Monthly Archives

October 2015

Writing

Preparing for NaNoWriMo 2015 + useful resources

October 30, 2015

Things you need for a successful NaNoWriMo

It’s that time of year again; NaNoWriMo is almost here!

In case you’ve never heard of NaNoWriMo before, it stands for National Novel Writing Month – though it really is quite the international affair now. Every November, writers from across the globe all pledge to try and complete the first draft of a story by writing 50,000 words.

That might seem like a lot of words, and it is, but it’s not if you can break it down and keep on top of your daily word count.

This will be my fourth year taking part in NaNoWriMo, and for the first time I am going into this pretty prepared.

My preparation for NaNoWriMo began back at the end of July when I was in Sweden. I was struck by a story and had to race out to get a notepad to begin plotting it all down. Since then, I’ve been developing my characters, and letting the plot ruminate in my head.

I’m really excited to start, and I’m hopeful that I’ll manage to stay on top of my word goal. Last year, I think I finished with a couple of days to spare, but this year with university, work, and blogging, it’s going to be a tight fit. I’m just going to have to manage my time well.

Want to take part? There’s still time. Head over to the NaNoWriMo website for more information and to sign up.


If you’re doing NaNoWriMo this year, here is a quick list (I go into more detail in the links below) about the things I’ve found vital for completing NaNoWriMo

  • Somewhere to make notes – whether that’s your phone, your laptop, or a notebook. Ideas can strike you at the weirdest times (usually while I’m driving) so have something handy to get the idea down before it runs off.
  • A playlist – music that inspires you, and that you can write to.
  • Plentiful food and drink is necessary for those long stints.
  • Stickers! I have found stickers to be invaluable. I reward myself with a sticker whenever I reach my daily word goal, and it’s amazing what you will do for a sticker at 23 years old.
  • A NaNoWriMo account – I wouldn’t have completed it once if I hadn’t got a NaNoWriMo account, purely because it allows me to update my word count and see graphics and statistics about how I’m doing.
  • Something fun to read – sometimes you just need a break from writing, and maybe a little inspiration, so I like to re-read one of my favourite books.

Last year, I put together a couple of blog posts about NaNoWriMo that go into more detail about the above, throw in a few more ideas, and a couple of links to some really useful documents and forums.

Want to be writing buddies? Here’s my NaNoWriMo profile.

Are you taking part in NaNoWriMo this year? Have you got any tips to share?

Food, Vegan, Vegetarian

Autumn, apple and cinnamon spice cookies [Vegan]

October 28, 2015

Simple, vegan, apple spice cookies

Cinnamon, apple, and chocolate cookies.

It’s no secret that I love autumn, and biscuits, so it just seemed right to make autumn-inspired apple, and cinnamon cookies.

I reworked a recipe I’ve used for vegan cookies a couple of times to create delicious, soft, apple spice cookies. They’re so delicious and perfect for a cosy autumn day all snuggled up with a hot drink and a book.

A stack of cookies

Books and cookies

You can control how soft and squishy your cookies are in the middle by making them thinner or thicker. If you like cookies which are raw in the middle, make them thicker.

I’m really happy with how these cookies turned out, and the base recipe is really easy to customise to whatever flavours you fancy trying.

Apple and cinnamon cookies
Yields 16
A delicious, and simple autumn-inspired apple and cinnamon cookie.
Write a review
Print
Prep Time
15 min
Cook Time
10 min
Total Time
25 min
Prep Time
15 min
Cook Time
10 min
Total Time
25 min
174 calories
26 g
17 g
8 g
2 g
5 g
44 g
10 g
17 g
0 g
2 g
Nutrition Facts
Serving Size
44g
Yields
16
Amount Per Serving
Calories 174
Calories from Fat 68
% Daily Value *
Total Fat 8g
12%
Saturated Fat 5g
24%
Trans Fat 0g
Polyunsaturated Fat 0g
Monounsaturated Fat 2g
Cholesterol 17mg
6%
Sodium 10mg
0%
Total Carbohydrates 26g
9%
Dietary Fiber 1g
4%
Sugars 17g
Protein 2g
Vitamin A
4%
Vitamin C
0%
Calcium
4%
Iron
2%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your Daily Values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
Ingredients
  1. 1/2 cup vegan butter (I used Vitalife)
  2. 1 cup dark brown muscovado sugar
  3. 1 teaspoon of cornstarch
  4. 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder
  5. 2 tablespoons of water
  6. 1 cup + 2 tablespoons of plain flour
  7. 1/2 an apple (normal apple, doesn't need to be a cooking apple)
  8. 1 and 1/2 tablespoon cinnamon
  9. 100g chocolate (UK people's; Tesco's Finest cooking chocolate is vegan)
Instructions
  1. 1. Preheat the oven to 190C / 375F
  2. 2. Combine the butter and sugar until creamy and well combined
  3. 3. While that's mixing, cut up the apple and chocolate into small chunks
  4. 4. Mix the cornstarch, baking powder and water, before adding to the butter and sugar.
  5. 5. Add the flour, chocolate chips, and apple until it forms a dough. I've found that depending on the kind of butter you use, you might need to add more flour. If it's a bit wet, keep adding flour tablespoon at a time until it's a well-combined matte-looking dough.
  6. 6. Place on a tray, with baking paper and a sprinkle of flour. I find using an ice cream scoop / tablespoon a good measure. You might need to squish them down a bit, to make sure the middle cooks.
beta
calories
174
fat
8g
protein
2g
carbs
26g
more
Adapted from Baker Bettie's Easy Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies
Girl In Awe http://www.girlinawe.com/
I could eat these bad boys all day, every day of the week. In the run up to Christmas, I want to try out chocolate and orange cookies to make something that reminds me of Terry’s Chocolate Oranges.

If you give these a go, please send me a photo and let me know what you think.

What autumn-inspired cookies would you create?

Sweden, Travel

Old American Cars in Stockholm

October 27, 2015

American Cars in Stockholm

One day, we spotted quite a few old American cars driving around, but by the evening the street our hotel was off was at a stand still as old cars paraded down the street.

The street was rammed full of locals and tourists. People had taken deck chairs and were sat out on the sidewalk with their friends, enjoying all the beautiful cars parading past. There were people playing music, piled into the back of cars, and I feel like I might have even seen people with a BBQ.

Man riding an old tractor in Stockholm

There was even this guy, riding a tractor.

American Car parade in Stockholm

This would definitely not be allowed in the UK.

We were taken aback when we first saw it, because it wasn’t something we expected to see at all. We spoke to the hotel staff afterwards, who told us it happens quite often. There’s quite a big club of old American car enthusiasts in Stockholm, and they hold this kind of parade each month down Sveavagan.

The Police had shut the road off to ‘normal’ cars, and there were a couple of Police officers milling around, though they were mostly just directing traffic. It was such a chilled out affair, and I think that was a bit of a culture shock because I doubt a similar event would be held in the UK and still feel so relaxed. For starters, there’d be orange tape and fencing everywhere which would stop you getting within 50 feet of the cars.

Catching the parade was a really nice surprise and a bit of a cherry on top of our holiday.

Have you ever seen something that surprised you while on holiday?

Beauty, Beauty Reviews

InstaNatural Retinol Serum and Moisturiser*

October 23, 2015

InstaNatural retinol serum and moisturiser

Earlier in the year, I tried a couple of InstaNatural products and loved them, so I was more than happy when they asked me to try out a serum and moisturiser from their retinol range.

 

What is retinol?

This is one of those things you hear used frequently on adverts, but what is it exactly?

Retinol is a form of vitamin A, that when absorbed by your skin can protect against free radical damage (these are naughty molecules which are missing an electron in the outer shell and want to rob one from your cells, which damages your cells – chemistry FTW), helps to repair sun damage and reduces things like fine lines.

As well as finding it in lots of anti-aging and skincare products, you can get your fill of vitamin A from food, such as carrots, kale, sweet potato, and butternut squash. If you’re interested, Health A Licious have a list of the top 10 foods highest in vitamin A.

 

InstaNatural Retinol Serum

InstaNatural 2.5% Retinol Serum

To my surprise, the serum is bright orange and has a definite orange scent. I wasn’t expecting that at all, but the orange colour does not show up on your skin and the orange scent disappears after it’s soaked in.

It comes with a dropper, which is really useful as it’s quite runny. You only need a few drops to cover your face and neck, and it dries in about a minute. I was expecting the serum to be a bit sticky (I think it was the orange scent) but it dries matte and there’s not a bit of stickiness in sight.

As well as containing retinol, it contains other skin-goodies, such as vitamin c, hyaluronic acid, and niacinamide.

I’ve been using the retinol serum once a day (in the morning) for the past three weeks and I have noticed an improvement in my skin. My skin feels smoother, and the tone appears to be more even. I’ve also found that my skin feels less dry, and under my eyes looks smoother and the faint lines there seem to be even fainter.

At Β£21.95 for a 30ml bottle, it isn’t the cheapest skincare product you could buy, but it should last a long time giving you good value for money.

 

InstaNatural Retinol Moisturiser

Retinol Moisturiser

This is quite a thick feeling moisturiser, but it isn’t actually heavy on your skin. My skin doesn’t get on well with thick moisturisers so I was worried when I felt how thick this is, but I’ve had no problems at all. It feels really light on your skin and soaks in quite quickly, without leaving behind any trace of greasiness – which is what usually happens when I use thick moisturisers.

To my delight, it comes with a pump, which means no unhygienic sticking your fingers in pots. (That’s one of my pet hates)

It’s a pretty big bottle (100ml) and you don’t need much more than a small blob to cover your face so it will last a long time, which is good given the Β£19.99 price tag.

As with the serum, this has helped to improve my skin by making it feel softer, more moisturised, and has helped to even my skin tone.

 

InstaNatural products are cruelty free and vegan, which is a win-win in my book.

 

Conclusions

Both of these products have helped improve my skin. For the past few months, I’ve been struggling with my skin and have had blemishes and spots all over the place, and since using these products my skin has been no where near as bad. While doing some research into what retinol is, I discovered that retinoids unclog pores, so that might be why.

As someone with combination skin, it’s important to me to try and find products that don’t make my skin look shinier than it already does by the end of the day. There have been a couple of occasions where I’ve just used the serum and moisturiser, and my skin has looked great by the end of the day. 

I will definitely continue to use both of these products daily, and would purchase them when I run out.

 

*I received PR samples of these products in exchange for an honest review. No further compensation was provided, and free items do not sway my opinion.

Sweden, Travel

Gamla Stan, Stockholm

October 20, 2015

Gamla Stan

Gamla Stan, Stockholm

At home, I probably wouldn’t find myself wondering down alleyways, but that is absolutely not the case in Gamla Stan.

Gamla Stan is the old part of Stockholm, which dates back to the 13th century. It’s full of beautiful old buildings, cobbled streets, enchanting narrow alleyways, and wonderful shops and cafes. Interestingly, it has a surprising number of Italian restaurants, which worked exceptionally well for me.

Il Forno Italiano, Stockholm

On the first night, my Mum and I took a walk around Gamla Stan. The heavens opened and it began pouring down, so we dashed into an Italian restaurant called Il Forno Italiano. I imagined that perhaps I’d spend my evenings eating Swedish food (though I’m not entirely sure what vegetarian Swedish food would be) so it was a little odd to be eating in an Italian restaurant. I wasn’t the only one who thought that; a Dutch couple at the table next to us asked my Mum to take a photo of two Dutch people, eating at an Italian in Stockholm.

The pizza was delicious, and we were sat in front of a huge window that looked out onto the street and watched people trying to dodge the rain. What we also saw was a lot of people taking photos of an alleyway.

By the end of our meal the rain had stopped, and I needed to see what people were photographing.

Gamla Stan, Marten Trotzigs Grand

It turns out that people were photographing the alleyway above, called Marten Trotzigs Grand. At 90cm wide at points, it is the narrowest street in Gamla Stan and Stockholm.

Small doorway in Gamla Stan

You might not be able to tell from this photo, but this door was really small. The top of the door was probably about level with my shoulders. It kind of reminded me of the tiny doorways in Alice in Wonderland.

Gamla Stan

Gamla Stan

We wondered through Gamla Stan a few times during our trip and discovered record shops (most of which were filled with obscure 80s stuff), cool gift shops, charming cafes that sold the most amazing cakes and pastries, book shops, and yet more Italian restaurants.

If you ever go to Stockholm, Gamla Stan is well worth the visit. It’s not a big island, but with all the alleyways and interesting looking shops, you could easily spend a few hours wandering round and exploring. This is especially the case if you go during the summer and the place is heaving with tourists.

Share with me tales of exploring old, pretty towns.

Book Reviews, Crime, Thriller

The Girl On The Train – Paul Hawkins – I get the hype!

October 16, 2015

The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins

I'll be doing a spoiler-filled discussion of The Girl On The Train for The Olive Fox Book Club at the end of the month, but for now, here's my spoiler-free review.

I was so happy when I saw that The Olive Fox readers had picked The Girl On The Train for the October book club. Over the summer, I heard so many good things about this book, and I honestly feel that it does live up to all the hype.

Do you ever see people and wonder what their life is like? I do. I like people watching and making up my stories about what they might be doing, or what their life might be like, so I instantly connected with this book.

The Girl On The Train is told from the point of view of three women: Rachael, Megan, and Anna, who are all connected by a street in a small town. Their lives end up tangled up (or even more tangled up, in some cases), and things get messy fairly quickly.

I've seen a lot of comparisons to Gone Girl, and I can definitely see why people are making those comparisons:

  • We've got unreliable narrators
  • It's not a straight forward whodunit - I didn't figure it out until just before it was revealed
  • Nothing is quite what you're first led to believe
  • Some other stuff that I won't mention because of spoilers

Paula Hawkins had me hooked from the very first page, and I ended up staying up much later than I should have on a couple of evenings to finish this off. When I wasn't reading it, my brain was ticking over wondering what would happen next. By the end of the book, I felt like I actually knew these people.

Our three main characters are incredibly well developed, and they're not perfect either which is perhaps what I love best. They're not easy characters to love; there were a handful of times where I found myself mentally shouting at a character and telling them to get their sh*t together.

I am a sucker for a character with imperfections though. I read so many books where we have your typical good character, whose flaws are very minor, so it's refreshing to read from the point of view of someone who is not necessarily a good person.

The pacing was just perfect, and the plot kept me on my toes at all times. There were a few times where I felt I was sure I knew who had done it, only to be proven wrong. I didn't get it right until just before it was revealed, and I love that. I enjoy it when a book makes me think and try to figure things out. I like it when a book lies to me and sweeps the rug from under my feet.

In short: A gripping read that will keep you on your toes and up past your bed time.

If you're interested, The Olive Fox are holding a Twitter book chat on Wednesday 21st October 19:30 - 20:30 UK time to talk about The Girl On The Train (as spoiler free as possible). If you want to take part in the book club in November, keep your eyes peeled on The Olive Fox as voting for November's book will begin in the last week of October.

The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins book rating - new favourite

Have you read The Girl On The Train?

For fans of:

Sweden, Travel

Kayaking in the Stockholm Archipelago

October 13, 2015

Kayaking in the Swedish archipelago

Ready to go kayaking

By far, the highlight of my trip to Stockholm was kayaking in the Stockholm Archipelago. This is the blog post I’ve been most excited to write up, so I can relieve the memories.

It was something that all four of us put to the top of our list when we first booked our adventure. My Mum and I went out to Vaxholm a couple of days before my sister and her friend arrived, and we booked the kayaking for the last day of our trip.

Kayak hire, Erikso, Vaxholm

Kayaking around Erikso, Vaxholm

Around Erikso, Vaxholm

I’d never been kayaking before so I was really nervous, thankfully we ended up in double kayaks so I went with my Mum. There is quite a lot of boat traffic at the west end of Vaxholm, so we weren’t even allowed to go that way. On the east side, there was less traffic (though there were still a few speedboats) and we had four hours to explore the area.

I mean look at that little house in the photo above. Check it out on Google Maps; there is nothing around there but beautiful scenary. 

Four hours absolutely flew by. It’s such a beautiful place, and I felt like I could kayak around there for days on end. The photos just do not do it justice.

Despite some boat traffic, it’s just so serene and peaceful. I’m not sure that I’ve ever been to place that’s just so stunning, and wild-feeling. You can do kayaking holidays around the archipelago – can you imagine how wonderful that would be?

Lunch time!

We tried to find a little beach to stop off at for lunch, but couldn’t see anything. Instead we managed to pull up on the edge of a small island and beach the kayaks while we enjoyed out lunch. It’s definitely the most beautiful place I’ve ever eaten a Mars bar. (Apparently, that’s a scale I now have.)

Kayaking wasn’t as hard as I imagined, and the water was really still. It took a few minutes to figure out how to turn, but after five minutes my Mum and I were pros. My sister and her friend shared a kayak and every time I looked over at them they were going diagonally. For some reason, they just couldn’t kayak in a straight line. My sister was adamant that the kayak was broken…

Kayak hire place at Erikso, Vaxholm

Kayak hire at Erikso, Vaxholm

I would go back in a heartbeat, and if you’ve planning on visiting Stockholm I would put kayaking in Vaxholm right at the top of your list. It’s not that far outside the city (about a 45 minute – hour boat trip) and it’s pretty cheap, especially in comparison to what you’d pay in the UK for the same amount of time.

View from Vaxholm kayak hire

Erikso, Vaxholm

We used Vaxholms Kanotsallskap; it’s the only kayak hire place at in Erikso, so you can’t possibly get lost. Most of the website is in Swedish, but there is an English kayak \ canoe rental page – also, the website says you can hire for two hours, but we were told the site is wrong and the minimum hire is four hours.

The guy working there was really friendly, patient, helpful, and chilled out. We were due to come back around the time they close (about 5pm-ish) and he was like “if I’ve gone home when you get back, just drag your kayaks onto the bank and I’ll sort them in the morning.” In the UK, that would not happen!

There are a handful of places in Stockholm city centre that offer kayaking, but I wouldn’t fancy it. There’s a place in the Djurgarden where you can hire kayaks, and we did consider that until we saw just how much boat traffic there is around there, and how many boats are moored up. I wouldn’t fancy it at all, especially if you’re a beginner; I’m not sure you’d feel like you could properly relax and take it all in. In my opinion, it’s well worth heading out to Vaxholm to kayak and take in the scenary and the get a good little trip around a part of the archipelago on the boat trip there and back.

 

What did it cost?

It cost 400SEK for a two-person kayak for four hours, which is approximately Β£32*. If you divide it by two, it gets even more affordable.

If you’re staying in Stockholm, you’ll of course have to pay for your boat trip out to Vaxholm, which isn’t that expensive at all, and you may want to pay for a bus if you don’t want to walk the 45 minutes from Vaxholm port to Erikso. You could also get a bus straight from Stockholm city centre.

 

Have you ever been kayaking?

*Price correct at time of writing.

Book Reviews, Horror, Thriller

Sleepless – Lou Morgan

October 7, 2015

Sleepless - Lou Morgan book review

I must admit that I’m not much of a horror \ scary fan, but Sleepless was a gripping and thrilling read.

I met Lou Morgan at the start of the year at the UKYA Extravaganza, and after she told me about Sleepless I had to pick it up.

With the pressure to succeed in their exams, Izzy and her friends are encouraged to take pills one of her friends got off the internet which are supposed to improve your focus. Izzy is unsure, but does it because the rest of her friends are taking them and she can’t fail and get kicked out. Well that was never going to end well was it?

It turns out that the pills are much more than pills that just help your focus, and the side effects are horrifying.

Because I was ridiculously busy when I first started reading Sleepless, it took me a while to really get into it and get to grips with all of the characters. Once I had time to sit down and read a good chunk of it, I couldn’t put it down and finished it off in a couple of hours straight.

Our main character is Izzy, who has recently moved to Clerkenwell. Throughout the book she makes some references to an incident at her previous school and her leaving, but it’s never explained which seemed a bit strange. Come the end of the book, I was still curious to know what had happened.

For me, Sleepless was exactly the right amount of horror. As I said earlier, I’m not a massive horror fan – I’m pretty sure I’d struggle to sleep for weeks (pun!) if I read anything by Stephen King.

It was thrilling, and I had to find out what happened next. It was well-written, there was plenty to keep you interested and trying to figure out what happened next, and it was enjoyable.

The ending was a but abrupt and unclear for my liking. I’m not a fan of uncertain endings, I like to know exactly how it happened with no questions left.

If you’re looking for an enjoyable, and gripping horror (that’s not too terrifying) then Sleepless is well worth a read.

Sleepless Lou Morgan book rating

Do you like horror books?

Sleepless Book Cover Sleepless
Lou Morgan
Horror, young adult,
January 5th, 2015
Paperback
352

Young, rich and good-looking, Izzy and her friends lead seemingly perfect lives. But exams are looming, and at a school like Clerkenwell, failure is not an option. Luckily, Tigs has a solution. A small pill that will make revision a breeze and help them get the results they need. Desperate to succeed, the group begin taking the study drug. It doesn’t take long before they realize there are far worse things than failing a few exams.