The Story of Stuff by Annie Leonard

Have you ever said to yourself, ‘What goes on in the world can’t harm me, if I don’t know or worry about it?’

Well think again!

Millions of people have been kept in the dark on exactly what is happening on our planet from an economic and environmental point of view.

That is until 2007, when entrepreneur and activist Annie Leonard, launched The Story of Stuff, after travelling to forty countries and spending two decades studying environmental issues.

Annie unveiled frightening facts to her nation which major corporations kept hidden. The shock jolted American society into making positive and significant changes to their daily lives.

The Story of Stuff explores environmental health issues caused by over-consumption, toxic manufacturing and toxic waste. Her 20 minute video, released that same year, instantly became an online phenomenon and was viewed no less than 12 million times, and her valuable message is now becoming part of the US Economic School Curriculum.

So how does this affect us in Europe I asked?

“Statistically, Europe produces less toxic products than the USA, but before you breathe a sigh of relief and settle back in front of your TV set with smug relief, remember that America is a part of our world; the same world which we are all trashing at a speedy rate with our carbon intensive lifestyles.” says Annie.

“But I already recycle my stuff,” you protest. Well according to Annie, recycling is not the solution to the problem, but an admission of defeat. The idea, as she states, is to make, use, produce and cycle less waste (especially toxic waste) through our infrastructure, manufacturing and disposal systems. Simply because our planet cannot deal with it.

Since we currently use between 1 and 1.4 planet’s worth of resources a year, we might want to take it all a little more seriously, and see what we can do to further help save precious resources and maintain a healthier planet for our children, and generations to come.

In her book she explains in depth where our stuff is produced, where it goes and what happens to it once we dump it, and the enormous environmental impact this entire process has on our world. You’ll be amazed at some of those shocking facts and figures.

In an advertising-saturated and commercialised society, it is quite obviously a huge task for one lady to build global awareness and encourage action, but thankfully people are sitting up and paying attention. Annie fully believes we can all turn things around to support the planet we live in.

New to ‘The Story of Stuff Project’ is a video entitled’ The Story of Cosmetics,’ which will make you spend a bit more time pondering over those elusive shampoo labels in your bathroom cabinet.

The popular advertising slogan ‘You’re worth it.’ might be more accurately re-phrased as ‘It’s not worth it,’ once you discover the devastating impact some sunscreens and beauty products have, not just on our physical bodies, but on sea-life and oceans.

So ask yourself, What is in the stuff I use?  and How can I stop trashing the planet? Do your bit, and teach your kids.

For more information,  videos and to purchase Annie’s books, visit her website.


© Information and material in this article re-produced by kind permission of Annie Leonard.

Interview with Sophie Duffy


As an aspiring writer, one of the things I love to do is follow the journey of other authors in the published world. Recently, I was honoured to make contact with and interview Sophie Duffy, a hardworking writer who has steadily followed her own literary dream.

Through the fruits of hard labour she has now reached an admirable peak with the successful launch of her debut novel, The Generation Game.

Winner of the 2010 ‘Luke Bitmead Bursary’ award ‘The Generation Game,’ is published by Legend Press and can be pre-ordered at Amazon bookstore.

Book Description – Philippa Smith is in her forties and has a beautiful newborn baby girl. She also has no husband, and nowhere to turn. So she turns to the only place she knows: the beginning.

Retracing her life, she confronts the daily obstacles that shaped her very existence. From the tragic events of her childhood abandonment, to the astonishing accomplishments of those close to her, Philippa learns of the sacrifices others chose to make, and the outcome of buried secrets. Philippa discovers a celebration of life, love, and the Golden era of television. A reflection of everyday people, in not so everyday situations.



The Interview

‘Sophie, congratulations on your publishing success. How would you describe your book to us?’

‘The Generation Game is set between 1965 and 2005 and Torquay and London. Philippa Smith has just turned 40 and has a newborn baby. Believing she’ll be a bad mother, she tells the story of her life to her baby, hoping this will help her come to terms with her past and start on a more conventional, stable, happy future.’

‘How challenging was the writing process for you?’

‘Writing the novel was the easy bit! I’d already written two previous (un-publishable) novels and they were both a challenge – partly due to the techniques I was trying out and because I was trying to find my voice. Then I wrote a short story called Out of the Birdcage that won a local prize and found that the characters stayed with me. That short story became The Generation Game. I knew pretty much where I was going with it but there were some surprises along the way that I hope will also surprise the reader. The hard bit was trying to find a publisher.’

How much of your novel is based on experience or personal traits?

‘It’s definitely fiction though the setting comes from personal experience. We lived in a newsagent’s in Torquay for two years in the mid-70s which was the starting point for this story. The characters are all made up though I’ve pinched certain traits and tics from people I’ve known or brushed against during my life.’

‘Do you find a second novel more daunting after your success with The Generation Game?’

‘I’ve got a second novel all written so I’m hoping this will also see the light of day at some point in the future.’

‘Most successful novelists have said they read a lot, do you think this is a prerequisite to writing a good book?’

‘Yes. I studied English at university and love some of the classics. But I mainly read contemporary fiction now. For me, reading and writing go hand in hand – the more I read, the more I want to write and the more creative and in the zone I feel. ‘

‘Now that your book is almost on the shelves, what elements of its success are important to you?’

‘The book will be on the shelves on 1st August – I can’t get over that yet! I’m just ecstatic that people will be able to read the story I’ve written.’

‘Are you an e-reader, or prefer traditional methods?’

‘I love books and our house is full of them. I do have a Kindle but haven’t got to grips with it yet.’

‘Do you think self-publishing is better than traditional publishing?’

‘They both serve a purpose. If you are desperate to see your book in print and have exhausted the traditional route, then why not self-publish as long as you do your homework and use a reputable publisher.’

‘Do you ever wake up and think.. ‘Oh my goodness I’m a real published novelist?’

‘Yes, every day! I can’t believe it. I still feel it could all be taken away from me as it’s been such a long time coming.’

‘Will your next book be along a similar theme?’

‘I am interested in family life, whatever form that takes. My next novel is about a more conventional family coming to terms with their new unconventional life.’

‘Did you decide on the theme immediately and how did you draw all the characters together?’

‘No, I started with the setting and Philippa, my main character – it all evolved from there.’

‘Do you wing it, or carefully plan each part of your book beforehand?’

‘I’d like to say I plan meticulously but unfortunately that would be a lie. I wing it. Some people would call it ‘organic’ but I suspect it’s just me being disorganised. I do think that if I had each scene planned out I couldn’t be bothered to write it. I like to be surprised as I go along. I didn’t know the ending of The Generation Game as I began it.’

‘I have a friend with four children, she’d like to know how does one balance family life and writing?’

‘I started ten years ago when my kids were 3, 5 and 6 so I learnt early on to write in short bursts. Writer’s block was a luxury I didn’t have. Now they are all teenagers, I have longer chunks of time during the day and find displacement activities keep me busy. Evenings are spent ferrying them around from place to place. So now time is more of an issue and I suppose I should finally get more organised. I wish someone would tell me how to balance it – it’s the same for any mother. ’

‘For those of us who struggle to complete a novel, how would you recommend we get from A to Z?’

‘Have deadlines. Competitions have always focused me. Try and get in a rhythm of just doing a bit of writing each day. When I am writing a novel I will print off my day’s work and write all over it. Then the next morning I will type up my corrections on my laptop so I am not starting with a blank page. Somehow that keeps me going to the next part. Once you get over the 20,000 word hump, I find it gets easier!’

‘What is your own favourite book or author?’

‘I have lots. Classics: George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss – I love Maggie Tulliver. Contemporary: I like Graham Swift, David Lodge, Kate Atkinson, Sarah Waters, Marina Lewycka, Clare Chambers and I absolutely love David Nicholl’s One Day. And for a cracking turn of phrase there’s always Alan Bennett.’


Interview with Trisha Ashley

AVON Harper Collins Author Trisha Ashley is a best-selling writer of Romantic Fiction with no less than fourteen novels to her name (not bad for a talented lead light maker, plumber and portrait painter!) Trisha currently lives in North Wales, and as mentioned on her website … ‘loves exploring food, gardens and old houses, and these preoccupations are a recurring theme in her novels.”

Her latest novel ‘Twelve Days of Christmas’ is a warm novel full of humorous wit.  Her novel, ‘A Winter’s Tale’ was a Times bestseller and was also shortlisted for the 2009 Melissa Nathan award for romantic comedy.

Trisha Ashley is a member of the Society of Authors, the Welsh Academi and the Romantic Novelists’ Association.

I interviewed Trisha, and gained more insight into the world of Trisha herself and her literary lifestyle.

Trisha on Writing.

1. Trisha, why did you decide to become a novelist?  Was it something you always dreamed of achieving?

I think most writers start to write as children – stories, poetry, plays – but then there comes a moment when you read a novel and think: ‘I could do better than that!’  And you do.  Getting one of them published was a dream, though, for a very long time!

My big breakthrough was being taken on by my wonderful agent, Judith Murdoch, because she showed me how making small changes to the sort of books I was writing (which were satire) would enable them to fit into the romantic comedy genre.       

Now, many years down the line, my fourteenth novel Twelve Days of Christmas, has just come out, I’ve had novels shortlisted for the Melissa Nathan Award for romantic comedy two years running, and Every Woman for Herself was recently voted one of the three best romantic novels of the last fifty years. I feel very blessed!

2. Your latest novel, Twelve Days of Christmas, is a touching and down to earth story using a traditional theme for a modern romance. How did the idea for this book come about?

I’m never too sure where the ideas come from: a bit of this, a bit of that…I did start off by wondering how it would feel to lose your husband at an early age in an accident.  My heroine feels angry with her husband for leaving her, however illogical she knows that emotion to be. And of course, since they were only married for a few brief years and their dreams of a family were unfulfilled, he is forever fixed in her mind as her perfect man and the irreplaceable love of her life.  It’s going to take something fairly cataclysmic to change that!

3. Do you have a particular favourite amongst your own novels?

I’m not sure you should have a favourite book, any more than you should have favourite children – and each book is my favourite while I am going through the gestational process of writing it!  But I think I would have to say Every Woman for Herself: It is a contemporary twist on the Bronte family situation and I had so much fun exploring the ideas in that one!

4.  Have you discovered many occupational hazards to being a novelist?

Lack of money! Over the years I’ve taken a series of not always pleasant or well paid jobs to support my writing habit.  Sitting in front of the computer probably hasn’t done a lot for my figure, either…

5. Why do you think fledgling writers are so afraid of getting that ‘book inside them’ down onto paper?

I don’t really know, because if you are a writer, you write.  You burn to write. It is part of who you are.  Some people say it is fear of failure/success, but you won’t experience either unless you get the words down on the page!  But if you want your writing U-bend unblocking you should read Natalie Goldberg’s excellent book called Writing Down the Bones, and all will soon be flowing freely.

6. Is there snobbery directed at the ‘chick lit’ category, and how do you think women’s fiction fits as a whole within the literary world?

Yes, there is a kind of literary snobbery directed at ‘chick lit’ and, indeed, anything deemed ‘romantic’.  I can’t understand why, since most of the great literary novels also have a strong relationship element: love in all its various forms.  This snobbery doesn’t apply to other genres, for example crime. Is it simply because it is perceived by critics as only for women, and therefore of less value for some reason?  I don’t know, I find it all very strange.

I would say I write edgy romantic comedy rather than chick lit, where any humour arises from the characters.  I have a substantial and steadily increasing male readership too, so perhaps one day I will become respectable!  A good sense of humour is pretty universal, thank goodness.

Classic chick lit books tend to have young heroines, often London-based, and the humour arises from putting her into a series of slapstick situations. The most brilliant author in this field is Sophie Kinsella.

7.  Are there any writers out there you might have drawn some inspiration from?

I spent the first few years writing satire, so I suppose my first influences were people like Tom Sharpe.  When I added a romantic element to my satire, it occurred to me that quite a lot of satirical novels, like Blott on the Landscape, were also romantic comedies…

8. Does the writing process become harder or easier as each novel hits the shelves?

Much the same:  I always want to write a better book each time, so any pressure comes from me: I don’t want to disappoint anyone. At the start of a new book it can feel a bit as if you are rolling a rock up a mountain; then suddenly it is over the crest and rolling faster and faster down the other side.   That is quite exhilarating.  Of course, before it takes off you question whether it ever will: it may have always happened before, but will it do it this time?

9. As always, some readers are writers too, and love to receive advice from successful authors.  What important piece of advice could you give them?

As I said earlier, get into the writing habit every day and get on with it.  Rose Tremain once said ‘Life is not a dress rehearsal’ and she was perfectly right!

Once you have got the writing flowing, the other book that I would recommend  is Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’.  He tells it like it is and also has much practical advice, especially about writing the first draft of your novel with the door shut – i.e., writing it just for yourself – and the second with it open, i.e. rewriting with the intended readership in mind.

10. How do you feel about personalities such as Alan Titchmarsh stepping into the ‘light romance’ field of writing? Does it work?

I have to say I haven’t read any of his, but I am told he writes very well.  There is no reason why someone shouldn’t be good at more than one profession and there always are celebrity books out there of one kind or another, of varying worth.  Sometimes I will read an autobiography, like Jo Brand’s, and it will make me want to read everything else she has written, because I like her way with words.

11. For a person who’s written and published thirteen excellent novels, I have to ask whether there is still anything you wish to achieve?

Oh yes, I’m always burning to write about something and the ideas are jostling in my head to be told.  To go back to Stephen King, he says writing is the most fun anyone can have on their own, and I think he is quite right!

Trisha on Trisha.

1. Cats or dogs?

I’ve always had dogs, but I do like cats.

2.  Coffee, tea, or something stronger?

I’ve never touched a cup of tea in my life, but I am a heavy coffee drinker.  The only alcohol I drink these days is champagne: I slowly went off everything else a couple of years ago.

3. Nigella or Jamie?

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, actually!

4. E-books or traditional print?

I prefer print: I love the feel and smell of a new book.  I love to see my bookshelves full of treasures.  But I can see the advantages of E-book readers: the portability and the fact that you can read anything you like without other people knowing.  Male fans of romantic comedy novels (and there are a lot of them out there) tell me this is great, because they get very strange looks if reading a book in public with a ‘girly’ cover.

5.  What keeps you awake at night?

My characters talking in my head.  If I don’t put the light on and write it down, I’ve forgotten it by morning.

6. Who would play the role of Trisha Ashley in the film of your life?

 I don’t know: Minnie Driver?  Someone slightly off the wall, anyway!

“Thank you for giving me the opportunity to talk about my books and if anyone would like to email me, leave a message on my guestbook page, or join my newsletter group, you can find me at ”


Two sisters – One tragedy.

A five year old girl is abandoned in an orphanage at the age of five.

A quarter of a century later her twin sister searches for the truth.

What she discovers will lead you to a heart-breaking conclusion and a harrowing, unexpected twist.



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