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

If you’d like to sign up to get blog delivered into your mailbox, you can do so on the home page of the website, or sign up to the newsletter

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

I haven’t read much poetry, or written any since I was at school, learning to recite ‘Little Trotty Wagtail’. Our creative writing group teacher asked us to write a poem based on an experience which we remember differently to how it actually happened.

My mind immediately went to a memory I have, which happened on my first ever camping holiday with my parents. I must have been very young. My father woke me up in the night to tell me Moldy Warp the mole was outside, and took me out to watch a mole who had broken the surface of his mole hill. My mum used to read the wonderful Alison Uttely books of Little Grey Rabbit to me, and Moldy Warp the mole was a character from them, with beautiful watercolour paintings by Margaret Tempest. I recently asked my Facebook followers if they too had memories of the Little Grey Rabbit books, and the response was huge. It would seem lots loved them, apart from Pauline, who thought Little Grey Rabbit was ‘a bit wet’ (which did make me laugh).

I must have gone back to bed and dreamt about Moldy Warp, because even now, in my mind’s eye, I can remember seeing a little mole with a silver spade, pipe in mouth, and velvet waistcoat, digging.

Here is my poem. I hope you like it. It’s pretty simple, but it’s a start. I’m really looking forward to learning more about writing poetry when I go to Newcastle University in September to do my MA. I applied for my student loan today, so I’m another step closer!

Come Quietly

“Hush, come quietly!
There’s something you need to see”
Scooped up in father’s strong embrace
Bleary eyed and half asleep. 
Out of the tent
And across the field,
Blanket wrapped tight around me.
A small crowd has gathered
Watching in silence,
Torches pointing to the ground
Where the earth shifts
Fine tilth and dark soil
A little mole is digging.
Velvet waistcoat and purple scarf
Silver spade and pipe in mouth, 
It’s Moldy Warp the Mole!

By Sue Reed

Did you follow The Bridge Cottage Way blog all those years ago, before The Woolly Pedlar took all of my spare time away? Following on from an article in this week’s Observer about my yoghurt making, I thought I’d go back to writing about seasonal eating and growing your own seasonal fruit and veg in the Bridge Cottage garden. The aim is to do one of these once a month, and my dearest wish is that one day a newspaper or magazine will ask me to write a regular column, The Bridge Cottage Way!

It’s nearly the end of May, and despite having had several pickings of rhubarb already, there is a bumper crop. With the family all out for the day, today seemed the day for tackling it. I’m pleased with how the day has gone, and thought I’d share some recipes with you.

The rhubarb and ginger jam is bubbling away on the stove, and the rhubarb and date chutney has just gone into jars. Thank you to the good peeps at Riverford Organic Farmers for the recipes. (Follow these links to find them). There is a big pan of stewed rhubarb with ginger on the go, which will be frozen for breakfasts over the winter.

rhubarb gin
Rhubarb Gin

There is also bottle of rhubarb gin in the cupboard, which will be shaken daily until the sugar dissolves, and will be shared with my sister in law, Kate, at my daughter’s wedding. It was my sister in law who was responsible for introducing me to my husband, Tim, when we were at teacher training college together in Isleworth back in the early eighties. Amazingly there was enough rhubarb gin left from last year to take this photo. Apologies for the chipped glass!

It’s really easy to make your own rhubarb gin or vodka, and the same method applies for any fruit such as raspberries which is equally quaffable.

Rhubarb Gin Recipe

Just chop up slender stems of your pinkest rhubarb (if they are too fat they won’t go into the neck of the bottle). Put into a clean, empty bottle until half full. Add a good slug of sugar. I don’t like mine too sweet, so only put about 100g in. You can add more. If you have any Sweet Cicely around, you can use this instead of sugar. Top up with gin or vodka, pop the top on, and shake every day until the sugar is dissolved, then leave well alone for a few weeks. Strain before drinking It’s really that easy!

It’s goes really well with tonic, soda or Prosecco, or drink neat over ice. Cheers!

I’m told that once all the gin is drunk, the alcohol soaked fruit makes an excellent crumble.

Rhubarb Souffles

Another favourite, newly mastered this year has been rhubarb souffles – thank you to Michel Roux Jnr and Gardener’s World for the recipe! They are not hard to make and are suitably impressive. Just keep the oven hot and don’t open the door until you are ready to serve.

Did you see I got a mention in The Observer this week for my yoghurt making prowess? I found a simple recipe for making ice cream using stewed rhubarb and stem ginger, which is simply churned in an ice cream maker with yoghurt and half a tin of condensed milk. Easy peasy!

My mum is a huge fan of stewed rhubarb and it was a staple of the Sunday dinner table with rice pudding when I was a child. My husband, however, wouldn’t thank you for rice pudding, (says it reminds him of school dinners) but he does have a favourite rhubarb recipe. It is for Rhubarb and Orange Merinque.

Orange and Rhubarb Meringue

Rhubarb and Orange Meringue

(serves 4)


450 g / 1lb young rhubarb; 1 orange; 50g /oz demerara sugar; 40g/ 1.5oz cornflour; 2 eggs separated; 75g / 3oz caster sugar

  1. Wash and trim rhubarb and cut into short lengths. Place in shallow oven proof dish.
  2. Grate rind and squeeze juice from orange. Place in measuring jug & make up to 450 ml / ¾ pint with water
  3. Place demerara sugar and cornflour in a saucepan and gradually blend in the liquid. Bring to boil, stirring and simmer for 3 minutes. Allow to cool slightly.
  4. Stir egg yolks into orange sauce and our over rhubarb.
  5. Cook in centre of a moderate oven Gas 3, 325F, !60C for 20 minutes. Lower temperature to cool, Gas 2, 300F, 150C.
  6. Meanwhile, whisk egg whites until stiff and dry, whisk in half the caster sugar and whisk until stiff again. Fold in remaining sugar.
  7. Spread meringue over mixture in dish and return to oven to cook for a further 20 to 25 minutes until it is golden brown and the rhubarb is tender.

I hope I has inspired you to have a go at growing and cooking rhubarb. If you don’t grow rhubarb, you really should! Find someone who does, and ask them to divide a crown for you in the autumn, or pop down to the garden centre to buy one. It loves a good dollop of well-rotted compost over the winter, and will serve you well for years to come. It’s the first fruit to be ready in the new season and is a very welcome crop indeed.

Thanks for reading my blog

Sue Reed Writes

Hexham Book Festival

Hexham Book Festival 2019

I look forward to Hexham Book Festival every year, and every year it just gets better. Held in various locations in and around Hexham, but based at the Queen’s Hall, this is an event not to be missed if you are a local lover of books. Cogito Books, Hexham’s independent bookstore, has a stall in the foyer of the Queens Hall, and every year I come away with an armful of new books, many of which have been signed by the authors after having met and chatted with them.

A new venue this year, the Phil and Lit Society on Hallstile Bank, made a great venue for a creative writing workshop led by Tim Pears last weekend. This was excellent. We were looking at how to use location to develop a character. Sent forth into a rainy Farmer’s Market, notebooks in hand, we lurked around the stalls looking for sensory titbits to use in our writing. The workshop was well attended, and Tim led an inspirational morning, giving some useful tips and exercises on developing characters.

Hexham Farmer's Market

This was followed by a hilarious stand up show from Natalie Haynes, at the Queens Hall, bringing the classics alive and making reference to her new book, ‘A Thousand Ships’. In this she concentrated on the stories of the women in the Trojan War, and I now have it on her book shelf waiting to be read. She proved herself to be very knowledgeable about the ancient Greeks, and a great feminist comedian to boot.

Busy with Nanny duties and then my daughter’s hen do on Saturday, I was unable to attend any of the excellent book readings during the week or on Saturday, but Sunday was filled with bookish treats. Firstly, I sat in the library listening to Annabel Abbs talk about her new novel, ‘Frieda’, based on the story of Frieda von Richthofen who, leaving her boring husband, discovered sensual freedom. She was forced to leave her three children when she embarked on a passionate affair with DH Lawrence. I was particularly interested in how Annabel did her research for this novel. I find so little written about some of our women in history, and so much more about the men in their lives. I have an idea for historical fiction, based around a woman from the nineteenth century, but am finding there is very little written about her. Annabel chatted to me and was most encouraging about my quest. Since coming home, I have read her book from cover to cover in two days. Laid up with a chest infection, this has been the perfect accompaniment to my sick bed.

Freida by Annabel Abbs
Freida By Annabel Abbs

However, the highlight for me this year, was seeing Benjamin Zephaniah, who was inspirational. Our lives have crossed in a few ways, having both lived on Prince’s Avenue in Toxteth in the early eighties.  I discovered that we were both in favour from the local car thieves who had told us both our cars were safe from being robbed.

We also both love the work of Bob Marley, and I told Benjamin that I was lucky enough to see Bob Marley Live in Brighton back in 1979.

We also sing off the same hymn sheet politically, and I was thrilled to be in the audience listening to Benjamin’s take on life. He performed a couple of his poems too, which was a treat.

I thought the interviewer however was terrible. He dwelt on the negatives, and couldn’t have been more alien, pointing out the social differences in his life to Benjamin’s. At one point, when asked about his father’s death, Benjamin broke down and wept. There was an awkward silence, which the interviewer did nothing to break. Poor Benjamin wiped tears and struggled to tell us he had just buried a fourteen year old friend who had died from an ecstasy overdose. The silence continued, and it took a member of the audience to break the ice by handing Benjamin a packet of tissues. I was on the cusp of getting out of my seat to take over!

I have admired his life and work for a long time, as has my mother. He was kind enough to sign a volume of his poetry which I shall be giving my mum on her eightieth birthday. I also got this fabulous photo of us together. I have just read his autobiography, ‘The Life and Rhymes of Benjamin Zephaniah’ which I can thoroughly recommend. I got my copy from the library.

Benjamin Zephaniah
Meeting Benjamin Zephaniah at Hexham Book Festival

Hexham Book Festival is sadly over for another year. I wish it could go on for ever! Hats off to the organisers, to The Queen’s Hall Arts Centre and to Cogito Books who did a super job of providing a broad spectrum of brilliant authors and their books, but also for the seamless running of this busy and popular event. It was so good to see so many coming out in Hexham to enjoy it. It was also a great excuse to have supper at The Beaumont Hotel in Hexham on more than one occasion.

I have a secret ambition that I will share with you. One day, I would like to have written a book myself, had it published, and be invited to talk about it at Hexham Book Festival. There, I’ve said it! It may never come true, but a girl can dream!

Welcome to my new website and blog. Some of you may already know me, through my work upcycling waste wool knitwear as The Woolly Pedlar. This is a massive time of change for me. I’ve decided, at the ripe old age of fifty-seven to sell my business and apply to go to university to do my MA in Creative Writing.

Sue Reed Writes

Being a writer is on my bucket list, and I secretly promised myself that by the time I was sixty, I would be doing this as my job. So, when I found out that you can get a student loan to do an MA up to the age of sixty, I leapt at the chance. I only have two and a half years left, so I’d better hurry! I had no idea if I was academically competent, or if my writing was good enough.
I was very encouraged by Jacob Polley, the course admission’s leader, who I spoke to at the University Open Day. He told me that they were there to teach me the craft of writing, starting right at the beginning. The module he teaches is called ‘Process’ and does just what it says on the tin. It teaches you the process of becoming a writer. Perfect! After all, I am starting at he very beginning.

The University of Newcastle asked me to submit two short stories of two thousand words each in order to apply, plus a personal statement. I thought I’d better get cracking on building up a portfolio, and so enrolled on the local education authority Creative Writing class. I’ve been going to this since last September, and am thoroughly enjoying it. Our tutor, Clare, gives us a task each week for homework, and then we read it out the following week for everyone to discuss. I have found this very helpful in making me write every week, as well as being able to read out my work, and accept constructive criticism. I soon had two short stories to send off to Newcastle. One was written as a character study of my dear old Nanny Dora, and the other, a more edgy piece, about my times living in Toxteth in the early eighties. I’ll be sending both of these off to magazines to see if I can get them published. I’ll put any links to published material here, and if they don’t get published, I’ll just share them anyway.

I soon rattled off a personal statement, though did find it hard to fit fifty-seven years of experiences onto one side of A4. My degree certificate was found buried in a heap of old papers in the loft. The transcript of my degree was a bit more tricky. The college where I had done my teacher training no longer existed, but it was a University of London degree, so I rang them. A very helpful chap said my degree document was pre-digital (obviously) and so was in a box in paper form, in the basement. Hilarious!

To my utter amazement, the University of Newcastle offered me a place. Taking advice from Ann Coburn, a tutor there (who I met on a course at Seven Stories) I am going to take the two years to do the part time MA. It would be so much better to spread my work over two years, and take my time to enjoy being a student. Fresher’s week here I come!!

In some ways it is sad to be saying goodbye to The Woolly Pedlar, but in others, it is exciting to be starting anew. It has given me a huge sense of pride that I built a business up from scratch, and am looking to sell it as a global brand. I have had a wonderful time pedaling my wool, and have met so many wonderful folk through it. Many of you have wanted to keep following me, and it was your enthusiasm that prompted me to set up this website and blog. I have had some super customers too, from the famous to the not so famous!

Jeremy Corbyn buys his wife, Laura, a woolly wrap from The Woolly Pedlar.
Jeremy Corbyn buys a Woolly Pedlar wrap for his wife, Laura.

Now it is time to clear out my work space and sell my equipment and remaining stock. The website shop is staying open for a couple more weeks and then I will walk away, clear out the woolly garret and turn it into the wordy garret.

Change is scary, but it is also very exciting!

Sue Reed
Sue Reed

Head back to the blog page to read more posts about my progress in the wordy world