behind the lens

James Balston and I have had a busy couple of weeks both shooting house features and also nosing around houses taking recce shots for future stories. I couldn’t help noticing that James has a uncanny ability to coordinate his wardrobe to suit the locations we visited.

P1270222:2First, in a wonderfully quirky house in Montpelier, I was struck by the way James’s green velvet jacket looked so good against the olive green walls and the flash of lime on the lampshade in the background.

P1270330Later, at our shoot in Peckham, James’s outfit managed to work well, with a slight adjustment, in two very different rooms. Above, in a very dark sitting room and below, in a bathroom —practically in the bath. Impressive.

IMG_2663I don’t think any of my clothes matched anything at all. I’ve clearly got to up my game.

You can see more of James’s work here, including some of the houses we’ve worked on together. I am planning to get my work archive on here soon, but need to freshen up the look of the blog first, I think.


chasing waves 1The time since my last post and this one has whizzed by in a frenzy of deadlines with a holiday squeezed in the middle: half term by the sea at Charmouth. We had a fabulous repeat of last year’s fun but this time without the skinny dipping.

I’m back at my desk now, with the clock ticking on another feature and the arrival of this parcel from Nyssen’s has reminded me that deadlines of another sort are looming  too …

nyssenTime to get my wellies on and head out to the garden. Which also reminds me that a proper round-up of what worked and what didn’t is sitting half-written on my desktop.

comfort knitting

P1200988The relentless cold has driven me back to my needles. I think I’ve had a scarf of some description wrapped around my neck since the middle of October. I’m a bit sick of it now; fed up with both the cold and my scarves. Time for something new: a cowl, in the same yarn I used for this, and which I think will go with almost everything I own.

I found the pattern at Loisaida Nest, and I followed it with one slight modification: I cast on an 82 stitches rather than 72 and then, once I’d finished the first ball of yarn, I decreased by ten stitches, knitting two together at random within the second round of the new ball of wool. Oh, and I used 6mm needles as I couldn’t find my 5.5mm.

NB I really enjoy Ileana’s blog, Loisaida Nest, for many reasons, but particularly for her photos, such as these which were taken at her local open air pool last summer.

knitting and nanowrimo


So, Nanowrimo is over. And, sad to say, I not only failed to make the official finishing line, but I also collapsed long before I reached my own finishing line (25,000 words).

I was on track for a full eight days during which I managed to hammer out 12,000 words. But then my mini-Nano was derailed by a deadline which was suddenly brought forward from January to November. Work, of the paid variety, always has to come first. And fortunately it was a nice feature to write – it’s about two very interesting people and it will be accompanied by some lovely photographs taken by my friend James.


Although the writing didn’t go entirely to plan I did get a lot of knitting done. I find that simple knitting – of the hats, fingerless mittens and socks variety – is very conducive to the sort of free-form thinking that creative writing requires. Round and round I knit, and round and round my thoughts go. I always have a notebook to hand and ideas pop into my mind effortlessly; so different from the paralysis I experience when staring at a blank screen.


It works with articles too. There is always a point when whatever I am writing about becomes far more complicated than it needs to be. A cup of coffee and a bit of knitting, and the tangle I am in with my writing has miraculously unravelled.

The hats, from top to bottom are Snawheid by Kate Davies (pom pom yet to be attached), Julia’s Cabled Headband by Paulina Chin and finally my first, and not entirely successful, attempt at making a hat without a pattern. I also managed to make several pairs of fingerless mittens using this excellent pattern by Leslie Friend, though I am now keen to have a go at two other fingerless, wrist-warmery, stash-busting patterns, both of which I’ve had sitting on my desk for months now: Susie’s Reading Mitts by Susie Rogers and Runrig Muffatees by Annie Cholewa, aka Knitsofacto, who is currently running a very lovely knitting-related giveaway.

losing the plot

This time last year I was a little over halfway through Nanowrimo, an international event in which participants attempt to write a novel in a month (or 50,000 words). I was wrestling with a story I’d been writing on and off for several years and although hard work, it was liberating to just write and be damned. Writing without looking back, without tinkering with your copy, is essential if you are to have any hope of crossing the nano finishing line. There is also a lot to be said for the whole idea of writing as badly as you can. To be able to say to yourself “this is SO atrocious, so cheesy, so cliched” is incredibly exhilarating.

Anyway, I crossed the finishing line. Just. And then I put the manuscript to bed, at the back of the filing cabinet. I’ve tinkered with it since, but not much. My plan was to plough on with the rest of the story for this year’s nano, and then kick it all in to shape in the New year.

But the starting gun for Nano 2012 was fired in the middle of half term. There was no way I could manage 2,000 or so words a day (however bad they were) during the holidays – not fair on the girls, not fair on me either, frankly. I thought that perhaps a late start would be possible – I would have been happy to limp in at around the 40,000 mark.

However, on our return from Dorset a whole run of family-related events, issues and life stuff rolled over the horizon, as it does from time-to-time, and the slightly late start became a non-start. But a few days ago, whilst out on my morning run, and very much in the spirit of my new found love of running, I decided I could do a half-Nano (25,000 words) instead of the full Nano, and write like a demon for the last two weeks of the event.

I tell you this by way of explaining the lack of activity on my blog, and the fact that it may remain rather quieter than usual until the end of the month.

I’ll finish by saying that I really enjoyed all the comments on my last post – who would have known that a humble canvas shoe had so many names? It might warrant another post – not least because I have these two books sitting on my desk, and I am itching to read them.

Oh, one final thing, if you are hopping around the internet this weekend, there is a nice word game taking place here – I’ve found it a fun, if maddening, distraction this week, and  it’s not too late to join in for round one.

PS trees are all in Ashton Court, a favourite place for walking the dog and now running. 

make hay while the sun …

… resolutely fails to shine.

We were in Hay last Thursday because Joe was appearing at the annual Hay Festival with Frank Cottrell Boyce, whose book, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Flies Again, Joe illustrated.
They gave a lovely talk about the delicate business of bringing Ian Fleming’s famous flying car back to life, and then Frank read whilst Joe drew Chitty. The session ended with some very sweet and occasionally hilarious questions from the audience.

Despite the dreadful weather the festival was packed with happy, if soggy, visitors, and we had a wonderful time.  If you’ve never been, Hay is a fabulous, very family-friendly literary festival and really worth visiting. The atmosphere is incredibly relaxed and
there are lots of interesting things for all ages.

Next year, and I’ve been saying this every year, long before Joe started illustrating and writing children’s books, we’ll be really organised: we’ll book a cottage and plan our half term around the festival and all the events. Ha! As if – although clearly lots of people do.

on the buses

Crystal Palace Radio Transmitter

Six years on and, to my horror, I find that I am now a tourist in the city that I called home for the first thirty-eight years of my life. Actually I still call London home, but it doesn’t always feel very familiar, as I discovered this week on a work-related whistle-stop visit.

The sense of being a stranger in town began the minute I arrived. As I faffed about trying to top up my oyster card, it occurred to me that my ineptitude would have driven the London-living me completely insane if I’d witnessed it. Next I found that the tube map in my head – something I had always taken for granted – seemed to have been erased. No longer necessary I suppose; God knows the storage space in my brain is pretty limited, but if I’d had a choice, that’s something I might have kept. And then there is the city’s skyline which looks different on every visit – Strata one year, Heron Tower the next and now the Shard glinting in the heat haze.

But some things remain reassuringly familiar: namely the general scuzziness of South London (and I mean that in the nicest possible way, always a fan of a little bit of grot), and the key bus routes of my childhood. My heart always leaps a little at the sight of the 137, the 37 or the 88 which, for some reason I always think of as the original Clapham Omnibus (as in the man on the Clapham Omnibus).

And on Wednesday morning I was transported back to my teenage years when I caught the number 3 to Crystal Palace. I don’t think I’ve been on this route since I was about 18, but nothing has changed, and as the bus wound steadily up the final hill before pulling into the bus station, I was delighted by the sight of the Crystal Palace radio transmitter – surely London’s answer to the Eiffel Tower.

I was in Crystal Palace to meet up with my friend the photographer James Balston, to discuss some projects and to visit a remarkable subterranean home that he is photographing and I am writing about. Below is a tiny taste of what we saw and the rest I’ll post later when it’s been published. Incidentally, James has a lovely blog here, which is dedicated to life high on the hill in SE19.

Interview over, I hopped back on the number 3 and from the front seat on the top deck I enjoyed the show as we sailed back down the hill towards the West End via Herne Hill, Brockwell Park, Brixton, Kennington, Westminster, Trafalgar Square and then the grand finale – Regent Street festooned with bunting and Union Jacks.