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Monthly March 2016
New Anthology: Sideshow

Sideshow has been a long time coming. It’s been a number of years now since the first idea was posted on Facebook inviting writers to contribute a horror story that was linked in some way to the old fashioned sideshow. And now look – we have a book. It’s a lovely looking thing, full of terror and fear and blood and tears.

Sideshow

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Sideshow-How-Dark-Your-Shadow/dp/1523758848/ 

The Sideshow … … found on the boardwalk, set up on a grassy field, a Detroit rave, a darkened alley, or on the plains of a blasted future America, tantalizing, forbidden, electrifying beyond imagination. It is everywhere and every-when. And at some point, everyone gets a ticket. The Sideshow … … a mirror to the blackness inside the human soul. How dark is your shadow?

Authors include:

Rob M. Miller, C.B. Doyle, Jody Neil Ruth, Phil Hickes, Leigh M. Lane, Shawn Pfister, Carole Gill, E.A. Irwin, Tina Swain, S. MacLeod, and me! The illustrator is Melissa Stevens.

One reviewer said:

A good scary anthology! I love the illustrations which give this book a very vintage circus feel. There is a good variety of psychological horror, monsters and gore and supernatural mystery. My favorite stories so far at Punch and Judy, Tattoo and Karma Carnival. It just keeps getting better each story I read. Especially recommended for fans of American Horror Story Freakshow. It has a lot of the same throw back feel but even more horror!

Fiction: A Tangled Web by Lisamarie Lamb

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I killed a spider tonight and now I sit alone and stare up at the empty space on the ceiling where it should be. Where it had been for the past three days and nights, disgusting me and fascinating me in equal measures.

And now it’s gone. Quickly. Cheaply. An ignoble death, knocked from its flawless, warm web and crushed beneath the sole of a dirty once white trainer, laces frayed and leather cracked. A weapon used in panic, in defence of my self in the end although I know – I know – that a spider, a tiny little spider sitting alone in its web and waiting with such patience for something to come along so that it could survive, could not hurt me. I know that. But I couldn’t bear it being there. I could not share my space any longer with that monster.

Shocked at myself, skin crawling with revulsion and stomach squally as though to suggest I had done wrong, I hurled the shoe away, my hand contaminated just by holding the thing that had touched the furry body of that spider. And as for that body… I left it there, crumpled, folded in on itself, legs in pieces on the carpet, hardly daring to walk past it for fear of… What? For fear of what? It was dead, very much so, I had seen to that. Yet the idea of being near it still sent shudders through me, my limbs dancing their own funeral jig, backing away from the broken thing that had, moments before, lived.

Just as I had watched it for the past three days and nights, making sure it didn’t move or, worse, disappear completely, building my cowardly courage to the point where I could finally get near enough to kill it, I watched it now. To make sure it was dead. Hoping it was because if it was not then surely even a thing such as a spider must feel pain and I hated that thought more than I hated the thought of leaving it where it was, to give it free reign and to let it, possibly, crawl over me as I slept.

Its body is much smaller now, trampled and beaten, lesser in defeat. And as I watch the empty, broken web wave in a breeze that I cannot feel, I wonder why I waged war on it.

I killed a spider tonight. And now I am alone.

I’m Afraid Of Pandas…

I’m afraid of pandas. Don’t laugh, it’s the truth. Oh, they may look cute and cuddly, they may seem soft and soppy, but they are, in actual fact, cruel and creepy. They are evil.

Who's afraid of pandas?
Who’s afraid of pandas?

I don’t say this lightly. I say this with a heavy heart and a troubled mind. But, you see, the thing is… I have had first hand experience with pandas. With a panda. And it was not pleasant.

I was four years old, and that is long enough ago that I really shouldn’t be able to remember it, but I do. The entire episode is as clear to me now as it was then.

I should probably explain…

One night when I was four, I had a nightmare, as children often do. I’m sure that I had many a nightmare at that age, many before and many since, come to that, but this one was so vivid, even though it made no sense in any way, that it’s never left me.

I awoke – in my dream – to find a giant panda sitting on my bed, watching me. There was nothing unusual about this panda (apart from the fact that it was there in the first place). It wasn’t some demon creature, it didn’t have bulging red eyes or scales or horns, it wasn’t holding a knife or even baring its teeth. But it was terrifying. It didn’t blink. It barely moved. It just watched me, and the part that worried me the most was that I didn’t know how long it had been there before I woke up.

Even at four that unnerved me.

To think that it had been waiting for me, silently, patiently.

I wanted to cry out for my mother, but I was too scared to make a sound. I wasn’t sure it knew I was awake.

So I lay there, paralysed with fear, my heart slapping against my ribs, my eyes mostly closed but just open enough to watch the panda watching me.

We stayed like that, the panda and I, for an eternity.

And then, out of nowhere and for no discernible reason, the panda plucked a cigarette out of the air, lit it with an unseen match, and smoked it, right there, in my bedroom. On my bed. It’s large, furry rump nudging up against my stiff, sweating legs.

I found my voice.

It was meek and weak, trembling and far too soft to attract any attention, but I called out anyway, desperate, needing to do something; “Mummy! Mummy! Help!”

Now the panda looked at me. It turned its head and stared into my eyes, smoke curling from its snout. It was angry. Its eyes narrowed and it hunched backwards. And then it was gone, I could feel its weight lifting from the mattress, and I saw it bolt.

The dream becomes hazy after that. My mother appeared in the doorway and I think I must have woken up by then because she was really there. She remembers it still, remembers me calling out so pitifully, so quietly, and yet waking her anyway. But what she doesn’t remember, and what I can’t explain, is that she passed the panda on its way out.

It ran out of the door as she ran in.

She never saw it, but it saw her. It growled at her.

She took its place on my bed and told me not to worry about it. It was just a dream, after all. Just a panda, and it was just smoking a cigarette. Nothing else.

I believed her then. But in the morning I cried out for her again because in the dawn light I could see something that we had both overlooked the night before.

There was a cigarette burn on my duvet cover.

We still talk about it. Every now and then it comes up in conversation. And neither of us can explain it.

I’ve been trying to exorcise that demon ever since.

I don’t think I’ve quite made it yet.

I'm afraid of pandas
I’m afraid of pandas
The Sinister Left – A Left Hander’s Thoughts

Trapezoid_bone_(left_hand)_01_palmar_view

Recently there was a news story about an Oklahoma teacher who ‘forced’ a 4 year old boy to write with his right hand rather than his left. Investigations are ongoing, but it seems as though the teacher was concerned about associations with left handedness and unlucky or wicked behaviour.

Whilst this may sound strange today, it wasn’t so very long ago that making left handers write with their non-dominant hands was usual in schools. But why was (and, as it now appears, is) being left handed such a problem?

Throughout history, the left side of the body was considered to be a negative influence. In fact, the Latin word ‘sinistra’ meant both ‘left’ and ‘evil’ or ‘unlucky’, so the idea was well ingrained in society. Today, ‘sinistra’ has become ‘sinister’, so the wicked connotations remain. This, along with the idea that the word ‘right’ also means ‘correct’ and ‘proper’, reinforces the belief that anything on the left side had to be influenced by evil in some way.

Superstition has us throwing salt over our left shoulder when we spill it. Why? To blind the devil that sits there. A devil on the left shoulder is counterbalanced by an angel on the right, so turning to the left, using the left side of the body, working with the left in anyway is seen as working or using the devil. Bad stuff indeed. Whereas using the right side of the body is seen as working with the angels, which, of course, is seen as a much better option.

There are always studies going on to discover why some people are left handed and others (the majority of society) are right handed, but as yet there is no conclusive evidence for anything. Maybe one day we will understand, or maybe – as I believe is most likely the case – there is no reason. It just is.

I’m a left hander, and so is my daughter. So far so good for both of us – we’ve not yet met the devil. But I suppose I’ll keep throwing the salt just to make sure…

Hitting The Wall

Brick Wall

It happens to us all. That sinking, shrieking, sudden moment of realisation that we simply cannot go on. No matter what. No way. No how. It doesn’t matter what the goal is, what the reward is, why we have to do it, we just hit that figurative wall (not Pink Floyd’s fabulous album) and that’s it. Done. Finished.

We slink away, defeated, feeling terrible, wishing we had the energy or the will to carry on, but knowing that if we even attempted it, we’d fail miserably.

It’s horrible.

It’s humiliating.

It’s human.

You’ve done it. I’ve done it. Bill Gates or David Beckham or J.K. Rowling (insert role model of your choice here) has done it. And the thing of it is, it’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s natural and normal and it’s the ones who just keep going that we really ought to worry about… After all, they’re only going to hurt themselves, right? Right.

So rather than panicking when we hit the wall, we ought to embrace it. Or at least take the opportunity to step back and reassess. Perhaps there’s another way around that you hadn’t considered before. Instead of barrelling straight ahead, why not change direction, go sideways, under, over, even backwards. It’s a wall, not a mountain. Walls are scalable.

Walls are also a bit like bullies. There they stand, big and bold, basically laughing at you and your efforts to get through them and find whatever it was you wanted on the other side. Despite their nastiness of them, we do all know what it is we’re supposed to do with bullies, don’t we? Yes. Ignore them. Ignore them and they’ll go away. And it’s exactly the same with walls. Ignore the wall that you’ve suddenly come up against, and turn around. Leave it. Come back after a rest and a think, and you might find that it’s disappeared, crumbled away leaving your path perfectly open.

What if it hasn’t, you might ask? Not a problem. If it’s still there you have two options: either ignore it some more, or try the alternative route.

You’ll never have to hit a wall again. It’s a pain we can all do without.

What’s The Link Between Ian Fleming and Sting?

Could it be a specific talent? The same barber? A liking for peanut butter sandwiches? The link between Ian Fleming and Sting sounds like a truly unanswerable riddle, but there is actually a solution – and it is a rather surprising one.

philosophy-569355_1280

Ian Fleming wrote his James Bond novels in Jamaica, sitting at a certain desk. Decades later, that same desk was used by Sting to pen his famous song, Every Breath You Take.

Finding this out made me wonder whether creative talent can be passed on. Not necessarily through inanimate objects (although why not? Why shouldn’t a desk or pen or chair or anything else become infused with creativity? We don’t know what causes it in the first place, so we can’t dismiss anything when it comes to skill and talent, and I may just use this idea in my next short story… we’ll see if it has legs (pardon the pun)), but perhaps through being in proximity to someone.

According to some scientists, everyone has some kind of talent, even if it’s hidden in most people (that’s what it’s only a handful in the grand scheme of things who can sing, compose, write, paint, draw, and so on). But what if, simply by spending time with people whose talent is most definitely out there, we can soak up some of that creativity and be better at the things we want to do?

Talent by osmosis certainly has a ring to it; and could this be why some children follow in their parents’ footsteps, or some siblings go on to be just as talented as their brother and sisters, even though the law of averages would say it should really be possible?

It’s an experiment I’m willing to trial… Now, where would I find J. K. Rowling?

books-791923_1280

Complaining Is Essential – Isn’t It?

Maya

Don’t complain. 

It sounds like a simple philosophy for life, a mantra that can be repeated over and over until it sticks and no more ungrateful, complaining words come out of your mouth.

It sounds like bliss, and at first glance the above quote does seem to be a good one. Don’t like something? Change it. Don’t complain.

On second glance, thinking about it, changing a situation isn’t always possible without a bit of complaint.

But it’s okay, because of the second part of the quote – if you can’t change the situation that’s making you unhappy, change how you think about it.

Gotcha.

Only, actually, I don’t get it at all.

I can’t suddenly make myself like something that I didn’t before. If I don’t like it, I don’t like it. I have my reasons. It’s not just a matter of looking at whatever it is from a different angle and realising that my original thoughts were wrong all the time (oh look! Actually the fact that my car broke down and there are no buses and I have a broken leg so I can’t walk anyway is actually fine! It’s great! I was just looking at my situation from the wrong angle! Now that I’ve changed my attitude all is well!).

I think complaining is essential in life.

I don’t mean complaining for the sake of it, just for fun, but if something is really wrong, and no amount of attitude changing will right that wrong, then a complaint may well help you. And, although it may not feel like it at the time, if the complaint is aimed at you it can help you too. Don’t just assume that whoever is doing the complaining is wrong – they may have a point, and if you think about it, that point may help you grow and succeed.

So, yes, if something is bringing you down, change it. If you can’t change it – and sometimes you definitely cannot – then by all means complain. You never know, the situation might change after that. It could even get better than ever.

If you want some help writing a complaint letter, just ask. As a freelance writer I’ve often complained on other people’s behalf!

Award-Winning Journalist Gives Prize Money to Charity

Moira Kerr is something quite special, not only in terms of her writing, but in terms of her humanity as well. The freelance journalist who hails from Oban won both the feature writer of the year award (this was thanks to three articles written for the Daily Record) and journalist of the year award for her diverse portfolio of articles, news reports, and features at the Highlands and Islands Media Awards.

Oban RNLI received a donation
Oban RNLI received a donation

Moira said that she appreciated the awards, and was excited to receive them – but that it was all down to her contacts, kept in her Smartphone, who kept her up to date with everything that was happening all across the Highlands and Islands. She called these contacts her ‘phone-a-friends’, which caused a laugh, but which is also absolutely true!In her spare time, Moira is a volunteer fundraising secretary for the Oban RNLI Lifeboat, and so she decided to donate the majority of her £500 prize money to that cause which is clearly so dear to her heart. She gave away £300, and it went towards buying the volunteers at the Lifeboat some Wellington boots which, they say, were much needed and very happily and gratefully received.

If you need any freelance articles, news stories, or blogging done, please contact me; I’m happy to help.

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Magazine Writing & research per 1000 400
Magazine Editor per day 250
Magazine Sub-editing per 1000 120
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Newspaper (regional) Writing & research per 1000 220
Newspaper (regional) Sub-editing per 1000 95
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Newspaper (national) Writing & research per 1000 700
Newspaper (national) Sub-editing per 1000 450
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Please contact me using the information below; I’d love to hear from you.

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WHAT I CAN DO

Blog Writing

A blog is an essential tool in ensuring your website is seen. I can create regular blog posts that will move you up the rankings and give you a better placement within your industry.

Ghost Writing

Have you ever wanted to write a novel, memoir or short story but don’t have the time? Do you have the ideas, but the words don’t flow? I can help. Contact me for a confidential chat.

Articles

I am happy to carry out research, conduct interviews, and write/edit articles of any length. Contact me for more information about my rates and services.

Web Content

From your home page to your about me details and everything in between, you want a website that has snappy, interesting, high quality content. Let me create it for you.

Sales Letters

If you have a product that you want others to know about, you need a sales letter that is going to get attention – and keep it. I can write that letter for you.

Emails

Are you thinking of starting an email campaign but don’t know what to include? Or perhaps you want to send a special email to that special someone, but you can’t think of the right words. Contact me and we can discuss exactly what I can do to help.

Product Descriptions

Selling products online can be an excellent way of making a business, but if your products sound boring and your descriptions are dull, no one will want them. I’ve written thousands of products descriptions, and I can make your products shine.

Copy Editing & Proofreading

Have you written something that needs that extra level of checking? With my years of experience I can proofread or copy edit your work so that it’s the best it can be.

Social Media Management & Digital Marketing

Getting your digital marketing and social media strategy right is essential. I can provide and implement a social media marketing plan that works for you. Contact me to find out more.

About MeAbout Me

I'm a content writer

Excellent work by Lisamarie, on time, great quality and constant communication. Would not hesitate to recommend and in fact use again as soon as opportunity arises.

Andreas K
Andreas K

Lisamarie was great to work with - she did a fantastic job that completely met the brief and was delivered before the deadline.

Helena W
Helena W

Quick and brilliant, nailed the brief! Will work with her all the time 🙂

Roshni S
Roshni S

Fantastic work A++++

Rob C
Rob C

It was a pleasure to work with Lisamarie, she adjusted to our workflow and process with ease and completed work quickly and effectively.

Geoff J
Geoff J

Lisamarie is a very good writer and is very easy to work with. She reacted well to my guidance and provided me with content I'm very happy to use. I look forward to working with her again soon.

Ola F
Ola F

Great work from Lisamarie, articles are exactly what we wanted

Matthew E
Matthew E

Brilliant work from Lisamarie. I would definitely retain her again and recommend her to others.

Brad B
Brad B

REVIEWS

I started writing in my late teens but it was only with the birth of my daughter that I decided to write more seriously, with the aim of publication. Since that decision in 2010, I have had over 40 short stories published in anthologies and magazines.

Find out more about my publications on my Amazon Author Page.

I am the features and online editor for insideKENT and insideSUSSEX magazines.

I am also a freelance writer who has ghost-written hundreds of blog posts, articles, reviews, fiction, and more.

I live with my husband, daughter, and a cat called Cheryl in the Kent countryside next door to a field full of horses.

http://www.facebook.com/lisamarielambwriter

http://www.twitter.com/lisamarie20010

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Exercise For Mental Health

The idea of exercise is always a positive one. The reality, of course, is often far different. By the time we get home from work we’re often exhausted or too busy to do any meaningful exercise. And it’s not just in the evenings that we have trouble getting it done – exercise is the thing that most often falls to the bottom of the to do list.

Yet knowing how important it is and how it can actively improve your mental health might be what makes the difference and gives you the impetus to do just half an hour or so of good exercise each day. Read on to find out just what it is about working out that keep your mental health positive.

mental health

Stress Relief for Better Mental Health

Studies have shown that exercising is good for reducing your stress levels. Stress can take a terrible toll on your mental health, and everyone is stressed to some degree. Some stresses might be small, easily dealt with, short term problems, and these are completely normal.

Others, however, might be much more dangerous. Long term – chronic – stress can cause many different health issues including:

  • Heart disease
  • Heart attacks
  • High blood pressure
  • Stroke
  • Organ failure
  • Ulcers

But it’s not just physical problems that long term stress will cause. Your mental health will suffer too. You could develop depression or anxiety, for example. So ideally you will want to reduce your stress as much as possible, and if you can do it without taking medication then all the better.

Exercise is a great way to relieve stress. When you are concentrating on working out, playing sports, taking a brisk walk, or however else you want to exercise, you aren’t thinking of the problems that are causing you stress. Even if it’s just for a little while, your work issues, relationships, money worries, even your health situation, can be forgotten, and if you can do that, your stress levels will reduce.

Better Social Life

Loneliness is a condition that is bad for your mental health if it goes on too long (although a little ‘me time’ every now and then can actually help you feel better). If you join a gym or go to a regular exercise class, or if you go running and get to see other people, for example, you can alleviate that loneliness for a little while.

Even for the most introverted of people, this brief moment of connectivity could be enough to make your loneliness disappear.

mental health

Anger Control

Some people have a problem controlling their anger, and this can make them become stressed which, as mentioned above, has a lot of problems associated with it. It can also cause problems with relationships, leading to loneliness, and it can make work difficult.

A good exercise regime will help to quell those feelings of anger, keeping them under control and allowing you an outlet for your emotions. When you get back to ‘real life’ you will feel happier, healthier, and find it easier to let things go rather than become angry over small issues.

If you find that your anger issues are more deep seated and exercise helps but only temporarily, then seeking expert advice is always the best course of action – your life is important and you need to be happy for as much of it as possible.

Conclusion

Exercise is something that we should all try to incorporate into our lives when we can. It might not be every day, it might not even be a regular occurrence to begin with, but getting started in the most important step. After that, as with anything, the more you practice the better you will get and the better it will feel.

Is Your Workplace Toxic?

Work takes up a huge amount of every day, so it makes sense that it should be a good place to be – you should enjoy your work, and your workplace, otherwise every other aspect of your life is going to be affected. You might even develop mental illnesses such as depression and stress, or your unhappiness might manifest in physical ways; heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure, ulcers, and much more can all come about from working somewhere unpleasant.

Not enjoying your job is one thing, but what if you are actually working in a toxic workplace? This is when the situation becomes desperate, and finding a new job should be a top priority. Here are some of the signs that your workplace is making you not just unhappy, but potentially unwell.

workplace
Is your team supportive?

You Dread Going To Work

On occasion (usually on a Monday morning after a lovely weekend at home), everyone is going to ‘dread’ going to work. But is it really a dread, or is it just a feeling of preferring not to? When you actively dread heading off to your workplace in the morning, and that dread is there every single day, then there is clearly a problem. Your workplace could be a toxic one.

You should never feel this way about your job. Life is too short, and there are many opportunities out there for you; you may have to retrain or think laterally about where your skills can take you, but being happy is the main thing and that is what you really need to consider.

You Don’t Feel Appreciated

Getting feedback at work is crucial for anyone to develop and become more successful. If you never hear a word from your boss about how you are doing, or you’re always the one doing the chasing when you want some kind of critique on a project or assignment you have been doing, then you are sure to feel under-appreciated.

When this happens, you might become less productive; what’s the point in bending over backwards if no one cares that you are working hard and going the extra mile? Something that you used to think matters will now how a much lower place in your heart and mind.

That’s not right.

You should be able to love what you do, feel appreciated, and feel good about the work you are carrying out. You should be able to work in a supportive workplace. Not even being acknowledged is a bad sign and one that you shouldn’t ignore.

workplace
Workplace stress is toxic

Your Workplace Worries You Even On Days Off

When you have a day off from work, what do you do? Do you enjoy it, not think about work at all (or if you do it’s only to determine the next step and what you will start with when you get back to it), and relax? Or do you constantly worry about your job, finding it frustrating and irritating? Does it make you angry? Are you unable to wind down?

If the latter is the case for you, it’s time to get out. It’s true that work is important, but it’s not everything – you need to make time for yourself and your family and anything else you want to do. If work is taking up all of your rest time as well as your work time, something’s wrong.

Conclusion

If something feels wrong about your place of work, whether it’s something tangible or just a gut feeling, and if that place of work is making you miserable or even ill, you need to leave. Yes, that can be easier said than done, and finding a new job isn’t always easy, but if you don’t start the search then you’ll never find your next – happier – position.

DODGY DÉCOR FAILS ARE COSTING HOME SELLERS CASH INVESTING JUST £300 CAN ADD UP TO £10K ON TO YOUR HOUSE VALUE
  • Aldi teamed up with interiors star, Anna Ryder Richardson, to makeover a home in under two hours for just £300 adding an average of over £8k to the property’s value
  • One in five buyers say that hideous décor is one of the biggest turn-offs when looking for a house
  • Nearly half (44%) offered less for a property because the interior was not to their taste

New research released by Aldi has revealed that almost one in five (19%) Brits claim that dodgy décor can be one of the biggest turn-offs when house viewing. Aldi surveyed 2,000 UK home owners to celebrate their Kirkton House range, which features a choice of quality interior products at everyday amazing prices.

Following the research, Aldi challenged home interiors star, Anna Ryder Richardson, to add value to a property with a budget of only £300, and using just the Aldi Kirkton House interiors range. The three bedroom, semi-detached home in Dartford, Kent, was evaluated by three local estate agents, before and after the makeover, and the property’s value increased by up to £10,000 across each valuation* – simply thorough decluttering, furniture rearrangement and the addition of stylist interior accessories. Watch the video on https://www.aldi.co.uk/kirkton-house.

According to the survey, quick upgrades can make a big difference for 34% of home buyers who say that stylish furnishings make them more likely to buy. The kitchen came out on top, with almost three quarters (72%) stating it’s the most important room to look good during a viewing. Real estate turn-offs were dark rooms (50%), awkward layouts (36%) and overgrown gardens (32%).

After seven viewings sellers consider making changes to their home to help shift it, with desperate owners splashing out on average £900 to finally make a sale. When it comes to age, image-conscious 18-34 year olds are spending over five times more (£3,131) than the thrifty 55+’s, who on average part with just £543 to shift their property.

Home interiors star, Anna Ryder Richardson, comments: “Together with Aldi, we’ve proven that you don’t need to break the bank to spruce up your interiors and help make that sale. We spent a third of what home buyers think they need to spend and increased the property’s value by an average of over £8k! It’s easy to invest a small amount and make a big difference. Here are some tips from the makeover to try at home:

  • Define the space in each room. A beautiful woven rug can indicate how a room should be used and brighten up a space in one easy step – try placing a colourful option in the centre of the living room to create a fun colour pop like the Aldi Kirkton House flatweave rug in navy blue
  • Make sure your rooms look spacious, appealing and homely. Consider the layout of the room and whether it feels welcoming to walk into – decluttering is a must and try shuffling the furniture around to experiment with different arrangements. Aldi’s Kirkton House Adjustable Desk Lamp will help to light up any room and add a warm feel
  • For house viewers, the kitchen is key – make sure your dirty plates aren’t still in the sink and set-up table places and crockery to show viewers what your home would look like to really live in it. Aldi’s wide range of quality Kirkton House cutlery and dinnerware can help to set the scene
  • Think about the overall interior design in your house – do you have personal items on display that perhaps don’t match the décor? Take down a few personal pictures here and there for a slicker look. Aldi’s Kirkton House storage baskets will come in handy here!
  • Make first impressions count and don’t forget your hallway! Place a nice welcome mat down and tidy-up shoes lying around in the space – Aldi’s Kirkton House Designer Lounge and Hallway range has hallway-specific show stoppers from a stencilled, geometric-design mat to a fun cactus hallway doorstop
  • Make the most of your outside space and opt for bright colours for the garden – colourful, patterned cushions and garden dining ware will come to life against the organic backdrop of green grass and bright flowers. Aldi’s Kirkton House Printed PVC Tablecloth in lemon print and decorative glass balloons will look fantastic in the sunshine and spruce up any garden”

Julie Ashfield, Managing Director of Buying at Aldi, said: “As the housing market is so uncertain, we’re happy that we can offer the security of consistently low prices in the Kirkton House home range. With a choice of quality and everyday products, the range can help you upgrade your home on a budget.”

THE UK TOUR OF LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE

Lucy O’Byrne and Mark Moraghan are to join the cast of the quirky off-Broadway hit musical Little Miss Sunshine for its UK tour which begins at Churchill Theatre, Bromley on 16 May 2019.

Irish actress and singer Lucy O’Byrne will star as Sheryl, the matriarch of the eccentric Hoover family. Lucy shot to fame on The Voice (BBC) in 2015 and was the runner-up that year. Her theatre credits include Eva Peron in the Evita UK tour which ran at the Churchill Theatre in July 2018, Fantine in Les Misérables (Queen’s Theatre – West End), Maria in The Sound of Music (UK and Ireland Tour), River Woman in Therese Raquin (Park Theatre) and Tzeitel in Fiddler on the Roof (Gaiety Theatre-Dublin).

Mark Moraghan will be Grandpa (the role that won Alan Arkin an Academy award).  Mark recently appeared as Tim Richards in Emmerdale and is perhaps best known for his roles as Adrian Mortimer in Coronation Street, Owen Davis in Holby City, Ray Wyatt in Dream Team, Greg Shadwick in Brookside and Eddie Quinn in London’s Burning.

Busy Times…

It’s been a while since I last posted anything on my blog, but I do have a good reason (excuse?) for that… I have a new job.

Although freelance writing is what I love to do, it just doesn’t pay the bills, plus it has meant that I haven’t written any fiction – my favourite thing – for a year or more. So I had to find something else to do; something that would suit my lifestyle, allow me to continue to write, and (hopefully) bring in some more money. Because, let’s face it, as much as we might like to, we can’t live without it.

I joined The Good Estate Agent, and I’m now covering the Sevenoaks area. Here’s a little video of what I do:

 

How To Ensure Your Employees Feel Valued

If you have a job that you don’t feel appreciated in and you feel that no matter what you do your efforts are just not noticed, you will begin to feel as though you shouldn’t bother working so hard anymore. You will feel as though you should even look elsewhere for a job where you can work with people who will appreciate you more. If you are an employer, this is not something that you want to happen; you want your employees to stay with you and help your company grow. To do this, they need to feel valued, so here are some ways to ensure that they do.

Talk To Them

One way to ensure that your employees feel appreciated and valued is to talk to them. This can include work details, of course, but that would happen anyway – to go the extra mile you need to talk to them about themselves. Find out about their family and their hobbies away from work, where they live and what they enjoy doing. When you speak to them again, remember what they said and bring it up in conversation where possible. This will show that you listened and that you took in what was said – and, of course, that you remembered it all.

It can also be beneficial to organize days away from work where you can get to know your employees better. These team building days are great for discovering exactly what your team is really like, and what they can do, plus they’re fun and can be seen as a reward.

Praise Them

It’s all too easy to just accept that someone has done a good job and then give them something else to do without saying much (if anything) about it. However, that won’t leave them feeling very valued, and can even make them think that you are taking them for granted. Therefore, when someone does something good, praise them. This could be simply saying well done, and acknowledging that they have achieved something, or you could go further and include the good work in a newsletter, or award employee of the month or similar.

You can also share good client feedback about a member of the team. Although it’s great to get praise from a manager, for example, it can feel even better to get it from someone from outside of the company.

Give Them Challenges

Another way to show someone that you value their input into the business is to challenge them. Giving them easy work to do all the time can get rather boring after a while, and if they don’t feel happy doing their work because they are bored, they may still want to look elsewhere. If you can give them a challenge out of their usual remit such as cold calling customers, or even designing a page on the website, they will feel as though you value them because you believe in them enough to ask them to do something they wouldn’t normally do. On top of that, they will learn something new too – and that is never boring.

5 Ways To Offer Your Customers Added Value

Running your own business isn’t always all about what you want to do; sometimes (most of the time) it’s about what your customers want, which means that you need to work out how to give them everything they need in such a way that they will return time and again. Offering something of added value, whether online or in a physical store, is one way to do that.

Giving your customers added value will be hard work initially, but once you have done it (and you have systems in place to allow you to continue to do it) you will make more money, have better profits, and your business will thrive because of it. Not only that, but you will be ahead of your competition, which is always a good thing. Take a look at the following ways of adding value to your business and see which ones you can implement.

Quick And Efficient

It used to be the case that people were happy to wait for whatever it was they had ordered. It could take weeks, perhaps even months, for their purchase to be ready and for it to be dispatched. Today, no one wants to wait that long – no one really wants to wait at all. Therefore, when someone orders something from you, whether it’s a product or a service, they expect it as soon as possible. Some even require it on the same day, and most would prefer next day delivery where they can get it. If you can promise that you will deliver on the next working day, your business will stand out and you will find that more people choose to use your services.

What will really add value for your customers is getting this speedy service without having to pay for it. Whereas some companies will charge for next day delivery, you could take on those costs yourself. Although it would be a higher initial cost, over time you will find more customers so it would be canceled out. It’s important to do this because you are equating your business with efficient, inexpensive service.

The Best Quality

It’s not always possible to beat your competitors when it comes to pricing; if you start to price your goods too low, you will stop making a profit (and you might even make a loss). So if you can’t stand out due to your pricing, you will need to look at other ways to do it and the best way is to provide items or services that are of exceptional quality. If you do this, the higher price won’t matter because people will be willing to pay for something that is above average.

Remember that determining something’s quality is all down to the customer; if something is of high quality it is because the customer believes it to be do. Therefore, you will need to carry out market research to work out what it is that your customers want (and need).

Give Them A Gift

Everyone loves a free gift and if that gift happens to be able to do some advertising for you at the same time, then it is doubly useful. You don’t have to give something away to every customer who buys something from you, but if you choose to give, for example, iPhone cases to the customers who spend the most with you, or who refer their friends, or even who write a glowing testimonial, then they are going to receive even more value for money. This will go a long way and although you will need to spend at first, the return you get on this kind of investment should be excellent, and well worth the initial cost.

Choose something that has your name and logo on it, and the more the gift is used, the more your name will be noticed. This adds value to the process for you too, which will help you with lowering your marketing costs.

Be There

If you can be available as much of the time as possible, you are automatically offering your customers even more added value. You will need to be as responsive to emails as possible, and reply to comments on social media as quickly as you can. Answer the telephone within two or three rings and this will all ensure that your business appears to put the customer first. These may only be small acts when you look at the big picture, but these are the ones that can make the biggest difference.

Of course, you can’t possibly be around 24 hours a day to answer emails and comments quickly, and this is where you can utilize new technology to your advantage. You could include a chat bot on your website so that questions can be answered at all times of the day and night, or you could make an app that is intuitive and allows customers to work through the process without having to get in touch in the first place (another bonus for them).

Fix Problems

Added value comes in many forms, and one of those forms is being able to fix problems when they occur. No one is perfect, and issues will arise through no one’s fault (or sometimes a genuine mistake has occurred). What the problem is is far less important than how it is solved and what happens afterwards.

Every company is going to work hard towards fixing any problems that occur, but will every company offer something to any customer who has been inconvenienced by the problem? The answer is probably not, but you can and that will make you stand out and give your customers added value. You could give them a discount on their next purchase, or coupons that they can use or give away to their friends, for example. You might go even further and ask them to come in to take a look around your workspace to see how things are done, if that is something that would interest them.

How To Have A Debt Free Retirement

If you truly want to retire, you will need to pay off all of your debts before you stop working – if not, you may have to delay your retirement plans and continue to work just to service those debts. When you reach retirement age, you will want to enjoy life and see and do as many things as possible – the things you couldn’t necessarily see and do when you were working. So being debt free is something you should work towards. Here are some ways to do it.

Save

The simplest way to pay off your debts is to save money. Open up a separate savings account and put all your ‘spare’ money into it. When you have enough to pay off a loan or credit card entirely, you can take the money out and do so. At the same time, you will need to stop borrowing, so lock the credit card away (for emergency use only) and don’t take on any more finance or loans, otherwise as quickly as you pay one thing off, you’ll have something else to save up for. It’s far better to buy things outright, even if you have to dip into your savings to do so, than it is to borrow because when borrowing you will have to factor in interest, and that can make things very expensive.

Once everything is paid off, continue to save and use that money to fund your retirement plans. If you start early, you will have plenty of money to enjoy some exciting trips and start some wonderful new hobbies.

Start Investing

Investment is another good way of paying off debts and funding your retirement at the same time. If you do your research first and learn as much as possible about what you are doing when it comes to investment, you can make a good return on your initial payment, and pay off your debts much more quickly. You can invest in almost anything including stocks and shares, property, and other businesses. Once you have decided where you want to put the money, finding a broker is a good idea so that you can make the most of your investment.

Downsize

If you own a property and you’re paying a mortgage on it, will that mortgage be paid off by the time you come to retire? This can be the biggest debt you owe, but you may not consider it a debt and it may not figure in your plans. However, if you’re not working, are you going to be able to continue to pay your mortgage? If not, downsizing is a good option. When you downsize, you sell your current home and buy something cheaper (and usually smaller). That way, if you choose wisely at the right time, you may not have a mortgage left at all – and you might even have money left over, which can be used to pay off any remaining debts.

4 Ways To Keep Your Employees Motivated

Having a motivated workforce can make a big difference when it comes to how profitable and productive your business is. It’s your job as an employer to ensure that your team is motivated and happy. There are a number of different ways that this can be done, and here are some of them to consider. Not all will work for all people and all businesses, so take a look and decide for yourself what will work for you.

Be A Supportive Leader

In many cases, good leadership can be a huge factor in employee motivation. If you are going to be supportive you need to work closely with your team but also allow them some freedoms to work on their own initiative. Getting this balance right can be difficult, but once you have found it you will discover that it definitely helps with your employees’ motivation levels.

A good leader always holds themselves to a higher level of accountability and will own up to any mistakes they make (which they will because, after all, no one is perfect). That means working with a data loss specialist to prevent devastating losses, and it means taking responsibility for errors made within the company when it comes to customers, for example.

Empower Individuals

When an employee feels empowered and valued as an individual, they will work harder for their employer. Make sure that you allow your entire workforce to the chance to show what they can do. Even if they don’t quite manage it as you might have liked, giving them the opportunity is what really counts and it will make them work much harder in the future too.

Have A Positive Workplace

With so much time spent at the office, the working environment needs to be as positive as possible in order to get the best out of people. If it’s dull or uninspiring or even uncomfortable in any way, your employees will simply want to leave at the earliest opportunity and it’s unlikely that they will look forward to returning in the morning. This is not conducive to great work.

Making the office a great place to be by ensuring it is well decorated and has everything that your employees might need such as tea and coffee making facilities, a comfortable break room, even indoor plants and pictures, can really help to push them to do their best.

Reward Good Work

The best employees are the ones that want to work hard for you, but those who are doing so, and getting results, without hearing anything from you in response are going to become demotivated very quickly. Therefore, you need to look out for good work and reward it where necessary. This could be as simple as calling a meeting to praise that employee, or you might want to give them something such as vouchers or flowers. It’s these small touches that will keep an employee motivated for longer.

Etiquette For Dining Out In Portugal

Whether you’re in Portugal for a vacation or a business trip, you’re going to want to eat out at least some of the time you’re there (and the food is so good in Portugal that you might even want to eat out for every meal). If that’s the case, then it’s important to know the right Portuguese restaurant etiquette so that you can be comfortable and relaxed knowing you’re not making any faux pas that could embarrass you, your guests, the other diners, or the staff themselves. Here are some of the most important pieces of etiquette to be aware of.

Should You Seat Yourself?

The short answer is no, you shouldn’t, unless you’re in a café or bar. If you’re in a normal kind of restaurant then it’s better to wait by the counter or the ‘to be seated’ sign if there is one and look for a waiter or waitress to help you. Busy restaurants mean that if you seat yourself you won’t always be spotted which results in long waiting times for you and frustrated staff because they didn’t realize you were there.

Free Food?

In Portugal, just as pretty much everywhere else, there isn’t really any such thing as free food. However, you would be forgiven for assuming that you have been given something for nothing when, after getting you seated, your waiter or waitress brings out a plate of what is called ‘entradas’. They won’t have asked you what you wanted, or even if you wanted something, but unless you tell them otherwise, it will be brought to you. This is an appetizer and will be added to your final check so be aware of this before you begin to question what is on your bill. Remember, though, that dining out in Portugal is not an overly expensive thing to do, so it shouldn’t cause too much of an issue on your budget and won’t eat into the loan (or emprestimo) you got to fund your trip.

You Don’t Have To Order Extra Vegetables

When you look at the menu of a Portuguese restaurant you’ll notice that there is very little description for each dish. Whereas in the States you’ll get lots of fancy phrases and plenty of information about exactly what comes with the meat, fish, or vegetable dish you are ordering, in Portugal it’s different. There you will find that people assume each dish will come with the right accompaniments. For example, fish tends to be served with boiled potatoes or a salad, and meat dishes will often come with white rice or fries; it will all depend on what you order and how the particular restaurant you have picked works.

Look For The Plate Of The Day

When you’re choosing your food at lunch time, you should look out for the plate of the day (the pratos do dia). This will often be handwritten on a piece of paper and stuck to the window or menu board, so it could be easy to miss if you’re not looking for it, and that would be a shame. The plate of the day consists of whatever was caught fresh that morning by the local fishermen, and it will be something different each day; even if the fish is the same, how it is prepare will vary. It is always worth trying because it tends to be cheaper than other dishes on the menu and is always something interesting.

Order The House Wine

It can be a little embarrassing to order the house white or red in a restaurant at home because that wine tends to be inexpensive and not always that pleasant. In Portugal ordering the house wine makes a lot of sense because it is going to be locally produced and sourced, great value, and it will compliment the dishes you have ordered perfectly. The restaurants in Portugal take pride in being able to match their wines to their food. Ordering the house wine is what the locals will most often do, so it just shows you what a good idea it is. Don’t forget to note down the name of the wine so that you can look out for it elsewhere too.

Don’t Ask For Substitutions

In many restaurants in the States and in other places in the world you can choose a dish from the menu but ask for it to be made with this or that ingredient instead of one of the ones mentioned in the description. You might want extra cheese, or you might want the dish without capsicums, or any other changes that take your fancy. This is not the done thing in Portugal, and what you see on the menu is what you’ll tend to get served to you. Even if you do ask for something to be changed in most cases it won’t be, so it’s best just to order and enjoy rather than trying to get the busy chef to make substitutions.

Your Water

Unless you specifically ask for it, water won’t be provided to your table, so if you want it make sure you mention it to your server. You’ll have a few choices when it comes to your water, and one of these is not something you are likely to come across at home – you’ll need to choose whether you wanted the water chilled (fresca) or at room temperature (natural). In Many European countries the preference is for room temperature water, even on the hottest of days, so make sure you do ask for fresca if you prefer your water colder. You can also choose between sparkling (com gas) or still (sem gas).

No Hands

In Portugal it is seen as bad manners to use your hands to eat, even if you are enjoying a burger or a pizza. Therefore, it’s much more polite for you to use your knife and fork. This may feel a little strange, but if you don’t want to stand out you should try it – you’ll soon get the idea.