Category Archives: Reviews

Spotlight On The Andalusian Mystery Series

In the UK, the nights are drawing in and what can be nicer than cosy nights by a roaring fire, curled up in an armchair with a hot chocolate toddy and a good book? Even better when the books are mysteries based in the sunnier climate of Andalusia in Spain. Author Paul S Bradley has written 5 books in the series so far, and I was fortunate to receive his first book in the series to review: Darkness In Málaga.

MY REVIEW OF DARKNESS IN MALAGA

Darkness in Málaga is a crime mystery set in Spain and a story of many parts expertly woven into one. It is a book inspired by a true murder and a dedication is made at the front of the book to the memory of Cecilia Natalia Coria Olivares who was murdered in Nerva on September 8, 2008. So where do I start? It begins with a young girl being abducted; a group of African refugees fleeing Africa to reach Spain; a corrupt official; a wily detective, Leon Prado, who fears he may have lost his way as he tries to solve the abductions; then there is Phillip, who was in the British Intelligence Corps, who retired in Spain to lick his emotional wounds after his acrimonious divorce from his gorgeous Russian wife; Juliet, a beautiful British waitress, half Phillip’s age, but somebody he would love to know better; Amanda, the CNN film maker, following the refugee story. When Juliet goes missing, Phillip helps Detective Leon Prado, to piece together the kidnaps, along with Amanda. But that is only the start of it….things get darker, much darker. I loved it! It had enough suspense to keep me interested, some romance and light hearted moments too…

So, I just had to invite author Paul Bradley onto my blog about his writing, his life in Spain and his fashion choices, of course! Hi Paul and welcome:

How does one describe a person who lives in a quaint village by the beautiful blue Mediterranean, and travels, pandemics permitting, around the Iberian Peninsula with small groups of North American Alumni showing them the fascinating mix of ancient and modern Spain? Fortunate, one could say, but as it is me, I will go a step further. I have not lived and worked in Spain for over thirty years by accident. Coming here was a deliberate and planned attempt to redesign my life away from the London rat race. I had always dreamed of loving what I do and not just work because I needed to earn money. I risked all, and thankfully it paid off. It was dodgy restaurant translations that opened the door. When I informed the beach restaurant owner that he was offering me Ironed Squid instead of grilled squid, I was immediately pressed into service to fix his poor communications materials. Then the restaurant next door wanted the same and I was in business. That evolved into property and lifestyle magazines, guidebooks, and travelogues. Pre-Google, someone had to physically gather material about this marvelous country and happily that fell into my lap. As I grew older, and some kindly Governments started sending me money every month for not doing much, it gave me the opportunity to switch to writing novels, something I can do until the wooden box beckons.

“Darkness in Málaga” is the first in the series of 5 books of the Andalusian Mystery Series. The others are: Darkness in Ronda; Darkness in Vélez-Málaga; Darkness in Granada; Darkness in Córdoba. What inspired the book series?  Are they stand alone books or best read in numerical order?

According to Mark Twain, one of the key ingredients to good writing is; write what you know. I’ve always admired JK Rowling for her ability to conjure up imaginary worlds from nowhere, although I suspect that the smoky gothic spires of Edinburgh contributed much to her fantasies as she gazed out of the window of the café where she started writing Harry Potter books. After all these years, I know Spain better than most Spaniards, so it seemed logical to set my books in my adopted homeland. Agatha Christie stories have endured many treatments over the years, and I love them all. Around the time that I was thinking about starting to write fiction novels, I happened to be escorting a group around Northern England. We stayed for a few days at the Old White Swan in Harrogate where during the winter of 1926,the enigmatic crime writer stayed to escape the madding crowd. She posed as Mrs. Teresa Neele until after ten days the banjo player recognized her. It prompted me to write crime mysteries set in Spain from where emerged the Andalusian Mystery Series. The first four cases can be read alone but are linked together. Darkness in Córdoba, which is currently a work in progress, is a stand-alone case but involving the main characters.

Having lived in Nerja, Spain since 1992 , are 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?

Following on from my preferences to write what I know, readers may be interested to discover that all the characters in my books are loosely based on people that I have met on my travels. I change their namesand personal details, but their physical descriptions and behaviours are recognizable. I often use the threat of including my travel clients in my book if they complain too much. If they are particularly bad, they are likely to be the antagonist. I can’t say it encourages people to behave any differently, but it raises a titter and helps with sales. Without a doubt the hardest characters to invent are politicians. I say this becausethe motivations of policemen and criminals are pretty much the same the world over, but politicians are a breed of their own. Trying to keep them well grounded in any plot is difficult because they are always trying to self-promote, or make a point, and I’m often tempted to let them to the detriment of the storyline.

Were there any aspects of writing your book series that surprised you, either by being harder or easier to write about than you expected?

Writing experts, particularly my editor, bang on about showing not telling. This was a difficult transition for me as a travel writer because I was used to describing what I saw and weaving those visual memoriesaround historical facts gleaned from guides, brochures, or libraries. Fictional stories need real characters that actually think, speak, eat, sleep and dream. The story is revealed through their thoughts, dialogue, and deeds. It took quite a while to develop the required experience to do that with any level of competence.

As you not only live in Spain, but have also travelled extensively around the Iberian Peninsula, what are your top 5 favourite places that you recommend visiting whilst in Spain.

Spain is one of the most diverse countries I have ever been to. It is more mountainous than Switzerland, and the landscapes vary from emerald-green to dusty desert the further south you go. It’s the gateway to Africa. Travelers from all over the dark continent have been crossing to her shores since time began looking to trade or discover a better life, and continue to do so. It has abundant agriculture of almost everything imaginable. It’s safe, affordable and has an unbeatable climate. Wine lovers could spend years exploring the vineyards of La Rioja or Ribera del Duero. Historians can drool over the wealth ofmonuments and there are so many archeological discoveries, they now tend to photograph them and carry on with whatever building project revealed them. Numerous languages are spoken, and every town has a beautiful church or cathedral packed with religious artefacts. But it is the people that set this country aside. They are the warmest, kindest, and most considerate that I have ever had the pleasure to have known. The consequence of this is that everywhere you go, is a memorable treasure. You would have to waterboard me to extract five preferences so assuming you have, here goes. San Sebastian is for the gourmet; Toledo is unbeatable for religious history and dramatic location. Ronda for bullfighting fans,bandits and so much more, Barcelona for the young and dynamic, Madrid attracts the elegant and discerning.

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

Writing was the only subject I was good at during my school years. Regrettably, I didn’t recognize the importance of that at the time and no one pushed me in that direction. I recall doing homework at the military boarding school I was sent to sitting next to several boys who knew exactly what they wanted to do. I could never work out if this were true or if their parents had told them what to aim for. My father was keen for me to join the army but polishing boots and being shouted at for six years deterred me from more of the same. Like most lost souls of limited academic achievements, I launched myself on a voyage of discovery trying numerous jobs eventually ending up in sales and then running my own business. The writing of proposals was all I excelled at which prompted me to enter a writing contest for the Sunday Telegraph. I came second and won two hundred pounds. This minor event was the spur that changed my life. For the first time I felt I had accomplished something and built on that, eventually coming to Spainand putting it into practice.

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

I grew up in Market Harborough, Leicestershire where my mother was an infant teacher. She took me and my sister to the library every week. I love everything about books. From the browsing experience to the final choice, to the thrill of opening the first page. I don’t mind ebooks, but I do prefer an actual book.

Are your Andalusian series of books available to purchase worldwide?

The Andalusian Mystery Series is available globally in ebook and Print format in most major online bookstores and can be ordered by your local bookshop.

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

I’m a jeans, shirt and V neck pullover person in the short Spanish winters, and because I love hikingalong the beach or in the mountains, I’m well provided with Mephisto walking shoes. In the warmer months, like most of the year, it’s shorts, short sleeve shirts and Mephisto sandals with a rather weird Australian paper hat to keep my scalp from frying.

Do you have any favourite shops or online sites?

I love playing virtual golf on wgt.com and occasionally browse Facebook to see what my daughters and grandchildren are up to. However, as I spend most of my days in front of a screen, I try and avoid them in the evenings. With the outdoor life in Spain, that is not too difficult.

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

Even after, thirty years away from the UK, I still haven’t changed the Marks and Spencer’s socks and underwear habit. With such a long lockdown marooning me here in Nerja, stocks are starting to dwindle.

Boots or Shoes? 

Believe me, after six years spitting and polishing boots at a military boarding school, it’s no contest. Shoes every time.

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

www.paulbradley.eu

www.facebook.com/PaulBradleyinNerja/

Thank you very much Paul for taking the time to chat on the blog, for the copy of Darkness in Málaga… I am eagerly working my way through the other books in the series 😊

Linda x

All photographs (apart from Pinterest & header) have been published with kind permission of Paul S Bradley.

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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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Review: Smart Screen Gold Edition

DISCLAIMER ALERT: The Smart Screen Gold Edition has been supplied by Smart Screen for the purpose of this review however all opinions expressed are 100% mine.

If you have tablets, smartphones, reading glasses … do you clean them often? I hold up my hands and admit that I had rarely given cleaning them a thought unless they were really sticky. But since Covid-19 struck, keeping things as clean as possible is of paramount importance and along with your hands, surfaces etc, keeping your high tech equipment just as pristine should be a priority. But what should you use? I was sent a Smart Screen Gold Edition to try out and here’s what I thought….

THE BRAND

Smart Screen is a London based start up brand founded by David and Amanda Sant, propelled by lockdown creativity. On a mission to make sure every device is as clean as possible, the cloths have been produced predominantly for phone and tablet use but also can be used for reading glasses or camera lens. Serial entrepreneur and businessman, CEO David Sant, has been a leading interiors and lifestyle designer for over 20 years and he got the idea after observing fellow commuters on the train , incorrectly wiping their smartphones with their jackets, handkerchiefs, tissues, wipes … and it occurred to David that there was a gap in the market for a compact, highly efficient and effective cleaner.

THE PRODUCT

I was sent the Smart Screen Gold Edition cloth – and very impressive it is too! It has been designed to appeal to a fashion focussed audience and my 16 year old son thought it looked pretty cool as he merrily “borrowed” it to clean his phone and tablet, which were pretty grubby with chocolate fingerprints over them! It is a microfibre cloth – but what makes this one different is that it is made of a gentle microfibre with a silver ion antibacterial liquid infused in its fibres. Basically, this means that 99.9% of bacteria is killed on contact – bacterial infections that could potentially cause food poisoning and other nasties – and, although covid-19 , colds and flu are viruses, with the current heightened awareness of cleanliness in mind, it still all helps. The anti bacterial remains effective for up to 15 washes. There is a popper attaching the cloth to the bag for easy removal for washing.

THE TEST

The fun part! I wiped clean my smartphone and tablet, before my son commandeered it! There was a definite difference straightaway. The cloth seemed heavier and a bit more substantial than my usual glass cleaning cloths. I was really chuffed with the results – just wiping the screen with the dry cloth cleaned the marks off without smearing or needing other cleaning products or water to help. Here are the before/after photos of my screen:

CONCLUSION

A smart handy product – the cloth comes in a small pouch that fits in pockets easily. There are other cloths in various colours, so if you would prefer a white cloth rather than the navy/gold then that’s no problem. I liked the cloth – I thought it looked good, was handy and did the job well.

For Pinning Later

For more information, check out the website: www.smartscreen.store

Facebook & Instagram: @smartscreen.store #SmartScreenSaviour

My thanks to David and Amanda Sant for the Smart Screen Gold Edition Cloth.

All photographs are by Linda Hobden

Linda x

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Review: Sfizzio Tea Infusers

DISCLAIMER ALERT: The Sfizzio Tea Infusers have been supplied by Sfizzio for the purpose of this review however all opinions expressed are 100% mine.

I love a cup of tea. I love a mug of tea. Breakfast tea with milk, whatever time of the day. I don’t mind an Earl Grey or an iced tea too on occasions. Flavoured teas are not my “cup of tea”though. Whatever your brew of choice, a good cup of tea is of paramount importance . I was therefore thrilled to receive a set of 3 cute Daisy Tea Infusers from Sfizzio to review… a teaholic’s dream review job!

THE BRAND

Sfizzio is a London based company that sells its tea infusers via Amazon (both in the USA & UK). The name Sfizzio was inspired by the Italian word which means whimsical or for fun. These tea infusers are definitely cute and add a fun look to your kitchen shelf as well as being practical too.

THE PRODUCT

The tea infusers come as a set of 3 Daisy tea infusers each with its own flower pot drip tray. The brightly coloured petals serve as a stirring spoon, and can hook onto the rim of your cup while the tea leaves are steeping. The small holes on top of the stem allow full immersion. The specially designed bulb is ideal for medium to large leaf teas, preventing unwanted tea leaves from seeping into your cup but allowing the tea to infuse.

THE TEA TEST

The tea infusers are made from BPA-free silicone and the bulb was extremely easy to fill with the loose tea. I filled the bulb up to the brim with loose tea and fixed the stem on. I hooked the tea infuser onto my cup’s rim and poured in my boiling water. I used the infuser to stir the water allowing the tea to brew. Very quick and easy.

THE CLEANING TEST

Cleaning used tea leaves out tea strainers/tea infusers isn’t a pleasant job at the best of times. I compared cleaning the Sfizzio tea infuser with cleaning a rigid metal tea strainer:

(a) emptying the used tea leaves into the food recycle caddy. With the metal strainer, it was a couple of taps on the edge of the food bin and the bulk of the tea leaves went into the bin. With Sfizzio, the flexible silicone means that you can turn it inside out – all the tea leaves went …. in the caddy, on the floor, up the walls ….. oops!
(b) Putting the infusers into a washing up bowl of hot soapy water to clean, the metal strainer took a bit of time as stray tea leaves were stuck onto the wire edges; the Sfizzio tea infuser cleaned, no problem. The Sfizzio tea infusers are also said to be dishwasher safe although I haven’t tested them in the dishwasher.

ECO FRIENDLY MERITS

There are a few eco benefits of using Sfizzio tea infusers :

  • The tea infusers are reusable.
  • Many teabags contain microplastics which are not present in loose leaf tea.
  • Sfizzio tea infusers are made from BPA -free silicone.

CONCLUSION

My previous experiences in making tea from tea leaves in a cup using a metal infuser left a lot to be desired so I was very impressed that (a) although I had almost overfilled the bulb not one tea leaf escaped into my cup; (b) the flower pot drip tray proved very useful; and (c) a decent cup of tea was made in a teacup rather than via a teapot with the minimum of fuss.

Sfizzio Tea Infusers are available from both Amazon UK & Amazon US.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07YHXLWJL?ref=myi_title_dp

https://www.Amazon.com/dp/B07YHXLWJL?ref=myi_title_dp

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My thanks to Sfizzio for the cute tea infusers.

Linda x

Photographs are by Linda Hobden.

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An Interview With Sussex Special Candles

Have you ever wanted to capture the unique scent blend of your favourite place ? To bottle up that essence of the sea, the spices, the woods, the flora? My guest this week is Maria Hallas, founder of Sussex Special Candles, and she has made some highly scented candles inspired by the English county of Sussex and also her personal experiences of her travels around the world….from Brighton beach to the smells of the Orient. I was sent the Brighton Essence and the Dark Nights candles to review (read my thoughts later in the post) and needless to say I was looking forward to chatting to Maria about her delightful products. Hi Maria….

Hello 😊 My name is Maria Hallas. I’m the founder and the owner of Sussex Special Candles, an entrepreneur and pastry chef by profession. 

What inspired the founding of your company, Sussex Special Candles?

The company was inspired by my family, as a stay-at-home mother with a young toddler I wanted to do something to support my family, that at the same time allows me to continue to be creative and artsy. 

You have 5 distinct collections: Sussex Special; Boutique; Limited Edition;Treasures; Charisma.  What are the main characteristics that set each collection apart from each other?

Sussex Special collection is inspired by iconic places around Sussex with the desire to experience the spirit and to bring this great outdoors inside in the comfort of our homes. 
Boutique collection is a collection with our first signature bestsellers with scents which are mirroring emotions and occasions. 
Limited Edition collection is for experimental and seasonal candles. For limited time we release some of the candles, in this collection you might also find our holiday themed candles. 
Treasures is a collection inspired by personal journeys around the world. 
Charisma is a collection created with the idea to bring charm and beauty through the fragrance of the candles. 

What is currently the most popular candle fragrance and/or collection?

The most popular collection naturally is The Sussex Special collection as the most purchased candles are the Brighton Essence and Enchanted Forest candles. 

What’s your most favourite candle fragrance or collection?

My most favourite collection is the Sussex Special collection, this is the collection that so far is the result of our longest labour and is the most intertwined with memories, emotions and experiences. As my most favourite candle fragrances are the floral River Adur, the citrusy Elegant Touch, the fruity Lucious Gem and the musky Golden Rush. 

When deciding fragrances to add to your soy wax candle collections, do you select by what has proved popular with other candle makers, current trends, customer requests, personal preferences or all of those things?

I believe that a successful candle business is original and unique and must craft products that are different from what’s already available on the market. That been said Sussex Special is a customer orientated company and we do listen to our customers, for instance the Hurst Meadow candle is inspired from a customer who was looking for a freshly cut grass candle. 

What do you like most about using soy wax for your candles? Do you find candle making therapeutic? 

As a consumer I do enjoy the clean and the long burn of a soy candle and as a candle maker I appreciate the lack of any odour in the soy wax that might eventually interfere with the fragrance oil and affect the finished product. Candle making as a hobby might be therapeutic, but as a business owner, the therapy of making candles is somewhere lost along the lines. 

As Sussex Special is based in the UK, are your products on the website available to purchase & ship worldwide? 

Our online shop is hosted on Shopify, we do also have Etsy and Amazon shops and our candles are available for purchase worldwide. 

Hypothetically speaking, if you could travel to any place to inspire a new candle collection, where would you go and why?

I loved this question, thank you for asking! As a matter of fact, I have already been inspired and I’m currently working on a new collection that will be ready in the next couple of months. So if I were to be newly inspired, I would love to travel to Asia to experience a burst of spices, flavours, smells, colours, and textures. I’m absolutely fascinated by the Asian culture and so far, we have 2 Asian influenced candles Oriental Delight and Dragon Heart. 

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

Normally I wear smart-casual with outweigh on jeans, t-shirts, and trainers. 

Do you have any favourite shops or online sites?

In our family we mainly shop online, from a variety of online stores. My latest obsessions are the home décor items, which I’m using for props, since at the moment I’m the photographer and the content creator of Sussex Special. We also do quite a bit of Amazon and eBay shopping purely because of the convenience. 


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

Dresses and jackets are always on my wish list, I just love a nice, feminine, and elegant dress combined with a chic jacket. 

Boots or Shoes?

To be honest, before I dived into the motherhood, I had a shoe addiction, I was the type of woman who bought shoes for the sake of buying shoes, as most of them has never been worn and were still packed in their boxes. But since motherhood creates substantial lifestyle changes, I would now answer boots to this question, mostly because of the weather in the UK. 

For pinning later


Links you would like to share e.g. website/facebook etc so that readers can find out more about Sussex Special Candles

Our website is: https://www.sussexspecial.co.uk/ 
As you might also follow us on the social media:
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/sussexcandles/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/sussexspecial/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/Sussexcandles

MY REVIEW

DISCLAIMER ALERT: The candles have been supplied by Sussex Special Candles for the purpose of this review however all opinions expressed are 100% mine.

Hmmm…. Candles! These are certainly one of a kind. Smartly presented in glass jars – I particularly liked the fragrance notes that come with each fragrance. A bit like a wine connoisseur- you can read the fragrance notes, take a good sniff, light the wick and then take your bath luxuriating in your bubbles and the heady aroma. Out of the two candles I tried, Brighton Essence was a favourite with both myself and my daughter. You can definitely smell the jasmine, sea salt, and other fruity aromas …. I just love the smell of jasmine! I can’t decide which fragrance to try next … possibly the Mountain Dream limited edition 😊. Thanks to Sussex Special Candles.

Linda x

All photographs (apart from the featured /header/Pinterest photo of Brighton Essence/Dark Skies – that was taken by Linda Hobden) have been published with kind permission of Sussex Special Candles.

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An Interview With Pineapple Fibre Art

Art but not exactly as you know it this week – bespoke vintage inspired crochet wall art created by Emma of Pineapple Fibre Art. Using gorgeous hand dyed yarns, these intricate art pieces are certainly pretty and you can see the painstakingly amount of work that has gone into each mandala. And the size of them! I was gifted the Pale Green Penny mandala (thank you Emma) and it amazed me how big it was and how stunning it looks too. I couldn’t wait to ask Emma about her works of art … Hi Emma!

Hello, my name is Emma and I live in Devon halfway between Dartmoor and the sea.

What inspired the setting up of “Pineapple Fibre Art”?  

Pineapple Fibre Art is based on my love of vintage doily patterns and gorgeous hand dyed yarn.  No one really has white doilies under their fruit bowl anymore, but the patterns are so intricate and beautiful that I wanted a way to allow them to be enjoyed in a more contemporary setting.   The ‘pineapple’ in my business name comes from a motif that is frequently found repeated in my work and loosely resembles, you guessed it, a pineapple.  I love to crochet, I love turning a skein of yarn (merino/nylon blend for preference) into something beautiful, the possibilities in that skein of yarn are endless and that is so exciting.

Your crochet mandalas are made using gorgeous hand dyed yarns in a variety of doily patterns. What mandala patterns and colours are proving popular amongst your customers so far this season?

This season the colours have been more muted, and my most popular pattern has been the Maggie, with her tight central swirl and pineapples around the outside.  This is a 60cm design, a stunning statement piece of art.  I’ve also seen an increase in my pattern sales, which makes sense with the world still partially closed due to Covid-19.

Out of all your collection, do you have any favourites?

I’ll always have a soft spot for the Fran, a graceful 70cm hoop.  She was rather tricky to get right at first, but it was so worth it.  Despite her size she is light and airy and looks beautiful in any colourway.  This one in the soft mint green was the first and I love her!

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

Yes of course!  Obviously Brexit has made shipping to the EU more expensive, and prices for shipping have been shifting, but I am happy to set up shipping to anywhere; my parcels are light, but big so courier services are usually required.

When designing the doily patterns to add to your mandala collection, do you base your designs on original vintage pieces or do you prefer to make up your own pattern combinations?

It’s a real combination!  Many of my hoops are based on vintage patterns, tweaked to fit within the perfect circle of my wooden hula hoops.  Over time I may amend the pattern further to suit my tastes and tension, the sizes of hoops available and the size the customer wants.  I have designed from scratch my own 60cm hoop, Patience, named for the time and effort required to get it right!  I also sometimes use motifs from various patterns in tandem to suit the yarn and size I am aiming for.

How long have you been crocheting?  Can you also knit?

Ooo, I’ve been crocheting for around 12 years now I think.  A friend started me off and I got the rest from Youtube.  Knitting however… that’s much more tricky: I have knitted a scarf, and one sock.  I can sort of knit I suppose, but it’s hard going and I’d rather have a crochet hook in my hand!

Growing up, did you always want to be a designer/creative field or did your aspirations lie elsewhere?

I think like many people I didn’t come into my creativity until later.  I don’t paint or draw and wouldn’t have called myself artistic or creative when I was younger, despite always making jewellery and, later on, bags. I don’t think I ever had a particularly firm idea what I’d do as an adult after the two weeks work experience in a primary school when I was 15 told me I didn’t want to be a teacher.  I still don’t know what I want to do when I grow up, and I’m 36 now, I’ll just keep making it up as I go!

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

Dresses!  In winter I love colourful tights especially Snag mustard ones, yellow legs make me happy, in summer some chub rub shorts.  Less worry about what goes with what, and more comfy!  Teals, navy and purple figure predominately.  I’ve worked out what I like and tend to stick to it now, even if I can be a bit predictable!

Do you have any favourite shops or online sites?

I love Folksy and Etsy for beautiful unique hand made things, Seasalt for clothes, but I’ve never been much of a high street shopper and 2020 removed my desire to shop in person even further.  I could do with a couple of more summery dresses though, so I might have to brave the shops soon!

Boots or Shoes?

Boots, with crochet socks!  I hate wet feet and boots mean I can walk the dog without my feet freezing off.  And I don’t do heels, I never really learnt to walk in them.  Am I allowed to say that here?!


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

Website https://www.pineapplefibreart.com/

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

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

Thank you very much for the crochet mandala ( it is very beautiful) and thank you for telling us all about your crochet works of art. My Nan always had lots of crochet doilies scattered around her house and she would have adored your work too.

Linda x

All photographs have been published with kind permission of Pineapple Fibre Art (apart from the header photo and the Pinterest photo which were by Linda Hobden).

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An Interview With Simply Soaperior

Bath bombs, wax melts and shampoo bars …. this week I am interviewing Vicky from Simply Soaperior who makes the most delightful artisanal bath products! My teenage son adores the bath bombs, my niece is a Mrs Hinch fanatic so she uses the Mrs Hinch style wax melts and me? Well, I adore the shampoo bars that are specially formulated for different hair types. Hello Vicky and welcome…

Hi! My name is Vicky. I’m 36 with one daughter, who is 11 and called Ella. I moved to Newquay Cornwall from Cheshire 12 years ago, and that was the start of a completely new life for me and a new adventure. 

What inspired you to launch Simply Soaperior?

Probably not what you would expect.. Once moving to Cornwall, I began cleaning holiday homes (something I never thought I would do after being a hairdresser in the past) I wanted to do something a little special and add handmade soap for guests, but I thought to my self, I could do that. It became an addiction to making new items and wanting to try new things. I was fortunate that people loved what I made, so it became a completely different business, and 10 years on, I’m still doing something I love, and it is still an addiction. I can’t say I ever have the dread to work!

 I love the Mermaids Glamour Bath Bomb & the Yippy Hippy Bath Bomb! What products are proving most popular amongst your customers this year?

The two most popular products are the Shark Attack Bath Bomb, and the Mrs Hinch Inspired Wax Melt Selection, I would say the mermaid’s Glamour is 3rd in line though. 
 

Have you got a personal favourite from your range?

I love a bubble Bar! I’m all about bubbles and feeling all soft after the bath and that is exactly how they make you feel. I’m also a solid shampoo lover, it was my love for them that made me start to make them, I spent nearly 2 years formulation them till they were exactly how I wanted them. so many benefits from zero waste – they have a lower PH to work with hair and scalp unlike soap and a lot of bottle shampoos. 

Apart from bath products, you also produce “wax melts”.  What are wax melts?  

Wax melts are scented, pieces of wax that when gently melted by a wax warmer will  fill the surrounding area with a delightful aroma, a scent  as pleasant as any candle but without a naked flame (if using an electric warmer)

Have you any other new products in the pipeline to add to your range in the pipeline for 2021/2022?

We are making new bath bombs all time, but our big launch was the solid shampoo bars that went live at the end of May. Living by the sea and trying to do my bit on plastic everyone must try I’m sure you will make the swap!! 

Have you always been interested in cosmetics, or did your career aspirations lie elsewhere?

I have always been crafty and loved making things, as a child I use to spend hours in lush and body shop, but I never would have thought it would be what I did for a job but once I started I just couldn’t stop! There’s a lot of science behind making cosmetics so its not as simple as some people think. 


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

It’s something I will offer soon hopefully but after leaving the EU it’s not quite as simple as it was.

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

In the winter I would be ugg boots, jeans and normally a t-shirt or jumper. 

Do you have any favourite shops or online sites?

I’m an Abercrombie jean lover, and I love scrolling through Etsy, its great for inspiration and to buy unique things.

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

Sandals and flip flops, one thing you must have when living by the beach.  

Boots or Shoes?

Boots ,trainers or sandals, because I’m all about comfort.    

For pinning later

Links you would like to share e.g. website/facebook/twitter etc so that readers can find out more about Simply Soaperior
www.simplysoaperior.co.uk
www.instagram.com/simply_soaperior
www.facebook.com/simplysoaperior

After this interview took place, Vicky kindly sent me a couple of bath bombs, wax melts and shampoo bar. They are wonderful – I was especially impressed with the bath bombs ! Thank you very much Vicky.

Linda x

All photographs have been published with kind permission of Soaperior apart from the header photo and Pinterest photo which are by Linda Hobden.

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Sins Of Our Mothers Book Tour

I’m pleased to be part of the “Sins Of Our Mothers “ book tour to celebrate the latest Dystopian fiction by author Nicole Souza. Dystopian fiction isn’t a genre I’m familiar with but as I read “Sins Of Our Mothers” with an open mind, I found myself getting totally engrossed with the storyline and the characters. This is a great book to read on the sunbed as summer approaches….

Book Summary

It has been fifteen hundred years since the solar flare devastation of the Global Catastrophe. Due to the radioactivity in the harvesting fields, society dismisses its defective children as nothing more than flawed products of the malfunctioned seeds in the field.

But Lyratelle, a hyper-observant musical prodigy, believes these “defects” are intelligent, particularly her own sibling, the youngest child of her impervious mother. Abandoning her dream career, Lyratelle climbs the bureaucratic ladder to run the Defect Research Center, where she can safeguard the child.

With an underground team of women who share her uncertainties, Lyratelle unearths the Old History truth that womankind’s survival actually hinges on the existence of these defects.

When General Sarah Love, the city’s most powerful advocate against the defects, detects Lyratelle’s sympathy toward the creatures, she threatens the life of Lyratelle’s sibling.

Now Lyratelle’s desperate attempt to save this child endangers everyone she loves—her team, her family, even the existence of the defects themselves.

Print Length: 358 PagesGenre: Dystopian FictionASIN: B08FNMQ3XVPublisher: E.L. Marker  
Sins of Our Mothers is available to purchase now on Amazon.com.

MY INTERVIEW

It is with great pleasure to welcome Nicole Souza onto the blog. Hi Nicole!

Hi! I’m super envious of ancient philosophers. I imagine they gathered in groups, passing around their favorite snacks while stretching their aching joints, immersed in discussions surrounding the questions that link human hearts: Where did we come from? Why are we here? What is truth? How can we maximize joy and minimize suffering? What is the meaning of family relations? Where does death take us?

I’m envious, that is, until I realize this is the very scene at my family girls’ nights. Though overall our society dedicates less time to questioning mortality and our existence in general due to the insane velocity of modern demands, we’re all philosophers in our souls.

Conversation is my fuel. I love people. I love others’ unique stories. I love finding connections with members of the human family who live oceans apart from me, who speak other languages, and whose experiences are vastly different from mine. While I was born and raised in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA, my husband was born and raised in Manaus, Amazonas, Brazil. Our upbringings, and the way we experience life, are so distinct. I’m profoundly grateful.

Among my immediately family—parents and eight siblings—are spoken seven languages: English, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Tongan, Mandarin, and Dutch. Among my siblings-in-law, including one who passed away thirteen years ago, are five ethnicities and four nationalities. My nieces’ and nephews’ heritages span the globe. Most are being raised in bilingual households, three of whom live in beautiful Taiwan where English is their second language.

If all I had in life was a pretty piece of land and my family to enjoy it with, I’d want for nothing. I love my people.

As if I don’t get enough language in my personal life, I also got my B.A. in Languages with a minor in Women Studies. Growing up I thought I’d study music. I’ve played piano since age five and violin since age eight. Teaching violin was my first job and I thought it would be my last. But I’ll be honest, as much as I love people, especially kids, I’m not equipped with the divine patience needed to teach them how to play musical instruments. Oh, my heart; how terribly, terribly hard that was for me. I’m grateful to have found my thing—writing stories alone in my room surrounded by dogs and donuts.

Who or what inspired you to write “Sins Of Our Mothers”?

In college, I made an astounding observation: nearly all my straight, married girlfriends, and those with a live-in boyfriend, were the sole providers in their relationships. Each one of their husbands or boyfriends was profoundly unhappy and had developed at least one addiction that was affecting their relationship. Though all relatively close to my age, these weren’t just friends here in the states. These were women of multiple ethnicities and cultures.

Some spoke English, some didn’t. Some had children, some were students, some had mortgages, some were renting, some lived with parents or in-laws. The one thing they had in common was an unemployed adult man depending on their salary. The most bizarre detail was that none of the women with children depended on their male partners for childcare, even though they were home all day. They either relied on relatives or paid for professional childcare.

The men’s addictions ranged from simple things like alternate realities to more intense things like pornography and even detrimental things like alcohol and destructive drugs. Some of the men were students. Some were college graduates, some high school graduates. All had essentially disappeared from their families, their communities, and society—a trend I began to notice extended far outside my circle of contacts.

While several of these couples split or divorced, many pulled through and have progressed together. The fact that so many close friends—wonderful, intelligent people—intersected in this weird place all at once felt significant. I remember thinking, “These women literally do everything. They could just remove the men and their lives would remain the same, but without the stress of supporting a grown man and his addictions. All women really need from men is their sperm, right? Aside from that, are men even necessary?”

Settlement 1163 in the novel represents the struggles of those men. Lilac City, where the women live, represents women who bear and raise their children, as well as provide for their families, alone. While the burden of supporting men in their homes is gone, they still, unknowingly, support the men in the settlements through taxes. But the emotional burden of feeling like they do everything alone doesn’t exist in the book because the only world the characters know is a completely female one.

The first draft of Sins of Our Mothers sent me on an arduous journey where I learned that, not only are men necessary, but masculinity is infinitely more valuable than those currently in power would have us believe. There’s a lot of talk nowadays about toxic masculinity. What’s not being talked about is how essential masculinity is to a free, successful, harmonious society. If we’re to achieve our potential as the twenty-first century generation of the human family, and ensure future generations can liberally pursue happiness, we need good men.

The final draft of the book is, I hope, a depiction of what I learned along that journey.

 I really enjoyed reading your book, “Sins Of Our Mothers ” and I particularly enjoyed the character of Lyratelle Faith. What character did you particularly enjoy writing about? What character was the hardest to portray?

Lyratelle is my favorite character, too. She embodies female power and the strengths of womanhood as I’ve come to understand them thus far in my life. I hope one day to see someof her relentless drive in myself. But that’s a far, far distant goal. I most enjoyed writing her, inside and out. It’s so fun for me when readers ask about her because it feels like we’re chattingabout a mutual friend. She’s the kind of woman with whom anyone would benefit from a friendship. She’s compassionate, aware of and concerned for the disenfranchised, and constantly striving to better the world for her loved ones and, consequently, the human family.

The character that was the hardest to portray was Grace, hands down. She’s so brilliant and passionate about technology and electronics, which is quite the opposite of me. While I do love many virtual reality games, especially Beat Saber, I have no idea or desire to understand how it all works. I’m grateful there are people like Grace in the world so people like me can undeservedly enjoy their hard work. If everyone were like me, we’d literally sit around all day, passing around our favorite snacks while stretching our aching joints, immersed in philosophical discussion. Grace is so rad because she would dominate those discussions while simultaneously programming virtual worlds and haptic suits.

Researching for your novel must have been quite interesting… did you discover anything that shocked you or uncover some nugget of information that was unexpected?

I learned a lot about IVF. It astounds me that doctors have developed medicine to the point where they can initiate humanlife in a petri dish and reimplant the fertilized egg into the woman’s uterus. Again, I’m grateful these kinds of advanced humans exist in the world. It makes me appreciate even more profoundly the variety that exists among our human family.

Studying pregnancy in general made me appreciate men far more than I did previously. Of course, growing up with an awesome dad, grandpas, three brothers, and more male uncles and cousins than I care to count, I always loved and appreciated men. But really internalizing, not just casually knowing, that women can’t bear children without men was strangely humbling.

I’m so accustomed to women being these independent powerhouses that push through mortal suffering and just get stuff done. Even within pregnancy, the participation between the female and male is so mind-blowingly lopsided, and yet, a woman cannot have a child without the sperm of a man. I spent a ton of time just pondering the significance of this fact. I’d known it since I was a child but somehow maintained this superior image of women that was so distinct from the simplicity of men. I didn’t realize I’d been subconsciously questioning men’s significance.

Well, I don’t doubt it anymore thanks to the research and careful consideration that went into writing Sins of Our Mothers.The world needs good men more than anything else right now. I hope that came across clear in the book.

This novel comes under the genre of Dystopian Fiction  – have you ever explored or hoped to write under other genres?

Yes! After the Sins of Our Mothers trilogy is complete, I’ll be working on a fantasy series. I also have a manga-style adventureproject I work on when I need a break from the heavier writing.It’s slow coming because my art skills are about a two out of ten. But I’m inching along. I actually asked my thirteen-year-old nephew recently to take over the drawing part for me as he’s far more talented. I promised to get him some sample pages by the end of the week, so we’ll see.

I’m also working on my mother-in-law’s biography. She has the most fascinating life story and I really want to make sure it’s told.

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

The one commonality I share with Lyratelle is in our youths we both dreamed of being concert mistresses of renowned symphonies, but ultimately chose other career paths. While she went the way of geniuses and hardworking folk, I chose to lock myself in my room with my snacks and write stories.

My private violin instructor was a member of the Utah Symphony. I went to her rehearsals during those career shadowing days in elementary school. I just knew that would be my future. Yet, here I am. It’s been weeks since I even touched my beloved violin.

I did always want to tell stories, too. Being a writer was high on my list of career options. There’s just something about storytelling that awakens my soul. I learn so much better reading and writing stories than I ever have doing busywork. I believe the greatest minds throughout history have taught in parables because stories can be understood by all minds, no matter where they fall on the genius scale. Stories are powerful and unifying.

Is “Sins Of Our Mothers ” available to purchase worldwide?

Yes! Barnes and Noble has international shopping available online. Amazon Kindle International is available in over 170 countries. Amazon also ships hard copies internationally to over 100 countries.

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

Taiwan, definitely. My sister and her family live there. It’s one of my favorite places I’ve ever visited. Vast cities pressed right up against gorgeous beaches create the perfect setting for a multi-genre/crossover story. There’s so much romantic simplicity in the island’s nature and so much modern hustle and bustle in the thick of the cities. And the Taiwanese people are the friendliest, most generous, polite people I’ve ever had the pleasure of interacting with. I’ve always loved Mandarin Chinese so spending quality time in Taiwan would boost my speaking and listening skills, though I don’t suppose I’ll ever get the characters down.

Having lived in several cities in Brazil, I would say the state Rio Grande do Sul is next on the list. It’s my second home and I miss it every day. Especially the amazing people.

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

My two lifelong favorite books are The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom, and The Giver by Lois Lowry. The Hiding Place is a kind of anomaly as I don’t usually enjoy nonfiction as much as fiction. But The Giver fits right into my type of story. In fact, it shaped my reading preferences quite a lot. I first read it when I was really young so every book since has been measured against it.

I don’t discriminate against any genre as there are good books in all. As long as a story keeps me interested, I’ll devour it.

Lately, I’ve been more immersed in manga than novels. Hajime Isayama satisfied my longing for a well-written story with his amazing series Attack on Titan. I don’t suppose I’ll ever love anyone—real or fictional—as much as I love Levi Ackerman. Though Otcho/Shogun from Naoki Urasawa’smanga series Twentieth Century Boys comes close. I guess I’m a sucker for strong, independent men with traumatizing pasts.

I know it’s cliché, but I can’t fail to mention J.K. Rowling’s mind-blowing talent for storytelling. I know I’m not the only one because I’ve heard others mention how reading the Harry Potter series felt much more like watching. That world truly lives on those pages.

For Pinning Later

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

If you ever find me at home, it’ll undoubtedly be in a MooMoo and department store ankle socks with my hair down. On a regular day out and about, I prefer tall, form-fitting print T-shirts (likely featuring Levi Ackerman), loose leggings (deep pockets, of course), and Vans slip-ons with my hair in a messy bun. Not because I’m stylish and rock a messy bun, but because everything I try to do with my hair is messy, and buns are convenient when running errands. I’ll most likely be in glasses when dressed casually.

Because I’m aware that none of these outfits are conducive to an adult lifestyle, I do have an alternative outfit for meetings and social gatherings. There, you’ll find me in boots, a long comfortable skirt, a dressy loose blouse, and oversized earrings. I don’t wear jewelry often but when I do, huge earrings and gaudy rings are my thing. When it really matters, I have my sister do my hair.

Do you have any favourite shops or online sites?

I don’t say this as an author: if ever I go somewhere in person to browse, it’s a bookstore. I love the smell of books. Plus, I’m always on the lookout for the children’s book You Are Special by Max Lucado. I keep buying myself a copy only to give it away. It’s such an amazing book. Strangely, it’s often unavailable in stores so I check occasionally to see if it’s stocked.

Online, I spend a lot of time browsing redbubble.com. It’s a great site for personalized gifts and keepsakes, especially if you’re looking for something related to an inside joke. Plus, I adore such shops that feature independent artists.

This might be too bizarre a detail but, being from Utah, I like to hop on ksl.com and visit the classifieds to see what farm animals and RVs are available. I have this dream of buying a little farm and filling it with all the cute animals city living doesn’t accommodate. I also dream of an RV but haven’t found the right one. It’s as important to get right as was choosing my spouse.

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

It’s been a long time since I had a proper gorgeous pair of boots. That will definitely be my next big clothing purchase.

Boots or Shoes?

Boots! I love boots! Especially being from Utah. A stylish pair of heavy-duty boots that allow me to hike and also hit the town with friends is the best piece of clothing. Winter, summer, rain, or shine, boots work for everything.

I have the feeling I’ll be browsing for boots online in my MooMoo tonight.

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

https://nicolesouzabooks.com

https://www.facebook.com/nicolesouzabooks/

https://www.instagram.com/nicolesouzabooks/ 

THE BOOK TOUR DATES

Great to chat with you Nicole! I look forward to reading your mother in law’s biography too. I hope your farm dream becomes a reality and thank you so much for the advance copy of your book and inviting me onto your book tour. I’ve had a blast!

Linda x

All photographs have been published with kind permission of Nicole Souza

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An Interview With Author Martin Venning

Described as a “Geopolitical Thriller”, author Martin Venning’s debut book “The Primary Objective” certainly ticked all my boxes when it comes to a good read – a thriller, based in a far flung place, strong believable characters, adventure and a touch of escapism. The thriller is based largely in the borderlands of Azerbaijan and Iran, an area not usually covered in adventure books and features quite a few feisty strong female characters too. The blurb says the book is a story about fate and how a disparate group of characters interact, often unwittingly, to make the best of the situation they find themselves in. I don’t know about fate, perhaps that does play a part, but reading the book I enjoyed the interactions between the characters and how their personal lives entwined with the task they were set and a few unexpected twists along the way. It was certainly a page turner!

THE STORY

Peace International is a New York based global reconciliation and mediation charity that seeks to prevent wars, regional disputes and rebuild civil societies. When a tip comes in that Iran is building a chemical and biological weapons research and production centre, it soon becomes clear that where they’re considering building – close to the border with Azerbaijan – could destabilise the Gulf region and beyond. 

Selecting a small team of volunteers, they form a task force to collect evidence, entering through a dangerous semi-lawless area in southern Azerbaijan. What they discover is a far more complicated web of challenges than a weapons facility. For PI Operations Director, Edwin Wilson, the mission is his most perilous yet, threatening the lives of his team and the international reputation of his organisation. But for two Iranian men, Fawaz and Jamshid, the stakes are even higher

Driven by contrasting personal circumstances and life chances, they face difficult choices as they seek different paths to prosperity in a controlling, repressive society that takes no prisoners…alive. 

I was lucky enough to get a chance to chat to Martin about his excellent debut…. Hi Martin!

Hi I’m Martin. Keen hiker in the Pennines. And Creative Writer.

“The Primary Objective” is your debut novel – and what a fantastic debut!  Who or what inspired you to put pen to paper? 

It’s weird I have always known I would end up as a writer. My business experience taught me to write phorensically – with clarity and conciseness. The discipline to develop an extended piece of work, I thought may be beyond me. For years I toyed with  but ultimately ducked the challenge. It took an unscheduled extended period in hospital following an accident to help me on my way. 

I know I have been fortunate and owe a debt of gratitude to so many NHS workers in Leeds & Huddersfield. For a period I was bedridden and ended up spending time with people with no prospect of recovery, some who were getting used their new prospects as amputees. Somehow they had come to terms with making the best of their situation. Nurtured by the attentive care of strangers, many seemed naturally to find chinks of light in their personal darkness. They were a great inspiration. It made me start to imagine what it must be like to become institutionalised- to live your life within the boundaries set arbitrarily by some anonymous organisation which seemed to dictate every aspect of daily life and behaviour.  Dangerous too – as though your mind has gone on to automatic pilot. When to eat, what to eat when to rest and when to take medication. Planning a trip to the loo took some forethought almost like a military operation.  

It was amazing how this regime challenged the ability to think rationally and independently. Whether you`re in hospital, prison or working in a corporate environment the pressure to conform is universal. 

I had trained as a journalist, so always thought I could write a book if I had to. If you are a journalist summing up a story in a few paragraphs is straightforward. Writing a sustained narrative is hard. When I focused on writing I was as involved as the reader. I had no idea how the story would work out; but it happened as a result of a period with no distractions!

I enjoyed reading the book from start to finish. It was a great adventure story that kept me riveted. All the characters were very believable, but I really loved the strong female characters of Mahta and Amy Fong.   So, which character did you enjoy writing about the most?  Which character was the hardest? 

Glad you picked up the emphasis on female characters. The book features five women, different ages, each in different pressurised situations taking responsibility for shaping their futures in a male dominated society which doesn`t easily recognise women’s rights. Two stand out for me. One is Anya, a former Azeri soldier with a score to settle, making a life as a tourist guide having suffered the rigours of combat. I like her because of her detachment and mental discipline. She finds a way of containing and resolving her negative experiences, so she can move on to live a more positive life. The other is Shimina, a young girl in the provinces, who wants to break free from the social norms of her community to have a social life, an education and marry a man of her choosing. A normal aspiration in the West, but not so in that part of the world! Mahta is someone who has used her intellect to escape the pressures of day-to-day life but realises she has paid a heavy price for the privilege which cost her marriage and personal privacy. Amy Fong is an innocent, someone obliged to do her national service, but comes to realise how dangerous it can be. Another, Hanah is born into privilege and so has no need to conform to societal norms. The hardest character to write about was Hafiz al Fouadi. He was not a criminal but was corrupted by a society he was part of. He went through hard times and had to be entrepreneurial to get by and build his wealth, whilst trying to avoid the obvious trappings of success, that would raise suspicion. His approach to being an entrepreneur was amoral on occasions ie. if he could make money, he`d do it. His inability to differentiate between right and wrong ultimately costs him his life.The reason why Al-Fouadi was the hardest to write about was the fact was he was an ‘accidental’ bad guy. Because he had some good qualities it was difficult to find the balance in the description of his character…

Were there any aspects of writing the thriller that surprised you, pleasantly or otherwise?  

Yes, most characters caught up in thrillers are not exceptional people, just ordinary folk having to contend with extraordinary circumstances. Who’s to say any of us aren’t caught up in a real-life thriller at some stage of a story’s development? That’s why I love them. Good thrillers normally tell stories of how people react when they are put under some sort of pressure. Their reactions often define their characters and plots.

Growing up have you always wanted to be a writer or did your career plans lie elsewhere? 

I have always enjoyed writing, and have come to appreciate its value to me, acting as a distraction from the day-to-day humdrum of earning a living! Not sure yet whether I am good enough to earn a crust, but may revise this answer when my second book is published later this year.

‘The Primary Objective’ is based in Iran/Azerbaijan – what is it about Iran that attracts you and why did you decide to base your novel in that area?  

Firstly, it’s a corner of the world not many people know about or have visited so the reader gets a chance to go exploring with me! Given its remoteness it is also a place where tribal bonds are stronger than national boundaries and laws. Secondly, “The Primary Objective”demonstrates how laws are interpreted to suit local conditions and the interests of the ruling, usually corrupt minority. What is really engaging about Iran from a writer’s perspective is that it is a society that obliges people to live clandestine lives. For example, men who drink alcohol in secret. Women who dress in colourful clothing and wear make-up to stay in. Government agents checking up on people suspected of having illicit sex, people who earn money desperate to give it to charity to avoid being pilloried as “an exploiter of the oppressed”.  The country also has a fascinating and rich history which is not widely known in the west and all of this makes a topical backdrop for a novel.

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

I’m old school. I like a physical book you can get hold of, mark the pages or worse. For me a book is like a room you need to make it yours and live in it. I’m thinking about making The Primary Objective an audio book if there is the demand for it. I go through mad periods of voracious reading especially if I get into something which holds my attention. Writing is such a competitive business. There are so many excellent writers out there. My favourites are Gerald Seymour, Charles Cumming and Bernard Cornwell. Love their styles and the construction of their plots.

 Is “The Primary Objective” available to purchase worldwide? 

Yes, if all else fails Amazon will get it to you wherever you are or want a quick read via Apple Books…

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

I have produced manuscripts for two other books so far, so I won’t comment on their settings. I tend to write about places I have travelled to at some time in the past, so the next one might be set a little closer to home!

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

Like to be smart but low-key;  jacket and polo neck maybe dark chinos.

Do you have any favourite shops or online sites? 

Nervous about buying clothes online but quite like NewChic

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

Probably a new leather tan jacket if I sell a few books.

Boots or Shoes?

Shoes definitely. Love good quality brown brogues. Since my accident boots aren’t comfy on my ankles these days. 

For Pinning Later


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

www.mvenning.net

Thank you Martin for chatting to me about your book “The Primary Objective” and for the copy of your book too.

Linda x

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

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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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