Border Lines

From London to Berwick: Culture shock? Oh, yes!

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Ghostly bridge

Misty Royal Border Bridge

Walking home from Berwick railway station after waving The Husband off to London, I turned the corner to see the magnificent Royal Border Bridge treading a ghostly path across the Tweed. I think you’ll agree it’s a surreal sight. Whenever I look at the bridge I think about its construction and the human stories locked in the ashlar along with the rubble that fills those mighty piers.

As one person who saw the picture on Twitter said: ‘Can imagine the ghostly figure of Mr Stephenson surveying his masterpiece.’ He’d probably have been accompanied by George Barclay Bruce who, at the tender age of 25, was the resident site engineer for the project. Robert Stephenson went to Barclay Bruce’s father’s school in Newcastle, so there was a family connection. George became Robert Stephenson’s apprentice at the age of 15. Robert Stephenson was engrossed in other projects – including being MP for Whitby – during the construction of the bridge.

The story of the building of the bridge is fascinating. It took just three years. But what an intense three years it must have been! There are tales of Irish navvies, who dug the foundations, running amok in Berwick. After the navvies had gone and the construction workers took over, there was often conflict between the company and the men whose pay was frequently delayed. There was a strike over the hated Tommy Tickets (paid instead of cash but only redeemable in the company Tommy Shops where inflated prices were charged for goods) which threatened to delay the project. Barclay Bruce battled with the tricky gravel substrate of the Tweed – traditional piling would not suffice and Nasmyth’s new pile driver was brought in and won the day. And, of course, there was a human cost – a fair number of workers fell to their death from the scaffolding and various other accidents brought tragedy to mainly local families – including that of two women hit by a train whilst they gathered coal in their skirts from along the tracks.

On August 29 1850 the royal train carried Queen Victoria into Berwick (a tad late). The whole town was pomped and pumped. A special viewing platform, built at the station, awaited Her Maj’s dainty foot. Queen Victoria was pleased to declare the bridge worthy to be called the Royal Border Bridge (rather than the Tweedmouth Viaduct as it was called during construction). On that day, the Queen spent eight minutes in total in Berwick. I often wonder if she gave a thought to all the people whose lives were shaped and changed forever by the building of the bridge.

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Words in my window: January

For Christmas I received a light box and set of letters. Statements or words, placed randomly or intentionally, can have surprising effects – from graffiti to art installations. I encountered Nathan Coley’s work ‘There will be no miracles here’ on New Year’s Eve 2016 and wrote about my response here.

I decided to place a kind of Christmas greeting in the front window of our house (which fronts on to the main drag here in Berwick-upon-Tweed and has become a de facto community noticeboard). And then I began to wonder what might happen if I put different statements up over a period of time? What responses might the statements (they have to be statements as there’s no question mark in the pack) elicit from passers-by?

My aim is to change the statements every week or so. Here are January’s words in my window:

And here’s the gen on responses so far:

I also used GLAD/TIDINGS/HERE & NOW as my post-Christmas pre-New Year greeting on this blog and Instagram and got thumbs up all round.

WHAT/LIES/AHEAD prompted one Facebook friend to respond: ‘Some from Trump, some from our politicians. Lots from the Daily Mail.’ Its placement (31st December) was quickly followed by the smashing of a lower window pane in the early hours of New Year’s Day – was there a connection?

NO REST/THEY/SAY perplexed some friends. Was it a biblical reference in response to the smashed window pane? Were they supposed to slip a word of encouragement through our letterbox?

I don’t really want to give guidance on what the statements mean. I’m not sure they mean anything other than what the viewer thinks they mean. Although some of the ambiguity is contrived by my choices, I am sure other ambiguities will derive from others’ interpretations.

Whatever the known and unknown responses of those who see these statements, I am enjoying placing them there. And, perhaps inevitably, I now find myself thinking about what the next words might be in a more purposeful and conscious way.

Home-made gyoza – get in!

With thanks to Tim Anderson’s JapanEasy – an inspired and inspiring book for any aspiring cooker of Japanese food. One change to his recipe: I had some rapidly crisping spring onions in the bottom of the fridge and used those instead of leek. The minced pork filling still tasted wonderfully authentic. These little darlings are time-consuming rather than difficult and worth every second! Don’t forget to factor in chilling time for the pancake dough – or you’ll end up with a very late lunch like me! I love the crispy bottom/soft top from the fry/steam combo. My only mistake was not making more.

homemade gyoza

 

#wemadeagame! Now you write it.

It’s not every day a professional poker player from Duns in Berwickshire contacts you out-of-the-blue to discuss your availability to collaborate on copy for a brand-new party game. But, pleasingly, that’s what happened to me when Dez Chisholm phoned me in May 2017.

Doing things you’ve never done before is one of the joys of being a copywriter and I was intrigued by my client’s potted and, in truth, slightly bamboozling account of his game, Awkward Stewations. Years ago, I wrote packaging copy for the Polly Pocket franchise. Coming up with fabulous stories and scenarios for tiny mermaids was a hoot and light relief against the corporate intensity of business-to-business and graduate recruitment copy – but just as deadly serious in terms of producing audience-ready copy. The party game Dez was developing with his American business partner, Mike, reminded me of that vibe. Awkward Stewations sounded great fun and the brief seemed tight enough: a bit of proofreading and some tidying of existing copy. However, when Dez and I met to discuss the project in more depth, I realised the task was substantially more ticklish. And way more interesting.

This slapstick, potentially raucous, party game is essentially straightforward to play but – like so many games – extraordinarily slippery to describe. Additionally, it can be played by a wide range of ages and will look and sound totally different when played by a family rather than by some buddies over a bevvy or three.

Awkward Stewations game and expansion packs

Game character, Ralph, stands proud on the Awkward Stewations box and some of the core and expansion card packs.

Clearly, we needed to establish a unique voice for Awkward Stewations that would work across all media and inform and entertain a broad listening or reading audience in the same way that playing the game would entertain them. However, before that could happen, we needed to agree exactly what the game was. I’m not going to describe the full details of the game here but please do head over to the Facebook page and website in due course to learn more about Awkward Stewations and the results of our creative cut-and-thrust. When Dez came to me, some of the style of Awkward Stewations was set. The illustrations had already been commissioned from Marc Badminton and Dez was working with a graphic designer/digital wizard, Harry Lang.

Here’s a bit more about the process of developing the game’s persona and voice across media.

Nailing the brief

The strapline for the game in those early days was ‘A role-play party game like no other’. I felt this wasn’t quite right in two ways. One: the phrase ‘like no other’, despite its assertion of originality, subliminally suggests that the game will just settle in alongside a range of similar games – which is not the case.  Two is more emphatic: it isn’t a ‘role-play’ game. Role-play is a whole technical genre in the gaming world and Awkward Stewations is not in that category.  Once we’d agreed these parameters, we started playing with straplines, and I started playing with the ‘How to play’ leaflet copy.

Awkward Stewations 'How to play' Leaflet

Dez’s handwritten draft of the ‘How to play’ leaflet and the final version.

Tone of voice

I wanted to establish a voice and house-style for Awkward Stewations that encapsulated its anarchic quality, and could be carried over to the other games Dez and his partner are developing. I homed in on a light, conversational style with self-consciously tongue-in-cheek asides which included the audience in the joke whilst poking gentle fun. Dez felt this was in-tune with his wider ambitions and the specifics of Awkward Stewations. In fact, I realised that the voice and tone were fundamental in establishing Dez and Mike as owning the game. Their brand is their personal story and hands-on love of, and involvement in, their games. So, the idea of ‘Dez and Mike’ is essential to Awkward Stewation’s wider media presence and marketing.

Honing Awkward Stewations

Writing the ‘How to play’ leaflet involved breaking the game down into its constituent parts. This helped Dez identify a few anomalies in the game and tighten up the way it would be played. Specifically, through the step-by-step process we realised that, as long as the core game was playable and the rules followable, the fewer additional tweaks and rule options, the better. So, in the sign-off to the leaflet we summed up the wider possibilities of the game, without overburdening an already busy ‘How to play’ breakdown:

RULES & TWEAKS

We could get all dictatorial here and tell you things like: ‘you mustn’t cover your face with your hands’, or: ‘if you’re not sure if a player’s laughed, take a group vote’, or: ‘feel free to tweak objectives, rewards, number of different cards and when cards are used’. But we’re not control freaks.

Finally, if you find you can’t agree on something and it’s ruining the game (for example, no one’s wearing blue and you can’t decide on another colour): just contact us. We’ll be out.

Good luck!”

(Extract from Awkward Stewations How to play leaflet © Awkward Stewations)

The video scripts & website

Research is a crucial tool in any writer’s box and I spent plenty of time hanging out with other games. Particularly Exploding Kittens and Bears vs Babies. These games and the team behind them have had amazing success in the whole card-game, crowdfunding, launch video sphere and their slick, quick, quirky production values are truly impressive. Dez had an American voiceover artist in mind and I imagined his voice as I drafted the paper and web-based copy – essentially the voice of Dez and Mike. The scripts are an extension of Dez and Mike’s characters as they unfold the details of how to play Awkward Stewations in the full-length video on the website. However, the 30-second social media launch video is all about grabbing attention, delivering essential detail (website, launch date) and establishing the ethos of the game through hard-working, light-touch script, animation and subtitles. It was wonderful to finally hear Sean Chiplock bring Dez and Mike to life so to speak! You’ll find the full-blown Dez and Mike story, which is the essential backdrop to Awkward Stewations and the ongoing development of other games, here on the website.

Please do take a look at the short video here and the longer one here. Share away and give Awkward Stewations a like on Facebook. It is fabulous to work with such creative, courageous and, yes, slightly mad individuals on what is a truly different and fun game.

What I have learnt

  • Working with a client who’s not used to commissioning artwork/copy/design etc is incredibly healthy in terms of stripping out jargon and common creative assumptions when discussing copy. Which is stimulating.
  • Scripting videos for party games is different from other scripts. Don’t try to be too clever or assume subtext will be useful.
  • A methodical approach and focused way of tracking house-style decisions is vital: keeping up with continuity issues across a wide-ranging suite of communications – including copy for 500 or so cards in the game itself – can get tricky.
  • Writing copy for games is deadly serious and tremendous fun!
What's in the box?

Q: What’s in the box? A: Cards and dice and timers and laughter!

 

Glad tidings

Glad Tidings

Haiku-ing in Japan

I’ve always wanted to visit Japan. Fascinated by bonsai, tea ceremonies, geisha, sushi and a culture that seems so very, very different to anything I know and truly understand. Well, I’ve been lucky enough to spend 12 amazing days in this extraordinary country. Between my marvellous London Daughter, Lonely Planet and Instagrammer HungryNYC, we have soaked up food, culture and Japan-ness in liberal quantities. The fact is, you really do need a leader on a tour like this: someone who knows that you have to collect you Japan Rail passes from the station before you do anything else; and that you can reserve seats on Shinkansen if you arrive half an hour or so before your bullet train departs; who’s checked out about dumplings and sushi and fluffy pancakes and teppanyake and sprawling markets; who knows about naked bathing in onsen (hot spring baths); and who’s had the foresight to book tickets for the Ghibli Museum in Tokyo before your trip (no tickets are sold at the museum).

I decided to record our trip with daily haikus. I wasn’t totally religious about my application of the exacting rules of haiku which The Poetry Foundation summarises as:

‘A Japanese verse form most often composed, in English versions, of three unrhymed lines of five, seven, and five syllables. A haiku often features an image, or a pair of images, meant to depict the essence of a specific moment in time.’

Frankly, Matsuo Bashō, the great 17th-century Japanese writer, has nothing to worry about. According to my guide book (not a patch on Lonely Planet) Bashō was so moved by the building of Shin Ohashi (that’s New Great Bridge) in Edo in 1693 that he wrote this:

How grateful I feel

as I step crisply over

the frost on the bridge

Nevertheless, my haikus captured the essence of our days travelling from Osaka to Koya-san, Nara, Kyoto, Hakone, Tokyo and back to Osaka. If you’re going to Japan (or, actually, if you’re not!) I can highly recommend a daily haiku.

Day one: Osaka

A lid is lifted

on a paintbox of colours

our senses are blurred

Jetlagged, we stumbled from our hostel into the streets of Osaka. In Dotombori, neon signs were stacked on neon signs. We hoped for okonomiyaki (a kind of-everything-in, cooked-at-your-table omelette – more later) and tako-yaki (octopus dumplings). In the event we were slightly overwhelmed by this first stop in Osaka but started our Japanese odyssey with a senses-overload wander around the breathtaking Kurumon Ichiba market, too dazed to take pictures or try the sumptuous and frequently startling food that bubbled, sizzled and winked at us as we passed. However, we did have a cracking meal at Mimiu Honten a traditional-style restaurant where we had their famed udon suki and a bento box of delights.

Day two: Osaka to Koya-san

For a country known

for reserve and zen Japan

is very noisy

In Japan there is a sound or melody for everything. Pedestrian crossings make bird sounds, music plays over tannoys, recorded voices speak over one another, there’s a tinkle and bing-bong when a train is arriving and when it’s departing, when the doors open and when they close… you can even play a sound in the toilet to mask any embarrassing noises you may make!

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Day three: Koya-san to Nara

Come to prayer early

on Koya-san you may hear

one hand clapping there

The journey to Mount Koya from Osaka is pretty amazing. Using our pre-booked World Heritage Ticket we took the  Nankai line which dawdles away from the tightly packed city and begins the steep ascent up the mountain. The final vertiginous climb is courtesy of a cable car included in the ticket. In Koya-san we explored Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines and stayed in the most welcoming gorgeous guesthouse where the boys tucked themselves away in capsules. We walked, after dark, through the amazing and vast Okuno-in cemetery to Kobo Daishi’s (founder of the first temple on Koya-san in 861) mausoleum following lantern-lit paths. We went again early in the morning for daily prayers at Kobo Daishi’s temple: we didn’t achieve enlightenment but we did find a pleasing sense of spirituality.  

Day four: Nara

Myriad platefuls

sparkling scented in your lap

breakfast Nara-style

 

No pagodas here

cries the woman who has eyes

but no map to see

In Nara we wandered the quaint back streets of Naramachi filled with traditional merchant houses, saw the black and bronze Buddhas encased in the Daibutsuden temple – the largest wooden structure in the world; and we answered questionnaires from just about every school child in Japan. Our favourite foods will be pored over in classrooms across the country! We all loved the many dishes that makeup a Japanese meal: the rice, the meat or fish, the pickles, the omelette and tofu and the miso soup – we won’t mention the miso soup in the lap mishap. In Nara, we got our okonomiyaki (delicious – although not cooked at our table), had lunch at a little café in the woods, met a clueless tourist, and had our first encounter with people dressing up in traditional costume to enjoy ‘a fun day out’. 

Day five & six: Nara to Kyoto

Ancient kimonos

hang on pre-fab walls wings spread

like huge butterflies

 

Sensation-drenched streets

demand all attention but

beware bikes behind

 

Through orange arches

to the mountain top to find

peace, truth and nice view

It rained while we were in Japan. A lot. However, dealing with rain is so normalised, it’s almost a pleasure to carry an umbrella. There are machines that dispense plastic covers for your brollies when you enter buildings and shops, and racks outside temples and restaurants to leave them in and collect them when you’re done. Above all, in Japan there are beautifully kept toilets everywhere;  most have heated seats and a funky control panel that includes an in-built bidet. Bliss. In Kyoto, we loved Nishiki Market full of (to our eye) weird and wonderful offerings, we met up with my niece and her friend who happened to be in Japan at the same time. We trailed through hundreds of orange shrine gates (and rain and cloud) on the pilgrimage loop of Fushimi Inari-Taisha – I pushed the extra footsteps to witness the ‘nice view’ which, although murky, was at least vaguely visible (the whole sky was muffled by the time we descended). And we managed to escape Kyoto on the fabled bullet train before Typhoon Lan arrived. The niece and her friend were not so lucky. But drowned their sorrows in beer and fluffy pancakes.

 Day seven: Kyoto to Hakone

Naked laughter wrapped

pink under trees and hot springs

soothes body and mind

 

Waiting for Fuji-san

the typhoon below the cloud

could go either way

Every holiday has a blue day. Our arrival in Hakone-en was ours. The cloud was low and the typhoon gusts building. We were deposited in a weird and rather bleak development focused around a hotel complex, The Prince Hakone, on Lake Ashinoko. Planned walks and excursions on the Komagatake ropeway for views of Mount Fuji were abandoned (were we even in the right place to see Fuji-san???)and we ate a rather sulky and dispiriting bowl of noodles (our only mediocre meal) wondering what we were doing  here. What a difference a day makes!

Day eight: Hakone to Tokyo 

As far as the eye

brimful to the horizon

Tokyo is aglow

 

Wide high-rise squat streets

bo peeps moist dumplings scenes of

Ghibli animé

 

Tax-free Uniqlo

and BIC Camera bliss-out but

watch for Oliver

We headed straight for Roppongi Hills for panoramic views of Tokyo skyline and sunset photos of Fuji-san . Perhaps the most surprising hit of the holiday was the Mori Art Gallery (entry included in the ticket to the tower view). We returned to the Shibuya district and committed sushi gluttony at Uobei Sushi: good-value , high-octane and your dishes are fired at you on mini bullet trains. The Ueno-Yanaka walk was a gorgeous nostalgic blend of market, cemetery, temples, shrines and galleries and a glimpse of how Tokyo once was. BIC Camera was impossible to pass for some members of our party and The Husband revelled in a whole floor of techno toilet seats! We saw cosplay stores and various costumed individuals, but the most eye-catching business around dressing up seemed to be in basement stores where young girls dressed and made-up to take social media photo posts – I think!

Day Eleven: Tokyo to Osaka

Row on row of fish

for sushi, fish for noodles

you taste very nice

 

The bullet departs

Tokyo for Osaka and

melodies come too

Before leaving Tokyo we had to visit Tsukiji fish market – another odyssey into food extremes – and seek out ikura don (salmon roe rice bowl). With samples being touted and attention-grabbing shouts, this felt like the most touristy market we visited – but was nonetheless thrilling. In Osaka, we met with my niece and friend for our final night. Our huge blowout consisted of teppanyaki in an izakaya (pub/eatery) Robatayaki Isaribi cooked in front of us and handed out on a huge wooden paddle – it was loud, fun and simply delicious. We could eat no more. Nevertheless we made a mad dash to grab the last three of Uncle Rikoro’s wibbly-wobbly cheesecakes

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 Day twelve: Osaka to Helsinki to Heathrow to Newcastle to Berwick-upon-Tweed 

Anchored in Finnair

view captured in oval frame

reflections released

Japan. So many things to digest (literally and figuratively) and an on-going desire to eat Japanese food. Forever. So many questions (including the need for a definitive answer about the face mask thing). A longing for a techno toilet, for a rigorous outdoor shoes, indoor shoes and toilet shoes policy everywhere. Also, a craving for one of those marvellous little van/cars that are so practical in such a space-hungry country. And so cute. 

Eating & drinking in Berwick

Of course Berwick Literary Festival 2017 is going to be a gem of a festival. Take a look at the programme and you’ll see why. However, this post and my next one are dedicated to our starry historic host: the town of Berwick-upon-Tweed.

If you’ve not been to Berwick before, you’re in for a treat and if you have been, you’ll no doubt relive past pleasures as well as uncovering new delights.

Berwick has evocative and historic streets to wander, with cute and enticing independent shops as well as the usual suspects. There are also watering holes a-plenty to delight and surprise you.

This post offers a potted lowdown on a some venues where you can chew some fat (literally and figuratively) and sup a beverage or two between Festival sessions. My next post will highlight some short but enjoyable walks to enjoy as you make your way from venue to venue.

The cake display at the brand new quayside café, The Lookout

Cafés

  • You’ll no doubt stop by The Corner House on Church Street which is the Festival hub, home of an open fire and bookshelves to browse, purveyor of fine local coffee (Northern Edge), cakes (fully-leaded and gluten free) and light lunches. Show your ticket and get 50p off a hot drink.
  • Fantoosh on Marygate serves light lunches and lush cakes (it’s my local, I often grab ‘cakeouts’ to serve guests!), and offers dainty trinkets and gifts.
  • Just over the old bridge in Tweedmouth, you’ll find Riverside Café – good scones and what looked like a sensible breakfast (several tables seemed to be reserved). The café will also be providing refreshments at the Festival venue in Spittal, St Paul’s.
  • Mielle Patisserie is an artisan French-style café on West Street serving excellent cakes and light lunches.
  • A new addition: The Lookout on Berwick Quayside. The quiches and soups smelt lovely when I stopped by and a customer told me the coffee was ‘delicious’. It is a bijoux outlet with tables and chairs by the river and great views.

 

Fantoosh at the northern end of Marygate

Riverside Café, Tweedmouth

The Brown Bear

 

Cafés plus

  • Enjoy the view from The Maltings Kitchen over a scone and a cuppa or a fresh-cooked lunch and glass or two of wine – in The Maltings arts centre, Eastern Lane. Open for early evening meals on Thursdays and Fridays.
  • Foxtons on Hide Hill is a café-cum-wine bar which also offers lunch and evening meals using local produce – it has a loyal local following and can get busy.
  • Pier Red on Castlegate is a cake-serving café and gallery by day and a relaxed and elegant wine bar on Friday (cocktails from 5.30!) and Saturday nights. Cheese and meat picking platters are also available.
  • The YHA Granary Bistro in Dewar’s Lane offers a full range of drinks and family friendly meals in a relaxed atmosphere at excellent prices. You can get up to the lovely Granary Art Gallery from here for a quick look.
  • Upper West Street on West Street straddles this category and the one below. It’s a café/bistro serving a tasty range of lunches/evening meals and roasts on Sunday.

More substantial eateries

  • Gasparro’s on Bridge Street is the go-to for Italian staples.
  • Audela on Bridge Street serves reliably good lunch and evening meals using fresh local produce. At time of writing it is about to move to new premises further along the same street so do check first.
  • The Queens Head Hotel – lunches and evening meals which often make inventive use of lovely local produce. Venison is usually a good choice.
  • The Plough on the Hill is a new addition to the area. Four miles out of Berwick at Allerdean, this South African themed gastropub claims 2016 MasterChef Professionals’ winner Gary Maclean as its Executive Chef (allow £18-£20 for a return taxi to Berwick).
  • If curry’s your thing, Amran’s on Hide Hill is the place to go, it offers a great range of fine-tasting Indian food to suit the frailest and the most asbestos palates!

Drinkeries

  • I’ve already mentioned Pier Red and Foxtons – both popular and pleasing drinking haunts.
  • The Brown Bear on Hide Hill is a pub with a heart that serves a super pint and a grand pie and gravy. There is outside seating. It is also a Festival hub and is offering 5% off food and drink to those who show their Festival ticket.
  • The Curfew, tucked down an alley off Bridge Street, is Berwick’s super-popular micropub, serving fab craft beers – including those from excellent local brewery Bear Claw, local game and pork pies, scotch eggs and it’s the only place in Berwick to serve gouda and Dijon mustard – the ideal snack with beer. It has an outdoor patio.
  • The Barrels Ale House on Bridge Street is Berwick’s long-serving real-ale pub and live music venue. It’s a firm favourite with locals and visitors.

Outside the Curfew’s secret alleyway on Bridge Street

This brief meander through the eateries and drinkeries of Berwick is by no means exhaustive. I’ve enjoyed a substantial number of the places listed, others have been recommended by friends. However, just as my shelves are full of books that I have yet to open, the streets of Berwick are teeming with venues that I have yet to sample. If I’ve missed any of your favourites – or if, when you visit Berwick, you find your own hotspot – please do leave a comment below so that we can be sure to check it out!

For those of you who like to keep your step quota up, there are lots of lovely walks in and around the town. Tune into my next post for a few strolls that will wake you up and ensure you get maximum enjoyment form your visit to Berwick Literary Festival 2017.

Wandering in Berwick

Welcome to part two of my brief look at Berwick as the star of the Literary Festival (fitting, as a new film about Robert the Bruce, ‘Outlaw King’, is about to start filming in the town). My last post encouraged you to wet your whistle and whet your appetite in Berwick’s cafés and eating houses.

After all those stimulating Festival sessions, you’ll probably need some fresh air and the opportunity to wander and ponder. Berwick is the ideal place to do just that, enjoying views and wildlife along the way:

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Berwick to Spittal: Looking back at Berwick from outside Berwick Shellfish, Dock Road, Tweedmouth.

Wanders

  • The Walls: No visit to Berwick is complete without a walk round the historic Elizabethan walls. This 20- to 30-minute stroll offers vistas across the mouth of the Tweed, out to sea (with views to Lindisfarne and Bamburgh on a clear day) and takes in many of the town’s historic highlights including a great view along Marygate from atop Scot’s Gate – as seen and recorded by Lowry.
  • The Lighthouse: Pop down to Pier Road and take a blustery stride out to the lighthouse and back – it’s always possible you’ll see seals or dolphins – you’ll certainly enjoy views out to sea and across to Spittal.
  • The River: New Road is actually a footpath that runs inland from town along the Tweed to the base of the Stephenson railway bridge and beyond. Spot herons, seals and otters (if you’re lucky) and pop back up to town along one of the relatively steep paths leading through the beautiful Castle Vale parks.
  • The Bridges: If you’re pressed for time, why not simply walk over one historic bridge and return by the other? You’ll be rewarded with lovely views of the railway bridge along the river and, the other way, the coast.

  • Spittal: The historic seaside town of Spittal across the Tweed is home of St Paul’s, one of the Festival’s venues. When you pop over there to enjoy the programme, do take a moment to walk along Spittal Prom. It’s a classic Victorian promenade – a place to take in the air and savour the views out to sea and across to Berwick lighthouse. If you’re lucky you may see the pod of dolphins that frequents our coast.
  • Berwick to Spittal via Tweedmouth: The walk from Berwick to Spittal is an interesting and scenic one but do allow 20 to 30 minutes to get round to Festival venue St Paul’s. Turning left off the old bridge you’re in Tweedmouth and you’ll find Riverside Café. As you head on towards Dock Road, several lovely shops including the florist Buds and new additions Dockside Gallery and vintage store, From the Attic are worth a look. You could always stock up on shellfish or grab a seafood lunch at Berwick Shellfish on Dock Road before heading on round to Spittal.
  • The Boat Trip: If your sea legs fancy an outing and you have an hour or so between sessions, why not take a trip out from Berwick quayside? The ‘Border Rose’ makes regular trips up and down the River Tweed and out to sea to the end of October.

Bridge Street with second-hand bookshop, Slightly Foxed, foreground

Cookery & lifestyle shop: Cook+Live+Dream, Bridge Street

Gazing up West Street from Bridge Street

Grieve the stationers on the corner of Marygate & Church Street

  • The Town and Shops: Of course, you may just want to peruse a few shops and take in the general gorgeousness of Berwick. Such a stroll might include a jaunt north through Scot’s Gate and along Castlegate where you’ll find Pier Red (café/wine bar), and some independent outlets including a couple of lovely vintage shops and second hand bookshop Berrydin Books. Walking back through Scot’s Gate take the right turn just before Fantoosh (café/gifts) and drop down Bank Hill past The Loovre ice cream parlour, into Love Lane and on to Bridge Street. This street is packed with delightful independent shops and galleries such as Marehalm (gifts), organic outlet The Green Shop, and The Market Shop and second hand bookshop Slightly Foxed. At the far end of Bridge Street turn left up Hide Hill and poodle up the hill past gift shop Decorum to the Guildhall and Buttermarket. From the steps of the Guildhall take time to gaze along Marygate and the facades above the now predominantly chain store outlets for a hint of what the high street once was. Also, don’t be fooled, there are a number of pleasing independent shops here such as local craft collective Serendipity, the cornucopia that is Vintage upon Tweed and various cafés such as Deyn’s Deli (in the Rum Puncheon building). Another street well worth a look is the cobbled West Street which links Marygate and Bridge Street and is home to Upper West Street and charming independent shops including the jewellery outlet Bijoux and house of handmade artisan chocolates Cocoature.

There are many lovely walks around Berwick and, as you stroll, you’ll probably find some of the narrow back streets and footpaths too enticing to resist. Enjoy!

The Old Bridge

Berwick Lit Fest: How to get published

Northumberland-based writers Caroline Roberts (publisher: Harper Impulse, contemporary romance) and Stephanie Butland (publisher: Bonnier Zaffre, commercial literary) are doing a joint gig at the Berwick Literary Festival in October. They’ll be chatting to Newcastle blogger and creative writing tutor Victoria Watson about writing novels and getting them published. I caught up with these two marvellous and inspiring writers for a sneak preview of that discussion.

Caroline and Stephanie are in the fortunate position of being in-demand: their publishers are clamouring for more words and deadlines are a constant presence in their lives. But it wasn’t always like that. Their ambitions to write started when they were children – but from ambition to reality has been a combination of fate, hard work and sheer bloody mindedness.

‘Dad was a book wholesaler in Cornwall,’ says Caroline, ‘so we were surrounded by books. I was always writing stories and poems and making my own little scrapbooks. I went on to study English Literature at Durham University just because I loved reading so much!’

When her children were older Caroline considered how she might turn her love of writing – and the novels she was crafting – into more of a career. ‘I began looking for an agent or publisher. I lost count of the knockbacks after about 80 rejection letters!’ The breakthrough came when she connected with the Romantic Novelists Association (RNA) at a conference. ‘I realised I’d been going about things the wrong way. I’d been wading through the pages of the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook, picking publishers and agents that seemed right. But through chatting with the RNA and people I met at that conference, I realised that publishers or agents attending such conferences were the most likely to be looking for writers. Obviously, I couldn’t go to every conference but I could check out who was going to them.’

Caroline’s current novel. Her new title will be out before Christmas.

‘The childhood passion for making little books was me too!’ says Stephanie. ‘And I did an English degree. I kept writing bits and bobs but didn’t find my niche.’  A breast cancer diagnosis in 2008 was the turning point for Stephanie. ‘I started blogging about cancer as a pragmatic way of managing peoples’ desires to know how I was.’  Blogging morphed into more focused writing when Stephanie began to apply her specialist skills in Edward de Bono’s creative thinking techniques to her writing and to write about them.  ‘Things really took off with the blog and I decided to write a book.’  But where to go from there?

Fate intervened. ‘I saw an auction on Twitter. An agent was offering to read your manuscript. Everyone on Twitter got behind my bid: I think they felt you couldn’t really bid against cancer woman! And that’s how I got my agent, Ollie Munson. He read the first three chapters of How I said Bah! to cancer and wanted the rest of the manuscript… so I got on with writing it!’ A second book on life after cancer followed and then Stephanie decided to write the novel ‘I’d been thinking about all my life’.

Stephanie’s current novel. She is editing her next work.

Stephanie and Caroline agree that it is an amazing privilege to earn a living doing something you dreamt of doing when you were five.

‘But,’ says Caroline, ‘It is a job. Deadlines won’t wait. You can’t say to your publisher: it’s my daughter’s wedding this month (which it was) so can you just wait a bit.  Of course, passion and a good story are essential, but so’s the work ethic.’

Stephanie agrees: ‘No matter how inspired you are, no matter how brilliant your idea, you have to put the work in. And you have to keep going through the drafts until your work is the best it can be.’

Having the idea for the next book, even while they’re working on current drafts, is important to both writers. They’re also keen on ideas files and keep a stash of newspaper cuttings, pictures from magazines, notes and anecdotes, as well as jotting down thoughts and overheard conversations. As Stephanie says, ‘You pour everything into that first novel. But then there’s the next one to write!’

Stephanie and Caroline have helpful things to say about all sorts of aspects of writing and getting published including: working with editors (‘a huge relationship’); recurring themes in writing (Stephanie once panicked that she was writing the same book twice, she wasn’t: like most writers, she has ‘preoccupations’); and about agents (negotiating overseas sales and holding out for bigger deals are not always in a writer’s skills set). Finally, they both agree that the most important relationship for a writer is with readers, and they love meeting them: ‘without them we’d be pointless!’

I asked them for a word of advice for those who’d like to be doing what they are doing. Both women turned to other writers for motivation.

‘I have a sign by my desk that says: Don’t get it right, just get it written. Which is Dorothy Parker. It’s hugely helpful. You’ve got to get that first draft down, get the story written. Then you can edit and polish,’ says Caroline.

For Stephanie, it’s Kingsley Amis’ words of wisdom: the art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.

To apply the seat of your pants to the seat of a chair at their session at the Festival, follow the link below and book a place.

 

At the Festival: Caroline Roberts & Stephanie Butland will be chatting about writing and getting published with Newcastle-based blogger and writing tutor, Victoria Watson.

Where: Holy Trinity Parish Centre

When: Saturday 21st October, 10am

This book will change your life…

Berwick Literary Festival runs from the evening of Thursday 19th October to the afternoon of Sunday 22nd October 2017. There’s a wonderful array of events and speakers. I’m lucky enough to be doing a bit of blogging for the Festival. I thought I’d share my posts here but you’ll also find them over on the Festival website along with loads of other useful programme information.

What’s so great about books and literary festivals?

Well, books really do have the power to change lives and influence the reader in both subtle and startling ways. They also help us set down markers in time: what were you reading thirty-one years ago?

Thirty-one years ago, I was engrossed in Olivia Manning’s The Balkan and Levant Trilogies, collectively known as The Fortunes of War. The BBC was planning to make a series of Manning’s fabulous and complex tale of war-torn Europe. My job back then was to write pre-publicity for potential BBC TV programmes to attract co-production investment.  The Beeb’s serialisation of Fortunes of War was broadcast in 1987. Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson starred as Guy and Harriet Pringle (Ken and Em later married and subsequently divorced).

Wind the clock forward to the year 2000 and I was reading Secrets of the flesh: A Life of Colette by Judith Thurman. Not for work this time, but for sheer pleasure. When I did my French A level, one of our set books was Colette’s Le blé on herbe. I loved the book and was fascinated by Colette’s racy life and works.

 

My eldest daughter was born in 1987. Her name is Harriet. My younger daughter was born 14 years later in 2001. Her name is Colette.

Hence, my daughters both carry monikers from my literary influences (actually, Colette’s middle name is Nancy because the Husband loved Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons). We were moved by these stories, these writers, to such a degree that we incorporated them into our family’s heritage.

A good writer shines a light on the tangible and intangible in a way that can frequently become more meaningful to you, the reader, than the sum of their written words. A good writer tells a story – whether it be fictional or factual – in a way that has you rolling the story around in your mind. A good writer leaves you wanting to know why they chose a subject and why and how they structured it the way they did. In short, good writing leaves you a little bit (and sometimes a lot) changed. And sometimes, when you really think about it, you can trace thoughts, ideas and even actions back to something you read way back when. This is why I love literary festivals and hearing the ins and outs of others’ writing processes.

One of the reasons the Berwick Literary Festival is such a great weekend is that it recognises the importance of reading and writing across the community. And, even if you’re not involved in some elements of the Festival, you can feel its wide-reaching inclusivity and accessibility in the way it’s organised. There are events and competitions specifically for local schools, poetry readings in care homes for the elderly, workshops for aspiring writers and, of course, local and national writers for your delectation and entertainment.

You’ll find information on topics and speakers at our fourth Berwick Literary Festival here and you can book events on The Maltings’ website. Don’t forget to visit our Facebook page, find us on Instagram and follow us on Twitter.

Over the next couple of months I intend to catch up with some of our contributors and give you the lowdown on what they’ll be up to at the festival. I shall also be posting about our lovely town of Berwick and some of the spaces and places you might check out on your visit here.

So, don’t be strangers: there’s plenty to chat about.  why not read a book by one of this year’s writers before the festival kicks off in October? It might just be something you remember years from now. Here’s a selection of books by festival contributors you might like to read before your visit (check out the full programme for more books and authors):

 

 

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