TOPS – I Feel Alive

I Feel Alive is Montreal four piece TOPS‘ first single off fourth album of the same name, and is a bracing pop gem with dark undertones, energetic, expressive and bounding. It gallops by with pace and passion, soft rock grooves and eighties pop styling mixing together in a joyful tune that hints at great stuff to come.

Guest post – The Value of Critique Groups and Writing Groups

This post is by Jackie Rod, author of Georgia, Stories on my Mind.

Why do writers need to join critique or writing groups?

The answer is simple. Some writers are natural-born writers; however, most of us need a lot of help.

Critique partners help you learn and grow. They ponder over your manuscript for character weaknesses, gaps in the plot, and grammar errors. Their work is invaluable. They push you to be a better writer.

The ideal critique group is made up of writers who are on the same writing level and write in the same genre. Constructive criticism and positive feedback should be the rule of the day. Be kind, but be honest. You should never gloss over poor writing. This is unfair to the other writer. Respect your critique partners. Respect is a two-way street.

Benefits of critique groups:  accountability, bonding, brainstorming, craft, editing, grammar, encouragement, listening skills, inspiration, motivation, learning, and friendship.

Like any relationship, critique groups take on their own character. Select your critique partners with care. Pick a group you’re comfortable with. Set guidelines and stick to them. Be accountable to the process and each other. Everyone has an opinion. You should not change your style of writing, because someone else thinks they know better. It is your story.

Critique groups evolve over time. You can outgrow each other. Perhaps it is time to move on. Be grateful for what you’ve learned. You may decide on a writing partner rather than a group next time. Choose a writing partner whose skills and schedule work well for you.

Writing groups are essential for all levels of writing. A writing group or chapter is networking at its best. A small writing group may foster closer friendships, while a large writing chapter may have more advanced writers for role models. Bottom line–We learn the craft, and we help each other.

Presentations, classes, workshops, and conferences help us learn the craft. Veteran writers who have achieved recognition far and wide can show us how they accomplished their writing goals. We are inspired by their success.

Writing chapters offer classes and workshops that teach us how to improve our craft. We learn by doing. A writer can never take too many classes or attend too many workshops. We can never learn enough about writing.

Writing conferences are great sources of education and networking. Whatever your weakness—characterization, dialogue, point of view, or plot—you can find a program to improve your skills.

Networking at a conference helps make new friends. Be bold. Smile and speak to other attendees. Spending time with other writers can make us better writers.

I attend writing conferences as often as I can. I enjoy meeting new authors, agents, and editors. I hope to see you at a writing conference and talk about that jewel of a book you want to polish and publish soon.

Georgia Stories on My Mind

Come visit Georgia within these pages as you read heartwarming stories shaped by local traditions and legends. The characters live life to the fullest through joys and hardships. Inhale the essence of Georgia’s revitalized small town squares while eating hand- scooped ice cream on a park bench. Each town has its own magic. Sometimes the most real things in life are things we cannot see but those that deeply touch us, as the folks in these tales learn. Share smiles and shed tears as you travel the curving road of life with these Georgia characters. Are you ready for an unforgettable experience of hope, faith, trust, reconciliation, and love?

Out now on Touch Not the Cat Books.

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About the Author, Jackie Rod

Jackie Rod is a fiction writer, loving wife of a legal beagle, and mother of three children who has blessed her with seven fantastic grandchildren. After Jackie retired from teaching, her love of words and stories led her to begin writing fiction. Reading and traveling enrich her life and she jumps at the opportunity to teach a workshop or attend a writing conference. She belongs to five writing chapters/groups. Jackie’s work can be found in twelve published books on Amazon, in several Metro Atlanta libraries, and independent bookstores.

On Your Feet! at The Marlowe

The story of Gloria and Emilio Estefan is not one so well known in the UK and USA and Latin America, but it’s one worth telling. The husband and wife performing powerhouse went from rags to riches, and in the process sold millions, opening up new audiences to their Cuban rhythms.

Jerry Mitchell’s original production On Your Feet!, accompanied by the book by Birdman-screenwriter Alexander Dinelaris, ran for two years on Broadway from 2015, with over 750 performances and a Tony nod for its choreography. The show is now at The Marlowe in Canterbury, as part of its UK tour, having wowed audiences in London.

Gloria and Emilio want to be successful, but face prejudiced promoters and DJs who are stuck in their ways and unwilling to take a punt on their hybrid music. We follow their trajectory from smalltown Cuba to bigtime hits. It’s vibrant and full of vitality, with excellent dancing infused by energy, choregraphed by Olivier recipient Sergio Trujillo.

Philippa Stefani’s strong voice and brilliant moves made her an excellent audience, whilst George Ioannides was a bright and bold Emilio. Supported by a strong ensemble, they made the show full of vivacity and life.

I went to the show unconvinced that I knew many songs, but soon found myself tapping and even singing along to hits such as Dr Beat, 1-2-3, and Don’t Wanna Lose You. By the end of the night, audiences were on their feet, as the title of the show promised.

Life Lessons

Presenting a never-before-seen take on wellbeing, bestselling authors and world-class thinkers combine under one roof for an insight-fuelled weekend of talks and debates, as Life Lessons shares big – but practical – ideas for living better. Taking place at The Barbican on 15-16 February, it’s the latest addition to the wellbeing schedule, and is presented by The Sunday Times.

Boasting thought leaders such as Bill Bryson, Derren Brown, Richard Dawkins, Marie Forleo, Ruby Wax and Alain de Botton, the festival will see influential figures share their unique life lessons for a happier, healthier and more inspired life. With its writers and columnists at the forefront, The Sunday Times will ensure that ideas and information are not only cutting edge, but rigorously researched and, ultimately, scientifically sound. In an arena saturated with conflicting advice and opinions on wellbeing and healthy living, this weekend will offer festival goers not only a fresh perspective, but real, tangible knowledge to carry forwards into day-to- day life.

The weekend features over 40 talks from more than 80 speakers, along with an abundance of mindful activities including yoga, meditation, sound therapy, crafting and more. Designed with a structure that will allow guests to not only learn from experts but others around them, with taster sessions to explore new skills, and examine their career potential Life Lessons is a chance for attendees to design a better future for themselves.

Visitors will build their own bespoke programme from topics such as nutrition, health, sustainable living, business, society and psychology. The festival will tackle questions both big and small, from whether it’s possible to design a perfect society, to which foods are beneficial for both humans and the planet.

Eleanor Mills, Editorial Director of The Sunday Times, said of the event, “Every day, we are bombarded with new ways to improve ourselves, to be happy, to live well. It’s impossible to work out which ones are the real deal and which are just snake oil. Until now.

At the inaugural Life Lessons weekend, our mission is to find the answers to life, the universe and everything. With the help of a carefully curated line-up of smart thinkers, we’ll apply a healthy dose of scepticism and a large chunk of science to an industry and world built on promises. Is clean eating really good for you? What does a healthy society look like? Is it possible to parent mindfully? And where are we on butter?” 

Visit Life Lessons for more details and to buy tickets.

Miranda Popkey – Topics of Conversation

It may only be fragments of conversation, but nothing is off limits in Miranda Popkey’s first novel Topics of Conversation. Desire, motherhood, loneliness, relationships, pain and art are all explored in this short but potent book. Literary in style, it evokes the writings of Rachel Cusk and Sally Rooney, but has a strong voice and style. The unnamed narrator explores her own identity through conversations and confessions, and at the same time the novel broadens out its horizons to discover what a female identity is. Many experiences are paralleled, yet at the same time the feelings they trigger are utterly unique. Ruminations and reflections illuminate the narrator’s and reader’s lives at the same time.

It’s all about working out which moments make a life, and how we get to where we are – and crucially, who we are. The controlled yet stream of consciousness style evokes the feeling that you are thinking through the issues with the narrator, who may or may not be Popkey herself (both are Californian natives in their early thirties). ‘I, at twenty-one, did not, had not yet settled on the governing narrative of my life. Had not yet realized the folly of governing narratives,’ she says, and embarks on trying to figure that out. She acknowledges that, like so many women, ‘I have been, that I continue to be, best at being a vessel for the desire of others.’

It’s a biting dissection, and the self consciousness that gleams onto the page sometimes feels selfish, but you get the feeling that’s what she’s aiming for. We are all living our own lives, and it shouldn’t be shocking that sometimes what we want comes first (even when it’s a case of disliking your own child, as one woman reveals). There’s a brilliant line that rings true yet makes the reader feel slightly uncomfortable in its veracity – ‘Isn’t that the test of love? The test of intimacy? The willingness to be cruel and the belief that, the moment of cruelty passed, the love, the intimacy, remains, undamaged.’

Each chapter could stand alone, as it’s more a selection of reflective pieces rather than pacey plot driven novel. Coming of age and discovering yourself can be lonely and difficult, but this brilliant first step from Popkey is a handbook to have onside.

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