Tuesday, 31 July 2007

Children's Book Month - August 2007

From tomorrow it will be children’s book month here for me. I will post each day about authors and illustrators I like (from past to present), why I like them, why I think their characters lasted the distance and my endeavours to lift my own two ideas off the ground (which, incidentally, is where they lie – bits of artwork all over the gaff).

There will be a short hiatus of 5 days between Aug 6 – 10 while I do some work experience at a magazine (still scared I will be ten years older than the editor but heigh ho) but that is the main theme for August, folks! I hope you like it.

Where has the @ button gone?

Sometime overnight, while it was supposed to be sleeping, my keyboard decided that it will swap @ for when I go to use outlook email.

What happened to make it think that way? Yesterday all is fine, I turn it off. Today I switch it on and everything is all fine, apart from that one vaguely annoying letter switch. Now I know this is not a unique problem at all, but why does the keyboard suddenly decide this? Does it feel a bit bored? Does it want to liven up my day? Is there some weird programme running in the background whose path to world dominance starts with this letter switch? Will I turn it on tomorrow and all hell break loose?

Monday, 30 July 2007

Joining Technorati

Apparently this is what you do to get nice people to read what you blog about... Besides, I was just on Boris Johnson's website and he has it listed, so if it is good enough for Boris...

Technorati Profile

Too old for work experience?

An offer came up via a media email alert about work experience at a rather famous music magazine. I sent them an enquiring email, and the upshot is that I will be working there next week - hooray!

The reason I want to do this is that I think it will be good for me. It can be too easy (as outlined in this earlier post here) for me to waste my time being at home, and I want the wake up call working in a busy magazine environment, surrounded by people, to make me really appreciate what I am trying to do. It is also a magazine that I used to love, that really appeals to the music geek in me, and I am fascinated to see behind the scenes.

The only thing is…

…what if they are expecting some young thing, fresh from Uni? I did send them my CV, which does have my D.O.B on it, and as you’ll know if you read Sunday’s post – anyone that remembers Sapphire and Steel did not graduate yesterday.

So they should be aware … but … what if they are all in their early 20s with Hoxton hairdos? Now, one music mag out there is almost guaranteed to have a raft of geometric hair styles on the payroll, but that’s not the one I will be at, so perhaps I shall be okay. Oh Lordy, now I am nervous.

Sunday, 29 July 2007

Sapphire and Steel

A diversion for you… And I am also practising adding pictures!

Sapphire and Steel was a late 70s / early 80s British TV show that quite frankly scared the sleep out of me when I was a wee kiddie. It starred the ever-beautiful Joanna Lumley as Sapphire, the rather-gorgeous David McCallum as Steel and the premise was they were time-travelling ‘elements’ sent to protect mankind from the trickery of Time itself…Or something. It was a bit convoluted to say the least.

The Ever-Beautiful Joanna Lumley as Sapphire

The Rather-Gorgeous David McCallum as Steel

I wasn’t allowed to watch it (the other TV programmes on the banned list were ‘V’ and The Young Ones), which meant that although the family thought I had gone to bed, I had actually got up and crept halfway down the stairs to peer through the banisters.

Let’s just say that curiosity made for one scared little cat.

It didn’t help that I was a) 4 and b) could only see a vertical stripe of screen between the banisters, which meant I had next to no idea what was going on. Viewing Sapphire and Steel now, some COUGHSPLUTTER years later, and I realise that seeing it full screen makes no difference, I might as well still be peering through the banisters for all the sense it is making.

My two main memories of the show was one episode where children were turned into photographs and another with a baby who got very large and clothes flew around the room. These instances may sound mild, but was enough to give me nightmares for months. Then again, so were the Smash makes Mash robots

But to my surprise, joy and faint trepidation, I recently discovered someone had put all the episodes (adventures, to be pedantic) of Sapphire and Steel on youtube. Oh my God, I can now re-visit the stuff of childhood nightmares… Oh the temptation.

So last night I was by myself, it was quite late and I had just finished up sketching out a draughty synopsis of what I shall hesitatingly call Novel One. I clicked onto youtube, clicked onto Sapphire and Steel and jumped onto this rather nice and detailed site to see what episode I was looking out for. Ah yes… the baby. The Baby of Doom.

Okay, it is ‘of its time’, it possibly had a small budget, and TV was just thinking up what it could do with that funny FX button, but the pared down acting, the music score, the claustrophobic settings and the bloody clever camera angles actually make for quite a creepy show. I had to stop it; there was real danger of me going to bed and, even after COUGHSPLUTTER years, still not being able to sleep because of blooming Sapphire and Steel!

So I had an hour to spare this afternoon and watched it in daylight instead, with a nice cup of tea and a biscuit. This was better; I could judge it objectively without having to hide behind a pillow. And thank God for that, as for the first half pillows turned into evil wing-flapping killer swans…

The show did love to labour a point, it was about 20 minutes too long and part of my mind was occupied with how thick and glossy David McCallum’s hair was, but in parts, it was still creepy. I was still lost and confused with the storyline (good to see how much progress I have made in life), but I think the only nightmares I will have connected to Sapphire and Steel will be of the awful satin pantaloon and boots combination poor Joanna Lumley was shoehorned into for the whole of this episode.

Saturday, 28 July 2007

Oh – they published it!

Yesterday I went to pick up some milk (and buy it obviously, not just do a runner), and as an afterthought I bought the local paper as well.

I had pitched an idea to them a few weeks ago, which they said they liked and would run, and since then I had heard nothing further. I had bought this paper enthusiastically for the first week, with a slight deflated air for the second and for this, the third, with a dejected sigh. Until I leafed through the pages on the way back home and was suddenly stopped in my tracks by my article staring back at me. Ooo – they printed it! And they put my name in big bold letters! And…I read the beginning paragraph…hmm; they make it sound like it’s the start of a new regular column!

This latter point intrigues me, as yes, this was what I wanted (of course!) but they are not paying me, yet, so… hmm. See – my hopefully cunning plan was to send them a few free articles for a month or so, and then say I cannot possibly continue without the cash. Hopefully (again) by then they will love me, the readers will be feed-backing in their thousands (well, okay, in their tens) and I will have them in the palm of my scruffy little paw.

I am also planning to freely syndicate my idea (as it’s a goodie, honestly) to my writer pal J and another two writer pals T and P, who live oop North. Then they can pitch it to their local papers under the same heading and there we will be - this small little select team of amazing fab writer dudes. I have already told J, she is coming down on Tuesday to stay with me and we will stay up all night drinking wine and plotting world domination. Bwhahahaha.

Friday, 27 July 2007

On the ball

Sometimes, you find things on the Internet without even trying. Today I wasn’t even looking for local London magazines; I was after a magazine called The English Garden to see if they might be interested in my photographic services.

Did I tell you I can be rather nifty with a camera? But then again, cameras are so good these days aren’t they – nearly everyone can be nifty I think. You just have to get your composition spot on, or see the quirkier things in life.

I have digressed haven’t I? Right, Internet. So there I was, hunting The English Garden, which is published by Archant, which recently acquired a LOT of local London mags. I knew this, but obviously I had been as blind as a bat when I last flew into Archant’s website, as they have www links for nearly all of their publications, which includes editorial contact details. Oh fool that I am! But will I email or phone them? Hmm… See, it is tricky. As from experience in editorial, the phone is a constant annoying interuption from work. Yet emails can disappear very quickly down a big black hole, especially if they are a generic email eg to editor@...

And is Friday a good day to pitch? Liquid lunches, looking forward to the weekend, you get that whole 'I will deal with it Monday' feeling and by the time Monday rolls around there are hundreds of emails that have come in over the weekend for the busy editor and your Friday email will have fallen down the plug hole.

Or I am making yet another plausible excuse? Hmm, maybe I should be in politics.

Thursday, 26 July 2007

Reference room of joy

I took my umbrella for a summer’s walk to the library yesterday afternoon, hoping that I would find the reference room open. This is an old library in a nice building, and there is something about the people that live in the reference room that intrigues me. It is like time has stood still in there, so to discover that the same man works there as when I was last in the reference room (1999) didn’t surprise me a jot.

The usual suspects were draped across tables in the silence – old men (one of which wanting the phone directory for Ipswich), a couple of students with weighty tomes in front of them and mixed range of folk on the out of place computers to the side of the room. An elderly gent asks the lady at the counter why his hotmail isn’t working. She looks flustered, as if answering I.T questions was not the reason she applied all those years ago to work in a library.

A strange metamorphosis comes over me when I am in a reference library.

I suddenly feel all worthy.

I drag down the Writers Yearbook 2007 from on high and scan it knowingly, flipping to the magazine listing section. A few new ones catch my eye, mainly as they offer to pay for articles, should you be so lucky. I scribble down the editor details and look for an email, even though I know full well I should just pick up the phone and call them.

Why are people (okay, why am I) so scared of speaking on the phone? It is not like they know me, so what is my problem with this? Relying just on email is not the done thing, and I just know it. Sigh… You would never think I once interviewed Will Smith, would you? I jot down phone numbers of everywhere in grim determination. I guess I think that I will somehow commit an appalling etiquette faux pas. What a thing to be scared of!

I then hit on the jack pot. I ask the lady behind the counter for a directory that lists London magazines and she looks relieved to be asked a question about books. She takes me unerringly straight to Benn’s Media – which lists them all. Oh praise be libraries, I think. So now I have...

Angel – North -- Belgravia – The Resident –The Westender – Southwest –Upside – Northwest

…to think about. The only concern is Angel and North’s editor is one and the same, same as Northwest and Upside. Which have the same www as Southwest, and six of these publications have the same phone number, so do I pitch my idea to one at a time or all six? And perhaps their content is syndicated, rather than original? It looks like only Belgravia and The Westender are independent, or at least have a different phone number. Okay… my mission today is to call them all and see if I can pitch an idea. Gulp.

Oh, and we passed the landlord inspection with flying colours, I have to say.

Wednesday, 25 July 2007

Quick – hide the stash

Our landlord is coming by today to do a check on the property. Apparently he does this every two months, presumably to see if we are abiding by his rules and not harbouring illegal immigrants, growing drugs or hiding animals. We are not even allowed fish for some reason… Well, you know how fish love to party.

So I have spent all morning mopping and cleaning, which is nice. Everything is now so tidy I dare not move. These sort of visits always make me somewhat nervous, even though Aleksy Sadlowski left an hour ago with the drugs and fish tucked under his arm.

It’s just I wonder exactly how clean they want me to be – do I dust the skirting board, for instance? Will they order us out because I am drying trainers on a mat in the spare room? Should I clean behind the bed? And I am not a filthy urchin, to any that might be thinking in horror ‘she doesn’t dust her skirting boards!’ It’s just, well - skirting boards are so small aren’t they, and there is precious little dust down there, and does anyone actually get that close? Oh dear, I bet these inspectors do.

And I hate the whole – ‘yes, this is where I sleep. Great, take a good look at my bed. Oh, did you want to see my toilet? Here you go – look, I go pee there. Did you get a good look at the shower by the way – yes, I use Head and Shoulders shampoo!’ It’s just all a bit…eurgh. But I do want to complain about the hob – one of the rings doesn’t work. So if they start bending down to check out the skirting board, I will distract them with a hob story.

Tuesday, 24 July 2007

Curse these meddling distractions

Why can I not just leap out of bed and get started? Eh? Eh?

I have lots to do - jobs to apply for, and article ideas to send away - ooo, tons of stuff. Yet it is hard to get motivated when working at home, especially when you are used to fulltime employment and working in a busy office environment. The change now to working for myself from home is immense - I haven't worked from home since 2002, so this year is definitely all change. So my day goes as follows:

I get up roughly when John leaves the house, so around 8.30 am. Shuffle downstairs, make porridge, have lemon tea. Read post. Laugh at bills. Turn on computer.

Now here is where the time wasting factor creeps in, as I check four email addresses for anything work orientated or interesting, and then my favourite blogs to see what they have been up to (more on these later) and read any news articles that catch my eye. Then I pop here to update and already it is 11 o’clock!

My gaze flicks at this point to the time and I start feeling a little panicked I still haven’t actually done anything of note. This puts me into ‘tidy the flat’ mode, as I cannot work until everything around me feels right (see the first ever post). Why is this – an excuse to put off doing anything? I often wonder about that. Maybe my special skill is creating plausible excuses.

So this tidying takes me to midday, as even though this is a flat, it is a rather large flat and the two of us seem to make an awful lot of mess for some reason. Also, it doesn’t help that the majority of our clothes and shoes are still wet and dripping from being viciously de-mudded yesterday.

At this point I will put on inspiring ‘let’s get going!’ type music. A swift look at my ipod playlist and it seems Pink Floyd, Grandmaster Flash and Buddy Holly are all waiting to inspire me. Hmm, Pink Floyd will either inspire me or make me want to creep into a small dark corner…

At 12.30 I will feel peckish and head over to the kitchen. We haven’t been shopping for a while, so the choice for lunch is as follows. Old bread, old fruit, one sachet of miso soup, rice, Branson pickle, cream and old potatoes. Now I am no chef, and barely a cook, so that list doesn’t make me think ‘oh – Branson Pickle Cream Pie!’ or anything like that at all. It make me think blend the old fruit to make a fruit smoothie and go to Tesco’s.

This will be now 1pm (after having to clean up from the mess the blender made) and I will be back checking emails / writing articles / polishing CV. I will also be tempted to pop on MSN and chat to my pal over in France. If I resist the MSN temptation, then I will have remembered that I have to pay some bills, and check my next driving lesson doesn’t clash with meeting up with another pal, (who just sent me a book today - ‘How to be a Social Diva’ – wonder what she is trying to tell me? Heh!)

The upshot of checking and thinking about paying will mean I have to go into town and go sort these things, as well as buy some food. So then, although it is only 14 minutes away, it will take me around two hours just to get everything done, as I also have to parcel up some pickled onion monster munch crisps to send to my good pal Suz in Cape Town. Apparently you don’t get pickled onion monster munch out there, and my friend misses them, and she has just got engaged which means she and her hubby-to-be really need pickled onion breath for a while, so I think.

I will be then back here for around 2 / 3, providing that I don’t get further distracted in town. Ah – but I still need to go to the library don’t I, and research these London magazines – ah phooey.

Okay, back here at 4pm. Then I will again check my emails, see if anything new has happened (5pm) and only then do I settle down and start working. At 5pm. This is pants. As John comes back from a days honest toil at 6.30pm and from then on I find it hard to work, not because he interrupts me, but because I like to sit with him and play chess / chat / watch Top Gear, as well as anything I can quickly flick over to on UK Gold / ITV4 / Men & Motors without him noticing.

So where am I going wrong? I need some direction!

Monday, 23 July 2007

Soggy Souls

My friend’s wedding was rather wet. It was held in a field in the country, which would have been grand if only it was not ‘flood weekend’ for much of the UK. Although the small town we were in was lucky enough to avoid the floods, it did rain relentlessly on the most important day, turning the field into a rather slippy, rather muddy affair. Still, we all made the most of it and I think the bride and groom had a lovely day.

Small highlights for me:

1 – Being part of the wedding party coming down the slippery slope and watching everyone trying to hold their balance. Deciding flip flops were a really bad idea.

2 – The rain holding its breath throughout the ceremony, and the way the bride and groom had eyes only for each-other. Aw...

3 – Watching the fabulous blacksmith forging an iron ring for the newly-weds - a really original idea.

4 – Heading for the free bar. Admiring the wedding cake - a generous stacked pile of cheese!

5 – John and three others having to push his car onto higher ground when it got stuck. The announcment over the PA system for everyone to rescue their cars.

6 – Everyone coming back covered in mud. A general feeling in the air of conquering disaster.

7 – Deciding between the ‘premier’ portaloos (more of a walk, but less muddier interior) or the ‘portaloo of impending doom’ – the lone toilet on the wonk by the thistles.

8 – Lots of happy people dancing in the main tent. Let those that scoff at wellies look on in jealousy.

9 – The walk in pitch darkness back to John’s car.

10 – The creep through the B&B when I had to take nearly everything off in the porch to avoid dripping mud through the house, with John going back to mop the floor after our wake.
So today is mainly de-mudding everything! But as weddings go, it was rather special. And that is what matters most of all.

Thursday, 19 July 2007

Wedding fest

Wouldn’t usually do two posts in one day, but as pointed out elsewhere, this is wedding month and I will now be away all weekend at the last wedding of July. I am actually a bridesmaid for this one, wearing black – this wedding has a bit of a gothic / celtic slant thang going on. The bride is wearing a top hat. Heh heh.

So just to let you all know, I haven’t suddenly wandered off bored but will be back on Monday. Right now I need to find my hotel accomodation letter. And a map, yes, a map would be good. Especially as I have been telling everyone the wedding is in Somerset and it turns out the only thing it has in common with Somerset is the area starts with ‘S’. I suspect ‘down there somewhere, darling’ will not cut it with John. Until Monday, folks...

Bloody computers

Bloody, bloody emails! How to configure your existing email into Outlook and change your outgoing host to your new SMTP – anyone? I call my new broadband provider – Virgin – and am put on hold. Finally, when I am put through to ‘Derek’, I am cut off. I call again, temper rising. This time I get through to a bored sounding ‘David’, who mutters that I need to put smtp.ntlworld.com – which I do, and then nothing works. Outlook behaves as if I have just poured poison into its innards. I do what all good technical help people do, and wiggle the wires, and then press restart. Outlook glares at me. I call Virgin, again.

‘Oh, you tried to connect to ntl when you are blueyonder,’ chuckled ‘Neil’ at the end of the phone. Now, how on earth am I supposed to know the damn difference? But Neil was a delightful chap, telling me I could host my website and email by another way entirely. I didn’t understand him but he probably knew that and it didn’t worry either of us.

All now appears to be working fine, except last night’s tussle with Messenger. Apparently an old one I wanted to delete was running in the background, so I tried to delete it, only to succeed in deleting Internet Explorer. I really should go back to the days of pen and paper.

Oh, and yesterday I spent far too long searching for local London magazines. Y’see – I write for one already, and the idea I have is such a good one that it could easily be extended to other local mags, that is, if I can find the buggers. Now I have always prided myself on my ability to leap, skim and dive into the Internet to extract what I need. Yet yesterday I was like a splashy kid scared to let go of its water wings. So far I have:

North London
Angel -- North -- N16 -- Northwest

West London
Grove -- The Hill -- Westside -- Matchbox -- The Resident

South London
Rise -- Southwest -- Living South

East London

Yet I do not have contact details for any except Grove, Matchbox and Angel, except the latter's email came back with a message undeliverable. The Resident’s phone number was out of order. And who knows what folk in the East read – perhaps they don’t.

Sigh – all I need is a few magazines to write for each month that ‘pay’ (golden word, that) and then at least I have a few pounds coming in, as opposed to me opening the window and emptying my purse into thin air every day.

Wednesday, 18 July 2007

Budget? What budget?

How damn easy is it to spend money whilst at home? I have just blown over £100 on Argos home delivery (yes, only the best, dear friends), on what appears to be a bathroom bin. Okay, there's a shoe rack, an airer, bath mats, towels and an alarm clock, before I sound hopelessly delusional. I did explain this is a new flat, didn't I? So we do need all the gubbins to go with it, you know the sort - you fancy mash but have no masher, that sort of thing.

So I have ordered a few bits in the hope that this time Argos will not manage to louse up my order. I am not overly hopeful, the few times in my life I have given in to the spell cast by the catalogue of dreams (har har), the dream in question has always arrived with a screw loose. My bet is on the shoe rack, they cannot cock up towels, surely? I will wait with bated breath…

...And I haven't worked out my budget yet for being at home. I have saved enough for six months of self funding, keeping in mind jobs may be few and far between - although I'll keep my eye open for any opportunity. So I need to eek the money out as carefully as I can, despite this being Wedding season which means I am showering money like confetti everywhere I turn.

I have also worked out it takes me 14 minutes to get from my living room to the shops.

This is not a great thing for a girl on a budget to know.

I made a list of practical things I needed – things such as ‘cable ties’ to do something about the nest of wires snaking around my feet. Then I went on a (14 minute) jaunt to town to see what I could find and the result has me £80 lighter, mainly on blackberries, as far as I can see. And did I say I shopped in Waitrose? That is hardly economising, is it? I did weigh up whether to walk the extra distance to Tesco, but the thought of dragging my bags back looking like Stretch Armstrong on a particularly bendy day didn't fill me with happiness. So Waitrose was (eagerly, I have to admit) selected and now I am tightening my purse strings with Soya milk, organic eggs and stupid sodding blackberries, not a cable tie in sight.

The upshot is that I have managed to spend £200 before midday. Anyone know where Excel is on this computer?

Tuesday, 17 July 2007

And so it begins...

"So here I sit in disarrayed splendour..."

I have spent all morning lugging a very large table around a rather small square room in our new rented flat to see which position felt more 'inspirational'. I thought perhaps by the window, and dragged the table across, sadly over my toe. After a small, silent protest of agony, I got it into position only to find that when I sit down, my view was of a brick wall, not even by kneeling could I see the communal gardens I was hoping for. Hmm... So then, after more dragging, lugging and cursing, I end up back with the position it was first in, where my boyfriend John left it this morning. I wonder why I tried to move it in the first place, when it goes against the fundamental rule of thumb that John is Always Right. So the table is back where it started, only now I have a stubbed toe and bruised knee.

Still, as you no doubt have surmised, I have the computer up and running, which means all is now well. As for being inspirational, well, I have the window to the left (view - bricks, windows, and a small patch of green) and to the right, my bookcase filled with goodness. I collect books and old annuals y'see, and it is one of those collections that really warms the heart when you see it. Honest! Unless you are John that is, who mutters ominously about needing paper to scribble on, and perhaps he'll just use the back of one of those old books instead...

This is a thought that fills me with fear and dread.

He knows that too, the cheeky so-and-so.

Tearing my eyes away from my beautiful books for a second, I really hope that I make the most of this opportunity. I am sick with fear that I might get lost by the wayside, lose my direction and focus being at home and waste my time. I was going to buy a flat, y’see, but the money saved for the deposit etc is now all being used to fund me sitting here on my arse tap, tap, tapping away at the keyboard. I do have a few good story ideas up my sleeve - two for children and two for adults. My later work choices were all focused on writing, so hopefully it will work to my credit, although apart from cracking on with the stories, I really don't know where to start... I am hoping this blog will help. Although I have spent far too long already deliberating upon it, I must admit!