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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.

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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.

Short Story: 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.

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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.

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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.

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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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.

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What To Consider Before Running For Public Office

Many business people and particularly, perhaps, business leaders, feel that running for political office has something attractive about it. Once they have done all they can do in their work life, it can often be that moving into politics is something that interest them, so they start a campaign and begin a new life. For some this works out wonderfully, but for others it isn’t so great and they soon realize that being in politics is not as ‘fun’ or as ‘easy’ as it might have seemed at first. It takes a lot of thought before moving in this direction, so here are some of the things that will need to be considered first.

You Will Need To Ask For Money

No matter what branch of politics you are choosing to go into, whether you are creating presidential slogans or you would prefer to do something a little more local, you are going to need money to do it. Politics is a surprisingly expensive business, which is why you will most often see those who have already made it in their professional lives (or those who were born into a wealthy family) running for political office – it is simply out of the reach for most ‘everyday’ people.

In order to be able to finance your campaign in such a way that it gets noticed, you will need to ask for money, and lots of it. Political campaigns that falter part way through because the money ran out will not be remembered fondly, if they are remembered at all. A politician who cannot budget and who spends unwisely is not going to be a particularly popular choice when it comes to picking a candidate at the polls.

It can be hard to be constantly asking for money, but it is essential that it is done. If this is not something you feel comfortable doing, you may need to look at another way to help the public because in politics you will need to ask for money time and time again.

Speak To Your Family

Although running for political office is an individual endeavor in some ways, it also needs a strong team to run the behind the scenes parts of the campaign. Some of those team members will need to be your family; they have to be on board if you are running for political office because, like it or not, they will become part of the campaign and they will be thrust into the public eye.

Although as a business leader you may have been able to and wanted to keep your personal life private, as a politician that will no longer hold true. Your opponents will be looking into your past to see if there is anything untoward there, and the press will most likely be doing the same. The more popular you are, the better you are doing in your campaign, the more digging will be done about you.

This is why it is important to speak with your family first to ensure that they understand what is probably going to happen and what might be required of them. If they aren’t happy with the idea you may need to reconsider whether your political office plan is worth risking your family over.

Be Ready For Hostility

Politics can be an ugly place to be and there is often hostility on both sides. It won’t matter how nice you are or what your intentions are, someone will also be against what you are doing. When you are running for office you need to be ready for the attacks against you that will come. If you believe in what you are doing and you are an eloquent person then you need to speak out and be strong. Not only will this wrongfoot your opponent (whether a political one or someone on the street) but it will also show others how strong your intentions are – sometimes someone else’s hostility can be what drives you on and makes you more popular.

Remember, never return hostility with hostility as that will solve nothing. It’s far better to be civil in the face of someone’s ire and anger and maintain a dignified stance as this will better enable you to put your point across and make sense to those who are listening.

Find A Good Lawyer

Having a good lawyer in side will be a useful addition to your team and can stop you from making mistakes when it comes to what you are and aren’t permitted to do during a political campaign – the rules are strict, and if you fall foul of them you might have to remove yourself from the race. This would mean your entire campaign had been a waste of time and money (and other people’s money) so no one wants that to happen. 

Be Prepared To Lose

No one is going to win all the time and in politics, although it is wise to keep a winning attitude, you should also be prepared to lose. If you look at the numbers, you’ll see that the majority of people lose when it comes to politics because there are very few positions open in the first place. That means that a huge percentage or those campaigning will walk away with nothing after the ballot, despite the good feeling created and the money spent.

If you do lose, you should have a plan in place for what you will do next with your life. It will depend on whether you felt that politics was something you desperately had to do, or whether you might now try something else. There should always be a plan, however, so that you are not left feeling low with nothing to do. It is easy to become emotionally invested in your campaign (in fact, it is expected) but this can mean problems when it is all over; you might feel depressed and deflated. So having a backup plan should you lose that means you can get on with the next thing right away will solve these issues and help you to feel better.

 

9 Reasons Debating Is Good For Kids

Many schools offer kids the chance to be on the debating team but not all of them want to take this opportunity up. However, if possible, parents should encourage their children to try debating because it has many fantastic benefits that can help the kids now and in the future. Here are some of the most important reasons why debating is good for kids and why they should at least try it to see if it is for them.

Debaters Win Arguments

It’s a simple fact that those who are good at debating will always win an argument. They will never let anyone get the better of them when discussing something because they will know exactly how to word their points, and how to research their opinion in the first place. It means that as adults in the workplace, they will never have to worry about trying to find the right words to explain what they mean and why – this can help them immensely during presentations, pitches, and other negotiations.

Debaters Don’t Mind Crowds

When debaters first begin, they are only arguing their point in front of the judge and the other team, or even just one opponent. As the competition progresses, there will be more and more people in the crowd and in the final there could be many thousands depending on what level you are debating. Everyone will want to see how you do and will want to watch you closely. This can be intimidating at first, but over time the children involved get used to it. This will help them hugely in the future because it means they will be used to pressure and be able to work – even thrive – when under it. Nothing will faze them.

Debaters Are Good Travelers

Traveling is all par for the course when you’re a good debater, and those who make it to the national levels will become extremely well practiced at traveling through airports and on coaches – they might even take the car. Whichever mode of transport they choose, those kids will turn into adults who are great travelers. They will be able to go anywhere at any point without fuss or worry, and they will probably know how to travel pretty light too with just a few clothes, their notes, and their team baseball caps, flags, and badges.

Debaters Have Fantastic Communication Skills

Arguing your point is one thing, and it’s obvious that debaters can do that, or they wouldn’t be much good at debating. However, communicating and speaking clearly is something entirely different – yet great debaters are able to do this as well. Speaking clearly and concisely is an important skill to learn; it enables others to always understand what you mean, and it denotes a sense of authority, professionalism, and intelligence. Mumbling quickly and not being understood is not going to help anyway, and yet that is exactly how many people who have not had the chance to be a debater do speak. It’s refreshing to find someone who can communicate clearly and this will help your child stand out from the crowd.

Debaters Have Great Memories

When in a debate the rounds are pretty fast paced and there isn’t a lot of time to get your point across. Therefore, a debater has to be an excellent memory in order to be able to put their argument forward and include all the relevant facts and details. Some people naturally do have amazing memories but others require some ‘brain training’ to get there. That’s where debating can help because the more it is done, the better at remembering those facts the child who is debating will be. In the future this skill will help them in their work progression.

Debaters Take Notes

Taking notes is something that all high school and college students will need to be able to do well in order to get the most out of their classes and do well in their examinations. It is also important at work when in a meeting or in an important phone call. It makes life a lot easier when good notes can be taken and lessons can be learned. Debaters need to be good at taking notes, a skill acquired with practice, because if they can’t remember everything (as mentioned above) they will need to have the information written down quickly and efficiently.

Debaters Are Empathetic

Debaters are excellent at looking at arguments from both viewpoints. After all, each debate topics has a pro and a con side to it, and it is only the flip of a coin (or similar) which determines what side your child will be arguing on. So they need to be able to see both sides of each debate because they could be asked to argue either way. Being able to do this and be empathetic to other people’s opinions, ideas, and situations will be useful for a child when they become an adult and have to interact with other people. It makes them kinder, more humble human beings.

Debaters Are Speed Readers

Speed reading is an essential skill for a good debater. They need to be able to find out as much as possible about their given topic in a short amount of time, so it will help them hugely if they can read quickly and accurately. This skill will also help when they get to college whether they are debating or not – they will be able to absorb all the information they need to know and digest it well enough before an exam that they not only know the facts but understand them as well.

Debaters Are Great At Teamwork

Debaters have to work alone when it comes to making their argument, but they also have to work as a team in order to win their rounds. In a debate team, you could be working with the same people for a number of years, so it’s important to be able to strategize with each of them, working out what their strengths are and using those against their opponents. Again, this is a skill that will be a wonderful advantage for the workplace where working in a team will certainly be part of most jobs.

4 Ways To Lose Your Confidence (And How To Get It Back)

Confidence… No one can be confident at all times, no matter what. Even those who seem totally self-assured will have moments of self-doubt, and it can happen for a variety of different reasons. Taking a knock when it comes to your confidence can really be an issue; no one wants to feel bad about themselves, after all. However, there are ways to get over these problems and get back to being a happy, productive, self-possessed person sooner than you might think. Here are some ways you can help yourself.

Judgemental People

lose confidence when judged

People do have a tendency to be judgemental; you’ve probably done it yourself without meaning to (perhaps without even realising it). Unfortunately, these slip ups can cause others to feel bad about themselves, and if you are the subject of someone’s judgement, your confidence can be sorely tested. It doesn’t matter whether you know the person or whether they’re a stranger in the street, the outcome is the same; you’ll go from being a happy person going about your business to someone who is now wondering whether you should just head home and hide.

There are three things you can do if someone makes a comment that you think is judgemental. The first is to take them to task about it, letting them know that their words have made you feel bad (after all, they may have been talking in the abstract and didn’t know that what they were saying would affect you). Next you can walk away and remove yourself from the situation. Finally you can just ignore them. These last two ideas will require you to also remind yourself how great you are in the process, of course, and that can take some practice.

Not Being Praised

If you’ve ever done something great at work or on a personal level, something that you were truly proud of, yet no one noticed or, if they did, they didn’t mention it or deem it praiseworthy, your confidence can take a serious knock. The problem is that it’s not ‘normal’ to ask for that praise either, for fear of being seen as needy or high maintenance, so even if we feel that we desperately deserve some kind of acknowledgment for the hard work we put into something, we can’t demand it.

What can be done? The best thing to do is to speak to the person you feel should be noticing what you’re doing, whether that’s a boss, a partner, or perhaps a parent. Take them to one side and ask them why your efforts haven’t been noticed, or what they think you can do to improve. If you don’t like the answer then it could be time to move on; after all, this is your life and you need to live it the way you see fit. Having all your confidence taken away from you will stop you from achieving the success you deserve if you leave it too late.

Clothes Shopping

confidence when shopping

Shopping for clothes can be a lot of fun, but it can also be something that seriously damages our self-esteem. Body image is something that many people struggle with, and taking a trip to buy clothes can make things worse rather than better. Take the advertisements that use models who have been airbrushed and changed completely – even though we know this is the case, it can still make us feel bad about ourselves. Then there are the mannequins and even though we understand these are not real people, there is a still a niggling worry that we just don’t measure up. Not only that, but as we’ve mentioned above people are judgemental (even when they don’t mean to be) and the fear that someone will say something or look at us askance is real. Add that to the fact that clothing comes up in different sizes in different shops, and there is a real issue at hand.

These issues can be overcome, however. Firstly, choose a shopping buddy. Take someone with you that you know well and trust implicitly. This makes the whole experience much more fun (you can make a day of it and stop for lunch and coffee too) and you can be sure that you can trust their honest opinion when they tell you clothing does or doesn’t suit you.

You can also make a plan before you leave the house and make sure you avoid any shops that have odd sizes or don’t do the size you need (or the style of clothing, come to that). This means doing research, but it will be worth it, making your trip a much happier experience. If you’re really unsure then stick with the shops you know and like – you’re sure to find a great outfit there without the worry of a new place to explore and be uncertain about.

Being Undermined

Being constantly undermined be someone is demoralising and can really chip away at our self-confidence. If this is happening to you at all, you need to speak up. This is a form of bullying and unless something is said it will just continue. Is someone always stealing your ideas at work? Does no one listen to your opinion at home? Does your ‘best friend’ only ever talk about themselves and dismiss anything you might have to say as irrelevant? These things can easily become a regular pattern of behaviour, eroding our confidence over time and leaving us to expect that this is how it has to be.

This is not how it has to be, and it is not how it should be, so talk to them about it and let them know you’re not happy. They may be completely self-absorbed and not realise what they are doing. They may, of course, be totally sure of what they are doing and these are the toxic people you need to stay away from. When you talk to them, pick somewhere neutral where you both feel comfortable and try not to point a finger right from the start. Find out why they do what they do and you might be able to move on.

8 Reasons To Visit Spain On Holiday

Picking a spot to visit for your summer holiday is never an easy task, but it is an exciting one. Looking through travel brochures, weighing up the pros and cons of each country, working out the budget, then finally booking – it’s all part of the experience. To give you a head start when it comes to working out where you want to go this summer, we’ve put together some great reasons why Spain should be your ultimate destination. Here they are.

Festivals

Spain has many different festivals and fiestas that span the entire year. No matter where you go or when, you’ll find there is some festival or other being prepared for. Some are more serious, like the ones you’ll come across during Holy Week, and some are more frivolous and fun, like the many food festivals across the country. Each festival is full of color and life, and is certainly something for you to remember for many years to come.

The Location

Spain really is its own country. Although part of Europe, it is often considered a little bit of an outsider due to its location; geographically it is a little more isolated from the rest of the continent. That means that although there is a lot of European culture in Spain, there is more solely Spanish culture. This is completely different to anywhere else you’re going to have a chance to visit, and even if you’ve been to many other European destinations, Spain will be something new which is a great reason to go there.

The Food

Spain is famous across the world for its food and for good reason. Paella is perhaps the most famous single dish, but you’ll discover that it is prepared different in each region (sometimes in each town or city). The basic ingredients of rice, stock, shrimp and prawns, and mussels tend to remain the same, but plenty more besides can be added. It is entirely possible to travel around Spain subsisting on paella alone – it wouldn’t become boring because there are so many variations.

Tapas Spain

Tapas is another famous Spanish cuisine. Tapas is not one food but a type of food made up of lots of small dishes that you can pick and choose and share. It’s a fun way to eat and it means you can try many different Spanish delicacies in one sitting.

Let’s not forget the drink either. Spanish wine has made quite a name for itself, but it is sangria which is most well known. Sangria is made from red wine (usually Spanish rioja) with fruit and it is a refreshing, delicious adult beverage.

So Many Cities

Spain is one country but by visit some of the many different cities across it you might be forgiven for thinking it is many smaller countries bundled together. That’s because each region in Spain is entirely distinct from the next, meaning you can travel from one end of the country to another and experience a multitude of different things. If you find that you have seen enough of one place, you can easily hop on a train and head off to another. Remember not to get too carried away though, as travelling can sometimes become expensive. The key is to set a budget before you leave.

The People

Although it might sound like something of a generalization of cliché, the Spanish people really are incredibly friendly. You can be confident in trying out the Spanish language, for example, because the Spanish people will appreciate your efforts even if you get it wrong! By the end of your holiday your confidence and your Spanish will be much greater than they were before you left home.

No matter where you go, whether it’s the beach, a museum, a café or bar, you will find someone who will be happy to talk to you about their country and culture. You’ll discover so much more this way and your vacation will be a much more fulfilling one. Lying on the beach for two weeks is fine (in fact, it’s good for you as long as you wear the right sun block), but mixing that with learning about the country you’re staying in is even better.

Flamenco Dancing

Flamenco in Spain

When you think of Spain, the famous flamenco dancers might be the image that comes to mind. All across Spain you’ll be able to find flamenco shows and it is definitely something you should experience. The proud woman with her fan and hair up on her head and her beautiful dress dancing passionately across the stage is a sight to be seen. There is a kind of contagious energy that comes with flamenco and once you start watching you won’t be able to draw your eyes away. 

Family Friendly

If you are looking for a family-friendly holiday to take the children on so that they can also experience new cultures and places, Spain is a great choice. This is not a country where it is frowned on for children to stay up late; in fact, the locals will enjoy seeing your kids having fun and it will be a refreshing break for the parents to be able to relax and let the children run (relatively) free. With great, fresh food, plenty of space to play, and wonderful beaches as well as museums and adventure theme parks and the like, your children will love Spain as much as you do.

The Climate

Spain sunshine

Spain has the same kinds of seasons as the UK which means when you travel in the summer you’re sure to get some great weather when you arrive in Spain. That’s not to say it never rains, but for most of your holiday you should have great sunshine and hot weather. If you’re looking for somewhere hot to relax and enjoy, Spain can be the ideal choice. When it gets too warm you can head back to your hotel for a siesta like the locals do, ready to enjoy the slightly cooler temperatures when you wake up.

5 Tips For Being Productive When Working From Home

For many people, working from home is the ultimate dream. There’s no long, soul-sucking commute, you can be in a place you find most comfortable, and – if you’re really lucky – you can even choose your own hours (this is even easier if you’re self-employed). Yet in some cases working from home can make us a lot less productive than we might normally be if we went out each day to an office environment. Here are some great tips for making the most out of your home office and getting everything done.

Start Early

Because you don’t have to catch a certain train or head out the door at a specific time to miss the traffic, you can get up nice and early and make a good start on the day. If you begin work when you would normally start a commute to an office (or before that if possible) then you will have achieved something before most people even switch on their laptops. When you reach that point you can get up, stretch, have some breakfast, re-set, and start again.

When you begin with such a positive, achieving mindset, you will get so much more done. Plus you might even be able to finish early because you started before everyone else.

Imagine You Are Going To The Office

For some people, there is a big psychological difference between working from home and working from the office. The daily commute, although not perhaps the best part of the day, sets them up ready for the work they have to do. So too does wearing more formal attire and leaving the house. If this is the case for you, you can trick your mind into feeling as though you are heading to the office and it can make you more productive at home.

Firstly, set your alarm and get up as though you have to be in the office. Get dressed in office clothes, pack a bag with your lunch, make a flask of coffee, do whatever it is you need to do to get ready. Then leave the house. It doesn’t matter whether you need to drive around the block a couple of times or you go for a walk to the train station and back, if this puts your mind in the right place then go for it. When you get back to your house, you’re at work so all other distractions – housework, shopping, chatting to a neighbor – can’t happen. When the work day is over, go out again and when you come back you can relax into your evening at home.

Have A Dedicated Work Space

Although you might feel as though working from your bed, the couch, or even the kitchen table is a perk of working from home it might be making you less productive than you could be. You really need a dedicated office space that you can go into and shut the door behind you, cutting off as many distractions as possible. That way you don’t have to keep packing away your things and moving somewhere else because someone wants to watch TV or cook dinner.

Another bonus of having a dedicated work space is that you can leave it at the end of the day and not go back until the morning. One of the issues many people find when working from home is that they can’t stop working; it’s too tempting to check emails or spend 10 minutes here and there finishing off some task. They key point to remember is that if you worked at an office you wouldn’t be able (or, perhaps more importantly, expected) to do these things, so you shouldn’t do them just because you work from home.

Stay Off Social Media

Social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter can be fun but they can also be hugely distracting. Many offices have a policy that doesn’t allow them to be used during working hours and in those office productivity is increased. At home, there are no hard and fast rules about it, so make one for yourself. Don’t look at social media during working hours; whatever is there can wait until you finish work for the day, or take a break (although beware: if you use social media on your break you might lose track of time and get behind on your tasks).

Many people are addicted to social media and can find that they unconsciously type in the URL whenever they’re online. If this is the case you may need to block those sites from your work computer (unblock them when work has finished if you use the same computer for personal browsing too) and remove the apps from your smartphone.

Make A Plan

The best way to be as productive as possible is to make a plan. Planning your next day’s work should be the very last task you do the day before. That way, you’re already pumped for whatever it is you need to do the next day, plus you can get straight to it without wasting working time wondering what you should begin with. Try to do the hardest tasks first to get them out of the way and then move onto the easier ones as the day goes on.

How To Be A Better Lover

When sex is enjoyed by both partners it can be fulfilling and satisfying. The problem is that many people are so worried about ensuring that they are doing well in bed that they forget to enjoy themselves, or they forget to make sure their partner is having a good time. However, there are some easy ways to become a better lover and none of them require having to learn (many) new positions or get into costume (unless that works for you).

Smell Good

Although our natural pheromones are what attracts people to one another, that doesn’t mean you can allow your body odor to become overpowering. Someone who is clean and tidy, who showers regularly, and who uses deodorant is always going to be a better idea than hopping straight into bed after a long day at work. That isn’t going to make your partner want to get close to you.

Communicate

Talking to your lover is more powerful than you might think. It may be embarrassing to start with, but talking about sex, finding out what your lover wants from you, and letting them know what you like in bed will go a long way to ensuring that your lovemaking is not just good but great.

No Pressure

If your partner feels pressured to sleep with you, they aren’t going to enjoy themselves very much. Even if they do want to make love, pressuring them into trying a position they aren’t keen on, for example, is going to kill the mood significantly. So make sure that you are doing things that you both want to do. When you do want to try something new talk about it first to gauge their reaction.

Keep Fit

Although looks and physique aren’t what’s important in a relationship and lover, keeping as fit and healthy as possible means that sex will be a lot better. Your endurance will be increased, you won’t get so out of breath, and you’ll be more flexible too. Eating the right foods and exercising regularly are both great ways to start this keep fit routine off correctly, as is reducing the amount of alcohol you drink and completely quitting smoking.

Get The Basics Right

Good sex really doesn’t have to be complicated. Get the basics right and make sure you can find the right erogenous zones in simple positions before you try to switch things up. If this means having to do some research then go for it – plenty of magazines and website will give you the details on how to make sure you’ve got it all exactly right.

Make Time

Feeling like an afterthought or as part of a routine is not sexy. Although it’s a good idea to plan sex, try to make it seem spontaneous if you can. That way you get the best of both worlds as a lover; you know you’ve got enough time because you’ve planned in advance, but you can still enjoy the thrill of the spur of the moment.

7 Ways Owning A Pet Can Be Good For Your Health

There are many reasons why owning a pet is a good idea, and one of those reasons is that they can be good for your health. Studies have shown that there is a definite correlation between having a pet in your home and feeling fitter and healthier. It’s good for you on an emotional level too and can even improve your immunity. Here are some of the ways that owning a pet can be good for your health.

Less Stressed

Being able to be with a beloved pet can reduce our stress to a more manageable level. This is because, when looking after or playing with a pet, we are fully in the moment, feeling utterly present in our lives and not thinking about anything other than what we’re doing right now. Therefore, those stressful moments that might have been worrying us won’t be in our minds. When we do come back to the ‘real world’ after being with our pets, we’ll be feeling calmer and happier, so those situations that were causing us concern won’t seem so insurmountable anymore.

Stress can be the cause of many other illnesses, so having less of it in our lives is a good thing.

Lower Blood Pressure

Having a pet has the potential to lower our blood pressure, which is hugely beneficial to health. This links to the point above about decreasing stress, as when you are stressed you have higher blood pressure. This can cause many problems including strokes, heart disease, heart attacks, and even type 2 diabetes. Remember, however, that if you have seriously high blood pressure over a prolonged period of time, it could be a good idea to see your doctor as pets alone might not be enough to keep you healthy; you may also need medication.

Less Pain

If you suffer from chronic pain such as that experienced with arthritis or migraines, for example, a pet could help you feel it less. When you are in pain, you feel more anxious. Unfortunately, that anxiety actually makes pain feel even worse, and then you feel more anxious. This can go on and on until you make yourself feel incredibly unwell.

With a pet to take care of, you’ll feel less anxious, and that means that the pain you are feeling will be lessened too. A dog, cat, or other kind of pet won’t cure you, and it won’t take away the pain entirely, but it should help a little.

You’ll Feel Happier

Owning a pet will make you feel happier in general, which has a hugely positive effect on your mental and emotional well-being. Having a pet means that you will always come home to someone who loves you unconditionally, and this alone can boost happiness levels. When you are feeling happy in one aspect of life, you’ll most likely feel happier in other aspects too.

Clinical depression, of course, is another matter entirely, and although pets can help in some respects, this is another time when an expert is essential in order to get to the root of the problem. If you experience any mental health issues, or try to stop any form of self-medication and start to feel signs of alcohol withdrawal, we recommend booking an appointment with someone who can help. You’ll get treatment and your pet will thank you for it because you will be able to take care of them properly once again.

You’ll Socialize More

Owning a pet will give you many more chances to socialize with people, and since studies have shown that spending time with people you like is good for you, and can increase your health and happiness, it’s a good thing. A dog is the best pet for socializing as you need to walk them at least once a day and this means going out and seeing people. You might bump into the same people walking their dogs each day and strike up a conversation. Even a simple hello is better than nothing.

Other pets can also enable you to socialize. You might join local groups, for example, or go to workshops that teach you how to care for a certain type of animal and meet people that way. You could add yourself to an online group or forum and find people to chat to there. Or it could simply be a matter of having something in common with someone you’ve met for the first time.

Can Improve Immunity

It may seem like the logical thing to say that if someone is allergic to animal fur, they shouldn’t have a pet. However, studies have shown that actively being around these animals can improve immunity towards them, particularly for children. This can mean that allergies become less severe or even disappear altogether. Studies are still ongoing as to whether this can help an adult who suffers from pet allergies, however.

Another benefit of owning a pet is that your immune system can be improved in general, and not only in relation to pet allergies. That means you’ll be less likely to catch colds and other illnesses so you’ll feel more healthy all year round.

Helps With ADHD

If a child has ADHD it is difficult for them to express themselves properly. An animal can help them to focus and give them something to talk to when they need help. Simply being able to tell their problems to a pet can make a big difference in the lives of children suffering from ADHD and similar conditions, and it is especially helpful if they are unable or unwilling to communicate with their parents.

Pets offer a predictable, safe routine which can be ideal for ensuring that these children feel more at ease and confident. The simple act of holding an animal, of stroking and petting them, can be a soothing sensory experience. If you’re unable to have a pet due to work commitments or other reasons, then a visit to an animal shelter can also be of help to a child suffering from one of these conditions.

How To Choose The Perfect Restaurant For Dinner

How To Choose The Perfect Restaurant For Dinner

We’ve all been in that terrible position of picking what looks like a great restaurant only to find that the food is tasteless, the service is slow, and the prices are far higher than they should be. It can make us worry about picking another restaurant for dinner, or, perhaps more importantly, for a special occasion.

You shouldn’t worry too much, though. There are some useful tips on how to choose the perfect restaurant and if you put them to good use you shouldn’t ever have another problem with one of your picks.

Where Do The Locals Eat?

This tip is perhaps most useful when you are in a foreign country, or even somewhere other than your hometown, but it is a good one to think about nonetheless. Ask a local where the best restaurant is and make sure to find out why they think it’s good; everyone’s opinion is subjective, and what they like about somewhere (loud music and pizza) might not be what you like (quiet jazz and steaks). It’s best to ask someone who isn’t going to be earning any commission from their recommendation either; otherwise you won’t find an entirely unbiased response.

If there is no one to ask you should walk or drive around and see which restaurants have the local people in them. Those are the ones to try out.

Avoid The Tourists

No matter where you are, there will be some restaurants that cater specifically for tourists. That’s a definite no if you’re a local, but even if you do happen to be a visitor these places should probably be avoided. They tend to have a more limited menu (which won’t necessarily be authentic if the restaurant serves foreign cuisine) but the prices are much higher than elsewhere. They might also have a theme or be gimmicky. They will be fun, but for good food at good prices you’re better off looking elsewhere.

Read Reviews

Thanks to the internet it’s now possible to read restaurant reviews on the go. If you want to know what a certain place is like before you step inside, check it out online. You’ll have a whole range of opinions because, as mentioned above, what people enjoy is subjective, but by reading them you should be able to decipher what the restaurant is really like and whether you think you would like it in there.

If you have no idea where to even start, that’s not a problem either. You can search for ‘the best steakhouse in New York’, for example, and find the information you need that will help you make a decision.

Look At The Menu

Before you make a decision whether to eat in a restaurant or not, take a look at the menu. You can usually do this online, but if not you might find the details in the restaurant window. If it is nowhere to be seen you might be best moving onto the next place on your list, unless you want to go inside and ask to see it before making your decision. This can be difficult, though, as you may feel obligated to stay even if you don’t like the look of the food being served!

When you are looking at the menu you are looking for a few different things. One is whether there is enough choice for you and whether you would eat what is served. The next is the price; does it seem reasonable? Too expensive? Too cheap? What about the drinks? If you are taking your whole family out for dinner does the restaurant cater to children with a special kids’ menu, or will they need to choose their meal from the main menu? Are there dishes that you’ve never heard of before? If so, this could mean that it is an authentic place to eat because they have real dishes from the country the cuisine comes from rather than those that have been changed to meet the local palettes.

All of these things need to be taken into consideration before you step through the door and ask to be seated.

Watch For A While

Stand at the window (assuming there is one) and watch the goings-on inside the restaurant for a while. Don’t put anyone off their food by staring, of course, but just take note of how the food is being served; do the waiting staff seem rushed or unhappy? Are they pleased to be doing their job and making customers feel at ease? Does the food look appetizing? This is perhaps particularly important. If people are really tucking into their meals with a smile on their faces that’s great; if they’re moving food around their plates and not really enjoying what they’re eating you should absolutely turn away.

If you spot staff idling around, looking bored, making everything seem like an effort when it comes to actually doing their jobs, that’s not a good sign. If you spot staff that look grubby and messy, that’s not a good sign either. What you want to see are clean, tidy, happy people who are making their customers’ meals a thing to remember (in a good way).

Employ Your Sense Of Smell

A really good thing to take note of is how the restaurant smells. Can you detect delicious aromas coming from the kitchen? Great! That means the food is cooked freshly to order (plus a delicious smell usually dictates a delicious taste).

Trust Your Gut

Gut instinct is something that all humans have, even if we do try to repress it at times. In situations when you’re trying to make the right decision, allowing your immediate gut response to help you is a good thing. If there is something about a place that, even though the menu looks appetizing, the staff are happy, and the prices are reasonable, tells you not to eat there, you’re probably right. The same is true if you like the look of a place even though it doesn’t quite match up to all the requirements you have set for a perfect meal.

10 Amazing Benefits To Losing Weight

Losing weight is excellent for your overall health; it reduces the risks of developing certain diseases such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease, for example. However, losing weight has many additional benefits that you may not think of straight away but that are just as important as improving your health. It’s incredible to think that weight loss can have such an effect on your body and mind but it’s absolutely true, and if you’re struggling to find the motivation to shed those unwanted pounds, this list may give you the perfect reason to do it.

More Energy

When people first start to lose weight they will notice a huge boost in their energy levels. That’s because, when you are not as heavy, you don’t have to use all your energy up just to move around. You’ll have excess energy so you can do more. Plus your oxygen efficiency will improve so you won’t be out of breath when you climb the stairs or run for a bus.

Better Memory

Studies have shown that after losing weight the brain is more easily able to store memories. The brain actually showed more activity. Although research is still ongoing as to exactly why this would be, it could be linked to the point above regarding more energy. If the brain has more energy available to it, it can do more – including storing more memories and recalling them more easily.

Less Risk Of Cancer

There are many things in this life that can increase your chances of developing cancer including smoking, too much exposure to the sun’s rays, and radiation. Obesity is another cause for some types of cancer (such as breast, bowel, pancreatic, and liver), so losing weight will reduce your risk immediately. Losing just five percent of your body weight should have a positive effect on your health levels.

Working Out Is Easier

Doing exercise is necessary for losing weight; when you burn more calories than you are taking in, the weight disappears. However, when you are overweight exercise is a chore. It’s hard to do because the body has less energy and less mobility, and it is often de-motivating to go to a gym or a workout class and see other people who are slim and fit. As the weight comes off, however, exercise becomes easier – it even becomes fun. That means we’re more likely to go out and do it, so weight is lost more quickly.

You May Get A Raise

In a 2004 study published by Health Economics, it was shown that an obese person’s pay cheque came in at around 2.5 percent lower than a ‘normal’ sized person’s. There may be an unconscious (or even conscious in some cases) bias from bosses towards people who are overweight, with stereotypical ideas of laziness coming to the fore, and therefore they may be paid less. Losing weight in these cases could get you that raise you’ve been wanting.

You’ll Sleep Better

When you are overweight it can be difficult to sleep. Getting comfortable in bed is the first obstacle and then, when you are finally asleep, breathing can be an issue. If you don’t get enough good quality sleep you can become ill, developing conditions such as heart disease, increasing your risk of heart attack, and being more prone to developing depression. Losing weight will make getting to sleep (and staying deeply asleep) much easier, which in turn has amazing benefits for your overall health.

Fewer Aches And Pains

Being overweight takes a terrible toll on your joints, muscles, and bones. They are doing a lot more work if they need to carry more weight around, and this can mean that you are more susceptible to aches and pains, and even debilitating injuries. Losing weight will ease the pressure on your joints and bones, making them a lot less painful and resulting in fewer injuries. If your back pain doesn’t get any better after losing weight, or if it is causing you major distress it is best to get advice from an expert.

More Fertile

If can be difficult to become pregnant when you are overweight, so slimming down can certainly improve your fertility. Not only that, but if you are slimmer during your pregnancy you will be healthier throughout, and so will your baby. A mother’s weight during pregnancy has been linked to the health of her child, so it is in both of your interests for you to lose the excess weight. However, dieting in pregnancy is not recommended, so it is best to lose the weight before you become pregnant.

Better Eyesight

For many people, losing weight can actually protect their vision. Obesity-related conditions such as type 2 diabetes can cause blindness, or at least reduced eyesight, so it is far better to lose weight before this becomes a problem.

Seasonal Allergies May Disappear

If you develop seasonal allergies that make your spring and summer something of a misery because you are always sneezing and rubbing your itchy eyes, losing weight might help you. When you are overweight your adrenal glands and respiratory system can be strained making allergy symptoms much harsher. Losing weight will reduce that strain, and you may be able to combat pollen and grass seeds much more easily.

10 Reasons To Try A Vegan Diet

A lot of people are choosing to eat a much more vegetable based diet and for many the next logical step is to incorporate a vegan diet into their lives as well – or even instead of the vegetarian or omnivorous one. Diet is hugely important in our lives and getting it wrong can result in a variety of life-limiting diseases and conditions. Get it right, however, and you can live a long and happy life. Veganism makes it much easier to get that diet right, which could be why so many people are enjoying it. There are many reasons to try a vegan diet; here are some of them to think about.

Prevents Some Conditions

Heart disease and type 2 diabetes are most often the results of bad choices in our diets and they are the most common chronic diseases in the world. When you realize that these illnesses are not something that anyone necessarily has to suffer from if they just changed their eating habits you’ll see how vital a vegan diet can be. It can even reverse some cases of cardiovascular disease if the changes are made properly.

Reverses Some Conditions

Just like cardiovascular disease mentioned above, a vegan diet can have a hand in reversing all manner of other nasty diseases. Studies have shown that vegans have lower cancer rates, fewer strokes, less chance of type 2 diabetes, lower cholesterol and blood pressure, and even fewer reported cases of Alzheimer’s disease. A plant-based diet can help a lot more than any kind of medication or surgery, so it really can’t hurt to at least try it for a while to see if any improvements are made.

Lose Weight And Keep It Off

Vegans tend to have a health body mass index (BMI) which means that their weight is perfectly in relation to their height and body shape. For those who eat meat, it’s much harder to maintain this kind of BMI without a large amount of exercise. This is because animal products are much higher in fat and have more calories than any vegan product. These things are converted into fat in the body, which is then difficult to remove. Vegan food, however, has more carbohydrates which are converted into energy instead of fat. That’s why vegans are able to lose weight and keep that weight off easily.

It’s Kind

This may not be the kind of argument that works for the majority of meat eaters; they like to eat meat and will continue to do it. However, for some it is reason enough to try vegan food. Showing kindness and compassion to animals is something that many vegans feel passionate about, particularly because animals are innocent sentient beings and killing them just to eat them doesn’t seem very fair at all.

Good For World Hunger

There is a huge demand for food all over the world and a lot of this is fueled by the need for animal products; although there is a lot of meat around, when it is produced in emerging and third world countries the majority of it is sent to first world countries, leaving those in the country of origin to be hungry. Not only that, but over 70 percent of the grain grown in America is used to feed livestock, even though that grain is enough to feed 800 million people. If more people were vegan, there would be more food available for everyone and world hunger would be severely reduced, if not eradicated altogether.

Vegan Food Is Cleaner

Vegan food has a lot fewer instances of bacteria, hormones, antibiotics, and other toxins found in it whereas meat and dairy products do have a lot of these within them and they can cause health issues in people. This includes food poisoning which affects 75 million people each year; and it can be fatal. Vegan food can be eaten without these issues and those who enjoy this kind of diet won’t have to worry about falling ill because of it.

Good For The Environment

Somewhere between 18 and 50 percent of manmade pollution comes through factory farming for the meat industry. The more people who cut meat out of their diet, the less need there will be for this kind of industry and the better that will be for the environment.

Fantastic New Flavours

Did you know that there are more than 20,000 kinds of edible plants in the world? Although not all of them have been ‘domesticated’, there are roughly 200 different types that are farmed in the Western world today (and you’ll discover even more if you go traveling). This means that there are always new and exciting flavours and recipes to try; if you love cooking then cooking vegan recipes is something that will keep you happy for a long time to come. You’ll certainly never get bored!

Better Concentration

If you need to study for an exam, or generally be more productive at work, changing to a vegan diet can really help you. People who eat vegan food are much more focused with better concentration. Whether you want to be able to complete an escape the room game, work out a tricky crossword puzzle, or bring in a huge contract for your company, you’ll need to be able to concentrate so ditch the meat (at least for a while) and see the difference it will make.

Get Fit

Although you may think that switching from a meat-based diet to a vegan one will leave you sluggish and without energy it’s the opposite that is true. It can actually boost your energy levels and help you reach your fitness goal much more quickly. This is because you’ll be enjoying a lot more healthy protein in your diet. Not only that, but with a vegan diet almost all of the food is able to be used within the body in some way. In an animal-based diet much of the food is removed as waste, and really not required at all.