5 Ways You Can Save Time When Blogging

Great advice from Hugh on saving time on blogging and, for me the most important advice of all, on not feeling guilty about not keeping up with reading and commenting on every blog you follow.

Hugh's Views & News

Do you ever find yourself running out of time when blogging?

It’s something that used to happen to me a lot. Shortly after getting out of bed, I’d sit down in front of the computer and, before I knew it, the time had flown past! With the sun setting, I’d feel as if I hadn’t really achieved anything.

Make no mistake about it, blogging can be very time-consuming. Your work-in-progress will look as if it’s never going to get finished, your laundry basket is overflowing, the house is a mess, and family and friends will start wondering who you are because you seldom join in anymore.

Here are five tips that I implemented to save me time when blogging (and which stopped blogging from taking over my entire life).

Stop Beating Yourself Up

I wanted to be everywhere in both the worlds of blogging and social media.

Every time I…

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MarySmith’sPlace – Sibi Mela, Pakistan

Here in Scotland we are in the middle of the agricultural show season. The Royal Highland Show, the flagship event of the Royal Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland, starts things off in June when over four days the finest livestock is shown off and judged. There’s also show jumping, countryside pursuits, entertainment (one year I was invited to read poetry in a yurt!), shopping and much more.

I thought, though, I’d take you to Pakistan to experience the amazing Sibi Mela. Usually a nondescript, rural backwater in Baluchistan province, Sibi bursts into colourful, noisy life for five days every year with thousands of farmers and traders bringing their livestock.

Sibi -01 (Custom)Assuming the livestock would provide a familiar point of reference, we headed firstly towards the cattle area. Chewing the cud with bovine nonchalance, coats gleaming like silk – in lines as far as the eye could see – they were ignoring the fussing of their grooms. One farmer, delighted at the interest being shown in his beast, prodded the dozing animal, causing everyone to step back hurriedly, as several tons of prime beef lumbered to its feet. “He is champion,” he exclaimed, pointing proudly to the red rosette.

So far, so familiar: however, major differences soon became apparent. For a start, it is difficult to imagine Scottish farmers painting their prize stock with henna (though maybe some talcum powder for the sheep?) as is dressing them in colourful, silk coats and beaded headdresses. Sibi-03

Nor are we likely to see, next to the cattle, countless oxen, buffalo and strings of camels. My delighted cooing at the baby camels – ungainly bundles of fluff, still practising their sneers – brought astonished looks from their owners.

We were swept along towards an exhibition area where at least some sights were familiar. The shiny new tractors and other agricultural implements were admired by crowds of men and small boys. Families came along to enjoy the carnival atmosphere of the fair. Just like their Scottish counterparts, children gleefully collected freebies from display stands promoting everything from artificial insemination to hybrid seeds. Also on offer for entertainment are folk dancers, tent pegging, camel races, handicrafts and tribal dresses and jewellery, fairground and circus.

Suddenly, an instantly recognisable sound tugged the heart strings, bringing a wave of homesickness as a Pakistani pipe band marched through the crowds, playing of all things, Scotland the Brave. Instead of Highland dancers, though, groups practised traditional folk dances to be performed later in the main stadium. A five-man team, stunning in bright, candy pink shalwar kameez, their leader in a contrasting outfit of startling canary yellow waved gaily coloured pompons as they rehearsed.

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A strange looking troupe appeared. One gaunt old man, stripped to the waist, whirled in circles to a pulsating, hypnotic drumming which built into a deafening crescendo, before abruptly stopping. The crowd watched intently as another man slowly, methodically, pierced the dancer’s naked flesh with sharp metal spikes. The drumming began again, softly. The man – seemingly entranced – resumed his dance, whirling ever faster as the beat quickened, the embedded skewers quivering from his sides and neck.IMG_0007 (Custom)

As the drums reached a crescendo, the leader moved forward, caught and steadied the dancer. He blew – puff! – on the pierced flesh, removed the skewers, holding them aloft. Not a drop of blood to be seen. With gasps of wonder, spectators dug into their pockets for rupees.

From a row of makeshift huts – palm leaf mats lashed together – enticing cooking aromas caused hunger pangs. When the clientele had recovered from the shock of a foreign family joining them, they laughingly made room for us.

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The restaurant kitchen

As we sat cross-legged on the mat, tearing off chunks of hot, fresh chapatti with which to scoop up our meat stew and spicy lentils, they nodded approval. After a fight with the proprietor over the bill – “You are guests in Baluchistan. Baluchis do not take money from guests” – we headed for the stadium.

We were led to excellent seats and it was only when handed cups of tea by a uniformed orderly, I understood we had been mistaken for VIPs. Horses plumed and bedecked in finery, high-stepped in time to martial music. We feared causing a diplomatic incident by leaving mid-performance and cringed in our seats, hating the sight of this unnatural parody of dance achieved by the painful application of an electric prod.

When we finally escaped the stadium, we discovered the fairground. Instead of bouncy castles there were manually operated, gaudily painted wooden roundabouts. In a sawdust strewn circus ring, we saw a tightrope walking goat, a monkey pedalling a tricycle and a lady vanishing in a puff of smoke.

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IMG_0016 (Custom) IMG_0015 (Custom)We joined a long queue to see the Snake Woman, whose body was rather obviously a length of poorly disguised hosepipe. No-one seemed to mind this in the slightest.

We clambered up the perilous stairs of the Wall of Death. Peering down from the rickety viewing platform, our astonished gaze fell, not on a motor cyclist, but on a group of made-up transvestites, gyrating seductively to Indian film music.

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They pouted, blew kisses and winked enticingly to encourage the men in the audience to throw rupees down to them. When the music stopped, the ‘girls’ collected their money, making way at last for the stunt man. Dressed in leathers, he zoomed his bike around the walls making the structure shudder alarmingly. He collected fewer rupees than the dancers. IMG_0012 (Custom)

Later, we watched dazzling displays of horsemanship as wild looking tribesmen showed off their horses’ paces in tent pegging competitions and trotting races.

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When the cattle were bedded down for the night, their attendants curled up beside them. A haze of smoke from cooking fires hovered in the air and it was, sadly, time for us to leave.

Write What You Know: A Guest Post by Mary Smith

I was delighted to be featured on Linda Hill’s fabulous blog – lindasbookbag – writing a guest post on Writing What you Know. Do check it out and have a look round Linda’s blog – she reviews some wonderful books.

Linda's Book Bag

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Earlier this year I had the privilege of staying in with lovely Mary Smith to discuss her book No More Mulberries in a post you can read here. I have also been lucky enough to read and review (here) Mary’s short story collection Donkey Boy.

I have so enjoyed Mary’s writing and she is such a wonderful supporter of Linda’s Book Bag, that when I heard she had a new book out with photographer Keith KirkSecret Dumfries, I just had to invite her back to the blog. Today Mary has kindly written a guest post all about writing what you know and even better, it’s Mary’s birthday today so happy birthday Mary!

Secret Dumfries is available to buy on Amazon or directly from the publisher, Amberley Publishing.

Secret Dumfries

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Dumfries, in south-west Scotland, has a long history, much of it well…

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Sally’s Cafe and Bookstore – Summer #Sale – #FREE Books #Adventure #Children’s #Memoir – Mary Smith, Annabelle Franklin, Jemima Pett and Chuck Jackson

Sally Cronin has a Summer Sale at her bookstore and today’s fabulous selection is all FREE – including No More Mulberries. Head over there and grab some summer reading.

Smorgasbord - Variety is the spice of life

Welcome to the Summer Sale in the Cafe and Bookstore and today it is the turn of the FREE books currently available either on Amazon or Smashwords.

Whilst there is no pressure to review books that you download especially when they are free, I hope that you will enjoy all the selection today and share that with others. Thanks Sally

The first author who would love you to download and read one of her books is Mary Smith with No More Mulberries… I loved this book and can highly recommend it.  There are an impressive number of excellent reviews for the book which continues to delight readers. It is FREE from 14th to 18th inclusive.

About the book

No More Mulberries is a story of commitment and divided loyalties, of love and loss, set against a country struggling through transition.

British-born Miriam’s marriage to her Afghan doctor husband is…

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MarySmithsPlace – Canada (part 3)

Quite a while before I went to Canada I read a book, Travelling to the Edge of the World by Kathleen Jones who travelled to the islands of Haida Gwaii, off the northernmost coastline of British Columbia. She went (and now I’m quoting the back of the book blurb) to talk to a nation who have lived in harmony with their environment for more than ten thousand years. They have a saying ‘everything is connected’ and their philosophy ‘Yah’Guudang’, is about “respect and responsibility, about knowing our place in the web of life and how the fate of our culture runs parallel with the fate of the ocean, sky and forest”.

But there is a darker side to Haida history. Kathleen Jones uncovers the story of how the British Colonial administration reduced the population from more than twenty thousand to just over five hundred by a policy that has been identified as ‘cultural genocide’. Haida artist Bill Reid, whose sculpture ‘Raven and the First Men’ appears on the cover, wrote that, “It is one of the world’s finest tributes to the strength of the human spirit that most of those who lived, and their children after them, remained sane and adapted”.

When I finished reading Travelling to the Edge of the World, the first thing I wanted to do was re-read it immediately.  I also wanted to visit Haida Gwaii (previously known as Queen Charlotte Islands). I knew when I made my trip to Canada it wouldn’t be possible in the time I had to include a trip there – and I still want to go – but I was able to visit the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia. There I was able to see some of the Haida carvings and totems as well as work by acclaimed Haida artist Bill Reid.

My cousin Grace and I went to the museum. Several galleries showcase thousands of objects from all around the world. As well as exhibits on display other objects are in drawers beneath the s cases which you can open to explore even more artefacts.

Outside are examples of Haida houses and Musqueam house posts which are fascinating. DSC00152 (Custom)

Inside, the Great Hall, with its displays of totem poles and carvings, is truly spectacular. Spellbinding. Light pours in from the floor to ceiling glass walls highlighting the totems, which are so much more than I expected. Taller, so much taller, and so intricately carved.

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We all had to crane our necks to see the tops of the totems.

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Bear by Bill Reid. It was hard to obey the ‘do not touch’ order as this – and other sculptures – are so tactile.

One of the highlights was seeing Bill Reid’s sculpture of Raven and the First Men, which depicts the story of human creation. Carved from a giant block of laminated yellow cedar, it took two years to complete. Bill Reid, goldsmith, carver, sculptor, writer and one of Canada’s greatest artists was born in 1920. His mother, Sophie, was Haida but was sent away to school on the mainland where she was not allowed to speak her native language. She became an English teacher before she married Bill’s father who was of German Scottish descent. Bill was raised as ‘white’ by a mother who had assimilated western ways. On a visit to Haida Gwaii in 1954 Bill came across some carved bracelets by his great-great-uncle, carver Charles Edenshaw and the world changed for him.

In Haida culture, the Raven is the most powerful of mythical creatures. His appetites include lust, curiosity, and an irrepressible desire to interfere and change things, and to play tricks on the world and its creatures. According to Haida legend, the Raven was alone on Rose Spit beach in Haida Gwaii when he saw a clamshell inside which were small humans. The Raven coaxed them to leave the shell to join him in his world. Although hesitant at first, the humans did come out of the clamshell and became the first Haida.

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Raven and the First Men

Several First Nations carvers also worked on the project, including Reggie Davidson, Jim Hart, and Gary Edenshaw. Sculptor George Rammell worked on the emerging little humans, and Bill Reid did most of the finishing carving.

One day I might actually get to Haida Gwaii but at least, in the meantime, I’ve had the opportunity to see some of the fabulous work and learn a little more about the culture of a people I first read about in Kathleen Jones’ book.

Another piece of Bill Reid’s fabulous art is in the International Terminal at Vancouver Airport: The Spirit of Haida Gwaii. The Jade Canoe, a traditional six metre long Haida cedar dugout canoe in green-coloured bronze represents the Aboriginal heritage of Haida Gwaii. DSC00183 (Custom)

The canoe carries the following passengers: Raven, the trickster, holding the steering oar; Mouse Woman, crouched under Raven’s tail; Grizzly Bear, sitting at the bow and staring toward Raven; Bear Mother, Grizzly’s human wife; their cubs, Good Bear (ears pointed forward) and Bad Bear (ears pointed back); Beaver, Raven’s uncle; Dogfish Woman; Eagle; Frog; Wolf, claws imbedded in Beaver’s back and teeth in Eagle’s wing; a small human paddler in Haida garb known as the Ancient Reluctant Conscript; and, at the sculpture’s focal point, the human Shaman (Kilstlaai in Haida), who wears the Haida cloak and woven spruce root hat and holds a tall staff carved with images of Seabear, Raven, and Killer Whale.

The variety and interdependence of the canoe’s occupants represents the natural environment on which the ancient Haida relied for their survival: the passengers are diverse, and don’t always get along, but they must depend on one another to live.

I like that. I like the acknowledgement that we may not always live in harmony but we are dependent on each other. The sooner we accept this truth, the better for our world!

49 Days In 1988: Week 25 – Answers From An Unexpected Source

Hugh has a fascinating series on his blog just now in which he shares diary extracts from a year of his life in London back in 1988. I’m a guest on his blog today, which means I get to chose the music. Head over to read about Hugh and listen to some Queen.

Hugh's Views & News

Click here to read the first week of this feature, and follow the links at the end of each post.

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London – July 15th, 1988

I spent most of the night worrying about the meeting I had with Jake, as well as worrying about whether I should contact Douglas and share all the news of what’s happened to Jake. Of course, Jake may well have already told Douglas everything, but that got me worrying about what if he hasn’t? Talk about getting myself into a tizz.

To my surprise, I woke up this morning knowing exactly what I should do. It’s a strange thing to have to write, but I got all the answers from a dream I had last night that contained my Grandmother. When I saw her last Christmas, she was showing the first signs of a strange illness that my mother didn’t want to talk about…

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Guest author: Mary Smith – Secret Dumfries

I’ve been a guest today on the delightful and generous Sue Vincent’s blog talking about Secret Dumfries and providing a few wee tasters.

Sue Vincent's Daily Echo

The ‘office’

I’m thrilled to accept Sue’s generous offer to let me loose on her blog to talk about my latest book, Secret Dumfries.

I say my latest book but I should say our latest book as it is the result of a collaboration with photographer Keith Kirk, who in our part of the world (south west Scotland) is best known for his fantastic wildlife photography. It has been a wonderful project to work on –frustrating at times, fun, informative and exciting.

Obviously, as not all readers will know Dumfries we included a brief overview of the well-known areas of its history and I suspect we could have written a whole book on the pre-history of the area. When I was chatting to the local authority’s archaeologist he showed me maps on which he’d plotted ancient historical sites – there are literally thousands. However, we had a strict word…

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MarySmith’sPlace – #Canada (part 2)

I got a bit sidetracked by the launch of Secret Dumfries but here’s the second post about my trip to Canada.

My two-week visit to Canada – specifically, Vancouver – went by like lightning as I tried to see as much as was possible in between visiting and reminiscing with my aunt. Here are some of the highlights.

I loved Vancouver’s Lookout Tower (which I first read about in Tess Karlinski’s How the Cookie Crumbles blog. I went with my cousins Grace and Helen. The lift takes forty seconds to whiz you 553.16 feet (168.60metres) to experience a 360 degree view over the city. Grace, who hadn’t heard of it until I mentioned I’d like to go, loved how it gave her a completely different perspective of her city. I rather liked that it took someone from Scotland to introduce her to this view of her city!

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View from the top of the Lookout Tower

Grace and I visited the Burnaby Village Museum. It’s a 1920s village (which Canadians view as really old) with restored houses, shops, businesses and school. There was a rather scary teacher in the school who told me off for wearing nail polish!

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At Burnaby Village Museum

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Gastown is described as Vancouver’s most dynamic neighbourhood. It owes its existence to Gassy Jack and the saloon he built when he arrived in 1867 with a barrel of whisky and a knack for telling tales. Loggers and mill-workers followed the whisky and Gastown was named to honour Jack. Vancouver grew out of this rough neighbourhood. Today, Gastown has been cleaned up and is one of the main tourist areas with shops and restaurants. It also boasts the steam clock, Gastown’s most famous landmark. It was built in 1977 to cover a steam grate, part of Vancouver’s distributed steam heating system, as a way to harness the steam and to prevent street people from sleeping on the spot in cold weather.

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The Steam Clock Photo credit: Tourism Vancouver

Capilano Suspension Bridge is 230 feet high with a 450 feet span over the Capilano Canyon. I didn’t mind the height, or the distance across the bridge but having two-way traffic meant it did have quite a sway – and when someone stopped to take a selfie everyone got jammed up and the bridge did a bit of extra swaying, especially if impatient people tried to walk past the selfie-taker.  DSC00172 (Custom)

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The nearest I got to a bear!

Most of all, this visit to Canada was about family – getting to know some of those I’d never met, catching up with those I had, like Aunt May and my cousin Janis, who I’d kind of hero-worshipped when I was growing up so it was wonderful to meet her again.

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It’s going to be fun seeing these young members of my ‘new’ family grow up.

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One of the most fascinating outings was to the Museum of Anthropology – but it needs a post to itself – next time.

MarySmith’sPlace – Secret Dumfries

Secret Dumfries has now hit the book shelves – well, it’s certainly on Amazon because I checked earlier and they’d already sold all but one copy. 51zyoVlFK0L

Photographer Keith Kirk and I have really enjoyed working on this book. It’s a book Doonhamers will love. A Doonhamer is a person born and bred in Dumfries, south west Scotland. The expression came about when people from Dumfries worked in the factories in Strathclyde during the war. At the weekend they would say they were going ‘doon hame’ (down home) and the name stuck.

Doonhamers – wherever they might now live – love their town and its history and the people who made it. Much has been written about Dumfries, its history, trades and markets and about the famous people – Robert Burns, J M Barrie for example – connected to the town. We wanted to unearth some of the lesser known aspects of the town’s history and shine a spotlight on some of the almost-forgotten people who should be remembered.

One of my favourites is Miss Jessie McKie, the first and, so far, only woman to be given the Freedom of the Burgh. The daughter of a wealthy businessman, she used her inheritance to build public baths, a washhouse (a steamie), carry out the widening of the bridge on the main road into the town and was even proprietor of the Theatre Royal in Dumfries, Scotland’s oldest working theatre.

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Miss McKie’s silver Burgess casket

Many Doonhamers have never heard of Miss McKie, nor of Blin Tam, the bell-ringer who, despite having lost his sight as a child when he contracted smallpox, was the chief bell-ringer at the town’s Midsteeple for about 65 years. Although Patrick Miller was not technically a Doonhamer – more of an in-comer – he made a lasting contribution to the estate and village of Dalswinton near Dumfries. He may (or may not) have been responsible for introducing the swede to Scotland, courtesy of a gift of seeds from King Gustav 111 of Sweden. And he wanted to develop the first paddle boat powered by steam, a wish he achieved on 14 October, 1788 on Dalswinton Loch with, reputedly, Scotland’s bard, Robert Burns on board.

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Replica of Patrick Miller’s steamboat

We were determined not to focus on Burns as he is most definitely not a secret. However, we did give him a mention because not everyone knows how often the poor man was dug up and re-interred.

Keith is a wildlife photographer so he is used to working at distances from his subjects using long lenses, so he used this technique with many of the photographs in the book. Some of these photos are of things people may well walk past on a daily basis without realising they’re there. People spend so much time these days on their phones as they walk the streets and seldom look up at the splendour and intrigue of the buildings around Dumfries. For this reason, we have included a chapter called Remember to look up!, which includes photos of three heads looking down on pedestrians and a rare fire mark indicating the building was insured against fire.

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The rare fire mark indicating the building was insured. It was no unknown for firemen to ignore the uninsured building on fire next door!

We’ve thrown in some witches and public hangings (Dumfries was the last place in Scotland to hang a woman in public, an event which probably helped lead to the eventual repeal of capital punishment) and a visit from William Hare of the infamous Burke and Hare partnership.

And we’ve included the Dumfries rhinoceros with baby on top of a pretend bus shelter because, you know, every town should have one.090 (Custom)

Although we’re sure Doonhamers, both at home and abroad, will love Secret Dumfries it has much of interest to anyone interested in history and people. It is available on Amberely Publishing website, on Amazon as well as in bookshops in south west Scotland.