A golden glow greeted me as I stepped out of the Percy
Building in the quadrangle at Newcastle University last Wednesday afternoon.
The setting sun in the west had a clear corridor past the Hadrian Building and
The Boiler House and struck the willow tree (I stand corrected if it isn’t a
willow) outside the Hatton Building in front of the iconic arches on campus and
lit up its branches like a flaming torch.
I was feeling proud of myself. Usually full of self-doubt and self-deprecation, I allowed myself a moment of congratulation as I stood on the steps watching my fellow students scuttle home from lectures.
I’d done it. I’d handed in my first submissions: a short story and two reflective essays. The last pieces of academic work I’d written were done on a typewriter with carbon paper. I had fond memories of staying up all night with my flatmate Jane, who was on the same course as me, with a packet of Bensons, a bottle of gin and cherry brandy to make Singapore Slings and the toaster and a packet of Mother’s Pride on the table spring to mind; but that was back in 1984.
Who knew that there was a tab on my laptop for adding footnotes when referencing? It had taken me three days of cursing and searching for tiny symbols before I realised this. (I am now a dab hand at adding footnotes if anyone else is stuck!) I was pleased with what I had written, and how I had got to grips with formatting and word processing.
I wrote an email to my Prose tutor, Lars Iyer, at the beginning of term after fudging an answer like a politician in class. Not understanding the question, let alone being able to come up with an answer, I had felt inadequate and had waffled something in reply. I’d beaten myself up on the train on the way home that night as I mulled over the question and in hindsight came up with an understanding of what I was being asked and what I should have said. I felt so stupid, blamed my age and doubted my academic ability. I explained that I felt like I’d arrived in Switzerland and was at the foot of a mountain. In one set of lectures, ‘Process’ we are wandering the green lower pastures and are gently learning about the process of becoming a writer. It is fairly light touch as we learn about keeping a notebook, developing the habit of daily writing, reading like a writer and learning to listen; all very important skills, and all well within my grasp. However, in the ‘Prose’ workshops I felt like I had arrived at the rock face. I had no idea where to put my hands or feet, and the other students, some of the fresh from undergraduate studies, were scaling up the mountain, way ahead of me. I felt stuck, unsure if I had the skills to climb. I was no academic, I was a mature student, a grandmother, having last written an essay over thirty years ago. (Mind you, I was very good at writing essays back then, and used to help other students write theirs.)
A gentle and kind email came back from my tutor, thanking me for my honesty in what he said was a ‘moving’ email. He said to relax, academic thinking would come, and besides, creative writing was not all about academia. They took mature students such as me on to the course for a reason. We had much to offer in terms of life experience and the stories that came with that. (I certainly have a few stories to tell!)
Last week I had a tutorial with Lars, following the submission of the first thousand words of my short story. After correcting some syntax and formatting errors, he suggested I cut the preamble of my story at the beginning as he wanted to get straight to the character’s monologue, which he had enjoyed. He said I had a wonderful narrative voice and had skills as a writer that couldn’t be taught. You could have knocked me down with a feather!
I’d come a long way from the therapy session when it was suggested I do an MA in Creative Writing to satisfy the urge in me to be radgy, but also to give me a conduit to get my story told. Little did I know that that conversation would lead me to be on the steps of the Percy Building having handed in a piece of memoir writing about a very painful time in my life that I had not dared visit for an awful long time. Not being good enough has been a recurring theme throughout my life, but here I was, standing on the steps of the English Department, having handed in my first pieces of work.
Looking at the golden glow in the branches of that tree, I felt a golden glow inside of me too. Enough of this self-doubt and self-deprecation. That’s the last you’ll hear of it. I am good enough.
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Are you a ‘morning’ person? I am, and mornings for me can be anything from four a.m. to seven a.m. Although now I’ve stopped drinking alcohol, the four a.m.’s are getting fewer. I first came across morning pages when given a reading list for a week’s writer’s retreat in Tuscany at The Watermill. Jo Parfitt was our tutor and she recommended Julia Cameron’s book. The Artist’s Way as preparatory reading. The week focused on memoir writing and was my treat for myself after giving up The Woolly Pedlar. I’ve always had Tuscany on my bucket list, and this wonderful week in glorious sunshine and surroundings, with beautiful people and fabulous food at The Watermill certainly hit the spot. I am working on my memoir, and it is taking me to some very far flung places in my life, with deeply buried memories, but more of that later.
Julia Cameron recommends you write three sides, it must be three, straight from sleep. You are to write whatever comes into your head, keep the pen moving, without pausing to correct grammar or spelling. It is also recommended that you use exercise books, and not do anything with the writing, even binning it. This is where Julia and I differ in our practice.
I do write stream of consciousness thoughts, allowing whatever is in my head to go on the page, but I do reserve the right to use some of my scribbling as writing prompts to be developed further in my daily writing practice. I allow myself a trip to the loo, but then get back into bed, bring a pillow on my lap to raise the height and begin to write, anything, allowing my thoughts to flow. I write down dreams I have just had and reminisce about memories. I always stop at the bottom of the third page, and sometimes scribble as a footer ‘to be continued…’. That idea then goes in a list at the back of the journal to remind me to expand on the memory or idea later.
As a writer, I am often gifted journals and notebooks, and over the years have amassed quite a collection. This Christmas was no exception, with a beautiful journal and pen from my sister-in-law. I love a new journal and have a passion for leather clad Leuchtturms. (Apologies if Lederhosen wearing, thigh slapping men have now entered your head.) I’ve just uncovered a stash of journals going back to when I was 17 in the attic, they make for both interesting and painful reading. I do love to keep a journal and am surprised at some of the detail I’ve forgotten. As a writer, we are told that detail brings our stories alive and makes them readable, and the best detail comes from your own life experience.
We’ve just had a full moon, the Wolf Moon, and this one was no exception, keeping me awake with thoughts racing. I headed to the spare room and at 4am started writing. It was powerful, and a whole barrow load of emotions came pouring out. I drew the line at going into the garden to howl at the moon, though was tempted.
Morning pages are my meditation. Do you keep a journal or write morning pages? Feel free to leave a comment or engage with the chat on social media. Follow Sue Reed Writes on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.
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What does self-care mean to you? Is it just a new-fangled buzz word for the twenty-first century, or a vital part of our lives? Did our grandmothers practise self-care, and if not, should they have done? Thanks to my sober journey and with inspiration from Janey Lee Grace and The Sober Club community, I am learning about self-care and the art of putting oneself first.
When I was teaching full-time and bringing up a family of three children, the nearest I got to self-care was pouring a large gin and tonic whilst cooking tea when I’d got in from work. This, however, was the antithesis of self-care and did me more harm than good. One gin and tonic, and we’re not talking pub measures here, would invariably lead to another, then the evening wasted as I fell asleep soon after the kids were in bed. I would treat myself to a lie in on a Sunday, with the Saturday Guardian and breakfast in bed, but Sunday afternoon would see me back on the dining room table doing the planning that is the dread of every teacher. I was lucky that being a special needs teacher meant I didn’t have marking to do on top! All thoughts of self-care had gone out of the window as I rushed around like a blue-arsed fly seeing to the needs of everyone else, but not thinking of little old me and what my needs were.
Fast forward to now, and I try to factor some form of self-care into my life every day. It might be a daily walk, weather permitting, along the lane, or allowing myself to read a book – it’s amazing how, even though I’d doing an MA in Creative Writing and have been told to read, read and read some more, that reading in daylight hours still feels indulgent. Self-care might be a massage booked, or a long soak in a bubble bath. It might be a tasty glass of juice (today’s was a blend of beetroot, lemon, melon and pomegranate juice) or breakfast in bed. It might just be spending ten minutes with the bedroom or bathroom door locked, practising some mindful meditation. For me, self-care means prioritising my uni work, writing every day and making the housework wait. I have a short story I’m working on at the moment, as well as two reflective essays which need to be submitted by 16th January. Today I’m writing this blog ahead of taking the decorations down and cooking dinner. After all, all three lads in our house, husband included are off for the day on their bikes, so why shouldn’t I do what I want to do?
Today my self-care was to get out of the house and go and see my friends Pauline and Ian who run the Ninebanks Youth Hostel and were having a coffee morning. I find it so easy to stay indoors and not drive out to visit people, and that in itself can cause me to go into a downward spiral. I do need to get out and see friends, as living down a country lane although beautiful, can be isolating. If I hadn’t gone out, I would have missed this beautiful rainbow, and Pauline and Ian’s excellent coffee and homemade biscuits.
Yesterday I made a teapot, at a most enjoyable workshop up at The Sill, with Dianne from Muddy Fingers Pottery. Granted, it cost money, but I’ve been saving all the money I would have spent on booze to give myself treats like this. I’m looking forward to another moment of self-care when my teapot has been glazed and fired, and I can enjoy my first cup of tea from it.
What is good for one person, might not be good for another, but I feel it is vital to put ourselves first. I think women in particular can be conditioned to put everyone else before themselves, but this year, I am going to be consciously thinking of how I can take care of myself on a daily basis, however big or small these acts of self-care may be.
Thank you for reading my blog this week. I’d like to say I’m going to write every week, and that is my intention at the momnet, but I’m not a fan of New Year’s Resolutions, so they may be more sporadic.
Feel free to follow on social media by hitting the icons at the top of the page.
It’s eleven o’clock on New Year’s Day, on a frosty but sunny
morning here in Northumberland, and I’m up in the garret, happy to be writing.
I’ve let my daily writing slip over the last few weeks and although shopping,
cooking and wrapping presents for the family at Christmas are pretty good excuses,
I need to get back to work. I’m putting a few intentions in place on New Year’s
Day, (please note these are mere intentions, not the dreaded resolutions) and
getting back to daily writing is one of them.
Procrastination is a terrible thing, and even this morning, despite being anxious to get up here and write, I tidied the bedroom, sorted out the washing, went down and loaded the dishwasher then thought about making a second cup of coffee. I stopped myself, heading the words of Ron Carlson who writes in his book, ‘Ron Carlson Writes a Story’ that we must stay in the room and keep writing – the coffee can wait until we are done. So, with that in mind, I’m going to treat myself on this New Year’s Day to a morning’s writing, and my second cup of coffee, and the tidying of the garret can wait til I’ve written this blog post.
I do hope you had a good Christmas. We had a relaxed and happy family time over Christmas, with Daisy our granddaughter, being centre of attention, enjoying all her new toys and books. There is nothing finer than sitting a little one on your knee and reading stories together. With her mummy working as a bookseller for Waterstones, and her Nanny a writer, this little one is getting a very bookish beginning in life. She’s particularly loving the books by Kim Lewis, with their tales of rural life on a sheep farm.
Did you have a good New Year’s Eve? We have a family
tradition to go out to lunch together then leave the youngsters to go off and
do their own thing. We were not a full pack yesterday though as my daughter had
to work and although both lads came along, my eldest son was recovering from a
bout of food poisoning, brought on by some dodgy oysters in a local restaurant,
so was not feeling a full shilling. The poor lad managed a few bites of tapas
then went home to continue his recovery alone. Not the best of New Years for
We went home and lit the sauna, and being a clear starry night, with a beautiful crescent moon and Venus shining bright, it was the perfect night for steaming in the garden. Not your average New Year’s celebrations, but then again, we are not your average couple.
I celebrated New Year with my favourite mocktail (recipe below) and congratulated myself on being 57 days sober. Giving up the booze has been incredible, and although it is a cliché, it really is the gift that keeps on giving. I have woken up on the perfect morning, feeling fresh, full of energy, clear headed and really looking forward to the year ahead. I would really like to give a shout out here to Janey Lee Grace and The Sober Club. Over on the Sober Club website, there are so many great resources to support you in your sobriety, and well as an awesome Facebook group which is full of supportive people to motivate and encourage, and who have your back when you need it most.
If you are thinking of doing Dry January – go for it!
However, I’d recommend you just keep on going into February, March and beyond. The
first month is the tricky bit – the rewards get better the longer you do it
for. I for one don’t intend going back to pouring booze down my neck. My friend
Kath reports that Gordon is very disappointed, but she is doing her best to
keep him company!
Happy New Year everyone!
Feel free to leave a comment or share this amongst your friends. I’d love a follow too over on My Facebook page Sue Reed Writes, Twitter @suereed62 or Instagram accounts.
‘Til next time.
Sue’s Virgin Mojito
Juice of two squeezed limes
10ml sugar syrup
Large dash or orange bitters
Squeeze juice of two limes into a cocktail glass, then add a
good slug of sugar syrup. Add a dash of orange bitters to taste, then top up
with soda water and plop a couple of ice cubes in. Decorate with a sprig of rosemary
or some redcurrants or cranberries if you can be arsed!
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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.
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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
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
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!
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.
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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
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?’
‘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
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
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
‘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
‘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.
‘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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Mountain photos taken on our honeymoon, when we climbed Mount Toubkal, the highest mountain in North Africa………but that’s another story.
https://www.suereedwrites.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/M6.jpg600850suehttps://www.suereedwrites.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/weblogo.pngsue2019-10-21 10:47:072019-10-21 11:08:55At The Foot Of The Mountain
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
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
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.
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!