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. (Edited to add: the book is now available here).

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. (Snipped Tales is now available here.)

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 (@) (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

Thursday 10 November 2016

My real life Northanger Abbey adventure: one night, alone, in Wilderhope manor house

“There’s only supposed to be one ghost there” he said, really selling the idea to me, “And that one’s only a horse.”

Which is how I came to accept James's offer of spending the night in a 16th century manor house in the middle of nowhere.

An empty 16th century manor house in the middle of nowhere that is. Let’s not forget the empty, uninhabited, no one else around, me and him as Lord and Lady of the Elizabethan manor, part.

The manor in question was Wilderhope Manor House in Much Wenlock, Shropshire: 
Wilderhope. Wilder. Hope. Such a great romantic name. Beats Rochester's Thornfield Hall and Heathcliff's Thrushcross Grange any day.  
But then again, I'm a Jane Austenite rather than either a Charlotte or Emily Brontephile and, trust me, the plot of Austen's Northanger Abbey - where the young heroine, carried away after reading gothic novels, ends up sneaking about the old house looking for proof that her host murdered his wife -  was never far from my mind while I was packing for the trip. 

So much so that I took my copy with me:
That said, it was more in true Bronte's Jane Eyre style, that we were visiting Wilderhope: as paid workers and not as a well to do guest (well, James was being paid - I came along for the experience and the story I could spin afterwards. This story.) We were less Lord and Lady of the manor and more 'two servants left behind to look after the place over winter'.
We stayed in a room on this side of the building. We know our place.
Although, thankfully, unlike Bronte's plucky little governess ... I didn't have my sleep disturbed by the mad woman in the attic ... nor, as it turns out, by the ghost of any horse.

Ah yes, about that horse ... 

The story goes that during the English Civil War the owner of the manor at that time, royalist Major Thomas Smallman who was carrying important documents, was fleeing some of Cromwell's troops and, rather than allow himself to be cornered by them, he galloped his horse, and indeed himself, straight off Wenlock Edge and while he survived the 200ft drop by grabbing on to something ... the horse didn't. And frankly, after that, who'd blame the horse for coming back to haunt him?

The place where it all went down (sorry about the pun dear ghost horse) is now known as Major's Leap and it wasn't until we'd chosen a room in which to spend the night that I noticed we'd picked the one next to it's namesake. Which was ... comforting ... :
A room which, by the way, was accessed via an original spiral staircase, with original 1580s steps of solid wood. A staircase which I could hardly ever climb without hearing a line from a song about the ghost of Anne Boleyn my Grandma used to sing "With her head tucked underneath her arm, she walked the bloody tower". Now just you sing that to yourself while you play this:

So, why were we there walking up 430 year old staircases and trying not to think of ghosts in the first place? 

Well, like I say, it wasn't because James rented out the entire place in order to satisfy any Jane Austen heroine fantasies I might have. Rather James's company was hired to carry out some repair work in the building (which actually now runs as a Youth Hostel - rather than a fancy manor house hotel) and, after seeing online images of the stunning location ...
.. and idyllic setting:
... he decided that he'd leave behind the office job for a few days and tackle the work himself rather than delegate to someone else. So, before you get too jealous of the amazing opportunity we had, here are some of the behind-the-scenes realities ...

There was real, unromantic, work to be done (for one of us at least, although I did do my fair share of tidying and assisting): 
And then there were the rubber covered mattresses (no judgement here if that's your kind of thing) which we later covered with the bed linen given to us by the employee who was working there during the day; luminous green bedding or, as James put it, "the colour they thought was least likely to get stolen."

Our room was called the Wren's Nest and was fittingly small and cosy enough for just the two of us. There was no way I could have slept in any of the larger dormitories ... too much open space tricking my mind into seeing things that weren't there or, worse still, that were there! 

If you're feeling brave, how about I give you a tour of the manor? 
I'm pretty sure there weren't any ghosts there (but if you spot one in my photos, just keep that information to yourself!) Right then, here we go ... 

While James was working, I sat in the dining room: 
Where I could admire its original plaster work ceilings:
When I wasn't tidying up or making tea for the worker here's where I sat.
I nestled myself in the corner, on my own, with a novel to read and a notebook to scribble in: 
But it was hard to keep looking down at those when I could so easily look out and try to imagine all the other women over centuries, who've looked out over the same landscape, through the same stone window casement:

I wonder how they were spending their days while their menfolk went about their business?

As the afternoon drew on, the sky darkened (goodness you don't realise how dark 'dark' is until you're away from ubiquitous street-lighting do you), James finished up one of his tasks, and the building's employee finished her shift, gave us the door code ...

... and then we were left alone. Entirely alone.
To be honest I was more afraid of a living human dropping by, disturbing our peace, than I was encountering anything more spectral. My mind raced as to what we'd do if someone came knocking, what if some cold, stranded, traveller like Mr Lockwood in Wuthering Heights wanted us to let him in? (Over-active imagination? Who? Me? I told you I felt kinship to Catherine Morland in Northanger Abbey!).

Once all the work was finally complete we put on some atmospheric lighting and ate tea in the dining room:
Not quite an Elizabethan banquet but our Ye Olde Microwave Ready Meal filled a gap:
And, fortified by food and drink (a strong cuppa ... we weren't drunk in charge of a manor house) we investigated more of the building including the 'bridal suite' at the very top of the house ... and even the basement at the very bottom:
Forgive the blurry photo either the camera was struggling with the light levels ... or I was just really nervous.

And after all that excitement, and after a long, long, day of driving and working we were ready for bed (note the luminous green bedding James is holding here):
But before we turned in we each nipped outside (taking turns to hold the door so we didn't get locked out!) to look at the stars twinkling their whiteness against the silky black sheet of the sky. We headed up the servant's stairs to the Wren's Nest, read a few chapters of our books and slipped into sleep.

At 7am the next morning the gifts of this location kept on giving:
We woke up, just the two of us, in an Elizabethan manor house. An Elizabethan manor house bathed in the glow of a beautiful pink-burnished morning:
A pink-burnished morning with frost-dusted fields and chattering pheasants.
Some experiences money can't buy and, in this case, it hadn't even tried to. This experience was simply the gift of providence, of good fortune, of being in the right place talking to the right people at the right time. Of being willing to embrace an idea, to go, to do, to stay for under 24 hours and then to turn around and come home again. 

But, as brief as our stay may have been, there's no taking away from the fact that for one night in its 431 year history ... James and I were the sole residents of Wilderhope Manor. 


If you enjoyed your visit with me and the manor today I'd love to hear from you. 

Let's chat all things Austen / Bronte / spooky / over active imagination-related either here in the comments, over on Instagram, my Facebook page or on Twitter

Julie :-)

Wednesday 2 November 2016

My Month in Numbers 2016: October

Spotted in October on the side of The House of Blah Blah, Middlesbrough
It was frosty this morning which makes me suspect that - once again - winter is coming. It's almost like it's happening every year now isn't it? Anyway ... before November truly gets into its stride (wearing two pairs of socks and waterproof boots, legwarmers optional) let me re-cap my October ... in numbers.

October was a pretty busy month round here, I've been out and about a fair amount starting with a visit to the new 'Flesh' exhibition at York Art Gallery on the 1st ...

25 5/8 inches or 65cm = the height of the Ron Mueck sculpture 'Youth':
This was the second time I've seen this piece (the first was in a brilliant exhibition at Belsay Hall in 2010), and it was still as fascinating second time around. The detail, as with all Mueck's works, is incredibly lifelike despite its reduced scale, to get a feel of how realistic the piece is put your hand over the bottom of the photo, hiding the plinth; you can almost be fooled into thinking he's merely a photo of a fellow gallery browser can't you?

While at the gallery we re-visited Claire Twomey's Manifest: 10,000 hours installation which feaures 10,000 ceramic bowls 

Even though I'd seen them before, I'd never seen them in the beautiful early October, early afternoon sun cast from a skylight. Just magical:

And - this one's not number related - but I just wanted to share this photo because I love it:
It's possibly because I'm really shallow and I really like everything he's* wearing here, and when I look at it I just want to sidle up alongside him, ruffle the hair on the back of his neck, and rest my hand on his shoulder. In fact ... that's very likely precisely what I did after taking this.

*Yes, it is James. No it's not some random gallery goer. What do you take me for?

If York Art Gallery feels like somewhere you might like to while away a wintry hour then you can see more of the place in my review of the gallery from earlier this year.

Other cultural highlights of October: 

I attended my 3rd, 7 hour, 'Seasonal Space to Write' writing day.
Not a bad view to stare at while I was trying to decide how to structure the novel I've embarked on:
After the crisis of my first writing day (which I described in painful detail here) I felt much more relaxed this time and (almost) like it was perfectly natural for me to be there. I say 'almost' because - along with my mini laptop, a notebook and pen, I still carry with me an element of imposter syndrome. Which means that while people are all chatting about their work, and asking me about mine, and I'm telling them about the book I'm currently working on,  I do tend to feel that any minute now someone will recognise me as a complete fraud and ask me to leave.

And of course, the most difficult aspect of all that is, that the only person who thinks I'm out of place there is me. For all I know everyone else is sitting there feeling exactly the same way, waiting to be outed as not a 'real' writer.

But the only way I'm going to get more used to the idea that I am a writer (totally cringed writing that ... can't even look at the screen) ... is to keep going to places like this, and talking to people with similar passions, and to keep flexing my writerly muscles (they're mainly in my forearms from all the typing and the fore finger on my right hand which I use to switch on the kettle.)

You know one thing that might help persuade me that I'm a writer? Holding my own - printed - book in my hands ... and that day is creeping nearer ...

I finalised 3 more sections of my Snipped Tales book: the cover design, blurb, and acknowledgements. 
If you missed the sneak peek of the cover design catch it here - and I'll share more details on the cover and contents very soon.

I thoroughly enjoyed the 4th presentation I've seen given by The History Wardrobe combining women's social history with costume history.
This latest talk was called 'Jolly Hockeysticks' which centres around female education - covering everything from the struggles women have had to get into university and the kinds of subjects girls have traditionally been restricted to learning ... to how clothing has shaped, helped or hindered the participation of girls and women in education and sports:
As I say, this was the 4th event of theirs we've been to (we've also seen Fairytale Fashion, Women of WW1 and Gothic for Girls) and, if you haven't been to one, I think my sister's description of the night explains it best: "I go thinking it's about the clothes ... then come out all militant".

Here we are, two militants #frowing:
... by which I mean we were in the front row (I have neither sat in nor written the word 'frow' until this but it's what those in the fashion world call it ...I've seen it on Instagram so, y'know.) .

My sister wasn't convinced that it was the best place to sit (we don't really have front-row-showy kind of genes) but Mam wanted to sit there and we liked the idea of a good view of the clothes and so we took our place and I promised her I wouldn't let anything happen to her during the performance. Ahem.

Then ... (can you guess what's coming here?) ... during the performance ... she had an old school hand bell thrust towards her by one of the and was told to ring it. Which she did.

"You said you wouldn't let anything happen to me" she said afterwards, "I had to ring a bell!!" she declared as I laughed and winced at the same time.

"I know I know" I placated "But you did it very well".

I'm not sure exactly which clause of The Sisterly Code I broke there ... but, whichever it was, I think she's now forgiven me.

I ate out 4 days in a row .. and plenty of other times either side! 
Here's one of the meals - mushroom, cashew, and smoked cheese plait - from a local vegetarian restaurant: 
Which I followed up with ice cream and butterscotch sauce because - if there was one thing I loved about school (and, honestly, there wasn't much more than one thing) it was when ice cream and butterscotch sauce was on the day's school dinner menu! And now I'm an adult I don't see why I should miss out. 

At some point this month James was on the phone to his mother when I heard him saying "No, she's not a vegetarian, no". I think he'd been telling her about a vegetarian meal we'd had and she remembered that we'd also been to the veggie restaurant and I guess she thought she'd missed the memo about my sudden meat embargo. 

However ... if she'd seen what I had for Sunday lunch when 4 friends and I went out to celebrate a birthday ... she'd have been under no delusions that I'd turned vegetarian ... 
We were all browsing the menu when one of us, maybe it was me I'm not sure, said "I think I'll have the liver and bacon".
And another said ... "I was going to have that", then another said the same, and another (including Jean who likes to count how many times a year she gets a mention on my blog. What number's that now Jean?).

 All of which led to one of the strangest things I've ever heard a waitress say ... as she brought our meals through she stopped at our table and, wondering who to hand each meal out to, asked "Four livers?"

As macabre as that sounded it was completely delicious, if extremely filling, which begs the question of how - and indeed why - we all then went on to have dessert ... followed by tea  ... accompanied by the squares of fudge they brought with it! I was very nearly sick. Genuinely.  I had to leave the table. I do't think I've been so nauseous after a birthday party since I was about 6! (Although in those days it was the fault of dancing too energetically to Girls Just Wanna Have Fun after eating my bodyweight in crisps and iced gems).

And finally ... after all that indulgence I did at least attempt to balance it out with some exercise:

I took 6 x 20-ish minute morning walks.
I've checked my photos and can only find 6 walks in there but it feels like more, possibly because when I get back home I write up the walks - which I then share on Instagram - and when I total up the amount I've written  it comes to close to 2000 words for 6 little walks! I spend longer writing up my observations than I spend observing them in the first place.

And lastly ...
For the first time this new term I walked up all 10 flights of stairs in the tallest building on campus:
And while the view may have been worth it:

... I can't say the same for the number of the calories burned. According to a heart-health promotion sign in the stairwell  ... climbing up the 240 steps of the 10 flights burns off  ... have a guess how many calories  ...

Nope-  not that many - it's a dishearteningly underwhelming 43!!!  43. 

I mean - I probably ingested more than 43 calories just by breathing in deeply near the display of cheese toasties in the campus cafe!

43 measly calories; that's how many are in one of the travel sweets I carry in my work bag.

Goodness knows how many stairs you'd have to climb to work off 4 livers!!!


Well that was my October, mild weather, highly foodie, and with a smattering of cultural events to keep me out of mischief.

This morning, the 2nd day of November, we had the first frosts and last weekend the Christmas24 channel started up again ... and so we're swiftly running out of Autumn and sliding headlong across on an icy pavement into the arms of Winter.

I wonder how many calories that'll burn up ...

See you soon.
Julie x

Thursday 27 October 2016

'Nightfall: Sky Full of Stars' event. Part of the Discover Middlesbrough festival

The other day I shared my photos from the behind-the-scenes torchlight tour of Teesside Archives and today I'll share what happened afterwards. (At this rate you'll feel like you're spending life with me in real time. Any minute now you're going to have to hang on while I go and find my gloves/change my boots/grab a biscuit or I might well try to persuade you to put the kettle on while I just scribble down a vital thought in a notebook or photograph my outfit for Instagram. Welcome to James's world.) Anyway ....

Following the archive tour James and I went for a wander around the the Nightfall: Sky Full of Stars event organised by Stellar Projects in Centre Square where we were met with ... 

... which were accompanied by the soundtrack of local children talking about them. 

Here are several of the constellations looking down from above - an unusual way to view stars - as viewed from high up on the deck of the MIMA gallery:
And here's another peeking out below us as we pose for a ubiquitous 'us in a reflection' shot on the MIMA staircase:
And here's MIMA itself which opened late for the event to serve food and to provide their deck as a viewing point and as a place for an astronomy association to give telescope demonstrations ... 
... albeit into a rather cloudy sky. But not to worry as there were plenty of stars to see elsewhere. 
This stellar lantern hypnotically turned and turned and, through the cut out lettering on the side, it reminded us that "We are made of star stuff".
You can see the lantern in motion by hopping over to my short little video of it on Instagram.

Then there were Stuart Langley's pieces, such as this sea-glass and neon planet:
And this stained-glass and neon half dome which, when viewed in its mirrored base became whole ...
... and which totally reminded me of the dome from the Crystal Maze. (I can just imagine it filled with tiny contestants trying to stuff gold and silver foil squares down the front of their shell suit tops!)

(You might remember a similar stained glass/mirror idea - but with a rainbow - which I blogged about last year. That was another of Langley's pieces which you can catch in my blog post here.)

And finally ... the good old Centre Square fountains looked great in the moody lighting (alongside me trying to get a clever 'me taking a photo of my shadow on you while you take a photo of the fountains' shot).
And finally ... you can get a feel for the night's atmosphere by the sounds captured in this video ... the roar of the water, the mellow music ... and the kids squealing as they get sprinkled by the water jets:
All in all - what with the archive torchlight tour to start, and the arty star gazing to follow then getting home by 9pm to a warm house - it was a lovely way to spend a Friday night. Far more my style than heading into town to go to a pub or club.

This was the second year in a row the town hosted an ' after dark' event (I blogged last year's here) - last time the theme was 'Don't Be Afraid of the Dark' and this was all things stellar ... I'll look forward to seeing what 2017's nighttime experience brings.


Before I go thank you thank you for all the support you've been leaving on my previous post and on my Facebook page by letting me know you'd be interested in a copy of my book so I can gauge print numbers. It really does means the world to me.

I'll share more news once I have some!


Tuesday 25 October 2016

Sneak peek of my 'Snipped Tales' book cover

I'm publishing a book!

I mentioned it a few weeks ago.  You might remember. It's called Snipped Tales, is a book of colour photographs of my short-short-short-collaged-stories, is approximately 70 pages long, has a gorgeous cover (scroll down for a sneak peek!) and is out ... soon.  

And - if I'm really honest with you (which I'm rather prone to being) - it feels a bit strange that I haven't shared more of the process with you here. This wasn't a deliberate decision and it's not like I'm coy with you here (I mean ... there's that time I talked about my experiences of depression,  and I annually share the worst photos of myself, and we mustn't forget the time I told you how my period almost got out of hand while in fancy Fortnum & Mason's.)    

But, as much as I'm usually free and easy with the revelations ... there are several reasons why things have been a bit different with the book ... things such as ...
  • I'm not 100% in control of the process, I'm using a local indie imprint to create my cover, copy all my images and format them into a book, and arrange the whole printing process. 
  • I'm not superstitious but ... I've been really wary about sharing everything before I knew it was definitely all going to go as planned!
  • My brain's bursting with book-related decisions and I'm a bit book-blind right now. Have you ever built a house? Or completely redecorated? Or re-designed a garden? Or something like that? Then you'll know how there comes a point where what begins as "Yay! I get to start from scratch, get everything I ever wanted, and make all the decisions myself!! Woo hoo!" .. turns into "Oh my goodness. I have to make all the decisions. On my own. What if I get it wrong??!!!" ... that's where I am right now! 
  • I think I'm a bit too close to the whole thing right now to really be able to say anything useful yet. I haven't fully digested the book-making process which reminds me ... there's a actually a story about someone who eats the dictionary in the book. Naturally. Anyway - I reckon that in a few months/a year I'll have some great content to share to help anyone who fancies doing something similar themselves. Just not this week. 
What I can share right now though ... is a sneaky snippet of my front cover. My. Front. Cover. Mine.  (Still doesn't feel entirely real just yet.)

Are you ready? OK, here it is: 

Pretty much everything the book is about is right there:

  • VINTAGE PAPER!!! (Sorry to shout but vintage books pages are what inspired the idea of my Snipped Tales at the very beginning. It was only right that the cover reflected that vital aspect!)
  • the vintage, battered, well-loved feel.
  • the tag-line ... which must have been re-written at least 20 times - at least - until it said what it needed to say.
  • illustrations by Kirsty Neale - the most talented, patient, and supportive of friends a debut book-creator could hope for!
  • the idea of the book as a bundle of stories held together in a printed book you can hold. 
  • the idea that the book as a gift (to yourself, to someone else .... and one I've given to myself.)
Now that all the design work etc is complete I now need to decided how many copies to print as an initial print run and so ... can I ask a big favour? 

If you think you might consider buying it (once you've seen more of it, and once you know all the details, of course), or if you know of a shop that may consider stocking it, would you let me know? 
  • You can leave a comment here - as some of you have on my earlier post (thank you - you're so lovely!!)
  • you can email me at withjuliekirk (@) (remove the brackets!)
  • or you can get in touch via Instagrammy Facebook page or on Twitter.
I'm only looking for a very general idea of how much interest there is out there; you will not be held to any kind of commitment, and I certainly won't be making a list and checking it twice! Promise. It's purely for my own confidence when I have to make that final numbers commitment. 

Some people have suggested I take pre-orders before deciding but the printing process takes a little while so I need to get a move on to have a chance of having it ready for the Christmas gift-giving season. Anyway ... 

I love my little book and while I'm aware I'm introducing you to one another slowly ... I hope that this tiniest of glimpses might help you feel friendly towards it. 

Thank you for all your support so far ... here's to the final push! 

Julie x

Monday 24 October 2016

Torchlight Tour of Teesside Archives. Me, and old papers, in the dark, together

Before we begin the answer's no

No, I didn't steal any of the old books/files or tear out any pages! I may have a reputation for collecting and re-purposing old paper but - trust me - on this occasion I was a paragon of restraint! (And I reserve my scissor action for books I've paid for or been given thankyouverymuch.)

And now we can begin properly ... 

Earlier this month James and I threw on our 'big' coats and headed out for a night in the dark as part of the 'Nightfall: Sky Full of Stars' event in the town centre as part of the annual Discover Middlesbrough festival. (You can catch up with my post about 2015's festival here). This year's event featured all kinds of outdoor light installations, which I'll share in a post of their own, but it also included various atmospheric torchlight tours of notable buildings and, nosey-vintage-paper-obsessive that I am I booked on to the tour of Teesside Archives

It wasn't entirely dark when we arrived but by the time we'd been greeted, had an introduction, and embarked on the tour the sky had darkened and the atmosphere had begun to build. We were shown upstairs - with the lights on because: health and safety - but soon then the torches we were given began to come in useful as we were led into the rabbit-warren of corridors and rooms in a building that began life as a postal exchange.

Forgive the blurry photos, my camera does usually cope well in the dark but even so, I came away with a lot of photos like this:
While were were brandishing our torches and generally mooching up and down the racks and racks of boxes and files we learned about:

  • what kinds of documents are stored in the archives: eg. local business archives such as British Steel, council proceedings, housing plans, plans for Sydney Harbour Bridge which was designed and built in Middlesbrough
  • and also what's involved in the preservation of the contents: eg. regulating temperature and moisture, checking for pests, having a sprinkler system in case of fire ... and having cardboard boxes that can withstand a few hours of being sprayed with water. Who knew? 

And, when you see some of the amazing old volumes it's home to, you can understand the drive to protect it all.
However, while the whole experience brought out my serious, book-loving, historically-interested side ... it was equally satisfying on the level of making me feel I was inside a mystery drama ...  
How many times have you seen a scene like this in a film or on TV? The protagonist sneaks into the building at night, their torchlight sweeping up and down the shelves seeking the 'files' that will solve everything and then ... what was that?  Someone creeping behind you ... a security guard, a stray cat, an enemy? Don't breathe. Don't make a sound. Don't drop your torch ...
Carried away? Who? Me?

Then from the dark (and our over-active imaginations) we were ushered into the light of the conservation room:
That entire wall of light boxes on the right hand side allows the conservator to repair and restore large maps and plans, while smaller light boxes come in useful for viewing and repairing old slides:
And, smaller still, was this light which is as thin as a couple of sheets of paper - and in fact looks like a rectangle of card until it's switched on. 
It slides easily between book pages and, once illuminated, it shows up any problems with the paper which can then be restored as well as revealing watermarks and ink qualities which can be used to determine the age of the paper.

Continuing the theme of 'light and dark' the curator demonstrated how light had effected a book from the 1800s:
And we heard something about this indenture from the 1580s ... but I can't remember what. Possibly the impressive fact that it was close to 440 years old made me forget everything else!
And she pointed out the glues and the 'fibrous Japanese papers' she uses to restore and reinforce damaged pages ...
... and it took great restraint for me not to shout "Washi! Is it washi paper? It is isn't it? Tell me more about paper!!"

And again ... no ... I didn't squirrel any of it away for myself. So stop thinking of me like that ... I mean it's not like I was the only person there who was taking photos of the piles of paper on her desk ... oh ... hang on ... yeah ... I was. I was the only person taking photos of paper. Oh well ... moving on ... and up ... and up:
When we reached the top floor we were allowed out into the darkness, on to a fire-escape on the roof in order to fully appreciate just how close the road runs to the building:
So close in fact that, in an act of cultural and historical vandalism, they actually knocked down the remainder of the buildings in the row and the archive was the last building to be saved before they drove the A66 right through the old town. Even the building that holds so much of the area's history has its own story to tell.

In fact, it's latest story is that it's almost full. The archivists told us that in several years they'll likely run out of space to hold everything they have coming in and then what? Their hope is that they'll be given - for the first time ever - a purpose built archive, but in this era of local government cut backs, who knows?

Now, why does the idea of a building almost full-to-bursting, shelves groaning under the weight of so many old books and documents sound so very familiar to me? Can't imagine ...


I hope you enjoyed this peek behind the scenes, if you want to share stories of your own experiences of archives, or restoration, or collecting old books then let's continue the papery conversation in the comments here or over at Instagrammy Facebook page or on Twitter.

And I'll whip up another post about the 'Nightfall:Sky Full of Stars' event soon.

Julie :-)