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.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Notes from the Notebook: 2003 'She casually dropped in the most important element of the story'.

Today's note from the notebook comes from 2003.

At that time I was working as a Learning Mentor in two primary schools, and this is one of the most memorable snippets of kid-talk from that time.

It's one of those moments which - if you'd read it in a novel - you'd have said it was a bit far-fetched, a bit too clever-clever, a bit too conveniently comedic to be natural and yet ... I assure you, this is exactly how it happened ... 


A group of 10 year-olds were talking about the deaths of pets.

One girl’s hamster had died the previous night and someone had sniggered about how she’d cried over it. In a show of solidarity, a girl called Kirsty (tiny, feisty, entertaining) told her own tale …

“So what if she cried?" she asked. "I cried when our rabbit died. My sister had it on her bed, but she let go of it and it fell off and it looked like this …”

To illustrate she tilted her head to one side, while her tongue lolled out of her mouth on the opposite side; she then closed one eye and raised two droopy little hands up in front of her to mimic the lifeless creature.

She acknowledged the respectful silence saying “Yeah.”

Then …

… with a wistful look …

… she casually dropped in the most important element of the story:

“My sister has the top bunk”.

The top bunk!!! 

How's that for a punchline? Look at that comedic timing! She sets it up (it fell off the sister's bed) ... bides her time ... and then knocks it out of the park with that last detail! And all entirely unwittingly. 

If that ever makes its way into something I write in future ... yo'll know where I got it from! And I'll have Kirsty, and her accidental comedic genius to thank.


I'm really enjoying reading your comments on how the notes I've shared so far have reminded you of something in your own lives, keep it coming, it's lovely being part of a conversation. 

If you want to see inside the notebooks themselves then I'm sharing those over on Instagram - @withjuliekirk - where so far I've revealed are some ideas for a novel in 1994, a drawing of what the adult Julie might look like from the 80s and some sketches from my rock 'n roll years! 

I'm using: #notesfromthenotebook and #juliesnotesfromthenotebook to keep them all together over there. 

Meanwhile, you can continue the conversation with me here, whenever you fancy:
Instagram ~~ Twitter ~~ Facebook ~~ Website

See you soon. 

Julie x

Click the image to visit more notes from the notebook. 

Monday, 10 April 2017

Notes from the notebook: 'June 2006. I don't know what I'm doing'.

Hello hello. 

If you missed me sharing photo of some of my old journals, and introducing the idea of #notesfromthenotebook then you can hop back a post here.  Basically I've been trawling through my old books and plucking out the occasional scribble I think might be worth a second look 

My first delve into my archive has resulted in the following snippet from 11 years ago, a snippet which is almost painfully packed with frustration. 


20th June 2006 

I don’t know what I’m doing. I feel that there is a stockroom full of work hiding away inside me – and I just can’t get it out. 

There are collages, cards, novels, poems – creations, stuffed inside me.

I can feel the edges of canvasses digging between my ribs; I’m being paper-cut from the inside; there are rolled up pieces of paper climbing their way up my throat and unfurling in my head, drying out my brain. 

I have ideas queuing up to taunt and laugh and poke at me.


I actually found a photo of me from June 2006, the same month in which I wrote this piece. Here I am - fortunately looking more relaxed - while paddling in the Cornish sea. 

This was a time in my life where I was clearly hunting around for a creative outlet:
  • I was unemployed having been made redundant.
  • It would be one year until my work (a scrapbook page) would be published in a magazine for the first time (when a message from Shimelle Laine, who at the time worked for Scrapbook Inspirations magazine, pretty much set everything in motion!) 
  • It would be two years until I'd meet my long-time friend and collaborator Kirsty Neale, and about the same amount of time until I'd first visit my local crop where I'd meet the crafty friends I still have today..
  • And two years until I'd start a blog ... where my love of writing would finally find a regular expressive outlet. 
  • It would also be 10 years until I'd publish my first book and decide to start writing a novel. 
I'd like to tell that Julie from a decade ago that she'll spend the next decade sorting out all that paper she felt she had trapped inside her. Tell her to enjoy the unfurling, to write it all down, and not to worry too much ... because it all turns out OK in the end. 


If you'd like to share anything from your own notebook archive, please feel free ... I loved hearing from you in the comments on my last post. 

There are so many stories out there worth dusting off and sharing with  friends. 

Julie x

You can find me here any time:

#juliesnotesfromthenotebook    ***    #notesfromthenotebook

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Notes from the notebook: a life in journals

Before we begin: I've picked the two winners of my Snipped Tales book giveaway (one winner here, one over on Instagram), and I've now been in touch with both winners. Thank you to all those who expressed an interest, it means such a lot!!


Hello you, can we take a minute to talk about notebooks?

("Just one minute?" I hear you ask, "I can talk about note books for longer than that." And that's exactly why you and I get on so well here.)

I have a lot of notebooks. Shocker eh? But - believe it or not - I've actually written in some of them.

Actually, I'm not being fair on myself there; granted, I do have many, many a blank, as-yet-un-written-in, notebook lurking on my shelves, because: notebooks. Who can resist?

  • They're exquisite papery bundles of potential; entirely blank and utterly filled with inspiration at the same time.
  • More mind-expanding than alcohol; less expensive than paying for another online course to inspire you.
So, yes, alongside my collection of journals, I do have something of a backlog of empty books that I can't seem to help adding to. And yet, I have actually written in more than just some of them

Which is what I'm here to talk about today. Because, when you've lived a life of thinking on paper ... what do you do with all those pages?  All. Those. Pages.

The notebook corner of my workroom. 

There's clearly an issue of space.

  • Failing knocking out those eaves and extending the roof-line of my house, there is really no more room for more notebooks on my shelves. Some of the old work diaries could probably go in a box in the loft ... but do I really want to pack away all of my ideas, scribblings, thoughts and musings resting in between some of those pages? 

Because there's an issue of content too.

  • Not everything I've written down, not even half, has since been worked-up into something finished; something complete.
  • Of course there's a lot of old nonsense in there, but equally, there's so many inchoate ideas loitering around, untapped, overlooked. 
  • Plus, there's a huge chunk of me flattened between those pages. I have work stretching back to when I was 8. 
  • To sit in front of a page I've written years ago is the closest thing to time-travel; I've been there before, held that book, pressed those words into the paper. And I can often remember how I felt, where I was, or what was happening when I originally wrote it. 
A few of my journals from the 80s and 90s.  

So what to do with it all? What do I do with all those years of scribbles?

Well ... I've taken two approaches:
  • If you're of a nervous, bookish, disposition then look away now because ... I tore up some of them!

Genuine notebook remains
 Before you report me for bibliocide (although, if you haven't done that already, what with my book-destruction reputation, I'm probably safe) I only destroyed the scrappiest of books, the ones that didn't hold any great sentimental value for me. There were many which I'd used mainly for practical things like lists and project planning etc and they were never going to become the basis of any book I might write in the future. They were more admin based. And I could spare them.

I saved any pages that held little gems, and copied-out any quotes or interesting snippets I'd noted down, and recycled the rest.

As for the full books, the fertile, fit-to-bursting books, I've hung on to those. Of course I have. But, rather than let all those words go to waste ... in a process that's ongoing, I'm sifting through their pages and panning for notebook gold.
A few books from the 2000s
And 'notes from the notebook' was born ... 

Whenever I stumble across a pithy thought, a funny phrase, a mini-story, an observation etc that I think might be worth sharing, I'm typing it out and adding it to my #notesfromthenotebook archive. And in the months to come I'll be sliding some of them under your nose, here on my blog.

I won't be editing them, completing them, or even particularly explaining them - I'll just be revisiting them, airing them off, getting the light to them. And I hope that in amongst my 33 years worth of words, there'll be something there that'll chime with you, or make you smile, or inspire you to write some of your own. Or share some of your own even.

Currently empty; apparently I have a thing for motivational slogan notebooks these days.

So how about next week then? How about I dip into my back issues and put some of my old ideas to work ... wake them up ... drag them into the present day and see what they've got to offer?

OK, then, next week it is. I'll make a note of it. 

Julie x

p.s: I'm here for any and all notebook related chat. What've you got? My ears/notebooks are open ... get in touch

Find me here any time >>>> Instagram ~~ Twitter ~~ Facebook ~~ Website

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Snipped Tales 'halfway there' book giveaway


Hello you.

Yes, this is a give away. Yes, I will tell you how you can win a copy to keep or give away. Just ... give me a  minute first ... to ramble ...

Creating a published book from my private hobby of making tiny text-collages was one of the most rewarding and delightful gifts I've ever given myself. And I give good gifts.

 On the other hand ...

... deciding on how many of them to print was one of the most stressful times I've had in recent years.

There were so many factors to juggle ... and I'm notoriously bad at catching.

When faced with the mathematical nitty-gritty of pricing, profit margins, and print costs that scaled with size, my stomach, previously buoyed-up on the initial creativity of the project, began to sink. But the project couldn't go ahead until I finalised that print number; I had to commit to something. 

I wanted to both play it safe (begging people for reassurance I was doing the right thing) ... and take a risk at the same time. I believed in what I was doing, I had the money in the bank, I wanted my work to reach more than a handful of people.

So I decided on a number. 
  • A smallish number in the grand scheme of publishing, but a number that was far higher than the 'safe' option. 
  • A number that was at least 5 times more than the 'sure thing' orders I knew I was likely to receive. 
  • A number that was many more than what I could expect family and friends to buy.
In a show of support for which I will be  forever grateful, during the first week the book was on sale it sold more than a few people had advised a first book, self-published, would ever sell.  Which was when I knew I'd made the right decision to publish more than that!  

Naturally, once the initial excitement of the first month and the Christmas gift-buying season were over, sales began to slow. But then ... just this week, a couple of orders came in and tipped me over into a territory I'd been looking forward to since the beginning. 

This week (wc 27th March 2017) I reached the half-way mark! 

And now that I've reached this milestone it's my turn to order a copy .... only I'm going to send that one to one of you. 


  • I will send one gift-wrapped copy of 'Snipped Tales' to the giveaway winner. 
  • I am happy to post to anywhere in the world (However, please note: I have had trouble posting to Brazil in recent times ... with at least 2 orders going missing).
  • Any one can enter, even if you already own a copy. 


  • Leave a comment on this blog post making it clear you are entering the give-away. 
  • In your comment you can say why you'd like a copy, or who you'd gift it to. You don't need to to this to enter ... I'm just interested in hearing from you. 
  • (Feel free to also comment if you're not entering. I like hearing from you anyway!)
  • You can also enter via this post on my Instagram account. Where I will be giving away a second copy. Enter one or both ... I don't mind! 


  • The giveaway will end at 1pm (UK - BST - time) on Thursday 6th April 2017.
  • I will make a list of all the entrants and use a random number generator to select one at random.
  • I will announce the winner in a blog post ASAP afterwards. 
  • PLEASE make sure you either check back to see if you've won OR that I can contact you to let you know! eg. if I can't hop through from your account then please leave another way to contact you eg. a Twitter/Instagram handle. 
  • If I can't contact the first winner, I will re-draw to select another winner. 

Best of luck to you. And please share the opportunity with anyone you think would like to join in! 


And before I go ... 

Thank you to those - you know who you are - who have valiantly played their part in hauling my book's little legs over that halfway mark. 
I couldn't have got this far without you ... I do hope the book repaid you in some way for your efforts.

And ... if you want to read more about the book or pick up a copy yourself:
Now you can get commenting to win a copy! 

Julie x

Friday, 10 March 2017

Come and meet the novelist ... (then let me know if you recognise him!)

Hello, hello, come in, make yourself at home.

I would introduce you to my other guest today it's just that ... I don't know his name.

Round here, whenever we pass him by, we simply nod cordially and greet him as 'Novelist' (a bit like how Seinfeld always greeted Newman.)

But maybe you do know his name, maybe you've seen his face somewhere before, maybe he's familiar to you.

Do you, have you, is he?? Here, have a closer look ...
So - you might well be asking - if I don't know who he is, how do I know he's a novelist?

I think I can just sense it in his face. His eyes feel like a novelists eyes, his artistic, middle distance stare. His strong nose and soft mouth are held like a novelist's. His sideburns sit like a novelist's sideburns ...

Well, that and the fact that it says 'Novelist' on the back of the frame: 
But apart from that single word I know nothing about this portrait. (I think all the label read was '19th Century portrait 'Novelist''.)

You might already know that I have a head collection (for any passing law enforcers no, not real heads, but ornaments and dolls' heads) and I've been interested in expanding this into painted portraits ever since I saw an exhibition of artist Julian Opie's personal collection of  head sculptures and portraits at Bowes Museum in 2015.

Then, last summer, while James and I were browsing one of the many, many, many rooms at Hemswell Antiques Centre in Lincolnshire I came face to face with the handsome chap ... and it was kind of love at first sight.

Can't you just imagine him wandering into a scene from a Jane Austen novel? Or maybe you're more of a Bronte fan?
That same summer I'd decided that I'd try my hand at writing a novel, which, until then was something I'd never really thought would happen. And - coming across Mr.Novelist at that time - seemed like a sign I hadn't even been looking for.

So, reader, I bought him. 

He lives with me, I see him every day, we chat (admittedly, I do most of the talking while he listens thoughtfully and nurtures his Strong Silent aura), but  I still don't know who he is.
  • Maybe he is a famous novelist of the 1800s (I think that's the right era judging by the clothes - don't you think?) - and I just don't recognise him. It's not like many of them have Instagram accounts for me to check out their selfies.
  • Maybe he's or a forgotten novelist and that's why he's not familiar. 
  • Maybe he's an amateur novelist and someone just fancied painting him (I can't imagine you'd write 'Novelist' on the back of something you'd commissioned for yourself. Although - if I ever do get my novel written - I'll probably go around writing 'Novelist' on everything.) 
  • Or maybe he never wrote a word of a novel in his life and was simply a sitter for an artist creating a series of works featuring different occupations. 
Who knows? Maybe you do! 

If he looks in the slightest bit familiar do get in touch. 

And please feel free to share his mugshot with any of your literature loving friends too and maybe, between us we will #findthenovelist 

And if we don't then it won't change how I feel about him. There's nothing quite like an air of mystery to keep a girl interested ...

Julie x

Find me here any time >>>> Instagram ~~ Twitter ~~ Facebook ~~ Website 

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Portable Magic: Which writers get your free "I'll read anything by them" pass?

Hello you. Can we talk about our favourite authors? 

Or, if not strictly your 'favourites', then at least the ones that we return to with a sense of safety; ones we'll blindly trust to have written something decent when picking up their latest title.   

Let me explain what's got me thinking about this ...   

When I'm in the bathroom, (let's not dwell on what I'm doing in there), with the door open, (again, no need to give this more thought than it deserves ...), my eyes regularly glide up and down the spines of all the, as yet, unread books in the little white bookcase on the landing.

And, just as regularly, I tell myself that - That's it! I'm not borrowing any more library books until I've read the books I've actually paid for. Which creates its own problem in return.

Because taking back my current library books means going into the library. And - like some bookish take on Newton's Third Law of motion - the action of me going into the library with books ... always seems to lead to me also having books on me when going back out of the library too.

I can't help myself, they just leap up and cling to me on the way out. Like orphaned kittens. How can I resist?

And it's hard enough to leave empty-handed at the best of times but earlier this month when I spotted The Laughing Monsters (2014), the latest novel by Denis Johnson, on the shelf, I only needed to cast the briefest of glimpses over it to know that - despite having a dozen (at least) books already on the 'To Read' shelf ... this one was definitely coming home with me.  

Here's where my admiration for the author came in to the equation:

  • Until the moment my eyes landed on that particular title on the 'J' shelf, I didn't know this book existed;
  • I'd never heard of it or read a review;
  • And I didn't know what it was about before I slid it out, turned it in my hands, and read the back cover blurb.
But the thing is ... even when I did learn about its subject matter, and I realised it was so very far removed from anything I would normally turn to - I still held on to it.

An African-set tale of ex-soldiers who are spying and scheming with varying and unclear motives by almost any other author would not have made it off the shelf and into my bag.

(For evidence of my 'difficult' relationship with espionage-themed stories I just asked James for an example of the typical things I say while watching spy films/TV, to which he's offered up: "Who's that? What's he doing? I don't understand." So ... yeah ... spy stories are not really my strong suit.)

But this one was by Denis Johnson, the writer of one of my favourite ever passages, this from his 2012 novella Train Dreams

“I don’t get my gears turning smooth til it’s over a hundred. I worked on a peak outside Bisbee, Arizona, where we were only eleven or twelve miles from the sun. It was a hundred and sixteen degrees on the thermometer, and every degree was a foot long. And that was in the shade. And there wasn’t no shade.”

And it's that charismatic tone, the ability to instantly create atmosphere and his simply awe-inspiring word wrangling that meant I unquestioningly gave the book a chance. Whatever else the story was going to turn out to be, however else the plot might twist and turn and leave me standing, I knew the quality of the writing would see me through.

I flipped to the opening lines ... just to check ...
Yep. That'll do me. I'm in.

And the rest of the book didn't disappoint; it's scattered with sparkling little moments of description , and even the tiniest moments can thrill a word lover like me; such this where he describes the character's nose as 'brief':
'Brief'. Not small, not short: but brief. Delicious.

Word choice matters to me ... and Johnson chooses so very well. And that line about not being able to describe Michael's lips because "You'd have to follow him for days to get a look at his mouth in repose" is just a delight.

Even his renditions of scenes straight from hard-boiled noir central-casting had me smiling at their lightness of touch, like this exchange between the protagonist Nair and an interrogator:

Prior to this one I'd only read two of Johnson's other novels:
  • Train Dreams, as I've mentioned (which I actually started to read while on a train, because I'm that literal)
  • and 1991's Resusitation of a Hanged Man
... so it's not exactly that I've been an avid fan, champing at the bit for his new releases (although, I think I might now be leaning that way), but I knew, and enjoyed, enough about his previous works to know I was in safe hands with The Laughing Monsters.

And it's had me thinking about who else can I say that about?

As I tend to read a lot of library books, I find that more often than not I end up reading books I've never heard of, often by writers who are new to me. It's the luxury gifted to us by public libraries;  having books available for free, means there's no risk involved in choosing an unknown. 

However, there are several writers - alongside Denis Johnson - whose work I will give that additional chance. Currently, of the top of my head, that includes writers such as;
  • Ali Smith,
  • Andrew Miller,
  • Alan Hollinghurst,
  • Sarah Perry,
  • Jane Austen, ... although there are probably more.

But now I'd like to ask you the same question ... 

  • Who, in your reading world, gets a free pass?
  • Who are you likely to trust enough to give their next title, or indeed one from way back in their back-catalogue, a chance without question?
  • Whose style sits so easily in your head, or whose stories keep you so gripped, or whose characters come alive so vividly, that you don't need to know anything more about the book than they were the one who wrote it?
Do share your list in the comments ... it'll be interesting to see if any of the names crop up more than once among all our preferences!

Meanwhile I'll be ploughing my way through to get a few library books finished so I can take them back and make a start on clearing the To Be Read shelf. Maybe. Unless another library book clings on to my ankle on my way out ...

Don't forget to share your favourites!


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Thursday, 23 February 2017

Vintage Treasure: Edward Cochrane's musical score scrapbook

Hey you. How's things? 

It won't surprise you to know I've been treasure hunting again.

We spent a few hours in a market town last Saturday and there's no better way to aid post-lunch digestion than a good rummage among the racks, shelves and boxes found in charity shops. And yes, of course, a lot of the papery treasures I unearth eventually gets snipped into, cut up, upcycled, recycled, repurposed, and re-loved ...  but some ... some find their way directly to the safety of my 'don't even think about cutting this up' shelf. 

And today's treasure is the latest to do just that. Come and have a look ... 

Vintage music score scrapbook

It's always a thrill. Always.

Like finding grains of gold in a stream when you're really only looking for pebbles.

It's a glimmer of human connection, an instant recognition; an acknowledgement of something that's simultaneously entirely new to you, and yet utterly familiar; it's evidence, a trace, of a real human life ...

It's finding pages of someone's handwriting in a box of printed books.

Vintage music score scrapbook

Flipping through a box of old sheet music booklets I suddenly caught sight of his handwriting and I didn't need to look any further to know his book was coming home with me.

This is generally what happens with me: once I've spotted handwriting I know I'm in for a treat.

I know I'm going to hold and read something quite different to the remainder of the contents of the box. I know I'm going to 'meet' someone across the years. I know I'm likely the first person in a long time - perhaps the first person since the original owner - to look at a tattered old, written-in, book and think "How special! That's mine."

Oh and the 'he' that I connected with in a pile of vintage music books, while crouched on the floor or a charity shop, is Edward Cochrane from Shotton Colliery, County Durham:
Handwriting in vintage book
Pleased to meet you Edward. How'd'you'do? Do I call you Eddie? Shall I put the kettle on?

Once I had a firm grip on Edward's book (you can't be too careful ... how do I know there isn't another avid paper ephemera collector watching over me while I rummage, waiting to swoop in and steal my treasure if I show signs of weakness?) I opened the covers and found that - on the first few pages - he'd stuck down some sheet music pamphlets:
Vintage music scores
It made me wonder if perhaps this journal, with soft covers carefully covered with protective brown paper, started life as Edward's scrapbook where he intended to store the key pieces he needed for a performance:
Vintage violin music scrapbook
But then, those pre-printed booklets come to an end and the remainder of the book is (brace yourself because this made me go a bit dreamy), the remainder of the book is handwritten:
So what happened? Did Edward run out of funds for buying original scores?
Did he instead turn to borrowing what he needed from friends, colleagues, band mates, copying them and returning them? 
And in a time before photocopying, 'copying' was no 20 second task, it meant sitting and transferring each and every note by hand. A task which, judging by how meticulously this appears throughout the book, was one Edward took seriously:
As for what kind of tunes Edward was collecting in his journal:
  • there's a handwritten list on the inside cover listing various 'quadrilles';
  • and there are references to a 'galop' and various barn dances.
So it looks like he was involved in a musical group that accompanied dancing.

And - I think it's not too fantastical to surmise that - living in Shotton Colliery as he did, in the heart of Durham's coal-mining country, he must have been influenced by, if not part of, the tradition of colliery brass bands.  (A quick search online for the address he's written in the front of the book reveals this photo, which shows his street, with a colliery working away in the background.)

And now ... for the foreseeable future, I'm going to look after Edward's old book of dances; I'm going to hang on to the pages that are falling out, to the brown paper peeling away from the cover ... and to the handwriting.

The handwriting that says more than what it spells out ... 

The handwriting that says: "I was here." "I, Edward Cochrane of Shotton Colliery, County Durham, existed."

"I lived in a town where everyone either was a coal miner, or knew a coal miner. And I wrote my initials on the cover of a book I carried around with me; a book of music that I'd carefully hand-copied in pen and ink. And then ... when I sat down, opened my book, and began to play ... 

... people danced." 
And there it is again. Finding handwriting is always a thrill.



And if you just want to leave a comment/get in touch to squeal with excitement over Edward's music journal then please do ... I think he'd be tickled to know that, however many years in the future, his passion for music was still keeping people entertained! 

Julie x

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