Summer Potions; Rosemary Water & Rosemary Tea

Rosemary

I adore growing rosemary and was told that rosemary tea is said to enhance one’s memory. And if you wear a sprig of rosemary in your hair to improve your memory you would do well in your exams, it didn’t help me with Geography. Drinking rosemary tea is ‘supposed’ to help the memory and some of my old aunts called it the remembrance herb, a sprig was given to loved ones when they left. But I do know this herb calms the mind and lifts the spirits, certainly better than a cup of coffee when you are flagging during long revision sessions.

Rosemary can be grown from seed, but I’ve never had much luck. Germination rates are generally quite low and seedlings are slow to grow so to start new rosemary plants I take cuttings taken from established plants. Water rosemary plants evenly throughout the growing season, but be careful not to overwater. Prune regularly so that plants won’t get lanky.

To harvest rosemary, snip off stems to use fresh, or hang them in the kitchen for dried rosemary. Harvest young stems and leaves for the freshest taste. You can harvest up to a third of the rosemary at any one time!

Follow a clip for a simple ‘how to’ video. https://youtu.be/QBDGva8lBEo

ROSEMARY TEA

Don’t drink Rosemary Tea when pregnant

1 Cup of nearly boiling water

1 finger length snip of fresh Rosemary made into a handy stirrer (see video)

Honey to sweeten

Method

Add the Rosemary spring to a in cup.

Heat the water in a kettle, turning it off just before it boils, and pour over the spig.

Leave to stand for ten minutes stirring occoasionally.

Sweeten with honey.

ROSEMARY TEA SHOULD NOT BE DRUNK IF PREGNANT and was traditionally used in abortion potions.

GROWING ROSEMARY IN A CONTAINER

You can grow rosemary in pots, but bear in mind this perennial herb can grow quite big, and will need potting on in fresh compost every couple of years. Grow rosemary in well-drained soil in full sun. Young plants can suffer if their roots are sitting in wet soil in winter, so it’s a good idea to grow rosemary in a container for a couple of years before planting into the garden. Cut back annually to prevent the plant from becoming woody, and mulch in autumn with leaf mould, well-rotted compost or manure. Add crocks to the bottom of pots to aid drainage. Keep rosemary plants well-watered during dry spells and feed with a general fertiliser during the growing season. In cold winters, bring plants under cover for protection.

HARVESTING ROSEMARY

Harvest rosemary by gently pulling small sprigs away from the main stem. You can also use secateurs to remove large branches of rosemary, for roasting. Take care when using fresh rosemary in your cooking, it’s a pungent herb that will overpower delicate flavours.

SLOW COOKER ROSEMARY WATER

Rosemary contains ursolic acid which helps to increase scalp circulation – this means more oxygen and nutrients will be sent right to your hair follicles, and that in turn promotes healthy hair growth. This aromatic herb has been traditionally known to darken grey and also slow the appearance of grey hairs. Due to its high antioxidant content, it scavenges free radicals and hydrogen peroxide, which are responsible for greying as well as hair thinning. Rosemary also revitalizes hair, removes product build up to leave your hair shiny and soft.

Ingredients

Fresh Rosemary

Water

Harvest as much rosemary as you want to use and put it in a slow cooker/crock pot with just enough water to cover.

Simmer on high for a few hours. The longer you simmer the “stronger” the rosemary rinse will be.

Then strain through a sieve 

Use as a final rinse over the hair. Slowly pour the rinse over your hair and catch the drippings in the mug/pot and keep pouring them through your hair until they are all used. Massage the infusion into your scalp and hair and let it sit for 10 to 20 minutes. Then rinse thoroughly, or you can simply leave it on until the next wash. This stimulating rinse will help condition both hair and scalp. However, my hubby prefers to use a spray bottle, and to spray on before he shaves and showers. Then he washes it out.

This quantity should do at least 2 to 4 applications depending on the length of your hair. Store it in the fridge between uses – it will keep good for up to two weeks. If it’s freezing cold and the middle of winter, add some hot water to warm it before use.

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HOW TO MAKE A SAGE SMUDGE STICK

SAGE

I mainly grow sage in pots for its medical properties. I grew up on sage tea as it was always available in the garden when lemons are not. Also, I think its more effective than just honey and lemon. It’s simple to make, just a few fresh or dried leaves steeped in hot water. My aunts would disagree whether the sage should be chopped to let the oil out or left whole for a milder flavour. I grow my sage in pots, and when the plant is looking tired, I take cuttings and use the rest of the plant for smudge sticks. My daughter loves helping make smudge sticks and the whole family use them.  Even hubby is a believer in smudging.

Follow a clip for a simple ‘how to’ video.

SAGE TEA

1 Cup of nearly boiling water

1 tbsp of fresh sage leaves – whole or chopped

Honey to sweeten

Method

Add the sage leaves to a teapot (or an infuser placed in a cup).

Heat the water in a kettle, turning it off just before it boils, and pour over the teapot or infuser.

Leave to stand for ten minutes before straining.

Sweeten with honey.

My daughter the trainee pharmacist reminds folks that sage tea is not recommended if pregnant or taking diabetes, sedative or anticonvulsant medications.

GROWING SAGE IN A CONTAINER

Sage does well in a container. Simply grow in normal potting compost and keep the pot fairly dry, in a warm, sunny position. Prune once a year and feed with a liquid feed every fortnight during the growing season. Sage doesn’t like soggy roots so make sure your pots have lots of drainage.

HARVESTING SAGE

Sage leaves are easy to harvest. Simply cut off the leaves with scissors or pinch them off with your fingers. Sage is best used fresh, although the leaves can be placed in a plastic bag and frozen to use throughout the winter months. The leaves can also be dried, simply harvest them on a dry day and store in a warm, dry room until they are crumbly to touch. Then store the crumbled leaves in an airtight container and store out of direct sunlight.

HOW TO MAKE A SAGE SMUDGE STICK

You will need:

Sage

cotton string or natural twine.

scissors and secateurs

  1. First of all you need to gather the sage which you are going to burn in your smudge stick bundle. Tied with twine and hang in a cool place to dry
  2. Once the sage has dried you are ready to make your smudge stick.
  3. Tie the bundle at the base with a secure knot.
  4. Starting in the centre, wrap the string toward the top of the bundle before returning to the base. Be sure to crisscross tightly, but not to the point where you crush the contents. Cut off any excess string.
  5. Hang the bundle upside down in a cool, dry place for at least a week.
  6. Now it’s time to smudge! Light one end evenly over a heat-safe bowl and let it burn for a few seconds, before putting out the flame. Set an intention and carefully use the smoking sage stick to cleanse your space.
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How to make Homemade Cordials; Elderflower Cordial, Lemonade and Ginger Syrup

Summer in lockdown is the perfect time to refresh our potion making skills with some of our favourite summer cordials.

My daughters were great Worst Witch fans and remember with glee when Mildred Hubble had to get up at dawn to make a summer flower potion, now they are older they know it’s Elderflower Cordial.

My youngest daughter is a dab hand at making the most refreshing and easiest Homemade Lemonade, which is perfect to sip in the garden. And my eldest daughter who is a bit of a potion maker always like to put the best health intentions into her Ginger Syrup which is a must for anyone who sometimes gets a little queasy when their anxiety plays it. It’s also a fantastic vodka cocktail pick me up too 😉

How to make Elderflower Cordial, Homemade Lemonade and Ginger Syrup

Elderflower Cordial

Two colanders full of Elder Flower, picked on a dry sunny morning and washed

50 grams of citric acid

Four large lemons

2 1/2 kg Granulated or caster sugar

  1. In a bucket, add kettle full (1.5 litres) of boiling water and dissolve sugar and citric acid to make a simple sugar syrup.
  2. Squeeze one or two lemons and add to the sugar syrup.
  3. Slice the rest of the lemons and add them to the bucket.
  4. Add the elderflower heads and stir.
  5. Place some fabric over the bucket and let it steep overnight in a cool dark place
  6. Line a colander with a clean tea towel, then sit it over a large bowl or pan. Ladle in the syrup – let it drip slowly through.
  7. Discard the bits left in the towel (we use a pillow case).
  8. Use a funnel and a ladle to fill sterilised bottles (run glass bottles through the dishwasher, or wash well with soapy water. Rinse, then leave to dry in a low oven).
  9. Pour cordial over ice and dilute with water to taste.
  10. The cordial is ready to drink straight away and will keep in the fridge for up to 6 weeks. 

Homemade Lemonade

4 unwaxed lemons

1 cup of granulated or caster sugar

1 cup of boiling water

Ice

  1. Make a simple sugar syrup with the sugar and 1 cup of boiling water
  2. Cut and squeeze the lemons, collecting the juice.
  3. Pour lemon juice into the sugar syrup and stir
  4. Dilute the mixture with 2 cups of cold water
  5. Pour into glasses filled with ice

Ginger Syrup

ginger root (2 pieces, each about 10 inches long peeled)

granulated or caster sugar (weigh the peeled ginger, you need the same weight of sugar)

  • cups of water
  • Peel the ginger root with a vegetable peeler, and cut into thin rounds
  • Weigh the ginger and measure out the same weight in sugar

2. Bring the sugar and water to a boil over medium high heat

3. Add the sliced ginger and bring the mixture back up to a simmer

4. Remove from heat and allow to steep for at least 30 minutes

5. Strain syrup through fine mesh. Discard ginger

6. Keep the syrup for up to a month refrigerated in an airtight container

You can see how we make these cordials on my Youtube channel. Enjoy.

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Week Three of the January Resolution

13th January Alton

I initially intended to walk the Watercress Line, but the dark clouds and weather warnings changed my mind. Alton is such a pretty village to explore, but sadly the high street is suffering, and many of the shops are vacant and empty.

I’ve recently discovered that Fanny Adams did not always mean ‘F*** All.’ My eldest daughter and keen historian told me the story of the real Fanny Adams. 

The eight-year-old Fanny Adams was murdered in Alton, England in August 1867 by Frederick Baker, a 24-year-old solicitor’s clerk. Her dismembered body was found in a field near the town. She was buried in Alton cemetery. The inscription on the headstone indicates the strength of feeling against the murderer:

Sweet Fanny Adams

Sacred to the memory of Fanny Adams aged 8 years and 4 months who was cruelly murdered 24th August 1867.

Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul but rather fear Him who is able to kill both body and soul in hell. Matthew 10:28.

This stone was erected by voluntary subscription.”

The case was the source of enormous public concern and newspaper reports of the time concentrated on the youth and innocence of the victim. Everyone living in England at the time would have known the name of ‘sweet’ Fanny Adams. The British Royal Navy came to use the expression to refer to unpleasant meat rations they were often served – likening them to the dead girl’s remains. Barrère and Leland recorded this usage in their A dictionary of slang, jargon and cant, 1889:

“Fanny Adams (naval), tinned mutton.”

It wasn’t until later that ‘sweet Fanny Adams’ came to mean ‘nothing’. The term ‘f*** all’ has long been with us with that meaning, although how long isn’t clear as politeness caused it not to be recorded in print until the 20th century. There is more information about the murder here. www.historyanswers.co.uk/people-politics/the-gruesome-origin-of-sweet-fanny-adams/

One of Oliver Cromwell’s Houses

We passed the pretty Church of St Lawrence walked through the Town Gardens and one of Oliver Cromwell’s houses. Although we didn’t follow any particular route, we managed a reasonable distance and resisted tea and cake.

Km: 5.5

Miles: 3.4

17th January Millennium Promenade 

Millennium Promenade

The route starts from Spur Redoubt near Clarence Pier, Southsea and finishes on The Hard, taking in Old Portsmouth, the Camber and Gunwharf Quays. The journey is indicated by a chain motif set into the pavement. Historically it also refers to the chain, which used to be tightened across the harbour entrance at times of potential attack.

A Murmuration of Starlings

The most exciting part of the walk was witnessing a murmuration of starlings – a swooping mass of thousands of birds whirling in the sky above your head. A Fantastic sight against the sea and Spinnaker Tower. We stopped for coffee to celebrate. 

Nelson Trail

Starting at Landport Gate in St George’s Road, this self-guided trail takes you through parts of the old town of Portsmouth, highlighting places and buildings of interest relating to Vice Admiral Lord Nelson and Portsmouth around the time of the Battle of Trafalgar.

https://www.visitportsmouth.co.uk/things-to-do/nelson-trail-self-guided-walk-p282141

Km: 6.5

Miles: 4

‘Hovis’ Hill

18th January – Gold Hill

Not really a ‘walk’ but cool! Gold Hill or Hovis Hill is a steep cobbled street in the town of Shaftesbury in the English county of Dorset. Spent time with good company and scones.

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January Resolution Update

January 6th Chichester Canal

I am Lancashire girl who is familiar with our counties three C’s, coal, cotton and canals. Canal walks bring back memories of my father, Sundays visiting the cemetery and then walking the picturesque Bridgewater Canal.  My friend Raymond and I loved the Wigan Pier to Arley Hall and Wigan’s flight of 23 locks to Top Lock. 

Chichester Canal

My husband and I parked near the centre of Chichester and followed the canal towpath, we hoped to get to the marina. Soon I suspected that this wasn’t a ‘working canal’ and a little research proved I was right. Still a great walk that would be perfect for our older dog.

One of the highlights was spotting a heron. And I’m excited to find another spot where water voles hang out too. The coots were plentiful and surprisingly brave and loud.

We didn’t get to the marina, hubby pointed out that we only had two hours free parking, but already made an improvement on last week’s 5k walk and moved up to 6k.

Km: 6

Miles: 3.73

January 11th Highgate Cemetery

Highgate Cemetery has been on my bucket list for a long time, and I wasn’t disappointed. Best of all I will have to go back, preferably with my sketchbook, because the tour of the West Cemetery was fully booked.

We got the tube to Archway (NOT HIGHGATE) and then caught the 271 bus, which it turns out we only needed for two stops. But since it was all uphill, my feelings of embarrassment quickly left. We got off the bus at Whittington Hospital and walked to St Joseph’s Church. Then we cut through Waterlow Park, past the duck ponds to the Swain’s Lane exit.

“A Dude that really knew where his towel was”

There is a small £4 entry fee, and we stepped into the impressive Victorian tombs and gravestones. Many with an abundance of stone ivy and angels. My main reason for the visit was to see sci-fi author Douglas Adams, but of course, I had to stop by the glowering bearded bust of Karl Marx. The cemetery was smaller than I had thought. We picked a cold day with grey skies, and we could hear the crows and the leafless branches of the trees tapping each other.

We walked back down Highgate hill and took a quick picture of Dick Whittington’s cat, but I was disappointed by the not quite 4k. So, we decided to stop at Camden Town on the way home.

Km: 3.9

Miles: 2.74

https://highgatecemetery.org/

January 11th Camden Town

Camden Town Market

I haven’t been to Camden’s markets since the 1990s and my goodness it’s changed. I offered to bring my daughter here for her upcoming 18th birthday, but she seems a bit lukewarm about the idea, so hubby and I made a stop.

We picked up on that unique vibe the moment we left the tube station. By now it was already 3 pm, so we didn’t have much time. However, we still looked at the eclectic market stalls, had a quick stroll by Regent’s Canal and sampled the Chinese cuisine in the Asian quarter.

It was a little sad that we didn’t bother to find a live music bar and stay a little later, but that’s life with kids! I had a coffee and a cake, plus a sit down on the tube between the walks so not sure if I can combine the total to six?

Km: 3.9

Miles: 2.7

https://www.visitlondon.com/things-to-do/london-areas/camden-town

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January Resolution

Something strange happened in 2019.  I did not sign up for or complete NaNoWriMo. I started but didn’t complete Inktober.  Being someone who enjoys these sorts of challenges and rarely doesn’t achieve a goal, it was a weird experience to just be chill about it.  I don’t want to go back to the way I was feeling in the autumn of last year, but I do want to take something positive away from the experience. I want to hang on to that bit of chill about deadlines.

Instead of a New Year resolution, I have a vague idea of setting myself twelve monthly challenges.  With the unique approach of not being overly critical if I don’t complete them.

January challenge – explore more.

I walk or run most days. It’s delightful to not only have garden birds feeding on my hand; I also have a few swans and a robin waiting for breakfast every morning on my walks. I must be a soft touch when it comes to local wildlife. I love it. But I also see this as a sign that I need to shake up the routes. This, in itself, will be a challenge.

My daughter and I have signed up to the ‘Race at your Pace’ 35 mile challenge. I’m aware that over thirty-one days, 35 miles isn’t a lot. I will still be completing my daily walks and talking Watson out. But I am hoping to use these miles to find new walks and maybe some hidden gems. My husband has given me wellie boots for my birthday, and some maps for Christmas and I’m hoping to use this as a way to kick start my blogging and maybe vlogging.

January 1st Stansted Park Estate

I woke up and couldn’t resist going to the sea, plus my terrier is getting older and prefers the shorter walks. So, the water birds still got their breakfast.

Stansted Park Estate

And then I parked at Stansted Park and explored a new bridleway. There are many footpaths and bridleways across the Stansted Park Estate and at some point, during January I would like to tackle the circular Monarch’s Way walking route. We were greeted by a chicken, and past sheep and horses and into the trees. I like to walk in the winter, not so many insects, the tracks are quieter, and you can see the animal footprints in the mud. Also, it was nice to see the bird nests and clusters of mistletoe. Unfortunately, the bridle path crossed two main roads which meant empty fruit shoot bottles and litter. Still, the weather was dry and pleasant, and the moss was bright green.

Best of all, New Year’s Day lunch was sandwiches in front of the fire when I got home.

Km: 7

Miles: 4.5

2nd of January – Southsea Hitting the first brick wall

Woke up late. And bizarrely, slightly freaked out to receive an unexpected group chat call from friends while still in pjs. It’s made me realise that I never phone anyone anymore, I always text. We have realised that finding somewhere new to walk isn’t that easy, you google and see the haziest directions to the nearest parking spot.

So, me and eldest daughter decided to ‘just get in the car and go somewhere.’

Immediately, the oil light started flashing, which added to my anxiety, so we parked up on Southsea beach. I don’t go to Southsea often mainly because I’m not too confident when it comes to parking in Portsmouth. But today the roads were clear, the car parks empty.

Fountains at Southsea

Walking along the seaside front in winter always reminds me of Stephen King’s description of Maine when the tourists leave. The sky was grey, the shingle beach bright orange, you could hear the crash of the waves. Apart from a few dog walkers and mothers of young children, there was a deserted feel to the promenade.  I am so glad we stumbled here. The breeze was just strong enough to blow the cobwebs away.

I had to phone my husband to bring oil, so we decided to do a short lap. A couple of circuits of canoe lake, South Pier and then onto the D day museum. Not precisely a ‘new’ walk, but a reminder of an underused resource. Plus, a lesson learnt, it’s best to decide where we are planning to walk the evening before… 

Km: 5

Miles: 3.10

5th January 2020 Emsworth – Westbourne – Emsworth.

I was tempted to wait for a better day, sky grey and drizzle that brings back memories of my mother saying it was the kind of rain that ‘really gets you wet!’ I’ve never been sure what kind of rain is dry.

One of my favourite circuits is Langstone to Emsworth. I think the Emsworth mill pond is so beautiful, but today after parking in South Street I turned my back on the water and headed to Westborne.

The link of the route I took can be found here:
http://www.emsworthwalks.org/westbourne.html

I won’t lie, walking along streets lined with houses and school meant I was disappointed by the route. However, soon we passed St John the Baptist, an extremely pretty church complete with an avenue of yew trees. And then crossed the bridge over the Ems.

Rebuilt Lumley Mill

I was surprised when we found Lumley Mill. I think my northern roots gives me strong preconceptions about what a mill should look like! Lumley Mill is a large white painted building with magnificent windows, which absolutely did not look how I expected it too, and I was disappointed. The original mill was destroyed by fire at the beginning of the 20th century.  But once we walked along the footpath we saw a few hidden treasures, a cascade of water, crystal clear streams and a loud chorus of bird song.

Although it is too early in the season, I kept my eyes peeled for signs of water vole activity while walking alongside the streams that flank Brook Meadow. I wasn’t surprised to see no signs of water vole life or hear the distinctive plop as they jump in the water, but I may try again in April and May.

I believe that Brook Meadow is full of wildflowers come spring and I’m looking forward to exploring again. Quite proud to just extend my walking routes a little.

Km: 5.6

Miles: 3

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A Year in the Life of my Arts Council Grant

January
Still in shock from being accepted I had to wind down work commitments. I gave notice to the Harbour School, and other tutoring commitments. Nervous and excited I have my first meeting with my mentor Philippa Francis. Feedback from tutors and agents pointed out that plotting was my nemesis so with that in mind I made a reading list:
Structuring your Novel: Essential Keys for Writing an Outstanding Story K.M.Weiland
Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success K.M.Weiland
Creating Character Arcs: The Masterful Author’s Guide to Uniting Story K.M.Weiland
Plot and Structure James Scott Bell
Outline Your Novel Scott King
Having already contacted school to see if there would be any interest in creative writing courses for children for the application it was a matter of sending emails out to let them know that I had been successful and arranging dates for the workshops.

February
I had already made commitments with Portsmouth Council to participate in the annual Bookfest  so I was pleased to run a few events during February and March. Being interviewed for Solent TV was nerve wrecking and fun, and meant that a few creatives got in touch to ask me how to put in their own submissions to the Arts Council.
One of my favourite spoken word events of the year is Valentine’s Day Massacre, and I was performing along side some of my favourite artists at the Square Tower.

With the help of my mentor – the plotting had started!

March
One of the highlights of the grant was being able to go on a writers’ retreat and research mission to Cornwall. For seven days, my husband made me breakfast and I sat in my pjs and wrote from 7 am until 10 am. We then went out and explored the locations I needed for my novel, I took photos, made notes. Then back to the Airbnb for our evening meal, also made by hubby and got more words down. The lack of a proper TV, no internet and WiFi and a break from work and household duties meant my word count broke all records.

April
A month of self-discipline I love spoken word events and a new team had got together to arrange more spoken word events, none other than Christine Lawrence, Amanda Garrie, Jackie Green and Richard Peirce formed T’Articulation. Lots more events, but I knew I had to be focused on the novels and be careful not to sign up to everything. However, one performance at the Canvas Café couldn’t hurt! And I have to say it was a fun event, there is something exciting about performing in a station.
More plotting and refining drafts.

May
To a back drop of my darling daughters working so hard on their GCSE’s and A Levels we were buying a house, we got news the seller pulled out a few days before we were expected to fill up the removal van which was a massive financial hit. Luckily, my husband and I have had many worse disasters in our marriage and were able to take it was obviously not meant to be attitude. Still this was the month I started running creative writing courses for Young Carers in school. Problems at home paled in comparison. I think I was more concerned with my girls being disappointed. I was now in a good writing routine and plodding on with meetings with my mentor, writing and starting to edit.
May is also one of my busy storytelling months, and my girls who usually come along to help with the craft activities were doing their up most to keep up with a lot of academic work. Tiredness was creeping in.

June
Editing month.
A few years ago, I had been lucky enough to attend a macro editing course by Sarah Grant: time to get out the notes. I developed a revision process that helped me dissect and rebuild my manuscript and I studied the overall plot and subplots and reviewed the novel character by character. I want to stress that at this point I am still not obsessing about spelling and punctuation. I had a few spoken word events for June as well as my creative writing lessons for young carers. I was excited to be performing in Holmes Fest, the creative baby of Matt Wingett, because I felt comfortable doing as I had previously taken part in the event in previous years. However, being asked to be a guest speaker at the Winchester writing conference filled me with fear. I had strange, nerve-wracking dreams about standing up and being naked from the waist down; imposter syndrome at the idea of standing up alongside speaker with outstanding pedigrees made me quake in my boots. Memories of being told that no one likes a clever woman and, strangely, a yearning to go back to my working class roots, to eat chips, pie and gravy and drink hot vimto made me consider cancelling the event. However, things that you dread are rarely as bad as you expect and I was proud to speak at such a prestigious venue.

July
It was now coming to the end of my writing workshops with young carers and it was extremely hard to say good bye. My daughters finished their exams, tired and exhausted as washed up sailors, it was time for our family holiday to Florida. Of course, during our magical time at Harry Potter World, Universal, we got news that if we wanted the second house we had to complete immediately. Many hurried phone calls from theme parks later, we had completed on a house but where unable to pick up the keys for another 9 days. Since we had to arrive home from Florida, arrange removal vans, gut and decorate the new property so it was fit for us to move into, I decided not to unpack or wash the dirty holiday clothes and left them in the suitcases till we moved. Husband working away, and with the help of a retired decorator called George, me and my two daughters did the impossible. We cleared house and garden, packed and was ready to move for the day after the Super Moon. I new that I was unable to work on my novel but I did not want to break the writing every day habit. I had been on a day plotting workshop with author Jo Franklin and replotted a young reader that I had previously already written a version of prior. That month I am very pleased that I still managed to write 250 words a day. However, I am not proud of the amount of calories I consumed; the first two weeks were in Florida with an American diet and Voodoo Doughnuts, the second two weeks consisted of mainly sandwiches and take out.

August
In our new house and for the first time, I had my own writing space. Things could only get better. Alas, we have a small West Highland Terrier whose views towards squirrels would make Trump look like a humanitarian. He barked himself into such frenzies, that all the fur started falling from his front legs and chest. And when he ran up trees in pursuit of them only to slide down, he injured his back leg. When Watson is unhappy, no one in the household is happy. All public engagements grounded to a halt. The young carers group finished and the first drafts of my novel and young reader were also finished. I found myself distracted by unpacking boxes. I think the general tension of awaiting GCSE and A Level results did not ease the tension in the house. August didn’t quite bite me in the ass but it still bit. Unfortunately, I contracted Lymes disease but was lucky enough to have it confirmed and given 6 weeks antibiotics.

September
Youngest daughter was full steam ahead with her life plans and enrolled in the college of her choice, however, for my oldest daughter, late August and September was a time of transition and finding herself. She eventually settled on doing a degree in Pharmacy but living at home. With the young ones focused and engaged in their studies, more plotting for me and my second novel. I had hoped to go through and repeat the plotting strategy and repeat the plotting strategy beside my mentor but, unfortunately, she was coping with a family bereavement, which left me to plot alone. I went back over my rejection letter from an agent, the comments I got from my tutors at university, the notes I’d taken from my reading list, and plodded on. I had quite a lot of self-doubt at this moment but one of the benefits of being awarded an Arts Council grant is that, effectively, you’ve been paid to do this task. Without the grant, I think I would have started a different project at this point. But now I felt I had to sit down and get on with it. It was the agents party in London in September, and my husband and I took the opportunity to have a weekend away. It was good to reconnect and my confidence was increased by the fact that some agents remembered who I was and were encouraging about me sending them work.

October
Children storytelling commitments were coming in thick and fast as well as writing courses in the library. However, despite the fever and joint pain disappearing, I was struggling from what the doctors called brain fog. I was forced to make the decision to postpone all storytelling gigs til, the new year with the exception of the Gosport Tree Decorating Event, banking that I would be better by December. With the exception of one year, I had always performed at the Day of the Dead, a really fun spoken word event invented by Will Sutton. I struggled with the performance, although the feedback from friends was positive, I was forced to admit to myself that my short term memory wasn’t good enough to perform onstage: it was a bit of a blow. It also made me second guess the work I had done on my plotting sheets but, I couldn’t see any other option than carry on.

November
With my plotting grids and Nano, it was time to get on and write my first draft. One of the things I love about Nano, is it is all about the words and the pressure of editing is relieved. I hoped for a repeat of the kind of word counts I had achieved in March. I still had some creative writing courses to run but this was the month that I realised I hadn’t managed to kick the Lymes. I had productive days and not-so-productive days. However, one of the biggest changes I have made to my life over the last two years is being much kinder to myself. I wrote over 60,000 words in November. Unfortunately, when I copied them over to the NanoWriMo site, I copied and pasted it in twice, buggering up my beautiful graph which irritated me no end. Also my first draft was still not completed.

December
I eased into December taking great pleasure in the fact that this would be the first Christmas in a new house. And realised, my planned ending for the novel was not quite right anymore. Despite always advising my students to finish the first draft before going back, I printed it out and realised I would need to change the last 10,000 words. I needed long walks and plotting time by the sea. My creative writing classes finished on the 18th December. My last story telling event was on the 2nd December. I moseyed the end of the year by reflecting and writing in my journal. It has been a hell of a journey, a privilege to be granted this award which will end in March 2019. I have 1 completed YA novel that is in the process of being edited, a young reader ready for submission, and a second YA novel close to completion. I met some fabulous young carers, overcame my fears of public speaking in an academic setting and got the opportunity to visit the place I was writing about. Best of all, it is not over yet.Facebooktwitterpinterestlinkedin

Dark Cities: A dark twist on spoken word 2017

A year today I was included in the Dark Cities, an anthology inspired by a challenge set by Dr Karl Bell. The writers were asked to create fiction based on our urban surroundings and to celebrate the launch we had a book reading at The Hunter Gatherer café in Southsea. Twelve months later I was asked to arrange a Dark City spoken word event, which would be part of Portsmouth Darkfest.

But what to do, another book reading? Well, we did that last year. A spoken word event based on horror – what so close to the excellent Day of the Dead at the Square Towers? What to do, what to do? At last I decided to throw a few challenges into the evening.

  1. The piece was only supposed to last seven minutes, and if the artist went over their time limit there would be a forfeit.
  2. The pieces would be judged! The audience would pick their favourites.

I was a little worried how they would deal with the extra pressure, but I shouldn’t have been, everyone rose to the challenge. From detail descriptions of electric shock therapy, memories of mental hospital corridors, monsters under the bed to how death likes to spend her time while waiting for victims to pop their clogs, the evening was bursting with creativity.

Alas, as with every competition there can only be a few winners, and the dark crystal goblet was taken home by Jules Garvey-Welsh, other prizes were scooped up by Jackson Davies, Margaret Jennings and Susan Shipp.

Jackson Davies

Jules Garvey-Welsh

Susan Shipp

Margaret Jennings

William Sutton performed spine tingling music and host Matt Wingett gave out the prizes. But I would also like to thank a few hard working helpers who weren’t in the limelight. My daughter Jessica who took lots of lovely photographs and is hoping to make a behind the scenes video, watch this space. My oldest daughter Abigail who helped to count the votes and sat in a draft all evening doing the boring bits. Jo West who arrived with books, chairs and a loving smile. Johnny Sackett who arrived with screens. Mona King Creative for the awesome programmes and Brian Morton at The Hunter Gatherer, he is definitely the host with the most and even provided for our favourite vegan!

Christine Lawrence

Helen Salisbury

Roz Ryska-Onions

Alison Habens

Justin MacCormack

It was brilliant evening and I was just wowed by all the performers; Roz Ryska-Onions, Justin MacCormack, Alison Habens, Helen Salisbury and Christine Lawrence.Facebooktwitterpinterestlinkedin

Dark Cities: A Dark Twist on a Spoken Word and Music

It’s not long until the Dark Cities Event! Woohoo.

So this time last year, Dr Karl Bell headed The Supernatural Cities project and group of talented local writers, many of whom are members of the Portsmouth Writers Hub, produced an anthology of supernatural, weird, crime and horror tales set in Portsmouth. This book was launched during Portsmouth DarkFest 2016 and called Dark Cities. To celebrate its first year book day, we will be celebrating with a Spoken Word event with a twist.

We have invited some local writers and poets to compete for a Dark Goblet, each artist will be given seven minutes to entertain the audience with horror, humour or perhaps something weird, but it should have a urban feel. The audience will be able to vote for their favourite act of the night. However, go over the time limit and there will be penalties.

Music, mulled wine and munches prepared lovingly by the Hunter Gatherer staff, competitions for the audience, it should be an exciting evening.

Dark Cities: A Dark Twist on a Spoken Word and Music

15th Nov Hunter Gatherer Coffee, 249 Albert Rd, Southsea PO4 0JR 7-9pm Free Entry all welcome.

Lets look at our line up!

William Sutton, writer, musician, playwright, raconteur, bon-vivant and, most importantly, author of the Campbell Lawless series of Victorian mystery novels.

Jules Garvey Welsh was the winner of the Countrywide Writeidea writing competition 2016 , and on the 1st and 2nd of February 2018 she will be putting on a production of her play based on her book, The Field Street Monologues at The Titchfield Festival Theatre. 

Jackson Davies is a spoken word artist from Southsea his work aims to showcase creative rhyming and wordplay with a political spin, alongside more tongue-in-cheek verses.

Clare Campbell-Collins writer, performer and play write recently wrote The Cold Room, the play was staged at the College Theatre, St. Vincent College.

Alison Habens is the author of Dreamhouse, a 1990s cult novel based on Alice in Wonderland her new novels are a quirky retelling of the St Veronica myth, The True Picture; and a postmodern rom-com, Pencilwood.

Roz Ryszka-Onions has been writing on and off for over twenty years and today will be reading a new story ‘Beside myself’ – not strictly speaking horror, as it’s a story about depression and electric shock treatment, but most definitely horrific.

Helen Salisbury novel The Worry Bottles was shortlisted for the 2017 Impress Prize for New Writers; her writing explore the complexity of relationships, and how the environments we live in shape us.

Margaret Jennings writing offers some home truths and looks at the world from different angles, a regular short story winner who was recently ‘highly commended’ in The Hampshire Writers Society short story competition.

Sue Shipp, Portsmouth writer and performer is a regular at the cities most exciting spoken word events including the recent Holmes Fest and one of my personal favourite performers Justin MacCormack an horror writing genius will also be on stage!

And of course myself and Matt Wingett will be hosting the party!

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Counting Tomatoes

September – gosh, what a year. It is only now that I’m feeling better that I realise just how ill I have been. I haven’t blogged or vlogged for a very long time!
Scary.
Somehow, and despite all advice I received at the start of the year, I carried on juggling paid work and did my best to fulfill commitments. Result? I got fatigued. But now months down the line, I’ve ended up with a diagnosis, and I’ve sort of come to terms with the fact I need to make significant changes in my lifestyle.
So, now it is the not so simple task and putting said changes into action.

1. Remembering and consistently taking my medication.
2. Adopting a ‘spoon’ lifestyle – more about that another day.
3. Initially, checking in with my better half when accepting work to stop becoming over committed.
4. And not beat myself up about my editing/writing goals – but carry on using what I call, my tomato technique.

It’s actually called the Pomodoro Technique, and it’s a time management technique developed by Francesco Cirillo and was super big in the 90’s, when I sort of stopped using this method when an evil ex broke my egg timer. So I was trying to recover, and feeling guilty and frustrated about the lack of work I was doing when fellow SCBWI member and picture book author Chitra Sounar challenged people to doing tomatoes on Facebook. It was just the gentle nudge I needed.

What is the Pomodoro Technique?
The pomodoro technique is a proven and popular time management life hack.
The main premise behind the technique is to work in blocks of time, typically 25 minutes long (called pomodoro sessions), followed by a 5 minute break. Each pomodoro session should demand your full attention on one task, every break requires you to step away from your work to rest.
The result is greatly improved productivity during focused work sessions that can be maintained through effectively managing distractions and taking regular breaks.

Cheap as chips, you don’t even have to buy a timer, you can use your phone or the many free apps on line.
Like everything there are good and bad points. Do really successful people need a timer ticking away? It’s all or nothing, you have to do your twenty five minutes to get your tick in the box.

But – this tried and tested method had meant that over the summer I have done something. No I am not at the point I wanted to be at. And some days I only managed one tomato. But I have been able to chip away at a mammoth task.
So, the glorious six weeks of the summer with my girls has helped me put things into perspective. We have had some amazing days out, squeezed into my oldest daughter work heavy schedule. I have had a massive Spring? Summer? Nearly Autumn clean. Sorted out the car and the garden. And best of all got back to looking forward.Facebooktwitterpinterestlinkedin