Thursday, December 18, 2008

Victorian Christmasses

The joys of freelance writing means that sometimes you can't even rely on a Sunday morning lie-in.

Having been commissioned to write an article about Victorian Christmas, I'd arranged to interview the curator at Blists Hill Victorian Town, a living museum in the World Heritage Site of Ironbridge Gorge near to where I live.

It meant meeting the curator at when the museum opened, which meant getting up much earlier than normal in order to prepare and drive across to the venue. But whilst the early start did not put me in a good mood, my actual visit was brilliant, and reminded me why I enjoy doing this so much.

Not only did I get free admission to the town (currently £10.50 for adults) but the curator also took me to the Victorian Tea rooms where I conducted the interview over a wonderful tea! And after we'd chatted, I was then left to explore the whole town on my own and take pictures - the one above was taken in the Doctor's Surgery, and the Christmas card is in the style of Victorian cards, which would have been displayed everywhere in the house.

It was really interesting to learn that Christmas decorations were not usually put up until Christmas Eve. What with everybody working, there wasn't time beforehand. And most Christmas decorations were especially made out of fresh produce, so most of December was spent 'creating' the decorations, and when they were finished they were stored in the cellar to maintain their freshness, only seeing the light of day at Christmas Eve.

Of course, electric Christmas tree lights weren't around then, so they used to use candles. Now in many towns, the fire brigade would go around telling people when they could light their tree candles - in other words - they were only allowed to light them when the Fire Brigade were on duty! For most people, this meant an hour on Christmas Eve, an hour Christmas Day and an hour on Boxing Day!

So next time you tackle an assignment, and you don;t really feel up to it - persevere. You might find that you actually enjoy it!

Good luck, and I wish everyone a merry christmas and a creative new year!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Ditch the Advent Calendar - Find the Editorial Calendars!

Children in Christian countries are busy opening the doors of their Advent Calendars but as writers you should be looking for any Editorial Calendars you can find. Not every magazine produces one, but many do, and some are available online.

Magazines are often produced months in advance - most monthlies are produced three to fours months ahead, whilst many weeklies are put together six to eight weeks ahead. So in December, writers need to be thinking about June pieces if you want to have some time to do some research and write the piece in order to ensure that you can submit it in time.

Because of this, many magazines produce a calendar of what editorial content they will be producing in the coming year. Some of you will know that I produce a regular walking column and feature for Country & Border Life magazine. The editor contacts me and tells me where they want me to do the walk because they like to balance the area coverage in each issue. This means they are planning many months ahead. How far ahead? Well, let me tell you that this month (within the next week) I have to provide the article and walk for the March 2009 issue. I also have to produce the feature for the September 2009 issue, the October 2009 issue and this coming Sunday I'm off to do an interview for next December's (2009) issue! So yes, the magazine is planning at least 12 months in advance. (And yes, this full time freelance writing is full time - what's a weekend?)

You may recall a few months ago I posted details of a new magazine that was launching called Scotland Outdoors. Well I was browsing their website and found their 2009 Editorial Calendar. Click on the link to view the document (in PDF format).

If you look through the document you'll see that there's quite a lot of detail. The magazine has decided what the features will be all that way in advance. Now just because they've decided what their articles will be about, that doesn't mean to say that they have allocated the job to someone yet! So if you know about the topic, then pitch your idea, because it could turn into a commission for you.

The eagle-eyed amongst you will spot that most of the information is geared towards the advertisers. This is so they can make the most of their adverts. So if you look at the next Winter issue, you'll see that the magazine plans to cover the Aberdeen and Grampians area of Scotland. So any advertisers in that region who are thinking about advertising in the magazine, would do well to advertise in that specific issue. The magazine will probably place the adverts next to the pages in the magazine where those features will appear.

So the editorial calendar is like a magazine's media pack - it's aimed at the advertisers not the writers. But it would be foolish for us writers to ignore all that information.

To find out if a magazine produces an editorial calendar type the magazine's name and the phrase 'editorial calendar' into an Internet search engine. Many magazines produce 'media packs' that provide information about the average reader. Occasionally, editorial calendars are tacked onto the end of the media pack, so if you get no joy with the editorial calendar, then search for the magazine's media pack.

Once you start finding editorial calendars, you may find it opens new doors to your writing. It;s not just advent calendars with surprises behind their doors then!

Good luck.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Your Votes Counted!

You may recall back in October that one of my students, John Price, asked me to bring to your attention his writer's group project to replace some computer equipment to allow senior citizen to run a weekly writing course. To pay for this equipment, the group had applied for a grant and part of the process included a telephone vote.

Well you'll be pleased to know that John's emailed to say that they were successful, and thanks to all who voted, their grant application has been successful. John went on to say:

"So, many thanks to you and all the readers of your blog who voted for us. We couldn't have done it without you.We've also just heard that our bid for Heritage Lottery funding has also been successful. This means we have all the money we need to run next year's touring workshops that encourage senior citizen groups to share their seaside holiday memories. We help them write and publish these as a book and a CD and I'll be leading the workshops and editing the book so I'm particularly pleased with the news. We seemed to sail through the HLF process this year, hearing the outcome after only a fraction of the 10 weeks we were told we'd have to wait. I'm sure this has much to do with the skills of our brilliant secretary but it might also be that writing's becoming the new rock 'n' roll. "

Sound's like John and his group have got their work cut out for them now!

Good luck.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

One Million Words ... and still counting.

I know yesterday's posting told you that it was a magical day when the postman delivered my copies of my new book, but it was also an important milestone for me in another way too.

Since becoming a full time freelance writer just under 5 years ago, I've kept a record of the number of words I produce each day, and the spreadsheet also keeps a running 'Grand Total'.

Well yesterday, that Grand Total hit the one million mark. One million words! Blimey! (actually, by the end of the day the tally read 1, 001, 267 words).

Now I didn't set out to write a million words (gosh that would have been demoralising.) But it does show how writing something everyday, all helps to contribute to the bigger picture. Just glancing through my spreadsheet I can see days when I only wrote a letter of 25 words, and then there are days when working on a book, suddenly 7,000 words appeared from somewhere.

And they all add up.

So don't feel dismayed if you only wrote a few words yesterday. The important point is that you wrote SOME words. And SOME are better then NONE.

And this posting adds more to the total!

(And for those of you wondering - no I don't include the words I write on your feedback sheets of your assignments!)

Good luck.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Joy of Writing the Non-Fiction Book

I've had one of those magical moments this morning when the postman delivered a large brown parcel and inside were my ten author copies of my latest book.

It is often said (by us men who wouldn't know otherwise) that writing a book is like giving birth. Well if that is this case, then The Bluffer's Guide to Banking is way overdue, but in case you hadn't noticed, there's been a minor event in the world called a credit crunch, which has affected it's content (several times over).

It always surprises me how work and projects turn out when you're a full time writer and the Bluffer's Guide to Banking is a point in case.

The Bluffer's Guides are a series of books produced by Oval Books. From a writer's perspective they are slightly different to other books, because when they commission a book, they pay the writer a one-off fee and they buy the copyright as well. This is all clearly explained on their website They also list topics that they are currently looking for authors to write and one day I saw that they were looking for one on banking. Now having spent 8 years working for a large high street branch I thought I'd have a go.

I approached the company who asked me to write a sample piece of text and sent it in. Ironically, on the day my submission arrived someone else who'd discussed the same subject with them over a year ago, also submitted their sample. The publisher was obviously in a difficult situation, but understandably said that the job ought to go to the writer who'd originally approached them. Now many of you may see this as bad luck, but being an optimistic kind of guy, I didn't. I latched onto an offer that the publisher made. She said that she'd be happy to look at any other ideas I had. So naturally, I thought of some and made my approach.

I was chuffed to discover that she liked my idea for the Bluffer's Guide to Hiking, and I was then commissioned to write that (it will be published in Spring 2009).

Then, out of the blue, the publisher contacted me and asked if I would be prepared to work on the text of the Bluffer's Guide to Banking. Having looked at both of our initial submissions, the publisher felt that if I and the other writer collaborated on the text, we could produce a far better book. So suddenly, I was working on the Bluffer's Guide to Banking again.

The 'final' manuscript was submitted to the publisher towards the end of 2007 and was scheduled for publication in early 2008.

Then the Credit Crunch hit. Suddenly foreign banks were collapsing, there was a run on Northern Rock and the boring world of banking was suddenly in the limelight. And of course it didn't end there! More of the bigger banks needed Government support too! The text had to be completely revised. In the original version the biggest banking scandal was the collapse of Barings Bank caused by rogue trader Nick Leeson at a cost of £1.3billion. With the American Government bailing the American banks out to the tune of some $250 billion and the British Government bailing the British banks out with over £50 billion, the Barings £1.3 billion, was mere pocket money!

And every time we made an amendment to the text, something else would happen. The merger between Lloyds and HBOS was on, then it was off, then it was on again. In the original text there was no need to talk about the 'sub-prime market' yet in the new text we had to include it.

Of course, the fact that the banking industry has gone through so much turmoil (and still is), makes it ripe for publishing now. Hopefully the public will appreciate the humorous touch that has been added to this subject to make it an easy but enjoyable read. (If you've read my dog books, then you'll understand my weird sense of humour.)

So the moral of this story is: don't get despondent about rejections. Often they can lead to other projects. And just because your idea is rejected by somebody today, it doesn't mean that it won't work for them in the future.

Here comes the sales pitch:

The Bluffer's Guide to Banking is published by Oval Books.
ISBN: 978-1-903096-52-9
Priced £4.99

and will be available in all good bookshops and retailers soon.

Good luck.