Category Archives: Other writers

All that matters – a 50 word photostory

All that matters – a 50 word photostory


We’re falling apart and there’s no-one left to put us back together. We just let things drop where they will. My finger on the stairs, your leg in the bathroom. We hold each other so gently, secretly measuring what’s left. Soon we’ll just be lips kissing our love to oblivion.

(I used to do 50 word photostories all the time. I’d take an interesting photograph and write a 50 word – no more no less – story to go with them, but somehow along the way I stopped. I was still taking the photos but forgetting to do anything with them. But recently I’ve been thinking about them again, and then I had a lovely coincidence when I went to a sparkly poetry tea where the guests included Andreas Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos who talked about his wonderful Picpoetry.

My old ones have disappeared now but I love how when I went looking for them today, I found traces on other writers websites… where they’d been left like small blurry footprints.

Which fits in nicely with the photograph above, really! )


Owning a bookshop? That sounds like a nice thing to do….

Owning a bookshop? That sounds like a nice thing to do….
Owning a bookshop? That sounds like a nice thing to do….


Amazing the number of people who want to be writers. Or will be, anyway, once they have a bit of time. I imagine it’s almost the same number as want to run a pub or cafe. Although I could never understand that one. Perhaps it was too many waitress and barmaid jobs as a teenager.


A bookshop though… now you are talking! Or at least that was my dream until I read Shaun Bythell’s diary of being a bookseller in Wigtown, Scotland’s book town.

Admittedly some days sounded idyllic…

nature writing

But then you’ve got the customers….


Not to mention the staff..


I loved this book – it was funny, interesting, more warm that I think the author was hoping for, but…. it didn’t make me want to be a bookseller. Ho hum. You can buy the book in all sorts of places, of course, but of course, I’d recommend you buy it from Shaun himself here. You don’t have to go there, they have modern things such as the internet in bookshops now, and once you get the book delivered,  you can read all about the Wigtown post office too. Gems all.

And if it doesn’t convince you that running a bookshop is harder than it looks, all that sitting round and reading, well you can always run a bookshop in Wigtown for a holiday thanks to the enterprising Open Book scheme.

As for me, it’s back to the drawing board…


Going out on a playdate….

Going out on a playdate….
Going out on a playdate….

Remember when you were six, and a friend would knock on your door to see if you wanted to play?



That’s what Artists Dates should feel like! Although of course, it’s your own door you are knocking on. (And maybe sometimes slamming it shut? You are too busy, too important, too hard up, too scared, too….. Can you remember what that felt like? When you were told that little Jenny could NOT come out to play right now… Why on earth would you do that to yourself!)

Anyway, what’s exciting about this year’s artists dates is that my clever friend, Meg Sanders, has been joining me as part of a series she’s writing exploring creativity. You can find (and follow) it here. (and you can find Meg on twitter here, so you can be a real follower…)

Meg went right off the deep end, with a list of 100 things you fear (YAY, COME AND PLAY WITH ME, IT’S GOING TO BE FUN…) but I’ve been approaching it more gently. Well hell, it’s my list, I can do what I want.

So here’s the result of my first playdate – a vision board on Pinterest of the kind of 80 year old I want to be. It was a more surprising, more exciting and more inspiring exercise than I could ever have thought. I thoroughly recommend doing it yourself!

And do let me know if you decide to take your self on some playdates… the original list is here.

Below: for your amusement, please find a little snippet of my future self

Screen Shot 2018-01-14 at 16.30.29.png


More books… #100Women100Books

More books… #100Women100Books
More books… #100Women100Books

Following on from this post collating the recommendations we’ve been getting through the #100Women100Books project, perhaps ONE HUNDRED books aren’t quite enough for you. So I’m going to keep putting up the choices we’ve been getting through our website, As I hope you know, we are still collecting book recommendations – please visit the website and add yours….

From: Jacqueline Kington
Book: Long time no see by Hannah Lowe
Why I chose this book: It just touched me very deeply. She is a wonderful writer…
From: Rachel Seeland Scott
Book: Only Every Yours by Louise O’Neill
Why I chose this book: I chose this book because of its controversial theme and captivating writing, which evokes vivid imagery. To me, it was fascinating, as it took everything girls did to each other in secret and turned it into a social normality which was encouraged as: ‘there is always room for improvement’. The writer also encourages us to review our ethical code, since the girls are made and not born, which is shown by their lower case names and treatment by the human males of this dystopian society.
From: Ali Jones
Book: Tale for a Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
Why I chose this book: I love the clever way this book creates a gripping narrative woven with Zen wisdom.
From: Alison Belfield
Book: Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood
Why I chose this book: This is the first book by Margaret Atwood I read. It was so brilliant that I went on to read all her others; my world is a better place for having her books in it.
From: Helen Jamieson
Book: Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
Why I chose this book: Because she could see into the mind of a tortured man. I think it is a great love story, powerful, sad and tragic and beautifully written. Heathcliffe is one of fictions greatest.
From: Jane Rogers
Book: THE GOLDEN NOTEBOOK by Doris Lessing
Why I chose this book: This is the most honest novel about relationships between men and women that I have ever read. It changed the way I thought about political involvement, feminism, and writing, and is as timely now as when it was published in 1962.

Get your reading recommendations here…. more books added to the #100women100books library

Get your reading recommendations here…. more books added to the #100women100books library

Following yesterday’s post about our #100women100books library, I’m very pleased to list here some of the recommendations we’ve been getting via our website… ENJOY! And remember, we’ll be giving daily updates of our library on our Facebook page before revealing our whole library on 20th July when I’m off to the Compton Verney‘s Womens Library for our second writing residency there. Below’s a detail from one of the Compton Verney paintings!

Thank you so much to everyone who has contributed.

Book title: Geek Love

Author: Katherine Dunn

Why I chose this book (1-2 sentences): When I first read this book as a teenager I felt like I had discovered another planet. The Binewski family were so vivid, so fascinating and so real even when I read it again 20 years later. Just incredible.
Chosen by: Cait Morgan


Book title: Good Behaviour

Author: Molly Keane

Why I chose this book (1-2 sentences): A novel from 1981 by the sharp and witty Irish writer Molly Keane – very funny, and also utterly agonising on family life, as well as wild socialising, and all its ‘glamour and malice’. A keenly intuitive and observant lover of people, food, creatures, mischief and life.
Chosen by: Katherine Pierpoint


Book title: Life After Life

Author: Kate Atkinson

Why I chose this book (1-2 sentences): Everyone’s life is the result of chance happenings and ‘roads not taken’ (after Robert Frost). This book brilliantly explores these many possibilities in the life of a woman called Ursula whose life spans much of the twentieth century.
Chosen by: Clare Dudman



Book title: Olive Kitteridge

Author: Elizabeth Strout

Why I chose this book (1-2 sentences): It’s a beautifully written, wonderfully insightful book that follows the life of central character Olive Kitteridge from adulthood through to old age. Olive is a woman as women are, not as she ought to be: she is flawed and fascinating and magnificently human.
Chosen by: A J Ashworth



Book title: To Kill a Mockinbird

Author: Harper Lee

Why I chose this book (1-2 sentences): I first read the book at 12 years of age when I was at my most ‘priggish’ about what was right or wrong. My moral compass has matured but still consider it most famous quote to ‘walk in another man’s shoes’ as a good guide. I wanted to be Scout

Chosen by: Cas Holmes


Book title: The Road Home

Author: Rose Tremain

Why I chose this book (1-2 sentences): I loved the way she turns predudice on its head, gifting us a wonderful character and illuminating his situation from the off.

Chosen by Zoe King



Book title: Devil’s Cub

Author: Georgette Heyer

Why I chose this book (1-2 sentences): Any of he comedies are beautifully crafted and represent the Regency era and the English upper class at its worst and best. She started the regency genre -underrated -writing for her money for her ungrateful family ( I think) she churned them out and surely she is worth a mention somewhere on the list.

Chosen by: Hazel Stewart



Book title: Himself

Author: Jess Kidd

Why I chose this book (1-2 sentences): This is a rollicking read, with rich language and amazing characterisation of both the living and the dead. It made me laugh and sometimes cry and I loved it.

Chosen by: Cath Barton



Book title: Voyage in the Dark

Author: Jean Rhys

Why I chose this book (1-2 sentences): Because Jean Rhys wrote about difficult subjects in a time that didn’t want to hear about it, including sexism, discrimination, and that one harrowing illegal abortion scene in Voyage in the Dark. She was incredibly intelligent and she used her own harrowing and bleak experiences as inspiration for her passionate, stylistic and hugely under-appreciated novels.

Chosen by: Holly Anderson



Book title: The Key (And The Name Of The Key Is Willingness)

Author: Cheri Huber

Why I chose this book (1-2 sentences): It is quite simply the best book on spiritual practice I’ve ever read; brief, clear, down-to-earth (if that doesn’t sound too incongruous for a spiritual book) – and requires no faith in anything unseen, only willingness face what is.

Chosen by: Tim Pieraccini


Book title: The Weather in the Streets

Author: Rosamond Lehmann

Why I chose this book (1-2 sentences): I read this book (published in 1936) many years ago but it still resonates. It’s about double standards, women’s vulnerability in general and the suffering of a woman after a backstreet abortion.

Chosen by: Patricia Borlenghi


Book title: The Left Hand of Darkness

Author: Ursula K. Le Guin

Why I chose this book (1-2 sentences): It’s science fiction, it’s queer and it’s about friendship … and such good storytelling. And it is journey … so many topics I dearly love.


Chosen by: Alice Puck


Book title: God of Small Things

Author: Arundhati Roy

Why I chose this book (1-2 sentences): Because it helped me understand the power and magic of words


Chosen by: Vipasha



Book title: The Red Tent

Author: Anita Diamant

Why I chose this book (1-2 sentences): No other book has stayed with me like this book. The strong sense of sisterhood mixed with the horror of what happens to the main character, Dinah, is both beautiful and haunting. It made me really appreciate the female friendships I have and realise how I couldn’t survive without the strong, intelligent and courageous women in my life.

Chosen by: Hester Mackay



Book title: Joan Makes History

Author: Kate Grenville

Why I chose this book (1-2 sentences): This writes women into history, eg when Captain Cook discovers Australia, the woman in the McCubbin painting, The Pioneers, and many more. Intertwined with the story of an ordinary family, with our own moments of history eg moving out of home for the first time,first day of school etc.
Beautifully constructed as usual Kate Grenville.


Chosen by: Joan Ryan

What one piece of advice would you give a woman writer, artist or musician starting her career?

What one piece of advice would you give a woman writer, artist or musician starting her career?

It was good to step away from the world last week and have a day’s discussion and writing workshop with four of the South East Associate Artists involved in the Spreadsheets & Moxie research project Viccy Adams and I are currently running, with the support of Arts Council England.

We covered everything – from role models for writers, to unprofessionalism, to the differences between qualities, strengths and skills, to best ways to communicate. Our day ended with an impromptu quick fire round table of the one piece of advice we might give a woman* starting out on a career in the creative arts. Here’s what I scribbled down from the discussion…

Qualities for a writing career

Some of the qualities we identified for sustainable arts and writing careers

Take yourself seriously and don’t be derailed by other people’s jealousy and/or fear.

Work on one project at a time. 

Work on six projects at a time

Find somebody who will be really supportive of you.

Try to keep a different mind and experiment with different medium

Ditch the idea that it is necessary to suffer as a writer or an artist.

Never dismiss something just because you find it easy. If you’re enjoying your work, it doesn’t automatically mean that it is, or you are, shallow. 

Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

And lastly: TURN UP!


So, what might be the one piece of advice you’d offer someone? 


(* I think all of these are applicable to men too, but it’s interesting. MIght there be some circumstances where we would offer different advice?)

With grateful thanks to our lovely South East Associate Artists – Clare Best, Catherine Smith, Ellen Montelius, Kay Syrad, and Vanessa Gebbie, for continuing and welcome challenges and inspiration! We will be in Newcastle next week for a similar day with our NE Associate Artists… notebooks ahoy! 


The Story of a Collaboration – truths and tips from Vanessa Gebbie

The Story of a Collaboration – truths and tips from Vanessa Gebbie


I’m so pleased to bring you this guest post by one of Spreadsheet and Moxie‘s Associate Artists, the very wonderful Vanessa Gebbie. Sharing this sort of information – not just WHAT people are doing but HOW they have done it – is exactly what Viccy and I hope to do with our project, and I couldn’t have asked for a better beginning. It’s a privilege to have this honest account of how an arts project was set up, the things learnt and all the tips to pass on to others. And it’s a great project too, on at HURSTPIERPOINT until 30th September. Details are at the end of the piece, but for now, over to Vanessa (nb all the photos here were taken by Vanessa and show the work on display at the exhibition)… 



Last Friday, a disparate group of people met at a church in West Sussex. Armed with wood, wire, glass, slate and board, they worked all day, assembling the products of creative work that had taken months.


By 6 pm all was ready for the opening of Reflections, the response of four women artists to the Centenary of the Battle of the Somme. The church is Holy Trinity Church, in the village of Hurstpierpoint. Designed by Charles Barry, who designed the Houses of Parliament, it is a glorious, high and airy space with beautiful stained glass windows.


So, in a beautiful edifice of stone and glass, four women created something else of beauty. But it was not all plain sailing!

It started just before Christmas 2015 with a poet (me) and Elizabeth Lamont, a maker of painted glass art – discovering a mutual love of stained glass, over a pizza. Before the bill came, we were airing thoughts of collaborating on a ‘something’ in which her glass artworks would respond to my poems.


With a slightly clearer idea of what the ‘something’ was, an approach was made to Hurstpierpoint Festival to see if it might be something they would like to host… and it was agreed that the ‘something’ could be shown in the church for the duration of the festival.


But what was the ‘something’? Elizabeth Lamont has experience of working with the National Trust, and she had brilliant ideas. Visits to consummately experienced exhibition designers helped to firm up the ‘something’ into a brilliant, professional plan. But brilliant professional plans, with help from brilliant designers, cost money. A call to the Arts Council indicated it was something they might look favourably on – so, cue much excitement as everything was costed within an inch of our lives, and I was delegated to negotiate the Arts Council Grant Application systems. At this stage we were three – poet, glass artist and Jane Willis, a photographer. Who also happened to be Priest in Charge of Holy Trinity Hurstpierpoint.







The Grantium portal is not your friend until you learn to negotiate the twists and turns and requirements of the system… and we were on the brink of a holiday. In deepest Extremadura, Spain – where the internet is not known for its speed or reliability. Or, in many places, even its existence. The Grantium portal requires six working days to validate you before you can so much as begin to enter your information, so Extremadura it had to be, with dropped connections, wobbly connections, and worse – no connections. I did not know what information the Arts Council would be asking for as each page opened on the portal – and did not have a list of necessary info, all ticked off and to hand – even if the laptop stayed connected.





It took three weeks, but it got done. I heard back from the Arts Council very fast – Application Declined.

We had, thankfully, already considered what we’d do if this happened. We had already decided that it would not stop us, so we’d rethink.




Bless Hurstpierpoint Festival Committee, who decided to still give us the contribution they had promised to help the application along. Bless a friend or two, who did the same. Bless whoever suggested inviting another woman artist to join us – Helen Mary Skelton, a stonecutter, whose work is legendary. Patients at The Dene special hospital were also invited to contribute. I led a poetry workshop there, but the patients’  resulting work was too raw and personal for them to want on show. So instead, they created two stunning wall hangings along the themes of the exhibition – and it is  moving in the extreme to see them.




The exhibition opened last weekend. It is different and, dare I say it – in many ways better than it would have been had we stuck to the original plan. Without funding, apart from a relatively tiny amount, we had to go back to the drawing board in many cases, and the need for increased creativity in response to the drawback has served us well. The inclusion of stonecutting has added a new beauty – a strength and solidity to the exhibition, which was already beautiful. Instead of looking at techinically clever acetate prints, visitors are actually seeing the original glass art in all Elizabeth’s exhibits, set on lightboxes. It is glorious.



Standing in the midst of all this gorgeous work at the opening last Friday, and watching visitors, glass of wine in hand, oohing and ahhing at the exhibits, I felt unashamedly tearful. It has been an extraordinary journey, and a privilege to work with Elizabeth Lamont (glass artist)   Rev Jane Willis (photographer) and Helen Mary Skelton (stone cutter). I will miss them when this is over.








Ten Lessons On Setting up a Co-Publishing Venture….

Ten Lessons On Setting up a Co-Publishing Venture….




There’s been a lot of information about independent publishing recently, and September sees the launch of a really exciting independent publisher, Blue Door Press, a new imprint for literary fiction, memoir and poetry. Making the most of all the opportunities now available to writers, Blue Door Press is a collective of writers working with top editors and designers to navigate new technologies and produce high-quality, thought-provoking printed books and e-books.



Because I know  how many people are interested in doing something similar, I’m so pleased to invite Blue Door’s founders, Pamela Johnson and Jane Kirwan on here to talk about setting up a co-publishing venture. Thank you to both of them for being so generous with their knowledge.






Here are 10 things Pam and Jane say they’ve learnt from setting up Blue Door Press: 


1. Know why you are doing it

We wanted to find a way through the closing doors of the unsettled world of commercial publishing. Payment of advances to authors is dwindling, publishers are wary of literary fiction and poetry. We know of work that deserves to be read – including our own. We’ve both been published in mainstream; both have won prizes and awards for our writing. We wanted to create a positive response to the current state of publishing.


  1. Write a basic plan

Does it stack up? Show it to friends. Re-write your plan. As you do this, ask yourself – do you have the time, the stamina? The point is not to work out every last detail but to test your enthusiasm. The main thing is to see if your excitement grows as you outline the project, even if it does feel scary!


  1. Don’t rush. Be professional. Get a logo.

We took time coming up with a name that suited what we wanted to do – open the door to publishing books that we think should find readers; we like blue doors, we each have a blue door; the domain name was available and it gave us a simple strong image for a logo.


  1. Find the experts you need.

We did a bit of sketching of our blue door but we needed someone who knew what they were doing. Pavla Ezeh came up with our simple, clear, open blue door. She also helped setting up an equally simple, uncluttered look for our website.


  1. Appearances Matter

Spending time on creating logo and website isn’t about superficial presentation. Initially it was a way of seeing our idea taking shape. Now we have a visual identity. We see our website as the hub of our community of writers and readers.


  1. Be clear about the money

We see this as a break-even venture. It’s about finding readers, getting overlooked books out in the world. It’s not about becoming millionaires. We are keeping overheads low, paying with our time, learning to skill-swap. As new writers join the collective we ask what skills they might bring to the venture, beyond their wonderful book.
pam's book

  1. Covers matter

One thing that is worth spending money on is a designer for a striking cover. As our books will be sold mainly online we needed images that worked well as thumbnails. We took our time and are very happy with results. Our first two books have covers that evoke something at the heart of each novel and both images work well on screen.


  1. Dont give up.

It’s tough but it’s interesting and exciting. For months we’ve been on a very steep learning curve with new hurdles at each stage. Thank goodness for the advice that comes from the Internet, and the newly acquired skill to separate out what is useful. Using CreateSpace, for example, is initially hard work, baffling, but they give quick and excellent support. And soon you find yourself designing the interior of a book.


  1. Demystifying the mystique.

We’ve learned a lot about the skills of the editors and designers who’ve fed into the project. Publishing a novel takes more than just producing a strong story. How a book is presented, how the story is framed and offered to readers is all part of the process. As writers, we’ve begun to appreciate all the expertise involved in publishing. We’ve gathered a fine bunch of associates to support us in producing more books. Very soon we’ll be announcing our next titles.


  1. dmh (1) Embrace social media & celebrate

You need to get over the ‘not me’ factor. It’s easy to think you can send a novel out into the world and convince yourself that it’s up to the book to sell itself. It won’t. It needs all the support it can get from its author and others in the Blue Door Press. And if that means social media, so be it, now is not the time to be squeamish about Twitter. And what better way than Facebook, Twitter, Mail Chimp to keep in touch with our audience and invite them to our launch. Now that our first two books are out we’re having a party to celebrate. (nb you can follow BDP on twitter here and on Facebook here



You can buy Taking in Water here, and Don’t Mention Her here…. Please do. If you’ve been reading this so far, then it’s clear you have some interest in independent publishing, and it’ll only succeed if we support it. Besides, these are really VERY GOOD books – both of them.

I can’t wait to see what Blue Door Press do next….

Throw some writers in a bowl….

Throw some writers in a bowl….


…. shake them round a bit, and you get ….


I think I’ve probably talked a lot already about how I love my Tuesday writers – a regular group that meets at my house to write. We celebrated last night with an end of term reading – a mixture of novels in progress, poetry, non-fiction, short stories, flash fiction….


Fifteen writers in all, oh, it was so wonderful just to listen, and not know what was coming up next! A real treat.


And amazing to think that not everyone knew each other – it was a mixture of the old ‘morning’ group and the ‘evening’ group. But it didn’t take long before the words took over and we created a perfect literary salon.


We normally start each session with a freewrite – here are some of the prompts we have used so far this year….

* If I could change anything in the world, I would…
* Mind dump – all the things you have on your mind right now
* Sentence stems – He’d thought he was on his own, but when he turned round…. The giant stamps his foot and… Your mother told you never to… I’ve called you all together to tell you that… The kiss was…
* The last time I danced…
* Things to do today
* First a mindmap – ‘the things I carry’ – freewrite from what comes up from that
* Images that don’t use sight – ‘senseshots’
* What I’ve brought back from my holidays
* My brush with fame
* The last time I was lost

And here is my favourite quote of the moment, by my favourite writer of all time, Colette, not least because it sums up Tuesdays for me: You will do foolish things, but do them with enthusiasm.

Tuesdays will be quiet over the rest of the summer!

Virginia Woolf v Leo Tolstoy

Virginia Woolf v Leo Tolstoy

We’ve all wondered, haven’t we, who would come out trumps in a game of cards between our favourite literary figures. Or maybe we’re interested in speed – is Beatrix Potter faster than Marcel Proust…

So don’t fear… my favourite Shedworker is at hand to help out.

alex1 alex3

Alex Johnson, aka The Blog on the Bookshelf, has come up with a Literary Trumps game which is just the thing for reading adults. As he says:

Trumps is one of the most popular card games in the world. In the past though, it has been limited to classic cars challenging each other over the tightest ‘Turning circle’, or making footballers go head to head in categories such as ‘International appearances’.

Literary Trumps takes a more writerly approach to the Trumps concept. So instead of deliberating over whether a Heinkel He 177 A-3 heavy bomber has a higher ‘Ceiling Altitude’ than a Spitfire Mk. XIV interceptor, you can now pit Leo Tolstoy against Maya Angelou, Mark Twain against Aphra Benn, Beatrix Potter against Jack Kerouac.

Only trouble is we need to fund it before we can play it. I have, so if you do too, I’m very happy to challenge you to a game. Or two. Details by clicking the box below….