Writer’s HQ: Brighton Writing Retreat

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Please note, the author of this post is not as glamorous as Joan Crawford.

I have been trying to write a novel for two years. I have the idea, but I am not very disciplined. Luckily, my friend Jo is better at this stuff than I am and has had loads of success with her writing- and is one half of Writer’s HQ. She suggested that I try one of the monthly writer’s retreats held around the country.

Through writing sprints and goal-setting (and gold stars), the retreats aim to help you unlock your potential and get something down on paper/screen. I bumbled up with the aim of a thousand words and a short story submission for Mslexia magazine. Within an hour, I’d smashed both of those things and started working on something that could later be a novel. By the end of the day- which is also filled with a great lunch and generous servings of tea and cake- I’d written 6,500 words, earned three gold stars AND had loads of goes on the giant indoor swing.

The atmosphere was supportive and no-one read their work out, which was a relief. We all had different goals: writing short stories, plays, screenplays, pitches; editing. I’m pretty sure all of us left with a sense of accomplishment. And everyone was so nice! In the breaks, we chatted about books, babies and all sorts of other things. If I didn’t have pesky commitments (a child and a husband with a Brighton season ticket), I’d seriously be there every month.

Since going, I’ve found a way of working in twenty minute sessions that’s way more productive than trying to work for a solid hour (I can write 1000 words in two twenty minute sprints, whereas a full forty minute session would probably be mostly me pratting about on Twitter.) And although I have yet to get into a solid, regular writing habit, they have a free online course starting in a couple of weeks which I’m signed up for. I’ve previously completed their Seven Ideas in Seven Days course (review here), so I am DETERMINED to finish this bloody novel, mainly because I’d like my brain back for a bit without the characters taking over.

It’s also worth mentioning that you can try all of the courses free for seven days and then sign up for full membership if you want. I can also highly recommend the Writer’s HQ Facebook groups for support, even if I did accidentally make someone cry with a piece I put on there.

So go forth and write. Join a retreat and have fun. I’ll buy your novel at the end of it.

 

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Adagio Teas: Christmas Collection*

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I love a Christmas tea! They’ve become a huge deal in recent years (I remember when I wrote a blog exclusively about tea a few years ago, they were few and far between- and often samey. Not so now!) and there’s a tea for every taste.

Adagio Teas sent me a selection of their winter teas and gifts (as well as a cute red teapot to brew them all up in!) to try. Of course, ever the professional, I made it a mission to try them all. It’s a hard life.

First up, I tried the simply named Christmas on my commute to work. On the surface, this is a traditional Christmas tea, flavoured with spices and orange- but! There’s a surprise! Underneath the usual festive flavours, there’s a smoky hint. I’m not usually a fan of smoky teas, but here it works to balance out the other flavours. It’s a real winter warmer and perfect for chilly mornings.

I was sent the Stocking Stuffer (cute mini tins of loose tea) and Holiday Cheer (30 teabags) sets, which each include six of Adagio’s holiday teas. There’s also a Christmas tea sample box, which I’ve found handy for work tea breaks.

  • Chestnut tea is my favourite of the holiday teas- it combines the nutty flavour of chestnut with a comforting dose of caramel; it’s definitely a sweet treat!
  • Pumpkin Spice is more subtle and slightly sweeter than other pumpkin teas I’ve tried. It’s my current morning ‘go-to’ first thing.
  • Candy Apple is cute! It’s sweet and I love it for my afternoon treat! The Ceylon base is the perfect base for a show-stopping apple and caramel blend (my house also smells of this after I’ve made a cup. Perfect!)
  • Gingerbread tea is exactly as you expect, although a bit lighter than other gingerbread teas I’ve tried- but that’s not a criticism! It’s a warming blend that is a perfect early evening blend.
  • Candy Cane tea is an interesting blend! Black tea with sweet peppermint is refreshing and great after lunch, but don’t add milk. That’d be a bit weird.
  • Cranberry tea- this is great, although I’ll admit I was a bit wary at first! The cranberry works really well with the black tea (although best without milk) and makes a great change to the usual Christmas flavours.

If you’re a caffeine-free fan, I can recommend Yuletide Toddy, a fruit infusion with cranberry, orange and cinnamon- it works very nicely with a quick splash of brandy or spiced rum! I also really enjoyed Rooibos Nutcracker as a bedtime drink; it’s a blend of fruits, nuts, spices and caramel and I’m thinking about how I can mix it up as a latte…

Want to win some festive goodies from Adagio? Check out my Instagram for a great Christmas giveaway!

 

*sent for review

Let there be light! William & Joseph ‘Wuthering Heights’ candle

This @williamjosephcandles is lovely. A really subtle herb-y, green scent- it smells way more expensive than it actually is. I fancy the Manderley candle next! #brontes #wutheringheights #emilybronte #candle #home #hygge:

I love candles. After a brief flirtation with melts etc- which I use in the kitchen, but they’ve never really won my heart- I’m back into candlelight in a big way. Everything about them is so soothing, especially when it’s January and we’re suffering fairy light withdrawal (I’ve never understood why we take away all the lights at the DARKEST point of the winter…) I always, always feel better if I have a candle burning. Although I’m a bit wary of ordering candles online, after too many ‘bathroom cleaner’ scented gambles, I couldn’t NOT buy this could I? After all, it’s one of my favourite books, I have a slight Bronte obsession and I wanted to smell the moors of my home county. I figured I’d take a risk.

William & Joseph are committed to producing high quality candles, most of which have a bookish theme (I’m after trying their Rebecca-inspired ‘Manderley’ candle especially, although their Gatsby and Sherlock scents interest me, too.) The Wuthering Heights candle takes a while warm up to its full scent, but it’s worth the wait: a subtle ‘green’ scent, slightly masculine but clean-smelling, it’s lovely. There are notes of pine and juniper mixed with jasmine and bergamot, with rosemary and cedarwood. It is perfectly representative, I think, of Catherine and Heathcliff- or Kate Bush in a field.

hqdefault I’ll admit, I was a bit worried about the pine element, as it so often is overused to the point of causing a headache, but I needn’t have worried, as here is serves to lift the rest of the scents. The overall scent is one of brooding moors after heavy rainfall, rather than bathroom after the overuse of bleach. I think the candle smells much more expensive than it actually is- very often candles are hugely pricey and smell synthetic, but this is reasonably priced for a good sized candle.

The candle itself burns cleanly, too. No smoke and an even burn mean that I’m able to light it without worrying about soot marks too, which makes Benn very happy. No one wants black marks above their mantelpiece, do they?

I’m excited to discover other scents from William & Joseph- it was hinted on Twitter that they might get around to a Baby Jane scent one day (I suggested face powder, lipstick and gardenias..) which I would buy in. a. heartbeat.

You can buy William & Joseph candles here. The candle I bought was £14.99 and  I bought it from Etsy. (Please note: the shop is currently re-stocking glass candles, but you can check out their tin candles while they do!)

Dance like nobody’s watching

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I am not a natural dancer. My hearing isn’t brilliant, so I can often miss the beat. I have the hand-eye co-ordination of a sloth who has had too much caffeine. I certainly don’t look like a dancer. But that doesn’t mean I don’t try. I mean, I watch Strictly! I know the names of certain dances!

I have certainly tried very hard in the past to be a dancer, although I came to it quite late. Much to my mother’s despair, I was never interested in ballet and she never forced it on me (I was much more your dinosaurs-and-motorbikes kind of girl as a preschooler.) But later on, a relatively well-known dance company came to my school and, desperate not to be the pudgy, badly bullied girl with a bad haircut I was, I signed up. I was good at Drama and thought I could put aside my self-esteem issues and become A DANCER! I tried so hard. I went on the outing to the dance studio. I went to see the dance company perform. I can’t actually remember if I performed. Maybe I’ve blocked it out. Oh, I was so bad. I was awkward, from being a teenager. I was awkward because I was picked on by the girls who took to dance more naturally. But by Jove, I can still remember that ridiculous dance and I could still probably perform it, although having gone through puberty proper and childbirth since, it’d be quite a tricky ask. And a  few years ago I used my Christmas money to sign up for jive lessons. I loved it. For about three weeks until I discovered I was pregnant and then my life became one of nausea and exhaustion. I still can’t hear ‘Rock Around The Clock’ without my feet beginning to shuffle though.

I never dance in public- I haven’t been to a club since the Romans were being chased around Anglia by Boudicca- although I’ll have a quick mum-shuffle round the dancefloor at a wedding if I’ve had enough gin and the buffet has had enough vegetarian food to keep me going. I love dancing. But dancing with others is not my passion. No. My passion is dancing around my kitchen, by myself, flailing to something probably from the 80s. Imagine me, dear Reader, only this evening throwing myself about to Bowie’s Modern Love and Wham!’s I’m Your Man, dressed in leggings and a man’s jumper thrown over a dress that resembles a scandalously short monk’s cassock. I looked ridiculous- but I was happy.

Goodness knows, the world is an unhappy place at the moment. My mind is an unhappy place a lot of the time and my body- well, that’s a battleground all of its own. But when I am enthusiastically throwing myself around the ground floor of my house, music turned up, safe in the knowledge that no-one can see me (save my son, who may or may not enthusiastically join in by spinning on the spot so much that I have to boogie away from him in order to not feel sick myself.) It feels good. I’m not judging myself, no one else is judging me; I’m not really thinking. If I did, I’d probably be horrified by the ‘shapes’ I’m ‘throwing’. But it’s my kitchen, my music. I love it. Afterwards, I know I’ll feel tired and a bit daft, but I’ll also feel euphoric, even if only for a bit. I won’t change politics, I won’t change the things that stress me out, but I will have a break from them. Ultimately, it’s an escape from my own brain and that is always welcome.

I’m not one for a ‘new year, new you’, because quite frankly it’s nonsense. But a quick dad dance round the kitchen to old-school Kylie? Sign me up.

Sunday Tea: T2 Breakfast teas

Last weekend, T2 had a free shipping weekend and so I decided to order their Little Gems box- twenty tea bags that showcase T2’s best teas, across black, green and tisanes. The packaging was absolutely GORGEOUS and it’s a really good way of learning what T2 has to offer.

Dear @t2tea, your packaging is SO pretty! #tea #home #autumn:

Originally an Australian brand, they are now branching out across the UK and they genuinely have one of the most interesting ranges of tea out there; there is literally something for everyone. Anyway, I decided that as this blog series is called Sunday Tea, I’d focus on the breakfast teas. T2 has a staggeringly huge range of breakfast teas and there will be something you like, I promise. I’m just gutted that I can’t go into a shop and smell all of them.

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New York Breakfast: I’ve never been to New York, but I’ve always fancied it, probably because I’ve spent hours watching stuff like Flight of the Conchords, a misguided Sex and the City era in my teens and Jerry Orbach in Law and Order. It’s loud and brash and I just love the whole idea of it, despite the fact that I am very much a homebody at heart. This New York Breakfast tea takes the idea of an ACTUAL NY breakfast (and, let’s be honest, the food is part of the attraction) of pancakes and turn it into a tea. The result is a robust black tea lightly-but deliciously- flavoured with vanilla and cinnamon. I am genuinely considering ditching my usual early morning Earl Grey for this as my everyday tea. It is really lovely and I will be buying some.

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English Breakfast: Earl Grey is my default tea of choice if I’m drinking tea where there isn’t much, but I don’t mind the odd cup of English Breakfast tea (although people who know me do look at me funny if I ask for it over a flavoured tea. But sometimes you just gotta keep it simple, right?) The quality of English Breakfast can vary; it’s essentially a basic tea, often made of ‘tea dust’, the broken bits of tea leaves-most often Sri Lankan Ceylon tea, and so can be really cheap. Fair enough. This tea, however, is not a run-of-the-mill tea; this is The Good Stuff. The flavour is light without being cloying, a criticism I sometimes have of English Breakfast tea; it can be so claggy that you feel it stick to your teeth. This is not one of them. It’s a classy brew with a lighter flavour than you might expect, but it’s still full-bodied and robust enough for the first cup of the day.

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Irish Breakfast: Something slightly odd- although I don’t usually drink unflavoured teas, I will always, always make an exception for Irish Breakfast. Not sure why- maybe it’s the 25% of Irishness I carry in my bones (not enough for citizenship, unfortunately, boo…) or maybe because it seems so much more of a punchy tea than its more delicate English counterpart, but I love it. In fact, it’s a perfect biscuit dunking tea, too; I particularly like it with stroopwafles/Dutch waffles from Tiger. It’s really good stuff, especially with a hangover/fry up etc. Anyway, T2’s Irish Breakfast tea is what it should be: strong, delicious and warming. Perfect for cold winter days and no-nonsense cups of tea.

t125ae023_melbourne-breakfast_r1 Melbourne Breakfast: I wasn’t quite sure what a ‘Melbourne’ tea would comprise of, seeing as I shamefully don’t know all that much about Australia (which means my Aussie friends have great fun making up deadly animals and outrageous facts to alarm me.) Actually, T2 has a range of Australian breakfast teas to represent different areas and their characteristics. This one is a sweet vanilla tea with rich undertones from the tea to balance it out- it’s not a tea that tastes of artificial sweetness at the expense of the tea itself. It’s a lovely blend, much lighter than the New York breakfast tea and quite a soothing one at that.

Let me know which of these teas you like/you’d like to try!

Bluebird Tea Co. Autumn 2016*

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One of the best things about being back in the blogging mindset is that I get to write about tea again, which is quite honestly one of my favourite things. Bluebird’s output of autumn teas is usually strong and 2016 is no different (which is a relief in a year when everything else seems to have been a bit… hit and miss!)

There are four new flavours: Choco Pops, Lapsang Chai, Bananas and Custard and a rooibos Earl Grey. Happily-excitingly!- the annual favourite Spiced Pumpkin Pie makes a return too. I was sent all of them except Bananas and Custard.

Choco Pops

I can tell you that this blend of Ceylon and genmaicha (Japanese toasted rice) with chocolate chips/sprinkles/powder does indeed taste like the cereal so beloved of hyperactive kids everywhere; albeit a slightly more grown up version. The genmaicha adds a nuttiness that compliments the chocolate and the light tea lifts the overall flavour so it’s actually a bit sophisticated. Despite the inclusion of sencha green tea, you can add milk- and I urge you to try it. This tea was especially nice one evening when I was writing and needed something sweet, but not so much it made my teeth ache. Lovely stuff. (I’d actually be tempted to make this up like a hot chocolate with just milk and no water. Maybe add a couple of mini marshmallows to really make it fun.)

Lapsang Chai

Darlings, when it comes to lapsang souchong, I am not the droid you’re looking for. I find that it’s a tea that splits people- either they REALLY LOVE IT or, like me, they have no desire ever to drink it again after the first taste. However, I do love a good chai- and I know that this tea is special to Bluebird, as head mixologist Krisi developed the flavour for the T2 Chai Championships  in Sydney- so I gave it a go. And… it’s not converted me, but I can appreciate it. The smokiness of the lapsang works beautifully with spices and it tastes how I imagine Bonfire Night would, if you could make it into a drink (lapsang=bonfire, spices=fireworks). I made it with local honey and lots of milk and you might well be tempted to serve this on November 5th. I do know know my lapsang-loving friends will love it.

Rooibos Earl Grey

Earl Grey is the tea I drink the most. I’ve tried so many varieties over the years that it became the way I learnt about teas and how ingredients in them work together. When I was pregnant, I was desperate for a decent decaff EG, but none were really up to much. And lo, enter the rooibos Earl Grey! Some are more successful than others, but I would say that the ratio here is right: the sweetness of the rooibos compliments a strong (but not overpowering) bergamot flavouring. Lovely stuff.

img_20160903_123913Set your alarms for September 26th for the return of my favourite Bluebird Tea ever: Spiced Pumpkin Pie! I am eking out my current supply til then and then I’ll be ordering a boatload- it’s sweet, but not too sweet and is the perfect bridge to Bluebird’s always excellent Christmas offerings. (NB: you can currently buy the tea in a latte kit if you can’t wait that long.)

Special mention goes to:

Bluebird is branching out! I’ve been lucky to try one of their candles (Earl Grey Creme, obviously) and their Gingersnap Green Tea soap. Both have been developed with Lu Aromatherapy, a local Brighton business committed to creating ethical products. I can confirm that both smell heavenly and the soap is gentle even on my fussy skin.

Finally, Krisi has a book coming out! The World Atlas of Tea looks super interesting and will definitely be on my ‘to-buy’ list once I get paid.

Happy autumn!

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Howdy… I’m back

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Hey there, cupcakes! Long time no see (unless you follow me on social media, then I probably saw you two minutes ago.)

I took some time out from the blog. I was getting bogged down with political stuff- Brexit, Labour imploding, the imminent rise of Donald Trump- and work stuff and I just… sort of deflated for a bit. I needed to take time out from pressuring myself and one of the easiest things was to let the blog slide a little. It did me good. Plus, I doubt that many people missed me <\insert winky emoticon>

I was also able to think about a few things, make a few decisions and just generally get some head space.

I’m not promising a rigid posting schedule- I don’t think it helps- but I will be posting here when as and when I feel like it. So yeah, I’m back (again)! How’ve you been?