Literary summer plans

Finally! I’m up to 60k words with draft 1 of novel WIP#4, which is my supernatural horror. I needed to do some chapter planning for this most recent chapter (chapter 28) as there was a time skip in between and I had to make sure the continuity was sound. Since all is going well with this story, I’ve decided to make a plan for the coming weeks, which is loosely as follows:

1. Day job finishes at the end of June (I work in a grammar school, so I have July and August off, hooray!). This means I’m going to knuckle down and make writing my temporary 9-5.

2. Finish draft 1 of novel WIP#4 by hopefully the end of July.

3. Buy a new laptop and figure out how to typeset novel WIP#3 (that was finished last November and is currently out on submission to traditional publishers) using Adobe InDesign.

4. Source cover art for novel WIP#3, or maybe attempt to DIY it myself on Canva.

5. At some point hopefully towards the end of 2021, I’m hoping to ‘go wide’ with novel WIP#3. I’ll write about my reasons for deciding to self-publish in a later blog post.

For now I’m celebrating my novel writing progress this weekend with a nice bottle of Pinot Grigio, since I’m officially three-quarters of the way through novel WIP#4. 60,000 words is no easy feat, especially while working full-time, wrangling a rambunctious preschooler and running Bindweed Magazine. Whew!

Weight gain and weight loss – my keto journey

Ok, so amidst all the writing updates on my novel progress lately, it’s time for another personal post. Back to my epic weight loss journey then!

As you may know from my post in May 2020 I lost 3 stone/42 pounds/ 18 kilos from doing strict keto for 5 months between 10th April and 10th September during lockdown last year. After 3 years of rapid weight gain during pregnancy and my year of maternity leave afterwards I found myself 3 stone heavier than my pre-pregnancy weight. All through my twenties I had taken it for granted that I could eat what I wanted and stay slim. I didn’t have a sweet tooth. But pregnancy changed that! I craved junk food and ate whole tiers of cake and multi-packs of crisps in-between my 3 regular meals. I indulged myself, using hormones as an excuse to fuel my sugar addiction. This led to my first venture into keto.

Keto journey 1 – how I lost 3 stone:

Struggling to do household tasks because of being obese (my BMI reached 31. 30 and above is obese) was what motivated me to start keto in April 2020. Before keto I was used to eating 3000 calories a day of which 250-300grams were carbs; not needed for a 5ft 4 woman! I spent 3 weeks prepping my body by gradually reducing carbs, starting by eliminating the 5 big ones: bread, pasta, potatoes, rice and refined sugar. I then went strict keto, keeping carbs to under 10g a day, although often my overall daily calories were high at around 1600-1800 a day. I made a 2 weekly menu for myself that I rotated. This got repetitive quickly, but I was motivated by the weight loss I experienced and not by variety in my diet. My menu was something like this: black coffee with no breakfast (intermittent fasting)/ naked bacon with eggs, manchego cheese and avocado for lunch with dessert of 2 raspberries and 3 blueberries with 30ml of double cream/ steak or salmon or chicken breast with side salad of 2 brocoli florets and half a tomato in olive oil for dinner. Boring, but it got the job done. After 7 days of keto flu (headaches, lethargy, leg cramps) my body adapted to ketosis and burned between 1.8 to 2.2lbs of fat a week. And I didn’t get hungry as my body was living off its own fuel; and there was plenty of fat to burn! Before I started keto, I had given up on ever being slim again. But the results speak for themselves – check out my before and after photo from 10th April 2020 and 10th September 2020:

After I reached my pre-pregnancy weight target and completed my goal of 3 stone weight loss I slowly transitioned off keto, steering away from low carb by reintroducing carrots, bananas, mangoes and small amounts of potatoes, rice and pasta. By small amounts, I’m talking a cooking spoonful – max! I kept the weight loss off, with a fluctuation of only around 2lbs to account for water weight and managed to maintain my weight loss through October and November 2020. But then, the Christmas holiday happened…

Staying low carb over the holiday period was tough and I admit my sugar addiction got the better of me. I indulged in the chocolates that I’d gotten for presents – without sharing 🤦. Over Christmas I gained 3 pounds. January 2021 hit me with a depressing reality. So I decided to embark on Keto round 2.

Keto journey 2 – sweeteners and weight gain

This time, I didn’t want to deny myself the sweet foods that I realised I had missed so much, but knowing that sugar isn’t keto, I researched alternatives. I discovered to my joy the existence of sugar alcohol sweeteners. The info said they have no effect on insulin response and are zero calories. Hurray! That was my solution, right? A way to have no-cheat-treats, right? So I started baking keto buns using erythritol and using toppings with skinny syrups. Over the course of 8 weeks from 3rd January 2021 to 12th March 2021, I did strict keto of under 20g carbs a day whilst using zero carb sweeteners. To my horror after 8 weeks instead of losing weight, I had actually gained a further 3 pounds, putting my total weight gain at 6 pounds since Christmas. To say I was down was an understatement!

Sweeteners, FODMAPs and SIBO…my descent into gut health hell

Weight gain in March this year was the least of my problems. I did research about why I gained 3 pounds from using sweeteners on strict keto and discovered that certain types of sugar-alcohol such as sucralose (common in diet syrups) can cause an insulin response from the sweet taste triggered by receptors in your tongue – insulin as we know causes the body to store fat instead of burning fat. I’m not sure I can blame erythritol for my weight gain as I had to quit using it after 1 week as it gave me diarrhoea – I only continued with the sucralose for the duration of my 8 week second keto journey, putting diet syrup in my coffee and tea, etc. Added to my weight gain misery from sweeteners was the fact that I didn’t realise sucralose is a high FODMAP (fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols) food. For anyone with medical IBS, you’ll understand the pain I’m talking about from all the gut distension high FODMAPs can cause. For me this led to further gut-health trouble: it set off my SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth). Keto is an awesome diet for lowering bad bacteria in the gut, which feed on primarily carbs, particularly sugar. The bacteria in my gut – both good and bad – were probably throwing a celebratory party at all the sugar-alcohol I was giving them through sweetener use. At this point I was in such pain and depression over my gut health issues that I started bingeing on chocolate and baked treats again as a source of comfort, adding on a further 2 pounds – bringing my total weight gain since Christmas to 8 pounds.

Antibiotics and probiotics paving the way to keto journey 3

For any IBS/SIBO sufferers out there reading this, you’ll understand that sometimes the only course of action is antibiotics. I completed a course of Ciprofloxaccin then began re-colonising my gut with probiotics geared at SIBO sufferers: Bacillus Coagulans, Saccharomyces Boulardii and Lacto-Bifido strains in addition to taking my regular Betaine-Hydrochloride tablets and digestive enzymes. Once I threw all the sweeteners in the food compost bin and was sure my gut had recovered from the double-whammy of insulin response/weight gain and sweetener-induced SIBO attack (this took 2 months), I felt ready for keto journey 3.

Keto journey 3 – lots of vegetables and no sweeteners!

Putting on 8 pounds wasn’t what spurred me to go back on keto; the issue was that I didn’t want to slip back into old habits that caused me to gain 3 stone in the first place. I knew I had to tackle my sugar addiction once and for all. During May I spent 3 weeks cutting out all refined sugar and generally going low carb to reduce cravings. It was tough! I went into full withdrawal, getting the shakes, feeling cold – and even emotional at the idea of not being able to have my sugar ‘fix’. I didn’t lose any weight, but honestly wasn’t trying to – I just wanted to control my cravings so I ate large amounts of fruit as a temporary substitute. On 1st June I switched to strict keto again, but unlike my keto journey last year, I decided to lower the amount of cream and bacon I was eating and instead eat plenty of salad vegetables. In 7 days of eating less than 30g carbs/ 1100-1300 daily calories, I’ve lost the 8lbs I had gained since Christmas. I’m back to my pre-pregnancy weight, but I’m going to stay on keto now not to attain a specific weight loss goal or body measurement, but until my clothes don’t feel tight and my paunch is a little less pronounced!

It’s funny that in reflection, when I was in my twenties as in 2010 (pictured) I was a UK size 8 and within a decade by my mid-thirties had become a UK size 16. My waist size in 2020 (35 inches) was the size of my hips in 2010 and my waist size in 2010 (24 inches) is the size my thigh is today – that’s some reality check! Now, in my forties I’m comfortable at a UK size 12. But it’s all about balance. Keto keeps me on the right track with my health, but more importantly it’s a diet that works for me. I’m a firm believer that everyone needs to find a diet that suits you as an individual and works for your lifestyle.

Writing horror – a new skill to tackle

Would you believe me if I told you that I’ve loved horror novels since my early teens, but only last year began earnestly writing a horror novel myself? About time, you might say – and you’d be right!

As you’ll know if you’ve read my earlier posts, novel wip#4 is a supernatural/psychological horror, which I’ve been scaffolding up from a short story I wrote last year in lockdown. I’ve been steadily building this up to book length since last November. It’s slow progress, but I’m learning a lot on the job.

The thing about writing horror is finding the right balance between making a scene or chapter frightening enough without overdoing the fear-factor so that it becomes cliché, or boring. Or worse: cringey.

Today was a challenging, but rewarding writing day. Basically I wrote my first scary scene, hopefully with as much description as possible. It’s tough trying to describe a ghost, especially a malicious one! Hopefully the scene is scary not cheesy…

At 54k words (or thereabouts) into draft 1 of novel wip#4, it’s also a long way into the story before the sinister central character makes an appearance. But I’m hoping that when this draft is done and I read through it, the build up of suspense beforehand should pay off when the malign spirit finally makes its grand entrance.

Any other writers out there who have waited until quite far into their story before introducing the main protagonist in all their wicked glory?

Novel WIP#4 update – weekend writing and word count

I’m rather pleased with my novel draft progress after some reflection this weekend. I started novel WIP#4 back in November, expanding my 7000 word short story, The Blue Man that I wrote in lockdown last year (which is currently published in Scarlet Leaf Review) into a book-length project. I’m currently up to 52,275 words. Not an easy feat as I’m also a mum of an energetic preschooler.

This book is going to be quite a bit different from the short story, for those of you who have read that version. I’m ramping up the supernatural horror aspect, and providing a lot more creepy backstory about the sinister central character. Stay tuned for more updates!

While we’re on the topic, novel WIP#3 is still out on submission to publishers. Though I’m gearing up to maybe self-publish it later this year. More on that in another post.

Short story The Blue Man published in Scarlet Leaf Review

Good news! You can read my short story, The Blue Man, which is published in the spring issue of Scarlet Leaf Review. Megan and Sabrina are high school friends who meet 20 years after being haunted by a sinister figure known as the Blue Man. But will he follow them into the present? This story can be read as a psychological thriller/supernatural horror or as a domestic drama, a little more close to home.

I wrote this story for a competition Blossom Spring Publishing ran for their authors during lockdown last year. They are the publisher of my debut novel, Gods of Avalon Road, my urban fantasy/paranormal romance book.

Even though my short story didn’t win the competition, good things clearly came of it: not only is it published in Scarlet Leaf Review, but as of November last year I have been expanding it into a novel-length story. So, if you want a taster of what the full length book will entail, you can read the short story version for FREE! Hope you enjoy it!

Surviving sugar addiction – finding life balance

(Keto/low carb diet to combat sugar addiction!)

Hello, I’m Leilanie and I’m a sugar addict.

There, I’ve said it! The cat is out of the bag! Admitting something is the first step to recovery. So, shall we have a dialogue about it? I’d like to. Sugar addiction is very real, though not treated nearly as seriously as drug or alcohol addiction. But heart disease, diabetes, cancer and numerous other ailments that are a result of sugar addiction are very serious. Yet there is no stigma about it. It isn’t treated as taboo. People would not offer a recovering alcoholic a beer, but would happily offer a sugar addict a cake. Why? Because sugar is socially accepted.

There is a world of difference between having a sweet tooth and a full blown sugar addiction. I am one of the latter folks, sadly. For me, this means bingeing on chocolate, cake and starchy foods to get a ‘high’ then feeling guilty. Recently I have started my former bad habit of secretly bingeing in the hope that no-one sees. You see, if no-one sees then it didn’t happen. Doesn’t make sense, does it? No. But then addiction doesn’t.

To date I have found no cure for my sugar addiction. I think about junk food ALL the time. I think about my next snack while I’m already eating. I try to justify decisions to buy sweets or reasons why I had to eat all the desserts in the cupboard. Is this a problem? Yes, a big one. Is it an eating disorder? Yes, I would say so even if conventional advice would disagree. At my worst last year I had food blackouts and legitimately did not know why whole multi-packs of biscuits were missing from the cupboard when I knew I had bought them.

So folks, I’m now back on keto as I did last year, though this time not for weight loss but to short-circuit my increasingly desperate need for a sugar fix. It’s the only thing that suppresses my appetite. I’m planning to come off low carb/keto when I can trust myself to not eat an entire box of delicious salted caramel Lindor chocolates in 10 minutes as I did yesterday…😱 Wish me luck!

Too tempting!

Happy Beltane 2021 – stories for Mayday

Can you believe it’s May already? This year has flown in and thankfully now that we’re out of lockdown here in Northern Ireland, and the weather is picking up, it’s much more enjoyable.

To celebrate the 1st of May, also known to the Pagan community as Beltane (fertility festival) here are a couple of Beltane/Beltaine related stories for you to read:

Gods of Avalon Road is my debut novel set on 1st of May. Kerry and Gavin are University friends who travel to London to work for the enigmatic Oliver Doncaster. They find themselves lured into an arcane Druid ritual on Mayday that summons ancient Celtic gods from Avalon. But when the Sun God is resurrected, Kerry finds a familiar face in the handsome warrior known as Belenus and realises there is more to their relationship than first meets the eye. This book is an urban fantasy with elements of historical fiction and paranormal romance.

Read the review on Soph’s Book World
Listen to an excerpt:

Child of the Earth is a short story by Amy Finlay published on Bindweed Magazine today. Ethel Stewart is a midwife who, despite having birthed thousands of babies, struggles to have one of her own. But when she meets a mysterious woman who lives in the glen near her village, Ethel is given a Mayday offer too good to refuse – but at what cost?

Hope you like these stories! Of course, if you’re anything like me you’ll be watching the Wicker Man as well to celebrate Mayday. Enjoy!

The Redundancy of Tautology is now published!

My third poetry collection, The Redundancy of Tautology, is now published! You can buy copies for £10.84 from Amazon UK, $15.00 from Amazon dot com and from my publisher’s website at Cyberwit.

It will be a while before I can organise a book launch event, as we’re still in partial lockdown here in Northern Ireland. Retail will not be opening until 26th April, so bookstores are still closed. However, if you want to read samples of the poems in the collection, some of them have been previously published in magazines and anthologies. Check out these links to read more for FREE!

The Redundancy of Tautology” first published in Dead Snakes Magazine, 2016.

New-sense” first published in The Open Mouse, 2014.

A faraday cage will keep you safe, Thou dost protest too much, Life is a-changing, Long haul, Show not tell, Ripe fruit” first published in Mudjob Magazine, 2013

Landmass” first published in Jellyfish Whispers, 2013.

English Litter-ature” first published in Boyslut Magazine, 2013.

Hope you enjoy reading!

Gods of Avalon Road reviewed on Soph’s Book World

Many thanks to Sofia at Soph’s Book World for taking the time to read and review my book, Gods of Avalon Road, which you can read – here! I had asked for an honest review in exchange for sending her a paperback copy and it was great to read her thoughts. As a reader myself, whenever I’m looking for new books I feel that reviews are important in helping me decide, so I’m glad for a candid appraisal of my book that might help potential new readers to make up their minds.

About the review itself, I was interested to hear that Sofia would have liked my two protagonists, Kerry and Gavin, to have hooked up during the course of the book! It’s funny that back when I was writing the first draft, I had included a raunchy scene between the pair that I had later cut in favour of an unrequited love from Gavin towards Kerry (who if you’ve read the book, will know is besotted with the Sun God, Belenus). I wonder do any other readers out there feel the same way about a romance happening between the two platonic friends? Bear in mind that I have outlined a sequel, which I’ll be writing as novel WIP #5 so your opinion matters!

Life in a pandemic age – lateral flow testing and literary escapism

Better safe than sorry – twice weekly self-testing for staff

Just a personal blog post today, as I haven’t written anything non-writing related in a while and, of course, many other things have been on my mind. This week the main change to my 3 month lockdown routine is that I’ve been back to work. As I’ve mentioned in many previous posts, I work in a secondary school as my main full-time job. GCSE and A-level pupils (16-18 year old students, for those reading outside the UK) have been back into school since Monday, and as I work with Year 12, I’ve been back in class. So no more Zoom and Collaborate lessons; back to face-to-face learning. As part of the steps to contain coronavirus, all staff and pupils can avail of voluntary lateral flow testing. Since my attitude is better safe than sorry, I’m taking part in the twice weekly self-testing with a home pack as in the photo.

A conversation I had with friends at work has been on my mind. I wonder if we will ever get to the stage where we can look back at 2020 and 2021 and reflect on how these years in isolation become known as the ‘pandemic years’, much like the 1918 flu. Or rather than becoming resigned to history as a strange period in time once contained, will Covid-19 roll on as a seasonal illness like the common cold, or flu and we find ourselves at risk every year? Wearing face masks, hand washing, using sanitising gel and social distancing have become so commonplace now that I wonder if this will be the new normal permanently? It’s hard to imagine society having to shut down on mini-lockdowns every winter, say, but could that become the way forward? It paints a bleak picture for sure, but if it saves lives then it’s worth it.

On a related literary note, I downloaded Diary of a Plague Year by Daniel Defoe on my Kindle, though I admit it is a bit too close to home for me to comfortably read at the moment. I’ve been reading mainly psychological thrillers and supernatural horror at the minute as I’m enjoying escapism, as many are, I’d say. Reality is grim enough for the present time, though thankfully the death toll in Northern Ireland has been at zero for the past few days, giving us all a bit of much-needed hope. Lucinda Berry, Frieda McFadden and Miranda Rijks have been a few authors keeping me sane during these trying times!