Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Wordy Wednesday with Marion Grace Woolley

This week I am thrilled to introduce Marion Grace Woolley, I have only just discovered her writing and have been given a copy of her most recent book as an audio book. It's simply blissful! So I'm really excited to read her replies to my interview questions, and learn a little more about her.

PictureMarion Grace Woolley is the author of three previous novels and a collection of short stories. In 2009, she was shortlisted for the Luke Bitmead Bursary for New Writers. She balances her creative impulses with a career in International Development; she has worked and travelled across Africa, Australia, Armenia, and a few other places beginning with 'A'. She is an associate member of the Society of Authors, and is currently at work on her fifth novel.

And so, to the questions:

What 3 things (not including paper, computer, pens) would you like to facilitate a good day’s writing?

1) Isolation. I find it incredibly difficult to write when there’s anyone else in the house. I need to be free to wander around in my PJs, talking to myself in funny voices, or simply to sit there and let my mind wander without anyone interrupting.

2) Internet Connection. I fully accept that this is a double-edged sword. If you have internet, you also have social media, and I think we can all agree that’s usually the death knell to a good day’s writing. On the other hand, you also have Wikipedia, YouTube tutorials, Google’s ‘define’ function, Etymology Online and a half-hundred other fabulous websites that lend rich authenticity to your work.

3) Movies, books and music – I know, that’s three things, so let’s just call it ‘Art’. Sometimes the magic just doesn’t flow. Often, it’s to do with emotion. To write emotion convincingly, it helps to feel it. It’s hard to write about love when you’ve just spent half-an-hour on hold to customer (dis)services, or to reduce your readers to tears when your head is still down the pub with your best mate the night before, making fart jokes and eating Monstermunch.

When you’re not in the mood, you need to get in the mood. Sometimes all it takes is a song, or a scene from a good film.

Is writing your main source of income, I read lots of articles saying writers make no
money, and my readers asked this question a lot! Can you survive on book writing alone?
if not, what else do you do?

I read a recent article saying one in ten writers make a full-time living from it. Considering how many writers there are on social media, I actually thought that was pretty good odds.

No, writing isn’t my main source of income. I’m an international development consultant.

Earlier in the year I also took over the country directorship for a human rights organisation in Rwanda, which is my second home. I first came here in 2007 as a volunteer sign language researcher with VSO, to develop Rwanda’s first dictionary of sign language.

I’ve been very lucky. I’ve had the opportunity to travel quite a bit. It’s a slightly crazy life, but always eventful. I doubt many people can say they spent Christmas in Sierra Leone for a rest.

Even so, I work to buy the time to write. I’m just lucky that the type of work I do affords plenty of material.

What are your favourite biscuits?

Without hesitation: Bakers Romany Creams.

Chunky, chocolatey, coconutty goodness.

Where do you do most of your writing?

At the moment, on the couch. There’s an arse-shaped imprint when I go to get coffee.

Do you use social media (facebook, twitter, instagram etc) to engage with your audience, do you think it helps sales and do you find it fun or a chore?

I do enjoy social media, I must admit. Though I’m still sore that Twitter took away its Discover button. My Twitter feed is clogged with ‘Buy me!’ book ads. The Discover channel was my only escape, where I’d do most of my retweeting.

I’m an avid blogger. As a kid, I always wanted to keep a diary, but my handwriting is shocking. Completely illegible. The moment they invented diaries you could type, there was no stopping me. I have several of them.

I also inherited a writing page on Facebook a couple of years back and it now has around sixty thousand likes. I put together a team of volunteers to help me run it. Although I try not to use social media for continuous self-promotion, I must admit to posting one or two links to my stuff on there. Sixty thousand – who wouldn’t?

As to whether it helps sales, I really don’t know. You’d probably be better asking my publishers. I just know that I enjoy it. I’ve certainly found a couple of new authors I like via conversations online, so it’s not beyond the realms of possibility someone has found me.

Do you own an e-reader? and do you prefer to read digital or paper copy?
My Kindle is my best friend. A whole library in my pocket! I’m still amazed by that.

But let’s get this straight – that doesn’t mean that I love paperbacks any less.

I’ve never understood this either-or schism. It isn’t the paper or the electrons that we’re in love with – it’s the story, the characters. Anything that gets people reading has got to be a good thing, right?

Yes, I have a Kindle. Yes, I have a bookshelf. No, I wouldn’t part with either.

In some cases, e-readers are revolutionary.

Let me give you an example. In my secret life as a development consultant, I recently worked with an incredible organisation in Rwanda called Isaro Foundation. Their main aim is to encourage a literary culture, and to get people reading and writing for pleasure.

They recently set up the country’s first ever e-library. They managed to get forty Kindles donated to a school, and a PC full of donated and free-to-download books. They trained teachers how to use the Kindles, and within a few months they recorded a 70% increase in young people reading for pleasure. It was a combination of traditional books being very expensive to obtain, and the fact the kids just loved playing with the technology.

How could anyone turn up their nose and say e-readers are inferior?

Do you dream in colour?

Multi-colour surround sound. I have been so fascinated with dreams in the past that the first novel I ever wrote was called Lucid. It’s published by Netherworld Books. They marketed it as horror, but it’s more about the link between dreaming and shamanism, the dream juices in our heads and those found in the world around us: in plants, in foods and entheogenic drugs.

Many of the dreams the characters have in that book were drawn from my own.

If reading and writing were banned, what would you do instead?

Very little, I suspect.

I’d probably be a lot more ignorant, and a lot less empathetic.

Though I suppose it would depend on whether our oral storytelling culture had flourished in the absence of a written one. If so, then perhaps not all would be lost. Though being told a story, and being allowed to read it, is always a little different. In the first instance, the story belongs to the storyteller. In the second, it belongs to you.

It’s more likely I would have accidentally topped myself, there being no labels in the medicine cabinet.

What is your ideal holiday?

Funny you should ask that. Right now I am longing to head back to Blighty. I’ve been away from the UK for a year now, eight months of which I didn’t have a hot shower. I’ve been on a road trip through Laos which filled me with excitement, I’ve been to refugee camps in Congo which filled me with rage, and I’ve been to an elephant orphanage in Kenya that was so cute I was filled with fuzziness.

Now, I want to go home, see my family, take a hot bath and enjoy a nice, flat pint of beer.

Right now, I can think of no holiday finer.

Huge thanks to Marion for her thoughtful and interesting answers! Her latest book, Those Rosy Hours at Mazandaran is available now.

A young woman confronts her own dark desires, and finds her match in a masked conjurer turned assassin.

Inspired by Gaston Leroux's The Phantom of the Opera, Marion Grace Woolley takes us on forbidden adventures through a time that has been written out of history books.

"...beneath the mists of time. I was the first, you see. The very first daughter. There would be many like me to come. Svelte little figures, each with saffron skin and wide, dark eyes. Every one possessing a voice like honey, able to twist the santur strings of our father’s heart."

It begins with a rumour, an exciting whisper. Anything to break the tedium of the harem for the Shah’s eldest daughter. People speak of a man with a face so vile it would make a hangman faint, but a voice as sweet as an angel’s kiss. A master of illusion and stealth. A masked performer, known only as Vachon.

For once, the truth will outshine the tales.
On her birthday, the Shah gifts his eldest daughter Afsar a circus. With it comes a man who will change everything.
Note: Mature subject matter

Wordy Wednesday

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Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Safe and clean - a review of Aquaint water based sanitiser

A little gem has appeared and become an instant favourite on my 'things to take when I go out' list.

Small and easy to fit in my bag a bottle of Aquaint has replaced a previously carried bottle of alcohol based hand gel.

Aquaint's claims made me initially think it must be too good to be true! Kills 99.9% of all sorts of horrors, can be used on babies and children (from birth!), isn't dangerous if ingested, can be used to clean 'things' as well as hands, dummies, rattles, (so if anyone throws their toys out of the pram they can go right back in after a quick spray and wipe) plates (perfect when camping as I often leave things to dry in the sun where flies no doubt have a wander!) and even fruit!

So could it really be true? Water based, non toxic safe and yet kills bacteria, fungus, viruses...

Well it turns out yes it can! I had a look through various scientific papers that have looked into using hypochlorous acid as a disinfectant and the results were all positive. It's a naturally occurring acid and not toxic, your own body makes it anyway, and after testing it for a few days I'm hooked! No dry skin as it's water based, no strong smell (great just before you eat a sandwich!) I will be stocking up with a few bottles in preparation for festival season.

I can't imagine why I hadn't heard of this product before.

Disclosure - I was sent a couple of bottles of Aquaint for the purposes of the review - but I'm genuinely happy to recommend this product.

Aquaint is a 100 per cent natural, eco-friendly water-based sanitiser that kills 99.9 percent of bacteria in seconds. Water provides the base for the product to be highly effective as a cleanser and its only other ingredient, Hypochlorous Acid, provides its anti-bacterial properties. Hypochlorous Acid is a harmless, natural acid produced by the human body to kill bacteria.
Aquaint has passed official UK Drinking Water tests and is endorsed by Allergy UK as an ‘Allergy Friendly Product’. It is the safest sanitiser on the market and ideal for the most sensitive and delicate skin from birth. Its lack of chemicals, fragrances and preservatives mean it is completely harmless, even if digested. It can even be used as a mouthwash.

Product Overview

  • Suitable for use on the skin, surfaces and even on food
  • Safe to use from birth
  • Suitable for sensitive skin and endorsed as an ‘Allergy Friendly Product’
  • Kills 99.9% of bacteria in seconds
  • Multiple uses at home, out and about and while travelling
  • Does not dry out or irritate the skin, even after repeated use
  • Does not need to be rinsed off
  • Gentle, powerful and extremely safe
  • Harmless if swallowed
  • Safe to be handled unsupervised by infants
  • Eco friendly
  • Safe as drinking water!

It is available in a 500ml trigger spray bottle (£4.99) for use around the house on kitchen worktops, dining tables or in the car and can even by sprayed onto food. The handy 50ml mini spray bottle (£2.49) is ideal for carrying in your handbag, keeping on your desk or taking on days out, camping trips and festivals as a quick and easy way to cleanse hands or skin.
It can be used to freshen-up and deodorise the body naturally, used as a mouthwash or mouth freshener and sprayed directly on to the skin or surfaces without the need to rinse off as it does not leave behind any residues or toxic chemicals. Aquaint is perfect if you’re worried about exposure to harsh chemicals as it does not contain any alcohol, Parabens, Pthalates etc.

Aquaint is stocked in Boots, Babies R Us, Ocado, Vital Baby, JoJo Maman Bebe, NCT Shop and Amazon and is available to purchase on the website at

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Banana cake recipe

Yesterday evening I made a banana cake. I live tweeted it because I am silly like that - but I also thought I'd blog it because I've made this recipe twice now (on recommendation form @parsnip45 on twitter) and it's really nice. And the second time I needed the recipe I'd lost the link!

The recipe is so nice that my husband is sneakily buying bananas and hiding them until they are over ripe and then declaring "Oh you'd better make a banana cake with these, shame to waste them"

Reasons we like the cake are; it's easy to make, it uses up over ripe bananas (and we all know how they suddenly go brown when no one is looking), it has no nuts in (though you could probably add walnuts if you like them, I do but DH doesn't) and no raisins either. It's just banana cake.

I use a recipe form The BBC site but I slightly alter it, I miss out the salt and add up to 2oz less sugar than the recipe calls for. I don't like a really sweet cake and even with the less sugar it tastes nice.

So here is the step by step guide.

  • 285g/10oz flour (I use self raising, but plain works)
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda (less if using self raising flour)
  • 110g/4oz butter
  • 170g/6oz caster sugar (this is less than the BBC version, but I prefer it)
  • 2 eggs
  • 4 ripe bananas, mashed
  • 85ml/3fl oz buttermilk (or normal milk mixed with 1½ tsp lemon juice or vinegar) - I just add some lemon juice to semi-skimmed milk and it thickens it ok
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

You need, weighing scales, 3 large-ish mixing bowls, a wooden spoon, a fork, a sieve, a loaf tin (5inches by 8inches) and an oven!

old fashioned scales and imperial weights
First I sieve the flour and the bicarb in a large bowl.
flour and imperial weights

Then cream the butter and sugar in another bowl.
creaming butter and caster sugar

Mash the bananas in your third bowl using a fork. (this is a perfect job for kids if they are helping)
mashed banana

Add the mashed bananas to the butter and sugar, add the eggs, vanilla extract and milk too, mix it up - it will be sloppy.
baking preparation eggs

Fold the sloppy mix into the flour.
cake mix

Line a loaf tin with baking paper and pour in the mix. Sprinkle some soft brown sugar on the top (optional but gives an ace crunchy texture and a shine)
cake mix in loaf tin

Bake for about 1 hour 20 minutes on gas 4 (check cake is cooked through by poking a knife into it - knife should come out clean not sticky, give it a few more minutes if it's not done)
Banana cake

Lift it out and cool it - we often eat it while it's still warm! It's a really moist cake, probably keeps OK but I have no experience of this!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Wordy Wednesday with Dr Sara Read

Today's Wordy Wednesday is a high culture affair, with none other than Dr Sara Read, who cunningly lured me into her historical literary works with promises of information about menstruation through the ages. Who wouldn't leap at the chance, well maybe you, but not me because I love that kind of weird detail of lives gone by. So with out further ado I present an interview with Sara...

When did you start writing?
I didn't write anything of any length until I went to university as a mature student in my early 30s

What 3 things (not including paper, computer, pens) would you like to facilitate a good days writing?

Quiet (in a busy family and work life, this is sometime hard to find).
Good weather - this might sound strange but everything comes more easily to me when the sun is shining.
Coffee and biscuits.

Do you write to a schedule, eg every day or three times a week, set times, etc or do you write as and when the mood strikes?

Absolutely not. I have learned over the years not to panic if I can't write at a particular moment, in the confidence that when the time is right the words will flow and they will be all the better for not forcing the issue. I do something else and come back to it now.

Is writing your main source of income, I read lots of articles saying writers make no money, and my readers asked this question a lot! Can you survive on book writing alone? if not, what else do you do?
I write both academic books and articles and books and articles for a broader readership. The academic books are part of my job a lecturer in English at a university. As lecturers our time is divided between teaching and research and we have an obligation to publish this research. So, my main income is from my lecturing job. I have the best of both worlds in many ways as I am employed part-time which gives me the space to write the non-academic social history publications too.

What are your favourite biscuits?

Choc chip cookies - my daughter makes the most amazing wheat free ones for me

Where do you do most of your writing?

At the kitchen table.

What book are you reading at the moment?
I am reading the diary of a Derbyshire vicar/physician from the eighteenth century for research and am reading One Moment, One Morning by Sarah Rayner for relaxation

Do you use social media (facebook, twitter, instagram etc) to engage with your audience, do you think it helps sales and do you find it fun or a chore?
I use Twitter for engagement. It is fun and definitely drives sales. I'm @floweringbodies on Twitter. The name is a reference to my previous research. The most common name for periods in the seventeenth century was 'the flowers' and my first academic book Menstruation and the Female Body in Early Modern England (Palgrave, 2013) is a study of attitudes to the female reproductive body and the blood loss associated with significant moments in a woman's reproductive life (menarche, menstruation, lochial bleeding, menopause).  

Twitter is great for those interested in social history too. There is large body of people using the 'twitterstorians' hashtag which links to all sorts of interesting facts from images to blogs.

Do you own an e-reader? and do you prefer to read digital or paper copy?
I do own an e-reader but have only used it a handful of times. I like paper books.

Do you dream in colour?

If reading and writing were banned, what would you do instead?

garden more, listen to music more, walk the dog more.

What is your ideal holiday?
With my family, somewhere warm and sunny where I can have a mixture of interesting sight-seeing trips and relaxing, reading, pool days.

Dr Read's current book is Maids, Wives, Widows and is available for £15.99 via

 Maids, Wives, Widows is a lively exploration of the everyday lives of women in early modern England, from 1540-1740. The book uncovers details of how women filled their days, what they liked to eat and drink, what jobs they held, and how they raised their children. With chapters devoted to beauty regimes, fashion, and literature, the book also examines the cultural as well as the domestic aspect of early modern women's lives. Further, the book answers questions such as how women understood and dealt with their monthly periods and what it was like to give birth in a time before modern obstetric care was available.
The book also highlights key moments in women's history such as the publication in 1671, of the first midwifery guide by an English woman, Jane Sharp. The turmoil caused by the Civil Wars of the 1640s gave rise to a number of religious sects in which women participated to a surprising extent and some of their stories are included in this book. Also scrutinised are cases of notorious criminals such as murderer Sarah Malcolm and confidence trickster Mary Toft who pretended to give birth to rabbits.<< probably worth reading for this alone tbh!
Overall the book describes the experiences of women over a two hundred year period noting the changes and continuities of daily life during this fascinating era.

Thank you to Dr Sara Read for answering my questions and for joining in Wordy Wednesday.

Wordy Wednesday

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Thursday, June 11, 2015

Dogs and the law

I don't have dogs anymore, both of mine died several years ago, they were old and sick and I miss them very much. Two border terriers are amazing fun and a house is quiet (and easier to clean) without them. Though dropped biscuits have to be picked up now, when you have dogs dropped biscuits mysteriously vanish.

Both of my dogs were microchipped and I have always been a firm believer that identifying your dog in that way is a sensible precaution, useful if they run off, are stolen and later abandoned, or to confirm ownership.

If your dog is not chipped you should read this!

"Most dog owners are unprepared for new legislation which makes it compulsory to microchip their pets from April 2016. Online retailer MedicAnimal has taken a straw poll of animal rescues and believes that over 3.5 million dogs still have to be microchipped before the deadline – or around 360,000 each month. A further 2.7 million dog owners could be prosecuted for failing to keep their contact details up to date.

The new law comes into place from 6th April 2016 in England and spring 2016 in Scotland and Wales, requiring that dogs are chipped and owners keep their contact details up to date. The animal shelters and rescues that MedicAnimal spoke to claimed that about half of the animals that could be identified by their chip could not be quickly reunited with their owners as so many had not taken this simple step to ensure they could be contacted.

MedicAnimal founder and vet, Andrew Bucher says that caring pet owners could significantly reduce the burden on animal charities by having their pet microchipped. “Chipped pets can quickly be reunited with their owners as long as the contact details are correct but those that are not are rarely reunited and in fact place a tremendous strain on the resources of animal charities.”

While the law does not currently require cats to be microchipped, it is estimated that over 5 million cats remain unchipped. “Shelters told us that it was quite common for people to present cats at shelters as ‘stray’ when in fact they are not. We heard of one case where a chance in a million visual identification of a cat on a charity website resulted in him being reunited with his owners 8 years after going missing – at 11 years old he had lived more years away from his owners than with them. While it’s great that he was returned home, he required extensive treatment for a sore mouth and had clearly suffered.”

He continued, “Not knowing what has happened to your missing pet is a dreadful situation for any pet owner and we are reminding everyone to not just chip their pets but to keep their contact details up to date too. There are clearly millions of people set to break the law by spring next year and our plea to them is to please think about acting now to give vets and implanters time to chip and register their pets.” "

Find out more about microchipping here - or contact your vet.