Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Autumn Inspiration

Last weekend we went to Manchester to visit the University Museum but just as we arrived the fire alarm went off. We spent half an hour standing in the rain, listening to the drone of the siren. However, it did give me time to take some photos.










Monday, 26 October 2009

All My Menus

If you're anything like me, you probably have trouble laying your hands on your local takeaway menus when you fancy a kebab or Chinese at home. Perhaps you have a drawer filled to overflowing with menus that could really be used to better effect. Or you could be ultra organised, filing away all your menus, but just can't recall which Indian takeaway did the perfect curry you had a couple of months ago.

All My Menus is here to help. Enter your postcode and the kind of takeaway you're interested in (e.g. Indian) and you'll be taken to not only a list of corresponding fast food outlets but also their latest menu. You can even register on the site, leaving comments (such as that top curry), recommendations and adding your favourite menu. This service is offered completely free.

Why am I promoting a site that has nothing to do with writing? It's run by a lovely man, my husband.

Have a look.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

The name of evil

Mwahahahahaha... Sorry. An evil laugh seemed apt. I have a problem. Having got past the issue of procrastination in planning my novel for NaNoWriMo in November, I now have another obstacle to tackle. What do I call my villains? I have four. At the moment, they're all rather non descript but giving them a name will help me to begin to paint their portraits as such.

So how do you go about naming a villain? Are you ironic, as in the popular American TV vampire Angel? Do you go for the obvious like Stan Lee's Doctor Victor Von Doom from the Fantastic Four storyline? Where do you start?

If I look down the list of the Telegraph's 50 greatest villains in literature, I find alliterative names such as Velma Valento (Farewell My Lovely), the White Witch (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe) and Milo Minderbender (Catch 22). There are names that point out physical characteristics, Captain Hook for instance. There are sinister sounding names like Sauron (Lord of the Rings), Voldemort (Harry Potter) and Hannibal Lector (whom we all know of course as Hannibal the cannibal).

Years ago when I had misplaced yearnings to be an actress, I attended a two day workshop on Shakespearean acting. I very quickly realised that this was not where my talents lay. However my writer's mind retained one of the exercises we were given to act out. Each enthusiastic workshop attendant was given a slip of paper bearing a name. I can't remember exactly what mine was but it definitely began with an F. We were then asked to decide whether our character was one of the good guys or a villain based solely on their name. I decided I was a villain. I was wrong. Our instructor told us that the soft sounding letters generally started the names of the heroes whereas the names of villains tended to begin with the harder sounding letters such as T and D. I can see where he was coming from but as I look down the Telegraph's list I see villains called Shere Khan (Jungle Book) and Moriarty (Sherlock Holmes).

Perhaps a villain should have an unusual name like Steerpike (Gormenghast) or a grand name like Count Fosco (Woman in White). Suppose you throw all that grandiose, obvious malarkey out of the window and just choose a normal name like Fred. That's what Margaret Atwood did in The Handmaid's Tale.

So I shall continue my search for fitting names for my villains. The name Prosper is beginning to appeal to me for the head villain, a tall, golden haired man with a booming voice. You see, give me a name and the portrait follows. I just have to 'christen' the other three now. Decisions, decisions.

Hallowe'en

Hallowe'en, or Samhain, has many faces for me, especially as a daughter and a mother.

It's said that on this day spirits of those who have passed return to us, but even if you don't believe this, Hallowe'en is an excellent time to think of loved ones who are no longer with us and celebrate their lives. That may be by visiting their grave, lighting a candle and placing it by their photo or just taking the time to think about them. I'll be remembering my parents and other family members.

As the beginning of the Celtic year and the onset of winter, Hallowe'en is also a time to look forward to what we want to achieve, what we want to change, and what has worked so well over the past year that we want to continue it on.

For my children of course, Hallowe'en is a time of magic and fun. My two have their costumes sorted, ready to greet the trick or treaters at our front door with excited giggles and a bag of sweets. We'll be cooking together, talking about their late grandparents and playing some games too. We have our pumpkin ready to carve and I'll use the innards to make some pumpkin soup.

Pumpkins and berries bring their glorious colours to this time of year. They lend themselves well to table centres and wreaths. Orange chrysanthemums can look great in a scrooped out pumpkin. Tiny pumpkins or gourds can be tied to name cards and used as place settings for your guests. Spray apples golden, leaving a leaf attached, to add to your decorations and ensure gold in your purse.

However you celebrate this weekend, have a wonderful time.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Procrastination

In the run up to NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) in November, I'm attempting to put together a chapter plan.

I have the basic idea. I have the characters mostly worked out although the details of the villains still evade me. Then I started on the chapter plan. Five chapters in, I lost my momentum. It's not a case of which path to take next but rather 'is there a path because I can't see one?'.

And suddenly other things seemed to call to me, drawing away my attention. There's always the inevitable pile of ironing, that book I keep starting and putting down again, the painting I promised to do for my daughter. On and on, the list is endless of reasons to 'not' work on my writing.

This morning I gave myself a strict talking to. I do that at home, when the children aren't around. If I did it in public, the men in white coats might take me away or at the very least I'd probably scare some small children. "Fiona," I said to myself. "No more excuses. Twenty minutes every day. You can manage that. Twenty minutes to commit to your writing and planning this novel. Are you with me?" I was, er, am. I will, I will, I will take twenty minutes each day to write - no excuses. The ironing can wait (even if the pile is beginning to lean) and the children can have school dinners instead of packed lunches.

Twenty minutes isn't much out of my day. I can do it! Now I'll just feed the guinea pigs first, and start on that book and...

Monday, 12 October 2009

The countdown is on!

There are 20 days until Haven Crystal Gifts closes down. On the blog, there is an article each day until the end of the month on one of their lovely items.

Everything in their store is reduced. Grab a bargain while you can.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

7 ways to keep your sanity as a work at home mum

1. Set yourself a flexible routine

I've lost count of the times that I've sat down to work then been distracted by the pile of ironing looming over my shoulder (it's actually in the corner at the other side of the room but I can feel it watching me). If it's not the ironing, it's an interesting website I've come across or planning the children's tea or... The list of potential distractions is immense and endless so creating a slot of time when you will commit your attention solely to your business (and adhering to that commitment) is a useful and valuable habit to get into. Of course there will always be days when your child is off school/nursery ill or some other disruption forces itself into your slot and that is where the flexibility comes in, enabling you to move part of your slot to the evening when your children are asleep or earlier in the morning before the rest of the family gets up.

2. Write a blog!

Blogging doesn't have to be expensive. Sites like Blogger and Wordpress provide this service for free. I'm what you could call a blogging obsessive. I have one for each of my home businesses which I update regularly. I use them for publicity and to keep returning customers in the loop. They're an excellent way to add personality to your websites too.

3. Network with other WAHMs

As a WAHM (work at home mum) myself, I sometimes feel isolated and neglected by the outside world, especially as I'm the sole employee of my two home businesses. Joining an online network of your peers can be the answer. There are websites and forums for fellow business women such as Giant Potential which for me has opened up a whole new support network, provided useful business advice, shared experience and raised visibility of my businesses. I no longer bend my husband's ear. I log on instead.

4. Relocate

It's a beautiful, sunny day and you're stuck at the computer rattling away on the keys. The four walls of your office space seem grey, grey, grey. Relocate. Go sit in the garden. Go to your local library. I can often by found in one of our local cafes, making notes on my mobile phone. Just because you operate a home business doesn't mean that you have to actually work at home all the time.

5. Take a break

Not quite the same as relocating. What I mean is 'take a lunch break'. It's easy to carry on working through and munch on a sandwich as you type but there are real, justifiable reasons for taking a lunch break, even just for half an hour. Firstly, crumbs and keyboards don't mix. I know this from personal experience. Secondly, taking a break enables you to return to your work refreshed and often with a solution to the dilemma that has been bugging you all morning. Finally, home workers deserve a break too.

6. Park the guilt

Harping back to that pile of ironing I mentioned, you will always find things you could be doing for your family instead of working. You could be treating your toddler to a trip to the seaside instead of leaving them with the childminder. Your school age children would love for you to bake them a cake instead of strain your eyes over the yearly tax return. You could paint their bedrooms, tidy up your partner's side of the bed, and spend hours planning sumptuous evening meals and delightful packed lunches. I've come to the conclusion that guilt is just one element of the juggling act of parenthood. Don't beat yourself up.

7. Connect with your community

Another answer to those feelings of isolation (and often envy of your friends who go out to work, with their capsule wardrobes and coffee bar lunches) is to find a way to combine your home business with reaching out to your local community. Whether it's getting involved in a school fair, offering your services to mums you meet at school or publicising through the local press, making that connection can not only provide you with extra support and raise more business, but it can also create a feeling of being part of something bigger.