Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Sophie Hill of postcardwall

postcardwall is a blog about art, inspired by postcards. I began the blog in 2009, starting with my own collection of postcards gathered from exhibitions and museums across the world. Covering the walls of my university room, the images formed a wallpaper of visual memory. They not only recalled times and places, but that elated feeling of discovery that came with my finding and loving a work of art. After finishing university I decided to start a blog about the collection, uploading a postcard each day and writing about it, the aim being to exhibit the wealth of art available and to inspire people to seek it out.

With postcards found everywhere from large institutions to unknown galleries, postcardwall creates a platform for all kinds of art. Being inclined neither to historical nor contemporary, a Caravaggio may hang alongside a newly graduated student. postcardwall is unbiased, exploring the rich and varied fabric of our artistic history from the ancients up to the present day. I write about each postcard to recall and remember these fleeting and permanent displays. Words are added not to judge, but to elaborate and provoke further interest and discovery. The descriptions are incredibly visual, drawing technique and detail from the work and making each element come alive. Dancing alongside the image, reflecting and refracting both subject and mood, poetic in style, my text provides a harmonious counterpoint to each work.

postcardwall has become something of an artistic resource with over 300 postcards of painting, drawing, sculpture, photography, wallpaper and furniture ‘on the wall’. Listed by century and with a search capability that allows you to search on anything from an artist’s name, an artistic movement or just a word, images from around the world can be pulled up alongside one another. Looking for pictures of trees, the results appear across centuries, mediums and artists; visiting a country or city, one can find the works to look out for.

Though the postcards began from my collection gathered over time, they now often mark current exhibitions; uploaded at the beginning of a show to entice readers to visit the real thing. I visit graduate shows every year to draw attention to emerging young talent, and invite artists, or indeed anyone, to send me their favourite postcards as new subjects. The reaction from artists has been great, as they find I depict aspects of their work through my words that deepens appreciation.

postcardwall has been featured twice as an exhibition, at the Mall Galleries to celebrate reaching 300 postcards ‘on the wall’, and at VEGAS Gallery alongside the original works of a selection of artists featured on postcardwall. One of the most wonderful reactions to postcardwall on exhibition was the number of people spurred into memory by seeing a postcard once owned or sent. The fact that the blog stems from a postcard is part of the appeal. There is something accessible in a picture postcard; one can take it away to consider, and later nostalgically remember. They are a means of quick communication, leaving someone a note embellished by a fitting, or simply pleasing, image.

It is the reaction from both followers and artists that keeps me writing. My most rewarding moment so far has been an artist asking if they can use an extract of my blog post on a catalogue promoting a solo exhibition. It was incredible to know that my words had captured someone’s intentions so well that they wanted to use them alongside their work. I also love it when people tell me that they’ve discovered new artists through reading my posts. It’s one of the main aims of the blog and it’s great for the artists.  

I add a new postcard to the wall each week, continuing to build the virtual wall that now holds over 300 images and over 60,000 words of art history and contemporary criticism. I am so pleased postcardwall now has followers from around the world who visit the wall once a week to read my latest post.

My Four Top Blogging Tips

- Don’t be afraid to write how you want to. Part of the wonderful freedom of blogging is that there is no ‘house style’ to which you must confirm; you can have your own voice.
- Write when you feel like it. Words will flow when you’re in the mood – there are no deadlines.
- Link twitter and facebook to your blog, it’s a great way to draw attention to old blog posts that people may have missed.
- Always allow and read comments. It’s invaluable to see reader’s reactions.

To find out more, visit, become a fan on Facebook and follow on Twitter @postcardwall_ 

Thursday, 18 July 2013

How Travel Changed My Life by Jonny Blair of Don't Stop Living

It was July 2002. Life was pretty much going nowhere for me. I worked in my local butchery in Bangor in Northern Ireland. When I got paid every Friday, I'd go to the local pub and spend my money. Repeat the same thing every week and life got a bit repetitive and boring. One day there was a foot and mouth crisis and we ran out of meat in the butchery, so I got sent home early. On that spare afternoon, I had a new idea and life had to change. I used my assets and my passion to engineer a new plan. I had a media studies qualification from my teenage years studying in Belfast. I knew the capital city of Paraguay. I knew how to save money. Add geography to media to money saving skills and I decided that was it - I was off to see the world. I engineered a path to Bournemouth in England, initially to study a degree...

When I got to Bournemouth however I was having way too much fun...within a year I had been working in three jobs and had mates from over 40 countries around the world. I was inspired and I knew I wasn't returning to the streets of Northern Ireland. I had forgotten about my degree, I was working so much and I was backpacking round England, then Europe at any given opportunity. I bunged something like twenty countries into my first few years of basing myself there and then I wanted more. I headed backpacking around the world.

While I sipped beer in Toronto in Canada on my first real backpacking trip, I met some travel bloggers and so I set up Don't Stop Living (my one man, seven continents travel blog). Well that was in 2007. Six years down the line I can say my life has changed entirely from that day we ran out of meat in the local butchery.

I visited China in 2007 for the first time, I bungy jumped and sky dived my way through New Zealand and I was inspired. Just in case life ever went "tits up" I quickly headed back to Bournemouth and finished my degree (in honesty I scraped through it after backpacking through Italy, Sweden and France!) and then after a stint selling ice cream and working on car ferries, I headed to Taiwan.

A few weeks in Taiwan and I was inspired by the people I met. I met backpackers who lived on $5 US a day, I spent hours waiting on buses up the East Coast to cities I'd never heard of, I drank with strangers and I was officially now a nomad. I remember the day I called myself a nomad. Nobody could disagree, I didn't really have a "home" anymore. My best mate (I'll namecheck him - Neil Macey) let me sleep on his sofa with the hope I'd return the favour further down the line.

Within a month, I'd kept my promise by sharing a room with him in a flat I found, then I was working in a pub and soon we were backpacking our way round Australia. Working in any jobs we could get and we were totally inspired. We still found time for beer and football - our two loves - he headed to Korea and I left myself stranded in Tasmania to pick up the pieces. Then I got a job on a broccoli farm in the mountains of central Tasmania. I didn't see civilisation for months. But I worked hard - 12 hours a day, 7 days a week for a few months. I earned a bucket load of cash. So I booked a trip to Antarctica. Then I worked in a pub for a few months to save more money to do South America while I was at it.

By the age of thiry I had bunged all seven continents and over sixty countries into my travel repertoire and I was "only a barman" or a "broccoli farmer". Yes I saved hard, worked hard and lived my dream and I'm proof that anyone can do it.

In between times, I worked on car ferries, I milked cows, I taught English, I backpacked in Africa, I studied in Montevideo and I worked in Hong Kong. Life was crazy. I was rolling through cities and writing about it - I was so passionate about travel. I didn't think anyone was even reading my stories. But they were and I started getting e-mails asking for travel tips. I changed my blog domain and theme and set myself on working on my travel blog non-stop. Then recently I got scouted out as a travel expert and I now work for a few travel sites as well as posting endlessly on my own travel blog. I work on side projects nowadays and I get the odd sponsored media trip through my travel stories. I even still manage to find time to teach English! Right now I'm about to board a flight to Burma before heading to Tanzania, North Korea and Azerbaijan. I am living my travel dreams and hoping to inspire everyone else to do it too!!

I'm just sharing my story of how one small instant can change your life like that. In the blink of an eye. I now run one of the top travel blogs on the internet and travel the world without boundaries or inhibitions. I'm a professional nomad and I love it. Yet I started off as a guy working in a local shop. With nothing...

It doesn't take much to change your life or live your dreams. I now plan my entire lifestyle around travel. But that's not what I want to say - I just want to tell you this - YOU CAN DO IT TOO. If you want to get out and see the world, you can...

Here's my top 3 tips on how to do it, you'll not need to hear anything else:

1. Book a one way flight and off you go into the sunset...
2. Take any job you can get and don't be fussy - it's money...
3. Head off the beaten track to places nobody else ever goes...

And that my friends is how I changed my life over a period of ten years. It's a cliche but "if I can do it, anyone can do it" and let's leave it to Bruce Springsteen, "They'll pass you by, glory days..."

To keep up with Jonny Blair and his one man travel blog, visit Don't Stop Living. Follow Jonny on Twitter, Facebook  and Jonny's YouTube channel.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Bella’s Power-Kraut by Annabel Wright of Bella's Freestyle Kitchen

Boost your gut flora and get your health tip-pity top!

Digestive health is important and I’m a firm believer that the right kinds of food really can be a panacea for everyone.  At the same time ‘food glorious food’ really is a joyous experience when the right combination of flavours and textures are brought together to play a symphony on your palate, so I certainly don’t advocate denying yourself the enjoyment of tasty food.

Culturally haven’t we all become a bit numb to what is advertised in the supermarkets as “healthy”?  I’m a Coeliac and so as a matter of necessity I have to read ingredients labels to make sure the product is free of Gluten. This has really opened up my mind to how much rubbish these manufacturers throw into a recipe in order to - fill it out, make it last longer, and make it cheaper for them to produce - so it’s not necessarily as healthy and nutrient dense as it could be for us!

With all this in mind I have been on a mission for the last fifteen years to make recipes that are made with alternative ingredients that not only taste fantastic but are also much healthier for you too and as an aside, just happen to be gluten and cow milk free… I’m so passionate about this, I actually dream about recipes, about combinations of flavours and how I want the end result to look.  I’ve just started the blogging journey and have already had fantastic responses to my Birthday Blog: The Dream Cake... Chocolate Beetroot Cake, Sexy Little Nectarine Tart, Bella’s Banana Bread, The Ultimate Chicken Salad with Bella's Pig Candy, Smokin’ Meatballs and The Lunch Box Plan – my head is ‘a-spin’ with recipes and which ones to put on the blog next! For the purposes of this post I wanted to share with you Bella’s Power-kraut!

Ok so here’s the deal, I didn’t invent Sauerkraut; versions of it were invented as far back as 2000 years ago in China – the simplest of recipes – Cabbage & Salt. So what’s the big deal and why are fermented foods kind of the big secret health weapon?

Well apparently Sauerkraut is extremely high in Vitamins C, B, and K. In addition to that you get Calcium, Magnesium, dietary fibre, Folate, Iron, Potassium, Copper and Manganese, and the fermentation process actually increases the bio-availability of the nutrients which makes the humble cabbage even more nutrient dense than it’s original naked beginnings.  Raw Sauerkraut also contains live Lactobacilli and is rich in enzymes so it really is all set to boost your immunity and your digestive health by promoting the growth of healthy flora in your gut and protecting you against many diseases of the digestive tract. Ever had antibiotics in your lifetime? If the answer is yes then it’s totally worth re-colonising these healthy gut-flora guys back into your system! Hurrah to the “kraut!”

Now, you can buy Sauerkraut from various stores but that’s not fun, can be pricey, and the pasteurized ones have had all the good stuff killed off anyway! Also, why spend a fortune on shop bought pro-biotic tablets or pro-biotic (packed full of sugar) yoghurts, when it’s so easy to make your own yummy, pro-biotic packed, “Power-kraut!”

You can get yourself a proper Sauerkraut making crock pot, there are loads of styles online, but if like me you are so excited about getting started and you can’t possibly wait for delivery of one these fancy (sometimes expensive) pots – just dive in with gusto! Get yourself a cabbage red or white or why not one of each?

Some salt… I like Himalayan salt, because it is unrefined and unprocessed and apparently it contains the full spectrum of 84 minerals and trace elements, which a lot of processed salts are missing.

Now shred those cabbages finely, either by hand into long thin strips like this:

Or if you are short of time, just throw it into a food processor, shred-mode-styley, like this:

Now layer up the cabbage with a sprinkling of salt for each layer.  If you want to be a bit adventurous and go the Bella’s Power-kraut route why not throw in some Carrot (Vit A and Beta Carotene), Fennel (Vit C, Fibre, Folate, Potassium for cardiovascular and colon health) a sprinkle of Juniper Berries (high in Vit C and apparently lowers blood sugar, improves digestion and helps promote kidney health) and a couple of Star-Anise (contains antioxidants properties and is considered to be anti-viral and anti-fungal) for an extra awesome “Vit-hit”!

Pack the shredded, salt-layered veg down – really squash it (make sure your have clean hands and use cling-film as a kind of glove).  The salt will draw the moisture out of the veg and the lacto-fermentation process will begin:

You will see the liquid start to draw out as you squash!

Put the small plate on top and add a weight to help keep it squashed – I find a weighty jar of rice, helps! Then cover the lot in cling film and leave it to work it’s magic.

See how much liquid gets squashed out!

In the warmer weather we are currently experiencing you will see the tell tail fermenting signals starting fairly quickly – a few little bubbles appearing up the side of the bowl within the first 12 hours; it might take longer if things are a little cooler.  All you need to do is check on it every couple of days making sure it is well squashed and more liquid has been drawn out starting to rise above the line of the cabbage.  It can take anywhere from 2-6 weeks for your Sauerkraut to be ready. How you know if it is “ripe,” is by giving it regular little taste tests around week two. The texture of the vegetables will have softened and the taste will be tangy, a hint of light vinegar and mellow saltiness. At the point you feel it has reached it’s prime in the taste department, jar it up and it will keep in the fridge for several months – if it lasts that long!  It is a unique flavour but goes oh-so well with slices of ham or smoked Mackerel. Get inspired and shred that cabbage! Power to the “Kraut!”

Annabel Wright is an actress, with a passion for cooking. Annabel is a Coeliac and follows a gluten free and cow's milk free diet. Determined that the food she eats can be shared and enjoyed by family and friends has driven her to create recipes that are as satisfying as 'normal food.' For more recipes, visit and follow Annabel on Twitter.

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Why book blogging must come from the heart by Mélanie McGilloway of Library Mice

I had always loved reading obviously but only really became particularly interested in children’s literature as I trained to become a librarian. Rediscovering children’s literature at that time was what turned a love of books into a passion for books. So it was natural for me, eventually, to find a channel to express that passion.

When I started blogging about six years ago, I was first and foremost looking for somewhere to keep a record on my thoughts about what I was reading.  I was writing for myself mostly, not even really thinking about an audience.  Of course there were always the occasional comments and discussion, but until I got into Twitter a few years later, I did not really connect with fellow enthusiasts.

It therefore came as a total surprise when a publisher first approached me after a post mentioning a book I really wanted to read and asked me if I would like to review it. I didn’t really think that many people read my blog, let alone publishers. I felt hugely flattered that they thought me worthy of this, and I still do, every time I receive books for review.

But as Library Mice gradually grew, so did the amount of review copies landing in my letter box. I am not writing this to brag or to moan about it, and certainly I have never taken any of it for granted. But with this came a new responsibility, a new set of problems.  How was I supposed to find the time to review all those books? What if I didn’t really like the book? Reviewing each book sent would have totally changed the dynamics of my blog.

Therefore I had to think long and hard about what I wanted Library Mice to become, and what I didn’t want it to be. For me, for a review to be credible and enjoyable to write and read, I need to have loved the book that I am reviewing. It needs to come from the heart, not as a result of pressures I have set myself. So I decided that I would only write reviews about books that I had enjoyed, and ignore the others. After all, I spend my waking hours campaigning for reading for pleasure and that is definitely the message I want to convey through Library Mice.

I think this approach works. I am happy with my blog, readers hopefully are happy with my blog and the authors, illustrators and publishers featured are, I think, satisfied with the coverage I give them. Library Mice is a labour of love. Like all loving relationships, we have our ups and downs, and sometimes I do feeling like abandoning it.  But again, like all loving relationships, we kiss and make up and off I go back to sharing my love and enthusiasm of children’s books again.

Library Mice has brought me some great opportunities and allowed me to meet and collaborate with some amazing people and for that, I am very grateful. So share your love and enthusiasm and you never know where it might take you ...

My three tips on book blogging:

1. Write the blog you would like to read: But don’t try to emulate others. Find your voice – only then can you really convey enthusiasm in your reviews.

2. Have a review policy: State what you will and won’t review, making it easier to say “thank you but no thank you” when you decline an offer.

3. Don’t be afraid to take a break: I love my blog, but I do have a life outside of it, and sometimes the two collide big time. When that’s the case, life always has to take priority. I’d rather take a break than write rushed and half-hearted reviews on books that deserve more than that. I know a lot of people will say a good blogger should post regularly, but personally, I’d rather go for quality than quantity.

Mélanie McGilloway is children’s book enthusiast and reading for pleasure specialist (aka a school librarian) who blogs at Follow Melanie on Twitter @librarymice