Ritu Bhathal, My Featured Blogger for March

I’m pleased Ritu Bhathal agreed to be my featured blogger for March.

Ritu: Thank you so much Rob for featuring me on your blog! I was humbled and thrilled to be asked, and I do hope you and your readers enjoy learning a little about me and my blogging career!

Tell us a little about your history, where you were born?

I guess I have quite a colourful background in that I was born here in the UK, in Birmingham, to Indian parents, who were themselves, both born in Kenya. As a result, I grew up learning a mish mash of Punjabi and Swahili alongside English! I lived in Birmingham until I was 18 when I went to University in Kingston-Upon-Thames in Surrey, and stayed there for around seven years, then when I married, I moved to Kent.

I have had many memorable trips back to Kenya as a child, to see where my parents grew up, and post marriage, trips to India to see more of my heritage, and the family and villages of my in-laws.

How long have you been blogging and why did you start?

It’s been nearly three and a half years since I started blogging, and I fell into it quite by accident, to be honest! A friend of mine wrote a very candid post about her mental health state, and posted it to her Facebook page. A brave thing to do.  I read it and wanted to comment my support and had to register with WordPress in order to do so. As I did the site asked me if I wanted to start my very own blog, and after about thirty seconds of pondering, I decided to go for it! Honestly, I didn’t even know what a blog was to be honest! A little rambling from me, and a lot of advice from many other bloggers out there and this is what culminated! A place where I can be me, be creative, and lay my thoughts on the line. I also like to spread positivity around too via my posts.

3. About the Blogger’s Bash?

The Annual Blogger’s Bash is an event that has been set up by Sacha Black.

It is an event where bloggers are celebrated for their hard work and talent, and you can network with many other like-minded individuals. The last two years have also included inspirational talks by some of the bloggers, and special guests, which have been wonderful!

And there are awards which are voted for over the course of the run up to the event by thousands of people.

It started four years ago, with a simple get together and meal out, and I was unable to make the first one. I hadn’t been blogging that long, and I was a little scared to be honest, to go and meet these people, whose online presence I had come to enjoy. But the last two have just got bigger and better, with more international bloggers, flying in for the event, and I have felt like I am meeting family and friends and not relative strangers!

It must have felt good to win the Best Overall Blogger Award 
for 2017, were you surprised?

Surprised is not the word! I was up against some amazing bloggers, powerhouses, I would call them! People I had followed for a long time, those I admired, and aspired to have a blog and following like, so to hear that I had actually WON was just jaw-dropping wonderful!

How often do you post
?

I don’t have a strict schedule as such. There is a regular slot on a Sunday, Spidey’s Serene Sunday, which started when I found my son’s Spiderman figure in a rather contemplative, meditating pose. ‘He’ finds a motivating or inspiring quote which I discuss, and try and leave my Peeps (readers) with something positive to ponder over. Other than that, I post whatever and whenever something pops into my head. As I like to write creatively too, I take part in several challenges over the week, so there is more often than not, a post a day at least with some form of prose or poetry. Last year I gave myself a silent challenge to post EVERY DAY! It was hard work, but I did it!

You published your first book in 2016. How does it feel?

I feel so proud to see my name on the cover of a book, to be honest! Poetry was an easy start for me, but the ultimate is to see my fiction book finally completed, and out there on people’s bookshelves and e-readers!

How did Poetic RITUals evolve?

 

The Cover of Poetic Rituals Ritu Bhathal
The Cover of Poetic Rituals

I have always enjoyed writing poems and little rhyming ditties. Over the course of life I have penned many verses, and I had kept quite a few in a little book. When I started blogging, I got to know many published poets, and thought, “Why not? I could do this too!” The poems I had posted on my blog always tended to get a good response, so I compiled all my work, sorted the poems into sections, and went about editing the book, via Amazon Create Space and KDP Direct. I had always wanted a book to be out there, and my novel was taking so long, that this was a way for me to get my name on the spine of the cover of a real book!

What have you learned about blogging and marketing from the experience of publishing your first book.

If I am honest, I have not used my blog to its fullest potential for marketing my book.  I have promoted it a bit, I have advertised offers on it, and written the odd guest post, mentioning my little book at the end, but that’s as far as I’ve gone.  Looking back, I see that there was so much more I could have done, Blog tours, more guest posts, in your face posts ‘selling’ my book, but that isn’t me to be honest

What is your number 1 piece of advice for new bloggers?

My biggest advice is to not expect overnight fame and success. A blog is a very personal thing and can take a long while to establish. To have a good blog, you need the right community behind you, and by building that, you will automatically find the support you need to make your blog feel like a real haven for you

Will you share one or two of your poem with our readers?

Of course!

 

The first, a humorous take on the infamous Mummy Tummy!

 

“Mummy, thank you for that tum
You know, the one where we came from.
That wobbly, squidgy bit of jelly
A comfy pillow, when we watch telly.
We like to play, to squish, to knead
On this, us kiddies have agreed.
Your tummy really is tum-tastic
So don’t do anything too drastic!”
Thank you kids, I needed that
A reassurance, I’m not fat.
So when I go out, I’ll wear some Spanx
And silently, I’ll whisper “Thanks!”
The children love their cuddly mum!
Now…what do I do about my BUM?

 

And a more serious one, penned during the various terrorist attacks that have hit over the last few years

 

Brown Skinned and British

 

I’m brown skinned and British
That’s what I am
Don’t label me by colour
Just see me, if you can
Don’t question my religion
Beliefs don’t mean a thing
Cos in the grander scheme of life
I’m jus’ a human being
So I may pray quite differently
And eat other types of food
But to label me a terrorist
You know that’s kinda rude
Get to know me, talk to me
And then I guess you’ll see
That there ain’t no difference
Between you an’ me
We need to live in harmony
And celebrate our quirks
Jus’ please don’t judge me
By the deeds of other jerks

(C) 2015 RituBhathal

Portrait of Ritu Bhathal
Author Ritu Bhathal

Social Media Profiles

Website: http://www.butismileanyway.com
Twitter: https://twitter.com/PhantomGiggler
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Flipboard: https://flipboard.com/@Phantom_Giggler
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Tumblr: https://www.tumblr.com/blog/ritusmiles
Bloglovin: https://www.bloglovin.com/@ritubhathalpadhaal

And by clicking the following link, you get to Ritu’s author profile on Amazon, where you can find the link to her poetry book, Poetic RITUals.

Author.to/RituBhathal

 

February’s Featured Blogger: Author, Mary Smith

February’s featured Blogger is author, Mary Smith.

Mary is the author of No More Mulberries, a novel set in Afghanistan and a collection of short stories, Donkey Boy & Other Stories. Her non-fiction work includes a memoir of her time in Afghanistan, Drunk Chickens, and Burnt Macaroni.

Thank you for being here , Mary.

You write in your biography that you’ve always written, but was there a moment of inspiration?

Hi Rob, thanks so much for choosing me as your blogger of the month. Your first question stumped me because I honestly can’t remember any one single moment of inspiration – I just always wanted to write.

What did you read as a child and what was your favorite story?

I read a lot as a child. One of my favorite (sorry, I can’t do American spelling so you might have to change some words!) books was What Katy Did by Susan Coolidge. I read it over and over again, couldn’t wait to get to the end so I could begin it again. I also read loads of Enid Blyton’s books – The Secret Seven and The Famous Five. As a child, I usually had my head stuck in a book.

You lived in Pakistan and Afghanistan for ten years and worked for a small health organization; what prompted your decision to live and work in Pakistan and Afghanistan and how does your work there inform your writing?

I drank too much whisky one night and under its influence accepted an invitation to visit Pakistan with two sisters who were returning to visit family in Karachi. While there, I visited the headquarters of the Pakistan Leprosy Control Programme. I had an introduction because in the UK I worked for Oxfam which helped fund the leprosy work. I was welcomed and spent three days seeing various aspects of the work and was really impressed. I wrote in my journal at the time that I knew I was coming back to Pakistan although I didn’t know how or when. Anyway, before I left I was asked if I would help set up a health education department. I came home, handed in my notice and returned to Pakistan on a three-year contract. During my time in Karachi, I met a number of Afghan students who were studying to be paramedics before going back to Afghanistan to open clinics. I spent a lot of time with them, teaching English, listening to stories of their mother country which they all loved with a deep passion. By the time my contract ended it was inevitable I’d sign on again to work, this time, in Afghanistan.

My time there has definitely informed my writing. I so wanted to share my experiences with everyone – all the people who will never have the opportunity to go there and see for themselves. I’ve written a memoir (Drunk Chickens and Burnt Macaroni) which covers the latter part of my time in Afghanistan when I was setting up a project to train village women as health volunteers. I’ve also written a novel (No More Mulberries) set in Afghanistan and quite a number of poems.

 

cover of Burnt Macaroni
Drunk Chickens and Burnt Macaroni by Mary Smith

Who are the writers you read for pleasure and study?

I love the novels of Kate Atkinson, Margaret Elphinstone, the late Iain Banks and so many more. And poets, Seamus Heaney, Tom Pow (who was my tutor on a creative writing course), Norman McCaig. I could fill this post with lists.

Why did you take up blogging?

My father had dementia and his wife (my stepmother – or stepmonster as I call her in the blog) left him because she felt she “was entitled to a peaceful life.” I did not want my dad to go into a care home so I moved in with him, which changed my life entirely. I had thought I’d have time to continue as a freelance journalist and doing the PR for a charity as well as work on a book I wanted to write. I soon discovered this was not going to happen. I was exhausted, especially when I first moved in and had very little professional help, and spent much of my time in a zombie-like state. Creativity went out the window. Blogging was a way to ensure I did do some regular writing and way of trying to make sense of the situation.

Who is your audience?

The majority of my audience for the blog (My Dad’s a Goldfish) are people who are caring for or have cared for a family member with dementia. Some are also blogging about it. So many lives are affected by this nowadays and I think many of the people who read my blog do so because it helps them feel they are not alone, others are going through similar situations. Until fairly recently, although dementia was on the increase, little was said about – about how it really is to be care for someone who spends the night wandering around the house looking for things, who needs help going to the toilet, who doesn’t know who you are. Blogging helps me – and my followers – to see the funny side of situations which, at the time, are far from funny. I also have followers who are friends, writers and other bloggers whose blogs I follow

the cover of Donkey Boy and other stories

Do you consider your audience when you publish a post? (Another way to put this is how much does your audience influence your work?)

Yes, I do and I have been careful not to dilute the Goldfish blog with posts on other things. I don’t think my Goldfish audience expect to find re-blogs from other posts unless they’re dementia related or travel pieces or whatever. For this reason, I have recently started a second blog on which I can post all sorts of other things which have nothing to do with dementia.

The cover of No More Mulberries

I admire the way you balance promotional and personal blogging. What advice do you have for other writers who want to use blogging for personal and promotional blogging?

Thank you for saying that. I think it’s mainly because, as I explain above, I try to keep the Goldfish blog about my dad and dementia – though I do sneak in the odd post about my books. I’d advise anyone who thinks starting a blog is going to help them sell shed-loads of books to forget it! I think writing is about our need to communicate with others. We want to share our words, our thoughts, with others but if we only blog about the books we’ve written followers won’t stay around for long. Does that make sense? I feel I’m waffling a bit here – just cut this bit if you want

Tell us about your latest Book.

My latest book is a collection of short stories called Donkey Boy & Other Stories. It came about because I was feeling bad about not having published any fiction for such a long time. I always intended to write a sequel to No More Mulberries but somehow got sidetracked into doing other things – a poetry collection and a couple of local history books. The one day when looking for something on my computer (my filing system is a disgrace) I noticed a folder which contained some short stories. I decided they should be out in the world working for their living – or at least being read by a few people – and put them together. It’s an eclectic mix of stories about a diverse range of characters: a donkey boy (he drives a donkey cart for his father) in Pakistan dreams of buying luxuries for his mother; a mouth artist in rural Scotland longs to leave the circus; a visually impaired man has a problem with his socks; and a woman tries to come to terms with a frightening gift – or curse. I’m delighted by how well received it has been with readers and reviewers. And it’s only 99c – so much cheaper than a cup of coffee.

Book cover for Thousands Pass Here Every Day
Thousands Pass Here Every Day by Mary Smith

Thank you, Mary.

Below are links to Mary’s blogs and books.

Blog links: My Dad’s a Goldfish: https://marysmith57.wordpress.com  New Blog – MarySmithsPlace: https://marysmithsplace.wordpress.com

This is the smart url link for Donkey Boy & Other Stories. It will open at the Amazon site in whichever country the reader is: www.smarturl.it/dbaos

Drunk Chicken and Burnt Macaroni: http://smarturl.it/dcbm

No More Mulberries: http://smarturl.it/nmm

Twitter: https://twitter.com/marysmithwriter

Revised February 26, 2018: Header update

January’s Featured Blogger: Hank the Hedgehog

I’ve never thought of Hedgehogs as pets until I ran into Hank over at Living a Beautiful Life. After I interviewed Danica, I researched Hedgehogs and decided to interview Hank the Hedgehog.

Hank the Hedgehog
Hank The Hedgehog

I sat down with Danica and Hank over a lunch of cold meal worms and
began our interview:

When did Hedgehogs start to become popular as pets?

Hank: Hedgehogs first became popular as pets in North America in 1980-90.

Are the hedgehogs kept as pets in the U.S. born in the U.S.

Hank: Yes, all hedgehogs kept as pets in the U.S. are born in the U.S.

How does Hank feel when Danica blogs about him?

Hank: When I first noticed Danica blogging about me I took over immediately    because I’m curious and like to explore new things.  Danica quickly realized that I prefer speaking for himself.  I’m small but I have a strong personality.

photograph og a hedgehog with stuffed animals
Stop with the stuffed animals already

What does Hank like best about Danica?

Danica: What Hank likes best about me is that I tells it like it is.  Whenever Hank announces that he’s going to live in the wild, I explain that he’d likely die within a week.  It would be 50-50 odds he’d wind up as dinner or as roadkill.

Hank: Danica means well but she’s wrong:  I have extraordinary survival skills.  I indulge her because she brings me meal-worms; but stop with the stuffed animals already.

While no pets should ever be released into the wild, I’m a special case.  I’m from the streets  and through a series of misadventures wound up on death row lock-up (i.e., the city pound).

Here’s my story:

I get these cravings for wild game!  I know it’s not PC but you can’t take the hedge out of the hog.  Danica does her best to prepare exotic gourmet meals for me — there’s this venison dish that’s quite tasty! — but I miss the everyday pleasures of my former life.  Ants, grasshoppers, flies, crickets.  I’ve left food out to attract ants and flies, but Danica is quick to clean up after me and she even picked up a couple of flyswatters.

What’s a wild-at-heart hog to do?  One day after she kissed me goodbye (she’s given up telling me to be good), I rounded up my boys:  Rabbit, Pig and Dog.  We flipped open the laptop near my crib and did some online shopping.  I ordered an ant farm and live fishing bait.  We clicked “next-day delivery”.  They couldn’t guarantee delivery time.  How could I make sure Danica wouldn’t be around?  Well, I couldn’t.  Then it hit us!  If you can’t get rid of them, distract them.  So, we added two dozen roses to the order!

Oh yeah, it played out like a bank heist.  She loved the flowers and the card really got her attention:  “All my love across the miles, from some dude who isn’t Kyle.”  LOL!  Oh man, it cracks me up every time I think of it.  She’s arranging the flowers trying to figure out, first, who is Kyle?  Second, who is this some dude?

We could almost see the wheels turning in her brain and she didn’t notice us bringing in the ants and live bait.  We managed to get the contraband rolled up in my new blanket — a pink blanket with flowers!  Bane of my existence.  That’s another story.

Anyway, what’s the lesson here?  Chicks dig flowers, man.  And secret admirers.  You’re welcome, bro.

Peace out.

Danica I’ve never thought of hunting.  I would like to learn how to fire weapons, outside of video games.  There aren’t any shooting ranges nearby so it hasn’t happened yet.  I’d like to fire rocket launchers and drive tanks too, but that may remain a distant dream.

Hedgehogs are carnivores and mostly hunt insects.  The domesticated hedgehogs that westerns love as pets are small, and to them insects are “wild game”.  Well, that’s that Hank calls them anyway.

Oh, and as for the “chicks” and “bro” references — Hank respects all orientations.  His experience using flowers to distract people is limited to chicks only, so he can’t speak to how it may or may not work on the bros out there.

Photograph of a hedgehog next to a potted plant
Hank the Hedgehog in the Wild

~ Hank the Hedgehog

All Material (c) Danica Piche 2018 All Rights Reserved

 

 

December’s Featured Blogger: Danica of Living a Beautiful Life

This month my featured blogger is Danica of the Living a Beautiful Life Blog

Her writing has a wonderful sense of adventure.

  1. Why did you start blogging?

I started blogging despite the fact that I had no idea what I was doing.  I created Living a Beautiful Life when I left the hospital emergency and was waiting to learn whether I’d need eye surgery or would simply lose my eyesight.  Living a Beautiful Life is my first blog and I hope to continue for a long time.

  1. I’m glad you didn’t lose your eyesight: What caused the doctors so much concern?

I’m not sure I want to go into more detail…the medical stuff kind of creeps me out.  It was the result of injury though, not a condition or degenerative issue.

Would it be fair to say that the crisis over the potential loss of your eyesight precipitated a crisis of identity?

Interesting question.  I love reading – and have since I learned how to read.  When I was a kid a big treat for me meant going to the bookstore and picking a book to bring home.  I’ve always felt that one of the best gifts I’ve ever received is exposure to books, and how fortunate I am to be literate.  When I was at risk of losing my eyesight, I thought, “Oh no!  Why can’t it be a limb or something else?”  It would be fair to say my identity is wrapped up in reading, ideas and learning.  Writing was always on the horizon for me and the possibility of leaving that unexpressed was devastating.

 

 

“No matter what, nobody can take away the dances you’ve already had.”

~ Gabriel García Márquez

 

  1. When was the first time you felt an urge to write?

I’ve wanted to write for most of my life.  I only started taking that vague notion off the back burner and putting it into action with my blog.

 

  1. How did you decide on the name, ‘Living a Beautiful Life?

When I started my blog I didn’t know what I’d write about or even what my general theme would be.  I thought about having a tiny speck of a space on the internet – what that would mean and what I wanted to contribute.  On a fundamental level, I believe there is always room for more beauty in the world and it wouldn’t hurt to focus on that.

 

Digital photograph of a Hedgehog
For more about Hank the Hedgehog click here
  1. You say you knew nothing the day you started your blog, what have you learned about blogging and bloggers since that day.

    I’ve learned the importance of what I call “blogging your love”.  The closer to my heart a blog post is, the more rewarding it is for me to write and publish.  It’s also more risky too; it just matters more.  I still expect to hear crickets when I post something.  Reader response is amazing.  The fact that one other human reads something I wrote and takes time to comment just tickles me.  I also enjoy reading other blogs and getting to know other bloggers.  The blogging community is amazing and I’m so lucky to be a part of it.~ Danica – (Living a Beautiful Life blog)