All posts by Linda

An Interview With Bambini And Bo

This week I’m showcasing nursery furniture for the little ones in our lives. “ Bambini And Bo” are a nursery retailer based in the UK who specialise in picking brands and products that have an unique and inspiring contemporary feel. I caught up with Theo, co founder and director of this lovely family store to find out more… Hi Theo and welcome!

Hi, my name’s Theo Clarke, I am the co-founder and director of Bambini and Bo. We are a UK based family-run baby store selling nursery furniture, decor and transport (pushchairs, prams and travel systems).

What inspired the founding of your nursery retail shop, Bambini and Bo?

My mum started a home décor business in 2018 called “Over The Moon Creations”, specialising in personalised home-made décor. This was a field she had no experience in, just passion, passion to express herself artistically and just the thought alone of people wanting to purchase her creations made her feel Over The Moon.

At this time, I was working full-time as a Building Services Engineer whilst also studying part-time at University to achieve my degree in Building Services Engineering. As you can imagine, my free-time was sparse.

In June 2020 we were amidst a global pandemic. I was out of work and for the first time in my life I had time to reflect, time to think and time to decide on where my true passion lied. It was at this time I decided to put all my time and efforts into creating a family-run business alongside my Mum.

It was a steep learning curve (and still is), which began with months of market research prior to designing and building our website: bambiniandbo.co.uk


I love the name “Bambini and Bo” – what is the story behind the name?

Thank you! Well, all credit goes to Mum on this one. By this time Over The Moon Creations had been up and running for a couple of years, Mum had created hundreds of personalised products, many of which had consisted of baby names. 

Our ‘future competitors’ names were all very similar. We wanted a name that stood out; something that we hoped people would remember. 

We brainstormed for a few days before finally deciding on Bambini and Bo. 

Bambini meaning ‘baby’ in Italian and Bo (or sometimes spelt Beau) being a popular baby name that my Mum had produced a number of personalised products for.

Your shop specialises in nursery furniture, decor and transport with an inspiring contemporary feel.  I am particularly fond of the Maya Range Bedroom Furniture – such a pity my children are not youngsters any more! To date, what has been the most popular product from your range?

Funny that you mention the Maya range. This is a brand-new range by Obaby that launched in January 2021. Almost instantly this turned into one of our best sellers. Selling out just a week or two after launching. We then took a number of pre-orders for stock due in February, which was all pre-sold before the stock even arrived!

So well done to the Obaby on that one, they created a beautiful set, loved by us and parents alike!

What’s your most favourite item in your collection?

Tough question, as there’s so many, but the product that comes to mind above all else is the Tidy Books Children’s Bookcase, created by Geraldine Grenadier. We’ve been working with her since the launch of our website back in August 2020 and have developed a great working relationship.

I like these bookcases so much that recently I wrote a blog post on them myself, titled: 10 Reasons Why Parents Are Buying This Children’s Bookcase [Award-Winning]: https://bambiniandbo.co.uk/blogs/news/childrens-bookcase

When picking items to add to your collections, do you select by what has proved popular in the past, current trends, customer requests, personal preferences or all of those things?

I would say the selection process actually starts with the Brand.

We only work with brands that we believe in. We trust these brands and their products; they work hard to keep up and adapt to current trends and regularly bring out new products. A perfect example of this is the Maya range by Obaby as mentioned previously.

As Bambini and Bo is based in the UK, are your products available to purchase and order worldwide?

Currently, we only ship to the UK. But we are still within our first year of trading. 

We plan to continue scaling our business at a maintainable rate and wish to better establish ourselves within the UK before we begin to compete with retailers on a global scale. 

Also, the new Brexit regulations came into effect as of January 2020, from what I can gather from speaking to others, this has resulted in many import/export difficulties at the moment. So, it is probably not a great time to be importing to/exporting from the UK anyway.

What trends do you foresee for 2021/2022 when it comes to nursery decorating? 

I would be looking to my Mum for answers with this one – she tends to have an eye for these things. Although, I have noticed that when it comes to nursery design certain colours seem to be very popular at the moment, blush pink and pearl grey are being used a lot.

Personal now – what outfits and shoes would you normally be found wearing?

Well, that depends entirely on the occasion. But being in lockdown for the majority of 2020 due to the pandemic, there’s not been many opportunities to get dressed up. But you can’t beat a smart fitted shirt, jeans/trousers and a pair of all black Prada America’s cup shoes.

Do you have any favourite shops or online sites?

Depends on what I’m buying. Asos is pretty good as a general all-round store – I can normally always find something I like on there. If it’s designer I’m after, then I prefer to shop in-store at an outlet where I can try it on.

What’s next on your clothes/shoe wish list?

It’s been sometime since I’ve bought any clothes. I’m not even on the Bambini and Bo payroll yet!  It’s still early days so all the money earnt is being put right back into the business. 

I will most definitely be treating myself to a new wardrobe when I receive that first pay-cheque.

Boots or Shoes?

Depends on the season, chelsea boots work well with jeans in winter but summer when the legs are out it’s got to be shoes.

Links you would like to share e.g. website/facebook etc so that readers can find out more about Bambini and Bo.

For Pinning Later


Our website: https://bambiniandbo.co.uk/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/bambiniandbo

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/bambiniandbo/

Great to chat with you Theo and I wish you and your mum continued success with your ventures!

Linda x

All photographs have been published with kind permission of Theo Clarke – apart from the header/ Pinterest picture which is by Linda Hobden

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An Interview With Author Ashley Brown

London based author and writing coach Ashley Brown told me that her writing was inspired by the rollercoaster of life, fuelled by coffee and an insatiable sweet tooth – especially where jammy dodger biscuits are concerned! Her latest book “ The Sugar Game” is a modern novel which looks at the phenomenon of Sugar Daddy websites and the young women who willingly sign up to be sugar babies. Lured by glamour, romance, opulence, money, fun and independence, these young women often find what they crave (or do they?) and the risks involved are just as real. “The Sugar Game” follows the lives of 2 best friends who join up to become sugar babies – 2 young ladies who crave glamour, fun, clothes and a plan to cover each other’s back to make meetings as safe as possible. But did they really realise what they would be risking? I found the book fascinating and a really good, believable read so I couldn’t wait to discuss the book with Ashley over jammie dodgers…

Hi, I’m Ashley, where to start? Well, I have been driven by curiosity my whole life. I was born in Kent and raised in small village, you know the ones I mean…the kind where they still have milk floats and the baker knows your name. I tried the ‘normal’ route that my friends and family were taking, even managed seven years at law school to become a lawyer for the grand total of two weeks. (Ally McBeal can take the rap for that one. Thankfully that Alice in Wonderland approach to life got the better of me. My inner Alice led me to job-hop around the world for a few exhausting and hilarious years. They inspired my first novel ‘Jobslut’. Writing was such a relief. I have finally found what feels like my place in the world, and settled my restless soul. So here I am still, typing away and supporting aspiring writers to find their voice.

Who or what inspired you to write “The Sugar Game”? 

In a word, choices. They intrigue me. Particularly those of young women pulled to the ‘big city’, determined to make something of themselves. I know that feeling intimately, the call of the wild. That first rush of freedom you inhale landing in a fresh playground to chase your dreams. One thing you will get to know about me from reading my books is that I am inspired by real life, I have always been observing the world around me. When living in LA during my years of job hopping having decided to dip my toes into acting, this was a choice I saw many young women were making to fund their ambitions. Women that became my friends, who were open, vulnerable and honest with me about their secret lives. Once my eyes were opened, I realised this was a a trade that seems to be happening everywhere yet nowhere, wrapped in discretion and secrecy. I was hooked and a story was developing, so I followed it exploring a world that blends light and dark and attracts some very interesting characters. 


I really enjoyed reading your book, “The Sugar Game”.  London is an exciting place for young people, and this novel follows the lives of two young ladies in London who decide to join up a Sugar Daddy website to become sugar babies, in a bid to experience some glamour, romance and an opulent lifestyle – which are real but so are the risks.  I thought you balanced out the heady romance with the associated risks very well. Why do you think Sugar Daddy websites are very popular? Do you think the emotional/ physical risks are swept under the carpet? 

Good question. One as a writer, I was keen to take a deep dive into, peeling back the layers of the onion. The great thing about fiction is it allows you to explore the truth in a way non-fiction never touches. What I found was interesting. When you look at the reason’s women become sugar babies, their motivations and struggles are ones all we can all relate too. From wanting a better life, childhood demons, insecurities driving a need for ultra-independence. Our fears and aspirations lead us all to take different paths, upon which we embark yes initially the emotional and physical risks are ignored. And when you look at the backdrop of relationships that is more the norm these days, from broken homes to the media glamourising divorce (I mean even Brad and Jen didn’t make it) love almost becomes the enemy. For some women becoming a sugar baby is a way of seeking revenge. Using their femininity to make them feel powerful What I do know is that at some point or another, the risks and damage catch up with you. There is certainly a sugar tax that comes with the lifestyle. Though the beautiful thing is that no matter what choice you make, when you are ready, it’s never too late to write a different story. 

The characters in this novel are quite believable – Jess & her bestie Holly, Tom the taxi driver, the shady Harry….etc which character did you relate to the most?  Which character was the hardest part to write? 

I would say Harry. He was the darkest of all the characters. And most behind in his journey of the ultimate destination I hope all my characters to be heading. Living an authentic, fulfilling life and accepting love to be a part of it. Yeah, I think Harry still has a way to go. And naturally Jess and Holly still have a few bumps ahead of them. I fell so in love with the characters that this has turned into a three books series, so watch this space. 

 Researching Sugar Daddy websites and the lives of sugar babies for your novel must have been quite interesting… did you discover anything that shocked you or uncover some nugget of information that was unexpected?  

There were many stories and juicy discoveries which I am sure trickled into the books some way or another. Though speaking to the men made me realize you can never guess someone’s reasons for doing something. One gentleman told me the reason he turned to sugar babies was that he found women his own age jaded and too keen for the things he had already done. He was twice divorced, had kids and just wanted some fun. Though guess what? After two years of dating sugar babies, he became bored of the lack of connection with girls half his age, gave it up and went back to finding one of those jaded women who understood him. On the other extreme, I did discover that for a lucky few this is a place they find true love. One girl I know is still happily married to a sugar daddy she met years ago. That’s the thing about love, it writes a million different stories. 

Growing up, did you envisage yourself as a writer or did you have other career aspirations?

Have a read of Job Slut and you will see I had every career aspiration going. I dipped my toes in everything from law, property to acting before I hunkered down to reflect on it all. That will always make my first book very special to me, it was where I found my true calling, something I had nearly given up on. 

Is “The Sugar Game ” available to purchase worldwide?

It is indeed, via all the online bookstores and in terms of physical stores it is currently stocked in Hong Kong and LA. Perhaps after lockdown it will be in more, I do miss a browse around a bookshop.

If you could visit any place in the world to inspire your next novel, where would you go and why? 

Anywhere hot with a beach, exotic fruits and fresh air. Its more the process of travelling that inspires me over the destination, once I am in that travelling head space idea’s tend to flood in every which way. 

Are you a bookworm yourself? If so, what genres (or authors) do you usually like to read? 

I wouldn’t say I am a complete book worm, though I am always reading something. I love movies, shows and plays too. I read women’s fiction, I love the classics like Bridget Jones and Sex in the City. I read authors from Jane Fallon to Lisa Jewell, though always open to new blurbs that catch my curiosity. 

Personal now – what outfits and shoes would you normally be found wearing?

Ok, so since I moved to LA I went from high heels and office wear to trainers and yoga pants. And it kinda stuck. The great thing about being a writer is I can wear whatever I feel comfy in, I am currently wearing a black topshop jumper and navy leggings. When I dress up, I tend to stick to jeans, heels and a nice shirt. 

Do you have any favourite shops or online sites?

I love Topshop and Armani exchange if I am feeling fancy. 

What’s next on your clothes/shoe wish list?

More colourful, comfy jumpers to snuggle up in. Also I am always ordering hats, pink, black, grey and white, fluffy ones. 

Boots or Shoes? 

Boots, I find them so much more comfy, and can put them over jeans and leggings. Though in the summer, flip-flops or wedges. 

For pinning later


Links you would like to share e.g. website/facebook etc

Come follow me on insta @ashleyloubrown for writing inspiration, a dose of my life and exciting new projects. 

For books, a nose through my blog or find your own voice with some coaching head over to my website www.ashleyloubrown.com

My thanks to Ashley and Ben Cameron of Cameron Publicity & Marketing for the copy of The Sugar Game for reviewing purposes. All opinions that I have made are my own.

Linda x

All photographs have been published with kind permission of Ashley Brown

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Say It With Songs

A song can conjure up many memories – good, bad and ugly. Many of us have that “special” song and what can be nicer on your anniversary, birthday, special moment than sending a card to that person who has that song connection with you. Song words convey such a lot but to have that song playable in card form is so nice! I came across Ellie’s website, Say It With Words, and immediately hunted for my wedding song – Aerosmith’s “I Don’t WantTo Miss A Thing” to send to my husband on our anniversary! Alas they didn’t feature that song, but a quick email request and Ellie was able to help and thus the card was born! Another email to Ellie requesting an interview…. Hi Ellie!


Hello! My name is Ellie Fitzgerald. I live in Surrey with my husband Paul of 20 years, our 17 year old daughter & our giant Malamute Cherry

What inspired you to set up “Say It With Songs”?

Last February, I searched for a Valentine’s Day card for my Husband, nothing was hitting the mark. At the same time a song came on the radio in the shop – it was ‘our song’ with the words that meant so much and said everything I wanted to say – I wanted to send him that song ….. it was then the idea was born. Having worked in the music industry for 20 years, music is a great passion of mine, so when I was made redundant when lockdown hit, I decided to jump in and give it a go. Say it with Songs – combines the sentiment of a greeting card with the power of a song.

So, how do you access the music part of the card? L

It’s really simple – on front of every card is an instantly recognisable song lyric eg “ I will always love you” On the reverse of the card is a code – you simply open your smartphone camera and scan the code and then you can choose to stream the full song instantly from either YouTube, Spotify or Amazon Music. You can play it as many times as you like & keep it forever.We all have a song that takes us back to a time, person or moment in seconds….whether it’s a ballad, a dance floor classic, a heavy rock anthem or a pop cheese guilty pleasure …in just a few notes we are literally right back there. Everyone has also heard a song with lyrics that speak to the heart, resonate, help us through, give us strength or – simply – make us smile

You have a lovely variety of cards with a great song range too. What song title cards are proving popular amongst your customers so far?

We have over 100 titles, our top five titles are ‘Have I told you Lately’ Van Morrison, ‘You are the Sunshine of My Life’ Stevie Wonder, ‘Cant help falling in love with you’ Elvis Presley, ‘Never Gonna Give you Up’ Rick Astley and ‘Girls Just wanna have fun’ Cyndi Lauper.

Have you got a favourite card? What is the story behind your favourite song?

So, the song that started it all for me was ‘By Your Side’ By Sade, it literally says everything I want to say to my husband. His song to me is ‘knocks me off my feet’ by Stevie Wonder, a song we have loved since we met. Both songs are now cards.



As you are based in the UK, are your products available to purchase overseas?

 The cards are shipped internationally and we are just starting to distribute in other countries so its growing fast.

Although you have a great song range, do you cater for bespoke cards eg if the special song you wanted doesn’t feature in your range? 

We try too, I get maybe 10/20 suggestions a week from people and those that I feel will be loved by many are added to the new titles schedule – we add maybe 5 new cards every 2 weeks.

10% of your profit goes to the music therapy charity Nordoff Robbins.  What does the charity do?

Nordoff Robbins provides vital music therapy to enrich the lives of people with life-limiting illnesses, disabilities and feelings of isolation.

Are your cards made from ethically sourced materials?

Of course – building a brand with a sustainable imprint was fundamental. We use FSC approved 350gsm card, its acid free, with a Heavy Metal Absence & made using vegetable based inks. We use recycled envelopes & wrap in 100% biodegradable cellowrap. Proudly designed and made in the UK.

Have you always wanted to have a musical career or did your career aspirations lay elsewhere?

I always wanted to work in music so followed that path from day 1 . I have worked on both the record label side & managed the careers of  artists, but building music brands has always been my passion and where my creativity sits best.

Personal now – what outfits and shoes would you normally be found wearing?

Shoes – At the moment in lockdown life- its trainers and wellies, but fab ones – I have some amazing glitter Nike Air Force 1 & also some cool Veja ones that I virtually live in and so new Hunter wellies (for walking my giant dog) that are knee high and have a slight platform.Prior to lockdown, I have some Isabel Marant boots that have a hidden wedge so although they are flat, they make your legs look great, and for going out, my favourite EVER pair of heels are a Stuart Weitzman for Russell and Bromley pair – I wore them with silk PJs this NYE lockdown.Clothing, pre-lockdown, it’s usually a silk midi skirt from Anthropologie and a funky graphic tee as my go-to.Now its Hush trackies and comfy cool sweats as my work wardrobe.

Do you have any favourite shops or online sites? (Apart from your own!)

Yes, My go to is hushuk.com and Anthropologie – Literally love everything from these brands.

What’s next on your clothes/shoe wish list?

Everything from Anthropologie – in the sale ! Their sales are insane!

Boots or Shoes? ( & Why?) 

Right now, it’s actually boots, with working from home and lockdown and walking my huge dog twice a day – The cool new black Hunter boots give me my glam fix (even in a tracksuit) but normally it’s shoes every time.

For Pinning Later


Links you would like to share e.g. website/facebook/twitter etc so that readers can find out more about Say It With Songs

Website www.sayitwithsongs.com

Instagram: @sayitwithsongscards

Facebook: @sayitwithsongs

 Please check us out – and get 15% off with code BOOTSANDSHOES

My thanks to Ellie at Say It With Songs for creating my “Don’t Want To Miss A Thing “ card. The Aerosmith photographs are by Linda Hobden; the other photographs are published with kind permission of Say It With Words.

Linda x

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Little Book Of Big Knowing Book Tour

It has been a “different “ couple of years since COVID-19 entered our lives and turned what we took for granted upside down – despite the hardships, pain, loss and freedom curtailment there has been some uplifting and positive moments too. So, with life and its problems in the forefront of most people’s minds, on my blog this week I’ve joined author Michele Sammon’s “Little Book Of Big Knowing Book Tour”. Michele wrote this book for those folks who love thinking about life’s big questions, like “What’s My Purpose?”, “Why Am I Here?” …. I’m sure you’ve got the drift….

Book Summary

The Little Book of Big Knowing is filled with tiny bursts of insight to nourish your heart, warm your Soul, and help you to remember your true self. 

If you find yourself asking big, deep life questions like, “What’s my purpose?” and “Why am I here?” then you’ll want to curl up with The Little Book of Big Knowing.

Three reasons why you’ll love this book:

  1. ·     It includes gentle reminders of why you are here, who you are at your core, and why your dreams matter to more than just you.
  2. ·     This book will help you to look at life in a light-hearted, joyful way. Consider it spirituality with a playful twist!
  3. ·     And the best part is, the book is written in short bursts you can read in any order. So you can pick it up, read a little bit, put it down, and come back to it when you’re ready for more!

This book is perfect for someone who wants a little dose of playful spirituality every day to remind them of the bigger picture.

Print Length: 138 Pages 

Genre: Spiritual Self-Help 

ISBN-10: 1736168606 

ISBN-13: 978-1736168608 

Publisher: Michele Sammons 

The Little Book of Big Knowing is available to purchase at Amazon.comBarnes and Noble, and Walmart.com. You can also add this to your reading list on GoodReads.com. 

About the Author, Michele Sammons 

Michele makes her home in Memphis, Tennessee, with husband Scott and chocolate Labrador, Dewey. The Little Book of Big Knowing is Michele’s first book, but probably not her last. You can discover more about Michele’s work on her website: 

https://www.michelesammons.com

For Pinning Later

MY REVIEW

This little book is definitely big in sayings and quotes – it is the sort of book you dive in at various points and the sayings you come across seem to strike a chord with whatever question you’re pondering. You can read the book from cover to cover – and I did for the review back in January – but it was only afterwards, weeks later, that I realised the book’s true potential and strength lies with the fact it needs to be delved into at intervals! I do have my favourite excerpts and they need no explanation…

“Face life with a twinkle in your eye and a smile in your heart”

And …

“Change occurs from the inside out. Change is about shifting your perspective, choosing what you give your attention to, where you put your focus.”

Excerpts FromBigKnowing_eBook.

BOOK TOUR DETAILS



ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

My thanks goes to Michele Sammons & the Book Tour team (Nicole & Kelly) for inviting me to join the book tour and for the copy of the delightful Little Book Of Big Knowing.

Photographs are published with kind permission of Michele Sammons (the author photo & the book). The header photo & Pinterest photo are by Linda Hobden.

Linda x

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Odawara Ninja Tour Experience

Being in lockdown due to COVID has expectedly opened the door to other experiences that I would not have otherwise imagined and one of those experiences was the chance to join a virtual ninja tour via Facebook streamed live from Japan. I was invited by Cross Media on behalf of Odawara Tourism Association & Kanazawa Prefecture, to join their live tour streamed from Odawara Castle to learn about the Ninja with guide Jinkawa Hiroshi who has his own ninjitsu training school near Tokyo. So it was that I found myself on the morning of Saturday 27 February, cup of tea in hand, waiting to be virtually transported to Japan.

THE INVITE

Speaking live from the Ninja Hall on the grounds of Odawara Castle, genuine Ninjutsu Sensei Hiroshi Jinkawa will be separating reality from fiction, explaining exactly what training a Ninja would go through and how their incredible skills would be used to gather information and avoid the need for conflict. Jinkawa Sensei is a well-known scholar and practitioner of the Ninja arts, and has been working as an ambassador of the field for many years, communicating with both students and media projects. After learning about the rich history of the castle, guests at the online event will be introduced to practices which were vital to the activities of ancient Ninja. Specialised techniques for breathing and movement, as well codes of behaviour and even philosophy and meditation methods will be included in the tour. Jinkawa Sensei will also be presenting the Shinobi Rokugu, a set of tools which would be essential in the work of the Fuma Ninja clan.


MY TOUR EXPERIENCE

The tour opened with a short video on the history of Odawara Castle, the Japanese outlook on relationships, and ninja culture. It was quite an intense film and reminded me of visits to other places where a tour starts with a brief video introduction and it was quite a relief that it was all in English. After the brief intro, it was a quick tour of the museum itself by the charming guide before we met up with Jinkawa Hiroshi – then the fun began!

Breathing exercises! The ninja had to understand their core – it is central to everything – and learning how to breathe properly, learning how to relax and learning how to mentally focus was just as important to being a ninja as learning to defend yourself. So, sitting cross legged on the floor, I partook in the breathing exercises which, I must say was enjoyable and not too dissimilar to yoga/pilates.

Next came the fighting…. well, no, because we were told that the Ninjas were used as information collectors and avoided conflict. Ordinary ninjas did not go around with swords. Hmm… so what with the swords then? We were to find that out later. In the meantime, we were shown some essential tools that every Ninja possessed…

Hand Towel – this had multiple functions from being a robe, to wipe away sweat, to cover injuries through to being used to filter river water.

Throwing Star “Shuriken” – an amulet for protection, used as a last resort as a weapon. Usually wrapped inside the hand towel.

Traditional Pen And Ink – to write down information

Small Bottle Holder – for medicine, or to contain weak poison to put enemies to sleep

Hat – to hide the face, protect against the weather

Bamboo Pipe

Rope & Hook – not strong enough to hold an adult but was used at wells to retrieve water buckets.

BACK TO THE EXERCISES… and we now find ourselves being samurai ninjas with our imaginary swords. Each Samurai had 2 swords – the long sword was used to protect others; the short sword was only used on yourself. The swords were on the left side of the body. The Samurai Ninja would walk in a way that the sword didn’t move – left hand on the hilt, right hand on the hip. They needed to have a good centre of gravity and that is where the breathing and core exercises came into their own. We were taught the Hand Pose – used by the Ninja to help them to concentrate and mentally focus. The right hand symbolises a samurai sword. The left, the shorter sheaf. There were 9 strokes – representing stresses – going left to right, up and down. It is hard to describe in words but I hope you have got the gist of the exercise.

All too soon, the tour had ended and I had returned back to England feeling energised! That was an experience that I wasn’t expecting and it was extremely fun, enjoyable and interesting. Although streaming live from Japan, English was spoken throughout and you were able to interact via chat text to ask questions as the demo was going on. A live online experience I definitely recommend and once lockdown is over, Odawara Castle in Japan will definitely be on my travel bucket list.

For Pinning Later. I took this photo whilst in one of my favourite spots, the Japanese garden at Monte, Madeira.


FOR MORE INFO

The Online Ninja Experience is held on selected Mondays, Saturdays and Sundays at 10:00 and 22:00 (GMT).
The session will be around 40 minutes.
Participation fee is 1,500 JPY (£10.50) per person.

After making a reservation on the official website, the URL link of the Facebook private group will be sent to the registered email address. Please join the private group before the event and access the Facebook group on the day of booking.

Official Website
http://discoverjapan.guide/fuma-ninja-experience/

My thanks to Cross Media for inviting me. Photos are by me ( the images were taken as I was watching the experience) apart from my header picture of Japan which is by JJ Ying on Unsplash.

Linda x

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The Invisible Vegan Documentary

This week I’m reviewing a documentary called “The Invisible Vegan” directed by Los Angeles based actress and film maker Jasmine Leyva. The film is exploring the unhealthy dietary patterns in the African-American community, how their health could be improved by choosing plant based diets and lifestyle choices. The documentary hopes to redress the prevailing attitudes and stereotypes about veganism within the African-American community and its invisibility by spotlighting alternative and ongoing efforts to raise awareness about veganism .

Film Summary

The documentary begins with the personal story of Jasmine Leyva, a 30-year-old black actress and filmmaker currently based in Los Angeles. Over the past seven years, Leyva has committed herself to veganism, both in lifestyle and research. Taking Leyva’s unhealthy childhood growing up in Washington, DC as a point of departure, the film interweaves her narrative with the professional and personal experiences of a prominent group of vegan activists. The film integrates interviews with popular culture luminaries including Cedric the Entertainer (actor and comedian), John Salley (former NBA player and wellness advocate), and Clayton Gavin (aka Stic of the hip-hop duo Dead Prez).Length: 90 MinutesGenre: Documentary 

The Invisible Vegan is available to watch now on TubiTV and stream onAmazon Prime

About the Author, Jasmine Leyva 

Activist, actress, and documentary filmmaker, Jasmine is passionate about veganism, social justice, and telling her own stories. With a Bachelor of Arts in TV, Film and Media and a Master of Fine Arts in screenwriting, Jasmine is unapologetically an artist. She has worked as an associate producer on a NAACP winning docuseries entitled Unsung and has written and produced for Being, a docuseries highlighting dynamic entertainers in film and music.

Jasmine ultimately decided to let go of her nine-to-five and focus on her goals with no boss except for her own creativity. She went on to produce her own feature length documentary, The Invisible Vegan, a film that chronicles her personal experience with plant-based eating.  The film also explains how plant-based eating is directly linked to African roots and how African-American eating habits have been debased by a chain of oppression. 

Jasmine’s recently appeared on the Vegan Women SummitThe Sarah Scoop Show, and the Soul On Fire podcast.

Website: https://jasmineleyva.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/jasmine_c_leyva

Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCUmSXRtjPgc_JQ4N-h67VUg

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jasminecleyva/

MY THOUGHTS

This documentary was quite interesting – being UK based the reference to say, fried chicken as a black food, didn’t resonate with me.  When I think of American food I think of burgers , steak and tacos!  I don’t think in terms of black or white food. I have been to West Africa and East Africa.  In East Africa, back in 1990,  I travelled with a vegan couple who found it very hard to stick to their vegan diet as every lodge we encountered offered us to eat a stew consisting of antelope (Dik Dik), chicken or crocodile.  In contrast, in West Africa the food was delicious – fried cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, fish ….. I think people’s views on veganism/vegetarianism is not necessarily culture/racial based.  A lot of it is more age related – the older generation are not as open to plant based diets as the younger generation- black or white.  People, regardless of ethnicity, may need a little bit of nudge to explore this healthier alternative lifestyle.

Hisbiscus tea © LindaHobden


Interestingly, when I was in the West African republic of Cape Verde, the two things food wise that stood out for me were the absolutely delicious lightly battered cauliflower florets that my sons at first mistook for southern fried chicken pieces but carried on ordering them daily because they were so delicious; and hibiscus tea, served cold. Hibiscus tea is made from the dried petals of the hibiscus plant and according to the locals, has been known to prevent hypertension, lower blood pressure, reduce blood sugar levels, keep your liver healthy, help with menstral cramps, lifts depression, aids digestion and helps with weight management. A little miracle plant it seems and totally delicious!

#VeganDocumentary Tour Dates

My thanks to Jasmine for allowing me to take part in her Invisible Vegan Documentary Tour.

Linda x

All photographs have been published with kind permission of Jasmine Leyva, except where marked. Featured image by Linda Hobden

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But First Rumi Book Tour

I’m really excited to be able to interview author Chitra Ramaswami as part of her “But First Rumi Book Tour”. “But First Rumi” is a delightful memoir by Chitra Ramaswami. Rumi is a beautiful stray Omani street cat who took a liking to Chitra and trusted Chitra to help him and in return Rumi helped Chitra. This book is more than a tale of a cat being rescued – the memoir explores how love and trust between cats and people can develop, how attitudes towards street cats develop, and how love develops. The book is written in such a refreshingly honest way and I loved reading the escapades of Rumi & co. I really enjoyed chatting to Chitra about all things cats …. But, before that, here is the official resumé of the book:

When Chitra discovered a stray cat in need of help, she never thought they’d wind up saving each other. Struggling to come to terms with an unexpected diagnosis, Chitra returned home to Oman seeking a sense of familiarity. What she discovered instead was a very special cat who changed her life. But First, Rumi is the story of how, day by day, Rumi and Chitra got to know one another, and as she learned to love the little stray, she began to see greater life lessons about herself, her family, her home country and her place in the world. 

What unfolds when girl and cat meet? What happens when you follow your heart? What if the world is not as it seems? Is it worth taking a chance? 

Print Length: 158 Pages

Genre: Memoir

THE INTERVIEW

Hi! I’m Chitra – author of the memoir  “But First, Rumi” . I was born and brought up in the Middle East to Indian parents and now live in New Jersey. I’ve worked in healthcare as a physician and a health educator and now I’ve turned author. This is my first time publishing and excited to see what this experience brings my way. 

Who or what inspired you to write your memoir, “But First, Rumi!”?

I believe the answer lies in my book title 🙂 My cat Rumi inspired me to share our journey with the world. As someone who’s written most of her life, I believe every story has its own predestined time – from when it gets penned down to when it is on its way to its readers where it finally comes to fruition. 

Your book highlighted the life of an Omani Mau/street cat, and your growing love of Rumi.  I found the book interesting as well as entertaining.  I thought how different were the attitudes towards cats, stray cats in particular, in Oman compared with the UK/ USA. Why do you think the Omani street cats are regarded with such suspicion?

Firstly, thank you for reading our story and am glad you enjoyed it. Yes, attitudes towards stray cats are different in Oman as compared to say a Western country. But what makes it interesting is that Oman is  home to people from all over the world added to its own descendants and  this varied demographic may hold the reasons that have led to the current state of the Omani stray cats. We have collectively failed our felines. I believe suspicion towards anything generally arises from a certain lack of awareness or unfamiliarity or a previous negative experience. And yes, this is only a part of the problem as I explain in the book. Another common issue is abandonment either due to misjudgment of what caring for a cat entails or when people leave for their home countries and haven’t planned well for the transition. Ofcourse, COVID-19  has added additional financial strains to the process as well.

Were there any aspects of writing your book that surprised you, pleasantly or otherwise?

The process of writing the book was enjoyable. I also had a great editor and we worked well together. What amused me the most was the amount of work that went into publishing a book outside of actually writing the book! The time and effort needed to get your book in front of your readers has been eye opening. I’ve learnt a lot over the past few months. Maybe I should write about it haha!

What do you enjoy most about having a cat? What did you find most daunting at first?

I’ve come to realize over time that my energy is quite similar to a cat’s. I remember watching a documentary that talked about how cats and humans are actually more alike evolutionarily as compared to say dogs and humans. So it’s not surprising to me that I’m able to just be myself around them rather effortlessly. However, before my experience with Rumi, I  was rather wary of cats and didn’t really know what to make of them. I maintain that I didn’t give them a fair chance and went with the popular notion that dogs were more expressive and loving as companion animals. 

Have you always wanted to have a career in writing  or did you have other aspirations?

Funnily, I never thought of writing as a career even though I always wrote. But moving forward, I’ve decided to share my works with the world. I’m curious by nature – always have been, which in turn has led me to pursue many paths. So be it working with people with various ailments, or teaching or riding horses or ice climbing…. the list is diverse. I’m not really a one aspiration person and am eager to see where my life takes me next. 

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Are you a bookworm? What is your favourite genre and/or authors? Kindle or actual book?

Yes, I’ve loved to read since forever. Favorite genres – Biographies, memoirs, short stories. I’m not into fiction much but am on board with Haruki Murakami’s magical realism. It’s bewitching almost. Love Khaled Hosseini’s works. In poetry – Works of Rumi, Tabrizi, Gibran to name a few. There’s always more than one story that‘s being told in a book and one of them is about the author themselves, their roots,  convictions, motivations – it all comes through. So I tend to consciously seek out authors from various backgrounds for this experience. I find it as good or even better than travel. 

Nothing beats the feel of an actual book but I’m a recent Kindle convert – saves space, easy to bookmark, or look up anything I need to, can even read on my Kindle app on my phone etc 

Is “But First Rumi” available to purchase worldwide?

Yes worldwide – Both ebook and paperback. It’s also available in a bookstore in Oman and managed to sell out and has just been restocked! 

Will there be more tales about Rumi in the future?

Definitely 🙂 There may be a second book in the works as we speak!

Personal now – what outfits and shoes would you normally be found wearing?

Hmmm. Depends on the season. I’m a sucker for knee length boots in the winter – I never grew out of my Michael Korrs Preston boots with the golden buckle – love those tiny touches! I also love my riding boots from Dover’s. If I’m going out for dinner or tea I love getting dressed up – A-line skirt and top or a Pakistani embroidered suit( we call it shalwar Kameez), and peep toed heels but overtime I find myself settling for pointed flats – Zara and Rothys always have a lovely line of those. These days, I’m always in my adidas and pumas – thanks to COVID! Not complaining though – I always manage to find something to fall in love with! 

Do you have any favourite shops or online sites?

Zara, Kate Spade, J. Crew, Ann Taylor, Image…the list goes on also love custom shirts I design myself. Etsy’s also a very interesting place – be it for custom clothes, accessories etc 

What’s next on your clothes/shoe wish list?

I’ve been looking into vegan fashion lately. It’s a fascinating world and I’m still exploring it. Love the Dharma Store – fun tees and they have vegan phone grips too! I also have my eye on the Catalina tote from lo and sons – super functional and love the shoe compartment at the bottom. So yes, I won’t be surprised if my fashion choices will be completely different five years down the line. I’m learning and growing every day. 

Links you would like to share e.g. website/facebook etc
Website: https://cramaswami.com/Instagram: @rumionamission2017


My thanks goes to Chitra for agreeing to be interviewed, for inviting me to join in her book tour and for a copy of her delightful memoir.

Linda x

All photographs have been published with kind permission of Chitra Ramaswami

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An Interview With Breast Dressed

With Mothers Day approaching this weekend in the UK, it seems to me entirely appropriate to introduce “Breast Dressed” – a brand of sustainable maternity and breast feeding clothing to cover all stages of modern mum-hood. The company was launched in June 2020 by Hester who has worked in the fashion industry for over 12 years. I caught up with Hester recently to find out more. Hi Hester & welcome…

Hi! I’m Hester and I’m the founder and designer of breast dressed. I currently live in London after a 6 year stint of living in Hong Kong. I live with my husband and my cat Stu who we fostered in Hong Kong and brought back with us so he could experience the outdoors, and he loves it! I am a fashion designer and have been in the industry for 12+ years. I enjoy HIIT classes, going to the theatre and ice skating – although I am pretty terrible at it!

What inspired the launch of Breast Dressed?

I have always known that one day I wanted to have my own brand I just wasn’t sure what that brand would be. When I moved to London I started to feel unfulfilled so it was then that I really started to pin down what I wanted to do. A lot of my friends had started to become pregnant and have babies and they kept saying how little choice of maternity clothing was out there, and then how even less choice of breast feeding friendly clothing was out there. I did some market research and found everything looked the same, it was all frumpy, mostly striped jersey dresses and it just was all a bit ‘mumsy’. So I thought right, let’s do this! It took me a long time to take the plunge from the safety of my full time job, but I now work part time and do freelance work to help support my dream of growing breast dressed.

Have you always had an interest in fashion  designing or did you have other career plans whilst growing up? 

My mother and father both worked in the fashion industry, they actually met whilst they were both working at Speedo. My mum was a swimwear designer and then had her own business designing ice skating dresses and my father was a marketing director and then became a wholesale distributer. So I have always grown up surrounded by the industry. As kids we used to attend trade shows, have boxes of samples lying around the house, help with sample sales etc. My mum’s studio was at home so I remember when I was poorly and off school I would lie under her cutting table on all her piles of fabric and fall asleep to the sound of her cutting scissors clanging against the table and the rumble of her sewing machines, a noise I still find super comforting. So I feel it was a given I would go in to the industry, I always loved art and textiles at school, so after A-levels I did my art foundation and then went on to study fashion design at Uni.

What are the sort of things you have to consider when designing maternity clothes as opposed to designing clothes for the non pregnant woman?  

I guess the main thing is comfort, it’s so important that my customers feel comfortable wearing my garments. I strive to make my styles as versatile as possible so I actually design them to be suitable for all stages of pregnancy and breastfeeding and for before and after pregnancy too so that they have longevity. Sustainability is key to my brand so I want my styles to be able to be worn for a long time and to want to be worn for a long time. Each style supports your growing bump, up to full term, and they all have easy breast feeding access which is subtle enough that these styles can then be worn and loved long after pregnancy and not look like they are your typical maternity dress. 

I love the Ada Jumpsuit from your collection. It is just the sort of garment I would have wanted to wear when I was pregnant (many moons ago!)  What products/designs are most popular at the moment? 

The Ada is definitely one our most popular styles as is the Lucy dress. I think they are both so easy to wear and style up or down and the suit all body shapes. We just launched the Margot Mummy Collars too which are made from our scrap fabrics and they are proving to be a popular accessory.

 Do you have a favourite style from your collection? 

My favourite is the Ada Jumpsuit – I have it in a few different colours. It’s just so comfortable and easy to wear and I feel really stylish in it too. I wear with my Dr Martens in the winter and my sandals in the summer. Eek, I also love the Airi dress, I feel so feminine in it and our deadstock navy gingham fabric is fab, it’s a printed gingham so feels really unique and its so easy to wash and requires very little ironing so its really practical, a really good throw on style when you don’t know what to wear but want to feel a bit glam.

When designing items to go into your collection, do you go for popular trendy styles and colours, customer requests, personal favourites or do you take all 3 into account?

I take all 3 into account, I think it’s really important to listen to your customers but also mix it with my knowledge of design to try and create something unique and new that’s not already out there. Before I began designing I did a big questionnaire asking peoples favourite kind of styles, colours, prints etc and I still refer back to that when looking at designing new pieces. As I want my styles to have longevity and be trans-seasonal I do try to make them classic shapes that will never go out of style but bring in an element of trend. Collars are a hot trend at the moment so we created out Margot Mummy Collars using our scrap fabrics and designed them to fit in to a mummy life style. 

As you are based in the UK, are your items available to purchase overseas?

Yes we ship worldwide through our website www.breastdressed.co.uk. So far I have sold styles to Australia, Singapore, Switzerland and Canada, It’s super exciting knowing that breast dressed is out in the world!

You have a Re:Loved collection – I have heard of preloved clothing, so what is re:loved? 

Yes so we source pre-loved garments from Ebay etc and we unpick them and mix them together to create new pieces that can then be re-loved by our customers. I love denim so I wanted to incorporate denim in to the breast dressed collection. But it can be costly to produce as you need special machinery for the heavy washes and I didn’t want to use raw denim as it can be quite stiff and I want all my garments to be soft to touch. So this was the perfect sustainable way to be able to incorporate denim in to our brand. We re-invent, re-wear and re-love. The other positive of this collection is that all profits go to charity. Giving back to the community is a long term goal and one we want to keep building on as a brand.

Your brand is striving to become a no waste company – so how are you achieving that aim?  

We use all of our scrap/waste fabrics left over from the pattern cutting of the main garments to create scrunchies, our Margot Mummy collars and brand labels so that our waste is very little. All of our packaging is sustainable and/or biodegradeable. We source fabrics and trims from deadstock suppliers in the U.K, so one man’s waste is our treasure. And we work on a made to order basis so we are only making stock that has been sold. We manufacture in the U.K which is also helping reduce our carbon footprint as the seamstress I work with is local to me so I don’t need to travel far to collect the garments. This will be an ever evolving mission and we are always learning of new things we can do to keep being as sustainable as possible.

Personal now – what outfits and shoes would you normally be found wearing?

Oooh, I’m a sucker for some high waist Levi’s, a boxy tee and high tops or Teva sandals! I do enjoy dressing up too but that feels like a distant memory during these current times!

Do you have any favourite shops or online sites? (Apart from your own)

Since launching breast dressed I’ve learnt what it’s like to be a small brand so I’m trying to explore new brands and shop from them. I love Paynter, their business model is really refreshing and their approach and customer interaction is brilliant. I also love Gung Ho London who raise awareness of global issues through their clothing.

What’s next on your clothes/shoe wish list?

My Paynter jacket! I am so excited, it was my main investment in 2020 and I know it will last a lifetime. I get a weekly update from the brand, last week it was being sewn!

Boots or Shoes?

Hmmm, can I break the mould and choose sandals? I hate wearing socks so yeh a pair of comfy sandals are winners for me!

Processed with VSCO with a4 preset


Links you would like to share e.g. website/facebook/twitter etc so that readers can find out more about Breast Dressed

www.breastdressed.co.uk

https://www.instagram.com/breast.dressed/

https://www.facebook.com/breastdressedlondon

Fabulous chatting to you Hester! Your designs are so wearable and desirable, pregnant or not!

Linda x

All photographs have been published with kind permission of Hester/ Breast Dressed

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An Interview With Una Organic

On my blog this week I am featuring an exciting up and coming mattress brand, Una Organic. This mattress company uses only 100% certified organic materials, each mattress is Fair & Social certified and they are one of only a few mattress brands that have a negative carbon footprint helping to fight climate change …. and some are adjustable to adjust the firmness on each side of the mattress! I caught up with founder Roger van der Matten to find out more. Welcome Roger!

Hello! My name is Roger van der Matten. I am  Dutch, 46 and married with 3 children and the founder of Una Organic. For my sanity I love spending time with my wife and kids and to be out in nature jogging and walking and I also do yoga.

What inspired the founding of Una Organic?

I noticed that mattresses are the single largest home product that is made of non-recyclable fossil fuel foam, glues and (poly) micro plastic shedding fabrics and 7 million of them end up in landfill in the UK every single year. I also noticed that the one-mattress-suits-all concept of current (internet) mattress brands wasn’t really designed with the customer in mind.

What is the most popular mattress/product in your range? 

The Una Organic Delux adjustable mattress and our Organic adjustable pillow are the two most popular items in our range. Although the Organic Essential mattress, kids mattress and extra soft topper are not far off.

Your mattresses are made of 100% certified organic materials – including using strictly organic certified latex.  What are the advantages of using organic mattresses?

The advantage for our customer is knowing guaranteed through independent certification) you are sleeping on a mattress that doesn’t contain and off-gas VOC’s, fire retardant chemicals and other nasties that you end up breathing in. The advantage for our planet is that organic certified materials are renewable, biodegradable and sustainably grown without the use of biodiversity killing pesticides

Your mattresses can be adjusted for firmness – including on each side of the mattress. Was it difficult to design a mattress to suit everybody’s preferences? What made you decide to make an adjustable mattress?

There are many internet mattress brands that claim their mattress suits everyone but in reality this is not the case. With Una I set out to create an adjustable mattress which solves two issues. The first issue is that partners sharing a mattress often have different preferences and needs. With Una they don’t have to compromise and each can have their own firmness within one seamless mattress. The 2nd issue is that our needs change. We may need a different firmness during pregnancy or with a (sports) injury or back pain. With Una you have an incredibly long lasting mattress (lasts as long as 3-4 cheap synthetic foam mattresses) that allows you to easily change the firmness at any time.

Firm or soft – do you have a personal preference for your own mattress?  

My Una has the medium firmness on top, soft in the middle and firm on the bottom.

Each Una Mattress is also “Fair & Social Certified”.  What does this mean? 

Being certified by CU Fair Choice is a guarantee that companies are committed to sustainable development and the improvement of social conditions, meeting the demands of a growing number of environmentally conscious consumers.

As Una Organic is based in the UK, are your products available to purchase and order worldwide?

Una Organic is based in the UK and Germany and available across the UK and Europe.

Have you always wanted a career in mattress making/designing, or did you have ambitions elsewhere?

My passion is to grow a company that has a positive impact on its staff, customers and the planet which is why Una is a member of 1% for the Planet, pending B Corporation certified, Climate Neutral certified as well as Fair Choice certified.

Personal now – what outfits and shoes would you normally be found wearing?

Casual clothing. I like Esprit who offers many clothing items made from more sustainable organic cotton. I just bought a pair of vegan leather boots from them too.

Do you have any favourite shops or online sites?

Esprit, Able & Cole.

What’s next on your clothes/shoe wish list?

A new ski/snow jacket and trousers 🙂

Boots or Shoes?

Boots in winter nice and dry and warm. Flip flops in the summer.

For Pinning Later


Links you would like to share e.g. website/facebook etc so that readers ncan find out more about Una Organic.

For EU readers www.una-organic.com for UK readers www.unamattress.co.uk on FB and Insta @unaorganic.

Fabulous to chat to you Roger! I never realised what a difference there was health wise between a synthetic mattress and a natural one!

Linda x

All photographs have been published with kind permission of Roger van der Matten ( apart from the Pinterest photo, which was taken by Linda Hobden)

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An Interview With Author Neill McKee

I’m really excited to be able to interview author Neill McKee as part of his “Guns + Gods Book Tour”. Many people are fascinated with their family trees and their ancestral routes – and author Neill McKee is no different apart from the fact that he has made his ancestral research into a fascinating 15,000 mile road adventure! I found his memoir “Guns And Gods In My Genes” entertaining and I really looked forward to chatting to Neill further. But, before that, here is the official resumé of the book:

Book Summary

Neill McKee, author of the award-winning travel memoir Finding Myself in Borneo, takes the reader through 400 years and 15,000 miles of an on-the-road adventure, discovering stories of his Scots-Irish ancestors in Canada, while uncovering their attitudes towards religion and guns. 

His adventure turns south and west as he follows the trail of his maternal grandfather, a Canadian preacher who married an American woman in Wisconsin, and braved the American Wild West from 1904 to 1907, finding a two-story brothel across from one of his churches and a sheriff who owned a saloon and dance hall, while carrying a gun with 20 notches, one for each man he had killed. 

Much to his surprise, McKee finds his American ancestors were involved in every major conflict on North American soil: the Civil War, the American Revolution, and the French and Indian War. In the last chapters, McKee discovers and documents his Pilgrim ancestors who arrived on the Mayflower, landing at Plymouth in 1620, and their Puritan descendants who fought in the early Indian Wars of New England. 

With the help of professional genealogical research, he tracks down and tells the stories of the heroes, villains, rascals, as well as, the godly and ordinary folk in his genes, discovering many facts and exposing myths. He also lets readers in on a personal struggle: whether to apply for Canadian-United States dual citizenship or remain only a Canadian.

Print Length: 352 Pages

Genre: Historical Travel Memoir

ISBN-13: 9781732945739

THE INTERVIEW

Hi Neill and a warm welcome onto my blog!

Hello, I am Neill, a creative nonfiction writer based in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I hold a Bachelor’s Degree, from the University of Calgary, Alberta, Canada and a Master’s Degree in Communication from Florida State University. I worked internationally for 45 years, becoming an expert in the field of communication for social change. I directed and produced a number of award-winning documentary films/videos and multimedia initiatives, such as the Meena Communication Initiative for the empowerment of young girls in South Asia, that I started when I was with UNICEF in Bangladesh, and the Sara Communication Initiative for the adolescent girl in Africa, that I launched while with UNICEF in Eastern and Southern Africa. You can see some of these entertaining story-based creations on my YouTube account: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCk3WKK72kYsUNAJSZJmm7sA/videos?view=0&sort=p&flow=grid

In total, I worked and lived in Malaysia, Bangladesh, Kenya, Uganda, and Russia for 18 years and traveled from Canada and the US to over 80 countries on short-term assignments. In 2015, I settled in New Mexico, using my varied experiences, memories, and imagination in creative writing.

Who or what inspired you to write “Guns and Gods in My Genes”? 

At the end of 2012, when I retired from my 45-year career, I knew I didn’t want to do consulting in my field, as many of my former colleagues have done after retirement. During my career, I had always lacked the time to properly write the stories of my adventures in Asia, Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean, and more recently Russia. I began by writing Finding Myself in Borneo https://www.neillmckeeauthor.com/finding-myself-in-borneo, the story of my first job after university. It has won three awards and gained over 25 five-star reviews.

During 2013-15, I visited my aging mother in Ontario, Canada, traveling from our homeat the time in Maryland, USA. I began research on my ancestors then, going through some of the files my late father had gathered. He came from a farm-based oral story tradition and was always interested in family history, but he never had the time nor the skills to do much research or writing. I discovered the beginnings of some interesting stories in his old files and began to reach out to cousins, one living uncle, and three remaining aunts. I found many leads on both sides of the family and began to interview family members in person, picking up more stories, photos, and records. That’s when I knew I had another book to write. Also, by getting my DNA tested on ancestry.com, I matched some distant cousins who had done the same, and who had additional stories, records, and photos. But I engaged professional genealogists to verify all the main ancestral links.

I really enjoyed reading your memoir, “Guns and Gods in My Genes”.  I loved reading about the lives of your ancestors! My “favourite” ancestor of yours whose story made me smile and I could really envisage the scene, was your Canadian preacher maternal grandfather who braves the American Wild West, who had a 2 storey brothel opposite his church and his sheriff was someone who also owned a saloon and dance hall, whilst carrying around a gun with 20 notches, one for each man he killed.  Your grandfather must have been horrified! Were there any family ancestors/descendants that you particularly endeared yourself to?

Yes, indeed. My maternal grandma (Haskins) Neill married my grandfather, the guy you are talking about, in Cadott, Wisconsin in 1895. In the book I describe returning to the very church in which they were married, and meeting a very conservative preacher who I don’t think my grandfather would have agreed with – speculation on my part. Well, after braving the Wild West as far as Wyoming, in 1907 my grandfather, Rev. John Addison Neill, took his family back to the more peaceful Ontario, Canada, where he came from, and where gun control and law and order followed more of the original British model. After Grandpa’s death, Grandma Neill spent her last decade in our house, living with her youngest daughter, my mother, and our large family. Grandma Neill was a peaceful soul and very strong in her faith. She never passed judgment on anyone or interfered with our family life. She didn’t like guns and wouldn’t watch anything violent on TV, but didn’t prevent me from watching those old western movies. There’s more on her in another memoir on my childhood and youth coming later this year, probably titled Kid on the Go! My Life Before Borneo. I didn’t know until I started to investigate that she would connect me to so many people who lived, farmed, fought, prayed, and struggled through the history of America, going as far back as passengers on the Mayflower, who left Plymouth, England, and landed in what they named “Plimoth” on the coast of New England, in December 1620 – 400 years ago.

Looking up the family tree and background is an interest of mine also – my maternal grandad always told me that his side of the family were of Portuguese descent but my uncle, who has been looking up the family tree in some detail, discovered connections with Italy instead! During your 15,000 mile on-the-road adventure, did you uncover any myths? 

I found many stories on both my father’s side, the McKees, and my mother’s side, the Neills. I had choose those that were related to the theme I chose: guns and gods (i.e. religiosity.) However, if I just stuck with the lives of my male ancestry lineage, I don’t think I would have had much of a book. Tackling the more difficult job of researching female lineage led me to many great discoveries. It’s not that I found any popular heroines, but by following the families who married into the Neill line, I discovered ancestors who fought in the Civil War, the American Revolution, the French and Indian War (the Seven Year’s War in North America), and the first bloody conflicts between the Puritan settlers and Native Americans in New England. I also found some admirable ancestors who fought the growing fanaticism of the Puritans, and in the book I debunk many myths on the English Puritans who settled in New England. Few of them wore those black and white clothes we see in paintings, and they did not land on a rock. They were pretty militant and few of the original settlers were in favor of full separation from the Church of England. The first Thanksgiving was more like a three-day rowdy English country harvest festival with many games, beer drinking, and eating of venison, fish, and corn—most of it contributed by the Wampanoag Indians who outnumbered the English. The old paintings of the first Thanksgiving we are used to, with the English seated at a table, and Indians standing in the background, while all giving thanks to God, is inaccurate.  

Have you made up your mind about applying for dual citizenship yet? What made you feel that you needed to have a dual citizenship? 

Having both Canadian and American citizenship gives you the right to vote in both countries. I discovered through my 15,000-mile four-century search that I descend from some of the original American settlers, but not the Native Americans, whose land my ancestors stole. The pro-con debate about becoming an American citizen is a kind of tension with me as I undertake the discovery journey in my book. There is a decision in the last chapter, but I would rather not say. That would be classified as a “spoiler” to those who have not read the book.

Growing up, did you envisage yourself as a writer or did you have other career aspirations?

Not at all. In fact, I was only average in reading and writing and read very few books, besides comics. It wasn’t until near the end of secondary school that I became interested in literature and writing. I was inspired by a great English teacher but didn’t know what I wanted to do while I was in university, so after graduating, I headed to Sabah, Malaysia (formerly British North Borneo) as a volunteer teacher. That’s where I made my first documentary film. I started writing more technical books and articles on development communication midway through my career, but never began writing creative nonfiction until I retired at the end of 2012. I’m still in touch with my old English teacher who inspired me over 55 years ago and he gives me great reviews. 

Is “Guns and Gods In My Genes” available to purchase worldwide?

Yes. Here is a link: https://www.neillmckeeauthor.com/buy-the-book-2

You have also lived and worked in Malaysia, Bangladesh, Kenya, Uganda and Russia. Plus you have travelled to over 80 countries on short term assignments. If you could visit any place in the world, where would you go and why?

I’d like to say that I would return to Kota Belud, Sabah, Malaysia where I “found myself,” but I finished that book. I am writing another memoir now on my international career as a filmmaker and multimedia producer and it would be good to travel to some of the places where I lived and worked. More realistically, given the Covid-19 restrictions right now, I will have to rely on old letters, trip reports, and hopefully get to a collection of about 45,000 photos I took, which are housed in a library in Ottawa. That should jog my memory enough, rather than jogging the old body more than required! 

You have now settled in New Mexico – what do you enjoy most about living in New Mexico? 

I find the sun, mountains, desert landscapes, and ethnic mix of people in New Mexico so interesting. In the last chapter of my book, I mention that it’s something I want to write about, as well. I think about that when I am walking one morning. Here are two paragraphs from that chapter: 

As I trudge along, I think of the historic land I’ve moved to and long-ago conflicts among the original inhabitants: the many tribes and linguistic groups of the Pueblo, probably the oldest surviving human culture in North America; the Navajo and the Apache—Athabaskans who migrated from the north about 1,300 years ago. Then, in the mid-1500s, Spanish settlers arriving after the explorer, Francisco Vásquez de Coronado, with muskets, cannons, and Catholic priests; followed by Latinos, a few French-Canadians, English-speaking white Americans—so-called “Anglos”—some African-Americans, and more recently immigrants from just about everywhere. 

I’m presently reading about all this: How the Anglos, who brought New Mexico a plethora of protestant churches, fought the Navajo and Apache in devasting wars. In the late 1800s, they also created or attracted many characters of America’s gunslinging past—Billy the Kid, Pat Garret, Doc Holliday, Kit Carson, Jesse James, Bob Ford, Wyatt Earp, the Durango Kid, and Wild Bill Hickok—even Annie Oakley and Calamity Jane. These outlaws, killers, frontiersmen, freelance lawmen, sharp shooters, and bounty hunters, who sparked my childhood fascination with guns in the many movies and television shows I watched, had all been here. When I drive through the deserts, grasslands, and scrub forests of my new homeland, I can easily imagine them riding the range beside me. 

For Pinning Later


Links you would like to share e.g. website/facebook etc

Author’s website: www.neillmckeeauthor.com/

LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/neill-mckee-b9971b65/

Facebook: www.facebook.com/McKeeNeill/

Twitter: twitter.com/MckeeNeill

NBFS: www.northborneofrodotolkien.org J.R.R. Tolkien joined my society! (Another story in Finding Myself in Borneo.)

Thank you so much for the chat and the copy of your book “Guns And Gods In My Genes” to review. I was so impressed with your memoir that I have already downloaded your first memoir, “Finding Myself In Borneo”!

Linda x

All photographs have been published with kind permission of Neill McKee.

March 15th @ My Writer Blog

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