Category Archives: creativity interviews

Interview with Maria Ross: Author & Marketing Muse

I met Maria Ross over at She Writes, and we talked about Kindle marketing. One of the exciting parts of being a writer! But the things she talks about in this week’s creativity interview are much more important… 

Welcome, Maria. What drives your creative work?
I’ve always loved a good story. I’ve pursued many passions  – acting, writing, marketing – that all come down to communicating a great story in order to engage, delight, move, anger or provoke an audience. Words are powerful when strung together in just the right way to exactly the right person and precisely the right time – and relish the challenge at getting better and more efficient at this art each and every day. And this also means I adore witty banter, a good conversationalist and a well-timed zinger!

What would you say to yourself if you could go back in time and meet yourself at the beginning of your creative career?
That’s a hard one, as I’ve been creative my entire life. From dancing and singing at age 6 to acting as a child to doing plays and writing in my adult life – even to creating marketing campaigns within my career. It never even occurred to me that creativity would not be a part of whatever profession I chose or path I traveled down. If anything, I guess the only thing would be not to be afraid to spotlight your creativity even in the business world. Now more than ever that is a skill that is highly sought after.

How do you keep creating when things get difficult?
In terms of my writing, I’ve written for myself for a long time – journals, poetry, short stories, blogs – but I never thought I had the stamina for a whole book, even though I dreamed of it. It seemed overwhelming. But when I wrote my first book,  Branding Basics for Small Business, I think I shocked myself that I could actually do it!

In my opinion, the only times things get difficult is when you start to doubt yourself. You get too wrapped up in your own head and have no space to create for others. When I get stuck, I always take a break and give my mind time to clear. I never force it. Even when I wrote my recent memoir, Rebooting My Brain, I was daunted by how many of the stories I had to put on paper but I just took it slowly and tackled one short story or scene every single day to make it manageable. Pretty soon, I had enough to string together. I could have let the magnitude of the effort paralyze me but I broke it down in chunks and just tried to write – or research something related to the book – every single day. And then I celebrated those victories and that progress every single day as well. If I am on a schedule to write every single day, I let myself write crap if that’s all my mind can produce that day but usually there is always a gem. Or I take a day off if that’s what my mind wants and needs. At the end of the week, you may just happily surprise yourself with how much progress you’ve made!
How does your creative work affect the rest of your life?
Creativity is infused into my life. My business is marketing and branding consulting – helping organizations tell their story visually and verbally. I write books, I write blogs, I write guest articles. All of that creativity helps me be a better business person, a better speaker and a better teacher.

What is it like to send your work out into the world?
Scary! It’s like letting your baby go. For so long, I had written articles and marketing materials – even some more personal stories on my blog. But with my memoir, I had to strip naked and reveal my thoughts, fears, and personal relationships during my recovery.  All of it was to achieve my goal of educating people on brain injury and inspiring anyone who’s ever been yanked out of their life by crisis. Keeping those goals in mind, I was able to detach a bit and ensure the book was not all about me but something from which others could gain and learn. That makes it less scary. The strangest bit, however, was when I was on a radio show and the host read a passage from my memoir. It was the first time I’d ever heard someone say the thoughts in my head and it was a crazy, but fun, experience!
What was the best advice anyone gave to you?
At many points, I doubted whether I should write about my brain injury experience and if anyone would really care. I thought, “I’m not famous, I’ve had an amazing recovery. Is there really anything here worth telling that has never been told in a crisis-recovery story?” And a good friend sent me an email that said, You know, Eat, Pray, Love was just a story about a woman who got a divorce and then took a trip. How common a tale is that? But she made it her own and it resonated with millions. Your story is unique and only you can tell it.

That by far, kept me going and is wise advice for anyone. We all have our own unique lens, experience and perspective and it’s our responsibility to share that with the world if it can inspire or help someone else.

What helps you to pay attention to the world?
Since my brain aneurysm, I’ve learned to be more present in everyday things because I have to focus and can’t multitask like I used to. When you’re doing something, be there 100%. If you’re working on a project, focus on the project, not all the things you should be doing elsewhere. If you’re playing with your kids, turn off your mobile phone. If you’re exercising, focus on your body and your muscles. I’m fairly energetic and impatient so this can be hard, but for example, I take a walk every morning with my dog without any music. I simply let my senses take over, free my mind and enjoy being with my dog in the moment. This has done wonders for my sense of appreciation and has sparked my creativity as well.

Thanks Maria – lovely to have you here.

Biography: Maria Ross is chief brand strategist and creator of Red Slice, a digital elixir of stories and strategies to ignite your brand and delight your mind. She advises start-ups, solopreneurs and small to midsize growth companies on how to craft brands that engage, inform and delight customers. Maria is the author of Branding Basics for Small Business and the just released humorous and heartfelt memoir Rebooting My Brain (available from Amazon US or Amazon UK). A dynamic speaker, she is highly sought-after to present keynotes and workshops and has appeared on MSNBC, NPR and in Entrepreneur, The LA Times, Seattle Business and Columbus CEO.

Interview with Roman Krznaric: Cultural thinker & author

Today we are honoured to be welcoming author Roman Krznaric to our series of creativity interviews. Roman is a founding member of the School of Life in London, and his most  recent book, How to Find Fulfilling Work, in which he quotes Fiona talking about Writing Our Way Home. The book came out last week and I look forward to reading the whole thing.

Roman, welcome. What drives your creative work?
A disastrous cultural inheritance from the Renaissance is the idea that creativity is about originality. We have in our minds the image of geniuses like Michelangelo, who was worshipped for his stunning originality, which seemed to be a divine gift from above. But I think that is off-putting for most of us, and makes us feel that if we aren’t being brilliant and original then we are lacking a creative streak.

Rather than originality, I think creativity is more about self-expression. Cooking can be creative in this sense – it’s not about inventing some amazing unknown dish, but just putting something of yourself into it, even if it’s simply adding some extra topping to a frozen pizza so it resembles a Jackson Pollock painting. So my writing is driven, in part, by a desire for self-expression. I read my work out loud not so much listening out for original ideas, but for whether it ‘sounds like me’ and expresses my vision of the world.

I’m especially interested in how we can make our lives more fulfilling and adventurous in ways that also contribute to social change. That’s why I’ve dedicated much of the last ten years to the subject of empathy, which I think has the capacity to do both. And it’s also why, in my new book, How to Find Fulfilling Work, I quote Aristotle saying, ‘where the needs of the world and your talents meet, there lies your vocation’. He’s advising us to discover that place where personal fulfilment and social value intersect. My creativity, such that I have it, is directed towards exploring this intersection.

What would you say to yourself if you could go back in time and meet yourself at the beginning of your creative career?
Wake up!! I used to be an academic, teaching sociology and politics. And looking back, I think there were two things which were holding me back from developing a more creative career as an independent writer and thinker. One is that I was trapped within the disciplinary boundaries of my professional subject areas – so I read lots of sociology and politics books, but little science, poetry or archaeology. I was also socially trapped, in the sense that I spent most of my time with other academics, and didn’t get out enough into the real world. That began to change when, in my late twenties, I travelled to Guatemala to work in jungle refugee communities with indigenous Mayan people.

Now I can answer the question. If I went back in time, I’d advise myself to escape those disciplinary boundaries sooner rather than later, and to nurture my curiosity about strangers, delving into new social realms. In other words, wake up! Don’t stay trapped in your social and intellectual cocoon! Follow Leonardo da Vinci’s adventurous credo, ‘Experience is my mistress’. That’s the best way to learn about ourselves, and the world.

How do you keep creating when things get difficult?
When I find my ideas are not flowing, my prose is turgid, my inspiration has gone walkabout, I do what I think many other people do, which is to shake myself up. That sometimes involves getting out of my mind and more into my body, by disappearing into my workshop and making a chair, playing with my kids, or stepping on to the real tennis court (I’m addicted to this medieval sport, the ancestor of regular tennis). It’s amazing how often fresh thoughts come when I’m sprinting around the court. Though there is nothing surprising about this – you can find many similar examples in Arthur Koestler’s fascinating book The Act of Creation.

Occasionally I’ll turn to well-known creative aids like Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategy cards, which contain thought prompts like ‘disconnect from desire’, ‘turn it upside down’ and ‘water’. But my most common method, especially when wrestling with tough intellectual problems, is to ask anybody and everybody I meet what they think about the subject.

How does your creative work affect the rest of your life?

I try to see my whole life as a creative experiment, which is why I admire Mary Wollstonecraft so much – I wrote about her in my book The Wonderbox. The eighteenth-century feminist firebrand and writer of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman was an expert at breaking social conventions. She embarked on a career as an author when almost no women did so, went to Paris during the revolution, and had scandalous affairs and a child out of wedlock. Hers was a life of experiment, and one that inspires me to take risks and challenge the rules. ‘Mary’s life had been an experiment from the start,’ wrote Virginia Woolf, ‘an attempt to make human conventions conform more closely to human needs.’

So my creative work is really just another expression of how I try to live – attempting to free myself from crazy social conventions like our addiction to television (average viewing is almost four hours a day in the US and Western Europe), and searching for a sense of personal freedom.

What is it like to send your work out into the world?

I don’t write and think simply to entertain myself. It’s not enough for me to write an essay and then file it away in a cupboard, never to be read by anyone. The whole point is to send my ideas out into the world, and hope that they inspire others in some way, and create some kind of ripple in the continuum of history. I don’t find this part of creative activity particularly frightening or intimidating.

What was the best advice anyone gave to you?

I wouldn’t say it was a piece of advice, more something I noticed. I used to work on a daily basis with the historian Theodore Zeldin, perhaps the most inventive person I’ve ever come across, at an organisation called The Oxford Muse, which was founded to create conversations between strangers. And each time he explained The Oxford Muse to someone, he explained it slightly differently, incorporating some event that had happened to him that day, or a recent conversation with someone. I realised that his intellectual aliveness was based on this constant merging of his daily experiences with his ideas. His ideas never stood still, and so they never became stale. That, to me, was a useful lesson in the art of creativity.

What helps you to pay attention to the world?
To recognise my own empathy deficit. To keep striving to understand how other people see the world. George Bernard Shaw once said, ‘Do not do unto others as you would have them do unto you – they might have different tastes.’ Life, as I see it, is an endeavour to understand those different tastes.

Thank you for your responses, Roman. It’s good to have you here.

Roman Krznaric is a cultural thinker and founding faculty member of The School of Life in London. He advises organisations including Oxfam and the United Nations on using empathy and conversation to create social change, and has been named by The Observer as one of Britain’s leading lifestyle philosophers. His latest book is How to Find Fulfilling Work, which is part of The School of Life’s new practical philosophy series edited by Alain de Botton, and he is also the author of The Wonderbox: Curious Histories of How to Live, which explores what we can learn from the past about better living. For further details see:

How to Find Fulfilling Work by Roman Krznaric

Can you take your working life in new directions?

The desire for fulfilling work is one of the great aspirations of our age and this inspirational book reveals how one might make it a reality. It explores the competing claims we face for money and status while doing something meaningful and in tune with our talents. Drawing on wisdom about work that is to be found in sociology, psychology, history and philosophy, Roman Krznaric sets out a practical and innovative guide to negotiating the labyrinth of choices, overcoming the fear of change, and finding a career that makes you thrive.

Are you ready to embark on a ‘radical sabbatical’? Should you strive to be a high achiever or a ‘wide achiever’? Could Leonardo da Vinci or Zorba the Greek help change your career? Overturning a century of traditional – and often mistaken – thought about career change, Roman Krznaric reveals just what it takes to find life-enhancing work.

Interview with Brenda Miller and Holly J. Hughes Authors of The Pen and The Bell: Mindful Writing in a Busy World

Brenda Miller and Holly J. Hughes are the authors of The Pen and The Bell: Mindful Writing in a Busy World, which has just been released by Skinner House Books. As you might guess, their philosophy is pretty tuned in with our own… We’re very happy to welcome both Brenda and Holly to Writing Our Way Home today. 
What drives your creative work?
Brenda: That’s a good question. Being creative can often take a back seat to everything else that appears to be more important. But I find that I’m not truly myself unless I’m writing regularly. I become depressed, cranky, and out of sorts. So I’d say that writing, for me, activates some essential center in the brain that contributes to happiness. When I’m writing, I’m making connections of all sorts, so I’m not quite as isolated; instead the world becomes alive with possibility.

Holly: Like Brenda, I’m happier when I’m writing. The act of creating somehow keeps me connected with my essential self and, at the same time, more connected with the world. I feel more alert, more grounded, more open to serendipity. That’s not to say that it’s easy—our lives are filled with tempting distractions—but when I do manage to get to my desk regularly, I feel more alive. I’m looking at the world through the lens of poetry and imagination and that enriches all that I see.

What would you say to yourself if you could go back in time and meet yourself at the beginning of your creative career?

Holly: That’s a good question, too, though I’m not even sure when that would be! I sometimes feel we’re at our most creative as kids, then lose that imaginative connection to the world as we grow up. But here’s what I’d say to that younger girl: “Trust yourself. Pay attention to what fascinates you. Don’t worry about being “successful”—just follow the thread of whatever speaks to you, whatever fascinates you—and the rest will take care of itself.” Then I’d want to add — having taught full-time for many years –that it’s also essential to create space and time for your own creative work.

Brenda: As Holly says, “Trust yourself.” I think that’s such an essential part of the creative process, and one that can’t really be taught. We just have to learn it over and over. Trust your intuition. Don’t worry about what you think you “should” do. For example, I spent two years writing a very bad novel because I thought that’s what a “real” writer does. I don’t regret that time (I learned I’m a very bad novel writer, which is essential information to have!), but I know now that my writing self is actually quite accurate about what she needs to do, and I just have to listen.

How do you keep creating when things get difficult?

Brenda: I had this experience just the other day. My friend Lee and I met for lunch on a Friday, supposedly to talk about writing but ended up talking about everything difficult in our lives instead. So we made a pact to write over the weekend and send something to each other by Monday at noon. And then Friday night I went to a reading where three amazing poets—all incredibly busy people—read new work that blew my mind. If they could do it, I thought, I could do it. I wrote a long post for my blog “Spa of the Mindon Saturday, but still hadn’t written what I was supposed to write for Lee. At 7:30 a.m. on Monday she sent me her poem and asked for my work. So I sat down and wrote something brand new in two hours. I felt high all day!

            So, that’s a long answer, but the gist if it is: get some help and inspiration from your friends.

Holly: I love Brenda’s approach to enlist your friends—and while I don’t do this as often as I’d like, I loved our correspondence while working on The Pen and the Bell—where our writing practice sustained me through two difficult losses: the loss of my father and my dear friend Rags. I find it’s best to write about what’s difficult, even if it’s just a freewrite to clear my mind, something I’ll never share with anyone. Often I’ll find some little kernel that I can work with, some insight I didn’t know I knew. My journal saved me when I was helping care for my mother with Alzheimer’s disease—and many of those journal entries did become poems. Writing helped me to stay present with her on her journey. Because writing poems had helped me through a difficult time, I eventually edited a collection of poems: Beyond Forgetting: Poetry and Prose about Alzheimer’sDisease, so others could benefit by having poems as companions during difficult time.

How does your creative work affect the rest of your life?

Holly: When I’m writing, I definitely feel more centered in the rest of my life. I know I’m certainly a better teacher of writing when I’m deeply engaged in my own writing. But in addition to that, I’m more present in my relationships when I’m actively writing—though it’s true I may have less time for them if I’m in the midst of a creative project. But I find that I bring more of myself to my relationships; it’s easier to stay focused on what matters, not get caught up in what Stanley Kunitz called “the litter.” Kunitz said, “Live in the layers, not in the litter” and writing reminds me to do this.

Brenda: Creativity becomes about more than just writing; it becomes about cooking a wonderful meal for good friends, or envisioning a new arrangement of furniture, or thinking about the container garden out front. It can even be about arranging your day in a creative way. Or writing a syllabus that really gets at what you hope to both teach and learn in your classes. Like Holly, I become more centered in what matters when I’ve clicked into the creative mode of being.

What is it like to send your work out into the world?

Brenda: I used to wait a long time before sending work out, but now I’m much quicker about it. I see this part—making your work public—as an important stage in the creative work. As soon as I switch from the personal to the public mode in my perception of the writing at hand, I can easily cut the writing that’s “lazy,” i.e.: the placeholders, the things that didn’t quite fully develop the way I intended. I also scrutinize the beginning and the ending, as those are the areas that will make or break a piece in the public realm.

Holly: I tend to wait a long time before sending out work—and I don’t necessarily recommend it. But I do like to put a poem aside so I can come back to it later with fresh eyes. The danger is that sometimes I wait too long—and it’s lost its juice, its interest for me. Now I’m trying to send work out earlier—and learn from the responses I receive from editors if it washes back up on my desk—and send it out again. I find that giving readings is also a good way to “go public” –you make that switch that Brenda describes from the personal to the public realm—and I can tell what’s working and what’s not. 

What was the best advice anyone gave to you?
Holly: Many years ago, my journalism professor/mentor Wilmot Ragsdale (known to all his former students as Rags), who was a foreign correspondent and poet, told me to leave journalism school, take a job on a newspaper and read poetry, that I’d learn what I need to know about writing that way. He also suggested studying photography because you’re constantly framing the world in scenes. Poetry and photography both teach us how to pay attention, which is ultimately what a good writer needs to do.

Brenda: When I was in graduate school, a professor once told me: “You know how to write a pretty sentence, but are you really saying anything?” Though that was hard to hear, those words keep coming back to me whenever I find myself getting carried away with imagery or metaphor. Am I really saying anything? It’s all about being as authentic as you can in whatever you’re doing. Authenticity, since then, has become a keyword in my writing and life.

What helps you to pay attention to the world?

Brenda: Three deep breaths. It seems too simple, but it’s true. When I find myself buzzing too fast, fretting, scattered, if I stop and take three deep breaths into my diaphragm, I “reset” myself, and I can pay attention. It takes about 30 seconds. It also helps to be writing regularly, because as soon as I get going on a piece, I start seeing connections everywhere.

Holly: Each morning when I take a walk with my dog Fox, I’m reminded to pay attention. He’s so attentive to everything he encounters, not just sights but smells and sounds, too —he’s a constant reminder to pay attention to the world, to not get tangled up in my thoughts. During the rest of the day, like Brenda, I try to remember to return to my breath when life starts moving too fast. Or sometimes I’ll just quietly observe something in the natural world going about its business—that ant carrying a long blade of green grass across the deck, the sun glinting off a wet camellia leaf—and this will slow me down and return me to the world in all its delightful detail.

Thank you so much, Brenda and Holly – much wisdom here. Best of luck with the book!

Visit for more information about the book. There is currently a promotional give-away in progress on Brenda’s blog: Spa of the Mind.

Brenda Miller (top photo) is the author of Listening Against the Stone (Skinner House Books, 2011), Blessing of the Animals (EWU Press, 2009), Season of the Body (Sarabande Books, 2002), and co-author of Tell it Slant: Writing and Shaping Creative Nonfiction (McGraw-Hill, 2003). Her work has received six Pushcart Prizes and has been published in numerous journals. She is a Professor of English at Western Washington University and serves as Editor-in-Chief of the Bellingham Review.

Holly J. Hughes (bottom photo) is the editor of the award-winning anthology, Beyond Forgetting: Poetry and Prose about Alzheimer’s Disease, published by Kent State University Press and the author of Boxing the Compass,  published by Floating Bridge Press. A graduate of Pacific Lutheran University’s MFA program, she teaches writing at Edmonds Community College, where she co-directs the Sustainability Initiative and Convergence Writers Series. She has spent over thirty summers working on the water in Alaska in a variety of jobs, including commercial fishing for salmon, skippering a 65-foot schooner, and more recently, working as a naturalist.   She divides her time between Indianola and Chimacum, Washington.

Interview with R. N. Morris, Author extraordinaire

Fiona writes: I love Roger’s historical detective novels based in Russia, which are both beautifully written and page-turners. I loaned Kaspa his last one and now he’s hooked too! We’re very pleased to welcome him to our creativity interview spot today.

What drives your creative work?
The desire to get out what’s inside. I say ‘desire’, but it’s more of a compulsion. I think I become occupied by stories, possessed, almost. It can be quite an abstract feeling at first, but still concrete, if that makes sense. It may be a feeling that takes hold of me at a certain moment, perhaps driving on a long journey and being struck for a moment by the colours and character of the sky. That there is something about that transient moment that corresponds with a sense of a story inside me and I then know I have to try to get it out somehow. As the process develops, and I get into the actual writing, then it becomes more focused but is still essentially the same urge to get out what’s inside. It becomes more urgent as I go on.

What would you say to yourself if you could go back in time and meet yourself at the beginning of your creative career?
It’s all right. Don’t worry. It will happen but it won’t be like you think it’s going to be. So relax. And enjoy your life a bit more.

How do you keep creating when things get difficult?
Do you mean when things get difficult in life, generally? Or when things aren’t going well with the writing? If it’s the former, I don’t know. I’m not sure I can, not in the face of one of life’s great tragedies. You have to allow yourself time to deal with those. But maybe, also, there comes a point in that process where creative activity is one of the things that help you. More trivially, if there is anything that I am conscious is hanging over me, nagging me, generally I can’t get down to work until I have sorted that out. But I do, at the same time, have the ability to block things out. So that might be the solution. As long as I’m not aware of something, I can work. A consequence of this is that I tend to have a phobia about opening mail. I prefer to keep the bad stuff in the envelopes so that I don’t have to deal with it. This can be a problem. Last week my wife opened a fairly old letter from Vauxhall saying that our car had been recalled because of safety issues with the brakes!

If you’re talking about keeping on creating when the work isn’t going well – that can be hard. There’s a point in writing a novel, the middle third maybe, when you’ve got over the excitement of the beginning, but you’re still a long way from the finishing line, where it can become a real slog. Then it’s just a question of keeping going, discipline, I suppose. I see an analogy with swimming, which is the only form of physical exercise I do, though I am not a great swimmer at all – far from it. 40 lengths is my usual target in a swimming session, and I have the same mental relationship to those 40 lengths as I do to the word length target of a WIP. The first 10 are fine. The middle 20 are hell. The last 10 are a breeze.

How does your creative work affect the rest of your life?
I’m embarrassed to say it dominates it. I don’t think this is a good thing. In terms of my family life, I expect my family know when things are going well in my writing and when things aren’t. I am subject to mood swings, though I’m sure they would say my dominant mood is “grumpy”. I presume this is so from the Mr Grumpy mug my kids once bought me. I suspect my wife pointed it out to them. Sometimes I think that if I gave up writing I would be a much happier person, and maybe a nicer person to live with.

What is it like to send your work out into the world?
Terrifying. Nerve-wracking. Completely debilitating. And yet, this is what the whole thing is about, isn’t it?! I get particularly tense around publication time, torn between the fear that my book will disappear without trace and the dread that it will be savaged by anyone who reviews it. Behind it all is the anxiety that you are now utterly exposed. I think it’s very isolating being a writer at that time, actually. I’m in a constant flinch, expecting blows. So when I do get positive responses, well, I’m amazed. I don’t expect them though.

What was the best advice anyone gave to you?
I don’t think I’m very good at following advice. Or giving it, for that matter. However, one piece of writing advice that has always stuck with me came to me when I attended a play-writing workshop run by what used to be called Soho Poly, but which is now Soho Theatre. The guy running it highlighted a tendency in a lot of scripts for people to write certain perhaps easy-to-write scenes and then to skip forward to a moment in the future for the next easy-to-write scene, and the crucial event will have happened in the interval between the two scenes. He said you’ve got to stick with the action and write through the hard stuff. The stuff that you know in advance is going to be the hardest to write… those are the bits that you absolutely positively have to write.

What helps you to pay attention to the world?
Actually, if I’m honest, I think my track record on paying attention to the world is fairly mixed. I am spectacularly unobservant at times, I think because I live so much inside my own head. This is a failing obviously. Having kids reconnected me with the world in many ways. When they were younger it was a joy to see things through their eyes. And of course they ask questions, some of which are highly unexpected and make you constantly reconsider the world.

Thank you Roger, lovely to host you here today.

Biography: Roger Morris, writing as R.N. Morris, is the author of a series of historical crime novels set in St. Petersburg in the late 19 century, and featuring Porfiry Petrovich, the investigator from Dostoevsky’s great novel, Crime and Punishment. He was shortlisted for the 2008 CWA Duncan Lawrie Gold Dagger for A Vengeful Longing and for the 2011 CWA Ellis Peters Historical Dagger for The Cleansing Flames.  With his new novel, Summon Up The Blood, he begins a new series featuring Silas Quinn, a decidedly idiosyncratic Edwardian-era detective. His first book (written as Roger Morris) was the contemporary urban novel Taking Comfort. Roger lives in north London with his wife and two children.

Roger’s websiteA Vengeful Longing amazon page,  The Cleansing Flames amazon pageSummon Up The Blood amazon page.

Summon Up The Blood:
London, 1914. A killer is at liberty in the dark alleys of the city. The cadavers of his victims all have one thing in common: there is no blood in their bodies. As the killer’s reign of terror continues, Scotland Yard’s Detective Inspector Silas Quinn finds his suspicions focusing on the members of an exclusive gentleman’s club . . . Atmospheric and macabre, Summon Up the Blood takes the reader on a disturbing yet fascinating journey through London’s aristocratic watering holes, seedy brothels and shadowy underworld in the turbulent months leading up to World War I.

Interview and book review with Katherine Jenkins, author of ‘Lessons from the Monk I Married’

Fiona writes: We have a special creativity interview today. Regular readers might already know that I married a Buddhist monk of my own, Kaspa, and so when I came across the title of Katherine’s book online I just had to get in touch…

Katherine first travelled to South Korea to look for the kind of answers a lot of us struggle with – what’s it all about? How can we find peace, happiness and meaning in our lives? During her first months there, she happened to visit a remote temple, where she happened to meet a Buddhist monk, Seong Yoon Lee. Months later, they met again by chance—and fell in love. The rest is history…

Katherine’s journey was much longer, more complicated and more challenging than my own brief intense courtship. Throughout the ups and downs, she takes learning from the difficulties life throws at her. How can we surrender and let go when we want to cling? Paradoxically, when we can surrender, what (or who) we want is often more able to come towards us…

A lovely book – very human, very ordinary (despite extraordinary circumstances), and very wise. Just like Katherine, I’d bet.

And so I’m very pleased to be welcoming Katherine to our creativity interview series today.

Katherine, what drives your creative work?
I think creativity drives itself. I often am surprised and wonder where it comes from.

What would you say to yourself if you could go back in time and meet yourself at the beginning of your creative career?
“Pull yourself together” or “It will all work out in the end.”

How do you keep creating when things get difficult?
I think creativity can’t be forced. Creativity happens when you least expect it to. It comes on its own accord. If it’s not happening, then it’s not happening. If I am stuck, I do something else, like have a cup of tea or take a bath.

How does your creative work affect the rest of your life?
Creativity often strikes me at the strangest times. It comes in the middle of the night or while I’m at the bank or something. In those moments, I know I have to get things down on paper. Words are the way the world filters through me, but they don’t always come at the most convenient times.

What is it like to send your work out into the world?
Scary! It’s one thing to write something close to my heart and it’s quite another to have hundreds of people reading it. At the same time, it’s exciting and wonderful to share the work that I have created. I think that’s how we connect with one another and how we realize how alike we really are on a human level. I also think we are our own worst critics. Perhaps that comes from identifying too much with what we write instead of just letting the writing be what it is.

What was the best advice anyone gave to you?
Wow! I don’t think I can pin that one down. The best advice for writing: JUST WRITE! (I think I have a blog post on that one!)

What helps you to pay attention to the world?
Meditation has certainly helped me to tune in more to my surroundings. I think creativity comes from space—at least it does for me. When there’s no space in my life, it’s very hard to hear what the world wants to say. I think the world is always speaking to us in subtle ways.

Thank you Katherine. Good luck with your book!

“Katherine Jenkins’s beautiful memoir is a wonderful story of listening to one’s heart through both hardships and joy alike.”
~Sharon Salzberg, author of Lovingkindness and Real Happiness

Biography: Katherine Jenkins is the author of the popular blog Lessons from the Monk I Married, which offers lessons based in the Buddhist tradition and drawn from her daily experiences. Jenkins spent over eight years in South Korea, where she met her husband in 1996. Jenkins moved back to the States with her husband in 2006, where they became managers of the Northwest Vipassana Meditation Center in Washington State. Today, Jenkins lives in Seattle with her husband, who is a popular yoga teacher and lecturer, and she teaches English as a Second Language at Edmonds Community College.

For more information, visit Katherine’s site or find Katherine on Facebook. Here’s the book on Amazon US and Amazon UK.

An interview with Sean M Madden: Creative Writing & Mindful Living Guide

When I found Sean’s profile it felt like I was reading Writing Our Way Home’s mission statement. It’s always lovely meet kindred spirits. And it’s also lovely to welcome him to our series of creativity interviews today.

Welcome, Sean. What drives your creative work?
A love and corresponding need to reflect back my own experience, my own inner truths, and — as I’ve said countless times in my writing and mindful living classes — to witness the world within and without. To simply witness is itself a creative act. Indeed, to be is to create. Too often we relegate creativity to certain artistic types — writers, visual artists, musicians, etc. — rather than recognize that we are, each of us, inherently creative beings. Our every act creates our world, which we, in turn, share with others.

What would you say to yourself if you could go back in time and meet yourself at the beginning of your creative career? 
I wouldn’t know how to find the beginning of that creative career. What career isn’t, by definition, creative? As noted above, creativity’s an inherent part of who we are. Children are, of course, creative from the get-go. What, more poignantly, would an earlier creative self have to say about what I’m now doing? That earlier self might well give better advice than I could offer him.

How do you keep creating when things get difficult? 
Creativity is at least as apt to emanate out of that difficulty as it is to stultify it; that is, if we have learned to allow ourselves to feel, to not fight but allow for, the difficulties when they arise. And, by this, I mean the corresponding physical sensations which arise in our bodies, whether of fear, uncertainty, self-judgment, or any other emotion or feeling, including joy. If we haven’t learned to be comfortable with the uncomfortable, then difficulties can throw us off center, and our creativity can, of course, wane. But if we’ve learned this lesson experientially — to acknowledge, allow for and even honor the uncomfortable — then we find that this simple acknowledgment begins to process out of our system whatever underlies the uncomfortable feelings. The more we experience this miracle, the more deeply we’ll trust in, and truly honor, the process — the whole kit and caboodle, the whole sometimes deeply perplexing enchilada. Rather than suffer by trying to exclude the reality in our midst, we, instead, take that initial step towards the necessary action which has within it the very seed of inspiration. This seed, if nurtured, will lead us on to the next step, with the courage born of awareness and trust in the creative process.

How does your creative work affect the rest of your life? 
It is the rest of my life, there’s no separation.

What is it like to send your work out into the world? 
It’s a crucial part of the whole — of the creative process, and of the cycle of my work and, thus, my life. I’ve worked hard to forge a life in which I needn’t demarcate one aspect of myself from another. My working life is my creative life is my personal life. I love, for instance, that an inspiring walk in the woods, along a meandering stream, or atop a chalk cliff which drops from the South Downs into the sea below can be turned into an article or essay, a simple blog post, or a video to upload to YouTube and Mindful Living Guide, or to send off to an editor elsewhere.

What was the best advice anyone gave to you? 
Listen to, and trust in, your intuition. I believe my intuition gave me even that bit of advice.

What helps you to pay attention to the world? 
The world itself. It’s continuously unfolding before our very eyes — within our very bodies — calling itself to our attention, there, always, to wake us up from our unconscious slumber.

Thanks so much for being here Sean. I’m sure we’ll cross paths again!

As a Creative Writing & Mindful Living Guide, Sean M. Madden offers Writing, Literature & Mindful Living courses and workshops — and one-to-one guidance — worldwide. He’s also the creator of the new Mindful Living Monday (#mlmon) and Writing Prompt Thursday (#wpthu) communities. To keep apprised of Sean’s online and in-person offerings, sign up to the MLG newsletter. You can also follow him on Twitter @SeanMMaddenconnect via Facebook, Google+ and YouTube, or email him.

An interview with Jamie Ridler: Creative Living Coach

We are delighted to welcome Jamie Ridler to our series of creativity interviews today. Over to you, Jamie!

What drives your creative work?

An unquenchable inner impulse. Ever since I was a kid I just had to create, create, create. I just love to turn an idea into a happening or a piece or a “something it wants to be”. Bringing an idea to life in the world, that’s magic to me.
What would you say to yourself if you could go back in time and meet yourself at the beginning of your creative career?

Don’t worry. All of these threads, all of your interests and experiences, they will eventually come together and make sense. And the beautiful thing is – you don’t have to understand in order to make it happen. Just relax and enjoy what you’re doing. It will weave itself together before you and you will love what you see.
How do you keep creating when things get difficult?

Well, sometimes I don’t. Sometimes a whole lot of “hard” means what I need is a whole lot of “rest.”
And sometimes it’s not about taking a break; it’s about finding my way to staying with it, of keeping my bum in the seat, my heart in my chest, my self in the room. I’ve found that takes a whole lot of trust and a whole lot of breathing. When I’m feeling that tightening response to difficult, the impulse to cut and run, I start focusing on my breath and opening up my heart, softening my gaze a little bit and loosening my grip. Then I kind of let the work do its thing. As best I can, I get out of the way.

This is new for me. For a lot of my life I’ve tried to drive right through. Sometimes that works but more often something gets broken – sometimes that’s been me.  Right now, as I’m starting to work on projects that are bigger than anything I’ve ever done before, breathing through it feels like the better option.

How does your creative work affect the rest of your life?

It’s essential. My life is an organic whole and it includes everything from my home life to my personal life to my entrepreneurial life to my creative life to my spiritual life. It’s like an ecosystem and the healthier each subsystem is the more the flow from one can nourish the other and the more vital and productive the whole becomes.
What is it like to send your work out into the world?

Tender and exciting.  I have this deep belief that the world needs each of our gifts, that we were given our talents and interests and uniqueness in part so that we could make a special contribution. So when I’m making something from my heart and sending it out into the world, I know I’m fulfilling my purpose. At the same time, it’s incredibly vulnerable. What if those seeds land on the wrong soil? What if no one loves what I have made?
I read something recently from Mark Silver ( that really helped me with this. He made the beautiful distinction between our heart and the gifts of our heart. As creative people we really identify with what we share so we often collapse this distinction, thinking that a rejection of our work is a rejection of our most sacred self. It’s not true. That is the work of our heart, but our hearts are safe within ourselves, always.

What was the best advice anyone gave to you?

I carry around lots of well-loved advice in my back pocket from many wise advisors. One of my favourites, one that’s helped me repeatedly, came from Alicia Forest ( done is better than perfect.
Oh, yeah. I see it in my colleagues, my clients, my friends and myself. There’s this sticking point where we get caught both in our desire to create something exquisite and in our fear of actually putting it out there. That’s where “getting it perfect” turns into “not getting it done.”

Savour the joy and discover the confidence that grows when you find the courage to put it out there – even if it isn’t perfect! 

What helps you to pay attention to the world?

My curiosity is a living, breathing, wide awake pixie that seems to need no rest! My creativity inspires me to engage with everything – to write about it, to think about it, to consider the possibilities, to photograph it, to doodle it, to wonder about it, to imagine it, to combine it, to look at it… whatever “it” happens to be.

More difficult for me is unplugging, dialing down, putting on a softer focus, taking a break from paying attention. Quiet, quiet, quiet. The past year has been really internal for me. I’ve needed much more of this disengaged time so that I could unwind, uncrinkle and rest. I love paying attention to the world so much that I can totally forget it wears me out.

Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom with us, Jamie.


Jamie Ridler is a creative living coach and the founder of Jamie Ridler Studios. From coaching to workshops, from podcasting to blogging, Jamie’s work helps women find the confidence and courage to discover and express their creative selves so they can be the star they are. Her main website is here, and you can also find her on Facebook & Twitter. Her podcasts are here & her ecourse is here.

An interview with Fiona Robertson: Textile Artist

We’ve already interviewed Fiona’s husband Doug in our creativity series. He shared one of Fiona’s pieces on Facebook I was immediately seduced by its colours and intricacy… We’re very pleased to welcome Fiona and to showcase her work here at WOWH.

Welcome, Fiona. What drives your creative work?
As an Artist I have always felt an inherent need to create. Every time I observe a particular light in the landscape or find an intriguing object I instantly start to analyse and question, an internal dialogue begins. I always have my camera and sketchbook with me. I don’t think it is a conscious decision to create, it is a definite need.

What would you say to yourself if you could go back in time and meet yourself at the beginning of your creative career?
I would tell myself to have more self-belief, to work very hard at developing my individual voice. When I left Art School I was very influenced by other Artists, I spent too much time trying to please other people and be more like them.

It has taken years but I have now found a visual language that just makes sense to me, everything has clicked in to place. I know what I am doing is right because my ideas just flow.

How do you keep creating when things get difficult?
I also teach Art in a secondary school and when you teach it sometimes becomes very difficult to keep focused on your own work. The demands on your time can be overbearing. However it is even more important at these times to stay centered on your own journey. You must make time for your own work and this requires an enormous amount of self-discipline. I find that my own work feeds into my teaching and I am fortunate to be able to use my skills to develop others.

How does your creative work affect the rest of your life?
Being creative and actually producing work has given me such a strong focus on what is important in life. My work and the act of creating keeps me completely centered. If I am ever in the situation of not being able to access my work I become completely restless inside. I take my work wherever I go, I can always fit in an embroidery and a needle in a case!

What is it like to send your work out into the world?
Once I have completed a piece of work I do not think about it anymore. I am thinking about the next piece immediately and usually have two pieces that overlap.

Exhibiting my work is different, I become quite nervous about whether other people will like it or not. I feel exposed when other people view my work for the first time, after all, that is who I am.

It is always a pleasure when others enjoy what you do.

What was the best advice anyone gave to you?
Before my father passed away he told me to be true to myself and be strong enough to change the path my life had taken if I found myself unhappy. Life is way too short to just let yourself simply drift.

Although I think this is easier said than done, I believe my father was correct. You have to make your own decisions and choices and be prepared to take risks.

What helps you to pay attention to the world?
By the very nature of my work I pay attention to the world. I study my environment closely paying particular to the subtle changes of light and colour throughout the seasons.

In a fast paced ever changing world it becomes even more important to notice the small details, finding harmony and a sense of well-being in the natural world.

Biography: Fiona Robertson studied drawing and Painting at the Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art in Dundee. She was awarded the Elizabeth Greenshield Foundation Prize for her painting and her work is held in many private and public collections throughout the UK.

Her current work explores the tactile qualities of landscape through hand and machine embroidery.
Her work will be exhibited during August 2012 in the Gloucester city Museum.

Visit her website at

An interview with Michael Nobbs: Artist

We much admire Michael’s quiet, honest and encouraging presence in the world. He’s an inspiration to all of us to get better at looking after ourselves whilst still getting stuff done… we’re honoured to welcome him to WOWH today.

Michael, what drives your creative work?
Ill health has meant that I have had to build a career that fits in with my physical ups and downs. Over the years I’ve learnt that the best way to do this is to work on small creative acts on as regular a basis as my energy allows. These small endeavours have (slowly!) built into a body of work (books, drawings and my online writings) and a sustainable creative career.

What would you say to yourself if you could go back in time and meet yourself at the beginning of your creative career?
Don’t push yourself so hard!

How do you keep creating when things get difficult?
Some days I don’t do anything to keep myself creating when things get difficult. Some days the only thing to do is to stop, take care of myself and trust that a better day will be along soon. On other days I drink plenty of tea and take a lot of naps!

How does your creative work affect the rest of your life?
I think by and large my creative work is my life, though recently I’ve been trying to separate work and play out a little. I’ve found over the years the fun part of being creative has become a little lost and I want to rediscover that sense of fun. I’m trying (not always successfully) to set aside time and energy each week to have a little more fun. At the moment I’m watching a lot of old films, doing more baking and taking a weekly artist date.

What is it like to send your work out into the world?
I feel very lucky that I’ve found a way to make work that I can send out to the world (the sending part is scary and exciting in about equal measure!)

What was the best advice anyone gave to you?
Warm the teapot and always use a tea cosy.

What helps you to pay attention to the world?
Taking things one step at a time and regularly stopping to put the kettle on and make a pot of tea.

Michael Nobbs is a full-time artist, blogger and tea drinker (not necessarily in that order). He is author of the popular blog, Sustainably Creative. He writes, tweets and podcasts about drawing and trying to keep things simple. In the late 1990s he was diagnosed with ME/CFS and, over the last decade he has learnt a lot about sustaining a creative career with limited energy.