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

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

14 years of blogging, what's next?

My blog is 14 years old this week and I feel like I'm at a great crossroads.  I have blogged about anything and everything for more than a quarter of my life, there's so much history, so many memories, the good, the great and the super sparkly.

Colourful interiors, mandy charlton, 14 years of blogging, photographer newcastle

I blog less now that I ever have but just because it's hard, I Instagram almost every day and that's really taken over as a daily document of my life online, it's just so much easier to post in the moment and since I was diagnosed with Hyperparathyroidism my memory fails me more often than not, nothing like an (currently) inoperable tumour on your parathyroid to interfere with your life.  It could be a lot worse though and it's totally workable.  I have found the greatest therapy is to work on my home day and night.  This week the transformation of my livingroom is well underway and I spend every spare second when I am not out working either planning or doing.  I have taken a week off currently though as painting the ceiling grey when you have fibromyalgia hurts a lot!!

Other than the transformation of my home, there's really not a lot to write about, I lead the most sedate life and live like a hermit, anyone wondering if I've been on a date lately, I haven't, not for at least 5 years but the single life is the happy life and the stable life when you're me, I've an inability to deal with conflict and when I think about relationships I immediately worry about what would happen the first time we have an argument so suffice to say, it's easier and less anxious to remain as I am.

I don't want to give up on blogging and it still makes me a few pounds every year in the form of sponsored ads/products/articles and indeed it's not like my traffic has slowed down, the last couple of months I've been getting over 30,000 hits a day, maybe it's even better when I blog sporadically than when I do it every day.

I still think about writing but most of the time, I'll have a thought and by the time I sit down to write about it, I'll have completely forgotten what it was.

I have this great plan to throw Harriet a fabulous party for her upcoming special birthday when she's 20 for the second time, I was just thinking today how I could recreate her favourite nightclub by having the rock room upstairs, the pop room downstairs and who knows what we could do in the garden on a sunny May evening, chillout room in the bedroom obviously 😉

I have also just launched my mentoring services today if you have need for photography mentoring, the time just feels right and now I have the perfect home to do it from, and I'm also teaching "Everyday Photography Masterclass" for business owners next month at my home through my other company The Inspire Network, if you're a maker this is the masterclass for you and you don't even have to be a member to join us.

So that's you and me, dear reader, we are caught up, we are reconnected and I would assume that the best is always just around the corner so onwards to our next adventures together and thank you always for reading.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

In renovating my home, I found myself {ad-affiliate}

*This article contains affiliate links

Identity is everything, authenticity is everything and learning about who you are can come from so many places, I did not expect to find myself whilst renovating my home but that's exactly what happened.

Flashback to February 2019, I'd had a fully assembled wooden arbour in my Amazon basket for over 12 months and finally, I managed to buy it through a lot of hard work and some affiliate marketing, I only wanted a fully assembled one because DIY and building furniture in 2983 parts, it's just not my strong point.  I can visualise creatively (and I'm bloody good at that) but spacially and logically, my brain does not excel at.  Over the next few weeks, I furiously worked on my garden every day, every bit of money I earned went into building this vision for my dream garden that I had in my head, finally at the beginning of May it was complete.
DIY home renovations on a tiny budget, mandy charlton, photographer, writer, blogger

I spent the rest of the spring and summer spending as much time outdoors as I possibly could and I found it improved my mental health to the best it had been for years,  I had BBQ's, I sat in the evenings amongst the twinkly lights with the chiminea lit and the tiki torches burning. I finally had a garden I didn't want to run away from.

inside mandy charlton, phototographers home, a home designed on a budget

Fast forward to November and I randomly came across a guy who transformed kitchens by wrapping them in vinyl and though I didn't have the money at the time, he was so kind that once I did have it, I went straight back to him and booked him in, there was absolutely no going back, especially as the mural had also been ordered and my friend Steve had been booked for a day to help me put it up, the transformation was instant although for a while there, it actually looked worse as the bright colours of the new colour scheme clashed badly with the old, grubby flooring and I knew I had no way of replacing them until some income in and in the winter as a wedding photographer, well it's not the easiest.  

Whilst I was waiting for the income to replace the flooring I started painting the hall and the design there happened organically, I realised there was enough room for a small sofa and off I went to look for bargains in the Wayfair sale and found a pink sofa, I initially wanted ochre to match the retro yellow and cosy grey walls but my knowledge of colours from many years as a photographer told me I'd be safe with a fuchsia colour and lo and behold, it looks fantastic.

Finally, just a couple of days ago, the flooring went down and I realised that in completing the whole of the ground floor I'd finally found myself.  No one would question who lives in my house but me because it's got all of my personality stamped all over it.

I'm so happy with all that I've done, I've realised that I am to finding bargains on Amazon what Mrs Hinch is to eBay and I'm okay with that, it's perfect for someone who doesn't go out very often, click a button and a man turns up with your order the next day.

In finishing the hall, the stairs to the first floor, the kitchen and the garden I've given myself the confidence to go on further through the house and you can bet every wedding or portrait session I shoot this year will help me to complete the work and then, well, my grand plans include teaching makers the art of using a smartphone to create visually engaging images to use in their business and also a course to help future wedding photographers learn the business of weddings.  The weather may be dark and gloomy right now but this Saturday is my first wedding of the year and I can't wait to get back out there because I know I'm building my dreams with each and every assignment I take on this year.


Tuesday, February 04, 2020

The costs of renovating your kitchen on a budget

[Ad, the mural in this article was gifted to me] Over the last few weeks, I've been furiously renovating my kitchen, decluttering the hall, decorating, wallpapering, pretty much my goal for this year is to extend on the garden that I created last year and have a house I truly love.

2 cats stand in the kitchen of Mandy Charlton, Photographer, Writer, Blogger, the costs of renovating your kitchen featuring Photowall, FMS Tints and

Being a self-employed single mum supporting all of us, it was always going to be done on a really tight budget but at the same time I want it to be lovely, I want it to have my personality stamped all over and it and I don't want to have to go so cheap that it looks cheap if you know what I mean.

The Kitchen Units

3 weeks on from when I started and it's a wholly different kitchen, I have had the kitchen units and the fridge wrapped by an awesome local company, it took about a day and a half, cost £350 and I can't recommend them highly enough, they're called FMS Wraps and based not far from me in Newcastle.  Aaron was so lovely to deal with and there are a couple of other projects I have in mind which I'd like to get him back for in the future.

The Mural

Just before Christmas when I didn't have any plans at all, Photowall got in touch and asked if I wanted to collaborate, I'd just put the Christmas decorations up at that point so it wasn't really doable but then they contacted me in January and I decided to go for it as I really wanted colour, pattern and impact in my kitchen and I knew I could do it with them, I found the perfect mural, ordered it and it arrived just a couple of days later along with instructions and a kit to put it all up with.  Now at this point, I must insert a large caveat, I didn't put it up myself, my handy friend Steve did it for me, I was too worried that I'd make a mess of it and didn't want to ruin something which will be on my walls for at least the next 10 years.  It took around 5 hours to put it up, Steve tackled the installation like the Jedi he is but when I come to install a mural in my living room I'd probably give it a go myself as it's a much smaller space.

Once it was up though, we felt the immediate impact, it's just the loveliest, brightest, happiest pattern in the world and an instant mood lifter, I smile whenever I'm in the kitchen.  Photowall has given me a code which is "mandyphotography2020" and that's going to give you a massive 25% off so you can get yourself something transformative.

The Paint

Jedi Steve put me onto Wilkinsons Durable paint, you can paint your wood and walls with the same paint so I went for Cosy Grey for the walls and wood and then Crushed Almond for the ceiling as I hate white ceilings, it cost £26 in total for the paint and around another £10 for brushes, rollers and trays.  I'm not using gloss paint at all, I don't like its impact on the environment and I don't enjoy the finish or actually trying to paint with it.  I loved the finish on my walls and doors and I'm extending into the hall with both colours plus adding one other colour I haven't decided on yet.

The Cooker

When I went to clean my 40-year-old secondhand cooker I found it disintegrated before my eyes and that was before we even found out that flames were coming out of the top of it from the grill, I went on AO, ordered this Zanussi 55cm cooker and paid £599 for the cooker and another £100 for the delivery, gas fitting and recycling service which I can't recommend highly enough. 

The Accessories

I've tried to keep spending to a minimum but I did splurge on the cocktail chair below which cost £40 from B&M and I also bought a few little things from Homesense which remains my favourite homewares store.

The Flooring

And here we reach the end of the project so far, I've chosen the flooring options I love, there were a multiple options, the cheapest works out at around £260 and the one I love (and my Instagram love) is about £370 so I'm going to have to work like hell to actually get the work done, I would have loved to get it all done at once but I ran out of cash and we still have to pay our bills as normal.  It's chosen though and I know I'm coming into a popular time for couples booking their wedding photography packages so it's just a case of waiting and then paying to have it done at the first moment I get some income.

Next up, decorating the hall, the downstairs loo, the stair and then my bedroom and the living room, I cannot wait, I'm so excited to have the home I've always wanted, a house full of colour with a personality as big as the family who lives within it.


Monday, January 13, 2020

Kitchen renovation on a budget

iris the cat in the kitchen of Mandy Charlton's home, photographer, blogger, kitchen renovation on a budget
My kitchen as it is currently

I've always been really self-conscious about my home, I was told over and over that it wasn't good enough or that it was smelly or dirty or what on earth did I think I was doing, or even that people would report me for the state of my home.  It affected my mental health so badly that for a period of 7 years I wouldn't let anyone visit at all.  The more it's reinforced by narcissists who believe you are always failing to be what they want you to be, the more you start to believe it.  I remember a friend coming over on the night my marriage broke down and I wouldn't even let her in the house and sat in the garden!  I started to travel a lot, always running away from my home, never wanting to be there and dreading my return because I was so uncomfortable in my own space.

I'm not sure what the change was but it definitely had something to do with Harriet who would come over whether you wanted her to or not, I also started to get friends and visited their houses and realised that most people don't live in palaces whilst I was Stig of the dump but rather that I had a pretty normal house in the big scheme of things.  If I went back at told my old self that I would be sharing photos of my home on my blog or my Instagram I would have laughed at myself.  Here I am though, sharing the story of my home renovations and photos of my favourite corners of my home on Instagram.

I have come to understand that I am something of a boho maximalist in interior design.  I like things, I like unmatched things, I love colour and patterns which don't necessarily go together in practice but actually all end up looking okay as a collection in my home.

Now I want to keep this real and say that no one is looking at my home and thinking it's some kind of aspirational dream, I spend hours pouring over some beautiful homes and interiors on Instagram and Pinterest but I know they're as far away from what I want as I can imagine.  Grey is the trend currently and I love grey, having the courage to have your entire house in shades of grey a la Mrs Hinch, is something I aspire to but something I also know just isn't me because I love colour too much.  I'm also a single mum on a tight budget, self-employed single parenting does not make great fortunes as yet but even if it did, I love the fun of thrifted items, of charity shops and of quirky handmade markets. I am a bargain hunter and I'm never happier than when I'm standing in Homesense surrounded by the colours and quirky objects that make a house a home.

I'm actually quite happy to let people into my home now though it's far from finished and I have a lady called Lisa who helps around the house on Tuesdays who I love dearly and she's become a friend as well as someone who has saved me from myself on more than one occasion.

My house right now is a work in progress, nothing is really finished, everything is in a state of flux, my downstairs loo was nearly done and then someone knocked the washbasin off the wall and when that was repaired the tiles were removed and I've still not worked out how to put them back on.
My magical garden over the festive period

Last year though, I started making big changes, I transformed my garden from being your average tiny Yarden into something which I think is really special (although at the moment it's more of a wintery dead mess).  The project ended up looking exactly the same in real life as it did in my head and so that's given me the confidence to start making some really big changes.

The colours I've chosen for my kitchen

Next Monday I am having the kitchen completely revamped, I couldn't afford a new kitchen but then I found a guy on Facebook who does vinyl kitchen wraps, now I could have had the entire room wrapped in grey but as I've already said, I love colour so I'm having it wrapped in Yellow, Blue and Pink and I cannot wait, the benches are staying but will be wrapped at a later date with an off white with a slight sparkle and I also want to change the lighting and the taps on the sink, I need help with those things and a bit more of a January budget so I've decided to go for it this year and try and shoot 30 weddings, I shot just over 20 last year and did a bloody good job so I'm hoping all of that leads to an increase in bookings and going by January so far, it certainly seems that way.  (Hurray!).

The very rough draft of how the kitchen cabinets will look after they've been wrapped.

I'm also installing a fake living wall at one end of the kitchen and then I have a big blank wall to fill, haven't decided on what colour that's going to be or what kind of wall covering but I am excited and hopefully it'll be distinctly different by the time I throw my birthday party on the first of February.  If there's one thing I know about my friends is that no one ever makes it upstairs because you will always find them in the kitchen at parties 🥳 

Saturday, January 04, 2020

How to beat the January Blues Forever

How to beat the january blues forever, new year 2020, mandy charlton, photographer, blogger
At some point during the festive season, it's not unknown to wake up with a sudden feeling of anxiety or just feeling out of sorts, blue or weepy. January is like the evil twin of Christmas, it's the antithesis to joy, it's the return to routine, the return to boring food, messages in the media that we're not enough and failed resolutions. Here's the thing though, maybe it's Christmas which has a dark side, we're convinced we should eat all of the wrong foods, we're lulled into thinking it's better to be indoors for days at a time and even worse, sometimes with the most toxic people you've ever known (aka family).
I'm trying to love January more, I'm resetting my body today with some chicken, brown rice and green vegetables, it will taste healthy and I will curse the fact I'm not eating cake approximately 23 times but I made a promise to myself and to my liver consultant that I would lose at least 10% of my body weight before I see her again at the end of March, It's probably going to be a big ask to have gotten that far but I'm willing to give it a try. A few friends are joining me on the "Grumpy Girl's Lifestyle". We called it that because we'll be super grumpy if anyone asks if we're on a diet when we're actually just on a quest to change our lives and maybe you can join in too?
The concept is simple, get outdoors more, up your exercise, we're not talking Mo Farrah type marathons just moving a bit more. When it comes to food, something I struggle with because I love carbs and cake, it's just about cutting down a little, especially on cake and carbs, I've done it before and I know I have the power to do it again. I'm not going mad though, I'm not going on any crazy cleanse plans or doing sugar-free (which worked but wasn't at all sustainable on the long term). I'm just having a word with myself and generally trying to be a little more restrained than my festive self when we all say "Ah, sod it, it's Christmas" (for at least 3 months in my case).
Routine isn't a bad thing either, I go back to work on Tuesday and although my office isn't actually that far away from my bed I am making it my own personal resolution to get dressed every day, preferably before lunch as I'll be honest, Holly Bobbins also prefers an earlier morning walk before she gets down to the serious business of snoozing, beagle style. My mental health and anxiety can generally be at it's worst over the winter with the lack of light and the quietness of my photography business but I've decided that this year I'll enjoy the slower pace of life and I shall try to get outdoors as often as possible as being out in nature, once I actually force myself out of the cosy warmth of my house, is actually really good for me and more importantly for my mind. When I went into the festive season this year I was dreading it, I thought I would crash, burn and have an awful time but for some reason, I really enjoyed all that entailed and even had my best New Years Eve I can ever remember and my first without any alcohol at all, in the past, I've tried to endure alcohol but given that it feels like poison the moment I have 1 sip, this year I probably had 1 bottle of Champagne across the whole of the festive season and I'm happy with that, I am happy being a non-drinker! Whatever plans you have this year or however blue you're feeling right now try to remember that routine isn't a bad thing, the good foods are actually the bad foods in disguise and more than anything else, that you are good enough, you are always good enough, even if you don't believe that you are. Here's to 2020 and just being the same but better!

Sunday, December 29, 2019

A Decade in review 2010 - 2020

Mandy with her daughter Looby at home in Newcastle upon tyne, photographer, writer, blogger, a decade in review 2010-2020

2020 is just around the corner, the roaring twenties some are calling it, it seems like the blink of an eye since I stood on the Redhugh Bridge with my friends Darren and Neil or as we called him that Christmas (Neilenium).  As the clock struck midnight we wondered what was around the corner, the Y2K bug never actually happened and technologically I think there've been more advancements in the last 20 years than ever before.

In 2010 (and thanks to my blog for being the diary of the last 15 or so years) I'd been in business for 3 years, I was settling in and loving what I was doing, my portraiture didn't really take off until around the end of 2011, just after Facebook introduced advertising, I was an early adopter and I'll always remember Christmas 2011 as the time when I accidentally made £30k in 3 months, I wish I could do that now but when I say FB ads have gotten more expensive, you wouldn't believe just how much more expensive, I've spent over £20k with FB ads in the last decade, if I hadn't, my business would have died long ago.

In April 2010, I'd just renewed my wedding vows, this last decade saw me wake up to the narcissistic abuse and coercive control and finally in 2015 I found my freedom, for the last 5 years I've had freedom from over 40 years of narcissism and although it's cost me highly I wouldn't change it for the world.  No one ever gets angry with me, no one ever tells me what to do or that I can't do something and I'm not even sure I'd take another chance on love, or it would have to be a very special person.  I've still never experienced someone having unconditional love for me and I'm not sure I ever will but at least I know I gave it and tried with all of my heart, to narcissists though, you'll never be good enough, that's one lesson I've learnt.

I don't want to dwell on the bad stuff because if there's been one amazing thing that's happened in the last decade it's that I've embraced my love for travel, I've still never done long haul but I've loved Europe with all of my heart. I even got paid to go on a cruise and be treated like a rockstar thanks to blogging and I shan't be forgetting that in a hurry!  Spain is my favourite country and Barcelona remains my favourite city.  Until you have seen the sunset over Tibidabo you have never really lived.  

In 2010 Looby was just 7 years old and now look at her, she's blossomed into one of the most amazing people on the planet, she's the product of unconditional love and no arguments, yes I annoy her by breathing sometimes but that is the teenage way!  I've never said no to Looby, I've never really needed to, she's such a beautiful individual girl who knows her own mission and has a heart of solid gold, her finest moment this year was to "come out of the cupboard" as she called it after she baked me a cake which said "I'm Gay" now we have to have cake every year on the same day and I'm totally on board with that!

Iain in 2010 was 14 years old, that alone makes me feel old, they continue to be an upstanding person in life too, they've been on their own personal journey with the realisation that they are non-binary, it's been the subject of many conversations and I'm still learning every day about the differences between gendered and non-gendered people, it's been a lot to get my head around but as I told them, as long as they're happy, that's my only wish.  It's something I need to write a complete article about, I just haven't had the time as we've hurtled towards the end of the year but they want me to do it, they freely give me permission so that in the end it will help anyone else (or their parents) who are going through the same thing.  I will say this for now, when we are born, we are formed from chromosomes which give us our assigned sex at birth, but that's far from how we can feel inside ourselves, gender is like a piece of string, we're all a little bit male or female or both or neither, non-binary is most opposite to genderqueer, Iain wishes their pronouns to be they and them and I respect that whole-heartedly.

Whilst we are on the subject of life-changing, 6 years ago, 4 little paws wandered into my kitchen, I fell in love immediately and Holly Bobbins has been my four-pawed best friend ever since, I've also rescued, or adopted several cats in that time, some who are no longer with us, a sad part of pet ownership but which teaches us just how precious life really is.

Speaking of friends, 10 years ago I hadn't met Harriet, I can't remember when that happened but we instantly connected and she's been my best friend and soul sister ever since, when I say we've had some adventures together, we really have, there've been holidays, tequila, dancing until dawn, laughter, crying, love and support and it's something I'll never stop being thankful for, I'm not someone who has a lot of friends (it's hard when you're a socially awkward hermit) but the friendships I do have, I cherish, Stacey, Rachel, Steph, all amazing female friends I've met in the last decade and I should also mention Ron and Steve who I've been friends with for over 20 years now and still see often, scary how time so quickly passes.

I could write more about this decade we're just about to step outside of but we'd be here all year, a decade is a long time to put in one blog post and I guess there are some parts I just don't want to talk about or even think about.  I'd say it's been a wild ride but actually, it's been pretty gentle, well I am now in my mid-forties after all and the wild party days of my twenties are long over, would I do it again if I had the choice?  Erm, no, I like going to bed at a reasonable time and my hips aren't what they used to be.

So 2020, I am ready for you, you're going to be my year, I don't know why, I cannot tell what's going to happen in the future but I am ready for you so come and get me!

Monday, December 23, 2019

A Festive Break in Edinburgh

4 friends in a car heading to Edinburgh for a festive break, Mandy Charlton, Photographer, writer, blogger, christmas

It's the 23rd of December, Christmas Adam or if you're a fan of friends, Christmas Eve, Eve, it literally could not be more festive! After a hard year of work and when I say hard, I mean juggling knives whilst trying to stay upright on an angry polar bear.  Suffice to say, our planned festive break in Edinburgh was well overdue.

Edinburgh, my second city and my favourite city is the best place to be in the festive season, it's jam-packed with stalls selling gluhwein, carousels, food and everything you could possibly need for Christmas.  It's also crammed with people, crowds are found in abundance in Edinburgh in November/December but then, to be honest, Edinburgh is just one of those always busy kinds of cities.

I managed about 3 hours before retreating to the Malmaison in Leith, I'd looked forward to my first stay in a Malmaison forever, I love the decor, I love the ambience, the luxurious hotel carpet and the fact it's dog-friendly (even if Holly Bobbins stayed at home on this occasion, I'm sure she's going to love it on future visits).  I've always loved Leith, it reminds me of Copenhagen and as the birthplace of my father, it's where I really feel my Scottish roots.

This trip was my Christmas present to Harriet and Looby, Looby brought her best friend Abbey too and we managed to get an absolute bargain price on the hotel, I'm not entirely sure why other than the fact that it's Christmas in 2 days time and maybe people are on their way home at this time of year rather than going on little jaunts like me!

One thing we have booked, our highlight for Christmas Eve is a before noon tea at Mim's Bakehouse which is also in the port of Leith, it's the breakfast equivalent to an afternoon tea and I for one, cannot wait, I'm very much a breakfast person, it's my favourite meal of the day, I often skip lunch but I can't ever skip breakfast and if it's a luxury breakfast then I am the most enthusiastic person there, luxurious breakfasts make mornings more bearable.

In truth, we had more plans for today, we'd planned to go back to the city centre to see Edinburgh after dark in all of it's twinkliness but I was overwhelmingly exhausted by five and all I could think of was sitting on a cosy bed watching TV, we did try and go to the cinema to see Frozen 2 but unbelievably every single showing was sold out so I had to console myself with several car-based renditions of "Into the Unknown".

There's something quite special about travelling at this time of year, there's extra magic about it and I don't know why but I can say one thing, tomorrow morning when we make our way back to Newcastle, for the first time in my life, I will actually be able to play "Driving home for Christmas" when we're doing just that.

Merry Christmas everyone, see you all on the other side.  It goes without saying that I'm so thankful that people still stop by to read my ramblings and I'll never stop being grateful for you, yes, you dear reader because you make it worth sitting down a couple of times a week and emptying my brain.

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