Monday, 31 December 2012

New Year, New Enthusiasm

2013 is almost upon us and I've decided it's time for some new creative projects. Brian and I said a while ago that we would form a cocktail duo and do some gigs in hotels, but never did much about it. Over the last few days, we've discussed some ideas for kick-starting our duo and we've got a song-list together (lasting several hours! We don't do things by halves). The next step is to get some recordings made, so we can send out CDs to the local hotels near Doncaster.

I've also got an album of my own songs in the pipeline, which will probably take another six months to record, but all the songs are written.

Speaking of my own songs, just before Christmas the results of the 2012 UK Songwriting Contest were announced, and two of my songs made it into the semi-finals in the singer/songwriter category. The songs were 'Beautiful' and 'You've Done It Now' from my album 'By Hook Or By Crook'.

On the craft front, I've decided to specialise in dreamcatchers, and am going to work towards opening a new online shop to sell them, called Blue Chalice. The dreamcatchers will be a little bit different from the norm, featuring contemporary colours and designs, and animal lovers will be able to buy them with a clear conscience since they will be free from feathers, suede, and other animal products.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Our first standing ovation

On Sunday we did a gig to raise funds for Amnesty International. It was held in our local area of Doncaster, at the Doncaster Unitarian and Free Christian Church.

Since the title of the gig was "The Sacred and The Sensual", we threw in a few songs with a gospel feel or spiritually themed lyrics, like "Hallelujah" from Shrek, "Wade In the Water", and "My Sweet Lord" by George Harrison. It was mostly covers, with a couple of our own original songs thrown in.

The audience seemed to love us and it was the only gig either of us have ever done where we got a standing ovation! After us, "Doncaster's premier diva" Jo Copley and her talented keyboard-playing husband Basil Copley entertained the crowd with some contemporary numbers and a bit of jazz.

It was a lovely appreciative audience and I'm sure we'll all be doing more gigs there in the future.

Friday, 17 August 2012

On the road again...sort of

For the first time in ages, I'll be singing live this Sunday, along with Brian on piano.

It's the Doncaster Unitarian Church's 100-year anniversary service this Sunday, and we'll be performing a couple of original songs there. It's a great milestone for the church and we're looking forward to celebrating along with the rest of the congregation.

The service will take place at Doncaster Unitarian and Free Christian Church on Hallgate in Doncaster, this Sunday 19th August at 3pm.

Monday, 11 June 2012

A whimsical song

This is one of my more unusual songs called "Beautiful". The album version makes more sense and it's a hard song to perform live, but we managed.

Friday, 8 June 2012

38 varieties

After finding out that 97% of visitors to the Hollie Sheard music website are from overseas, I thought I'd better install a translation widget. Now available in 38 languages:

Thursday, 7 June 2012

A nice little ballad

The second video from the album launch has landed on the YouTube-isphere.

It's called "Moving On" and I performed this one all on my tod. I was a bit nervous as you can see in the middle where I make a teensy mistake. This one is a slow piano ballad about smoochy stuff, and it was a Commended Entry in the UK Songwriting Contest.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Erasing history

After realising that last song "No Wonder" DID actually feature on an album (my first one, "Truth or Dare"), I went back and had a listen to it. You know what, it was nice to do that. Sometimes we're so focussed on our plans for the future that we forget what we've already achieved.

It was a real hodgepodge of an album with some songs recorded in my bedroom studio, some at college, and some at a much larger studio. The earliest song was written around the year 2000 after breaking up with my first boyfriend, and I didn't write any more for a couple of years because somebody asked me and I quote, "What was that teenage crap you were playing earlier?" (Too Late). "Running" was a jazz ballad written for an assignment in 2003 at Leeds College of Music, before I defected to the pop course at Barnsley. One was written right after my first successful job interview after university in 2006, hence the joyful exuberance (People On This Planet). There's a few made-up stories, a song about parental arguments (When You Fight), one about crush on a teacher - no, not Brian (As Long As It Takes), a couple of later, darker ones about paranoia (Work With Me) and hallucinations (Fleeting), one about wanting to quit a job (Nothing Is Forever), and finally the song I forgot about (No Wonder) which is a tribute to Stevie Wonder.

In 2010, a couple of years after the first album was released, I replaced it with a "special edition" which had different versions and different mixes of the songs, and cut three songs off the album altogether. I wish I hadn't done that now. It's a part of my musical history, a piece of the puzzle. So, I think I will get rid of the special edition and revert back to selling the lovely original vinyl-covered CDs on my website. They look cooler anyway.

Monday, 4 June 2012

A song about Stevie Wonder

The first of the "new" videos to make it onto YouTube is No Wonder, a song about Stevie Wonder!
I didn't think I'd made a recording of this song before, but it turns out it's on the first album. I must be getting old.

This video was recorded in July 2010 at the album launch gig in Leeds.

Saturday, 2 June 2012


I've got the lurgy.

I never realised my nose could hold so much...


No rest for the wicked though; I'm working at the theatre non-stop for a bit. We don't get to call in sick unless we're dying. I'll lay off the craft activities for a bit, though. No-one wants to order the lurgy along with their handcrafted gifts.

In other news, I've received a DVD of my album launch which took place in July 2010! It was a long time coming, but I'm very glad to have a copy now. When I've got time the vids will make their way to YouTube (and a copy will be coming to you asap GD).

That's all for now!

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Hettie's Diamond Jubilee

Oops, I thought Diamond meant 50 years.

Busy, busy, busy. After an extremely long shift at the theatre on Friday, I was up bright and early Saturday morning to prepare for Hettie's "Diamond Jubilee" - that is, her birthday party for a rather momentous age [I found out later that Diamond Jubilee means 60 years - oops. I'm blaming Brian for this one, as he told me it meant 50 years].

I had previously had a great find at The Works: these lovely pink and green paper chains:

So the paper chains were everywhere, along with colourful bunting, happy birthday banners, and balloons. We had a snack table inside, a barbecue outside, some good tunes on the "boombox" and a bit of sunshine too.

Hettie says loved her narrowboat-shaped cake and her main present, which was a gift experience certificate for a day out learning how to handle a narrowboat.

I also got to meet my long-lost cousin Brandon for the first time - a nice polite young chap who reminds me of me ten years ago.

Today, church, where Brian made a new friend, and I got grafted in to help with some activities. Now for football and relaxation before craft- and music-related work again tomorrow.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

What a load of rubbish!

Been reading a little book I got on sale at Waterstones called "The book of rubbish ideas". Now, I normally go in for good ideas, but these are in fact very good ideas relating to rubbish.

The book has really opened my eyes about how much stuff we throw out and where it ends up. I've resolved to be a better recycler from now on, but what I'm really into is the idea of re-using things for crafty purposes.

So I've started keeping things I might have thrown away before, like cereal packets, foil from chocolate, empty tins of Smash and pringles, and netting from fruit. I've already managed to use some of my "funky junk" on some notecards and one of the Smash tins to package up an online purchase of an oil burner and scented melts. It was just the right size and I honestly don't think I could have a bought any packaging that would have worked as well.

I've also got another "funky junk" project on the go, which is a papier maché lighthouse made from:
  • a Smash lid for the base,
  • a taped cylinder made from rolled up cereal packet cardboard,
  • a plastic deoderant cap with a little "window" cut out of it,
  • and a removable battery powered tea-light for the lighthouse "lamp".
The project is still newspapery right now but one of these days I'll get round to painting it.

Let me know if you have any good tips for how to turn rubbish into a "funky junk" project!


Tuesday, 8 May 2012

A favourite poem

It's as old as the hills, but it might be new to you. I first saw this on the wall of a teacher's office and only glimpsed the first "Go placidly amid the noise and haste". Since we had this great new thing in our house at the time called the "Internet", I looked up those first few words on whatever search engine we all used before Google came along (who remembers?), and it's been a firm favourite of mine ever since.

Max Ehrmann


Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.

Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs;
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.

You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy.

Max Ehrmann, Desiderata, 1927
(Ruled to be in the public domain).

My favourite line is "no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should" as this feels like a very calming notion.


Friday, 4 May 2012

Diamond Jubilee Printables

For the royal wedding of "Will & Kate", I hosted a Tacky Royal Party for my nearest and dearest. My monarch-hating husband was completely in the dark about this until he came home to find the garden bedecked with union jacks, cardboard corgis, and the rest of us wearing crowns and greeting him with a royal wave.

I was particularly happy with the way these mugs turned out. No, I didn't buy special mugs. I simply printed some free mug wraps from Design Editor (many thanks!) and sellotaped them around my existing mugs, which are cheapies from Asda.

To recreate this effect I've made some similar mug wraps to help everyone out there celebrate the Queen's Jubilee. They're printable and free:

Here in the UK we're getting a 4-day weekend to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee, so you have from Sat 2nd June to Tues 5th June to host your very own Tacky Royal Party!

Hollie x

How to use less bandwidth

I'm not a very technical sort. I find my way around computers ok. But it was a big challenge when I first learnt how to build a website, and I'm still learning as I go along.

My Homespun Gifts website uses a free hosting plan which only allows for 100MB bandwidth per month. That means if a lot of people visit my site and look at my pictures all within the same month, the website crashes and stays crashed until the end of the month. I didn't think it'd be a problem until the site got more popular, but it happened within the first month. When I looked at my pictures I realised why - it would only take 3 people looking at the full-size version of each image to bring the site down.

I thought I would have to move the whole shop onto Folksy, sacrificing a few items along the way since Folksy doesn't allow anything that isn't handmade, like my oil burners or relaxing music. Luckily Richard came to the rescue!

He told me how to put all of my images onto Facebook and then make them appear on my site without using up my bandwidth. I'm basically stealing Facebook's bandwidth, but if they didn't allow that then they wouldn't give access to direct links, right?

This is how to do it:

  • Make an album full of your images on Facebook. Tick the box that say "high quality" while uploading and set the privacy to "Public". The images can be on your personal profile or your business Page.
  • If you don't already have it, download the Google Chrome or the Firefox browser. This doesn't work in Internet Explorer.
  • Using the Chrome browser, look at the image, right-click on it, and choose "Copy Image URL". Or using the Firefox browser, look at the image, right-click on it, choose "View image" and copy the URL from the address bar at the top.
  • In your website code, find the bit that says <img src="yourimagenamehere.jpg"> (or similar) and paste the URL from Facebook inside the quote marks.
  • Be careful not to accidentally delete the quote marks or any of the other bits of code.
If you hadn't originally specified what size the images should be, you might find that the size changes. You can specify the size by adding this to the code: height="200" (put your own number in) or width="200". You only need one, since the other one will be automatically worked out. It should look something like this:
<img src="reallylongURLfromfacebook.jpg" height="200">

Thanks to Richard for the tip!

Hollie x

Monday, 2 April 2012

The first ever craft fair

I did my first ever craft fair on 24th March! Woohoo!

It was a nice homely affair in a church hall in Barnsley. I spent *ages* the day before working out how everything was going to be set out, but it was worth the time because I managed to get the stall set up in half an hour on the day, and now I can use variations on that layout every time.

It was one of those events where you can buy cups of tea and little buns from an old lady, so I wasn't going to turn down that opportunity - those grannies really know how to bake. Sadly the little buns weren't vegetarian, and the tea wasn't tea. Seriously, it was like, grey water. I opted for coffee after that since you can't really get instant coffee wrong - one cup tastes as foul as the next.

The reason I'm smiling in the picture was because I hadn't tasted the tea yet... next time I'll bring a flask!

Hollie x

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

New telephone and email

Hello folks,

I decided to get myself a shiny new SIM card to put in my shiny old mobile for a new business telephone line. I remember the days when SIM cards were about 6 quid. Now you just email Orange, or any other network, and they'll send you one for free. How times change.
So here's the new number, along with my brand spanking new email addy and, because of the aforesaid new details, a new business card. Good old Vistaprint, you do make life easier for the sole trader.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

The way it's going to be

Went to get my prescriptions filled yesterday. YOUCH. And this is the way it's going to be from now on. I just wish they'd prescribe me more than a month at a time. £7.40 for one month of one type of tablet. Grrr.

In other news,  I'm reading this little tome called "Going Self-Employed" at the moment. I'll let you know what I think when I'm finished.

Having made dreamcatchers, oracle stones, worry dolls, relaxation music, and working as I am now on pentacle decorations, I'm thinking that "Homespun Gifts v2" will have a definite new-age slant. Thinking about working on something related to chakras next.


Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Booked the first craft fair!

Yep, I've taken a deep breath and sent off my application form and cheque to book my first craft fair. I don't know why I'm feeling nervous about it - I had my own shop until recently! - but a craft fair is a different thing, of course.

The fair is on the 24th March in Barnsley (further details here). I'm also thinking about doing a one-off market stall in Sheffield towards the end of April.

I've already got a semi-decent amount of stock so I just need to get a few more things made and have a think about stall presentation. The table will only be 4' long rather than the usual 6' so I think it will be something of a challenge to present everything nicely in that amount of space.

I also want to have the website up and running by the time of the fair, so I can hand out business cards with the website URL on.

Got some work to do!

Hollie x

Monday, 6 February 2012

Dipping a toe into the whole "craft fairs" thing...

Eek - made my first few enquiries about doing craft fairs. I was surprised at the variety of stall prices - I always thought it was about £30 for most craft fairs and I was more or less right - but some were as little as £5 and some were as much as £65. I suppose it depends on the size of the venue and the amount of promotion being done for the event.
I sent some photos along with my emails so let's hope they like what they see and I hear back from them.

Hollie x

Saturday, 4 February 2012


It's a bit chilly around here and I've noticed that I'm never at my most productive when it's cold. All I want to do is snuggle up in a nice warm blanket with a cup of tea and my cats by my side, and watch some inane American crap on the telly.

The snow has been coming down thick and fast, and I'm reminded of a time a couple of years ago when we got snowed in - the whole nine yards. We had to dig the car out from all the snow around it, then couldn't drive up the hill anyway. We ended up with no milk or bread because all the local shops had run out. That time I opened my back door and was greeted with this sight:

For England this is really, really bad, but of course I have to remember that some places have it much worse. Anyhoo, I'm hoping for a little less snow this time. I'm also thinking about my summer house, which has a leak that I was supposed to fix and have only just got around to ordering the bitumen for. Most of my stock is currently in the summer house and I'm going to turn it into a workshop for the warmer months, so let's hope that roof holds out.

Hollie x

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

An ending and a new beginning

Three months ago I set out hopefully on a new venture selling handmade gifts in a little shop in my local garden centre. I sold my own crafts and I also had some stock on sale-or-return from another local crafter. The shop did reasonably well in the run-up to Christmas, but I started suffering from pain in my stomach which became quite severe. In the last few days before Christmas, my loyal husband actually went and worked in the shop for me while I writhed at home.

My doctors simply thought I had IBS and it had to get really serious before they finally admitted me to hospital to find out what was wrong. Appendicitis was suspected so they did a CT scan, which didn't show appendicitis but DID show a lot of inflammation in my intestines. They explained to me that this was due to Crohn's Disease, which isn't life-threatening but means that life will be different for me from now on.

Due to the illness and then the extended stay in hospital, I couldn't keep paying the shop overheads without earning anything. Neither could I see a future for the shop when this problem could flare up again at any time and might leave me unable to walk for weeks or months at a time. So, I lost my little shop which I had, I confess, grown rather fond of.

Not to be deterred, I'm planning to re-open "Homespun Gifts" as an online shop and do occasional craft fairs. Now that I'm out of hospital and recovering well, I'm hard at work making new stock and building the new website.

That's the story so far.