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Travel, Uncategorized

Coffee, books and zines

Last Saturday I took the train down to London to spend the day with my good friend, Anahita. We met at uni but even though we now live far away from each other, we still make the effort to meet up as often as we can.

I love London. Every time I visit I find it such an invigorating place, with so much going on. After meeting at Euston (and stopping off at Boots to buy an emergency bottle of sunscreen), we headed to VX shop and café near Kings Cross for a chat over vegan junk food, before a quick wander by the canal and then heading to the British Library.

The British Library is an impressive modern building, which is free to enter. You need to apply for a pass to access the reading rooms, which we weren’t there for, but we had a look around one of the exhibition rooms. It featured old manuscripts – I was particularly interested in the display of Marx’s old letters and documents, including one of his tickets for the reading room at the British Museum.

We managed to nab the last available table in one of the library’s cafes so we could sit and have a good catch up over a soy latte. It’s useful for me know now where the British Library is and what it’s like in case I ever need to access the reading room for research.

somerset houseOur next stop was Somerset House, located right by the Thames. When we arrived late afternoon there were dozens of children in swimwear jumping around in the fountains in the cobbled courtyard while their parents sunbathed nearby. Who says you need the coast for summer fun?

We were there specifically to see the free entry Print! Tearing it up exhibition. Exploring the history of independent magazines, with a focus on their modern relevance in a digital age, the exhibition featured hundreds of indie mags from the past century, with accompanying information about some of the publications. It was interesting to see old copies of magazines – like Time Out and Private Eye – that have gone on to become mainstream, as well as lower-circulation ones. I have been interested in zines for a while (I wrote in a previous post about making a zine for my MA), particularly as a medium for marginalised voices, so I really enjoyed Somerset House’s exhibition, especially the political zines.

I know that London is a great place for independent restaurants, but with not long before my train home, we headed for Pizza Express. Which was good. Even if they did put non-vegan salad dressing on their vegan pizza.

I’d love to return to London again soon to explore more cultural sites. We only visited the one exhibition at the vast Somerset House – I’d like to have a look round the rest sometime. But, of course, sunny Stoke has its own cultural gems, some of which I still need to visit. Lots more day trips are on the cards!

 

My Writing, Uncategorized

Article on theme park access in Enable magazine

Disability is something I am passionate about. As a disabled person and having worked in the sector, I find that it’s an area I’m drawn to again and again as a writer.

Alton TowersI am also a bit of a theme park geek, the sort who can debate about their favourite rollercoaster manufacture (B&M all the way), why Alton Towers needs more flat rides, and who uses terms like flat rides and assumes everyone knows what she’s talking about.

My latest feature article combines my passion for disability with my love for theme parks. Published in Enable magazine, it explores the issue of accessibility at UK theme parks. While I feel there are many issues and ways access could be improved at attractions, the article focuses on advice on making the most of your day as a disabled visitor.

It covers areas including entry prices, queue lines, getting to, from and around the park, and physical ride access.

This isn’t the first time I’ve written about theme park access – I had a feature in Disability Now a couple of years ago based on a trip I took with friends to Alton Towers. There were two disabled people in our group – me (visually impaired) and Anahita (wheelchair user). As Disability Now sadly no longer exists (it was such a great platform for disabled writers), I’m planning to upload the article to this blog soon.

My Writing, Uncategorized

Article in SEN magazine

Wow, it’s nearly a year since I posted on here! Since then I’ve started a new job, which I’m enjoying, have begun working on some new writing projects, and have nearly finished my MA in the Teaching and Practice of Creative Writing – just my final year project left to go.

My article, Transitioning to Higher Education, was published in the March/April issue of SEN magazine, and is available to read on their website. It was inspired by my experience from nearly eight years ago when I started at university as a disabled student, and also my roles working in disability support in HE. So much has changed in my life since I started my undergraduate degree in September 2010, and university was definitely a positive, transformative place for me.

I’m planning to update my website more regularly (promise!).

 

Uncategorized, Workshop

Festival Stoke Writing Workshop

caroline_workshop1Yesterday evening I ran a creative writing workshop as part of Festival Stoke’s Art Street line up. There was a really good turnout, around fifteen of us in the Art Stop workshop space.

The workshop focused on characterisation and using our day to day experience, such as the journey to the session, as a springboard for creative writing ideas. As is typical in creative writing workshops, I set a few writing exercises to complete during the session and then everyone took it in turns to read back their writing to the rest of the group. I always find it really interesting how much variety one exercise creates in the work that’s fed back.

I’m running another creative writing workshop as part of Festival Stoke, focusing on the show, not tell technique. It’s next Wednesday 5th July, 7pm at the Art Stop Stoke, 108 Church Street, Stoke-on-Trent, ST4 1BU. It’d be great to see you there.

Uncategorized, Workshop

Creative Writing Workshops

I’m running two creative writing workshops over the next few weeks as part of Festival Stoke, celebrating the arts in Stoke-on-Trent.

On Wednesday 28th June, 7-9pm, Workshop One will explore characterisation, with ideas for choosing and developing a character, using every day experience for inspiration.

On Wednesday 5th July, 7-9pm, Workshop Two will focus on the famous show, not tell technique, looking at how we can make our writing more interesting and engaging.

Both workshops are free to attend and are open to all, whether you’re an experienced writer or just want to give it a go.

As mentioned in my last blog, I’m also running a free zine making workshop as part of the festival, on Saturday 5th August, 11am-3pm.

I’ve got lots of preparations to do for the workshops, and I’m really looking forward to meeting other writers and helping them develop their work. I love running workshops – I love talking about writing, so it’s a joy to get the opportunity to do this.

 

MA, My Writing, Uncategorized, Workshop

Zine Module and Zine Workshop

I’m doing an MA in the Teaching and Practice of Creative Writing at Staffordshire University and last week I handed in my latest assignment in the form of a zine.

zineIn his book Notes From Underground:: Zines and the politics of alternative culture, Stephen Duncombe explains that zines are “non-commercial, nonprofessional, small-circulation magazines which their creators produce, publish and distribute by themselves” (Duncombe, 2008, p10-11). They can be on literally any topic, from a favourite hobby to a political cause to writing about your life. I made my zine Interruptions for my module about my experiences of mental ill health, drawing on a variety of techniques. The main feature of the zine is a piece of life writing, and for this I used the Surrealist technique of automatic writing, where you write freely on a topic, as this helped me to get to the root of what I wanted to say without censoring myself. I also used the Dada cut out technique, taking reports that have been written about me, cutting the words out and rearranging them, so that I reclaim what’s been said about me.

I am drawn to using zines as a medium for my life writing as I love the physicality of zines. The researcher and author Alison Piepmeier talks about a gift culture around zines, where zinesters benefit from making and receiving zines. My friend Anahita and I have exchanged handmade art before – I made her a zine as a graduation present, filled with in jokes, a recipe for vegan tiffin, collages of Simpsons quotes, and photos. I like to – because I am vain like this – imagine her rummaging through her room and stumbling on the zine which she flicks through and smiles at the memories.

Anahita and I are running a free zine making workshop together in Stoke-on-Trent on Saturday 5th August, 11am-3pm. You can find out more and book on Eventbrite, and there’s also a Facebook event page. It’ll be a fun creative session and it’d be great to see you there.

My Writing, Uncategorized

Article in Dalesman Magazine

cman_0212My feature Return of the Vikings is in this month’s Dalesman magazine.

The article explores the restoration of the Jorvik Viking Centre in York, which has been closed since floods hit the city in December 2015. Set to reopen this month, the attraction has undergone extensive work not only to restore it but enhance the experience.

I visited Jorvik back in September 2015, just a couple of months before it closed, and enjoyed finding out more about how Vikings lived. York is a beautiful city – we spent a weekend there (we were there for a wedding but had time to explore the city too) and I’d love to go back some time.

My Writing, Uncategorized

Disability Now – Lake District Feature

In October 2013 I had a feature published in the (sadly now defunct) Disability Now. I’m unable to link to the original piece that featured on their old website, so I thought I’d share the feature here. The photos are my own which were also published with the piece.

Lake District – Land of Wood, Stone and Water

Holidays with the parents aren’t always the best. But three nights in the Lake District during the Easter holidays was a perfect get-away from my university work, and I didn’t mind being there with the ‘rents and my sister. In fact, I find it hard to imagine going to the Lakes without them.

We stayed with my late gran. A few times every year, until she passed away a couple of months ago, we’d visit her. Her house in Morecambe Bay offered beautiful views of the estuary, and was a great base for exploring the Lake District.

On the first full day we headed north to the market town of Keswick. The hour’s drive took us along the boat-speckled waters of Lake Windermere, onwards past the lakes Rydal Water and Grasmere, and then soon we were snaking by mountains high on either side.

Castlerigg_1Just 1.5 miles to the east of Keswick is the enigmatic Castlerigg Stone Circle. I’d been once before, but, this time armed with a camera, I persuaded the others that another visit was needed.

Castlerigg is one of the oldest stone circles in Britain. Believed to date from around 3000 BC, no one knows exactly why this Neolithic site was built. Of course, plenty of theories abound – was it a place of ritual and spiritual ceremony, or a trading spot, or used for astronomical studies of the sun, moon and stars, or something else entirely? One thing is for sure – it’s a stunning place to visit.

Its 38 stones stand on the plateau of a small hill, surrounded by fields which grow into a panorama of rugged mountains. This breath-taking location means that, despite its popularity with tourists, it has an almost otherworldly atmosphere.

This time, there were at least a dozen other people at Castlerigg. Some stayed briefly, while a few families braved the damp ground for a picnic. I spotted a man slouched between two of the stones, scribbling into a notepad – I like to think he was penning an epic poem!

I joined the many others engrossed in photographing the circle and its surroundings. I told my impatient sister that being partially sighted was why I had to take so many photos, as the camera screen is tricky to see which makes it harder for me to tell if I’ve taken a decent snap. Conveniently, this also gave me plenty of time to slowly soak in Castlerigg’s atmosphere.

An hour and over a hundred photos later, I managed to drag myself away – much to my family’s delight – and it was on to the gentle bustle of Keswick town centre.

After devouring a tasty lunch at the Lakeland Pedlar vegetarian café, we went for a wander, mainly along the main pedestrianized street. A handful of high-street chains punctuate Keswick’s range of independent shops, market stalls and cafés. It was worth a look, but after half an hour I was ready to go. Perhaps I’m too used to city life.

The Coniston area is a place we’d go to pretty much every time we were in the Lake Constion-View-From-BrantwoodDistrict. Ominous grey clouds on the second day meant we gave our near-obligatory picnic on Coniston Water’s pebbled shore a miss. Instead, after my aunt’s recommendation, we headed to the Brantwood Estate.

Resting on the north east side of Coniston Water, Brantwood is the former home of the Pre-Raphaelite writer, artist and social critic John Ruskin.

Ruskin lived from 1819 to 1900, producing vast and varied works ranging from paintings to travel writing to critical pieces on art, architecture and social concerns, to mention just some!

The earlier clouds had mostly cleared when we arrived. “Typical,” muttered my dad. “We should’ve brought a picnic after all”. The emerging sunlight brightened our view from Brantwood over verdant green fields, the north end of the lake, and onwards to the Coniston Fells. I preferred this to shivering on the shore for the sake of our picnic tradition.

We paid the £7.20 each to visit the house and gardens. The house tour starts with a short video introducing us to Ruskin, then we were free to wander around the rest of the house, which brims with Ruskin’s possessions. I could imagine sitting in the study, gazing out of the large window at the view. No wonder Ruskin was so inspired to write!

I had studied Ruskin earlier that year during my degree. Being there in his old house, the floorboards softly creaking as we stepped around, transformed him from a name of lecture rooms and library books into someone who was once very real.

Afterwards, it was time for a coffee and decadent slice of chocolate cake from the Jumping Jenny Café. The café is part of the Estate, but is open to everyone, so there’s no need to pay the entrance fee for the house and gardens if you’re just after a cuppa. The weather was much better now, and we managed to find a table on the café’s busy terrace. Enjoying a drink and cake alfresco while being stroked by the warm tug of the spring breeze, and the gentle chatter of others is abraded by wild bird calls… This was definitely the relaxing break I needed.

On our last day it was time for another old favourite: Grizedale Forest.

Grizedale_Sheep_SculptureGrizedale is near the village of Hawkshead and stretches between Coniston Water and Lake Windermere. Several paths for both walkers and cyclists string the forest. This time, we took the Ridding Wood Trail. The mile-long path (which is wheelchair accessible) took us past many of the forest’s sculptures –there are over 60 dotted throughout Grizedale.

It was rarely quiet the whole time we were there – the Easter holidays equals busy! Yet the heady scent of earth lingering in the warm air made it feel so beautifully detached from the rest of the world. Bliss.

Suddenly, I heard a tuneful thud from nearby, then another, and another… The forest xylophones! An old home video shows a three-year old me curiously hitting the rows of giant logs. So of course I had another go. It was still great fun, and my sister quickly joined me. Then she noticed the kids behind us waiting to try, and we valiantly abandoned composing our musical masterpiece.

Red and doe deer roam the forest, but we weren’t lucky enough to spot any. Apparently buzzards, red kites, barn owls, foxes and badgers dwell there too, though the closest we got to wildlife was the geese that made a beeline for our picnic at the first rustle.

The Lakeland landscape makes it seem a timeless place. The mountains stand as if familiar, reliable friends; unchanging in a hectic world. I keep enthusiastically telling my partner we should visit the Lake District. Staying in a B&B rather than at my gran’s, and not having my parents and sister with me means it’s going to seem odd. Will I drag my boyfriend through Grizedale and other places I already know? Or is it time to explore another part of the Lake District?

Either way, it’s a magical place in which to escape.

 

Uncategorized

Events For All Workshop

This morning I went along to the Events for All workshop in Stoke run by the lovely Iona Jones. The session was all about how to organise and run a community event and I learnt a lot, from funding to permits to marketing. Being a disabled person, I found the discussion around how to make events accessible particularly interesting and I enjoyed the opportunity to share some of my knowledge around this too.

As a writer with an interest in community engagement it was really interesting to hear from other participants about their experiences – it’s left me feeling really inspired!

 

Uncategorized

Unity in the Community Gig

I love music as much as I love literature – they’re both important parts of my life and I’m fortunate that my fiancé is a very talented musician. Gary is a guitarist for the alt-rock / metal band Skybald who performed at the Unity in the Community gig at Bunker 13 in Hanley (Hanley being Stoke-on-Trent’s city centre, for the non-initiated) last Friday. Skybald are currently sans-drummer so they did an acoustic set which worked really well. It was only their second gig and they totally nailed it. I am a proud girlfriend!

The gig was about promoting anti-racist unity in the community in a post-Brexit Britain and it was wonderful to see well over a hundred and fifty people show up for the event, which also saw other local bands perform to a lovely and lively crowd. And yes, I danced!

You can read updates from Skybald on their website, listen to them on Soundcloud (which includes my favourite song of theirs, the Oscar Wilde-inspired “Call Me Dorian”), and give them a Like on Facebook.