I’m taking a quick break from the A-Z challenge to write something about Margaret Thatcher, who died (you may have missed the news…) on the 8th April.

First, a disclaimer. I was born in 1984 which means I was not alive when she came to power, nor was I alive during the Falklands war, and I was six years old when she resigned. I did not see closure of the mines, the clashes with those on strike, nor did I really understand the IRA. That she called Mandela a terrorist and was close friends with Pinochet meant nothing to me until much later. The Prime Minister that I remember, at an age when politics was just starting to be something of interest, was John Major, and later, of course, Tony Blair (I remember the great joy when he came to power, and the endless disillusionment that followed).

However: Thatcher cast a long shadow. Partly, this had nothing to do with her policies. She would have been memorable even if she had done and changed nothing, simply by dint of being the first female leader in a modern Western democracy. Even the language of the eulogies is different for a female prime minister – she is ‘matriarch’, a ‘lady’, she is either loved or hated. There is a personal element to the praise and to the attacks that I cannot believe a male politician would draw. All politicians are hated by someone; Osbourne is certainly hated at the moment. But only a female one could be called a witch, only a female politician would have her beauty praised or condemned (Can you imagine us standing around talking of what a ‘great beauty’ David Cameron was in his day?), front pages bent over themselves to include a mention of her gender (count how many started with the phrase “the woman who…”). Thatcher herself traded on her image as a housewife and mother. She shared recipes, and let fall homely old wives sayings.

Sadly, the fact that a woman took on a position of such power, and a role that was so traditionally masculine, meant very little to most women. The pay gap got worse. Child benefit was frozen. Thatcher made only eight women ministers, and only one rose higher than Junior Minister.

In addition to being a woman, Thatcher was also memorable for the fact she was the first Prime Minister to operate in a media-rich world. We have striking iconic images of her, we have footage of the Falklands, and at the time news became more instant, and was shared with each other. As a population, I think, we became invested in the story, in the history, that developed around us and that we were a part of. Politics mattered to everyone in the eighties – or that is the impression I get.

So much for who she was. What about what she did?

She destroyed the unions and devastated the economies of towns built around mining. This is the thing that echoed down the years. Those towns have never recovered. Inequality and poverty rose under Thatcher’s leadership. Unemployment hit record highs and has never recovered – not during the ‘boom time’ of the eighties and not since she left office.

Unemployment is a figure tossed around. When it goes up and down by a few percent it is easy to forget that we are talking about real lives. At around the same time unemployment went up, ‘welfare’ became an issue. The idea that everyone deserved to be helped when they fell on hard times was replaced by inflammatory comments about skivers. Weirdly, this idea – of people that actively sought to avoid working by ‘faking’ disability – has no proof behind it. The amount of money spent on unemployment and disability benefit is absolutely trifling compared to the benefits that go to people that are in work, but don’t get paid enough to live on. And all of it is dwarfed by the amount of money that goes on pensions. (But hey, why let facts get in the way of a good hate session?)

Thatcher espoused neoliberal politics – much like Ronald Reagan. The focus of neoliberalism is complete faith in the free market. As a result, Thatcher privatised many public industries starting with British Telecom, taking in gas, coal, oil and nuclear power and finally the railways – although that final one ended up being implemented by her successor. The results were either wildly successful or a complete disaster, depending on which side of the political spectrum you fall. Generally, it seems to be split along lines of wealth – if you had enough money to take advantage of ‘increased competition’ you found prices dropping, but for ‘small consumers’ prices actually rose. British Gas, after being privatised, almost immediately began a much harsher system of penalising people that couldn’t pay, resulting in many people being cut off.

Another side of privatisation was the selling of almost all the council houses and not buying or building more. The net upshot of that was a crazed housing boom, and more recently the housing crash. Nowadays getting on to the ‘housing ladder’ is extraordinarily difficult for less wealthy young people, and a huge chunk of housing benefit goes straight into the pockets of wealthy landlords. The result is either years of paying outrageously high rents, or returning to the homes of parents – resulting in the ‘boomerang generation’.

The problem, of course, is that privatised companies are only good to those that can afford them. Much of the social apparatus runs at a loss. Housing for those that would otherwise be homeless, social care for the elderly and the ill, money to help the less able live a rich and rewarding lives. These things will never make a profit.

But this, of course, is the legacy of Thatcher. That those who struggle should be left to fall. That poverty is the fault of those who are victims to it. That the economy is everything and happiness is nothing. That the rich should be feted with tax cuts and the easing of regulations, that labour should be cheap and flexible, that the working class is just another resource — and a plentiful one at that. That the lives of people can be reduced to a set of figures: those that contribute and those who take, with no compassion, no nuance and no understanding of what really matters.

H is for Home Movies

The letter HThis post is part of the A-Z Blog Challenge.

Basically is about one of my (many) favourite cartoon shows.

I’m a sucker for cartoons. They are almost all I watch these days – that, and the occasional science fiction-esque TV series.

But cartoons vary wildly in quality; from the truly idiotic Aqua Teen Hunger Force to the endless vapidness of the more recent Simpsons to the stellar brilliance of (most of) My Little Pony.

Home Movies is definitely on the better end of cartoons. And, handily, it starts with the letter H and therefore fits nicely into this themed challenge.

It’s pretty old now, the four seasons aired from 1999 to 2004, but I still rewatch it from time to time.

The show focuses on lead-character Brendan Small, an 8-year old, who makes movies incessantly, assisted by his friends Melissa and Jason. The show is pretty grown-up, with adult themes and situations, although the show as a whole is rated PG.

One of the reasons I enjoyed it so much is because of the free-form, sarcastic and realistic script. The show uses retroscripting, by which scenes are plotted but then the actors improv the actual dialogue. The result is more fluid, in my opinion, and avoids the terribly obvious boom-boom-bang punchline jokes in other shows that suffer from having been scripted to within an inch of their lives.

The relationships between the characters also feel grown up and complex. Nobody is reduced to ‘mother’ or ‘estranged-father’ – the characters all feel like they have multiple parts to their personality.

The show is has lots of music (Brendan Small went on to help with Metalocalypse, an insanely violent show about a death-metal group) and the movies-inside-a-movie are often hilarious.

Enough talk from me. Go watch them!

G is for… gaming

The letter GThis post is part of the A-Z Blogging Challenge.

I am not a gamer.

That is hard to say, when games have been such a massive part of my life… and my identity for so long. But here’s the truth: the last game I really played was Bioshock. I didn’t beat it. I made it about half way and then just… drifted away.

Not because the game was bad. The complete opposite in fact, Bioshock sucked me in and kept me playing after many other games had failed. The honest truth is, I am just not a gamer. Not anymore.

What happened?

I grew up hooked on games: I started with an ancient atari console and ended with a Playstation 3 and visited three different desktop computers on the way. I’m not going to name check the games I played – suffice to say, there were a lot.

I wrote video games. I even managed a (paid) job in the industry. I interviewed for a game writing job. But the truth was, by that point disillusionment had set in.

I love games. I will always love games.

But the truth is this: gamers are privileged. And gaming culture sucks. Let’s take a quick look at the reasons I quit:

1. It’s expensive

A Playstation 3 currently costs over £300. That’s a lot of money to sink into a console. And they are not reliable. My first PS3 I got second-hand. About six months later it died. With no warranty, I had to grit my teeth and get another one. That one I got new. A year later, that too died.

Then there’s the controllers: I’ve lost count of the number my spouse and I went through.

If you are a serious gamer; someone who wants to make a career out of it, who engages with the culture, one console isn’t really enough. You need to keep up-to-date. So you get two, or three. Maybe a DS. Maybe a wii. Maybe a high-end PC with a great graphics card.

Finally, of course, there are the games. £60-70 new. On average, I probably play around 10-15 hours on a game. Sure, some games I play for 100+ hours, but those are rare.

Of course you can keep the costs down. You can play old games, on ROMS. You can download stuff. You can stick to free-to-play. You can opt for second or third hand games and keep trading. You can use a library, or join Game Fly. But if you want to join in on the conversation, you need to be up to speed. That involves having beaten Tomb Raider, Bioshock: Infinite, maybe even having an opinion on the latest Sim City.

The truth is, I’m just too poor to keep up.

2. It’s time consuming

I used to love World of Warcraft. I played it a lot. But there came a point when I realised that if I had twenty minutes to spare, I literally could not accomplish anything. I might travel to where I needed to be, but that was it. After I left University and got my first full-time job, more than twenty minutes at a time was a luxury.

Did I mention I was poor? At one point I worked seven days a week: 50 hours Monday-Friday on my gaming job, and then a further 18 hours Sat-Sun at a supermarket. Combined, the two jobs just about gave me enough to live on. Somehow I was also meant to find the time to stay current with games. I’ll be honest – it didn’t happen. If you couldn’t play a game in satisfactory twenty minute chunks, I just could not scrape out enough time to play them.

Of course there are casual games. I’ll be honest: casual games are fun, but the reason I truly love games are because of the immersive, puzzle like storylines. I’m an explorer and a solver, not an adrenaline junkie. I still play Sonic the Hedgehog from time to time, but on the whole I’d rather be playing Fallout.

3. The culture sucks

Not all of it, I admit. But here’s the thing; when I started gaming, the internet was a lot smaller and a lot friendlier. Women seemed more welcome. Things weren’t so cliquey. When you met someone who liked the same game as you, it was a connection, something to celebrate. Multiplayer games worked by everyone sitting in the same room, around the same console.

Nowadays? Not so much. The hatred poured out towards everyone and everything is hideous. Depressing. I don’t want to play a game where I have to sit and listen to people calling each other foul names. I’ve got no intention of ‘manning up’. Casual racism and sexism is not okay. A competitive spirit I can deal with; having rape threats screamed at me? Not so much.

There are great bloggers out there, and interesting discussions going on. But time and time again the conversation devolved into attack and defence. I was tired of being outraged by the way women were treated, tired of the constant stream of negativity.

So… what next?

I’ve quit gaming. That’s saddening, in a lot of ways. But I still have many of the positives that gaming left me with: some fantastic friends, a problem solving mind, an obsession with manga-style artwork. And, somehow, letting go of the need to ‘keep up’ is liberating. Since I quit being a gamer, I’ve installed Super GSNES on my phone and discovered some old classics. I draw comfort from the fact I can always go back and play my old games if I feel the need. And I know that when I hit retirement, there will have been some awesome games that I will finally have time to play.

Are you a gamer? How do you make it work for you?

F is for… fitness

The letter FThis post is part of the A-Z Blog Challenge.

First: some history. When I was a foolish teenager I hated sports. PE (physical education) remains the only class I ever truanted from (to go and play Dungeons & Dragons – what can I say, I was your typical rebel). I always walked a lot, so stayed relatively fit by walking to work etc but sport, running, getting fit… these were all things I had no interest in.

Then I went from walking to work to walking to a bus stop a few feet from my house. At the same time, I started getting tired, lethargic and depressed. It wasn’t just the lack of exercise that did it, but that certainly didn’t help.

Over the next couple of years I dabbled with different things, but it wasn’t until two years ago that I discovered how much impact regular exercise really had. I started a weekly yoga class, and found myself so upbeat and energetic after the class that I began to love going. After a couple of months I added a weekly karate class… then a weekly zumba class… then upped my karate to three times a week, and started cycling to get there. I had never felt better, although the cost made me wince a little.

I started looking for things I could do at home, and discovered youtube videos, bodyweight exercises and ‘fitspiration’. All of a sudden I was hooked.

When I moved to Oxford in January last year I left all my classes behind, but I joined a gym and even paid for a personal trainer. I started doing pull-ups, running 5k, and discovered that the rowing machine was actually… kind of fun.

Keeping things varied definitely helps. Having some outside pressure helps too – classes are great because people expect you to turn up, and comment if you don’t! The particular gym I went to was great, because they give you a free workout plan and every time you go in one of the trainers signs the session off. Motivation!

My life has been a bit chaotic recently, but I’m trying to get back on track next week. Now that I’m back in Towcester (long story!) I’m looking forward to getting back into my old routine which looks like this!

  •  Monday: Rest
  • Tuesday: Zumba
  • Wednesday: Hatha Yoga
  • Thursday: Zumba
  • Friday: Karate
  • Saturday: Karate
  • Sunday: Walk

I also wanted to share some great workout/fitness websites that I visit regularly:

  • Zuzka Light’s video channel: Zuzanna posts a workout every week (ZWOW), each one a tough 15 minute or so bodyweight/weights challenge. There are loads of backdated ones, or you can work out each week and become part of the community.
  • Nerdfitness: Motivational blog, plus free exercise videos and workouts. I tend to disregard the food advice (I love bread too much to ever go Paleo) but the emphasis on fresh whole foods is definitely better than many alternatives.
  • The Fitnessista: Regular recipes and workout suggestions, monthly challenges, and a friendly attitude that keeps me coming back for more.

What are your favourite exercises? Are you a gym rat or a long distance runner? Do you prefer to work out alone or with people? And what stops you from exercising?

E is for… Emails

The letter EWhen I planned out this post, I had decided to talk about the fabled Inbox Zero. I even had a screenshot, a beautiful one, of my empty inbox. I had maintained an empty inbox for almost a month. Clearly I had cracked the secret, and could share it with the world.

Today, sadly, when I actually have to write my post, I have 25 emails in my inbox which – whilst not the worst it has been by any means – is still much worse than it was.

The reason, of course, is lack of time. But that’s the point, of course. Maintaining Inbox Zero when you have no time.

The secret to getting to Inbox Zero is actually pretty mundane. Basically, you stop using your email as a to-do list. The second you open an email you do one of these three things:

  • Delete it
  • Reply to it (then delete/archive it)
  • Add it as a task to your actual to-do list (then delete/archive it)

And, to make you realise how difficult that actually is, here are some of the barriers I’ve hit:

  • Opening emails on my phone, and not being able to add it easily to my task list (I really like astrid for my to do list, as it lets me forward emails. But so far I’ve not made it a habit to do this on my phone yet).
  • Clear your inbox every day – book yourself ten-twenty minutes and just work systematically through every email. (I haven’t been doing this because I’ve been busy-busy-busy… hence why I check emails on my phone)
  • Thinking that ten second tasks are too short to bother putting on your task list… and then leaving them for ‘later’. (Definitely guilty of this, I got pinged through some blog comment emails — thank you, by the way! — and instead of going and replying, or scheduling myself time to reply, I just left the emails in my inbox as a reminder to myself. Not good!)

Whilst writing this post, I have managed to get myself back down to Inbox Zero. It only took fifteen minutes to respond to those blog comments, follow some people on Twitter and add the rest of the tasks to my to-do list. Score!

Now I just need to remember to keep it that way…

How do you keep your inbox under control?

D is for… diet

a-to-z-letters-dThis post is part of the A-Z Blogging Challenge.

Diet is a dirty word. “I can’t have that, I’m on a diet” is a modern day incantation against the ‘evil’ of tasty foods. I hate diets. I hate the idea of counting calories, restricting grains, demonising fats, casting out sugar. I hate all the associated rubbish as well.. the ‘detoxes’ and the ‘fifty ways to burn ten calories’ and all the other palaver associated with strenuously trying to feel good enough about yourself to wear a swimsuit.

Food has become inextricably associated with weight, and that’s a problem.

D is for… diet

I’ve always loved food. Roast dinners, cheesecake, olives, excruciatingly bitter dark chocolate, lebanese coffee, fresh pasta, garlic infused butter dripping over a baguette, bacon sandwiches, seared tuna steaks, dark flecks of mushroom in a rissotto… I love it all. I would quite happily spend my life cooking and eating, except for the dreaded spectre of grease filled pans to wash up.

I’ve also been fascinated with what food does for us: the way ginger can stem nausea, mint can help digestion, parsley can freshen breath, hemp seeds contain essential omega-3. As a species, we are a long way from understanding the way we interact with a complex meal, the way some foods can aid the absorption of vitamins from other foods, the impact any of this has on insulin, weight gain and health.

Let’s be clear: you can be fat and fit. The health at every size movement makes it clear that weight is not the magic number that makes heart disease, diabetes and all those other ‘diseases of affluence’ spring up or vanish. You can be thin and tragically unhealthy. Eating disorders are one of the deadliest diseases – and something like 20% of people who suffer from one will die.

Over on tumblr and pinterest, unhealthy obsession with thinness reigns supreme. I spent a short period of time looking at ‘thinspiration’, shots of ribcages, thigh-gaps and sunken-cheeked waifs tagged with things like ‘pro-ana’ and ‘mia’. Even when not taken to these extremes, women — and increasingly men as well — spend far too much time struggling with food, hating themselves, alternatively ‘giving in’ to temptation or eating tiny slivers of steamed chicken and vegetables.

Food is intensely complicated. Let’s look at just a few of the things we gain from cooking and eating:

  • Fuel. At the minimum level, food is required to keep our bodies going, to give us energy, to charge up our brains and muscles and to provide us with adequate energy to get stuff done.
  • Pleasure. Yes, you’re allowed to enjoy food. A well cooked meal can be a sublime experience. I don’t know what types of food turn you on, but I bet there’s something. Life without pleasure? Who wants that?
  • Social bonding. We celebrate weddings, birthdays and reunions with food. In the past, ‘breaking bread’ with someone was a sign of friendship, a promise that you wouldn’t kill them. The sharing of food is a deep expression of love: our mother’s roast dinner is always the best… because it is more than just the food, it’s about what the food symbolises. Sharing food is sharing love. Don’t exclude yourself from the group!
  • Self-love. Sadly, all too often, food has become an expression of self-hate. Stuffing ourselves whilst secretly despising ourself for being so ‘weak’? Argh! Instead, viewing food as the ultimate act of self-nurture, of giving your body the things it needs to be healthy and happy.
  • Medicine. Yes, food is medicine. See the aforementioned ginger and mint. Whilst you should in no way attempt to shun modern medicine in favour of some weird hippie idea that you can cure cancer with grapefruit, it is true that eating a wide variety of particular foods can boost our immune system and provide tangible benefits to our health. Green smoothies, vegetable juices, garlic, fresh herbs… the benefit goes far beyond hitting our RDA of vitamin-C.

Our relationship with food is one that will stay with us from birth to death. Yes, of course we comfort ourselves with food! The problem is not the comfort-eating… the problem is if we are so sad so much of the time that all we do is comfort eat.

There are things we can do to improve our relationship with food:

  • Learn to cook. Alright, look. It is entirely possible to eat nothing but KFC and ramen noodles, and if that is really what you want then so be it. From my experience, however, learning how to cook opens up a whole new world of culinary experience. 
  • Eat slow and appreciate every bite. I’m a big fan of the slow food movement. Relegating food to the periphery of our lives just means we lose out on a lot of the benefits. Food is important – treat it as such. Okay, so I have snatched a sandwich from a train station when on the move from one meeting to another… and generally it’s been okay. Live your whole life eating nothing but snatched sandwiches and drive-thru? No. Again, you’re just limiting your experience.
  • Eat vegetables. Look, you can eat everything else as well. But vegetables are fundamental to our health. Restricting any major food group is bad news, but vegetables are pretty much the king of the food kingdom in terms of improving our health. Don’t force yourself to eat things you hate, but can you honestly tell me you’ve tried every vegetable from amaranth to wakame?

Looking for some awesome food inspiration? Pinterest’s food & drink category has swallowed many hours of my life. Check out my board:

C is for… Conan the Barbarian

The Letter C
This post is part of the A-Z Blogging Challenge.

I read a wide range of fiction, and I try to be respectful and open-minded about different genres written from different historical viewpoints. I don’t always succeed. I can’t stand Vanity Fair, for example, yet it’s one of those canon books that are on must-read lists.

So it was in this spirit that I approached the Conan the Barbarian stories.

Today’s post is inspired by the letter C… and a Cimmerian Hero

Conan the Barbarian is a character that has managed to permeate popular culture. Some of the stuff in which he is featured is pretty banal, some of it is funny, some of it is transcendent. He’s popular for many of the reasons big, tough-guy characters are popular (like wish-fulfilment, escapism, and exploration of what power and strength are really about.) I’m not a big sword & sorcery fan, but when my Dad passed me over a collection of Robert E. Howard’s original stories I plunged in.

I enjoyed the stories for the most part – they are well-written, if a little overwrought at times. The plot rolls along at a fair clip, and of course you don’t really expect more from pulp fiction. I vastly preferred them to Lovecraft, who I truthfully find unreadable, though I do appreciate the legacy of Lovecraftian style fiction he left behind.

Of course there are issues, and similar issues are why I find the Sword & Sorcery genre to be so forgettable. For a start the stories are near identical, and there’s only so many trembling naked women tied to altars I can take. And that, of course, is the other issue. Whilst a quick scan around the blogosphere has shown many people willing to jump to Robert E. Howard’s defence, the truth is the stories are sexist and racist. Not in a hugely troubling way, and certainly no more so than many stories from the pulp genres, from that time period, and even stories today. But still: there are an uncomfortable number of wretchedly ineffectual women, whose main contribution to the stories seems to be losing their clothes, fainting or getting a bit lusty over our wish-fulfilment hero. Equally, like many fantasy books, blackness is cast as evil and whiteness is coveted. The beautiful women are mainly described as ‘ivory’, whilst there are a distressing number of ‘blacks’; faceless characters of little importance.

None of this is unique to Conan. Many of the ‘Boys Adventure’ anthologies I read growing up had a British-Empire-savage-cannibals vibe to them. At the time I found them a rollicking adventure and thought nothing of the subtext. These days I tend to wince when I stumble across a thoughtless reference to ‘natives’.

Other people have written on this subject more eloquently than me:

What do you think?

B is for… business

The Letter BI’ve been a freelancer for over ten years, starting my career with a gig colouring comic books. Currently I’m focused on two areas, webdesign and writing. (I also currently work full-time, but in the past I’ve been completely self-employed).

During that time I’ve written articles and blog posts for money, taken commissions for artwork, and even experimented with things like Mechanical Turk. I’ve made some money – and also made lots and lots of mistakes. Here are some of the lessons I learned:

1. Always charge more than you think you should

There are an awful lot of desperate people out there. Students who build websites for free. Fans that colour comics just to get their name on the cover. People that fill out surveys for a few cents. Working for free is okay – sometimes – if it’s on your terms. I’ve done work for charities and the like, which has helped build my portfolio. But if you want to make a living, you have to charge. You have to charge enough to cover lean times, to save, to cover taxes. You have to charge enough to make it worth your while, so you don’t burn out out on a hundred tiny projects (trust me – I’ve been there).

I’m not going to tell you how much to charge, but I will give you some tips:

  1. The living wage in the UK for 2012 was worked out as £8.80 per hour. (The actual recommended wage was lowered, to make it easier for living wage employers to meet). Don’t forget to add National Insurance and Tax on top of that. I usually allow about 50% extra for all the additional taxes, pension, costs of running a business (e.g. software purchases) and unpaid time doing things like filling out your self-assessment form. 
  2. Whatever you charge, get it paid into a business account and then ‘pay yourself’ a salary out of that. Leave all the money ear-marked for other purposes alone.
  3. Figure out your desired annual salary, and divide it by the number of working hours in a year. (Don’t forget to exclude vacation time)
  4. Look at the industry averages.

If you sell a product, I’ve got less advice, but don’t ever underestimate the power of premium pricing.

2. Every project will take longer than you think

I have a little dream, where I can crank out websites and books at top-speed. After all, the work itself doesn’t take that long. I can type something like 50-100 words a minute. I’ve coded so many websites I can get a framework up in about an hour. Except… except…

Work doesn’t work like that. There’s those rabbit-paths, where you have what you think is a brilliant idea (I’ll make this website mint green! It will look so fresh!) and then it turns out to be a terrible idea and you spend hours and get nowhere. Writing is particularly prone to these. In my current WIP, for example, I randomly decided to have this strange romance-sex-scene with robots. I blame nanowrimo. Either way, it’s about 2000 words of complete rubbish. Then there’s that time when you have no ideas. The only solution is a long walk, a noodling session, or cleaning the house from top to bottom.

So I figure a book will take me six months, actually it will take a year. I figure a website will take 30 hours, actually it will take 60. Your mileage might vary, but when quoting for work it’s better to lean toward the far end of the scale.

 3. Choose your clients/customers

You know that advice about interviews, where it’s as much for the interviewee to check out the business and the job as it is for the employer to check out their potential new-hire? Yeah, it’s a bit bullshit when you are first starting out and are desperate to get a job (any job! I’ll lick shoes! Dance the cancan! Be on call for 29 hours a day!) but gradually it makes more sense. You start to have an actual career, and you want something more than just money from your job. Running a business works the same way. To start with you’ll take any old client that offers to pay you in shoe-laces, but you quickly realise this is a bad way to do business.

There are some terrible clients out there. Clients that won’t pay. Clients that have no idea what they want, and make you produce thirty thousand revisions before deciding to abandon the project altogether. Clients that will be rude, aggressive and over demanding. Clients that think they can do your job better than you.

Once you have a steady stream of business, focus on the good clients. The ones that pay on time, respect your opinion, and keep coming back. Those clients will be worth so much more than the nightmare client who might cough up £100 once in a blue moon. Remember, your skills are in demand. A good freelancer is much more than a dancing monkey.

4. Structure your day

So I work from home one day a week, and I don’t get dressed. It’s like, my dream, to work all day in my pyjamas  I love pyjamas  and would totally wear them all the time forever if it was acceptable. What I don’t do, however, is futz around. I have a set timetable to my day: I start at 8am. I take a break at 10am and then a lunch at 1pm. I finish at 6pm. It’s difficult, but there are things you can do. I use the pomodoro technique to keep myself focused for a solid chunk of time. I make sure I email my manager at least twice during the day with an update on what I’ve achieved.

If you’re running a business, you can do the same thing. Set yourself a chunk of time that you are going to work for. If it’s a writing business you’re doing in your own time that might be 4 hours on a Saturday, or a half hour every evening. Decide what you are going to achieve in that time, and then … do it.

Yeah, a lot of advice comes down to ‘just do it’.

5. Take regular breaks

The other thing I like about the pomodoro technique is that it forces you to stop for breaks. I spend those breaks making tea, stretching (try doing a search for five minute yoga on youtube), or stepping outside for some fresh air. The important thing is to step away from the computer and take five minutes to just recharge your energy. Let any frustrations and anger go, take a couple of deep breaths and then go back to the work feeling refreshed.

So those are my tips… but I bet you have a few tips of your own. Share them in the comments below (or write your own blog post and let me know about it) or let me know about them on twitter.


A is for… new beginnings

The Letter A

Welcome to the very first blog post on

Holy crap, I think that calls for some fanfare. *blows a trumpet and bangs a drum*

In order to get things moving, I have decided to participate in the A-Z Blogging challenge. This basically means I have to write 25 blogs posts this month, with a fairly arbitrary A-Z structure. That’s okay. Prompts are a good thing.

Today’s post is inspired by the letter A.

I could write about aardvarks. Arachnids. Avocado. But instead of giving you a recipe for avocado on toast (try it! It’s delicious.) I’m going to get a bit more abstract and talk about beginnings, since A is the start of the alphabet and… well, you get it.

So let me tell you about this blog. Topics will be pretty unstructured. I’m not going to even attempt to provide writing tips, or how to self publish successfully tips. I will share some personal anecdotes from my journey of writing and publishing, but ultimately I’m making about 99c a month from this whole deal, so you probably want to do the opposite of what I do.

I’m interested in lots of other things. Like food. So I will share recipes (avocado on toast, man, just do it) and occasionally foodgasms. I’m also interested in media, new media, social media, the way digital revolution changes society. In my other life – the one that pays me more than 99c a month – I work in digital communications. Blogging has been good to me. It got me my first offer of a book deal (under a pseudonym, natch, and it eventually fell through). It got me an all-expenses-paid trip to San Francisco to review some video games. It got me my first real job, as PR & Community Manager for a start-up video game company. Blogging has also connected me with people all around the world, to the point where I know the secret dreams, fears and hopes of people I’ve never met.

So, yeah, I might share some thoughts about blogging and online relationships and playfulness and digital nomads.

I’m also super interested in the environment, formerly a card-carrying hippy, now I work for an environmental charity. I worry a lot about vanishing resources, climate shift, and the great rapacious monster that is unbridled capitalism. I’m also fascinated by the way technology allows us to circumvent a lot of predicted problems. I’m fundamentally an optimist, I guess, and keep the faith that tech and new ways of working/living will enable us to manage our damage.

I’ll probably participate in blogging challenges, so look out for weirdly themed series of posts.

Welcome aboard. I’m sure this will be a fun ride. As always, questions, comments, strange tangents and crazed ramblings are welcome. Just don’t be boring.