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Thursday, December 31, 2015

When lightning strikes...

Just before Christmas, Niall Breslin, more commonly known as Bressie, the heartthrob and generally nice guy from The Blizzards and more recently a judge on The Voice of Ireland, broadcast his new series aimed at getting people to focus on their mental health by overcoming physical fitness challenges.

‘Bressie’s Ironmind’ is precisely the kind of programme that is needed on mainstream State TV to remove the stigma, across the age groups, around the topic of mental health, depression and those who are at risk of suicide.

Ireland is a terrible country for fostering the mentality of ‘If I don’t mention it, then it’s not happening and the problem will simply go away’.

This couldn’t be further from the truth – just like a harsh word can mutilate into a cutting monologue if left to fester, ill feelings can manifest into depression, mental ill health or even suicidal ideation, if they are left to bubble away under the surface.

This is one of the things that Bressie aimed to address with his new series and his frank and open way of talking about his own difficulties is honestly quite refreshing, not only on television and in the media, but in a new series, aimed at people of all ages from all walks of life.

The first episode introduced us to Jade, Colm, Mark and Orla.

“This challenge was one that I took on myself [...] it’s not a physical challenge but a mental challenge,” Bressie explained and the idea is to arm people with coping tools for life’s more difficult moments.

Using the expertise of health and fitness experts, as well as those who specialise in mental health, mindfulness and wellness, Bressie pushed people to their maximum without going too far or risking injury, while also using exercise and physical fitness to combat the onset of mental problems and issues.

The stories of the four people who took part in the show are very real and quite raw and they will no doubt have helped people to relate to the show and will perhaps help them to shine a light on a problem they are having themselves that they hadn’t given due consideration to before now.

The hope is that this will get people talking openly about their feelings, emotional well-being and to talk to people if they are struggling. Suicide is something that can be prevented, but that cannot be done if we are not open, transparent and talking to each other about what is going on inside our heads.

Problems will not go away if they are brushed under the carpet – instead they will manifest themselves in physical  symptoms such as bowel problems or IBS, headaches, vomiting, self-mutilation in the form of pulling out hair or mildly hurting oneself, as well as things like putting yourself down, having low self-esteem or even exhibiting signs of self-loathing.

If you broke your leg, you would not hesitate in telling somebody what had happened, how much pain you are in and what the recovery time will be.

On the polar opposite end of the scale, if you were feeling down or were having an off day, a lot of Irish people in particular, tend to hide those feelings and feel ashamed.

As people get older and particularly people of my generation (late twenties and almost thirty, well I'm 28, I’ll begrudgingly admit), they begin to realise that everyone else is the same as them.

Everyone worries, everyone stresses out over ridiculous things and everyone has those irrational fears and woes.

It is how we deal with those problems that set us apart and makes some people the strong people and others those who crumble and fold under the pressure and strain.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Review of The GAA & Revolution in Ireland 1913-1923 Edited by Gearoid O Tuathaigh

**** A very good read, which is hard to put down
                       
The ten-year period between 1913 and 1923 was a tumultuous one and a period in Irish history, which was fraught with tension and rife with change. This book, edited by Gearoid O Tuathaigh gives a snapshot of those times and what they entailed for the people of Ireland at the time.

This book would appeal to both history buffs and GAA heads alike, as it brings together a riveting collection of essays by leading writers in the fields of modern history and the history of sports.

Gearoid is Emeritus Professor in History at NUIG, is the former President of NUIG and is currently a member of the Council of State.

The book is unique and interesting, in that it examines the link between the world of conflict and war and the realm of sports.

It looks at how the GAA, after 1916, began to align the organisation more closely with the new emerging nation and the early reporting of GAA matches and events also give an insight into the early days of sports media and coverage of sporting events in our national news.

Women’s sports and camogie also gets a look in, as the global history of women’s sports is examined and dissected.

As well as pictures, some of which have never been published or seen before, there are also wonderful reproductions of artefacts and mementos, such as receipts, invoices, team sheets, All-Ireland teams and letters.

To bring the political world together with the sporting one, there is one picture which causes the two worlds to collide and shows how much they both influenced each other – a picture of Eamon de Valera throwing in the ball to start the 6 April 1919 Gaelic football match between Wexford and Tipperary in Croke Park, in aid of the Irish Republican Prisoners’ Dependant's Fund. 

Contributors include the editor Gearoid O Tuathaigh, Paul Rouse, Paraic Duffy, Cormac Moore, James McConnell, Ross O’Carroll, Donal McAnallen, Richard McElligott, Mike Cronin, Mark Reynolds, Eoghan Corry, Paul Darby, Sean Moran and Diarmaid Ferriter.

This book is €29.99 and is available online and from all good book stores.

A quick guide to Quinn’s Quandries star ratings;
***** A book so good, you don’t just read it, it takes over your life and you tell everyone you meet to read it immediately.
**** A very good book, which is hard to put down.
*** A decent read, but nothing to get too excited about.
** It would help you to pass away a few hours.
* Wouldn’t bother reading all of it.


Monday, December 14, 2015

Lights that sparkle, lights that glitter - lights that distract

I love Christmas and I relish the build up to it, but sometimes when I am driving home and the lights make me smile at every turn and each junction, I think, is this too much? Have some people's Christmas lights gotten out of hand?

Now, I know that this might sound a bit scroogey, but it's not, because as I said, I do love Christmas.

This year, I have the shortest drive home to my home place, as it's only an hour away, but in previous years in other jobs, I sometimes had to drive for more than three hours to get home.

In those three hours, I would pass through more than ten cities, towns and/or village, but would only encounter five places where Christmas lights and trees were erected and shining bright.

From this point of view, seeing the houses all alight and glowing with festive cheer was great, but in other ways, it was quite distracting and borderline dangerous.

The festive, 'I Love Christmas' part of my brain was beaming out a stupid silly grin, while the practical side of my brain was asking how much the lights must cost, whether or not the power shorts because of surges and realistically, how necessary it all is.

I like a tastefully decorated house just as much as anyone else, but it is the gaudy, showy, 'too much and too bright' lights that I am objecting to.

A house with a few strings of lights in white or yellow with a few lit up reindeer, santa's, trees or winter animals in the garden or driveway, is really quite lovely and because there isn't too much going on, you can drive by, fleetingly glance at it and smile to yourself, while you hum a Christmas song and go on your merry way.

On the opposite end of the scale, if you compare this to a house with lights everywhere (and I mean everywhere) with lights the colours of the rainbow and no discernable pattern or logic to the way they are strung and suddenly, you've got people slowing down or stopping to look at them (but, what if  house is on a corner or it's on a really busy road, then this gawking could lead to an accident) and because there is no pattern or shape to it, as I said, people are driving slower and looking at it for longer to try to make sense of it.

Now, I am prepared for the backlash from this post, as I know that a lot of people love Christmas and maybe some readers are themselves the culprits for these gaudy and tackily decorated homes, but I think I am just saying what a lot of people are thinking.

Another aspect of this is the cost, as many families will say that they are struggling and that Christmas, is, financially, the hardest time of the year. While they might not have money for that fancy new bike for their child or to buy the perfect coat that will set off every outfit, but somehow they can justify spending hundreds on electricity bills.

Then the question I am led towards is why? Is it to make children smile? Is it to bring a bit of festive cheer to the commuters passing the door or is it a display of oneupmanship? If it is the latter, I really can't defend these people, as that is taking petty to a whole new level.

So now, have your say. Am I right? Is there any merit to my argument or am I simply being Scrooge?

Thursday, December 03, 2015

My lips are red, but so is everything else

Those who know me will know that I take a certain pride in my appearance, and unless I’m just dossing around the house or dashing out to get some shopping, it’s unlikely that you’ll see me in tracksuit pants, looking kind of crappy.

In general, I make an effort with how I look and I am a recent convert to wearing bold coloured and vibrant lipsticks or lip crayons.

I don’t wear much make-up, as my skin is quite good (thanks to my Mam, as my Da’s skin would have been more akin to used crepe paper for wrapping gifts – sorry Da), so unless I’m going all out with contouring, foundation, blush and everything else, I will often just wear the bare minimum, but go for maximum effect.

For instance, if I was going out for dinner or even to work and just wanted to look a little pretty, I would typically wear a tinted moisturiser or none at all, blusher, eye liner, a smokey coloured (grey or black depending on if it’s day or night with a splash of colour for the wow effect if I’m feeling adventurous) eyeshadow, mascara and a colour on my lips.

To be honest, if I had nothing else, I’d happily get by (and have done) when I’m rushing (that happens more often than you’d think for such an organised person) with just the eyeliner and lippy.

Anyway, I’m a fan of reds, pinks and corals and because my skin is so pale and my cheeks are prone to reddening (a curse I tell you), I tend to avoid paler nudes or light pinks.

I love using a bright red or vibrant pink to pick out a colour in an outfit or really just make my features pop, however I have yet to find a product that I really, really love and wouldn’t leave the house without. It is something that regularly irks me.

Just last week, I genuinely spent four days dipping in and out of the www.boots.ie website, searching arduously for a lipstick that is not only the right shade, but will also have the right shine or matt effect, doesn’t cost more than a week’s grocery shopping and most importantly will last so that the colour stays on my lips instead of tainting my glass and everything else that slightly grazes against my war painted lips.

I have tried a number of tricks and hacks, such as putting on concealer underneath as a primer (a pretty brilliant tip from the ever glamourous Nellie Fitzgerald from Mitchelstown, an older lady who has worn make-up every day since she was in her teens), then applying lip liner, then lip crayon and then the lipstick.

This lends itself to a different shade obviously, but it does last a while (three or four hours if I’m eating and drinking the whole time – ha that makes me sound like an alcoholic glutton).

While it’s the best thing I’ve mastered so far, it is still not ideal and I’d love to just put on one product and not have every single glass or mug branded by my scarlet harlot lips.

My late father used to say that the red lipstick looked nice, but he told me he did have to adjust to it and the first night I wore it, he told me that it looked very ‘lady of the night’ ish, so all reds are now my lady of the night lipstick (I even sported my Kate Moss red at his funeral).

I will spend money on a good make-up product, as I firmly believe that if it’s good, it will last and spending €20 on a high quality product that will last you years is better than spending €4 on a myriad of smaller items that don’t do what they are meant to and need to be replaced almost immediately.

On that note and as you might have guessed, I am currently on the hunt for ‘THE RED’ – the one, the only – the colour that is made for my lips and my luscious lips alone, without bleeding into every other facet of my life.

I have a Bourjois lipstick (in a nice burgundy or dark pink tone) and it lasts well, but it’s no brazen red. That was about €10 and it came with a cool gift of miniature items from Boots.

Another one that I’m a fan of is my Lancome Rouge (pricey at about €28) and it is AMAZING. I could put it on at 9am, have breakfast, two cups of tea, a bottle of water and a snack and by lunchtime, it would still be on and only then in need of the briefest of touch ups. I have my fingers crossed that Santa (via my boyfriend) will be putting one of those in a nice red shade under the tree this Christmas.

In the meantime, in an effort to stem the problem of losing my lip colour, I did buy a product by Lipcote for around €5-€7 I think in Boots again (you’d swear they were paying me for this, haha I wish) that is meant to seal the lip colour in, but it was genuinely dreadful.

Now it did keep the colour on, but at a price I didn’t like – the lipstick flakes off rather than gradually fading, which isn’t a nice feel and it completely dried out my lips.

Today, as my search continues in earnest, I heard a podcast on www.todayfm.com from the Dermot and Dave show about how using eyebrow wax underneath a lipstick acts as a great primer to keep it on. I tried this and while it looks quite weird (I used my Soap&Glory eyebrow shaping and highlighting crayon) it did seem to do the trick, though I used a lip liner as well – to be sure, to be sure.

For now, if you see me with faded lipstick, please keep in mind that when I applied it first, it probably looked lovely, so be gentle with your (hopefully) silent criticisms.


If you have any tips or brands that you would recommend, I’d love to hear them. 

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Book Review of Daughter by Jane Shemilt



 
**** A very good book, which is hard to put down.

 

I am a recent convert to thrillers and still wouldn’t be a huge fan, so this book was a bit of a gamble.

I’ve always been a big reader and would have read believable fiction when I was younger and this graduated up to light chick lit when I was in college, because a lot of my college reading for New Media & English was fairly heavy going and now I’m really into thought provoking and involved fiction, but will also read non-fiction, fantasy (to an extent) and now crime thrillers, apparently.


I have a deep disdain for the term page turner in reviews, so I won’t be using that here, because I believe that to be the most fundamental of elements to any book – even if it’s complete crap, you can still literally turn the pages.


This book will haunt people and particularly parents, as it makes you question your very own moral compass and the core of your being, as you start to unwittingly question every move you’ve ever made with your child, every time they’ve said they are at a friend’s and every time you’ve left an argument hang in the air to fester and morph into something uglier with the passage of time.


The author develops an entire story around the ‘what ifs’ and ‘if onlys’ and it is truly terrifying.


The story begins as every good story does, with the mundane and the ordinary and then it skips between the night of Naomi’s disappearance and one year later in the present – weaving an unsettling tale of intrigue, loss, desperation and the unyielding will of a parent to never give up on their child.


“They have a picture. It’ll help. But it doesn’t show the way her hair shines so brightly it looks like sheets of gold. She smells very faintly of lemons. She bites her nails. She never cries. She loves Autumn, I wanted to tell them. She collects leaves, like a child does. She is just a child.” If this sentence drew you in, this is just a flavour of what is contained within the story.


After a year, Naomi is still missing and the Malcolm family has been torn apart, but will the truth bring them closer together and reunite them all or will it drive a further wedge between them?

There are a lot of unanswered questions, but in a good way and the book brings up a lot of family and personal dilemma situations and it would make a great choice for a book club, as the potential for discussion and debate is almost endless.

 

This book is available from Jim Hyland’s General and Educational bookshop on 22 Lower Cork Street, Mitchelstown, Co. Cork for €8.99. For more information or to avail of a special discount in association with this blog, please call in store, ring 022 24528, email hylandsbooks@gmail.com and quote Quinn’s Quandries when purchasing. Happy frantic page turning and tea drinking (wine if it’s the evening or it’s a chilly Winter’s day).


A quick guide to Quinn’s Quandries star ratings;

***** A book so good, you don’t just read it, it takes over your life and you tell everyone you meet to read it immediately.

**** A very good book, which is hard to put down.

*** A decent read, but nothing to get too excited about.

** It would help you to pass away a few hours.

* Wouldn’t bother reading all of it.

 

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

What to do and what not to do as a PRO or freelancer


As a journalist for a local paper, I do an awful lot of interviews on a daily and weekly basis, but equally, a big part of my job is editing and rewriting other people's notes and articles.

Depending on the style, ability and tone of the writer, it can sometimes (quite often let’s be honest) take longer to edit and rewrite someone's 800 words down to a more readable and newspaper friendly 200 than it would take to talk to them, do the interview and write it from scratch. 

On that note, I have decided to pull together some of the mistakes I see most frequently and put some tips out there for people who are interested in writing, anyone considering journalism who is trying to get a portfolio of published works together and Public Relations Officers who are trying to publicise the news for their club or organisation.

WHAT TO DO
- Be formal, professional and polite – I think people make the mistake of thinking of an email like a text, whereas it is in fact the very same as a letter and should be just as official in tone and style. 

- If there is a deadline, be smart about it and get it in as early as you can, if the paper hits the shelves on Thursday mornings (as The Avondhu does), then get your piece in on Thursday or Friday and that way you will know that it hasn't been lost among the thousands of emails that are coming in in the eleventh hour. As well as that, the staff have just put the paper out and rather than being stressed and pushed to their limit, they will be able to give more time to your piece and it could serve you better than if you send it on Tuesday. 

- Respect the decisions and advice from the people in charge of editing the publication. If you send something into your local paper and they use it, they are doing you a favour and that needs to be recognised. Your story is one of many and you need to realise that it may not be relevant or newsy enough to go at the very front of the paper, where you might think it belongs. 

- The journalist and editor probably are not experts in whatever area you are talking about, so be clear, concise and do not go on for too long - in many cases less is more and if something catches the editor's or journalist's eye, they can always ring you or email you for further information.

- If the article relates to an event or fundraiser coming up, please give advance notice and also if you want to secure your place in the paper, the only way to do so is to submit the article in tandem with advertising, as advertising is the paper's main revenue stream and takes priority most of the time.

- If you wish to confirm that an email was received, please say so in the email rather than ringing the office five minutes later, as the recipient might not have read it yet and if they have, they won't have spotted any potential gaps in that time, whereas if they can email back in their own good time, they will have had time to hone in on any holes in the story.

- When sending pictures, label them with a reference number or keyword and put the captions (full names, the event details and the photographer if necessary) into the email beside the reference number so that they can be captioned easily. If there are less than ten people in the picture, please provide full names for everyone, going from left to right starting at the back and graduating towards the front. It is also vital to ensure that the picture is of good enough quality, because pictures of poor quality are generally not reproduced by papers, as it compromises their own integrity. 

- Always proof read your articles and be sure to check for spelling, grammar, dates and accuracy of details, as well as quoting someone where possible to bring in more of what people will relate to. 

- If writing is not your strong point and you are likely to fret over format and style, instead check if you can email in bullet points and a quote and often the journalist will use this as their base and simply write the story around the material you have provided, rather than presenting them with something poorly written and convoluted, which will be harder to edit.

- In case anything needs to be clarified, always include your phone number and a time you are available to talk, if applicable in the email for any potential follow ups. 

WHAT NOT TO DO
-There is almost nothing worse than someone you don't know very well or maybe haven't even met beyond their .com or .ie email address, feigning a closeness that is not there and getting too personal, calling you 'hun', 'pet' or 'dear' or cringe cringe putting kisses in an email (my boyfriend just about gets kisses and that is really dependant on my mood). 

- If a deadline is Tuesday at 12 noon, do not send in your notes or article five minutes before that deadline. 

- Do not push demands on people or be presumptuous about how important your story is or where it should go in the paper (that is the journalist's and editor's job and just like we wouldn't come in and tell you how to do your job, please show us the same respect).

- In the paper I work for, there are a number of email addresses as there are in most businesses and many people have the misconceived notion that if they send it into five addresses that it will go into the paper in five different places, whereas the opposite is far more likely to happen. If a piece is sent to everyone, it will be more likely that wires will be crossed and it won't go in at all, because someone has presumed that someone else has done it.

Finally, if your information goes into the paper or onto the website, take the time to say thank you to the person you were dealing with. Most newspapers and journalists will only hear from the public if there is something wrong, so it’s nice to get a phonecall or email with positive feedback from time to time.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Eat well, feel well


I am quite a small woman (4 foot 10 to be precise, so I'm sure there are some people out there who would have other words for my lack of height) and a number of years ago, I started to put on weight because of the steroids I was on for my arthritis and it has been a bit of an uphill battle ever since.

I'm not really into weighing myself or obsessing about it, but at the same time, I try to eat well, cook fresh homemade meals and exercise and stay fit, without going mental and possibly injuring myself.

When people see me eating a bar of chocolate (as I said, I'm not a health nut and I do watch certain things, but I will have a Kinder Bueno or a Bounty if I want it), I can sometimes see them judging me, thinking ‘well she'd be smaller if she ate better and did more exercise’, but you never know what's going on in someone else’s life.

I am relatively fit and I do go through fits and starts of exercise and diet, but because of the nature of my work and the unpredictability of my disease, it is very hard to schedule things in like classes or gym visits and I might be fine on Tuesday, but wake up on Wednesday with an agonisingly sore left hip, a gammy right knee and a swollen ankle.
On the other hand, I could wake up and feel well enough to get a walk and a half hour of intensive yoga in before I leave for work.

Along this vein, I try to do what I can when I can, but I try to avoid extreme exercise or diet programmes which involve drastic life changes. This isn't because I'm lazy or non-committal, it is because it is simply not feasible with all of the other factors that I have to consider.

The above statement or ones carrying similar sentiments are hard for extremely health conscious vegans or vigorous exercisers and gym bunnies to get their heads around, as they seem to think that everything is a matter of perspective and will power - sometimes there are other factors.

In many ways, my arthritis is an invisible disease, I look and sound fine (well not always, I am delightfully prone to looking scarily pale and washed out when I'm in pain), but in reality I might not be able to write a few sentences because there is so much fluid in my fingers or I might scream out in pain when I stand up from a chair because my joints have seized up and decided to attack my own body.

So to do what I can to keep healthy and fit, I try little things in moderation, like eating homemade fresh healthy food and/or doing as much exercise as I can without risking injury.

In terms of food, I am a great believer in eating fresh food with meals that you can make from scratch yourself - if you can't recreate something from a menu at home, I would be dubious as to what is actually in it.

My Mam makes everything from scratch and always has. Our house growing up was always filled with the delectable smells of fresh baking (we were always jealous of other kids who got to have sweets or fizzy drinks, but there would always have been things like eclairs, scones, brown bread and cakes or biscuits, which Mam had just whipped up). It's not that there wasn't any sugar in our diets, but at least she knew what was in the food we were eating and there were no nasty MSG or E numbers to consider.

Likewise, if I was to make something like spaghetti bolognese, I'd do it the way Mam does it - using fresh ingredients, tomatoes and a mixture of herbs to create a tasty and wholesome meal and if I had lots of vegetables, I'm much more likely to make a big batch of soup than I am to let them go off and have to throw them away.

I would also go beyond that by making my own home made yoghurt and fresh fruit compote, but unlike my wonderful mammy, I am not blessed when it comes to baking (as my boyfriend will attest to, I once made what was meant to be a lovely Victorian sponge cake and he still describes it to this day as a large deformed scone – I will point out that he conveniently forgets about the successful birthday cakes I have created since).

Over the years, I have noticed people looking at me with that judgemental sidelong glance and they think they are helping when they tell you gently or harshly (depending on their personality) to do more exercises, eat less crap or embrace a more active lifestyle.

I do what I can, when I can and considering that a lot of my food is not processed and is homemade, I think I'm doing pretty well. I'm also not all that caught up about my weight, I do go through bouts of losing weight, usually when I'm less busy and can dedicate more time to the things like daily walks, yoga or pilates or aqua aerobics or a bit of jog/walking (interval training) and I'm also stricter when it comes to things like eating fruit, vegetables and nuts or seeds instead of all of the lovely treats in Centra. 

People would comment when I've lost weight, but it's not something I keep track of - we don't have a weighing scales, as I think it can become an obsessive thing, but if my jeans are a little looser or a dress looks a bit better then yay and if not, ah well.

I was a little bit reluctant to do a post like this, because you are literally opening the flood gates for the nay-sayers and do-gooders, but hey, on the other hand it might give people pause for thought and make them think about what someone's going through in their own life or what else they have to contend with before they make their 'well meaning' remark about someone else's way of life.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Don't just point and shoot - some basic photography tips and hints

When I finished my MA in Journalism more than five years ago and set off enthusiastically into my first job in The Evening Echo in Cork (Ireland), I was lucky to be going into a job that matched my training (and some), but since then every single job has brought with it more duties and extended roles.

Now, instead of being the journalist and features writer, I am in The Avondhu in Mitchelstown where I source and write the stories, decide where they will go in the paper, secure advertising if appropriate, take pictures, sub-edit, proof read and I also liaise with clients and customers to build professional relationships.

One of the biggest shocks of the extra duties that I was given when I first came to The Avondhu almost four years ago was that I was handed a very professional and daunting look camera and after I was given some perfunctory tips, it was a case of point, shoot and make sure you get people's names for captions.

When I look back on my first pictures, I don't cringe, but I do say a silent 'thank God' that my writing was good enough to prop up my very poor photography skills.

One of the main problems was that I was a trained journalist, but I also had to take photographs - now I still consider myself a journalist first and a photographer second, but I love taking pictures now and I truly appreciate what they can add to my stories.

My interest in photography has developed so much that I will now catch myself saying things like 'hold on, let me get my phone' so that I can freeze a perfect moment in time or capture that once in a lifetime flicker of an eye.

In light of all of this and to get to my point, I thought I would share a few tips that might help people, who like me had to take on something like this without any formal training or for people who want to use pictures to enhance their own writing and works.

TIPS AND HINTS;
- When taking scenery shots, use the third rule, which gives the image nice symmetry and makes it more aesthetically pleasing. Basically, make sure that each element takes up a third of the shot.

- If you are taking a picture of between one and four people, take it like a portrait and go full length, but make sure that the background is quite plain or that it enhances the picture (a nice scenic view or a blank canvas like a wooden door or painted wall all work well as backdrops and that is worth remembering - it is a backdrop, so don't let the scenery out do the subjects), otherwise take it landscape and just take in their head, shoulders and a little bit of upper body.

- For larger group pictures, avoid pictures that have everyone in the same position looking quite static and almost bored. Instead, make it more interesting by getting them to form a semi-circle or soften the shot by getting the people at each end to turn in slightly towards the others.

- To capture a relaxed and natural picture, tell a joke first and get them to relax - if you can capture that natural and often goofy smile, your picture will tell its own story.

- Avoid staging pictures in front of windows, large glass doors or under bright lights, as it will distort your subjects' faces.

- For children, get them to look at the lens and tell them a little story about a fairy living in the camera - it will capture their imagination and also get them to stay still for the half a minute that you might need. A double click function also works well here, as the camera will take four or five shots for every image and it eliminates the problems of children blinking, poking each other or gazing off into the distance. If you are not doing this professionally, but only taking pictures of little cousins or nieces or nephews, it is unlikely you would have things like toys, props and other accessories that professionals would have on hand for these shoots.

- Even if you are not a naturally organised person, get into the habit of creating folders on your computer and categorise these into the year, month and event using keywords that you will later associate with the photoshoot. This will not only help with archiving, but it will also make referencing very easy. I also format my SD card each week after I have saved the pictures onto my desktop and I keep a spare card in my camera bag. On that note, I also keep a spare notebook, spare batteries for my flash and spare pens (I should keep a pencil too, as a pen won't work if I'm outside in the rain) in the bag as well.

- With a fancy and advanced camera, it is easy to get bogged down by detail and get carried away worrying about the tiny features that you will probably never need to rely on. My advice here is to get comfortable with the equipment and then just set everything to Auto and let the camera do all of the thinking until you are more savvy with it.

- Finally, please don't just point and shoot - if you do, your pictures will reflect that. Take time with the pictures and give them the effort and attention that they deserve.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Book Review - 'Leaving Time' by Jodi Picoult *****




***** - This book will consume every waking moment if you let it, you'll get so engrossed that you will start to forget that there is life outside the story contained within its pages. 

I have been a fan of Jodi Picoult’s writings for a number of years, so much so that my book shelf boasts an entire section dedicated to her books.
This latest book, which was released in November of 2014 has so far trumped them all and that is no mean feat when you are following in the footsteps of stories like ‘My Sister’s Keeper’, ‘Lone Wolf’ and ‘Plain Truth’.
True to Picoult’s style, the story is so well researched that you feel as if you are in the story, rather than just reading someone else’s version of it.
‘Leaving Time’ is a truly gripping story about love, loss and the power of both of those feelings.
Jenna Metcalf was just a child when her mother disappeared and while her disappearance has always been shrouded in mystery, Jenna has never given up on finding her mother.
Her parents were both academics who studied elephants and when they set up a sanctuary for elephants who had been separated from their herds or mistreated at zoos or circuses, they created the world that their daughter Jenna would come to think of as home.
We follow Jenna as she enlists the help of a psychic and former detective and in her desperation to find a link to her long lost mother who left her life more than a decade ago, she discovers things about herself that she never knew.
Throughout the book, we hear Jenna’s story and through Picoult’s unique narrative style, a story of all of the other characters is also weaved and by the end, you are furiously turning the pages to see what happens next, so that the next piece of thread can be unravelled to reveal another part of the story that was previously hidden.
Like many of Picoult’s books, this one has plot twists and turns that you wouldn’t expect and the story that you set out to read turns into something completely different by the time you read the last sentence on the final page.
This is a story, like I said, of love and loss, but it is also one of resilience, determination and strength. 

Star Ratings: 
* Wouldn't bother reading all of it.
** It will help you to pass away a few hours.
*** A decent read, but nothing to get too excited about.
**** A very good book, which is hard to put down. 
***** A book so good that you don't just read it, it takes over your life and you tell everyone you meet to read it immediately. 

Available from Amazon http://www.amazon.co.uk/Leaving-Time-Jodi-Picoult/dp/1444778145/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1430920770&sr=8-1&keywords=jodi+picoult+leaving+time