Find A Happy Place

It’s something of a trite saying, but if this past week has taught me anything, it’s the importance of making space in my head for a happy place. A place I can retreat to that’s all mine, contains the things I love, makes me feel safe, happy and content.

I have gone some way to making a happy place in my own home. Working from home during the pandemic has meant my home office now has to cater for the day job, however I’ve made it a nice, comfortable space with an armchair, beanbag, TV, DVD player, and of course my collection of books. If it weren’t for the fact that it’s the coldest room in the house, I’d probably use it a lot more!

Today, I did a very simple thing with my space; I added a new set of shelves for all my writing and course materials. It wasn’t too expensive, simple to build, and once I’d arranged everything just so, my spirits felt immediately lifted. I absolutely love it. It also means I’ve managed to free up an entire shelf for my growing book collection; I’ve almost reached the point where I will need to buy yet another bookcase.

But what about a happy headspace?

This one is simple: a house overlooking a beautiful bay somewhere along the Devon coast, where my study has a gorgeous window seat with views to the ocean. Where I can sit and watch a storm rolling in from the horizon, and the undulating hills of the countryside stand out stark green against charcoal grey skies. Or bask in the warm sun, windows open, breathing in fresh sea air whilst reading or writing.

Living landlocked as I am, in a small 2-bed semi, I’m a way off achieving this sort of environment for real. But whilst it exists in my head, I can always imagine myself there, and make it one of my life’s goals. Studies have shown that people living near the coast are less likely to develop depression and anxiety, than their landlubber counterparts. (Source Live by the Sea) My other half, who spent some time living in Exeter loved living on the coast, and is determined that one day it will be our reality. I’m from the coast myself, but Southampton is an industrial port city, the best beaches still require a car journey of about half an hour.

Weird how I never really enjoyed going to the beach, but the idea of living near the ocean is such an appealing one.

I’m now halfway through my sick leave from work, and whilst the depression is still very much there, I have been a little less tearful. The anxiety is omnipresent, today has been a real day of butterflies in the tummy, and having to take lots of deep breaths to calm my racing heart, but I’ve kept myself busy. I have a number of self-help books (I’ve NEVER gone the self-help route) which I am reading to help me prepare for the hard work ahead, and I’m at the point now where I’m wanting and needing to make the changes necessary to become a happier, better adjusted person.

If you don’t have a happy place (real or imagined), and are struggling like I am, I recommend giving it a go. Do you have a nook in your home that can be transformed into a space that’s yours, and yours alone? Could your work space do with a bit of sprucing up, maybe add some personal touches? If you don’t have the space or resources, take a few moments to picture a happy place in your mind. Once you have it fixed, write it down, or draw/paint it (I’d draw mine if I could, but I’m terrible at art). Whenever you feel the need, go to your happy place, and take all the time you need.

I’m Not OK…

…and that’s ok.

On the last Saturday in January, I stood in the kitchen, and I broke down. I sobbed and sobbed. My boyfriend thought something terrible had happened, he tried to comfort me, asked me what was wrong, and everything poured out. All of it. All the emotions I’d spent the last few months keeping at bay finally broke through.

I’m sad, every single day.
I’m angry, all the time.
I’m ugly.
I’m worthless.
I wished I was dead.
How can someone be expected to live in so much pain.

For the record, I am not suicidal. Which I realise is a bit of an oxymoron, after I’d expressed a wish for death. It was more a case of thinking it would be better if I’d simply never existed at all. Is that worse? I don’t know. I do know that I couldn’t inflict that sort of harm on myself; and as someone who lost a relative to suicide, I’ve seen how it affects those left behind.

I’ve tried so hard not to let depression and anxiety get the better of me, but that weekend, it all became too much. I finally had to admit it, I am no longer able to manage this by myself, and I need help. I’ve been wandering alone, through a dark green forest, not knowing which direction to go, and a road has appeared to guide me. Having hit rock bottom, it’s time to take the road, step out of the forest, and head in a more positive direction.

I’ve done therapy before, I spent two years with a therapist back in 2006/7; and I found the experience to be very helpful. I gained a lot of insight into the causes of my depression, which was a real breakthrough. What I didn’t do, was continue the work once I’d finished my treatment, and being reluctant to go back onto Citalopram or Prozac meant I was simply setting myself up for another fall.

And then came anxiety, just to spice things up a little bit.

Remember the Sunday blues? That horrible feeling you’d get knowing school was the next day, or work was looming, and you hated your job, or you were worrying about a potential problem? Anxiety feels like that. The constant butterflies, heart palpitations (anxiety also lead me to have an ectopic heartbeat), breathlessness, sensitive skin, and a head stuffed full of noise.

People want to help, which is lovely, I always appreciate the gestures and offers to chat, but there is nothing anyone can do to help me. A trained professional will help guide me, provide me with exercises to work on between therapy sessions, but unless I use the tools provided, I won’t get better. And that’s another thing, these illnesses are with me for life. I accepted a long time ago that I will never be free of them, that they are part of me, and always will be. What I want is to reach a point where I can manage them better from day to day, so I don’t end up feeling overwhelmed again.

One thing that really pisses me off though? I have no idea of the sort of person I could have been had my life experiences been better. I feel robbed of any potential I had to make a success of my life. I lost the confidence to pursue my dreams at a young age, and that makes me really angry and resentful. Emotions, I realise that do nothing to serve me, but exacerbate the negative thoughts.

There are people in this world who don’t believe that mental illness is a real thing, that unless someone is manifesting physical symptoms, they can’t be ill. How blissful it must be, to live in such ignorance. Think of the mind as our internal software; like software it is vulnerable to attack, it can be corrupted and damaged beyond repair. There’s no bandage or ointment to protect it, it can’t be rebooted, parts of it can’t be replaced by donors, transfusions or grafting; treatment is a long, complicated process, and not always successful.

Over the years people have said to me, “you seem ok”, “but you’re always having a laugh” etc, etc. And that’s one of the common misconceptions about mental illness. I look ok, therefore I must be ok. But one thing depressed people are very good at is putting on that front to the outside world, it’s a defence mechanism, purely for self-preservation. Inside, we’re usually crumbling.

I’m currently signed off work for two weeks, I’ve got my referral through for the NHS Let’s Talk Well Being with an assessment appointment coming up. My doctor hasn’t put me on any medication for the moment, but it is a possibility. This is time for me to rest, gather myself, get out into the fresh air, exercise, eat well, and just focus on working towards getting well. I know it’s not going to be easy, the temptation to sit around and wallow in self-pity is strong so it’s time to dig deep, find some motivation and work to beat this thing.

If anyone reading this is also suffering, don’t be afraid to ask for help, don’t feel you have to struggle through on your own, that no one will understand or care. That is not true, there are people who do care, and who want to help. From free services such as the Samaritans and NHS Mental Health services to private therapists who you can talk to in total confidence.

It’s ok to not feel ok. You are not alone.

NHS Every Mind Matters

Mind

The Samaritans

UK Council for Psychotherapy

Practice Makes Perfect.

I’ve enrolled on to a Creative Writing Course!

Ok, I’m already a writer, just not a very professional one. But I do have a published story to my name (the popular Grey Ice), I’ve been writing this blog since 2015, and I have completed a novel. Yay me 😁

As with any profession though, there will always be room for improvement, and as my initial plan to go on an Arvon writing retreat this year has been scuppered; I decided to take a look at distance learning.

I work a full time job, so my free time is limited to weekends and evenings. Plus, my job is very busy, demanding and stressful. The writing retreat would have been an ideal break, but I can go another time. With distance learning, I can dictate my own study time, work at my leisure, and still get online support from a tutor.

The Open University offer some great courses, sadly though, even the online package prices are way beyond my means. It would have been so nice to go for something like a degree though. Again, maybe I’ll be able to pursue that another time.

I trawled the internet, looking at various courses with publishers, literary agents, and colleges. Eventually settling on Open Study College which I was already aware of, and who have a very good reputation, as well as being affordable! I signed up, and within a couple of days, received my study pack.

I believe that if one is serious about a particular vocation, or ambition, wishful thinking is not the way to achieve that goal. I know this, because I’ve always been a bit of a dreamer. When I was younger, harbouring dreams of becoming an actress, I used to imagine being “discovered” by famous film directors (Charlize Theron was discovered in a bank, so it can and does happen!), but honestly Steven Spielberg wasn’t going to be visiting Southampton for any reason.

As an adult, hurtling towards my 48th spin around the sun, I’ve realised over the last decade how actually putting in the work to achieve something can get results. Putting myself out there on the Amdram circuit meant I’ve been able to act on stage, and knuckling down to get on with my writing meant I was able to finish my novel, and work on other pieces. I’ve written a slew of short stories, blogged on various subjects, and have other novels I’m working on.

My other half is a great example of working hard to achieve his goals; he’s ambitious with big dreams, but puts in the work to achieve those dreams. He’s toured Europe, played gigs in the US, has released his own music, videos, and even performed lockdown gigs. He’s a prime example of someone who deserves every success because of how much work he puts in.

I need to apply the same work ethic, but I also need to improve on my existing skill set. There’s a lot I don’t know about writing. I read a huge amount, which is an absolute necessity, but I need to learn a bit more about technique, style, even improve on grammar, (and I’m already a member of the Grammar Police).

Musicians, singers, dancers, acrobats, athletes etc, all practice their chosen skills; writers should too.

Veganuary

Thinking of trying vegan for the month of January? Or going vegan full time? Here are my top tips on how to go about it.

1 – Sign up to Veganuary, where you’ll receive a 31 day e-cookbook with lots of recipes and nutritional advice.

2 – Sign up to The Vegan Society which is packed full of information on how veganism came about, what it means to be vegan, research, campaigns etc.

3 – Invest in some decent cookbooks. This is a bit of a minefield, as there are hundreds to choose from, covering everything from budget vegans to those who consider themselves a bit of a chef in the kitchen. My go to’s are Chloe Coscarelli, Bosh, and So Vegan. Bosh and So Vegan are very popular as they appeal to the mainstream, and both are good places to start as they make vegan cooking fun and informative.

4 – Join a Facebook group for support and encouragement. I’m a member of non-Judgy Vegans UK, which is a fantastic group, not just about food, but for all aspects of veganism.

5 – Don’t just cut meat and dairy out, and eat nothing but vegetables. As healthy as vegetables are, you need to ensure you are still eating all the food groups. Lentils, beans, and pulses contain lots of fibre, minerals and vitamins. Dark, leafy greens such as Cavolo Nero and Kale are excellent sources of vitamins K, A, B6, manganese and calcium as well as a whole host of essential nutrients. Mushrooms are a typical meat replacement, forming the basis for many dishes and items from burgers and sausages to the mince in a shepherd’s pie. They’re versatile, highly nutritious, low in fat, and highly sustainable (you can grow them yourself using kits or go foraging).

6 – Dairy

  • Cheese – Everyone loves cheese, right? Did you know, cheese contains casein which has an opiate effect on the brain? It’s why it’s one of the hardest foods to give up. Many vegans advise to give it a few months before trying vegan cheese in order to allow tastebuds to adjust. For cheese fiends, the supermarket choices will probably disappoint; they’re predominantly coconut oil based, can be too sweet, chalky, flavourless, bad at melting etc etc. It really is trial and error to find one you’ll like. In my house, we have Applewood, my other half eats it in sandwiches or on toast (it melts beautifully), I prefer to use it in cooking. You can always splash the cash of course, and try the many artisanal vegan cheeses on the market such as Tyne Chease where you’ll find specialist flavours and combinations to suit the fussiest tastes!
  • Milk – I found milk the easiest to give up. Before going fully vegan, I’d already made the switch to soya eventually transitioning to oat. In terms of sustainability, oat is the best, almond is the worst. Almond milk has the same environmental impact as dairy. There is a huge variety of blends and brands available; from cashew to hemp to oat, and even pea milk. I find soya is great for cooking, but barista edition oat is more versatile as it works in tea, coffee and cereal. Make sure your milk is fortified for extra nutrition.
  • Eggs – A poached egg on potato cake at the weekend used to be one of my favourite things. I have since swapped this treat for a yummy tofu scramble every Sunday. If you like your eggs savoury, there are lots of ways to achieve the alternative. For the bakers amongst you, you’d be surprised at the number of vegan friendly alternatives that work just as well in cakes.

7 – Honey – also a no-no. Bees do not make honey for us, they make it for their Queen and their colony. Honey is their food, they need it to survive.

8 – Clothing – vegans do not wear wool, silk or leather as these are animal byproducts. Some vegans give old items to charity, or continue to wear them until they’ve worn out. It’s a personal decision, I’ve still some old leather shoes in my wardrobe. Haven’t worn them in years, won’t wear them again, just need to decide what to do with them. Clothing is usually where there is a dividing line between someone who is vegan and someone who is plant based. One follows the lifestyle, the other follows the diet.

9 – Convenience foods. The rise in veganism has led to an amazing range of convenience foods in the supermarkets. No longer faced with a paltry selection of nut roasts and veggie burgers, we have sausages, pies, nuggets, roast “joints”, pasties, plant-based pieces to use in stir-fries, stews and casseroles. There is so much more choice now. These are great if you don’t have much time or inclination for cooking from scratch, but beware, these items are likely more expensive than their meat-based counterparts (£5 for a 2 pack of Beyond Sausage is a good example; I don’t care how good they are, I’m not spending that kind of money!). It’s a good idea to shop around, bulk buy when things are on offer, and compare prices (my shops take twice as long now, as I scrutinise everything!). I always have a few freezer items for those days when I simply want to just bung something in the oven. Veganism doesn’t have to be expensive, but it can be if you rely on convenience foods all the time. Miguel Barclay has a popular cookbook for vegan meals coming in at £1 per person.

10 – Batch cook – got some time at the weekend? It’s a great time to batch cook, and freeze meals for the week ahead. I only cook for two people, but as most recipes cater for four or more, I freeze the additional portions. It saves money on the weekly shop, and it’s a quick solution for dinner on those days when you simply can’t be bothered.

11 – Household products, toiletries and cosmetics – A product maybe vegan, but isn’t necessarily cruelty-free. Yet another minefield to negotiate! These shopping guides from Cruelty Free International and Naturewatch will help you make the right choices to avoid products that have been tested on animals.

Here are some links to additional resources:

Vegan for the animals

Earthlings or Dominion – warning – these films are incredibly graphic, and not for the faint of heart.

Vegan for the environment

Cowspiracy looks at the impact of animal agriculture on the planet, does contain some graphic imagery.

Vegan for health

Forks Over Knives goes into the science of following a whole food plant based diet in tackling a variety of health conditions.

The Game Changers veganism through the eyes of some of the world’s top endurance athletes.

What The Health looks at the links between the modern, western diet, disease and the multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical industry.

Earthling Ed is a vegan educator and activist who believes in power through knowledge. His channel is definitely worth a watch as he delivers his message in a calm, measured way.

Barnivore is a useful little app for checking beer, wines and spirits for their suitability.

Phew!

Remember – there is no such thing as the perfect vegan, our presence on this planet alone has an impact, from the houses we live in to the cars we drive, and the jobs we do. We do the best we can to reduce our impact through the actions we take. Your vegan journey is a personal one, go at your own pace, and ignore the haters.

From my own personal experience, veganism has given me a new love of food, a better connection to the environment, and a love and respect for all animals. I once said, “I couldn’t go vegetarian.” I went vegetarian Christmas 2014. I followed that up by saying, “I couldn’t go vegan, that’s a full lifestyle.” I went vegan 31/03/17, and I haven’t looked back since.

My only wish? That I’d done it sooner.

Reflections

It’s been a funny old year. I don’t normally reflect on each year that passes, that’s never been my nature. Like many people, I suspect I’ll be looking back on 2020, not with fondness, but with incredulity.

Let’s face it, 2020 has been a clusterfuck of monumental proportions.

Politically, we are in turmoil, however I congratulate our cousins across the Pond for finally seeing sense in the November elections. In the UK, we’ve simply set ourselves up for another four years of abject jingoism disguised as getting our sovereignty back. (We never lost it). Add to that, the epic mishandling of a deadly virus that’s killing people in their thousands, because of *checks notes* “the economy” and you’ve got something resembling the sinking of the Titanic, with the musicians serenading the screaming passengers as the country sinks into oblivion.

Writing wise, it’s been tough. I’ve procrastinated with the best of them, dipped my toe in and out like a Channel swimmer in January, had a huge lightbulb moment a few months back; which resulted in eight chapters of a brand new story in a week, then nothing. My notebook stares back at me in disgust as it gathers dust, whilst I’ve got the entire story mapped out in my head, but pen hasn’t touched paper for a while.

Horizon Skies, which I finished in 2018, continues to suffer. I’ve done lots of editing, tried to tighten up parts of the plot, but it’s beginning to feel like it will never be 100% complete. My new aim now, is to use my Christmas week off to finish it, with a view to resubmitting to agents in January. If it fails again, well, I haven’t thought beyond that. I know self-publishing is a viable route, but even that is a minefield! I need to work on my story arc for Sanctuary Of Stone (standalone fantasy) and continue with Daughter of Tomorrow (working title). Ugh.

At least, Christmas has been lovely this year. I’m not a very festive person usually, however I was quite looking forward to it this year. Despite being in tier 3 lockdown, Pete and I enjoyed yummy food, LOTS of drinks, wonderful pressies, and had a bit of a laugh. Without the pressure of having to travel anywhere I felt like I was finally able to relax and not worry for a few days. My anxiety has been spiking a lot recently, my day job has had some very stressful moments, and self-care really is the order of the day.

On a final note, if you’re a regular visitor to my blog, thank you for your support, and for taking the time to show an interest. I will try to make more effort with it in 2021 as it’s always been a great place for me to exercise those writing muscles. If you’re a new visitor, I hope you’ve enjoyed your visit, and that you will come again! Before you go however, please take a moment to provide some feedback.

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year xxx

Battle Scars

This is a very personal post for me. It doesn’t relate to writing, or any creative endeavour, but rather the battle I have with my demons on a day to day basis.

The sadness and despair has been creeping up on me for a little while now. I usually describe depression as feeling like I’m standing on a beach, where the tide meets the sand, my back to the sea. There is a huge wave about to come down and engulf me. Most of the time, I keep the tsunami at bay, but it’s always there, waiting.

This week, the tsunami won. The sadness I feel all the time welled up inside me, and overflowed. The trigger was minor, (it always is); but it was enough for me to let the floodgates open. I just sat on the bed, sobbing. Lamenting the failure of my life, how I’ve not achieved anything of significance, how no one knows me, how I feel I’ve missed out on so many opportunities, how dreams have been crushed, how ugly I feel, how I just plod along, rootless; no sense of belonging anywhere or being part of something.

Obviously, it felt good to let it all out. Afterwards, I felt spent, exhausted. Boyfriend took me to the pub for a couple of hours, we came back, had dinner; but by 9.30, I had to go to bed. The mental and emotional toll depression takes on the body’s physicality is significant. The anxious butterflies in my stomach have been a constant reminder that something bigger was on its way.

I’m halfway through a week off, a week in which I should be focusing on my writing. Horizon Skies has suffered for my lack of motivation, and I have other works needing my attention. I’m full of good intentions, until that tsunami sweeps them all away; then I lose myself in gaming or reading, my only forms of escape. I become lazy, demotivated and uncaring.

I should exercise, it makes me feel good. I managed to lose half a stone this year, then hit a plateau, and haven’t lost any since. Just another hurdle to get over. I like how exercise makes me feel energised, it’s true that it does wonders for one’s state of mind. Those happiness hormones should be bottled.

Of course, I will fight back. I always do. I’m battle scarred and weary, but I am a fighter, and I always remember what a former therapist once told me of how I’m “psychologically strong”. I arm myself with this knowledge as I go to war.

The Deepest Cut

Maybe that’s a bit melodramatic, but for a long time, I’ve resisted making major cuts to Horizon Skies. It’s my baby, why would I want to hurt it?

With, what I hope, are the final round of edits and revisions, I took a look at one of the opening chapters. A piece of critique I’d received from a literary agency a couple of years ago came back to me. They suggested the first chapter weakened the main protagonist as she’s just a baby with her first appearance. At the time, I resisted the idea, the readers need to know how she came into her family’s life, don’t they? Nope. Their idea was to weave her origin story throughout the book. With my level of inexperience at the time, all I could think was “how on Earth am I going to do that?” I had a finished book, wasn’t it perfect enough as it was?

Actually, no.

With the benefit of hindsight, time away from the manuscript, I look at some of the earlier chapters, and my inexperience shows. I wrote it with a very linear storyline, there are a couple of flashbacks, and every character has their own chapter; telling their individual stories until their destinies begin to merge in the latter third. I’m still happy with the structure, that doesn’t need to change.

But, the literary agency critique was right. Ava’s first chapter really just amounts to padding. I realised, her origin story can be told through snippets of conversation. I also concluded, it takes away some of the mystery as to her connection to another character. This really is an example of telling instead of showing, which writers are always told to avoid.

If you’re unsure what show don’t tell, means, it’s simply a way of allowing the reader to immerse themselves in the story through the actions and expression of the character. For example:

Angry – balled fists, red faced, growled responses.

Scared – rapid heartbeat, sweaty palms, the hairs standing up on the back of the neck.

This allows the reader to fully conjure the image of that character in their mind, thus creating engagement with the story, and empathy.

That being said, it won’t serve the story very well to show every aspect. Some elements do benefit from telling. For example, if your character is getting ready for bed, it’s not necessary to describe them having a bath or shower, towelling off, dressing in pyjamas, brushing their teeth, drying their hair, and then getting into bed. It’s a mundane activity that doesn’t need a deep level of commitment. The reader will simply get bored. In this instance, telling is preferable to showing.

After her usual night-time rituals, Bethany settled into bed, a book propped open on her knees.

By telling in this case, we’ve established the character’s actions in a single, succinct statement. The reader knows what’s happened, without getting bored, and the story can move on without slowing the pace.

After reading chapter two again, it became apparent to me, there was too much telling, and not enough showing. It had to go. I’ve already worked part of it back in to later chapters, and feel that works better. My character’s origin story still gets told, but in a more natural way that doesn’t do a disservice to her character arc. I’m hoping, it will enhance it.

Whilst cutting isn’t a fun prospect for writers, we know it’s a necessary evil. It helps tighten up the narrative, gets rid of clunky paragraphs that might be slowing the story down, and keeps the reader engaged to the final page.

 

 

It’s All A Bit Woolly.

Having been vegan for more than three years now, I consider myself, if not an expert, at least well informed on the subject.

What amazes me though, is how many vegans are still ok with wearing wool. I use wool as an example due to a recent post I made on Facebook that sparked a debate amongst some members of the group about wool.

Citing wool then, why is it not ok for humans to use this product?

1 – This goes against the very first rule of veganism as defined by The Vegan Society: Veganism is a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose

2 – Sheep are being raised in ways to produce more wool, their coats end up causing them pain, their skin can get infected so they “need” shearing. This is a direct link to the farming industry, if sheep weren’t being raised this way, the “need” for shearing wouldn’t be there. And why do humans keep sheep? So we can eat their babies.

3 – To ensure a high turnover of wool, sheep are not treated gently, they are thrown about, manhandled, pinned down, cut and hurt throughout the shearing process. If a farmer can shear 10 sheep in 10 minutes , why would he take time being gentle with just one sheep for 10 minutes? (I don’t know how long the shearing process takes, I’m using these for illustrative purposes). This would impact directly on any profits to be made.

4 – Supply and demand. Keeping up the demand for wool for clothing perpetuates the supply chain. Sheep will continue to be farmed, their babies will continue to be taken from them, murdered at just a few months old for humans to eat.

5 – Alternatives. There are lots of great alternatives to wool out there, it’s wrong to assume that just because something is natural, it doesn’t have some kind of environmental impact. In fact, wool is pretty bad for the planet according to The Ecologist.

I guess it boils down to your reasons for going vegan. For me, it was always about the animals. I love animals more than people, they have more right to live on this Earth than we do. For one thing, animals don’t destroy their environment in the name of progress, and they don’t exploit and enslave others in horrific conditions for food or entertainment. Only humans commit those sorts of acts.

If you eat a vegan diet, but wear any animal byproduct such as wool, silk or leather, you cannot call yourself a vegan. This is not my opinion, but a simple fact. You are plant based because your clothing choice still links to the very industries veganism is against. Like vegetarianism, going plant based is a step in the right direction, but as I realised a few years ago, it’s not enough. If you are comfortable with your choices, good for you, some contribution is better than none at all.

I see a lot of new vegans cropping up, which is fantastic. Lots of questions being asked, and guidance sought. What strikes me about some (not all) new vegans is the lack of research undertaken into what veganism is about. There is a bit of a misconception that it is simply about the diet, when it is so much more than that. To be a true vegan is to adhere to the guidelines as set out by The Vegan Society. This is a lifestyle, and a commitment.

Of course, we all make mistakes, none of us are perfect and occasionally, you’ll fall off the wagon. I did. I bought Kellogg’s Cornflakes a while back, and completely forgot that the Vitamin D in the ingredients comes from sheep’s wool. The packet was already open when my boyfriend said “are you sure they’re vegan? I thought we’d stopped buying them?” That was a proper Homer d’oh! moment right there. Should I flagellate myself with a bunch of asparagus as penance? Of course not, it was a little blip, not done on purpose. I haven’t made the same mistake since though. One of the benefits of veganism is the opportunity for education.

I’ve used wool as an example in this post, just to maybe make you think about or question your current choices. There are so many more examples I could use. Are you a new vegan, still finding your way or are you more plant based, comfortable with your choices? If you’re looking for guidance, feel free to comment with any questions, I’ll be happy to reply to the best of my knowledge. 🌱

 

Keep Reading

The header is a quote, all writers should be familiar with.

Stephen King may not have been the first to coin such a phrase, but it’s the one I come across most often.

Understanding the importance of reading to be used as a tool when writing is absolutely vital, particularly for any budding writer.

Aside from the obvious pleasure reading brings, the education a good book provides is invaluable:

  • World building – excellent examples of this can be found in Brandon Sanderson’s work; he even invented an entire universe, named the Cosmere.
  • Magic systems – from the simplistic tropes of elemental magic to more complex practises, creating a unique type of magic will help your writing to stand out.
  • Structure – is there a clear beginning, middle and end? Are loose ends neatly tied up or left open for a sequel?
  • Pacing – do the chapters flow or jar? Does the momentum continue at a steady pace or do you find yourself struggling to read past the first few chapters?
  • Characterisation – there’s nothing worse than one dimensional characters. This maybe fiction, but characters should have personality, quirks and foibles. Can you empathise with the mc?
  • Vocabulary – seriously, I make a note of any words I come across in a book, look up its meaning, and look for a way to work it into my own writing. Better than any thesaurus.

These are just a few examples of what you can learn from reading in order to make a better writer.

Other things to consider:

  • Who, or what, inspired you to write?
  • Has a particular writer or book grabbed you in such a way, that it lit that fire inside?

I can remember clearly, the first time I thought about writing. It was after reading a book titled The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by the late Joan Aiken. An alternate history set in the mid-19th century in which England has been overrun with wolves, and two young cousins fall into the clutches of an evil older cousin. I loved it, and my first attempt at writing was to completely plagiarise the story. I was still in junior school then, and didn’t know you couldn’t pass off someone else’s story as your own…Obviously, it’s never seen the light of day.

Nowadays, inspiration comes to me from all sorts of sources. The books I read, films, TV shows or the voices in my head. Honestly, sometimes they just don’t shut up!

Horizon Skies, my debut, currently languishing in the “please finish these final edits!” area of my head space, has been doing the rounds in my head since my early 20’s. It was a story I simply had to tell. I don’t know if it will ever be published, it may forever be consigned to the rejection pile, but at least – I did it. I wrote a book. 

If it hadn’t been for all those stories of my childhood, including books by Noel Streatfield and Monica Hughes, I may never have discovered the passion for writing I have now. Reading remains my number one pastime, my books have always been a constant in my life. When the crap has really hit the fan, diving into a Terry Pratchett or James Herbert has rescued me, allowed me to live a different life for a few hours.

So, if you’re wondering how to be a writer, make sure you’re a reader first. The knowledge and experience will enrich your world.

 

 

Not Another Post-Apocalyptic Zombie Dystopia Novel!

I’ve always had an idea in my head for a film about the rage outbreak, as depicted in 28 Days Later. I’ve imagined the opening scenes, time and time again. This idea has been germinating for years.

Like Tina in Bob’s Burgers, I have a complicated relationship with zombies. My favourite zombie film is Dawn of the Dead; The Walking Dead Tina Belcherand Fear The Walking Dead have been part of my life for years (although, I do think TWD has really had its day) as well as another great TV show, Black Summer (visceral and brutal). That’s not to say I like all zombie films and shows, for every good one, there are probably at least ten that are utterly dreadful (Zombie Nation, take a bow.)

Recently, I read an interesting trilogy of books called Plague Land, Plague Nation and Plague World which isn’t really a tale of zombies but a strange infection that physically assimilates humans into its invading mass. How the infection starts, spreads, and how the dwindling humans desperately try to escape made for a curious read. I’ve simplified the story as there is so much more to it, but I’m not a reviewer.

 

There’s also the usual dystopia novels I’ve read over the years. The most devastating being The Road by Cormac McCarthy. It’s a bleak, heart rending story of one man and his son trekking across a devastated US to reach the coast where the father believes they can find safety. The book, like it’s film adaptation, packs an emotional punch to the gut, but is so subtle, the tears did not flow until I’d finished the last page. I’m not sure I want to write something that emotionally wrenching.

The next paragraph contains spoilers for The Last of Us Part 2.

As a gamer, I’ve really enjoyed The Last of Us parts 1&2. Like all good RPG’s, the stories are wholly immersive, gripping, and invoke all sorts of reactions. Part 2 in particular, with its character swap part way through in which the player HAS to play the antagonist plays with your feelings as their personal story unfolds. I may have been #teamellie all the way, but for the hours I played as Abby provided an alternative perspective to the story. Her tale of vengeance becomes clear, you understand why Ellie and Joel are the bad guys in HER world. Whilst I may not have rooted for her entirely, I was able to empathise, and this puts a big question mark over the morality at play.

They say to write what you know. 

As a fantasy writer, I have been well prepared for writing Horizon Skies (my current nemesis) and Sanctuary of Stone (stalled WIP) as most of my library is fantasy fiction. From a young age, when I first read The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, fantasy novels have fuelled my imagination more than any other genre. 

I do read other genres though; I have horror (James Herbert) dystopia, science fiction and a few contemporary novels. I’ve read classics (Jane Austen and Charles Dickens), and I love Kathy Lette. It’s important not to restrict one’s reading material, particularly when the goal is to be a writer. I’ve currently got it into my head that I want to read Dante’s Inferno.

All of this, the TV shows, the movies, and the books; all have given me the tools to write this new story. Ok, it’s not an original idea, I’m well aware of that. But, maybe I can add my voice, my take on it, and write something that will appeal. I’d love to join the ranks of female authors who have written successful novels in this genre. 

In less than a month, I’ve written eight chapters, the story continually plays out in my head. I know where it’s going, how it’s going end, who survives, who doesn’t, and a lot of awful stuff in-between. Aside from writing a good story, this is also an opportunity to explore my darker side, a place in my imagination not populated by myth and magic, but with fear and anxiety.