The 36 Words Short Story Challenge is on, with Harrogate International Festivals and Transdev

Ever thought you might have a story to tell? Could you convey the tale in a mere 36 words?

To celebrate Transdev’s fabulous support of Harrogate International Festivals, the “36 Words Short Story Challenge” has been launched, and your creativity could win you a great prize!

If you’re thinking it’s an impossible task, then think again. Here are six great examples of a 36 word short story…all have been entered into our competition. We would love you to have a go too.

Her toes curl over the balcony edge.

Her fingertips freeze, her heartbeat screams.

She inhales the clouds.


Perhaps the moon will fall from the skies.

Perhaps the sparrow will sing as she flies.


(from Sophie Finnegan)

The worst bit was that he thought they had got on so well. They had that natural chemistry that just can’t be faked. Apart from his hair colour, beer gut, sex and species, he was perfect.

(from Simon Fox)

Cara wept as the sea went out. Her dreams of getting home shattered. How many nights in this solitary world ? How many days of tedium to endure.  Life as a lighthouse keeper isn’t for everyone.

(from Darren Lethem)

Looking down into the deep blue sea, I saw a beautiful Mermaid floating in the clear water, “Walk the plank ye scallywag” shouted the Pirate. Hee hee, I thought.

“oh how I love Matey Bubble bath”

(from Claire Wills)

It began with a smile and it ended with a smile, the bit in between was anyone’s lucky guess. Every person played out a different scenario, the only conclusion was imagination and the passing of time.

(from Carole Wellstead)

She stood at the side of the ship.  Her hair blowing roughly in the wind.  A single tear ran down her cheek as she thought;
‘When will I see him again?’
The storm came crashing down.
(from Simon Edward)


The 36 bus is no ordinary bus. It is luxurious, with comfy leather seats, free wifi, USB points, and even a glazed roof! The buses connect Ripon, Harrogate and Leeds, and feature ‘Library 36’; make the most of your journey, and read a new book using the UK’s first free library service on a bus fleet. It is the perfect celebration of Transdev’s long-running partnership with Harrogate International Festivals.


Many books are donated by the team at Harrogate International Festivals, which delivers the Raworths Harrogate Literature Festival and the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in July, as well as the Harrogate History Festival in October.
Alex Hornby, CEO at Transdev, said:


“We are all so proud to work with Harrogate International Festivals. Our aim is to be as connected as possible with our local communities and working with such a well-respected local organisation is a real honour. Library 36, alongside the 36 story challenge, is a fantastic way to celebrate Harrogate as a remarkable destination for book lovers – and the most stylish way to travel there!”


The winning 36-word story will bag themselves a weekend pass to the Raworths Harrogate Literature Festival featuring Mary Portas, John Suchet, Jeremy Bowen, James Naughtie and over 20 events from 7-10 July at the Crown Hotel.
Sharon Canavar, CEO of Harrogate International Festivals, said:


“We’re really proud to be partnering with Transdev and the 36. Not only are good travel networks essential for residents, they are crucial for tourism and the fact visitors to our festivals experience such luxury is fantastic for a tourism town.”


Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival’s 2016 Reader in Residence, author Mari Hannah, whose DCI Kate Daniels series is currently in production with Stephen Fry’s TV production company, drafted a 36-word story to inspire people to take part.
Mari said:


“This is a fantastic challenge. Writing a story in 36 words is not easy, but it really shows off a writer’s skill. Travelling is the perfect opportunity to let our imaginations loose. There’s something about being in limbo, between destinations with time to think that lends itself to flashes of inspiration!”


To enter the 36-word story challenge you can post your story at the dedicated Festival post box at Harrogate Bus Station, or email it to The winner will be decided by  Mari Hannah.
The 36 runs up to every 15 minutes between Ripon, Harrogate and Leeds



Cann Communications hosted a quiz night…and it got very competitive!

Recently, I hosted the Oatlands Infant School Quiz Night, and it was a fiercely fought contest to win the top prize! The tie breaker question, which involved the number of expletives uttered in the film Pulp Fiction, had to be used to avert a photo finish. It is over 250, for the record. I have still not seen that film, in spite of the fact it was released over twenty years ago.

Anyway, back to the point of this blog. Organisers Lyndsay and Sally decided to raise money for Oatlands Infant School, as well as a charity with special meaning to them both. Lyndsay Snodgrass told me more-

“My children have been going to Oatlands Infant school for 4 years now and during that time there hasn’t been a school quiz night. As fans of a good quiz, it seemed like the ideal event for best friend and fellow Infant School parent Sally & I to organise in order to raise funds not only for the school PTA, but for Prostate Cancer Research Centre. Both our Dads have recently undergone treatment for Prostate Cancer so this is a cause close to both our hearts.

What a fantastic night it was! Alex was an absolute star, we certainly couldn’t have done it without him! Keeping control of the 100 strong (very competitive & rowdy) crowd was no mean feat! Everyone said what a great night it was, and we raised an amazing £1100 to be split between Oatlands Infant School PTA and The PCRC. To say we are delighted is an understatement!”

I am also delighted by how well the night went, and would also like to mention the hard-working husbands who staffed the bar, and kept me topped up with real ale between rounds! Thanks to Oatlands as well for use of their snazzy PA system…it was a lot better than the one I used at Copmanthorpe Junior School to play music to a disinterested hall of pupils before assembly. I think it was my first attempt at DJing!

Going back to school this time round was a lot more fun, and hopefully there will be another quiz night in future, as it was a true honour to be involved.

Review : The Tiger Inn, Coneythorpe

Country pubs are certainly plentiful in our part of the world. We are extremely lucky to have a wealth of options on our doorstep, and I was keen to try out the Tiger Inn at Coneythorpe, based on several friends’ recommendations.
Just a short distance from Harrogate and Knaresborough, this chic brick building is located in leafy Coneythorpe. It’s a picture postcard location, and the gravel car park was reassuringly busy when we arrived for 5PM on a Saturday afternoon.
The bar is well-stocked, with a good selection of wines and several real ales, including a rather fine pint of Ilkley Brewery’s pale ale Mary Jane, which went down very nicely with my main course. Menu-wise, there is a great choice of dishes, including pies, burgers, curry, and a delicious sounding seared sea bass fillet, amongst many other pub food favourites.
I plumped for the Early Bird Menu, which offers two tantalising courses for £12.50 (bonus points for the fact it runs from 12-7 on a Saturday!). The efficient waitress took our order, and I went for prawn cocktail as my opening gambit (an extra £1, but worth it for the retro factor!). The dish arrived looking nothing like the gloopy prawn cocktails I remember from the 80s, and that is no bad thing! Delicious bloody mary coulis, fresh lettuce and fresh tasting prawns made a really nice start to my meal.
For the main event, I was torn in several directions (always the sign of a great menu, in my book), but eventually opted for the chunky lamb shoulder shepherd’s pie, topped with potato and complemented by fresh market vegetables. A huge portion, and really chunky, tender meat. I have to say I went a bit “When Harry Met Sally” whilst enjoying it.
I didn’t really have room for pudding, but given I was reviewing for this blog, I dug deep and found space for the vanilla bean ice cream with toffee sauce. I used to think vanilla ice cream was not terribly exciting growing up, but these days I love it. The only criticism of the whole meal is that I could have done with a bit more toffee sauce…but that’s probably me just being gluttonous! I must return to try the Mars Bar cheesecake sometime.
This is a place that is certainly doing well, and booking is advisable. The interior is lovely, with interesting furniture, an array of silver tankards hanging from the ceiling, and a cosy but buzzing atmosphere. It feels very family friendly too. I’ll definitely be back!

Review : Salon North Experiment with Harrogate International Festivals

If you haven’t been to a Berwin’s Salon North event yet, I’m here to tell you why you are definitely missing out. It is a million times more fun than another night on the sofa watching television, I promise!

Firstly, forget any preconceptions you have about an educational evening being stuffy or formal. This is anything but. I’ve been to half a dozen Salon North events now, and always go home with brand new information. It’s like food for the brain, and the format really lends itself to discussion in between the speakers too.

So, the basics…three guests, each of whom gets 30 minutes to speak on their specialist subject. Last night commenced with Professor Charles Fernyhough, discussing the voices in our head. When you’re walking to catch the bus, lying in the bath, or absent-mindedly chopping carrots, what drives the thoughts which go through our brains? I wasn’t expecting Mel Gibson to get a name check at Salon North, but his romantic comedy “What Women Want” was referenced, with its elaborate plot involving a hairdryer / bath tub / red wine incident. To cut a long story short, Mel could hear the inner thoughts of only women. Professor Fernyhough discussed hearing voices, and some early examples in literature, from his book “The Voices Within : The History and Science of How We Talk to Ourselves”. A fascinating opening session at Salon North, and my inner voice was telling me wine was next…which turned out to be correct!

Paul Auty runs the Harrogate branch of Ake & Humphris, and brings many years of experience from Oddbins (remember them?). In fact, he has been in the wine trade for over twenty years, and describes his reason for getting into it as a desire to “kill some time and meet some people”. He was originally a Newcastle Brown man, and studied Biological Sciences. Donning his lab coat again for us at Salon North, he conducted a series of wine-based experiments. First, we held our nose as a most agreeable red and white wine were tasted, and the general consensus was that smell is a really important factor when enjoying a glass of vino. Volunteers were brought onto the stage, and asked to guess which wine they were drinking whilst blindfolded. One correctly identified rose, but the other two guessed differently.

A really interesting bit of information was that the same bottle of wine can taste completely different, based on environmental factors. It could be you find the perfect tipple whilst on a sunny holiday, but back home, it tastes like a different wine entirely! We also sipped in silence, to a classical piece by Haydn, and 80s codpiece-sporting pop star Cameo. I personally enjoyed drinking accompanied by Word Up, but the vast majority of the audience plumped for Austria’s Joseph Haydn.

After another G&T break (very important at Salon when processing all this new information!), the super talented Juliet Russell. I have been really enjoying her current album Earth Meets Sky (more details at and the tradition of “Salon Stings” was continued for guests in the form of Juliet singing them onto stage with an appropriate number! In my experience, Harrogate audiences can take a little bit of warming up, but Juliet did a terrific job at getting everyone’s vocal chords going, and explained that we all have a voice, therefore we can all sing! She has worked with an impressive roster of artists, including Yoko Ono, Paloma Faith, and Seal, as well as talent on The Voice. It proved a lively, tuneful end to the Salon session, and I left the Crown Hotel with a song in my heart, and a greater knowledge of how the likes of Amy Winehouse, Britney Spears and Donna Summer made their vocals so memorable! I was even singing along to Rehab in the shower this morning with greater aplomb than usual.

The next Salon series starts with Memory on Thursday 30th June. Make a note in your diary, and join us! All the information can be found at




Harrogate International Festivals celebrate a win at the Harrogate Advertiser Business Awards

The champagne was flowing at last night’s Harrogate Advertiser Series Business Awards, a glittering evening held at the Majestic Hotel in Harrogate. Now in their eleventh year, the awards cover a large area from Northallerton to North Leeds, and the team at Harrogate International Festivals was delighted to pick up the “Tourism Award”, sponsored by Rudding Park Hotel, Spa and Golf. The award was judged on the contribution made to improving the Harrogate District’s offering as a tourism destination over the last twelve months, and it feels fitting that the Festivals Team collect this accolade as they celebrate the 50th anniversary of the event, which began back in 1966.

Chief Executive Sharon Canavar, Literature Festivals Manager Gemma Rowland, Literature Festival Co-Ordinator Helen Donkin and Future 50 Appeal Co-Ordinator Lizzie Brewster picked up the Award, presented by the Harrogate Advertiser’s Editor Jean Macquarrie and Rudding Park manager Peter Banks.

With a packed programme of events coming up, 2016 is set to be an exciting summer for Harrogate International Festivals.

I am massively proud to be working with the team on helping to deliver this summer’s events. Take a look at the website to find a full list of forthcoming dates at

Well done to Jean and the team at the Harrogate Advertiser Series for organising a superb evening!


Review : Berwins Salon North (Discover), March 2016.

Salon April 12 - 2 - WEB SQ

If you haven’t been to a Salon North event yet, I’m here to tell you why you’re definitely missing out on one of the best nights out on a busy Harrogate social scene! At each evening, three speakers all take to the stage for 30 minutes, and I can promise you they will have nuggets of information and expertise which will make you think. It’s cultural enrichment for the brain, set in the stunning surroundings of the Crown Hotel in Harrogate. Grab a G+T with a wedge of lime and ice, settle down in cabaret style seating, and enjoy!

March’s Salon North Event was the second part in the current “Explore, Discover, Experiment” triology, and first on stage was Professor Alister McGrath, author of “Inventing The Universe”. He examined the perceived clash of cultures between religion and science, and suggested that perhaps ‘faith’ and ‘spirituality’ are less loaded words than ‘religion’. Whilst science helps us understand how things work, it doesn’t really give us any other answers. Other valid questions could need answering via other sources of insight. Could religion’s purpose be to give us a moral code, or find some meaning in life? As someone who has always believed this life is pretty much it, this talk definitely gave me some food for thought.

Next up, Cara Ellison took us on a tour of game development. To be honest, the last games console I owned was the ill-fated Nintendo Cube, which I left in the shed and condemned to a watery grave. It turns out games have come a long way since then, with the average so-called ‘gamer’ well into their thirties. It’s no longer all about Paperboy and Bubble Bobble (going back even further there, to my beloved rubber-keyed Spectrum!). Cara took a journey to different places through crowd funding, to work out where games creators get their inspiration from, and get a deeper understanding. It was fascinating to learn that text-based games are back in fashion too, and “Fingle” has apparently brought several couples together, in a virtual version of Twister. Look it up on your search engine of choice if you don’t believe me! Cara’s book “A Year On The Couch With Game Developers” is out now.

Last but certainly not least, research scientist, presenter and author Dr Lewis Dartnell convinced me I’ll be amongst the first to die if there’s an apocalypse and civilisation collapses. I’m useless at anything practical, so the thought of making my own clothes, foraging for food and essentially rebuilding my world from scratch terrifies the living daylights out of me. I like my creature comforts too much!

Dr Dartnell looked at how fire still plays a huge part in our lives, much as it did in the Stone Age. Why do we eat toast and cereals for breakfast? How long would we be able to survive in a supermarket if we were trapped there? (amazingly, it’s 55 years, or 63 if we tucked into the cat and dog food aisle!).

Since we don’t make our own stuff any more, I think we’d best hope this vision of the future remains the stuff of scientific analysis. There is loads more in “The Knowledge”, which is out now.

Next up at Salon North, “Experiment” on Thursday 28th April, with speakers including The Voice head coach Juliet Russell. Book by calling Harrogate International Festivals’ Box Office on 01423 562303, or click

Film review : Youth

I’ll be honest. I had high hopes for this one. The trailer promised a movie full of laughs and beautiful cinematography. It delivered on the latter, with some gorgeous Swiss scenery. However, I found the whole affair a little up its own derriere, to be completely honest.

Sir Michael Caine held it together nicely, and played his role as a retired orchestra conductor perfectly. However, there were too many lingering camera shots, and the film felt disjointed + trying too hard to be “arty”.

There was no real depth to most of the characters, and Jane Fonda’s scene felt entirely superfluous. There was a message somewhere about living life to the full, and appreciating that the best might be yet to come…but sorry, it didn’t do it for me.