29 April 2009


...or at least starting to.

I don't think I could have gone any lower yesterday. My body was just shutting down. By noon, I'd lost count of the number of times I'd burst into tears and I felt shattered, I went back to bed, and managed to sleep for 3 hours. When I got up, I sat at the PC but nothing on the screen made any sense and I abandoned any pretence at doing work.

I managed 6 hours' sleep last night and then I went back to bed at 9am and slept another 2 hours, then about an hour later I went back to bed and slept another 4. After 2 months of chronic insomnia, I'm craving the sleep I've missed out on. Needless to say, I've not done any work today. I can't face it. I feel really guilty as a PR friend is helping push the book, but I've not done any of the things she asked me to yet. I've lost interest, but I know it's just my brain protecting me after weeks with inadequate sleep.

I had a long chat with a hack friend on the phone last night. My fear is that my exhaustion will trigger the Big One (by which I mean a tonic-clonic seizure) - I've not had one for a while and the tiredness could well be the catalyst. The amount I've slept today is staggering but clearly I need it. I'm going to try to work tomorrow - at least the most urgent stuff.

Edited to add: after all that, I had the Big One anyway, and it took me 2 days to realise it (this is not unusual, and I'm not talking about me personally). The signs were all there - banging headache that painkillers had no effect on, muscles so painful and stiff I felt like I'd been trampled by a horse, the urge to sleep, sleep, sleep. I'm not sure when - either Monday night or (more likely) during my Tuesday nap. I'm as sure as I can be that it was during my sleep otherwise I'd have at least some recollection of waking up on the floor somewhere. It only dawned on me late yesterday afternoon that I must have had a seizure. Not my worst, but I could do without it right now.

28 April 2009


I managed 5 hours' sleep last night but don't feel rested and my eyeballs feel like they have been sandpapered. I have a splitting headache and don't want to work today, although I'll have to.

Yesterday, I spilled about some of these problems on one of the hack forums I hang out on. One friend told me to book a holiday. She's right - this is the 2nd time this year she's told me I need a break. I've not had a holiday since I spent a week in Larnaca a year ago (and it wasn't a happy trip - I split from Mr Wordsmith on our return). I've not even been away for a weekend and my only "mini-breaks" since then have been the occasional trips to the Smoke to large it with my hack colleagues on the legendary JournoBiz Massive drinking sessions. (There's 1 on tonight that I'd planned to go to, but am forced to miss because of my workload. I'm gutted as it's always great fun, and the networking is always useful too.)

I can't put a break off any longer, or I think I may crack. The insomnia is now so persistent that I've lost my appetite (and 2 kilos this week) - most days I'm forgetting to eat breakfast and in the evenings I'm so shattered I can't face cooking. And I love cooking. I feel guilty that personal emails are piling up unanswered in my inbox and on Facebook, because I never seem to have time to reply. It's amazing I still have friends, I've neglected them so badly.

One reason I've not taken a proper holiday for 12 months (and I even worked on Xmas Day!) is things were a bit chaotic on the personal front after splitting with Mr W. Then there were 2 house moves, the book to write, features to pitch and write, stuff to edit. I was very aware that I needed to up my income now I was single.

I have a serious longing to return to Crete and hike the White Mountains again. I need sunshine and good food and, more than anything else, to switch off and let my mind recharge. It'll need some planning - mah boy will need kennelling, for starters. But with luck, I'm going to be on a plane before the end of May...

27 April 2009

Throwing the book

I have a book coming out in a matter of just days and I want to throw the entire print runit at my publisher.

I've been so wrapped up in contract work, and slaving away for long hours to get it all done, that I didn't really pay too much advance attention to the book. I kept thinking - it's a few weeks away, I've plenty of time to start pitching. Then suddenly the weeks whizzed past and this morning it dawned on me that I'd heard nothing from my publisher at all since mid-March.

Where the hell were my dozen author copies? What had they lined up for promotion? (Back in mid-March, I'd filled in a massive form detailing stuff about various press contacts, local bookshops, names of editors at local radio and TV stations etc, precisely to assist them with that.)

I was just about to pick up the phone when an email arrived from the bunny at the publisher. The bunny's job is to get publicity for the books they publish. So, 4 days before publication she decides to let me know she's hastily cobbling some promo slots together for me.

To say I was enraged was an understatement. My anger was not helped by the fact that I've been severely sleep-deprived for a couple of months, which has made me very grouchy indeed most of the time. I asked her where my books were.

- We posted them to you at the end of March, she said.

- I haven't received them, I replied.

I'm not going to recount the entire string of mails that went back and forth but it transpired that the books had been sent to my old address, which I left 4 months ago and is 40 miles away. This despite the fact that I mailed the bunny in January to give her my new contact details, and again in mid-March to remind her of my new address. So she had all this on file and still managed to send my books to my old house. Worse, she insisted I must have them as they'd been signed for. I pointed out, rather tartly, that I'd not been back to my old town since I left and that I'd paid Royal Mail a large sum to forward all my mail for a year so I still should have received them (and yes I'm going to stick a rocket under Royal Mail tomorrow - watch me light the blue touch paper and stand well clear). But the bunny could have sent them to my current address in the first place if she'd paid a bit more attention. And if she'd bothered to email me a month ago to say the books were en route, the problem would have come to light very quickly.

But I'm more hacked off with the fact that I spent several months working on the book for an unbelievably paltry advance (and basically earned only about £50 in January from other clients because of time taken to finish the manuscript), in the hope that it would sell reasonably well and I'd at least earn some royalties.

But no, it's all been left to the last minute and I ended up bleating my woes on Twitter - some colleagues rallied around with ideas and contacts, for which I'm very grateful (even though I was horribly grumpy at the time), and I've now managed to secure a slot on the local BBC radio morning magazine show. It's something at least. Fortunately, there's an "awareness week" coming up mid-month, so I may yet be able to pitch a feature or two around that, much as I hate awareness weeks.

I am so knackered that I've had to apologise to lots of colleagues today for being a foul-tempered cow lately. And I had to grovel to the parental for going off-radar for several weeks, as well. I'm not massively popular right now. On days like these, I feel like jacking it all in and stacking shelves at the supermarket instead.

Lesson learned, though. I shan't write for this publisher again. Although I shall, of course, milk the fact I have a book out because it's good for the old CV.

Do I wish I'd never signed the contract? Hell, yes. At least right now. But I hope I might still be able to salvage something out of the current mess. The Manchester media community have been the best, today, with their offers of support. The next round will definitely be on me.

24 April 2009

2 for the price of 1

I've just blogged here again, knowing I wasn't going to publish it, ever.

Why? Because it wasn't about my life as a wordsmith but I needed to say something. So it's sitting here and unless something radical happens it'll never see the light of day.

So actually, you're still only getting 1 proper blog post from me today. The work one.

Good clients, bad clients

After all the faffing earlier in the week with the headhunter, there was a resounding silence. By lunchtime, I was sufficiently irritated to fire off a politebut should have been cranky email to enquire what was happening. The headhunter hadn't heard anything either. Apparently the client is in London and not responding to emails... So, the wait continues.

On the plus side, the banking client accepted my quote to redo their web copy (despite me plucking a ridiculously high figure out the air - proof that banks are still profligate with others' cash). I'm hoping that will turn into a regular gig to edit their forex materials.

Work today was slow, largely because of a hangover resulting from a lock-in at the pub and not hitting the mattress until 3 then getting up at 7. I still managed to churn out most of my workload although I'll have to play catch-up tomorrow so my client's inboxes are filled for Monday morning.

A glance through my emails has once again showed that about 80% of enquirers who ask for a quote never respond - not even to say "thanks but no thanks". The lack of manners pisses me off. I'd be even more annoyed except I know I'm not alone - this is a common complaint among my freelance colleagues. But, honestly, I don't want clients who can't be bothered to use basic good manners.

And now, I'm off out for fish and chips..

21 April 2009


Just when it looked like my work supply was going to dwindle to a trickle and I'd have to start pitching again and hawking my body for hard cashmarketing myself to potential clients, a couple of things happened.

First, my current major client offered me a vast quantity of extra copy-editing work.

Then a headhunter approached me late last week. The email was bare bones, but just tantalising enough to entice me to respond. The upshot was I hauled myself off to the hairdresser for a long-overdue haircut (4 and a half months is almost a record for me and I had meant to go sooner, but work got in the way), then I scrubbed up this morning, put a suit on and went off for an interview, with no idea who the client was, what the job entailed or owt else.

I almost walked when told I'd have to do a "personality test". I'd rather be judged on my merits, thanks. However, after being reassured it would only show how I like to work, I filled in the form. It was spookily accurate but showed I was a great match for the job so now I'm waiting for interview no. 2. (I can't say any more about the job just now, except that the client wants a full-timer and I don't want to abandon freelancing - unless we can agree on hours, and money, this will come to nothing.)

It was clearly my day for being offered work - on arriving home, a nice French translation job landed on my lap, followed by a call from yet another overseas investment bank in urgent need of an experienced financial editor (perfect timing, it'll replace the banking client I dumped in February).

And just as I knuckled down to an evening of copy-editing, to catch up for the lost morning, yet another email arrived offering me commissioned feature writing for an online publication.

At lunchtime, I was semi-tempted by the headhunted post - now I'm not so sure...

16 April 2009

Some perspective

Edwyn Collins is an inspiration, and that's official.

I saw him on stage years ago in Scotland, playing with the as-yet unsigned Orange Juice. I've almost certainly got some of his early singles stashed away somewhere. And I remember when news broke of his brain haemorrhage a few years ago, followed by a second one.

He's spent the last four years learning how to speak again and how to walk again, he's lost the use of his right arm and hand but has taught himself to draw and paint with his left hand instead. And he's started gigging again.

There's a great blog on the BBC website about his struggle to pick up his life again since 2005. It certainly puts my own health issues into perspective and I feel slightly ashamed that I've whinged a bit here and elsewhere over the last few days. I'm truly grateful that I can work fulltime, apart from the occasional bad day. I really am going to try and remind myself that however difficult things get, others, like Edwyn, are dealing with much greater difficulties.

Ok, I'll shut up now.

Big Daddy

My PC is 6 years old. When purchased, it was - at the time- a state-of-the-art multimedia computer. However, it was only ever designed for limited home use. Over the last 5 years, it's been switched on almost permanently (I run scans overnight), and for the last 4, it's been a faithful workhorse subjected to up to 12 hours a day of hardcore abusetyping and surfing since I turned freelance.

It's been patched up over the years - a new motherboard, an extra hard drive, new graphics and sound cards, even a new casing. And 5 keyboards...

Sadly, it's on death's doorstep. Last month, I called out the PC doctor to replace the RAM, and last week, there was a failed attempt to install yet another new graphics card. The ageing innards simply couldn't handle the latest in gfx technology. Realistically, it was time to stop throwing money away and get a replacement.

A friend called to offer me some top-notch advice on a local computer supplier who could customise for my needs, so yesterday I headed out for a chat with the experts, who helped me draw up a list of my wants and needs and price it all up.

The new boy has already been nicknamed Big Daddy (not least because of his price tag) - my new kit will be a proper work machine rather than a souped-up home PC put to other use. Step forward 2 terabytes of storage, 4 gigs of RAM, an Intel Core 2 Quad CPU and the rest... It's going to be 3 to 5 days in the building, then no doubt a day to get it up and running here and copying over all my stuff from this PC.

I can't wait.

Now I just have to find an extra gig to pay for him...

15 April 2009

More on work and disability

I try not to blog too much about my epilepsy because, to be fair, 99% of the time I manage fine. My seizures are generally few and far between, I can hold down full-time work and lead a fairly normal life, and self-employment gives me the flexibility I need to live with and manage this condition.

A few things happened today, though, that are worth noting. One thing that made me howl out loud with laughter this afternoon was discovering I'm being followed on Twitter by a PR for a major car manufacturer. I've not driven for around 20 years and, just at the time I was seriously considering resuming driving - in 1997 - I was diagnosed with epilepsy and kissed goodbye to my licence, probably forever now, being realistic. The other touch of irony is that I worked on a car magazine for 18 months at the start of the 90s.

Still on the PR theme, I received a press release from nPower today, bragging about their support for disabled sports. This is the same nPower that supplies my utilities and ignored 4 requests by me to change the card prepayment meters in my home for regular credit meters. Each time I asked, I explained patiently that swapping the meters was urgent because of the risk of being left without credit on the meters if I had a seizure. Each time, nothing was done, even though nPower operates a disability scheme called Warm Response (oh, the irony!). None of the provisions under Warm Response are actually any use to me as I don't need Braille bills, someone to read my meter or any of the other services offered to the disabled. The one thing I wanted took 2 complaints (one formal and very high up) to have it executed (on the plus side, I've been offered financial compensation). I shouldn't be too pissed off at nPower's lip service - it's only one of many companies that bungs a few quid at the less fortunate because the PR it brings them is more valuable. I'd just like to see a competent service delivered.

I have insomnia too, have done for many years, on and off - prolonged lack of sleep can sometimes be a cue for a seizure. I've had two simple partials in the last few weeks - that's too close together for my liking, but probably linked to me being slack about going to bed at a sensible time most nights and making sure I stick to a proper sleep routine. Worryingly today, I had a myoclonic jerk while out and about this afternoon. It was sharp enough to make me stumble and twist my ankle (and swear very loudly). I get the occasional myoclonic jerk either as I drop off to sleep, or during it. That was my first while awake. Now it might be nothing but I'm painfully aware that, having moved, I'm not currently on any consultant's list and it's reminded me again I need to see a neurologist for a fresh check-up. Annoyingly, it'll take me up to 2 weeks to get a non-urgent appointment to see my GP and goodness knows how long to get a referral. NICE guidelines say epilepsy patients should get a referral within 2 weeks but that only applies to new patients.

Where is all this leading? I have a nagging fear at the back of my mind. I'm painfully aware that epilepsy has already had some small damaging effect on the bit of my brain responsible for speech and vocabulary. Some years ago, I "lost" a handful of words and phrases forever. I want them and they are on the tip of my tongue but I can never grasp them or remember them. I sometimes lose my ability to speak during a partial seizure. That's not scary for me, just annoying that I can't briefly communicate.

Of far greater concern is my growing realisation that I am increasingly making errors in my work. I've always made typos - now I find it harder to spot them (I can still spot other people's at 100 metres). Sometimes after blogging, it'll take me 3 or 4 readbacks after publishing to see and correct my mistakes. Worse, I often forget to type a word - on readback, it's clear a word's been omitted. I see it in my tweets and forum posts and it's embarrassing. Or my mind will be telling me to type one word but I'll actually have typed something completely different It's not affecting my copy-editing work, but I'm having to triple and quadruple check all my written work now before filing. I have become heavily reliant on the spellchecker in a way that would have been unthinkable 5 years ago. As a professional wordsmith, it's devastating on many levels. As I get older, I wonder how long I'll be able to keep working. This has been my life for 30 years. I know nothing else, can do nothing else and don't want to do anything else. With staff jobs disappearing, that's not an option, although I suspect that even if I wanted to return to being an employee (which I don't), many companies simply wouldn't take me on because it would mean having to deal with my health issues.

So I guess I'm going to muddle on for the next 10 years or so and see what happens. I'm trying not to think about it too much, while knowing that I have to start thinking about it.
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