New Horizons!

SAM_4591Okay, yesterday was my birthday and I’ve never been fond of birthdays, but the last few days have been glorious. All in all 2014 is shaping up to be an amazing year, despite having one hell of a bumpy start. As we pass into out of summer, with its sunshine drenched buzz of activity, and into the darker evenings of Autumn, it is a time of excitement for what is to come and a time to reflect for what has gone.

The beginning of the year couldn’t have been worse. After having spent most of 2013 very ill, I had no choice but to leave my teaching job of the last 12 years. I have always worked, even through college I worked (actually it was a pretty cool job working in a video shop, surrounded by great films all day!), so the prospect of suddenly being unemployed through no fault of my own, was very daunting and pretty scary.

Martin-Hobb-1024x457[1]We haven’t worked out all the kinks yet and things are still tighter than I’d like, certainly the prospect of spending £45 to go and see Robin Hobb and George RR Martin in London on the 19th August, plus travel and hotel expenses, was simply out of my price range.

However, worries over jobs, money and financial matters paled into insignificance when my good friend and fellow fantasy writer, Lindsey J Parsons suddenly died on the 5th January 2014, only days after I had spoken to her to wish her a Happy New Year and talk excitedly about what 2014 would bring. Lindsey had so many plans for this coming year. She was going to write and release her third book, Shegal, the final book in her wonderful Return of the Effra trilogy. She and I were planning to go off to Las Vegas together, to a writing convention there. That’s where I would have been this summer if things had turned out differently.

Lindsey’s passing was a dreadful shock to all who knew and loved her, and the sadness of her passing has haunted all of us this year. I have always been an insomniac and so, in the wee small hours of the night when I used to chat to Lindsey til 2 or 3am, I miss her the most.

But her tragic death also did something else. It was a tannoy (loud speaker to my US friends) to the rest of us, that none of us know how long we have on this planet, none of us know which breath will be out last, and so the imperative is upon us to STOP WASTING TIME!!!!

It was then, that I decided to get on with the rest of my life. Put my dreadful experiences of 2013 behind me, not just my illness and having to leave my job, but also some thoroughly rotten experiences with my ex-publishers (who shall remain nameless), but who almost put me off writing anything ever again. Once bitten by a shark, you are very wary to dip your toes in the water again! I won’t spend anymore time or energy on them, as quite frankly they’re not worth it.

I also decided to be more proactive. There has been one really huge accomplishment in my life that I have wanted, really since I turned 30, some ten years ago now, and I am eventually doing something about it. This time next year, I hope to share a very different life story with you.

Another part of being pro-active, was deciding not to be ruled over by fear. I had been paralysed by fear pretty much all of last year. Fear that I would never recover and get better, fear that my goals were simply not achievable, fear of losing my job, of losing my way. One of my fears was that I would never be able to write again.

I’m not talking about the commonal garden variety ‘writer’s block’ which plagues many authors, I’m talking about total physical and mental incapacity! Part of my vestibular illness, apart from the migraines, blurred vision, dizziness, nausea, vomiting and head pain, was short term memory problems and a complete inability to concentrate for more than a few minutes at a time. My brain simply couldn’t cope with it. It took me days to write a simple letter, because I couldn’t concentrate for longer than 3 or 4 minutes, and the mental exertion and sheer exhaustion it caused, would flare up my symptoms again.

I’d try reading or writing and I’d be staring at a page of text like a zombie for 40mins, my mind simply ‘zoned’ out. Apparently this was very common with severe vestibular conditions, where the concentration needed to read and write was tantamount to asking a person on crutches to climb a mountain! So the whole of last year, I was crippled by thoughts that I’d never be able to climb back on that horse again and write. That my first novel would be my last!

But, after Lindsey, I decided to stop letting that fear rule me. I WOULD write again, and now, I AM!

69190_4684701805703_297748057_n[1]A HUGE part of that, has been the incredible support I have received from family and friends. A massive shout out to all my Alliance of Worldbuilders (AWB) brothers and sisters – without you guys, I’d be a sad little shadow of myself and certainly wouldn’t be sat here writing this. smiling-cat[1]

Another incredible turn of fate and good fortune, was finding the most amazing new publishers who were willing to take a chance on me and wanted to publish my first novel, despite it having been published (badly) before.

Again, because of dear Lindsey, I was pro-active and approached this very cool publishing house. To be honest, I felt it was a long-shot and didn’t hold much hope, but hell it was worth a go! I loved the books they produced, how friendly, approachable, honest and professional they were and how they put authors first (the total opposite of the experiences I had had before!).

grimbold-182x300[1]To my utter delight, I signed with them in June! I cannot tell you just what that has meant to me – to have my cherished work taken on and see new life breathed into it (and new life breathed into me!), by unbelievably passionate people who love books and prize quality above everything…wow! I owe Sammy HK Smith and Zoe Harris of Grimbold Books and Kristell Ink, more than I’ll ever be able to express in words…thank you, thank you, thank you! 1782001_779354595426279_1544248234_n[1]

 

2014 is turning out to be utterly AWESOME year after all! White Mountain – Book 1 of the Darkling Chronicles will be published this Autumn with a brilliant new cover and short stories, and I am eventually writing again!!!!

 

ea1ab-10582915_874217609273310_7073274247011447578_o5b15dSo, this week I celebrate not only my birthday, but a year full of promise and opportunities. At the beginning of August it was also the 5th Anniversary of getting my beautiful boys. 5 years ago, two gorgeous white wolves came into my life and it has never been the same since! Happy times and clear skies ahead! 😀 xxxx

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Are you supported? Friendship and passing 27,000 hits!

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Okay, this is not a blog post about supportive bras (sorry guys!), but it is about friendship and support. Do you have people who support you or leave you swinging in the wind?

I am absolutely THRILLED that my tiny little blog has now passed 27,000 visitors and want to say a HUGE THANK YOU to all of you who have supported this blog, whether you are a one-off fly-by visitor or a regular ‘pull up a chair and chillax’ visitor. You guys are utterly AMAZEBALLS!!!! 😀 xxx

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Well, although this is a time of great changes and sparkly new horizons, all of them positive – like the brand new job and scary new career I’ve just embarked on after having been a full-time teacher for the last 16 yrs; I admit that this post is a bit of a ‘moan-fest’, something I don’t do very often. But I’m eventually venting about something that has bugged the crap out of me for the last two years.

It’s funny, I was recently reading a very heartfelt and extraordinary post by brilliant fantasy writer, Tricia Drammeh, all about how important it is to be supported by family and friends. The post really struck a chord with me, as it did for so many other writers: http://blog.triciadrammeh.com/2014/05/21/when-your-family-doesnt-support-your-writing/ Please check out the rest of Tricia’s wonderful blog: http://blog.triciadrammeh.com/

Although writing can be exhilarating, life-changing, life-affirming and just a wonderfully fulfilling creative ride…it can also be incredibly isolating, lonely, frustrating, un-rewarding, demoralising and difficult. That rollercoaster journey of success, failure, hopes and dreams, both realised or crushed, is hard enough as it is, but the journey becomes all the more difficult if you are embarking on your creative path without the support of nearest and dearest.

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Now, I count myself as being very lucky, as my family even including Aunts and Uncles, have been incredibly supportive and encouraging of my writing journey. But, like many other writers,  I too have experienced the opposite. Despite the majority of my friends being amazingly supportive, more than I could ever have hoped for, strangely enough my oldest ‘best friend’ of the last 20 yrs+ has been pretty dreadful.

Daft I know, but it has not only plagued me, but deeply hurt and upset me. I can openly say her name, Joanna, why? Because I know that she will never ever read this. She knows nothing of my writing life and doesn’t care. She doesn’t know that I have a blog, let alone the fact that my little blog has attracted over 27,000 visitors since I started it in Jan 2012. She doesn’t know that I’m on Facebook at all, have a FB book page with over 1,000 likes, have countless followers on Pinterest, set up my own Illustration business, recently had a short story published in a wonderful anthology, Felinity by Grimbold Books41wpCDigqbL[1]She was vaguely aware (though no doubt she has forgotten) that I did a very successful Waterstone’s book signing tour in 2012, but wouldn’t know what towns and cities I visited and certainly didn’t bother attending the one just down the road from where she lives.

Again, Tricia Drammeh’s post really resonated with me. For the last 20+yrs I have supported Jo through thick and thin, for every success, every failure, every relationship, every drama – no matter how big or miniscule. I send cards to congratulate, commiserate or just to buck her up and say I’m thinking of her, even cards when she moves from one rented property in her town, to another just down the road. She is an only child, which in itself shouldn’t mean anything, except to say that in her case she is selfish and totally self-obsessed and has always been used to being the centre of attention and having people ‘do for her’. Now, the silly thing is, I never minded playing second fiddle, being the ‘listening ear’, the sympathetic shoulder, the invisible person who always supports her. I didn’t mind the fact that our friendship was always so one-sided, all about her, never about me. BUT, in 2012 something big happened in my life, the biggest thing that had ever happened to me – my first novel was published.

At the time I tried not to be hurt when I received congratulations cards and even flowers from ALL of my friends, even work colleagues and people I didn’t know well, everyone I knew EXCEPT from her. My novel was available for a limited time to pre-order, and by doing so the people who pre-ordered could have their name printed inside the book. Again, all my friends raced to purchase their pre-ordered copy, but Jo? Despite months of gentle hinting, she didn’t, eventually, with only days to spare, I plucked up the courage to be more assertive and asked her (knowing the answer), if she had bought a copy yet as the deadline was coming up. I had to literally twist her arm. Whereas my close mate, Heather (totally lovely), was the first to buy a copy, Jo was the absolute last. I couldn’t believe how totally and blatantly uninterested and unsupportive she was being, just because for once this was something to do with me and not her. Months continued like this, all my friends asking about the upcoming publication date, wanting to read excerpts, wanting to be involved in any way they could, but Jo, nothing. She never asked questions, never brought it up, it was like the 500 pound elephant in the room, all conversations reverted to the usual drone about her love life, wanting to lose weight, talking about food and Tesco’s or her long list of imagined ills and troubles – i.e. all about her as usual.

I admit, for the first time ever, my rose-tinted glasses that had been superglued to my head, actually came off and I saw clearly how completely skewed our relationship had become.

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I had visited her down in Devon in the summer of 2012, which was once again a visit ‘all about Jo’ and been shocked and embarrassed when we visited her other friend (who she see’s every few days) and Jo quickly blurted out in the car on the way there that her friend knew nothing about my book so I’d have to tell her. It just re-affirmed how unimportant it was and I was. Bear in mind too, that her ‘friend’ had dabbled in writing for years and has always been a jealous sort, so you can imagine how she reacted to the news. This, btw, was after Jo had admitted to me that she gave her copy of my book away to some guy in Totnes.

Publication day came and went and nothing, no congratulations, no acknowledgement even. Again, in very rare excerpts, I had tried talking about my writing and my new novel and told her I was having a big book launch at Cirencester. I knew she had no dates that clashed with it, but I also knew, from her total silence on the subject, that she had no intention of coming. She would rather spend the weekend with her bf of the time than support her best mate.

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The day of the book launch came and like a fool I was still hoping to see her walk through the door, of course she didn’t. Instead, ALL my family and friends came ‘en mass’, dear Heather travelled nearly two hours with her two little babies to attend, my dear dear Lindsey (who I had never met at that time) travelled for two hours to support, my wonderful close mate, Will Macmillan Jones travelled all the way from deepest darkest Wales to be there, everyone EXCEPT for Jo. The book launch was a huge success and sold out in just over an hour, but still, all I could think about was Jo.

And so it continued.

Then I got a true glimpse into why Jo was behaving the way she was. She visited my place with her chain-smoking obnoxious bf at the time. We went for lunch and during lunch I was shocked to have this bf ask me about my book, something Jo never did. I soon understood why. During the lunch I was then subjected to a full-on interrogation. The bf asked me a flurry of aggressive questions about my book, I tried to ignore his condescending tone. As soon as I tried to answer, he just interrupted me with comments like, “Humph, sounds like every other book I’ve read”, “Sounds just like Harry Potter” (which I have NEVER read and don’t personally like) “But what exactly makes it different?”, “You haven’t answered my question!”, “Who did you get your ideas from?” etc., etc. I was being bombarded, I looked across at Jo who not only hadn’t come to my rescue and told her offish bf to BACK THE F**K OFF, but was sitting there, arms folded, totally silent and with the most awful smug expression on her face. Cheshire cat comes to mind. 😦 grinning-chesire-cat[1]

It suddenly dawned on me…these disparaging remarks, the belittling, the arrogance, the condescending attitude, all of it could only have come from Jo. Those were her words spoken through him.

It was finally clear where her lack of support came from, she thought I was an idiot, an immature fool following childish dreams. Who the hell did I think I was – pretending to be a writer? Did I think I was going to be the next big thing? Delusions of grandeur or what? The feeling of disdain, palpable embarrassment towards me, her sad little friend deluding herself into thinking she had achieved something, that I was ‘an author’. I struggled through the lunch, said my courteous goodbyes and burst into tears the moment they left. I felt utterly crushed. 😦

Ever since then, even though her nasty bf then dumped her a few months later, I swore I’d never talk to her about my writing/books again, and I haven’t. It hasn’t been hard as she isn’t interested and never asks. So, we carry on, me going through the motions of a friendship that now seems so hollow. More Jo dramas to support, more imagined problems, exaggerated health issues (which magically only arose when I became ill last year), all the things that still keep Jo at the centre, where she likes to be. Meanwhile and by stark contrast, my real friends are exactly that, REAL. We support each other and can talk to each other about anything. And again, because I know Jo isn’t interested in anything other than herself, I’ve stopped talking to her about anything important to me, about my new job, my plans for the future, my family, any of it. Our last conversation was, as usual, all about her, her ‘bad back’, her problems, etc., etc.

3b61948569022d0457a6b60ad7d39393[1]Yes, I know I should have the guts to simply be honest and have it out with her, but frankly I’ve been worn down by it all. I have great friends around me, I’ve just eventually realised, despite the length of our friendship, that Jo isn’t one of them. 😦

So ‘moan-fest’ over, promise.

How do YOU deal with disappointment and lack of support from those you call friends? How do you move forward?

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THANK YOU EVERYONE FOR LISTENING TO THIS ‘LETTER TO JO’. 😀 xxxx

Hope, Hot Cross Buns and Easter Surprises!

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It’s Easter already? Where did the year go?

Well, I feel I should share a few of our family rhymes at this time of year:

“Hot cross buns,

Hot cross buns,

One a penny, two a penny,

Hot cross buns.

If you have no daughters,

Give them to your sons,

One a penny, two a penny

Hot cross buns.”

Lol, although those that know me well know that I’m not a religious person at all, in fact I’m an atheist, I do respect all cultures and religions and people’s personal belief systems. But, despite my non-religious status, I’ve always found Easter to be such a hopeful time. It’s probably to do with Spring being in the air, the first warm days of the year, the first azure blue skies (though not today!), the first new flowers of the year.

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SAM_3701Walking round the garden with my four doggies becomes an almost spiritual experience at this time. The sheep with their baby lambs frolicking in the fields behind, the first green shoots on trees, the swaying sturdy stems of daffodils, the delicate drooping heads of the snake’s head fritillary, the first butterflies and countless birds nesting in every nook and cranny. We love nature and the cyclical nature of life is not lost on us. We put out peanuts and wild bird seed every day for the woodpeckers and various little birds which live with us and corn for the moorhens, but the best thing is brushing all our dogs and placing the discarded fur out on the lawn, then sitting back and watching. It takes literally seconds before the first birds swoop down and start picking out bundles of the white fluffy stuff in their beaks to line their nests. It really is such a wonder to behold. Tiny little chiff chaffs, blue tits, chaffinches, robins and sparrows all sporting long white beards and moustaches, like little miniature mandarins. SOOOOO sweet!

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If you have any pets, cats or dogs (though dogs are best), now is the time to brush them and put out the fur for the birds in your garden, you’ll be amazed by the results! Within an hour, there was no fur left, and it just got me thinking about how important it is to be in harmony with nature and give it a hand whenever you can. SAM_3711

I just love the thought of all our nesting birds having a doggy fur lining to snuggle up in!

But, I digress… SAM_3725

Easter and Spring is about hope, whatever your religious or non religious beliefs. A year of promise and opportunities stands before you. So, what will you do to seize those opportunities?

For me, apart from pursuing my creative endeavours, including setting up my new illustration business http://sophieetallisillustrations.weebly.com/ and hopefully getting back to novel writing, I am also pursuing some personal goals too. One of those I’ll keep quiet about for now (don’t want to jinx myself), but I do want to share a struggle so many of us have – with our weight.

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A few weeks ago I weighed myself, something I’ve learnt not to do often to avoid bad news, and had a nasty surprise – since my illness last year when I really couldn’t do much of anything, I’d put on a whole stone!!! I was shocked when I worked out my BMI. 😦

Although I was a skinny kid and slim in my early teens, after a few traumatic years I started eating for comfort and the pounds piled on. As an adult I have struggled with my weight like many of us. Name a diet and I’ve done it, Weight Watchers, Slimming World, Rosemary Conelly, Atkins, fasting, Dukan diet, etc., etc. The best I’ve ever managed to lose is about a stone and a half then plateau for four/five months before giving up utterly dejected and eventually putting the weight back on. 😦

This year, after a year of huge life change, I eventually had an epiphany… SAM_3719

Yes a lot of it was to do with having turned 40, having left a 15 year solid career and embarking on a whole new one, and a lot of it was to do with the sudden shocking death of my dear friend, Lindsey J Parsons, in Jaunary 2014. 827e711c41030a7f023505.L._V144210053_SY470_[1]

My epiphany was simple – life is too damn short to waste a moment of it. Don’t just think about your dreams, or plan for tomorrow, DO SOMETHING about it!

MAKE IT HAPPEN!!!!!!

With that in mind I mentally slapped myself and VOWED to lose weight and get healthier. No, I don’t expect to get back to my former skinny self, 22inch waist and all, but it’s not about capturing the past…it’s about creating a future – a healthier, happier future.

SAM_3691I made a schedule for myself, three small healthy meals, eating breakfast (for the first time since I was 13), not eating after 6pm, doing three bouts of exercise daily. No counting calories, carbs, points or anything else, just regulating what I eat, making sure it’s healthy, and smaller portions of course.

Well, only two weeks later since I started and I’ve lost 10lbs so far!!!!!

I have a loooooong journey ahead of me, but I know I can make. For the first time ever, I have HOPE. I’m not sure if it’s Easter hope or Spring hope, but I know I’ll get to where I want to get.

You know the saying, “Hope Springs Eternal.”

So, for all of you out there, whatever your goals, 2014 will be the year you achieve them, just believe in yourself, be pro-active and have HOPE!

😀 xxxxx

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730 days…Tempus Fugit!

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It’s a strange time. Tomorrow I go to the funeral of my dear friend, Lindsey J Parsons, who tragically passed away earlier in the month. To say her passing was sudden and shocking, would be a huge understatement. At times like these, it’s hard not to be reflective. It’s strange and unsettling, but somehow death has a way of magnifying life and making you realise what is important. c33c5842e5e71ebeff5fc9fcb5a97b5f[1]

Tempus fugit, how time flies! Don’t waste a moment of it.

Talking of passing time, on Sunday it was the 2nd Anniversary of my little blog. 26th January 2012 I plunged head long into the daunting waters of blog writing.

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A hell of a lot has happened in those 2 years.

I’d love to think that I have learnt 730 new skills, grown 730 days wiser, or happier. My life has undoubtedly moved on and changed in that time, which is both good and bad. I have gained wonderful new friends and tragically, lost one dear dear friend.

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I have known tremendous success and faced failure up close. Achieved my dreams, and seen them fly away. Been on the highest mountain, the highest pinnacle and found myself completely lost and wandering the wastelands with no cause or direction.

I have battled ill-health and bullies, won and lost, fought for justice and been swamped in confusion. Certainly, it’s true to say that my life has never followed a conventional path, but these past 2 years, have certainly seen it meander into some very strange waters!

maya-angelou-quote[1]Now, believe me, I am as big a coward as they come. I’m not feeling sorry for myself, but in my life I have been treated very badly but never seemed to have the courage to face my attackers and tell them what I think. But, somehow, my celtic courage seems at last to be awakening… 167125836141739827W2MFYYTkc[1]

I have been able to break free from a very bad situation where my creativity was being attacked by what I can only describe as a couple of decidedly unstable, unprofessional and wholly nasty little bullies, I won’t name them, frankly I don’t need to. But I feel so immensely relieved to be free of them and disassociated from their poor standards.

I have also somehow found the courage and strength to change my circumstances, to give up a long-term and very stable career to jump into the void and try something new. Will I land on my feet? Only time will tell. Do I miss my old job? Honestly…no. Illness forced me to leave, but in hindsight it may have been a blessing. I loved it for a long time, and still love the teaching side of things and working with children which is always memorable and life affirming, but…it was time to move on. I shall miss my good friends and will keep in touch with them, but I shan’t miss ‘It’.

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I’ve also been thinking a lot about the life lessons and wisdom of Maya Angelou, one of my personal heroes.

So…what lessons and wisdom, if any, have I learnt that I could pass on and share with you lovely people?

  • Don’t be afraid – afraid of change, afraid of changing. Maya Angelou, an amazing writer and a personal hero of mine, said in her book, ‘Wouldn’t Take Nothing For My Journey Now’, that if you don’t like a situation, change it. If you can’t change it, change the way you think about it. Seemingly simplistic advice but full of meaning. imagesGZD6YSB7
  • Take risks – You never know, it may fail but it may work! What have you really got to lose?
  • Life is too damn short – If you’re not living it…then what the hell are you waiting for? Believe me, I’ve wasted time like it’s an Olympic Sport and I’ve been going for gold. Chase your dreams. Don’t wait until tomorrow, because tomorrow may never come… None of us know how much time we have on this Earth, so you owe it to yourself to make the most of it.
  • Rise above it – You can’t always avoid what I call ‘toxic’ people, recklessly unkind, brutish, deceitful or selfish individuals but you CAN choose to rise above them. Always strive to do the right thing by your own moral compass, don’t be sucked into negative thoughts. Share the love. Life is too short to spend it in negative situations or with negative people, break free, be free!
  • Relish the moment – Try not to take anything for granted. Relish the things and people who make you happy. That’s what life is about.
  • Health is everything – An obvious bit of advice but so so important. Without your health, life is meaningless. This last year has taught me that. Illness prevents you from functioning, limits your freedom and enjoyment of life. So do what you can to look after your health. Avoid stress where you can and stressful people. Be kind to yourself.

I know all this sounds like obvious cheesy advice, but a cliché is a cliché precisely because it’s true.

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With the sudden and shocking passing of my dear friend, Lindsey J Parsons, at such a tragically young age, a lot of things suddenly became crystallised.

There is NO time to waste.

imagesYTIE3WWFEmbrace life, in whatever way that means to you. No frivolous New Year resolutions that get instantly broken. This is life stuff – the stuff of life! Promise yourself, that this year you will do what it takes to be happier and more fulfilled than the last year. If you continue to do that every year onward, think what a happier person you’ll be.

I’ve taken some huge steps already, but I intend to continue this year and take as many challenges, opportunities and chances as I can.

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So…there you go.

730 days have given me purpose and direction. But most of all, I’ve really, finally, understood what is important in life and what is not. quote-each-of-us-has-the-right-and-the-responsibility-to-assess-the-roads-which-lie-ahead-and-if-the-maya-angelou-323351[1]

Would you rather be richer or happier? You know the answer. Good luck my friends, I hope you all find your paths and we wander through journeys with bigger smiles than before.

Love Sophie 😀 xxxxxxxx

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😀 xxx