Hello I am Sheila Johnson and welcome to my website and blog. If you want to learn more about me visit the About Me page.

Monday, 2 September 2019

This month I would like to share with you a poem that I wrote last year but thanks to some help and inspiration from another poet, I worked on it again and submitted it to a poetry competition and was one of twelve commended poets. The poem is about my mother's old camera and the memories it captured or in some cases, didn't capture. 

Box Brownie
I came across my mother’s old box Brownie
in an exhibition of cameras that I viewed.
Already ancient when she last used it,
to take pictures of our lives so long ago.

Snippets of my sister’s and my early childhood,
holidays and pets faded in a dog-eared past
of eight lost years when it stopped working
blank canvas of memories we never knew.

Those innocent days seem resigned to history,
Like the Brownie on the shelf, circa 1950.

Apart from a small newspaper I produced at school which only ran to one edition, poetry was my first real experience of writing as a young teenager and in some ways, one of my first loves.

The last time I had any such encouragement with my poetry was when I was published in the book below: -

My poems, 'The Holy Spirit's Creed' and 'Easter Haiku' being sandwiched between Charles Wesley and Robert Bridges! It is still available on amazon.co.uk as a kindle edition at just 99p https://www.amazon.co.uk/s?k=Stones+before+the+Ocean or from lulu.com as a paperback for £5.20 including vat. (published 2017)

Tuesday, 20 August 2019

Travel to the Antipodes both now and in the past

Image result for plane images

Our friends from Australia visited us in the UK recently. They flew by plane. The flight only takes 24 hours. To some people this may seem like an age but compared with the first settlers to Australia and New Zealand in the mid-nineteenth century who had to travel by sail boat, this is really quick. The average time then was four to six months! The transport would be like the image below.

In my book, Waireka, Eliza has to make this very long journey with the family she is nursemaid too. Such a journey would not only be long and hazardous, it would also mean that those who made it would never see their families again.

"Eliza's ...father turned to her at supper that evening and addressed her directly. "Your luggage, all but a few clothes and personal items, must be sent on ahead of you where they will be dealt with in the appropriate manner for departure...You are to spend the first night with the Reids at their lodgings before leaving for the docks in Greenock near Glasgow early in the morning ready for an evening sailing. If you're lucky and the journey is good, you should arrive in Wellington in just four months."
(Waireka page 20)

The travellers would also have to suffer lack of food, disease and sea storms.

"Holed up in their cabin, Eliza and the children were sick until they were no longer able to be and then just lay on their beds feeling like death. They heard other reports of dysentery and scarlet fever being rife on the ship too, especially amongst the steerage passengers. Eliza had seen many bodies dispatched over the edge already, particularly those of young children and she feared for the health of the young Reids."
(Waireka page 47)

If you want to know more about the journey and the Reid family's arrival in New Zealand, my book can be found at https://www.amazon.co.uk/s?k=waireka+by+sheila+donald&crid=1K88DN2B3QN4H&sprefix=Waireka%2Caps%2C131&ref=nb_sb_ss_i_1_7 or on amazon.com.

Thank you.

Tuesday, 16 July 2019

Inspiration from artists

Angus and I have just returned from a lovely week's holiday in Norfolk. While there we had a couple of opportunities to also explore Suffolk, a fairly unfamiliar county to us both. I was particularly keen to view Constable country where the artist was born, brought up and the chief inspiration for his art. It was great to explore these places and to see how they had changed and what still remained similar. The highlight of our visit was a tour - just Angus, I and Zak the dog - of the area with a guide who, with various prints of Constable's work, was able to put the prints alongside the same contemporary views.

The Haywain, as it was and as it is now
The dry dock where the boat builder was painted on site
Flatford Mill as it is now, with the lock
Although seeing the famous paintings in their contemporary settings was really inspiring, as well as discovering that Constable's patron was also the patron of poets, Wordsworth and Coleridge, I was most inspired by the tragic and very moving story of Constable's love interest. Her name was Maria Bicknell and she was twelve years younger than Constable, the grand daughter of a local wealthy Rector. John had begun by teaching her painting and sketching when he was 24 years old and she, just 12. By the time she had turned 18 and John painted a portrait of her, the relationship had moved beyond the bounds of friendship. But because Constable was a penniless painter, the family, especially the grandfather, were against the match and it was to be another 16 years before the couple could actually marry, when John was 40 years old. Even then the marriage was not supported by the families but at least, when the Rector died he finally recanted and left a legacy to Maria and their children. Sadly, after birthing 6 children, Maria died of consumption in 1828, after just 12 years of marriage and Constable just 9 years later of a suspected heart attack. Perhaps he never recovered from his broken heart in Maria's death. 

What a tender, loving story of a faithful love surviving against all odds but how tragic that the couple had so few years to enjoy their married bliss.

Wednesday, 5 June 2019

Writing Retreat

We writers generally work as solitary people. We may see our family and friends regularly but connecting face-to-face with other writers only happens at workshops, writing groups or a writing retreat. What a privilege it was at the end of May to get away to a beautiful spot on the Yorkshire Moors not far from Huddersfield and share a few days with like-minded people, writing and encouraging one another.

We had a great three and a half days away at Westwood Christian Centre in a remote part of the Yorkshire Moors not far from Huddersfield. A converted church, it consisted of five very comfortable flats, two meeting rooms and a large, well stocked kitchen.

My thanks go to our great team of workshop leaders who led sessions on fiction, journalism, children's writing, poetry and the very important topic of online promotion. All this was extremely useful of course, but even better was the opportunity to share with others our writing journeys - our acceptances and rejections and the way ahead.

This was my first ever writing retreat and I can't wait now for the next!

Tuesday, 7 May 2019

Cheltenham, a town of Festivals

My town is a town of Festivals. It buzzes with creativity from writing to art, drama, poetry, hymn writing etc. The Cotswolds seem to be a place that draws some of the most creative brains of our time. We have the Holst Museum, where the music of Gustav Holst can be enjoyed while learning a little about his life and we have a plaque displayed to the great Antartic explorer, Edward Wilson, born and brought up on a farm near Cheltenham. The countryside around here does seem to have inspired many of our great writers and poets over the centuries.

It was, therefore, a pleasure to visit this year's Cheltenham Poetry Festival and learn about some of the well-known poets connected with the Cotswolds and surrounding areas and also to become acquainted with some of the less well-known ones in a most interesting talk by Sylvia Charlewood.

She introduced us to Caroline Alice Roberts - not well-known for her writings, although as the wife of the Worcestershire composer, Edward Elgar, we have probably sung many of her lyrics which have been wrongly ascribed to Elgar, who only wrote the music.

Then there is the poet, Ivor Gurney, a less well-known first world war poet than many, but beginning to get some recognition now as a poet of our beautiful local countryside. He now has a window dedicated to him in Gloucester Cathedral.

The Poet Laureate of the 1960's Cecil Day Lewis was also a teacher at Cheltenham College, where fellow poet, Alan Lindsay Gordon attended.

We have a connection too with the poet of a 'Shropshire Lad', A.E Houseman and poet, John Masefield.

Many of these came from other places but were attracted to the countryside here for their inspiration.

I would like to finish by acquainting you a poem by James Elroy Flecker (it has been abridged) which links the past with the future of writing. He was educated at Cheltenham's Dean Close School, where his Father was the Headmaster.

To a poet a thousand years hence

I who am dead a thousand years, 
And wrote this sweet archaic song,
Send you my words for messengers
The way I shall not pass along.

O friend unseen, unborn, unknown,
Student of our sweet English tongue,
Read out my words at night, alone:
I was a poet, I was young.

Since I can never see your face,
And never shake you by the hand,
I send my soul through time and space
To greet you. You will understand. 

Wednesday, 24 April 2019


Family is incredibly important to all of us. We see just how valuable these relationships are when tragedy strikes as it has done in Sri Lanka over the Easter weekend this year, when evil leaders commit acts of terror which break up families and cause our every day lives to disintegrate.

By contrast, this Easter time was a celebration for my family of being all together for the first time since Christmas. The hot, sunny weather was an added bonus.

For my heroine, Eliza, in my book, Waireka, family was really important too. The early pioneers had to be tough and resilient and the families had to work hard, pulling together to make a successful living. This, Eliza feels, will certainly be a contributing factor to the success of the Waireka Butter Factory.

"She felt in her heart this was just the beginning of something much bigger, although she knew they would all have to work hard to grow the business and increase the cows to the projected two hundred they envisaged. Along with Murray, Henry, Peter and Adam, Sue, Annie, herself and the children would all have to play their part in the success of the company...if Alister's plan to export the butter across New Zealand was going to work." (Waireka, Chapter 12 p 192-3)

Tuesday, 19 March 2019

Radio Mearns FM

Thanks to Wendy H Jones https://www.wendyhjones.com and her fortnightly 'Book Buzz' show on Mearns FM, a Scottish Community Radio station near Stonehaven in Scotland, I can post a link to her interview of me and my books. It is here below in its abriged version.

In the show, I talked not only about my books but also selected five songs which mean a lot to me. The programme seemed a bit like the BBC's Desert Island Discs, where well-known people talk about themselves and their work and choose a number of their favourite songs. I would like to post a link to a couple of these songs, as when I write a book, I always choose a song that my characters can sing to each other. It is in effect, their cover song.

For Waireka that song is - You Raise me up sang by Daniel O' Donnell.  https://youtu.be/agYOOtk2B90 This is the song that I feel Eliza would sing to Robert because he raises her out of her difficult situation and gives her renewed hope.

For my first book, Alpha Male, that song is - Draw me close to you by Hillsong https://youtu.be/IdJBYyNsQd0  This is the song that I believe Craig, the hero of my novella would sing to the heroine, Amy.

So I hope you will not only take the time to hear a bit more about my two books but also to listen to my music choices to connect a bit more with me and my characters. Thank you.