It seemed it wasn’t OK for me to hide in that back room forever though, where me and my tears could be left in peace. Instead, I had to get up and “bathe,” as they called it. You’d think this would excite me after the long, tiring journey we had just endured, but no and here’s why.
There was no shower, nice bath, or hot water. For health reasons, we were told to be careful with the water – don’t consume it in any form where possible. It’s funny because when I went to get my vaccinations, my doctor turned around and said there was a “national shortage of Hep B vaccines so…sorry, be careful!” Really, that’s what she bloody said! It was mad.
Anyway, it wasn’t the fear of Hep B that got to me. It was the fact that it was freezing and I had to go into a room with no lock and get naked in a strange house in Africa that was filled with my boyfriend’s family; then crouch down in a tub, use the cut-off bottom of a bottle as a bowl, and scoop water out of this huge dish in order to wash myself. Yes, this is how it’s done.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m no snob. I come from a low income, single parent household, and I have bathed in sinks and used bowls and bathed with my siblings in the past. And this wasn’t far from what I expected, either. It’s just expecting something and actually doing it are kind of different – and the house was soooo cold. So much for Africa, right. I was a shivering, confused, naked mess. Later, I found out that they had warmed the water using the coil from inside a kettle which hovered into the tub of water! Resourcefulness was something that they had in abundance in Africa – let’s ignore the potential death associated with it, though…
I made the mistake of leaving the bathroom only wearing my towel and with no shoes on. The floor had no carpet so the (lino or tiling) was freezing even against my already dithering body. My boyfriend told me not to walk out in my towel again, as it would seem disrespectful – I hadn’t thought of that, but it made total sense. But I soon learned my lesson anyway. I brought my clothes for the day into the bathroom in order to get changed. I made a point of telling as many people as I could that I was bathing, and even shut the door loudly so that no one would walk in on me – turns out this was simply an invitation for a certain little boy, who moseyed on in whilst I was naked, though. I screamed at him to leave, but he just gave a cheeky grin until his mother came to get him. I also brought flip-flops in with me and a bottle of water so that I could brush my teeth without catching a disease.
Look at me, I’m mastering Africa already!
On the evening of the first day, though, it was really late when we finally ate – I say ate, but I mean that I forced down a few potatoes and some chicken, that’s all. Naturally, we prayed before eating which was foreign to me as an agnostic, and took my off-guard when they announced it because it was said in Shona and I’d already started eating – fool!
After that, my eyelids were becoming heavy, but apparently the evening wasn’t over. Instead, Baba Precious had to explain is way too much detail about plans for travelling to Durban, and the sleeping arrangements that I bet no one listened to. Then, they did something even more foreign to me – they prayed again, then sang, then all prayed aloud whilst standing and we all had to wait for the last person to finish before we could move on. I’m not sure where this practice came from, though. Hold on, let me ask my boyfriend…
He didn’t know! So much for him.
The singing was beautiful and I definitely would have appreciated it more if I hadn’t been so tired from still not sleeping yet after all the travelling. I know people noticed that I didn’t pray aloud, but Patrick and Diana didn’t either so at least it was us pesky British folk and not just me. Finally, someone turned and said to me that I could go to bed and I practically ran! Then, I remembered that I was sharing a room with his nan and his sister, so I felt a little less excited. Plus, I was expected to fall asleep to the chorus of chattering new family members. Uh-oh, I will not be sleeping for the entire trip. Yippee.
Yoga practice (however and whichever works for you)
Meditation (again, however and whenever works for you; sitting in quiet is all you need to do)
Watch your favourite show
Read your favourite book
Plants and nature (in your home, workplace, garden etc)
Go for walks
Dance like crazy
Plenty of water
So what you WANT to do
Don’t try to fix others
Focus on you
Declutter your space
Go for a destination-less drive
Mindfulness practice (be in the now)
Work on setting exciting goals or desires
Socialise with good people
Play a game
Turn off your phone
Turn off notifications from social media; avoid scrolling through
Make a change; stop moaning, take action for a better, healthier life
Help others (without losing yourself or giving too much)
Create something or nurture something
Be with loved ones
Watch inspirational YouTube videos, films, tv shows
Listen to inspirational and motivational and educational podcasts and videos
Focus on feelings you want, less on goals and changing yourself
Speak to a higher being
Write a list of good things about yourself
Write a list of things you like; make sure you do them more
If you need any help in bettering your mental health, or better coping with anxiety, depression, and stress, then my book “You’re As Mad As I Am” may be for you. Check it out here, and download a free sample to see what it’s all about.
If you want to hire me to write about mental health (or other), then don’t hesitate to get in touch!
Here’s the details from the other half of our trip…
Ever since I decided to travel for myself, I have stayed (or tried to) in AirBnbs. If you’ve never used it, give it a try. You can opt to stay in a house, a spare room, or a shared room depending on your budget. It is the perfect way to travel on a budget because you can get a great little home for half the price of a hotel (at times). And it makes for a unique experience, where you feel like a local rather than a tourist using a hotel.
Our AirBnb was a studio “apartment” with its own mini dining table, mini sofa, microwave, hob, kettle, double bed, sink, big bathroom, small cable tv, amazing entrance with stairs and a mini garden, and it even came was a three-legged dog that we named Champion (this is from a tv show called Parks and Recreation, go watch it; my brother’s girlfriend mentioned it and it just stuck for the whole trip!)
We loved it. It was close to the beach, about a 10-minute drive, and so we ended up going to Praia da Faro 4 times. It had cafes and shops close-by, too. The best thing was that it was close to the airport, so when we had to wake up at 5am, we didn’t have far to go in the Uber to catch our flight.
I am so grateful to Julio, our host, as he suggested we visit Sagres, which is right at the end of the South of Portugal. I had planned for us to drive to Albufeira and Lagos, but I didn’t think Sagres was close enough to Faro. It was Julio who said it would be worth the 2-hour drive, and so we did it. And he was so right. We saw sights like no other…
Aside from the food, or perhaps alongside the food, the best thing was the nature we saw. I read a quote recently that said, “Everyone should have themselves regularly overwhelmed by nature.” I feel that it was so apt that I read this whilst we were away, because I was incredibly overwhelmed by what I saw.
I am a very emotional person. I love and hate this about myself. But it was only a good thing that I was emotion when myself and Patrick got out of our car, wrapped up in jackets and jeans, and then ascended the hill to find the most beautiful sight I have ever seen in my life. Sagres, where we were, is called “The End of the World” which is so appropriately named. I felt like I was looking at the end of the world, over the cliffside, and staring out at the vastness of the Atlantic Ocean. Seeing the edges of the cliffside, cut by the waves that weren’t vicious, but instead glorious.
I haven’t travelled far. I haven’t seen much. There are so many times that I have felt like the world is against me, and that it is ugly, and that it is unfair. But that view proved me ever so wrong. It showed me that my problems are so, so small. That I am capable of so much more than I realise. And that the world can never, ever be truly ugly. The sea may be cutting those rocks, but in doing so, it is creating something so wonderful. If nature can be that beautiful, how can the cuts from my life be seen as ugly?
Thank you, nature, for showing me that when I truly needed it.
Then Lagos gave us the opportunity to explore and sit amongst the rock formations, looking over the edge at the ocean, the boats, the waves washing over the rocks, and the cloudless sky above. It was…ineffable.
We learned a few Portuguese phrases before our trip. These were “hello”, “do you speak English?”, and “thank you”. The whole trip, we said hello and thank you, of course. But we hadn’t yet used our key phrase, “do you speak English?” And so, I made it my duty to do so. When we were ordering our lunch at McDonald’s, I went up to the counter and ever so bravely and fluidly said “Voce fala Ingles?” I felt like a rockstar, I’m not going to lie! The young man smiled and said that he did speak a little bit (which I understood because it kind of sounded like Pequeno which is “a little” in Spanish, which I learned in my GCSEs!)
I loved that throughout the whole trip, I found myself saying “that word’s like such-and-such in Spanish.” My 16-year-old self was coming out, remembering the language I used to love learning. I received a B grade for Spanish in my GCSEs, and apparently, a lot of the words had stuck with me, even if I didn’t realise it. Thank you, Portugal, for reminding me that I love foreign languages. I really hope I can kick myself into gear and start learning more languages and brush-up on the Spanish, French, and Japanese that I already know parts of.
Of course, no trip abroad is complete without sightseeing. We spend some time on the beach, chilling and reading and having a tussle. We parasailed and went on a boat to see the coastline caves and the vastness of the ocean. But we also had to look around at the monuments, the culture, and the town.
We were staying in Faro, and so we looked around their Old Town. This didn’t take long, as there’s not much to see really. We loved the rickety old trains, the marina, the pastel coloured buildings, the graffiti, the statues, and the cathedral. It was awesome to eat whilst we looked over at the ocean, watching boats bob atop the gentle waves. In Lagos, we looked around their town a bit, too. It was amazing to just wonder and accidentally find hidden gems like cacti, palm trees (huge and miniature), dogs and cats, dirt paths leading to the water’s edge, and gelato shops.
All in all, Portugal was just what I needed, right when I needed it. I got to relax under the sun, sand in-between my toes and tickling my back. I got to read without feeling like I was getting a quick chapter in before bed or before starting my work. I just got to read unapologetically, with no time limit. I got to not only see the ocean, not only put a foot in the ocean, not only brave the waves of the ocean on a bobbing sickly boat, but also see the ocean from 80m in the sky on the parasailing! That’s pretty incredible.
I got to eat, and eat well. I got to sing along to the radio on the best road-trip-like journeys I’ve ever been on. And most of all, I got to do it all with my best friend. We changed and grew and experienced it all together, which is all I ever want for us. There is no one else I would have wanted to scream with in the air in the parachute or marvel at the rock formations that were Google-picture-worthy.
Thank you for the trip of a lifetime, and here’s to many more!
We have just come back from Portugal, and I for one had a great time – to say the least. It was the best holiday I’ve ever been on, full of so much than the basics. It wasn’t just chillin’ on the beach. It wasn’t just sightseeing. It wasn’t all adrenaline and thrill-seeking, either. It was a beautiful blend of them all in one amazing 5-day treat.
I’m going to segment the trip into sections that best describe what happened. So, let’s begin…
Oh, there were so many fears. Firstly, there was the night before we left. My sister had not long left for Thailand to travel alone for a month. I was scared for her and missed her already, and so it had brought on my anxiety. I was feeling overwhelmed by everything that was going on, and it made me afraid to go on the trip.
There was nothing scary about it, because I’d planned it out and knew there would be food that I liked and I knew where the Airbnb was, so I had nothing to fear. Yet my mind was doing overtime, and my body was alight with anxiety.
During the flight I was okay-ish, and when we arrived – thankfully – I felt excited. We collected our hire car and we were a-go. I felt good. It was only now and then that I worried again, like when we first ate.
Before every meal, I got a little worried – naturally, as a socially anxious person who has trouble with public eating. The next time I got dreadfully anxious was on the first night. Well, I’m not sure I was anxious but I woke up in the middle of the night and couldn’t sleep again and had to keep going to the bathroom. It set me back and was unnerving.
But I was good again in the daytime, and ate so well, and had so much fun. The only other times I got scared was the night before the boat trip and then the night before going home, too.
I don’t do boats, like not at all. And so naturally, I was incredibly terrified to go on one for 2 whole hours. And our flight was leaving at 7:30am and so we had to leave the Airbnb at 5:15am and the early rise worried me in case we missed it.
But we didn’t.
I had fears, but none of them changed the trip or made me opt out of anything. I let them be, felt the fear, and did what I wanted to do anyway. So, go me.
Patrick, my partner, was the driver for the trip. And he was amazing. Truly faultless (don’t tell him I said that). They drive on the right-hand side, and the steering wheel is on the left, so he had to get used to that. But there was no getting used to it for him, he took to it right away like a pro.
Driving in Portugal, well the Algarve, is definitely a must. We were able to visit 4 cities in our 5 days because of it. This was Faro (where we landed and stayed), Sagres, Lagos, and Albufeira. The driving gave us the opportunity to do this, and made the trip truly worthwhile.
The highlight of the trip was also a terrifying element of the trip. We went parasailing. Now, this was incredible. I’ve always been intrigued by certain extreme sports or thrill-inducing activities, but I haven’t had the chance to try them out and I’ve not had much nerve, either. But when I saw that it was a possibility with the same company that we were using to go on the boat to see the caves on the coast and the dolphins, I saw it as a sign. “Siana, it’s time you did something awesome…” And I listened, despite being afraid.
I like that good-afraid feeling. The feeling of being scared to do something, but knowing that the something you’re about to do is going to be great. I for one want more of those feelings in my life, and I’m so glad that Portugal provided several of those feelings. The parasailing, the boat and caves, the driving around, the cliffside sights, and the food.
The views when parasailing was breathtaking and it felt like a once-in-a-lifetime sight. I know my parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles, didn’t get to see what I saw. They’re travelled a little, but not as much as I plan to. I’m able to see the world, unlike them, and so it is my duty to see it. And be changed by every moment of it.
We found it odd that there were so many stray dogs and cats. Even dogs that did have owners were walking in and out of their gates just like our cats do! It was weird but cool at the same time. I also liked that in the shops, they have open dog food bags where you can scoop-up a Tupperware tub of dog food and feed the stray dogs. So cool!
There was a sea of white buildings everywhere, too, that acted like a blank canvas for the many graffiti artists in Algarve. Our buildings in the UK are so different and distinct that you can tell a shop from a house and so on. But not in Portugal. We had to really look to find shops or restaurants. Everything blended into one another which was nice for the scenery, but annoying when you were hungry!
The people of Portugal were all lovely. The service was immense for the most part. Even when we used Uber on the last day after we’d given the car back, we realised that Uber is way better in Portugal than in the UK. Everyone was lovely. The drivers asked if the temperature was OK for us; they offered us sweets. And the best part was…we had our first female driver! How great is that?!
The best thing about the trip was the food – hands down. As you know, I haven’t always had a great relationship with food. I’ve always been a “fussy eater” and I’ve been socially anxious in restaurants since I was a teen.
But not this time.
No. I ate so much good food on the trip, not ordering the safe thing on the menu and eating it all with ease in public. And every day, we tried fish. This is huge as we’re new to fish. And I even ate a fish with it’s head on! It felt immense. It was euphoric! It was truly life-changing for me. I’m so proud of myself, and I hope it’s a sign of things to come…
Stay tuned for part two where I talk more about what we did and what we saw…
So, I met up with a writer-friend yesterday (she’s a freelance writer like myself) and she gave me some great advice. It was simple advice, sure, but effective. She said I need to talk about my work more. To shout-out about my achievements. And so, this post is about me shouting-out. Actually, there will be a series of posts about my bragging, because there’s kind of a lot to say…
I’ll start with “Ash Born“. Anyone who has followed my journey or known me for a while should have heard of “Ash Born” at least once. If not, I really have failed it. Ash Born is the first book I ever published, well, it wasn’t always known by this name.
Wind back to 2013, when the book was first released in September, Ash Born was known as “No Secrets“. Yes, I know, this isn’t as cool a title; that’s exactly why I changed it! But back in 2013, I was a mere teenager. I was 18 years old, and I had just finished college and I was meant to be going off to university. For reasons I needn’t go into (for it’s irrelevant), I decided against university at the time.
No Secrets was born when I was about 14 years old. It was a much smaller “book” at the time, and I had only shown it to my mom, my sister, and my book-lover friend at school. My friend loved it and she was the first person to truly give me any confidence in my writing. My cousin’s fiance, at the time, was an English graduate and so he helped to edit the book over some time, too. It was finally becoming something.
Fast forward to when I’m 16, and I have this “book” that I’ve been working on (on and off) for years now. This book was quite obviously something special to me – otherwise, I would have dropped it and moved on to something else long ago, like I had done with all the other stories I’d written since I was about 8 years old. My mom thought it was something special, too, and so our excited little selves decided to pursue publishing.
We had no idea what we were doing, though, naturally. We did very little research, I admit, and were working blind. Blinded by excitement; blinded by the potential of dreams fulfilled, perhaps.
Anyway, after contacting Bloombury (as I’m a Potterhead), we were told that they couldn’t take work that wasn’t represented by an agent and something about me being too young anyway. I don’t fully remember how that went, but we were a little dejected.
Until we found an American publishing house. This publishing house, I won’t say its name, was actually a self-publishing company, where they helped you to publish your book but you had to pay them to do so. I had money from my dad’s inheritance and so I kind of felt like this was his way of supporting my dream from the beyond. And so, we went for it.
It cost less than £1,000 but more than £400, we’ll just say that, and when I look back, I think “oh god! What a fool?” But at the time, as I said, we didn’t know much better and we were just so excited to see my book printed. It took some time, a lot of editing on my part and recruiting my friends’ help, then it was finally ready. I submitted the book, and they designed the interior and asked me to find an image from a set site for the cover and what fonts I wanted, etc.
Then boom! my book was ready.
At the time, in Septemeber 2013, I was in a bad place. My life had taken a turn and it was so sad that my book happened to be published at the same time. This is why when my sister handed me the first copy of my book saying, “here, this will make you happy,” I didn’t feel as happy as I should have.
But later, I came to terms with it. I was an author. Self-published or not, young or not, it didn’t matter. I had a physical copy of my book. I had people buying it online. I had actual readers; I even gained a fan! She’s read my books several times over, and owns every edition and book in the Eternity Series! I love you, Michele Woodhouse!
Anyway, the book didn’t sell much. I think there were two big reasons for this. One, I didn’t know how to market it. And two, the paperback was £21. Now, I don’t know about you, but I don’t know many people willing to spend £21 on a book! It’s offputting. Yes, the eBook was much cheaper, but at the time, people kept saying to me that they wanted the paperback, but couldn’t afford it.
Over the years, I’ve become used to excuses as to why people won’t buy my books. If you’re an author, too, you will go through this. It’s only natural. But I thought to myself, yeah, they’re right. This book isn’t selling, and I need to fix it.
And so, I cancelled my book through that American company and got to work self-publishing it again through Amazon. Amazon is a godsend. It really is. So easy to use; so perfect for budding authors. I believe I was 20 when I republished “No Secrets: Remastered”.
Now, this edition sold a lot better. It was much cheaper, and I was better at marketing it. I made the most of social media, connecting with other authors and fantasy readers.
I even started a marketing campaign where I sought actors to play the roles of my characters, reciting lines from the book. It was so much fun, and definitely something that helped to boost intrigue. People did really like that, as visuals work well. Check out some of the videos below (but bear in mind that this was made in 2016, and the titles and synopsis etc. have since changed…)
However, in 2017, when I was 21, my author-friend said to me that my books (the sequel was out by then, but that will be explained in another post) weren’t working. They didn’t look as good as they could; the titles were rubbish in terms of marketing and catching someone’s eye; and the synopsis was just poor, thus not enticing anyone.
OK, so she wasn’t that harsh with me, but as soon as she said it I knew it was true. I didn’t argue or get sad; instead, I got to work again, this time harder and with more research. This is how the current “Ash Born” came to be. I thank her so much for all the advice she’s given me over the years, and of course for her amazing cover designs on the new editions of the books from the Eternity Series.
The book has since sold a lot better. People are intrigued by the covers and love the titles and synopsis.
Ash Born is 616 pages long and has received many reviews, when taking into account all of the past editions. It is a young adult fantasy, dark fantasy, urban fantasy that has been enjoyed all over the world in the UK, parts of Europe, America, and even Africa! It has been featured in newspapers and I’ve been interviewed about it 3 times.
What I learned:
Reading through this, you may think “wow, what a lot of mistakes”. Well, I hope you don’t think that. What I see is a dedicated, excitable young woman chasing after her dream of being an author. And you know what, I am an author. I don’t regret using the American company, because without that “mistake” I may never have had the courage to pursue publishing at all. I may not have used Amazon at all. I probably wouldn’t be writing the book that I’m writing now, with the plan to finally traditionally publish with an agent next year.
Everything happens for a reason, and I’m not ashamed of my journey or the “mistakes” I made to be the writer I am today. Each mistake was a learning curve. Each a new lesson to take onboard and go further.
Each pushed me and tested my passion, but I always got back up and fixed whatever needed fixing. Now that’s the dedication and love I put into all of my writing and editing. Because editing is such a huge part of a book. Writing it is the easy part. All you have to do is put any and all ideas on paper. Editing is where the magic happens. Editing is where the book is truly made.
And with No Secrets/Ash Born, I’ve learned so much and become a better writer and editor, and person in general. I am proud of myself to have done this from the age of 16-21, and I’ve only got more of this tenacity to come in the future.
Ash Born Synopsis:
A Coming of Age Fantasy with a twist…
One war and one girl to change everything…
Letti Kane has always been an outsider. Perhaps this was why she foolishly fell for the dangerous Kaizen D’Anna at first sight. However, mingling with the D’Anna family will mean discovering the dark secrets of her own. Secrets of which are catching up to Letti’s mother, the infamous Bellemere Kane.
Unknown predators from her mother’s past are forcing Letti into the darkness that exists right under her nose. Once exposed, what will it mean for Letti though? What is her place going to be in this unforgiving world? Scared, betrayed and losing herself along the way, Letti must find her inner strength before it’s too late.
As she’s thrust deeper into these perilous realms, her mother has only one question on her mind: will the inferno of their world and the upcoming war consume Letti altogether, or will she rise from the ashes?
“The world isn’t big enough for all of us.”
Ash Born is a Young Adult, Paranormal Fantasy novel filled with mystery, romance and angst.
This will be a short review, for this book isn’t new and the author is well-known. It would be silly of me to tell you about this book because I’m sure you’ve all read it by now. Plus, this is actually the last John Green book that I’ve read; I’ve read all the others already.
The reason this was the last one that I read is because the book meant more to me than just a book. More than a book about sick teenagers. It was a sad book for me for more than one reason.
That’s because it was my old friend Tahlia’s favourite book. I use was, past tense, because sadly she died 3 years ago. April 17th, 3 years ago, I read the news that my childhood friend had passed away. She had suffered from Cystic Fibrosis for all of her life, and she had it in her lungs, and so she was a particularly bad case. However, Tahlia was so stubborn and strong and so I always thought that she would last twice as long as predicted. Sadly, though, the CF put up more of a fight than expected.
And just like in the book, there were some hard twists of fate between myself and Tahlia. There were some troubles at one point with us, but we moved past them and were always there for each other. She was one of the first people to buy the first edition of my fantasy book, too. I’ll never forget our amazing conversation about how much she loved Letti and Kaizen and how proud she said she was of me.
But I have regrets. I will always hate the fact that I didn’t get to actually see her face to face again one last time. And that feels like the kind of tragedy that John Green would write…
Anyway, yeah, that’s why I couldn’t bring myself to read the book, though I’d had it on my shelf for years. The girl in the book is like Tahlia, too. Hazel Grace Lancaster had a bite and wit and those were the things that made Tahlia so…Tahlia. So yes, it was hard to read it. It was hard to picture Tahlia when she was sick with her oxygen tank and the tubes in her nose, just like Hazel had. But for some reason, now felt like the right time. I didn’t even plan to read it around her anniversary, it just happened that way. Weird, that…
But the book moved me in all the right ways. It brought me closer to the memory of Tahlia, so thank you once again, John Green, for writing perfect characters and a sad story in the way that only you can.
I think I needed this book, and Tahlia’s memory, right now to remind me to live. Just live. Wholly and fully and beautifully and unapologetically…