Through the Instagram App and What Sharon Found There

Through the Instagram App and What Sharon Found There

Recently, I joined a marketing group on Facebook, formed to help writers and small business owners (the businesses are small, not the owners—although, they may be small, too, who knows?) improve their public profile.

It’s a tough world out there, you know. I may be famous in my own back yard—as in, a new book brings a flurry of excitement from my mother, my mother’s neighbour, my sister and my aunt—but if I’m to make any impact on the world, or even my little corner of it, I have to get my name, and my work, “out there”, wherever the heck “there” may be.

We’ve been discussing social media. Are you on Twitter? Tick. Facebook? Tick. Do you have a Facebook author page? Tick. A blog? Tick. Pinterest? Tick. Instagram? Er, what, now?  “Ah, Instagram. The new, trendy app that simply anyone who is anyone is using.”  “Okay, well I’m not sixteen and I have no idea about Instagram. Help, please?”

In the event, it turned out that most of the other people in the group had no idea about Instagram either, so I decided to march forth and try out this brave new world for myself.

Does anyone have a clue?

Does anyone have a clue?

First step—as always—was to Google it for information. First question. What is Instagram? Google was most helpful. “You’re kidding, right? I mean, how old are you? A hundred and six?” (I jest, of course. Google would never be so flippant, or so rude.) Having determined that Instagram was an app that basically lets you share photos online (you know, kind of like Pinterest, or Facebook, or Twitter…), I decided that I HAD to be part of this amazing feat of technology.

First lesson. You can’t join Instagram online. You have to download an app to your phone. Having just figured out how to turn my brand new Windows phone on, I was in the marvellous position of being able to do just that. So I duly downloaded the app. Now what?

Second lesson. You have to have a username and password. Okay, fine. I’ll just use my name. Except, my name wasn’t available. My own name! Harsh. Okay, let’s go for my own name and date of birth. Not available. Well, that was just rude. How could my own name and date of birth not be available? Who pinched them? I tried various combinations of words and numbers and not one of them was available. In desperation, I used my nickname and birthday. Aha! Allowed. So I was finally signed up for Instagram.

Third lesson. Your username is available for everyone to see. Oh drat. I don’t want to be known as that. I thought it was private. Okay, how do I change my username? Back to my beloved Google, which scratched its head, rolled its eyes, tutted in despair and said, “You do know what edit profile means?” Oh. I hadn’t noticed that. So back I went and clicked on “edit profile”. Delete username. Add new username. Done. Well, that was easy. Just add a short bio now…

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Not the actual book I didn’t win because I DIDN’T win it.

Fourth lesson. Your bio has to be very, very short. Shorter than a tweet. After rambling on, explaining how I once played the queen in a school play, and how I never got over not having my name picked out of a hat to win a signed copy of a Bobby Brewster book after the author visited our primary school, in spite of the fact that I was the only child in the class who actually read for pleasure, I was informed, quite sternly, that my bio was far too long and I’d better cut it. I deleted a sentence, then a paragraph, then a chapter. Eventually, I was down to the permitted length. Success. My bio was complete. My profile was done. Except…

Fifth lesson. For some reason I cannot fathom, Instagram had taken my Facebook profile picture and used it as my Instagram profile picture. Since the picture wasn’t even of me, this didn’t seem at all useful. Back I went to Facebook and searched, in increasing desperation, for a photograph of me that looked reasonably human and didn’t feature me posing with Benedict Cumberbatch. What do you mean, camera trickery? It was all perfectly genuine, I’ll have you know. Anyway, I finally found one where, not only am I alone, not only am I not staring in horror with my hand half over my face, pleading with someone not to take my picture, but I am actually smiling. Crikey! So I changed that to my profile picture. (When I got home from work that night, the picture had loads of likes

100% genuine *cough*

100% genuine *cough*

and nice comments. I think my Facebook friends were stunned that I’d actually posted a photo of myself. I’m not the most photogenic of people, let’s face it.) So there I was, fully signed up and all profiled up for Instagram. Except…

Sixth lesson. I had no idea what I was supposed to actually do on there. I posted on my Facebook writer’s page, announcing that I had joined, and asking, quite genuinely, “What do I do now?” Back came several replies. “We have no idea, but when you find out can you let us know, please?” I really do have to get some younger, trendier friends. So, I decided to trawl through other people’s Instagram accounts and get some idea of what I was supposed to be posting. Hmm.

Seventh lesson. There is one huge snag with Instagram. You’re supposed to do things, see things, go places that are interesting. Since I’m usually either at home, writing, or at work, er, working, this doesn’t really apply to me. I tried my Write Romantic pal, Rachael Thomas, for help first. Her account featured lots of beautiful pictures of the countryside. Well, you see, Rachael isn’t just a fantastically talented romance writer. Oh, no. She’s also a dairy farmer. So when she skips merrily out of her house in the morning, she can raise her camera phone and sing happy little Disney songs and balance little blue birds on her hand as she takes gorgeous pictures of the Welsh countryside, pretty animals and—you know—stuff like that.  I, on the other hand, live in a city. I don’t much fancy taking pictures of the dustcart blocking our way out of the road yet again, or the latest takeaway that’s opened nearby because, after all, we’ve only got thirty takeaways in our area already, or the roadworks at the end of the street that have been there for weeks, even though whoever put them there seems to have forgotten all about them. So what to do?

Here's one I made earlier- honest!

Here’s one I made earlier- honest!

Eighth lesson. Everyone has photographs of cake. I mean, everyone! People bake and then they take pictures of their culinary creations so the rest of us can a) feel suddenly in desperate need of cake and b) hang our heads in shame because we haven’t baked since nineteen ninety-eight. (That may actually be true, in my case.) Even Rachael had posted a photograph of a cake she’d made! How does she find time for that, for heaven’s sake? I turned to my other Write Romantic chum, Helen Phifer. Helen is really busy, just like Rachael. But Helen writes ghostly crime stories. She collects photos of haunted houses and—you know—creepy stuff. I can rely on Helen. Oh, Helen! Cupcakes! Seriously? But yes, there they were. Cupcakes. Okay, they were in among some creepy stuff (and some lovely stuff, too!) but they were there. I had to take photos of cake. It was obviously the way to go. A quick scout around our kitchen revealed two stale Jacob’s cream crackers and a broken custard cream. I suppose I could have photographed them as some sort of artistic statement. But no…Things were getting critical.

Ninth lesson. Instagram makes you desperate to photograph anything. I mean, anything. I spent the entire day wandering around looking at “things” and wondering if they would make a good subject for a picture on Instagram. I even trawled through old Facebook photos, trying to convince myself that I could post some of them and pretend they were new. Then I realised that I didn’t like any of them anyway, so that was pointless. I decided I would have to buy cake and start—you know—actually going out. Desperate times.

Tessa to the rescue

Tessa to the rescue

Tenth lesson. When in doubt, remember man’s best friend. Okay, so I don’t bake, and I didn’t have cake in the house, and I don’t go anywhere. But what I do have, which seems to be very acceptable, is a pet. My lovely German Shepherd, Tessa (who features in my Kearton Bay books, albeit aged by some years and with a personality that’s the opposite of the real version, but is still lovely—not that I’m plugging my books, you understand. Ahem) was most obliging. As I scoured the house, looking for something that I could take a picture of, she gave a sudden sneeze, drawing my attention to her. She was lying by the sofa and as I leaned forward to get a better look at her, she gave me a worried look as if to say, “Why are you pointing that phone at me? Get away from me, you mad creature!” Too late, Tessa! A click and I had it! Feverishly, I looked at my photograph. Ah, my beautiful dog. You are the perfect subject for my first Instagram photograph!

Eleventh lesson. Uploading, or downloading, or whatever it is you do with the wretched things, isn’t as easy as you’d think. For a start, I couldn’t figure out how to crop the picture, and Instagram likes your photos to be square. Back I went to Google. “Oh, God. It’s you again. What now?” it sighed. Still, it was very obliging, and I managed to find an app that ensured all my photos were suitable for Instagram, and I didn’t have to worry about cropping or any of that technical stuff. Problem solved. So my picture of Tessa was duly up/downloaded. Then I up/downloaded pictures of my People’s Friend pocket novel. Then pictures of my two books. Then a picture of Winter Tales (which is back on sale, by the way). Then a picture of my notebooks to show that I was about to start plotting and drafting a new book, because, after all, I’m a writer, and that was the point of joining Instagram in the first place – to remind people that I write books and they’re worth reading, even if I do say so myself (and my mum’s neighbour agrees with me, so there). The point was not to prove that I bake cakes or go places or socialise or anything like that. Right?

Hmm. I still have to work out how, why, or if I should share my Instagram photos to Facebook. I also have to fathom the mysterious world of the hashtag, so my adventures in Instagramland are not over yet. I have a feeling that I’m going to be looking at life through a lens from now on. Everything is a photo opportunity.

Look out, world. Sharon’s got a camera – and she’s not afraid to use it. In fact, she’s quite desperate…

Sharon xxx

Wednesday Wondering – What are your childhood summer memories?

P1060508Welcome to August’s Wednesday Wondering. A few weeks ago, my eight-year-old daughter broke up for the school holidays; the start of a whopping 7 weeks and 2 days off! That’s a phenomenally long time. Panic set in. Would we be able to keep her entertained for that long, especially as we’d booked our main “summer” holiday for October half term so wouldn’t be going away and I’d started a new job and had very little time available to take off? Thank goodness for grandparents is all I can say on that one! Thinking about the long summer break ahead of her got me a bit nostalgic for my own long summer holidays as a child so my question to the Write Romantics this month was:
What are your memories of the long summer break as a child? Endless days playing out? Bored? Caravan holidays? Tell us all about it.
So they did …
Deirdre says …
Endless blue-skied days spent playing outside were very much a feature of my school summer holidays – because, wasn’t it always sunny, back then?  The freedom of being able to stay out until dusk, making ‘camps’ with the grass at the back of our flats when it was cut, hurtling down the slopes on roller skates, wandering round the estate where we lived and visiting friends’ houses – all of that made the holidays special.
Patty & Deirdre 1But my favourite time was when my two cousins, Pat and Linda, came down from London to stay with our Nan and Grandad for a week, and then I would be despatched by bus, with my little suitcase, to stay with them too.  The three of us slept in one double bed and of course there was more giggling than sleeping.  There were some old books about film stars, and Pat used to read to us out of them, making up funny accents.
Being Londoners, Brighton beach was the main attraction for the cousins, and Nan would take us down to spend most of the day there.  The photo shows Pat and me (I’m on the right) enjoying a splash about.  We’d stay in the sea until our skin was wrinkled like the skin of an old apple.
When the cousins had gone home, there were trips into the countryside to enjoy, just Mum, Dad and me.  We were lucky in that we had a car – hardly any of our neighbours did – and that was because my father worked in a garage and could get his hands on old bangers for very little money.  But they did us a turn, and we would pack a picnic and set out for our favourite spots.  No thermos flasks of tepid tea for us – we had a tiny stove that ran, I think, on methylated spirits or some such.  It was housed Leslie and picnic stovein an old biscuit tin and my Dad took great pleasure in getting this thing going in order to boil the kettle for the tea.  This photo of Dad plus stove is one of my favourite pictures of him.  I do remember great consternation – and a bit of a row – when on one occasion, nobody had remembered to bring the milk.
If I was ever bored in the summer holidays I don’t remember it.  I do remember feeling a bit miserable when all the other kids had gone indoors but I was an only child, so I was used to amusing myself.  At those times I’d escape into the current library book. This is nothing to do with summer holidays but that reminds me of something my Dad used to say, especially in his last years, after Mum had died: You’re never alone if you’ve got a book to read. Nice that, isn’t it?

Jackie says …

As a family we always went to Wales for our summer holiday and my memories are mostly of wearing a clingy, plastic rain mac, dragging it through puddles in Borth as water dripped into my eyes from the rain lashing down. I do recall the wonder of seeing flabby jellyfish lying in the sand and of finding tiny cowrie shells, clutching them furtively in my palm in case my dad said I wasn’t allowed to keep them. I’ve never seen them on any other beach in the UK since.

But the holidays I remember the most, were camping with the Girl Guides in the days when you had to make tripods for your rucksacks to sit on, and dig latrines in the ground with a tent put over the hole. By the end of day one, the tent was buzzing with flies and the smell was pretty horrific. When it was full, someone would then be told to fill in the hole and another one would be dug. 

I remember spiders and daddy long legs giving me evils from the top of the tent, and I remember trying to wash my hair in a round washing up bowl that was perched on a homemade tripod, and the whole thing tipping up on my shoes. 

There were frogs in the swimming pool and Captain pushed me and another girl in, and I thought I would die of fear and shock as I splashed into the cold water, although I don’t know what I thought the frogs would do to me! Nowadays she would probably be reported, but back then it was just considered par for the course.

My middle sister had Blancmange clumped in her fringe for most of the week and my elder sister cried when we sang ‘Taps’ around the camp fire before going to bed  ‘cos she missed my parents so much. That song makes me cry now. All I have to hear is the opening bars of ‘Day is done,’ and I’m welling up!

The most magical time of that holiday was being allowed to sleep under the stars on the last night. Us younger ones were hemmed in by the older girls as we all laid on the grass in our sleeping bags. We stared up at the clear sky, sprinkled with silver stars while Captain told us about each of the constellations and stories of how they got their names. 

I clearly remember appreciating the miracle that was the world I lived in and felt truly blessed to belong to it. 

I don’t think any of us realised how lucky we were to have our Captain, ‘Chad’ as she was known by the ones ‘in the know,’ But if she is still out there, I would love to be able to tell her how much she shaped my childhood and made me question and appreciate the world I live in. 

Thanks Chad, with love and respect from Jackie Dormouse.

Rachael says …

The long lazy days of my childhood summer certainly feel that way now. Firstly because life is so much busier today, but also because they were days of summer, if you know what I mean!

For me, six weeks out of school meant time to go for long walks with the family dog, to cycle  – on my mother’s old shopper, to go to town and feel all grown up hanging out in the city centre with my friends. Most of all, it was family time. With three younger brothers to keep in order, the noise level in our house was far from quiet and the activities we embarked on were varied to say the least. From playing on the garden swings to playing schools, to just generally fighting on the living room floor. They are all conjured up in my mind when I think of the summer holidays.

photoHelen P says …

I loved summer holidays, mainly because I hated school but it meant that we had our annual family holiday to Scarborough to look forward to. The whole family would go including my three brothers, nan, Aunty Dot & Uncle Pat. We would always stop in a self catering holiday flat and I loved it. In fact I still do, I took my own family there about ten years ago and they loved it too.

Below is a rare picture of Josh & Jeorgia enjoying playing out at Primrose Valley Caravan Park. It doesn’t seem that long ago, time really does fly.

P1060511

As for me, I smiled when I read through the responses as they had so many echoes of my own reaction to summer. We usually had two weeks away on holiday as a family. When I was very young, we had a tent, but this was swapped for a caravan. We had a lot of UK-based holidays, but we also travelled abroad with the caravan including very long trips to Germany and Norway. The caravan holiday that stands out the most for me was a trip to Great Yarmouth. It was probably the biggest caravan site we’d ever stayed on with a pool, huge playground and a clubhouse with entertainment until the early hours. My second cousins Andrea and Lisa were also on holiday in the area with their parents and we met up with them a few times, including a couple of nights at the campsite disco. I absolutely loved it.

P1060509But that still left about four weeks. Like Deirdre, I remember sun all the time. I used to play out on my bike and build dens in the fields and hedgerows that bordered our housing estate. Sometimes I played adventurous games with the boys in the neighbourhood and sometimes I wore dressing-up clothes or donned my roller boots and played out with the girls.

Days out with the family – including those whilst away in the caravan – always involved pre-prepared picnics. I don’t remember ever eating out. Mum would always prepare a jug of juice and we’d huddle round the back of the car, or sit on deck chairs in lay-bys with our sandwiches and juice. I can still picture that jug with it’s sealable lid and those beakers now, and hear the little sigh as the lid was eased up ready to pour. Isn’t it funny the little things that stick in your mind?

Sharon says…

It’s funny, but the summer holidays seemed to be always sunny and bright when I was young. I don’t remember it raining at all, though I’m sure it must have. Well, except for the summer of 1976, when the drought stretched on and on, and water was rationed, and it was too hot to do anything much except lie on the grass or eat ice cream.

Most summers, we went away to Primrose Valley. That was in the days before Haven owned it, and it wasn’t as big as it is now. I remember there was an outdoor roller skating rink and swing boats on the cliff top. There was a small shopping arcade, and a pub, “The Log Cabin”, where we all met every evening, and where my sister and I would sit in a little room drinking Coke and eating peanuts while the grown-ups had all the fun!

I loved those holidays because it seemed as if all the family went – grandparents, great aunts and uncles, cousins, half-cousins, the lot. My grandparents and aunt stayed in a pretty bungalow in the village, and we were in a posh caravan in a field across the road. There are photographs of those holidays stretching right back to when I was a baby in my pram on the beach, but the first time I remember going, I recall how shocked my parents were when we walked into the caravan and saw how grand it was. I don’t know what they’d been staying in before! We used to walk along the beach from Primrose Valley to Filey, and go winkle picking on Filey Brigg. Then we’d get fish and chips in Filey and walk back along the sands, tired but really happy.

At home, the days were spent roller-skating up and down the street, playing games like “May I?” and “Mr Wolf” across a road that had remarkably few cars passing through it, brambling, and going to the local swimming baths to cool off in the outdoor pool. I also remember warm summer evenings, sitting on the front garden wall, waiting eagerly for the ice cream van while Dad mowed the lawn. To this day, the smell of freshly-cut grass reminds me of those early evenings, sitting on the wall with my sister, watching my dad in the garden and listening out for those familiar chimes. Happy days.

We’d love to hear all about your summer memories. Please click on the comments at the end of the words below to join in the conversation.

Jessica xx

Sangria in the park, anyone?

It’s almost the end of February and it’s my son’s birthday on the 28th.  He was very nearly born the following day which, once every four years, is of course a leap year.  Pondering on this, I thought about what happens to that extra day and all the ones in between.  Do any of us really make the most of it and, in the words of the late Lou Reed, ever really get our Perfect Day?  Although, it’s not a leap year this year, it still inspired this week’s Wednesday Wondering, which is to ask you all what you would do if you had a day completely free to decide what to with it, from morning to night?  What would your perfect day look like and have you ever had one?

Jo
This is my final Wednesday Wondering for at least eight months, whilst the rest of The Write Romantics take their turn, so I’m glad to be spending it having my perfect day J.  I think, like a number of others, my perfect day would be spent eating, drinking and laughing with my nearest and dearest.  It would start with me rising early and writing a couple of thousand words, before my husband wakes up and brings me a cup of tea and a crispy bacon sandwich on tiger bread and a steaming hot cup of tea.  Next, I think a morning spent on a beach, rock-pooling with the children and feasting on locally made ice cream would be lovely.  Then hubby could take over with the children, whilst I catch the latest rom–com movie with friends and a late lunch of a clotted-cream afternoon tea.  Then, with the aid of a baby sitter, out with hubby for cocktails and a plate of salt and pepper squid.  A quick check of my emails on arriving home would reveal the offer a three book deal.  So I could finish the day in the hot-tub, looking up at the stars, with a glass of Champagne!

Julie
What a great question. I often think about people born on 29th Feb and whether they feel really special or perhaps struggle with identity issues as their actual birthday date is missing for 3 out of 4 years. Interesting. I think one of the most perfect days that stands out to me from start to finish was my wedding day. I know that may sound corny but everything was perfect; the weather, the food, the outfits, the disco at the reception … It had a couple of mishaps but they made the day funny e.g. I didn’t think about the extra height that the tiara would give to my head and knocked my hair on the door frame when getting into the car to go to the church. This knocked my head forward and I kissed the top of my dress. I was wearing a fairly bright lipstick! I also scraped my dress along the tires and got muck all over it. Then I messed up my vows and got the giggles in the church. But these things made it special.

As for just being handed a day for free and told I could spend it however I wanted, I’m torn between the ‘right’ answer and the selfish one! Selfishly, I’d love nothing more than to spend the whole day lost in the world of creativity that is writing my book. The phone wouldn’t ring, the cats wouldn’t constantly squeak at me to be fed and I’d have absolute peace. I’m lucky to snatch an hour here and there normally which is why this is bliss. The ‘right’ answer would be a day with the family but with nobody being in a grump (hubby) or having a strop (daughter). It would be a day in the great outdoors, location flexible, as long as it included a walk, some photo opportunities, a nice treat like an ice cream or a cake, a mooch round a couple of gift shops and probably a visit to somewhere historical. Given that I live in Scarborough, I have all that on my doorstep and I love it that I’m not actually from here so I don’t take it for granted; instead, I consider myself very lucky to be able to walk along the seafront and visit the castle etc whenever I want.

Alex
I like the idea of a perfect day but it wouldn’t be in February! I’d definitely want to save it until May or June when there’s some hope of a warm and sunny day in Yorkshire.  Then I’d probably go to Whitby.  It’s just over an hour’s drive for me and through some stunning countryside in the North Yorkshire Moors.  When I got there I’d walk down the 199 steps from the Abbey into the town and have lunch in my favourite teashop before walking along the sands and browsing in the lovely shops.  There would then have to be fish and chips for tea before I headed for home.

Jackie
I’ve been thinking about it on and off all week and am really stumped to work out what my perfect day would be- unless it was eating my way through the dessert menu at a really posh hotel- or even better having Simon Baker feed me!

Simon Baker

Helen R
I think I could say that I have had lots of days where I get to the end and just think, “Ah, that was the best day”. Major events are usually overshadowed by adrenaline though so when I think of a “perfect day” it’s more about simplicity…usually the sun would be shining, I would be with family perhaps on a walk followed by relaxing lunch with a glass of crisp Sauvignon Blanc.

Deirdre
I think for my perfect day I’d have to be in my favourite place, which is anywhere in the Sussex countryside.  Then add to that my favourite people, which would be my close family and some special friends.  It would be sunny all day, warm enough to be wearing a nice (hopefully new) summer dress and sandals, and there would be the most delicious food and drink.  Right then, now I’m in the beautiful cottage garden of an old timbered pub and we’re sitting round a vast wooden table with one of those umbrellas over it.  My food has just arrived – deep fried whitebait, with salad and home-made chunky chips, after which I’ll have chocolate pud, all washed down with champagne, best quality of course.  The conversation is light and funny and everyone’s happy with no worries whatsoever.  The birds are singing and there isn’t a pesky wasp in sight.  In the evening we’d all go back to our house, which would have miraculously trebled in size since we left, and sit about watching a great film on the giant screen TV (OK, another miracle required…) with some delicious nibbles and more champagne.  Mmm, when is this perfect day and can I have it soon please?

Rachael
If I had an extra day, first I’d have to insist it was a lovely summer’s day. I’d get up early and head off to one of the many places in the country I’m always promising myself of going to. I love castles and old houses and enjoy losing myself in the history of the place.

I did do that last year when I travelled to Sheffield for the RNA Conference. I have always wanted to go to Chatsworth, so took an extra day off the farm and visited this marvellous place the day before the conference. The sun shone as I wandered around the grounds and listening to the guide as I went through the house gave a real insight to the history of the place. It’s a place that it now on my revisit list!

Lynne
We had pretty much my perfect day last weekend, we were childless all day and went on a lovely drive round Oxford then stopped at a really lovely garden centre which is so much more than just plants but has lovely things to tempt. Then we stopped at a fab country house hotel on the way home for afternoon tea. I love old houses and this, Bibury Court, is a 17th C building with a huge wood fire and loads of squashy sofas in which to curl up & read the papers. Then, home early, to read one of the fab works by my fellow Write Romantics of course. What could be better!

So, come on then, The Write Romantics are giving you a free day to create your perfect twenty-four hours, so please tell us what you plan to do with it and we can all indulge together!

Jo x