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Did you know I have an eBook series?

Sunday, 25 June 2017

You might have seen from my Instagram recently that I've been slowly starting work on a new eBook. What you may not have realised is that it's actually my third one in a series that I started a few years ago, and which has been on pause during the past few years due to me moving to my parent's place and then buying and moving in to a house with my husband.
SOE agent Nancy Wake

I started writing this eBook series during a point in my life where I REALLY missed university. Specifically I really missed the various research projects I'd juggled for my courses during both my BA and my MA (I hold both in Ancient History). Both my dissertations were on aspects of the lives of women in the ancient world, so I was already interested in women in history.

One Christmas I received a copy of Lisa Hilton's "Queen Consorts", which is about Queens of England from Matilda of Flanders (wife of William the Conqueror) through to Elizabeth of York (wife of Henry VII). After I read it my Mum asked a question about one particular Queen - Catherine of Valois. Catherine was the wife of Henry V, the hero of Agincourt, but she had made a second marriage after Henry's death, to Owen Tudor. Through her, and a timely marriage between the Tudors and the Beaufort family, Henry Tudor rose to prominence and eventually was able to claim the English throne.

My Mum had always wondered how Catherine, a Queen by marriage and a French princess by birth, had come to marry a minor Welsh nobleman. She didn't have the time to read a biography of Catherine of Valois, and even if she had, such biographies have been rare (until recently) and difficult to find. I was able to answer her question and it got me thinking - how many other women wanted to know the same thing? How many women wanted to find out more about other women in history, but just didn't have the time? How often was our own history so inaccessible to us, that our questions were going unanswered?
30 Women in History Volume 1

In the end I settled on doing a series of small eBooks that featured multiple interesting women. Each biography is short, only 600 to 800 words, because they're meant to be easy to read. You can pick up and put down the book as and when you want. You can read it on the commute in to work, or look at a chapter or two before you go to bed. Most importantly they're simply to raise awareness of just how many awesome and amazing women there have been in history, and in the future you can then do your own further reading on the ones that interest you! I wrote biographies on thirty different women, so that for people interested but short of time, they could easily read the book in a month by doing just one small chapter a day!

I always try to make it as diverse as possible, so it's not all just boring English women. I've covered the ancient world and more modern, and countries including Japan, Egypt and Korea, as well as a selection of European women, and African-American women who fought slavery or faced significant discrimination while trying to just make people's lives a little better or a little easier. Through my research I've found even more women to write about, what's started out as a list of a mere 100 or so women has increased significantly over the past 18 months, so I now have a massive alphabetised notebook with women across continents and centuries to write about.

So now that I have a house and got my wedding done and dusted, it's time to start dedicating time to my eBook series. Another thirty women will bring me up to a total of ninety biographies, only ten away from one hundred! And after that, the first two hundred won't seem quite so daunting :)

My eBooks are available on Amazon for just 99 pence (because I need to earn a tiny bit of money to fund more books, but I want to try and make the books as affordable as possible!), you can find 30 Women in History Volume 1 and Volume 2, and keep an eye on my history Twitter account for more information on the progress of Volume 3!

Aims for the rest of 2017!

Sunday, 18 June 2017

We're now at June, halfway through the year, and if I'd made New Years Resolutions then now would be the time that I'd be reviewing them and wondering how the wheels managed to fall off so quickly.

I had no energy or thoughts of resolutions on 1 January as we had only bought our house a few weeks earlier, and my brain was filled with plans for bathroom refurbishment, furniture buying, and general decorating. So now seems like a good time to look back at the past six months, and look forward to the next six, and work out what I'd like to do between now and December.

Continue mortgage overpayments
Yes with the year halfway through we’re creeping ever closer to my aim to drop under £155k owed on our house before January. Last month's overpayment was a little on the small side, a week off work at the end of April meant that I didn’t has as many work expenses to claim back in the first week of May. But June’s overpayment is already looking quite healthy, so we might be on target without too much difficulty!
Next time I'm in Rome I might know Italian!

Improve my abysmal Italian
You might have seen from my Twitter feed recently that I’ve become a little bit addicted to radio.garden, a website that lets you tune in to radio stations around the world. I love it because all the green dots scattered across the world are radio stations, with small dots for single radio channels, and larger ones for a cluster of stations that you can tune in to. 

When I started using it I had fun bouncing around the world, listening to stations in France, Denmark, Russia, China, Japan and Malaysia, before finishing up with half an hour of Israeli music. But since then I’ve settled in to listening to Italian radio. I tend to bounce around a few stations based in Rome, but there’s also Radio Day, which is a station based in Frosinone, the province my great-grandfather is from. However my Italian (despite my ancestry) is extremely poor. I can count to ten, ask for a table at a restaurant, and say please and thank you (the absolutely basics when you’re on holiday). I keep finding myself listening to adverts and news sections without knowing what’s going on (although that doesn’t bother me with the adverts quite so much). 

So I’ve decided to try and improve my Italian for the next six months. I’ve signed up to DuoLingo with the aim to practise for ten minutes a day, every day. If I actually manage to maintain this for the next six months then I’ll be shocked but pleased XD

Plan for Christmas better
I know I’m not the only one who thinks about this. My birthday is exactly six weeks before Christmas, so I normally don’t worry about it until my birthday has been and gone. Last year that really didn’t work as we completed our house purchase in early December, so I had to buy a lot of last-minute gifts for family and friends as I just hadn’t had the time or energy to think about it.

This year I’m planning on being at least slightly more organised. I’d like to have a list of what I’m buying people by the end of October, and then I can buy bits and pieces in the following weeks. This is also the first year we’ve been in the house for Christmas and our first year as a married couple, so me and my husband need to work out what we want to do for the day (difficult as he doesn’t celebrate Christmas and doesn’t really see the point of it). 

Walk more
Getting in to the swing of a much longer commute, and all the problems that go with it, has taken me longer than I thought it would. After a week of lots of driving, coupled with my husband having train problems, and the need to dedicate time to the wedding and decorating the house, overall my weekends tend to involve only leaving the house to buy food. A day out over the bank holiday weekend reminded me that it's good to get out of the house for something other than essentials (work and food). I have a book of walks around Essex that I dug out and had a look, and I've now identified a few walks in the area that are three miles or more and will be good to do in the future. Now I just need to get the energy for them, and encourage husband to come with me!

Mortgage Overpayment - May 2017

Saturday, 10 June 2017

The end of the month means overpayment time for our mortgage! After April's bumper overpayment I knew that May was going to look measly in comparison, but I've really taken my eye off the ball this month, and haven't found other sources to replace the large Quidco payments that won't be coming in any more.

May's overpayment is £66.97, which although it's not as good as I would like, is still just over my target of overpaying £60 a month. I didn't have a great deal of success with eBay this month, but I did count up my 20p and copper penny jars, which gave me £12 in total.

I also got a tiny payment from Amazon for eBook sales back in March. I published two eBooks on women in history back in 2014, and every so often I get a few sales that give me a little trickle of pennies from Amazon. May's payout was £0.76, which I think mostly came from March as it was Women's History Month and there's always a little spike in activity then.

The rest of the money was made up of our basic overpayment (£30) and my expenses from April, which were paid in the middle of May.

So although it wasn't well over the odds, I'm still pleased that we're just over target, and hopefully in June I'll get back in to my money saving mojo and get a bit closer to the magical £100!

Charity Shop Haul - May 2017

Saturday, 3 June 2017

I've been a devotee of charity shops for months now, as they were my primary source of crockery for our wedding. One thing I've said to my husband is that now we've had the wedding, I'm looking forward to it consuming less of my daily life. Even thought we were only having a small wedding, the need to find as much of our crockery in charity shops as possible, meant that I was just going in and out of them to look at the bric-a-brac shelves, before moving on to the next one. I was also trying to save as much money towards it as possible, so if I wasn't buying something for the wedding, I felt that it was wasted money.

But now I can go in to a charity shop and look for things that aren't teapots and cups! I'm also enjoying the loosening of the purse strings, although not too much since we still have to buy a lot of things for the house. May was my first month of being able to buy things, and I'm quite happy with my little haul for the month!

Clothes
I got a really lovely blue long-sleeved top from a Cancer Research UK shop. The material is super soft, and it's from Marks and Spencers so it's really good quality, although thankfully this top doesn't like like it's aimed at the over-sixties XD It'll be good for either work or home, but it's a little thin so I may not get away with it in the winter unless I layer it with both a vest underneath and a tunic over the top.

I also spotted a few skirts that I liked, but if I wasn't overawed with them then I didn't buy them. I've come to regret letting one of them go though as the material was lovely and soft, and I'm sure I would have found something to wear with it if I had tried, so I think I need to be a little bolder about buying such things when I see them!

Books
I've been struggling to get through my history reads recently, and I think it's because I need to wind my brain down a little bit. Sometimes when work is busy and life is hectic, you just need some easy-read to fiction to distract you from everything else.

I'm always a bit "meh" about historical fiction, as I tend to dislike the lack of proper context, or just all-out poor use of history (you can probably guess which author in particular I'm thinking of here). Nowadays I tend to by historical fiction set in the Georgian period as it's a point of history I know very little about, and so I find very little to annoy me in books XD So "How to Marry a Marquis" seemed to fit the bill perfectly, and I then added to it with "Mrs Fytton's Country Life" and "The Runaway Princess", neither of which are historical but both of which seem to come under the heading of "easy fiction". However I have yet to read any of these, as I also bought "What Would Mary Berry Do?" by Claire Sandy, and it was so good that I read it in two and a half days!

Despite aiming to get just fiction books I couldn't help but also purchase "Princesses: The Daughters of George III" as the hardback copy was only £5 in Oxfam. I read a really good biography of George III and his family last year, and I've wanted to read more on his daughters for a while now, so I'm hoping this will prove to be an equally interesting book.

Anything Else?
I was hoping to be able to buy a DVD or two that we could save to one side for a future date night, but despite lots of searching I couldn't find any that I wanted to buy. I'm a bit picky with films, and I tend to find that the ones in charity shops are not brilliant films anyway (otherwise people would keep the DVD to watch again!) I also kept my eye out for any kitchenwares (cake tins and storage pots being the two main ones) but again, nothing really caught my eye.

But that's okay, I don't want to go mad in my first month of buying, we'll see what June brings!

Lace Handkerchief - Something Borrowed

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

In the final part of my mini wedding series, I want to talk about my "something borrowed". After deciding on my something old, something new, and something blue, my borrowed became a little more difficult. I was thinking of borrowing a piece of jewellery, but the neckline of my dress was already fairly high, and I don't really know anyone who wears a lot of bracelets.
Photo by Maria Carrington Photography

In the end my in-laws helped me, without me even mentioning it to them. My mother-in-law carried a special piece of her new husband's family history down the aisle, and they decided to pass it on to me. This beautiful lace handkerchief was a gift to my father-in-law's mother. She married her husband in the 1940s, at the height of World War 2. As a sailor my father-in-law's father was shipped off to various parts of the world during the course of the war, and at one point he was sent to Belgium, leaving behind his now-pregnant wife.

When news came that his wife had given birth to a son, my father-in-law, the young husband decided to buy his wife a beautiful Belgian lace handkerchief from Bruges. I have no idea how he managed to keep it from getting mucky or damaged in the following weeks, but at some point he was allowed home to visit his wife and new baby son, and give her his beautiful present.

It became a treasured family heirloom, and when my mother-in-law married in to the family it was given to her to use as her "something borrowed". It's been carefully stored away ever since, taken on every house move in the following years, until our wedding led to my mother-in-law retrieving it from it's safe place. I was very touched when they asked me to carry it as my something borrowed, and had it tucked away safely in my dress when I walked down the aisle to my new husband. Although that happy couple from the 1940s weren't able to be there on our special day, a little piece of their family history was. One day I hope it'll be passed down to another bride coming in to the family.

Engagement Ring - Something Old

Saturday, 27 May 2017

Following on from my recent wedding posts on my Something Blue and Something New, today I've written about my Something Old! I've mentioned before that the old rhyme "Something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue" took a while to return to my head. This led to a small amount of panic on my part when I realised I'd forgotten it, but in the end my something old was the easiest choice, as I went for my beautiful engagement ring. 
Big hand, little hand, engagement ring!


Me and my now-husband had quite a time finding it. He was living in Leigh-on-Sea at the time, so during one of my weekend visits to see him we decided to book out a Saturday morning to go ring shopping. There’s two very nice jewellers in Leigh itself, and if they failed then we could get the train to Southend and continue our search there. My OH had originally considered getting a ring custom made and had researched stones for it, but in the end he was so worried about getting the “wrong” ring that he insisted he needed my help.

The shops we visited in Leigh had some very nice rings, but nothing that really jumped out at me. So we went on to Southend, and spent a good few hours wandering around. We visited the big chain shops, we popped in to little pawn shops and independent jewellers. There were plenty of nice rings, but none that I could really see as being my engagement ring.

I think we were at the point of giving up and trying again somewhere else at some other weekend when we went down a side road and found another shop. As we stood looking in the window one particular ring jumped out at me. It was labelled as an “antique”, and looked so pretty in the window that I had to go in and try it on. My main fear was that it would be too small, as I’d read online that it’s quite difficult to increase ring size, but happily it fit fine (slightly too big, as I’d later find out, but I’d rather have the size reduced than increased!)

I’ve since worked out that the ring probably dates from the 1920s as I’ve found similar ones on Etsy marked as such. When I eventually took it to a jeweller in Cambridge they asked me if it was a family heirloom as they thought it was an old ring (it also turned out that some of the stones were damaged, so I have to be careful with it!), and although I don’t know the history of it, it was lovely to have a genuinely old ring as my “something old” to wear down the aisle!

Wedding Dress- Something New

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Isn't the wedding dress the main thing that people focus on when talking about weddings with the prospective bride? I'm pretty sure the two main questions I was asked in the run-up to mine were "Have you picked a date? Have you bought your dress?" in that specific order. For me I figured that my dress would be the easiest "something new" that I'd be able to think of, so it held a little extra symbolism for me as I walked down the aisle.

Photo by Maria Carrington Photography
If you've planned your wedding over the course of two years and saved up enough money for it, then spend when you want on your dress! For me though it was a case of necessity, I needed to find a dress for under £300. I didn't even bother trying to make appointments in any of the bridal shops around Cambridge and Essex, because I knew that a budget of £300 would raise eyebrows and a "Nope, can't be done" comment. Instead I looked to the high street, where some well-known names cater to those of us who have a more modest budget requirement for their bridal gown.

Sadly BHS went bankrupt while I was doing my search, I had actually identified a dress on their website that I was mentally placing as "second option" since I liked it, but wasn't sure it would suit me. At only £150 it would have been well under my planned budget and I could have put the money to something else, but it wasn't to be. (Incidentally, has anyone pointed out to M&S that they've now got a potential market to move in to, I bet they'd do some lovely simple dresses that were quite affordable!)
Photo by Maria Carrington Photography

I had a look at Debenhams, who have a whole wedding section that covers brides, grooms and bridesmaids clothing! But although there were some very nice dresses on their site, including modern styles and vintage styles, there just wasn't anything in particular that jumped out at me.

Last but not least there was Monsoon! When it comes to regular clothing they are a bit on the pricey side, but I'd been told that they did nice wedding dresses that wouldn't break the budget, so I decided to give them a look.

It ended up being quite a difficult choice as there were several that I liked! In the end I bought the gorgeous "Carlotta" bridal dress, and managed to find a 10% discount code online that meant I saved a little bit as it only just fell within the £300 budget. Because I'd bought it from a shop it looked a bit difficult to get it adjusted as I needed, in the end my mother-in-law had to rush to the rescue with needle and thread to stop me tripping over it! But I absolutely loved the dress, I got a lot of lovely compliments about it, and I really wish I had an excuse to wear it all over again!
 
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