Monday, 9 December 2013

At the setting of the sun...

December has been a sad month-not least because it marked the passing of a giant of humanity-Nelson Mandela, but because of losses closer to home. It always seems more poignant when there is a loss at this time of year-because Christmas is significantly a time for family and reflection. We lost a very close and dear friend to the scourge that is cancer and we will miss him deeply. His family will have a huge mountain to climb until they can come to terms with his passing and I don't envy them that restlessness and frustration that accompanies grief. The outlet for that is often action and I have a number of friends who have throw themselves into physical activity for charity or set out on a massive campaign to help beat cancer/heart/disability. Its a positive reaction to loss, but care must be taken to grieve properly at the same time. I know only too well that racing around to avoid confronting your grief can be detrimental...and it will get you in the end-when you least expect it!

Life should be lived as though each day was your last-packing every minute with something worthwhile. My Dad used to say every day he woke up was a bonus and he wrung every drop of life out of each day, never regretted anything and had a positive approach to life...and death!

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Painting myself into a corner

I hear a lot about writer's block! Luckily I haven't suffered from it yet...or maybe I haven't noticed it? I am in fact suffering from exactly the opposite-I have loads of ideas which arrive in my brain too quickly, causing a massive backlog and bulging notebook!

Problem is I find everything around me a stimulus! I catch myself collecting characters like stamps and I do think I won't have enough time to write about them all! Time is of the essence as they say and its something that I seem to have no control of. Strange that the book series is called "out of time"-because its what I seem to be frequently!
Guy and Grumpy behind

For instance I went to Furness Abbey yesterday, which is not uncommon and there I spotted more carvings which unbelievably I had not seen before. Immediately I returned home I jotted some ideas down and looked at the photos. Great source stuff but rather distracting because I am already in the middle of Cistercian Conspiracy. This is me though...butterfly brain...if I write solidly every day for the next twenty years I won't be able to write all of these stories I am sure!

However, I have removed myself from the corner I had painted myself into-which is good. I really DO envisage completing by new year if I have to shut myself into a room for a week. So watch this space...coming soon-Out of Time 3

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Back to the old days...

Had a lovely signing today at Crooklands Garden Centre at Dalton. Read the "Guy and the Christmas Gargoyle" book to some children and made some sales which was nice. The staff kept me plied with drinks and it was all very cosy sitting close to the stove.

A dear old friend arrived to have a natter and a coffee and we were soon chatting away. Inevitably, we talked about children-both being ex-teachers...not quite in the Monty Python "ex-parrot" sense but close enough! I commented on the interest of some of the children who came to get books today and how nice it was to see children keen on reading. My friend said she had encountered a number of children with parents in a local Pound shop-on a half term outing! She could not believe how unruly and rude they were and compared them to how we were when we were young. I am not advocating returning to the halcyon days of the 70s with its left over remnant of post war discipline-but really...what is wrong with a bit of respect?

I am sure there is a difference, certainly in what is permissible these days-it seems to be a grab all, I want sort of society, in which nobody wants to wait for anything even for a minute! I know it sounds old fashioned but what are the parents doing? As a teacher I was sometimes astonished at parent's attitudes-and had to end up by defending my decision for punishing their child for the poor behaviour.

A lot is said about respect these days and it reminds me of when I was at the Grammar school-which had a strict hierarchy and regime-with prefects and the like. As timid first years we were in awe of the Sixth forms and prefects and looked forward to the days when we were able to take on that responsibility. However, by we reached Sixth form Prefects had been eradicated and we all had "equal responsibility"-this was the 70s-and it became an ineffective wishy washy sort of power. Indeed one day the door to the Sixth Form study crashed open and two first years stood there demanding attention for something-shouting aggressively across the room-quite intimidating us. I don't know if we were especially wimpy-but we all mused about how tough and bolshie the kids were today!

By the time I began teaching children seemed to have taken on a radical defiance and many bore no respect for grown ups. This is commonplace now-there is little respect for anyone in authority-teachers, fact the lack of respect translates through many adults too. It seems that many people appear to have little empathy for their fellow man and are more concerned in "things" and status. It matters not that you reach the sage old age of 56- frequently you are dismissed as irrelevant and considered over weaning and ridiculous when you share your life experience and knowledge. Disappointing really- seem to be back in the Sixth Form-your experience is not required, your opinions rubbished and worse still they smile, cajole and patronisingly call you "hun".

Must be getting old...starting to sound like a grumpy old woman!

Furness Hidden Heritage: An Anti-Aircraft Gun, A Dog Carving and A Doctor -...

Furness Hidden Heritage: An Anti-Aircraft Gun, A Dog Carving and A Doctor -...: Dalton, nestled amongst a valley to the south of the Furness peninsula, may be a small town today but once it was the capital of Furness! Th...

Monday, 14 October 2013

Friday, 11 October 2013

Exciting times ahead and feeling just a bit smug!

Feeling quite pleased with myself today...picked up 100 copies of the new book from the printers! This is essentially a limited edition-arising from my lack of organisation-too late to get it out via my usual publishers-Matador Books/Troubador before Christmas. I needed a new book to take with me to fairs so I took the decision to go for it with a local printer-HSP Milner and I have to say they've done me proud! The quality is excellent and although its smaller than expected I love it! However, when they're gone they're gone! And if by chance you have one of these when I am as famous as JKRowling then you will be able to sell it for mega bucks on ebay!!!

And its that time again folks...waiting with great anticipation for our donation from Keswick to Barrow Walk after our hard work completing the 40 mile hike last May. We had seven teams walking for dystonia-which if you don't know is a horrible neurological condition affecting 75000 in the UK. We raised an awful lot of sponsorship this year so looking forward to the awards night. We are also expecting some funds for Furness Abbey Fellowship as well-which will go to the crosier appeal.

Which also means...the teams for next year are open! SO if YOU think you can do this crazy walk with us in all horrible kinds of weather-let me know and I will add you in!

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Living in the past

I am a master of self doubt, procrastination and indecision. These are the three things which probably propel me into the fantasy worlds I create with the books I write. That isn't necessarily a bad thing...but I reach overdrive quite quickly and rush to hide in my fantasy world to avoid the "real" things that worry or concern me.

I have been troubled for months about the books for instance. I want them to be accepted, enjoyed and to reach a much wider audience. However, this is proving very difficult and I become quite frustrated. So I retreat to avoid looking at marketing strategies-which I hate!

My children say I live in the past and am too absorbed with history and the "olden days", but I don't see this as a bad thing, because it is a wonderful diversion. Today we were at Eskdale Show, which is held in one of my favourite places. I was first introduced to it on Sunday Schools trips in the 1960s. We used to catch a train from Barrow station to Ravenglass, walk across the bridge to the station for L'ile Ratty-the miniature narrow gauge railway to Boot in Eskdale. At the terminus-Dale Garth we alighted and went down into the field behind the station-which is much reduced these days to accommodate the motor cars which inundate the place. When we went, there were no cars usually, because everyone went via the Ratty-which is surely the whole point? We all had picnics on the grass, paddled in the river and played communal games until it was time to pack up and make the return journey home again. This went on for many years as it seemed to be the preferred venue for St Perran's church and it was wonderful...except for one year!

Mum and Dad got us ready, packed the picnic and we raced down to Roose station to catch the train-with my baby sister in the pram (they would travel in the guards van)...we reached the platform to find....the train had left...without us! Dad swore, Mum looked deflated and I cried (I was 7). We trudged home again and as a treat we had the picnic on the floor in the lounge...which didn't actually have a settee at this time as we had just moved and it hadn't been delivered yet! We cheered a little and then something terrible happened! My secret prayer had been began to rain! By 3 o' clock it was torrential. We all knew what it would be like at Eskdale....wet...wet...wet! I commiserated with my parents about the trip being ruined...but a little tiny-if guilty part of me, was just a little bit pleased!

I remembered this today and mused about past Eskdale Shows-which I knew my great Granny Elizabeth Hodgson from Penny Hill Farm, Boot has experienced. My dad told me many tales about the short rather plump little woman I had seen in photos (so -we know where I got those genes from!). She had been born and bred in Boot and had told her grandson-my dad tales of the Shows and Meets when she was allowed to help. Apparently in return for the help at the King of Prussia pub-now the George IV -(the name change at the start of the Great War) she and the other young people were allowed to riddle the sawdust on the floor for dropped change. This story has fallen into family folklore-and I don't know how accurate it was-but one year she was lucky enough to find a sovereign for her trouble!

I smiled to myself whilst I was standing at my book stall today when I thought of these memories and stories. I wondered what she would have thought of her great granddaughter selling her own books-and it made me think. Even if the range of the books remains "local"-does it really matter? While I am waiting to be "discovered" by a mega publisher, or Melvyn Bragg tweets about my "Cumbrian" stories I can still enjoy sharing them, writing them and talking to children about them. Perhaps, that's all I need to do...enjoy? After all, it has provided a very different and varied life style since I took up the life of an "author"-so I will do what I can and stop being paralysed by the necessity for marketing and the anxiety of promotion and instead I will reach the audience I can, and start to enjoy the fantasy, the writing and the pure escapism it all provides. 

Sunday, 8 September 2013

What a fantastic day

Iron Shepherds
Ace Puppets aka Sian Hunter performing Guy the Grumpy Gargoyle at the Furness Abbey Fair
We did it! We had THE most amazing Medieval Fair at Furness Abbey and the weather was perfect...I wont go into too much detail here because I really ought to blog on the FAF blog...but cant not mention what a great day we had. The best thing was that we must have had 1200 plus visitors and the families who came really enjoyed it. We passed muster with English Heritage and I believe they will allow us to make this an annual event. Iron Shepherds who did the historical re-enactments were fantastic...well researched, thorough and exciting. The other highlights included Patrick Corbett as a scribe-creating beautiful illuminated letters, Iain McNichol as Brother John explaining the use of herbs and Owen Jones making swill baskets. Helen Elvin weaving traditional baskets and Ralf Bidder doing wood turning and finally the Dorian Players providing a musical interlude.
We had a lot of fun and if you go to the FAF blog you can read more....meanwhile back to routine! We are back to work and this will include a mega attempt at some promotion for the books! At least there is some down time for now from FAF...but watch this space more will follow!

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Friendship is the wine of life (Edward Young)

Rather apprehensive today...only two days until the Furness Abbey Fellowship Medieval Fair. Its taken lots of work but at last its here. However its make or break as we really need to attract lots of people to help raise visitor numbers.
We shouldn't have an issue with this because the fantastic crozier and ring are returning for the day!

It is going to be amazing...we have lots of things planes-activities for kids adults -everyone. I wont tell you what...come and see for yourself!

Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: "What! You too? I thought I was the only one.”
C.S. Lewis

It has made me reflect because since I have become so involved with the abbey through writing my books,I have made so many new friends-both real and virtual. I have seen amazing generosity and the less pleasant side of human nature too...but mostly have come into contact with amazing people who I may never have met.

I love the variety of friends that I have... new and old, pragmatic and eccentric, creative and practical...just a huge array of interesting humanity. When you feel a bit despondent about human beings its nice to reflect on those special individuals who make life special. Real friends demand nothing, listen to all your moans and worries, don't worry if you don't ring, pick up instantly where you left off and are ... just there.

Then there are those who are family...but are some of the best friends you can have...because they understand you and accept you (maybe cos they have to) warts and all! So here's to friends we have had in the past, those we have now and those we have yet to meet!

Lynn-a friend posing as a customer and fan
An old friend and teaching colleague Wendy-been through tough times together
a rabble of interesting friends-old and new

Friday, 16 August 2013

Summer events-Medieval Fair at Furness Abbey

I've been busy with writing new chapters of Out of Time 3:The Cistercian Conspiracy and working for my new Press Officer post too. I am sending the books off to agents as well as I think I need some help in taking writing to the next level. But mostly...I have been organising along with colleagues from Furness Abbey Fellowship the Medieval Fair at the end of August in Furness Abbey.
Some of the FAF Committee

It should be a good day and we have finalised most of the details for the day. The big event is the Abbot's crosier and the ring returning for the day. However we have a fantastic array of re-enactors, artists, performers, craftsmen and activities for the day. It is well worth a visit and all we need now are the visitors and the good weather.
The Cloister Range

Entry is the usual English Heritage fee of £4 for adults £3-40 concessions and £2-60 children. For this you have full access to the Medieval Fair and all activities and visits as well as seeing the crosier and ring and having tours of the building.
Medieval Fair at Furness Abbey 31 August from 10am to 4pm

Saturday, 6 July 2013

What British summertime should be like

Had a really lovely day today at Kirkby Gala. I was lucky enough to be invited by friends...not old friends...but good friends nevertheless...Patrick Corbett and Anne...who I met through a mutual passion for Furness Abbey. You sometimes meet people who you instantly connect with and its like you are already old friends-well these are two such people. They are generous and open, artistic and talented and powerfully imaginative. Together they provide art tuition and are incredible artists-I am in awe of their a Sunday painter...I can only admire. You can check out Patrick's website

I had a pitch today next to theirs and was fascinated to watch them creating amazing illuminated letters with a captivated audience of children. I was pleased to sell a lot of books today and engaged with many interesting people. I even saw some old friends...and met children who had the books already and was even asked to have my photo with a lovely young lady called Imogen. 

The whole day was delightful with all of the traditional things you would expect...cakes and tea, puppet shows, competitions, flowers, jam, local history, stalls and so much more...and even a stray Dalek-which made my grandson Noah's day! It was a brilliant day-community based and well supported-hats off to the organisers. Additonally, we had lots of publicity over the tannoy from Jonathan Lee (NWEM) telling people about the upcoming   Medieval Fair at Furness Abbey on 31 August! Lots of interest and a nice starter for my summer tour of fetes, fairs and galas...
Noah and the Dalek

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Everything you need to know about book signings...

Hello-long time no blog!-In short-completed K2B walk, got 7 year tankard,very busy, had shingles, had new grandchild, got another new time management skills!

I have been back on the road today signing books at one of my favourite Waterstones-Carlise! I always feel so welcome there and the staff are very supportive. In between signing I had a bit of head space and was able to untangle a few ideas and prepare for writing again...which has been impossible recently! I couldn't help but muse about the nature of signing...
me waiting for customers at Carlisle Waterstones todayVTech Kidizoom Twist Camera Blue (Google Affiliate Ad)VTech Kidizoom Twist Camera Pink (Google Affiliate Ad)Vivitar V20 2MP Digital Camera - Black (Google Affiliate Ad)Vivitar V5119 5MP Digital Camera - Black (Google Affiliate Ad)

You are sitting (usually) surrounded by copies of your book (s) in the middle of thousands of titles written by much more famous authors than you-intimidating in itself! You look at the shelves groaning under the weight of books of all shapes, sizes and genres-wondering how all these authors managed to gain a book deal...wondering how they market themselves...wondering-as you dont recognise many of their names how they get their book out there and tempt readers to buy...when you notice your first prospective customer.

They hover, smile nervously...then walk past...
Its fascinating watching the human being in all its guises.
There's the one who catches sight of you early on...sticks their head in the air and almost runs past...
Then there's the one in the cloak of invisibilty...they pretend they aren't there and refuse to give eye contact....
or you become invisible and this customer sails past, the air rippling with the speed of their transit past your table...
The old friend approach...a smile and a nod...enought o raise hope in your breast...and then they too walk by on the other side...but on returning...give you a silently mouthed goodbye and cute wave...
The tutter...glares at you, sneers at the book as he/she saunters past tutting with derision
The "Im not taking a leaflet-it may well infect me with plague" attitude... engages in conversation...asks all about the book...enquires about the career...the success...the genre...and says either "Oh kids books/dont have anyone that age/dont like fantasy etc" or "ok thak you-well done"
Next...the roadrunner...on track to bump into your the last minute...veers off to the side, back or round another display to avoid you
Of course my particular favourite is the teaser...looks interested gives you eye contact and then leaves...but just as you lose hope...comes back and gets three copies signed for little Ethel, Fred and Cynthia...
Best of all...the dear old lady who takes your bookmark/leaflet, listens to the spiel and then says..."Have you got that book on Carlisle/ Barrow/ Crewe-or wherever?" You say-"Er no I dont work here Im an author signing theses books..." "Oh well Ill ask at the desk then!"
But better still the person who chats, looks interested, takes the leaflet, gets a book and really engages with you as a want to swop emails and keep in touch! ready for a roller coaster of emotions, hope, pleasure, irritation, surprise, gratitude...and enjoy! Human nature in all its glory!

Friday, 3 May 2013

Countdown to 47th Keswick to Barrow Walk


Busy week ahead-meeting re some FAF business...all very exciting, work and writing and then sorting our wonderful K2B teams out for Saturday. This will be a challenge with 80 walkers-drinks, first aid, food and transport...and ID tags and t shirts to be given out.

K2B or Keswick to Barrow Walk is a fantastic charity event home-grown here in Barrow! Its been going for 46 years-47 this year and has raised phenomenal amounts yet is not well known away from Furness and Cumbria. I will be attempting my 8th walk and if I complete will have 7 under my belt! It sounds a long way and it is! Its 40 miles of undulating, hard lake-land terrain-taking in some of the most beautiful countryside along the way. At one point it rises over 1000 feet and we are privileged to walk the full length of Coniston Water. Its hard, tiring and sometimes painful...but it is for good causes and local charities.

The feeling on the day is fantastic-the companionship, good nature and friendly buzz is electrifying and for one day at least one can reflect on how amazing and good hearted human beings are. The rewards are as many as you want-you can raise large amounts for your chosen charity or can donate into the generic pot. 

Money is shared to help local schools, groups, charities and larger causes like the Hospice, Alice Escapes and Motor Neurone Disease-ours is the lesser known Dystonia Society-a neurological condition. Our local group has had the privilege to receive money for our cause for about 12 years and we have had walkers or teams for 10. We have raised amazing amounts of sponsorship and this year have 2 Coniston to Barrow teams and 5 Keswick to Barrow teams. Its a fantastic day and everyone gets out what they put in...but at the end of the day it is fun, challenging and hugely gratifying-which is why I keep on doing it.

Monday, 22 April 2013

Dreamers, sillyhearts and toddlers

Just when you think you won't be political any more and just when you think this government cannot prove they are any more out of touch with reality than we first thought...they prove you wrong! 

This new haridan-Elizabeth Truss...yes I know she sounds like a Roald Dahl character...but she is a Childcare Minister of our "elected" government-has announced with stunning clarity and understanding of the development of the child-that "chaotic’ pre-schools that allow children to do what they want all day long, leaving them unable to sit still and listen by the time they get to primary school". Not content with this staggering claim she added 
"many nurseries were filled with toddlers ‘running around with no sense of purpose’. 
Well pardon me for noticing-but "toddlers" are normally between the age of 2 and 3...even 4...what exactly does she think they should be doing? 

Obviously, don't take my word for it...I have only had twenty years teaching experience-a lot of it in Early Years (to Y2) -oh and have reared 3 kids of my own...and worked in Toddler groups...and now am helping to look after Noah our 3 year old grandson... However, I would hate to suggest that these things make me more knowledgeable or skilled than Ms Truss but what a load of...sheep's testicles to suggest that infants under 4 should do anything less than what they want...if you can't do what you want at 2 when can you? 

As for manners-these are developmental and require good role models at home for starters-then the nursery/school can add to it...What two and three year do you know who can get it right all the time? My grandson has been taught please and thankyou-but -being 3 has to have a gentle reminder sometimes. Unruly? Yes! Isn't that a developmental stage we all went through? Terrible twos and all that? Perhaps Truss was swaddled (tightly I hope) till she was five and made to learn tables by rote...but most kids in "child centred education" (novel idea that-wonder why that's never been tried?) learn through exploration, experience and they try out their emotions on each other, fight-learn the rudiments of sharing, fight, race round, fight, laugh, cry...they are not the complete article...that happens a lot later normal kids! Obviously those with nannies, prep schools etc are not quite as lucky-I generalise...but you get what I mean!

This isn’t about two-year-olds doing academic work – it’s structured play which teaches children to be polite and considerate through activities which the teacher is clearly leading,’ she said. Well goodo! I actually think that this is what most nurseries do...but also they have to skip along doing the prescriptive curriculum packing their little minds with all kinds of stuff...has this woman been in a real nursery? Would she know a toddler if she met one? Should we all rethink Early Years Education?

I for one will be chastising my grandson daily and ensuring he says hello when I enter the room-maybe I can get him to doff his cap as well at the same time! I will instruct his erring parents to purchase a back brace so his posture is correct and we must immediately cure him of his spiteful left-handedness! As for all this running round with lack of purpose-well clearly we must beat this out of him! And at the same time I must prevent my son from taking him out to look at the moon and stars and him being able to identify a picture of planet earth at 2! Obviously when I drive him past Furness Abbey I must stop him shouting "our abbey Grandma! My daddy worked there and they got treasure out!" It would be best too to stop him uselessly memorising stories like the Grufallo and retelling it page by page-he might be too unruly! 

And as for those "graduate" level teachers who should be in charge in nurseries...perhaps when the government start to pay graduate level pay for Nursery leaders, teachers and Teaching Assistants. But no-what they want is subservient, dull, unimaginative teachers who toe the line-delivering something akin to the Dame School education of the 19th century to children until they reach 14. We wouldn't want them to get all aspirational and think they could achieve anything other than the basic and mundane! Starve the imagination and feed them facts that they will never use-and you will have a docile and malleable nation! Perfect! And then they can start on the NHS...oh hang on...but lets face it...a hospital is easier to run when all the patients are asleep...or dead!

Unruly use of water

Running around without purpose

a chaotic nursery setting?

Monday, 25 March 2013

Easter events and a positive future

Ive been busy today ploughing through a mound of paperwork to enable Furness Abbey fellwoship to put on a summer event somewhere very special. As with everything it requires risk assessment in triplicate, plans, rules....etc. I think I have got it covered now-but we will see tomorrow! Can't say more yet...but watch this space.

Its quite exciting because we are on the brink of lots of new ideas and activities which we hope will help to raise the profile of the abbey. We will be at the Abbey Mill on Easter Sunday from 12 and we will be selling memberships, quizzes and raffle tickets. We have some wonderful prizes worth winning-so do come and see us!

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Past the sell by date?

Its been a funny old week...two years! Reaching the grand old age of 55 has been quite a revealation. In my early 30s...many moons ago when we lived in Thatcher's 80s London I remember seeing a documentary about people not quite old enough to retire who had been made redundant. It seemed a bit unreal and with the arrogance of youth I secretly thought "that could never happen to me". However, I do remember some poor chap in his 50s breaking down in tears and saying it had ruined his life losing his job and he would never work again. 

Well fast forward to I am in my mid 50s and my worst nightmare has come true. I and my colleagues were made redundant in 2011 -victims of the first tranche of government cut backs. The Local Authority took the chance to axe us too-with little or no reflection whether ours was a service which should be kept. My principle feeling was anger, but as time progressed that deepened and became bitterness and sadness.

Naturally, I applied for many jobs, part time and otherwise, as well as going on the supply list. Two colleagues-one ten years my junior and one a youngster of 24 both found jobs fairly quickly-thank goodness. My other work friend and I did not-both of us in our 50s and female. We have worked together through a small new business we set up and although we have work it is providing us with incomes very much less than we are both used to. Additionally, it is not secure and we both top up with casual posts and part time bits and pieces.

So we have become part of the Tory brave new world of the "flexible and part time workforce" which they champion as a triumph and suggest that we should all be happy to have any work. We have to fight hard for any work and it feels like spinning gold from straw sometimes as we have been very creative and skillful in finding small contracts herand there. Better than being on the dole...infinitely better...but not ideal.

However, it does seem a catch 22 situation as on one hand we are being told we must work longer...and on the other we are evidently superfluous in the jobs market because of age! So tell does that work? I can see youngsters must have jobs, but actually we oldies would quite like one too! And what about the qualifications-hard earned over years, skills and experience? Do they count for nothing? Are they not useful in the employment arena? Obviously not! So its onwards with the self driven, self employed "career"-what other option is there? Can't help thinking though that our talents are being squandered and that this is a big mistake!

Friday, 1 March 2013

An appealing story

 There is some good news for Furness Abbey as identified in the above article. Work is continuing to repair and support the structure and it is necessary to save the integrity of the abbey. English Heritage have done a magnificent job over the last few years and must have spent bucket loads of cash to do so. They often come under a lot of criticism for various reasons-some possibly justified, but their efforts to preserve Furness Abbey have been amazing and entirely necessary and do them credit. 

Our poor old abbey has looked increasingly dilapidated and shabby over recent years and it has not been helped with the mess made by flooding. Hopefully, with the ongoing conservation work it will improve and return to its beautiful self. 

So why is it important to secure the future of the abbey and what problems face it in the future?

Its important because it is one of the most significant abbeys in the UK. It was the second largest and richest abbey after Fountains Abbey. It was extremely powerful and influential politically in its day and made its mark on how Furness grew and developed. It was additionally the first of the large abbeys to be targeted by Henry V111 for Dissolution-he saw its financial potential and lost no time in liquidising the assets; from the lead on the roof to the furnishings and plate and of course selling off the huge tracts of land belonging to Furness Abbey.

Aesthetically, it is breathtakingly beautiful, spiritual and inspirational. It was written about by Wordsworth and painted by Turner-what more of an accolade could it have? 

There is a school of thought that supports the gradual decline and decay of such buildings-returning it to the natural state. There are some people who believe it to be a waste of resources and time conserving such a building. However, locally, it is very important to the people of Barrow. Everyone you speak to has a story about their connection with the abbey and judging by the numbers of people who take the Green Way path up in to the valley where the abbey sits, it is still a popular place to walk to. 

However, fixing the infrastructure is not enough! Why? Visitor numbers have fallen dramatically over the years and in comparison to other local attractions it does not seem to have held its "kerb appeal". does...the biggest problem is that visitors remain outside of the fence, because as anyone who knows the abbey will tell you-you don't need to go inside to view it. Dozens of amateur...and not so amateur photographers hang over the fence at weekends when weather permits and snap happily away. So what's the  problem? Well-if you're outside, you're not paying to get in. If you're not going in no visitor number is recorded. If you aren't going in, you aren't paying. Add to this residents of Barrow who can apply for a yellow exemption card to get in free-then again-no payments. All of which means that EH are losing essential revenue to help to restore the site. Again calculate the massive revenue cut back they have suffered and you don't have to be a mathematician to see that they need help!

This is where we come in. Furness Abbey Fellowship were established to support the abbey and reverse the decline by promotion, events and improving the visitor experience. We are on the job and have a few events planned already-but we need the public's help. If everyone who reads this joined FAF, donated £1, bought a quiz, came to the Easter event at Abbey Mill, we would be on our way to improving things.

We have also launched a new large appeal to help to fund a special and secure display unit for the abbot's treasure when it returns. We initially want to raise £6,000 but are hoping to raise enough for the whole gallery and the security which is needed to protect the artefacts. This in itself will attract visitors from far and wide-just as it did in the weekend last year when it was temporarily displayed. Numbers for that weekend were an amazing 1,500. 

We are planning events and activities and want to add to the resources in the abbey to make it a pleasant and more stimulating visit. We want to buy golf umbrellas-because most of the site is outside. We aim to produce interpretation boards to show people more clearly what they are looking at. We hope to integrate activities like a Herb Trail so visitors can interact with the site. The list goes on to be honest and this is a long term task, without a quick fix. We can only do this with funding, donations and support from the public!

If you wish to contact us please email us at

or by phone - 07527 996 432 or find us on twitter and facebook

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Furness Abbey Fellowship New Membership Scheme

Half term never works out as you plan it! Mine has flown past and although I have caught up with some things I needed to do, I still need about another week! The weather has been strange -not knowing what to do and I don't think that helps with mood-swings.

I have been busy planning marketing strategy and reaffirming my intentions as an author! Lots to do and none of it writing my book unfortunately! I will endeavour to pick it up very soon. On top of this I have masses of stuff for Furness Abbey Fellowship which never seems to end-lots of paperwork and red tape! But it will be worth it in the end! We have lots of fundraising activities coming up soon and we have launched our membership details-anyone can join but schools are free.
We have also launched an appeal for funding a display cabinet to house the Abbot's treasure when it finally returns. We would like to raise more than the initial target of £6,000 as it would be fantastic to help to provide a gallery. We are working closely with English Heritage and hope that this partnership will be very beneficial to the rehabilitation of Furness Abbey. Do have a look and if you would like to join or donate please get in touch.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

And now for something completely different

I know I do rant on a bit from time to time (listens for a volley of protesting voices) but this week I really do feel the need to rant and shout and possibly scream! The reason...the decision by the local hospital Trust to downgrade and essentially remove Special Care and Consultant led pregnancy care from Furness General Hospital as from Tuesday. There have been numerous issues around maternity services for months if not years and these have culminated in this very unexpected decision. Even the hospital staff and GP Commissioning body did not know about this decision until it was announced at a meeting on Tuesday.

Anyone who know Barrow-in-Furness will realise that removing services to Lancaster is a horrendous and worrying action. We have a large town, many outlying rural communities all concentrated at the tip of a very long peninsula. Lancaster on a good  day is 45 minutes away and is reached by one road-the notorious A590. It is a great road until there is an accident, bad weather or major congestion and then it becomes "the longest cul-de-sac in the world!" Recently, when we had snow, people were stranded on Lindale Hill for upwards of 5 hours, just one example of what can go wrong. If there are road works delays can last for hours and there is no alternative route-unless of course you possess a hovercraft to speed you along the bay to Lancaster. This then poses a major problem for pregnant ladies-in labour and with complications. It will not just be an inconvenience... it could be the difference between life and death.

The outcomes from this decision are far reaching and although it is supposedly temporary, one does have concerns that it may lead to a permanent solution. There is a health and safety issue due to staff illness at Barrow (apparently as a result of the long term investigation into the deaths of some babies and the ongoing police investigation many of the staff are succumbing to stress). This is how the Trust are justifying their decision; because low staffing levels might result in high risk to mothers and babies. However, the question must be asked...why are staffing levels so low-beyond the illness issue? The answer, in my humble opinion -because the service has been run down, under-funded, under-staffed for years, resulting in staff stress, overwork and low morale. Obviously, the investigations (though totally justified) will have no doubt exacerbated this situation. So why have the Trust not recruited, staffed and trained more people for these crucial  and specialist roles to avert such a disaster? Probably because of cut-backs and government "fat trimming"  and unrealistic targets! Its time that essential services were exempt from this bean counting culture that rules every aspect of public sector service! 

If x costs y then stop telling us that z will do! It patently WON'T do and we all pay enough National Insurance and Tax to demand that our money is spent properly, used efficiently and put where its needed! Streamline the services yes-but (and I am sorry to single out a section of workers) trim the administration, the people who spend their day wandering about carrying important looking files under their arms, get rid of the high cost management-who obviously aren't "managing", cut down on cross county travel, stop meetings to decide on meetings to ....well you get what I mean! But most of NOT keep "re-aligning","re-organising" and changing things for change sake! Its a waste of money, its rarely effective and its very bad for staff morale!

Now back to the dilemma! The Trust need immediately to obtain trained staff from somewhere-no matter what cost and they need to embark on a plan which staffs the hospital correctly to meet the needs of a very isolated community-which already has a second class provision of almost everything-and even extend a bit beyond the minimum levels and have staff to take up the shortfall when needed.

I myself am past child-bearing (big sigh of relief from Mr J) but I have friends who are not,   family members who are not and anyway-I do care about my fellow Barrovians. They deserve a top class service, where everything is done to procure a safe delivery for all. I know only too well what it is to lose a child-both in the early stages of pregnancy, but also at full term and it is not an experience I would recommend. I would additionally not wish to see others have to go through this-particularly if it is due to managerial incompetence, lack of resources, inadequate staffing or bad planning. So, the main focus of this blog today is who ever you are...please do support this cause and sign the petition and if you are local, please join in and add your voice to hundreds of others by uploading video about your experience or why you object to the removal of services from Furness General Hospital. Email your video to

my precious baby with Grandma and Grandad-born 9-12-93 FGH

My precious grandson with Mummy and Daddy born by C-Section 5-8-09 at FGH

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Dreaded marketing, ICT and social media

Google page? Google community, circles, hangouts...all new to me and as incomprehensible as Stephen Hawking's theory of everything!However you can't say I don't try...despite my age and lack of skill in these matters. I pride my self in being an erudite facebooker and tweeter and I am even Linkedin...but I must say Google+ is a mystery! I can't seem to see who is on there or how one extends the reach... but I do feel I should have a go! I have therefore set up a page Out of Time;Gill do please visit it!

As I have often said before I hate marketing and constantly put off that which must be done in the name of self promotion-after all if I don't do it who will? It takes me away from writing...the real writing...not blogging etc and I am never clear how much difference it actually makes. I am still waiting for something to g viral and I am in awe of the authors who cleverly have a full catalogue of bookings, constant and massive sales and mentions in despatches in significant publications! I am doing quite nicely thank you, but I feel I'm not reaching the parts other authors seem to reach. Or are they just even better at presenting a positive image than I am?

I have a great following of kids and adults alike who wait for the next book and stay connected, I can find myself on google for at least 26 pages, I have had no negative reviews, I go into schools regularly so I guess it must be ok. However, I am an impatient soul and would like to take things to the next level...viral at least! I am not sure what more to do... whether it is because I am placed in the northwest and am therefore isolated geographically and certainly disposable income here is not what it is down south! I have mused over this issue for a while but I am still unsure how effective social networking actually is... did Beatrix Potter have the same self doubt I wonder?  And she wasn't even on Facebook! 

On the positive side..I actually finished another chapter of The Cistercian Conspiracy last night!

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Massaging the curriculum

Well they have done it again-those incredible Tories and their shape-shifter friends the Lib-Dems! Using education to re-engineer society and promulgate their medieval ideology! I am incandescent with rage this evening...annoying because I had had a good day today! What I am furious about is the leaked information about the new history curriculum!

Unbelievably, Gove in his infinite wisdom is decreeing that such female icons as Florence Nightingale and Mary Seacole are removed in preference for heroic male leaders like Winston Churchill and Horatio Nelson! While I have no problem with either of those esteemed gents...both iconic in their own way.Nelson was an innovative sailor, tactician and military leader-who refined some practices in the brutal navy and was by all accounts an excellent admiral (albeit that he suffered from chronic sea sickness). Churchill-an excellent and innovative wartime leader, tactician, historian and writer (we must overlook his Tory politics-though he did start out as a liberal-not to be confused with the current toady, vacillating turncoats we have today. So in my book-both worthy of historical attention and a place in school history books-BUT...not at the expense of the few female role models in there!

Nightingale was a revolutionary-even though she came from a privileged background, she was remarkable because she refused to accept the role assigned to her by the Victorian white male society and kicked over the traces to make nursing respectable, reform hospital conditions, introduce hygiene and sanitation (despite missing a water source riddled with cholera in Scutari hospital) introduce the "profession" and training for nurses. She worked tirelessly and died at a grand old age after setting up the first nursing school in ST Thomas' hospital...she dedicated her life to nursing, when she could have instead had a life of leisure. She was NOT perfect-as her treatment of Mary Seacole showed, but her sensibilities were honed by the society she was brought up in, but she presents a better role model for girls than many on display in Celebrity-jungle-Xfactor-on ice and the like!

Mary Seacole is a perfect example of tenacity, drive and overcoming adversity-challenging the role assigned to her by white Victorian male society (seeing the pattern here?) She was a mixed race Jamaican woman, sired by a Scottish soldier. Her mother was a Jamaican woman who practised herbal medicine-she taught Mary how to nurse. Mary volunteered (after paying her own passage to England) to work with Florence Nightingale's nurses in the Crimea. She was rejected as unsuitable-because of her race and class-Florence must accept some responsibility for this-though the male army Doctors will have have had the casting vote! This would deter most people but not Mary-she packed her bag put on her red bonnet and under her own steam took herself to the front in the Crimea. She organised makeshift rest centres-staffed them, nursed soldiers...and actually risked life and limb by taking help to the injured and dying-in the midst of battle! All this was done freely and at her own expense-she set up the British Hotel to fund bandages and medicine etc. She almost died in penury-but supported by some of of the very soldiers she helped to save she ended her life comfortably. She was eventually recognised and given similar acclaim to Florence.

We need more females from history who have made a difference...Emmeline Pankhurst, Annie Kenney et al...and many others! I imagine that Gove believes a woman's place is in the home and that his role models will principally be men! This government seems intent in returning us to the past in more ways than one! What better way to do it than to skew the historical teaching in schools? We can have little boys turning into chauvinists all over again! What a Brave New World we will have!

Friday, 4 January 2013

New year, new start, new challenge

2013 Hopefully the connotations of the number 13 will not set the tone for this year! I am busy writing and re-organising as well as attempting to be more organised in the marketing department-a tall order! I have a number of bookings for the next few months which is heartening, but need to work on reaching a much wider audience. If only this side of things was a easy and enjoyable as the writing process.

I am also in negotiation with English Heritage over a number of issues, including the disastrous effects of the recent flooding. Whatever the rights and wrongs-opinions vary massively-urgency/frequency/damage etc we do need to assess what can be undertaken to improve the situation because a soggy, messy abbey will attract no new visitors and could even put off future guests. Furness Abbey Fellowship have some exciting ideas and are planning events for the spring and summer, as well as looking for some funding to support these. Our membership scheme will be launched later this month and we are applying for charitable status which will hopefully be completed soon. The task of rehabilitating the abbey is a huge one and is going to take considerable effort and time to facilitate-but we are all committed to seeing this through. You can join our Facebook Group and Fan Page  below

or follow us on Twitter @FAFellowship

 However, back to the writing! I am still endeavouring to acquire more reviews for the online sites like Waterstones, Google Books and Amazon and of course Troubador Publishing. I have none for Raven's Hoard and would welcome any reviews posted or sent to me. I hope to travel farther and wider this year in order to develop the reader base and I am available for a variety of events-just let me know if you would like me to visit.

Lastly, do follow me on Twitter-@gilljep and visit my facebook page and click Like on - 

and take a look at the updated website-

and take a peek at this great blog too

Hopefully, it will be a busy and productive year...all the best for 2013

Iron Shepherds re-enactment and living history group