Who is the star of your business?

Tyneside Cinema programme featuring La La Land

I went to see La La Land at the Tyneside cinema this week. And I loved it. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a film that I felt so totally immersed in.

For just over two hours, although physically present in a comfortable cinema seat, my heart and mind were miles away, dancing in the hills above Los Angeles, watching a love story with all its stops and starts, triumphs and mis-steps unfold.  It made me beam and sigh and smile and yes, I cried a bit.

Who is the star of your movie?

Think of your business as a movie. Who is the star? You, or what you do? What makes it different from all the other movies out there? Does it have a better story? A bigger name? More awards? More dinosaurs?

Or is it more like a quirky little art-house film that not every one will have heard about, but those who love it, love it fiercely.

Why marketing is like the movie business

Walt Disney Star on the Hollywood Walk of FameLike a movie, you have to get people to notice your business, to excite interest in what you do.

Do you invest in marketing, logos, posters, billboards, social media campaigns to create a buzz?

Do you connect with influencers, experts, bloggers to spread the word about what you do?

While big stars, like Emma Stone or Ryan Gosling may be well out of your budget, getting endorsements, recommendations and referrals from your customers can be a great way to bring in more.

Reviews and recommendations

What was the first thing I did, as I emerged from two hours in the Hollywood sunshine into the contrast of a chilly winter’s day in Newcastle? I told my friends via social media how much I loved the film.

Now I’m sure La La Land is doing very nicely at the Box Office without my little endorsement. It’s certainly gathering up awards at a grand pace.

But my  post got a reaction. A bigger one than I expected actually.

Some of my friends were excited to see the film. Others had already been and were less impressed. My off-the-cuff comment started a conversation, and I know at least one person said they were going to see it because of my reaction to it.

Word of mouth. Recommendation. Being different. All things that can help your business dance its way to the walk of fame.

If you have a great business with a story to tell, and need someone to write or polish the script, then please get in touch.

Writing workshops – my training formula

I run writing training and tone of voice workshops to help business people write communications that connect with their customers.

The tools of my writing workshops - coloured pens and pencils

I don’t know how it happens, but sometimes the act of putting words on a page, or these days, tapping characters onto a screen, makes people sound different. Maybe it’s the thought that this is business, that makes some companies come over all stuffy and formal. You can almost hear the pin-stripe suit and the overly tight collar (even when they’re actually wearing jeans and a T-shirt).

My aim when I run one of these workshops is to help people sound more like themselves. Or at least, more like a living, breathing human being, than a faceless corporate drone.

My training formula

When it comes to writing, or any kind of training, I apply a very simple formula: See one. Do one. Teach one. I’ve used it many times in lots of different types of training and it really works.

See one

Showing someone how to do something, or demonstrating good practice is a great starting point. In my writing training, I might do this by picking out some good, and not so good, examples of writing that I see the businesses using already.

Or I might take some memorable marketing straplines and invite people in my workshop to fill in the missing words.

It’s easy enough to demonstrate good examples, or how things should or can be done. What I help to do with ‘see one’ is to unpick why they are good examples. What works well, what doesn’t work so well, what could be better and so on.

Most people instinctively know, or understand what sounds good when it comes to communications. I can help you understand why that happens and how you can use that to your advantage in your business.

Do one

Writing training workshop table

It’s all very well seeing and being shown how to do something. But the real way to make any kind of training stick is to put it into practice.

That’s why you won’t find me standing at the front of a room giving a lecture when I do my writing training. It’s you who will be doing the work, thinking, scribbling things down, trying out new ways of writing. And I’ll try to make sure you have things to work on well after the session has ended too.

My workshops and training sessions offer a chance to get away from everyday distractions and really think about how you communicate, who your audience are and the language you use. It can be refreshing, eye-opening and illuminating.

While you’re playing games with language and testing out new things in the safe confines of a training session, my aim is always to make what you learn relevant to you and your business.

Teach one

I used to do quite a bit of practical training when I worked at the BBC, showing new reporters how to use digital editing programs, or to use a content management system to publish web pages. That’s when I discovered, that you only really know you’ve understood something when you have to share it with someone else.

Finding new ways to explain something you know well can be a challenge. I’ve learned to adapt to lots of different styles of learning, from those who learn best from seeing or hearing examples, to those who like to get hands on and move around as they take in new information.

In training other people, I’ve often found I have to explain something in a different way, or been challenged to look at something I take for granted from a new angle. It’s a big confidence boost for me to see and hear people I’ve trained passing on what they’ve learned to others.

When training gets tricky

I have had workshops when I’ve expected 12 people and only 4 turned up. I had to do some rapid re-planning for group exercises. But I have learned to adapt to almost anything (I think).

When I’ve done training sessions in large corporate environments, I sometimes got the sense that people had been told to come to my workshop, but didn’t really know why they were there.

At times like this I felt like a stand-up comedian in front of a tough crowd. But like the best stand ups, I had belief in my material and kept going, trying to engage with my audience and find a common point of interest that would get them on my side.

Common points of interest would often be ‘things that other people write that make us squirm’, or ‘my boss says I shouldn’t say…’

My favourite training sessions

The best writing training sessions are when people are really engaged and ask questions or challenge points I make.

When someone asks me ‘Why?’ or says “But we have to do it like this…” I know they are taking an interest and I have a great opportunity to make that session really relevant.

Always learning, always improving

All writers are magpies. We steal inspiration, words, phrases and ideas from anywhere and everywhere, then make them our own. I do the same with training courses. I’ve had the benefit of some excellent ones, from Dark Angels26The Writer and Scarlett Abbott, to name just a few.

As well as learning about the subject of the course, I try to take away something that I can apply to my own workshops.

Was there a good ice-breaker? How was the session structured? How was the information presented? And when I can, I’ll pick the brains of other people who do training sessions. They are always very generous.

I’ve learned how to create and run my writing training workshops by watching, listening, thinking and doing; through experience and analysis. I’m always looking for things that I can learn from, so I can improve my skills as a trainer.

What are your top tips for a great training session? How do you prefer to learn?

Need writing training in your business? Want to find out more about the workshops I offer? Please get in touch.

What’s your business pitch?

Beccy Owen pop up choir I recently took part in a pop-up choir with the fabulous Beccy Owen. A group of around 50 of us got together upstairs in the Cumberland Arms, learned some festive songs and sang them together outside, all in one afternoon. It was brilliant – I thoroughly recommend it.

As part of the workshop, Beccy, in her wonderful, warm, welcoming and light-hearted manner introduced us to the three different parts of our voice that we use when we sing.

Head, chest and sob

There’s the ‘head voice’. That’s the high one. The one that feels like it’s coming from the space inside your skull somewhere. You can use it to hit the top notes, but it probably feels a bit uncomfortable if you have to use it for a while.

Then there’s the ‘chest voice’. This comes down the scale a bit and feels more like a comfortable place to sing from. It’s pitched like your natural speaking voice.

Finally there’s ‘sob’. Make a ‘huh’ sound, like you’re trying to expel all the air from your body quickly. You feel that low down in your belly, right? That’s the sob. It’s part of your singing voice you can use if you want to hit a low note, or add some emotion.

Those terms are useful when thinking about the tone of voice that businesses use too.

Your business voice

In business the ‘head voice’ is very high level, corporate and instructional. It represents the kinds of things people think they should say, or language that they think makes them sound like they are clever and well informed. For example: “My organisation believes in 21st Century modular projections.”

The problem with this kind of voice is that it’s not always easy to understand. And while you may need to give clear and simple instructions in business, talking in language that goes over most people’s heads can sound both arrogant and patronising. And actually, what’s most likely to happen is that customers stop listening.

Your natural pitch

As with singing, in business, your ‘chest voice’ is really where you want to be most of the time. It’s what you would naturally say, and how you would naturally say it if you were talking to someone in the same room. Unless you are one of those people who naturally talks about “Leveraging synergies to optimise the paramaterisation of our network eco-system.”

If you are one of those people, I’d argue that you actually learned that style of voice somewhere, and it didn’t start off very naturally. And I’d point you towards some very intelligent people who can communicate complicated ideas without talking like that – Brian Cox, David Attenborough and  Chris Hadfield, to name three off the top of my head.

Adding emotion

Then there’s the equivalent of the business ‘sob’ voice. That isn’t necessarily the moment when you strike up the violins and tell your story of overcoming adversity and reaching for the stars (although it could be). Just as in singing, the ‘sob’ voice is about adding a touch of emotion, a personal connection.

Don’t be fooled by the name. In singing, the sob is there in the gospel sound of ”Joy to the world” as much as it is in “My baby done left me…’. It can be cheeky, even a little bit sexy. Think Elvis Presley’s “uh-huh-huh.”

In business it’s about letting the human into your writing. Saying things that matter, not just in terms of profits, but on a personal level. Sharing insights into things that you care about.

It’s the details that make us human, and individual as people and in our businesses. And it’s those details that help our fellow humans, our customers, connect and want to do business with us.

The power of music

Music can stop me in my tracks. Like it did when I heard this busker singing on Northumberland Street this week.

The right words in the right place can do the same for your business. They can catch someone’s attention…convince them that you’re the one for them. Pitch your words right, and let them sing out.


Gift ideas for writers and readers

Are you looking for a gift for someone who is a writer, or someone who loves reading? I love both and I know I’m tricky to buy for. I will always appreciate a book, but the trouble is – which one? My shelves are already overflowing. Here are a few literary themed ideas for the reader or writer in your life:

Literary Listography: My Reading Life in Lists

The perfect gift for anyone who likes to read and remember what they’ve read. This would make a great present for the kind of people who spends hour alphabetising their bookshelves or arranging volumes by colour or size.

This attractively illustrated journal provokes avid readers to think about their reading habits by filling out lists such as favourite authors and special reading spots. I’ve added this to my wish-list.

A beautiful notebook

A beautiful notebook makes a great gift for a writerAs a writer, I always have a notebook handy. Often I have more than one on the go. But there’s something thrilling about opening up a new one and putting pen to paper, particularly if it’s beautiful and luxurious.

Personally, I love a moleskine. These are inspired by the notebooks used by artists and writers such as Vincent van Gogh, Pablo Picasso and Ernest Hemingway, and now come in a range of colours, sizes and formats.

Yes, they are a bit more expensive than a standard reporters pad, but the paper quality ensures a smooth writing experience, even when you’re struggling to put words down on paper.

For something more striking and dramatic, Paperblanks are sure to inspire the writer in anyone. With their beautifully designed hardback covers, they are just waiting to be filled with magic words.

A fun stocking filler

Literary paper dolls book makes a great gift for a writer I spotted these Literary Paper Dolls when I was in Waterstones recently (I was using their wifi connection for work – honestly!).

Add a touch of fun to your writing desk with paper doll versions of famous authors such as Shakespeare, Poe, Austen or Woolf. With plenty of bookish trivia and lively illustrations, these will bring a smile to any writer or reader.

A writing retreat

What could be more precious than giving the writer in your life the time to write? It could be just a weekend away in a little cottage, maybe in a literary location such as the Lake District or beautiful Northumberland. But beware, they may want to disappear with a notebook and pens… without you.

If your writer could do with some encouragement and like-minded company, then I recommend these writing courses:

Dark Angels

Tagged as creative writing for business writers, these courses are actually so much more. Built around a deep understanding and value for the power of words and writing, Dark Angels offers a safe space for personal reflection and time to discover how profound your writing can be. 

With courses from 1 to 5 days in beautiful locations with experienced and sympathetic tutors, I honestly cannot recommend Dark Angels highly enough.


Covering writing as diverse as song writing, drama, and even writing for games, Arvon offers a wide range of writing courses at several different locations around the UK.

With creative exercises and a chance to get feedback and encouragement from published writers, these can be a great way to kick start or re-invigorate your writing.

A classic novel

Penguin classics make a great gift for readersI know I said I wouldn’t include books, but honestly, I don’t know a writer or reader who doesn’t appreciate a book as a gift.

If your reader, or writer is a fan of the classic 18th or 19th Century novel, Penguin Classics have some beautiful hardback editions out now.

The beauty of these is that, even if your reader or writer already has a copy, these cloth or leather bound editions will be ones they will want to cherish.

Accompany a copy with a note, or a quote from the book (but please don’t write in the book itself) for a really thoughtful gift.


Visiting Cambodia with Lendwithcare

Caring hands
One hand belongs to a project manager from a prestigious international law firm. The other to an 81-year-old villager and survivor of the most brutal, insidious civil war.

We are in Cambodia. We have cycled from Paksé in nearby Laos, to a small village community near Battambang to see the difference that CARE International is making to people’s lives through its micro-finance initiative Lendwithcare.

The 25 cyclists are a range of ages and fitness levels and we come from different backgrounds, but we are all Lendwithcare supporters, helping people in 10 developing countries around the world to work their way out of poverty through small loans.

On the Lendwithcare website we choose businesses to invest in, from grocery stalls to hairdressers, garment making to vehicle repairs. We see the people, learn about their lives and challenges, and now we have the chance to meet some of them in person.

We have pedalled our way through days of 100km rides; powered up red, dusty dirt tracks and negotiated busy villages to thousands of shouts of hello, waves, smiles and some bemused looks. Sweaty and lycra-clad, we make rather odd house guests, and yet we here we are, being warmly welcomed by the family of Khloerb Bou.

A warm welcome

Like most buildings in this rural area, the house appears somewhat ramshackle, made from wood and tin, propped up on stilt posts to provide an open lower area that children and the occasional chicken wander through; while sleeping accommodation is on an upper platform.

Lenders meeting entrepreneurs

Khloerb Bou is out fishing, but we are ushered in by his wife and daughters, one of whom carries a small child on her hip. An elderly relative, part of the extended family, sits beside one of our party, Christine, and wordlessly takes her hand.

We ask questions through our interpreters and learn how a loan from CCSF, supported by Lendwithcare, has helped this family ensure a good crop of jasmine rice, providing both food and income for the year. They also used part of the loan to invest in a new business for their daughter and her husband, who now make iron goods, such as doors, fences and roofing, in another village around 20km away.


Micro-finance is a popular business here in Cambodia, and we have seen evidence of several different institutions on our travels. From Khloerb Bou’s family we learn that not all micro-finance institutions (MFIs) are created equal. His wife tells us that without the loan from their local CCSF office, they would have had to borrow from another institution with interest rates of around 10% per month, compared to just 1-2%.

It’s not uncommon for people to request loans, repay them and then request another. When your main income depends on a rice crop that you harvest once or twice a year, you are at the mercy of a changing climate and under threat from pests and disease. What you earn depends on the fluctuations of a competitive market and with income at around $1-5 dollars a day, there’s little room for error. Like many businesses, a loan helps with cash flow.

CARE International began with packages sent by American families to people in Europe, recovering from the devastation of World War II. Nowadays the care packages take the form of materials and expertise designed to provide immediate and longer term relief and reconstruction after disasters such as floods and earthquakes.

The personal family to family connection continues through Lendwithcare, where, individuals and organisations can support people by investing in their business and helping them work their way out of poverty.

Hopes and dreams

Every entrepreneur we met wanted to grow their business. Some sought to improve their rice yield through buying more land, harvesting more quickly by using a tractor, or hiring more help; while others diversified, buying cows, fishing, growing cassava or operating small stalls. Ultimately these improvements are about making life better for them and their families – sending their children to school, buying a moped, improving their homes.

Lenders meeting entrepreneursOnce we’ve asked all our questions, the family want to know about us. They ask about our brothers sisters, parents. They are not so much interested in what we do, as who we are. There are more smiles and laughter at the crazy Westerners who have cycled all this way.

Our Khmer is limited to ‘thank you’ and their English to ‘hello’, but the connection forged through smiles, eyes and all enveloping hugs is richer and deeper than words.

The interlinked fingers of two women, represent two startlingly different life experiences. Here they are linked together, through the simple action of people helping others. It’s a powerful illustration of the openness and generosity that’s at the heart of Lendwithcare.

If you’ve been inspired to find out more about Lendwithcare, please visit their website. They are currently offering gift vouchers which make a great and thoughtful Christmas gift and for a limited period, you can buy one and get another free.

This is a charity that I am very proud and happy to support. They did not ask me to write this post and I funded my trip to Laos and Cambodia myself.

Who are you and what do you care about?

Man driving an ox cart in Cambodia
I’ve recently returned from an amazing trip to Cambodia with Lendwithcare – a charity that supports people working their way out of poverty.

I learned many things from the experience of travelling through the country and meeting the local people – things that I’ll write about here in future. But one of the most striking has got me thinking about how we talk about who we are and what we do.

So I was very proud to be invited to write a guest post for The Table on the subject of purpose in business and in writing. I enjoy reading Rob Self Pierson’s blog and feel that it reflects many of my own values about writing for business and pleasure.

Take a look: http://welcometothetable.co.uk/who-are-you-and-what-do-you-…

Why we need spaces like The Word

Interior of The Word

At times it feels like all we ever hear about are cuts. Cuts to council budgets, cuts to healthcare spending, jobs cuts, arts cuts… So spending millions on a new library, arts and cultural space in South Shields not the richest or most affluent of places in the UK, feels like a bold move. Bold and optimistic, The Word, the National Centre for the written word takes its place in the landscape beside the mouth of the River Tyne, which has seen the changing tides of history from riches to poverty and back again, more times than anyone can count.

Library room with computers

At its heart is a library. But it’s so much more than that. It’s a space where old and new sit side by side; where you’ll find books and computers and table-sized interactive screens, large enough for a feast of information. Around the massive central spiral staircase, a light and airy space opens out, leading onto rooms for art, for design, for making things, for meetings, workshops, and of course, for reading.

The vision

At its opening, the council leader Iain Malcolm spoke with pride about a vision for a place where young people could keep pace with technological change, while appreciating the rich cultural history of South Tyneside. And the Chief Executive of The Arts Council England, Darren Henley spoke of creativity’s need for spaces for ideas, thought and debate.

That’s the justification for spending the money, I thought. Not that, as a writer, I need any convincing of the value of places like this. I feel it in a way that resonates more than the counting out of pounds and pence.

But should we have needed any proof of the possibilities, then local author Ann Cleves spoke personally about the importance of libraries in keeping her books being published, when she was a struggling writer. Now, the author of the Vera Stanhope and Shetland Island novels is at least partly responsible for a boost to the UK tourist industry as visitors come from China and the USA to see the locations where the popular television series, based on her books have been filmed.

Writer, Ann Cleves, speaking at the opening of The Word

Writer, Ann Cleves, speaking at the opening of The Word

The writer’s view

She told me: “It’s my ideal of a library. For years and years, I’ve been banging on about how libraries should be cultural spaces, in places where people don’t have access to the arts. Why not have a choir in a library? Why not have magnificent paintings and writer’s workshops? And in this place you have all that, besides the books as well.”

In stepping into The Word, on its official opening day, full of excited local schoolchildren chattering among the books, and being greeted by characters from Harry Potter, I was reminded of a story of aspiration told by a head teacher in a very different environment.

Life without aspirations

I was working as a journalist for BBC Radio Newcastle and had gone to a school in Benwell, a deprived area of Newcastle upon Tyne. Surrounded by an estate of brick and concrete, and flaked by tall spiked tailings, it was a bright spot of warmth and colour in an unexpected setting.

Pencil drawings of miners on easels

The head teacher spoke of the children there with great affection; about how a big part of the job of the school was to give them hopes and dreams and aspirations.

When you come from a family where no one works; when you live on a street where none of your neighbours work; where you don’t know anyone with a job, then coming to school and getting an education can seem a bit of a pointless task, she explained. Poverty, isn’t just about money, it’s about expectations, she said and described children arriving in the reception class, not knowing how to hold a book or turn the pages from right to left, because they’d never encountered one.

Like that school, The Word offers a vision of another future, one in which people can read, play, make things, and explore learning and creativity in many different forms. And yet, at the same time, this new space is firmly rooted in its past, in its history.

Stories are everywhere

As well as housing the impressive local history archives, around the walls of The Word you’ll find wooden story panels. Local writer, Michael Chaplin, well known for his television and theatre work, including Monarch of the Glen and several Live Theatre productions, has collected 20 true stories about epic voyages that begin or end in South Tyneside. The tales span 2,000 years, fro the Romans to the present day and touch on every continent on the globe. The idea is that you stumble upon them as they catch your eye, like pieces of flotsam and jetsam, washed up by the tide.

wooden letters Speaking to me about The Word taking its place alongside the river, he said: “It’s an expression of hope for the future. It’s an absolutely lovely building to be in and therefore it makes it the greater pleasure to come here and become acquainted with stories of all kinds and to broaden people’s experiences and to inspire them to write stories of their own. Hopefully some for publication, but I think it’s a great benefit just being an ‘ordinary citizen’ and creating stories of your own.”

We are all creatures of our environment, and I’m lucky enough that mine was full of libraries and creative spaces, trips to art galleries, museums and theatres. Today there is a new world of opportunities. The old industries of shipbuilding and coal mining have left the North East of England, but there are new jobs in a digital world, in the arts and creative industries, it just takes a bit of encouragement to see them as possibilities. The Word is a space that provides that encouragement.

26 Steps part 5 – exploring through different eyes

black and white photo of Manchester canal and railway

Manchester canal and railway – photo by Stephen Barnaby

The 26 Steps project began as an idea inspired by the 100th anniversary of the publication of John Buchan’s famous novel ‘The 39 Steps’.

What would 26 modern day writers make of a walk in a landscape? How would they interpret the language of the land, its natural form and elements? What sights would they choose to photograph? What significant markers would they signpost on their maps? And what words would they choose for their writing, to fit the 62 word limit?

The constraints of geography, artistic talent and word count have opened up a rich seam of creativity, which finds its form in these virtual postcards. Each one sent by a writer, to you, to invite you to join them on their journey and explore a place through different eyes.

We are immensely grateful to the writers who took on the challenge of 26 Steps. We hope that their postcards encourage you to explore your own landscapes both well known and unfamiliar and to use them to inspire your own creativity and well being.

The final stage of our 26 journey starts in Somerset, taking us through Holyhead to the urban streets of Manchester then south again to Devon and Cornwall. We step through the alphabet from U to Z, and then like all good journeys find ourselves home again, ready for a new adventure, starting with the letter A.

Step 21: Urgashay to Vagg Copse, Somerset by David Mathews

Step 22: Valley to Williams Street, Holyhead by Sharon Jones

Step 23: Wythenshawe to Xaverian College by Sandy Wilkie

Step 24: Xaverian College to Y Club, Manchester by Stephen Barnaby

Step 25: Yeo Lane to Zeal Monachorum, Devon by David Manderson

Step 26: Zennor to Alverton, Cornwall by Fiona Egglestone

Follow the journey on twitter #26Steps.

26 Steps part 4 – journeys through the physical and mental landscape

Black and white photo of a bay

Stoke Fleming to Torcross – photo by Caroline Lodge

One of the ideas of the 26 Steps project is to take you on a journey. It may not be same physical journey that our writers enjoyed (or endured) on the walks they undertook for this project, but I hope they will be an inspiration for your own wanderings and writing.

Using a combination of photographs, maps and writing in the form of a 62 word sestude, we created a series of virtual postcards. We invite you to read them, to see something of the places depicted and to trace the routes on the hand-drawn maps.

We hope you will be inspired to get out and explore your own landscapes, and to use them to create your own writing, art, photography or other creative opportunities.

Enjoy the photographs, maps and writing inspired by these walks which take us from Belfast to Northumberland and from Devon to a far off Scottish Isle. This section also includes the second of my two creative pieces.

Step 17: Pirrie Park to Queens University, Belfast by Therese Kieren

Step 18: Quaking Houses to Rowlands Gill, Tyne and Wear by Michelle Nicol

Step 19: Rock to Seahouses, Northumberland by Irene Lofthouse

Step 20: Stoke Fleming to Torcross, Devon by Caroline Lodge

Step 21: Tolmachan to Urgha, Isle of Harris by Clare Archibald

Follow the journey on twitter #26Steps.

North Shields to Old Hartley – the story of my 26 Steps journey

Harbour mouth at Seaton Sluice

The Cut at Seaton Sluice

My 26 Steps journey took me from North Shields to Old Hartley – two locations on the coast of North East England, close to Newcastle upon Tyne.

North Shields, at the mouth of the River Tyne, I knew well. A cheerful quayside of fish and chip shops, fishmongers and fishing boats, where characters walk in white coats and wellies, or queue outside the steaming windows for a salt and vinegar fix.

Old Hartley I had to look up on a map. It’s just a little further north, up the coast, close to and easily confused with its near neighbour Seaton Sluice.

Fishing boats at North Shields

I began my walk at the quayside, stepping into dozens of stories. A small fleet of brightly coloured boats nestling beneath the watchful white tower, suggesting fishing, and sea-shanties. A wooden figurehead stands outside the pub, waiting for sailors’ return.

Further back in time, the whaling crews set sail and the dreaded press gangs raided the town for skilled boatmen. And, like all coastal towns there are tales of shipwreck, lives lost and lives saved by the brave efforts of coastguard and lifeboat volunteers.

Along the coast at Tynemouth, a ruined priory looks out over the water. A scene of benediction and wreckage – a place that’s been a sanctuary for soldiers and the sick, but also served as a gun battery, protecting the shipyards along the river from bombing raids.

Keeping the sea to my right, soft golden sands give way to clear blue waters where surfers glide. Sandcastles, ice creams, rock pools, sunny days. At Cullercoats, an artists’ colony, drawn by the quality of the light.

Further north, the white dome of Spanish City, scene of former amusements, overlooks the seaside town of Whitley Bay. St Mary’s lighthouse perches over a sea-washed causeway and rocks where you can sometimes spot a seal or two.

But it was at New Hartley, a small collection of houses that’s easily mistaken for its near neighbour Seaton Sluice, that I began to find the inspiration for my piece. The green banks that rise along the shoreline were once home to heavy industry. The remnants of the cone shaped furnaces of the glass bottle works still visible if you look closely.

The <a href=”http://www.seaton-sluice.btck.co.uk/”>Seaton Sluice and Old Hartley local history society website</a> provided a rich seam of information about a time when ships by the hundred visited the harbour to carry bottles produced at the Hartley glassworks around the world.

This industry, which helped create the wealth of the local Delaval family, was fuelled by 30 or more pits in the area near Hartley where the coal was mined. This lead me from New Hartley to Old Hartley, site of the former pit and a devastating mining disaster in 1862.

The Hartley mining disaster

I walked round the memorial garden at the Hester pit site. A series of slate stones bear the names of the 204 men and boys who died when the beam, which supported the pump to clear the mine of sea water, split and crashed down, blocking the mine’s shaft and their only way out.

Memorial garden at Old Hartley

While some were killed outright. Many more survived, only to be trapped, falling victim to mine gas or starvation over six days as rescuers sought to reach them. It’s a tragic tale, made all the more vivid when you walk the streets and realise the impact of the loss on this relatively small community.

The accident happened at shift change, so there were more workers in the mine than usual. The tally tokens they left when they went down the mine would never be collected. Queen Victoria sent a message of condolence and extra land was made available at Earsdon for the burials.

I didn’t want to write a cliche of North East mining disaster, but after walking round the memorial site and reading the words on the stones, the story wouldn’t leave me. A sunny day with spring flowers blooming provided stark counterpoint to the dark story that happened long ago and far below the green earth.

The coal hewn from Hester and other local pits fuelled the great furnaces that produced glass bottles at the nearby works. To ship those bottles around the world, a deep cut was made into the land to make it easier for ships to pass through. It’s still known locally as ‘The Cut’.

Connecting these two hidden stories together, as they were once connected in real life, provided the theme of my poem. Industry here, changed the land and hence the people forever.

You can read my poem and trace the map of my route at 26 Steps.