22.2.17

Wordy Wednesday with Phil Swales

The world is pretty full of doom and gloom at the moment so I thought there was no better way to cheer you all up than to introduce you to Phil, Phil is...well I'll let Phil tell you about himself...

Hi I'm Phil Swales, I am a comedy writer.  I mainly write jokes for stand-up comedians across the UK, but I also write sketches, scripts, etc.  My first book, a joke book, is being published soon.


Do you have another job or are you a full time author? If you do something else (international spy?) what is it and do you like it?
I used to have a career working in admin, but various mental and physical health problems made it difficult for me to remain in a ‘proper’ job. I decided last year to become a professional freelance comedy writer and book editor.  It’s great as it allows me to work from home, doing the hours I choose. Plus I get to look after my dog all day!

When did you start writing?
Movies were my first passion, so I started writing short film scripts in my early twenties.  I then set up a film-making group with my friends and we took turns to write, produce and direct several short films.  Whilst I was doing this, I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety which got worse over time, which affected my creative endeavours and I didn’t write for a long time.  I started up again back in 2009 when I joined Twitter and got interested in writing one-liners.   My jokes improved slowly over the years until I got to the stage where they were good enough to sell to other people.  I also had a brief foray into stand-up comedy, performing my jokes on stage in front of a crowd.  Although the few gigs I did went well, my anxiety and fear of public speaking meant I had to give it up, so I concentrated on the joke writing instead.

What 3 things are guaranteed to make you smile?
1.   A good joke.
2.  Some of the random things my wife comes out with.
3.  When good things happen my friends and family.

Do you have any pets? If yes, what, and do they help or hinder the writing process?
I have a Scorkie (Scottish Terrier crossed with a Yorkshire Terrier) dog who I love to bits but who can also drive me crazy at times!  He’s neither a help nor a hindrance, except when he demands to go for a walk.  Most of the time he keeps to himself and leaves me to my writing.

Who is your favourite author? Do they influence your writing or are they a total break from the sort of thing you write?
Bill Bryson, without a doubt.  I first discovered him about twenty years ago when his book “Notes From A Small Island” was adapted into a TV series.  I loved what I saw, so quickly read the book and found it hilarious.  I have devoured most of his work since then.  I love his sense of humour. I don’t really consider him an influence, but he showed me that there are some genuinely funny books out there. I love his books - I have the audio book of A Walk in the Woods and no matter how many times I hear it I always laugh!

Which book(s) are you reading at the moment?
I’ve just finished “Life-Abet” by Aaron Gillies, better known on Twitter as @technicallyron.  I’ve followed his account for years and love the stuff he comes out with.  Knowing a fellow Twitter user can get a funny book published had a big effect on me and my determination to become a published author.

Where do you do most of your writing?
I work from home and use the spare bedroom as my office.  It’s my little sanctuary away from distraction and noise.

What is your favourite biscuit?
A new type of chocolate biscuit called McVitie’s Deli-Choc recently hit the shops. They are Belgian Chocolate on crunchy biscuit and are very moreish.  They are the crystal meth of the biscuit world.

Tea or Coffee?
I don’t like coffee at all, so I’d have to say tea, although I don’t drink it very often.  Energy drinks are my go-to fuel source.  I have a condition called Hypersomnia which makes me tired all the time and sleep more than normal, so I drink them to keep me awake as long as possible!

In the film of your life who would play you? (why)
There aren’t that many short, fat, middle-aged actors on the Hollywood A-list, but if I was given free rein I’d choose Edward Norton.  He’s a brilliant actor with some great films on his CV.  As long as he can do a Hartlepool accent!

If you could genetically cross vegetables, what would you pick and why?
I’d cross a tomato with a zucchini with a tomato, so that I can have a Little Red Courgette!

To read new jokes daily, you can follow Phil on Twitter.
His joke book, “Swales of Laughter” is on sale paperback and E-book form.

 
Grab a copy here on Amazon UK 

and here on Amazon US 

20.2.17

Top Ten Tips for Checking Hotel Review Sites

 

Online holiday reviews, should you read them?

When you plan a fabulous getaway either with your family, lover, friend or even alone it's tempting, many would say sensible, to read the reviews of people that have gone before. But how to make sense of reviews of the same hotel that range from "it was appalling I would rather sleep under a railway arch, 1 star" to "amazing stay it was incredible in every respect, totally recommend, 5 stars!" ?

Here are my top ten tips on breaking down reviews, and making sense of them.

  • Check where the reviewer is from. With a global reach the internet has reviewers from all over the world. Pay more attention to reviewers from your own country as they will usually have similar expectations to you. Americans for example may mark down a hotel with no free ice machine, while the average Brit doesn't expect free ice as standard so may not mention it.
  • See if the reviewer has left lots of reviews or just this one. This is particularly relevant if the review is terrible as people are fast to complain but not so quick to praise. On TripAdvisor for example you can look back over other reviews from the same person. If they review a lot and the reviews vary, then it's safe to assume they are probably fairly honest and balanced.
  • Check who was in the reviewers party. Reviews for families will vary a lot from reviews for romantic getaways or adventure type holidays. Complaints of noise can be  relative and might be due to guests at the time of the visit and thus not an ongoing issue. Moans about a busy kids club on a romantic weekend might translate into the perfect child minding plan for a family with 3 young children.
  • Pay more attention if all of the reviews are similar. If everyone mention food poisoning and under cooked chicken over several months then it would raise alarm bells. Constant mentions of dirty rooms etc likewise. While one bad review among a lot of good ones probably just shows the hotel has a bad cleaner or a busy week.
  • Read the review not just the stars! Amazingly some people post a glowing review but only give 1 or 2 stars for the experience. I'm never sure if they are just holding back for the really fantastic hotels  (for example they may feel a 3 star hotel never deserves more than a 3 star review) , if they clicked the wrong button, or just have no clue how star ratings work! Likewise I've seen 5 star reviews that made the hotel sound awful!
  • Think about what you expect in a hotel. I like a clean room, a TV,wifi,  a fridge and a balcony. If reviews moaned about a tatty reception area I wouldn't be that fussed. If they said their TV was broken, the wifi didn't work in any of the rooms and the balcony had been unsafe I would be more interested!
  • Check the date on reviews. It is really easy to read reviews that are years old and be fooled into thinking the hotel is excellent or terrible based on very out of date information. Sort the reviews by date if you can and read the most recent ones. I have been caught out this way - turning up to discover the 'free' wifi was no longer free and the hot tub was no longer working - sad times.
  • Try and check more than one review site. TripAdvisor is a large site but there are others such as Oyster, Holiday Watchdog, and Travel Republic. Also google the hotel name to see if any bloggers have visited and written bigger reviews with extra pictures. Ask on social media too. 
  • Read plenty of reviews before you book, and avoid reading any more afterwards! Once you have booked, unless you are prepared to change or cancel your booking, don't torture yourself by reading more reviews.
  • When you get home be sure to add your own review. good, bad or in between all reviews are useful to the traveller. Be honest, try to be balanced, include facts and examples not just personal opinions, although a summing up of how you did or did not like the holiday can be useful. I always review the places I visit as I know how helpful reviews can be. On TripAdvisor it's not just the hotels you can review but the local attractions and restaurants too - you could even review those that are local to you at home.
hotel lobby

Do you write reviews online? Do you read them? I'd love to hear your experiences (good and bad) of using online review sites.

This post is (bizarrely) not sponsored ;-)


19.2.17

My Family and Other Animals - Ellie

This week we are hearing from Adam, and his new acquisition, Ellie...So Adam, tell us who Ellie is and why she arrived in your home, and of course, how that is working out...



When we got a puppy this year, people thought we were mad. Three boys (one a toddler), 3 jobs, a busy household and illness; all the signs were there that we shouldn’t be doing this. We ourselves had agreed that we wouldn’t get a dog until our youngest was five years old and a taller. But we did it anyway.
tiny spaniel puppy behind a stairgate

Why?

Well a couple of things. Firstly was the aforementioned illness. Every few years, I suffer from re-occurring bouts of depression and 2016 was a particularly bad year for me. I think my wife and I thought some kind of therapy dog would be good for me. Even though I struggled to get out of bed and doing ANYTHING was a challenge, was I really up to looking after a dog, training her, feeding her,  walking her etc? It would certainly give me something to concentrate on other than how I was feeling (but then again shouldn’t the kids already do that)?

I’d always wanted an English Springer Spaniel after spending time with an ex’s 15 yrs earlier and when a puppy became available from a breeder living in the road behind us, it seemed like fate. Duly collected, my kids of course fell in love immediately before the novelty wore off after a few days and it all fell back to me.

So how has it gone in the five months since?

Honestly, we didn’t realise how hard it would be raising a puppy. And expensive (between 1-2k a year). They’re like toddlers but with added teeth (used for exploring everything) and have boundless energy. She’s stripped all the wallpaper off in the back room, chewed through the skirting boards and chomped through a live wire amongst other things. Training is nowhere as easy as the books make it out to be, my middle child won’t have anything to do with her (although he’s mellowing - and you often catch him stroking and talking to Ellie when he thinks nobody is looking), my smallest loves her but you have to be careful, and my wife slightly resents her taking up so much of my time (although she’s mellowing and you often catch her stroking and talking to Ellie when she thinks nobody is looking).

spaniel nose

Oh and did I mention the lakes of wee?  Every time she sees you, or you stroke her or something really exciting happens, she does an excited wee. She can’t help it, just pray she’s not sitting on you when she does it. I’m reliably told she’ll grow out of it.

In short, if we knew all this before hand we probably wouldn’t have got a dog right now. All our reasons for waiting were well founded.

But is it all hardship and bad news? Certainly not. She’s a part of the family now and it wouldn’t be the same without her.

She’s certainly helped both my mental and physical health. My depression is virtually gone (for now), all that dog walking has increased my stamina, forced me to get out into the fresh air every day and basically re-examine my priorities.  For the first time in a long time I’m beginning to see my weight drop. And the dog training? Well it’s actually training me to be more patient with both the dog AND my children. And this is a big secret. I’M USING THE PUPPY TRAINING TECHNIQUES ON MY KIDS...AND IT’S WORKING. Sorry guys.

spaniel puppy on the beach

Lastly, Ellie’s a big cuddler and there’s nothing better than an oversize dog jumping on your lap for a cuddle and an affirmation each day. She needs it as much as I do.  She brightens my day, every day and a happier me is making for a happier family. That can only be a good thing.

You can follow Ellie on instagram here

Big thanks to sharing your story - and I'm glad that despite the teeth (oh God, the teeth!) you have stuck with it - it does indeed get easier - no really....well OK a bit. Fizz is nearly one year old now! I can look back and barely recall the horror of wet puddles in the hall, and she no longer bites everything in sight!