Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Blogging Towards Publication - My Article in Litro Magazine

"Whatever it is you think you should be blogging about, forget it. Successful creative bloggers don't set up their blog based on what they think will get them a million followers, a publishing deal and an award for Best Blog of the Year. Successful bloggers start their blogs motivated by a passion for their subject, a passion that sustains their blog and keeps them developing new ideas for it over the years to come."

Read my full article in Litro Magazine.

UPCOMING WORKSHOP: Blogging for Beginners and Improvers  

Saturday 13th July 10.30am - 2.30pm (including 30min break)
@ 77 Tower Bridge Road, SE1 4TW
Fee: £40.00 Limited Places.

This intensive workshop is packed with tips about how to make the most of your blog, how to promote it, gain a readership, keep it interesting and also, importantly, what to avoid. If you’ve been meaning to start a blog for a long time, why put it off any longer? Come along for a friendly, fun and informative workshop.

For more information visit my Social Media Workshops Page.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Five Years of Blogging!

There have been highs and lows!
It's official! I've been blogging for 5 years! Happy Anniversary to me! And since everything is speeded up on social media I'm sure 5 years counts as a golden anniversary, perhaps even a diamond...
If you've only just joined in, let me tell you how it began. It was June 2008, a time when you needed to know html to convert an ordinary little word into a hyperlink. I was on a date with a dark, handsome stranger at the Gourmet Pizza Company on the Southbank.
I told him I was thinking about starting a blog about working in my Mum's chandelier shop. He, being an enthusiastic sort of bloke, assured me it was a great idea. A week later I wrote my first post. The rest is history. Well it would be if someone added it to Wikipedia.
There have been highs and lows on this blogging journey and I thought I'd share five of the most memorable. 
When I wrote this post I was so fed up. I was worried I'd never ever get published and that I'd spend the rest of my life fending off barterers in my Mum's shop. I had no idea that a month later Salt Publishing would ask me to turn my blog into a book. If you are a writer and you feel like I did in this post, don't give up! You never know when your hard work will pay off. 

"I won’t be a famous novelist because I’ll be delivering a light fitting. We won’t charge for the delivery since we just want the customer to love us and not go to John Lewis. The customer won’t offer to pay for the delivery because they assume that’s what little shop people do on a Saturday night..."

At Stoke Newington Literary Festival, I spoke on a panel about writing in the digital age. I think it's an exciting time to be a writer. Whether it's a blog to build up a readership, a podcast to share your stories, YouTube for a book trailer for the book you self-published, because perhaps publishers weren't prepared to take a risk on you, with hard work and creativity you can really make things happen.
Some writers complain that the internet has eroded the filters keeping the bad writing out. But why waste time criticising other people striving to make the digital world work for them? It takes guts to put your work 'out there'. Sharing my work has been key to my progress and success as a writer, but of course I've had my ego bashed along the way. Shop Girl Under Attack is a blog post about the first 'hate mail' I ever got. If you're going to use social media, you've got to develop a thick skin.
"On Easter Sunday I received a mail from someone in my facebook group.
A certain young Californian with a photoshop twinkle in his eye.
'Please get a life,' he wrote, 'because the one you’re writing about isn’t that interesting.'
Oh, I thought, taken aback.
My first hate mail hadn’t come at the best of times."
Read More.
3rd  - SHOP GIRL: TAKE 1, Camera, action!
My dream was always to become a novelist but when director Chloe Thomas asked me to write a script for a TV pilot based on my blog, I wasn't going to let the opportunity pass me by. Having a film crew in my shop and actors saying the lines I'd written was an incredible high. Although the pilot has not developed into a sitcom it remains a great moment in my blogging journey. I recommend saying 'yes' to every opportunity that comes your way and trust you'll learn as you go along!
“How much do you want this?” my brother had asked me, back in September.
“More than anything.”
And he’d rolled up his sleeves and launched into a speech on how to promote my blog."
Read More.

This guest blog is definitely the most memorable. Well, it's not every day someone proposes on a blog, is it? Remember that dark, handsome stranger I was telling you about earlier...

"So the ShopGirl bullied me into doing a blog.
Here it is, I am real." Read More.

The Book Launch of Shop Girl Diaries remains the best day of my life. I've just reread my blog post about it and tears sprung to my eyes. The publishers didn't have a budget for the launch so a group of my friends jumped in to help me organise it. I'd almost forgotten how generous people had been. Thank you again, and I hope there'll be another one soon!
"The Big day had come:
The Launch of 'Shop Girl Diaries'.
My nerves were momentarily eased by the successful match of my new tights with the dress.
It's those little details that really niggle.
As the Chines proverb goes, 'it's not the mountain that wears you out but the grain of sand in your shoe.'" -
Read More.
A blog doesn't thrive very well alone. It needs its readers, so thank you for all your support over the last 5 years.
 In my workshops I aim to pass on all the things I've learnt over the years. If you feel like starting your own blog, my next Blogging for Beginners and Improvers Workshop is on Saturday 13th July.
Check out my Workshop Page for more information.   

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

A Flawed Character

                                                    Photo by Thinkstock
A character in a novel needs a few flaws or they aren't very realistic.
So I mock one up. Give them a face. Maybe a couple of arms. Legs. A bit of hair. Perhaps a beard. Then I sit them down on a chaise longue and I ask them: What is wrong with you?
Are you too bossy? Do you have a phobia? Do you eat with your mouth open? Do you have a messed up relationship with a relative? Do you steal from the pic n' mix counter at the cinema? Don't tell me you talk at the cinema because I'll have to kill you off before your debut... Are you unreliable? Jealous? Do you wish you were someone else?
Of course, if writing guidebooks are anything to go by, there's only one question worth asking: WHAT IS IN YOUR POCKET?
Nope? You've never done that little exercise?
I don't know what's in my own pocket let alone theirs. Fluff probably. And a hair band. Very telling. Yes, I have long hair! Now you know everything there is to know about me.
It's ironic that while I'm inventing flaws for my fictional characters, I'm wishing I could erase them entirely from my own character. I ignore the fact that if I didn't have any flaws, I wouldn't be realistic. Perhaps I wouldn't be real even. I would vanish from the face of the earth and THE GREAT WRITER would appear with one of those pencils with the little pink rubber at the end, the rubber visibly used, and say, 'Sorry, I had to edit you out, you weren't very believable'.
Last Saturday was a boozy affair where everything was just wonderful, until it wasn't. I don't know. I got excited. Lost my will power in the garden somewhere. Maybe it fell through the grill along with a barbequed sausage. The result was, I woke up with a hangover, and was overcome with self-loathing. I couldn't understand how it had happened. How come my character, who had been through so much, could still act like she was a teenager? Hadn't she learnt ANYTHING?
It's frustrating being a human being sometimes...  
And repetitive too as the same old thoughts kick in: How I'm never going to drink ever again in my life. Or at least a month. A couple of weeks? Okay, I'll give up drinking forever but I might have to take up something else instead. Then again smoking has got to be worse than drinking, hasn't it? No I know, I'll never go out. If I don't go out I won't be tempted. I'll be a hermit. Yes, I'll be a hermit. But then my husband might get bored of me and leave me. Oh, but he probably should because I'm an idiot anyway... Why don't I ever remember to drink water? Never. Again. I'm going to start my whole life over. Maybe I should have a baby. I'll definitely be more responsible if I have a baby. I won't be able to drink either. Oh shut up, I'm NOT going to have a baby just to make myself feel better about myself. You complete idiot. I'll have to drink lime and tonic at parties, say I'm on antibiotics... whatever happens I'm never getting drunk EVER AGAIN.  
Real enough? Frustratingly so.
Obviously this morning I've been a model character. I meditated and I went for a long walk and I decided to give up alcohol for a month. I WILL be the character I want to be, I think to myself. And yet, although I'll make every effort, I sense THE GREAT WRITER is laughing at me. I've missed something important. I'll be a perfect character for a short while, but never forever.
Perhaps I need to have better look in my pocket. Perhaps there is a secret in there after all.   
A View from this Morning's Walk

Monday, 3 June 2013

The Accidental Cook

What surprised me most about the horse meat scandal was how surprised everyone was about the horse meat scandal. If a burger costs 50p then I naturally assume it's made of rat, pigeon, or stray cat. To be able to sell a product so cheap, costs must be kept to a minimum. Either the quality of the meat must be low or the animals must have had a poor quality of life (and death). Probably both.
It's doubtful I'll ever become a vegetarian. At the same time I don't want to eat a creature that has been born and bred in a cramped cage, suffered a brief and miserable existence just so I can buy it cheaply. I think a lot of people would feel the same if they followed their budget burger up the chain to where it all began. It's so easy when buying a neat little package of neatly cut meat to disconnect from its origin.
In the city, I often feel disconnected, be it from a sense of community or from nature. The other day, I decided to buy from the local butcher instead of going to a supermarket. I was born and bred in an independent shop, and know how important each sale is for a small business. It felt a lot like stepping into my own shop even though the meat wasn't as sparkly as our chandeliers. But the atmosphere was the same.
There was the butcher chatting to a regular customer and no one seemed in a rush. I asked for burgers because I was having a barbeque that evening.
"I've only got frozen burgers," the butcher said.
Damn. I'd had this idea about going to a local butcher to buy fresh, non processed meat.
"You can make them yourself," the regular customer said. "It's dead easy."
Of course he didn't know me. He didn't realise I'm not the cooking kind of girl. I throw things together and hope for the best. I'm baffled by those people that are forever baking cakes. Sounds like a second job to me.
I bit my lip and dithered. I didn't want to leave empty handed.
What if it was dead easy?
"Alright... what do I have to do?" I asked, expecting the worst.
Following a friendly chat, I left with a bag of mince meat and the distinct feeling that my trip hadn't gone as planned. By now I was supposed to have some delicious organic burgers, not just the ingredients to make them.   
Suddenly I had to do something in the kitchen that I'd never done before. I had to grate an onion.
Have you ever grated an onion before?
I couldn't believe it had never occurred to me to grate an onion. And then I whisked an egg, and added some mustard, and chopped some coriander that I'd bought in a fit of enthusiasm, and was now wilting on the window sill.
Soon enough I had made some burgers. Dead easy, like he said.
Differing Sizes for Authentic Organic Feel!

Glowing with pride, I texted my husband a picture and the message: Who AM I?  
He replied: My wife
Now, some of you must be thinking BIG DEAL, you made burgers, get over yourself. But the big deal is this: you can go through life thinking you're not that sort of person, or you can't do that sort of thing, but maybe you can, and like me, you just hadn't tried it before.
Small but Happy
The following weekend we went for a barbeque with some friends. Their garden is an inspiration with so much variety of herbs and vegetables in different stages of growth. If you've been following my blog long enough, you might have already read about my troubled attempts to grow vegetables. I waited for carrots for over a year and when I pulled them out they were small enough to fit between your teeth.
But I don't fancy being a failed vegetable grower anymore, so I'm going to try again. I might have to wait till 2016 to grow a decent carrot, but by then I'm bound to be a better cook, right?
So... Carrot burger anyone?