Thursday, 27 August 2009

Hmmm - 9 to 5 or freelance writing? You decide.

Do you know what I enjoy about this freelance writing lark? The fact that you never know what opportunities may suddenly 'pop' into your inbox when you least expect it.

Take last night as an example. I was just about to switch off my computer when the editor of Country & Border Life (who I do the monthly walking features for) emailed.

The luxury hotel, Llangoed Hall, nestling on the banks of the River Wye in Wales is establishing a series of activity breaks, one of which is walking. The magazine has been offered a free place on one of these walking breaks, so the editor was asking if I'd be interested in going. Hmmm, now let me think about this....

Let's look at the facts:

1 - Each room is individually decorated with antique furniture, fabrics from Elanbach, Sir Bernard's textile printing company based in the grounds, and work by artists such as Whistler, Sickert and Augustus John.

2 - Guest designers such as Tom Parr, have also added their own individual style to the bedrooms. Similarly, seventeenth century antique mirrors, Roberts radios and cast iron baths are just some of the features that make each room both welcoming and luxurious.

3 - Winner of no less than three rosettes, Head Chef, Sean Ballington, is a firm believer in fresh, local produce. From Welsh lamb and local Salmon to Black Beef, his signature dishes are often described as classic with a twist.

4 - Most guests tend to relax at Llangoed Hall. Reading the papers by the fire, playing snooker in the library or, weather permitting, enjoying a glass of wine on the terrace.

However, for those who want to explore more than our wine list, we can offer everything from fishing, rock climbing and clay pigeon shooting to 4x4 driving, orienteering and white water rafting. Team building events can easily be arranged with qualified experts. All we ask is that you make any requests in advance.

Of course, my biggest challenge will be the best way to arrive at the venue.

Based in the heart of Wales and resting on the site of the former Welsh Parliament, Llangoed Hall commands spectacular, uninterrupted views of the Black Mountains.
Surrounded by meadowland and woods, it is an idyll of peace and quiet, with only your fellow guests and the local sheep for company. Just one hour from Newport by car or 45 minutes from London by helicopter, any form of transport can be arranged on request, from taxis and limousines to helicopter or private jet.

Picture the scene .... guests arriving from London in their private jets and helicopters and then there'll be me turning up in my little Vauxhall Astra!

I just hope the weather works out because there's over 10 miles of walking to do across the Brecon Beacons whilst I'm there (hence the need for a full Welsh Breakfast every morning!)

So, which you think sounds better? Working from 9 till 5 for a local council, or this freelance writing lark?

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Are Men Daft?

I've said it before, and I'll say it again - sending out letters and fillers on a regular basis can be financially rewarding.

I was recently contacted by one of my students, Dave Cullen, who has been very busy and is benefiting from his success. And much of this success has been with the shorter letters and fillers, in addition to some articles too.

Take "That's Life" magazine. Near the back they have a section called 'Rude Joke of the Week' - where they use three of four of these. Now it's not a lot of money, but they do pay £15 if they publish a joke that you've sent in. Dave has had 28 jokes published so far, and for those of you who can't do the maths, 28 x £15 = £420! Now when I used to work in an office, rude jokes were always doing the rounds on the email system. Next time your get one in your inbox, instead of forwarding it round to your office colleagues, why not forward it to That's Life?

His letters have earned him almost £100 and sending funny pictures to the right slots in the magazines has also netted him £150. Add this lot together and you can see, we're talking serious money now.

Being a writer, doesn't necessarily involve sitting down and writing the great novel - merely sitting down and doing some writing. If you only have 10 minutes to spare, writing a letter or a short filler is more than feasible and the rewards are proportionately bigger than for much larger projects.

So if you find yourself with a spare ten minutes, which isn't long enough to start the next short story, or article, don't give up on your writing - produce a letter or joke instead. It's still publication!

As for the title of this posting ... well, That's Life also has a section called "Aren't Men Daft?" where women write in about stupid things their husbands or boyfriends have done. Dave happened to admit to me that he's sent in a few examples of silly things he's done. He's had to do it from his wife's email address, but they've used three of his submissions so far - and they pay between £25 and £50 depending upon where on the page they use the piece. So is Dave daft to do this? I wouldn't call 'being published' daft at all. In fact it's the people who waste that spare ten minutes they have, instead of writing, who I think are daft.

Nice one Dave!

Friday, 21 August 2009

Confession Time!

We saw how last year, many of my students had successes with The Observer's "My Crap Holiday" column in its Travel section ... well here's this year's gauntlet then .... The Sunday Times's "Confessions of a Tourist."

Now I haven't cracked this one yet, but I'm going to, and I wondered if some of you might like to have a go too. Are you brave enough?

The "Confessions of a Tourist" slot appears in the Sunday Times Travel supplement at the weekend, although copies can be found online. They range from between 500 and 650 words in length and are, as the name says on the tin, a confession of a time when you were a tourist. It's a sexual confession though.

If you read through some of the examples online, you'll see that the format tends to fall into three camps:
  • the tourist looking for 'an experience' and failing miserably,
  • the tourist not looking for 'an experience' and getting the partner of their dreams,
  • or the tourist enjoying the 'experience' and then being embarrassed/caught out.
So, lots to get your teeth into there ... I mean that metaphorically, of course!

Here's some links to some existing confessions to get you in the mood!

Midsummer Massage

Michelle got my Motor Running


Only As Old As The Holiday Fling We Touch


He Lived With His Mum, But He Made My Day

My personal Adonis


Shake, Rattle and Roll Over

If that's stirred you into life, then try emailing your submissions to travel@sunday-times.co.uk and mark them for the attention of Stephen Boyd.

This is one piece of writing where you may want to use a pseudonym!

Good luck - and do share your success with us :-)

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Quick, Whilst Simon's Not Looking

Tuesday 11th August was 'Blog Takeover Day' as suggested by Sally Quilford. Well, Simon's been so busy bashing away on his computer working on his current big project that I've not had chance to kick him off it. But he's decided he needs some fresh air and gone for a walk, so whilst he's out, I've finally been able to take my chance. I may be two days late, but the opportunity to take over Simon's blog is just too good to miss.

Who am I? I'm known as S.C.S - no, not the furniture store, but "Simon's Caerleon Stalker". I first met him three years ago, but really began following him closely two years ago, much to the amusement of many.

Yet it's not until you stalk someone that you really find their true character. I mean, he always says that he's more of a non-fiction writer, but then, yesterday he got an email from the Vanda Inman Write Space website saying that his short story entry for their 'Families' competition made the top five out of 142 entries! He's been told that his entry should fit one of the fiction slots in the women's magazines, so he's already sent it off. That's why he's gone for a walk - he's posting his submission.

And he's had some feedback from a critiquing service about the novel he's written. Apparently it needs some editing, but then he already knew that. What he wanted to know was whether it was worth him spending the time doing so. Whilst the novel he's written isn't in a genre that booksellers are falling over themselves to publish at the moment, he's been told that it's a good story, with great dialogue and a good pace. He can write a novel it seems.

So what is the genre? Well it's good old fashioned humour, a great British Farce if you like. Having worked in local government, you can understand where he gets his ideas from. Simon enjoys a laugh, although I have noticed the smile falls from his face when I walk into the room.

Does the fact that the publishers are not buying farce-like novels at the moment worry Simon? Of course not. He's always up for a challenge. In fact I overheard him the other day telling someone that "if it's not a challenge in life, then it isn't worth achieving is it?"

So have your specialist subject areas, but don't forget to experiment with your writing too. We all have to take risks in our lives - heck, if Simon finds me tapping away on his computer my life won't be worth living - but we take these risks because the rewards are bigger, aren't they? Risks help us to follow our dreams. As for my dreams, well, I don't want to make you blush but what I've always fancied doing to Simon is .... uh oh... better dash. I can hear Simon walking back up the drive! I'm off out through the window now.

Don't tell him I wrote this will you? But remember what I said. Follow your dream. In fact, why don't you stalk it? Someone who stalks isn't always a psychopath, although my court case comes up next week!

Love and Kisses to you all (especially Simon)

S.C.S

Thursday, 6 August 2009

New Markets Keep You Writing

Firstly, thanks to Susan Haniford for emailing me a copy of this picture taken on her camera at Caerleon. (and thanks to Les for taking it in the first place!) Moving from left to right, we have Jane, Lynne, some prat in the middle (that'll be me then), Chris and Susan.

One of the messages that came through loud and clear this year at Caerleon for me, is that writers should be constantly looking for new markets. Literary Agent Theresa Chris, (also known as The Fearsome One by Jane Wenham-Jones) gave a talk on the opening night about publishing today and she confirmed that during this recession, publishers are cutting back. Many midlist authors - those who regularly produce a book a year and make a small profit for the publisher, but aren't a risk to Dan Brown on the bestseller lists - have found themselves being dropped by their publishers. As an agent, Theresa dreaded having to ring these authors up and give them the bad news.

Yet she actually found the exercise quite revealing. Many who had been dropped simply turned around and said, "Oh well, never mind ... well I have been working on something completely different so perhaps I may interest a different publisher in that project."

The point Theresa wanted to make was that REAL WRITERS WRITE! If you are a writer, you will be writing SOMETHING. What struck me though was that many of these writers were already looking at writing for a different market anyway. They were experimenting and trying to broaden their markets. The more markets you try to write for, the less of a problem it is if one suddenly dries up.

For the first part of the week, I went along to Lynne Hackles excellent workshops called Writing for Money.

During those workshops she showed us how we can turn any of life's events into prose to sell to magazines. (She even told us how she sold spells to one magazine!). She made a valid point that writers should always buy one new magazine every week to analyse and then ask the question - what can I write for this? It could be an article, a short story, a reader's letter, a tip or even a funny photo. Just turn the pages and ask, "What can I write for this page?"

Over time, you begin to remember which magazines have which slots and so the job of slotting an idea to a particular magazine becomes easier. In the few days that I've been home from Caerleon, I've submitted a short piece and picture to one magazine, a joke to another and a reader's letter to a third - and that's on top of my existing workload of the correspondence course that I'm writing. (4,334 words on that today - phew!)

So go and expand your markets. Make a point of going out a buying a new magazine that you wouldn't normally buy and then analyse it. Ask yourself, "what can I write for this page?" And then write it!

Good luck.

Saturday, 1 August 2009

After Caerleon ...

... comes the explanation.

So, my last posting was a picture of a woman, with the question "Do You Know This Woman and Why Is She Looking At My Blog?"

Well, the woman in question is Anita Loughrey and she was running an After Tea session at Caerleon this year about how to use Facebook, My Space and how to blog. This took place in the Book Room, because it has a large screen which drops down from the ceiling, onto which a computer screen image is projected. Imagine something about 12 feet wide by about 9 foot tall and you get the picture!

Now Anita made the mistake of happening to mention to me that she might visit my blog during her demonstration to show her audience (nearly 40 in total) what a good blog looks like. (Anita has taste, you note). So I decided that if Anita was going to use my blog, then I ought to post something suitable to be viewed on such a big screen!

When Anita clicked on the link to bring up my blog, the audience all laughed, but Anita, being the true professional that she is, merely continued. Actually, it took her ten minutes to realise what I'd done, but thankfully she saw the funny side.

Her talk was really useful in explaining some of the different things you can do with blogging and linking posts with a Facebook account. The time was also used to set up a blog for short story writer, Lynne Hackles. You can view Lynne's blog here ... well you can when Lynne actually posts something on it. (Come on Lynne!)

Katie Fforde gave an excellent talk one evening about writing romances and was very humorous, and her advice for all writers was to put a bum on a chair and to keep writing.

The literary agent, Teresa Chris, told us all about publishing in today's climate, and said that the writers who succeed are the 'real writers' - the ones who actually sit down and do some writing.

I gave a talk on how to be a positively productive writer, where I suggested that the more you write, the more chances of success you have, so get out that pen and notebook and start writing. Zoe Sharp gave an insight and humorous talk about writing crime fiction, and suggested to anyone interested in writing in this genre to read as much as they can, but also to stop that flashing cursor on the screen from blinking idly by hitting some keys on the keyboard and getting it moving.

Hmmm .... can you spot a trend here with the advice being given?

Caerleon isn't just about writing, workshopping and lectures, there is some fun to be had. The last night ends with two 40 minute performances by the Cwmbach Male Choir , after which they retire to the bar in order to re-lubricate their vocal chords. Everyone else piles into the bar and the singing continues. Click here for the YouTube video.

This year's Caerleon was rather a special one because it was the 25th. Anne and Gerry work tirelessly to produce a truly enjoyable event. We couldn't let the anniversary pass without marking it in some way, so we managed to embarrass them both suitably well during the last night's singing. You can see the presentation on YouTube by clicking here.

So, if you get the opportunity to mix with writers, make sure you get involved. You never know what you may learn.

And yes, I'll be at Caerleon in 2010 - I've been booked to run another set of workshops!