Come Dream With Me

As this year comes to a close I’d like to say a MASSIVE thank you to everyone who  helped support the #TRUEFACE movement in 2015.

True Face started life as this tiny poem:

Don’t show me your Tweet Face or ur txt spk

Show me your true face and let your heart speak

This tiny poem grew into a 230 page book.

The book spawned this blog, numerous articles and a speaking tour – all thanks to the overwhelming support of so many people.

My publishers, Faber & Faber, countless high schools, literary festivals and other organisations, book bloggers and reviewers, readers of the book and contributors to this blog.

Thank you all so much.

Over the past year I’ve talked to thousands of people about True Face and the importance of being true to yourself in what can feel like an increasingly crazy and inauthentic world.

One thing I’ve learned from speaking to so many people on this theme is that we all share the same doubts and insecurities and we all face the same pressures.

We all have an inner voice of doom. We all have moments where we feel inadequate in comparison to others.

The question is how we handle our fears.

One question I ask the audience in all of my True Face talks is: What are you proud of achieving?

This question is always met with an initial awkwardness but once I get people to dig beneath their embarrassment or reluctance to appear arrogant, there are some incredible revelations.

We might all share the same fears but we also all have many reasons to feel happy and proud – if only we take the time to look for them.

So, to end your year on a high note, take some time to reflect on all the things you feel proud of achieving in 2015.

They could be academic or career-related.

They could be more personal.

Think of all the times this year when you’ve overcome fear.

Think of all the times you’ve been true to yourself.

Feel proud of these achievements. And use your pride to fuel your dreams for the future.

This is the last time I’m going to be posting on this site.

From now on I’ll be blogging solely at Dare to Dream.

If you haven’t visited Dare to Dream before, here are a few posts to tempt you in:

This isn’t the end of my True Face work.

Far from it.

This site will remain as a wonderful archive of articles and interviews to dip into for True Face inspiration.

And I’ll continue blogging on the True Face theme over at Dare to Dream.

Next year my novel The Moonlight Dreamers will be coming out.


The Moonlight Dreamers is a celebration of love, friendship and the importance of being true to yourself and following your dreams.

It’s the perfect fictional companion to True Face.

I’m planning many fun events with a Moonlight Dreamer and True Face theme for 2016.

If that sounds like your kind of thing then please follow my Dare to Dream blog and you’ll be kept right up to date.

Let me leave you with the quote that inspired The Moonlight Dreamers and let 2016 be the year that you achieve your biggest, boldest dreams…

Yes, I am a dreamer. For a dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees dawn before the rest of the world.” Oscar Wilde.



When Creativity and Science Collide: Inspirational Interview with Agnes Becker



Today, on TALKING TRUTH I’m delighted to be interviewing Agnes Becker.

Agnes is the Communications Officers for IDEAS (Informed Decisions for Actions in Maternal and Newborn Health) based at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. She also writes the wonderful blog We Are Stardust, which explores the mystery and beauty of nature though art, craft and science. Her interview is a really great and life-affirming read, including some of Agnes’ favourite inspirational quotes, so get yourself a drink, get cosy and enjoy…


Welcome to True Face, Agnes! Could you start by telling us a bit about what you were like as a child? What were your favourite games and pastimes? Where were your favourite places? And what did you dream of being and doing when you were a ‘grown-up’?

“Isn’t it splendid to think of all the things there are to find out about? It just makes me feel glad to be alive – it’s such an interesting world. It wouldn’t be half so interesting if we know all about everything, would it? There’d be no scope for imagination then, would there?” ― L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

Imagination played a huge role in my favourite childhood pastimes and games. I loved dreaming up stories and acting out plays, usually set in faraway lands or back in time with treasure and secret doors and keys, with my sister, brother and friends: swimming pools would become an ocean where we were mermaids, walks in the woods became trips where we were witches looking for ingredients, and stuffed toys a menagerie of animals in our farm.

My imagination sometimes got a bit out of hand. I’d sometimes scare myself by thinking a bit too much about what I would be if I wasn’t me. Would I be a planet? But if I were a planet, how would I know I was me?

Barbie was a huge favourite, mostly because I loved dressing her up but also because she could do so many things and go to so many different places. I remember in one of my magazines, Barbie went back in time and visited the Aztecs in Mexico, and in another she went to a tropical rainforest. I thought that was amazing as I often used to pretend I lived in another time and imagine leading expeditions to the Amazonian rainforest.

I enjoyed drawing, especially treasure maps, baking, raspberry biscuits in particular, and making things, like a rocket out of an old cardboard box. Playing my violin was also fun, particularly the exercises where I got to eat a Smartie or Hula Hoop. At one time, I became quite obsessed with being a spy and writing things in code. I wrote a letter to my older self in a secret code. It must be in my old room somewhere…

I also loved quiet time – listening to mum or dad read us books or lying on the sofa listening to story tapes. My favourite books were ones about adventures and secret, magical places and lost worlds Winnie the Pooh, Grimms Fairytales, The Secret Garden, The Magic Faraway Tree, Tom’s Midnight Garden Harry Potter, Narnia and puzzle adventure books.

The back garden was a favourite place. It was wild but also safe. I used to make potions from a mix of toothpaste, rose petals and water and mud pies of varying qualities of dirt, which I’d “sell” to mum and dad. I made a den in the garden’s crooked barn. It used to be dark, dusty and full of old trunks covered in cobwebs. I imagined all sorts of forgotten objects and untold stories were hidden in those trunks.

I used to dream of being an explorer, an archaeologist, a palaeontologist, a ballerina, a spy, a dentist (?!), a gypsy, a pirate and the little mermaid.

What a beautiful description of your childhood. And what a tribute to the power and scope of a child’s imagination!

In TRUE FACE I talk about how certain pressures can make us hide our true selves away from the world as we grow up. Things such as difficulties in our home life, criticism from a parent or teacher, and peer and society pressure to fake it to fit in. Did you experience any of these? And if so, how did you end up hiding your true self from the world.

“Though her soul requires seeing, the culture around her requires sightlessness. Though her soul wishes to speak its truth, she is pressured to be silent.” 
― Clarissa Pinkola EstésWomen Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype

I definitely experienced pressures that made me hide my true face in many different aspects of my life. I have felt pressures to choose certain careers, to look attractive, to be liked by everyone, not to be a “bad” friend, to live in a certain area, to get married and to not get married, to wear certain clothes and make up, to be ashamed of my German heritage, and to see the world through particular belief systems. In all cases, conforming to these pressures ended up with me acting in a way that others wanted me to act and left me feeling (to various degrees) trapped, miserable, underconfident, a pushover, guilty, jealous, angry and discontented.

Were you able to resist the pressure to change in anyway?

In my early adult life I was able to say no to going clubbing at university. In my first and second year of university this was the done thing, and it could be a lot of fun. By the third year I was a bit bored of it. I had imagined university would be full of discussions with my friends about the knowledge we were learning and debates on ways of living or seeing the world.

I loved spending time with my friends though, so I’d go out for a few drinks and maybe a bit of a dance and then go home when I felt tired (usually much earlier than everyone else!). Initially, I’d feel guilty for not being a good enough friend or a fun enough person. But eventually I realised that my friends were my friends because they liked me for who I was, rather than how much I partied. Accepting we are all different and like different things was part of growing up and becoming stronger friends.

I love your answer. It’s so true – when we’re young we can be so scared of losing friendships and end up sacrificing our own wants and needs to keep others happy. What happened to you is a great lesson in trusting in the strength of your friendships and being true to yourself.

In TRUE FACE there’s a whole section on turning emotional wounds into wisdom so that they may fully heal. What wisdoms have you learnt as a result of any tough times you’ve been through? How are you now able to see the gift in the experience?

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less travelled by,And that has made all the difference.” – Robert Frost, A Road Not Taken

I am quite an indecisive person. I can see many different paths each decision could lead to and the advantages and disadvantages of each. Therefore once I’ve made a decision, I tend to compare myself to others and think “should I have taken the other path?” I still struggle with this curse of ‘should’: I should have been less forthright in that meeting as now my colleagues will think I’m bossy and won’t like me, I should have chosen xyz career path as I would be earning more, I should have gone jogging as then I’d be thinner. These thoughts can get out of hand. I start over-thinking, beating myself up about my decisions, which then influences my behaviour, making me less confident. I then pass on my insecurities by projecting my fears onto others, particularly other women with whom I compare myself with, resulting in feelings of jealousy and resentment.

What works for me is to first of all realise that these thoughts are FALSE and to STOP thinking them. I may still feel sad or upset, and that’s fine. But as soon as I realise these thoughts are just a negative voice in my head and not reality, the less it undermines my self-confidence and self-belief.

The next thing I need to do is figure out what is best for me. I may think I’m being a kind person by going out with friends after work when I actually want to go home and rest (being the martyr!). Really this isn’t the kindest thing to do. I doing it because I should I end up resenting my friends. I get false thoughts when I am tired and stressed so usually what’s best for me is to go home, watch a film, have a bath and sleep!

Lastly, part of contentment in life is being brave enough to accept the decision you have made and enjoying it. This is a skill I am learning from my amazing husband. We live in a consumer society where we always need compare ourselves to others and want what they have instead of seeing how lucky we are. Not all of us make decisions in the same way so be kind to others if their opinion differs from yours – especially other women (women in our society are taught to criticise each other so harshly when we should be standing hand in hand helping and supporting each other). There may not always be a “right” decision but one has to make decisions in life to move forward so enjoy where you are and if you don’t like your situation, learn from it and change it. We are lucky to live in a country where we have the power and freedom to change our lives.

Amen to that! It’s so depressing the way women are encouraged to constantly compare and criticise. I think the world desperately needs more kindness.

So, on a more positive note, what are you most proud of achieving and why?

I’m proud of managing to find a career that brings together my love of science and exploration of other cultures with my love of making and creating things. I have no idea where it will lead me to as there isn’t a clear career path but that makes it even more exciting as I have the opportunity to forge a new path.

It can be hard not being part of a particular discipline or community but I love being on the edge of disciplines, exploring overlaps and the blurs between the boundaries.

I am proud that my job is one that tries to dispel the myth that science is for an elite of white middle-aged men in lab coats doing “very clever work”. I aim to show that science – just like art and music – is a part of our culture and helps us to see and understand the world in a different and useful way. There is still some way to go in getting the gender balance right in science, especially in the top jobs. Things are getting better thanks to initiatives such as Athena Swan. I am proud to be currently working with a team of wonderfully powerful, kind, intelligent female scientists.

In TRUE FACE I get readers to identify their ‘star qualities’ – their best traits. What would you say your star qualities are?

I am a renaissance woman! I love learning about the world through many different disciplines (art, science, walks, food, travel), seeing the connections between them and making sense of the world through creating things. I learn best through visuals and stories so try to incorporate these elements in my work.

What are your passions in life and how do you make time for them?

“Every one of us is a memorial to long-dead stars. Every one of us was quite literally made in heaven.” – Marcus Chown, The Magic Furnace.

I am lucky that I enjoy my work. However, I spend a lot of time talking and writing about my colleagues’ work. I wanted my own project. Three years ago I started a science themed greetings card business called We Are Stardust. It allows me to be more creative with my own ideas. I have recently gone down to 90% with my job so that every two weeks I have a day off to work on my business. I feel very lucky that I am able to do this financially as it is a wonderful luxury to spend time on something I love doing and that’s my project.

Also, I love spending time with friends and family and I have A LOT of (too many?) hobbies – dancing, playing the violin, knitting, sewing, baking, cooking, seeing friends, cycling, walking, drawing, swimming, reading, making my home lovely, travelling. Obviously, I don’t do all of them all the time. Things seem to go in cycles, sometimes I’m dancing more and playing my violin less, sometimes I see my friends more but don’t exercise as much. Accepting that I can’t do everything perfectly in balance all at the same time – and that that is OK and normal and I shouldn’t beat myself up about it- has been the key to success!

I love your passion for life – it’s so infectious! Do you have any advice for our readers about dreaming boldly, loving passionately and living authentically?

“Go out in the woods, go out. If you don’t go out in the woods nothing will ever happen and your life will never begin.”  Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype

You know when things don’t feel right. It’s that gut instinct. It may take a while to realise it and you may do that thing multiple times or stay in a relationship for too long before you do something about it but trust that instinct. Don’t beat yourself up about not realising it straight away – it’s a process – and don’t beat yourself up because you feel like you should be doing what doesn’t feel right, especially if that should is based on what others are pressuring you to do. The reality is that most people worry about their own lives and how they are living, not what you should be doing. They may be pressing their own fears and insecurities onto you. When things are hard, surround yourself with kind, supportive people. Acknowledge their compliments about how wonderful you are, don’t dismiss them. Only you can figure out what makes you content (note, not happy – no one can be happy all the time).

Living authentically and being content with my decisions is giving me a sense of control of my life and an ability feel genuine love and kindness towards others and their decisions. Resentment and jealousy are being replaced by true happiness for those around me.

Oh, and don’t be afraid to wear comfortable clothes! They make your life so much better.

Yes, yes, and yes! And comfortable clothes rule! Finally, when it comes to life and love, what do you absolutely know to be true?

“Only connect.” – E. M. Forster, Howard’s End

Everything and everyone is connected. We are one, small part in this giant, amazing universe, the scope of which we can’t comprehend. It’s a mysterious, harsh, cruel, beautiful, messy world we live in. We all rely on each other and on nature to survive and be content. So let’s look after each other, be compassionate, empathetic and kind. Bring joy to other people, and let others comfort you. Experience the big, strong and loud as well as the small, delicate and quiet. Take care of the world around you, and the ones you love. We only have this life!
Get your copy of True Face here.

You are NOT Your Exam Results

Somehow, don’t ask me how, we’re into August already.

August – the month of sunshine and beaches and ice-cream and fun times.

Unless of course, you’re waiting for exam results.

If you’re waiting for exam results, August can become overcast with clouds of fear.

And the words: ‘WHAT IF I FAIL?‘ play over and over on a loop in your mind; triggering a montage of nightmare scenarios.

You don’t get the grades needed to go to sixth form or uni.

Your parents disown you.

You have to give up on your dreams of a fulfilling career.

In short: Your. Life. Will. Be. Over.

If this is you, please take a deep breath and read on. I have something very important to say to you.

If you don’t do as well as you hoped in your exams and even if you fail spectacularly, your life will not be over because you are NOT your exam results.

In our exam-driven education system we’re encouraged to believe that how we perform in a handful of 60 or 90 minute tests defines who we are and what we are capable of but it just isn’t true.

And more importantly, defining ourselves by our failures or successes is a really dangerous way to live.

Of course, when things go well; when we ace an exam paper, we feel wonderful, but, if and when we fail, it can feel as if we’ve failed as a human.

Let me give you an example from my own life.

When I first became a published author, I let it define me.

For several years previously I’d felt pretty crap about myself. I was a uni drop-out, I was in a very difficult relationship and, prior to getting pregnant with my son, I’d been working in a job I hated and was rubbish at.

But then I got a book deal.

And suddenly I was no longer a drop-out or a failure – I was A Published Author.

At first defining myself by my success felt frickin’ great.

I felt as if I could finally be proud of myself.

But, fast forward four years and four books, and disaster struck.

My third novel for adults hadn’t sold as well as my publisher had hoped and so my worst nightmare came true – I was dropped.

No more book deal meant no more being able to call myself a writer and – because I’d been defining myself by my writing success – I was devastated.

It truly felt as if my life was over.

Just as some of you reading this might be stressing that if you fail your exams you will disappoint your family, I was terrified that people would no longer respect me – that they’d look at me and see a big fat failure.

But I couldn’t have been more wrong.

In fact, I would go so far as to say that losing my book deal was one of the best things that could have happened to me.

The five years I spent without a book deal ended up being some of the happiest years of my life.

In a desperate bid to earn some money, I started running two weekly writing workshops in London. But what started as a financial thing soon grew into so much more. To my total surprise I discovered a passion for teaching. Other bonuses included making a huge network of new and creative friends.

I also trained to become a life coach and forged a new career helping people achieve their dreams, which was massively rewarding.

But most importantly, I realised that I was not my job – just as you are not your exam results.

And I learnt that our worst case scenarios can often be blessings in disguise.

Failure forces us to confront our worst fears.

It stretches us, like an emotional workout, making us stronger and wiser and more resourceful – if we allow it to.

So, how can you prepare for your exam results with positivity and hope?

There’s an exercise in the True Face book which is perfect for this.

Take some time when you know you won’t be interrupted and write a list of all the things you’re proud of achieving.

These could be previous academic or work achievements, or of a more personal nature.

Maybe you’re proud of being a good friend. Or you’re proud of getting through a difficult experience.

Really take your time with this and write down as many as you can think of. And it doesn’t matter how ‘small’ or ‘insignificant’ you might think they are, just jot them all down.

When your list is complete go through each thing and beside it or beneath it, write down the qualities you needed in order to be able to achieve it.

So, for example, if you wrote that you’re proud of the way you supported a friend, you would have needed to be COMPASSIONATE and KIND and LOVING and STRONG.

If you wrote that you’re proud of how well you did in a particular school assignment, you would have needed to be INTELLIGENT and HARD-WORKING and maybe CREATIVE.

Try to get at least two qualities for each of the things you are proud of (it’s fine to use the same one more than once).

Now write these qualities in a separate list of their own. So, for example, your list might look something like this:








Read the list over and over and let the words and their meaning really sink in.

This is who you are.

And this is who you will still be, whatever your exam results.

Now think of your worst case scenario.

You don’t get the grades expected or needed.

How could you use the qualities in your list – the qualities that make you YOU – to turn things around?

Using the list above as an example, how could you be KIND and COMPASSIONATE to yourself?

What kind of CREATIVE solution could you come up with?

How could your DETERMINATION and INTELLIGENCE and STRENGTH and BRAVERY help you now?

Free-write your answers in your notebook or journal.

Come up with a plan.

Get crystal clear on what you’re going to do if the worst does happen.

Ask yourself how ‘the worst’ might actually work out for the better, just like me being dropped by my publisher did.

If you had to take a gap-year to do retakes, what new and exciting opportunities could this offer?

To sum it all up…

By seeing yourself as your qualities rather than your results you are freeing yourself from a whole world of stress.

When I realised that I wasn’t actually defined by what I did, I started writing from a place of passion and pure enjoyment rather than stress or fear.

Free from needing a traditional book deal to make me feel good about myself, I self-published my first young adult novel, Dear Dylan, and gave it away for free.

And the irony is, this book went on to bring me career success beyond my wildest dreams.

But if I lost it all tomorrow, I would be fine.

Because I am not my successes and failures.

And neither are you.

You are your passions and your qualities and your capacity for love and joy. Pure and simple.


A brilliant concept … I felt like a more confident and honest version of myself once I’d finished.” Teen Book Hoots

Get your copy of True Face here

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One Hammock, Two Stories … and a Cautionary Tale

Today I’d like to tell you two stories – and offer you a bonus cautionary tale about the perils of faking it on social media.

So get comfy, settle in and let me tell you two stories about one hammock…

Story One: Hammock Heaven


This weekend I had such an AMAZING time, chilling in my sister’s hammock.

It was like so perfect, just lying there, admiring my freshly waxed legs as I swung in the breeze.

Seriously, it was THE BEST time 🙂 🙂  #livingthedream #legselfie #perfection


Story Two: Hammock Horror

Last weekend I went to visit my sister and her family.

When I spied a hammock at the bottom of the garden my eyes lit up.

I’ve long harboured dreams of lying in a hammock, cloud-gazing for hours on end, while the wind gently rocks me back and forth.

Now finally, my dream was about to come true.

Or was it…?

Let me tell you, lying in a hammock is not quite as chilled as they make out in the holiday brochures.

As I attempted to get into the hammock for the first time, this happened…


Hearing my screams for help, my sister’s boyfriend helpfully came running – to helpfully take the above picture.

Then, to my horror, this happened…


Yep. I totally capsized and ended up UNDER the hammock, being serenaded by a chorus of laughter from my sister, her partner and my one-year-old nephew.

When I did manage to gingerly shuffle my way to the centre of the hammock without toppling out I was so damn nervous I didn’t dare move a muscle.

Instead of swaying gently in the breeze, I lay rigid as a corpse, clinging to the edges and dreading the time I would have to attempt to ‘dismount’.

My nephew calls me Auntie Uh-Oh #truestory.

A Cautionary Tale

I think my hammock horror story is a perfect example of how we shouldn’t always believe what we see and read on social media.

I could have just tweeted the top pic at the weekend and no-one would have ever known about the abject terror pinning those legs to the jauntily striped fabric.

No-one would have heard the peals of laughter going on in the background as my family cracked up over the other pics – the pics that showed my hammock experience in a whole other light.

While my example is humorous (my shrink says the trauma will fade quicker if I learn to see the funny side) there is a serious side to this; a cautionary tale if you like.

I know I’m not alone in sometimes feeling inadequate when I look at another person’s flawless social media account.

It can be hard to remember that we’re only ever seeing filtered highlights.

So, next time you see a picture of a celebrity or friend looking oh-so-perfect and hashtag-living-the-dream, take a moment to imagine what might really be going on behind the scenes.

Seconds after posting that soft-filtered pic of them looking all loved up with their boyfriend – #relationshipgoals – they might have had a blazing row.

That photo of them grinning as they board yet another plane to somewhere exotic – #jetset – might be masking sheer exhaustion or a morbid fear of flying.

Their Instagram gallery of soft-focused food – #eatgreen – might be disguising a relentless battle with anorexia or bulimia.

We just don’t know – so we should never let ourselves feel inadequate because of it.

And finally…

Which of my hammock stories did you prefer?

The my life is so #perfect one, or the #truestory?

I know which version went down way better on Facebook.

People like honesty and imperfection.

Seeing someone make an eejit of themselves endears us to them and makes us feel better about our own imperfect self.

Food for thought next time you update your social media…

securedownload-4True Face On the Road

Over the next few months I’ll be taking True Face on the road in a series of workshops, beginning at YALC in London this Sunday!

The True Face Workshop is a fun and interactive way of empowering people to dream boldly and live authentically and I’d love to see you there.

Find out more here.

Hope to see you on the road!

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‘Make good choices, work hard and don’t give up.’ Talking Truth with Author Nicole Burstein

Nicole Burstein and I first met five years ago. At the time she was working in Waterstones’ flagship bookstore in London Piccadilly and I had just self-published my first YA novel. We both dreamt of one day having traditional book deals for our young adult novels so I’m absolutely thrilled to welcome Nicole to True Face today, shortly after publication of her first YA novel, Other Girl.


Siobhan: Welcome to True Face, Nicole. Can you start by telling us a bit about what you were like as a child. What were your favourite games and pastimes? Where were your favourite places? And what did you dream of being and doing when you were a ‘grown-up’?

Nicole: I’ve always been an extroverted character. I was never shy, loved being introduced to people, and was always the first to raise my hand in school. Basically, Hermione was based on me. I even had the frizzy gold hair! My favourite thing was storytelling. I loved telling stories, made-up, fairytales or my own versions of more famous stories. My dolls would play out intense sagas, and I used to make books out of folded up dot matrix paper, and bound them with sellotape. I suppose they were more like pamphlets really, but I called them books. I had a blackboard in my bedroom, and I would often play school with my brother, attempting to teach him all the things I had learnt myself in school that day. I’ve always been very ‘indoorsy’. Give me a cosy space, a nice comfortable cushion, and a good book and I’d be fine all afternoon!

Siobhan: In TRUE FACE I talk about how certain pressures can make us hide our true selves away from the world as we grow up. Things such as difficulties in our home life, criticism from a parent or teacher, and peer and society pressure to fake it to fit in. Did you experience any of these? And if so, how did you end up hiding your true self from the world?

Nicole: I always felt different from the other kids around me. I was very clever for my age; for me intelligence was a bit like my height. I grew tall really very early and quickly (I had size 8 feet when I started secondary school. I remember this specifically because I was forced to wear boys shoes, which was mortifying), and I think the same happened with my brain. I don’t consider myself particularly intelligent now, just like I don’t consider myself particularly tall. But developing and being really bright too early does make life a little difficult. I found it difficult to make and keep friends. I was naturally an extrovert, so I was always told off for ‘showing off’. In conjuncture with this, I never felt pretty. I was too tall, got spots really early, and have never been thin. Add to this the big feet and the frizzy hair, and basically you have a mess of a teenager. Hiding my true self was the most difficult thing, because I’ve always worn myself on the outside. Playing dumb was never an option (I enjoyed succeeding too much) and I couldn’t ever escape the way I looked. So I would often just play along with my traits, and then exaggerated them. I made fun of myself before anyone else could, and played the clown so that other people’s jibes couldn’t hurt me. I laughed along with everyone else, and made out that nothing hurt me. It wasn’t until my early twenties that I realised how much harm I had done to myself by repressing so many of my sad and angry feelings.

Siobhan: You raise a really important issue there – it can be so tempting to hide our pain behind a comedy mask but, kept bottled up, these feelings can really end up hurting us. In TRUE FACE there’s a whole section on turning emotional wounds into wisdom so that they may fully heal. What wisdoms have you learnt as a result of the tough times you’ve been through? How are you now able to see the gift in the experience?

Nicole: I suffered big time during my early twenties as a result from difficult teen years. I’m not sure if the term ‘nervous breakdown’ is really accurate, because what happened to me was a very slow process and not one instantaneous thing, but I tend to refer it as that. I spent nearly two months in hospital, where I broke myself down into lots of little pieces and then had to learn how to build myself back up again. The greatest lesson I learnt was this: Feelings are real, but they may not be true. I may feel that I am ugly, and I may feel that I am an unworthy person – and its fine to feel these things and you shouldn’t deny your feelings, but these feelings aren’t necessarily true. In fact, they probably aren’t. You have to step back and learn how to analyse the truth of a situation before you give in to your feelings. This is very, very hard to do, and its taken me years to get there. I wish I could go back to my teenage self and say “I’m sorry that you feel this way, and I know that its painful, but its not true. None of it is true.”

Siobhan: I’m so sorry that you had to experience that. Thank you so much for sharing the wisdom you gained from that experience with us. So, what are you most proud of achieving and why?

Nicole: I am most proud of being a novelist of course! I’ve known that I was a writer ever since I found out what a writer was, and now my very own book is on the shelves. Not the imaginary shelves of my mind, but the real life bookshop shelves! I don’t think that its possible to express how much this achievement means to me. It’s everything.


Siobhan: It was so lovely when we recently went back to the scene of our first meeting, Waterstones Piccadilly, and looked at our books on the shelves. Dreams really can and do come true! A big part of the TRUE FACE ethos is getting people to identify their ‘star qualities’ – their best traits. What would you say your star qualities are?

Nicole: One of my star qualities is definitely my voice. I was always told off for talking too much and too loudly, but I don’t think that ‘loving the sound of your own voice’ is necessarily a bad thing. If I have something to say, I will say it! I even got to work on the radio for a bit, getting paid for my voice! And now I’m looking forward to using my voice to talk to young people through my books. Speaking and writing is very much the same thing in my head. 

I also have a pretty good moral compass. I take a lot of pleasure in doing the right thing. I enjoy being kind, and I like helping people. If I see wrong being done, then I have a huge compulsion to vanquish it. It’s probably why I like writing about superheroes so much! 

Siobhan: And what are your true passions in life and how do you make time for them?

Stories! Not just books either… I love the theatre, and the cinema, and television, and comic books. Stories can be told in a huge variety of ways, not just in novels. You just have to find the right stories for you, told in the right way.

I am also very close with my family, and I always make time for them. Depression and anxiety disorders run in my family, but we’re really lucky that we’re close and can talk openly about whatever is going on with us. We help each other get through life, and I don’t know what I’d do without them. 

Siobhan: We’ve both been lucky enough to have achieved our writing dreams. Do you have any advice for our readers about dreaming boldly and never giving up hope? 

Nicole: I truly believe that you can do anything you want to in life. It’s just dependent on two things: making good, rational choices, and working hard. If you want to be an astronaut? There really isn’t anything stopping you. You just have to be prepared to make good decisions (studying the sciences, and probably another language) and work really, really hard (being physically fit, and getting good grades). At the same time you have to realise your limitations. I would love to be an astronaut, but I have flat feet and need glasses (I can’t wear contact lenses) so at some point I needed to tell myself that going to space wasn’t for me. Be honest with all your decisions. Think about what you want to achieve, and why. And then work out if its actually possible. If it is (and I think most things are – I could get laser eye surgery if I really wanted to) then you need to go for it with all of your heart. There will be times when you’ll want to give up, and there’ll be setbacks, but if this is really your dream, and you can’t imagine having another, then go for it. GO FOR IT. 

I always knew that I wanted to be a writer, but I wasn’t doing anything about it. Then the recession hit, and I couldn’t get a job, so I decided to do my Masters in Creative Writing and work at a bookshop to pay for it. Everything else was about the good choices and the hard work. I was never scared to talk to people (like you Siobhan!!!) and make friends in the book industry, I read everything I could get my hands on, and wrote like my life depended on it. Which it did, and still does. 

Make good choices, work hard and don’t give up. That’s the secret. That’s it. 

Siobhan: Brilliant! And finally, when it comes to life and love, what do you absolutely know to be true?

You’ve got to be your own best friend. Be kind to yourself. Treat yourself. Be honest with yourself. Give yourself a good talking to when you need it. Be annoyed at yourself. Push yourself harder. Listen to yourself. And never, ever give up on yourself.

You can find out more and order a copy of Nicole’s novel, Other Girl right here.

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True Face is going on the road in a series of workshops. Find out more here.


Talking Truth: With Author Alexia Casale


Today, I’m delighted to welcome Alexia Casale to TRUE FACE. Alexia is author of The Bone Dragon and her new novel, House of Windows, is out in August. She’s also director of the fantastic new initiative, YA Shot.


SIOBHAN: Welcome to TRUE FACE, Lexi! Can you start by telling us a bit about what you were like as a child. What were your favourite games and pastimes? Where were your favourite places? And what did you dream of being and doing when you were a ‘grown-up’?

ALEXIA: I was the most normal child that ever was.


Being weird is a good thing as an adult – and mostly I didn’t mind it even when I was a kid – but other people (especially other children) did. I spent a lot of my childhood in the space between the real world and the world of my imagination. I didn’t understand other children, who seemed fixated on Top of the Pops and Neighbours, and they didn’t understand me and my fixation on stories: on trying to live myself into them. My overriding memory of school is wishing there were people there I truly wanted to be friends with.

One of my earliest memories is knowing I wanted to be a writer. My parents told me over and over that even if I was talented and worked hard, there was luck involved: I needed to be realistic and have a backup plan, which was great advice, if a bit discouraging when you’re four and trying to dream big. But it made me realise I’d have to plan and work my socks off to give myself the best possible chance – and I’d have to start doing that immediately. That made me very driven when no one else my age was.

This story sums my childhood up. When I was about 8 and a half, my whole class watched with envy as a child in the year below threw a little party with a cake and a few packets of crisps on a small table in the school playground. Everyone whinged about how, as the oldest class in our primary school, we should get to do exciting things like that. My reaction: ‘Well, why don’t we?’

I made a list of everyone in the class then went around getting different people to agree to bring different things in the next day. Then I went to the teacher and showed her my list and said ‘If X can have a party, then you can’t say we’re not allowed to do the same. We’ll do it on our outside class table so we don’t even need to move furniture’ (as the oldest class, we had our own little area of the playground). The precedent had been set, I argued, so she couldn’t refuse. She didn’t. Our party lasted morning break, lunchbreak (we stayed in the playground and partied rather than going into lunch) and into the minutes after school. It was glorious.

Until then, everyone in the class had rather resented my being clever and quite grown-up. After that, they decided it was quite useful to have me around. I promptly got a serious case of Glandular Fever and missed a full year of school. They’d forgotten by the time I got back. I moved schools and started again.

SIOBHAN: Aha, now I can see why you’ve been so great at organising YA Shot! ( YA Shot is programme of events beginning in October involving 50 YA and MG authors. You can find out more about it here.)

In TRUE FACE I talk about how certain pressures can make us hide our true selves away from the world as we grow up. Things such as difficulties in our home life, criticism from a parent or teacher, and peer and society pressure to fake it to fit in. Did you experience any of these? And if so, how did you end up hiding your true self from the world?

ALEXIA: I find this question really hard because my TRUE FACE is actually a series of TRUE FACES. As a character in my new book, House of Windows, says, ‘What you see is what you get. It’s just by no means all you get.’ That’s probably the best bit of advice about understanding me I could ever give anyone. I’m lots of entirely conflicting things all at the same time: that is the true me.

I’ve struggled with depression since I was ten – recognised as severe clinical depression when I was thirteen. The capacity for that is still there, but like most people I know who’ve been through severe depression and not drowned, I’ve also learnt how to be good at being actively happy.

I’m a natural optimist, though I’m a terrible pessimist about the most surprising things. The ‘me’ who organised the playground party is the one who gets me through the difficult stuff: every day I decide to be happy and I set about making it so. When something goes wrong or life doesn’t give me something I want (or takes away something I value), I find something else to want, make a plan about how to get it, and then throw myself in and start swimming. It doesn’t always work out but it doesn’t have to: I know I’m being proactive. I know I’m doing what I can to set myself up for happiness. Who can do more?

SIOBHAN: I can really relate to that. Deciding to be happy is one of the greatest gifts we can give to ourselves. It sounds simplistic, but combined with taking action, it can make such a positive difference.

Were you able to resist the pressure to change in anyway during your teens?

ALEXIA: I’ve always loved dressing up. I think it’s part and parcel of living somewhere between the real and imaginary world. As a teenager, I’d dress up as best I could with what was to hand – cosplaying effectively – even if my outfit didn’t look how I wanted it to at all. I knew my peers thought I was ‘sad’ (in that parlance of our school) but I could see so clearly the me in my imagination that the real world one seemed to be the unreal one. If I could go back and tell my younger self something it would be how to convey what I was doing so that maybe a few of my classmates could have made the leap with me.

I think having such a clear picture of who I was and who I wanted to be and how I wanted to live meant that, even though I did want more and better friends, I wasn’t willing to give myself up for it. I figured that sooner or later I’d find people who were more my cup of tea and then we could all be weird and happy together. Then I went to Cambridge and I did. And now I’ve found UKYA. Bliss!

SIOBHAN: That’s such an encouraging answer. So many people feel a sense of isolation in school but it gets SO much easier to find your ‘tribe’ once you’ve left. So for anyone reading this who wishes they were more popular in school, hang on in there. It gets a LOT better.

In TRUE FACE there’s a whole section on turning emotional wounds into wisdom so that they may fully heal. What wisdoms have you learnt as a result of any tough times you’ve been through? How are you now able to see the gift in the experience?

ALEXIA: One of my key principles for how to live my life is that whenever something bad happens I must try to make some good come out of it. You can’t always control what happens to you, but you can control your own determination to put something good alongside the bad so it isn’t just trauma and damage: you can choose to introduce nuances to the situation by using what the bad thing has taught you to help others or to create something beautiful or to change your life for the better. It doesn’t make the bad thing good or even better, let alone ‘worth it’, but it’s my way of doing what I can to still be happy. It’s my way of setting myself up for happiness even in the face of misery.

SIOBHAN: Yes! Yes! Yes! I love the way you take control of your life and how things affect you. It’s so inspiring.

On that positive note, what are you most proud of achieving and why?

ALEXIA: I’m really proud of being asked to be a Fairy Godmother. I’m also really proud to have been bridesmaid for two of my dearest friends. At University, I finally found people I wanted to be friends with – and I was lucky enough that they wanted me back.

I’m proud of everything to do with being an author too, but then I find it easier to be proud of professional accomplishments. I find it harder to be proud of personal ones as they’re so much more difficult to pinpoint.

SIOBHAN: I can’t believe I’m interviewing a real-life fairy godmother – something to be very proud of indeed 🙂

Continuing in a similar vein, in TRUE FACE I get readers to identify their ‘star qualities’ – their best traits. What would you say your star qualities are?

ALEXIA: Determination. Excitement. Work ethic. Happiness. Integrity. Imagination. Appreciation of beauty.

SIOBHAN: Lovely. Do you have any advice for our readers about dreaming boldly, loving passionately and living authentically?

ALEXIA: There’s no point wanting something for the idea of it when the reality wouldn’t make you happy. Dream of becoming a writer because you love writing even when you hate it: don’t dream of it because you think it will be an easy life full of fame and fortune. If you don’t love doing the thing for its own sake, then you probably don’t love it enough to succeed – and even if you do, what would be the point? Set yourself up to live a fulfilling life by chasing the dreams that will make you happy.

SIOBHAN: This is such great advice. I think we’re encouraged to chase after fame and fortune these days but it’s such a hollow dream. You’re absolutely right – true happiness only comes from doing what you love.

And finally, when it comes to life and love, what do you absolutely know to be true?

ALEXIA: You can’t wait for happiness to find you: you have to go out and find it, remembering that no one said it was going to be easy.

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The Joy of Journalling

“Isn’t it mysterious to begin a new journal like this? I can run my fingers through the fresh clean pages but I cannot guess what the writing on them will be.” Maud Hart Lovelace

I was given my first journal when I was about ten years old. It had a shiny, pale blue cover and a tiny gold padlock and key.

Most of my early journal entries were, well, dull – basically a running account of what books I’d read and what sweets I’d eaten. Here are a couple of typical examples:

“Great day! Had a pack of Rolos and a Curly-Wurly and read two Judy Blume books.”

“Brilliant day. Ate a pack of Toffos (I hate the banana ones) and re-read Little Women.”

Despite the tedium of my entries, each time I would carefully lock my journal and hide the key inside my pillowcase … until The Strawberry-Scented Eraser Incident.

The Strawberry-Scented Eraser Incident took place when I was about eleven and was my first (and last) foray into a life of crime.

In the town where I lived there was a gift shop called Scanscene and Scanscene was a treasure trove of of beautiful ornaments and unusual artefacts … and scented erasers.

The rich kids in my school had scented erasers from Scanscene in every imaginable variety. Their pencil cases were a cornucopia of rubbery pineapple and lemon and orange and strawberry. Whenever they opened them, the classroom would be filled with the aroma of a rubbery tropical cocktail.

My friend and I were not so lucky. We didn’t have cash to burn on scented erasers. We did used to go into Scanscene and inhale those erasers until we drooled though. And then one day, probably slightly high on the scent, we dared each other to steal one.

Long story short, I’d only had my strawberry-scented stash home for about an hour when my mum quite literally sniffed it out. I then got the telling off of my life, a lecture about how my theft would probably make Scanscene go out of business, followed by those words guaranteed to fill me with dread: ‘wait till your father gets home‘. When my father got home he didn’t yell, he did something far worse; he told me he was ashamed of me. I was then grounded forever (or at least it felt like that) and the house filled with the thick, choking cloud of my parents’ disappointment.

After about a week or so I was ready to crack, but I had no-one to crack to, so I turned to my journal. As I poured out my feelings of guilt and shame I realised for the first time that a journal could actually be more than a running commentary on your daily eating or reading habits, it could be a confidante in times of trouble and a channel for your deepest feelings.

That night, for the first time ever, I didn’t lock my journal. I left it out on my desk in the hopes that my parents would see my desperation and find it in their hearts to forgive me.

The following day, I left it wide open, with ‘I’M SO SO SORRY!‘ written in capitals across the page.

They still didn’t see it.

Every day for about a week, I wrote increasingly desperate entries, and left my unlocked journal in increasingly public places like the bathroom and the kitchen counter and the landing half way up the stairs.

‘I wish I was dead!’

‘I wish my parents still loved me!’

‘If only they would forgive me!’

‘My life is over!’


Sadly, I have the kind of parents who not only think that shop-lifting is despicable but believe in respecting their children’s privacy, so they never once snooped inside my journal.

They eventually forgave me and we all moved on. But one good thing to come out of Strawberry-Scented Shame-Gate was that it showed me just how therapeutic keeping a journal can be.

Even though my parents didn’t ever see my desperate entries, the simple act of writing them did make me feel a lot better.

All through my adult life I’ve kept a journal – and it’s something I really recommend. Here’s why…

The Joy of Journalling

  • It helps you to make sense of yourself
  • It gives you the freedom to be your true self (which is why I recommend journalling throughout my book, True Face)
  • It helps you make sense of the world
  • It gives you a safe and private place to process your thoughts and emotions
  • It gives you a voice when you’re feeling unheard
  • There’s something so soothing about getting things down on to the page, kind of like breathing with words
  • It can remind you of your goals
  • It helps prepare you for situations, giving you a safe place to figure out what to do or say
  • Looking back on past journals helps you see how far you’ve come
  • Looking back can also help you identify things you want or need to change

If this post has tempted you into keeping a journal of your own (please God it hasn’t tempted you into a life of strawberry-scented crime!) here are some tips to get you started…


Journalling Tips

  • Invest in a nice, hard-backed notebook (a hard cover makes it much easier to write in in bed, definitely the best place to journal in)
  • Set an intention at the beginning of each fresh new journal: what kind of thoughts and adventures do you want to fill these fresh new pages of your life with?
  • Write fast and don’t censor. Journalling is private and all about pouring your feelings out rather than holding back
  • Don’t re-read what you’ve written, just write anew every day
  • Finish each entry with a quick list of five things you’re grateful for


Find out more about how journalling can help you dream boldly and live authentically in True Face, currently just 99p right here

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