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Monthly December 2016
Writing Horror – Screaming In The Dark

It seems an odd thing to do, to write horror. When there are a wealth of genres out there, when I could be writing about perfect love or fantastic dragons or gun-toting cowboys, why choose to create the most terrifying, the most soul-shredding, the most unwelcome?

My answer is a simple one: because I like it. I like horror.

I like to read it, I like to watch it, I like to think about it, and I like to write it. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t.

As to why I like it, that’s a more complicated question, with a different kind of answer.

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As a child, I was scared. A lot. Most of the time. Not that I wasn’t a happy child, with a normal family and normal surroundings and normal friends. I was. Perfectly normal. But I was also perfectly scared. There was a seeping, creeping horror that hovered around me, enveloped me, and at night I would scrunch my eyes shut and hide beneath the covers in the hope that whatever it was wouldn’t see me because I couldn’t see it.

And there was, as far I can tell, as far as I can remember, no reason for it. Nothing that particularly stands out as being that one specific moment in which something happened – something ghostly and ghoulish and downright petrifying – that haunted me for the rest of my days.

I was a normal girl, but a strange one.

Being alone was bad. I hated it. These days I crave a bit of solitude, but then, when that fear stole over me, I only wanted to be around people. It’s just that sometimes, there were no people to be around. And so I created some. I reached the age of twelve and simply decided that I needed constant, immediate access to someone.

But who? And how?

I started to go to bed and instead of cowering under the covers I moulded myself heroes and heroines, safe houses and refuges. I began to make up stories. These stories became my talisman, protecting me from the real evil by pretending about it. It seemed to me that nothing in the real world could possibly be as frightening as the world I was creating in my head, and so my heroes were slain, horribly. My heroines were kidnapped and tortured. My safe houses and refuges were pillaged by monsters and demons and ghosts.

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And because I’d made it all up, just me, by myself, it wasn’t so scary after all. I enjoyed it. And I began to write my stories down. I began to read other people’s stories. I began to watch the films. Because it was all safe. It was all made up.

I’ve been doing that ever since.

Just don’t ask me to read or watch any ‘true’ horror stories.

They keep me up at night.

If you would like me to write horror for you – or anything else – please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Short Story: My Gingerbread House

I wanted a gingerbread house. They asked me what I wanted for my birthday, and I told them, a gingerbread house please (making sure to say please as I knew they liked it when I did that). They ummed and ahed about it, but I was pretty sure it was going to come off. The kids at school would go crazy when they saw it. I’d have to invite everyone over to see it, it would make them like me. It would have to. I mean, who wouldn’t like someone with their very own gingerbread house? If it were me, and some kid came up to me at school and told me they had one, I’d be their BFF just to get to see it, maybe to eat a bit of it.

I was so excited about it that I told everyone in advance that I was getting one. And the excitement was kind of like a disease or something because in the end everyone had it. Even the teachers were a bit less strict, as though they thought I might ask them if they wanted to take a look. But I wouldn’t do that. That is not something a popular kid does, and all of a sudden I was popular.

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My birthday was a Saturday and I told everyone to get to my house for around lunch time, because there would be plenty to eat and I didn’t think my parents would mind. Turns out they did sort of mind because they had planned to take me out to lunch, which they did, and by the time we got back there were dozens of school children – and quite a few parents – milling around in our front garden, waiting to be let in.

This was it. This was the big unveiling, wasn’t it? This was when my parents were going to show off what they’d bought me and the others, my friends, I guess, would be impressed.

My parents were probably still in a bit of shock over the number of people who had turned up, especially when I hadn’t mentioned that anyone at all would be coming over. I never had people over, so that was a surprise right there. But they were gracious about it, invited everyone in and set about making teas and coffees, offering juices and squash, rummaging around in cupboards to find snacks and biscuits to offer around. Some of the parents – most, maybe all – guessed this was a bit of a shock for mine, and they suggested coming back later, or the next day, or the next week. Whatever. But I couldn’t have that, not when I was about to get my gingerbread house. “No, it’s all right,” I said before my mum and dad could open their mouths. “Really, isn’t it? Isn’t it?” I insisted.

Mum and Dad smiled, a little stiffly, but what else could they do? “Of course,” said Dad, nudging Mum. “Isn’t it?”

Mum nodded.

The room did not relax. If anything, the atmosphere got more strained. No one was really speaking, there was a lot of foot shuffling and throat clearing. “Nice coffee,” someone murmured. My mum thanked them, glanced out of the window at the garage, looked back into the room. “Well, we were going to do this later,” she declared, the silence shattering at the sound, “But since everyone’s here…” She gave a fleeting look at my dad, willing him to take over. Ten years of marriage and he knew what to do. “Yes, the big unveiling. Do you want your main present?”

I was tempted to shake my head, say no, do it later, forget it completely, it doesn’t matter because I was gripped with the terrible sureness that they had got me something else. Something that, although most probably amazing and brilliant, was not what I had promised the guests. Instead I grinned and jumped up and down and said, “Yes please!”

This cheered my parents up quite a lot. My being happy always put a smile on their faces, which is why I didn’t want to be a pain about things. My dad trotted off to the garage, and my mum ushered everyone into the garden. She looked pretty excited by this point. She was sort of glowing with the fun she was having, showing off what she’d bought me. Fair enough. If it made her happy…

And then there was a strange squeaky sound, and my dad was pulling a massive something covered in a sheet along the grass on a platform, the wheels making the high pitched yelping as they rolled. “Ta da!” Dad shouted tunelessly as he got near to us. He whipped off the sheet and there, golden brown and chocolaty sweet, there in front of me was a gingerbread house. Bet you thought it was going to be a cake or something. It wasn’t. It was huge, and it was mine. The crowd gasped, and there was a spattering of applause from the adults. The kids just stared.

“Is it all right?” asked Mum, a bit breathlessly. “Is this what you wanted?” asked Dad, a lot breathlessly.

I said nothing. I walked up to it, sensing my school mates behind me, itching to rush forward and start chewing. The pink and white candy canes, the massive chocolate buttons, the red and black liquorice laces, the sprinkles, the sparkles, the sherbet and the jellies… it was beautiful.

Before I could stop them, I had tears on my cheeks. That was unexpected. That was unwelcome. But it emptied my head of nonsense and it set my brain thinking. That feeling of tension was still behind me. It was palpable, a living thing raring to be set free. But I, I chose to keep it caged.

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“Thanks for coming,” I said, turning around to face them, their red faces and gleaming eyes looking through me at the gingerbread house. “You can go now.”

Faces dropped. Parents looked at one another. Kids laughed, then stopped because my expression told them I meant it. “Er, that’s not very polite,” my mum said, attempting to save me from exile. I shrugged. “I’m not trying to be polite,” I said. “I’m saying these bullies, these jokers, these snobs who think they’re better than me, the ones who pull my hair and steal my lunch money, the ones who copy my homework and kick me and laugh at my clothes, I’m saying this is mine. All mine. Goodbye.”

I turned back to the wonderful, amazing, magnificent gingerbread house and waited. Slowly, I could feel the crowd growing less until I was alone.

Just me and the gingerbread house.

As it should be.

What’s So Great About Book Tokens?

The humble (actually, not so humble) book token is something to be celebrated. It’s not only something that could (and is by many) be considered a national treasure, but it is also one of the most wonderful gifts anyone can give.

Why?

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Books are intensely personal things. These magical worlds that can be escaped into are different for everyone. And just because one person found something to understand, something that spoke to them in one book, it doesn’t mean someone else will. So buying books is something that is fraught with danger. It’s too hard. It’s too difficult to get right.

And what if the recipient already has that novel, that biography, that cookbook?

A book token solves all of those problems. Giving a book lover a book token is like giving them the key to their own universe. They can go into a book shop full of confidence, knowing that they can buy one, two, three – maybe even more – books that they want. Not ones that others have chosen for them, not ones that others have presumed they will enjoy, but books that they have had on their wish lists for months, years, their whole lives.

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It’s the choosing of the books that is the gift, and it’s a generous one.

It’s a magical moment. It’s a freeing feeling.

Now isn’t that the perfect gift to give a loved one? I think so.

What’s more, book tokens can be personalised, making them even more special. Whether it’s a card that can be coloured by the recipient as any extra treat, or one that has their happy face all over it, these book tokens are pure joy.

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National Book Tokens can be bought and spent in thousands of bookshops including independents, Waterstones, WHSmith, Blackwells and Easons. They can be spent on eBooks at The Indie eBook Shop (indieebook.co.uk) and online at Foyles and O’Mahony’s.

You can get yours here: http://www.nationalbooktokens.com/buy

 

Peacock Poetry Prize returns for Brighton Festival 2017 with theme of ‘everyday epic’

Brighton Festival is delighted to announce that this year’s Peacock Poetry Prize will have the theme of ‘everyday epic’, a subject chosen by Brighton Festival 2017 Guest Director Kate Tempest.

From a pebbled beach to a stranger’s smile, from a sporting milestone to a quiet read, budding writers are invited to reflect on the small observations and achievements of our daily lives which we piece together to celebrate and share our common humanity.

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Kate Tempest says: “Music, literature, theatre, film – these things are so important, they bring us together into the same space, they give us ourselves, they bring us to life, they beam our humanity back to us in all its hideous beauty. And in these times, with the fear spreading everywhere and the divisions between us deepening daily, we desperately need to remember that we are all part of the same thing.”

The annual creative writing competition, produced by Brighton Festival and Brighton, Hove & Sussex Sixth Form College (BHASVIC), encourages young writers to explore the written word from a creative point of view and aims to get young people writing right across Sussex. The competition asks local poets aged between 8 and 19 years to explore and respond to a specific subject in an imaginative and inventive way. Submissions are divided into four age groups: 8-11 years, 11-13 years 13-16 years and 16-19 years. In addition, this year the Brighton and Hove environmental education project (BHee) will also be giving a special prize to a school pupil whose poem celebrates our interaction with the natural world.

Pippa Smith, Head of Creative Learning at Brighton Dome & Brighton Festival said: “The Peacock Poetry Prize is a fantastic opportunity for young people to get involved with Brighton Festival. I’m always taken aback at the number and range of submissions we receive, and this year I hope Kate Tempest’s theme of ‘everyday epic’ will inspire our young writers’ imaginations to produce some wonderful poetryonce again.”

William Baldwin, Principal of Brighton Hove & Sussex Sixth Form College, said, “I am delighted that BHASVIC is once again able to promote the Peacock Poetry Competition with Brighton Festival across Sussex. I’m very much looking forward to reading this year’s entries on the theme of ‘Everyday Epic’ and to meeting the runners-up and winners in May!”

The competition is open to residents of Brighton & Hove, East and West Sussex. Each budding writer may submit up to three poems with a maximum length of 20 lines per poem. Entries must be emailed, together with full name, age and date of birth to peacock@brightonfestival.org or posted to Peacock Poetry Prize, Brighton Festival, 12a Pavilion Buildings, Castle Square, Brighton BN1 1EE.

The deadline for entries is 5pm on Monday 3 April 2017. Finalists and their friends and relatives will be invited to a reception in Brighton Dome Thursday 25th May 5 pm when the winners of each age category and the BHee prize will be announced.

Sweet Oblivion – Interview with Debut Novelist Rhiana Ramsey

Murder, intrigue, and sex combined with a shocking conclusive twist – Sweet Oblivion is the tense debut novel of Sussex writer and serving police detective, Rhiana Ramsey (pseudonym).

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What genre would you classify Sweet Oblivion as?

I’d describe it as a dark crime thriller thread with eroticism.

Tell us about your book – why this story and the focus on S&M?

The story follows DC Elizabeth Lane and her colleagues as they hunt down the killer of the chilling emasculating murders that keep happening around town.

With my history serving as a police detective I’ve always been fascinated by the psychological angle of a killer. I wanted my character to hold true power over men and a dominatrix character was the perfect way to convey this, while weaving in some elements of S&M. With the release of 50 Shades of Grey this area of eroticism has become more mainstream and a subject people are interested in reading about.

What was your reason for setting the novel in London?

I worked in London for many years and know the area very well. My knowledge and background of the city made it easy to visualise my settings and scenes.

This is your first completed novel. What gave you the courage to write the book and what inspires you to write?

When I first started writing my book I was a single woman, completing my psychology degree whilst working full time in the Criminal Investigation Department and yet I was felt something was missing. I needed an outlet. I find writing therapeutic and an opportunity to take a step back from the real world.

When I first put pen to paper so to speak to write Sweet Oblivion I had no idea where it was going, but I got the bug and began to create storyboards and backgrounds for all my characters.

Throughout my life I’ve suffered with depression. When I was younger I used to write music, I still do on occasion, but these days I prefer creative writing as, it provides me with the perfect opportunity to escape and have complete control of a story – the situation, characters and outcome etc.

I suppose I actually wrote my first book when I was 12. It was called ‘Ravenscroft’ and was based upon a satanic crow that encouraged a pack of wolves to kill for him – needless to say it wasn’t published but I’ve obviously always seemed to have a passion for the macabre from a young age. My policing experience in my adult life has helped to re-ignite my imagination and it’s this that has ultimately led to the creation of Sweet Oblivion.

How long did the book take to write?

The book actually took nearly three years to complete from conception to publication however the bulk of the writing was completed in two months when I decided to take time off work.

What made you finally sit down and complete your book?

Work was tough, I’d been in court as a victim after dealing with a bad relationship and I lost my father all in a matter of months. Everything happened at once and I needed time out. I took two months off from the CID and that gave me the time to complete my manuscript.

At what point did you know you were ready to publish?

As soon as I’d finished writing the first draft I knew I was completely happy with the story. However, I spent about six months editing and tweaking little snippets before I finally submitted the manuscript to the printers.

What made you decide to self-publish and do you think this was a positive or negative experience?

It was a very positive experience! I decided to self-publish after speaking with a couple of agents who only seemed to show interest in you if you could prove you had a following already and were ultimately going to make them money. Being a self-published author means you have more control over what happens and if you have the time to promote it properly, it can be a very successful and enjoyable experience.

What would your advice be to anyone hoping to self-publish?

Unfortunately, as with most ventures, you need to have a little bit of money behind you to get started. Most people these days don’t actually print, they self-publish online. Whilst printing can often be expensive (and you should pay a little more for a good quality printer), it’s the most amazing feeling when your book turns up in the post.

What are you reading at the moment?

I’m currently in the middle of reading Kane and Abel by Jeffrey Archer who’s one of my all-time favourite authors. Once I’ve finished that I’ll dive straight into the seventh Clifton Chronicles novel – This Was a Man – I’ve been waiting with baited breath for it to come out.

In this day and age, do you prefer e-readers or a hard copy book?

An e-reader will never outsell a classic hard copy in my opinion. I love the feeling of actually reading a printed story and holding the book in my hands.

With the release of your first novel, what are your ambitions for your writing career?

I know it’s very clichéd but I would love to become a full time successful author. I dream of being able to live off my completed novels and write books from anywhere in the world.

If Sweet Oblivion was made into a film, which celebrities would you love to cast as your characters?

That’s a tricky one. For my main character, Louise, the actor would need to be intelligent, attractive and have an athletic build, perhaps someone like Mila Kunis who often plays relatable characters. I would love for Sandra Bullock to play Elizabeth as she is seen as a strong, attractive and savvy woman just like my character.

Now you’ve written your first novel, could there perhaps be a second in the pipeline?

I am in the early stages of writing another novel, which will also involve Elizabeth, but that is all I can say for now!

 

What Does Every Writer Need?

Since it’s (almost) Christmas time, I thought it would be a good idea to mention a few things that the writer in your life might appreciate during the festive period. So why not take a look at these gift ideas? Remember, what a writer really wants is a bit of time to write… In the meantime, these will also do nicely:

An Old Typewriter

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It has always been a dream of mine to come across an old, dusty typewriter in a junk shop and bring it home with me where I set it up on a proper heavy oak desk and use it to create masterpieces. It may not be practical, and it may be making more work for myself (no copy and paste, no find and replace, no saving here), but the idea of those click-clacking keys and my hands dancing across them just like Jessica Fletcher still resonates.

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An Old Typewriter With A New Twist

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credit: USBtypewriter.com

No, not an electric version of the good old machine mentioned above, but a totally modern concept in typewriters. I’m talking about a USB typewriter. The fantastic kits from USBTypewriter.com allow you to transform your old typewriter into a gorgeously quirky new one. Simply plug in your tablet so that you can save things and amend your prose with ease, and you still get that authentic typewriter feel and sound. The best of both worlds? Maybe so.

Waterproof Notepad

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Now this one is super useful. Why is it that writers often have their best ideas in situations when it’s impossible to write them down? By the time we get to a notepad and pen, the ideas has been diluted down and the initial rush of excitement has withered. In the worst cases the idea is lost forever. For many, the shower is the place where ideas come flowing freely, and a waterproof notepad from AquaNotes would work wonders. No idea ever need to be lost again.

Intensely Strong Coffee

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My working schedule involves me getting up early (5am) and working for a few hours until the school run starts. Then it’s back to it for as long as possible. But sometimes as long as possible isn’t very long, despite looming deadlines, which is why coffee is an essential part of my writing toolkit. A crazily strong brand of coffee (Death Wish Coffee springs to mind – the name is enough to wake me up, and this is, indeed, the strongest coffee in the world after all) is just about the most wonderful gift a writer can be given.

A Nice Tipple

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By the time evening rolls around, it’s time to pack up my day time writing and bring out the night time stuff. So the blogs and the non-fiction are all saved and closed down, and the fiction finally gets to come out to play for a bit. Now, as Ernest Hemingway so eloquently said, it’s best to ‘write drunk and edit sober’. Not that I’m advocating having a huge amount of alcohol to drink, but a little sip of something is a nice treat at the end of the day. A good slug of dry gin from Anno Distillers in Kent (with some tonic, of course) is the perfect end to a writing day.

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No matter what kind of writing you need, I can help you. Please get in touch – and have a lovely Christmas.

Why Do You Get Your Ideas From?

Where do you get your ideas from?

It’s that question. The one that writers detest and interviewers love.

But why do we dislike answering that one so much? Or do we? Perhaps, now, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy; we’re told that we should hate it, that’s it’s anathema to our creativity. And therefore, when we hear it, we do hate it, it does feel like giving away too much. Even if we have an interesting response. Even if we’re quite sure that our readers would like to know the answer.

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I don’t mind it. If I’m honest, I quite like it. As a question it’s much better than being asked why I started writing (umm… I just did… I just gave it a go and quite liked it… er… something about school and an English project…) or why I write horror (I enjoy reading it, I enjoy writing it) because I never have proper answers for those ones. I always feel a bit of a fraud, a bit like I’m grasping for something – anything – to say just to sound interesting and intellectual.

At least with that question I can answer with either a piece of pure fabrication, or complete honesty. It simply depends on whether I can remember where the idea came from, and if I can whether it was an interesting occasion. Although, admittedly, even when telling the absolute truth my answer will vary from day to day, story to story to novel to flash fiction to poetry… Because that’s the beauty of it. Ideas come from everywhere and nowhere. They are incredible, intangible things that appear in a dream or a cloud or are gleaned from an overheard word or a misunderstood laugh. They are magical, existing in nothing, invisible and incomplete until they are written down and given form and meaning.

If I were asked where I got my idea for my current novel, I might say it was the main character, Jude, who came first. Just popped into my head. Or was it a dream? Did I see him on a train, or walking down the street? Perhaps I based him on someone I know, or someone I’d like to know, or someone I’d never want to know. Or I could say that it was the thought of murders that looked like accidents, and that that idea came from a newspaper, or I looked at a bus and wondered what it would be like… well, you know. It could even have been a song I heard on the radio. Maybe I didn’t quite catch the lyrics and made up my own, and maybe they led me to my first line, which then set the tone for the rest of the book.

A head full of ideas
A head full of ideas…

Say anything. When asked that question, say what you like. Because who is to say what is right and what is wrong when answering, when telling the person who put the question what they want to know?

Equally, who can describe an idea? Not me. They aren’t there, are they? They aren’t real. Except that they are, utterly and incontrovertibly real. Without them we’d be nothing. And not just writers, but scientists, artists, doctors, teachers, lawyers, children, adults, anyone and everyone. Think about it… There, you’ve just had an idea. Just like that.

Now what are you going to do with it?

If you need help, advice, or writing services, please contact me.

New Novel To Be Released: Trip Trap

I have had many novels and short stories published since 2010 when I began writing. Each one has been exciting, and I’m proud of each of my publications.

But Trip Trap, my latest novel, is very important to me. I have taken the decision to self-publish all of my work from now on, and Trip Trap is the first.

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Over the next few months, I will be re-releasing all of my older published works, as well as publishing a new children’s novel, a murder mystery, and a family saga. In the meantime I am also writing a new horror novel for adults, and I am putting ideas together for a collection of children’s stories.

2017 is going to be exciting – I will be writing and publishing more fiction throughout the year. It’s something that I have let fall by the wayside a little as I’ve concentrated on my freelancing services, but I am going to be making more time to keep my fiction writing dreams alive.

I hope you like what I come up with. Here is the beginning of the book…

A quick kiss on the cheek for his wife, and William Spender stepped out of his house and into the early evening warmth. His front garden, bursting with late spring flowers, colourful, new and fresh, gave off the scent of lavender and life. He loved it. He could feel his heart swell because of it.

This was his favourite time of year, April turning to May, with its blossoms and lightening evenings. He took in the smell of cut grass from the meadow just below the horizon, and watched the farmer as he toiled back and forth on his tractor in the field beyond. William could hear the buzz of the engine as it worked.

Perfect.

Except for the heat. Too hot for spring, this was summer warmth, summer sun. It was getting too much, which is why William used the early evening time, before it was dark but after it was sweltering, to take Cliff for a walk.

“I won’t be too long,” said William, turning back, speaking as an afterthought when he realised the door hadn’t closed behind him. He tugged at the lead he held loosely in his hand, enticing the weary old dog attached to it to start creaking his way down the little path to the wooden gate that led out onto the quiet country lane. “An hour at the most.”

Martha smiled indulgently. She knew her husband. An hour would become two in a moment, would become three if the dog would allow it, although at fifteen the poor thing didn’t allow for much at all. “Take your time,” she said, raising her voice so that the man would hear her. He was already unlatching the little gate. It creak-squeaked as it always did, a comforting, familiar sound, two little pips. “Dinner won’t be ready for a while yet, and if you’re not back it’ll keep. Anyway, that dog needs some exercise.” She winked, saying no more. Not needing to. Not wanting to nag too much. Not now.

William shook his head, his cheeks firing red. “He’s not the only one, I know, I know,” he said, trying to sound good-natured, almost making it. He patted his belly where it folded over his belt and hung down over the top of his trousers. Nothing wrong with it. Nothing at all. And anyway, he was retired, enjoying life. Why not gain a little weight, a little warmth? He was fairly fond of his belly.

Martha tutted and shut the door, not keen to let any little creatures make their way inside. She had been bitten enough the night before with the window left open, and she was damned if that was going to happen again. Her ankle was swollen from whatever had had a go at her. She wished she’d never scratched it, sure she had made it worse. A nice soak in the bath would soothe it, and there would be time before William returned. A cool bath. Cold. The idea itself immediately relaxed her. She smiled and meant it, and then almost ran up the stairs, the call of the chill water becoming far too great to resist.

It was too hot to do anything else.

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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.

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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.

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Brad B

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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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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.

Beating Those Back To Work Blues

It doesn’t matter whether you hate your job with a passion, or whether you have the best career in the world, that feeling of going back to work after a little time off still fills us with dread. It’s back to reality. It’s back to the daily routine. No more home time, no more holiday, no more freedom. The grindstone is waiting, and your nose has to be put right back on it.

Ouch.

No wonder we all get a little sad about the prospect of heading back to the office.

But guess what? There are ways to combat this terrible feeling and get straight back into the swing of things without too much distress…

back to work blues

 

Why Are You Feeling Like This?

That’s an important question. Ask yourself why you are feeling so down about going back to work, and you might get a surprising answer, but one that will help you make some decisions, and help you feel happier about things too.

It could just be that you’ve enjoyed your time off and the idea of having to go back to the office (or wherever) and get your brain in gear doesn’t appeal. And that’s perfectly normal. But a few hours – or even minutes – into your first day, and for the majority of people that’s all forgotten and you’ll wonder what you were worried about in the first place.

For some, however, it’s a deeper problem than simply enjoying a bit of freedom. Could there be something about your job (perhaps even the job itself) that you dislike enough to make you not want to go back at all? If this is more than just a form of the Sunday evening fear, it’s time to take stock. If you’re not enjoying your job, you might consider moving on. If not immediately, then at some point, once you’ve done all the sums and weighed up the pros and cons of it all. There is no point in going to work for eight (ish) hours a day if it’s not something you like. There are many forms of deathbed regrets, and working too hard in the wrong place ranks right up there at the top.

You might even consider starting your own business.

If it is one aspect of the job that is making you miserable, why not speak to your boss? They might be able to help, and it could turn out that it wasn’t such an issue after all once it’s out in the open.

 

Have You Made A Work Plan?

If the feeling of dread doesn’t dissipate after a little while, if it’s there every morning and you’re coming home more downhearted every day, you know what you need to do. Finding a new job isn’t something that can necessarily happen overnight, especially when you’ve got commitments and a family to provide for. So make a plan. Give yourself a time frame to get it completed by (three months is a good one – just long enough to feel comfortable, but short enough that you have to get on straight away). Create targets to meet along the way such as applying for a certain number of jobs each week, or tidying up your CV by a specific date. You might even want to invest in some evening classes to top up your skills.

back to work blues

 

Me, Me, Me

If your job isn’t the problem and you’re happy doing what you do, where you do it, and the people with whom you work, then it could be a problem within yourself. If you’re not feeling 100 percent, book an appointment with your GP and chat to them about what ails you. It could be a physical problem (lack of sleep, a weight issue, general aches and pains), or it could be a psychological one (anxiety, stress, depression, for example). Either way, it’s good to discuss these matters and hopefully do something about them once and for all. As soon as you fix your body and mind, everything else will fall into place.

back to work blues

And for those who are simply feeling a little run down, you need to schedule some me time. Book a fancy spa day, go for a long walk on your own, read a good book, watch a terrible movie, it doesn’t matter as long as you can relax and zone out for a while. When you come back down to the real world you’ll hopefully be feeling a whole lot better for it.

How To Write A Cover Letter

When you apply for a job, no matter what it might be, you will often be asked to send not only your CV but a cover letter as well. Even if you aren’t asked for one, sending a cover letter is always a good idea; it certainly can’t hurt, and it might just make your application stand out above someone else’s.

The cover letter is all about giving the employer more information about you than your CV – no matter how interesting and varied it might be – can do. It’s an insight into who you are, rather than what you can do and how long you’ve been doing it. And when an employer has to read many CVs to fill just one role, giving them more information to show them that you can do what they need you to do is important.

Here are some tips on how to write a cover letter that will get noticed.

Make It Specific

Once you’ve written your cover letter, you can re-use it time and again when you apply for jobs, to a point. It’s important to not just copy and paste the exact same letter every time. Instead, you should change it for each job you apply for so that it is much more specific. Although this will take extra time, it is worth doing – it will show the employer that you have read the job description properly, and that you understand what the role requires. You may also want to include some details about why you want to work for the company you are applying for, and show that you know who they are.

cover letter lightbulb moment

As well as this, it will help you determine whether or not the job really is what you are looking for. Since you will have to read the advert for the job more closely, you will be able to make sure you are comfortable in applying for the position. If you aren’t, move on to the next job. If all checks out, then send your CV and cover letter to the employer.

Write A Great First Paragraph

Just as an employer is going to read a lot of CVs, they are also going to read a lot of cover letters (although not as many, as some people just don’t bother with them, which is always a mistake). So you need yours to stand out. The best way to do this is to make sure you have a great first paragraph.

Start with a strong statement right at the start that tells the potential employer that you are pleased to be able to apply for the job. Mention the role’s title, and the company’s name. Then go on to explain why you are applying; what is it about the job that excites you? What is it about the company that makes you want to work there? If you can, try to match your tone with that of the company (you can check the website for this – are they casual? Formal? Conversational?).

Why You?

One of the most important elements of the cover letter you’re writing is the part where you explain why you are the best candidate for the position. Although your skills should be listed out in your CV, adding them into your cover letter in a more specific way can really cement the idea that you are the person who should be hired in the employer’s mind. Go into a little more detail than your CV allows; this will give the employer a good idea of who you are and what you can do, but it will also help you to prepare for the interview when it comes. It will help you to remember past successes and will put them at the forefront of your mind.

cover letter hired handshake

Finishing Up Your Cover Letter

To finish the letter, you should summarise why you are the ideal candidate for the job, and try to write it in one sentence.

This is the ideal time to invite the employer to get in touch with you; show that you are confident in your abilities and your fit for the job without being arrogant or cocky.

Finally, think about how you are going to sign the letter. Something like ‘cheers’ could be seen as too informal. ‘Yours faithfully’ or ‘yours sincerely’ might be accurate but too formal. ‘Best’ or ‘best wishes’ may be something you would write to a loved one, rather than a potential employer. Although how you sign off might not seem important, it is the last impression you leave with your potential new employer, so it is worth taking time over.

Get In Touch

If you need a little help writing your cover letter, please get in touch – it’s one of the many writing services I provide.

Ghostwriting Services – I Can Help

Ghostwriting services… Did you know I’m a ghostwriter?

I’m currently writing two stories for different clients – one is a cosy mystery and the other is a paranormal adventure! They are both very happy with the way the plots and characters are turning out.

If you need anything written, whether it’s a novel, blog, article, or anything else, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

ghostwriting services

Why Do We Say That? Language And Its Origins

The origin of phrases can be absolutely fascinating. We use them on a daily basis, but not many of us ever stop to wonder why – why the words we say are part of our language, and what they really mean. Here are a few great examples of that – and their origins.

Don’t Throw The Baby Out With The Bath Water

Back in Victorian times, the practice for bathing was for the ‘man of the house’ to bathe first, then the wife, then the children in order of birth. Therefore, the baby would be last in the queue. By this time, so it is said, the water would be so dirty (people only tended to wash once a month) that it was entirely possible (apparently) to lose someone in it. Hence, when emptying the bathtub, the baby might be thrown out too!

 

Raining Cats & Dogs

When the majority of houses had thatched roofs, they were made by literally piling straw up – there was no wooden structure underneath. Now, due to straw being nice and warm, a lot of animals used to climb up and live in there, or at least sleep in there when it was chilly. But, when it rained the straw became slippery, and the larger animals (such as cats and dogs) would be washed right out. It would therefore be ‘raining cats and dogs’.

Bringing Home The Bacon/Chewing The Fat

If you were doing well in your profession, you might have been able to afford some bacon to go with your diet of (mainly) vegetables. If you could literally bring home the bacon, you would most likely hang it up to show it off hen guests came round. And because it was pretty expensive and a rarity to have it, it would be used sparingly. When friends came over for a chat, the fat would be cut off first, chopped into small pieces and handed out. You would ‘chew the fat’ with friends.

 

A Wake

Holding a wake for someone who has passed away has become something of a tradition, but it has a very practical origin. Whiskey and ale was served in pewter cups which contained lead, and this could have the effect of knocking someone out for two or more days. They might even be thought to be dead. But before arranging the burial, mourners would hold a wake – sitting around the ‘body’ with food and drink to keep watch in case the deceased woke up.

Dead Ringer/Saved By The Bell/Graveyard Shift

People were just not that great at knowing whether someone had actually died or were just pretty unwell. Premature burials were a definite thing. So rather than the trauma of worrying about burying someone alive, a bell would be attached to a piece of string, which would be attached in turn to the body. The bell would remain above ground, and, if the person in the coffin awoke, the bell would ring. They were known as ‘dead ringers’ who had been ‘saved by the bell’. And who would hear the bell ringing? It would be the person whose job it was to sit in the graveyard, on the graveyard shift, to listen out for it.

 

So there you have it; language is a fascinating thing. I wonder what phrases the people of the future will use that relate to us right now?

Due To Overwhelming Demand Neil Oliver Brings His UK Tour To Bromley This November

Due to overwhelming demand, Neil Oliver, archaeologist, historian, author and presenter of the TV series Coast, brings his hugely successful theatre tour The Story Of The British Isles in 100 Places to the Churchill Theatre in Bromley on Tue 19 November.   Neil who will be sharing his love of Great Britain and Ireland with audiences on this leg of the tour – first took to the stage in 2018 with a 38-date tour which coincided with the publication of his book of the same name.

credit: Grant Reed

Neil was appointed as President of the National Trust in Scotland in 2017 and is also known for his television series A History of Scotland and Vikings.   Whilst filming Coast Neil “fell in love all over again with the British Isles.  From north to south, east to west it cradles astonishing beauty.   The human story here is a million years old and counting.” Oliver comments.

Born in Renfrewshire in Scotland Neil Oliver studied Archaeology at the University of Glasgow and freelanced as an archaeologist before training as a journalist.  In 2002 he made his television debut with BBC Two’s Two Men in a Trench which featured Oliver and his close friend Tony Pollard visiting historic British battlefields. Since that time he has been a regular on our screens.

Discussing the tour Neil commented “Everything makes more sense when you study history. The more history you read, the less judgemental you become. All the things that are happening now have happened before. Countries reach a high point, and then they go through low points. That’s all explained by history. Like everyone else, politicians can have a better understanding of what’s happening by appreciating that there are patterns in history”.

The Story of the British Isles in 100 Places will give audiences the opportunity to share Oliver’s enthusiasm and unique perspective of British and Irish history.  In his amusing and entertaining way Neil Oliver will explain what it all means to him and why we need to cherish and celebrate our wonderful countries.

Neil Oliver: The Story of the British Isles in 100 Places

Churchill Theatre Bromley

Tue 19 November 2019

BOOK NOW

Churchill Theatre, High Street, Bromley, BR1 1HA

churchilltheatre.co.uk

Box Office: 020 3285 6000

tickets@churchilltheatre.co.uk