Sunday, 27 December 2015

The Ghosts of Berlin

Berlin is a city filled with ghosts. It's a city that has a strange atmosphere that hangs over it, one that can't quite be explained. This is by no means a slate on what is a beautiful place. Quite the opposite, in fact, in that this odd feeling only adds to the allure, drawing in people from all walks of life.

It's taken me several weeks to analyse the forty-eight hours that I spent in Germany's capital city. I'm still mulling it over even as I write this.

This is a city that has experienced a lot and much of it is embedded in the streets and buildings. A feeling that someone is constantly watching you. A sense that anarchy could break loose at any moment. A feeling that anything could happen and that the extraordinary would surprise no one.

Last year, I wrote about ghostly encounters in Las Vegas. This year, it's the turn of Berlin and, for a city so steeped in history, it certainly doesn't hold back with the spirit activity.

On November 7th, I flew into the city on my very first visit (it won't be my last). The hotel I'd picked had come on the recommendation of a friend and, for the first time, I found myself staying in luxury. While the exterior matched a lot of the city in its stark grey concrete, it turned out that this was just a facade, one that fooled me. With a lobby that could fit my entire apartment building in it and a chandelier that looked like something from a fairy tale, I definitely felt like I was in the wrong place. Except that I wasn't.

My room was equally as beautiful with a comfortable bed and a view over the main road outside. The hotel was based in Berlin's business district and, across the road, were buildings that had bore the appearance of housing something useful. Much like the hotel, the exteriors were bland and functional, hiding what they truly were.

Yet there was a strange feeling to the room, one that made me cold and nervous. Turning off the lights only made the atmosphere heavier and, like a character in a horror film, I dived beneath the bed's covers. And, as night fell, I discovered why the room felt like it did.

I went to bed at around 2am on that first night. I hadn't drunk any alcohol and I'm now completely free of drugs and other medications. The only thing bothering me was the weight of the exhaustion that lay on my shoulders and head. I felt as though I was going to sleep for an age, hopefully only waking once the sun was up.

But there was something in the room that refused to let me rest. At the end of my bed stood a dark figure. Even with the light from the streetlights outside, I couldn't make out any of the figure's features. It was just a tall shadowy being that gave off an evil feeling. To me, it felt as though it had served in the military, more than likely in a far higher capacity than a mere foot soldier. This was someone who had been in charge. Someone who had issued orders rather than follow them.

As I've done so many times before, I commanded the being to leave. Yet it refused, instead steadfastly remaining at the end of the bed. Its presence made me ill and, some time during the night, I heard something that sounded like a gunshot.

That night I slept less than three hours. Normally I can fall asleep wherever I am (I'm one of those people who can, and will, fall asleep on planes, trains and in cars) and being in a new place rarely bothers me as I carry a few small creature comforts that help me to settle. On average I sleep around six hours a night.

The following morning, I was out of the room as soon as I could make myself presentable. I went and had breakfast and started on the rest of my plans despite the fog that eclipsed my brain. I was beyond tired and all I wanted to do was crawl somewhere warm and quiet for a few more hours.

I left the hotel at around mid-day and didn't return for another thirteen hours, falling into bed at around 1am. By now, I was beyond exhausted. I'd battled my fears, delivered a pumpkin, walked for what felt like miles, been out in the cold, attended a concert, danced like a fool, and had several long discussions with my friend. All I wanted was to sleep.

But that wasn't going to happen. As soon as the lights were out, that omnipresent feeling returned, cloaking the room in a darkness that was far blacker than the night outside. Again, the figure was at the end of my bed, watching over me like some kind of evil godfather. Again, I asked it to leave. Again, it didn't. It never moved and, despite the lack of facial features, I got the distinct feeling that it was looking at me.

That night I slept for less than two hours.

Once I'd returned home, I decided to do some research on the area. The adjacent streets house a number of embassies, museums and other government agencies. The building that was directly opposite the hotel, and which I could see from the window, was the German Resistance Movement Memorial Center.

Resistance Movement Memorial Center

During WW2, there was a plot to assassinate Hitler. It didn't go to plan and the members of this plot were executed in the courtyard of the building that now holds the memorial centre. Was the being in my hotel room one of the firing squad? Or perhaps the person who had ordered those executions? Maybe the hotel now stands in the footprint of another building that housed a military division and the spirit I was seeing was linked to that?

Thankfully it wasn't all bad. There was one presence that spent the weekend with me, making sure that I was in the right places at the right times. Were the people that apparently appeared out of nowhere to guide me on to trains, help me when I became sick, and helped me around a city that I felt like an alien in placed there by this being? Whatever it was and wherever it was from, it was a constant source of comfort during my two days in Berlin. After I'd dropped my package at the arena, I decided to take a walk. Despite my tears, there was a feeling of love and comfort that surrounded me. This was the complete opposite of the darkened being in my hotel room. Whatever was with me in those hours had the colour pink associated with it and was forever at my right shoulder. I don't know what it was, nor where it came from, but its presence was one that I was constantly thankful for.

Thursday, 17 December 2015

The Christmas Cat

The Christmas Cat
(2015 Christmas Story)

War raged across London with the East and West at odds over certain political decisions. Zeppelins from the Royal Air Defences cruised the skies, determined to keep the situation as peaceful as possible. They took to the skies every night, even as a thick, neverending fog descended over the metropolis. Travel between the sides had been halted with underground trains and buses being stopped at the unofficial borders. Hospitals were crippled under the injuries that had been sustained by protestors and political fighters. The government were doing little to reverse the decisions they had made, instead choosing to hide in fortified buildings. From north to south, rolls of barbed wire had been stretched through the city to remind all that the capital's state was fragile and unpredictable.

Winter had also settled over London, bringing with it biting frosts and drifts of snow. Despite all that was happening, the citizens of the city were doing their best to celebrate the coming festive season. Trees had been erected in homes and gifts, no matter how small, had been bought or crafted. Candles twinkled on window ledges and, where it was safe to do so, people walked the streets singing carols.

Fires burned in the hearths of a beautiful town house in the fashionable West End of London. A Christmas tree, decorated with sparkling glass ornaments, stood proudly in the front room. Beneath its boughs sat wrapped gifts. And, before the roaring fire, a clockwork cat slumbered. It brass-coloured body was scratched and burnished and the light in its belly was not as bright as it should have been. One of its glass eyes flickered, the lamp inside damaged by the war.

Yet it lived and that was all that mattered.

The cat had been built to sniff out bombs, a job it had successfully carried out for several months. One night, the cat had been caught in the blast of a device that had been hidden in a railroad carriage. The cat's internal workings had been damaged, leaving it no longer able to detect the danger it was designed to seek out. Like a broken toy the cat had been discarded, left on the street to fend for itself.

For weeks, the cat had wandered alone as it had tried to find those who had abandoned it. It had been built to not feel fear yet, deep in its wire filled body, a strange empty feeling had grown.

Then the sky had begun to burn. Zeppelins had cruised through the night, bombs falling from their bellies. The cat had smelled the cordite and felt the heat as the fire had seared through the clouds. Hiding in the rubble, the cat had waited until dawn before it had continued its journey.

London lay in ruins around the metallic creature. Tower Bridge had fallen and Big Ben was no more. Still the cat walked, trying to find somewhere safe to live out its days.

On one particularly dark and gloomy night, strong hands had plucked the cat from the street. The metal creature had found itself looking into dark, friendly eyes. Before it knew what was happening, the cat was being carried through the city and away from the nightmare that had become its life.

The animal-like automatons had been created to perform a variety of jobs. Brass birds collected and cleared rubble. Metallic spiders carefully reassembled buildings using undamaged bricks and synthetic webs. Dogs pulled survivors from the broken city and sat beside the deceased. The public had responded well to the image of animals serving them during the darkened months of the war, the creatures more of a comfort than any human-looking robot would have been.

The cat had found itself in the workshop of a very nice house. Here it had been tended to by the man's kindly hands. Wires were fixed and fittings tightened. The cat's creaking joints were repaired and oiled. Its chest was carefully opened and the energy cells and dynamos that gave the cat its power were replaced. Finally, the cat was placed back on the floor and, after stretching out its back, it walked up from the workshop and out into the house.

For several days, the cat had explored its new surroundings. As night fell, it was gently shooed in to hiding, creeping into a cupboard just as the man's children returned from school.
“I don't want them to see you until Christmas Day,” he had softly said. “They will fall in love with you the second they lay eyes on you.”

Indeed, the children already had several other mechanical animals. All had no doubt been rescued from the ruined streets of London. And, on Christmas Eve, the cat found itself curled in front of the fire with a mouse, rat, and bird nestled close by. No longer was it a collection of wires and metal. Instead it was becoming a loved and cherished family friend.

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

More Thoughts on Paris

It's been nearly a month since the attacks in Paris and I'm still coming to terms with what happened, especially inside the Bataclan. I'm still trying to process why anyone would walk into a packed music venue and plough down nearly one hundred people.

I know the basic whys and wherefores of what happened at the Bataclan. It was a soft target. There were a lot of people in one place. In the eyes of the terrorists, music is the work of the devil and no one should be allowed to enjoy it.

But there's still that other “why?”. The one question that will never quite be formulated. Just “Why?”.

Why did it have to happen?

Why did so many people have to die?

Why did they even have to die at all?

Why can't we just live in peace?

Yet still I struggle with the senselessness of it all. People who were having a night out were cut down in their prime. People who didn't expect to die that night didn't have the chance to tell their friends and families that they loved them one last time. People who were just enjoying life never went home. People who survived now having to rebuild their lives.

I know that part of it is the feeling that I had a lucky escape. Just a few days before Paris happened, I returned from a trip around Europe that saw me take in two concerts. I laughed, I sang, I danced, I lived. I did exactly what those people were doing on that fateful night in Paris.

Paris was one of the options I had back in November. I was going to go there to see the Foo Fighters play before maybe moving on to catch a concert in the days afterwards. Or I may have seen a show in the days before theirs.

Then Megadeth announced a short European tour. While I could still have seen them in Birmingham (before flying on to Paris the day after for the Foo Fighters) it was decided that I'd go and see Megadeth play in Dublin on November 9th. My Foo Fighters show was moved to the November 8th Berlin show.

I returned home from my trip on November 10th.

On Friday November 13th, while curled up on the couch, I watched in horror as Paris came under siege. I cried as the death toll rose. I mourned for those who'd lost their lives, whether at the restaurants, stadium or the Bataclan. With a heavy and aching heart, I realised that live music will never be the same again.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Confidence, Determination, Patience and Self Belief

Life's tough when your confidence and self esteem have been stripped away from you. You feel like a nobody, someone who's soul has blackened and died, waiting for the moment when life will finally take away your earthly body.

My confidence was stripped away while I was at university and this unfortunate trend has continued until fairly recently. There were always more negatives than positives which made me question everything. At times, it felt as though I could do nothing right whether at work, home, or with my friends. Life was a monotonous cycle of wondering what the next disaster was going to be. Who would be the next person to chip away at my already fragile being? What would be the next event that would hammer a nail into the cracks of my carefully formed shell?

It's hard to accept compliments when everything you seem to do is wrong. You smile and brush them off, batting around comments such as, “Oh, it's nothing”. Or “Someone else could do better”. I did it with my writing.

I've had several books published so someone enjoys my work enough to put it out there. I've picked up awards. Peoples comments have been mostly positive.

Yet it was never enough to lift the darkness that surrounded me. Where there was once someone who ran her school's drama department and had absolutely no problem in being extrovert, now stood a person who wished only to hide in the shadows. I wanted to do things. Wanted to be inspired and create and go wherever my heart told me to go. But I was terrified. I was terrified of being uncovered as some kind of fraud. Terrified of letting myself be put in positions where I would be criticized even more. Terrified of opening up my heart and soul. I couldn't go there because the pain would be more than I could ever take. It was an agony I knew would drag me to the brink.

Things started to change in the summer of 2014. I'd just finished working on the piece that was given to Dave and handed it over to my proofreaders. My intentions were to send it to a publisher.

“Don't,” one of my readers said. “Turn it into a screenplay instead.”

I hadn't written a screenplay in ten years but I wasn't going to let that stop me. It took me six months to do before I sent it back to her. She loved it and made the suggestion that I talked about in Four Days, Three Flights, Two Concerts, and a Pumpkin.

So I did.

One of my problems is that I've always hated my writing style. I wanted my books to flow in a way that read like those books I immortalised. Instead I found myself writing what I considered to be a very simplistic style. And I loathed it. I desperately tried to change it but, when I did, I hated the results even more. The style just wasn't me and didn't fit with the stories I was telling. It took me until just a few months ago to realise that I was trying to force myself to be something I wasn't. I wasn't being true to myself nor was using the voice that I'd been given. Maybe I was writing in a particular style to make the messages I had in my heart more understandable?

One of the many gift journals I've received over the years.

Things started to change when I had that minor revelation. I started noticing peoples compliments and, rather than brushing them off, I thanked them. I also found the reviews from the original version of this screenplay and they made me realise that what I do, and how I write it, aren't as bad as I thought they were. In fact, they're far, far better. Over the past week or so, many of them have reduced me to tears.

I adore the premise; it rings all too poignant, foreshadowing a very possible chain of events that may become our reality one day.

Yes!!! Another fascinating story! This idea is very interesting, and I ALREADY love it.

You are building a powerful, vivid, scary world here and I am really interested in where you are going to take it. I am in for the ride! Let's do this! Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for this.

I am so proud of you! Honey, you are an intelligent woman who deserves to have her voice heard. Always remember that.

You were so courageous in your doing.

If you're one of the people whose words are listed here, thank you. Your kindness and generosity as well as your unwavering belief in me have slowly started to rebuild what was destroyed so many years ago. I hope that one day I'll be able to repay you and pay your love and kindness forward.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Thoughts on Paris

I'm sitting here in shock. To my right, there's a cup of tea. BBC News plays on the TV.

Last night, Paris came under attack for the second time in less than a year. This time attackers marauded through the city, targeting restaurants, the football stadium, and a concert. 127 people are dead and hundreds more are injured. Of those who lost their lives, 80 were at the Eagles of Death Metal concert.

Today, we wake up and realise that the world, and especially the music community, has changed again. Once more, the changes aren't for the better.

One hundred and twenty seven people will never wake.

One hundred and twenty seven people will never visit their favourite places.

One hundred and twenty seven people will never hear another note of music.

One hundred and twenty seven people will never taste their favourite foods again.

One hundred and twenty seven people will never see their favourite bands play.

One hundred and twenty seven people will never know the joy of walking through autumn leaves, or watching it snow, or feeling the sun upon their faces.

One hundred and twenty seven people who will never see their families and friends again.

One hundred and twenty seven people will never get to tell their loved ones how much they love them.

Let us remember those who died while they were relaxing and enjoying themselves. Let us think of them as we attend our favourite sporting events, eat at our favourite restaurant, or attend concerts by our favourite bands.

Let us light up the world with our love and light. Let it remind those who wish to harm and kill that we will stand strong. Let us support those who will have their confidence and joy shattered by these events.

Let us not live in fear for this is what the people who perpetuated this want. Don't let attacks like this snuff out of your inner light. Stay strong, stay safe, and walk with your head held high.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

How Four Days, Three Flights, Two Concerts and a Pumpkin Changed My Life

Or Why I Delivered Flowers to Dave Grohl

The plan was beautiful in its simplicity. Take a package to a florist and get them to deliver it along with a floral display.

Except that sometimes the universe likes to throw curve-balls in order to test and change us.

I'd finished a book and screenplay that I wanted to get into someone's hands. Unfortunately, I don't have that person's contact details so getting it to them was going to need some creative logistics.

Which is how I wound up in Berlin armed with a package of bound papers and a list of florists. I landed in Germany on Saturday afternoon, giving me enough time to make my drop off once I'd checked into my hotel.

The flight to Berlin

Only I hadn't thoroughly done my research. Unlike the UK, Berlin doesn't have Sunday shop openings nor deliveries. And I didn't have a plan B. In the ways of any bad gambler, I'd bet everything on one option and hoped I'd hit the jackpot.

Once upon a time, when I was medicated, I was very methodical. Back then, I'd have spoken to people, done my homework and found out that nothing opens on a Sunday in Berlin. I'd have had plans A through Z ready before I left the UK.

In my determination to lead a drug free life, I've discovered that aspects of my previous life have died. This is in no way a bad thing as, at that point, I needed a monotonous routine to survive. Except that's not who I am and it did nothing to feed my heart and soul. Yet nothing would change while I was medicated.

As the drugs wore off, so things began to change. Some were for the better while some were for the worse. I had more energy and my brain processed things faster than it previously had (sometimes a little too fast). On the downside I began to forget things, my moods swung and I struggled to define the emotions I was feeling for the first time in a decade.

As I began to live back in the real world, I realised that my life purpose and my current life didn't match. I became frustrated and withdrawn. I know what I want to do with my life but I currently don't have the means to achieve it without the investment and help of other people.

So I seized the opportunity to go to Berlin and ask for help.

And nearly sabotaged myself in the process.

There's a lot of walls I've built around myself over the years. Walls of fear and uncertainty. No matter how much I enjoy being creative, I fear that my work isn't good enough. I'm scared of being scorned, humiliated or outright ignored. My default setting for the past year has been “Why bother? No one is listening”.

A section of the Berlin Wall

Then there's the crippling anxiety that prevents me from doing so many things. It's a feeling that makes me vomit.

But you want to know how and why I gave Dave Grohl a pumpkin filled with flowers.

One of my proofreaders had suggested that I pass the screenplay on to him. She's a wonderfully intuitive woman whose advice I'm always willing to listen to. After discussing it with the few other people in our group, I decided to give it a go. Because what did I have to lose?

With no one able to make a delivery, it was up to me to do it, an idea that filled me with fear. I had no plan B and had absolutely no intention of making such deliveries.

Except the universe also likes to send people to help us and I'm eternally grateful for the amazing group of people I've found myself surrounded by. Tom from Given to Live was also in Berlin and is one of the best motivators I've had the pleasure of meeting.

However, what was supposed to be a nice weekend in Germany turned in to a frustrated battle as he tried to talk me into a new plan. Meanwhile, I did what I normally did when faced with the cold, hard truth of what I needed to do. I shut down. I refused to speak or answer questions. I did everything in my power to ignore the situation because, in reality, I didn't want to face it. I was terrified of peoples reactions. Terrified of rejection and ridicule. Terrified that I was doing the wrong thing. Terrified that my voice, the one I'd cultivated through years of writing, wasn't strong enough.

I was terrified that I wasn't a good enough person to go through with this nor that I deserved anything that came from it. My self esteem and confidence were running on empty and had been for a long time. Where once I'd have jumped at the challenge, I now shrank back from it. I preferred to hide away rather than face the possibilities of what I could do. I was no longer a human being. I was a human doing, one who followed the rigid rules of life. I refused to allow myself to feel. Refused to follow the instinct that had been gnawing at my gut for the past year. Refused to acknowledge that I can do whatever I put my mind to.

But there was no way Tom was giving up and, despite my rigid silence, he formulated a new plan.

I could have bought anything from that florist. Lilies, roses, something that was big, beautiful and bold. Instead, I was drawn to a corner where, on a low shelf, sat a pumpkin that had been hollowed out and filled with autumnal flowers. With it cradled in my arms, I paid for it and went back to the hotel.

However, come morning, I couldn't move. I was nauseous and paralysed with fear as the excitement of the previous night slid away. But I was in Berlin for a reason and I knew that I'd regret it forever if I didn't go through with everything I'd come to do.

Sometimes we need the tough love of our friends to make us realise exactly what we can do. We need them to help us see past the barriers we've built around ourselves and make us believe again. Despite the fears we need to be shown that sometimes we can battle through heaven and hell to see it through to the end. I had my ass kicked that weekend and, damn, I needed it. I'm so grateful that someone was there to help me remember who I truly am.

So with the pumpkin and screenplay packaged, I made my way out to the arena.

The journey felt unusually long. Where I normally would have listened to music, I instead sat and watched the city slide by. Every negative thought I'd had about myself over the previous months rolled through my mind. When the venue came into view, I wanted to vomit. When I exited the station, I wretched.

Finally I found myself standing before the arena's black and white facade. It was make or break time. I could turn around and go back to the hotel. Or I could begin to finish bringing down the walls I'd built around myself.

The past few days have been a whirlwind of emotions and, for the first time in a long time, I feel free. I feel more like myself, like my wings are growing back. I feel ready to take on whatever challenges the future holds.

And the pumpkin? It was delivered.

Dave, if you're reading this, I hope the pumpkin made you smile, too. You have my email. Get in touch.

My Itinerary

Saturday 7th November – Fly from Birmingham to Berlin
Sunday 8th November – Foo Fighters show at the Mercedes Benz Arena
Monday 9th November – Fly from Berlin to Dublin and Megadeth show at the 3 Arena
Tuesday 10th November – Fly from Dublin to Birmingham

Monday, 2 November 2015

Measure of Success

When people talk about being successful they're generally referring to a career or how much money a person has acquired. The amount of money I had was how I judged how successful I was. Less money meant that, to me, I was less of a person.

It's taken a long time to realise that success can be measured in many different ways and it got me thinking of the things I've done since I published my first book back in 2012. When it first came out, I thought I would be one of those overnight success stories. I thought all my problems would be solved with a single book.

I may have been naïve in that way of thinking but, a long the way, I've learned a lot more about the measure of success. It's not about money, nor fame, but about the little things. The tiny moments in time when we realise that we're better off physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, or financially than we were yesterday.

For example, thanks to my writing, I've achieved the following:

  • Travelled long haul for the first time in over a decade.
  • Met many wonderful people who I ordinarily wouldn't be able to meet.
  • Given lectures.
  • Made new friends and reconnected with old ones.
  • Visited some amazing places in the British Isles.
  • Created work with some incredible authors.
  • Become involved with some brilliant projects.
  • Taken over, and now run, a large writing website.

Success shouldn't just be measured by how someone looks or how much wealth they've managed to accumulate or whether they're on the cover of magazines. There are so many ways for a person to measure how successful they are. Sometimes it's the smaller things that mean something to a person.

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Could Facebook be Used in the War on Dementia?

While social media is blamed for many of the society's ills, could it be used as a tool in the fight against memory loss and associated illnesses?

With dementia on the rise, people are looking for more innovative ways to help keep in touch with those who have been struck with the illness. Oddly, and perhaps without realising it, Facebook have supplied several features that may just help.

By 2025, over 52,000,000 people around the world will have been struck down by the disease and numbers are set to double every 20 years. With people moving abroad to work, marry and live, chances are many of these people will have some form of social media account.

Guardian Angels

In 2011, Facebook launched its “Trusted Friends” feature which allows users to nominate up to five friends to help them recover their account. Once a person discovers they can't log in, due to a forgotten or hacked password, codes are sent to the people they've nominated. These friends then give the codes to the affected person, allowing them to regain access to their account.

Facebook Phone Apps

The Facebook app for the iPhone is an easy and clean design with easily recognisable buttons for the newsfeed, groups, friends and settings. While the messenger button is a little more awkward to spot, the app is generally an easy one to use and allows a person to use all the functions of the desktop version.

Messenger Video and Voice Calling

Facebook has taken a leaf from Skype's book and introduced video and voice calling to its messenger. As long as the person is logged into messenger, a call is only a click away.

Reminiscence via Facebook

One of the beautiful things about social media is that it allows people to keep in touch with their interests. There's an abundance of pages dedicated to those born in the 50's, 60's, 70's, and 80's with photo albums full of nostalgic images from the eras. Groups have been set up to promote everything from the year a person was born, to their school, former work places, and towns they've lived in.

Support and Friendship

In our busy world, people, especially those with an illness, can feel isolated. Social media offers ways to combat this with groups that allow people to connect with others like themselves. This may be through a shared interest or in finding others who have the same illness as themselves. Many of the groups are closed or secret groups giving users some confidentiality.

While the internet and social media should never be used to fully replace traditional face to face contact, it's a tool that can be used to fight that isolation that is often associated with memory problems.

As always, it's best to exercise caution while online. However, there's no reason why the internet and sites like Facebook can't be used to help those with diseases like dementia continue to live their lives to the fullest.

Saturday, 17 October 2015

Brilliant Books Beneft Night and Access All Areas

Brilliant Books is a project based in Nottingham that encourages kids to get involved with reading. The project runs in schools and, at the end of the term, the kids compile a book of their short stories (Hint: They're pretty awesome!).

On 13th November Mark and Phil, the brains behind Brilliant Books, are holding a fundraiser in Nottingham. Everyone is welcome and there will be music, readings and, of course, books. In another clever move, they've put together a book of short stories written by the best and brightest indie authors. I was honoured to be asked to contribute and my submission, Be You Angels?, can be found within the covers of Access All Areas.

Access All Areas is available in paperback and for the Kindle. All profits go towards Brilliant Books and will be used to purchase books for the schools, a much needed laptop projector and for other core costs. It's a great way to support an amazing project and to get kids reading!

You can find out more about Brilliant books on their blog.

Access All Areas can be purchased at:

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Dance Free

Earlier this year there was a story about a gentleman called Sean O'Brien. Sean was body-shamed on social media for the “crime” of dancing. While he was enjoying himself, others took photos and uploaded them to 4Chan with the intention of humiliating him. It worked.

To a degree.

But it didn't take long for a group of people to pick up on the post and turn it around. Needless to say, Sean danced again, this time to a very different response.

Well over ten years ago, I went through something similar. There was one thing I loved to do... Dance. I'd go to clubs and concerts and just let myself be free. As a larger lady, I didn't care that my body probably wasn't designed to move to music. Music spoke to me and that's all I cared about.

Then the inevitable happened. While at a club one night someone pointed out that others were laughing at me.

My heart was shattered. I felt worthless. Humiliated. Ugly. In a split second, I went from a 20-something woman with the world at her feet to a frightened mouse. Little did I know how much those words would affect me, not just in that moment but for years to come.

That one moment helped to break my confidence and self-esteem. Where once I would have dressed up to go out, I instead hid myself away. I clothed myself in baggy clothing. I stopped going to clubs and concerts. I stopped listening to music except when I was walking to and from work. In my eyes, I was worthless. Everything I worked on, from films to books to jobs was worth nothing. I was worth nothing and didn't believe either myself, or anything I did, should hold any value.

Moments like that shouldn't have been inevitable because everyone should be free to express themselves through dance. No one should feel like they have to hold back because of the way they look or move. Music lives within us, built in to our bodies, and the desire to move with it is overwhelming. So much so that it shouldn't be suppressed just because of what others around us think.

Yet so often this desire is hidden away, the fear of ridicule crippling us. We want to sway, or bounce, or wave our arms. But we're scared of what the people around us will think.

On 3rd October 2015, I decided it was time to chase away the shame and stigma that I'd attached to myself for so long. Thanks to my day job, I'd met a wonderful group of people all of who attend a local Zumba class. Over a number of months, their gentle persuasion became good natured pressure until I finally cracked.

It would be fun.

It would be an opportunity to get out.

But it still made me nervous.

A barrage of questions rolled around my head. What did I wear? What were the people like? Would I fit in?

It was a long walk to the venue, one that left me with plenty of time to change my mind and turn around. Already I was making up excuses, preparing them for Monday morning. I didn't feel well. My back ached. I was tired. It had been a long week. I needed to wash my hair. All of them plausible in my mind.

Yet, at the same time, I knew I'd be letting down the very people who'd invested time and love in me. They wanted to see me there. They wanted me to join in. It was at that moment that I realised that people did want me around. They did want to know me. And they weren't judging me.

So I continued my walk until I found myself at a school on the other side of town. There were lots of cars arriving and leaving, all of them I assumed going to the Saturday morning football match. I felt alone and scared, my nerves getting the better of me. But I'd gotten this far so there was no giving up.

Walking through the gates, I looked around and tried to find a hint of where this two hour dance class would be. Finally I saw people who looked like they might be heading to such a class (think sports wear). Quietly I fell in line behind them until someone noticed me. They turned, smiled, and introduced themselves before asking if I was there to dance.

I was. And that tiny spark of recognition form a complete stranger was all it took to relax me.

I danced for two whole hours, only stopping to catch my breath or take a drink. It didn't matter that I didn't know the moves. It didn't matter that I was completely out of time. No one stared at me. No one judged me. No one laughed at me. I was having the time of my life and I'd found a safe, happy space where I could be myself.

Slowly... Slowly... I can feel my confidence returning. And I can't wait for the next class! (Which won't be 2 hours long, thank goodness!)

No one should be shamed for dancing. No one should feel like they have to stand in a corner because of the way they look. Music moves us, just as it should. Let it flow through you and enjoy the experience. 

Sunday, 27 September 2015


Sometimes I leave this blog for a while because I feel like I have nothing to say. It happens out in the real world, too, when my brain and mouth don't co-operate and I forget what I was going to say or just can't get the right words out in time. It's the same when it comes to writing. That has a name and we call it Writer's Block.

How it sometimes feels!

Some of it comes down to a feeling of uselessness, of feeling isolated in a world that I don't connect with. There are some days when I sit and watch the news, or read a magazine, or scroll through social media and feel like I'm living on a planet that isn't my home. I wonder why people find celebrities fascinating, why wars continue to happen over the tiniest thing, or why a video is suddenly headline news. For me, there are days when none of it makes sense and it feels as though you can't see the wood for the trees.

Other times, it's a sense that my voice is too small for this world. That people don't want to listen because, to them, what I have to say is of no meaning. So why waste the time trying to verbalise my opinions to such people?

Some of it could also be down to still adjusting to a life without medication. It's not unknown for the body to take months to make the adjustment, long after the brain has made the necessary alterations.

More often than not, it's related to stress and the exhaustion that brings with it. Recently I moved house and, for the first two weeks, I could do little more than sleep and work. I'd get up, go to work, come home, and just... fade as though there was a switch deep inside of me that would flick off. It was that point where you knew you'd get nothing more done that day. Which is tough to deal with especially when there's a hundred and one things you want to do.

For me, I saw it as a chance to relax and heal. This is a new stage in life. A new place for me to be. A chance for me to sort out my old belongings and put plans in to action for the next period of this thing that we call “Life”. There's many things I want to do and now I feel like I have a fighting chance of doing them. One thing I am learning is that it takes time. Things don't happen overnight. Nor do they happen without some kind of effort on our part. Blood, sweat and tears really do lead to success, whether it's today, tomorrow, or in ten years time.

But there are also times when you just need to take it easy and appreciate what you have around you. For none of us know what tomorrow brings. 


Rae is the author of the award winning Veetu Industries series. You can find all of her books here.

Sunday, 6 September 2015

Post-Gig Depression

It's real, folks. Very, very real. For many people, music isn't just a passing phase. It's a way of life. It's a big deal with bands and songs meaning something to them. They go to shows. They collect merchandise. They listen to the albums so often they can quote the songs word for word. Most of all, they have a connection to the people behind that music.

And there's no better place to experience that than at a concert. It's in those hallowed venues that friends and memories are made and deeper connections are formed. The people in the venue, whether they realise it or not, are a part of something. It's in those twilight, magic music filled moments that things happen. For most, if not all of them, the concert they're attending is something very special.

But it's what happens afterwards that many people don't think about. Have you ever been to a show and come out feeling as though life is amazing? Your skin tingles, your ears ring, and your brain whirls. You feel invincible. You feel as though you can take on the world.

And then you wake up the following morning. At first, you feel great. You go through the photos you took. You hum along with the songs you sang the previous night. You look at the merch you bought. You fondly remember the friends, both old and new, that you met.

Yet it doesn't last for long. As the day wears on you feel sad. You might put it down to tiredness, aching legs, or ringing ears. Your movements become slower and eventually you find yourself sitting and staring into space. With a giant sigh, you finally admit it to yourself.

I don't feel so good. And it's not because I'm tired and aching and cranky. My brain feels sad.

It happens as the endorphins from the previous evening begin to wear off. That natural high you found, and want to keep finding, is leaving. All you want to do is grab hold of it again and never let go. It's even harder to deal with if you want to see that band again and they're not coming anywhere near you for the next few years. Suddenly the wait feels like a lifetime. You might have to go through another tour cycle with the band visiting places you can only dream of visiting. You might have to wait for another album to be released. You might even have to wait while the band take a well earned break. It can seem like a long, long time.

Post-gig depression is very real and it's important that you take care of yourself in those moments. Talk to people you went to the show with, or even people you didn't. Surround yourself with fellow fans so you relive the excitement and plan for the next one. Just never give up on the music because soon it'll be time to dance again!

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Interview - Beyond The Break

 Wales is famous for many things. Its scenery is world renowned while the country's food regularly wins awards. Many people call it their home land, including Catherine Zeta-Jones, Griff Rhys Jones and, of course, Tom Jones.

Now there's a new group of Welshmen elbowing their way into the music world. Comprised of seasoned musicians, Beyond The Break have the kind of heavy, grinding sound that fans of hard rock and heavy metal have been searching for for a long time.


Hi, guys! Please tell us a little about yourselves.
Hi! We are Paul Jones (guitars and vocal)
Richard Thomas-James (guitars)
Chris Francis (bass) and
Aled Richards (drums)

You formed in early 2015 and you already have an EP out as well as doing as many shows as possible. Your members have played with several household names including 21 Against and Catatonia. How did the band come about?
We have all known each other and been different bands for years, gone out, supported each other’s bands, watched each other play live and so on. But with us being in bands there was never an opportunity for us to get together. Kind of like the timing wasn’t right like a relationship I guess. But when it did happen, we knew it was right.

You've got a really great hard rock sound, something that a lot of people seem to be crying out for. Where do you draw your inspiration from? Who are your influences? Do your past bands and endeavours play a part in your music? Or did you want to do something completely new and different?
As a group we have bands we all like with wider influences from different places literally from Motown to Megadeth. There has been no conscious effort to be new and different, in all the guises we have been in, rock has been the main style. But with all our different history, which we have definitely learnt and grown from, us coming together now equals the sound we have.

The EP was recorded as live sessions. Do you feel it gives a different dynamic to the finished product as opposed to other recording methods?
I think you have to find what suits you. For us, the label and producer recording live was exactly what we all wanted.
We like the sound that us four make in a room with amps turned up and that’s what we want to capture. I think we have put that dynamic across.

A lot, not all, but a lot of the modern technology is about perfection and manipulation. That’s not what we are about, we are a rock band, a good rock band and the recording gives an idea of what we are about and what we sound like live as that’s how it was recorded.
That’s not to say we wouldn’t record using a different format in the future, but for now, we like this process as the E.P sounds like us, four guys in a room making noise.

There's been a lot of talk about music streaming recently. What are your thoughts on that as well as the current music scene?
From a fans point of view, we all listen to music and want it to be as accessible as possible. However, the days when you were paying £15 for an album after queuing up outside a shop have gone, with Spotify for example being free or £10 a month for unlimited amounts of music its obviously meaning artists are getting less money than they were previously.

It has certainly been better for us than I think we anticipated, our Spotify count continues to surprise us, and at this stage right now that exposure can only be a good thing. The challenge for us is to turn those plays into fans who then buy the EP and so on.

I think the most important thing for the UK music scene is we need to do more to protect smaller venues. It is these which provide the platform for us bands to build and grow, many iconic small venues such as TJ’s in Newport have gone, the Fleece in Bristol could be in trouble with new flats next door, we need to make sure that these places stay open so bands can earn their fans by playing live for them.

Gene Simmons says that rock is dead. Discuss.
After playing to 80,000 people at download it’s a strange thing to say.

I don’t think rock is dead, every so often someone like a Gene Simmons or Billy Corgan makes these statements, but the album sales, downloads and concert takings for rock is usually top out of all genres year on year along with the success of festivals like download and Foo Fighters UK sell out stadium tour, certainly rock not as dead as people like to make out.

It is less supported by mainstream media in the UK for sure but rock has never really been in the ‘charts’ as such, yet bands spend years, their lives if lucky enough touring which is what rock bands and rock fans associate with, not expensive videos and success in the charts. There will always be rock music and there will always be people wanting to go and see a live rock show.

When it comes to music, you've been doing this for a long time. What advice would you give to people trying to break into the industry?
We would probably say don’t let breaking into the industry be your aim. Aim to enjoy it, practice, write songs and play live. It’s ok to be bad at first, keep working at it, you will get better and before you know it you will get that great feeling when a song comes together (the billy tingles!) Enjoy it as much as you can, be with friends each show, travelling to shows etc and strive to be as good as you can.

What's next for you guys? New album? Tour dates?
We have just agreed to work with a company that puts shows on over Europe so we are looking to get over to Germany and a few other countries if we can. Plus, keep on working with the U.K based promoters to play shows over here. We are still writing too so have a few new songs that we hope we can make into an album.

We are humbled so far by the people who are listening to us and coming to see the shows so we hope to keep on playing good shows live and building on the start we’ve had.

We have a list of upcoming shows on our website, so if you're near to one come down!

Finally where can we find you, and your music, online?

You can find us on
Our music is available from our store on our website, and all the usual online stores as well as Spoitfy and so on.
Our video is available on Vevo and Youtube on the following links;

Pictures of Losing Sleep is available on 12" vinyl or as a digital download. Get your copy at: