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