Archive for category Non-writing

BBC Radio 4 : Any Questions

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. BBC Radio 4 Any Questions

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.

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Focus on Your Own Path and Goal

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.Author Sally Jenkins at top of Ben Nevis

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.

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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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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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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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