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Marrakech: Manzil la Tortue

I spent my birthday just outside of Marrakech at Manzil la Tortue, a fabulous place to head to if you want to get out of the city and soak up some sunshine in peace. Manzil la Tortue, you see, has a pool day and lunch for 290 dirhams each (about £19), which gets you two delicious courses, use of the pool, your towels for the day, plus a late afternoon snack. Perfect!

The above photo doesn't do the pool area justice, but it's a really relaxing space and the staff there are just brilliant. One thing I didn't want was for us to be constantly hassled on my birthday - we weren't. I had such a lovely day reading in the sun, swimming in the pool and eating yummy food with Olly - what more could I have asked for?
We visited Manzil La Tortue for their pool day and lunch, which is excellent value. For 290DH we got two delicious courses each, and use of the pool all day - this also included towels and a late afternoon snack.

The food was absolutely delicious - some of the best we had in Marrakech - and the service went above and beyond. We were there celebrating my birthday and my partner was able to arrange a bottle of champagne with the owner, which they didn't have on their wine list. Nothing was too much trouble and we had a fantastic day.

One thing to note, the pool isn't heated, but that actually makes for a welcome respite from the hot sunshine. It really is a tranquil environment and a fabulous place to have a relaxing day. If we had known about Manzil La Tortue when we were booking our accommodation, we would have definitely booked to stay there. Highly recommended.

Top tip: If you wish to do their pool and lunch day and you're staying in central Marrakech, call up and book their transfer service (costs 150DH each way) to avoid the inevitable haggling with the taxi driver once you arrive!
We visited Manzil La Tortue for their pool day and lunch, which is excellent value. For 290DH we got two delicious courses each, and use of the pool all day - this also included towels and a late afternoon snack.

The food was absolutely delicious - some of the best we had in Marrakech - and the service went above and beyond. We were there celebrating my birthday and my partner was able to arrange a bottle of champagne with the owner, which they didn't have on their wine list. Nothing was too much trouble and we had a fantastic day.

One thing to note, the pool isn't heated, but that actually makes for a welcome respite from the hot sunshine. It really is a tranquil environment and a fabulous place to have a relaxing day. If we had known about Manzil La Tortue when we were booking our accommodation, we would have definitely booked to stay there. Highly recommended.

Top tip: If you wish to do their pool and lunch day and you're staying in central Marrakech, call up and book their transfer service (costs 150DH each way) to avoid the inevitable haggling with the taxi driver once you arrive!
We visited Manzil La Tortue for their pool day and lunch, which is excellent value. For 290DH we got two delicious courses each, and use of the pool all day - this also included towels and a late afternoon snack.

The food was absolutely delicious - some of the best we had in Marrakech - and the service went above and beyond. We were there celebrating my birthday and my partner was able to arrange a bottle of champagne with the owner, which they didn't have on their wine list. Nothing was too much trouble and we had a fantastic day.

One thing to note, the pool isn't heated, but that actually makes for a welcome respite from the hot sunshine. It really is a tranquil environment and a fabulous place to have a relaxing day. If we had known about Manzil La Tortue when we were booking our accommodation, we would have definitely booked to stay there. Highly recommended.

Top tip: If you wish to do their pool and lunch day and you're staying in central Marrakech, call up and book their transfer service (costs 150DH each way) to avoid the inevitable haggling with the taxi driver once you arrive!
We visited Manzil La Tortue for their pool day and lunch, which is excellent value. For 290DH we got two delicious courses each, and use of the pool all day - this also included towels and a late afternoon snack.

The food was absolutely delicious - some of the best we had in Marrakech - and the service went above and beyond. We were there celebrating my birthday and my partner was able to arrange a bottle of champagne with the owner, which they didn't have on their wine list. Nothing was too much trouble and we had a fantastic day.

One thing to note, the pool isn't heated, but that actually makes for a welcome respite from the hot sunshine. It really is a tranquil environment and a fabulous place to have a relaxing day. If we had known about Manzil La Tortue when we were booking our accommodation, we would have definitely booked to stay there. Highly recommended.

Top tip: If you wish to do their pool and lunch day and you're staying in central Marrakech, call up and book their transfer service (costs 150DH each way) to avoid the inevitable haggling with the taxi driver once you arrive!

As for the lunch, it was absolutely delicious! Olly chose their Moroccan salad as his starter with a main course, whilst I opted for a main course and a dessert and chomped on the yummy bread rolls whilst he ate his starter. (For 350DH, you can have three courses.)

For my main course I chose the lemon chicken tagine, which came with Manzil la Tortue's very crispy and perfect home-made fries. The chicken was cooked beautifully, and the lemon flavour was intense and flavoursome.

Olly went for the mixed grill - yum! If you look behind his plate though, you'll spot a circle which is called a planchas. We loved our lunch choices, but we almost wish we had picked this option as you get a selection of meats to grill yourself, along with spices, veggies and fries - another table had this and the smell wafting across was incredible!  

For dessert I chose, what else, chocolate! The lovely owner of Manzil la Tortue also arranged for a bottle of champagne, at Olly's request - they don't usually have champagne on their wine list, but they were happy to sort this out for us. The service was spot-on all day, and we left with very happy smiles on our faces.

If we had known about Manzil la Tortue when we were booking our accommodation in Marrakech, we would have booked to stay there. If you are staying in central Marrakech and find that you want a break from the hustle and bustle, I implore that you visit Manzil la Tortue like we did.

Call them up and book their transfer service (costs 150DH each way) to avoid the inevitable haggling with a taxi driver, but to also make sure that they have room for you - they limit the amount of people to make sure that it remains a peaceful and relaxing environment. You won't regret going! x

Marrakech: Jardin Majorelle

Jardin Majorelle, Rue Yves Saint Laurent, Marrakech, Morocco
Entry costs 50 dirhams for the gardens, plus an extra 25 dirhams if you wish to visit the Berber Museum; open daily from 8am to 6pm.

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There's not much to do in Marrakech, in all honesty, and there aren't that many places where you can get out of the hustle and bustle, escape from all of the demands. But, the Jardin Majorelle - the Majorelle Gardens - is one of those little pockets of paradise in Marrakech where you can go and relax.

Situated on the outskirts of the Medina - the walled old town - Jardin Majorelle was built by artist Jacques Majorelle, a French painter who went to Marrakech in 1919 to recover from health problems.

After his death, the gardens fell into disrepair, but they were rescued by Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé in 1980 to stop the site from being developed into a hotel resort.

 
Fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent and his partner, Pierre Bergé, first discovered Jardin Majorelle back in the sixties.

Today the Majorelle Gardens are an explosion of colour - full of flora and fauna, towering palm trees and cacti.

The blue colour used throughout the gardens is called Majorelle blue, named after Jacques Majorelle. It's a distinctive blue that definitely catches your eyes!

Jacques Majorelle's workshop was also painted in that colour, and it now houses Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé's collection of Berber artefacts.

The Berber Museum is small, but it's worth popping inside. Tickets can be bought at either the main entrance of the gardens or at the museum entrance if you are already in the gardens. 
 
Definitely make sure that you visit Jardin Majorelle if you're ever in Marrakech - it's small, but it's a tranquil space that's worth exploring. Doesn't it look wonderful? x

Writer Wednesday: Rachael Lucas

Rachael Lucas lives by the seaside in the North West of England. Her debut novel Sealed with a Kiss was downloaded over 130,000 times on Kindle and was an Amazon Overall Top 10 bestseller. She's currently working on her third novel as well as a YA novel, both of which will be out next year.

1. Why did you want to become a writer? 
I think it was probably Jo in Little Women, actually. I always wrote stories but the idea of eating apples in a garret and scribbling away was incredibly romantic. I also HATE working for other people which was splendid when I self published but I didn't really think about that when I signed a book deal. Now I do a bit more scowling and muttering but at least I do it at home in pyjamas and not in an office behind their backs.

2. What's the toughest part of the writing process for you? 
Oh, getting started. And doing it. And then finishing to cook dinner. And editing. And rewrites, they're rubbish too. And copyedits are HIDEOUS. Honestly? It's actually starting. I have just taken on an office in a garret (I KNOW! I am JO. Bring me my Christian Bale.) which will have NO internet and no book and literally nothing but a desk and it's five minutes' walk from home so I'm leaving the phone at the house with Ross, my partner (also a writer, but able to write without feeling the overwhelming urge to declutter the kitchen cupboards every morning instead of turning on the laptop).

3. What's the most enjoyable part of writing? 
Finishing it and going YAY I WROTE A BOOK LOOK AT ME I'M A WRITER. That lasts about a day.

4. Out of all the amazing books out there, which book do you wish you had written and why?
Ooooooooooh. Er, the Harry Potter series. A) because they are ace and B) because er, well, yeah. Obviously.

5. If you could only save one of your characters from fictional calamity, which would you pick and why? 
Oh god. Thor, the Highland pony from Sealed with a Kiss. No, Flora the seal. Flora the seal riding on Thor's back in a sort of horse seal hybrid. A seahorse.

6. If you could spend the day with your favourite literary character (not from your books), who would you spend it with and what would you do? 
I'd spend it with Lizzie Vereker from Jilly Cooper's Rivals. We'd talk books and writing and drink tea and get drunk on champagne over lunch and gossip about Rupert and Declan and it would be amazing.

7. What can we expect next from you? 
Loads of rambling about nonsense on twitter, pictures of my new Sprocker (Springer crossed with Cocker Spaniel) puppy Mabel who arrives on the 2nd of June, some moaning about finishing the next book... er, you mean in a literary manner, don't you?

I'm writing a follow up to Sealed with a Kiss which will be out next May, starring Isla, a very determined hair stylist who is forced to spend eight weeks on the island of Auchenmor and who is counting the days until she leaves. It also features a spiritual retreat, a box of carved wooden phallic totems, a lovely old woman called Mary who wants to mend the fences in her broken family, and a rather handsome piper called Finn who is having an early mid life crisis because he realises all his friends have moved on and left him behind. Readers of Sealed with a Kiss may remember him...

8. Is there any particular writing advice you wish you'd been given at the start of your writing career? If so, what is it? If not, what advice would you give to someone starting out? 
Read The Emperor's New Clothes by Hans Christian Andersen.

9. Tell us what a typical writing day involves for you. 
Loads of faffing. Checking Twitter, Facebook, and the whole internet in case anything has happened. Then I try and do one hour timed stints where I can produce 2300 rough words in a go. They will be first drafty but they get the structure of the story in place. Towards the end of my deadline I do around 4/5000 words a day, produce a big lump of splurge, then fix it afterwards. However I do a LOT of pre-planning, getting to know my characters, and carrying them around in my head chatting for about a year beforehand.

10. Finally, what are you reading at the moment? 
I'm reading a book called Playing with Fire by Kat Black. Kat writes men extremely well, and I am writing from a male viewpoint so I'm using this as a study manual. Honestly. The fact the lead happens to be an incredibly gorgeous Irishman is just coincidence.

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Would-be gardener Daisy can't believe her luck when her parents announce they're off on a midlife crisis gap year, leaving her in charge of their gorgeous garden. After a turbulent few months, a spot of quiet in the countryside is just what she needs.

A shoulder to cry on wouldn't go amiss either - so when Daisy comes across Elaine and Jo, she breathes a sigh of relief. But her new friends are dealing with dramas of their own...

As Daisy wrestles the garden into something resembling order, her feelings for handsome Irishman George begin to take root. Daisy's heart's desire − her parent's garden − is under threat, and Daisy's forced to confront nosey neighbours and fight greedy developers. Village life is turning out to be far from peaceful.

Follow Rachael on Twitter | Buy Coming up Roses on Amazon |
Visit her website | Like her on Facebook

Marrakech: Jamaa el Fna, the souk and haggling

Jamaa el Fna is the big square in Marrakech, and it's where you'll find the entrance to the souk - the famous market of Marrakech. Here you can buy anything from figs to fake goods; spices to snails; tagines to, quite frankly, tat. It's a mixed affair, but there's nothing quite like it.

You will get lost the first time you enter the souk, but you'll slowly get your bearings and start to figure it out... maybe. Stop at a shop though or catch the eye of a stall owner and you'll be hounded to buy something, and if you try and take a photo of the enchanting shops, you'll probably also have money demanded from you. (It's why I only have a few photos from this area - it just wasn't worth the hassle.)

If you do see something that catches your eye though, aim to get your treasure for a third of the asking price. Love it or loathe it, haggling is how shopping is done in Marrakech. We haggled a leather pouffe down from 870 dirhams to 300 dirhams, a thimble down from 100 dirhams to 20 dirhams, and bought a silver teapot for 100 dirhams, down from 300 dirhams. We also bought two tagines which had an asking price of 20 dirhams each (£1.30 - bargain!). We did pay the asking price, but we negotiated to get a mini tagine (for salt and spices) thrown in for free.

As for the square, Jamaa el Fna is a sleepy affair during the day, though you'll still find the snake-charmers, men with monkeys and henna women calling for your cash. As the evening draws in, the food stalls are set up and the crowds begin to gather. There's a carnival-like atmosphere in the air, with delicious smells wafting from the stalls.

Locals and tourists gather around for their evening meal, storytelling and music, though pickpockets also roam the square, and you'll probably get groped on more than one occasion.

If it all seems a little daunting, there are plenty of restaurants around the square from which you can observe the festivities. The food won't be as good, and it certainly won't be as cheap as the stalls in the square, but you'll able to experience Jamaa el Fna without all of the hustle and bustle. And the groping.

Are you a fan of haggling on holiday? x

Marrakech: Bahia Palace

Bahia Palace, 5 Rue Riad Zitoun el Jdid, Marrakech, Morocco
Entry costs 10 dirhams; open daily from 8am to 6pm

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OK, hopefully we've all recovered now from the bad side of Marrakech, so it's time to go back to the beautiful side of Marrakech. Ladies and gents, I give you the Bahia Palace, which is exactly that. It is beautiful, an absolute refuge away from the crowded and dusty streets of Marrakech. Look at those oranges to the left - I wanted to pluck one from the tree and pose like I was in a No Doubt video. Who's with me?!

But, if you've just arrived at the entrance of the Bahia Palace and the Saadian Tombs is still on your to-do list, turn around, put down that orange, and head there now. It's about a ten minute walk away, and you'll thank me for doing it in this order. Go on, off you go! Everyone else, keep reading.

The Bahia Palace - meaning beautiful or brilliance, depending on who you talk to - is exactly those two things. Completed at the turn of the 19th Century by Si Moussa, grand vizier of the sultan, it was basically a harem for his wives and concubines. Don't let that put you off, and just take a look at what's inside (you can click on the images to see them in their full-size glory with *all* the detail):

Gorgeous greenery that will make you forget that you're in, you know, Africa.

Colourful flowers and towering palm trees.

Intricate arches, and orange trees galore.

Doors, doors, doors galore!

 
Breathtaking ceilings.

 Gorgeous alcoves.

 Wooden ceilings with the most stunning detail.

Impressive fireplaces.

Both beautiful and brilliant, right? For an entry fee of 10 dirham, about 70p, you *have* to make sure that Bahia Palace is on your Marrakech to-do list.

Look up, look down, and look all around you and you'll see the most gorgeous craftsmanship - what more could you ask for? x

Writer Wednesday: Cesca Major

Cesca Major read history at Bristol University. She went on to work as a television presenter for four years before becoming a history teacher. She has written an array of short stories along with regular reviews and features for the popular women's fiction website, Novelicious. She currently records writing tips as vlogs for the Writers & Artists website. She lives in Berkshire with her husband.

1. Why did you want to become a writer? 
 I'd always been a reader, particularly throughout university where I devoured a wide range of fiction in between writing very dry essays on the printing press of C16th/the Corn Laws/the Tudor Revolution in government. I'd always loved history for the human element, the faces behind the events, the ordinary people living through extraordinary times and I wanted to write their stories.

2. What's the toughest part of the writing process for you? 
The mid-part of the first draft. You know your idea, you have made some great progress, you think you have it planned and then suddenly, whoosh, you are staring at 50k and you wonder whether the idea was originally good, whether you are veering down the wrong path. Cue trauma and days of struggling to write 100 words.

3. What's the most enjoyable part of writing? 
For me I love the second edit. When you have the first draft and you start to pull out themes, emphasise certain elements, develop an interesting setting, kill off a character you never liked and who won't be missed. That is where you start to get excited and think one day it might be a good book.

4. Out of all the amazing books out there, which book do you wish you had written and why? 
The Literary Guernsey Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Burrows is such a favourite. It is warm, filled with gorgeous characters and wonderfully depicts a certain time in history.

5. If you could only save one of your characters from fictional calamity, which would you pick and why? 
 Oh I can't answer this without ruining the plot of THE SILENT HOURS. You'll know who when you finish it.

6. If you could spend the day with your favourite literary character (not from your books), who would you spend it with and what would you do? 
I would definitely want to spend some time with Dumbledore. We could use that basin to look at the past together. I would love to go back and see what people were like in other centuries. It would be fascinating to sit in a Privy Council meeting with Queen Elizabeth I, or be in Henry VIII's court.

7. What can we expect next from you? 
I have just finished writing my second novel THE LAST NIGHT. It's a time slip novel set in the present and in Devon in the 1950's. It is also based on real events and is out with Corvus in 2016.

8. Is there any particular writing advice you wish you'd been given at the start of your writing career? If so, what is it? If not, what advice would you give to someone starting out? 
To finish that first draft. You can't do anything without it.

9. Tell us what a typical writing day involves for you. 
I write a lot in the mornings and then tend to plan, re-read or "do publicity*" (*go on Twitter) in the afternoon or evenings. To be honest when I am nearing the deadlines all that goes out of the window and I write when I can, where I can.

10. Finally, what are you reading at the moment? 
I am mid-way through Liz Fenwick's Under a Cornish Sky - lots of secrets and a fabulous setting - thoroughly enjoying so far..!

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An epic, sweeping tale set in wartime France, The Silent Hours follows three people whose lives are bound together, before war tears them apart: 

Adeline, a mute who takes refuge in a convent, haunted by memories of her past; 

Sebastien, a young Jewish banker whose love for the beautiful Isabelle will change the course of his life dramatically; 

Tristan, a nine-year-old boy, whose family moves from Paris to settle in a village that is seemingly untouched by war.

Beautifully wrought, utterly compelling and with a shocking true story at its core, The Silent Hours is an unforgettable portrayal of love and loss.

Follow Cesca on Twitter | Buy The Silent Hours on Amazon |
Visit her website | Watch her YouTube videos

Marrakech: A cautionary tale

I want to share the beauty of Marrakech with you all, but I really have to stress the ugliness we experienced, too. That way, if you end up visiting, you'll know what to watch out for. On our first morning - of course it would be on our first morning - when we were exploring the Medina, the old walled part of Marrakech filled with winding narrow passages and the souk, we wandered around until we emerged into a quieter set of streets.

Seeing our hesitation, as we tried to figure out where we now were, a local pounced on us telling us about the nearby tanneries and how we were in luck because today was a special day - they were letting tourists visit the tanneries today, and today only! Of course this was a lie because the tanneries are open every day. He then insisted that he would walk with us since he was already heading that way...

First things first, if you accept help from a local, agree a price beforehand or you may find that they will aggressively demand lots of money from you when you reach your destination. It's hard to get an exact figure, but it seems that the average daily salary is around 100 dirhams - use that as a benchmark to figure out what to pay/tip, and make sure that you have plenty of change as you're not going to get any change back once you've handed money over. Oh, and they'll probably ask for double, or triple, their price once you've arrived, but stay firm!

Secondly, if someone insists that they are, by chance, also walking your way and that they don't want any money from you it will be a different story when you reach your destination, GUARANTEED. Which, you've probably guessed it, is exactly what happened to us, even though I'd read up beforehand about this sort of thing. Epic fail. The "friendly local" wanted 200 dirhams for his help, and then the man at the tanneries also wanted 200 dirhams from us. They didn't get that much from us, but they got more than we wanted to give because of their aggressive tactics and because we didn't have any small change.

If someone approaches you trying to "guide" you to a place and you don't feel comfortable about them, or you don't actually want their help, I'd recommend that you walk off in the opposite direction. It's easy to get caught up in the adventure, or think that they are genuinely being helpful, but they are only helping you for money, I promise. If you walk off and they follow you, go into a shop as the shopkeeper won't take too kindly to them hassling their (potential) customers.

As for the tanneries, was it worth visiting after all that hassle and a slightly lighter wallet? Well, I have never smelled anything like it - even with a sprig of mint thrust upon us to help disguise the smell - and I hope that I never smell anything like that ever again!

Even with the mint sprig I was nearly sick from the hot, decaying fumes of animal hides left to soak in a mixture of pigeon poo and other animal waste. The hair is then scraped off, dried, and after that the skins get soaked in a pit of lime before it's time for more pigeon poo. Finally, the "magic" can happen, turning the skins into whatever they are destined to become. OK, that's a simplified account of the process, but it was hard to concentrate with the smell! 

After having our eyes opened from the tanneries scam, we tried a firm "no, thank you" to any "helpful" locals, but we found that made them even more persistent because we had acknowledged their calls. It might feel rude ignoring the people hollering at you but this, for us, was the easiest way to stop the inevitable harassment that would occur if we politely declined their offers of help. Even taking that stance it was hard to shake off the feeling that we were only ever seen as walking cash machines and we were, unfortunately, pestered so much that it really soured our Moroccan experience. I know this isn't a reflection of all Moroccans but, for us, it was better to be rude than to be conned.

Have you ever had a bad experience whilst on holiday? x

Marrakech: Saadian Tombs

Saadian Tombs, Rue de la Kasbah, Marrakech, Morocco
Entry costs 10 dirhams; the tombs are open daily from 9am to 4pm. 

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If you're in Marrakech and the Saadian Tombs is on your list of places to visit, I thoroughly recommend that you visit them *before* you visit the Bahia Palace. You'll be seriously underwhelmed if you do it the other way round. (You'll also find El Badi Palace in this area; it was closed when we tried to visit as filming was taking place there.)

Costing 10 dirham to enter the Saadian Tombs (about 70p), you won't be there for very long, but it will be a welcome respite from the chaos and hollers of "help" that you get on the streets of Marrakech, hollers which can cost you dearly if you're not careful. (I'll share more about this when I tell you about our visit to the tanneries.)

You should be able to find the tombs without any help though. The tombs are situated behind the Kasbah Mosque (right), so use that as your landmark and remember that you can always use Maps. As long as you load up the maps for Marrakech before you head to Morocco, your data can be switched off and you can use the GPS on your phone to navigate around the city.

Once you've bought your ticket - you *might* raise a smile from the man if you have the exact change; you might not be able to visit if you *don't* have the exact change - you meander your way along a dark and cramped passageway and then emerge back into the glorious sunshine.

Inside you'll be amazed at how quiet it has suddenly become. Take your guidebook along with you/have your travel app ready if you want to know why you're here and what you're looking at - you won't find any information inside.

Mosaics in gorgeous strong colours juxtapose beautifully the crumbling red walls around you, and these mosaics are actually graves. Cats will saunter around on them, oblivious to this - they just want to find the coolest spot.

As for why you are there, the clue is in the name: Saadian Tombs. In the more extravagant tombs you will find the final resting place of Sultan Ahmad al-Mansur and his immediate family, members of the Saadi Dynasty who ruled Morocco from 1554 to 1659. The graves in the gardens are those of his household.

The tombs date back to the late 16th Century, but they were sealed off after the Sultan's death and were only discovered in 1917. There's almost a ghostly beauty to the marble work that, somehow, compliments the vivid mosaics. If you're in the area, it's worth popping in to see for yourself.

PS: Remember how I bought all those knee-length skirts to wear in Marrakech? I wore none of them since I spotted these culottes by ASOS (£9, down from £30) in the sale a few days before we went... goodbye skirts! My bag is by Mango (£9, down from £24.99), sunglasses are Ray-Ban (£143), and my top is by New Look (£5.99). Bargains!

I can't wait to watch...

There are three TV shows that are returning next month, and I can't wait to watch them all! First up, it's the return of Pretty Little Liars (Netflix). Because I've read the books, I think I can deduce from them and the TV show who Charles is... but I'll probably be wrong!


Next up, it's the return of True Detective (Sky Atlantic). I absolutely loved this show last year because Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey absolutely *nailed* their performances - I'm hoping that Colin Farrell and Vince Vaughn live up to their incredible standard in season 2:


Finally, the third season of Orange is the New Black (Netflix) also airs next month. OK, so it's now completely deviated from the book, but it's still oh-so-addictive!


Which TV shows are you excited about watching? x

Writer Wednesday: Laura Salters

Laura Salters is a YA/NA suspense author (represented by Suzie Townsend of New Leaf Literary & Media Inc) from Berwick-upon-Tweed, the northernmost town in England. Her début novel, Run Away, will be published by HarperCollins (Witness Impulse) on 19/05/15.

When Laura isn't writing, reading or thinking about writing or reading, she's a music lover (and terrible singer), pet cuddler, beach-goer, runner (*cough* jogger), passionate foodie, caffeine addict, tennis player, lipstick wearer, Harry Potter fangirl (yes, still), housework dodger and relentless chatterbox.

1. Why did you want to become a writer? 
 I get to make stuff up and write it down for a living—what’s not to love? In all seriousness, nothing gets my blood pumping like writing. I happily do it for twelve hours a day because I love it so much, and it doesn’t feel like work. It’s creative, rewarding, insanely challenging... it’s perfect.

2. What's the toughest part of the writing process for you? 
Most people will say the near-constant rejection, but for me it’s the waiting. Publishing is a slow business. And as anyone who knows me will tell you, I’m the least patient person on the planet. So I find it hard waiting for feedback and waiting for the process to progress. The plus side is that my impatience means I write super fast!

3. What's the most enjoyable part of writing? 
When you’re in the flow and your fingers can hardly keep up with your brain, it’s so electrifying. I also love when you read through a manuscript you’ve written and realise there are really awesome recurring themes/imagery. Most of the time this has to be accidental for me, or it ends up too heavy-handed.

4. Out of all the amazing books out there, which book do you wish you had written and why? 
The Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo. It’s just awesome—the worldbuilding, the characters, the plots, everything. I adore it!

5. If you could only save one of your characters from fictional calamity, which would you pick and why? 
I’d love to be able to go back in time and save Kayla’s brother, Gabe. He’s sweet and thoughtful and ambitious, and it sucks that he died. I’m mean.

6. If you could spend the day with your favourite literary character (not from your books), who would you spend it with and what would you do? 
 Four from Divergent. And I couldn’t tell you what we’d do without tagging this post NSFW... *creepy wink face*

7. What can we expect next from you? 
I’m working on both a new suspense novel and a four-book YA fantasy series. So it’s full steam ahead at my little writing desk right now.

8. Is there any particular writing advice you wish you'd been given at the start of your writing career?
You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. You don’t have to create new genres or create a story that’s so mind-blowing you don’t even know where to start writing it. Solid pacing, characterisation, structure, world-building and conflict are so much more important. There are no new stories, just new ways to tell them, and your uniqueness as a writer comes from your voice.

9. Tell us what a typical writing day involves for you. 
Okay, I sleep a lot. So I’ll wake up around half eight after sleeping for about ten hours (yes, really), eat breakfast, drink coffee then get to work. On a writing day I shoot for 5,000 words (I’m a trained journalist so I’m naturally speedy), but in that time I try to get outside for some fresh air and a jog, or see a friend, or just go for a wander. I also run a query critique service, so I’ll spend a few hours a day on client work too. I’m usually writing on and off all day until about 10pm, but that’s just because I love it so much, not out of obligation or anything. What can I say—I love my job!

10. Finally, what are you reading at the moment? 
 ALL THE RAGE by Courtney Summers. It’s both amazing and awful, and it makes you very angry about the world. It’s a very important book, and all women (men, too!) should read it this year.

*

“Ignorance is bliss...until there’s blood involved”

Drenched in blood and sitting in the sweltering interview room of a Thai police station, Kayla Finch knows that Sam, the love of her life, is dead. It doesn't matter that there's no body. All that blood can only mean one thing.

It isn't the first time Kayla's had blood on her hands. After finding her brother dead by his own hand, she tried to outrun her grief by escaping to Thailand. Heart-broken, the last thing she expected was to find love on the smoggy streets of Bangkok. But everyone Kayla loves seems to wind up dead.

Returning home to England, Kayla is left with a barely-functioning family, a string of gruesome nightmares and the niggling feeling that nothing is as it seems. And as she confronts her brother's suicide, she starts to suspect that something is very wrong.

Three months. Two tragedies. One connection: there's more to both cases than anyone is willing to admit. And Kayla’s determined to uncover the truth… no matter what the cost.

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Beauty: Glossybox UK April 2015 review

If you remember, towards the end of last year, I gave three beauty boxes a go: Glossybox, My Little Box and Birchbox. Well, because some of you signed up to Glossybox using my referral code - thank you! - I earned enough points to get a free box. After receiving April's box, I kind of wish I hadn't bothered!

One of the reasons why I stopped my beauty box subscriptions is that I was racking up a lot of products but, more so, I was racking up a lot of the same products. When I opened up April's Glossybox - great box design by the way - I couldn't help but groan spying yet another eyeliner and nail product. I think in every box I've received there's always an eyeliner and nail product... Like rabbits, is all I'm going to say!

April's Glossybox is a rather low-value box. Sure, they are mostly full-size products (or larger sample sizes), but they are cheap products. I'll be honest, I've not even used the POP Beauty eyeliner or the Color Club nail polish. (See above, like rabbits.)

As for the other products, the Lord & Berry lipstick pencil in shade "Kiss" made me look like a clown... (To be fair, for a lot of people this would be a great product to receive, but my lips are not my best feature - seriously - and because of that I just don't suit bright lipsticks/glosses that draw attention to them.)

The Astral face and body moisturiser has a really thick texture and clinical smell to it - no thank you - and the IDC scented garden country rose moisturiser had the opposite, a really watery texture, and it didn't smell nice either. It definitely didn't smell like roses. (I couldn't find a link for this brand or product any where, so even if I had loved it, I don't think I would actually have been able to buy it. Bizarre!)

All-in-all, this is the worst beauty box I've ever received. And, because of how the payment schedule worked out, I ended up paying for this box and not using my points to get this for free. Booooooo! I have a feeling that once I *do* get my free box this month, I won't be keeping my subscription rolling unless Glossybox knocks it out of the park. (And if I get another nail polish or eyeliner this month, I will scream!)

Are there any beauty boxes out there that you think are still worth subscribing to? Let me know! x

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