Tuesday, 5 December 2017

How to boost your brain power

Book Review

These days a working knowledge of nutrition has become part of a parent's job description. I'm forever persuading my kids to eat pro-biotic yoghurt, oily fish and crispy kale, with varying degrees of success. If you want to be healthy... I tell them nine times a day. But imagine if you could eat your way to feeling happier, less stressed and more motivated?

4 weeks to optimise your mood, memory and brain health
The Brain Boost Diet Plan by Christine Bailey is the latest lifestyle-come-recipe book to promise us good health by cutting out gluten and refined sugar. The book is based on the premise that with the right diet, it takes four weeks to optimise your mood, memory and brain health. 

But before you roll your eyes and mutter - not another one - this book is worth a peek. Grounded in nutritional science, it contains a four-step programme to cleanse and revitalise your brain, with lots of tasty recipes that are relatively easy to prepare. It is also well-laid out with plenty of charts, infographics and glossy photographs.

Thursday, 23 November 2017

Top tips for working from home

I blame Facebook. For all those wasted hours. Every morning, I settle down in front of my computer, flex my fingers above the keyboard and mentally gear up for a day of writing. But first there is the ritual - that niggling urge to kill a bit of time. Of course, I kid myself that I am just warming up the cogs in my brain before knuckling down. This means checking my blog stats, my book sales, the news headlines and then allowing myself a little peep at Facebook... 

Candle, tea and treat to help me work happily from home
Working wonders: a special candle
and a healthy treat from Eat Real Food
Half an hour later, I'm abreast of who's flown off to Copenhagen for a business trip, which child scored a gymnastics medal at the weekend and who consumed a giant mussel on holiday but my word documents remain unopened.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

A quick guide to happiness (sort of)

Whenever I succumb to a bit of navel-gazing, the subject is always the same. How to be happy. You'd have thought I'd got it sussed by now, but there is a wildcard element in all of this that makes 'being content' a slippery fish to pin down. Only now, with the experience of middle age, am I beginning to understand what makes my chemistry hum.

Time is elastic: re-schedule the chores!
My own compass of wellbeing swings between different points - family life in the north, perhaps, and working achievements in the south. I have long given up on my BIG career, preferring these days to plug the gap with novel-writing, blogging and freelance work. In effect, I have traded ambition for freedom and being at home with the kids.

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Six memories from Gran Canaria

It's a downward slope to Christmas but a recent family trip to Gran Canaria has made me feel quite chipper about donning my winter woollies. In the last of our summer indulgences, we spent a week soaking up the sunshine at Hotel Cordial Mogan Playa, based in the small seaside town of Puerto de Mogan. 

Hotel Cordial Mogan Playa, Gran Canaria
Winter sun: Hotel Cordial Mogan Playa
My parents discovered this attractive and well-run hotel almost a decade ago and this was our third visit as a family. Safe to say, we've got our routine down to a fine art! Mostly, we set up camp by the main pool, reading books and/or people-watching. Occasionally, we attempted to burn off two courses of breakfast in the morning yoga/Pilates class. Once, my husband even hired a bike to explore the hilly terrain. (I was with him all the way... via the 'Find Friends' app on my phone.) 

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Twelve new things I learnt last week

Notes from the Henley Literary Festival 2017

Blogger's son and children's author Katherine Rundell, writer of The Explorer
My son meets children's author Katherine Rundell,
who researched her latest novel The Explorer
on an expedition to the Amazon rainforest
What a journey! I've travelled from the Ottoman Empire to the Tudor Court, across Russia, dipped a toe into Georgian and Victorian England, scurried through a few war zones and glimpsed behind the scenes of a coalition government. 

It has been exhilarating, mind-blowing, delightfully informative and, at times, a little exhausting. My conduit for this dizzying tour of culture was the Henley Literary Festival, a book fest that pops up every autumn like a mushroom in my back yard.

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Can Clegg save us from Brexit?

Notes from the Henley Literary Festival 2017

I've always been slightly intrigued by Nick Clegg. A silver-tongued, liberal politician with a touch of eurotrash glamour (Dutch mum, Spanish wife and a half-Russian dad). Yesterday at the Henley Literary Festival, my passing interest in this former deputy prime minister tipped over into something stronger - admiration? School-girl crush?

Former deputy prime minister Nick Clegg with Emma Clark Lam & friend
Starstruck at #HLF2017 with Nick Clegg and my friend Jo
During a lively interview, Mr Clegg was unequivocal about his support for the European project, charming his audience (not just me) with articulate and impassioned arguments, as well as giving an honest account of his time in government. 

He was there to promote his new book, How to stop Brexit (and make Britain great again)we were there to listen and perhaps buy an early copy (except, annoyingly, they ran out).


Thursday, 21 September 2017

Lessons from Queen Victoria

Hermaphrodite Mum 
Three kids and a single mum

I read in The Times newspaper that a quarter of 14-year old girls are depressed. Good grief. The reasons cited for this dip in teenage mental health are familiar - a preoccupation with body image, as well as the pressures of social media and achieving academic success.

The lure of the mobile phone
© 
 | Dreamstime
Helpfully, the newspaper provides a little quiz to test your daughter's own mental resilience. So when Quiet One gets home from school, she's barely had time to reach for the biscuit tin before I start firing questions at her.

"In the past two weeks, can you tell me if this statement is true, untrue or sometimes true..."

"Untrue."

"But I haven't told you the statement yet!"

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Greece: a taste of the good life

The long days of summer are shortening and the sun has lost its satisfying sting. My kids are back at school and, after a month off, I have prised open my laptop once more. I just love the summer - walking the dog in grassy, overgrown fields, coasting down the river in the late afternoon and al fresco suppers (occasionally) in the garden. Most of all, I love escaping to the Continent for a few days and savouring life in a Mediterranean climate with olive groves, swimming pools and warm, turquoise sea.

This year, for the first time, we holidayed in Greece, near the small town of Horto on the Pelion peninsula, a hooked stretch of coastline between Athens and the northern city of Thessaloniki. The region is part of the mainland, but it felt like an island with its steep, windy roads and wraparound views of the sea. We rented a villa set in two acres of olive trees and perched on a hill above the Pagasetic Gulf, a lagoon-like sea. Five days into the holiday, I would still glance out of the kitchen window and stop dead in my tracks to drink in the view.

View of Pagasetic Gulf, Pelion, Greece
The mesmerising view from our villa

Monday, 31 July 2017

Five fab things to do in Dorset

About 10 years ago, when the kids were small, we stayed in Croyde, Devon, and it rained for the entire holiday. In fact, it bucketed down, all day every day until the morning we left, when the sun came out in force. After that, I told my husband in no uncertain terms that summer holidays in England were off the agenda. For the decade that followed, we only ventured down to Cornwall or Devon in the Easter hols with reasonably low expectations about the weather.

Jurassic coast, Durdle Door
The stunning Jurassic coast
Credit: William Lam
Last summer, however, I was persuaded to stay with friends in South Devon. For seven days, the temperature soared and we nearly collapsed in the heat. Croyde became a distant memory and the English south coast shimmered in the sunshine, a breathtaking palette of blues and greens. There was no better place to be.

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

The grey-haired muse

A much-loved grandmother leaves behind a precious legacy. My own one passed away a few years ago, but every so often I honour her memory by rehearsing stories in my head. I run through some of her own anecdotes as well as odd recollections from when I was growing up, like her sitting on the terrace in her Ibiza home, chatting to my uni friends about Brad Pitt, with her legs hanging over the arm of a chair. Such rituals keep her close.

Emma Clark Lam and author Joy Rhoades
Me and Joy Rhoades at her book launch in London
"We sense the dead have a vital force still," said novelist Hilary Mantel yesterday, as she delivered a Reith Lecture on Radio 4. "They have something we need to understand. Using fiction and drama, we try to gain that understanding."

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Chemo stories

Three years ago writer Ali S was due a mammogram. "I almost didn't go," she says. "At the time, I thought I really haven't got time for this."

Alison Stodolnic, survivor of breast cancer
Ali: 'Talking and sharing makes people feel better'
Fortunately a friend talked her into going. It turned out she had a tumour in her breast and a potentially aggressive form of cancer. Six treatments of chemotherapy followed, three weeks apart, in the autumn of 2014. 

"I was unlucky to be diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 46 and unlucky that I had to go through the gruelling process of chemotherapy," she says. "I was lucky that my cancer was discovered very early, I had access to the medical treatment I needed, and I had love and support coming at me from all corners of my world."

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

School reunion

Nothing quite prepares you for a journey into your own past. Last weekend I caught the 08:42 train to Cheltenham and travelled back in time to an all-girls boarding school that was my home from the age of 11 to 18. It was my first visit back in 25 years - a great deal had changed and yet so much remained the same.

Shauna and I outside our old boarding house in 2017...
After leaving school in 1992, I spent most of my early twenties feeling a vague sense of emancipation, having escaped the rules and regulations of institutional life. Ever since, I have cast my school days in a slightly negative light, partly to entertain new friends but also because boarding took its emotional toll. So when a school reunion was mooted earlier this year, my eagerness to go back took me by surprise. 

Friday, 7 April 2017

Writing in bloom

Life has overtaken the blog recently. Which is a good thing, I suppose! Anyway, lots has happened over the last month or so. My main piece of news is that I have signed up to do a creative writing course with the literary agent, Curtis Brown.

Flowers and books: two of my favourite things!
I a hit a blip with my novel-in-progress back in January and decided that I needed help (or possibly a new job). Assistance came in the form of an email advertising a six-month online course. I decided this was make-or-break for my writing career (like to raise the stakes for myself) and applied for a place.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Becoming Jane-ites in Bath

As a family, we have hit that magical sweet spot where the kids are becoming interested in the same kind of stuff as the grown-ups. In other words, we have managed to successfully mould them in our own image, which makes holiday excursions a tad more scintillating. No more soft-play areas for us!

Roman Baths, Bath
The original Roman Baths
Over half term, we booked a few days in the elegant city of Bath, staying in Jane Austen's former home at 4 Sydney Place. The author lived there with her parents from 1801-1805, before the death of her father forced them into cheaper accommodation. 

I should explain that the house has since been turned into holiday flats by Bath Boutique Stays and that we occupied 'Mr Darcy's Apartment' on the second floor. The prospect of treading the same flagstones as one of my literary heroines proved oddly thrilling! Each morning, I enjoyed imagining her journeying forth with her parasol and her bonnet, and a little Austen sass.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Scared? Moi?

Something about the dreary weather at this time of year makes me feel more anxious than usual about life. When it rains for days on end, I want to batten down the hatches and stay safely at home. Despite this seasonal bout of cowardice, however, I have managed to conquer a few fears lately. It took a bit of effort, but I feel better for being on the other side of the tunnel.
© Lineartestpilot | Dreamstime.com

Last Friday, I found myself talking about the weather as I lay on a bed, knicker-less, waiting for a complete stranger to torment me with a weird plastic tool and a spatula. Yup, it was time for the dreaded smear test. Even the very words 'smear' and 'test' are enough to make me feel queasy. Better to think of it as a cervical screening test.

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Time for pain

Christmas with all its excesses becomes the last stop on the route to self-improvement. This seasonal splurge seems designed to usher in a period of self-disgust, exacerbated by too many puddings / presents / cheese / glasses of Irish cream. As the decorations come down, you long to emerge like a butterfly from the Christmas-chrysalis with a cleaner body and a purer purpose. January inevitably becomes the anointed month to slough off the extra pounds, change your ways and build a brighter, better future.

Orange butterfly on a paving stone
Emerging from the excesses of Christmas...
As human beings, it seems we need structure, if only to keep the messy amorality of life in check. With the start of a new year, resolutions provide a roadmap to a new, improved self. Often such resolutions require discipline and self-denial, but all of us know a little bit of pain is the price you pay for a higher pleasure. Structure equals control over laziness, small addictions (in my case, chocolate) and other character defects.