writing

Incroyable!

I am very, very excited to tell you that we have just signed a contract with the French publisher Actes Sud and our book Incredible! will be published in France in the spring.

The French edition will be called Incroyables Comestibles, the French name for the Incredible Edible movement, which now has more than 400 groups across France and more in other French-speaking countries, such as Morocco, Senegal and Mali.

The inimitable Mary Clear wrote a wonderful report of the recent Incroyables Comestibles conference in Cergy, which you can read on the Incredible Edible Todmorden website here.

To celebrate we’ll be putting the English book on special offer throughout December – more news on that very soon.

For now I’ll leave you with a picture of the amazing François Rouillay, founder of Incredible Edible France, taken at the book launch in July. He’s saying hello to Rufus at Incredible Farm.

Francois and Rufus

 

Read all about it

Just a quick post to say that Incredible!, the book I wrote with Incredible Edible Todmorden co-founder Pam Warhurst is now  on sale here.

I’ve been very touched by some of the feedback that’s filtered through from early readers of the book. Here are a few things people have said. (And yes, I am Finn Dobson’s mum but I loved the comment so much I just had to include it!)

There is so much to admire in what has been achieved here, and this delightful book is a fitting written account of the difference to a community that has been made by people in that community coming together and doing things – with kindness.
Professor Leigh Sparks, University of Stirling (Full review here)

What a splendid story! Unputdownable!
Lyn Wilson, Cambridge (aged 81)

I’ve never read anything that addresses sustainability, environment, economy and community that is so encouraging and hopeful and makes me realise I can do something to make a difference.
Finn Dobson, Leeds (aged 21)

I’m proud that I helped crowdfund this book. Very impressed.
Sharon Shephard, Incredible Edible Wakefield.

Leigh Sparks also took a wonderful picture:

SAMSUNG

 

 

 

 

 

 

One pound from every copy sold through the Urban Pollinators website will be donated to Incredible Edible Todmorden, which receives no outside funding and is run entirely by volunteers.

To order a copy, click here. We hope the book will also be on sale in Todmorden very soon.

Fledged


lorry

This is the moment the Incredible Book arrived at our house – and I wasn’t there!

pallet

I had carefully squeezed in a visit to my parents between the last of my uni hand-ins and the arrival of the book, or so I thought. But then the book came early!

pack

Julian came to the rescue (as usual) and sent a copy recorded delivery to my parents’ house and actually I am so glad it worked out that way. My mum and dad have both been battling poor health lately, so it was lovely to share such a special moment with them. And I have written before about how important my mother’s deep care for the earth has been to me.

Now I’m back home and it’s all systems go to get the books out to the wonderful people who backed our Kickstarter campaign.

stacked

mailbags

The first two sacks went to our local post office this morning and it feels a little daunting, letting this book go out into the wide, wide world.

But I’m also feeling so thankful: to the people in Todmorden who shared their stories and were so endlessly helpful; to Pam for her willingness to work with me; to everyone who believed in the book enough to back our Kickstarter; to Julian, whose business made it possible for me to take the time to write it; to our three young adult offspring who cheered me on whenever I was flagging – the list goes on!

Like the Incredible Edible project itself, the book is the result of very many people giving their time and energy with great kindness.

It’s been such a huge privilege to help tell this story and I really hope it will inspire. I hope it will spread the magic of Incredible Edible Todmorden, which demonstrates so clearly that, as Pam says, it doesn’t take complicated strategies and important people to bring about change. It takes you, me and everyone else believing that small actions have great power and then getting on and doing something.

Our main job for now is to get the books out to our Kickstarter backers, but I’m excited to say that from 2 June, the book will be available to buy online.

Watch this space – or pre-order a copy here!  Meanwhile, I’ve got some envelopes to stuff.

Following trees

 
DSC_0003

I have been thinking about paying attention, how even when we believe we are doing it we miss so much.

It’s all because of Kathleen Jamie, a Scottish writer who I’ve been meaning to read for years. Now I have finally got around to it she is forcing me to realise how little I really see as I go about my life.

Jamie has a poet’s approach to attention: she notices and she knows that noticing matters. In a powerful essay, ‘Fever’, from the collection Findings, she confesses that she cannot pray, not even when her husband is in hospital with pneumonia. She pleads for her noticing to count instead.

Could I explain to Phil that – though there was a time, maybe 24 hours, when I genuinely believed his life to be in danger – I had not prayed? But I had noticed, more than noticed, the cobwebs and the shoaling light, and the way the doctor listened, and the flecked tweed of her skirt, and the speckled bird and the sickle-cell man’s slim feet. Isn’t that a kind of prayer? The care and maintenance of the web of our noticing, the paying heed?

Later, a jolly nurse comes to give the now recovering Phil a shot of antibiotics. She’s an expert; it’s a routine procedure; she can do it almost without looking, but for Jamie the absence of attention comes as a shock.

Attend! I wanted to say to her, though she hardly needed to. Here, I’ll do it. I’ll kill the infection. I’ll do it with attention. Prayerfully, if you like.

Paying attention, noticing: for Jamie it is almost a matter of life and death.

Jamie has said that poetry is about ‘bringing the quality of attention to the world’. She makes me wonder how things would change if we all honoured the quality of attention. It’s what lovers do, drinking in each tiny detail of the beloved; it’s what prophets do before they speak. ‘What do you see?’ the Lord asks Jeremiah, right after commissioning him as a prophet to the nations (Jeremiah 1:11).

Very young children have the habit. I remember our son, aged about three, needing to stop and crouch down every time he spotted an ant on the pavement.

In a system that would have us all busy with consumption, poets, children and prophets are rarely part of the mainstream. So perhaps one way to resist the culture is to copy their way of noticing.

You don’t have to be an award-winning poet to cultivate the quality of attention. This week I discovered the lovely Tree Following project on Loose and Leafy’s blog. Here’s what Loose and Leafy writes:

Each year, I choose a tree and see what it does:
when its leaves appear and when they fall
which twigs grow and which fall off
if it has seeds
and if any germinate and grow into new trees
what its bark looks like – when it’s wet and when it’s dry
whether anything grows on it – like lichen
whether creatures sit on – insects, birds, butterflies
what plants grow round it and what they do too.

I’m going to join in with Loose and Leafy, writing about a single tree every month for a year. I hope the practice will make me more attentive.

The idea of the Tree Following Project is that participants write a post about the tree on the 7th of every month and then link up with all the other tree followers on Loose and Leafy’s blog (more than 50 at the last count).

DSC_0002

The tree I have chosen is almost literally on our doorstep. I can see it from my bedroom window; it’s the first thing I notice every time I turn the corner for home. As it happens, it’s also my favourite variety of tree, the silver birch. I love the wintry white of the bark, the grace of the branches.

DSC_0008

But until now I’ve never really paid it proper attention. I feel a little like I’m setting out on an adventure.

I'mFollowingATreeBadge2014

the singing bowl

singing bowl

I thought I knew about fear.

Fear was what you experienced before doing a parachute jump (the reason why I have never done one). Fear was for daredevil activities or life-threatening events like earthquakes or war or being stalked by a stranger on a lonely road at night.

Never, not once, did I think that fear could grab you when you were sitting in front of a computer screen, tapping out words to string into sentences, paragraphs, chapters – a whole book.

I almost feel too embarrassed to admit this, except that the more I read about writing the more I discover that fear is actually quite a common feature of the writing life.

Some people talk of the fear of the empty page or, perhaps a bit more understandably, the fear of not earning enough to pay the bills.

For me though I think a lot of the fear in writing for publication is rooted in the fear of exposure. Of being laid bare and found wanting. Of not being good enough.

Such fears can lead to paralysis. I have had mornings when my fingers have felt frozen over the keyboard. When reading the entire Internet seemed preferable to carving out more words.

I have been rescued by a poem.

More times than I can count now, Malcolm Guite’s poem ‘The Singing Bowl’ has opened up a space where the words can flow.

I share it here with his permission and in the hope that it might turn out to be a key for others to break through whatever is holding them back. I don’t think it needs to apply just to writing: I think you could use it for any task that seems daunting.

Malcolm wrote about the poem on his blog:

This poem was inspired by the beautiful Tibetan singing bowl … which trembles into sound, lovely sustained and resonant, as you run a ‘beater’ or even a finger, round its rim. The poem came to me as a word from the muse which was both about how to pray and how to fulfil my vocation as a poet. I hope you find it helpful and resonant too.

When I feel panicky at the start of a writing day, I use this poem as a meditation, starting by just trying to slow my breathing as I read. Then I read it again, maybe up to three more times and let the words sink in. Each time it reminds me that the place where we are is the right place to start, that there is no such thing as ordinary, that all life is holy because created and affirmed by God.

Then I can start to write. Partly because, as the poem says, my heart is ‘full of quietness’ but also because the profound effect of Malcolm’s words are the reassurance I need that in a world of pain, writing is valid, that words can change things and that people who feel called to keep stringing them into poems and books and essays and stories have important, life-giving work to do.

The Singing Bowl

Begin the song exactly where you are,
Remain within the world of which you’re made.
Call nothing common in the earth or air.

Accept it all and let it be for good.
Start with the very breath you breathe in now,
This moment’s pulse, this rhythm in your blood

And listen to it, ringing soft and low.
Stay with the music, words will come in time.
Slow down your breathing. Keep it deep and slow.

Become an open singing-bowl, whose chime
Is richness rising out of emptiness,
And timelessness resounding into time.

And when the heart is full of quietness
Begin the song exactly where you are.

Malcolm Guite

This poem is the title piece of Malcolm’s new book, which is out now and published by Canterbury Press. I also recommend highly his first collection, Sounding the Seasons.

Picture by KayVee.INC. Used under Creative Commons Licence.


we all did it!

Screen shot 2013-12-12 at 07.34.59

I may have screamed.

All through Monday, Julian and I watched the counter on our Kickstarter page inch towards its £10,000 target.

If we didn’t make our target, then we wouldn’t receive any of the money pledged towards an initial print run of the book about Incredible Edible Todmorden.

By teatime it stood at a little over £9,600. All rules about ‘no screens at mealtimes’ went out of the window.

After tea we had to go to a meeting. To my amazement, I managed to turn off my phone off for almost two hours, but I was switching it on again even as we pulled on our coats to leave.

£9,828.

Back home, I rushed upstairs to put my boots away. When I came down, our son was holding out his phone and grinning.

£10,002!

(That’s when I screamed. It wasn’t a time for worrying about what the neighbours would think.)

Pledges continued to come in, right up to the project deadline this morning – you can see our final total at the top of this post:

£10,774

This month of campaigning to crowdfund enough money for an initial print run of my book about Incredible Edible Todmorden has been one of the most intense of my life, second only to the weeks after bringing our first baby home. It’s been exciting, exhausting and at times almost unbearably tense.

Screen shot 2013-12-12 at 07.42.36

But we did it – and we did it by riding a wave of overwhelming generosity, enthusiasm and kindness, all qualities that are at the heart of the Incredible Edible movement.

I am so grateful to all the people who supported us, whether that was by pledging money, endlessly pestering their Facebook friends, allowing us to guest post on their blogs, arranging media coverage, or sending us cheery emails just when we needed them the most.

So to any of you who are reading and who backed us in any way  – a huge THANK YOU!

There WILL be a book in the spring and it will be in no small measure down to you!

I had stupidly assumed I would be able to finish editing the manuscript of Incredible! while the Kickstarter was gently ticking away in the background. (Cue hollow laughter.)

I am often wrong about my capabilities but rarely have I been wronger than this. Most of the campaign was conducted over Facebook, Twitter and the blogosphere, and at times I felt as though entire sections of my brain were being colonised by social media.

Twitter in particular is like hanging out in a vast emporium of delights with hundreds of smart, witty and sometimes slightly bonkers magpies who keep attracting your attention with shiny little hyperlinks.

Exciting social action - Jack Monroe's campaign to get food poverty debated in Parliament - AND a cat picture. No wonder Twitter is addictive.
A cat picture AND exciting news about Jack Monroe’s campaign to get food poverty debated in Parliament . No wonder Twitter is addictive.

So I’m about to retreat to a silent library where I cannot access the internet. I’ll spend my days holed up there while I polish the story to be the best it can possibly be. 

It’s always felt a bit daunting, doing justice to the Incredible Edible story, and it seems even more so now that I know how many people have put their faith in the project by backing the book.

But I’ll be giving it my absolute best, incorporating advice from some very insightful beta readers and an excellent professional editor. With that and a sprinkling of the Incredible Edible magic I’m trusting the end result will be something that justifies the brilliant support we have had in raising this money for a print run.

THANK YOU EVERYONE!

Incredible!

AAprojectpicture

Growing food can change the way you respond to everything around you.

That’s what Incredible Edible Todmorden co-founder Pam Warhurst told me recently during one of our long chats about the story of the Incredible Edible movement.

And why have I been having long chats with Pam?

Because (drum roll)

we have written (another drum roll)

a book about Incredible Edible Todmorden!

 Yes, a whole book!

Incredible! Plant Veg, Grow a Revolution (by Pam Warhurst, with Joanna Dobson, as it will say on the cover) tells the story of the Incredible Edible movement, starting from the day when another co-founder, Mary Clear, ripped out the roses in her front garden and replaced them with vegetables and a sign saying ‘Help Yourself’.

It charts the progress of the project over the six years since it was founded to today, when people come from all over the world to see what is happening in this once overlooked little market town in west Yorkshire.

I’ve been researching and writing the book for the best part of two years. I’ve done hours and hours of interviews with a whole range of people whose lives have been affected by the Incredible Edible movement – from the high school chef who started planting his own school dinner ingredients to the self-confessed city girl who had never even had a pot plant before she moved to Todmorden but now feeds herself and her son fresh, home-grown vegetables for nine months of the year.

Incredible Edible isn’t just about growing food though. It’s about a way of building community, recovering lost skills and boosting local businesses so that we can all look forward to a kinder, greener, more resilient future.

From planting vegetables on unloved patches of ground to launching a market garden training centre to encouraging local farmers to increase their range of products, Incredible Edible demonstrates how small actions have power to bring about big changes.

The book I have written with Pam doesn’t just tell a story, either: it also includes hints and tips for anyone who wants to start an Incredible Edible project where they are, and gives a few simple recipes from some of Todmorden’s many accomplished cooks.

In true Incredible Edible style, we’ve decided to publish the book ourselves. Today I launched a campaign on Kickstarter, the website that enables ordinary people to back creative projects.

Going the Kickstarter route is forcing me to do two things that are right outside my comfort zone: fundraise and (horrors) appear in a video.

I can honestly say that I wouldn’t be doing either of them if it weren’t for the fact that I really believe the Incredible Edible movement has the potential to inspire people to bring about real and lasting change.

My biggest hope for the book is that it will inspire more and more people to see that it is possible to live by a different story, one that is not the worn out, disempowering narrative of global consumerism.

Our Kickstarter page is here. It gives more details about the book and explains how, if you want to, you can get involved with it and what you would get in return – everything from an e-book to a hard copy of the book to a fruit tree grafted in Todmorden!

However, this blog is not about to turn into one long advert for the campaign. That’s not what I’m here for and although I have got to plenty to say about the way the Incredible Edible approach can help us build a better future, please be assured that I won’t be making endless pleas for cash.

What I’m concerned about is how people can connect with the land, their food and their communities in what somebody in Todmorden described yesterday as ‘a joined-up circle of scrumptiousness’.