Mandy Charlton - Photographer, Writer, Blogger

Photographer of Families, Small People and Delightful Places. Travel and Lifestyle Writer and Blogger. Lives in Newcastle, Loves the North, Often Accompanied By A Beagle Named Holly Bobbins

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Fenwick's Christmas Window 2018 Revealed *spoilers*

The 2018 Fenwick Christmas Department, The Snowman is the theme of the Christmas Windows, Mandy Charlton, photographer, writer, blogger

It's that time of year again, The Fenwick Christmas gift department is open with huge clues pointing at the theme of this years Christmas window, if you don't want to know what it is, scroll past now...

Okay, if you remained, Looby and I think it's....The Snowman, in fact we're 99% confident, why?

Well, one, we were talking to a staff member yesterday who had been told that the pop up cafe was a huge clue (it's called The Snowman cafe) and two, it's the 40th anniversary of the publication of The Snowman by Raymond Briggs and Fenwick have lots of things devoted to that special event in their new Christmas gift department which this year, is in the basement.

Looby and I wandered around the Christmas department yesterday feeling that something was amiss, we can't put our finger on it but it seemed unfinished, it's certainly bigger now that it's taken over the basement but it just didn't feel as Christmassy as in previous years when it was on the second floor.

There are wooden frames up all around the department that look like they're a shell which need things attaching to, now either they've gone for a minimalistic look (awful, please never do it again) or they're not completing it until the windows are revealed in around 3 weeks from now (too late, the game is up, you might as well just do it).

I do think Fenwick have had an issue ever since they started having a dedicated Christmas gift department as it always reveals what the windows are going to be, even when they're trying to be all secret squirrel about it.  Looby and I of course are the great detectives and judges of all things Christmas being that we are possibly Newcastle's biggest fans of Christmas.

One thing Fenwick are doing differently this year is a whole new Santa's Rooftop experience, it sounds so exciting so after checking that it would still be age appropriate for Looby and I we've booked to go on November 5th home education comes in really helpful sometimes as most of the peak dates at weekends are already sold out.  Apparently if you're in Newcastle, you can already see signs that Santa's house is being erected upon the roof.  I can't even tell you how excited we are to go up there, not only for the experience but also for the epic views of Newcastle, it's £11.50 per person but it promises to last around 45 minutes to an hour so not too bad for Looby and I although if you're a big family I guess it's not the cheapest activity especially when in previous years a visit to Santa in Fenwick has always been a free activity.

Just to say, in case you're wondering, I wasn't paid to write this, it's not collaborative and Looby and I have bought our own tickets, we're just massive Christmas fans and assessing Christmas departments really has become our self given jobs at this time of year.

In conclusion, you can bet Looby and I will attend this years window unveiling, you can bet we'll queue like 5 year olds and take photos of every window and we really hope that we did spy the Christmas department in an unfinished state, it is after all only the start of the 3rd week of October.  if it is the finished article though, well, we might just have to jump on a train to Edinburgh to see Jenners in all it's glory in just a few weeks time.


Wednesday, October 10, 2018

I am everything and I am nothing - A Post for World Mental Health Day 2018

Mandy Charlton, a post for world mental health day 2018, depression, anxiety, bipolar, photographer, writer, blogger

Today is World Mental Health Day, a day when we raise awareness and understanding of mental health and I personally believe we've made more progress in the last 10 years than ever before.  The first news article I was featured in talking about bipolar caused me to lose business but now more than ever most people I know, clients, family, friends, pretty much all of them are aware of the personal battles I continue to fight, they also know it doesn't make me a worse person in business or in my personal life.  Because I have the ability to talk about my own issues in a public forum it also helps to create an understanding that I am who I say I am and if I'm not doing so well I will let people know, that's actually part of my own self care.

Bipolar, severe anxiety, agoraphobic thoughts, social anxiety, autistic traits, that's how you could describe me and I'd own every single thing because I'm also brilliant, slightly eccentric, a business woman, a mum, a friend, an entrepreneur, I own 2 companies and one beagle, I laugh, I cry, I love, I feel, I am everything and I am nothing all at the same time.

On days when I'm on top form, I am great at making money, I am fantastic at coming up with new ideas, I can speak in public passionately without any fear, heck I can even do a spot on the radio.

On the bad days, I worry about everything, I overthink everything, I'm scared of the world, I'm terrified of people and I'm paranoid that every single person out there hates me, I dread opening emails, I can't pick up the phone and I want to hide from the world forever without ever having to think about the simplest things like cooking or getting dressed or even getting out of bed.

I favour the good days over the bad although I have no choice which is going to hit me, sometimes it's situations I can't handle, sometimes it's work stress but sometimes it's none of that, sometimes I just feel so very very lost and completely lonely and the worst thing, those are the times when I have trouble reaching out and asking for help, the crazy upside down life of mental illness is that the more poorly you become, the more you feel trapped, that's when it's hardest.

I'm lucky, on the neurosis to psychosis scale I've never tripped into anything near psychosis since 2003 and I hope I never do again because that's when it's a quagmire, that's when you feel you are trapped at the bottom of a well with no way of escape.

I write about this stuff because there are others out there who can't, there are people who still don't feel they have the strength to talk about this stuff or they feel if they do it will affect their jobs or the lives they lead and in some cases we do have a way to go in the workplace understanding the effects of mental illness.

Today, I'm okay, I'm fighting a battle at the moment but it's not affecting my work at all and when I'm not at work I get to sleep lots, I don't go out very often but on the self care scale, I'm so much better than I could be.  I'm still funny and make people laugh, I can still have deep and meaningful conversations with friends and family and spending less time going out I have reacquainted myself with my love of cooking and baking, I try to turn each negative into a positive and one day I'll win again, I know I will and if you're in a similar place, if you understand what I'm saying and you feel it too, one day you will be fine too, with help and love and treatment and understanding.  Just don't sit there in silence, reach out to a friend, a mental health professional or there's always a listening ear here with me.

And when you can, continue to burn light the brilliant, bright burning star that you are.

Monday, October 08, 2018

My Teen Did The National Citizen Service, You Should Sign Yours Up Too

NCS summer wave, national citizen service 2018

This Summer, Abigail took part in the National Citizen Service, a 4 week programme designed to make the teens of today better citizens and which helps them become better individuals.  She undertook a 4 week programme during the summer holidays which started with the first week at an outward bounds adventure type place and ended with committing to a social action.  I just want to say a big thanks to everyone who did NCS with her for granting me the usage of these photos, apparently I became a bit of a legend when they discovered I was verified on Twitter (apparently an easy way to impress the teens of today).

If you've not heard of the National Citizen Service or NCS as it's now more widely known here's the information straight from their mouths.

About NCS

NCS is a government backed programme established in 2011 to help build a more cohesive, mobile and engaged society. By bringing together young people from different backgrounds for a unique shared experience, NCS helps them to become better individuals, and in turn better citizens.

NCS is open to 16 and 17 year-olds across England and Northern Ireland. The two to four week programme, which takes place in school holidays, includes outdoor team-building exercises, a residential for participants to learn ‘life skills’, a community-based social action project and an end of programme celebration event.

To date:
  • Almost 500,000 young people have taken part
  • Twelve million hours of community action have been completed
  • For every £1 spent, NCS’  2016 summer programme delivered between £1.15 and £2.42 of benefits back to society
It costs participants just £50 or less to take part in NCS and bursaries are available on a case by case basis. Support is provided for young people with additional needs.

To find out more visit

I cannot say enough good things about NCS, Abigail loved every minute from the white knuckle activities in week one when she was staying in Yorkshire, then onto a week spent living in student accommodation and learning to be more independent and finally social action, through the Inspire Network Abigail connected up with Michelle Robson from Smart Works, a UK charity which provides women in need with interview clothes, styling advice and training to help them get the job of their dreams. Together their social action was about ending period poverty and they raised over £100 which went on a 3 month supply of much needed sanitary products to give to the charity.

When it came round to the celebration, Abigail was one of the hosts, she shared her experience in front of the whole wave, my brilliant teen had achieved so much again and all whilst waiting for her GCSE results which she also excelled in. The experience was so transformative for her, perfect for a girl who's always looking to fulfil her next goal, I know the friendships she made at NCS have remained and without a doubt the experience will stay with her always, I still can't quite believe it's only £50. This autumn during half term is your chance to sign your teen up for the autumn edition for only £25, it's 4 days away from home, 3 days learning new skills, 30 hours of social action on an issue they'll feel positive about, a time to chill out, make new friends and pick up some new skills for the future, you really should sign your teen up for the autumn NCS, I promise they will thank you for it. To sign up for only £25 for a limited time when you enter code AUTUMN25 visit

This is a collaborative post with the NCS


Monday, October 01, 2018

I'm Leaving Photography and Here's Why...

mandy Charlton photography, newcastle photographer, weddings and family portrait photography in the north east of england

last year I decided that after a career which has spanned over a decade that I was going to leave the world of professional photography, I was all set to do it and then I won 2 awards and found my love all over again.

One year on and a few things have happened including my most recent bout of depression.  After a weekend of photographing 37 sessions to try and raise some money for Mind as well as giving myself my biggest personal challenge I feel the time has now come to announce that next year will definitely be my last year of full time photography.

The world of business and indeed photography has changed so much over the last decade, some great advances have been made but the markets are now more crowded than they ever were, we have less money in general for luxuries like photography and in an ever more demanding marketplace where I've tried to adapt and fit so many times, I feel like it's reached that point where I've done everything I've set out to achieve and it's time to move on.

I have no current plan, I know that I want to be a digital nomad, I have The Inspire Network, my own company which I own 80% of and I know there's a lot of things which need to be done there.  My fear of people continues to worsen and after a couple of scary happenings which have negatively affected my mental health I know it's time to start to plan for an alternative future.

I'll always be a photographer at heart and I'll probably always take occasional jobs by request from my darling regulars who's children I've watched grow and flourish.  My accountant assures me that even if I wind up my business I can still earn a couple of thousand a year from it as a hobby. My last planned wedding is in May 2020 and even though I've had times when I've wavered over that decision, now more than ever I know it's the right decision.

I do plan to up my game with writing and blogging over the next 12 months, it's been the one constant, my blog is older than my photography business and I've had times when it's definitely showed signs it could provide an income I've just not felt I wanted to push it too excessively because I never wanted to stop loving my blog and there's always a danger than when you start to make an income from any hobby that you will lose your love of that hobby.

I'm lucky that I'll always love capturing moments and places and things, there is rarely a day when I don't take at least 1 photograph even if it is with only my iPhone, that's not a bad thing though, it is after all the truth that the best camera is the one you have with you at the time.

As I lay in bed last night, my whole body aching with hands that felt like claws from 18 hours of photography I knew I'd done some good but it didn't outweigh the overall tiredness I felt and after a night filled with nightmares and me trying to block them out and calm my soul, this morning it felt right to write this.

I've been touched by the lives of thousands of clients over the years, many who've become friends but I've always treaded a fine line between balancing my delicate mental health (trust me it's the only delicate thing about me) with running a super charged and ultra demanding career.  I'm going to be 45 years old in February next year and the next generation of photographers have come along, in their twenties and early 30's with a style which is so different to mine, they're full of energy and they're willing to work the longest weeks to make things work.  Maybe my future is to help and guide them, maybe I'll help teach the business of photography somewhere along the line, at this point I just don't know.

As I go into what will be my penultimate crazy season, autumnal mini sessions, autumn and winter weddings, a time of little rest and much productivity I'm going to give it my absolute best and try to ignore the demons that live within my head that tell me every day that I'm a fake, that I'm not good enough and that I'm an imposter in my own life. I have loved this life I've lived for a decade and I always will be thankful that me, the girl who was actually certifiably crazy, got to live her dreams, at least for a while.


Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Depression, a personal battle...

You may have noticed that I have been quiet quiet of late, I was throwing myself back into work only to be derailed again just a couple of days later.  Since it's World Mental Health day soon it seemed appropriate to share what's been going on.

Since around June of this year I have been experiencing overwhelming depression and the most awful anxiety attacks I've ever experienced, as someone who already has bipolar and is prone to agoraphobic behaviour this has been my greatest challenge of 2018.

I have run away and travelled as much as possible, I have hid away from the world on weekdays so I had the strength to go out to work at weekends.  It has been the hardest time I can remember for years but I feel I should write about it because there's something you need to know.

You see, this is the face of depressed me, both of these images I've taken in the last week, the top one just after I'd had my hair cut if you're thinking (why is her hair different colours?) and look, I'm not lying in a heap, I'm not crying all of the time, thankfully the medication I take helps with not crying all of the time.  I still laugh, I still go out, I still continue to work and parent and run multiple businesses but I am depressed and it's important that you see the real face of depression because so many of us who look quite "normal" are actually fighting battles that no one can see or understand.

I have days in the week when life is like walking through a quagmire of the thickest mud, where I am scared of every single email and phone-call, where I believe I am the most evil person on earth who's surely heading directly to hell.  That's what ill mental health is to me, it's self loathing, it's over introspection, it's forgetting even the simplest of things and feeling like you are losing your mind.

I have good self care, I force myself outdoors and enjoy walks with Looby and Holly Bobbins, I go to events which make me socialise because if I had the choice I would make a pillow fort, crawl right in and never come out but I can't do that.

I am a mum, I am an entrepreneur, a photographer, a blogger, a CEO of a global organisation, I'm challenged daily by depression but I try to remember that this does not make me a failure.  I think it's so important for CEO's an people who have a voice to speak out about mental health for those who can't or don't feel they want to.  Too many people suffer in silence and worse than that, there are way too many lives still lost because someone felt helpless or didn't feel that anyone would care or understand and that there was no other avenue, or that the world would be better off without them.  Let me tell you now, I understand, I have been there myself, I have been to the darkest of places and only my inner stubbornness has made me not want to let depression win.  I am one of the lucky ones I guess, initially 15 years ago I got help within the time before things spiralled from anxiety into psychosis, it took 2 years to see a psychiatrist and another before I had reached the top of the list for therapy and I believe that things in the NHS and mental health care fields are so much worse now than they were then.  It's something I wish I could change but without that ability I am at least doing something.

This weekend I'm shooting 40 photo shoots in one weekend, I've raised money for Mind for several years now and it's the very least I can do.  I'm worried I'm not going to make it through all 40 sessions but I have friends, my daughters and their friends who are all coming along to help, it's going to be the most full on work weekend I've ever experienced and I'm dedicating Monday to sleep and recovery.  I'm having an easier week on the lead up to it and resting as much as possible.  I hope I do make it to the end, actually I have no choice but if you're around the Tynemouth Longsands area this weekend and you see me on the beach, come say hello, come hug me or my helpers, feel free to bring me cake, bring me coffee or maybe just a few extra vitamins for it's going to be the biggest thing I've ever done!

Mandy's Photography Marathon, here I come!


Tuesday, September 11, 2018

4 hotels with amazing views you have to stay in

My love of travel which never fades very far has been massively re-enthused by Looby remarking that she wanted to stay in hotels which have great views.  I'm historically unlucky with room requests often staying in beautiful locations but having views of the bins or the carpark outside my hotel window so when she made the above request and also said she wanted to have a night in Edinburgh I looked to see what the best view I could find was and I found this...

Grassmarket, Apex hotel, view from the balcony, 4 hotels with amazing views you have to stay in, mandy charlton, photographer, writer, blogger

The view from our balcony in the Apex Grassmarket hotel Edinburgh was one of the best and most wonderful views I've ever experienced.  watching the light change over Edinburgh castle is a magical thing and it made me want to experience other great hotel room views.

Now, it's been forever since I've wanted to stay in the Hilton, Manchester Deansgate, the hotel is situated in the Beetham tower which has floor to ceiling views of Manchester, I took Abigail there to their bar on the 23rd floor once for a tiny hot chocolate and the views were insane.

We also recently struck lucky on our trip to Corfu, staying in the Potamaki Beach hotel, now I wouldn't call it a luxury hotel but it did afford us with the most amazing views over the Ionian sea, I booked a balcony room not knowing if we would get a great view so it was just case of realising how lucky we'd been.

A few years ago, I remember also going on a trip to Scotland, it was just after we'd adopted Petunia the Husky and around the time of Paul's birthday and I booked a last minute break to the Clachan Cottage hotel, right on the banks of Loch Earn in Lochearnhead.  Our family room looked directly onto the loch  and remains to be one of the most amazing views from a hotel room that I've ever experienced.

That's the thing though isn't it?  Scotland rarely disappoints with it's surrounding views from hotels because it's just such a beautiful place, I think in amongst the hotel listings you just have to be a little savvy and search for hotels with great views or hotels with balconies, after all, in the UK I would doubt that you're going to build a hotel with balconies if they're over the bins, I've also come to realise that in most cases, the higher the floor in the hotel, the better the chances you'll end up with a good view although this isn't always the case.  From now on when I book hotels I'm going to fill in the "any requests" on the booking forms and always request a room with a lovely view, now I realise that this isn't always possible but I do think that hotels do try and accommodate their patrons where possible.  Some hotels just don't have great views though, no matter how amazing, I took Looby to the five star Sheraton Grand in Edinburgh for her birthday a couple of years ago and the hotel was completely gorgeous and utterly fabulous, the view however was mostly underwhelming.

Do you think it's important for a hotel to have a great view?  I'm curious to know and if you've ever stayed in a hotel with an amazing vista please do get in touch so I can add it to my list of places I want to stay.


Monday, September 10, 2018

Trying to become a better person

It's September in case you hadn't noticed, a great month to make changes and to renew and start again, much better than in January when I'll be honest, all I want to do is stay in bed and hide under the duvet until the dark cold days disappear.

Selfie in greece, trying to be a better person, mandy charlton photographer, writer, blogger

I've felt for a few weeks that I wanted to change certain aspects of myself which had been bothering me and so this seems a great time to write about it, and reinforce the commitments I'm making to myself, here and now!

During the late spring and then continuing into summer I experienced workplace bullying, so much so that I almost gave up and walked away from my new CEO role.  You'd think that bullying is something that just happens in the playground and that's bad enough but when you're an adult and you already have pre-existing mental health conditions, it essentially kills your soul. I stopped going out again, I shut myself away from the world and I'm still struggling with this on a daily basis.

I do think there are elements of me I need to change, my whole life since being small I've had the feeling that I would go to hell if I died, I've worked on this in therapy but in the back of my mind it's still always there.

I have autistic traits which can make me seem odd, bipolar and anxiety add to that and then cram on top of that my lack of empathy due to medication and there's a definite feeling that I need to try and be a better person.  I haven't felt that I've shown enough gratitude or that I've been thankful enough for the small number of friendships I do have and so I'm trying to put that right during September, I'm trying to rebuild my insane levels of positivity I once had, I'm trying to understand the needs of others so much as I can and above all I want to try to make sure that everyone gets the things they need from me.

Today it feels like autumn, it's after 10 and it's still dim and damp and dingy and I know with all of my heart that I need to make all of these changes quickly or I will struggle through the dark months of the year.  I'm at a crossroads with all of my businesses, they all have the potential to make a lot of money and yet this year has been one of the most financially trying.  It's probable that I'm just not trying hard enough with any aspects of my life and I'm letting myself down.

I'm ageing and getting wider by the second, I have neglected my health and wellbeing for too long again and so another thing I want to work on is getting my fitness and my waistline back, now I'm not going to tell you I want to be a size six but I was chatting yesterday about the fact that depression can be helped with a diet of meat and vegetables, it's been proven that cutting down on sugar and processed foods can help reduce inflammation and inflammation causes depression and anxiety and I have had worse anxiety in the last year than ever before in my life, coupled with days of dark, overwhelming depression it's not a life I want to lead anymore, I have to be better for my relationships, my children and more importantly, for me.  I paid for a weight watchers app membership ages ago and I've never used it past the first few days so it's number one on my list of priorities.

I also want to work smarter so that I can spend more time with Looby, I've been given a gift with her being home educated and she continues to thrive and progress but too many times I feel unavailable because there are things I "need to do" at my desk.  That has to change and I guess that's why I need to prioritise the things which make money and get rid of the things that don't.

So, starting here and now with a trip to the supermarket to stock up on good, healthy things I'm making a commitment to be better and if you see me around in October I hope I'll be able to wax lyrical about how I'm succeeding.  September is a great month to start again...
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