Tuesday 30 April 2013

Check this out

You know a few weeks ago I talked about being contacted by the US publishing behemoth Forbes to be the Welly correspondent for their online travel blog? Well it finally happened...

Here's my correspondent blurb and a link to my 'page' (click here to read). Each month I have to publish two blog posts about things happening in Welly, new restaurants, bars etc so will link to those when they turn up. If you're in Welly and have an event or opening or something else you'd like the world to know about, call me!



Wellington, New Zealand

Sharon Stephenson is a Forbes Travel Guide correspondent who lives in Wellington and covers the city for Startle. There’s not much Stephenson won’t do for a story — from getting married in Vegas and swinging from a trapeze to having Botox. She has made her living from words for more years than she can remember, happily switching between the worlds of PR and editing and writing for magazines and newspapers. Stephenson spent five years living in London, where she worked for the BBC, and recently relocated to the U.K. for another couple of years with her animator husband’s job. She’s happy to be back in the globe’s most southern capital and swears its coffee is the best in the world.

Monday 29 April 2013

The Most Beautiful Thing You Will Read All Year

I have right clicked and saved this in its entirety from The Guardian. Words to live by...

James Rhodes: 'Find what you love and let it kill you'

My life as a concert pianist can be frustrating, lonely, demoralising and exhausting. But is it worth it? Yes, without a shadow of a doubt
James Rhodes
'Isn't it worth fighting back in some small way?' Pianist James Rhodes. Photograph: Dave Brown 2012
After the inevitable "How many hours a day do you practice?" and "Show me your hands", the most common thing people say to me when they hear I'm a pianist is "I used to play the piano as a kid. I really regret giving it up". I imagine authors have lost count of the number of people who have told them they "always had a book inside them". We seem to have evolved into a society of mourned and misplaced creativity. A world where people have simply surrendered to (or been beaten into submission by) the sleepwalk of work, domesticity, mortgage repayments, junk food, junk TV, junk everything, angry ex-wives, ADHD kids and the lure of eating chicken from a bucket while emailing clients at 8pm on a weekend.
Do the maths. We can function - sometimes quite brilliantly - on six hours' sleep a night. Eight hours of work was more than good enough for centuries (oh the desperate irony that we actually work longer hours since the invention of the internet and smartphones). Four hours will amply cover picking the kids up, cleaning the flat, eating, washing and the various etceteras. We are left with six hours. 360 minutes to do whatever we want. Is what we want simply to numb out and give Simon Cowell even more money? To scroll through Twitter and Facebook looking for romance, bromance, cats, weather reports, obituaries and gossip? To get nostalgically, painfully drunk in a pub where you can't even smoke? 
What if you could know everything there is to know about playing the piano in under an hour (something the late, great Glenn Gould claimed, correctly I believe, was true)? The basics of how to practise and how to read music, the physical mechanics of finger movement and posture, all the tools necessary to actually play a piece - these can be written down and imparted like a flat-pack furniture how-to-build-it manual; it then is down to you to scream and howl and hammer nails through fingers in the hope of deciphering something unutterably alien until, if you're very lucky, you end up with something halfway resembling the end product.
What if for a couple of hundred quid you could get an old upright on eBay delivered? And then you were told that with the right teacher and 40 minutes proper practice a day you could learn a piece you've always wanted to play within a few short weeks. Is that not worth exploring?
What if rather than a book club you joined a writer's club? Where every week you had to (really had to) bring three pages of your novel, novella, screenplay and read them aloud?

What if, rather than paying £70 a month for a gym membership that delights in making you feel fat, guilty and a world away from the man your wife married you bought a few blank canvases and some paints and spent time each day painting your version of "I love you" until you realised that any woman worth keeping would jump you then and there just for that, despite your lack of a six-pack?
I didn't play the piano for 10 years. A decade of slow death by greed working in the City, chasing something that never existed in the first place (security, self-worth, Don Draper albeit a few inches shorter and a few women fewer). And only when the pain of not doing it got greater than the imagined pain of doing it did I somehow find the balls to pursue what I really wanted and had been obsessed by since the age of seven – to be a concert pianist.
Admittedly I went a little extreme – no income for five years, six hours a day of intense practice, monthly four-day long lessons with a brilliant and psychopathic teacher in Verona, a hunger for something that was so necessary it cost me my marriage, nine months in a mental hospital, most of my dignity and about 35lbs in weight. And the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is not perhaps the Disney ending I'd envisaged as I lay in bed aged 10 listening to Horowitz devouring Rachmaninov at Carnegie Hall.  
My life involves endless hours of repetitive and frustrating practising, lonely hotel rooms, dodgy pianos, aggressively bitchy reviews, isolation, confusing airline reward programmes, physiotherapy, stretches of nervous boredom (counting ceiling tiles backstage as the house slowly fills up) punctuated by short moments of extreme pressure (playing 120,000 notes from memory in the right order with the right fingers, the right sound, the right pedalling while chatting about the composers and pieces and knowing there are critics, recording devices, my mum, the ghosts of the past, all there watching), and perhaps most crushingly, the realisation that I will never, ever give the perfect recital. It can only ever, with luck, hard work and a hefty dose of self-forgiveness, be "good enough".

Reading this on a mobile? Click here to view video
And yet. The indescribable reward of taking a bunch of ink on paper from the shelf at Chappell of Bond Street. Tubing it home, setting the score, pencil, coffee and ashtray on the piano and emerging a few days, weeks or months later able to perform something that some mad, genius, lunatic of a composer 300 years ago heard in his head while out of his mind with grief or love or syphilis. A piece of music that will always baffle the greatest minds in the world, that simply cannot be made sense of, that is still living and floating in the ether and will do so for yet more centuries to come. That is extraordinary. And I did that. I do it, to my continual astonishment, all the time. 

The government is cutting music programmes in schools and slashing Arts grants as gleefully as a morbidly American kid in Baskin Robbins. So if only to stick it to the man, isn't it worth fighting back in some small way? So write your damn book. Learn a Chopin prelude, get all Jackson Pollock with the kids, spend a few hours writing a Haiku. Do it because it counts even without the fanfare, the money, the fame and Heat photo-shoots that all our children now think they're now entitled to becauseHarry Styles has done it.
Charles Bukowski, hero of angsty teenagers the world over, instructs us to "find what you love and let it kill you". Suicide by creativity is something perhaps to aspire to in an age where more people know Katie Pricebetter than the Emperor concerto

Sunday 28 April 2013

North & South Magazine

The May issue runs my profile of an amazing woman, Dr Robyn Langlands, who set up Kaibosh, NZ's first food rescue organisation (click here to read). Inspirational? Doesn't even come close...

Saturday 27 April 2013

Childhood memories

Food can take you places you've long forgotten, places that have been lost in the dance of time and circumstance.

Last night, friends had a 'back to childhood' party where they tracked down all the cartoons and telly shows from our formative years. Given they are Welsh/English imports, as were several of the guests, there was a smattering of programmes we'd never seen, and vice versa. It was a fun meander down memory lane.

We also had to bring snacks from our childhood: the only non-carnivorous thing I could think of - and all I was able to grab in a lunchtime dash around the supermarket - was onion dip and chips (crisps to my UK readers). It's not big, it's not clever and it's certainly not healthy, but oh my god this dip is good! I was reminded of my first flat in London, in Bayswater, where the price of admittance for every Kiwi who arrived to doss on the floor was a can of Nestle Reduced Cream and Maggie Onion Soup. Good times.


Thursday 25 April 2013

More interiors porn

I am never going to make Photographer of the Year and these pics in no way do justice to how lovely this place was, but I filled in a very pleasant hour today interviewing the interior designer owner for a Your Home & Garden Magazine spread.

And eating her scrummy ANZAC biscuits because today is, afterall, the day we commemorate the Kiwi and Aussie blokes who died in Gallipoli during WW1.

Wednesday 24 April 2013

This blog needs more


So tonight, the Mt Vic Vixens will attempt to remedy that. It's been a while since I've seen my home girls (no  irony intended) so am looking forward to buckets of laughter, gossip and wine. You may well hear us from your place.

But tomorrow is a public holiday, and I only have one interview to do at noon for an interiors mag, so why the heck not?


Tuesday 23 April 2013

Belated Auckland pics

Struck down by a nitemarish case of deadline overload so whatever words I possess have been sucked into the keyboard.

But the blog needs to be fed so instead, here are some visuals of our recent work trip to New Zealand's largest city. And yes, that first shot is of me cosying up to the Mayor of Auckland...

  Pics, as usual, from the Animator

Sunday 21 April 2013

The Hardest Goodbye

Next Magazine's May issue (the Mother's Day one) runs my feature on women who give up their children.

You may well be wondering what relevance the subject material has to my childfree by choice life. But that's what I love about journalism, getting to poke around in the dark corners of subjects I know little about. Click here to read

Saturday 20 April 2013

The Heart and Seoul of Korea

Up to my proverbials in work this weekend, so no time for words.

Easier to right click and publish these images of our recent media junket to Seoul. These are from our last few days there, so you can imagine how many the Animator has to process for my stories.

Thursday 18 April 2013

Nga Mihi, Aotearoa

Last night, we became the 13th country in the world, and the first in the Asia Pacific region, to legalise same-sex marriage.

It was a triumph for equality and justice, a confirmation that love knows no gender, race or religion. How smug am I that I live in a country where same-sex love is recognised by the law as the same as anyone else's?

I remain mystified that in this day and age there are people who want to stop a loving and committed couple from marrying each other. Last night, their bigotry and arrogance suffered an epic fail. The nation that was the first in the world to given women the vote (1893, since you asked) has once again shown itself as progressive and tolerant.

Tonight, I raise a glass of superb South Island Pinot Noir I've been saving for a special occasion to a country  I am so proud to call home.

(Pic credit: NZNewsUK)

Wednesday 17 April 2013

First Korean cab off the rank

The DominionPost runs the first of seven stories I had to produce from my recent media trip to Seoul. Should keep the airline and PR folk happy (click here to read).

Tuesday 16 April 2013


So tonight I get an odd, but welcome, phone call from the lovely administrator at Travcom, the New Zealand  Association of Travel Writers, Photographers and PRs.

Back in February, I entered their annual awards, so long ago I forgot which two pieces from the last year I'd even submitted. The administrator rang whilst I was trying to wrangle dinner, send an email and feed the dog; I wasn't expecting a conversation about whether I would be flying to Auckland for the swanky events dinner on 7 May.

Of course, I hadn't the slightest intention of doing so: apart from the fact it's a school night and I have to be elsewhere on a Tuesday, it involves schlepping north and shelling out for what's not the cheapest dinner in the world. I've previously won two prizes in these awards and both years they didn't require my presence. This time, the administrator "strongly" suggested I should attend. Which hopefully means it must be good news, but what's a girl to do?


Monday 15 April 2013


Still tied up in exhaustion knots of my own making. One day I will stop taking on so much.

But the weekend was all kinds of wonderful: there was a six-hour day boat trip out into the Hauraki Gulf to annoy dolphins and whales (the latter were sensibly off having a late lunch),  a stunning hotel and great food, particularly at the outstanding O'Connell Street Bistro where I ate until my buttons popped. On Saturday there was a train journey to Pukekohe with four other journos, a photo op with the Auckland Mayor and much amused spotting of mullets and peroxide abuse. There may also have been some stupidly noisy cars chasing each other around the track but as I barely know the difference between a crank shaft and a gear stick, I wasn't overly bothered.

Sunday brought a walk to our old flat in Grafton (it's funny how time and distance can play tricks on one's memory: I always thought it was a reasonably nice house but time hasn't been kind to it), coffee with a friend and a leisurely stroll to Ponsonby. There was brunch with the Animator's brother and even more food.

Now I just have to find the time to write about it.

The best pics are on the Animator's camera and are yet to be converted from raw files so these ones from my phone will have to do.

Thursday 11 April 2013

Blogging holiday

No post for the next few days, as the Animator and I are off to Auckland for work.

When I say work I mean a swanky hotel (the Langham, since you asked), some sailing and dolphin spotting, oodles of nice food and wine and a bit of car racing. Yeah, I'm not exactly diving into the happiness pool over the latter, but am sure I can channel my inner bogan (once a Hutt girl...) to write sufficiently nice things about it.

The Hound will be breaking in yet another sitter. I'm not sure she will want to return, given my propensity to call and text far too often to check all is well.

Today's visuals are of my two boys. Call me soft (I'd be offended if you didn't) but each time I go away, it is getting harder to say goodbye to this furry bundle of joy. I have promised him that after this weekend, his Mama will devote as much time to him as possible.


Wednesday 10 April 2013


Wikipedia tells me back in the Middle Ages, it was customary to give the gift of wood for a fifth wedding anniversary, apparently because it represented strength and a solid relationship.

I shall, therefore, be gifting the Animator an old piece of 2x4 I found in the garden.

Today, five years ago, we were doing this in Vegas - for this magazine (click here to read). Yes, I am the kind of girl who will get married in Vegas for a story.

Happy Anniversary husband - and here's to many, many more years of this marriage lark.

Monday 8 April 2013

Miramar Part 2

Several of you emailed to say the pdf of yesterday's Herald on Sunday story was too large to download; apols.

Here's the link from the NZ Herald's website (click here to read). You're welcome.

First day at the new three-day-a-week gig was frantic - but oh so much fun. Today I either interviewed, or set up interviews, with a variety of experts on subjects as varied as infertility, ethical behaviour in the workplace, IT and happiness. It was fair to say I ran most of the day.

I'm not convinced of the merits of returning to a workplace once one has crossed the threshold, but today it felt good to see some familiar faces and to return to what I love best - writing. And, sweet baby Jesus, the campus is almost unrecognisable from what it was four years ago - there are swanky new structures and cafes and reading rooms. It sure as hell wasn't like that when I was a student there. I believe the term we are looking for is heaven.

Today's visual comes courtesy of the Herald story - at least they got the pic credit right online.

Sunday 7 April 2013

Glorious Miramar

It's not often you get to put those words in the same sentence, letalone next to each other.

Back in February I did a food walking tour of Miramar (link here) for a story for the Auckland-based Herald on Sunday. Today they finally ran it. Despite an obvious cock up attributing photos not to the Animator but to some random, it hopefully pays tribute not only to the lovely women who run the tours but also to the locals who were so generous with their food and their stories  (click here to read).  

Saturday 6 April 2013

NZ Herald Feature

Today's NZ Herald Canvas Magazine publishes my feature on three Kiwis who discovered how much fun it can be to take up former childhood hobbies (click here to read).

This is one of the commissions I was rushing to complete before I went to Seoul, but think it turned out okay. It features one of the nicest women I have ever interviewed, lawyer and breast-cancer survivor Penelope Ryder-Lewis (pictured below).

(Pic credit: Canvas Magazine)

Friday 5 April 2013

Doggy Friday

A gloriously sunny day today; I think someone has forgotten to tell Autumn it is up.

There was a run along the waterfront, oodles of work as one of my Seoul stories is due Monday and a walk with a new member of the Mt Vic Dog Walking Crew and her adorable woofer who she shipped over from London six months ago. This lovely woman's marriage is currently disintegrating, so talk naturally turned to  love and life, hope and dreams and coming out the other side. I hope in some small way I was able to help.

Today's visuals come from the adorable blog, now book, of US photographer Theron Humphrey and his rescue coonhound Maddie. During a year-long, cross-country road trip, Humphrey says he discovered his dog's amazing balance and patience. Since then, he's posted pics of Maddie happily standing on everything from fridges and watermelons to bikes and people. Apparently Maddie had become an internet sensation. She is ADORABLE.

Right, am off to find things to stick Bristol on top of...    


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