A Feather In My Wallet

A Feather In My Wallet

Deep joy! I have finally been able to start work on my Covid-delayed Arts Council funded project A Feather In My Wallet. It should have happened last July but the pandemic truly scuppered all our plans. Even now, it is a bit patchy, and some of it has had to move online.

It is a project about finding stories in the little things we keep and was inspired by this story:

When the First World War began, my grandfather George was one of the first men to volunteer. He was wounded by shrapnel and discharged from the army in 1916. One day, as the war raged on, George took a tram ride in Liverpool. He was wearing civilian clothes. A woman left the tram. As she passed him by, she silently dropped a white feather, the sign of a coward, into his lap. George kept the feather in his wallet for the rest of his life.

I am working with image maker Anne Brierley, who is working like a war artist, drawing and painting the portraits of people I talk to. Future participants in the project will be terminal day patients at St Giles Hospice in Lichfield, a mental health group in Moseley and various community arts groups across the West Midlands. But we began this week on the street, talking to solitary men in city centre Birmingham, because our project aims to explore feelings of loneliness and social isolation (which makes it ironic that we were shut down because of lockdowns!!)

While Anne painted, I heard deeply human stories of multiple bereavement, eviction, the invisible hell of being homeless and the emotional pain of being a carer. One man told me he cares for his wife, who has ever-worsening dementia. ‘Some days I yearn for a conversation,’ he said.

But there was resilience too, plus wisdom, humour and enormous love. It was a privilege to be given such stories, and we all enjoyed the sharing after so many months of solitude.

These are some of Anne’s portraits from the day.

NEW Online: Candle Magic

NEW Online: Candle Magic

Originally created for Hull Libraries’ Harry Potter Book Night 2021, Candle Magic is a wonderful online creative writing session for Key Stage 2 – highly interactive, informative and great fun!

Presentation sessions are fairly easy online, but right from the beginning of Lockdown 1, children’s authors were wondering how on earth they were going to manage writing workshops – myself included. Usually I walk around the room as the children write. I can see who is flying and who needs a bit of help or encouragement. But online… aargh!

I was determined to find something that worked and, I am delighted to say, Candle Magic really does work. With the children writing their ideas directly into Chat, there is real immediacy and a sense of pure creativity at work. But Chat is not essential; good old-fashioned pen and paper works just as well.

The workshop was inspired by the fact that I like to write by candlelight when I am writing magical or scary scenes. I wrote my book Zac and the Zombeards during July /August and clearly remember shutting the curtains in the middle of the afternoon, lighting a candle and slipping into a world of midnight graveyards and dark subterranean tunnels. It seemed a shame to banish sunshine, but it really did sharpen my focus and help me visualise better.

So this workshop is a series of writing exercises on the theme of magic and candles. I conduct it in a dark room, by candlelight, so it feels very intimate and atmospheric. I talk about my book Wild Magic, read an extract and explain where my ideas for magic come from. There’s also a Harry Potter themed game and a chance for the children to ask me questions.

If you’d like to know more, please get in touch!

My Sardinian Story Den

My Sardinian Story Den

I’ve recently returned (reluctantly!) to the UK from Sardinia, Italy. I was there for three months, house-sitting near Santa Teresa Gallura. As lockdown locations go, it was pretty idyllic!!

Sapphire blue skies, glorious rugged coastline, villages with houses made of granite, donkeys, Italian coffee, wild pigs, the hypnotic Mediterranean Sea (which was eternally blue, whether it was mirror-calm or smashing against the rocks.) Myrtle berries, wild strawberry trees, ancient stone towers called Nuraghes, burial tombs fit for giants, stories of elves with red caps and the Devil hurling enormous granite stones across the landscape… Sardinia (or Sardegna, as the Italians spell it) was truly captivating.

While I was there, I made a story den beneath some ancient olive trees (as you do) Here it is 😉

Dream Adventures

Dream Adventures

Introducing my first non-fiction book for children – DREAM ADVENTURES. It’s a book of true-life stories from my travels in India, Peru, Bolivia, Spain, Egypt and the UK.

It’s not all me, me me! I also introduce the extraordinary explorers, archaeologists, treasure hunters, scientists and visionaries behind the wonders I am seeing: architect Antoni Gaudi, high altitude anthropologist Johan Reinhard, plant hunter Ernest H Wilson, Egyptologist Howard Carter…

There are bold girls too: Maria Reiche, who dedicated her life to studying and preserving the mysterious Nazca lines in Peru. Kitty Loyd, who was one of the first women to study horticulture at university before launching a career as a freelance garden designer in the 1930s. Diane Leather, who broke the Five Minute Mile for women just a few weeks after Roger Bannister ran the first Four Minute Mile. But unlike Bannister, she was not given a world record because the distance was not recognised as a suitable distance for women by the International Amateur Athletic Federation.

I also talk about the power of dreaming and the joy of reading, talking about my own childhood in Liverpool.

The book has the look of a travel journal, thanks to my lovely illustrator Alicia Walker.

The Woman at the Next Table

The Woman at the Next Table

During lockdown I created something I have dreamed of for at least two years. Inspired by my own love of coffee shop dreaming, The Woman at the Next Table celebrates women who dream and write in coffee shops, tea rooms and cafes. It’s a safe, welcoming space where women can learn to appreciate the value of their own life stories, feel more confident and explore their creativity.

The blog is up and running, along with the weekly online coffee shop. This is proving very popular! Please contact me if you would like to attend one (via Zoom) It is FREE.

My first online workshops – Pilates for the Pen – have been announced. I have written, drawn, filmed and edited two YouTube videos. You can check them out on the YouTube channel. There’s an Instagram inspiration feed.

Once cafes re-open, I will start the podcasts, featuring interviews with real women in real coffee shops.

I have been busy, busy, BUSY with all of this! It was a huge amount of work and enormous thanks go to Arjun Jain at the John Ruskin Manufactory in New Delhi for creating such a gorgeous site. I am very excited about where this project will take me in the future.

Here’s the link: thewomanatthenexttable.com I’d love it if you subscribed 🙂

A new poetry book #2

A new poetry book #2

I am thrilled to have a poem included in the new Bloomsbury anthology MIDNIGHT FEASTS, edited by AF Harrold. It is a gorgeous hardback book, fully illustrated throughout by rising star Katy Riddell.

The poems are all about food. Mine is called The Unknown Jelly Baby.

Amazing to see my work featured alongside the likes of AE Housman and Lewis Carroll.