Durham Book Festival 2017

This week’s post is about books and their authors, who are all women, as it happens. Writing about the City of Durham (I live just four miles from the city centre) and about the surrounding area, is a feature of this blog. (See some examples here, here, here, here and here).

Over the last ten days I’ve been at three events in this year’s Durham Book Festival – and of course I’ve got the bag. (I do like a thick, well-printed calico bag!)

Durham Book Festival 2017 calico bag

I was organised and booked tickets as soon as the brochure came out. Prompt arrival at my first event afforded me a front row seat just feet away from the great Jenni Murray, presenter of Woman’s Hour on BBC Radio 4 in the UK.  She was as direct, interesting and entertaining in person, on stage, as she is on live radio. What a privilege! Jenni was talking about her book A History of Britain in 21 Women: A Personal Selection and was encouraged to read extracts in her rich voice. I can only describe it as having a ‘caramel’ quality to it, if you have never heard her speak.She mentioned a compliment she had once been given on having ‘a well-stocked mind’; there was strong evidence of this on this occasion – I’m about to buy the book, I’m so looking forward to it.


The next event was a morning one – with coffee and cake, no less – and the interviewee was Rachel Joyce. She is an accomplished radio drama writer, but my first introduction to her novels was  The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, which was given to me as a birthday present. It’s an engaging, unusual and moving story, which prompted me to then read the associated title Perfect, The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy, (Queenie is a character in the first book). Queenie is located here in the North-East of England – an added bonus. In the session, Rachel was speaking about – and reading from – her new novel The Music Shop. I have not read it yet, and the event was carefully constructed so as to entice the reader in, without giving away too much of the plot. The music shop owner was introduced and we learned that he sought to help and heal his customers with suggestions of music that they needed to listen to. It is clear that this new book will demand reading and listening skills…


And finally, I heard Harriet Harman interviewed by Anita Sethi about her autobiography A woman’s work. I’d heard her interviewed about it on Woman’s Hour (see above!) and was delighted to see her in person talking about the extensive and dramatic changes in women’s lives in political and economic spheres. She spoke convincingly yet modestly about her own involvement in fighting for change. I bought the book!



And in Other News…

this first print proof arrived from Spoonflower this week:

'The Reef' tea towel design by Amanda Jane Textiles

It’s a tea-towel featuring watercolour paintings of some of the beautiful fish to be found on the reefs around Australia. The fabric is a linen-cotton mix and four tea-towels can be made from a linear yard, as the width is 54″. You can see it here.



Small business 7 – Raggy Robin

Sharon Robins Oct 17.jpg

This week, for the seventh in this series of interviews with (female) small business owners, I am very happy to be talking to my friend Sharon Robins, who owns a business located in the City of Durham (UK). Sharon and I are members of the same quilt group, so I have been privileged to see the development of her business at first hand.

What is the name of your business?      Raggy Robin


When did it start?     May 2015. (My Etsy shop began in 2014.)


Why did you decide to start a business?

I wanted to work in a creative career, which I wasn’t doing before. I wanted to incorporate my teaching training as well.


 What jobs had you done before?

I worked in the NHS for 12 years, in retail, in a factory, doing office jobs, I cleaned houses and worked behind the bar in pubs and clubs. It was never fulfilling – that thing where you want to get out of bed on a morning.


 Tell me a bit about the business?

I had an environmental background. I wanted to do something that would bring in the idea of ‘think globally, act locally’. I can help people locally to recycle and re-purpose. I write appliqué patterns, encouraging people to re-cycle or even use the tiniest bits of fabric, hence the name ‘Raggy Robin’.  In the shop, I have the saying ‘Your aim in life is to find your passion and your purpose in life is to share it’. My ‘Patch Club’ started with the idea of using just small pieces.


 What things have been difficult for you in setting up/running your business?

Doing everything yourself, when you are a one-man band: shopping, cleaning, accounts, serving in the shop, teaching, running the website, answering every email.


 What would you say to someone in the early stages of setting up a business?

Don’t have all your eggs in one basket! You must have multiple sources of income.


What is the best thing about working for yourself?

I just love the freedom and the creativity. I can just invent something, make something new, invent a new stitch, host a sewing party if I want to.


This is the last of the Small Business interviews for the moment. You can find the previous six here, here, here, here, here and here.



And in other news…

My cot quilt pattern ‘I Spy A…’ appears in the current edition of Quilt Now.


It’s a colourful quilt that uses novelty prints set in a maze-like trail – lots for a young child to look at. You can find the pattern on page 84 of Issue 41, which looks like this: