Saturday, 19 August 2017

Is Online Dating Worth the While?

* This is a sponsored post.

love, relationships, online-dating
In the past, dating used to be an act of courtship, a dance of stolen glances and careful flirtation. A couple would find one another through work, mutual friends or a chance meeting at a bar.

Nowadays, however, the increasing dominance of technology and the internet has meant that dating and finding a partner has taken a whole new turn - welcome to the age of the online dating phenomenon.

There used to be a pretty big stigma attached to online dating, but as the available apps and websites have become more sophisticated and far more accessible, this has lessened. Today, online dating is seen by many as a great new way to meet like-minded people and, if you're lucky, maybe even get a date or two into the bargain. If you're really lucky, maybe one day in the future you might even hear the chime of wedding bells!

Benefits and Drawbacks

Of course, however, online dating isn't for everyone. Some people are more traditional, others prefer to get to know someone in person rather than befriending an online persona. But while digital dating does have its drawbacks, can it actually work?

One of the biggest draws is that many dating sites allow you to easily set your profile and preferences to suit what you are looking for. From Gwent dating to Grampian dating, you can adjust your profile to be as local or as widespread as you want. This can also be great if you are looking to meet new people, as the wider your area, statistically, the more people you have the potential to meet.

On the flipside, online dating also gives you the freedom and flexibility to be really picky about your potential pool of partners through niche sites. Over 50s dating may be one thing, but if you then add a specific location like County Down dating to the mix, for instance, you are instantly narrowing down the field to include only the people you think you will connect with best.

Sharing My Thoughts

From my own experience, I've only ever used one online dating site - Tinder. It's one of the most popular dating sites out there, especially among teens and younger adults, and the quick and easy swiping method which allows you to get matches has surely contributed to its success.

I've actually been incredibly lucky with Tinder. I've met some great people and, even though I was only on there for a very short time, I was still lucky enough to meet both of my last two boyfriends on the app. Despite starting off a little too optimistic when it came to the location radius (it turns out Nottinghamshire dating doesn't work out so well when you don't actually live in the same county as your match!) I soon found my feet with the app.

Even though I matched with both and exchanged messages yet obviously never had a 'first impressions' face-to-face meeting with either, I can now say that it is thanks to Tinder that I met two amazing people - one of my closest friends and the man I hope to spend the rest of my life with.

Bearing this in mind, my opinions of online dating should be pretty clear to see. From a personal point of view, I've had far more success with it than I ever imagined I would - for an introvert like me, online dating offers the perfect opportunity to virtually get out there and meet new people.

If you're single and thinking of giving online dating a try, I'd say to pluck up the courage and go for it. After all, you never know who could be waiting just around the corner!

Have you tried online dating? Do you think it's worthwhile? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Event Review, Prom 30, 2017

* This article was originally published here by Kettle Mag.

There’s nothing quite like a cultured evening spent in the company of classical music, a historical venue, and your closest family and friends. Perhaps that is one of the reasons why the BBC Proms remain so popular, showcasing the very best of the genre and bringing lovers of classical music together year after year.

The 2017 Proms season marks the fourth year in a row that I have attended a performance; each year the sheer variety and selection of shows on offer only grow further. It is this versatility that ensures the timeless tradition of the Proms manages to remain current in this day and age, effortlessly mixing classic pieces with exciting themes and often adding a contemporary twist.

This year’s Prom 30 was certainly no exception. On Monday 7th August, on an evening that was surprisingly cold and wet for what is supposed to be the middle of the summer, the day’s performance marked an evening of fairytale-inspired musical pieces.

Beethoven and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra

Kicking off with an involving rendition of Beethoven’s Symphony No.1 in C major, the evening got off to a flying start. Our main performers were the outstanding Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, visiting for their annual slot at the Proms, led by their excellent conductor Kirill Karabits. Later on, they were also joined by the ranks of the National Youth Choir of Great Britain, providing a rich vocal addition to the sound of the pieces after the interval.

More than worthy of a slot in the Prom, this was Beethoven’s first symphony, helping one of the classical greats to make his name in the world of music. The piece begins with a striking ‘off-key’ opening, before moving into the more familiar territories you would expect from the key of C major. Despite being such an early example of Beethoven’s music, it is still characteristic of his work – while perhaps not being one of his finest compositions, it is still a delight to listen to.

The second piece was my favourite performance from the night. Richard Strauss’ Symphonic Fantasy, Die Frau ohne Schatten, was a truly whimsical composition, evoking thoughts of magic, fairytales and wonder. Performed expertly by the orchestra, the story of the piece is a tale that more than befits its tone. The symphony was originally created for an opera then later adapted for the concert hall, offering a unique perspective on a classic concept.

Memorable and Dramatic

After the interval, we were treated to a memorable yet intense performance of Seven, They Are Seven, by Prokofiev. Although this was by far the shortest piece of the evening, it definitely pulled its weight, adding an element of powerful urgency to the tone of the night. Bordering on the edges of primitiveness and flirting with a frightened, panicky tale, the cantata’s story is told by a single tenor soloist and backed up by the chanting of a full chorus.

Moving on to the final performance of the night, the orchestra then settled in for an epic rendition of Belshazzar’s Feast by Walton. Accompanied once again by the choir, with the addition of booming bass-baritone soloist James Rutherford, this was a true example of musical storytelling at its finest. The full orchestra pays homage to the dramatic nature of the piece, mounting a spectacular tale on a grandiose scale, reaching the climax of the piece before settling back into a more carefully-paced rhythm, finally resulting in a glorious, triumphant rush towards the close of the work.

The perfect end to an inspiring evening of great music, this was certainly a night to remember. Many people mistakenly perceive classical music as dated and boring, but performances like these are the ideal way to show these people that, in actual fact, classical music is often quite the opposite.

Are you a fan of classical music? Have you ever attended a Prom? Let me know in the comments below!

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Why You Should Enrich Your Life with Music Lessons

* This is a collaborative post.

Image: Bidvine
I've always been a firm believer in the power of music and the benefits that it can bring. From the instant mood lift you get after listening to your favourite song to the rush when you finally nail a particularly tricky piece of music, the universal language of music is one that is firmly rooted in our hearts.

As well as being a massive music lover, I've also tried my hand at several different (and surprisingly varied) musical instruments throughout my life. Like most kids, my musical journey began with the obligatory recorder in primary school. Since I apparently showed prowess at the recorder, I was then offered the chance to take up the flute.

I loved the flute, but the flute definitely didn't love me. Despite diligently practising for several years, I never managed to properly get the hang of it and my woodwind teacher eventually recommended I try my hand at another woodwind instrument - the oboe.

Finding the Right Instrument for You

Even though it is a relatively unusual instrument (and often described as one of the hardest to learn), I instantly clicked with the oboe, finding it far easier to play than my ill-fated flute. Admittedly, my previous attempts at other instruments probably made things easier as I was already a proficient sight-reader and many of the basic keys were in a similar location, but I was still impressed.

Later on, I also tried my hand at the drum kit (a bit of a drastic change, I know) and have had various half-hearted attempts at self-teaching myself to play the piano on my bog-standard Argos keyboard over the years. However, it was always the oboe that really captured my musical heart.

I ended up taking oboe lessons throughout a good chunk of my school career, only ending once I started sixth form, passed my Grade 5 oboe exam and realised that taking any further gradings would require a significantly larger amount of effort and practice time than I had or was willing to put in.

Despite this, I remain grateful to my teachers and proud of myself for at least semi-mastering such a notoriously tricky instrument. Learning the oboe provided me with a whole host of benefits, many of which extended far beyond the confines of the music room - some are still with me today, years later.

Image: Bidvine
Since the music lessons I received were so beneficial to me, it pretty much goes without saying that I'm always ready to champion any way that spreads the word and gets more people interested in learning music. One major drawback of learning an instrument is that once you leave the confines of the educational system, finding decent tutors at an affordable price can become insanely tricky. Guitar teachers, for example, can be found ten-to-the-dozen, but for rarer and more specialist instruments, finding a good teacher is often a pure stroke of luck.

So when I was recently introduced to Bidvine, naturally I was intrigued.

Bidvine is a start-up offering services to those in need - connecting professionals and consumers through an effective, innovative platform. Although they offer many different services (literally encompassing everything from wedding photographers to a local handyman), I was understandably most interested to check out their range when it came to music.

Luckily, there were certainly no disappointments there. Even the most unusual of instruments are covered, with tutors for as wide a range of instruments as you could ever dream of learning to play! To my great delight, the service also offers oboe lessons - a real boost for musical diversity.

The best part? Bidvine offers the perfect opportunity to connect with professional, knowledge music tutors in a convenient and accessible manner.

A couple of months ago I actually bought myself a second-hand oboe so I could play again for the first time in about five years. While my memory had lost the finer points of musical intricacy, my fingers retained the muscle memory and it wasn't too much of a stretch before it all came flooding back once again.

Learning to play a musical instrument really is a thrill like no other - it's one of those bucket list items that I strongly recommend everyone should try at least once in their lifetime.

Monday, 14 August 2017

Book Review: I Know Where She Is by S.B. Caves

* I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

i-know-where-she-is, sb-caves, book, blog-tour

On the tenth anniversary of her daughter Autumn's abduction, Francine receives an anonymous note containing just five words: I KNOW WHERE SHE IS

When a young woman approaches her the next day claiming to have sent the letter Francine wants to dismiss it as a cruel, twisted joke.

But the stranger knows things that only Autumn would know.

It soon becomes clear that Francine must go to dark places in order to learn the truth about her child’s kidnapping.

She will discover that danger comes from unexpected sources. She will do things she never imagined herself capable of.

But will Francine get her daughter back – or is it too late?

I-Know-Where-She-Is, SB-Caves, blog-tour, banner

A good thriller has the power to leave you breathless on the edge of your seat, gripping the book with whitened knuckles as your eyes frantically skim through page after tense page. Thrillers are all about involving you with the story, connecting reader, writer and characters in an exciting web of words that always keeps you coming back for more. And it is precisely this delicately balanced relationship that only the most proficient of wordsmiths have the ability to successfully pull off, making the reader watch with bated breath as the different threads of the story are expertly weaved together. 

Such is the life of the expert thriller writer; such is the experience the reader gets from this book.

I Know Where She Is is a thriller of the highest order, an excellent example of writing which offers the perfect blend of setting, storyline and fully-fledged characters. Many other books in this genre often find themselves struggling to achieve this equilibrium, with the writer spending so much time focusing on one or two aspects that the all-important third point gets overlooked. However, all three are balanced beautifully within this novel.

S.B. Caves' writing is perfectly suited to tell the story of these characters, keeping the plot going at a steady pace as we learn more and more throughout. It's interesting, it's involving, but most of all, it's engaging. Put simply, this book is everything that you want to read when you pick a thriller up off the shelf. 

Twisting, turning, and most definitely packing a killer punch, I Know Where She Is makes the perfect read to get stuck into this summer. Whether you are relaxing poolside, sunning it up in an exotic destination or simply looking for the ideal accompaniment to your morning coffee on a rainy Sunday back home in the great British summer, this is sure to be the book for you.

I Know Where She Is is available to buy now.

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

Friday, 11 August 2017

#Blogival Interview: Monika Jephcott-Thomas

Today I am pleased to welcome author Monika Jephcott-Thomas to the blog for my second offering as part of Clink Street Publishing's 2017 summer Blogival.


Good morning, Monika! Could you begin by telling me a little about your background?
I grew up in Dortmund Mengede, north-west Germany. In 1966, I moved to the UK, married and raised three wonderful children. After a thirty-year career in education, I moved into the therapeutic world. 
By 1998, along with my partner Jeff, we had established the Academy of Play & Child Psychotherapy, became founder members of Play Therapy UK and in 2002, I was elected President of Play Therapy International. Our work together culminated in the official recognition of the play therapy profession by 2013, an endorsement of our devotion to help the twenty percent of children in the world who have emotional, behavioural, social and mental health problems by using play and the creative Arts. I have published various papers on strategies of psychological support for children for the likes of UNICEF, but Fifteen Words is my first foray into fiction.
How did you first become interested in writing?
I was doing some research into my family history, as most of us do at some stage of our lives and, also as most of us do whose parents grew up during the world wars, I felt their stories were the stuff of novels. My parents were both German. They met during the Second World War and were eventually separated by it, as Max and Erika are in the novel – my father having to go off and serve as a doctor in the German army, not because he wanted to (he was not a supporter of the Nazi party), but because he was conscripted, like so many young men across the globe in the early ’40s.
Tell me about Fifteen Words.
The novel is heavily inspired by the real-life trials and tribulations of my parents’ early married lives – simply because they are so inherently dramatic – whilst allowing me to depict the complexity of growing up in Nazi Germany among the potent forces of religion and fascism competing for young souls. It is also an exploration of the strength of human relationships, which the war tested greatly, in an age when letter writing was one of the few long distance forms of communication available to most; when the fighting separated husbands and wives, children and parents for extensive periods of time and over vast distances. 
fifteen-words, monika-jephcott-thomas, book
Image: Authoright PR
In the book, Max is a POW in a Russian labour camp on the edge of the Arctic for four long and painful years. I was shocked to find out, during my research for this novel, that German POWs in those Soviet labour camps were only allowed to send letters home if they contained a maximum of fifteen words. So, in the novel, Max struggles over how to express everything he wants to tell Erika with such limitations. He enlists the help of his more artistic friends to help him. But finally in despair he writes something damning. It becomes one of the themes of the book: how we can say so much in so few words to beautiful or destructive effect.
Writing historical fiction must require a lot of research. How do you go about the research process?
One difficulty with researching history is the history books themselves. As we all know, history can be a very subjective thing, open to interpretation and manipulation by historians, depending on their political and cultural bias. Every few decades, top secret documents are released to the public under the Freedom of Information Act, the 30 year rule, etc and we find ourselves a little closer to the truth; a little more aware of how history is not as black and white as we might have thought. 
That’s why I think some of the greatest tools for research are photographs. During the research for Fifteen Words, I would pore for hours over photos found in archives, on the internet and in my families own collections. Luckily, the age of photography was still reasonably young in the early-mid twentieth century, so the photos I saw could not have been doctored; and as such they are often the most honest and objective interpretation of the past we can find. Photos are so full of stuff to inspire your imagination; full of details that can populate a writer’s descriptions.

Private letters are similarly useful, as they can help you imagine the voices of your characters, the vocabulary they might use, the turns of phrase they might employ. Letters often can tell us what kind of issues occupied the minds of people during the eras you are writing about. For example, nearly all of the letters in my novel Fifteen Words are near transcriptions of genuine ones I found in archives. I would match a letter to the appropriate character, or sometimes a letter I stumbled across inspired a whole new turn of events in the book.
Monika-Jephcott-Thomas, author
Image: Monika Jephcott-Thomas / Authoright PR
What made you decide to tell the story of the German experience of the war?
There are not many books written in English about the German experience of WW2. Many early readers of the manuscript of Fifteen Words found it an eye-opener, informing them about the war in a way they never thought of before, without it being a text which tries to rewrite history. In no way does it attempt to say the Nazis weren’t to blame for the atrocities of the war, but it merely points out that not all Germans were Nazis. As with any war, which we see all too often today, there are many civilian casualties, from all strata of society. In this very human story I hope I have been able to reaffirm how all of us, from whatever nation, for all our differences, still suffer and rejoice in remarkably similar ways.
What’s your writing process?
Most of my best work is done in the morning. I am a very early riser. I have to be to get everything done as I am still heavily involved in Play Therapy International full time.
Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?
One of the main difficulties of writing historical fiction is the research – or more specifically getting bogged down in the research. Research is important of course and reality is so often stranger than fiction, which is why history provides such good fodder for novelists, but at the end of the day we are writing historical fiction.  
As a reader, if you want to read a history book, I would suggest you don’t pick up a novel. As a writer, I would suggest, that as soon as something you research sparks your imagination, get writing and stop researching. I often have blank spaces in the pages I write; spaces where a fact or detail needs to be added, but it is not so vital to keep me from actually writing the drama my characters are going through. Later on, after the writing is done, I can go back and fill in the blanks. The internet, being just a click away, is a very tempting and useful tool, but it can lead you down labyrinths that are a massive distraction sometimes. It’s better not to go there until after or before your actual writing time.
What are you currently working on?
The sequel to Fifteen Words is coming soon. It is called The Watcher.
Fifteen Words is available to buy now. To find out more about Monika and her projects, you can visit her website

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