30 January 2008

Desk, housekeeping and Dot

I've just been catching up with Dougalfish's blog - she's written about her work space. I seem to be alone among freelances in having a tidy desk. Back in the dark days of being an employee, colleagues would accuse me of slacking because my desk was always spotless and scrupulously tidy. Apparently, if you don't have teetering stacks of files surrounding you you aren't working!

To me a tidy desk means a tidy mind. I cannot work in a cluttered environment. I find it off-putting. I'm fortunate to have a dedicated office space in which to work at Wordsmith Towers. I have a large curved desk and have maximised the available space by putting my PC tower in a sling under the desk frame and having a flat-screen monitor. A stack of in-trays sits in one corner, a lamp occupies another. And that's about it, apart from the phones, tin of pens and my Rolodex. I file everything ruthlessly. Besides, I need space for the cat, who insists on napping next to me while I work.

Talking of clutter, I spent a chunk of today doing some PC housekeeping. Once a year, I clear out email by exporting it to another drive on the computer. So today, every client I worked for last year has had all the 2007 correspondence shifted elsewhere to free up space in Thunderbird. I also took time to back everything up on my other drive as well. Better safe than sorry.

When I was finished, I sat down with a glass of something chilled and put the Archers on. I got up to switch the radio off at the end but Front Row came on and I stayed to listen to the very wonderful June Brown talking about being Dot Cotton (now Branning) in EastEnders. Tomorrow she will make soap history by having an entire episode to herself. Solo. On her tod. With a 30-minute monologue. Dot has always been my favourite character in Walford, she's well written, well played and well rounded. It's hard to believe I've been watching her for the best part of 22 years. She's done some cracking two-handers over the years so tomorrow will be a treat.

28 January 2008

The day today

...was a mixed bag really.

The PR people were kind enough to pick up the phone this morning and apologise for bunging me on their mailing list without checking if I was interested. Although they kept insisting that they'd got my email addy from Gorkana. Funny that, as the email address at which they spammed me has never been on Gorkana. Ever.

And then, of course, Gorkana contacted me to say they'd heard I was receiving press releases at the wrong email address... Sighing, I picked up the phone and rang Gorkana to tell them I'd never had any problem receiving emails from them at the wrong address.Hmmm, wonder who told Gorkana, anyway? No prizes for guessing who. But if the PR person had read my website properly in the first place, all this grief could have been avoided. And the PRs wonder why us hacks get so, erm, hacked off with them at times...

So that was half a day gone.

I also lost 30 minutes on a totally pointless IM chat with a foreign client. The person I spoke to is not even my client, but just works for my client. Nevertheless, he engaged me in a conversation about a minor point of grammar where I had changed the original copy. I kept explaining I didn't have time to chat and no, I was not going to explain it by email later in the week either. I just about managed to rein in my rudeness but ended the chat enraged at the waste of time and being questioned over my editorial decisions by someone who only speaks my language as a non-native speaker. Obviously not a good day for keeping my temper.

I got no work done today. The IM chat, the PR nonsense and, oh yeah, the discovery that a Guardian piece of mine had been plagiarised on 2 websites (necessitating the sending of threatening emails demanding removal or compensation for breaching my copyright) ruined my day.

Now I have to produce 1,500 words by teatime tomorrow and I haven't called anyone yet for quotes, I've done no research and I'll be winging it all the way. All I need now is a seizure to really wreck my working week.

26 January 2008

Bunny annoyance of the month

It's only 8 days since I changed my email address. A couple of days later, I amended the contact page of my website to include the new addy and also an extra paragraph of text. This stated very plainly that any PR types who might be thinking of adding me to a mailing list should contact me first (and that PRs who didn't bother would have their mail treated as spam.)

There are two very simple reasons for this:
1. I might not be interested in what a PR type is trying to promote, so it's always useful to check.
2. I have a dedicated mailbox for press releases that has a completely different address, which stops my inbox from being filled up with 100+ press releases a day.

I'm really fed up of being bombarded with press releases that have no interest for me. If they go into my PR mailbox, that's no big deal, but it's a major annoyance to have unsolicited PR landing in my POP3 account - unlike all the fake rolex and viagra spam, my ISP can't filter bunny droppings.

It took less than 24 hours for a PR bunny* at Ptarmigan PR to add my new email address to their database. Did they bother to contact me? Of course not. Do I write about property? No. Do I want press releases on how to flog a house? Work it out for yourself...

I immediately instructed my email filter to block all future mails from Ptarmigan. This morning my postie delivered an envelope from Ptarmigan containing the same press release - 4 pages, what a waste of paper.

I can't wait to hit the phone on Monday morning.

*A PR person who has fluff where the brain normally resides.

25 January 2008

Media diet week 4

Press: not much to report this week, my diet's been pretty much the same as usual. Being ill and thus confined to the 4 walls of Wordsmith Towers has prevented me from picking up new reading material from my nearest corner shop or newsagent. The postie brought me a supermarket mag this morning - not one I'd written for but one I'd been a case study for, for another journalist. I'd forgotten all about it I did the interview so long ago. so its arrival was a nice surprise and I spent a good 30 minutes admiring the very fab photo of me taken by the snapper.

Blogs: journalist Linda Jones has resumed blogging on her Freelance Writing Tips site. A welcome return after the extended break as it's one of the top blogs around for plain-speaking advice. I also discovered Dougalfish, a new blog by another freelance editor, which offers some interesting perspectives on working from home and dealing with clients. I also tripped over another blog by an author, which I've decided shall remain nameless on here - suffice to say that for a published author, while she has a lively writing style, is passionate and has plenty to say, her punctuation and grammar are atrocious. So I was pretty shocked when said blogger blogged that she'd bagged a new job as a writing tutor. Enough said.

TV/radio: I'm seriously missing Pandora since it stopped streaming to the UK. I used to listen when I was pottering - invoicing, emailing, hanging out on Journobiz - but now it's silent. A year or so ago, I'd tried Last.FM and hated it but with the lack of any competition, I'm giving it another chance. It's going to be a pain inputting all my favourite artists again. On the small screen, it's been my usual diet of EastEnders, Torchwood and Mistresses, which by episode 3 has become ridiculously predictable, but I need a dose of trash TV.

Books: I finally finished Attention All Shipping and jolly good it was too. I've now started Rupert Everett's autobiography, Red Carpets and Other Banana Skins. So far it's been unputdownable and he's still only 18 and at drama school. Everett writes incredibly well - he is both literate and entertaining and I suspect I'll finish this one very quickly. Too soon, certainly. Expect different books in this slot next week...

24 January 2008

Lost in translation

An editor's lot is not always a happy one.

One of my foreign clients sent me a file yesterday for editing and asked me to return it by Friday noon. I opened it this morning, noted it was 19 pages and figured it would take 2-3 hours to clean it up. Actually, once I'd seen that the last 6 pages consisted mainly of tables, a contacts page and a disclaimer page, it was more like just over 12 pages.

If I'm editing non-native English (NNE), I usually reckon on doing about 5 pages an hour. If the English is very good, I'll probably manage 6, or maybe even 7 pages an hour. Compare that to work produced here by fellow Brits, where I can usually expect to do 10 pages an hour (I've even been known to manage 12, but that assumes a very high standard of English, with no need for more than a quick proofread).

This client sends me texts that were written in their country's native language then translated into English, by someone who speaks English as a second language (or possibly a third. What do I know?). I'm well used to this. S0 5-6 pages an hour is about average for this client.

About a paragraph in, it became clear that this was going to be a major headache. This file was quite possibly the worst translation the client had ever sent me. I ended up rewriting almost the entire document, as well as firing queries across the ether using Skype chat when things became completely impenetrable. It took me 4 hours, or roughly 3 pages an hour. Hideously slow and enormously frustrating. I was so pissed off, I let rip at the head translator at the other end when I returned the file and made it very clear that the quality of the translation was unacceptably poor. The response was that I'd been told I had till Friday to do the edit. I riposted that it wouldn't have made any difference, it would still have taken 4 hours instead of 2.

I'm still battling a lung infection and by rights should have been in bed resting instead of struggling with some crappy translation. And I had other work I wanted to crack on with, so this had an impact on the rest of my day and meant I had no time to make calls, chase pitches or do anything else constructive. The only consolation is I get an hourly rate, so I'll be well reimbursed for my efforts.

A semi-official complaint will be winging its way to my company contact tomorrow - standards need to rise, and fast.

23 January 2008

Monkeys and peanuts revisited

Matthew Stibbe, over on his very interesting Bad Language blog, has written today about paying monkeys peanuts.

As regular readers are probably sick of hearing, late payment is my bete noire. The other thing that really raises my hackles is shoddy rates for the job. No point in repeating what Matthew has so eloquently said already, so I'll just expand on it.

A particular hate of mine is those wretched bid sites such as Elance, where writers are encouraged to compete against each other by offering ever lower rates to win a job. I don't wish to single Elance out - it's not the only one by a long chalk. Then there are the job boards that profess to offer "opportunities" to writers and editors - jobs that offer US$10 per article, for example, or an editing rate of £8 per hour.

Worse is the rife practice - at least in the UK - of offering desperate journalism wannabes internships that last for up to 6 months. Unpaid, of course. Quite apart from the fact that this is slavery by any other name, such openings discriminate. Most of the media is based in London, which as we all know is outrageously expensive to live in. Only those with wealthy parents who are happy to support their offspring for such a long period of unpaid "work experience" are in a position to wangle such positions. Thus eliminating at a stroke those with immense talent from poorer backgrounds, who have no possibility to take up such an internship, because they have to work to support themselves.

The unpaid internship is a hot topic of debate across my trade right now. But that aside, even if you've gained the experience you still have to find work. Which throws you straight back into the arena of shoddy rates for the job. Any wordsmith worth their salt will probably steer clear of the bid sites (unless you are seriously desperate to pay the bills this month), but it angers me that some of the sites I regularly browse to sniff out any gems of an opportunity seem to have no policy on pay when it comes to accepting ads. One site I use, Write This Moment, has a great jobs board, but does not distinguish between work offered at a reasonable rate and work offered at peanuts or nothing (except for the glory of seeing your name in print). I'm not singling them out - they are fairly typical of many job sites specialising in writer opportunities.

It would improve things in the industry enormously if job sites were to have some kind of policy on rates for the job and thus uphold a standard. To say, "you can't advertise here unless you offer a minimum rare of X". Because it would teach a lesson to every company that if you want skilled work you have to bloody well pay for it.

Otherwise you will indeed get monkeys.

Or desperate wannabes...

22 January 2008

Working when you're ill

Being ill is never pleasant (if we're going to state the bleedin' obvious), but there are pros and cons to being on the sick when you work from home.

I went down with a lurgy on Friday. I'd had a bad headache the day before, which I'd put down to stress and hunching over my keyboard. In fact, it was a warning of a cold that was settling in my sinuses. To be blunt, I felt like shit on Friday, but because I was at home I was able to work in fits and starts. The cleaner was in, which forced me to dress, otherwise I'd have sat in my dressing gown all day.

Had I been at an office, I'd have called in sick, gone back to bed and slept it off as much as possible. For one thing, not going in would have meant not passing on any germs to colleagues (workmates are not generally keen on sick people staggering in). And the main advantage of being employed is that you still get paid. You can stay indoors, wrap up warm and not worry that being ill might make it difficult to pay the bills at the end of the month.

Over the weekend, the cold developed and I spent all Saturday and Sunday in my dressing gown, trying to catch up on sleep and rest as much as possible in order to be fit again on Monday. And indeed, yesterday morning I felt quite a bit better despite a disrupted night. It was not to last. I deteriorated during the day and by mid-evening was sick enough to require an out-of-hours trip to the GP clinic as my lungs had become infected and I was having trouble breathing. The duty GP prescribed antibiotics.

I'm still feeling like shit but at least I can work. I've put back all the non-urgent tasks and tackled only the most important stuff today. Luckily I had nothing booked in that had a deadline, which meant I could sleep in until 10am. Since then I've been at my PC dealing with mails but not really "working".

The advantage of home-working is that these minor illnesses don't usually prevent you from working full stop. It's usually possible to juggle things and take breaks for a nap when you need one. I've avoided the phone the last two days as the lung infection makes speech difficult, especially combined with a rattling cough. But I can still handle email, paperwork and minor jobs. And I can nip to the kitchen at will to brew tea or take medicine.

What I dread is longer-term sickness (she says, touching wood). Freelances can buy insurance to protect against loss of earnings, but I gather it's expensive and can be very difficult to claim (as you might imagine, I don't have any). Like employees, we can self-certify for illness the first 7 days - after that you need a doctor's certificate and then it becomes hideously complicated. I recall a colleague describing how she'd called the DWP about sickness benefit, to be instructed to get herself to a Job Centre to collect a claim form (which is apparently not available online to download). Said form is 56 pages. Now, if you're ill, do you really want to have stagger to the nearest job centre? Bearing in mind that if you are not in an urban area, you could have quite a way to travel. Then there's the matter of filling in a massive form, when what you should be doing is resting.

My advice? Never get anything worse than a cold! And make sure you have at least 3 to 6 months' worth of "pay" stashed in a savings account so that if you really do become incapacitated, you have enough income to live for a while at least without worry.

18 January 2008

Media diet week 3

Press: the Press Gazette was back in publication this Thursday after the Xmas break. What a relief. I'd really missed it. My favourite section is "The Knowledge" - always crammed with masses of great features on freelancing and thus a good source of tips and advice. I had a mini-skive from work on Wednesday morning to do a few errands, so I popped into WH Smith to buy some new magazines, purely for research as I plan to crack some new markets if I can. I came out with copies of The Oldie, Psychologies and Tastes of Britain, none of which I've had time to read yet, which means some of the weekend will be spent lying on the sofa - coffee in one hand, mags in the other. I already have a pitch in mind for the foodie mag.

Blogs: Bloglines is turning out to be the new Facebook for me. It's only been a fortnight since I tripped over this site but it's rapidly turning into my no. 1 procrastination toy. I just can't resist adding new blogs to it to read. I've discovered the blog of novelist Anne Brooke, which is witty, slightly bitchy in an ever-so-nice sort of way and covers a huge range of minutiae. Fascinating stuff. Another novelist whose blog I follow is Martin Millar. This cult writer loves football, lying on the sofa and drinking tea, in between playing computer games and watching Buffy reruns. I normally read hack blogs so reading about the lives of those who write completely different stuff is a refreshing eye opener. It's good to get out of the rarefied world of journalism now and again.

TV/radio: I watched The One and Only on Saturday. I have a weird fascination for the BBC's talent shows. And watching people pretend to be Elton John, Cher and (a truly rubbish) Rod Stewart was about as weird as it gets. At least Torchwood was back on Wednesday and lived up to my expectations.

Books: would you believe I am STILL ploughing through Attention All Shipping? My excuse is that bedtime is the only time I get to relax with a book but the past two weeks I've been so tired that most nights I've only managed half a dozen pages before I had to switch the light off. The end is in sight though. Only about 30 pages to go...

Sickness and email blues

Yesterday, time was spent sorting out new email addresses for work. The guy who runs the hosting service for my website was, as usual, a star and talked me through setting up dedicated addresses. I've got 2 now, but can have more if I need them.

I woke up at 3am feeling dreadful - my head felt like it would burst, swallowing felt like I had broken glass in my throat and my sinuses were agony. Looks like I have a cold. I couldn't drop off again so I got up, made hot lemon and honey and sat at the PC. It took me more than 2 hours to go through every professional website or forum I'm registered on and change my log-in details to my new email addresses.

Then I spent almost an entire morning emailing clients old and new and countless other contacts to let them have one or t'other of my new addys. The afternoon was spent finishing editing a PhD thesis for a client. And sacking our cleaner.

Yes, Wordsmith Towers has been experiencing domestic chaos yet again. The Mr Mopp we've been employing for the last 18 months has gradually turned into Mr Sloppy. Things that used to get cleaned properly no longer are, he has slowed down. And he broke things and didn't tell us. We made the decision to "let him go". Fortunately a friend of a friend has just set up a cleaning business so we got her to pop round for a chat and offered her the job.

Firing Mr Mopp was weird. I'd expected him to ask for another chance but he was very laid back, suggesting that maybe he didn't care about cleaning for us after all. This evening I went to watch EastEnders, as usual, and discovered a dirty wine glass on the coffee table that had been there 2 days. In a room he was supposed to have cleaned thoroughly this morning. So sacking him was the right decision. Wordsmith Towers is a tightly run ship with no room for slackers. Especially not when they are charging us a tenner an hour and not earning it.

The other American job I mentioned yesterday has landed in my lap. Hee. Two clients across the pond picked up in less than a fortnight. The contract is sitting in my mail box - all I have to do is sign it, scan it and mail it back. There will be lots of work going on this one.

Told you I was feeling lucky...

17 January 2008


Despite a less-than-brilliant start to 2008, I've been feeling lucky the last 2 weeks. I don't know why - I'm not the sort of person who feels surrounded by "luck", I'm someone who's always had to work hard, even fight for what I have, and have achieved. I'm not a pessimist, nor a "glass half-full" type, although I am a cynic.

So to suddenly feel "lucky" feels very odd. I can't describe it - it's just a kind of aura around me that makes me believe that things will definitely go my way. On a whim, I bought a scratchcard while in my corner shop - that gave me a 1,000% return. Then I had winnings on another. One of my premium bonds won me a prize (sadly not enough to retire on). I got offered a fantastic writing job for an overseas client. I cracked a newspaper column that was widely reputed by my freelance colleagues to be impenetrable to us non-staffers, given that the benchmark to beat is His Eminent Wonderfulness Lord Stephen of Fry himself. But somehow, I did it. Today, I was offered another, potentially lucrative and long-term, writing/editing job. And so it goes on.

I keep thinking it won't last (that's my inner cynic popping up to say hello briefly) and yet my gut instinct says this is going to be my year, certainly workwise. We shall see. But it does feel as though the long slog of the last three years' freelancing and networking is starting to pay off at last.

Anyone wanting to offer me a Julie Burchill style opinion column or publish this blog in book form is welcome to get in touch. Next year, I could be too big for my boots to want to talk to you...


16 January 2008

Email woes

I feel churlish and embarrassed after griping about a client yesterday. After firing off yet another email today to the client, asking if they'd received Monday's mails from me, and enduring another silence, my phone rang late this afternoon.

It was my client, who had indeed replied to me. I just hadn't received the replies. Turns out that some of my mails have vanished into a black hole in cyberspace somewhere. Not any that I've sent, just some I should have received. A quick check and I realised I've received no emails from Gorkana since Friday last week. And I suspect there are others I should have had, but didn't get.

Time to change my email provider...

15 January 2008

First client gripe of '08

Two weeks into the new year and I have my first client gripe.

I picked up a new client just a week ago, and a very promising job this looks like it will turn out to be. My contact at the company was in regular contact, phoning and emailing to check I'd understood the brief and could deliver on time etc, etc. No problem. I was asked to speak up if I had any questions, which I always do if anything is unclear. So far, so good.

Then I started filling in a tax declaration form, as this is a foreign client and a) it's to ensure I don't get hit with their version of IR35 and b) to declare that I'm a foreign (to them) supplier and will pay my own tax etc, etc. The form was ridiculously complicated and each question referred me to the "instructions". Fine, except I didn't have them.

I scratched my head a bit and fired off an email to my contact. That was yesterday morning. It's now Tuesday evening and I've had no reply. Not good. Especially as my first deadline was also today. Apart from yesterday's form-filling query, I'd also filed the first of two features. I have no idea if it's been received or not, or if they are happy with it. I'd also completed feature no. 2 but not sent it as I was awaiting a reaction to my tax form query. So feature no. 2 sits on my hard drive and will remain sitting there until my tax questions get a response.

Bugger. This looked like it would be so straightforward. Now I'm not so sure. I just hope I don't get stiffed. I don't like it when clients go quiet on me...

11 January 2008

Media Diet week 2

A short week, as I plan to do this on Fridays in future.

Press: pretty much the same as last week. I still haven't even opened InStyle due to volume of work (bugger, cos I need a fash fix) although I managed to flick though Good Food and the fashion pages of New Woman. I even read almost all of Eve. Press Gazette was back, hurrah! I'd missed it. No time to look at owt else this week.

Blogs: this week's stand-out was Dave Lee's hilarious account of his day out with Andrew Gilligan. A great piece of writing as well as the "dine out for months on this" factor. Otherwise, it's gone quiet. Almost all the bloggers I follow seem to be taking a break after Xmas.

TV/radio: I sat through the opening episodes of Moving Wallpaper and Echo Beach and wondered why I'd bothered. Too bloody smug for words describes the former. The latter was just dull. I watched Mistresses on Tuesday. Sarah Parish is always watchable and while this was predictable too, it had a certain glossy compulsiveness. I'll follow this to the end. At least it's nearly Torchwood time... The Archers was boring this week.

Books: still reading Attention all Shipping. Have started ploughing through the fetish porn to review for work, but am not finding it inspiring. Next book on the large stack is Rupert Everett's autobiog. Looks good, had better not disappoint.

09 January 2008

Late payment (revisited) and the NUJ

Late payment is a real bug bear of mine but I honestly hadn't expected to be kicking off about it yet again so early into 2008.

The following true story would be funny if it wasn't so bloody tragic and ironic.

A freelance colleague was commissioned by the National Union of Journalists to write an article on the issue of late payment for The Journalist, the union's magazine. The hack duly submitted an invoice and waited out the terms of payment, in this case 30 days. By the end of the payment period, no payment had been made by the NUJ. There then ensued a number of calls and emails, in which the journalist concerned was fobbed off with excuses about the Christmas period. And when they requested the statutory compensation and interest for late payment, as is their right, the response by The Journalist's editor was, apparently, laughter.

Now bear in mind that the NUJ prides itself on campaigning for better payment practice pretty much across the entire industry. Not to mention campaigning for better rates, ie above NUJ minimum (our journo in question had taken the NUJ's own advice on accepting this commission and asked for more money, only to be told the fee would be NUJ minimum!). The irony of a campaigning union failing to adhere to its own policy on this very issue is staggering. Not to mention the hypocrisy.

As freelances, we run businesses. And like all small businesses, we want to be paid on time so that we in turn can pay others, and our bills. Picture this scenario - you go to a supermarket, fill your trolley with groceries, queue at the till and are told "that'll be £100, please". Do you a) say "sorry, I'll pay you in 45 days' time, and then only if you chase me for payment" or b) pay up? It's not like we have a choice, is it? If you want to eat, you better be able to pay on the spot (unless you are the Queen, in which case you probably have a nice line of credit at Fortnum and Mason). Picture the same scenario when it comes to paying your mortgage, the gas bill, the phone bill, your plumber, the car mechanic who serviced your Skoda... Not one of these businesses will allow you not to pay until you feel like it. If you haven't shelled out within 30 days, you can expect a red bill, followed by legal action. And probably being cut off, in the case of your utilities.

Yet, for some reason, us freelances are expected to wait for payment until it's convenient. In some cases, this can be several months after publication. It is rife across the entire industry and only a very few publications pay promptly (such as The Guardian, which usually pays within a week). It's even worse when it's your own union that asks you to write about the problem then fails to cough up within the payment period and, to rub salt into the proverbial, refuses to pay up the statutory compensation and interest.

I'm not currently a member of the NUJ, for a number of reasons. Every time I'm on the verge of rejoining, an incident occurs that puts me right off again. This is one of them. And the NUJ wonders why it is so hard to recruit new members...

Times have changed. We are no longer in the world of the closed shop and 99% of members being in-house staff with a father of the chapel. Far more journalists work freelance these days and the NUJ needs to start looking after them seriously, rather than just paying lip service. And that includes paying on time when rank and file members write for its publications.

08 January 2008

Media diet week 1

I've been perusing a few newish blogs (newish to me, that is) and one had a weekly round-up of that blogger's media (sorry, I forgot who it was!). Last year, I did a general media round-up, but this is going to be a regular entry this year and I'm going to log everything.

So, here we go. Since New Year's Day, this has been my media diet.

Press: Online, I took my news, as usual, from The Guardian, The Sun and BBC News Online. I only look at other newspapers online if someone draws my attention to a particular article or if there is such a massive breaking story that reading full coverage is essential. There's no time to read more widely and I only buy print if I've had something published. Apart from that I got my bimonthly copy of Editing Matters, my regular monthly batch of glossy mags (BBC Good Food, In Style, Eve and New Woman), the Radio Times and the Chester Chronicle. There was no Press Gazette this week due to the Xmas break.

Blogs: I had a bunch of blogs aggregated on a feed reader that turned out to be a turkey last week (pun intended). What with the extended break, when things went wrong with the technology, I was cut off from my usual blogs (as I hadn't bookmarked them elsewhere). Then I discovered Bloglines. I don't know why I never came across this before, but it's fantastic. I've moved all my blogs there, plus added some new ones - you can see them all if you wish. Future media diet posts will only include new ones.

TV/ Radio: as usual, EastEnders and The Archers loomed large. I don't watch a lot of TV. I had a Xmas binge but now it's back to TV Desert, meaning I watched nothing else last week. Roll on Torchwood... I am going through a phase of listening to Pandora again. I can go for months without it then I have to have it on while I'm working.

Books: I'm currently reading Attention All Shipping, which is very entertaining as well as fascinating. Apart from that, I'm ploughing through a pile of fetish porn, for work purposes. No time to read anything else.

Must dash. I have just been offered a gobsmacking wonder of a writing assignment - more soon...

03 January 2008

Wannabe revisited

Hee. I had a reply from my illiterate wannabe last night.

"I just want to be able to submit my work to you and you can do the rest in terms of publishing it for me.."

Er, excuse me? Do I look like a publishing house? Is my middle name Penguin, perchance? Not when I last checked.

Wearily, I mailed back again, explaining that I'm not a publisher and can't publish his book for him, or distribute it, but if required I'd edit it and provide consultancy. For a fee.

The ensuing silence has been blissful, allowing me to get on with proper work.

02 January 2008

Illiterate wannabes

First day back at work and the nutty emails are flowing in already. This landed in my inbox today:

I'm a songwriting I can write all sorts of stuff, the book will contain verse's, poems, etc etc... I want my words to touch the world, I am lyrically blessed and I would like to have my work published. So if you can be of any help in any way I would be most grateful.
PS.I live in the XXX area..

This was the second mail I'd had from this person. The first - almost identical - arrived a few weeks ago. I decided it couldn't possibly be serious so I deleted it unanswered. I almost left this one unanswered too, but it dawned on me that I'd probably get bombarded for the next year. So I hastily typed a reply, in which I set out my rates and hoped I'd put this person off as much as possible.

These sort of enquiries are never worth bothering with. The wannabe author invariably has an over-inflated opinion of their work (the one above needs serious copy-editing), no money and expects publishers to be queuing up to print their illiterate ramblings. Fortunately, mention of rates is usually enough to put them off - the realisation that it will cost them at least the price of a bottle of decent single malt for even 1 hour of my precious time can come as a shock to the system.

2008's off to a great start then...

01 January 2008

Spare a thought

As we usher in 2008, please spare a thought for the 171 journalists killed while working in 2007. Many of those who died did so bringing you the news from major conflict zones around the world. It's a seasonal reminder that journalism can be a very dangerous occupation and it's not all about celebrity stories in the tabloids. I mentioned Alan Johnston yesterday - he was lucky to come home alive, unlike his colleagues.

Statistics like this make me realise how fortunate I am to work from the comfort of Wordsmith Towers, where I don't have to wear a bullet-proof vest or stay on permanent alert for suicide bombers or other hazards. Nipping to the corner shop for a packet of biscuits is a welcome break, not a dash across Sniper Alley. And getting a story together involves chatting on the phone instead of venturing into hostile territory.

The only good news is that the death toll is slighter lower than that of 2006 (177). Let's hope that this year, the total will be even lower.