Revisiting London, Episode II – 16th September 2016

Following on from my last post, I may as well chronicle the pathways I followed through London, on our recent trip. The story started in Shoreditch. It therefore made sense to venture south to Whitechapel and eventually Wapping which is where the next part of the story took off.

It seemed strange to disembark outside the Whitechapel Gallery: this is where I found myself in April 2011 when I was writing and researching the first book in the series, ‘Beginnings.’ That book took place in 1972. So I wondered what I would discover about Wapping, 1992, which is the time and place, scene II, ‘Retribution’ is set.

London Docklands

Wapping’s proximity to the river gives it a strong maritime character, retained through warehouses and riverside pubs, such as the Prospect of Whitby. The area was transformed during the 1980s by the London Docklands Development Corporation; the warehouses converted into luxury flats and office blocks. From its seafaring past, an area notorious with pirates and criminality, it is easy to see how my anti-hero and arch villain, Ben, would be drawn to its modern cityscape – stockbroker by day – yet determined to pursue his darker criminal activities at night.


Further east, is Limehouse, an area close to Commercial Road (as described in Beginnings and home to the notorious park, Eleanor and Jake were chased across) but it was when I visited Limehouse the first time, I noticed it was also a popular area for joggers. There is a steel barrier that links to a walkway circumnavigating the wharf and this gave me masses of inspiration for another chase scene – but this time at night, when Ben is desperate to escape the surveillance of the police.

Ben is not about to be deterred. He is desperate to be accepted into a criminal gang run by London’s most terrifying king pin, even if it means taking a run around the docks under the cover of darkness, to throw the police off his scent. The place is quiet, where the proximity of the river Thames, its secluded steps and shadowy tunnels lends itself a scene that can be quite sinister in its portrayal…


So this the scenario and this is Wapping…
… and with two more areas to blog about, there’ll be a bit more coming soon.

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Revisiting East London – 2nd September 2016

It’s hard to imagine it’s been 6 years since I first took off to Whitechapel to do that much needed research for my first novel, ‘Beginnings’ but this summer, we had a rare opportunity to spend the entire August Bank Holiday weekend in London!

My husband, Peter, has been vying for an opportunity to play in the London Open Backgammon Tournament, a perfect opportunity for me to explore. So I’ll be posting this experience in four separate parts, each covering the diversity of areas I found myself in. It was largely thanks to a friend, we got to stay in a lovely flat in Bounds Green and not only that, she was a mine of information with regards some of the best haunts in this vast city. The touristy side is not for me – especially given the book I am currently writing, which is Book 4 of my decade spanning thriller series ‘Same Face Different Place.’

Book 4 ‘Retribution’ actually kicks off in Shoreditch, East London and here is a brief outline: 18 year old Elijah Jansen is as keen as ever to pursue a degree in design, but preferably at Trent Polytechnic, Nottingham. His girlfriend, Caitlin, has different ideas; hoping she can convince him to join her in London where she wants to study fashion. Her quest drags them to the London College of Fashion, in Curtain Road Shoreditch. All goes to plan until a road sign looms, halting him in his tracks – places associated with the horrors of the 7os, (where the dark mystery of ‘Beginnings’ was set.) But that’s not all. It is only when they think they are safely hidden in a nearby pub, a stranger wafts through the door like a bad smell. It is no-one he recognises until he passes on a sinister warning which can only mean one thing; the criminal underworld of London are onto him and they have his card marked… It is only a little later, Elijah realises who he is up against. His name is Alan Levy, reputed to be London’s most feared ‘King Pin.’

The 10 Bells

The 10 Bells

About the Area

Once I ventured into the heart, Shoreditch was a far cry from the towering cityscape of office blocks and cranes depicted on Googlemaps. The area was a lot more ‘arty’ than I imagined with vast, multi-coloured murals painted on buildings and walls, a sprinkling of art galleries and as the streets expanded, I saw a few more cafés and pubs. From Great Eastern Road, I crossed Shoreditch High Street before it ultimately branched into Commercial Street. I was looking for a pub for this story; stumbling across a traditional alehouse ‘The Golden Heart.’ Except further down and a little more tucked away, I discovered the ‘The 10 Bells.’ Yes, this was definitely the one! A little off the beaten track, dark windows and a perfect setting for my scene.

A Lighter Side

Thanks to the guidance of our friend, the area was home to Spitalfield Market which she recommended was worth a visit. ‘The area has changed quite a bit and is increasingly hip with lots of students. Spitalfields Market is a skip away. A real foodies paradise…’

Yes, it’s an amazing place, steeped in history and with a fabulous array of stalls. I enjoyed a sausage bap in the ‘Market Tavern’ for breakfast, mulled over the beautiful creative gifts on display and even managed a little shopping. The variety of foods is staggering – just about every type of food and nationality you can think of.

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I tried to find Columbia Market with no success but after losing myself in ‘Liverpool Street’ somehow ended up back at Curtain Road (where I started), before returning for a much needed cup of goji berry juice – delightfully refreshing and healthy. Last of all, I headed down Brick Lane – a cultural explosion! It is an extremely bustling place, young and vibrant, lined with trendy shops and eateries, (not to mention some of the wall art which is breathtaking.)

I was on my way down to Whitechapel and Wapping but that is another story…

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Retribution First Draft – 4th August 2016

It’s been a very long wait, I know – but I’m excited to announce, the first draft of ‘Same Face Different Place Retribution’ is complete.

Front cover Image for Retribution Phase 1

Front cover Image for Retribution Phase 1

I feel delighted to have finished it at last, especially since it has taken me a whole year. That’s right – it was August 4th 2015 when I drafted out the prologue and first chapters of this book and after 12 months of total dedication, I tied up every loose end, solved the mystery behind the series and included a few more twists, no-one will see coming.
(See one of my last updates published exactly a year ago.)

This is book that stretches beyond Britain. The continuous references to British politics and religion, TV, fashion, culture and music through the 90s are embedded in the fabric of the novel but as the story progresses, characters will find themselves scattered across the globe, from former Yugoslavia, Holland, Spain, France, Hungary and even the Caribbean.

With the first draft complete, now starts the editing process; so over the next months I will post regular articles about the chapters, from additional research (with photos) to relevant topics in the news. Unfortunately, with so many characters and so many loose ends to tie up, the book is looking to be huge. It is for this reason, I am splitting it into two books: ‘RETRIBUTION Phase 1’ and ‘RETRIBUTION End Game.’ But I don’t want to keep readers waiting for any longer than necessary. My ambition is to publish both parts simultaneously in order to deliver this 4th and final instalment.

Front cover Image for Retribution End Game

Front cover Image for Retribution End Game

The concluding book of my ‘Same Face Different Place’ series is now written and will be coming out fairly soon…

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4 Quick Ways To Write A #BookReview And Overcome Your Fears #MondayBlogs

A simply great article from Rosie Amber, to kick start “August 2016 is Write An Amazon Review Month!”

Rosie Amber

Authors WANT  Reviews

Make an Author's Day

Simple! How many times have you read pleas on social media for readers to write reviews? – Probably Loads.

Does the thought of writing a book review send you racing to the hills? – I can see plenty of you nodding in agreement.

WHAT holds you back?

Reading Soft edge

6 common replies:

I can’t write.

I can’t write paragraphs about a book.

I don’t know what to write.

I’m afraid of what people will think of my review.

I’m an author and don’t want a backlash on my own books.

I don’t have the time.

Let’s turn this around

I can’t write – I bet if you can read, you can write.

I can’t write paragraphs about a book – Good News, Amazon accepts one sentence reviews now as do many other sites.

I don’t know what to write – Ah! Quick Question – Why did you like or Dislike…

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Reflections from the Yorkshire Dales – 22nd July 2016

It’s that time of year when we’ve returned from our holiday and I’m bursting with inspiration to write about it! As an author, we couldn’t have picked a better place than the Yorkshire Dales, (though I had no idea at the time that this lovely, hidden part of Britain was also home to the Brontë sisters.)

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We were fortunate to arrive in clear sunshine where the view from our stone-built cottage, in the conservation village of Luddenden, rewarded us with breath-taking views over the hills. Aptly named ‘Cottage in the Sky’ it was located on a steep hill set above another property, a style known locally as an ‘over-dwelling’ unique to the Calder Valley.

So what can I share about this wonderful location to tempt people?

It is a perfect place for walkers, great for the dog and the people are very friendly. It was this ‘village community’ spirit that uplifted us from day one, starting with the trip to the local pub. People had plenty of time to chat and make us feel welcome. After tottering down a steep, cobbled hill to ask directions, a local lady explained, it was ‘down’t hill, turn left and on’t right’ before we got chatting. Ten minutes later, my husband got caught in a another conversation with two lads, delighted to give us a run down of their best recommendations for our stay.

When we eventually got to the pub, I was tempted by the homemade ‘Cheese and Potato Pie.’ Why not order something local? (when in Rome etc…) It was delicious but as I was only able to manage half of this sinful stodge-fest, I knew I needed to do a lot of walking to burn up those calories – not a problem. Luddenden is a most idyllic place for rambling with ancient woods, streams and fields of sheep, criss-crossed with dry stone walls – soaring hills dotted with pretty stone cottages, farms and even a local winery.

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Hebdon Bridge

Nearby Hebdon Bridge, our nearest town, was also a delight with quirky, artistic shops, galleries, lovely stone architecture and we took our Barney to a dog friendly café, the Lamp Post – with sack beds to lie on and a menu for ‘hounds and humans.’ Further afield we discovered Hardcastle Crags, a steep ravine of wooded paths, pine forests, white water rapids, waterfalls and millstone stacks braced high up in the ferns.

Hardcastle Crags

Hardcastle Crags


We visited Harrogate too – a beautiful spa town with elegant shops and acres of floral parks. A walk through Valley Park and beyond led us to panoramic views and the RHS Gardens at the top where we visited ‘Betty’s Tea Rooms’ if only to gaze at their stunning cakes and confectionary; a super place to buy gifts.

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Keighley and Worth Valley Railway

My favourite day by far though, was a steam train adventure on the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway, travelling through the staggering Yorkshire countryside with stops along the way. It was during this trip, we stopped in Haworth and visited the famous Bronte Parsonage Museum where I was hit by a strange sense of fate…


How incredible to gaze across a writing table where Charlotte Brontë created her world famous masterpiece, Wuthering Heights; to discover artefacts, from pen nibs and quills, to extracts from notebooks. I was particularly moved by a review written of the ‘Tenant of Wildfell Hall’ by Ann Brontë – so much, I actually wrote it down: “The Bells are of hardy race… The air they breath is not that of the hot house, or of perfumed apartments: but it whistles through the rugged thorns that shoot out their prickly arms on barren moors, or it ruffles the moss on the mountain tops.”

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The spookiest thing happened when I wandered downstairs, to feel a needle sharp jab in my finger as it was pierced by a splinter. One of the curators was quite alarmed and yet it was not; as if I was thinking of suing them – far from it! What I felt was a sense of destiny. I had a splinter from the original Brontë staircase embedded in my flesh like a thorn which immediately called to mind that review – its reference to prickly arms. Was this the ghost of one of the sisters? A chance to look deep into my soul and contemplate my place in the literary world? It’s unlikely I will be famous and this is not the reason I write. But it would be nice to imagine that one day, one of my stories may touch others as I was stirred by their presence in this magnificent museum that was their home.

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Author Q and A Sessions – 27th July 2016

I’ve been involved in a few more Q&A sessions recently thanks to two kind-hearted Book Bloggers who took the time and trouble to publish an author’s interview on their websites for me:

The latest article coincided very nicely with a Summer Reads promotion I was involved in with CHINDI Authors (a networking group of self-published authors who get together to share ideas, host events and generally help other writers who want to get their work published.) Summer Reads was something quite different.

Summer Reads

As well as promoting our books, we used Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest as forums for sharing writing tips and we also put up a few 6-word story writing challenges.

Helen Christmas writing tips1 twitter Helen Christmas writing tips2 twitter Helen Christmas writing tips3 twitter

And finally, we held some interesting author Q&A Sessions live on our Facebook page.

These a lot of fun and a good way of using social networks to share our ideas and keep others informed about our individual journeys into publishing. I won’t say much more about my own live session but I decided to include a transcript (from Facebook) to show how this transpired. I hope it will inspire others to run their own Facebook Q&A sessions and hope some of the answers I gave will be of interest to other authors.

Facebook Transcript from a live Facebook Q&A Session:

Live Facebook Q&A

Chindi Authors Hello Helen, Good luck and for those who have not yet read your books, how would you describe your series of romantic thrillers Same Face Different Place?

Helen Christmas Hi to all the Chindi Authors out there. There’s a lot to this series – such as conspiracy theory and police cover ups, the criminal underworld of the 70s and more… the principal characters in book 1 are two young people on the run, who fall in love. It is the start of mystery that unrolls over 4 decades.

Chindi Authors Do you base any of your characters on real people

Helen Christmas I love this type of question! Well Ted Heath featured in the first book as did Maggie Thatcher in the 2nd but not as characters. The characters in my story are all fictitious, though some of their traits are based on real people.

Christine Hammacott Hi Helen what made you set your stories in the past?

Helen Christmas Hi Christine. I’ve seen a lot of political and social changes throughout my life so I wanted to include a bit of that history. I also loved the music and the fashion of each decade. As soon as I’d finished book 1, I actually quite missed the 70s. But I enjoyed revisiting the 80s which is where the 2nd book kicks off.

Chindi Authors Who are your favourite authors, who do you feel has influenced you the most?

Helen Christmas I was a big fan of Jilly Cooper, Leslie Pearce and Martina Cole but I greatly admire the work of Ken Follett (official) who writes wonderful sagas based around real life historic events.

Carol Thomas Writers are often readers too, what is on your summer reading list?

Helen Christmas Hi Carol – well you’ll be pleased to know that yours is on that list but I have a few others lined up to take on holiday. 

M’TK Sewer Rat – End of Empire by Delinda McCann
A contemporary drama set in a fictional third world country which sounds intriguing.
A Taste of Ash by Christine Hammacott which is a psychological thriller and looks to be very gripping.
I have a couple of hard backs too, including Past Imperfect by Michael Parker, so plenty to choose from.

JJ Morval Hi Helen, how long does the first draft, or ‘creative’ draft, before you get to the editing stage of each book, take for you, and do you have a plan that you work to?

Helen Christmas Hi Nick! Book 1 Beginnings took me about 6 months to write from start to finish, I just stormed through. But I made some changes to the first edit which influenced the whole book, so it was a bit of a rewrite. For the later books, I reckon about a year for the first draft and then another year for all the editing stages so it’s about 50/50.

JJ Morval When I start writing, not all of my characters are there, and sometimes I like not knowing everything. Do you ‘know’ all your charcters before you start?

Helen Christmas No, not at all, many have developed along the timeline of the story and became bigger characters.

JJ Morval Thank goodness I’m not alone…🙂

Alexander Wallis Hi Helen, what advice would you give to young people who say they don’t like reading?

Helen Christmas If the world seems empty and nobody is listening, pick up a book and read… It might help.

Alexander Wallis Beautifully put!

Chris Casburn Do you translate your books for an American audience?

Helen Christmas No. My series is a quintessentially English series, as depicted in my Facebook page Helen J. Christmas – author of Same Face Different Place

Chris Casburn I’m not a big fan Of Anazon. Are your books available anywhere else?

Helen Christmas Yes, they are available from the Chindi Authors Book shop as signed paperbacks PLUS I have made a feeble attempt to get my book on i-tunes too (via a company called Draft2Digital who do all the hard work for you) so Book 1 Beginnings is available through other channels. I need to do the others in the same format to reach a wider audience. Thanks for the reminder🙂

Kirsti Lelliott What writing rituals do you have, special pens, places to write, etc?

Helen Christmas Sorry for the delay, Kirstie. Writing rituals… I start at 6am, pour myself a glass of water and our dog joins me in the office whilst I write for a couple of hours. Early mornings are good – no distractions x

Kirsti Lelliott No worries thank you for the replies🙂 x

Carol Thomas – Author I know you gave a talk at the Worthing Wow festival about social media, what is your top social media tip for writers?

Helen Christmas Establish a brand that represents you and your books, be it a cover image, a colour scheme or background. My debut thriller had a striking image of London’s cityscape in the 1970s which I used in the background of my Facebook and Twitter headers as well as on my website and blog. It helps people to recognise you as an author.

Mason Thomas Hi Helen, are your books available as audiobooks if not is this something you plan to do?

Helen Christmas Hello Mason. No, I’m afraid not. I did approach a company through Amazon but there were no offers for auditions (possibly needed someone with a cockney accent). Maybe one day, I will create the audio books myself.

Angela Petch How do you go about editing? It is a tricky business for self-published authors BUT very important.

Helen Christmas Hi Angela and yes, it is. Writing that first draft is the fun part because it’s all about us and what turns us on. The next editing stage is for our audience. I usually do at least 2 edits before I pass the work onto beta readers to get their feedback. After that, I take on board their comments and do another edit. It’s an exhausting process but you want to get it just right before you publish.

Doreen Mason Your book covers are very striking, who creates them for you and how did you decide on the images?

Helen Christmas Thanks so much, Doreen. I actually designed them myself. I am a graphic designer by trade with access to lots of photo libraries and I also use photoshop. Book 3 Pleasures is actually a combination of 3 images, from 123RF and istock.

Doreen Mason Well you obviously do a great job!

Helen Christmas I’m really pleased you like them, thank you =D

Kirsti Lelliott Hi Helen🙂 Do you interview people who have lived through the decades you write about or do you rely on other sources?

Helen Christmas Hi Kirsti🙂 Yes, I have interviewed real people – one is a retired army officer who served in the 90s and has really helped me with book 4. Others include a police officer (and dare I say it) a former ecstasy dealer and DJ who was big in the 90s rave scene.

Carol Thomas – Author Which of your books have you most enjoyed writing and why?

Helen Christmas Thanks for asking: Books 1, 2 and 3 are 99p on Amazon at the moment, so I hope I can tempt some new readers… I absolutely loved writing the first one and got completely swept away by it, not only the setting (which was a result of extensive research) but the story line and the characters! It took me to another world.

Doreen Mason Hello, how often do you write and how long does it take you to complete one of your books?

Helen Christmas Hello Doreen. I make time to write every day, usually first thing in the morning (I always wake up about 5:30) and read it back later in the evening when I do a few edits. On average, it takes about a year to write the first draft and then comes the editing – Book 2 Visions and Book 3 Pleasures each took me about 2 years from start to finish.

Carol Thomas – Author How do you divide your time between promotion and writing?

Helen Christmas Writing is the fun part, Carol, the marketing is a relentless chore but we all have to do it if we’re self published. I give far greater priority to the writing which is maybe where I go wrong but at the end of the day, you have to blow your own trumpet because no-one is going to do it for you. I’d say about 75% writing and 25% marketing for me. That might change when I’ve finished the series.

Angela MacAskill How do you keep track of your plot, characters, sub plots and so forth as you write?

Helen Christmas Hmm… I have a synopsis as a blue print and I am currently working on a first draft but things do change. There are parts I have scrapped and new parts I have added but when you write a series, you really get to know your characters; their back story, their lives and everything that happens to them. It’s all in my head but I have my notes, synopsis and research to refer to as well as the earlier books.

Rob Lelliott Evening Helen – are you influenced by films and TV dramas, if so which?

Helen Christmas Hello, Rob. I used to love the Inspector Morse series and this was mainly the reason I went for a very convoluted plot with lots of characters. But I write from the heart – so good character stories work well for me too. I liked the TV series ‘Bad Girls’ and I also like ‘Game of Thrones’ for its amazing characters.

Angela MacAskill How many more books do you plan in the SFDP series?

Helen Christmas Hello Angela. Thanks for asking. I’m writing the final instalment and it’s huge! It progresses through the 90s and has covered 5 years but ideally, I want the big finale to happen in the year 2,000 followed by an epilogue which will be a catch up in 2012 where all the characters are reunited again.

The Creatures of Chichester Do you have any tips on editing your books?

Helen Christmas Hi Chris, lovely to hear from you and I hope you had a great time in Sicily! (lucky thing) To answer your question… from the 1st draft, the second edit is a visionary process – you have to turn your work into entertainment and write it for your audience and not for yourself; for me that means cutting out any waffle and tightening up the story to keep the pace moving. After that, it’s a case of polishing up the writing style, dialogue and descriptions. After that it’s a matter of fine tuning it and making sure it all flows.

The Creatures of Chichester If your books were made into a film. Who would you pick as your leading actors?

Helen Christmas That is a tricky question, Chris and I can picture my characters in my head but here goes… there is an actor Ben Drew (also known as singer, rapper Plan B) who would be brilliant as the evil gangster in the later part of the series (from Pleasures onwards) and Billy Boyd (played Pippin in Lord of the Rings) would be great as Peter Summerville, a gentle Irish Community worker.

Sylvia Endacott Hi, how are you going with your further book. Having written the first three, are you finding it more difficult to tie up the loose ends.

Helen J. Christmas – author of Same Face Different Place I tied up another of those loose ends today! Some of these characters deserve a truly happy ending 🙂 and there is now just one final section to finish.

Sylvia Endacott Great news.

Helen J. Christmas – author of Same Face Different Place I tied up another of those loose ends today! Some of these characters deserve a truly happy ending 🙂 and there is now just one final section to finish.

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From Writer to Picker – 15th June 2016

Just for a change, I thought I’d write a blog about something completely different: my work experience as an online shopper at Sainsbury’s which is unlike any other job I have ever known.

People wonder why I did this job for as long as I did but I’m not complaining – after a lifetime of high stress jobs in marketing, graphic design and publishing, it was good to get back to the grass roots of a working community. Being in a proper work place was refreshing; a sense of camaraderie that we were all in the same boat! The reason I did it in the first place was to earn some extra cash as a Christmas Temp but in March 2015, I was offered permanent contract.

Online shopping

The Positives:

People in the job came from all walks of life; from 18 year old school leavers to folk who were nearer retirement age and interestingly enough, lots came from ‘high’ professions. Among my colleagues were senior accountants, nurses, designers and computer programmers. So the barriers of age, sex, class and education didn’t exist here. It was the closest I have ever come to a truly egalitarian society.

The work is repetitive but by no means dull. Online shopping is massive and has been on the rise for the last decade – so the job was in effect ‘shopping’ for other people. I didn’t mind. I actually quite like food shopping anyway, so it didn’t feel like work to begin with. You get to see all the new brands and the choice of products is staggering.

Another aspect of ‘online shopping’ I couldn’t help doing was picturing each customer as I shopped.

  • Small single items such as sardines, prunes and custard suggested an elderly customer.
  • Bigger shops with plenty of lunchbox snacks, crisps and sweets suggested a busy parent with kids.
  • Healthy customers who choose organic products and lots of veggies.
  • The ‘not so health conscious’ who pack their order with biscuits and crisps (with few veggies)
  • I had the ‘budget shoppers,’ who chose ‘value’ products (easy to spot since the packaging was orange)
  • and my favourites, were the discerning customers who like ‘taste the difference’ items (just as easy to spot since the packaging is purple) and prefer no substitutes.

So after having completing 8-24 ambient shops and 4-12 chilled shops, I had gist of the people I might have shopped for, even though I never met them face to face.

The Negatives

It’s a good thing to be an early riser since a job as an online shopper at Sainsbury’s requires getting up at the crack of dawn! It was a wrench to start work at 5am (and many  started at 4am!) The majority of shoppers (i.e. those who do their own) prefer us off the shop floor before the store gets busy. No-one appreciates big trolleys clogging up the aisles, though at Christmas, it wasn’t always possible. Large orders meant people like me having to stay late while a stampede of early birds came in at 6am to get their Christmas shop over with! Needless to say, we got in each others’ way.

I can’t deny the hours were unsociable. I thought it was awesome to finish at 9:00 in the morning and have the rest of my day. But it did leave me with a dragging tiredness, leading sluggish brain syndrome! As a writer, a bit of a problem, creative flow severely hampered.

stephanieLastly, the work was intense, fast and physical. My best picking speed was 130 items per hour yet there were times it fell below that and however fast you went, they always cranked up the pressure to go faster. But that’s the modern work place. The reason I had to leave was an acute tendonitis in my thumb joint and severe wrist pains from lifting heavy items and handling the totes when they were loaded with shopping. Milk for example, weighs a ton, especially when customers want 5 x 6 pint flagons of the stuff!


I’m pleased I stuck this out for as long as I did. I met some great people and the work, whilst hard, was absorbing – in fact, the time flew by. I got quite used to it eventually, as well as the early start not to mention little nest egg in my bank.

Now I’ve finished, I’ve have fewer aches and pains and it’s good to have my ‘writing time’ back – with Book 4 ‘Retribution’ to finish, I am on a mission to complete the series now.

Who knows, my next book might be set in the future where online shopping will play a major part, so maybe this experience will come in useful one day!

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