Category Archives: Culture

T&T 49 | Nell Stevens Discusses Bleaker House

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In today’s Tea & Tattle episode, I’m joined by the writer Nell Stevens to discuss Nell’s debut book, Bleaker House. Nell lives in London and has a PhD in Victorian literature from King’s College London, and an MFA in Fiction from Boston University.

In her book, Nell describes her journey to the Falkland Islands, in search of the distraction-free, solitary existence she believed would help her to write a novel. Both funny and poignant, Bleaker House is one of the best books I’ve read about the writing process and what it means to be a writer.

It was a real joy to get to chat to Nell on the podcast and find out more about her day-to-day routine on Bleaker Island, as well as what her experience taught her about herself and her writing. Nell also explained how she came to structure the book in an unusual way, assembling it into a kind of collage to include her account of life on Bleaker Island, as well as extracts from her fiction writing and anecdotes about her past.

Nell Stevens, photographed by Mat Smith

I also questioned Nell about the title of her novel and the significance that Dickens’s Bleak House held for her writing process. Nell also makes an exciting announcement at the end of the episode about her next book, so be sure to listen out for that!

Listen to learn more about Nell’s experience of Bleaker Island and of writing a book. 

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48 | Lagom and the Art of Balanced Living

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This week on Tea & Tattle podcast, Sophie and I are discussing the Swedish term, lagom, meaning ‘just the right amount,’ and how we can use the Scandinavian principle of living in balance to lead happier and healthier lives ourselves.

The modern world feels an increasingly chaotic and time-pressured place in which to live, and we examine how adopting a lagom approach to work and health may help us to identify our priorities and lead a less stressed existence.

Listen to learn more about the Swedish way of living and how to find more balance in your life.

T&T 47 | A Secret Sisterhood

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Today on Tea & Tattle, I’m joined by authors Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney, to discuss their book, A Secret Sisterhood, which describes the hidden literary friendships of Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot and Virginia Woolf.

In their captivating book, Emily and Emma offer a fresh perspective on the lives of these famous women and show how important their friendships with other female writers were to their literary endeavours. As best friends and writers themselves, Emma and Emily have a particular interest in examining the role of friendship in writing, and they run the charming blog, Something Rhymed, which is dedicated to celebrating female literary friendships from the past and present.

I was so delighted to be able to speak to them both about how their friendship has influenced their own writing careers, as well as the discoveries they made whilst writing A Secret Sisterhood. Their book has been meticulously researched, and Emily and Emma even uncovered a document written by Jane Austen’s niece, Fanny, that had never previously been found. We chat about this exciting discovery, as well as how Emma nerved up the courage to ask one of her present-day literary heroines, Margaret Atwood, to write the brilliant introduction to the book, and so much more.

Listen to learn more about the hidden literary friendships of some of the most famous female writers. 

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T&T 46 | Wabi-Sabi and the Art of Imperfection

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Today on Tea & Tattle podcast, Sophie and I examine our concerns about having too much of a perfectionist mentality, and how the Japanese aesthetic of wabi-sabi helps us to embrace the imperfect and lead happier lives.

Wabi-sabi is rooted in Japan and is closely linked to the Japanese tea ceremony, but it’s an approach to life that can be adopted by anyone, anywhere in the world. Having a wabi-sabi mindset enables you to recognise and appreciate beauty in the imperfect and the transient, such as a worn, much-read book, or leaves falling from a tree.

Leafing through Wabi-Sabi Welcome by Julie Pointer Adams

In this episode, Sophie and I share our favourite definitions of wabi-sabi from literature we’ve read on the subject, and discuss more generally what wabi-sabi means to us and how we’re trying to accept and be at peace with imperfection in our own lives.

Listen to learn more about the Japanese aesthetic of wabi-sabi and how to embrace the perfectly imperfect.

Remember to subscribe to the podcast to receive exclusive recommendations from Sophie and me every week.

T&T 43 | A Chat With Liz Schaffer, Editor of Lodestars Anthology

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Today on Tea & Tattle Podcast, I’m chatting with Liz Schaffer, the editor and founder of my favourite travel magazine, Lodestars Anthology. I first discovered these travel journals when I was browsing Daunt Books, and I instantly fell for the awe-inspiring photography and well-written articles. There are now 8 issues to date, with the most recent, New Zealand, published last month.

In this week’s episode, I took the opportunity to question Liz about the future of independent magazine publishing, how she first came to launch Lodestars Anthology and what lessons she’s learnt from running her own business. We also chatted about the art of travel and how to travel more creatively.

This is a brilliant episode for anyone who enjoys travel and inspiring reading material, and it is guaranteed to make you want to plan your next holiday!

Listen to learn more about publishing an independent travel magazine.

P.S. I’ve created a guide to travel journaling for Tea & Tattle listeners for further travel inspiration. If you’ve already signed up to our newsletter, then check your inbox, as the guide was emailed to you. Otherwise, you can sign up to get it here.

T&T 42 | Clare Fisher and All The Good Things

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This week on Tea & Tattle, I’m in conversation with the author Clare Fisher, about her debut novel All The Good Things. I read Clare’s gripping, fast-paced novel when it was first published in June, and very much enjoyed it, so it was a real pleasure to have her on the show today.

Reading All The Good Things, I was so impressed by Clare’s sympathetic and moving account of what happens to a woman who has done a very bad thing, but is still, at the end of the novel, able to find hope and meaning in her life.

In today’s episode Clare tells me about the inspiration behind her novel, how her research took her to women’s prisons and why increased awareness and early prevention of mental health issues are so important.

Listen to learn more about Clare Fisher’s debut novel, All The Good Things. 

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.

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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.