Category Archives: Taking stock

Behind the Scenes: A book and beyond

 

Well, hello, everyone. It’s been a while. In fact, it’s been a very long while.

Over the last few days, the blog has been on my mind a great deal.

The last time that I checked in, I had been spending a great deal of time of the allotment. The weather was good; Britain was not only in the grip of a pandemic, but also a heatwave. I was able to go to the plot, and do a fair bit. I had dug over the beds, and even sown seeds.

Then life became busy, with my counselling practice and teaching. It has been a very fast, very busy ten weeks and my feet have bare touched the ground.

So, this week, I am playing catch up.  I am also trying to have a rest, by shifting down a gear. I am trying to get some semblance of balance. I did have a fair dose of allotment guilt; a lot of sadness, actually. I popped down to the plot, to see how the plot had changed and to cut some roses. This, in itself, was a very grounding process. I even found some tomatoes. This was much needed. A bit of pottering, smelling the roses, to become grounded.

Social distancing still exists, and quite rightly so. And when not able to go the plot-there has been that much rain, when the sun isn’t shining. I’ve been otherwise occupied, beyond working and counselling.

Socks.

Yes, at the beginning of lockdown, I learned how to knit socks. I started with flat needles, and have since graduated to circular needles. These, I do believe, make the process, easier. It is also a lovely opportunity to relax, experience mindfulness. To ground myself, and do something that isn’t energetically demanding; is wonderfully calming and therapeutic. As such, I now have four pairs of needles with as many cast on socks. As you can see, this are not boring socks. Colourful and comfy, I’m really very proud of my creations. I have enough wool now, to be really quite busy. It is really quite easy, to be seduced by pretty yarn. And the socks are all mine; there is no one to inflict them upon.

Talking of creations. There is a new writing project on the desk. All being well, that will be released next year. This has already spent a year in the pipeline, and is very different to what I’ve already written. A series of short stories, all inspired by the City of Birmingham. You’ll have to watch this space, for further details.

Overcoming Allotment shame

Bear with me, I have allotment ouchies.

I’m sat here, thinking about each and every muscle twang. When I walk, I am slow; even my baby toes throb in protest.

Yesterday and today, I have spent time on the allotment. All within the Social Distancing guidelines, I assure you.

Time that has been long over due. The Lockdown, has brought with it a new lens through which the world can be seen. Life has definitely changed.

Over the last seven weeks.  I have spent most of my days at my desk. I have taught from my desk. I counsel from desk too.  I have found it challenging to go out, beyond to the supermarket, to get fresh air, to get exercise. To ground myself, I guess. Brief windows in teaching and counselling have meant popping out into the garden, sniffing the camellias whilst nursing a cuppa before going back to work.

Something changed this week. I had enough, and made a change. I made the decision to step away from my desk, to be there only for teaching and counselling and go to the allotment.

(I’ve also had a laptop crisis; there had to be a very panicked repair. I hadn’t back it up, so this bit is genuinely Mea Culpa. Years of allotment images have been wiped as it went for repair. I’m okay with it; saddened and angry, but I look forward to taking new photos, making new allotment memories.)

(I’m not sat at my desk, writing this.)

 

me

For the last two months, I have been turning things over in my head. Why haven’t I gone, other than being busy?

This is where the counselling training starts to illuminate things.

I love my allotment, it’s been epic. It has been productive, there has been plot produce, and untold joy at so much. So when life got busy. and my time on the plot become less, there was a disconnect. I’ve been saying for a long time, that I would go back.

Alas, it was all very overwhelming. There have been many attempts weed, cover, potter. Nothing felt right. Nothing, felt connected or grounding. It was all very overwhelming; it still is, sat here writing.

And yet today, I have allotment ouchies.

I have spent today, yesterday, digging over raised beds. Raised beds,  I have a few.  Nine. Nine raised beds have had weed coverage pulled away, put into another bed to form a lasagne bed. There are two beds, that need faffing around with. There has been an abundance of apple blossom on the plot. The Braeburn apple tree, has been propped up as it bends over backwards. There is a promise of a bumper harvest.

I wandered through my rose bushes, tying in, typing up as I anticipate bouquets. Bouquets that right now, sound and feel like a Hallelujah Chorus in the distance.

 

My spade was picked up; I hate digging. But damn, my spade is good. It cuts through heavy clay like a hot knife through butter. Nine beds were turned over, clods broken up. I was something of a woman possessed really. Today, I’ve certainly been in second gear, rather than fifth. I took my time today.

I now have bare earth to play with. I’ve yet to sow any seeds, or find plants. That is going to be on my mind, my agenda in the next week or so. Last year, I grew a small gang of chillies. I’ve yet to sow a single seed. I’d quite like to sow some tomatoes, but it might be a little late.

So how does the title of this post fit?

There’s been incongruence, fear and a shame at having let the plot slide.

And I didn’t want to feel that way any longer. The plot is in my hands, I have the power to change it.

All those conditions of worth; the feeling that my plot wasn’t good enough. The introjects, of what a good plot should be. The slightly askew locus of evaluation, that the plot wasn’t in my hands. There has been overwhelming fear to not share the plot, to take anyone there or to even speak about it to anyone.

Here’s to change and having autonomy to do what I can.

I’m lucky, that for the most part, I have supportive allotment neighbours. There is the odd comment, which can be barbed. At times, that has hurt, cheesed me off and compounded not being able to do anything. There has been sadness, wounding pain at pitiful looks and comments that could only be politely ignored for some time.

There was joyfulness in what I’ve been doing. All right, sweaty, dirty and dehydrating, but I felt good doing it. I had, have, a plan. I need to, want to plan things into those beds. I’ve rummaged in my loldean timber seedbox, to find some bits and pieces. A few dwarf beans have been direct sown, some spinach and chard broadcast sown. This is all very tentative, I have no idea if that will work. It’s been a very long time since I’ve done that.

It was possible, for me to reconnect with the allotment plot.  I had my headphones on, my water bottle. To be honest, I put my head down, and did what I had to do. I don’t compare my plot to those of others; I never have. I like that it’s different, that it’s mine and I do what I can with it.

I also know what has been. How it took shape, all the hard work that has gone into it. All the goodness that has come from it.

I shall take the small victories, of having dug over raised beds.

Even if I am going to creak for days…..

Chatting with @TheOrdKnitter

You may have read the post about socks; how I’ve learned how to knit them.

I wouldn’t have got that far without a little help from my friends, not to mention a book of patterns.

Well, I was kindly invited by The Ordinary Knitter, Heather, to share my experiences of knitting socks on flat needles.

I’d asked Heather for some advice on how to start, and she was great in walking me through a pattern.

You can hear the full podcast with Heather here.

 

socks

These are my current projects. Two stripy pairs for me. An experimental Dad  sock, and even one on a pair of circular needles. These, are the ones that I still need to reflect upon a bit further.

 

The book that I’ve used is by Alice Curtis Knit your socks on Straight.

To get growing

At this moment in time, there is a lot of seed sowing. The current situation, has inspired, challenged, encouraged people to start gardening. This might be growing your own food, sorting out the dahlias, or just rejuvenating your green space.

Gardening, has certainly struck a cord with people.

As such, I’ve been thinking about this blog. About how I started just over a decade ago, with containers in Dad’s garden. I started gardening, growing food through a combination of sheer fluke and curiosity.  Everything was an experiment.

It was also to help mental health at the time. I’d just come to the end of my initial teacher training, and was unlikely to be employed by the end of Summer. There was sadness, anxiety and uncertainty that experimenting with seed sowing could be alleviating.

Ten and bit years later, the change in the universe is global.

I started with cherry tomatoes, chilli plants. I found runner beans and even a Butternut squash plant that I called Gladys. We have Kevin the aubergine too.

That was an interesting summer, in 2009. We had a heatwave, and this led to a bumper crop of cayenne chillies.

I remember going to Wilkos, to Poundland, to get my supplies.

At this moment in time, that is impossible. There are DIY stores, but I’m not for one moment, encouraging non-essential travel. There are also online outlets, who are doing their best to support customers. Again, I advise caution, as businesses do the best that they can.

For my part, I have an allotment, that I can access sparingly to tidy up. I’ve yet to sow anything.

That doesn’t mean that I can’t offer support; especially with all the content on the blog. I wrote it, for that very job! To help others, perhaps share my mistakes so others would avoid them.

(There are also two books on the side bar, but that is not an advert.)

Gardening has the potential to bring great joy, stability, focus and so many other things. I know that it means a great deal to me. All being well, you may find something on the blog that also helps.

Apple and Socks…

I forget which week we’re on, but the lock-down measures remain in place. All for good reason; safety is paramount.

This week, has been about reflecting, about getting my hands dirty and also learning new skills.

The allotment has been on my mind a great deal. There is a lot to do, the plot has been left unloved for sometime. This, does feel rather overwhelming, as I have mentioned before. As such, I want to do little bits at a time, as much as I can.

I have an apple tree on the plot. In fact I have two. One is a Falstaff, the other is Braeburn. Both are currently in beautiful bloom with lovely pink and red blossom. The Falstaff is safe, secure, growing well. The Braeburn on the other hand, would be eight foot tall. However, due to storm damage,and not being staked properly, it is now growing bent over backwards, much like a fictional Japanese willow over a stream. I spent some time this week, propping it up. There was no way, no how, it was going to snap up straight. It is actually wonderfully well established, and happy too. I’ve never seen so much apple blossom on one tree. So rather than work against the tree, I want to work with it.

That was fun. Apart from falling over a raised bed and getting bruises.

Bruises, which didn’t help shoulder strain.

And where did I get shoulder strain from?

Well. Knitting.

I’ve been knitting for ages. Never purposefully though, and never actually finishing anything. So when a colleague told me about her sock knitting, with a member of the ‘Grape Gardening Family’ signposting me towards a book for knitting with flat needles, I had a ‘oh, yes?’ moment.

Two weeks, were spent, in between teaching and counselling, knitting like there was no tomorrow. I kid you not. I had the same brain fury that happens when I have a writing project that is all consuming. I pull the same thinking face too.

Flat needles. I’ve always knitted with these. I do have some circular needles, but they are still a bit abstract; I’ve yet to wrap my head around those. I don’t use DPNs-double pointed needles. That would also be a stretch of the visuo-spatial sketchpad.

Immersed and enthusiastic. I sprained my arm. There was three days sulking, and I have resumed knitting. I will also venture back to the plot too, at some point.

The socks, a pair, were completed. Yes, they are wonky, with one bigger than the other. But I have a pair of socks! Two weeks ago, I couldn’t read patterns, never mind knit socks.

(Yeah, Mama F has been helping too. I sat elbow to elbow with her, explaining the pattern. She’s a much more proficient knitter and crocheter than me, she can knit with her eyes closed. Doesn’t ever use patterns. But socks were new. She has since knitted a beautiful pair, that really are a piece of art.)

I’m really very proud of my wonky socks, and I have three more experimental ones in my needles. I’m using a mixture of bamboo and metal needles. The bamboo are less heavier, more warmer. Smaller metal needles do help with precision and better fitter socks.

 

 

 

 

 

Uncharted Territory

You really couldn’t make this up. I certainly couldn’t.

Write that the world is a-grip with fear, that a pandemic is in action.

Well, I’m sure someone did, that it was written some place.

The last week, has been weird, strangely disorientating.

I’ve been glued to the news, trying to understand. Trying to make sense of things in a clear and coherent way. All around me, the world is changing.

All of the books events that I was scheduled to attend, have been cancelled and postponed.  This does mean I have a stack of books to sell, all requiring good homes. Get in touch, I will waive postage! There is the contact form, somewhere. Those books might help, if we are going to be stuck in doors for a bit. You can also download them, if you have the Kindle App.

_J2G2636

That is pretty much all I have to offer people at this moment in time.

 

My two day jobs, involve people. I teach, so from today, my teaching will be done remotely. That’s going to be really very surreal. I don’t just like teaching, I love it. I’ve been doing it for ten years, and it’s more than just a passion. It really is a vocation. I salute, stand by with, my brothers and sisters in the teaching fraternity.  Since Tuesday, the air at work has been somewhat electric. The frisson has been that off worry, anticipation and anxiety.

Then there is the counselling. As a private practitioner, I’m only just starting out, but I’ve been standing by The Ethical Framework for years. I will continue to do so.  Counselling too, is a vocation. Something, that I can’t explain, in terms of process or experience. My work with trainees-those that I teach-as well as those I have worked with when volunteering, has felt really very powerful over the last few weeks. In the last week, working safely with clients, and offering them the required support has been main focus.

I am carrying on, as best I can. As much as I can.

Today is going to be weird. Seriously weird. I’ve felt anger, anxious and a profound sense of sadness.

I wish you all well.

All being well, I shall be around.

Go well, go safely. Rainbows and butterflies to you all.

 

 

 

Bookish: Road to #Birmingham2022

petal

From Telford to Birmingham:

A book-related adventure.

I’ve been thinking about this post for a some time now; particularly how to put into words. This is altogether nerve-wracking.

Well, here goes.

In July 2022, the Commonwealth Games will be just about to kick off in Birmingham. As such, this has inspired a multi-genre gathering of authors from across the world. One of them, just happens to be yours truly. A gathering that is scheduled for the heart of Birmingham, yards from the Floozy in the Jacuzzi, in the Birmingham Council House.

The journey, this bookish road to Birmingham, starts in Telford in April 2020.

That’s less than six months away.

How did this all start?

With a short story. And nerves. Lots of nerves.

I was ecstatic to be invited to Birmingham 2022, by fellow local author Martin Tracey.

I met Martin, in a pub. The Gunmakers Arms in Birmingham, actually; I was reading there, so was he. That was my first ever public reading-Postcards from Peace, Devan’s Halloween Story, I’ve never been so scared in my life-thanks to A.A.Abbott, her Tippling Tales evenings are brilliant, and well worth attending.

(I’m back there tomorrow! Get tickets here.)

Immediately, as you can imagine, excitement and anxiety collided. This would be one a massive, historic, multi-genre event. A first for me. It was, and is, a huge step as an author, and Indie Author at that. I set about thinking; how could I make steps towards this big event, to raise my profile and actually reach people?

I have no idea if people read my books, unless I pester them! The dreams of having a fan-club, are exactly that. Being somewhat eclectic, the book back catalogue is somewhat diverse.  There is most definitely something for everyone.

I thought about it, and took a chance. Was there an event, that I could do in the mean time? Turns out there was. In Telford; sooner too. A good opportunity to build a profile, and reach readers.  This was Shenanigans 2020.  The link for tickets is below.

Shenanigans 2020 tickets

There are a couple of locations, currently being investigated, for pit stops in the middle. Birmingham 2022, will hopefully be something of a homecoming, in that respect.

The key thing, the most central to all of this, are the books.

six

As I type, I’m preparing book seven. The teasers were done yesterday! This is my third instalment for the Peace Novella Series. All being well, this will be out there for everyone, by April 2020.

As an Indie Author, reaching readers, is a key. This means that reading and reviewing is incredibly important. That moment, when you randomly recommend a book to someone, helps that happen. Even if’s a one line review, even if you only add a couple of stars.

 

Plant Pot tales: the seeds of an idea

From blogging to beyond.

plantpottales

Four years ago, around about tea time, I pressed publish. What I was publishing, self-publishing that is, what Playing with Plant Pots: Tales from the Allotment.

I was bringing to a close, work that I had been doing over the summer. At the start of that summer, I had decided to write a book. I had no idea, what to do or how. The plan, all very vague, was to build on what I had written for the blog.  What I wanted to do, was to share via another platform, everything that I put on the blog.

I felt, more keenly than anything, that was I was about to do, was useful. That what I had learned, experienced and recorded would be valuable to others. I also like books. I am and always will be, a bookworm. Books are magical, they serve an infinite number of purposes and have an infinite number of effects.

What I was also doing, was taking my first tentative steps toward being an author, being a writer. That’s something that I’m still trying to get my ahead around. I’ve yet to put that on my CV; I feel like an impostor. It has taken me ten years to feel like a fully fledged teacher, I have no qualms about saying that’s what I do. Declaring myself a writer, an author, is just as hard as saying I’m a newly qualified and registered Counsellor.

Plant Pot tales was published via Kindle. The whole world of Indie publishing is still very new to me,  it’s an ongoing process to learn and process things. Plant Pot tales was a my gateway in, a baptism of fire. Without this book, I wouldn’t have written and published another five. After Plant Pot tales, there was Sow, Grow and eat. I had learned a fair few significant lessons before taking the plunge with that one.  Plant pot tales stands for so much, I’ve never fully appreciated it til now.

One of the best moments, was being sat there whilst Mama F told me her recipes. Most of what has been grown on the allotment has passed through her kitchen. I had to convert her conversation into a set of standardised instructions that could be replicated. Instructions that were both reliable and valid across time, location and population. In a word, these were recipes that could accessible, uncomplicated and bring some form of enjoyment to those using them. This was not supposed to be an onerous, over-complicated book to bamboozle people. There is nothing so off-putting as being over-complicated.

What I will never forget, is standing in the kitchen whilst flicking through the pages. It was the pictures that got me. I’d taken them all, used them on here for a blogging. I was developing an archive of images to support what I was writing. I don’t for one minute think that it’s a run of the mill gardening book. It’s part reference, part cook-book and that’s deliberate. I didn’t want to write a book that was the same as all the others; the same as all the ‘proper’ ones.

Not writing anything ‘proper’ or within expected norms, is a theme that carries on with all the other books. A theme, that does make it difficult to spread the word, promote and share the books. That is however, another story.

Plant pot tales has also travelled. It travelled to the US, where it was sold in a book store. Yes, a proper book store with shelves, people and everything. My book, was on a shelf. In a book store.

You couldn’t make that up, not really.

sixcovers

Happy 4th Birthday!

 

plantpottales

 

This summer sees Plant Pot Tales turn four.

Four years have passed since I whimsically said to my baby sister, “I’m going to write a book, about my allotment. It’ll be an e-book, but yes.”

She was encouraging, told me to go for it. So I did. So, started my journey as a writer. As such, I knew nothing. This wasn’t just a book, it was the start on going, developmental journey. This blog was the launch pad; I wanted to go beyond, write something that was real, a bit more three-dimensional.

I wanted to write a book!

Grabbing my pen, a notebook, I went about writing a plan. At that stage, I’d also written some guest blogs and so these were incorporated; I had things to write and shape. I felt good about it, I was genuinely excited. I still knew nothing, nothing about doing things properly when it came to writing and publishing. I knew nothing, about being an Indie author, and was about to take a massive great big swan dive into a very, very big pond.

I knew nothing about gardening either, well beyond my 200 sq metres of allotment. Okay, so the blog was my record, my repository and diary.  I also had-I still do- a fabulous group of gardening friends and family who helped me on my growing experience. I set out to write something of a gardening book, something of a cook-book. It also had to be honest; this was not going to be a fluffy book either.

(I’ve yet to write a fluffy book; I’m not sure I will ever, write a fluffy book).

And don’t call me or my writing, sentimental.

(That’s a whole other debate, and centres on the words of V.S.Naipaul.)

Mostly, I was winging it. I will in hindsight, plead blind ignorance. From the editing, the pictures, the formatting. Every thing was done as it came.

This book is not perfect, and I like it that way. Okay, so I’m still developing a thicker skin for all of my writing, but this was the first bit of my soul to be made public. It is flawed, there are mistakes all over shop. But I am proud of my mistakes, they make me who I am, who I might be and inform this on going journey.

I’ve cried over this book. I cried when I held the book in my hands, I cried over the reviews. That, is part and parcel of putting your soul out there. It is part and parcel, of being vulnerable and at risk of criticism. It is part and parcel of people passing judgement on others.

I’ve grown to respect the reviews-they are phenomenally important as an Indie Author. I won’t strong-arm, chase people down for them; but I do appreciate them. Each and every one, brings with it warm and fuzzies. It’s a surreal experience, the fact that someone is actually reading what you have written. Even more so, when they come at you with a copy. I once signed a copy during breakfast, whilst adventuring in Iceland for a conference.

I still haven’t got my head around promoting my books, blowing my own trumpet and adding bells and whistles to things. With every book, what gets me, is my name on the front. That, is what gets me every.time.

Writing and publishing Plant pot tales was a risk. I took a chance, didn’t think about feeling stupid, and I’m not sure I recognised my bravery. I don’t see my bravery, it takes me a good six to eight months to do that for most of the things that I do. With plant pot tales, it took writing another book-the green one-to make sure I hadn’t fluked things. What I was bracing for, and I guess I still am, is the risk and return of failure. I don’t remember thinking about failure-how’s that for bravado! It came to me after, once the book was out there, about Christmas time, and I had a bit of a ‘oh, Feck’ moment.

Most people don’t want a one star review. I think, I firmly believe, that it is out there. It just hasn’t found me yet. I’ve seen the two star ones; they’re on goodreads! I have two options when that one star turns up. One, cry-I probably will, I will probably rage, to be honest. Two, acknowledge it, accept that it is perspective of another, and that’s all there is to it.

The key with the latter, is not internalise and wipe out the courage that it took to take a chance. It’s an ‘Oh feck’ moment,  an ‘okay, so it tanked with you, but where do I go from there’ kind of thing. It’s a very much an acceptance and acknowledgement, that things may go to the wall from time to time, but that doesn’t define things. With that comes resilience; the ability to bounce back. Resilience, builds capacity. Capacity, builds motion. Motion facilitates growth and development.

All this, from a book.

(Not that I am encouraging you, dear reader, to go formulate and post that one star review…)

Plant pot tales is my first, it was the starting pistol to other books. Currently, there are aix of them in total, at the last count. Perhaps, I have lost sight of it; lost sight of where this journey started. With the book coming up for it’s fourth birthday, I’m trying to accept and acknowledge it’s importance. It is deserving, worthy of being held on the same par as the other five, promoted and shared. What I am getting at, is that I don’t want to forget plant pot tales. There is a real danger of me doing that, as my writing journey continues. I’ve gone from blogging, writing about gardening, through grief, to writing contemporary romance. I’m yet to pin down a niche, a genre, so the diversity is really important. In five, ten years time, I want to be able to wave plant pot tales around and say, look! I wrote about gardening, it’s also a cookbook.

On the 17th August, I’ll remember Plant pots fondly. I’ll remember that I did something completely out of the ordinary, and that I liked it. I will understand and accept that it is something to be proud of, something to share and it is out there. Plant pot tales has a place in the universe and I put it there.

Happy Birthday, Plant Pot Tales!

Nurturing the return

For the last few weeks, I have been avoiding the allotment. I know why. It all feels rather overwhelming. There is still work to do, and the growing season should be off like a rocket. Today, I decided to take a walk; least of all because I needed to fish some pots and growing trays out of Mama F’s shed.

Going back to the allotment actually scares me. It’s a big space, all 200 square metres of it. Half of it is actually covered, and to all intents and purposes is on pause. That half really doesn’t worry me so much. The other half, has raised beds, fruit trees and is what I am trying to get back to what it was. Most of the raised beds are covered, there are three that need clearing before I can actually grow anything. There are three grapevines that need shoring up. They’ve started to lean because of the wind, and need to be propped up.

As it stands, a quarter has become a mass of raspberries. That’s not a problem. I like raspberries. These are however the autumn variety, with runners spreading around. I do have a pink variety; Polka, I think. I was going to look into getting some more pink ones, but I fear I am a little late to plant some. I hear that the Glen varieties are fairly good.

I’m glad that I went for the walk. I’m able to see that things are manageable. At the moment, I have a dozen or so tomato plants growing along at home. I would like to take these to the plot and plug them in. I would like to grow something this year, even if it is simply tomatoes. There are chillies; the cayennes and a couple of habaneros. These are likely to be cultivated at home. I might even rescue a few more chilli plants, I certainly plan to find additional tomatoes.

This might take time, and this year might not be overwhelming abundant. If the tomatoes come off, I would rather like to make some hot yellow sun chutney. Growing yellow tomatoes is rather interesting! There has been cherry blossom on the plot, these are starting to fruit. I also spotted some pears. Then there are the currants. These have strings and strings! Thing is, I always end up harvesting these during the height of the hay fever season. These are likely to be jammed or jellied, I think.