Picture of tulips against blue background

Lighting Candles and Other Notes on Happiness

Lately I seem to have so much to say that I don’t even know where to start writing it. Over the last year I have absorbed such a lot of information from reading, podcasts and just living that I really want to share. Some of this is on health, some on happiness, some on self-improvement – so many ‘a-ha!’ moments. What is it about turning 40 that makes you start pondering the universe and the meaning of your place within it? Over the past few years some combination of age, health, loss and wonder have made me do exactly that.

And so what are a few of the things I’ve been learning lately? Bear with me, as this is a mish-mash rather than an exhaustive list. I’d love to store it all up for a definitive post on let’s say, ‘ten ways to be happy’, but life, and happiness, just don’t work that way. Like most people, I find myself stumbling upon the answers as I go along.

Tyepwriter, cup of tea and 'Life's Little Instruction Book' on table

Last year, I wrote about letting go of perfectionism. And not just perfectionism, either, but busyness, people-pleasing, and the idol of ‘doing’ all the time. Did you know that studies have shown that multi-tasking actually makes you less productive? Me either.

It turns out that where perfectionism and her unhelpful associates are concerned, breaking up is rather hard to do.

I heard someone say recently that perfectionism is actually based on fear – a fear of the world seeing (and possibly criticising you) if you lay yourself out exactly as you are. I also heard a quote from the 14th century poet Hafiz that goes:

Fear is the cheapest room in the house. I’d like to see you in better living conditions.

One of  those ‘a-ha’ moments.

Perfectionism – my faithful friend, my sworn enemy. We’re slowly unravelling our relationship. It’s complicated, as the status updates go.

I suppose a lot of this is about vulnerability. I’ve been reading and listening to a lot from Brené Brown recently and she talks about this subject in a very insightful way.

You can’t get to courage without walking through vulnerability.

Flatlay picture of Daring Greatly by Brene Brown with flowers

Writing posts like this – the ones that are not perfectly packaged into ‘how-to’ lists and bullet points, these are small steps for me. Trying to be a bit more ‘of the moment’. Trying to share a little more of the things that are just me.

And then there are thinking patterns. One of the things I’ve been focusing on over the last year is switching from ‘why has this thing happened?’ to ‘what can this situation teach?’ Feeling unwell for a lot of 2017, I kept asking myself the question ‘what is wrong with me?’ When I started to turn my thoughts to ‘how can I get better?’ things started slowly to improve. Everything in life now seems to have its corresponding learning experience. Good, bad, or indifferent, experiences can help you change, grow and adapt. Without sounding too ‘out there’ I feel the benefit of positive affirmations (check out The Secret for more information). If I tell you that I sometimes repeat to myself ‘I am healthy. I am creative. I am a writer,’ will you think me crazy, woo-hoo, or just a little strange?

See vulnerability above.

Lately I’ve also been thinking about being grateful. I recently bought a gratitude journal to keep track of three things I’m thankful for every day. As a child, I used to do this through a nightly prayer – possibly the most simple form of gratitude. Although I’m not religious now (well, that’s the short answer), I still appreciate the benefits that simple practice gave.

Flatlay picture of personalised gratitude journal with flowers and blanket

And then, of course, there is the matter of lighting candles.

A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle – James Keller

This is one of the best quotes I’ve heard in recent times. It’s about sharing what you know with others – just helping people. Forgoing all thoughts of ‘what if they end up doing it better than I can?’ Someone I know went to an event lately where everyone kept all the knowledge they had on the subject secret – a real lose-lose for everyone as nothing of any value was truly shared. Competitiveness, jealously, fear – whatever fuels such situations won that night. The secret, I think, is in acknowledging we all have these feelings from time to time. Similarly, we all have our own strengths, weaknesses and limitations – it’s worth remembering that even given all the information in your head no one can do anything exactly as you do. Success and knowledge aren’t finite – there’s room for everybody – just like love, forgiveness and the rest. To give an example, when I was pregnant with my second son I wondered how I could possibly love him as much as I did my first child – and then I realised – on some things the metaphorical well does not run dry. It’s the same with success, knowledge and achievement – when it comes to lighting candles, what you send around often has a way of flowing back to you.

Picture of almond latte on table

Maybe the key to happiness is going out and lighting candles. And if they happen to blow out in the wind, just going ahead and lighting them up all over again.

More likely, happiness is about finding your own way to light candles. Or, in the words of writer Daniel Hillel:

I get up. I walk. I fall down. Meanwhile, I keep dancing.

A-ha.

Gx

Dawson's Creek DVD and Flowers

A Trip Down Memory Creek – The Power of Nostalgia

My entertainment choices lately have been fuelled by one emotion: nostalgia. Be it books, films or box sets, recently I’ve found myself retreating to old favourites I know I’ll love. If you read my Little Loves posts regularly, you’ll know that in recent months I’ve been reminiscing over 80’s classics like Top Gun, Pretty in Pink and The Karate Kid. Like a pair of comfortable slippers, I know I can slip these favourites on and be transported back to a time, a place, and the memories they evoke.

It’s not so much that I’m trying to relive my youth or recreate it. I’m 41 now and actually pretty happy as I am. I think it’s more about trying to latch onto the emotions these favourites stir up in me – childhood trips to the video rental store, weekends spent watching Grease on repeat, a battered poster of Ralph Macchio in my bedroom. After a good dose of nostalgia I feel more positive and grateful. And yes – I might also shed a little tear for something (or someone) long gone and distant too. Nostalgia is the perfect happy/sad emotion – it represents an appreciation of what is gone while bringing attention to what is now, and what will be in the future. Today will be the past someday. There is a certain grace in knowing that one day you will be nostalgic about right now.

Painting of Heart on Wall

And so it is with my latest nostalgia injection – all six seasons of Dawson’s Creek on DVD. My husband bought them for me on EBay (the romance!) after I’d been told about the casts’ 20th anniversary reunion earlier in the year. As I held the discs in my hands I couldn’t wait to settle down and return to Capeside – and as the opening credits began, do you know what? I was 21 again.

When Dawson’s Creek first aired in 1998, I was in Glasgow, living in a tiny flat with my boyfriend-slash-future-husband in the final months of my undergraduate degree. On Saturday evenings (and later Sundays), everything would stop for an hour with Dawson, Joey and the gang. I was mesmerised by their on-screen interactions, their raging hormones and the surprisingly big words in their vocabulary. Most of all, their constant analysing and dissecting of every situation reminded me of myself and some of my own friends at the time.

And so it continued for the next five or so years, through graduations, first jobs, engagements and first home renovations. It became a weekly ritual – this was in back the day when you had to wait a whole week for the next episode to air. No bingeing – just a steady, slow approach towards maturity. And in the manner of life and television, things changed, people died and time went marching on.

I look back at that era of Dawson’s Creek now as a simpler time, a place where the thrill of anticipation was perhaps a little more commonplace. After missing one episode, I recall pinning a cry for help on the electronic noticeboard at my then place of work. I spent a whole lunchtime walking the sprawling site of said workplace to pick up a borrowed VHS copy from another fan who had answered my call to action.  There was no on-demand, no catch-up, just grainy screens and fiddling about with video recorders. It all seems a bit prehistoric now, but do you know what? In my head it’s also coated with a faint yet gleaming glow.

Pink Roses and Sweet Williams in Jar

And dare I say it? I was always in the Team Dawson camp (we were a small but dedicated contingent numbering about 3). Perhaps my loyalties were in part due to my own experience of a teenage love affair, the ensuing drama, break-ups and reconciliations – and thankfully, the happy ending we got to in the final scenes. I suppose I always wanted Dawson and Joey to get that happy ending – and when the final episode aired I was…well let’s just say I was a little out of sorts. I could not believe I had invested all that time and effort to come to that particular conclusion. But after circling round the first four stages of the grief cycle several times I finally moved towards acceptance and grudgingly got on with my life.

And now, watching it again after all these years, all those memories come flooding back to me. Yes, the show may look a little dated now, and yes, they really do talk about those raging hormones quite a lot! But when I hear those cries of ‘I don’t wanna wait!’ ring out I’m back in that flat, back in my first job, back to the heady days of first love – and I can feel those emotions all around me. Emotions that help me write a bit better, feel a bit deeper and live every moment cherishing the present.

Well, that’s my excuse for bingeing my way through the next six seasons, anyway.

And the best bit of all? This time I know exactly how the story’s going to end.

G x

Picture of bullet journal, keyboard and pencil case on table

The Four Pillars, A Musical Celebration, SuperSoul Conversations and The First Draft of a Book – #LittleLoves

June is very nearly at an end, and here in the North of Scotland we’re hurtling towards the school holidays. Well, when I say hurtling….dragging ourselves to the finish line at lunchtime on Friday may be a little closer to the mark 🙂 . The end of the summer term is always such a busy time of year isn’t it? If it wasn’t for my bullet journal these last few weeks I think I’d have totally lost any kind of plot. I’m spending these final days before the holidays finishing off a few blog posts, preparing for an annual writing competition and trying to tidy up all the admin for my husband’s business so that over the next few weeks I can relax a bit. There’s also a school trip to help out at, a few more birthdays and anniversaries on the horizon and some summer holiday activities to plan! Thankfully, I reached a big milestone last week and reached my goal of finishing the first draft of the novel I’ve been working on since the academic year started. You can read more about that here – suffice to say, I’m feeling ready for a summer break and keeping everything crossed that this lovely weather we’ve been enjoying holds.  🙂

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READ

You can read all about the books I’ve been reading in June here in my latest Reading Lately post. June was a fab month for me on the reading front and I really enjoyed all the books I read. I usually like to have a non-fiction book on the go too, though, and this month’s was The Four Pillar Plan by Dr Rangan Chatterjee. Reading it came at a good time for me as I’ve been feeling a bit up and down with autoimmune symptoms lately – always the pay-off for the type of busy spell mentioned in paragraph one! When I have a bad day on the health front it can be hard for me not to fall into a negative mindset and convince myself that I’m going back down the rabbit hole of poor health I suffered for most of last year. Reading books like this always reminds me that I need to take a step back and make sure I’m sticking to the basics – things like getting enough sleep and taking short breaks throughout the day. I love Dr Chatterjee, his common sense approach to health, his podcast, his TV show and just his general attitude. Reading this book and adopting some of his suggested strategies reminded me that a bad day or a bad week doesn’t have to mean any more than that.

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To Read June 2018

WATCHED

We haven’t been doing much on the watching front this month – aside from watching an episode of Once Upon a Time with the kids almost every single night 😉 . Box sets are pretty time-intensive, aren’t they? – especially when they run into six or seven seasons, getting through them can become quite a mammoth task. These days we’re much more inclined to watch a box set than normal TV or even films – I get the impression many people are doing likewise. I’ve been struggling to get into any contemporary movies lately and instead have found myself retreating to old favourites from the DVD pile I know I’m going to love. I watched One Day a couple of weeks ago while the boys were out and on Father’s Day my husband and I watched Top Gun, one of our all-time favourite movies. They just don’t make films like that nowadays do they? (I know, I sound about 100). I was excited to see Tom Cruise confirm via Instagram that filming for a sequel is finally underway!

One DayTop Gun

Another couple of things I managed to watch on Netflix this month were a little bit of Queer Eye (just wonderful), and the documentary I Am Not Your Guru about life coach and entrepreneur Tony Robbins and his annual Date With Destiny event. If you’re into this kind of thing, it’s really interesting (although it’s quite sweary – just pointing that out as I’m not a sweary person myself 😉 ). I was in two minds about whether I found it all a bit cultish or just utterly amazing. There’s no doubt that the events are a catalyst for massive transformations though – if you’re intrigued by this kind of thing it’s a fascinating watch.

HEARD

The best thing I heard this month was my youngest son and his schoolmates performing (and winning) as a choir in the Caithness Music Festival. Around 80 of them sang Justin Timberlake’s Can’t Stop the Feeling, and it was a proper prickly eyes/lump in throat affair. I’m always struck by how much talent there is in our little community here in the North of Scotland. And more than that – it was a reminder that music, arts, drama and creativity are just so important for the future – watching all the talent in that room I was left with the feeling that the world is looking bright.

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The other thing I’ve been listening to this month are my daily podcasts. For me, podcasts are like little training courses I take on my dog walk every day. They all tend to focus around self-improvement – whether that be in writing, health or generally just living. One I really enjoyed this month was Oprah Winfrey’s SuperSoul Conversations, and in particular her 2017 interview with writer Brené Brown. They talked about being vulnerable and how it can open you up to being much more connected and confident. I got so much out of this particular podcast – I can really recommend it (and the TED talk and Daring Greatly book by Brené the interview was based around). Here’s a quote I loved from the conversation – it really resonated, particularly with regards to writing. If this sounds like the kind of thing that might benefit you too, do go and check it out!

‘You can’t get to courage without walking through vulnerability’ – Brené Brown

Oprah's SuperSoul Conversations
WORE

Alas, as usual I fail miserably at taking photos of anything I’ve been wearing. Which is a shame really, as my summer wardrobe is much better than the limited number of clothes I seem to own for any other time of year! It’s often just me and the dog out and about together during the day and he’s not too good at taking photos. So it’s a bit of a cheat really but I do like ‘wearing’ my hair curly after an evening bath and a night in curlers (top tip ladies – overnight bendy rollers rule!)

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MADE

We haven’t done much on the making front this month, but we did manage to cobble together these little egg-box scavenger hunt holders to use on some of our family outings. There’s lots more on this, and other ideas for summer holiday activities on this blog post I wrote recently – I also appeared on BBC Radio Scotland again to talk about it on their Out For the Weekend show. It was another great experience but I wish I didn’t feel so nervous about appearing beforehand. The interview seemed to go well, though, and they even played Abba’s Dancing Queen on air for me which was really rather nice!

Egg Box Treasure Hunt

So that’s it for this month’s Little Loves, readers, I hope you’ve enjoyed it, and that it might inspire some of your own future Little Love affairs 🙂 . I better get back to the pre-summer holiday to-do list – things might be a bit sporadic on the blog over the next 7 or so weeks so I’ll take the chance now to wish you a truly wonderful July 🙂 .

G x

*This post contains affiliate links which means that I will receive commission should you choose to purchase something via them. This enables me to earn a small income from the time I spend on blogging and does not in any way affect the price you pay.

As usual, I’m linking this post up to Morgana’s monthly linky.

Little Loves Coffee Work Sleep Repeat

Reading Lately – June 2018

With the end of June just around the corner – and the school holidays looming – the chances of me finishing another book before the weekend are looking minuscule. So I’ll go ahead now and share my monthly round up – in bookish terms, June has been very, very good 🙂 . It’s also been a pretty good month in terms of my own writing and I finally finished the first draft of my young adult fantasy romance (*does happy dance*). One of the reasons you won’t find many (possibly, any) negative book reviews on here is because I appreciate what a difficult task writing a novel actually amounts to (and possibly because I’m a bit scared of bad reviewers too 😉 ). I’m also the type of person who will try to find something nice to say wherever possible – the truth is, if I’m not enjoying a book I tend to just put it quietly back to the library or back onto the shelf. So if you’re here, hopefully you’re okay with mostly happy, happy, let’s all be kind to each other and general positivity 😉 . Of course I won’t lie and tell you I’ve loved a book if I haven’t actually enjoyed it – but the truth is, if I really haven’t liked something, it probably won’t even appear on here at all.

Anyway, back to the blog post in hand and my first book for June was The State of Grace by Rachael Lucas, a lovely read about family, friendship and first love. I’ve read a lot of young adult fiction over the years and it’s a genre I keep coming back to – I like the shorter word count and the way it transports you back to those heady teenage years.  The story centres around teenager Grace, who has a fantastic best friend, a horse she loves, a loving family home – and Aspergers. Life seems to be going along smoothly until Grace meets a boy she likes, her sister starts acting strangely and her Mum makes a new friend who seems intent on getting in the way. Grace learns how to deal with change, growing up and making mistakes in a warm, witty and heartfelt story – I love Rachael’s writing (and the fact that she always comments on Insta when you post a picture of her books 🙂 ). If you like novels like Fangirl I’d really recommend this. And if you’re looking for pure comfort reads do check out some of Rachael’s other novels too!

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Talking of pure comfort, my second book for the month was Still Me by Jojo Moyes, the last in the Me Before You trilogy. Oh how I loved this novel – and being back with Louisa Clark for a new story felt like spending time with a dear and trusted friend. The final instalment sees Lou in New York, working for a wealthy family, trying to maintain a long-distance relationship with new love Sam and realising that the shadow of Will is never far away from her. Life is never without its ups and downs for Lou though and naturally, the waters get choppy before too much time has passed. I absolutely love JoJo Moyes’ writing and the fact that she can inject humour and warmth into just about anything she tackles. This was a lovely rounding off to Louisa’s story and although I’ll miss her, I was happy to wave goodbye as I turned the final page.

Still Me Book Jojo Moyes.JPG

My final book for the month was Together by Julie Cohen, a beautiful love story told backwards with a final, shocking twist. It tells the story of Robbie and Emily, who share an unbreakable bond, as well as a startling secret. When Robbie starts to lose his memory, he makes a decision in order to protect that secret from ever leaking out. This is a proper book club read and its final revelations will really get you thinking. I came across it on the Richard and Judy Book Club – still one of my favourite places to find new books to read. I also listened to Julie Cohen being interviewed on an old episode of the Worried Writer podcast last week (episode three, if you’re interested), and she was really engaging and funny. Reading Together has made me want to seek out a few more of her novels – particularly, of course, if they are anything like as good as this.

Together Book Julie Cohen

So that’s it for this month’s round up – I’m looking forward to the to-read pile I’ve got lined up for the holidays. I’m always ready to add to it though, so do let me know which books you’ve been loving lately – and in the meantime, book lovers, happy reading for July!

Gx

*This post contains Amazon affiliate links which means that I will receive commission should you choose to purchase something via them. This enables me to earn a small income from the time I spend on blogging and does not in any way affect the price you pay.

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Ten Outlander Locations in the North Highlands of Scotland

If you’re a regular reader of my blog I don’t think I need to repeat myself here: I’m a big Outlander fan. From epic Scottish landscapes to heart-pounding romance, the TV series (and the books that inspired it), has so much to recommend. Not least of these is the opportunity to cavort around Scotland in search of Outlander locations (and Jamie Fraser 😉 ) – however, living in the farthest reaches of northern Scotland means that some of the locations actually used in the show are often rather far away. Not to worry though – there are still many Outlander gems to be found in the North Highlands. And although production has often tended to favour more centrally located (and therefore more accessible) Scottish locations, the real Outlander stories are often rooted in places much closer to the north….

Ten Scottish Highlands Outlander Locations

BEAULY, INVERNESSHIRE

The lovely town of Beauly, near Inverness, is a real treasure on the Outlander trail. Not only does it happen to be smack bang in the heart of Clan Fraser country – it’s also as gorgeous as its name (from the French for ‘beautiful place’ ) suggests. It’s also home to the Beauly Priory, one of three priories founded in Scotland by monks of the Valliscaulian order in the thirthteenth century – and also the location where Claire meets the seer Maisri in the books.

Beauly Priory

Beauly Priory

Not far away is Beaufort Castle, the traditional seat of the Lord Lovats of Fraser – sadly, the castle has now fallen out of Fraser hands and is not open to the public to admire. If you do make a visit to the area, however, don’t miss a trip to The Old School Beauly – a little gem of a gift store on the village main street. Outlander fans will be excited to learn that Diana Gabaldon herself visited the store in 2017 to open their new book and stationery section and give a talk in a local hall to hundreds of admiring fans!

Old School Beauly

The lovely book and stationery section of the Old School Beauly

THE WARDLAW MAUSOLEUM, KIRKHILL

The Wardlaw Mausoleum, in Kirkhill, near Inverness, is another lesser-known location on the Outlander trail. The remains of the ‘Old Fox’ Lord Lovat (Jamie’s Grandfather in the show) are said to be buried in the crypt within the grounds. When we visited, the sun was shining and there was blossom everywhere – I can think of few nicer final resting places. Interest in the location has also been boosted lately by a visit from Sophie Skelton and Richard Rankin, who play Brianna and Roger in the show.

Wardlaw Mausoleum

The Wardlaw Mausoleum

THE HIGHLAND FOLK MUSEUM, NEWTONMORE

The Highland Folk Museum, near Newtonmore, is a fantastic day out whether or not you’re an Outlander fan – we spent almost 5 hours there learning about life for Highlanders throughout the years. It’s also where some of the scenes for season 1 of the show were shot – those bits where Dougal is doing the rent collection. The owner at the campsite we stayed at nearby even told me that some of the locals had parts as extras in the show!

Highland Folk Museum

A day out at the Highland Folk Museum

TULLOCH GHRU, NEAR AVIEMORE

The vast expanse of Tulloch Ghru, near Aviemore, is another must-see for any Outlander fan. It’s said to appear in the very first episode of the show, when Claire meets the Mackenzies after her encounter with Black Jack Randall on passing through the stones. Looking out over the landscape it’s hard to pinpoint where exactly this might have happened – so just breathe in and enjoy the scenery. This is the majestic Scottish landscape at its finest – it’s not hard to imagine Claire and Jamie riding on horseback though the glen.

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Beautiful Tulloch Ghru

CASTLE LEOD, NEAR STRATHPEFFER

The beautiful Castle Leod, near the Highland spa town of Strathpeffer, is the true seat of the Clan Mackenzie. In the stories this doubles as Castle Leoch (which translates to Doune Castle in Perthshire on the screen). The castle is now a private home but information on open days and events can be found on their website. You can even get married here, and enjoy an Outlander-themed ceremony inspired by Claire and Jamie’s vows!

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Castle Leod, the seat of the Clan Mackenzie

RUTHVEN BARRACKS, NEAR KINGUSSIE

The Ruthven Barracks, near Kingussie, are another fantastic stop on the Outlander trail for anyone interested in Jacobite history. The barracks are the best preserved of four government barracks built in Scotland after the first Jacobite uprising of 1715. Built on a hill, they make an imposing sight, especially from the busier main road alongside them. You can visit the barracks at any time and they are free to enter – my kids enjoyed the history lesson. I like to think that having a Mum who enjoys tearing around the country indulging her interest in historical romantic fiction also has its perks 😉 .

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Ruthven Barracks

INVERNESS AND LEAKEY’S BOOKSTORE

The beautiful city of Inverness features heavily in the Outlander novels, but in the TV series, 1940’s Inverness is substituted for the lovely town of Falkland, much further south in Fife. Don’t miss a trip to the Highland capital to soak up some of that Outlander inspiration, like Tomnahurich Hill (the fairy hill which is linked to many folkore tales). And while you’re in the city, do pop into the beautiful Leakey’s Bookshop. Not only is it one of Scotland’s best second-hand bookshops, it also served as a temporary hospital during the Jacobite uprising of 1745.

Inverness in Spring

A spring day in the city

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Leakey’s Bookstore, a hidden gem in Inverness

CULLODEN BATTLEFIELD AND THE CLAVA CAIRNS

No Outlander tour of the North Highlands would be complete without a trip to the site of the Battle of Culloden, and the Clava Cairns – the bronze age burial site said to have been the inspiration for Craigh na Dun in the books. You can read all about them – and lots more besides – here in my post on Scottish Outlander Locations.

Culloden Battlefield

A touching tribute at the Culloden Battlefield

Clava Cairns

The Clava Cairns

So what are you waiting for Outlander fans? Ready to book your trip to the north of Scotland for an Outlander-inspired adventure soon? 🙂

Gx

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How to Write the First Draft of Your Novel

For as long as I can remember I have wanted to write a novel. In fact, as a teenager I started writing a very bad one (which never got further than the first chapter and thankfully has never seen the light of day). The fact that it was truly awful doesn’t really matter. The point was, a seed was sown – or rather had been planted a few months earlier when I had devoured S.E Hinton’s coming-of age novel The Outsiders. As I read (and later voraciously re-read it), I came to understand what a gift it was to write something that could push inside a person’s consciousness and hold a place forever in their heart.

Fast forward 25 years, though, and that dream of writing a novel still lay unrealised. The spark of desire to write as a teenager had been usurped by five years at university and a career path that went a rather different way. One husband, two children and a dog later and it was still a spark extinguished. Until a couple of years ago when I started my blog and began to realise that I was still that dreamy teenager who liked to spend her time scribbling in a pad.

I had a story, once again that had its roots in childhood – (in case you’re wondering, a young adult fantasy romance based around mythical beings and folklore from the far north). Where stories come from is a tale for another time – suffice to say I wrote 2000 words for a competition and then forgot it. And then last year something happened that reminded me that life can be very short and fragile. I decided that if anyone ever wanted to write a novel, the time to do it should be now.

Typewriter and Tea

So I set about working out a way that I could achieve that. For me, this meant thinking about how many words I needed to write and assessing how I could get a first draft done in a target of nine months. I was working on the basis of the school year – so August to the end of June – assuming nothing much gets done in the school holidays. That worked out at 40 weeks, and I wanted to write 40,000 words for starters, which worked out at 1000 words a week – a minimum of 200 words five days a week. Yes, to some writers this will seem faintly ridiculous – that’s hardly anything! But I had to work with the time and space I had available. And working with the time and space I had available is exactly what I did.

I worked out that I could achieve my goal by setting aside a writing window of timed 30 minute sessions daily. This was manageable, and I think it would be for most people (for me, it was assisted by my youngest now spending an extra half hour a day at school). As the year went on, I altered some of my routines and rituals to keep writing a priority. By keeping to this strategy, just in time for the school holidays, I’ve managed to achieve my target and finish the (40,000 words) first draft of my book.

How to Finish the First Draft of Your Novel

Keeping motivated throughout the process can be a little tricky. You’re probably writing something that no one asked for – dare I say it, does anybody even care? I’ve often felt a bit silly about the whole process and the time and energy I’ve allowed it. Interacting with other writers has really helped me make peace with the fact that I’m not the only one.

Throughout the year I’ve gorged on writing-related podcasts during daily dog walks. That burst of lunchtime inspiration has really helped keep the momentum going strong. Check out the Worried Writer, Creative Penn and Magic Lessons podcasts for ideas. You might also find joining a writers group, or attending a writing retreat useful tools in terms of keeping you motivated and inspired.

Wherever possible, I’d recommend automating your writing sessions. That is, tagging them onto something you already do to ensure that they become part of your everyday routine. For me, that meant that after my daily dog walk I always did my 30 minutes of writing time. If I didn’t do it then, I had to catch it up elsewhere.

Writing Library

If you’re still struggling to see how you could fit writing a book into your schedule, have a look at this post I wrote on finding the time to write in 2017. I’d recommend writing (even a small amount) daily to keep yourself immersed in your evolving story. With small targets, steady progress and a bit of determination, it’s actually amazing what can be achieved.

As for me, I’m relieved to have reached this first little milestone. My first draft isn’t perfect, it’s too short (even for a young adult novel) and it still needs a lot of work. Some of the characters are flimsy, and the story needs more layers. But that’s what a first draft is isn’t it? As Terry Pratchett said, it’s just you telling the story to yourself. And I do have a story – with a beginning, a middle, and an end – and for that I’m happy. I’ll leave it to settle now over the summer holidays and come back to it with fresh eyes later in the year.

And then there will be a second draft, some more editing, and a lot of investigation on how to get a book published (or possibly how to just publish one yourself). The steps will be small and steady, but I’ll get there.

And do you know what? I think the girl with big dreams and her notepad would be pleased.

G x

*This post contains an affiliate link which means that I will receive commission should you choose to purchase something via it. This enables me to earn a small income from the time I spend on blogging and does not in any way affect the price you pay. 

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All Weather Ideas for Summer Holiday Activities

With school holidays just around the corner (well, at least if you live in Scotland 😉 ), the attentions of parents everywhere turn to keeping little ones entertained during the lengthy summer break.  CBBC and PlayStation marathons notwithstanding, there are lots of things you can do to avoid wails of ‘I’m bored’, or ‘are we there yet?’ So here are a few ideas for all weather eventualities, to kick summer holiday boredom firmly to the kerb.

Back to School 2017

THE SUMMER READING CHALLENGE

One of our favourite activities over the summer holidays, the Summer Reading Challenge is a nationwide initiative run by the Reading Agency and local libraries to get more children reading during the summer break. The idea is that children aged 4-11 sign up to read 6 books over the break and in return receive special rewards each time they finish a book. There’s a certificate for everyone who completes the challenge and many libraries run a little awards presentation too. Following on from last year’s ‘Animal Agents’, this year’s theme is ‘Mischief Makers’, inspired by the Beano. The summer reading challenge will available to sign up to at libraries across Scotland later in the month.

Summer Reading Challenge Cover

BLUE PETER BADGES

Blue Peter badges may sound retro but they are still very much available! Children aged 6-15 can apply for badges and they come in various colours these days, not just the iconic blue of this 40-something Mummy’s youth 🙂 . My youngest has recently applied for a green badge for achievements linked to the environment with a letter about picking up litter. He’s also applied for a purple badge which involves submitting a review of a recent Blue Peter show. For this year only, once they already have at least one Blue Peter badge, children can also apply for a limited edition Diamond badge. Having a Blue Peter badge also has perks – badge holders get free entry to many UK attractions. There are plenty of them in Scotland (yay!) including Edinburgh Zoo, the Cairngorm Reindeer Herd, and the Highland Wildlife Park. Time to get those applications in kiddos – you can find out lots more about applying for Blue Peter badges here.

Litter Collecting

KINDNESS ROCKS

One of the latest crazes that families can have fun getting involved with are ‘kindness rocks’, a scheme involving decorating rocks with inspirational messages and pictures, and leaving them in public places for other rock-loving individuals to enjoy. Many towns have now started kindness rocks projects of their own – check on Facebook or local information to see if there is one close to you. Painting the rocks can be a fun activity for kids, and going out hiding (and seeking) them is a great way to encourage children to get excited about going out on walks.

Kindness Rocks, Thurso

GEOCACHING

Geocaching is another fun outdoor activity for families – a sort of treasure hunt for the digitally-savvy. ‘Caches’ are boxes hidden somewhere outdoors, found by downloading co-ordinates from the geocaching website to a GPS or by downloading a geocaching app to your phone. Once found, the ‘treasure chest’ usually contains a log book to sign and sometimes a small trinket. If you take a trinket you are meant to swap it for something in return – examples might be a small lego figure, some stickers or a badge. Finding caches can be lots of fun and it also gets you out exploring. We have done this several times with our children and it’s something they’ve always thoroughly enjoyed.

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SCAVENGER HUNTS

Scavenger hunts are great fun and there are lots of downloads online you can use – the Woodland Trust website is a fantastic place for nature-inspired resources at any time of year. A nice idea are egg box scavenger hunts, where you take an empty egg box and tape a piece of paper marked up as a grid on top. On top of each space, write out or draw a picture of something for the kids to find – e.g. a pine cone, a leaf, a feather, something sticky, something special. Kids can pop their items in the corresponding egg space to complete their scavenger hunt. Another great way to get children excited about spending time outdoors.

Egg Box Treasure Hunt

GO WILD

Even if you aren’t going away on holiday this year, there’s plenty of fun to be had in your own back garden. What about a night spent in a tent with the kids on your very own back lawn? For a bit of extra adventure, families can also sign up to initiatives like the RSPB’s Wild Challenge which enables kids to earn bronze, silver and gold awards for completing activities like building a birdbath or making a minibeast hotel. Or why not have a beach day, build a den in the forest or make the most of a windy afternoon and head out and fly a kite?

Beach Bucket

Kite Flying

GARDENING

Gardening is another great activity to get little hands involved with and a couple of years ago we tried our hand at growing our own vegetables (you can read all about that here). These days, we stick to the easy stuff like growing herbs and planting sunflower seeds – which are a lot less labour intensive but still offer the excitement of watching something grow. Oh, and I’m not averse to getting kids to help with the dreaded weeding either – # mumperks. Who said there can’t be added benefits to keeping little ones amused? 😉

Weeding in Blossom

FAMILY CYCLING

We’re big fans of family cycling in our household and getting on your bike is a great activity for fitness and general wellbeing. One of our top tips for weekend outings (and exercise for Mum and Dad), is to head somewhere quiet and do a fast walk while the kids do a bit of pedalling as you stomp. Better still, get everyone on their bikes and head for an off-road trail if possible – if you need a little more inspiration you can read lots more about our favourite family cycling destinations right here on the blog. 

Cycling with Kids

BAKING, COOKING AND GETTING CRAFTY

For rainy days, you can’t go wrong with a bit of baking, cooking or arts and crafts time. Yes, it’s messy, but honestly, it can also be a lot of fun! It doesn’t have to get complicated – my kids are happy making fairy cakes and drawing pictures. Another top tip on the creativity side is to get your kids to keep a journal all about their fantastic summer hols!

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Arts and Crafts

GO LOCAL

Check out local listings and social media for information on summer holiday activities close to you – many local communities have free or reasonably priced kids activities running throughout the break. Where we live there are all sorts of activities on offer like tennis lessons, ranger-led events and summer swimming sessions. Cinemas often offer discounted family viewings over the holidays – and don’t forget to check out your local library for lots of other ideas too!

Librarian Tote Bag

AND FINALLY…

If you are going away and are looking for something to keep the kids amused on long car journeys, my absolute top tip is to get hold of some audiobooks (you may be able to borrow these from your local library too).  We’ve passed many an ‘are-we-there-yet?’ free hour in our campervan listening to The Diary of a Wimpy Kid or Swallows and Amazons (the latter really gets you into summer holiday adventure mode!) In fact, Audible offer 30-day free trials which may fit in quite nicely with your seasonal holiday planning. Making a family road trip playlist (and singing along together loudly in your vehicle) is another great way to get your summer holiday journey off to a flying start 🙂 .

Wild Camping

Whatever you’re doing this summer, I hope this has given you some ideas for family activities. If all else fails, movie days, playdates, cards and board games are always fail-safe options too! I’m one of those Mums who freely admits to loving the school holidays – roll on six (or is it seven?) weeks of routine-free downtime. And with all of these activities to keep us occupied, fingers crossed there shouldn’t be an ‘I’m bored’, or ‘are we there yet?’ wail in sight 🙂 .

G x

What about you, how do you plan to keep the kids occupied this summer? Will any of these suggestions help you, or do you have other ideas of your own? I’d love to hear!

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All Weather Summer Holiday Activities for Families

The North Coast 500, Also Known As Home

There is a road I see from the front door of my home in Caithness that forms part of the North Coast 500. As kids, we knew it better as the road ‘up west’, a passage imbued with the promise of beaches, picnics and sand between our toes. These days, the route has a new title and a reputation as one of the UK’s most iconic road trips. Starting in Inverness and covering 500 miles of the North Highland’s most scenic landscapes, this enviable status has attracted visitors from all over the world, keen to experience the North Coast 500 for themselves.

Inverness in Spring

Inverness, the start and finish point for the North Coast 500

For those of us who live on the North Coast 500 (also known as the NC 500), this new found fame is simultaneously joyous and disconcerting. We’re suddenly the best-kept secret we’ve all known for many years. Our natural inclinations keep us from shouting loudly from the rooftops. We let others sing our praises and share pictures prefixed with the quiet caption ‘home’.

Orkney View

My home, Scrabster, in Caithness

View to Scrabster

The weather is often better than people might assume

John O Groats Sign

The famous John O’ Groats sign

For many of us here, there is a deep connection with the landscape. That sense of wholeness brought on by an expanse of beach and a vast and open sky. This is a land of legend – of selkies, mermaids and fairies. This is a place where dragons open their mouths and breathe fiery sunsets across a never-ending sky.

Sunset Salute

Saluting the sunset at Dunnet Beach

Caithness Sunrise January

Caithness sunrise

Pink and Blue Sunrise Caithness

The skies are often most dramatic in Autumn/Winter

Dec 17 Pink Sunrise

Winter morning looking towards Orkney

This is a place, where in the summer, darkness seems to virtually elude us, and in the winter, storms rage and echo like an angry Giant’s roar. It’s a place where parts of the land remain untamed and wordless. It’s a place that pulls you like a magnet and makes you homesick before you ever decide to go away.

Blue Skies Thurso

A Caithness scene

Thurso East

Thurso Castle

It’s a land where the beaches seem to go on forever and the sight of a looming castle can convince you that fairy tales are worth believing in. Where going off the beaten track for a while can see you stumbling into the Secret Garden, or wandering to find a beach left untouched and largely unnoticed by the world. It is a place which, in growing up, some have sought escape from. And yet, for others, the place itself is the escape – a quiet haven to find retreat and refuge from a restless, changing world.

Ceannabeinne Beach

Ceannabeinne Beach, Sutherland

Dunrobin Spire

The fairytale setting of Dunrobin Castle, Golpsie

Blubell Woods

Bluebell Woods, Dunrobin

Wick Memorial Gardens

Memorial Gardens, Wick

Further afield, you’ll find many other treasures along the North Coast 500. You’ll find places of tranquillity – like Applecross, aptly meaning ‘The Sanctuary’ in the Gaelic tongue. You’ll find dramatic drives where cattle once treaded relentlessly along winding dusty tracks. You’ll find Monarchs of the Glen and stalwarts from above who soar across the sky.  You’ll find Highland hospitality, measured and gentle local spirits. You’ll find ruined castles, haunting landscapes, and a sense, perhaps, of being nothing but a tiny speck upon the world.

Applecross

Applecross – ‘The Sanctuary’

Bealach Na Ba

The Bealach Na Ba, near Applecross (‘Pass of the Cattle’)

nc-500-stag

Stag pictured near Durness

Sandy Toes Achmelvich

Highland hospitality at Achmelvich Beach

Beach Freedom

Adventure awaits

And when your journey takes you back to the pretty city of Inverness, you’ll have come full circle. And hopefully you’ll have taken some part of the Highlands to carry forever in your soul. For those of us who live here – or who have wandered –  that feeling of home can be both profound and powerful.

For in the words of the writer Harry W. Paige, ‘home is not a place only, but a condition of the heart.’

If you enjoyed this article, you may also like these blogs on Reasons to Plan a Scottish Road Trip, Movie Locations to Visit in Scotland, Scottish Outlander Locations, Surviving the Scottish Midge and this guest post I wrote for travel website Venture North.

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NC 500 AKA Home

The Balance Plan, Barbecues, Once Upon a Time and The Royal Wedding – #LittleLoves

Ah, Little Loves I’ve missed you. It seems such a long time since I’ve shared some of my favourites on here. That said, I’ve rather enjoyed having more time to write about other things since the link up changed to monthly. Over the last few weeks I’ve had a chance to write about travel, opportunities and this little blog here celebrating its second birthday. Clouds and silver linings, eh? But for now, back to the Little Loves in hand! 🙂

READ

I spent most of this month reading Outlander, and you’ll find more about that in May’s Reading Lately post. I did manage one other piece of fiction – Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste NG (which was also very good). This week I’ve been dipping in and out of The Balance Plan by Angelique Panagos, which is all about diet and lifestyle interventions for balancing female hormones. If you’re struggling with hormonal issues, PMS, thyroid, menopause or just about anything that impacts on female health this book is definitely worth a look. It contains lots of recipes and a large section devoted to how hormones work and what can be done to keep everything in alignment. One of the biggest eye openers for me was how stress, and elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol can send feminine hormones wildly out of whack.

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WATCHED

Thankfully, there are always non-stressy diversions in life like our favourite box sets. This month we’ve been going all out on fairy-tale fantasy series Once Upon a Time, which we really enjoy watching with the kids. With them staying up a bit later now, my husband and I are struggling to watch anything even remotely adult before bedtime. Thankfully, this show is a great compromise – not too scary, pretty mild on bad language, but at the same time full of great stories. Definitely one to look up if like us, you have a slightly older brood.

And of course, this month we also watched the Royal Wedding – wasn’t it just lovely? We invited the family round, settled down to tea and cucumber sandwiches and altogether just had a really lovely day.

Royal Wedding Tea Party

The whole thing had me mesmerised and poking about for post-mortem snippets online and in the media for days later – in fact I’m only just getting my life back together 😉 . I admit it, I’ve even started watching a couple of episodes of Suits to keep the momentum up. And what about this good-natured spoof from one of my favourites, Tom Fletcher? You really can’t beat a Royal Wedding for promoting that sense of national pride.

HEARD

One of the best things I heard this month was David Nicholls, the author of one of my favourite books One Day being interviewed on the Creative Penn podcast. I listen to this podcast a lot and if you’re an aspiring writer like me, you should really look it up. Joanna Penn (who hosts the show) is an inspirational figure in the world of self-publishing and indie authors and I loved listening to her interview Mr Nicholls about his writing. It’s always amazing to hear established authors talking about their process – and even admitting that despite all their successes, they still struggle with self doubt.

WORE

The spell of fantastic weather lately has meant I’ve been wearing sunglasses, summer sandals and plenty of sunscreen. It’s been so lovely to enjoy some fabulous weather, eat al fresco and just generally potter about in the garden till all hours. The last week or so has been fuelled by vitamin D and barbecues – I think May is definitely my favourite. Just don’t tell the other 11 months of the year, will you? – no doubt I’ll switch allegiance soon! 🙂

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MADE

The last month has been all about making lovely food on the barbecue and making progress in the garden. Weeding is the bane of my Spring/Summer existence but then again, when it’s sunny, there are worse things to have to do 😉 . May has also been about making memories on road trips, like the one we went on last weekend to Grantown-on-Spey, near Aviemore. And there’s also been a sunny school sports day, a writing retreat, a visit to my friend’s farm and a leisurely walk through the bluebells to round the month off in style.

Barbecue Spring 2018Weeding in BlossomGrantown on SpeyGrantown on Spey Caravan ParkHighland CowBluebells Spring 2018

June, it looks like you have a lot to live up to.

What do you say Little Loves readers – same time, same place next month?

G x

* This post contains affiliate links which means that I will receive commission should you choose to purchase something via them. This enables me to earn a small income from the time I spend on blogging and does not in any way affect the price you pay.

As usual, I’m linking this post up to Morgana’s linky.

Little Loves Coffee Work Sleep Repeat

Reading Lately – May 2018

It’s going to be a quick round up this month, as I’ve had a light month on the book front. After all my boasts about my exciting to-read pile last month I managed to read the sum total of just two 😉 . That said, one of them was Outlander, which stretches to over 850 pages, so I hope you’ll be able to forgive me 🙂 . I promise to do a bit better in June *makes mental note to seek out shorter books on to-read pile to start next*.

So anyway, back to Outlander, my love for which will be no stranger to you if you read my blog on a regular basis. After drooling over the TV adaption of Diana Gabaldon’s book series for so long I thought it was time to give the first instalment a try. And it didn’t disappoint – in fact, predictably I suppose, I loved it. If you’re unfamiliar with the premise, it’s an epic story about a woman (Claire), who travels back from 1946 to the Scotland of two hundred years before.  Along the way, she becomes involved with the local Mackenzie clan – and even more involved with Jamie, one of the young Scotsmen connected to them. Which would all be fine without the minor issue of Claire’s existing 1946 husband – and the fact that one of said husband’s ancestors, Black Jack Randall, has a sadistic obsession with her new-found beau. That’s just the start of it – there really is a lot going on and I applaud anyone who can keep up with all the characters and connections. That said, reading Outlander is a bit like watching a drama series or soap opera that you get really into – you just want the stories to go on and on.  It’s a proper can’t-breathe-without-you kind of love story and I can’t wait to read the other instalments. In the spirit of mixing up my book reviews, though, I’ll try my best to spread them out a bit 😉 .

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My other book for the Month was Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste NG. I must admit it took me a while to get into this (I’d gone too deep into Claire and Jamie mode), but once I did I found a thought-provoking story I heartily enjoyed. The story revolves mainly around two mothers – the straight-down-the-middle Elena Richardson and artistic single parent Mia, and how their families become embroiled when the case of an abandoned baby sparks unexpected consequences for them all. It’s a fantastic story about motherhood, culture and identity and it really makes you second guess yourself – if you happen to be in a book group it would be a fantastic book to share.

Little Fires Everywhere Book.JPG

So that’s it for this very short reading round up. I’ll be back in June with (fingers crossed) a few more books to tell you all about. In the meantime, do let me know what you’ve been reading lately. I’m always on the lookout for suggestions for my summer reading pile! 🙂

G x

*This post contains affiliate links which means that I will receive commission should you choose to purchase something via them. This enables me to earn a small income from the time I spend on blogging and does not in any way affect the price you pay.

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