Not completing is not failing.

Not completing is not failing.

NaNoWriMo is a challenge. You compete only against yourself. If you compete, then you win. Even if you don’t complete the challenge, you are not failing.

There is no big prize for any winner, no publishing contract, no offer of professional editing, no accolades. There is only a certificate that you can download and print if you want to, and the enormous sense of achievement as your wordcount hits 50,000 words, or more.

Nano 2017 participant - not failing

You can cheat, you can fake it, but you are only cheating yourself. I’m sure some people do, and some may call themselves Nano-rebels. But in the end Nano is what you make of it, and when I first tried, it was a huge adventure, so much fun. The whole experience was incredibly intense, and that feeling at the end was amazing. I even found my first novel there.

This year, I’ve come back to Nano to see if I can kickstart my writing after several dry, wordless, years. But I’ve come to a conclusion, and I am actually surprisingly relaxed about it.

Not completing is not failing.

It’s not, it’s really not. Nano is half over and I’m nowhere near the 25,000 word mark. If I’m honest, and being realistic, it is incredibly unlikely I am going to catch up and find that elusive 50,000 word target now.

So I am declaring now that I think it unlikely I will complete Nano this year. But I’m ok with that because I have new words written, and I will continue to write them. The story is growing, and heading where it needs to go, and the characters are alive on the page again.

The words are trickling, not flowing, but I am writing again, albeit slowly. My aim is accomplished, and I intend to continue to write every day and see how close I can get to the 50,000 word target.

Writing again.

I’m writing again.

My writing journey began in 2005, when I first discovered the NaNoWriMo challenge. I took part, and completed the challenge for 8 years, and then I decided to take a break. That turned out to be a break from writing completely. I did finish a couple of projects, moved house, life changed, and the break turned into 4 years.

The characters were quiet, the stories not ready for telling. But this year, life changed again, and I’m writing again. I’d almost forgotten how intense it can get, typing word after word, sentence after sentence, as the story flows.

nanowrimo 2017, writing again

I think that sometimes you have to let the creative fire die back to embers, and then allow it to find fresh fuel.

I’m not sure if I’ll complete the challenge, 50,000 words in 30 days, this year, but I’m writing, I’m creating with words again, and it feels good.


After toying with the idea of trying something new, I found myself drawn to the familiar, to characters and a world that I know well. Lily is back. Years after I wrote her death, her younger self wants to tell her story.

Lily is around 18 years of age, as I write her now. She’s not yet had children, and is only just becoming the Mistress she will be in The Portal Between. She is with her sister, and their mother, as the magic grows and passes from mother to daughter, and as it pulls the family apart – which it seems to do on a regular basis. The magic seems to be more curse than gift, which is a theme for all my Portal books.

The sisters are searching for the man they meet as Lily discovers the portal magic by accident, and as she learns how to control it. But Samuel is elusive.

Hemp and lemongrass soap

Hemp and Lemongrass Soap.

I made a small batch today, of my all time favourite, hemp and lemongrass soap.

I find the hemp oil helps with the drying effect soap can have on my skin, it moisturises a little leaving the lather soft and easy on sensitive skin. Lemongrass is softer, sweeter, than lemon oil, and it’s what I had available.

First assemble your tools and equipment, make sure everything is clean and dry. Make sure your work area is clear and clean. Make sure pets and small children are out of the way. The last thing you need is a cat sticking its head in the mixture, or a small child distracting you. I find the lye fumes can irritate my throat so I mix that near an open window, at arm’s length, and I also use a cheap dust mask for that stage.

I use the method described by The Soap Kitchen, but there are plenty of other guides available. I’m not going to repeat their hard work here – but I will comment on parts where I’ve done things a little differently. However, their method has worked for me every time I’ve followed it. I’ve used different recipes, but the method works. Follow the process step by step from the link, all I’m giving you is the proportions of ingredients!!

The main difference is that I wouldn’t use any wood tools at all. Silicone works well, doesn’t react with any of the chemicals and cleans up nicely afterwards. Stainless steel is great too, or glass, for bowls and pans. Small plastic containers are fine for storage and weighing.

The recipe for Hemp and Lemongrass soap, palm oil free:

225g Olive oil

80g Coconut oil (solid)

23g Mango butter

23g Shea butter

5ml Vitamin E oil (preservative, and optional, leave this out if you want)

49g Sodium Hydroxide pearls/beads

115g Cold water

15ml Hempseed oil

15ml Lemongrass oil

I also decided that today I’d try adding some colour – and I used titanium dioxide with D&C Yellow #10 for half the batch, and Chromium oxide green for the other half – then I dolloped some yellow and green into the moulds. The colours came from Simple Pleasures, and were gifted to me by a friend. You only need a tiny amount, mixed with water to disperse it before adding to the soap mix.

The colours didn’t mix into the soap, or blend with each other, as well as I would have liked, and I now have sort of blotchy soaps. But I think this is more to do with the texture of the soap as it was put into the moulds. A smoother mix would have enabled a better blending of the colours, but this palm oil free just doesn’t seem to do that. I’m not sure why.

hemp and lemongrass soap

So, sometime soon I’ll be changing the recipe a little bit and see what happens!


This is my own recipe, and although I use the soap I make, and so do my family and friends, these recipes are not tested or approved. If you want to try using my recipe you are welcome to do so, but in doing so you accept this is at your own risk.

When using sodium hydroxide, and working with the resulting lye solution – take extra care. Chemical burns are a serious business, and you don’t need a hospital stay just because you fancied having a go at making soap. I recommend old clothes, long sleeves, tough rubber gloves, and safety glasses – possibly a lightweight mask too if you think you might need it for the fumes.

Let the novel begin…

Nanowrimo has been part of my writing journey since 2005, and I completed the challenge several years in a row before life got in the way and I took an extended break from the whole thing for a few years.

The Portal series was pretty much written as part of, or as a result of, Nano challenges, and the Earthlink novella came from a desire to write something different.

This year, for the first time in ages, I found myself wondering what had happened to the characters, and from there intrigued more by the back story.

In The Portal Between, Lily arrives as a fully formed character. She’s Kate’s friend, Andrew’s mother, very enigmatic, and full of secrets. Some of the secrets are revealed through the series, but others are only hinted at. We know she ran from a horrific situation, and that she has powerful magic. But we don’t know why, or how. There’s story as yet untold.

Then a Nanowrimo email popped into my inbox, and I thought, maybe it’s time to give this another go. November 1st is rapidly approaching and NaNo looms on the horizon. I’m not sure I can fit in enough words every day, I’m not sure of there’s enough story to fill the 30 days, or the 50,000 word target. But I’m willing to give it a go again this year.

All new greeting cards

Fitting this in around other stuff going on isn’t always easy, and I am aware that sometimes the website suffers as a result. But I hope there are still a few of you who wander in to see what I’m up to from time to time.

This week I have been sorting, packaging, cataloguing, and listing the new greeting cards for you. I also adjusted the postage so that, unless you order loads, it’ll be free postage as long as you live in the UK. Free postage will be simple second class post, but if you’d rather your order was tracked please make sure you select that option. There will be a small postage charge for that upgrade, but it’s entirely up to you.

In the gallery below you will find all the new designs, and they can all be found on the Greeting cards shop page.

Giving up soap

No, I’m not giving up washing, or giving up soap for personal use, don’t worry. I will be making more soaps, and likely sharing the process, and maybe a recipe or two here and there, but I don’t think I’ll be offering any for sale any time soon.

The process of legalizing and approving recipes, and the costs and insurance involved to do it properly, and legally, have beaten me for now. There’s simply too much paperwork, too much to deal with, and I don’t have the time or head-space to handle that right now. I may well come back to the palm oil free soaps at some stage, but not right now.

It’s tricky to balance a small business with working almost full time, caring for growing teens as a single parent, finishing a college diploma, and trying to fit in other family commitments without taking on so much that you barely have time to breathe. I am loving the photography, trying to write again, and with everything else going on, the accreditation of the soap recipes is on hold.

Palm Free Vanilla

New cards just arrived!

A lovely box of new card designs arrived this morning, and I’ll be adding them to the shop in the next few days.

Bear in mind I’ve been adjusting the postage rates, so orders with a small number of cards should work out as free postage. If it doesn’t please let me know and I’ll play with it until it works! Free postage will be sent second class with no tracking or signature. This is at your own risk, and tracked is available too, it’s your choice.

In the meantime you can see the designs in the gallery below, I hope you like them.

When your cards arrive, the watermark will not be there. I only add it to protect my designs when they’re online. If you want to use any of my images for anything, please ask. I’ll need to know what you want them for, and how you’re planning to use them, but I’ll look at each request on its’ own merits.

Gull fascination.

There’s something about birds, their eyes, the texture of the feathers, the freedom to soar on the wind, or dart about the garden (just out of reach of my mostly incompetent cats). Having handled hens regularly – I have 4 in the garden – and had the chance to feel the lack of weight of a bird of prey on my fist, birds fascinate me. When I first got my DSLR camera, one of my first adventures was taking pictures of birds, preferably in flight where they are, usually, their most majestic. Often they are moving so fast that all I capture is a blur, but now and then something special happens.

But at the beach, the gulls soar, and hang in the wind, posing, waiting for their picture to be taken (or for a chip to drop!) Their flight is so economical they use the slightest breeze and seem to hover.

Herring gull, wings spread

Yes, most images here are watermarked, sorry, but I have to protect my work.

I am particularly pleased with the Herring gull there. It’s just hanging in the sky, so sharp, so clear, you can imagine how soft those feathers are. You can see the focus in it’s eye as it scours the beach and path for stray chips, and you know that beak will cause so much pain if it caught you.

The gulls around my local coast are an ongoing fascination. I could spend hours watching them, camera in hand, missing perfect moments….  Then sometimes I’m fast enough, and it all falls into place.

I added some images to the Gulls gallery. All images in this gallery, so far, have been taken around the South Wales coast, close to Swansea.

As always, any comments are welcome.

Preparing images – Focus

It’s been quite an eye opener, the different requirements for the various photo selling sites, and there are numerous “How to” guides littered around the internet. This isn’t one of them, this is an anecdotal rambling about part of what I have learned as I started out.

First take some images that you are really proud of, that you think are the best you can take, considering where you are on your photography journey, and the equipment you have available. Don’t worry too much about having the right camera, tripod, lenses etc. These things will help, but they’re expensive and you can gather things like that as you find you have a need for them.

Take your images with the highest resolution you can, get a nice large file – several mb size is best. Most of mine start out over 10mb.

The first thing I do is to check if it’s an image I like, and is worth the time to work on to prepare for submission. I skim through using the Photos app on windows 10 which gives a nice viewer where I can zoom in and have a good look at each image. I delete loads at this stage.

Is it in focus?

Examine your chosen image in detail using something like photoshop – there are plenty of image manipulation softwares out there, some are free, some cost, but you will need to use something.

Look at your picture at 100% – yes, it’ll be so zoomed in you can only see a small fraction, but you need to go over it with a fine tooth comb, so to speak. Check that every detail in the main subject, or main area, is in crisp, sharp, focus. If it’s not, the image will be rejected. Pick a different image, or take more pictures. But trust me, some look beautifully sharp until you zoom in to 100%, then you can see the blur.

That rose, looks lovely at low resolution, looks great in print on a greeting card, but zoom in to the original image and the petals are fuzzy. This is not one to blow up to hang on the wall.

Yellow lilies with water drops

Whereas, these lilies (which have been passed as good for shutterstock, are beautifully crisp even at 100%.

So, first check your images are in focus throughout the subject area, and I’ll ramble on about other things to check and look for, another day!

Approved Shutterstock Contributor!

With the idea of expanding my potential customer base, and widening areas of trade and sales, I applied to become a Shutterstock contributor, and I was approved!

The process was relatively easy, and after a few rejected images – for various reasons – I have a small portfolio available for sale.

I can’t find a way to link to a gallery of the images, but I’ll keep looking for a way. There are a variety of images there, but mostly wildlife and flowers – which I love. Do go and have a look, and let me know what you think!


I’ll be researching other stock photo sites and will link to them when there’s a portfolio available.


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