SIX 4 GOOD Opening 

Christmas came early yesterday when I got the chance to check out the new SIX 4 GOOD store, located on the upper level of CastleCourt Shopping Centre, Belfast. Whilst this may just look like a fabulous accessories store on the surface, this is a charity shop with a real difference. 

The SIX 4 GOOD store is stocked to bursting with an excellent selection of jewellery, hair accessories, hats, bags, scarves, purses and more, that has been generously donated by European brand SIX, free of charge, so that profits from all sales go directly to Oxfam Ireland to support the charity’s work worldwide. How amazing is that?! 

The SIX 4 GOOD store in Belfast is the first of its kind in Northern Ireland and is part of an ongoing corporate partnership with SIX, a brand of the Beeline fashion group, one of Europe’s leading suppliers of jewellery and accessories, and Oxfam Ireland. The result is spectacular. The bright, spacious interior, combined with fabulous, high quality products at a very affordable price (SIX 4 GOOD knock approx a third off the recommended retail price) make this a destination shop for those wanting to purchase something special for themselves or as a gift for a loved one. And for those struggling to find stocking fillers or Secret Santa presents, you are sure to find something perfect in store. During my visit I picked up some fabulous, on trend, gifts for Christmas and of course a little treat for myself, a chunky knit snood whose purchase could not have been timed any better after today’s snow fest! 

If you are planning on getting into the Christmas spirit in Belfast city centre, I urge you to check out SIX 4 GOOD for yourself. This unique store will not only have accessories to make you look good, but the profits raised from your purchases will help those in need through Oxfam Ireland. I don’t think there is any better excuse to start spending this festive season – I already have a wish list for my return visit, which trust me, will be very soon! 

Posted: 8/12/2017

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Aurora Dance Studios’ 1st Birthday 

What do you get when you combine dancing, pizza and processco? Aurora Dance Studios’ 1st Birthday party! Tucked in beside Boots on Fountain Street, Belfast, this studio has become a hotspot for dance enthusiasts of all capabilities and I was excited to check it out for myself during its recent celebrations. 

Kellie Burch getting some dancing tips from Aurora Dance Studios’ founder Erin Lyle

On arrival I was greeted by Aurora Dance Studios founder Erin Lyle. Whilst petite in size she is big in passion and her enthusiasm for dance and fitness is contagious. After discussing what makes her studio unique: flexible and diverse classes to suit all schedules and budgets, she pointed me in the direction of some tasty treats to mark the special occasion. With Processco and cocktails mixed to perfection by The Sagart (who you can find on Chapel Lane) and pizza perfection by Pizza Boutique (located on Castle Street), it was the absolute best way to discover some fab local businesses in the area. 

Once we were fed and watered it was time to get a taster of what is on offer at Aurora with a short session of Burlexercise. Combining Burlesque inspired dance elements with cardio and weights, this is a super fun way to up your fitness levels and to tone up. Erin is a very professional but approachable instructor; she clearly knows what she’s doing but you are made to feel very comfortable even if you don’t (take it from me who tripped over myself before turning in the wrong direction on several occasions). As well as Burlexercise, Aurora also offers Rebounding (exercising combined with trampolines),  Latin Fitness, Dance Fitness, Yoga, Ballet Fitness, Boxing, to name a few – there really something to get people of all capabilities moving. In today’s busy world it is often difficult to commit to a class and so as well as memberships, Aurora also operates a drop in policy, not to mention the fabulous 30 minute lunch time sessions, meaning it’s no longer impossible to squeeze exercise classes in to even the most hectic schedules.

Now I’ve seen what Aurora has to offer, I will definitely be getting my dancing shoes on again in the near future. And with the Christmas party season in full swing, what better way to work off those excess mince pies and festive bubbles than with a fun-filled danceathon.

Happy birthday Aurora, here’s to many more!
Posted: 22/11/2017

Joe Hill: In Conversation 

Joe Hill reading an excerpt from Strange Weather

Every once in a while, you stumble across a writer whose works resonate with you. Before you know it you are buying everything you can with their name on it so that you can immerse yourself in the worlds they’ve create for as long as possible. That is how I felt when I first read Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill. The book tells the story of aging rock legend Judas Coyne who has an eccentric hobby: buying oddities of the macabre variety. With a cannibal’s cookbook and a used hangman’s noose in his possession, he jumps at the chance to procure a ghost. Delivered to his door in a heart-shaped box, Judas soon begins to regret the latest addition to his ghastly collection. Heart-Shaped Box was a heart-stopping, refreshing, unique and vividly imaginative debut novel, and once I had finished it I was completely hooked on Hill.

Since my first encounter, I have delved time and again into the worlds crafted by Joe Hill and I’ve loved every trip, so I was beyond excited to hear that he was coming to Belfast. Organised by No Alibis bookstore, the event, which was hosted at the Ulster Museum, saw Joe Hill read an excerpt from his new book, Strange Weather, which is comprised of four short novels; ‘Rain’, ‘Loaded’, ‘Snapshot, 1988’ and ‘Aloft’. Joe then joined Matthew Craig in conversation where they discussed his writings, from his novels to his Locke & Key comic book series, hus influences as well as his views on social media, how real world events effect his works and the process of transforming his writings for the small screen. 

Whilst I love every event No Alibis organises, this was a very special night. Joe Hill is fascinating, astute, engaging and so, so funny; laughter regularly rippled throughout the audience and whilst he said on the night that he has to remember not everyone finds things funny that he does, I think when it comes to his humour, Belfast is definitely on the same page. He’s also incredibly generous with his time, he happily answered oodles of audience questions (awarding the best three with Strange Weather umbrellas), as well as taking the time to chat to guests as he signed and dedicated their books and posed for photographs. 

Keith Burch, Joe Hill and Kellie Burch at the Ulster Museum as part of the Strange Weather book tour.

In his own words, Joe Hill is a reader before a writer, and I think that’s what makes him one of our generation’s finest storytellers. With a distinct literary voice and an uncanny ability to paint remarkable pictures with his words, he has an exceptional talent to allow readers to totally lose themselves in the memorable narratives he creates. So, if you don’t hear from me for a few days, I will be adrift amongst the clouds of Hill’s making. 


Strange Weather is out now. For the latest No Alibis events visit: www.noalibis.com

Posted: 12/11/2017

Poppies: Weeping Window 

The Ulster Museum, which is nestled beside Botanic Gardens and boasts a stunning and unique architecture, is one of my favourite spots in Belfast. From the wonderful exhibitions it houses, including collections of art, history and natural science, to the special one off events it hosts, from science festivals to book launches, everytime I visit I discover something new. 

Over the weekend, after much anticipation, I got to attend the latest, and possibly one of the most iconic exhibitions to visit Ulster Museum – Poppies: Weeping Window. Brought to Belfast by National Museums Northern Ireland and the Belfast International Arts Festival, Weeping Window is one of two sculptures by artist Paul Cummins and designer Tom Piper marking the centenary of the outbreak of war. This beautiful sculpture comprises several thousand handmade ceramic poppies cascading from a high window to the ground below; the final result is simply stunning. 

Weeping Window, which was originally part of the Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red installation housed at HM Tower of London in 2014, will be on display at Ulster Museum until 3 December; if you haven’t seen it yet, I can’t recommend it enough. 

Posted: 8/11/2017

NOIRELAND COMES TO TOWN

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Since I first uncovered crime writing, I instantly fell in love with this adrenaline pumping genre; whether it is a police procedural novel, a heart stopping thriller or, dare I say it, a novel written from the perpetrator’s point of view, I will never tire of delving into the murky depths of this fascinating and hugely engrossing style of literature. Needless to say, I was thrilled when I heard about NOIRELAND, a three-day crime fiction festival which was recently held at the Europa Hotel, Belfast, to celebrate and showcase the amazing talent emerging from Ireland as well as to explore crime writing from across the world, and looking at the impact Ireland has had on the genre.

The Festival, in addition to a series of talks from authors such as Benjamin Black, Adrian McKinty, Stuart Neville, Arne Dahl and Sophie Hannah, to name but a mere few, also offered workshops for budding crime writers. Unfortunately I was unable to take advantage of the ‘Weekend Rover Pass’, which gave access to all the talks taking place over the weekend, however I was lucky enough to attend three fabulous events: Line of Duty – In the Spotlight, Robert Crais In Conversation, and Playing in the Dark – Aidan Gillen Talks Crime With Brian Gilloway.

Since series one, I have been a dedicated fan of Line of Duty. As the series has progressed and found its rhythm, it really has become addictive viewing. It is one of the few shows that incites so called ‘water cooler conversations’ in an age of streaming and boxset binging and so I was delighted to have the opportunity to listen to creator Jed Mercurio, actor Adrian Dunbar, who plays Superintendent Ted Hastings, and the show’s producer Stephen Wright, discuss its roots, the secrecy surrounding the fate of even the most regular characters, why Northern Ireland is the perfect location for filming as well as how it has become one of the greatest crime series on the small screen.

Of the three events I attended, I have to admit Robert Crais is the speaker I knew least about. However, after a talk that was humorous, insightful, inspiring and completely engaging, I have added his list of novels to my ‘need to read’ list. As well as discussing his time writing for such iconic shows as Miami Vice, Hill Street Blues and my own personal childhood favourite, Cagney & Lacey, he also discussed his transition to crime novelist and how he created the dynamic (and fabulously named) duo: Elvis Cole and Joe Pike. Summed up in a nutshell, he stated: “All writers are cannibals; they chew up their lives and use it to create their characters.” Concise, insightful and definitely my favourite line from the festival.

Aidan Gillen is a face most people will recognise, whether it is as Stuart Jones in Queer as Folk, Councilman Thomas ‘Tommy’ Carcetti in The Wire, John Boy Power in Love/Hate, Charles J Haughey in Charlie or Petyr ‘Littlefinger’ Baelish in Game of Thrones, to name a few. In discussion with Brian Gilloway, Gillen touched on how his career in acting started, how an actor demands a certain level of attention but also how his early success left him overwhelmed by the spotlight, how he has managed to carve a career playing unique and differing characters as well the differences when portraying a fictional character versus a real person. Witty, self deprecating and the face of many iconic characters in the crime genre, Gillen in conversation was definitely the perfect way to conclude a fabulous festival.

NOIRELAND was the brainchild of No Alibis’ proprietor David Torrans, and with the promise it will return, I already can’t wait to see how he could possibly top this year’s line up. However, if any one can do it, David and the NOIRELAND team can. But to keep my literary cravings satiated until then, I have just secured tickets for a fantastic No Alibis’ event, to listen to the incredible storyteller that is Joe Hill, who will be at the Ulster Museum on 10 November.

For more information, visit: http://noalibis.com

Bottomless Brunch 

Bottomless Brunch 

My sister and I are big fans of afternoon tea (as am sure regular readers could guess)  however for her birthday I decided to shake thinks up and book us in to try the Bottomless Brunch on offer at Horatio Todd’s.

So what is Bottomless Brunch? Arriving in Horatio Todd’s in July of this year, it pairs bubbles and brunch for a winning combination. You simply pick an item from the Brunch menu, such as Eggs Royale, French Toast, or our choice, the Horatio’s fry, and wash it down with unlimited amounts of prosecco, Mimosas or Bloody Marys. There is a maximum of two hours per sitting; the staff keep track of how long you’ve been there with stop clocks on each table which are activated once your first drink hits the table. Once the alarm goes off you are offered a final tipple to drink at your leisure before calling it a day. 

After experiencing my first Bottomless Brunch, I have to say afternoon tea has a serious rival for my affections. The food was delicious; the fry was the perfect accompaniment to an afternoon of bubbles. As we both have a bit of a sweet tooth, we also ordered desserts: a divine chocolate Guinness brownie and a wonderful raspberry and white chocolate semi freddo. I loved the novelty of the stop clock on the table and the option to sample all three of the tipples on offer (though I have to say after trying it, a Bloody Mary is not for me). In my opinion,  what really made this experience exceptional was the fantastic service we received. Every member of staff was helpful and super professional, especially our waitress, Holly, who an absolute delight. She was efficient, bubbly, upbeat and injected so much fun into the afternoon. She constantly checked up on us throughout our two hour period and was quick to offer us a new drink once our glasses were getting empty. As a result we spent the day feeling like VIPs and I can honestly say we both came away from Horatio Todd’s with big smiles on our faces as, from start to finish, we had such an enjoyable and memorable experience. 

Bottomless Brunch runs every Saturday (from 11am – 2pm) at Horatio Todd’s and is priced at £27.50 per person. Booking is recommended. For more information: http://www.horatiotodds.com/bottomless-brunch/

Posted: 23/10/2017

Holiday Reads

I was on holiday at the start of the month and as an avid bookworm, for me no suitcase is sufficiently packed without the presence of several books (hard copies for me as I am still resisting the call of a Kindle). These are my top four reads that kept me fully engaged whilst I relaxed on the beach and by the pool.

1: A TIME TO SPEAK – HELEN LEWIS
Synopsis: A remarkable story of courage and endurance during the Holocaust. Helen Lewis, a young student of dance in Prague at the outbreak of World War II, was herded, like Madeleine Albright, into the Terezin ghetto, then deported to Auschwitz in 1942. Separated from her family, she struggled to live amidst the carnage of Hitler’s Final Solution. How she did so, and what she did in order to survive, is a gripping story, told with wit, candor, and controlled anger.

What I thought: World War II is a period in history that has always fascinated me; at its heart, this War highlighted the complexities of human nature. So many years later, it still baffles me how so many ordinary and sensible people could be blindly swept up in a movement that saw them turn on former friends and neighbours and willingly herd them to ghettos and concentration camps from which it was unlikely they would return. Whilst A Time To Speak does mine the depths of depravity a human can inflict on another, what makes it such a compelling read is how strong and brave people like Helen Lewis were, who refused to give up or give in. It also highlights that the War was not simply a case of good versus bad; for every bitter betrayal there are uplifting instances of kindness, from brave neighbours who put themselves in danger to try and protect Lewis to the few guards in the camps who showed mercy to their prisoners rather than tormenting them, such as the kind officer who went out of his way to discreetly feed the starving prisoners of war in the concentration camp. This is a remarkable story that needs to be read and remembered; not only does it teach a valuable history lesson but also offers an invaluable insight into how to be a better human.

 

2. FINAL GIRLS – RILEY SAGER
Synopsis: The media calls them the Final Girls – Quincy, Sam, Lisa – the infamous group that no one wants to be part of. The sole survivors of three separate killing sprees, they are linked by their shared trauma. But when Lisa dies in mysterious circumstances and Sam shows up unannounced on her doorstep, Quincy must admit that she doesn’t really know anything about the other Final Girls. Can she trust them? Or can there ever only be one Final Girl?

What I thought: Final Girls is a gripping and taut thriller that had me hooked from the get go. I loved the fact that Quincy is an unreliable narrator; whilst she is famous for the tragedy she survived, no one really knows what happened that night in the woods when all Quincy’s friends were butchered but she survived, including Quincy. With a bad case of amnesia, Quincy refuses to embrace the title Final Girl, instead opting to focus on her career and her quest to be normal. However, when Sam turns up on her doorstep after the death of Lisa, Quincy is forced to look at who she is really and confront the secrets lurking beneath the surface. As the layers from her past start to peel away, the reader takes the journey of self-discovery with Quincy. This is a superbly crafted thriller that taunts and teases and had me frantically turning the pages until I found out how it finished.

 

3. HERE AND GONE – HAYLEN BECK
Synopsis: Audra has finally left her abusive husband. She’s taken the family car and her young children, Sean and Louise, are buckled up in the back. This is their chance for a fresh start. Audra keeps to the country roads to avoid attention. She’s looking for a safe place to stay for the night when she spots something in her rear-view mirror. A police car is following her and the lights are flickering. Blue and red. As Audra pulls over she is intensely aware of how isolated they are. Her perfect escape is about to turn into a nightmare beyond her imagining. . .

What I thought: Haylen Beck AKA Stuart Neville is one of my favourite thriller writers. Whilst this is his debut novel under the pseudonym Haylen Beck, I had high hopes for this novel before I even started it. With the change of name comes a totally different direction. Switching the Northern Irish setting synonymous with the writing of Neville, to that of a small town in America, this standalone thriller allows Neville, as Beck, the opportunity to explore his love of American crime fiction – and the result is phenomenal. From the opening, this book chilled me to the core. Beck is more than adept at ratcheting up the tension throughout the book, to the point I was dreading how it might end but I couldn’t stop reading. Audra and her children, Sean in particular, are fabulously constructed characters that are impossible not to care for. As well as solid characters, Beck’s strength lies in making everyday scenarios seem sinister by showing how vulnerable we really are, making us question who can really be trusted and showing the lengths we will go for to protect our loved ones. This is an absorbing, adrenaline-fuelled tale that gripped me from start to finish.

 

4. THE ESCAPE – CL TAYLOR
Synopsis: When a stranger asks Jo Blackmore for a lift she says yes, then swiftly wishes she hadn’t. The stranger knows Jo’s name, she knows her husband Max and she’s got a glove belonging to Jo’s two year old daughter Elise. What begins with a subtle threat swiftly turns into a nightmare as the police, social services and even Jo’s own husband turn against her. No one believes that Elise is in danger. But Jo knows there’s only one way to keep her child safe – RUN.

What I thought: CL Taylor is the queen of the slow but fierce burning thriller, and this is no exception. With a protagonist that suffers from agoraphobia, Jo’s reaction to the initial threat posed against her family is to construct metaphorical wall after wall to keep them safe. CL Taylor’s exceptional pacing means that the book feels more and more claustrophobic. However, as the threat gets closer, Jo’s need to protect her daughter is that fierce that she finds herself doing the impossible in a bid to keep her daughter safe. CL Taylor adds twists and turns in all the right places so that it was impossible to predict how the book would end, a major plus for me. Combining suspense with heart and soul, thrills with an examination of the love a parent has for a child, this is one book that will affect you on a totally different level.

Posted:17/10/2017