Tuesday, 10 January 2017

2016: A Year in Bad Portraits

Hello hello and Happy New Year to you! 

For the last 3 years one of my first blog posts of the new year has been a collection of the less-than-flattering photos taken of me during the previous year. And, if you're ready for a good giggle at my expense - hang around - as 2017 will be no different.

My #BadPortraits posts are:
  • my version of a January detox - where I purge my system of any build up of self-importance.
  • my 'factory reset' - where I wipe away all the accumulation of gloss, filters, and spin of a life shared online.
  • my antidote to posting perfect lives on social media - all year, I resist hitting 'delete' on all those photos that I deem ordinarily unInstagrammable. (Totally a real word.)
  • my stocking-up on some good karma for all the times I have, and will continue to post favourable photos of myself! 
Photos like these ...
... which - throughout 2016 - lived out a life as profile images or received their share of covetable 'Likes' over on my @withjuliekirk Instagram.

And now ... in contrast ... here are those shots that didn't make it into my curated online persona in 2016!  

January 2016: 
New Year's Day 2016. Late afternoon.

Perhaps I have some Gremlin DNA in me as I'm really not at my best if I've been up after midnight the night before.
This is either my 'tired and emotional' pose or my 'guitarist in a late 90s indie rock band' look.
Note to self: take photos on a morning when your make-up's still on. Although ... some days ... even that won't save you ...

Here I am, on the morning of my birthday, in full make-up, trying - and failing - to capture the moment of turning 40 with any kind of effortless style

Instead I looked like a bush baby trying to emotionally blackmail a lift home out of someone (if bush babies need lifts home.):

And turning 40 had a few other effects on my appearance too ...

March 2016:
I don't know what to say. I don't know what came over me. I would never normally do something like this. It's completely out of character ...

I wore trainers ... with jeans.

30somethings - don't say you weren't warned. This is what happens when you hit 40. Suddenly you don't care about fashion - only ease and comfort (hell, I even went out in a short skirt on holiday without shaving my legs and I didn't care!).
And, before you know it ... Jerry Seinfeld has become your style icon!
Also - while we're talking about awkward styling choices ... I had an under-cut in February (the underneath of my hair shaved off) which I've really enjoyed having .... except for the time my hairdresser wanted to cut a pattern into it. And I let her.  (Bear in mind that I generally trust her completely, yet this time I couldn't see what she was doing.)

What seemed like hours later, after she'd already once stopped what she was doing to admit she didn't know what she was doing, she finished her design and asked her staff if they could tell what it was she'd done.

"A lotus flower!" cried several of the women in the salon, "Yes!!" she replied and audibly breathed a sigh of relief.

And I was relieved that it was apparently a success. Until the only man in the room came over for a look.

"Looks like a marijuana leaf to me". he helpfully added. A week before I returned to work on campus. Let's just say I didn't wear my hair up until the design had grown out.

(Try as I might I cannot find the photo I took of it! Probably for the best really.)

May 2016:
This photo isn't so much a bad portrait (although it is that too) it's just a slightly cringey one, but one which I took for a purpose. 

I'd had a terribly sore eye that felt like something was caught in there (it turned out to be an allergic reaction to something, tree pollen I reckon). An optician used drops of dye, which revealed the inflammation, but it wasn't until a few hours later, when I got into my car to go home, that I looked in my rear view mirror and learned that it had been a bright yellow dye ... 

... and I'd walked around town, even stopping to buy silver shoes to cheer myself up (which worked) with it luminously ringed around my eyelids:
It doesn't show up so well in the photo but it reminded me of the time in the mid-80s when I experimented with a rainbow eyeshadow palette. A look which I'm happy to leave in the 80s, and the opticians' chair.

And then there was this. A photo I'm sure was intended to capture a nice easy Saturday lunch of fish and chips along the seafront, enjoying the warming springtime air and blue sky. 

So I'm not sure why I'm looking at the camera like someone who disapproves of everything that there's ever been to disapprove of in the history of disapprovals.


June 2016:
The intention: to document a quiet afternoon in the garden with a book under a blue sky.

The reality? A re-make of 'Weekend at Bernie’s':
BTW: I took this photo myself. Myself!!!

It's not even like James sneaked up and took this unflattering gem while I was sleeping. I am fully awake in this photo! I am fully aware it's being taken ... and yet ... and yet ...

And from one cadaverous portrait ... to another ...

The thing with this one is, I had looked nice that day, for a visit to the Bodyworlds: Animals Inside Out exhibition. The fabulous skirt was new, to me, (from a charity shop) and - as we'd arrived at the venue, the staff member taking our tickets had even leaned in to say: 'Nice skirt!".  And then - when it came to getting a photo - I go and look all weird and bemused like this:

Although, to be fair, what is the correct facial expression to strike when you're standing in front of a preserved, skinned, dead elephant?

I mean, I don't remember that eventuality ever being covered by anyone giving out posing hints and tips. Not even on America's Next Top Model.

Now this next one isn't strictly a ‘bad’ photo of me, if anything it's one of my favourites of James and I from the last year as it makes me laugh. But it's just ... when I look at it I don't see a couple who've been together for almost 25 years, no ...

I see a giddy fan-girl who's bumped into one of her favourite, award-winning, authors in a book shop and has made him pose for a selfie with her!

"I'm such a big fan! Do you mind if I just ... " *click*.

July 2016:
Honestly ... when I just showed James this photo he said: "Oh God, what's that? That's awful!" And, judging by those sweet words, this next photo has unquestionably earned its place amongst my #BadPortraits!

You know what it's like ... you're at a day-long writing retreat in a country hotel, you're tip tapping away on a laptop, being all writerly-like, you're sitting in a bay window with the summer sun behind you and you think all of this will make for a nice sneaky selfie.

You think: "I'm cultivating my pensive lady-writer vibe".

And then you look at the screen ... and you're actually Lord Voldemort:

*No prosthetics or CGI were used in the creation of this delightful shot. Eat your heart out (or 'nose off') Ralph Fiennes.

BTW: shortly after this photo was taken my dress - which has a top-to-bottom, draping effect down the front, held in place with one hopeful popper - caught on a toilet door knob and popped clean open!

It was such a swift and seemingly choreographed manoeuvre it put me in mind of that Bucks Fizz performance at the Eurovision Song Contest in 1981 where the men whipped the women's skirts off mid-routine. Fortunately there were no witnesses to corroborate that!

Now here's another from July ... and another 80s pop-culture reference ...

The intention: to capture a simple, minimalist-chic, outfit on holiday.

The reality? A little too much 'Max Headroom' for my liking!

August 2016:
The thing you need to keep in mind while viewing this next set - as with all of my #BadPortraits in fact - is that I'm not intentionally making myself look ridiculous in order to get a funny blog post out of it. 

None of this is done on purpose. (I don't know if that makes it all better ... or worse ... !)

So what these photos are actually capturing is the gap between what I intended to happen ... and what happened in reality. Which, really, is the gap from which much of comedy is born (Ew, sorry for that mental image.)

Believe it or not ... before all these photos were taken I'd thought I looked OK - otherwise why would I be having a  photo taken in the first place?

I even thought I looked OK before these particular delights were taken.


These ...

No, I don't know what's happening here.

Let's never talk about it ever again. OK?

October 2016:
During another one of my writing days I took a walk into the grounds of the country hotel, down to the stream, for thinking time, for inspiration, and to be the kind of person who goes on day-long writing retreats and takes walks around the grounds for inspiration. And I tried to get a few photos to prove it.

One of which was this:
Which proves nothing apart from:
  1. I held my phone way too low while I was taking the shot, and ...
  2. I had clean nostrils. Which, and you'll correct me if I'm wrong, is not yet a category in any of the main illustrious writing prizes.
November 2016:
During November, while I waited for my book to arrive back from the printer (and we all know how long that took. And if you don't know then, it's a long story. Literally.), I couldn't put my feet up and rest because I also had a my new website to plan, design, write and provide photos for.

If you go to my About Me page you'll see the shot I eventually (understandably) went with, but here are a few I (also understandably) rejected ...

I call this one the smug frog:
And this, while it's utterly appalling, at least accurately reflects how tired I was at the back end of last year:

December 2016:
We could finally collect my book on Saturday 10th of December, 20 minutes before I had to set up for a Christmas market I'd booked myself into (don't ask, it wasn't a success). And ... as I sat in the romantic location of James's van in an Aldi car-park, I asked him to capture the first photo of me with my first published book.

And this was it:

I think you'll agree ... it's one for a frame isn't it?

At least my nails look nice in it.

And finally ...

Getting hold of my book was by no means the end of all my stress. I had to spend the following day preparing to get it into my Etsy shop so that people could finally buy it!

"How long will it take?" he asked "About half an hour?".

Nearly 6 hours later ... 6 hours of photographing, description writing, weighing and working out UK and global postage charges, I was finally ready to set my little book out into the world. And my in-house photographer picked up my phone to document this beautiful process.

There's that anxious bush-baby again in the first photo ... and photo 3!!! I am literally clutching my breast like a living breathing cliche of a feeble heroine from a Regency romance!

And with that ... I'll leave the #BadPortraits for another year. (Although you can fully expect the book promotion to continue throughout 2017 ... after all I've been through with it I'm not giving up on it quite yet. It made me clutch my breast for goodness sake!)

I hope you've had a smile, a laugh, even a snort while browsing my bad portraits. No need to feel guilty ... it's all there for your viewing pleasure!

I don't share any of the photos that have given me pangs of regret, or twinges of sadness or disappointment at how reality is often so different to the fantasy 'me' in my head!!

There are photos like that trust me, I just don't share those. I'm not a masochist. I don't share these to shame myself into dieting or wearing more make-up, or learning how to pose while keeping both eyes open, or not looking like I'm about to faint. I share them because as much as I like to look nice ... I like poking fun just a tiny bit more.

And I have no doubt it reveals how very very lucky we are to live in a time of digital photography. Can you imagine if I was using film? ;-) I could never take a dozen shots so I could pick out only the good ones ... all the #BadPortraits of myself would be the #Only Portraits ... and what a scrapbook that would make!

Join the #BadPortraits conversation! 

You don't need to share your own photos to have a say on the topic!

If you do share any of your own photos please stick to the rules of: no body shaming, no harsh criticism of yourself and only share the photos that make you smile.

And so ...
  • Which one of my worst is your favourite?
  • What do you do with yours? Delete straight away? Keep for the sake of a rounded family album?
  • Do you take selfies? Or are all your photos taken by others?
  • Do you look back at your albums and wish you had more photos of yourself in there?
  • Do you have any tips for posing? Asking for a friend ... 
Whatever it is you want to say on the topic do get in touch! 

Happy New Year to You. May 2017 bring you everything you wish for yourself ...

... plus good lighting.

Julie x


If you want to acquaint yourself with my earlier photo fails here's your chance:

Here's a link to the article I wrote for Marie Claire all about the project.

2015 A year in Bad Portraits logo


Friday, 16 December 2016

Happy Birthday Miss Austen (can I call you Jane?)

Hello hello. 

On this day - December 16th - 241 years ago Jane Austen came into this world. Like me a second daughter born on a Saturday, (not that I'm desperately looking for a connection with her, and not that I was born to George and Cassandra Austen). 
35 years later in 1811 the first of her novels was published (Sense & Sensibility) and then within just six short years all of her completed novels had been published. Six years!! All of those icons of English Literature, all of those stories which have given millions of people pleasure ever since - made their way into the world in just six years. 

That same year, 1817, aged only 41 ... she exited this world leaving behind both a legacy she could never have dreamt of, and her stories. Thank goodness she left behind those stories.  
I can remember the first time I read any Austen; it was in the first year of my English Literature degree, it was Emma, and from the moment I'd dived into it I wondered how I'd managed to reach my twenties without reading her until then. 

I'd never had to read any in school and, during the 90s - a period of many well known adaptations - had also bred a lot of Austen parodies which coloured my perception of her. All I really knew about the stories was that comedians portrayed them as frivolous, a little bit ridiculous, with plots and characters to be made fun of. So when I had to read one I thought I knew what I was getting ...

... how wrong could I be? 

The biggest revelation was ... she's bloody funny! 

Those parodies that present her work as laughable don't seem to acknowledge that she was actually intending to be funny. 
  • She's the one making the sharp observations, 
  • she's the one skewering pompous personalities with her pen, 
  • she's the one who knows exactly how to draw out character flaws.
If, like me back then, you haven't read Austen because you think it's going to be like the parodies ... can I gently suggest give it a try? Can I persuade you ... (see what I did there?)

American book cover Persuasion by Jane Austen

Yes, of course it's like the parodies in some ways, yes of course people go to society balls a lot, and of course there are always happy endings but ... honestly ... Austen's writing is there to laugh along with not at. 

Oh and, if you've avoided her because of the criticism that she only wrote about domestic life - rather than anything on the world stage (she was writing while the Napoleonic wars were taking place) ... then, please ...

... we've heard enough stories of 'Great Men' from history, and there are plenty of other narratives that can give you a sense of the past. Ditch the men of statues and portraits for a few hours and treat yourself to some time in the intimate, brilliantly observed, company of Austen's women.

Some Austen-alia to look forward to:

I probably should have turned around, with my iced bun in my hand, and told her that Jane Austen is not just any 'woman' ...

Happy Birthday Jane!

Julie x


Sunday, 11 December 2016

The Snipped Tales have landed! You can now buy my book of collaged short stories.

Hi you. 

Remember when I said that this whole publishing process wouldn't make sense until I could hold my book in my hands and hand it over into yours? 

Well ... suddenly it all makes sense (well, we all know there was nothing particularly 'sudden' about it!) ... because they're here. And here you go ...
At some point, when I've had more sleep, and when my adrenaline levels settle down, I'll share more about it here. But, until then, you can read about - and buy - the book (with its one of a kind gift tag) here in my Etsy shop.

While I've been writing this post I sold my first copy. So, I guess it's really happening now!

See you soon.


**You can buy a copy of 'Snipped Tales' here*. 

Friday, 2 December 2016

Snipped Tales: What to expect from each chapter, plus a peek at some of the pages

Hello you. 

There's a rumour ... that my book might just be ready next week. 

But who knows? It's entirely beyond my control now (just imagine how that's making me feel ... ). I can only sit and wait patiently (you know the 'patiently' part is a complete lie right?), and try to answer people's questions when they ask when they can buy the book. 

But, if we're going to trust that that everything will run smoothly, then we have to believe that this time next week I will have the shelves of my shop stocked with Snipped Tales books! And so it's about time I gave you chance to look inside. 

  • 69 tales pieced together from the pages of dozens of old books.
  • new narratives constructed from lines and words from existing ones (everything from kids' Christmas annuals to books covering history, medicine, 1950s DIY advice and gardening tips).
  • a colour photo reproduction of the tales exactly as they are in the pages of my notebook. (That particular notebook was a gift from a friend and the cover appropriately reads"If you want to be a writer, write" - which I have ... with a little help from several pairs of scissors and handful of glue sticks).
Unlike if I had a taster of a 60,000 word novel to share, at only a page long each, it's almost impossible for me to offer you a flavour of these short short stories without giving you the whole meal, dessert and the bill in one go. But here's an idea of what the book pages will actually look like:  

When I was creating these graphics the images were larger and you could actually read snippets of the stories ... it's not that I'm trying to hide them that much -but something got lost in re-sizing! So apologies if you're straining your eyes. (For larger versions head over to this post on my Facebook page.)

Here's something a bit easier to read ... 

I didn't write any of the snipped tales 'to order'; I never deliberately set out to write about a particular topic; I would just sit surrounded by paper until something bubbled up, then I'd grab it, cut it free and offer it a new life inside a new turn of events. 

However ...

 ... once my notebook was full I realised that the jumble of disparate moments I'd created could actually be organised into smaller collections each with their own broad overarching theme. 

I noticed that among the ad-hoc, willy-nilly, serendipitious, 'where the mood strikes'stories, there recurred distinct subject matters and attitudes, with similar emotions and topics cropping up again and again, and after much shuffling and rearranging these broad themes became the book's seven chapters. 


  • Chapter 1: 'Being Human' offers ... safe harbour to the vulnerabilities of being human. Its tales touch on inner conflicts, battles in our own brains, the difficulties of caring for others and the need for self-care. 
  • This is the chapter to read when ... you're wondering if it's just you. It isn't. 
  • Chapter 2: 'A Life Documented' offers ... a glimpse at the motivations, misfortunes and meanderings of someone else's existence. Find out Margot's back story, hear what the rich young man left behind and sympathise with Anne's crafting calamity. 
  • This is the chapter to read when ... you fancy walking a page in someone else's shoes, trying on someone else's perfume ... trying on another life to see how it fits. 
  • Chapter 3: 'I'm Just Saying' offers ... an opportunity to vent your frustrations and allow your sarcastic self to come out and play. A chance to snarl, snipe, lash out, and get it all out of your system! 
  • This is the chapter to read when ... you've been far too polite for far too long. Take inspiration from Sarah ... and start sharpening your claws ... 
  • Chapter 4: 'Brief Encounters' offers ... a judgement free zone to indulge in your romantic side. Get swept into the whirlwind of attraction, embraces, pledges ... but hang on to your tissues because there are things left unsaid and missed connections along the way too. 
  • This is the chapter to read when ... you're all out of Jane Austen. Either that or you want to know the final straw that made Benedick realise his relationship could go no further and why Joan doesn't consider Fred 'marriage material'. Poor Fred. 
  • Chapter 5: 'Oh My!' offers ... something a bit fruitier than Jane Austen! Something sexy, seductive and provocative; something saucy, and sea-side postcard-ish. 
  • This is the chapter to read when ... you've run out of shades of grey. (Side note: this isn't a chapter for kids. Unless you want to explain the phrase 'naughty dungeon' to them over breakfast.) 
  • Chapter 6 : 'Minor Mythologies' offers ... the tallest of the tall tales in the book. It's a chapter of fairytale flights of fancy, moments of magical realism and seriously surreal happenings. The stories herein are performed by a cast which includes a chorus line of animals, winged middle-aged men, Humpty Dumpty ... and dragons! 
  • This is the chapter to read when ... you need a departure from the realities of regular, daily living. And if ever there was a year that needed escaping from ... 2016 was certainly it! 
And finally, once you've made your way through those 6 chapters ... refreshments will be served at the end. 

No, really ....
  • Chapter 7: 'Refreshments Will be Served' offers ... you the chance to eat, drink and be merry before you close the book and head back out into the world outside Snipped Tales. Whether you've an appetite for a glass of wine after a long week, or beans on toast, or afternoon tea or one of Sally's biscuits it's all on the menu in this chapter. (Although, when you find out where she keeps those biscuits you might reconsider.) 
  • This is the chapter to read when ... you're trying to decide what to have for dinner. 'Today's Special' has some great suggestions, anyone for 'rich organic elk poached in a light tetanus serum'? No?
As far as possible each chapter begins with some of the more serious, thoughtful tales  ... and then drifts gently into lighter territory, where the more surreal, humorous, or tongue-in-cheek tales hang out. (And in the case of chapter 5 that tongue might even find itself in someone else's cheek.)

So there you have it - 69 tales, 7 chapters, 1 book. 

A book which hopefully will finally find its way into readers hands sometime this month. (I really wish they hadn't used the word 'hopefully' - twice - when I last asked when it would be ready ... but I must stay positive!.)

This whole process won't make any sense until someone else reads through these scrappy little stories of mine and finds one that speaks directly to them. One that makes them laugh out loud. One that takes on a new life inside their imagination.

Because I already know what they all say. I already know what they all mean to me. I already know that some of them still manage to make me laugh, or give me a pang of empathy, even though I created them. 

I now need someone else to open the book ... and get to know it for themselves.. 


I really would LOVE to hear which of the 7 chapters you're looking forward to reading first.  
  • Is it the fantastical adventures you're after? Or the romantic encounters and the sexy times?! 
  • Or - if all of that sounds too exhausting - would you prefer to indulge in a spot of introspection, while noseying into other people's lives while mumbling your frustrations into your tea and biscuits?
And - to be clear - yes, I will totally be judging your personality depending on your answer! Of course I will!!

Leave your revealing comment here or get in touch via Instagram, my Facebook page or on Twitter.

More news when I have news. 

Julie ;-)

Monday, 14 November 2016

Snipped Tales: book cover and blurb reveal.

Hello hello. 

You know that time, a few weeks back, when I asked you to just give me a vague, non-committal, mumble if you thought that maybe, perhaps, there was a chance that you might, possibly, at some point, consider buying my book of Snipped Tales? Well, thank you, so very much to all who responded; it really helped me decide how many copies to print. 

Not that I ordered the exact number of copies I knew I could sell. No. I ordered far more than that! 

There were several reasons for that, one may well be that I'm a dreamer, but another was definitely more down to earth: the financial logistics of it. I won't go into details - unless I ever create a workshop for self-publishing-virgins someday - but there were a lot of calculations happening behind the scenes regarding costs, print prices that scaled, and profit margins. And, of course, all those calculations depend upon selling all the copies .... and yet ...

I decided to invest heavily in the project for one simple reason, a simple reason I'd very nearly lost sight of until James stopped me mid-meltdown and asked: 

"What do you want out of it all? Why are you doing it?" And it was like a break in the clouds, and I remembered:

I just want people to find the book. I want it to find the right people. I just want other people to have it their hands. 

(BTW: I can barely talk about the book without making a gesture like I'm holding an invisible book in my hands and am about to hand it over to someone else. Here, take this.)

And that was that, the minutiae of profit percentages and commission rates etc were pushed aside; and the decision to just go for it was made. And there's no turning back now, it's been sent off to the printer's, it's very much out of my hands. Then when it's finally in someone else's hands, yours perhaps, this is what it will look like: 
A papery bundle tied up with string, ready to be handed over to you to open up for yourself.  And if you flip it over you'll find this description:
The human experience and countless old book pages find themselves dissected and reshaped in this patchwork anthology of collaged fiction. 
Though short these tales make room for the awkward to feel understood, the quiet to speak out, the frustrated to vent, the weary to rest and the romantic to woo. Not to mention finding space to pitch battles against conformity, dangerous urges … and dragons.

Take a journey in small steps to discover what gets left behind at the Lost Property Office, where Sally hides her biscuits, why Fred and Joan weren’t a suitable love match, and how Casanova fills out his online dating profile.

Moving from reflective and poignant to mischievous, seductive, and surreal, this is storytelling to delight, console, and remind us that there’s never only one way to tell a story; you can always slice up the old one and start again.
Maybe that helps give you a clearer idea of what you can expect to find inside? I hope so. And actually the cover itself actually holds clues to the topics that appear in the tales; everything from thinking a lot, to eating, reading, loving, and breaking things. Quite literally the story of my life, probably yours too.

In the next book-themed post I'll reveal all the chapter titles and a little more about the structure of the book (if you follow my Facebook page you'll have seen one of the chapter titles already, last week.) and it should all help build up a clearer picture of what's on its way just as soon as it arrives back from being printed!

So, now you've seen it, what have you got for me?

  • Reactions? (Are you swooning over Kirsty's lovely illustrations too?) 
  • Excited squeals, jigs, waving jazz hands? (Just me?)
  • Questions? (Anything you want to know about the book? Anything at all?  Anything about the cover, the contents, the process, ... I'll do my best to answer.)

Leave a comment here, shout, pass me a note, tug my sleeve as I pass by, email me at withjuliekirk (@) gmail.com (remove the brackets!) or get in touch via Instagram, my Facebook page or on Twitter

Do whatever;'s easiest, but do speak booky to me! 

Julie x