Gazette column: I survived Meningitis – now the NHS should fund the new vaccination

It’s “Thursday Thoughts” where I post my weekly Gazette newspaper column to my blog so you can have a read…

This week my column for the Gloucestershire Gazette is about Meningitis and how, after I survived the disease 39 years ago, it’s about time the UK government funded the new vaccination that can save lives.

To read it, simply click to my Column page.

What do you think? Should vaccinations automatically be funded or is the NHS to strapped to allow that to happen? Let me know.

**OUT THIS SATURDAY: My latest column for  Gloucestershire Citizen and Echo newspaper.  Catch the Weekend Magazine on their website link here**

**Look out for  Wednesday Wafflings next, um, Wednesday, where I post the latest entry in My Diary of a Hopeful Author**

Diary of a hopeful author: How to submit to a literary agent

It’s “Wednesday Wafflings” when I post the latest entry in my Diary of a Hopeful Author…Photo of a Diary

Apologies for the last post – it went all wrong! No idea what happened , but, good news, here’s the post you are meant to get…

I’ve never been one for rules. Nine years old and an obsessive tomboy, I refused point blank to accept the rule at our school that girls could not play rugby. But, show me a challenge and I’ll show you the steel of my gut, and so one campaign and several sharp letters later, we had ourselves a rugby team – not just for girls, but a mixed team. The victory was ours. I mean, sure, two months later we discovered we didn’t actually enjoy playing rugby, but still, at least we had the choice to refuse it.

And so to literary agents and the getting of one.  There’s something about the mention of an agent that sends our writer hearts palpitating and our brows sweating. It seems unreachable, impossible almost, to get one, such is the high esteem they are held. And quite right, too. Indeed, so competitive is this writing lark, so hard is it to get a bite at the publishing cake these days, that you’d think as writers we need to make any submission we send agent wise stand out, right? Well, I am here to tell you are wrong. You see, this is where rules, and the ignoring of should not happen. In fact, the one huge mistake I think aspiring authors make is ignoring the rules.

Now look, as explained above, I am no lass for accepting the norm. But I am also something of a realist. And a determined gal. As yet, while I have a self-published book that’s popular, plus some writing newspaper columns, I still want that publishing deal – and that means playing by the rules. It seems so obvious, really, but you’d be amazed how many writers just ignore this, frankly, really easy bit of the submission machine.

Agents give submission guidelines for a reason – they are stacked busy. They want submissions to adhere to the guidelines because it makes their life easier, and here’s the thing – it means they can spot a good piece of work a mile off. As writer, we have a lot of hoops to jump through.  We have to first send a query letter, a synopsis, the first chapters. And that’s before an agent even considers requesting the full manuscript. In fact – and you may want to close your ears at this one – the amount of full manuscripts taken on my agents is only 1%. I know.

But have no fear! While my first book didn’t bite publishing wise, the full manuscript was read by three agents, which I am mighty chuffed about. So, while I am still something of a novice myself, some things are still blindingly clear, and therefore, as we’re all in this together, here are my little top tips for putting together a submission:

  1. Follow the guidelines exactly. Do not deviate AT ALL. No jokes, no scented paper. NO DODGY PHOTOS. Forget it – you will just end up in the bin. If they say they want a query letter, one page synopsis and the first three chapters, send that only.
  2. Send chronological chapters. Vital this one. Some people think they should send the ‘best’ chapters that represent their work, despite what has been requested. If they ask for the first chapters, send them. Simple.
  3. Be professional. Think of your submission, effectively, like an application for a job. You wouldn’t mess about in that. Sure, give across your personality, but keep it professional.
  4. Be polite when rejected. Everyone gets rejections, everyone. JK Rowling famously had her Harry Potter manuscript rejected SEVEN TIMES. It happens. What you don’t want to do when receiving a rejection is get shirty with the agent. They are just doing their job. So be polite, be professional and move on.  It will do you good in the long run.

So there you go. My top tips. But, I can now, if I may, direct you to an actual agent who can give you the skinny even more than I can. Said agent is Juliet Mushens of The Agency Group. Here is a link to her dos and don’ts for submitting to an agent – follow them to the letter.

And finally, my last tip. There is, actually, one thing we can do to make our submission stand out. No, it’s not a inserting a musical card, nor, indeed, giving said agent tonnes of cash. Nope. The most toppest tip for making your submission stand out is this: TELL A CRACKING STORY.

See? Simple? Hmmmm…Good luck.

LINK to Juliet Mushens’ Dos & don’t of book submissions

**I’m away for a few weeks now, so have a brilliant summer of writing and see you back for more wafflings late August.  MASSIVE Thanks for reading! **

 

Out tomorrow “Thursday Thoughts” where I post my latest Gazette newspaper column to my blog…**

Diary of a hopeful author: How to submit to a literary agent

It’s “Wednesday Wafflings” when I post the latest entry in my Diary of a Hopeful Author…Photo of a Diary

This week I am going through another inevitable writer’s wobble where I am doubting my work and, basically, lacking a tad of confidence. So, as I was going through my old blog ramblings for my Wednesday Wafflings post, I came across this one I wrote back in January that’s, funnily enough, about self-doubt. So I read it and, hey, it helped.

Writing is a funny thing where we sit at home on our own, which on one hand is great because you can wear your pjs and stuff your face with popcorn and no one can see; but the downside is you are, well, on your own, your tod, if you will, and with that comes creeping doubt. So if you’re having a little writer’s wobble, I hope this candid analysis of my own neurosis’ will help. And I hope this makes you feel you’re not quite so on your own anymore.

Some things scare the crap out of me.  Dogs, massive insects, seeing a fleece being teamed with heels. Republicans. They just make me freeze with fright.  But there’s another thing that scares the bejesus out of me. Something that, if I let it, would take over me and, like a fossil frozen in time,would immobilise me to the spot, never moving on, always preserving me at the exact moment I left off. That thing is self-doubt.

Doubting myself is my running-naked-dream, one of those where you look down and realise you have nothing on. Like a shadow creeping across a field, it dawns on you that you’re unclothed. Naked, wearing nothing but your birthday suit. In a room full of people. The agony that comes with this is that you are mortified, utterly, devastatingly mortified.

Self-doubt as a writer is a double edged sword. In my line of work, I have to approach people. I always have. I am, outwardly, what they call a ‘people person’. I am smiley. I have that annoying habit of engaging everyone in the room so they feel involved. I network, listen, understand, mingle. I nod at bad jokes. Think of it as a swan, gliding, confident, chin slightly beaked, whilst underwater, the feet are kicking, frantic, mad.

Self-doubt, you see, is my swan feet. I am awash with the stuff. It cripples me, sometimes so much that I will start a project often only to stop it half way through declaring it to be ‘rubbish’, then start again from scratch.

Flip side is, I know I have a good radar, a kind of instinct I suppose, for what works and what doesn’t. This is the other side of that sword. It comes into play a lot in writing, thank God. It’s an instinct that tells me when to revise a chapter, when to really cut a joke out of a column and when not to write a blog on self-doubt… Trouble is, when you mix this handy instinct malarkey with this self-doubt cess pit, you end up with something that resembles an oil slick, something that renders you unmoveable, sticking you together until you are blinking through dripping oil and wondering how in the hell you are going to make it out.

This week I’ve had to approach people – and I’m drenched in doubt. I am freelance, my promo person is me. I am the one who has to shout about me, even if, inside, it’s absolutely the very last thing I ever want to do. The approaches this week I’ve had to make are to do with festivals, things like that, speaking, if you will, at big literature events. I have done this on a a few occasions before. Heck, in my marketing life guise, I’ve presented to rooms of over 300 delegates. I’ve been on the radio – live. I do actually like it. So, clearly, being there isn’t the problem.

It’s getting there in the first place that’s the issue. I just assume, you see, that I’m pants. It’s my default button. But I know it shouldn’t be, though.  And so, mercifully, just when I feel as low as a river in a drought, I get a life line, a little splash of rain. Writing is that line. Writing. I love writing. My dream. It flies in just in time, swoops me up and saves me.  The thought of writing is the thing in me that says, ‘just keep going, just do it, do it. Stuff it. What’s the worst that could happen?’

And that’s it, really, isn’t it, in all this writing lark, in this profession where you are critiqued by everyone, up against thousands of others, shooting your arrow to hit a target 100 miles away. Before you throw in the towel on it all, you have to stop, you have to, and ask yourself, ‘What’s the worst that could happen?’

‘Cos the answer is nothing. Nothing could really happen if you approach people, if you try, if you give it a shot. So why not just do it? Just sod it, and do it. The worst they can say is no, at which point you smile and move on to the next.

Because – and here’s the really scary thing -if you don’t do it, if you end up jacking it all in and packing your dream – whatever it is – into a box, if you find yourself about to do that, then ask yourself, in that scenario, ‘What’s the worst that could happen?’ and I’ll guarantee you, that answer will scare you the most.

So me, I’m off to scare the living daylights out of myself and approach people. Sod it. Take that, self-doubt! I mean, what’s the worst that could happen..?

What scares the pants off you? What stops you from moving on and what do you do to get going again?

Out tomorrow “Thursday Thoughts” where I post my latest Gazette newspaper column to my blog. This week I’m talking about  the Severn Barrage in Gloucestershire…**

My Citizen & Echo column: It’s high time we all had one massive, national lie down

Welcome to “Monday is the new Saturday” where I pop the link to my Weekend magazine column ‘The Last Word’ from the Gloucestershire Citizen and Echo…

My Weekend column on Saturday was all about holidays and how, in this time of economic turmoil and excessive work, we all need to go and have one huge rest. I’ve stuck the column on my Citizen column page here so you can have a read.

You can also catch my columns each week on the NEW Citizen and Echo Weekend website.

The Citizen & Echo Weekend magazine comes out every Saturday.

Cream crackered? Or no time and money for a break? Let me know.

**Look out for Wednesday Wafflings on, um, Wednesday, where I post my weekly entry in my Diary of a Hopeful Author**

Gazette column: It’s not always possible to have everything your own way

It’s “Thursday Thoughts” where I post my weekly Gazette newspaper column to my blog so you can have a read…

This week my column for the Gloucestershire Gazette is about wanting it all, and specifically the case of the Fourboys Garden Centre going against the planning regulations – and then complaining about it when they get caught.

To read it, simply click to my Column page.

What do you think? Should we expect it all? What about disagreeing with planning regulations, with rules? How should we handle that? Let me know.

**OUT THIS SATURDAY: My latest column for  Gloucestershire Citizen and Echo newspaper.  Catch the Weekend Magazine on their website link here**

**Look out for  Wednesday Wafflings next, um, Wednesday, where I post the latest entry in My Diary of a Hopeful Author**

My Citizen & Echo column: Why you’ve got to open your eyes – even when you’re not on a roller coaster

Welcome to “Monday is the new Saturday” where I pop the link to my Weekend magazine column ‘The Last Word’ from the Gloucestershire Citizen and Echo…

My Weekend column on Saturday was all about roller coasters and how, in life as on roller coasters, we really have to open our eyes and take a look around. I’ve stuck the column on my Citizen column page here so you can have a read.

You can also catch my columns each week on the NEW Citizen and Echo Weekend website.

The Citizen & Echo Weekend magazine comes out every Saturday.

Roller coaster lover or not? Do you think we need to open our eyes to things a bit more or is there simply too much going on? Let me know.

**Look out for Wednesday Wafflings on, um, Wednesday, where I post my weekly entry in my Diary of a Hopeful Author**

Feature Friday: Why tomorrow’s Nibley Music Festival is the best hobby in the world

Feature Friday is a new post where I pop on my blog feature articles I have recently written for magazine-organizing1newspapers or magazines.

This week is a feature that appeared in last week’s Citizen and Echo Weekend Magazine. It’s an interview with Chris Gordon, the organiser of the amazing Nibley Music Festival in Gloucestershire, which is on tomorrow, Saturday 6th July. In it, Chris talks about the behind-the-scenes secrets of running a successful festival and how it is, hands down, the best hobby in the world. Oh yeah.

“Biggest isn’t the best” (Citizen/Echo Weekend, June 29th 2013)

Tens of thousands have descended on Worthy Farm for Glastonbury this weekend, but there is another boutique music festival making waves closer to home, as Nikki Owen found out…

It’s the day before my interview with Chris Gordon, one of the organisers extraordinaire of Nibley Music Festival. My husband is very, very excited. “Go on then,” I sigh, “what do you want me to ask him?” He nearly squeals. “The bands!’” he says immediately. “Ask him what it’s like to meet the bands. Ooo, and how they pick them. How do Nibley pick the bands.” He pauses. “I’d love to be a festival organiser. It must be so cool.”  He stares into space. I start to wonder if he should get out more.

Seven years ago, Nibley Music Festival was born after a group of friends with a love of live music got chatting in a pub. Come 2013 and Nibley has become not only a local phenomenon, but a national one, too – and is on the radar of major music agents. Held on the first Saturday of every July, Nibley showcases blistering bands (The Wonder Stuff,

Nibley Festival by day
Nibley Festival by day

them of 90s fame, are playing this year) with a family friendly atmosphere that is legendary (last year there was free laser quest, local culinary food and craft tents.).

You’d think organising a festival like Nibley is quite literally a full-time job, and surely a breeze, right? I ask straight-off. “What’s it like organising a festival?” Chris cracks the biggest smile. ‘’It’s the best hobby I’ve ever had.” Great. But then he starts to talk about how much he and the other Nibley committee members do, and that’s when the penny drops: the entire thing is run by volunteers. All of them with day jobs, families and lives, all mucking in, wiping mud from boards. Easy it ain’t. “Last year,” Chris says, “to protect the field, we carried every piece of equipment on by hand.” “What?” I say. “Even the stage?” Chris nods. “Even the stage.”

So it’s even more extraordinary to consider that, in 2011, event website Britevents voted Nibley one of the top ten music festivals in the UK along side the likes of Glastonbury and V Festival. In fact, so popular is Nibley that this year, tickets (all 4,000 of them) sold out within 42 minutes. ‘To sell out so quickly is unprecedented,” says Chris. “We have other festivals contacting us asking us how we do it.”

And what about bands contacting Nibley? “It’s great that we’re inundated with so many bands wanting to play Nibley,” says Chris. ‘We have an online form for them to fill in. It drops automatically into a spreadsheet so we can cope with the deluge. We’ve got very systemised in our back-room operations.” Ah, so that’s how it’s done. “But,” he adds, “when you actively seek out a band that you think are brilliant and they say yes – wow. I mean, I can’t tell you how excited we were getting King Charles.”

Singer, King Charles
Singer, King Charles

He’s referring to glam-folk singer, King Charles, who is so big he’s a support act to The Rolling Stones in Hyde Park this July.  We watch him on You Tube – he looks like a cross between Adam Ant and Freddie Mercury. With catchy music. “He’s massive!” Chris smiles.  I sheepishly say I have never heard of him before.  Chris then proceeds to reel off the You Tube hits Charles has received – i.e. millions. It’s a reminder just how well-regarded Nibley has become to attract such a major act.

We proceed to talk all things live music – Chris’s favourite thing – and before I know it, it’s come the end of the interview. I have to ask it. “What’s the most glamorous thing about running a festival?” Chris thinks. “It’s a great excuse to see loads of fantastic gigs.” And the least? “Carrying portaloos across a field.” Ah.

And so ends the interview. It’s amazing, really, to think that Nibley is run entirely by a committee of volunteers. Added to that, all the money raised goes to local good causes.  “We would really welcome some new committee members,” says Chris, as I leave. “All they need are commitment and a passion for live music.” I nod and make a note to tell my husband. It’s like Chris said – running a music festival – it’s the best hobby in the world.

Nibley Music Festival takes place on 6th July 2013. For more details, and to contact if you’re interested in being a festival organiser, visit www.nibleyfestival.co.uk

Gazette column: Stop being judgemental on mothers with babies

It’s “Thursday Thoughts” where I post my weekly Gazette newspaper column to my blog so you can have a read…

This week my column for the Gloucestershire Gazette is about breastfeeding and how, as a society, we need to judge mothers far less and give them a break.

To read it, simply click to my Column page.

What do you think? Should women breastfeed in public or should it be done only in private? Do mothers get a hard time or should they be more responsible? Let me know.

**OUT THIS SATURDAY: My latest column for  Gloucestershire Citizen and Echo newspaper.  Catch the Weekend Magazine on their website link here**

**Look out for  Wednesday Wafflings next, um, Wednesday, where I post the latest entry in My Diary of a Hopeful Author**