Books

Getting Out of a Reading Slump

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When I was younger, you could barely catch me without a book in my hand. Visiting a relative? I needed something to read while all the adults talked, of course. Long car journey? A book was essential to pass the time. Going to a restaurant? Waiting for food food was perfect reading time. I could finish books in a matter of hours, even less sometimes.

So what has changed?

I still love reading; being able to escape from reality into an entirely new world is amazing, conjuring up characters and landscapes purely through words. However, though I did have books to read for university, my focus turned to writing. Once finishing university, I carried on with my novel, and now I’m developing my illustration, as well as running this blog! Any spare time I have, I turn to gaming or watching Netflix, because they require less effort than reading.

But reading shouldn’t be a chore, especially when I know how much I love it! It’s not just my other interests which have distracted me from reading, but I think my choice of books. Earlier this year, I read Good Omens, and because I didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I would, I struggled through it for months. I didn’t pick up anything else until I finished it; I read both One of Us is Lying and The Hate U Give swiftly, before moving onto Beren and Luthien by Tolkien…which I still haven’t finished!

I think because this book is quite heavy material, a lot of backstory from Christopher Tolkien, with alternating passages or stories, and pages of songs, it’s a struggle to read when I want to relax. Even though I’m enjoying it, it’s intense for someone trying to get back into reading!

That’s why I want to set myself some goals, as well as give you some advice on how to get out of a reading slump if you’re in the same position as me!

Re-read a favourite book

Returning to a book that you’ve read so many times, that’s familiar and comforting, is something that I hope will ease me back into reading again. The story isn’t new to you and therefore you don’t have to be quite as switched on as reading a new book, though I do love that excitement. I’m thinking something like Prisoner of Azkaban, which is one of my favourite books in the Harry Potter series. It will be a reminder of why you love reading and the fun of it, rather than feeling like it’s a task, not a hobby. It’ll be helpful if it’s not a long book either, which leads me to my next point.

Read a book that’s short but sweet

As mentioned, I’ve been reading Beren and Luthien, which is a mixture of various writing from Tolkien, rather than a complete novel. This disrupts the flow of reading for me as there are non-fiction parts as well as the different stories. I also have the third book in the Game of Thrones series on the go, and the size of it is overwhelming and I really want to be in the right space of mind to take it all in!

This is why I think reading a shorter book, that’s not full of heavy fantasy which you need to concentrate for, may be how I can challenge this reading slump. I have many books on my book shelf, some that I haven’t read or perhaps read once a long time ago. I’m thinking of reading one of these, to have a book I can finish in a couple of days and just enjoy, rather than trying to keep up with characters.

Don’t be afraid to DNF

The thought of not finishing a book I’m reading always makes me feel so guilty, which is why with Good Omens, I was determined to finish it. I’m glad I did because I did like the overall story, but it took me so long that all other books were forgotten about. I think the right thing to do if you’re not enjoying a book is to put it down and read something else, returning to it when you’ve had a break.

However, there is no shame in stopping it completely if it’s really not the book for you. Reading is definitely going to feel like a task if you’re not enjoying and it wastes time when you could be discovering a book that you love! I’ve been guilty of not reading because the books I have on the go are heavy, but reading a light-hearted book will hopefully mean I can return to the bigger books eager to finish them. This doesn’t mean I dislike the books and want to DNF them, I just need to get back into reading them before tackling them!

Allocate time for reading

In the evening, I have so many games to play that I make time to play those, alongside any TV shows I have to watch. So why don’t I make time for my other passion, reading? I tend to scroll on my phone right before bed, so I’d like to swap this half an hour for reading instead. This is much better use of my time and will encourage me to get into a routine, as well as resting my eyes from screens for I sleep.

However, you shouldn’t feel pressured to stick to this time every day. If you feel like reading in the morning instead, go for it, or if you want to skip one night, that’s okay too. I’m going to set a reminder on my phone each night but if I don’t feel like it, I’m not going to force myself into it. I feel like this is going to help me dedicate my time to books though, and allow me to really enjoy it again!

I hope this will help anyone who is in their own reading slump, and encourage me to get out of mine! Have you got any tips for getting back into reading? Let me know down in the comments and thank you for reading!

Gaming

One Year of Red Dead Redemption 2

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On the 26th October 2018, Red Dead Redemption 2 was released for console. It’s terrifying that it’s been a year (well, tomorrow) already as I remember the day so vividly! I had already pre-ordered the game and downloaded it ready for launch. Jordan was up early for work so I jumped up too, grabbed some breakfast and started up my Xbox. That evening we were going home for my dad’s birthday, so knowing I wouldn’t have the weekend to play, I spent the entire day playing!

I was really intrigued by starting off the game in the middle of a snowstorm, and meeting our new protagonist, Arthur Morgan, as well as revisiting characters we already know like Dutch Van der Linde. I have never anticipated a game more than Red Dead 2, so I had my volume up and the subtitles on to make sure I wasn’t missing a thing.

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Though it has been a year, I do know people who haven’t completed the story, so I won’t be giving any spoilers. However, I will say that I really enjoyed the twists and turns of the story, the action and the emotions that ran high. You can see more of my thoughts in my review from last year, which is also spoiler free, so I won’t repeat myself. This was actually my first blog post after making the decision to start up my blog again!

However, I do have to say the world is just beyond anything I imagined from a game. It still amazes me how you can be on one side of the map and see all the way across to the other, knowing you can visit it. It only makes me more excited for what the map could be like in GTA VI! As you can see from this post, I can spend ages exploring and taking photos, so I wish they did have an actual photo mode.

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So what has happened since Red Dead Redemption 2’s release?

Red Dead Online released on May 15th 2019, so quite some time after the release of the game, just like with GTA Online. You’re able to explore the open world just like on the main game, but it is set before the events of Red Dead Redemption 2. After creating a character (please can someone tell me how to create a mildly attractive female with Rockstar’s character creator?) you can play the start of the story mode.

There are also side missions in this mode, some of which you can play alone, and some you can play with random people online or as part of a posse. What missions you do and the choices you make affects your honour, like the single player mode. There are then game modes to take part in including horse races and ‘capture the flag’ type matches, earning more money the higher the position you finish in. As well as this, there are daily challenges to do with the chance of gaining some gold, and hunting is encouraged to sell the meat or pelts, so you can use these currencies to customise your character.

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Unfortunately, Red Dead Online is such a letdown for me when I was actually quite excited to play it. I know when a game is in beta, you expect issues, but it seemed like months after numerous updates, I was still having the same problems. Side missions weren’t starting when I spoke to NPCs and the story mode marker completely disappeared off my map, so I still have yet to finish it. I haven’t played in a while so I don’t know if these issues still persist, but it was enough for me to stop playing it.

It wasn’t just this that made me struggle to enjoy the game. Just like in GTA Online, you can’t do anything or go anywhere without someone killing you. Want to hunt in peace? No, someone will chase you down and kill you repeatedly. Trying to do a side mission to earn some money? Get attacked by an entire posse and fail the mission. Even game modes are frustrating as you get one shot by a varmint rifle as soon as you turn a corner. The game is also littered with micro transactions, and grinding for gold for a basic hat just isn’t fun.

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That being said, I haven’t played for a long time so I’m not sure exactly what has been updated. I’m willing to give it another chance, but I definitely haven’t enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed GTA Online. Of course, that wasn’t perfect at first either, so I do have some hope that they can get the right balance. Even so, it probably isn’t something I will play a lot of particularly as none of my friends are interested in it either.

Besides Red Dead Online, we have recently been given a release date for Red Dead Redemption 2 on PC, which is November 5th. Even though I don’t have my own gaming PC, I know just how great this news is! Though I was happy with the graphics on my Xbox One, seeing the Xbox One X graphics made me a little jealous. So being able to experience the world in even higher definition will be beautiful. It’s exciting to see the hype resurface a year after is initial console release.

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How do I feel about Red Dead Redemption 2 after a year?

Since completing the game and reviewing it, I did spend some time in the end game just exploring, before I stopped playing to try out other games. However, a couple of months after, I started up my second play through as I missed the game too much! I play it every now and again just when I want to spend some time with Arthur riding from Big Valley to Saint Denis. I love admiring the scenery as well as revisiting the story’s greatest moments.

I definitely miss the hype and enthusiasm from when it first came out, and seeing all the trailers or posters for it. However, the story and characters have definitely stayed with me. For me to want to return to a 60 hour game is quite rare, mainly because there are so many games that I have to play. But I’ll always have time for Red Dead because I know no matter what I do or how much time I have to play, it’s always enjoyable.

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I’m going to finish off this blog post with some more of my favourite photos from the game. Thank you for reading, and let me know down in the comments your thoughts on the game after its first year. Enjoy!

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Blogging

Real Neat Blog Award

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Hello and welcome back to another blog post! Today is an award nomination that I was kindly nominated for by Geraldine Talks! Thank you so much to Geraldine and all her support, it feels so nice every time to be nominated for these awards. Please go check out Geraldine’s blog! I’d actually never heard of this award before, so here are the rules:

Rules of the Real Neat Blog Award

  • Display the award logo
  • Thank the blogger who nominated you and post a link to their blog
  • Answer the questions from the blog who nominated you
  • Nominate seven to ten bloggers
  • Ask them seven questions

The First Real Neat Blog Award of Yahari Bento! – YAHARI ...

Geraldine’s Questions

1. What’s your ultimate comfort food?

Definitely a takeaway, either Domino’s or a Chinese. I haven’t had a Chinese in ages due to being on the FODMAP diet, but once I’m off it it’s going to be one of the first things I have. I also love to have Pot Noodles and Super Noodles, or a McDonalds, which I also can’t have at the moment. Yeah, you can tell my comfort food isn’t healthy!

2. What is something you like to collect?

Hmm, I don’t specifically have anything I set out to collect, but I would like to get more POP figures, especially the Harry Potter ones. I also want to start getting some more gaming related ones, or some gaming figures/plushies!

3. If you could choose any place in the world, where would you go to live?

I actually would still stay in the UK, but I’d love a place overlooking the beach that’s also close to the countryside. There are some amazing apartments by one of the beaches near me and that would be my dream home!

4. Would you rather be cold or hot?

Cold. I despise being too hot and don’t handle it well being pale/ginger, as it makes me feel sick and sweaty. I love Winter clothes and layering up!

5. What is your go to song when you need to cheer yourself up?

It’s tough to choose just one, but I think I’d go with Mountain At My Gates by Foals. Jordan likes it too so it always makes me think of us listening to it together or playing it at a party!

6. What’s your biggest pet peeve?

Either loud chewing or sneezing. Or sniffing. Or someone clearing their throat. Basically human noise makes me irrationally angry even though I do it and I know we can’t help it! If it’s loud it just goes through me.

7. If you could have any animal as your pet, what would you choose?

I really want to get a reptile like a lizard, chameleon or a tortoise! I’m actually thinking of saving up for one once I get my own place. Alongside cats, of course.

My Questions

  1. What is your guilty pleasure?
  2. What is your favourite season?
  3. What places are on your travel bucket list?
  4. If you had to dye your hair another colour, what would you choose?
  5. What item in your wardrobe is your favourite?
  6. If you could only watch one film for the rest of your life, what would it be?
  7. What is your favourite blog post that you have written?

My Nominees

Be sure to check everyone out and thanks to Geraldine again for the nomination! I will catch you next week in another blog post!

Film

Disenchantment Season 1 Part 2 Review

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Disenchantment Season 1 Part 2

Genre: Animated Sitcom, Fantasy

Created by: Matt Groening

My family and I are huge fans of The Simpsons, so I was more than intrigued at the news of another series by Matt Groening, particularly because of its fantasy setting. I thoroughly enjoyed the first ten episodes (how has it been a year since then??) and couldn’t wait to get into the next ten. I enjoyed them just as much so I just had to share my thoughts!

If you don’t know much about the series, or need a little recap, the story follows Princess Bean, whose favourite hobby is drinking. She runs into both Elfo who escapes the elf realm Candy Land, and Luci the demon, originally tasked with turning Bean evil. Forming a quirky, dysfunctional friendship, they embark on a series of quests, the overall story focusing on Bean’s relationship with her father, King Zog, played by the brilliant Joe DiMaggio. Without giving too much away, we end off not knowing whether the fate of the kingdom is in danger, and if our characters will be reunited.

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This is a spoiler free review, so I’m not going to talk too much about the plot. However, like the first part of Disenchantment, each episode focuses on a particular scenario, with an overarching story. I actually really like this format, because you’ll happily be enjoying the funny and exciting situation the gang have got themselves into before they’ll hit you with a big plot point. To me, there’s a great mixture of drama alongside sort of ‘filler’, but the filler allows us to see the character interaction.

Speaking of the characters, I love all three of our main characters, as well as the side characters. Bean is rebellious but questions her morals when she makes mistakes, and is loyal to her friends, doing anything to save them. Likewise Luci is meant to be ‘evil’ as a demon from hell, but forms a friendship with Bean and ignores his task, loyal to both Bean and Elfo. Elfo and Luci have a funny relationship where they both annoy each other, but you can tell they like each other really!

I feel like every character, even if they’re only in it for an episode, are fleshed out and bring something to the story, even if it’s just an added bit of humour. We get to see scenes about King Zog and his struggle to run the kingdom or find love, or witness a villain’s evil plans.

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For me, the humour in Disenchantment is right up my street. It doesn’t rely on being offensive and shocking like some cartoons, it’s more clever and quirky. A lot of this comes from Luci with his witty and dark humour! I think it’s quite particular, and not for everyone, but it makes me chuckle a lot and I love the references to other shows like Futurama.

The animation and design is similar to The Simpsons and Futurama, but the fantasy genre gives for some amazing scenes and characters, from grand castles, to steampunk cities, to pirate ships. I really enjoy this bizarre world and unique characters or places which pop up around every corner. It’s bright and colourful, but also has its darker moments.

Though I enjoyed part 1, I think I enjoyed part 2 a little bit more, probably because the characters and their relationships are established. We get to focus more on the world and almost the politics, what lies ahead for the kingdom and how the situations affect the characters.

I’m happily going to give this season a rating of 4 out of 5 stars. Unfortunately I’ve seen mixed reviews online so I can understand if others don’t enjoy it as much as I have. But it’s not a show to be taken seriously, and it’s a great watch for a laugh with a solid story line too. I can’t wait to return to the characters in the next season!

Have you seen Disenchantment and if so, what are your thoughts? If you haven’t, do you think you’d enjoy it? Let me know down in the comments and thank you for reading!

Short Story Series

Part 7 Short Story Series

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Hello and welcome back to another installment of my short story series! Last time I covered historical fiction, but this time I’m going to be showing you a fantasy story that I had to write as part of my genre fiction module in second year (three years ago, wow). As you know, fantasy is my favourite genre, so when we were given this task I was excited to get into it. I can’t exactly remember how I came up with this idea, but after writing it I spent ages thinking of where the story could go and whether it could be a full novel idea. This story is called ‘The Wrong Target.’


The Wrong Target

Nayda turned around, jerking her head to flick the coppery locks out of her face. The figure of a blonde young woman on a dappled grey horse was fast approaching. Nayda faced forward again, leaning deeper into the saddle. She clutched the reins so tightly her knuckles were white, the bones ready to burst from her skin.

“Faster, Storm,” Nayda whispered into the charcoal neck of her horse. Storm obeyed without even a kick or a pull of the reins, lurching into a thundering gallop.

A lake lay ahead, glimmering in the sunlight, and Nayda was forced to bring Storm to a halt, jumping off his back. She dropped to the floor where she lay in the grass, staring up at the hyacinth blanket of sky, her chest heaving.

“I told you this was pointless!” Orla said as she approached, trotting to a stop besides Storm.

“Practice makes perfect,” Nayda smirked.

“It’s no good. I don’t think Misty will ever be as quick as Storm,” Orla said, slipping gracefully from Misty and smoothing her shuddering grey flank.

“You haven’t had her as long as I’ve had Storm,” Nayda shrugged. “You simply need to go for a ride more, bond so she’ll be more willing to push herself.”

“I don’t have as much free time as you, you know,” Orla said, sitting down next to Nayda. “It took me three days to paint a portrait of one of the Dunn boys, you know the eldest, Brenner. The handsome one.”

Nayda nodded. Of course she knew which one. The pompous young man whose family sucked up to the King, wooing all the girls with his shiny new armour for jousting competitions. Flashing his white smile and winking until they were practically hyperventilating. Pathetic, thought Nayda.

“Three days!” Orla continued, bringing Nayda back to reality. “Your job is a little more…shall we say lenient?”

Turning away from what Nayda knew would be Orla’s disapproving glare, she tore blades of grass from the ground, watching them blow away as she opened her fist.

“You are careful, aren’t you Nayda? Ever since that time with the potter I can’t help but worry.”

Goosebumps erupted over Nayda’s arms despite the sun beaming down on them. She tried to rub them away. Her stupid mistake of shuffling in her hiding spot, the vase shattering to the floor. She had no choice but to run, one hand holding her cloak over her face and the other still clinging her murder weapon, a dagger. The burly potter’s footsteps clattering on the stone floor after her, shouting in a gravelly voice. Something hard hitting the back of her head, the dizzying effect making her stumble.

It was the closest she’d ever been to being caught. Until Keaton came to her rescue like she was a damsel in distress. Nayda ripped grass up from its roots even harder, her jaw clenched.

“Of course I am. That was a long time ago.”

“I still don’t know how you do it,” Orla muttered, turning her head away. “Kill people.”

“You know why I do it. Father and Mother would be starving by now if I didn’t. Maybe I wouldn’t even be here,” Nayda snapped, attempting to push herself up off the ground. Away from Orla. Away from her judgement.

Instead Orla pulled at her arm and Nayda collapsed back down with a sigh, unable to walk away from her closest friend who gazed wisely at her with long-lashed eyes.

“I know that. It’s just after painting people, looking at their every detail…I wouldn’t be able to destroy that.”

Nayda had nothing to say to that, for she didn’t feel anything when she took someone’s life. And that scared her.

All she could think of was her mother and father a couple of years ago, struggling to provide even a loaf of bread and some broth, her father’s fletching business not making nearly enough money. With Nayda’s income, they went to bed full each night, pangs of hunger a thing of the past. If her parents were aware of what they she was doing, she was sure they’d banish her from entering the house.

A high-pitched cry made Nayda leap up immediately, her hand going straight to the dagger in her belt. She relaxed when she saw the hawk, its wings outspread and curled beak slightly open as it floated down into the grass. Nayda blinked and in the hawk’s place stood Keaton, his dark hair ruffled. He was looking down his pointed nose at Orla sprawled out on the grass, her red dress spread across the ground, standing out like a rose against the lush green.

“You know I don’t like it when you bring other people along,” Keaton said sharply.

“It’s only Orla, relax. She’s not going to tell anyone,” Nayda said, rolling her eyes.

Keaton looked as if he was about to say something else, but thought better of it and pulled a scroll tied with string from beneath his cloak. He handed it to Nayda and she took it, unravelling the string to reveal the name written scruffily inside. Underneath the name was the money she would earn if she chose to take on the target. Her eyes nearly popped out of her skull at the sum. She had never seen that much money in her life.

“So will you do it?” Keaton asked. “Of course, you don’t have to if you don’t think you’re up for the task.”

Before Nayda could answer or even shoot back some harsh words in her defence, Orla let out a gasp from over her shoulder.

“Brenner Dunn?!” Orla shouted.

“Shush Orla!”

“You know how close the Dunn family is to the King. If you so much as scratched him you’d have the Royal Guard on you! What could he have done to deserve this?”

Nayda swallowed hard, closing her eyes. She never asked why. Usually her targets had done something wrong. The potter, for example, had scammed hundreds of pounds off the man who wanted him killed. Brenner Dunn was a bit of an arse, Nayda thought, but she couldn’t see him doing anything that justified his murder.

But it wasn’t her job to ask why.

“I’ll do it,” Nayda said firmly, disregarding Orla’s screams of outrage. “How long do I have?”

“Until Friday,” Keaton said, taking the scroll back off Nayda and tearing it into a thousand pieces, letting it fly into the lake so it couldn’t be traced.

That left Nayda with five days. Five days to kill Brenner Dunn, one of the most popular men in the kingdom. She fell back into the grass, shaking a little. With a quick burst of light, Keaton turned back into a hawk and flew up into the sky.

“How can you do this?” Orla cried, her golden curls bristling with rage as she shook her head. “He’s done nothing wrong. He’s one of the nicest men I have ever met.”

“It doesn’t matter if he’s nice – or handsome,” added Nayda, ignoring the image of Brenner with his stupid chiselled jaw and hair so dark it was as black as a raven’s wing. She pushed the picture of a bag heaving with coins back into her head instead.

“Well why do you have to be bossed around by other people, do their dirty work for them?”

Nayda looked into Orla’s blue eyes, ice cold and angry.

“Because I’m an assassin. That’s what we do.”


 

As mentioned earlier, I honestly can’t remember how the story came to me but I do have some ideas of how to expand it into a novel. Maybe it will be one of my future projects one day! I liked having a protagonist who wasn’t exactly ‘good’ and was flawed. She does bad things, even if it is to provide for her family. I’d like the rest of the story to explore how she comes to terms with her morals and escape the lifestyle she is so used to. It will be interesting to be in the mind of someone like this and I hope it’s an interesting perspective for readers.

I also loved the dynamic between Nayda and Orla. Even though Orla doesn’t approve of Nayda’s job, she sticks by her side, but isn’t afraid to voice her opinion. I think they’re a great example of opposites attract, Orla wearing pretty dresses and being creative, and Nayda being, well, a ruthless killer.

I don’t usually go for a medieval setting either, which is why I wanted to bring in Keaton being a sort of shape shifter too. If I am to expand on the story, I want the world to have lots of different creatures and fantasy aspects to it. To me, that’s my favourite part about writing fantasy!

I do think Nayda being ‘I’m not like the other girls’ is kind of annoying, and I would definitely change this. I think for me growing up, a lot of books that I read had girls who claimed they were different because they didn’t like make up and girly clothes, or liked books instead of boys. As this story would be targeted at teens and young adults, I think my mind just cast itself back to what I read and tried to have a ‘different’ protagonist too. But just because she is an assassin, it doesn’t mean she can’t have a badass dress on or look down her nose at others. Which is why I’m glad I have Orla as a character too, who is more girly but not mocked for it.

I also feel like I focused way too much on eye or hair colour, as well as general colour description. I would tone down on this if I was to rewrite it, and come up with more imaginative horse names than Storm and Misty! It’s interesting to see how my writing of the fantasy genre has changed and I can immediately pick things up that I would alter now.

Overall though, I like these characters and the general story, so it would be cool to return one day and see where it goes! There are definitely many changes I would make but I can see the start of me building my own fantasy world.

What did you think of this story? Let me know down in the comments and thank you for reading!

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Lifestyle

Low FODMAP Brownies

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Hello and welcome back to another blog post! I’ve decided to do something a little bit different this time and show you a recipe that I’ve recently been using. I’ve mentioned it occasionally, but at the moment I’m on the low FODMAP diet. This means I have to be gluten free, which also means a lack of biscuits and cakes. Of course, you can buy Freefrom snacks but they are a lot more expensive.

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My mum then bought a low FODMAP recipe book called ‘The Complete Low FODMAP Diet’, and it has been really helpful in giving us more meal ideas, which is always the problem when you have to cut so much out of your diet. However it also has a lot of sweet treats, one of which are brownies. I have made these twice now and they’ve turned out great both times. I thought I’d post the recipe so that others in the same boat could try it out for themselves, or anyone who wants to try something new!

You will need:

  • 40g cornflour
  • 130g fine rice flour
  • 1 teaspoon xanthan gum
  • 300g brown sugar
  • 150g unsalted butter
  • 250g dark chocolate chunks
  • 100g dark chocolate chips
  • 125ml light whipping cream
  • 3 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 100g chopped pecans (optional)

Cornflour, rice flour and xanthan gum can be found in the Freefrom section of supermarkets and if not, they are also sold in Holland and Barrett’s. I’m sure you could also use milk chocolate to replace the dark chocolate if you’re not on the low FODMAP diet too or don’t like dark chocolate.

The Recipe

  1. Grease a baking tin either with butter, or line it with parchment paper and grease. The original recipe calls for a 29 x 12 cm baking tin, but you can use any depending on how thick you want your brownies to be. Preheat the oven to 160 degrees.

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2. Next, melt the butter and dark chocolate chunks in a saucepan over a low heat. Once you’ve stirred until the mixture is smooth, add the brown sugar and stir constantly until it has fully dissolved (we actually didn’t wait until it had, as it didn’t seem to be dissolving much further and the mixture was getting too hot, but it didn’t affect the recipe). Pour the mixture into a large bowl and wait for it to cool.

3. Get another bowl and mix together the fine rice flour, the xanthan gum and the cornflour with a whisk.


4. Place the beaten eggs into the chocolate mixture one at a time and stir. Add the flour mixture, the pecans, the chocolate chips and the whipping cream. Then spread the mixture into the baking tin.

5. Bake for twenty minutes, then cover with foil and bake again. The original recipe says to bake for another twenty to twenty five minutes until you can stick a toothpick into the brownies and pull it out clean. However, we did it a little longer as it didn’t seem quite ready. Once you think they’re done, take them out and leave them to cool.

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6. The recipe then tells you to put the brownies in the fridge for a couple of hours until they are firm, but we left them out in the kitchen and they were fine, so it’s up to you! Then, cut the brownies into squares ready to be eaten. (I recommend warming them up and having them with ice cream!)

And that’s the recipe for low FODMAP brownies! If you end up using the recipe please let me know down in the comments how they came out or how you served them. Thank you for reading!

Gaming

A-Z of My Favourite Games

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Gaming has been a huge part of my life ever since I was just a toddler watching my siblings play on the MegaDrive and the PS1. The first games I remember seeing were Aladdin and the Lion King (so excited to play the remastered versions!) as well as games like Tomb Raider, Spyro and Crash Bandicoot. That means about two decades worth of games that I’ve played in my lifetime! So I thought why not compile some of my favourite games or franchises in alphabet form?

I thought this would be a great way to show you what kind of games I play while also reminiscing on games I haven’t played in ages. Of course, there will be many games left out on the list due to there being multiple that start with the same letter. I will be choosing the ones that mean the most to me, but I will give a shout out to some others if I feel it was close!

A – Animal Crossing

I was first introduced to Animal Crossing on the GameCube round a friend’s house. Being the sucker for cute animals that I am, it’s no wonder I love this game. It’s such a stress free and wholesome game (that I sort of wish I lived in). Though I love games with epic storylines or adventure, it’s nice to just sit down and plant flowers or talk to your animal neighbours for a while. I can’t begin to explain how excited I am for New Horizons!

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B – Bioshock Infinite

I actually haven’t played any other Bioshock games which is a shame, but I really loved Bioshock Infinite. The scenery is so beautiful and I love the whole steampunk atmosphere. It’s such an interesting world and combined with the shocking story it blew my mind. It was probably one of the first story games I played too so it felt like a whole new experience.

C – Crash Bandicoot

When the N.Sane trilogy was remastered, I was so happy; the first game in particular I have fond memories of and playing it again brought back waves of nostalgia. Hearing Crash’s ‘woah!’ and Aku Aku, I couldn’t believe I was playing the very same game I played all those years ago. I’m actually still on the first game because I’ve found it so challenging, which I don’t remember it being, though that’s probably as I never got that far as a child. One day I will have finished the entire trilogy (speaking it into existence to encourage me).

D – Destiny

I was so late to the party with Destiny but Jordan and I played through the story of both Destiny and Destiny 2. We’ve also been doing the raids with our friends which are super stressful but so satisfying when you finally complete them! The game has definitely come a long way since the first one and it’ll be interesting to see what Shadowkeep is like. Here’s a GIF of us doing a raid on the first game and half of us getting yeeted.

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E – Endless Ocean

This was a game I played on the Wii and I put a lot of hours into it! Which is strange, considering snorkelling is one of my worst nightmares as I’m scared of what lurks under the sea. You basically explore the ocean to find a variety of species and hunt for treasure, before your main goal is to find the ‘White Mother’, a rare albino blue whale. You can also have your own dolphins which swim alongside you! It’s a relaxing game, though it does give me a mini heart-attack when a huge shark or whale approaches you.

F – Fable

I started off with Fable III and adored it,  I’ve actually lost count of the amount of times I’ve replayed it! The whole vibe of Fable is just so unique, with British celebrities playing lots of the characters and the humour being top notch. I’ve recently started playing the first Fable and will move onto Fable II after that, which I’m excited for as lots of people have sung its praises. The age of the first Fable is clear from playing it, but it still has those over exaggerated British accents that make me chuckle.

G – GTA

I borrowed GTA IV off Jordan when I first got my Xbox 360, and I just loved being able to drive around the open world and mess around. GTA V exceeded my expectations with the even bigger map! The story was excellent and it was such a good game to play with friends online (though I do remember the hell that online was when it first came out). And of course, it was fun to play as three very different protagonists. I haven’t actually played it in a while so I must return to it soon. I’d love to visit LA just to see all the locations!

H – Harvest Moon

I still remember the day I bought Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life for PS2. I was at my nan and grandad’s in London, so I didn’t have my Playstation with me. Instead I re-read the booklet inside (I wish games still did that) eager to play it when I got home. I love the farming aspect and exploring the little village. My brother had a go and loved it so much he then bought it for his GameCube! I feel like the next Harvest Moon games haven’t been so good and would love A Wonderful Life remastered, though I know it’s not going to happen. I know it’s now under the name Story of Seasons, so I might pick it up when it comes to Switch to see what it’s like!

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I – Inside

I played this recently and really enjoyed it! I loved how you were thrown into the game and though you weren’t outright told the story, you could work it out as you played. There was an eerie atmosphere created by the dark scenery and the quiet soundtrack, as well as the general plot of using mind control to control who seemed to be brain dead people and being on the run. The puzzles were a good difficulty too.

J – Jackbox Party Games

Playing Jackbox for the first time, I thought it was crazy being able to play on your phone and get everyone involved even without owning a console or the game themselves. It’s not exactly ground-breaking technology, but it was the first time I’d played anything like it. It’s perfect for when you have friends and family round, and you can even play it with strangers online if they have the room code.

K – Kingdom Hearts

I spoke about this in my birthday post, but I’d only ever played the first game before I got the third one. It’s a very complicated franchise to keep up with as I haven’t had the right platform to play many of the games on, so I’m more of a casual fan. But I remember getting the first game in Woolworths (RIP) and loved that combination of Disney and anime. The third game is so beautiful as well and it’s cool to see the modern Disney films like Tangled brought to life!

L – Life is Strange

This is actually one of my favourite game series, though I know a lot of people think it’s cringey. I just got so attached to the characters and being able to redo your actions, seeing the various outcomes, was a cool aspect. I cried so much at the ending, then cried at Before the Storm…then cried at the one off prequel episode. I’m waiting until all of the Life is Strange 2 episodes come to Game Pass before I play it, but I’m so excited.

M – Mario Kart

It’s so cool to have seen Mario Kart evolve throughout the years on each console! I think everyone will agree it’s one of the best party games, despite it almost destroying friendships. I like that although the base game is pretty much the same each time, it’s exciting to see new characters and maps added, so you can expect what to get out of the game while also having a few surprises. Yoshi is my go to character! (Have to give a shout out here to Minecraft too, which will never die.)

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N – Nintendogs

This was a hard one as I couldn’t find any game that I’ve played beginning with ‘n’ so I’ve had to resort to Nintendogs, though it was a great part of my childhood! My first original DS came with it, so I spent most of Christmas day shouting into the microphone to name my dog and taking them on walks. We also used to have ‘toy days’ in primary school at the end of term, so we would all bring our DS in and trade items. Simpler times!

O – Old Man’s Journey

I was struggling to find something for ‘o’ when Jordan suggested Old Man’s Journey, so I started playing it. The art style is absolutely gorgeous, with hand drawn illustrations which could have come straight from a story book. There is no dialogue, the story of the old man looking back at his past shown through images. It’s a relaxing point and click game, which I would recommend for people looking for a chill, bittersweet experience.

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P – Pokemon

I’m not the world’s biggest Pokemon fan as I’ve only played a few games like Mystery Dungeon and Black/White, but I also really enjoy Pokemon Go and recently Pokemon Let’s Go. I’m so excited for Sword/Shield, particularly as it’s inspired by the UK, and to see all the new Pokemon! It looks like it has so many new features too, and it’ll be fun to see it in all its glory with the Switch graphics.

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Q – Quantum Break

This is such a good game and I don’t hear people talking about it enough! Combining film and game, and seeing your choices affect the film you get, is so unique. I loved having that mixture of playing through an action packed level and then getting to put down the controller to watch what happens. It’s such a good example of how important story is in games like these. I definitely need to replay this one as it’s been a long time since I finished it for the first time.

R – Red Dead Redemption

I’ve gone on about Red Dead way too much on my blog already like in my review of Red Dead 2 and my soundtracks to listen to, but I honestly can’t explain how much I love this game. It is one of my favourite games of all time, and I was so happy that I loved Arthur just as much as I loved John. It totally exceeded my expectations and I didn’t think anything could top the first game. Jordan hasn’t finished it yet, so when I came out of our room crying my eyes out I couldn’t even explain why! (Shoutout to Rocket League too, I’ve played it for years and it’s a game I always return to despite it making me rage.)

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S – Super Smash Bros

Another one of my all time favourite games, Smash Bros Ultimate was mind blowing seeing just how many characters were in it, and we’re still getting more. I started off with Melee, also playing Brawl and the 3DS one, so it’s definitely one of those games I’ll keep buying for every console. It’s such a great party game and even though I’m not exactly into fighting games, I love the whacky items, the cool maps, and my favourite characters. I main Pikachu or Pichu. (Shoutout to Spyro and Sims here too.)

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T – Telltale Games: The Walking Dead

Cheating a little as this actually comes under W, but I couldn’t choose just one Telltale game for W. It’s such a shame what happened to them as I would have loved to see what the future held for their games. I’m still yet to play the final season of The Walking Dead, but I loved the first three. I actually think I cried more at the end of season one than I did with both Red Dead Redemptions. I started sobbing before *it* happened as it was spoiled for me so knew what was coming, then cried for half an hour afterwards. I would also tear up every time I thought about it for about two weeks. Yeah, I get attached to characters. As a writer too I love story driven games, though it does stress me out worrying if I made a wrong choice. (Shoutout to Tomb Raider here too.)

U – ?

V – ?

W – The Wolf Among Us

One of my other favourite games by Telltale is The Wolf Among Us. I’m absolutely gutted that we won’t be getting the sequel now, especially as this game ended on a cliffhanger. I loved the dark twist on fairytale characters and Bigby was a great protagonist because of how imperfect he was. It was also fun to work out the mystery and be a detective, which was a little different from the other Telltale Games. I think the artstyle of the Telltale Games in general too is really unique.

X – ?

Y – Yoku’s Island Express

I’ve only recently started playing this game but it’s so cute; you play as a beetle taking on the role of postman for his island. It’s a pinball style game, so you navigate the island using the bumpers to hit your beetle. The world is really pretty and it’s another game that’s quite relaxing which you can pop on when you don’t feel like playing a story game.

Z – Zoo Tycoon

I have such fond memories of Zoo Tycoon when I was younger, though it was stressful trying to please all your animals as well as keep the zoo clean. It helped my love for animals grow and learn more about different species. The latest Zoo Tycoon is good but doesn’t have quite the same feel as the old one. I’m looking forward to Planet Zoo as the graphics look amazing, and I know I can easily put hours into it.

 

I’m actually pretty impressed that I’ve only missed out three letters! But there we have it, that’s an A-Z of my favourite games. Are some of these your favourite games too, or can you help me out with my missing letters? Let me know down in the comments and thank you for reading!

(GIFs found on Giphy.com)

 

 

 

 

 

Writing

The Benefits of Sharing Your Writing

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If you follow me on social media, you will have seen that recently I finished editing the first draft of my novel! It was such a relief to know that I was capable of writing an entire book and that my hard work left me with a finished product. However, the next step was to share my novel with friends and family for them to be my beta readers. Even though I’ve had lots of experience with sharing my writing at university, it was still daunting. Had my work all been for nothing and would no one enjoy it? Would they be too polite to tell me if they didn’t?

Thankfully, I’ve had lots of positive feedback as well as some great suggestions which will really help me get my novel up to scratch before I query to agents! But I know despite there being nothing to worry about, a lot of writers still have this anxiety surrounding letting others read their work. Which is quite ironic, considering if we want to publish our work it has to be read by others! I’m still not entirely confident whenever I do share my work, but I’m writing this post to encourage you to do so and explain why it’s extremely helpful.

To boost your confidence

One of the biggest problems I think writers face is not thinking we’re good enough. We pour our heart and soul into words, then think it’s terrible. Or sometimes we’re proud of it, but worry that no one else will like it. A lot of writers are shy, introverted people who perhaps struggle with self-confidence. But sharing with others is one of the best ways to overcome this in your writing.

Receiving compliments is a sure way to make you feel good about your writing. After all the work you’ve put into it, you deserve to be told how talented you are! It will inspire you to keep writing while also making you feel less nervous about showing others your work. It may seem a little big headed to enjoy being complimented, but it’s what you need to show you that your writing is worth it. No matter how ‘bad’ you think it is, it most likely isn’t, as you have spent so much time rereading it and analyzing it that you almost become sick to death of it! Of course, it isn’t all about the compliments though.

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To become used to constructive criticism

My main worry when I had to share my writing at university was whether or not I’d be able to handle having my work critiqued. I’m a sensitive person, and didn’t want to burst into tears at every negative comment I received! Luckily, the majority of people were really nice and offered great advice, not ripping into my work like I thought they would. Sure, there were a few condescending people, but if they’re not giving you advice in a polite, helpful way, then they’re just being rude. These people clearly aren’t thinking about your feelings and I’d do my best to ignore them!

This will then prepare you if you want to get your work published. You need to go through the editing process where you will receive changes to make, and then comments or reviews when your book is out there. It’s normal to feel protective over your work and feel hurt if someone points out something they didn’t quite like. But you need to remember that your work isn’t going to be perfect or please everyone. Constructive criticism is there to help you, and you don’t always have to take that advice if you really don’t want to. You know your work back to front, but if something isn’t clear or multiple people point out the same thing, it’s worth thinking about changing.

Remember, it’s all about the way people say it though; if someone says ‘I don’t like this, change it, this is bad’, they aren’t being considerate and not people who you should share your hard work with. But if someone says ‘I was a little confused by this, could you elaborate?’ or ‘I’m not too sure about this because of *insert issue here* could you maybe do *this* instead?’, this is constructive. We were taught in university about the ‘shit sandwich’ where if you’re critiquing someone’s work, you say something positive, some constructive criticism, and then something positive again. This is the right way to do it!

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To have a fresh set of eyes looking at your writing

As I mentioned earlier, you’ve read your work so many times that it can be hard to not stress about it being bad, and you can easily miss out on typos or editing mistakes. Having beta readers allows you to see what it’s like for a person reading it for the first time with no prior information. This is of course helpful as when your work is published, this is exactly what readers are going to be experiencing.

Other people will spot things you won’t, from spelling errors to continuity mistakes. Don’t feel embarrassed at these, as every writer will have them in their early drafts. You want your novel to be the best it can be before you send it to agents, and though it doesn’t have to be perfectly edited, it will really help get it to a standard which will impress them.

 

I hope this has been helpful for writers out there who are afraid to show their work to others and just go for it! It is easier said than done, but once you do it, it gets a lot easier. Just remember that people are there to help you, and if anyone is rude, they don’t deserve to read your work anyway!

This also doesn’t have to apply to fictional writing, but blog writing too. I know a lot of people don’t like sharing their posts with people they know in real life out of fear they’ll bring it up. However it’s more than likely they’re going to be supportive and you’ll find you had nothing to worry about, but if they’re not…block them.

What are your experiences of sharing your writing? Let me know down in the comments and thank you for reading!

Reviews

First Impressions of the Wacom Intuos Drawing Tablet

Drawing Tablet

Illustration has always been a passion of mine alongside writing. At school, many of my Art projects were based around designing children’s picture books, and I even made my own by hand in university. However, doing everything by hand can be very time consuming, and there is more room for error.

So when Amazon Prime day came about, I did a bit of research and found the Wacom Intuos tablet. It was reduced from £60 to £40, which was around the price I wanted. I’d always fancied a tablet to improve my illustration and produce cleaner art work; Jordan ordered it for me as a birthday gift and I then waited eagerly for it to arrive.

Even just seeing the outside of the box made me excited and it didn’t take long before I opened it! Inside was the tablet, the pen, the USB lead and some instructions. The first thing you have to do is plug the tablet into your computer or laptop, and visit the website stated in the instruction booklet. This then installs the driver so you can use the tablet. If I remember correctly this only took a few hours and then it was ready to use.

The next step was installing the free software that comes with the product. This was actually one of the reasons I chose this tablet, as Photoshop and Illustrator are too expensive for me! You get a choice of one of either their photo editing software or their digital painting software. I went with the painting as of course this is what I bought the tablet for. To install the software you make an account with Wacom; again, this didn’t take an awful amount of time to download and it was ready to try out that same day.

The software is called Corel Painter Essentials, and it doesn’t look too dissimilar from Microsoft Paint. It looks overwhelming at first and there weren’t any instructions on how to use it, so I spent a lot of my time experimenting with it. There are lots of different pens and brushes for you to play around with which create various artistic effects. I have a cartoon-like style, so I love using a black pen outline before filling with the paint bucket and using an airbrush for shading! I would definitely recommend looking into tutorials on YouTube so you can really get to grips with the software, as incredible paintings can be made with it. Here are some of my designs so far, which you can check out on my Red Bubble store (casual plug).

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The tablet itself is very easy to use. Put the pen to the tablet just as if it’s a notepad and watch what you draw appear on your screen. The pen can be used as a cursor too by hovering over the tablet, so you don’t have to keep switching between that and your mouse. There are two buttons on the pen and four on the tablet, which can be callibrated to different shortcuts. I haven’t got round to doing this yet, but one of the buttons on the pen allows you to drag the canvas, which is great for when you’re doing little details and need to zoom in. You can either leave the pen in the dip where the tablet buttons are, or insert it into the loop on top, so you’re less likely to lose it.

I was really concerned about pressing down onto the tablet and how much pressure it could take without scratching. However it is very sturdy; of course you shouldn’t press as hard as you can, but applying pressure like you would with a normal pen doesn’t damage it at all. There will be some marks and smudges but these will wipe off easily. The pen nib does wear down a bit, but there are replacement nibs inside the top of the pen. I feel like the nibs will last a while though, so you shouldn’t go through them quickly.

Using the pen honestly doesn’t feel that different from drawing by hand, as it tracks your strokes extremely well. Unlike drawing by hand where you have to rub out or spend ages colouring in, the tablet is so convenient to undo your actions or use the paint bucket to fill. I love how my illustrations are much cleaner and more professional, perfect for what I wanted, for example designing stickers for Red Bubble.

Overall, I am really impressed with this product. I would have liked for there to be maybe a tutorial on the software, but the tablet itself doesn’t need much of an explanation. Installing the driver and software was straightforward, and I’ve had no issues so far. I’m very happy that this tablet has allowed me to expand my illustration and achieve what I want. It’s reasonably priced for what it is and great for beginners just getting into the world of digital art.

Do you have a drawing tablet and how have you felt it’s impacted your work? Let me know down in the comments and thank you for reading!

Travel

A Day at the Eden Project

Eden Project

Hello and welcome back to another blog post! My last blog post was about my time at the Tamar Otter Sanctuary on holiday, so following on from that, today’s post is about when we went visited the Eden Project! I visited years ago and really enjoyed it, but my nan had never been and we were happy to go again.

Once you get into the car park, you can either walk to the main entrance about a mile away or get a shuttle bus there. I’d recommend getting the bus to save that time and it’s a bit of a trek for someone elderly like my nan. At the main entrance there’s the visitor centre, with ticket booths, a café and a gift shop; the shop is always quite busy and crowded but particularly at the end of the day when everyone is leaving, so I’d perhaps have a look here first or somewhere in the middle of the day!

At the Eden Project, there are the outdoor gardens, two large biomes, a building called the Core, a stage and an arena. There’s not really any particular order you should visit these in, but for us it rained at the start of the visit and cleared up in the afternoon. Check the forecast before you go so you know if it’s going to rain, that’s the perfect opportunity to visit the biomes. Luckily, it poured it down just as we visited our first biome, so we could spend the sunny afternoon in the outdoor gardens.

The outdoor gardens are absolutely beautiful. There are thousands of different species of flowers and plants, with a variety of bright colours. It was so hard not to take a picture of every single flower I saw as they were all so pretty! The bees were loving it, and though I’m usually a wimp when it comes to wasps and bees flying near me, it was so nice to see them enjoying it, particularly the lavender. As well as flowers there were also herbs like thyme and mint, and allotments with pumpkins.

The Core building has a new exhibition called Invisible Worlds where you learn about things like human microbiomes and cyanobacteria, depicted in this huge sculpture below, which produce oxygen. It’s really interesting to learn about things I never knew about before, especially with interactive exhibits and lots of visual stimulation. It’s great for children to learn about science in a fun way. There’s also a café here too with lots of healthy and vegan options.

The stage at the moment has an exhibition called Earth Story, which focuses on our planet and how important the animals are to the ecosystem. It showed if an animal went extinct how it would affect the entire food chain, as well as all the animals we have already lost. It was such an emotional video relaying the species that were gone even before I was born, and all the ones that are extinct at the moment. However, there was some hope, as a lot of these species are on the rise and making a comeback. There are lots of organisations and people doing their bit, encouraging us to do what we can to save the planet. Sadly this is not a permanent exhibition, but it was really effective in making you think about the actions you take.

The two biomes are the Mediterranean and Rainforest biome, joined by a building with shops and a restaurant, which has both indoor and outdoor seating. Again, the restaurant has lots of options for different diets, with a pasty shop and ice cream just outside. I opted for my favourite lemon sorbet which was lovely in the warm weather! I also bought some items in the shop, as they sell a lot of cruelty free, vegan, and plastic free things. I got a cleanser and a moisturiser which have actually made my skin feel so much healthier, and they come in glass bottles too. It’s just a shame that when I run out I won’t be able to get any more!

I also bought a shampoo bar to tackle use of plastic and palm oil, but unfortunately it hasn’t really worked with my hair! It stays sticky after drying despite washing and rinsing for ages. However I’m probably going to experiment with different amounts and see if that makes a difference because it wasn’t cheap and I really want to make that switch to a bar.

Both the Mediterranean and Rainforest biomes are so impressive. As a succulent fan I loved seeing all the cacti and aloe vera planets in the Mediterranean as well as citrons and sculptures in a vineyard. There was yet another place to eat here too with pizza and other Italian or Spanish cuisine, which would have been lovely to eat in surrounded by the vibrant plants, but we had already bought pizza for tea for when we got back!

The Rainforest biome was just as pretty and really warm, though there was a cool room there for people to go if it was too much for them. You can learn about how chocolate is made and how palm oil can be sustainably produced, while also seeing bananas growing on trees and pineapples in the ground. There is also a waterfall which is lovely and cool to stand by, and a hut to buy baobab smoothies from. There was an amazing walkway high above the entire rainforest, but because it is so hot at the top they have to close it if it’s too much. When we went to go on it, it was closed because the climate there at that moment was similar to Brazil!

That covers all the main attractions at the Eden Project, though there’s plenty of places to eat and drink around, as well as accessible pathways. There’s also a land train which takes you back up to the entrance so you don’t have to walk up through the gardens to get there, and children’s play areas.

Overall, Eden Project is a must-see place to visit if you’re ever in the area of Cornwall! It’s informative and amazing to view, with lots of events going on throughout the year suitable for all ages. I would warn you that it can be very busy in the summer holidays though, but I’m not sure if it’s less so at any other time.

Have you ever visited the Eden Project or would you like to? Let me know down in the comments and thank you for reading!