A gem of a gallery in Gateshead ...


Gateshead was where I first lived when I came to the North East and while there have been many changes since, including the arrival of The Sage Gateshead and The Baltic Art Centre, the Shipley Art Gallery was where I used to go to get my ‘fix’ of art … and I still like to call in. I always come away feeling enthused, inspired and impressed.

This time I was there to see Grayson Perry’s work, but before I tell you about that, here’s some background about this gem of a gallery.

Opened in 1917 with a collection of paintings bequeathed by local solicitor, Joseph Shipley, it now houses over 800 paintings and a collection of works on paper, plus decorative art and contemporary craft.

In 1998, its art collections – which include the hugely popular Blaydon Races by William Irving and Christ Washing the Disciples Feet by Tintoretto – were designated as being of national importance and The Shipley is also now established as a national centre for contemporary craft, with one of the best collections outside London. This includes work in wood, metal and glass as well as ceramics. This is where you’ll also find the Henry Rothschild collection of studio ceramics.

The Shipley’s five gallery spaces show a range of temporary exhibits through the year. If you want to see what’s possible, what’s experimental, what’s to covet, this is the place. There’s a collection of chairs at the minute that is alone worth a visit. For a taste of the collections, click here and I hope the photo below, taken at an exhibition about Gateshead, gets across the humour and spirit of the place.

So, on to the 2003 Turner Prize winner.

Julie Cope’s Grand Tour: the Story of a Life by Grayson Perry, is a Crafts Council touring exhibition at The Shipley until 28th July. It’s a fantastic opportunity to see two of The Essex House Tapestries: the life of Julie Cope (2015) made for ‘A House for Essex,’ designed by Grayson Perry and FAT Architecture.

As you can see from the image below, the detail in these large-scale tapestries is just wonderful; the colours rich and beautiful. Along with Grayson Perry’s accompanying narrative, they tell the story of Julie Cope – a fictitious Essex ‘everywoman’, who was inspired by the people he grew up among. In Grayson Perry’s words, these artworks represent ‘the trials, tribulations, celebrations and mistakes of an average life.’

We normally associate tapestries with grand themes or the celebration of lives more famous than ours, so I loved the way this was turned around. I felt that the result is something that’s almost mythical and Grayson Perry’s mesmeric reading of the narrative seems to underline the poignancy of the pieces. When I wasn’t marvelling at how skilled you have to be to convey something as specific as the swing of a skirt and as huge as the span of a life, I was feeling, well, a bit teary.

There are only a few days left to see the tapestries at The Shipley, so get your skates on. You really wouldn’t want to miss them.

Image: A Perfect Match, Grayson

Image: A Perfect Match, Grayson Perry, 2015. Crafts Council Collection: 2016.19. Purchase supported by Art Fund (with a contribution from The Wolfson Foundation), Maylis and James Grand, Victoria Miro and other private donors. Courtesy the Artist, Paragon Press, and Victoria Miro, London. © Grayson Perry

You can find the gallery on twitter @theshipley

Shipley Art Gallery
Prince Consort Road
NE8 44JB
0191 4771495

The Shipley Art Gallery is managed by Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums on behalf of Gateshead Council.

'Down to the sea in ships ...'


I love being at home, but need taking out and airing every now and again, or I get restless.

So, two trips coming up. Today it’s about the Tall Ships Race in Sunderland. Tomorrow, the Shipley Art Gallery in Gateshead.

The Tall Ships Race is an annual event taking place in European waters every summer and is organised by Sail Training International, a registered charity with worldwide membership. The Race is just one of the ways it promotes ‘the development and education of young people through the sail training experience, regardless of nationality, culture, religion, gender or social background.’

This year it was Sunderland’s turn to be the start host port, with 53 ships arriving on the 10th July and leaving on the Saturday 14th. As is the tradition, each host port arranges a programme of social, sporting and cultural activities for crews and visitors and we went along on the last day – a blisteringly hot, not-a-cloud-around one. We had a good look at the ships and watched them glide out of the river to head up the coast for the Parade of Sail. From there they were going first to Esberg in Denmark, then Stavanger and finally Harlingen in the Netherlands.

It was obvious from the number of people at the port, on the banks of the river and lining all available look-outs along the coast, that Sunderland had enjoyed having the ships and the ships had enjoyed being there. Huge congratulations to those in charge of organising all the associated events, the transport … everything.

A couple of things stick in my mind from the day. The first was the young people of many nationalities playing a game of tag on the Quayside in a jumble of laughter and different languages. The second happened as the Indian Navy sail training ship Tarangini started to move away from its moorings. Suddenly there was the sound of Indian music and four figures in traditional dress began to dance on the deck in a magical, exuberant goodbye to the crowds.

Forum Books - More than a bookshop


I’m lucky to have a range of bookshops where I live and I’m hoping to do a piece on all of them as this blog progresses, but first up has to be Forum Books – it’s offered me such a lot as a reader and a writer …



Since 2011 Helen and Stan have run Forum Books, an award-winning independent bookshop in Corbridge, Northumberland and as I’m writing this I’m wondering how to do justice to what this place means to me as a reader and a writer.

There’s something about walking in and seeing all those books that excites me afresh about the possibilities the world offers – those stories I’ll live; the things I can try; the people I’ll meet. The range is hand-picked, eclectic and just damned inspiring.



That’s not enough to make a bookshop great though is it? That extra something here comes from the enthusiasm the staff have for the printed word – they are happy and eager to talk books and match you up with a recommendation they think you’ll love.

Sample conversation : ‘This one? It’s set after the Korean war and someone has lost their voice, but not like a sore-throat thing, they’ve left it in a bag on a train and there’s a scene on a disused railway line that suddenly isn’t disused anymore and the pace is incredible and the characters and the end … oh, Hazel, the end … I was sobbing and laughing and you, I know you will love it.’

OK, I’ve made that book up, but you get the idea. Result? Despite hearing your bookshelves at home crying, ‘No, no, we are full,’ you buy the book and yes, you do love it. As Helen says, ‘People have so many things competing for their time – films, TV, the internet, music – if they are going to invest in reading, I want it to be a really good experience for them.’

This isn’t pushy selling – if you want to browse go ahead, it’s a lovely place to do it.



Before owning her own bookshop, Helen worked in publishing and also for one of the big bookstore chains, so she sees the book selling process from both sides. This comes across in the number of extra things offered to bring books to life for reader and author.

The list of author and illustrator events is long and impressive. Just off the top of my head I can remember Tess Gerritson, Emma Healey, Tara Westover, Mari Hannah, Ann Cleeves, Emma Bridgewater, Victoria Hislop, Diana Henry, Matt Haig and Emily St. John Mandel. Soon there will be Kate Atkinson. Writers, scientists, calligraphers, cyclists, cooks, you name it, they’ve had an event – all are well-attended and lively. There are also story times and book clubs and Forum Books works with local schools to bring authors in to talk to children.

How does Helen get so many great book people to visit? ‘I ask nicely,’ she says, ‘and I know they are often on a long tour and away from home so I try and make their visit to us as fun and friendly as I can.’


It’s not just big-name authors who are supported, I have had all my book launches with Forum Books and have seen how much time and effort is given to encouraging and providing opportunities for other local writers.

Have I forgotten anything? Ah, silent book discos for a wide range of age groups – most recently for YA readers at Gateshead Libraries – and selling books at big events like Radio 3 Free Thinking Festival at Sage Gateshead and the popular Newcastle Noir event at the city’s Lit & Phil. There’s a taste of what the shop does on their Facebook page

On twitter they are @ForumBooks and on Instagram @ForumbooksCorbridge



In February of this year, the bookshop moved from the Market Place in Corbridge, to the old chapel. As it’s a listed building, the transformation had to be sympathetically done to retain many of the original features. The photos on this page, courtesy of Ian Wylie, show the bright and beautiful result.

One last thing  – business rate dispensation has been given to pubs in recognition of their community value, with qualifying pubs able to get £1,000 discount on their annual rates. Booksellers bring community and cultural benefits to the areas they are based in too and there is now a petition asking for independent bookshops to receive the same exemption as pubs. You can sign it here and listen to Helen being interviewed about it on Radio 4’s Today programme, here.

Forum Books
The Chapel
Market Place
NE45 5AW
01434 632931