27 March 2007

Lost in translation

I am ploughing, and I mean ploughing, through a translated book. At first glance, it reads well enough then you start to notice that it wasn't actually translated by a native speaker. There are the odd little grammatical constructions, of course, that are a dead giveaway, not to mention the occasional mistranslation - "dilate" for example, when the author means "expand". Some of these are quite amusing - "we will dilate on this issue later in this chapter" has popped up several times. Then there are the neologisms and strange expansions of English words, such as strategical instead of strategic.

None of this I mind. I'm being paid to clean it all up, after all. The annoying bits are where the translator has omitted text and I can't even begin to make a guess at what is meant, for lack of a word or three. And then there are the untranslated captions... luckily, I'm au courant with the original language of the book, so I've been able to translate these myself.

All this means my work rate has slowed to perhaps my lowest ever. Yesterday, I spent 6 hours editing a chapter of less than 40 pages. That is brain-grindingly slow by any standards and my head hurts. My shoulders ache too, from hunching over the keyboard, poring through reference books and staring at the screen, willing inspiration to come when I feel stuck.

Thank gawd there's only a chapter and a half to go.

22 March 2007


I had a very early start this morning as I was being collected at 7.15am to go off to a business networking meeting. Not just any old networking meeting, but a brand new one that I was helping to launch. The night before, I went to bed early and set my alarm clock for 6am. Naturally, I awoke at 4.30am and was unable to doze off again. So I got up, made my pot of tea and sat at the PC until it was time to get in the shower.

On arrival at our venue, I was delighted to see there was a large pot of fresh filter coffee waiting for us. As my eyeballs felt like they had been sandpapered, my body as if it had been hit by a Massey Ferguson and my brain like a bowl of custard, I poured myself a very large mug. I felt, in a word, shit. And I didn't even have the excuse of a hangover.

There was lots to do during set-up so I kept fuelling myself on caffeine. And then I drank more with my breakfast during the meeting. And more afterwards.

It was only when I arrived home at 11.30am, ready to do some paid work, that I realised I had drunk about 6 cups of the stuff. I felt completely hyper - even replying to emails was a marathon effort because my hands and brain were out of sync and I could feel my heart pounding inside my ribs. Emails sorted, I tried to work and realised I was in no state to do so.

This had everything to do with the fact that in around 3 hours I had drunk treble my normal weekly dose of coffee.

I abandoned all thoughts of constructive employment and surfed the net, played card games on my PC and read a novel instead.

Tomorrow, I'll play catch-up. If I can sleep tonight...

19 March 2007

Worked out and fed up

Warning - minor rant follows...

I have worked my socks off the last 7 days. The book I was working on is finally finished, at last. I got so frustrated as the last chapters were late - I was basically stuck at my desk waiting for them to arrive and I couldn't go off and do anything else as I had no idea when to expect them. In the interim, I was panicking as the next book (insurance!) was due Thursday and I was wondering how the hell I was going to juggle both jobs. Luckily, the insurance book was late and the publisher was well-mannered enough to inform me - we agreed they would send it today. But in the meantime, I was still stuck with the Arab book... and then I got talked into writing a press release for a new client over the weekend, because it was urgent and I was resigned to working on Saturday in any case in order to finish the book.

Saturday arrived and I felt like death. I'd had a rotten night's sleep - I kept waking drenched in sweat and finally gave up at 5am and made a pot of tea. My head was pounding but I'd only had two glasses of wine the night before. It finally dawned on me that I had a cold. I somehow ploughed through the press release but couldn't face the last of the Arab book and went back to bed for a long siesta.

Sunday I tackled the final book chapter, in between additional sleeps and plenty of paracetamol. I was thoroughly cheesed off at the loss of my weekend - not just the work, but feeling ill too.

At least today I am feeling better and I've written the web copy for a regular client's new project site. It'll only need minor tweaks now, leaving the rest of this week clear to edit the insurance book.

This evening, I was planning to relax on the sofa, only to discover to my fury that EastEnders has been scrapped and replaced with the bloody football! There's no justice...

12 March 2007

Moral boundaries revisited

Last July, I wrote about the crossing of ethical boundaries, specifically about plagiarism. My strong feelings on this issue have not changed one jot.

So, this evening, between a couple of bouts of rare TV watching, I had a quick look at my emails. One was an offer of work. I was asked to write a press release on behalf of one of these essay-selling companies. I immediately replied, explaining that I am fully booked for the next few weeks and have no spare capacity, which is absolutely true.

What I didn't say, because I was wearing my diplomatic business-person's hat, is that my skin crawls at the thought of being asked to endorse such practices by dint of bigging them up in a press release. I was even asked in the brief to stress that such companies are not unethical.

I'm not going to be a hypocrite and take this company's cash for writing words in which I do not believe. These companies, make no mistake, are unethical. I had a quick look at the testimonials on the company website and was disgusted to see students bragging about not having to do their own research because they'd been "bright" enough to pay someone else to do the work for them.

The only option was to say no. I will not bend my principles for money. You can hire me, but you can't buy me.

10 March 2007

It's all about the money

It seems that the busier I get, the more work gets thrown my way. I've been up to my neck all week, what with editing the Arab book and writing two features for a client. Yesterday, I was offered more feature work for an expat paper across The Great Ditch (that's the Channel, for any of you who haven't yet ventured across for a life abroad). I haven't said yes yet, as I'm waiting for them to come back to me with their rates. If they pay enough, I'll say yes.

I still have at least four features waiting to be written up for various clients. I shall have to make another day trip this week to get two of them done. And I'll probably do one of them today, once I've been out for a walk - the sunshine is glorious again here. Besides, it's the only way I'll squeeze everything in.

I bit the bullet yesterday and did my accounts, after not doing very much with them for a while. I'd been putting my invoices into the system, but not my expenses, and there was a lot of paperwork to get through. I'm still not 100% up to date, but my financial year ends at the end of March so I need to at least get on top of it. The upside was that I managed to shift a lot of paper off my desk - invoices and receipts, obviously, but I also filed a lot of non-financial stuff - style guides lying in the nether regions of my desk, client briefs, magazines and other such detritus. I'm feeling quite smug now and my desk looks wonderfully tidy.

05 March 2007

Off to a good start.

Monday began at a cracking pace. I rang the person who commissioned me to write the tourism stuff so we could sort out a small error regarding my next commission. That resolved, I duly emailed my copy then spent the next two hours frustratedly having to resend the pics as my email client kept timing out and the server at the other end didn't like the size of my attachments. I finally got it all sorted though and while all that was going on, I dealt with a bunch of other matters, such as sourcing file pics for my next assignment and responding to emails. Plus I started and finished editing two book chapters. It's been a busy day. I'm feeling so perky right now, despite having an over-full schedule. Things are going well and I'm still buzzing from Friday's trip to Jodrell Bank.

03 March 2007

A grand day out

One of the perks of being a hack is that once in a while you get commissioned to do something really interesting and fun. I had just such a day yesterday when I drove cross-county with a pal to get paid to poke around things at Jodrell Bank and Tatton Park.

The weather was absolutely glorious - there was a chill in the air but the sky was clear and the sun was out. It was perfect weather for a day trip, and for taking photos. We arrived at Jodrell Bank just after 10.30. I was a little disappointed to see that the famous Lovell Telescope was in a horizontal position. It meant that the bowl and receiver could not be seen. We headed into the visitor centre, where we were greeted by a true English eccentric - in this case, an archetypal nutty professor with billowing hair who announced he was from Planet Zarg. I deadpanned back that he was lucky to be receiving guests from Gallifrey.

Actually, our nutty prof was very friendly and helpful, but he informed us that the telescope was being repaired and unable to move as a result. Nevertheless, we went back outside into the sunshine to have a look close up. The sheer size and scale of the telescope is awesome - I felt dwarfed by it.

Then, to my utter joy, it slowly began to tilt into a vertical position! The problem had been fixed with perfect timing. We stood there in awe, watching it slowly descend into position - almost vertical and facing the sun. I made the mistake of removing my sunglasses and was almost blinded by the dazzle bouncing off the bowl's reflective surface. The shades were rapidly replaced.

I could have stood there all day, but there was work to be done exploring the facilities - 3D show, information films, arboretum... and all too soon it was time to depart and head for Tatton Park. Tatton was also very impressive. Sadly, the Mansion was closed as it's still low season, but I had a press pass to roam the gardens and parkland. We spotted a huge herd of fallow deer close to the road and stopped to snap the stags. The gardens were simply amazing - from the exquisite Japanese garden (one of the finest in the UK), via the rose garden and formal Italian garden at the back of the mansion to the maze laid out identically to the one at Hampton Court and the working kitchen gardens, full of rare species of apple trees. With only half a day, we didn't have time to see everything, but we took the opportunity to eat a late lunch at the restaurant. The food was delicious - home-cooked and all from the farm or gardens. Absolutely the best-ever catering I've experienced at a tourist attraction.

I enjoyed myself enormously and came home tired but happy. Days like that don't come round too often, but they remind me that I am privileged to have free access and get paid for having a fun time away from the computer.

Next week I'll be back at the grindstone of my desk...

01 March 2007

Flavour of the month

I'm not sure what I'm doing, but it's obviously right. I seem to be Miss Popularity all of a sudden. I'm being offered work left, right and proverbial centre! Some I have turned down, such as the request to write 80-100 small features of 500-800 words apiece on specialist financial matters. Now, I'm not a qualified financial adviser by any stretch so I would have turned it down on those grounds alone (which I did, politely). A jobbing hack like me simply does not have the requisite subject experience to offer legally accurate info to people who are looking to save money. But what really put me off was the remuneration on offer. Dare I say it was a mere £25 a pop? Seriously, I could earn more cash stacking shelves in Tesco for less aggro.

The investment publisher I regularly freelance for has just offered me another book to edit. I was loathe to say no, even though my workplanner is busting at the seams, because the comms ed has just written me a glowing reference. So I said yes, after negotiating a small extension to the deadline.

My bank manager is soooo going to love me by the end of the tax year!