29 November 2006

Bang up to date

My copy is filed at last - hurrah! I thought I would never finish it at times. I still need to chase permissions for a couple of pics, though.

I've bagged a well-paying, regular gig copy-editing a financial newsletter - a trip to London looms to meet the team in two weeks time. Need to maximise the visit by fixing up other appointments.

Almost everything else is up to date, bar a little work on my accounts and paying in a couple of cheques.

No work booked in today - but I do have a dental check-up to attend. Then I shall enjoy my day off.

My beloved P has gone away for 5 whole days - he was off at 6am and I won't see him until Monday mid-morning. :(

26 November 2006

Broken back

I've finally broken the back of the 3,500-word feature I'm writing. In the end, it was the looming deadline that forced me to stop procrastinating and buckle down. I perform better under pressure anyway. I have just some 250 words to scrawl now, to finish it up then I can submit it.

It's been a busy day - my beloved P has been struck down by a gastric bug so I've been administering cups of tea to him throughout, while talking to friends and family on the phone, dealing with another email backlog and clearing paperwork. I'm not a fan of working on Sundays - this is usually the one day a week I spend quality time with P, going for long walks, talking, having fun... but with him looking grey and flopped out on the sofa, I thought I might as well crack on. I don't intend to make a habit of it, though.

One of the joys of freelancing is that you can work odd hours, as and when, but generally I try to keep to "office hours" as much as possible so that I'm in synch with P, else we'd never spend any time together. So today was a one-off and is unlikely to be repeated for a very long time...

24 November 2006

End of the working week

It's been an odd sort of week. I spent most of Monday untangling my accounts, which was desperately overdue. When it gets busy it only takes a moment to type up an invoice and keep a copy aside, thinking "I'll file it into the books when I have a spare moment". Before you know it, there's a massive pile of receipts and invoices to enter and several bank statements to reconcile. Not my favourite job. In the middle of all that, my accountant let me know she's about to file my tax return. I was relieved to discover I won't be taxed twice on my foreign divorce settlement.

In between, I chased some pics for a feature I'm writing, did some copywriting for a regular client and spent hours posting daft haikus on a listserv I belong to. Hardly constructive - just procrastination because I'm stuck with the feature. I need to get my skates on as the deadline is looming.

And I've been chasing a regular gig editing a financial newsletter on foreign stocks. I hope this one comes off as regular work is always good. And finance is my speciality.

Wednesday evening saw me in the pub meeting a few local contacts with a view to setting up a local alternative news site. This idea has been tossed around for some time but now it looks increasingly viable, with a small team starting to form. I doubt it'll earn any money, not for a while anyway, but I really want to do it.

As the week draws to a close, I'm already starting to look ahead to 2007 and think about goals. More clients and more money are the obvious ones, but what else? I'm thinking hard about career direction, where I want to take the business...

20 November 2006

A night out with arms dealers

Not literally.

I just spent a very pleasant evening at the local theatre watching Mark Thomas deliver a corking live show. He's been immersed in all sorts of shenanigans, posing as an arms dealer in order to expose their invidious trade. And he wrote a very funny book about his experiences, and now he's most of the way through a live tour talking about it (his experiences, not the book, although I'm sure he's chuffed if he sells a few more at the end of the night). But don't take my word for it - go and see him. Or buy the book.

Mind you, I'm biased. We were at uni together. But he's still very funny. And very passionate.

The rest of the day was searingly dull by comparison. I did my accounts.

16 November 2006

Pointless waste of an evening

I don't know why I bothered going out last night. I was tired and grouchy after slaving over the keyboard all day, then there was a mad rush to get glammed up and call a cab. The cabbie decided to take the scenic route, so there was a dispute over the fare (which I won). It was raining and I got drenched in the dash from cab to door. Inside, I was offered a glass of Buck's Fizz, which was more buck than fizz, given that there was definitely barely more than a teaspoon of champagne in the flute. Not a good start.

I headed upstairs. I felt overdressed - the dress code had said smart so I'd scrubbed up. I don't know why I bothered, given that most of the others there were looking distinctly casual. There were a lot of waiters hovering, but none with refills. I checked the seating plan to locate my table then chatted a while to a couple of women - one of whom is also a writer and just starting as a freelance.

We were asked to take our seats for dinner so I headed off to my table only to discover I had no place. I checked all the name cards twice. Nope, definitely not on my table. I went back across the room to check the board again. I was definitely supposed to be at that table. So I went and checked a third time. The table was now full and I definitely did not have an allocated place. I spent 10 minutes locating one of the organisers to ask where the hell I was supposed to be sitting, and was then told that I was on a different table because the seating plan had been changed to "improve the networking". Great, thanks for letting me know. If you're going to change the seating plan, at least put the correct one on display...

Things went from bad to worse. The other occupants at my table were mostly in groups together, so they spent the evening talking only to each other. So much for networking. The chairs were hideously uncomfortable, so my back started aching before long and as much as I shifted around I just could not sit without being in pain. Everything was running late. There were some very dull speeches while we waited for food to arrive (including one in which the speaker claimed that everyone in the room must know Ms X, who is apparently a local mover and shaker but I'd never even heard of her). The first course arrived 50 minutes late and we were offered only one meagre glass of wine the entire evening. We were supposed to buy more drinks at the overpriced bar, but no one had said this - you were left to work it out for yourself. More speeches, more lengthy waits for food...

The evening was supposed to finish at 10.30pm, but at that point we'd only just had dessert. I'd been there 4 hours and there were still more speeches to come. I'd had enough.

I nipped downstairs for a smoke, rang for a cab and went home. I doubt anyone missed me. My beloved P was waiting for me when I got back. As always, he lifted my mood and after a brandy each and a chat, I felt a lot happier. That's the last time I fork out hard-earned cash for a disappointing do.

15 November 2006

Off out to dinner

I've worked my socks off since the end of last week, copy-editing a PhD thesis. It took longer than expected and my arms, shoulders and legs ache from being sat in a chair for 3 whole days.

I'm behind with everything else, unsurprisingly.

I'm going out to a posh networking dinner tonight at the racecourse, for a bit of R and R. By the time I get home, my beloved P will be back from his trip away and probably asleep in bed. I last saw him at 5.45 am yesterday, which means I'm unlikely to see him again until I wake up tomorrow.

Then I'll be playing catch-up - with him and the neglected work pile...

13 November 2006

Overdue recognition

The Guardian published a column today by Kim Fletcher, who praises the sub-editors who dig journalists out of deep holes. You can read it here.

I used to work as a staff sub-editor on several consumer mags. The pressure is horrendous and you are expected to produce perfect pages with tip-top accuracy against outrageous deadlines. The accuracy is not a problem for the likes of myself and others dedicated to the craft of maintaining quality English. But I've lost count of the number of times I've saved a hack's skin because what they submitted was, well, shite, to be honest. As Fletcher says, journalists win awards for stuff they have had published that without the sub's intervention would have been unreadable.

Just today, I saw on a listserv I subscribe to a request for advice from a wannabe about becoming a feature writer. His post was littered with typos, including a comment that maybe he should take a "different tact". Yeah, well...

I've always maintained that a bad writer will always be a bad writer. If you seriously want to be a good writer, it helps to be able to spell and know how to punctuate properly. And having a grasp of good grammar wouldn't go amiss either.

Fletcher goes on to remark that papers are finding it difficult to recruit sub-editors these days. I'm not surprised. The pay is lousy, with starting levels at around £15k, meaning that no one except school-leavers and graduates could possibly be interested. You can't survive on that sort of money, let alone pay a mortage and feed a family. And today's school-leavers and graduates are of the generation that were not taught grammar in school and wouldn't have a clue how to edit. Let's face it, those of us who do know have all gone freelance. If the press wants to boost recruitment into what is a highly skilled job, they need to raise starting pay levels to a minimum £25k pa, and offer training as well.

Otherwise, the industry will continue to bleed existing talent and fail to unearth new.

09 November 2006

Forgot to mention

I also cooked dinner, emptied and refilled the dishwasher and put a load of laundry in the machine because the cleaner is here tomorrow and I want the ironing done.

I sound bitter in my last post. I'm not. I'm just tired and overwhelmed. And I missed The Archers and not even a dose of The State Within followed by EastEnders on BBC3 has lifted my mood.

Is it really less than a month since we came back from our holiday? It feels like a lifetime.

Just when I thought...

...it couldn't possibly get any busier, I'm being bombarded with demands on my time.

I spent Wednesday in London, at an editorial summit for a magazine I write and commission for. Armed with my new laptop, I installed Open Office (for free) so I could work on stuff while on the train. The night before my trip, I received 100,000 words of PhD thesis to edit, so I copied it on to the laptop smug in the knowledge that Virgin Pendolinos provide sockets to plug portables into. Yes, I was going to work on the train. And work I did. Except that I quickly discovered that Open Office doesn't offer a Track Changes facility as standard and - guess what? - I'd promised my client I'd use Track Changes... Sigh. I did what I could and it made the journey go faster, but I had to spend 2 hours today going over the edit because OO is not fully compatible with Word and of course, I can't charge for that time.

Despite such problems, the summit went well and I also made some useful contacts at the meeting place. Came home tired but chirpy.

Woke up at 4am, sweating profusely and having nightmares about spam emails. Got up, brewed tea, did sudoku, caught up on the email backlog. After showering, I resumed work on the PhD thesis and juggled constant interruptions. I found out that my beloved P had failed to tell me the night before of the messages on the answering machine - one of my regular clients was trying to get in touch to book editorial time. That dealt with, I went to play back the missed messages. One from a marketing agency that wants to hire me as a sub-contractor - I think not. My lovely graphic designer did work for them last year and had a struggle getting paid. I haven't called the agency back yet - let them sweat. One from a charity I'm trying to source pics from for a feature - I rang back but no answer. Will try again tomorrow.

Email then arrived from an ex-client I was convinced had dumped me after I had a dispute with our mutual contact. But apparently not - he's sent me a case study to edit. A phone call would have been good, to ask when I could do it. Sigh again - will call tomorrow to sort it out. A local freelance emailed asking for advice on rates - that was dealt with quickly enough, but some thanks for my input would have been appreciated. Ditto the writer who found me on MySpace asking about two-deck headlines. Sometimes I feel like Marje Proops - everyone wants my time but no one ever says thanks.

On top of that, my scientific client finally resurfaced after yet another AWOL break to give me the data I need so I need to squeeze in time first thing to finish that job. Thankfully, it won't take long. I have outstanding invoices to send, clients to chase and even though I've had a large drink I feel pulled in all directions. I need a PA. Fast.

God knows how I'll finish the PhD thesis on deadline. And I still have half a long feature to write.

Take my advice. Don't ever become a freelance.

07 November 2006


My previous-but-one entry has vanished! It was there earlier, but disappeared into the ether after I posted the last one a few minutes ago.

Gone. Forever. And fat chance of retrieving it...


I received interesting mail on Saturday - an offer to become a preferred supplier for a client I'd just done my first job for. A contract was enclosed. I had a quick glance at it then tossed it to one side.

As a freelance, I write my own contracts for most clients (not all, there are a favoured few that I trust not to mess me around and pay on time). It's part of working for oneself - the right to pick and choose clients and set your own terms and conditions.

I asked my beloved P to cast his professional eye over the contract I was offered. In short, it said (and I quote P): "You, personally, have to be available to do work for XXX all the time on our terms, i.e. you waive your own T&Cs. If you are not going to be available you have to tell us in advance, or you will become liable for any losses we incur. If we have a dispute then you are not allowed to keep any papers you may need to prove your side of the case."

I was stunned, because I hadn't read any of the contract and could scarcely believe I would be expected to work under such draconian conditions (possibly even Dickensian). It was the closest said client could get to employing me, without actually employing me.

I did a bit of asking around among others who have worked for this client. Quite a few thought I was overreacting. In the end, I rang the client yesterday to talk it over and pointed out the various problems with the wording. The client agreed that some of it was ambiguous and is now going to come up with a tailormade contract for me. Although I'm still deciding whether or not I want to work regularly for them or not.

I've had a pleasant 24 hours writing about wines and firing off invoices. My laptop is recharging and I'm preparing for a day out in The Smoke - coffee, cake, work chat and shopping...