I am toasting a huge, hot tea to myself, today, for it has been almost exactly a year to the day since I first started Our Story Time, which makes this a little birthday. And seeing as I sadly cannot eat the cake above, for it no longer exists (it was actually Jude’s first birthday cake), I shall drink my tea and reflect instead, the way that you do on a birthday.
Those of you who have followed me since the very beginning of Our Story Time - those kind, warm and generous souls whom I’ve got to know so well even if it’s just on social media - will know that the Our Story Time of today is nothing like the Our Story Time of last year.
Last year, when I first came up with the idea of what I wanted to do with Our Story Time, it was all very one dimensional. For the first three or four months of its existence, it was just an online lifestyle shop, just some products for sale. It was, on a personal level, an escape from what was then the burden of writing a manuscript. I was impatient to do something (the story of my impatience well-chronicled in my blog post, How To Begin Again). In short, for the first few months, I had no real plan and no real idea of what I was doing at all.
It took talking to Kayte, my supportive creative business coach and now friend, to figure out that instead of rushing to get started, I needed to take a step back first and figure out where I fitted into all of this. I’m so glad she helped me be brave enough to confront myself, because, you know what? I love what Our Story Time has become.
So in a year, what started as a shop has since also become a lifestyle blog and, more recently, an online writing course and even though I’m doing all these different things, the one intention behind them remains the same. That is, that each part of Our Story Time exists in order to offer simple, purposeful, thoughtful ways to live. These ways need not always be profound; they may be as easy to grasp as biscuits set out on a plate for nibbles. That is what makes it joyful.
In pursuit of simplicity
I am not offering these simple, purposeful ways to live because I somehow think I have all the answers; oh no. I do not have all the answers at all! My life is not always as orderly as you may think; there are always thoughts tumbling around, laundry that needs putting away even as I type, children that are as adorable as pie but still don’t always listen to me either.
So no, it’s not because I think I have all the answers for a simple life already. It’s because all of this, all of Our Story Time, is a reminder for myself to stop and take note, a must-do-better for me on those crazy, noisy family days, a daily dose of simplicity when I’ve been on my feet running around with unbrushed hair all day. It’s my place to come to for comfort when sometimes the world is over-flowing with bad news. It’s my way of striving to make my everyday a little better in small ways, and in my striving, I hope that perhaps I may do the same for you too, should you choose to escape here too (and I’d be thrilled to have you).
So: simple, purposeful, thoughtful. That’s all I’m trying to do, shrugging my shoulders lightly with a just-doing-my-best smile upon my face.
So what next for Our Story Time? Well, given that so much has changed in the space of a year, from the design (thanks to Meg at Lemon & Birch Creative), to the fact that I now write here regularly despite having sworn I’d never write again, I’m hesitant to lay down a plan set in stone. Because, who knows? But, having said that, I do have some ideas. Here’s what’s been on my mind:
My shop still exists, I just don’t talk about it all that much anymore. The truth is: I am a terrible retailer. I love the art of curation and I have loved selecting so many beautiful, handmade pieces together to create my store. But I don’t love the art of selling. It doesn’t come naturally to me.
So it makes sense for me to simplify. I am not entirely sure what that means right this moment, but over the course of the next year, I shall streamline in some way. I don’t plan on getting much more stock in at the moment, because I still have plenty that will make beautiful and unique Christmas gifts (look at these embroidered hoops!) and to be honest, it’s hard to set yourself up as an online independent when there’s only a minority of people willing to pay good money for top-end artisan goods. But I will be getting more copies of This is Home by Natalie Walton in time for Christmas and you can pre-order those now.
I wrote my first blog post in May and since then, I’ve been overjoyed to see my readership triple. I love the weekly responses to my long reads and also to my two, shorter blog series, Thoughtful Little Things and Thoughts for the Month, a piece of poetic prose where I (briefly) reflect on each month and what it means to me. I have this need to just hold on to time a little longer, and both of these little mini blog series help me do just that. I have loved writing all of these pieces and only hope to write more.
But I also don’t want Our Story Time to just be all about me. So, one of my goals for the next year is to introduce another series, on the homes and families I’ve come across on Instagram. I would like to talk about simple, purposeful living with families who are trying to live with intention, making meaning of belongings. I want to learn how they live with the little people in their lives.
I’m calling the series Stories Home. In my past life as a journalist, I loved interviewing for features and being let into people’s worlds and I was lucky enough to do this all the time, from big names with well-known voices to everyday folk with just as tremendous, just as important words and views to share. The journalist part of my brain can’t quite shake this constant curiosity to simply know more about people and the way they live. So I’m hoping I can do this through Stories Home.
(And if you have anyone you think that might be good for this, please contact me!).
I still can’t quite believe I managed to write an eight week online writing course, but I did, and honestly? I love it. It is good (and I am going to say that without apologising for feeling proud of something, for sometimes I feel like I’ve spent my whole life apologising for my achievements). So, there, I love the course I’ve produced. It’s inspiring, uplifting, purposeful, thoughtful - all the things I wanted it to be, all the things I want to pass along to people who want to write. A lot of people have asked if I’ll be running The Quiet Words again - yes! It will be adding a little lightness to an otherwise grey, flat February next year. If you don’t want to miss out on the next time, then please do make sure you’re signed up to The Quiet Words course subscriber list over on my course page.
writing as a career again
I have learnt this year that there are somethings that I’ll always be and a writer is one of those. Writing is all I have ever done, all I have ever known. I’m not about to give that up.
This month, I won my first paid commission after approximately three years out of the journalism game. I am fully aware that I may yet get fifty rejections before I get the next one. I am fully aware that editors who once commissioned me weekly may not even remember my name.
But I’m not hungry for newspaper bylines like I used to be. I don’t want to take any old commission like a staffer would. I want to be sure I pitch only what feels consistent with Our Story Time, and my intention of simple, purposeful, thoughtful living. I am nervous of trying to re-start my career, although I see it more as a fresh start rather than trying to pick up where I left off. But I am also excited. To start writing again beyond my blog, to start getting paid and finally earn my own income again (one of the hardest parts to come to terms with, when you’ve been brought up on independence). To not feel like a has-been anymore. To be proud to put my name next to something in print. To show my worth to myself. To know that it’s not all been for nothing.
Last year I started Our Story Time, this year I’m starting my yoga teacher training. It feels odd to say it out loud - fitness-wise, I still carry the weight of three babies on me - but in my head, I am all there, ready to take what comes in its own way. I would love to find a way to bring my yoga training and practice together with my writing. By the time my youngest starts nursery this time next year, I hope to be able to mix teaching classes with writing and running courses. But let’s just watch this space, as they say. For who knows where we’ll be in a year.
The biggest, loveliest surprise of all since I started Our Story Time has been - well, it’s been you. It’s the fact that you’re even here, reading, smiling, dropping me a line. It’s been you signing up to my writing course, wanting to learn from me. It’s all of these connections and friendships and conversations that are helping me believe that what I do isn’t just noise. It is not lost on me that I am new in this blog world. But the fact that you’re coming over - well, that just makes me smile and sit up a little straighter. So thank you.
In the last twelve months, I’ve done things I’d never quite have imagined I would do because I’d never even considered them as possibilities in the first place. I’ve been back on national radio (Women’s Hour), I’ve been interviewed in a favourite magazine (Simple Things), I’ve appeared on a podcast I love. I’m doing things. And I quite like the way that doing feels. And if I can do all that, out of no plan at all, then I say: anyone can.