Wednesday, 16 May 2018

My Favourite Podcasts (with info for podcast novices)


When I posted last week about my interview on While She Naps, I said that I'd hopefully put together a round-up of some of my other favourite podcasts soon. For me, a mere eight days later doesn't constitute 'soon'; eight days from thought to action feels more akin to having time-travelled into the future like a bolt of lightning - I'm quite surprised to find myself here. But self-surprise aside, before I dive into sharing my favourites, I thought I'd explain a bit about what podcasts are, because I suspect there are probably many people who are yet to be indoctrinated into the wonder of them, perhaps because they don't know how to go about listening to or finding them.

What is a podcast?
Just as blogs offer a way for people to self-publish their written thoughts, podcasts offer the same opportunity in an audible format. Although different mediums, blogs and podcasts have a few things in common: both are free for readers and listeners and both have, in my opinion, a welcome informality and diversity that comes from the content being largely uncensored and self-published. It's not just independent people that have podcasts though - just as many big businesses now have blogs, plenty also create podcasts. What separates podcasts from radio is that you don't have to listen live as things are broadcast - you can listen anytime and enjoy plundering the archives if you find one that you fall in love with. Many radio programmes are now also produced as podcasts shortly after being broadcast live.

How can I listen to one? 
You can actually listen to most podcasts just by visiting the podcast creator's website, which may feel less overwhelming at first if you find technology intimidating. But, if you have a smart phone or tablet, you may prefer to download a podcast app, which allows you to subscribe and listen to a vast array of podcasts through one app and which will automatically update each time a new episode is published. It also allows you to listen on the move - I often play podcasts on my phone when I'm cleaning the bathroom, making dinner or sewing in bed on a Sunday morning.

Downloading a podcast app
Apple has its own podcast app, which you can find here (in order to download Apple's podcast app, you'll need to click that link from your iPhone or iPad, as the app isn't available on a computer). If you have an android phone or tablet (or if you don't like Apple's own podcast app), I believe there are lots of other apps for listening, here are a few that I've seen frequently recommended: Stitcher; Acast; Overcast. Once you've downloaded a podcast app, from within that you can search for things to listen to and, with one tap, subscribe to any that you'd like to keep up to date with.

So, let's get started on some podcast recommendations. Each podcast title is also a clickable link for instant online listening, but you can also subscribe or find any of them by searching for the title in whatever podcast app you use on your phone/tablet. I've divided the podcasts into categories (like a game of Trivial Pursuits): Reading & Literature; Thought-Provoking; Interview; Storytelling; Agony Aunts (yes, really!); Documentary; and Other Podcasts of Note.

Reading and Literature

World Book Club (produced by BBC World Service)


This is probably my favourite podcast - I listen to episodes from the archive back-to-back and it's as comforting and delicious as a plate of macaroni cheese with little gem lettuce (a childhood favourite...the cool crispness of the lettuce is so good against the soft warmth of the pasta). An author takes questions about one of their novels from an invited audience and over the course of fifty-three minutes discusses everything from their writing technique and work processes to where they drew inspiration from; what they felt did and didn't work; or how they felt about particular characters. Very often, I haven't read the novel in question, but this doesn't seen to matter - it's invariably a conversation about the way people think and act, alongside some fascinating insights into an author's writing life. My favourites recently have been: Celeste Ng, Ann Tyler, Tim Winton, Anne Enright and Margaret Atwood.

The Penguin Podcast


This is a relatively new one to me, but the moment I discovered it, it headed pretty much straight to the top of my list of favourite podcasts. Published fortnightly, it features conversations with well-known authors about objects that have inspired their books, often interviewed by someone famous in their own right.

Thought-Provoking

Revisionist History by Malcolm Gladwell

There are now two seasons of Revisionist History available and it's one of the most well-researched and fascinating podcasts I've found. Malcolm chooses an event, saga, story or idea from history and then explores every facet of it through a mixture of interview, research studies, experiment and his own insights, to see whether our perception of it is actually correct. There's a strong focus on psychology: how people think, why we do certain things (there's an obvious common thread in the podcasts I enjoy). One episode that sticks in my head particularly is Blame Game from Season 1, but they're all excellent.

TED Talks
I imagine TED Talks need no introduction, but just incase, TED offers a stage for short talks given by a range of talented people, who between them delve into every facet of our world to offer a greater understanding of it - gobble these talks up and feel your mind growing. A few that I specifically remember enjoying over the years: Amy Cuddy's Your Body Language May Shape who you Are and Susan Cain's The Power of Introverts.

Sincerely X


Created by the aforementioned TED, this is a selection of stories they wanted to share, but which were too sensitive, painful or potentially damaging to reveal without the umbrella of anonymity. Longer and more storied than your average TED talk.

Interview

The Turnaround with Jesse Thorn


I found this podcast fascinating! In each episode, Jesse interviews a well-known interviewer (yes, you read that correctly) about their career, technique, research, and interview style and the conversation is often interspersed with anecdotes about their experience of interviewing particular people. In theory, this podcast shouldn't be of interest to anyone other than those who interview people for a living, but somehow it's completely compelling.

Desert Island Discs 


Probably one of BBC radio 4's best-loved shows, each week Kirsty Young interviews someone well-regarded or famous about their life. Episodes that have stuck in my head: David Nott, a vascular and war surgeon; John Timpson - I found it eye-opening to discover that this chain of highstreet cobblers is run in such a maverick way; Mary Berry; and Judith Kerr.

While She Naps


Abby Glassenberg has been interviewing creatives since 2014 and I'm still enjoying regularly dipping into the archives. It's tempting to pick out the names that I already know, but on the occasions where I've just plumped for someone from a different creative discipline (illustration/embroidery), I've always enjoyed listening just as much. Abby is not afraid of asking her guests hard questions (eep!) and I found this interview, where she chats to the wonderfully talented Luke Haynes about using uncredited female sewists in the making of his exhibition quilts, thought-provoking.

Blogtacular


This podcast is an offshoot of the annual Blogtacular event, hosting an array of interesting guests talking about creative businesses, blogging and social media. It's somehow accessible and fascinating listening even for those who don't tend to think those things through in an intentional way (I'd include myself in that). Kat Molesworth is an insanely knowledgeable interviewer, so the discussions often wander off in unanticipated directions, which I love. I really enjoyed Kat's interview with Kate O'Sullivan and through that I discovered her podcast, A Playful Day, mentioned below.

A Playful Day



Kate's interviews cover a diverse range of subjects from parenting a child with autism, to exploring day-to-day life for a couple running an organic vegetable farm. The interviews are thoughtful and personal, with Kate and her interviewees discussing what lies beneath the glossy surface of life.

Storytelling

The Moth


The Moth invites regular people to tell true stories in front of a live audience at venues around the world. There are stories that will make you laugh and cry and there's a delicious diversity of voices, which can feel refreshing if you've found yourself in a Radio 4 listening-spell (that's always a good spell to be in, but sometimes a change is nice...I begin to crave different voices if I listen to too much Radio 4).

Kind World


When the news is particularly bleak and depressing or if my spirits are feeling fragile, I put on an episode of Kind World. Often less than 10 minutes long, this bite-sized podcast tells true stories of kindness and compassion. Occasionally, they can begin to wander toward saccharine, but mostly they just make my heart feel nicely warmed.

Modern Love 



The Modern Love podcasts asks famous actors to read aloud stories that have been previously been published in the eponymously named New York Times column and, following that, shares an interview with the writer of the story. The 'love' covered in the stories is varied: familial love; love of animals; romantic love, lost love, self love...

Agony Aunts

Dear Viv


As children, when my sister and I bought our weekly copy of Jackie Magazine, the first page we'd turn to would be the agony aunt column. When I outgrew Jackie, I later transferred my affections to Sally Brampton's wonderful and insightful advice column in the Sunday Times. I always loved reading Sally's responses - she refused to put herself on a pedestal and frequently referenced her long battle with depression in her answers (Sally very sadly took her own life in 2016), but the advice she gave was invariably brilliant and I enjoyed reading her column to discover the unique and intelligent angle that she'd come from in attempting to help a reader solve a problem. I stumbled across Viv Groskop's agony aunt podcast by chance (I think I found it through the online magazine, The Pool, where she also writes) and have found it an oddly comforting thing to listen to. I'm aware that may sound like a curious statement, but it's the solution, rather than the problem, that I'm interested in. Viv has a down-to-earth and friendly tone that makes her enjoyable to listen to and by the end of an episode, it feels like she's taken something that initially felt scratchy and uncomfortable and repackaged it into something that the person can hopefully deal with, whether through acceptance or change. There's something lovely about finishing an episode feeling equilibrium has been restored, even though the reality is unlikely to be so easy. In a similar vein, Dear Sugars by Cheryl Strayed is wise and funny.

Documentary

This American Life


I think this was one of the first podcasts I listened to and I still love it now. It covers everything from bizarre quirky news stories to culture, politics, humanness...it's really everything and anything. The show's host, Ira Glass, tends to introduce a subject and then explore it through a series of interviews and observations. It's brilliantly researched and produced, and the archives could keep a person entertained for years. This episode about a blind man who navigates the world by clicking his tongue was incredible. I think this extended episode, where This American Life spent a month at a car dealership was the first I ever listened to and it just felt so different and extraordinary that I was smitten...no previous interest in car dealerships required.

Fresh Air


The award-winning Fresh Air podcast describes itself as 'a weekday magazine of contemporary arts and issues, the show features intimate conversations with today's biggest luminaries', which sounds about right. I often find interesting things on here.

Other Podcasts of Note



The Crafty Planner; Death, Sex & Money (I'm excited to listen to their recent interview with the author Tayari Jones as I'm currently reading her novel, An American Marriage); Woman's Hour; Ear Hustle (recorded inside a prison - eye-opening); Happy Place with Fearne Cotton; BBC World Service 100 Women; Hidden Brain; InvisibiliaSoul Music; Strangers (this is no longer being made, but has a fantastic archive); Loose Ends with Clive Anderson; All in the Mind.

Rather than listening to all of these regularly, I go through phases where I'll dip in and out of each podcast and listen to a few episodes back-to-back. Or I'll have a podcast break altogether and focus on an audiobook, and come back to find hundreds of new episodes to choose from - there's no real rhyme or reason to my listening...which is really the beauty of the podcast format.

I'd love to hear what you've been listening to - whether any of your own favourites are here or if there are any that you can introduce me to.

Florence x

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

The While She Naps Podcast


This is just a really quick post (a rare thing indeed...let's see if that ends up being true by the time I've finished typing) to let you that I've been chatting to Abby Glassenberg over on the While She Naps podcast, if you'd like to listen. But before I tell you more about that, it's worth mentioning at the top of this post - as time to enter is short - that Abby is giving away a copy of my book over on her Instagram, entries open until 10am EST today (I think that about 3pm in the UK) - I think you just have to leave a comment to enter with no weird hoops to jump through :)

It was such an honour to be invited on to Abby's show as as I've listened for years. Across previous episodes, she's hosted a range of interesting guests from fabric designers and fibre artists, to publishers and fabric manufacturers and there's also been a lot of talk about Etsy and other larger businesses that have an impact on the craft industry too. Together, her podcasts create an insightful picture of the craft community and industry as a whole seen from a range of different viewpoints. But the interviews themselves are often also funny, thought-provoking and entertaining in equal parts - I always enjoy having more of a sense of who her interviewees are.

If you'd like to look through the back catalogue, you can find all of Abby's guests, here. You might also enjoy the archives of Abby's blog too, where she's written about the sewing community and her own creative path for well over a decade - her posts are always so well researched and often enlightening - few write as honestly as Abby does and her clear voice often prompts positive change within the industry. Most recently, over on Craft Industry Alliance, which she runs with Kristin Link, she wrote this post and the resulting pressure quickly ensured that designers were paid for their work - an amazing result).

I rarely have a conversation in everyday life where I don't say something incredibly silly or fail to order my thoughts before speaking or convey what I mean in a coherent way and this was no exception - with a podcast it's a really odd feeling to know that all those things are there on tape forever though. My sister and husband, who've both been on radio and/or podcasts before, said that I should absolutely not listen back to it, so for now I'm following their advice as I have a feeling just the sound of my own voice may make me cringe, let alone hearing the things that voice is saying! It's a very different experience to writing on my blog...although in fairness even with that, I sometimes wonder at the things I've written here if I happen to read something back months or years later, so nowhere is truly safe. Those things aside, the main memory I want to take away is the way that Abby described my book, as I was so touched by it. I'm probably going to misquote her here, but I think she said something along the lines of my book reading like a love letter to English paper piecing - I hadn't thought about it in those terms before, but the moment she said it, I realised that's exactly what it is.

This post does indeed seem to be uncharacteristically short, so I'm going to leave us all feeling slightly shocked and discombobulated and finish it right here! Although this has made me think that when I have more time to post, I'd like to put a list of my favourite podcasts together as I have so many good ones up my sleeve (an ironic expression to write while wearing a sleeveless dress) that I'd love to share.

I hope you're enjoying the sunshine,
Florence x

Updated: I couldn't actually leave it quite so short...I came back and added a few things in once I was back at home this afternoon.

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

The Tale of My Book Arriving


Last Thursday evening, all four of us were gathered in the hall catching up on how everyone's day had gone as I'd recently come in from a course and my daughter had just arrived home from an all-day exam. Anyway, at some point, I noticed a package had been delivered and when I picked it up, still chatting, and studied the sender's mailing address on the label, I saw that it was from my publisher. I hadn't expected an advance copy of my book for at least another few weeks, so it was an unexpectedly heart-leapy moment as I knew what must be inside. But rather than tear into the package, I put it back down and insisted that we finish the conversation before I opened it. The other three were appalled, but when they saw that I wouldn't be swayed, they agreed to finish telling me about their days, albeit at breakneck speed.

The reasons behind delaying the opening were as follows (bullet-pointed to assist in separating out the contents of my head):
  • The suspense of having a long-awaited copy of my book finally in the house, but not actually being able to see it, was quite delicious and felt worth savouring.
  • I felt inexplicably apprehensive: what if my book had suddenly grown two heads or what if the ink was smudgy? Do you ever find that you want something to be right so much that you start thinking it can't actually happen? That. 
  • Hence, while the package sat unopened, I could enjoy believing the book I was hoping for was sitting inside the box, which also felt a state worth savouring.
So we sat and chatted for a while longer, punctuated by someone saying every now and then: For goodness sake! Can't you just open it now? Until finally, when I felt we'd exhausted everything that anyone could offer up about their day, we all carried the package into the kitchen (the others were packed in so tightly around me as we walked down the hallway that it felt very much like communal carrying). On the kitchen worktop, I sliced open the sellotape on the cardboard box with a bread knife, until my husband stepped in because he felt I was at risk of inadvertently cutting a slice of my book off. There was some call for me to change implement, but after my initial reticence around opening the package, once I'd actually started I couldn't be stopped! I found my book swaddled carefully in bubblewrap with a lovely note inside.


We'd had a funny thing while I was writing this book, where each member of my family had enjoyed discussing who my book might be dedicated to and I'd sometimes overhear amusing conversations about why each of them was more worthy of that dedication than any of the others, while at other times they'd actually go into full campaigning mode telling me directly of their merits!

It's an odd thing but on the long list of Things I'd Love to Do in My Life, dedicating a book to someone has remained a constant - I think because it represents a rite of passage in book-writing that's also a really lovely way to celebrate the people who you love and who are special to you. But how do you know how many books you're going to get the opportunity to dedicate? On that basis, it could only ever have been to all of them for this first one, just in case it's the only one.


I've withheld revealing who the dedicatee might be for the nearly two years now, so in many ways I was as excited to finally share this part of the book with them as they were to see it. So after we'd all admired the cover, I flipped straight from the dedication at the front of the book (above) and then to the acknowledgements at the back where they each got a more in-depth mention (as do you, lovely blog readers).

I felt so lucky that we were somehow all in one place when I came to unparcel it as it made it extra-special.  It also surprised and delighted me to find that my husband's eyes haven't stayed entirely dry for the delivery of any of my babies, including this one.


If you have an active imagination, you may have been left wondering, after my earlier worries, if the book had magically grown two heads once it had ventured off the screen and grown into a real live papery thing. I'm pleased to report that it hadn't, but it had grown lovelier. Not only because real books are lovelier than pretend ones, or because it was exactly how I was hoping it might be, but more because Pamela Norman, who designed the inside of the book, had done such an amazing job of making it look very much better than the individual pieces of artwork I'd submitted and I could only truly appreciate all her cleverness once I had the physical book in my hands. I also adore the fonts that ended up being chosen - I'm not sure they could have picked a set of fonts that I'd be more delighted by than these.


This is the same font as the one used on the front cover. They agreed to send me a font file for it and it's a funny mix of capital and lowercase letters that surprise me with where they land as I type, although Pamela seemed able to magically change some of the lower-case to capitals if needed. I think I might update my blog banner at some point to match it. 

Nb. For clarity with the photo above, as it may not be clear out of context and use of the word 'modern' can be contentious: I've featured the work of several quilters who have passed away in the previous chapter, so the term 'Modern EPPers' was used here to to differentiate between past and present...not to create a division based on quilt-making style or age :)


And here's another font that's been used for picking out little bits from within the text or sharing quotes.

Later on Thursday night, my husband was out for the evening and both children were revising until late for exams, so I sat in bed and read my own book! I'm not sure whether it's seemly to read one's own book - it certainly felt strange, but equally it would be odd to not ever read it in its final form, wouldn't it? So I did so behind closed curtains (and perversely now seem to be sharing it here, wilfully undoing the clandestine nature of my reading).

And that is the tale of my book arriving. I'm now so looking forward to it being out in the world and being able to share a few more pictures here.

If you're interested in pre-ordering a copy (more info about what's inside in this blog post), you can find it on Amazon US, Amazon UKWaterstones or my publisher's website (it's out on 29th May in the US and the 29th June in the UK).

I happened to have a conversation with Abby yesterday where she mentioned in passing how important pre-orders were - we didn't get a chance to discuss why and I have to confess to not truly understanding the relevance of them at all before looking it up just now, but if you're interested in also discovering the thinking behind pre-orders, Kim Hooper, a novelist who came up when I googled, has written a good post that explains it. I'm really just delighted if people ever want to buy a copy of my book, irrespective of when, but I did enjoy the lightbulb moment of discovering what pre-orders were for.

Going back to the hallway gathering where this post began, don't you find some of the best conversations (or even animal cuddles - Nell loves lying on the bend in the stairs and having people sit with her there) happen in unconventional locations around the house? From time to time, we seem to end up all sitting around on the stairs or the upstairs landing and there's something about being crammed in those tiny spaces without real chairs that feels cosy and more of an 'I really want to spend time chatting with you despite the lack of chairs', rather than an 'I'm chatting to you as we both happen to be lying on the sofa at the same time, which is super-comfy'.

Wishing you a happy week,
Florence x
A few of the books/products that I link to on Amazon from my blog contain affiliate links and very occasionally, I'll mention a product that I've been given free of charge. I choose the things that I recommend carefully and my priority is to only share things that I love.