Monday, April 28, 2014

Free-range children and Kids' Dorset

The March issue of Dorset Magazine features the book Kids’ Dorset.   

Author Sarah-Jane Forder was born and brought up in Dorset and now lives in Dorchester. She’s spent a career in book and magazine publishing, is former editor of The National Trust Magazine and has worked for Bloomsbury and Jonathan Cape. Feeding her passion for the countryside, history and the downright odd, she’s constantly out and about in Dorset with her daughter and friends.

She has written about the current concern regarding children’s disconnect with the natural world and links with global issues, which inspired the research and writing of Kids’ Dorset
"Kids in Dorset are very lucky in that they have so much on their doorstep. Due to its incredible geology, so often quoted in geography textbooks, the Dorset coast is now a World Heritage Site ..."
Eye up the fossils in the Dorset County Museum (from Kids' Dorset, photo by Daniel Rushall)
"Dorset the place – the spirit of the place – is essentially unchanged. It’s still a rural landscape of countryside and coast. It’s still distinctively Dorset: nowhere else in the world could host the annual nettle-eating or knob-throwing championships (see page 47).’
Dame Fiona Reynolds, in an interview in Country Walking Magazine, also promotes free-range children:
"Playing outside encourages children to be adventurous, to test themselves and get muddy, to experience nature rather than have it served up on TV. The sights, sounds, smells, taste and touch of the outdoors stimulate every aspect of a child’s experience, whereas the TV or on-screen games are narrow and introspective. Statistics are alarming: fewer than 1:10 children play regularly in wild places now, compared to almost half a generation ago."
Wade across the River Frome at Moreton (from Kids' Dorset, photo by Daniel Rushall) 
That’s why every parent/grandparent should have a copy of Kids’ Dorset. Refreshingly simple, ask a bunch of kids what their favourite places in Dorset are, then visit them and ask families to test them out; if they get the kids’ approval, bingo! You’ve got the makings of this book.
  • ·         The best of Dorset in words and pictures
  • ·         Inspired ideas for exploring and having fun
  • ·         For all those tired of hearing ‘I’m bored, can we go home now?’

Sarah-Jane says, ‘Having a young daughter myself, I know how hard it is to inspire them with a walk or visit to ‘some boring grown-up place’. But just let them choose somewhere out of Kids’ Dorset and you’ll be laughing. Many of the places and activities are free, which is another bonus. It just shows you don’t have to spend a lot of money to enjoy a day out together.’
Commandeer a king's castle - Portland Castle (from Kids' Dorset, photo by Daniel Rushall)

Kids' Dorset is the place to start an adventure. 
Available from Roving Press (, priced £6.99.

Copyright Julie Musk 2014

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Walk in Swanage: Exploring ‘Old London by the Sea’

Writer and historian Rachel Knowles knows a thing or two about Georgian and Regency history. Her post on Kew Gardens (12 March, shows a photo of the Ruined Arch in the Gardens - see,+Kew+Gardens+2.jpg. 
    Notice any similarities with the arch in the grounds of Purbeck House Hotel in Swanage?

(Photo taken from Lesser Known Swanage)
It was filched from London by George Burt from London. George was a nephew of John Mowlem, founder of the great building firm MowlemThe carved figure of Neptune used to watch the comings and goings at Hyde Park Corner. Sadly he was struck by lightning and lost some of his whiskers and beard.

One of the walks in our book LesserKnown Swanage goes up the High Street past the Hotel, formerly the home of Burt. The following extract from the book imagines it’s 1875 and Burt is telling the story:

‘Uncle John has been dead and gone these past 7 years and it’s time I did the old house up, George style, for my retirement. What great timing – we just happen to be demolishing a lot of London and could use some old bits and pieces. Some of those granite chippings from the steps of the Albert Memorial in Hyde Park can decorate the outside of the house. At the highest point on the High Street, people can’t fail to be impressed.

   I’ll put the ex Millbank Penitentiary bollards in the stable yard and install a dog kennel to keep any riffraff out. Hope visitors notice the arched gateway – rather a good example of my early work (I’m particularly proud of my Neptune). Just to show I’m a cultured man, a bust of Shakespeare can go here too, with some carved grapes, leaves and scrolls – very à la mode. 

Up at the dovecote I’ll install that old cartwheel – it’s served its purpose carting my stone away and will make a great talking point as a table – a rotating one at that. 

For the Temple, dragons on the roof, floor tiles from the Houses of Parliament, Doric columns from the toll houses on Waterloo Bridge. The old statues from the RoyalExchange will add some dignity, but I wonder if the Mansfield Stone will last.

The Italians seem to be taking an age laying the Roman mosaic flooring in my entranceway. Do they think I’m made of money? Perhaps then we’ll be able to get the painters in to do the ceilings and the glaziers for the landing windows - our very own Christmas Story; the children will love it. 

Ah, there goes the servants’ bell. Thomas Hardy’s here for tea again. He always calls me the King of Swanage. Can’t think why.’

The Burts left Purbeck House after World War I and offered it to the town. After standing empty for 15 years, it was taken over by nuns as a convent and school. The convent closed after 60 years, but there is still a Roman Catholic school here. The house is now a hotel.
The hotel staff are amenable to you taking a quiet look round the public rooms of the hotel. The house has beautiful floors, painted ceilings and wood and stone everywhere. In the entrance hall, Burt had an exact reproduction of a Roman pavement (now in the Guildhall Museum) laid by Italian craftsmen; they took 3 years to complete this and other decorative features in the house. The result is amazing. 

To the left of the entrance hall is the former billiard room, once a chapel and now a function room. To the right past the public bar is the servants’ end of the house with a row of bells and a huge clock for time keeping.

revised edition published 2014, price £9.99.

Copyright Julie Musk 2014

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Landscape and spirituality in Dorset

Author Louise Hodgson has taught Landscape and Spirituality at Frome Community College and currently runs a tour company Secret Landscape Tours (

For over 30 years she's been exploring Dorset and her most thought-provoking observations are captured in her book Secret Places of West Dorset, which features over 40 places. From a review by Dorset Echo, 'It goes off the beaten track to cover folklore, curiosities, legends and history as well as churches, ancient trackways and enigmatic stones'. 

Think outside the box ... Louise and Merrily Harpur (author of Roaring Dorset! Encounters with Big Cats, Mystery Big Cats, and others) are part of the line-up for Mythic Imagination weekends, based in Cattistock.

Thanks to Emily Pykett for her blogpost about Lewesdon Hill ( In Secret Places (p.14), Louise cites a big cat sighting here in 2003. Keep your eyes open!

Watercolour by Louise Hodgson, taken from Secret Places of West Dorset
 Louise mentions Lewesdon, along with Coney's Castle, which she subtitles a haunted hillfort', as depicted in the painting above: 
"Sometimes there is an atmosphere left in certain places, particularly those associated with the unforgiving aspects of life, such as warfare. There are those who have visited and felt unsettling sensations around a certain area of Coney’s Castle. Across the fort, diagonally from the car park, near the start of Long Lane where there is a meeting of two tracks, is an area that feels unnerving to some people. In fact a few years ago a psychic research group was asked to visit this spot. Unease spread to some of the members and an odd stillness and chill was also noticed, but there was no definite sighting of anything, nor any sound or strange smell. Whether this was a site of death associated with the fort’s history as a defensive structure or whether a murder took place here in more recent times, the mystery of the unsettling atmosphere remains."

Secret Places of West Dorset is published by Roving Press (, reprinted 2014, price £12.95.

Copyright Julie Musk 2014

Writing tips for poets, playwrights and writers in general

Playwrights, take a look at author, poet and playwright Peter John Cooper - Playwright's blogspot:

Peter during production of the play She Opened the Door.
With Jane McKell, director of AsOne Theatre Company (left) who played the Wife,
and Mary Lou Delaplanque (right) who played the Mother.
According to Mike Nixon, Secretary of the Thomas Hardy Society: "This play is an exciting take on Hardy’s women: the playwright has very cleverly interwoven the real and fictional women of Hardy’s life and work." 

April is National Poetry Month, a time when poets and would-be bards alike turn their attention to verses both free and formal. If you’re writing poetry, why not try giving your work a unique twist, something that editors of literary magazines don’t already have piling up on their desks?
The following post by Writer’s Relief Staff gives five unexpected poetry forms to inspire your muse and make your poetry stand out:

For all you writers

Book now and avoid writing that book!

Sturminster Newton Library is hosting an event:

Sharing the passiona celebration of reading and writing for all book lovers and aspiring writers 
It includes lunch and refreshments, workshops and author talks. This year I'm doing a workshop on publishing and how to put a book together and there's also something on Scriptwriting and Creative Poetry.

Other Dorset Library events to check out are listed at

Copyright Julie Musk 2014

The London Book Fair

The London Book Fair is an annual three-day event in April – a chance to meet publishers and agents, find out what’s going on in the publishing world, learn about new technology, and enjoy free workshops and seminars. Many of the latter are aimed at new authors and those looking to either find a publisher or self-publish.

Julie Musk at the London Book Fair

This year we drove up to Earls Court and parked round the corner (1 minute from the Exhibition Centre) using ParkatmyHouse. Just £14 for the day and so easy, it’s a great concept.

Our typesetter David Exley from Beamreach was there as usual. David knows so much about design, layout and printing, we use him for typesetting and cover make-up on all our books. Highly recommended, feel free to contact him if you have any projects to discuss.

Copyright Julie Musk 2014

Friday, April 25, 2014

Dorset Voices: A Collection of New Prose, Poetry and Photographs

What constitutes a poem? This was one of the questions answered at the Poetry evening that took place as part of the Purbeck Literary Festival
'A poem is a train of thought using language in such a way to create an emotional response in the reader or listener. You can use various rhythms, word plays or rhyme schemes to help generate that emotion.' 
I wonder what others think? 

If you'd like to read some work by Dorset poets try Dorset Voices: A Collection of New Prose, Poetry and Photographs. 

Also for cutting-edge poetry, see Big Mouth on Facebook. 

On the anniversary of publishing Dorset Voices, we're offering the book at a special price 
- just give us a call (tel 01300 321531).

Project instigators Maria Strani-Potts and Jim Potts in Waterstones, Dorchester, 
with Julie Musk from Roving Press, celebrating the launch 

The front cover of Dorset Voices uses a photo by Jessica Knight, a Thomas Hardye School student. Tell us what you think this is and where for a chance to win a free copy. 

Dorset Voices is available from Roving Press, priced £6.99.

Copyright Julie Musk 2014