Over There – An American’s experience at the London Blogger’s Bash

OVER THERE - An American's experience at the #BloggersBash - www.alliepottswrites.com

Earlier this year, my hubby surprised me with tickets to attend the Annual Bloggers Bash in London. For those of you not familiar with the event, it’s an international get together and conference for writers of all interests, sizes, and platforms wishing to network as well as learn about how to take their writing and/or blogging to the next level. I’d seen the videos from prior events. I’d read the testimonials about connections made and the impact the event had made on others’ lives. I couldn’t believe I was lucky enough to get to go. I felt like Cinderella finding out she would be able to attend the ball. I was so excited – nervous about traveling to another country all on my own – but excited all the same.

Then . . .

Well, then there was an event in Westminster and the news broke with stories about women and children exiting a pop concert being targeted in Manchester followed by others about shoppers and pub-goers on London Bridge, and my nervousness took on a slightly different flavor. I wasn’t the only one to wonder what might happen next. I saw a message from another attendee suggesting the event might not still go on in light of recent events.

The response from one of the event’s organizers was simple – as long as London is open, the Bash will go on. I should have expected nothing less from the land of “Keep Calm and Carry On”. And so, on I would go as well, coincidentally packing my bag while a bit celebrating the 100th anniversary of the song, ‘Over There’  played on the radio. Yes, I thought as the music played, the Yanks were coming. I would show my grit, do my bit – over there.

I might say a prayer, but I was prepared for over there. While the idea of traveling solo still made me nervous, it wasn’t my first visit to the British Isles. I’d taken a bus tour with my husband a few years before. It was a trip that started in London, took us up through Scotland, across to Northern Ireland, down to Dublin, and across the water once again to Wales, where we visited Cardiff Castle.

WWII poster in Cardiff

I found this cautionary sign rather amusing at the time. Where’s the trust?

Tunnels beneath the castle grounds had been converted into a museum dedicated to the Welsh soldier and featured exhibits from over three hundred years of conflicts. As we walked into an area detailing World War II, speakers hidden in the walls played radio broadcasts of the times broken up with the sounds of air sirens and bombs falling. As I looked at posters and read placards I could only imagine what it must have been like to live through times like those while being told to keep calm and carry on while chaos and fear played so loudly in the background.

And yet carry on they did, with a stiff upper lip, going on to produce many of the smiling faces and open arms which eventually greeted this relative stranger from across the ocean without fear or hesitation. As I was welcomed out to meals and into homes as if we’d known each other for years, I reflected on just how appropriate the conference’s theme word of the year – connection – really was. I might have met them first as allies, as it were, in the field of writing, but we departed as friends. (You can ‘meet’ many of them or learn more about the event itself here courtesy of Hugh’s Views and News.)

While we got to better know each other over books, blogs, cocktails and chocolate cake, I found it interesting to hear the most recent attacks referred by the locals as “that business on the bridge,” when our American headlines read terrifying things like ‘Britons Reeling’ and ‘London on Lockdown.’ Neither US headline was true as evidenced by the thousands of people who filled the London streets as I walked around town or by the banners proclaiming “London is Open” as part of a campaign following the EU referendum (also known as the Brexit vote). This is not to say the people I met weren’t concerned about safety nor viewed the loss of life as any less tragic, they just weren’t beaten by the news or willing to hide away in their homes.

The contrast in our headlines was also a reminder about the power our words can bestow or take away from events as well as people. Which is why it is all the more important we use our words wisely and never, never give in to fear.

While I may not be able to attend the Bash every year, I hope my reasons in the future will be limited to economic or scheduling ones rather than the alternative. We live in a world made smaller thanks to constant connection which is good and bad. It may at times feel less safe, but that is because news travels faster now. The fact of the matter is there have always been those who wish to strike fear into the hearts of others, which is all the more reason to go out there – explore, connect, to expand your worldview and find strength in numbers. To keep calm and carry on. For while it may be difficult to overcome fear, it is harder still to live a lifetime of regret.


While I loved meeting so many, I’d like to extend my thanks to Sacha, Geoff, Ali, and Hugh in particular for their incredible generosity as well as their hospitality. Truly, while I may have suggested in this post that it was my duty to attend the Bash, know it was my pleasure and privilege to do so as well.

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Dinner with a side of distress Part Two – Flash Fiction

It is time once again for another installment in my Writer’s Toolbox  Flash fiction. For those not familiar with the Writer’s Toolbox exercises, I pull out three sentences at random which have to be used as my first, middle, and closing lines. Additionally I must utilize three descriptions, also pulled at random from a stack of cards. Due to the random nature, I do not know how the story will end. I apologize for the shift in point of view, but rules are rules.

Story to date: Bill, a somewhat socially awkward paleoclimatologist in our distant future, learned that his sister has gone missing. Their father, a high ranking official, living and working in the orbiting space station, has come to Earth requesting Bill’s help tracking her down. Click on this link to read the first part of the story in full.


Dinner with a side of Distress - www.alliepottswrites.com

background image courtesy of http://www.pixabay.com

After only two months, Helen decided to become an exotic dancer. She’d tried to make it off the random tips the male patrons threw her way as she delivered drinks to their tables, but the wad of cash in her pocket at the end of the night was nothing compared to the stacks of bills the other ladies took home. She closed her eyes and thought of the space station even now spinning like a top over head as it circled the Earth. If tossing her clothes at some drunk strangers meant being able to afford a ticket on the shuttle sooner, so be it. It wasn’t like she was going to bump into any of the club patrons again once in orbit.

As she made her way toward the back office, she saw her manager, Devin, smile knowingly. “You finally ready to get into the driver’s seat?” he smirked, offering a drink. Devin was under the impression he had a gift for comedy. Helen hid her disgust by tipping her head and letting the bitter taste of Woody Allen’s kiss wash over her tongue as was tradition. Helen was fairly certain not even Devin knew the origin of the club’s signature drink’s name, but it didn’t stop him from keeping a ready glass on hand. She wasn’t the first girl to make this walk of shame. Nor would she be the last.

After her the first shift of her new career ended, Helen made her way outside into the narrow alley behind the club. The eight inch heels Devin requested she wear during the show, had wrecked havoc on her arches and toes. She held the more sensible shoes she’d worn prior too making her decision in hand, preferring to go barefoot that force her feet to withstand another minute of agony. The wine of a lost dog, a puppy by the sound of it, startled Helen. She turned, but couldn’t locate the animal in the darkness. It must be behind the dumpster, she thought. Unable to resist an animal in need, she crouched down as she looked for the pup.

“It’s not my fault the plane was two hours late,” a male’s voice coming from a yard or so behind her almost caused Helen to jump out of her skin. “What was I supposed to do?”

“You were supposed to stick around and finish the job. That’s what you were supposed to do,” Another male replied.

“Don’t see what you are getting all upset about. Thought the whole point was to take the girl out while the captain was in his meeting. Whole plan falls apart if he’s on ground when it happens.”

Helen heard a slap of skin on skin. “Idiot. You and your big mouth are going to get us both on his list one day.”

“What was that for? It’s not like anyone’s around but a bunch of drunks and hookers.” The first man whined as Helen tried to make her body as small as possible in the shadows.

“Doesn’t mean they don’t still have ears,” the second man argued.

“Yeah, but who’d believe them? Especially not after the thing he does with the newspaper…”

 


Will Helen’s first day on the new job also be her last? Who is the ‘he’ the men are referencing and what is he planning with the newspaper? Will the Writer’s Toolbox ever allow me to close a story without a cliff-hanger ending?

 

My Secret Addiction and 6 Amazing Photo Apps

My secret addiction - www.alliepottswrites.com #photoeditingtoolsIf you’d asked me a few years ago if I had any addictions, I would have said no. I told myself I didn’t have an addictive personality. It turns out I just hadn’t found my drug of choice – photo editing apps.

Like any drug dealer, these developers hooked me with the easy fix. Here – try this free download, it will turn your photos into amazing pieces of art in seconds. And boy, did it ever. Soon I was applying effect after effect to my favorite photos, but there was a problem. I liked too many of the results. I got into the habit of saving multiple versions of the same image, albeit with different styles, rather than just stopping at one.

As my camera roll filled up, I tried to regain my self-control. I forced myself to only save the best of the best. Unfortunately, this created a whole other problem. I wouldn’t save anything until I’d applied and seen everything. Over time, seeing the same effects applied over and over, I grew less impressed with the results. Sure, the app would release a new style now and then, but it could no longer keep up with my desire for a new, bigger, wow factor – for more, more, more.

I realized my one source for fun with photography was no longer enough to satisfy my needs. I decided to venture into a place I knew could provide more. I joined Instagram.

Suddenly, I found myself taking photos of the most random things. An empty park bench. A rusted bridge. Cherry blossoms separating me from a brilliant blue sky. My kids, long used to their mommy whipping out her phone to capture the moments of their childhood wondered why the lens was no longer exclusively focused their way. ‘Mommy might need this for her website or for a book cover,’ I’d reply, somewhat embarrassed.

My kids don’t read my blog, or they might wonder why they haven’t seen much crossover yet.

I may be a lost cause now, but I thought I should provide a list of free apps to avoid in order to protect yourself from a similar fate.

Prisma (www.prisma.com)

simple as pie photo effects - www.alliepottswrites.com

Simple as pie artistic effects

This was my gateway app. Once you grant the app access to your camera and your photos, all you have to do is select or take a photo and then press a single button to apply an artistic effect which makes your photo look like it was painted in the style of an artistic master. My personal favorites are the Gothic, Candy, Dreams, and Composition styles, but there are plenty of others to choose from. You can also control the intensity of the style with a finger swipe.

When I originally downloaded the app, it automatically cropped photos into a square image typical of what is posted to Instagram, but now allows for a full-screen image. Additionally, Primsa has launched their own social sharing site.

Canva (www.canva.com) / PicMonkey (www.picmonkey)

Canva before and after - www.alliepottswrites.comIf realism is more your thing, but you still like to add some oomph to your photos, Canva and PicMonkey both offer filters to adjust lighting, contrast, color, and intensity. However, both have their limitations, especially for the free versions. I use Canva if I am trying to also incorporate clip art, stock photos, or text. I used to use PicMonkey if I was trying to soften, sharpen, focus or otherwise add a zoom effect to a photo, but they’ve taken steps in the last few months to make more and more of their better features only accessible to premium users.

Which brings me to my most recent find:

Adobe‘s suite for the Creative Cloud. http://www.adobe.com

You may be more familiar with Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, both of which are a far cry from being free, but Adobe also has a few ‘lighter’ apps which are powerful enough. Even better, you don’t have to have a paid creative cloud monthly subscription to use them.

So far I’ve used Adobe Photoshop Fix, Adobe Photoshop Mix and Adobe Spark Post.

Photoshop Fix

After

Before

This app does what it says. It can fix your photos via subtle tweaks. With built-in face detection, it can instantly smooth those pesky wrinkles away, boost your smile, and remove unwanted composition elements such as logos on t-shirts or photo bombs such as bunny ears through its spot healing tool.

Photoshop Mix

This app is designed to make it easy to swap out backgrounds or merge multiple images into a single composition. Want to make your friends jealous with an impromptu trip to an exotic destination, but short on funds? Simply take a picture of yourself lounging on your couch and replace it with a beach front chair.

Actually, it’s not quite as simple as the tutorial would lead you to believe. You have to pay extra care as you trace around the image you want to keep otherwise your results, with their jagged digital edges, will scream photoshopped. After spending far too long with less than ideal results, I recommend leaving this trick to the professionals.

Spark Post

If you are editing for a blog post or social media post, this tool packs some serious punch. I specified my preferred image size and uploaded a picture. The tool automatically suggested a color palette for my text based on the background image. From there I was able to change out layouts, adjust filters, and even add animation to my text with a few simple button presses. The only issue I had with the app is that it adds a watermark to the bottom of your graphic unless you also ‘share’ it with a friend.

It’s Not Over Till It’s Over ‹ Guest Post for J. A. Allen

I am a sucker for flash fiction prompts, especially when all it takes to enter is to write a blog comment or add a specific hashtag to a tweet, so as soon as I heard about J.A. Allen’s Scribbles on Cocktail Napkins weekly contest, I knew I had to play along.

What I didn’t expect was to be nominated by my peers to be featured as a guest host on her site after writing a fun little piece about a woman grappling with a phobia.

You can read the full guest post here: Source: It’s Not Over Till It’s Over ‹ J. A. Allen

I am truly honored and thank everyone who voted for me.

No Signal: A story about connection when connectivity stinks

No Signal-A story about connection when connectivity stinks - www.alliepottswrites.comTwenty degrees. That’s roughly the difference in temperature between my hometown and the mountains at this time of year. Considering it is no reaching the nineties (32C) and the fact that our air conditioning has decided to take some time off work, we decided a change of scenery was in order.

Tents and sleeping bags strapped to the car, we set out for the Pisgah National Forest, just a few hours to the west, near Mount Mitchell, the highest point in the eastern United States, to be exact. The park is part of the Appalachian Mountains, accessible through winding roads and the Blue Ridge Parkway. While you can (and I have) backpack camp along the trail, there are also a number of more ‘civilized’ camp sites scattered along the roadways offering bath houses and running water, but operate on a strictly first come, first serve basis.

Knowing the risk that there might be no room at a particular site, we’d identified a location that might offer more than one option and plugged in the address into the navigation app on my husband’s phone. While we drove, I scrolled down the webpage describing the area. Down at the bottom of the screen in bold text, the site read, ‘As we are in a remote area, GPS directions may not be accurate. Click here for detailed directions.’

LT demanded markers in the back where he was hard at work on his latest masterpiece. Kiddo wanted a movie. My mom, who was brave enough to venture along with us, chatted about recent family news. I returned my phone to my bag, dismissing the site’s warning. So what if we didn’t find that exact site. There were sure to be another.

Black Mountain overlook #NC

Coverage here is limited to the natural kind

As the mountain roads twisted and turned, the back of the car grew silent. In Kiddo’s case this is a troubling sign as he is particularly prone to motion sickness. We pulled over to give him some air. “Are we almost there?” he asked as we piled back into the car. We glanced at the navigation app. It read, ‘No Signal’.

“Seven more miles to go,” my husband replied. To me he added with a shrug, “at least, that’s what it said before it dropped off.” My mom offered her seat so that Kiddo could be closer to the open window.

It felt more like seventy. The signal never returned and I grew increasingly chagrined for not looking at those step by step directions while I still had the chance. We could only assume we were still going in the right direction as there was only one direction to go. Up. And Around. And Up some more.

We noticed the smell of campfires first. The campsite wasn’t the one we were originally targeting, but considering the shade of pale green on the faces of those in the back seats, it would have to do. Fortunately, a single site was still vacant.

Mom looked at her phone. “Still no signal,” she replied.

Preferring to stream our music to downloading it, we were limited to listening to the same five to ten songs on repeat as we pitched the tents (one for my mom and the boys the other for Her Royal Highness, my husband, and me), unpacked our supplies, and stoked the fire. As the sun began to set we noticed dark clouds rolling in. “Do you think it is going to storm tonight?” My mom asked.

Storm – such a small word for such a big event in the wide open.

Shortly after midnight the wind picked up as lightning flashed across the sky, temporarily making the flimsy fabric of my tent appear as colorful as it appeared in bright day. Her Royal Highness sat at full attention in the center. Thunder boomed. Her Royal Highness whimpered. I sat up and tried to comfort her as the wind whipped at our sides. She nuzzled the flap that served as the door as if to say, let’s go!

“Shh shh, it will be okay,” I whispered as felt along the flap’s zipper and found a half-inch of water. At least, I hope so, I thought. A storm this intense couldn’t go on for long. Or could it? My hands itched to locate my phone and bring up the radar, but once again – no signal. You don’t realize how much you have grown to rely on constant connection until you are completely cut off.

Crabtree Falls #NC

Crabtree Falls, NC

The storm passed, though I didn’t track it. We woke without alarms and ate when we were hungry. We found trails by looking at maps and *gasp* asking other humans for directions. The air remained cool and inviting as we ventured deeper into the forest until the only sign of people were the footprints left on paths made muddy and slick with rain water and the occasional signpost or hand railing (thank you park service).

Before the day ended we had walked roughly nine miles and seen stunning vistas and waterfalls made only more impressive from the storm. I’d watched my boys walk hand in hand as the trail became steep and attempted to memorize the moment as they called out “Brother Jump” before hopping off exposed roots together. (It’s a memory I fully plan to use to maximum embarrassment when they start dating.)

That evening (which thankfully was thunderstorm-free) we ate the most amazing steak dinner, cooked over the fire ring’s open flame as a neighboring site played music in a language we didn’t recognize, but was music all the same. We laughed while Her Royal Highness snored. We chatted when normally we might be scrolling on our phones. We enjoyed being together. And before we called it a night, Kiddo told us it had been his favorite camping trip ever.

I may just agree.

We’d lost connectivity for a few days, it was true, but as it turns out we only strengthened our connection. All it had taken was a change of scenery (and perhaps a difference of twenty degrees).

brother hike

Brother Hike