2021 Reading Challenge

Hi everyone,

This is a post to correspond with my Christmas Calendar Countdown. Every day since the 1st December I have been providing a festive treat for my readers and followers, so far including: win an ebook competitions, win a paperback competition, name a character in my current WIP, sneak peek of a new book cover, me reading from my WIP and much more. I hope you have been enjoying them! This post is for Day 13 and behind the door today is a reading challenge for you to get your teeth into throughout 2021. I’ve taken part in a few reading challenges myself and they are really good fun and often force you to try genres and styles and authors you maybe would not have otherwise. I haven’t taken part in one for a few years though, so rather than search the net for a suitable challenge I decided to come up with one of my own. I tried to challenge myself with this, so I hope you like it and if you want to take part, just tag me in any posts you share!

So here is the challenge;

  1. A book where the location is paramount
  2. A book set in a country you have visited
  3. A book set where you live or as close to it as possible
  4. A book with a title at least eight words long
  5. A play
  6. A book whose title is also a song
  7. A book aimed at adults where the protagonist is a child
  8. A fictional book based on real events
  9. A book with a one word title
  10. A book where the protagonist is a different ethnicity than you
  11. A short story collection
  12. A book with a black front cover
  13. A book with a dual narrative written in 1st person
  14. The first book in a series
  15. A book with an illustrated front cover
  16. A book about climate change
  17. A non-fiction book about a serial killer
  18. A post-apocalyptic book
  19. A classic you have always meant to read
  20. A book you wished you had studied at school
  21. A book you have seen the movie adaptation of but have not read the book
  22. A book where the main character is an animal
  23. A book from your least favourite genre
  24. A book from your most favourite genre
  25. A book aimed at children which focuses on nature
  26. A book from an indie author you have never heard of
  27. An award winning book
  28. A book where the main character has your dream job
  29. A book with the most colourful cover you’ve ever seen
  30. A book where the main character has a disability but the story is not about it

I’m quite excited to give this a go! I don’t know what to call it though – any ideas?

Guest Post #4 Pandemic Pets – How Are Furry Friends Saved Our Sanity

Welcome to another Pandemic Pets feature! Each week I will be welcoming a guest to the blog to tell us how the furry friends in their life have made getting through the Covid 19 pandemic that much easier. Please welcome YA author KM. Allan who tells us how her new kitten Dash helped fill the hole left by her previous writing buddy, Slinky.

How Having A Pet During The Pandemic Made Things Joyful

When lockdown began in Australia during March, I’d had my new kitten Dash for only a few weeks. He wasn’t a lockdown pet, but a cat I’d been waiting to get for a few months, having lost my last cat, Slinky, to cancer 2 years prior. I’d had her for 15 years and was looking forward to having another furry companion and a new writing buddy.

Slinky – writing buddy

That first lockdown lasted from March until June. Then we had a second lockdown in July that’s still ongoing, although the harshest of restrictions eased last month. Having spent 7 months of the year in lockdown—mostly at home for 23 hours a day—you get to know a kitten pretty well.

While Dash spends a good amount of time sleeping, he’s also playful. Sometimes that playfulness happens at 3am and I wake to find him trying to steal my pillow, but it has made lockdown more bearable.

I tried to keep a routine during this time and stick to writing with the #6amAusWriters on Twitter, and this became part of Dash’s routine too. He’d get up with me and sit near the desk, often stealing my chair (until I got him his own) and would keep me company on cold winter mornings. It even got to the point where he’d wake me if I didn’t get up when my alarm went off (yes, really. And his idea of an alarm is biting me!)

Dash – writing buddy

While I didn’t get a pet to help me through lockdown, I wonder what it would have been like without one. I probably would have checked the news more often, letting the sadness of the world get to me more than it did. I wouldn’t have taken breaks through the day to throw soft balls around and marvel at how high a kitten can jump, and I wouldn’t have discovered how much Ragdoll cats are like dogs and will play fetch with you.

I would have known what it was like to pass the Groundhog Day sameness of lockdown by doing a puzzle without a cat stealing the pieces, but I wouldn’t have arranged boxes from online orders into cat tunnels or upgraded to a cat play system. I got to do those things during a time when we’ve all done things we probably thought we wouldn’t.

Dash – box tunnels

It was, and still is, a hard year to cope with, and I’m glad that I had a pet to help me through it.

Dash wasn’t just there on the days when all the creativity I could muster was to set Netflix to binge. He was also there when I achieved milestones like publishing my first two books.

In a year when being a debut author meant missing out on bookstore events, in-person launches, and celebrations in restaurants with family and friends, having a cat who was just as excited as me to open a box of my published books was fun. Okay, so for him, it might have been about a new box and not the books, but I’ll always smile when I see the picture of Dash nosing his way into the carton.

An event that didn’t pan out like I thought it would because of 2020 was still joyful, and it and many more events throughout year were, simply because I had a pet to share them with during the pandemic.

Thank you so much to Kate for joining us on The Glorious Outsiders and introducing us to the gorgeous Dash! It sounds like having him around really helped the strict lockdowns become more bearable. If you would like to know more about KM Allan and her books her links are below! And if you would like to write a personal piece, story or poem on the Pandemic Pets theme please get in touch!

K.M. Allan is an identical twin, but not the evil one. She started her career penning beauty articles for a hairstyling website and now powers herself with chocolate and green tea while she writes novels and blogs about writing.

When she’s not creating YA stories full of hidden secrets, nightmares, and powerful magic, she likes to read, binge-watch too much TV, spend time with family, and take more photos than she will ever humanly need.

Visit her website, http://www.kmallan.com, to discover the mysteries of the universe. Or at the very least, some good writing tips.

My 2020 Goals Vs The Reality

It’s something of a tradition now – towards the end of every year I post my goals for the year ahead on my blog to help me stay on track. As that year draws to a close I look back over those goals and see how many I achieved! 2020 has been a year like no other – memorable for many reasons! We have all had to dig deep to find our resilience, positivity and courage and I think in the most, we’ve done pretty well. So, what were my goals for 2020, set way before I had ever heard of Covid 19? And how many did I achieve? Read on to find out!

1 -The Goal : Achieve a successful, well-stocked, functional vegetable garden! Okay, might sound strange, but this is linked to my current state of mind. Being outside, doing dirty, outdoorsy things in the fresh air, especially things that have a positive impact are very, very good for me right now. The best thing I can do when I feel down is get outside. I’ve had a vegetable patch since we moved here ten years ago. Over the years it had got bigger and better and some years I have been very successful with daily harvests in the summer months and it has been great. The last few years have been a lot less productive for various reasons, but this year it’s my top goal. Weird I know, but more than any writing or work related goal, this is what I want to achieve the most. I’m not sure why other than that I know it does me good to be outside, I know I can do it because I’ve done it before and it might be a wise move what with all the Brexshit uncertainty! It just seems really important for some reason. I will be starting in January. Making plans and buying seeds and starting some off and weeding. I can’t wait. This really is going to be my top priority.

The Reality : Achieved! Well, thanks to Covid and the subsequent lockdowns, I achieved this quite well. Not as well as I should have done, but every year I grow a garden, I learn from my mistakes and improve on them for the year after. The garden was my saviour during lockdown. Throwing myself into every area of it was addictive and extremely mood-enhancing! So yes, I did pretty well with the vegetable plot and I still have some things growing out there now. I have also recently extended it for next year so I can grow even more!

2 – The Goal : Learn to play the guitar! Another goal not related to writing or work! But another one that suddenly feels very important. Perhaps because I’m increasingly aware of life passing me by, of running out of time and chances. Perhaps because I have always wanted to try. Perhaps because I so admire anyone that can play an instrument. Perhaps because my characters in the Holds End trilogy are playing instruments and writing their own music and it would also be research? Perhaps because my daughter has agreed to teach me and it will be a good thing to do together. I don’t know why. I just know it’s important and I am really excited about trying it.

The Reality : Not achieved. I actually made a good start with this goal. After Christmas last year I made time every Thursday to sit down with a YouTube video on my phone and learn to play the guitar. It was not easy at all – it certainly did not come naturally but I did begin to see progress….Then Covid…As soon as we went into Lockdown in March, I stopped trying. Partly due to the time and energy spent home-schooling my children and partly just due to my own mental health. There was enough to cope with! Will I pick it up again in 2021? I really don’t know.

3. The Goal : Release Emily’s Baby in the Spring – Doable. Emily’s Baby is the follow-up to A Song For Bill Robinson, the second book in the Holds End trilogy. It’s having a final round with beta readers at the moment and will have another few rounds of edits/proofreads with me after that but I anticipate a Spring release, perhaps April.

The Reality : Not achieved. Emily’s Baby is still waiting to be released! This had nothing to do with Covid. I had left Emily’s Baby on a cliffhanger and was working on the third book in the series, The Search For Summer. It suddenly occurred to me that it would work much better to release them close together. So Emily’s Baby was put to one side and I forged ahead with The Search for Summer. The good news is both books are ready to go in the New Year! I am currently finalising front covers and blurbs for both!

4. The Goal : Finish The Search For Summer Doable. I am currently writing the first draft of this in a notebook and I’m three quarters through. It’s going well. I should easily finish the first draft by early 2020 and will then start the next million drafts and aim to release it towards end of 2020 or perhaps the start of 2021.

The Reality : Achieved! I finished the first draft and many, many subsequent ones. As mentioned above it is now as ready as Emily’s Baby and just awaiting a book launch plan, front cover and blurb! Yay!

5. The Goal : Finish Parts Five and Six of The Boy With The Thorn In His Side – These books are currently at draft number four. Next will be a read through on my Kindle, followed by another edit, and then it’s beta reader time. I’d like to think I will release them in 2020 but I think that’s too ambitious so I will just aim to finish them and be happy with them and plan a 2021 release for both books at the same time. It might be wise to finish the Holds End series first and get that promoted and then turn my attention back to this one.

The Reality : Achieved! I even published them! This series finished ahead of the Holds End series. I decided to combine parts 5 and 6 into one book, part 5 and released it in September 2020. I am so happy and proud that this long-running series is finally finished!

6. The Goal : Finish the first draft of the YA series I was working on…  This refers to the post-apocalyptic YA series I started some time ago. The first draft was going very well for the first in a four book series but it got side-lined by The Boy series and the Holds End series…I hope to at least finish the first draft of book one in 2020.

The Reality : almost achieved! This got pushed aside as I scrambled to finish The Boy With The Thorn In His Side series and the Holds End series. As they were all so close to completion, it made sense to keep working and focusing on them. I am now back working on the YA series mentioned above and I am very close to finishing the first draft of Book 1! It could even happen before the end of 2020 so I am going to mark this as achieved!

7. The Goal : Do a second draft of YA novel We Hate The cool Kids – This was a book that jumped the queue in 2019. I wrote the first draft in a notebook pretty quickly but the ending troubled me. I don’t have any immediate plans to release this but I do think aiming for a second draft and a tied up ending would be good for 2020 depending on how things go.

The Reality : Nope! Sadly, this one has remained in it’s notebook and there has been no further progress. It’s nice knowing it is there though! A finished first draft waiting it’s turn.

8. The Goal : Continue working hard with Chasing Driftwood Writing Group – No specific goals this year for my little company. I have three new clubs starting after Christmas and this will keep me busy enough. Long term, I would like to get more writers on board to help deliver my ambition of encouraging children and adults to write and keep writing. I hope to get a community project off the ground finally but life is so busy and the after-school clubs take a lot of time and prep, so I am not going to put too much pressure on myself here. Just keeping it all going is enough of a goal

The Reality : It’s complicated! The start of 2020 was exciting for my little company as I doubled my writing clubs from three to six. And then…Covid. By March I had to stop all of the clubs and watched all my work disappear over night. I was absolutely gutted. And for a while I didn’t know how to react. There was home-schooling to deal with, the strict lockdown, four children’s mental health to consider as well as my own and I just didn’t have the time or the energy to deal with it. I watched enviously as so many other self-employed people rushed to get their businesses online and I just couldn’t do it. I considered quitting many times. But towards the end of the summer I got my act together, gave in and purchased Zoom and haven’t looked back. I now have five clubs, four on Zoom and one in person and once Covid finally slings its hook, I hope to have my physical clubs back AND keep the Zoom ones going. I am very near to finishing an online course for children and have planned many more online workshops and courses, all based on things I have run in person before. I also now have a business partner!! So there are now two of us throwing ideas around and generally keeping each other excited about the company.

9. The Goal : Keep adding stories and poems to a collection – I’m not putting a time scale on this next collection of short stories and poems, but I will try to keep adding to it and working on it when I feel the need!

The Reality : Achieved! I have added loads of stories and poems to this on-going collection. It’s starting to get quite big! I need to go over them all as some are newer and rougher than others, but I am pretty happy with it and hope to release it in 2021 after the next two Holds End books come out. I am genuinely excited as it’s quite a dark, strange and in some areas, personal collection!

10. The Goal : Slow down, enjoy life, breathe, cry, listen to more music, be outside as much as possible, be honest about my feelings and keep writing them down – a little jumble of goals and aims to end on, but perhaps these are what will make the others achievable. I’m only at the start of this perimenopause fun, and it’s knocked me for six. It’s brought back emotions, thoughts and anxieties I thought I had long walked away from. Sometimes it is genuinely exhausting getting through a normal day. Moods shift and change with no warning. Some days I feel totally normal. Other days I sit in the car and cry. It’s okay. I’m okay. I’ve just got to remember to talk about it, write about it and just allow it. It is what it is.

The Reality : Achieved. Well, I suppose I can thank Covid for this one thing. The pandemic forced us all to slow down, didn’t it? I’ll be honest – I kind of enjoyed the first lockdown. I didn’t have to go to work, I probably saved money because I wasn’t driving around all over the place every day, dropping everyone off and picking them up and going to my clubs. I was just at home. The weather was beautiful and our home and garden were appreciated like never before. Home-schooling was tough at times but it also brought me a lot of joy. My youngest was amazing, so resilient and cheerful – he was a little ray of sunshine throughout the whole thing, lifting all of our spirits. I made time for myself because I was worried about how I would react. I created a ‘sit-spot’ at the end of the garden just for me, a place to go and sit and read and drink coffee on my own. I started taking long baths at odd times of the day just to be on my own for a bit and it worked. I often let the tears come in the evening when I sat down to write, but that was okay. I needed to. I wrote loads of poems and stories and was honest with all of my family about how I was feeling. I did okay!

So, those were the goals I set myself at the end of 2019. Covid got in the way with some of them and actually helped me achieve others. I don’t yet know what I will put on my goals list for 2021… Of course, there will be some book releases but other than that, I’m not sure. This year really has changed everything and it’s quite hard now to look too far ahead or to try to plan anything. You just don’t know what is around the corner.

Did you set yourself any goals for 2020? How did you do? Did the pandemic help or hinder them? Let me know!

Guest Post #3 – Pandemic Pets – How Our Furry Friends Saved Our Sanity

Welcome to another Pandemic Pets feature! Each week I will be welcoming a guest to the blog to tell us how the furry friends in their life have made getting through the Covid 19 pandemic that much easier. Please welcome author Val Portelli who has a fascinating tale to tell about some unusual lockdown visitors!

I love animals, except meeces, I hate meeces. I’m not sure why they make me neurotic; they’re tiny, supposedly more scared of me than I am of them, and it’s not as if they can harm me. Although I’d be worried if I came face to face with a charging lion, at least that would be logical. My first lockdown visitor was a mouse. My personal supply of cheese and chocolate diminished rapidly in an effort to tempt him into oblivion, but he was a clever-clogs and managed to avoid or jump over traps and sticky things.

It was as well we were not allowed visitors as they would have had hysterics at the sight of me banging on the kitchen door before opening it, and yelling, ‘I’m coming mouse, hide, I don’t want to see you. Alright?’

Sometimes he listened, sometimes I didn’t bang loud enough and saw him scuttling into a corner, while I shook in fright. With the aid of my household cavalry, I plucked up courage to re-enter the kitchen, but even when they saw him scuttle off, there was no way he could have squeezed into the tiny gap between the floor and the cupboard under the sink. Where had he gone? Was it in fact a ghost mouse come to haunt me?

I’ve always loved dogs and when I was growing up, they were part of the family. It didn’t seem fair to have one when I first bought my own property, and was out at work all day, but fate intervened. A casual visit to some friends with my fiancé resulted in us coming home with a bundle of mischief I named Pacer, after the character in one of my favourite Elvis films. Our friends had holiday-sat a Labrador who had got frivolous with their Alsatian and somehow a puppy ended up coming home with us. We had nothing ready for the new addition but for the next seventeen years Pacer was part of our household.

‘No more dogs,’ I said, when he went over the rainbow bridge. ‘Holiday arrangements are impossible, they want walkies even if it’s snowing on Christmas day, the house is always a mess and losing them breaks your heart.’

Six weeks later Mij, a staff mongrel, took up residence and was the boss for another sixteen years. When he joined Pacer, I realised that apart from a few weeks, the house had never been without a canine presence, and I had no-one to blame if it was untidy.

Next to appear on the scene was ‘Cheeky.’ This was a fox who appeared in my garden one day, and decided I was a soft touch. Over time he realised the chairs in the conservatory were quite comfortable, and they still bear the claw marks from where he wriggled down for a snooze. He would eat from my hand, and wander about as if he owned the place. Sometimes when I was engrossed in writing, I would look up and find him next to my desk in the office, but I’m not sure how impressed he was when my first book was published.

He was followed by Chico and Rosie, who visited regularly for a few years. Chico was the larger and more confident of the two, but woe betide him if he tried to snatch all the goodies. Rosie would give him a tongue lashing and put him firmly in his place. I was sad when I returned from a few week’s holiday and they didn’t appear. I hope they had found alternative lodgings, but as by then they were quite elderly perhaps they had gone to join their predecessors. For a while there were no animals around as restricted mobility meant I was unable to have more dogs who needed exercise, and the house felt empty.

Around the time the virus hit, I noticed a new fox in the garden who ran off as soon as I appeared. A box of cheapo chicken wings went on the shopping list, and Spiro became a regular visitor. What was surprising was his size seemed to alter slightly, but that might have been because of the dark evenings and his fur being flattened by the rain. It took a while to build up his confidence, but gradually, instead of leaping the fence as soon as I appeared, he would sit and wait for me.

The mystery was solved when he came for dinner late one afternoon while it was still light, and through the trees I noticed another face watching. There were two of them! No, actually three! Spiro was very slightly larger, but the twins, Lucy and Luca were identical. I now had to buy giant sized packs of chicken, to feed the growing family. Although I wasn’t responsible for the great toilet roll shortage of 2020, a lack of chicken wings in the shops might have been down to them. Lucy was the most nervous of the three, and it became a game to ensure they all had their share. As the most confident, Spiro would grab one piece, then sprint back for the two others before she got a look-in. Luca would often take one off him, leaving Lucy with nothing.

I wonder if the neighbours thought I had totally lost the plot through Lockdown if they heard me calling ‘Come on, quick. Before the others get back. I’m not going to hurt you, but if you don’t learn to trust me, you’re going to starve,’ especially as it looked as if I was talking to the tree.

Although I live fairly close to the city of London, it made me appreciate the joys of having a garden. The menagerie currently comprises three foxes, one occasional squirrel, the odd jackdaw, a pair of magpies, and various roaming neighbourhood cats. I seem to have taken on the role of referee, often having to break up fights by clapping my hands at 3 o’clock in the morning, and threatening them if they don’t quieten down. Like stroppy teenagers, they’ve also learnt to answer back. I’m not expert in speaking fox, and hope they are saying ‘Thank you,’ but I have a sneaking suspicion when they stand and bark it me, it’s actually ‘We’re hungry. What kept you?’

With love from the crazy lockdown fox lady.

© Val Portelli November 2020

A huge thank you to Val for this gorgeous piece and beautiful photos of the foxes. My sister was also visited by an urban fox during lockdown, one that has become so friendly it enters their house to take food. I’m trying to persuade her to write about it for my blog! If you are interested in finding out more about Val and her books her links are below. If you would like to write a personal piece, story or poem on the subject of Pandemic Pets then please get in touch!

Val’s Amazon page: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Val-Portelli/e/B08272K1R4?ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1&qid=1607110915&sr=8-1