Monday, 19 June 2017

The Summertime Jane Austen Book Club: welcome to the Sanditon-along!

Hello hello.

How do you fancy sitting back, people-watching, and maybe falling in love Jane Austen-style this summer?

If that sounds like how you'd like to spend July then come and join in with an impromptu, informal, summer book club hosted by me (hello!) and Ruth from Everyday Life of a Suburban SAHM.

Sanditon - an unfinished novel by Jane Austen (completed by other authors)
When Jane Austen died, 200 years ago next month, only 4 of the books we know and love her for - Sense & Sensibility, Pride & Prejudice, Mansfield Park and, my personal favourite, Emma - had been published.

Two further works - Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, were published posthumously ... and then there was Sandition. Austen had only written 12 chapters of Sanditon when she died on July 18th 1817 and, since then it's been released into the world after being completed by several different authors. 


Last week Ruth posted on Instagram (where she's @thestreetsofw5) about how she rescued an abandoned copy of Sanditon from the jaws of death* at a recycling centre. (OK, I may have exaggerated ... but she did rescue it from a recycling centre where it was surely only a few collections and deliveries away from being pulped!)

And her post leapt out at me because I have a copy of the exact same edition, which I rescued from a charity shop, and - like Ruth - I had never read it. So I suggested we join forces for a communal read-along: or - more precisely - a Sanditon-along!

We're opening the covers on Sanditon on July 1st 2017, and taking our reading at a leisurely pace throughout the month.

Grab yourself a copy of Sanditon by Jane Austen by any which way you fancy before July 1st*.
  • *Actually ... don't worry if you don't get it by that date - that's just when we're starting to read it, and chat about it in occasional blog/Instagram posts. Feel free to join in whenever you can,  but if you'd like the communal element try to get into it before the end of July. 
  • Check your local library catalogue - because good books are good, but free books are even better! 
  • I've had a quick look on Amazon (UK) and there are actually a few copies available of the same edition we're using.  
  • Dip into eBay, charity/thrift shops and - apparently recycling centres are a good sourse of abandoned novels! 
  • And of course there are ebook versions available out there too. Basically ... however you can get Sanditon under your nose is fine with us! 
It's almost guaranteed that we will end up reading different versions as it seems several other authors have completed what Jane Austen started. But that's no problem ... it'll probably lead us to interesting conversations about the various ways the story is taken by its different writers!

Throughout the month share your Sanditon reading experiences with us on social media / blogs:

  • eg. Share photos of your copy, or your where you're reading it.
  • Let us know how / if you're enjoying it.
  • Use the hashtag #sanditonalong if you'd like us to easily find your post - and to find posts by others.
  • Feel free to tag me on Instagram @withjuliekirk  and/or Ruth @thestreetsofw5 if you'd like to make sure we see your posts!
You can also join in by:

So, how about it? Are you in?

It's such a wonderfully serendipitous chain of events that's led us, including you, here, now ... 
Firstly, someone chose to leave that book in the recycling centre. Then Ruth just happened to notice it, decide to take it home and post about it on Instagram. Where I just happened to see it and recognise it as exactly the same edition as the one lounging on my shelf. And now, just days later, here we are planning to read Jane Austen's final, unfinished novel, during the 200th anniversary of her death ... and beyond.  And encouraging others - you - to join us in doing the same. 

I've been meaning all year to find an appropriate, meaningful  way to mark her anniversary not merely because it was an important one of 200 years, but also because of her age when she died: she was 41 and 7 months. On her anniversary I'll be 41 and 6 months ... and I've felt somehow obliged to consciously mark the occasion. And now, almost accidentally, I know what I'll be doing! 

I'll be reading her final book alongside a network of readers who, like me, might well be encountering it for the first time. 

The whole occasion, of our pop-up Sanditon-along book club, is almost perfectly Austenian in itself! What with its themes of coincidences, the 'almost-didn't-happen'-ness, the love of books and reading, the sharing of stories between female friends ... it fits happily within the Austen universe. 

And Ruth and I hope you'll get chance to join us there! 


So tell me ... are you going to go find/dust-off a copy and get ready to start reading with us on July 1st 2017?!! 

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Notes from the Notebook: "The wheel turns. And you lose".

Hey you. 

So, I've turned the tombola that is my collection of scribbled-in notebooks and plucked out this snippet from nearly a decade ago. 

Funnily enough, I paraphrased this exact piece to someone in an email just last week. I think the Universe is dropping me a hint ... 

Notes from: 24th October 2008

Never admit that you are getting over something which the Universe had a hand in creating in the first place.

It doesn’t like it.

It resents that its whirling dealings could be so easily overwritten, and conspires to prove to you just who is in charge of this whole game.

The wheel turns. 

And you lose.  

Thanks for turning a page with me today.

Julie x

Do keep in touch either here on the blog or through any of my online homes:

Catch up on previous notebook delving here via my Pinterest board.

Friday, 9 June 2017

York Art Gallery: 2017 Aesthetica Prize exhibition

Hello, hello.

(BTW: This is NOT, in any way, sponsored post, I paid for my National Art Pass myself!)

Calling all art-lovers! See if any of this grabs you ...

If you're not going to be near York ... hang around anyway and have a virtual visit!

And ... if you're anywhere in the UK: make sure you check out the National Art Pass summertime 3 months for £10 offer. 
The £10 card gains you free entry to over 240 museums, galleries and historic houses across the UK as well as 50% off entry to major exhibitions. (Offer ends July 7th - so get a move on!)

FYI: adult entry to York Art Gallery is £7.50, and there are several other places you can use the card while you're in York, making it definitely worth the £10 up front! And then you can continue to use it for the remainder of the 3 months anywhere you like! 

Ready for the tour? OK then ... (try to keep up or I'll have to make you all wear coloured baseball caps so I can keep count and make sure no one's wandered off ...)

Last summer James and I both signed up for the 3 month £10 National Art Pass deal after a friend shared it on Twitter ... consider this me paying it forward! After the 3 months, when the card ran out, we decided to subscribe for the full year, full price, as we'd become used to having a good excuse to get out and have a wander around a gallery or museum. Now, each time we visit York we pay the gallery a visit, no matter what's on; as we get in free with the Art Pass, we don't need to check or worry if an exhibition is not our 'thing' ... we can just let serendipity lead us (and you know how much I like a bit of serendipity!) 

Which is why we didn't know anything about the Aesthetica Art Prize Exhibition currently running on the first floor of York Art Gallery, before we found ourselves standing in it! And, for anyone else as oblivious to it - here's the official description from the gallery website:

"A platform for innovation and originality, the Aesthetica Art Prize Exhibition invites audiences to engage with captivating projects from some of today’s leading artists, both established and emerging. From individual narratives to global concerns, the artworks comment on contemporary culture and explore themes such as globalisation, perceptions of space and alienation in the digital age."

And it really was original and captivating (and filled with photo-opportunities which perfectly pandered to my Instagram fixation!) photo-, here are a few of my favourite pieces ... 

most photo-worthy was this rainbow beauty ...

I Am Here by Emmanuelle Moureaux
This delicate, swaying, multi-coloured piece is 'I Am Here' by Emmanuelle Moureaux. (The more sturdy, bearded, piece in shorts is James ... in case there was any confusion there).

Aesthetica Art Prize Exhibition
What you can't quite see from that distance is that this ombre monolith is made up from 18,000 individual cut-outs of a female figure:
100 Colours Emmanuelle Moureaux
Here's some more info on it:
100 Colours Emmanuelle Moureaux
There was even a sign on the wall that encourages you to spot - in amongst those 18,000 figures - a single cat, and two girls, one with a balloon, one an umbrella, somewhere amid the crowd!! So we gave it a go. We tried. James thought it would be fairly easy.

It was not fairly easy. We did not spot any. We gave up!

Could you fare any better?
Despite that ... it was a fascinating installation that threw up questions of identity and individuality, and our place in a crowd ... not to mention: how on earth do they transport it between locations??? (imagine the tangling!!) And where does Moureaux buy her supplies?!

Because - crafty friends - that's a lot of pizza-box deliveries of coloured cardstock right there, isn't it? A lot. 18,000 silhouettes! 100 colours!

I mean I think it must be close to, I don't know ... what would you say? Close to maybe, almost, 50% of the card stash you've got lurking in your cupboards there ... wouldn't you say?  

And see that outdoor exhibit there? Also by Emmanuelle Moureaux? That's your ribbon collection that is ...

It's another in Moureax's '100 colours' series, this time made from 100 shades of fabric suspended above tatami mats which you can lay on to experience the work from beneath:


(In case this video doesn't display properly - it has been known - I'll put it on my Facebook page and you can see if it works better for you over there!)

Before lying down I had double checked the sign that said it was OK to do and carefully, respectfully curled myself under and began recording. The children who came along once we were done didn't share the same hesitancy ... they were straight in there enjoying the rainbow from the inside! And who can blame them? It's a really simple but magnetic, dreamy, piece  - if you get a chance to, then - no matter your age - go and see it face to face!

Back inside another piece you can experience close-up is Adam Basanta's 'Curtain', which consists of a 3m long curtain of ear buds!

"Looks like the inside of your car" I joked to James when I first saw it and, to be fair, that's not too far from the intention of the piece! It is about the ubiquity of these funny little bobbly creatures in our everyday lives, how they can be used to keep in touch with people ... but also as a sign for others to leave you alone and not speak to you.

They emitted a crackling, white noise, chirruping, sound ..... as if dozens of cicadas were talking to you on hands-free. I really liked this piece ... I'm not quite sure this gent felt the same ...
And here's yet another piece with which you can get up-close-and-personal: 'Shadow Play' by an artist known as breadedEscalope ...
In fact, without you, the viewer, the audience, this is only half a piece. It's not until you place your finger in the centre that the shadows change and the piece becomes a clock. One of my favourite things about this one was the grubby little spot - made by successive fingertips - on the otherwise pristine white walls!

And finally ... my other favourite exhibits were these multi-layered, complex, wooden assemblage structures by Lesley Hilling:
As someone who collects vintage bits and bobs, who picks up flotsam and jetsam, who saves things dug up from the garden ... these were fascinating treasure troves of reclaimed wonder:
I spent a long while in front of these, just scouring for insights into what she'd used. (Gail - if you're reading this - she used lots of wooden school rulers ... so that's what you can do with your collection!)
And - not wishing to take anything away from the artistry in the design, and I'm sure it wasn't her intention - but ... their square shape truly did appeal to my Instagrammer's square eyes! But hey, it can't hurt to be both harmoniously balanced and infinitely Instagrammable at the same time, can it?
So, there you have it, my top picks from the selected pieces form the Aesthetica Art Prize exhibition longlist running in York Art Gallery until September 10th.

If it's colour, texture and interaction you're looking for ... then get yourself there. There were all age ranges in attendance when we went - from the old chap looking sceptically, but thoughtfully, at the pieces, to the half-term tribes clambering amongst the 100 colours, and all the 40-something Instagrammers and smartphone photographers in between! It's a great one to catch and  - if more traditional art is more your thing - the very decorative and romantic Albert Moore exhibition on the ground floor will be a real treat too.


I hope you enjoyed your virtual tour around the exhibition with me ... which bit did you like best?
  • was it the reclaimed wood?
  • the sizzling ear buds?
  • getting to poke a gallery wall leaving behind your mucky fingerprints?
  • was it the glorious swishing and swaying of both of the '100 colours' pieces?
  • or was it ... feeling a little better about your mountain of cardstock after you saw how much Emmanuelle Moureaux can get through?
Now then ... where'd you fancy going next?

As always we can keep in touch either here in the comments or via any of my online homes:

Julie x


Useful links:

Artists mentioned:

*All photos are my own, taken on my Fuji XM1.

Monday, 29 May 2017

5 Lessons I Learned from Self-Publishing - a guest post at Book And Brew

Hello hello. 

This month (May 2017) marks 12 months since I made the decision to indie-publish my book of Snipped Tales (available here). 

One small year; one whole lot of paper shuffling, designing, decision-making and self-promotion. 

And I'm far enough away from the thick of it, to be able to pause, reflect and synthesis some of the thoughts and experiences I had during the process, and offer up some advice to anyone hoping to do the same.

To read my 5 snippets of advice (actually 'snippet' is an understatement. It's almost a book chapter. A book about writing a book ... mmmmmm ... food for thought ...) where was I??? Oh yes ... read my 5 snippets of advice head over to Book & Brew where you'll find the full article.

Throughout the publishing process alongside the details, the finances, the design choices, the structural ideas, all the nitty-gritty - I occasionally scribbled notes on what was happening and how I was feeling:

All in this notebook in fact:
Create Your Own Story huh? I guess I really took the cover slogan to heart didn't I?

(Hey, that could be another top tip for newbies: 'Do all your planning in a notebook with an appropriately motivational phrase' ... can't hurt anything, can it?)

So -
  • if you're contemplating self-publishing a print book (I haven't yet published an e-book), 
  • or you're thinking about thinking about, maybe, perhaps, one day, possibly, potentially, self-publishing a print book ...
  • or even if you're absolutely certain that you won't, or can't, self-publish a print book ... 
... do head on over to read through the 5 Lessons I Learned from Self-Publishing over at Book & Brew ... and who knows where you'll be this time next year ...


Friday, 26 May 2017

Our great big anniversary 'champing' adventure (plus tips for future champers!)

Hello you. 

You might think that, with 25 yearstwo and a half decades, a quarter of a century, to prepare, James and I would've planned our anniversary celebrations a little further in advance than we did. 

You might think that we'd book somewhere traditionally fizzling with romance say ... Paris, or Venice or even a boutique spa in a hotel somewhere deep in the English countryside. 

And you might even think that booking a camping holiday in an old, cold, church, on top of a wild and windy moor, about a week ahead of our stay, doesn't exactly scream "keeping the flame alive!"

But I say, hey ... come back to me after you've remained on speaking terms with your significant other after sharing a 'separating' dry-composting toilet and watching each other spit toothpaste into a plastic cup for two days. And if it's actual romance you're after you can do worse than picnicking, laughing and waking up beneath the glories of stained glass.

Anyway ... if you got your wet wipes and wind-up torch handy, welcome to our great big anniversary champing adventure ...

First let me define a few things:
  • The term 'champing' = 'church camping'. Which is ... well, camping inside a decommissioned church under the care of The Churches Conservation Trust (in the UK).  You can find out all about it, and all the currently available churches, at (which is a brilliantly written, fun and informative site).
  • No - this is not in any way a sponsored post. The Champing folks have not paid me and are not aware I'm writing this. 
  • And when I say 'anniversary', as we're not married, I mean the anniversary of our first date back in May 1992. The evening where he picked me up to take me to the cinema wearing a plain white T-shirt (until then I'd only ever seen him in black heavy metal T-shirts) and Lynx 'Alaska' body spray, playing All About Eve on the car stereo. And I wore a catsuit, a see-through flowery shirt and a thin veneer of anticipation. I linked his arm while we waited outside the cinema and we held hands watching the film, and then ... 

... 25 years later we had St.Thomas's in Friarmere (Greater Manchester) all to ourselves:

It was a little tricky to find at first, we don't have a satnav, but we knew we were nearby because we could see it, it was there, plain as day on top of the hill ... we just couldn't find the road that lead to it! In the end Google Maps on the phone saved the day, and we arrived at our temporary home:

Do you want to come inside?  OK then ...

Alongside a few other considerations, it was the stained glass that really led us to choose this particular church. Isn't it incredible how this from the outside you just see this:

And then, step inside and all that dark, flat, wire-grilled, drabness is transformed into this:
This was taken as the sun was setting and then, when it had finally moved around to the west ... this was the disco-dazzling sight it created:
Even the areas of damage, where the painted faces are now missing, were interesting reminding me in places of Julian Opie portraits:

And then there were these little guys, who we only spotted on the final morning before we left:

But the stained glass isn't the only colourful decoration inside St.Thomas's - there's decorative stencilling and design work right throughout the building: 

The church dates back to 1765, although much of the paintwork reminded me of the Arts & Crafts movement, and William Morris - which was a bit later, so I either this was added afterwards ... or there's a gap in my art history knowledge! 

And the stencilling even extends up into the rafters: 

While we're looking up ... fancy a nosey around upstairs? I hope you've got a head for heights:

If all of this has given you an urge to try champing for yourself ... then here are some of my top 'champing' tips! 
  • Read through the site thoroughly; it will answer tons of the questions you no doubt have about it, and probably some questions you've not even thought of! The FAQs page is great.
  • You don't need to be a practising Christian to enjoy the experience; neither of us are, and we did!
  • You don't need to be brave and adventurous to settle-in in an old church. I'm not at all, and I did! I can honestly say I didn't find any of it spooky or creepy, not as much as I did that time we spent the night - alone - in a 16th Century Manor House! now that hat was unnerving! I think that the open space of the church  (versus the many little rooms and dark corners of the manor) helped make it feel perfectly safe and comfortable. 
  • You don't need to be outdoorsy, camping type people with all the gear, in order to survive out there on your own; we're not ... and we did! 
*If you can afford to, then pay the extra to have them supply you with sleeping equipment! 
Their 'ChampBed hire' includes a camp-bed, sleeping bag, sleeping-bag liner and pillow:
And for non-campers like us it was ideal.  During our stay the floor was coooooooollllllllddddd and that camp bed lifted us up off it. 

After reading the advice on the website we also brought additional bedding (a spare duvet, a blanket and extra pillows) and we used - and needed - it all. That said, I slept really well (so did James but, he's no benchmark - his Nan used to tell the story of how he once slept through a marching band!) 

I've definitely had worse nights' sleeps in overheated, noisy, hotels. And, seriously ... what's not to enjoy about sleeping under stained glass?!

*If you're easily woken by sunlight, bring an eye-mask. Stained glass windows tend not to have curtains ... 
The first morning I woke up before 6am which, considering there was nothing at all to block out the light, was really no different to at home. And while I did bring something to cover my eyes, meaning I could have gone back to sleep, truth-be-told ... I didn't want to!!

It felt a lot like Christmas-morning, with so much to see and absorb, I didn't want to close my eyes again. Instead I watched the sun stream through the Ascension scene window, wrote in my journal, and stared at the mildewed angels (surely a title for a story there!) wondering if they'd spring into life.
I even thought that, if they'd just move a marble elbow a little, I wouldn't have been spooked, in fact I quite looked forward to it. Never happened.

*Take plenty of clothing that you can layer up. Even to sleep in.
The cooling factor of churches is well known; when you're on holiday somewhere warm you might stop and pop into a church because, however hot it is outside ... inside it's guaranteed to be several degrees cooler. Now imagine you're stepping inside from a damp British spring day ... and that temperature drop may not be quite as appealing!

Take layers, take a dressing gown, take a vest, take a hat. And you too can look as glamorous as I did:

*And take something to wear on your feet. Something you don't mind getting a little dirty! 
Chances are you'll have been walking through at least a churchyard, perhaps a graveyard, or fields and moors (if you're that way inclined.) and you might not want to wear wet/muddy shoes or boots while you're relaxing on an evening. And - trust me - you don't want to be doing bare feet on the chilly floors.

For the record: my socks would have not been quite so dirty if I hadn't jogged around the knave for a while (a) trying to get warm and (b) enjoying all of the space to run around indoors ... (because clearly my inner child came on holiday with me.)

*Be aware, and mindful, of other people in the vicinity.

Just because these churches are decommissioned doesn't mean they, and their grave yards, are entirely abandoned. On our first evening there, we headed outside for a walk around the churchyard and just metres away, were two people visiting a grave; so we just walked by quietly and headed to the furthest corner, to leave them in peace.

And ... just a few notes before I go ... :
  • Take lots of photos!! You can even share them with the Champing folks via their Twitter account or Facebook page.  (That's what I'll be doing with this blog post!)
  • If the church you're visiting has electricity (ours did, some don't) then instant porridge makes a great quick and easy breakfast. You can book a breakfast at a nearby location, but we wanted to just get on the road for our day trips without stopping off. I guess the same would go for other instant foods, pot noodles, soups etc and if there's no electricity ... don't forget your travel kettle! And pack a good picnic as cooking is not allowed on site. Pack plenty of brie and crackers and you can't go to far wrong and .. you won't need to worry about refrigeration ...
  • Take wet wipes. I used mine to remove my make-up, clean my hands ... and dust off a 19th Century sun-dial. So, all in all, a pretty versatile addition to your champing packing ...
And finally ...  
  • You can put on a full face of make-up, do your hair and put on your jewellery all from the comfort and warmth of your sleeping bag. Who knew? It was worth you reading this post just to learn this particularly vital point wasn't it? Thought so. 
ISo, what do you think? Did you enjoy this peek into our great big anniversary champing adventure? 
  • Has it made you consider the idea? Can you picture yourself of champing any time soon?
  • Is there anything else you'd like to know about it? (Don't forget to visit for lots of useful information). 
  • Or have you already been? Which church did you stay in? Have you written a blogpost about it? Feel free to link me up in the comments. 
Do get in touch, but until then farewell from me, James, and St. Thomas's Friarmere!

Julie x

You can continue this conversation here in the comments or through any of my online homes:

And if you'd like to spread the champing word (i.e. drop a hint to someone you'd like to go with!) then feel free to share this post and image on social media / or add to a holiday idea Pinterest board.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Notes from the Notebook: Into Morning.

Hello you.

I've dipped into my notebook archive and plucked out something simple for today, something uplifting; literally.

Detail of an old art journal page of mine.

Notes from:
Tuesday 13 January 2015, 8.10am

As we drove back into darkness, towards work, dozens, hundreds, of birds overhead were heading in the opposite direction.

Imagine being able to up and leave like that; saying “Sod this darkness, I’m off to find the light.”

Imagine being able to fly into morning.

Julie x
Keep in touch here on the blog or through any of my online homes: