Monday, 30 September 2013

#2 Pathetic Pitches - Dear Fluffles

This cover letter was submitted by Isabel Rogers who blogs at and tweets as @Isabelwriter

Fancy writing a ridiculous cover letter? It's ever so therapeutic. Please send your rubbish cover letter or pathetic book pitch to If it's funny I'll be sure to post it on my blog! (Word Limit: 500 words)

Read Last Week's Pathetic Pitch...

Thursday, 26 September 2013

References: When To Admit You Have No Idea

"Oh I was going to leave the gig early," she said. "But then I found out that Bladidoodoo and Blimpypimpy were playing!"
These were not the bands real names. I just didn't have a clue who she was talking about. Problem was she was looking at me with such expectation that I didn't want to disappoint her.
"Oh wow, yeah, you had to stay," I replied, nodding enthusiastically.
If she detected the emotional vacancy in my eyes, she didn't say, and the conversation continued seamlessly.
It's not just music references that I've pretended to get in the past, I've also lied about knowing actors, famous books, films and directors. In fact only last week, while I was explaining the tone of my book, a friend said: "So a bit like a Richard Curtis film?"
Oh god. My mind drew a blank. I knew I should know this one. This was a biggie. If I shook my head now it would be like admitting I didn't know who William Shakespeare was. Thank god I knew him. He wrote Great Expectations.  
My hesitation prompted a concerned frown from my literary friend. "You know, Four weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill, Love Actually?"
"Oh, yes, yes, yes! Exactly!" I cried, slapping my forehead to emphasise that it had only been a temporary memory lapse.
Internally I was wondering if I'd been frozen for a long period of time. It would certainly explain why I continuously failed to recognise so many cultural references.
I've often wondered how many times you should pretend you know who someone is referring to, before confessing. My rule has always been to nod your head knowingly for the first two unknown references, and on the third unfamiliar reference, admit your ignorance. The reason I eventually admit my ignorance is because a conversation about three people you don't know is just too uncomfortable. For all I know this is a common practice and more often than not, no one knows who anyone is talking about.
There are some subjects I don't mind people knowing I know little about. For instance, in my meditation group, a couple of members often reference philosophers and psychologists, and I'm happy to say, "I don't know who that is" five time in an evening.
With my writing group, I've also resigned myself to the fact they are all literary experts and have read everything worthwhile that has ever been printed. Instead of admitting I've never heard of it every time they mention a book, I usually don't say anything.
There will be times when I'll still nod. Those times when I sense I really should know something. For instance, who the prime minister is. His name begins with C I think. On the whole though I've grown more relaxed. Only the other day at a party, I asked someone what they did.
"I work for a PLMCT," she said, or something similar.
For a second, I considered nodding my head, but then thought better of it. Why should I know anyway? So I just told her directly that I had no idea what that stood for.
She was flustered. "Oh it's uh... how can I explain it..."
Obviously when she'd taken the job, she'd nodded her head and pretended to know what she was getting herself into. I felt quite relieved. I wasn't so bad after all. Not knowing who you work for has got to be worse than 'forgetting' who a director is, however famous!

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

#1 Pathetic Pitches - The Gift


Fancy writing a ridiculous cover letter? It's ever so therapeutic. Please send your rubbish cover letter or pathetic book pitch to If it's funny I'll be sure to post it on my blog!

Friday, 20 September 2013

Do you have a USP or an Unabashed Shaggy Poodle?

Ta-Da. My blog has had a little makeover while you were away. Do you like it? I hope so, because that's one long evening of putting things in circles I'll never get back.

 The time had come to rebrand my blog. The title 'Shop Girl Diaries' was niggling me. Not only am I no longer a Shop Girl writing about shop life but my title didn't coincide with my URL which has always been
My good Twitter friend @Isabelwriter suggested 'More laughs than Brontë' and after a highly intelligent text message conversation (below) with my friend @PieraLizzeri (green) I decided to go along with it.
If I'd put 'More laughs than Michael McIntyre' I'd be stressing out right now, but having to be a little more light hearted than a Brontë seems doable.

Whenever I'm about to lead a Blog Workshop I always review my blog and make improvements. It's the nature of a blog to always be changing and developing. The main thing is to keep returning to the reason why you started a blog in the first place and what it's all about.

Ideally you should know what your blog is about BEFORE you start. It might sound obvious but the word 'random' is forever popping up in people's headers and descriptions of their blog. You know the type. Welcome to my blog, it includes my random thoughts about random stuff that inspires me at random... O-kay, but why should we care?

I'm bored of the idea that if you're creative then you're probably not business minded. Why can't we both? We can.

Now say it like you mean it. WE CAN!

Writers are despairing about the publishing industry, how tough it is to break in, how no one's taking risks. This certainly feels true, but instead of curling up in corner and rocking ourselves to sleep, we should be asking ourselves how we can increase our odds of succeeding.

For a start we need to be very clear about what it is we're doing. We should be asking practical questions about our identity, branding, and brainstorming our USP (unique selling point). Just imagine you're a shop keeper and a salesman brings in a brightly coloured blob. Please sell my blob, they say. As a shopkeeper you might have already bought quite a few blobs off the previous salesman and be feeling anxious about buying another. You'll want to know what's so special about it, what makes it different from the other blobs and also how you're going to convince your customers to buy it. It's not even being business minded, it's common sense. Can you describe your book/ blog/ script clearly? Because if you can't and you created it, who will be able to?  

How I see it, we are living in a DIY world in which we can make things happen as long as we're able to muster the energy and enthusiasm. It's not easier, but with the internet, we can do a lot more by ourselves. If the publishers don't come, there's always self-publishing and plenty of freely available tools to spread the word. I'm not saying you should compromise on style or quality to satisfy one type of shop keeper, just accept if it's not going to work for them you'll need to pursue a different avenue. 

But I don't know anything about self-publishing, blogging, social media and all that jazz, you say? And I say, I didn't know how to use Gimp Photo Editor until I spent an evening following online tutorials, and now I've got a new header with circles in it, yippee. You can learn all this stuff step by step. All you've got to do is keep asking the right questions. What excites you? What do you want to achieve? What's the next step? Because the way we create may be random, but there's no reason why we can't be practical and focused about how we choose to share it with the world.

Well that wasn't funny... Maybe I should change it to 'more laughs than Steinbeck'.  

Want to learn more about Blogging? My next Workshop is happening soon!  
Blogging and Social Networking  for Beginners / Improvers
On Saturday 19th October 
10.30am - 3pm - £40.00
@ 77 Tower Bridge Road, London 

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

365 Days Without Alcohol - Could You Do It?

When it comes to drinking I'm not famous for great self-control. As a teenager I distinctly remember getting drunk before the party had even begun and spending the evening talking to the toilet in Spanish. Or was it in an American accent? I try to forget.   

I thought it would get easier with age, but unfortunately on the cusp of turning thirty, I still manage to make a fool of myself now and again. Hung over and dull with regret I inevitably announce that I'll never drink again, a promise which lasts all of a couple of days. 

That's why I'm in awe of Ben Blackman. He decided to give up alcohol, not for a week, or a month, but for a WHOLE YEAR... I invited him onto my blog to find out how he's managing it so far. 
How long has it been since you've given up alcohol?

256 days…hang on a minute…257 days….EXACTLY (as I type this) – not that I’m counting. But I’m ‘only’ doing it for a year. So ‘only’ 108 to go now and hopefully I’ll go to sleep for a few hours once I’ve answered your questions so really we’re only talking another 2,586 hours or so after the sleep. 155,160 minutes give or take. I’m not really counting.

My personal record is 13 days... what has made you persevere?

Well, I said I could do it and when I say I’ll do something, if I’m in control of it then I’ll do it. Quite determined I guess – and STUPID! I’ve always said I could give up alcohol, take it or leave it (which is odd because I used to drink a lot of it) and I said similar last December. I was waffling on (as I tend to do when I’ve been drinking) about the fact people give things up for a month these days and think they deserve a medal. "A month, that’s not commitment, I could do it for a year," I said to my wife. "That’s a good idea," she said. "Well not next year," I said. "Because you can’t," she said. And the rest, is (nearly) history.

Do you even remember your last hangover?

Um, no actually. But then, I hadn’t really been get roaringly drunk anymore before I gave up. I’ve got a little girl. 4 years old. We have no family close by, and from when she was born, hangovers, I quickly learnt, were not highly feasible. When I get one of ‘those’ hangovers I tend to want to lie in a darkened room for 24 hours. No noise, no interruptions, maybe just a bit of fast food mid way through (if I feel up to it). Good luck with that when you’ve got a baby / toddler or bigger one!

Don’t get me wrong though – I used to drink with the best of them. I realised that I hadn’t gone a week without alcohol since I had started drinking (age 15) before this thing – which was a bit scary! I’m 34 so, you do the math! Since becoming a Dad I just toned it down a bit. But let’s not pretend I wasn’t knocking back large helpings of wine, G&T, lager, and the rest, albeit in posher glasses and seemingly more responsibly whilst sitting in at weekends n all that.

What's the most embarrassing thing you've ever done whilst drunk?

That I can remember?!

The time I had to be fireman-carried out of a very full pub (where everybody knew me) age 17. A responsible adult dropped me off at the front door of my parents house (and promptly scarpered). My sisters found me crawling across the floor of the hallway. I proceeded to cut my head open a little bit somehow and my sisters annoyingly got my Mum who I might have politely (really politely in fact, by all accounts) asked to f-off more than once. "Mum, will you please just f-off". I’d never use the f-word in front of my Mum, let alone at her! I woke up, and you know that thing when you think, good night last night…oh, what did we do…and then a few seconds later you remember – oh no!

18th Birthday – might have been sick on a girl. We’ll leave it at that.

The time I was carried out of the pub over the road from where I lived in my first year at university, still haunts me too. I was stripped and put to bed by several locals from the pub plus an array of fellow students (boys and girls) from the halls in which I lived. Mortified!

I’m SO glad social media didn’t exist when I was growing up!

What beverage do you miss most? And what have you substituted it with?

Lately lager. Which is strange because I didn’t think I liked it that much…which is strange because I must have drunk thousands of pints of the stuff since teenhood. Before that, wine. Gin. Rum. All of it really! Substitution wise – nothing. You can’t. I really do miss the taste and ‘kick’ you get taste wise from alcohol. Nothing can give you that – they’re too strong a flavour and complex in terms of the way they’re all made. A couple of weeks ago my wife brought me a non-alcoholic lager. It was the first time I’ve ever had one and was pleasantly surprised. It was as close as I’ve come to a replacement. We tried wine the next week – rubbish (like a posh grape juice) and pear cider the next (even worse).

What changes have you seen in yourself since giving up alcohol? (Do you feel fitter/younger? Is it worth it?)

Do I feel fitter? Not really. I’ve started running again recently and that was a lot quicker and easier to get into after a long break so giving up must be good for you but it hasn’t felt it. I thought I’d sleep better and wake up raring to go (I’m not a morning person) but not really.

Do I feel younger? Definitely not. Maybe the opposite actually. One of the downsides I think to it is that you never stop thinking. Most people use alcohol to ‘switch off’ to make that break from the working week to the weekend. To relax after a hard day. That’s a good thing to do I’ve learnt. It’s difficult to do without alcohol. If I go for a run instead then that’s good but it stimulates your brain even more so it’s hard to try and switch off.

That can be good on one hand – eg. I’m typing my answers for you at 12.35am now (after a fun night out) so – I’m very efficient! But really – who wants to be efficient at 12.35am on a Saturday night. Sorry, Sunday morning?

Is it worth it? Well I wanted to see if I could do it. I knew I could do it, but I also knew I really didn’t want to, so I was interested to see how hard it was. What would be the benefits? If you’re weird enough to want to test such things then go for it – but my advice is – don’t.

I guess it shows I had a healthy relationship with alcohol that I don’t think I’ve seen any benefits for giving up. Once I’d got to half way I knew I could do it so I could have ducked out but then, that wasn’t the challenge was it? I really should have done it as a sponsored challenge!

Being the only sober person at a Stag Do is many men's idea of hell, what was your experience like?

I haven’t been on a stag do but I did go on a ‘lads weekend’. Well I turned up on the Friday night, and they’d started on Thursday afternoon so that was interesting. That was after 100 days I think - the first May bank holiday. It was with friends from university days and beyond. All who know me as a big drinker. They didn’t believe me to start with but then when they realised I was serious I was very surprised they didn’t give me any hassle at all. I think they thought I had a problem!

I thought I’d hate it but I had a great time. One thing I have learnt is that socialising without drinking is not a problem, in fact it’s probably easier and more fun in a lot of ways than drinking. I went out with them ‘till 2am, stayed up ‘till 3am singing and dancing. It was great fun. And the next morning I did feel great compared to all of them so that was a bonus! We went out again on the Saturday and I drove home at 8pm feeling fresh and fine for the Sunday and Monday.

For all of us who promise to give up drinking on Monday and have a glass of wine on Saturday, what are your top 3 tips for staying off the poison?

Don’t bother! Drinking is fun and quite good for your wellbeing, if you ask me. Unless, of course, you have a problem with drinking, in which case you probably shouldn’t be seeking my advice!

If you really want to though – go for it. Set yourself a target, don’t tell anybody else (people don’t like it when you say you won’t drink so pressure you more to do it) and see how you get on.

Also, just start. There will never be a good time to do it. Don’t do any of that "I’ll stop once I’ve finished off all the wine in the house..." type business because that time will never come. I started on New Year's Day – we had loads of grog left from Christmas which seemed really annoying to have to leave for a year. A true team player - my wife has done her best to battle through it all!

How long have you got left?

What, right now? 107 days and 23 hours. But I told you, I’m not really counting. MUCH.

Ben Blackman is a self proclaimed, lazy workaholic. He lives in Lancashire with his wife, little girl, 3 legged cat and 3 chickens. When he’s not giving up alcohol and writing silly blogs he works with his wife running 2 family businesses: Peg Marketing and 
You can also follow Ben on Twitter @Ben Blackman

Friday, 13 September 2013

Is this Goodbye Shop Girl Diaries?

It's that time of year when your children fly the nest, isn't it?
I was a receptionist for the day and someone cancelled their appointment because they'd forgotten their son was leaving for university.
Are you feeling emotional? Your little baby is all grown up. You might be reflecting on all that effort you put in. All that soggy Weetabix you mopped up. All those games you played, all those stories you read over and over until you could recite them in your sleep; all those nights of interrupted sleep. And there were times when you thought a bottle of wine would help, momentarily forgetting that the only thing worse than a hangover is a hangover with children.
If you think I don't know what I'm talking about, you're right. I don't have kids.
But I did write a book, which means I've put up with tantrums (my own), mopped up impatient tears (my own) and had sleepless nights over its development. And yet it was the best thing I've ever done. Like your child. What a perfect child, even if it's not half as cute as it was the day you first set eyes on it, unlike my book which hasn't aged a bit.
While you'll be saying goodbye to your baby, I'll shortly be saying goodbye to my book. As I'm not with Salt Publishing anymore, it will soon be out of print. I can't pretend it doesn't fill me with horror. For so long, Shop Girl Diaries has defined me, has been my greatest achievement.
On the other hand it's probably time to let go. After all I've got so many jiffy bags. I'm drowning in them. If I taped them all together I could make a patchwork quilt for a King Size Bed. But that wouldn't be fair. Jiffy bags are designed for carrying books across the world. I have less than 10 copies of Shop Girl Diaries in my possession. Buy one and you'll be giving a jiffy bag a home. And that would make me very happy indeed.
It's sad to say goodbye to your baby but don't worry, they'll be back for food and clean clothes soon enough. In fact, let's be honest, they'll probably be back living with you before you know it, since rent is high and they'll be lucky to find a job in this climate. In fact, there's no reason for those tears, is there? You may as well put their sheets back on their beds now.
Meanwhile if there are any authors out there with out of print books, who have advice on dealing with the grief... or want to share their experience, I'd love to hear from you...

Buy a Signed Copy of Shop Girl Diaries

And why not join my Facebook Page to laugh at the slow progress I'm making with my next novel!