Christmas Wreath Workshop – Joanne Truby

Joanne Truby is an incredible florist who I was lucky to work with with on a festive Asian bridal shoot for the Secret Wedding blog last year. This year I was excited to join one of her Christmas wreath workshops at the Traflagar Tavern in Greenwich. I’ve never made a wreath before so when Joanne and her team unpacked a huge variety of foliage, flowers, berries and dried fruits for us to choose from, and I was faced with a simple circle and a reel of wire, it felt slightly overwhelming! However, along with instruction sheets, Christmas carols, hot chocolate and candy canes, Joanne kept us calm and cheery while she demonstrated three clear stages. Firstly, we created a ‘sausage’ of moss to fill the frame. Secondly, we covered this with our choice of foliage – I went for a mix of pine, rosemary, eucalyptus and berried ivy. Finally, we were let loose to choose our decorations – it was hard to pick from so many beautiful options including holly, whole limes, sliced oranges and apples, cinnamon sticks, crab apples, ribbons and flowers… in the end I decided to stick with a green and blue winter theme and used thistles, viburnum berries, dried lavender, poppy seed heads and a fir cone. The whole workshop was wonderfully festive (it wasn’t just me in a Christmas jumper) and it was great fun getting my hands dirty while somehow managing to create a finished wreath! Everyone created a beautiful wreath. It was amazing how different they all looked – from classic red holly wreaths to floral hydrangea-filled ones, ivy dripping with colourful fruits and my very own wintery blue wreath.

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Thanks again Joanne for a wonderful afternoon – I’ll be enjoying my beautiful wreath all December!

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Inktober 2016 – learning to draw

I love to be creative with my camera, and I’ve tried to learn to draw and paint several times over the last few years but I find it hard to keep the practice up. I follow several super talented artists and illustrators on instagram and I was intrigued when I saw my old school pal – turned children’s author & illustrator – Emily MacKenzie posting about #inktober2016. I read up and discovered that inktober is a challenge to do one ink drawing a day for the whole of October.  Jake Parker created the challenge and provides a prompt list so you have a word everyday to base your drawing on.

I’ve never tried drawing with ink before – pencils tend to make me quite tentative and the idea of un-rub-out-able ink seemed daunting – but I decided to give it a try. I bought a Pental Arts Pocket Brush Pen (less than £6 on amazon) – which is like a fountain pen but with a brush instead of a nib. It took a bit of getting used to, and I found it easier to copy drawings, rather than creating something original, but I stuck at it, did a drawing each day and found it really relaxing. By searching the hashtag on instagram and twitter I’ve also found some other amazing artists to follow and be inspired by – you can find a list of some of my favourites below. But first – some of my inktober highlights!

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Inky Inspiration:

Emily MacKenzie (@emilymackenziedraws) – Emily and I went to school together and I’ve been thrilled to follow her success as a children’s author – I can’t recommend her books highly enough & her bright and colourful inky sketches have made me smile all month.

Mel Rye (@melrye) – Mel is a friend of a friend and does incredible illustrations (I especially love her black, red and white London series of paper cuts) – her inktober postings also inspired me to join in.

Cat Faulkner – I found Cat on instagram (@catherinedoart) – she’s an illustrator living in London and she brilliantly combined two of my favourite October things: inktober and the Great British Bake Off – with amazing episode summary sketches, as well as pun-filled inktober drawings!

Valerie Hong – I also found Valerie on instagram (@instantmoka). She’s based in Montreal and I love how she has placed inktober drawings in her diary along with stickers and snippets about her life.

And of course Jake Parker (@jakeparker) – the illustrator and cartoonist who founded Inktober and provided such a fun and varied prompt list (from squeeze to transport, lost to rock, wreck to friend).

You can follow me on instagram or facebook and see more of my photography on my website.

Autumn colours

Although I live in London I’m really a country girl from a tiny village in Northumberland. When I was up there recently I enjoyed walking in the nearby woodland and admiring all the beautiful colours of autumn. Trees turning yellow and orange against a perfect blue sky, glowing red berries and gleaming conkers, acorns in cups, alder and pine cones, beech nuts and piles of golden leaves – autumn is such a gorgeous time of year!

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Back to school soundtrack

Last year I blogged about the songs providing the backdrop to my summer – time has flown and now it’s ‘back to school’ time! Here are the five top tunes I’m happy to have stuck on my iPhone and in my head:

1). I’m gonna be (500 miles) by Sleeping at Last

When the bride and groom told me their first dance would be to “I would walk 500 miles” I couldn’t really picture it! But I had no need to worry about the bride attempting to march in a long white dress to the Proclaimers 80s hit – often played to rouse Scottish football fans. This beautiful ballad version set to a simple piano accompaniment is just so romantic and dreamy it makes a perfect first dance.

2). Suitcase full of sparks by Gregory Alan Isakov

I’m a big fan of crime drama and recently finished the latest series of The Blacklist. I love the show, but when this song was played as part of the soundtrack I struggled to focus on the plot. It’s a haunting tune with an amazing mix of instruments and vocal backing – I think there’s a banjo and accordion in the mix. The melody and refrain “honey I’m just trying to find my way to you” are sure to stick in your head. I can’t wait to see him supporting Passenger in November!

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3). Carrier of a secret by Sissel

A trip to the arctic circle at Easter let me tick off an item from my bucket list – a visit to the ice hotel. During my Scandinavian trip, I was reminded of the amazing Norwegian singer Sissel. Her voice, especially for the highest notes, is as pure and clear as the river ice that forms the hotel. I listened to her songs on cassette and later CD while revising for exams at school and university and I’ve loved reacquainting myself with old favourites.

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4). Shut up and dance with me by Walk the Moon

One of the couples whose wedding I photographed this year found a clever way to keep their party going late without disturbing the neighbours – they had a silent disco! With headphones lit in red for the bride’s playlist and blue for the groom’s it was great to see the lights change colour as different songs came on. I’m not sure whether this song was on the bride or groom’s playlist but with its strong beat it had everyone jumping around and dancing! It’s now my go-to energising song for an instant boost.

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5). Holiday in Spain by Counting Crows

Karaoke (in a private room, not on a stage) is one of our favourite ways to spend an evening. I generally think musical ability is not really required – it’s all about passion and enthusiasm! However when a friend of a friend chose this song (which I’d never heard before) and sang it beautifully, I instantly loved it and bought the Counting Crows version there and then. I think it’s perfect and as autumn begins, it leaves me dreaming of jetting off for some sunshine.

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So that was the soundscape to my summer. I love stumbling upon new artists or being prompted to rediscover old favourites – so please leave any recommendations!

Book Review: Spectacles by Sue Perkins

Like millions across the nation, I’ve been glued to my TV every Wednesday evening for the Great British Bake Off. Since Nadiya won the competition, and the hearts of the nation, I’ve been suffering cake, pastry and innuendo withdrawal. However, presenter Sue Perkins has come to the rescue and released a memoir: ‘Spectacles’.

Despite a stand-off with nuns over school dinners and ‘Fishfingergate’, Sue’s career seems to have followed a long trail of cooked dinners and baked goods. I’ve been a fan of Mel and Sue since their days on Channel 4’s Light Lunch – they had started with a stand up show The Naked Brunch, eaten their way through Light and Late Lunch before reaching the sweet treats of GBBO. Sue also continued her career of eating joining restaurant critic Giles Coren to eat their way through many historical periods in The Supersizers.

However, whilst food  (particularly marmite sandwiches) and comedy (particularly at Mel Giedroyc’s expense) are found in Spectacles – it is also a very touching story of love and loss, of family, partners and pets. Historical artefacts in the form of a school project on Gerbils and a Heron haiku lighten the mood, whilst her letter to her beloved beagle Pickles will have you close to tears.

Sue mentions that she can be somewhat distracted and her memoir jumps around in time, but she’s crafted a great page turner of a book. She talks about break ups, coming out, bereavements and infertility, mixed in with accounts of her top four disastrous performances, how one small dog can turn a car into a health hazard and the time she fell for one of the Ice Road Truckers. It’s an emotional rollercoaster of a ride, witty, hilarious and moving. At the start Sue says “I have, of course, amplified my more positive characteristics in an effort to make me like me” – well, it worked.

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I’d love to hear other’s views of the book – please feel free to leave comments or suggestions below.

Photos © 2015 Hannah Larkin

My summer soundtrack

When I find a song I like I become quite obsessive. It’s not unusual for me to have a handful of songs on repeat for weeks – when I find something I like, I stick with it! At the moment I have five favourite songs on repeat – a mix of rock, pop and country…

1) Homegrown by Zac Brown Band

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I did a road trip in the states this summer and travelling through Idaho, Montana and Wyoming I decided I needed a soundtrack of American country music to accompany me. The Zac Brown Band is from Georgia on the other side of the USA but fitted perfectly for the long drive. Homegrown is my favourite from the Jekyll & Hyde album – it’s super catchy and I love the lyrics “I’ve got everything I need”.

2) Steal My Girl by One Direction 

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We spent several days in Vancouver and at the last minute we decided we wanted to spend our final night at a gig. We googled and found One Direction were playing at BC Place – with cheap tickets left we headed there. I only knew a handful of their songs before and this was a new one for me that I bought after the show.

3) All Of Me by Jasmine Thompson

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One of the couples whose wedding I photographed this summer chose this song for their first dance. I’d never heard it before and I love it. The incredibly talented singer Samantha Harvey performed it and Jasmine Thompson’s version is the closest I could find. It makes a great first dance, slow and intimate with beautiful lyrics: “All of me, loves all of you – love your curves and all your edges, all your perfect imperfections”.

4) Superheroes by The Script

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I heard this on the radio the other morning and it fired me up for the day. It has a good beat for working out and will stick in your head. If you need a dose of determination then the lyrics “every day, every hour, turn the pain into power” will inspire you to keep you going!

5) Phone In A Pool by Ben Folds

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Ben Folds Five was part of the soundtrack to my school days and I was very excited to see him perform at the Royal Albert Hall with YMusic last month. He’s so talented and also has a great ironic sense of humour. He told the story of how he threw his mobile in a hotel pool, and the song he wrote about this has quickly became my favourite from his new album ‘So There’ which was released a few days ago.

So that’s been my summer soundtrack – as autumn starts I’ll be looking for some warming and cheery tunes before I happily dive headfirst into my favourite Christmas songs! I love to discover different singers and bands so please leave recommendations below for me to try out.

Book Review: The Revolving Door of Life by Alexander McCall Smith

I love to travel, but sometimes I like to do it from the comfort of my armchair – snuggled up with a good book. So I’ve decided to share some of these ‘virtual’ travels here too.

If you haven’t already tried one of Alexander McCall Smith’s episodic novels then you’re missing out! The Corduroy Mansions series is set in Pimlico in London and the 44 Scotland Street series is set in Edinburgh.

The Revolving Door of Life is the tenth book in the Scotland Street series, first published in The Scotsman newspaper. As it’s written for daily publication, each short chapter has a story of its own, as part of an overall narrative which weaves together stories of several of the residents (or former residents) of Scotland Street. I love Alexander McCall Smith’s ability to write in such a relaxed and relaxing way – the book gently lulls you and you find it’s finished before you expected! Set firmly in the Scottish capital, the book covers the importance of kilts for small boys, findings of important works of art and slightly suspect claims to heraldry.

If you want to try the series from the beginning you can start with 44 Scotland Street – and will have 10 books worth of stories to enjoy! The latest book is only out in hardback – but I enjoy them so much I can rarely hold out long enough for the paperback edition!

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I’d love to hear other views of the series – please feel free to leave comments below.

Photos © 2011 Hannah Larkin