Monday, 29 May 2017

5 Lessons I Learned from Self-Publishing - a guest post at Book And Brew

Hello hello. 

This month (May 2017) marks 12 months since I made the decision to indie-publish my book of Snipped Tales (available here). 

One small year; one whole lot of paper shuffling, designing, decision-making and self-promotion. 

And I'm far enough away from the thick of it, to be able to pause, reflect and synthesis some of the thoughts and experiences I had during the process, and offer up some advice to anyone hoping to do the same.

To read my 5 snippets of advice (actually 'snippet' is an understatement. It's almost a book chapter. A book about writing a book ... mmmmmm ... food for thought ...) where was I??? Oh yes ... read my 5 snippets of advice head over to Book & Brew where you'll find the full article.

Throughout the publishing process alongside the details, the finances, the design choices, the structural ideas, all the nitty-gritty - I occasionally scribbled notes on what was happening and how I was feeling:

All in this notebook in fact:
Create Your Own Story huh? I guess I really took the cover slogan to heart didn't I?

(Hey, that could be another top tip for newbies: 'Do all your planning in a notebook with an appropriately motivational phrase' ... can't hurt anything, can it?)

So -
  • if you're contemplating self-publishing a print book (I haven't yet published an e-book), 
  • or you're thinking about thinking about, maybe, perhaps, one day, possibly, potentially, self-publishing a print book ...
  • or even if you're absolutely certain that you won't, or can't, self-publish a print book ... 
... do head on over to read through the 5 Lessons I Learned from Self-Publishing over at Book & Brew ... and who knows where you'll be this time next year ...


Friday, 26 May 2017

Our great big anniversary 'champing' adventure (plus tips for future champers!)

Hello you. 

You might think that, with 25 yearstwo and a half decades, a quarter of a century, to prepare, James and I would've planned our anniversary celebrations a little further in advance than we did. 

You might think that we'd book somewhere traditionally fizzling with romance say ... Paris, or Venice or even a boutique spa in a hotel somewhere deep in the English countryside. 

And you might even think that booking a camping holiday in an old, cold, church, on top of a wild and windy moor, about a week ahead of our stay, doesn't exactly scream "keeping the flame alive!"

But I say, hey ... come back to me after you've remained on speaking terms with your significant other after sharing a 'separating' dry-composting toilet and watching each other spit toothpaste into a plastic cup for two days. And if it's actual romance you're after you can do worse than picnicking, laughing and waking up beneath the glories of stained glass.

Anyway ... if you got your wet wipes and wind-up torch handy, welcome to our great big anniversary champing adventure ...

First let me define a few things:
  • The term 'champing' = 'church camping'. Which is ... well, camping inside a decommissioned church under the care of The Churches Conservation Trust (in the UK).  You can find out all about it, and all the currently available churches, at (which is a brilliantly written, fun and informative site).
  • No - this is not in any way a sponsored post. The Champing folks have not paid me and are not aware I'm writing this. 
  • And when I say 'anniversary', as we're not married, I mean the anniversary of our first date back in May 1992. The evening where he picked me up to take me to the cinema wearing a plain white T-shirt (until then I'd only ever seen him in black heavy metal T-shirts) and Lynx 'Alaska' body spray, playing All About Eve on the car stereo. And I wore a catsuit, a see-through flowery shirt and a thin veneer of anticipation. I linked his arm while we waited outside the cinema and we held hands watching the film, and then ... 

... 25 years later we had St.Thomas's in Friarmere (Greater Manchester) all to ourselves:

It was a little tricky to find at first, we don't have a satnav, but we knew we were nearby because we could see it, it was there, plain as day on top of the hill ... we just couldn't find the road that lead to it! In the end Google Maps on the phone saved the day, and we arrived at our temporary home:

Do you want to come inside?  OK then ...

Alongside a few other considerations, it was the stained glass that really led us to choose this particular church. Isn't it incredible how this from the outside you just see this:

And then, step inside and all that dark, flat, wire-grilled, drabness is transformed into this:
This was taken as the sun was setting and then, when it had finally moved around to the west ... this was the disco-dazzling sight it created:
Even the areas of damage, where the painted faces are now missing, were interesting reminding me in places of Julian Opie portraits:

And then there were these little guys, who we only spotted on the final morning before we left:

But the stained glass isn't the only colourful decoration inside St.Thomas's - there's decorative stencilling and design work right throughout the building: 

The church dates back to 1765, although much of the paintwork reminded me of the Arts & Crafts movement, and William Morris - which was a bit later, so I either this was added afterwards ... or there's a gap in my art history knowledge! 

And the stencilling even extends up into the rafters: 

While we're looking up ... fancy a nosey around upstairs? I hope you've got a head for heights:

If all of this has given you an urge to try champing for yourself ... then here are some of my top 'champing' tips! 
  • Read through the site thoroughly; it will answer tons of the questions you no doubt have about it, and probably some questions you've not even thought of! The FAQs page is great.
  • You don't need to be a practising Christian to enjoy the experience; neither of us are, and we did!
  • You don't need to be brave and adventurous to settle-in in an old church. I'm not at all, and I did! I can honestly say I didn't find any of it spooky or creepy, not as much as I did that time we spent the night - alone - in a 16th Century Manor House! now that hat was unnerving! I think that the open space of the church  (versus the many little rooms and dark corners of the manor) helped make it feel perfectly safe and comfortable. 
  • You don't need to be outdoorsy, camping type people with all the gear, in order to survive out there on your own; we're not ... and we did! 
*If you can afford to, then pay the extra to have them supply you with sleeping equipment! 
Their 'ChampBed hire' includes a camp-bed, sleeping bag, sleeping-bag liner and pillow:
And for non-campers like us it was ideal.  During our stay the floor was coooooooollllllllddddd and that camp bed lifted us up off it. 

After reading the advice on the website we also brought additional bedding (a spare duvet, a blanket and extra pillows) and we used - and needed - it all. That said, I slept really well (so did James but, he's no benchmark - his Nan used to tell the story of how he once slept through a marching band!) 

I've definitely had worse nights' sleeps in overheated, noisy, hotels. And, seriously ... what's not to enjoy about sleeping under stained glass?!

*If you're easily woken by sunlight, bring an eye-mask. Stained glass windows tend not to have curtains ... 
The first morning I woke up before 6am which, considering there was nothing at all to block out the light, was really no different to at home. And while I did bring something to cover my eyes, meaning I could have gone back to sleep, truth-be-told ... I didn't want to!!

It felt a lot like Christmas-morning, with so much to see and absorb, I didn't want to close my eyes again. Instead I watched the sun stream through the Ascension scene window, wrote in my journal, and stared at the mildewed angels (surely a title for a story there!) wondering if they'd spring into life.
I even thought that, if they'd just move a marble elbow a little, I wouldn't have been spooked, in fact I quite looked forward to it. Never happened.

*Take plenty of clothing that you can layer up. Even to sleep in.
The cooling factor of churches is well known; when you're on holiday somewhere warm you might stop and pop into a church because, however hot it is outside ... inside it's guaranteed to be several degrees cooler. Now imagine you're stepping inside from a damp British spring day ... and that temperature drop may not be quite as appealing!

Take layers, take a dressing gown, take a vest, take a hat. And you too can look as glamorous as I did:

*And take something to wear on your feet. Something you don't mind getting a little dirty! 
Chances are you'll have been walking through at least a churchyard, perhaps a graveyard, or fields and moors (if you're that way inclined.) and you might not want to wear wet/muddy shoes or boots while you're relaxing on an evening. And - trust me - you don't want to be doing bare feet on the chilly floors.

For the record: my socks would have not been quite so dirty if I hadn't jogged around the knave for a while (a) trying to get warm and (b) enjoying all of the space to run around indoors ... (because clearly my inner child came on holiday with me.)

*Be aware, and mindful, of other people in the vicinity.

Just because these churches are decommissioned doesn't mean they, and their grave yards, are entirely abandoned. On our first evening there, we headed outside for a walk around the churchyard and just metres away, were two people visiting a grave; so we just walked by quietly and headed to the furthest corner, to leave them in peace.

And ... just a few notes before I go ... :
  • Take lots of photos!! You can even share them with the Champing folks via their Twitter account or Facebook page.  (That's what I'll be doing with this blog post!)
  • If the church you're visiting has electricity (ours did, some don't) then instant porridge makes a great quick and easy breakfast. You can book a breakfast at a nearby location, but we wanted to just get on the road for our day trips without stopping off. I guess the same would go for other instant foods, pot noodles, soups etc and if there's no electricity ... don't forget your travel kettle! And pack a good picnic as cooking is not allowed on site. Pack plenty of brie and crackers and you can't go to far wrong and .. you won't need to worry about refrigeration ...
  • Take wet wipes. I used mine to remove my make-up, clean my hands ... and dust off a 19th Century sun-dial. So, all in all, a pretty versatile addition to your champing packing ...
And finally ...  
  • You can put on a full face of make-up, do your hair and put on your jewellery all from the comfort and warmth of your sleeping bag. Who knew? It was worth you reading this post just to learn this particularly vital point wasn't it? Thought so. 
ISo, what do you think? Did you enjoy this peek into our great big anniversary champing adventure? 
  • Has it made you consider the idea? Can you picture yourself of champing any time soon?
  • Is there anything else you'd like to know about it? (Don't forget to visit for lots of useful information). 
  • Or have you already been? Which church did you stay in? Have you written a blogpost about it? Feel free to link me up in the comments. 
Do get in touch, but until then farewell from me, James, and St. Thomas's Friarmere!

Julie x

You can continue this conversation here in the comments or through any of my online homes:

And if you'd like to spread the champing word (i.e. drop a hint to someone you'd like to go with!) then feel free to share this post and image on social media / or add to a holiday idea Pinterest board.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Notes from the Notebook: Into Morning.

Hello you.

I've dipped into my notebook archive and plucked out something simple for today, something uplifting; literally.

Detail of an old art journal page of mine.

Notes from:
Tuesday 13 January 2015, 8.10am

As we drove back into darkness, towards work, dozens, hundreds, of birds overhead were heading in the opposite direction.

Imagine being able to up and leave like that; saying “Sod this darkness, I’m off to find the light.”

Imagine being able to fly into morning.

Julie x
Keep in touch here on the blog or through any of my online homes:

Friday, 28 April 2017

Notes from the Notebook: 2016 'This is new. A revelation.'

Last Saturday I attended another session of 'Seasonal Space to Write', a writing day held at a country hotel with idyllic views, facilitated by poet Natalie Scott. (If you follow me on Instagram you might have seen this post which contains more photos of the day). And it marked one year since the first time I'd attended a session there.

The following is something I wrote in my notebook while I was there ...  

9 April 2016
At 'Space To Write'.

Spread out between two rooms, comfy armchairs, a real fire crackling, sunlight through the bay window.

Everyone is quiet. Together, but silent.

No pressure to talk.
No self-consciousness.
No need to change myself.
This is what I do.
This is what we do.

This is new. A revelation. 


Sounds lovely doesn't it? Sounds new and exciting and welcome. Well ... full disclosure:

.... a few hours after I wrote that I came home cried (a lot) and thought I really ought never commit words to paper ever again!!

(If you missed that particular breakdown you can read all about it in a post of its own here!)

Just an average 'shock of the new' confidence crisis, where you compare yourself so unfavourably to every one else there it makes you question all your life choices. You know how it is ...

Not that it actually stopped me returning;  I pulled myself together, put James's shirt through the laundry (after getting my tears/snot all over it. Sorry, were you eating?). And in between that first (emotional) time and my most recent visit I've had some great experiences there:

  • the writers there were the first to hear the early version of the blurb for my book of Snipped Tales as I worked on it during the session last Autumn. The feedback I got really made me feel people might actually like the thing!
  • And I even read out one of the tales - tricky when the visual aspect is part of the concept, but it worked well nonetheless - and several people expressed a desire to become Margot when they grew up! 
  • (If you've got the book, you'll know all about Margot, if you haven't got the book ... then buy one, or two ... that way find out who Margot is and why everyone loves her, and then give a copy as a gift!)
But now that Snipped Tales is safely completed, last weekend I took a new-ish project to work on.
And, a little like that very first time, I felt a little wobbly after hearing several people read their work aloud while not having anything especially ready of my own to contribute. 

I felt a little out of place, a little awkward again and yet past experience told me the feeling would pass. I recognised the feeling ... I talked about it, then I let it slip away. My eyes, and James's shirt, stayed dry.  

And that, my friends, is what I believe they call 'progress'!  

See you soon.



Over on Instagram I'm using: #notesfromthenotebook and #juliesnotesfromthenotebook to keep my notebook-archive posts together there. 

Meanwhile, you can continue the conversation with me here, or there, and share your own notebook gems whenever you fancy:

Sunday, 23 April 2017

A 'Grand' day out: meeting Knickers Model's Own's Caroline Jones

Hello you, how were things this week? Been anywhere nice?

I've got some photos from a lovely afternoon I spent in York earlier this month if you fancy a look? Yeah? OK, here we go ... 

The 'Knickers Model's Own' Afternoon Tea at The Grand Hotel, York.

They say "Don't meet your heroes ... unless your hero is Caroline Jones, in which case you should definitely meet her." don't they? 

Well, OK, maybe that's not quite what 'they' say - but that's probably because they've yet to meet Caroline. But if they ever did, they would. 

I did, and I have because - after reading about, admiring her from afar and chatting with her online, she certainly didn't disappoint in the flesh.
Caroline Jones, Knickers Model's Own
Photographic evidence.
Caroline's 'Knickers Models Own' challenge (where she styled, wore, photographed, and shared a different pre-loved outfit every day during 2015) began as a way to raise money for the Cancer Research UK charity following the death of her mother to the disease.

I know a few of you will definitely remember because you told me you were planning to put it on your Christmas lists either as a gift to give ... or receive. For those unfamiliar it's a compilation of all 365 of Caroline's outfits, plus extra styling tips and advice on seeking out vintage clothes, bound together in a beautiful hardback, which continues to raise funds for cancer research. 

And the book single-handedly reignited my love of pre-loved fashion, so that once again, alongside rummaging around for the usual books and papery treasures in charity shops, I'm now searching the racks of clothes in charity shops in earnest.

So, when I saw the announcement that she was giving a talk at 'Fashion City York', an hour away from me, I seized the opportunity to hear directly from her.

I booked the tickets on a chilly, post-Christmas slump of a day way back in January, and by the time the day itself rolled around York was looking its Springtime best. Here we are, in the Yorkshire sunshine, Mam and me, two intrepid explorers (don't believe anything you read: we actually got dropped off and picked up right outside the hotel) in search of some pre-loved fashion inspiration:
In honour of the occasion I wore a vintage shirt (with those 70s collars ... you might have guessed) and charity shop beads. 
And this was our location for the afternoon, York's Grand Hotel, which certainly lived up to its name: 
I mean ... at the risk of sounding like I've never been anywhere nice before ... this place was  reeeeaaallly grand. Like - greeted at the door, £3.00 for a soda water, individual hand-towels in the bathroom - grand.
Not to mention 'chandeliers in the wood-panelled event space' grand:
The afternoon's festivities began with a talk from Caroline where she described:
  • how the idea of 'Knickers Model's Own' fundraising came to her;
  • how she branded the project, and the steps she took to promote it across social media;
  • how the project caught others imagination almost immediately;
  • and how she dealt with the overwhelming response she received, including inter/national press attention and having to write the book in 6 weeks!
Here's Caroline, mid-discussion in between the two ladies who took over her Instagram account for the afternoon sharing the event with anyone who wasn't lucky/near enough to be there on the day.
Later in the day Caroline introduced me to her faithful Instagrammers @susiesoso and  @myfashionable40s - a rarity for me to meet up with people I only know online, let alone meeting people who have tens of thousands of followers between them. But they were honestly the most friendly of friendly women, with no edge, no 'Influencer' airs and graces (so that taught me a lesson in expectations). And ... altogether I'm pretty sure that this now means that I'm one of the cool people. (Please don't feel the need to disabuse me of that delusion. I'm good thanks.)

In case al that listening to Caroline had tired us out we were then treated to a restorative Afternoon Tea (yes, there were cucumber sandwiches and scones. Natch.) while a lovely young lady sang and played guitar:
Then this tasty interlude was followed by a fashion show which featured full outfits that Caroline had styled from items found in Cancer Research charity shops.
Loud gasps bubbled up from the audience when she announced just how little each full outfit had cost. Clearly there were folks there not as used as I am to sniffing out (sorry, wrong choice of words there ...) - hunting down - charity shop treasure!

After this Caroline held a Q&A where she answered questions and gave advice on everything from:
  • what she plans to do in future - which, luckily for us includes a brand new website:
  • how to have fun with clothes and accessories despite your age or body-shape;
  • the relevance of 'slow' fashion in a fast world;
  • the power of a good bangle!
  • and, of course, the benefits of good foundation garments. Or ... knickers, basically! She has a brand to maintain after all!
After that we got to browse amongst some of the clothes from the fashion show, plus others, in what must be the poshest room I've ever rummaged for old clothes! Naturally I found something (I can't help it. The stuff finds me!) and I went home with a gorgeous, immaculate, see-through navy pinstriped St.Michael blouse (which, judging by the label, dates to the 1980s) for the princely sum of £4.50.
It was after all of that that I finally got to have a chat, a hug, and a few photos with Caroline and, it was just lovely. And - coming from an introvert who doesn't do the whole socialising thing very easily, that's saying something!

At one point she said some complimentary things about me to my Mam, and I felt a little bit like I was at a parent/teacher meeting at school ... and even that was lovely.

I don't think I've had such a nice day meeting someone whose work I admire since that time in the early 1990s when Little Angels (a British rock group) opened our local HMV and I got to meet - and kiss- all of the members of the band. (And yes non-believers, I do have photographic evidence to back up such boasting.)

In short (I know, I know, that ship's long sailed) ... don't meet your heroes ... unless they're Caroline Jones. 

(And maybe the Little Angels and you're a very cocky teenager with no shame).

See you soon. Online. I've filled my quota of real-life meetings for this month! ;-).

Julie x
Disclosure: this is not in any way a sponsored post. I paid for both the York event and Caroline's book myself. Therefore all opinions are my own, because if I paid for it all myself and then had someone else tell me what to say about it that would just be bizarre.