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In no particular order of importance, each with its own list of merits, I have four reasons to celebrate.

Firstly, I give you my milestone of one hundred days sober. Well, its actually 112 as I type this, but I celebrated my centenary on 12th February, two days after my birthday. How did I celebrate? It wasn’t by pouring a large gin or by cracking open the fizz – I bought myself a new jumper from the lovely folk at Celtic & Co. (The one I’m wearing in the picture with Daisy, below.)

Playing farms with Daisy in new new jumper.
Playing farms with Daisy in new new jumper.

               When I started my sober journey, I hoped that life would get better, but I had no idea just how good it would be, one hundred days along the road. My confidence and ability to cope with life’s ups and downs has grown, my anxiety over social situations is so much less, and I have so much more energy. My skin feels great, the dark circles that I had under my eyes (signs that my liver was screaming at me) are so much better, and I feel as if I have had a facelift. My hairdresser even remarked that my hair felt different. No more waking up with a sense of dread and wondering who I’d offended the night before! My app tells me I’ve saved over £600 too – maybe not saved, but ‘diverted’ to more healthy purchases. If you are sober curious and would like to talk in confidence, then feel free to leave to drop me a line.

One Hundred Days Sober
One Hundred Days Sober

               I wasn’t the only one to have a birthday recently. Daisy, my granddaughter was 2! It’s amazing how time has flown in the last two years, and I am so grateful my daughter lives close by so we can share looking after Daisy while she and Daisy’s daddy are at work. ‘Nanny, sing to me’, she says and we sing songs that my grandmother sang to me, we play making dens, we paint, we bake cookies and after all that, she’s a dab hand at making Nanny a cup of tea in her kitchen. I consider myself very blessed. We bought her a Playmobil toy farm (second-hand) for her birthday, and as we were leaving, she said ‘Dandad, thank you for my farm’.

Making nanny a cup of tea
Making nanny a cup of tea

               After almost thirty years of having one of my ‘children’ in the house, my youngest moved out. He’s done so well, and thanks to house prices being relatively cheap here in the north-east, has managed to save enough for the deposit on his first house. I am immensely proud of him. He’s moved to Greenside, which is a lovely village, on the outskirts of Gateshead, but surrounded by countryside and woods. An avid cyclist, he is now able to cycle to work and get out and about on his bike. I sobbed, and as I stood in his empty bedroom, said goodbye to that chapter of my life. Being a mum to my three continues but will never be quite the same again.

New Beginnings
New Beginnings

Tim and I went out the night John moved out, to Northern Stage, and saw The Ballad of Johnny Longstaff by The Young’uns. It was a fabulous production and told of the tale of a young man’s fight against fascism through song. It felt like I was on a date, and as we came home, it reminded me of the time we were newly-wed, before we had kids, although Tim declined to carry me over the threshold when we got back. We set about making John’s old bedroom into a fitness room, and with the help of my new book, ‘Feel Better in 5’ by Dr Rangan Chatterjee’, I have rolled out my yoga mat, and am doing five minutes of yoga in the morning, as well as some of the other ‘health snacks’ the good doctor recommends.

Feel Better in 5 by Dr Rangan Chatterjee

Last, but not least, the marks came in for my first submissions for the MA in Creative Writing I’m doing at Newcastle University. I got 64% and 67%, both Merits. There was some great feedback, and I have taken all the comments on board. I was happy to read that my writing was considered ‘interesting, humorous and evocative’. There is considerable room for improvement but considering I haven’t written anything for assessment since I bashed out essays for my teacher training qualification back in 1984 on a typewriter, I was pleased to get the two merits.

First submissions, both merits
First submissions, both merits

I’m now four weeks into the next module on the Creative Writing MA, ‘Writing for Children and Young Adults’ with a fantastic tutor, Anne, Coburn. I’m discovering a whole new area of fiction, and last night saw me reading well into the night as I wanted to finish the gripping story by Liani Taylor, ‘Daughter of Smoke and Bone’. But I’ll write more about my reading and writing plans for this module next time…..

Liani Taylor, Daughter of Smoke and Bone
Liani Taylor, Daughter of Smoke and Bone

Thanks for reading! It’s been good to catch up.

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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.

Handing on my first submissions. An essay on self-doubt and self-deprecation
A Golden Glow. An Essay on Self-Doubt and Self- Deprecation.

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Here are a couple more posts you may enjoy:

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.

Freshly made juice - beetroot, lemon, melon & pomegranate
Freshly made juice – beetroot, lemon, melon & pomegranate

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?

Ninebanks Youth Hostel
Ninebanks Youth Hostel

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.

Rainbow over Northumberland
Rainbow over Northumberland

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.

Teapot made with Muddy Fingers Pottery
Teapot made with Muddy Fingers Pottery

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.

Here is last week’s blog in case you missed it: Happy New Year 2020

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.

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!

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