My debut fantasy novel, The Archguardians of Laceria, is now available in paperback, and in all ebookstores!

Sunday, 31 July 2016

BarreAmped - 4 Weeks Later

   I've been using BarreAmped now for a month, and, as I promised at the two-week mark, I have formed a solid opinion: tiny weights are like honey badgers.
   Seriously. I'm quite happy swinging 8kg, snatching 6kg, rowing and flying 4kg, but ask me to flutter 1kg or draw tiny circles with them, I believe I might cry. And it's not just the 10-minute light weight work segment. The whole thing is vicious.
   It's wonderful.

   Put simply, without colourful similies, BarreAmped is undeniably effective. It is simply not possible for it to not give results. Why? Because the movements are so concentrated and your heart rate stays so steady that you can truly put your full focus into the moves. And, better still, the muscles that are targeted are muscles that I, personally, never feel I give enough attention to.
   Light weight work lasts just 10 minutes (thank goodness) and I feel it most in my upper back, shoulders and triceps - muscles I feel I neglect.
   Seat work lasts 20 minutes and pays close attention to the glutes and hamstrings and lower back - your posterior chain - and trust me when I say your glutes will be transformed. I only wish I'd taken before and afters. It's also quite amazing how a slight and simple change in the rotation of your leg can dig into different parts of the glutes, too. It's a very well-rounded (hehe) structure.
   Thigh work lasts 15 minutes and is quite vicious, but there's simply no way it can't yield results. It is so hard for such small movements, and you do really need something to hold onto here - or, in my case, kind of dig my nails into. I'd by lying if I told you there weren't parts that were so hard, burned so much, that I actually found myself biting my fist.
   Mat work lasts 15 minutes and is, to my mind, the easiest section. But that's possibly because my core is stronger than I thought and I can hold a plank for a while. That's not saying that it was easy, just that, for me, it was easier than the other sections. I still struggled, but I impressed myself with the ab curls - in fact I think, in terms of ability, I grew the most here.


   I used BarreAmped for half an hour a day, every day - I paired light weights with seat, and thighs with mat - and followed it up with Jillian Michaels' Kickbox Fast Fix for 20 minutes of reliable, high-impact cardio. I've used the kickboxing DVD countless times, I know the kind of results it yields, and so I can easily discount that and reliably see what BarreAmped provided.
   And what did it provide?
   A bigger booty, leaner thighs, leaner upper arms and a general increase in leg and ab strength.

   And I did have to drop my weights in the first section during the final set of reverse flies.
   I did stand up more often than I was supposed to in thigh work.
   I did lower to my knees on the push-up pulses.
   And I use Jillian Michaels workouts on a very frequent basis.


   It's a deceptive workout, it looks so easy, there's such little movement, but it's one of the hardest things I've done.
   Why did I struggle so much? I can tell you precisely why: I'm used to big, powerful movements with heavy weights, and fully expanding and contracting muscles. BarreAmped, however, keeps the muscles contracted and that builds up a lot more lactic acid. You don't get the release of repping in and out, you hold a lot of the moves, and that's what makes it so horrible. And because it's so far out of my comfort zone, so different to what I'm used to, it has been a real challenge - and a challenge in fitness always yields results.

   All in all, a very challenging month that certainly yielded results in terms of muscle tone, and the use of Jillian Michaels' Kickbox Fast Fix afterwards contributed to fat loss. I'll have a DVD review up soon in which I'll talk about it all a little more technically.



Sunday, 17 July 2016

August 1st - Mark Your Calendars

Two things are happening on 1st of August that I really have to tell you about!

   The first: The Archguardians Of Laceria will be available for free on Kindle from the 1st to the 5th, to everyone. Just 'purchase' it with the buy now button on the right of the page like you would any other, and that's it! It's yours. You don't need Amazon Prime, you don't need Kindle Unlimited - in fact, you don't even need a Kindle device to read it at all! The free and official Kindle app is compatible with everything. You can download it on your iPhone or Android phone, you can download it on your tablet or iPad, your laptop, your Mac, your computer - downloading the tiny program on one or all devices will give you access to your Kindle library and allow you to read any book therein. It's brilliant, especially if, like me, you have a growing library of reference books and nowhere to put them. I use the app on my computer and my laptop and I've had no problems at all.

   The second: There will be an Ask Me Anything/Ask The Author on the Fantasy Reddit page. I secured my slot as Fantasy Writer of the Day for August 1st about 3 months ago - there's a very long waiting list and only two spots a week. So, if anyone has any questions, be they about my book, about me or just anything you've been pondering lately, please do get ready to ask them! The more questions, relevant or not, the more successful my spot. All you need is a Reddit account.
   Questions should be applied to my FWotD post, which will be put up on Reddit at 9am on August the 1st, and I will of course tweet a link as well as blog it and update this post. I will then reply to them all throughout the day.
   No question is too silly, nor too irrelevant. I really want this to be a success, so I'd hugely appreciate it if you could take a moment to sign up and think of a question or two, even note them down in advance and just copy and paste them on the day.




I'm really excited about both of these facts, and I really, really, really hope you snatch up my book for free while you can, and that some of you come over and participate in the author Q&A! I've never done anything like it before, so I'm quite nervous!



Friday, 15 July 2016

BarreAmped - 2 Weeks Later

   I've been using BarreAmped for 2 weeks now, and it's about what you'd expected from a barre workout: pointing toes, long legs, controlled and elegant movements, and a steady heart rate. It's not cardiovascular in the slightest.
   And it's quite possibly one of the hardest things I've ever done (and haven't given up on, but I think Insanity might be within my reach now).

   BarreAmped is made up of 4 workouts: light weight work, which is 10 minutes, 'seat' work (bum) which is 20, legs which is 15 and mat work (upper body & core) which is 15. I grouped them up respectively to make two 30-minute workouts which I've been using on alternating days, and let me tell you, I feel it.
   I'm used to Jillian Michaels, as you can see quite clearly in my Fitness archive - that means big weights, big movements, big effort and big sweat. Now, I have tried barre before, but it was a few sample workouts from Women's Fitness magazine. I think I forgot how hard it can be - the small, controlled movements and lack of sweating is very deceptive. They're not at all what I'm used to, to the point that even after two weeks I'm still struggling.


   It's awesome, and it's horrible. I genuinely am torn at this point, I can't decide if I like it or not, but I do know that I like doing something this different.
   I like the delicate, dainty, feminine feeling I get from doing it, I like the concentration that is going into my bum and my triceps, and I like the idea that it's having an effect - it's so hard and so different, and I feel it so much the next day, that it simply has to be having an effect.
   But I hate struggling to complete sets, I hate having to take her advice and drop my 1 kg weights to come close to finishing them, I hate how much my quads ache the next morning, and the pain if I accidentally lean my elbows on them.

   I suppose, after writing that out, I've decided that I do like it, just not while I'm doing it. I've been following it up with some kickboxing for a little bit of cardio but that's been quite difficult to complete. I think barre takes more out of your muscles than you really realise - either that or I'm just generally fatigued, because I'm struggling to put power into the kickboxing, I'm slower and I'm generally just struggling with it.


   The workout is deceptive, it is challenging, but it is not complicated. It's within everyone's abilities, really, but I think patience is quite important. The struggle to complete the sets without putting your foot on the ground, straightening your leg out of a bend, standing up in the middle of a seesaw, that will knock your confidence, but the instructor - and she is clear, and she is lovely - states quite precisely that, with the legs, it's not about how high you lift your leg, it's about how straight it is, and if you need to drop the weights in the 10-minute section, do it. By that point, your arms will fall off anyway, and if dropping the weights is what it takes to complete not only that set but the rest of that section, so be it. As long as you give it your all.
   The satisfying thing about this workout, though, is that not only do you know precisely which muscles you're working, you can also very much feel them working, too. Hamstring curls, hello!

   I'll update again in 2 more weeks; by that point, hopefully I'll have more of a solid opinion...



Friday, 8 July 2016

Darebee Hero's Journey Review

Price: £9/ $9/ Free
Length: 10-30 minute workouts; level-dependent
Workouts: Lower, Upper, Core & Cardio
Suitable for: Everyone
Rating:   ★★★★★
 Enjoyment:  ★★★★☆   Difficulty:  ★★★☆☆   Results:  ★★★★☆
Based on 60 days of use.


Overview
   Hero's Journey is a 60-day fitness quest by Darebee.com. It's a body weight workout, one a day for 2 months, but unlike other fitness programs, Hero's Journey has a roleplaying twist. It's extremely unique, and while to some that might sound lame as all hell, to others, like me, it breathes a whole new life into a workout, and it has ended up being the most interesting workout I've ever done, as well as managing to stay fresh for a hell of a lot longer because of it. I loved it so much I even wrote a short story about it.
   It requires no kit, essentially (see 'Weapons Training' below), and it can be modified for beginners, so there's really no excuse. If you love fantasy, be they books or video games, this workout, I promise, has been made just for you. I truly cannot recommend it enough. You can download the program for free from Darebee.com, or you can support their work and buy it as a paperback book as I did from Amazon. They deserve the support for what they do for us fit nerds, and frankly, I've always preferred physical products over digital ones. I prefer my games, music and movies on a disc and my books in paper. And I always will.


The Moves
   The moves themselves are simple, so anyone can do this workout, from beginners to advanced. There are explanations and exercise modifications at the front of the book, so there's really no excuse, and you need no kit for the majority. The only time you may need kit is on the 'Weapons Training', which I've talked about below, and it's entirely choice-focused.
   Hero's Journey provides a different workout every day - some days may be similar to eachother, but they will never be on consecutive days. You may find yourself doing kickboxing one day, yoga the next, resistance another, and burpees next week. It's brimming with variety, but every move is doable and easy to modify. For burpees, for example, you can make easier by removing the jump at the end. Or you can make it harder by moving faster, or adding a push up, or using ankle weights. They're all body weight moves, and the intensity and difficulty is entirely within your hands.
   

Workout System
   The movements themselves didn't offer anything revolutionary, but rather it was the format that made this workout something amazing. Every day progressed a story where your workout was relevant to the challenges. Some days these challenges weren't so much narrational but the workout itself, like days of recovery and training, where the purpose was for your character to get stronger. These days, however, I didn't find dull. Instead I relished in the idea that the situation was calm, and I did my crunches, bridges, back extensions with a smile, and felt them the next day.
   But the days when the challenge came from the story and was reflected in the workout, those were the best. At one point I had to fight off seven assassins, and while that really just meant I had to do a kickboxing circuit seven times, it didn't feel that way.
   Of course these workouts were made better when I was given a choice - option A, which might involve scrambling over a crumbling bridge, resulting in high knees, jumping jacks and lunges, or option B, which involved clearing the bridge in a single jump, resulting in 200 jump squats - because not only did that mean I could deviate, choose an 'easier' or 'harder' option, or keep it different to however I may have run through the workout last time (though this was my first), it also introduced a karma system.


Karma System
   This karma system was based on two things: your choices, and your ability.
   When you were able to make a choice, such as what I outlined above, you may end up impacting a future workout. For example, if you choose the 'easier' option (or sometimes not the easier option at all, but one weaker of character to keep it interesting), you may have to do an extra set three days later, making a 5-set level 1 workout last for 6 sets. Alternatively, choose the more heroic option and you might be allowed to take a longer break between sets on a given day instead, making that future day easier.
   However, if your ability limits you, it's also affected, and that's a great motivation to push yourself. If you have to chase down and catch 3 spies, you may find that level 1 only lets you catch one while two escape, while level 2 lets you catch two, and level 3 allows you to catch all. Obviously, if any get away, that would have negative repurcussions for the story later on, which will result in a punishment of sorts where you have a harder time of your workout later on. How do you avoid it? By pushing yourself to catch all three. I always aimed for at least level 2, but sometimes I admit that I actually limited myself to level 2 in order to invoke a negative karma later on, for the sake of the story, that day's abilities, and to push myself harder later on.
   But the karma system doesn't only affect future workouts. Alternative punishments come in the form of no bread for the next 4 hours, which I thought was a roleplay thing until I found 'no internet or technology for the following 1-2 hours' further down the line.
   Yes, you can always ignore the karma, but if you do that, what's the point paying any attention to the story? Why not just do the workouts and ignore Hero's Journey's real angle?


Weapons Training
   On some days you'll encounter 'weapons training' - this does not actually mean working with a weapon. Instead, you choose your 'weapon' emblem, then turn to the back of the book to find out what you'll be doing, and each weapon has a set format. For example, if you choose the hammer, you will be using free weights on every weapons training section. If you choose the lasso, you'll be doing jump rope, and if you choose the ribbon, you'll be doing martial arts. This is the only part of the workout that may require kit, depending on your choice. I chose the ribbon because I wanted to get more cardio in as I'd been focusing a lot on resistance before I started, and I'm comfortable with that choice. However, next time I may well choose the lasso.
   There are 6 weapons to choose from.


Verdict
Enjoyment:  ★★★★☆  -  When it comes down to it, the moves in this 60-day workout are nothing new - but that's not why you bought it. The role play element is incredible and seriously makes a difference to the enjoyment of the workout, so much so that you can overlook the familiarity of so many routines. The variety of different workouts involved, though - combat, yoga, body weight resistance, cardio - also really help to shake it up and keep the whole program feeling fresh.
Difficulty:  ★★★☆☆  -  The moves are nothing new, and so they're easily executed and modified, but the combinations aren't to be sniffed at. Most of the workouts are a challenge, especially if you aim for the side quests (bonus moves).
Results:  ★★★★☆  -  60 days is a really, really solid time frame, and if completed, you will see results. Guaranteed. And the variety of movements means every part of your body gets a look-in.

   This workout has been made for fit nerds, or nerds who want to be fit. It has incorporated resistance and cardio into a system to appeal to the more imaginative among us, and that acts as a surprisingly strong encouragement to keep going once you get started. Grow from minion to master, lose weight, build strength, get lean and toned - this is all you need. This workout and a decent soundtrack - try Two Steps From Hell, or even your favourite video game soundtrack. Some days it was The Witcher, other days it was Skyrim. Whatever floats your boat. But because this workout lasts long enough to see considerable results, is doable by all fitness levels, requires no kit, takes between 10 and 30 minutes a day, can be done in your living room and is available to download for free from their website, I really don't see that you have any excuse at all.
   What's that? Fantasy isn't your thing? That's fine. There's a post-apocalyptic workout program, too. See? No excuse.



Thursday, 7 July 2016

Lately - Creative Troubles

   It's been a while since I've written any kind of personal update, but in truth it's because I'm a creature of habit and I rarely do anything worth talking about.

   I've been working a lot on my book lately, but I just went through a stint of writer's block which was immensely annoying. It's such a helpless feeling. I spend a lot of my time writing, and to suddenly be unable to is...well, as I said, a helpless feeling. There's nothing I can do to bust through it, I just need to let it pass. If it's mild, I often find that stepping away from the laptop and picking up pen and paper instead can help, because the tactile sensation of holding a pen and paying such attention to how neatly I'm writing can actually help to clear my head. But when it's this bad, all I can do it put up with it. Fortunately I was ill towards the end of the block, so I couldn't have worked then anyway, which meant I was only really dealing with the block for about three days, but then it was something else that was stopping me from working. And I love writing so much, it's my lifeblood, I swear, so to have the time but be completely incapable of doing it for reasons out of my control seriously drives me up the wall! I had so little to do otherwise, and it annoyed me so much, I made a redbubble product page about it.

   Anyway. Fortunately my previous book, The Archguardians Of Laceria, is selling well in its first month, for which I'm extremely pleased, and I hope it continues to improve, but I have yet to receive any feedback on it which has left me somewhat uncertain. According to statistic reports, thousands of pages have been read, which is a great feeling - people are actually reading it - but whether or not they're enjoying it, I can't tell. And that's difficult, it makes me anxious. I've managed to get a sample put together, too, so if you're a smidge interested, you can read a little from the beginning of Archguardians right here on the blog.

   My jewellery has also suddenly taken a turn in a wonderful direction. The summer is the worst time of year for my sales, truly, June through to August see sales plummet which is why I try to make sure I have a new collection out in time for the summer, but after a little feature on Bored Panda at the end of last week, I'm suddenly all over similar sites, especially in Japan. And I love Japan, so that's pretty amazing! Despite it being the quietest time of the year (thereby giving me more time to write), my shop statistics are rocketing - that doesn't necessarily mean sales, but it's actually just wonderful to have my work appreciated. That's something I forget as sales roll in, but these features do remind me of it.
   I also recently started my summer sale, which is code-based (FIRE16) until July 31st. I was a bit late to the game, been a little distracted, but better late than never, right?




Watching: Star Trek: The Next Generation, again
Reading: The Tamuli, by David Eddings
Listening: Assassin's Creed Syndicate soundtrack
Playing: The Witcher 3, new game +
Eating: Trek protein flapjack, summer berry
Drinking: Green tea chai



Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Darebee Hero's Journey - 60 Days Later

   Well, I've done it, I've finished Darebee's Hero's Journey. It was tough, I have to say - it got harder the further you progressed - but it was easily the most interesting workout I've ever done. The roleplay element kept it fresh for so very long and really appealed to the raging nerd that...well, it doesn't lie beneath the surface at all, it's very much out there for the world to see. Either way, it appealed to me hugely. And, to be honest, knowing I was doing something very different every day was another big boost. I never looked ahead to find out what the next day entailed, I focused only on that day and rose the next morning unaware of how easy or how cruel the coming hours would be. Sometimes I did two days at once because the first only took 10 minutes, or I found level 3 to be too easy and didn't get enough of a sweat. Sometimes it turned out to be a good idea. Other days it was torture. But once I started, I always saw it through, and I aimed for level 2 every day. If I could surpass it to level 3, amazing. If not, as long as I gave it my all, I could walk away, satisfied.
   I used a range of different soundtracks while working out, but I actually enjoyed Two Steps From Hell the most. In fact, you've probably heard them without realising it. Their music often plays over movie and game trailers. I've also noticed it popping up on adverts for stupid mobile games, and even on the most recent Reed.com adverts - 'find your battlecry' and all that.


   The workout is a fantastic mix of resistance and cardio, with full-body days, lower body days, core, upper and so on, so nothing gets neglected, and they took me between 10 and 30 minutes to complete so it's far from unmanagable.
   I would love to use this workout again, truly. There's more than enough variety in the workouts to avoid boredom, and to avoid predictability on a second, third or quite possibly fourth time through, and given the choices you're able to make, and the karma system, you can shake it up a lot.
   I purposely aimed for 'weaker' options, not to keep it easy - because it wasn't easy, in fact sometimes the less heroic options were tougher - because I wasn't playing a hero.
   It's a role play workout, give me a break!
   And that's also where my short story has come in. The choices I made, and the repercussions from the karma system, shaped Of Ash And Dew (which I am still working on). The story of the workout was just the frame work, but my effort in the workouts filled the details.

   I've written a full review for this workout which will be going up in the next week, going over every aspect - the moves, the format, the karma system - so if you're interested but unsure, maybe can't quite get your head around what the roleplay aspect involves, I've got you covered!



Monday, 4 July 2016

July - BarreAmped



   I've enjoyed using Darebee's Hero's Journey - I've fallen behind on the story installments because of 30 Days Wild, but I have full intention to finish them - but I'll admit that I'm happy to put it behind me.
   This month I'm trying a DVD I've had my eye on for some time, BarreAmped by Suzanne Bowen. There are a few DVDs in the BarreAmped series and they all have few but great reviews on Amazon, but I decided to pick out the original, and the one with the prettiest cover, and that's what I'm using for resistance this month.
   It's barre - bet you didn't see that coming - and I've had a great interest in it for a while, but the only barre workouts I've tried have been from Women's Fitness magazine. I loved it hugely, a combination really of ballet and pilates, but I'm quite looking forward to using a DVD.
   It's broken into 4 workouts - light weight, legs, seated and mat - and are about 10-20 minutes each, and I'm going to divide them in half and use them on alternating days, followed by cardio of some kind.
   Hero's Journey got tougher as you progressed, and I admit to over working myself across the last few weeks by adding on more and more afterwards to the point of doing 1 hour of high-impact resistance and cardio every day. Physically, I'm suffering for it - I was during as well, but I foolishly didn't stop.
   This month, however, and with this DVD, I am set to dial it down, and I think it's for the best. Too much exercise and too little rest doesn't get anyone anywhere, whether their goal is to tone up or lose weight. It's the activity that burns the calories, but it's the resting that creates the change.


   So, after a 60-day workout routine, I'm happy to return to a one-month workout. It feels simpler, and though I quite liked waking up and not knowing what to expect for that morning's workout because it meant I couldn't get in my head about it, I'd also quite like to return to having expectations. It gives you more a marker to tell how far you've come. If I struggle with a move on day 1, then after 5 days of practice, by day 10 I'll see a measurable improvement.

   I have no goodies this month; summer is a bad time for my shop so money is tight, which means indulging my passion for workout clothes and capris in particular has to be forgotten. Which is probably for the best - I have more pairs than I know what to do with and the drawer is seriously fit to burst! One more pair and I'm quite sure it won't close properly anymore.

   As it's a 4-week workout, I'll be returning to posting a 2-week update in the middle of the month, and then a round-up at the end, followed by a review. So, if you're interested in how I'm finding the DVD, and what I make of it so far, come back around the 16th/17th of July!



Saturday, 2 July 2016

Sample The Archguardians Of Laceria For Free

   So, I've gone on and on about my book over the past few years, talking about its progress, about finally finishing it, tidying and polishing, reaching out to agents and the eventual availability of it on Kindle, and I am immensely proud of it. I can't believe it's finally out there for the world to see, and has been for a month now. It's such an enormous sense of accomplishment.
   But then comes the big question: is my book worth your time?
   It's fantasy, which right away eliminates a wide audience because fantasy isn't for everyone. But it's been my life since I was 12 and I rarely read anything but. But even then, not all fantasy I read do I enjoy, and it's likely the same for you.
   Fortunately, while my debut book is available for £4.99/$7.50 on Kindle, you can read a good chunk of it for free to see how you like it. Perhaps you're interested in what all my hype was about; perhaps you're interested in seeing my work, but not prepared to commit to a whole book - I can understand that. In which case, please do read the below excerpt. I don't expect the world to love it, but I certainly enjoyed writing it. And in the end, that's what truly counts.
   Though I hope you do love it. Like I've said time and again, I want to find enough success with writing to be able to keep doing it...


Get The Archguardians of Laceria in full, for free, until August 8th!




   The Archguardians Of Laceria will be coming to the iBookstore, NOOK, Kobo and more in September. Until then, it will be available for free on Amazon to those who subscribe to Kindle Unlimited as part of KDP Select. The price will stay the same across all platforms where possible.