Writing targets and burnout

How many words does a professional writer type in a day? What if they get burnout? How do I set a writing target? These are all going to be answered in this article.

Sometime a few years ago, I stopped being an unemployed person who also wrote a blog and I became a writer. It was a gradual process and it’s still not a bombproof career – it only works if I keep releasing books, writing blog posts, and sharing these on social media and in my author newsletter. I believe this is the case even for James Patterson although his income is obviously several orders of magnitude greater than mine.

That means I have a target for how many words I write every day.

It started when I was living in China and I was contracted to a publisher to get 1 book to them every 3 weeks. On top of that, I had my own projects I wanted to write and self-publish. A lot of the time these days, I don’t have enough words left over at the end of the day to write my blog which is a shame.

At the height of my productivity to date, I was writing at least 4000 words a day. In fact, four thousand was a bad day. On a good day, I could do 8k or more and I worked 12-16 hours a day, taking long breaks only to cook or shower. After about forty published books, I am working at a point where those words usually only need one or two rounds of edits to be publishable.

It all got a bit too big and unmanageable around late 2018, when I found out I was pregnant. The first trimester hit me especially hard. Due to pregnancy concerns, and the hormones making it impossible to think clearly, my productivity plummeted to about 2000 words. It felt like I was working through treacle. At the time, with my bipolar misdiagnosis (I don’t have bipolar, I have ADHD and PMDD), I thought my productivity was linked to mania/depression, although I now know that’s not the case.

After I had a baby, I thought things would get better, but then I was lost in a mist of severe post-natal depression that kept coming in waves, so every time I thought it had lifted, it came back again. At first I thought this was writer’s block, but I had no shortage of ideas, I just couldn’t execute them.

There were weeks at a time when I couldn’t write anything at all. Not a book, not an article, and I withdrew from social media completely. I became a recluse because I couldn’t handle the pressure from all the things I’d been so good at, which were now on fire.

I. Was. Burned. Out.

The trouble is, like depression, it’s hard to recognize true burnout until you’re so deep under the weight of failed commitments and broken promises that you’ve drowned and they’re fishing your blue corpse out of the river you used to float on top of.

I had to get rid of every pressure, every target, every expectation, that I or anyone else had of me. I had to stop doing and just be. Lockdown didn’t help. I took up running. That helped.

Like a snowdrop poking through the snow I finally started to emerge after about a year. The storm was over. I had survived even though there were many times when I thought I hadn’t.

For about six months now, I’ve been writing again. Some days, more words come out than others. There’s also the constant pressure of needing to drop everything whenever my baby needs something. And trying to hash out a fair arrangement between my husband and I, since we are both working from home.

I have realized that even 1000 words a day is enough to release a 30,000-word book a month (luckily the romance genre supports this length of book), and 1000 words is about an hour of effort (a little over an hour). So now, my target is 1000 words a day. This means at the bare minimum I am writing enough to pay the bills, and if I have time to write more, then great, it can be a more satisfying book.

Even releasing one book every two months will pay for the bare minimum, as we have no mortgage or other big loans (and we are ninjas with a food budget), but to save for bigger and better things, a book a month is optimal (Craig Martelle, founder of Twenty Books to 50k, suggests that rapid-release brings in more money for all the books in a series than releasing on a slower schedule).

I don’t have the luxury of writing that mystery that’s been on the backburner for about 9 months, yet, but if I keep plugging at 1000 words a day, I will get there. And one hour of work time a day is really not that much to ask of my family. In an ideal world, that would be one undisturbed hour in a room of perfect silence, but as anyone with kids knows, that’s not how life works as a mother.

Usually, that’s an hour while my little jellyfish watches car videos on Youtube. I make up for it by taking him outside for a walk and to splash in puddles before or after (or both. He loves splashing), and playing cars with him when it starts to go dark. I was worried about letting him watch TV when he was a lot younger, but now I realize that was unrealistic. As long as the shows are chosen with care, the television is a key weapon in the parenting arsenal. Like any weapon (such as an adjective, adverb or flashback scene) it must be used sparingly.

My point is, if you want writing to be a career, rather than a hobby, you have to set yourself an achievable, realistic goal and make yourself stick to it. Recognize your limits and go easy on yourself. Don’t do what I did and push yourself past the point of not being productive. “Pushing through” burnout is nonsense. It’s a lie spun by people who want you to fail, or who never experienced genuine burnout.

No one ever wrote a book by… not writing.

Goal setting advice for finding your word count and making it stick:

  1. How many other commitments do you have? How much free time do you have? Don’t overestimate all the time spent in between other things. If it’s dead time, such as sitting on public transport, you can use that to write. If it’s time spent driving or similar, don’t count it as free time.
  2. How many words can you realistically write in an average (not perfect) hour? 200? 500? 1500?
  3. Now do some math. Don’t fill every waking hour of free time with writing, unless your lifestyle supports this. Your laundry still needs folding (although I use speech-to-text when I’m doing tasks like this in a quiet house). A good rule is to start by setting yourself half an hour or an hour a day of absolute ringfenced time to write.
  4. You can’t control other people or their interruptions, problems etc. You can tell them that if it’s not bleeding or on fire, not to bother you, but they might still, especially if they crawl or toddle and don’t understand words yet. Embrace the distractions when they are unavoidable, be present with the people who need you, and come back to writing. As Barbie says, positive attitude changes everything. If you spend all your interruptions stressing, you will return to your desk stressed. If you spend your interruptions generously, with the intention of helping people, you will return to your desk feeling good.
  5. Have a dedicated work space. Actually use it. I have a terrible habit of working on the sofa. I am more productive at my desk. You are too. It’s basic psychology. You spent all your youth being conditioned to work at a desk by schools.
  6. Plan your work before you start writing. Know what you want to say. Whether you’re a plotter or pantser, this is going to help you stay focused during writing sessions. You don’t need to know every fine detail, but some vague info will mean you spend your writing time typing rather than thinking.
  7. Never edit until the book is finished. Don’t waste your writing time stumbling over what you want to say. Write cliches, misuse the subjunctive, use twelve adverbs to a sentence. You can unpick it all later.

You can do it! The main thing is to get writing and keep writing.

Wheels: Join the Thursday Photo Challenge

Welcome to the weekly Thursday Photo Challenge, a weekly photography challenge for everyone who likes to take photos!

Like a circle in a spiral, like a wheel within a wheel, never ending or beginning, on an ever spinning reel.

Alan and Marilyn Bergman

This week’s challenge, then, is wheels. My baby adores wheels! He loves watching cars go past the house, or play with his toy fire engine, pushing it around the room. And his favourite song is The Wheels On The Bus. But wheels aren’t always literal, as this week’s quote shows. It’s from The Windmills of Your Mind, a song made famous by the (now-largely-forgotten) film The Thomas Crown Affair.

Here’s how to take part:

  1. Take a photo or search your files for one that represents the week’s theme.
  2. Write a post, including your photo, any words of explanation or inspiration you wish to share, and a link to this challenge page.
  3. Comment on this post with a link to your page so others can see your contribution.
  4. That’s it! Super easy.

This challenge will stay open for one week, then next Thursday, I will post the next challenge!

How to donate your hair to charity for a child’s cancer wig

Over lockdown, many of us have grown our hair longer than we usually would, as we haven’t been able to go to the hairdresser’s salon. This is the perfect opportunity to grow your hair and help a child with cancer.

Why do children with cancer need wigs?

Children with cancer are often undergoing treatments such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy. These treatments make an area of the child’s body too toxic for the cancer cells to keep existing, so the child gets very sick. They lose weight because they can’t keep their food down. And all their hair falls out. This makes them feel very miserable and self-conscious at a time when they are already going through a terrible ordeal.

Why can’t they just buy a wig?

Children with cancer spend a lot of time in hospital. This can either be as an inpatient, or, more commonly these days, visiting the hospital two or three times per week (or even daily) for treatment. Many children don’t live near to the hospital they are treated in. Their parents have to spend lots of money on petrol to drive to the hospital, food to eat while they are out, and accommodation near the hospital so they can visit their baby and hold their hand.

Wigs for children with cancer typically cost hundreds of pounds (or Euros, or dollars). That’s because the raw materials (good hair) are expensive and the labour to make a wig is intense (wigs have to be handmade). For decades, this has been a problem (basically, since chemotherapy was invented). In the past ten years or so, however, a solution has appeared.

Do you have very long hair?

If your hair is long enough, you can donate it to charities that make wigs specifically for children with cancer. Right now, however, the best thing you can do is let your hair grow another inch or two. Those extra inches could make the difference about whether your hair can be used in a longer wig–the most in-demand type, as little girls usually have long hair before their treatment begins, and adults rarely have hair as long, so it’s hard to get wigs at this length.

The goal is to help the children feel as normal as possible, at a time when nothing feels normal to them, so a wig close to how they used to wear their hair is very important.

Do I have enough hair to help a child with cancer?

Another point to bear in mind is that your hair is cut above the ponytail, but the rest of your hair will stay attached to your head. There could be 6-8 inches of hair before your ponytail. When thinking about how long a wig would be from your hair donation, remember that first 6-8 inches will be needed, too. So a 12 inch wig will only actually give 4 inches of drop past the ears. And a 12-inch wig needs more than 12 inches of hair, because some will need to be used to sew it to the woven cap part of the wig, just like you need extra fabric when you are sewing, to account for the seams.

They will also need to cut the hair after it’s been woven into a wig, to turn it into a hairstyle, because it’s unlikely that your ponytail will transform itself into a perfect bob, for example. Suddenly, even a 12-inch hair donation doesn’t seem like much. So whatever length your hair is, letting it grow for another couple of inches will make a huge difference overall to what can be done with it. Just remember in the meantime to take good care of your hair, don’t bleach it intensely or dye it any unnatural colours, or it usually can’t be used.

How to do it:

When it’s time, choose which children’s wigs for cancer charity you want to donate to (some are listed below), and follow their instructions to be sure your donation is in tip-top condition. NEVER send them wet hair. It can’t be dried properly once it’s cut. In fact, washing it the night before you cut it is best. It’s also important to use top-quality scissors, as blunt scissors can damage your hair donation, so if you can, get your donation cut at a hairdresser.

If you’re impatient, of course, you can cut your hair at home, just be sure to follow the instructions about cutting your hair, which are different for each charity, and always cut above the bobble/elastic. Make sure when you cut your hair, it is tied into a ponytail with a bobble/elastic you don’t mind donating along with your hair.

However, your contribution doesn’t have to stop there.

It costs a lot of money to process your hair and turn it into a wig. Setting up a Justgiving page, sharing this with your family, friends and colleagues, and sending the proceeds to your chosen charity, is a great way to help them with the costs of making not just a wig from your hair, but other people’s too.

While in-person events are currently off-limits for many of us, you could still set up an online event, and get your hair cut live on Facebook, and get people to sponsor you to do it, then they can watch it happen.

Some hair donation places will give you a certificate to thank you for your contribution.

What has really shocked me, researching this, is that the Canadian Cancer Society isn’t linking to or telling potential hair donors about the FOUR Canadian charities giving real hair wigs to children going through chemo! And they don’t accept donations which they could have passed onto these organisations, claiming people prefer acrylic wigs. Of course, that’s fine if you’re an adult because your head size will fit something bought on eBay, but a bit useless for kids. I hope they update their site soon.

Resources:

Little Princess Trust (UK) Little Princess Trust UK works to provide children across the UK with wigs, and also works with the Lauralynn Hospice in Ireland. Minimum hair length: 7 inches (as mentioned above, growing it another inch or two could make a huge difference).

The Rapunzel Foundation (Ireland): The Rapunzel Foundation is an Irish charity working to provide wigs for children. Minimum hair length: 16 inches.

Hair Harvest (UK): They pay you for your hair (minimum 14 inches) and they turn it into wigs for people undergoing chemotherapy or who have alopecia (hair loss). A percentage of the value of your donation goes to the Katie Piper foundation, who help fund wigs for people with medical hair loss.

Chai Lifeline (Canada): They deal specifically with wigs for children in Canada undergoing chemotherapy. Their hair guidelines are here.
Minimum hair length: At least 10 inches (curly hair can be pulled straight to measure).

A Child’s Voice Foundation (Canada): They do hair for children with alopecia or undergoing chemotherapy. They don’t give set guidelines on their website but ask that you contact them to figure out if your hair is going to be a good match for their program.

Hair Donation Ottawa (Canada): They raise money and solicit hair donations for wigs for children undergoing chemotherapy. Minimum hair length: At least 12 inches (no bleached hair). Their submission guidelines are here.

Wigs for Kids (Canada): A hairdresser set up this charity to help children going through hair loss. Guidelines are here. Minimum hair length: 12 inches.

Freedom Wigs (New Zealand): This Kiwi business sells hair solutions for men, women and children suffering from hair loss due to chemo or alopecia. They pay you for your hair donation. While their wigs aren’t free, they are at least able to offset the cost if you donate them your hair. Minimum hair length: 14 inches (33cm)

Ella Wigmakers (Australia): This Aussie company works in conjunction with Kids With Cancer (Australia) to ensure hair donations make it to the kids you want to support.

Small Business (USA) has a great resource on the best ways to donate hair in America, since there are quite a few different avenues depending on whether you want to donate nationally or locally. Please don’t email me to add US sites to this article.

Conclusion:

Donating your hair to help kids with cancer is possible in every country in the English-speaking world. Right now, the best thing you can do is let your hair grow one or two extra inches, because that could make an enormous difference to what the charity can do with your hair. It can take 12 donors’ ponytails and €1000 to make a wig, so any money you can raise in the process will help these vital services keep working miracles for children.

10 Homeschooling ideas for Lego or Mega Bloks Construx

When you are homeschooling, sometimes you just want to give your child something to do, that doesn’t involve a screen, and to know they are learning something.

Lego/Mega Bloks Construx/other building products are perfect for this. Just buy a big bucket of blocks and use these ideas to keep your child busy and learning without any input (or minimum input) from you.

Younger children are very easily attracted to Lego, but even older children will find a challenge with some of the tasks you can set them using blocks that push together.

For older children, using Lego to express extremely complex ideas from the maths and science curriculum can help compound their learning, or you can use it as a starter to introduce a new topic.

I have also made a printable which you can print out, which is a deck of 21 things to build with Lego, for when you need a quick draw activity to instantly engage your child. You can download the free printable here.

You can also use the printable cards as a reward, e.g. if they have finished the work on another task, let them choose a card, as inspiration for something to build with Lego or Mega Bloks Construx.

Set them a challenge like building the tallest tower that doesn’t fall down using only yoghurt pots, then when you come back ask them how many yoghurt pots made the tallest tower and what might make the tower stand up better, then giving them time to try other ways to get the tower to stay up (glue, making the base out of three yoghurt pots and building up, etc).

Here are 10 activities your child can do with construction blocks such as Lego or Mega Bloks Construx that you could turn into an investigation or lesson (and which will give you time to teach your other children or make yourself a drink):

  1. What is the tallest tower you can build? You could use this to teach younger children about how buildings stay upright and, for older children, centre of mass and balance for GCSE physics.
  2. Put twelve blocks together. How many different ways can they split it evenly (two groups of 6, three groups of 4, four groups of 3, etc)? You could use this to introduce factors for a maths lesson.
  3. Put twenty blocks together. How many times can they split it in half? You could use this to introduce fractions for a maths lesson.
  4. Make one row that is one block, the next row is one, the next is two, three, five… each time get them to add together the last two numbers in the sequence to find the size of the next row. You could use this to introduce the Fibonacci sequence, an important number sequence that can be found in nature.
  5. Can you make a circle out of Lego, if you have enough bricks?
  6. Design a car. It has to be different to the last one your child made. Ask them to make it out of a different type of brick, or with different size wheels, or similar. You can then use the Lego car to test out physics questions (especially if they can make a ramp) such as friction (how much do they need to tilt the ramp before gravity allows it to roll down).
  7. Older children could make a 2-D Lego model of a plant or animal cell (or both) to compare the features of the two.
  8. Make a scene out of Lego, complete with minifigures, and use it as a creative writing prompt for your child.
  9. Make a balance beam with a long piece of Lego. The child can attach bricks at different distances and find out when the beam tilts. For example, one block, six studs away, should be able to be balanced with two blocks on the other side that is three studs away. You can use this to teach children from age 11 upwards (even through A-level if they need the reminder) about forces and distances from a pivot point (these are called moments).
  10. Using minifigures, look at their faces. They often have different expressions. Your child needs to write down what emotion each character is expressing, and describe their face (such as “eyebrows are close together and diagonal”, for frowning). This is especially good for children who are struggling to interpret emotions of the people around them. You could take this further by asking (for example) “why might this figure be angry?” Once the child has thought of something that makes them angry, you could move onto, “What could you do to make them feel better?”

There are thousands more things you can do with Lego, these are just a selection of things that I think would link closely to the national curriculum. Lego can be far more of a learning tool than the boxes imply. The best Lego to get for education is a bucket with a good mixture of lots of different shapes and sizes of Lego.

If you are using Mega Bloks Construx, these are compatible with Lego, but some other types of construction block don’t stick to Lego due to being very slightly too big or small. In my experience, Mega Bloks Construx don’t stick as tightly to Lego as other pieces of Lego do, but if you’re on a budget, they are definitely worth considering.

We have some of the bigger baby-size Mega Bloks and our little one loves them, although they are not compatible with Duplo (the next size up of Mega Bloks is, though). The plastic on the baby-sized ones is softer and I think he likes them because they are very chewable, perfect for teething babies. The baby-size Mega Bloks also have the advantage of being suitable from age 1 whereas Duplo is age 2+. When it comes to the smaller bricks, however, they are largely identical to Lego (the Construx range by Mega Bloks is for ages 5+) and there’s a thriving world of Mega Bloks Construx out there which you can discover.

Need some Lego? Get a big box here on UK Amazon or here on US Amazon (neither ships to Ireland but this smaller box does).

Lego, Duplo, Mega Bloks and Mega Bloks Construx are registered trademarks of their respective companies.

The sudden explosion of Covid in children: Why is it being downplayed?

A news article earlier this evening about children with Covid was published on the Telegraph which was later, hastily removed again.

It stuck in my craw a little because it was about the hospitalisation rates of children. At the same time, well known UK discussion site Mumsnet was aggressively deleting threads discussing the same thing.

Why?

The latest news is that there are about 50 children a day being hospitalised with Covid. Teaching unions, councils and parents have been begging the government to shut the schools for weeks but they refused. Even now, it’s being treated as a massive inconvenience rather than a terrifying reality that our children could be threatened by Covid. The current narrative is that children can’t get Covid, but that, when they do get Covid, they don’t get very ill with it. It would appear this article is a direct contradiction of that.

Luckily, the Telegraph article about this was hastily archived and you can find the full text here. I also have my own copy of this article, which I snapshotted. There was also a Radio 5 Live interview (clip available on Twitter here) with a nurse saying basically the same thing. And the Department of Health’s own statistics say 40-50 children are being admitted with Covid every day at the moment in England alone.

It’s hard to know what is true, these days, but there was some reason to believe, when lots of threads on the same topic were being hastily deleted on Mumsnet by moderators due to them allegedly containing “conspiracy theories” (they really didn’t), that this is being kept quiet.

I don’t know why the article was taken down but that, in itself, was enough reason for me to do something. I wanted to write an article about this, to keep the topic alive until more information comes out. Are they taking it down to get their story straight, or to minimise a real emergency, or something else entirely? I don’t care to speculate.

I will, of course, update you if I am asked to take this down (within the parameters of that request). It won’t be the first time I’ve been asked by an organization to take down an article. I guess that’s the problem with being an independent journalist who isn’t beholden to any given establishment.

How to get a Covid test with a baby

Three weeks ago, I was minding my own business when I got a call from my baby’s nursery (daycare). It was the last thing I’d expected to happen that day.

“You need to collect your child. He has been coughing non-stop today.”

He’s had this cough for about two months. He blatantly picked it up at the nursery. It’s not a “continuous, dry cough” and therefore wasn’t a Covid symptom. But they insisted we got tested and said he couldn’t return to nursery until he’d had a test and seen a doctor.

In this country, those are two very different things. You’re not allowed to go anywhere near a doctor if you’re suspected of having Covid.

So I booked the test. Last time I tried to book a test, they tried to book me into a testing centre in Dumfries and Galloway, which is across a sea, and given that you can’t use public transport with suspected Covid, and given that I don’t own a powerboat, this was utterly ridiculous. But the tests were not making it to Northern Ireland, just like the food didn’t, back in March, despite the fact literally no one here was panic buying.

It gets diverted to the South of England.

I was very surprised that this time, we were able to book two tests immediately (if baba boo had Covid, then my cough must be Covid, too), and not only that, but it was for about 30 minutes’ time.

So we went to the testing centre, which was in a big, empty car park. Everything was marked out with lots of orange cones and there were signs printed out from a computer saying “Covid testing” in black lettering.

Inside the deserted car park, we had to stop at a Portacabin where a member of staff stood at my passenger window and took my phone number then handed me two tests. Then, I had to roll up the windows and answer the phone, where the same member of staff told me, with the muffled audio of someone speaking through a facemask, how to take the PCR tests.

We were the only people in the whole place. You’re generally not allowed to get out of your car once you’ve parked to take a test. However, with a small baby, it is impossible to test him without getting out of the car.

The instructions said the best thing was to hold the swab in the back of your throat for thirty seconds, using the same swab to split that fifteen seconds on each side of your throat. I found that pretty easy. What was harder was following the instructions for a baby. See, for a baby, you have to stick the swab up their nose (“until you feel resistance”) for fifteen seconds per nostril. Only, after about two seconds, my baby, who had been fast asleep, woke up because his breathing was obstructed, then he used his excellent baby reflexes to fight the swab.

I was actually very proud of him for this, because it showed just how powerful his reflexes are when he perceives his breathing is threatened, even though he’d been asleep. But I could have lived without trying to get this sodding swab up the nose of a screaming infant.

Once you have swabbed, you have to break off half of the stick and put the half with the swab in it into a sealed jar in a sealed bag, which you should have written your name and date of birth on beforehand. So you need a pen. Not that they tell you this when you book the test.

We drove around to the place where you deposit the tests, and the man there checked I’d done it all properly. We had, so we were able to leave immediately and go home, where we had to self-isolate and wait for results.

Thankfully, we both came back negative.

Tips for easier Covid testing with a baby in the UK:

  1. Do yourself first. It’s really hard to count slowly to fifteen with a baby screaming in your ear.
  2. Take a pen to write on the sample bags.
  3. That’s it. It’s not a complicated process at all.

I am a little confused at the emptiness of the testing place just before Christmas, given that allegedly Covid cases were rising hugely at the time. Where were all these people getting tested? I have no idea. I’m just glad we only had to isolate until the test results came through.

Vibrant: Come and join the Thursday photo challenge!

Welcome to the new weekly Thursday Photo Challenge, a weekly photography challenge for everyone who likes to take photos!

This week’s topic is… vibrant.

Life is a sea of vibrant colour. Jump in.

A.D. Posey

Vibrant colours are all around us, lifting our souls and energising our senses. Studies have even shown different colours behave differently at a molecular level (colour chemistry is a whole branch of the natural sciences).

So join us in celebrating the many brilliant and diverse colours in the world! You can show a photo with lots of colours, one particular colour, or an absence of colour. Whatever the word “vibrant” means to you!

I can’t wait to see what you share!

My photo is of some tins of sardines I found in a supermarket in China. I thought it fitted this challenge in a sort of pop art way.

Here’s how to take part:

  1. Take a photo or search your files for one that represents the week’s theme.
  2. Write a post, including your photo, any words of explanation or inspiration you wish to share, and a link to this challenge page.
  3. Comment on this post with a link to your page so others can see your contribution.
  4. That’s it! Super easy.

This challenge will stay open for one week, then I will be back in the New Year to post the next challenge!

Postcards to my baby: Cambodia

Dear Jellyfish,

I don’t think I will ever go back to Cambodia unless it changes enormously. It’s taken me three years to gain some perspective on my time there and to be able to actually write about it.

There’s an elephant in the room which no naive, bright-eyed twentysomething travel blogger seems able to write about.

Cambodia is grotesque. I’m sorry, but it is.

The whole thing is a manufactured tourist trap designed (presumably by organized criminals) to appeal to the American “white saviour” complex that gets American tourists parting with as much money as possible at every point in their journey. I’m not American, by the way, so I know this will offend those who are.

I don’t think I had a single genuine interaction the whole time I was there. Every word people spoke was patter. The child selling postcards for one dollar apiece, that would have cost 20p in England. The museum, expensively decked out in stark contrast to the unpaved roads to Angkor Wat. The museum gift shop, full of $40 crocheted bags that you could pick up for $10 in Thailand. It was all purposely designed to appeal to fortysomething and fiftysomething Americans. The people with the money.

One thing that deeply bothered me was the fact no locals can afford in a million years to go and see Angkor Wat, despite the fact it’s their heritage that’s being exploited, sacrificed in a sickening cargo cult designed to lure in rich American tourists. It’s only full of tourists.

The entire country is just scam after scam. Looking around at all the people begging, and all the American tourists blithely handing over money thinking they were helping the poor, I wanted to vomit, because they’re making things worse.

Stop thinking with your heart and think with your head.

Let’s look at the floating village.

A bag of rice doesn’t cost $50 and neither does a 24 pack of pencils for the school.

But let’s imagine it does. How many dozens of American tourists on boats get whizzed past the same floating village, told the same tale of woe, and hand over $50 or $100 for a $5 bag of rice in ONE day? Why, then, have the villagers still not got any rice? Americans have been going there for about 15 years, now, and you’re telling me these people are still hungry? Why?

Because the money isn’t going to them. It’s going to organized criminal gangs.

How much money does the child flogging $1 postcards actually get? Nothing. He hands it over to his master.

How much does the taxi driver get when you give him a tip? Or the beggar when you give them money (and be sure, they’re not begging from other Cambodians, they’re begging from tourists)? Where is the museum entry fee going? Why are there still no paved roads outside the cities?

I am in no doubt the poverty you see in Cambodia is genuine, but everything about the way it is presented to you, the way it is exploited, and the way you are told you can “help” is fake. People who get drawn into the lie are not helping, they are part of the problem. Every time someone hands over $50 for a bag of rice or $1 for a 20p postcard, this justifies in the minds of the sellers that their scam has worked, so they keep doing it.

It’s painfully awkward being in Cambodia, seeing the scams, having to engage with people who see you as a big target. Whatever the country’s identity was going to be, tourism has ravaged it. I’ve seen scams before, but never anything on this scale. It’s just so well-orchestrated.

Tourism is a huge and very busy industry, but none of that money is going back into the local community, it’s being siphoned off.

Something in Cambodia needs to change massively at an organizational level.

I hope, little one, that by the time you grow up, Cambodia has sorted out its problems and works properly for the people who live there. But while “white saviours” are busy doing bad deeds to ease their own consciences, that’s not going to happen.

Come join the NEW Weekly Friday Photography Challenge: Beginnings

Announcing… the new weekly Friday Photo Challenge, a weekly photography challenge for everyone who likes to take photos!

So the Weekly Photography Challenge used to be an amazing way for photographers (amateur and professional alike) to take a prompt and turn it into a piece of artwork. You could search your files or go out and specifically take a photo for the weekly challenge.

“Aprils have never meant much to me, autumns seem that season of beginning, spring.”

Truman Capote, Breakfast at Tiffany’s

I was scared of participating at first, because I knew nothing about photography (I still don’t know as much as many people, but enough that I’ve sold pictures to national news outlets) but I enjoyed taking pictures and I knew what I liked seeing in a photo.

I was away in China, where I couldn’t update my blog as our internet in our apartment was too slow, when the final WPC came and went, and I only found out earlier this year that the Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge has now passed.

Obviously it’s a big commitment, to put out a challenge for everyone every single week without fail and to go and look at everyone’s contributions, but I am going to take it on. I hope this new one will be one of many challenges to inspire people to share beautiful photos and to bring together the strong community we used to have a few years ago on WordPress.

Beginnings

From endings, there are always beginnings. Leaves fall to the ground at this time of year and in decaying, they become the nutritious soil that nourishes all plant life.

Late Autumn is a time for new beginnings, as the lifecycle of the earliest plants begins, months before we see anything happening above the ground.

This week’s challenge, then, is beginnings. Here’s how to take part:

  1. Take a photo or search your files for one that represents the week’s theme.
  2. Write a post, including your photo, any words of explanation or inspiration you wish to share, and a link to this challenge page.
  3. Comment on this post with a link to your page so others can see your contribution.
  4. That’s it! Super easy.

This challenge will stay open for one week, then next Friday, I will post the next challenge!

Visiting the Terracotta Warriors

The first time we went to Xi’an, we thought it would be easy to organize a trip to see the Terracotta Warriors. Unfortunately, a catalogue of bad luck meant we had to return to Xi’an–when I was 7 months pregnant–to see the terracotta warriors.

On our first trip to Xi’an, I didn’t know I was pregnant (I just thought I was… late, y’know?). We’d flown from Nanjing Lukou airport, and stopped by the amazing Hello Kitty store, where I’d bought this beautiful (and VERY expensive, and totally unnecessary at that point as we were embarking on 2 months of wandering around the world and didn’t need more crap to carry) Hello Kitty carry-on suitcase.

When we arrived at Xi’an airport, the driver came to meet us and I took my Hello Kitty case but my husband insisted on carrying it (sweetly). We reached the airport’s underground car park and my husband was struggling to figure out where to put my new case. I tried to explain from inside the car but he couldn’t seem to understand, so in a hurry to stop him damaging this new case, I jumped out of my side of the car, ran around to where he was trying to put it in the car… and on the way, my foot caught on a 4-inch-high metal bar that served no purpose whatsoever and wasn’t marked or really visible in the dim car park. Because of the way my foot caught, I flew up in the air and landed hard on my hips, which were straight across the bar.

At first I thought I’d broken something. My hips were screaming in agony, the impact had reverberated through my spine and my hands, which had hit the concrete at speed, were also making a lot of noise. I have sensory processing issues so I shut down and couldn’t move because everything hurt too much.

When I could take in anything at all, the Chinese driver and my husband were both trying to talk to me and help me up but I couldn’t stand the idea of anyone touching me right then. I dragged myself to my feet and stumbled to the car and on the forty-minute drive to the hotel, I cried all the way because, aside from the pain, it felt like something was really wrong inside me and I couldn’t figure out what.

I couldn’t walk properly for three of our five days in Xi’an. Add to that, the ladies running the hotel didn’t speak any English at all and my Chinese wasn’t enough to ask them if they had any contacts through which to book a trip to the Terracotta Warriors (almost everything in China gets done by someone who knows someone who will introduce you).

I know a lot of people will roll their eyes and wonder why we didn’t take a bus, but I don’t do coach trips because I get very, very bus sick and the amount of travel sickness pills I’d have to take would make me too drowsy to do anything when we arrived, so we only really do things we can walk, train or car to (please don’t email me with “cures”, I’m 33 and I’ve tried them all, thanks, so I won’t respond).

So we spent the whole week in Xi’an just exploring the city itself (which had some great finds in it) and never saw the Terracotta Warriors.

That story ended a week later in Kathmandu when I got rushed to hospital in the early morning because I was losing a lot of blood, and it turned out we had lost the baby. I know that if the fall in Xi’an had been responsible, the baby would have miscarried a week earlier, but I never quite got it out of my mind that this happened in Xi’an.

That made it very, very difficult to contemplate returning to Xi’an, especially now I was heavily pregnant with a baby we’d conceived exactly three months after the one we lost in Kathmandu.

When my husband got an unexpected vacation week in May 2019, about 14 days before I was due to leave China and fly to Ireland (with the intent of giving birth there), I was 27 weeks pregnant and we needed to pick one thing to do.

There were dozens of things I hadn’t done yet in China which I wanted to. But really the choice came down to two main things that were important to me: The Terracotta Warriors, or the pandas at Chengdu. I even looked at how viable it would be to do both in one week (the answer is you can, but not if you’re heavily pregnant because you will have less energy, move slower, and need more breaks).

We decided we couldn’t leave China without seeing the Terracotta Warriors (I’ve wanted to see them ever since we did about the First Emperor of China in school when I was 11), so even though I never wanted to return to Xi’an, I found myself planning this trip.

By this point, we had learned that we enjoyed our travels best when we did luxury travel, so we booked a Marriott (the Sheraton was our other fave). Some people think you miss out on the “real” destination by doing luxury travel but I disagree. I do truly believe you miss out on a lot of what a country has to offer when you don’t sample the haute cuisine or any of the high-end amenities that are on offer.

There’s a balance to be had, but China is a trip of a lifetime. I’ve said before I don’t think people who spend days and days on cheap coaches being zoomed from one place to another with no freedom to roam or explore gain a great perspective on this mysterious country.

When we arrived at the hotel, we asked the Concierge to book us a driver to take us to the Terracotta Warriors. When you’re pregnant, you really appreciate leather seats, air conditioning, extra legroom and someone to open your door for you.

The warriors were left where they’d been found, and someone has built a protective cover over them. There are three main buildings of them. Then there’s a nicely-landscaped area between them. I was very surprised to see few westerners there. I would have thought it was the number one destination in China for western tourists.

Getting around when pregnant was hard because the site is ENORMOUS! It took a full travel day to see everything. We had to keep stopping for me to sit down, and my ankles had done this thing where they wouldn’t do stairs properly so I had to take them very slowly. And there are a LOT of places where you need to go up or down stairs, here.

Throughout my travels while I was pregnant, I never experienced anyone pushing, shoving, or touching me at all until we went to see the Terracotta Warriors. The rest of Xi’an was completely fine, but here, the usual suspects (middle aged women, mostly, but also teenage boys) were pushing and shoving like their lives depended on it. Several times, I had to shout “excuse me!” (sarcastically) or “I am pregnant!” at people in Mandarin who were trying to walk through me, and I was glad I’d learned those phrases.

I will stress that this isn’t normal for China. Everywhere else, people were so lovely about the fact I was pregnant. For example, I never had to ask for a seat on the Xi’an Metro. People in China usually treat pregnant women better than a librarian would treat an original Shakespeare document.

Disabled access to the terracotta army

There is also some disabled access to parts of the Terracotta Warrior museum site, but you won’t be able to get the same views of all the warriors if you can’t do stairs, and you will absolutely need to take a carer with you to do basic things like open doors and get you up and down entry steps.

Seeing the Terracotta Warriors with a baby or toddler

With a baby or toddler, this is definitely a place to take a baby carrier or an umbrella pushchair, rather than a heavy buggy, so you can just carry your little one up and down those stairs.

Honestly, I don’t think this is a great experience for very young children, they won’t know what they’re looking at and there is basically nothing here for them to do and there aren’t any brightly lit or colorful displays.

Taking a newborn would be best, for you to see the Terracotta warriors yourself, or wait until your children are at least five years old so you can explain what’s going on (they will probably still get bored with the indoor areas at this age but you could manage this by doing them in chunks, mixed with time spent outdoors). The barriers around the warrior pits are quite high so anyone under 10 probably would struggle to see into the pits without help from an adult.

Overall, I had a blast in Xi’an aside from getting hurt. But if we returned to China now, with our fourteen-month-old baby, and we had only one week of vacation, I would go to Chengdu to see the pandas, or Beijing, Shanghai or Shenzhen, where there’s tons on offer for little ones.

Conclusion

I am glad we returned to Xi’an. Our luck was better the second time we went and I was able to get closure on the baby we lost, by safely exploring the city while I was pregnant. I highly recommend seeing the terracotta warriors if you are childless or taking older kids; what happened to me at the airport was just a very unlucky accident. I don’t think it’s a place with a lot to do for very young children but China in general is very kid-friendly so I can foresee this area changing in the future.

Photos