Saturday, 27 December 2014

David Walliam's children's stories

"Mr Stink" has been sitting on my V+ box from Boxing Day 2012 and yesterday I finally decided to watch it. What prompted me was BBC was also showing "The Boy In The Dress" - another of David Walliam's children's stories adapted for television. I'd watched "Gangsta Granny" last Christmas and been impressed, only half realising it was Mr Walliam's creation, and all year I've been hearing lots of good things about his stories from the mum's coming into the post office. There have been comparisons with Roald Dahl and I love the fact he's working with the greatest illustrator Quentin Blake.

What I love and admire about great writers is that they take something very ordinary, find a way to bring it to life, tell a story with it and, most importantly, leave us with a message. They give their writing purpose.

Some people read a book to escape. Some people read for pleasure. Some, to better themselves. I read to find the hidden message - and yes, this is most probably because I'm a dreamer and want peace and love in the world. So, if I can find a little something to make the world a better place, I will search it out and use it.

"Gangsta Granny", "Mr Stink" and "The Boy In The Dress" are fantastic children's stories. I saw their appeal to children - but also I saw the bigger messages - reminders not to judge people by what you see on the surface, don't be scared to be different, make time for people in your life.

I remember reading everything of Roald Dahl's when I was younger and being moved, thrilled and delighted with the stories. I haven't read Walliam's books yet, but the TV adaptations left me with the same feelings of fulfillment.

Read more about "The Boy In The Dress" here.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult

I'd somehow managed to escape all the hype about this book and the film, but did have the film on my "must watch list". However, I'm glad I didn't watch the film as apparently the ending is completely different to the book and now, having read the book, I would have been conflicted. Yes, a more satisfying end in the film version, but definitely not keeping true to the story or what the author intended.

It's a powerful novel about a family dealing with a child and sibling sick with cancer. Without putting a spoiler in, the ending made me ball my eyes out and throughout the story, I felt myself catching my breath with the depth of emotion portrayed in such brilliant writing.

It deals with the controversial subject of genetic engineering - having a child to save a child - and Picoult writes from the individual perspectives of each family member, plus other central characters to the storyline.

Again, it's an excellently engineered novel with thorough medical research thrown in to give the book credibility. The characters jump off the page as real, living human beings with the same hopes, fears and dreams as any of us. And that's beautiful writing making it a joy to read.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

The Postmistress by Sarah Blake

This book was lying around in my office and being a Postmistress, I was intrigued to read a story portraying my job back in a time when letters really mattered - and a lost letter mattered even more.

A letter not delivered, slipped into the pocket of the Postmistress and, another letter, found by a Reporter, which she vows to deliver - both from the same man - are at the heart of the story. This is a beautifully crafted novel about three women whose fates entwine because of these letters.

I absolutely loved Atonement, so when I read this book had a similar storyline, I knew I was in for something good.

It's a war story with depth. The Americans are not yet a part of World War 2 and they don't see it ever reaching their shores. "How easily the face of the world turns away." (Pg 251). A reporter returning from the Blitz trying to make people aware. A wife wondering why her husband went to London to help when he could have stayed safe at home. A Postmistress neat and orderly in her small town post office, aware of the chaos that could come, but for now, all is calm on the shores of Cape Cod...

Blake has included some additional notes once the story concludes, which are invaluable to a wannabe author if you want to see exactly what must go into writing and researching a novel to make it the very best you can. She spent hours and hours researching to build the story and she asked questions of herself and her characters every step of the way. She then endeavours to answer those questions as the story unfolds. In Blake's own words: "It is the story that lies around the edges of the photographs, or at the end of the newspaper account. It's about the lies we tell others to protect them, and about the lies we tell ourselves in order not to acknowledge what we can't bear: that we are alive, for instance, and eating lunch, while bombs are falling, and refugees are crammed into camps, and the news comes toward us every hour of the day. And what, in the end, do we do?"

Thursday, 24 July 2014

The Last Mile by Mike Clarke

This was the first free eBook I'd downloaded and it was an eye opener into the stages eBooks need to go through before they're absolutely ready for publication.

Todd and Buzz are old friends and life has taken them their separate ways. They each come to a crossroads in their careers and need a change of pace, so they hook up and ride Route 66 again because they have unfinished business.

I liked the concept of the story and the first half of the book was excellent. It has potential! I think the author should take another look at the second half and give it a thoroughly good edit. There were times I got lost with the plot and it felt rushed.

If anything, reading this book made me take a long, hard look at my first published effort and I could see where I need to make improvements to my own work before putting it "out there" for people to enjoy. As a reader, I was disappointed that the story wasn't polished.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

The Road Home by Rose Tremain

Last December, a woman came into the Post Office and handed me this book to read, or to pass on to somebody else. It was for World Book Night 2013.

Seven months later and I've now read it after being informed it had an unexpected ending, which naturally whet my appetite.

What I love about this book is it reminded me how to tell a story and how to build a story using little succinct bits of research to add credibility to the plot and believability to the characters.

Lev is a lost, lonely soul on his way from Eastern Europe to Britain looking for work. It's the story of many people that come into the Post Office to send moneygrams to their families back home. I often think about the backstories of these people. I wonder why they're here and who their family is. Has it been easy for them to make a life and living in our country? Do they miss their home? Do they have crazy friends like Lev has Rudi?

This is a "real" story and what I mean by that is, there are no happy endings, no easy solutions, no nicely rounding it all off. On the flip side, there are no dramatic, crazy, unbelievable parts either. It's REAL storytelling taking us on a soul searching mission with Lev.  

Friday, 4 July 2014

Laugh Lines by Ben Bova

I am just about keeping up with my Goodreads challenge of reading and reviewing one book per month in 2014... six down and six to go...

I haven't read science fiction for many, many years, but this collection of stories was recommended to me because it was written in the 80s and predicted 3D televisions and eBooks.

And now, here we are!

The Starcrossed (3D TVs) and Cyberbooks (eBooks) sandwiches six shorter, futuristic stories which are equally amusing. These stories give great twists on things like the moon landing, the way the media reports the news, the mafia and underworld, and the fall of a former US President, all written with a sardonic and humourous touch.

What I liked the most is the way Ben Bova takes the various characters - people he's come across in real life - and enhances either their positives or negatives, traits, flaws, characteristics.. with a futuristic edge so I was picturing them, not only as people, but as alien or robotic beings too.

Reading Cyberbooks was particularly poignant given what's been happening to the Publishing Industry over the last few years. The tale of woe, the uproar and the almighty shock to the system was spot on - for a prediction!

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Kicking off WordUp Wednesdays

The game is to take a word, describe that word and then find out its true definition to see if your feelings change towards it. We used to play this in our English Lit. classes - getting to know and love the English language.

On first sight, crepuscular is an ugly word, very different to what I'm used to and sounds medical and scientific. It has multiple syllables, doesn't flow off the tongue and trips itself up as I say it.

Definition: At the time of twilight

I would like this word to enchant me now that I know its meaning, but it still sounds far too similar to muscular.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Building blocks of poetry

I believe if you study something for long enough, it will ultimately help you to improve.

Having the ability to read a poem and to understand what the poet is saying between the lines, as well as the techniques used, is a good starting point for writing great poetry of your own.

So what are the building blocks of studying a poem?

1) Meaning - what is the poet communicating? Why does the poet use certain words and why those words and not others?

2) Look for allusions - why does the poet refer to certain things? What is the true meaning behind it?

3) Dictation and tone - what language is being used? Formal, classical, biblical, slang, popular... What is the tone of voice? Sarcastic, obnoxious, hypocritical, aggressive, grave, comical, enthusiastic, gentle, mocking, angry, optimistic... Try to "hear" the poem by reading it out loud.

4) Who is speaking and what is the situation? How many people are in the poem?

5) Grammar and syntax - if repetition is used, why is it there?

6) Figurative language gives a poem life - similes, metaphors, symbols, images, personifications - but also ask yourself why is it there and what meaning does it add to the poem.

7) Rhythm and rhyme can change the mood and feel of a poem creating abruptness and discord, or calmness through regularity.

Look out for my WordUp Wednesdays.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

eBooks in the Year 1999

I did work experience at a couple of publishing houses in 1999 and, sorting through some old boxes, have just come across a handful of the notes I made:

One of the books in one of the house's online catalogs was about the death of privacy in the 21st Century - and how true this has turned out to be with wire tapping, mobile phone tracking and misuse of our data and records constantly in the news today.

Back then, internet e-commerce was just beginning. One of the houses was already selling eBooks and wanted to sell through their own website rather than using multiple partners. They were developing a place for their customers to "hang out" online and pondering whether free e-content over the Web would hurt their book business. Initial sales showed this wasn't the case...

I've been on their website this morning to see how things have moved on and it appears they've branched out into IT courses and certificates, as well as conferences, and definitely found their niche market with their technical books and manuals. Also linking with another online company offering technology and business training.

So they swam, while others sank!

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Nella Last's Peace

It was wonderful to pick up from where I left off at the end of Nella Last's War - VJ Day August 14th, 1945 - when I opened the pages of Nella Last's Peace. There was something very comforting about the continuation, so I didn't feel as if I'd missed any of Nella's little world and life in Barrow and the goings on with her family and friends.

You can expect more of the same wonderful prose (expertly edited) and humourous, gossipy, emotive and reflective insights, observations, thoughts, feelings and interactions as Nella shares her life with us. The war might well be over, but the fight to establish a positioning in the new world and the battle for housewives to provide for their families despite rationing, rages on. Life is still hard and Nella often reflects on the camaraderie of the war years and how it kept them all going.

What I love about Nella's writing is that she is brutally honest in her diary entries and she seems ultra sensitive to the happenings of everyday life.

Two beautiful quotes to illustrate this:

"We are all in the melting pot of history, and that's always hurting. The best part of history is to read it out of books when things get more in focus..."

"It's so ghastly to think that people who fight, endure and suffer are not the ones to begin wars, and are so helpless to stop them. Only if people's minds and hearts could unite and change, only if we all could unite in a single purpose of personal responsibility to each other, to life in general, towards people we know exist but never see, to teach little children the beauty of peace and concord, how to agree with each other, share things - and laugh - can simple forthright peace come."

When I got to the end, I felt like I'd lost an old friend, a very dear, wise old friend. So imagine my delight when I discovered there's a third and final installment of Nella's diary entries written through the 1950s.

Guess what I've just ordered on Amazon...

Monday, 16 June 2014

A Level word play

Here is some word play I remember doing in A Level English Lit. Love this. I find playing around with words revives the creativity when I'm feeling a little flat.

Some of my own were on the back of this sheet. Check these out:



        E   W


Thursday, 12 June 2014

Safe Travels

So I've covered a series of vulnerable travel scenarios, what I did in those situations and how you might tackle similar. It isn't always easy to know what to do, let alone know what the right thing is to do, but you have to put emotion to the side and let your brain and logic take over. It also helps if you're travelling with friends or in an organised group so you can get their perspective and knowledge - and a shoulder to lean (cry!) on when it all goes pear shaped. Your immediate reaction will most probably be one of shock and disbelief, but it's the critical minutes after that and your actions and reactions that will determine how it plays out.

Look out for my new, free e-guide "Safe Travels" where I'll be discussing more of my travel tales and sharing practical advice for travel preparation before, during and after your travels to ensure you have the best (and safest) time possible.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Stolen Identity

Who would've thought a series of power cuts in Lalibela, Ethiopia could be the catalyst to a stolen identity?!

Picture it: The little internet cafe in the middle of a hilly, remote village in northern Ethiopia. Pre Smartphone. Pre Wireless. Why I decided to check my emails here, I'll never know. Wires everywhere - who knew what was connected to what and where that information was being fed. And because I wasn't logging out of my email each time (thanks to the power cuts) and stupidly kept going back into it, someone was able to hack into my account once I eventually gave up and left for the hotel.

I didn't know anything was wrong until I returned home a couple of weeks later and found my email account
had been changed into Chinese. Looking back now, I think this was a decoy to not only distract me (and think someone Chinese was behind all of this), but to make it time consuming to get back into my account and change passwords and reset other accounts they'd hacked.

Stupidly I had the same password for my email and eBay, so that was their next stop. From eBay they got my Paypal account and from Paypal they got my bank details. Then they started shopping - internet dating and shoes!

Over the course of the next six weeks, I did a number of things
. I immediately went to see my bank manager to close my current account. We also discussed the transactions - some had gone through and others were pending. I couldn't close my debit account until the bank had refunded that money (I really had to prove I was being defrauded - the perils of your debit account being hacked) and cancelled the pending transactions. That took the best part of two to three weeks. All the while I kept getting invoices in my name sent to my address with all these shoes I was supposedly buying. I was grateful they were only buying shoes. I think my account must have been suspended, only allowing for my monthly pay to clear, somehow. I'm not quite sure how that was done, but I don't remember having any problems with that side of it.

After going to my local police station and begging for a case number to show any baliffs that might appear if the fraud got out of hand - yes, always think worse case scenario - they gave me one but advised banks were now setting up their own fraud departments to handle the cases in-house. My bank was ahead of the game so I was collecting all of my evidence and handing it over to them, so they could pursue the offenders. I never found out the outcome, but I did eventually stumble across a name and address up in London and passed it to them. I wanted to go up there myself, but who knows if that was even a real lead?

Once the invoices died down, I had received all of my money back, was able to shut my account and reopen a new one, it was then I checked my credit rating with Experian.
Luckily, that hadn't been affected, but probably because I had a very limited rating due to never owing anybody anything. I decided it was time for a credit card - not only to build up my score, but also to protect me whilst travelling. At the time, I had to prove to my bank with hard, cold evidence that I was being defrauded and they were only just setting up their fraud department, but credit card companies had been doing this for a while and it's much easier to cancel a credit card than cancel a debit account!

Through Experian, I used another company called Equifax and paid a very reasonable sum to protect myself, my identity and my credit rating for a year
. I always did check my bank account regularly, but now I check that and my credit card daily to keep an eye on pending transactions which I don't recognise.

Amongst all of the angst, one funny thing did happen. I had a letter from the shoe company saying they had received the returned product and were refunding me. I phoned them up and it seemed I was speaking to a sixteen year old receptionist who didn't have a clue. I explained about the fraud and these were not true purchases and that they shouldn't be refunding me. Guess what? I received the refund anyway!

Friday, 6 June 2014

Robbed from under my nose!

Taken just before the horrid event
Some friends and I were sitting in a little coffee shop on O'Connell's street in Dublin when my worse nightmare happened - my purse got stolen. Even worse still, it was literally taken right from under my nose.

We were crammed around a small table with a giant map covering not only the table but our laps as well. We were so engrossed in planning out our next couple of days, I did something I never do. I put my bag on the floor to make more room.
And usually if I have to do that, I loop the handle around my ankle or wedge the bag between my feet, but for some reason, I did neither.

I always wear my money belt on
trips, but this time I thought I'd be a little more civilised and actually carry a handbag. We were on a city break after all, hardly the wilds of Africa. It would be perfectly safe. Inside my bag I had my passport, purse, camera, insurance docs and phone. Luckily I'd split my cash and left some of it inside my locked suitcase in the room, but the rest of my Euros were in my purse. All I remember is two Eastern European girls sitting at the table next to us, having a quick drink and then leaving. When I looked down ten to fifteen minutes later, my bag was on its side and wide open. Panicking, I first accused the new occupants at the table next to us, then I apologised and asked them if they had seen anything or could give me a description of the girls, which they couldn't but it was worth a shot. Be grateful for small mercies - they'd only taken my purse. My passport, camera, insurance paperwork and phone were still inside my bag. Lucky to still have my phone, I immediately started making calls - running up a huge bill but I didn't care at this point. Again, if I had just had my money belt, I wouldn't have had so many cards to worry about because I pack the bare minimum in that. I spent the next hour mentally going through the layout of my purse and systematically cancelling the cards. I also phoned my partner for reassurance, the insurance company for advice and my works to let them know two of their cards had been stolen and I would need replacements. My friends were great lending me money and helping me do everything, but it did take the sparkle out of the trip and left me feeling extremely vulnerable. I remember having to watch how I spent for the rest of the day and evening just so I could go crazy for our final night on the town. It all worked out brilliantly in the end, but I wouldn't wish it on anyone.

We were on one of the main streets in Dublin, so, after asking around for the nearest police station, I went and reported the theft and got my all important police statement for the insurance claim. This time I didn't miss the deadline and claimed back everything well within the time frame on my return. About a month later I received a parcel in the post and it was my purse still intact except for the cash. A bin man named Willy had found it dumped on O'Conell's street on his rounds, took my address off my driving license, used my stamps (which he apologised for and said he hoped I didn't mind) and posted it back to me. The girls had literally taken the Euros and dumped it straight after.

You know, these things happen and I'm glad I went through the experience (even though it was horrid
) because it definitely toughened me up for future trips - how to cope in a crisis etc. And it could have been so much worse to lose all of the contents in my hand bag.

The only thing I'm superstitious about is the fact that everything happens in threes. With two down and one to go, I was wondering what else was going to happen to me. I had to wait almost two years for the third, which turned out to be the biggest shock of my life and completely shook all of my foundations to the ground.

See you in the next post!

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Bags broken into

So what do you do when you discover you've been robbed whilst on your travels?

It's a horrid feeling. For me, it's one of the ultimate violations of my privacy and my heckles are up just thinking about it. I landed in Livingstone from London via Jo'burg and immediately we went out to see the spectacle that is Vic Falls. It was only later back at the lodge that I discovered my bag had been broken into - my guess, this happened when transiting through Jo'burg airport. We'd flown South African Airlines and unfortunately their airport staff and baggage handlers have a terrible reputation for theft. I've heard countless stories where they unashamedly whip your things right from under your nose even whilst you're checking in!

This time it was just £100 worth of clothes pinched from my main hold luggage. I'd purposely used an old holdall roughed up from my time in Tanzania, the Sahara and Marrakech and the padlock was nothing special. Maybe I should have done without the padlock! I guess they thought we can break this easily so it's worth a shot...

Before leaving Zambia and heading across to Botswana, I went to the local police station in Livingstone and eventually got an interview with one of the staff and they made out a police report for me to use in my insurance claim when I returned home. Be patient, everything in Africa takes ages. I was there a good couple of hours just for some words on a piece of paper and a signature.

Unfortunately, weeks later, I woke up the morning after the deadline date for making my claim, remembered I still hadn't done it and lost my chance!

The situation could have been a whole lot worse, but I never carry important documents in my hold luggage. In fact, important docs are carried on my person and camera equipment in my back pack. I'm that careful.

Check out my next post where my carefulness lapsed and cost me, but once again I got away relatively lightly, this time in Dublin.

Monday, 2 June 2014

AWOL guide upon arrival

Before I even begin this story, let's start with some advice: Wherever possible try to travel within a network of people and a framework of places you've set up prior to leaving on your adventures. If you have this in place, when things go wrong (as they invariably do), usually they will work themselves out thanks to your plans and forethought. I'm not saying plan to the nth degree because where's the fun in that (the best moments in travel are the ones that come from spontaneity), but at least have your "back ups" stashed in the back of your brain.

I was taking a trip around northern Ethiopia and I'd just flown from Lalibela to Gondar. On arrival there was no sign of my guide or driver. They didn't fly with me, they drove instead and I'm wondering if something happened. I'm also acutely aware we have a packed schedule ahead of us (one night in each town before moving on to the next). It's not a big airport so it's not like there's anywhere I can search for them. Within ten to fifteen minutes everybody on my flight leaves and I'm the last one in the hall. I take a seat to work out a plan. I figure people know I'm here and they'll be looking for me soon enough, otherwise I'll take a taxi to the hotel myself and decide what to do once I'm there. One of the airport porters comes over and we get chatting. He asks me what I'm waiting for and I tell him the situation. He asks around on my behalf and one of the other porters makes a phone call for me. The next I'm hearing, my driver and guide are just doing a spot of shopping for me in Gondar town and they'll be along shortly. Apologies for the delay.

Did I mention there's an element of luck involved as well, but don't rely on this...

If you want to be super organised and efficient, carry a mobile phone with that country's sim card and take your driver and guide's mobile numbers. I knew once I got to the hotel I could make phone calls because my trip framework was already laid down and had been distributed accordingly!

Friday, 30 May 2014

Missing a flight

Another vulnerable situation I found myself in was almost a year later when I missed my charter flight off of Zanzibar island. I had to get a connecting flight in Dar es Salaam up to Nairobi and from memory, there wasn't much time in between the two flights. What was even more annoying was the plane was still on the tarmac when I arrived and after both myself and my guide talking (begging) with the airport staff in their little shack, and me indicating I could just run across and hop on (surely), it was no good and the plane left without me. The male airport staff were laughing at me when they asked for a further 50 dollars to secure my place on the next flight off the island, so I paid up (lucky I had enough cash, these were the days when I didn't carry a credit card) and then it was an excruciating wait of two to three hours in the tiny, hot, airless departure lounge where I wondered if I really was on the next flight out. I sat and as each minute passed, I tried to work out if I was still going to make my connection in Dar with time to spare. My guide had long gone, I think he'd left for another tour even before I'd paid for a new ticket, so I watched the lounge fill up hoping I would be flying out with these people.

In hindsight, I can see that everything was going to be ok, but at the time I was new to travelling on my own and I didn't have a clue what was going on and didn't like the idea of "winging it" as much as I do now (because now I see that's actually the fun part of travel... not knowing how things are going to turn out). And even when I eventually got to Dar, I was still clueless and dazed as to where I should be going within the airport. In fact, as I walked onto my next plane, I asked the flight attendant whether this was the correct flight just to be sure. Luckily it was, but by then I was so out of sync, I didn't trust myself to get anything right!

What I learned from this experience is first and foremost, don't always rely on your guide to get you where you need to be with plenty of time to spare. The majority of guides I've encountered are excellent and efficient, but watch out for the laid back, unsure ones, especially if they've been entrusted with getting you on a flight.

I still don't know whether I was paying for a new ticket or whether I was paying a bribe to get me off the island. The way they were laughing at my misfortune makes me think the latter. Always carry a credit card to get you out of financial shtook, plus if your card is cloned, it's better it's a credit card rather than your bank account card - more to come on this topic. 

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Trapped in a carpet shop!

If you travel a lot, you'll know that being trapped inside a textiles and / or carpet shop is a common occurrence.

This particular incident in India began innocently enough. I decided to catch up with emails when we arrived into Agra early evening and, after settling into my room and making plans to meet the rest of the group at 8 for dinner, I wandered outside the hotel to the rickshaw rank and asked one of the drivers to take me to the nearest internet cafe. We bartered, agreed a price and then we were off. There was something niggling me about this chap, nothing sinister, just that he'd mentioned a carpet shop and I only had a couple of a hours to spare, so I paid more attention than usual to the route we took just in case I needed to abandon my rickshaw and walk / run back to the hotel.

It made sense when I realised the internet cafe was in the back of a textiles shop, so I logged on and got busy with emails and must have been at it for a good 45 minutes when I noticed my driver along with the shop owner were now talking with a few more men who had come inside for a chat. Nothing unusual, just friends getting together after a day's work, but still. Alarm bells started going off inside my head and I wrapped up my work and made to leave, but I totally knew what was coming. I never got anywhere near the door before the hard selling began. After several futile attempts at saying "No thanks" and tapping my watch, I caved. No big deal, I did want to get some presents, but I ended up buying something from each of them, except my driver. I gave as good as I got and bartered hard, which is my first bit of advice - however "wobbley" you feel, don't show it. Satisfied, I was then allowed to leave the shop, but I noticed my driver was excitable and, as soon as we were back on the road, he started to babble about his Manager's carpet shop and lo and behold, that's where we were going next. I was told I must buy something otherwise his Manager would punish him. I mean, this guy was either a great fibber in line for some great commission, or extremely and sincerely desperate. The more I insisted he take me back to the hotel, the more he begged and pleaded.

We ended up driving by his Manager's place because he wouldn't take my multiple "NOs" seriously and his Manager came out and was shouting at him, so there I am caught in the middle of this dispute. What would you do? For me, annoyance and anger crept in (time was ticking along and it was getting dark) so I got down from the rickshaw and started to walk in the direction of the hotel, refusing to pay my driver. He obviously feared going unpaid more than he feared his Manager's wrath because he came after me and took me back to the hotel. I did have to make an empty promise I'd check out the carpets the next morning, but once inside the safety of the hotel and back with my travelling companions, I didn't have anything to worry about.

Looking back at this now, I know I made several mistakes - taking off on my own at that time of day, not remembering to tell anybody where I was going... but I also made some good moves like tracking the internet cafe so I knew how to get back to the hotel and remaining firm but fair throughout the whole thing. If I was going to have to buy from each of them before being able to leave the shop, I was going to get the wares for a decent price. What happened here is a regular element of travel and part and parcel of travelling the world, so I didn't feel like I was compromising any of my values or principles. If you do make a mistake, as I did, take back control of the situation as soon as you can - and stick to your guns. You're always going to come up against locals looking to get as much money from you (the tourist) as possible.

Friday, 23 May 2014

Travel scenarios

In my next set of posts, I'm going to be reliving some of my most vulnerable travel experiences and how I dealt with each scenario.

I've had everything... from the wandering hands of a Vietnamese rally car driver on a long haul flight (who unfortunately I was sat next to for 14 hours - yes 14 hours!) to being trapped inside a carpet shop, being robbed during varying stages of my trips, having my identity stolen and the ramifications, being taken off alone on a camel into the desert to reach our camp before sundown, and always always always coping with the unwanted attention from some of the shady characters I've encountered along the way from their desire to get out of their respective country to romancing to even beyond that.

Travelling should be fun, whilst exercising caution and common sense, but I was extremely green when I started at
the ripe young age of 18. I've always believed and trusted myself and I've always had that confidence in myself that I will act in the strongest manner possible when confronted with an unsavoury situation, but often you are so caught in the moment, you very quickly lose your head letting the trickster take advantage. And it happens so fast, it leaves your head spinning.

But don't be alarmed, there are things you can do and precautions you can take before, during and even after
if you still have worries and concerns. We will be exploring these over the coming weeks leading up to the release of my new, free e-guide "Safe Travels".

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

When writing is there to save you

There is a lot of advice out there about how to write around the day job and the other daily pressures of life, but what happens when unforeseen circumstances introduce themselves into the mix, like long-term illness, and you immediately find yourself involved?

I'm going through something along these lines at the moment and I can only describe it like this: one minute you're juggling all the little pebbles in life that make up everything you're used to, when all of a sudden you see a big boulder hurtling towards you. You manage to catch it but it keeps dragging you further and further away from what you know and love.

Everybody copes and manages in different ways and we each have varying levels of patience and tolerance. There are days when I envy the people without responsibility. I don't have any solutions to share, but I just wanted to connect with fellow writers going through something similar. This is the first time in almost a month I've been able to sit and write fresh material, freely and without any pressures to be at the surgery or the hospital or run to the pharmacy - and this, in itself, is a tonic.

Monday, 19 May 2014

Nella Last's War


I love wartime literature so this book was definitely for me. Nella Last's account of everyday life back then is fascinating from the cost of things, to the rationing, to her opinions of the country's leaders... and to write the way she did with bucketfuls of empathy, humour, sadness, contemplation and beautiful nostalgia is truly captivating.

This is the diary of Nella Last, Housewife, 49, which she kept religiously during the Second World War for the Mass Observation project. Charles Madge, a poet and journalist, and Tom Harrisson, an anthropologist set up the Mass-Observation project in 1937 to "record the voice of the people". Nella Last was one of 500 people from all over the UK to take part in this extraordinary national writing project.

I connected with her entries across the decades because she's writing from her perspective, not only as a housewife, but as a woman during those years. She's a go getter who comes into her own during the war years and she likes to balance that positive attitude with a peaceful, stable home life. Unfortunately, she does live with regrets and unfulfilled dreams because of the world she lives in, but she's someone who makes the best of everything, always. Creative, resourceful, never wavering. Despite suffering with terrible nerves, regularly feeling depressed within and not forgetting what she's living through (Barrow-in-Furness suffered terribly during the Blitz and was often overlooked), she's outwardly a comedian who finds the strength from somewhere to entertain the people from day to day and keep their spirits up.

I am very much looking forward to reading her Post-War Diaries now "Nella Last's Peace".

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Being a travel writer

Here are some tips for making your travel content interesting and relevant. These don't really differ from any piece of writing you do. The principles are the same.

  • Target your feature to a specific market so you can tailor the content accordingly and write in the correct style and tone for the publication

  • Find a fresh angle

  • Write about what you know because that will make your piece credible

  • Answer these - What? Where? When? Why? How? Who?

  • Know what the point of your article is and emphasize this throughout

  • Write a great introduction

  • Keep the content tight - no flowery prose, no cliches, no unnecessary, complicated words, and show don't tell

  • Be accurate with your facts  

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Starting out as a travel writer

Here are some ideas for how to establish yourself as a travel writer:

  • Competition for the magazines you see on the book stands is intense, so start with submitting online articles and fillers.

  • Build your portfolio through a website or blog. Articles, fillers, photos and videos should all feature.

  • Find your niche and own it. By owning it, I mean sharing your stories on social media, blogging, interacting with other blogs and participating in online forums.

  • As well as networking online, network in the flesh. Go to travel events. Go to travel blogging events. Go to events that fit your niche within travel. Make up some business cards and get them into people's hands.

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Holidaying to a budget

You may want to seriously watch your pennies whilst on holiday, or you may like to keep those finances in check on the proviso that the budget is there but you have a little room for maneuver, or even if you're just keen to educate yourself on how, where and when you can save to avoid being ripped off, here are some ideas and things to watch out for:

  • No frills airlines are not always cheaper once you've added extras like hold luggage, in-flight meals, seat selection, oh and an oxygen mask on RyanAir! For example, BA do some very competitive holiday packages and you'll be flying with BA.

  • Always compare package deals if you're thinking about booking each segment separately.

  • Apartments may be cheaper than hotels.

  • Check out what you should be paying for things like car hire and excursions ahead of time. Use price comparison websites.

  • See which currencies are performing poorly against the £ and that's where you'll get a bargain holiday.

  • Go to your local GP for your jabs. Travel clinics are more expensive.

  • Avoid travelling in peak UK periods, unless you're visiting family for Easter or Christmas.

  • When booking, use a debit card rather than a credit card to avoid the handling fee.

  • A la carte menus will always be more expensive.

  • Check out the best way to carry your money whilst in-country.

  • Annual travel insurance policies are amazing value for money, rather than purchasing single trip, even if you don't plan to travel again within the year.

  • Apply for a free European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) if travelling within the EU. Added bonus and peace of mind to compliment your travel insurance policy.

Travel changes

Looking back through some very old holiday snaps got me thinking how everything about travel has changed so much even just in my lifetime. From researching a destination to booking the holiday to how we capture the memories during and after... and with the changes in Security, I often wonder whether I would've been able to bring back some of the more exotic items I have in the past like spice powders from Zanzibar in unmarked packets and huge quantities of dates from Marrakech. I remember being able to take big bottles of water and whatever size toiletries in my hand luggage including giant cans of hairspray (could be considered a weapon!) and no one batted an eyelid. Now everything is squeezed into 100ml bottles, tightly sealed in a security bag and scrutinized like there's no tomorrow.

But what we've lost in the innocence of travel, we've gained in the speed, efficiency and transparency of the booking process and the communication and knowledge along the way. No hotel can escape the truth of TripAdvisor and if that one excursion you really want to do is no good, you'll be able to get a head's up and make alternative plans long before you set foot on the plane. You can communicate with people who have travelled the same roads you plan to travel, you can find exact timings for journeys, where the likely rest breaks will be and detailed descriptions of what to expect on that one remote bus full of chickens and sleepy locals.

Whilst walking into a Travel Agent's, picking up a brochure, saying I want to go there and then having everything done for you is fun (it is, I've done just that), the convenience of the World Wide Web is pretty darn amazing. It's not just the fact that everything is at your fingertips, but also because the journey from inspiration to research to booking to sharing is an incredible experience if you really and truly love travel. Everyday new concepts for booking a holiday are being created and it makes for an interesting ride. 

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Smarter, wiser travel

Here's a post on how to be a responsible traveller in six easy steps:

Which company?
Choose wisely and ask questions of the company you are looking to book through. Let them know you are a responsible consumer. Is the company certified and has it won any awards? What policies have they implemented in-house and within the countries they visit? Ask them how they educate their employees and potential customers like yourself, and whether the tours they offer use local guides, family run hotels and guesthouses, and locally source transport. A lot of tour operators today have the basics of an RT policy, so make sure you do your research and support those companies that are making the effort to educate and promote a better quality travel experience.

Are you taking a flight?
One of the easiest things you can do even before you have left your house is to offset your carbon omissions either through the company you have booked with or independently online. The Climate Care website ( will take you through calculating your emissions and buying your offsets, but more importantly, it will explain why this is such a positive step for travelling responsibly. Ultimately, your offsets are helping fund some great projects such as creating efficient cooking stoves in Uganda and Cambodia, introducing the human powered treadle pump to parts of India where diesel pumps were once used for irrigation farming, and the creation of the Mulan wind farm in China to generate electricity.

Contributing to local communities by using local produce or services is another easy way to promote RT. A responsible beach holiday is not out of the question! If the hotel sources local produce and towels and bedding, even furniture from the market down the road, sells local wares in its shop and organises trips and excursions in the immediate area – these are all the makings of an RT worthy trip. You have a wonderful opportunity to give something back simply by staying at this one hotel. After all, travel is a two way experience – you have a great holiday, see some amazing sights and meet some great people - and all the while you’re helping to support the town or village you’re staying in. What could be better than that!

However, be aware of tourist traps!
Dancing bears, dancing monkeys, riding ostriches for fun – whatever it may be – this is exploitation and should be avoided at all costs. Obviously there are touristy hotspots in every major city you pass through which are an essential part of your holiday or tour – and to not visit them would be criminal – but being aware of local people attempting to make a quick buck with mass produced souvenirs, and recognising the difference between a genuine performance and a performance simply to make money, are all ways to ensure you are not being taken for a ride. Search out the local markets or registered cooperatives where you can see the souvenirs being crafted right in front of your eyes. And then barter for a fair price with the person who made it. It makes all the difference in the world.

Respect and observe local customs at all times.
Did you know you could be unknowingly exploiting a person, a tribe or a village if you take a photo of them without asking permission? Sometimes we may feel it is our right to get that perfect snap for our holiday album back home, but these are people who are just like you and me – and we have to respect that. For example; if it is customary to ask the local chief of the village beforehand whether you can take photos, you should do this so as not to offend. Guide books such as Lonely Planet and Rough Guides are essential reading if you want to get a quick precise of local protocol before you travel. Licking your fingers after a meal or touching your mouth in Ethiopia is considered to be very rude, so don’t make that mistake and swot up before you leave!

And finally, feedback is essential especially if you have been travelling with a tour operator. If RT really is at the core of their company, they will appreciate and act on any suggestions you may have. So make sure you have your say and fill in a customer questionnaire. If the product reflects the hype, tell them, and if you feel it doesn’t, it’s probably even more important to tell them so they can get it right next time.

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Rewards of travel

If you ever need a reason to shock yourself because things are too samey samey and you feel stuck in life, throw yourself into a travel experience. Dealing with getting from A to B to C to D and all that that entails will quickly absorb your attention, leaving the mundane and boring or whatever else you're trying to escape from to fester on its own for a while. Once you're on the road, you can relax and enjoy everything in the experience that dips, tickles and touches your senses - and watch the real you unfolding right before your very eyes.

Maybe you thought you were cool, calm and collected in the office - I know I certainly did. It was only when I missed the first of three flights to get me home after a trip to Tanzania and Zanzibar that my real temperament came racing to the surface. Panic set in and with panic came anger and frustration. My father had recently passed away. A day after the funeral I was flying to Africa for the first time and while the trip had been an experience of a lifetime, now, at the end all I wanted to do was get home and start my grieving - but I'd missed my charter off of Zanzibar Island. When I eventually boarded the final flight from Nairobi, I wept silently for a good portion of the journey. Luckily I didn't have anyone sitting next to me, otherwise I would've drowned them with my tears.

Now fast forward three years and I've just flown from Lalibela to Gondar in Ethiopia. I'm at Arrivals and there's no sign of my guide or driver. They didn't fly with me, they drove and I'm wondering if something happened. I'm also acutely aware we have a packed schedule ahead of us. Everybody leaves and I'm the last one in the hall. I surprise myself by taking a pew to figure out a plan. One of the porters comes over and we get chatting. He asks me what I'm waiting for and I tell him the situation. He asks around on my behalf and one of the other porters makes a phone call for me. The next I'm hearing, my driver and guide are just doing a spot of shopping for me in Gondar town and they'll be along shortly. Apologies for the delay.

I didn't panic. I didn't get angry. And it all worked out well in the end. So now, I make sure to keep my head.

And that's just one of the many things I've learned...

Whatever travel teaches you - seeing how the other half lives and putting your life in perspective, finding out that meeting new people isn't half as scary as you thought, experiencing new cultures is actually rather refreshing and fascinating, the wonderful sense of freedom is second to none, the stereotypes are rarely ever correct, you had better (or worse) instincts than you realised, or you never knew you could find such a peace within yourself - whatever it is, hang on to it because that's what you'll remember the most when you recount the stories over and over again.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

What travel means to me

I'm going to be blogging a short series on Travel leading up to the launch of my free e-guide Safe Travels and my Travelling Dreams collection.

I think an apt way to start is to tell you what travel means to me and how it’s changed my life.

I think a world without travel would be like a world without people. There would be nothing to challenge you, inspire you or open your mind to. It’s really difficult to not be just another tourist when you’re visiting somewhere new and want to tick off those all important sites and excursions, but the way I’ve found to do it is simply to mingle. Get out there and talk to the locals, sample the food and explore your surroundings.

My confidence has soared since I started travelling regularly and I love the way it’s brought the world to my doorstep. I have friends everywhere now and my network continues to grow.

I recommend travel to anyone - and especially if you're stuck in a rut. Once bitten by the bug, you'll be smitten with the bug!

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Projects progress

1st of May today and my Goodreads challenge is still going well. I'm about to finish the 4th book of 12 and start the 5th...

Also on target is project "Back Catalogue". This week saw the release of my poetry anthology - The Workings Of My Mind and my freelancing guide - Getting Ready to Freelance and Write.

Next up, I'm shifting my focus to Travel with a free e-guide all about travelling safely, especially with regards to protecting your identity and documents. I'm also launching my Travelling Dreams collection. More to follow on these exciting projects...

So it's a thumbs up from me. I'm learning something new about publishing everyday and sharing my own knowledge through my various rotating blog series tweets. 

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

eBook project

Just shy of three years ago when I was starting out in publishing, I blogged this:

I find it funny that people are incredulous when I say I could self publish an eBook on Amazon for 99p and still make the same profit (25 to 50 pence) as my current £12.99 offering (Little Child) on Amazon. This is the absolute truth, no word of a lie. The one thing you can guarantee in this game is that different publishing models all result in a very similar profit margin, but the real gain for us as writers and authors is when we hit a worldwide audience simultaneously with minimal effort. The more people you "hit" with your book, the better chance you have of raising your literary profile to dizzying heights. Remember what I said in an earlier post - it's not just about the book anymore, YOU have to be a brand as well. I thought about this for a long time today and I came to the following conclusion: the internet is an amazing resource with no limits, but to utilise it properly the only thing stopping you, is you. Anybody who has a remote interest in writing can self publish some kind of book, but if you know your market and your price points and you've done your research, the potential to reach as many people as possible is right there waiting for you. I'm going to experiment with my theory and come back to you on this. Don't forget, I'm still learning too. I'm a marketeer in the making!

And it's taken a while, but I'm finally there! My 99p eBook is now available on Amazon. The marketing is still a work in progress and I'll be exploring that side of things once I've built my back catalogue. There will also be a paperback version of Getting Ready to Freelance and Write available on Createspace over the coming weeks.

I have to say it's thrilling to see my book on Amazon and it's even more of a thrill to know that I did it all myself from conception right through to launch. I started small so each chapter is only one or two pages in length and there's only about 50 pages in total. I was glad of this during the editing and formatting stages - all of which I did myself (isn't it great to see the message from Amazon "0 spelling mistakes were found in the text") - and at this point in the process, after reviewing my formatting for about the 20th time, I was also thinking that writing in a series and putting out episodes rather than going full throttle with a whole book was something I would like to try because it would break it down into manageable chunks.

Of course, you can pay someone to edit and format, but I needed to try it for myself. In my humble opinion, the size of your project determines to a certain extent how much money you should spend. The only part of the process I wanted to pay for (due to budget constraints) was the artwork - eBook cover, Createspace cover and Facebook timeline banner. I wanted my designer in the US to source and purchase the stock photo and have that creative control. All of this cost me a total of 40 dollars and I found him on and I've used the artwork over and over on my different social media sites. I was itching to try this site and really enjoyed the experience, but as usual I tried to run before I could walk, so make sure if you're getting people involved in your project, that you have everything you think you might need ready to go. There's a little bit of forward thinking required and also anticipating, which only comes with experience after being through the process once. For example, have all of your text clear in your mind so when your designer needs it, you can shoot it straight across. Also, my big thing was I hadn't yet loaded up my manuscript to either Amazon or Createspace so I didn't know sizes for the cover artwork. Big fail! Luckily because Drew was specifically creating a Kindle eBook cover, one size fits all. The cover for Createspace was a little more tricky although you can start the process of creating a book with them and in the early stages you determine the book's sizing. I did take a guess on the number of pages - I wouldn't advise that. Try to be as accurate as you can. I think I've got lucky again and hit it spot on, but don't rely on luck!!

I would recommend you give yourself a couple of hours for loading up a short eBook (approx 50 pages) onto either of these sites because you can go off on different tangents at each stage of the process. For example, I didn't purchase an ISBN but used the one Createspace generated. This is down to personal preference, but before I made my decision, I read all the information about it. This is time you need to factor in so you can make the best choices for you and your project.

Once you've loaded up your text, edited and formatted until you're happy, the next step is Rights, Royalty and Pricing. The only snag I hit here was forgetting to factor in the 3% VAT Amazon adds for European countries, so when I looked at my eBook price the next day on UK Amazon, it said £1.04 rather than my desired 99p. The base price I should have loaded was 96p. It was easy enough to amend.

The final stage is to hit Publish and it takes about twelve hours
for your eBook to appear on all of the Amazon sites in the countries mentioned in the Pricing section. If you spot any mistakes or there are things you need to update, you can make your changes and re-publish as many times as you like.

Your book sits on your virtual bookshelf within your Amazon account and you can Unpublish at any time as well. All of your Royalty reports will appear in this section. 

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Poetry anthology creation

This is a poetry collection which is very special to me because each poem highlights a defining moment in my life where the event changed me as a person.

Not only did I want to do the words justice and commemorate the events behind those words, I also wanted to make this anthology a show piece for my website.

Of course, this work is very personal to me so may not appeal to a wide audience and the hardback edition and imagewrap edition featured on Blurb are expensive. Cheaper versions will be available from Amazon and Createspace over the coming weeks, both in eBook format and paperback respectively. 

That being said, I am thrilled with this creation and enjoyed the building process with Blurb. Having held the final product (I ordered the hardback with dust jacket) which now sits proudly on a shelf in my office, I can say it's a high quality work and I can't fault the design or materials used.

You can sell with or without mark up on Blurb and they are now offering the option to sell through Amazon as well. However, Amazon will add 15% to your Blurb price which possibly then makes your book unsaleable. What I shall be doing is, re-create the eBook on Amazon's Kindle and the paperback on Createspace to then be able to lower the price substantially. This is more work, but it was always my intention to sell primarily through Amazon. 

Out Now! The Workings Of My Mind

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Who follows rules anyway?

I'm finally doing it! I'm finally turning all of the book projects I've sat on for years into a credible back catalogue to showcase to the world. I had to wait for my contractual publishing ties to expire before I could start, but now that's happened, I can roll out these creations. Nothing like seeing it all come to fruition slowly but surely.

I read earlier this week, when starting out in writing, you should stick to one genre and build your audience from that basis so they can get used to you, your writing ability, content and style. But who follows rules anyway? My dream has always been to bring my many, many ideas to life even though these ideas cover an array of genres.

On my self publishing journey, I plan to try out a range of publishing models and marketing and advertising methods and report back here at All Things WTP, so I can give you an honest insight into the complete life of a modern day writer. Writing really is just the beginning of the story!

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Snowdrops by A.D. Miller

This book has been sitting in my pile of "must reads" for a while now. It was on my list because I wanted to read a thriller where weather is used to create the tension and atmosphere in the novel, like Lee Child's Echo Burning which I absolutely loved.

I expected great things from Snowdrops because of the hype. It was shortlisted for the Man Booker prize and the CWA Gold Dagger in 2011.

After finishing it, I definitely feel that the things that were left unsaid are actually what make the story so completely gripping and disturbing. It's a real eye opener into Russia and the corruption, and the geographical references and description enhance the plot as it unfolds.

I found the worldly confidence of the main character carried an unnerving wave of hopelessness. I wouldn't want to live the life he was living, every day his conscience eroding away. The less you know, the better - to quote the book. But that's what gave the story its unhinged edge.

It was a bit of a shock after reading chick lit and I still can't decide whether it's a keeper. I will have to ponder that for a little while. In terms of learning from the writer's style - the lesson I picked up here was don't try to include everything. Leave some mystery and reading between the lines for your audience.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Here's Looking At You by Mhairi McFarlane

I bought this book at the same time as Somewhere Over England because I quite fancied some lighthearted Chick Lit (haven't read any for a while). McFarlane's debut got rave reviews and this is her second novel. I haven't read You Had Me At Hello so I didn't have any expectations when I started Here's Looking At You, but what a brilliant book. Lots of laugh out loud moments, gorgeous little quips I wished I'd created and a catchy, distinctive style. I loved the fact I could relate to the numerous being a 30-something references, the "looking back at secondary school" references and the fashion, culture, music etc refs. Just spot on.

I always think Chick Lit is a difficult genre to tackle because it can so easily come across as mega cheesy. McFarlane doesn't seem to have any trouble because she keeps it real. A classic case of writing what you know. There is a moment in the last third of the book which blew me away with its tenderness - and I'm not talking about a sex scene or even a "kiss and make up" scene, which is usually the backbone of your regular rom com. McFarlane writes on a tightrope of gentle comedy. She's taken a different tact to change it up and it works superbly.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Somewhere Over England by Margaret Graham

I picked up this novel on a whim whilst doing my food shop. It caught my eye because I'm a big fan of books set during the World Wars and also the author had previously published it under a different title, which is something I'm considering doing. I started to read and the opening chapters didn't immediately grab me (like it's drummed into us writers they should) but I kept going because I just had a hunch it was going to be a good storyline. When an English woman marries a German man on the brink of the Second World War, it's an intriguing hook.

I'm always trying to learn from published authors so, what I wanted to uncover here, was how Margaret Graham would write about the agony of conflict amidst a tight family unit and how the three members of the family would cope with the burden of war and discrimination. The book deals beautifully with the subject of being a German verses being a Nazi and how during war, the two lines become quickly blurred.

Every book needs a strong main character who the reader can connect with and, more importantly believe in, and Graham does an excellent job with Helen. You feel everything she feels and how she keeps going, even after the war, driven by pure determination to find peace in her life for herself and for her family and still hold it all together, is anyone's guess. But there are characters in our lives like Helen, which is what made this book so special to me.

I also enjoyed the way Graham moved the story along with historical references. I admire any writer who has the patience to weave history into their plot/s because of the amount of research it must have involved.

This book surprised me with just how good it was, and for that, I really loved it and it will definitely be staying on my bookshelf.

Monday, 7 April 2014

The dangers of freelancing in everything

I originally gave up my full time job in September 2009 for five months to write a book. I didn't know it was going to be for five months, but I'd given myself a six month deadline, not knowing how I would cope working in a completely different environment without people around me. The book was something I'd been working on for ten years and I was desperate to put it to bed so I could move on with other writing projects. I'm happy to say I achieved it. Five months later I went back into full time employment, found an agent, found a publisher and the book was finally out there.

Thinking I'd like to give being my own boss another go and explore more of the new publishing model, I started my freelancing journey at the beginning of 2012, but I quickly realised I was trying to cover too much ground. I was in the midst of a giant project (my 30 Things to do before I'm 30) and couldn't stop myself hurtling along. I'd already started two months later than planned and was cramming in lots of travel and so many activities. The plan did change as I moved through the months, and while I don't think this is necessarily a bad thing, I ended up branching even further out into the unknown. Looking back at it now, that year was more about having fun than concentrating on my writing, but I blurred the line. I wasn't clear on what I was trying to achieve. The original plan was to clear the decks whilst having fun, but I flipped that idea on myself. I even took up a part time job two thirds of the way into the year - and that definitely hadn't been part of the plan!

So here's a few things from the second installment of my being my own boss I'd like to share with you:

It sounds obvious but be clear on your objective. What is the ultimate goal here? First time around, I knew exactly what I wanted to accomplish and I did it. Second time, it was very confusing.
And I caused that confusion on myself. Yes I had a fabulous year, but it was a completely different ending to what I'd originally intended. By the time I turned 30, I still had a mass of unfinished projects.

Don't start freelancing in multiple projects unless you are extremely disciplined. I know I need very strict deadlines. I'm more effective when I work on one thing, see it through to completion and then move onto the next. It's also better for my frame of mind. Putting this to the test, in only four weeks (last month) I completed a couple of guides for freelancing and publishing and a poetry anthology. To put how amazing this is for me into perspective, these are projects I've been thinking about for a few years!

Be ahead of the game, not continually running behind. In January 2012 I had a three week holiday in Canada and I was very relaxed and focused. Even coming in two months behind schedule appeared to be ok in my mind and I started out with the very best of intentions, but as soon as I got home, things spiralled. 30 Things plans completely overran any initial freelancing plans.

Finally, depending on how you work best and your circumstances, if you feel yourself
drifting away from the main goal, have the discipline to pull yourself back in the game. For me, in this particular case, until my 30 Things was over, there was no point in trying to do any serious freelance work. I had so many exciting things going on, it was impossible to focus. And I didn't feel so bad about this because 1) it was self induced and actually I was supposed to be going a little crazy and having fun and 2) I could see an end. Once I hit 30, it was crack down time. 

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Freelancing motivation

Read widely

Travel far

Lose your inhibitions

Work hard

Challenge yourself

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Freelance series summary

So, here you are, standing on the precipice of something very exciting – if you’re serious in all aspects of your new freelancing career and willing to put in the legwork.

We started off by discussing what it means to be a writer in today’s marketplace, planning out the year (or time off) month by month and creating a resume to showcase your knowledge and experience, what topics you’re an authority on and what skills and qualifications you have.

Next we covered ideas for making money freelancing, contributing online, setting up your company with advice from HMRC and we discovered that actually the subject of tax IS taxing!

After boggling you all with tax, it was time to lay out the frame of mind foundations for being a writer and my five pointers for staying on track as a freelancer:

Create your own definition of success based on what is important to YOU

Be prepared to make sacrifices

Don't panic if you lose your mojo, it happens! Bring yourself back to the status quo gradually

Surround yourself with people who will support you

Keep the vision clear so you keep moving forward

How do you fight isolation, disorganisation and lack of motivation when you work from home? I covered ten tips to combat these negatives. We were then staying focused by narrowing down our specialised topics and creating a marketing plan to give you a better idea of how to network with other businesses and writers each week.

Next up was how to challenge your ideas and think like an Editor, writing feature articles and avoiding content failure.

Top tip! Worldwide Freelance is a fabulous resource for worldwide markets.

Finally we looked at filling your Inbox with replies, how to invoice like a pro, tackle Writer’s Block and Blogger’s Drought and create the perfect work / life balance. 

I hope you’ve found this series useful to help you prepare for your freelancing journey.