They say that to be a writer, you need to read. With that in mind, I'd like to share some of my top reads each month. If you haven't heard of Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo by now, you're presumably living under a rock. The Booker Prize winner and Women's Prize shortlister is honestly everything it's cracked up to be. Please, pick up a copy. Something else that's given me all the feels this month, is Hollie McNish's Nobody Told Me. It's poetry, it's memoir, it's an absolutely bang on take on being a new parent. I'm now seven months into being a mum, and Hollie is essentially right about everything, and she says it with flair.
Now onto June's highlights. It's all about nature this month - and rather appropriately a squirrel is currently right outside my window performing aerial gymnastics to reach the peanut feeder.
Growing Self-Sufficiency in Uganda
Let's take a trip to Uganda, where the Karambi Group of People with Disabilities is tackling isolation and food security by creating permaculture gardens.
Photo: Jackson Bigasaki, caretaker at a permaculture garden created by Karambi.
Spending 30 Days Wild has Lasting Benefits
Perhaps you've been taking part in the 30 Days Wild Challenge from the Wildlife Trusts. Did you know that these small interactions with nature can have a lasting positive impact?
It's been a strange start to freelance life to say the least, locked down at home and with publishers everywhere under huge financial strain. I think I'm on my fourth banana bread bake, and my five month old probably thinks his grandparents only exist inside a phone screen.
All that aside, here are some selected pieces I've written this month:
Finding Calm in Bookshelf Memories for WHYNOW
I spent my early career working in a bookshop. Books mean everything to me, and picking one up that I've previously connected with brings all those emotions back again in a real sense of serenity.
Pandemic Parenting: I'm a New Mum on Lockdown
I feel a sense of loss for the maternity leave I'd imagined, but feel guilty too. Here's my experience.
Countries exploit Covid-19 pandemic to shut down borders and block refugees
People around the world face more and more obstacles to seeking asylum, as borders remain closed due to the pandemic, and refugee organisations are concerned that the crisis has become an excuse for governments to limit the human rights of displaced people in the name of public health.
Shadowproof also wrote an extra feature about my report, which you can check out here.
I read on Twitter yesterday (from Dictionary Corner's Susie Dent, so it must be true), that the word "freelance" originates from knights who weren't attached to a single master, and so were free to use their lances for whoever came up with the cash. True or not, I quite like this etymology, and it's particularly fitting today as I go it alone in the world of freelance writing and journalism. After all, the pen is mightier than the sword.
It's been an exciting few years as an in-house writer and journalist at Lush, but now it's time for a change. For the next few months I'll be enjoying the rest of my maternity leave with my ridiculously cute baby, but would love to hear from anyone in need of a wordsmith.
After making its debut in Liverpool, the brand new Lush Times magazine has landed in all Lush stores across the UK and Ireland. Hurrah! If you find yourself in Shinjuku, there's a special Japanese edition available there, which perhaps one day I'll be skilled enough to read.
If you get your hands on a copy, I'd love to know what you think. It's been a blast (an exhausting blast, but a blast nonetheless) to co-edit this first issue, and I hope we've got many more to come...
I'm unbelievably excited to announce the launch of the all-new Lush Times magazine! After an intense few weeks leading the writing and co-editing with an amazing team, we launched our print baby exclusively in the new Lush Liverpool store.
We've focussed this very first issue on the theme of regeneration, and the magazine is packed with stories about people regenerating the planet and social systems. These aren't pieces pointing out what's wrong with the world - they're examples of real solutions in action.
If you managed to get hold of a copy, I'd love to know what you thought! There's only a limited run in Liverpool right now, but watch this space...
Starting 2019 with a bang, I'm very happy to have been announced as a finalist for the New Media Writing Prize 2018, with my creative nonfiction story The Displaced.
The international competition had some pretty incredible pieces in the shortlist, which we got a glimpse of at the awards ceremony held at Bournemouth University.
All the winners and runners up are available to view on the New Media Writing Prize website.
It's looking like a good year so far!
This summer, I spent two weeks in East Africa investigating stories about environmental regeneration. I spent time with the Maasai in Kenya, a grassroots organisation regenerating a refugee camp in Uganda, and a group of people with disabilities creating incredible permaculture gardens in West Uganda, right near the Congo border - we got so close that my phone sent me a text welcoming me to the Democratic Republic.
But first, I'd like to tell you about my time with African Biodiversity Network (ABN) in Kenya. I parted ways with the colleague I'd travelled with in Uganda, and went off to Tharaka in Kenya along with Simon from ABN, so that he could introduce me to some of the Indigenous Communities helping ABN find solutions to problems across Africa.
The lady in the photo above is called Sabella, and she's an Indigenous Elder in Tharaka, where I was staying. I took this photo of her when she took me to see the sacred site where a megadam is being planned by the Kenyan Government. If this dam is built, thousands of people will be displaced.
After I'd interviewed them (Simon translated), the Elders in Tharaka blessed me, putting some of their traditional beads round my neck, and giving me the name 'M'Kenna,' which they said means 'a happy person.' Then I had a swig of their maize gruel, which tasted a little like fizzy porridge. Although we couldn't speak each other's language, I felt so welcomed by the Elders, and so at home.
Over the last few weeks I've been locked away in the editing studio, putting together my first audio documentary and can now reveal the first episode of Guardians of Planet Earth. You can listen to episode one on the Lush Player and read the accompanying article on the Lush Times site. I'll be travelling around the world to make more episodes, about the people dedicating their lives to protecting the planet.
The first episode of my new Lush Times series Behind the Headlines has just launched on the Lush Player. I've been wanting to make this documentary ever since I heard about people hosting asylum seekers in their spare rooms. I had so many questions, and I couldn't think of anyone better to ask than Freh and Michelle.
Spending time with Freh has made me realise that when people arrive in the UK, their journey is far from over. This isn't a story that gets nicely wrapped up in a bow at the end, but I'm still in touch with Freh, and I hope one day we can make a follow up - I just hope it's a good news story.
A few weeks ago, I was in Turkey for the rose harvest. While seeing vast fields of roses and taking in the perfume was incredible, I wasn't there for the flowers. I was there to meet the Syrian refugees working as rose pickers. They were picking rosa damascena, believed to have originated from the Syrian city of Damascus. How strange, I thought, that the roses made this journey, and now so have the people.
Over the week I was in Turkey, I heard heartbreaking stories of people being forced from their homes and fleeing violence. I met a family who had witnessed a beheading by ISIS - they invited me into their home in the refugee camp for tea. But I was also inspired by the hope and the kindness I witnessed - from the people willing to give up their time to talk to me, and the employers treating refugees in the same way they would treat Turkish nationals.
You can read my article on the Lush Times site.
I've always been interested in how Indigenous knowledge can help mitigate climate change. So why isn't the world listening?
I'd spoken with Eriel from Indigenous Climate Action (ICA) a few times before, but when I went to Canada last month to meet the women behind this incredible organisation, I really began to understand why Indigenous knowledge can help - because it's a completely different way of interacting with the planet, where nature is respected.
This is an organisation supporting Indigenous communities right across Canada. Our visit took us from the Tiny House Warriors, who are building 10 tiny houses to stand up against the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion, to the Tsleil-Waututh Nation, four hours away from the Tiny House Warriors and yet fighting the same pipeline.
I saw only a snippet of what Indigenous communities in Canada (or at least, what is now called Canada) are facing. I saw the most beautiful landscapes I could ever have imagined, as I stood on the edges of frozen lakes, and gripped the steering wheel as I drove up through snowy mountains with avalanche warnings every few hundred yards. But I also saw destruction that made my heart ache - huge oil refineries belching smoke into the air, and a pipeline terminal where a protest camp had formed outside.
But mostly, I was incredibly inspired by the women I met. Eriel, who is leading this organisation. Kanahus, who is keeping Indigenous knowledge alive whilst mounting a Tiny House protest, and while her husband is in prison. Ta'ah, an Elder who has been through so much pain herself, and has so much wisdom, and who blessed us when we reached the end of our stay.
You can read my full article here, read my field notes piece about the Tiny House Warriors here, or watch the Soapbox film Indigenous Climate Action (I ran the interviews, while it was filmed, edited, and produced by my wonderful colleagues).