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This blog brought tears to my eyes…in a good way.

Irregular Fiction

Some books sneak up and catch you by the short and curlies of your emotional tailcoat. The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce being a fine example.

I bought this book for sheer nostalgia. It contains two things close to my heart – vinyl records and the year 1988. Indeed, vinyl featured heavily in my life that year when I was spinning the likes of All About Eve, Depeche Mode, The Cure and Echo and the Bunnymen on heavy rotation. I was sixteen. I managed to pass most of my GCSEs with reasonable grades while writing stories about hitmen and ghosts. And I was embracing my inner gothling.

jrm16 Mini Bat Me with Mam

I’ve read two of Joyce’s previous books – The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, and The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessey. Two wonderful books full of heart. The emotional punch of The Record Shop shouldn’t have…

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“This is all a bit last minute, Elaine,” he sighed on Tuesday night. My fella was right. Photographer Rossena Petcova was arriving in less than 24 hours and certain, essential components of her stay with us were not in place.

I won’t bore you with the details but an early morning Charles Schulz-style “Waaaaaah!” in the form of an email to local writer Sue Miller resulted in the sort of instant, community-minded action that deserves a write up in the Whitley Bay Guardian. Thank you Sue and Keith Miller!

Rossena Petcova’s debut solo exhibition Feeling-at-Home Places opened yesterday in Gateshead’s Shipley Art Gallery. Her arrival on Wednesday night was part of a year-long journey she and I shared. It involved finding her exhibition space, crowd funding to get her and her work over here, choosing the images and getting them printed in Bulgaria.

Rossena, my fella and I worked flat out from Wednesday night to Saturday lunchtime to get the exhibition ready for yesterday’s opening event, an informal “in conversation” session. Thanks to those who came and supported us on a hot, sunny day.

Feeling-at-Home Places shows the North East landscapes and people through Rossena’s eyes (and lens). The project is ongoing so if you want Rossena to photograph you and you family then get in touch asap! She’s here for a fortnight.

The Shipley is open Tues to Sat 10am to 4pm and Sat 10am to 5pm. Entry to the gallery and Rossena’s exhibition is free. Next Saturday 14th July, Rossena and I will be in the gallery from 1pm to 4pm giving informal small group tours of her exhibition. Please join us.

This is a lovely post by Jane Roberts-Morpeth who will perform at Keeping My Soul, Thursday 21st June, North Shields library, 6.30pm

The North Tyneside Writers' Circle

Today, we’re delighted to have as a guest writer for us, the wonderful Jane Roberts-Morpeth, who attended our own Jennifer C. Wilson’s book launch on Saturday, and has provided the below write-up. Thanks Jane!

Saturday 9th June 2018 – the Cinema Room of the Town Wall Pub. The lights are dim and there is a boar’s head stuffed on the wall above me. Comfy settees are full and the flagstones are ringing to babble and chatter as we all gather for the launch of the lovely Jennifer C. Wilson’s third volume in the bestselling series, Kindred Spirits: Westminster Abbey.

Outside, Newcastle is frantic with the odd mix of the Blaydon Race neon vest clad participants and marauding Ed Sheeran fans enjoying a beautiful summer afternoon. Indoors we lurk in a shady basement where I retreat into the medieval mists as Jennifer steps up and begins the first of two…

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Here’s a link to my latest review for North East Reviews. Thanks to Fiona Stacey for accompanying me to Dance City!


Photo credit: Camilla Greenwell

“It’s HEY WARD. Nick Heyward! Not Nik Bluddy Kershaw!” Oh the problems of living with someone born in the 1960s rather than the 1970s. How could he POSSIBLY understand how irritating it is when folk confuse Nik with Nick. Humpf!

Back in 1983 and 1984 I thought Nick Heyward was Mr Cool and Kershaw (in his snood) was a wally. I’m kinder towards Nik Kershaw now but he’s not the one I’m worried I’ve offended. It’s Nick H. Let me explain.

I loved Nick Heyward’s music. Haircut 100 attracted my attention but it was his early solo career I adored. I bought his debut solo album North of a Miracle the day it was released and ran home to learn the lyrics off by heart. I joined his fanclub,  bought his gatefold sleeve singles and tried to imitate his Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate look:  chinos, blue shirt, corduroy jacket and leather briefcase.

Then I discovered The Smiths and boy was Morrissey a demanding pop star. I realised if I chose to follow him then I’d have to ditch Nick. And  I did. I sold those lovely gatefold 7 inches and picture discs in school break times.

I didn’t give Nick a second thought until the mid 1990s when I was working as a music journalist in London. I got offered the chance to interview him about his latest album. I’m ashamed to say I turned it down.

Fast forward to 2016 when I rediscover North of a Miracle on You Tube. I realise I know all the words to each track! I buy a copy  and start exploring other work in his solo career spanning the past four decades. In August 2017 he releases album Woodland Echoes then announces a 2018 tour. I see he’s playing in Stockton on Tees about 40 miles down the road from my home in Whitley Bay.

I umm and I aah but then  I buy a ticket for the gig at ARC Stockton on Thursday 31st May and reserve a room in one of the town’s B&Bs. I need to go. I must make amends with Nick and  apologise for behaving like a First Class Wally these past few decades.

The day of the gig I’m distracted and excited at work. I look forward to my solo expedition and  hope the gig lives up to my expectations. I get to the venue early and have a drink or two and a bite to eat. I’m nervous, like I’m waiting for a date but my Teesside adventure isn’t about  fancying Nick. Sure I wanted to marry him in my teens but I’ve moved on since then. And so has he! In fact he’s extremely happy and you can hear it on Woodland Echoes.

The last time I saw Nick in concert was about 33 years ago. Thursday night’s concert was wonderful. The set was well constructed: Haircut 100, then solo work in sort of chronological order up to Woodland Echoes and finishing with Haircut 100’s Boy Meets Girl and Fantastic Day.

Nick’s band is composed of experienced, talented musicians with Nick’s son Oliver as production/tour manager. It was touching to see him him bob on and off stage sorting out guitars for his Pa. Oliver’s  also credited on Woodland Echoes’ sleevenotes for producing, recording and for “being so well organised when everything was all over the place.” The finished product’s not a mess. It’s a beautiful album.

I’ve been to hundreds of gigs and Thursday night’s was a blast. I sang my heart out, danced, made friends in the venue and I’m STILL SMILING 48 hours later. Thanks to Nick and co for a great night and to the lovely couple from Norton who shared a cab with me after the gig.

Photo Credit: unknown. Let me know and I’ll give you a credit!




I’ve always loved writing arts reviews. I enjoy anaylsing films, books, art and music. I don’t care if I love, loathe or am indifferent to the work. Just let me reflect and write…in 600 words or less!

I wrote my first reviews aged 15 in letters to music-obsessed pen pals then for various Smiths fanzines. My first job was writing gig reviews for Newcastle’s Evening Chronicle and after university I worked for music magazines in London.

Fast forward to 2014 and I’m back on Tyneside and hear about North East Reviews. It was set up by the North East Artist Development Network to increase the amount of critical writing around new performance work in the region.

The NEAD Network’s venue partners are Alnwick Playhouse, Alphabetti Theatre, Newcastle, Arts Centre Washington, ARC Stockton, Bishop Auckland Town Hall, Caedmon Hall, Gateshead, Dance City, Newcastle, Gala Durham, Hartlepool Town Hall Theatre, Live Theatre, Newcastle, Northern Stage, Newcastle, Saltburn Arts Theatre, The Firestation, Sunderland, The Witham, Barnard Castle.

I’m one of 10 freelance reviewers and over the past four years I’ve reviewed dance, theatre and spoken word performances. Earlier this year I sucked the marrow out of  a review writing masterclass with The Guardian’s Lyn Gardner.  At the beginning of May  I reviewed Rowan McCabe’s latest show. Check it out here.

I’m looking forward to reviewing another performance next week. Say no more until the review’s posted online here



Two hundred years ago this month John Keats wrote Ode on a Grecian Urn. The final lines are familiar to many, even if they don’t know the author. They run:

“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,”- that is all

Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

These words pop into my head whenever I look upon Bulgarian photographer Rossena Petcova’s work. I met Rossena when she responded to my call for volunteers to help at 2016’s Newcastle Photography Festival. I was impressed by her photos and by her professionalism. She took photos of my family and I and made us feel at ease. She captured the essence of our relationships with her camera.

Rossena and I  kept in touch when she returned to Sofia in December 2016. I encouraged her to exhibit her work in England and as a result her first solo exhibition takes place this July on Tyneside. It’s called Feeling-at-home Places  and is  divided into two parts. The first one includes portraits of people living in the North East England and the second one includes autobiographical self-portraits and landscapes.

I adore Rossena’s photos. I find them magical and moving. I’ve named the photos of her embedded in her surroundings “Selfless Selfies.” What do you think? 

I’ve been running a fundraising campaign to bring Rossena and her work over from Sofia for the exhibition. We’re a trifling £40 away from our modest target. Can you help us reach it? Click here to find out more.


It’s official: Lyn Gardner has scrambled my brain. I’m not complaining about The Guardian’s theatre critic. In fact, I want to use this blog to thank her for freeing up the arts reviewer within me.lyn

Today I attended what I guess was a masterclass in arts/theatre reviewing led by Lyn in Newcastle’s Dance City. The session was supposed to start at 11am but poor Lyn was stuck on the East Coast train line. Thankfully the other workshop attendees and I amused ourselves until she turned up before 1pm.

Lyn packed a great deal into a few hours. My notes list websites, plays, writers and advice from Lyn. In the margin I’ve scribbled “Honest opinion matters. Good writing is in the eye of the beholder. The more you write, the better writer you become.”

Lyn shared her thoughts and opinions but kept asking us what we thought and what we liked. She was full of enthusiasm for theatre and critical writing.

I feel inspired, “freed up” and ready to write more reviews for North East Reviews



My friend the writer and artist Gail Curry was mugged outside her shop and gallery in Whitley Bay and now stutters as a result of the ordeal. I was originally billed as her co-host for this event but we’ve decided to swap places on Tuesday night. I will speak Gail’s answers to questions she will pose as well as read her poems.

I think there’s still time to book a place for Lines from an Unfinished Love Song with Gail Curry at 7.30pm 13th February Cullercoats Library. For information contact (0191) 6432073 or any North Tyneside Library.

Do you fancy sampling  a creative Smörgåsbord next weekend? Then join me at the Shipley Art Gallery on Saturday 10th February for Express Yourself, a half day filled with workshops in collaboration with Gateshead writing group The Scribblers and the Shipley Art Gallery.

11am – 1pm (including break)  Take part in three different half hour workshops:

1.The Scribblers  will be running taster writing sessions inspired by Trench Art and Memory.

2. I’ll be offering one to one “Dr Cusack” mentoring sessions on writing and performance.

3. The Shipley’s Ruth Sheldon will be showing you how to make chapbooks.

1pm – 2pm   I’ll give a quick introduction about performance before a show and tell sessions where participants will share work written in the morning or any other short piece they’d like to perform.

If you’d like to book a ticket for Express Yourself they cost £2.50 (BARGAIN!) and you buy them here

Particpants are asked to bring writing they might want to make into a chapbook plus work they want to share from 1pm to 2pm.

We’ll have tea, coffee and water on offer but I suggest you bring a packed lunch as there’s no cafe in the gallery.

There is another literary event after Express Yourself. From 2pm to 3pm The Shipley will host  Poems After The Blaydon Races: Centenary Launch. You are invited to join Shipley’s poet in resident Jo Clement and The Scribblers for a special poetry reading to launch an anthology inspired by William C Irving’s painting The Blaydon Races. For more information click here


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