Archive for category Lifestyle

Jelly Working

The concept of writers and other home-workers pulling out laptops and working in coffee shops is familiar. It lets us escape those same boring four walls of home and all the domestic distractions. And it makes us feel part of society, even if the only person we speak to is the barista.

UK Jelly takes this a step further. Their aim is to ‘to bring home workers, freelancers, small business owners and entrepreneurs together in a relaxed, informal, working environment to maximise creativity and minimise the isolation that being your own boss can bring.’ It is not networking to sell yourself or your business. It’s about having some company whilst you work and maybe exchanging help and advice. At Jelly events the venue, wi-fi and parking are free, the only charge is for refreshments.

I went along to my first Jelly event last week. There were only a few of us and we had introductions and a bit of a chat before getting our laptops out to work. I deliberately didn’t connect to the free wi-fi because I wanted to do some distraction free editing. By the end of the session I’d done two hours solid work and met some new people. It beat coffee shop working because I didn’t feel guilty about taking up space for a long time with only one drink and I liked that I was part of a group. My local Jelly only meets monthly but I’ll definitely be going back in February.

Why not find out if there’s a Jelly near you?

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Avoid Being Scammed!

Three things prompted the writing of this post.

Firstly, I received a phone call from the Serious Fraud Office to tell me that my bank card had been used fraudulently. I’ve had cards misused in this way before but the informant has always been my bank or credit card company. So I queried why the Serious Fraud Office was involved.
“We have someone in custody with a cloned copy of your card.”
“Can you tell me which bank the card is for?” Like many people I have more than one payment card. Also, alarm bells were ringing – the Serious Fraud Office surely wouldn’t bother with my little bank card?
There was a long silence and then the SFO man named a bank. I don’t have an account there and so put the phone down. If he’d named my bank, I hope I would have had the sense to still put the phone down and then call the bank direct.

The second prompt came via an email from a follower of this blog. He told me how he’d been one click away from falling for a scam and transferring a large sum of money to an unknown bank account. Fred (not his real name) received a call from someone well-spoken, supposedly from his bank. This man was querying a large payment that had just been attempted via internet banking from Fred’s account. Fred said the payment was nothing to do with him. The well-spoken man said there had obviously been a security breach and that he would put Fred through to someone in the Security department who would sort things out. According to the security man this meant setting up a new account and transferring over the whole balance from old to new account. He gave Fred the ‘new’ sort code and account number and talked him through doing the internet transfer. Fred was just about to hit the ‘Confirm’ button when he began to feel suspicious, the ‘new’ sort code wasn’t like the ones usually used by his bank.
He didn’t press confirm and instead rang his bank direct. They confirmed it was a scam. Fred had been one click away from losing almost £2,000.

Finally, the company I work for is extremely hot on all security issues. It has a particular thing about phishing emails which, if a single employee clicks on a ‘bad’ link, can invite hackers into the whole of the company’s system. Last week we all got sent a warning about fake charity emails. Apparently charity scams are particularly prevalent in this season of goodwill. The email will appear to come from a well-known charity, it might even be one that you support. The email might ask you to click on a link to check the record of donations you’ve already made or it may be inviting you to make a donation. Don’t click on any links you are not absolutely sure of! Instead abandon the email and go direct via the charity’s main web page to donate or check your account.
Tip: By hovering the mouse over a link in an email, you can see where it will take you.

Be vigilant and stay safe!

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Public Speaking Tips for Authors

Those of you who’ve been following this blog for a while will know that a few years ago I joined Sutton Coldfield Speakers’ Club in order to gain the public speaking confidence necessary to promote myself and my books at author events. Last week I was part of a panel of three judges for a speech competition at a neighbouring club. The speeches were 6 to 8 minutes long and had a completely open theme.

Public Speaking for Writers

Thank You Gift for Judging Speech Competition!

All the speakers were confident in front of an audience and all chose subjects with wide appeal. They all did well. After we’d decided on the winner and runner-up, we judges discussed the points the head judge should make in her summing up of the competition. The aim of the summing up was to give general advice for the contestants and members of the audience to take away. Listed below are some of these points plus other tips I picked up from my observation of the speakers. They maybe useful to those of you devising an author talk:

  • Beware of meaningless gestures i.e. continually moving your arms as you speak
  • Beware of keeping your arms rigidly still throughout – include a few meaningful gestures e.g. expanding your arms to describe the size of something or stamping a foot to jolt/surprise the audience
  • Project your voice from the very first word you utter. Grab the audience’s attention!
  • Don’t continually sway from side to side or move your weight from one foot to another. It’s disconcerting to watch a human pendulum!
  • Inject a little humour. Not in the form of a joke but perhaps a throwaway observation on something the audience is familiar with.
  • Make eye contact with all parts of the audience – this means shifting your eye gaze around the room as you speak.
  • Speak with minimal reference to notes – this will free you up to make appropriate gestures and make lots of eye contact with your audience. Don’t read your talk!

From my own experience, I would add – don’t be put off if someone in the audience falls asleep. This has happened to me twice when speaking to groups of older ladies. The first time I put it down to the fact that we’d all just enjoyed a nice, big lunch. The second time, the organiser warned me in advance that one particular lady always went to sleep when they had a speaker and sure enough, I saw her head nod and her eyes close quite soon after I’d started.

However many times you do it, speaking in public is nerve-wracking – if you’d like to practise in front of a sympathetic audience, find a Speakers’ Club near you.

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Too Little Time!

Do you ever get weeks when life seems to rush at you like a steam train and there’s barely time to eat or sleep? I’ve just had a couple of those weeks.

Nidd Hall Hotel

Escaped Sheep Enjoying the Garden at Nidd Hall

The catalyst was a four day weekend away. I’m NOT complaining about that, I had a lovely time at Nidd Hall near Harrogate with my mum and sister. But it meant that for two consecutive weeks I lost one of my two writing days (the three days a week for my day job still had to be fulfilled). In week one most of the remaining writing day was swallowed up by an author talk for a Women’s Institute group and in week two it was eaten into by the monthly reading group I coordinate, followed by a nighttime Black Friday rehearsal.

In case you’ve been living on the moon for the last few years, Black Friday is an opportunity for everyone and his dog to get stuck into some early Christmas shopping as retailers slash prices online and in store. It falls on the last Friday in November but preparations have already begun. The retailer I’m involved with staged an overnight rehearsal last week to ensure the website could cope with a large amount of price changes and customer activity. I acted as scribe for the rehearsal, providing a live feed about all the technical goings-on. It could be classed as a form of writing/communication but everything happened so quickly there was no time to edit or review my words, so it went straight out, typos and all.

Also, week two ended with a night of no gas supply, meaning no hot water or central heating. Following the installation of a new gas main in the road our gas couldn’t be turned back on due to a fault with the meter. Apparently, the meter is the responsibility of the gas supplier and we discovered to our cost that our gas supplier had no out of hours emergency phone line. So it was the next morning before an engineer was despatched to sort us out. Needless to say, we will shortly be changing energy suppliers to avoid being caught like this again.

Big Hole in Drive for New Gas Main

On top of all of the above, the final typeset proofs of The Promise arrived for my attention. I’d hoped to read them ‘on the go’ on my Kindle but because they were in PDF format the font couldn’t be enlarged and even with reading glasses I couldn’t read them (old age!). So I had to make time at the PC to go through them.

Fingers crossed, this coming week should be back to normal. There’s lots to catch up on, including preparing guest blog posts for you lovely people who’ve agreed to host me and The Promise around launch time early next year. But right now I’m going to have a look at Julia Thorley’s Yoga Blog in the hope of finding some inner calmness!

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Too Much Time?

Is it possible to have too much writing time?

Tempus fugit in my living room

One of my constant gripes is that I don’t have enough time to write. If the day job, the housework and general ‘stuff’ all disappeared, I would be prolific. The words for that bestselling novel would tumble from my brain through my fingers and onto the page. My success would be guaranteed. Or would it?

Those of you who are my Facebook friends will know that a nasty foot infection had me in hospital for four nights. The foot is going to take several weeks to fully heal and until it does my activities are severely restricted. This means I have more time to write. But I’ve found it very difficult to motivate myself. When the day stretches emptily in front of me, the urgency to do anything disappears. I’ve been getting up later, lying on the settee reading magazines and checking Twitter and Facebook ten times more often than usual. My excuse is that I’m convalescing, catching up on the sleep I lost in a noisy hospital ward and recovering from the stress of fighting with an NHS which wouldn’t give me a treatment plan. I’ve been told to sit with my foot up as much as possible – and the most comfortable place to do this is on the settee not behind a desk. I could write longhand as I lounge around but that seems like too much effort and what’s the hurry, at the moment I don’t have to cook, wash up, iron etc. (thank you, husband!) so I have all the time in the world.

Result: I have time handed to me on a plate and I waste it.

Lesson learned: My dream of giving up the day job and becoming a full-time writer may not work for me. When time is limited I make much better use of it.

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What’s Your Musical Era?

What’s your musical era? When did you transition from child into young adult and have all those special first experiences: first teenage party, first visit to a pub or club, first kiss, first date etc. ?Record Player

For me it was the early 1980s. Songs by Adam and the Ants, Soft Cell, Human League and Frankie Goes to Hollywood always whisk me back to that time and I feel again the strong emotions that seemed to accompany everything I did. If I close my eyes when I hear ‘Tainted Love’, I’m at the university Union disco, dancing on a floor which is sticky with spilled beer. I feel the excitement and anticipation of a time when so many things were new and responsibilities were few.

Re-capturing this mood through music enables me to write from the heart about being young and in love. When I get in this zone it’s great – the words flow and I get lost in the story. Pete’s Story was the result of one such emotional interlude and my inspiration came (very loosely!) from a boy I went out with in my teens who was a member of a band.

What songs whisk you back to that heady time of new independence and experiences? And do they help with your writing today?

Pete’s Story is available as an individual ‘short‘ or as part of The Museum of Fractured Lives boxed set.

This blog post is part of a music themed blog event organised by Elaina James, a guest blogger on Mslexia. Her author page on Mslexia can be found at www.mslexia.co.uk/author/elainajames.

Details of participating bloggers in this event can be found on Elaina James’ blog.

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National Stationery Week 2016

Want an excuse to go and indulge in a pile of luscious new notebooks, a pack of brightly coloured pens, some pretty patterned ring-binders or some delightful sticky notes? Well here it is!

25th April to May 1st is National Stationery Week and 27th April is World Stationery DayNational Stationery Week

The website has a suggested list of things to do during this week. I particularly like the idea of a ‘stationery crawl’ which is like a pub crawl but with stationery instead of beer (but there’s nothing to stop you downing a glass or too – choosing notebooks is thirsty work!).

There’s a quiz to find out what kind of writing implement you are. I came out as “… a stylish fountain pen! A little bit messy at times as your ink smudges, but classy and timeless. You’re writing is flicks, twists and curls and words are most definitely your thing. You only need one pen and it’ll be your best friend forever”.

So what are you waiting for? Get out there and start indulging in every writer’s guilty pleasure – the smell of fresh paper, the allure of new pens and the promise of writing success if only you can find that perfect notebook!

(And if nothing else, this post has drilled into me that stationery with an’e’ is paper and stationary with an ‘a’ is motionless!)

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