Wednesday, 17 July 2019

Turunda & The Devoted Trilogy - World Building Prompts, Part 1

   I've been more active on Instagram these past few months, and I've been focusing it on my writing, sharing character and world building information, resources, cover reveals and illustrations and anything else that fantasy book lovers might enjoy.
   Last month, the Great Western Woods podcast duo started a daily prompt list to help with world building. I wanted to get on board, and decided to share more in-depth details about the world of The Devoted trilogy rather than build something new, since I'm still working very much within this world (work has begun on the third and final book, and the second will be out on August 1st!)

   I'm going to gather up all the prompts and responses from this World Building Quest and share them all with you here over 5 posts. I'm also including some of my #FantasyWIPJune posts that I posted at the same time, if they're relevant. They were, otherwise, all posted in a thread on twitter ^^

   You can read chapters 1-5 of book one, The Zi'veyn, for free on Kindle, Kindle app or in your browser right here!
   It's also available on all Kindle stores, and from select Amazon stores in paperback (UK & DE Amazon ship across Europe). Book two, The Sah'niir, is available for Kindle pre-order and will be available for download on August 1st, when paperback is also released.

Day 1: Genre & Setting
   The Devoted is set in a fantasy, pre-technology world. I prefer pre-tech because it makes greed less tangible and more akin to obsessive survival. It's set within the borders of Turunda, the southern tip of the continent of Arasiin, and under the reign of King Thunan, 700 years after the extinction of the elves.

Bonus: Day 1 of FantasyWIPJune: Does your WIP have a Creation myth?
Vastal and Zikhon were the sole gods. Vastal created elves and humans for extra company, but Zikhon grew jealous and sought to destroy them. Vastal fought him off for centuries, but when the faith of the dominant elves dwindled, Vastal weakened. Zikhon slipped through her defence and destroyed them all. Only the humans' love for her gave her strength enough to protect them. And so only the reverent humans remain.
According, at least, to Craitic belief.

Day 2. Draw Your Borders
   Sea and mountains define a good deal of Turunda's land. The mountains are vast - the Pavise range in the west belong largely to Skilan, while the eastern Olusan belong to Ivaea who neighbour along the northern border. Doana lies to the east, and Kalokh to the north-west, above Skilan.

Day 3. Find Your Water Source
   Turunda's water sources largely consist of the Emerald River, which stretches across a good deal of the south east from its source in the Wildlands, while the Northrage in the north and the White River in the west supply the rest.

Bonus: Day 3 of FantasyWIPJune: Hierarchy. Who's in charge?
The Crown - the king and his council, who then control the 4 authorities: the Arana, the Order, the Hall of the White Hammer, & the military.
But, being banished and all, Rathen doesn't really recognise their authority anymore...

Day 4. Establish Your Capital
   Kulokhar, its namesake from the three elven spiral towers, which translates into 'Ebon Star Rise'. This is where the king's palace is located, as well as the mages' Order, the White Hammer's headquarters, as well as the Arana. It lies close to the Emerald River.

Bonus: Day 4 of FantasyWIPJune: Culture(s)
Turunda is a loose mix of English and Scandinavian culture, but the wind tribes are my favourite - they're not material people and get by on what they need, either trading for or making it. They're inspired loosely by Tibetan Buddhism.

Day 5: Survey Your Landscape
   It's low-lying and largely forested, with three major rivers carving through to distribute fair water to support the forests. Mountains to the east and west capture much of the rain, keeping the country verdant. There are also a few dales, meadows and fells, with limestone scowles to the south.

Bonus: Day 5 of FantasyWIPJune: Describe Any Location
The Wildlands - dense, overgrown, truly wild forest of eastern Turunda. Thick with creatures of legend - näcken, askafroa, kvistdjur & many more. Hlífrún's throne. It's a dangerous place to venture. Even more so if you catch the huldra's eye.

Day 6: Natural Resources
   Wood is Turunda's largest resource, along with clay, while stone is sourced from Kalokh and Ivaea where necessary.

Bonus: Day 6 of FantasyWIPJune: Religious Beliefs
The most wide-spread is the praise of Vastal, though the distinction between her Faces is neglected, and the caution of Zikhon (see Day 1). Elemental tribes worship elemental deities, and those with their god's favour can mimic their powers.

Day 7: Sapient Species
   With elves extinct, humans are the dominant species, while the forests are also riddled with wild, sentient creatures. The most commonly spotted are the ditchlings, who go so far as to venture into towns and villages and steal from washing lines and kitchen windowsills. There are also näcken, kvistdjur, vittra, etc ❤ There is only one huldra per continent, and she rules over the forests and its creatures.

Monday, 1 July 2019

The Sah'niir, Book Cover Reveal

I mentioned in my earlier post that today was the day for my book cover reveal, and I wasn't lying.
After a few weeks of work, straining my eyes and becoming really quite sick of drawing, I've finished!!

   It's not the greatest cover in the world, and I still think that The Zi'veyn's is better, but they will both do. It's immensely satisfying to be able to say that I made the book and the cover. But there is a reason that professionals are hired, and I would never turn my nose up at them. But while my budget consists of biscuits and pocket lint, there's not much I can do but practise and hope that my own efforts will do for the time being.
   Tools: Wacom Intuos art, Paint Tool SAI, photo reference (of my husband again :B) and much trial and error.

   But, ultimately, I am very proud of it, and it had a better first attempt than The Zi'veyn's originally did.

   The book itself will be released on Kindle & paperback one month from today, on August 1st, and pre-order links will be available very soon!

Lately, and Getting Back to Routine

   After six months of constant and changing work, my massive to-do list has finally come to an end, and on Thursday last week, I finally made a start writing book three of The Devoted trilogy! The cover for The Sah'niir is finished, proof covers have arrived, and I'm in a position, at last, to make its reveal later today. I've also sent out six copies of my Camp NaNo project, Hlífrún, out to beta-readers to find out once and for all if the book makes any sense on its own, or if readers will be in the dark unless they've read The Zi'veyn, and I've also made revisions to the beginning of that very book to try to improve the opening and grasp more attention. Which I then sent out to 14 literary agents. If I never mention it again, it's because it was a miserable failure.

   This is the first time I've had a regular writing/daily routine since October. Back then, I put the almost-finished Sah'niir to one side in order to keep ahead of Christmas Etsy orders. Then, when I got back to it after Christmas, it only took me two weeks to get it finished before 6 weeks of proofing and editing began, then I got to work planning out the third book. Between that, I worked on a couple of short stories for Frenone's tarot book project before making the spontaneous decision to write Hlífrún, which I did in 3.5 weeks, flat-out. That was then edited and proofed, and then I returned to planning the third book, alongside working on the cover for the second, updating The Zi'veyn, its cover and its maps, preparing new agent submissions with a fresh and far more accurate synopsis of the entire trilogy, a much improved cover letter, and gathering every detail each individual wanted. So it has been a very busy six months, indeed.
   Now, however, it's all smooth-sailing. I have no other side projects left. It's just my book, and my shop. I hadn't been stressed out by any of it because the deadlines were either months away (and still are, though I've long since completed my part), or self-imposed without repercussions, but suddenly it feels like I can breathe more easily.

I'm so proud of my digital art growth:

   I'm hoping to blog more often now that I have more manageable time, too. I've been pretty active on Instagram, but I'm certain I can bring a lot of that over here, too, and while my fitness has been pretty steady, the fact that I no longer change it up every month leaves less to talk about. But I'm still going at it with 3 months of resistance training, using the same programs as I outlined last year (v1, v2 & v3) and I've improved drastically. Case in point: when I first started in March last year, I was deadlifting 3x 10 12.5kg. A year on, I was deadlifting 3x 12 25kg. And just 3 months after that, I'm now lifting 35kg. It's one of the things I love about resistance and strength training (aside from the fact that your heart stays in your chest, not your throat, and that it's a much more manageable workout in a heatwave) - tracking your progress is so very much easier. Physical change aside, I can see myself getting stronger faster than anything else, and that is incredibly empowering.
   That said, today I'm starting Core de Force again for a month. My focus in training months is muscle gain. My focus this month is fat loss. Which means it's going to suck because I have to keep a closer eye on what I eat and eat less (muscle gain requires a calorie surplus, fat loss requires a deficit).
   Still, it's only 5 weeks, and the last time I did this I actually went for 9 weeks and stopped seeing any fat loss after 5.5, so I know that I'm running it for the optimal amount of time, then I can run back to my weights. Also, in my increasing strength *flexes casually* I finally bought a new barbell. My beginner's one, a £35 20kg Women's Health barbell, was absolutely great to start with - padded and straight-forward - but the bar itself is in three pieces and screws together, and while that's fine for the weights that come with it, I started to worry when I bought a bigger plate. I wasn't really comfortable chest pressing 25kg, knowing that the bar could break and fall on my head. So I bought a big York one, along with another 10kg plate. Which frees up my old bar for lighter weights and standing upper body moves, while opening up the possibility now to lift up to 45kg. And with a far more reliable bar, I'm much happier buying even more plates in the future.

   Hopefully I'll be back with regular posting soon. Otherwise, I'm still very much alive on twitter, and my Instagram page is full of book info! Creative info, not technical updates.

Friday, 28 June 2019

7 Ways To Monitor Your Health

   It's remarkable, really, that it's only in today's age that people are really starting to pay attention to their health. I don't just mean eating right and exercising (nor am I talking about herbal remedies, spiritual cleansing or other unproven and baseless 'cures'). I mean prevention and awareness, in ourselves and others.
   Those of you who have been here for a while know that my mother suffers from secondary progressive multiple sclerosis. It's true that there are diseases out there that no amount of preventative measures can ward off, it's the way of the world and we just have to try to get by. But there are a great many things that can be staved off simply by taking care of yourself. There's a lot of hype at the moment about 'self-care', but a shocking number of people use 'self-care' as an excuse to binge-eat, get lazy and generally do themselves more damage. For a fit and healthy individual, starting the day with a doughnut and milkshake just once a week isn't going to do anything terrible for you. That's what self-care is about. But for people who are already lazy, sedentary, and have a poor diet, that's just piling it on. In their case, 'self-care' would be better equated to a walk outside on a lovely day (or perhaps in the rain - don't knock it until you've tried it. As Billy Connolly said: there's no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothes).
   But we're not talking about that kind of self-care when it comes to physical health, longevity and quality of life. We're talking about keeping an eye on the things that matter. "They seem like such a faff" - if you shrug them off with an excuse like that, your health can't be very important to you. Once it becomes standard practice, a regular part of your weekly or daily routine, you won't even notice the few minutes it takes to get it done.

    When it comes to health, prevention and early detection now enjoy almost the same prominence as actual cures. This, of course, makes sense - if you can stop a condition or illness from developing, or identify it early enough to intervene before it becomes severe, quality of life can be preserved and outcomes are improved. While seeking cures for conditions will always be important, prevention and early detection are now considered to be of paramount importance.
   For most people, achieving the goal of “prevention” is rather straightforward. Most of us know the basics of maintaining good health: eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly, managing weight, getting enough sleep, staying hydrated, and ensuring we are mentally active. However, early detection is a little more difficult - especially as many health conditions can remain asymptomatic for years or even decades.
   Thankfully, modern medical knowledge has provided an answer in the form of comprehensive health monitoring options. While these monitoring options should never be a replacement from seeking advice or treatment from your doctor, they can provide a helpful insight that allows you to keep tabs on your health and identify any possible issues as soon as possible. Below, we have detailed seven different ways that you can monitor various aspects of your health that you may want to try, starting with…

Heart Rate Recovery After Exercise

   Your “heart rate recovery” (HRR) is a measurement that reflects how quickly your heart rate returns to normal following exercise - ideally, your heart rate should increase when you are working out, and then begin to decrease as soon as you are at rest. Studies have shown that a poor HRR can actually be an indicator of heart attack risk, so if you exercise regularly, checking your HRR is always worth doing. Here’s what you need to do:
  • When you have finished exercising, you’ll need to check your heart rate. You can do this with heart rate monitoring devices, by consulting a fitness tracker if you use one, or just by counting each beat for one minute (or for 30 seconds and then multiplying the number by two).
  •  Note down your first reading, and then wait for two minutes before taking your heart for a second time.
  • To establish your HRR, you need to subtract the second number from the first. For example, if the reading that you took immediately after finishing exercise was 130, and your second reading two minutes later was 65, then your HRR would be 65 (130 - 65 = 65).
  • If your HRR is below 55, then discuss this with your doctor.

“Finger Prick” Blood Screening

   “Finger prick” blood screenings are exactly what you would expect: blood screenings that can be conducted using a very small amount of blood. This means that there is no need to visit a medical professional for a blood draw; the tests can be purchased online and then completed at home, with samples then returned by post and results following a few days later.
   However, it is important to note that finger prick blood screenings should only be used for monitoring purposes - to keep an eye on health indicators such as cholesterol or to check vitamin absorption, for example. If you feel unwell or suspect you may be experiencing a health condition, then always discuss this with your doctor; and if you do opt to undergo a blood screening, always discuss the results with your GP.

Sexual Health Check-Ups

   When it comes to sexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as chlamydia, it’s always helpful to ensure you and your partner are aware of the potential signs of infection, especially as the symptoms for men and women tend to differ - and some people experience no symptoms at all.
   How often you should undergo an STI depends on your circumstances. If you are not sure how often you need to be tested, your doctor will be able to provide a recommendation for frequency that is suitable for you.

Blood Pressure Monitoring

   As a condition, hypertension (or “high blood pressure” as it is better known) is, for most people, relatively straightforward to manage. However, hypertension significantly increases the risk of other, more concerning health issues, including a higher risk of blood clots and heart disease. Symptoms of hypertension include headaches, fatigue, a fast heart rate, chest pain, or a “pounding” feeling in the chest neck or ears - but for many people, the condition is entirely asymptomatic, so much so that hypertension is often referred to as a “silent killer”.
   As hypertension can be so difficult to identify, regularly monitoring your blood pressure can be very helpful. There are two different ways to do this, the first of which is to buy an at-home monitor. If you do choose this option, always look for a monitor that is approved by the British and Irish Hypertension Society to ensure accurate readings. However, if you’d prefer not to buy your own monitor, then check local chemists, gyms, or even your GP surgery to see if they provide access to a monitoring machine without an appointment.

Smear Tests

   Smear tests are designed to help prevent cancer from developing in the future by monitoring for changes in the cervix. Women in the UK are advised to attend regular smear tests every three years (or every five years if between the ages of 59 and 64); however, research has indicated that one in four women do not attend.
   If you want to monitor your health as well as possible, then attending a smear test when recommended will always be the right choice. If you have any concerns about the test, then speak to your doctor for reassurance, or browse through the #SmearForSmear hashtag on various social media platforms to read smear test stories that can help ease your mind. It is not as awful an experience as popular media would have you believe.

Self Examination

   Sometimes, the best thing that you can do to monitor your health is simply to conduct regular checks on certain areas of your body and to look out for any potential changes. For women, monthly breast checks are very beneficial and can help to identify early signs of breast cancer; for men, regular testicle checks for any signs of lumps is important when seeking to identify testicular cancer.
   In addition to the above, regularly checking your skin - and, in particular, checking any moles have not changed - is recommended. You can also check your fingernails for any dark spots, particularly if the spot appears to originate at the cuticle.
   If, when checking any of the above, you notice any changes or symptoms that are a cause for concern, then speak to your doctor as soon as possible. There can be benign reasons that are responsible for most changes, but it is nevertheless important to seek your doctor’s assistance.

Eye Tests

   As one would expect, eye tests are incredibly useful for checking the health of your eyes and your vision - and should always be attended for these reasons alone. However, a visit to an optician is actually an opportunity to check far more than just your eyes. For example, opticians can identify signs of a range of health conditions, including hypertension, diabetes, and even arthritis; so an eye exam should be considered health-beneficial on multiple levels. For most people, eye tests are recommended every two years, though you can arrange an appointment if you feel that your vision has changed in the intervening period.

Monday, 24 June 2019

The Zi'veyn For Free (and book two imcoming!)

   YES, The Zi'veyn is available for free download across all Kindle stores once again, readable on all Kindle devices, or on the free Kindle Reading app on all tablets, smart phones, laptops, PCs and Macs! And this is a big one, because the first few chapters have been revised based on feedback, and the maps have also been improved drastically! And, in five and a half weeks, the second book of the trilogy, The Sah'niir, will be released!

   I've prepped the files for The Sah'niir, everything has been proofed, edited and prepared, and I finished work on the book cover. It went much smoother this time around. I've just ordered proof copies of the cover itself, and then I'll put together a proof copy of the book. Assuming all goes well, it will be fit for release on August 1st, one year after the release of The Zi'veyn.
   To download your copy of The Zi'veyn, either visit your regional amazon or Kindle store and search 'The Zi'veyn', or click one of the links below for the most often visited stores:

UK   •   The Netherlands   •   US   •   Canada   •   Australia

   And, if you're not sure, you can read the improved first five chapters for free right here! These chapters will always be available for preview on your device, or can be downloaded as a free Kindle sample to your ereader or app for easy reading on the go. As for the free book, The Zi'veyn will be free on Kindle from Monday 24th to Friday 28th of June.

Friday, 21 June 2019

The Value of Telling Your Story

   Why do I write? There are so, so many reasons. Aside from the simple fact that I fell in love with it after first seeing The Fellowship of the Ring at 12 and then promptly reading all the books before the second film came out, I've come to love it only more as I've grown older. It might sound pretentious, or overly spiritual, but it has helped me to 'know' myself. I can recognise, through everything I've written - recurring themes, character traits, values, etc - what it is that is truly important to me, what disgusts me, what I won't stand for, and the ideals I want to share with the world. And in putting it out there, giving each of them names and faces, I'm better able to face up to the things I don't like about myself, and perhaps come to love them. Failing that, I know at least how to handle them. Case in point: "I'm 'Salus'ing again."
   But it also helps others. For many, it's just entertainment, but every now and then I'll write a character and a friend will just say "I can't count how many times I've felt like this, but have never been able to put it into words." Aside from 'Yay I'm doing something right!', I also begin to think that there's a lot more power in words than you would think. And it isn't limited to books, either, but to blogs, forums and community.
   'The pen is mightier than the sword,' and all that. As this guest post from a friend of mine outlines:

   There is a well-known quote attributed to Cormac McCarthy: 'each man is the bard of his own existence.'
    Throughout the course of our lives, all of us accumulate a wide variety of stories of all different types. Some of those stories are of a tragic nature, while others are uplifting. Some are funny, and others contain practical wisdom. Life is, to a large extent, about the stories we write (figuratively as well as literally), the stories we accumulate, and the stories we share with others.
   And yet, many people choose to hold their own stories back and hide them away, instead of sharing and telling them. Here are a few reasons why it’s important to share and tell your own stories, instead, be it in the art of prose, or the freedom of blogging.

They May Help Someone Who Needs It
   Life can be pretty tough, and all of us are bound to face more than our fair share of hardship, frustration, irritation, and confusion, along the way. Part of what that means is that we are all looking for answers to a wide array of questions, and solutions to a wide array of problems, as we go about our daily business.
   If you had a particular experience in life that was difficult for you and that you dealt with well, or moved beyond, sharing your story surrounding that particular event or issue might make all the difference in the life of someone out there who really needs help at this exact moment. Some communities exist specifically in order for people to share such stories, and so to help and support each other. Shift MS, for example, serves this role for people with Multiple Sclerosis, and those who care for them.
   Whatever your specific experiences and challenges of life, never assume that they are irrelevant or worthless. They might contain vital answers for someone else.

Storytelling Allows You To Reach A Deeper Level
   It's a truly wonderful and quite unconscious way of really getting in touch with yourself on a deeper level. Few of us really know ourselves - not just how we would react in certain situations, but how we each work in general. This is, in large part, due to the hectic lifestyles we now lead and the workaholism of us millennials. Not giving ourselves a chance to stop, breathe and think - even face our worries rather than distract ourselves from them - leads to all kinds of issues like depression and anxiety, all because we don't take time to know ourselves.
   We are all mysterious, even to ourselves, on a variety of different levels. Our emotions, dreams, impulses, and thoughts, largely seem to well up out of the unconscious without much input from our waking minds. One of the great journeys that we are all on in life, as a rule, is the journey of self-discovery and enhanced self understanding. The attempts to fulfil the charge of the Oracle of Delphi out to 'know thyself'.
   Storytelling allows you to really get in touch with yourself on a deeper level, and to unravel your own inner mysteries. This is especially true when you sit down to write your own stories, and particularly when you write fiction. This includes fantasy. There’s something about letting your ideas and inner worlds flow onto the page without censorship, that can bring a lot to the surface, as well as making worlds and characters more relatable and dimensional. 'Writing what you know' is an important part of story-telling. How can you tell a compelling story that readers will invest their heart in if it's entirely made up?

Connect And Spread Enjoyment
   Good stories make life a good deal more interesting and fun. It's a general truth - that’s why the film, TV, and fiction book industries are so massive and there is always new talent striving to get noticed (speaking of which: keep an eye on my author website for news on the second instalment of The Devoted trilogy - it's out on August 1st!)
   When you make a special effort to record, create, and share your own stories, you make life more interesting in general for yourself and potentially for all those you interact with. More than this, though, is that when you share your stories you also connect with others on a deeper level. They get to know a bit more about you, you get to know a bit more about them, and you share in meaningful experiences together. And that’s a valuable thing.

Thursday, 13 June 2019

The Zi'veyn - Illustrations

   I'm working towards the end of my 6-month to-do list, and I'm finally winding down. I've managed, even, to do a little work on some illustrations, too!
   I showed Petra & Eyila throughout Inktober last year, but I was never happy with the vague colouring, so when I started experimenting with pencil drawings and digital colouring, I decided that the original pencil drawings were ideal practise material. It was perfect for renewing my interest in drawing, so I've actually been at a few others, and drew a new piece recently with Father's Day in mind, of Rathen & Aria.
   I still love drawing with pencils, and colouring them digitally. It's not everyone's cup of tea, but I love doing them, and how they turn out - and, most importantly, because it's different to anything else that lands on my twitter feed, I'm not constantly comparing myself to other artists I follow and adore because it doesn't compare at all. It's unlocked a lot of freedom; I no longer feel shackled to what I consider to be 'proper' art.
   I'm happy with my doodles ^^ if you don't like them, it doesn't matter. They're not made for my books, it isn't a new career I'm pursuing, it's just fun.

A Father's Heart; A Soldier's Means



Wednesday, 5 June 2019

A Brief Guide To Getting 'Fit' - And What That Actually Means

   There is so much varied information around the topic of getting fit that you can be forgiven for not quite knowing where you stand, let alone where to begin. The truth is that, in order to get in shape, you need to first have a clear idea of what that actually means - and even that is something which a lot of people struggle with. We’ll look into that shortly, but for now it’s also worth noting that if you want to get fit you are going to need to keep to the basics, focus on what really works, and adopt a keen sense of patience. If you can do that, and follow some of the guidance in this article, you should find that you are able to get much fitter in no time at all

What is 'fit'?

   'Getting fit' is a phrase which, in itself, might not mean much to you at all. Or, at any rate, it is something which you will find varies a lot, and you need to be able to get a clear idea on what it is that you mean by it if you are to know what to do. If nothing else, this gives you a specific goal to work towards, which in turn will absolutely make it much more likely that you can succeed with whatever you try to do. So what is it that you might mean when you say that you want to get fit?
   For some, 'fit' means getting into shape - or, in other words, looking good naked and clothed. If this is the kind of goal you are aiming for, you will focus on a mixture of muscle training to sculpt, and cardio & HIIT to blast fat - the combination of which is the most effective. Diet and adequate macro levels (appropriate amounts of protein, fats and carbs) are also crucial here - it's all too easy to eat too little and significantly hamper your results.
   Alternatively, for some, 'fit' means simply being healthier within their body, in which cast cardio may become more prominent, though lifting weights is still proven to be key to a longer, healthier life with its links to bone health.
   And, for others, it just means feeling that their body is working more efficiently and pushing it to see what it can do. In which case, HIIT and cross training might be for you.
As you can see, what you want will affect what you need to do, so it’s a good idea to be clear on this as soon as you can, so you know what direction you need to move in.

Finding A Plan

   First of all, it is also important to note that if you are usually sedentary, any exercise will yield results to begin with. Naturally going from not moving to moving will burn more calories and challenge both your body and co-ordination. Therefore, you don't need to start with anything too crazy. However, over time, the results will slow and your body will adjust, meaning that you will need to start branching out and looking for the things that work for you. But also remember that part of what makes something work for you is enjoyment. If you hate a workout, effective or not, you're going to struggle to stick to it or give it the level of power it needs (a consistent jog compared to scuffing your feet as you go), and you'll struggle to get the results. This is where changing your workout every 1-2 months is a good idea. Through this process, I tried a lot of different things and discovered a love for kickboxing and weight lifting, having tried dance, Pilates, barre, kettlebells, rebounding and so on.
   Knowing what to look for is important here, so try to find plans which have a decent increase rate - that require more effort every week or so - but not so much that you struggle with it too much. Also be on the lookout for plans which are specifically designed to work for the goal you have in mind. If you can do that, you should be able to find a plan in no time, and it’s something to think about as early on as you can. Having a good plan is essential to getting fit in good time and without causing yourself too much strain.

Hiring A Personal Trainer

   If you have never had a personal trainer, it can be hard to appreciate just how valuable they can be. The truth is that a personal trainer is often the key to ensuring that you keep at it, that you are doing all the right things to get where you need to go, and that you're doing them correctly. They will know the exercises you need to do, how long you need to do them for, and be able to advise on what to supplement your workout with, how to eat and everything in between. This is all the kind of information you need if you are to succeed because they can defend you against the usual pitfalls - over-training, under-eating, or even the opposite: working out at a lower rate than you think you are and eating more than you think. If you are thinking of trying to find a personal trainer who can help you, check out OriGym - for more information. You should find that there are some things there which are hugely important to consider, wherever you seek one.


   News flash: this doesn't mean cutting carbs, fats, jumping onto fads or celebrating when you feel hungry for a straight 2 hours+
   'Diet' actually just means 'general eating habits' - and it's most important to note that 1: you can't out-exercise a bad diet, and 2: food is fuel.
   As long as you are not eating properly, it doesn’t altogether matter what exercise you are doing or how much of it you are doing. You need to therefore make sure that you are aware of what a good diet entails, and this is a tricky area for many people to look into. Nutrition varies massively from individual to individual, so it is hard to find globally universal facts which you can take on board. Take a look at BBC Good Food for their guidelines on balanced diets for men and women for some ideas which might help.
   In general, however, you should aim to eat plenty of whole foods, with 35-40% of your diet coming from complex carbs. If you can do that, you will be doing what you need to keep healthy. Bear in mind that if you want to build muscle, you might want to increase your protein a little, but you don’t even need to do that much to see results. All myths aside, the optimum amount of protein to consume while trying to build muscle is about 0.75g per 1lb body weight (1.5g per 1kg). Any more than that has proven redundant. As long as you get your diet right, you will find that you get fit much sooner - whatever that means to you.

Friday, 31 May 2019

Keep Active On Vacation [Even At Log House Holidays]

   It may have been our honeymoon, and I may have left my writing behind for the first time in 9 years, but there was one thing I admit I couldn't separate myself from when we went away to Log House Holidays, and that was my fitness. I. Am. An. Addict. I cannot sit still. I love the high and the confidence it gives me, and the assurance on holiday that the change in my diet won't be so 'damaging' (note: I have learned, however, for the record, that 'holiday weight-gain' isn't actually a thing - holiday in terms of both vacation and Christmas. Read it and arm yourself with information!)
   Unfortunately, I'm still learning that, sometimes, a full week away from physical strain can be just as valuable as the exercise itself when it comes down to physical health, but I didn't want to ruin my honeymoon with that kind of fretting and getting inside my head about everything I ate, and given that I had just gotten off of kickboxing training rather than weight training, I wasn't in need of a rest like that, anyway.

   I'm sure a number of you reading this will still say "you're on holiday! Relax!" And I appreciate that, but I'm actually not writing this from an obsessive point of view. My last post about our honeymoon proves how gorgeously lazy Log House Holidays is - with hot tubs, fire pits, wood burning stoves and quiet nature all around. But this post is the other side of it, and the fact that, actually, you could have a pretty fit and active time in this incredibly tranquil place, too!
   First of all, if, like me, you like to start (or perhaps round-off) the day with a good workout, you can feel a little lost without your gym, home kit or even just a trusty DVD. I feel that way every time I go away. And you can't bring any of it with you because 1) it's a small cabin, and 2) are you crazy?! What if you break something?!
   In this case, I remind you of good old-fashioned body weight workouts.
   Think squats, push-ups, lunges, jumping - it's easy to put something like this together yourself, or checkout for a huge archive of free body weight workouts. Do them at your own pace in a standard sequence, or slap it together in a HIIT format (2 minutes slow-paced move, 1 minute fast cardio, repeat with good form) for 20 minutes for extra burn and to turn those basic moves up several levels.
   "But you said the cabin was small!" There's a great deal of space just outside your cabin, and on the veranda. And there's plenty of privacy if you're worried about being watched - very few of the cabins are in sight of one another. Monty's Retreat, especially.

   Once you recall these old reliables, you'll no doubt remember the existence of other forms of holiday-friendly exercise. You can cut down the time and amp up the intensity with Tabata (I recommend beginners start with jumping jacks - 20 seconds as hard and fast as you can, then take a 10 second breather; repeat 8 times), simplify it with calisthenics, or dial it right down for some brutally deceptive fire with some simple isolated barre or Pilates. And remember, of course, that resistance bands are ridiculously portable pieces of kit.
   Or just make the most of the veranda or your jetty with some nice water-side yoga. I genuinely can't recommend that enough.
   There's also the path around the lake - it takes 45 minutes to walk and is perfect for a morning or evening run. It's a private footpath, so only those staying on-site can use it. And considering that there are only 8 cabins on that lake, that makes it particularly quiet. And if you fancy elongating it without doubling the circuit, leave at the Monty's Retreat gate and do a lap around the neighbouring Neigh Bridge Lake.

   But: you're on holiday. Perhaps you want to try something new to go with your new surroundings rather than the usual grind, and that is a very good idea. It won't feel like exercise then, either, but an 'activity'. But what could possibly be available on a quiet lake?
   Quite a lot, actually.
   For £40-£55, you can hire out a few lovely things for the duration of your whole stay that will help keep you active and moving, all while making the most of the gorgeous scenery. Try kayaking (safely, without the rapids) and get your arms, shoulders and upper back moving every morning. Or try paddle boarding and give your core some serious fire before lunch. Or hire a bicycle and give your legs and glutes a good burn in the afternoon. Or take your own private (and included) row boat out in the evening and combine the two - it takes core power, not just upper body, to move that thing well. Then, after all that, make yourself a great, balanced meal in the fully-equipped kitchen and tumble into the hot tub.

   I am a fitness addict, it's true, but in changing my activity in line with being in a new place, I still gave my body - and my mind - a break. Steering away from the same movements and training plans in favour of something new and subsequently more enjoyable can do wonders, and it still reduces the blow of the devilish Ferrero Rocher on the counter, and the super-praline chocolate wedding cake duplicate that I'd made before we went away that sat whispering at us from the cake tin. We both heard it on multiple occasions. We made sure to keep the cake and the chocolates apart.

   So even a super-relaxing holiday can bring with it some great calorie-burn without need for a gym, that keeps you in the fresh air and really capitalises on its beautiful location. It's different strokes for different folks, but this balance is what I look for in great holidays, and only here have I found it with the greatest harmony.

Sunday, 26 May 2019

Our Honeymoon In The Cotswolds

   After months spent writing and redrafting the second book of The Devoted trilogy, then writing short stories for Frenone's Tarot project, then writing and redrafting 'Hlífrún', then planning out the third and final book of the trilogy (such a freaking busy year so far), my manic working schedule was quite abruptly interrupted by a honeymoon that came almost a full year late. Don't feel sorry for us, though. It was a conscious decision made so that we could go somewhere wonderful and, ultimately, extremely worth the wait.

   We'd booked our honeymoon back in January 2018, 5 months before the wedding, for what was essentially going to end up a joint honeymoon-first anniversary. We'd selected Log House Holidays in the Cotswolds for the lake, the cabin, the facilities, and, most importantly, the immediate location, and chose Monty's Retreat from among the 8 cabins on site. It was the most secluded - furthest from the other cabins and largely surrounded by trees. And I do love trees. I don't think there were any sprites or ditchlings in these, though. Just squirrels.

   The reason location was important was because my husband and I don't have a car, so we wanted to go somewhere that we didn't feel like we had to escape to enjoy ourselves, and Monty's Retreat was just that: a wonderful place to be. Not a place to sleep, eat and then escape all day, but a place to be.
   Having only ever used caravans and a couple of bungalows when I went on holidays as a kid, the sensation of feeling trapped was a big concern of mine, and while I admit to having two private panic attacks over the first two evenings we were there, I mellowed out very quickly and my sleep didn't suffer for it once. Which is honestly unheard of. So unheard of, in fact, that I usually have to drink some sleepy-time tea or take herbal soothers before going to bed whenever we visit my in-laws in The Netherlands.

   We settled into the cabin very quickly. It was beautiful with its walls of bare logs, vaulted ceilings and lots of natural light pouring in from big windows overlooking the lake, and it smelt gorgeous too - like herbs and wood, but not a thick miasma. The bookcase was filled with all kinds of titles as well as a selection of DVDs, and there was a log burner that heat the cabin beautifully, though it remained the perfect temperature itself anyway due to its traditional Finnish design.
   The kitchen was light and fully-equipped, though we brought our own wok (gotta make stir-fries somehow!), and I got on fine with all the appliances even while making okonomiyaki (it's our holiday staple). The bathroom was, frankly, huge, and the bedroom was simple, and all the curtains were black-out. The bed seemed much too hard until I actually turned in for the night, and, as I said already, I didn't have any trouble sleeping at all.

   The hot tub, though, was a highlight. "I honestly can't remember the last time I've felt so relaxed," said my husband as he bobbed about in it early that first morning, and I admit, I felt the same. We used it so many times. We watched the sun rise, watched it hover, watched it set, and were out there even in the rain. We barely noticed it, as long as we didn't face directly into it. And it was easy to forget not to do that.
   Another highlight was s'mores the fire pit. I watched anxiously as my husband built a beautiful fire, and then I gathered the complimentary marshmallows and skewers along with the rich tea biscuits and the Lindt chocolate bars we'd brought with us, and we got a-s'morin' while wrapped up in the cabin's fleece blankets. Neither of us had ever made s'mores, while I'd never even been camping. My experience with open flames remained limited to Bunsen burners in high school.
   The night we used the fire pit was truly gorgeous, with so many stars. The Roman town of Cirencester is nearby, but not so close as to mar the sky with its light, and watching the lake through the flames was amazing. I didn't take many pictures while we were away - and in fact have none at all of the two of us, which makes me quite sad - but I did take a few pretty ones of the lake that night.

   We had a wonderfully peaceful time, so chilled and connected and totally at odds with our usual life. It was just great. It was genuinely as though there was no one out there on that lake but us, and we felt like we were in the middle of nowhere.
   I confess, though: my mind did wander onto my writing a few times, even though I made every effort to leave it behind.
   The only time I ever set it aside is when I'm forced to in favour of keeping on top of Etsy orders at Christmas, so our week away was the first time I'd voluntarily taken any time out from it for about 9 years. But, because I wanted to make damned sure that I was on my honeymoon, not a writing retreat, I didn't even bring a notebook. Which my husband actually said was pretty stupid of me. In the end, aside from jotting a few short story ideas down on my phone (keep your eye on my author website,, for the finished pieces), the only thing I actually wrote while we were away was a brief thank-you in the cabin guest book.

   That said, it really would be a wonderful writer's retreat. The lake - a Site of Special Scientific Interest - is so, so quiet. Noise from other guests is not an issue - no loud music nor shouting nor carousing. It's genuinely peaceful. The worst you'll get are the subdued quacks of ducklings and their mothers as they make their morning rounds for breakfast before coming out of the water on the bank beside the cabin's bench to catch a snooze in the sun. Or the honk of the greater crested grebe that is always in the water just outside. Or the greylags and Canadian geese having an argument before going their separate ways. Or crows chasing off a buzzard, harrying it down low over the lake right in front of the cabin, where it banks and screams back at them while you're sitting ten feet away eating crab fried rice on the veranda.
   Yes, we saw a great deal of birds, including a dunlin, a hobby, an oyster catcher just outside, a woodpecker even closer just outside (which I spotted when I looked up and behind me by chance from the board game we were playing in the kitchen), and, much to my irritation, my husband saw a tawny owl - and he would know what it was. I missed it fly past because I was daydreaming about chocolate.

   That's not to say that we stayed in all the time, though. We actually went out walking every day. There is a private footpath around the lake, which takes about 40 minutes to walk. There are also a number of public footpaths in very close proximity, basically beginning at the end of the neighbouring Neigh Bridge Lake, including the Thames River Trail, which we walked in both directions over a few days. Along that trail, we were meeped at by something hidden in the tall grass about a foot away from us (we didn't see it because, obviously, we didn't go rummaging for it), watched a horde of lambs stampeding back and forth along the bank, head-butting, jumping and bleating so happily, saw a kingfisher fly a good length down the river beside us, and one day, for almost fifteen minutes, we watched two more enormous buzzards circling, stooping and calling to each other until they finally flew away.

   It was a gorgeous place, with friendly owners and wonderful wildlife to admire. We will be going back. Given workloads, home commitments and our general lack of funds (not to mention how quickly they're booked up), it won't be for a while, but if we could get back for our fifth wedding anniversary, that would be perfect.

Thursday, 23 May 2019

Looking For Beta Readers

   Yep! It's not something I'd usually do, but after completing 'Hlífrún' (my Camp NaNo) project, I decided that I'd really like to put it out into the world. But, given how I've written it, I'd like some outside opinions, first. And so I'm calling upon those of you who haven't read The Zi'veyn to take a peek at it. (If you have read The Zi'veyn, feel free to apply anyway, because if I don't get enough interest, I'll need you!)

   Why so specific? Well, even though I wrote it as a stand-alone, it does fall between books 2 & 3 of The Devoted trilogy (hence why people who have only read The Zi'veyn, book 1, can still apply), and because I know all the details that are going on behind it all, it's difficult to gauge myself whether or not it can stand on its own. So I need people who are unfamiliar with the trilogy to take a look.
   The book is only 150 pages (formatted, not A4), and is made up of a number of short stories that tell a single over-arcing story.

   The job is simple: apply via the simple, non-invasive Google form on my author website (where you can find more info on the book itself), then, if you're chosen, I'll send you either a PDF of the book or a paperback copy (which you can, of course, keep), and then you read it over the course of 30 days (it would reasonably take about a week) and then answer this question when you've finished: while reading, did you feel like you needed more information, or wanted it? Were you lost, or were you curious?
   That's it!

If you're interested in getting an exclusive sneak-peek on some of my work,
head over to my author webpage and have a look at the book details & application form.
It's open worldwide until June 14th.

Monday, 29 April 2019

I Wrote a Book In 3.5 Weeks

   Yup, you read that right. It's true that it's not one of my 600-page monsters, but to get it done not only under a year, but under a month, and done well, shows that I've been doing something wrong.
   It's true that I let Camp NaNoWriMo take over my life from the moment I rose (I would usually spend my mornings doing other things like Etsy work or research or other fun things before my workout, then work on book stuff from midday to 11pm), but it also gave me the best opportunity to experiment with writing - from the creative to the technical.
   When I work on my trilogy, I tend to pace myself. But I also tend to try to get it down perfectly on the first draft, which leads to a lot of time spent staring out of the window thinking, then daydreaming. There's nothing at all wrong with taking a moment to think, but when all you have to work with for the contents of a whole chapter is 3 paragraphs written in the master book plan, you're hobbling yourself.
   "Get the words down - they don't have to be good, just get them down." This is the premise of NaNo. And I have issue with it. It sounds like you can just bullshit your way through; write utter drivel and call it a success. That's just wasted time, in my eyes. And while I still hold true to that angle, I did gradually realise what it actually meant: do your best, but don't fret. Because, despite my best efforts over the years, even I learned long ago that your first draft of everything is going to suck. That's why you redraft.

   This was probably the most valuable opportunity of my NaNo experience. I found a way to write quickly, albeit with personal pressure, but also well. I would draft out each chapter in note form - no prose, just 'and then and then and then'. That meant that, instead of it taking me 3 days to write 10 pages, I got their every detail noted down in about 3 hours, and then I could go back to the start and turn it into prose. I could get 10 pages done in literally half the time. And it all flowed really well, and I was more comfortable with what I was writing.
   No, I never really did shake my compulsive edit-as-I-write habits. They died down for a while, but if I wasn't happy with a paragraph or so in the prose phase, I would work at it until it was fixed. And if I wasn't happy with a whole chapter (or in this case each chapter is its own short story, contributing to the overall tale), I would read it back through and adjust it where it needed it.
   And yet, I still got a 150 page book down in 3.5 weeks, even with a slow start.

   The second most valuable opportunity NaNo provided was that in which I could put all I'd learned from The Art of Storytelling to work. He'd held a lesson on short stories, and certainly every word of that was ringing in my head all month.
• short stories are the best opportunity to experiment with voices
• they're the best opportunity to experiment with ideas that might not work with a full book
• they're a great opportunity to meet characters
• they could spark a story of their own
• the best short stories are the final chapters of books you didn't write (given how my short stories all came together to tell a single over-arcing story, this didn't apply)
• they're stories that can take you to another world and still be home in time for tea.
• in a book, lots of things have to happen; in a short story, only one thing does. And it doesn't have to be big.

   It was all a bit of a stress, but I'm so happy I did it. It was a personal project, a story I really wanted to know - not to share, or anything like that; it was for my benefit, and I knew it would help the planning for the last book in the trilogy. While my books focus on humans, this project was from the wildlings' perspective - the creatures that live in forests, all inspired by Scandinavian folklore - and focused on how they handled a certain even that spans from the end of book 2 and into a good chunk of book 3. I've been able to flesh them out more, as well as their queen, and when they come to having their moment of glory in the third book, I now have a much better idea of how that will go.
   I wasn't going to bother writing it at all, I preferred to just work on the third book, but I knew that if I didn't do it before I started writing book 3, it wouldn't be done at all. And when I was alerted to the existence of Camp NaNoWriMo by Gamer Mum Chronicles (I had thought it was NaNo in November and that was all), I figured I was in the best position to try. What was one month? If I didn't finish by the end of April, so be it. I would at least have a better idea even if I only got as far as planning out the sequence of events.
   I took 2 weeks to plan it before Camp started, and I got to work on April 1st. My word count goal (having never tracked words before) was 15,000. I adjusted it to 20,000 on the 13th when it was clear I was going to smash it too soon. Then I hit that 20,000 word count goal two days later.
   I finished writing the whole thing on the 24th with a word count, somehow, of 38,815. I've already been back over it making edits to words left in bold that needed revisiting. But I finished that on the 27th, and now I'm just sitting on it before redrafting it, which I'm going to do in May.

   May is going to be a busy month, but it should be my last busy writing month before I finally get back into a consistent flow. In January, I finished writing book 2 and then started redrafting it. I was then accepted to work on a book of short stories with Frenone, which I worked on between my redrafting. In February I started a writing course, and worked on those short stories. I finished redrafting at the beginning of March, and finished the final story for Frenone's book, and then immediately got to planning out the third book, as well as making adjustments to The Zi'veyn's book cover and starting work on the second's. Two weeks later I decided to embark on the above Camp NaNo project and put two weeks aside for planning that out instead, and then on April 1st I moved on to writing it, which I finished on the 24th and then edited for the following 3 days. For the next 4, I'm working on book covers again.
   May's work is going to consist of redrafting these short stories, because I'm very proud of them, and then I might decide to publish them, which means I'll need beta readers to tell me if it works. I wanted it to be enjoyed by people who haven't read The Zi'veyn or any of The Devoted trilogy, so I left a lot of details out (not difficult, given the perspective of the book), but I also want it to be enjoyed by those who have. I'm also going to be revising the first 5 chapters of The Zi'veyn before submitting them to literary agencies following feedback I've received, and also work on finalising the plan for book 3 (which was in a near-complete state in March, and why I decided I could afford to set it aside for NaNo), and then I'm also going to finish working on the cover for book 2. It's going to be a long month.
   Fortunately, the first week of May is going to be a much-needed and much-anticipated break. Unsurprisingly, I have some typing-related injuries, so I'll be glad to rest that up.
   But more on all that later...

   My hope is to start writing book 3 in June. Then, finally, I'll be back into a regular flow with my to-do list all checked off. I also won't feel like I have to write as fast as I did this past month, so hopefully these hand/elbow/shoulder injuries won't reappear too quickly. I might also consider enforcing a day off. But...what would I do?! The thought is, genuinely, kind of scary to be honest.

Wednesday, 24 April 2019

Neil Gaiman's 'The Art of Storytelling' Masterclass Course Review

   I used to be quite an arrogant writer. Not in the sense that I was boastful or believed my work to be amazing, but rather in the sense that I thought all I needed was time and practise. I thought there was nothing I could be taught, so I never wanted to waste my time on writing courses because I believed I already knew all there was to know and that I didn't need the training - especially when an average writer's workshop cost £400+ online and even more in person. Why would I spend money to be taught things I'd already learned?
   Well, when I was about 21, I realised that it wasn't arrogance. It was fear. I was afraid of taking a writing course and being told I was doing everything wrong. I was afraid that everything I'd already spent 9 years learning and practising was wrong. And I didn't have £400 to spend on a writing course.
   So, I ended up floating around with that insecurity sitting right upon my shoulder, and it got worse when I sent my first submission to agents and publishers - my 23rd finished story - only for it to be rejected. I gave up writing, then, for about 6 months. It was only an insatiable passion that drew me back, and I decided then that I wanted to learn after all, regardless of the fear.  But I still had no money, and whenever I looked at the courses they were always technical - how to plan, learning genre, even learning how to use punctuation. There was little storytelling in it, it was just technical writing that, in some cases, even featured classes in the curriculum for journalism and things like that. It just seemed either too vague or filled with things I genuinely could already do.

   Well, I continued to write and to submit over the 7 years that followed that realisation because I refused to let it cripple me, and I knew I'd gradually learn as I continued to write and continued to read others' work. But money never changed - I had a good year in my Etsy shop at Christmas in 2017 when I probably could have afforded one, but my husband and I had a £500 wedding (no, there are no zeros missing) the following spring and had to set aside for a honeymoon (which we're having later this year). But even then, I'd not found any courses that appealed to me.

   But, a month after being approved to write for Frenone's tarot story book this year, which itself was a massive achievement, I saw mention of a class taught by Neil Gaiman on Masterclass called 'The Art of Storytelling' for £85. My heart leapt into my throat.
   I'd never heard of Masterclass before so I did some digging to make sure it was legit before giving it any serious consideration, but it all checked out.
   Put simply, it was an online school taught by masters in their fields; classes without fees, aside from the one-off payment of £85 which gives you eternal access to the class for the rest of time (unless you choose to pay the yearly £170 subscription fee to get access to all the various creative classes on Masterclass for the duration of the subscription). There are no deadlines, no feedback, and no certificate of completion. All you get out of it is the knowledge, and exercises to help you apply it - in this case, writing exercises.
   But, at the end of the day, it's the knowledge you want. Unless you're a doctor or a specialist, a certificate is an affectation. And it's Neil Gaiman, someone who knows what he's talking about as both a madly successful writer who works in both fiction and fantasy, and as a professor of creative arts at Bard College, New York. Even without feedback, I trust his word and his teaching over some nameless professor with a certificate on the wall and who may well be biased to one genre or another.
   I think I gave it about an hour's thought. But it was already late in the evening, so even with my decision made and my husband urging me to go for it, I still didn't sign up until the next day.
   Then, on February 1st, I dipped into our savings, paid the fee, and began.

Picture admittedly taken on April 18th for the purpose of this post, hence the green beyond and full notebook.

The Course's Structure
   The course consists of 18 classes (and 1 introduction), all of which involve a video of 8 to 28 minutes in length, and a worksheet. The videos are filmed beautifully for Masterclass as though it's a one-on-one lesson. Neil Gaiman sits in a chair in a lovely library and talks to you with a lovely, soothing, writerly voice second only to David Attenborough. He gives you his thoughts on the subjects, which he laid out himself, and talks about how he does things, how other writers he knows do things, how you shouldn't do things, and he's extremely honest and open about it and his experiences, complete with anecdotes.
   He talks sometimes about how frustrating writing can be when the words just won't come out, he talks about the difficulties in planning, and the beauty of it, the joy of worldbuilding and about characters 'talking to you', and that you should listen to them, even have a conversation with them sometimes if you're stuck and see what they say back. It sounds crazy to people who don't write, and even a few writers might scoff at that, but it works. Characters take on a life of their own if you've made them correctly.
   After the video comes the worksheet, which summarises the video and also imparts more wisdom and knowledge, as well as reading suggestions (both stories and technical), and then goes on to offer two types of activities - 'writing exercises' to be done right then, and 'for your novel' exercises so that you can apply what you've learned that day to whatever project you're personally working on. Some classes will have multiple of each, others will have just one; some will take a long time, others won't. But there are no deadlines - you can take as long as you'd like to complete it, and revisit it as many times as you'd like.
   There is a student hub wherein you can find help and feedback from other students on the course, because you submit nothing to be reviewed by Neil or by anyone at Masterclass. It just doesn't work that way, which, I think, is its only failing - you can't know for sure if you've really understood. But if you did submit, it would be a lot more work on their part (because, no doubt, it wouldn't go straight to Mr Gaiman), and that would certainly jack up the price and put the knowledge from the whole course out of reach.

What Are The Lessons?
   There is a list of the lessons on the sign-up page so you can see what you're getting into before paying, but, put simply, these lessons don't cover punctuation, paragraphing or any technical writing stuff like that. It's about storytelling. It doesn't focus on genre, either, so it's all perfectly viable to every fiction writer of every kind. It's all about how to tell a good story, in writing - including comics.
   There is only one lesson on comics, but it's the longest at 28 minutes. I admit, I have no interest in comics - I don't read them, or even watch movies about them (and yes, I am aware that there are more comic book genres than 'superheroes'). They're just not my thing, and I find them difficult to appreciate. I have the Avatar: The Last Airbender library editions, but I get through that 250 page thing in about half an hour. I just don't know how to read them, and I know that it's lost on me. But, having paid for the course, I decided to watch the video in case there was a relevant pearl of wisdom, then I read the worksheet (though I admit I skipped the writing exercise this one time). There was nothing in there for me, but I did glean some kind of appreciation for the complexities of writing comics. I never thought it was similar to writing a book in the slightest, but even so, there's more to it than I thought.

   The most valuable lessons, for me, were the final few: 'Responsibilities As A Writer', which started with an anecdote that I found, frankly, terrifying, and drove home the point I'd already surmised for myself, and 'Writer's Rules', which covered a little bit of how to submit to publishers and agents, and about striking a balance between humility and the arrogance of a 7-year old to ensure that, when a rejection comes through, you don't roll over and die with it but instead accept that it wasn't perfect while being stubborn enough to keep going and write something that they can't possibly reject. These were all things I needed help on, and while I still feel I need more, I'm a bit more confident with it now.
   The 'Short Stories' lesson, too, was both valuable and pertinent, because I'd never had to write them before this year with the tarot book. And since then, I've suddenly developed an interest in them because I've learned how to write them. Or the theory of it, anyway. 'They're a whole other beast', another writer told me while discussing the tarot book. The lesson came a little late, since I'd already written and submitted one of my two stories to Frenone by that time, but the second - longer and more important, since it accompanies the image of the front cover and summarises the entire tarot deck - benefitted from the lesson hugely. If I'm asked to rewrite the first, I'll be happy to, because I think I could do a much better job now.

How Did I Follow It?
   The classes seem short, but don't be fooled. They're immensely informative. You could technically do them in any order, but some of the writing exercises refer back to previous lessons, and I was doing them chronologically anyway.
   I would do two lessons a week, watching the video first, then reading through the worksheet until I reached a writing exercise which I would then do in a designated notebook, and then continue reading the worksheet until I got to the end, stopping at writing exercises along the way and making note of 'For Your Novel' sections along the way. Then I turned to a fresh page and made notes from the worksheet (and the video sometimes, if there was something in there that I wanted and wasn't quoted). Oh, and the video player has subtitles, so you don't have to miss anything.
   I always left a few days between lessons, and listened to the video again the following day to recap. This changed towards the end when the lessons became less practical and turned towards editing advice and things like that (yes, there's even a class on editing your novel), at which point I did the final three lessons in one day, but I truly feel I absorbed everything given, and making notes helped to ensure that went in. And, if not, I can recap over every single bit of it whenever I need to. One of the few benefits of a video-teacher rather than a human.

   No one is above this class. It's as cheap as rather expensive chips, amazing value, taught by a master who knows his trade and how to teach, and has zero time constraints. I knocked it out comfortably in 7 weeks. I could have done it in 10 days if I'd worked morning and afternoon, but I didn't want to rush. The longest any class took me was 4 hours (lesson 8, 'Story Case Study 'March Tale''), but I was king of distracted that day.
   No, you may not have even £85 lying around, but if you write fiction of any kind, I urge you to consider this class. I was smiling when I finished the last one (and crying a little bit, 'cause I'm cool) and while I was already doing so much of this before the class, all I could think was "I gained so much from this."

Personal Note
   Above all, while I learned a lot, there was one thing I took away from it that I was shocked by: I'm not doing anything wrong at all. There was nothing at all he said that came as a revelation - but there were suggestions on how I could take what I was already doing and make it better. And that means that the nagging insecurity has vanished in a puff of smoke, after I've spent 7 years trying to beat it down with a mallet every time I mention my writing and try to put it in front of someone, knowing I'll never get anywhere otherwise.
   I am now a lot more confident in my skill, and I've learned enough that I think, most crucially, I might be able to approach literary agents and publishers with the information they want. When they ask for my influences, they're not asking "what's in your bookcase?" They're asking "what's in your heart?" And now, I can tell them. And I can write a logline, I can write a more concise synopsis, I can also tell them that, now, I have taken a writing class and I am prepared to learn and to grow.
   I still doubt they'll take my manuscript, but at least I'll know how to approach them now. And I know every writer would feel the same after taking this class.

This post has not been sponsored, endorsed, encouraged or any of the like by anyone tagged, linked or mentioned in this post. I discovered the course on my own, bought it on my own, and took it on my own. All opinions are my own, photographs are my own, and screenshots were taken on my own.
I just really, really think you need to know about it.