Category Archives: Culture

T&T 40 | The Greedy Queen

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This week on Tea & Tattle, I’m learning all about Queen Victoria’s eating habits from the food historian, Annie Gray. Annie’s recently published book, The Greedy Queen: Eating with Victoria is an unconventional biography of the Queen, examining her life in food.

Annie Gray is an historian, cook, broadcaster and writer, who specialises in the history of food and dining in Britain from about 1600 to the present day. In our chat, Annie explains how her interest in food and history developed, and how she first came to examine the role of meals in Queen Victoria’s life. It was so interesting to learn more about the complex relationship Victoria had with food, how she used meal-times as a way to exert power and the culinary legacy she left behind.

Annie Gray

I read The Greedy Queen a few months ago and thoroughly enjoyed Annie’s engaging, witty style of writing that brought historical figures and events so vividly to life. In today’s episode, Annie’s vivacious conversation will be a delight to lovers of food and history alike.

Listen to learn more about Queen Victoria’s life and relationship with food

T&T 38 | Lauren Elkin and the Flâneuse

An interview with Lauren Elkin

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Today on Tea & Tattle, I’m speaking with the brilliant Lauren Elkin about her wonderful book, Flâneuse. In part a memoir of Lauren’s experiences living and walking in Paris, New York City, London, Venice and Tokyo, Flâneuse is also a fascinating examination of the cultural history of creative women, such as Virginia Woolf, George Sand and Jean Rhys, who have found inspiration and freedom from roaming city streets.

An interview with Lauren Elkin

In our conversation, Lauren explains how her own creative self-discovery whilst exploring Paris as a student first led her to identify the flâneuse, a female equivalent to the flâneur: a male author or artist who wanders the streets of his city with an observant eye. The flâneur or flâneuse takes the part of a spectator; at one with the city, but also set a little apart from it, looking on from the outside.

The flâneur – with its masculine form – has always been used to describe a man, but in her book Lauren brilliantly argues the case for the feminine flâneuse, showing how historically women writers and authors have also engaged with city streets, drawing on their urban environment for creative inspiration.

An interview with Lauren ElkinLauren Elkin. Image © Marianne Katser

I so enjoyed hearing Lauren’s thoughts on the challenges that women still face today when walking in a city, the women she finds especially inspirational and why Paris is so special to her.

Listen to learn more about Lauren Elkin’s book, Flâneuse, and the creative inspiration that taking to a city’s streets can bring. 

A Wild Summer With Sue Belfrage

Down to the River and Up to the Trees | Sue Belfrage Interview

A few weeks ago, I was browsing my local bookshop and spotted Sue Belfrage’s gorgeous book, Down to the River and Up to the Trees. I flicked through the pages, delighted by the whimsical illustrations and suggested activities for injecting more wilderness into everyday life. Needless to say, Sue’s book made its way home with me, as a lovely addition to my growing collection of writings on the natural world.

This summer, I’m keen to experience more of nature, both on my doorstep and further afield. I’ve made plans with friends to swim in the Hampstead Ladies’ Pond, and I’m currently writing this post from the Artist Residence Hotel, nestled deep in the Oxfordshire countryside. I can look out the window and see the restaurant’s vegetable garden, surrounded by neighbouring fields and meadows.

Down to the River and Up to the Trees is the perfect companion for those wishing to engage with nature. Packed with fun activities, from sun printing to foraging tips, as well as beautiful quotes and illustrations, Sue Belfrage will open the eyes of even the most diehard urbanite to the natural wonders surrounding them.

I got in touch with Sue to say how much I enjoyed her book, as well as to ask her a few questions about herself, her work and her suggestions for infusing more nature into my city life.

***

Would you tell me a little about yourself and your career so far?

Besides painting and writing in my own time, I worked for many years as an editor in book publishing. I ended up specialising in non-fiction, which gave me the opportunity to work on a wide range of subjects with all sorts of fascinating people – from healers, witches and shamans to leading philosophers, psychologists and neuroscientists. And, because of my love of nature, I ended up commissioning some beautiful books by brilliant nature writers.

Down to the River and Up to the Trees | Sue Belfrage InterviewSue Belfrage

What first sparked your love for nature?

Difficult to say. I remember being about two years old and peering into a paddling pool: a large dead spider was bobbing about in the water like a folded-up umbrella. Perhaps not the most auspicious start, but the main feeling I had was of fascination and wonder – and that sense of curiosity has stayed with me ever since.

Down to the River and Up to the Trees | Sue Belfrage InterviewSummer Garden, Sue Belfrage

Then, at the age of six, I moved with my family to Sweden for a few years. The Swedes have something called allemansrätten, which is basically the right to roam – but it also means taking care of the countryside, something you learn at a young age. I lived in the suburbs of a small city where there were lots of woods and streams to explore, so I used to take off with my friends, build camps, go sledding and make rope swings. We were left to our own devices even though we were relatively small, and would come back at the end of each day with dirty hands and knees, having spent hours outside in the fresh air whatever the weather.

Would you tell me a little about your book, Down to the River and Up to the Trees? What inspired you to write it?

I got to a point last year where I realised I needed to make changes, so I did a slightly crazy thing and quit my job. I was lucky to have some savings and the support of my other half, and had the opportunity to spend much of the summer outside, painting and walking – and reappraising. In many ways, spending time in nature was very healing, and it reminded me just how important that connection is for all of us. By the end of the summer I think the seed for Down to the River and Up to the Trees had been sown.

Down to the River and Up to the Trees | Sue Belfrage InterviewOyster Shell, by Sue Belfrage

I love how your book encourages us all to get out and enjoy the nature that’s on our doorstep. What are some of your favourite outdoor activities to do in the summer?

I have the good fortune to work at home, so on a sunny day I will often try to work outside or – if that’s not possible – I’ll leave my desk and just go stand barefoot outside for a few minutes. Natural light is a much better pick-me-up than coffee, even if you can only get outside during your lunchbreak.

I also love going for long woodland walks, and down to the coast – not necessarily to go swimming, but to walk along the strandline, picking my way through the seaweed, shells and driftwood, and doing a bit of beachcombing. I’ve got all sorts of flotsam and jetsam decorating my shelves at home.

And, like many of us, I enjoy taking photos of wild flowers and the sky. I have a bit of a thing for clouds and the patterns of leaves…

What’s your advice to people who live in urban environments who would like to experience more of the natural world in their everyday lives?

Make the most of what you have and where you live. That might sound a bit trite, but having lived in cities such as London and Liverpool, I’ve been struck by the fantastic parks, public gardens and green spaces you can find there; you don’t have to live in a rural idyll to create your own special connection with nature. (That said, I once had a stand-off with a rat on a stepping stone in Liverpool’s Sefton Park, which is otherwise a glorious spot.)

Also, whereas people in the countryside tend to rely on their cars to get about, if you live in a city you’ll often have a greater opportunity to walk – and if you’re walking there’s usually a chance to see all sorts of plants and wild life, even in the very heart of a city. Alternatively, if you can’t get out to nature, bring it to you: give a home to a pot plant, place a window box where you can see it change through the seasons (replanting as necessary), or grow your own potatoes in a bag!

It’s really just about opening up our senses and taking the time to notice the life around us, which admittedly is often a lot easier said than done these days, when the temptation can be to keep ‘busy’ rather than just be.

Have you always loved to draw? How would you describe your artistic style?

Yes, I’ve always loved drawing and still have sketchbooks that I drew in as a little girl. While their artistic merit is extremely doubtful (I was definitely no Picasso), they show enthusiasm and a sheer love of scribbling; I wasn’t worried about getting things ‘right’ but just enjoyed making marks. The same is true today – for me the pleasure lies mainly in the process rather than the result. (Though of course it’s always nice if people do like your work.)

I’m mainly a figurative artist, and do quite a bit of life drawing. I also enjoy landscape painting and print making. You can see some of my sketches and lino prints in Down to the River and Up to the Trees.

Down to the River and Up to the Trees | Sue Belfrage InterviewFur, lino cut by Sue Belfrage

Besides getting out into nature, how else do you refuel and feed your own creativity?

I love reading, especially literary fiction and poetry, and I like listening to music. I also enjoy good conversation, and sharing a glass or two – plus laughter – with friends. I meet up about once a month with a writing group to share our work in progress. As well as discussing our writing, we catch up on all the news and gossip, and generally offer each other moral support – which can be a real lifeline if you’re trying to work creatively on your own. Oh, and I suppose there are healthy things too like Pilates, which is a great way to unwind.

Are there any magazines or books about the natural world (besides your own!) that you would recommend?

Nature writing is experiencing a bit of a renaissance at the moment, and there are some wonderful writers out there, but if you want a hands-on experience, I would definitely recommend getting hold of the old Reader’s Digest Nature Lovers Library guides, which you can still find in second-hand bookshops. I find myself dipping into the Field Guide to the Wild Flowers of Britain all the time!

Down to the River and Up to the Trees | Sue Belfrage InterviewApple Tree by Sue Belfrage

Finally, do you have any upcoming events or future projects you’re able to share at the moment?

I’m looking forward to taking part in a Wild Women’s Retreat organised by HoneyWoods Camping later this month, and then I’m taking part in the Yeovil Literary Festival in October. I’m always open to considering invitations; if I can help any of your readers with an event, I can be contacted via my website: suebelfrage.com and on twitter and Instagram (@suebelfrage).

Thanks, Miranda, for this interview and your interest in my work. I hope you have a really wild summer!

***

Down to the River and Up to the Trees | Sue Belfrage Interview

Thank you so much again to Sue for her thoughtful answers to my questions. Are you inspired to get out into nature a little more this summer?

Down to the River and Up to the Trees: Discover the hidden nature on your doorstep by Sue Belfrage is published by Harper Thorsons, £9.99.

 

T&T | Exploring Great Britain With Alice Stevenson

Tea and Tattle Podcast | Exploring Great Britain With Alice Stevenson

Listen to the latest Tea & Tattle episode here or on iTunes.

This week on Tea & Tattle, I’m in conversation with the London-based illustrator and author, Alice Stevenson. Alice has been a friend of mine ever since I first interviewed her a few years ago, but I’ve been an admirer of her work for much longer than that. Alice is an admirably prolific artist, producing numerous illustrations for book designs, special commissions, prints and cards. Alice is also the author of two books: Ways to Walk in London and the newly published Ways to See Great Britain.

In Ways to See Great Britain, Alice writes about her adventures travelling the UK, covering an impressive variety of places from the Orkney Islands to Plymouth. Her musings on the strange, the beautiful and the prosaic that she discovers are delightfully enhanced by Alice’s signature abstract sketches. With an impressive eye for detail, Alice shows you how to bring more intention to your wanderings; always seeking out the hidden treasures that are the rewards of the curious and observant explorer.

Tea and Tattle Podcast | Exploring Great Britain With Alice Stevenson

In our conversation, I asked Alice for her tips and recommendations for exploring the UK, as well as ways to look at your surroundings with a more creative eye. Alice also shared some of the highlights and disappointments from her trips, other books about the UK that inspire her and how her perspective on what it means to be British changed as she got to know her home country better.

Listen to hear great tips on exploring the UK and how to bring more creativity to your travels.  

T&T 34 | Botanical Inspiration

Tea and Tattle Podcast | Botanical Inspiration for the Home

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This week, Sophie and I are chatting about botanical inspiration for the home, as well as how flowers inspire our creative processes. Botanicals are huge at the moment, and we chat about why their timeless style is so appealing, as well as how flowers and foliage feature in our homes.

In today’s episode, we also make two important announcements: the first involves our plans for the podcast over the summer, and the second is a new PDF downloadable document (like our Hygge guide) that I’m currently working on, and which I hope you’ll find useful for the summer (listen to the episode to hear all the details on both these announcements).

Sophie also shares a particularly exciting Jump for Joy this week (many congratulations to her again), and as usual we exchange a favourite cultural recommendation in our Culture Corner section. It really is all go in this episode, so be sure to tune in to catch up on the latest news!

Listen to hear our ideas for botanical style in the home and how flowers feed creativity.

UK Travel | A Different Side to Oxford

UK Travel | A Different Side to Oxford

Oxford is always a favourite place of mine; I love its winding, cobbled streets, awe-inspiring buildings and quaint pubs. I used to visit Oxford quite a bit to see my friend Sophie during our undergrad years, but as life got busier my visits became far less frequent. Happily, though, this blog has inspired me to travel much more around the UK, and I’m hoping to visit Oxford again, either in the summer or early autumn.

The last time I went to Oxford was to attend the Literary Festival a few years ago (you can read my post about it here), and, feeling that quite a bit has probably changed since then, I got in touch with a Miranda’s Notebook reader and Oxford resident, Aleksandra of Bunnies Are Magic, to give me a few insider tips to the city. She shared her suggestions, paired with gorgeous photographs, for a fun weekend in Oxford, experiencing a lesser-known side to this famous destination.

Aleksandra’s Oxford Tips

UK Travel | A Different Side to Oxford

To a foreigner, the spires of Oxford are one of the UK’s most iconic landmarks.  I’m speaking as a foreigner myself, but also as a person who has now lived in Oxford for a fair amount of time (long enough to discover how hard it is to get from St Magdalen’s bus stops to the high street in July!). I’ve learnt there is more to this one-of-a-kind town than its tourist attractions – a whole host of different experiences waiting to be discovered.

Cocktail Hour

UK Travel | A Different Side to Oxford

++ There are plenty of bars in Jericho, an area just slightly north of the city centre. Raoul’s has never disappointed me with their ever-changing menu, and then there is Freud as well, which is based in a very impressive old church building.

International Dining

UK Travel | A Different Side to Oxford

++ If you’re a Thai food fan, Thaikhun it is a definite must.

++ For a budget restaurant option, try Turtle Bay. Their spicy mojitos are to die for, trust me, I am a true mojito connoisseur. You can enjoy your relatively cheap food while listening to some Caribbean versions of pop hits too. What’s not to love?

++ For a cup of tea with an Asian twist, the place to go is Formosan Tea Bar.

A Walk on the Wild Side

UK Travel | A Different Side to Oxford

++ If you want to get a good idea of how rural Oxford can be, I suggest a walk by the Oxford Canal between Summertown and the town centre. The canal itself is a real treat for anyone interested in nature walks, and if you take the walk on a Sunday, you can enjoy Summertown market, famously known for its owl visitors (from the Heathrow Owl Rescue Centre).

++ Trap Grounds is a waterfowl haven. Tucked away between the canal and the railway, it may well be the only truly wild and uninhabited part of Oxford. Looking over the reeds, it’s the perfect place to catch the most beautiful of Oxford’s sunrises too; a little masterpiece of nature.

UK Travel | A Different Side to Oxford

++ Port Meadow holds a great surprise for all unprepared visitors…ponies! They’re friendly if you approach them with care, and they will come to you looking for food, although I would advise treating them with a bit more caution than stable horses.

++ Christ Church College is surrounded by the most wonderful park (my very favourite of Oxford’s parks), that leads all the way to the Thames. You can find geese, swans, ducks, and even cows. If you follow the Thames back towards the high street, at the very edge of the park you will find a botanical garden too.

UK Travel | A Different Side to Oxford UK Travel | A Different Side to Oxford

Culture

UK Travel | A Different Side to Oxford

++ On 23rd June, a Jane Austen exhibition is opening at the Bodleian that I expect many Miranda’s Notebook readers might find interesting.

++ Oxford’s Phoenix Picture House is one of my favourite cinemas. Its atmosphere is hard to describe, with everything an old cinema needs and just a little bit more.

++ I also recommend seeing  the wonderful Creation Theatre perform one of their plays; something that everyone should experience at least once in their life.

UK Travel | A Different Side to Oxford

Thanks so much to Aleksandra for her fabulous suggestions! I now want to book a ticket to Oxford straight away.

If you’d like to read more about Aleksandra’s life in Oxford, check our her blog. Aleksandra also writes more personal articles, such as 25 Wishes For My Future Self and How to Ruin Your Work Day. You can also find her on twitter, facebook and instagram.  

T&T 33 | Historical Fiction with Hannah Kent

Tea & Tattle Podcast Interview With Bestselling Author Hannah Kent

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Today on Tea & Tattle podcast, I’m joined by the bestselling author, Hannah Kent, to discuss Hannah’s books Burial Rites and The Good People. Her debut novel, Burial Rites, has received international acclaim and is one of my favourite novels published within the last few years. The Good People, which was released in the UK at the start of the year, is equally gripping and also showcases Hannah’s mastery in evoking a sense of place, as well as her poetic writing style.

Tea & Tattle Podcast Interview With Bestselling Author Hannah Kent

In my chat with Hannah, I questioned her about how her love for Icelandic culture and history began, the research process behind her books, what was most surprising in learning about Irish folklore and so much more. It was such an honour to speak with Hannah, and I hope you enjoy her compelling conversation as much as I did.

Tea & Tattle Podcast Interview With Bestselling Author Hannah Kent

Listen to hear Hannah Kent’s fascinating insights into writing her historical novels, Burial Rites and The Good People.

T&T 29 | Creativity Chat with Sara Tasker (Me & Orla)

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This Tuesday, I’m chatting with the Queen of Instagram, Sara Tasker, otherwise known as @me_and_orla. I’ve been a fan of Sara’s gorgeous photography and engaging personality from before I started blogging, so it was a real joy to have her on the show for a fabulous talk about creativity and social media.

Sara discussed the start of her Instagram journey, when she gained 10s of 1000s of followers in a few months, and how she kept true to herself and her creative vision, despite the pressure of a huge following. I was also keen to ask Sara for her tips on avoiding the ‘comparison trap’ on social media and how to regain a sense of community within Instagram, after the changes introduced by the new algorithm. As always, Sara had so much wisdom to share, so this is great episode to listen to if you’ve been struggling with some of the changes to Instagram lately.

We also chatted about the nature of creativity, how Sara came to start her own podcast, Hashtag Authentic, her experience starting her first novel and so much more.

Listen for an insightful discussion on creativity and social media. 

Note: Above images courtesy Sara Tasker.

T&T 27 | Samantha Ellis Discusses Anne Brontë

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This Tuesday, I’m delighted to say that I’m in conversation with Samantha Ellis, one of my favourite writers. As well as being a highly acclaimed playwright, Samantha has written the books How to be a Heroine and Take Courage: Anne Brontë and the Art of Life. In How to be a Heroine, Samantha reexamines the literary heroines she idolised as a young adult, and her latest book, Take Courage, is a biography of Anne Brontë.

T&T 27 | Samantha Ellis Discusses Anne Brontë

I adored How to be a Heroine, and in today’s episode I question Samantha a little about her first book, asking what she found most surprising when she returned to her favourite female characters as an adult.

Samantha also shares what inspired her to turn her hand to biography, and how learning more about Anne’s life taught her to be increasingly courageous in her own. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë is one my very favourite novels, so I was fascinated to learn more about Anne’s life from reading Take Courage. In this biography, Samantha truly brings Anne’s story to life and also writes openly about her own journey in discovering more about the Brontë family and her reflections on Anne’s writing.  Anne is – most undeservedly! – the least widely read of the Brontë sisters, and I was very pleased to get the chance to ask Samantha more about her thoughts on why Anne is still so little read.

If you’re a fan of the Brontës – and Anne in particular – then I highly recommend getting a copy of Take Courage to read yourself, but this episode of Tea & Tattle will give you a little taster of what you can expect from Samantha’s book.

T&T 27 | Samantha Ellis Discusses Anne Brontë

Listen for a fascinating insight into the life of Anne Brontë and her writing.

T&T 26 | Reflecting on Our Goals for 2017

Listen to the latest Tea & Tattle episode here or on iTunes.

It’s super to have Sophie back on the podcast today, especially as we’re celebrating the 6 month anniversary of Tea & Tattle! We’re having a general catch-up on the podcast today, and Sophie explains why she’s been so busy lately. We’re also reflecting on our theme words that we set at the start of the year in Episode 10. Sophie chose ‘openness’ as a word to frame what she wanted to achieve in 2017, and I chose ‘consistency.’ As we said in January, we want to regularly check in with each other (and with our listeners!) to see how we’re getting on with our goals, and so this episode is devoted to reflecting on our progress through the year so far.

Listen to hear our reflections on the year so far and how much we’ve managed to keep to our theme words of ‘consistency’ and ‘openness.’ 

What are your reflections on the year so far? Are you happy with your progress in 2017? Is there anything that’s working particularly well for you in helping you to attain goals, or is there something you need to change?

Happy Listening!