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Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Gig Review: James Blunt at Motorpoint Arena, Nottingham

james-blunt, afterlove-tour, music

The man everyone loves to hate, James Blunt is still going strong, thirteen years after the release of 'You're Beautiful', the song that instantly catapulted him into the limelight. Now, all those years later, the crowd still love to belt out that hit, night after night, tour after tour.

On Friday 17th November, I headed along to Nottingham's Motorpoint Arena to catch James' Afterlove tour. Fresh from a string of European dates and a plush gig touring as Ed Sheeran's support in the US, Blunt seemed fresh, energised, and ready to play his heart out as he made a start on the UK leg of the tour.

Bizarre seating arrangements at the venue and a sticky floor as a result of someone else's spilt coke didn't bode well for the start of the evening, but once the lights went down and the music started, everything else was instantly forgotten.

Support came courtesy of the charming Jamie Lawson, another singer-songwriter on his way to stardom with the support of a certain redheaded singer. After signing to Sheeran's record label, Lawson's hit 'Wasn't Expecting That' propelled him into the public eye, and now, having just released his second album Happy Accidents, he's back on the road once again.

Playing a decent set with a mix of both upbeat and slower songs, Lawson provided a great way to get the crowd warmed up ready for the main event. In the interval between the two acts, Lawson headed out to the foyer to meet fans, sign albums and take selfies. In a world of self-absorbed musicians, talents like Lawson who truly appreciate each and every step of the journey are a rare breed, and this was clear to see. Plus, he's lovely - what's not to love?

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Hurrying back to our seats just in time for the lights to go down once again as James Blunt took the stage. The motley crowd, a mix of families, friends and couples of every age were on their feet; most of those in the floor seats abandoning their seats in favour of standing and dancing in the clear area in front of the stage.

High energy and full of life right from the very start, Blunt's performance was certainly no disappointment. Having previously seen him live (way back when at the Hammersmith Apollo in 2014) I already knew he makes for a great live performer, but this second dose only served to further cement that fact.


Playing a mixture of his previous hits and tracks from the new album, The Afterlove, there was plenty to keep everyone entertained. In addition, the variety of slower, emotional songs and bouncier tracks kept us all on our toes - there really was something for everyone.

With a celebratory party atmosphere and a fully-loaded arsenal of jokes and stories to pepper the night, the show was a surefire success. Leaving the venue, everyone was laughing and joking with one another, discussing the evening and humming Blunt songs.
"You're beautiful, you're beautiful it's true."
Are you a fan of James Blunt? (Sssh, I won't tell!) Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Monday, 20 November 2017

Interview: Stephanie Elmas

illusion, stephanie-elmas, book, blog-tour

I'm over the moon to be participating in the blog tour for Illusion by Stephanie Elmas - to celebrate, I have a short Q&A with the author to share with you all!

Firstly, tell me a little about yourself.
I am an English teacher and a mum of three children. Although in the early days of my career I worked as a head hunter in London for several years, my first love was always academia. I returned to university before my teaching career to complete a Masters in Victorian literature.
How did you first become interested in writing?
I can’t remember a time when I didn’t write. It has always been a brilliantly indulgent and escapist way of spending time.
illusion, stephanie-elmas, book

Tell me about Illusion.
Illusion was born out of a character I created in my first novel, The Room Beyond. When I wrote The Room Beyond, I fell in love with the Victorian East End mystic, Walter Balanchine, and knew that I had so much more to say about him. 
Illusion follows the early life of Walter: his childhood as an abandoned boy in a workhouse, his return to London after years of exotic travel, his rise to fame as an illusionist and the hot water that his exploits plunge him into. Along the way he is joined by his closest friend Tom Winter, an heiress engaged to his brutal nemesis, a faithful stowaway boy from his travels and a black panther. Together they battle with the harsh realities of life in the East End smoke, but the scene also moves to a grand house in a marshy, West Country setting; so damp and wet that no new building has ever managed to withstand this environment for very long...
What’s the best thing about writing fiction?
You can take your story anywhere and everywhere and it requires nothing but a pen, paper and an active imagination.
How do you get inspiration?
I try to write about things that I know a bit about. I love writing in the nineteenth century because it is an area I specialised in at university. It is also a period of history that really fascinates me, so writing about it feels natural.
What’s your writing process?
With my second novel I was far more organised. My first novel sort of grew organically and, as a result, took years and years to write (and rewrite!). With Illusion, I had a plan! I created a precise breakdown of chapters from the very start and more or less stuck to it. This was a far quicker and more successful approach.
What’s the hardest thing about writing?
The long haul. So many people say that they’d like to write a novel but actually sitting down to it and getting the job done is a major commitment.
Which authors inspire you?
So many, but particularly Thomas Hardy and Mary Elizabeth Braddon. I just read The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry and thought it was sensational.
stephanie-elmas, author

Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?
Don’t let your pride get in the way. Deal with criticism and rejection, learn from it all and then carry on.
What are your ambitions for your writing career?
To keep writing novels that I’m proud of. I was once told that if I wrote about people eating cakes and drinking tea in Cornwall, with the odd murder going on in the background, then I’d be so much more successful. The problem is that I just can’t bring myself to do that!
What are your interests outside of writing and reading?
Spending time with my family and travelling. In my twenties I backpacked quite a lot and, now that my children are growing up a bit, I’m rediscovering the world again with them!
What are you currently working on?
I have a few fresh ideas up my sleeve. Walter will be there in some form or another, I can’t leave him out!
What are you currently reading?
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. I first read it as a teenager and I felt that it was time for a revisit.
Illusion is available to buy now. To find out more about Stephanie and her writing, you can pay a visit to her website.

Don't forget to check out the rest of the blog tour! It's just a short hop away - tomorrow's tour stop can be found here.

Will you be reading the book? Let me know in the comments below!

Saturday, 18 November 2017

5 Ways to Make Your Christmas Gifts Unique

A few days ago I wrote a post sharing some of my favourite ways in which you can make sure that your Christmas cards are unique. Since that post went down so well, I thought I'd make another to provide you with some more festive inspiration - this time, I'm sharing some top tips for keeping your gifts as special and original as possible this Christmas!

Of course, it isn't always possible to fully plan ahead and map out a perfect gift for every single person on your to-buy-for list each and every year. From budget constraints to finding the time, many people struggle at this time of year, hence why the trend of last-minute gift buying continues to be so prevalent. But this year, even if it's just for your closest friends and family members, why not commit to putting that little extra bit of thought into your choice of gifts?

The Handmade Touch

Who doesn't love to receive a gift with plenty of thought and care put into it? Whether it's a framed painting from a budding young artist or a warm, woolly scarf knitted by hand, there are plenty of ideas out there to help you get started. Plus, while it might take a little more time to get each gift sorted and ready, it's also the perfect way to cut costs and keep your spending in check this Christmas.

Avoid Buying from Chains and Big-Name Brands

Whether it's a branded gift or something you've just picked up off the high street, presents that you can buy anywhere might be nice, but they are likely to lack that extra special touch. Instead of feeding the giants this Christmas, commit to buying local, being different, and exploring independent stores (both online and offline) to find some real hidden gems. A piece of bespoke jewellery, a one-of-a-kind ornament or piece of artwork, or even a hand-carved Christmas decoration - these are all unique pieces that will speak volumes more than an off-the-shelf gift.

that-lovely-stuff, earrings, christmas-gifts

One of my favourites is this beautiful pair of minimalistic earrings from boutique online store That Lovely Stuff. Handmade in Australia before arriving over here in the UK, they have swiftly become a firm fixture of my winter look and a definite favourite!

that-lovely-stuff, earrings, minimalist, jewellery, christmas-gifts

Buy Something they Want, Not Something they Need

How many times have you eagerly unwrapped a gift only to discover it's something practical or 'something for the home' instead of a present you actually wanted? At Christmas, it's okay to be a little selfish; if you have your eye on something, don't be afraid to drop hints and say so.

The same goes for your present buying - instead of merely picking up something that will be useful around the house, think carefully about what you're buying. A new Hoover or a set of cutlery might well come in handy, but a beautiful piece of jewellery or a box set will likely be far better received come Christmas morning.

Think Outside the Box

Presents needn't play safe or just stick to what you know. Instead, see it as a challenge, a way to get to know someone better and make sure that you get them something you know they will love. A great example of this is the annual office Secret Santa. Rather than just picking up a cheap novelty gift that will be laughed at once then forgotten, put some thought into getting something that you are sure your colleague will actually use and appreciate. It's also a great way to strengthen relationships with your co-workers!

Choose Experiences, Not Things

It's the age-old dilemma - what do you get for the person who already has everything? Instead of struggling to find a great gift, why not go all out and buy them an experience or a day out rather than something materialistic? Whether it's some money towards a piercing or tattoo, music or theatre tickets or a day out at the zoo, an experience is the perfect way to make memories and provide your loved ones with a great time.

With only a few weeks left until the big day, there's no time like the present to get prepared and get organised, ready for Christmas Day. Make sure that there are smiles all around on Christmas morning and get planning the perfect gifts for your loved ones this year.

* This is a collaborative post.

Have you started your Christmas shopping yet? How do you go the extra mile with your gifts? Let me know in the comments below!

Friday, 17 November 2017

Interview: John Herrick

It's time for another author interview on The Writing Greyhound! Today, I'm sitting down for a chat with the charming John Herrick as he releases his novel Beautiful Mess.

Firstly, tell me a little about yourself and your background.
I earned my degree in mass communication, with a desire to write for large audiences. I started my career in the IT world - yes, a creative guy implementing software and developing computer code! But that’s where I developed discipline, troubleshooting skills, and project management experience. The key to writing my first novel was treating the book was a 9-month software implementation project, complete with a project plan, time estimates, and milestones. Hey, whatever works! The weird thing is, despite a love for writing, I never took a creative writing course.
How did you first become interested in writing?
At eight years old, after completing a class assignment, I looked over at what a friend was doing to pass the time. She was writing a short story. It looked like fun, so I decided to give it a try...and fell in love with it. I’ve been a writer ever since. I've never forgotten that day.
beautiful-mess, john-herrick, book

Tell me about Beautiful Mess.
Del Corwyn hasn’t had a hit film since his Academy Award nomination 40 years ago. He’s desperate to return to the spotlight but teeters on bankruptcy. Del is a forgotten legend - until, while combing through personal memorabilia, he discovers an original screenplay written by his once-close friend, Marilyn Monroe, who named Del as its legal guardian. The news goes viral. Suddenly, Del skyrockets to the A-list and has a chance to revive his career - if he’s willing to sacrifice his friend’s memory and reputation along the way. 
Beautiful Mess is a humorous coming-of-age story about a 78-year-old man who lives in his own fictional world. The novel incorporates lesser-known facts about Marilyn Monroe and imagines the further impact she might have made on pop culture if her life hadn’t reached an abrupt end.
What’s the best thing about writing fiction?
The creative liberty. Rather than documenting what happened, fiction writers have the opportunity to document what could happen. That said, fiction readers expect the story to be plausible. So research is still important. Identifying the balance between fact and fiction is an art form.
How do you get inspiration?
My stories tend to begin with “What if?” questions. Oftentimes, it starts with my reading a news article and asking, “What if Person X hadn’t followed their hunch, or crossed paths with Person Y in a different environment? How would that have altered their interaction and, thus, tend result?” Or if I hear that a key piece of evidence enabled authorities to solve a crime, I’ll wonder, “Instead of finding Evidence X, what if they found Evidence Y? How would that have changed the course of their investigation, but still led to the same result?” Same plot, same resolution—but how we get there is a completely different. One small detail, one choice, can change the course of our lives.
Do you think it’s important for rom-coms to have a happy ending?
Most people expect a happy ending, and anytime you evade the norm, your risk increases. But as with any other profession, once you understand the rules and why they work, once you recognise their strengths and understand what readers seek from the experience, you can attempt new ways to meet those needs. So if you can find a way to fulfil readers’ expectations without a happy ending, you might provide an unexpected, satisfying experience for them. The mistake people make is an unwillingness to research the industry standards and develop those basic skills first.
john-herrick, author

What’s the single biggest influence on your own creative writing?
For me, character development is a critical element. I want to draw readers into the story, but more importantly, I want to give them protagonists to which they can relate. I love to dig into the psychological aspects of my characters and try to let them drive their own stories.
What’s your writing process?
Most of my stories begin with a 50-100 page sketch, a miniature version of the novel. In fact, it’s so detailed, I lift some dialogue blocks from it and plant them into my first draft, verbatim! But I’ve found a road map is the only way I can complete a project. That’s where my years working in the IT world proved invaluable.
What’s the hardest thing about writing?
Confronting the fear of failure and pressing past it. Regardless of how many books I’ve written, I need to re-establish my confidence with each new book. I’m afraid I’ll let people down.
What do you love most about writing?
If I can impact somebody’s life through my writing, I consider it a privilege. From time to time, I’ll hear from someone who reads one of my books and tells me the characters or content helped them through a struggle. Their messages remind me, “That’s why you’re writing. That’s who you’re here to serve.”
Which authors inspire you?
John Grisham. You see, when I was younger, I always had a book in my hand- when I wasn’t writing, that is! But once I entered high school and college, I stopped reading for pleasure. When they require you to read particular books, you’re more concerned about memorising facts for a test than savouring the beauty of what the author has created. The summer before I started college, I picked up John Grisham’s The Firm, which was only two years old at the time. What a page turner! I tore through it. The next summer, I read The Client. Same thing happened. So John Grisham is the reason I fell back in love with reading. Once college ended - along with all of its required textbooks - I became an avid reader again. 
Beyond Grisham, film writers-directors like Nancy Meyers and Cameron Crowe tend to inspire me the most. My project tones tend to resemble those of Meyers and Crowe.
What are your ambitions for your writing career?
I never want to stop growing, so that means tackling new genres; developing deeper, unique characters; enhancing my prose style to provide readers with more and more satisfying reads. 
But most of all, I never want to take my readers for granted. If, during the course of my life, I’m known as one of the kindest people in the book world, then I’d consider that a success.
What are your interests outside of writing and reading?
Long drives on the highway, through rural areas, from one city to another. They refresh my mind and helps me feel as though anything is possible. And being the best uncle I can be—that’s at the top of my interests!
What are you currently working on?
These days, I’m researching and sketching another novel. I can’t mention what it’s about—I’m always so paranoid that something will go wrong after I’ve told everyone what a book is about! 
However, I do have another romantic comedy completed. It’s scheduled for release in 2018.
What are you reading at the moment?
I just finished reading three James Patterson novels: The Black Book, NYPD Red 3, and 14th Deadly Sin. I finished 14th before bed last night - which means I have a big decision to make in a few hours! Any suggestions, readers?
Beautiful Mess is available to buy now. To find out more about John Herrick and his work, you can check out his website or follow him on Facebook or Twitter.

What do you think? Will you be reading the book? Let me know in the comments below!

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Wembley versus Twickenham: The Great British American Football Debate

wembley-stadium, american-football, nfl, uk

With the rising popularity of American football here in the UK, more and more people are heading down to London in the autumn to watch the NFL International Series games.

Having just completed its tenth season running, it’s clear that UK football is far from a dying sport. However, with increased popularity and further fan interest comes a whole new host of hurdles for officials and organisers to overcome. Now, it’s not just about trying to grow the sport overseas, it’s about trying to convince teams to make the journey across the pond, giving up one of their precious home games for the privilege.

Plus, with more and more people wanting to come down and watch a game, there is another thing for the officials to think about - where should the London games be played?

In past years, Wembley Stadium has been the obvious choice. Its modern facilities, large capacity and recognisable name make it a firm favourite. It’s also fairly easy to get to from London itself, being just a short hop out on the tube. But as the number of games increased, recently, a new stadium had its name thrown into the mix.

The home of British rugby, Twickenham Stadium might not be the most obvious choice to play host to the NFL. However, it’s impossible to argue that there are no parallels between football and rugby, possibly why those in charge decided to give it a shot.

twickenham-stadium, american-football, nfl, uk

Compared to the fact that the NFL usually manages to ‘sell out’ Wembley’s 90,000 capacity, some may argue that choosing Twickenham’s smaller capacity of 82,000 is actually a step backwards. On the flipside, Twickenham offers a more intimate atmosphere, a chance to get up close and personal with the ins and outs of the game. Swings and roundabouts.

Of course, I can only speak for myself, but I've always preferred Wembley. It's not just the stadium itself that stands out, though, it's the whole atmosphere that adds to the overall feel of the event. There's nothing like that feeling when you walk out of the tube station on gameday to a sea of jerseys, all the way down to the stadium itself. Every team is represented and people take the opportunity to dress up and make the most of the occasion - at the London games, even the familiar favourite 'Cheesehead' attire is considered pretty tame!

Granted, Wembley wins extra points in my book because Twickenham is just such a pain to get to - ease and convenience of access always make a winner, but I'm sorry to say that Twickenham just seemed to fall flat on game day. There was none of the fun and excitement, bright lights and palpable atmosphere that turns a Wembley game into a true football experience; instead, queueing to get in felt more like standing in a queue at a cashpoint.

With all this in mind, it's important not to forget that it's all probably a bit of a pointless debate by now. After all, once the new Tottenham Hotspur stadium is complete, the NFL will be taking a trip across town and decamping to its shiny new headquarters thanks to the league's deal with the owners. Of course, it's impossible to pass judgement on the new incarnation of White Hart Lane until it's finished and ready for action, but from early reports, it looks to be shaping up well. 

I don't know about you, but I can't wait to see what the future holds for hosting American football here in the UK!

Have you been to a game? Which venue is your favourite? Let me know in the comments below!