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Monday, 30 June 2008

Make Love Not Warcraft

Yes yes, it's the title of that Southpark episode where the boys become obsessed with a massive online game, where they don disguises, and fight a massive sword of doom. Or something. Meanwhile, in the 'real' world, they're all becoming obese and acned from eating junk and never going outside. Now that's what I call satire.

The Boy is OBSESSED with Warcraft. So are his friends. They all play for hours. Two of his best friends came round for a sleepover on Friday, both carrying their computers. I opened the door, and having reeled back from the feral whiff, noticed that the Boy's bedroom was so full of computer equipment it looked like the headquarters of NASA. The boys were all playing fiercely. We barely heard them all evening, apart from the odd shriek of: "Kill him with your sword of Aragon!" and "Use the lightning rod of destiny!"

The next day, the Boy emerged, looking like Stig of the Dump. But he was beaming. Apparently, he's earned enough points to get a mechanical chicken for a pet. This is considered a good thing on Warcraft, although I doubt if Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall would agree as it doesn't constitute the Five Chicken Freedoms; freedom from fear, hunger, pain, distress and looking really stupid in an online game.

Friday, 27 June 2008

CRB Checks

According to Frank Furedi, we are creating a nation of adults terrified to approach children for fear of being labelled paedophiles. He thinks our discretion should be used when it comes to hiring adults to work with children instead of CRB’s which people find ‘intrusive’. Wouldn’t it be awful if a brilliant football coach didn’t come forward because a CRB check would reveal his pot head past? Perish the thought!

Esther Rantzen who was also on the programme simply said that if someone applied to work with children or vulnerable adults they should have their background checked for any record of attacking children. No it’s not infallible. But given that paedophiles tend not to have PERVE tattooed on their forehead (although I’m sure the News of the World is working on it) as well as habitually seeking out ways to come into contact with children, this CRB check seems very reasonable to me.

My four year old daughter is about to go to school and I want anyone who comes into close contact with her to have a CRB check and if they whine about it being 'intrusive' they can fuck off.

But the fact is, she is more likely to be attacked and abused by someone she already knows. Because far from there being armies of paedophiles roaming the country, statistically the most dangerous place for a child is their own home with people they trust to care for them.

Thursday, 26 June 2008

Bad Lyrics!!!

Just listening to Radio 2 and 'Angels' came on. Arrgh - the second verse has the lyric:

When I'm weak
And my pain walks down a one way street. . . .


Apart from that horrible song by someone I can't remember which has the lyric:

Sometimes when we touch
The honesty's too much
And I have to close my eyes
And . . .

Puke? Scream? Hit myself over the head with an anvil?

. . .Cry. You're not the only one pal.

Yes. I should be working.

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Heinzgate continues

Before I did the Jeremy Vine show yesterday, I phoned a gay friend of mine who works in marketing. What did she think? She said: "Heinz is all about variety (57 in fact), so a sprinkling of gays shouldn’t hurt anyone. And failing that, the complainers should shove the beans up their arse".

Yup - Heinz have managed to piss many many people off. And today I've learned that
over a thousand people have signed an online petition to get the Heinz ad reinstated.

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Beanz Meanz Gayz!

I've been asked to appear on the Jeremy Vine show today at 1.30 ish to discuss the horror of an advert which features two grown men kissing. Apparently some parents are very upset at the idea of their evening being ruined and having to explain to their offspring why two men are showing physical affection.

I watched the ad and am slightly confused by it. A small boy comes into a kitchen, sees a grown man in a deli outfit and calls him 'mum'. So does the small girl who follows. So is the message that Heinz mayo can blur gender boundaries?

It's enough to get the anti-gay lobby in a stew of course. Personally I think you're born gay and that's that. But I intend to sit the Boy in front of a whole season of Derek Jarman movies this weekend, just to see if exposure to such rampant homosexuality turns him gay. Hey, it might mean he tidies his room up occasionally.

Friday, 20 June 2008

Tellings Off

A good friend of mine is a bit upset because her editor 'told her off' about edits and rewrites. I commiserated and reminded her of the Doris Lessing quote about writers:

"Without me the literary industry would not exist: the publishers, the agents, the sub-agents, the sub-sub agents, the accountants, the libel lawyers, the departments of literature, the professors, the theses, the books of criticism, the reviewers, the book pages - all this vast and proliferating edifice is because of this small, patronised, put-down and underpaid person."

On the same theme, The Boy has managed to download a mega Trojan which has culminated in billions of pop-ups of girls showing their tits and arse on screen. Have had to totally wipe his hard drive. And administered severe telling off about downloading dodgy music videos from Estonia and allowing them past the security system (Kaperksy, which is like having a maiden aunt in charge of Internet security. Even emails from my mother are labelled PROBABLY SPAM!!!!). But I don't think the Boy was paying much attention to my telling off, as yet another Estonian perky arse popped up on screen.

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Little Voice in Your Head

(I'm not talking about the one that tells you to stockpile an arsenal of guns).

You've written a script. You know it's good. You send it off to various companies. But nobody knows who you are. You're an untried writer. Back it comes again and again. Still you keep sending it out. Because you know it's good. The little voice in your head is hurt but unbowed by the rejections. All your friends and family keep saying: "You're not still sending out that script?" You ignore what everyone says.

Then one day, somebody reads your script and finds it funny. It's bought. It's produced. It's a massive hit. You're flavour of the month. Now everybody knows who you are. And knows how good you are. They want you to write another script.

Now you have the opposite problem. Everyone tells you how great your new script is. Your friends and family are falling over themselves to look at it. Everybody wants it to be great; they need it to be great. Only the little voice in your head tells you that the script isn't so great. It needs work. Or it needs to be scrapped. You ignore what everyone says.

The point is that as a writer you need to develop a little internal critical voice. A voice that is impervious to criticism or flattery. Of course as you develop, you also (hopefully) will have a couple of people whose opinion and advice you respect. But ultimately, you will still need the little voice in your head. The voice that you listen to.


Been thinking about rejection recently because I've had a few comments about my advice on offering stuff to Radio 4. I submit material twice a year and the vast majority is rejected. And it really hurts. I'd hoped to have developed a thick skin by now, but so far it's still custard thin. I doubt myself all the time. And the only way to deal with it is keep going. Keep writing. Keep submitting. Write for different mediums if you can.

Occasionally I read scripts sent in for radio. A few are very good, some are spectacularly bad, and most are just a bit dull. The same mistakes are made over and over again. Here they are:

1. People don't speak in full paragraphs. The next time you and your family are sitting round a table, pay attention to the conversation. I'll bet nobody gets to the end of more than two sentences without being interrupted. (Or maybe that's just my family). People don't always say what they mean either.

2. If your script is meant for television and they don't want it, you can't just turn it into a radio script. It Shows. I'm thinking of the guy who sent me a love scene, where he had written: We see Sarah and Andrew in bed. He crossed out 'see' and wrote 'hear' over it. Which reminded me of the Monty Python Sketch: "This isn't a dog licence - it's a cat licence with the word 'dog' crossed out and 'cat' written in pencil! (The same writer kept resubmitting his bad script with a title change. I'm not that unobservant!)

3. There has to be DRAMA. Something has to happen. At the end of the play, the leading character should not be in the same emotional place they were at the beginning.

Rejection always stinks. I remember once sending in a sitcom idea to a telly company. Back it came, in such pristine condition, that I suspected about three seconds had elapsed between my sitcom being taken out of the envelope and shoved back into the SAE, I'd thoughtfully supplied. There was also a typed note: Dear Applicant. Thank you for your quiz show idea. Now fuck off and die. (Or words to that effect). However, this was a few years ago. Then I would wonder what had I done wrong? Now, I still feel miserable but there's a tiny part of me sticking up two fingers and shouting: "Up yours tossers. It's your loss!" Progress of sorts. Well it is to me.

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Amy Faints While 'Doing Admin'

According to BBC News Amy Winehouse fainted while doing admin. With the Boy around I thought I was au fait with the latest lingo; 'tard' 'buff' etc. But I had no idea that 'admin' was the new term for 'crack cocaine'.

Unless admin did actually make her faint. I can relate to that.

Chick Lit (and Grit)

Good piece by Joanna Trollope today in the Guardian about our sneering attitude to so called 'chick lit'. Ms Trollope argues that good romantic comedy is very hard to write. Predictably in the Comment is Free section, there are loads of snotty ripostes from Guardian readers who really would rather read the Booker shortlist and feel a bit dirty when they sully their brains with a 'chick lit' no-brainer novel. Yeah Yeah. Try writing one first. Oh my - there are so many bitter undiscovered genius writers out there, and so many publishers and agents who obstinately refuse to recognise their inherent maverick genius.

I agree with what JT says, but also think that the term 'chick-lit' is a way of ghetto-ising women writers. It's so easy to be fooled by the admittedly soppy covers of pinkly ribboned swirls and kitten heels. And yet, between those girly covers lurk themes like divorce, addiction and domestic violence. Anna Maxted's debut novel, Getting Over It, which featured a girl in wellies, diving into a pond (??) was all about bereavement. Distinctly highbrow writer Zadie Smith wrote a glowing tribute to Marian Keyes, saying she was "one of the most important feminists in modern writing".

It's mad snobbery really. Would we really prefer to be caught on the tube, deep into the latest Booker, with its tasteful beige cover and misty titles? Even if it's sending us to sleep? Give me the cracking narrative and laugh out loud lines of a good chick lit any day.

Saturday, 14 June 2008


The Boy passed me on the stairs, damp (but still smelling faintly feral) from his shower, a towel held across his nethers, but I could still see a faint whisper of darkening hair. It struck me that I will probably never see him naked again, unless I make a concerted effort to do so (ewwwwww - yes). But it also struck me how little I get to touch him. He hugged me a few nights ago, his way of making up after one of our many spats, and I cherished the few seconds of bony touch.

But the last time, he actually reached for my hand in a simple declaration of wanting my mummy comfort was last year when he was 12. We all had to have typhoid jabs for a holiday. I held the Girl on my lap; she was tiny and had no fear of the needle until she felt a sharp pain and roared for a few seconds. But I remember the Boy sitting on a chair, trying to be brave. "Look at me and count to three", I urged. He did so, and at the same time, I took his hand. It felt bony, dry, and birdlike. I stroked his thumb and it was all over by the time he got to "Two".

Thursday, 12 June 2008

Tits Up

A lady called Stella Onions has been making the news recently because she's still breastfeeding her two children, who are five and three respectively. There really is something about breastfeeding in general that brings out the mimsy,squeamish, mouth-like-a-cat's-arse attitude. I found breastfeeding very difficult, as one of my breasts obstinately refused to squirt out anything more than a dribble, despite being plugged into a turbo suction breast pump for what felt like 23 hours a day. It didn't help that various relatives kept telling me to "keep trying because it's best for baby". You think? I wrote a piece about My Lactating Hell, and despite telling FIVE sub-editors that no, I didn't feel guilty, just fed up, when I saw the piece, in large letters across the top was written: Jane Felt Really Guilty At Not Being Able to Breastfeed. Not Surpising as This Meant She Was a Shit Mother. (Or something similar).

So despite being bombarded with information about how good breastfeeding is for the baby, I couldn't manage to keep it up for more than a few months. But it seems you're just as much vilified if you keep going for longer than the designated six months. And if you're still breastfeeding when the children can ask for it, then you're "disgusting" and "unnatural." I remember seeing a programme called Extreme Breastfeeding where one man expressed his disgust at a group of women feeding on a park bench as "it encourages them paedo-fiddliers".

As for the health benefits, despite only breastfeeding The Boy for three months, he's so disgustingly healthy, I sometimes think about The Omen where Lee Remick suddenly realises that her devilish offspring is NEVER ILL. But then again, these days, I often fantasise about checking The Boy's scalp for the '666' mark. Not that I'd go anywhere near his scalp. My fingers would stick.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Are you comfortable using explicit language?

I've been offered some work reading 'erotic stories for women'. Well it makes a change from reading Charlie and Lola or an insufferable US text called Everybody Poops which seeks to earnestly reassure small children that it's ok to have a poo. Have you ever known a child who has a problem with this? Well maybe High Court Judges; aren't they the ones who you find running about wearing giant nappies and pretending to be babies? Something went badly wrong during toilet training methinks.

Anyway, I digress. The producer asks if I'd mind using explicit language in an appropriate context. Not at all. I spend most days swearing and effing in a completely inappropriate context. Which might have been why I heard my small daughter say 'Fuckit' in the bath.

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

I Am Old

Yes. Two things to follow that will, repeat will, make me sound like an Old Person who (possibly, though dear God let it not be the case) reads the Daily Mail:

1. At the weekend I saw on a train platform, an advert for a new young person's popular music CD called Hed-Kandi. Now I do like dance music. I really do. But the first thing that jumped into my head was: 'Jesus. No wonder kids in this country can't spell!' splutter splutter, fume, fume. *sigh*

2. And I took the Boy to see Foo Fighters on Friday 6, along with most of the world. In fact one girl got so excited on the tube, she fainted at the prospect. Aww bless. The Boy, if you remember, in response to my getting tickets said: "The support band are bound to be crap". Well they were Supergrass and entirely not crap at all. Then Dave Grohl strolled on stage, t-shirt a bit sweaty, hair carelessly tousled, the crowd roared, and my ears popped. I just about restrained myself from saying: "Goodness, it's loud isn't' it?"

Dave Grohl himself was suitably clad in a scruffy tee and his hair had that 'carelessly tousled by Leonard of Mayfair twice a week' look. I would also imagine that after all that headbanging, he had a good neck masseur on speed dial. And the drummer looked incredibly like Kurt Cobain which I can't help imagine, must be slightly irritating for Mr Grohl.

Thing is - it's not possible to look at a big stadium band anymore without thinking of Spinal Tap. But I'm sure there were plenty of lovely young things lining up to have a good go at Dave Grohl's love pump.

Anyway, the Boy nodded his head a couple of times and pointed fingers at the stage, so I think he enjoyed himself.

Friday, 6 June 2008

This might be a bit uncomfortable

I've managed to get to a very advanced age without ever having waxed any of my body parts. But today I had my legs waxed for the first time ever. This is because:

1. My legs are quite nice and soon they'll be the only part of me that isn't heading south. As my dad elegantly phrased it: "Legs are the last to go".
2. A few weeks ago I tried using extra gentle depilatory cream with added gentleness and kindness AND aloe vera and came out in a nasty red rash to complement the stubbly bits I'd missed. Sexy!!!!

Luckily the lady I went to was an expert, and cunningly pressed a copy of Hello into my hand so I was avidly reading a ten page Geri Halliwell interview on how she feels that celebrity no longer feeds her soul the way it used to, just as my legs were being divested of their hair. And indeed, it was a bit uncomfortable but not in the way doctors say to you in the second stage of labour, "this might be a bit uncomfortable" as you're fantasising about shoving an operating table up his smug arse but you'd happily sell your first born for an epidural type of uncomfortable.

And tonight I'm taking the Boy and a friend to see the Foo Fighters. Is he grateful? Well when I told him I'd got tickets, his reply was: "I don't want to go too early because the support band is bound to be crap".

I may rethink my promise about not referring to him as my toyboy tonight.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

The Talk

A few days ago, Husband and Boy had The Talk. Over lunch, a friend from the US had informed us, he’d tried to talk with his fifteen year old, on the intricacies of sexual relationships, where to get condoms . . .how women came, (especially important for porn watching teen boys who would naturally assume a few thrusts and she’d be shrieking in ecstasy. Actually come to think of it, not just porn watching teen boys . . .) and what to do if he felt a burning sensation when he peed. It sounded like a good idea, except the fifteen year old listened for about two seconds before leaving the house.

“You have to have the talk early” said our US friend. So Husband and I discussed what we wished we’d been told as a teenager. I would have liked to be told more about pleasure and less about the Dire Disaster of Pregnancy. Husband wished he’d had a better idea of how to approach girls. Thus armed, he took Son off for a manly burger. And told him the following:

Where to get condoms. Quickly changed to an assurance that once he was sixteen, we’d supply them in a large sweetie jar and wouldn’t keep checking to see if he’d gotten lucky.

Physcial changes. Including the possibility his nipples might tingle. I didn’t know this!

How girls work.

Husband confessed that there were many girls he fancied but was too nervous to approach and found out years later that said girls liked him too but were too nervous too . . . .

The best way to approach girls was to think of them as being just like boys. Except without the penis. (Not sure how helpful that was).

I don’t know if it helped but I suspect it’s quite good for teens to remember that their parents were once gawky spotty skanks too. Anyway, Boy swore Husband to secrecy but apparently he’s already kissed a girl. And felt her bum.

Monday, 2 June 2008

Fuck me, it's a lion! Run for it!!!!!!!!!!!!

Pitching your ideas to newspapers and magazines

If you fancy pitching an idea to a newspaper or magazine, here are a few pointers.

Selling your idea

Some people prefer to phone the features desk, but I find that harassed and overworked editors (yes they are – really!) are less likely to give you a commission that way. If they have to make a snap decision it’s far more likely to be a ‘no’. Find out their email address. Don’t send your precious idea to editorial@blah, even if that’s the ‘contact’ address given. It’s not hard to find out the features editor’s name. Always send your idea to a person.

Take a quick look at the magazine you’re trying to sell your idea to. You don’t have to read it from cover to cover but you do need an idea of the demographic (age range of the reader), and tailor your idea accordingly. Suppose you want to write about the size zero debate? For Heat magazine which is heavily celebrity led, (duh) and aimed at roughly 18 – 35 year olds you could take the ‘Are skinny celebs responsible’ angle but for Good Housekeeping which is aimed at older readers (sorry, middle youth), you could tap into the fears of mothers, worrying about the pressures to be skinny that their daughters face. Work out the demographic and angle your piece accordingly.

Write your email. Keep the pitch short – down to a paragraph. Say you want to write a piece about the size zero debate and that you will cover x, y, and z points. Don’t blah on and on. With most pieces you will also need an ‘expert’ point of view. So with size zero, depending on your angle you might need to get a quote from an eating disorders expert. Don’t worry about that for now. Just mention in your pitch that you’ll be talking to an expert.

Second paragraph, do a short cv. Mention any other magazines or newspapers you’ve written for. Don’t attach a cv – features editors couldn’t give a stuff how many GCSE’s you’ve got. Don’t forget to add a contact number.

Cover Yourself

Suppose you’ve been commissioned? The next thing is to make sure you’re both on the same page. Once you get to know a commissioning editor and he or she trusts your style you can be more casual about it, but in the beginning, get it all in writing. The reason for this is two-fold.

If the commissioning editor isn’t crystal clear about what he or she wants, they won’t be happy with what you deliver.

And then it will be easier for them to refuse to pay your or offer you a crap kill fee.

Let me explain. I was once commissioned to write an article. We had an email exchange. I expanded my original idea and planned out my article. I then sent it to the editor saying ‘This is what I’m going to write about, is this ok with you?’ so she was clear about the tone and the direction of my piece. She agreed with it and off I went to write it. When I submitted the piece though, the editor phoned me up and said she wasn’t happy with it, but she couldn’t tell me why. I offered to rewrite it but she said that wouldn’t help. I pointed out she’d been happy with the plan of the feature I’d sent her and in my feature I hadn’t deviated from it. We had a very awkward conversation but she agreed to pay my full fee. Not just because she was being nice but I had submitted a plan of what I was going to write so if things got nasty she wouldn’t be able to say I had not fulfilled my side of the contract by not writing what I’d said I was going to write.

So be warned. Some magazines send you a very tight brief, which is good. You know exactly what they want: (200 words on x, followed by top tips to avoid y, and two quotes from an expert). Much better than a vague: ‘Ok just write about 1000 words on y’know . . ‘If you get this, then always submit a rough plan, so they know what to expect and you’re covered.


Don’t be intimidated. Most articles have quotes from experts who are usually trying to flog a book at the same time. The British Psychological Society: has a media centre where psychologists, and other assorted experts are ok about giving quotes, usually in return for a mention of their latest book. Ring the centre and say ‘I’m writing a piece about size zero and I need to talk to someone about eating disorders’. You’ll be furnished with a couple of numbers. Most are incredibly nice. If you are using direct quotes, make sure you’ve got them right. Write them down and repeat them back. It sounds ‘duh’ but nobody wants to be misquoted, or have what they’ve said in good faith, twisted to suit the purposes of your piece.


The National Union of Journalists has lots of excellent advice about freelance pay (you don’t have to be a member) and an area where you can see what other freelancers have been paid, so you can compare rates. You have to be quite tough on this, because it’s a universal rule that EVERYONE WILL TRY TO GET YOUR SERVICES AS CHEAPLY AS POSSIBLE. Your fee should cover your research and the fact you’re not getting any full time worker benefits. There is also a good section on copyright.

If a magazine with a circulation of say 300,000 asks you to write a 1000 piece that requires a few days of research, chasing experts for quotes, and offers you £100 you are being roundly ripped off. But for a tiny magazine with a circulation of 5,000 £100 might be seen as quite generous. And remember if you accept really crappy rates, you’re driving down the price for everyone else. Don’t sell yourself short.


Never miss a deadline. Never ever. If someone dies (you) that’s an excuse but that’s about it. Actually, if you think you might miss it, please ring and tell them. Most editors will give you a bit more time if you tell them in advance. The important thing is to give yourself enough time to write the bloody thing. Don’t get all excited at the commission and say ‘I’ll have it done by tomorrow’ if that means you staying up all night, panicking. Especially if this is new to you, give yourself a generous amount of time. It’s far far better to under promise and over deliver.


Again the NUJ has a very good section on what to do if you don’t get paid on time. Make sure when you invoice when you deliver the article and that you’re clear on where and to whom you do invoice. And type in BIG letters ‘Payable within 28 Days’. Most big magazine companies have outsourced their finance section to somewhere aggrieved journos can’t just turn up and scream (Like Peterborough).


If you want some tips on sending radio scripts to the BBC, there's some advice here:

Offering stuff to the BBC

The Moleskine

As a writer I tend to carry a notebook around in case a brilliant idea strikes me. Looking back over my scruffy old cheapo notebooks, they are full of creative strokes of genius such as 'remember dry cleaning' 'get thing' and 'lice?'

But now my thoughts will be of the intellectual kind because I've treated myself to a moleskine notebook. I saw them in a bookshop, pinkly pretty and thought - just for once, I'm going to get a really good looking notebook that I'd feel proud to pull out of my bag and write 'haddock' in. What I didn't realise is these moleskines have a history. I opened one and a piece of paper fell out telling me all about these wonderful little notebooks:

"Moleskine is the legendary notebook used by European artists and thinkers for the past two centuries, from Van Gogh to Picasso. This trusty pocket size travel companion held sketches, notes, stories and ideas before they were turned into famous images or pages of beloved books . . . .the adventure of Moleskine continues, and its still blank pages will tell the rest".

I didn't know whether to be charmed or snort with laughter at such pretentiousness. And I thought of the week I'd spent at the Arvon Foundation, (incidentally one of the most rewarding weeks of my life). One of the things I came away with was that once the daily routine of domesticity was removed, I had acres of time to write. Just like a man in fact. It was nothing to do with innate genius and it still isn't. It's about having a little space - and possibly a room of one's own to do it in.

Still, the Moleskine is rather lovely. I wrote something in it this morning. 'Take gammon steak out of fridge'. And 'finish script'.