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Pyritic Ammonites and Dino-Poo

Pyritic ammonites – I found the first one by accident. We were at Charmouth on the Jurassic Coast. We’d just had lunch at the Heritage Centre Café and crossed the bridge heading up the beach toward Golden Cap. The mountain of mud rose up above us on our left and the sea on our right. Raymond, in his goggles, with hammer in hand was ready to find the pterodactyl we were sure we’d find.

Instead, I found a tiny pyritic ammonite. At first I thought someone had lost a charm off an earring or a bracelet. The ammonite was shiny and metallic, but it was a fossil, no bigger than a five pence piece, and perfectly formed. Pyritic ammonites, Raymond told me, were formed when the shells of the ammonites were gradually replaced in the fossilization process with iron pyrite.

A very helpful gentleman walking his dog on the beech told us that we needed to look for

the black places in the sand. That’s where the mud had washed down with the last tide or last night’s rain. Raymond put the hammer away, took off the goggles and the ammonite hunt was on.Lesson number one: Look for the black wash-outs in the sand. That’s where the mud has washed out from the Jurassic mud mountain.

Lesson number two: Look for the dino-poo. Okay, it’s probably really ichthyo-poo, but you get the picture. We discovered that once we found the mud wash-outs, then the best places to look for the pyritic ammonites were the places where we found coprolites. Yep, that’s right, fossilized poo – which was also pyritic.

Why on earth am I telling you about dino-poo, you may wonder. Well because of the way the pieces fit together. You know, the pieces of any puzzle, what has to happen in order to see the whole picture. First we looked for the dark spots in the sand, then we looked for the fossilized poo. Then we found those exquisite, pendant perfect pyritic ammonites.

Somehow our eyes got used to finding the mud then the poo then pulling back just enough to see the delicate curved edges sparkling in the sand. It was sort of like playing the slot machines in Vegas, just one win could keep you going for ages. Just one little ammonite could totally focus our attention for however long it took until we found the next one lying round and perfect and bright amid the coprolites. And then we were off to look for the next one until the tide came in and we had to retreat, always shaking our heads, always thinking about all those loveley ammonites washing out to sea.

They were all tiny – every pyritic ammonite we found. A low-tide beach combing would net us less than a palm full and yet they were exquisite, perfectly formed, looking like they’d come from a jewelry store rather than just washed out of the mud with the fossilized poo.

I can’t stop thinking about it, treasure in strange places. Not just treasure, but ancient treasure, and we carried them back to our cottage in the palm of our hand, feeling the weight of them pressed like coins in a child’s clenched fist. Our week in Lyme Regis was amazing. There were so many good things; laughter and friend and writing and fish pie and good ale in local pubs, but it’s the pyritic ammonites I’ll remember most, and the delightful treasure hunt of finding them.


Mud Mountains and Jurassic Treasures

It’s a mountain of mud, Black Ven, constantly flowing and collapsing and being washed into the sea. It’s the largest mud slide in Europe. On one end, at a place called Church Cliffs, Mary Anning found her famous ichthyosaur fossil in 1811. It’s impossible to stand on the beach looking up at its towering black mass and not be a little bit weak-kneed.

Black Ven far left

The cool thing about Black Ven is that it’s not JUST a mountain of mud. Black Ven is a mountain of prehistoric mud, a mountain of mud filled with fossils. Raymond and I walk along the beach with the other fossil hunters beneath this intimidating wall of mud hoping we’ll get lucky and find something positively Jurassic.

Bright yellow signs warn fossil hunters to keep off the unstable mud cliffs, and even from a safe distance, occasionally we can feel the mud shifting beneath the sand and rock. Just a reminder that this is a landscape in flux.

We’re on holiday in Lyme Regis. We have our official goggles to protect our eyes from flying rock fragments, and we have our official hammers and chisels to create said flying fragments in search of the surprise in the middle. I keep my focus on the litter and debris under my feet, not just looking for fossilised treasure, but also to keep from falling on my butt.

Raymond’s beautiful Crinoid

The best find of the day is an exquisitely detailed crinoid Raymond finds while standing a little bit closer to the threatening mud mountain that I’m particularly comfortable with. But then after he finds it, I’m willing to risk a closer walk. A bloke from Brazil is there with his wife. He

The day’s treasures

points us to a right smorgasbord of belemnites closer. It’s like picking up small bits of pointed rock bullets, and the more we pick up, the more we want to pick up – even while we’re wondering what we’re going to do with a pocketful of belemnite bits.

A lot of the bigger rocks, the boulders too big to stick in our pockets and bring home are covered in trace fossils of

Ammonite in a boulder. Not Titanitus giganteus, but still very impressive.

ammonites. We take snapshots to remember how amazing they are, and we stand for a long time admiring their beauty and their size. While we eat our sandwiches looking out to the changeable sea, Raymond reads to me from the fossil book that some ammonites got to be two meters across. I’m stunned. He reads the name from the book –Titanites giganteus, which we both agree is a good name. Most died out before the Cretaceous, he adds.

As the tide begins to come in, we work our way back toward Lyme Regis and end up in the Pilot Boat Pub for a pint and some chips – our reward for the successes of the day. It’s supposed to rain tomorrow, and we’re told the worse the weather the more fossils wash out of Black Ven.

Now back home in our cottage, as we look over our stash and sip coffee, we talk about

Ammonite in boulder

what a perfect day it’s been, eagerly looking at other fossil hunters’ treasures and sharing our own, sifting through the rock that’s been washed from Black Ven by the sea and the rains, and experiencing the rush of finding bits of the ancient past before they wash out to sea and are lost forever. It was a good day. It’s supposed to rain tonight. Who knows what treasures will wash free from the prehistoric mud? Someday the whole mountain will wash into the sea, along with all of its secrets of the past. But as for today, we took home a few of those fabulously ancient secrets tucked away in the pockets of our walking trousers.

Some experiences have nothing to do with writing, and everything to do with widening and deepening my inner world so that I have something to write about. Finding Jurassic treasures that Black Ven has given up to the sea is one of those experiences.


Delores Deluxe Talks Body Confidence the Burlesque Way

One of the huge advantages of living so close to London is that I get the chance to rub shoulders with some of London’s most fascinating, most amazing people, and one of those people is the totally delicious Delores Deluxe.

Delores is an established performer, producer and promoter on the London burlesque and cabaret scene. She is a founder and leader of London’s longest running troupe,  The Kitten Club Burlesque Cabaret which have been performing around London for 7 years.

Delores also manages all the entertainments for Volupte, one of London’s premiere venues.

Having a 10 year background in classical acting and musical theatre, she was delighted to stumble into the emerging burlesque scene in London and to put her skills to an exciting new use. Delores has an all-star troupe of Kittens, all very successful in their own rights within the industry. She has led the troupe to many successes and glamorous accolades including two West End Shows, residencies at Volupte and Madame JoJo’s, Performances at Cafe de Paris, Claridges and Bush Hall and also regular musings on the airwaves of BBC London.

She takes her role of making the world a more glamorous and stylish place very seriously, campaigning for several global, worthy causes such as The Anti-Training Shoe Society, Unsightly Fleece and Hoody Awareness, Grey Underwear Anonymous and the recently formed Lipstick Association, ‘Keeping it Red’.

Delores is here today to tell us a little bit about something that effects us all, Body Confidence

KD: Welcome back to A Hopeful Romantic, Delores. It’s always a pleasure to have you here. Could you tell us what inspired you to begin a course on Body Confidence.

Delores: I have been working in burlesque for the last 8 years and started teaching burlesque around 3 years ago. After our shows, I was always amazed at the reaction from the women in the audience who would regularly come up and tell us, not just how much they’d enjoyed the show but also how inspiring they’d found it to see a variety of real women of different shapes and sizes onstage. They would often ask us for advice on anything from lingerie, corsetry, confidence, fashion and even their sex lives!?

When I started teaching burlesque more regularly with The House of Burlesque Academy, I found that a few ladies in the class would have real issues with their bodies and their confidence and would often ask to talk to me after the class to discuss these issues. I decided then there was probably a market for a class more tailored towards focussing on positive body image, perhaps with a burlesque twist!

KD: Men don’t seem to have the same issues with their bodies that women do, why do you think that is? Or do you think they’re just better at hiding it?

Delores: I think men, particularly younger men, have issues too, maybe they are just less open about discussing them?

KD: What do you see as the main cause for women’s over-all lack of body confidence?

Delores: I think there are many causes – I’m sure that many people have long term deep seated issues with their bodies that a couple of hours in a burlesque class won’t be able to address – I am not a psychologist! On a more general level, I do think the media, with airbrushed and enhanced images on every magazine, has set a very unrealistic ‘body ideal’ for most women

While I can understand that fashion magazines do, and have done this for years, my real hatred is for the newer celebrity magazines where we see women berated on the front cover for having lost or gained weight, wearing unflattering clothes or nipping out without make-up. This sets a really dangerous example and puts enormous pressure on all women, particularly younger girls who feel they have to look a certain way to be accepted.

KD: Do you think women’s attitudes toward their bodies are getting better or worse with all of the interconnectedness of the internet and social media?

Delores: There are definite negatives and positives to the internet – the digital age of Photoshop (or similar) means that so many images we see online are not real and while this does make the pressure and negativity widespread, it can also offer support and positivity.

I’ve had horrible things said about images of me online in the past but these days I choose not to read them!

Delores: Self-acceptance! I try to focus on the fact that we are all individual and unique and to bring in the burlesque theory that there is no ideal, it’s about being the perfect version of yourself.

KD: What do you think is most detrimental to our body confidence?

Delores: Our own judgement – we shouldn’t compare or try to be something or someone we’re not. I also think it’s absolutely vital to be aware of body shape and type and dress accordingly – looking like a million dollars in something that really suits your figure will do great things for your confidence.

KD: It seems to me that pop culture and air brush mag covers and cosmetic surgery readily available for a price take their toll on any woman’s body confidence. How can we combat that influence when we’re surrounded by it every day?

Delores: We have to be realistic and recognise it for what it is. Look around you? You can see that most women don’t look like the models on the covers of magazines and that attractiveness really is a lot more than a flawless face and perfect body.

KD: In the burlesque performances I’ve seen, I notice that there are women of all body sizes and shapes, and the confidence and sensuality all of these women exude on stage is amazing. Why, and how, does burlesque helps build body confidence?

Delores: Burlesque is a very feminine art form –  the costuming alone encourages positive body image by focussing on accentuating curves and celebrating being womanly. It also makes us look slightly differently at what is sexy,  perhaps seeing things as they were in the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s when women’s bodies weren’t under the pressure they are now and a feminine figure was something to be aspired to.

It’s also important to remember that most professional burlesque performers will have had a background in acting, singing or dance so they are trained performers with talent, skill and personality which does breed a confidence that is very attractive and seductive.

Personally having spent my previous career in acting and musical theatre, burlesque was a breath of fresh air for me, finally being celebrated for being unique and individual rather than feeling like the odd one out a lot of the time!

KD: How much does our attitude toward our bodies influence the other areas of our lives?

Delores: Very much so! I think feeling bad about any part of ourselves will be likely to have a negative impact elsewhere.

KD: What regimen would you put women on, if you could, to improve our body confidence.

Delores: I think to focus on making the most of what we have – a Gok Wan approach if you like! Celebrate, dress up, draw attention to your best attributes and get to feeling happy in your own skin.

KD: Tell us a bit about the Body Confidence classes. When are they available? Where? Who can participate? How can we sign up?

Delores: Studies show that women are up to ten times more likely to have a negative body image than men. This is unsurprising when you consider how much emphasis is placed on the ‘thin is beautiful’ message in today’s media. Celebrity magazines constantly bombard us with unflattering images of women, badly photographed, emblazoned with vicious tag lines of how they have gained or lost weight and therefore failing to live up to this ridiculous and un-natural body ideal that society deems acceptable.

We ladies of burlesque are here to help! We do not endorse any of this awfulness. Our industry is made up of women of all body types, shapes and sizes, all of them equally fabulous, sexy and successful with no sense of competition or ideal.

This workshop will look at the way we see ourselves and challenge how we feel about our bodies. We will be encouraging positive body image by creating a burlesque character that is the perfect version of ourselves – focusing on the things we do like, learning to accept the things we don’t and how we can make the most of what we have, regardless of size or shape to begin to accept ourselves as truly unique, beautiful and sexy….. with a little burlesque twist!

The classes are starting at Sh! Women’s Erotic Emporium – the first one is on the 27th September at 6.30pm

£25 (includes bubbly and cupcakes!)

Sh! Store
57 Hoxton Square London. N1 6HD

020 7613 5458 or book online:


Delores can be contacted via her PA, Miss Jillian George–Lewis

You can find Delores Here:






The Morning After

I’m never quite sure what to expect the morning after I’ve finished a major writing project. Will I wake up feeling like I just had the best sex in the history of sex, or will I wake up feeling like I tossed back too much cheap wine the night before? I hope for something pleasantly in between the two but leaning heavily toward the former.

As you might have guest, I just finished a fairly substantial project last night and sent it out into cyber space. The bon voyage to said project did, indeed, involve the quaffing of wine and the eating of good chocolate along with much channel-flipping of Olympic highlights, all of which resulted in me getting to bed a little later than usual. Hubby was just back from a successful trip to Rotterdam, so I think you get the picture.

No doubt you’re waiting with bated breath to find out just which kind of morning after I’m having. Suffice to say, I’m not hungover.

Wine, sex, chocolate and the Olympics aside, what is it about the morning after for a writer that’s such a crap shoot of extremes? I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately since there have been several mornings after in recent months. The thing about writers is that we’re constantly creating our own reality and peopling it with our own characters. Then, for the duration of anything from a short story to a novel, even to a trilogy, we literally live in that world we’ve created, spending huge amounts of quality time getting to know the characters who people it in intimate detail.

In a way, I suppose it’s like going on the best holiday ever complete with sexy encounters, fascinating people and larger than life adventures.

Then you come back home…

It’s more than that, though, it’s the letting go of something you’ve created, knowing that this is the end of an intimate encounter, that you really are saying good-bye. But on the other hand it’s also letting go of something that you’re proud of, that you’ve angsted over, sweated over and, if you’re like me, lost sleep over. It’s a happy send-off with a raised glass and some nice chocolate. But it’s never without a slight edge of fear and trepidation concerning the morning after.

The thing is, there’s a lot invested in that project by the time I’ve clicked SEND and closed down the file for good. The hours I’ve spent in the world I’ve created with those people I’ve created are substantial, and empty nest syndrome is inevitable.

I can’t count the number of times well-meaning folks have suggested to me that once I’ve finished a project I should take some time off, take a break, relax. But … Well it’s not that easy. Taking too much time to NOT write is a sure way to ‘neurotic’ myself out.

There’s always another major project waiting in the wings, and the best way I know to insure that I don’t mourn the loss too long is to get as heavily into the next project as quickly as possible.

The chocolate and wine and Olympic highlights are behind me now. It’s a brand new, sunny morning. So what will I do? Well, I have a novella to walk, or perhaps I’ll ‘garden it’ at the allotment. I have a whole new set of characters with whom to get intimate, new adventures to put them through. Best way past empty nest syndrome for a writer is to fill that nest again, as quickly as possible. Jeez! That doesn’t sound neurotic, does it???


The Joy of Writing Neurotica

I’m biting my fingernails. I don’t know if I should tell you this or not. I don’t know what you’ll think of me if I do. I’ve racked my brain for hours, and I’ve lost sleep over trying to decide if I should share my secret. But then I wonder if you already know. Some of my close friends know because I confided in them, though they might possibly have already figured it out. Most of them are okay with it. Really. At least I think so …Most of them understand and are even empathetic. At least I hope so …

Okay, I’m just going to take a deep breath and tell you! Here goes!

I’m very, very neurotic. There. I said it. It’s the truth. I’m neurotic and most writers are! No wait, that’s such a blanket statement. Please, if you’re a writer who isn’t neurotic, please don’t take it personally. I really didn’t mean to insult you or anything, and I hope you’ll forgive me and like me anyway.

My neuroses are many, but I have two biggies. The first is guilt. I feel guilty for watching three episodes of The Tudors on an evening when the Work in Progress is waiting untouched on the computer. Just because I wrote all day long doesn’t mean I shouldn’t have written a few more hours. Being a member of the international guild of neurotic writers means I always feel guilty, and if I don’t, then I feel guilty for not feeling guilty. I feel guilty for not writing enough. I feel guilty for writing too much and not keeping up with the housework. I feel guilty for needing too much sleep when I’m sure I should be writing. I feel guilty for not being able to sleep when I do go to bed. And since I can’t sleep shouldn’t I be up writing? Or cleaning house?

My other biggie is that I worry. I worry all the time. I feel guilty if I’m not worrying because surely I’ve missed something important or I’d be worrying. I worry that someone won’t like what I’ve written, and if they don’t like my baby, I worry that maybe they’re right not to like my baby and maybe my baby really is ugly and I just can’t see it. And if they don’t like my baby, maybe they don’t like me either. I worry about sales, I worry about promos. I worry about deadlines, I worry about rewrites. I worry about what will happen if I wake up in the morning and can’t think of a single word to write. I worry if my tomato plants will get blight this year, and I worry about the strange noise that comes out of our water heater periodically. My husband says I worry over just about everything. Still, I worry that I’ve missed something.

Guilt and worry. Those are the biggies. There are others. Lots of others. I’m afraid of loud noises too, and I don’t like rubber bands, but those are fairly innocuous compared to guilt and worry.

So now that you’ve heard my confession, here’s the part where when life gives me lemons I make lemonade. I write neurotica! That’s it. You heard me right. I write neurotica. It’s sort of a ‘physician heal thyself ‘tactic, really. It’s a case of me projecting all my lovely neuroses onto my characters and watching the crazy, twitchy, unbalanced fun unfold. Come on now, I can’t be the only writer who does this, am I? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not accusing anyone. Really! I believe you if you say you don’t do that. I even believe you if you say you don’t have any neuroses to project onto your characters. However, if you are neurotic and you’re not really using your neuroses on your characters at the moment, can I borrow them? I’ve got this new story in mind …

It’s true though, I can create the most realistic, multi-layered guilt complexes in my characters. And angst, oh how I can write angst! And every time one of my characters wrings her hands and walks the floor in the middle of a sleepless night. I nail it. And every time my character feels guilty for not being open and honest and carefree and at home in her own skin, boy, do I nail it. My characters are my therapy, poor things, and in some strange way they make me feel better about myself. They make me feel a little less neurotic. They exist in my head, and yet they often give me insights into my own unpristine psyche that I would otherwise miss. How do they do that? Is it only because of my projection? I feel sort of guilty for being so mean to them sometimes. But then I worry that maybe I’m just being too soft and sentimental about the whole thing.

© 2018 K D Grace
The Romance Reviews

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