Shades of Grey

Girl, Hairstyle, Illustration, Fashion, Bella, BeautyIt’s official, my hair is going grey. I mean, it’s not all grey, but the grey strands are there, lurking in the background. And with each passing year there are more of them, demanding action, or something. So I colour them away and normality is restored for a few weeks until they reappear – ruining everything! It’s not exactly an existential crisis or anything, but it still begs the question, what am I supposed to do with them?

I think the feelings that grey hair induce are pretty much the same for men and women, but how we’re supposed to deal with them really varies. For men, grey hair is more culturally acceptable. It’s considered a distinguished look, they get tagged #silverfox and even salt and pepper hair is seen as sexy on men. Not so for women. It’s seen as careless – as though you’ve let yourself go.

But grey is having a bit of a revolution at the moment, and that is in no small part thanks to women like Sarah Harris, deputy editor of British Vogue. I was sure she must be having it coloured to make it look that even and soft, but she insists it’s all natural. She started going grey at 16, which is not so uncommon, and I guess if you are all over grey, you could consider making this kind of transition. But if you’re just starting to grey like me, you would have to dye the not-grey parts, which probably takes as much maintenance as dying the whole thing another colour. Still, it’s great to see someone in their 30’s not just embrace the aging process, but making it fashionable.

Image result for vogue editor grey hair

The beauty industry is built on giving us solutions to hide the stuff we are told is ugly. Our cultural definition of beauty is changing and becoming more diverse, but not quickly enough. And regardless of these changes, womens’ bodies are still policed and monitored in such a way that deviating from the norm is almost unthinkable. Remember when Julia Roberts was photographed showing underarm hair and everybody lost their shit? Not to mention the week-in, week-out magazine features that compare women in bikinis or how quickly a celeb loses their baby weight. But what if we just, didn’t? What if we gave these beauty standards the two fingers? Yes, grey hair can be dull and coarse and (God forbid) aging, but as you get older, the maintenance involved in keeping everything looking acceptable makes you wonder, who made these rules? And what will happen if I break them?

I sometimes feel like I’ve already broken a few rules, as a woman, by not getting married or having kids. And you know what? It feels great! There’s a real sense of freedom and dare I say rebellion in daring to be different. Which also makes me realise that happiness comes in all sorts of packages. No matter our individual choices, we all face challenges and have our equal share of joy and pain, so there really shouldn’t be any judgement. Live and let live is the only way we can all appreciate the rich tapestry of life. So if a woman chooses not to shave her legs or dye her hair or wear a bra, so what? More power to her! Defying convention gives other people permission to question their own beliefs and in these modern times, when do we even get the time to think about how we feel about things? Instead, we are just bombarded with images of beauty and sanctioned aging from companies who just want to turn a profit.

I loathe going to the hairdresser, so I’m not sure what I’m going to do with this new reality. I’m thinking the badger look won’t become a trend, so I’ll have to come up with something a little more creative! But I am so inspired by hashtags like #greyhairdontcare on Instagram (of all places!) and the women who are embracing their grey hair. Maybe I’ll chop it all off and go for the Christine Lagarde look, or Helen Mirren.

Image result for helen mirren

How awesome does she look? And there’s a tint of pink in there, if I’m not mistaken – my favourite colour! And it’s not just hair, every time I find a new wrinkle or age spot or hairs growing where they shouldn’t be, my first reaction is FUCK! But maybe that’s because we’ve been conditioned (especially as women) to see these things as ugly. Maybe there is beauty to be found there too. I mean, looking at that picture, how powerful does she look? Self-possessed and wise. Maybe grey hair is like a graduation to something much more profound. I’ll leave the last words to David Bowie – someone who never let convention get in the way of having a little fun with his image.

Image result for david bowie aging

To Kondo Or To Kondon’t

Image by Jonny Lindner from Pixabay

It’s been so long since my last confession, I mean blogpost, that I managed to log myself out and forget my password. Naturally I feel ghastly for having set you all adrift and I imagine you are also suffering varying degrees of separation anxiety. But in my defense, life has been all-consuming. Which is probably a good thing, because it made me stop and over-analyse how defining yourself as one thing can be a bit, well, limiting.

Even looking at my blog posts – they’re all about writing, writing, writing. Not that that’s a bad thing, but it’s probably why I needed a break. Every post had to mean something. Convey some sort of message or explore yet another dark and dusty corner of the writer’s psyche. Well, I’m over it! And none too soon, if you ask me. Because when I think about it, people are interested in people, not moralising or weekly how to’s.

So, here’s to my first blog that isn’t really about anything (except of course it will be about something because I can’t go completely cold turkey). I’ve been doing work on my house – by which I mean I’ve been watching other people do work on my house and coming up with ever more creative ways to look as though I’m helping. I find wandering through rooms carrying things works. If you’re carrying something somewhere, you’re obvs busy.

I finally succumbed to the phenomenon that is Marie Kondo. Now, when I say succumbed, what I really mean is I watched one, excruciatingly long episode on Netflix with an excruciating couple in America. To my chagrin, the program lavished most of it’s focus on the couple and their relationship (did I mention how excruciating they were?) so I may have zoned out a few times. But I enjoyed Kondo’s enthusiasm for decluttering the mountain of ‘stuff’ we accumulate, especially in Western societies, thanks to unfettered capitalism and conspicuous consumerism. Seeing the couple pile all of their clothes on the bed was actually kind of sickening. It made me realise what an addiction it is, and reminded me of those weight loss shows where they would pile up all the food you’d eaten in a week – forcing you to confront your uncomfortable reality. But I guess acknowledging the problem is the first step towards doing something to free yourself of it. See? I knew I’d get a teachable moment in here somewhere!

So what does all this have to do with me? Well, reader, it turns out I have, um, a bit of clutter myself. I’m not intentionally untidy (ahem) but I suppose I have more of a laid back attitude to doing housework. Like, when I think about doing housework, I just lay back and wait till the thought passes. I think I suffer from Not-Putting-Things-Away-itis. And so I suddenly realised, everything had to go. All this crap I’ve been holding onto. Bits and bobs. What the fuck are they and why do we have to house these non-rent-paying, useless objects? Is it because we don’t want to offend Aunt Bridget who bought that weird ornament as a moving in gift? She hasn’t been since, but it stands ready, lest she takes a funny turn and rings the doorbell. Loose change – Christ! They really need to stop loading us down with this coppery shit. Cushions. My name is Evie and I have a serious cushion problem. In fact, I don’t even think it’s my fault. They’ve been multiplying – literally shagging each other and having baby cushions – behind my back. Ditto for the gym balls. I somehow have three of the buggers and last time I checked, I only have one bum.

So a skip arrived (the first of many, hopefully) and I began the process of getting this crap the hell out of my life. But I’ve only just started – I won’t stop until my entire house resembles a Buddhist monk’s cell. Not that I’ve really been to one of those, but I imagine they’re not crammed with bills dating back to 2008. Do they even pay bills? It seems we could learn a lot from Eastern culture. Although they’re hardly immune to the shopping bug either, but there is something very alluring about their traditions around rituals and living simply.

I think the one thing we are all searching for is joy and there are companies clambering over themselves to try and give it to you. At a price. And I’m starting to wonder if the price isn’t just what you pay at the till. In fact, I think ‘stuff’ might be really harmful – it’s definitely harming the environment, when you think of all the plastic crap we jettison into our oceans. We are suffocating our marine life with our endless consumption and desire for more and more stuff. I’m reading a book at the moment called The Growth Delusion and it’s the first time I’ve really heard anyone ask the question, why is growth always considered a good thing? We hear so much about economic growth, as if it is the holy grail, but how much growth can one planet sustain?

Anyway, that’s where I’m at right now. Ditching all the superfluous crap in my life, physical and metaphorical. And just like the show on Netflix, it’s been both painful and cathartic.  It also became clear that my home is an extension of me because I felt really exposed watching all my junk fill the skip, but also wildly liberated. Of course, this will probably all be forgotten in a few months and I’ll be back to tripping over the entirely necessary eight pairs of ballet pumps in varying shades of nude, while trying to do a dance of the seven veils with the seventy million scarves I own (AND DID NOT CULL! HAHAHAHA!! Take that Kondo). But for now, it feels important and it feels good.

So how about you, my long suffering friends…. Any craic?



How Long Does It Take To Write A Bestseller?


Some of us have dreamed about writing a bestseller for a long time. A part of me was terrified when I published my first book. Would I be able to handle the fame that came with it? I mean, of course, I anticipated the critical acclaim and the validation it would bring, but the success might prove to be overwhelming. Hah! How innocent I was. How naive. But then again, they were the stories I saw on my TV, in the magazines. That was how it was supposed to happen. Authors, who were shot to stratospheric success with their first novel. Bidding wars. Movie deals. Reese Witherspoon gushing over the originality of the storyline.

But are these writers really representative of the majority of authors who make a living out of writing? Or are they just the one percent we hear about because it’s more exciting than reading a headline ’52 year old woman hits the NYT Bestseller List on her 6th novel’. Yeah, it doesn’t really have the same ring to it. We don’t hear about the writers who spend the best part of a decade slogging away before finally hitting the sweet-spot with their third or fourth or fifth novel.

That’s why I was so pleased to read the following on Twitter last week, the real life stories of successful writers who found longevity in their careers, rather than overnight success.

Traction is a very important concept here. As well as luck, timing and perseverance. I’m always talking about the changing landscape of publishing and how digital downloads have altered the way in which we find new authors. While books and their authors might not reach the masses right away (for whatever reason) if they keep producing good work that people are responding to, a momentum can build. Take Kristin Hannah for example, and her novel The Nightingale (which is, of course, being made into a movie!). I was astonished to find out that she has written over 20 novels! I had never heard of her and assumed that book was her debut, but no; she has been honing her craft for decades and is now reaping the critical and one assumes, financial rewards. Which is why publishers really need to support their writers and stand by them, while they build their readership.

UK author Joanne Harris often speaks about her first two novels, before Chocolat, and how they didn’t sell particularly well. I see other writers like Rowan Coleman, with a slew of books under her belt, who has found great traction with her recent bestseller, The Summer Of Impossible Things. It’s impossible to predict what will make a bestseller. If there was a foolproof recipe, we’d all be downloading it. But one thing is clear – if you give up, you’ll never know.

Then there’s age. We can sometimes see age as a barrier, but it can also be liberating. If the following tweet is anything to go by, age can give you the freedom to be yourself – to follow your heart and write what you want to write.


It is so encouraging to receive this message – there is no time limit on art, on creative passion, on reaching your full potential. I’m thinking of Richard E. Grant and the unbridled joy he exudes at finally receiving all of the accolades the acting world can shower upon him, at the age of 61. It doesn’t mean he’s any better now than he was ten or twenty years ago, but the right role came at the right time and he is now getting the recognition he always deserved.

If you don’t make the New York Times Bestseller List with your first book (or your second or third!) it doesn’t mean your not good enough, it just means that the stars haven’t aligned. Yet. There are so many variables that are outside of our control and all we can do is keep writing, keep believing in the power of telling stories.

***Evie Gaughan is an Irish novelist of historical and contemporary fiction with a touch of magic. Click on the links below for a preview ⬇️

Be More You


“Find out who you are and do it on purpose.”

Dolly Parton.

I saw this quote on Twitter the other day from the movie Dumplin’ and simply had to ‘borrow’ it immediately! We don’t get this message enough – Be More You! This time of year is always associated with being a better you – a better version of yourself. Gyms have made a fortune out of our annual guilt and the rush to become someone else. But where did all of this start?

New Year’s resolutions have been around for quite a long time (according to Wikipedia!). The Babylonians made promises to their gods at the start of each year that they would return borrowed objects and pay their debts. So for all you book lenders, now’s the time to turn the screws on all those friends/neighbours/relations who haven’t returned them yet. The Romans made promises to the god Janus, for whom the month of January is named. And in the Medieval era, the knights took the ‘peacock vow’ at the end of Christmas to re-affirm their commitment to chivalry.

However, the whole idea of self-sacrifice or self-improvement has really jarred with me over the last few years. I’ve hopped on a bandwagon that’s headed in the other direction, the one that asks – ‘What can I do more of this year? What do I love doing? What will make me happier?’ In a world where we are constantly being told to be our best beautiful, or whatever, we are seldom (if ever) taught to value who we really are. Or how to cultivate a life that honours our true self.

One good thing about getting older is that we get a better sense of ourselves and are a little less influenced by others and their opinions of us. Just as in my writing, I’m aiming for the kind of authenticity that comes when you stop trying to be something you’re not and begin to embrace who you are. As David Bowie once said:

Aging is an extraordinary process ... ~ David Bowie                                                                                                                                                     More

I think the knights had it right – New Year is a wonderful opportunity to re-affirm your commitment to be yourself. You don’t need to change, or improve (not unless it’s what you want) and besides, as Arnold Beisser once said in his paradoxical theory of change:

Why Affirmations Don't Work | Gestalt psychotherapy proposes the “Paradoxical Theory of Change.” According to the theory, “change occurs when one becomes what he is, not when he tries to become what he is not.“

So my wish for you all and for myself in the New Year, is to be more of who we really are. It’s our diversity that makes us interesting, our fallibility that makes us endearing and human. There is enough conformity in the world – so break out and be you with bells on! As Dr. Seuss said, there is no-one alive who is youer than you 🙂

Happy New Year!


Why Can’t We Leave Women Alone?


Morning telly; the land that time forgot.  I won’t go into the whys and wherefores of how I ended up watching it the other day, but let’s just say I was feeling a bit ‘delicate’.    Anyway, there I am, second bowl of cheerios in hand when a victim woman is herded out, wearing a brown towel on her head and something resembling a monk’s robe to save her modesty.  Stood between two well-dressed (and probably well-meaning) women – one, the presenter and the other a stylist, the grilling begins.  It turns out they are all discussing the state of her wardrobe since having kids.  They ask her when was the last time she ‘spoiled’ herself with a shopping trip?  How often she changes her hairstyle and if she’d like to wear more make up.  They show a still of her in her ‘normal gear’, which, to the woman’s shame, is a t-shirt, jeans and sneakers.  (No makeup – for shame!).

As I’m sitting there, wondering if my cheerios have been laced with some sort of time-travel agent and I’m now in the 50’s, they go on to chat about the woman’s job as a paramedic – which is good because she can wear a uniform to work.  I’m not sure they’d trust her to pick out her own work clothes.  The stylist kindly fibs that the woman’s wardrobe isn’t THAT bad, it’s just lacking in colour.  Why so many darks?  We can only wonder – but it’s clearly not a good thing.  The stylist goes on to tell the frumpy saddo  woman that she would ‘feel better in herself’ if she wore more yellows and reds.  ‘More people will gravitate towards you,’ she promised.  *Note to self: never wear red or yellow.

As the piece wore on, I found myself asking my empty living room, ‘Is everyone else seeing what I’m seeing?’  The silence was deafening, but my inner thoughts were loud – IMAGINE IF THIS WAS A MAN.  Imagine a man standing there, apologetic for his lack of sartorial genius and handing himself over to these ‘experts’ to make him beautiful again and more acceptable to the world at large.  Because, you know, Dads can really let themselves go when all their focus is on their kids and their busy lives.  Do men even have time to try out the latest make-up styles?  Although by now they should have mastered the feline flick, because that never goes out of fashion and always looks sexy.

Obviously, I’m poking a bit of fun.  There are men and women out there who do feel good in new clothes or getting a different hairdo – makeovers are harmless fun.  But why is it overwhelmingly women who are the targets  candidates?  It’s only when you imagine a man in her place that the whole thing becomes preposterous – so why are we still putting the focus on how a woman looks?  To be honest, when the segment started, my cheerio-addled mind didn’t bat an eyelid.  It’s normal for me to see a woman being talked through her shortcomings in the beauty stakes.  And that’s worrying.

For centuries, women have been the object of the ‘male gaze’.  This term, first coined by Laura Mulvey (feminist film theorist), encompasses the idea that, in art and the media, women are constantly being viewed and represented through a masculine, heterosexual lens, as sexual objects for the pleasure of the male viewer.  And considering the fact that a lot of our learned behaviour and beliefs come from what we read and see on our screens, it follows that women have been taught to identify their worth with their physical appearance.  Women are consistently scrutinised and shamed for their body shape, size and age.  And what this segment showed is that even the idea of self-care is being sabotaged by companies who want to sell you something and are using it as another stick to beat you with.  Have a spa day, a massage or a facial, you’ll feel better.  More pressure to be happy, compliant and pretty.

Why can’t we be treated the same as men?  Just allowed to exist without this constant pressure to be pleasing on the eye?  I saw a tweet recently about a daughter asking her mother why her pants didn’t have pockets like daddy’s and her mother replied, ‘Welcome to the patriarchy!’  It’s funny but it’s also true.  Why do men get to have comfortable, functional clothes and yet, as a woman, if you’re not suffering for your beauty, are you even a woman?  Who sets these standards and will we ever stop perpetuating the myth that an attractive woman is happier, more successful and just better.

Our idea of female beauty has been so restricted by the male gaze and the patriarchal constructs which have, down through the centuries, prevented women from being celebrated as anything other than purely ornamental.  Did you know that the great composer Felix Mendelssohn had a sister who also composed?  Nope, probably not, because Fanny Mendelssohn was not allowed to pursue her talent (a letter from her father warned her that music could merely be an ‘ornament’ for a woman).  There is an entire army of women – artists, scientists, politicians, who have been erased from the history books (check out author Joanne Harris’ #CelebratingWomen for starters), because the writers of history (men) made sure they were kept out of them.  So even as women ourselves, we have limited examples to gauge what being a woman is from a feminine perspective, because historically, our opinion of ourselves just wasn’t as important.  I really wished the TV show could have celebrated that woman’s intelligence – the training she must have undertaken to become a paramedic.  Her dedication, to her job and her family.  The beauty in her confidence, her playfulness when answering dumb-ass questions and frankly her bravery to go on a TV show and have people call out her dark clothes fetish, just so she could get a free makeover!

I hope that men and women can start seeing this for what it is and demanding better from the media.  There was an article recently in a woman’s magazine, written by women, asking if Meghan’s style was making Kate look like a frump and thankfully people were quick to call the publication out on pitching women against each other like that.  One wore a shirt and trousers, the other wore a dress.  END OF DISCUSSION!  Again, imagine an article questioning if Harry’s facial hair was making William feel inadequate?  It just wouldn’t happen, but we’ve become so used to seeing this kind of crap about women that sometimes we don’t even notice.

I read a great quote from Caitlin Moran that puts this whole thing into context.

“I have a rule of thumb that allows me to judge,  whether or not some sexist bullshit is afoot. Obviously, it’s not 100% infallible but by and large it definitely points you in the right direction and it’s asking this question; are the men doing it? Are the men worrying about this as well? Is this taking up the men’s time? Are the men told not to do this, as it’s letting the side down?

Almost always the answer is no. The boys are not being told they have to be a certain way, they are just getting on with stuff.”

― Caitlin MoranHow to Be a Woman

We have the opportunity now to write a new story with a new narrative.  Let’s use it!  Let’s celebrate women for their passion, their talent, their creativity.  Women who, despite pressure from society, don’t look for approval; clever women, funny women, women who stand up for injustice, like the woman who stood up on a plane recently in order to save a man’s life.  Women who campaigned for reproductive rights in Ireland, who fight climate change, women who challenge the status quo, women who (as our former president Mary Robinson once remarked) instead of rocking the cradle, rocked the system.  Even women who stay at home and eat cheerios and write blogs.  We are all worth celebrating, regardless of how we look.

Be Creative – It’s not a waste of time


With the Oscars coming up, I’m reminded of one of my favourite speeches by composer Michael Giacchino for (coincidentally) one of my favourite animation features, UP.

Of all the things he could have said, he spoke about the pervading myth/belief that doing something creative is a waste of time.  Sure, we honour those at the top and authors are often on the receiving end of comments like, ‘Why don’t you write something like Harry Potter?’  Either your creativity wins you fame and fortune, or you’re wasting your time.

Since time immemorial, parents have been telling their kids to get a ‘real job’, so there’s nothing new there, but that doesn’t mean we have to discourage them from exploring their creative side.  It’s all well and good plastering the fridge with abstract works of art in the early years, but what’s the real message from society when we try to carry this creative spirit forward in our lives?  In an article I wrote for the Irish Times last year, I considered the impact of paying lip service to creativity.

When our children are very young, we teach them that they can be anything they want to be. Yet at some point, this wonderful sense of openness and opportunity changes. We ask them to pick courses that will lead to good job opportunities. We even have “feeder schools” for universities, which sound more like something out of a dystopian novel than an inclusive education system. The artistic talent you showed as a child is suddenly frowned upon as you edge ever closer to the first round of state exams. Facing into adulthood, we are told to put away childish things.

Yet, for so many of us, that hunger to create persists.

It doesn’t matter if we don’t go on to become Oscar-winning performers.  Creativity leaks into everything, how you play with your kids, how you approach a project at work, your relationships.  The ability to think creatively isn’t just a soundbyte for your CV, it’s a way of life that brings an element of playfulness and lateral thinking to everything you do.  As children, we learn through play.  Why does that have to stop when we get older?

One of the hardest parts about starting out as a writer is not giving up.  We always hear the same rhetoric; there’s no money in it, it’s impossible to get published, you’re not good enough anyway.  It’s really hard to persist with something when everyone and everything is telling you that it’s a waste of time and that it’ll never go anywhere.  We are compared and compare ourselves with people who are at the pinnacle of their career and see our own efforts as falling miserably short of these standards.  And yet, there are so many of us, persisting, creating.  Why?  For me, it was simple.  It made me happy.  No, not happy, fulfilled.  It was a kind of compulsion.  First, I wanted to see if I could do it.  Then, I wanted to see if I could do it better.

My whole life I have been inspired by other peoples’ creative expression, in the movies I’ve watched, music I’ve listened to and books I’ve read.  More recently I’ve been inspired by visual artists and sometimes I wonder what it is that they have given me, by pursuing their creative passions…  And I suppose, at the end of the day, we’re sharing parts of ourselves and our experience of the world.  When I see a beautiful painting that resonates with me, I can’t say exactly why it does, it just does.  And it connects me to the artist, to humanity.  It makes me feel like I belong.

That’s how important creativity is.  I can only hope that my books make people feel something and I know every author is the same – when you get a review from a reader that says, ‘I loved that character’, or ‘The story really stayed with me’, it’s such a wonderful sense of connection.  Then there is the sense of fulfillment, purpose and self-expression that I feel when I write – I know myself better through writing and painting.  Making stuff gives us a better understanding of ourselves and the world.  Of possibility.  So I guess it depends on your definition of value and worth, but for me, creativity is most certainly not a waste of time.  You need to give yourself permission to express who you are creatively, even if those around you do not.


The Big Sell



So I’m in the kitchen, opening a packet of Chia Seeds I bought in the health shop (because Omega 3, right?) when I notice a rather unusual claim in bold print:

Chia seeds, ancient food of the Aztecs.’  And I thought to myself, um…. they died.  All of them.  It was a wipeout.  I’m not sure that looking to the Aztecs for health tips is such a wise move.  I used to work in marketing, so I understand the process behind selling people things they don’t want or need, but even I’m baffled by the reasoning used to sell stuff these days.  It’s clear that they think we’re idiots – mindless consumers who will swallow any old sales patter from these snake oil sellers.

Next, it’s the turn of the serial ‘common sense offender’, the beauty industry.  There is a new face cream on the market that boasts as one of its ingredients, the leaf of some plant that a panther rubs up against in the rain-forest.  I mean, WHAT??  It’s the rain-forest, panthers probably bump against all sorts of plants on the way to the local watering hole, should we be spreading them all on our skin?  I just don’t see the correlation – is the panther doing it to stay younger?  Nope, she leaves that kind of shallow thinking to us humans.

Then it’s fashion.  Oh fashion, you give me an embarrassment of riches to choose from.   Statement Tees are the big thing now.  You don’t even have to speak anymore, or have opinions of your own when your friendly fashion label is having them for you.  Although, would you really want your top to say this?

Image result for follow your karma sweatshirt

What the…. what does that even mean?!  How can you follow your karma, when karma traditionally follows you?  Well, kudos for challenging the principles of cause and effect, I guess.

What this says to me is that the PR people have finally given up on the need to make any kind of sense at all. I’m sure you’ve all seen the 250 million year old Himalayan rock salt with an expiry date doing the rounds.  They’re literally lying to our face, and yet we still part with our hard earned money because, well, it’s Himalayan rock salt.  It MUST be good!

Yet, it’s the way in which they target women which is really insidious.  They seem to feed on our insecurities, or create insecurities where there were none.  I mean, how can you sell anti-aging cream without making people feel old?  Or sell diet pills?  A few years ago I actually wrote to the broadcasting authority about an ad for diet pills targeting young women.  They were shopping for clothes together and for whatever reason, one of them kept trying on clothes that were too small for her and as a direct consequence, she couldn’t go out with her friends.  But then she took the diet pills, miraculously found a dress that fit and they all had lunch together (presumably more diet pills).  The message was clear – be thin or be a social pariah.

Eventually the ad was pulled, but it won’t stop companies coming up with new ways to manipulate our inner fears sell more stuff.  Stuff that doesn’t even do what it promises to, but we keep buying it.  Lotions and potions to hide wrinkles, mask grey hairs or eradicate hair altogether!  So what are they telling us?  Don’t get old, fat, grey, hairy.  Just stop BEING.  If that’s what they wanted, they should have just given us the chia seeds.

christmas, with a little c


Want to celebrate the season with a little more calm and a little less crazy?  Then this one’s for you.  We’re surrounded by it.  Magazines and TV shows have been telling me how to slow-roast a turkey since November and how to ‘get my sparkle on’.  But the funny thing is, we went through all of this last year.  And the one before.  So, you don’t have to keep reminding me what to do with your shouty adverts and giant fonts – I’ve got this!

Spoiler alert to my family – you’ve all got books this year (again).  And not just because I want to keep reminding you “Hey, remember that book I wrote and stuff?  And how I’m, like, an author now??”, but because bookshops are a sanctuary in this time of festive fever.  While other shops compete for your custom with the loudest Christmas hits (and misses) for two months prior to the actual day, bookshops retain a sense of dignified calm.  In fact, someone in the bookshop remarked that  Christmas shopping over-stimulates the senses, working us up into a frenzy and stressing us out.  And that’s how Christmas can feel sometimes – a complete sensory overload, so you miss out on the simple things.

People have all sorts of reasons for wanting a more laid back holiday season.  Maybe you just can’t be arsed lugging all of the decorations out of the attic, or maybe you’ve had the kind of year that makes a tinsel-tastic Christmas seem like too much.  Maybe you’re grieving the loss of a loved one, maybe you’ve got health issues, maybe you’re short on funds, newly single (or oldly single!) or maybe you’re just sick of the same old ding-dong.  For me, I think it was the commercialism that drove me to seek out alternative ways to do Christmas.  Also, I like easy!  Minimal effort with maximum effect.  So here are some really easy ways to do Christmas if you’re feeling a bit non-fussed, but want to tip your cap all the same.


First off – Free Christmas Printables.  These are the bomb!  Just Google ’em and print out whatever designs you fancy.  Pop them in a frame and boom – Christmas is here.  They also double as pretty cool (and cheap) pressies.  I got these frames in Tesco for a fiver.  They’re a lovely, contemporary way to decorate your house, without feeling like you’re coming down in baubles and bows.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from watching Nigella Lawson (apart from the virtues of midnight snacking in a negligee) it’s the magic of fairy lights.  And not just for Christmas. Simply adding a string of white fairy lights to any surface in your home, instantly creates a festive glow, without screaming ‘PARTY SEASON’.


The Christmas Wreath.  Well this one takes a bit more craftiness, but my house feels very Dickensian with my ivy wreath!  It’s also a great way to use up some of that rampant ivy that is slowly taking over my entire garden.  Just get yourself some twine, some bendy twigs that you can fashion into a circle, then tangle the ivy around it until you just can’t be bothered anymore.  Red ribbon to secure and you’re done!  Now get yourself a nice glass of port, you’ve earned it 🙂


Finally, you’re going to need something yummy to go along with your alcohol, but if baking isn’t your thing, why not try these Mini Christmas Puddings!  Anyone can make these – it’s the culinary equivalent of mixing cement.   They’re quick, full of the flavours of Christmas and they’re healthy.

Makes 12 balls:

100g Apricots

100g Dates

80g Ground Almonds

1/2 teaspoon Cinammon

1 teaspoon Mixed spice

Zest of 1/2 Lemon & Orange

Just stick all of these ingredients in a food processor and blitz.  Squeeze in a little orange juice if the mixture is a bit dry, then take a teaspoon amount and roll into little balls.  Stick them in the fridge to firm up.  Meanwhile, make the topping.  Get some Creamed Coconut (you can buy it in blocks or packets – I used Patak’s) and melt in hot water.  Mix with 1 tablespoon of honey and 1 tablespoon of coconut oil (ish) and dollop a small amount on the top of each pudding.  It hardens pretty quickly, so don’t dilly-dally.  For presentation, top with… anything really.  Maybe redcurrants, dried cranberry, some marzipan, or like me, just use what’s to hand.  I chopped up some apricot and cut some mint leaves from the garden to create little clementines.  Et voila!  The cutest Christmas bites you’ll ever make and you didn’t even have to switch the oven on.  You’re welcome!

If all else fails, just put cinnamon in everything and light a few candles for a fuss-free December.  Got any tips to make Christmas easy?  Just pop them in the comments 🙂

Happy Christmas Everybody



Why The ‘Hygge’ Are We So Stressed?!


I’ve noticed a growing trend in advertising over the last few years (you know advertising; those people who tell us what sort of lifestyle we should have in order to be happy? Yep, them.)  Last night I watched a new car ad, whose marketing department decided they needed to target women.  So they told the story of a young, successful woman who began her day by deep-sea diving (as you do), then drove to work where she spent a ‘hectic’ day at the office making extremely important decisions and telling mostly men what to do, followed by a night out at some pretentious venue where she picks up a total randomer (shags him, we assume) and arrives home at sleepy o’clock in her shiny new car.  After a jam-packed day that left me feeling exhausted just watching her, she assures us in a breathy voice that she wouldn’t have it any other way – ominously implying that she will do the same thing again tomorrow.

This was swiftly followed by an ad for mascara, where an angry-looking young woman is out-running some male secret agents while looking FLAWLESS.  The voice over artist tells us that her mascara is UNSTOPPABLE, while the pristine model runs away in impossibly high heels.  This is followed by an ad for make-up that is INFALLIBLE!!  And I’m sitting on my couch thinking, what?  What’s the message here?  Expect more, don’t relax, be busy, seek perfection, ACHIEVE, keep moving, life is a battle and we need to fight it head on, whilst remaining impeccably groomed and loving every f&*king minute of it!!!

And these were the ads for women without kids.  I can only imagine that the car ad for mothers would involve her literally juggling three kids in the air whilst steering the car with her foot and preparing an eco-friendly meal in the glove compartment.  Because as well all know ladies, you can have it all.  But do you really want it?

Conversely, we are all lurching from one ‘get relaxed quick’ scheme to another.  The publishing industry enjoyed an unexpected boom last year from sales of adult colouring books – the hangover from the previous year’s attempt to introduce us all to mindfulness (which nobody really understood).  ‘Just be in the moment!’  it proclaimed.  Something that easy shouldn’t require any effort, and we all sat there in the lotus position wondering how long it would take to be mindful.  Is it happening yet?  Am I relaxed??  This year it’s Hygge.  As if we need the Danes to tell us how to light a few candles and chill the f@%k out (sorry for all the expletives!)  Don’t we know how to do this without having to buy a bloody book about it?  Clearly not.  We have lost our ability to just BE.  And every marketing department the world over is taking advantage of it.  They’re selling us the cause and the cure.

I recently had a chat with my sister about something I saw on Twitter (which she hadn’t read) and she went on to explain that there just wasn’t time for all of the information that kept coming at her.  By the time you’ve followed the link and flicked through 800 different opinions about the thing and eventually tried to form your own, the world has moved on to the next thing, with more information and it’s just never ending!!  Social media has us worked up into a frenzy over issues that we really have no control over, so our rage and sense of injustice has nowhere to go.  There is no practical outlet for us to affect change on the world around us, so we just tweet our frustrations away.  I don’t really know when all of this change happened.  I suppose every generation bemoans the next, but wasn’t it better when we had more time to just flop about and naval gaze for a while, without feeling guilty about it?  Is reaching for our phones every two seconds a way of distracting ourselves or deluding ourselves into believing that we’re doing something.. anything?  I was starting to wonder if this was just the general malaise of being a grown up, but then I read a great post by Misha Kahn’s  called ‘When are you going to be enough for yourself?’  I think she really hits the nail on the head of our ‘be busy’ culture with this thought:

I started to believe that if I wasn’t being productive, I was failing.

Is this how ‘they’ want us to feel?  Are we somehow being programmed to work harder, better, faster, stronger, with the only watchman being our own guilty conscience?  I’m no conspiracy theorist (am I?) yet I can’t help but wonder if this ideal of being an over-achiever is eroding our natural state of being?  After all, we are human beings, not human doings.  Yet the first thing people ask when they meet you is ‘What do you do?’  An author friend of mind just published a book and I was alarmed to see how many people barked the words, ‘Have you written the next one  yet?’  I mean, back off people, just enjoy the moment.  Like the annoying kid at school who scribbled furiously on their test paper while you sat there doodling, some people can’t wait to make you feel unproductive (the horror!), or worse, rub their productivity in your face.  Ewwww!

It’s a long time since I first read Tom Hodgkinson’s book How To Be Free  and while he may not have all the answers, his suggestion of painting murals on the ceiling so we can spend more time looking at it, isn’t the worst I’ve heard!  His mission is to bring back the days of merriment and self-sufficiency and really, who can argue with that?

‘Tom shows that consumer society has led not to a widening of freedoms but to the opposite and that the key to a free life is to stop consuming and start producing.’

It’s true, modern life has turned us into willing slaves of our screens so we are constantly switched on.  Even during our recreation time, we are still consuming because that’s what we’re told to do through these types of aspirational lifestyle marketing campaigns.  Check out Tom’s website ‘The Idler’ where you can connect with people who aren’t shackled by this notion of ‘performance guilt’ for want of a better term.  Life isn’t all about working hard and partying hard, which again, sounds like more work!  I’ve always felt that statement implies that you don’t deserve to have fun unless you’ve slogged your guts out working.  We could all use a little anarchy, especially when we are being brainwashed into finding happiness at the shopping mall or salvation in over-achievement.  Maybe, just maybe, our achievements do not define us and happiness is really about finding pleasure in the simple, everyday things that cannot be measured, bought or sold.


Summer In Ireland


Ah yes, it’s that time of year again when the hope and expectation of beach barbeques, ice creams and bikinis is dashed by plummeting temperatures, howling gales and NEVER-ENDING rain!  If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results,  then call us crazy because we keep searching for the mythical season that is summer.  Having said that, Ireland is home to the ‘All Seasons In One Day’ phenomenon, so really, it’s just a matter of knowing where to look.  I found summer at eight o’clock one morning last week, but she swiftly disappeared by eight thirty under a steely grey cloud, soon followed by rain and thunder.


The weather forecaster becomes public enemy number one.  ‘Sunny spells’ sounds more like a witch’s curse used to torture us with tiny glimpses of the summer we could have had, if it wasn’t for the big blue blob that relentlessly sweeps in from the west.  ‘Just tell us something good!’ we cry.  ‘Tell me lies, tell me sweet little lies you harbinger of doom!’

Sorry, where did you say Ireland was?

It can be depressing, living under these grey skies.  One individual even wrote a book about how many shades of grey there actually are!  Poor cow.  Apparently it’s a trilogy.  They’ll never sell.  But you can’t let it get you down, you’ve still got to get out there and make the best of it.  What is it the Norwegians say?  There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothes.  Right, well I’ll just pack away the flip-flops for another year then.

Summertime at the beach!

Although we shouldn’t grumble too much.  We did have those two glorious weeks at the beginning of June where the sun shone like an Unidentified Flying Object in the sky and Irish people had the rare opportunity of drying all of their washing outside.  Comedian Colm O’Regan noted a kind of washing ‘ennui’ setting in as people realised they had washed and dried everything they owned, but the sun was STILL shining.

And yeah, I sunbathed.  I sunbathed my ass off!  If you can call sitting out for 15 minutes and squeaking “Jesus, that’s almost TOO hot” before running back inside, sunbathing.  But the point is, I wanted to sunbathe.  My body ached for it.  The warmth, saints preserve us, the warmth!!   But of course, it couldn’t last.  We all knew it.  We had cheated the jet stream for long enough and now it was payback.  Once again, Colm had his finger on the nation’s pulse:

However, I’m fortunate in that I’m working on my novel, so this is perfect weather to be stuck inside for days on end, just me and my manuscript, typing away and …. LET ME OUT!!!!!!!!

I can see clearly now the … nope, it’s still raining 😦

Ireland was obviously at the back of the queue when it came to Global warming.  There we were, expecting soaring temperatures like the rest of Europe, but oh no.  By the time our lot showed up, all that was left was – you guessed it- MORE RAIN.

Small -vs- Far Away

Still, I guess we’re saving our skin from all those harmful rays and while you’re stuck inside on your caravan holiday like Father Ted, you can use that time productively to identify all the different types of rain there are.  If the Eskimos have 50 words for snow, surely the Irish can beat them when it comes to rain.

  1. Sideways Rain – what’s happening outside my window as we speak.  Helped along by a northerly gale, this is the kind of rain that leaves you soaked all down one side of your body, so your outfit resembles a dip-dye version of what you left the house with.
  2. Misty Rain – the kind of rain that doesn’t really fall.  It just sort of hangs there and while it may look harmless (causing you to leave the brolly at home), it’ll drench you in one second flat.
  3. Thundery Rain – Not even a brolly can save you now. In fact, your brolly has become a lightening conductor – THROW IT AWAY IMMEDIATELY!
  4. Swirly Rain – When the wind plays a game with you so you never know which angle to hold the brolly.
  5. Sneaky Rain – The kind of rain that looks like it has finished, so you leave the house confidently, without raincoat or brolly, only for it to start raining two seconds later.
  6. Summer Rain – It’s warm and smells funny
  7. Spring Rain – Slightly cooler and smells fresh
  8. Autumn Rain – Likes to keep itself to itself.  Figures we’ve had enough rain all summer and we’re all too depressed to cope with anymore.  Plus the farmers have finished harvesting, so there’s no fun raining on them anymore.
  9. Winter Rain – Cold and falls like bullets.
  10. Picnic Rain – Waits until you’ve driven for an hour, set out your blanket and all the fiddly bits before the sky turns dark and the heavens literally open.
  11. Chubby Rain – That one might not be real.
  12. Stubborn Rain – ‘It’s down for the day’, you think to  yourself.  Two weeks later you still haven’t been able to leave the house and are living on tinned goods.

Well, that’s as far as I got.  Please feel free to add to the list, which is by no means exhaustive.  Answers on a postcard, but write it in pencil because the ink tends to run with all the bleedin’ rain!


PS.  To all of my readers who have kept both of my novels in the Top 100 Bestseller List in each of their categories since April – Thank you so much!  It feels really good to reach such a wide readership and just to let you know, my third novel will be available by the end of the year – come rain or shine 🙂

The Mysterious Bakery On Rue de Paris (7) - Copy


The Mysterious Bakery On Rue De Paris on Amazon.



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