27 May 2008

In other news, there's an 8-mile tailback on the A69...

You know how you see the reports about the traffic on bank holidays, and think are they all really stupid or something? Do they not know that the entire urban population has had collective amnesia and is making its annual trip to the countryside?

Well, we are that stupid.

On the face of it, a trip out to the not-very-wilds-of-Northumberland to go to the Northumberland County Show sounded like a fun proposition. We exhumed the Triumph Dolomite SE for that 1970s feel, packed a retro picnic (cheesy puffs, cheese and pickle sandwiches, Tunnocks caramel wafers), and headed off.

Two hours later, we were still sat in the car, somewhere near the A69. The picnic was long gone, apart from the cheesy puffs (which were nowhere near as cheesy as I remembered - I blame the lack of additives), there was nothing on the (AM only) radio, and the small child in the back had managed to cover herself in tomatoes and pour water everywhere.

In true bank holiday spirit, we didn't admit defeat. The show must go on, and all that. And so it did. Eventually.

After being royally fleeced by the entry staff, we discovered the endless delights of tractors, hay baling equipment, motorcycle display teams, llamas, wrestling and other high quality agricultural attractions. I scored highly for knowing what a bunded storage tank was, but failed to impress on the 'is it a sheep or a goat?' round.

The small child decided the best bits were (a) the cake section - and I'm with her on that one, although the Fat Rascals were nowhere near as good as Betty's (b) the tweenage Irish dancers wearing huge corkscrew curl wigs and day-glo costumes and (c) the campervans. You can take the child out of the city...

Actually, it was wildly obvious that we were townies - we weren't wearing enough tweed, puffa bodywarmers, reflective sunglasses or turned up collars. I spent most of my formative years in deepest East Anglia, surrounded by Young Farmers, but the last decade in the fleshpots seems to have had an effect.

26 May 2008

In which I reveal all about my marvellous career

Blimey. I have been tagged by the fantastic Patroclus, and tasked with answering the burning question: 'What revelations have you had since taking up your writing career?'

I should point out that this is possibly the most exciting thing to actually happen during my writing career, so don't get your hopes up. I'm not one of those romantic novellists, languishing in a garret in Paris while writing my masterpiece, neither am I one of those irritating blog-type-people-with-publishing-deals (hello to all you publishers out there!) or one of those journalists who file exciting political stories from exotic locations while sipping mojitos at the poolside bar.

However, while my subject matter isn't remotely glamorous (in the last month it's been anything from wrought iron gates to leadership skills in HE), I do appear to be quite trendy by combining small child/working from home/mild guilt complex over state of house.


Right, I'm supposed to be giving you all the benefit of my deep and enduring wisdom on this career that I started way back in depths of 1996. I started off writing press releases about squirrels, and sometimes I think it's been all downhill from then on.

1. Freelancing is indeed marvellous. If you get remarkably bored remarkably quickly (sorry, all my previous employers - it was nothing personal), then working for yourself is one way of curing this. There's variety a go-go (see selection of random topics above), you get to drink proper coffee and eat proper cake in the comfort of your own home (or anywhere else you fancy), and nobody tells you what to do*. Have laptop, will freelance.

The fact that scheduling can be a nightmare, and you'll end up working like a maniac every hour that God sends to finish three projects that all arrived at the same time might just be me, or it might be one of the delightful downsides. Along with unpredictable income and the ability to spend hours procrastinating by writing blog posts, checking the internet, and eating toast.

2. It doesn't have to be all writing. Actually, one of the bits I like best about what I do is the editing - turning pages of gobbledegook into something that works is a real challenge. Especially if there's a word limit (although that might just be the masochist in me).

I also love proofreading, although that's best when you can get a red pen out and scribble all over a piece of paper. It's just not the same when you amend it on screen, although there's a certain amount of satisfaction in turning on the Markup toggle in Word, and seeing exactly how ruthless you've been.

3. Creative writing doesn't necessarily have to mean writing a novel, screenplay or poem. Trust me, you've got to be very creative when you're trying to write descriptions of wrought iron gates. And anyway, gates pay the mortgage and scary nursery fees, and occasionally lead to the odd handbag or nice cake.

Actually, I guess what I love most is words, and the process of creating something readable with them. Yes, it would be fantastic to write only the ones that I wanted, rather than those I'm asked to write about, but for me it's the process rather than the subject matter that's important.

And, as Patroclus points out rather better than I have, the chances of working on your own material and earning a decent living are limited - what you really need to do is pick a sector, become an expert in turning jargon-filled, complicated prose into plain, readable English, and away you go. As well as tech and finance, I think government and HE are good areas - much of what's produced is complicated, obscure and often written by people who are amazing at what they do, but not very good at expressing it. And who find word limits to be an alien concept.

4. Another alien concept is spelling. I love the fact that the English language is so complicated, and that spelling is tricky. Most people don't. Please don't ever write our language as we speak it, as I'll be out of a job by Christmas. And I'll have to throw away my thesaurus, dictionary and beloved Guardian style guide, which would be most upsetting.

There's probably more, but (sadly), I actually need to go and do some work. Boo hiss. This is the problem with freelancing - you go to France for a week and all hell breaks loose when you come back. I'll have a think and let you know if I come up with anything else.

And while you're waiting, I think Louche, the Woo and Miss Meep should get their thinking caps on...

*except clients who are always right, obv

UPDATE: the lovely Miss Meep has more about life as a writer, and the magical properties of salt and vinegar crisps. Go visit!

UPDATE 2: So have the Woo and Louche. Boy, this tagging lark is fun!

15 May 2008

Work. Again.

I will stop wittering on about it at some point. Probably when I've perfected the recipe for chocolate ice-cream.*

In the meantime, here's 20 types of work available to freelancers, which I've just come across, and which made me smile. Still looking for number 1, mind.

*although it's looking likely that tomorrow's trial run will be banana, for the simple reason that there's not enough chocolate in the house.

14 May 2008

It's all work, work, work, you know

I've got a bit of a love-hate relationship with work at the moment. On the one hand, I start panicking if there's no work to do. On the other, I like to whinge when I've spent every evening for the last two weeks working on stuff for clients.

Boo hiss. There's no happy medium. It's probably a control thing, somewhere along the line. It usually is with me.

Anyway, aside from the work (which has to be finished by Saturday, when I hop off to sunny France for a week), I have
  • sat in the Free Trade's beer garden on Saturday, with an old school lemonade and lime
  • eaten a picnic in the sunshine at Aydon Castle on Sunday
  • shivered around Jesmond Dene and pets corner on Monday (only being revived by tea and a ridiculously large scone in the cafe)
  • scaled huge walls on Monday evening (I climbed three 5bs! Hurrah for knackered fingers!)
  • spent the afternoon reading terrible, terrible children's books in Gateshead library yesterday (moral of this tale, never let the two-year-old pick)
  • collected an ice-cream maker from a lovely Freecycle member today
I can see that the last one is going to be ideal procrastination fodder over the next few weeks, surpassing even the making of cakes. Let the ice-cream battle commence...

10 May 2008

On blogging. Again.

Aaaaaaargh. Yet more 'mummies and blogging' - thanks, Patroclus, for the heads up. It does indeed appear that to have any form of prominence in the media as a blogger and a woman you need to be (a) sex-mad or (b) writing about the delights of slumming it with children in London or the outer wilds of Northumberland.

Yes, I know I'm probably not best placed to talk, given that this blog is, after all, called View from Nappy Mountain, and I do wiffle on about my daughter in it, but I'd be very disappointed if that was all anyone saw me as. To be honest, there's very few of the 'mummy blogs' that I ever read - I spend my life trying to avoid the inane parenting chatter that passes for conversation at every toddler-based activity, so why would I want to read any online (or worse still, buy the book?).

It really would be rather nice to hear some other points of view, for a change. How about some older women for a start? You never hear anything about women in the 50s or 60s or older - it's like they've disappeared from view. (And if anyone can disprove it or point me in the direction of some cool older bloggers, please let me know...)

03 May 2008


We tottered down to the Quayside today (after an exhausting morning collecting parcels, mowing lawns, painting, glitter pens and sticking - you know, all that suburban nonsense that goes on at the weekend) to the Fish on the Tyne Weekend (part of Eat! NewcastleGateshead).

It was a diverting way to spend an hour in the sunshine - lots of stalls selling fish and any variation on fishy food (paella, fish and chips, pizza), a couple of salmon sculptures (I especially liked the scales - see left), two Cornish blokes doing a comedy fish routine (very, very funny, and guaranteed to horrify and amuse small children), and a tent full of cookery demonstrations.

We wandered about, ate a pot full of shrimps (the other half having spent his formative years on the beach in Whitby with a newspaper cone of the things), and wondered why the whole event was so relentlessly middle-class (us included). You couldn't move for small children in mini-Boden (it was almost as bad as the Alnwick Garden) - and the highlight of the afternoon was one very smartly dressed lady with a very posh voice bellowing "Asriel, Asriel, come back here..." into the distance as we looked on, mouths agape. You couldn't make it up.

01 May 2008

And more books

Actually, on the subject of books, I've come across the BookMooch site, and am going to give it a go. The idea is you list the books you want to give away (and are prepared to post), and then each time you send someone a book, you earn a point (which you can then spend on a book from someone else).

So far I've mostly listed cookery stuff on my wishlist. I'm finding it harder and harder to get through novels - my problem is I speed read so much stuff for work, that it's really difficult to concentrate on the text as I just want to get to the next bit of the action. Fine for kids books (did you know I did a mean abbreviated version of The Tale of Mrs Tiggywinkle? God, that Beatrix Potter doesn't half go on sometimes...) but not so good for Salman Rushdie.

I'm quite looking forward to a week away shortly, where I'll actually be able to practice reading in an orderly fashion again. In the meantime, it's back to perusing Moro by Sam and Sam Clark.