Inspirational Essex

Poor Essex, woefully misunderstood, maligned by those who have never visited, routinely laughed at and made fun of. If it was a character in a novel it would have you rooting for it from the first page, the underdog who would fight off its naysayers and emerge to capture the hearts of all, the hero of the piece by the end of the book.

Anyone familiar with TOWIE could be forgiven for thinking that Essex is nothing more than tanning salons, nail bars and nightclubs full of loud, image-obsessed people. We have our fair share of the latter and Essex people are often loud and proud but that is not the whole story and as a writer, I’d like to tell you why.

Look beyond what you think you know and you will find an Essex that has so much more to offer – ancient market towns, beautiful villages, rolling countryside and lovely beaches. It is the perfect mix of town and country.

Dutch Quarter Colchester
Dutch Quarter Colchester by Ben Sutherland courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/apA7Ks https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Is it any wonder then that I use my home county as a source of inspiration for my books including The Flower Seller and White Lies? Both of these books are based in and around the fictitious market town of Abbeyleigh, the inspiration for which came from Colchester (Britain’s oldest recorded town) with a nice dash of Saffron Walden thrown in.

Colchester Castle
Colchester Castle by Giborn_134 courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-ND 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/of5w5c https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

I love the fact that in Essex, you can be in the centre of a vibrant, urban environment enjoying all the mod cons of modern life one moment and in the next you can be in the heart of the countryside. It really does have the best of both worlds. And for those who think any form of ‘culcha’ stops with the tube line, there is a vibrant music and arts scene to enjoy. For a writer, that contrast between worlds brings with it an endless source of ideas.

Royon
Roydon by Richardghawley courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons CC BY-ND 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/661HpS https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

Essex is also blessed with a varied and interesting coastline. The genteel, almost Edwardian, feel of Frinton on Sea, gives way to the Kiss-Me-Quick culture of piers, rides and slot machines at Clacton and Southend. While West Mersea is a hub for the sailing fraternity and the oyster fisheries.

west Merseajpg
West Mersea by John Fielding courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons CC BY 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/wxmrhr https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

I love nothing better than taking my dog Willow for long walks along the county’s beaches, mulling over my plots while Willow frolics on the sand and I pause to watch the kite surfers.

But it is not only the landscape of the county that inspires me, the people do too. Down to earth, hard-working and funny, Essex people take no nonsense from anyone and if someone asks for their opinion they’ll give it to them straight, no messing. We may have a predilection for bling and Prosecco but there are worst vices to have.

Prosecco
Raval by James West courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/bvFWbe https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Just as you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, don’t think you know Essex because of what you’ve heard and seen – there is so much more to my home county that is just waiting to be discovered. Why not find out for yourself and pay us a visit?

white lies
White Lies by Ellie Holmes http://Author.to/EllieHolmes

 

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http://Author.to/EllieHolmes

This article first appeared on FemaleFirst.co.uk

http://www.femalefirst.co.uk/books/ellie-holmes-white-lies-1077670.html

 

 

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Are You Kidding Yourself?

The biggest lies are the ones we tell ourselves

We all lie to ourselves occasionally. ‘I’m happy as I am.’ ‘He loves me.’ ‘I love him.’ ‘I’ll work less hard.’ ‘I’ll make more time for me.’ Sound familiar? We are all guilty of it but the biggest lies we tell are often the ones we tell ourselves and that’s the brutal truth.

Catching ourselves in the act is, of course, never easy, particularly if the lies are long standing ones. Ironically it is often easier to spot when others are doing it. You meet a friend for coffee and listen to her latest dramas – work related or romantic and think: ‘Her life would be so much better if she would just go for that promotion and/or dump him’. You might even offer some gentle advice to which your friend will smile serenely and say, ‘I’m happy as I am.’

Being that honest with yourself however is tough. Sometimes we have lived with our own lies for months, if not years. They have become a part of us. They are a comfort blanket to shield us from a cold, harsh world. They are our friends or so we think.

Comfort blanket

In reality, the lies are holding us back, trapping us in the safe yet restricting surroundings we feel most comfortable in. Beyond those boundaries another world exists. One where you can be yourself without compromise or deceit. Doesn’t that sound appealing? Getting there, however, is the tricky bit. Fessing up is never easy however good it may be for your soul.

Quiet time
How not to manage an introvert? By Nguyen Hung Vu courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

In my novel White Lies it is only when the three main characters face up to the reality of their situations that they are ready to start over and become the people they have always wanted to be.

Frequently the lies we tell ourselves are a protection mechanism to shield us from an unpleasant reality or to stop ourselves facing up to a problem we need to tackle.

People shy away from change because we like to cling to the familiar even if ultimately it is making us unhappy but it’s through change that we learn and grow.

stagnant water
Stagnant water by Bossi courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/6K97yF https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Picture a pool of stagnating water – dark and murky, choked with weeds. Not a great image, is it? Now picture a babbling brook, flowing freely over pebbles, gushing and gurgling, giving life, enhancing life. Which would you rather be? Stuck convincing yourself that nothing needs to change or taking your courage in your hands and becoming a better version of you.

Gentle brook
Gentle Brook by Andrew T Thrasher courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by Public Domain 1.0 https://flic.kr/p/vhXYNm https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/

Owning up to a lie is the first step in the right direction. Only when you have done that can you begin to see there are other choices available, new directions you can take.

Honesty is the best policy

Don’t sell yourself short. Be your own best friend. Have that conversation with yourself. Honesty really is the best policy as your gran used to say.

Change is scary but it can be exhilarating and life-affirming too so be brave.

And the next time you hear yourself say, ‘I am happy as I am’ you may actually mean it.

Smile2
Smile by Jens Bergander courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-ND 2.0
white lies
White Lies by Ellie Holmes http://Author.to/EllieHolmes
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http://Author.to/EllieHolmes

 

My own little piece of Chelsea

Summer flowers
Summer Flowers – Ellie Holmes

The Chelsea Flower Show was recently held in the grounds of the Chelsea Hospital in London. Possibly the most famous flower show in the world, it attracts exhibitors and visitors from all over the world. Crazily intricate show gardens are constructed from nowhere and dismantled after just a few days from elaborate gardens in Main Avenue to smaller, more intimate gardens that can inspire, challenge and delight.

I have visited Chelsea on several occasions although I prefer its slightly less celebrated cousin Hampton Court. I may not have the greenest of fingers and my garden may be a triumph of optimism over horticultural knowledge but my own little piece of Chelsea inspires, challenges and delights me every bit as much as a show garden and at a fraction of the price.

Summer flowers2
Summer colour – Ellie Holmes

Whilst small my garden is also a haven for wildlife; birds, bees and butterflies are regular and welcome visitors. As an organic gardener, the bugs are a challenge but I appreciate they all have their place in the grand scheme of things and we each of us go about our business leaving the other pretty much alone. This spring I even had a hedgehog in the garden (I think he or she may have been hibernating in the compost heap or behind the shed).

A gardening expert would probably tut and shake their heads at some of my planting combinations. Certainly, I would not win any medals but my garden is not about showing off. It is about relaxation and calm, colour and inspiration. We all need a little beauty to feed our souls and each day, in different ways, my garden provides that. I think that is better than any medal.

Hosta heaven
Hosta heaven – Ellie Holmes

To Still a Busy Mind

I was either going to crash and burn and that was not going to be pretty or I was going to pull back and find a better way to live my life. As you will be aware if you have read my earlier blogs on meditation this was something I wanted to do but had yet to perfect how to do it.

Taking lessons from my less than stellar beginning, I decided the sofa in the sitting room would be a better location. I also decided twenty minutes of guided meditation first thing in the morning while the tea was brewing would be a good starting point for the day.

Dandelion
Dandelion by Coen Dijkman courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/3GXXg2 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

I also found a better guided meditation. There are hundreds to choose from. It is all a question of what suits you best. I found some talked too much – it is hard to concentrate on your breathing and still your mind when you have someone yabbering away incessantly in your ear. It is also crucial to find a voice that does not get on your nerves – hard to relax if the way they speak is grating on you. All this takes a little experimentation. Eventually I found the perfect meditation for me. A soothing voice, helpful instructions and crucially long periods of quiet when nothing is said at all. Perfect.

Bubbles
Bubbles by Stellajo1976 courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/ajYXq8 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

For two weeks I began my day with the same guided meditation session. Did I notice a difference? I had been prepared for a slow burn, signs of improvement but gradually probably over weeks if not months. The change, however, was much more immediate than that. I began sleeping right through the night, every night – not waking up at 2.00 a.m. and struggling to get back to sleep, my mind teeming. Because I was sleeping better, I was also waking up better, refreshed and ready to get up instead of clinging to the duvet. I also noticed that I was so chilled after my morning session that I went about my routine without any stress or rushing about. I lost the habit of checking the clock and yet when I was ready to leave the house and I did glance at the clock I was early. Life seemed so much easier than it had before.

calm
Calm by Ana Sofia Guerreirinho courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-ND 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/fcVB51 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

Like any new habit you need to stick with it long enough that it becomes second nature. That is my next challenge but when the benefits have been so positive, it’s a challenge worth taking on.

If you are any doubt whether meditation is for you give it a go but make sure you give it a go over a long enough period that you have chance to experience the benefits. Twenty minutes a day for two weeks was ideal for me and even the busiest of us can squeeze in an extra twenty minutes can’t we?

 

Digital Detox

digital detox
Digital Detox by David Lytle courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/fsCwQ2 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

So I started with the best of intentions on my digital detox. My expectations were not set unrealistically high. I would take a week out – seven days but it would not be a complete shut down so far as my devices were concerned. There were still urgent emails to deal with regarding my next book release that could not be ignored and a couple of other deadlines that were immovable. Beyond that, however, freedom lay.

freedom
Freedom by Lauren McKinnon courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/pNL5v5 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Interesting choice of word freedom and yet it had been on my mind a lot. Because I was feeling burnt out I was also feeling trapped – imprisoned by my commitments. An ailment of modern life given that most of the commitments were generated by my own fair hand and things I had entered into willingly.

It was therefore definitely time to step back. The first morning when I would normally be checking social media and scheduling blogs I removed myself from all my electronic devices and went and sat in the sun lounge. I had breakfast overlooking the garden and enjoying the birdsong and the sunshine.

In the background I could hear my iPad chirruping away with updates and alerts. Like one of Pavlov’s dogs I could feel my attention being pulled back to the world of social media which was merrily tweeting and facebooking away without me. What if the notification was not a standard one but an important one? Shouldn’t I check just to make sure?

I resisted the temptation – recognising it for what it was – a craving for my usual fix. Instead I struck a deal with myself that I would check the various platforms and emails during the lunch hour but would only respond if it was absolutely necessary. For one week, the world could do without me.

For once, I got ready for the day without the burden of buzzing thoughts. I arrived at work early and relaxed. At lunch, I limited myself to a few minutes of checking the platforms and emails. With my new mindset, I decided nothing there could be classed as important. With some satisfaction, I shut them down and read a book. The evening was more of the same. One quick check then freedom. That word again. Suddenly I had an open space mentally and physically to do other things.

The rest of the week continued in the same vein. I felt better almost instantly and that feeling multiplied as the days went by. It was as close to going cold turkey as I am ever likely to get. And I learnt two important lessons during my digital detox week:-

  1. I didn’t miss the whirl of social media
  2. The wheels did not come off my career by taking a few days out

So, if you are struggling with burn out, give yourself as complete a break as it is possible to have. You will feel better for it.

Freedom2
Freedom by Josef Grunig courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/3D7Ztx https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

You cannot however dwell in a digital free cave in the long term unless you are happy to ditch the writing career. Nowadays I do not realistically think you can have one without the other. You also do not want to end up back where you started in burnoutsville so what to do?

At the end of the week and with the headspace to actually sit and think I devised a fresh approach which I will share in a blog soon.

In the meantime, if you have been suffering with burn out please get in touch and let me know what worked for you.

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http://Author.to/EllieHolmes

Adventures in Meditation – Part Two

Meditation2
Meditation by Luckey_Sun courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/bxK3mR https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

As I recounted in Adventures in Meditation – Who Has The Time?! (see below) I knew the tangible benefits of meditation and that they could specifically help me. Mind buzzing all the time? Finding it hard to let go? Want to concentrate on something more important than a Facebook post? Yes please!

https://ellieholmesauthor.wordpress.com/2017/05/07/adventures-in-meditation-who-has-the-time/

So now that I had made the decision to give it a go, how did I actually begin? Before I got into the heavy stuff of scheduling where and when on a daily or even weekly basis I thought it would be a good idea to have a trial run.

For my first session, I chose a sunny Sunday morning when I was fairly sure I would not be interrupted by the outside world. I had already got a load of washing underway in the machine and I had taken my dog Willow for a long walk.

First dilemma – where should the meditation take place? Chair? Bed? Floor? I have tried practicing meditation on the bed in the past – I would usually fall asleep and then wake up cold so I discounted that idea. I decided to compromise and lay down on the sofa in the conservatory which was toasty warm from the early summer sun. This I thought also had the added benefit of the birdsong coming in through the open back door and the gentle fluttering of the blinds in the breeze. All an aid to relaxation, surely?

Relax
Relax by Dave Doe courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/o18eto https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

The next question was how was I actually going to do it. I decided twenty minutes was long enough to give it a good go but not so long that I would start panicking about my to do list. That length of time also seemed doable on a daily basis which was my ultimate goal.

Should I set the timer on my phone and go it alone or should I choose one of the many guided meditations that are available on the internet which, helpfully, have their timings included and a little about what the guided meditation will entail.

I thought as a novice I should accept a little help – a bit like a kid with stabilisers on their bicycle.   I choose a guided meditation that did not look too worthy or daunting. I plugged my headphones into my iPad and settled down.

Except I could not hear a thing. I fiddled with the iPad but could not figure out how to increase the volume on the app. I abandoned the iPad and reached for the iPhone. Searched for the same guided meditation, plugged in my headphones and settled down. Again. This time I had sound. Hurrah!

It all started well enough. With a little squirming around and the re-arranging of cushions I managed to get comfortable, retrieved the earbud that fell out in the process and settled down. Again. I started to concentrate on my breathing. I let the voice soothe me. I began to relax. And then…the dog started barking. I remembered I had left the back door open thinking the birdsong would help. I got up, brought the dog in, closed the door.

I settled down, put the earbuds back in and picked up where I had left off. I got a little further with the relaxation exercise. I could feel it starting to work when my washing machine when into its spin cycle and sounded as though it was readying itself for liftoff. I made the effort to block it out.

Now my whole body was relaxed and it was time to start counting backwards from 10 and go to my ‘special place’. I hadn’t been warned I needed a ‘special place’. I quickly cobbled something together in my mind and began to descend. I had just arrived when Willow, my dog, decided to jump on my chest and settle down for a spot of meditation of her own. I was back in the present with a bang, one earbud forlornly dangling and my special place ripped away without any count back. I was just debating whether to start over when the washing machine beeped to indicate it had finished. I took it as a sign and went to hang out the washing.

Meditation speaks
Except maybe not in my house! Meditation Speaks by Tejvan Pettinger courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/9tARE8 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

My first attempt at meditation had not been a complete disaster. I had learnt a lot. Mostly what not to do but at least I would be better prepared for next time and I was determined there would be a next time….

Adventures in Meditation – Who has the time?!

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Om by Wendy Cope courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/rgdL5q https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have flirted with meditation in the past. I bought a book about it once. I even read it. I know it is a positive and worthwhile endeavour. I know the benefits to my general health and wellbeing are potentially immense. But when I am already stressed because I have so much to do how can I find time in my overcrowded day to sit and do nothing? Chance would be a fine thing!

Then a few weeks ago two things happened to me. Firstly, I began to realise I was suffering with burnout. The second thing that happened was that I went to a friend’s house to join a new group she had started – likeminded individuals who wanted to talk about their spiritual and life experiences without judgment or dogma. We began the meeting with a guided meditation session.

I had forgotten how much I enjoyed the experience of letting go, even if only for a short time, to concentrate on my breathing and nothing else.

Meditation2
Meditation by Luckey_Sun courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/bxK3mR https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

During the meeting, we talked about the serendipitous nature of coincidences and how we had all got our friend’s email at a time in our lives when what she was proposing really chimed with us.

I left the meeting feeling as though I had made a group of new friends [I did not know any of the other people who attended apart from my friend] and with a lightness in my step.

Walking home, I realised that time to practice meditation or anything else for that matter was not going to magically materialise. I had to carve the time out. There was no point, however, sitting down to meditate with one eye on the clock, muscles tense thinking about all the other things I should be doing instead. Meditation in those circumstances would be impossible not to mention counter productive. I was either going to do it and do it properly or not at all. I resolved to make the effort and see where it led me.

In the next instalment of Adventures in Meditation I will let you know how I got on.