Archives for posts with tag: inspiration

Kindle Sale begins today. From Friday 8th-Friday 15th 2017, you can get Faces in the Water for just $0.99 or 99p. Click on the country link to buy it now: UK   US

When I was a little girl, I wrote stories all the time. My favourite one was about a pair of magical tap shoes that transported the child who wore them into a strange and mysterious land with weird, stinky monsters, who were actually much nicer than they looked! I think I even won a prize at the local book store for writing a story, although I can’t remember what that was about. I wrote and wrote and told stories and imagined and dreamed, right up until I started GCSEs, and then I think school got busy, and there was homework and sports and dancing to do in my spare time. I still wrote at school, but I stopped writing stories when I was at home. It wasn’t until I started university that it occurred to me I had lost a part of me when I stopped writing. I wanted to take an optional creative writing module as part of my English and Theatre Studies degree, but they wouldn’t let me apply without a portfolio of work.

Well, I didn’t have a portfolio of work!

All my life, I had considered myself a writer; writing and storytelling was what I did. But all of a sudden, I felt like a fraud. How could I be a real writer if, at the grand old age of 19, I didn’t have a portfolio of creative writing?!

So that was that – I wasn’t a writer anymore. And as my first year at university went on, I decided I wasn’t a dancer or a performer anymore either, and that I was terrible at netball and sports in general. I stopped doing the things that made me feel alive: I stopped socialising and performing and writing and playing sports. I studied (but not very well), I went to the gym, and I locked myself away in my room a lot. Needless to say, it wasn’t the best time of my life.

I remember very vividly the time I started writing again because in that moment, a little spark of ‘Sarah the writer’ was rekindled and I began to remember who I was again. I was on holiday with my family in France, and I was sitting on my own at the top of a grassy meadow that looked out over the fields below. I had drawn my knees into my chest and bowed my head to rest on them. Bright, golden sun shone through the curtain of hair that had fallen across my face, making it glitter and sparkle. I felt safe and peaceful, as though I had been transported into a magical space all of my own, and a story came to me about a young girl who lived in a little wooden hut on the edge of a forest. This girl could talk to the sunlight; she could cup it in her hands and mold it like clay.

That was the start of Faces in the WaterTen years later, after several rewrites, I finally finished my first novel. Most of the story had changed from that initial moment, but the essence of it had stayed the same. At the heart of it, there was still a shy but determined young girl trying to keep hold of her identity.

Two years ago, I finally published Faces in the Water. It is a book that is very precious to me: it got me through those tough early twenties when I was still trying to work out who I really was; and it carried me right the way through to my early thirties, when I finally found the confidence to say to people, ‘I am a writer.’

Unfortunately, I missed Faces’ 1st birthday (I was too wrapped up in enjoying maternity leave and writing cute Christmas stories for my little girls!) but this year, to celebrate the 2nd anniversary of Faces in the Water finally being published, we are having a Kindle sale. I am launching a countdown sale from today (8th December 17) and for the next seven days (until 15th December) you can pick up the Kindle edition of Faces in the Water for just $0.99c or 99p. So, what are you waiting for? Click on one of these links now and go and buy it: UK download; US download. And then tell all your friends about it too!

Oh, and if you enjoy it, don’t forget to pop back to Amazon to leave a review or send me an email: sarahmahfoudhz@gmail.com.

Happy reading!

Sarah

x

Author and Editor

www.sarahmahfoudh.com

www.rawmixture.co.uk

www.instagram.com/mahfoudhsarah

 

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Last week on my Instagram feed (@mahfoudhsarah), I wrote about how much I love this time of year:

The changing weather, autumn colours and the approach of Christmas (yep, I said it!), seem to send me into creative overdrive!

And it’s true. At this time of year, I always start trying to draw again (trying, being the operative word!), and I want to do lots of crafts and write new stories, and bake. And I absolutely love making books. In fact, I’ve just come across a little book I made for a friend’s wedding a few autumns ago.

It is just a cute little love story I laid up into a hand-bound book. It is by no means a super-polished masterpiece, but it was written from the heart and I thought it would be nice to share it with the world. So here it is. You can also download the PDF version here.

I hope you enjoy it. xx

 

 

Happy-ever-after

© 2017 Sarah Mahfoudh.  All rights reserved.  

QuoteThe light flickered into existence on the horizon, and Emerald felt the familiar burn of desire ignite in her chest. It was exhilarating, and frightening and utterly unquenchable.

Quietly, so as not to wake her housemates, she eased the window up, scrambled onto the extension roof outside, and jumped down to the damp grass a few metres below. She set off at a run the moment her feet hit the ground, the glimmer of the distant firelight filling her eyes and her mind, and the allure of its promise racing through her blood like a drug. In the cold, starlit night, she crossed fields and streams, scrambled over hedgerows, and veered around trees.

The autumn wind whipped her hair back from her face so that it could whistle soft words in her ear: ‘Not far, my love. Not far to happy-ever-after.’

She smiled and pushed on.

But a cloud, watching from above chuckled. ‘Nothing lasts forever,’ it rumbled. ‘Everything changes.’

Fat, heavy raindrops tumbled from the sky. ‘T-u-r-n-b-a-c-k,’ they warned as they drummed against her bare arms and face. ‘T-u-r-n-b-a-c-k.’

‘You see,’ said the diminishing cloud. ‘Soon I will be a stream, not a cloud. Nothing is constant. No love will last forever.’

‘Shhh,’ hissed the wind.

spreadEmerald merely smiled and kept on running. She took no notice of the water that streamed down her back and plastered her hair to her face. Her heart was light and her soul sang for joy as she came ever closer to her one true love.

After a long while, she reached the bottom of a mountain, and there, way above, burned the fire that had called to her. She started to climb, but the mountain was steep and high, and her legs soon became weary. She climbed and climbed, and climbed some more, as the night grew thicker and a sharp frost crept across the rocky ground. But as hard as she climbed, the fire never seemed any closer. The longing in her heart started to weigh on her mind, and her elation turned to hopeless despair. Tears rolled down her cheeks as she sank to her knees, breathless and exhausted.

 

The night grew still: the wind had stopped its wishful whispering, and the grumbling cloud had poured itself onto the fields far below.

Up above, the sky sparkled with billions of crystal stars that chimed down at her, telling her she was nearly there. But they were too far away for her to hear. Emerald closed her eyes and wept.

The earth shuddered beneath her. ‘Everything worth having must be worked for,’ it reminded her. ‘Climb.’

And after a moment’s pause, she did. She climbed and climbed, and climbed some more, but she no longer dared to hope that she would find what she was looking for at the top.

At long last, she hauled herself over the peak of the mountain and there, just a few paces away, burning so brightly the whole mountain-top was stained orange in its glow, was the fire that had called to her from miles away. And all around couples danced to a secret melody that only they could hear.

The people were exquisite: the women’s gowns dripped with jewels, whilst their long hair fell to their waists in glorious curls and their animated faces were flushed with the spirit of the party. The men, adorned in silk, were equally divine with their chiselled features and piercing eyes that flashed in the dancing light. Emerald’s heart gave a bird-like flutter. She would meet her one true love tonight amongst these lustrous, enchanting dancing folk. How could she have ever doubted it? She could sense him, just beyond her sight, perhaps at the other side of the fire or in the feathery shadows that wavered at the edge of the light.

She took a step forwards into the flurry of dancers. None of them looked at her, but they twisted outwards gracefully, leaving an open space that led into the centre of the circle. She kept on walking, feeling the pull of her life-long dream; and then suddenly, unexpectedly, she was gathered up into an embrace, and before she knew what was happening, she was spinning around and around in time to an invisible orchestra. The music swelled as the mountain-top and the fire vanished to be replaced by the majestic marble arches and polished floor of a Fairy ballroom.

And now the radiant, laughing couples looked at her and beamed as she danced past, but she looked beyond them to the great hall and what she saw made her gasp, for the walls were covered from floor to ceiling in diamonds that shivered and twinkled in the hypnotic candlelight.

It was all so delicious – so awe-inspiring – and it was some time before it occurred to Emerald that she had not yet looked at her dancing partner. But he, of course, was the reason she was here: it was the beating of his heart and the fire of his passion that had drawn her to this place. Her pulse quickened and her legs trembled. Slowly, she turned her head to look at her one true love and her breath caught in her throat. He was the most divine being she had ever seen: his high cheekbones, his glistening eyes, his wonderfully bowed lips – everything about him was perfect, and yet … And yet, he was not the one. She did not love him.

Instantly, the room went dark, the music stopped, and Emerald stumbled forwards as the weight of her dancing partner’s body was ripped away. She fell to the ground, lost in an impenetrable darkness. There was not a sound; not a gust of wind or a trickle of water. She turned her face upwards, but there were no stars. Beneath her, she could feel the jagged rock of the mountain.

How had it all gone so wrong? How could she have lost everything in just that one glance?

Perhaps there really was no such thing as true love, she thought miserably as she curled into a ball and closed her eyes against the empty blackness. Perhaps she had spent her life wishing for a fairy tale that would never come true. Well, at least she knew now and she would never again waste time wishing and hoping.

She did not know how much time passed in that desolate nowhere, but when the soft thud of footsteps brought her back to her senses, she opened her eyes to find that the world had reappeared in a roseate haze. She was at the edge of a wood that looked out over a lush, green valley. She knew this place well. On the other side of the trees was the dreary little village where she woke up every day and got dressed for work, where she cooked dinner and passed her evenings in front of the telly. It was as far from fairyland and happy-ever-after as anywhere, and yet, as she watched the burning sky on the horizon turn from pink to red to fiery orange, her heart skipped (just once) at the possibility of a new day.

But no: she didn’t want to hope anymore, so she turned away just as the sun peeped its head up over the edge of the world and sunlight burst across the valley. She refused to let herself be comforted by the warmth of the sunrise on her back. She stepped towards the shade of the trees, keen to be swallowed up in the woody gloom, but as she did so another figure stepped out into the light.

‘Seb,’ she breathed.

Normal, ordinary, good-hearted Seb, who she had known ever since school, grinned at her and her heart leapt.

‘Emerald, what are you doing here?’

heart

At the sound of his voice, Emerald found herself smiling. She raised her hand to her mouth, needing to feel the curl of her lips to believe that it was true. And of course, it was! Where the glorious valley and dazzling sunrise had failed to bring her hope, one utterance from Seb had brought the wonder of life flooding back to her. She gazed at him, struck dumb by this revelation, and as she looked into his eyes, her soul stretched its wings and floated up from the depths. Blissful warmth flooded through her and she felt the colour rise in her cheeks. Seb looked back at her with a bemused smile, waiting for her to reply, but she couldn’t speak or move; she simply stood and stared and wondered why she had never before noticed how dazzling his smile was or how his eyes glittered with a disarming mischief or how indescribably, irrationally happy he made her feel.

She walked towards him and held out her hands, and he took them without hesitation, looking straight into her eyes. Emerald beamed inside and out.

 

A light breeze flittered past her ear. ‘Well done, my love,’ it sighed. ‘I think you’ve found your happy-ever-after.’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cloves & Ginger began life as a healthy-living blog around five years ago. It was a platform for me to share a few recipes and workout ideas, and write about healthy food choices. Over time, my idea of what healthy-living means has broadened. Healthy-living is not just about eating well and doing the odd exercise session – it is about finding the right balance in every area of your life. Put very simply, being healthy means having a healthy body, a healthy mind, healthy relationships, and a healthy environment, which means that in order to be healthy we need to do the things that nourish our bodies and minds.

I have always needed to exercise on a regular basis to stay sane; but over the past few years, I have come to realise that finding time to write every day is just as essential to my well-being. If I miss a few writing days, I begin to feel down and grouchy, and then I notice that my other healthy habits (like eating well, exercising, dancing, walking outside, and having fun with my family) all begin to go out the window too!

There is a wonderful saying doing the rounds on the internet at the moment:

 

Make a list of things that make you happy.

Make a list of things you do every day.

Compare the lists.

Adjust accordingly.

 

I love this little nugget of wisdom. For me, this is what health is: finding the things that make you feel alive and energised, and then trying to do those things as often as possible.

Up until now, I have mostly kept my creative writing work separate from my healthy-living writing, but if being creative is part of my healthy lifestyle, it seems only fair to let it become part of the Cloves & Ginger blog too. This is all a rather long-winded way of warning you that you might begin to notice the occasional post about my latest novel or an extract from a story popping up on here.

I hope you continue to visit Cloves & Ginger and enjoy the range of subjects I share.

My YA fantasy novel is available to buy on Kindle (US link; UK link) or in print, here. To find out more about my writing and publications, please visit www.sarahmahfoudh.com and feel free to get in touch at any time by emailing me: sarahmahfoudhz@gmail.com.

It is time we sorted our body image issues out – not just for us, but for those young girls (and boys) who are watching our every move and hanging on our every word. They deserve to grow up knowing it is okay to like themselves and accept themselves for who they are, but they can’t do that if we are setting all the wrong examples.

Summer is here, my holiday is booked and I should feel excited by the prospect of getting away, soaking up some rays and spending quality time with my family, but instead I feel anxious. I have to wear a bikini and I’m not ready yet. Once again, I’ve left it too late to get that perfect, lean beach body; my summer clothes don’t suit me anymore; my bikinis are all old and worn. Oh, and I ate loads of cake last week, which has left me feeling angry and upset.

I take myself off to the shops in the desperate hope of finding clothes that will make me feel good about my body. But the lights in the changing rooms are too bright and the sizings in the shop are all wrong, and as I stand there in the spot lights wearing an ill-fitting bikini, and just centimetres from my own reflection, I want to SCREAM!

Does any of this sound familiar to you? That feeling when you hate what you see in the mirror so much that all you want to do is throw yourself on the floor and have a toddler tantrum, and then curl up in a ball and cry? Even as I write this, it sounds like a pretty extreme reaction, and yet if you are anything like me, you’ve experienced this feeling countless times.

There was a time when I would have given into this inner turmoil: I would have cursed my reflection, told myself how revolting I was, and then I probably would have run off to the nearest café to punish myself with cake. But I have come a long way over the past few years, so instead I look down at my five-year-old daughter, who is beaming up at me from the corner of the dressing room, and I take a deep breath and smile back.

‘I don’t really like the fabric,’ I tell her in an upbeat voice. ‘I’ll find something another time.’

I hope I managed to hide the desperation in my eyes that day, and I hope she believed me when I told her the clothes were the problem and not me; because I don’t want my funny, intelligent, dynamic, beautiful daughter to think it is normal to look at her reflection and hate what she sees. I hope that she and her sister can grow up feeling comfortable and happy in their bodies, and enjoy discovering what their bodies can do for them.

I have spent a lifetime ‘fighting’ my body. It started early for me: I was still in primary school when I began to feel self-conscious about my tummy. I didn’t even know why I felt that way, but I remember going out one day in a tight top and a baggy cardigan, and I was so hot, but I wouldn’t take the cardigan off because I didn’t want anyone to see my tummy. My tummy! I was a tiny, skinny little dancer with no boobs and no tummy and not an ounce of fat on me, but I was embarrassed by my body all the same. I can’t pinpoint where this body shame came from, but I know I am not alone. From a young age, we hear women complain about their bodies, talking about diets, worrying about whether their bum looks big or their tummy looks fat or whether their arms jiggle when they move, and then we grow up and we begin to complain too.

How often do you stand back from the mirror, observe yourself as a whole and think, ‘Yes, I am gorgeous’? I hope you do this often, but I am guessing that like so many of us, you are more likely to stare at the part of your body you hate the most and tell yourself it needs to change.

But it is time we sorted our body image issues out – not just for us, but for those young girls (and boys) who are watching our every move and hanging on our every word. They deserve to grow up knowing it is okay to like themselves and accept themselves for who they are, but they can’t do that if we are setting all the wrong examples.

It was my husband who first pulled me up on this when our first daughter was little. Every time I said I was fat or complained about my body in front of her, he just gave me a look: ‘You can’t talk like that in front of her,’ he told me.

Until then, I hadn’t realised just how often I called myself fat or complained about my body or asked someone else for validation – it was constant. But being aware of it was the first step towards positive change and I am proud to say how far I have come. I still have my bad moments (like the dressing room incident) and I still want to look and feel good in my bikini, but what I have come to realise is that if I only ever focus on my flaws, I will never be happy, no matter what size or shape I am. My self-worth should not be inextricably linked to what size clothes I wear. I no longer workout and diet to ‘get thin’, but I exercise regularly and eat a healthy, balanced diet because those things make me feel happy and confident. I like feeling comfortable in my skin and in my clothes. There are still days when I want to be slimmer, and I don’t think these feelings will ever go away completely, but I can change the way I react to them both internally and externally. When I begin to beat myself up about my appearance, I pause, breathe and then rationalise: what does it matter if my shorts are a bit tighter this week? That doesn’t change who I am or what I have achieved; it doesn’t change how much my family love me or how much I love them. I can eat a healthier diet for a week and feel comfortable in my shorts in no time (and I usually do) but I know that will only help me feel better if I do it from a place of self-love rather than self-loathing.

Changing life-long thought patterns is not always easy. Sometimes it is so very tempting to just give in and settle back into the familiar, self-sabotaging habits, but I owe it to my daughters to be present and happy, and to have the head-space to be able to play with them and enjoy them. I hope my efforts will pay off and that they will grow up feeling proud and confident in their own bodies.

It won’t be easy bringing my girls up on this body-shaming culture, so I’m going to ask you for your help. Whether you are male or female, and whether you have your own children or not, I urge you to be aware of the messages you are putting out there. Stop hating yourself and telling yourself you are not good enough. Realise that you are not defined by the shape of your body, and for the sake of the younger generations (as well as for yourself), let’s make body-confidence the norm.

This is still a work in progress for me and I certainly don’t have all the answers, but here are some of the things that work for me:

  1. Whether it is out loud or in your own head, be aware of your negative self-talk and begin to turn it around.
  2. Write a list of things you like about yourself that are not related to your appearance.
  3. Re-write and re-read this list as often as you need to.
  4. Take note of the things you do each day that you are be proud of: this could be something big like getting a new job or passing an exam, or it could be a small achievement like choosing a healthy salad over a chocolate bar for lunch.
  5. Try to look at yourself the way others would look at you – as a whole package rather than as a series of ‘close-up’ flaws.
  6. Think about the things that make you feel happy and good about yourself and work them into your daily routine: singing, dancing, drawing, sewing, reading, running, cooking, eating healthy foods, spending time with your family …
  7. Slow down, look up from your phone or your computer and breathe. Go outside, look at the sky and remember there is more to life than how good or bad you think you look in your bikini.
  8. Meditate. Just taking five minutes a day to sit and tune into yourself really can help you gain some perspective. I am new to this and still learning, but there are apps out there to help, or if you need a little more input, look for a good life-coach or therapist.

Do this for yourself, but do it for our children too. Good luck.

x

Whilst browsing the internet a few weeks ago, I came across the website of a weight loss coach. I am always interested in the work of other health and well-being practitioners so I started to read her introduction, but within a few paragraphs I was angry and upset and felt as though I was being personally attacked for being a personal trainer.

For the record, there was no real reason for me to take this woman’s comments personally; I don’t know her and I very much doubt that she has ever heard of me. She was merely expressing an opinion based on her own experiences and observations, but her words touched a nerve nonetheless.

To paraphrase: this coach stated that most personal trainers want to keep hold of their clients long- term and so they will purposefully confuse and misinform people to ensure they never reach their goals and never gain the confidence to go solo! In comparison, she – the weight loss coach – prefers to work with her clients for just a few weeks and get real results.

I couldn’t stop thinking about what she had written and I began to question my own practice as a trainer. You see, it is true that as a personal trainer, I prefer to work with clients on a long-term basis. Does that make me a bad person? Am I just in it for the money? Have I been sabotaging my clients all this time? No, of course not! Why would anyone go into this profession thinking, ‘I hope my clients fail’?

But here’s the truth: I really don’t care whether my clients are fat or thin. I want them to keep working with me for as long as possible because I love seeing them grow stronger and fitter, and because I love introducing them to new and different exercises, and because I know there is always something else I can teach them. Some of my clients lose weight when they work with me and some of them don’t, but that doesn’t mean the ones who don’t have failed in any way. We need to dispel this damaging message that the only reason you should take up exercise it to lose weight (or more accurately, lose inches). Exercise is about so much more than what size jeans you wear or whether your arms have definition or whether people are going to compliment you on your six-pack when you slip into a bikini.

My aim as a personal trainer is to instill in others the joy of moving. For me, my greatest success stories are when I see my clients learning to use and trust and enjoy their bodies in a whole new way. If people need or want to lose weight along the way, that’s fine and I help them to do that by encouraging them to address their diet and life-style as a whole, but first and foremost, I want my clients to realise that exercise can be fun and enjoyable and rewarding. I want them to witness first-hand how it can boost their mood and make them feel strong and flexible and alive. I want my clients to learn that if they start enjoying their bodies and tuning into how good it feels to get up and move, they will naturally begin to take care of themselves better in other areas of their life.

Exercising can be inspiring and energising and it can free your mind in ways you never thought possible. So, as a personal trainer, I feel it is my duty to encourage you not to have weight-loss as your main goal in life. Mental and physical health, strength and fitness, and a positive body image are much better life-goals and the likelihood is, when you start enjoying your body and appreciating everything it can do for you, you will begin to see positive physical changes anyway.

So let’s spread the word: love your body, nourish it, treat it well … and above all else, enjoy it!

We’re 10 days into February already. Where has that time gone?

How has your ‘Love Yourself’ month been going so far? For me, last week was all about getting back into my writing. This went brilliantly but I was still struggling with my other goal, which was to get back into my normal healthy eating habits. We’d had a flood at my house and ended up living with my parents-in-law for two weeks. It’s incredible how not having my own space to cook, exercise and relax in can have such a massive impact on my mood and eating habits. I love my parents-in-law and they couldn’t have made me feel more welcome, but I’ve never been good in other people’s environments. I’m a home-bird and for some reason, the moment I’m in someone else’s space I start to feel out of control and anxious, which leads to comfort eating. Sigh!

But, good news, we moved back into our house on Friday and I instantly began to feel better. As part of ‘Love Yourself’ February, I’ve decided to promise myself a treat each week. Last week I’d promised I would buy a brand new clean-eating cook book and set aside a couple of hours at the weekend to sit down and read through it. So I did.

I bought the new Deliciously Ella book and made a point of starting right from the beginning and reading through the introduction instead of skipping straight to the recipes. Ella is a beautiful writer and has an inspiring story and the recipes all seem to be very simple and relatively quick to make, which is always a bonus for me. I enjoy cooking, but I don’t have a lot of time in the week so I’m always looking for healthy, but convenient meal ideas. You can find out more about Ella at her website: www.deliciouslyella.com.

I took a few recipes from Ella’s book and also decided on a few of my old favourites that I hadn’t made for a few weeks. Then I got cooking. On Sunday morning, I did the fun baking stuff with my 2-year-old. We made raw chocolate energy balls (known in my household as ‘power balls’) to go in the freezer for when we want something lovely and sweet; we made blueberry muffins from the Deliciously Ella cook book and put those in the freezer too. Then I made a new batch of sweet potato gnocchi. I usually have this in the freezer at all times as a quick meal to give to my daughter. She loves it and once the gnocchi is made it’s even quicker than pasta to cook.

That was a pretty good start, but it got even better. Yesterday morning, I made my favourite homemade baked beans (just chop up and fry onion and garlic, then add tomato puree, passata, a bit of vegetable stock and some beans. I went with cannellini beans and butter beans this time. Yum!). I also made the the quinoa tabbouleh from Deliciously Ella’s cookbook, coconut chicken nuggets from I Quit Sugar and then I made a delicious frittata in the evening. OK, I know that’s a lot of cooking but it only took a couple of hours in the morning and about 30 minutes in the evening and now I have loads of delicious food waiting for me in the fridge. Just knowing I’ve put in all the hard work and have so much good food waiting for me when I need a quick meal makes me feel calmer and more positive about being able to eat healthily throughout the week. It may seem like a chore, but I definitely think it’s worth taking a little time each week to prioritise your health because if you can get that right, then you’ll have so much more energy and motivation in other areas of your life.

x

Ps. I’m sure I’m not alone in finding stories about people who have healed themselves through food intriguing and inspiring. As well as the Deliciouly Ella blog, I have found Against All Grain and I Quit Sugar so helpful and I go back to them time and time again for inspiration. I’d love to get some recommendations from readers if you know of any other good blogs.