Pester Power

20 May

You may have seen my earlier post on reducing my use of plastic personally. However, that’s only half the story. Businesses and organisations have to play their role, too. If there’s no plastic-free option available, then you can’t choose it.

So I’ve been utilising the still-useful skill of letter writing to try and encourage companies I use to join me on this quest. Below are some letters (OK, emails) I have sent, and the responses I got.



A couple of times now I’ve looked for sanitary towels in Superdrug and not found any eco-friendly ones.

Like many people, I’m concerned about the overuse of plastic, especially non-recyclable plastic, and I’m also worried by studies showing potentially harmful chemicals in mainstream sanitary towels. Considering the range of more environmentally and body friendly towels available now (e.g. Kind, Natracare, Yoni, Gift) I hope you will stock some in the future.

Karen Murdarasi

(Health & Beauty Card xxxx xxxx xxxx)

Hi Karen,

Thanks for getting in touch with your feedback on the sanitary towels.

I really appreciate your thoughts on this and I will definitely be passing this on to the team for the future. It’s really helpful when our customers get in touch to share their ideas.

Please do let me know if you have anything else and I’ll get this looked into for you.

Have a lovely day.


The Superdrug Customer Team


I really like your peppermints, and I always carry a wee packet in my handbag. However, I wanted to ask you about the packaging.

I like the fact that the boxes are cardboard, and that’s one of the main reasons I choose Peppersmith, but is the plastic film biodegradable? If not, are you considering switching to a biodegradble type of plastic? I know that many other ‘green’ companies have done this for plastic film that can’t be recycled.


Karen Murdarasi

Hello Karen,

Thanks for getting in touch -we’re glad to know you are a Peppersmith fan.

Our plastic film isn’t biodegradable but you’ll be glad to know that this week we are getting rid of it all together. Super exciting. We needed the plastic film to make the packs tamperproof but we have redesigned our little cardboard boxes so that they now have a cardboard perforated seal on them. These will be launching on our website next week and you’ll be able to find them in stores from the next couple of weeks onwards.

Best wishes,



I don’t have my original message to Origins because I had to use an online contact form, but the gist of it was, “I really like your products, but have you thought about making the packaging more sustainable?”

Dear Karen,

Thank you for contacting Origins.

In response to your question, I wish to advise that Origins accepts packaging from all cosmetic companies – regardless of the brand – for recycling or, where that’s not possible, energy recovery. Drop off any amount of empty cosmetic packaging at your nearest Origins counter and you’ll be rewarded with a FREE* 1-time use sample of one of our products. To find your nearest store please visit our web-site

In addition we are able to take all empty cosmetic packaging that protect the actual beauty product, whether plastic or cardboard.

*One free sample per customer, regardless of number of empty products returned. Offer available while stocks last.Again, thank you for contacting us. We hope you will look to Origins for product honesty, performance and concern for the environment.

Thanks again for taking the time to contact Origins.

Yours sincerely,

Consumer Experience Advisor

World Snooker

I don’t use this organisation exactly, but I do watch the World Snooker Championship avidly every year, and I was not best pleased with the oodles of plastic water bottles that I saw.

Dear editor,

I enjoyed the World Snooker Championship this year, but there must have been nearly as many plastic bottles as there were balls! It seems bizarre that while David Attenborough is trying to convince us to change our ways with This Planet, the World Championship would choose to move to plastic bottles for the players! Surely they are capable of putting their sponsor’s logo on a jug or carafe instead.


Karen Murdarasi


More pestering

As you can see, the responses I’ve had so far range from justifications through promises to look into it, right up to “we’re way ahead of you” (well done, Peppersmith). I’m sure there are plenty of other companies I could contact, too. If you have any you think I should try, let me know in the comments.

Feel free to use any of these emails as a template for your own little letter-writing campaign, or just try this format:

Dear company I use,

I really like your products, especially X. However, I’m trying to reduce my use of plastic, and I wanted to ask what you’re doing to make your packaging more sustainable.


Me (details of any loyalty card you might have)

Let me know how you get on in the comments.

Of course, it’s not just about plastic. There are other issues that companies need to address, where a wee nudge might be helpful, not least the use of slavery in the supply chain – but that’s a blog for another day.


Let’s play Hyndland bingo!

26 Apr

It probably says a lot about the neighbourhood of Anniesland, in Glasgow, that after spending a month here I am writing a post about Hyndland. Anniesland is a bit betwixt and between, both in a literal sense (its main landmark is Anniesland Cross, a major junction between roads that run west out of Glasgow and south to the Black Hole and the Death Star (as I like to call Govan and the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital) and also in terms of character. It’s kind of west end but not posh, a bit down at heel but not cheap, not that far the city centre, but not actually close.

Hyndland, on the other hand, has a well defined character, and one that’s easy to gently mock. You must understand that this is affectionate mockery; if someone gave me a six-figure advance for my next book, one of the first things I would do is get myself a lovely period property in Hyndland with a garden where I could enjoy cocktails in the occasional sun.

But still, Hyndland’s unique brand of genteel bohemianness does raise a smile. My flatmate and I walked from Anniesland down to the Jelly Hill in Hyndland one fine evening last week, and did a little people watching. We had to come up with a secret sign whenever we wanted to call attention to something especially Hyndland (which was often) because, of course, in the west end the charming streets are quite narrow and we were practically sitting on the knees of the passers-by. They would have heard our comments, so we just cocked our pinkie fingers instead. 

Here is a bingo card of some of the things we saw. If you ever visit Hyndland one day, why not print this out and play along? It should be pretty easy to get a full house.

Someone carrying strawberries Someone wearing a hat (beanies and baseball caps don’t count) Shop with special offer on champagne (not prosecco)
Someone carrying champagne Man in a pink shirt Shop with more than ten kinds of gin
Pedigree dog Someone carrying a puppy  Bike with a basket

P.S. Why is there no photo in this post? Because I can’t find any nice ones of Hyndland that aren’t copyright. I suppose I’ll just have to go back sometime to take one of my own. Any excuse…

Fulvia and Florence, a Formidable Pair

8 Apr

If you’ve been following my blog for any length of time, you’ll know that when I announce that I’ve got an article in a magazine, I usually provide a tasteful, cropped photo of the article – an image that shows enough to help you find it in the magazine and hopefully want to read more, but not enough to upset the people at the magazine who deal with copyright and fair usage.

This time is a bit unusual because, although I currently have an article in two magazines, I don’t have a copy of either of them. I moved home almost a year ago, but while I thought I had updated my address with all my contacts while I was still having my post forwarded, in fact I obviously didn’t, and the magazines are probably confusing the person at my old house, or sitting in a forlorn corner of a sorting office. It makes me wonder what else I may be missing…😕

Anyway, it seems fair to assume that this sort of thing didn’t happen much to either Fulvia or Florence Nightingale. Although they both moved around a fair bit, Florence was fearsomely organised. Fulvia probably was too, although less material survives about her; she was certainly fearsome.

Flo and Fulvia

Florence and Fulvia – they probably wouldn’t have been the best of pals.

What is most remarkable about these two women, though, is not so much their administrative skills as the way they both played a public role as women in societies where public roles for women didn’t really exist (unless you were Queen Victoria or a vestal virgin).

Of course, it helped that they were both from rich and important families, but there’s no need to hold that against them. While it’s possible that there were many poor and obscure women who would have achieved just as great things if they had had the same opportunities, those stories don’t lend themselves so well to popular history articles.

Florence and Fulvia both made convincing use of the opportunities life had given them. One transformed hospitals and established nursing in Britain as a proper profession, the other started a war that nearly changed the course of Roman (and therefore European) history. You can probably guess which was which.

You can find the article on Florence Nightingale, ‘the Lady with the Lamp’ to those who loved her, ‘the Bird’ to those who didn’t, in the April edition of Premier Christianity magazine. You can find the article on Fulvia in the April edition of History Today magazine. (I can’t tell you what she was known as, because most of it wasn’t repeatable.)

Enjoy! And then send me your copy once you’re finished with it 😉


18 Mar

I seem to be in a strange kind of limbo, writing-wise at the moment. I’ve finished my latest novel, The Sarcophagus Scroll, and I’ve given it to my editor and a couple of beta readers (at their request), but as my editor has just given birth and beta readers (in my experience) rarely do much reading, there’s no news. It almost feels as if I never finished it and it simply doesn’t exist.

Then there are a couple of magazine articles that are due to come out in April – which in magazine terms actually means mid to late March – but as they’re out of my hands, and not yet out in the shops, they are sort of in limbo, too.

And finally there’s Twitter, where I usually chat to writer friends, and plug my books, and roll my eyes at everyone else’s book plugs. I decided to give up Twitter for Lent,* just at the very last minute, so I didn’t even announce it before I left. I don’t expect too many of my followers are wondering where I’ve gone. The sense of community on Twitter is largely an illusion. But it makes me feel cut off from the land of the living (or at least, the tweeting) which adds to my sense of limbo. I’ve started texting my brother-in-law more, because who else am I going to share my current-affairs-related mild witticisms, now that I don’t have about 600 perfect strangers to do it with?

At least my blog is no longer in limbo. And I have started work on a non-fiction book on alchemy (although that will be a very long road), so I am still plodding along in my writing career even if I don’t seem to be externally.

There’s a vaguely appropriate concept in alchemy called palingenesis, which involves bringing something back to life in a new and improved form. It would be nice to think something like that will happen to my visibility as an author, but as the techniques of palingenesis tend to be pretty extreme (you have to reduce the original thing to ash, and that’s just the start of it!) maybe I’ll just be patient a little longer.

*If you’ve clicked through to this from a notification on Twitter, don’t worry, I haven’t slipped; it’s just that I’ve got automatic notifications set up.

Dyslexia-Friendly Storytelling

15 Feb

I’ve just written a wee blog post for Dyslexia Scotland about the BBC’s 500 Word story competition for children – a very dyslexia-friendly competition, as it happens. Who said dyslexics can’t be successful authors?

A Life less ordinary

child-writingA couple of weeks ago, the BBC launched this year’s 500 Words competition. 500 Words is a writing competition for children between 5 and 13 years old. Each entrant submits one story of up to 500 words. The three winners in each age category win either their own height in books, the Duchess of Cornwall’s height in books (5’6”), or DJ Chris Evans’ height in books (6’2”).

Entries are judged on

  • originality
  • plot
  • characterisation
  • language

Crucially, entries are not judged on spelling, punctuation or grammar. In fact, the official rules say that entries are judged “without regard” for these potential stumbling blocks for young dyslexic writers.

Entries are also submitted by copying or typing into an online text box. A helpful adult is supposed to do this bit, and to fill out the rest of the online entry form for the child. That removes another potential barrier for children with…

View original post 200 more words

Beautiful Bute

7 Feb

I’m just back from what my sister called my “overseas tour” – speaking to a literary society on the Isle of Bute.

Bute is really not that far from Glasgow, so I was half embarrassed that I had never been there, half unable to believe that I had really never been. I spent the first few minutes as the ferry docked in Rothesay dredging up childhood memories of seaside towns I had visited, like Tarbert (ok, lochside, not seaside) and Millport, and mentally holding them up for comparison. But no, none of them fitted.

Rothesay, the capital, is bigger than I realised, and surprisingly town-like. (I was expecting a village.) It has a cinema, swimming baths, lots of social housing, a decent library and actual shops selling things other than postcards and scented candles.

As for the rest of Bute, I never saw it, although there do seem to be a lot of tourist sites (famous gardens, impressive buildings), and three different people told me I must visit St Blane‘s church on the south of the island. So I expect I will go back some day, probably in summer when the weather is a bit less dreich. After all l it’s only two hours and 20 quid from the centre of Glasgow.

As for the North Bute Literary Society, they were very welcoming and listened intently as I took them on a flying visit to the late Roman era and the dark ages, although they asked some seriously challenging questions afterwards! And could I remember the date of Constantine’s conversion off-hand? No reader, I could not. But I survived, and they seemed to enjoy it, and now it is on to the, ahem, international leg of my tour. (I’m away to England.)

And just so you don’t say I’m not nice to you, here’s another lovely picture of sunrise on Bute.

Robin Hood on Tour

2 Feb

Next week I’ll be travelling to Robin Hood’s heartland which is, of course, Yorkshire!

On this mini-book tour I’ll be speaking to the sixth formers at my old school, Sheffield High, but I’ll also be doing a public event at Stannington Library. Stannington is a suburb of Sheffield that is still almost like a village, and is conveniently close to Loxley, of Robin Hood fame.

It’s on Tuesday 12th of February at 7pm, and it takes the form a discussion between myself and a storyteller called Carmel Page, who has written fictional stories about the young Robin Hood.

Entry is free, but as it’s a volunteer library, donations are encouraged. I will also have copies of my book Why Everything You Know about Robin Hood Is Wrong available for sale.

There’s a PDF of the event poster here, which you may share as widely as you like, and there’s this adorable wee gif that Stannington Library created for me. (If it doesn’t play automatically, try clicking on it.)


By the way, if you have an idea of an author event for me, or would like to invite me to speak to your school or organisation, please don’t hesitate to get in touch using the “Get in Touch” section (obviously). ➡️



Isaac Newton – Mathematician, Physicist and … Theologian?

28 Jan

20190126_113909In the latest edition of Premier’s Christianity magazine you will find my “Ten-Minute Guide to Isaac Newton”.

Why would Isaac Newton be featured in a series of short guides to figures in church history? Because he had some wacky, but sincerely held, theological views. Although he’s best known for dabbling in maths and physics (you may have heard of one or two of his wee laws of motion that revolutionised the science of the time), his real passions were biblical criticism (especially trying to construct a universal chronology of all human history after Noah’s flood) and alchemy.

While I was researching this article I also happened to be reading Somerset Maugham’s brilliant novel, The Magician. The result was that I quickly became deeply fascinated by the history of alchemy, to the extent that I want to write a book on it someday.

Apparently not everyone shares this fascination, because one of the boxes I had written to accompany the article, about alchemists who were also Christians (or Christianish, in Newton’s case) was cut in favour of some interesting Newton quotes. That’s not anything unusual. When a book is edited, you spent time going back and forth with your editor discussing and negotiating changes; when a magazine is edited, time pressure means that you only find out afterwards.

However, you lucky people who follow my blog can still enjoy the deleted box! Here is a rundown of some of famous Christians who also dedicated themselves to the pursuit of the philosopher’s stone.

morienusMorienus – Christian hermit who introduced alchemy to the Islamic world.

dunstanSt Dunstan – abbot of Glastonbury and later Archbishop of Canterbury. A work on how to produce the philosopher’s stone is attributed to him. [Although to be fair, it could all have been false accusations by his enemies. But he was awfully good at metalwork, which is associated with alchemy. Just sayin’.]

sylvester iiPope Sylvester II – French pope who was deeply interested in arts and sciences, including alchemy, and helped to introduce Arab knowledge to Europe.

albertus magnusAlbertus Magnus – Dominican monk who taught Thomas Aquinas and spent 20 years setting down in Latin the knowledge of every branch of learning that existed.

Each of these men is fascinating in his own right, and well worth looking up. Or if you’re feeling lazy you could just wait, possibly several years, until I write that book I mentioned. But don’t wait years to read the article on Newton – it’s only available this month, and if you’ve never subscribed to Christianity before, you can even get a free trial copy.

Plastic-free(ish) Living

15 Jan

I ran a Twitter poll to see what I should write my next post on, and of the two people who replied, half wanted a post about plastic-free living. That is clearly the undeniable will of the people, so let’s proceed.


I’ve been trying to reduce my plastic use over the last year or so (yes, basically since Blue Planet II), and I’ve tried out a number of plastic-free alternatives and techniques – some successful, some less so. This is not based on exhaustive research (for that, try My Plastic-Free Life), just one woman’s dabbling. But it might give you some ideas, if you too were very sad about the baby whale.

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Robin Hood 2018 Review

22 Nov

This review is going to contain one or two spoilers, so if you’d prefer a quick summary, here it is: just plain daft.


Looks cool. And…that’s about it.

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