The first of February!  Imbolc in the Celtic calendar marks the beginning of spring, the light returning, life emerging.  A time for inspiration and new beginnings, allowing the life in us to push through all that hard cold earth!  If a snow drop can do it… so can we.


‘Many, many welcomes,
February fair-maid,
Ever as of old time,
Solitary firstling,
Coming in the cold time,
Prophet of the gay time,
Prophet of the May time,
Prophet of the roses,
Many, many welcomes,
February fair-maid!’

The Snowdrop, by Tennyson



This morning, Monday 1st February,  at 6.30am our household gathered in the trees at the top of South Park in Oxford.  It wasn’t fully dark because of the various lights from the roadsides and coming up from the city but it was grey and chilly and very beautiful with the trees patterning their branches against the dark sky.

Someone read a poem and we sang a chant:

Light emerging, Spring is near,  life emergent, we are here.

After this we went our separate ways to find a place to stand, to notice nature and the very slow lightening of the sky.  We had thirty minutes before rejoining one another.

I felt an exhilaration being up this early, no-one else in the park, only the distant movement of occasional cars on the roads.  The birds were welcoming a daylight that had not arrived, some with such sweet staccatos and others like the rooks, cackling and bawling out their hellos!

I found my way to the huge oak at the centre top of South Park which overlooks the city and I stood leaning against her, feeling her rough support,  feeling the solid, rooted homeliness of this being.  I asked her for any advice and the words that came to me were, ‘heal the roots’.

I thought of the roots of the tree, how deep and wide they run..  The roots are vital to the life of the tree but also to its connection with other trees.

Over the last few years the human race has been discovering that trees communicate with each other and share nutrients through their roots and through fungal networks. The fine, hairlike root tips of trees join together with microscopic fungal filaments to form the basic links of the network, which appears to operate as a symbiotic relationship between trees and fungi. This network has been called ‘The Wood Wide Web’!


Peter Wohlleben has written a beautiful book entitled “The Hidden Life of Trees” and he says that all the trees  ‘in every forest that is not too damaged, are connected to each other through underground fungal networks. Trees share water and nutrients through the networks, and also use them to communicate. They send distress signals about drought and disease, for example, or insect attacks, and other trees alter their behavior when they receive these messages.’  (


It seems to me that we the human race could do with healing our roots, healing the vital connections that are between us.  One of the ways we might  do this is to start digging up our certainties, the ones that crush the possibility of connection, of love, of hope –with ourselves, with others and with this good earth.  I am hoping to do some gentle digging over this year.


Yehuda Amichai (translation by Chana Bloch and Stephen Mitchell)


From the place where we are right

Flowers will never grow

In the spring.


The place where we are right

Is hard and trampled

Like a yard.


But doubts and loves

Dig up the world

Like a mole, a plow.


And a whisper will be heard in the place

Where the ruined

House once stood.



Living with a Copy Edit


My copy edit has arrived.


Give or take a few bits of blue, it looks like this for 450 pages.




Fortunately, a few things  prevented me from lying face down on the available carpet space of my home ‘office’ and refusing to move for the next three months.

Jeff Collyer, the very able and patient publisher of Impress Press said helpfully:

  • In the end, this is your book. I’m not requiring you to make all the changes.
  • Every copy editor will respond slightly differently to a text.
  • As an author it hurts every time!
  • I will put you in touch with the copy editor, Matthew Baylis by email so that you can be in direct communication with him.


Meeting the Copy Editor

Having some communication with Matthew was vital to me.  It felt awkward  asking for this especially as I didn’t quite know what to say but it was important that I sensed a human being there before he disembowelled my text.  After all, this is a book which I spent years writing and here I was, trusting a stranger to read it.

There were two other things that also really helped.  Firstly, several people had already read the draft and loved it and secondly Matthew took the time to send me a cover email with the copy edit, in which he wrote some very precious praise and finished, ‘Please take it as read, I rated this book highly. But obviously I had plenty to say about the bits I felt were not working so well.’

I treasure those words especially when I am working on the text and can’t seem to get it right.


Copy Edit Early on:

I find myself caught on paragraphs like a fish on a hook and it’s hard to wriggle free.  The editor suggests an alternative turn of phrase to clarify a sentence – it is definitely not a phrase I would use but he is right that clarity is needed.  I sit rifling through my memory for words or phrases.

Then my mood dips because it’s now lunch and I haven’t even got half way through one chapter.



The major issue that Matthew raised was ‘tenses.’ Apparently, I change tenses not only mid-paragraph but also mid-sentence.  I need to clarify when I’m in ‘the present,’ what that ‘present’ is (before or after Stephen has died) and when I’m in the past.


What you don’t expect

When I started out on this book, I thought I’d just record and write about Stephen’s past life.  Not too difficult.

Yet while I assiduously recorded his past, it rarely occurred to me to record what was happening to him in the present time, between 2012 and 2018.   I did make notes of phone calls almost as a side issue because he didn’t like me talking.

I didn’t expect to be writing about him for 8 years.

I didn’t know that I would fall into the book, into the narrative.

Maybe none of us know what will happen when we start to write a book.


Working out the real problem

The real problem is not the tenses. It takes me a while to unravel. I worry that as Annie Dillard says (The Writing Life) I’ve come across a hair line fracture but I don’t think so because that generally happens when I’m in the middle of a first draft and I can’t find the way forward.

I worry that if I tidy the text up too much,  the energy will dive.

I worry that if I don’t, I will confuse people.

I need to do something.  But what is it?

I worry.

Then my worry expands, stretches to: corona virus, world inequality, the environment, our beautiful world being destroyed.

I stop, become aware of sitting, noticing my feet on the floor.  Then I look out of my upstairs window at the bare branches of the huge beech trees opposite, their delicate sprays of twigs outlined against wispy, white clouds and a gentle blue sky.  I feel a surge of aliveness firing up from my belly, up through my chest, lifting me.



The real problem is in having confidence in my voice.  I take the editor’s views as huge criticisms and sit pondering them for hours.  It takes a while to realise that I wrote in this style for a particular reason, not because I’m an idiot.  The editor is here as a ‘critical friend,’ pointing out inaccuracies and asking awkward but interesting questions.

When I recover from the ‘must get it right’ stranglehold that part of my psyche is holding me  in, energy comes back and a sense of adventure.

I can live with this copy edit.









Writing is Impossible!

Writing a play is impossible.

I thought this.

It was too long, too complex

To hold the structure.

Yet one day I began.

I wrote short sketches

5 minutes long

10 minutes long.

Others performed them.

First, they grew like daisies

Then they grew like roses.

The smell was glorious,


I began to write more.

They became knotted wood

And branches,

Saplings swaying to the music.


Writing a book is impossible.

It is too long, too intricate

To hold the structure.

How do they do it?

And then one day I began.



On Friday 9th October, the day before World Mental Health Day, I completed my penultimate draft for the book, ‘Stephen from the Inside Out’!   Here is an extract from the back cover ‘blurb’:

‘From the outside…  Stephen struggled for most of his life with severe mental health issues, endured 25 years inside British psychiatric wards and never felt acceptable in the ‘normal’ world.   From the inside… here was a man with powerful convictions, deep longings, wide interests and an incapacity to be anything other than himself, whatever the cost. This is his story, inside and out; a story of grave injustices, saints and bigots, a faithful dog, a wild woman, a fairy godmother and angels hidden in plain sight. It is also the story of the author, Susie, who started off by wanting to ‘help’ Stephen ‘get better,’ but then found out it was somewhat more complicated than she’d anticipated.

In 2012, this book was a seed in my mind.  Stephen agreed to me writing the book but how to begin? We met up regularly and I recorded our conversations.

In 2014  Kate Clanchy, author and poet, agreed to mentor me. Every now and they she would issue vital advice.

At the beginning: Weave in the history of mental health in this country but only sparsely – keep the story moving forward.

Which I did.

Then: Go on an Arvon Course to complete your first chapter.

Which I did.

Near the end of my first draft: Send it out and get used to rejections. 

Not so easy. But I began.

You might like to apply to a competition run by a publisher.

I applied to the Impress Prize for New Writers.

And got to the last 10. But I’m not going to win.

And then I won.

Won £500 plus the promise to publish.

Now 10 months later, in October 2020, after 14 drafts,  I’ve handed in my draft to a copy editor, to be ritually disembowelled. I’ve spoken to him and trust him to use a clean sharp knife.

I’ll see you on the other side.




I’ve won the Impress Prize for New Writers 2019!

The prize relates to a book that I’ve been writing about a man who lived with a diagnosis of schizophrenia and later autism. I knew him for 18 years and decided to write about his life in 2012. I call it biography and it is but it’s also a conversation between his life and mine. I’ve mentioned him in blogs, last January and September.  Below is an extract from the first chapter which formed part of my submission for the Impress Prize.

Please note that after I wrote a chapter, I’d read it back to him and sometimes incorporate his comments which are in italics. His name in the book is Stephen, because he wanted to remain anonymous and he like the name Stephen 😊



Recently Stephen watched the film ‘One flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ again on TV. He tells me: ‘It was good but it disturbed me.  Much worse things happened to me, Susie, much worse.’

I’m interested. I’m perched on a wooden chair facing Stephen folded into his ancient armchair, in an equally ancient jumper, his cigarette alight, ash about to fall, taking notes while a February sky squints at me through the smoke-stained bay window of his front room.  I remember ‘One flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest,’ set in Oregon Mental Hospital.  It won 5 Oscars. Jack Nicholson with his arched eyebrows, wicked smile and black, wild hair played the charismatic rogue attempting to avoid prison by posing as a mental patient.

prize winning writing
Jack Nicholson from ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest’

I look at Stephen with his black, untidy hair, serious eyebrows and intense dark eyes and an image rises in my mind of Jack Nicholson’s face contorted in pain as he’s given an electric shock. It had never occurred to me before that this might have been visited on Stephen.  I’m curious: ‘Did you ever have that electro whatsit?’

Stephen drops his voice: ‘I did.’

‘What’s it called?’ I don’t catch what he says. ‘Sorry?’ Still no good.  ‘What?’

‘ECT – Electro Convulsive therapy – it doesn’t’ matter. You’re obviously hard of hearing.’

I am not hard of hearing.  He hasn’t got his teeth in.  I grind mine: ‘No, I’m listening’.

‘You are hard of hearing, Susie, you are hard of hearing.’

‘Ok I’m hard of hearing but if you could speak up that would help me.  Did it help you, the ECT?’

‘Most people are hard of hearing.’

‘Are they?’

His disappointment with the human race and my irony hang in the smoky air between us.

[When I read this part back to him, he still agreed emphatically that I’m very hard of hearing]. 

I get back on subject: ‘Was it helpful, the ECT?’

‘It didn’t help me.’

‘Was it painful?’

‘Very painful.’

‘I’m sorry. And did you agree to it or was it forced on you?’

‘Forced on me.’

‘Could you give me some dates when you had it?’

’76. I don’t want to talk about it anymore.’

It’s only later I notice that ‘One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest came out in 1975, the year before Stephen had ECT.

And later still that I notice painfully, my curiosity trumping compassion.


That was the extract from the book and part of my prize winning entry.  Stephen died in August 2018 and never got to share this good moment.  I miss him.  May he rest in peace.


Election Day Fairy Tale – The happy princess

The Happy Princess : A Fairy Tale with a Twist – By Susie Stead


Once upon a time a long time ago, there lived a king and queen of a great kingdom.  They had one daughter.  Like any parent, they wanted their child to be happy and to protect her from suffering but unlike most parents this couple had the power and the money to achieve their aim.

Their castle, sitting on the crest of long low hill was huge and beautifully crafted. There were rooms for the winter with great fireplaces and walls hung with gorgeous tapestries.  The summer rooms were full of light with delicate curtains fluttering in the breeze. The grounds were vast with a fabulous array of gardens: formal and informal, some with mazes, others rippling with pools and delightful bridges.  There were spots of woodland and pleasant copses for picnics. Wildlife was carefully monitored and the princess enjoyed the pleasures of a wide array of pets from rabbits, puppies and ponies to more unusual pets that visiting royalty brought as gifts.

The King and Queen had a huge wall built around these grounds and their daughter grew up within this enclosure, surrounded by beauty.  Servants and visitors were carefully screened and required to be happy and positive in her presence at all times. Any sickness or death was hidden from her.  The word ‘death’ was hidden from her. When a pet became old or ill, it was put in a pretty carriage driven by a coachman in a silk top hat and two frisky ponies at the front. The princess would feed her pet its favourite treat and wave it off, secure in the knowledge that it was being taken to a very special home where all its friends were waiting for it. Another delightful pet would appear in its place.

The Princess was blissfully happy.

As she grew older, inevitably she grew more curious as to what was beyond the wall. That curiosity grew into a somewhat irritable obsession.  This was not acceptable to her parents so with strict instructions, she was taken out into the streets in the coach. The coachman tried to keep her within the area that her parents had required but the princess simply stepped out of the coach and ran off laughing. What she found down the lanes of that town stifled her laugh.  Skinny smelly children, women holding babies and begging from shop keepers, people wandering about in a strange assortment of old clothes talking nonsense, others with strange lumps and bumps on their bodies or missing limbs altogether.  There were people arguing or walking under heavy loads with bitter tiredness on their faces. When they saw her, they stared and then quickly moved off when they saw the coachman running up towards her. The suffering she saw there overwhelmed her and she let the coachman lead her back to the carriage and back to her home.

Once she had time to recover from the shock, the princess knew what she must do. She told her parents she wanted to make it all better, she wanted all those people to be happy. Her parents tried to tell her that these people were used to their way of life, they were mostly lazy or brutalised and would not appreciate her warm and caring heart.  However, to please her they gave her a generous allowance which she spent on the poor.  The poor were very grateful.

However, there came a day when an arthritic old man refused her gift of a thick warm coat. She’d never been refused before and became quite agitated. She wanted him to be warm and happy, why was he refusing this? As she argued, he stood watching her in silence. An elderly woman passing by muttered, ‘Don’t, it will do no good’ but the old man made a different choice. He decided to tell her the real problem; her parents.  It was they who were the main employers in the area. They paid low wages and charged high taxes.  They owned all the properties and when people could not pay the rent, they were made homeless.  Perhaps if she could speak to her parents, they might make changes that would make a real difference.  The princess felt a welling up of feelings that she didn’t recognise. She was angry and upset, hurt and very, very unhappy. She found the coachman and asked him to drive her home.

Once she had time to recover from the shock, the princess knew what she must do. She told her parents about the old man and his accusation. She told them that she didn’t like these terrible feelings that were in her and she wanted them to go away. Her parents promised her that what the old man had said were dreadful lies.  He was a wicked and ungrateful man – after all, she in her kindness had offered him a beautiful, warm thick coat and he’d turned it down.  Everyone else was grateful.  The princess was not to worry and they would make sure everything ended happily.  They had the old man brought before the court, tried and summarily executed for treason.

The Princess never left the castle grounds again.  She married, had one daughter and lived happily ever after.

Coming back to what matters

About 16 months ago, I and Tim left an entire way of life behind.  About 13 months ago a friend of mine, Stephen, left his entire life behind because he died. Within the space of 4 months, three friends of mine died. On the day I was told that Stephen had died, 13th August 2018, I had just spent the morning reflecting & brainstorming, ‘what is my deepest wish?’


In writing down the thoughts,  the most repeated phrase was ‘I do not want to be afraid’.  It finally formed into the following: My deepest wish is to play – to allow myself to make different patterns in the sand of my life and then allow the tide to wash them away.


As I finished writing , the phone rang and a voice said ‘Are you sitting down? Stephen has died.’



I will play in the sand of my life

because it is sand

And its


Through my fingers


Let us play together,

Let us build strange structures

Dig ditches

and fill with them water.

Let us create

Extraordinary shapes in

the sand and delicate

Patterns with shells and



Let us play together

Create together





Then watch the sea

In leisurely fashion


Our precious



And let them go

And let them go.


Over the coming year I played.  It was very serious play.  I discovered what it was like to be the executor of Stephen’s will, to become a mindfulness teacher,  to live in a home that was not public property (ie belonging to the church), to live without a car, and many other things.  I also discovered Extinction Rebellion.

What I kept finding was that I’d appreciate something valuable and then get carried away into planning, angsting, plotting or being utterly overwhelmed and then lose touch with the original experience.  Meditation would eventually bring me back.  That is one of the beauties of mindfulness.


So, with Climate Change and Extinction Rebellion.  I feel a deep love for this good earth:  my dog’s hairy face, the hundred different shades of green in the garden,  the crunch and taste of cox’s apples, the view from a hill I’ve just climbed…  Then I get caught up, rushing, worrying about whether to get arrested or not, becoming in turn furious, despairing and weepy over the burning of the rainforests, the destruction of the coral reefs and more.   That is not to be avoided but I also need to keep coming back to what matters, to let ‘the soft animal’ of my body love what it loves (see below: Wild Geese, by Mary Oliver).


In April, Tim set up an Extinction Rebellion Meditators Group,  a group of meditators who want their action to come out of their meditation, and in keeping with the ethos of Extinction Rebellion, want to respond deeply to this climate crisis, not react by pursuing a narrow ‘solution’ or finding enemies to hate.

It’s quite a challenge!  The group helps anchor me and keep me coming back to what matters:  connecting with the earth, myself, others, – discovering what contribution we can make, not only in relation to the climate crisis but in relation to what sort of people we want to be, what sort of society we want to live in.

Last year, two weeks before my friend Stephen died, I visited him in the nursing home he was in.  He was only 63 years old but by now he was an invalid.  He was in a wheel chair but he’d survived so much, it didn’t occur to me that he’d be dying anytime soon.  I had to travel 100 miles to visit him and was going to ‘fit in’ a visit to someone else as well but just in time, I recognised that push to ‘efficiency’ and chose deliberately not to do that and therefore not be rushed.

In the event, we sat on the porch outside his nursing home for nearly 3 hours, mostly in silence, as the sun slowly went down.  He’d had a lifetime of mental health issues and was struggling with his ‘voices’, I was struggling with the desire to ‘get on’ and with the irritation of having to light his cigarettes every 15/20 minutes by walking over to my car where there was fixed lighter.  Yet still, for large chunks of time we sat peaceably together.  When the nursing assistant came out to collect him, I said with feeling, ‘Thank you Stephen,’ meaning, thank you for the space to sit in silence together, to watch the sky change colour, to be present, to be here.  And Stephen said ‘Thank you for sitting with me’.

That was the last time I saw or spoke to him before he died.


What is your deepest wish? Or wishes.

What is it that matters most deeply to you?

Make time to remember


Wild Geese – by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting-
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.





Its not exactly ‘the ARK’ but it is trying to save us from catastrophe.  The Police have removed a boat which has the words “TELL THE TRUTH” on the side of it. Well, isn’t that interesting?

I’ve watched videos of TV interviews with Extinction Rebellion people and the interviewers are not challenging the statement that our planet is going down the pan.  The last couple of weeks have felt quite overwhelming as I’ve tried to absorb all the information and at least attempt to read the IPCC report (international panel on climate change) which tells us we have 12 years to make radical changes if we want to stop temperatures rising to catastrophic levels.  It has been very helpful to combine the activism with meditation.

I went up to London on Monday with the Oxford Meditators and then camped Tuesday and Wednesday evening.  These are some of my reflections on that experience as a part of Extinction Rebellion.  I am intending to go back next week.  Hope you can come and see for yourselves at some point.

Susie & Tim at Marble Arch, Monday 15th April

Monday @ Extinction Rebellion – a group of us, ‘Oxford Meditators’ went up for the day and it was more like a festival, friendly and easy.


Tuesday @ Extinction Rebellion –  In the afternoon I came back with a tent and 2 of us (myself and friend, Sarah) camped at Extinction Rebellion Marble Arch site.  That’s a rare opportunity!  I recommend the toilets at Hyde Park 😊

we were up by the pool








Waterloo bridge Tuesday afternoon







Sarah and I went to Waterloo bridge to hear children speak about wanting change.  We saw plants and flags, heard music and mixed with a range of people: older, younger, hippies, middle class types like ourselves (!), all sorts.

We then went to Oxford Circus which was more of a party around the pink boat – a very good natured party, where one of the people on the boat gave us an extended argument as to why it was so important that we did not drink alcohol or take drugs while involved here and if we wanted to do that then go somewhere else and if we see people drinking, tell them to go.  He explained that drinking and drugs destroys movements and people.

One man started shouting at the police and Sarah walked over to him and insisted that he stop.  He took a bit of time to respond but he did stop and over the next 2 days I saw him often and he stayed calm and reasonable.

police vans at Oxford Circus Tuesday evening

Something in the region of 8 to 10 police vans arrived and the police then began to converge on the boat. It was intimidating. Sarah and I watched young people being carried out of the circle around the pink boat by groups of 5 or 6 police officers as volunteer legal advisors walked beside them and the crowd cheered those being arrested.  It was as peaceful as something like that can be but I found a heavy pain in settle in my guts.


Wednesday @ Extinction Rebellion – DEMOCRATIC PROCESS- a group of about 30 or 40 people gathered at Marble Arch to discuss the proposed action on the underground.  The person who gathered us asked if someone else wanted to chair it, no-one did, after gathering some views, he then asked if there was anyone with a different viewpoint.  Everyone listened respectfully.  We all agreed we didn’t think this was a good idea and the news was sent back to the main headquarters.

I decided that I was willing to be arrested and I sat with the others at the Pink Boat but it’s not as easy as you think 😊.   If I’d stayed a bit longer on Wednesday evening then I may well have had the privilege.  While I was there I listened to a young german man tell us how big companies are systematically stripping local farmers of the land in many countries and then they starve.  It is our money that is being used for this and it is standard practice..  He said ‘have you watched a person starve to death? I have.’  I  wanted to cry.

At midnight, I stood at the barrier at Edgeware Road talking with a lecturer in Economics, a frightened scientist, a retired psychiatrist, and others.   Other people I’ve met are women who were at the Greenham common, shop workers, couples and single parents with their kids, people coming up from Devon and down from York, a young man who biked from Cambridge… There are people with mental health issues, physical health issues.  There are babies and 80-year olds.

food offered at marble arch

And every day volunteers create dhal curry in the evening, porridge in the morning for hundreds of others.  I spent a pleasant hour in the food tent on Wednesday evening cutting up onions, garlic and carrots with others.

There are Volunteers carefully emptying the  ‘green’ toilet with its plant pots on the top,  volunteers checking that those locked onto the boat have food and water,  volunteers acting as de-escalators and keeping the atmosphere as calm as possible,  volunteers who’ve done some training to be legal observers, volunteers who are willing to be arrested….. volunteers who stand at the barrier through the night, it goes on.

I am deeply moved.

It is also wonderfully liberating not to react angrily to other people’s anger – simply smiling back at a car driver giving you the finger.  A young man told us we were just a bunch of lefties looking for attention and told me to look up the facts.  I laughed and told him he needed to check his.  We parted on good terms.

the police have been very good and the protestors tend to sing ‘we love you’ to them.  Several of them made it clear that they agreed with us but they were just doing their jobs.  I feel sorry for the ones who were caught on film dancing at Oxford Circus.

Sarah went home on Wednesday and then I met a very able older woman who was planning to sleep out in just a sleeping bag, so she came and joined me in my tent.  She’d volunteered to be a legal advisor and got up for a 6am – 11am shift.  It was freezing in the tent although it helped when I put on my waterproof trousers as well!

While we were standing at the Extinction Rebellion Edgeware road barrier at midnight on Wednesday 3 young very bright, british/arab men came and chatted to us and asked us difficult questions – they were all the age of my boys – turned out one of them had done a thesis on climate change so I asked him to email it to me and he has.  His report is very clear that the temperature rises are human made but following a survey he did, he concludes that we won’t do anything until it hurts us.  We are willing to sacrifice the future generations for our present comfort.

I’ll repeat that.  This young man thinks that:

We are willing to sacrifice future generations for our present comfort.

I hope not  and thousands of people at Extinction Rebellion are not in agreement with that.  Come and see what is happening.  Come and join us.




Release of Award Winning Short Film ‘Emmi’


Andy and I are now happy to release the film for general viewing so see below. However it carries a  health warning – Emmi is a dark drama about 4 women in a block of flats over 1 night and is based on a newspaper article I read in 1993 which haunted me.  It is a film I would like to see used as a catalyst for discussion especially amongst 6th formers.



I’m very proud to add this award from ScreenTalk for best short Oxfordshire Film 2019.  As well as being nominated in over 20 festivals,  Emmi was also voted as the audience choice award at the London Rolling Film Festival in 2017 and as best Drama for the Oniros June award in 2017.

Audience choice award – Susie with Andy, Aidan, Peter and Lara

Susie Stead and Natalie Martins (award winning actress who plays Emmi)



I brought the script of Emmi to a Film Oxford Production Group meeting where people voted which film they wanted to be involved in.  Emmi was one of 4 successful ones.  At that event I met Andy Carslaw who eventually became the director of the film and who carried the same vision for it as I did.  He has also become a good friend 🙂



Emmi is only 10 minutes long but I wrote at least 10 drafts, most of them more like 15-20 minutes long.  People liked it but felt it was too dark so I wrote versions which were ‘happier’ or offered alternative endings in the style of the film ‘Sliding Doors’ with Gwyneth Paltrow.



We raised some money by putting on an evening called ‘Grim Shorts’ with films, food and music (what’s not to like?!).  Other than that Andy and I split the costs

(thanks to my mum for her contribution).  It cost us around £1000 to make this film.




Andy and I decided to pay for the actresses, auditioned and were delighted to find Natalie Martins, Amy Harris, Gillian Kirkpatrick and Rachel Pooley (all from London).  Thank you to all of you!  Also thank to the whole team who supported this, supplied with food and tea and lovely cakes from Laura!

Finding the different venues to film was a challenge.  The underpass scene is filmed by the mini plant at Cowley and it really is as unpleasant as it looks.  Film Oxford helped us get the required permissions to film there and I was given the job of filling out the risk assessment forms which I had no idea about but in the end found quite amusing:  eg, there was the possibility of the ‘public tripping or bumping into equipment or cast’ – the answer was to film early in the morning and have someone on look-out for ‘the public’.

Our ‘hoodies’ all looked too nice so Diego Carvalho our wonderful make-up man transformed them. He’s more interested in zombie films but very kindly supported our project!

Lara Stead (my daughter!) with Ben Gooding and Adam Gilday

Diego – make-up artist extraordinaire

Finding a dodgy looking staircase that we could film in was harder than you might think.  The one we found had a skylight that needed covering so Danny, one of our cameramen got onto the roof and managed to cover it without the caretaker seeing.   We then had to film in a very tight space with a camera crew, 3 actresses, a baby and a cat.

Danny & Phil in a tight space












Baby Isis, was totally at peace with everyone, sitting happily with her mother as loud swearing boomed out. The cat was a delight but tended to disappear to the bottom of the stairwell when it had had enough.

At one point we discovered we only had the half the time we were expecting to film and this sent Andy into hyperspace.  A manic look came into his eyes and all extra niceties got stripped.  I was struck by the level of creativity that emerged when we needed suddenly to have a set of locks or a wallpapered hall (particular thanks to Adam Radley and Alex Abbey-Taylor!)

We needed to film outside a ‘grubby’ block of flats but it was all too neat.  Members of the crew disappeared and with frightening speed returned with a mass of detritus:  old fridges, mattresses, bags of rubbish.  The caretaker was not happy!

We spent 3 wonderful, funny and exhausting days filming – 3 days for a 10-minute short!  Thank you everyone involved for making it a pleasure.



Nothing happened then for 18 months (!) because no-one had time to do the editing and we didn’t want to pay someone huge amounts. Also, we couldn’t decide which bits to cut and which to keep.  In the end Andy went on an intense editing weekend, came back and pared the film down to its bones.  I’d been busily coming up with complicated alternatives but when he showed it me all I could say was ‘Shit!  You’re right!’  And he was.


We did pay for some post production with the sound and Kevin from Oxford Audio Post Production did us a great deal.  This was very important as some of the sound is dodgy especially that filmed on the staircase.



We had a lot fun entering competitions – It’s very addictive and ends up costing a lot of money so beware!  Andy and I knew that this was never going to be a crowd pleaser so we’ve been really delighted by the number of nominations we’ve received for competitions and the awards we gained.


A highlight was Southampton Film Festival where our film was shown alongside the now Oscar nominated “Silent Child” about a deaf child.  It is utterly beautiful.  Watch it.  The festival took place over a weekend where we watched films, were taken on a ‘ghost’ tour of the city and mixed with other film makers at a 3-course dinner.  Such a pleasure!


I have ideas for other films, just need the time and connections to make them happen.  I’ve been told to write something funny this time!   My idea of a funny film is a dark humour piece about someone stalking a planning officer after having their planning permission refused over and over again…

I also want to write a mythic piece called ‘The Linden Tree’ and a sort of psycho/zombie horror piece which I literally dreamt about.  I have material for a TV series something on the lines of ‘Rev’ about a church I was part of that slept the homeless and I’d like to do a tele-documentary about the awkward 18 year friendship I had with someone who suffered from serious mental health issues.  I started as a naive do-gooder, became frustrated with him and myself and then discovered he’d become a friend and was shaken with grief when he died last year.

If you’re a producer/director, you’re interested and you and have some access to funds, let me know!






Breaking Free and Shedding a Skin – Part 1

Do you ever get that feeling? You want to break free, move-on but you feel trapped, you don’t know how to make the break, what to do.  Four years ago, I was in that place.

In November 2014, I wrote:  I wake today and the voices come from all directions in disarray.  I should have, why didn’t I, he’s so much better,  I feel cramped,  I feel trapped,  I’m not trapped,  I’m fortunate, lucky.  I’m stressed but I can’t be stressed,  I’m tired but I have no right to be,  I’m a failure but I was given all the chances. 

In December 2014 I wrote this poem:



I was down and low.

My life an untidy room with

No Door.

But inside I’m growing

Like Alice.

The room is getting too small.

Way too small.

It has become an old skin

That has to go.

I shake my head and start to scratch.



I didn’t know how my life was going to change or how I would shed this skin but it dawned on me that I had shed skins before. That last one with all the intricate interplay of lines – the choppy, changing patterns of young motherhood,  a stressed partner with his hair cropped short, religious certainties, Duplo bricks, primary school, children’s boots.  The smell of my daughter’s breath in her first bed.

My skin.

And now this one. By the end of 2014, my last child had turned 18, my partner had a beard and long hair and was sorting his stress through mindfulness. I’d been creating drama, organising alternative evening services in church, working with kids, chasing teenagers, worrying late at night, chafing at the theology of church, angsting at my age and lack of income.

Youtube videos tell me that to help a snake get started, give it a nice long bath or some E45 to soften the skin.

My preparation had been to practice mindfulness for the previous 3 years.  I’d started it because I wanted to ‘fall awake’ to my life (Jon Kabat-Zinn).  The thing about ‘falling awake’ is that you wake up both to the good and the bad.  Fortunately the non-judgement and compassion of mindfulness softened me enough to allow me to look at what was going on.  But where to start?

With snakes the shedding has to begin with the head.  They push their heads against any hard-scratchy surface to get some leverage, some motion.

I chose some sessions with a psychotherapist.

Snakes can get vulnerable and aggressive during the process.



I’d been brought up in an ex-pat patriarchal setting.  There were 2 cardinal rules for a woman:

  • Other people come first and
  • Never openly confront or upset people even if they’re screwing you over – its rude.

Becoming a Christian and a vicar’s wife re-enforced these. Jesus said ‘love others as you love yourself’ but the second part of the sentence always got guillotined.

As I became more aware of this, the irritation grew and the skin felt tighter.  And tighter.

For several years I’d been angry with the Church’s attitude to women but now I also woke up to the realisation that all talk about God was male.  And I’d bought into this for over 30 years.

The shed had begun and it began in my head.

I was waking up.