HAPPY NEW YEAR! It’s time for resolutions (again)! #NewYear #Resolutions #2020

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It’s the first of January again and I sat down to make some resolutions. I decided to look back on last year’s, and realised that I was going to make the same resolutions all over again for the coming year, so I may as well just copy last year’s post.

Now, don’t get me wrong, it is not as though I have made no progress on any of these over the past twelve months. I have definitely improved my diet and have lost a stone in weight, although there is more to go. Get fit? Meh, huge room for improvement there. The others are moving in the right direction but need more work, so I guess I’ll keep on keeping on and see how much more progress I can make.

Here’s a reminder of where I am headed, check back in twelve months for a progress report!

1. Eat more healthily.

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I thought I’d get the predictable/dull/difficult ones out of the way first. I was going to put ‘Lose some weight’ but that is a rather negative one and I’m only making positive resolutions this year (that should have been number one actually – only make positive resolutions!) so I am going to eat more healthily, and that will have the side effect of causing weight loss, hopefully! It’s a win-win!

2. Get fit.

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Time to dust off that gym membership! I need to get in some sort of shape before I hit 50 or resign myself to being unfit forever. (Yes, I realise that ’round’ is a shape, but it is not actually my shape of choice!)

3. Do more ‘free reading.’

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I’m coining a new phrase here which I am hoping will catch on. What I mean by this is reading books from my TBR, rather than for blog tours. For fun, rather than because I have made a commitment. I did a huge number of blog tours last year and, whilst I enjoy them and love helping promote the authors and discovered a lot of fabulous new writers, I did find myself under a lot of pressure (self-inflicted!) at times, and it did restrict my ability to just read a book when it took my fancy. So this year, I am cutting back a bit on the blog tours and will read more random books, as and when I feel like it. That TBR needs reducing!

4. Journalling

Last year this section was purely about keeping a gratitude journal, which was something I did intermittently. I am expanding this this year to try and journal daily about everything, the highs and the lows, and incorporate the gratitude into this habit. I think documenting feelings in general is going to be useful for mental health. For someone who has experienced anxiety and depression in the past, managing my thoughts is extremely important in staying mentally healthy and happy. Focusing on the positive aspects of every day and being actively grateful for them can only remind us that life in general is good and that I am fortunate.

For example, today I am very grateful for this scene in Guardians of the Galaxy where Chris Pratt is hosed down, sans shirt. Life is, indeed, good!

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5. Finish that novel.

This is the year that my novel WILL be finished and submitted. No more procrastination. No more excuses. No more fear. It is time to put it out there. I have huge support from my family, friends, the Romantic Novelists’ Association (I am on their New Writers’ Scheme for another year), my lovely online writing group and, particularly, my fabulous writing buddy, Kate. They all believe in me, time to start believing in myself and take the next step on that path to achieving my dream.

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6. Be happy!

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TRIGGER WARNING: THE FOLLOWING CONTENTS MAY INDUCE NAUSEA IN THOSE OF A CYNICAL DISPOSITION!

This might seem like an odd one because happiness does not always appear to be under our control. It often seems like something which can only be achieved when external forces align circumstances in our favour to create an environment where we can feel happy for a moment or two. Well, please excuse my French, but bugger that for a game of soldiers. I have decided to choose happiness. To create it wherever possible. To do things which make me happy. To work to make sure that the things in my life are the ones that make me happy, and to rid myself of the negative things as much as I can. To try and take the positives out of situations. I’m tapping in to my inner Pollyanna. It’s a spin on Trainspotting’s Choose Life riff, but way less cool.

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So there we go. Those are my resolutions. Not very original. Not earth shattering, but I hope they will have a positive effect on my life, and those around me, which is probably the best I can expect. And you know what they say about the Butterfly Effect.

I KNOW that 2020 is going to be a good year. (More assertiveness required I think!)

What about you? Tell me your resolutions or hopes and dreams for the coming year. I hope it is a good one for all of us. Let’s meet back here in twelve months and see how we all got on, shall we?

Merry ‘Twixmas! Looking back, looking forward @TheFictionCafe @RNATweets @lord_dodo @moleskine #RomanticNovelistsAssociation #NewWritersScheme #bookblogger #bookbloggers #bookblog #amreading #amwriting #readinggoals #writinggoals #blogginggoals

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It’s a funny time of year, isn’t it, the week between Christmas and New Year? No one knows what day of the week it is or what they should be doing. Everything seems to come to a standstill, the world taking a breath between the excitement of Christmas past and the promise of the new year yet to come. A great time for a bit of introspection, muse on the year past, plan for the one about to start.

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That’s what I have been doing the past couple of days, anyway. My girls were staying with their dad, the Irishman flew off to Dublin for a few days with his parents, I had the house to myself and some time for contemplation and organisation. I tidied up the Christmas detritus, got out my new diary and calendar ready to fill with blogging and writing goals for the year ahead, and had a think about what I want to achieve and how I’m going to do it.

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2019 was a very busy year on the blog. I did loads of blog tours, read a massive 165 books in total. Friday Night Drinks grew in popularity and I had some great guests and I increased my following. On the downside, my TBR grew ever more massive and out of control, I neglected the travel and writing areas of my blog and failed miserably to complete my two reading challenges because I over-faced myself with blog tour commitments and could not devote as much time as I wanted to free reading. My NetGalley backlog also grew to the point where I got turned down for a couple of books because of my abysmal ratio. Something needs to be done.

So, bearing all of this in mind, what lies in store for 2020 and what are my plans?

My Friday Night Drinks and Tempted by… features are both fully booked and planned to June, so they will be carrying on as before. I will be setting my Goodreads Reading Challenge target at 150 again, with the hope that I can exceed it as I have the last two years. I have decided against doing any other external reading challenges, as I don’t need the pressure. Instead, I will make a second attempt at doing my Desert Island Books (more detail on that to come in January.) I am also determined to be more diligent with the Travel, Bucket List and Writing areas of my blog and have diaried in some regular features for these. I’m looking forward to getting a bit more variety in to the blog.

In an attempt to get some control over my NetGalley ratio and TBR, I have decided to go back to the original aim of the blog as set out in my first ever blog post and buy no new books in 2020, or request any more from NetGalley. I’ll just be reading the ones I already have. Unfortunately, these means cutting right back on blog tours to free up reading time. I’m limiting myself to a maximum of two per month after January and February (where I have already committed to more than two!). I am allowing myself to receive my one Book Club book each month, and spend my monthly Audible credit. I have a few books on pre-order which I will let stand. Other than that, I’ll not be buying anything new, but reviewing what I already have, as randomly selected from my book jar. I’m actually looking forward to the challenge. I got a few book-themed Christmas gifts to see me on my way too.

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(Fear not, dear authors with books being published in 2020, I will be making a list ready for when the ban is lifted!)

I had a bit of an epiphany back in the spring when I had Bell’s Palsy and could not read for six weeks due to issues with my left eye. I had always been a little snobby about audiobooks not being ‘proper reading’ and had never counted them in my reading totals. Well, I have to say, audiobooks were my lifeline during those long boring days of illness and now I am as zealous a convert as St. Paul on the road to Damascus. I am listening to them at every opportunity and, in fact, my favourite book of the year was consumed in audio format. So, in 2020, I will be listening to even more audiobooks and reviewing more of them on my blog.

After a couple of lax months at the end of the year, I also plan on making sure I review every book I read or listen to next year (unless I hate it) and being more engaged with other people’s blogs in the new year.

On the writing front, I’m back in the Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writers’ Scheme for the third year, and I am determined that this is the year that I start submitting my book to agents and publishers. I’m planning on attending some RNA events again this year, including conference in July, so I hope to share some of that journey with you. My very kind and wise friends have supplied me with some lovely Christmas gifts to help me along, including this gorgeous Story Box gift from my lovely friend Mary-Louise and a Smithson notebook from the Irishman (a hint to get the book finished, perhaps?)

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As far as travel goes, I currently have nothing booked, which is unusual, but I have last year’s trips still to share and I am sure there will be things planned soon, so watch this space!

All in all, I am excited for the coming year, and all that it is going to bring for me, and for the blog. I hope you will continue on this journey with me, share the highs and the lows and, most of all, the book love. After all, it is fairly meaningless without all of you. Thanks for being here and

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An Appeal on behalf of my local community @JimReRead #SouthYorkshireFloods #Doncaster #DoncasterFloods

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I have never done a post like this before on the blog, but I cannot have a platform and not use it to make an appeal on behalf of my fellow Doncastrians after the disaster that my home town has suffered this week.

Any of my readers who live in the UK cannot have failed to see the news about the devastating floods which have swept Doncaster over the last week. Local communities have been devastated, homes destroyed, lives blighted. Many people have lost everything. For some of them, this is the second time in the last twelve years that their homes have been destroyed by floods. Many no longer have insurance to cover their losses. 1,000 homes have been affected so far, and more rain is falling as we speak, so yet more may be hit.

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The main village affected is only 5 miles from my house, it is a terrible thing to see. Each of us must think, ‘there but for the grace of God go I.’

The only positive to come from this terrible situation is to see how the local communities in Doncaster are rallying round to help each other and now, I am reaching out to my wider community, to see if you can help the people who have been so badly affected by this terrible disaster.

If you are able to give a little, South Yorkshire’s Community Foundation have set up a disaster relief appeal to help the people affected. You can find the appeal’s JustGiving page here. Any tiny amount you can spare would be greatly appreciated and will go a long way to get people back on the road to recovery.

On a more personal note, I would like to reach out to the bookish community of which I am a member on behalf of a cause close to my heart. Re-Read is a social enterprise initiative in Doncaster which collects unwanted books and sells them to raise money in order to distribute new books to children, schools and other organisations around Doncaster to bring reading and books to people who might otherwise not have access to them. They also provide work placements for people who are long-term unemployed.This is the place to which I donate all my books when I have finished with and I think they are a magnificent cause.

Unfortunately, during Thursday night’s floods, Re-Read’s warehouse was flooded, their staff had to be rescued and they have lost their stock of 100,000 books. This is particularly devastating at this time of year when they are preparing for their Christmas children’s book giveaway. They have pretty much lost everything.

If there is anyone who is part of the bookish community who can help get this marvellous organisation get back on their feet, this would be greatly appreciated. They have set up a GoFundMe page to try and raise funds to replace some of their lost equipment and stock, which you can find here. The other way to help, is through donations of books, new or used, that they can sell to raise money to carry on their book giveaways for children this Christmas, or of new books that can themselves been given to the children. I will be taking four crates of books to drop off for them tomorrow, which represent all the stock I keep for replenishing my community free library, and am happy to coordinate collection and delivery of any other books that anyone may be able to send to help out.

If anyone can help with book donations, please feel free to email me at julie@alittlebookproblem.co.uk or via my contact page here, or via Twitter where I am @book_problem and we will organise how this can be achieved.

Thank you for any help you can give us …. from the people of Doncaster.

Out of Sight, Out of Mind – Baby Loss Awareness Week @BLA_Campaign @GBSSupport @Tommys_baby @SandsUK @Blisscharity @LullabyTrust @MiscarriageA @TheEPT #WaveOfLight #BLAW2019 #outofsightoutofmind #babyloss #breakthesilence

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Today I bought a birthday cake for my daughter. She turns twelve on Sunday and is having a party tomorrow. I’ll be wrapping her presents later, writing a card. The usual birthday traditions we’ve had each year for the twelve years of her life.

But first I have to pick up another birthday present. Val has made it for me. She has been making the same gift every year for the past 16 years, so I don’t even have to tell her what I want any more, she knows. I’ll go and collect it from her shop on the high street and I’ll take the little white wreath straight to the cemetery to place on my son’s grave. I’ll spend a little while there, thinking about him, remembering the very short time we had together, and then I’ll leave. Another annual birthday tradition.

Some people still remember that today was the day that my son was born 16 years ago, and the day that he died of a Group B Strep infection. They will send me a message to let me know they remember and they are thinking of me, and this means the world to me. Grief over the loss of a child can be a lonely affair, especially after so many years when memories grow hazy and people’s lives move on. Especially as I now have two other healthy children and a happy life. People might assume that the pain is less, that the feelings dull. I can’t blame them, but it is not so.

Losing a child can change everything forever. It changes how you see the world, how safe you feel. It changes your relationship with your other children. It can change your relationship with your partner, how you view the medical profession, how much you trust your own body. It changes you. Nothing is ever the same afterwards, you have to adjust to a new reality and that can be a very difficult and lonely journey to make.

People often say, ‘I can’t imagine what you are going through.’ ‘I can’t imagine having to deal with that.’ I can’t imagine, I can’t imagine. And it is true, they can’t, and they don’t want to. And I don’t blame them for a second. But the fact that people can’t imagine the pain and loss, don’t understand it unless they have been through it themselves or have experience of dealing with people who have, means that parents need specialist support to help them through this specific type of loss and grief if they are to successfully adjust to this new reality in which they now find themselves.

This is why, this year in Baby Loss Awareness Week, we are calling on Governments across the UK to take action to ensure that all parents who experience pregnancy or baby loss and need specialist psychological support can access it, at a time and place that is right for them, free of charge, wherever they live. Thousands of parents experience pregnancy or baby loss every year, many will go on to experience psychiatric illness that requires specialist support, triggered by intense grief and the trauma of their experience. Research shows that too often this support is unavailable, inaccessible or inappropriate. Bereaved parents are falling through the gaps between policy and funding, regularly overlooked altogether.

For more information on what you can do, please visit babyloss-awareness.org. Wear a pin, write a letter, join in the conversation on social media, join in the Wave of Light on Tuesday 15 October at 7 pm.

And if you are someone who has been affected by what I have discussed here and you need help, please reach out. Don’t suffer in silence. You can find a list of organisations that can help you here.BLAW_Supporter

Bell’s Palsy, Audiobooks & Gaining Perspective

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Hello, my friends! I know, it has been a while, did you miss me while I was gone? I hope so. I’m going to assume you did, and that you noticed I wasn’t posting for the last six weeks, otherwise all of this is a bit pointless, isn’t it?

So, I’m sure you are dying to know what kept me away from my beloved blog, and the fabulous book community. If you haven’t seen any of my brief social media posts, you won’t know that I have had Bell’s Palsy for the last month and a half, which has been a massive nuisance.

For those of you who don’t know what it is, here is a link to some information about Bell’s Palsy. When I woke up on the Tuesday morning after the Easter bank holiday weekend, the whole left side of my face was drooping down and I could not close my eye. My first thought was that I was having a stroke, it was absolutely terrifying. I immediately called an ambulance as I was home alone with my eleven-year-old daughter and I did not want her having to deal with me if I collapsed. As it was, it was really upsetting and frightening for her until my sister arrived. Luckily, she lives close by and the ambulance soon arrived, and they took great care of me. I was assessed quickly at the hospital who confirmed it wasn’t a stroke and I had Bell’s Palsy. They gave me steroids and sent me home, and then the most boring and frustrating six weeks of my life began.

I could not close my left eye at all, which meant I was constantly having to lubricate it with artificial tears, tape it closed at night and, unexpectedly, I could not drive, write or work on a screen, because trying to focus my eye on a screen or print for more than a minute or two made my vision blurry and gave me a headache. Worst of all, I couldn’t read. At all. For FIVE-AND-A-HALF WEEKS!

I haven’t gone five and a half days without reading for as long as I can remember, probably never, so this was an appalling situation. I did try and remind myself that at least I hadn’t had a stroke, and this would pass in time and that, for some people, this was their permanent reality and I was lucky, but this only worked some of the time. I missed it so much, it is such a central part of my daily life. I had blog tours scheduled that I had to pull out of, which I hated to have to do. I have a novel in progress that I had promised to my beta readers by mid-May which was laying unattended. I was so frustrated.

I turned to audiobooks, for which I was both grateful and disgruntled. I only normally listen to audiobooks while I am doing something else – driving, walking the dog, cleaning, washing up. Sitting and just listening to them didn’t quite work for me. They go by so slowly compared to how quickly I read. They kept sending me to sleep. I only managed to get through six-and-a-half in five weeks, when I would normally have read about 15-20 books in this time. I could actively FEEL my TBR mounting in the background, my blog shedding followers, people writing me off as a disappeared blogger. My timeline for my novel slipping away. Honestly, I know I sound moan-ey but it was awful. I’m so rubbish at being ill because I so rarely am and I normally try and ignore it, and I’m even worse at being unproductive. I’m usually someone who multi-tasks, so enforced periods of inactivity drive me mad. I was a terrible patient, but luckily I was just looking after myself so at least I didn’t bother anyone else with my general misery.

The good news is, I’m pretty much back to normal now. Back behind the wheel, back on the books and, at last, on the blog. I’m looking forward to catching up on all the reviews and blog posts I had to postpone, and my apologies to all the authors, blog tour hosts and guests that I had to disappoint. I promise I will catch up and reschedule as soon as I can.

Aside from moaning and complaining, I have used this time to reassess some of the things going on in my life and what is important. Not being able to read and blog has reinforced how central to my happiness these two things are. I realise that I have taken my usual good health for granted and this is not good. Things could have been very different if the diagnosis had been worse and I need to take the time and trouble to be fitter and healthier. To this end, I have started a new healthy eating plan and have lost 10 pounds so far, and have rejoined the gym to start getting fitter. I really appreciate my family, particularly my kids who have been so helpful and understanding about my inability to do much for the last six weeks, my partner, and my poor sister who had to do all of the school runs while I couldn’t drive. I am very lucky to have so much support.

I also found that, having not been able to work on my book for six weeks, I now know how much this matters to me. so, it is time to crack on and get this finished, albeit now on a delayed timetable. But life throws us obstacles and curveballs and we need to learn to roll with the punches, adapt and find a way to get back on track. I am taking the last six weeks as a chance to slow down, reassess, take stock and learn some lessons. Now it is onwards and upwards, and I am so glad to be back amongst you all. I missed you, even if you didn’t notice I was gone.

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Social Media Hiatus #amwriting #bookblogging #bookblog #socialmediahiatus

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Just a quick heads up to let you know that I am going to be taking a little hiatus from social media for a few weeks while I try and get some writing done.

I have a writing and pitching retreat coming up and my book needs A LOT of work before then, so I need to get my head down and focus. It is going nowhere fast at the moment! It is a goal that is very important to me and I owe it to myself to give it the focus and time it deserves.

I will still be honouring all my blog tour commitments and publicising those as usual, my usual weekly features will also carry on as normal, but I apologise in advance for not being around to share other people’s blog posts as much as I usually like to.

I’m also conscious that I have a huge NetGalley backlog to clear and I really want to get the book into shape for submission by the summer, before the RNA conference in July if possible so, for these reasons, I won’t be taking on any new review requests or blog tours until September.

I’ll still be around, just maybe a little less than usual. Wish me luck as I plough through editing the book, and thank you for your support.

2019 Blogging Intentions & Reading & Writing Goals @TheFictionCafe @RNATweets #RomanticNovelistsAssociation #NewWritersScheme #bookblogger #bookbloggers #bookblog #amreading #amwriting #FictionCafeReadingChallenge2019

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As it is new year, and my second blogiversary is approaching, I thought I would do a little post setting out my reading and blogging goals for the coming year, such as they are.

To be honest, after the overhaul I gave the blog last summer, I am fairly happy with where it it as and am inclined to let it coast along unchanged for a while. I have the weekly slots for my Tempted by… and Friday Night Drinks features filled up to the end of May, so they will be carrying on, along with my staple book reviews. I also intend to try and do more regular posts in the Travel, Bucket List and Writing categories, as those have been somewhat haphazard so far. I have a few exciting trips already planned for the coming year, so I’m looking forward to sharing those with you.

I am introducing one new monthly feature this year, which is called Desert Island Books. Not exactly a cryptic title so you may work out the gist of what this is about but look out for a post coming on Thursday of this week for more details on this. Otherwise, it will be business as usual on the blogging front.

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On the reading front, I decided to go back to the principles which were originally behind the blog, and spend the year trying to reduce my TBR, which has gotten completely out of hand if I’m being honest. I just made a spreadsheet to keep track of all the books I own but haven’t read across all mediums and the tally is frankly embarrassing. So, I’m cutting back a bit on blog tours and focusing on reading some of my existing titles.

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To this end, I have set my Goodreads Challenge 2019 goal at 125. I am also going to attempt my online book club, The Fiction Cafe Book Club Reading Challenge 2019, which involves reading 25 books which fall into a specific categories – one every two weeks. I’ll be fitting books from my existing TBR into these categories where possible. Here are the details of the challenge, if you are interested. Watch out for the reviews of these books popping up fortnightly under the FictionCafeReadingChallenge2019 hashtag.

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(If you are interested in joining The Fiction Cafe Book Club, please follow the link above and send a request. I highly recommend it, it is the friendliest corner of the internet for book lovers.)

On the writing front, I’m back in the Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writers’ Scheme for another year, working on edits to my work in progress following my report from my reader last year and planning on having the manuscript ready to pitch as soon as I can. I have a writing retreat booked for March and it is all systems go on the novel front. Wish me luck as this will be me for the next few months:

What are your goals for this year?