Monday, 22 April 2019

Download The Zi'veyn For Free!

It's been a long time - since I last posted and was able to run a promotion like this - but from today until the 26th of April, you can download The Zi'veyn for free on Kindle & the Kindle app! It's available across all Amazon & Kindle stores, just click one of the links below or search 'The Zi'veyn' on your preferred site!

UK   •   Netherlands   •   US   •   Canada

Tuesday, 9 April 2019

Sleep. The Best Thing You Did All Night.

   There's always something to do. It could be fun, it could be dull, it could be urgent, or the deadline could be entirely imagined. And yet, if we miss it, it's going to be the worst thing in the world. It's ridiculous, really. And it leads to cutting so many corners, and, worse still, those corners are always the things that matter. Like skipping a proper warm-up or cool-down post-workout, or arriving late to parent-teacher night, or dragging your dog around the park as quickly as you can (I maintain, if you have to find time to give your dog a walk, you shouldn't have a dog). And, worst of all: sleep.
   Staying up late to hit your deadlines and then rising early to get a head-start. Fine, if there's a dissertation hand-in that needs to be met in a week's time. But if this is basically your life, something has to give. And if sleep is the corner you're cutting, the thing that buckles will be your sanity.

Why is sleep so important to your health?
   During sleep, lots of body functions are turned down so that other functions that run in the background while you're awake can do their job more efficiently. Like your computer trying to run updates and things like that during your inactive hours. These are things like repair - your body rebuilds its cells and starts to work on healing injuries or illnesses while you sleep. This isn't limited to exercise, it's your body's basic daily wear and tear - but it does, of course, increase in necessity if you're active. To repair your body properly, it chooses to run these 'programs' while you're not moving around and directing energy elsewhere, and as a result it makes other things less sensitive - like touch, hearing, smell and sight - and also reduces your metabolism because you're not eating. If you start to wake in the night from small noises, your body isn't working properly, quite probably because you've ruined your sleep-cycle with late nights and early rising. This can also contribute heavily towards general bad moods and depression.
   This entire system is managed by chemical changes in your body, the simplest and most relevant of which is the balance between serotonin and melatonin. Serotonin levels increase with exposure to natural light, ie morning time, and kicks your metabolism, mood and nervous system into drive, while melatonin increases when serotonin eases off, and kicks your healing, rejuvenation and natural detoxing systems into drive, which are running on low-power in the background during the day. This is generally why you feel like you've 'reset' the next day if you felt ill or sore the day before. It's also responsible for your circadian rhythm - your body clock, essentially.
   The balance between these two incredibly important chemicals is skewed when our busy days come into play. We rise early with an alarm clock, before our bodies are ready, and often while it's still dark, and we stay up late, using computers, tablets and phones - sending artificial light into our eyes and confusing the release of melatonin - before sleeping for 6 hours.

It's not just a matter of sleep time, but sleep quality.
   If you're in bed at 10 and rise at 6, you probably count that as 8 hours of sleep, right? Well, no. Not if you're waking up every hour or two. If you keep waking, your body can't keep up its nighttime engines. You won't heal, rejuvenate, recover or rest if you're still using your conscious mind, your sight, your hearing, etc. And just the act of waking these systems up will trigger others to follow by default. It takes time to shut them back down and start the others back up. This is more damaging than 6 hours of restful sleep.

   So what can you do? Especially if you're the kind of person who does wake every hour? Well, it's actually quite simple. You need to hold yourself accountable.
   Setting up a simple night-time ritual will help to turn off your over-active mind, aid the release of the right chemicals through relaxation and association, and ease you into sleep, giving you a better 6 hours if that's really all you can spare. You may even find that new nighttime habits gets you to bed a little earlier as a cosy little side-effect.

1. Limit artificial light
This means phones, tablets, computers - electronics, basically. Stop using them 2 hours before bed and read a book instead, go for an evening walk, draw a picture. Do something that doesn't have you staring into a screen, that disconnects you from social media and the anxieties that come with it - whether you notice them or not - and relax.

2. Consider your environment
Cool down. Cooling the air and letting in a fresh flow will help you to fall asleep. The body usually responds better to cooler temperatures. It sucks trying to sleep in the summer, but winter is oh so cosy. So, crack open a window, opt for lighter/low-tog sheets - Julian Charles has a good variety of togs - don't fear the monsters under the bed and stick a foot out, and consider sleeping nude beneath the sheets.

3. Stretch and breathe
A few yoga stretches with some deep breaths before bed helps to calm and slow the mind. If you do this after shutting off your devices, it gives you something to take your mind off of the 'boredom' that comes with having turned your phone off. There's more to life than your phone, social media and work. Take time for you.

4. Don't exercise in the evening
On the other hand, don't take the yoga too far. Consider dinner time the cut-off point for proper exercise, like a dance class, workout or run. You need the fuel to recover from it, anyway.
   When serotonin eases off and melatonin rises, your ability to handle higher levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) is reduced, and continues to reduce the later it gets. You know how nightmares always seem so scary when you're a kid, but when you think back in the day, they seem silly? Or how niggly things that don't bother you so much in the day suddenly grow into monsters at night? It's because your brain can't handle the stress. This isn't just mental stress, but physical, too. This means that higher levels of cortisol at night also inhibit sleep quality, and if you're trying to lose weight, get fit or build muscle, then having a poor night's sleep after an evening workout is only going to inhibit your results, too.

5. Get some blackout curtains
They're a thicker curtain, or another set of curtains hooked behind your regular ones. They add an extra layer to block out the light, which will aid your melatonin levels at night. This is the best option if you hate wearing sleep masks. I certainly do.

6. Get outside during the day
Melatonin levels improve at night if you got lots of sun during the day. This means getting outside. The exercise and change of scenery will do your general mood wonders, too.

7. Have a warm drink before bed
Warm milk doesn't actually contribute to a good night's sleep. The levels of melatonin and tryptophan in a glass of warm milk are far too low to make a difference. Instead, it's the act of having that warm drink and the relaxation that goes with it that helps to prepare the body for sleep. But it is still high in fats and protein, which the body puts to use at night to repair the body.

Do you already have a night-time ritual that helps you get to sleep? 
For me it's simple: turn off devices, have a stretch, then clamber in bed and read a book for an hour, with a cup of sleepy tea. I'm loving Bird & Blend's 'Dozy Girl' right now.
If I fall asleep with a cup half-full, then I fall asleep with a cup half-full.

Disclaimer: this is a collaborative post. All research was my own.

Sunday, 31 March 2019

Lately [Bypassing The Frets]

   It's been quiet on the blog this year. As always with me, I try to do too much, and something always goes on the backburner. It's usually the blog.
   January was spent finishing the second book of The Devoted trilogy, February was spent editing it, writing the short stories for Project Tarot and following The Art of Storytelling course, and March has been split in many directions: completing the course, planning out the third book, planning out the story I intend to write for Camp NaNoWriMo (which begins tomorrow), injecting life into my Instagram account and trying to make it work for my writing, trying so hard to bring my Etsy shop back from its own ashes after a disastrous Christmas and a first quarter so dead that I considered packing it in all together if not for the fact that it is my sole income, pouring a lot of hope and dedication into my current workout plan and final stages of my calorie experiment, and fretting over Brexit and what it will mean for my Dutch husband and I.
   So, though a lot has been going on, I've had nothing to say. It's been the busiest and, so far, most emotional month, and while I used to blog about every single little thing on my mind, I didn't want to waste a post talking about my feelings when they all stem merely from hopes and worries, with little solid foundation. If I was worried about something inevitable, something actually happening, fine. But it's all based on nothing but conjecture. I'm an unreasonably pessimistic person for someone chasing a life-long dream of a creative career.

   And, given that I no longer switch my workout up every single month, there's not much to check in with on that front, either. Especially right now, because I really want to get a well-rounded picture before I present anything.

   I'm not really sure why I'm writing this post, to be honest, but I'll focus on the positives.

Author Instagram Adventures
   Disregrading the approval of Article 15 & 17, I've got a lot of hope for my Instagram account. After stumbling across Wildmind Creative while setting up my author website (which still feels so ridiculous to have), I read up on their free advice for optimising an Instagram account to promote your book. I doubted it would work, since Instagram's audience have the shortest attention span, but actually, it's a lot easier and more enjoyable than I'd thought. Reviewing books relevant to your own work, posting pictures of inspirational people or places, text images of writer or book quotes, with every 4th image related to your own work. Taking good photos is the tricky thing, but I'm muddling through, and having found #FantasyWIP[Month] has also given me daily prompts. I'm not posting daily, of course - I've got too much on my plate right now to come up with pleasing pictures every single day - I'm aiming for every 3-4, but it's helping to fill the gaps when it's time to post and I have nothing to say. I'm hoping to do it a little more often in the near future, but all my pictures are from adventures in forests and my feed would look rather green and rather forestry-commissiony. So I'm spreading them out and holding them back.
   I also read about optimising my twitter and how to use hashtags.
   Alllll of this has resulted in a huge boost for my social media. I'm not spamming "bye my buk lol" but rather actually posting content, and I'm getting likes, follows, retweets and even interactions from other writers and book lovers. I'm so excited! I feel like there are actually people listening to me now!
   I've also learned that your follow count on Instagram is extremely fickle; I can gain 5 followers in a day and then lose 4 of them two days later. So I'm not taking that to heart. As long as I post content that is relevant and enjoyable, that's fine with me. If people come and go, they come and go. Numbers mean nothing if only 20% of them are actually listening, and I never follow someone to get a follow back.

Camp NaNoWriMo
   I'm also feeling really positive about Camp NaNoWriMo. I have given myself a 15,000 word count goal. I don't know how doable that is - I have never kept track of my word count, and I guess that shows - but it boils down to 500 words a day, which is about a page. In which case I ought to be able to manage that, because I average 11 pages a week when I'm being lazy, distracted or struggling. We will see.
   The story is actually a window into the wildlings between books 2 and 3. There's an event in the second book and I wanted to see how the wildlings would handle it, and as those wildlings are made up of a combination of my own creatures and creatures from Scandinavian folklore, I wanted to look closer at them in general. They have a much bigger part in the third book, so if I have a better idea of them, they will get their chance to shine.
   I've no idea what I'm going to do with the story. I like to think I could self-publish it if it's any good, and I'm trying to write it as a stand-alone, but I don't know how well that will work. I'd have to give it to someone who hasn't read The Zi'veyn and find out from them if it seems confusing at all. If it does, publishing isn't an option.
   But the point of my writing it is twofold: establish the wildlings in my own mind in preparation for the final book of the trilogy, and to put into action the things I learned from Neil Gaiman's 'The Art of Storytelling' - which I do intend to review, now that I've finished it.
   Also, how's that for a place-holder cover image? It's made up of a photograph I took in Sonsbeek in 2012, and another I took in the dark ages of the mid 00's. It's awful. But better that than a blank space. If I were to publish it, the cover, and the title, would improve, I promise.

Better late than never

   Though Etsy is flopping severely and we are incredibly skint, we have paid off the honeymoon and we're all set to go in May. I'm so excited. It's a year after the wedding, so it's more like a 1 year wedding anniversary, but we don't really mind at all. The place should be worth it - I would hope so, at least, having saved up for a year! It's cost three times as much as the wedding! Though, granted, the wedding cost £500...and we loved it.

   I also blame my friend Rini for this, but I've developed a rapid obsession with the Moomins. I didn't realise how little I'd seen when I was young, but I bought the first season on DVD and watched it cover to cover in one day. I actually planned to work on my book plan while watching it, but that didn't happen. I was riveted. Snufkin is my favourite <3 which is ironic, given how down to earth he is. I'm in the clouds all the time. But, perhaps I'm just seeing similarities between him and my own husband. Except my husband doesn't have a green hat, live in a tent or play the harmonica.
   I should get him a harmonica.
Side note: there's a man that walks his dog in the field behind our house, and he bought a harmonica just over a year ago. He plays it while he walks. He was not good initially, but we've heard him improve. He's enviable now, it's genuinely a pleasure to hear him out there.
   Especially when compared to the idiot man who stands outside our house at 6-7am every day, shouting at the top of his lungs and clapping as loud as he can to get his dog's attention. If he doesn't trust his dog, he should get an extendable leash. I am this close *pinches fingers* to calling him out on it. He's oblivious to his surroundings. It's a residential area. Taking three steps over the threshold into the park doesn't suddenly muffle voices!!

   The weather has been rather nice lately, too...

Tuesday, 26 March 2019

A Guide to Creating a Small Home Gym

   I was speaking to my cousin recently - who is currently training for the BDFPA 2019 Home Nations Championships in Glasgow April 6th - and she brought up how hard it is to find the motivation to train at home. Personally, it's not something I suffer with. Being a full-time carer for my mum (Multiple Sclerosis) means that I am always at home. Gyms have never been an option for me. I've never been in one. Instead, I gradually built up my own home gym. I started working out with DVDs and basic dumbbells. Then I gave kettlebells a go, starting off with a cheap set of 3 for £25, which I have since built up, and then, last year, turned at last to barbells in order to try to shift my mindset away from results in the mirror and onto results in my abilities. I fell in love, then. And all my workouts take place in my living room, with kit hidden behind the sofa. You'd never know it for looking.
   But part of that lack of motivation to work out at home can stem from space. Some people need designated areas for certain things, like an office for work, or an art room for painting. Me, I can sculpt, paint and write pretty much anywhere. So I haven't suffered from the need to designate a space for my workouts, either. But, if you just can't do that, take a look at the below article for tips on working out at home, and creating your own gym-space at home.


   Creating your very own home gym can be intimidating, but it’s actually easier than it sounds. There has always been a debate about which is the better choice: working out at a commercial gym or at home. The answer depends on your personal goals and preferences. Working out at home allows you to move at your own pace and free from feeling self-conscious. You can also make as much noise as you want, and use gym equipment without worrying about other people waiting for you. If those reasons persuade you to build your own home gym, here’s everything you’ll probably need:

A clear and well-thought-out objective

   Your gym’s layout and all the equipment in it depends on the type of workouts you will be doing regularly. Is your goal to create a space for Pilates and yoga or do you want a workout area that is essentially for one person? Your fitness objectives will determine the type of home gym you build.

   You need to make sure that you choose the right equipment, too. There are many cheap products out there, but compromising on quality might put you at risk. Some faulty gym equipment could break while you’re in the middle of a workout, which will not only lead to injury; it will also cost you more money in the long run. Life Hacker suggests you start with at least three dumbbells that you think you will use the most often. Adjustable dumbbells are ideal as they allow you to add plates with the click of a switch. Good yoga mats, stability balls, resistance bands, and a jump rope are good investments as you can perform multiple exercises without using up much space. Also, getting a good quality elliptical trainer takes up less room than a treadmill. We’ve already discussed on A Blackbird’s Epiphany the benefits of elliptical machines, and talked about how it’s a low-impact exercise machine. Perfect for those with joint problems.

A room with optimal conditions for fitness

   A home gym with integrated smart technology will allow you to control the temperature in it, which can enhance your workout. Shape explains that you burn more calories during hot-weather workouts, which means if you have a way to control the heating in your home gym, you can increase the temperature so that you sweat more. The heating controls that are featured on Screwfix, show how a room’s temperature can be controlled using a connected device. These devices can be adjusted using your smartphone, allowing you to change the temperature without having to stop your workout.

A home gym in the garden

   A good place to have your home gym is in a separate location in the garden, such as a converted shed or a conservatory. The benefits of this are that you can build a space specifically for working out. If you drop a heavy weight it won’t matter as much, and you also won't disturb the rest of the people you live with at home. The Telegraph suggests that the perfect home, should reflect your personal style as this can help you condition your mind to workout and continue moving through your sessions. If you’re someone who loves the outdoors then working in a dedicated space in the garden could help motivate you. On a nice day you can take your equipment outside and workout in the garden.
   Your garden doesn’t need to be complex, or filled with different bits of equipment. Often the most effective workouts are the most basic. A home gym should be convenient, as this will motivate you to exercise more. The more you use it the more you can expand your gym to include different equipment. You can even be more experimental than your local gym and maybe invest in something like a mini trampoline (for tips on how to use this checkout our article ‘How To Use A Rebounder Effectively’). The choice is yours, so create the gym that suits you.

Friday, 15 March 2019

Camp NaNoWriMo

  Having met a few writers and wonderful people over the course of this still very young tarot art & short story book project, I also heard about Camp NaNoWriMo. National Novel Writing Month, while national to the US, has become international in recent years. I've never participated - it falls in November, and for the last 8 years, November has been *filled* with Etsy shop work to the ends that I can't even write my own novel, let alone embark upon a new writing project or attempt to start and finish a novel of 50,000 words in a month. That remains the case.
   However, Camp NaNoWriMo falls in April and July, are much smaller, and, while they can be used for starting and finishing new projects, they're often used to just lay out the details for their November projects.
   I won't be doing that, though. I'm opting for a whole story.

   I heard about this very early this month, but because the plan for the third and final book of my trilogy, I disregarded it.
   But, I knew there were a couple of short stories I wanted to write - both to submit to competitions - and one of them tied in quite tightly to the trilogy (though could still be written as a stand-alone). So tightly, in fact, that knowing what happened in it would only help in writing the third. And as it tied into an existing piece, I already had a pretty solid foundation.

   I've spent the past 5 days working on planning, laying out the details and seeing if it could just about work out. I'm not sure it will reach the length I'd like, nor if it will read as much of a stand-alone after all, but I can say this: I really, really want to write it.
   I'm going to give it the whole of April. I have a lot of ideas for it, and I have a very workable plan - so workable that I could start right now, but I won't - and I'm very excited. And, since it ties into the trilogy, it doesn't feel like a separate project or a waste of time, just an indulgence, really.
   I would rather write the next book, but I also want to write this, and I know that, if I leave it until the trilogy is finished, it won't actually ever get written. I'll have moved on and the matter I'm writing about will have been resolved. I won't have any incentive to backtrack. Not only that, but the work I would (and already have) put in to it, even if I kept the story private and never let anyone read it, it would enrich the world I've created so much and give me much more to draw upon and put into this last book, when the elements are supposed to truly come into their own.
   Yes, I'm being cryptic again, what a surprise.

   The idea of NaNoWriMo and its spring & summer camps is that you set a month of your free time aside to just write. You probably won't finish by the end of the month, but that's fine - it takes 21 days to make something a habit, and if you've spent a month writing and you're still enjoying it, you just keep doing it! All NaNoWriMo is is an incentive to get you to start, fall into a writing routine or revisit an old hobby. I've never needed that, since I've been writing non-stop since I was 12 - the only time I fell out of the habit was after my first rejection, which led to 6 months of neglect before I recovered, and even then it was my insatiable passion that drew me back (I'd not heard of NaNoWriMo back then).
   I'm hoping to get it finished in a month - my target is well below 50,000 words - but if I don't manage, I'll probably just keep going until I do. It won't take me anywhere near as long as a trilogy book.