We Love Memoirs

Back in July I was delighted to be asked to sit in the hot seat in the fabulous 'We Love Memoirs' Facebook Group. I spent the entire day answering questions about a whole range of different things, and I had a blast!

Another author, Jackie Lambert, sat in the spotlight a few weeks later, and then she posted up a summary of her interview on her blog. You can read that via this link: Jackie Lambert - worldwidewalkies

I thought that was a great idea, so I spent some time going back over my Spotlight day and have compiled all the answers into a blog post for you.

I hope that you enjoy finding out a little more about me, Dave and Kat the dog, and our life here in the Algarve.

Portugal and the Algarve

How long have you lived in Portugal?

We first holidayed here almost twenty years ago and fell in love with the Algarve. We bought a house here 14 years ago, then had an agonising five-year wait before we could move out here to live permanently. We made the move nine years ago and love it here!

What was the motivation to move to Portugal in the first instance? Did you have to leave family behind? If so, how hard was that?

We fell in love with Ferragudo, which is a little fishing village here in the Algarve. Circumstances meant that we were renting in the UK and decided that once Dave retired from the Police, we wanted to live abroad. It was the best decision we ever made!

Family and friends come and visit us here, and we spend good quality time with them. Skype and video calls mean that no-one feels too far away, really.

We holidayed quite a few times in Spain but never thought about living there. We always said we would never go back to the same place twice, and travelled to some fab places like Venice, Hong Kong and Cape Town. Then we discovered Ferragudo and fell in love! Next thing we knew, we were buying a house here.

Tell us about where you live now.

We have moved to live in Aljezur, which is much quieter and more rural and peaceful - it's also less hot in the summer. It was over 30 degrees at night where we were before; it makes it much harder to sleep at night - and impossible for me as an artist to paint during the day in the summer.

Aljezur is on the west coast, so we get a nice cooling sea breeze most days and cooler nights. It’s perfect for us. It is much more peaceful and rural here, our neighbours here are all Portuguese. It's like a small market town from the UK from fifty years ago!

We live in quite a rural area now; we are surrounded by cows, chickens and ducks! (not ours - the neighbours!!)

Here is one of our locals minding his two cows in the field just below us:

We live down the road from the main river that runs through town, and we are about a 5 minute drive from the nearest beaches.

This is the view on my walk every morning with Kat:

Here is one of our local beaches, Dave caught it early one morning with the sun coming through the early morning mist... isn't it gorgeous?

Aljezur is a small market town. Where do you go if you need to shop for bigger items?

Aljezur is a big enough town to have a supermarket, some smaller shops, a chemist, health centre and schools. It has about 5,500 to 6,000 population (that swells a bit in the summer but not as much as on the southern Algarve). We have always loved the area around here; the beaches are magnificent (think Cornwall or west coast of Ireland).

I am curious to know how you chose Portugal… did it just feel right? Did you holiday in Portugal first and just decide this is the place?

Portugal just instinctively felt 'right' for us from the moment we first saw Ferragudo. We fell in love with the place and the people and the relaxed way of life.

I wonder, what's the hardest thing you've had to get used to, living in Portugal? It’s different things for different people, I guess, but I’m thinking of things like the language, the bureaucracy, the way things get done?

Definitely the bureaucracy! Well, actually just getting used to “that’s the way we do things here” as a mantra. Even if you can see a much simpler way of doing something you can’t suggest it as they just look at you strangely then carry on regardless!

We have grown quite fond of it all now and can't imagine another way of living. You get used to selecting a ticket from the machine on the wall wherever you go, or you won't get served!

What are your favourite/least favourite Portuguese foods?

I used to love Pastel de Nata tarts (sadly I can’t eat them anymore) accompanied by uma bica, a nice strong shot of espresso coffee.

I can't recommend you ordering ‘meat of the kitchen’ comida da cozinha unless you have a strong stomach for things like eyeballs and intestines! I also detest coentro (coriander) which is widely used out here in cooking and is liberally sprinkled on top of lots of dishes.

About Me

What foods do you have to avoid and why?

Sadly, it is a very long list. I was diagnosed with RA - Rheumatoid Arthritis - last year, I'm managing it well with a strict ‘diet’ of simple food... but there are lots of lovely things like dairy and cakes that I cannot eat any more.

Diet helps a lot, along with CBD oil and acupuncture. There’s an entire chapter in the sequel about it all... it has been a pretty drastic lifestyle change. (Ask anyone that knows me - they will tell you how much I LOVED chocolate!!!!!)

Do you take any medication for that?

No, I have resisted the drug route; I have a fabulous local doctor at our health centre that is a Functional Medicine doctor. I was so lucky to be assigned to her; she has really helped me. The only drugs the specialist could offer me were drugs used to fight cancer. They have pretty bad side-effects - so the longer I can manage this naturally (hopefully always) the better.

Oooh you have a ‘y’ in your name and not an ‘i’. Do tell more on your first name spelling.

You'll have to blame my dad for that one... he liked an actress called June Allyson (we're going back a very long time)... luckily (or not)! I only have one ‘l’ to grapple with... having a ‘y’ instead of an ‘i’ is bad enough!!!

And then I married a Sheldrake... which the Portuguese can't manage at all... so he is Snr. Pato (Mr Duck!) and I am called Alice... pronounced 'Aleess'.

I wanted to know about the meaning of your surname too – Sheldrake - does it have some meanings you already know about?

It is from Suffolk originally, the Sheldrake is a beautifully plumaged duck (well that’s what Dave always tells people!!) It was fun when I came to self-publish as I was asked if I wanted to create my own publishing name... so I chose Tadornini Publishing as that is the Latin name for the Sheldrake (or Shelduck).

Are you missing the UK?

There is nothing that I miss about the UK now. We have been here long enough this is home now, and I have joked that I will never go back to the UK!

Where do you like to go for vacation? Or do you prefer a "staycation"? do you go away on holiday and if so, where do you go?

I have to admit, since we moved here nine years ago, we haven’t really travelled very far at all! Maybe we got all the travelling out of our system before we settled here.


What prompted your move from the police to education, and which job did you prefer?

I did thirteen years policing and loved it, but the ladder to climb for promotion is a narrow one... so I left and pursued my other love (and qualifications) in education. I surprised even myself though as I reached the role Director of Education within five years, responsible for 130 schools.

As both you and your hubby were in the Police Force - is that how you met? And, as well as your living abroad memoirs - do you have any anecdotes and ideas for a possible memoir about your experiences in the Police?

Yes! I'm not sure how many couples can say they met in a Custody Suite!!!

I've been badgering Dave to start writing down all of his funny stories from his 31 years in uniform, I think they’d make a brilliant series of books (names would have to be changed though to protect the guilty!)

Do you miss any of that working life at all?

No, not really, my last job was such a stressful one, working really long hours and battling so many issues both local and national. It was very scary handing my notice in (it was a very well-paid job and I had worked so hard to get there!) but the call of my paints and the Algarve was just too strong to ignore. Looking back, it was the best decision we ever made.

Can you tell us something about your new careers? I truly love your art and Dave's photography.

It was always our dream to start our own little businesses once we moved here to live. I had always loved to paint and Dave loved his camera, but they were only ever hobbies. Then we moved out here and decided to give it a real go, and we have both been amazed how successful we have been! It has been wonderful.

The Portuguese Language

I wanted to ask you how you find speaking Portuguese? The language is very similar to our local language Galego which I still find difficult to follow in a conversation after 13 years. Did you have lessons?

Yes, Portuguese is notoriously difficult! After nine years I think that I can get by quite well, then I meet someone local and think ‘nope, I didn’t understand a word of that!’

I’ve had a few lessons, studied lots of online courses, but the best thing for me has always just been going out there and talking to local people. I’m fluent in 'weather' and 'illness' Portuguese!

I will always keep trying. The worst sound for me is the ão sound at the end of some words... the best advice I ever had was stick a finger inside each nose and then say it... it comes out perfectly!

Kat the Dog

Kat is gorgeous, but what a strange name for a dog! Kat is the Afrikaans for cat.

I didn't know that Kat was Afrikaans! Dave my husband has a Monty Python sense of humour, he has always wanted a dog called cat, so we called her Kat. Initially, it was for fun, but it quickly stuck! The locals call her macaquinha - little monkey, which suits her very well.

I loved your story about the adorable Kat. Can you tell us a bit more about how she came to be part of your family.

Kat was a rescue dog. We have a friend that runs a charity out here and she went on holiday to Spain and saw a little dog in the middle of nowhere in a terrible state. She was only 11 kg and covered in fleas and ticks and starving. I have some photos from when she found her; they are heart-breaking. She brought her back to Portugal with her. She knew we had been thinking of getting a dog and didn't want a young puppy, so we met Kat and fell instantly for her. She was about five then, we've had her almost six years and she is the sweetest dog you could hope to meet.

On Writing

I was wondering how you discipline yourself to write. Do you write every day or just when the mood takes you?

I tend to get up nice and early (about 5 am) when everything is quiet (!) and write for a solid hour. Then I take Kat for her long morning walk along the river. I've joined a lovely zoom group of fellow memoir writers (they are all in the US except for one lady in Denmark) and we meet up at 4 pm each day during the week... we say hello, have a quick chat, then write on our own things until 5.25 pm when we check back in, say goodbye and meet up again the next day. It's been a fab way of getting me writing consistently each day.

I love early mornings here in the summer, as it gets so hot here in the afternoon... that’s the time for a siesta!!! I also love the peace and quiet, my brain is usually chock full of ideas at that time so getting it all down is the fun part. I worry about sorting it all out later.

But how was the transition from living your life to writing about it?

Well, it helped that I started writing a blog when we first moved out here to live. Initially, it was just for friends and family, then it quickly grew into an award-winning blog with over 100,000 views a year!

So I guess the transition to writing about our life here happened quite gradually and simply - and then it was an easy jump to writing the book.

What percentage of your book would you say is actual memoir, and what is travel / history related? 

I haven’t really worked it out in terms of % ... maybe 60% or 70% memoir, 30% guide? It’s hard to calculate because even in, say a chapter about festivals and events, I have still included personal anecdotes and stories all the way through.

They say that inside everyone there is a book/story waiting to be written/told. How would you advise someone to start their story?

I think you are right, we all have a story to tell. I think the best advice I can give is just to start writing! It doesn't have to be perfect or polished (it won’t be!) but just tell your story.

Maybe think of someone in your mind that you can write it for... maybe a family member or friend. Imagine them sat in a comfy chair opposite you and you are just telling them your story.

Or decide that you are writing a letter to someone about an experience you have had or a place you visited... just a letter! Then just keep writing letters or stories until suddenly (as I found!) you have written 80,000 words and have a book.

On Marketing

I was wondering what kind of marketing you do to promote your book?

I have found that the links that we already had in place from running our art and photography business out here came in really useful when I launched the book. As an independent author, it's all on you to do our own promotion and luckily for me, we have some fabulous genuine contacts with local press and magazines and other bloggers.

I have been truly amazed and humbled by the WLM community here on this Facebook group too, there are so many other authors willing to share ideas and links, and I have had so many fab reviews on Amazon too.

I've always enjoyed helping and promoting other people's work too. I also love reading so this group has been fabulous for me, with all these lovely books to read!

Until I became an author, though, I had no idea how important reviews were! (and how much we can’t help ourselves checking our own Amazon page!!)

Have you found social media useful in promoting your book, or have other things been more productive?

Yes, Facebook has been great, and especially this We Love Memoirs group who have all been fabulous and so supportive. We had good links with local media thanks to our art and photography work, which helped a lot. I'm just venturing into Twitter now so I shall see how that goes.

I checked out the websites for your art, which seems very bold, a good thing. Did you design your book cover?

Yes, I am lucky that Dave my husband is a professional photographer, so I always knew that I wanted to use one of his photos on the front cover. I’m very happy working my way around InDesign and Photoshop (and very fussy too!) so I was always going to have a stab at doing the cover myself. I worked closely with Victoria Twead at Ant Press (She was FAB at formatting my book for me and getting it ready for launching!) and we agreed that my cover was good to go! I really enjoyed the process of designing it – I’m busy sorting out the cover for the sequel already!

It’s nice to be able to be creative across different things. I produced about six quarterly art magazines out here over a period of a couple of years, promoting lots of local artists’ work. I learnt how to use InDesign doing that. (each magazine was about 100 pages long!)


Do you have a studio in your new home?

I have a studio at home, it is my lovely peaceful place I can go and paint. The house we bought had a second 'outside' kitchen which had been incorporated into the main house, it's perfect for me to use as a studio and even faces north too.

I wanted to ask what medium you use and if the style is one you discovered for yourself or one you learnt elsewhere?

I paint in acrylics and I developed my style once I moved out here and actually had some time to play around with paint and see what happened. It came quite easily to me, and Dave, my husband, always says that I am weird because I can look at a view or a photograph and see the finished painting in my mind, complete with all my distinctive curves of colour!

Do you have a favourite among your paintings? If so, I’d love to see it, please.

I have so many that I have loved to paint over the years... these two might be amongst my favourites:

'Moinho do Rogil' by Alyson Sheldrake

'Kat the Dog' by Alyson Sheldrake

I just feel very lucky that I am able to spend my days doing something that I love now - and the bonus is that other people seem to like it too. It sure beats the 70hr + working week that I had in the UK.


What genres of books do you enjoy reading?

I love reading about other people’s lives and their stories, and travel and adventure. I also love a good romance and shh! don't tell anyone but I have always loved Danielle Steel! 😉 I tend to go through a phase of finding an author or genre I love and devouring loads of books. I also loved the Harry Potter books - I'm just a kid at heart, I think!

I am loving reading memoirs too, at the moment. There are so many fabulous ones to read, so many of them from authors on the We Love Memoirs group Facebook group too. I have been devouring books as it is too hot to do much else in the afternoons here, so I curl up with a good book and lose myself for an hour or two! I have travelled to so many wonderful places this year with all the memoirs I have read.

Here is my favourite place to curl up and read a book in our little garden - we have a lovely covered area to hide under away from the sun... with a fab sofa space for me and for Kat to curl up beside me of course.

It’s funny when you live in a sunny place, you tend to spend lots of time not sitting in the sun! It’s the opposite of when you are on holiday.

I finished the event by sharing this song with everyone.

This is the first Portuguese song I learnt (in Portuguese!) Luckily for everyone else I can't sing (!) but this one has subtitles and is a very famous song and singer out here. Click the image below to listen to it on YouTube:

We Love Memoirs

The fabulous ‘We Love Memoirs’ Facebook group really is the nicest FB group around. Click the picture here to view their page, everyone is welcome to join: