Deconstructing the Book Lover

Well, since I’ve been trying to promote my own book [if you missed the launch of my short story collection, The Memorial Tree, last week where were you?!], I’ve been considering what it is that makes us love the books we rave about. Isn’t it every authors dream to hear readers say that they enjoyed their story, believed in their characters, and admired their effortless writing style? As much as I like sitting at my desk and making things up there’s something magical about discovering that someone has been moved by the words that I’ve put together. I’ve already been lucky enough to receive a 5* review for The Memorial Tree, and I’m so grateful that this reader took the time to mention how she felt the stories were well written and had her hooked!

So, what is it about certain books that pull us into the story and keep us reading? To try and work this out, I’ve looked at five books I absolutely love – all chosen for their very different styles – and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend.

  1. Little Women, Louise May Alcott
    Typically, I am not a fan of the ‘British classics’, but this American one totally has my heart – as many of you who may have followed me for some time already know. Her characters are so well sketched and go through such mesmerising changes, that I almost believe I grew up with Meg, Jo, Amy, Beth, and Laurie myself! I must have re-read this more than twenty times, and each time I sob, laugh, and smile with wistful joy at their lives. I find Alcott’s writing plain and honest, and as such believable, so I immediately cherish their family and the ways they try and do good.
  2. The Gideon Smith Series, David Barnett51qwuh6qsbl-_sx325_bo1204203200_Steam Punk. I thought it was a flash in the pan and didn’t pay it much notice until David attended one of our events for Huddersfield Literature Festival (he was actually seconded in when another guest became ill, so a bit serendipitous considering I’ve become a massive fan of his work!). I think I bought the first one because David was so warm and friendly during that event and I wanted to support him as an author. Thankfully I dived straight into his book and barely looked up until I’d finished. Then it was a painstaking wait for the second and third titles each to be released. These stories aren’t just Steam Punk mixed with a bit of historical fantasy, they’re purposefully reminiscent of the old ‘penny dreadful’s and provide a raucous adventure of alternative British Empire in the 19th Century. Fun, fast-paced, and with surprisingly sympathetic characters it’s difficult not to be impressed by how well the author deftly plots his way through so many action-packed scenes. I loved the series so much, I recommended it to my Dad – and he’s now just finished his second read of all of them!
  3. Frankenstein, Mary Shelley
    I was ‘forced’ to read this for my A-Levels, but was eventually pleased to realise that I had judged it far too quickly. I didn’t appreciate the narrative drive utilised by the Captain’s letters to his sister, then Frankenstein’s account, and then the creature’s story, followed again by Frankenstein and then the Captain’s final letter. But, after reading it again, I now see it as an ingenious way to lull the reader into accepting the horrors that follow with a suspension of disbelief, allow Shelley to practically have us believe that these things really, truly happened – or at least could happen! If at any point you’ve tried reading Frankenstein and didn’t finish, give it another go – I doubt you’ll be disappointed.
  4. The Princess Bride, William Goldman [*spoiler alert about the book!]172955164How many people knew this was a book before the movie in 1987? I hadn’t heard of it until my OH – when we first met – said how much he loved the movie. Of course, I discovered it was based on a book and immediately chose to read this before watching it, and I’m so glad I did! The thing I love the most about it is not the adventure story (which my OH is drawn to), but rather how much William Goldman completely swindles his readers – not just about the fiction of his grandfather reading him only ‘the good bits’ – remember Colombo aka Peter Falk as the grandfather? – but of the sequel: Buttercup’s Baby. The final section in The Princess Bride book is the first tantalising chapter of this ‘novel’ where Fezzick jumps off a cliff with the aforementioned baby. My OH was devastated when he discovered that no such book exists, or will ever exist, and that even Goldman’s foreword is all part of the fiction he built up around this story. I suppose I didn’t help matters when I laughed at his disappointment and called Goldman a genius, but to be able to carry off such a convincing fiction – that has to be great writing.
  5. The Thorn Birds, Colleen McCullough
    I remember discovering this in a bookshop whilst I was at university and devouring it in a single weekend. I called up my Mum – also a book lover – and raved about it thinking she’d be delighted I’d found such a gem. How foolish did I feel when she admitted she had read the book years earlier when it first came out in the late 1970’s?! Not only that, but there had been a popular miniseries all about it! Granted, I was disappointed by the TV miniseries but I still adore the book. I’m not usually a family saga type of person (Little Women excluded) but, again, I was drawn into the narrative, and started to almost admire the characterful ways of Meggie, and then the fate of her children. Such a sweeping melodrama can only be successful if you create realistic and likeable characters, I think – because you have to be able to root for them across the length of their entire lives – or, rather, an entire book. I think McCullough did this really well, alongside the beautiful description of the Drogheda outback farm where Meggie grows up and meets Father Ralph. Such complex characters can only be built up through time, and in The Thorn Birds I never felt the story dragged. If anything, I never wanted it to end.

Through these five – quite different – books I’ve realised what I love most are character-driven stories that teach me something about the human condition. I want to put down a book and feel that I’ve learned something about the characters, whilst also recognising something in myself that the story has touched upon. What I need to see for a book to interest me enough to recommend it is a character journey – those characters I start the story with should have changed by the end. I like my novels to be meaningful in some way – even if only to me – and to convince me that they could be real, even if they’re fantastical.

Perhaps that’s why I write the fiction I do: this is probably the way I want my readers to feel too. They do say, write the book you’d love to read, after all.


Want to know if my fiction IS like this? Why not download my short story collection from Amazon? You don’t need to own a Kindle – most phones and tables have a kindle app that you can sign in with using your Amazon account. If you do decide to purchase, once you’ve read it – please leave a review if you can.

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Publication Day: The Memorial Tree and other short stories

It’s finally arrived; after three months of debating and editing and proofreading The Memorial Tree and other short stories is now available to purchase over at Amazon! It’s odd to think that at the end of March I was halfheartedly planning a search for further agents to whom I could send out my novel, and here I am today with a collection of short stories published by my own hand (and the help of kindle direct publishing).

The collection is technically the result of a challenge: I was on a consultation with a productivity coach and, as I spoke about my writing and desire to return to it after a break, she asked why I hadn’t self-published anything. I honestly couldn’t think of a reason why not, outside of fear – which is never a good reason not to do something! So we set it as a goal for Quarter Two – Publish an Ebook of my short stories – and here it is.

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Publishing it, however, appears to have been the easy bit.

Now I have to publicise it; so I can make it known to the world and share these stories with as many readers as I can. This does not come naturally, as I’m sure many authors would admit – after all, we chose writing as a solitary pursuit, spending time with imaginary people rather than real ones. But if my writing career is going to be a successful one then promoting that which I write must be a part of it.

So, here’s five reasons why you should read The Memorial Tree and other short stories

  1. Because if you love stories, you will find seven of them in this collection all exploring loss and what it means
  2. Each story captures a moment, a particular feeling, or a realisation that – I hope – will make you reflect on life and leave you with a sense of introspection 
  3. It’s only £1.99 – less than a cup of coffee in a cafe!
  4. At least one of the stories will capture your emotions and move you 
  5. You’d like to support me as a writer in living my dream

So, are you convinced?

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Buy The Memorial Tree and other short stories

 


I’m hoping to announce some more exciting news very soon. Want to be the first to hear about it? Join my Enewsletter list for exclusive glimpses into my writing life and be the first to know when and where any of my work is published.
Plus you’ll get the chance to win FREE copies of my Ebook and additional material – just like lucky subscriber Alan Gaskell who recently won my subscriber competition for a copy of The Memorial Tree and other short stories.

Publishing my Ebook

So, this week will see me publish my first ever collection of short stories as an Ebook! How exciting is that? It’s taken me a long time to get to this point and I’ve amassed such a collection of writing that it seemed only right to share some of them with the world. So, on Sunday 1 July The Memorial Tree and other short stories will be available from Amazon at the very reasonable price of £1.99. It’s taken some preparing, so here’s how I’ve planned the first Ebook in my publication journey…

Stories
Obviously one of the first things I had to do was choose which stories would work in a collection together. Initially I was looking at three sections with varying lengths of story – flash (under 1,000 words), short form (1,000-3,000 words) and long form (3,000+). I had at least 2/3 of each, but it began to seem quite unwieldy and there was no real central theme tying them all together.
In the end, I looked at a selection of my favourite stories – the ones that I felt were really worthy and close enough to ‘publishable’ as they would ever get – and found that they had a lot in common; they all explored loss, remembrance and nostalgia. It shouldn’t have surprised me, given my preference to kill off my characters (see this post here if you didn’t already know this about my writing!), but it was nice to see that link thread its way through all of the stories.
There’s only one new addition to the collection, and that is the sequel to the title story – The Memorial Tree. As I shared recently there was always a line in this particular story that niggled at me, suggesting there was another narrative that was waiting to be told. So, to end the collection I decided to write it. If you want to know how it goes, you’ll have to buy the book. 😉

Cover
© Luke GleadallI had no idea how to tackle this, but I’m fortunate that I have a very tech-savvy fiance who is quite creative when it comes to images and photography. He was already familiar with a couple of the stories and their imagery, so I gave him a brief, explained the theme of the book and left him to it, wondering if his vision matched my own.
Then, on his day off from work he put together this beautiful cover for me. I think it perfectly demonstrates the themes and has the added bonus of visually representing three out of the seven stories. I’m really pleased with its simplicity and colour palette, but I hope you like it too! After all, the cover has to convince an audience that they want to read these stories over the wealth of other material out there!

Launch
Now, this was the one thing I neglected to consider when I set out to publish an Ebook. Writing the stories is within my comfort zone; convincing people that they want to pay money to read them is definitely way out of it!
I’d promised myself that publishing the Ebook would be my ‘Quarter Two’ goal for the year, so it was originally on my radar to publish in mid-June. But, as usual, life got in the way and things got pushed back a little. Still, I don’t want to start the second half of the year attempting to catch up with a goal I’d set at the start of it. So, I’m making do with a condensed launch that will see the release happen on 1 July.
As such, here’s all the important information you need to know about the release of my first collection of short stories…

  • Subscribe to my Enewsletter list before 30 June  and you can enter to win a FREE copy of The Memorial Tree and other short stories
  • Pre-orders will be available on Wednesday 27 June – to coincide with National Writing Day (when else should you celebrate writing a collection of short stories?)
  • Official release date is Sunday 1 July and the initial price will be £1.99

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I’d love it if you could support me by purchasing a copy of the Ebook – and hopefully you’ll enjoy it enough to leave a lovely little review on Amazon to help other buyers make their choice.

Here’s hoping that my first collection won’t be my last!

 

When did you last go on a people-watching date?

Do you ever go to a cafe, or sit at the station waiting for your train/bus, and just watch everyone else? This is generally considered ‘people-watching‘ and I love it. It’s a fascinating glimpse into the lives of other people that fires up my imagination. Observed idiosyncrasies that might be ingrained habits or a nervous tic, and overheard snippets of conversation give rise to potential scandals and plots.

The great thing is that anyone can do it, anywhere they are. It can be something planned – just find a spot in a cafe somewhere – or it can be a spontaneous decision to simply fill time whilst waiting in a queue at the supermarket, for example. Alternatively, if you’re a homebody, like me, it can be fun to switch on the T.V. turn the volume off and find an unfamiliar show or film; watch the characters, see what you can find out just through noting how they move and their facial expressions when they speak.

Sometimes, when indulging in a bit of people-watching, I can feel like a spy on a covert mission, trying to identify the villain! It’s addictive once I start, and occasionally I can get fixed on a single person and their behaviour and determine their entire life story. When I make the effort to sit down and observe people I notice things I would have missed before; the way a woman bites her lip whilst on her phone, or the tapping of a man’s fingers on his train ticket and the bounce of his knee.

I’ve never been caught people-watching, but I tend to have a number of tactics to ensure this doesn’t occur. I pretend to read a book or a newspaper, surreptitiously peering over the text at people as they come and go. This also works with a laptop – meaning you can keep notes straight into a document. If you’re a veteran, and use this method, you’ll likely use a wing-dings font so that no-one else can look over your shoulder to catch you ‘spying’!

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Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

Mobile ‘phones are also excellent camouflage when people-watching. We’re a society of bowed heads now, with so few people bothering to look up over their screens. Tapping out notes on a phone app can work like a charm; you’ll appear so engrossed in your texting that you’ll fit right in!

As to why I’d recommend people-watching, well, other than being a fascinating anthropological exercise it’s great for building a foundation of observations that can be used for character work. Noting the look of certain people – a long, ski-jump nose on one, while another has eyes set deep in his face – and then combining these to describe an individual character can work really well. Then there is the scrutiny beyond the behavioural features : jut why is that man tapping his ticket and bouncing his knee – is he late? Has he had too many cups of coffee? Is it the first symptom of a disease like Parkinson’s? Delving into the why of the particulars of people’s habits can be a fab way to develop a character.

Then, there can be further character work surrounding how they may feel about the features and habits they’ve been assigned. Has our hero decided to swear off alcohol and the jitters are the first sign of withdrawal? Does he believe he can stay sober, or will he slip into the first pub he sees? What’s his motivation for getting sober – will he be a father soon and he wants to be a good role model for his son? Or does he need to stay sober for his job, as he’s on his last warning?

Once you’ve started asking these questions a story is likely to emerge somewhere, somehow. Usually I’ll get embroiled in these during my people-watching session, and the moment I’m more interested in my story than I am in the crowd around me I know I’ve got the start of something I need to focus on.

Have you got any tips for people-watching? When was the last time you spent time really examining the people around you?

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If you’re not already on my mailing list, why not sign up? You’ll get updates on when I’ve published new material and where it will be featured.
PLUS: Sign up before the end of June and you’ll be in with the chance to win a FREE copy of my upcoming short story Ebook. 

 

Tackling the Competition

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Writing competitions. If you write and want to get your work published this is one of the first routes into authorship. There are some writers who excel at applying their material to the various competition topics out there, others still who tend to focus on particular genres or types, and then there’s me. I’m great at identifying opportunities that different competitions offer, in fact, I have a list of the ones I’d like to enter for the next six months sat above my desk as I type this. Yet, despite my superb organisation skill I still struggle to ever write something that I can submit.

But, not anymore. I’m determined to write at least something for as many of them as I can. My target is 50%, and considering there are an impressive twenty-eight competitions listed and I haven’t yet got a solid entry for any, I’d better get started! Here are a few of the techniques I’m going to use to help prompt my efforts:

Take it from the top
          If ever I’m struggling with a competition theme I know all I really need is a first line to help start me off. Problem is, I usually don’t have one. So I’ve got a nifty way to negotiate a way around this issue: I borrow someone else’s line.  Photo by Thijs van der Weide on Pexels.com
It’s simple enough – just go to a book on a shelf and pick any line from any page. Usually I’ve determined a page number and line number already, so I don’t end up in the land of procrastination by searching for the perfect line for a story I have no idea for. But, if you’re so indecisive and can’t even decide on a page or line number, choose the date – page 11, line 6 for example; or the year – page 20, line 18. So long as you pick a different book every time, you’ll have a unique first line.
After that it’s just a case of matching it to the competition theme. With a first line and a genre, I usually find the story is already there waiting and it’s just a case of teasing it out. Often my mind automatically link these things together and, suddenly, a narrative appears.
Tip: Don’t keep it as the first line, it’s just a prompt. Make sure to edit it out if you submit; you’ll likely find the resulting story needs a new opener anyway.

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Read all about it
          One thing I like to do is to find a news story that fascinates me and think of a character who might have been influenced by it. What was their part in it? How did it impact their lives? What if they’d reacted differently – would it result in a different news story?
The great thing about this is being able to delve into a character that already has a story written. I know what happened, now I just have to figure out what this character’s part was in it and how they felt about it. This leads to a really strong character piece that often has a believable quality in the story because it’s taken directly from life.
Sometimes I try to limit myself to stories that link with the competition theme: so if it’s travel story I look in the travel section of the newspaper, or a story about weather I search for storm related news. But, you don’t have to do it this way: sometimes the most interesting stories comes from the unexpected places.

Start with a secret
Photo by Little Visuals on Pexels.comI love a story with a secret. Even better if it’s one I never saw coming. So if I have a particular competition theme that’s troubling me I brainstorm what secrets I can associate with it. Summer Garden? What if it’s a hidden garden, only certain people can access or see? Or is it a location for some illicit liaisons? Even more worrying, what if someone is planting poisonous plants in this garden to commit a murder?
All of a sudden there are lots of stories to tell, and plenty of ways to tell them – do you tell it from the point of view of the gardener, or the lover, the murderer or the victim? What if you could tell it from the perspective of one of plants?

Just jump in
          Finally, if I think that I’ve got enough time I just put my butt in the chair and write. Usually it’s only loosely related to the competition theme, and typically if it is related it’s probably something that a hundred other writers have already tackled. But, if I keep writing and follow the thread that each word and sentence produce I’ll eventually come up with something that makes me raise an eyebrow and think, ‘Hmm, that’s interesting.
Once I’ve got that tiny germ of an idea I run with it and see how far I can get. It takes up the most time, but it’s produced some of my favourite pieces of writing and ones that I’ve been praised on by some of the readers. Sometimes, though, I can forget how fruitful this method is. I just need to trust my own imagination and let myself explore the possibilities before I settle on a story idea I can be really proud of.

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Do you have some techniques or methods for tackling competition themes? Share below in the comments, or tweet me

You can also follow my writing journey and be notified when I publish if you sign up to my Enewsletter.

 

From one story to another

It appears that my blogging challenge has fulfilled its purpose: I am writing again.

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Photo by Brett Sayles on Pexels.com

Yesterday I sat down and drafted a short story I have had on my ‘explore this‘ list for some time. It is a sequel to a story I wrote in 2015 called ‘The Memorial Tree’, which came 2nd place in a Culture Shots competition for employees of The University of Manchester. The Memorial Tree will be included in the short story Ebook I’m currently planning, it’s less than a thousand words long and if you’d like to check it out before my publication you can do so here.

However, there is a line in this story that I knew led to a sequel as soon as I’d written it:

“Perhaps one day soon there shall be another tree growing next to this, but it shall not be I who plants it.”

As I was going over the text for the Ebook I was reminded of my intent to write the story this line has to tell, and finally I have. It may only be a first draft right now, but as I wrote it I could feel the passion for it rise in me. Amazingly I even shed a tear or two as I wrote it; because I feel for these characters – as brief as their stories may be – and I am responsible for crafting a lifetime of emotion for them.

This is what I wanted. I needed to rediscover my mojo, my muse, my passion. Drafting the sequel to The Memorial Tree has demonstrated that it’s still there and I am able to access it. The commitment to write a blog post every day was just practice to get back into the habit. Sometimes that’s all we need to pick up where we left off. This is what I’ve wanted to do all my life – writing is who I am at the core and I’ve neglected this part of myself for too long. Time to get my butt in the chair and just write, because I can now recognise my love of writing and what it brings me. Writing energises and enriches me, and somewhere along the line I forgot this. Not anymore. Now is the time to be dedicated and persevere in order to achieve that dream of being a published novelist. Watch this space!

Alternatively, if you’re interested in following my writing journey and being notified when I publish:
sign up to my Enewsletter.

Blog a Day in May

So, I did it. Every day this month I have shared a little something with the world through this blog, writing each day and committing to a challenge that I wasn’t sure I’d accomplish. Yet, here we are. I persevered even through the failure of my laptop hard drive, using my ‘phone as a substitute, and I learned a number of things throughout the month:

It wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be.
On days where I opened up the screen for a new post and I had no idea what to write, I turned to places like Pinterest for inspiration. I often took the first thing I saw and ran with it, but this scenario didn’t occur as regularly as I assumed it would from the beginning. In the end, I simply wrote about life that was right in front of me as it happened. And I think it helped me make sense of the world I’m living in, allowing me to voice a few of the thoughts that usually race around in my mind never to be released.

I surprised myself.
Many days I wrote more than I intended. What started as a quick visit to make that day’s mark on the blog usually developed into a solid diversion from whatever I had planned immediately afterwards. Cups of tea went cold. The dog got restless. My fiance had to be patient, unable to press play on the series we were watching because I ‘just have to finish this’. The words sucked me in and while I’d only have thought to write a sentence or two, my over-writing self kicked in and it became a post fat with text.

I enjoyed it.
It sounds odd to state it so blatantly; as why would I start the challenge if I didn’t think I’d enjoy it? Well, I committed to it because I wanted a way back into the blog. I wanted to be writing something everyday and I was struggling with fiction. I wanted, in essence, to have written. It wasn’t about enjoyment or attracting an audience: it was a challenge to see if I could write everyday – and I can. Not only that but I’ve proved to myself that I like it. The passion for it is still there, lurking in the shadows waiting for me to put in some legwork to coerce it back into the light. Writing isn’t the chore I had labelled it.

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My current blogging corner

I reconnected.
I haven’t blogged for so long I assumed I would have fallen out of favour and off the radar. But no, I recognised many of the user handles that have been liking my posts, and even reconnected with one or two via Twitter. I’d forgotten the camaraderie that exists online, but I’m grateful for it. So, thanks goes to you – the audience who have travelled this month with me through these posts. In many ways the simple act of knowing there are people out there reading is reassuring; this is something that my current fiction is not rewarded with.

I want to keep blogging…
After all this, the challenge has encouraged me: I want to keep on blogging. Probably not everyday – but regularly; once a week perhaps. It’s time to rejoin the #MondayBlogs tribe again methinks. And I’m smiling just thinking about it, even though I have no clue what the next blog post will be about.

How to handle the bad stuff…

This struck a chord with me today. There is something about realising the part we play in our own self-destructive emotions and our responsibility, not just for how we act, but also how we respond to the world around us.

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When we get angry, or sulk, or even resent other people for what they have and we don’t, then this is a choice we ourselves make. It took me a long time to learn this. Negative emotions such as these may serve an immediate purpose (to identify emotional needs that might be present/lacking) but they need rarely be a sustained response.

It’s easy to get bogged down in frustration and hold onto feelings instead of releasing them. This is perhaps where blame comes in. Often we latch onto external reasoning for why we continue to experience festering emotions. But, if we allow blame to melt away and understand the role it plays in keeping us in a continuous state of bitterness we can realise that, sometimes, our reactions are within our own control. This can be particularly powerful when you’ve spent your life as a slave to such negativity.

Being a Planner

I am an excellent planner. I can plan almost anything and I adore it. The issues arise when I have to stop planning and actually start doing. In which case, I’m pretty good at small persistent action…unless I have to stop to re-plan, which happens a lot. Because, well, let’s face it, it’s always easier to plan to do something rather than actually do it.

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This is the current case with my writing. I’m still “planning” to release an Ebook of short stories by the end of the month, although I have no clue how to put together an Ebook or how long this process takes. That’s because I’m still only planning it. I have, I am pleased to say, identified the stories I’d like to include and am in the final stages of tidying them up to send to a friend to check over. After that, well, I’ll need to put some more thought into that because I really have no idea what happens next.

I know I’ll need a cover; my lovely partner has agreed to help with that given his skill in Photoshop etc. He’s already got a pretty good idea once I showed him an image of what I thought might work and the themes that run through the stories.

I am aware that the text will need formatting in the right way. I’m not sure what that is either, yet. And I need to do some research on what platform I might use to create and distribute the Ebook.

I’m beginning to think it might not be achievable in a month…unless, of course, I plan it well. And planning is within my skillset, as I said. However, once I’ve planned it, then comes the hard part: doing it. So I know I need to plan out small, consistent steps to help me accomplish my goal, and that if I do genuinely want to get this Ebook out by the end of June then I need to do that which I plan. I have to commit. I have to stay motivated. I have to remember why it is that I started all this in the first place.

Planning is all well and good, but it’s only acting on that plan that will ever see your dreams come true.

Did you know…?

…Today is apparently National Hamburger Day?!

I was just scrolling through my Pinterest feed, in a moment of procrasta-boredom (I think most of my life is spent being bored while I try and avoid actual tasks), and this blog caught my eye. It’s a whole list of National Days for the year!

I can’t believe I missed some of these! I mean, who wants to miss National Wine Day on the 25th May? Or National Fudge Day on 6th June? And apparently Donald Duck even gets his own day!? Granted, these are American, but I could adopt these I think.

There is this site for UK Days, which reliably informs me that World Hunger Day and the start of National BBQ week fall on the same day – today, in fact; which seems a bit odd to me. Not quite as odd as “Put your pillow on your fridge” Day, which seems to be happening tomorrow…

I feel like there should be some potential in someone writing a book, or having a TV show, where someone celebrates all of the strange National Days for a whole year and what affect it would have on their life. It would be comparable to the Yes Man franchise, or such like. Anyone willing to give it a go…?