Debut novel acquired by Bookouture

I’m absolutely thrilled to announce that my debut novel, The Diary, has been acquired by Bookouture!

The Diary is a tense and gripping thriller about the insular effects of strong teenage friendships and their ability to hide our most devastating lies.

Lauren returns to her home town for the ten-year anniversary of her sister Hannah’s death and finds a diary. It is full of her and her friends’ secrets. She begins to get threats against her. But no-one else has seen the diary, and only Hannah knew all their secrets. And Hannah’s dead, isn’t she?

29748161_122513455260261_1900493883_o

For the full blog post, click here.

The Diary will be released in January 2019, swiftly followed by a second novel later in the year. Readers of this blog will know that this has been my dream for a long time, and I’m so excited to join the Bookouture family.

To follow updates on my writing, please visit my author website.

In order for me to focus on my own writing, I am closing The Bandwagon to review requests for the foreseeable future.

Advertisements

28th February 2018: International Day of Hygge

I love the hygge trend. I’m definitely someone who loves home comforts, cosy blankets and cups of tea. Hygge can also translate as self-care. As someone with a chronic illness, I have to take care of myself, and there’s nothing I love more than snuggling on the sofa, surrounded by candles and soft throws and that feeling of being at home.

the northern

February 28th is International Day of Hygge. On that day, people will be sharing how they go about embracing hygge, using #internationalhyggeday.

Last year I wrote a blog post about how to bring hygge into your office. The 28th falls on a Wednesday, so I’ll be at work all day, then attending a Pilates class, which is something that greatly helps my fibromyalgia.

I’m all about embracing hygge in small ways every day, so I’ll make sure I take a proper tea break at work, sitting and meditating and just being in the moment. In the evening, we’ll have some good comfort food, maybe roasted lamb chops. I’ll make time for reading, snuggled up in the car on my lunch break or curled up on the sofa in the evening before bed, fighting off the winter with a hot drink.

Hygge is literally about enjoying life, acknowledging joy, and creating a cosy environment. It’s the little things that make your day just that bit better. For ideas on how to embrace this day, visit How To Hygge The British Way.

What will you be doing on International Day of Hygge?

Challenging big companies to reduce plastic

Unless you live under a rock, you will have seen the latest news about just how bad plastic is for the environment. According to some studies, plastic pollution is having a huge impact on our oceans and sealife, with creatures swallowing tiny bits of plastic all the time. You only have to search for ‘plastic pollution’ or ‘plastic ocean’, and you’ll find a variety of different articles, detailing just how bad this problem has become.

Now, big groups of activists have joined together and are fighting back. One particular petition is aimed at big companies to ban plastic cutlery and straws, and has almost 150,000 signatures. The petition states: “Globally, we throw away 500 million straws a day, and according to PlasticOceans.org, we dump 8 million tonnes of single-use plastic in our oceans yearly.” Those are incredibly (and infuriating) figures.

Pressure is also being put on British supermarkets to reduce plastic packaging. As detailed in my recent blog post about my journey to becoming more environmentally conscious, we as individuals can only do so much. Big companies must take more responsibility.

Not only have I signed the petition above, and similar ones, I also contacted Tesco and Asda about their plastic use. I will be contacting other supermarkets and big companies too, but these are the first responses I’ve received.

Asda:

Thank you for contacting us about this issue.
We want our customers to trust that we’re doing the right things on the issues that matter to them. That is why we recently published our commitments to reducing our use of plastic and recycling more.
We’ve already got a strong track record when it comes to reducing our packaging. We’ve reduced out total weight of packaging by 27% since 2007 and are committed to making all our Own Brand packaging recyclable by 2025.
But, we’ve challenged ourselves to look at how we can move faster on this important issue and have identified some immediate actions we can take.
  • Over the next 12 months we will be removing 10% of plastic from all our own brand products as well as continuing to work with our suppliers and other experts to explore new options and find more recyclable solutions.
  • We will be phasing out 5p ‘single use’ carrier bags from our stores in 2018, with a donation from the sale of our “bags for life” going to good causes.
  • We will also introduce a zero profit re-usable coffee cup to provide our customers with a great value alternative to single use cups. Alongside this, we will also be removing all single use cups and plastic cutlery from our head offices in 2018, with all our stores and in store cafes adopting the same policy by the end of 2019.
As part of our longer term work to look at new innovations in plastics and to find different solutions to plastic, we are also working in partnership with the UK’s leading experts in packaging technology at Leeds Beckett University Retail Institute as well as one of our biggest UK suppliers, ABP, on priority projects to develop new alternatives to plastics and more recyclable materials.
Thanks again for taking the time to get in touch and if you wish to read more on our pledge please follow the link below:
Tesco:
Thank you for contacting us.
 As part of our Little Helps plan, we have made the following commitments:
•Making all packaging fully recyclable or compostable by 2025
•Ensuring that all paper and board used will be 100% sustainable by 2025
•Halving packaging weight by 2025 compared to 2007 levels
Our aspirations go further than these targets, and we would like to work in partnership with Government and all of our suppliers to create a closed loop system for packaging.
Across the UK in particular, we see three steps:
1. Materials and design: There is an opportunity to reduce and simplify the types of materials we use in our packaging as part of our product development process in collaboration with our suppliers.
Through the reduction and simplification of the current range and type of materials we accept in our packaging we could create over the longer term a closed loop system based on selecting only recyclable materials.
This in turn can stimulate innovation in the packaging and recycling market through increased demand (e.g. increasing the use of rPET). We will require design innovation from our suppliers, such as greater use of compostable and biodegradable materials.
2. Recovery/recycling: This is one area we need greater innovation and there is opportunity for significant government leadership.
Currently, the inconsistencies in infrastructure and recycling activities between councils make consumer education and closed loop systems impossible to build. We would welcome the creation of an integrated national collection of packaging and investment in innovative recycling facilities. This is essential to a holistic approach to packaging recycling. PRN reform is also a necessary part of the solution and we look to contributing to this process.
We do support developing a cost-effective Deposit Return System (DRS) and are currently working with a number of partners to scope a project to explore how this can operate in practice and at scale. We view DRS as only one aspect of the holistic approach that is required to achieve the broader goals of reducing waste and increasing recycling in the UK.
3. Changing customer behaviour: Behaviour change can only be driven once a recognised and understood recycling infrastructure is in place. Getting this right will support consumer education and practice (failure to do so will lead to frustration for customers and a low take up rate on recycling).
Helping individuals to make the right choices can start with simple, clear and consistent information on packaging supported by other media. We can use marketing and promotions to encourage recycling, use of own containers, and choice of packaging purchase.
These steps will build on the progress we’ve made in recent years:
•In the UK, we have removed polystyrene from our fish packaging and replaced with a more environmentally friendly plastic, avoiding 653 tonnes of polystyrene being used.
•With our meat trays, we have replaced a two layer plastic tray with a single layer plastic, thereby making 84 million trays easier to recycle and removing 96 tonnes of plastic.
•We have made significant changes to the packaging of our wet wipes with a 20% material reduction and removal of 57 tonnes of plastic. This material saving is enough to make over 10 million more packs.
Overall, over 78% of the packaging on all our own brand products is recyclable depending on if the local authority collect it.
Thank you once again for taking the time to contact us.
It seems like they’re all making the right noises, and it’s certainly a step in the right direction, but now isn’t the time to let up the pressure. We have to start putting our money where our mouths are, and boycotting companies that refuse to take responsibility.
I’ve been on a journey to swap my cosmetics and toiletries to cruelty free (and vegan and natural, where possible), deciding to take a moral stand and refuse to give my money to companies who don’t care about these things, so why not do it with packaging waste too? We’ve recently started buying our milk from an old-fashioned milkman, who not only provides milk in glass bottles, but they also take the empty ones away to be reused. We’ve also swapped to Ocado for our shopping, buy our meat and cheese from the local farm shop, and always refuse single use bags.
While this is a lifestyle choice, it also doesn’t make sense to me that people don’t care about the environment. This is our planet, and we won’t get another one. We cannot continue to abuse it.
Let me know if you’ve had any positive responses from big companies regarding their environmental policies!

The Bandwagon Goes Environmentally Conscious

Last year, one of my personal projects was to go cruelty free and vegan where possible when it comes to my beauty products. I’ve swapped Clinique for The Body Shop, fallen for Sand&Sky’s face mask, and become a regular at Superdrug. But now I want to tackle something else – waste.

Some of you may know that, as my day job, I work in regulatory affairs for a medical company. As part of that, because we’re a small team, we also handle the environmental side of things. We’re certified to ISO 14001, which means we have goals to be more environmentally conscious, and we also have to submit our packaging waste and WEEE data to the relevant authority. We have internal training on the environment, and what we can do to reduce our impact as a company, as well as individuals. This means that I have to be more environmentally aware, and that awareness spills from my professional life into my personal life.

Confession: my partner has always been better at recycling and reducing waste than I am. Being a cynic, I don’t trust our local council to put much effort into recycling. Also, it can be hella confusing. With all the revelations about just how insidious plastic is, I’m now second guessing everything I put into the recycling bin.

reuse-reduce-recycle

The first goal is to reduce. It seems like everything comes packaged in plastic, especially from the supermarket. When the 5p plastic bag surcharge came in, it made us a bit more conscious of how wasteful they can be. Our plastic bags are always reused as bin bags for our bathroom bin, so that’s one plus point, but they do ultimately end up in landfill. So we bought some Bags For Life, and remember to use them around 95% of the time, thus reducing the amount of plastic bags we use.

Another thing we’re implementing is switching to a milkman. Yep, the old fashioned milkman of years gone by, who delivers milk to your front door in glass bottles. Living so close to London, I thought we’d have a plethora of options, but I could actually only find a few milkmen in our area. We’ve gone with Tim Davis Dairies of Braintree in Essex, who will kindly deliver five pints of organic milk to us in glass bottles. (They also take the bottles away to be reused.) We used to order 4 pints from the supermarket every week, plus one or two singular pints for me to take to work. So that’s a huge amount of plastic gone from our weekly shop.

One question that must be asked: Is it more expensive? The simple answer is yes. 1 pint of organic milk from Sainsburys cost 65p. From the milkman, it’s 85p. We’re in the fortunate position to be able to afford that difference, but not everyone is. Until supermarkets wake up and stop producing so much bloody waste, some people have no option but to continue with the cheaper, arguably more convenient supermarkets.

One thing that does actually work out cheaper is Who Gives A Crap, an Australian company that delivers bulk packs of toilet paper to your front door. At first glance, it feels like you’re paying out more, but the toilet paper lasts so much longer, so it does work out cheaper than the supermarket equivalent (recycled paper). It’s super soft, recycled paper, and they use no plastic in their packaging. They also donate 50% of their profits to building toilets. Doing good definitely feels good.

The next step is to reuse. I do have several reusable Starbucks cups that I take to work and in the car. But these cups are too big to fit into our coffee machine, so what do I do? I use a non-recylable cup to put into the machine, which gets thrown away. Well done, me.

To combat this, I’ve bought a KeepCup, a smaller glass cup that will fit inside the damn machine at work, and is easier to transport as it has a lid that closes (though it’s not fully leak-proof). Hopefully this will mean I’ll pop it in my bag every time I go out, and stop using disposable coffee cups.

I have OCD, and part of my OCD is a fear of germs. I don’t like eating off other people’s cutlery, or using their mugs. It makes me feel ill. So going out to eat can be a struggle. One huge factor for me are straws. I hate drinking out of glasses that hundreds of others have touched, so I always get a straw. Which is bad. I’ve bought a set of glass straws from Amazon, which are actually really nice to use, and they’re easy to clean. I just need to find a way of keeping one in my bag without it getting mucky.

The final option is to recycle. As mentioned above, our local council doesn’t recycle everything, so you have to be careful what you put in your bin. They do recycle most plastic, glass, and cardboard, so they’re my first port of call, but I’ve signed up to Terracycle in order to properly recycle beauty and household products, like those pesky packs face wipes come in. There are various other recycling schemes on Terracycle, but those two are ones we could definitely do with using.

But is this enough? I’m always of the mind that we can only do what we can do, as individuals. Money, time, and circumstances always factors into these things. There are also some things I want to tackle, but I don’t know how. Receipts, clingfilm, teabags (!). The list feels endless, and you can be forgiven for feeling overwhelmed.

The truth is that a lot of these things have to be sorted out by the manufacturers, and by supermarkets. Stop wrapping bananas in plastic, for fuck sake. Start investing in reusable, sustainable packaging. Stop using plastic in absolutely everything. Coffee shops, start recycling your cups (like Costa does), or just stop using disposable ones. Greater minds than mine can come up with decent solutions, I’m sure of it. Let’s make the environment a priority.

In Bloom: My current work-in-progress

Since last autumn, I’ve been working on my latest project; a full-length, semi-autobiographical novel called In Bloom. I’m currently on my second draft, conducting a full read-through, and getting feedback from beta readers. I’m aiming to have a final draft ready to submit for publication within the next month.

26732202_10215047429876369_1092861989_o

I want to talk about In Bloom, because writing it has been an incredible journey for me. When I say it’s semi-autobiographical, what I mean is that one of the key events in the novel is based on something that happened to me as a teenager. When I was 15, I was raped by a guy I’d been seeing casually, and had agreed to go off with, but when I wanted to stop, he wouldn’t.

It took a long time for me to realise that this was rape. We were warned about strange men lurking in dark alleys, or even creepy “uncles” who might touch you in the wrong way, but not about this. I was never told that I could say no at any point. That having full body autonomy means that I can give and withdraw consent whenever I wish. And that if someone doesn’t respect my decision, they are doing something wrong.

As girls, we’re taught all the wrong things. To quote my own novel:

It starts when we’re young, of course. We’re told what good girls do, and don’t do. Then we start to have periods and grow breasts, and we’re told to hide ourselves, lest we attract The Wrong Attention. We’re told to be wary of boys, afraid of men, and their questionable intentions. Yet we also have to live with them, trust them, love them, so we don’t know how to cope when those men betray us, hurt us. The world takes us apart, piece by piece, turns us into unsure, trembling, fragile creatures. We’re left bare, vulnerable.

And so it goes, our confidence slowly ripped apart, our sense of self destroyed. How many young women know what constitutes rape? How many young men know what consent actually means? The answer is pretty terrifying.

I didn’t start writing In Bloom so I could name the guy who raped me. The time for that has passed. I’ve changed enough details so it’s unlikely he, or anyone else, will realise the event I’m talking about. I wanted to write this story because writing is my outlet. It’s cathartic, therapeutic. I wanted to tell this story because it’s the story of so many other women and girls; women and girls who may feel that they’re alone, that they’re wrong. In Bloom has a very simple message: You are not alone. You are justified. You are heard.

That scene is pivotal for my protagonist, Lauren, but it isn’t the end of the story. She has to deal with someone sharing a photograph of her from that night – passed out, half-naked, vulnerable. She loses her friends. And then, almost a year later, her sister, Hannah, is found dead.

In Bloom may be a story of pain, of sexual violence and trauma. But it’s also a story of sisterhood, of maturity, of confronting your past, your ghosts. It’s a story of acceptance, not of what has happened to you, but acceptance of yourself, as you are. You are more than the sum of your experiences.

I’m still open for beta readers, though I will caution anyone that this book contains the following themes: rape, child abuse, suicide. But nothing is graphic or gratuitous. Read the blurb below, and if you’re interested, please email thebandwagonreviews@gmail.com.

 

In Bloom

Lauren Winters must return to her hometown, the town she fled from after her sister, Hannah, committed suicide. 

Before Hannah died, she revealed a truth to Lauren that she knew could never be forgiven. After Lauren experiences a traumatic event, she relies on Hannah to keep her safe and sane. But what happens when the one you trust the most betrays you?

Lauren has no choice but to go back, to face the life she left behind. 10 years later, a memorial is being held in Hannah’s honour. And someone is desperate to bring her back to life.

thumb

Medsmart: The medication reminder app

As my readers will know, I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia almost two years ago. Since then, I’ve been on amitriptyline, a tricyclic antidepressant that’s prescribed to help with chronic pain and fatigue.

Amitriptyline is a tricky drug. It took me a while to get used it each time my doctor increased my dose, leaving me to deal with side effects like drowsiness and a dry mouth. It also matters what time you take this medication, and getting that right can take a while too.

Since I started taking amitriptyline, I’ve had a reminder on my phone each evening, telling me to take my medication. Fibromyalgia often comes with “fibro fog”, making it hard to remember things. Since taking my medication is important, I didn’t want to leave it to chance, so my calendar has been clogged up with a daily “take pill” reminder. Until I found out about Medsmart.

unnamed

Medsmart is relatively new, so they’re still adding medications. My version of amitriptyline wasn’t on there when I first downloaded the app, but it is now. I scanned the barcode, then went through a few questions to ensure it was the right medication, and that I wasn’t allergic to anything in it. Then I could set up my reminder.

I take 50mg of amitriptyline every night, and I’ve recently been taking an extra 10mg later on to help with broken sleep. Sadly, the 10mg version isn’t available on Medsmart yet, but I hope it’s forthcoming. I set a reminder to take 50mg in the app for 18:30 every evening. Right on time, it popped up, then prompted me to go through the app to confirm I had taken the medication.

Overall, the app is smooth and easy to use. The interface is clear, the information obvious and easy to understand. You can also set reminders for someone else, so if you care for a friend or family member, you can use the app to remind you which medications they need to take, at what time(s). I think this is a nice touch.

My only grip is that the barcode scanner isn’t always clear the first time you try to use it; sometimes it was blurry, so I had to come out and try again. I’m also keen to see their library of medications expanded to include everything I take, but I understand that getting everything on their system is a huge task! I’ll definitely continue to use this app in the future.

The Medsmart app is free to download on Android and Apple. You can find out more on their website.

Season’s Greetings from The Bandwagon!

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! I love yuletide, my word of choice for this time of year. Bringing the outside in, getting together with friends and family, and sharing good food and laughter. There’s nothing quite like it.

Whatever you do this December, I want to wish you a very happy festive season, and all the best for 2018!

SEASON'SGREETINGS