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!

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

5 Ways to Make Your Christmas Cards Unique

christmas, card

Although we're barely midway through November, for most people, Christmas preparations are already well underway. From ordering in supplies to getting the decorations and presents all sorted, there is plenty to do. But in amongst all the hustle and bustle, it's easy to forget about one very special part of the season - the tradition of giving holiday cards to friends, family and loved ones.

Let's be honest, when it comes to Christmas cards, most of us simply grab a cheap box of cards from the supermarket and scrawl out a few cursory seasonal greetings in reply to cards we have received. It's seen as an obligation or a chore, but in fact, it should be a part of the holiday to embrace.

To help you stand out from the rest and go for the unique approach this year, here are some of my top tips for making sure that your Christmas cards dazzle!

Make the Cards Yourself

For the ultimate thoughtful touch, nothing says it better than a handmade card. Even if you aren't particularly crafty, there are plenty of quick and easy step-by-step tutorials online, and after all, sometimes even the simplest of designs can end up looking the most effective. Plus, what better way to get into the Christmas spirit than by spending an afternoon in front of the fire coming up with some beautiful new festive designs?

Personalised Messages

From adding your loved one's name to the card or writing a wonderful festive poem inside, taking that little bit of extra time to put some thought into the message behind your card is the perfect way to show someone you care this Christmas. If you can, take some time to add a personalised message to each card you write - even just a sentence tailored to the recipient can add a nice touch and show that you're thinking of them.

Something Quirky

Christmas, cards

Break with tradition and go for something a little different this Christmas. Whether it's a pop culture reference or a funny pun, opting for a quirky card will ensure it stands out amongst the plethora of snowy scenes and 'season's greetings'. If you're feeling particularly brave, I recommend checking out the range of festive designs from You Said It - to put it mildly, the card pictured above is definitely one of their safest options!

Beautiful Artwork

Of course, nothing beats a truly stunning piece of beautiful artwork. From traditional images to a more modern take on the classic Christmas scene, sometimes all you need is nothing more than a good-quality Christmas card to take their breath away.

Rehash Old Cards

Reuse and recycle - perfect for your inner eco-warrior and doing your bit for the planet. Winter can be an incredibly wasteful season, so this year, make a few changes and commit to reducing your impact on the environment however you can. Instead of spending money and resources on another brand new pack of Christmas cards, why not dig out all your old ones and spend some time mixing and matching, turning them into some brand new, up-to-date designs? Your loved ones are sure to appreciate the extra effort, yet it's a lot easier than making a card from scratch. A win-win situation!

Are you looking forward to Christmas yet? The festive season will be here before you know it, so take the opportunity to get started on your Christmas card list and guarantee a beautiful, thoughtful gift for your loved ones this year.

* This is a collaborative post.

How do you make sure your Christmas cards stand out? Share your top tips in the comments below!

Monday, 13 November 2017

Interview: Roger Bray

From one author interview to the next - today, it's the turn of former police offer turned writer Roger Bray to stop by The Writing Greyhound for a quick chat.

Could you tell me a little about yourself?
I come from Blackburn, Lancashire but am living in Brisbane, Australia, with my wife and her overly cute cat. I served in the Royal Navy before coming to Australia and as a police officer here in Australia before being injured at work. I have three grown children. 
How did you first become interested in writing? 
At school. I wouldn’t describe myself as a great scholar but when given the chance to write fiction I loved it. I won a couple of small awards and was encouraged to write more, but circumstances and life got in the way until I could take it up again. 
dreams-of-a-broken-man, roger-bray, book
Image: Roger Bray
Tell me about Dreams of a Broken Man
What would you do as the sister of a convicted murderer, when all the appeals have failed and you feel isolated and alone? Alice Reed felt as though she was in prison as well as her brother, convicted of his wife’s murder. She is coming to the realisation that all is lost and has given up until a chance meeting with Steve turns her life around. They fall for each other as they work together to pull apart the prosecution’s case and get to the truth. 
What’s the best thing about writing fiction? 
Letting your mind run away with itself. It almost like a meme, ‘Okay, brain, off you go, come back when you have something’. Some of the ideas work out and some don’t but that is part of the fun. 
How do you get inspiration? 
That is actually a hard question to answer without seeming flippant. I am a great observer with an overactive imagination and I get ideas from anywhere and everywhere. Often I don’t even realise that there is a little piece of something useful at the back of my mind until it pops up when I’m writing. 
You campaign against violence towards women – are you aiming to raise awareness through the book? 
People deserve to feel safe wherever they are. Anything that raises awareness of all manner of violence is worthwhile. If my book, in some small way, does that then I would be happy. 
Did your career in the police force influence your writing? 
Ha, yes and probably for the worse. Police writing is very concise, stilted even. Obviously it also has to be precise but there is no place for too much prose. From an experience perspective, though, it has been invaluable. A lot of the points in my writing come from that experience, but so too from the experience of others I have met, in sometimes tragic circumstances. Real life experience of how people react in bad situations. 
roger-bray, author
Image: Roger Bray
What’s your writing process? 
Sit down, type. Actually, I am very linear in my writing. I start at the start and keep writing until I get to the end. That sounds a little simplistic I suppose but I have usually mapped out storylines in my mind and maybe some notes along the way so I can keep the story flowing. 
What’s the hardest thing about writing?
The sitting down and typing part. I need time, I cannot sit down with a spare ten minutes and write a few paragraphs. I like to re-read my previous session’s writing, edit as required, then continue. I will normally write until I run out of steam have a break then repeat the process. It is getting the time to do it that I find the hardest. 
Do you have any tips for aspiring writers? 
The best tip that I have heard, and it is something that I have really taken to heart is attributed to Stephen King.  
‘Amateur writers sit back and wait for inspiration, professionals get on with it’.  
Getting on with it has often got me over a block. It may not be the best writing but as long as the words are on the page you have something to work with. 
What are you currently working on? 
My third novel, about a young woman who, after being attacked, finds out that her assailant is probably a serial killer and she is lucky to have survived. 
What are you reading at the moment? 
An Officer and a Spy – Robert Harris, a historical fiction thriller, the true story of French officer Georges Picquart from 1896-1906, as he struggles to expose the truth about the doctored evidence that sent Alfred Dreyfus to Devil's Island.
Dreams of a Broken Man is available to buy now. For more about Roger and his writing, visit him over at his website

What do you think? Share your thoughts with me over in the comments!

Saturday, 11 November 2017

'Tis the Season - for a Festive Hamper!

luxury, christmas, food, hamper, prestige-hampers

During the festive period, there's one thing on everyone's minds - food! From the indulgence of endless party food and seasonal treats to the traditional turkey dinner, for many, food is one of the staple ingredients of a good Christmas.

It's not just these types of food that dominate the season, though, as this is a time for advent calendars and tins of biscuits, foil-wrapped tree chocolates and candy canes, gingerbread and rich Christmas cake. But in amongst all the traditional foods of the season, there is another which is widely recognised - the traditional Christmas hamper.

luxury, christmas, food, hamper, prestige-hampers

Whether you receive one as a present or gift one to someone else, hampers are a great way to spread the festive cheer and get involved in the season of goodwill. Plus, if you're struggling with gift ideas, what could possibly make a better present than a hamper packed full of delicious treats and foodie delights?

Speaking of the spirit of the season, the lovely people over at Prestige Hampers kindly agreed to send me over a luxury Christmas hamper of my very own to enjoy. As the nights are drawing in and our thoughts are gradually turning more and more towards the end of the year and the holiday period, what better way to start the celebrations than by tucking into the goodies within a premium hamper?

luxury, christmas, food, hamper, prestige-hampers

My festive foodie treats arrived promptly contained within their own beautiful wicker hamper. Aside from being a really nice touch, it adds an extra air of class and luxury to the hamper as well as ensuring the contents stay safe during transit. If you were giving this as a gift, you wouldn't even need to wrap it up as the hamper and smart leather gift tag are perfectly presentable as they are.

When it came to unboxing the actual contents of the hamper, I felt like a child on Christmas morning - there were just so many amazing treats inside! You can see the full array of products in the image, but there's a great range of delicious food and drink, perfect for an indulgent winter evening with loved ones. From festive favourites and classic drinks to things which are a little different, every luxury product in the hamper is from premium brands - perfect for showing that special someone how much you care.

In our house, the crisps, chocolate and truffles have already gone down a treat, but I can't wait to try the other mouth-watering delights the hamper had in store!

* This is a collaborative post.

Have you ever had a festive hamper at Christmas? Let me know in the comments below!

Friday, 10 November 2017

Film Review: Thor Ragnarok

thor-ragnarok, movie
Image: Wikimedia Commons
In the great Marvel versus DC face-off, I've always been a Marvel girl. I love the MCU and always eagerly await new releases whenever they're announced. However, out of all the characters, superheroes and villains alike, my favourite is Thor - to the degree where I'm known as 'Thor' in one friendship group (as it happens, we all have Marvel alter-egos, but that's a story for another time).

But Thor isn't just my favourite Avenger, his movies are also my favourite out of all the individual franchises within the Marvel umbrella. I love how fantasy and classic mythology combine with sci-fi and the modern world, in a way which isn't replicated in any other stand-alone MCU series. I find the concept fascinating, the storylines engaging, and the character development arguably better than in any other Marvel film.

So when I first heard about the release of Thor: Ragnarok, understandably I was excited. Even more so when the trailer and teasers were gradually announced, as the movie looked incredible - combining all the elements I love about the Thor franchise with a giant dosage of fun and humour.

Can it Live up to Expectations?

Heading along to the cinema for date night, I was hyped - and, unusually, carrying no doubts that the movie would fail to deliver.

Carrying on from the events of films past, Thor: Ragnarok sees Chris Hemsworth reprise his titular role in a film which is action-packed from the get-go. Right from the start, it's clear that this is going to be something different, as we begin with some casual breaking of the fourth wall, setting the bar for the outright shattering of conventions which is due to follow. The film is bold, it's brave, but above all, it's fresh, offering an original insight into a timeless franchise and breathing a new spark into the stale world of modern cinema.

Thor finds himself stuck in a forgotten world on the other side of the universe, forced to compete in gladiator-style fights in an attempt to win his freedom. After being pitted against Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) the two work together to try and escape and find their way back to Asgard, where the power-hungry Hela (Cate Blanchett) is intent upon destruction.

But is it the Best Marvel Movie to Date?

Originally billed as an action movie, the film instead surprises the audience by making comedy its main port of call. It's not just the usual snide comments and asides that permeate through past Avengers films, instead, it's unexpectedly brilliant moments of real laugh-out-loud humour. Case in point - there were moments during the movie when the entire audience were in fits of laughter. How often does that happen during a cinema screening?

Fans and critics alike have been touting this as one of the best Marvel movies of all time. A bold statement, but an undeniable compliment - and one which I wholeheartedly agree with. By taking the story in a brand new direction, Thor has become more than just the fantasy Avenger - he's smart, he's funny, and he's got an outstanding storyline just waiting to be fulfilled in the future. Now, I don't know about you, but I can't wait for the next movie!

Are you a Marvel fan? Have you seen the movie? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Interview: Alistair Cross

Perfect for these chilly days and long, dark nights, paranormal fiction author Alistair Cross is stopping by the blog today for a chat about his work, his life and the inspiration behind his fiction.

Firstly, tell me a little about yourself and your background.
I was born in a tiny Utah town during the disco era, which I think pretty much explains my preference for fictional settings - as well as my affinity for all things corduroy. I quickly acquired a deep love of books, beginning with James Howe’s Bunnicula series, which sparked my interest in vampires and led me to Bram Stoker’s Dracula. From there, I discovered Stephen King, and once that happened, my course as a spooky fiction author was pretty much set.
How did you first become interested in writing?
I’ve always been a storyteller, and I’ve always been intrigued by any of the arts that allowed me to slip into a different skin and see the world from another perspective. I realized at a young age, however, that I was not a performer in any capacity, which cancelled out acting or singing - and so writing became the way. 
I’m very much a character-driven writer and even before I knew I was doing it, I was creating characters and the worlds they lived in. As far back as age six or seven, I can recall having fictional people “living” in my head, each complete with his or her own weaknesses, strengths, and struggles. 
That said, writing was not my first attempt at giving expression to these characters. Years ago, I got pretty heavily into photography and, for a while, found that to be an effective channel of delivery... but come to find out, most people prefer to be photographed looking glamorous and happy rather than being caked in ten pounds of ghoulish makeup and striking menacing poses in front of abandoned wells and crumbling buildings. Not that I blame them, but I wasn’t interested in being a wedding/boudoir/kiddie candids-type photographer. I didn’t want to take the kinds of pictures you’d frame and hang on your wall or give to your spouse on Valentine’s Day - I wanted to take the kinds of pictures from which people would recoil in abject terror... 
So, eventually, I hung up the camera, picked up the pen, and began writing - which was something I’d been itching to do seriously since childhood, anyway.
Tell me about Sleep, Savannah, Sleep.
Sleep, Savannah, Sleep is a paranormal murder mystery that takes place in an eerie (and fictional) little California town called Shadow Springs. My protagonist, Jason Crandall, has moved there with his two children - young Amber and rebellious teenager, Brent - with high hopes of starting over after the recent loss of his wife. After settling into the dilapidated old Victorian, he begins setting up his new business as a massage therapist - and once the locals catch wind of what he does, he begins acquiring a steady influx of very interesting clients, one of whom is a beautiful young woman named Savannah Sturgess, who has every man in town under her very dangerous spell. 
sleep-savannah-sleep, alistair-cross, book
Image: Alistair Cross
When Savannah turns up missing, Jason’s childhood night terrors return, and this time he thinks they’re trying to tell him something. When his dreams lead him - and the police - to Savannah’s murdered remains, Jason finds himself in the unsettling position of trying to prove his innocence.
Meanwhile, there’s a murderer on the loose, and through his dreams, Savannah seems intent on leading him to her killer. Could it be the jealous wife-beating husband who was having an affair with her on the side? Or the sheriff, who has some pretty incriminating secrets of his own? And what does the old blind woman in the house next door have to do with any of it, and what is she trying to tell Jason as she draws invisible designs on the window glass late at night while staring at him with those dead sightless eyes? 
As Jason grows closer to unravelling the mystery, his own life is in danger, but what he doesn’t know is that sometimes, the truth is worse than anything - even death itself.
What’s the best thing about writing paranormal fiction?
Tiptoeing through the unknown. Being able to really spend time reflecting on the mysteries of the universe, then putting yourself in your character’s shoes and walking through that world. I’ve always found the obscure and unattainable to be very seductive - it seems to be part of my wiring or something - and writing paranormal fiction is my way of being able to wade in those deep and uncharted waters.
How do you get inspiration?
Inspiration comes from everywhere - books, movies, dreams, the news, you name it - and I love it when it strikes, but I’ve learned not to rely on it. The more important thing, in my opinion, is learning to how to write even when you don’t feel like it. The muses are wonderful and when they show up for work they serve me well, but like any other endeavour, success is dependant on discipline, determination, and developing good habits.
What draws you to writing mysteries?
To be honest, I’m not drawn to writing mysteries any more than I’m drawn to writing comedy, horror, romance, or anything else. I’m drawn to the story and I don’t consider it my business what genre people want to put it in. In the case of Sleep, Savannah, Sleep, I was struck by a seed of an idea and I knew right away that it was a murder mystery - but that was incidental. The important thing, to me, was that I had a great idea, and beyond that, I didn’t give it any more thought. I just write. What shelf the books get put on at the bookstore doesn’t interest me.
Do you find it difficult to write in this genre?
The trickiest thing about the mystery genre is planting the right amount of clues. You have to have enough that the end isn’t a total cheap shot, but not so many that you blow the killer’s cover. Readers of murder mysteries want to be very involved in the story, piecing it together right alongside your main character, so you have to be very careful how much information you give away and how much you omit. Also, mystery is tricky because you have to know exactly where you’re going, and there isn’t much room for detours. This is the only book I’ve written backwards - meaning, I wrote it with the end in mind - and that created a few hurdles along the way. But overall, I loved writing in this genre and can see myself doing it again.
alistair-cross, author
Image: Alistair Cross
What’s your writing process?
A long, tedious, and (to be honest) boring one. I get up around 9 a.m. (most days), drink coffee and pet the cat for a while to prepare myself for the day. Unless I get carried away, pet too hard, and the cat decides we should part company prematurely, this goes on for about half an hour, during which time I try to get my synapses firing with the help of caffeine and funny videos on YouTube. Then I get in touch with my collaborator, Tamara Thorne (we write together via Skype and the Cloud even when we’re working on our respective solos) and that’s when the day officially begins. 
We go hard until about six or seven p.m., spending a set amount of time on each project and taking small sanity breaks in between to play on Facebook or whatever strikes our fancies at the time. This happens Monday through Friday, with late evenings and Saturdays mainly spent on other writerly duties like marketing and PR. I take Sundays off because if I didn’t I’d explode - and who has time to clean up that kind of mess?
What’s the hardest thing about writing?
Having to be creative when you’re just not feeling it. Aside from that, writing is alarmingly all-consuming so there’s really no spare time to do much else. I don’t know if it’s that way for other writers, but between the solo novels and the Thorne & Cross novels with Tamara, writing is a pretty demanding gig.
What do you love most about writing?
Not having to spend my day doing something I don’t care about while making money for someone else. Maybe I’m just pathologically controlling, but I love being in full charge of how I spend my time. Life is short, and I don’t like squandering even a drop of time on anything that isn’t going directly into the bucket which will eventually become my future. When the bucket is full, then I’ll relax. Until then, I’m going to keep doing what I love, what I wholeheartedly believe I was put here to do - write.
Which authors inspire you?
I’m inspired by any writer who has the grit and determination to make writing a reality - but I’m especially inspired by those who not only make it, but those who keep it. What I mean is that, as hard as it is to write a book, it’s even harder to do the next one and the next one after that. Many authors burn out after a handful of books, and while I can understand that, I don’t want to be one of them.
Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?
Don’t take advice from other writers. I wish I was kidding, but I’m not. All I can say is, write. No matter what, write. You don’t need a teacher, you don’t need a degree, you don’t need to belong to a certain writers’ group or be a part of the “community,” and you don’t need to seek advice from other writers, except by reading tons of books and learning what the good ones do. Beyond that, all you need to do is write, get damned good at it, and then write some more.
What are your ambitions for your writing career?
To maintain the ability to support myself with writing and grow my audience at a steady, respectable pace while consistently writing novels that are the very best they can be. I set goals and they’re always evolving and growing as each one is achieved, but my ultimate ambition is, very simply, to be a better writer tomorrow than I was today.
What are you currently working on?
Now that Sleep, Savannah, Sleep is finished, I’ve gone back to collaborating full-time with Tamara Thorne on our upcoming vampire thriller, Darling Girls, which serves as a continuation of both her solo novel Candle Bay and my solo, The Crimson Corset. Our vampires are buddies, you see, and they’re taking a road trip up to the mysterious town of Eternity, California, for a sort of vampire family reunion which is bound to end in blood, tears, and trauma … with plenty of sexiness along the way, of course. While all of our books (the solos as well as the collaborations) take place within the same fictional universe (we love cross-pollinating), Candle Bay, The Crimson Corset, and the upcoming Darling Girls are particularly closely-knit novels - and I am loving every minute of our twisted little vampire tale. 
Also, with The Witches of Ravencrest (the second in the Ravencrest saga) released in July, Tamara and I are about to begin instalments for book three, which will be titled, Exorcism. The Ravencrest Saga, a gothic horror in the vein of Dark Shadows and Rebecca, is ongoing as well, and we’re itching to get back to it. 
And finally, as a solo act, I’m very gently breaking myself into the next novel (I am exhausted!) which concerns a deranged psychopath who owns a cabin in the mountains, and the object of his obsession: the beautiful young woman he’s decided to start a new life with - whether she likes it or not.
What are you reading at the moment?
The Dark Half by Stephen King. Somehow, I’ve never read it before now. And so far, I’m loving it.
Sleep, Savannah, Sleep is available to buy now. To find out more about Alistair and his work, you can check out his website

Are you a fan of paranormal fiction? What do you think? Let me know in the comments below!

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

5 Christmas Gift Ideas for Travel Lovers

It's that time of year again - time to get started on your Christmas shopping! But instead of panicking, trying to figure out who you need to buy for, who wants what, and whether you'll actually manage to stay within budget this year, why not take a break from the hustle and bustle and allow yourself time for some much-needed gift inspiration?

We all know someone who loves to travel, whether they're always jetting off around the world in search of their next adventure or simply struck down with wanderlust, dreaming about a life lived out there on the road. No matter how close they are to realising their dreams, it's undeniable that they've been well and truly bitten by the travel bug. Got someone in mind? Good.

It can often be tricky to find the perfect gift for someone who loves travel, especially if they are often out and about, on the go. If you're racking your brains but coming up with nothing, you're in luck, as I've got some inspiration to share with you. Keep on reading to check out five of my top Christmas gift ideas for people who love to travel!

Vintage Art Prints

art-prints, travel, smart-arts-gallery
Image: Lorna Holland
I've always loved vintage prints, especially when they're combined with travel themes. These gorgeous prints from Smart Arts Gallery remind me of the style used in old railway posters and just scream nostalgia. They're subtle and understated but still bold and eye-catching - the perfect piece to adorn the walls of your travel lover's home. Plus, there's a wide variety of prints, each featuring different places around the world, so you can easily pick out their favourite location for an extra special touch.

Magazine Subscription

Perfect for reading both at home and on the go, magazines can be fun, useful and informative. If you're struggling to pick a gift for the person who already has everything, why not forsake the traditional materialistic gift and opt for a magazine subscription instead? Not only will they never run out of reading material, but a subscription is a gift that keeps on giving as they will be able to read new issues all year round. When it comes to travel magazines, the National Geographic Traveller is a great bet and one I personally recommend.

Travel Journal

So being a writer I may be a little biased, but I honestly believe that there is no better way to document your travels than by writing them down in your very own travel journal. From a battered notebook to a pristine scrapbook, travel journals can be as varied as the people they belong to. If you're after a great stocking filler, here are a few of my favourite budget-friendly picks - the personalised option, the compact option, or the vintage option.

Personalised Map

Having received one of these myself, I had to include the fantastic idea that is the scratch map - a map of the world where you can scratch off the places you have visited or want to visit. Available in a series of different sizes and styles, the Scratch Map is sure to make a great personalised gift for the globe-trotting travel lover this Christmas.

Jewellery Keepsake

What better way to say it than with a stunning piece of jewellery - make your dazzling gift extra special by incorporating the travel theme for a truly remarkable gift that is sure to be treasured. Smaller pieces are great for everyday wear and wearing while travelling, whereas larger pieces or statement jewellery are best for special occasions. No matter their personal style, here are a few of my favourite picks this year - airplane bracelet, travel necklace, suitcase charm.

* This is a collaborative post.

Are you a travel lover? Do any of my picks take your fancy? Let me know in the comments below!

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

When Fact Meets Fiction

the-lido-girls, allie-burns, book, blog-tour

As soon as I read about the life of Prunella Stack I knew she had to be in my novel. If you haven’t heard of Prunella, she was the daughter of the founder of the Women’s League of Health and Beauty, which was a movement in the 1930s that introduced keep fit classes into the UK. Prunella was very young at the time that her pioneering mother died, and she stepped up to carry on the work of the League and deliver her mother’s vision of bringing health and happiness through movement. In doing so she changed many women’s lives for the better.

The power of female friendship is a strong theme in The Lido Girls, along with what women can achieve when they work together, and Prunella embodies all of these things. I realised it would be a challenge to bring her to life; I’d only ever invented my own characters before, so fictionalising a real person was a new challenge. I tried to capture her voice, mannerisms and charisma from footage I found online and from reading her autobiography, but what ended up on the page was how I imagined her to be.

A major concern was that I didn’t misrepresent Prunella in any way. I stuck as closely as I could to the facts as I had them and there is only a limited amount of information about her in the public domain, but I was aiming to capture her essence. She appeared to me to have an abundance of enthusiasm and determination, along with charm and a knack for relating to people, whatever their background.

I also thought there was a lot that my main character, Natalie, could learn from Prunella and I wanted Natalie to grow as a result of meeting her. At the start of the story, Natalie is too afraid to cast aside the established ways of teaching and living, whereas Prunella’s unconventional childhood seemed to give her an open mind that enabled her to move with the changing times. In the end, I found that both characters learned from one another, which was an unexpected bonus.

I have read lots of novels that blend fact and fiction together and I enjoy seeing real people reimagined and brought to life by authors. There’s a fine balance between filling in the gaps of research and creating a complete fabrication. It’s hard to say whether my creation is actually anything like the real Prunella Stack, but she’s certainly my interpretation of her. Whether it’s accurate or not, I’m really glad that I challenged myself to bring Prunella to life on the page. I hope you are as taken with her as I am.

allie-burns, author
Image: Allie Burns
Allie Burns lives in Kent with her family and two tortoises. When she's not writing for business or penning her Women's Historical Fiction, Allie enjoys swimming and yoga. She has an MA in Professional Writing from Falmouth University and The Lido Girls is her debut novel. She is currently working on a second interwar years novel, which is due for publication in the summer of 2018. The Lido Girls is available to buy now. For more information about Allie and her work, check out her website or find her on Facebook and Twitter.

Where do you think the line between fact and fiction should be drawn in historical fiction? Let me know in the comments below!

Monday, 6 November 2017

Event Review: NFL International Series - Minnesota Vikings @ Cleveland Browns

twickenham-stadium, nfl, london
Image: Lorna Holland
The Cleveland Browns - over recent years, undeniably the team with the worst record in the entire NFL and a team which consistently finishes at the bottom of the table.

The Minnesota Vikings - relatively strong contenders looking to top the NFC North and harbouring playoff dreams. Can 2017 be their season?

The Venue - the home of British rugby, Twickenham Stadium has played host to several NFL International Series games in London over the past few years. Despite a series of complaints and unfavourable comparisons to both Wembley and the impressive US stadiums, two games in the 2017 London series were held at Twickenham.

The Match-Up - Largely touted as a complete walkover and a dull game in the making, sports fans and commentators alike almost wrote the game off before any players even stepped foot on the field.

The Cuteness Factor - Over in the States, the Browns have a real-life mascot, the adorable Swagger. Since he was unable to make it over the pond with the rest of the team, the Browns were instead led out by Swagger's British cousin, Otto. After a lap around the field, Otto sat out the rest of the game and lapped up the attention from the comfort of his very own pitch-side dog house.

The Game

Despite a largely purple-jerseyed crowd and the ongoing series of criticism from the experts, the Browns defied all odds to start the game in a strong position. With the lure of an elusive win and the glamour of playing in a new city, new field and new country, perhaps London could be the charm to finally break the team's bad luck spell.

In fact, the entire first half was great, enjoyable to watch and exciting for fans of both teams as the score stayed too close to call. As the players trooped off to the locker room at the half, there was only one question on everybody's lips - could this be the day the Browns finally get a win? As one diehard Browns fan, straight off the plane from Cleveland, put it when was the last time the Cleveland Browns were leading their opponent at the half?

However, it seemed the elusive win just wasn't to be. After the half, the players just seemed to lose their nerve. Quarterback Kizer seemed to panic and the team followed suit, losing all the fluidity and smart play-making that set them up so well in the first half. Sadly, once things started to unravel the ball just kept on rolling, allowing the Vikings to flatten the downtrodden Browns yet again.

The Aftermath

With a disappointing final result of 33-16, even the Vikings fans seemed a little downbeat after the game. There was none of the usual post-game banter and enjoyable atmosphere that usually follows a football game - instead, fans dejectedly collecting their belongings and hurried away from the stadium and another Browns loss.

Everyone loves an underdog and when a team has a record as poor as Cleveland (0-8 and counting) you just can't help but hope for one of those rare miracle moments and a long-awaited victory.

Cleveland, it was a valiant effort, but in the final game of the 2017 International Series in London, it's clear that the Vikings were the rulers of the field.

Did you watch the game? Are you a fan of the NFL? Let me know in the comments below!

Saturday, 4 November 2017

A Visit (or Two) to MCM London Comic Con

star-wars, wicket, pop-figure, warwick-davis
Image: Lorna Holland
On two weekends a year, the capital becomes awash with visitors and cosplayers with one thing in common - a shared love for modern pop culture. Held at the ExCeL exhibition centre, MCM London Comic Con has fast become the must-visit convention for UK fans. 

However, despite my love for many of the shows and genres catered to, 2017 was my first trip. After enjoying the first show so much, way back in May, we decided to go for two and took a trip to the October convention too, heading down on Saturday 28th.

On my first visit, I was a little overwhelmed and consequently went rather overboard on the spending front. Between the pair of us, my boyfriend and I spent the best part of £500 on that day, coming home laden with an assortment of oddly-shaped bags, packages and swords. Despite the fact that we severely lightened our purses, it was still a great day, topped off by getting the chance to meet actor Warwick Davis and browse all the displays and stands.

Having been left so impressed by the calibre of cosplay back in May, we set ourselves a challenge and agreed that the next time we went, we would also try our hand at cosplay.

Fast forward five months and we had decided to go again, though this time with a group rather than just the two of us. In amongst all the planning and preparations, we had to honour our promise to each other and get our cosplay outfits ready to go.

cosplay, daenerys-targaryen, trafalgar-law
Image: Lorna Holland
After much debate on my part and virtually none on his, we picked out our characters. After failing to find a decent replica of Newt Scamander's coat for less than £100, I would be Daenerys Targaryen from Game of Thrones; he would be Trafalgar Law from One Piece.

For someone usually as reserved and self-conscious as me, agreeing to dress up and walk around the middle of London in cosplay was a pretty big thing - one of those moments that just goes to show how far I've come in terms of not caring what people might think.

But self-development aside, what about the actual convention itself?

Spending far less than May's extravagance, October certainly brought a different perspective to the event. Instead of rushing around like headless chickens trying to see everything and meet everyone and buy it all, we had a look around and headed specifically to the places we knew we wanted to visit. We took more time out to meet up with friends and just sit back and relax, enjoying the atmosphere and checking out all the fantastic cosplays.

On the downside, it was also incredibly busy, much more so than the crowds present back in May. We agreed that from now on, we'll probably only go once a year rather than twice, but for a first foray into the world of the pop culture convention, these two days certainly provided one hell of an introduction.

Have you ever visited a convention? Let me know in the comments below!

Friday, 3 November 2017

Interview: Simon Rose

shadowzone, simon-rose, book
Image: Simon Rose
Today, I am thrilled to be able to share an exclusive interview with Young Adult author Simon Rose with you all. Make yourself a cuppa, sit back and enjoy our chat!

Firstly, tell me a little about yourself and your background.
I’m originally from the UK and am currently based in Calgary in Western Canada. I’m an author of science fiction and fantasy novels for children and young adults. 
I offer a wide variety of programs for schools and libraries, work as an instructor for adults with the University of Calgary and Mount Royal University, and offer a variety of online courses for both children and adults. I also offer a number of services for writers, including coaching, consulting, editing, and writing workshops, as well as copywriting services for the business community.
How did you first become interested in writing?
My first novel, The Alchemist's Portrait, was published in 2003 and I began writing on a serious basis a few years before that. When my children were small, I starting reading children’s books again for the first time in many years. This made me wonder if I could write stories of my own. I started thinking that I should write fairy tales and picture books for younger children but after reading the first three Harry Potter novels, I realized that I wanted to write for the age group that those books are aimed at. I wasn’t interested in writing about the same things, such as magic, wizards, and imaginary creatures, and instead focused on themes that I was interested in, such as science fiction, fantasy, time travel, history, comic books, ancient mysteries and civilizations, superheroes, other dimensions, and the paranormal.
Tell me about the trilogy.
The Shadowzone series involves the discovery of a grim dystopian version of Earth that’s ruled by a totalitarian dictatorship, the threat of a deadly virus, and a race against time to save the lives of millions. Without giving too much away, here’s a synopsis for each of the novels.

While watching intense flashes of lightning during a violent storm, Ben experiences mysterious and disturbing visions of another world, one very different from his own. In the chain of events that follow, Ben encounters Charlie, a girl from a dark version of Earth, a planet doomed by the effects of environmental catastrophe, where the leaders will stop at nothing to complete their deadly mission.

Into The Web 
On a doomed version of Earth, the sinister schemes of the Ministry are moving ever closer to completion, with dire consequences for the inhabitants of two worlds. For Ben and Charlie, an unlikely alliance, unexpected reunions, and the mysterious prophecy of the Chosen One offers a glimmer of hope, with the ever-present prospect of betrayal, as they embark on an unpredictable journey into the unknown.

Black Dawn 
In a dark parallel world, following attacks by its most determined opponents, the Ministry has been forced to change its plans. Yet the ruthless Director-General is prepared to sacrifice anyone to achieve an entirely new beginning, no matter what the cost. In a deadly race against time, as events spiral out of control, Ben and Charlie must risk their lives in a desperate attempt to save two worlds from destruction.
shadowzone, simon-rose, book
Image: Simon Rose
What’s the best thing about writing fiction?
I think it’s perhaps having lots of story ideas and being highly motivated to bring them to life. Many of the first ideas I ever had for stories have become now novels but I still have plenty more yet that I’d like to work on. The Alchemist's Portrait was one of my earliest ideas and was published first. However, other novels such as Flashback, the Shadowzone series, and The Sphere of Septimus were also among my earliest ideas for novels and just took longer to fully develop.
How do you get inspiration?
Ideas can come from anywhere and everywhere. Out walking the dog, in the car, something in a conversation, a newspaper story, a billboard, an item on the evening news, books, historical events, other people’s stories, movies, or something out of the blue. I often find myself wondering 'what if?' Sometimes the challenge is to stop having ideas. Some may never be used, but I try to record as many as I can. I never know when they might fit in with a story I’m writing. Even ideas that don’t seem to work right away may provide a spark of inspiration in the future.
What made you decide to write for a young adult readership?
I have many story ideas for adults but the best thing about writing for young adults is that it allows me to write about the kinds of things that used to fascinate me when I was growing up. And of course, the stories can be very imaginative if they're for younger readers, which makes writing them so much fun.
Did you always intend for this story to be a trilogy? 
Shadowzone was originally only one novel, but once I’d finished it I immediately realized that the story wasn’t over and that I need to write more. The final instalment was written very quickly and in the process I knew that I needed to expand the earlier sections too, so in the end, I had a trilogy.
shadowzone, simon-rose, book
Image: Simon Rose
What’s your writing process?
I don’t really have any set process, but once I feel that I’ve got a good idea for a novel and enough material for the story I usually create an outline before I start writing. I like to make sure that the plot works well before I begin work. The outline might certainly change during the writing process but it helps to keep me on track and to write the novel more quickly.
What’s the hardest thing about writing?
Perhaps the editing process toward the end of the project, when you’ve already gone through the stories so many times, but editing and revision is a vital part of the writing process and always makes the story better.
What do you love most about writing?
I enjoy many aspects of it but perhaps the most enjoyable aspect is seeing ideas develop and a project come to life. In common with many writers, I usually have lots of ideas for stories but not all of them become fully developed for one reason or another or might simply not have that much potential. Once I’ve had the initial idea and started to think about the characters and the plot, there’s usually a stumbling block of some kind that threatens to derail the project. It’s always a great feeling when the problem is somehow resolved and the ideas often emerge flow even faster than I can get them down on paper or onto the computer. That’s usually the point at which the entire project becomes very exciting and I’m convinced that completing the novel is going to be a wonderful experience.
Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?
Many new authors decide not to listen to advice regarding their story and suggestions regarding how it might be improved or how to fix problems in the plot, believing that they know best. You don’t have to make those changes if you don’t agree with them, but as an author, you at least need to consider them. Some new authors, especially those that self-publish their books, also often don’t do enough editing and checking of their work before they make their book available to readers and this should be one of the most important aspects of the process, no matter how a book is published.
What are your interests outside of writing and reading?
I don’t spend much of time away from writing since I do enjoy what I do, whether it’s crafting new plots and outlines, writing books, or doing all the marketing. Since it doesn’t really feel like work there’s isn’t as much motivation to get away from it, I guess. However, my dog does insist on going out for walks on a daily basis, which pulls me away from the computer. Even then, I always seem to be thinking about stories while we’re out, but I guess a lot of writers appreciate those times when they can let their mind wander while appreciating the great outdoors. I also watch movies, keep up to date with current events, read a lot, and enjoy the company of friends whenever I can.
What are you currently working on?
I always have a current project or two and right now I’m working on a historical fiction novel for young adults set in the turbulent era of the English Civil War in the 1640s. The novel’s about half finished, but I still have a lot of work to do. I’m also working on sequels to Future Imperfect, which was published in 2016, and The Sphere of Septimus, which first appeared in 2015.
To find out more about Simon and his work, check out his website or follow him on Facebook and Twitter. Shadowzone, the first book in the trilogy, is available to buy now.

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

Thursday, 2 November 2017

Why Are We All Hooked on the Game of Thrones Phenomenon?

Image: Lorna Holland
Every once in a while, one of those ridiculously popular shows comes along and arrives on our screens. You know the ones – the ones which literally everyone watches. One of the best examples of this in recent years is hit show Game of Thrones; the programme everyone is talking about.

Since its initial outing on our screens in 2011, the show has only gone from strength to strength, more than exceeding its creator’s expectations and arguably surpassing even the books it was based upon.

So, just what is it that makes this show so special? What sets it apart from the crowd and gives it that all-important ‘wow’ factor?

Of course, as with any TV show, the popularity can never be guaranteed. Sometimes, despite a producer’s best efforts, shows that are touted for great success simply flop, whereas the most surprising concepts can end up becoming the biggest hits. No matter how well you think you know your audience, viewers are always unpredictable. After all, who would have predicted that a swords-and-sorcery type show would take the world by storm?

One of the biggest boosts to Game of Thrones’ popularity is undeniably its exceptionally high production values. One episode of the show costs approximately $10 million to make, meaning that the budget is huge – not to mention all the costs that go alongside it. With a big budget reminiscent of a Hollywood movie, it’s no surprise that the show looks slick, polished and appealing.

Aside from this, the entire concept is designed to keep you engaged and interested, with new plot lines weaving throughout the series and unexpected twists and turns hiding around every corner. In most forms of entertainment and popular culture, we know that 99% of our main characters will make it out of a situation in one piece, no matter how hopeless that situation may initially seem. However, in Game of Thrones, author George R.R. Martin takes that idea and completely flips it on its head. If you like a character, the chances are that they are going to die. It keeps you guessing, makes the danger seem that much more real, and ensures a fast-paced, current development that keeps the show from becoming dull or stagnant.

Even though now, seven seasons in, we are no longer astounded by the fact that most characters will die, it’s still interesting to guess who will be the lucky survivors at the end of each series. Indeed, as the final season awaits, this becomes all the more important as we must do what we can to figure out who will survive the final battle and sit on the Iron Throne once and for all. It’s fresh, it’s original, and it’s definitely not boring.

I’m currently in the process of re-watching the first series for what must be about the fourth time, and it’s safe to say that I’m just as involved as I was the first time. Each time I watch it I gain a fresh perspective on the events and characters, noticing subtle details that were previously overlooked and figuring out how future important events are foreshadowed in the earlier seasons.

I don’t know about you, but there’s one thing I know for sure – I can’t wait for season eight!

Are you a fan of Game of Thrones? Let me know in the comments below!

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

How Do You Write a Memoir?

the-green-reaper, elizabeth-fournier, book
Image: Elizabeth Fournier
When I wrote my memoir, The Green Reaper: Memoirs of an Eco-Mortician, I did the classic show up and throw up. I sat on a gold-coloured balance ball wearing one of many pairs of cosy, black stretch pants with a Super Big Gulp perched next to me, and out spilt all my thoughts as I just typed and typed on my laptop. The finger strokes on the keyboard became rhythmic. Words appeared on the monitor and I was tickled at how fast the page filled, and how often I refilled my soda.

Have you ever thought about writing a memoir? Great! Before you start, reread the above paragraph. Don’t you feel like you sort of know me and can picture me rolling around on that annoying ball in the corner of my semi-clean home, talking out loud to myself while telling my story?

People are reading about YOU. So dig deep. Tell a story. Explain the details. Give the audience a picture. Yeah, it was Friday and you were heading to work. Were you in the car, bus, or on foot? What did you smell, see, or hear? Were you eating, drinking, or reading anything? Talk to us. Share your life. You, my friend, are interesting.

What personal story would you share? Or what would keep you from writing it?

Write the narrative you feel passionate to write and keep in perspective that you are the protagonist in your own memoir, the tour guide. It is you driving the train out of dysfunction junction and on to greener pastures. This provided a lot of clarity for me which in turn motivated my internal drive to write my book. I worked through the prickly task of writing about one disappointing situation after the next because readers want to see our heroine struggle so we can hold her hand as climbs her way through real life.

Organise your writing into small chunks. Undertake this newfound passion in your life one manageable serving at a time. Allow yourself to jot notes and craft bits that aren’t necessarily in chronological sequence. Don’t worry; the finished result will rock if you stay true to yourself.

I just started at the beginning and ploughed through the whole thing. I wrote between 5-10 pages per day on average for my book. I was done before I knew it, but I certainly didn’t deliver a strong original draft of the manuscript. I then had to regroup, break up the manuscript into larger chapters, add more dialogue and most of all, have fun. I opened my heart and it all poured out with ease, except for days when the ease was nowhere to be found.

Writer’s block is real. Dialogue doesn’t always fall freely from the sky, after all. I would roll back and forth on that gold ball until I had to get up and really move my body to shake it off. A lot of my best solutions to tricky plot dilemmas came to me on the treadmill. I would completely zone out and let my subconscious really get to work. Finally, I read prior chapters aloud, laugh at my wackiness, and change sentences to make me laugh even louder. I kept on keepin’ on.

So what advice can I give a budding memoirist? Be open to the experience. A misspelt word might turn into a different word which can give fresh perspective and new direction. A badly worded sentence can trigger a new thought or two. Add and subtract sentences to make your story sparkle. Writing a good book, compared to a bad one, involves one thing - work. I have heard it said that a manuscript is never truly finished. Editing will be your constant companion, so settle in and be welcoming.

When editing, I used a common time management trick - I ignored everything that was not vital in order to get it done. This meant eschewing my urge to compulsively check e-mail, informing friends that I’m “on deadline,” and creaking out of bed at random hours to jot things down. The editing portion of my manuscript took place at my funeral home. My parlour is located on acreage in the country in a remodelled goat barn. It is peaceful, and my mind feels untroubled there. I can stare out the window and see deer, green grass and lots of beautiful trees and plants. It’s heavenly, and I am currently smiling at those lovely trees dancing in the sunlight as I write this very post.

Elizabeth Fournier serves on the Advisory Board for the Green Burial Council, the environmental certification organisation setting the standard for green burial in North America. She is also an actress in commercials, film work, voice overs, and has appeared in three episodes of the NBC series, Grimm. She was sought-after to sell caskets to the prop department for death-related scenes, and was consulted with as a mortuary advisor. Her memoir, The Green Reaper: Memoirs of an Eco-Mortician, is available to buy now. 

Have you ever considered writing a memoir? Let me know in the comments below!