mid-week link salad (and some happy things!)

Writing for a living takes a lot more than just ample cash in your bank vault, according to literary agent Carly Watters.

 

Indeed.

 

It takes luck, a wide readership, years of dedication, luck, perseverance and ability to roll with the punches, and oh did I mention luck? Luck for agents and publishing houses to take a chance on your book (of course, substance counts for a lot too), luck for the RIGHT agent and publishing house to pick up your book and sign you on, luck for ever-changing reader diet, luck for movie producers and bookstores to decide to buy the rights from you, luck that you can write full-time and live comfortably, not paycheck to paycheck.

 

Watters paints a stark picture of what it’s like for most writers who aren’t international best-selling ones. Kind of a depressing reality, but no one said this path was easy. Literally, no one. The publishing market is one of the toughest ones to break into. Aside from dealing with writerly angst (don’t dismiss it until you’ve experienced it), the business itself makes being a novelist a difficult game to play.

 

Okay, enough doom and gloom. This was supposed to be an upbeat post!

 

Over at Mythic Scribes, they offered some tips for developing characters in romance novels.

 

And here’s some mind-boggling architecture for you. Number 19 and 21 are my favourites. Imagine living in a spiral building! The rooftop is just begging for a sled race, no? So much potential for a story setting, too.

 

Impulse buy: greeting cards!

 

 

You never know when you need one. And even if you don’t, they make a great mood-lifting collection that you can admire once in a while. I mean, look how cute these are! I ended up buying just six, even though there were a lot more adorable designs available.

 

Other happy things for this thundery week:

 

 

Speaking of TVD, I refuse to believe ***spoiler alert!*** Katherine is dead. She just can’t be dead. She’s one of the most delicious characters on the show – so much potential for mischief and havoc and eventual pathos (see season 5 episode 12). It would really suck if she left and we’re stuck with boring, whiny, indecisive Elena with whom, for some reason, the boys are in love.

 

And speaking of boys, here’s a gorgeous one:

 

 

Yes, they are the same person, in case you were wondering.

 

Also, if you’ve watched the Korean drama, Secret Garden, you’ll definitely appreciate this parody done by Big Bang:

 

 

*choke*gasp*splutter*laugh my ass off*

 

This video has been around for a while, but it still gets me every time! Can I humbly request for Super Junior to do a drama parody too? That would be awesome, thank you.

 

Speaking of awesome (see how neat and connected is today? Ha!), here’s something that will hopefully get you through the rest of this week:

 

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monday happy things!

So, a few things:

 

1. Singapore is in bloom!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Said it before, and I’ll say it again. The world is more beautiful with flowers in it.

 

 

2. On a whim, Dad and I visited the zoo on his birthday last Saturday. Pictures will come … soon enough. But first, this:

 

Saturdays – this polar bear is doing it right.

 

3. I am thisclose to giving up on Neverland.

 

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I know, I know. Yet another story that didn’t make it. (To be fair, I might have given up on Until Morning – then called Mint – but I went back to complete it eventually.)

 

But I’ve tried to hold on for as long as I can – 198 pages, in fact – but I can’t ignore the voice that’s telling me this is all wrong – the story is told wrongly, the characters are weak, the conflict falls flat, there’s no heart in the story anymore, and it’s futile to press on for the sake of pressing on.

 

 

I hate quitting in the middle of a story. I feel like a failure, like oh there she goes again, unable to see things through and giving up halfway. But I know that the more I drag this on, the worse the story is going to get, and at some point I won’t be able to return to the place where the story fell apart because I’ve lost sight of it.

 

 

 

So maybe I’m not going to divorce myself from Neverland completely, but I’m definitely taking a break from it. Problem is, I tried getting started on Indigo Tides, and my brain just got equally blocked.

 

 

 

 

Over at Writers Helping Writers, they pointed out three signs you should take a break from your novel, and I ticked every one of them:

… here’s the best thing about these often sad experiences. They really aren’t failures. They’re just stepping stones. As Samuel Beckett said: Try again. Fail again. Fail better.

If you feel you’re writing a dead-end story, take a moment to evaluate your future with it. More likely than not, you’re going to keep on writing, edit your way to a fabulous book, and end your relationship with this story on a victorious note. But if it doesn’t quite work out that way—if you realize you need to move on—don’t count it as a failure. Close the file on your computer, take stock of what you’ve learned, and move on to write your next masterpiece.

 

Rachel Coker over at Go Teen Writers offers equally upbeat advice.

 

But then YA writer Malinda Lo, advises against giving up during the drafting stage:

I think the main thing that causes discouragement during the drafting stage is the idea that writing a novel is an exciting, fun-filled, joyful experience full of blissful, genius inspiration and creativity. Any writer who sits down expecting this experience is going to be thoroughly disappointed and will probably want to give up.

For years and years I struggled with discouragement because those moments of genius came so few and far between. I’d have fabulous ideas and launch right into writing novels, and a few chapters in I’d come to a screeching halt when all the fun seemed to get sucked right out of the story. I’d struggle with continuing for a little while, but soon I’d give up.

In retrospect, I know why I gave up. Those story ideas weren’t exciting enough. The characters weren’t interesting enough. And I expected writing to be fun, because it used to be fun.

I know exactly when writing ceased being 100% fun and games for me: when I decided that I wanted to get published.

In my case, this is how I learned how to not get so discouraged that I wanted to give up:

I chose to write a story that I’d wanted to write forever: a retelling of Cinderella.

When I encountered things in life that forced me to stop writing for awhile, I tried to not beat myself up about not writing.

When I felt ready to write again, I picked up from where I’d left off.

I stopped expecting writing to be 100% fun and games.

I didn’t give myself a deadline; I let myself take my time.

I didn’t start other projects when things got difficult.

I didn’t allow myself to think about getting published while writing the first draft. I wrote the story for me.

 

Yes, maybe some distance will help. Neverland, I will be back! (I promise.)

 

Meanwhile, if you’re experiencing a brain fart like I am right now, here’s something to chase the writer’s blues away.

 

Also, Mondays may be the busiest day of the week, but there’s always time for a little happy:

 

 

 

 

Super Junior M is back! And Donghae is in glasses!

 

 

Oh, Park Bom!

 

Remember when Stefan was the Ripper?

 

 

A very liberating quote
 

A very empowering quote

 

Have a great week, everyone! :0)

vampire diaries season 5 catch-up – OMGOMGOMG and more OMG moments!

Okay, I’m waaaaay behind on this, I know. But I finally caught up with the recent episodes of Vampire Diaries season 5 and

OMGOMGOMGOMGOMGOMGOMG 

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OMG.

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OMGOMGOMG.

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O.M.G.

(OMG.)

That is all.

.

.

.

.

.

Well, of course that’s not all. Have I ever left you hanging on a blog post like that? No, this is just the beginning of a rave. Because damn, that was one good episode!

I’m talking about episode 11. (Hey, I said recent episodes, not the latest – so NO SPOILERS!)

KATHERINE PIERCE. Katherine “oh no she didn’t” Pierce.

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Yes, her.

She’s one of those annoying villains you just love to hate. That sneaky little bitch is awesome! I LOOOOOVE what the writers did with her character, made us empathise with her (yes, I cried over her murderous, vindictive, manipulative, selfish lying ass) before having her pull a HUGE SHOCKING TWIST that is totally – TOTALLY – characteristic of her.

Indeed.

She’s a survivor, and she has always been a teensy bit jealous of Elena (despite how annoyed she is by her – and I do agree because Elena can be incredibly self-righteous and whiny) because of Stefan’s love for Elena – OF COURSE SHE WOULD DO WHAT SHE DID!!!

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And SURVIVORS DO WHAT THEY HAVE TO IN ORDER TO SURVIVE. There, no spoilers! (Although I’m quite possibly the only person who has only just caught that episode.)

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: I LOVE TVD.

5 seasons on and it still has that power over me. Powerful storyline, powerful characters, powerful emotions! The writers never seem to run out of ideas, and each story thread is woven masterfully into the main narrative arc. HOW DO THEY DO IT?!? I’ve been studying it for years, and I still can’t generate ideas like theirs to develop a story as compelling as that.

I know what the naysayers think about TVD. They think it’s another Twilight, with a whiny protagonist and hot vampires.

illustration by antlergirl

That is where the similarity ends.

Yes, TVD might involve vampires and a love triangle – which, frankly, is starting to wear on me (still, STELENA IS END-GAME) – but it is NOTHING like Twilight.

TVD has a fantastic plot that keeps you on (sorry for the cliche) the edge of your seat; moments that take you by the shoulders and plant you in the characters’ shoes so that their pain is your pain, their joy, their love, their anguish and hate are all yours too; moments that rock you in those very shoes and make you go OMG (as demonstrated amply above).

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Plus, the writers go deep with each character, fleshing out each of their personalities, making you love them and love to hate them, even the seemingly irredeemable ones like Klaus (KLAUS! I’ll get to him in a bit). In fact, so fully developed every character is that there’s even a spinoff, (although I’m still crazier about TVD than The Originals).

Okay. Klaus. KLAUS! HE’S BACK! THE ORIGINALS ARE BACK! Finally! (And no, I don’t care if I’m using too many exclamation marks!)

((Or parentheses, for that matter.))

Tyler WHO?! Oh, you mean the jerk who chose revenge over Caroline, the one who broke her heart?

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I get where Tyler’s coming from, but his relationship with Caroline never felt balanced, like Caroline was the one always giving her all and he’s just there for the sex.

Klaus, though.

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Klaus curbs his darker intentions for Caroline. I mean, yes he’s not the healthiest person to be with, but his love for Caroline is purer than anything he’s ever done.

I ship Klaroline as much as I ship Stelena. Although Elena has been deluded for so many seasons, being with Damon, I kind of just want Stefan to be happy without her already. I’m willing to root for Stefarine (that’s Stefan and Katherine) if that’s what it takes.

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Stefan has been my favourite male character since the beginning. If you recall, I was hooked onto the show since episode 1 of season 1, mostly because of Stefan. His humanity, his gentleness with Elena, who was still grieving over the premature death of her parents, his comforting presence – everything about him spelled solace.

Stelena in 1×01:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bgeidiEdwzk

It was the final scene in the episode. See why I was hooked?

And here’s Stelena in 5×04:

Sigh. Stelena scenes are always so perfect. So pure and sweet.

Damon, on the other hand, is volatile and psychopathic and self-loathing. I’d absolutely hate him if he weren’t so funny and hot.

And Delena scenes are just (I run the risk of getting severely flamed here) MEH. They’re cute in real life (Nina Dobrev and Ian Somerhalder used to date), but not so much in the show.

Still love Damon’s character, though.

Funny how what started out as an excuse to ogle at Ian Somerhalder became a full-blown obsession with a TV show. At least I can justify that with the things about writing I’ve learned from it!

Any TVD fans out there? Or any TV shows to recommend that’s as brilliant as TVD? :0)

Thursday evening ramblings

1. What happens when a writer interviews herself? Take a look. If the interview sounds completely neurotic to you, welcome to the mind of a brilliant writer like Joyce Carol Oates.

2.

Also known as:

Now that I no longer have exams to contend with in November, I’m more than ready for NaNoWriMo. This will be the first time I’m taking part in it, even though I’ve completed a novel in a month before (LAMBS FOR DINNER) just to see if I could do it. 
I originally planned to write INDIGO TIDES for NaNo, but it’s just not coming along. I don’t see the theme of the story, can’t figure out my characters, and basically don’t understand why I want to write this story other than create pretty prose. But a novel is so much more than just pointless purple prose (sorry, couldn’t resist sticking an alliteration in there). I can’t write a story without believing in it, or feeling strongly enough about it. It has to be a story I am consumed by, whether I’m awake or asleep, where scenes pop into my mind as I brush my teeth or getting dressed, and where characters converse in my head while I’m swimming laps in the pool or on my way to work, where I think about what they would say to the things I encounter every day.
Damon Salvatore (from THE VAMPIRE DIARIES) says it best: 
Yes, a love like that would be nice. But for now, a story like that would do. 
(On a sidenote, hurray for Season 5 of TVD! Something to look forward to every week again, along with SUPERNATURAL and THE ORIGINALS.)
And with a bit of luck, I woke up yesterday with a pretty much completed novel in my head and a ready-made title to go with it: NO ROOM IN NEVERLAND. Yes, it’s the Peter Pan-inspired one I’ve been going on about for months. I have my characters, I have their motivations, dreams, fears and voices figured out, I have the climax for the three main acts planned, and the opening scene is just waiting for me to pound it out. Cause for the happy writer dance? I think so.

In case you need a reminder of the face that triggered my Peter Pan obsession, here it is:
 
(I admit, I might just be looking for a reason to post his pretty face here.)
3. YA writers, here’s an update on the new trends in the YA market.
I’m glad contemporary YA is making a comeback. It’s been a while since books like Sarah Dessen’s have taken up a good part of the shelves, and I’ve been searching for a simple coming of age story in which the protagonist goes through a significant transformation and growth that is gratifying to the reader, preferably with a generous dash of romance. Contemporary YA has always been and will always be my first love. I remember the book that started it all: KEEPING THE MOON by Sarah Dessen. It was the first Dessen book I read and I’ve been a fan of her ever since. Shortly after came Deb Caletti and her book, WILD ROSES, which inspired my first standalone novel that I completed in 2008 (after working on it since 2005), WHEN THE LILIES TURN ORANGE. There are certain books that change your life and influence you and your writing, and these two happen to be of the contemporary YA genre. Which is why this genre will always be my true love, despite how much fun I’m having with urban fantasy now.
But even though I agree that we need more contemporary YA now, I find it a bit of a stretch to say that the time of YA fantasy is coming to an end. While it’s true that the YA market is saturated with paranormal fiction of all things fanged, furry and/or winged, and that it’s understandable for literary agents to get weary of such stories and crave something simple and authentic and grounded in reality, something that can resonate with them and the readers, I believe that a well-crafted story, regardless of its genre, will always have a place on the bookshelf. 
Perhaps the disillusionment with the fantasy genre stems from the done-to-death formulae: forbidden love between angel and human, pact between wolf packs, average human girl is introduced to the mysterious dangerous world of handsome paranormal boy. But writers like Maggie Stiefvater have broken from the norm and created versions of this genre with their personal stamp on them. And writers like Laini Taylor have gone beyond the regular run-of-the-mill fantasy story and brought the genre to whole new levels of awesomeness, with mind-boggling plots and perfect prose and pacing and complete character arcs.
Really, all we need is just a good mix of contemporary and fantasy. Personally, when I get tired of writing contemporary, I dabble with some urban fantasy. And when I feel like I can’t take reading or writing another paranormal story, I go back to contemporary.
Maybe it’s all about shaking things up and attempting the things that you’ve never tried before and that scares you. I think I’m terrible at writing from third-person POV, which is why it’s the challenge I’m going to take on for INDIGO TIDES. For now, though, INDIGO is not the story I’m ready to tell. So I’m just sticking to my first love, what I know and love best, contemporary YA romance told from alternating first-person POVs.
Whatever genre we write in, as Joyce Carol Oates put it, “We write to create the books that we would like to read, that haven’t yet been written.” Fantasy or contemporary, we write whatever is true to us, whatever moves us; we write the story that we believe in. A friend of mine asked me a couple of days ago where I find the patience to complete a novel and all I could say in response was, “If there’s a story you strongly believe in that you want to share, you WILL find the patience for it no matter how much it torments you.”
And maybe we all have a story like that in us. And we might just discover that this NaNoWriMo. Happy writing!

Things that Vampire Diaries has taught me about writing

1. Every character has his or her own past that you can make full use of to drive the main plot. In other words, each character’s history can serve as a subplot to the main plot. The result, if managed well, will be a multilayered yet focused story. In Vampire Diaries, the secret of Elena’s parents’ death is tied to her eventual meeting with the Salvatore brothers; the town’s history with supernatural beings sets the backdrop for its current circumstance (i.e. Mystic Falls as the viewers see it now is a result of what went down decades and centuries ago); the vampires, who have lived through the ages, made countless nemeses and allies along the way, provide plentiful fodder for the show.

2. Every character has his or her own agenda. Everyone has wants, and everyone has one thing they want badly, and would go to all lengths to acquire. Thus transpires secret alliances, compromises and negotiations that may result in betrayals and shifting character dynamics. Damon is far from the straight and narrow, and his agenda is always questionable. You never really know (at least, at the beginning) if he’s good or evil, the accomplice or antagonist to his brother Stefan. He makes secret deals just to get what he wants, and even the local sheriff bends the rules occasionally to keep her daughter’s identity a secret. With constantly evolving morals and shifting definitions in the extent to which each character is willing to go to protect the thing/people they care about most, the story is given more fuel to run its course.

3. There is no resident hero. Stefan (see right) may be the male lead, but he’s gone from the sweet and affectionate boyfriend/broody hero/reformed bad boy with a horrific past archetype in season 1 to the psychopathic serial murderer called the Ripper in season 3 (albeit under a stronger vampire’s compulsion). He makes questionable choices, and you sometimes wonder if he’s gone so far off the rails that he’s never coming back. His love for Elena (and his brother Damon) is what brings him home eventually, and the only thing that grounds him to his humanity. While in season 3 Damon seems to swoop in to take Stefan’s place as the hero – by trying to bring his brother back from the dark side and helping him keep his bloodlust in check – he eventually rejects being typecast as the hero, even though Elena strongly believes there is good in him that is simply dormant.

Case in point: season 3 episode 19.

Elena: Why don’t you ever let anyone see the good in you?
Damon: When people see good, they expect good. And I don’t want to live to anyone’s expectations.

Elena makes for a pretty strong and relatable protagonist, though. She’s not entirely Buffy the vampire slayer, but she’s no Bella Swan either. She makes tough decisions, goes to all lengths to protect the people she loves but is not suicidal, doesn’t live just for herself and Stefan, and isn’t indomitable. When the audience first gets to know her, she’s a regular high school student struggling to move on from her parents’ untimely death and trying to stop blaming herself for it. That’s when she meets Stefan and decides to begin a new chapter of her life by letting him in it. Over the course of three seasons, she’s grown tougher but is still impulsive and often lets her humanity and compassion get in the way of things like, oh, killing vampires along with the Salvatore brothers in order to protect the town.

4. It never hurts to have pretty boys on the show. Just kidding. Well, not really. I just mean that the hero, while good-looking, needs to also be relatable. He needs to have a flaw – something that makes him human – as well as a redeeming quality. Stefan’s flaw is his inability to move on from his past. It is what Klaus (big bad powerful vampire who compels Stefan to be his evil minion, hence forcing him to turn his back on Elena, going on a blood binge and turning into the Ripper) used against him to unleash his dark side. His redeeming quality is his pure and true love for Elena, which is what literally saves him from himself ultimately. Damon’s flaw is his fear of caring. He cares, but he doesn’t want to show his vulnerability. Elena brings out that side of him eventually, but he still behaves like a philandering, smart-mouthed jerk from time to time. But I guess that’s just Damon (see below).

It’s funny. I started out taking a shot on Vampire Diaries just to indulge in some eye candy a la Ian Somerhalder. But I became hooked after the first episode because of the swift introduction of the call to action, inciting incident (ha, terms learnt in EN2274: Intro to Screenwriting, a module I’m taking this term) and the foreshadowing of impending crises that kept me thoroughly intrigued. I’m just two episodes away from finishing season 3. After that is the interminable wait for season 4, which will only air in October. Oh, the agony! In the meantime, think I’ll go rewatch Supernatural.

an update! on … tv?

Lately, I’ve been catching up on TV. And I’m not going to feel guilty about that. Because, no output without input, right? I’ve found that I get more ideas for my stories when I read or expose myself to as many narratives as I can.

So here’s what I’ve been preoccupied with:

1. SHERLOCK:

It’s a modern take on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classics, with all the essential characters (Holmes and Watson, Mycroft Holmes, Irene Adler, Mrs Hudson, Moriarty and Officer Lestrade) and their idiosyncracies. Benedict Cumberbatch plays a convincing Sherlock Holmes, and Martin Freeman brings a new depth to the character of Dr John Watson. The nineteenth century narratives are re-adapted to relevancy in the twenty-first, while retaining their original keen wit and bringing greater urgency to the story. There’ve been two seasons so far – the third will only be out next year (ye gods!) – and each season only has three hour and a half-long episode. I need some SHERLOCK already!
2. GRIMM:
Grimm’s another modern adaptation of the Grimm brothers’ classic tales, this time with detectives Nick Burkhardt and Hank Griffin. Nick is a Grimm, one who descended from a long line of hunters who see monsters where normal people wouldn’t. It’s essentially a cop drama with supernatural elements, yanking out those monsters from under the bed and bringing the bad and the ugly to fairytales. So far (I’m at episode 16 of season 1), they’re still churning out the monster-of-the-week type of storyline, but there’s an overarching, more sinister (cue dramatic music), narrative thread. I was a little hesitant about this show initially, but boredom drove me to take another chance on it. And while it’s no SUPERNATURAL (I still think that show is unparallelled in screenwriting), it makes for suitable entertainment.
(Oh, and just in case you need a reminder of how amazing SUPERNATURAL is, here you go:
)
3. VAMPIRE DIARIES:
Oops, I mean this:
But the main reason is really Ian Somerhalder. Well, you know me.
I know, I know. Yet another vampire story with two pretty boys and a damsel in distress. How is this contributing to the progress of women and our cultural landscape. I did swear I will never watch this show. TWILIGHT was enough, thank you very much. (To think I had been obsessed with that franchise.) But VAMPIRE DIARIES exceeded my expectations. I took a shot at it, intending to just feast my eyes on Ian Somerhalder even if everything else is going to be disappointing, but there are some bright moments in the three episodes I’ve watched so far. Sure, there were some cliched moments (the vampire element itself is a cliche, given these times of Stephenie Meyer) and cliched phrases:

Stefan: For over a century, I have lived in secret. Hiding in the shadows, alone in the world. Until now. I’m a vampire and this is my story.
Stefan: Everything I’ve kept buried inside came rushing to the surface.

But there are also some redeeming moments like this:

Elena: People are going to stop giving you breaks, Jeremy. They just don’t care any more. They don’t remember that our parents are dead; they have their own lives to deal with. The rest of the world has moved on. You should try to.
Jeremy: I’ve seen you in the cemetery writing in your diary. Is that supposed to be you moving on?

And:

Stefan: It’s been 15 years, Damon.
Damon: Thank God! Couldn’t take another day of the 90’s. That horrible grunge look did not suit you. Remember, Stefan, it’s important to stay away from fads.

And then there’s a mix of cliches and redeeming moments:

Elena’s diary:

Dear Diary, Today will be different. It has to be. I will smile, and it will be believable. My smile will say, “I’m fine, thank you. Yes, I feel much better.” I will no longer be the sad little girl that lost her parents. I will start fresh, be someone new. It’s the only way I’ll make it through.

Dear Diary, I made it through the day. I must have said “I’m fine, thanks” at least 37 times. And I didn’t mean it once. But no one noticed. When someone asks “How are you?”, they really don’t want an answer.

Plus, they’ve got a rocking soundtrack. Ross Copperman, Ternt Dabbs, Peter Bradley Adams… Need I say more?
So I guess you can say … I’m hooked. On yet another vampire franchise. But I think it’s safe to say VAMPIRE DIARIES is better than TWILIGHT.
4. AMERICA’S NEXT TOP MODEL CYCLE 18: BRITISH INVASION
And can I just say that this cycle’s winner is my absolute favourite so far! Sophie Sumner, from Britain’s Next Top Model Cycle 5, was second runner-up to some girl called Mecia. But her loss led her to something even better, and winning ANTM she’s gained so much more experience and the prizes are way better than those offered by BNTM.
Here’s Sophie, by the way:
Here she is rocking pink hair, which she was really excited about during the makeover on the show:
And here’s she with Emma Watson:
I’ve had several favourites on the show, like Raina Hein from cycle 14, Jane Randall from cycle 15 and Nicole Fox from cycle 13. But Sophie has to be my absolute favourite out of all the cycles I’ve watched so far. She’s smart (she’s from Oxford, which is probably how she met Emma, I’m guessing), funny and low-drama – generally a very bubbly, likeable and positive person. Like a little fairy with the spirit of a pixie. Plus, I absolutely ADORE her style. I mean, look at this dress she has on!

So that’s it on my obsessions for now. Till next time!