From Writer to Editor–my journey

Today I’m over on WriteRightEditing.co.uk talking about my experience of being edited and how (and why) I chose to become an editor.

My review of Love Unlimited

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Love Unlimited is an intriguing anthology of short fiction with an uplifting concept at its heart. Although love is the theme, the love featured in these stories isn’t purely romantic. Where it is romantic, it’s rarely the traditional boy-meets-girl love story. There are stories about the love a parent feels for a child, ambiguous love, the rediscovery of love following loss and the way loneliness and a sense of compassion can bring about a different kind of love, amongst many others.

While not all of the stories were to my taste, and there were places where I felt the writing could have been stronger, I found the general message of the collection to be commendable. Featuring stories by eleven different authors, the anthology includes a range of writing styles. What I enjoyed most about this collection was its sheer diversity. The characters featured in the stories span cultures, generations, abilities and sexual orientations. It’s rare to see so many diverse characters in one place and this alone makes the collection worth reading.

A few of the stories which I particularly enjoyed, include:

Summer Healing by Kelly Cain: When budding law school student Hayleigh Malone returns home for the summer holidays in order to visit her ill grandfather in hospital, she’s surprised to find herself falling in love with his nurse, whose political opinions are very different from her own. Cain’s story shows how irrational love can be at times, while also showing how it can be used to bridge people of different opinions and backgrounds.

I liked that the author showed how current political movements in the States affect real people and their relationships. Hayleigh’s interest in, and involvement with, the Black Lives Matter protests was pleasing to see, as movements such as these aren’t included often enough in contemporary fiction.

In Her Space by Geralyn Corcillo: When a sixty-four year old librarian discovers a young man living under her house, she isn’t quite sure what to do. She’s always worked hard to remain unnoticed and has lived alone for most of her life. When she discovers that the man has been going through her trash and eating the fruit from the trees in her yard, she decides to help. Through opening herself up to his presence, she begins to learn to accept her own.

The story skilfully navigates the gulf between our perceptions of ourselves and the truth. Love, empathy and kindness are shown to be powerful tools to connect with others and promote healing.

The Shining Girl by Anne Hamilton: Pale-skinned and blue-eyed Caroline has survived a devastating cyclone in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India. On her flight home to London, England, she ponders her options going forward. The experience has made her view her life—and the man she loves—in a new light. But, having lost so much already, will she be able to recover that which is most important to her?

The Shining Girl won first prize in the New Asian Writing (NAW) Short Story Competition 2016, and it’s easy to see why. With beautifully written prose and deftly handled subject matter, the story explores the magic inherent in our lives and relationships. I also enjoyed her vivid descriptions of India.

You can purchase Love Unlimited  from: https://books2read.com/loveunlimited

On Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/36096719-love-unlimited

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Where She Will Shine by Sylvia Anderson

Today I’m featuring Fiona Maclean who writes under the pen name of Sylvia Anderson. Her first novel, Where She Will Shine, was self-published in April. Here’s the blurb:

Where She Will Shine is a contemporary literary work of fiction which concerns the life of a student, Mary MacDonald, in 1960s Scotland. It is a vibrant tale full of contrasts, colour and excitement. When Mary leaves the croft for the “big city” of Glasgow she meets individuals who will change her life forever. Her life is lonely and raw at the start until she meets David Cochrane, who has a life hidden from his mother, but Mary falls in love with him – her first “real love”. 

In the late sixties, the Beatles were in full swing and dance halls were popular as meeting places for young people. It was the generation of full employment and the post war “baby boomers” had a satisfying life. The characters in the book, however, battle with issues which were as topical then as they are now – coming of age, student life, parenthood, rape and homosexuality.

Fiona has written a lovely post about her inspiration for writing Where She Will Shine and, also, her characters. So, without further ado, I’ll hand over to Fiona.

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“My inspiration for my work, Where She Will Shine, came from a visit to a First World War Monument in Perth, Scotland.  The brave war heroes remembered, sacrificed their lives so that the youth of today could shine and make the world a better place.

I enjoyed my student years, for it was a world that my parents had not had the chance to experience.  I’m a ‘Baby Boomer’ and echoes of the war years were still around whilst I grew up – poor housing; austerity; rationing.  I wrote the novel for folk in a similar position, who cherished the chance to ‘shine’ and for others to see inside the emotional head of a first-year student in 1968.

Life could be tough for my eighteen-year-old protagonist, Mary, but it is never as hard as the life of Alice, the waif she befriends in Glasgow and whom she helps to move on and make her life a success.

Mary was an only child – when I think about it, my best friend when I was growing up was an only child and I did envy her having her parents all to herself – I was one of five.  She had a totally different life to mine with extremely caring parents who catered to her every need – be it the beautiful food she ate; her immaculate school uniforms and shoes (mine were hand me downs) or lovely skating dresses (we met at the local ice rink).

I have met poor teenagers like Alice in my work as an Occupational Therapist and always felt pity.  Despite Alice’s brave and gauche front, she longs to be looked after by ‘proper’ parents like Ruaridh and Mhairi.  In the end, this happens to her and she has a good life after a deprived and unsupported beginning.

I have never lived on the west coast of Scotland but have had many holidays there.  It is my favourite place in the whole of Scotland.  Breathtakingly beautiful white beaches and mountains covered with beautiful flowers, make it a place to relax and enjoy nature.  Mary belonged to such a place and it gave her, ‘an ache in her heart’ when she thought of it.  One can imagine the change in her lifestyle when she arrived in Glasgow in 1968 into a student world of riot; the end of the Vietnam War; an intolerance of everything ‘old’ and conmen and women (Jimmy and Yvonne) on every street corner. 

Where She Will Shine is my first novel. I enjoyed writing it and was greatly motivated by ‘The Writing Classes,’ which I joined when I moved to Kuala Lumpur in 2014.  My tutor, Anne Hamilton, was particularly inspiring.  This was a great experience for the other writers commented on everything one wrote and I looked forward to every Monday, for a new exercise.  Kuala Lumpur is a city of very poor and very rich, like most cities in Asia.  I communicated largely with other ex-patriot wives who had gone out there with their partners to support them.  In the sunshine, every day we would walk and talk in the KLCC Park under the Petronas Towers.  It was a magical time and amongst the ex-pat women (forty-four of them), I had understanding, tolerant friends.  I miss them!”

Many thanks for that, Fiona. It’s always delightful to hear about the success of new writers, especially fellow alumni of writingclasses. I’m looking forward to reading Where She Will Shine!

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Where She Will Shine is available as an ebook from Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Where-Will-Shine-Sylvia-Anderson-ebook/dp/B06Y98WTQ4

 

My ePublish Book – A service to help authors wanting to self-publish

Today, we have the lovely and talented Claire Morley with us to talk about her experience of self-publishing and how that led to her providing a service to help other authors become self-published. 

Welcome, Claire! 

Firstly a huge thank you to Kendra for another opportunity to post on her blog.

Over the year I was writing my debut novel, Tindog Tacloban, I daydreamed of agents fighting over the chance to represent me and raising fortunes for the charities I support in the Philippines. In my head I built refuges for children rescued from the clutches of human trafficking, with money earned from the film rights.

I’m sure I’m not alone in these hopes for my novel. Of course the reality is despite some lovely rejection letters, my book just wasn’t what agents were looking for. And so to self-publishing. Thanks to Amazon, (and other ebook retailers – Barnes and Noble, Apple, Kobo – my experience so far is only with Amazon though) this has become a very real alternative for authors. The growth of sales in electronic books has been phenomenal. We are now able to access a book with a couple of clicks of an iPad, PC, Kindle.

Having made the decision to self-publish Tindog Tacloban, I wanted to do it properly. I invested in an online course, downloaded books and researched self-publishing. I spent weeks preparing, to make sure I was going to give my self-published book the best possible chance of success.

The first thing I learned about was how to format a book and create a cover. Next were the options Amazon offer for promoting your book through their programmes, but perhaps the most important thing I learned was how to market a book. It’s all very well uploading your book to Amazon and telling your friends and family about it, of course some of them (and I can assure you not all of them) will buy a copy, but then what?

Well basically, marketing, marketing and more marketing. And these days that means social media – Facebook author pages, Twitter and continual Tweeting, LinkedIn, Pinterest. It means approaching reviewers and book bloggers, organising Virtual Book Tours, offering to write guest blogs, uploading a profile on Goodreads and any other book website and good old fashioned PR.

All of this takes time, quite a lot of time. Most new authors will have busy lives, they’re probably working or parents or both. Basically they won’t have the time necessary to dedicate to marketing their book. That’s where the idea of My ePublish Book came in. Having had the experience and learning from some of the common errors of self-publishing with my own book, I felt I might have something valuable to be able to offer new authors.

Enter my first guinea pig. Anne Hamilton had first been my tutor at writingclasses.co.uk, later becoming my mentor, proof reader and editor for Tindog Tacloban. When I told her about my self-publishing journey she asked if I would be able to help with the re-launching of her book, A Blonde Bengali Wife. Anne liked the idea of having more control over the publishing process, but had little idea of the technical aspects or the promotion. We decided it would make the ideal case study for my new website – myepublishbook.com.

We worked together on building her social media presence, finding reviewers and useful websites, creating author’s pages and generating interest around the subsequent launch. While Anne worked on, in my opinion one of the most critical aspects of self-publishing – proofing and editing – I set up a Twitter account, a Facebook author page and an Amazon account for A Blonde Bengali Wife and started the marketing aspect. I’m very pleased to say all our hard work paid off. Anne achieved bestseller status in all three of the categories she listed the book in and even better, in one of them she reached the number one spot.

The great thing with self-publishing is you have the control and I want authors to retain that. My ePublish book is not a publisher, we’re your support team. We work with the author to provide them with the service they want. Some people have no knowledge of nor interest in social media, we can do it all for you; others may already have accounts set up and be very proactive. We offer a tailor-made service, no two clients will have the same requirements. The idea is that we will work with an author for four to six weeks on marketing and formatting, after which we hand over all control back to them. All through the process we will provide regular reports on progress and at the end suggestions on how they can continue to increase awareness and hopefully sales of their book.

Traditional publishing and finding an agent is competitive in the extreme, especially for a new author. Self-publishing provides a fantastic alternative and I hope My ePublish Book will be able to help authors achieve their dream of seeing their book on sale.

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Anne Hamilton’s case study can be found at: http://www.myepublishbook.com/case-study

My ePublish Book website: http://www.myepublishbook.com/home

Claire Morley worked in IT marketing for 15 years before moving to North Cyprus 13 years ago, where she now works as wedding planner.

She wrote Tindog Tacloban after volunteering in the Philippines following the devastation wreaked by typhoon Haiyan, known locally as Yolanda, which ripped into Tacloban destroying homes and killing thousands. All proceeds from sales of the book go to help charities Claire worked with during her time there.

You can follow Claire on Twitter @clairemorley15 Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/clairemorleyauthor/

Interview with Anne Hamilton, the author of A Blonde Bengali Wife

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Today we have Anne Hamilton here with us to discuss her book, A Blonde Bengali Wife. Some of you may know Anne as the editor of Lothian Life, others as a writing tutor with writingclasses.co.uk, and yet others as an excellent editor.

 Welcome, Dr Hamilton!

Firstly, I’d just like to say a big congratulations to Anne on recently receiving her PhD in Creative Writing from the University of Glasgow! That’s a massive achievement, which I’m sure readers would love to hear more about. Could you tell us, briefly, how studying for an advanced degree has benefitted your writing practice?

Thank you very much, Kendra, and for inviting me onto your blog! The PhD has actually helped me in the most practical ways. The bulk of my thesis had to be a novel – and I’d never even attempted a novel before. Like most writers I know, I suffer from huge crises of confidence and having experienced and enthusiastic supervisors (both published writers) encouraged me to think I could do it, and that I am a good (enough) writer. Having a sounding board for ideas and being given clear deadlines was invaluable, but the most useful by-product was that I stopped procrastinating – believe me, I used to be the world’s worst procrastinator – until suddenly I had all this academic and creative work to do, as well as earning a living, and looking after my little boy.

When did you first publish A Blonde Bengali Wife and how did the book come about?

A Blonde Bengali Wife is now embarking on her second life. The original version, in hard copy and eBook, was published by LL-Publications, a Glasgow publisher, in 2010. My five year contract was up this summer, and this coincided with the publisher relocating to the USA. Since I was still selling a few copies and getting good reviews, I made the decision to self-publish this reprint.  

A Blonde Bengali Wife is a travel memoir, hopefully humorous, that tells the story of my first (of, to date, about twelve) visits to Bangladesh. In the West, this fascinating country generally only hits the news with stories of extreme poverty and the terrible floods and cyclones – with honourable mentions for the cricket – and I wanted to show that, yes, these are hugely significant issues, but there is so much more to tell. It emerged from a daily diary I kept during those first three months of 2002 when, as a volunteer with an international charity, I travelled around the country and I fell in love with it all.

You do a remarkable job of capturing the Bangladeshi people and culture. Was this difficult, seeing as you were an outsider? Or, did the experience of being an outsider make you more aware of your surroundings?

You’ve captured the essence of the whole book here, Kendra: it’s actually all about me being an outsider. I arrived in a country where I couldn’t speak the language, couldn’t properly dress myself (I was wearing the indigenous salwar kameez), struggled to eat with my right-hand whilst sitting cross-legged on the floor, and I had never previously seen a squat toilet!  It was a mutual thing; most of the people I came across in the rural villages had never seen a white, Western woman never mind one who was travelling alone. So, it was not only okay, it was expected, that we would stand and stare at each other, follow each other around, and ask endless questions through an ever-willing translator. I was always aware of my surroundings, physical and cultural, and that’s why I started to keep a diary long before I thought it would be a book – I needed to write everything down to make sense of it all.

I was particularly struck by the humour in the book, which was skilfully written and very funny. Do you find it easy to write humorously, and what advice might you give to those who would like to be funnier in their own writing?

I hope it is funny; it’s meant to be, but usually at my own expense. That said, I didn’t set out thinking I would write a humorous book, I just wrote in the way that came most naturally. I did have a lot of natural material though; everything that is described in the book actually happened and it did tend to veer from the sublime to the ridiculous. I also had the privilege of meeting some fabulous people who were real characters in their own right. In the end, all I had to do was describe everything that went on and it was endlessly entertaining – at least to me. As for advice on how to be funnier, all I can say is, don’t try too hard, you can’t force humour on people; they might ‘get you’, they might not. Write what you think is genuinely funny rather than cleverly funny!

What would you like readers to come away with, after reading your book?

If the book makes people stop and think about Bangladesh as an interesting country in its own right, instead of a place and people needing only our constant sympathy, then I think it has done what I wanted. I’d like readers to know that Cox’s Bazaar is probably the longest sea-beach in the world, that the Sunderbans is a World Heritage Site, that the Srimangal tea gardens are some of the most beautiful in the world; anything really, that they didn’t know before. And I’d really like people to understand what an unconditionally friendly welcome this insignificant, inept, mosquito-ridden, pale foreigner consistently received.

I understand that you are preparing to reprint A Blonde Bengali Wife as an ebook. Why did you choose to reprint in ebook format instead of in paperback?

Practicalities and timing. Over the past five years, eBook sales of A Blonde Bengali Wife slowly but very surely began to overtake the hard copy version (which may well be because the e-version was significantly cheaper). It seemed sensible to take notice of that. Then, the fact that I am self-publishing was important too; an eBook is technically easier to produce, and it doesn’t require printing and physical distribution. Finally, it’s the nature of the book that decided me. A Blonde Bengali Wife refers to events from 2002. I believe that it still has relevance for readers; I know that the Bangladesh I’ve written about still fundamentally exists – I go there frequently enough to see, and I still receive mail from readers who tell me so, and I think it’s a timeless ‘story’ anyway. In 2015, I would like the book to be available, to be read and enjoyed, and I believe that the eBook is the most accessible way for the largest number of people. (The original paperback version can still be purchased second-hand – and I’ll keep a stockpile of copies for anyone who doesn’t do eBooks!)

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Anne and her son Simon (back row), Allan (a fellow Bhola's Children supporter), and the children.

Anne and her son Simon (back row), Allan (a fellow Bhola’s Children supporter), and the children.

As a result of the publication of A Blonde Bengali Wife, the charity, Bhola’s Children, came into being. Can you tell us a little about the purpose of Bhola’s Children, how it started and what it’s doing at the moment?

Bhola’s Children is a home and school for children and young people with physical disabilities. It’s situated on Bhola, an island of a million people in the Bay of Bengal. Disability of any sort carries huge stigma there, and what we might consider ‘minor’ or treatable/manageable problems in the West, still cause children to be rejected and abandoned. The majority of the children are hearing or vision-impaired or have cerebral palsy, and at Bholas’ Children they can learn sign-language, have physiotherapy, learn a trade as a cook, a tailor or a carpenter. Most go on to lead independent lives. We also provide access to surgery for cleft palates and club feet, and there is a lot of awareness-raising carried out in the community. Many of the health issues are due to very young marriages and pregnancy or genetic problems arising from inter-marriage within close families, so we have programmes to discuss this, and to try and reduce the stigma of disability in general.

Chance played such a big part in it all. After I wrote A Blonde Bengali Wife, I began to approach literary agents. One of them, Dinah Wiener, was very candid, saying she wasn’t sure the book was commercial enough to sell to a mainstream publisher but she loved it, she would take a chance on it – and she was going to visit Bangladesh on foot of it! She did.  Whilst there, she met a man called Howladder Ali, who was single-handedly looking after a community of children with disabilities; when she came home, to support him, we set up what has become Bhola’s Children.

Today, nearly ten years on, Bholas’s Children is thriving.  Howladder Ali is retired but the home and school (currently approximately fifty children) is run by an excellent director and his family, and a local, dedicated committee. Dinah and I continue to be among the Trustees, and we support, fundraise, and visit when we can.

Anne, her son Simon and Howladder Ali on arrival

Anne, her son Simon and Howladder Ali on arrival

Are there ways in which readers can get involved? 

Please buy the book and encourage everyone else to do so! The royalties from A Blonde Bengali Wife have always gone directly to Bhola’s Children, as has Dinah’s agency commission.  Dinah is now retired, but all profits I make from this reprint will continue to support them. Readers can also follow the charity on www.bholaschildren.org – and anyone wishing to fundraise, donate, volunteer etc, is always very welcome.

What do you feel you gained, as a writer, through the writing of A Blonde Bengali Wife?

Through trial and error, I learned the nuts and bolts of writing a book. It was the first full-length piece of writing I had attempted and I realised I could do it – the saying ‘writing is 10% talent and 90% perseverance’ has a lot of truth in it. But whatever I gained as a writer, I gained so much more as a person; in experiencing the events of the story, in writing them down and sharing them, I’ve gained a huge extended ‘family’ that have made my life so much richer.

Once your story was down on paper, did you have to do a lot of rewriting?

Oh, yes! Since it began as a diary, the first draft was virtually that entire journal with the worst of the repetition removed. The next draft killed off the excessive self-indulgence (I hope) as I considered what I really wanted to say and what ‘message’ I was trying to achieve alongside what readers might find interesting; as much of the interest is in the day to day mundanity of life in a new culture and country, that was a challenge. In hindsight, the editing could have been better… my responsibility! I had a baby at exactly the time A Blonde Bengali Wife was in publication, and I certainly didn’t check the edits or the proof-reading to the extent I have this time. In effect, this reprint has given me the opportunity to re-edit and reformat once more, which is both a luxury and a necessity.  And on that note, I must add that I couldn’t have done this without the expert assistance of Claire Morley at My EPublish Book (www.myepublishbook.com) and Marie Campbell, Proofreader (Twitter @mariecampbell72), or without people such as yourself, Kendra, willing to let me participate in their blogs! 

Do you have any future books in the works?

My PhD required me to write a novel. It has a working title of Chasing Elena, and I’m currently revising that. It was very well received by the PhD panel, who also gave me a lot of very helpful advice about ensuring it achieves a marketable balance of commercial and literary fiction. It certainly seems that a writer’s work is never done… but I wouldn’t change any of it.

Thank you for the interview and a big congratulations on the re-publication of A Blonde Bengali Wife!  

A Blonde Bengali Wife will be released on 3rd November and is available now for pre-order from Amazon http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B016UDI86I

You can follow Anne Hamilton on Twitter at: @AnneHamilton7

Read her blog: http://anne-ablondebengaliwife.blogspot.co.uk/

Follow her on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ablondebengaliwife

And access WriteRight, her writing consultancy services at: www.annehamilton.co.uk

Kendra’s review of A Blonde Bengali Wife:

A heartfelt and humorous journey through Bangladesh

Anne takes the reader with her on her travels through Bangladesh, letting them experience each new adventure (and misadventure) alongside her. From the moment Anne lands in Bangladesh, receiving a warm welcome from a mysterious policeman who pronounces his undying love for her, it is clear that the people of Bangladesh will take centre stage. Through Anne’s experiences the reader discovers the real Bangladesh: a place of friendship, kindness and extreme poverty where the good nature and humour of the people carry them through (just). Anne is a skilful writer, who carefully weaves her story through a detailed travelogue and paints her scenes with vivid and unforgettable imagery. I would highly recommend her book to anyone who enjoys travelling and experiencing other cultures as well as to those who just like a good story well told. A testament to how much Anne cares about the people of Bangladesh is that all of the proceeds from the sale of her book go to benefit a charity called Bhola’s Children which was set up upon her return to assist orphaned and disabled children on the island of Bhola.

Writing achievements and support

Today I received something very special in the post–my own copy of The Single Feather by R.F. Hunt!

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This is certain to be a terrific, thought-provoking read. Ruth and I both took novel writing classes at writingclasses.co.uk. It was there we got to know each other, albeit virtually, and to encourage each other with our writing. It was also there that we became friends with Katrina Hart, author of soon to be published fantasy ebook, Finding Destiny, which you can read about here: http://www.pilrigpress.co.uk/books.html .

When we became friends, starting a virtual writers’ circle of sorts, we were all beginners, now three years later, we are all published or soon to be published novelists. This is due in large part to determination, persevering at our writing and editing even when it felt like it was time to give up. Speaking for myself, it was writing friendships such as I have with Ruth and Katie which helped me through the difficult times, when writing felt impossible, as though I would never get anywhere with it. Writing is hard and it’s difficult to maintain self-belief in your project through hundreds of pages, which makes having the support of other writers who will support you with your ‘crazy ideas’ all the more important.

So…hip, hip hooray and three cheers for Ruth!

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I can’t wait to read The Single Feather!

Speaking of writerly support, I would be remiss to not mention how grateful I am for the support of Marianne Wheelaghan, whose writing classes assisted me tremendously on my writing journey. Her new murder mystery novel, Killer Shoeshine, is coming out soon with Pilrig Press, Here’s a photo of her previous novels, The Blue Suitcase (historical fiction) and Food of Ghosts (the first of the DS Louisa Townsend series), both are available from Pilrig Press and both are excellent reads: http://www.pilrigpress.co.uk/books.html

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Also, Anne Hamilton assisted Ruth, Katie and I greatly both as a teacher as well as in the preparation of our manuscripts and with much needed mentoring in my case. She is the author of the intelligent, humorous and thought provoking travel book, A Blonde Bengali Wife, about her journeys in Bangladesh, which you can buy here (all profits go to the charity Bhola’s Children): http://www.ll-publications.com/nonfiction.html Here’s a photo of it’s lovely cover:

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So a big thank you to all the wonderful, inspiring and helpful writers in my life! I can’t wait to read all of your books when they come out!

Are you a writer, and if so, have you found having the support and encouragement of friends or a writers group valuable to your own writing practice? Looking back on your own writing journey, what are the milestones which stand out to you and how do you think you managed to arrive at each? I’d love to hear your thoughts so please leave a comment below.