Earlier this year Kate Field won the prestigious Joan Hessayon award for her debut, The Magic Of Ramblings – and having read it and been enthralled by her story, I can see why. I am… More
After successfully re-decorating of our bathroom, I was already talking about moving on to the next project – and, more than a year later, I’ve finally managed it.
Our bedroom was last decorated shortly after Mark moved in eight and a bit years ago.
Before that it was rather…flouncy, shall we say. A friend described it as my “boudoir” – and I suppose with one wine red feature wall and lots of draped red and gold sheer fabric over the window it perhaps did have that sort of feel.
When Mark arrived one of the things he came with was a giant (and I mean HUGE) canvas map of the world, which took up an entire wall of the room – and looked completely out of place.
To make him feel more at home – he had just moved 150 miles away from family and friends, after all – I painted the walls Natural Hessian and went for a more neutral, calming look of browns and creams.
And that’s the way it has stayed – until now.
It was in a bit of a state but I just didn’t have the time or energy to tackle it. Two things got me motivated. The first was that I bought the most beautiful new duvet cover in the world (and matching pillows and a cushion).
For the first three weeks I wouldn’t even let Freya sit on it, I loved it that much.
The second thing was that my little sidekick attended nursery for two and a bit hours, four mornings a week, during the last term before the summer holiday and I thought “now’s the time, quick!”.
It was a bit like being on one of those challenge programmes where you have to transform a room in a set time.
I won’t say I’ve done the best job in the world but I am actually rather pleased with the way it looks – especially the wardrobes and drawers.
I knew pine wouldn’t go with my new look and really wanted white but, with a limited budget and being a fan of “make do and mend” I decided I had nothing to lose by painting them.
Not having the money for fancy paint I used B&M One Coat Brilliant White (although I gave them three coats in the end) and they have come up really well, even if I do say so myself.
I gave them a light sand first, used a brush to paint the grooved bits and then rolled the rest (excuse the shadows in the pics. It was actually sunny then).
My dad was the one who suggested painting the handles the same colour as the walls. Genius!
Sadly Mark wouldn’t let me paint his prized West Bromwich Albion mirror, in case I “damaged it”, so I had to treat myself to a brand new one, which, as you can probably tell, I was very upset about. Don’t worry, his mirror has gone in the loft to be used at a future date.
After painting the ceiling and coving, the next job was to tackle the walls. I used a Crown Paint from the Period Collection, entitled Tea Gown. I had bought a tester pot and tried it but the real thing came up a bit less pink and a bit more purple than I was expecting. It went beautifully with the duvet but clashed with the rose pink curtains I had up. Mum to the rescue. She very kindly treated us to a set matching the duvet for Christmas (is it ok to say that word in August?).
I actually love the room now. It feels so light and fresh. I know it’s not going to be everyone’s taste (I’m not even sure Mark likes it that much) and it won’t featuring in Elle Decoration or Beautiful Homes anytime soon but I made the best of what I had.
Next up is the living room, which I’m planning when Freya starts school in September (hopefully it will take my mind off things). Fingers crossed it won’t take until August 2018 for me to finish it!
Have you upcycled anything you’re particularly proud of? I’d love to hear about it.
When the history of the building is as interesting as what’s now housed inside, you know you’re in for a treat – as is the case with the Museum of Norwich at the Bridewell.
You’ll find it tucked away down a little alley, just a short walk from other attractions such as the castle.
It started its long life as the home of a wealthy merchant in about 1325 and changed hands (and was updated) several times until the 1580s when it was sold to the city.
Part of it was then converted into a Bridewell – or prison for women and beggars, who were occupied with manual work or, in some cases, taught a trade.
By all accounts, life inside was harsh and, on occasions, barbaric – indeed, the threat of being sent to the Bridewell was supposed to act as a deterrent.
When fire broke out in 1751, destroying much of the building, it apparently had a rather famous (or infamous) inmate, Peter the Wild Boy.
Infamous resident refuses to leave.
He was a child found living wild in the forests of Hanover, in northern Germany, in about 1725 and brought to England by King George I as a “curiosity” for his daughter-in-law Caroline, the Princess of Wales.
The boy could not talk and instead of walking preferred to scamper on all fours – apparently picking the pockets of courtiers and stealing kisses.
While he initially caused quite a stir (Jonathan Swift was among those to write about him), he was eventually sent to live on a farm in Herfordshire, from where he would regularly escape.
You can find out more about him here but his time in Norwich is commemorated by the nearby Wildman pub in Bedford Street and a blue plaque on the side of the building.
After the fire, the Bridewell was rebuilt as a prison and stayed in use for another 77 years before it then served as a tobacco factory, leather warehouse and shoe factory.
Given the stories the walls could tell if they could talk, it seems rather fitting that the building should eventually be turned into a museum, which first opened its doors in 1925, focusing on a city at work and play.
In 2008 the museum was granted £1.5m for a major revamp, which included a new entrance, enhanced displays and better access for visitors.
It reopened in 2012 and, as soon as you enter, you can see the money has been very well spent.
A fantastic history wall – a huge mosaic created with mainly donated photos on a lightbox, is one of the first points of interest – and that high standard is maintained throughout the museum.
The galleries are full of interesting, often quirky, displays with plenty of things to touch and smell, audio to listen and videos to watch – all the while learning about the people who lived and worked in our Fine City.
There’s a guide to the various areas of the museum here.
What we thought.
I have a major soft spot for this museum and, whenever possible, always take visitors to Norwich there – and I still feel like I haven’t seen it all.
There’s so much to look at and get involved in. I always find something different every time. It’s also all so accessible and I genuinely feel more connected to the city and its people – even though I wasn’t born here – when I’m inside.
My favourite area is the pharmacy, full of colourful bottles with lotions and potions for all sorts of ailments. It’s behind floor to ceiling glass (my photos really don’t do it justice) but still provokes a “wow” as most people enter.
While I think Freya is perhaps still a bit young to really appreciate the museum, entry was free last week (thank you to the Freemen of Norwich) and so I knew it wouldn’t matter if she got fed up after 30 minutes (as three-year-olds do) and we had to leave.
As it happened she had a great time trying on wigs and hats, looking at maps, sniffing various things and discovering sparkly red shoes to clomp about in (it was hard to get her to leave the shoe drawer).
Even if you’re not local, I would suggest it’s worth a visit (my visitors have all loved it). I can also see it being a regular haunt for us as Freya grows up.
Child (4-18) £4.55
For full information about prices (there are also family tickets and a twilight ticket) and opening times please click here.
While many writers chase often elusive publishing deals, going “indie” has its own rewards – as author, Julie Stock, proves.
The race to write and publish her first book, From Here To Nashville, before she hit the big 5 0 might have been what initially inspired her to go that route but with two successful contemporary romances under her belt – and another on the way – Julie’s hard work is paying off.
In my latest Behind The Book interview, she explains more about her journey into print – with some wonderful advice for all writers at the end.
When did you start writing? Has it always been a passion?
Until about four years ago, I’d never written anything longer than a poem or lyrics for songs, and most of my writing as an adult has been for day jobs. I started writing my first novel in April 2013 because I had an idea that I thought could work for that length. That had never happened to me before! I knew it would be a romance because that’s the genre I read the most. Both my novels are contemporary romances and I’ve also written a novella and a number of short stories in the genre.
Do you plan your stories?
When I started writing, I was a ‘pantser,’ although at that point, I had no idea what that was. I wrote that first book with only the loosest idea of what was going to happen. It was an incredible experience for me but I had to do so many rewrites to even finish the first draft that I knew I would prefer to plot more next time round.
With my second book, The Vineyard In Alsace, which I started, again with no plan during NaNoWriMo one year, I got to 80,000 words and decided that the story wasn’t working. I then got rid of 40,000 words before going on to finish the first draft. It was really hard but I knew that the story just wasn’t the one I wanted to tell. Again, lots of rewriting followed but I knew I had the right story by then.
So before I started my third book, which I’m writing now, I really did try and do much more of an outline before starting. It has still evolved a lot as I’ve gone on but I feel this will be a much better first draft than I’ve written before.
How long did it take to write each book, including drafts? Were you writing full time? If not, how did you make time to write against all the other life stuff we have to do?
It takes me about six – nine months to write the first draft, and with rewrites and editing, it takes about another six – nine months to be ready for publication. I could possibly write faster if it was my full-time job but I do procrastinate a lot! When I wrote my first book, I was working full-time as a teacher but I so wanted to do it that I found the time, even if I was only writing 300 words a day.
Nowadays, I work for a charity in the mornings and I do occasional supply teaching as well as some freelance web design work so I can commit to writing 1,000 or more words a day if I’m working to a deadline, and if I write that many, I feel really pleased with myself! If I know what I want to write, that only takes me about an hour so I don’t really have any excuses not to get that done.
Your first book is partly set in Nashville and your second in Alsace. How important is location to your work? Are they places you have enjoyed? Are you tempted to go to places purely for research?
The setting of my books is really what starts the story idea off for me. I have always been a singer myself and together with my love of country music, I had an idea for a story set both in the UK and in Nashville. My premise for From Here To Nashville, my first novel, was what if you had a singer/songwriter based in the UK who dreamed of becoming a country music star and going to Nashville. That’s the only place you would want to go as a country music singer so it fit the storyline. I only went to Nashville myself after writing the story but I had to go once the story was written.
Similarly, my love of France, especially Alsace and my knowledge of the winemaking industry from a former job, gave me the idea for my second book set on a vineyard in Alsace. I’ve been several times and so I was able to draw on my knowledge quite readily for my book.
I love to travel and when I do, I think about whether those places would make a good setting for the story I want to tell. So the place tends to inspire the story and I’ll often take lots of photos and make lots of notes for future reference, if I go somewhere on holiday and think it would work for a book.
You decided to go indie very early on and, as a result, didn’t submit to any publishers. Can you please talk about why you picked that route and the pros and cons?
I started writing my first book when I was 48 and it was reading how someone else had self-published that made me wonder about doing that myself when previously that just wouldn’t have been possible. My motivation with the first book was to publish it before my 50th birthday and so I didn’t have time to wait around for agents and publishers at that point.
It is hard to self-publish because you have to pay upfront for editing, proofreading and cover design before you’ve even sold any books. On top of that, the marketing is almost a full-time job in itself. However, what I enjoy is having control over every aspect of the process and when the results come in, they’re all down to me and that’s a good feeling. I did try to get an agent and publisher with my second book and came very close but not close enough. At that point, I realised that I could just do it myself again and my second book is doing so well that I don’t regret that decision at all.
Do you think the rise of social media has helped when it comes to self-publishing? How important is it to you? Is Twitter your favourite?
I suppose social media has helped indie authors to make themselves a bit more visible amongst the millions of authors out there, and I am active on Twitter and also on my Facebook page, as well as a couple of other sites to a lesser extent. However, I don’t know how much they influence sales as such – it’s very hard to tell but I enjoy being on it to the level that I am involved so I’ll continue with it as long as that remains the case.
It seems like when you self publish you have to be a jack of all trades – from cover design, type-setting, promotion etc. Which part was the easiest and which part was the hardest? Is there anything you know now that wish you had known for your first book?
For me, the easiest part of self-publishing is uploading my book to Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing because I can compile my manuscript straight from Scrivener which is the writing software package I use. It really couldn’t be any easier.
The hardest job is finding the time to try out all the new ways of promoting yourself as an author. Sometimes, it’s very easy to spend all your time on marketing and promotion, and then you find you have no time to write! You have to be quite disciplined to make time for your writing and if you’re a bit of a procastinator…
I’m not sure there’s anything I wish I’d known for my first book, apart from learning more about plotting! Still, I may have given up before I’d even got started if I’d spent all my time learning how to plot. Sometimes the best way of learning is to throw yourself in the deep end and give it a go!
Many of the authors I enjoy reading are members of the Romantic Novelists Association (RNA). Can you tell me why you joined and what you get from it?
Joining the RNA was quite simply the best decision I’ve ever made. I went to a Festival of Romance in November 2013 and there was a panel of RNA authors there that day who told me about the New Writers’ Scheme. I joined in January 2014 and I have made many good friends since then, at parties, events and conferences. The RNA is full of such generous writers all ready to give advice when asked, and the friendship is second to none. I’m about to graduate from the NWS now to be an independent author member of the RNA and I feel very proud to have reached that milestone. I couldn’t have done it without the support of so many lovely writing friends.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m trying to finish the first draft of my third book, set in a restaurant in Devon. This will be the last book I submit to the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme and the deadline is August 31st so I am up against it a bit. I will then be editing a novella I wrote some time ago, which is a sequel to my first novel, From Here to Nashville. I hope to publish it later this year, and the new novel next year.
Finally, do you have any tips for writers perhaps thinking of going the indie route?
If you’re a new writer of romance, join the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme to get early support with your writing. Make sure that when you’ve finished your draft and first round of edits that you seek the help of a professional editor. This should be followed up with a professional proofread. If you can afford to pay for a professional cover designer as well, so much the better but there are cheaper options that will still produce a good cover for you. For advice on all the practical aspects of self-publishing, join the Alliance of Independent Authors too.
The other piece of advice I would give is something I heard from another writer recently, which is that if you write, you’re a writer. So try not to let your fears get in your way. You can do it – you just need to make a start.
Thank you very much to Julie for answering my questions, despite not only being on deadline but also preparing for a literary festival. I found so much of what she said useful in a practical sense but I was also really inspired by her journey – especially trying to write and be published in your 40s. That last piece of shared advice is a keeper too.
I’ll have another Behind The Book for you on August 21st.