Look for the helpers


I’d planned a very different blog post for today, but given the recent attack in Manchester, have opted to share this Mr Rogers quote.

My daughter is rapidly growing and with assorted atrocities being reported daily, from Syria, Chechnya, the US and closer to home my heart aches for her and her future. I pray for those who’ve lost loved ones and can’t imagine their pain.

I remember as a child being in London when the IRA decided to bomb near the Tower of London. I was still young and it was one of the few times my mum and I were doing the ‘tourist’ thing in London. The one thing which I still remember is standing in a telephone box with my mum (no mobiles then), ringing to say we were safe, then the trek back to my grandmothers. The city seemed strangely calm and everyone was giving directions, updates on the situation and generally helping. There were no recriminations, no abuse or divisions, we were all just humans, trying to get home to our loved ones and I’m so thankful to everyone who helped us. Like now, there are incredible stories of kindness, compassion, of people helping who didn’t need to. In the words of Jo Cox, MP, there truly is more that binds us than divides us.

And now to the present. On a daily basis, I learn so much from her – through playing, discovering new places, and importantly the people we meet. She doesn’t see colour, race, religion, she simply sees a new friend to talk to, share her toys with and share her world. I hope we can all start to do the same.

Let’s get Real!


I never thought I’d share a photo of my daughters pants, but here you go!

It’s Real Nappy Week where parents up and down the land celebrate all things that go over and under. Of course I’m talking about those cute little tushes, which often produce some very uncute giant smells!

We tried to keep our  about the sort of parents we wanted to be before the Lamb was born but one thing we were adamant about was that we wanted to use reusable nappies. We’d done a lot of reading about nappies and had some friends who’d used reusable nappies with their children. The assorted articles we read suggested that reusables were making a firm come-back so we’re really surprised when we were the only couple planned to sue them when we did the ‘nappy class’ during our antenatal classes (we had a very large group of of at least 15 parents-to-be).

So I thought I’d look at reasons why people are still not keen on resuables, some of the myths and reasons why we love ’em.

It seems that there’s two  major turn offs for real nappies: price and smell. I’ll start with price.

Ok, there’s no getting around it. Buying reusable nappies can be pricey. There are assorted makes out there but as we use Bambino Mio, they’ll be the ones I’ll use as a comparison. They have two different versions: the two piece and the all-in-one.  The two piece is similar to what was used in the past with a waterproof outer and a cotton pad liner which you cover with a flushable sheet. The all-in-one has a hidden absorbent core and looks like a disposable nappy. To buy the birth to potty kits costs between £150-200 and includes all you need from birth, to, well potty training. There’s also a nappy bucket to pop used nappies in. So yes, it’s a big initial outlay, especially when you’re being given lists of everything you ‘must have’ for your baby. However, when you consider the average baby used TWO THOUSAND nappies per year until potty trained (source: goreal) and that even if you buy cheap disposables costing anywhere between 10-30pence per nappy (average annual costs £400) that’s quite a lot of money to be throwing away. It’s hypothesised that parents save from £100-1000 PER YEAR using disposables. Plus, there’s the added benefit of being able to reuse them if you have additional children or selling them on.

So let’s talk smell. There’s no getting around it, babies poop. A LOT. Oh, dear gods the poop. However, as strange as it may sound, your nose switches off during changes and given the nappy buckets, as soon as the lids closed you don’t smell anything. Depending on how many you use, you’re likely to be doing a load of nappies every other day (although I remember doing a load a day when the Lamb first came home). I can honestly say that while there’s a bit of a smell while you’re putting them in the washing machine, the buckets contain all odours until then. Don’t fancy washing them yourself? Many councils now offer a laundering service.

Now, when you consider that most areas only collect rubbish every two weeks, that’s a lot of poop and used nappies sat around till collection day (my friends on average put out one bin bag of used nappies MINIMUM per fortnight) and especially in the summer, that was a lot of stink!

And I’ll just say one final thing about chemicals. If you’ve read my post about my Earth Day Pledges, you’ll know my concern for our waterways and my switch to ecoleaf washing powder as well as monitoring what chemicals we put on our skin (see my assorted homemade smellies!). Washing my daughters nappies, I know exactly what chemicals (or in our case, the lack of chemicals) are against her skin. I have one friend who’s baby reactive to every nappy she wore, from the cheap Aldi brand, to the costly Pampers. Turns out that her little one was allergic to aloe, something that is put in most nappies. A switch to reusable nappies and no more painful rashes!

Don’t believe me? I asked Louise from LittleHeartsBigLove about her experience of real nappies. Louise used them from birth to potty with both her daughters, CHD baby Jessica and her little sister Sophie. Louise said: ‘We don’t use them now but I used them with both the girls and found them very easy to use. Long-term they were so much cheaper than disposables and for me the biggest thing was knowing that I wasn’t contributing anywhere near as much waste to landfill as a result. They’re just as easy to put on and take off as a disposable and the liners we used were flushable so poo just went down the loo anyway. We had a wet bag for putting nappies in when out and about and a bucket at home. I just lifted the mesh bag out of the bucket and did a nappy wash every other day or so. Yes it was a little extra washing but once it was part of my everyday routine I can’t say I particularly noticed the extra work. I’ve still got the ones we’ve had ever since my eldest was a baby (holding on to them until we’re sure that our baby producing days are over!)

So go on, get real!

Throwback Thursday: Round the World in 80 Flavours

Way back in 2012 I was invited to contribute to ‘Vie Hebdomadaires‘ and I wrote a piece about the wide variety of foods we’d sampled during or travels. From the paradilla’s of Argentina to the snail (?) I ate in Japan there were certainly some interesting foods to try! (See pics below). It’s funny that since returning to the UK I’ve become a vegetarian and in some ways can’t believe the crazy food I’ve tried!

Click the link above to read the original post, or continue reading below.

Originally published on 25 May 2012 on Vie Hebdomadaires.

When hubby and I decided to leave the UK in 2006 to sample life in Latin America we knew we were in for an interesting gastronomic event. However, as our one year gap year stretched into nearly 5 years of living and traveling in different countries our eyes were opened (and often closed as we politely ate a local dish lovingly prepared by new friends) to new tastes, textures and ingredients so here’s a whistle-stop tour of some of my favourite treats and eats.

Latin America:
Argentina: The paradilla’s or BBQ’s in Argentina are legendary and with good reason. Excellent cuts of succulent meat coupled with sumptuous local wine made for a winning dinner every time.

Exotic fruits. My favourite was the custard apples we ate in Brazil.

Ecuador: patacones are fried plantain served with cheese and mayonnaise. Simple yet delicious. My mouth is literally watering as I remember these!

Breakfast in Brazil. Truly this is something which needs to be seen to be believed but nearly everywhere we stayed in Brazil breakfast was treated with great ceremony and would often take well over an hour to eat. There would be cake, fruit, cereals, eggs and more. It would set you up for the day!
Australia:
I hate to say it but we ate Skippy. Kangaroo meat is being pushed as the latest ‘healthy’ meat by the Australian government. I suppose there are a number of health and environmental benefits: kangaroos need less water than cows and don’t damage the land like cow’s hooves. They also produce less methane while having less cholesterol than beef. It had an earthy taste which took a little getting used too but was tasty.

South East Asia:
Every country we visited offered something new to our palates and in many ways I’m doing it a disservice trying to put it into words but here goes.

Thailand: phad thai is the famous dish and we’d frequently enjoy it made from the vendors who pushed their carts along the streets. We also tempted (and burned) our taste buds with the spicy curries Thailand is famous for.

Malaysia: A fusion of cultures greets the traveller in Malaysia, with influences from China, India and the West and we enjoyed them all. However, my favourite place was tea at the Boh tea plantation in the Cameron Highlands. Delicious!

Laos: So impressed were we with the local cuisine in Laos that we actually took a cookery course there where we learned to stuff lemon grass, make stew and a local dish from raw buffalo meat. It was also our first taste of insects as we ate fried grubs (they tasted like scrambled eggs!).

Japan:
People always assume that sushi is the only thing people eat in Japan, but with a husband who’s allergic to seafood, we got to sample some of the other delicious food here. Japanese curry became a firm favourite for us and I never thought I would eat curry topped with cheese but trust me, it’s amazing. There was also chicken, pork and beef BBQ’s with special sauces. However, it’s true, the strangest thing I ate (hubby bowed out) was a shellfish that looked like a slug, bought for me by a local we met at the Fukouka night market. Too polite to decline, I’m still traumatised at the sight of it!

Spain:
We were so lucky to live in La Rioja, the wine region of Spain. The city in which we lived, Logrono, is famous for having ‘the street of 100 restaurants’. These often tiny stores would sell one type of tapas only, the wine being chosen to compliment the food to perfection. When the tapas ran out, the restaurant would close for the evening so we would have to get to our favourite places early to make sure we could enjoy our treats. There’s too many delicious tapas to choose only one and everyone has their favourite (my students would spend entire lessons arguing over where sold the best tortilla) so here’s a selection.

Wales:
Welsh cakes were an instant hit for us when we moved to Cardiff but I also discovered laver bread, made from seaweed. It’s an unusual taste, but mixed in with scrambled eggs I felt very virtuous with those extra healthy vitamins and minerals.

Throwback Thursday: What Writing Means to Me

Way back in 2012 I’d freshly arrived in Devon and had helped to set up a writers group. One of our fellow writers had set up an interesting project ‘Vie Hebdomadaires’ where each week guest bloggers would take over and write about anything which interested them. It’s a fun project and there’s been a wide variety of topics covered. If you’ve got spare time, I’d definitely recommend a flick through.

Anyway, I wrote this piece about ‘What Writing Means To Me‘. It was a precis of where I was at that time with my writing and partly why I feel the need to write. Looking back, I’m amazed at how much I’d accomplished and also, how much more I’ve completed. In many respects it’s easy to overlook our accomplishments, but in the five years since I wrote the article, I’ve published ‘Akane: The Last of the Orions‘, I’ve also published two other books in different genres, the adult collection of short stories ‘Weird Wild‘ and the pre-teen novel ‘Ghoulsome Graveyard‘. There’s been assorted short stories published, The Girls Guide to Surviving the Apocalypse has been revived and whilst I lost all my original work on my previous website, here I am blogging again. This amongst assorted crafting projects, short stories, working and being a full time mum and that’s not too shabby!

 

Click the link above to see the original article or carry on reading below.

There is an inordinate amount written about writing: the who, where and why. Quotes on how you should write, what you should write about. To be honest, as someone who has written for years but who is only now trying to become a ‘professional’ writer, it’s all very intimidating, which is why I loved a mini-Twitter campaign led by Jason Arnopp (scriptwriters for shows such as Doctor Who as well as a number of movies) which said that if you write, you’re a writer. Not ‘aspiring’, not ‘desperate’, not ‘wannabe’. You put words onto paper in an order which makes for (hopefully) interesting reading. This led to a lot of people, in the style of a Hollywood movie, announce, ‘My name is … I am a writer.’

So, since then, I’ve taken on board Jason’s words. I no longer describe myself as ‘aspiring’ or ‘attempting to be’. I write, therefore I am a writer.

2012 is the year which I’m focusing on my writing, trying to go from ‘aspiring’ to ‘published’. I set myself a number of aims (I say aims because it sounds less daunting than New Year Resolutions) for the year which I suppose have made me a little introspective about my writing career to date.

I’ve always written. I remember as a child writing a wandering story which I proudly told my cousin ran to ten pages. During my teenage years there was the cliched angst-ridden poetry and short stories and I was lucky enough that my English teacher channeled me towards writing for the local paper who were creating a section written by youngsters. My first article, about my experiences of learning to drive, won a prize. I was later asked to review Les Miserables when it was touring and arrived in my local town.

At university I focused my energies in other directions and it wasn’t until my husband and I went traveling that the voices which had talked me into writing those ten pages as a child came back to me. I started a story based on a little hummingbird who got lost on his way to visit his armadillo friend and ended up traveling around South America in much the same way we were (although without the 36 hour bus journeys!). There’s some ok ideas in the story, but I knew I needed help so I enlisted on the London School of Journalism’s distance learning course for people who want to write children’s books. An interesting course which helped me understand my characters a bit more, under the encouragement of my tutor, I embarked on my first novel ‘Akane’. It’s a bit of a science fiction, adventure story for young adults and I loved having that adventure with those characters. I’ll be honest, they surprised me a number of times with their actions: the good becoming bad and vice versa, on character who was supposed to only have a walk on part became integral to the story and the pain my characters experienced, I experienced.

It was around that time that I discovered National Novel Writing Month. I’ve written at length about NaNoWriMo and am a proud ‘Wrimo’ myself so I won’t go into details here but the idea is that in 30 days you write a 50,000 word novel. It sounds a lot, but when broken down it’s only 1667 words per day. 2012 will be my fourth year taking part in the madness of NaNoWriMo which has helped me create a number of different novels and I look forward to every November when it starts again.

Thanks to NaNoWriMo and the work I was creating for them, I realised that I’m a genre writer: the voices in my head are all from the worlds of the paranormal, the mythical or other galaxies. So, I decided to attend my first convention for genre writers, Fantasy Con, down in Brighton last year. It was all quite exciting and nerve-wracking. There were authors there who I’d read for years, while some I had never heard of but whose work I have since picked up and enjoyed.

While there I met a lady named Adele. We chatted and got on well, but I’ll be honest, I didn’t expect to see or hear from her until the next convention so it was a surprise when she contacted me to say she was setting up a new blog and would I like to take part. I was interested, blogging is still fairly new to me so it would be good to work with someone with a lot more experience. However, it was the theme of the blog which really drew me in: The Girls’ Guide to Surviving the Apocalypse. To celebrate all things feminine when the end comes as well as offer tongue in cheek advice about how to survive when the zombie hoards come crashing through your door. I loved the idea and immediately submitted my first article ‘Running In Heels (From Zombies)’. Since it’s launch last October, the Apocalypse Girls are we are known have developed quite a following and our ‘feral leader’ as Adele has affectionately been named is constantly coming up with new plans to challenge us.

I was also lucky enough to meet another inspirational woman, Oriana with whom I have set up a writing group in Exeter, called ‘Resident Writers’. We’d both attended different writing groups but they didn’t quite fill the need we had: stimulating us and encouraging us to write. In the months between NaNoWriMo, I’d often go for weeks without writing anything and like any muscle, don’t using your writing skills and they get rusty. We launched in March this year and already have a fabulous group of writers from different genres who come and write with us. I’ve even started writing poetry which I’ve not done since I was at school!

So, now I am a ‘writer’ what next? I have a number of voices muttering in my head, demanding my attention, but even those who have had their stories told are asking more of me: that I let others read their tales and share their journey. Therefore I’m about to start a new adventure in my writing career, the search for an agent and a publisher. I know it’s going to be a hard and difficult road, but at least I have a lot of people to keep me company, even if my head is getting a little crowded.

 

Throw back Thursday: Define Yourself!

I wrote this piece in 2011, discussing how emerging authors should seek to create their own ‘online presence’ and how this would help with book sales and engaging with readers and reviewers by labelling, or pigeon-holing their work. Re-reading it now, I still struggle to define by work – it’s at times horror, comedy, science fiction, fantasy and drama. It’s me!

Let me know what you think in the comments below.

Define Yourself

I’ve been thinking a lot about labels recently. I attended FantasyCon, the conference linked to the British Fantasy Society. As an aspiring writer there were innumerable interesting and relevant panels and discussions, as well as the chance to meet with other writers and discuss our work. However, this was where things got a little tricky. I’m the first to admit that I’ve been a little late coming to the genre and rather naively I thought there was only Fantasy, Science Fiction and Horror, certainly those are the categories in my local bookshop. However, I was in for a shock when I chatted with other writers.

‘So is it a paranormal romance?’

‘I’ve just finished writing a military sci-fi but my passion is steampunk.’

‘I started in hard-core fantasy, but I’m drifting now towards anthropomorphic fantasy.’

I nodded vaguely, feeling like I should have taken a language course before attending the conference, because I was certain these people were not talking English.

I remember at university, learning all these new terms and phrases. One student mentioned to the lecturer that it was like learning a new language and he likened it to religion, once you know the phrases and labels you become one of the initiated, in a club which outsiders have trouble entering or understanding.

But then I got to thinking, what exactly do these labels tell us? For example, I described my first completed novel, ‘Akane: Last of the Orions’ as a fantasy, until someone suggested that it was more sci-fi and probably leaning towards military sci-fi, with invading aliens, space ships and human testing. However, there’s a strong romantic element, first love, betrayal, as well as mythology and religious theory. How can all of that be summed up in one word?

I spoke with one author who had coined the phrase ‘metaphysical fantasy’ for his own books. When I asked him exactly what that meant, he admitted that it didn’t really mean anything, but was a marketing tool. He’d identified a number of authors who he felt met the criteria of ‘metaphysical fantasy’ and linked them under an umbrella of his own creation, thus ensuring that his own work would be identified with more established writers. So now I was really confused. Was all this categorising and labelling nothing more than cynical marketing? Or a way to make yourself feel superior to the uninitiated?

Evidently modern authors need to create and maintain an ‘online presence’ to allow their fans to interact with them (as well as to keep their publishers happy!) and certainly there are some success stories about authors who initially published their work online, building up a loyal following and almost cult status before being connected to a publishers. It seems as if all aspiring authors need a web-page as any potential agent/publisher/editor/other interested person is likely to google you. Therefore I’ve been thinking about my own brand. There’s a plethora of information about branding and having sat in on the panel at FantasyCon 2011 about ‘How to Maintain Your Online Presence’ as well as reading the recent article on the BBC about ‘Should We Do Away With Privacy?’ it would appear that I should live my life out in the open, log time on the internet, but not express my political or other opinions for fear of alienating potential fans or publishers. I should define myself and my work in one word which sums me up completely, again in an apolitical, non-confrontational manner.

And how do these labels really help us? What do they really tell you about the person or in this case, the book? These labels have been created by society and people external to me. As humans we have an innate need to classify and group things. I’m sure we have all seen, and even been, a child who organises their lego based upon its colour. We segregate people by colour, religion, belief, interests, even sex. Humans have a need to organise, to quantify, but really to what end? I think the need to label and categorise says more about the society than it does about the person. As social beings we have an innate need to fit in and I suppose by labelling ourselves we allow ourselves to become part of a group with which we identify. It seems even in the fantasy genre, where we let our imaginations run free, we feel the need to constrain ourselves and establish sets of rules.

However, labels can blinker our thinking and it is this notion which has be concerned. I asked a friend to read my book. Initially she was very excited but as soon as I mentioned it was a fantasy novel, her eyes glazed over. ‘Oh, I don’t read fantasy books,’ she replied. A bottle of wine later and she was convinced. Later that evening I received a message from my friend, ‘I love your book.’

This obviously boosted my ego somewhat, but then the worry set in. By labelling my book as fantasy, I had isolated a large section of potential readership. It’s more a book about nature with elements of crime, horror, fantasy, alternative history and more thrown in. Like me, does it fit one label? And in doing so, does this mitigate the world of possibility it might become? As an aspiring author looking to one day market my book, what impact could this have on potential sales and readership? As I said above, are we at risk of labelling ourselves to such an extent that we risk limiting or isolating readers?

Words have power. They can build you up, or destroy you and like a snapping dog, they need to be treated with respect. In my life I have had the following labels: schoolgirl, uni student, traveller, office worker, teacher, friend, bitch, daughter, writer, girlfriend, wife, heterosexual, home owner, renter, borrower, lender, clown, adventurer,  vegetarian, volunteer, carnivore. Do any of these labels actually tell you more about me? Do they define me? I hope to one day add published author to this list, but what do any of these words actually tell you about me? And more importantly, would any of them make you more or less likely to buy my work?

As soon as you label something, someone, a book, genre, a group, you stop it becoming something more. It can never evolve or grow, it will forever be whatever it has been labeled. Don’t you think that’s sad? For example, think of Woody of ‘Toy Story’ fame. How would he be labelled? Probably as a child’s toy, but he was so much more: loyal friend, cowboy, leader, lover (what happened to Bo Peep anyway?). Now, not one of these labels fully describes Woody and to use any one alone would be a great disservice to him and that is the point I am trying to make.

So I would like to propose a shift in our thinking. I’m not suggesting a total removal of all labelling, but a more careful usage. Many readers say their job from reading comes from the ability to have their minds opened, so why are we so desperate to immediately limit their thinking by labelling books? I’m currently working on a horror novel, but it might (and probably will) grow to encompass other genres, including archaeological, history and fantasy. It’s therefore a novel of about nature with a supernatural, fantastical and historical twist. I’m very open to suggestions for it’s label….

And as for me? What one word label would best describe me? I’m still evolving, I’m learning something new about myself and this amazing world in which we live every day. There’s only one label that I feel fully fits.

Me.

Throwback Thursday: I was Interrogated!

Way back in 2012 I was still starting out as a writer. I was involved with the Girls’ Guide to Surviving the Apocalypse, a fun group of online women discussing all things apocalyptic with tongue firmly in cheek. One of the women involved was Cat Connor, a New Zealand based writer who runs ‘Interrogations’ on her blog. On 9 April 2012 I was taken into her Interrogation Room to answer some very challenging questions about my writing. You can read the original interview here.

It’s funny re-reading this interview. I remember doing it and all the assorted work I was doing at the time (as well as some of the crumby temp jobs I was working!). I discuss the short stories what would eventually become ‘Weird Wild‘ and mention The Vampire’s Bodyguard. The dystopian sci fi I mention is still gestating if I’m honest. I wrote a few chapters but the characters weren’t ‘meshing’, their story wasn’t coming through clearly so I’ve set that on the back burner until I have a clearer idea of where I want that tale to go. What struck me re-reading this is the sheer length of time it takes me to write some of my projects and the various stages they go through. It’s been five years and I’ve hardly worked on the dystopian sci fi as other voices started shouting more loudly, toddlers and dogs came along and life moved on, but those stories are still there, untold. I think it’s high time I dug them out and let them be free!