24. 04. 2015

IMG_0381

We all want to live long and happy lives, however finding fulfilment both at work and at home sometimes doesn’t come so easy. But fear not my pretty thing, as by making just a few small changes your happiness levels can get a real boost. And who doesn’t want to be a ray of sunshine full of positivity?!

I’ve decided to start a new series on Notwedordead looking at ways to become happier, first up is ‘Practice your Passion’ aka ‘Do what you love.’ This is exactly what happened to me just last week. Grab a brew and I’ll explain all.

IMG_0388

I filled you in on my journey to writing a novel here when I finally realised I needed to pull my finger out and go after my childhood dream of being a published author. Forcing myself to overcome the fear of rejection and ridicule to give it all I have, crossing my fingers and toes that dreams can come true so why shouldn’t mine (obviously first I needed to actually get the words and story out).

Do what you love and practicing your passion is something we can all follow. Maybe it’s playing five a side footy once a week, taking evening art classes or going to record fairs scouring the dusty corners for that hidden gem.

If you have a passion then make time for it.

I followed my own advice when my mentor Rosie Blake, mentioned she was hosting a writing retreat in April. This was back in December when I was lazing in the sun in Buenos Aires thinking April was aggeeesss away, well before I knew it I was booking my travel to this incredible country house in Somerset for a week of writing, inspiration and advice from other authors.

IMG_0383

I’m not going to pretend I wasn’t a little nervous on the journey over but as soon as I met the other women I instantly felt like I was among friends. Friends who love to write, read, drink wine and eat cake – friends for life if you ask me!

I had finished my first novel and was preparing to attack my second, but it still felt a little rough around the edges and lacked the finer details. After many brainstorming sessions, midnight chats and strikes of inspiration. Look at that view who wouldn’t be inspired here?! I was on course to nail novel numero dos. Four days and intensive bursts of writing later I had over 17,000 words typed up and in the bag. Incredible.

IMG_0384

IMG_0379

IMG_0387

To be amongst others who share the same passion as I do was just fantastic, a real boost that the problems I’d faced alone at my desk at home were perfectly normal stumbling blocks, and that actually I was doing ok. This positive reinforcement was such a welcomed relief. Writing can be quite solitary, so having others who understood when characters talked to you (without slowly stepping away from the strange girl talking to her imaginative friends) and to bounce ideas off was priceless.

I came away feeling more motivated than ever to persevere and visualise myself as an author. It is going to happen. I have to believe that, if I don’t then no-one else will.

IMG_0404

IMG_0385

So do what you love, practice your passion and don’t feel the least bit guilty about it. Go and fill up your diary, call friends with similar interests or find a group where you can meet these kinds of people. I promise you will feel so much happier when you are spending time doing what you love, and who knows what may come out of it.

IMG_0398

23. 04. 2015

novel-motto

Source

I’ve mentioned in a few older blog posts about how I was writing a novel, but I never went into too much detail about the how and why of this process. I guess through fear of nothing ever happening with my (now finished!) manuscript. But it was time to stamp all over that happiness leech a.k.a the fun sucker, as by not talking about my passion for writing (at the top of my list along with travel, eating cakes and breaking into impromptu dances when the mood takes me) I am not being myself on this blog.

So to throw caution to the wind Pocahontas style, I am coming out with it. I am a writer. My dream, ever since I was able to hold a pencil in my chubby hands, was to be a bestselling published author. As much as I have advanced my fine motor skills, my writing didn’t advance as quickly.

I was always stuck with the fear that I wasn’t good enough, I wasn’t funny enough, no-one would care what little old me had to say, in a world of louder voices I didn’t have enough of a foghorn big gob to be heard, it wasn’t going to go anywhere so why waste my time… etc etc … blah blah blah.

But then after my breakup, the one where I relooked every area of my life, I realised that I may as well give it a go. If I didn’t empty my mind onto paper how would I ever know if I was good enough, funny enough, that people would care? So I started this blog, I started to get into the habit of writing as often as I could on things that I cared about. I entered short story competitions, I scoured the net for writing advice trying to perfect the art of the craft from many books, articles and YouTube videos. I was a little sponge taking in every nugget of information, convinced if I tried this method or that style I would reach the magic goal and be an overnight sensation, pah easy.

The problem was with all this productive procrastination I still wasn’t writing my story, the story in my head where characters prodded me in my sleep frowning at why I hadn’t taken them from my imagination onto my laptop screen. The kick up the bum I needed was getting Rosie Blake as my writing mentor as part of the fab Womentoring Project (if you’re a female writer looking for priceless support then please do check it out). Here was a successful, talented and hilarious author telling me my writing was actually quite good, I should stop doubting myself and carry on aiming for my dream. Having a stranger read my words and tell me this, was the boost I needed. With her help I devised a plan, a plot rather than vomiting words in no particular order, and locked myself away to write. Write some more, edit then write some more.

Before my grandma passed away last summer I visited her in the hospice. Conversation was difficult but she found the breath to ask how I was getting on with my book, she believed in me and urged me to never give up. I made a promise right there and then that it would be finished to the best of my ability, not just left to linger in a drawer full of lost hopes and dreams. I owed it to her, to myself, to push my limits and keep the faith.

It wasn’t as easy as some authors make it look. Sometimes the words didn’t flow or even make sense but for every tear-your-hair-out-moment that it wasn’t coming together deep down I knew it was going to be worth it, the perseverance that I was going to finish this book outweighed any moments of anxiousness. Draft one was completed, then draft two, then more tweaking to draft three after deciding to change the tense from 1st person to third person and back again, ah that was a joy*.

*Note sarcastic tone.

But with each draft I learnt more, got further under the skin of the story and saw my time with these fictional characters as if hanging out with friends. For any non-writers this sounds like I need to be locked up in a mental hospital but trust me it’s quite normal. The feeling of typing The End was a feeling like no other. Those two simple words filled me with a sense of spine tingling pride that I’d just accomplished something so magical.

So reader, where does this story end? Well I’ve sent off my finished manuscript (all 97,000 words of it) to agents and have started on my second novel. This time I don’t have the overwhelming feeling that a blank page used to give me, but rather if I’ve done it once then I can do it again. Even if it takes me one or one hundred novels to get to where I want to go then so be it. The important thing is that I am chasing this dream and not letting the fear of failure hold me back.

21. 04. 2015

P1000920

P1000996

P1010007

Leaving the hubbub of Belfast city centre we headed to the Giant’s Causeway. After overindulging on Guinness the night before (for previous Belfast fun check out here) a bracing walk was much needed. Even though it pains me to admit, having a good dose of fresh air and a bit of exercise does seem to be the best way to kick any hangover.

This UNESCO site has to be seen to be believed. It is such an unusual and raw backdrop that Games of Thrones and the latest Dracula film both filmed here on location. There are even GoT tours you can book on for you super fans out there.

P1000933

P1000918

P1000956

P1000927

The legend goes that the unusual pillars of rocks were the debris of larger stepping stones used by rival giants linking Northern Ireland with Scotland.

You can get a bus (I think it’s £2 return) down the sloping hill to the stones but as it was such a nice day we needed to stretch out legs and breathe in that sea air, plus it was only about 15 mins. Crumbling cliffs were licked by frothing waves and our hair was dancing in the icy blasts of wind. Thank gawd I wore my winter warmers! As part of our tickets we each got a tres glam/super geeky audio phone which told the legend of the causeway as you headed to each section, pointing out things to look out for including a giant boot. Can you see it?!

P1000991

P1000976

P1000997P1000983

P1000993

The visitor centre itself is actually worth checking out, it’s built underground so you can walk on the grass covered roof, I’ve never walked on top of a museum before! Inside there are lots of interactive activities for big and little kids, a café and gift shop where they even sell Katy honey, I’m gutted I didn’t buy a pot. But the best bit has to be the super comfy cushions to recline in after walking up a sweat and watch the mini film of the legend of the rival giants.

P1010017

P1010015

P1010016

P1010012

The rocks were BEGGING to be climbed upon. It was like an adult climbing course getting up and down, watching your footing in the wet slippery stones. Apparently there are over 40,000, all different heights, but all in the same hexagonal shape it was like enormous crazy paving.

P1000974

P1000961

P1000968

If you follow the well worn path past the rocks it takes you around the edge of the cliff on a beautiful walk to get a real feel of how raw and windswept this part of the world is. Make sure you are wearing study boots with plenty of grip as some parts get pretty steep and slippery. Once we had breathed in enough sea air, cleaned our hangover away and clammed up from the icy winds it was time to warm up and refuel. How have I never discovered Tayto crisps before? these were perfect for post-walk snack time!

P1010021

P1010018

P1010004

P1010009When my dad suggested going to see a load of rocks I have to say I wasn’t jumping with excitement, but it was such a strange/cool experience that I am so glad I forced myself from my hungover pit to go. As well as feeling less guilty about the next lot of Guinness and wine consumed that evening after burning off the calories from the night before. Win-win if you ask me.

As Ross from Friends would say ‘Geology Rocks!’

P1000921

 

20. 04. 2015

 

IMG_0217 comps

You know that expression ‘you’ve got to be in it to win it’? Well now there’s no excuse! I thought it would be helpful to do a roundup of all the current travel related comps out there so you can enter them in an instant. Why not take your lunchbreak/evening to do something so simple (most are literally just popping down your deets) and cross your fingers to wait and hear if you’ve won. I won’t even ask you to take me with you*.

*maybe

Please check if you are eligible to enter depending where in the world you’re from. Closing dates vary. T’s & C’s apply etc etc.

National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest 2015

Fancy an 8 day photo expedition to Costa Rica for two. Err yeah! Well National Geographic are looking for the perfect snap from your travels. Rummage through your best shots and send them over to win a spot in one of the categories such as ‘spontaneous moment’ and ‘outdoor scenes’.

Intrepid Travel Photography Competition

Visited any jaw droppingly beautiful national parks, jungles or mountains recently? That’s the subject of Intrepid’s monthly photo competition in April. Don’t worry if you haven’t been wandering through nature, as each month there is a different theme and more chances to win! There is a stack of travel goodies up for grab each month and the overall annual winner gets an incredible trip with Intrepid.

Telegraph The Big Picture

Each week you can win a Nikon camera worth £500, perfect for even more paparazzi moments. Simply upload your recent holiday snaps that you reckon will bag you that prize. Check out the website for recent winners to see what your competition looks like.

Win a Poldark inspired Holiday

From my twitter feed it seems everyone has gone a bit doolally over the new BBC Poldark series. Thanks to Visit Cornwall you can win a trip to this beautiful part of the UK, where many scenes were filmed, and get utterly pampered in a swanky hotel plus horse riding and kayaking excursions. Simply fill in the form to enter.

Ontario Wilderness with Ray Mears

Wow this is a biggie. You could win a trip for two people not just to Ontario, Canada but you get to spend it with adventure legend Ray Mears! That is going to be a trip you will never forget and possibly the most perfect travel companion if anything goes wrong.

Win a Week In Mauritius 

If lazing on tropical sandy beaches is more your thing then this is the perfect prize for you. The Guardian and British Airways have teamed up to offer one lucky winner (plus travel buddy) a weeks holiday to idyllic Mauritius, staying in the first eco-friendly hotel on the island. Just looking at the dreamy photo is making my feet itch!

Wishing you ALL the luck in the world!

 

15. 04. 2015

P1000774

‘You know you’re staying just off the murder mile folks?’ Well talk about first impressions. This was the friendly welcome our taxi driver cheerfully informed us as we sped through the streets of Belfast. He then went on, in A LOT of gory detail, who had been killed, where and why. He is of course referring to the Troubles that plagued this city. It may not have been the most sympathetic welcome but living through that time how could you forget?

This was my first time in Northern Ireland, we were here to celebrate my dad’s birthday and trace his Irish roots. In other words drinking a lot of Guinness, exploring this diverse city and tracking down long lost family members.

P1000783

We were staying in an Airbnb house, that could have featured in an interior design magazine it was so swanky (I wrote a recent post on the ups and downs of Airbnb here if you are looking for an alternative to hotels or hostels during your next trip!). Once we landed our first job was to head to the local supermarket and stock up with essentials, ie. Wine, beer and the ingredients needed to make an Irish breakfast. It may sound a bit weird but I love going food shopping when in a different place, the accents of the shoppers, unusual items you don’t get back home and chance to try local specialities is more fun than it seems! So into our full trolley went soda bread, potato cakes, Cookstown sausages and white pudding. Yummy yummy in my tummy.

You know when you’re in a new place, especially when you are celebrating a big birthday, and get a bit giddy with excitement? I call these #firstdayfails as you do so much and usually drink too much therefore the second day you are exhausted and hungover? Yep. We had a #firstdayfail.

P1000768

P1000769

P1000777

P1000796

P1000815

But dancing with my dad in his hometown to bald headed enthusiastic Irish band, jigging around the tiny dancefloor down the road from the Europa hotel, my sides hurt from laughing so much is not what I would call a fail. However, I was paying for my carefree fun the next day. Until, my brother and his fiancé whipped up an enormous Irish breakfast immediately curing our sore heads. What is this sorcery?

P1000845

The next (tender)day was spent at the Titanic museum in the dockyards where, yep you’ve guessed it, they built the famous ocean liner. Although what a rip off! I hadn’t researched prices before we all rocked up so was shocked at how expensive it was to go in and have a look around. We instead opted for a much needed caffeine fix in the café, although that wasn’t so cheap either. It was a real shame as the building was spectacular.

IMG_0215

P1000856

IMG_0218

P1000847

That evening we got our glad rags on and went for dinner in Villa Italia. From the fantastic reviews I knew it was going to be popular, especially on a Saturday night, however I didn’t expect people to be queuing out the door! Definitely book ahead as every table was taken in this restaurant. Thankfully the food lived up to the hype, we tried nearly everything on the menu, washed down with some cracking red wine. Chosen after some blindfolded wine testing, I am happy to report that my wine connoisseur French man knew his stuff. Phew.

P1000888

 

P1000886

P1000881

P1000895

I have never met so many chatty funny taxi drivers as I did in Belfast. Everyone had a story. We drove past run down pubs with grills outside, leftover from the Troubles, huge wall murals marking territories of different areas and heard many tales of this bloody conflict from my dad’s relatives. This city is so rich in history and I’d have loved to have stayed longer, although I doubt my liver could have coped. So much for being half Irish, I need to get more practice in!

Have you ever been to Belfast?