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Monthly October 2016
Short Story: Apple Tree Dreams by Lisamarie Lamb

Her boy had always wanted a treehouse, and she had always told him no. She had always said it was too dangerous, that he would fall and hurt himself or stab himself with a splinter. He would get dirty.

Better to sit inside with a book. Better to stay indoors and do colouring. Better. Much better.

And so the boy did sit inside with a book. He did stay indoors and do colouring. He did these things and he stared out of the window at the apple tree that rose up and out at the bottom of the garden. He imagined a treehouse embraced within its branches, held there, safe, secure, a secret place just for him to go. He dreamed about that imaginary treehouse, and pretended as he sat on the rug in the sunlit living room that he was bathing in the glow of the outside as it filtered through the leaves of the apple tree and fell upon his face in patches of yellow warmth.

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One day, as he ate an apple for lunch and gazed, ever more keenly at the tree, he had an idea. His mother had told him that if he were to swallow a pip, an apple tree might grow within him. He did not want that, could not imagine trying it. But what if he could entice a tree to grow indoors? Surely if a tree could grow in a boy’s stomach… And there was enough sunshine creeping in, and he could water it himself, he was sure he knew how.

That was all that was needed, wasn’t it?

And perhaps it was. That, and a little bit of faith.

The boy finished his apple and searched for the perfect spot, hunting behind the sofa, under the armchair, swishing back the curtains to find a good planting place. Eventually he found it. Between the wall and the bookshelf there was a tiny gap, so small that not even the boy’s thin fingers could fit. But the apple pip could.

He poked the pip through the gap, letting it fall where it would, pleased to see that the shaft of sunlight that reached in through the tall glass doors hit the spot he had chosen. It was perfect.

He would water it every day.

He would look after it.

And when it was fully grown, he would build a treehouse.

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The boy slept peacefully that night, his plans growing inside his head.

In the morning he rushed to his indoor garden and found that nothing had changed. He could still see the seed lying where he had left it, and although it was damp from the glass of water he had poured over it when his mother wasn’t looking, it was still just an apple pip.

Despite his disappointment, the boy was sure of his plan, and he watered it once more, and left it alone to become the tree he knew it could be.

Years passed. The boy, who loved his mother to the ends of the earth, resented her as well. He was a good boy, a charming boy, polite and courteous, but he was alone. He had no friends because friends might lead him astray. He had no fun because fun might be dangerous. He sometimes wished that he was someone else’s son, although he hated himself when he thought it. He wished that he was allowed to feel pain and fall over and graze his knees.

One of his sad little wishes did come true. He did feel pain. Small at first, just a niggling little bite in his bones. He said nothing. But as the months went on and he neared his tenth birthday, his mother finally noticed that something was wrong. Her boy was limping, he was thin, he was pale and dark-eyed, and everything was an effort for him these days.

The doctor told them the news that they were both expecting to hear. Still, it was a blow, and there wasn’t much time.

“I’ll build you your treehouse,” said his mother, her voice tight with tears, her throat aching, her heart in pieces. “I’ll make sure you have it before-” She did not finish. She couldn’t. The boy understood and nodded and held her tight, comforting her although he was the one who was dying.

When the boy did die, it was as peaceful as it could be, and his mother was there when it happened.

The treehouse was not finished.

In the months that followed, as she tried to put her life back together and live as best she could once more, she vowed that she would finish the job she had started, but every time she ventured outside and looked up at the shaggy boards strewn haphazardly across the strong branches, she could only fall to her knees and sob at the life that had been taken from her.

She regretted so much.

She should have, could have, would have been a better mother, if only she had known.

And instead of finishing the treehouse, she crawled back inside and lay down in a patch of sunlight in the living room and cried until she was weak and empty. And then she slept, an exhausted, dreamless sleep that did nothing for her except to pass the time without her boy.

When she awoke after not long enough, the sun had gone. It was not yet night, but it was dark in the living room, dark and cool. She stretched out in that blissful moment of forgetfulness and enjoyed the fresh, light feeling of freedom that fell onto her face though the… Through the what?

She opened her eyes and memories flew at her, batting at her, slapping at her with their full force. But for once she barely noticed. Because above her and around her and rising up through the ceiling and as far beyond that as she could see was an apple tree. It emerged from behind the bookcase that had been against the same wall for as long as she could remember, and it twirled its thick trunk outwards, twisting it up at an angle, and then it had just kept growing.

How long had she slept for?

She glanced at the clock but it didn’t answer any questions. It tick-tocked forwards but the numbers meant nothing. All that she cared about was the tree, watered with her grieving tears and brought to life in the shadow of death.

Now that she had a tree in her house, she wondered what she ought to do with it. She couldn’t see the top of it, but she realised that she wanted to, needed to, find out how far it had grown in the short time it had had. A miracle, a real, actual miracle, had occurred in her own home, and it had lightened her poor, splintered heart.

She raced up the stairs, taking them one, two, three at a time, giant strides that she didn’t know she was capable of, and at the top she stood on the shaded landing and stared up at the tree that poked through the floor below her and the ceiling above her. She needed to get higher. She had to find the top, find the leaves, find the treasure that was there, that had to be there.

And so she placed one slippered foot against the smooth grey bark and raised her arms to grasp the lowest branches. They shook and the leaves rustled, a pleasant, sunny sound. Bright red apples shone as they bobbed up and down.

She climbed. It reminded her of a time she had forgotten, a time on her own childhood when her mother had let her run loose, let her run free, let her climb trees and play in the meadow and come home for a picnic tea on the lawn.

She felt young. A little girl. And the little girl that she had become clambered up the tree, grinning, brushing leaves from her hair, laughing at a startled sparrow that was resting on a thin twig, reaching out to touch it but missing as it launched itself into the air.

Blue, blue sky and white, white clouds were above her now, and the tree, of course. It was still rising up, there was still more to climb.

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And climb she did, this little girl in her dirty dungarees and cracked creamy trainers. Her long plaits hung down her back, tangled with twigs and specked with mud. Her gap-toothed smile was huge, and it was real.

It was all real.

In the thick branches above her there was a shape. Large and flat and square. A platform. No, more than a platform. A treehouse. Of course. What else would it be up there, up here, at the top, with a view over the world?

But how to get up into it? She grabbed at the edges of the opening, and tried to pull herself up, but the angle was strange and she almost fell.

Almost.

But not quite.

A small hand slid over the edge and held hers. The sensation was known, so familiar that the woman – the girl – gasped and gripped tightly, so as never to have to let go again.

Her boy leaned over the edge and smiled down at her. He pulled her up and there they were, both sitting in his treehouse. Their treehouse now.

And together they looked out over the world and planned their adventures in the eternal sunshine.

Woman Jailed for Writing Short Story

That’s a terrifying headline. And when we delve deeper into the story, we discover that not only is it true – the woman really was jailed for six years for writing a short story – but that the story was, in fact, unpublished.

The term ‘thought police’ springs immediately to mind.

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This has happened in Iran, and the story concerns the practice of stoning, a form of Iranian execution, most usually used on those who commit adultery. The writer is called Golrokh Ebrahimi Iraee, and she is, amongst other things, a human rights activist. The story is about a young Iranian woman who sees a film entitled The Stoning of Soraya M (made in 2008, this film is based on a true story). The story’s character becomes enraged about what she has seen; so much so that she burns a copy of the Quran.

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When the story was found, the charges levelled against Iraee included ‘insulting Islamic sanctities’ and ‘spreading propaganda against the system’. It sounds more and more like Orwell’s 1984 than ever – Big Brother was, indeed, watching. Not only this, but her husband, Arash Sadeghi, has been sentenced to 15 years on the same propaganda charge as well as ‘gathering and colluding against national security’. He has, reports say, been tortured in prison.

Although the full facts are, perhaps, not known to us, the idea that someone could be imprisoned – and, ironically, potentially executed – for using their imagination is a worrying one. The story was not even published, and was found during a raid of Iraee’s home.

Words are indeed powerful.

Reasons to Read Every Day

The art of relaxing to read a good book is in danger of becoming lost to the mists of time. Can you imagine, decades from now, when such a pastime is studied by historians much as we look at some of the weird and wonderful things our ancestors did? The idea that future humans will smile and shake their heads at our strange fascination with ink on dead trees is something that fills me with dread.

reading as a pastime

So let’s not lose this art. Let’s not forget the printed word in amongst our TV screens, tablets, smartphones and e-Readers. Let’s remember why reading is good for us, and keep on doing it.

  • With reading, the more you do it the better you get. This means that even the most reluctant of readers will have a light bulb moment and discover that, actually, reading is a pretty incredible thing. You just have to stick with it.
  • Reading is great exercise for our brains. It may seem simple, but it’s actually really rather complex, and stimulates our brains in a good way, unlike watching TV which is a much more passive pastime. Reading even builds new connections within the brain – it literally makes us more clever.

reading makes us clever

  • Finding it hard to concentrate at work or school? Read more. Reading improves our levels of concentration, and reading regularly gives us the ability to concentrate for longer and longer.
  • Reading teaches us stuff. Whether you enjoy fiction or non-fiction, there is always something to learn within the pages of a book. You can find out more about other people, places, religions, traditions, politics, and much, much more.
  • Reading also improves our vocabulary. Every time you read you are strengthening your ability to remember new words, and soon you’ll be using them in context without even thinking about it.
  • Imagination is essential no matter what age you are. It helps you to create more in life, and could even get your career progression moving faster. Reading is all about imagination. After all, you’re basically creating everything for yourself – the words won’t do that by themselves.

Reading Gives Us Imagination

  • When you run out of battery or haven’t got a signal you’ll be glad of a good old fashioned paperback. It’s probably the cheapest form of entertainment (if you break it down hour by hour) around. Plus it’s totally portable. Bonus.
  • Reading relaxes the body and mind. It helps us have some quiet time. Most of our lives are taken up with bright screens, flashing lights, and loud noises. And that takes its toll on us – it’s a stressful situation to be in on a permanent basis. That’s why taking the time to read each day can calm us down and put us in a better frame of mind.

Relaxing With A Good Book

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£

Magazine Writing & research per 1000 400
Magazine Editor per day 250
Magazine Sub-editing per 1000 120
Magazine Fact checking per day 200
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Newspaper (regional) Sub-editing per 1000 95
Newspaper (regional) Fact checking per day 200
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

MY STORY

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Writing A Story: How To Make Your Story Ideas Stronger

Let’s be honest now; writing a story and thinking up a story idea is not the difficult part of writing. Getting that idea down on the page and making it as strong as it can be… that’s the tricky part. Yet it’s something that you absolutely need to do if you want to make your story shine. Here are some tips on how to make your story idea stronger so that it can be the best version of itself possible.

What’s The Problem When Writing A Story?

Every good story has to have one central premise, and that’s conflict. No matter who is in conflict with whom or what, this element simply has to be there, otherwise you really have no story at all.

writing a story

So… what’s the problem in your story? What’s the big issue when writing a story that is causing your characters pain? What are they trying to get over, or achieve, or make better? Knowing this and making it a bigger part of the overall story so that not a single reader is going to miss it will strengthen your story no end.

Push The Character Further

Don’t be nice to your characters. At least, not all the time. We’re not telling you to go ahead and be George R. R. Martin or Stephen King them all (unless you want to), but they have to have difficulties in their lives otherwise no one is going to want to root for them. The story of a normal man or woman going about their daily business might be written well – it might even be beautiful – but unless there is conflict and unless your characters are pushed as far as you can push them, readers aren’t going to remember your writing once they’re done with it.

What you really need is a character who is just like them, just like the reader, and who has to go through pain and suffering in an effort to resolve (or not) the central conflict. This will be remembered and this will make your story much stronger.

What is the worst thing that could happen to your character? Take that idea and write about how they get over that problem, or how they let it take them down. You can go either way.

Combine Two Unrelated Ideas

Some of the strongest stories are those that are seemingly two completely different ideas thrown together. But what if you took those ideas and combined them into a story that no one had heard before? This is why this idea is so important. It’s why it needs to be considered.

writing a story

Open up a dictionary and find the first word your finger points to. Then do it again in a different part of the book. Take those two words and make a story out of them. Working out how to combine the two ideas will give your idea an added element of strength.

Write What Excites You

Every writer is told to write what they know. That’s fine, but if what you know doesn’t excite you, forget that particular piece of advice about writing a story. Instead, write what thrills you, what fascinates you, what you are truly interested in. You don’t have to ‘know’ it to do that because if you’re truly into whatever it is you’re writing about, you’ll learn what you need to learn.

If you write what excites you, your writing will be stronger and your readers will feel the passion you put into your words.

 

Your Memoir: How To Choose A Great Title

If you are writing a memoir, or hiring a ghostwriter to write one for you, it needs to be an accurate depiction of your life – it should include all the interesting twists and turns, all the mistakes, all the joy, the heartache, the triumph, and successes. It’s such an important book for your family – and potentially a wider audience – to have, that you really should spend a good amount of time coming up with the ideal title.

The title should sum up your life story, while simultaneously inviting the viewer to open the book and plunge into the narrative of your life. Maybe this is why people have trouble thinking of something that really works; it’s a lot of pressure to get it right. It’s a lot of responsibility for the future. Yet it doesn’t have to be. Here are some useful tips about coming up with the perfect title for your memoir so that future generations will want to read it.

Keep It Simple

Within any life, there are going to be plenty of memorable moments, and many of them could form the basis of a title. That’s not a bad way to start thinking about what you’re going to call your memoir, but you must remember to keep it simple. Anything that’s too complicated, too full of puns, too long, or just not understandable isn’t going to entice many people to choose your life story over someone else’s memoir. All things considered, you really want to attract readers, not make them think twice about picking up your book.

memoir

The book’s title should try to record a sense of what your story is about without giving away any surprises that you want the reader to discover for themselves. It should also be kept short and sweet – short titles are much more easily remembered.

Match The Tone

The title of your memoir should also match the tone of the rest of the book. This means that the reader is going to be able to understand just what kind of story you’re telling; is it going to be funny or serious, for example. If your memoir is meant to be inspiring, a funny title won’t convey the right message. If it’s full of amusing anecdotes, a more straight forward title might be confusing. Matching the tone and the title will help to narrow down your choices and will help people be much more aware of the type of book they might be about to read.

Will There Be More?

If you’re planning to write, or have someone write, a second part to your memoir (or even a third or fourth part, come to that) then your title should let readers know there is more. You could, depending on the tone as mentioned above, simply write ‘Part 1’ as a subtitle. Alternatively, you might think of a clever play on words that would lend itself to another book in the same vein.

memoir

Look For Memoir Inspiration

If you are finding it hard to come up with ideas for the title of your memoir, why not look around your local bookshop or online to see what other people have called theirs? Although it’s not a good idea to copy the title word for word, it might give you some inspiration and a push in the right direction.

Remember, when you choose to have a ghostwriter to help you create your memoir you aren’t going to have to work all this out for yourself; I can be with you every step of the way from title to ‘The End’. Get in touch today to find out more.

Creating The Perfect Stay At Home Festival

Missing the tasty street food festival season has to offer? Gousto’s Food stylist Jenny Brown reveals how to recreate a mini version right from your own garden!

With Glastonbury cancelled because of the pandemic, Gousto’s very own Food Stylist Jenny Brown has shared festival-themed food styling tips to help you recreate the summer party feeling at home.

Plus the team at recipe box Gousto have shared six festival-inspired dishes, from vegan burgers to boozy ice-lollies. So what are you waiting for? Grab your wellies, tent… and enjoy!

Here is a taster of the content: 

Festival summer with Gousto

Jenny’s Festival Food Styling Tip:

Forget slaving over a hot grill and create a ‘build-your-own-burger’ bar with just a few ingredients! Whatever you like on your own burger, you can’t go wrong with a burger bar, and they are seriously easy to set up right in your own garden. Grab a few bowls and fill with delicious burger toppings like cheese, onion, pickles and ketchup and let your guests create their own personalised burger.

Festival-inspired recipe: 

Ultimate Vegan Stack Burger

https://www.gousto.co.uk/cookbook/recipes/the-ultimate-vegan-stack-burger

Introducing the ULTIMATE vegan burger. Pile your plant-based brioche buns high with a vegan patty (try Gousto’s for their famous extra juicy vegan patty), melty vegan cheese, a smoky crispy potato rösti, and balsamic onions. Legendary!

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 magazine.

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 cows.

http://www.facebook.com/lisamarielambwriter

http://www.twitter.com/lisamarie20010

3 Reasons To Have A Blog On Your Business Website

A blog is a massively useful way to bring traffic – and therefore potentially new customers – to your website. You can think of a blog as a tool, just as you would any piece of equipment that is absolutely necessary to your business. It’s something that might take time, effort,  and money if you outsource the writing, but it is also something that, when done right, can be looked at as an investment of those things, rather than a waste. Read on to discover exactly why you need to have a blog on your business website.

blog writer

More Traffic

The first thing that a blog means is more traffic to your website. If you are using the right keywords and information, your blog is likely to come up first when someone searches for whatever it is you do, or have written about. If the blog is informative and useful, those same people will not only click through, but they will stay (and the longer they stay, the better it is for your SEO and Google rankings).

Not only that, but once people are aware that you exist – thanks to your blog – they will return to read more. They will browse the rest of your website. They will, hopefully, buy from you. And of course, when you look at the numbers, the more people who come to your site, the more chances you have of making a sale.

Ideal For SEO

SEO – search engine optimisation – is something that you need to consider for your website. Again, this can be outsourced, and if you aren’t confident in doing it yourself this can often be the best way to do it. SEO is how you gain traction in search engine rankings. If you think about how you use a search engine, when the results are given to you it is likely you look at the top of the first page and possibly go no further. If you do keep looking, it is likely you – just like everyone else – will check out the second page and no more.

If you can have your website at the top of the Google rankings, you are more likely to be noticed, and with so much competition around that is a precious thing to be able to do. With a blog, SEO becomes much easier. You can include:

seo blog writer

Be The Expert

A blog will help to prove that you are an expert in your niche as you will be able to show the depth of your knowledge and understanding. If you can put this information into layman’s terms and make it interesting, you are sure to find plenty of new customers.

People will always be happy to buy from someone who clearly knows their product or service very well, and the more you can prove this in your blog the better your sales will be.

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…

Roblox Video: A Wolf Or Other

We’re all for trying out new things here are lisamarielamb.co.uk, and when my daughter said she wanted to be a YouTuber playing Roblox, we said okay, why not? Letting children explore new things and have fun hobbies they teach them important skills is crucial, and whether or not her videos do well, she will have gained plenty of knowledge.

So, for your enjoyment, here is Barbie Lamby plays Roblox!

Sleep Week: Lack of Sleep Can Increase Depression Tenfold – Tips to Sleep Better

For Sleep Awareness Week, mental health treatment specialists Smart TMS examine the dangers of sleeping less, and how to combat it

Gerard Barnes, CEO of Smart TMS, discusses the restorative benefits of quality sleep on mental wellbeing and shares tips on how to sleep better. 

sleep week

In today’s society, it is now harder than ever to get a good night of sleep. According to the Mental Health Foundation, we are now sleeping 90 minutes less on average than we did less than 100 years ago, with factors such as increased work responsibilities, over-stimulation from phones and laptops, and poor diets causing more and more people to suffer with sleep problems.

However, for those who find it difficult to sleep at night, tiredness and lethargy should be the least of their worries. People who suffer from insomnia are a staggering 10 times more likely to suffer clinical depression and 17 times more likely to suffer with severe anxiety, whilst a recent study carried out at the University of Oxford found that “sleep disruption is a driving factor in the occurrence of paranoia, hallucinatory experiences, and other mental health problems in young adults with an average age of 25”.

Furthermore, not only can a lack of sleep exacerbate underlying mental health issues or even cause them, but it is also associated with greater mood variability, a reduced capacity to manage emotions, and increased levels of impulsive behaviour and inappropriate reactivity. In other words, a lack of sleep leads us to behave more erratically and make poor decisions.

How to sleep better, according to a mental health treatment expert

Gerard Barnes, CEO of mental health treatment specialist Smart TMS, is well acquainted with the issues brought about by a lack of quality sleep.

Since 2015, Smart TMS clinics have been using TMS therapy to effectively treat chronic anxiety, depression, OCD, PTSD and a range of other mental health problems. Now, Gerard discusses the restorative benefits of quality sleep, and shares some tips on how to prepare for a better night’s sleep.

“There are a range of factors that contribute to any mental health problem, and we can never put something like depression or chronic anxiety down to one single issue, but regularly getting good quality sleep is one of the single most potent ways to influence one’s mental health in a positive manner.

Some people who experience a significant lack of sleep may suffer from a sleep disorder which likely requires specific treatment, but for the majority of us, our sleep quality could be dramatically improved by simply making some simple adjustments to our lifestyle and daily habits. With this in mind, here are four key tips that can be easily applied to start sleeping better”:

sleep week

Switching off

“Our reliance on smartphones, tablets and laptops in today’s society has never been greater, and while this technology has a range of advantages, it can also have a devastating effect on our ability to sleep. Blue light emitted by our screens disrupts the production of melatonin, the hormone that controls your sleep/wake cycle – switching off or leaving your electronic devices for half an hour or more before bed will help you to feel sleepy and allow you to drop off more effectively.”

 Avoid caffeine and alcohol

“Consuming caffeine before bed is of course not conducive to relaxing, but many may be surprised to find that alcohol actually disrupts your sleep. Whilst many people say they find it very easy to fall asleep following a few drinks, alcohol has been proven to reduce the amount of time spent in REM sleep – the stage of sleep responsible for the retention of memory, learning and mood regulation. Staying away from alcohol before bed will improve memory, prepare you to deal with your emotions and is essential for your overall development.”

sleep week

Establish a sleeping routine

“Building a realistic and achievable daytime routine is one of the best ways to combat stress and anxiety, helping us to cope with change, form positive behaviours, and feel more in control of our lives. Our night time routines should be no different. 

The benefits of going to bed and waking up at the same time every day for our mental health cannot be overstated – reduction of anxiety, improved energy levels and ability to cope with responsibilities are just some of the positive effects.”

Get moving

“Doing regular exercise can be very difficult for people dealing with mental health problems, but it is one of the most beneficial and influential things we can do to help us sleep better. Not only does exercise release a natural antidepressant in the form of endorphins, but the increased demand placed on our body makes the prospect of sleep far more attractive to our mind. Even just 30 minutes of exercise a day will help in the quest to achieve a better night of sleep.”

Flash Fiction: Origami Army

Arthur sat, barely moving, hunched over, crunched into the wooden desk in front of him. His desk. The desk at which he was supposed to be performing some sort of miracle so that his boss wouldn’t call him into his office, tell him the figures were not good enough, and send him home. And remind him not to come back. So he supposed it wouldn’t be his desk for long.

Despite knowing this, despite having been told that this event was definitely going to take place on or around today if he didn’t get his act together, and sharpish, Arthur couldn’t bring himself to even turn on his computer. He knew what would happen if he did; it would whir into being and whirl into his day without a second thought, this hateful, dead and living thing that couldn’t help him now. In fact, knowing the true state of everything, the numbers glowing hotly out from the skinny monitor, laughing at him because they knew what they meant even if he didn’t, would most likely make things worse.

So he sat at his desk and did no work. He stayed hunched over, his hands moving and nothing else, creating. Origami. Every time Arthur was stressed or angry he took a deep breath, took a piece of paper, and took the time to fold it into the approximate shape of a crane. It was the only shape he could do, and even then not very well. But it was better than letting that stress and anger do what it really wanted with him, and take him over so that he became a beast that even he didn’t recognise. That’s what had happened with his wife. With his children. With his friends who were friends no more. He told himself that he couldn’t afford to lose anything else but the reality was that he had nothing left to lose.

After a lifetime of seconds which fizzed with such an urgency that it made Arthur think of a bowling ball bomb from a kids’ cartoon, he heard the door behind him open. It startled him momentarily before he ducked his head back down and continued his paper folding. It was only the boss. He was only going to be fired. It was fine. Fine. He folded faster, cutting himself on the lip of a wing, the paper slippery in his sweating hands, the edges secretly sharp.

“Arthur.” The voice was smooth, deep, filtered through years of management speak and the more than occasional brandy. “Arthur, do you remember what we spoke about the other day?”

Arthur nodded, irritated by the interruption but determined not to let it show. Instead he carefully positioned the lopsided crane, fashioned from one of his many important reports that sat – until now – in the in-tray, so that it joined the ranks of the others. He then reached towards the diminishing pile of paper (scrap, he called it, although it wasn’t entirely that and the boss was sure to mention it sooner or later) and started to make a new crane, hoping it would be better than the last poor effort.

“…poor effort.” The boss had been speaking, but Arthur had not been listening. He had been busy, and why could the boss not see that?

Arthur nodded with no idea what he was nodding about. He sat up suddenly, breathing deeply, blinking in the fluorescence of the office and noticed something surprising. His desk was covered, literally covered with no spaces and no gaps, with origami cranes. Hundreds of them. A thousand? It could be. It certainly could be. He smiled. He had no memory of making them but what the hell, what did it matter when they were there?

He stared at them. Willed them to move. And they did. Slowly. Juddering along the desk and then, as one, taking off in jerky, beautiful flight. Arthur spun in his spinning chair to watch them go, to watch them as they flew at the boss, pecking and biting and flapping at him. Drawing blood. Scratching and snarling and screaming as they went so that their screams matched Arthur’s, his delight and pure pleasure manifesting itself in a primal childlike cry.

And then they fell. Hundreds – or a thousand, or a million for all Arthur knew – roughly hewn origami cranes lay broken and dead on the floor.

The boss stepped backwards away from Arthur’s desk, his hands held up in defeat, his eyes wide and fearful, his tongue tied with wonder at the strange and dangerous man who was now laughing at the balls of paper he had swiped from his desk and onto the floor.

“One more chance, eh, Arthur?” he whispered as he left the room. “I’ll speak to you next week.” And then he was gone.

Arthur sat alone at his desk, shoulders shaking where his laughter had grabbed them. He reached towards the pile of reports that still sat in his in-tray, pulling one towards him, and began to fold it into the approximate shape of a crane.

Flash Fiction: Cherub

At the bottom of the garden lives a cherub made of cold, cold stone. It sits and watches and holds a cold, cold stone bird in its chubby, chipped hands. They are stuck together, trapped together. And yet it seems as though the cherub has the advantage even so. That bird is doomed. I pity it.

I don’t think the cherub likes that.

I think the cherub would prefer I fear it, not have sympathy for the pet – prey – it clasps.

What the cherub does not know is that I do fear it. I like awake at night thinking about it, thinking about its dull dead eyes and its flaking grey hair, too old to be the child it wants to be and wants to have. And when I do sleep I dream about it and in my dreams it has teeth. But I try not to think about that. It does no one any good my husband, my mother, my doctor, myself says.

Scary cherub

I don’t know where it came from. My dad, laughing when I mentioned it at Christmas, the room full of tinsel and warmth and a bit too much wine, suggested a garden centre. I doubt that. All I know is that it’s been here longer than I have, part of the grounds before we bought the house and left by the previous owners who ran as far as they could from it, and ended up crossing the world to live in another country, to get away from that thing in their garden.

Perhaps.

That’s what I think anyway.

But it hasn’t driven us away. Yet. Maybe it likes us. Maybe it enjoys me watching it, mistaking my fear for awe or love or not making a mistake at all and knowing, in the end, that I fear it. I wonder, maybe, in the very deepest corners of my scarred mind, whether I do love it a little bit though. I feel something for it at any rate. I thought it was hatred, but lately I’ve become less sure.

I dream about it. That’s how I know what it really is. What it really wants. The children. The last couple had none, preferring work to family (and there is the most likely reason the cherub made them leave) but we have three under ten, young and healthy. I’ve told them to stay far away from the cherub. At first they asked why and at first I told them but my dreams – nightmares – transferred to them and I had to backtrack, to tell them I was just playing and that it wasn’t going to get them. They still don’t play near it though, and I’m glad about that.

Their nightmares have stopped. Mine continue.

It wants my children. Wants me to be the one to sacrifice them to it and its lifeless bird. But I’m strong enough to resist. I won’t do it. But with so little sleep and so much fear, I wonder… I wonder if one day I will?

Writing: It’s Never Too Late

There is a feeling that steals over me sometimes that I’ve left it too late to be doing this. That I should have started writing earlier in life, a decade earlier, 15 years earlier… If I had, I wonder where I would be now?

And then I remember two things. The first is that I didn’t start writing earlier because I wasn’t ready to. If I had, my writing would not have been of the right standard, and I might have given up after a few rejections. Secondly, I’m not alone. Many writers had other careers first before moving on to new and exciting things.

That’s life.

So here are a few of them to illustrate my point. It’s quite an impressive list.

 

Frank McCourt

Author of the wonderful Angela’s Ashes, McCourt didn’t start writing until he was 65 years old. On top of that, he left school at 13 due to his family’s poverty; he had to start work.

 

EL James

No matter whether you love or hate the Fifty Shades series of books, no one can deny what a phenomenon they became, spawning movies and many copycat versions. EL James was 44 when she began to write these books which began simply as fan fiction.

 

Mario Puzo

Mario Puzo, the father of The Godfather was 33 when he began writing. Whilst that’s not ancient by any means, it is still a lot later than many famous authors – Stephen King was just 12, for example, and F. Scott Fitzgerald was 23.

 

Chuck Palahniuk

The Fight Club author was another of the 33 year old club, picking up the pen to write down his incredible stories in his fourth decade of life.

 

Charles Bukowski

writing

Although Bukowski wrote for most of his life, he didn’t get his big break until he was 49 when he submitted Post Office to a publisher. It was published two years later, and at 51 Bukowski’s life changed forever.

 

Donald Ray Pollock

writing

Donald Ray Pollock had a variety of different jobs in his life, but writer came relatively late. He published a collection of short stories when he was 55, and when he was 58 his debut novel, award-winning The Devil Of All Time, came out.

 

Helen DeWitt

Writing Helen de Witt

Helen DeWitt spent most of her life in academia until she almost had a breakdown and realised she just couldn’t face it anymore. With 100 different novels in fragments around her home, she took some time off just to write – with no interruptions. She would, she said, ‘write until the money ran out’. At the end of that time, she had her impressive novel, The Last Samurai written. She was 44 years old.

 

So there you have it. Many of the writers who are now household names didn’t start writing until they were 30, 40, 50, even 60. And even if they had been writing for longer, being published took the time. So I can relax and enjoy what I’m doing – just write and the rest will follow.