My Mother is an Artist

The second pop-up for the Emerald Bookshelf kicked off on Saturday at the Gala Opening of My Mother is an Artist at Bridgend Farmhouse. It was a lovely afternoon of book and art chat – sharing the inspiration and sometimes frustrations of being a mother and an artist. I spoke briefly about some of my behind the scenes of being a writer and a mum. I thought I would share my thoughts here, along with some images from the day.

Do get along to the month long exhibition – and take home some inspiration in the form of books and art! 

My Mother is an artist runs from 19th January until the 17th of February

I am a writer, an editor and a book publisher.

I cannot say those things without – in the same breath explaining that I am not REALLY an editor, not REALLY a publisher and sometimes I am not even sure if I REALLY qualify as a writer.

I have impostor syndrome: but on good days I try to fight it.

The book that I edited and self published is You Won’t Remember This – travel with babies. I came up with the idea, contributed a story to it, wrote the introduction, collected all the other stories, gave feedback to the contributors where I thought it was needed. I also project managed all the things that turned computer files into a real book.

I had been so excited for so long about sharing the beautiful stories in the book with an audience that it was a little deflating to discover that a little self published book on a niche topic was not what book-stores wanted, and was not going to be discovered if I just plopped it out there on the internet.

To be honest I had no idea just how hard it was for ‘unknown’ writers to find an audience until I finished the mammoth job of creating the book and then realised I had no idea how to tell the world it existed.

BUT that in itself has created a whole other journey. I began learning about how social media works (and who it works for), about self-promotion, community building and networking. I love some of the online communities I have encountered along the way, and for a woman who is often on her own with two small children the opportunity to ‘meet’ people with a similar mindset online has been brilliant. I’ve also seen how events like this which bring people together in ‘real life’ are so important to artists, their families and the community. One of the ‘real life’ things that has come out of all this is the creation of the pop-up Emerald Bookshelf – to make a space indie for writers to connect with new audiences.

None of my battles to bring out my book, or (I suspect) the private battles to bring the other books on the shelf out, are why you should consider picking them up and having a read – but the behind the scenes is worth sharing because it is part of our artistic journeys – part of our kids journeys with a mother who is an artist.

You should consider taking a closer look at the books on the shelf because of the stories printed on the pages. Current books on the shelf.

Photography in this blog courtesy of Andrea Balzarini



Barcelona – travel with kids

I have shared a few pictures of our recent trip to Barcelona with the kids. The pictures show – as pictures tend to do – happy kids in a beautiful European city. I’ve always tried to be authentic in writing about travel with babies and travel with kids. I’ve recently added to my social media presence by joining  instagram– lots of fun so far, but it has reminded me again about the importance of authenticity online.

Barcelona – authentic notes on a city break with kids

Who: me: mum: Sandy the carrier of Finn.

Jon: Dad: husband: aka the carrier of bags.

Rafa: the five year old who can not stand still.

Finn: the three year old who is still not very well toilet trained.

When: Three nights during the October half term 2018

The Cheat sheet:

We are not very good with 24hr clocks.

Time at the airport is always longer and more stressful than you think it will be.

Kids are basically happy to be taken to familiar places: playgrounds and the beach were their highlights.

Cultural attractions can be bribed with ice-cream.

I carried Finn in the harness at various points, this allowed us to do big touristy days out with a three year old, who can walk quite a long way, but would have struggled to keep up otherwise.

Picnics are winners.

Tapas Bars are winners the most.

Three days is a great amount of time in which to see the main city attractions.

A city break is far too busy to come back relaxed – I came back with a cold.

Top Tip: Short city breaks with kids are great family time. Families are loud, exhausting, funny, stressful, grubby and very rarely perfect.

The truth behind the insta perfect moment:

my insta perfect moment

I love this picture, it was taken by my husband just as we were heading off for our ramble in the Gothic Quarter. We had checked out of our accommodation and had all our luggage with us. Within two hours of the picture being taken Finn’s legs were tired and I put him in the harness. Jon took my bag along with his own and Rafas. Finn had a huge wee in the harness, soaking through his clothes, the padded seat of the harness, and my dress. Thank goodness for dark colours.

For more authentic travel with kids and babies check out You Won’t Remember This- travel with babies

The long version of our family trip to Barcelona:


We had an evening flight on the Tuesday. Not ideal for the kids, but the most affordable option. All the packing got done after lunch. We just did carry on bags so we could get away from the airport quickly. We were packed, had an early dinner and were about to settle into killing time before going to the airport, when Jon got a text reminder about our departure time from the airline – which was two hours earlier than the departure time I had in my head. We scurried about got shoes on, double checked passports, had a final wee and headed off to the airport tram in a far less relaxed state of mind than we had planned.

I reminded Jon that I should never be trusted with 24 hour time – but we were on our way. Yippee.

At the airport:

Check in was straightforward as we had no bags to check and we got there early enough for there to be no queues. We got through security etc. with no more hassle than the usual stressed parent trying to keep two small children in a straight line while juggling passports, our bags, kids bags, toys, jackets and jumpers. And then we were back to killing time. It was at this point of the trip that I came up with a new family rule: superglue – which meant hold my hand and don’t let go… or it was supposed to… now it means walk sort of near me… or it was supposed to.

There were two play areas: one near gate nineteen, one near gate two. Our flight did not have a gate yet. We took a punt and headed to the play area near gate nineteen. It was relatively quiet and the boys played noisily, and mostly entertained themselves. I watched for the gate to come up on the departures screen. Jon caught up on work on the airport wifi.

The gate got announced. It was two. We gathered up all the boys toys, our bags and other debris. I put Finn into the harness on my back. We hiked to the other end of the airport, and waited again.

The Flight:

Direct from Edinburgh to Barcelona. I was seated in front of Jon and the boys. Finn had reached his tired threshold and cried and cried and cried very noisily to sit next to me. The staff found other seats to move the two people next to me and moved Finn. He was happy, and after take off he went to sleep. Before we landed I had to move him so that the armrests could go down. He cried and cried and cried.

When we got off the plane I put Finn into the harness again – on my front this time. He went back to sleep.

Our Accommodation:

In the Gothic Quarter. We looked at various options but decided central was a good plan for such a short trip. We arranged a late check in with our accommodation. When the taxi dropped us off we had to search around a little bit to find the late arrival instructions. We were let in through the stunning foyer by a very kind man and shown to our room. Basic, clean, shared facilities and with windows out over a laneway with a very noisy bar.

Eventually everyone went to sleep. Then the garbage trucks came. Then we went to sleep again.

Day one:

I woke up rather groggily. Jon found peppermint tea. It helped. The boys were very excitable. The slight change in time zones helped us out a bit – it was not as super early in Barcelona as it would have been in Edinburgh, but I was still very aware that everybody else in our accommodation was going to hear all their carry on. We went out in search of breakfast and coffee and found a cafe across the street. Fresh juice, pastries, coffee and more coffee for me set us up for the day. We made this our regular breakfast place for the whole trip.

Kids in the traditional entryway to a building in the Gothic Quarter, Barcelona.
Grand entry to our accommodation. Gothic Quarter, Barcelona

We tried to plot our day over coffee. The weather report said this was going to be the sunniest day, so we went for beach, and cable car. We went back to our room. Packed everything for a day into one backpack and headed out. Got a block away and I realised I was going to need my hat. Jon went back for it. We headed off again. We realised that Rafa and I had hats, but Finn and Jon did not. We bought hats from a street seller and wandered on. We could see the cable car in the distance, but managed to walk the wrong way to get there. We looked at a lot of very expensive boats. Finn got tired and I put him in the harness on my back and carried him.

We found the Cable car. Win- both kids were free! I suspect that there would be times of the year when the queue for this attraction would be very long. Even in October it was not quick. There is a queue to buy the tickets. A queue to get into the lift and a queue once you are up the top of the cable car tower thing. There are also great views of the city and clean toilets to use while you wait. There was quite a lot of ‘why is it taking so long’ type complaining. Finn had a wee in the toilet – win.

We all loved being in the cable car, seeing the city far far down below.

There had been a lot of ‘I need an Ice cream’ type complaining through the morning. Ice cream was promised when we got to the top. Ice cream was delivered. And fries. And more coffee. This was our most touristy eating destination for the whole trip. Good views though.

Travel with small kids really needs to be timed around when they need feeding. Eating in Spain (according to the guidebooks) needs to be timed around siesta. With an eye on the clock we explored a bit, tried to keep the kids out of the fountain, tried to keep the kids out of the dirt, and then decided to head down to find some proper lunch near the beach.

More queues. More complaining. Lots of ‘I don’t want lunch I want to go to the beach.’

We decided on a picnic lunch via a beachside supermarket rather than risk the disquiet of a sit down meal. Bread, samami, cheese, a cold drink. As soon as we hit the sand Finn sat down and started digging. Rafa ran off towards the water. We found a bare patch of sand. We gathered up the boys and attmpted to feed and sun cream them. Attempted to get them to stay out of the water until we had something to eat. Attempted to keep the sand out of the food. Attempted to get the massage ladies, sarrong salesman, beer salesman, mojito salesman to leave us alone. We failed.

We had fun.


Later on we scraped as much sand as possible off ourselves and wandered through a new neighbourhood. We found a coffee place next to a local playground. The boys played, we revived. It was tempting to stop and eat again, but it was decided (by me) that it was not quite warm enough any more to sit outside. There was much complaining about leaving the playground.

We found a tapas place with friendly staff. We ate lots of tasty food. I had a cava. It was a perfect meal. Unfortunately we can never go back. Prior to departure Rafa stole Finns chocolate cake and destroyed it under the table, then Finn had a wee on the floor. We paid. I realised we had no more dry clothes for Finn. He went into the harness with wet jeans. We walked home just as most of the city was heading out for the night.

Day 2.

This was our sight seeing day. I wanted to see Sagrada Familia and Park Güell aka lots of Gaudi. We decided on the hop on hop off bus as best for little legs and seeing as much as possible of the city. On one of our hop on hop off moments we crossed Catalonia Square and the boys encountered a mob of pigeons. Then the rain came. We dashed to the bus and clambered, avoiding the downpour: or so we thought. The open rooftop of the first part of our journey had been replaced with a canvas roof… with many holes, and the windows were still open. We drove through Barcelona spotting notable sights, avoiding drips, and being soaked with dumps of water everytime we went around a corner.

I loved it.

At Sagrada Familia we had our first proper taste of big tour groups and crowds. We decided not go inside, but ogled the building from outside.

When we had had our fill of the spires and cranes we wandered back towards the bus, and sheltered under some trees. It was a good day for umbrella and rain coat salesmen, though presumably they find plenty of other things to sell on sunny days. Finn chose that moment to have a wee in his shorts. We decided that since he was already soaking wet from the rain we would leave him as he was.

The rain continued when we got back on the bus and the decision to sit in the relative dry of the downstairs of the bus was unanimous. The drop off point for Park Güell was actually nowhere near the park. This did mean we were able to find a local place to have lunch. It also meant a rather steep walk on tired legs. The rain had stopped and we kept them going up the hill with the promise of a playground.

There is part of Park Güell which is paid, and part of it which is open to the public to wander about in. Jon stayed with the boys while they played in the playground – which was in a foresty sort of spot but really could have been anywhere. I considered going into the paying section, but the timed entry meant it would have been about an hour until I could go in and I was conscious of the kids energy levels. I opted instead for walking about the curved, sculptural paths that wound up and up and up.

It was great to get a feel for this amazing park at my own pace, see the views out over the city and glimpse the famous mosaics. When I got back the boys were nowhere to be seen.

They eventually returned from a bathroom visit: clean trousers were required this time.

By the time we got back on the bus energy was low. We watched destinations and neighbourhoods slip by, read about their highlights in our guidebook, but even the football stadium got only a murmur of interest. We were done.

Back in the Gothic Quarter we glimpsed La Rambla but managed to find smaller, quieter streets to wander down. We were too early, or late for one or two food places, but we found a tapas bar open, got good chat from the staff and demolished a lot of meats, breads, cheese and tortilla. We managed to persuade the boys to have an after dinner meander with the promise of icecream and got a look at the promenading locals.

We headed back to our room about when everyone else was heading out.

Day three:

I think after a few nights in unfamiliar beds we all slept best on the last night- an unavoidable issue of the short city break. By the time you have adapted to your new surroundings it is time to go. Without particularly planning it our last day was also our earliest start, so we were up, breakfasted, packed and out the door in record time. With a late afternoon flight we decided to take all of our luggage with us for the day rather than backtracking.

We kept it local and explored the sights of the Gothic Quarter. I was impressed with the boys behaviour in the Barcelona Cathedral. Rafa was in awe of the statue of Jesus on the cross and Finn wanted me to find mothers and babies for him to look at. They were actually scared of the geese – a famed highlight for children in the cathedral. After some more Gothic sight seeing all the boys really wanted to do was to find somewhere to stop and play with their toys.

I carried Finn again and we made our way though the Gothic maze to the Plaza Real getting tangled up in tour groups as we meandered around looking for sights listed in our guide book, and spotting other things. Finn had a huge wee down my back. Nice.

We camped out at Plaze Real by the fountain, putting dry clothes on Finn, people watching, soaking up the atmosphere and for those who needed it drying out our clothes in the sunshine. The small boys were delighted to get into their superhero game and oblivious to the selfies they bombed. The square is lined with outdoor eating possibilities. Being close to La Rambla made us dubious about committing to eating there, but eventually those of us who do not wee in our own pants made the decision to have an eating and bathroom stop.

We continued with our attempt to eat as much Patatas Bravas as possible and tried to get some calories into the children who were in a run around, be loud and complain sort of mood.

The thing that made this meal a winner was the street performers. I am not keen on street performers in general but this group of young, fit men did a very inspiring street acrobatic performance. T he boys actually sat still and watched it. I am ashamed to say we had no local currency on us having donated the last of our Euros at the cathedral, so these admirable performers got shrapnel which was a mixture of British and Australian currency.

Train to the airport:

After lunch we meandered towards the train station. Finn ended up back in the harness, with the promise that ‘I won’t wee on you any-more mummy.’ He was asleep on my back before we entered the underground. The staff at Catalonia Square told us exactly where to change trains and mid afternoon on the Friday it was not overcrowded. The train to airport option was a good one. Like going into the underground in London there were a few long tunnels and perhaps the longest, deepest escalators I’ve ever been on. Finn woke up on the second part of the journey and went into play mode with Rafa. We were just congratulating ourselves on a drama free airport journey when Finn had another huge wee, flooding the floor of the train. It was amusing to see how quickly everyone evacuated that end of the train. We pulled out our travel towels and mopped down the area and changed Finn again. I decided that at this point he could go into a pull up.

The return journey.

With non of the exhilarating ‘we are going on a holiday’ vibes the return journey was not much fun. We were all out of energy, the plane was delayed which made our quite good on paper arrival time really rather late. Jon found a power point at the airport and the boys watched a movie on his laptop- first screen time for the whole trip. The flight was pretty painless. This time it was Rafas turn to fall asleep. Finn chatted the whole way.

Back home we were thankfull again that we did not have to wait for bags to come out, but the customs arrival hall was as tiresome as ever. I was again pleased to have the harness to put Finn into. He fell asleep on the tram home.

If you love it Pin It. ta.

In conclusion, a reminder: Short city breaks with kids are great family time. Families are loud, exhausting, funny, stressful, grubby and very rarely perfect.

The Emerald Bookshelf – new pop up

Residency at My Mother is an Artist

Opening afternoon – 19th January – a kid friendly event kicking off at 2pm, with readings and artists talks. Anne Hamilton will be reading her story Pumpkin Baby from You Won’t Remember This- travel with babies. Come along and be inspired.

At Bridgend Farmhouse  – Edinburgh.

On the shelf:

Forty is my Forte – Catherine Winton

This middle aged woman’s response to hitting the big four oh will have you laughing with her, and at her. And maybe, just maybe, it will inspire you to make your own crazy list of ‘firsts’ to celebrate your next big milestone. Read her blog.

Everyday Happy – Emma O’Connor

Emma is the founder of Happiness Now, a chefs wife, and most importantly mum of two boys. After helping her eldest son learn to manage and recover from his anxiety, Emma is now on a mission to empower other families to do the same. Her online community and regular meet ups for parents of anxious children aim to reduce the isolation, and bring people together to help each other. Her book ‘Everyday Happy’ is a place to start. When leaving the house is too hard it prompts simple actions for happiness, and delivers a message of hope. ‘You can recover, you have control, you can do it’. Connect with Emma on Facebook at the Happiness Now Community  or on instagram.

 The Goddess Collection – Ailie Wallace

Created in the wake of the #MeToo movements and the women’s rights movement of 2017 the poems in this collection discuss what it means to be a 21st Century woman, and some of the challenges we may face and shares personal reflections on the writers own struggles through the teenage years and into adulthood. Connect with Ailie on instagram or her blog.

You Won’t Remember This – Travel with Babies

Sandy Bennett-Haber (ed.)

Some days with babies the world seems very small and it is refreshing to be reminded that the world is big, and that you can still embrace it when you have a baby strapped to your front. Twenty tales from around the world written by people who tried and survived a journey with a baby.

Waymaking – an anthology of women’s adventure writing, poetry and art

– Helen Mort, Claire Carter, Heather Dawe, Camilla Barnard (ed)

Waymaking is an anthology of prose, poetry and artwork by women who are inspired by wild places, adventure and landscape.

Women Writers Network Favourite Reads of 2018

I am still in that valley known as the kids school holidays, so 2019 will not officially start until later this week. In the meantime here is a list compiled by Helen Taylor of all the  Women Writers Network Favourite Reads of 2018

Feel free to tweet us @womenwritersnet with any of your favourites.

Happy New Year and Happy reading!

The Emerald Bookshelf – pop-up at The Falkirk Storytelling Festival

The Emerald Bookshelf – space for readers and writers to connect.

The shelf will pop up during The Raging Godesses event at the Falkirk Storytelling Festival on the 6th October 2018 at the Falkirk Trinity Church, Manse Place, FK1 1JN Falkirk

Come along from 3pm, browse the bookshelf, grab a drink and listen to the jam packed program of poetry and prose, and take home a new book.

The Raging Goddesses will feature an all-female line up.

Prepare to be empowered by Adele Gavin, Ailie Wallace, Carol Alan, Carolyn Paterson and Suzanne Egerton.

On the shelf – guest curated by Ailie Walace — you will find: The Rooftop Writers Anthology, Suzanne Egerton, Max Scratchman, Carol Allan, Ailie Wallace, Waymaking – a new anthology of Women’s adventure writing and more.

Take a glimpse at some of our featured books below:

Suzanne Egerton – I Really Did Love Her

Scottish-based writer Suzanne Egerton has put together an assortment of stories and short pieces which explore the female experience, often in unexpected ways. From a young woman’s concern for her husband’s mistress, to the trans man haunted by a long-ago rape; from the début lesbian author stranded in a hotel of ill repute, to the unexpected benefits of a sex chat line; there is lust, love, lost love, and plenty more. And who would think to wonder: earrings or not, is God really gender-neutral?

Suzanne Egerton, a regular at spoken word events has performed at various literary festivals, including Edinburgh. Her first novel, ‘Out Late with Friends and Regrets’, was published in 2013.

Carol Allan – RAGE!

Carol Allan began to write poetry after two divorces and the suicide of her father when she was twenty seven. As well as being deaf she suffers from dyslexia and dyspraxia but has found her membership of Rooftop Writers to be an enormous help in her own development as a poet and short story writer.

Waymaking – ed. Helen Mort, Claire Carter, Heather Dawe and Camilla Barnard

An anthology of prose, poetry and artwork by women who are inspired by wild places, adventure and landscape. With contributions from adventurers including Alpinist magazine editor Katie Ives, multi-award-winning author Bernadette McDonald, adventurers Sarah Outen and Anna McNuff, renowned filmmaker Jen Randall and many more, Waymaking – published by Vertebrate Publishing is inspiring and pivotal work in an era when wilderness conservation and gender equality are at the fore.

Ailie Wallace – The Goddess Collection

Created in the wake of the #MeToo movements and the women’s rights movement of 2017 the poems in this collection discuss what it means to be a 21st Century woman, and some of the challenges we may face and shares personal reflections on the writers own struggles through the teenage years and into adulthood.

Ailie Wallace is a creative writer from Falkirk. Her writing has appeared in the Scottish Book Trust Anthology 2016, as well as The Write Angle and Razur Cuts pamphlets. A poem from The Goddess Collection will also feature in the upcoming Persephone Project, which shares women’s #MeToo stories.

Aside from writing poetry, Ailie writes blogs and is a senior editor at a local magazine. She is currently working on a novel, and also runs a writing group in Falkirk, hosting monthly meetings and regular performance events. She is a full-time Mum to an 18-month old daughter, and on the rare occasion that she finds some free time, she enjoys yoga, reading and the outdoors.

Max Scratchman – The Last Burrah Sahibs

A warm and witty look at the unofficial last years of British Colonial Life as seen through the eyes of a small boy growing up out East in the dissolving remnants of the British Raj…

After being compulsorily retired from an Indian jute mill and returning to Dundee in the mid 1960s, Max Scratchmann’s family cannot settle down to life in Scotland. So, when the chance of a three-year contract in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) is offered, they promptly fly off to live the colonial life one last time.

“Funny, personal and moving – it’s an elegy to a lost past…” The Courier

Max Scratchman – Scotland for Beginners

Scratchmann was born the son of a Dundee jute wallah and spent the first six years of his life in India before being taken “home” to Scotland in the bitter winter of 1963.

In Scotland for Beginners he tells the often painful, but very funny, story of growing up in the bleak grey-harled bungalows of Dundee’s newly-built suburbs and learning to adapt to his native land in an era when the very fabric of the nation was changing.

Rooftop Writers – Breaking Your Silence

Falkirk’s Rooftop Writers aim to be so much more than just a writing group. As well as monthly meetings, they also have an extended Facebook community and host regular workshop and performance events to support local writing talent from Falkirk and beyond. They believe that everyone should have the opportunity to have their voices heard. Their first anthology, Breaking Your Silence will l launch as part of Falkirk Storytelling Festival on 4th October 2018, and all funds raised will go back into the Rooftop Writers’ fund to help keep supporting local writers.


Big Winds

The day of the big winds

we got a call

to collect our eldest son.

‘Quiet’ they said.

He came home and was quiet

in bursts,

then energetic

then complaining of a sore tummy.

I was happy to have my brood

all under our roof

with the winds raging outside.

The day after the big winds

my eldest woke saying he felt fine.

We said no to school.

He was taken,

along with my youngest

to fly kites

in the residual winds.

Later they played

in the front garden.

I went with them

taking my scissors

so I could survey the damage

to the willow bower and

the weedy daisies.

It is amazing how quickly

the willow leaves wilt

once the bough breaks.

As I cut and re-tied

the boys played doctor

and made long rows of stones.

The men across the road

cheerfully put up scaffolding

where yesterday

a slate, or tile

or something or other


Blew off

And hit a woman.

daisy image

Travelling to the Past

During our stay in Australia, in between catching up with friends and family, going to a family wedding and visiting as many beaches and native animals as we can I have been occupied with sorting through letters, photo’s, school work, diaries and travel journals stored at my mothers. Some are worth keeping, for others it is time to say goodbye.

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The act of looking back over past papers puts your brain into all sorts of unexpected rabbit holes. Some purely nostalgic, some surprises, re-rememberings and new ways of looking forwards. Quite fertile for a creative. Perhaps in time a whole story might grow out of this process. For now there is a pile destined for recycling and a poem.


Throwing out the Art Folios

Leafing through the high school folios
I find my old ‘art’ embarrassingly derivative.
Nothing but references to
Plath, Dali, angels and Matisse

Lino cut
Oil Painting
Still life of detergent bottle

Finding my way
one supposes.

All went into the bin.
After twenty years of taking up space.

It feels good – on the whole – to scrap these samplers,
make room for some new art.

But I still like Sylvia, Salvador and Henri
and I named my son for an angel.