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7 ways to keep your sanity in the festive season

Christmas is getting very close now. Have you finished your Christmas shopping? Have you started? Are you looking forward to the day? Even if you are organised and optimistic, the rush to create the perfect Christmas can get to us all. Here's my list of how to keep your sanity in the festive season.

1. Be a child.

This probably comes to some of us easier than to others but in our attempts to organise everything to the 'enth degree, we can forget to actually enjoy the whole thing. So take some time to remember what you liked about Christmas as a child, be it overdressing the Christmas tree with baubles that don't necessarily co-ordinate, watching the Wizard of Oz (even though you can basically perform it word for word), or diving into a pile of presents and ripping off the wrapping paper with no thoughts of tidying up.

2. Be grateful

Christmas is probably the most materialistic of celebrations and a time of year when we add to our belongings en masse. We can come to concentrate…

Oh the weather outside is frightful

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But the fire is so delightful,
And since we've no place to go,
Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.

Can you tell that I'm feeling festive yet? In the run up to Christmas, I find my writing time is overrun with so many things that demand my attention. For the most part, it's child related - present buying for my children, Christmas decorations for my children to ooh and aah over, Christmas plays starring my children and chocolate filled advent calendar opening by my children. There's also present buying for friends and family, the normal housework which is bulked out slightly by the pre holiday cleaning and clearing, and festive planning.

Still, my writing commitments continue to call. I'm currently writing a murder mystery play for an am dram group I've known for decades. It's set in a zoo and I have the added bonus of being able to write for known actors. I love to write the characters to suit the voices of the cast. On most evenings, you can find me tapping…

Feeling festive yet?

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It seemed that no sooner had the Hallowe'en decorations and fireworks disappeared from the shops, than the Christmas cards and paraphenalia were put in their place. In past years, this has thoroughly depressed me and I've lived in denial until at least the middle of the month, only admitting that the holiday break was about to arrive when I celebrated the winter solstice on 21st December.

This year, however, I have to admit that I'm feeling fully festive. I keep catching myself humming 'Let it snow' and 'Santa baby'. I actually started my Christmas shopping in November this year (a miracle in itself).

I've come to the conclusion that what has depressed me in past years has been the amount of money that I felt had to spend on Christmas - presents, food, outings. This year, we're concentrating on spending less but enjoying more.

Having lost a little weight, I will be recycling my Christmas wardrobe. I can now fit comfortably into a 1950s vintage dress t…

Writing the old fashioned way

When I was preparing for my November Nanowrimo writing session this year, I decided to write my novel with pen and paper, rather than type it up on my computer.

There has always seemed something luxurious and magical about writing by hand. I find myself becoming so involved in the story that I don't stop to think 'what next' which fits in perfectly with the Nanowrimo ethic of 'just write'.

The temptation to read back is less, partly because of my ornate handwriting which becomes a mesh of loops when I'm writing quickly, but mostly because by writing the words down by hand, I've lived the experience of what I've created and it stays with me. There's no reason, therefore, to read back at this stage. Editing will come later.

The other delight in doing this, especially if like me you use a hardback pad to write in, is seeing your book literally unfold. It's not just a computer file to click on, it's a physical, graspable object that you can flick…

The 'No but' Monster

As you know, November is my month for Nanowrimo - that is, writing a novel in a month. The premise is that you don't hold yourself back editing (re-editing), worrying over chapter plans, character names or anything else that might distract you from the actual process of writing. You just go for it, ploughing ahead, accepting the nonsense and cliched with the possibly brilliant writing too.

Last night, armed with a pen and an A4 pad against the beastly 'No but' Monster and with several cups of coffee, I produced just short of 1,000 words. This was actually the first chapter which my voice of writing reason tells me is too short for a chapter. Ignoring both the monster and the voice, I drew a line under what I had written and tonight will start on the second chapter. I'm behind the daily word count target set by Nanowrimo at the moment but there's still plenty of time to catch up so keep your fingers crossed for me.

Begone ye beasts of procrastination and doubt. My pen…

And we're off!

Nanowrimo starts today. I know what I'm writing this year and have the first five chapters planned out of a fantasy novel called 'Open Haven'.

Good luck to all my fellow Nanowrimers. Bring it on!

Autumn Inspiration

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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.










All My Menus

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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.

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 …

Hallowe'en

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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 …

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. &qu…

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.

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 li…