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The month that was: June

What happened:
We're halfway through the year, which is crazy! Olly and I celebrated our anniversary (we celebrate on two different dates - here's why), but we'll be heading to Duck & Waffle in July for our main celebration as we like to celebrate somewhere up high. (We couldn't get a reservation on our actual anniversary. And Paramount, where we had our first date, sadly closed down at the start of the year. Boooooo!) Isn't my anniversary card from Olly the cutest?

Other than that, I've had a pretty quiet month, to be honest. The glamour of being an author, huh? ;) I'm currently working on three different books, and I hope to have an update soon on when I expect Found to be released. (Definitely later this year.) Make sure you catch up with the first two books in the Arielle Lockley series before then!

What I ate:
At home I made buttermilk chicken (I cobbled together a recipe from three different recipes), prawn chowder, plus M&M and Oreo cookies (I used the cookie recipe in Lorraine Pascale's Baking Made Easy cookbook but substituted the chocolate chips for Oreos and M&Ms). Of course, I cooked a lot more than this, but these were the most interesting dishes!

If you want steak in London and don't want to go to the tourist trap that is the Aberdeen Steak House (now called the Angus Steak House) - shudders - and Gaucho and Hawksmoor are a bit out of your budget, try Flat Iron. I ate there for the first time in June; for a tenner, you can't go wrong! (The Denmark Street Flat Iron tends to be quieter than Beak Street; there was no queue for a table there, whereas it was a 90 minute wait at Beak Street.)

Rabot 1745 is part of Hotel Chocolat so pretty much *everything* on the menu involves cacao. Whilst it was nice enough, it was definitely overpriced. The dishes do sound incredible, like the "Yorkshire pudding filled with cacao glazed pulled pork, white chocolate mash and cacao red wine jus", pictured below right, but the taste was disappointingly average.

I've eaten at Bukowski a few times before, and it's awesome BBQ food. See that silver bowl in-between our dishes? Those are puck nuggets - yep, delicious pork and duck nuggets - and the side you can see next to the burger are tobacco onions. I can highly recommend these, plus my ribs which were *insanely* smoky and tasty.

What I watched:
I finally watched the second half of season 4 of Homeland (it's been on our Sky+ HD box for months). It's lost some of its charm, and the same goes for season 3 of Orange is the New Black, which we binge-watched in less than a week. (Obviously.) Season 5 of Game of Thrones also finished in June and, again, I didn't like this season as much as previous ones. Is nothing sacred in GoT land?!

June also saw the return of Pretty Little Liars - those girls(!) - and I started watching Switched at Birth, which is the polar opposite to PLL. It's about two teenagers who find out they were switched at birth (duh!); American Sign Language is used throughout, which gives it a really interesting dynamic. I also started watching Humans - it's creepy, but oh-so-good!

Films watched: Grace of Monaco, Lucy, Jurassic Park, Jurassic Park III, We Need to Talk About Kevin (the book is *so* much better!), The Giver, Edward Scissorhands and Beauty and the Beast. We also headed to the cinema to see Jurassic World, which was cheesy but enjoyable. £30 for two tickets to the cinema though... ouch! 

What I read: 
In June I read 20 books, and I abandoned reading 7 books (sorry). My favourite reads of the month were Evil Games by Angela Marsons and The Day We Disappeared by Lucy Robinson.

I also enjoyed The Martyr's Curse by Scott Mariani, Feed by Mira Grant, The Vintage Guide to Love and Romance by Kirsty Greenwood, The Perfume Collector by Kathleen Tessaro, Whatever It Takes by Adele Parks and The One You Really Want by Jill Mansell.

How was your month? x

Beauty: Liz Earle haul and review

I've been using Liz Earle products for around five years now, and I absolutely love (the majority of) their products. Their famous Cleanse & Polish is my go-to daily cleanser, though I use the Eyebright Soothing Eye Lotion to remove make-up fully - I don't find that Cleanse & Polish, despite its claims, fully removes waterproof mascara - and I also use the eye lotion as soon as I wake up. It refreshes my eyes, but also cleans away any night-time build-up.

I love the Instant Boost Skin Tonic, which I always use after cleansing, and I follow this up with the Liz Earle Skin Repair Moisturiser. I'm also a big fan of the Superskin Concentrate for Night (not pictured) which has the most amazing and relaxing smell, though I find I use this more in the winter months.

One product I can't recommend though is the Daily Eye Repair eyecream, and I'm not overly impressed with the Intensive Nourishing Treatment Mask either. The Gentle Face Exfoliator is another product that I probably wouldn't recommend. I'm not saying that any of these are bad products, but I don't find the eyecream hydrating enough for my eyes, and I think that there are better treatment masks and exfoliators out there.

Each month Liz Earle has an awesome bundle offer that saves you money *and* nets you free products. The picture above (minus the tube that's at the top, second from the left) shows what I received in June's bundle for £45. As well as a full-size cleanser, toner and moisturiser, I was also minis of these products -  perfect for long weekends away - plus a mini shampoo. In fact, the mini moisturiser was the Superskin moisturiser. Bonus! I also received a full-size bottle of the Eyebright Soothing Eye Lotion - hel-lo!

Are you a fan of Liz Earle? x

Beauty: Glossybox UK review June 2015

June saw me receive my last Glossybox, and it's not surprising considering the contents of the box - most of it went straight in the bin.

I immediately discarded the Halo fragrance free facial wipes and the flash tattoos, though I did try the Essence gel nail polish before it went in the bin. It was an awful colour, and it was really thick. Pass!

(Oh, and it was *another* nail polish. Please stop it with the nail polishes already!)

That left me with the Kueshi anti cellulite moisturiser - it seems an OK moisturiser, though I can't really speak on whether it helps with cellulite - and the MONU Spa rosewood reviving mist. The mist is the only product I actually like from the box. It has a gorgeous smell, and it's good to get some moisture on your face when the weather is sunny... if, you know, we ever get some *properly* sunny weather. What's with all the grey clouds?!

All-in-all, I found it to be a very disappointing Glossybox in June 2015. Do you still subscribe to any beauty boxes? x

Writer Wednesday: Rebecca Pugh

Rebecca Pugh grew up in the green county of Shropshire, with a mind full of fairy-tales and happy endings. Enchanted by true love and Disney Princesses, she decided that no matter what life threw her way, she'd continue to see the world through a child's eyes. Through the pages of countless books, her adoration of reading blossomed, and it didn't take long for her to fall under the spell of hundreds of authors' words.

Now, Rebecca's own story has taken a fairy-tale like turn, and at 22, her dream has come true. With her faithful companions: Bonnie the dog, her partner, and her gigantic family by her side, Rebecca is ready to share her stories with readers who enjoy falling in love and losing themselves within beautiful, fictional worlds.

1. Why did you want to become a writer?
After enjoying other authors’ work for such a long time, I always wondered whether I’d be able to make readers feel that way about my own writing and stories. It really is a magical thing, reading words and being transformed to a completely new place with new people in your mind. I’ve always been in awe of authors who can do that to you, and I wanted more than anything to be able to do it, too.

2. What's the toughest part of the writing process for you? 
Oh, fabulous question! I think it’s ensuring that the pace of the story remains the same throughout! I have a habit of getting really passionate about descriptions of settings, and then skimming over other parts, so my editor picked up on that. It was hard to get myself out of that habit, but something that I had to do to make sure I had and kept the readers’ interest.

3. What's the most enjoyable part of writing? 
 I think it’s definitely the ‘playing’ part, where you’re just starting out, playing with ideas and characters. There are no deadlines and the fictional world really is your oyster in those moments! You can take those characters absolutely anywhere, and the possibilities are endless which I find so, so exciting!

4. Out of all the amazing books out there, which book do you wish you had written and why? 
Another fantastic question! Despite my love of romance and women’s fiction, I do have a deep, dark love for Stephen King. His novel, Needful Things, has to be one of my favourites. He has such an epic imagination, and I just loved how the novel portrayed how greedy people can be, and how everything has a consequence. It was so clever and I was speechless by the time I finished. Another favourite, completely different genre, is If You Could See Me Now by Cecelia Ahern. That book is pure magic and moved me to tears more than once, I would have loved to have written such a beautiful novel. Cecelia is a gorgeously talented writer.

5. If you could only save one of your characters from fictional calamity, which would you pick and why?   
In Return to Bluebell Hill, Jessica really does get put through some tough stuff. I’d like to save her, but then if I did, the story wouldn’t be all that exciting! She has to go through the tough stuff to get to her ending, and anyway, she gets saved, just not by me! ;)

6. If you could spend the day with your favourite literary character (not from your books)?
Ahhh, this has always been a tough question but ever since reading The Vintage Guide to Love and Romance by Kirsty Greenwood, I’d definitely have to say Jessica Beam! She is hilarious and I love nothing more than people who can make me laugh until I’m crying. Jessica would do that without a doubt!

7. What can we expect next from you? 
Well, I’m currently working on book 2, although I can’t reveal a great deal yet! You’ll no doubt see me screaming over on Twitter once I have news to share, so I’m sure no one will  miss it, haha!

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? 
No, not really. I mean it’s been a learning curve for sure, realising what’s actually involved. I have to admit, I was a bit clueless at the start, but I had lots of help and support which was brilliant and really helped me along! I’m probably not the best person to give out advice, I’m still learning myself, but in regards to anyone who’s maybe dithering over submitting, I’d say go for it! You really don’t know what you’re capable of until you try!

9. Tell us what a typical writing day involves for you. 
 It’s not very exciting, but a writing day normally involves 80’s radio station, coffee and lots of words!

10. Finally, what are you reading at the moment?
Right now, I’m reading Fairytale Beginnings by Holly Martin and Summer at Shell Cottage by Lucy Diamond. Both fabulous authors, and both whisking me away! I definitely recommend both on anybody’s summer reading lists!

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Home is where the heart is...

Jessica McAdams has never belonged anywhere; never truly felt at home. Of course, what did she expect from parents who never made her feel welcome in her own house? Leaving her life in London to return home to the charming country village of Bluebell Hill is harder than she thought. Especially as she never considered she’d be returning under such heart wrenching circumstances…

Clearing out the stunning and imposing Bluebell House after her parents’ death is difficult for Jessica—they never had the best relationship and now it’s too late. Yet spending time in the house that was never a home, having afternoon tea with dear old friend Esme—and sharing hot, sizzling kisses with delectable gardener Rueben!—opens Jessica’s eyes to the potential of Bluebell House... Could this big old, beautiful manor really be her forever home? Is Bluebell Hill where her heart is, has always been?

Jessica soon dares to dream of her very own home with delicious Rueben by her side. But when a deep, dark secret of Bluebell House is unearthed, Jessica’s world is turned upside down…

Will Jessica ever find where her heart truly lies?

Follow Rebecca on Twitter | Buy Return to Bluebell Hill on Amazon |
Visit her blog | Follow her on Goodreads

Indie author: Writing the first draft

Today I'm talking all about writing the first draft which, let's face it, without this first draft you are pretty much buggered if your aim is to write a book!

Now, here's the thing, there is no right way to write a first draft, and there's no wrong way either. (Except for, y'know, not writing one at all. That's *definitely* the wrong way to do it.) For example, I used to write all my first drafts long-hand, which is why The Dirtifcation of Tabitha-Rose still isn't out because I've yet to type up the ruddy first draft, let alone edit it. (I'm getting there though, and forcing myself to get it typed up, once and for all!)

Since Lost, however, I write the first draft straight to screen. It took me a while to get used to writing this way, but it saves me a lot of time now that I don't have to type up my first draft. You might prefer writing it by hand, typing it straight on to the computer, or you might even dictate it using speech-recognition software. (I tried that once - disaster!)

Some people go with the flow and write, write, write whatever comes into their heads - that used to be me - whilst others plan meticulously and create detailed character descriptions, write extensive chapter breakdowns or, maybe, even turn to Pinterest to create an inspiration board for their book. Again, no two writers are the same, just as no two books are the same.

I never used to plan anything, yet at the moment I find that writing one sentence for each chapter really helps me to get a sense of where my story is going. I usually do this for the next five chapters I need to write, though often find that what I thought would happen in Chapter Six... well, Chapter Six has just become Chapter Sixteen(!) as the plot twists and turns because of ideas popping in my head as I get into the flow of writing the story.

I also used start at the beginning and write straight through to the end: I'd write Chapter One, followed by Chapter Two, and so forth. I've found, however, that I'm jumping all over with my fourth book. Sure, sometimes I might write five chapters in a row, but then I'll write a scene that's popped in my head that happens towards the end of the book, and then I'll write a chapter that will appear in the middle of the book. As long as you get those words down though, that's all that matters - you can fix the chapter order later on during the editing process.

Since my books all inhabit the same world and characters jump around and pop up in my other books, I have a timeline detailing where everyone is and what they are up to at that time. For example, I wanted Geli to make an appearance in Lost, but at that point in time she was in South Africa, not London, in her book - an impossible inclusion! The more books I write, the harder it gets to include other characters and to make sure that they are in the right place - as I love having overlapping characters, a timeline is definitely something I need to be able to write the first draft.

You might love writing your first draft, or you might absolutely hate it: At the moment I sit firmly in the hate camp, and I'm all about the editing process... but, you might have guessed it, with Kept and Geli Voyante's Hot or Not I loved writing their first drafts and hated editing them! The only way I can get to my (current) much-loved editing stage though is by getting the bones of the story down in the first draft - without that, I can't flesh it out in the editing stage.

However you write your first draft, the main thing is to get it done. Like I said before, without it you're not going to have a book, and that's the thing you *do* need if you want to be an author! What's your first draft process like?

Writer Wednesday: Ella Craine

Ella Craine was born on the wrong continent and spent far too much time trying to guide safaris around her various back gardens before moving to Africa and doing it properly - but not before accumulating a handful of interesting yet irrelevant university degrees.

Having worked and worn khaki in some of South Africaʼs most magnificent game reserves, sheʼs got plenty to write about. And she likes cookies.


1. Why did you become a writer? 
I think I started referring to myself as an ʻauthorʼ when I was about six years old! Iʼve just always loved it - coming up with something creative and seeing it on a paper. From the beginning, itʼs been about wanting to share all the crazy things in my head.

2. Whatʼs the toughest part of the writing process for you? 
Definitely coming up with the motivation. I can go for weeks without writing a word, and then write thousands of words a day for weeks, but I have to be in the right mindset to write, and it doesnʼt come up as often as it needs to. Editing is definitely a very close second!

3. Whatʼs the most enjoyable part of writing? 
When it all just ʻclicksʼ and flows and comes together. To me, thatʼs the most satisfying feeling - when you donʼt have to sit and spend forever analyzing a sentence youʼve just written. Itʼs the best feeling when you suddenly look up and realize youʼve written thousands of words and havenʼt even thought about it.

4. Out of all the amazing books out there, which book do you wish you had written and why? 
Definitely ʻThe Stinky Cheese Manʼ by John Scieszka. Unlike a lot of people, I didnʼt grow up with it as a classic. I only discovered it a couple of years ago in a bookshop when I was book shopping for a child. I think I sat in that shop and read the whole thing! Naturally, I bought it and Iʼm pretty sure it was the best gift ever. Scieszka has the most fabulous and twisted sense of humour and itʼs not so different from how Iʼd write if I felt I had total, absolute freedom. I think itʼs completely wasted on children!

5. If you could go back and experience again one of the moments you share with us in your book, which would you pick and why? 
In ʻAn Unlikely Safari Guide,ʼ I talk about a night safari I led where we ended up caught in an epic thunderstorm. I was scared senseless at the time, with lightning striking all around us, but it was one of the most memorable experiences of my life. I want to see that beauty and feel that adrenaline kick again. I could try and write it a thousand times, but Iʼll never be able to convey what really happened that night.

6. If you could spend the day with your favourite literary character, who would you spend it with and what would you do? 
Adrian Mole. No doubt about it. I canʼt decide whether Iʼd sit him down when heʼs about fifteen years old and try and explain some life facts to him that might have helped him in the future or Iʼd wait until he was a few years older and offer to read his entire ʻLo! The Flat Hills of My Homelandʼ manuscript. Every ʻauthorʼ deserves a chance to be read...

7. What can we expect next from you? 
Iʼm currently close to finishing the first drafts of two new books. Iʼve tried dabbling a bit in fiction, but I just donʼt think itʼs for me! My next book will be the as yet untitled follow up to ʻAn Unlikely Safari Guide.ʼ Iʼm also writing a book called ʻWhat I Learned From Birds,ʼ about my experiences working in bird rehabilitation (yep, thatʼs a thing).

8. Is there any particular writing advice you wish youʼd been given at the start of your career? If so, what is it? If not, what advice would you give to someone starting out? 
Oh dear. Itʼs not so much advice I wish Iʼd been given - itʼs advice I was given and chose to ignore. The advice was to write a piece and then forget about about it for a month or two. Before you even think of publishing, read it back again from a fresh perspective. It sounds really obvious and even though I did read back through my book several times during the editing process, I didnʼt read it as a reader. It meant that when I read my book just recently, there was so much I was unhappy with. So donʼt be in such a rush to publish - youʼll regret it.

9. Tell us what a typical writing day involves for you. 
Lots of coffee! Coffee in the morning, and maybe some red wine or Pimms in the afternoon... At the moment, I love getting out into the sun with my MacBook and sunglasses and just go for it. Iʼve never been the sort of writer who can devote an hour a day to writing, although I wish I could be that disciplined. I might not write for days or weeks but when I write properly, itʼs an all day thing. I start as soon as I get out of bed and go until the sunʼs gone.

10. Finally, what are you reading at the moment? 
Iʼm never reading less than three books at a time, but the one thatʼs really special to me right now is called ʻLife List: A Womanʼs Quest for the Worldʼs Most Amazing Birds,ʼ by Olivia Gentile. Itʼs a biography of Phoebe Snetsinger, who became the first person in the world to see more than 8000 different species of bird after being diagnosed with cancer. As a fanatical birdwatcher myself, Iʼm completely in awe of what Phoebe did and how she grew in the process. I know, itʼs really geeky...

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Ella Craine sees the world in a different way. Ever wondered why a hamerkop is better than you? Or thought about which animal has the weirdest tongue in the Kalahari? Probably not.

A collection of true safari stories and quirky wildlife observations, ʻAn Unlikely Safari Guideʼ will leave you astonished at the antics of eccentric safari guests and giggling the next time you think of a wildebeest. And if it all goes to plan, youʼll crave a plate of cookies by the end. From menacing mongooses (or is it ʻmongeese?ʼ) to philosophical antlions, ʻAn Unlikely Safari Guideʼ is delightfully unlikely.

Follow Ella on Twitter | Buy An Unlikely Safari Guide on Amazon |

Beauty: Glossybox UK review May 2015

May's Glossybox was definitely better than April's poor offering, but it still wasn't great. First up, an eyeliner... Yes, *another* one. At least this time it came in a colour other than black - two different shades of blue as it's double-ended - but the MeMeMe Enchanted Eyes dual ended eye wand wasn't my cup of tea. I found that I didn't get a smooth application, which made my eyes look a little rough - not the look I was going for. 

Two moisturisers were included in the box in May, and I really like the Etre Belle aloe vera ultra moisturising gel. It has a nice smell to it, plus it leaves my skin feeling soft. I'll be using this product until it runs out - it was a full-size product - but it won't permanently replace my Liz Earle moisturiser.

The second moisturiser in the box was a small sample of philosophy's hope in a jar moisturiser - it's nice enough, but I prefer the Etre Belle moisturiser. Also, as it's such a small sample size, it was hard to get a sense of whether it actually had an impact on my skin, though all the reviews I read of it seem to be glowing ones. 

I've not noticed much of a difference using the SASS intimate perfect skin concentrate - a product to use post-shaving to help avoid ingrown hairs and to, apparently, reduce regrowth - so I probably won't use it again.

The final product in the box was Zerreau towel off shampoo, a new kind of dry shampoo. It's actually a foam that you apply to your hair if you can't be bothered to wash it, and whilst it doesn't leave your hair with that chalky feeling you sometimes get with dry shampoos, I expected more from it. I'll be sticking to using my regular dry shampoo if I'm feeling lazy, though the scent of it was nice.

All-in-all, May's Glossybox was not a great box. Are you a fan of beauty boxes? x

Writer Wednesday: Amy Lynch

Amy Lynch is an Irish author of humorous romantic women’s fiction, but not always with fairy tale endings! She has been working in the charity sector for many years, is married and has two young children. When she is not writing, she can be found juggling school runs, packing lunch boxes, tackling the laundry mountain and walking two large rescue dogs who stare at her until she walks them. Talk about multi-tasking!

Her début novel ‘Bride Without a Groom’ is a laugh out loud Bridezilla comedy, and will be published by Avon, Harper Collins in May 2015. Amy has published articles in Women’s Way, TV Choice Magazine, Sunday Times, and The Irish Examiner. She is represented by literary agent, Frank Fahy. 

1. Why did you want to become a writer?
I started writing at school, because I realised that it was something I was good at. My teacher gave me a floral notebook to encourage me. she asked me to stand, red faced on a plastic chair, in front of the class to read my short stories aloud. When the class laughed at the funny bits, I got a real kick from that. Even though my career went in a different direction (I've been in the charity sector for many years) writing was always something I went back to. Creative writing classes, and submitting articles to magazines kept me busy when the kids were little.  

2. What's the toughest part of the writing process for you?
Rejection is all part of the writing experience, and it's something that many will identify with. It's the toughest part! However, persistence pays off! If you really believe in yourself, and truly want to be published, don’t stop until you get a yes! The trick is to use criticism to improve, which is not easy. I used to struggle with this, but I have learned to listen to feedback.

3. What's the most enjoyable part of writing?
For me, the most enjoyable part of writing is when someone tells me that they enjoyed my work. This morning, I saw a new five star review on Amazon, and the person said that she had spluttered her tea while reading 'Bride without a Groom', she thought it was so funny. It really made my day. Any writer reading this will understand how stomach churning it can be to share your work with others. During my creative writing classes, sharing was part of the course, so it helped to build my confidence.  

4. Out of all the amazing books out there, which book do you wish you had written and why?
I've just discovered Jojo Moyes, and I love her. I fell apart reading 'You Before Me'. 

5. If you could only save one of your characters from fictional calamity, which would you pick and why?
I'm a big fan of the Sophie Kinsella 'Shopaholic' series. The main character is flawed, hilarious and loveable - just like the main character in 'Bride without a Groom'.

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? 
As a child, my dad read all of the Roald Dahl books to me, and that planted the book loving seed! I'd chose Matilda, as she comes with happy memories!  

7. What can we expect next from you?
I'm editing the next book in the series, ‘Does My Bump Look Big In this?’, where we see Rebecca coming to terms with becoming a mother. I'm also making progress with the third book!

8.What advice would you give to someone starting out?
I often meet people who are dreaming about getting published. They tell me they've been working on their book for years. I tell them to put that book to one side, and start the next one. It's hard to edit your own work, so I while they’re waiting for a big break, keep writing. Once you get a book deal, it will be a good idea to have a back catalogue of other books, so that you can keep them coming!

9. Tell us what a typical writing day involves for you. 
I'm trying to squeeze it around work, kids, laundry and dogs! The plot and chapter plan comes first – these are the bones which are later fleshed out. I'm really strict with myself – writing every single day is important. Flex that creative muscle as often as you can, and it will become second nature. For me, eight o’clock in the evening is writing time. The kids are asleep and the house is quiet. My husband is very supportive. If I’m trying to finish a chapter on the weekend, he’ll sometimes take the kids off to the playground, and come back an hour later to find a more relaxed me! That’s why the dedication reads: “To Eoin. Sorry about all the burnt dinners, darling. As you can see, I’ve been a little busy…”

10. Finally, what are you reading at the moment? 
I picked up a signed copy of Claudia Carroll’s twelfth book ‘Meet Me In Manhattan’ at her book launch last month, and can’t wait to dive in. I mostly read when I’m in Spain – we go with the kids every summer.

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Single, coupled-up or married, this laugh-out-loud summer read is the perfect anecdote for the wedding season!

Rebecca has chosen the most luscious, five tiered, wedding cake. The engagement ring that she has selected is celebrity inspired. The wedding singer is on speed dial. He doesn’t usually do Michael Bolton, but as it’s for a first dance he’ll make an exception. Father Maguire is checking dates for the parish church as we speak. The deposit on the white sand honeymoon is paid for in full on Barry’s card. She has fallen for an ivory lace couture gown that is to die for. The down payment may require her to sell a left kidney, but it will be worth it. Isn’t that why you have two?

There’s one teeny tiny problem. It’s nothing, really. No need to panic! It’s just that Barry has yet to propose. Says he’s not ready! He can be a bit of a kill joy that way. It’s time to face the harsh reality – Rebecca is a bride without a groom!

Follow Amy on Twitter | Buy Bride without a Groom on Amazon |
Visit her website |
Like her on Facebook

Author photo © The Sunday Times, supplied by author for this feature.

Marrakech: The best of the rest

Opposite Jamaa el Fna is the Koutoubia Mosque, which is the largest mosque in Marrakech, and the last thing I need to tell you about. Unless you're Muslim and heading there to pray, you will only be able to see the mosque from the outside, however.

Still, it's quite something, and the mosque - built in the 12th Century - is visible from around twenty miles away on a clear day. Use it as a landmark when you're exploring Marrakech and need to get your bearings.

As for what else you can do if you visit Marrakech, there are a few museums, such as Maison de la Photographie, the Museum of Marrakech and Boucharouite Museum. There's also Ben Youssef Madrasa, a college founded in the 14th Century, plus another popular thing to do in Marrakech is to visit a hammam to have a Moroccan spa experience.

You could also visit the Atlas Mountains, have a camel ride in the dessert, go quad biking, or see Marrakech from up high in a hot air balloon - all popular things to do but, y'know, all outside of Marrakech itself. 

I hope that you've enjoyed reading all about my recent Moroccan adventure. For us, the holiday was very mixed and, if I'm completely honest, I wouldn't recommend that you visit. Sure, there are some beautiful places to see, but I'd suggest picking another destination from your to-visit list.

Have you been to Marrakech? If you haven't, is it a place you want to go to? x

Top five tips for visiting Marrakech

For my birthday this year, we headed to Marrakech, Morocco, rated #1 in this year's Travellers' Choice Awards. (I'm not sure how, in all honesty.) If you're thinking of heading to this famous African city and seeing for yourself what all the fuss is about, read on for my top five tips:

1. When to go:
The time of year when you visit Marrakech is crucial. As I'm writing this, the temperature in Marrakech is a scorching 41°C, which will feel more like it's 50°C because of the dry nature of the heat. The sun is fierce, and it will catch you out!

I'd definitely avoid going May through to August, unless you want to sit in your hotel room, perched under the air conditioning, chugging down ice cold glasses of water. No amount of refreshing mint tea is going to cool you down in those temperatures! 

Also, check when Ramadan is as shops, restaurants and tourist attractions may be closed or have reduced opening hours.

2. How to get there:
We flew Saturday mid-afternoon with British Airways from London Gatwick to Marrakech's Menara Airport, and then flew back mid-morning on Wednesday with Easyjet. Flight time is roughly 3.5 hours, and there is no time difference between the UK and Morocco.

Prices vary, but our BA flight cost us £64 each, whilst our return Easyjet flight cost £56. It's always worth checking out single fares with different airlines to see if it works out cheaper than a return, but also because you can often get better flight times this way.

Be prepared to queue for at least an hour once you get off the plane and, whatever you do, make sure that you fill out your customs form properly - no spelling mistakes or errors, please! If there is, you will have trouble getting your visa stamp and getting out of passport control. We witnessed plenty of arguments between tourists and officials over those forms - yikes!

This also applies for when you leave Morocco. If you don't get your boarding card stamped at your airline check-in desk - you have to go there to get this stamp, even if you have no luggage to check in - you won't clear security. You have been warned!

3. Where to stay:
We stayed at MonRiad, which is about a five-ten minute walk from Jamaa el Fna, and about the same distance from Bahia Palace. Whilst we couldn't fault the location, the set-up of the riad (a guesthouse with rooms off an interior courtyard) meant that we got zero sleep the first two nights due to the other guests deciding that this courtyard was the perfect place to scream drunkenly until five o'clock in the morning... and then it was time for the call to prayer... and then the staff started preparing breakfast. o_O

We complained after the first night, and were given a really poor excuse - young people will be young people, apparently - and we complained again after the second night. The guests, thankfully, checked out then so our last two nights were spent in relative peace (see above re: breakfast). However, when we followed up our complaints, the riad denied we had ever complained... Shoddy.

Riads might look charming, but you will be at the mercy of the other guests and their conduct. I'm not a light sleeper, so do keep the noise-factor in mind when you're booking your accommodation in Marrakech. (Or take ear plugs.) If you're considering staying outside of the city, or want more than a plunge pool to relax by, do check out Manzil la Tortue.

4. Sorting out currency:
Don't bother picking up any currency whilst you are in the UK as you will get a rubbish rate. The rate at Gatwick when we left was 11DH:£1, whereas in Marrakech it was 15DH:£1. Say you wanted to change £200, you'll get an extra 800 dirhams if you do it in Marrakech - that's a stonking £53!

5. How to act:
Wear loose clothes to stay comfortable in the heat, and cover up your knees and shoulders to be respectful. And, remember, there's no such thing as free help in Marrakech - you have been warned!

Writer Wednesday: Mel Sherratt

Mel Sherratt self-published her first novel, a crime thriller called TAUNTING THE DEAD, in December 2011. It went on to be a Kindle #1 bestseller and a 2012 top ten bestselling KDP ebook on Amazon.co.uk for the whole of that year.

She has since released three psychological thrillers in a series, The Estate and, WATCHING OVER YOU, a dark, erotic thriller. More recently, she has made TAUNTING THE DEAD into the first of a series, with FOLLOW THE LEADER and ONLY THE BRAVE, books 2 and 3 respectively.

1. Why did you want to become a writer?
I’m not sure there was ever a why. It’s something I enjoy so much that I think I must have been born to do it. It sounds ridiculous but it’s compelling once you have it inside you. I love to write. I’ve written stories since I was a child.

2. What's the toughest part of the writing process for you? 
The rejection was hard – it was twelve years before I decided to self-publish which started me off on my journey.

3. What's the most enjoyable part of writing? 
Always the bit I’m not working on! When I’m drafting, I long to be finished and editing. When I’m editing, I long to be creating something new.

4. Out of all the amazing books out there, which book do you wish you had written and why? 
Into the Darkest Corner, Elizabeth Haynes. I absolutely love this book for its darkness, its fear factor and skillful, taut writing. I loved its dual story too.

5. If you could only save one of your characters from fictional calamity, which would you pick and why? 
It would be Ella from Watching over You. She is such a damaged soul, having taking years of abuse, feeling unloved, and as if she doesn’t deserve happiness. I would want to find her a fella that she could trust to settle down with – all she wants is to be loved.

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? 
It would have to be Bridget Jones – I would just find the nearest sunny beer garden and chat and drink and swear and put the world to rights.

7. What can we expect next from you? 
That is such a loaded question at the moment as I have several things going on in the background but I am unable to talk about them yet. At the moment, though, I am editing Written in the Scars, Book 4, The Estate Series.

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? 
I don’t think there is, really, as every writer/author needs to find what works best for them, and it’s often only trial and error that ensures you find this out. I always use the hashtag #keeponkeepingon on Twitter, and for me, that sums it up quite nicely.

9. Tell us what a typical writing day involves for you. 
When I’m writing, I aim to write 3000 words per working day. When I’m editing, I aim to edit 3000 words per working day. I spend most mornings doing these and then catching up with admin tasks in the afternoons. Most of the time it works out okay, but often things drop in via email that have to be done ASAP, and although it isn’t set in stone, I try to do the writing first as everything is dependent on that.

10. Finally, what are you reading at the moment? 
Evil Games, Angela Marsons. She’s a really great author who burst onto the scene earlier this year with her stunning début novel, Silent Scream.

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When one of the notorious Johnson brothers is murdered and a bag of money goes missing, a deadly game of cat and mouse is set in motion.

DS Allie Shenton and her team are called in to catch the killer, but the suspects are double-crossing each other and Allie has little time to untangle the web of lies.

As she delves deeper into the case, things take a personal turn when Allie realises she is being stalked by the very same person who attacked her sister seventeen years ago and left her for dead.

Set over forty-eight tension-filled hours, Only the Brave is the latest gut-churning book in the series featuring DS Allie Shenton.

Follow Mel on Twitter | Buy Only the Brave on Amazon |
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Marrakech: Moroccan food

I'm a bit of a foodie, so I obviously need to tell you about the best restaurants we ate at whilst in Marrakech. I've already told you about the delicious birthday lunch I had at Manzil la Tortue, but these two restaurants are in central Marrakech and easier to get to!

One is cheap and cheerful, whilst the other has a more sophisticated air - both were delicious and both are, rightly, listed in the top thirty best restaurants in Marrakech (as reviewed and ranked on TripAdvisor, April 2015). Just to note though, neither serve alcohol - this is quite common for restaurants in Marrakech.

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La Perle du Sud, 16/20 Prince Street, Marrakech, Morocco

First up, La Perle du Sud is the cheap and cheerful restaurant we visited - it's situated just off Jamaa el Fna, so is very centrally located.

Starters are priced between 30-60DH (£2-4), whilst mains range from 70-90DH (£4.50-6) - you're in for a bargain!

Olly had one of their specials, a beef tagine, whilst I went for their chicken skewers (left). Two main meals, soft drinks, mint tea and service cost us (a ridiculously cheap) £7 each.

If you're just after a quick, tasty and fuss-free dinner (or lunch), La Perle du Sud is the place to head to. Whilst we were eating, two Moroccan musicians were playing at the restaurant - they were really quite good to listen to!

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Latitude 31, 186 Rue El Gza Arset Ihiri, Bab Doukkala, Marrakech, Morocco

Currently voted the fifth best restaurant in Marrakech on TripAdvisor, Latitude 31 is about a twenty-minute walk from Jamaa el Fna, halfway between there and Jardin Majorelle - don't let that put you off.

Offering sophisticated Moroccan food with a twist, we enjoyed our mojito mocktails - my strawberry mojito tasted, amazingly, just like Opal Fruits (and, yes, I actually exclaimed Opal Fruits rather than Starburst) - with our complimentary amuse-bouches. Complimentary amuse-bouches are always a good start to any meal!

I'd already had a pastilla in Marrakech and found it to be disappointingly chewy, but the chicken pastilla I ordered as my starter from Latitude 31 was incredibly soft and tasty, and I adored the balsamic vinegar shot glass dressing. Olly went for their trio of briouates - little parcels of meat, cheese and veggie goodness - for his starter.

For our mains, we both had a lamb tagine, but different versions - both were yummy - which came with couscous and tasty home-made bread. Finally, for dessert, Olly picked crème brûlée whilst I had a chocolate fondant. I'm utterly rubbish at describing food, but we had two very happy, and very full, tummies at the end of the night - that's the highest praise that I can give a restaurant, really!

Three courses each with sparkling water, mocktails and service cost us £23 each. I'd recommend booking a table if you want to eat there, and to also take a light jacket or shawl if you go in the evening since the tables are outside.

Are you a fan of Moroccan food? x

The month that was: May

What happened:
I spent most of May working on Found, the third book in the Arielle Lockley series, and I'm hoping that I will have finished the first draft by the end of June. I also had chart success in Canada last month with Geli Voyante's Hot or Not - it reached #6 in the (free) overall best sellers chart, and #87 in the paid overall best sellers chart. Woohoo!

The blustery Friday afternoon before the bank holiday, I visited Knole in Kent to catch up with my friend and her twin babies, and then spent the rest of the bank holiday weekend being lazy and reading lots of books - bliss!

I went out for drinks in Chelsea and Soho in May, went to Westfield for a spot of window shopping, and headed to Kent for a family BBQ. The month ended with a trip to the West End to see Lord of the Dance: Dangerous Games with Olly and my dad, followed by Scrabble and a Sunday roast the next day.

Michael Flatley emerged for the encore of Lord of the Dance and, whilst I'm not a fan of Irish dancing, I was impressed by the skills involved - it's quite the spectacle, and I'll be secretly practising my footwork in the mirror to see if I can make my feet fly like they do!

What I ate:
At home we made disastrous pork pibil because we had a fatty piece of pork shoulder - booooooo! - which meant we couldn't make Jamie's pulled pork and sweet potato hash with the leftovers (from his Comfort Food book). We did, however, make the katsu curry from that book, but I wasn't a fan. I'm a stickler when it comes to katsu curry, and this one didn't make the grade - sorry, Jamie!

Two recipes we made at home that I did like was this seafood tagine recipe - so we could use the tagines we bought in Morocco, obviously - and Lorraine Pascale's spicy bean burgers, which we had in a brioche bun with salsa and sweet potato wedges (burger recipe from her Fast, Fresh and Easy Food cookbook). Yum!

In May I ate out at Blackfoot, FM Mangal, Five Guys, Le Sacre Couer and Lobster Kitchen. Le Sacre Couer is one of my favourite French restaurants, so it's always a delight to eat there, and the lobster was great from Lobster Kitchen. I've eaten at Five Guys before, and I'm not a fan, though I can definitely get behind the the ribs at Blackfoot.


What I watched:

TV-wise, we gave Daredevil and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt a go - I didn't like either, but Olly's watching Daredevil - and we also continued watching season 5 of Game of Thrones. I'm not feeling the love for GoT this season - just me? - but at least there are these awesome shows returning in June.

Films watched: Jersey Boys; Just Go With It; all six Star Wars films; Plastic; Sex Tape; Northern Soul; The Fault in our Stars; Dawn of the Planet of the Apes; The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert; Tammy; Top Gun.

What I read: 
In May, I read 31 books, and I abandoned five books. My favourite read in May was the Wayward Pines series by Blake Crouch, but I also enjoyed Bad Blood by Casey Kelleher, Runaway Summer by Ruth Saberton, Custard Tarts and Broken Hearts by Mary Gibson, Forgotten by Catherine McKenzie and, also, Spin by Catherine McKenzie.

How was May for you? x

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