As I write, as I think, drive and make my way through the day, there is a motley collection of quotes and snippets of things read that stays with me, wherever I go, and whatever I do.

I am sure that most people – particularly those who read profusely – have their own ‘virtual scrapbook’ of snippets with them wherever they go. They inspire, inform and often comfort, putting the world in order when it can get chaotic from time to time. They can come from poems, plays, books, songs, movies or television shows….the origin doesn’t really matter, it’s rather how they stay with you and become part of your personal fabric.

Here is a snippet of my snippets:

‘A ship, an isle, a sickle moon….’ (James Elroy Flecker – this goes on to tell the story of stars shining on the sea, and creates a very vivid image of the effect of light on water)

‘Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in’ (Thoreau – Walden – this often pops into my thoughts when I am undertaking historical research!)

‘Home is the place where, when you go there, they have to take you in’ (Robert Frost – this always comes to mind after finishing a tough trip in winter weather, with the house lights shining out)

‘The love of field and coppice, Of green and shaded lanes….’ (Dorothea Mackellar – I studied ‘My Country’ at university, and the beautiful contrast between England and Australia often emerges when I’m in formal gardens; particularly those which draw on the English tradition)

This is often accompanied by Henry Kendall’s ‘Bellbirds’, which starts with ‘By channels of coolness the echoes are calling….’ ; it truly is ‘a joy forever’ (add Keats to the list).

‘I’m Nobody! Who are you?’ (Emily Dickinson – I often find myself saying this when caught in the middle of a city crowd)

‘It’s a warm wind, the west wind, full of birds’ cries….’ (John Masefield – what can I say? I love Masefield’s poetry, and always have)

‘There’s a very funny creature………triantiwontigongolope!’ (CJ Dennis – this summons memories of my grandfather and learning poetry – it’s a treasure)

Those are just a few of the snippets that accompany me and are part of my life. There are more, but the one that seems most apt today is from Richard Le Gallienne:

I meant to do my work today –
But a brown bird sang in the apple tree,
And a butterfly flitted across the field,
And all the leaves were calling me.

And the wind went sighing over the land,
Tossing the grasses to and fro,
And a rainbow held out its shining hand –
So what could I do but laugh and go?

On that note, pens down, and here’s to the weekend!

‘And a rainbow held out its shining hand’ – one of my favourite snippets


Sometimes, it just doesn’t work.

You’re sitting there, and the words have disappeared.

The problem is that you need the words to reappear. So what do you do?

It’s no good cruising the internet; those are other people’s words and ideas. You need your own inspiration to sally forth.

There are only so many lists you can make before you start repeating yourself and running out of sticky notes.

You can only have one or two cups of tea and walks around the garden before the day starts to slip away.

Of course, I know this because I’ve been there…quite a few times. I’ll probably head there again at some stage, but I can’t really afford to let it happen too often.

So I’ve developed my own technique of overcoming blocks and apathy. I write a letter to myself, detailing what it is I need to do, how and when.

By the time I’m halfway through, I’m usually doing the writing that was so difficult in the first place. Of course, it typically needs a bit of editing and tweaking, including removal of the salutation that marks completion. But it is a sound step on the way to a completed piece of work.

This, almost without fail, is my method of ‘writing through’, and a good way of realising that the best way of overcoming blocks and barriers is to apply a steady dose of perseverance.

Yours sincerely




Some discussions I’ve had recently have been around what it is I actually do with words. Occasionally, people see my role as strictly technical, spelling/grammar focused and boring.

In fact, that’s not what I’m about at all. I will try to make written material work as effectively as it possibly can, including the mechanics of spelling and basic grammar. But I’m not here solely to try and trip people up for mistakes they’ve made. That’s not my focus.

I’m here to show empathy. Yes, empathy. That is, I like to understand your material, your reason for putting it together, and your motivation. Part of this comes from my background in historical research, where giving the past a voice and understanding long gone characters has been – and continues to be – a wonderful challenge. With empathy, I can give your words, your story and your information the best possible shot of speaking out and conveying your message effectively.

Empathy is also important in opening the world up, which is vital for everyone. I don’t mind writing/editing about football, solar power, olive growing, knitting charities or financial services (or anything, in fact). All these topics have crossed my desk recently, either in terms of me writing stories and undertaking interviews from scratch, or tweaking and polishing already existing material into a better state.

Even when the work is long and sometimes arduous, it has helped to expand my knowledge, forge connections and share some wonderful stories. I’ve had some amazing conversations, been to some great places and had the chance to help some growing enterprises in some small way.

Empathy – it’s even more than the most important word in writing…it’s the best!

Helping words to blossom – it’s all about empathy


This year, I resolved to myself to undertake a bit of a challenge.

You know how you get those magazines that look lovely, have ideas in them, you read them – and then they just sit there?

Well, I find that annoying. One of my favourites is The Simple Things, which started in 2012. Every month, it contains interesting ideas, activities and projects.

So, while I am in the southern hemisphere rather than the northern, I felt that there was enough within the pages of this lovely magazine for me to challenge myself to do something special each month. My intention is to proceed as chronologically as possible unless something particular comes up, if there is more than one possibility within an issue, or if the season reversal makes a challenge more relevant to my Australian setting out of date order.

The first issue – like me – is something of a ‘finding its feet’ number. There is a bit of crochet, which I do anyway, and some inspiring content that has helped to keep me purchasing to this day.

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The beginning – The Simple Things, Issue 1, 2012

So, in the spirit of taking small steps, I went for a universal challenge in January: Flowers In The House. Yes, I am one of those people who goes through bursts of having many bunches of flowers in vases all over the place, letting them turn to dust, and then not repeating the effort until many months later. I am also less prone to bring flowers inside in hot weather. Needless to say, it has been very hot here recently!

Here, then, are the results, combined with a beautiful book that made its way to me for Christmas.

Flowers for the house




The Christmas break and the New Year seem to have been taken up primarily by some wonderful reading, courtesy of fantastic presents from assorted family members.

Right up there among the offerings was Bill Bryson’s latest: The Road to Little Dribbling. Now, this is not an unbiased review. I am a devoted Bryson reader, and usually have one or more of his books somewhere nearby. I would be starstruck and ask for his autograph AND curtsy if the opportunity presented.

The only possible exception is probably his book on Australia – Down Under – and I feel that may have been because that’s exactly where I am. It’s much more fun to have the vicarious travel bug scratched and indulge in a bit of other side of the world laughter, instead of rolling your eyes in local superiority and going ‘Does he even know where that is?!’

Bryson’s language is a shared one – he finds the overgrown footpath (‘a garden growing on concrete’), struggles up that hill – and yet he’s elevated his story telling to such a prowess that he can say to those of us turning to p. 60: ‘I had two weeks of very nice days and got to pretend it was work. That’s why I do this for a living.’ Oh, if only, say the rest of us, sitting in silent despair and admiration.

If you take the Road to Little Dribbling with Bryson, you’ll get to experience Cambridge and Max Perutz working out the structure of haemoglobin; Eisenhower’s wartime dwelling on the edge of Wimbledon Common; Staines Moor (‘One hundred and thirty species of birds and three hundred species of plants had been recorded here’ – naturally it was until recently under threat from a third Heathrow runway – what sort of idiots!?); Stonehenge and so much more besides.

Nominally, Bryson is echoing a tour of Britain he undertook twenty years ago, which became the delightful Notes from a Small Island. Bryson is also deliberately avoiding most of the places that he featured in that book, while hooking into a few for continuity’s sake – hi there, Dover! – and we are all the more spoilt for his efforts.

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A brilliant Bryson read – supreme travel writing and more

If you have a penchant for language zingers, and if you like being absorbed in a book to the extent that you forget what the time is, then any of Bryson’s books should suit you. I have only one complaint, and that is of my own making. I like books that will stay open when I’m doing craft work, and The Road to Little Dribbling is such a chunky volume (in passing, with a delightful dustjacket), that this is impossible. However, that is an ambition that I’m willing to forego for a virtual stroll in the New Forest with Bryson and friends.

I’d give this Christmas present of mine 9/10, with one mark taken off because I’m not the one on the road to Little Dribbling – and, unlike Bryson, I can be trusted to order succinctly in a McDonald’s!


Well, Christmas was – surely – a month ago, not two weeks as the new calendar indicates.

It is a wonderfully busy time of year, but I also welcome the opportunity that comes with the post-Christmas lull to be sitting and collecting thoughts and plans for the days and months ahead.

As well as shortly starting on my Simple Things challenge, I am splitting the days between writing, research and craft work.

Research is probably the most important thing for me in the long term. I thoroughly enjoy finding stories to turn into writing pieces. My favourite stories are those of historical nature, or those which reveal people learning and achieving with dedication to their chosen field.

At the moment, I am delving into artisan food producers, which is extremely rewarding and interesting. There are people out there with huge amounts of energy and enthusiasm, putting long hours and resources into building up a small business.

My other pursuit – and here comes a tip – is undertaking craft work. I primarily crochet, both first thing in the morning and during the evening. Not only does this help with producing gifts and small saleable items to keep my budget ticking over (Resolution 1A.32, vol. 64 – market stall), but it provides another rich vein of possible stories.

More importantly, perhaps, my craft work gives me a quick tangible boost in the pursuit of larger goals. Making something material gives my brain a chance to tick over with other matters (more so if it’s an easy pattern in progress), and I receive an ‘I can do it!’ zing once a project is finished. So, if you are like me and working in a largely intangible field – or if you’re muddling around with something new and scary in general – here is my tip.

Make sure you have something tangible to keep you going. If you cook, take time out to create something special. If you garden, get out there and plant or prune. Photography (another of my brain break activities), woodwork, sewing, painting – whatever it may be, keep it going, use it as encouragement, and don’t get bogged down in the larger, more imposing WORK that hits you in the face every morning. If I woke up and tried to head straight into full on research, I’d fade pretty rapidly. Tangible achievements help me to keep the energy going on the intangibles and unknowns.

I look forward to sharing both the tangibles and intangibles with you in 2016!

Everything's coming up roses in 2016
Everything’s coming up roses in 2016


I’ve been sitting here thinking about Christmas, the New Year and writing in a looping continuum for the last little while.

I’m always looking at different forms of writing and wondering if I could tackle them – epistolary (a story told in letters), magazine articles, time travel writing and biography being favourites – then resolving to either start or continue doing so in the New Year, no matter what.

In between, there is Christmas; that great gathering point of the year that can be both so uniting and so contentious.  I’ll just say that I’ve always loved it, and with another ‘first Christmas’ (my youngest niece) approaching, it elicits nothing but goodwill and good wishes from everyone I know to every corner of the world.

Whatever shape it takes – like my writing – I wish you all the very best for Christmas, and for the year ahead.

A beautiful and bright time – Christmas and the New Year