Archive for category Lifestyle
A few days ago I visited The Museum of Brands in London. The museum takes the visitor on a colourful stroll through the branding, advertising and consumerism of the last two hundred or so years. It’s a wonderful microcosm of British social history.
The visit left me with two thoughts. Firstly, it made me feel ancient. A large part of my childhood and the years beyond were in those glass cases. Surely I’m not old enough for my lifetime to become museum worthy! Who else out there remembers Spangles sweets, Jackie magazine, Philadelphia cheese wrapped in silver paper rather than in a plastic tub, Caramac bars (just discovered you can still buy those) and renting instead of buying a TV?
Secondly, it brought home to me how the long-lived brands had evolved over time in order to survive. Much of this evolution was done in baby steps – a change of font for the logo, moving from a metal to plastic packaging or updating the slogan. Companies like Sony have constantly innovated to ensure their products always offer the consumer something new and attractive. Unfortunately Kodak didn’t and was lost in the great tsunami of digital photography.
What has this got to with writing?
It’s a reminder that we should always be looking where we are going with our writing careers. For example the market for womag stories is rapidly shrinking meaning those of us who used to target women’s magazines with our short stories need to find new outlets or try a different form of writing. Attracting an agent for a novel is as difficult as ever – is it time to set a limit on the number of rejections and then start investigating other routes such as the growing number of new independent digital publishers like Hera who accept unagented submissions? Or maybe it’s time to try non-fiction or a different genre?
The important thing is to stay current with what’s going on in the writing world and be proactive to avoid being left behind. Be a Sony not a Kodak! Simon Whaley has been talking about a similar topic on his blog this week.
Incidentally, whilst going through my kitchen cupboards to take the photo accompanying this post, I discovered that most of my tins and packets were supermarket own brands. I wonder what that says for branding in the future?
I was talking to a friend about the death of her partner’s mother and how the deceased lady’s husband was coping with the loss. This reminded me of some advice that a widow in my book group gave me.
She said that when meeting with a group of her friends, who’d also lost their partners, they all wished they could have their men back for just half an hour. They would spend those precious minutes asking questions like:
- How do you bleed a radiator?
- Where did you keep the spanner and screwdriver?
- Where are the passwords for all the online bank accounts?
- Where are the house insurance documents?
My book group friend was planning to watch YouTube videos to learn how to change the washer in her dripping tap because, “you can’t call a man in for every little job that needs doing”. She advised me to watch my husband when he was doing things like bleeding radiators and to film him with my phone so that, should the worst happen, I’d have instructions to follow.
In any partnership, there is bound to be a division of labour depending on the strengths and weaknesses of each partner. But make sure that you are each aware of the basics of what the other is doing, so that the survivor is not left helpless, should one of you die.
Now, the first thing I have to learn is how to use the video facility on my phone …
We’ve just entered Twixmas – that funny sort of no-man’s land between Christmas and New Year. The big event, for which we’ve planned, prepared and worked, is over. The slightly lesser event is still a few days away. Many of us are still off work, surrounded by leftovers, chocolates and the Christmas TV Guide. It’s a good time to relax, ponder and mentally prepare for the year ahead.
Here are a few things to ponder, as you sit with your feet up and enjoy another mince pie:
Morgen writes the regular competitions feature in Writers’ Forum magazine. She is now organising a free email critique group for pieces of fiction of up to 3,000 words. It works on a mutual, writers helping writers, basis. For every submission you critique, you will get one piece of your own work critiqued. This sounds like a great way of getting feedback on your work and honing your own critique skills (which will help you edit your own work in the future).
Should E-Books be VAT Free?
Books and other printed matter have always been free of VAT because it is thought taxing these items is akin to taxing knowledge. However, digital publications are subject to VAT. This hits many disabled people, who find digital reading far easier than handling a paper book.
On 4th December 2018, an EU directive was passed allowing member states to bring VAT on digital publications in line with VAT on books i.e. 0% in the UK. Whether or not to follow this directive is down to the individual countries and, of course, after Brexit, the UK will be able to decide for itself. A campaign has been started to persuade the UK government to abolish VAT on digital publications. If you would like to get involved, sign the petition or read more about it, nip over to Axe the Reading Tax.
Regional Writer Development Agencies
Most regions have a body dedicated to promoting writing in their area. This is likely to be done predominantly through workshops, events and conferences. Many of these agencies also have mentoring schemes. Living in the Midlands, I’ve attended events organised by Writing West Midlands and Writing East Midlands. Both run mentoring schemes. A list of similar organisations is provided by the National Centre for Writing and Jamie Edgley Rhodes. Take a look and get some writing outings into your 2019 calendar!
Finally, if you’ve got a Christmas gift card from a certain online retailer burning a hole in your pocket, The Promise is currently only £5.75 in paperback.
Wishing you all a happy, healthy and successful 2019! Hope it’s filled with lots of reading and writing.
Which would you prefer to unwrap on Christmas Day, an Amazon gift card or a Book Token?
I’d go for the Book Token every time, for several reasons:
- A Book Token means that I have to indulge and buy a book. On Amazon there’s a danger of being ‘good’ and buying something boring that you need, like an iron or a set of saucepans.
- A Book Token promises me an outing to a real bookshop where I can enjoy the smell of new books. I can pick them up and read the blurb. I can sit in an armchair and try out the first few pages. And if I’m in one of the bigger stores, I can enjoy a coffee before deciding on my final book selection. ‘Looking inside’ just isn’t the same.
- Buying online means clicking straight through to the bestseller everyone is talking about or automatically buying the new release of an author I know I enjoy. A Book Token offers the luxury of browsing. Other authors, new to me, will be sitting alongside the familiar – and maybe I might be tempted to step out of my comfort zone and try something new.
- Book Tokens create business for bookshops. Do we really want a future where all our book buying has to be done online?
National Book Tokens began in 1932 when publisher Harold Raymond noticed that very few books were given as Christmas gifts because people were afraid of buying the wrong book. In 1982 the Queen attended National Book Tokens’ 50th birthday party and in 2010 National Book Tokens changed to a gift card format.
National Book tokens are not dinosaurs. They do have an online presence and they can be spent (on books not irons!) online in selected book chains. Have a look at Caboodle from National Book Tokens for offers, events, competitions and to buy tokens online (you can even design your own).
Which would you prefer to unwrap on Christmas Day, an Amazon gift card or a Book Token? Which will you be giving to family and friends?
Writers are tough people, we are used to rejection and stonewalling from editors, agents and the like. We do not take criticism personally because we know it is only a particular submission that is not up to scratch or does not fit the publication, not the writer herself.
But when it comes to conversing one-to-one with strangers outside of the writing industry we become defensive and touchy about our work. This is especially true of the many thousands of us yet to hit the big time. So, non-writers, when you are introduced to Fred, a writer, at a party, please observe the following rules otherwise he may run away screaming:
- Do not say to Fred, ‘Have you written anything I will have heard of?’ Unless you are speaking to J.K. Rowling or E.L. James, the answer will be no. If you are speaking to J.K. Rowling or E.L. James, they will have been introduced as such. It’s far better to ask Fred, ‘What type of thing do you write?’
- If Fred says, ‘I write short stories’, do not dismiss that as ‘not proper writing’. The craft of bringing life to character and plot in a very short word count is difficult. Even more so when writing to the guidelines and themes of specific publications or competitions. Show admiration for the fact that Fred knows how to make every word earn its place.
- Do not ask Fred how many books he has sold or why you’ve never seen his books on the display tables in Waterstones. Most writers are not big sellers. Think about the millions of books available on Amazon – it’s impossible for us all to be in the top ten. It’s impossible for every book shop to stock us all. Low sales do not equate to a bad book. Low sales may just be symptomatic of a low marketing budget.
- If Fred says he is self-published, do not lose interest. In the past, self-publishing may have been tainted by amateurish books, now this has mostly changed for the better. Self-published authors are power houses of industry. They write, they seek constructive criticism of their manuscript, they use professional editors and proof readers, they learn to format a book, they take on the task of publicity and marketing AND they get on with the task of writing the next book. If Fred says he is self-published ask for his card and make a point of ‘looking inside’ his book on Amazon. It might tempt you to buy.
- Don’t tell Fred you’ve written a great a book and ask him to read the manuscript and give an opinion on it. Most writers won’t have time. They will either have a ‘day’ job or several writing-related irons in the fire in order to make a living. Writing on its own rarely pays a living wage. Instead say, ‘Fred, I value your opinion. How much would you charge to read my manuscript?’
- DO say, ‘Wow! A real life writer. Let me jot down the title of your book. I’ll give it a try. If I like it I’ll write a review and tell my friends.’ Then keep your word – you’ll make a hardworking writer very happy.
Birmingham Literature Festival 2018 is currently underway and one of the first events was an edition of the BBC Radio 4 political panel show, Any Questions. It was broadcast live from Birmingham Repertory Theatre last night (5th October) and repeated again today. I was in the audience for the show (if you listen carefully I’m sure you can pick out my particular clapping!) and, although I’m not a political animal, I thoroughly enjoyed it.
When we arrived, the theatre was surrounded by men in high-vis jackets clearing away the security cordons (fences and concrete bollards) that had been put in place for the Conservative Party Conference – the theatre is only a few paces from the International Convention Centre. We were reminded of the conference again by the ‘warm up’ lady, Midlands BBC political journalist Kathryn Stanczyszyn, who did a great job of recapping the week’s main political events and taking us through the clapping warm-up. We did polite clapping, middling clapping and extremely enthusiastic clapping.
On arrival the audience were asked to write down any questions they’d like to ask the panel. Ten questions were chosen and the questioners brought down to sit in the front row. Then the chair, Jonathan Dimbleby and the four members of the panel were brought on to the stage, Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott, President of the Greater Birmingham Chamber of Commerce Saquib Bhatti, MP for Rutland and Melton Sir Alan Duncan and the SNP Health Spokesperson Philippa Whiford. With minutes to go before live broadcast, an audience member posed the warm-up question, “What is your favourite Abba track?” The panel’s answers were used as a sound check. We heard the 8 pm pips, the news headlines and then Jonathan Dimbleby was live on air introducing the panel.
Lively discussion followed on Brexit, Theresa May, austerity and the possibility of cyber rather than physical warfare. As opinions bounced from the panelists, the audience graduated through the three types of clapping and added shouts as well. The final question book-ended the warm-up question, “Theresa May came onto the conference platform to ‘Dancing Queen’. What song would you choose?”
Verdict on the evening: Very interesting and I was amazed at how calm the production team and panel were, given it was a live broadcast. I would’ve been a nervous wreck! If you get the chance, go along (it’s free!) or apply to host the show at a venue near you.
I recently walked the West Highland Way. This is a 96 mile path from Milngavie (a suburb of Glasgow) to Fort William, at the foot of Ben Nevis. The walk took seven days and on the eighth day we climbed Ben Nevis and walked in snow on a blazing hot day. All along the route the scenery was terrific: mountains, hills and lochs. We heard cuckoos and saw feral goats.
We chose to go in the middle of May, which is supposed to be the best time for both weather and minimum midges. We had sunshine and few insect bites but there was a lot of people. On the more open stretches of path they could be seen snaking in front of and behind us like a colourful bendy reptile. When the path was narrow and terrain difficult, there was a constant tapping of walking poles and a search for passing places to let those walking faster than us overtake. At first this unnerved me; I felt as though I was in a race and being overtaken by everyone else. I worried we were going to be last to finish the day’s walk and my competitive spirit kept trying to kick in and make us go faster. Eventually I relaxed and realised everyone has their own pace and there are merits to going slower and enjoying the views.
What has this got to do with writing?
Social media makes us all very aware of what other writers are doing. We know when they get an agent, when they sign the publishing deal and when the book hits the shelves. Or we know who’s on a winning streak in the womag short story world. Or competition winners are shouted from the roof tops. Celebration is good and, after the toil of writing, well deserved. But as a result we are constantly measuring ourselves against the success of others, just as I was measuring my walking speed and ability against the other boot clad walkers on the West Highland Way. This is not a good thing. Everyone’s path to success is different. We have different talents, different starting points and face different obstacles along the way.
Instead of comparing yourself to others, focus on your own route to your goal. You may find it beneficial to take a detour into article writing or to pause and clear your mind. Domestic issues might slow you down or a surge of ideas might push you forward. Take the journey at your own pace without comparing it to others (but do give them a little cheer when they succeed!) and you’ll enjoy it all the more.
And when you stand on that mountain top we’ll all be cheering you and your achievement – however long it might have taken to get there.