What I’m reading: February 2015

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March rolled around fast, eh? It’s World Book Day today, so I thought it’d be a good time to show you what I read/audiobooked in February! As with all these round-ups, I’m not going to give you a synopsis of the book (that’s what goodreads and amazon are for), but just tell you whether I rate or slate them.

Slam – Nick Hornby

This has been on my bookshelf for ages. I think we got it as a 2 for a fiver at Sainsbury’s or something. I didn’t realise this was a YA book before I started reading, not that that would’ve put me off. It was… meh. Something and nothing. If it wasn’t a short-read I’d have probably given up. Not really on my recommends list!

On Amazon here.

Moab is my Washpot – Stephen Fry

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On Audio: I’ve listened to all of Stephen Fry’s autobiographies on audiobook, and they never disappoint. I couldn’t imagine reading an autobiography not read by the author, or someone close to the author!

My god, private single-sex schools! I mean, we all know these things go on, but it’s a whole different story when you hear Stephen Fry narrating his losing-of-virginity in one of the bathrooms, isn’t it? I would thoroughly recommend any of Fry’s autobiographies, I’ve enjoyed every one of them, even though I haven’t listening to them in chronological order.

On Amazon here.

Wild: A journey from lost to found – Cheryl Strayed

I read this at the start of the month while I was up in Northumberland in a little cottage by the sea. I haven’t seen the film adaptation yet, but that’s what made me get this book.

There’s a lot of criticism about this book on Goodreads & amazon, but I really enjoyed it. There’s navel gazing, for sure, but that’s what personal accounts and autobiographies are for, right? For me, this book was about how Cheryl dealt with grief after the loss of her mother, it wasn’t solely about how incredibly unprepared (and stupid) she was on her long hike, or about the mistakes she made in her life. That was just part of the ‘self exploration’ journey. As a hiker myself I appreciated her descriptions of her journey & all the things she found difficult and had to overcome.

On Amazon here.

Slaughterhouse-Five – Kurt Vonnegut

This has long been on my To Read list, and it came up on Amazon’s kindle deal of the day to commemorate the Dresden bombings. I really enjoyed this book, and I’ve added it to my re-read list. It’s the kind of book that made me wish I’d read a paper copy so I could’ve added notes to the margins. A twisted plot with so much under the surface, it might be a quick read but it stays with you.

On Amazon here.

The Secret History – Donna Tartt

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On Audio: I thoroughly enjoyed listening to The Goldfinch last year, the narration on that one was excellent. This one, though, was read by the author herself which, when the main character is an early-twenties male, is a bit weird. I ended up switching the speed up on audible to play at 1.25x, such was the monotony of Tartt’s narration. Kinda wish I’d read the book instead, as I don’t think it did much good to the story.

Loads of people say that this is their favourite ever book, a masterpiece, perfection. I mean, I found it interesting, and a good listen, but I don’t think I’d put it in my top 10. I preferred The Goldfinch! I found the characters to be overwrought and overworked, kind of like Tartt had tried to inject them all with too much personality. I couldn’t find myself rooting for any of them, or feeling any kind of affinity.

On Amazon here.

The Story of Us – Dani Atkins

Now this is what you want in a trashy novel (after my last trashy novel, The State We’re In, left a bitter taste in my mouth). The characters are a bit vapid, the storyline tries to be more than it actually is, but it’s exactly what you expect from a book like this. Perfect long flight or Friday-night-on-the-sofa fodder, an easy read with a few twists and turns that keep you turning the pages.

On Amazon here.

In February I also started, and gave up on, Concretopia. I might revisit it at some point, but I found it really text-booky and not as interesting as I’d hoped. I guess not all non-fiction can be as good as Bryson, eh?

Topics of the books on my shelf for next month: adventures on motorcycles, long walks, short stories, and comedy genius.

You can find me on Goodreads! PS. All amazon links above are affiliate links, if you click + buy, I get a few pence.

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WordPress 101: Back that shit up

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When was the last time you backed up your WordPress database? Or files?

Mm-hmm.

We’re all guilty of it.

As much as I love WordPress, it can be dodgy. Plugins can be corrupt, causing all manner of problems to arise within your database. There are security holes that can allow hackers to cause irreversible damage to your files and database. And then, of course, there’s good old fashioned human error.

One way or another you need to backup. Here are my top tips for making sure you’ve got the safety net of a backup for your WordPress website or blog.

What is a backup?

A backup is a carbon copy of your WordPress website. Your WordPress website consists of files (that you can see via your FTP, these are your themes, images, and WordPress itself) and your database (this is where all the information is stored). A backup can consist of just files, just the database, or both.

Here’s what WordPress has to say about backups.

NB: I don’t usually backup plugins unless they’re premium/have been adjusted in any way. They’re generally easy enough to re-download, and it saves some time/space by leaving them out of your backup.

Regularity

The regularity of your backups depending on how often you update your website. I tend to go for a weekly backup of the database, and a monthly backup of files. It might sound tempting to do a daily backup, but this can cause a lot of server load and is generally unnecessary (but if your hosts offer it, then awesome!).

Most backup plugins offer you control over when and what you backup, and offer their advice on regularity.

I’d also suggest manually backing up at least once a month, and checking that your automated backup solution is still working correctly!

Before and After

Along with a regular schedule of backups, you should take time to backup before and after any updates. That includes WordPress core updates, plugin updates and theme updates. Better safe than sorry!

Check if your hosts offer a free backup

There are some really great dedicated/managed WordPress hosts out there, and many of them offer backups as standard. WP Engine, for instance, offer a free daily backup of both your database and files.

It’s not just the dedicated WordPress hosts, either. My host of choice here in the UK, Krystal, offer daily backups with all of their plans.

Where to store your Backup

Depending on your backup method, you can store your WordPress backup in a variety of places. The most usual place is on your server, where your actual WordPress install lives. This isn’t ideal, and I really wouldn’t recommend relying on just this version of your backup.

To be safe, you should have your backup stored in a variety of places, here are a few options.

  • Your server
  • Your computer
  • Dropbox
  • An external drive
  • Google Drive
  • A different server

The more backups, the safer your ass.

The Best Plugins

Don’t worry if your host doesn’t offer backups, there’re a variety of other ways that you can backup your site using some free and premium WordPress plugins. And even if your host does offer backups, I’d always suggest going ahead and generating a backup of your own elsewhere… just in case.

Here are a few of my favourites to get you started, but there are plenty of other options available (give “best wordpress backup plugins” a google, and check out recent round-ups).

Updraft Plus is an awesome – possibly the best – free plugin that makes backing up your WordPress site super easy. There are LOADS of options with this plugin, including backing up to Amazon S3, Dropbox, and your email.

Another of my favourite free backup plugins is WordPress Backup to Dropbox. This is a free plugin, and connects your WordPress site with your Dropbox account, creating automated backups on a regular schedule.

A premium plugin that’s definitely worth a look at is BackupBuddy, offering some great features alongside automated backups, BackupBuddy makes automated backups easy as pie, and does all the fun stuff of storing your backups on external storage areas! In fact, this is the plugin that I use.

VaultPress is another premium (paid for) service, but it’s one of the best Wordpress automated backup plugins.

For instructions on manually backing up your WordPress website, check out the information over on WordPress itself.

What to do with your backup if your site dies

Your backup will let you restore your WordPress website without much stress. The plugins above offer instructions on restoring your site (and most of the time the restoration process depends on the plugin you’ve used), and your hosts will also provide instructions (or do it for you).

It can get quite technical, so don’t be afraid to reach out to a developer if you’re struggling.

 TL;DR

  • Backup with regularity
  • Don’t rely on automated backup plugins, take the occasional manual backup through that plugin too
  • Store your backups in a variety of places
  • Always backup before any updates to your WordPress site
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5 Things I Wish I’d Known When I Started My Business

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I quit my day job back in 2011 (woah, almost 4 years!), and even though I’d run a small business alongside a day job for a few years before then, there’s still a load of stuff I wish I’d known before going properly into ‘business’ with no day job buffer.

It Gets Easier

The first year is really tough. It’s an insane learning curve, with so many new things to tackle. Cash flow generally isn’t great during the first 18 months, and being the only one who calls the shots is stressful. Everything feels really awkward, and imposter syndrome is at an all time high. About 4 months in you start to question whether going into business was a good idea. Don’t worry, it gets easier. Everything starts to even out. Those tough new things become second nature. If you’re running your business right, cash flow is no longer a problem. Imposter syndrome? yeah, you’ll still feel that.

If you want to succeed, you will succeed

This isn’t about luck. And it’s not about some bullshit magical-unicorn-poop ritual of thanking the Universe. If you want to succeed, you will succeed. But you’ll need to put in the hours. You’ll need work your ass off, knuckle down, and really mean business. You’ll get back what you put in, you cannot coast through this and expect great things to happen.

You don’t have to do it all

Delegation is the key to business growth. I’m still working on this one, and for me it’s more about figuring out exactly what I can delegate. However, as I’ve said numerous times before, one of the greatest things I ever did was get an accountant to handle my tax return. I wish I’d invested sooner!

You will fuck up, but that’s okay

Things go wrong. It’s inevitable. It’s all in how you handle it. Between sending out wrong items of jewellery, and not managing to meet an important deadline, I’ve fucked up. Just stay calm, figure out how to fix it, and admit what went wrong.

Don’t burn out

There have been times during my business where I’ve worked all weekend, and late into the night, tiring myself out and killing any kind of creativity and productivity I have. I don’t condone this behaviour. It’s shitty. Get better at time management, take time off, don’t burn out.

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What I’ve been Reading: January 2015

I read quite a few books last year, not as many as I’d like, but more than I thought I would. I also got really in to audiobooks. So I thought I’d do a blog post each month with mini-reviews of the books I’ve read/listened to. Let’s start!

January was a big reading month for me, I probably won’t top this month in terms of volume until December. Those few days off work at the start of the month saw me hunkering down and working through a fair few books.

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We are all completely beside ourselves – Karen Joy Fowler

Oh, I really enjoyed this! Although I’d worked out the twist before it was out and out stated. I found it a really interesting subject matter, and it’s made me want to read more non-fictional accounts of the same subject.

This does seem to be one of those books that you either love or hate, though, judging by a lot of the Goodreads reviews. I think it’s one that you just have to give a chance.

Buy the book here.

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We were liars – E. Lockhart

This was a strange one. Quite a short read, I read it in one sitting. I always enjoy YA fiction, and its come along so much in the past few years, so I never disregard books as being for kids.

The writing style was a little odd in places, I thought it was my kindle being weird or something but no, there were random broken sentences. I don’t think they leant anything to the story, really, but maybe that’s what the author was aiming for.

I was gripped by the story, and stumbled in to the twist in a sort of “ah, I kinda saw that coming, but not exactly like that” kinda way.

It was okay. I don’t know if I’d recommend it, I read better books this month (The Miniaturist, for one).

Buy it here.

 

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Water for Elephants – Sara Greun

I’ve had this on my kindle for some time, it’s something I’d been meaning to read but always had something more alluring. I decided to give this a go and really, really enjoyed it! It’s quite an immersive book, the story really pulls you in.

I’ve got a soft spot for circuses, sideshows, freak shows, so I was absorbed with the descriptions and characters.

I really recommend this book!

Buy the book here.

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The Psychopath Test – Jon Ronson

I don’t read many non-fiction books (unless they’re Bill Bryson), but I read this on Adam’s insistence. He read it last year and enjoyed it, so I borrowed his kindle and gave it a go.

Jon Ronson – author of The Men Who Stare at Goats, amongst other things – is a pretty funny, British writer, I’ve seen him on various comedy panel shows in the past. The book follows his journey into learning about psychopathy, from interviews with professionals in the field, to pioneers, and even people diagnosed with psychopathy. Be warned, though, you will start checking people you know on the Bob Hare checklist…

This was a fun and interesting read, I’d recommend it!

Buy the book here.

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The Miniaturist – Jessie Burton

Like everyone else at the moment, I really enjoyed this book! The story was engaging, enchanting, tragic, cruel, and beautifully written. However, I did think that some of the characters were unexplored, and I would’ve liked each of them to be filled out a little more.

The historical details were superb, and those alone make the book well worth a read.

Buy the book here.

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Shades of Milk and Honey – Mary Robinette Kowal

Well, this was a bit silly. I bought it after a recommendation in one of my history podcasts. It’s… Jane Austen + Magic. And yeah… it’s as silly as it sounds. The language is weird, the story weak, and the magic wasn’t very thought out.

An easy read, quite entertaining, but I don’t think I’ll be carrying on with the series.

Buy the book here.

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The State We’re In – Adele Parks

I got this as a freebie via the kindle store, and ended up reading it over the past few days. I didn’t expect to enjoy it much, but as an easy read, and the sort of trashy novel I can devour, I was pretty engrossed.

It reminded me of a David Nicholls story – set in London, a somewhat fluffy love story with “real life” thrown in there – so it was comfortable ground. The characters were predictable, the plot was a little flimsy (a lot flimsy..), but the narrative was interesting. Sometimes that’s all you want in a book, right?

Without spoiler-ing, the ending felt rushed, and then was unnecessarily cruel. In fact, the ending ruined the (otherwise enjoyable) book for me.

Buy the book here.

You can find me on Goodreads to keep up-to-the-minute with the books I’m reading. All of the amazon links above are affiliate links, so if you click + buy, I get a few pence. 

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Why jealousy & envy are ruining your life! (and what to do about it)

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Jealousy & envy, alongside regret, are the most pointless emotions that your stupid brain can conjure. But, conjure them it will. Stupid brain.

The green-eyed monster – or envy, FOMO, jealousy, whatever – is hard to keep at bay, especially when you’re ambitious, type A, and a hard worker. It sneaks up when you least expect it (“Ugh. I can’t believe they have XYZ more followers than me”), and it can seriously fuck up your day. Like, seriously.

So what can we do? Do we just sit on our arses, carving frown lines into our youthful faces, obsessing over someone else’s career? No. Do we fuck. We channel that shit into something productive. We use it to ignite our fires, we use it to push ourselves further, and we use it to make friends.

God, do I get envious of people. 

With their beautiful products, their tight, tight copy, and their ridiculously sick hair. I still can’t braid my own hair, it’s one of the great disappointments of my adult life.

It took me quite a while to get a handle on the best way to process these emotions. I think it’s something that comes with age and experience, and I don’t want to tell you how to suck eggs or assume that you’re just a huge ball of jealous rage. Nah. I just want to give you some tips into handling those jealous & envious moments in your career, a few tools to make working alongside your “competition” a joyful experience.

Before I go any further I have an important public service announcement. There is no such thing as competition.

Whhhaaatttt?! Mind. Blown.

It’s true. All those people who you think are your competition? Nah. They’re your co-workers. They’re your support team. They’re the Ed Sheeran to your T-Swizzle.

I’ll talk more about the “no competition” theory in another post. But seriously, life is too short to think that everyone’s trying to compete with you. Unless you’re a professional tennis player or something, then they’re definitely trying to compete with you. Sorry.

So, back to the program. Envy.

What should you do if…

  • You see a peer featured in a magazine 
    Dude, you need to celebrate their win. They work hard, too. They work as hard as you. Suck it up, be graceful, and give them a well deserved pat on the back. And then get back to work and hit up the editors of that magazine on twitter, it’s your spot next month.
  • Everyone on instagram is in London going to a super awesome event
    It sometimes feels like I live on the other side of the planet up here in Yorkshire, so far from the bright lights of London. Luckily, we live in an age where you’re never that far away from the event thanks to twitter & instagram. So, you missed out on getting stuck in the rain, a free glass of cheap champagne and a vol-au-vent or two (although if you promise me a vol-au-vent, I’m there!), catch up with the buzz on the internet. Follow the hashtag. Ask how everyone enjoyed the event. Start conversations. Make friends.
  • That Person never seems to fucking fail, and you just metaphorically fell flat on your face
    Everyone is fighting their own battles, not everything makes its way to Twitter. Not everyone is a chronic over sharer like you, love. They might seem constantly faultless, but I bet they once had chronic diarrhoea and felt like the world was going to end. Revel in that a little. Not too much, because then you’re a bitch.
  • That other brand just got stocked in a gallery that rejected your work
    Last year I got rejected from a nice little gallery, a couple of weeks later one of my peers promoted their work being stocked there. Shittyfuckingwankingshit.
    Then the National Gallery placed an order for my work. Swings and roundabouts. Just keep at it. Use it as a learning experience. Question why their work was accepted and yours wasn’t, there must be a reason (even if it’s just them being friends with someone who works at the gallery!).
  • You didn’t get a spot at that super cool craft market
    I heard it was shit anyway. Go out and have fun that day, that’s way better than sitting behind a stall for 8 hours while kids put your wares in their mouths (true story).
  • That work you pitched for went to someone else
    That’s business, baby. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. It’s not about you or the person the work went to. It’s about the client, and who they feel a connection with. Don’t resent the other person because of the client’s choice (resent the client a bit, if you have to!).

This article on Huffington Post about being happy about other people’s successes is a good read, too!

We all get jealous & envious, we just need to channel those emotions the right way and not end up damaging what could be excellent relationships.

Kx

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