Thursday, July 02, 2015

Wife's work

This recent spell of UK hot weather reminded me of something that happened over 2 decades ago.

When I was 21 I started dating a guy 19 years older than me. It was supposed to be a bit of fun, but weeks turned to months, and then years, and years, and we were still together. My family had got over the shock and I was living in sin with my new man (who they referred to as their Sin-in-Law). He knew I wanted to get married, but I knew that he didn't, and part of that reason was that he felt our age gap was too great. "It's OK now" he'd say, "you are 26 and I'm 45, it doesn't seem so bad, but what about when you are 40, or 50?" I would reassure him, "it will be fine, why wouldn't it?" but convinced I was too young to really know, he didn't listen.

Sometimes we'd joke about it, he'd ask me to do some tedious household chore, or help with his tax returns and I would say "oh no, that's a wife's job, I'm just a mistress, I get to sit in the sun and drink champagne!"

Then one hot evening, after I finished work I was sitting in the hot garden, with my hot feet in a bucket of cold water. I was grumpy, and hot (did I mention it was hot?) and he wandered into the garden with an old jumper of his, "would you darn the elbow of this?" he asked. I looked up, grumpy, hot and annoyed. "No" I snapped "I wouldn't, that's a wife's job, I've told you, mistresses don't do sewing". He stood looking at me, how sexy I must have looked, sweaty, feet in a bucket.

"well then" he said "will you marry me? then you'll be my wife, and you can darn the jumper"

A long pause. Seriously? He looked shifty "yes seriously, I've been thinking about it, I think we should get married, I'd like to marry you"

What a romantic proposal. Well it cured my grump. I laughed and said yes. And the rest (as they say) is history. Twenty three years later, I'm still doing the repairs...I even have a sewing box, because you know, that's wife's work.

This post is a personal one. It's just a tiny piece of my history and I'm posting it for me, for my memories and for DD. If you read and enjoy it too, that's a bonus.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Wordy Wednesday with Joanne Mallon

This week a learning experience for us all with the author Joanne Mallon, who amongst other things writes about Social Media use!

So hello Joanne, tell me a little about yourself: I am a freelance writer and author of three non fiction books – Toddlers: An Instruction Manual; How to Overcome Fear of Driving and the latest one Social Media For Writers. I also have a geeky lifestyle blog called Opposable Thumbs and am a career coach for writers and other media types

When did you start writing?

I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t writing. When I was nine I won a national poetry contest. The poem was printed in the local paper and they paid me the princely sum of three pounds, so that was my first paid writing gig. I trained as a broadcast journalist and worked in TV as a producer for about 10 years, but over time I gradually got more and more into print and online media, since writing was always more my thing than broadcasting. I started a blog about 8 years ago partly in order to become a better writer. I think writing is like a muscle and the more you do it the more you can improve. My style is essentially practical, down to earth stuff laced with humour. Over the years I’ve written everything from software instructions (not much room for the funnies there) to an Agony Aunt column.

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

Since I’m a total introvert, being home alone helps a lot. This isn’t always possible, especially since my other half is also a writer and works from home in a different room. I like peace and quiet, so that gets a bit more challenging when it’s the school holidays and the kids are at home. Other than that I find exercise very helpful for giving me mental clarity, so I will go for a walk or to the gym most days and that’s often where I get my best ideas. I wear a fitness monitor in an attempt not to end up glued to my desk so I walk about 5 miles a day. Also a deadline is very helpful, otherwise I will just faff about and waste time.

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?

 I start with whatever I’m being paid to write, or whatever has the closest deadline. When writing is your job you don’t really have the luxury of doing it as and when you feel like it, although for my personal blog, I post on that whenever I have something to say. I run a children’s blogging site called KidsBlogClub and I aim to post on there every Tuesday and Friday.

For books I keep a running word count and every time I sit down to write, before I start I will have a minimum number of words I’m going to get to that day. The challenge is actually sitting down to do it in the first place – I procrastinate quite a lot, but it’s like warming up to a run. Sometimes I think that procrastinating is just part of the dance that writers do, and ultimately if you get to where you’re going, that’s the important thing.

Then threaded through my week will be some sort of promotional or marketing activity – either doing interviews or pitching for new work or just polishing up the website and LinkedIn profile. Being self employed means that you have to keep planting seeds if you want to keep reaping a harvest. But I also think that if you believe in what you’ve written and you think it could make a positive difference to people’s lives then you owe it to them to spread the word, and that’s where doing promo stuff comes in.

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?

It’s split between freelance writing, career coaching (I specialise in coaching people who work in media – see here, social media management (which also involves writing in the form of tweets and Facebook updates) and occasional consultancy. I like that what I’m doing changes every week, depending on what kind of commissions and new clients come in.

What’s good about income from books is that it’s ongoing and you should get a (hopefully increasing) royalty cheque every year. My first two books were with a publisher who specialises in books which also raise money for charity, so when I get royalties the charities get a donation too, which is great.

Other paid writing I do includes: writing for websites and magazines; sponsored posts for the blog; technical authoring (instruction manuals); writing blog posts for clients; writing tweets. It’s far from being an easy profession but it is doable. I haven’t sold any foreign rights to my books, but that seems to help authors a lot. My other half has a book coming out that’s been sold to 8 countries, so that’s 8 lots of advances and royalties for one book.
With my coaching clients who are writers, what I’ve observed is that the most successful ones tend to have a non-sexy specialism, because those pay better. The less people who can write about the stuff you can, the better for your business. Or if a writer’s main specialism is something quite popular and over-subscribed, such as travel or parenting or beauty, then it can work quite well to have a non-sexy specialism to sit along side it. So you might write about lipstick for fun, but pay the bills by writing technical reports.
And of course the benefits of writing a book are not just financial. I get a lot of emails and tweets from people who say that my books have helped them in some way, and that’s really fantastic. When you write a self help book, a big aim of it is to make a positive difference to the world, so to see that actually happening is amazing. There are people who have turned around their relationship with their toddler; or got back out on the road again after being scared to drive; or got to grips with social media thanks to my books, so I feel very grateful to be a part of that process.

What are your favourite biscuits?

Anything with seeds or cheese in it. I know most people will say chocolate but I’m a rebel.
Where do you do most of your writing?
At my PC, unless my son is using it for gaming. Then we have to tussle for screen time. I make a lot of lists in notebooks but actual writing I tend to do at the PC, facing a blank wall to lessen the distractions.

What book are you reading at the moment?

 I have a couple on the go – I just went on a trip to Rome, so now I’m reading a book about vampires and set in Rome, called Dracula Cha Cha Cha by Kim Newman. Also just starting a non fiction book – Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community by Wendell Berry - which is my book club book for this month. I like being in a book group because you end up reading all sorts of great books that you never would’ve discovered otherwise.

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 think social media is essential for a writer these days, I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t use it. Writers have always had to help spread the word about what they do and this is just the latest way of doing it. So I use all of the platforms to varying degrees. I find that I get a lot of writing work via Twitter – either I’ll spot a shout out from an editor, or somebody will recommend me for something. I got my initial book deal for the first two books because the publisher had tweeted that they were commissioning.

Right now I have a dedicated Twitter feed for the new social media book @SocMed4Writers which shares social media tips for writers and has over 4,000 followers. People keep tweeting me that they’ve bought the book and are enjoying it so I think that helps a lot to spread the word.

Of course the challenge is that you end up spending all your time shooting the breeze on Twitter and not achieving much else. How I manage that is by having a cup of tea rule, in that I only go on Facebook or Twitter when I’m having a teabreak, ie if there is a cup of tea actually on my desk. I also schedule regular daily tweets throughout the day via Hootsuite, so it makes me look more active on there than I really am.

Do you own an e-reader? and do you prefer to read digital or paper copy?

Yes I love my Kindle Paperwhite, especially for travelling. Now and again I read ‘real’ books but I prefer digital.

Do you dream in colour?

 No idea, I’ve never really noticed. I do have some pretty vivid dreams though.

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

 Weep! Probably go for more walks and listen to podcasts. And then have to get a proper job.

What is your ideal holiday?

 I like going somewhere I haven’t been before and walking about to explore it, then collapsing with wine and a good book in the evening. I would never go on a beach holiday and just lay by the pool. I live in the city, in Brighton so I like a bit of countryside on holiday. I like to not have the internet on holiday, although that gives my teenager the horrors.

Joanne Mallon's new book is Social Media for Writers 

This is a book for all writers - authors, journalists, copywriters and bloggers. It shows how you can use social media to help you attract more writing work. Through practical, easy to follow advice, you'll learn how social media can become part of your income stream as a writer. Best-selling authors and successful freelance journalists also share the secrets of how they use and manage their social media. It includes chapters on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google Plus, Pinterest, Tumblr and Instagram. Social Media for Writers also covers what your writer's website needs to contain, and how to set up a successful blog. You'll learn how not to let social media become a terrible time suck, and how to make it work for you.

Thanks to Joanne for taking part, do you agree or disagree with her answers? feel free to comment below (especially about biscuits)

Wordy Wednesday

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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

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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!