Self-publishing has swung the pendulum back in favour of the author and for me that is a fairytale ending
However, a recent article by Donal Ryan on the harsh realities of being a published writer in Ireland has put paid to the fairytale notion of big advances and handsome royalties. Ryan revealed that for the first contract he signed he earned a sobering 40c per book, which left a lot of people asking, where does the rest of the cover price go?
Most people outside of the industry assume that once you have a contract and your book is in the shop window, you’re on the pig’s back, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Traditional publishing is a bit like fight club – nobody really knows what goes on because nobody talks about it. So for new writers, it can be a bit of a blow to discover the truth.
In an Irish Times article, Ruth Hegarty, managing editor at the Royal Irish Academy and president of Publishing Ireland, stated that if you made between €1,000-€2,000 a year, you were doing well. A survey of author earnings in Ireland also revealed that a quarter of authors earned just €500.
Honestly, if that had been my experience with my first book, I think I would have given up then and there; which makes me wonder how many other authors have walked away from writing? I would have seen it as a failure, but that’s only because I had no idea what the average sales figures were.
When I began submitting my debut novel back in 2013, while quietly humming “Some day my prince will come”, my expectations of the publishing contract were embarrassingly Cinderella-like. I may not have been expecting a gilded carriage, but I assumed that they would take care of everything and more importantly, take care of me. This is why I am so glad that I didn’t get that publishing deal, because I would have naively left everything in the hands of the publisher.
Becoming a self-published author has forced me to take sole responsibility of my writing career by learning everything I could about this industry from the ground up. If you want to be an author, you have to focus on the long game and I’m not sure that traditional publishing can give authors that kind of luxury anymore.
It’s clear that publishing houses are under pressure and are limiting their budgets for editorial and marketing. Authors are now required to do most of their own promotion, just like self-published authors have always done. Publishers save their money for their top 1 per cent of authors and there is little left in the kitty for newcomers.
There is still a lot of snobbery around self-publishing and while there are those who still view it as the poor relation, statistics show that the popularity of indie books is on the rise. A new report from Enders Analysis found that 40 of the 100 top-selling ebooks on Amazon US in March 2016 were self-published.
While self-publishing also has its fairytale stories, don’t be fooled into thinking this is an easy route to fame and fortune. Contrary to popular belief, there is a lot more to self-publishing than merely uploading your book and hitting publish. Successful authors invest heavily in their books; hiring freelance editors, cover designers and proofreaders, just like a regular publisher. Along with creative freedom comes the responsibility of setting your sales price, garnering reviews, running promotions and building an author platform. Most successful self-publishers are professional authors who take their careers very seriously. Readers are exceptionally discerning and can separate the amateurs from the professional authors very quickly.
The publishing world is in flux. More and more, we are seeing traditionally published authors moving into self-publishing. Polly Courtney, author of Feral Youth, decided to ditch Harper Collins because of what she felt was their chick-lit marketing approach to her books. Claire Cook, author of Must Love Dogs, left her publisher and her agent once she realised she could earn more through self-publishing: 70 per cent royalties on ebook sales compared to the standard 25 per cent a traditional author receives is hard to ignore.
Conversely, many self-published authors have been picked up by traditional publishers after achieving success themselves. Names like Hugh Howey, author of the Silo series, and Andy Weir, author of The Martian, come to mind. If these names are not familiar to you, it’s largely due to the fact that indie titles receive little or no coverage in traditional media. This, despite the fact that indie authors sell copies in the millions online and enjoy a robust social media following. Recognition and validation from the traditional literary community is rare and as a self-published author in Ireland, I am at best ignored and at worst, not taken seriously.
There has always been a debate over whether authors are better off self-publishing or going the traditional route. However, publishing doesn’t need to be an “either/or” decision anymore. We have now entered the age of the hybrid author; someone who is published both traditionally and self-published. It’s clear that authors can earn far more lucrative royalties through self-publishing, but the exposure and distribution of print books that comes with a mainstream publishing deal drives your brand as an author. One feeds the other and not only that; it places you in a much better position to negotiate with publishers if you already have a good author platform.
Hybrid authors have the best of both worlds and to be honest, I’m surprised that more Irish authors aren’t taking this route. Some books are more suited to self-publishing than others (as are authors) but at the very least, authors have the choice to pursue a more tailored approach to getting their book out there. Self-publishing has opened the door for a new kind of publisher/author relationship. American bestselling indie author Shannon Mayer recently signed a deal with Skyhorse Publishing that has allowed her to retain her eBook rights, while signing the print rights over to them. As she said herself in a recent podcast, it’s the holy grail of deals for authors.
I know all of this seems light years away from the world of Irish publishing, and while these kinds of deals might be the exception (Hugh Howey brokered a similar deal with Simon & Schuster) publishers need to start thinking outside of the box. This new kind of partnership is the way forward in my view, allowing publisher to collaborate with authors, rather than feeling as though you are handing over complete control of your work.
Traditional publishing is positively glacial in its approach to change. Digital publishing is a fast-paced environment and Amazon has responded to that. They have even created their own imprints for agented authors, showing that they can evolve and respond to the market. I believe it’s time for traditional publishers to do the same and put the author at the centre of the industry. Authors need a fair return for their work and it just doesn’t seem right to me that they are at the bottom of the pecking order when it comes to earnings. And yet, that is how the publishing industry is structured. As an author, you are advised to submit primarily to literary agents, as most of the bigger publishers will not accept unsolicited material. However, landing an agent also means parting with another 15 per cent of your earnings, so even though you are the one who has written the book, everyone else seems to be benefiting. But that’s how it works; the odds are skewed in their favour and as an author you just have to be glad you got published at all.
Being an author in Ireland seems to be more of a Grimm fairytale than a Cinderella story, but self-publishing has offered writers an alternative ending. While there are success stories, like newcomer Adam Croft who managed to pay off his mortgage in 20 weeks when sales of his crime series “went a bit mad” as he put it in a recent interview, most self-published authors have more modest sales. But at least they are no longer dependent on the “gatekeepers” or wondering how much longer their manuscript will wallow in the slush pile. Self-publishing has swung the pendulum back in favour of the author and for me that is a fairytale ending.
Evie Gaughan is a Galway author and her debut novel, The Heirloom, is set in her hometown. Her second novel, The Mysterious Bakery On Rue De Paris is not, but both are available on Amazon and Kennys Bookshop
In a recent interview with the critically acclaimed Irish author John Banville, he was quoted in The Irish Times as saying “I have not been a good father. No writer is.”
Granted, it may be a bit unfair to quote people out of context, but the twitter-storm blew a fury nonetheless. I was heartened to read so many men refuting the outdated stereotype of male writers as feckless, self-absorbed dinosaurs who put art above their personal relationships.
Yet aside from his statement that no writer can be a good parent, there was also the implication that all successful writers are male. This opened up a very important conversation and as one female commenter observed, “Ah yes, there is the unspoken assumption that the trueartist is male.”
You see, this author wasn’t saying that there are no female writers; that would be factually incorrect. But what he is implying is that the REAL writers, the writers who MATTER, are men. It’s not something overtly expressed, but it is made clear nonetheless that the work of male writers is considered as somehow more important than that of their female counterparts. I also grew up believing this myth, as Ireland only seemed to celebrate her literary sons; Yeats, Joyce and Beckett to name a few.
Where were all the women? And now that I am a writer myself, I wonder how much (if at all) things have changed?
VIDA is a non-profit organization founded to raise awareness of gender equality issues in literary culture, and for the past few years they have released figures on books that have been included in prominent literary magazines and journals for review.
I don’t think it will come as any surprise that the figures are overwhelmingly in favour of male authors, as the majority of critics are, in fact, male. Despite the fact that women buy two thirds of books sold, (according to novelist Ian McEwan, “When women stop reading, the novel will be dead.”), magazine reviews are centred on male authors and for the most part, written by male critics.
According to VIDA’s research, the London Review of Books featured 527 male authors and critics in 2014, compared with just 151 women (14 fewer than in 2013.) The New York Review of Books displayed a similar imbalance, featuring an overall figure of 677 men to 242 women, and in other publications it was found that fewer than half the authors reviewed were women. Why is it that the male voice seems to hold more gravitas?
In 2015, the author Catherine Nichols decided to do a little experiment to see if the publishing world really was as gender biased as the figures suggested. Firstly, she sent her novel to 50 agents using her own name and received just two manuscript requests. But when she sent the same material to the same agents, using a male pseudonym, the novel was requested 17 times.
“He is eight and a half times better than me at writing the same book,” wrote Nichols. “My novel wasn’t the problem, it was me – Catherine.”
Many female authors in the past were forced to use a male pseudonym in order to get published and I think they would be shocked to discover that this practice still happens today. Louisa May Alcott published as A.M. Barnard, Mary Ann Evans under the name of George Eliot, and the Brontë sisters (Ann, Charlotte and Emily) under the names Currer and Ellis Bell.
More recently, J. K. Rowling chose the more ‘gender neutral’ option of using her initials for Harry Potter and later published under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. In genres such as detective fiction and science fiction, it is often assumed that male authors fair better, or worse still, that male readers would not like to be seen reading a female author.
For years, writers such as Marian Keyes and Joanne Harris have spoken out about being pigeon-holed into the ‘Chick Lit’ market. Female authors (and readers) have taken offence to the term because it devalues and/or dismisses the work of women as something not to be taken seriously. According to Keyes – who has sold 30 million copies of her books – the chick-lit label is a derogatory term used to make female novelists figures of fun.
Even my own novel, The Heirloom, is constantly referred to as a ‘romance’. Yes, there is a love story in there, but there are also greater themes like religion, history, identity (the protagonist is adopted), adultery, and there is even a great big war in the middle of it! Yet as a writer, I feel forced to choose from a very narrow list of genres in order to reach my readers, and so I end up slotting it into the ‘Women’s Fiction’ category. I may as well stick a sign on it saying ‘Men, Keep Out!’
But it is not surprising that we have ended up where we are, when you consider how women have been, quite literally, written out of history, which has traditionally been recorded by men. Try and think of a famous historical female artist for instance, or a female composer? They don’t exactly roll off the tongue. Things haven’t improved much in recent times either.
ARTnews Magazine revealed the gender disparity of post-war and contemporary lots up for sale at the New York evening auctions, and the results for 2015 and 2014 were the same: 92 percent of lots were by male artists, while women comprised a mere 8 percent.
#WakingTheFeminists began as a response to The Abbey Theatre’s ‘Waking The Nation’ programme for the 1916 commemorations in Ireland, which featured only one play written by a woman. Female playwrights and actors across the world united in their anger over the blatant gender inequality displayed by the theatre, but this has since spilled over into other spheres where the female voice is continually silenced, overlooked or simply ignored.
So what does this all mean for the future? I feel we have made some progress in regards to gender equality in the arts, but only because women have fought tooth and nail to have their work treated equally. When you are raised in a patriarchal society that minimises the achievements of women, there is a certain amount of acceptance of the status quo.
We earn less pay for equal work and despite the fact that more women read and write fiction; it is the male author who is the most celebrated. The quality of female literature has been no less outstanding, despite the fact that the recognition has not been there, and book sales bear this out. I have even more admiration for women because they have had to work twice as hard for less than half the plaudits.
It’s about time that we were afforded the same consideration and respect as men, both professionally and personally. Awards like the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction are providing a platform for female writers and I think initiatives like this will go some way towards redressing the imbalance.
I think it’s time we laid to rest the traditional and well-pedalled image of a male writer smoking cigars and drowning in bourbon; writers are just regular people, men and women, some with children, some with full time jobs, whose stories are equally valid and need to be heard. Your profession does not determine whether or not you will be a good parent and your gender shouldn’t determine whether or not you will become a good writer.
Will Female Writers Always Be Second Best?
by Evie Gaughan
As we celebrate the foundation of our state and the proclamation of the Republic that promised “equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens”, it’s an interesting time to look at what progress (if any) we have made regarding gender equality in the arts. #WakingTheFeminists began as a response to The Abbey Theatre’s ‘Waking The Nation’ programme for the 1916 commemorations, which features only one play written by a woman. Female playwrights and actors united in their anger over the blatant gender inequality displayed by the theatre, but this has since spilled over into other spheres where the female voice is continually silenced, overlooked or simply ignored.
VIDA is a nonprofit organization founded to raise awareness of gender equality issues in literary culture, and for the past few years they have released figures on books that have been included in prominent literary magazines and journals for review. I don’t think it will come as any surprise that the figures are overwhelmingly in favour of male authors, as the majority of critics are in fact male. Despite the fact that women buy two thirds of books sold, magazine reviews are centred on male authors and critics.
According to VIDA’s research, London Review of Books featured 527 male authors and critics on their pages in 2014, compared with just 151 women (14 fewer than in 2013.) The New York Review of Books displayed a similar imbalance, featuring an overall 677 men to 242 women, and in other publications it was found that fewer than half the authors reviewed were women. Why is it that the male voice seems to hold more gravitas?
For years, writers such as Marian Keyes and Joanne Harris have spoken out about being pigeon-holed into the ‘Chick Lit’ market. Female authors (and readers) have taken offence to the term because it devalues and/or dismisses the work of women as something not to be taken seriously. According to Keyes – who has sold 30 million copies of her books – the chick-lit label is a derogatory term used to make female novelists figures of fun. Many female authors in the past were forced to use a male pseudonym in order to get published and I think they would be shocked to discover that this practice still happens today. Louisa May Alcott published as A.M. Barnard, Mary Ann Evans under the name of George Eliot, and the Bronte sisters (Ann, Charlotte and Emily) under the names Currer and Ellis Bell. More recently, J. K. Rowling chose the more ‘gender neutral’ option of using her initials and later published under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. In genres such as crime and science fiction, it is often assumed that male authors fair better, or worse still, that readers would not like to be seen reading a female author. This was also the case for Nora Roberts, a romance novelist who writes a detective series under the pseudonym J. D. Robb.
But it is not surprising that we have ended up where we are, when you consider how women have been, quite literally, written out of history, which has traditionally been recorded by men. Returning to the 1916 Rising, in all my formative years, I only ever read of the ‘men’ of 1916. Only now are we learning of the Cumann na mBan and the women who fought, as equals under the new proclamation, alongside their male counterparts. They were not all, as we were lead to believe, assisting as nurses or making tea. Airbrushed from history as they were, what would they think of the Republic of Ireland today where women still remain underrepresented in all walks of Irish life.
The #TimHunt debacle displayed the lingering misogyny that exists in the workplace, when the Nobel Prize winning biochemist declared that women in the science lab were far too distracting.
“Three things happen when [women] are in the lab: You fall in love with them, they fall in love with you and when you criticize them, they cry.”
This archaic attitude was dealt with swiftly and with such wit on Twitter, that his gaffe was almost worth while, just to hear these women’s voices. Inequality for women in science is chronic, as well as academia, which we have seen from the recent cases taken by five female lecturers in NUI Galway. They were all deemed eligible for promotion as senior lecturers, but had their applications turned down twice. The women are now seeking to have their cases reviewed by the university after the recent successful equality case taken by former lecturer Micheline Sheehy Skeffington. She won her claim in the Equality Tribunal that she had been discriminated on grounds of gender.
So what does this all mean for the future? Well hopefully, society as a whole (men and women, for we have all been influenced by our patriarchal past) are waking up to the fact that we have been handed down some deeply ingrained prejudices against women in all spheres of life and that it is time to change these ideas. The quality of female literature has been no less outstanding, despite the fact that the recognition has not been there, and book sales bear out this fact. I have even more admiration for my sex because they haven’t needed to blow their own trumpet, but it’s about time that we were afforded the same consideration and respect as men, professionally and personally. The word feminism has somehow been hijacked and transformed into something militant or even anti-men. But the following quote on the #WakingTheFeminists twitter account should put paid to that idea.
‘Feminism is the radical notion that women are people.’
(c) Evie Gaughan
Evie Gaughan is the author of The Heirloom and The Mysterious Bakery On Rue De Paris.
Living on the West Coast of Ireland, which is not renowned for its sunny climate, Evie escapes from the inclement weather into a converted attic to write stories and dream about underfloor heating.
Inspired by her love of historical fiction, gothic mysteries and romantic comedies, Evie has crafted her own unique style of writing that is warm, engaging and full of humour. She is currently working on her third novel, when not hanging around Twitter @evgaughan.
Woman’s Way Magazine – September 2015
Galway Now Magazine ~ Sept/Oct 2012
Fat Quarters, Jelly Rolls, Charm Packs and Layer Cakes – you would be forgiven for thinking that this issue of the Wellie Diaries was all about cake! But put down that fork, because we are about to enter a world that is just as indulgent and addictive, but without all the calories; Quilting.
My first introduction to quilting was back in the nineties when I watched the movie ‘How to Make an American Quilt’. I think we were all a little ‘Winona Obsessed’ back then and I wished desperately that I had a clutch-full of wise and mature female relatives to make me a fabulous quilt and impart their worldly knowledge through the joining of fabric. It seemed an amiable past time for women of a certain age, but not something that would keep Winona warm and fuzzy on a hot, Southern evening.
Now, either I have arrived at a certain vintage myself and am still in denial, or quilting has become cool. Lets assume it is the latter. For, little by little, in the virtual and real world, the quilting ‘habit’ is increasing in popularity and as they say in the trade, is bang on trend. Growing numbers of both men and women are returning to the needle and thread to discover the joys and artistry of quilting and patchwork. NUI Galway was transformed into a quilting village this summer, when Galway held the first International Quilting Festival in Ireland in July. Thousands of international visitors flocked to the city to take part in the week-long event. With over two hundred and eighty quilts on display, demonstrations and exhibits, the festival launched Ireland as something of a quilting stronghold and showcased our local quilters on the world stage.
While a lot of the designs and techniques on display were quite traditional, there is a vibrant community of modernist quilters in Ireland who embrace the standards of tradition and the versatility of modern design equally. Two such ladies recently founded the Modern Irish Quilters Guild, uniting a diverse group of young and old, experienced and novice quilters across the island of Ireland. Guild organisers, Cindy Coleman based in Galway and Sarah Flynn in Cork, began their first online Quilting Bee in July. It involves 12 participants (or bees) working on individual blocks and posting the finished product to the ‘Queen Bee’ who will assemble the quilt. These modern quilters use traditional techniques with a contemporary design twist in their use of colourful fabrics and functionality. For more information, follow their blog on http://modernquiltguildireland.blogspot.ie
So where does a young hipster with a penchant for patchwork get started? Well Cindy herself has just launched a new online store at http://www.fluffysheepquilting.com which means you don’t even have to leave the house to get your fabric fix. If it’s inspiration you seek, then check out her equally industrious blog, which is chock-full of crafty ideas like mug rugs (who knew our mugs needed rugs?) and gift swaps – the quilting equivalent of a secret Santa, except these gifts keep on giving all year round. If it’s online tutorials you’re after, self-taught quilter Sarah has some easy to follow projects like adorable iPhone cosies and bountiful bunting on her Fairy Face Designs blog.
When hunting for stash around town, the obvious place to go is Pippa Blue on Middle Street. Proprietors Eva and Ger offer great advice on how to get started and even offer classes on getting to grips with your sewing machine. Ester Kiely, a local textile artist and queen bee in her own right is another inspiring lady in the quilting community. She offers various workshops such as patchwork quilting and creative embroidery and even gets the kids involved through the CraftEd project in conjunction with the Crafts Council of Ireland.
Another option is to join a group. As machines can be an expensive investment, it might be worth your while taking a couple of classes or joining a group. One such group – Ready, Thready, Sew are based in Tuam and hold court every Tuesday in the Mercy Hall. Their fantastic designs can be seen on display every year during the Tuam Arts Festival in the Town Hall. And as I always say, the library is your greatest resource for free books on all aspects of quilting crafts.
Quilting is really so much more than a skill, it’s all about friendship, sharing ideas and rediscovering the pleasure of creating something beautiful and unique from scratch and by your own fair hand. Your creations can make very personal gifts for friends and family, an imaginative way of preserving old material that holds sentimental value. Entwined in a new baby’s quilt could be the threads and memories of generations past. In an age of mass production and consumption, quilting requires us to slow down and create something lasting. And as Winona’s elders understood, quilting can be very cathartic. Yes, there will probably be times when you want to bury it in the garden and never see it again, such is the pain-staking work involved, but the end product is always worth it.
As I have found out, learning these creative crafts is also a great way for making new friends & connecting with like-minded people. There is a thriving online community of quilters keen to impart their knowledge and enthusiasm for the craft. I received the very generous gift of a sewing machine for Christmas and while it has taken me an age to get round to doing something creative (everyone I know suddenly needs their hems turning), I’ve finally made a start on the most whimsical of decorations – bunting! I’ve transformed my garden into party central with strands of polka dot and pastel triangles. It’s a skill that my home economics teacher did try to impart all those years ago on a machine that would have befuddled Einstein. Never did I imagine that I would come back to sewing after those hapless beginnings, but if you start with simple projects, get a little help and advice from the wonderful people in the loop and just enjoy the process, you too could become addicted. Quilting – an addiction or a hobby? You decide.
Galway Now Magazine ~ May/June 2012
It is said that the Ancient Egyptians were the first to indulge in what is now an everyday luxury – soap. They were the first to combine animal and vegetable oils with alkaline salts, creating a soap-like substance that Cleopatra herself may have used in one of her milk baths. Although a simple product, it forms the basis of our daily cleansing ritual and the sheer variety of soaps on the market today confirm that the humble little bar of soap is a product we hold very dearly (slippery though it may be!).
Lush – a veritable soap emporium – first ignited my passion for soap. Their quirky style, backed by an eco-friendly philosophy has seen the brand flourish worldwide. I loved being able to buy soap by the slice with funky names like ‘Honey I washed the kids’ or ‘Sexy peel’. A far cry from the soap staples I used as a kid – Palmolive for everyday and upmarket Imperial Leather for special occasions! Caught in the heady aroma of oils and bath bombs, I wondered if I could give it a go myself? So I began my Wellie Diary challenge to make my own soap.
With my usual gung-ho attitude, I hit Google with a thump, only to find that soap making is not so straight-forward after all. The ‘Cold press’ process combines lye, an alkaline that’s pretty hazardous to handle and oil, bringing about a chemical reaction known as saponification. The mere mention of safety goggles had me wondering if I shouldn’t just buy some handmade soap at the local farmer’s market, but I am nothing if not persistent. Several searches later and I came across a revolutionary way of making soap that does not involve a degree in chemistry or storing scary solutions under the kitchen sink. ‘Melt and pour’ soap is a far easier process, especially for beginners and hobbyists, that cuts out the finicky process of mixing and measuring and lets you get straight to the good bit.
The melt and pour process involves melting a base, which is usually a clear or white vegetable soap base, either in a microwave or a double boiler and once melted, you can add your essential oils and cosmetic dye for colour. Mix it all together, bung it in a mould to set and voilà! You’ve got your very own bar of handmade soap in less time than it would take to make a yummy jar of jam. Having found a seemingly foolproof method, my next mission was to locate a reliable supplier.
Bomar Aromatheraphy are an Irish company based in Wicklow and are a veritable one-stop-shop for soap making, supplying all of the necessary equipment from moulds to essential oils. A family owned business; they are experts in their field and are extremely helpful when it comes to choosing the right products for your needs. Their customers range from large, commercial handmade soap makers to enthusiastic hobbyists in the home/craft/gifts market. I decided to order a few different soap bases from Bomar, and received a giant box full of goodies like Goat’s Milk soap base, Organic soap base, lavender oil and dried lavender and rose petals for decoration.
Feeling like a kid in a sweet shop, I set about turning my tiny kitchen into an artisan soap-making studio! Apron on, I decided to use a double boiler instead of the microwave, which is just as effective though a little slower. The soap base comes in large blocks, so just like melting chocolate for delicious deserts; I cut them into cubes to speed up the melting process. Once the mixture had melted, I poured a few drops of lavender oil into the bowl as well as the dried lavender flowers. A quick stir and the liquid was ready to pour into the mould. Using a handy silicon loaf mould that had long since given up the hope of ever being used for its intended purpose, I was very pleasantly surprised by how easy the whole process was. There was no big mess to tidy up afterwards and truth be told, it felt like being back in the arts and crafts class at school! Soap making is a great way to unleash your inner crafter. You can allow yourself to be playful and completely frivolous, while have a beautifully practical product at the end to show for it.
I couldn’t wait to use my very first bar of homemade lavender soap, which had such an adorable lilac hue flecked with violet flowers that it inspired me to dream up my own funky name ‘Purple Rain’. The feeling of a natural soap is so luxurious – the lather is far richer and creamier than any shop-bought soap I had used and the scent is much more invigorating when made at home. My creativity stirred, I followed another one of Bomar’s Melt and Pour suggestions – a multi-coloured layer cake of soap. This turned out so well that I wrapped each slice in raffia ribbon and gave them as gifts to my family. I then searched the Internet for other homemade recipes and found so many great ideas, like pouring the melted soap mixture onto a loofah and cutting into slices; or using fresh fruit like strawberries to make a scrub. My next project is Organic soap base with porridge oats and honey!
The possibilities are endless and it really is a fun hobby that even kids could enjoy, thanks to its simplicity. As I said, they make ideal gifts and who knows, it could be the start of a new cottage industry. Another Irish success story in the bubbles business is The Handmade Soap Company. Started in 2009 by couple Donagh Quigley and Gemma McGowan, their products are all natural and beautifully packaged. After all, it is a product we use on our skin on a daily basis, so why not choose soap with less chemicals and more suds?
While I don’t think I’ll be going commercial just yet, I’m continuing to dream up new recipes while soaking in the soapy satisfaction of my own handiwork.
Galway Now Magazine ~ July/Aug 2011
Holidays today can often leave us feeling drained, irritable and sunburned. Airports, hotels and long-distance travel can take their toll on the body but also on the environment. While planting a tree in the garden may ease some people of their carbon footprint guilt, an easier way to stop karma biting you in the butt would be to find an alternative holiday. There are so many eco-friendly options out there nowadays, you are sure to find something that fits your comfort zone.
For those of you who yearn for the outdoor camping experience but cannot do without the little luxuries, why not try the latest phenomenon that is taking Europe by storm – Glamping. Glamourous camping is an ideal solution for those of you who dread the thought of fighting with tent poles that will not yield or forcing the entire kit and kaboodle into your city car’s tiny boot. Glamping has everything available on site, so all you have to do is pack your wellies (yes, you get to wear them again!) and a nose for adventure. While this is still a relatively new concept in Ireland, one of the most beautiful glamping locations is Teapot Lane Luxury Camp, set in the gorgeous surroundings of County Leitrim. Run by Derval McGovern, Teapot Lane consists of luxury Yurts (round tents from the Himalayas to you and me) that are generously furnished with full size beds, elegant accessories and heated by a wood stove. The camp also has compost toilets and showers, so you know you will have little impact on the environment. Teapot Lane also boasts chocolate box cottages, a fairy garden and on-site pampering packages which will surely leave you feeling relaxed, refreshed and at one with nature. To book online, visit http://www.teapotlaneluxurycamp.com.
Another option is the Eco-Booley, a self-catering eco-cottage located in Cahir, County Tipperary. This is another new concept for Ireland, where old run down farmhouses are renovated to provide eco-friendly accommodation for the discerning eco-traveller. Again, the priority is to have as little impact on the environment as possible. It’s the first of its kind in Ireland and it is hoped that it will be rolled out across the country. Power supply (1.2Kw) for lighting, cooking and heating comes from a water driven electric turbine, and a wood burning stove adds to the snug atmosphere. Walls are insulated with a hemp and lime mix, local sheep’s wool insulates the roof, and organic paints and varnishes are used throughout. For a truly ‘green’ weekend getaway, visit http://www.ecobooley.com for details.
If it’s just a day-trip you’re after, there are so many environmentally friendly activities on our doorstep, just waiting to be discovered. Connaught is a province full of history and natural amenities just waiting to be explored. Although our weather may not always entice us out of doors (here’s where the wellies come into play again!) just invest in a good rain jacket and you will be unstoppable.
For those of you who enjoy transport of a two-wheeled variety, a new venture in our neighbouring county of Mayo might be of interest to you. The Newport-Mulranny trail is a 18km trail situated on the old railway line. It is the longest traffic-free cycleway in Ireland, boasting some amazing scenery along the way. The Great Western Greenway has recently been named as the Irish winner of this year’s “European Destination of Excellence” (EDEN) award as part of an EU-wide competition designed to encourage and promote a more sustainable form of tourism development. If your own bike is a rusty old relic from your college days, fear not as there are bike rentals on site to suit all levels. After working up a sweat on the trail, you can always take a dip in one of the magnificent beaches in the area, which are unspoilt and usually very quiet.
If walking is more your thing, take a trip to Portumna Forest Park. 1,500 acres of mature woodland filled with a wide variety of flora and fauna provides the perfect day out without even having to leave the county borders. There are various tracks, including the Forest Friendly Trail which is a multi-use trail designed to give every visitor an opportunity to explore the park combining sections of wide and smooth forest road with sections of wide timber boardwalk. Wheelchair users, kids bikes with stabilisers, family groups on foot or bike can equally enjoy this loop. With views across Lough Derg and its very own castle to boot, Portumna Forest Park is a fantastic amenity which operates a ‘Leave No Trace’ policy, which means we get to enjoy the beautiful environment without spoiling it for anyone else.
Living in a coastal city, we are truly spoilt for choice when it comes to watersports. One local company providing kayaking, windsurfing and the latest craze – Stand Up Paddleboarding, promises to have you making waves like a pro in sixty minutes. SUP for all you acronym lovers, may have you resembling a gondolier, but this fun activity is fast replacing the monotony of the gym with a watersport that incorporates nature and fitness. Rusheen Bay Windsurfing located on the Barna Road/Ballymoneen Road junction takes full advantage of the sheltered bay at Rusheen to teach everyone from the nervous beginner to those really annoying kids who seem to learn simply by osmosis! Check them out on http://www.rusheenbay.com.
Perhaps you would like to swap your wellies and your wet gear for a pair of hiking boots and attempt to climb the Diamond at Connemara National Park. When it comes to breathtaking scenery, Connemara has it all. The Twelve Bens, the Inagh Valley and the majestic Atlantic Ocean converge to provide the most spectacular vistas nature has to offer. At the Visitor’s Centre, you can grab a quick cuppa before planning your route and find out everything you never knew about the flora and fauna that grace these lands. The views alone make the climb worthwhile and when you come back down to ground level, you can stimulate the local economy by having a well-earned pint in the picturesque village of Letterfrack.
So I hope this small snapshot has opened your horizons when it comes to holidays or days out. There are so many ways to enjoy our natural environment here at home and with some care and consideration, we can leave it the way we found it. Even if it is just a picnic in your local park, with a little imagination you can find your own sweet escape right on your doorstep.
Galway Now Magazine ~ Sept/Oct 2011
Handmade and PreLoved
Week three of my Welly Diaries and I’ve decided to take my self-sustainable, eco-friendly lifestyle indoors. Having recently moved into a fifties style terraced house, I took to cleaning out the attic to make more storage space when I happened upon a real find – an old Singer Sewing machine. None of your electrical extravagance here, but a beautifully ornate hand treadle antique. The previous owners must have left it up there long ago and I was determined to dust it off and breathe new life into it. A quick visit to the Singer repair shop and I was ready to sew! But nightmares about my old home economics pattern for an a-line skirt which went horribly wrong came back to haunt me. I needed some up-to-date ideas before that Singer ended up back in the attic.
It seems the practical skills of sewing, mending, knitting and crafting have skipped a generation. Making your own clothes became extremely uncool and as for knitting needles, you would rather be outted as the world’s greatest Daniel O’Donnell fan than be seen with a ball of wool. (Apologies to all the Daniel O’Donnell fans). However, a quiet revolution is taking place the world over, as people revert to the much-maligned crafts that would have been second nature to our mothers. My grand aunt used to knit Aran sweaters for a company in Mayo, one of which was kindly passed on to me. Wearing it and admiring the intricate cables and dedicated stitch work that went into it, I was inspired to take up the needles. It started with chunky scarves that went on for miles, widening and narrowing at various points along the way, tell-tale signs of stitches being dropped and then picked up with gusto. But with a little patience and lots of practice, I improved and even moved on to crochet. I made shawls, hats and even a baby blanket for my niece. It has become such a therapeutic pastime and when the Autumn months start to roll in, I find myself itching to start a new project.
Now if you are a little rusty when it comes to threading a needle or telling your plain from your pearl – fear not! Pay a visit to Pippa Blue, the brainchild of two friends Ger and Eva and a real treasure trove for crafting enthusiasts. Their bright pink store at No.1 Middle Street is sure to start you on your love affair with all things handmade. Exquisite Amy Butler fabrics and patterns, colourful ribbons and yarn all bring the arts of quilting, sewing and knitting into the 21st century. With classes for all levels and even Clothes Plasters if all else fails, this really is a one-stop-shop for all your creative needs. Check out their wares online at http://www.pippablue.com
Another ‘mother ship’ for the modern crafty woman is Mollie Makes, a new lifestyle and craft magazine which has tapped into this universal return to all things handmade by offering the best of craft from around the world. It is amazing how in recessionary times, there is something truly comforting and empowering about making something by hand or finding new uses for old things. Everything from crocheted apple cosies (we wouldn’t want our Pink Ladies getting bruised!) to quirky home-made carry-cases for your iPad make their blog a must visit at http://www.molliemakes.co.uk
Looking at fashion from a green perspective, ‘upstyling’ or ‘upcycling’ are the latest mots de jour and thanks to fashion guru’s such as the UK’s Gok Wan, it has now become trendy to dig out your old clothes and give them a make-over rather than buying new. Anything from stitched on piping, bright fabric flowers; feathers or beading from your local haberdashers can transform your wardrobe. If you’re tired of seeing the same outfit on every other person strutting down Shop Street, unleash your inner designer and customise your clothes with your own unique brand of style. You can even give Philip Treacy a run for his money with some feathers, a hair band and plenty of imagination.
It’s all about optimising the pieces you already have in the wardrobe. Of course we’ve all had the dubious experience of cutting our denims or tie-dying old t-shirts with questionable outcomes, but with a little bit of know-how you can become the Queen of wardrobe DIY. Even dying your old shoes can give them a new lease of life. I recently tried the Woly range and dyed a pair of military green shoes black with really good results and now I have a beautiful pair of black shoes for less than a tenner! So as well as saving the planet by consuming less, you are also saving your pocket. Another spin-off of sustainable fashion is the Swap Shop. If you’re really fed up of looking at hardly worn clothes in your wardrobe, you could take them along to your local Swap Shop or organize a swap party amongst your friends and work colleagues. Alternatively, earn some extra cash by taking them to a pre-loved or vintage clothing store, so your clothes can fulfill their potential on someone else’s back.
As always, there is an abundance of information online, but don’t forget your local library for books on crafts, knitting, millinery etc. It could become a brand new hobby, a total obsession or even a new career. The exhilaration of wearing one of your own creations is such a satisfying experience, topped only by the looks of pure green envy when people realise that not only do you have the most beautiful outfit, but the creativity to make it yourself. It can also become a social outlet, with groups such a Stitch n’ Bitch popping up all over the place. Whether it‘s vintage, up styled or handmade, the hottest designer on the high street is you!