All posts by Rachel Williams

High School

(For a Univeristy Module called ‘Writing From Life’, we had to write a first person autobiographical short story about something from our childhood that had shaped us as people. This was my piece.)

“You know,” Hayley said while fiddling with her rolled up skirt, “I think that you should kill yourself.” Rachel C had followed us over and frowned at Hayley.

“That’s a horrible thing to say.”

But Hayley ignored her and grinned maliciously.

“You should kill yourself. The school would probably throw a party in celebration. You don’t want to deny us of that, do you?” Rachel C took a hold of my elbow and began to drag my eleven year old self away.

“Come on. Let’s go.”

 

Year eight of high school passed in a haze of rosy memories and year nine started off well. Rachel C and I befriended two girls in our tutor group, Rachel S and Megan, and we got along fine for a few months. The running joke was that of the four ‘Rachel’s’ in our year, the administration had thought it was a good idea to stick three of us in the same class.

Then April came around. The April of 2011.

It began rather pleasantly, what with my birthday being on the fourth, and I had a sleepover with Rachel C, Rachel S and Megan. We drank Shloer, like proper teenagers, and stayed up till the early hours of the morning. Rachel S pretended to get drunk and we fell asleep in a pile on my bedroom floor. With my new group of friends, I thought the days of being picked on were over.

The Beth incident happened a couple of weeks after my birthday party. At the ripe old age of fourteen, I decided to try wearing mascara to school for the first time. No one really noticed until Beth and her lackeys strolled up to us, smiling in that way teenage girls do when they don’t like you. I was standing with Rachel C. Rachel S and Megan were at a vending machine several steps away. From the few times I had spoken to Beth, she had come across as a spoiled brat who thought that her ability to play field hockey gave her the right to be a complete asshole. On more than one occasion, Rachel C and I had joked about where she could put her hockey stick.

Her friends surrounded me, cocking their heads ever so slightly, and Beth passed her water bottle from her left hand to her right.

“Why are you wearing mascara?” The question sounded stupid to me, even then, in her shrill tone.

“Because I wanted to.” I replied, turning away, not caring if I looked rude.

But Beth, with her thin blonde hair and oversized nose too close to my face, decided she didn’t like that answer.

“Who are you trying to impress?”

I kept my mouth closed, not wanting to encourage her to stick around. The mantra I kept up in my head was the same thing we’re taught in class. If bullies don’t get a reaction, they’ll get bored and go away. Turns out that advice is bullshit.

After asking me the same question again, Beth must have realised I wasn’t going to play her game. The first time she hit the back of my head with her bottle, I wasn’t expecting it and stepped back suddenly, bumping into someone from another year. I apologised to the boy but was yet again faced with Beth.

Who are you trying to impress?” She asked me the question several more times and each time I didn’t reply, she hit my head with the bottle.

When the bell finally rang for lunch, I had tears in my eyes. Not because it hurt, I mean, it was only a bottle of water, but because each time she had hit me, I made eye contact with each of my friends and none of them tried to intervene. It was at that moment I decided I was fed up of being pushed around and, I think, the day I grew a backbone.

 

I’m fairly sure the date I totally ruined my friendship with at least two of my ‘best friends’ was the 29th of April. Everyone was excited for the royal wedding and the school was selling themed buns and other patriotic junk. I had forgiven Rachel C for not trying to stop Beth because once we were alone, she had burst into tears over how guilty she felt. Rachel S and Megan, on the other hand, never mentioned it.

Rachel C and I spent out entire lunch break imagining ways in which the royal wedding could be better. We envisioned a drunken Lord or Lady vomiting all over Hayley’s dress or Prince Harry driving up in a slinky sports car, high and accompanied by three or four girls.

We arrived back at our tutor room early and Rachel S and Megan were sitting by my desk, hunched over one of their phones. It wasn’t threatening in any way, shape or form. I remember, rather than being concerned about whether or not there was going to be trouble, I was more worried about the potential lifeforms that were growing in Rachel S’s hair. She was the shortest and slightest out of all of us and on that day, her hair was frizzy and back-combed into a weird nest-like bun. In hindsight, she probably inhaled half a can of hairspray and broke two combs every morning to make it happen.

Rachel C and I walked across the front of the classroom slowly, still sharing earphones. Megan and Rachel S were kind of obsessed with Dappy and his fashionable tracksuits. I, internally, always used to mock them for it. When we reached the table, we saw that they were watching an N-Dubz video and trying to pause it at the exact moment Dappy looked up from sucking on a girl’s ear. Rachel C and I exchanged a look and quickly paused our music, knowing, somehow, what the other was thinking. Chavs.

“Have you seen the way he looks here?” Megan squealed and I stepped aside, wishing Rachel C would break the news that he looked like a twat.

“My God, he’s so effing hot.” Rachel S said, staring dreamily at the pasty rapper who had just been caught cheating on his girlfriend in the video.

I dropped my bags on my desk and sat down, glancing around absent-mindedly. We were in a maths room so the walls were a combination of the pale, sickly beige that was statistically proven to calm the mind and corkboards full of mathematical mumbo-jumbo.

“I mean, if that’s your type, I guess he’s alright.” Rachel C said as she sat down beside me, forever the mediator with her spindly hands flat on the table.

“Well, what is your type?” Rachel S turned in her seat, eyeing both Rachel C and myself. Neither of us answered.

In two years’ time, Rachel C would come out as gay and I would remember all the times she never gossiped about boys with me and wonder how I could never have thought to ask. I didn’t answer either and Rachel S didn’t push the topic. Instead, she began fiddling with the handle of my P.E. bag. I didn’t pay it much attention and checked my phone for the time.

Then, Rachel S opened my bag up and started pulling things out. I reached out to try and stop her, but no sooner had I moved, she was standing up and taking my bag with her. I politely asked her to stop and when she didn’t listen, I stood up and tried to take my bag back. She darted around the side of another desk, giggling and dropping one of my trainers on the floor.

“Will you just stop?” I yelled at her but she wasn’t fazed. A couple of other students who were sitting in the room looked over at us but were quickly distracted by a small group of boys who were playing with those spherical Bakugan toys.

“Come and get it.” Rachel S sang out and slipped between another couple of desks, throwing my other trainer to the side.

“Just give it back.” My annoyance was quickly turning into anger and I stormed past Rachel C and Megan. Rachel S laughed again. I suddenly found myself pushing her narrow shoulders and shoving her against the whiteboard. I remember feeling a white-hot rush of satisfaction as her head banged against the board.

I probably should have felt guilty and released her but as she still refused to give me my bag back, and high on the adrenaline pulsing under my skin, I grabbed the front of her jumper and pushed her across to a desk. She tripped over her shoes and was forced to put her hands out to stop her face from colliding with the table top. She was still laughing like a child.

Throughout all this, she managed to keep a hold of my bag and so I shook her wrist and tried to make her loosen her grip. If she hadn’t kept her other arm straight, I’m fairly sure she would have broken her nose on the surface of the table. I managed to pry my bag from her clutching hand and finally let go of her, suddenly becoming aware of Rachel C’s hand on my arm.

“Calm down.” She was saying and I felt my face fill with warmth.

I quickly went around the room and picked up my trainers, keeping my eyes on the floor, embarrassed about losing my temper like a three-year-old. The boys who had been playing the game had come over to watch the fight and one of them was inspecting the board.

“There’s a dent here from where she hit her head.” A couple more people went over to inspect the damage and, surprisingly, I was greeted with smiles.

“That was fucking awesome.”

I sat back down at my desk and Rachel C came to sit beside me. I clenched my hands beneath the table as Megan linked arms with Rachel S and took her to their side of the room. I began shaking my head, knowing what Rachel C was going to say.

“I’m not going to apologise. I don’t care.” Rachel C nodded silently and it was only as the bell rang for class that fear began to bubble up inside of me. The top two words that teachers used in my student reports were ‘quiet’ and ‘conscientious’. I had never received a detention. The only time I had been sent out of class was in year five when my teacher, Mr O’Leary, asked why some people didn’t like the book we were reading. I had stuck my hand up and shouted,

“Because it was crap!” Everyone in the room had gasped and I had covered my mouth with both hands. After the incident with Rachel S, I waited all day for the head of our year to come and reprimand me. In fact, the entire following week, every time there was a knock on the door of the classroom or the phone rang at home, I held my breath, expecting Mr. Douglas (our head of year) to come and put me on the orange card report or suspend me.

 

After the fight with Rachel S, I found myself slowly pushing my other friends away. I was struck with the mentality that if I didn’t like someone, I shouldn’t pretend to. I remember, in the week before we broke up for the summer holidays, one of my friends came up to me and asked me if I had been ‘talking shit about her’ behind her back. I shrugged and walked away but she quickly caught up with me.

“If you don’t like me, just say it to my face.”

So, I stopped in my tracks and turned to look at her.

“Fine. I don’t like you. Happy?” The girl didn’t respond. “Now piss off.” I walked away feeling slightly lighter.

The girl got her mum to call my mum and my family and I laughed about it. My mum told me a story about how when she was in high school, on her last day she and her two friends had been playing hangman at the back of the class. Their teacher spotted them and told them that if they weren’t going to pay attention, they should leave. So, my goody-two-shoes mum and her friends packed their bags and left. Rather than making me feel better, it just reminded me that I was alone.

That was the beginning of a very dark few months where the thoughts in my head consisted mostly of whether or not anyone would care if I went back to school. Or rather, whether anyone would care if I was alive or not. My parents aren’t the type who understand mental health very well. If ever the conversation turns to depression or anxiety, my mother, while of course saying that she understands it’s something uncontrollable and chemical, always ends with the line,

“Sometimes you just have to snap out of it and get on with life.” So, I never told her or my father what I was feeling and, even though it took me a while, I got over it.

Year ten was like a fresh start. I moved tutors and was in completely new classes. I had decided to try and get a GCSE in art and finally found something I was good at besides making spider diagrams, although it’s all in the same ballpark. I had classes I actually enjoyed with people I actually liked. I made new friends and reconciled with old ones, although my relationship with Rachel C was never the same; I had pushed her away, just like everyone else.

Then the stresses of year eleven came, with exam after exam after exam. I went to a house party and hated it. Never been to one since. And when we all started applying for colleges it was as though I could see freedom through the ugly blue fences of my school. I wasn’t sad to see the back of it and the only time I returned was to collect my art portfolio.

One Of My Obsessions

I first bought The Sims 3 when I was fourteen. It was a green disk, slightly see through, and it felt as though it took the better half of ten years to download onto my computer. I remember slotting the disk into place and the satisfying click and whir of my laptop as it welcomed The Sims back into my life.

I wasn’t able to play the game the day it was delivered.  My father, the twat, had hidden the thin parcel as soon as it was posted through the letter box. For some reason, he thought my mum had ordered it as a surprise for me.

He was skulking around in the kitchen later that afternoon. I was complaining to my mum about how The Sims hadn’t arrived, despite the email from Amazon telling me that it was already here.

‘Oh, it was you who ordered that?’ His words cut through me and I prayed to a God I didn’t think was real that my father, Neil, wasn’t being serious.

‘Yes. Why?’ My eyes followed him around the kitchen. He reached up onto the windowsill and pulled a thick envelope out from behind the moneyboxes and my mother’s dying orchid.

‘This came earlier but I thought mum had ordered it for you and it was a surprise.’ I jumped down from the kitchen table and snatched the package out of his hands, tearing at the brown paper until the front of the box was revealed.

‘Why would Saz have ordered something as a surprise for me, and used my name?’ Mum had disappeared into the conservatory but her head soon poked back around the side of the fridge at the mention of her name.

‘Did someone shout for me?’

Dad started to talk, but I cut him off, brandishing the game in my mum’s face excitedly.

‘Neil was trying to be clever but we both know that’s not his strong suit.’ Mum rolled her eyes.

‘Don’t call dad that. And don’t be mean to him. He just likes to pretend he knows what’s going on.’

We both laughed and my dad stood by the sink, an offended look on his face.

‘Why are you both picking on me? I just thought it would be a nice—’

But I had already said bye to them both and was running up the stairs to where my laptop sat on my bed.

 

However, that wasn’t my first experience with The Sims franchise. When my brother, Alex, and I had been younger the only gaming console we owned was a PS2. I don’t remember how but a worn copy of The Sims 2: Pets had fallen into our hands. Soon, we were playing it every weekend when we were at our parents’ house. During the week, my brother and I would stay at our grandma’s flat because our parents had to work. Dad worked away from home a lot of the time and mum was leaving the house at seven-thirty in the morning. The only thing our grandma had, other than a boxy TV, was a VHS player. No matter how often we begged, she wouldn’t let us bring our PS2 with us when we went to stay.

At the weekend, we would either create a woman with seven cats or a generic couple with too many Dalmatians. We didn’t really understand the game properly and it was only after we’d been playing it for a few months that we realised you could leave the home plot and go into town. Of course, in comparison to the modern Sims games, it didn’t exactly expand the gameplay but it opened up my eyes to the possibilities that could come.

 

In my first few years of High School, I would discover YouTube. Before I realised I could spend my pocket money on whatever I wanted, I got my Sims fix by watching other people play the game. One of my favourite series was by a girl whose username was ‘Quxxn’ (pronounced Queen) and she would play through all the different expansion packs and complete various Sim-related challenges. I stopped watching those kinds of videos when I bought the game but I would still check out the odd ‘Let’s Build’, videos in which people build houses and other structures in The Sims world. Curtis Paradis springs to mind and as of 03/04/17, he has over eight-hundred videos on his channel (not many in comparison to other people but that’s eight-hundred-ish pixel houses). A year or so ago I found out that Quxxn died while having weight loss surgery. It turned out that this girl who seemed so happy had used The Sims as an unhealthy way to escape reality.

This led me down a rabbit hole of sorts. I found myself reading article after article about The Sims. Most of them were shit. I skimmed them before going on to the next tab. There was one by Lev Grossman (2002) on the Time website that caught my eye.

The article begins by outlining the basic premise of the game, initially making it seem boring and dull. However, Grossman then states that the games “mundanity” is what draws its audience in. Rather than giving people a new world, it provides an alternate reality similar to our own. Grossman also talks about two women who were devoted to the game. One woman said that she had to “limit herself to two or three hours” in a day, something that I initially found unbelievable. But, I realised that while I didn’t play The Sims every single day, I would go through small bursts of obsession where I would spend an entire weekend in my room, playing and racking up the hours.

Another woman began playing The Sims after her husband died. She created him as a character in the game alongside her own Sim. In all honesty, that’s something I’ve never done. I’ve built my real-life house as somewhere for my Sims to live. I’ve used the names of people I know for the odd character here and there. But I’ve never created myself or my family members. I wanted to use The Sims as a way to escape my life. It was fake and that was one of the things I liked about it.

Despite writing the article in 2002, Grossman does predict the future of The Sims. He talks about ‘The Sims Online’ and how The Sims franchise in general was allowing people from all over the world to become interconnected, talking in real time. Instead of being alone in their rooms, people would be able to play alongside others.

In the concluding paragraph of his article, Grossman notes that ‘The Sims Online’ could be beneficial to America, “a virtual sandbox where we can play out our fantasies and confront our fears about what America might become.” Oddly relevant, not only in 2002 when George W. Bush was President, but in today’s world as well.

 

Two years after purchasing the game, the disk snapped in half and I was heartbroken. So, I downloaded Steam and bought the game again. However, it was repetitive, despite that being the point of the game, and I found myself wishing that there was more for The Sims to offer. That’s when I remembered the expansion packs.

It had been a shitty week and something I still do, to this day, is spend money I don’t really have to make myself feel better. I was in my room, the blind closed and my sheer pink curtains bathing the room in a rosy glow. I had made a sort of nest for myself on my bed and was sitting with my legs folded beneath me, the family laptop open and humming gently. In my mind, I cracked my knuckles and began typing like a spy from one of the many shit movies my dad made me watch. In reality, I clicked onto Steam and began reading reviews of all the expansion packs.

Generations was easily the one I veered towards most. It expanded the worlds of the toddlers, children and teenage Sims and, given my tendency to make big families, it was perfect. One of my favourite things about it is that children can have imaginary friends – and if one of your Sims is smart and has enough experience, they can create a potion that will turn the imaginary friend into a real person for you to control.

The second expansion pack I bought was Pets. The reviews were overwhelmingly positive. I watched the beginnings of several different series’ to see what the ‘Create a Pet’ process was like. This pack also came with a new town called Appaloosa Plains; queue cat shaped pools, animal-like plot names, and the occasional creature in your back garden: a racoon, a stray dog, a random horse or, if you’re lucky, a super-rare unicorn.

Finally, I purchased Seasons. This added in snow storms and heat waves, as well as weekly events centred around the respective season. In Winter, there’s an ice rink and if you click on the snowy ground, you can engage all your Sims in a snowball fight. In the Summer, there’s hot dog eating competitions and water balloon matches. To add some realism, The Sims would be susceptible to the highs and lows of the weather – allergies and the flu can plague your household and if your Sims get too hot or cold, their little lives can become endangered.

 

Ultimately, however, everyone always descends into the twisted tropes of the game. People would, and still do, kill off their Sims in different ways. A favourite is walling a Sim into a swimming pool and then laughing manically as they drown. In The Sims 4, if your Sim is old, he or she can die from woohooing too much (woohooing being the PG term for sex in the game). Of course, you can then control a house full of ghosts, or get one of your living Sims to flirt with Death, an actual character who comes to your home plot when someone dies, and have them woohoo under a cloud of pixels.

I, however, never did that. Once I invested in the game, I was always too busy creating the ‘perfect’ family and having them live out the suburban life I’ve always wanted but will probably never have.

 

My family, God bless them, never understood my obsession with The Sims. One day, I proved them all to be sexist when my brother confronted me about playing it so much.

I was sat in the kitchen (again) in my mother’s wheelchair (she didn’t need it anymore so it’s not like I’d kicked her out of it and she was laying helpless on the floor), when Alex came in and watched me design a new room of my Sims’ house.

‘What’s the actual point of that, Raciosaurous?’ Raciosaurous was the nickname he gave me when I told him I hated being called ‘Rach’.

‘There is no point to it. There doesn’t have to be.’ I wheeled back in the chair, running over his foot on purpose, and he took it as a challenge to try and make fun of me with our parents.

‘Mum!’ He shouted across the room to where Saz was standing by the oven, a tray of Viennese cookies in her hands. ‘Don’t you think it’s sad that Rachel plays The Sims all the time? It’s weird, isn’t it?’

Our mum agreed half-heartedly and my dad appeared suddenly in the kitchen door, like he always used to whenever my brother raised his voice.

‘What’s going on?’ He asked.

Alex took the opportunity to encourage our dad to mock me.

‘Don’t you think it’s sad that Rachel plays The Sims all the time? It’s not even real.’

Dad looked at me for a moment before grinning so widely that we could see the gums at the back of his mouth.

‘It is a bit childish, Racidoobi.’ Yet another vile nickname. ‘You should be doing something profound with your life and making a difference in the world.’

We all ignored Neil whenever he went into ‘preacher’ mode. You might think he’s cool and educated for using the word ‘profound’ but he’s from the Bella’ (a dodgy area of Wakefield filled with chavs and tracksuits) and likes to pretend he’s fancier than he really is. I took my brother’s silence as an opportunity to point out my family’s hypocrisy.

‘Alex plays on his PS3 from four till ten every day after school and you don’t have a problem with it. Plus, he’s shooting and killing things. I’m just making a nice little family and letting them do cute shit like go ice skating.’ No one had a response to that. My brother, the angsty dick, tried to defend himself but in the end, no one complained about my gaming habits again.

 

It’s only as I look back that I think about why The Sims meant so much to me. At that time in my life, I had this mentality about being alone forever. I think that The Sims gave me some semblance of control. I could create my ideal life and live it through the game. Whatever I wanted I could make. I could build the perfect house with the perfect family or I could start from scratch with a single Sim. There were endless possibilities and that provided endless hours of entertainment. 513 hours, according to my Steam account. Not to mention, the two years I spent playing the disk version.

Now, I play The Sims once every few months. It’s not as exciting to me as it once was but there’s something freeing about being in total control. I don’t know whether I’ll buy any more of The Sims games or just stick with the ones I have. A small part of me will always be drawn to the green crystal that first greeted me when I opened up that package all those years ago.

My Favourite Things on Netflix

Ah, Netflix. I love it. I really do. And I was binge watching some of my favourite things this past weekend when I thought, oh, this will make a good blog post. One of the things I’m really good at in life is making lists. Anyone who knows me well can attest to that fact. So I’ve decided to list my top 10 favourite things on Netflix.
DISCLAIMER – I live in the UK so the things on my list might not be available in other countries. Also, I’m including things that aren’t Netflix Originals but are available at the time of posting.

Continue reading My Favourite Things on Netflix

How To Keep Writing

One of my biggest problems as a writer is actually taking the time to sit down and write. Sometimes I’ll get a burst of inspiration and whack a few thousand words out – but those moments are few and far between. It’s not sustainable if I’m going to try and make a living as an author. I know that. So I’ve decided to list a few things that seem to help/encourage me to write. Firstly, because it might help someone else out there. And secondly – because it means I’m writing!

Continue reading How To Keep Writing

My Experience with Kindle Direct Publishing

So this past week I published my first ever short story on Kindle Direct Publishing (K.D.P) (and you can get it here). It sounds simple when I type it out like that but, for me, it was a big moment. I wrote the short story last year for a University module called Science Fiction and Fantasy and it was the first thing I’d actually written as a part of my degree that I was 100% in love with.

I decided to publish it on K.D.P on Saturday morning and by that evening, it was being reviewed for publication. It was painfully easy. However, I spent the next few days rushing to do things I should have already had finished. So that you don’t freak out like I did, I’ve decided to list the things I think you need to do/be doing before even thinking about publishing something on K.D.P.

Continue reading My Experience with Kindle Direct Publishing

The End of University

For me, and I assume many other people, University wasn’t how I expected it to be. Most of my assumptions about Uni life came from movies, TV shows and YouTube vlogs. All I can really say is that they set the bar way too high.

Continue reading The End of University

“It’s A Gift” Short Story (now available to buy on Amazon Kindle)

For a Module I studied last semester called “Science Fiction and Fantasy”, I wrote the story of how Penny and Oliver met.

Penelope Koboyashi is a nineteen year old girl of British and Japanese ancestry. She is an E.S.L who has healing powers. With shoulder-length black hair and a passion for smoky eyeliner, Penny is one of the youngest members of the Integration Program. She realised she was asexual when she was fifteen and has not yet told her parents, what with them still living in Japan and only contacting her via text message. Despite her rebellious appearance and short temper, Penny is always capable of seeing the bigger picture.

Oliver Chapel was born, raised and trained in the United States of America before getting transferred to Germany. After four years, he requested to join the Integration Program and was relocated to Britain. Oliver is often told that his reckless bravery is going to get him killed, but he’s loyal and has an unwavering moral compass. He told his family that he was gay when he was thirteen years old. Coincidentally, that’s when his parents decided to enrol him in military school. He likes to think it’s not connected, but Oliver hasn’t seen his parents since he graduated and left for Germany. As a twenty-two year old, Oliver is happy to lose himself in work. He also likes to lose himself in the eyes of Albert Birks, an E.S.L who works in St. Reeves Hospital.

It’s A Gift tells the story of how Penny and Oliver meet, and their first case together as a team. Ordered to track down and rescue a young E.S.L, whose ability to grow and control plants is desired by some less-than-savoury characters, the pair find themselves fighting their way out of a farmhouse on the outskirts of the city.

It’s A Gift is now available to purchase on Amazon Kindle here!

Introducing Myself

Hi! I’m Rachel and this is my blog/website/whatever you want to call it. I’m an aspiring author and am currently studying Creative Writing at University. This is just a place for me to write and (hopefully) reach some people. I’m nervous about it – and don’t have much of an idea about what I’m going to write – but I see it as taking an active step in the direction of becoming a published author one day. Fingers crossed!

The genre of writing I aspire to be a part of is a mash-up of Urban Fantasy, Young Adult and Science Fiction/Fantasy. I enjoy to write in a modern setting because the idea of tweaking this world to support a cast of impossible characters intrigues me.

Thanks for reading!