Category Archives: Music/Entertainment

An Interview With Author Martin Gore

British theatregoers relish the theatre all year round but at Christmas time, nothing can beat the lure of a traditional pantomime and at the height of summer, the seaside revues. The Cromer Pier Show is an iconic piece of British theatre that is of the standard of a London West End production. Author Martin Gore set himself a real challenge – a work of fiction set in a real place, namely Cromer Pier. Having written, to date, 9 pantomimes, 3 plays (and 3 novels), as well as dabbling in Amateur Dramatics himself, I believe Martin is possibly well placed to write such a book. And what a lovely, feel good read it is too! This book has it all : a goody, a baddy, a misunderstood, a love interest, a starlet, a has been and a hero. The ideal book to curl up and read during the Winter before planning your road trip to Cromer, of course. I caught up with author Martin to find out about the lure of Cromer …. Welcome Martin….

Hello, I’m Martin. I’m a 64 year old Accountant who semi-retired in 2015 to explore my love of creative writing. In my career I held Board level jobs for over twenty five years, in private, public and third sector organisations. I was born in Coventry, a city then dominated by the car industry and high volume manufacturing, but when I was nine years old I told my long suffering mother that as I liked English composition and drama I was going to be a playwright. She told me that I should work hard at school and get a proper job. She was right of course.

I started as an Office Junior at Jaguar in 1973 at eleven pounds sixty four a week. I thus grew up in the strike torn, class divided seventies. My first career ended in 2015, when I semi retired as Director of Corporate services at Humberside Probation. My second career, as a Non Executive Director, is great as it has allowed me free time to travel and indulge my passion for writing, both in novels and for theatre.

The opportunity to rekindle my interest in writing came in 2009, when I wrote my first pantomime, Cinderella, for my home group, the Walkington Pantomime Players. I have now written nine. I love theatre, particularly musical theatre, and completed the Hull Truck Theatre Playwrite course in 2010. My first play, a comedy called He’s Behind You, is now available on:

https://www.silverbirchingtonplays.com/product-page/he-s-behind-you-by-martin-gore

Pen Pals was my first novel, but the two that followed, The Road to Cromer Pier, and the newly published sequel, The Road from Cromer Pier, are based on family holidays as a boy, including trips to the end of the pier show, known then as the Summertime Special Show.

I’m an old fashioned writer I guess. I want you to laugh and to cry. I want you to believe in my characters, and feel that my stories have a beginning, a middle, and a satisfactory ending.

The Road From Cromer Pier” is the follow up book to your previous novel, “The Road To Cromer Pier” – although it can be a stand alone book –  the story is set in 2019 in Cromer.  How difficult was it to write a work of fiction based around and about a real place? 

Very difficult, for a number of reasons. When I approached the theatre in 2017 they kindly invited me to a meeting to discuss the current show, and I discovered that far from being an archaic piece of British theatre it was, in point of fact, a West End standard show. This in itself required a pretty fundamental rewrite as I needed to do justice to the show and its cast. Another practical difficulty were names. To inadvertently portray a person with the same name as a baddie was one of my biggest fears, so I went for relatively obscure names, and googled them first. On the other hand, readers who love Cromer love the story too, so being set in a real place does have an upside. Some places are renamed too – in particular you won’t find a Majestic Hotel in Cromer!

What was it particularly about Cromer Pier, Cromer and its Theatre that inspired you to write your novels?

My father was from Norwich, and we lived in Coventry, about as far from the seaside as you could get! So, for a seaside holiday Cromer was an inevitable choice, given his love of fish & chips and Cromer crabs. We stayed in several different holiday flats, included Mrs Rippingales on the sea front, called Bloomingdales bed and breakfast in the first book. As I grew older I came to love musical theatre as my father did. I’ve been involved in the Amdram world for sometime as a writer, sound technician and actor, so writing what started out as a play about the end of the pier show seemed interesting. I liked the idea of someone suddenly faced with a life changing disaster running away to a place where life was so much simpler, the safe haven of his childhood holidays.

I loved the variety of characters – are the characters based on observations of people you’ve come across in the past and incidents you’ve experienced ?  Who were the hardest characters to portray?

Having spent a good deal of my career in financially troubled companies I guess Tom Stanley is a bit autobiographical, so the business stuff in the book has a basis in first hand experience. Portraying his feelings for his wife in bereavement was very difficult of course, but comments I received suggest I pulled it off. As a male writer, writing female characters is inevitably challenging. The second book deals with stage fright and domestic abuse, so I researched those topics very carefully to make sure that the story line was credible. 

I had a soft spot for the widowed turnaround expert Tom and for Janet, Karen’s mother. Do you have favourite characters? 

Lech Wojiek is probably my favourite, as he makes a journey from hapless magician who could barely speak English at the start of the first book to successful mainstay of the show in the second. Lauren’s developing relationship with Cyril in the first book, in particular when he turned up at the railway station and talked her out of leaving, is probably my favourite moment, and it was the lack of Cyril’s back story that gave me the idea for the sequel, which I never intended there to be.

You have, so far, written 9 pantomimes, 3 plays and 3 novels. Were there any aspects of writing your Cromer Pier book series that surprised you, either by being harder or easier to write about than you expected?

To be honest I’m most surprised that I’ve written three full length novels at all! I’m delighted that they have been well rated on Amazon, and earned the lovely comments people have made about them. I learned a good deal through my first novel, and the work of my editor, Alice Bayton, who ruthlessly culled my tendency for repetition. I guess that commencing my writing journey with pantomime was a good way to start, given that you start with the framework in place. The most difficult pantomime to write was Beauty and the Beast, because there is no natural comedy in the story, but it’s still my favourite. Hearing people laugh at what you write is simply wonderful. My biggest frustration is that I haven’t managed to get the play version of the first Cromer Pier book performed, but I haven’t given up yet!  

If “Cromer Pier” was to become a TV film, who would you pick to represent the main characters eg Tom,Karen, Lionel, Cyril  ? What about the singers, Hannah & Amy?

Well obviously, they’d need to be Britain’s greatest! Emma Thompson as Janet? Bill Nighy as Cyril? Jim Broadbent as Lionel? Lily James as Amy? Colin Firth as Tom? Kate Beckinsale as Karen? Kate Winslet as Hannah? Well, I can dream!  

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

Only as a nine-year-old, then the reality of earning a living and raising a family took over, and I don’t regret that. As a council house kid who made it from Office Junior to Director, I’m committed to building aspirations and life chances of our young people, and launched the ‘Song for Hull’ project as part of HullCity of Culture, linking schools with NHS careers via a rock concert experience. The last one featured 400 kids and an audience of 1100 at Hull’s Bonus Arena.

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

No, I’m not really. I tend to read more biographies to be honest, on ebook. When I read fiction, I tend to go to Hailey, De Mille and Goddard, but my wife is trying to broaden my horizons. My writing is rather Archer like by way of genre; family sagas with lots of interwoven story lines.

Is “The Road from Cromer Pier”  available to purchase worldwide?

Yes indeed, via the mighty Amazon.

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

Smart casual is a far as I go really, even for Teams meetings in my Non-Executive board meetings. I haven’t worn a suit in two years, and I don’t like formal wear like DJ’s. I do have a couple of formal pairs of shoes, one brown and one black, but I mainly wear casual now.

Do you have any favourite shops or online sites?

I wear a lot of Crew, but I do like shopping, unusually for a bloke. I like independent shops, and Jarroldsin Norwich and Cromer have stocked my books when others will only accept orders. I like to support the smaller guys whenever I can.

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

To be honest I daren’t buy any trousers as I’ve put on some lockdown weight and won’t admit it! My golf shoes are pretty near worn out, so my trusty Echo’s need replacing. I have big size eleven feet with a wide fitting!

Boots or Shoes? 

I only have walking boots, so casual shoes are all I need now.

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

www.martingore.co.uk / @authorgore on twitter / Martin Gore on facebook / instagram

Fabulous chatting to you Martin! Thank you for the copy of The Road From Cromer Pier for reviewing.

Linda x

All photographs have been published with kind permission of Martin Gore.

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Spotlight on NABAS

Party season is fast approaching and if you are looking to decorate your party room with balloons and other event accessories then who better to give advice than NABAS – The Balloon And Party Professionals Association – the only registered trade association for the balloon and party industry in the UK. I caught up with current chairman, George Oustayiannis… hello George and welcome…

Hello! I’m George Oustayiannis and the current Chairman of NABAS, and Director at GO International, the UK’s leading importer and wholesaler for everything party!

What is the story behind setting up of NABAS?

NABAS was set up almost 35 years ago (2022 will be our 35th Anniversary). All the leading manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers and decorators came together to form a non-profit association, run for the members, for the members, with a number of benefits. It was created to be a voice for the industry.

What would you say are the pros of hiring, say a balloon professional that is a registered member of NABAS?

 Without doubt, the knowledge that a NABAS member is insured, and that they have a network of over 650 members willing and able to help and support them.

What perks does being a NABAS member offer a balloon and party specialist?

The ability to network with your peers, as well as having access to leading manufacturers, wholesalers and balloon decorators. We also have dedicated team of NABAS approved instructors, as well as the most comprehensive insurance on the market.

Apart from being Chairman of NABAS, what specialist balloon & party profession are you in?

I’m also on the Board of Directors for The Impact Group – an invitation only organisation of the UK’s leading wholesalers.

Have you always wanted a career in the balloon/party professional spectrum or did you have other aspirations?

As the eldest son of a very traditional Greek family, I had two choices. I could be a lawyer or a doctor.  But if I wasn’t that bright, they’d settle for accountant. I actually started in law, and became a city broker, and was the youngest divisional director for one of the city’s leading firms. But my wife decided I didn’t want to be a broker anymore! I’m afraid I took away my parents “Church Bragging Rights” with the “What does you son do for a living?” question.

What advice would you give to anybody thinking of starting up as a balloon and party  professional?

Join NABAS! The wealth of knowledge and support is unparalleled.


Personal now, what outfits/footwear would you normally wear when in “party mode”?

As casual as the host allows. I spent far too many of my earlier years in a suit and tie. I try and avoid fancy dress, and only ever looked remotely acceptable as Batman, because I could hide my true identity behind a mask!

Boots Or Shoes?

Shoes, as a Piscean, I hate any kind of footwear and  can’t wait to go barefoot! Shoes are so much easier to kick off, or quickly put on when need be!

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Links you would like to share e.g. website/facebook/twitter etc so that readers can learn more about NABAS

www.nabas.co.uk  

www.gointernational.co.uk 

Thank you George for chatting to us today. Let’s hope the parties can go ahead as safely and as healthy as possible this year!

Linda x

All photographs (apart from the Pinterest and header pic ) have been published with kind permission of NABAS.

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An Interview With Author Shaun Hand

During lockdown I read a book that was sent to me to review by book publicity agent Ben Cameron – a book which made me laugh, cry and pine for a night down at my local pub to “people watch”! This book was called “The Sadness of The King George “ by author & musician, Shaun Hand. It was a book that was laugh out loud funny; the characters were absolutely believable; and, as it says in the book blurb, “unflinchingly honest”. The story is set in a local, rundown pub “The King George” in the West Midlands – an old style pub that has sticky carpets and tables, soggy bar towels, regular customers who sit or stand in the same places exchanging the same words of wisdom; the Saturday night aggro; run by the pub landlord, the Gaffer, who no one sees; the mouthy barmaid, Siobahn, who runs the place like clockwork although no one really appreciates her; the pompous barman; the young 20 year old barman who wonders if there is more to life than pulling pints, pondering over love and looking forward to the next fag break; and Amy, the new young barmaid – full of hope and object of desire. Written from the viewpoint of the 20 year old barman as he tries to find his way through life especially when it comes to love, work and being cool. So, it was with great pleasure that I was able to catch up with the author Shaun … Hi Shaun & welcome…

Hello, I’m Shaun Hand. A life-sized writer, musician, charity shopper, and amateur gardener from Birmingham (the UK one).

“The Sadness of the King George” is a refreshing modern tale of life from the old pub – a young 20 year old unconfident lad who serves the locals, the confident barmaid, the landlord, the characters who frequent the local on a daily basis –   What made you decide to write “The Sadness of The King George”?

Thanks! I wanted to write it ‘cos that’s the world I lived in from the time I was 18 to 35, pretty much half my life! It’s a world that’s dying as the 21st century establishes itself, and so I wanted to capture it realistically, good and bad.

The book characters are all absolutely believable and probably found in most pubs in the UK – as you worked in pubs and bars in your twenties too, were your characters based on observations of people you’ve come across in the past and incidents you’ve experienced ? Who were the hardest characters to portray?

Totally — although some were exaggerated or embellished for effect. The hardest one to portray was probably the narrator because although he was partly based on me at 20, he was also based on about four other people, and so I had to be careful sometimes not to just make him do or think what I would do in real life.

Copyright © LindaHobden

Your first book was “Pop Art Poems: The Music Of The Jam”  – vastly different genre to “The Sadness Of The King George”. Were there any aspects of writing your book that surprised you, either by being harder or easier to write about than you expected? 

It was the first time I’d ever written a long-form piece of fiction, and I think the biggest, most pleasant surprise for me was a point pretty early on where one of the characters started telling me what they should say and where the story should go rather than the other way round — I realised that they’d come to life and that it was becoming more of a novel than an idea.

Hypothetically speaking, if you could go anywhere in the world to get inspiration for another book, where would you go and why? 

I don’t think I’d need to go anywhere specific, really. I tend to write about smalltown, suburban England, so maybe somewhere to escape that! I’ve got a romantic notion of going off to a B&B in Llandudno or somewhere for a week and just writing.

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

I always wanted to be a professional musician, but having tasted the reality of the work involved to barely make ends meet (leaving your family for months on end to go touring etc)and some of the darker side of it, I think I’m happier and more fulfilled being a writer who does books, music, poetry, whatever takes my fancy. Right now, that feels more liberating to me than any amount of distance I could travel to play to four people for no money (or even no people for four money).

Copyright © LindaHobden

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

I am, and I read more and more avidly as I get older, but I don’t have a favourite genre. I love anything with a good story and vivid characters, but then I also love a good music or author biography (I’ve just finished Billy Bragg’s book about skiffle, which was brilliant). The only author I’ve read everything by (even the bad stuff) is George Orwell. My wife put me on to Sarah Waters, and I’ve really got into her; Fingersmith is a brilliant book. Also slowly working my way through David Bowie’s 100 Favourite Books list, although some of it’s a little too dry for me.

And books, absolutely, every time. I can’t walk past a charity shop without having a nose. Kindles just don’t have that magic, or the smell.

 Is “The Sadness Of The King George ” available to purchase worldwide?

Yes. You can either line Jeff’s Bezos’ pockets or contact your local indie bookseller. It’s orderable through Waterstones too.

You are also a musician with your band FABRIK – what instrument do you play? What music genre?

My main instrument is the guitar, but I also play piano and bass and make drum loops for us to write songs over. We’re pretty trip-hoppy but a bit weirder. If you like stuff like Portisheadand Massive Attack, then we’re probably your kind of thing.

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

I flit between two extremes: trackies and trainers if I’m round the house, just nipping out, or just want to be comfortable. If I’m going out, DJing, gigging, or just want to look good, then it’s a suit with some nice loafers or these black-and-white 1920s-style shoes I got from one of those “4 shiny suits for £10” kind of shops years back.

Do you have any favourite shops or online sites ?

For clothes? Probably H&M. I live in Wolverhampton and everywhere else decent has shut down. Increasingly, I’m getting stuff from charity shops; I don’t like buying clothes online really.

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

I’ve got me brother-in-law’s wedding coming up, and I’d really like to get a decent dark blue, fitted double-breasted suit for it, but I can’t find one that wouldn’t make me look like an early ‘90s Tory MP. Beyond that, I’ve got a few suit jackets from charity shops that need taking in.

Shoe-wise, I’d love some decent brogues and could do with some boots — trainers with jeans limits the kind of top you can carry off, and loafers with jeans can be dangerous territory. I need some new wellies too for me gardening.

 Boots or Shoes? ( & Why?)

Shoes because I like wearing brightly coloured socks (teddy-boy style, not ones with novelty patterns).

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

Buy book: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Sadness-King-George-Shaun-Hand/dp/1916084575/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

Instagram: @shaunpatrickhand

Twitter: @shaunhandauthor

FABRIK: https://www.fabriktheband.co.uk/

Thanks very much for the nostalgia trip – I really enjoyed the book and the customer antics! Thank you Ben Cameron for sending me the book to read and review in the first place.

Linda x

The photographs of Shaun have been published with kind permission of Shaun Hand; the other photographs were taken by LindaHobden.

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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.

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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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Homeward Bound

I was sent a copy of “Homeward Bound” by Richard Smith to review by Ben Cameron of Cameron Publicity & Marketing. “You’ll like this book – it’s about age, ambition and rock ‘n’ roll” he said. Ben knows I like a good book and music is one of my passions too, so I was more than pleased to have a read and review. But, dear blog friends, you know that I can’t just read and review – I like to chat with the author afterwards … and the lovely Richard Smith gladly obliged! First, my review:

MY REVIEW

“Homeward Bound” made me smile from page 1 … it is a funny yet poignant novel centred around a grandfather who has a passion for music and his teenage granddaughter who moves in with him to keep an eye on him as he is getting frail, and also to give her some space from mum and dad. George (grandfather) has a massive record collection that has become his “comfort blanket” since his wife died – and as he plays his vinyls, he still tinkers along on his piano hoping to revive his musical ambitions. George’s son in law thinks he should be put in a home & sets out to find George a place. George’s daughter is the go between. George’s granddaughter wants space away from her parents and isn’t sure about her musical teenage boyfriend, who has his own idea of what music should sound like although he is fascinated by George’s collection. Then there are the homes George visits & the residents he meets, the notorious cousin, the impromptu musical recital, the seaside trip and the unexpected job offer. This novel has twists and turns, ups and downs, and plenty of musical innuendo. I loved it and it is a great light hearted read perfect for winter nights, holidays, lockdowns….

SO LET’S MEET THE AUTHOR, RICHARD SMITH…..

Hello, I’m Richard. I’m 71 years old and I have just written my first novel, “Homeward Bound”.  Before that, I was a film and video TV producer, director and writer, running my own production company. I gave it up to write, but I keep having to telling people I’ve not retired! Much of my work in the early years was in government commercials, encouraging people to do things like donate blood or to give up smoking. Some of them are on YouTube – “Blood from a Stone”with Rowan Atkinson and “Smoker of the Future” are the ones people find most often. I was a bit dismayed when I went to a major summer exhibition at the British Library – called ‘Propaganda’ – and there were two of my films! And we thought we were doing good! 

Later films were sponsored, public relations work. They took me all over the world; west Africa, South Africa, eastern Europe, south America, oil platforms, up the tower to Big Ben in London – at midday and I can tell you, it’s loud! – all places where you can only go if you’re invited. Highly privileged – and if it’s taught me anything it’s through the people I’ve met; that no matter who or where you are, we’re all human beings, experiencing the same happiness, pain, excitement, disappointments. Lifestyles may be different but human instinct and responses are essentially the same. Which has been a major influence on my writing.  

I have two children, both girls, both married, so therefore the name of Smith will cease to exist – at least in my family! And I’m also grandparent, though both born in the last year, so no relation to the late teenager in “Homeward Bound”!

What inspired you to start writing at 71?

I think I’ve always wanted to write a novel. When you’re working full time on a commercial or documentary, to a schedule and on a budget, there’s no time for creating your own characters and stories. Although I always tried to add character to my films, what I’d always hankered after doing was writing about everyday people and characters, to tell the stories that I wanted, not invented for a corporate message. 

Your book reminded me of when I was a young teenager in the late 1970s  when I used to play my “punk” music to my grandad – he used to sit and listen with a “put on” interested face!! He must have hated it! Which character did you enjoy writing about the most?  Which character was the hardest?

I’m not sure I found any one character more difficult than another. I enjoyed bringing them all to life, though I suppose my favourite parts are where George, the grandfather, and Tara, the granddaughter, are together. The most difficult part of it, I guess, was trying to make sure that each character reacted the way they actually would do in real life, consistent with their own personality or with the situation they were facing. That meant constantly revisiting the dialogue – would he or she really react like that? – and that sometimes took the plot in a direction I wasn’t expecting. A bit like life, I guess!

Are any aspects of writing novels that surprised you?

I think what caught me out when I started was a significant difference between writing for a film to be watched and writing to be read. When you’re doing a film you can change the scene, you can change perspective, you can change time. Flashbacks, seeing what the lead characters don’t yet know, character reactions behind the lead’s back – all common in film – are confusing in a novel. Think “Breaking Bad“  from a couple of years ago. The pre-title scenes often didn’t relate to anything that followed, or at least for most of the episode. Novels can’t work that way. Or at least, for a first-time writer!

I was also surprised about how I became so involved in what I was writing. I’d become sad and emotional when my characters were sad and emotional; I’d become touchy and irritable when there was anger in what I’d just written! I’m sure actors face this all the time, but as a writer, it was a surprise to me how involved and emotional I could get at certain points. 

George’s massive record collection is apparently based on your own collection.  What’s your favourite songs/albums? What was the last music concert you attended? 

The idea of a large collection of records is ‘me’, but not necessarily the songs George likes. We both have eclectic tastes but I didn’t want to bog the book down with mine! I can like almost anyone. The favourite part of my shelves is around RE – yes I do have them alphabetically stored; how else would I find them? But cheek by jowl are Otis Redding, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Lou Reed, Jim Reeves, REM. Not normal bedfellows! I played an early Bread album yesterday. Most people would scoff (‘That’s easy listening? They’re rubbish!’ I hear) but in 1969 they were original and up with the best of West Coast American. My childhood heroes were from pop/rock of the early sixties – the Everly Bros and a rock’n’roller called Del Shannon. And of course, Jerry Lee Lewis – what a piano player! What links them all are melody and catchy tunes – add lyrics with emotion and the cake is iced. For me, it doesn’t all have to be ‘credible’ – music is full of guilty pleasures that are best enjoyed alone. But like George, I still enjoy new music. My frustration is I can’t go to my local shop and buy it when I hear it. I have to download and it’s just not the same. 

As for most recent gig – COVID’s knocked a hole in that. I saw Amy Studt in a tiny venue – she’s had three astonishingly good albums but has somehow slipped under most people’s radar. James Taylor Quartet, Jules Holland, Thea Gilmore, Nik Kershaw, Lulu. I told you I was eclectic! 

Are there any new writing plans in the pipeline?

Yes, I’m working on another novel now. I’ve set it back in 1989 – so the ‘history repeats’ theme I love so much can be echoed from thirty years back. It means I need a lot of research to make sure I get my details correct. That is actually a major drawback because it’s a way of stopping me from getting on. I stumble over a detail that I need to check and by the time that’s done, I’ve lost the flow. But people keep asking me if I’m writing more and I’m determined to get it done – then all I have to do is see if anyone likes it!

Are you a bookworm? Book or Kindle?

As child I was an absolute bookworm and I would be in the library exchanging books every couple of days. Then when I needed all my limited brain power for scripts, and producing films, my few non-working hours were wasted listening to music! When I do read, it’s probably similar to what I want to write, popular, real life fiction. I always quote Simon Van Booy’s “Father’s Day “ as the one that inspired me to get “Homeward Bound “ written.

I’m a hard copy man. (Vinyl discs, not downloads; paperback not Kindle – I recognise a pattern here!)  But Homeward Bound’s available via Kindle internationally. So I shouldn’t knock it!

If you can visit any place in the world to give you inspiration for your next book where would you go and why?

Because, when I write, it’s about people and relationships, I’m not sure that the location is what inspires me. I think I’d prefer to go back in time. I’m writing about 1989 at the moment and although I was there, I don’t remember everything. To witness it first hand again would really help my characters and what they say and do. But if somebody offered me three weeks in the Bahamas to write and then I can still set my novel somewhere in England, I’d be very happy!

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

I’m not good at choosing clothes. A stereotypical 71-year-old man, I fear. Anything that’s to hand, convenient and clean. My wife only last week produced a photograph of me taken on holiday ten years ago because I was still wearing the same shirt!

 Favourite shops or online sites?

Most of my favourites are going to be either record shops or shops that sell records – often a charity shop. Online, I’m always browsing record guides and shop sites. If we go away somewhere, I will invariably find the record shop while my wife goes into places she prefers. Though in Reykjavik, there’s a huge record shop with, in the corner, a couch, magazines and coffee for the disinterested partner – usually wives – while the other – usually husbands – trawls through the vinyl racks!

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

Nothing. I hate trailing around any sort of shops andtrying on clothes. I know that doesn’t exactly fit withbootsshoesandfashion.com but I don’t wear any jewellery and if I lived alone, my house would be George’s – piles of books and records to be sorted.  Sorry!

 Boots or shoes?

Wherever I am, I dispense with both as quickly as possible. I embarrass my daughters when we leave a restaurant as I have to find my shoes and put them on again before we leave. I’d walk down the road in bare feet if I wasn’t a wimp and didn’t like the stony bits sticking into me!

Links you would like to share:

For Pinning Later

https://richardsmith writes.com

Twitter: @RichardWrites2

https://www.instagram.com/homeward_bound_the_novel/
https://facebook.com/richardsmithwrites/

https://facebook.com/WheresHomewardBound

Thanks for chatting with me on my blog Richard – I love your enthusiasm and I look forward to reading your next book also! I must say I’d love a trip to Reykjavik to track down that record shop ….

Linda x

All photographs have been published with kind permission of Richard Smith. Thanks also to Ben Cameron.

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An Interview With Poet Kamand Kojouri

Poetry this evening, my friends. I love poetry. I love reading poetry out loud – doesn’t matter if nobody else is around, poetry just needs to be read out loud. Poetry just sums up emotions and situations. My guest this week is the gorgeous Iranian poet Kamand Kojouri. Her poetry is a breath of fresh air. Her poems have been read on the radio, in sermons in churches and synagogues, used as lyrics for a rock song, and even her poem about Aleppo, “Heaven And Hell” was placed next to James P Graham’s stunning artwork at his Desacration exhibition at Biblioteca Vallicelliana in Rome. Praise indeed. I was lucky enough to receive a copy of Kamand’s 2nd collection, “God, Does Humanity Exist?” Having devoured the book word for word, I had some questions for the poet herself …. so hi Kamand!

Hi! I’m Kamand, an Iranian poet and writer living in the UK. I’ve written two poetry books and I’m currently writing a historical novel for my creative writing PhD programme.

I write to raise awareness about the injustices in the world, to remind us that we are all responsible for one another, and to instil hope and love into our lives.

What inspired you to write poetry?

It’s quite simple, really: I fell in love…

My brothers, Hafez and Khayyam, are also named after the great Persian poets. When we were little, my brother,Khayyam, would receive at least one collection of Omar Khayyam’s poems as a birthday gift. My mother often recites lines from poems mid-conversation as well, so poetry had always been an intrinsic, albeit dormant, part of my life. Funnily enough, the literal translation of my name (Kamand) is a lasso. But Kamand is actually an ornamental word used in Persian poetry to describe long beautiful hair.

“God, Does Humanity Exist?” was published on 2 March 2020 — your 2nd collection of poems focusing on suffering, resistance, and hope. I personally enjoyed reading the poems out loud. Actually, I don’t know if I can read poetry any other way. I truly believe poetry is also better understood by reading out loud. Interesting title to your book though, Kamand. So, was it hard to think up a title for your poetry collection that seemed to encapsulate the verses contained within? Why did you pick the title?

My collection is divided into four sections: Cries of Common Pain, Call to Action, Songs of Hope, and Echoes of Hope. It includes urgent poems about the devastation of war, the refugee crisis, the dangers of silence, mass shootings, the atrocities being committed across the pond and even the ones on our doorstep… And although the poems are rooted in dark realities, ultimately the message is one of love and togetherness.

I remember brainstorming ideas for the title and discussing it with my twin sister and my father. I decided to go with God, Does Humanity Exist?  and my father said that it was very interesting but perhaps sounded a bit pessimistic, and that was far from my intention. In order to eliminate any ambiguities about the title, I added an author’s note at the beginning of the book that explained my reasoning. The idea is that for thousands of years people have been asking “Does God Exist?” I wanted to turn this age-old question on its head and ask God, whether humanity exists. Of course, I don’t doubt humanity’s existence, but I want us to think, speak, and act more humanely—with more compassion, empathy, and understanding. So the title is meant to make us think, and it’s also meant to make us act.

It was hard for me to pick a favourite poem from this collection — it was a tie between “We Don’t Find God” & “ Writers Aren’t Alchemists”. Do you have a particular favourite? 

My favourite poem is “We Are, Each of Us, Refugees”. Whenever I’m reading it out loud by the time I get to this last stanza I get quite emotional:  

When home turns into hell,

you, too, will run

with tears in your eyes screaming rescue me!

and then you’ll know for certain:

you’ve always been a refugee.

Have you always hoped for a career in poetry/ creative writing or did your career aspirations as a child lie elsewhere? 

I always wanted to become a doctor to help people. As I became older, I chose neurosurgery as a speciality. I studied sciences in my undergraduate years and volunteered at a big hospital in downtown Toronto. One day one of my patients asked me to read to her. From that day on, I started renting out books from the library to read during my lunch breaks, and that’s when I fell in love with reading. It was a bit daunting because I had envisioned my entire life as a neurosurgeon but then all of a sudden I had found this ardent passion for reading and writing. I remember trying to intellectualise my decision—making a list of pros and cons for each career. I showed my friends and family the list and discussed it with them. It was a big risk but I decided I could still help people with my writing and I thought that I’d be doing something that truly complemented my soul. The greatest thing about pursuing a career in writing is that you become a life-long philomath. You develop this hunger to learn, and the more you read and the more you write, you realise how very little it is you know.  

Born in Tehran, raised in Dubai & Toronto, currently residing in Wales; you have been to places that must have influenced your writing somewhere along the line. Hypothetically speaking, if you were able to visit any place in the world to get inspiration for a new collection of poems, where would you go and why?

That’s such an interesting question! My mother’s greatest passion is travelling. Every summer, she’d try to take my siblings and me to a new country. I have visited around forty countries and I think I don’t necessarily need to visit a place to get inspiration from there. For instance, the novel I’m currently writing takes place in three different cities that I have yet to visit.

I think it ultimately depends on what you have in your heart and your mind at the time of travelling. A few years ago, there was a revival of a very popular musical (based on Victor Hugo’s novel) in Paris called Notre-Dame de Paris. At the time I was doing my Master’s programme in London, so I hopped on the Eurostar to see it on opening night. I’d been to Paris a few times prior, so I planned to revisit my favourite places (the cathedral, Place du Tertre in Montmartre etc.) and a couple of new museums. I had taken a collection of Hafez’s poems with me and I remember being so inspired by the beauty (the music, architecture, paintings and sculptures) that I filled a small journal with Sufi poems. It’s uncanny to think that I wrote my most spiritual poems whilst on a trip to Paris to see a musical… Anywhere in the world that has beautiful artwork, a little bit of nature, a place of worship (like a temple or a church—perhaps it has something to do with the higher vibrational frequencies), inspires me. And if I go to a classical concert when I’m there, then I’m in heaven.

Are you a Bookworm?

I’m definitely a bookworm, but because of my OCD I’m quite a neurotic reader. That’s why I used to dislike reading as a child. What it means now is that I’m not a fast reader, because I like to highlight beautiful lines and often rewrite them into a journal. My favourite genre is poetry and I also love philosophical novels. I have too many favourite authors!My favourite poets include Nizar Qabbani, Rumi, Pablo Neruda, and E.E. Cummings. Favourite writers: Javier Marias, Virginia Woolf, Vladimir Nabokov, Sarah Waters, and Anton Chekhov.

It’s funny because I bought my dad a Kindle (he reads many books concurrently like I do) but he regifted it back to me. I haven’t used it in years as I prefer actual books.

Is “God, Does Humanity Exist?” available to purchase worldwide?

Yes, it’s available on all the Amazon websites in paperback and eBook. It’s also available on Barnes & Noble and third-party booksellers online. For every copy sold, a tree is planted in Sub-Saharan Africa to help provide families with food, income, and a sustainable way of life. All of the royalties will also go to children’s charities in Iran.

Which other forms of writing, other than poetry, would you love to try your hand at? Songwriting, thriller, children’s books? 

I would love to write a children’s book one day! 

A brilliant American composer used my poem “War on Silence” to compose a piece for a choir recently, and a band used my poem “They Want Us to Be Afraid” as lyrics for one of their songs. Music is one of my greatest passions as well so I’d love to try my hand at songwriting—best of both worlds.

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

I’m always in business casual and a pair of black suede ankle boots, unless I’m going to a nice dinner or jazz night then I’m in stilettos.

Do you have any favourite shops or online sites?

I lived in Canada for about eight years so my favourite shop is Aritzia, a Canadian boutique.

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

I don’t have a wish list right now, but I’d be very happy to purchase a bright-coloured top in-store because that’d mean that the pandemic is over and we can celebrate summer.

Boots or Shoes?

Heeled ankle boots all the way! I’m average height but my twin sister is much taller than me and my brothers tower over me so I like the extra bit of heel.

For Pinning later

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

Instagram: www.instagram.com/KamandKojouri

Twitter: www.twitter.com/KamandKojouri

Facebook: www.facebook.com/KamandKojouri

Linked-In: www.linkedin.com/in/KamandKojouri

Website: www.KamandKojouri.com

Thank you very much Kamand for chatting to us today. Thanks also for the copy of your fabulous poetry book and thanks also to Ben Cameron. All photographs have been published with kind permission of Kamand Kojouri.

Linda x

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An Interview With Dean Hodgkin

Keeping your body fit and healthy during lockdown … and for life beyond, is paramount. It’s difficult though and many of us need help to practice social distancing from the fridge, from the wine bottles and from the biscuit barrel. For tips and advice on keeping our bodies fit and healthy and to help us develop an understanding on how to maintain that fitness, I was lucky enough to chat to Dean Hodgkin – Head of Programming on TV Fit, fitness expert, karate champion, writer and speaker. Hi Dean!

Hi! I’m Dean Hodgkin, a veteran of the fitness industry with over 30 years on the clock and with varied experience that includes working in spas, premium health clubs, budget gyms, leisure centres and more recently boutique studios. I’ve co-authoured 2 fitness books written a large number of magazine and newspaper articles and I’ve also appeared in a number of broadcast formats as a health and fitness expert.

You’ve appeared at fitness events in 36 countries and collected the Best International Fitness Presenter at The One Body One World in New York, the ECA International Career Achievement Recognition Award, also in the US, in addition to the Lifetime Achievement award at Europe’s largest group fitness event, the International Fitness Showcase. On top of this you were also 3 times World and 2 times European karate champion so what triggered your love of sport and keeping fit? 

That’s a great question as I’m not sure I’ve ever really analysed my odyssey before! My Father was a semi-pro footballer so when I was very young I would spend every Saturday standing on the touchline, come rain or shine. My elder brother was also a particularly good player so naturally, I followed suit, becoming captain of my school team. There was a brief heartbreak when my Mother forced me to attend the best grammar school in our area – where they didn’t play soccer! However, I threw myself into rugby, again becoming team captain and realised the specific discipline was irrelevant…….I just loved participating in any sport. Like many kids in the 70s, when the Bruce Lee movies hit the cinemas, I was desperate to try martial arts. At first I was too young to join the local karate club so started my journey with judo but transferred as soon as I was allowed. I became absolutely immersed, training in every spare moment and perhaps as a result of such, I became quite proficient. When it became clear that I could actually achieve something through fighting, I began to get involved in fitness training, realising it would help me to perform better, although in those days it was simply running, basic calisthenics and stretching.


Have you always wanted a career in fitness or did your aspirations lie elsewhere?

When I graduated from university in the mid-80’s, the fitness industry in the UK was in a nascent state, concepts and experiences were only just drifting over from the US, so I didn’t view it as a career choice, particularly as fitness training was just something I did for fun. Additionally, having studied mathematics and management studies, my intention was to go into investment banking in the City of London. However, at the time I had already been selected for the British under-21 karate team but realised that to progress to senior level, I’d need to put in some serious graft so I negotiated a ‘gap year’ with my parents, allowing me to put finding a job on hold and instead to train full-time. This 1 year actually turned into 3, during which I spent so much of my time in sports centres and gyms that it occurred to me it would be great if I could combine my choice of vocation with my love of physical activity and so I enrolled on a fitness trainer course and progressed from there.



In your capacity as  Head of Programming on TV Fit ….What would you say are the most popular genre/programmes/classes?

This is a great question as the answer is actually 2 dimensional. In terms of the market, resistance training and high intensity interval training are leading the pack, hence our results-guaranteed STRONGER and LIMITLESS programmes an incredible numb of views. As an individual, however, the most popular workouts are the one’s you’ll actually do so pick what you enjoy, rather than those everyone else seems to be doing, as then you’re much more likely to adhere to it and see the results you desire. Working out shouldn’t feel like a chore, so try many different classes to find your flavour. Remember, exercise isn’t something you do TO your body – it’s something you do FOR your body, so enjoy it.

Which genre/programme/classes is your personal favourite?

Whilst, for obvious reasons, I love STRIKE, I honestly have no favourite so you’re just as likely to find me dancing or lifting weights as shadow-boxing or trying to fold myself into a downward dog. I truly love the freedom of movement exercise brings and enjoy exploring my body through the different physical challenges involved.

Must admit, when exercising, I hate doing “burpees” … even more than push ups!! Which exercise do you dislike the most?

I’m totally with you on that one – I’m pretty sure that a straw poll would result in near unanimous agreement!

Being in lockdown, keeping your body and mind fit and healthy is a must. Any top tips?

Due to the reduced amount of walking within our daily routines, the inability to play sport or go to the gym, the potential stress related to being cooped up with others or perhaps anxiety about future job prospects, I’d argue that exercise has never been more valuable. In addition to burning calories (helping to balance out the extra trips we might be making to the fridge!) the positive impact on mental health has been proven in an abundance of scientific research studies.What’s more, there are huge mood-uplifting benefits of exercising outdoors, something the Government recognised in the lockdown guidance by allowing us to venture outside once each day, so it’s vital to optimise this modicum of temporary freedom. If you’re a runner, fine but if you’re just beginning your fitness journey our SWEATCOIN WALK was created specifically for you, providing a personal trainer in your ear for motivation and visual tips to perfect your technique.Just in case you need further convincing, the father of medicine, Hippocrates, is quoted as declaring, ‘Walking is man’s best medicine’……..and he knew a thing or two about how to stay healthy in both mind and body!

What has been the most unusual Fitness class/ genre you’ve come across?

To be honest, there are way too many to mention! Dog Yoga and Naked Yoga have to be right up there and I still need to be convinced of the value of Napercise. Others include Voga (yep, that’s yoga with a few Madonna shapes thrown in) Kangoofit (bouncing around on boots with springs) Mermaid Fitness (wearing 1 huge flipper) Crowd Surf Ready (for lifters and liftees) High Intensity Interval Painting (sweat then paint then sweat then paint….) etc, etc, etc!


Being a world champion at karate, I can take it that that must be one of, if not your favourite sport. Are there any other sports you take part in or enjoy watching?

I’m a complete sportaholic and regularly achieve nothing of any significance at weekends due to camping out in front of the TV, so the lockdown live sport ban has left me totally disorientated on Saturdays and Sundays. Favourites are rugby, soccer, basketball, MMA, american football, tennis and athletics.

I love shows like Strictly Come Dancing – I especially love watching the Argentine Tango! Hypothetically speaking, if you were to take part, which dance style would you love to try?

I’m also a Strictly addict, primarily as I appreciate the amount of training they put in and the incredible improvement in their performance level through the course of the series. I also watch in wonder at the pros who are so athletic and appear to be excellent at every discipline. I’d love to learn the more technical dances but fear I’d only have a chance of mastering the jive due to it clearly being a fast and very physical challenge for which I hope my years of fitness training have prepared me.

Personal now, what outfits/footwear would you normally wear?

Over the years I have been very fortunate to have been, at different times, sponsored by Nike, Reebok and Puma but now I’m a total brand whore – I’ll purchase and wear whatever takes my fancy.

Boots Or Shoes?

For fitness – high tops for lifting and basketball, lows for dancing and HIIT, barefoot for combat and yoga. Out of the gym, boots in winter and flip-flops for as long as the weather allows.

For pinning later



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

www.deanhodgkin.com
https://www.facebook.com/dean.hodgkin.7
https://www.instagram.com/deanhodgkin/

Hmm.. Voga sounds fun but Naked Yoga sounds pretty embarrassing , unless you’re doing it on your own! Ha ha! Thanks for chatting with me Dean – I particularly liked your advice regarding picking a workout that you enjoy rather than one that is trendy and you are doing it “just because”.

Linda x

All photographs have been published with kind permission of Dean Hodgkin

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Spotlight On Apocalypse Survival Training

During lockdown, or indeed just keeping fit, there are a plethora of online classes, apps, videos and ideas just waiting for you to explore. Going for a run or a jog? Plug in your headphones and listen to the music as you achieve your 10,000 steps. BUT WAIT. Are you craving for a totally different way to keep fit? I think I’ve found what you’re looking for – Apocalypse Survival Training. This is a story based fitness app created by London based fitness trainer Adele Andersen. Using the app, you can immerse yourself into a different world, a world where you are a secret agent trying to save London from an alien invasion whilst all the time getting fit to with running, circuits and yoga workouts. Sound intriguing? I thought so too, so after doing a quick spin of saving London, I had a chat with Adele to find out more… Hi Adele!

Hi I’m Adele Andersen, creator of Apocalypse Survival Training. I’m an Aussie who came to the UK 14 years years ago but somehow never quite made it back home. I’ve been working as a fitness instructor for 11 years and run a west London bootcamp. I live in Acton with my metal singer/music producer husband Rasmus and our three cats. 

What inspired you to create the story based fitness app, Apocalypse Survival Training?

7 years ago I was doing a lot of script writing and had just had a radio play performed at a Discworld fan event, Hogswatch (essentially the Christmas celebration of Terry Pratchett’s novel series). In a conversation after in the pub, a group of friends were complaining about how boring exercising is but how they wished they could be fit like I was, which came around to the question of what would make exercising fun for them – an entertainment factor – and whether I could combine my fitness coaching with my writing to make story based workouts which people would want to keep going with, to find out what happened next in the story. It’s been a looooong process from that night to now! 

Have you always wanted a career in fitness or did your aspirations lie elsewhere?

Absolutely not! Never even stepped inside a gym before I came to London! I only ever wanted to be a Grand Prix dressage rider and write fantasy novels. Tragically, I was not a particularly gifted rider and feel like I will never be able to afford horses again 😭 I’m finally finishing my first novel though! 
I started on horse yards in the UK but quickly ran out of money and ended up in London looking for a job. I started working at Sky in the winter, where I left and got back home in the dark and cold, and had no natural physical labour to do anymore. The office had a lunch gym group so I went along for a Body Pump class, which I liked, and then a Body Combat class, which I adored. I ended up in the gym a lot – I’m pretty high energy and not well suited to a desk job – so when the financial crash of 2008 froze hiring, one of my best friends suggested I train as a group fitness instructor to at least be paid for the many hours I was taking part in group exercise classes. It was loosely intended as a 3 year plan, but it turned out to be something I’m really good at. The first job I’d ever had that I was naturally good at. I qualified in 2009 and am still teaching – and loving it – 11 years later! 

In your capacity as a fitness trainer, what type of fitness training or exercises are most popular with the classes that you have taught?

Broadly speaking, exercise to music. There’s true magic in exercise choreographed to music because the music is a driver but also an amazing emotional connector, and so people work harder but experience genuine enjoyment while working out, which makes them more likely to keep exercising. 

Have you always wanted a career in fitness or did your aspirations lie elsewhere?

I only teach classes I am truly passionate about and so can deliver with heart and soul. Body Combat is my absolute favourite, it’s an incredibly exhilarating class and the reason I have a career in fitness. I also love Body Pump and Body Balance, which have big performance elements on my part, and then my own freestyle HIIT cycle and a complete switch to my outdoor bootcamp, which is community driven, social and requires very creative planning to keep it super interactive for members. 
I love exercises and movements that use the whole body – never ever got the hang of machines. The feeling of moving your own bodyweight around is incredible, and that feeling of having worked all over at the end of a session is the best. 

Must admit, when exercising, I hate doing “burpees” … even more than push ups!! Which exercise do you dislike the most? 

Well the one that’s beating me hard at the moment is pull ups. I’ve had a few years of issues with my right arm which stopped me being able to pull my bodyweight, but in lockdown Ras has challenged me to do his workouts, and those rings are just kicking my ass! Anything I hate though I know is an opportunity to push my comfort zone and I love the feeling of conquering a problem though, so I’ll keep hanging off them and swearing through negatives until I’m able to pull properly again!

Back to the app, how difficult was it to organise the sound effects, storyline and to choreograph the exercises to create the effect that you wanted to create? 

Just after we recorded the original test episode, Hardman’s Army, I met Ras, who is a singer, composer and audio producer. I dated and then married my audio producer! That made life a LOT easier 😉
We got lucky with a recommendation from a friend to Adam Hay, a BAFTA award winning game sound designer, who did the sound effects on Part 1. I sent him scripts, he sent me back amazing sounds, and Ras mixed those in with the dialogue and music (which is SUPER complicated). 
The storyline took ages, and I actually rewrote episode 1 about a dozen times. We recorded and edited two or three versions before the one on the app, and it’s still the episode I wince the most about. The storyline itself came out of a throwaway line from Hardman’s Army about a city being completely destroyed by aliens – that was the obvious place to start (although it took a friend to point that out to me!). Finding a story frame that allowed us to put in the Strength and Control episodes with the Speed episodes, in a reasonably natural way, was also very challenging. 
The Control (yoga/stretch) episodes were the hardest. I think I wrote 4 full scripts and we definitely recorded and edited that three times to get to what’s on the app. I had to keep simplifying and simplifying, because the app is primarily an audio experience and so it’s essential that anyone could follow the exercises, largely by audio cue only (there’s also a player screen on the app for visual reference). 
Now that I’m making TALON: Lockdown, a video based workout series as a leader to the app, I’m having a ball because they are visual workouts, so I can work so much more with the music! My only worry with Lockdown is that people who come to the app from the video workouts might prefer the video workouts (even though the app story, audio design and characterisation is far superior – plus you’re the main character of the app, and only implicitly present in the video workouts). 

Having downloaded the app & tried it out myself ( the running part at any rate) I was impressed by the clear instructions in my ear. It certainly made it a different experience than running with music in the background. What other workout options are on the app and what levels of fitness do you cover?

The story progresses episodically over three types of workout, what we term Speed, Strength and Control. This means episode 1 is a running workout, 2 is a bodyweight circuit workout, 3 is a yoga stretch workout and then 4 is back to running, and so on. 
The Strength and Control episodes have Intro and Advanced options to select at the start, which determines which level of each exercise is shown to you on the player. Then, within the story, we have characters of different abilities, who are all taught to. This is exactly the same as a group exercise class, where I need to coach to the super fit 20 year old and then the middle aged person who hasn’t exercised in 10 years. But we can do that through character, within the story, which is super fun. The hope is that most users will find themselves recognisably represented by one of the characters, and will follow the coaching directed to them. 
While the episodes are of fixed duration (as they’re essentially radio plays), meaning the workouts are all around 30 mins length, your ‘handler’, Skyler, who is like your best friend and personal cheerleader, spends a lot of time assuring you that you only need to do what you can, and assuring you that it’s ok to take breaks. I can DIE doing the circuit episodes by pushing very hard,  but also people who are not fit can get through them by pacing themselves. That’s the convenience of programming to time intervals – everyone can work their own pace within that time. 

Why did you specifically pick an apocalypse survival story as your app? What came first – the idea for the story or the workouts for a story to fit around?

Hardman’s Army, a test episode to see if I could write a fitness audio drama, came first. It was a circuit workout in the story frame of the whole world has been sent to the army to be trained for an alien invasion, and most people don’t want to be there (which made the characters sympathetic to users who don’t like exercising – everything they would be thinking, a character was actually saying!). That tested really well. 
Then I wanted to test a concept: that multiple types of exercise could be put to story. At that time, Zombies, Run! was starting to gain traction, but it was only running. So I didn’t really want to do running, BUT I needed a vivid plot/concept, and people ‘got’ the idea of story based running better than say story based circuits! 
I did a request on my Facebook for gripping titles – AST was actually called ‘Catalyst’ right up through the first video we shot for the kickstarter, at which point a friend Dig rang me and was like ‘Adele, you have to fix the name.’ There were dozens and dozens of comments and we ended up crowd sourcing the title Apocalypse Survival Training. I mean, it’s vivid, right? And the story was built around this challenge of incorporating 3 types of workout: running, bodyweight strength, and flexibility. We termed it as ‘giving you the speed, strength and control you need to get Apocalypse Ready!’ which was fun.

As you are based in London, is your app available to download worldwide, iOS & Android?  

Yes, world wide, although the dialogue with its many accents I think would be very difficult to follow to people who are not native English speakers. Everyone said do iOS first, one of my mentors had an Android phone and I really wanted to be able to make the kickstarter for everyone, so committed to doing both. HUGE mistake, which we’re still paying for! I would now also advise anyone else to do iOS native first. 

Personal now, what outfits/footwear would you normally wear?

Leggings, EVERYWHERE. I’m so lazy. I have one or two fav tops at a time and they’re all I wear when I can. Because almost every day involves teaching, I’m usually in my sports gear from the morning, save changing later. I work from home or cafes in the area, there’s no office or dress code so convenience and comfort are the name of the game! 

Boots Or Shoes?

Boots – or trainers! Boots look better with leggings than any shoe other than sneakers 😉 

For pinning later

Links you would like to share e.g. website/facebook/twitter etc so that readers can learn more about Apocalypse Survival Training

ANDROID app: http://bit.ly/2wCsy9ziOS app: https://apple.co/31fgzg4Promo Video: https://youtu.be/hyUqsP-3bo8Web: https://www.apocalypsesurvivaltraining.com/Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/apcocalypsesurvivaltraining/Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/a.s.t_fitness_app/TALON: Lockdown Ep 1: https://bit.ly/TALONep1

Many thanks for the interview Adele. I hope Adele’s app has given you, dear readers, the encouragement to get up and train, apocalyptic style!

Linda x

Photographs by Richard Wakefield and Sean Kelly, published with kind permission of Adele Andersen.

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An Interview With Jay Mullings

Gracing my blog this week is award winning writer/director Jay Mullings. This man is certainly a busy bee – he is the author of The Thought Book series; founder & owner of Written Mirror Ltd – a bespoke content creation business; a fellow blogger; he writes poetry & music; and he has launched his debut feature film, The Jam. Is there simply no end to his awesome talent? Let’s find out… Hi Jay & welcome!

Hi! I’m Jay Mullings, London born Jamaican bred multiple international award winning Writer/Director. On top of that I am an author namely: The Thought Book & The Thought Book 2 and I also founded Written Mirror Ltd which is a content creation company + media publisher.

What was the inspiration behind launching Written Mirror Ltd?

Having something to call my own. A space where no one could tell me what to do and I would be allowed to fully realise my creative potential. In short it was to be a space where I could practice what I preach: Truthful Fearless Creativity…

Have you always enjoyed writing/ being a storyteller as a child? When did you discover you have a talent for writing?

I knew I had a way with words, language and logic from an early age. I could hold my own with adults in a debate, trip up teachers if they were trying to hide that they didn’t know something and I could even prove my innocence if wrongfully accused of things at home/school etc. I knew I was made to tell stories from early. My teachers would often share some of my stories which were either rib tickling comedy or pushing the envelope in terms of what a youngster should be writing about in school. I read a lot as a child and even then I fancied myself to be able to do the same if given half a chance.

Your “The Thought Book” series is a unique self help title. The series encourages the reader to adopt the mindset necessary for realising their goals. Why did you choose to write a self-help series? Was it an easy road to write and publish your books or was it harder than you thought?

Yes… The Thought Book Series, have you read the books? What did you think? I like to think of the books as unhindered self development books. I took out my ego, my bravado or whatever which way you’d like to sum it up and allowed the reader to place themselves in the book. I don’t think too many improvement books allow that to happen. I chose this style to help people in the most uncomplicated manner possible. Anyone who follows my doings knows that the message in both books is exactly what I use to armour myself against doubt, small mindedness and fear… 
It wasn’t hard at all. The books were a piece of cake; it was all the red tape and pirates looking to feast on your flesh that got draining. People have tried to steal my book from under me, overcharge me only to deliver inferior results and worst of all they have tried to pass the buck whenever they could not manipulate me. The books were the best part of it but the processes of working with greedy and unscrupulous people was not rewarding at all…

What genre of books do you tend to read?

I read when I have time to. Sometimes there is a lot of reading taking place and others little to none. That is the life of a content creator unfortunately. When I do read I like books that are very well written; by that I mean I don’t like wasted pages, filler or having to feel anger at just how large the holes in terms of logic are. The main reason for that is whatever, I start reading no matter how bad I have to finish it. I only try to read books that reward my work rate. Any genre any style would interest me so long as it is written well…

Have you always wanted to be a writer/director or did you have any other career in mind?

Centre forward for the mighty Arsenal! I wanted to replace Ian Wright…

Oh Jay, things were going so well !! I’m a Spurs supporter, your rival football fan! 😂… Let’s talk music instead! What were your musical influences growing up?

I was lucky to be born in the sweet spot for music. I had the best of the old and newer school growing up. My music knowledge often surprises people as it is very eclectic. We’re talking Fleetwood Mac to Bob Marley, Bowie to Gladys Knight and so on and so forth. You name it if it sounds good or has complexity to it I’m involved!

Writing poetry or writing songs? Do you have a preference?

Poetry can feed into songs so poetry! 

What genre of music do you personally listen to? What was the last concert you attended?

Dancehall/Reggae/Hip Hop/RnB/Classical and Soundtracks. The last concert I went to was in Brixton I saw Common’s band.

Imagine you are driving – what song would be top of your list to croon to whilst playing car karaoke?

Some Bob Marley or Missy Elliott to be honest!

Let’s talk about your debut feature film, The JAM (2019), that has already received 9 official selections since hitting the film festival circuit in April. How exciting! Can you give my readers a little summary of what The JAM is all about? 

The JAM is a feature length documentary that is centred on my life, my creative process, my family and friends’ reaction to my career choice as well as their hopes for my future. It’s the story that my community needs but not the one it has necessarily known it wanted. I wrote, edited and shot it myself. Oh yeah I wrote and recorded the Soundtrack too as Wicked Penman…

Congratulations on your latest award from the East Europe International Film Festival. Does that indicate that in 2020 you have other film plans or will you be concentrating on writing books or your music or will you be juggling all avenues? 😜

I can’t say too much but yes of course more content, more energy and more life.

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

I’m a practical dresser. I like being able to move and feel free. So I normally dress tactical. Joggers/Shorts Tees/Hoodies. Usually Written Mirror specials.

Do you have any favourite websites? (Apart from your own!)

Youtube! No doubt! So much helpful and funny content.

Boots or Shoes?

Boots! They’re made for walking! Seriously though I like Chelsea Boots they’re formidable and functional but very stylish simultaneously.

For Pinning Later

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

www.writtenmirror.com/blog

www.youtube.com/writtenmirror

www.twitter.com/writtenmirror

www.instagram.com/writtenmirror

https://open.spotify.com/artist/4dacYcT36TnsY1CbcPkmTY?si=_E2b2b5fQb6u-YjAY-HcZg

It has been great chatting to you,

Jay – I’m glad I’m not the only one who has to read a book, once started until the very end, regardless of how bad it is! Well, I did break that rule once when I read a book about the solo travels of a guy who trekked the Himalayas …. Anyhow, I’m looking forward to seeing The Jam and I wish you every success in all your ventures.

Linda x

All photographs are published with kind permission of Jay Mullings.

Article copyright © LindaHobden.

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Steampunk Day At Bressingham

In July, my husband, myself and our teenage sons went on a day trip to Bressingham – a sort of steam railway/museum/gardens centre near Diss, in Norfolk. Finding a place that would amuse us all as a family, avoiding theme parks, is becoming harder now my boys are teenagers. Having not been to Bressingham before, and we all like steam trains, it seemed an ideal place to visit. The added attraction was that it was “Steampunk Weekend” too – but I was unaware of this until we arrived ….

Bressingham

So, what is Steampunk? According to the Oxford dictionary it is “A style of design and fashion that combines historical elements with anachronistic technological features inspired by science fiction”… According to Wikipedia, “Steampunk is a sub genre of science fiction or science fantasy that incorporates technology and aesthetic designs inspired by 19th century industrial steam-powered machinery.” I first noticed as we arrived at 10am glamorous women in Victorian lace up boots and long corset style gothic/Victoriana style dresses… men in dapper jackets … top hats and goggles . I thought they must be members of staff …. I thought Bressingham was just about steam railways ….but then I realised they were members of the public mingling in the queue alongside those in bog standard shorts and t shirts. I did feel underdressed!

My 14 year old son Jack was hooked – he immediately purchased a top hat that was customised for him whilst we looked around Bressingham and we was able to pick it up later. My youngest son settled for some groovy goggles. I enjoyed looking at the beautiful bodices being sold on the stalls … and I enjoyed admiring the gorgeous outfits being worn.

Bressingham itself is a great place to visit, with or without a special event going on, but the Steampunk event certainly added a special air to the place. Bressingham consists of many parts: Bressingham Rides, Bressingham Gardens, Bressingham Museum.

Bressingham Rides

We were lucky because on the day we visited all 3 railway lines with their impressive steam locomotives were running . The railway lines covered the woodland area, around the gardens and around the perimeter of the site. The working locomotives were all different and the journey times were longer than the usual miniature railway ride.

However, the large Victorian steam galloper occupies a prominent position near the entrance, and although my youngest son had his leg strapped up as he had broken his foot, with a bit of help, he was able to ride on the horse alongside his dad and brother. In fact, him and his brother had quite a few gos over the course of the day. I must admit, the merry-go-round looked lovely but it made me feel dizzy just watching let alone riding on it. I stayed at the side, holding Ethan’s crutches and taking photos.

There was an old fashioned fairground full of penny machines, hoopla stalls and other attractions of the Victorian age. A small crazy golf course was a lot of laughs and at £2 per person provided a good half hour’s entertainment as we battled it out between ourselves to see who would become the family champion …. my husband came first, I came 2nd…

Bressingham Gardens

The gardens are renowned worldwide for their horticultural excellence – there are four linking gardens displaying over 8,000 species and varieties within its 17 acres. The gardens are privately owned by the, appropriately named, Bloom family. Adrian Bloom and his father, Alan, have each created a 6 acre garden : The Dell and Foggy Bottom. Unfortunately we only managed to view the gardens from the garden railway train journey and didn’t have enough time to wander through the 17 acres as well. I will definitely head for the gardens on my next visit, perhaps in Spring when the gardens are in full bloom.

The Bressingham Museum

In fact there are 2 museums ….

The Locomotive Sheds were full of trains and carriages from yesteryear – bringing the glory of steam engineering up close. You couldn’t actually step inside the locomotives or carriages but there were especially built platforms along the sides so you can have a good old peek through the windows . The royal carriages were really fascinating. The old posters dotted around the walls were interesting too – the old away day trips by train I can remember well as a young girl – I remember one day railway trip we made as a family around 1974 was from London to Blackpool via Preston ( we didn’t have long there as a day trip and it rained all day!)

National Dad’s Army Collection – based on the popular TV series, Dad’s Army, you wander through the fictional “Walmington On Sea” with the original props and vehicles from the series.

Other Facilities

There is a gift shop and a cafe with indoor and outdoor seating that served the biggest slices of chocolate cake I have ever seen and picnic areas. Warranting a special mention are the toilet facilities for both men and women. They are both sparkling clean – hard to achieve in a public place – but the floors, toilets, sinks were spotless even by mid afternoon.

There were extra shops and stalls as part of the Steampunk event.

Recommend?

Oh yes, definitely.

If you are into gardens, then Bressingham gardens would delight. Steam train/train enthusiasts would enjoy. Ideal family day out – for babies the gardens would be ideal pram pushing area, for older children and adults the merry go round, crazy golf, & trains would delight. Not sure there was enough to please a toddler though.

For Pinning Later

Linda x

All photographs are by Linda Hobden.

For more details about Bressingham check out their website: www.bressingham.co.uk

Photos and Article copyright © LindaHobden.

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