I’m very excited to go on a tour of the UK with you, to meet three inspiring and creative women in London, Hampshire and Swansea respectively! The thing these ladies have in common… well they each have a blog or website in which they showcase their writing, photos and in Clara’s case her illustrations! Each has their own unique style and identity. Let’s go to London first and meet Clare of Lovinglivinglondon.com
Clare you obviously love London life! Tell me about the contrast between London and South Somerset, what do you enjoy when you come back for a visit?
I adore London! Most of all, the sense that “anything goes”, the speed and vibrancy, and the anonymity you get whilst also having a real sense of community spirit (which perhaps wouldn’t be immediately obvious to visitors). I love that public transport runs 24/7, and that you can access pretty much anything you want to regarding culture/arts/history/international food, very quickly! I think I’m an instant gratification and variety kind of girl!!
I like coming back to Somerset to see family. The obvious difference is it’s more green which is so lovely, you have so much nature on the doorstep and it definitely feels a lot slower in term of hectiness which is nice! I do also like the fact I can walk into Yeovil and access say a variety of shops, dentists and banks in one fell swoop as I can travel some way to get to a bank or my dentist in London for example! That’s where I definitely don’t find London as fun (see above re instant gratification comment!)
I grew up from 6 in the town of Yeovil, but loved the close proximity to the countryside. I have lovely memories of being spooked in magical Wookey Hole and abseiling Cheddar Gorge in school days, loved the beaches of Lyme Regis, West Bay and Weymouth in nearby Dorset which I’d visit with my parents and then school friends as I got older, the pretty little towns of Bruton, Sherborne, Montacute and the eclectic, hippie Glastonbury which speaks to me! More than anything I like that Somerset has an abundance of independent café and tea shops often selling homemade produce! That would be more of a rarity in London. Before lockdown, we visited The Trough café in Yeovil and it was lovely, small but good enough menu but gorgeous views, atmosphere and lovely staff.
Tell me about some of the hidden gems of London that you’ve highlighted on your blog and which areas of the city do you cover mostly?
I’ve been here for nearly 16 years as an adult but of course don’t/can’t know everywhere and that is definitely what I love about this city as it’s forever changing! However my personal gems (though they might not be especially hidden!) would be to look up companies like Bourne and Hollingworth if you like the 20’s and 40’s and like the idea of a vintage feel night out and dress up, as they are the best London nights out I’ve ever had, if you like beautiful historical streets check out early 19th century Roupell Street of Waterloo (as featured in the Krays film “Legend” with Tom Hardy, and early 18th century Huguenot Streets in Spitalfields such as Fournier, Princelet and Elder. If you love arts/culture and want an Instagram recommendation I really highly recommend @diaryofalondoness as her knowledge in this area is expertise, and I’m always watching her stories and writing down notes from of what’s coming up! If you check my blog I have some “alternative London” ideas that I’m planning to focus on, for people that are coming the first time or have been 20 times! I like the get away from the “London Eye” type ideas, which I don’t necessarily rate (I’d tell you to go to Sky Garden over the London Eye as Sky Garden is free and has much better views, and less queues, for example!).
I’ve loved seeing London through the eyes of a new mum recently! What are your future plans for Lovinglivinglondon.com
My future plans for Lovinglivinglondon.com are simply to take it more seriously this year! It’s a bit hard regarding content at the moment (for everyone) with the national lockdown in place and having to stay local, and a bit tricky with a baby, but I’m determined to make a go of it, and keep on connecting with the other accounts I have, which has been so lovely. I’m learning so much about London and about myself in many ways, and I’ve a lot more to learn regarding developing it and marketing the blog more efficiently, but I’m here for it!
Your blog has a very polished style which I love! What pieces of advice would you give to someone wanting to start a blog?
I think not to procrastinate too much on waiting for your post to be “perfect” before you hit publish, as I realise now that “done not perfect” is far more attainable. Also I spent far too long worrying what others may think of the fact that I had a blog and feel confident with what I was doing and “owning” it, and if that’s you too, all I can say is that confidence comes with time. Comparison doesn’t help, what WILL help is knowing your “why” as that keeps you going even on the days you don’t feel like it (it took me ages to figure out my why!) Setting up a blog is fairly easy I think, I think it’s the marketing of the blog that’s harder (and that’s a nut I’ve yet to crack properly, but #goals!)
What have been the most rewarding parts of blogging and what has been challenging?
The most rewarding aspect of blogging is realising how much I love the focal point of my blog (London!) and how it’s connected me to other accounts who I learn so much from, and who continue to ignite that passion. The most challenging has been that knowing how to market oneself didn’t/doesn’t necessarily come easily to me and I think that it’s a challenge for most people. These days however I try and let that challenge inspire me to do better, particularly around my photography. Even though I realise that my photographs are incomparable to properly professional London photographs, whose quality I dream over, it spurs me on, regardless!
You can follow Clare on Instagram: @lovinglivinglondon and her blog is Lovinglivinglondon.com
We are off to Hampshire now, but we’re also going to get a flavour of Argentina and Barcelona too! Let’s meet Illustrator Clara of Claraserenellini.com
Hi Clara, tell me about life in Argentina, how does it compare to the UK where you are now?
Hello Sarah, I left Argentina when I was twenty five years old, as soon as I finished the University I moved to Barcelona. My life there was really good I lived with my parents at that time but I wanted to be independent, explore and have experience in other places. When I moved to the UK six years ago with my husband and son it took me almost two years to adapt to the new life here. I found English people more similar to Argentinian than the Spanish. Also the neighbourhood where I live is similar to where I lived in Mar del Plata in Argentina, with lots of space, green areas, the beach. I miss the food from Argentina, the flavours and of course my friends and family but after all these years I got used to it.
You’ve visited me here in Somerset, but you live in Hampshire. What were your impressions of it here?
When I went to see you in Yeovil, I was very impressed about the big old and traditional houses as we walked down Hendford Hill into town, I could see lots of history there, like rich people lived there in the past, that was my first impression. I loved the big green parks and hills there, the river and swans. It’s beautiful. Comparing with Hampshire it’s not very much different I think because you can see lot of history in Winchester for example but the town is much older that Yeovil so the houses are different, smaller like cottages. I like Winchester very much because I love the shops and the small roads and cafes.
What is the process for creating one of your beautiful illustrations?
I think about the idea first, what I want to represent, what message I want to transmit. Then I do some research about similar images on magazines or internet or my own photos, then I start drawing some ideas, sketches until I have the one I like. I finalise my artwork in different ways, sometimes by hand, sometimes in the computer, it depends on what I like to represent.
Tell me about the characters in your illustrations. What do you imagine is happening in their life?
When I draw people, maybe I think about my feelings, what makes me feel good for example being relax or happy. But it doesn’t have to be me, it can be another person there. I like to draw situations where people are in a good moment. Other times I draw objects from everyday life like fashion objects or plants. I like nature and healthy life as well.
You’ve recently illustrated a recipe book for a primary school. Tell me about that and what are your personal favourite recipes as I know you love to cook?
Yes, I love cooking! I really enjoyed working in a team to create that book and also felt really happy that they asked me to do the illustrations and create all the design and layouts. It took me almost a month to finish it. I always say that I prefer to work with people that are passionate about what they do than working on my own, but I found the way now to collaborate with other people like writers like you and work in projects together. I have lots of favourite recipes, I learned from my Italian mother and grandmother, like making pizza, gnocchi and some Argentinian locro or Spanish tortilla. I have the influence from different cultures and I love that.
What inspires you to keep drawing and what is the best bit of feedback you have had?
What inspires me is, everything! people, colours, situations, good design, shapes, real life, museums, films. Actually I had a really nice feedback today, My son’s teacher was online with him and she saw me behind him. She asked me what I was doing, she said she doesn’t have time to do what she likes… and I showed her my artwork, the phrase on the artwork was “Do a little bit every day” She wanted it to herself, to put it in her kitchen!!.. so I took it to the school to give it to her. When I posted that in my Instagram one of my followers wrote a message for me saying that she liked the artwork and the message on it.
You can follow Clara on Instagram @cserenellini or on Facebook under the same name. Clara has a website www.claraserenellini.com and on Behance and the AOI.
Let’s chill out at the seaside in Swansea now to meet Wendy, with her well established blog Naptimenatter.com, and the launch of new chapters too!
I moved to Swansea for university in 2009 and the main reason I decided to move here was because of the beach! I have always loved to be by the sea and to actually live somewhere surrounded by beautiful beaches was my dream come true. Swansea city centre isn’t the prettiest but Cardiff is only an hour away if you are looking for somewhere more metropolitan and exciting to shop. I am more of a nature over materialistic things kind of girl and I love that here I can be in the middle of a forest one second and splashing in waves the next. We moved away for two years to Hampshire and moving back home to Swansea was one of the best decisions we have ever made as a family.
We went camping in Somerset in 2016 and we had such a great time! Visiting Cheddar and exploring all the countryside and the more touristy attractions in Cheddar Gorge was so fun! We obviously headed to Brean Sands a couple of times and had lots of fun at the beach. When I look back on that holiday the things I remember most are the beautiful scenery and the lovely people.
Please tell me the story of your blog Naptimenatter.com and how it all started.
It feels so long ago now! When I was in uni one of my third year assignments was to start a blog. Back then I wrote about being a media student and preparing for life after graduation. I ended up getting consistently high grades for my posts and my tutor told me I was born to write. Her comment meant so much to me and after that writing in some fashion was always something I wanted to do. I decided to start Naptime Natter when my first child was about 18 months old. My son used to nap for two hours every afternoon and I used to find that time stuck in the house really boring and lonely. I would obviously get the housework done and sometimes read or watch TV but I wasn’t feeling at all creatively challenged and I needed a new project to sink my teeth into. I set up Naptime Natter and really enjoyed writing about motherhood and getting to know other ‘mum bloggers’. Over time I started to work with brands and blogging became a bit of a job for me. I enjoyed this side of blogging but feeling like part of a community and sharing honestly about all the highs and lows of motherhood has always been my favourite part of blogging. After my second baby was born in 2016 I suffered with severe postnatal anxiety and depression, writing my blog became a sort of therapy for me and I connected with lots of other mums experiencing similar struggles. My ‘Mental health after pregnancy’ series includes the posts I am most proud of, I received so many private messages from other mums thanking me for sharing so openly and honestly. Hearing that I had helped another mum struggling with postnatal depression meant so much to me and made me see that the more we share our struggles the more we are helping others who feel lonely and like no one else understands what they are going through. In more recent years I have found less time to blog as I now work on other writing projects and have another baby to look after as well! Naptime Natter is almost six years old and has been with me through so much and I just hope people enjoy reading it as much as I have enjoyed writing it.
Recently you’ve started posting stories on your blog which you know I love! Tell me about the stories and what are your future blogging plans?
Thank you! You are definitely my biggest writing fan Sarah! I love writing the short stories for my blog. A book has always been the dream but after too many failed attempts to make it past 10000 words of any novel ideas, I have realised short stories are the best way for me to explore my fiction writing for now. When your blog is centred around your own personal experiences and your own thoughts, sometimes this can leave you a bit creatively stifled. Contrary to what the blog may have you believe, I don’t love talking about myself. I much prefer to listen to others and learn about their lives and dig deep into their thoughts and feelings about the world. This is why I decided to start making up fictional mums and creating short stories about them. I decided to focus on mothers so I could explore different experiences of motherhood and I also felt stories about mums would be the most natural fit for fiction on my parenting blog.
I have exciting blogging plans moving forward. I am in the process of setting up a new blog and am moving myself away from the ‘mum blogger’ niche. I want to write about writing, I want to share my fiction writing projects, I want to encourage others to express themselves through creativity. My new blog will focus on living a quiet and creative life by the sea, it will be a space for me to share my creative projects and to (hopefully) inspire others to explore new hobbies with the aim of improving their mental wellbeing. I am still passionate about spreading the mental health message so there will be lots of posts about managing mental health conditions like anxiety and depression too. I plan for the blog to give visually give you all the seaside feels but also to spark the creativity inside you.
As for Naptime Natter? I am not planning on getting rid of my first blog baby and all my old posts will still be there ready to be found by those searching for some honesty about motherhood. I do feel like the mum blogger community is much more saturated than when I first started and it is becoming a lot harder to get your voice heard amongst the masses. I do not have the time to work my day job, raise three children and nurture two blogs so moving forward I plan to only occasionally write on Naptime Natter. I want to spend the majority of my blogging time growing my new website and focussing on writing the best content I am capable of.
Have you always expressed yourself through writing? What is it that you love about doing so?
Yes! I had SO MANY diaries when I was a kid! I don’t remember when or why I started writing but it is something I have done for as long as I can remember. My desk is full of notebooks and my the notes of my iphone are just a jumbled selection of random thoughts and ideas. I just love that a thought or feeling can feel really big and stressful but as soon as you write it down it is like taking a big yogic breath out. The action of simply turning your thoughts into words on a page can be enough to make you feel better. I am not a big talker, I am just quite quiet and happy observing rather than being the centre of attention. I like to write the thoughts I have that I am not always confident enough to say aloud and I like the quiet contemplation aspect of sitting and writing. Don’t get me wrong, I do like people and I love my friends and family, my personality just means I don’t like to speak at length in front of others, that’s why I enjoy the solitary nature of writing so much. If the book dream ever did come true I would probably have to hire someone to pretend to be me to go to the meetings and any press interviews!
What are some of the highlights you have experienced by blogging? I’m thinking of your letter to Louis Theroux which was beautiful.
Yes!! This is an absolute high point for me. After watching Louis Theroux’s documentary Mothers on The Edge, I felt so seen and appreciated him raising awareness of something so close to my heart that I felt compelled to write an open thank you letter to the man himself. I tagged him in a tweet promoting the post but I had zero expectations that he would see the tweet, let alone read the post. I honestly nearly died when he tweeted me back the next day, thanking ME for my lovely letter and for my support for the documentary. Whenever I watch Louis Theroux on TV now I still can’t believe that this brilliant man has read something I have written!
Other high points include working with Lansinoh on a few blog posts, they are my favourite breastfeeding brand and I felt so lucky to have the chance to work with them. Also, seeing my kids faces every time they were sent new products from the Disney Store to review.
I think though the best thing to come from blogging for me is the friendships I have made with other bloggers. I have never met any of them in real life but we chat a lot online and it is so lovely to know that even on the lonely days I have always got friends in my phone that I can talk honestly with, and they know how I feel. Also, hearing from other mums telling me how my honesty has helped them, even in only a small way, means so much and is definitely a highlight I was not expecting from blogging about motherhood.
You have a big social media following on Instagram, what are some of the positive and negative sides of networking on social media for you?
Aww that’s really kind, I would say my following is small though! Although I don’t care that I don’t have hundreds of thousands of followers as the majority of my followers are other mums and I love the community over on Instagram. I have a very love/hate relationship with social media and over the years I have found myself spending less and less time on the apps.
I find Instagram particularly triggering on bad mental health days. If I am feeling like a bad mum, maybe the kids have just watched TV all day or I have shouted too much, going on Instagram has the power to break me and leave me feeling like a total failure. When you are feeling low it can be hard to scroll through everyone’s ‘best bits’ on Instagram. Seeing perfectly presented children when yours are still in their PJs with breakfast covered faces, or seeing siblings playing happily outside together when your kids have been trying to wrestle each other to death all day can really fuel feelings of inadequacy and failure. It is too easy to compare yourself to someone else’s highlight reel and to forget that the squares don’t show you the full story. This is the biggest negative I personally feel about Instagram but I know other people get frustrated about algorithms, followers not going up, few likes etc. Like any other social media platform there are also people who spread hate and are unkind in the comment section; I have been lucky not to experience any trolling (yet!).
In my opinion the biggest positive to social media is stumbling across like minded people who you would never have met if it weren’t for the internet. It is finding other people who enjoy the same things as you, people you can relate to and making friends that have your back even though you have never met. Social media is a wonderful place to spread the word on things we care about, on important issues, to educate others and to help people see they are never truly alone.
Deciding to stop trying to ‘grow my following’ was one of my best decisions when it comes to social media. I feel some people can get really caught up in the numbers and this just sucks all of the fun out of Instagram and the other apps. I think the best way to use social media is to just post what you want and engage with the people who make you feel happy, inspire you and share the content you like to see. Social media is supposed to be fun, don’t surround yourself with Twitter spats or Instagram games and cliques. Remember that your worth as a person isn’t measured by how many like you get on your Instagram posts. That’s what I do anyway and I enjoy social media so much more now.
You can follow Wendy’s blog Naptimenatter.com and on Instagram @wendy_naptimenatterblog and Twitter @naptimenatter @theseasidechapters is Wendy’s brand new Instagram site, you’ll want to follow that!
I hope you have enjoyed this little tour of the UK!