An Evening of Taxidermy..

Last night I had the most spectacular evening at the Horniman Museum in Forest Hill, to celebrate the launch of Kate Mosse’s new novel The Taxidermist’s Daughter! The Horniman is a beautiful set of buildings housing a collection of cool objects and natural history specimens. I’ve been waiting for the release of this novel for months, and I actually mentioned it in my blog post about Jamaica Inn in April. Kate was inspired by the infamous collection of Victorian amateur taxidermist Walter Potter, which featured creepy tableaux such as ‘Kitten Wedding’ and ‘Gambling Squirrels’.

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The evening started with a discussion between Kate Mosse and Sandi Toksvig about her inspiration for the novel, and afterwards I got my copy of the novel signed and talked to her about seeing the Potter collection at Jamaica Inn. Then I met one of my favourite authors on extinction, Errol Fuller, who’s book Lost Animals I mentioned in my summer reading post! He was giving a talk about the weird world of taxidermy.

Afterwards we listened to a presentation by ethical taxidermist Jazmine Miles-Long! She only uses animals that have died from natural causes, and it was absolutely fascinating listening to the complex processes involved in taxidermy. It’s a surprisingly clean and creative craft, and although I’m not sure I would have the stomach to do it myself, I would love to give it a go. I also found it really interesting how she chooses not to work with domestic pets, as the pressure of recreating such a beloved friend is too stressful. I can really relate to this when doing pet portraits; it’s easy to draw a wild animal, but trying to draw a specific animal that is so familiar to the family is very hard to perfect!

It was a fantastic evening and I cannot wait to crack on with the novel! I also got a delicious photo with this miserable fox.

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The Taxidermist’s Daughter by Kate Mosse is published by Orion and available now!

Poem of the Month: September

I am currently starting two very exciting things. Firstly, I now work for the RSPB as a fundraiser and I am loving it! They are my favourite organisation and to be actively helping wildlife whilst earning a few pennies is an absolute dream. Secondly, I am prepping for the induction of my Masters in English, which starts in less than a month! I have really missed studying and I cannot wait to return to writing essays about syntax and pathetic fallacy and all that.

As literature is going to be a big part of my life once again, I thought I’d start a Poem of the Month on my blog! I love poetry and learning about the poets themselves, so I’ll be sharing some of my favourite poems and new ones I have discovered. The first one is a salute to my new job, and one of my absolute favourites: Little Trotty Wagtail by John Clare. During our RSPB training, they let us all pick a pin-badge to wear and I chose the Pied Wagtail, a happy chappy with a bobbing tail.

Born the son a farm-labourer in 1793, John Clare was an English poet who became famous for his representations of the countryside and rural life. He lived in Northamptonshire but spent large parts of his life in literary London, and often felt torn between the desire to write poetry and the need to feed his family through farm work. He has written several harrowing poems about 19th century survival and the disruption of the landscape, but this simple, bouncy little poem about one of our commonest birds is my favourite.

Little Trotty Wagtail by John Clare

Little trotty wagtail he went in the rain,
And tittering, tottering sideways he neer got straight again,
He stooped to get a worm, and looked up to get a fly,
And then he flew away ere his feathers they were dry.

Little trotty wagtail, he waddled in the mud,
And left his little footmarks, trample where he would.
He waddled in the water-pudge, and waggle went his tail,
And chirrupt up his wings to dry upon the garden rail.

Little trotty wagtail, you nimble all about,
And in the dimpling water-pudge you waddle in and out;
Your home is nigh at hand, and in the warm pig-stye,
So, little Master Wagtail, I’ll bid you a good-bye.

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Hate the Media, Love the Corncockle

A few months ago I wrote about Kirstie Allsopp after an interview revealed her controversial views on women, careers and parenthood. My qualms were not with her opinions on the balancing act between pursuing a career and having children, but with the ridiculous way our newspapers twisted her words into highly inaccurate, profiteering headlines.  It is the utter lack of dignity with which journalists carry out their work that convinced me journalism was not the career for me, and I’m jolly glad I am not pursuing it.

When I woke up the other morning, I browsed through the early news stories and found (unsurprisingly) a new piece of nonsense from the riff-raff at The Telegraph, accusing the BBC of trying to poison the inhabitants of the British countryside. Goodness! I hear you cry.

A marvellous wildflower campaign was featured on Countryfile in April, offering free seeds to viewers to encourage the growth and survival of wildflowers across our landscape. Wildflowers are an integral part of the survival of many insects, butterflies and small creatures, and an increase in their coverage would undoubtedly increase the numbers of other dwindling species. It was a truly great idea to give free seeds away, and for the entire summer adults, children, Girl Guides and schools have been planting seeds where they can in order to give our wildflower population a much needed boost.

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But apparently this fabulous act of ecological kindness isn’t quite good enough to evade the claws of our friend David Barrett at The Telegraph, who’s article promises almost-certain death to those who take part in this monstrous project organised by Beelzebub himself. Being the genius he is, he’s cottoned onto the fact that one of the flowers, the rare and beautiful corncockle, is toxic when ingested. Yes it is, Dave. But so are daffodils, laurel, ivy, hellebores, lupins and foxgloves. And any true Poirot fan will know the common yew tree produces taxine poison.

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We have lived alongside poisonous plants for thousands of years, yet amazingly the human population still struggles on. Most instances of corncockle poisoning have resulted in little more than stomach-ache and vomiting. Seeing as we’ve screwed up the entirety of our natural landscape and ripped out acres of meadowlands, do we not think it might be wise to spend a little time trying to revive species on the brink of extinction? And when we’ve finished, perhaps we could spend a little time telling our children not to eat random seeds and flowers (what are they, rabbits?). I remember being told about the dangers of foxgloves and I still won’t go near them at the age of 22.

Dave (can I call you Dave?) has demonstrated to me once again how journalist desperation really can make an entire story out of a nothingness. And what’s worse is that many of the people who read his article will now doubt the positive intention behind helping wildflowers, and may even destroy struggling patches of corncockles. If you would like to continue the good work of our conservationists, please look after our wildflowers and plant more! You can buy wildflower seed mixes here. Please also avoid newspapers; they waste trees, life minutes and reading time.

And remember. Don’t eat flowers.

My new website is here!

I’m very, very excited to announce that I have now finished creating the website for my wildlife illustrations and greetings cards!

It’s still in it’s early stages, and I’m sure I’ll be tweaking it over the next few weeks or so but you can buy my cards safely using PayPal and I’ll send them through the post! I feel like Alan Sugar.

Please have a browse and let me know your thoughts, and feel free to buy some cards.. A couple of my designs are currently sold out, but I will be updating it over the next few months with new stock, my Christmas range and new products like tote bags and stationery!

You can visit my new website at tiffanyimogen.moonfruit.com

Thank you!

Summer reading..

For the last two Augusts I’ve been lucky enough to find myself at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, but sadly I wasn’t able to make it this year. The best thing about the Fringe is that it coincides with the Edinburgh Book Festival, and although I’m also missing that spectacular event, it has prompted me to write a list of the books I have read, am reading or planning to read this summer!

These are a few books I’ve bought or kindly been sent for review, and I’m enjoying them immensely!

Lost Animals: Extinction & the Photographic Record by Errol Fuller

k10215Since reading The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert, I’ve fostered a morbid obsession with extinction and the damage caused by the human race. A kind Twitter pal from Bloomsbury offered to send me this fantastic book filled with rare photos of animals which have since become extinct. These include the Thylacine (Tasmanian Tiger), Yangtze River Dolphin and the Laughing Owl. When you think of extinction, it’s usually the Dodo or something from a seventeenth century etching, so it’s amazing to remind myself that extinction is a modern problem and to read the stories behind the photos.

Tweet of the Day by Brett Westwood & Stephen Moss

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I’m a huge fan of the Radio 4 series Tweet of the Day, so I was very excited when they released a book to accompany it! If you’re not familiar, it’s a short programme each morning with soundclips of a different British bird and a little information about it. Stephen Moss is one of my fave naturalists, and the book is beautifully illustrated and ordered into each month so you can listen out for different birds at different times of year. It’s also a great bird guidebook if you don’t own one, as I think all people should.. You can listen to all the Tweets of the Day on Radio 4 here!

101 Reykjavik by Hallgrímur Helgason

101I’m a bit obsessed with Damon Albarn and everything he’s ever done, and when I was browsing his discography on Spotify I saw he had composed the music for the film 101 Reykjavik. I’d never heard of the film but in true English student style, I bought the original novel out of curiosity. It’s a strange Icelandic story from the 90s about a guy called Hlynur who still lives with his mother and develops feelings for her lesbian lover. It’s sort of a contemporary stream-of-consciousness novel with some really bizarre sections, but it’s funny and I’m still not sure whether or not I like the protagonist. I definitely recommend it for a pleasantly uncomfortable read.

Silent Spring by Rachel Carson

fuji13I’ve wanted to read this for a looong time, and I’m hoping to somehow tie it into my MA thesis when I eventually get there.. It’s one of those books that people say ‘changed the course of history’, and I’m really enjoying it so far. Rachel Carson was an American marine biologist and conservationist who was one of the first people to realise how catastrophically damaging synthetic pesticides are to both natural wildlife and human health. It’s a pretty scientific book and isn’t exactly a joyful read, but it’s incredibly disturbing and has already made me switch to buying organic whenever I can. Aside from that, it’s also really interesting to see how things have changed in the 50 years since it was written.

Meadowland by John Lewis-Stempel

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After reading a review of this online, I was lucky enough to have my own copy sent to me by Doubleday and I’m so excited to read it! I’ve always wanted to be a writer in some way, and I’ve only recently realised that I’d like to specialise in nature writing and naturalism. John Lewis-Stempel is an exceptional naturalist and having read the first few chapters I am loving this piece of writing about the life of an English meadow and its inhabitants over the seasons. It’s great to have some inspiration for my own work, especially as this edition has some beautiful illustrations to accompany it. A great book for anyone who loves the intricate workings of the English countryside.

  Virginia Woolf’s Garden by Caroline Zoob

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I remember cycling very close to Virginia Woolf’s house in Lewes when my friend and I cycled the South Downs Way, and I’ve always wanted to go back and see it properly. Now I live in London, everything is just a stone’s throw away so I have been flicking through this book for inspiration. I love Virginia Woolf’s political literature, and I also love National Trust houses and beautiful gardens, so this really is my cup of tea. It’s a fascinating insight into her life when she lived there, and the quirky illustrated maps even point out the River Ouse, where she filled her pockets with stones and drowned herself. It’s a great coffee-table book!

My Eco Revamp

Once again, sorry about the sparsity of my posts. I’m currently in the process of launching a second blog which will act as a portfolio for my nature writing and illustration. Once that’s set up I will distribute my attention more evenly between the two! Watch this space…

Before moving to London, I was worried I might get distracted from my love of wildlife and all that kind of thing. There are lots of fabulous London things to in London, and I thought I might get caught up with pasty shops at train stations and other exciting diversions. Fortunately, I was wrong! I’m loving the pasty shops, but I’ve spent more time thinking about enviro issues here than I did in Bristol. I’ve also managed to get a job fundraising for the RSPB (amaze), which is making me realise more than ever how important it is to co-operate with the natural world.

Consequently, I’ve managed to give my life a little eco revamp. I’ve always tried to buy things ethically when I can, but I’ve now decided it’s the sort of thing you can’t really do half-assed. There’s no point in buying organic leeks and then hobbling into Primark. So here is a quick run-down of a few nice changes I’ve made to make the world a little less crap:

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Cool cosmetics

Like many ladies, I use lots of cosmetics. I have thick, curly hair so I need a million hair products, and my dry skin means I must always have moisturiser at arm’s reach WITHOUT FAIL. I remember reading something about how little we know about the chemicals in our beauty products, and how easily we will smother ourselves without thinking. There has also been an awful lot in the media recently about animal cruelty and cosmetic testing. With both of these in mind, I am now slowly replacing each of my cosmetic items with products from Lush and The Body Shop. I know there are plenty of other companies that produce eco-cosmetics, but I haven’t done enough research yet! Lush are famous for their fresh, natural products and The Body Shop never test their products on animals, and use sustainably-sourced and Fairtrade ingredients.

I’m currently using Trichomania coconut shampoo from Lush, Banana conditioner from TBS and Early Harvest Raspberry shower gel from TBS.

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Tubular trainers

As I mentioned, I’m starting a new job with the RSPB soon, hoozah! They’re my favourite charity and I can’t wait to get cracking. My job involves being on my feet and moving around London every day, so I decided I would invest in a good pair of sneaker-trainers. I remember hearing that Lily Cole (very interested in eco-activism) had collaborated with a French company called Veja, so I had a sneaky peek and found that they make eco-sneakers using organic Brazilian cotton, wild rubber from the Amazon and vegetable-tanned leather. I was most excited about the wild rubber, because they enable Brazilian people to earn an income from sustainable rubber-tapping rather than resorting to logging.

Needless to say, I bought this delicious pair of Taua Grafite Emeraudes for €69, made in the Ceara region of Brazil.

Free range chicken at the Food Animal Initiative (FAI) farm in Oxford, UK.

Free range, organic & seasonal

This is probably the easiest thing you can do to improve the lives of both domesticated and wild animals, yet it’s the one thing people avoid. Free range chicken speaks for itself: chickens deserve to lead a natural, safe and happy life before they’re eaten or while they provide us with eggs. A quick comparison on the Sainsbury’s website reveals that you can buy free range eggs for just 35p more than normal ‘barn’ eggs (caged). As for organic produce, I can’t stress how much of a difference it makes. I’m currently reading Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, and although it was written in the 1960s, everything she says rings true today. Pesticides find their way into soil, rainwater, insects, wild birds and animals, and our own digestive systems. They kill wildlife and are undeniably dangerous to our own health, yet we feed our children pesticide-coated fruit and veg. Another Sainsbury’s search reveals that organic leeks are a mere 50p more than regular leeks. If you buy produce seasonally, you’ll find it to be even cheaper.

If you think you can’t afford a few pennies more each week, think of the last stupid purchase you made that you could have spent on better food. Mine was a band t-shirt I bought ‘in the moment’.

Local Boozing

Terribly sorry that it’s been a month since my last post… I recently moved to London, started a new job and popped to Paris for a few days, so everything’s been rather chaotic. I’m only just catching up on the Game of Thrones finale as we speak.

I’m aware that I’ve written two posts about wine recently and I sound like a roaring carouser, but a few weeks ago I went to a local wine fair and it was fabulous. In fact, I’ve managed to take a delightful afternoon tasting sparkling whites and boisterous reds, and linked it back to an important socio-environmental issue. Hoorah!

Last time I wrote about the nutritional and environmental benefits of drinking organic wine, but if this still isn’t your cup of tea then there is an excellent alternative which helps British farmers and reduces our carbon footprint. The wine fair I visited was brimming with local wine producers from the south of England, and the wines were just as tasty (if not better) as those from exotic lands afar.

Here’s a quick viticultural tip: Grapes grow better in chalky soil. A cubic metre of chalk will hold 660 litres of water, so chalky soil means plenty of water for vines to sloop up whilst also providing great drainage. The region of Champagne in northeast France is famous for sparkling wine production not only due to its naturally chalky soil, but because of the grape’s acidity from the climate. Bizarrely, the climate in southern England is actually far better suited to sparkling wine production, as the temperature is slightly cooler and enhances the grapes’ natural acidity. For some reason French wines have all the glory!

Hambledon wines are based in a small village in Hampshire where the first game of cricket is said to have been played. The vineyard was planted in 1952 and extends over 80 acres. I was lucky enough to taste three of their sparkling wines: the Mill Down Vintage 2010 with spiced quince and lemon flavours, the Classic Cuvee with floral, fruity aromas, and the Grande Reserve Brut with crisp strawberry notes.

It’s incredibly satisfying to enjoy such sumptuous beverages whilst knowing you’re helping local people and reducing the environmental damage of importing from across the globe. Don’t get me wrong, I love a cheeky Argentinian or dry Australian. But it’s really great to enjoy something grown only a stone’s throw away from my own front door!

You can find more information about Hambledon wines here or visit the Vineyards of Hampshire Wine Festival this weekend in Bentley!

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Greyhound Pup

I just thought I’d share a recent commission I’ve just finished. I really enjoy doing pet portraits and capturing the expression of our beloved canines, felines and beyond. This is a greyhound called Poppy!

Please contact me at tiffany2.francis@gmail.com if you would like to commission a pet portrait. You can also like my new Facebook page here!

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Organic Boozing

Last Friday I trundled home on the rickety First Great Western to attend a fabulous hen weekend, which included crafting, paella and organic wine tasting by Mason & MasonI’ve never been a real ‘wine person’. I do like wine, but I tend to go for the suave-in-a-carton rather than your classic Cuvée. So I was rather delighted to have the chance to swish my glass around and declare my beverage to be ‘herbaceous’, and despite being absolutely sloshed I did actually learn a few things, particularly about organic farming.

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As part of the hen celebration we went to Valencia in February, so the wine lady was creative enough to continue the Hispanic theme with a selection of Spanish wines. After an introductory Cava Pares Balta from Penedes (moussey bubbles), we enjoyed two whites: Blanc de Pacs from Barcelona (most herbaceous) and Rueda Arriezu from Duero (aromatic and acidic to cut through strong Spanish cuisine). White wine is not usually grown in hot regions as the grapes have thin skins and burst if too strongly heated, so most Spanish whites are grown in the cooler North.

Next came a delicious Rosado Palido from Rioja; the paler a rosé is, the better quality the beverage. My former beliefs that rosé was made by mixing red and white together were shockingly proven wrong at this point. I learnt that red grapes are gently popped in a balloon press to release a drop of juice with a tiny splash of colour from the skin, as using the whole grape would not provide such a soft, delicate flavour. Lastly, we indulged in two lovely reds: Rioja Tinto from Noemus (hot afterburn) and Petit Verdot from La Mancha (sweet and fruity). Most riojas are aged in little oak barrels to give them their woody, vanilla finish, but some are aged in much larger barrels instead to reduce this rather strong flavour, as there is a smaller wine-to-wood ratio.

The wines were all fabulous, but much more enjoyable simply because they were organic. I’m a big fan of organic food ethically, but there are gustatory reasons why wines in particular are tastier when produced organically. Most commercial wines are made by adding sulphites as a preservative, which is the reason they give you terrible hangovers. Organics won’t contain pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, fertilizers or synthetic chemicals, which allows you to taste the natural, complex flavours of the grape. The grapes of Rioja Tinto are also grown without using soil irrigation, so the plants have to dig deeper down into the earth to gather nutrients; there may be less fruit, but the quality is vastly superior.

Aside from the taste, there are tons of reasons why going organic will make the world healthier and happier. In April, a group of children living in the French countryside were found to have 624 different pesticide chemicals in their systems. More alarmingly the world’s bee population is decreasing dramatically, yet it is predicted that if bees disappeared from the earth, man would have only four years to live. Pollination by bees is required for a third of all the products found in a UK shopping basket, and their worst enemy is a type of insecticide known as neonicotinoids, which can kill them or weaken their navigation systems.

It’s really nice when we can enjoy delicious wines without harming the natural world, and it hardly costs anything. The wines at Mason & Mason averaged around £7.95, and there are hundreds of other organic wine suppliers to choose from.

If you like wine and/or the environment, here are a few helpful links:

Mason & Mason Wines: masonandmasonwines.co.uk
Bumblebee Conservation Trust: bumblebeeconservation.org
Soil Association: soilassociation.org

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On Kirstie Allsopp & Turning Away from Journalism

I’m a 22-year-old postgraduate student with a hearty career plan and a dislike for small children. Therefore, it may surprise you to hear that I am jumping to Kirstie Allsopp’s defence amid her latest comments in the Telegraph. She has spoken out in favour of early motherhood, warning young women of the heartache of dwindling fertility, and encouraging them to have children early and save university for later. 

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So why am I siding with her? I’ve chosen to do the exact opposite of her suggestion; I’m starting my Masters in September and I have a super career plan, and although I’m sure I’ll like my own children, at the moment I would much rather hang out with a box of puppies. I actually think her comments make a lot of sense, just as I understand how some people would disagree with them. But that’s not why I feel so ready to defend her. Neither is it our mutual love for crafting and baking and all things twee.

Before choosing to pursue writing and illustration, I seriously considered a career in journalism. I worked for my student newspaper and gained experience at The Guardian and Countryfile magazine, and I was on the verge of choosing journalism for my MA. Interestingly, although I enjoyed my time on the Guardian books desk, it was here that I realised it wasn’t the career for me. I hated the fickle nature of newspapers; one might invest so much time and effort into an article, only for it to be discarded forever the next day. Moreover, I didn’t like how everything was driven by money. I’m not naive; I know this is an essential element of the industry now, but it isn’t my cup of tea.

And this is the reason why my anger is directed not towards Kirstie, who simply stated her rational opinions on an important topic, but towards the newspapers that have taken her comments and twisted them into contorted, clickable headlines.

Here is a shortened quote from the original article:

‘We should speak honestly and frankly about fertility and the fact it falls off a cliff when you’re 35…At the moment, women have 15 years to go to university, get their career on track, try and buy a home and have a baby. That is a hell of a lot to ask someone. As a passionate feminist, I feel we have not been honest enough with women about this issue…But there is a huge inequality, which is that women have this time pressure that men don’t have…You can do your career afterwards…I don’t want the next generation of women to go through the heartache that my generation has.’

In the article she also talks about her relationship with her mother and her attitude towards marriage, so please do give it a read because it’s the only place you’ll find her actual comments written out in full. In contrast, here are some of the headlines chosen by mainstream newspapers, who chose to claw into her words and spread them out into statements of scandal:

For an industry that used to be about bringing truth to the masses, the media has become a squalid rabble itching to warp the truth in order to sell itself through glittering headlines. She has never encouraged women to ‘ditch university’ or ‘forget careers’, only to consider postponing them until later life. And for Emma Barnett to ask ‘why bother giving girls an education at all’ reminds me of an argumentative teenager.

From islamophobia to health scares and political bias, I’ve learnt not to trust the media industry with anything. I pray I am not famous one day, because I’m sure they’ll find something about how I’ve eaten enough cake to feed a third world country and therefore am responsible for all the slavery and terrorist attacks ever. I’m still thinking about what Kirstie said and what my own opinion on the matter is, but I won’t let myself become absorbed by clicking through to their ridiculous articles and feeding their gluttonous advertisers.

Ooo, I hate the media.