Archive for category Non-writing

BT Email versus Gmail

Over the last few months my btinternet email account has become flooded with spam – up to 70 emails a day offering me Russian beauties, gambling facilities and endless opportunities to get a ‘free’ store gift card. The BT spam filter catches virtually none of these (but does catch stuff that isn’t spam!).

So I asked BT for help in stopping this deluge and they recommended setting up ‘rules’ to indicate what should be filtered out as spam. That was an impossible task given the ever changing email addresses, subject lines etc. used by the spammers. And it involved opening the emails which indicates an active email address and then you get sent even more!

Enough was enough and I decided to try Gmail which I’d heard had a stronger spam filter. I set it up so that all the mail from my btinternet account was automatically forwarded into Gmail.

Using Gmail over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been impressed by the following:

  • The spam filter is much stronger and catches virtually all the spam forwarded on from btinternet
  • The automatic separation of social media related emails and retailer promotions from the main inbox makes it easier to see at a glance if there’s anything important
  • Emails related to the same conversation are kept together

I am not so impressed by Gmail’s use of ‘labels’ instead of ‘folders’. When I ‘label’ an email it remains visible with everything else in my Inbox – the BT folders completely separated such emails. Plus there appears to be no easy way of importing my BT folders into Gmail (unless anyone out there can help me?).

Conclusion? Overall, Gmail makes dealing with my Inbox easier so I’ll stick with it and keep forwarding from the old address until everyone’s been informed (and is using!) the new one.

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Christmas Presents for Readers and Writers

According to the latest Tesco magazine, October 24th is the date that most of us start our Christmas present-buying frenzy. Christmas Tree

So, to get us (slightly) ahead of the crowd I’ve come up with a few budget suggestions for readers and writers. Buy them now and you’ll have November free for a successful attempt at NaNoWriMo.

For the book lover who adores keeping records or who (like me) easily forgets what he’s read and what he thought of it : A Moleskine Book Journal
It features “alphabetically organised sections to personalise, 6 blank sections to be filled in as desired, blank pages, a complimentary bookmark and 202 adhesive labels to further personalise the notebook. It also features acid-free paper and a double expandable inner pocket.

For the longhand writer who’s bored of blue and black ink, or who likes to write different characters in different colours : A Set of Rainbow Ball Pens
There are ten assorted colours and the pens have “ergonomic triangular barrels for effortless, fatigue-free writing and a particularly smooth writing performance.”

For anyone who needs inspiring or motivating : An Inspirational Life Quotes Colouring Book
This book is full of positive quotes and designs that will help you to relax and ease any anxiety that you may have. Forget any stress in your life and have some fun.

And if you fancy treating yourself now, have a look at Chris Baty’s book, No Plot, No Problem. Chris is the founder of National Novel Writing Month and shares his secret for knocking out a novel in no time. This could be useful if you’re tackling NaNo for the first time and feeling nervous.

Happy shopping and a successful NaNo!

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TV Presenter Training

Ever wondered what it’s like to read from an autocue or how to stand when you’re talking to a camera or what the difficulties might be in co-presenting a program?

I’ve just experienced all of these on a TV Presenter Taster Day with TV Training UK. Our tutor was Simon Davies who has a wealth of experience in children’s TV, shopping channel and acting. He was very informative and gave us the six rules of presenting:

  • Anchor yourself to the spot so you don’t wander out of shot.
  • Look directly into the lens of the camera.
  • Be ready for the countdown. The director will cue you in by counting backwards from five but only actually saying, ‘5, 4’ out loud. The presenter counts ‘3, 2, 1’ silently and then begins.
  • Arrange your thoughts in groups of three when preparing to speak – this stops you drying up.
  • Be yourself but increase your energy/animation levels by 30% to avoid coming over as ‘flat’.
  • Don’t gabble but also, don’t speak too slowly as this comes across as patronising.

The participants on the course were all ages from 17 to 60 and from varied backgrounds. Some wanted to make and present YouTube videos to promote their business, others were performers who wanted another string to their bow and some, like me, thought it would be an interesting experience. A handful of them had instant on-screen charisma and it was obvious they would make good presenters. Simon told me that I came across as ‘intelligent’, which I’m taking as a positive but I don’t expect to be hosting The One Show anytime soon!

My only criticism is that there wasn’t time for us to view our autocue or co-presenting footage during the course. But it was available to purchase as a ‘showreel’ (a showreel is an essential part of a presenter’s c.v.).

If you’re interested in having a go at being a TV presenter, the day cost me around £26 via Amazon Local.

Now, maybe I should go and make a video book trailer …

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A Disappointment, An Award and Kobo Writing Life

A few weeks ago I told you I was on a shortlist of eight for the Kobo-Silverwood Books-Berfort Open Day Writing Competition. I heard this week that I didn’t reach the final three. Congratulations to those who did: Phoebe Powell-Moore, Edward James and Sarah Channing Wright. Curiosity will definitely make me buy the winning novel when it’s published later this year.

It’s not all bad news though. As some of you may have seen on Facebook, I was awarded the Hwyl Stone (pictured) for Most Improved Speaker by Sutton Coldfield Speakers’ ClubSutton Coldfield Speakers' Club.  This was a nice confidence boost. The stone is supposed to have similar properties to the Blarney stone and was collected in Wales and made into a trophy by a former member.

Finally, to show I’ve no hard feelings against Kobo, here’s some interesting stuff from Kobo Writing Life:

  • A useful blog post looking at Goal, Motivation and Conflict – the three essential things for every character. Without these it’s difficult to move the story forward.
  • There’s also a good post on why you should enter competitions. Take a look at it if you’ve been dragging your feet lately and not submitting anything.
  • Kobo are now running a Romantic Novel competition. It’s free to enter and the winner gets a publishing contract with Mills and Boon. Closing date July 14th 2015.

Kobo do seem to do more to help and motivate writers than Amazon KDP. Or have I just missed the Amazon stuff?

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It’s the taking part that counts

‘It’s the taking part that counts’ is a phrase often bandied about to make people feel better if they don’t win or get placed in a competition. Mostly it just washes over us and we’re still fed up that we didn’t get a prize. Perhaps we even think about throwing in the towel and not bothering to enter any more competitions. Last week I had an experience that made me truly agree that it’s not the winning, it’s the taking part that counts.

My Speakers’ Club asked me to represent them in a Speech Evaluation Contest against two other clubs. This involves giving a four minute speech on the strengths and weaknesses of a ‘target’ speech which all three competitors have just watched. I was a bit reluctant since I’ve only been in the club eighteen months but decided to have a go anyway. My fear was that I wouldn’t be able to think of anything to say or I would dry up or I would speak in a muddled, incoherent way.

On the night, I discovered that one of my competitors runs a public speaking coaching business and the other had been education director of his club for fifteen years. This gave plenty of opportunity for making a fool of myself! Needless to say I came third (i.e. last!) in the competition BUT I was surprised to feel good in the face of defeat. There were lots of positives from the evening: I’d spoken to a larger audience than usual, I’d taken part in a speaking competition for the first time, I lasted the full four minutes, I’d been a ‘team player’ by agreeing to take part and my fellow Club members told me I hadn’t disgraced myself or let down the Club. I came away on a high!

So, what’s all this got to do with writing? It’s to urge you to enter writing competitions even if you think you don’t stand a chance of winning. You will learn and gain experience from each competition entry, it might be writing to a tight deadline, trying to write to a different word count than usual or experimenting with a new genre. Don’t worry about winning, concentrate on the challenge of producing the best work you can.

And to get you started, have a go at one (or more!) of these:

Erewash Writers’ Group New Writers’ Competition –   3,000 word short story. There is a £40 first prize and a FREE basic critique. Closes 26th March 2015.

Nuneaton Writers’ Circle Flash Fiction Competition – free entry. Prize is 1 year’s free membership of Nuneaton Writers’ Circle. Closes 27th March 2015.

Alfie Dog Review Competition –  download a story from Alfie Dog during March 2015 and write a  short review. First prize £100.

Enjoy the taking part!

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Icebreakers for Creative Writing Adult Education Classes

I’m currently doing the ‘Preparing to Teach in the Lifelong Learning Sector’ course (PTLLS). It’s one day a week for nine weeks and today was Session 2.

We’ve been taught that icebreakers are an important part of all adult education classes, whatever the subject. All the early sessions in a course should start with an icebreaker activity, so that participants can get to know each other and feel comfortable with their classmates.

Each of the eleven participants on my course has to run an icebreaker activity sometime over the next few weeks. I put my name down to go first because I hate things like that hanging over me. If it’s got to be done, do it sooner rather than later, is my motto.

So today I split the class into two groups and gave each group an envelope containing six cards. On the cards were written the details of two characters, two objects, a location and either the words ‘Happy Ending’ or ‘Sad Ending’. I asked the groups to create a very short story using the details on the cards. I stipulated that everyone in the group should contribute at least one sentence and each group should nominate a scribe and a spokesperson to read the story aloud. Then they had five minutes to get creative.

I was anxious as they opened the envelopes and got started. No one else on the course is a writer, their chosen subjects include Punjabi, parenting skills and dressmaking, so I wasn’t sure how they’d take to a writing activity. One group was slightly slower getting started until they got the idea of what had to be done, so I did have to give some extra time.

The two stories were read aloud and then I got feedback on the activity. Everyone enjoyed it and liked the fact that it was subject-related rather than just an arbitrary activity. And the tutor thought it went well. He added that if I used it again it might be worth having an extra card or two up my sleeve to throw at a group who finished early, to avoid them getting bored.

So far, as a class, we’ve done two other icebreakers:

  • People Bingo, organised by the tutor. Every one has a ‘bingo card’ but instead of numbers it has requirements such as ‘someone who does extreme sports’, ‘someone who has a pet’ etc. The task is to find fellow course participants who fit the requirement and write their name in the space on the ‘bingo card’.
  • Questions, organised by another participant at the session today. Everyone is given a sheet with a question on it, such as ‘What is your favourite food?’, ‘If money was no object, where would you like to be right now?’ We took it in turns to stand up and answer our question.

Anyone know any other icebreakers?

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People Watching

Have you ever been on a coach holiday? They’re great for people watching and character invention.

Cardiff Castle Wartime Shelter

Cardiff Castle Wartime Shelter

I was a coach holiday virgin until last weekend when I went on a two-day break to Cardiff and Bath. It was planned as a getaway for me, my sister and my mum so that we could spend some time together without the hassle of driving, flying or lots of organisation.

However, we didn’t anticipate the amount of time we would spend hanging about at service stations waiting for ‘feeder’ coaches to arrive. Four coaches had to meet part way to Cardiff on the outward journey and again part way home from Bath on the return journey.  So there was a lot of waiting around.

But this gave us time to watch our fellow passengers and the drivers.

We discussed the man sitting across the coach aisle from us. He appeared to be travelling alone but then we saw him with a woman and then alone again. Had he been chatting her up? Is a coach holiday a good place to meet someone of the opposite sex? Yes, but only if you’re male – there were a lot more women than men travelling with us.

The drivers’ lifestyles came under our scrutiny. Cooked breakfasts and burgers seemed the popular choice at the table ‘Reserved for Coach Drivers Only’ in the service station cafe. None of the men seemed to know what route they’d be driving from one day to the next or what time they’d be getting home. And the final leg of our journey was driven with urgency because if the driver didn’t get home at a certain time he wouldn’t be allowed to drive the next day due to insufficient hours between the two trips.

There was a Murder Mystery dinner in the hotel. In tables of ten we worked out who’d killed the Earl. Group dynamics came into play and it was interesting to see who took charge, who just listened and who was keen to interrogate the actors. Then there was the table of riotous women on a birthday outing who made it difficult to hear the scene where the body was discovered.

Finally, my imagination went into overdrive in Cardiff Castle’s wartime shelter. Think of the drama, heartache, deaths (and possibly births) that must have happened as the sirens wailed in the 1940s.

I haven’t come back with any complete story ideas but I have got various characters buzzing around in my head. Perhaps eventually one of them will come to the fore and tell me their tale.

Do you have a favourite place for people watching? Or a favourite technique for dreaming up characters?

 

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