a moment that makes up for all the ones I felt like I missed on this trip. 

 

 

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From the Road, a Senegal Travel Diary. Pt. 1 Dakar

I’ve never kept a diary when I travel on photography assignments, this is the first time, and reading back through it all I can’t believe how raw it all is. It’s completely different to the kind of travel post I usually write, but it's a lot more real. I hope you like them!

I posted a few photos of Dakar to Instagram that I took on my phone, the rest of these are from the first few days in the field, shooting in a few villages and a school in Sokone.

 

7th February 2016


Dakar

 

I’m writing this on my second night in Senegal, sat in my hotel room and getting ready for an early night before the real work begins. 

We flew in last night, me and two people I work with, and after a full day of flying it was a relief to just fall into bed. We stopped over in Madrid on the way from London to Dakar and those two flights were some of the bumpiest of my life. I’m so terrified of flying that I find myself squeezing my eyes shut and clinging onto the seat in front of me, silently saying to myself “please stop, please stop, please just stop it”. I don’t know when I became so afraid of flying but it always takes a lot out of me. And I often find myself wondering why I pursue a career that requires so much travel! The stress on my body that comes with this fear of flying cannot be healthy.

As it’s Sunday in Senegal we have to wait until work starts up again on Monday to get out of Dakar and into the field. But until then we are left to our own devices - Jamie, Sarah and I. Jamie I travel with often, he writes the stories to go with my photos. I’ve never traveled with Sarah before but I must have said to her at least ten times how nice it is to travel with a girl. Usually it’s just me and a bunch of guys for days on end, which isn’t a big deal really and something I only picked up on last year. 

My first impressions of Dakar are that it’s warm and peaceful, but I suspect it’s more chaotic during the week. We wander down to the ocean, watch a group of men gather to exercise on the beach (something that seems to be quite common here - they do squats for hours!), and have a really nice coffee - a treat you learn to appreciate when you travel a lot. 

After a day of wandering I’m pretty tired and grumpy with myself for making the rookie mistake of wearing flip-flops for too long. My feet are killing me and because I’m tried, the stressful thoughts start to creep in.

I organize these trips, the ideas and the momentum comes from me, so I am entirely responsible for them from start to finish. The pressure is on to get some good stuff (film, photos and case studies), and because we don’t scout our stories first due to lack of time and budget, I always worry about what happens if we show up to the pre-arranged location and there’s just nothing there. What if I go back to London with nothing? What if everything goes wrong and the whole team, five people in total including me, turn to me and say “now what?” - and I don’t have an answer. It’s happened before and I've never not had an answer, but there’s a first time for everything.

We have pizza for dinner and make our way back to the hotel in the dark. I feel like I’ve been trying to make stupid jokes for a while now which is what happens when I get tired around people I don’t know all that well. As we walk the call to prayer sounds from a nearby mosque and I’m not sure what it is at first, I’ve never heard a call to prayer like it. There are men outside on the pavement running they’re prayer beads through their fingers or concentrating on their kouran. A few blocks down are some women sat on the pavement, I noticed them earlier in the day but this time I ask our Senegalese contact about them and he says “basically they’re beggars” - a funny choice of words and I can’t tell if he said it that way because there’s more to it, or because English isn’t his first language.

Often sad realities crop up on these trips and usually I can see them in a larger context of a cultural circumstance, but sometimes my mind zeros in on an issue or an individual and I just can’t let it go - like my heart is just learning of this particular injustice of the world for the first time. It seems weird that every sad situation doesn't make me react this way, but some things are easier to accept than others I guess. Over the years I’ve learned that these are the moments that stick with you forever. In the sheer number of people and animals that I meet as I photograph around the world, these are the ones I will always remember and I can list them in my mind.

 

Some photos from the first few hours in Sokone...


A five hour drive from Dakar

 

We get back to the hotel and I shower and try to do some yoga to settle me down. I need to be confident and in charge tomorrow but really I’m just feeling anything but - over the years I've become pretty good at faking it, though I would rather not have to. I try to tell myself I’m just tired, but doing yoga just feels self-indugent and selfish for some reason. I do it anyway though, mostly because I think it’s a good idea and I don’t know what else to do with myself after all the preparations to start work the next day are finished. All my equipment is in order, my camera is taped up, my lenses are clean, my bags are packed...

On the flight over I watched The Salt of the Earth, a documentary about Sebastiao Salgado and it made me feel proud of my work, even if pales in significance to what he did all those years ago. It’s a graphic documentary though, as are his photos covering war, life in refugee camps, environmental disasters - important but brutal work. I can’t get some of those images out of my head. I know that’s what haunts me a bit tonight and I simultaneously feel like it’s ok and normal to be sad about seeing the hardship of others, and angry at myself because my sadness feels petty and small compared to theirs.

The real work hasn’t even begun yet and I’m already feeling it which worries me. If I go to sleep now I can stay in bed for a full eight hours, and maybe try and sleep for all of them.

 

 

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