Category Archives: Inspiration

A Love Letter to The Garsdale Retreat

When my friend Stephanie encouraged me to attend her writing retreat at the Garsdale Retreat, I decided it was a good time to concentrate on my own writing and that this would give me the ideal opportunity – away from distractions and the pressures of every day life. 

As the time grew nearer, I began to get cold feet. I’ve always suffered from homesickness to varying degrees and I was concerned at being away from home for four nights. It must sound silly but it’s the truth. 

My journey there was particularly dramatic but that’s a story for another time. Once I arrived at the retreat – thanks to the help of the wonderful Rebecca and Hamish from the retreat, a resident of Garsdale called Paul and Mr Middleton, a farmer – I was greeted like an old friend, even by the women I’d never met before. 

One of my concerns about the retreat was the menu. It’s a fully catered place with all of the meals being vegetarian with some fish and I am a fussy eater (although I am way better than I used to be). However, Rebecca’s home cooking was a total delight. We were treated to home-baked biscuits and cakes every morning and afternoon. The meals themselves were amazing – the variation and flavours never ceased to amaze me. We had all sorts from soup to pasta, Indonesian stews to salads. I even brought a couple of recipes home! 

Another concern I had was whether I could actually write. One of the first exercises Stephanie asked me to do was highlight the things I was good at, where I wanted to be and what I needed to do to get there – that was so challenging and I had to ask for advice on what to put as achievements. OnceStephanie reminded me about the awards I’d won, the MA I have and the support I provide others, I was able to see the value in what I do.

Each day was structured perfectly, with two workshops in the morning then in the afternoon independent writing, one-to-one tutorials and the opportunity to drop in for some advice and guidance if required. We came together every evening for a pre-dinner drink and chat in front of the log fire. I tumbled into bed each evening full of delicious food and exhausted from thought-provoking discussions with like-minded people. 

I woke every morning to a beautiful view and enjoyed being able to go for a short walk in the fresh air at least once a day. 

On the day where we had a brief field trip to the train station up the road, Rebecca drove those of us who couldn’t manage the hill – yet another example of what incredible hosts she and Hamish were. When our cars were covered with snow on the morning that we were due to leave, Hamish was out there sweeping the snow away so that we could drive home safely. 

Stephanie was an incredible facilitator and, despite having participants at different stages in their writing, every exercise challenged and encouraged us in equal measure. The amount of resources and stationery were mind-boggling. From the ‘washing line of wisdom’, filled with quotes about writing, to the envelopes we were encouraged to leave messages for one another in, Stephanie had every base covered. 

On our final evening, we were encouraged to create our writing manifestoes. Here’s mine: 

I think it shows how much of an impact the time I spent at the Garsdale Retreat on my writing – and my self-esteem. 

Stephanie encouraged us to take a quote from the washing line of wisdom which resonated with us, then we shared them after dinner on our final evening. She then gave us another one that, to me, seemed hand picked for each of us. As each person read their quotes, I found my eyes filling up. But that was nothing compared with my reaction when I opened my envelope on returning home. I only spent four days with these women but the messages they had left for me filled me with joy and love. 

So, inspired by the retreat – and mainly Rebecca’s baking – I baked a cake while adopting the Agatha Christie method of plotting (allowing the mind to roam while occupying yourself with a completely unrelated task). 

I missed my husband, and wished he was there with me, but I didn’t feel homesick because Garsdale felt like home. 

Garsdale Retreat inspired me in so many ways: it reminded me of the innate kindness of people, the healing power of food and how, even when you don’t believe in yourself, there is always someone who does.

Vic x

Another proud day

For my birthday this year, one of my best friends bought me a scrapbook and told me to fill it with fabulous things that happened. At the time, a house purchase had just fallen through (costing us rather a lot of money) and I’d recently been made redundant. I knew my friend’s gift came from a wonderful, encouraging place but I did wonder at the time what the I’d put in this bloody scrapbook, now I’m worried I’m going to run out of pages!

No doubt you’ll read about all of my happy moments in my review of 2016 (it’ll be here before we know it) but I just had to blog about one thing in particular while it’s fresh in the memory. Last year, I wrote about how proud I was at being nominated for Woman of the Year in my Slimming World group. Well, last night, I won it.

Woman of the year

It’s funny how things turn out.

Vic x

Never give up…

As I took a trip through Newcastle today, I noticed that it was graduation day. I watched students in their caps and gowns, taking selfies and celebrating the end of an era.

Strolling through the beautiful campus of my alma mater, Newcastle University, I thought back to my own graduation day eight years ago. It was I day I never thought I’d see.

I was twenty-one when I finally went to uni. I’d had three years in ‘the real world’, earning some money and doing another A-Level, and during that time I’d decided I wanted to train to be a teacher.

Despite a hand injury which left me unable to write, I quite enjoyed the first terms. Uni was so different to anything I’d experienced before and I met two wonderful girls who, to this day, remain my best friends.

By March of my first year, though,  I was ready to quit. I’d failed a History assessment and was wracked with self-doubt. I remember vividly those fraught days as I struggled to make a decision on what to do. I was terrified of failure. I felt that staying on at uni could equal complete failure. What if I flunked the first year completely? What if they kicked me out? It didn’t occur to me at the time that all my other marks were really rather good. Another thought that occurred to me, though, was that quitting would be a definite failure in my eyes.

I don’t remember how I came to a decision. I don’t remember how I overcame those wicked gremlins. But I did. Staying might mean failure, quitting definitely would.

With the support of my parents and some of the academic staff, I decided to streamline my degree from Combined Studies to Media, Communication and Cultural Studies. I never looked back.

As my undergraduate days drew to a close, I began to consider what to do next. That summer, I read more books than I had done in years (apart from academic books, of course). Some were inspiring in the traditional sense. Others made me think: ‘I could do that’. Around the same time, I was given a place on the Chronicle’s Young Reviewer of the Year scheme. Not only was this a fantastic outlet – giving me ‘a reason’ to write and deadlines to meet – but it also gave me the confidence I needed to look into Masters degrees in Creative Writing.

As we queued outside the ceremonial hall on graduation day, a course-mate asked what my plans were, I answered: ‘I’m going to be a writer’. That moment is crystallised in my memory and every year, when I see loved ones in all their finery and graduates with their capes blowing in the wind, I’m reminded of that conversation. And when I think back on that conversation, I stand a little taller and remind myself that I made it happen. I am a writer, just as I said I would be.

I graduated in 2010 with a Masters in Creative Writing. And again in 2014 with a Post-Graduate Certificate in Education. I hope to get a doctorate one day. And all this from a girl who almost dropped out six months in because of the voices in her head telling her she wasn’t clever enough.

Don’t ever give up.

Vic x

Joy in the Car

Sorry to interrupt these wonderful 2015 reviews (thanks to Andrew for taking part today) but I’d like to introduce readers of this blog to a new initiative I’m undertaking.

While undergoing some coaching with the lovely Nicola Sokell today, I committed to doing at least one thing for myself every day. I made a list of things that make me happy. Those things include:

  • Driving in the countryside with The Boy Wonder
  • Spending time with my friends, laughing
  • Achieving things
  • Putting on writing events for other people to share their work with a wider audience
  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Singing in the car

I also agreed to try journalling, which I’ve never really done before.

After my session with Nicola today, I decided to give singing in the car a go because I saw it as a ‘quick win’ today – I was already out and about, why not try to gee myself up with some singing? It was not as easy as I hoped. I became worried that I was over-thinking something that usually brought me joy and therefore ruining it.

However, after a haircut and a change of perspective, I got back in the car and decided to just let it happen. And it worked. I arrived home feeling buoyant and cheerful.

I have a tendency to start things for myself and then let them fall by the wayside. I don’t want my daily joy to disappear and so, to this end, I have decided to post on social media every day so that you guys can keep me on track. I plan to post my favourite song of each day under the hashtag #joyinthecar on Facebook and Twitter. Feel free to get involved, comment on the videos or post your own. Please help me stay on track with this!

Vic x

Upcoming event: Nepal Earthquake Benefit Gig – Friday, 8th May.

Benefit gig

The wonderful folks at Danusha have arranged a benefit gig in support of the Nepal Earthquake Disaster Relief Fund. 

Today, I have Allison Davies, part of the Danusha team, to talk about Nepal and why she and her wonderful colleagues have arranged this event. 

Thanks for taking the time to speak to me today. What’s your link with Nepal? 

Back in 2008, I took a holiday and went to visit my friends Mike and Sue Lavender who were living and working in Nepal. They have a long history with the country beginning when Sue was 12 years old, as her parents worked at a hospital in Pokhara for a year. Sue met Mike and after he finished his medical training, he and Sue went off to work at a Leprosy Hospital. Since then, they’ve spent many years in Nepal, coming home for a time in the mid-90s for their kids’ schooling and with an adopted Nepali daughter.

In 2007, their children were all grown up so off they went again, this time to work with Nepal Leprosy Trust – hence my visit in 2008. I’d seen photos and heard plenty of stories, but nothing quite prepares you for the sheer beauty of the Nepali landscape, not to mention the country’s many stunning historic landmarks. Factor in the people who are warm, friendly and hospitable and I had no chance. I decided to do everything I could to get back to a place that was completely under my skin. It was the beginning of a life-long love affair.

So, tell us about Danusha.

There’s a saying, be careful what you wish for. Fast forward to 2010 and Sue, myself and another friend Katy Barr were in the process of setting up a small fair trade social enterprise – Danusha – working with marginalised women to provide skills training in jewellery making, alongside some simple health and hygiene education and literacy classes. Our goal was simple. To empower these women to make a difference in their communities. At this point our knowledge of the jewellery business could have been written on the head of a fairly small pin. We learned fast, made plenty of mistakes but somehow the project grew. We’ve visited Nepal many times since that time and have been thrilled to see the transformation in the lives of the women who work for us.

At the end of March 2015, Sue and I had just returned from a workshop visit. We were tired, happy, inspired and looking forward to what the next few months would bring.

Some of the Danusha team

April 25th, 2015 was just an ordinary Saturday, or so I thought until I got into the car and turned on the radio. Quake day. Nepal’s ground zero, when the landscape shifted, buildings tumbled and thousands of lives were smashed to pieces. I spent the rest of the day online, desperately reading the reports that began to flood in and hoping for news about our team. I felt sick, cried a lot and couldn’t sleep that night. Sue and Mike were also grief-stricken. On Sunday, there was one question that wouldn’t go away: “What can we do? We can’t just sit here. There must be something.”  Lightbulb moment: a benefit gig. Maybe we could get 15 – 20 people in a room, have a few performers and raise some cash.

It’s a brilliant idea, I bet it’s been getting a great response. 

The response from friends and colleagues was overwhelming. Within a few days we had a venue, free of charge at the Berkeley Suite in Whitley Bay, and a ton of performers queuing up to get a slot on the bill. In the midst of a dreadful situation, these generous people have been a shining band of hope. Words can’t tell you how grateful we are at what our friends are willing to give.

And then the news came that all our team were safe. We were overjoyed, yet still struggling with the scale of what had happened and the aftermath. It grieves us to know that friends are sleeping outside in the rain with no shelter, no clean drinking water and with food supplies running out. Multiply that by the hundreds of thousands who are in the same position and worse, then get out of your seat and do whatever you can to help.

Danusha

What you guys are doing is brilliant. How do you feel now that you’re doing something?

Our gig is a small droplet in a gigantic ocean of need. We hope it will be a success and hope to help bring hope to a people who have lost theirs.

If you asked me to sum up the reason why I’m part of this, the answer is simple. I love Nepal and I’ll do anything to serve the country that stole my heart and inspired my soul.

Thanks Allison. Best of luck with the gig on Friday. 

Allison and her colleagues at Danusha are hoping to pack out the Berkeley Suite in Whitley Bay (9 Marine Avenue, NE26 1LY) this coming Friday, everyone is welcome.  It starts at 7pm and ends when we get kicked out! Please come prepared to have a good time and give generously. 

There’ll be great live music, poetry and stories from some of the north east’s finest; award-winning films from Beacon Hill Arts and a charity auction. The bar will be open and there will be snacks too. 

You can join the Facebook group here: https://www.facebook.com/events/1578209815801018/ 

Donations will go the relief effort via Oxfam GB.

2014: What will your year bring?

Yes, yes, I know it’s now the fourth of January and some people have already broken some of their resolutions.

Thanks to most of the participants that took part in my 2013 Reviews series, I realised that many people have recognised the futility in making New Year’s resolutions.

However, I prefer to think more in terms of goals and achievements than resolutions. In my experience, many of the promises we make to ourselves at the beginning of each year are negative and therefore seem almost impossible to achieve, setting the person up for a fall.

The question I’ve asked myself the last two years is: ‘Where would I like to be in 12 months?’ At the start of 2013, I decided I wanted to be a regular user of my gym and, although it hasn’t been easy, I am in a far fitter position than I was a year ago. You don’t need to share these aspirations with anyone if you don’t want to but I think it’s helpful to keep them in mind throughout the year, not just in January.

So: where do you want to be this time next year?

Vic x

Sharon Jones reviews her 2013.

Today, the super strong Sharon Jones is here to review her 2013. This year has been very significant for Sharon in many ways. You can read her blog at http://shazkira.wordpress.com/
Vic x
Sharon Jones
Do you have a favourite memory professionally?
March 2013 saw the end of my 15 year career with HMV. A bittersweet memory of having to tell my staff they no longer had jobs and how they all managed to keep smiling and working hard through the tears till the last minute of the last day. An honour to work with such strong individuals.
And how about a favourite moment from 2013 generally?
So many amazing memories. But the favourite has to be the 29th June 2013 when I married the man I love. We had a festival themed day which we named ‘Wedstock’. The old cliche is that it’s the happiest day of your life, well, it  totally was. I wish I could relive it over and over again.
Wedstock
Favourite book in 2013?
It was originally released in 1982 but I managed to find a copy this year and had a marvellous trip down memory lane.
Favourite film of 2013?
A latecomer to the party but I recently saw ‘Thor 2: The Dark World’ and it was fantastic. Almost as good as ‘Avengers Assemble’ but not quite. Still an awesome film and deserves many pats on backs.
Favourite song of the year?
Whilst thinking of a new 80’s set list for when I DJ at Envy in Romford next, I stumbled upon this absolute tune and then proceeded to listen to it on repeat for weeks. I originally heard a very sped up version in the 80’s classic ‘Girls just want to have fun’.
Any downsides for you in 2013?
Simultaneously losing my job and being diagnosed with cervical cancer was the lowest point in my life so far. It was a very challenging time as it felt like everything was falling apart. I am so very lucky that they caught it early enough to remove it successfully and just in time for me to be able to walk around and dance at my wedding. 
Article
Are you making resolutions for 2014?
No resolutions. I think we should all make changes when they are needed, not purely when a new year rings in.
What are you hoping for from 2014?
Health and happiness. I’d wish for money but I need to earn that. I think I’m due some of the former though.
If Santa was to bring you any one thing you wanted on Xmas morning, what would it be?
To wake up in my old bedroom and to have Christmas Day at my mum and dad’s just like when I was younger.