A Flying Visit to Grimm & Co – one of the World’s Most Magical Shops


If you’ve always wanted to shop in Diagon Alley but haven’t been able to find a portal to the wizarding world then you’ll be happy to hear that there is a real-life Apothecary to the Magical – Grimm & Co – that all mortals are welcome to visit.

Hidden away in deepest, darkest Rotherdam, UK it occupies the site of an old pub near to the centre of town and is full of many wonders and secrets – most of which can be bought for a price, although not all.  Despite making the quest to this enchanted destination twice, there are still areas that as adults, we may never be permitted to view, but that just adds to the charm. 

The ground floor is devoted to all manner of strange and wonderful potions, The Library of Forgotten Books and Graham Grimm’s Museum of Magical Artefacts.  Upstairs…well that’s the zone we’ve never had the fortune to enter. Only young writers aged 7-18 (as well as a few highly qualified sages) are allowed into this bewitching space so Little M hopes that she will be lucky enough to able to slide down the giant beanstalk in a few years time. 

You see, aside from being a store full of enchantments, Grimm & Co is also a registered charity which has been set up under the umbrella of the Ministry of Stories especially to encourage under-resourced children and young adults to develop their writing and creativity.  Every penny you spend there goes towards providing workshops and mentorship for kids so it’s not only a fun, free place to hang out, it’s inspirational too.  During the holidays they run sessions that young people can sign up for – both in the hidden Writer’s Pad and downstairs in the shop.   If you fancy going to one of these then your best bet is to check their Facebook site.

On a quieter day there’s still plenty to enjoy though.  We spent an hour browsing the exhibits, although older children will probably have a shorter attention span.  You can write a letter to your favourite fairytale character and receive a reply for £2.50, look for the tiny fairy doors and choose a free book from The Library of Forgotten Books.  If your child is able to read there are lots of witty signs and notices to find.  Graham Grimm doesn’t seem to have lost his humour despite having lived for millennia (the shop was founded by him in 1148 but only became visible to mortals very recently).

Then there’s the actual shop itself which sells an amazing range of magically-themed products ranging from t-shirts to umbrellas to smaller items such as badges, soaps and candles – all inventively named (Grandma’s Scabs and Concentrated Concentrate for instance).  Last year we bought our brilliant broomstick from here and now have a growing collection of curses, hexes, potions, cures, spells and elixirs in our downstairs toilet.  These can also be bought online and delivered by owl if you can’t make it to Yorkshire. This is the easiest way to support the charity and there are also other ways to help them out too.   You can become a Friend of Grimm or if you have wads of cash to spare, you can buy your own bespoke title of your choosing. Volunteers are actively welcomed and if I lived closer then I’d jump at the chance!

Regarding practicalities there is a loo – vital for little ones, but there aren’t any refreshments on sale, apart from sherbert (sorry fairy dust) and chewable licorice sticks. However if you need any advice about the shop or town you can ask the elves who are absolutely lovely. On their recommendation, we ate in Fitzwilliam and Hughes which is just around the corner opposite Rotherham Minster.  The food was tasty and very reasonable so a thumbs up from us.  You can find parking options here.

There are various other places to visit with kids.  We haven’t personally checked any of these out but Clifton Park gets a good rating on Tripadvisor as does the Awesome Walls climbing centre in Sheffield.

The shop is open:

  • Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday – 9am to 4pm
  • Thursday – 9am to 1pm
  • CLOSED – Sunday and Monday

To find out more information about Grimm & Co you can follow them on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

How I Prepared Before Giving Up My Day Job

IMG_20180219_093136_717When I handed in my notice almost a year ago, a lot of people congratulated me and said they wished they could leave work too. I’d been employed in office jobs for over two decades and although I enjoyed many aspects of company life, there came a point when I wanted to see how I would fare on my own. Our family life had changed again as my little girl had started school and I wanted to see if I could earn a living from doing the things I enjoyed the most – digital marketing, social media, writing, photography and books.  With over twenty-five years left until retirement, it seemed a good idea to see if I could take time out to find a career that was more satisfying.

I’d already had a taste of freedom during my maternity leave but knew that working for myself would be completely different. For a start, there would be no statutory pay (I don’t claim benefits), regular coffee mornings or time to relax.  Our basic costs had to be covered plus we’d want occasional treats too. As for many people, the idea of going independent was just a distant dream, but I couldn’t shake the idea so we started to think about it seriously.

The journey from thought to action took around three years – with many wobbles during this time. Did I really want to give up a solid wage, pension and all the perks that came with my admin job? I liked my colleagues and my employer, but at the end of the day, multiple circumstances encouraged me to take that final step. Here are the things I did to prepare for making the leap:

1) Asking friends and family about their experience of quitting work

Before I committed myself to serious planning, I found out as much as I could about the reality of quitting traditional work and chatted with a wide variety of contacts.  I was lucky that Al, my husband, had taken time out to run his own website business while I remained in the stable job ten years earlier so we already had some knowledge of what to expect.  Saying that, our setup had changed hugely since that first break.  Back then we didn’t have a mortgage or a child and we lived in a city so there were significant differences.  There aren’t a wide variety of jobs in our local town so I was aware I couldn’t necessarily jump straight into a like-for-like role if things didn’t pan out.  Because of this I examined my position very carefully over a number of years and actively sought out ways to improve my situation – knowing that if I gave it up, my decision would be a thorough one.

While still in this role, I made a particular point of speaking to those who had recently transferred from regular jobs – especially women with kids because their situation was similar to my own.  The biggest lesson I learned was that it would take time to get established.  For some it had taken at least two years to build to a decent wage and for others, it still hadn’t happened. Rather than take this as a negative though, I saw it as a motivator.  Knowing that I most likely wouldn’t achieve immediate success removed the pressure to perform and encouraged me to reduce my expectations so that they fit the real world. If I hadn’t found this out beforehand then I think I’d be feeling a lot more demoralised now especially when there’s so much hype about making lots of money from self-employment on social media.

I read tons of blog posts promising fast wins and five-figure sums while I was researching giving up my day job but now I realise that most were often designed to sell courses or e-books. I’m sure some of these offer real value (I’m happy to give it a go if someone wants to give me a free place!) but with a staggering choice out there, I felt it best to quiz people I knew instead.  During my conversations, I discovered that several people had returned to the traditional workplace after going it alone because they needed the company of others. This is undoubtedly a factor if you’re planning to work from home.  You need to be someone who’s happy with solitude as you may have to operate independently for long periods of time.  But money is obviously the  biggest factor and the greatest obstacle for most. Here’s what we did to tackle this aspect:

2) Living on one wage while working

Unless you have savings or a partner who earns a salary that can support your household, money can be the biggest block to giving up traditional work.

When we began to commit to the prospect of me giving up work, the first thing we did was to review our finances.  I tried various methods but by far the most successful was You Need A Budget or YNAB.  This app allows you to track and catalogue all your expenditure against fixed budgets.  It involves a bit of effort as you have to log every single transaction, but the rewards are worth it. After a few months, we were able to pinpoint exactly where we were spending cash and make savings.  The YNAB software costs $83.99 a year but it’s highly likely that you’ll save much more than this if you use it properly.

Another resource that we consulted is Moneysavingexpert (UK only) which lists all the best tips for saving money via comparison tables, best buys, financial news etc. Again, it takes time and effort to achieve results but if you want to reduce your expenses then this website offers great advice.

Once you’ve scythed your outgoings, you can really start to review how much you need to live on and unless you’ve already been keeping tabs on your finances for a while, I recommend giving it at least a year to chart your expenditure fully.  When you have a realistic picture, practice living on as close to one wage as possible. It depends on your personal circumstances, but I’d also recommend trying to save up at least three to six months of salary if you can. That way if things don’t work out, you can fund any shortfalls until you find paid employment.

A note here – paid sabbaticals are rare these days, but if your employer offers them then this is a great way to explore other options while having the security of a job at the end of the break.

3) Researching ways to earn money as a homeworker

If you have a clear business idea then start planning for this while you’re still employed.  It’s hard to find the time, especially if you have kids, but do all the research you can beforehand and think about your marketing well in advance. It takes time to build a consistent social media presence so the sooner you start the better. Likewise, if you want to re-train, can you do this while working? It can take longer than expected to earn money so try and fit in as much as possible around your nine to five.

I had a rough idea of what I wanted to do, but my aims weren’t totally clear so my back-stop was to look for an online job.  Al had done this in the past so I knew that it was possible.  I currently work for Appen and am very happy with the way they operate. The projects are short-term, based totally online and there’s no guarantee of continuation but in the seven months I’ve been employed by them I’ve been offered several interesting opportunities.  I love the flexibility of the roles and homeworking is a handy way to supplement your income.  Lionbridge offers similar positions. One word of caution though – it can take a while to qualify for these types of jobs and you’ll have to pass tricky tests so don’t expect to secure work immediately.  Sometimes people wait for months until they get the green light.

Another way forward is through earning money via surveys, mystery shopping and focus groups, but these really do pay peanuts.  You can find more information about them on the Moneysavingexpert Boost Your Income forum board.

I’m only talking about the solutions I’ve tried in this section but the world is changing fast so homeworking possibilities are increasing all the time.  You can teach and offer administrative assistance remotely as well.  If you don’t want to work online then you could consider temping work or even part-time jobs to bridge the gap while you develop a new career.

4) Evaluating working time and space

If you’re going to earn money without the stability of a traditional job, you’ll need adequate time and space to do this.  Time management is one of the hardest elements to nail when you become self-employed so make sure you have enough hours to complete everything. I prided myself on my organisational skills when working in the office, but it’s been much harder than expected to balance the many changing demands of a portfolio career. For a start, things change frequently as new projects come and go, and I have a shorter day because I fit my main routine around the school day. Although I enjoy working late, being on the computer until 11pm at night isn’t beneficial in the long-term as tiredness makes me less productive. That’s just me though – everyone has their own limits – just be aware of your own and make sure you observe them. Here are some questions to consider before you hand in your resignation:

  • Do you have a dedicated workspace? If not, can you carve out a corner of your living area so that you can establish a quiet zone?
  • How many ‘free’ hours do you realistically have in a day/week? Think about childcare, household tasks, travel etc.  If you give up a regular salary, can you pay for childcare?
  • Do you want to keep your weekends/nights free?
  • Are you good at time management? Be honest and prepare strategies/buffers if not.
  • Are you disciplined? (see above)
  • Do you have someone to support you?
  • Do you have all the equipment you need?

Asking these questions before you give up the day job will help to clarify your goals more effectively.  Be as honest with yourself as possible to save yourself stress and disappointment down the line.  Self-care is as important as hard graft and if you don’t think you can juggle everything then maybe you need more time to put supportive measures in place.

5) Setting modest goals

Last but not least – set those goals!

Without accountability or vision, you may find it hard to stay motivated so write them down and keep them close.

I set five big ones this year and have hit four of them so far – exceeding on two.  One was income-based, one was marketing-related and the others were to do with family and personal health.  I made them measurable and manageable because I didn’t exactly know which route I’d end up taking and wanted to allow room for experimentation. Also, I wanted to stay positive at the start of what I hoped would be a long and exciting journey.

Giving up the security of a day job is pretty scary so although you need to tackle a new life with intention, don’t beat yourself up if things don’t go as you’ve planned.  My year has been full of bonuses and disappointments but I’ve learnt from all of them and next year, with a little experience behind me, I’ll establish more ambitious targets.

If you’ve reached the end of this post and still feel determined to quit your day job then good for you! Leaving the traditional workplace comes with risk, but if you plan well and take a decent amount of time to consider your future then you should be able to at least take a break from the rat race and hopefully forge a long-term career.  I’ve written about my progress so far on this blog and will be publishing regularly updates over the coming months so keep on checking in to see how my life as a multi-hyphen homeworker is coming along.










Getting Lost in Scarthin Books

Scarthin Books ExteriorScarthin Books has been part of my life since I was a kid and in true Derbyshire fashion, the shop hasn’t changed much over the years. It’s still brilliantly quirky with a mixture of new and secondhand books, an excellent vegetarian/vegan cafe and a tiny little garden.  The titles are scattered over three floors (not including various offshoots and oddities) and numerous alcoves so it’s a real experience to spend time here.

The shop overlooks a tranquil millpond and is situated in Cromford, a village close to the town of Matlock.   Because of the historic nature of the village (it played an important part in the development of the Industrial Revolution), there isn’t a dedicated car park, but you can find spaces on the surrounding roads and also at the nearby Cromford Mills.  Although tourists often choose to visit the adjoining resort of Matlock Bath, Cromford has charms to match, if not exceed its flashier neighbour.

scarthin books millpond Once you’re inside the bookshop you might as well forget everything else though. The small ground floor section has a bewildering display of new releases, travel books, classics and modern fiction (not to mention the narrow corridor at the back with secondhand children’s books and travel titles). If you need to find out information or pay then the cashier sits here too.  Recent publications are displayed just as you walk in so we always have a look at these before seeking out more breathing space upstairs  (with a peek at the Gift Room on the way).

The first floor is my personal favourite.  There’s an incredibly well-stocked children’s room with over 9000 books ranging from board books to young adult titles.  It’s small yet welcoming and Little M likes to sit on the tiny stools in here while we take it in turns to browse through the Art Room shelves next door.  Bright with two comfy armchairs and walls that are lined with photography, art and multimedia titles, it’s a generous space with plenty of bookish character.

And then of course there’s the cafe! Hidden behind a secret bookcase, this welcoming eatery sells delicious veggie and vegan food.  On our most recent visit, we tried Broccoli and Mustard soup, red velvet cake (yum!) and Little M had a pizza. It’s hard to find dishes for Al as he’s on the Low-FODMAP diet which means no gluten, no dairy plus a range restricted ingredients, but he was able to enjoy the menu here. As a bonus you’re surrounded by cookery books and biographies as you dine – a very successful sales technique. We bought Daphne: A Portrait of Daphne Du Maurier by Judith Cook and Virginia Woolf by Hermione Lee on this occasion.

Head to the back door, and you’ll discover the pocket-size garden that overlooks the rooftops of Cromford as well as the Foreign Languages & Shy Pianists’ Room (which we’ve just realised we’ve never found!)

Fuelled up for more foraging, it’s time to tackle the top floor which includes a score-plastered music room housing a guitar that you can play if you like and a truly magnificent collection of secondhand Folio Society titles (take my money!) as well as many other miscellaneous non-fiction subjects.  Oh and the toilet is up here too.  There used to be a bath in here, but I didn’t check this time…

Music Room - Scarthin Books

Writing this, I’m aware that I’ve only just scraped the surface of the Scarthin Book experience. It’s more like a world in itself – peopled by artists, booksellers, writers and enthusiasts.  For lucky local residents, the shop hosts a regular Book Club, Cafe Philosophique, author talks and a Young Fiction Review Panel. It even has it’s own publishing imprint.  This is a bookshop that serious bibliophiles dream of and it has to be on every book lover’s travel list.

With Kids:

This bookshop is child-friendly with menu options for kids.  Under 8s need to be supervised and space can be restricted inside the building if it’s busy. There are steps, stairs and no lift so avoid taking a buggy.

To make a family day of it, you could easily combine this with a visit to Cromford Mills, Gulliver’s Kingdom or The Heights of Abraham (check website for opening restrictions).

Scarthin Books Opening Times

Monday to Saturday















What Bookstagram Means to Me

Human Hand Meets Book Hand

I’ve been away from my blog for a few weeks because I’ve been working on a couple of projects for publishers.  Since my second Weekend Hashtag Project #WHP feature on Instagram, I’ve received more requests from companies asking us to get involved with campaigns which has been absolutely amazing but it’s also taken up my time as I’ve wanted to produce my best work for them.  Add to this a new homeworking contract as a transcriber, and my hours have quickly dissolved!

So this is just a quick check-in to share a post I wrote for frolic about what Bookstagram means to me . I’ve touched on this here before, but this piece really sums up our journey and the impact that Bookstagram has had on our lives.

There was a backlash against using books as props in the media recently. I won’t go into detail here but if you’d like to find out more then do read these excellent posts by The Book Satchel and The Lit Books – both pro-Bookstagram and rightly so. I’ve been part of many online communities over the years and Instagram, although by no means perfect, is the most positive and supportive that I’ve found.  In a world that’s becoming increasingly fractured, it’s great to be part of an articulate collective that constantly reflects on society and allows people to express themselves freely. For me, it’s opened new doors at a time when I felt frustrated with the narrow focus that traditional career routes offer.

And now I find myself considering ‘what next’? Now that I have a ‘portfolio’ career, I’m working out which strands to develop and how to blend these successfully.  There’s a lot to think about and I hope to be back soon with more news about our plans. Until then, may you be blessed with the all best books!