#3 The Healing Power of Flowers

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

The Healing Power of Flowers is the title of florist, teacher, writer and now author Claire Bowen from Honeysuckle & Hilda’s beautiful new book. And in this episode, as well as sharing her small business journey, Clare also discusses how the book came about and the process it involved. If you’re thinking of starting a small business or writing a book, then I’m sure you’ll really enjoy the interview.

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Claire's Practical Tips

1. To Always Be Flexible

But also keep in mind the things that are important to you. For example, when I came on your class with Fiona about working out our ‘brand’, the only thing I knew for sure was that I wanted to be environmentally friendly (at a time when it wasn’t quite the norm or the thing we strive for as we do today). That was the most important credential for me. But I also believed I wanted to be a wedding florist and helped out on lots of more experienced florists’ events and then started doing my own. I soon realised, however, that most of the business that came my way was for teaching work – being asked by Daylesford was amazing for me – and so I ended up going down that path.

Equally I love writing, and had begun work on a very specific book, when an editor at Penguin Random House emailed me, saying she loved my blog, and asked me if I’d be interested in writing a book for them. But, the book that they wanted turned out to be a very different book to the one I had in mind. I wasn’t 100% sure at first. But we were able to work together so I could fulfil their brief whilst imparting enough of what I wanted to say to make it ‘mine’. Now we’ve created a lovely book that will hopefully spread the message around the important of sustainability in flower choices to a much larger audience, which can only be a good thing.

2. To Collaborate With a Good Friend if You Can

Obviously you should always try to work with people you trust and get on well with. But if there is an opportunity to work with someone else, I’d really recommend it. When I was approached about the book, one of my conditions was that Eva was the photographer. It was, I think, the first thing I stipulated. Luckily for me, Eva agreed to work on the project with me. I knew I needed her beautiful photography.

But also friendship is massively helpful when working on something like this. We had to shoot the book in the middle of a pandemic, which meant that getting hold of flowers in the usual way was incredibly difficult. And being able to problem solve together was invaluable, as was being able to cheer each other on.

3. Think About How You Measure Success

Obviously, if you are running a business, it’s important to make money out of it in order to support yourself. But during the pandemic in particular that hasn’t really been possible, or at the very least not as easy. It’s something that has worried me a lot. Another factor that people look at is Instagram numbers – I know I’m really guilty of this. But in reality, during 2019 and 2020 my numbers didn’t go up very much at all, really just a few thousand. However in 2019, as part of a wider renovation project on our home, we created a beautiful flower studio from an old garage. And whilst I couldn’t work from there, I was teaching at Daylesford. And in 2020 Eva and I made a book!

So although I haven’t made as much money as I’d like and I sometimes compare my follower numbers to others, there have been other successes which will stand me in good stead for the future. I should also add that, for anyone who didn’t get much done in 2020, you got through a global pandemic and that it something to be pretty proud of too!

Eva's Practical Tips

1. Use a Tripod When Shooting Flat Lays

As the book mostly contains flat lays (flowers arranged on a flat board and photographed from above), in order to make sure the images are pin sharp and of the quality that is required for such a project, the use of a tripod was essential. For flat lays, I use a relatively small aperture – at least f10 – and although all new cameras handle light wonderfully, I still always use a tripod, and if possible tethered too.

For one of the images, the editor asked for a step-by-step flat lay image and it worked perfectly with the tripod, adding a flower then shoot from the laptop, adding another and shoot. And I didn’t have to worry about picking up the camera then back on the board with the flowers, etc. A tripod can be a hassle but it definitely improves the quality of your photography.

2. Keep in Mind the Size of the Book

…Or wherever you’re planning to use your images. This is very important as you can do a flat lay but if the proportions are not right and parts of the image get cut off in print, well, then there’s trouble. When you shoot a book, the editor and the designers will send you the page sizes and you can plan your photos accordingly.

This is a simple example but you might take all your photos in a landscape format and then find out that you need them in portrait. Then you’ll have to crop the image and might lose important elements of it. Many people use Instagram squares but the images they take are not in square format. And when posting them they might not get the same image they originally thought they would.

So yes, make sure you know your boundaries. For flat lays, always make sure you leave some space around the edges of your background to make sure you don’t lose important bits that are coming off the background.

To Always Be Flexible

As Claire also mentioned. We have a good idea when flowers bloom but we are also aware that they might not be perfect for the shoot day. Therefore you have to allow for extra time and being flexible when it comes to changing dates. This applies to my work as a garden photographer. It’s important to be flexible (as the weather plays a big role too). So being on stand-by and being available when the flowers are at their best I would say is very important.

Transcript

Rona: Claire, what do you hope that your readers take away from the book?

Rona: Welcome to the My Small Business & Me podcast with Rona Wheeldon. This is a podcast for small business owners, no matter where you are in your entrepreneurial journey. I'll be interviewing experts who will not only be able to help you with your business, but also with your well-being. If you're thinking of starting a small business, or you're thinking of writing a book, then I'm sure you'll really enjoy my interview this week with Claire Bowen from Honeysuckle & Hilda. Claire is a florist, a teacher and a writer. But she's also now an author of a beautiful new book. And we'll be talking about it in this week's podcast.

Rona: A very warm welcome Claire to my podcast.

Claire: Thank you Rona for having me. I'm very excited to be on your podcast.

Rona: I'm so excited. I'm actually very excited just to see you because we haven't seen each other for so long. I think the last time it was at that amazing flower festival, wasn't it?

Claire: Yes. I think it was. Yes. It's been quite a well. Yes. It doesn't seem that long, but it has been a long time. The days merge into one I think at the moment.

Rona: Absolutely. But you've been very busy while the days have emerging into one by writing a book. Before we talk about that which is so exciting, could you share with the listeners your small business journey please?

Claire: Okay. So my small business journey wasn't at all conventional. It's something that I always dreamt of, but I didn't think it would ever happen. And it almost happened by accident. Originally I wanted to be a lawyer and I read Greek and Latin. And I then decided, no, I wanted to be an art historian. And I did a few more degrees and I used to lecture in art history a long time ago. And then things changed and I got a sort of more conventional job in marketing, the sort of kind of job that paid the bills. But for me it wasn't the job of my dreams. It was a means to an end. I absolutely love flowers and I also love writing. And so in my early thirties, I left Battersea and I moved to Hackney at a time when not that many people would have thought to make the move.

It's a very different place now, but I wanted to be near Columbia Road Flower Market. That was my aim. And I used to go to flower classes at McQueens when they were in Victoria Park Village, which was a really long time ago. And I did classes at Rebel Rebel who had just opened when I moved to Hackney. I was doing classes there and I was buying flowers at the weekend, but it was something for me. I couldn't have imagined how I would make that into an occupation. And I also went to the London School of Journalism and did some creative writing classes because I loved writing. But I didn't think it would ever happen. I read blogs. I think the thing that really swung it for me was Miss Pickering's blog. And she really inspired me a lot actually.

But again, it was only when I had to give up work. I don't know how many people know this. It's something I talk about because I hope it inspires other people. But I don't want to talk about it so much that the people think I feel sorry for myself because I absolutely don't. It's one of those things and it's brought about some really amazing changes in my life, but I was very poorly. And when I was waiting for a prognosis, I had to face up to the reality that I hadn't been doing the things I wanted to do. And I was like, oh that's really annoying. I could have done all those things. And I never did them. And I sort of promised myself if I got better, that I would do them.

And so I was off work for a few years. And unsurprisingly, when I went back they made me redundant because someone else had been doing my job for three and a half years, which wasn't a big surprise. But with the pay-off that I got, I invested that in flower classes. I thought, right, I'm really going to try and just see if I can do this. So it may have looked strange on Instagram. Suddenly this person was doing, oh I'm going here, I'm going there. Now I'm going to do this. But I was kind of like, I was so alive again and normal conventional me would have put that money in the bank for a rainy day, but I didn't do that. I just went, let's do this. And I did some classes. I didn't know if it's going to lead anywhere, but in some ways I saw it as part of my recovery, I suppose.

And then people started writing to me on Instagram and asking me, did I do weddings? And did I teach? And I was like, don't be silly. Why would I do that? And then more and more people started to write to me. And I thought, well, okay. And then my husband said to me, just have a class in the kitchen, see who comes, see if you like it. And so I did that and lovely Jen Pinder came along to give me some feedback afterwards. And say yes, I think you can do it or no, you can't or these are, you know. So she came, which is massively helpful.

And then I thought, okay, maybe. And then as you know, I came on your class with Fiona to talk about branding and I had no idea what I wanted to do. I did know that I wanted it to be sustainable, environmentally-friendly, because of the nature of my illness and the fact that it was put down quite specifically to environmental factors and air pollution, which is the reason I left London.

I had done a lot of campaigning against pesticides. And I was assisting a lady called Katharine Hamnett, who's the fashion designer. And we had been walking our dogs together. I didn't know that she was Katharine Hamnett. And then when the Hackney council started using pesticides on the pavements and actually on the parks and dogs started dying because of them. So she started a campaign and I ran her 38 Degrees campaign for her. And we went to government. We met with Zac Goldsmith and with Caroline Lucas. And the Pesticide Action Network came with us to try and see if we could find a way forward and how to stop councils effectively doing this.

So I already had that sort of environmental mindset before I started flowers. And so to me at a time when Oasis was more widely used than thankfully it is now, I was already still looking into these things because I'd been told I had to avoid so many chemicals. So it was natural for me. If I hadn't been, I probably wouldn't have thought about it at that time. But because those things had happened, I came into it from that angle.

So when I came to your class, I knew the thing that I really wanted was to be sustainable and not much beyond that. I guess after that I started renting village halls and teaching classes there. And lots of lovely people who are great friends now. The people that come to the first ones and I'm still in touch with them. They're all people that you would know on Instagram. And they were lovely and supportive. And then we bought a house. We had been looking for a while because we had to leave London because of the air. And we found one with an outbuilding that was a slightly run-down garage/workshop and a garden.

And so we set about turning that into a studio. And at the same time, Daylesford dropped me an email and said, would I like to teach there as a guest florist? And obviously that's, for me...I love Daylesford, I'm terrible. And, for me that was the dream. I was like, oh my goodness, you know. I've been asked to teach at Daylesford. I was very excited about that. And that kind of builds up. And then you get customers who come back to you.

I did weddings as well but I think I realised then that my great joy was teaching actually. So I'm sort of at a stage now where, of course the book. And then the book happened. I musn't forget to talk about that. I think a lot of, so much of it is luck because Daylesford happened to find me. And you have to make your own luck a little bit. You have to put yourself out there in the first place, but Daylesford getting in touch with me was a great thing. And then when I got an email from Penguin Random House, sort of out of the blue I suppose, it just came in as an inquiry on my website saying, would you like to write a book?

Rona: As it happens it happens every day, I'm sure.

Claire: Yes, after all these years of thinking, how will I ever write a book? I got this email saying, would you like to write a book, which is kind of turning it on its head. I had visions of writing a book and having to go to publishers and, you know, pitching it. And they then came to me with an idea. So, it sort of had quite unusual beginnings, but it's starting to fall into place, I suppose. And so I'm hopeful that once the pandemic is over, I will be writing and teaching at Daylesford and at home. So in some ways I've been very lucky, unlucky in other ways, but very lucky in some.

Rona: I think you've got an amazing brand though, which is helped by your two beautiful dogs. So, your company is Honeysuckle & Hilda, and that's the names of your dogs.

Claire: Yes. So Hilda, I got as sort of part of when I was poorly. I knew I needed to get up and get out. And so I decided I wanted a puppy and then I got Hilda. And we spent a lot of time out walking and going to Hackney Marshes and looking at nature. And I got involved in, again, some campaigning against development at Hackney Marshes, that was quite destructive to nature. And it's something that I care about. So again, that was a part of another environmental sort of strand coming through.

And, so Hilda was with us from the beginning and the name Honeysuckle began with an h and it sounded quite well with Hilda. I thought about Hellebores & Hilda, but I went for Honeysuckle & Hilda. And then when we adopted a rescue dog two years ago she had no choice, but to be called Honeysuckle. It was was the only way it was going to work . And it's turned out she's very photogenic. So that's good. So yes, they're a a big part of the team. I'm lucky to have them.

Rona: So the book, you've always wanted to write a book?

Claire: Yes. I didn't always know what about. I was approached to write a book in my early thirties by a literary agent, but it was an exposé of a business I was working in. And I didn't feel comfortable with that so much, but I knew I really wanted to write. And it was always in the back of my mind. And friends who used to get perhaps very long emails from me used to say, have you ever thought about writing properly?

Rona: Your blog is so beautifully written.

Claire: Thank you. Thank you. I never know whether people are thinking she writes too much, maybe just put it in a book instead. So yes, it's been on my mind for a long time. So it's kind of like, it's come out of the blue, but it was always also a long-held dream.

Rona: So the new book, your first book is called The Healing Power of Flowers. So can you tell us about what happened after that initial email that you received from Penguin Random House?

Claire: So after the email, we had a chat. They had a very specific idea in mind around the language of flowers. And I think my instinct was that, the language of flowers has been written about by other people before and very well. And so I didn't want to produce something that was exactly the same kind of thing again. Because why would I? And also they wouldn't want that either, Penguin Random House.

And so I spoke with my editor. My editor is so lovely. She's called Sam. And she is specifically Ebury Press, which is a really lovely imprint. So I was pretty excited about that. And so I said to her, yes, I'd love to work with her, but was there a way in which we could make the book sort of mine, I suppose. Because she had been inspired by my blog. She had found me just through one of those, somebody writes top 10 Florists, you know, for something. And I was on one of those.

And then she looked them up and found my blog. And I had written a blog about not having a big carbon footprint at Christmas and sort of using independents and things like that. And she had seen that as a starting point. So I thought, could we put it together? And what we wanted was talking about crafting something out of flowers that you could give as a low impact gift. And at that point, the language of flowers comes in because flowers have meaning. But on top of that, I wanted to add in other factors, I suppose. So I looked a little bit at aromatherapy and homeopathy. And sometimes just the energy that something can bring in the garden because a lot of the flowers have quite negative meanings in Victorian times, for instance.

So Hellebores represent falsehood and Foxgloves are associated with lies. But with Hellebores, I sort of saw them, they come out in the deep winter and they're really long-lasting. And so I sort of translated that into longevity and constancy and applied it to friendships and relationships. And with Foxgloves, you know they're sort of tall and proud, and they've got all the bees buzzing around. And so I sort of saw them as like a positive energy, if someone was going to go and start a new job or, you know.

So the book is arranged in terms of flowers that you give for a specific event. I'm just going to look down and tell you what they are. They are joy, calm, love, success, consolation and also celebration. And so within those sections, I've made sure that all the flowers are arranged seasonally, so that people know when they're available. So I talk a little bit why each flower would fit that category. And sometimes if it crosses two categories, I mention that as well. So it was actually quite a challenge. The headings were given to me and then I had to find the flowers to fit them. But obviously I didn't want to shoehorn anything in. I wanted it to be natural. I didn't want to take a flower and go, right, it must go in that category. How could I make it do that?

So a lot of the book was thinking about where those things were going. And a lot of the editing process was deciding. And then I'd write it up for one section, then we'd think, actually it might be better in that section. And then we'd adjust it slightly, but in a sort of natural way so that we weren't forcing anything.

But a lot of the book's process was the thinking about what would go where And then as we went on, I was asked if I could maybe think about bouquets that people could craft quite easily. So it's not sort of something with like 55 ingredients that you would take down the aisle, you know, that's going to take three hours. It's literally if somebody had four or five ingredients.

So I'd do a little bit of explanation about different types of flowers and how you would put them together. But then I've done sort of bouquets for new parents, one for consolation and one for everlasting friendship using dried flowers for the winter. And it's almost like the flower recipes. And again, trying to do it so that the flowers were available at the same time, but also a message that was natural. That was another challenge. And of course all of this during lockdown when I had to shield, because of my lungs. So I wasn't supposed to go out at all.

So I was very reliant on local growers. So I'm very close to Green & Gorgeous. I'm a mile away. And they were immensely, immensely helpful. I mean, what a wonderful place to end up living. And, so they, Rachel and Ash, were immensely helpful with flowers. And also The Land Gardeners helped me. And I went up there and they just made sure that they, you know, they sort of kept away and I got to take my buckets and go and pick there. Aesme helped as well. But I would like to have included more florists than I did. But in the lockdown, it's a very, very difficult scenario.

And also because I wanted everything to be seasonal and we were shooting between March and August, some of the flowers had to be dried. And that was how we got round it. So I think there were 80 flowers. There were only like three or four that don't have photographs. And the rest of them are either fresh or dried to make sure. So nothing in the book was imported or bought from anywhere where I couldn't trace its provenance. Because that was sort of the message of the book. So I wanted to make sure that I practised what I preached.

Rona: Now, you touched on photographs there and Eva Nemeth, the incredible photographer. Can you tell me how you met Eva and how she came to be involved in the book?

Claire: So I met Ava. I don't think my husband would mind me telling this story. I'm sure he won't. When I first moved to a village not far from here, we would both got walking with Hilda. But Charles would go on quite long walks with her. And I followed Eva because she had taken some beautiful photographs at Green & Gorgeous. So we followed each other. And she sent me a note saying, this is going to sound very strange, but I think I keep seeing your dog. I think I keep seeing Hilda go for a walk near this farm but it's not in London and she's with a man.

And I wrote back and I said, is the man in his mid fifties and quite scruffy. And she said, yes. I said, well yes that's my husband. And she said, I'd love to meet for a cup of tea. So we met for a cup of tea and we got on really well. She is one of the kindest people you could ever hope to meet. And she's so busy now. And it was a few years ago. We were both at slightly earlier stages, but we became friends.

And when I did one of my classes at the village hall, I invited her to do a photography slot in the afternoon to make it a full day. And she took some photos for me. We live 20 minutes away, so we meet up for tea. She's amazing at baking. She bakes these amazing cakes. And so we'd have tea and cake, and things like that. And then when I got the email from Sam about the book and it said you need to be comfortable with your own photography or know a photographer you would work with. And I sort of stipulated straightaway that it really needed to be Eva. And her style suits mine really well as well. I think that we sort of suit each other in that sense.

And so they said that's fine. And they really would like her to be a big part of the book, not just a photographer in the traditional sense because we would work together. And it was so nice to have somebody to work with because there were times during the pandemic, you know, when things go wrong and there aren't flowers. And then, to have someone to do the problem solving with was amazing. And I'm so glad that she agreed to do it with me because it would not have been the same book without her.

Rona: It's amazing. Beautiful, beautiful photographs that she's taken. Let's go back to the actual structure of the book. What made you have healing as the overall arching theme of the messages that the flowers give?

Claire: It was partly driven by the publishers. But actually it fitted quite well in the sense that a lot of the flowers have healing properties, not just in the sense of aromatherapy or some of them have a very literal healing one, but some of them have sort of emotional healing powers. So a lot of the flowers around consolation, like marigolds and snowdrops and things like that were traditionally given when somebody was grieving. So they have a healing property in that sense.

So I suppose it was the adjective that sort of pulled together all of the properties that we were trying to cover. So it's not only physical healing properties which I think actually I'm glad you said that, because that's quite an important point. It's about emotionally how they affect people as well.

Rona: Absolutely. And don't we all need a lot of that at the moment, I must say. So there's all the sections about joy, calm and love, success, consolation and celebration. Then you talk about foliage as well. And then you go onto your bouquets to share. And then there are three more sections, aren't there, about pressing, drying and sourcing your flowers. So why did you add pressing, drying and sourcing to the book?

Claire: So, the pressing and drying once we'd sort of started going down the route, the book grew a lot as it went along. I think it was originally intended to be a bit shorter than it was. And I think perhaps unfortunately for the publishers, they set the price before they realised then said oh, we'd really like to add these things. And all the extra pages going in, as obviously colour books cost a lot of money to produce. But after we'd talked about the bouquets, the request came from them.

I know at the time, Bex at Botanical Tales who does amazing things and she was inspiring me a lot. And I had been doing some set-ups in my studio, trying out drying flowers. I love drying flowers anyway. It's nothing like the depth that she goes into, but it was just again, it's a way of gifting. It's something creative to do. It's a way of gifting that's low impact.

It's a way of getting flowers out of season as well, so that, you know, a bit like, Valentine's Day is in February. So what kind of seasonal flowers can you find then? Or, you know, if you want to give someone a present in January, what do you do? So the flowers that have been dried over the summer are perfect for using in the winter. So the pressed flowers and the dried flowers sort of fitted in with the gifting aspect of the book.

The sourcing was my request. I was very keen to talk about where to source one's flowers. I think having arranged the book seasonally and telling people that ideally, this is what they should be aiming to do, it made sense to give them some pointers about how to go about it. And also where to source those things. So, I talked a little bit about, you know, florists and markets and the right questions to ask. And also you can buy the flowers in supermarkets. They're not always wrapped in plastic from abroad. And more and more like Sainsbury's is committed to only wrapping flowers in paper now, which is amazing. And a lot of them are seasonal if you sort of look for the right things.

So I didn't want to say, don't do this. And don't do that. I wanted to encourage to sort of go to the right places. And also, I would loved to have listed all my favourite flower farms, but we couldn't decide how to fit everybody in. So in the end we listed the stockists that I'd used for supplying flowers and ceramics, and a few of the props and things like that. But then we sort of used the umbrella terms of Flowers from the Farm and The British Flower Collective.

And also because the book will be in the US in a few months' time, a publisher has bulk bought the rights to, I think, the first 5,000 over there with the possibility of more hopefully if it sells well. And so we've included like directories for the US, Canada and globally. And obviously we mention people like Floret just so that people who perhaps aren't in our Instagram sphere. I think the point of the book is not just to appeal to florists, but to appeal to people from a broader base as well. I hope it will still be useful to florists, particularly if you want to know the meaning or a property of a flower. Or you're stuck for something to say on Instagram, you know, it's all there.

But what I was really hoping with the book because of the way it's being marketed and sold in so many places, places I would never thought of or had access to, I'm hoping it's going to go to a broader base and be part of a bigger movement of explaining to people about flowers. So in the same way that so many people, like chefs explain to people about seasonal produce and farming and sustainability, we would hope that it's going to go out to a wider audience as well. And so it seemed right to point them in the right direction and to explain the best ways that they could go about doing this. I'm hoping it's not too bossy. I don't think it's too bossy. But it's something I'm very passionate about. So I'm hoping it's just sort of setting people on that path.

Rona: Have you got a copy in front of you?

Claire: I have, yes.

Rona: Can you just show it to people? Because I haven't got one. I've only got the PDF.

Claire: It should be with you very soon. So this is the copy.

Rona: Beautiful cover, very distinctive green .

Claire: Yes. We were quite surprised to be asked about the green. But once it arrived, we loved it. But it was like bright green, are you sure? Sam won't mind me saying that.

Rona: So let's talk a little bit about how you researched the book and what kind of writing software you used and your process. Because you say you love writing so did you have a spot that you always used to go and sit in to write, or tell us about your actual writing process for people who are thinking about writing a book.

Claire: My actual writing process. I had coronavirus early on in sort of around about February, well we both did and it hit us very hard. So I was quite tired and I did quite lost of the writing in bed. I don't know if I'm allowed to say that.

Rona: On a computer or a laptop?

Claire: Oh yes, on a laptop, absolutely. And I had probably about 20 or 30 books as reference points and I did a lot of the research on the internet. It was frustrating that I couldn't go to libraries and find older books. So when I was doing my degree, I was so used to sitting in the library in a corner and I loved that process. But this time around was unusual. They were very unusual circumstances. I couldn't go out and do that. I nearly today had my pink flowery wallpaper behind me and I thought that the world might not be ready for my pink flowery wallpaper for a podcast.

But I have a little spot with an old wrought iron table table and chair. And I sort of hole up there. I have my bookshelves there. So I did quite a lot there as I got better. I did it very traditionally. I didn't use a software package because I had lovely editors and copy editors and typesetters. The big advantage of working with somebody like you Ebury is that they had so many people to help with so many things.

So I literally did it in Word. And I would research 10 flowers at a time, send them across, they would have a look, decide whether they liked the tone of the writing. And you know, any pointers. Then I'd do another 10. And then there was with a bit of backwards and forwards. They were like, well you know what we're looking for now. And then I sort of went away and I would do the other 60 on my own. And then the editor Sam went through it and then came back to me. And then, because I thought, my deadline was July, and I thought the middle of July, I submitted it the day before my birthday. I thought hurrah, it's done.

And of course it's nothing like done. And so, you know, then Sam came back to me. So then I wrote things and then it went to the copy editor. And the copy editor was someone who'd edited other books in the subject. And they fact-check it and they ask lots of questions. And if there were things that they think aren't clear to readers, they will say you need to explain this or this doesn't join with that. And so then I would put those things in. And then it would go back to the editor and she might not agree with everything that I or the copy editor thought. So then we'd have another discussion. But eventually we'd pull it together.

So there were so many processes. It's been really interesting, great to learn about publishing and to know for future, if I did write another book, all the processes that are involved. But I was lucky and everybody I worked with has been absolutely charming. And apart from telling us about the colour schemes for the colour palette for the book. So my studio for better or worse is quite pink. And so some of it was pink. And then Eva had some backgrounds that were sort of grey and cream.

And then they introduced this bright green that they really liked, which I concede does work really well. They were like, would you like flat lays or uprights, but they sort of gave us some parameters, but they were very receptive to suggestions as well. Eva's obviously very creative and she absolutely has an amazing eye for something. And she would be like, well, I think it should be this way. So yes, there were so many processes that go into a book. I had no idea. They've been amazing. It's been a great way to spend a year.

Rona : Wow. Thank you for sharing that. So, just knocked my microphone there. So it took you from, you started it last March, is that right?

Claire: It took til July. There were a couple of months of discussion about what it should be about. So when I started in March, we'd spent two months talking about the language of flowers, you know, versus sustainability. And how it would have to be to work for both of us. So we agreed all that before I signed a contract. So it was a few months work pre-contract and then started in March and yes, finished the copy in July and the photography towards the end of August to give us some more time to shoot flowers that were coming in.

So for instance, we wanted Dahlias. So we were desperately hoping that Dahlias would come out. Because of the book is printed sustainably, and then it's not flown back, it's shipped back. And that takes a long time. And so you have to allow extra time for all of these things. It takes longer to produce a book in a more sustainable way.

So that that's why the deadline was quicker because they wanted this book to come out in advance of Mother's Day. That was to make it commercial for them. And how were they going to sell the book? So they saw it as something that would be a lovely Mother's Day present. So in March last year, I knew that they wanted the 4th of March as the publication date. That was always there. And then you sort of set deadlines working backwards from that, for everything.

Rona: Right. So this podcast is going to go live the day before Mother's Day. It's going to go live on March 13th. So people will be able to rush out to the store or even order online with a reputable online company. And it can be delivered the next day.

Claire: Oh, what wonderful timing. Well, Happy Mother's Day to everybody who's watching this.

Rona: Or listening. So, Claire, what do you hope that your readers take away from the book?

Claire: What I'm hoping for is flowers, obviously, are a lovely gift to give and to receive. And I think rather than just the random act of giving flowers, people will understand that there can be a much greater depth of meaning. Even something as simple as a bunch of snowdrops. It's not just a bunch of snowdrops. It's, you know, the messages of hope and consolation, the history that they have behind them. And so or bringing together lots of different flowers, lots of different layers of meaning and the thoughtfulness that can go into that.

Rather than just quickly grabbing something off a stall and going, here's some flowers for mum, they can really sort of look at it and think about the message that they want to put across. And then see the flowers that are available to them and sort of choose accordingly. And then it's sort of the difference between maybe preparing a meal for somebody from scratch, because you thought really hard about the ingredients and ingredients that they like. Again, it's that kind of thing. It's not just quickly grabbing something off the shelf. It's buying all the ingredients and putting it together yourself, I suppose, to be an analogy that might work.

Rona: That's an amazing analogy. Amazing. I think you should make that an Instagram post.

Claire: Excellent. Thank you. Thank you. Because I've got 10 days to go and I'm running out to things to say every morning. So I shall use that. Thank you Rona. I shall use that.

Rona: You're welcome. And please, on one of your Instagram posts, can you put the description that you use for Ranunculus? Because it's so beautifully written, the way you describe them. So I've just gone all tingly, just saying that. When I read it the weekend, I was like, oh, that's so lovely. So please put that on Instagram as an example of one of my descriptions that I use in the book.

Claire: Okay. I shall, I shall do that. Excellent. Thank you.

Rona: You're welcome. So what did you love most about writing the book, Claire?

Claire: What did I love most about it? I think the excitement of fulfilling something I'd always wanted to do. I am writing a book. And yes the fact that somebody had the confidence. I don't have a huge amount of confidence, in myself. So for somebody to come along and say, we trust you to do this. And then the book becoming a reality. I think this morning was one of the mornings when I put a post on Instagram and it said 10 sleeps to go. And I thought, now I'm talking to Rona. Oh my goodness. It's actually happened. And it's one of those things. Certainly 10 years ago when I was doing something that I wasn't, you know, it wasn't fulfilling to me. I suppose, the long, the amount of time I spent wishing I could write a book, not necessarily about flowers, but just generally, and then the flowers coming into it.

And just the fact that I'm doing it and it's going to be out there. And yes, I enjoy writing and I quite enjoyed people coming back to me with constructive criticism. Not everybody loves it, but I'm always quite interested to see what people have to say about my writing. And I said at the beginning to my editor, it's probably going to be quite wordy. She said, it's easier for me to cut things out than it is for me to say, where is it? So we'll be fine.

And so in the same way, I'm quite chatty, I'm quite wordy as well. And she was right. She did, there was quite a lot of editing. And a couple of times I had to say, actually no that is important to me, and this is why it's important. And, Sam was great. She'd go, okay. But equally I was good if she said, I don't think we need that. If I didn't feel strongly about it, I'd go, that's fine. If you think we don't need it, then we don't need it. So I found the process of it, the editing and the feedback really useful. Because hopefully when I start writing something else, I have that experience behind me as well. So it's sort of a little bit like being paid to learn.

Rona: Which is wonderful.

Claire: Yes. So it's been wonderful.

Rona: Why would you say no to constructive feedback from such a well-known publisher?

Claire: I think the whole way through the process I've never thought, you know, I've never been. That's a double negative, I was going to say I've never not been aware. I've always been aware of how lucky I am to be doing it.

Rona: Yes, absolutely. So what advice would you give to someone who is considering writing a book Claire?

Claire: Writing a book...

Rona: What advice would you give?

Claire: What advice would I give them? I think in my case it was different because I was approached to write it, which was a bolt from the blue and extremely lucky.

Rona: But you make your own luck, Claire. You were the person writing those blog posts and posting on Instagram.

Claire: I think that good advice would be to, as you say, I wrote a blog and I haven't written on it for gosh almost 11 months because I've been writing the book, I've been writing something else. But before that, I did try and put examples of writing out there. And a lot of the time I was doing it because I enjoyed it. But of course, there's always the hope if publishers are looking for somebody or if you're approaching publishers, it's always good for them to have a point of reference where they can see stuff that you've done before. So I think, yes, regular posting, which I haven't been brilliant at in the last few months because it's been wet and cold and pandemic-like.

But I think in normal times, sort of putting yourself out there and also having a clear idea of what it is you want to do and what you can bring to the book. Because that was something, although Sam approached me to write the book, we then had to put something together for her to pitch to her team to get it approved. So it wasn't pre-approved by Ebury Press. It was an editor at Ebury saying, I have an idea. I think you'd be great to write it. Can we do the proposal together to pitch you to do it and see if we can get it through? So it wasn't a done deal when she approached me. We had a few months of formulating the book and they wanted to know why I would be the right person. So you have to have an idea of why you should be the person to do it, even if it's terrifying.

Rona : You have to have a viewpoint.

Claire: Yes, because if I hadn't already been writing about sustainability and if I hadn't been working with, for instance, Daylesford, it would have been harder for me to say, I am the person who should be writing a book on sustainable gifts. So even though it's terrifying to put yourself forward, I know how scary I find it. Even now I want to go what me? Are you really sure? You know, you have to be able to go and say, you should choose me to write this because...

Rona: It's something I'm known for. You're known for your environmental conversations that you have and how strongly you feel. So 2021, hopefully we'll be coming out of this lovely pandemic.

Claire: Oh fingers crossed.

Rona: What does 2021 have in store for Claire?

Claire: For Claire. Well, I'm hoping more teaching. The hope is, depending on when lockdown lifts, I think I'm allowed to say this, Daylesford are creating a lovely garden room at the moment. And they've asked me if I will go and do a book signing there, which would be wonderful or an event, which would be a great way to in person kickstart because obviously at the moment, there's nothing happening online. And so, some more teaching there, I would think. But largely, my studio in 2019, we had the whole process of building the studio. And then of course the first thing that happened was a pandemic. So, not very much has happened in there.

So I think my aim is to do more writing. I do have another book in mind, which I'm hoping somebody will look sympathetically on. But that's another discussion to be had. And more writing and more teaching. And also we have taken on a garden now, which having lived in London for so long, it's about a third of an acre, but to me, you know, it looks like a vast forest. And it has its own little cutting garden. So I did a garden design class with The Land Gardeners last year, just before lockdown. And then we started replacing hedging and planting roses. But we didn't get to fulfil all the things we wanted to do.

So I'm hoping a lot of gardening as well. So what I'd like to do, although I'm so blessed with Green & Gorgeous, I'd also like to be growing a lot of the sort of twiddly bits that are hard to come by. So I'm hoping to do some more growing. But I'm very much not yet a grower. I see people on Instagram and think WOW.. How did you do that? So I need to pull my socks up and get out there. I got lots of gardening tools for Christmas. I think it was a hint from my husband.

Rona: I'm sure he can help you use them...

Claire: Oh no, I don't think it came with an offer of help, but I'm sure he will. I'm sure he will. He's a very kind man. But he was like, here's everything you asked for on your Niwaki wishlist, go forth and garden. So the dogs will love that.

Rona: So you've mentioned teaching, what kind of courses or workshops do you think you'll be running? What can people learn from you?

Claire: What can people learn from me? Traditionally the three that I've done are bouquets and arrangements and wreath workshops. I think I particularly enjoy the arrangements. I think they're my favourite.

Rona: Why's that?

Claire: I don't know. I think with the bouquets, I find, when you teach bouquets, it takes me quite a long time to make one. Sometimes people can make them quite quickly and it's not quite the same process. I'm trying to think of a way to describe it. It's an amazing thing to do and I love teaching it, but I think maybe I love arrangements the most. I'm going to put that out there.

Rona: I think you love containers as well. You're a bit of a container-holic.

Claire: Yes, this has been pointed out to me. The studio is full of containers and I'm always thinking about what's the next vase is going to be. I do absolutely love bouquets as well. And wreaths. I love teaching autumn wreaths and Christmas wreaths. And I do quite a lot of, 1-2-1s seems to be the things that I have the most of, which I really enjoy because it gives you the day to get to know somebody. And you can tailor it around things that they're hoping to learn.

Rona: And if somebody hasn't seen your work before Claire, how would you describe your floristry style?

Claire: My floristry style. It's quite wild, quite loose. If you want to learn to make very neat and contained bouquets or arrangements, I'm probably not the right person for you. It's quite asymmetrical. It's very naturalistic. I sort of like to be inspired by the garden and the shapes that come out of a garden and so translating that into a bouquet or an arrangement. And obviously lots of people have lots of questions about sustainability or about Instagram.

I get asked lots of questions about Instagram, which are actually not as easy to answer as they used to be because Instagram has changed quite a lot. So there's sort of the general chat. People come with all sorts of questions, which I really love and I love talking. It's something I really enjoy doing. So I hope I get to do more of both. I don't do big classes anyway, because I like to make sure everyone has enough attention. So I wouldn't really take on more than four or five in the studio, maybe six at Daylesford because they've got more space. But I don't do big classes in that sense.

Rona: Won't it be so lovely to have social interaction in person?

Claire: I know. It'll be so nice. I did teach a class, one class when lockdown was lifted and I had about a month where I wasn't supposed to be shielding. The thing that was difficult, apart from the fact that it was pouring with rain that day, was that I couldn't go over. And people were doing bouquets and I wanted to sort of go and point to things or take flowers over or just tweak things a little bit, that would make such a difference. And so then you're trying to explain to people from two or three metres away. No, not that bit, that bit. And it was, it wasn't the same experience actually.

Rona: But hopefully when lockdown is over...

Claire: Yes and you can just go up to people...

Claire: Hopefully they seem to be getting through the immunisations pretty quickly. Fingers crossed this summer.

Rona: I think we'll appreciate everything so much more, won't we, when we're back to a different kind of normal, a new normal.

Claire: A new normal, but I think one we'll be incredibly grateful for.

Rona: So, where can people buy your book, Claire, in the UK?

Claire: Well, I think in lots of conventional places. It's on lots of online bookstores. I know it's on Waterstones and Blackwells. And my favourite at the moment is bookshop.org because they support independent bookstores while they're closed, which is wonderful. And I know there were talks about being, I'm not absolutely sure on all of them, but there were some sort of bigger stores outside of bookshops that were being approached. So I think it's obviously going to be at Daylesford. I think sort of hopefully the normal places where you would go to buy a book because it's Ebury Press. And I think they have quite a far reach. So online, certainly, it should be very easy to get hold of. And in bookshops, when they're open. Soon...

Rona: You mentioned the US as well. When do you think the book is going to be available in the US?

Claire: I think that's a few months away. I heard about that before Christmas and they said it was, I think maybe three months. I would need to check with the publishers, but certainly in the summer. I think they said later in the summer, which was, you know, as specific as they could be at the time But certainly a publisher has taken on the rights to do that over there, which is really exciting.

Rona: So, so exciting. Maybe you'll have to do a book tour? I'm joking. That would be nice, wouldn't it? Oh, I just need to go to the States.

Claire: To be honest, if I escaped the village, it would be lovely. I love my village, but I've seen a lot of it recently and they of me.

Rona: So where can people find out more about you and your business, Claire?

Claire: You see every time you ask me a question, I think oh, that's something else I should do. I would say on my website, which is honeysuckleandhilda.com. I'm going to spend a few days, I think, between now and publication, adding some new photographs. Because everything we photographed last year was for the book, I haven't been allowed to share all of that. Because obviously it's specific to the book. So yes, doing some writing. I've got some writing in mind for that. But everything is on there. And I've got some lovely photos of the studio that should really be going up there as well. So, yes that's the best place to look, I think at the moment.

Rona: And Instagram.

Claire: And Instagram. Yes. Thank you, Rona. Instagram. I'm @honeysuckleandhilda on Instagram. And now that I've sort of got this project done and it's time for some flowers and I've got all the tulips growing in my garden, hurrah.I planted them optimistically thinking I would be teaching in March/April. And, last year I did the same thing, but it didn't matter because we had the book. So there was one picture in the book, which has about two or three hundred tulips in it.

Rona: On your table...

Claire: Yes on the table. Because I had coronavirus, I couldn't even give them to people in the village. We were the first people to get it. Everybody was incredibly kind with, you know, shopping and prescriptions and all of those things. But you know, we sort of had a cross on our door. So I couldn't say to people, do come and take some tulips to say, thank you. I just couldn't do that because in case they were, we didn't know at that stage exactly how the virus was passed on. So yes I'm going to have another five or six hundred tulips and narcissi.

Rona: Well, you'll have content for Instagram, won't you?

Claire: Yes, so much content hopefully coming this way. So I'm looking forward to getting back into the swing of that, a lot more than I have been. So I've got sort of 10 days of chatting about the book before publication and then getting back into the, oh look flowers are here. And lots of lovely arrangements and bouquets and you know, all of those things. It's good. It's been a long winter. So I'm really looking forward to that.

Rona: Thank you so much, Claire. It's been so, so lovely catching up with you and I've found out things about you that I never knew. And I'm just so pleased for you that you had this dream of writing a book and it's actually happened. And just putting yourself out there on your blog and Instagram, obviously has reaped lots of benefits.

Claire: Well, thank you so much for having me and yes, you're right. It's one of those things where if you sort of put yourself out there, maybe, maybe you'll get lucky. I got lucky, I have to be honest. But if I hadn't of put myself out there, they wouldn't have done. So it's a combination. But thank you Rona so much for having me. I've really enjoyed talking to you.

Rona: You're welcome. And good luck with the book launch both here and in the States.

Claire: Thank you. Thank you so much. Bye-bye take care. Bye bye.

Rona: So hope you enjoyed my interview with Claire. It was so lovely to see her again after so long and share her exciting news about her new book. Claire touched on some key points in the interview and she has kindly written them down for me. And I'll be including them. There are three practical tips that she liked to share. So I'll be including them together with Eva, her photographer's photography tips, three of those in a special download to accompany this week's episode. So I'll put a link so that you can download that below. So if you're looking for a beautiful book to buy someone who you know loves flowers and would like to know more about the meaning of flowers, I highly recommend getting a copy. I hope you have a lovely rest of your day and I'll see you next week.

Just in case you missed it, here’s a link to the previous podcast – How to Create an Effective Website with Kelly Sparkes.

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