Some of you may have seen this photo before. It was used by the right-wing press back in 2016 to slate Jeremy Corbyn, with the headline ‘Where’s Corbyn’. Instead of answering questions from the Tory party conference he was ‘lost’ on Hadrian’s Wall, buying recycled knitwear knitwear from The Woolly Pedlar. It was even suggested that he be called The Woolly Pedlar becuase he dealt in woolly politics.

As a socialist, can you imagine how gutted I was to hear that my photo was on the front of The Sun, the Daily Mail, The Daily Telegraph and The London Evening Standard? It got worse – it appeared on Have I Got News For You?, in Private Eye , the BBC Politics Programme and New New Statesman. It was on BuzzFeed……it went viral.

I rang the Labour Party press office and said that I had done a very stupid thing. I’d had a phone call from The Daily Telegraph after I’d written a blog post about Jeremy Corbyn buying his wife one of my woolly wraps in our village shop, and had given them permission to use my photo. How utterly naive and stupid I was. I was elated that a man I so respected and admired, and hoped would be our next Prime Minister had taken the time to chat to my son on the station platform at Bardon Mill, then go into our very small village shop at Bardon Mill and buy is wife one of my woolly wraps.

He had indeed been working that weekend and was on his way from the Jarrow March celebrations. He was taking a Sunday afternoon off to go for a walk in our beautiful Northumberland countryside. For the record, we are contactable here in Northumberland. It may be north of Watford Gap, but we still have phone signal.

I was relieved to see that Peter Bradshaw had written a piece in The Guardian, coming to Jeremy and my defense. I was only a small business owner trying to show how happy I was that someone as famouse a Jeremy had bought one of my garments, and Jeremy was not sitting in his kitten heeled Westiminster bubble buying expensive designer clothes, and had indeed been working and engaging with ordinary people.
I lost some followers of my business, such as the woman who said she was about to but one of my woolly wraps, but couldn’t possibly as she knew Jeremy had bought one. What utter tosh! Would you walk out of a shop becuase you didn’t like the customer infront?

I was about to go on holiday when all this broke, and my photo went viral. My husband, not a huge fan of social media, had said that I was to stop looking at my phone as we were on holiday. I couldn’t leave this! My business grew after this, and I gained a lot of new followers, many of whom were of the same political persuasion as me. At least that was something positive to come out of this sorry tale.

I no longer recycle knitwear as The Woolly Pedlar, and one of the regrets of closing my website was that this story and the photos disappeared with it. I thought, therefore, that in the run up to this moneumentous election, with the country on the cusp of a revolution, it would be timely to tell my story again.

I now have a different set of social media accounts, under Sue Reed Writes – feel free to find me on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook as I head off to Newcastle University to follow my dream to become a writer.

I am proud to be a member of the Labour Party. If I am ever lucky enough to meet Jeremy, I would like to apologise to him for being so naive as to give the Torygraph permission to use the photo, but thank him for being the humble, beautiful man that he is. I do hope he is the next Prime Minister, and we can put an end to homelessness, child poverty, food banks, zero hours contracts, save the NHS, address the climate emergency………the list goes on.

In October, I wrote about how I was feeling on the Creative Writing MA and likened it to being ‘At the Foot of a Mountain’. It was as if I had arrived in Switzerland; with one module I was relaxing into the process of being a writer, wandering around the green pastures of the foothills, but with the other module, I felt as if I was at the rock face, unsure of where to put my hands and feet, and watching others who were already approaching the summit.

I had a lovely email back from my tutor, Lars Iyer, who told me to relax, and that ‘academic’ learning would soon become easier. He said they took mature students such as me on the course on purpose, as we had so much else to offer than academia. I took heart from this, and as I eased off the self-doubt, I relaxed, found my confidence, and I have indeed begun to find academic study easier.

We have been learning in our Prose Workshop about the Freytag Triangle for plotting a short story and have been asked to write a story where the protagonist comes to the realisation that she has learnt something. We were to write from experience, safe in the knowledge that the best writing has lots of detail and writing from memory can provide this.

I was over the moon to hear that writing our own life stories was not only allowed, but positively encouraged. I have on the past, held back from writing some of the episodes of my life for fear the regurgitation of them would upset family members. A lot of my past is not pretty. However, I’ve written without the fear of publication, and have started with a story that goes back to a very painful period in my life. I was in my early teens when I started drinking, and going on dates with men that were a lot older than me.

It has been cathartic to write the tale. I heard the other day, that trying to stuff our past down is like trying to stuff a beach ball under the waves; an analogy I can relate to very much. Our own stories are very much part of us, and we must learn to have them walk alongside us, without shame.

I’ve been working with a therapist for some time now, and it was she who first suggested I go to uni to do my MA and learn to write. She has also suggested that pain comes before shame and has shown me how I have learnt to literally stuff down my pain by using food and alcohol, unable to speak of my wounds.

Writing my story is releasing something in me, and by acknowledging the pain without shame, I am starting to move forward. I made the decision four weeks ago to give up alcohol. Those who know me well, know what a big drinker I have been, and this had had some pretty dire consequences. I have so many tales that would make your hair curl, and who knows, maybe I will write them all down one day, but then again, I may not. I haven’t decided if I should write my story, or let it be and move on.

The alcohol free life has been a revelation. I had no idea I could feel this good all anxiety has gone out of the window; my relationships are already better; I have more energy and am sleeping better; I am losing weight and my skin looks great!. I am getting support from Janey Lee Grace and The Sober Club, and have been listening to lots of ‘quit lit’ and podcasts. I’m hoping that I will be alcohol free for the rest of my life, although I do realise that at 27 days, I am very much at the beginning of my journey. I have a book title in mind for my own ‘quit lit’ – ‘Sex, Gin and Chocolate Cup Cakes’ – but have not made up my mind if I’m brave enough to write it. Who knows, maybe a year down the line I will be?

Giving up alcohol had given me the confidence to finally cash in the voucher Tim had given me for my last birthday for a flying lesson. My anxiety levels were far too high to even consider it before. It was amazing, and as I soared over the beautiful Northumberland countryside, I felt freer than I have done for years. I am flying high!

Flying over Alnwick, Northumberland

I won’t be sharing the short story about my teenage self with you at this point in time. However, watch out for a Christmas Short Story I’ve written that I’ll share with you all next week.

Thank you for reading my blog.

Death by Christmas Craft Fair

This piece is dedicated to all the friends I made, both as traders and customers during the seven years I ran my own business as The Woolly Pedlar, upcycling knitwear, and selling it at markets, fairs and events around the country, and in particular in the north-east of England. It is intended as a light-hearted but irreverent look at trading at Christmas events, but also as an acknowledgement to the stresses, strains and sheer hard graft that go with doing the Christmas Craft Fair circuit.

Two o’clock, and the doors are open for set-up, but first there is the need to get your vehicle as close to the door as possible. Goodness knows, you will be doing dozens of trips, wielding your trolley through mud and over wonky boards to your allotted stall. They haven’t put the heating on in the marquee yet, and so it’s bliddy freezing, but you’ll soon be working up a sweat as you march from your van to your table on countless trips. It’s every man and woman for him and herself, but of course we will all greet each other with a cheery ‘hello’ a hug and ‘lovely to see you’. We are after all, one big happy trading family.

A table? Didn’t they get my message that a table is no earthly use to me? I sell clothes for goodness sake, I have rails and a mirror, and full-length coats to display, so how the heck am I supposed to use a six foot table? The table is discarded round the back of the marquee, (let’s hope the fearsome organiser doesn’t realise it was me who dumped it there) and I begin the set-up. Thank goodness I paid for a double pitch this time; however, with the van hire, insurance credit card machine, price tags, bags and a new set of rails, I don’t have much change from a thousand pounds. I wonder how many of the punters who turn over my items with a look like they’re chewing wasps, realise my outlay before I’ve even set foot at these events?

Shit! One of the rails has a leg missing. Why did I get my husband to help pack the van? A quick phone call, and I ask him to bring it along. ‘Yes, I know it’s a nuisance, but no, I can’t do without it, and I did tell you there were five pieces to each rail.’

Despite having set up a zillion times before, each event is different, and with new stock to display, I want to get it right. A quick word with my neighbour, and we decide to butt up to each other to gain a bit more valuable space. The organiser is patrolling the venue to make sure we don’t go over the line, although there is a stand at the end, best friends of hers it seems, who are sticking right out into the aisle with their imported tat – I thought this was supposed to be a ‘handmade event’. I worry about the bottle-neck they are causing with their Union Jack and sequinned cushions. I’m also seething because I asked to be in the main marquee, and I’ve been demoted yet again to the side tent. Probably my own fault for sticking my neck out and complaining last year. I’m surprised I wasn’t struck off!

Everything is now out of the van, and I move it into the turnip field to allow other traders to unload. I notice others are not so magnanimous. It may have something to do with the rain we had over the last three days, and the prospect of being towed out by a tractor in the dark tonight.

Set up took five hours. I am shattered. The other half did turn up with the rail, and we hissed at each other as he tried to ‘help’ with suggestions of how he would do it better.

I have been working on this collection since the beginning of August, sweating under the Velux windows in the woolly garret under piles of wool when everyone else was outside, sipping Pimm’s and basking in the summer’s heat. Not only do I source all the knitwear I use, rushing around Hexham’s charity shops on a Tuesday morning like an old bag lady, but I then wash and dry it  – think Widow Twanky’s laundry – then design and finally cut and sew. I think of that oft heard comment ‘How long did it take you to make this?’ Sometimes, admittedly said with admiration and genuine respect, but more often by the chewing wasps brigade, with first an incredulous look at the price tag, then their friend as they show it to them and mouth something, Les Dawson style thinking I can’t hear.

Home for a much-needed gin and tonic, or maybe two, and meal I had the forethought to put in the slow cooker before leaving, washed down with a bottle of red that doesn’t touch the sides.

I wake at three in the morning – What?? I need my sleep more than ever tonight – Oh why did I drink so much? I’m hot fidgety and sweaty, and my mind is now racing. Did I put the card machine on charge – I must remember it in the morning; I forgot the bags – must put them in; Have I got all the orders ready for collection? I’m not sure if I drifted off again. Other half says I was snoring, so I must have done, but at 6.30 I get up, feeling dreadful. The show must go on despite the hangover.

I park the van in the turnip field and head down, covers off, in time for a quick bacon buttie and a coffee before we start. I stock up on ‘Christmas Slice’ – a calorific confection of shortbread, caramel, cranberries, chocolate and almonds that will see me through the day. It’s soon ten o’clock and the doors are open. There is a sea of people, mainly older women, with the look of the undead, making their way around the venue. There are four coach parties due in this morning.

‘Morning!’ I say with a smile – by the end of the four days I will have an ache in my jaw from smiling.

‘We’re only looking’ they snap. The wasp chewing has begun.

And I’m only saying hello!

Not put off, I try again,

‘How’s the Christmas shopping going?’ I’m ignored.

I grab a pair of my armwarmers and step forward

‘Can I show you what I do with recycled knitwear?’

 big mistake

‘What? Second-hand? Eugh – do you wash it first?’

Of course I bloody wash it you silly old bat

‘Oh yes, everything has a forty degree wash first, then any shrinkage that is going to occur has already happened. I use the felted jumpers for mittens and bodices of my coats and jackets’

I grab a jacket and pair of mittens and show them with a cheerful smile and hope in my heart.

‘No, it’s ok dear, we’re only here for a coffee and scone. It’s all so expensive’

I step back, the smile fixed, and look for someone else to chat to about my process and creations. It’s only early on day one, I’m not going to feel defeated.

You see some traders sitting behind their table, hunched over mobile phones, hardly glancing up. ‘I didn’t sell much’ I’m not flipping surprised – selling is all about talking! Talk about anything – the weather, the car park, kids, Christmas, anything to get the conversation going while you suss out what colours they like wearing then Bam! Hit them with a design in their colourway and style and the sale in in the bag – well, sometimes!

There is an invisible line about two feet in front of the stall; a line which some feel is a sound barrier. You can be as rude as you like about the products on display, and the stallholder won’t hear you – I have news – they can. As my patience with the general public wore thin, I was heard to say, ‘I can hear what you’re saying. I made all these.’ Rule number one, don’t take comments personally, but it’s very hard. You made everything, and they are part of you, how can you not take it personally? I have a story to illustrate this:

Still feeling a bit ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’ about my designs, I was doing my first big event at a local venue, and a lady came up to my rail of hooded sweatercoats. They had long liripipe hoods, a full skirt and are not for the faint hearted, but many raved about them. (I’d like a £1 for every ‘Joseph’s Technicolour Dream Coat comment made)

‘Feel free to try anything on, there’s no pressure, have a play!’

I helped a short lady into a coat. I noticed her bowed head and closed in stance lifted, as we buttoned up the coat. She looked at me and smiled.

‘Have a twirl!’ I said, ‘you look fab!’

A man appeared. I had not seen him at first, but now he was six inches from my face, his own, bright red, and spittle flew as he roared at his wife:

‘Take that off! You look fucking ridiculous!’

The general hubbub that had been in the tent stopped with the volume of his tirade, which continued, the room now silent, listening and watching, as he turned his venom on me.

‘Are you taking the fucking piss?’

The lady took off the coat, and placing it on the rail, whispered ‘Sorry’ to me. I noticed she had retreated back inside her shell as he marched her off.

I had turned to face the back wall, tears welling up in my eyes, when I felt a hand around my shoulder. Seeing and hearing what had gone on, a fellow trader had gate vaulted over her stall of cushions.

‘You’ll need to grow a thicker skin’ she said. ‘You’re dealing with the general public’ She continued. ‘Your work is beautiful, and if you ever need a seamstress I’m your girl”

This angel of mercy was Julie, who had her own business as a seamstress, and importantly, an industrial over-locker. Following our serendipitous meeting, Julie made hundreds of ponchos, bedspreads and blankets for me over the years. Talk about silver cloud! I do however, think of that woman often and wonder what sort of a life she had with that bully of a man.

It was seven years later, when another man came up to me (at the same event interestingly – it did attract them) and said ‘Perfectly good jumper til you started messing around with it’ and I replied, ‘Piss off!’ that I realised I’d grown my thicker skin.

Christmas Sweatercoat and a Thicker Skin

‘The general public’ can be a nightmare, and one’s patience tested to the max, but over the seven years I sold my woolly wares at Christmas events, I met some wonderful people. There are jewels out there, who support, encourage, and buy from crafters year in and year out, preferring handmade to imported tat, and supporting local artisans and producers.  I thank you for your kindness, purchases and friendship.

Poncho love from some of my happy customers

I am in fact having lunch with a woman this week who first bought a sweatercoat about five years ago. Our paths have crossed at pop-up-choirs, music concerts and political events, which is hardly surprising – we sing off the same hymn sheet.

I only lasted seven years, before the sheer hard work and all-consuming nature of the beast got the better of me. To all those selling at craft fairs and ‘Designer Maker Markets’ on the run up to Christmas, I salute you! It’s a Monday as I write this, and hope you’re taking a well-earned day off before the next onslaught at the weekend.

If you are a customer, visiting a handmade Christmas event, please spend a moment to smile, say hello and encourage our artists. They have put their blood, sweat and tears into what they do, and if you can, buy homemade this Christmas.

Woolly Pedlar Christmas stocking
Woolly Pedlar Christmas stocking

Whilst I am no longer making any woolly goodies, there is a small selection of remaining stock at The Cane Workshop in Alston, where Lou demonstrates chair caning, as well as stocking a wonderful range of products made by local artists in lovely old shop in the market place.

Four weeks into my MA in Creative Writing at Newcastle University and I feel like I’m at the foot of a mountain. We have two modules this semester: Process and Prose and they couldn’t be more different from each other in both teaching style and expectations.

At the foot of Mount Toubkal, Morocco 1987
At the foot of Mount Toubkal, Morocco 1987.

In ‘Process’ with Jacob Polley, we are being led gently through the foothills, learning the process of becoming a writer and gathering what we need to develop our practice. I can breathe the air and admire the view; the wind is blowing gently, and I am able to be kind to myself. My daily writing in my journal, with themes such as ‘I remember’, ‘I am looking at’ and ‘I am thinking of’, allow streams of consciousness to flow and these allow to memories and experiences to bubble up to the surface like mountain springs.

Lanehead, Weardale. Looking towards Wellhope
Lanehead, Weardale. Looking towards Wellhope.

Recently, I visited Lanehead where I lived in Weardale sixteen years ago. My daughter used to walk up a footpath known a ‘Clarty Lonnen’ to the Stone Chair, high up on Puddingthorne Fell. We returned there to take her daughter, our granddaughter Daisy, for her first visit. On my return, I opened my journal and began…’I remember’. Happy memories came flooding back, of when Tim and I bought two derelict lead miner’s cottages and an acre of land for a song, renovated them, raised our family on a shoestring, and worked as information assistants at Killhope Leadming Centre, having given up our teaching and accountancy careers to work part time and raise our young family. It has inspired me to write more of my experiences living in Weardale and possibly use some of my knowledge of the life and times of the lead miners in my writing.

Hannah, Tim and Daisy. The Stone Chair. Lanehead, Weardale 2019.

Our other module, ‘Prose Writing’ with Lars Iyer is in stark contrast. Here I have left the gentle, grassy slopes of the foothills and have arrived at a rock face. Others seem much further up, with their young academic minds fresh from undergrad courses, or having written for years. I need my wits about me, as at times I have no idea where I should be placing my hands or feet and find the climb quite daunting. The work is challenging, and questions posed need serious consideration.  My mind is menopausal and rusty, but with regular writing practice, reading and hard work, mine will hopefully soon be oiled and fit for the climb.

Climbing Mount Toubkal, Morocco 1987
Climbing Mount Toubkal. Morocco. 1987

As a good friend said to me just last week, I am on a journey. It’s going to be hard, but I will get there!

Top of the pass, heading into Oukaimeden. Morocco 1987

Mountain photos taken on our honeymoon, when we climbed Mount Toubkal, the highest mountain in North Africa………but that’s another story.

Student Granny arrives on Campus
Student Granny arrives on Campus

The nickname, Student Granny was suggested by my friend Foz, who currently lives in New Zealand. Student Granny for me conjures up a character from that north-east publication Viz Comic. Anyone remember the ‘Fat Slags’? At the ripe old age of 57, I am returning to University and have got a place at Newcastle to study for my MA in Creative Writing. I want to write books!

My pencils sharpened and new bag packed, and the day I had been waiting for had finally arrived. Despite feeling rough following a terrible night’s sleep, I eagerly boarded the train at Bardon Mill. Menopausal insomnia wouldn’t be one of the reasons for bleary eyes amongst the younger students during Fresher’s Week, I guessed. I wondered if I would be the oldest, and worried about things like forgetting names, not being about to cope with the technology, needing the loo in the middle of lectures, and above all, being fat.

Stupid really, how being fat should be a worry. How on earth does size make you a better or worse writer? I am of the generation that was brought up with fat shaming, and I guess it runs deep.

Newcastle was busy and as I walked up the hill from Central Station, and I spotted groups of Fresher’s being shown around the town. They all looked so young! Flyers were being handed out for night-time events; banging techno nights, karaoke events, foam parties and the such, but despite the fact I am officially a ‘Fresher’ no one handed me one. Maybe it was the grey hair that did it?

 Walking past Eldon Square, I ducked into ’Hotter’ to get a couple of pairs of wide fit, comfortable shoes that would help with the walk both to the station at Bardon Mill, and from Newcastle station up to Uni, looking forward to the benefits that this will bring, in getting ‘fit for purpose’. I asked the assistant in Hotter to put my shoes in a tote bag I’d brought with me. Far better to arrive on campus with a canvas bag sporting the cover of Virginia Woolf’s ‘A Room of One’s Own’, than a carrier bag advertising the fact I needed to buy shoes from the fat feet shop.

Still, I was here, and all worries left me as I walked up the steps into the University compound. Toploader’s ‘Dancing in the Moonlight’ was being played from a stretch tent, and I grinned.  I was going to university to learn how to become a writer. This has been on my bucket list for most of my life. Stopping a couple of young guys who were passing a rugby ball between them, I asked them to take my photo. Student Granny had arrived on campus!

Over the next couple of days, induction talks and activities were planned, and it was great to get to know some of my fellow students. I was relieved to find that I wasn’t the oldest (or the fattest) Everyone was so friendly, and our minds were put at rest by a panel of PhD researchers who were MA ‘buddies’, answering any questions we might have.  I stuck my hand up and explained that the last time I had written an essay was back in 1984, and had done it using a typewriter and Tippex. Was there any help in formatting, referencing and ‘how’ to write an essay in 2019? I was reassured that there would be tutorials on just this, plus the ‘Academic Skills Kit’ on the website, and a very useful department based in the library who would help with the nuts and bolts of written work.

At the meet and greet the wasabi peas and wine flowed, and despite initial nerves, I struck up several conversations. In this small world, I found the nephew of a very old friend, and a friend of a friend who had gone to school with another friend. I was interested to see a lot of international students and thought them very brave to be coming to a strange country all by themselves, starting life in a city that is totally new. I chatted to Maggy, who was here all the way from Florida, to do a PhD in Victorian female travel writers. How interesting! I hoped she’d brought some warm clothes.

I had been looking forward to discovering the library, and set off on the second day, in torrential rain to find it. Set behind The Hancock Museum, this four-storey building did not disappoint. The staff there were incredibly friendly, helpful and very patient with Student Granny who was struggling to log onto the system and navigate both around the technology and the geography of the building. It was like a city! We had a reading list for one of our modules, ‘Process’ and being a bit of a ‘girly swot’ (topical joke) I thought I’d get in there quick and bagsie some of the titles. Someone had obviously got thought the same and got in there first. I found a few and am happily reading them at home this week and making notes. It is the first time I have studied a text-book in over thirty years, and it feels great! I’m sure my note taking is far too diligent and I am reminded of the mature students that were on my teacher training course back in 1981, who seemed to take the course far more seriously than us youngsters who were far more committed to propping up the college bar.

Next week teaching starts in earnest. We’ve chosen out modules, and being a part time MA student, I am doing a compulsory module on the ‘Process of Writing’, taught by the fantastic poet, Jacob Polley, and the Craft of Prose, taught by Dr Lars Iyer in the first semester. After Christmas I have signed up for a Masterclass in ‘Writing for Children and Young Adults’ which will be taught by Ann Coburn. I met Ann when I did a Saturday workshop run by the Newcastle Centre for Literary Arts, called ‘Write like David Almond’ – anyone read Skellig? I loved Ann’s teaching style and found her enthusiastic and approachable. It was Ann who suggested I apply to Newcastle. I am very much looking forward to this module, as I’ve always fancied having a go at children’s literature.

My whistle was well and truly whetted by Jacob Polley at the introductory talk. I feel very privileged to have this opportunity to study at the ripe old age of 57, and to be attending such a prestigious university. Not only is the teaching and support of a high standard; Newcastle English Department is ranked number ten in the Times Good University Guide for English, Creative Writing and Linguistics. The buildings are simply wonderful, steeped in history with wonderful architectural design. I wonder in whose footsteps I walk as I tread the corridors.  Although I’m yet to find a painting of a woman amongst the many academics, dignitaries and benefactors portrayed in oils on canvas in gilt frames.  

I’ve walked through the quad many a time over the last decades using it as a thoroughfare from the car park to the shops, but now I am a student here. I keep having to pinch myself, and maybe I’ll stop making silly noises as I walk along the corridors of the Armstrong and Percy buildings once term starts and the initial euphoria dies down. I’ll write more later in the semester and let you all know how Student Granny is getting on.

Newcastle University
Newcastle University

Thanks for reading!

With only six weeks to go until I start at Newcastle University, I’ve decided to retreat for a while and put myself on a detox in more ways than one. There’s the obvious healthy detox, food, wine, gin. A mission to shed some pounds and get fitter but there is also an intellectual and work based detox needed.

After coming back from Tuscany, where I was invited by Bill Breckon to put a proposal forward to run a ‘getting to grips with social media’ course at The Watermill, I ran away with ideas. It is a way with me, and I can be very impulsive. I’ve soon realised that if I launch another business, supporting folk with social media, then I am not allowing myself time to read in preparation for Uni, or will have the time to give my MA all I want to give it once term starts. I’ve decided, therefore, to knock the social media support business on the head. I am pulling back and cutting myself some slack.

Jacob Polley, the renowned poet and one of our course tutors advised me at the Open Day to read all I can. I find this fine in the evenings, once the day’s chores and work are done, but to allow myself time to read in the day time is going to get some getting used to. It feels like a total indulgence. However, a friend suggested that I look at is as a ‘reading month’. Many universities have a ‘reading week’, and I have a lot of reading to do, so am giving myself permission to have a reading break for the rest of the summer holidays


I have a huge pile of books waiting to be read; don’t we all? I also thought I’d give myself a treat and read works written by my University tutors. I’m beginning with the wonderful poems of Jacob Polley and the work of Jackie Kay and William Fiennes. I am thrilled to be discovering the work of these fine writers, and have just finished ‘Red Dust Road’ by Jackie Kay, which was a wonderful autobiography. It has made me even more excited for the course to begin. I’d just like to give a shout out to the excellent Northumberland Libraries Service, who are keeping me well supplied with books. I can’t wait to get into the university library!

I’m also going to detox from social media for a while. How many hours do I waste in a week by scrolling through my Facebook, Instagram and Twitter feeds? I know I have a wonderful following thanks to The Woolly Pedlar, but I need a break and I need social media out of my life for a while in order to free up the time needed to read and write. I feel on a psychological level, I’ve had something to prove. The Woolly Pedlar helped me to get my confidence back after losing my teaching job, but it was all very showy. I want to be quieter, and to listen and learn rather than shout and pontificate about what I’ve been doing.

I feel I’ve rather run away with the notion of ‘being a writer’ and need to get off my high horse, and learn the craft of writing from the very beginning. I am not a writer; Sue Reed does not yet write (apart from the odd short story and blog). I am learning the craft of writing, and with this needs to be some humility and understanding that I am at the very beginning. I am a child and my writing will be childlike until I have learnt and learnt some more. Student Granny is off to learn, and I hope very much that one day soon I can hold my head up and say, ‘I am a writer’.

I will pick up my blog and social media in six weeks, when Student Granny starts Uni, and I hope you will follow my journey, but for now, I’m retreating with my nose in a pile of books.
I do hope you enjoy the rest of your summer holidays. I’ll see you in September!

Over and out for now,

Student Granny.

There’s no rest for the wicked! I’ve been back from Tuscany for a week, the washing is all done, and the cupboards filled again. I’ve had a day childminding Daisy, been to my writing group and have a plan for my first book. Despite heading off to university in September, I am hoping to write this book over the summer. I am looking to write about my journey as The Woolly Pedlar, giving tips along the way on how to get to grips with social media. ‘You’ll only ever be like a farmer’s wife making jam’ was the comment thrown at me by a family member when I first mooted the idea of making a business from recycled knitwear. Light the touch paper and stand back! Having lost my teaching job through ill health, I was not going to sit around feeling sorry for myself. I built up The Woolly Pedlar from one pair of armwarmers in 2011 to be a successful business and an international brand. I couldn’t have done this without the use of social media and would love to share the knowledge and skills I gained in this area. As a creative entrepreneur, I feel I can relate to other creative folk, talking their language, without using a lot of technical computer jargon. I do not however profess to be an ICT expert!

Just this week, my husband had a client visit him (he’s an accountant) who spoke of how she’d love to be able to share what she makes on social media, but does not know where to start or how to do it, and it simply terrifies her. I think a book that is easy to read, interspersed with funny stories and anecdotes about my time as the Woolly Pedlar, might just go down a treat.

I’ve been toying with an idea for the title, and have been discussing this over on Facebook, both on my Sue Reed Writes page, and The Woolly Pedlar page. At the moment I’m favouring: ‘Tales from the Woolly Garret: Getting to Grips with Social Media’. I think that then leaves room for other volumes. Maybe, a book of short stories?
I’ve written so much over the past seven years over on The Woolly Pedlar website, (and you can hop over there and catch up on these on the blog page there), but I was heartbroken that some of the stories would disappear if I shut the website down. I want my story about how Jeremy Corbyn bought one of my woolly wraps and then was hounded by the press to be seen; I want my experiences selling my woolly wares at festivals and Christmas fairs to be written down ; I want to write about all the comments given by the general public; I want to tell all the funny stories from my Women’s Institute talks and other outings.

I would also like to develop this theme and offer courses and tutorials on using social media. I’ll be meeting with Cool Terry from TWDA next week to discuss how we can put out tutorials on the internet. Despite being of the mature variety, I learnt how use social media to my advantage. It’s never too late to learn, and using social media does not need to be daunting or overly time consuming, but it is crucial if you want to show your creations to a world-wide audience and sell your work.

If you would like to hear more, or have a suggestion for the book title, then do get in touch.

I had bought myself a lovely, light, cotton dress for my holiday from a stall in Hexham market. I was fond of this dress and received a few compliments on it from my fellow writers, whilst on a writing retreat at The Watermill in Tuscany. It hadn’t been an expensive purchase, but I loved its coolness and ease of wear. It had two layers with a cool white sleeveless dress sitting underneath a khaki capped-sleeve outer layer. I’d worn it with my Audrey Hepburn hat when visiting the beautiful hilltop town of Verrucola earlier that week.

Our final day at The Watermill was hot, really hot, and I thought this would be the ideal dress to wear for our gourmet lunch at the hilltop restaurant at Monte dei Bianchi. I had changed out of a sundress, as I felt some form of sleeves were called for, this being a posh restaurant.

On arrival the views were stunning, and I set about taking photos. However, I was soon stopped in my tracks when Maggie, a fellow writer, came up to say that my backside was hanging out of my dress. It would seem that on getting in the minibus it had ripped, not just through one layer, but through both, and my flesh coloured big pants (you know, the sort with legs you wear to stop your legs chaffing) were now showing at the back.

Horrified, I grabbed the back of the dress, holding it together and waddled towards the cover of the terrace. It would seem the proprietor had also noticed, as in Italian she offered for me to come inside and she’d sew it up. I told her in English that there was no need, I could sew, and I hurried off to the bathroom, needle and thread in hand. I grabbed a glass of wine on my way – I needed fortification!

I took the offending garment off and stood in my bra and pants – not matching, and not a pretty sight, to sew up the dress. A quick couple of lines of tacking later and I was fit to be seen in public again.

We enjoyed a wonderful meal in great company, and after coffee got ready to go. I nipped quickly to the bathroom before we set off, and to my horror I realised that I’d stripped and sewn my dress in the ‘Signori’ not the ‘Signora’ bathroom. It could only happen to me!

I was very happy to be visiting the market at Fivizzano, as it gave the chance to buy presents to take home to the family. I was hoping to find some of the delicious ‘bresaola’ we were served for dinner as antipasti back at The Watermill the previous night. I walked past several stalls of tempting linen clothing, where some of our group, now renamed by me as the ‘Linen Ladies of Lunigiana’, came away with bags of cool, colourful summer frocks. Over on the far side of the square, I found ‘The Salumi della Tana’ stall, run by what appeared to be three brothers. Maybe they weren’t brothers at all, but I liked to think they were, and feel it adds something to my story.

What is it about Italian men that makes them so darn good looking? As I write this, I realise I didn’t take any photos of the guys in question. I was far too shy for that! You will have to rely on my description and story to build up a picture in your own mind’s eye.

The three brothers were stood behind the counter of their smart trailer in ascending ages, from the shy, skinny youngster, to the more confident tanned and muscular older brothers. I do doubt their blood relationship to each other as one had deep dark brown eyes, and the other, eyes of piercing blue. Tight t-shirts and tight jeans added to the allure, and smiles that twinkled and made this old lady quite flustered!

Salamis of varying widths and lengths hung from the ceiling of the van. Whilst on the counter, cheeses, hard skinned and soft, full moons and half-moons, some with Tom and Jerry like holes, mature and ripe were tempting my taste buds. Cured meats, and a sign advertising the bresaola which was on offer, sent me scurrying for my phone to look up the Italian I needed. I was not going to speak English, that was one thing I was sure of!

With the help of Google translate, I looked up how to say two hundred and fifty grammes, and stood back nervously, feeling so much the tourist, while I practiced the phrase over and over in my head. I listened as the sound of Italian being spoken by the locals rang out, voices rising and falling with such a fast tempo that was impossible to understand, but with a musical, melodic sound. I wished I’d worked harder on my Duolingo, but had got frustrated with it. After all, when would you need to say that the man was in the sugar for goodness sake?

It was my turn, and the guy with the piercing blue eyes was looking right at me. ‘Si?’ he said with a smile that lit up his whole face, then said something I didn’t understand. I smiled back, a little flirtatiously if I admit, and stammered: ‘ duecentocinquanta grammes de bresaola, per favour.’ My man smiled again, repeated what I’d said and went off to slice the meat. I’d done it! He understood!

‘Gracie’ I say, and he then hands me a slither of cheese to try. I pop the creamy morsel into my mouth ‘Moy buen’ I say. Bugger! I curse under my breath, that was Spanish! There’s me trying to look all cool, sophisticated and Italian! A quick fumble with my phone and with the help of Google translate, I say ‘Molte buono!’ Phew!

Now for the dried porcini mushrooms and some cheese. Trouble is, I didn’t have time to look up any other numbers, so you guessed it, I got ‘duecentocinquanta grammes’ of cheese and mushrooms. I did manage to ask for ‘Pecorini viejo’ (mature Pecorino) but only as I’d overheard him say it before. I did, however, get rather a lot of mushrooms for two hundred and fifty grammes! Back in the Bronzino bedroom, these needed to be double wrapped as they had rather a pungent pong. Fortunately, there was a fridge in the communal kitchen at the Watermill where I could keep my meat and cheese.

These were to be presents for the family, and along with a jar of locally made pesto, and a bag of pasta, I had the makings of an Italian meal that would remind me of my wonderful stay in Italy, but more importantly, of the men from the Salumi Della Tana in Fivizzano.

I said my ‘arrive dercis’ and turned away from the stall. I looked up as the ancient bell tower rang out the hour, and I felt the hot sun hit my face from a cloudless cobalt blue sky. Oh, if only shopping in Hexham market was this good!

The dictionary definition of ‘retreat’ is ‘to withdraw from action’; ‘to withdraw to seclusion or shelter; and ‘to alter one’s opinion about something’. My week at The Watermill, Posara with Jo Parfitt ticked all of these boxes.

The Courtyard at The Watermill, Posara, Tuscany, Italy
The Courtyard and steps leading to the Vine Terrace at The Watermill, Posara, Tuscany.

Having failed to find a buyer for my business, The Woolly Pedlar, and having worked for several months with potential buyers, drawing up contracts with my solicitor, only to have potential buyers withdraw at the eleventh hour, I arrived in Tuscany exhausted and ready for a break. I admit to having been nervous and hesitant at first, never having joined a group on holiday before, let alone a writing group. My husband and I are seasoned solo, independent travellers. Being met at Pisa airport, by a man with a sign was a new experience, as was being whisked to my destination without having to find a bus or haggle with a taxi driver. (Memories of arriving in Marrakesh and haggling over the fare of a taxi ride with packets of Marlboro. )

The Bronzino bedroom at The Watermill, Posara complete with leopard print settee
The Bronzino bedroom at The Watermill, Posara

My bedroom was more of a suite than a room, with the most sumptuous leopard print settee, which came in very handy for elevating my ankles, swollen by the flight and heat. A quick unpack of my things, and I went out to explore the grounds and meet my fellow writers.

cooling off in the river at The Watermill, Posara

Being an ancient watermill, we didn’t have to go far to find a babbling brook, and a chance to cool off. Valerie and Maggie here, were getting to know each other whilst cooling their feet in the river. Marie meanwhile had waded across to find a swimming spot. Later that afternoon, Bill took us for a wander around the grounds, and through the amazing bamboo forest. Pockets of shade and tranquillity abounded, and sun loungers and seats offered tempting sunbathing spots. Siestas were clearly going to be amazing!

There were so many beautiful spots around The Watermill to read, write or doze in the sun. The garden was filled with vibrant flowers, and the gardeners worked hard to make sure every spot was bursting with colour. Terracotta window boxes and planters filled every nook and cranny with beauty. The vine terrace provided shade from the hot sun and made the perfect place for our group to gather to chat, write, and listen to each other’s stories.

Drinks each night were also on the vine terrace, a wonderful spot to gather in dappled shade and get to know each other. Karsten and Anastasia served us each night, and all drinks and wine included in the price of the week, which flowed as freely as the river. One evening we were entertained by a lovely young duo, who sat under the rose trellis while we sipped our aperitivi. Had I just died and gone to heaven?

Evening entertainment during aperitivi
Evening entertainment during aperitivi

The week was interspersed with visits to beautiful Tuscan villages, with writing tasks to be completed, and meals out at superb local restaurants. I loved how The Watermill supported local businesses, and it felt great to be out and about in the locality, practising my Italian where I could. The sight of Verrucola took my breath away as we arrived, with its hilltop castle and ancient streets. I was delighted to wander around them and hear Bill tell a little of the history of the town.

After a delicious lunch of homemade pasta with the best fresh tomato sauce I have ever tasted, a superb beef and tomato stew then fresh fruit salad, we sat under the cool of umbrellas by the stream, and wrote our thoughts as they came into our head. Here are mine, they are just a stream of consciousness, unrefined and unedited:

Verrucola I feel I have come home. This country is in my blood. I was not meant to live in the cold, grey north-east of England. Despite my swollen ankles, I love this heat. I tip my head back to greet the warmth of the sun and I feel alive. There is music all around. The colours sing, from the fiery red of the geraniums bringing passion and vibrancy, to the deep rich cobalt blues of the skies bringing depth and calm. Terracotta tiles tumble down the hillside and nestle one behind the other on a mish mash of roofs. The stone is ancient, what stories they could tell of old, if only they could speak. What have these stones witnessed? What knights and ladies of old have trodden these alleyways, ducked on horseback under arches and crossed their bridges? The sound coming from the conversations of a group of Italian men is like music to my ears. I want to bathe in Italy and let its passion and vibrancy fill me. I have arrived. I am home”

Verrucola Tuscany
Verrucola, Tuscany


Day two, and after our class with Jo Parfitt, our tutor, on ‘A Sense Of Place’, we were taken to the little town of Fivizzano, where the market was in full swing. Some of our group made a bee line to the stalls selling linen, and we have a lovely photo of ‘The Linen Ladies of Lunigiana’, which sounds like the title of a novel if ever I heard one!

Leaving the linen ladies to make their purchases, and feeling I needed some time by myself, I headed off to explore the beautifully tranquil streets of Fivizzano. Rounding a corner, I was met with the most wonderful view of rural Tuscany, so green and verdant, with rolling hills, but with the sharp rocky points of the mountains beyond. I have a significant birthday coming up soon, and I made a promise to myself to return to this corner of Tuscany and explore it further.

Rolling Tuscan hills from Fivizzano
Rolling Tuscan hills from Fivizzano

Returning to the market, I paused by the stall selling meats and cheeses. I was drawn at first to a large bag with ‘Funghi Porcini’ and muttered to myself as I tried to work out the Italian for ‘100g of porcini mushrooms please’. I hestitated, stood back, and listen to the fast paced chatter of the Iocals, I reckon I had it, ” cento grammes funghi porcini, per favore” Bingo! I’d done it!! Not at all easy, and the piecing blue eyes of the very handsome Italian man serving me made my heart flutter. I returned later to the stall, and made further purchases before retiring to a nearby gelateria to write up my experiences with the Italian men at the meat and cheese stall. Rather than write it all out here, and made this already lengthy blog even longer, I’ve written it up in another post. Click here to read “The Salami Boys of Fivizzano”

Fun and games with the salami boys in Fivizzano market

On Wednesday we were given the day off from writing, and the bulk of the group chose to visit Lucca. I love Lucca, and feel it needs to prefix, ‘lovely’ Lucca, but having already visited it with my daughter a couple of years ago, I thought I would plump to go to Cinque Terre on the coast with Maggie and Trevor. Don’t get me wrong, the group was a wonderful mix of some very lovely people, but I was glad of the chance to just go out for the day with two others. I find the whole mass tourist group thing visiting a place slightly embarrassing. Everything at The Watermill is included in the price, all drinks, food and even our train tickets to Cinque Terre. Karsten, one of the staff at the mill came with us to the train station, and made sure we were on the right train. We had been told that Cinque Terre would be busy, but that was somewhat of an understatement. We were squashed on the train like sardines, but fortunately the journey was brief, and we were soon at the stunning beach of Monterosso al Mare. There are, as the name of the place suggests, five small villages along the coast, with Monterosso being the furthest, and final stop by train. the plan was to catch the boat back to Riomaggio, stopping off en route to have lunch at Vernazza.

Cinque Terre by boat
Cinque Terre by boat

Maggie and I were kicking ourselves for not popping a cossie in our bags as the water looked inviting. Skinny dipping was out of the question, but like true Brits we rolled up our shorts and went in for a paddle. All we needed was a knotted hankie for Trevor, who was sitting patiently on the beach while we put the world to rights with our feet cooling in the clear waters of the Mediterranean.

Monteross, Cinque Terre, Italy

The boat is a great option, and up on deck there was a lovely breeze, and the views stunning, with vine covered terraces and tumbling houses painted in bright colours. We had a superb, leisurely wine fuelled lunch in Vernazza, and then caught the boat along to the final village of Riomaggio. It was boiling hot by now, and we sat in the shade of a boat house eating gelato. It was cherry season in Italy, and being a fan of seasonal eating, I wasn’t disappointed with my choice. We headed home by train, having had a wonderful day.

Finding my plot
Finding my plot

Thursday morning’s class, ‘Writing on a Theme’ prepared us for our task of ‘Finding your Plot’ which we were to work on in the cool shade and tranquility of the Carmine Monastery. Having lost the plot several years ago, I was beginning to feel that with the help of my writing, and the wonderful journey I was travelling, previously as ‘The Woolly Pedlar’, and more recently and with the help of therapy and now with the support of Jo and my fellow writers, I was finally beginning to find mine. I had gone on this writers course about memoir writing, with thoughts of writing my own life story. What came to me that day, sitting in the monastery, was that I no longer felt the urge to write my history. I no longer needed to revisit the past and all its pain. That night I had a dream. I was stepping out of a dress and leaving it on the floor. It was time to move on.

I found the plot!

I have come home, inspired by my time in Tuscany to write a book, but not the book I had set out to write. Following discussions with Bill, our host, Jo and the others on the course, I have decided to write a guide to using social media for creative folk, interspersed with stories from my life as The Woolly Pedlar. Jo helped me to find my voice. She said I could ‘write funny’, and this book will be far from a dry ‘how to guide’. It will I suppose, be part memoir, but also a useful guide to using social media from an older woman, not some young tecchie guy. Hopefully this will be something many creatives will be able to relate to. I taught myself, and the hard work I put into my social media, building up relationships with my followers, helped The Woolly Pedlar grow from a cottage industry to a global brand. I would love to share my knowledge, and help others show their work to a waiting global audience, and in turn convert those views into sales.

If you would like more information on this, and be kept up to date about the book and any subsequent courses that might come as a result of it, then feel free to sign up to my newsletter.
I would like to offer thanks to Bill and Lois our hosts, and to Jo our wonderful tutor. I have made some great friends on this course, and the support of my fellow writers as I went through what was at times an emotional journey, was phenomenal. We did of course have many laughs too!

The group of writers, June 2019

They say that blogs should be brief, and my web guy, Terry, says they should only take ten minutes to write. However, there was so much to say this, and so much more I could have said, and many more photos to show you. If you’d like to see more of my photos do hop over to my Instagram (@suereedwrites) or Facebook accounts, and scroll back through the posts where you’ll find more. I’ll leave you with a link to the story I wrote about how I came a cropper wearing this linen dress on Friday’s excursion to Monte dei Bianchi for lunch at a gourmet restaurant. It’s called ‘A Ripping Yarn’.

Thank you for dropping by, and reading this blog post. Do click on the links to the two stories written whilst away in Tuscany if you haven’t already:
The Salami Boys of Fivizzano and A Ripping Yarn

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I’m now going to get on with the task of writing my first book, so without further ado, I’ll say Ciao!