A postcard from Shoeburyness

Yesterday I went to Shoeburyness in Essex. I’d never been there before and was inspired to go by a dream I had not long ago. In the dream, a man came up to me and said, quite crossly, “I’ve come all the way from Shoeburyness.” His tone was accusing, as though I’d somehow forced him […]

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Reflections on grief

My mother died on Christmas Eve last year. Here are my reflections on grief, written on 15 February this year. I’m sharing this write in case it helps someone else who’s been bereaved.   I could empty the green carrier bag that I brought home after Christmas, but I won’t. It contains the Christmas present […]

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Writing to the harp in the East End

“What a treat to write to music and to look up close at the beautiful beast that is a harp. Thank you for your wonderful workshop.” Lydia Thornley sent this lovely message following my harp and writing workshop for the fabulous women of the East End Women’s Institute last week. The beautiful beast that is […]

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Litterature: turning rubbish into art

This blog explores two books and an exhibition that elevate abandoned shopping lists and scraps of paper into art. Treasured rubbish Have you ever been fascinated by a discarded shopping list left in a supermarket trolley? Wondered who the person was who just wanted to buy milk, bleach and a birthday card? There’s something so […]

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Are you saving purple?

Saving purple. It’s when you save your best things because they’re too special to use. It’s a concept invented by my friend Helen Fisher, a business psychologist. Here, she explains how the idea originated and discusses the upsides and downsides of ‘saving purple’ in your life.   “I first remember thinking about saving purple when […]

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Friends on the Shelf: real life stories

Have you heard about Friends on the Shelf? This beautifully designed independent magazine features real life stories from known and unknown writers. At the beginning of the latest issue, you have Harry Enfield writing about adopting a duckling; later on, you have me describing my brief foray into the world of naturism. Some stories are […]

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Balzac’s cane and the miraculous ants

I recently made a phone call to ask a question I’d been too embarrassed to ask face-to-face. Here’s how it went. “Hello, this is the Balzac Museum.” “I have an unusual question for you.” “Yes?” “You know the cane in your museum that belonged to Balzac?” “Certainly.” “I remember visiting once and hearing a story […]

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Discovering Grace Williams: a neglected Welsh composer

“I was looking for another work by a female composer for our Spring concert,” says Thomas Payne, Musical Director of the London City Orchestra. “I stumbled across Grace Williams’ violin concerto on YouTube. I’d never heard of her or the concerto. It’s very rarely performed. “So I started listening and after about three or four […]

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Celebrating Ethel Smyth: composer and Suffragette

When you look at photos of composer Ethel Smyth from the early 20th century, she cuts a distinctive figure. Iconoclastic, queer and a Suffragette, she had to fight to have her compositions heard at a time when female composers were relegated to musical footnotes. Conducting with a toothbrush My favourite story about her is the […]

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Gavin Bryars and the LPO: live in Waterloo

I promise myself I’m not going to cry. As the lights go down and the circle of musicians are illuminated, points of light emanating from their music stands, everyone falls silent. We hear the faint quavery voice of an old man singing, hardly audible, as if from the bottom of a well. The voice becomes […]

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Distilling 60 years of whisky stories

In any wisely organised universe, a writing project for a whisky brand would involve much tramping through heather, gazing up at Scottish hillsides, admiring trickling burns, walking over ancient cobblestones, pushing through creaking warehouse doors, tiptoeing past sleeping casks and, you would hope, tasting a dram or two. Last spring, lockdown put paid to the […]

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The power of charity stories

Charity stories are an incredibly popular and powerful way to convey the essence of what a charity does while engaging with readers. It’s common to see charities using stories to lead radio appeals, donor appeals and cases for support. I’ve written a variety of stories for charity clients. For example: A Radio 4 charity appeal […]

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Who’s louder, Harpo Marx or Sergei Rachmaninoff?

Have you heard about the musical duel between Harpo Marx and Sergei Rachmaninoff? Craig Brown recounts the story in One on One, his book about extraordinary encounters between famous people. (There’s a reason why I’m writing about this now. I’ll come to that later.) Harpo’s Hollywood retreat In 1931, Harpo Marx had taken an apartment […]

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Busting ageist myths: Joan’s story

“The other day, it was lunchtime, boiling hot, 23 degrees, and I was sitting in the park wearing my bikini,” says Joan, who’s 82. “A woman walked past and said, ‘How wonderful that you’re doing that. I wish I had the guts to do what you’re doing.’ And I said, ‘Do it! Why not?’ Nobody […]

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Rising stars align for Mr Handel

Once again, I was delighted to take part in a project with writers’ group 26 on behalf of the Bloomsbury Festival. This year, the theme is ‘Shining a light’. I chose to highlight a performance at the Foundling Museum in Bloomsbury that will showcase the talents of rising singing stars. This piece first appeared here […]

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