Win a copy of ‘Autumn: an anthology for the changing seasons.’

 

autumn

 

Forget what the dates say, today is Officially the First Day of Autumn. Bye bye sun cream, hello anorak.

Nature has felt it coming for weeks now. The swallows are restless. Youngsters are testing their wings, growing stronger daily. A last-minute second brood is nearly ready to fledge. My children collect the blackberries, chestnuts and conkers with serious determination as if hibernation is impending.

I, meanwhile, have to fight that ‘bleurgh’ feeling I get when summer is over. A proper ‘back to school’ slump into a more indoors existence, when children argue and the television becomes more tempting. I love seasons and the sense of change, but this transition is a hard one for me. I am happiest when the swallows are here.

Still, I do know that autumn is beautiful and I try to immerse myself in its soft, muted glory. At least darkness now arrives on cue for the children’s bedtime, which certainly helps with settling them at a reasonable time.

Best of all, I’ve been curling up with Autumn: An anthology for the changing seasons, edited by Melissa Harrison. It’s a rich and varied collection of nature writing. You’ll find John Clare, Ted Hughes and Dylan Thomas alongside modern favourites and new discoveries; I’ve loved reading Helen Macdonald, Matt Gaw, Lucy McRobert and most fabulously of all, Jon Dunn’s moving tale of a chicken thief.

As you might expect, there are anthologies of Spring and Summer, and soon, sure as night follows day, Winter. They have all been produced thanks to a collaboration between the Wildlife Trusts and publishers Elliot & Thompson.

I am biased about loving it, for a short piece of my writing features alongside my nature writing idols.

It looks gorgeous too, perfect for gifts and very much one for the coffee table.

If you’d like to win a copy of the book, then share with me what you love about autumn on Twitter @Kateblincoe or in the comments below. I’ll put your ideas in a hat and my kids will pick one out to decide the winner on Thursday 6th October (entries by midnight). The book has kindly been provided by Elliot & Thompson.

Accidental wildness

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Back to school after the half term break and we’ve let wildness slip. Well, ‘formal deliberate’ wildness that is. We’ve nevertheless still achieved something wild every day, those Random Acts of Wildness, although not necessarily of the ‘photo and tweet it’ variety.

We’ve discovered a good climbing tree. If I give them a boost up to the first branch (at my head height) they can then get scarily high. The branches seem sturdy but there is definitely an element of risk (which is why they love it so much).

My daughter is obsessed with picking wild flowers at the moment, and the leaf mantises that we are babysitting necessitate the collection of lots of bramble for them to eat. They’ve gone to school today,  I felt like such a celebrity in the playground when I was holding them!

We also had a gardening session on our jungle (aka back garden), with both kids working well together to rescue snails and prune overgrown shrubs.

At the weekend, there was a gorgeous split second of wildness when a stoat crossed the road ahead of our car, followed by 6 or 7 kits. Too cute!

I’m heartened that whilst we’ve been a bit lacking in planned nature time, we’ve still managed to make space for outdoors discovery every day.

Next on the list; a picnic to celebrate Picnic Week!

beach

30 Days Wild – week one

beach

It was typical that all things were against us for our first few days of being wild. The wet and windy half-term weather combined with lots of driving for a family funeral meant we were up against it to fit in moments of nature.

Day 1: A wet walk, collecting pebbles and leaves. We wouldn’t have bothered with a walk today, given the weather, but it was good to get the wellies on and get outside.

Day 2: Hours on the M25 but there were birds to be spotted through the window – we saw a kestrel, herring gulls and two buzzards in the course of our journey.

Day 3 – 5:  This is where the game changed. We went camping to a basic, natural and beautiful campsite with lots of friends. It is harder to pick the unwild moments from the day, because there weren’t any.

Wild highlights included:

  • finding toad tadpoles
  • making mudcakes
  • collecting an incredible array of sea creatures and shells at the beach (starfish, crabs, anemones, clams, bristle worms to name a few)
  • being woken early by birdsong – there was a particularly vocal robin at 5 am
  • and mainly just being outside all the time.

This was wildness that took more than one bath to scrub off.

Day 6: Back to school, but incredible sunshine. My daughter picked poppies on the way to school (her teacher is very tolerant of the random assortment of nature that gets brought in by my collector girl on a daily basis). After school, we lay in a hammock  and looked up at the trees – we are living with Granny at the moment and enjoying her beautiful garden very much.

Day 7: We’ll be trying some art activities from ‘Collect, print and paint from nature’ by John Hawkinson later. It’s very old-school (published in 1968) and we won’t be setting up a killing jar for butterflies as recommended (using 880 ammonia or carbon tetrachloride!), but the rest is lovely!

It’s been a week of extremes – days where it has been hard to fit in wildness, and days where it has been abundant. I’m glad we’ve managed to make a little space for nature whatever the week and the weather has thrown at us.

The world needs young nature geeks

They say that whatever issue you have with a toddler, you can multiply by ten for the teenager. Whilst inspiring tiny children about the great outdoors has its challenges, they are nothing compared to trying to keep young people involved with and excited about nature as they hit the often rocky, hormonal years of teenagedom.

I know from personal experience that even the most rural, idyllic childhood doesn’t prevent a rapid descent into nightclubbing and alcohol – who has time for nature then? My children are a while off that, but I wonder how I will keep them connected to our natural world.

Wonderful campaigns such as the Wildlife Trust’s ‘Every Child Wild’ and the work done by The Wild Network help the parents of younger children to embrace nature. Whilst there is no deliberate exclusion of teenagers from these projects (and much remains highly relevant), there is a focus on reaching out to younger children. To then lose that connection in the fug of the teenage years seems such a tragedy.

Time in nature is vital for everyone’s health and well-being and in the turbulent, exam-packed teenage years, stress relief and green exercise are just what the doctor ordered. Despite all the medical evidence, society still thinks it is more normal for a teenager to be holed up in a darkened room on social media than roaming the countryside with a pair of binoculars.

A more worrying aspect is the bullying that young people can experience if they are into nature. Being called a geek, nerd or twitcher can be the least of it. In a world that values material consumption and the quick thrill of the digital, choosing to spend time, often on your own or with the older generation, can mark you out as an odd ball.

A Focus on Nature is a youth nature organisation aiming to address this. It offers a community for young people who love nature, as well as looking at the wider issue of disconnection of teens from our natural world. The website is full of stories of young conservationists getting out there and not just connecting with nature, but taking real action.

Wildlife charities do offer teenage options for involvement. The RSPB’s Phoenix membership provides Wingbeat, the only environmental magazine written by teenagers for teenagers, and opportunities to become part of and blog on the Phoenix forum. For those interested in volunteering or work experience, most conservation charities can give exciting and varied opportunities that could lead to a career in conservation.

With social media, there is a platform ready and waiting for our tech savvy teens. We would all benefit from more young voices to shock us oldies out of our comfortable complacency and to make caring about our planet the norm, not the geeky exception.

Teenagers need nature and green spaces in their life. It will bring them fun, stress-relief, new friends and turn them into true custodians of our world.

It’s been a while (ahem) since I was a teenager and I don’t yet have my own, so I’m very interested in your thoughts and experiences on this important issue.

 

First published in the EDP and EADT.

 

So how did I perform?

Last year I wrote of my rather unusual green resolutions for the New Year (and recently reposted them). I’d forgotten them, but because I’d recorded them I have no excuse. I can go back and see how I’ve performed. They were a bit strange, it turns out.

1)            Forget your manners

This was about eBaying unwanted gifts being better for the environment than shoving them in a cupboard. I loved all my pressies last Christmas, but I have sold or given away plenty of other unwanted items over the year. Result: Eco-win.

2)            Have more sex

Suddenly wishing I hadn’t announced that one! In the interests of preserving some degree of modesty, I can only confirm that I have not divorced in the past year; hence there is no need for the un-green two houses and double set of everything. Result: Eco-win.

3)            Don’t go to the gym

No carbon burned for me to stay fit in 2015. It has been outdoors in nature all the way, running, cycling and walking. Result: Eco-win.

4)            Get a new hairstyle

I suggested that reducing the length of my hair would save blow drying time. This was misguided – after losing four inches my crazy hair required more attention from both the hairdryer and products. I’m growing it again. Result: Eco-fail.

5)            Don’t eat salad

Eating imported lettuce or cucumber in the winter months is bad for the environment. I saved it for the right time of year and enjoyed all the comforting root veg and red cabbages of winter. Result: Eco-win.

6)            Celebrate breasts

This one also sounds odd out of context, but was to do with supporting breast feeding because it is good for the environment as well as the baby. Mine are no longer required in milk-service, but it’s the kind of thing I like to go on about so I think I can say I have achieved it. Result: Eco-win.

7)            Don’t do the washing up yourself

I found this one very achievable. Using the dishwasher on eco-setting, with a marine safe powder has used far less water and energy than the sink. Result: Eco-win.

8)            Don’t get up so early

The later you get up, the more electricity and heating fuel you save on a dark morning. I’m brilliant at sleeping late; sadly the children have other ideas. Lights are blazing by 7 am. Result: Eco-fail.

9)            Ignore the garden

I’m a lazy gardener, so it was no trouble to leave seed heads and piles of leaves to provide food and shelter for wildlife, until springtime. Result: Eco-win.

10)         Don’t go to work

As a writer, I don’t have to travel all that much for work, so this one was easy – I don’t ‘go’ to work. Mind you, many employers are increasingly flexible and a work from home day, cutting transport related emissions, can be possible for many. Result: Eco-win.

I performed pretty well!  Recording the aims and checking back is satisfying and I shall be doing so again this year, although I haven’t quite got round to setting any targets yet… first goal, procrastinate less?

 

First published in a similar form in the EDP and EADT

Have more sex, and other eco-resolutions from 2015

Last year, I wrote some ‘alternative’ green resolutions for myself and hopefully to inspire others. They were a little silly, but were all good for the environment. I wanted to show that being green isn’t all about deprivation and discomfort.

As we approach the end of they year, I thought I should revisit them. I’ll let  you know how I performed soon.

Kate’s alternative green resolutions from January 1st 2015

  • Forget your manners

When Christmas is over, but the aftermath of presents remains, be honest. How many do your really like or need? Get on eBay and sell the things that don’t bring you a smile, far better to rehome than hide them in the cupboard.

  • Have more sex

As activities go for all you consenting adults, it is one of the greenest there is. No electricity is required and it warms you up. It’s also good for your relationship – so decreasing the risk of divorce which is very un-environmentally friendly (suddenly two houses, two cars and two of everything are needed).

  • Don’t go to the gym

Avoid being a hamster on a treadmill, burning carbon to get fit. No, just go outside instead. It is better for your mind and more challenging and varied for your body. Free too.

  • Get a new hairstyle

Ladies – take two inches off your hair and you’ll save minutes and carbon every day by reducing the blow dry time and the amount of product you need to use.

  • Don’t eat salad

This is a silly time of year to stick to lettuce, cucumber and tomatoes. These are in season in the summer so instead of buying tasteless imported versions now, save them for June. If you want to eat healthily this month then choose cabbage, root vegetables and spinach.

  • Celebrate breasts

Everyone knows that breast feeding is best for the baby, but it is also the very best choice for the environment too. Formula feeding has its place, but it comes with a massive carbon footprint and lots of packaging. Make sure you smile at nursing mothers and give up your seat to mums with babies in crowded cafes.

  • Don’t do the washing up yourself

Instead, put the dishwasher on eco-setting, use a marine safe powder and let the machine get busy – it will use less water and energy than you.

  • Don’t get up so early

These dark winter mornings mean two things are guaranteed – lights are on and so is the heating. Could you stay in bed for twenty minutes more and then just rush? More sleep is a good thing and so is saving energy.

  • Ignore the garden

Leave any seed heads or piles of leaves – they are providing food or shelter for wildlife. Keep your hands off until early springtime when you can go crazy with the secateurs.

  • Don’t go to work

In the absence of a lottery win halting all work, why not discuss a work from home day with your employer? This won’t be appropriate for all jobs, but if yours is mainly desk based then a regular day at home can help you be more productive as well as slashing your transport related emissions.

Look out for my update on how I did early in the New Year!

My very own X Factor

The People's book prize

With non-fiction writing, it all starts with the idea. Then you take your half-formed thoughts to a publisher (or many) and see if it captures their imagination too. If you are so lucky as to get the go-ahead, then the writing begins.

For me, working very part-time, with my daughter at home most of the week, this took a while – about a year and a half. This included working with photographers Phil Barnes and James Williamson, as well as my illustrator, Stephanie Laurence, to get all the beautiful photos and drawings done.

Next the detail bit – painstaking editing with my editor Sadie Mayne and then the design and the proof-reading. I’ve probably missed out lots of behind the scenes stuff that Green Books did for me too. Simultaneously, the sales and promotion kicks in. All before the book even hits the shelves.

It’s a long and fascinating road and I’ve enjoyed it all and learnt masses, but the reality is enough to put thoughts of best-sellers, glamorous book tours and black-tie awards ceremonies to the very back of my mind.

But then I heard that my book had been nominated for  The People’s Book Prize. This is an award that is given by the public, who simply vote for the newly published book that they love. It’s all about discovering us newbie authors, all passionate about our subjects and on the exciting journey of working out how we tell the world about our books.

It’s a bit X Factor style (although luckily without Simon Cowell or singing) because the public vote is what counts. The top three books from each section (I’m Non-Fiction) will go through to the next round. Best of all, there is a posh black-tie dinner in London for finalists to attend, which could just be the hint of razzle dazzle that I need.

So, without further ado, the voting lines are now open… will you, please?

Give a first time author a small taste of the glamour by voting here.

Thank you🙂 xx