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A Gift From New Orleans……

New Orleans with its vampire and voodoo associations has fascinated me for a long time. After all, who could resist Louis and Lestat?
New Orleans, among many other destinations, is on my bucket list to visit at some point (Lottery win required first!)
A friend, however, was lucky enough to spend a few days there last month and I asked her if she would mind picking something up for me. She drew me a quizzical look when she heard my request but promised to see what she could do.
She returned to work after her trip and presented me with a small package, neatly wrapped in two pages from an old New Orleans phone directory.
I opened it carefully and instantly fell in love with the contents. Something that highly amused her!
So, what had I asked for?
A protective voodoo fetish/doll.
Here he is. Isn’t he cute?

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There’s a common misconception that voodoo is all about black magic, sticking pins in effigies or dolls and wishing harm on your enemies.
Louisiana voodoo has a different heritage altogether.
It dates back to the early part of the 18th Century. Between 1719-1731, the majority of the slaves brought to the French Colonial city of New Orleans were Fon people from West Africa. (The area is modern day Benin). They brought with them their spiritual beliefs and traditional knowledge of medicinal herbs, potions, charms and amulets. This ancient knowledge was used primarily for healing and for protection, although it could be used for darker purposes. These protective, healing practices became the core elements of Louisiana voodoo. (Haitian voodoo adopted a darker more sinister route.)
In Southern Louisiana, the sense of family was strong and efforts were made to keep members of the same family together within the slave community. This familial bond helped to ensure that their cultural heritage, religion, beliefs and practices were preserved and passed on. Under the French Code, and with influence from the Catholic church, the sale of children under that age of fourteen away from their family was prohibited. This goodwill towards the slave community helped to form strong bonds of solidarity.
The practice of Louisiana voodoo was accepted and the wearing of charms and amulets for healing and protection was not an unusual sight among the citizens of New Orleans.
In 1792 there was a revolution in Haiti. It was reportedly started by slaves who had supposedly been possessed by a deity during a vodou ritual (different from voodoo.)
Life became difficult for the voodoo practitioners in Louisiana as a result. The French Colonists in Southern Louisiana became aggressive towards the previously accepted voodoo rituals and practices. The Louisiana slaves, however, to their credit, did not fight back and peacefully continued to use their voodoo beliefs for healing and protection and to maintain connections with their loved ones.
Gradually voodoo became re-accepted into day to day life.
With the introduction of the US Embassy Act of 1808, the importation of all African slaves to the USA was ended. Around this time, within the slave communities, voodoo kings and queens began to emerge as prominent figures.
The most famous of these was THE voodoo queen, Marie Laveau.

Marie Laveau

Born in 1801, Marie Laveau was a Louisiana Creole practitioner of voodoo and a hairdresser to the wealthy families of the city. Her spiritual gatherings drew huge crowds. In fact, one gathering on the shores of Lake Pontchartrain in 1874 attracted a crowd of 12000. Marie Laveau was non-discriminatory in her practices, treating rich and poor alike. Her reputation soon spread far and wide. A practicing Catholic, she actively encouraged her followers to attend mass. It was largely due to her extended sphere of influence that Louisiana voodoo and Catholicism became so closely intertwined.
Upon her death in June 1881, Marie Laveau was interred in a tomb in St Louis Cemetery No. 1. The mausoleum attracted many of her devoted followers who marked an X on the walls as part of a ritual to request the voodoo queen’s support from beyond the grave. This mausoleum was refurbished in 2014 following an act of vandalism and now can only be visited as part of an organised tour. It is no longer possible for voodoo followers to graffiti the tomb.

 

Marie Laveau’s name and her legacy have lived on and are kept alive through songs, TV, films and fiction.
In fact, the voodoo doll I was so kindly gifted came from Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo, a store in the city’s Bourbon Street.

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Time will tell as to whether he offers me protection or not but for now I need to decide on where to display him. Traditionally these dolls were hung in doorways or hallways.
For some reason, The Big Green Gummi Bear is less than comfortable with him being around……  😉

 

(images sourced via Google- credits to the owner)

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World Mental Health Day 2018 – it’s ok not to be ok….

 

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Research shows that 1 in 4 of us will experience some form of mental health issue in our lives.
That’s quite a scary statistic.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), health is defined as follows–
“Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”
WHO define mental health as –
“A state of well-being in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully and is able to make a contribution or his or her community.”
Sometimes the stresses and strains of 21st Century life take its toll on our general mental well-being.
So, how is mental well-being viewed?
I checked the NHS website and found the following explanation-

“Sarah Stewart-Brown, professor of public health at the University of Warwick and a wellbeing expert, says: “Feeling happy is a part of mental wellbeing. But it’s far from the whole.
“Feelings of contentment, enjoyment, confidence and engagement with the world are all a part of mental wellbeing. Self-esteem and self-confidence are, too.
“So is a feeling that you can do the things you want to do. And so are good relationships, which bring joy to you and those around you.
“Of course, good mental wellbeing does not mean that you never experience feelings or situations that you find difficult,” says Professor Stewart-Brown. “But it does mean that you feel you have the resilience to cope when times are tougher than usual.”
It can help to think about “being well” as something you do, rather than something you are. The more you put in, the more you are likely to get out.
“No-one can give wellbeing to you. It’s you who has to take action,” says Professor Stewart-Brown.”

Perhaps, if you’ve experienced a time when it’s been difficult to cope, you’ve described yourself as being “stressed.” I’m sure most of us have said it and experienced it at some level.
So, where does stress fit into the jigsaw of mental health and well-being?
According to http://www.mentalhealth.org.uk stress is described as follows-
“At the most basic level, stress is our body’s response to pressures from a situation or life event. What contributes to stress can vary hugely from person to person and differs according to our social and economic circumstances, the environment we live in and our genetic makeup. Some common features of things that can make us feel stress include experiencing something new or unexpected, something that threatens your feeling of self, or feeling you have little control over a situation.
When we encounter stress, our body is stimulated to produce stress hormones that trigger a ‘flight or fight’ response and activate our immune system 2. This response helps us to respond quickly to dangerous situations.
Sometimes, this stress response can be an appropriate, or even beneficial reaction. The resulting feeling of ‘pressure’ can help us to push through situations that can be nerve-wracking or intense, like running a marathon, or giving a speech to a large crowd. We can quickly return to a resting state without any negative effects on our health if what is stressing us is short-lived 3, and many people are able to deal with a certain level of stress without any lasting effects.
However, there can be times when stress becomes excessive and too much to deal with. If our stress response is activated repeatedly, or it persists over time, the effects can result in wear and tear on the body and can cause us to feel permanently in a state of ‘fight or flight’. Rather than helping us push through, this pressure can make us feel overwhelmed or unable to cope.
Feeling this overwhelming stress for a long period of time is often called chronic, or long-term stress, and it can impact on both physical and mental health.
Stress is a response to a threat in a situation, whereas anxiety is a reaction to the stress.”
Allow me to be open and honest for a few moments here.

I’ve written before about being stressed and the effects it had on me so I am not about to repeat myself. However, I’m human (no, I am, honestly!) and, despite my best endeavours at looking after both my physical health and mental well-being, there have been times lately that have left me in a state of “fight or flight”.
I’ve no intention of revealing the details of the various factors that contributed to these feelings. This isn’t that kind of blog….at least that’s not my intention. Suffice to say, I could see the cracks beginning to open up. I began to recognise the signs and the emotions surrounding them. These were threatening not just to overwhelm me but to swallow me whole.
Like everything that’s put under enormous pressure or strain, I had a bit of a meltdown.

I imploded.

It didn’t last long, a few hours probably, although at the time it felt like forever. Those few hours were at a point in the day when I had to paint on the “Disney smile” and keep going, while inside I was in bits. (To the friends who helped pick up the pieces that afternoon, thank you. To the one friend that I broke down in front of…. sorry, but thank you for being there at the right time and place.)
As I drove home that day feeling miserable and defeated, I reflected on the events of the day and the previous few weeks and months. I dug deep and retrieved my “pot” of resilience and, to echo my friend’s philosophy, thought, “Fuck it, life’s too short. Life’s too short to take all this shit so seriously. It’s not worth letting it have such an effect on me.”Fortunately, the “pot” of resilience wasn’t empty.
I  banished “flight” and reconnected with “fight” (not literally, you’ll be relieved to hear. I’m not a violent person.)
But how to subtly show the world that life was too short to take things so seriously? How to carry a reminder with me not to let things impact me to my physical and mental detriment? The answer was simple…….

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So, if you happened to see me that day or meet me on some future day when I need a reminder, I’ve not lost the plot. In fact, I’ll have actually found it again.

Dear…….

letter writingcollage

When did you last sit down and write a letter? Write not type. Have you ever sat down and written a letter?

Writing letters, sending messages, keeping in touch….. there are so many different ways to do it.

Sadly, most of the 21st Century methods have lost the personal touch that came with a handwritten letter.

Since I was a little girl, I’ve had “pen friends”, some sourced via my mum’s magazine and some from a list we were given in school. At around the age of nine, I remember sitting down at the kitchen table with my mum’s blue airmail pad of paper, with the lined template slotted in between the thin sheets and writing to a little girl in S Africa. My mum warned me to not to write too much, not to use too many sheets of the flimsy blue paper as postage was expensive.

I’ve long since lost contact with that person but over the years have had several other “pen friends.” I am still in contact with three of them from around the world that I have written to for about thirty years.

But, when did I even last sit down and write a letter to any of them? Honest answer is that I have no idea! We still exchange Christmas and birthday cards but even these are dwindling as the years move on. Normal “catch ups” are now via FB messenger.

The art of letter writing (and I’m excluding business letters and complaint letters here) is dying.

Let’s try an experiment.

Look at your mobile/cell phone and the various apps you have available to you. Excluding actually making a phone call, how many different ways could you get a message to someone? Go on, count them.

I’ve just counted – ten!

Communicating with each other has never been easier! Add in video calling/Skype and the number increases here.

So, do we make full use of this functionality?  Do we make best use of our language skills while messaging others?

That’s a debatable point but, if the content of most of the messages I receive is anything to go by, they are short on words and riddled with emojis and gifs.

Now, there is absolutely nothing wrong with these. A lot of them are quite cute or are rather humorous but do they really convey the emotions that you are trying to impart? Can they be mis-interpreted? …….. Most definitely!

Can an emoji really say what you would previously have said in a sentence or two?

Think about it….

Think about it the next time you are about to hit “send” on a message that contains no words at all……   😉

I need your vote….

Ellen final version front cover

no, I’ve not turned to politics!

Book Baby 4 aka Ellen is in the running for the All Author book cover of the month…… woo hoo… but I need your help.

Please spare a moment and cast your vote for her using the link below

https://allauthor.com/cover-of-the-month/2741/

thank you.

xx

 

Reflecting…

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Sometimes you just need to pause, breathe and look at the world around you from a different perspective.

 

 

copyright of photos belongs to Coral McCallum

please do not reproduce without permission. thanks.

Once Upon A Time……

Once Upon a Time

Once upon a time……
We’ve all heard it.
Having just read it, probably out loud in your head in a voice from your childhood, you now expect a story.
The art of storytelling predates written books and was a crucial element of society in days long since gone by. Storytelling was a means of passing on history, knowledge, beliefs, myths and legends, and, of course, entertainment. These tales were brought to life by the narrative of the storyteller and occasionally supported by dance and music.
As a little girl, I loved being read to. Bedtime story time was a time to delve into the adventures of various characters as read to me by my mum. She read me stories from some very old children’s story collections, books that already been old when she was a girl; she read me Disney stories from a big blue book I was given one Christmas; she read me library book after library book (I loved Mr Grimpwinkle!); she read me books we chose and bought together. Even when I was old enough to read for myself, we kept one “special” book aside for bedtime story time.
The bedtime stories ended when I was about nine years old…. I never did finish Anne Of Green Gables. We moved house part way through reading the book and, for a myriad of reasons, never got back to it and I could never bring myself to finish it alone….. the magic spell had been broken.
When my own children were little, I read to them, trying to instil a love of books in them. I read some from my childhood (yes, I read them the big blue Disney book); I read library books; I read tales of Katie Morag and of Hairy McLary from Donaldson’s Dairy and tied my tongue in knots reading Dr Seuss.  What even is a seven hump wump????
The last book I remember reading to both of them was The Lion The Witch And The Wardrobe. The three of us would sit in my bed and read a chapter a night. Precious memories……
Confession – now-a-days, I hate being read to. I really struggle to maintain concentration in lecture/presentation situations and I absolutely loathe radio programmes where they just drone on and on and on……. Give me music any day!
As an indie author, this has presented me with a dilemma. An audio book dilemma.
There’s a whole market out there that I’ve yet to fully explore but I suspect that I’d hate even my own book babies in audio format. That’s not to say that others would….. I just can’t bear to listen to audio books. I appreciate that they are a Godsend to those who love a story but for whatever reason are unable to read it for themselves. Audio books are great for people who drive long distances or folk who travel a lot in general; Audio books are great for book lovers who love to multi-task and don’t have time to sit down and read a book. They are readily available in CD, mp3 and other digital formats. But, as an author, where to begin?
A couple of years ago, I did a trailer video clip for Book Baby 1 aka Stronger Within and, if that short clip taught me nothing else, it taught me that I am NOT a narrator! (Here- listen for yourself –
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VObOV6c0FXs )

If my Book Babies are going to find their niche in the audio book world, I’m going to have to find a narrator (or two).
I suspect this is not going to be easy……
I’m not sure if all authors feel the same about their work but I can “hear” it in my head as I read it. That’s the voice I’m searching for!
All four books have been added to ACX.com accompanied by a short audition script. The opportunity to narrate them is being offered on a “royalty share” basis so I suspect my target narrator is someone fairly new to the craft who is looking to build up their portfolio. Is that you? Is it someone you know? Does the person with “the voice” even exist?
Time will tell…….

If you wish to submit an audition please check out the link below:
https://www.acx.com

Who Says Book Promo Has To Be Serious?….

The days in the run up to, and the first few days after, the “birth” of a Book Baby are intense and stressful.

There’s the panic around… “What if no one buys it?” “What if no one turns up to the book launch?” “What if no one likes it?”

There’s the anxiety around receiving feedback…. “What of someone tells me its ugly?” “What if no one rates it?” “What if book reviewers slate it?”

I don’t have nerves of steel, as anyone who knows me will testify to. I fret and worry over every tiny thing in life. My Princess Paranoia head is never far away.

Over the past few years, I have learned that when it comes to receiving feedback on your creative exploits, you need to develop a thick hide and the mindset to not take it personally. Easier said than done…. Book Baby mamas are fiercely protective of their Book Baby young.

At the end of the day, this is YOUR Book Baby that is taking its first tentative steps in the world. Hundreds of hours of your time have been invested in it. In my case, my alpha and beta reads have also invested countless hours proofreading and feeding back to me (something I am eternally grateful to these wonderful people for.)

However, things can’t be taken too seriously. After all, writing should be enjoyable and there’s no harm in having a bit of fun with it all too

a bit of fun collage

 

 

If you’ve not been introduced to Book Baby 4 aka Ellen yet, you can find her here:

Amazon.com link

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07FYHKR44

Amazon.co.uk link

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07FYHKR44