Make it Monday: Greetings! 

I love receiving cards, don’t you? But even more than receiving, I love MAKING cards! Here’s some of my recent makes. 

Movie review: Bait (2012)


Director: Kimble Rendall

Starring: Sharon Vinson, Richard Brancatisano, Xavier Samuel 

Synopsis: a sudden tsunami traps a group of locals in a grocery store, but it’s not just fruit and veg lurking in the aisles. 

As it’s Shark Week I had planned to do a movie review of one of the plethora of shark movies which have exploded onto our screens over recent years, but frankly they’re either so good they’ve been reviewed to a death more thorough than Quint’s in Jaws (it’s flawed but who doesn’t love Deep Blue Sea?) or frankly so filled with stupidity they deserve to be forgotten under the waves (I’m looking at you Open Water & the Reef) and of course there’s the kitsch world of Sharknado which even this horror fan has barely managed to get through. Then a came across Bait, an Australian movie from 2012.

The premise is similar to many of the movies I’ve mentioned above and I suppose it’s a bit of a mix between Sharknado and the Reef with a tsunami causing the local town to flood, trapping a group of people inside a rapidly flooding grocery store. However, what in my opinion elevates the movie is that whilst non of the characters are particularly likeable (of course there are a few who are sweet, and likeable etc, but none really stand out) there are a number of humerous quips and set pieces which I enjoyed, and firmly reminded me of the subtle dead-pan humour I love about the Aussies. There’s also the knowledge that Aussies are used to, or at least aware of sharks and so the stupid actions you see of characters in other films aren’t as evident here.

Set in the grocery store, the director creates a lovely sense of claustrophobia which builds tension, but also the space is used very effectively, with much of the action taking place in submerged garages or on top of shelving. Underwater shots are handled well, without the shaky-cam or loss of clarity seen elsewhere. Lighting and colours also add to this, which helps to elevate it slightly above some of the other shark movies mentioned above. 

The setting limits the tools and weapons the characters get to use too, although they are very industrious with what they have, and there’s the usual character with ‘knowledge’ of weapons (usually ex-services or ex-con. They simply allude to a ‘shady past’ here). 

I don’t know any of the actors, but a quick look at IMDB shows they’re all from assorted Australian soaps and they all put in good performances. However, I was really pleased that the director used animatronic sharks rather than going for CGI as I always feel it gives more realism and the actors are all looking at the same thing (I’m looking at you Star Wars prequels where no one seems to know which CGI aliens eye to look in!). 

There are a lot of shark movies out there, but this one has a little more bite than others. 

Shark week. Meeting the most vicious fish in the seas!

When hubby and I went on our little adventure, we never for one second thought we’d end up coming face-to-face with some of the most vicious creatures under the waves. We were blessed to dive in the Galapagos, Panama, Thailand, Malaysia, Australia and many more places, seeing stunning underwater worlds and the incredible creatures that live there. Of course, not every sea creature wanted us there and more than once we had a face off with the most vicious fish under the sea. And here he is…..


We got a couple of pictures of clown fish (in this case a tomato anemone fish) getting grumpy with visitors and this one decided that we’d got a bit too close to his home so bit my husband!

And now, here’s a few pictures of sharks…..

Grey reef shark, Thailand


Black tip reef shark, Malaysia


Leopard shark, Thailand


Thresher shark, Philippines


White tip reef sharks, Thailand


Leopard shark, Thailand


Whale shark, Philippines


Galapagos shark, Galapagos Islands


Another shot of that beautiful leopard shark in Thailand

I’m The Big Interview: Lois Kay

It’s funny and ironic but some of the loveliest Brits I’ve met have been one my travels and this is true of Lois. We both worked in Spain and would celebrate the end of a working week each Thursday (Feliz Jueves!) as we worked our way along Calle Laurel, tasting pinchos and wine as we went. Happy days!

Lois recently undertook the ‘plastic challenge’ from the Marine Conservation Society where she gave up using single-use plastic for a month and spoke to me about how it went. Lots of hints and tips which I’ll be using for my Earth Day Pledges.

GCH: Can you briefly tell us about your no plastic challenge?

LK: Promoted by the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) for the month of June 2017, I didn’t use any food, cosmetics, toiletries or cleaning products contained within single use* packaging http://www.mcsuk.org/plasticchallenge/

Together with the MCS I tried to raise awareness of the reality which is that many single use plastic items end up in our seas and on our beaches, where they persist and impact our marine life and that nearly of these items we really didn’t need in the first place.

*a single use plastic is anything which has a very short lifespan in terms of its usage. Think of a plastic bag containing rice which rarely would get re-used, pots of ready prepared sliced fruit with a plastic film over the top – not resuable at all.

GCH: What motivated you to take part in a ‘no plastic’ challenge?

LK: I wanted to see whether it was possible, to see what positive changes I might be able to bring about amongst friends and colleagues. I love snorkeling and swimming in the sea, and it makes me so sad to see such a beautiful natural environment often damaged by humans wastefulness.


GCH: Did you need to buy anything new to help you with your no plastic challenge?

LK: Yes a lot!

I generally cook with fresh ingredients so that was just making the change from convenience shopping where the fruit and veg is in packaged in punnets to buying loose and visiting local fruit&veg shops – which I really enjoyed, and wish I had done more of before.

But then I realised that food really wasn’t the main problem – my toiletries, cosmetics and cleaning products are all in plastic packaging. So…I made a lot of things from scratch, didn’t wear make-up for the month aside from my homemade mascara (burn almonds until charcoal, and mix with vaseline), and have now switched permanently to Lush shampoo and conditioner bars. I also invested in a metal safety razor to replace disposable plastic ones.

GCH: What’s been the most challenging aspect of the challenge so far?

LK: Snacks. Everything in the shop bar fruit is wrapped in plastic! There’s only so much fruit you can eat! Once I found cashews, pistachios and almonds loose in a local Asian shop together with dates it got a bit better, and I have made quite a few cakes, biscuits, and my mum did make a batch of homemade crisps for my birthday party!

I didn’t manage to find pasta or noodles not in plastic anywhere so went without one of my favourite meals – pad thai in June!

GCH: Do you think it will be easy to continue once the 30 days are over?

LK: A lot of things now seem so easy. The first few weeks giving up Singe Use Plastics were really hard trying to find alternatives to my normal shop but now I have figured out a lot of it, I am going to continue with switching away from plastics as far as possible.

GCH: Any hints or tips for people looking to do the same challenge, or to even simply reduce the amount of single-use plastic they use?

LK: The four big nasties ending up in the oceans are Plastic Bags, Plastic Bottles, Plastics Straws, and Plastic Coffee Cups. I ask everyone to really try and unless an emergency, find alternatives or just do-without.

  • Make it fun and not a chore, spend a Sunday exploring your local shops and see what plastic free products you can find. Find a how-to online and make your own soap or lipbalm.
  • Stock up on glass jars and containers for all your lovely homemade products.
  • Talk to people about what you’re doing, You will feel empowered, people can be inquisitive and perhaps defensive about their habits to begin with but once you sow the seed in their minds, you will get a lot of respect and more

GCH: What other things have you done/will you do to minimise your carbon footprint?

LK: Cycle as much as possible and not just for recreation. Since I bought a second hand bike with a pannier rack (I am a big fan of bungee cords now!) I can go on adventures around Greater Manchester and do my shopping. You can travel through parks and along canal towpaths – something which you definitely can’t do in a car.

GCH: You’ve travelled extensively. Has seeing how different countries approach recycling and refuse disposal influenced you?

LK: It was sad to see the state of some of the laybys and waterways in Cambodia and Phillipines filled with rubbish but they are some of the loveliest people I have ever met and also some of the poorest. If they had access to the same infrastructure and education we have here in the UK, they and their environment would benefit in so many ways.

In the flip side, I don’t know how England is so far behind some of our European neighbours who pay a deposit for plastic bottles and on their return, the bottles are re-used. Knowledge and awareness around packaging and recycling, and the benefits of the basics of reducing and reusing could be so much better here!

GCH: We’re constantly asked if we have a favourite country and it’s always so difficult to choose because everywhere we’ve visited has been special. Do you have a favourite country or place?

LK:
• Cambodia for beaches and rivers
• Barcelona for its architecture
• Bangkok for its amazing buzz
• Manchester – my home
• Greece – for the food and friendly people

GCH: You’ve lived abroad. Any hints for people planning to move to a foreign country? How do you integrate yourself with the locals?

LK:
• Speak the native language at every opportunity
• A smile will help overcome what may seem like many barriers in communication and will make you so many friends along the way
• Admit when you need help or even just a hug.

GCH: Where would you like to visit again?

LK: Budapest in summer! I visited in December, and the -8 temperature made sightseeing a little tricky. I’v also heard in summer they have amazing roof terrace bars. That said, one of my most memorable travel experiences was sitting in the dark in an outdoor 30 degree pool in Budapest whilst snow fell around me.

 

Have you done the plastic challenge? Let us know in the comments below.

Make it Monday: Shark Week


We live every week like it’s Shark Week here at Beagle HQ but having a dedicated week is always fun to try some new crafts.

Seeing the Lamb playing with a toilet roll inspired the ‘shark fin cuff’. It was incredibly simple but turned out better than we expected and the toddler loves ‘swimming’ around the house with her cuff. We cut a fin shape, painted it grey, while the toilet roll was painted blue. Then it was a simple case of gluing the fin to the toilet roll and cutting an opening! I added some tissue paper to cover the flaps at the base of the fin and the cuff was ready!


Just in case the Lamb didn’t want to wear a cuff, we also made this fun hat/hairband. Another simple construction, with a band of paper to fit the Lamb’s head, and an extra one to go over the top. The Lamb painted both and again I added some tissue paper to hide the join, and to add a bit of texture. If I’m honest, I think hubby and I are a little jealous we don’t have a fun hat like this. Perhaps next week….

How are you celebrating Shark Week?

Getting the most from conferences

It seems as if conference season is already upon us. There are innumerable conferences, locally, nationally and internationally, all eager for your business. When I was first setting out I went to a number of different conferences and met some fantastic people, many of whom are now dear friends.

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I have my lanyard I take to all conferences. It’s got different tickets, badges and stickers on

Conferences, especially if you’re a writer, are an invaluable tool. We’re known as a fairly reclusive lot so a conference allows you to leave your characters behind and meet real people. Understandably, it can be fairly daunting so I’ve come up with a few tried and tested methods for you to use:

  • Choose your conference carefully. It’s not cheap buying tickets, booking transport and hotel rooms so make sure that the conference is one which you will find interesting and importantly, beneficial;
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    Meeting Graham Higgins at BristolCon was a highlight in 2013

  • Do your homework. I’m not just talking about deciding on which outfit to wear (although this is important, see below) but look at the conference website: which writers, agents or publishers are going? Check out their webpages or look them up in the ‘Writers and Artists’ Yearbook’. Know who they are and what they do;
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    I was terrified at NineWorlds in 2011

  • Which brings us to something important – start growing your online presence. If you don’t already, get a twitter account and start following people who interest you. If you’ve recently read a book by an author, tweet them and tell them how much you enjoyed it and say you’re looking forward to seeing them at the conference. Obviously with everything on the internet, there’s a fine line between being friendly and demanding. Would you really want people sending unsolicited emails etc? No. Be professional and most importantly be polite – you don’t want to arrive at a conference with a reputation for being ‘that annoying person’ who people avoid;
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    With other Fox Spirit Writers at EdgeLit in 2013

  • Plan your weekend. Most conferences have a vast array of events, talks, screenings, signings and more. Most post their programme beforehand so get a copy and review it, deciding which events you want to go to. It saves you a lot of time once you are actually at the conference. I’ve learned this from experience, don’t forget to book in time for food. My first NineWorlds Conference, I rushed from event to event and didn’t eat for 12 hours. When I met an author I admire and had been looking forward to talking to, I was so exhausted and hungry, I could barely remember my own name and just mumbled something about needing coffee. Very embarrassing!;
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    I helped promote Fox Spirit Books at ExeCon in 2014 with Adele Wearing and Alec McQuay

  • If you’ve written a book or are looking to get into publishing, then you need to start branding yourself and your work early on. Sadly publishers don’t have the finances at the moment to promote new or even established authors as much as they might like so you’ve got to do a lot of the hard work for them. I became known as the girl with the dresses because I chose to wear an array of summer frocks at a couple of writing conferences I attended (as an aside, it was more of a practical move than a fashion choice due to an unseasonably warm September). I quickly realised how beneficial this is: when contacting people after the conference I could remind them of who I was by saying ‘I was the girl in the green dress’ and at future conferences I’ll keep up this tradition. I spoke with comic book writer Tony Lee and he said that he was often recognised by people because they knew his distinctive waistcoat, shirt and tie combination, not what he actually looks like. Branding is very important so choose your outfit carefully;
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    I was too shy to speak to James Herbert at FantasyCon in 2012

  • In-keeping with this, maintain your decorum. You do not want your ‘brand’ to be ‘drunk girl flashes knickers as she falls off table onto lap of famous author’;
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    Riddle Me This! Would you dare to wear cosplay to a conference? NineWorlds 2013

  • You’ll meet a lot of people at the conference and you’ll be given a lot of business cards. Everyone has their own way of storing them (one friend puts them in special envelopes to remind herself which day she was given them, another sorts them by person) but one thing I found invaluable is to write a few things on the back of each card such as at which event you met the person, perhaps the anecdote you told them, anything to jog their memory when you contact them in a months time;
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    Excuse the dodgy haircut (note to self, don’t go for a new style days before going away). Launch of Tales of Nun and Dragon and FantasyCon 2012

  • Which brings us to your card. At my first conference I was surprised at the number of unpublished writers with their own business card, the title ‘Author’ splashed across the front. However, seeing the number of cards flying around the hotel bar I realised that for my next conference I need to have my own cards;
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    Doing a bit of book promo at Nine Worlds 2015

  • It’s fabulous to go to a conference with a friend and it’s great to have that comfort of knowing someone but remember you’re there for you. Get out of your hotel room and go and meet people. You never know what might happen, either you’ll meet a new friend or better yet, you might meet an agent or publisher who accepts your work;
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    I was lucky to attend the Exeter Novel Prize 2014, which was presented by MP Ben Bradshaw (even though I hadn’t submitted) and got to meet agents and writers

  • If you’ve got them, don’t forget to check out the facilities for children. I’ve been impressed with the efforts Nine Worlds has gone to to ensure youngsters are entertained, but not all conferences are so inclusive. This also goes for if you have additional needs (I remember one venue didn’t have accessible rooms for people in wheelchairs). Know where baby change facilities/accessible toilets are. Should you need additional assistance, let the guys working at the conference know so they can help (again, Nine Worlds does this well, with coloured badges). It’s one area where pre-planning can save time and stress;
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    Don’t forget to eat!

  • If someone agrees to look at your work, make sure you follow their guidelines to the letter and as always in a polite and not over-friendly manner. Yes, you shared a few drinks but do you really want to start a professional relationship with ‘we got trashed’?;
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    Causing chaos at ExeCon in 2014

  • Finally, and most importantly, have fun!

So there you have it. Conferences are great places to meet people with similar interests to you and you never know, they might be the start of exciting new chapter. Enjoy!

Any additional hints or tips? Let me know in the comments below