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Writing because words are the essence of my life.


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Last Post from The Bunker

This is my last post from The Bunker. That sounds more dramatic than it actually is. The Bunker is the name I gave to our Bungalow when we moved in here 16 months ago. It was a nickname entirely lacking in affection, because I didn’t particularly like the house, or the area where we hurriedly found ourselves after being given notice unexpectedly by our previous landlord. The place seemed unappealing to me – atop a huge hill, and several degrees colder than the rest of Devon, with unadopted roads, and miserable squat grey houses. Bunkers.

As I type this, everything is packed with the exception of the dogs and the teabags. I have my laptop but no pens. A washing machine but no line. Most of our stuff has already been moved. We have a bed for example, but no bedside cabinets. The freezer is defrosting; the oven is sizzling away in some toxic chemical that will miraculously remove the grease inside allowing me to wipe it all clean with one single piece of kitchen roll. 

We have finally achieved what we have waited for, for over three years. When I was made redundant in 2012, I set in motion a chain of events that triggered my husband leaving his job, and us selling our lovely house in Derbyshire so we could finance buying a business in Devon, that would obviously pay us enough so that I could write full time and sell all my novels and live happily ever after. Fairy tales.

We thought that in no time at all we would be back on the mortgage ladder. But none of that happened. The gap between the cost of housing in Derbyshire and that in Devon is beyond ridiculous. It’s been a struggle. All of this time we dreamed about having our own place again, where we could paint the walls whatever colour we chose and put all our art back on the walls instead of storing it in bubble wrap in the loft. We wanted somewhere secure to live, where the landlord can’t chuck you out on a whim, or announce an inspection just because, or hike the rent up higher than a family would pay out in monthly mortgage payments.

And here we are! I should be ecstatic but I’m not. Almost but not quite.

The new house is lovely. It’s sunny, it’s airy; it has the most magnificent views of the rolling countryside around here, and if you sit at one spot in the garden you can actually see the sea. It’s beautiful. The garden is so magically overgrown that when you stand at the back door, because we’re on a hill, it’s a bit like being above the tree canopy. The hill falls away into the valley and then rises once more on the horizon. I’ve decided to nickname this house, ‘The Treehouse’.

But as I sit in The Bunker typing this final Bunker blog, my thoughts return again and again to a furry grey fellow who came into this house with me in good faith. This was never meant to be the last place that Herbie lived. He should have been seeing out his last years (always 5 or 6 more in my mind) in The Treehouse; steadily and gently declining, with grace and love, and my soft hands to guide him. We were robbed.

I am loathe to leave The Bunker, because the weather is still nice enough for me to sit on the back step and remember how he and I cuddled up when I knew his time was closing in. As the glorious days of summer grew bleaker, infused as they were with his horrible final illness, I sat on the step and watched him with love and a deathly fear of his loss. He meandered around the shrubs and trees, doing his deeds, sniffing and patrolling and setting the world to rights. And I’ll always remember how he came back to me for reassurance, looking up at me with such love and trust, always living in the present. I made it a ‘thing’, a ritual that had to be performed every evening while he was ill. Without fail. As soon as I arrived home from the shop. Until the night that I sat alone and wept when he’d been gone just 8 hours, and I couldn’t hold his soft furry head again or smell his warm scent, or bury my face in the fur on his neck.

I’ve been dreading this final day here and now it’s upon me. I know I’ll never be able to sit on that blasted step again and conjure him to me. I’ll never spend any more time in that garden. I’ll never know what he looked like next to that bush or that tree, as he lifted his head and sniffed the wind. From now on Herbie will always be a ghost in my mind, a memory replayed over and over, a name I still can’t say without a sudden hitch in my breathing. I can’t see him in the new garden because he has never visited it.

But I learned a lesson years ago, when I was in India with my then soon-to-be husband. A wise man told us, “The Gods will provide,” and that has become the mantra that my husband and I live by. When the time is right good things happen. We’ve have been waiting 6 long months to complete on our little house. In February when we applied for the house, Herbie had a bit of a cough. I wasn’t worried. But that nagging illness spiralled. If we had completed the house on a normal schedule, we would have been trying to move when he was at his most poorly in June. The ‘Gods’ held us up. They waited for Herbie to live his life, calmly and quietly, and cross the Bridge. They waited for me get through the worst of my grief (if I even have) so that I could organise the move and put the requisite amount of energy that was needed, into it. And they waited until I could fully appreciate the beauty of The Bunker, and the land of clouds and forest, before they let me move on.

I could never have written my novel, Crone, anywhere else but here, and while so far publication has been elusive, I believe this is a novel that will see the light of day, and people will come to know the countryside that spawned the story, and love its mystical qualities as much as I have. Just this week I had my #PitchCB rejection through from Sophie Lambert at Conville and Walsh. She said, “There’s a rather wonderful mystical and lyrical quality to the prose here and there’s a very intriguing core to the narrative”. Of course it was accompanied by a ‘but’, but I’ll take that feedback with sincere gratitude. I believe in Crone, because it is a story born of East Devon and it is rooted here, and it has a truth.

So, I’ll save Crone to yet another memory stick, and I’ll bubble wrap my memories of Herbie in the garden, and hold them to me just as tightly as any of my other possessions, and carry them with care. And I’ll count my blessings for all that The Bunker has gifted me. Tonight as the gloaming settles around me, I’ll pause to reflect on my precious boy, and I’ll cry, of course I will. But I’m allowed to, I loved him. I loved him here. It will be the Last Post for Herbie.

And onwards then … Let’s see what transpires in The Treehouse, with The Writer’s Apprentice, shall we?

 

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The Writer’s Apprentice

It was never a matter of if, and always a case of when, and so this weekend, my husband and I did a 530-mile round trip in 24 hours to collect a little bundle of fluff. We ummed and ahhed quite a lot. Was it too soon? Yes. Was he too far away? Definitely. Was I trying to find Herbie? Maybe. Was he the right dog? Who knows! But there he was, sticking his tongue out at me via the wonders of the Tinterweb, and I just knew he was the one. What if I let him pass and never found the right pup? I’m terrible for worrying about such things, and so insurmountable barriers had to be surmounted, and that’s what we did.

It’s a bizarre thing to be grieving for your BFFF (see previous post) and yet to be cradling this tiny ball of wonder. He is a salve to my crushed heart, Aloe Vera for my burning soul. But that’s not to say the pain of Herbie’s loss has faded, because it really, really hasn’t. This morning I had a puppy on the bed for the first time in years, and although I was knackered and it was far too early, he was funny and he made me laugh … and then my eyes strayed to the bedroom door where Herbie would have stood and issued a cool stare that said, “Are you getting up then, or what? I want my walk.” It’s been the same every morning since that final day (17 days now actually, not that I’m counting). My eyes flick there and he’s not there, and that’s when I weep for the first time every day, without fail.

But I’m going about my business better than I was, trying to catch up on the backlog of work.

Then mid-afternoon, a song came on the radio that I like and I picked the puppy up and cradled him and we had a little dance and I sang gently in his ear, my lips close to his soft cheek, and it was joyous to be in the moment with him … and I cried like a baby for the boy I used to do that with. Even fully grown (and he was quite a big lad, my Herbie) he LOVED to do that. We would pretend he was a puppy all over again.

And just now, I sat in the sunshine with a cup of tea after exploring the garden with the puppy and then I cried, because the sky was so beautifully blue and the sun so warm, and my sweet Herbie is dust in a casket in the living room, his name beautifully engraved on a brass plaque. And I miss him. I bloody miss him.

So, a puppy? What the hell was I thinking of?

Puppies are chaotic, but their development is incredibly swift. So far, in 24 hours, he has learned how to do the steps to outside. He knows where the water bowl is. He can do wee wees and poo poos in the garden, but has the occasional accident in the hall. He comes when I call, ‘puppy’. We haven’t finalised his name quite yet. He’s a marvel.

He has explored all the rooms, but is still a little shy about certain things and follows me around like a tiny fluffy shadow. Our old dog (Satin) is a sweetheart; she’s Grandma – gives him a wash when she can be bothered. Our Bedlington Terrier (Betsy) is having a right mard because: a) we left her in kennels overnight while we raced up country and how very, very dare we! And b) “I’m the puppy!”

Now she knows how Herbie felt when we brought her home. Bless her.

I have remembered how to do ‘the puppy shuffle’. This involves walking around as though wearing a large nappy, so that when he dives between your feet there’s enough space so that you don’t crush him to death, or kill yourself when you trip over him. His teeth and nails are like razors. My legs are covered in scratches because he likes to jump up at me. I like all of this.

I’m constantly confused about what and how much he needs to eat. I have a feeling he could just eat all day, but surely that wouldn’t be good. I need to take advice on this. Betsy was a big eater, Herbie wasn’t. Puppy is going to make 22-25 inches so he’ll be pretty big.

I laughed out loud (and alone) when puppy dashed out of the kitchen with the tea-towel clamped in his jaws. I’d just dropped it and off he flew, superfast. Jesus. This boy is going to be a Usain Bolt. I was less enamoured when he decided he preferred my specs (Gok Wans – bought when I actually had a salary and could afford decent specs!) to his chewie toy however, and rapidly retrieved them, only to find he had them again the next time I looked his way. And he has an obsession with paper … he finds it, he tears it up …

My specs. Paper.

Where is he now? Sound asleep (at last!) on my left hand side as I type at my desk. Let me repeat that. On my left hand side. Do you have any idea how that makes me feel? You will if you read my last blog.

He’s amazing and beautiful, I love him already, which is not to dishonour Herbie’s memory in any way. I hope not anyhow. I love Herbie as much as I ever did.

Let me introduce you to The Writer’s Apprentice. I think I’m going to cry again.


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The Trouble with Freelancing Part 3

I'm a twit too

I’m a twit too

Hi all

As promised here’s the letter that I wanted to share with you. I found it on another website http://www.winwithoutpitching.com/why-i-charge-more when I was doing some research during the week and I sat and pondered for quite a while about what I thought about it.

Anyway, here’s the text:

Why I Charge More

A Designer’s Open Letter to His Future Clients

January 5, 2011 at 12:15 pm by Blair

Sometimes we do it for the money, don’t we? The irony is that the less money we’re paid, the more likely we are to be doing it for the money. When we’re paid well, it’s suddenly about something much bigger. Here’s a letter you might take, modify and use in many forms and many ways.

It’s yours if you’d like it. No need to attribute.

“The more I charge you, the more pressure I put on myself to perform for you.

Freelancing quandaries

Freelancing quandaries

“The client who grinds me on price is the least satisfied. He gets less attention from me and is most likely to be pissed off at me. And I don’t really care, because to be honest, I resent him. The very fact that he is on my roster reminds me that I’m part prostitute. For him, I’m doing it for the money and as it isn’t very much money I’m not troubled by not doing it well. He pays me a paltry sum, I perform poorly, he gets angry and I resent him. We can have that type of relationship if you like.

“The client who pays me the premium gets my best work. He’s the one I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about, wondering if I’m doing all I can to earn his money. When he calls, I jump. Hell, I call him first. I take pride in moving his business. I try to make myself indispensable to him. I imagine that he winces when he opens my bill (he doesn’t say), but he thanks me for all I do for him. He’s the one I worry about.

“I’m great at what I do, but if someone hires me without giving me the resources (money, time, access) to do a great job, it’s easy for me to rationalize poor performance. When a client gives me everything I ask for, he removes all the obstacles to a high quality outcome. There’s no way for me to rationalize anything less than perfection.

“There is no greater pressure than the pressure I put on myself, and the only way you can add to my own sense of pressure is to pay me well. Yelling won’t do it. Neither will threatening to pull your business. My deep sense of obligation comes from you paying me well enough to dispatch all of the excuses. Then I have to prove to you, and, more importantly, to me that I am as good as I say I am.

“So, I’ve given you my price and it’s the price that I need to charge to bring a deep sense of obligation to the job. Will I work for less? Probably. Can you negotiate with me? Sure. We can have that type of relationship if you really want me to be that type of designer and you want to be that type of client.

“Let’s just understand each other before we get started.”END

It’s interesting isn’t it? I’m kind of in two minds here. I would hope that I never give less than my best work but I have started to alter how I write my £10 articles. They get 30 minutes of research and 30 minutes of writing and a check over. Articles that I’m being paid more for get a lot more research, a lot more synthesis and I spend more time crafting my writing to match the client’s expectations.

Pen For Hire

Pen For Hire

I want to be proud of everything I write. My portfolio is growing at an incredible rate and I love getting new jobs with interesting challenges. At the end of the day I’m a pen and a creative brain for hire. I’m worth what people pay; the trick is finding people who have the vision to see how much better I am than many others out there, but who also have slightly deeper pockets!

I’m still new to this freelancing malarkey however, and I don’t know how picky I can afford to be and still pay the bills. Any advice out there?

xxx


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The Trouble with Freelancing Part 2*

Back to work with a vengeance this week!!

Back to work with a vengeance this week!!

Forgive me dear readers (and I know there are a few of you!). It has been an eon since my last blog post. This has been for a number of reasons.

1. My husband has been on annual leave and he’s been at home distracting me. It’s like being at work. If everyone else is having fun why can’t I?

After suffering a few days of burnout at any rate ...

After suffering a few days of burnout at any rate …

2. I think I suffer from burnout when I’ve been doing too much and so I don’t write for a few days until the pressure of a deadline forces me to park my bum and I start to write again. I had just completed 8 days straight of writing a huge batch of wellness articles so I was in need of a rest, and I was easily distracted by hubby

3. I started back at it on Sunday and have been completely full of beans! I have been doing 10+ hours per day. But I kind of think about my blog and go ‘nooooooooooooooo’ and then feel really guilty for not writing my own stuff.

Anyway, that’s by the by. I’ve had a funny old week so I thought I’d come and moan. I know you freelancers will sympathise.

I now have a business mentor as part of a Business in the Community initiative I’m part of. I’ve only met him once so far but I think it’s a great idea. He straight away said I was selling myself too cheap. The problem is that I use freelance websites to get work and you have to put a proposal in and bid. You say how much you’ll do the job for. Quite often the client tells you what they are prepared to pay. Sometimes there is a bit of a mismatch to say the least.

My mentor asked me what I thought I was worth and how much I wanted to earn per hour and we worked out what I should try and charge. He then told me that regardless of what the client says I should say ‘this is what I’m worth’ and then offer a discount if they want to negotiate. Fair enough. I’ve tried it with mixed results this week.

One job I got at the new higher rate. Boom! I was happy; the client was happy. The article was really good and I enjoyed writing it.

How much are you doing that job for?

How much are you doing that job for?

The second job was with a client in India. Let’s call him Raj. Raj had posted a job for 20 articles. I applied and sent samples and gave him a discount because it was a lot of work. I got an interview via Skype! Raj was really impressed with my blog work (this one and a few others I ghost write) and the articles I sent him. He loved my intimate and conversational tone. Hooray! It was all looking good. Then do you know what he did? He took the third cheapest bid. A British woman (living in the UK) who bid $50 for 20 articles! What is that? Not even £35? *Arrrgh*How can I compete? Does she not have a mortgage?

Ooops!

Ooops!

And finally today. I put a proposal in this morning for a red hot website that needed a blog writer, and you all know how much I like to write about sex. I sent some brilliant ideas through and I halved my hourly rate because I fancied doing this job so much, but nope… His feedback was ‘Thanks for your proposal and ideas. It sounds exactly what I am looking for. I have to be honest and say you are a little out on price compared to others.’ Sadly he only wanted to pay £7 per hour.

What’s a girl to do, eh?

Anyway I came across a blog post elsewhere, with a letter that someone wrote to their own clients that I want to share with you, so I shall post that here in a day or two. Keep reading and see you soon xxx

*I can see this being an ongoing saga, can’t you?
;-p


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The problem with freelancing (or would you buy a kitchen from this man?)

Knightsbridge Kitchen - what it looks like beneath the glamorous veneer of respectability

Knightsbridge Kitchen – what it looks like beneath the glamorous veneer of respectability

I’m living the dream in many ways. I was so stressed out, strung out and sick by last summer that redundancy was incredibly welcome. Every day I wake up with the fear that I have to go back to my old place of employment, and every day my heart skips when I realise I don’t.

Initially I wasn’t concerned about what I would do next; I was too ill to care really. But obviously I did need to do something. Becoming an elf in the run up to Christmas was a great way for me to restore my confidence, and although it was long hours it was fun in a way.

I love writing!

I love writing!

All I knew for certain when I finished work last year was that I wanted to write. While I was off with stress I wrote a great deal, on my novel, short stories, some non-fiction etc. Some of it has been sent out. Some of it has been buried in the compost heap. Since the beginning of January, as regular readers will know (ok, all three of you! And yes I KNOW I don’t post as much as I should!), I have been freelancing. I started off feeling scared and worried I wouldn’t pass muster, but I have been really successful and have quickly built up a great client base. I’m now writing blogs for a wholesale company, a tablecloth company, along with articles on dating and relationships, health and wellness, natural remedies, travel and business. Most of my clients are wonderful and I’ve been lucky.

This week I have learned a lesson however. I put a proposal in for a job along with a number of others, twenty or so writers, and the client duly came back to me and asked for a sample article. I think that’s a sensible response in order to see whether you are suited to each other, and I’ve written a few sample articles in the past. So I stopped what I was doing (which was trying to hit a deadline with 20 x 1000 word articles on natural remedies) and researched and wrote an article for him.

I checked out his website first. It’s a very plush kitchen company in Knightsbridge which numbers a popular cake maker among its customers. The other blogs on it were fairly generic although a couple were interesting to be fair. I liked all the photos – I’m a simple soul!

I spent an hour and a half, probably more, researching and writing it. I sent it off. I didn’t get a response or hear anything for three days so I sent a reminder. He came back to me quite quickly after the prompt, to tell me he didn’t like it. To be fair, I’d guessed as much because of the delay. You can always tell when a client is keen! Well in this case, it wasn’t my best; it was ok but I was up against it with all the other work I was doing so it didn’t get tweaked as much as I would like. He decided he didn’t want me for the job, which is ok, it’s a competitive market, and I was rushed off my feet so it’s only to be expected, but when I requested payment for the sample article that he had asked me to write, he refused.

You what? You're not going to pay me?

You what? You’re not going to pay me?

I felt powerless and angry. Freelance writing fees are rubbish on the whole and I am scraping a pittance while working up to 60 hours a week. My house is on the market because without my salary we can’t afford the mortgage so we need to downsize fast. He works for a Knightsbridge Kitchen Company that probably turns over hundreds of thousands a year and he wouldn’t even pay me my £25. That’s how the rich get richer, by exploiting people who are desperate.

Where is the integrity in doing business that way? Would I buy a kitchen from that man? No, because he’s unpleasant, greedy and unethical. Not that I’ll ever be able to afford to buy a kitchen, not even from Tesco, especially while I’m freelancing with clients like him. I guess he wouldn’t put a kitchen up for someone without demanding a down payment. Someone, somewhere will be getting their beautifully designed kitchen, and £25 of what they pay should be coming to me to help pay my mortgage. Would you buy kitchen from this man? Of course you would if you could afford it. I’m not daft enough to think anyone will be bothered about the actions of this company. Most people wouldn’t give it a second thought, but of course, it is important to me because things are so tight. That’s the way life is; we don’t think about each other with any sort of compassion until faced with similar situations ourselves. It’s not easy, life, is it?

My thoughts exactly!

My thoughts exactly!

So, I was a complete fool and it was a lesson learned for me this week. I’ll chalk it up as experience. No writing freebies for anyone, especially people who can afford to pay but don’t. I need to read what the clients says more clearly and request payment up front.

Anyhow, I’m still a hell of a lot happier doing what I do now, compared to this time last year! And I have a few pieces of good news, so keep reading 🙂