Lifestyle

Me, Myself & I: Part 3

memyselfi

Welcome to part 3 of this fab Q&A run by Suzie at Suzie Speaks and Sarah at Diary of a Techaholic. Check out their posts too and show some love to these great bloggers.

1. How do you get your ideas for blog posts?

Generally from what’s going on in my life. Places I’ve been, conversations I’ve had, news I’ve heard and so on. Taking part in these memes helps to get regular posts going too. Many of my posts have been about the research I’ve done for my books.

2. What’s the one piece of advice you would give to new bloggers just starting out?

Blog as often as you can. Blogging, like all writing, is a skill and you only get better with practice. Blogging often also gets you into good habits and will help you to become part of the blogging community.

3. How would your closest friends describe you?

I dread to think! I hope they would say I was passionate, caring, intelligent and funny. They might also say I was sensitive, a bit of a drama queen at times and extremely opinionated!

Meeru24. What’s the best place you’ve ever visited and why?

Meerufenfushi, aka Meeru, an island in the Maldives. It’s paradise on earth. I’m so lucky to have been able to spend a week there 11 years ago. I’ve been feeling a bit nostalgic for the place lately and would love to be able to go back.

5. What has been your biggest challenge so far?

Accepting myself. I haven’t overcome this challenge yet, but I am trying. It took me a long time to accept my vocation. I always wanted to be a writer but that booming voice of society told me “you’ll never earn a living at it” and I let that voice divert me. But I was so unhappy in everything else I tried to do. Now that I’ve embraced my path I’m so much happier. I need to do that with all sorts of things in my life, accept myself for who I am and stop worrying that I’m not good enough. I need to change the voice in my head from one of constant self-criticism, to one of love and nurturing. It’s not easy to do, but I have a mantra now “Forgive yourself and move on”. I’m trying to live by that.


Me, Myself & I: Part 2

memyselfi

It’s week two of the Me, Myself & I series. This week’s questions were set by Sare at Confessions of a Techaholic. Find out more about the linkup over at Suzie Speaks. On with the questions!

1. Why did you start blogging?

Hmm… I have to reach back about ten years to answer that one. I think it was to ease boredom at work! I had a tedious job in insurance (I know!) and blogging gave me an outlet for my creativity and a chance to be me. Because being sat at a desk, doing a soulless job wasn’t me. Once I got the bug, blogging became part of my life forever.

2. What is the best book you’ve ever read?

Just one?! Well for sheer re-readability and how much it moves me every time I read it, I have to say Harry Potter: Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling. The first book I ever queued up before midnight on release night to get. The first first edition I ever owned. The first time I didn’t sleep or eat until I’d devoured every word. I must have read it a dozen times by now and it makes me cry every single time. As do the last two books in the series, but I had to pick one!

3. If the next song you heard was the last, what would it be?

Everlong by the Foo Fighters. This song touches something deep in my core every time I hear it. It was released during my most formative years and carries with it potent memories of lost loved ones, dear friends, glorious memories, the first feelings of belonging. All of those memories captured and stored in a beautiful melody and rhythm that makes me soar. If I never heard another song again, I would die filled with love, happiness, sadness and loss all at once; everything human.

4. What is your favourite post that you’ve ever created?

Ooh, good one. Bear in mind I’ve had several blogs over the last decade! I’m going to say my birth story. It still gets viewed today, and is still shared in online birth communities despite being three and a half years old. Its companion posts on my birth contract and rebirthing ceremony are also frequently shared and viewed too, but this one carries most of the emotional weight. It was a joy and a challenge to write and reading it back now still moves me. My birth changed practices at the hospital I ended up at and this story, and my contract, have been used by midwives on training days. I’m honoured to be part of the process of making birth better for other women.

5. What is the one book, album and luxury item you would have if you were stranded on a desert island?

I think I would want to take something funny to read, or something massive to keep me going. Lord of the Rings, perhaps. Nothing like the daddy of all epic fantasy.

Album? Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by The Beatles. I had to think about this a lot and hopped around a few before settling here. I used to spend hours and hours watching Yellow Submarine as a kid. I had it on video recorded off the tv and would watch it, rewind and watch it again, and again, and again. The songs are closely connected to my childhood and I could listen to them on repeat forever. It also happens to be a musical masterpiece, voted the number 1 album of all time by Rolling Stone.

As for the luxury item, I’d have to say a working fridge! I wanted to say chocolate, but then thought “it would melt in the heat!” So a fridge it is, to keep my coconut milk cool. Of course, I’m assuming that I have something to play the album on!

So that’s all for now. Tune in next Sunday for more.

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Me, Myself & I – Week 1

memyselfi

I was just looking for something like this to post to my blog today, when fate intervened and dropped this little morsel in my inbox, courtesy of Suzie81 Speaks. The idea is to answer 5 questions each each and share them around the bloggosphere, reading, liking and commenting on other people’s replies too. Each week Suzie and Sare (at Diary of Techaholic) will post the new questions. So, without further ado, here is the first set.

1. What has been your blogging highlight so far?

I’ve blogged for years, across various different sites and about a range of topics. But the last 18 months or so, writing this blog has been very special. I’d say the highlight is probably when I see people sharing my posts and knowing that something I wrote was share-worthy.

2. What or who inspires you more than anything else?

Music inspires me. A certain song, or even a single lyric can set my creative juices flowing. A good rhythm is amazing to write to. I have a playlist for writing to, which contains some of my favourite bands and even entire albums that flow amazingly well. I’d say that up there as my most inspirational albums are Damage by Kosheen and The Heart of Everything by Within Temptation.

3. If you won the lottery, what would be the first thing you would do with you winnings?

Oh I contemplate this A LOT! Before going property-hunting (I browse the net for amazing properties already in anticipation of winning the next Euromillions jackpot!), or flying off to travel the world with my kids (Florida first as it’s already booked, but then we’ll get on a train and travel around Europe in style), I’d actually get the dull stuff out of the way, like clearing my credit cards and buying a new family car! But I’d also be making some important phone calls to my close family and friends and asking them what I can do with some of the money to make their lives better/easier.

4. If you could describe yourself as a plate of food, what would it be?

Sunday roast. Warm, loving, homey, a little bit indulgent and stuffed full of yumminess.

5. What does a perfect day look like to you?

A long, long lie in all by myself! Followed by a tall glass of cold orange juice outside in the sunshine by a stunning pool. Then sitting by the pool with my laptop to write, taking a dip after lunch during the hottest part of the day. It would just be me, my words and tranquillity.

So that’s it for now. If you want to participate, just copy the questions and answer them in your own blog post. Then leave a comment on Suzie or Sare’s blogs. Don’t forget to read and comment on other people’s posts too. Happy Sunday.


My Top 5 Ted Talks of All Time

Inspired by Vicky over at Single Mother Ahoy! I decided to list my top five favourite Ted Talks. I absolutely love Ted, the whole idea is amazing. People come together in venues all around the world to give inspirational talks on all manner of subjects. It was hard to narrow it down to just five, but here goes.

5. Hackschooling Makes Me Happy – Logan LaPlante. Learn from a teenager how unschooling works and why his home education is focused on what really matters.

 

4. The Art of Asking – Amanda Palmer. A wonderful and inspirational talk from one of the most successful crowdfunders ever. Palmer describes her experiences of interacting with her fans.

 

3. Why we should give everyone a basic income – Rutger Bergman. I’ve been an advocate of universal basic income for a few years now and whenever I get into a discussion online about it I direct people to this video. It’s a simple explanation of the idea and why it would work.

 

2. The Power of Introverts – Susan Cain. Our society tends to value the traits of extroverts far above those of us introverts. Cain explains why we shouldn’t try to change introverts and how we can contribute to society.

 

And finally, my absolute favourite Ted talk of all time…

1. Changing Education Paradigms – Sir Ken Robinson. All of Ken Robinson’s Ted talks are brilliant, but this one, with the RSA animation, is my favourite. It’s my go-to video whenever I have a wobble about my children’s education.

 

I hope you enjoy these talks! Let me know your favourites in the comments below. I’m always keen to broaden my horizons so would love suggestions of what to watch next!


Sticks and Stones

bullying-679274_1280Remember that old rhyme that your parents used to recite every time you fell out with someone as a kid? Ah, if only it were true.

Sticks and stones may break my bones

But names will never hurt me

Names hurt. Harsh words sting. Cruelty is punishment.

I like to kid myself that people grow out of being bullies and that by adulthood we should be free of the cruelty of youth. However, that hasn’t been my experience. Far from being toughened up by being bullied as a child, I find myself still fairly easily hurt by the cruel words of other adults, even complete strangers. But then, I am a sensitive soul, and I wouldn’t dream of taking that away from myself. I wonder if those people were like the bullies I encountered in childhood. Have they always been that way? Or were they themselves bullied as a child and have in turn become the bully?

The internet is a strange land, full of people from all walks of life. But it does seem to be the case that while it can be a wonderful tool for communication, it can also bring out the worst in people. It’s easy to lash out at people you don’t really know well, to say things that you would never dream of saying to their face.

Meaning can get lost, especially on a medium like Twitter where characters are limited so harshly. It’s hard to get a point across succinctly sometimes. But at other times it is abundantly clear that a person’s intent is to cause upset, or at the very least, they don’t care if they do. I’ve been guilty in the past of being rather blunt on the internet, and have gotten into disagreements with people, so I’m not claiming perfection. But I like to think that I’ve grown as I’ve matured and such incidents are less and less frequent.

All communities have their sharks, I’ve found. Amongst the wonderful, friendly and supportive folks, there are usually a handful who care little for the feelings of others. The “bigger fish” in any group often seem to be very popular, surrounding themselves with devoted fans, but when you scratch the surface you find that there’s not a great deal of warmth there. They are effective salespeople, having sold their personality to a lot of people through a carefully crafted online persona, but they have a ruthless edge that is easily provoked. I’ve encountered two such people in totally different circles in the last few years and both times it has come as a rude awakening.

While vicious words hissed across the internet can be shocking, sometimes the deepest wounds are inflicted by indifference.

I had a falling out with a friend about two and a half years ago and she said the most upsetting thing that anyone has ever said to me. She told me that arguing with me was insignificant to her, I mattered so little to her that she wasn’t remotely affected by our argument. That was like a knife to the chest, as I considered her to be one of, if not my single closest friend and our argument was utterly devastating to me. While we were actual “real life” friends, the entire argument took place via text message. Would she have said such a hurtful thing to my face? Maybe. Maybe not. We haven’t spoken since.

Wonka CarefulThankfully such painful experiences are rare, but they do tend to stay with me for a long time. Writing helps me to process the complicated feelings that arise from upsets. A particularly cathartic exercise employed by some writers is to create characters based on the people who have hurt us and revelling in killing them off in the most satisfying way possible. It’s not something I have done myself, yet, there’s always the possibility of that changing!

For those of a sensitive nature, like myself, I highly recommend reading The Highly Sensitive Person by Elaine N. Aron. Reading this in my late teens really helped me to appreciate my sensitivity, and when I need to I still go back to it to help me cope with some of the harsher elements of adult life.

Have you had a negative experience with someone online? How did you handle it? Are you a dweller? Or are you able to move on quickly? Let me know in the comments below, perhaps we can support one another.

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Metamorphosis

I am fascinated by amazing transformations. This spring, me and my boys have been growing caterpillars and watching their incredible life cycle. We now have four butterflies. Their journey from caterpillar to butterfly is something most adults take for granted, but seeing it happen right in front of us has given me the chance to reflect on the process.

IMG_6571I was talking to my six year old about it this morning, about how incredible it is and musing on what the tiny creatures know and understand about their existence. A female butterfly lays her eggs and flies away, she doesn’t stick around to nurture her young. When the tiny caterpillar hatches from its egg, all it knows is its current form. It has no idea, I presume, of where it came from. It sees the butterflies in the hedgerow, but does it comprehend that they are the same species? Does it have any clue what lies in store? When it diligently enters its chrysalis phase, does it have the slightest idea why it is doing it or what will happen?

IMG_9164Inside the little shell, the caterpillar decomposes and is rebuilt from the liquid, becoming, arguably, an entirely new life form, with nothing in common with the caterpillar that came before it. When the butterfly emerges from the chrysalis, is it in awe of its own transformation? Or does it simply accept itself?

I can well imagine it confused by its new body. They don’t fly immediately, they crawl around their habitat, adjusting to the enormous wings on their backs. They are also very still for the better part of a day. It must be hard work, totally breaking down and then rebuilding itself in the short space of a couple of weeks! They seem to be resting on emergence, with no interest in food or exploration. They cling close to their shed chrysalis and wait for their wings to harden.

IMG_9174The butterfly is the ultimate example of a creature fulfilling its potential. Whether the caterpillar knows it or not, it is destined to transform from tiny crawling eating machine, to glorious, colourful nectar gatherer! Nature is packed with these examples, of course, but how often do we stop to consider them with child-like wonder?

Humans don’t undergo anything quite so dramatic, but then, am I just taking our own life cycle for granted? I have sometimes wondered what it might be like for a human foetus. All they know is the uterus, for all they know, birth is death. The point at which they must be expelled from their mother’s body may seem like the end, when to those of us waiting eagerly skin-side, it is just the beginning.

As a maternity care campaigner and birth trauma peer supporter, I have dedicated countless hours to researching birth, and literally held women who have been crushed by their birth experiences. My own traumatic birth was over six years ago now and I am finally coming to appreciate that it was my metamorphosis. Before it I was just potential. If I had the amazing and empowering birth experience that I dreamed of, and was able to have the second time around, then I would not have been on the incredible journey that I was led on as a result of that first birth.

Would I take a life without trauma? Probably, yes! But given that I cannot undo what happened, I have to frame it in a way that I can live with. As a result of that experience, I have become so much more educated, I have made some incredible friends, and I have been a part of making birth better for other women. It also meant that I had a truly incredible second birth, that paved the way for some serious improvements for others. I’m a totally different person to the one who went into labour 6 years ago, and a vastly better one!

Do caterpillars/butterflies find their metamorphosis traumatic, I wonder?

Echoes of the Past is about shape shifters, who often live as normal humans until their radical transformation. My beloved Stalker is totally unprepared for what happens to her and she is certainly left shocked by the change when it happens. Seeds of Autumn explores this metamorphosis and the emotional aftermath. Ariana/Stalker must try to work out how to integrate her new life into her old one, something she doesn’t master in the one book, even by the end of the third book this is an ongoing struggle for her. No longer able to live a human life, she now knows that lurking beneath her skin is a terrifying beast, and that everything prior to her first change was just potential, she was always meant to be a shifter.

I don’t expect anyone reading this to have discovered such a literal inner demon, but if you have undergone a transformative life event, I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

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My Love-Hate Relationship With Healthy Living

HEALTHY-LIVINGI have a bizarre relationship with fitness. Or maybe it’s actually more common than I think! But it seems bizarre to me, totally illogical.

I’m a total nerd, I research stuff. A lot. When I develop an interest in something I tend to go for total immersion and try and take in as much information on it as I can find. So when I started hearing about paleo eating (I won’t use the word diet, too many connotations) I devoured information on it. It all makes total sense! I’m well versed in all the dos and don’ts, foods that break the rules, foods that bend them etc. A massive part of me wants to go for it, and at times I do start down the path of cutting things out with a view to easing into it. I’m generally dairy free anyway, due to wee one’s intolerance, but I’ll dabble with cutting down on bread and sweet things, though am yet to pass the three week mark.

These times are very often paired with a surge of enthusiasm for working out. I absolutely love getting hot and sweaty, pushing my body to do more than it normally does. I don’t do vanity work outs. When I come out of the gym you can tell I’ve worked hard; messed up hair, a sheen of sweat, face the colour of rhubarb. So what? I don’t go there to impress anyone, I go to improve my body. For years I was a steadfast treadmill runner, and I still am. But two years ago I discovered intervals.

Again with the immersion, I did my research and discovered that high intensity interval training (HIIT) is far more efficient than spending long tedious hours doing the same thing. While doing steady-rate cardio does burn more calories during the workout than HIIT, the latter produces more of the hormone that triggers your metabolic rate to pick up, meaning that in the 24 hours after the workout, you burn more calories.

I only get three hours a week to exercise. That’s it. Between my kids and my writing, and a little R&R, I get just three hours a week to work on my fitness. So I can’t afford to end up in a situation where I have to run for an hour and a half, or two hours solid, three times a week in order to see the results I want. I have to make those three hours count, make them as efficient as possible.

Plus, intervals make running on a treadmill more interesting! It’s a greater challenge, to push myself really hard for 90 seconds, then bring it down for a minute, then sprint the hell out of that machine for 20 seconds. Mixing it up takes away the monotony. I never really liked running on a treadmill before, I just did it because the other machines in the gym intimidated me. But now I actually enjoy it. I still hate running outdoors, especially in cold weather. It makes my throat and lungs really sore and is just sheer misery. Exercise shouldn’t be torture! It should be challenging, but fun. Otherwise, what’s the point in doing it? Doing something that makes you miserable will only make it harder to stick at it.

The other exercise that I discovered I liked, just a year ago, was lifting with free weights. I refused to even contemplate the free weights for years. I didn’t want to set foot in the room with all the big blokes, watching me, judging me, laughing at me. I thought that women who lifted ended up looking like beefcakes, which might be fine for them, but that wasn’t a look I was going for.

My ex-husband got really into lifting, he even bought his own rack to lift in the garage, and started competing. He immersed himself in it and made some attempts to get me to give it a try. But I refused. I held out for a long time…. until I couldn’t any more! Not because of his nagging (he didn’t nag), but because I wasn’t going to the gym, and I couldn’t keep pretending that the weight wasn’t creeping on. So, having soaked up an awful lot of information from him talking at me at some length over the previous year and a half, I decided to step up to the bar.

What I really like about lifting is the measurable progress. It might not show in the number on the scales particularly quickly, or in the waistline at first, but by increasing the amount of weight you lift a little at regular intervals, you can see how much stronger you’re getting.

When I first started I struggled to even unrack the empty, 20kg bar on my shoulders, never mind squat with it. But within 5 weeks I had doubled my work weight on squats to 40kg. I saw slower but still measurable progress with my benchpress, and it gave me such a buzz to post my stats to my fitness-minded friends on social media.

It turns out that female powerlifters look like this:

Staci @ Nerd Fitness

Staci @ Nerd Fitness

Not this:

female-bodybuilder

When my ex moved out he took his weights with him and I allowed several months to slip by without exercise. But now I’m back at the gym and have even taken to deadlifting, which I hadn’t tried before. I walk into the weights room with my head up and crack on, ignoring the posers doing bicep curls in front of the mirror (pur-lease). It’s rare that I see another woman in there, but I don’t let that intimidate me. A few sessions with a personal trainer ensured that I was confident in using the equipment. I’m still running intervals too.

But here comes the bizarre part…. despite knowing what I want to do, despite enjoying a good workout and wanting to eat clean, despite talking the talk on social media all the time when friends ask food and fitness questions, I find it really, really hard to actually walk the walk. I bitch and moan. I complain that I have so little child-free time, I really should spend it all doing something that has a hope of one day resulting in me earning a living! I would rather write than cook, or work out. Ugh, cooking. Why did that thought have to intrude? I don’t want to cook. I hate cooking. I am actually perfectly able to convince myself that ordering a take away would be the healthy option!! Afterall, a chicken burger comes loaded with fresh salad from my favourite place to order from. If I cooked the food I have in I wouldn’t end up eating anything green!

But when I get off my backside, and go to the gym I always come away feeling good. Always. Even if I find myself with no energy and unable to stick it out for more than ten minutes, I’m always glad I turned up and tried. I haven’t got there with food yet, that’s a more tricky aspect, and probably deserves its own post. On which note, I leave you, in order to go forage for grub.

I love hearing from you, so leave a comment with your diet and fitness woes, or success stories. Did you hate cooking but found a way to conquer the kitchen? Please leave me your tips!

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