10 Ways I Eliminated Stress From Christmas

It sometimes feels to me like two types of people exist in the run-up to Christmas. There are the ones who love Christmas, who embrace each and every part of it, who put their tree and decorations up in November (I don’t get that!) and who adore every single tediously over-played Christmas song. They love Christmas shopping because they love shops! Because they love people! They are full of the joys and the jollities and don’t understand why others are so bah-humbug about it. Which brings me to the miseries. Snapping and snarling at anyone who mentions Christmas too soon. Rolling their eyes if Tesco has mince pies for sale in September. Then they’re running about scowling and muttering, barging others out of the way as they try to get their Christmas shopping done last minute. They don’t enjoy Christmas. They find it stressful! And it can be stressful, let’s face it. I’ve had my share of stressful Christmases. Ones I wanted to be over before they had even begun. I’ve had tears and tantrums and regrets, and plenty of muttering under my breath; I’m doing it differently next year! We’re all searching for the perfect Christmas as portrayed in the ads and the movies, yet we all know it doesn’t exist! So why do we try?

I have chipped away at Christmas induced stress over the years and every year it gets better and less stressful. Why? Well, let me tell you what I did!

  1. I Stopped Cooking A Turkey – I’d spent too many years watching that damn bird cook in the oven, taking up all the space, causing all the stress about whether it’s cooked properly or not, or is going to be ready on time. Then one year my husband said, why do we even buy one? We don’t even like it. And he was right. We don’t eat turkey any other time of the year. Given a choice, when I was a meat-eater, I would have preferred chicken every time. Why did we feel we had to be slaves to a tradition? So we stopped and replaced it with meat we did like, such as chicken and lamb. My eldest and I are vegetarian so we make veggie pies. It’s been about eight years since I last tried to cook a stupid massive, dry, boring turkey. Less stress! turkey-1917130_640.jpg
  2. I Got Strict With Relatives – when I was a kid I loved a big family Christmas. Nan and Grandad and Uncle Colin, Mum and Dad, us four kids and big sister’s boyfriend all around the table together. Such fun! But it wasn’t bloody fun for my poor mother, was it? I soon learned this the hard way. Over the years we’ve had various relatives around at Christmas, and we’ve slowly become braver at establishing ground rules. Such as, you won’t still be here eating and drinking and keeping the baby awake at 11pm. We used to feel guilty, but we don’t anymore. This is our family and our time and we’re quite happy to have people over and feed them, but it has to be within a set time. Come at this time, go at this time. We need our time to slop about in pjs and watch films together, just us. It was horrible when we first had to mention it, but now it’s fine and we never get anyone outstaying their welcome
  3. I Have A Christmas Notebook – I’ve done this for years and it saves me so much stress and time! Quite simply, it’s a notebook which rolls through a fair few years and when it’s full I start a new one. I write the year on a page, and on the following pages, I write who I’m buying for and what I will buy them. There is a stocking list page for the kids and a Christmas Eve box page, a main present page, a page for my husband, a page for my mum, other relatives and so on. When I buy something I tick it off the list, even if it’s something really tiny for a stocking. I know I’ve done it then and I stay on track. I started doing this about ten years ago, I think. I used to just buy presents, chuck them in the cupboard and then have to get them out to count them every now and then, or to check what I had bought. Now, it’s all in the notebook! Easy!
  4. I start buying in January – I don’t go mad, but if I see something cheap or reduced, or something that won’t go out of date like pens, or socks, for example, I’ll grab it and stick it in the cupboard. I then start seriously in June and ramp it up another notch in September. Each year I’ve finished earlier than the year before. I hate shopping, so I like to get it done as soon as possible.
  5. I buy most of it online – Pretty much all of it actually. I hate shops and people and crowds at this time of year so I avoid them entirely and do it all online. Sitting at my desk in the warmth and comfort of my own home, with a cup of tea on the go, I can browse the net and get the best deals and research what to get people and get through it all pretty easily. Thank goodness for the internet. I can still recall the nightmarish Christmas shopping trips before online shopping. Ugh.
  6. I wrap up as I go along – Okay, actually it was one of my daughters who started this. She gets so excited about Christmas she likes to start wrapping in October so I let her! She doesn’t wrap her own obviously but most days she wraps up a few things for me, which means there is hardly anything to do come Christmas Eve. I spent far too many Christmas Eve’s sat on the floor with cellotape stuck between my teeth, running out of wrapping paper and losing the scissors! Now that never happens because it is all done.
  7. I’ve cut down what I buy and simplified it – My kids are good and they don’t ask for much anyway. But other years have seen me stressing out about what to buy other people, you know, the ones who always say ‘oh nothing’ when you ask them. Or the ones who already have everything they need. I used to worry about what to buy them but I don’t now. If I can’t think of anything cool and they haven’t asked for something specific then they get a voucher. Sorted. I’d rather spend the brain time thinking about what to get my kids.
  8. We started our own traditions – Christmas is such a time of traditions, and I do like this aspect of it. But the trick is to shake off the ones that annoy or stress you and invent your own! A few years back I saw a thing on Facebook about Christmas Eve boxes. I always gave the kids pjs on Xmas eve anyway,  and I really liked the idea of packing up a book and some hot chocolate or something too so I started it. We’ve been doing it for about five or six years now I think and the kids love it! This was never a thing when I was a kid but hey, traditions can change! Last year we started a new one. Secret Santa. We put our names in a hat and everyone picked out a person to buy a present for secretly. We all got £5 and the only rule is it had to be something that person would appreciate. This was so much fun and we made sure to leave the Secret Santa presents to the end of the day when everything else was over. We’ve done it again this year and I think we always will. My 10-year-old son asked me if we could also celebrate Yule and the winter solstice this year so we are. We researched ways to do this and have made a list of ways we can celebrate this time of year, such as bringing logs and greenery into the home, doing some baking and arts and crafts and giving back to nature by decorating a tree with bird food. We can’t wait!ivy-456550_640.jpg
  9. I don’t do Christmas cards – I stopped giving people Xmas cards about 6 or 7 years ago. It just seemed so silly! If I see you a lot, I can say HappyChristmass. If I see you on the day, why do I need to give you a card as well? And if I hardly see you at all, isn’t there a reason for that? I don’t want trees to be cut down for this wasteful silliness! I can see why it would have been nice when the Victorians invented it. They didn’t have phones, emails or social media. There are so many ways to wish people happy Christmas these days, why do we feel the need to slave over a giant pack of cards, dutifully crossing people off a long list? Cut out the stress and stop doing cards. No one cares if you do, I promise.
  10. I don’t buy much food – I used to write extensive lists of things I thought we had to have. The world would end if we didn’t have these things! A tin of Quality Street, a box of Roses, a family box of biscuits and so on. Why??? I’ve cut it right down. I don’t want all that crap in the house. Yes, we will have some candy canes and chocolate decorations on the tree and yes the kids get a tube of sweets and chocolate coins in their stockings. I’ll buy the meat and vegetables for the roast dinner and the crackers and cheese etc for the evening meal. I’ll make sure there is hot chocolate and squirty cream and there will be something a bit nicer for breakfast too, like brioche or croissants. The kids get bought chocolate by other people, so I really don’t need more in the house. I’ve had years where the unhealthy food dragged on for weeks after the day, making us all feel yukky. Not anymore. We don’t need to have a house crammed full of food just because it’s Xmas! I do make my own Xmas cake and mince pies and we also make our own gingerbread creation. That is more than enough!gingerbread-house-2538660_640.jpg

So, there we have it. One happy, peaceful, silly, family Christmas. It took me years to achieve this but now it feels like the norm. I told my daughter that I was blogging about stress at Christmas, and she replied with ‘but we don’t have any stress at Christmas.’ Yay!

Over to you guys. What stresses you out about Christmas? Have you changed things over the years to ease the pressure, and if so what? Please feel free to comment and share!

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If At First You Don’t Succeed…

Today I’m going to be brave and talk to you about failure. My own recent failures, or at least, things that have not gone as well as I hoped. Talking about failure is not easy. We don’t like to admit failure to anyone, let alone ourselves.  It’s embarrassing when something is not a success.  Just lately, I’ve tried out a few bright ideas and they have all sort of bombed. I’m mostly an optimist and try not to feel down for too long, but I’ve got to admit, the perceived failures dented my confidence at the time. My head is ruled by two opposing voices. I have one constantly telling me how crap I am, how everything I do is utter, pointless rubbish. And then I have this other voice piping up constantly; ooh I’ve got another idea! Let’s try this! These voices have 50/50 control right now. I think I’m rubbish because something didn’t go as planned, and then the other voice suggests something new to try…so I keep going. I’m going to list the recent failures below and talk about how and why they failed, and how also they sort of succeeded as well…

Cancelled a workshop due to lack of interest… Back in March, I ran my first adult workshop under my Chasing Driftwood Writing Group business. I had already put on a few for Dorset Writers Network and I’ve been running kids workshops since 2015. It was scary to put on my first one aimed at adult writers, but Building Your Author Platform was a great success, highly enjoyable and I received terrific feedback. I ran another one a few months later which was less well attended but I still viewed it as a success. Some people requested I run the Author Platform one again so I decided to book it for November, thinking it would be nice to help these writers and make a little bit of money before Christmas. Despite my best efforts, I could not drum up enough attendees to make it worth running. I had three tickets sold before I decided to cancel it and refund them. This was a tough decision because I felt really bad about the people who had bought tickets, but I was also feeling very low about putting it on to so few people. It sucked, to be honest. I questioned my decision to apply for Chasing Driftwood to become a Community Interest Company (currently awaiting a decision on this) and I even thought about jacking it all in. The fact my last kid’s workshop also had very low attendance was playing on my mind. Maybe I should quit this. Maybe I am bad at this. But then I thought about the reasons it failed. I think a lot of it is lack of advertising, and the reason for that is financial. One of the reasons I am applying to become a CIC is to better access arts-based funding to put on various writing projects. Some of that money can go towards advertising. They say you have to spend money to make money. Well, if you don’t have any money, you have to apply for funding! Which is exactly what I’m going to do. If I still can’t fill workshops once I’m a CIC with a decent advertising campaign behind me then yeah…maybe time to think again.

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Author Event at Library Cancelled…So, I can’t really take the blame for this one, though at the time it was frustrating and disheartening and I certainly viewed it as a personal failure. Last March my local library put on a very successful author event, where local writers paid a small fee to have a table in the library to sell books. I only sold a few but I really, really enjoyed the event. Coming up to Christmas, I wondered if we could capitalise on Christmas shoppers and have another one. The library manager was all for it, and we both contacted various writers to see how much interest we could get. We got none. Literally, none. The lovely manager said let’s leave it for now and so it never happened. I was gutted, but it did inspire me a bit too. I’ve had this idea for a pop-up bookshop for some time, and want to get started once (if) I become a CIC. The library have already agreed we could set up there anytime. If it’s just me it’s just me. But I’ve already got an email list of local writers I can contact when this happens. So, in this case, I’m viewing it as perhaps we’ll try again another time…

Hiding Books… Initially, this was fun. I had some stickers from The Book Fairies, and for ages and ages, I’d thought about hiding my novel This Is Nowhere around my village, as I set it here. I thought the local people might like to know there is a novel set where they live! It took a long time to gather the courage (I am genuinely scared of being told no) but I contacted the parish council who let me add a piece to the newsletter, detailing what I was up to. In other words, hiding four copies of the novel in the location it’s set in during a five day period. Slips of paper were included to politely ask if the finder could share pics to social media re where and when they found the book, and then rehide it to carry on the fun. It was daunting, to say the least, but I did it. I hid the four books and waited for communication. To date, I’ve heard….nothing. All four books have been taken. But I have absolutely no idea by who! They could all be slung in bins for all I know! I tried not to expect too much, but I did really hope to hear from at least one happy finder. Having said that, maybe I will. Maybe the books will get hidden again! Who knows? And I’ve talked myself out of viewing it as a total failure, as I did get one ebook sale for the novel when a local resident contacted me via Facebook asking how she could download the book… It is a shame I didn’t get more sales or communication from my local friends and neighbours, but what was nice was the response I got online from other writers. I posted on Facebook and Instagram and received such enthusiasm and lots of people excited to try the same thing. So, not a total failure. I just hope they get a better result than I did! Would I do it again? Well, considering how out of pocket I am, probably not. Not for a while anyway!

Christmas Pop-Up Book-Shop… Another great idea of mine. With the real-life pop-up shop in the pipeline, I thought why not try an online one, in the form of a Facebook event? I roped in my good friend Kate Rigby and the plan was to invite other writers to post links to their paperbacks into the event, along with other interesting things like maybe a giveaway or competition, and hope to entice some readers in to buy Christmas presents! We thought a great idea in theory. So was it a failure? Well, yes and no. If I’m having a bad day I’m going to throw it on my recent failures heap and sulk about it. But if I’m having a good day I’m going to remind myself that it was a trial run, something to learn from, something to try again bigger and better. The authors were absolutely fantastic. I bought a great book to give to Mum for Xmas, and I added some others to my to-read list. It was fun, but in terms of sales and exposure, well no, not really a great success. Hardly anyone from my friends list joined in. That always stings a bit, but then I remind myself that people are not always convinced by indie books. Also, in an online event, you can’t really pick the book up and flick through etc. Will we do it again? Yes, we definitely will.

Self-publishing… You might know by now that I have a love/hate relationship with self-publishing. I am, at times, extremely proud of my books and the platform I have been building, and everything else I have done. Then, at other times, I view self-publishing as a failure in itself, because I was rejected. Not wanted. Not good enough. I still think a lot of my friends and family have the view that self-published means not very good, and so they kind of ignore what I’m doing. I know that there are amazing self-published books out there because I mostly read indie books. It’s a bumpy ride. I don’t regret it because if I hadn’t done it, I wouldn’t have my books out there at all. But at times it leaves me with a bad feeling because I think I have not yet written anything really credible or worthy of being traditionally published and sitting proudly on the shelves of Waterstones etc. I expect I will always feel this way while sales are low. And sales are low. It’s not a nice thing to admit, but I know most indies are in the same boat, so I try not to see it as a reflection of my work. The endless problem is reaching readers when so many thousands of books are published every day. I think readers are much more likely to notice and buy and read the trad published books because they are so much more visible to them. So, the fight goes on.

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Above are listed my recent attempts to better myself and my position, to achieve something new, to try an idea, and in many ways, they were all failures. But then I think, at least I tried. (In case you don’t know, I fully intend to have the Frank Turner lyrics from Eulogy engraved on my headstone; “At least I fucking tried”) Surely, the real failure would be in never trying at all? In thinking up these ideas and then ignoring them? In feeling great enthusiasm for a project, and then never trying it out in case it failed? In having dreams, but being too scared to pursue them?

I think so. And I also think that every failure shapes you and helps you progress in some way. You’ve got to be big enough to take it on the chin. You’ve got to be humble enough to admit what went wrong. You’ve got to be brave enough to get back up and try again. (After a mini-meltdown though, of course. Those are always allowed!)

And guess what? Since I started penning this post, I’ve had another big idea!!

So, what do you think folks? Do you want to be brave and tell me about your recent failures? How did you deal with them? Are you going to try again? I love it when you comment and please feel free to share!

 

 

Character Interview- Tsingsei Gold

Morning folks! With Christmas just around the corner, many of you lovely bookish types might be thinking about buying books for your loved ones. With this in mind, myself and my friend indie author Kate Rigby are holding a little Christmasssy event today over on Facebook. The Christmas Pop-Up Book Shop will be full of links to paperbacks by fantastic authors. Authors, feel free to add your links throughout the day, and readers, please come in and browse the shelves. We will be leaving the event up for a few days so that you can pop in and out and not have to worry about missing anything. We will also be posting some other things of interest, such as giveaways, competitions, and character interviews. Here is one such thing. Indie author Shalaena Medford is the author of the thrilling fantasy novel The Worst Dyrkon  and the adventure-packed steampunk series Those Who Wander

Character Interview – Song (Tsingsei Gould)

1. Do you have any negative character traits and if so, what would you say they are?

Well, that’s hardly a proper thing to ask, now isn’t it? Though, Leslie says I’m prideful. Oh, and Altain said I eat like a derby horse, is that a bad thing? Dash is getting tired of the ‘rude behavior’ Toothy has taught me, but I don’t see the problem with it. Oh, that’s right, I can be very impatient. But I mean, besides those teensy things I don’t think that—oh, and I can be a little reckless, can’t I?—but I really don’t have negative character traits.

2. What are your most positive personality traits?

I’m very loyal, I’d say. Determined. A fast learner. I’m good at making friends—though I’m better at making enemies.

3. Tell us what your current most pressing ambition or dream is?

I’ve got to find Captain Darian. When I do, I’m going to kill him. If Altain is dead, I’ll torture Darian first. If he’s alive…well I might torture him anyway just for what he’s done. But I might give him a piece of cake as thanks for getting me into this life and forcing me to be adopted into this family. But of course, then I’d just go back to the torture. And then I’ll kill him. Either way he’s a dead man.

4. What are you most afraid of?

I don’t want to go home. I don’t want to be Tsingsei anymore. I don’t want to be a Gould. I’m a pirate, not an aristocrat. It’s who I am.

5. Do you have a best friend? If so, why this person?

I don’t really think I do. Altain is gone, and before we could really get close. Leslie is my partner and teacher, so I don’t think he counts. Dashaelan is the father I never had. Thumbs, well, he only likes me because I’ll eat anything he puts in front of me (but that’s just because it’s always delicious). Hmm. I think I’ll have to get back to you on that one.

6. Have you ever been in love?

Never. Maybe one day, I don’t know. Right person, I suppose? All that rubbish. But it’s not going to happen on a pirate ship, now, is it?

7. Have you ever committed a crime?

Which one haven’t I committed at this point? Let’s see, piracy, theft, torture, murder, obstruction of justice, conspiracy, destruction of property, treason, grand theft zeppelin. I’m sure there are others, but you’d have to ask a constable.

8. Do you have any secrets?

Everyone’s got secrets. Out in the world my secret is my true identity, but back home my secret was my love of women. But I don’t keep much from my crew, they’re my true family.

9. Do you have any regrets?

I wish I’d been stronger…

10. How would you like to be remembered?

I would like to be remembered as… Not as Tsingsei Gould. When I go down, I’ll be going out in glorious combat—or hanged, if I’m being realistic. Either way, I don’t want to be written in the history books as just some senator’s daughter. I want to be remembered as a great pirate—with a high bounty, of course.

Thanks so much to Shalaena (and Song!) for this fantastic interview! If you want to find out more about Shalaena’s books, her Amazon link is below;

Shalaena’s Books

 

 

Character Interview- Mack Walker

Morning folks! With Christmas just around the corner, many of you lovely bookish types might be thinking about buying books for your loved ones. With this in mind, myself and my friend indie author Kate Rigby are holding a little Christmasssy event today over on Facebook. The Christmas Pop-Up Book Shop will be full of links to paperbacks by fantastic authors. Authors, feel free to add your links throughout the day, and readers, please come in and browse the shelves. We will be leaving the event up for a few days so that you can pop in and out and not have to worry about missing anything. We will also be posting some other things of interest, such as giveaways, competitions, and character interviews. Here is one such thing. Indie author Mark Gillespie is an incredibly talented and prolific writer. I can’t keep up with the number of books he releases! This character interview is with Mack Walker, the main protagonist in his dystopian/post-apocalyptic/speculative fiction style trilogy, The Future Of London. (I’ve read two books in the series so far, and it is brilliant!) Enjoy!

Mack Walker (The Future of London Series)

1. Do you have any negative character traits and if so, what would you say they are?

I suffer from obsessive tendencies. But I don’t know, are those negative traits? To wake up in the morning knowing that only one thing matters above all else? That sounds like clarity to me. I’m looking for someone you see – that’s my thing. You could call it hunting rather than looking, because when I find him, well…

2. What are your most positive personality traits?

Obsessive tendencies.

3. Tell us what your current most pressing ambition or dream is?

To kill a man called Hatchet. In 2011, he did a terrible thing, something that changed all our lives for the worse. Someone has to make him pay and only a few people know what he did back then.

4. What are you most afraid of?

I still don’t know what happened to my parents. Nine years after they locked us up in London I don’t know what happened to them. Did they stay behind to look for me or did they make a run for it and try to get out before it was too late? I’m afraid I’ll never know the answer to that question. Most of all, I’m afraid they stayed behind.

5. Do you have a best friend? If so, why this person?

Friends don’t last long in this city.

6. Have you ever been in love?

I was only 16 when they locked us up in here. I never had much time for all that stuff back then. I’ve got even less time for it now.

7. Have you ever committed a crime?

Yes, but not without good reason. I don’t even know what counts as a ‘crime’ anymore in here. We do what we do to survive. Things like stealing and murder, they don’t mean what they used to.

8. Do you have any secrets?

I have a big secret. I know why no one is a hurry to let us out of London even though it’s been nine years since they sealed off the city. I’m certain they could find a way to bring us all back into society if they really wanted to. Only one other person in the city knows what I know. They’re using us – they’ve installed hundreds of thousands of micro-cameras everywhere, all over the city and they’re filming us. Not only that, we’re part of a reality TV show called The Future of London. Apparently it’s very popular and people pay a lot of money to watch us in here. They gain nothing from letting us out but they stand to lose a lot of money.

9. Do you have any regrets?

I wish I’d never moved to London in 2011.

10. How would you like to be remembered?

There haven’t been any new headstones in London for a long time. But it doesn’t matter if no one remembers me. Not as long as I find him.

Thanks so much to Mark (and Mack!) for this interview! You can find out more about Mark’s books on the link below;

Mark Gillespie books