31 October 2007

Where there's Mucc...

...there's another hypocritical rant about the press. Mucca, aka Lady Heather Mills-McCartney, took the media to task this morning on GMTV, claiming she had been driven to the brink of suicide by more than 4,000 negative stories about her in the newspapers. That'll be the same Heather Mills who has apparently used the press regularly to leak info about her divorce and make as yet unsubstantiated allegations against her former husband, Paul McCartney (who has maintained a dignified radio silence while proceedings continue).

I liked the weepy touch about her claim to be "protecting" Macca. It's almost convincing, until you remember she told the same media that McCartney allegedly hit her.

Celebrities and media enjoy a double-edged relationship, the former courting the latter whenever it suits them to have free publicity, then moaning when they are shown in a bad light.

Kate and Gerry McCann found themselves in the glare of the world's press spotlight when their daughter Madeleine disappeared 6 months ago. They courted the media relentlessly in what appeared to be a fair attempt to keep Madeleine's disappearance in the public eye. Yet, when the Portuguese police named them as official suspects and the press coverage became negative, they suddenly asked for privacy!

The fact is, you can't have it both ways - if you are in the public eye for whatever reason and you use the media for your own ends, you are hardly in a position to complain when the boot is on the other foot...

30 October 2007

Clients, tax, dole

The unwanted copywriting client resurfaced at the end of last week - I knew it was too good to be true. I got a phone call in which I was told the job was urgent (again) and then I found out that what was wanted was in fact totally different to the original brief I had prepared a quotation for. I told the client to prepare me a new, detailed brief so I could requote and he promised to do it over the weekend. Well, here we are on a Tuesday night and there's still no sign of the new brief. I give up. This one I'm washing my hands of and if he comes back, I'll offer to refer him to someone else on the grounds that I'm too busy.

Elsewhere, I've been offered a paid blogging job. I'm not committed yet as I'm waiting to see what the money will be like. This is important as I'll have to read at least two foreign papers every morning as well as write 1000 words a day. I have also possibly found a new financial editing client (another one, woo-hoo!) - this one is for books and could turn out to be a source of regular work, I hope.

My accountant emailed to say my books are ready. My tax bill is not very high - I carried a large loss over from when I first started trading three years ago and I'm using that this year to offset my tax. No complaints there.

On the downside, a benefit I receive for my disability has been rescinded and I'm not happy. Now I've got just 3 weeks to appeal and hopefully get it restored.

29 October 2007

Aunty needs a minder

Yesterday's Observer carried the following story: Mind your language, critics warn BBC.

About flaming time...

As a child, I can actually remember being told that the BBC was the arbiter of the Queen's English (we lack the equivalent of an Academie Francaise, you see). My English has always been extremely good, hence why I ended up in this trade, but even up until recently if I was unsure of something I could rely on the BBC to point me in the right direction on matters of language. Sadly, this is no longer true. And we certainly can't rely on the government to set standards - standards in English are what have been falling in schools for the last 30 years.

Tot take one example, the BBC website is a disgrace, from the language point of view. Most news reports on it carry at least one spelling error, not to mention poor punctuation and distinctly dodgy grammar. For a while I took a perverse pleasure in finding the errors then emailing BBC News Online to complain and see how long it took them to correct the page. But no more, because the errors are so many and widespread I'd never get any work done. It does make for an amusing read, though.

I hope the BBC does appoint a language chief. It certainly needs one. This may also be the only time I will ever agree with Ann Widdecombe on anything.

25 October 2007

Alan Johnston speaks

Kidnapped journalist Alan Johnston, who was held in Gaza for 114 days earlier this year, is to tell his story.

To read of how he coped with his frightening ordeal is to be inspired by his extraordinary courage and strength in the face of death. I'm not ashamed to say his tale has brought tears to my eyes this morning.

Alan will be speaking on Radio 4 this morning, in From Our Own Correspondent, at 11am (BST). I shall be tuning in.

He also has a Panorama programme on his story tonight, which will be broadcast on BBC1 at 9pm (BST). Watch it and be humbled.

24 October 2007


A (I think) student hack raised a question today on a journalism forum I hang out on - namely that it must be impossible to get a decent job without the all-important "bulging contacts book". This phrase is such a hackneyed cliché it's been around since before the red tops were invented. It conjures up an image of an ageing Filofax, creaking at its seams, leaking loose business cards and assorted scraps of paper, and all held together by an elastic band because the leather strap broke decades ago.

Ha! Another romantic myth...

There's no such thing as a bulging contacts book. It's merely standard recruitment ad jargon and what it boils down to is not who you know but whether you know how to get hold of people who can supply you with the contacts you need for a story. And those people are often a few PR types and the best mate of your sister's ex-boyfriend's boss.

When I was starting out, those recruitment ads would intimidate so much I never dared to apply for many jobs that I would dearly have loved to have. I didn't know loads of celebrities. And you know what? I still don't. Unless you count a couple of reasonably well-known stand-up comics and a cult novelist, none of whom I've yet managed to persuade to be interviewed, or to write for a mag I commission for.

What I do know is people. I have, like most people, a handful of close friends, plus a wider circle of acquaintances. I network a lot in the business community and keep in touch with PR people. I keep every business card that's thrust at me, stash numbers in my mobile phone, file emails that have contact details in them and keep a Rolodex. If I need to find someone to talk to, all I need to do is flick through that lot and then, if I still draw a blank, I may ask favours from other hacks.

You don't really need to have Posh Spice on direct dial in this business - what you do need is knowing how to get hold of her spokesperson in three moves or fewer. And there's the rub - it's not who you know but whether you know how to find the info you need or not. I'm not the kind of hack that would sell their granny to the Daily Sport for a fiver, neither do I have the kind of family members who are willing to sell their stories to the media. Does it matter? No. Because I have a wide enough circle of contacts that a couple of phone calls or emails should suffice to find the right people I need to talk to.

23 October 2007

My cup overfloweth

The unwanted copywriting client has, thankfully, gone quiet on me. Not a word since Sunday, despite him saying the job was urgent. I hope he's found someone else as I sense there will be many problems if I end up doing the work after all.

The chance of that happening looks increasingly slim - I did warn him to book my time quickly because, as I expected, my schedule is filling up rapidly. An old client of mine has offered me two jobs over the next fortnight, the first starting asap, after 9 months of silence. The new investment banking client is also solid - I have my first jobs booked in for the end of this week, then it will be regular most weeks. All this is good as it means less possibility of being lumbered with the job I really don't want.

I have a few other things in the pipeline, the most urgent being to sort out options for office space if the dung hits the proverbial...

22 October 2007

Small ups, big down

Things were a little slow last week on the work front, but I suddenly seem to be in demand again. I've just been offered regular editing work from yet another investment bank, two possible books to work on and (cue groans) a tedious copywriting job that I do not want. I have tried my best to put this client off but I guess I'm just going to have write the copy and bank the cash.

The downside is I'm now facing major disruption to my ability to run my business as I'm almost certainly going to have to look for office space very soon and I have no idea how long I could be out of action.

19 October 2007

The only book a writer will ever need

Review: The Greatest Freelance Writing Tips in the World, by Linda Jones

When my review copy of this nifty tome fell into my "Grub Street" hands, I was startled at how small it is. Not having encountered a “Greatest Tips” book before, I had been expecting a full-size paperback weighing at least 500g. It’s a hardback, in fact, but compact and neat enough to fit into my handbag.

Don’t be fooled by its diminutive size, though. This book packs a wealth of information into its pages and is of far greater value than many bigger, textbook “how to” guides on freelancing.

What I really like about Jones’ book is that she speaks plainly – there’s a wonderful no-nonsense air about the advice and tips she offers. Right from the get-go, she warns there’s no place to hide if you want to write as a freelance and that a reality check is the first port of call. From such auspicious beginnings, Jones covers a huge amount of territory in a compact manner – from reminding you that you are running a business (rather than being an artist in a garret), with all the paperwork that involves, to letting editors know you exist (and how to get them to hire you) via writing for magazines, the nationals or the internet, which all need very different approaches.

Interspersed throughout are lots of handy checklists, bullet points to remind you of essentials, obscure but interesting facts and useful chapter summaries. I also love the pithy quotes about writing by famous authors from Sylvia Plath to James Michener. I can’t begin to detail just how many valuable tips are stuffed in here – many of them cover ground that I learned the hard way over the course of my career (when a book like this would have saved me much grief). Obviously, newcomers to the trade of professional writing would be wise to invest in this book if only to avoid some of the more common pitfalls than can happen to the inexperienced. But even the most seasoned hacks should find enough in here to inspire them, remind them or encourage them. Of all the books on freelancing and writing I have sitting on my groaning bookshelf next to my desk, I strongly suspect that The Greatest Freelancing Writing Tips in the World is the one that will end up the most thumbed, dog-eared and used, simply because it’s the most practical.

And don't forget Linda's blog either - it's crammed full of yet more useful advice, tips and guidance to keep you on your toes (and your bank manager happy).

18 October 2007


Where's the "embarrassed" smiley? I just realised it's been 20 days since my last post and am shocked at how the fast the days have blown by. So what has this wordsmith been up to?

Work, mainly. It all got a bit hectic in late September and it carried through into this month. Before I knew it, it was mid-month and I'd been silenter than a silent night. Tsk! Unusually for me, as well as churning out words I've been donating them. I agreed to be a case study for two features by other hacks. One of these is published today, so I will shortly absent myself to purchase said magazine. Trips to the newsagent are becoming more frequent these days - yesterday saw me buying a downmarket interiors mag which carries an article by me, for example.

I also came up with a great idea for a book - I need some time to formulate it and get some advice on how to pitch it to a publisher, but I think it's a definite goer.

Talking of books, the very splendid Linda Jones, freelance journalist extraordinaire, is launching her book today. I will shortly be hopping on a train to support her at the launch (and buy a signed copy, of course!). Expect a report later this week...