An Ode to the Wilderness

One of my local parks is the Westerpark and on my frequent cycle rides through it, I couldn’t help noticing a rather large and imposing sculpture. So last week I got off my trusty iron steed and took a few pictures of the poignantly named, ‘Weeping Elephant.’ It was created by artist, Jantien Mook. Mook’s mission statement;

“The Weeping Elephant’, is a sculpture of an African elephant five meters high. She will travel around the world and appear in cities, she ‘weeps’ to make her presence felt. On her journey she want to join forces during events; conservation, art & culture related, with experts, enthusiasts and artists to bring an ode to the wild. The stage under the sculpture is a meeting point for special guests; speakers, musicians, dancers and children to share their message with the world.

I’m looking for partners who are able and willing to help ‘The Weeping Elephant’ on her journey. Please contact me; here

Elephants and Sadness
Elephants are often portrayed as sad animals. Think of those in literature; Dumbo,who is separated from his mother at an early age; Rosie, the abused circus elephant in Sara Gruen’s fantastic book, Water for Elephants which when made into a film sparked a real-life animal abuse storm about the elephant who played Rosie, Tai. Controversy erupted around concerns that Tai was mistreated prior to filming, Water for Elephants. A video released by the Animal Defenders International (ADI) in 2011 shows footage of Tai allegedly being shocked with handheld stun guns and beaten around the body and legs with bull hooks, while in the care of Have Trunk Will Travel in 2005. The ADI contacted the American Humane Association, urging them to re-evaluate how they assess the use of animals in films and the statements being made which effectively endorse the use of performing animals.

Wills Gets Involved
Not only do elephants suffer for our entertainment, in the wild they are threatened by ivory poachers. Recently elephants have had Prince William fighting their corner. Although his message isn’t very hopeful, perhaps it will make some groups think more about where their supply of ivory comes from;

“When I was born, there were one million elephants roaming Africa.

And at the current pace of illegal poaching, when Charlotte turns 25 the African elephant will be gone from the wild.”

Positive Note
Thankfully we can console ourselves with the more uplifting story by Michael Morpurgo based on a real-life incident of an elephant rescuing a British child from the 2004 tsunami in Thailand. It was dramatised in London by the same puppet theatre that made War Horse. Here pictures of Ning Nong and the little girl he saved, Amber Own who is now in her twenties, and below Ning Nong’s puppet actor in the play, ‘Running Wild.’



So what is it about these pachyderms that invokes this deep-rooted sense of guilt about the way we treat the natural world? Is it their very strong family bonds which we identify with, or perhaps their immense strength and gentleness combined? Why not go to the Westerpark and think about it? Perhaps you will be moved to write a poem, draw a picture or make a donation to the WWF. Don’t wait too long though because at the end of April, Weeping Elephant’s packing her trunk and moving onto pastures new.





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A Short Analysis of William Blake’s ‘Spring’

A summary of a fine Blake poem ‘Spring’ is not one of William Blake’s most famous poems. The poem was first published in Blake’s 1789 collection Songs of Innocence. It’s a glorious celebration of t…

Source: A Short Analysis of William Blake’s ‘Spring’

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Inside the Lantern #villaaugustus


Dordrecht is around an hour’s drive from Amsterdam and there is plenty to see for culture vultures in terms of museums, theatres, restaurants, cafés and independent shops. Its jewel in the crown is Hotel and Restaurant Villa Augustus, a former water tower and water purifying plant which in 2007 was transformed by a group of far-sighted entrepreneurs into a boutique hotel and organic and hyperlocal restaurant.

Villa Augustus has a room at the top of the water tower, surrounded by glass on all sides called The Lantern Room. This special room on the top floor of the water tower offers access to the glass lantern on the top, by way of a spiral staircase. The view offers a broad panorama across Dordrecht. In clear weather, you can even see the Euromast in Rotterdam! From here, you can appreciate Dordrecht’s unique location, at the intersection of three rivers: the Noord, the Merwede and the Oude Maas. This is a place with spectacular light, magnificent skies and often an unforgettable sunset.

To celebrate a special occasion, Frank and I booked an overnight stay in the Lantern Room and of course dinner in the restaurant where they serve largely home-grown produce. The restaurant is in the middle of the vegetable garden in the former pump house. Gardeners and chefs work together at Villa Augusutus to harvest and serve seasonal vegetables and fruit from the early spring to deep in the winter. In the open kitchen – the heart of the restaurant – they prepare everything as deliciously and attractively as possible.

It was a great stay and I highly recommend Villa Augustus; it offers a unique experience, super fresh and unadulterated food, friendly service and the oh so very special, South Holland hospitality.

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Cycle trip from Muiden Castle to Nescio Bridge

I recently became the proud and happy owner of an e-bike. I was against the idea originally, seeing it as the first step towards physical decreptitude, but now that winter is here and voracious head winds come at you without mercy, I very much enjoy switching my e-bike to boost and overtaking all the pretty young Amsterdam things and saying, eat my dust! So, buoyed up with electric energy, I decided to take a bike trip from Muiden Castle to the Nescio Bridge.

Muiden Castle
Muiden Castle is located at the mouth of the Vecht river, some 15 kilometres south east of Amsterdam, in Muiden, where it flows into what used to be the Zuiderzee. It’s one of the better known castles in the Netherlands and has been featured in many television shows set in the Middle Ages. If you go out to the castle on your bike, I recommend visiting the features along the nearby, UNESCO World Heritage Site known as the Defence Line of Amsterdam (in Dutch Stelling van Amsterdam). This is a 135 km long ring of fortifications around Amsterdam, consisting of 42 forts located between 10 and 15 kilometers from the centre, and lowlands that can easily be flooded in time of war. The flooding was designed to give a depth of about 30 cm, insufficient for boats to traverse. Any buildings within 1 km of the line had to be made of wood, so that they could be burnt and the obstruction removed.

The Stelling van Amsterdam was constructed between 1880 and 1920. The invention of the aeroplane and tank made the forts obsolete almost as soon as they were finished. Many of the forts now are under both the control of the town councils. Plan your trip to one or more of the forts here.


The Bridge Called “I Don’t Know”
The Nescio Bridge (or Nesciobrug in Dutch) is an award-winning cycle and footbridge in the Netherlands. This curved, steel suspension bridge, located in Amsterdam, is the country’s first suspension bridge that carries only a cycle track and footpath, and at almost 800 metres length it is also one of the country’s longest cycle and footbridges. Additionally, it is the longest single cable suspension bridge in the Netherlands.

The bridge was designed by Jim Eyre of London-based Wilkinson Eyre Architects, in cooperation with two multinational engineering consultancy firms: London-based ARUP group and Netherlands-based, Grontmij. The design stands out by using a single, self-anchored cable.


The Nescio Bridge spans the Amsterdam–Rhine Canal, connecting the new residential area of IJburg, built on artificial islands in Lake IJ, with the mainland, landing very near Amsterdam Science Park, between East Amsterdam and North Diemen. On the IJburg side, the bridge touches down on the Diemerzeedijk, a 13th-century clay dike on which Dutch writer Nescio frequently made long walks that he recounted in his work, hence the bridge’s name. Nescio, Latin for ‘I don’t know’, was the pen name of Dutch writer Jan Hendrik Frederik Grönloh, who was born on June 22, 1882, in Amsterdam and died on July 25, 1961, in Hilversum. Grönloh was a businessman by profession, but as Nescio he is mainly remembered for the three novellas De uitvreter (The Freeloader), Titaantjes (Little Titans) and Dichtertje (Little Poet).

It was a great day out, and now that weather conditions aren’t necessarily a reason to leave my bike at home, next time I plan to explore more of the Stelling of Amsterdam on my electric steed…

With thanks to Frank de Smalen who organised this day out.

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Writers Abroad 5th Magazine is here!


I am delighted to provide you with the link to the fifth issue of our magazine packed with articles, stories, poems, writing tips, recipes, author interviews and photos by expat writers. Do you want to learn to swear like a Dutchie? (written with real name Angela Williams) or would you like to bake your canine friend a healthy and tasty birthday cake? Wondering what it’s like to live in Hong Kong, Spain or France? It’s all in the mag so what are you waiting for! I have also written a reworking of ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ which is featured in the magazine. If you think the Granny in the original story is a batty old dear who needs help, then read my refreshing new version. The title, ‘Wolf at the Door,’ will make you wonder who the wolf in the story really is…(Under pseudonym Susan Carey.)

The link above will allow you to read it on-line or alternatively download a PDF copy which you can read on your PC (including the Kindle app if you have it), tablet, iPad or android device. The best way to read the PDF version is through a PDF reader app which are free to download.

Alternatively you can access a direct PDF copy to 05issue_final

Finally, we would love to hear what you think. Just a couple minutes of your time. You will also find a link a the end of the magazine to our Feedback Form. Thanks in anticipation.

We hope you enjoy the read.

Best Wishes from  Writers Abroad

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Book Treasure Hunt #littlefreelibrary #minibieb

This summer I have unwittingly taken part in a Book Treasure Hunt spanning four counties within the Netherlands and England. Most of you will have heard of the phenomenon, Little Free Library which I believe started in the US with the aim of raising interest in literature in areas that don’t have easy access to a library. The Dutch version is Mini-bieb.

As a spin off, all sorts of neighbourhood initiatives have sprung up across the globe; ranging from the very informal (books left randomly on top of the paper recycling container, or on the plinth of a public statue), to the lovingly painted boxes filled with curated books.

Where I found the treasure and a review of the books:

  1. Tilney All Saints Church, Norfolk


I like the serendipitous approach to choosing a book which Little Free Libraries can give. I read two new writers this year, Val McDermid and Nicci French. Val McDermid creates a maniacal but exceedingly clever serial killer in ‘Mermaids Singing.’ The book’s protagonists, DI Carol Jordan and criminal profiler, Tony Hill are a likeable odd couple. McDermid’s book must have involved her researching medieval torture methods so if you like a dark and at times gory read this might be for you. Rather ironic to find a book about a demonic character in a Christian building. The denouement was quite frankly silly though, and I saw it coming a mile off so although I liked the build up and the characters, a poor ending left me deflated so I can’t give it more than 3 out of 5 stars



2. Phone box, Little Dewchurch, Hereford.


My absolute favourite LFL which I came across this year, was this red telephone box. Lovingly restored and furnished with shelves of books in great, pre-loved condition; an innovative way of upcycling an otherwise redundant monument that used to be at the very heart of the community. Here I found, Nicci French’s, ‘In the Land of the Living’ which I haven’t finished yet but the author has succeeded in creating tension without resorting to blood and gore. A tight, psychological thriller which has had me gripped throughout. Rakker the dog was pleased about this on Wednesday afternoon because I was very still for a couple of hours while I read, so that meant a stable and comfy lap for him. Book heading towards a 4 out of 5 methinks.




3. Shopping Centre Maredijk, Leiden


‘Dead Cert’, by Dick Francis was pure nostalgia as this was the first grown-up book I read which wasn’t on the school curriculum. My sister, Christine Hardinge worked for National Hunt trainer, Michael Scudamore for many years and so Francis, the jockey-turned-author, was a popular read in our home. Even though it was predictable, because I’d read it before, Francis creates a great sense of place and his insider knowledge of the racing world gives his writing authority. After the author’s death it turned out that Mary Francis, his wife, was his ghost-writer; a very clever undercover cooperation in which the former schoolteacher, Mary (reputedly scared of horses) wrote the exceedingly masculine thrillers on behalf of her husband.  Francis novels are a brilliant, easy read for racing and non-racing fans alike.  The first time I read, ‘Dead Cert’ I loved it and as an inexperienced reader of thrillers, I didn’t see any of the twists coming so for pure nostalgic reasons I give it 5 out of 5 stars.

4. Pancake Restaurant Stroop, Amsterdam


That leads me neatly onto Nicci Gerrard’s, ‘Huis van Herinneringen,’ (direct translation, house of memories) translated from English title, ‘The Twilight Hour’. The main character is Eleanor, a 94- year-old lady who is sorting through her possessions before moving into a nursing home. In an attempt to burn her secrets, she almost sets the house on fire. But then Eleanor’s grandson steps in to help her go through her old letters and photos. As the story unfolds a passionate and impossible romance that decided the fate of many lives is revealed. My mum-in-law read this in just a few days and she said it was brilliant. So on behalf of my mum-in-law, I’m giving it 5 out of 5. Will read this one after, ‘Land of the Living.’

So I hope I have inspired you to give Little Free Libraries a go and perhaps you will even set up your own informal book swap in your neighbourhood. It’s definitely on my to-do list!


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#Oopoeh Helps Combat Loneliness

Loneliness can often plague short-term or long-term expats. Even after 30 years of living abroad one can sometimes feel cast adrift away from family, familiar surroundings and old friends. I grew up on a farm and was always used to having animals around. Animals were just as much a part of the family as we humans were, so the lack of a pet has left me slightly bereft. I travel quite a bit so a full-time pet never seemed practical. Short-term expats may hesitate to take a pet because of the possible quarantine laws of a future country, or the wrench of saying goodbye after a posting abroad is over. So how excited was I when I discovered Stichting Oopoeh Ouderen Passen op een Huisdier. ‘The Elderly look after a pet’. Well, I’m not exactly elderly but I am over 55 years old so eligible to join the site. This is another great sharing economy idea, although unlike Airbnb and Uber I can’t imagine that anyone will be up in arms about this concept undercutting established businesses, unless it’s professional dog walkers of course…

I do love Jack Russells
My family have had Jack Russells for many years and Jack Russells are lively, affectionate, tough and not very vocal dogs. Living so hugger mugger like we do in my neighbourhood a yappy dog would be a real nuisance. So after finding the Oopoeh website I quickly posted a photo, wrote up my profile and scoured the site for Jack Russells in my neighbourhood. My heart was very quickly taken by a seven-year-old JR, named Rakker (Rascal). Stichting Oopoeh mediate the initial contact, only giving out phone numbers when both parties had been approached and a meeting was arranged.

Oopoeh’s fantastic ad

Coming Equipped
After meeting my chosen dog’s owner and a rather invigorating visit to her local park where I discovered that Rakker loved just about anyone who would throw a ball for him, we agreed to me dog-sitting once a week. Rakker’s ‘Mum’ drops him off on her way to work and picks him up at around 6pm and his day is filled with at least two trips to the park, maybe a car ride to the beach and an obligatory swim in salt of freshwater! He comes equipped with dog food, ball, lead, towel, chewy, indoor toy, as it’s a principle of the site that the dog-sitter makes no expenditure for the care of the pet. (Ssshh don’t tell anyone but we have bought him a ball-thrower, doggy treats and I’ve got my eye on a fleece-lined basket. Who knew that urban dogs came with so many retail opportunities?)

Rascal’s My Name and Swimming’s my Game
The first afternoon he spent with us he pined quite a lot and kept running to the door expecting his mum to come back. But now after five visits, he goes straight to our front door after he gets out of the bicycle basket and bounds up the stairs all doggy smiles and wags. We are blessed with a large, dog-friendly park just across the canal from where we live and also there is a special place where dogs can swim. Rakker’s favourite pastime is retrieving balls from the canal! Another upside is that dogs are an enormous ice-breaker and before you know it you are chatting away to other dog walkers or just about anyone who likes the look of the dog.

So if you want de lieve maar niet de lasten, (the love but not the labour) of dog ownership, then Stichting Oopoeh might be for you. You don’t necessarily need to be over 55, young people are eligible to become dog-sitters too, it’s just that older people get first dibs if two people are interested in one dog. Similar sites exist all over the globe, borrowmydoggy in the UK. Just do a quick Google and there is probably one in your country too!

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Are you a Dressage or Rodeo Rider? – Training the Unconscious

Why do some stories, poems, paintings or performances move us when others don’t? Where does a unique artistic voice come from? I believe it begins with a strong connection to the unconscious. The unconscious can be a dark and frightening place; home to fear, anxiety and aspects of ourselves we don’t like or try to suppress. But you also find love, yearning and creativity there. Which brings us rather unexpectedly to dressage.

Dujardin Charlotte, GBR, Valegro Olympic Games Rio 2016

Dujardin Charlotte, GBR, Valegro
Olympic Games Rio 2016

Think of the conscious mind as a dressage rider, rational, connected, concerned with the everyday; the conscious mind gets you to work and pays your taxes. The unconscious mind is the horse; big, unruly and wild, the place of dreams and desires. When the two work together in harmony the results can be spine-tingling.

What happens when we are in the zone?
Neuroscientist, Lewis Hou conducted tests using an MRI scanner on jazz musicians. He compared his differing results when the musicians were playing music from composed pieces, and when they improvised. During the improvised sections, the dorsolateral, prefontal cortex (situated near the temple) was temporarily disabled. This part of the brain is responsible for many cognitive tasks such as planning but also social inhibition. It develops very slowly during adolescence, which is why adults don’t throw screaming tantrums in the cereal aisle in Tesco’s. It’s only in later life when we introduce the rational, critical faculty that we start to distance ourselves from that free-thinking, uninhibited child. While we can happily kiss goodbye to the tantrums, we need to hang onto that creative, uninhibited urge which drives children to paint, draw and write without fear of failure.

Cutting off Teddy Bear’s head
When I was an art student at Goldsmiths University, in my late teens and early twenties, it was easy for me to access my unconscious. I was in a safe, structured environment in which eccentricity and creativity were actively encouraged. When I bought a giant teddy bear, cut off its and head and stuck a piece of mirror shard in its neck, I realised I had a lot of suppressed emotion (bucking bronco unconscious) to deal with. But this emotion was a HUGE source of creativity, resulting in 12 months of output and my final degree show (pictured above). Furred, anthropomorphic furniture displayed in a pastel mint-coloured room allowed visitors to step inside my subconscious world. Beyond the anger, I discovered joy and energy, family and friends left my show feeling uplifted and inspired. This early training in accessing the unconscious has stood me in good stead for all later creative projects. I have rarely suffered from writer’s block. I have had periods of not wanting to write, when there was too much upheaval in my life, but that’s a different story.


Keep the channel open
The characters in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde came to the author in a dream. Mr Hyde is the living embodiment of unconscious impulses which the decent Dr Jekyll could not possibly express. Kubla Khan, Jane Eyre, The Shining, The Twilight Series, Stuart Little and Frankenstein were all dream-inspired. Published stream of consciousness writing such as Joyce’s Ulysses or McBride’s, A Girl is a half-formed Thing, are not the only way to write from the unconscious. I believe there are other ways to ‘harness’ the unconscious during writing. Usually a good writing day for me, starts with recording my dreams. My dreams, like most people’s, are often nonsensical, so I rarely use the subject matter but recording them opens the channel between conscious and unconscious minds.
-----------------rodeobillSo are you on friendly terms with your unconscious and does it help you develop characters and plots? Or is it an unwieldy bucking bronco, best avoided in case it throws you off? Perhaps you have some tips to share for getting into the zone. Writing during the month of November for Nanowrimo/switching off your internet connection/retreating to the garden shed? I’d love to hear your ideas.

With thanks to author, Meg Rosoff – Artsnight Review


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Day trip to Kinderdijk and Dordrecht

Planning a holiday requires decision making; where, how, why, what, who with and no small matter, how much? So it’s really lovely to discover a place in your own country, that is nearby, and can give you an enjoyable day trip or even a few days out. So, first drive to the village of Kinderdijk, have coffee and hire bikes at Hop on aforesaid bikes and cycle along UNESCO World Heritage Site, Kinderdijk.

Few Facts

Kinderdijk is a village in the Netherlands, in the province South Holland, about 15 km east of Rotterdam. Kinderdijk is situated in a polder in the Alblasserwaard at the confluence of the Lek and Noord rivers. To drain the polder, a system of 19 windmills was built around 1740. This group of mills is the largest concentration of old windmills in the Netherlands. The windmills of Kinderdijk are one of the best-known and most beautiful Dutch tourist sites.

The Flood of 1421

The name Kinderdijk is Dutch for ‘Child’s Dyke’. In 1421, during the Saint Elizabeth flood of 1421, the Grote Hollandse Waard flooded, but the Alblasserwaard polder stayed dry. People say that when the terrible storm had subsided, a man went on to the dyke to see if anyone or anything could be saved. In the distance, he saw a wooden cradle floating on the water. As it came nearer, it appeared to rock from side to side. A cat was balancing on top of the cradle, stopping it capsizing by jumping back and forth on the cradle’s hood. Eventually the cradle came close enough to the dyke for a bystander to pick it up. The baby was quietly sleeping inside, nice and dry. The cat had kept the cradle balanced and afloat. This story gave birth to the folktale and legend and name, Kinderdijk.

Speed over the Water

After taking in the windmills hop on a Waterbus which leaves from the road at the end of the windmill route, and in about 15 minutes you will find yourself in the beautiful city of Dordrecht. After disembarking, rather like Mary in the Secret Garden, stumble across a walled garden and discover the culinary and horticultural delights of Villa Augustus. A water tower converted into a boutique hotel. The restaurant, in a separate building, serves organic produce from its large and impressive garden. I’m planning to go back for a short stay this summer but it’s easy to do Kinderdijk and Dordrecht in a day trip from Amsterdam. Your OV chipkaart works on the waterbus, service 202 (summer months only) otherwise it’s around 4 euros each way. Alternatively, you could cycle to Dordrecht from Kinderdijk; suggestions for cycle routes on Kinderdijk website.

Oh, and don’t miss the little Fergie, TE-20 in the garden at Villa Augustus. I used to drive this model when haymaking back in the day…

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The Bookworm that Turned into a Starfish!

Writers are often introverts, happy in our own company and communing with imaginary characters. You can find us sitting at our computers, engrossed in a book, making notes, lost in thought. These introverted activities often go hand-in-hand with a hunched-over, low-power pose as we forget our physicality.


But then, because we also exist in the real world, horror of horrors, comes the moment when we have to talk about our work; perhaps at a reading, pitching to an agent or networking at a conference or festival.

Fake it till you make it
Amy Cuddy, author of Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges, had a glittering academic career ahead of her, until a car crash caused brain damage which meant a significant drop in her IQ level. She was told that she should choose another career path, one that didn’t involve an Ivy League University. But Amy was not a quitter, she persevered and worked hard until she overcame her disadvantages and became a Harvard Professor. On the road to recovery she became interested in body language and how it affects us. We probably all know that body language affects how others perceive us, but Cuddy discovered that the body poses we adopt strongly affect how we feel about ourselves.


This victory starfish pose is so innate that even congenitally blind people do it when winning an event.


Laboratory studies showed that adopting an expansive and open high-power pose, for as little as two minutes, raises testosterone and lowers cortisol levels.
Testosterone boosts confidence and cortisol makes us feel stressed and anxious. Unsurprisingly, in the experiment, people who adopted the high-power poses beforehand did significantly better when faced with stressful situations. When Cuddy published her findings the media were all over it, and of course misinterpreted the message. Those power poses need to be adopted somewhere in private, before the important meeting, interview or in our case the performance, reading or workshop.

The Proof of the Pudding…
I have been using this technique now since the end of 2014 for myself and for my students and it works. In my business English groups, if we have an afternoon of presentations then we all adopt a power pose for two minutes beforehand. It’s amazing to see the effect, particularly on female students. Because if you were wondering, yes, women do more often make themselves small and are less likely to adopt a power pose; so this message is especially pertinent for women.


Online Personas
Cuddy also states that adopting a tall avatar, and/or using emoticons skilfully, can help you do better in an online negotiation. I tried this out on a Futurelearn course I was doing at the time. Hitherto, my avatar was a cute but small dog and I got very few replies to my comments. I changed my avatar to Lady Mary (from Downton Abbey) riding side-saddle on a very high horse. The course was about English literature in country houses so the avatar was also apposite. The effect was immediate and I started to get multiple replies to my posts and quite a few from course mentors, which had never happened before.

Even though it may feel silly, this expansive and open body language that equates with power is hard-wired in our primate past. Standing like a starfish for just two minutes could significantly help the success of your next performance. Why not find a private space and give it a go before your next pitch, conference, or any other public appearance. I’d love to hear how you get on.

No starfish were harmed during the writing of this blog.

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