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Friday, 27 July 2012

Recession + freelance = extra shit rates.

Today I was offered some work at a risible rate.  It left me feeling angry but also queasily ungrateful. Money is such a tricky subject among freelancers.  We all tread a fine line between wanting the work, wanting to appear to be reasonable – to be reasonable but we also have to pay our bills. 
So when I named my price, having checked the going rate, and how long the job would take, feeling confident that I was offering a pretty good deal, there was silence at the other end of the phone.    I have been doing this long enough to recognise the pattern.

Trick 1: The disapproving silence.

Passive aggressive tinged with embarrassment.  Oh God – it’s too much money! Quick say something!  Like ‘No – just joking!  I’ll rewrite it for 50p and a pork pie.’ 

Trick 2: Empty flattery. 

The person that I spoke to knows me well enough now to know that I was brought up Catholic and therefore the Guilt Button is always there, just under the surface so she sighed again and then ladled on the flattery – they really like my style and they really wanted to work with me yadda yadda.
Ever tried to pay a bill with flattery?  I haven’t got any actual money Mr Mortgage Company but your 3.4% fixed rate makes my heart go all fluttery wuttery.

I hate negotiating money.  If you have an agent they do all that stuff for you but as an independent, all you can do is check out rates with places like the NUJ and The Writers Guild.  But I would suggest also that you remember that as a freelancer, you are not getting any benefits such as sick or holiday pay or maternity pay.  Also you have to factor in heating, lighting, office expenses so hiring you as a freelancer means that for every £10 a full timer gets, you are getting about £9. 

Trick 3: Say something vague about the recession and how everyone has to tighten their belt.

Right, so does this mean the business you are working for has cut their prices?  You are a business too. And as such, you should not be giving your hard earned skills away to another business.  

So often I’ve thought of the millions of other freelancers out there and panicked at the thought of being ‘difficult’ when really I was just afraid to be assertive.  But what I saw as being ‘nice’ may have been interpreted as ‘a walkover’.  Like the online publisher who wanted ‘all rights’ for an article I was writing.  This included (I didn’t know at the time) moral rights – the right to be identified as the author of the article.  Or the publisher who wanted me to write an A-Z of dieting and offered me £50 for a 2000 word article!  When I said ‘no’ she accused me of being ‘grandiose’ and it only ‘involved a little bit of research’.  Twenty six ‘little bits of research’ in fact if I managed to find some sort of diet with X in it.  I turned it down and she came back to me three weeks later with three times the amount (still a shit fee but hey -) but by then I was busy on something else and really couldn’t do it.
I don’t know what can be done about offering writers appalling rates.  Is it that everybody in the world wants services as cheaply as possible – not just writing but all services?  Is it that good writing looks easy?  Or that because writers tend to work alone and are worried about seeming ‘diva-ish’ or ‘difficult’ so they accept bad or non-existent rates.

I was contacted by a company a few weeks ago who were offering writers the chance to write for their website for free!  Isn’t that great?  And whatever you wrote for that company then belonged to the company – i.e. the copyright was no longer yours but theirs.  And yet they claimed they were a company who promoted and supported writers!  If you want to write for free start a blog but don’t provide content for a website too lazy or cheap to write their own.  And by the way – click per view is not pay.  Unless you count £2.89 per month as pay.

Trick 4: The Biggie.  Yours is the most expensive quote we’ve had (said in mournful voice)

Ah – the implicit threat.  You’re not the only writer in the world.  Well you're not.  Still doesn't mean you have to accept shit rates.

If you have to have the work well it’s your decision and I totally get that sometimes you have to do it – bills need paying.  But writing something suffused with resentment that you are being ripped off is just horrible.   And it drives down the price for everyone else. Don’t do it!  Think of the long game and respect yourself enough to research and stick to a fair price.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

The Boy is Eighteen Today

I can't believe it.  The small, blue eyed, soapy smelling monkey child who would cling onto me as though he wanted to climb back inside is eighteen today.  Technically at 8.47pm in fact because after twenty eight hours of walking up and down hospital corridors attached to a drip and cursing whoever said that 'natural childbirth' was 'powerful' - it all went wrong, I was flipped onto a bed (ok not so much flipped as heaved) and The Boy was dragged from me grumbling profusely.  'No change there' says A, 'he didn't want to leave his room then and he doesn't now.'

The Boy did grumble rather than cry but as he had uttered not a sound up to that point and several ashen faced doctors were gathered round him, we were pleased at any sound frankly.  It was boiling hot, much like today, and A had smuggled in an electric fan which he kindly aimed at whichever bit was the sweatiest.  Oh the romance.  But finally I remember glancing at the clock at the exact moment that the Boy grumbled croakily and it was 8.47 and we had a son and he was fine.

Now he is eighteen and taller than me.  He calls me 'Micro Mum' and when I try to remind him of stuff or tell him off he laughs at me.  Happy Birthday Boy.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

I do love my new flat.  The walls are painted bespoke vanilla mist (I love that word although I'm not entirely sure what it means - bespoke, not walls).  'Yes vanilla mist' I said to the man who came to mend the boiler the other day although to be fair he had only asked me to pass him a torch.  But he was kind enough to reply, 'Looks like magnolia to me.'

There is a big window in every room and amazingly I have a bit of outdoor space - a large balcony with lush billowing plants and an obese pigeon who swoops down every morning to sit fatly on the iron  fence.  The Girl has made friends with a feral squirrel who darts into the garden every morning and ransacks the 'squirrel proof' bird feeder.   Last week I yanked out shelves in one room, drilled holes in walls and put them into another room.  They haven't creaked and fallen off the wall yet.  I was rigid with tension for the first few weeks, expecting something - anything to collapse or stop working or to discover that America's Most Wanted was living in the wardrobe.  In fact the dishwasher politely waited until I'd moved in - worked once and then groaned to a halt, and the boiler flashed at me red-eyed, like the end of Terminator and then died too.  But worrying stupidly about some nameless possibility is never as bad as the reality of some machine just ceasing to work.  Although I suspect that had the boiler gone AWOL on a freezing February night I might have felt differently.

In the middle of all this nesting I'm supposed to be writing a new radio series so once a week I gather up my laptop and head off to the new BBC in Portland Place.   Walking up to this mammoth iconic structure of steel and glass, it's impossible not to feel a tweak of pride.   Inside, it reminds me of a combination of Bladerunner and CBeebies - huge glass walls, steel lifts and dotted with primary coloured furniture that doesn't look terribly comfortable.  It's only half full, so there are great open planned swathes of office, with empty desks.  Every week, my producer books a room with typewritten notes on the door and everything and every week, we discover somebody already in there who glares at us or says: 'Just a mo' and then carries on talking loudly on his phone.  There's something about the place that makes me feel exposed.  Maybe that's the idea.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

My week with the boiler

The only real writing I've been doing recently is filling in large numbers on cheques.   Because as you know, dear reader, moving into a new place means peering into dark corners to find out where that strange clanking noise is coming from, or going red and saying: 'I don't know' when the Electrical Engineer shows up and asks you where the electricity is switched off from.  Further humiliation ensues when after spending two hours reading Boiler Maintenance Made Easy, you still have no idea why the red button is flashing so you ring up Boilerz and after half an hour of selecting 'Option 2: If you want to throw your boiler off a cliff' - someone answers and says: 'Oh no - that brand of boiler doesn't flash - it glows.'  Round comes a teenage boy who scratches his arse for ten minutes before informing you that despite 'specialising' in the type of Boiler you have ie Shit Boilers Inc, they don't have the part you need, so will have to drive to Reading to get said part, at a cost of £80 plus VAT per hour.

Teething troubles I suppose and although a good friend has pointed out that it would be infinitely worse if I had discovered the boiler wasn't working one late night in January, rather than July (even though the weather seems identical - don't get me started) I feel that the last month has been a bit of a fiery baptism.  I'm not good at understanding technical hoohaa and these Technical Manuals are Very Badly Written and utterly confusing.  Added to that is the wealth of TV programmes featuring hard men chasing Bad Tradesmen down the street, leaving a trail of weeping, and bankrupt pensioners, and you are left thinking that men who come round to your house to fix stuff are Nearly Always Crooks.

Of course this isn't true at all.  And so in the spirit of being a bit thick about this stuff and innumerate here are a few tips on getting in tradesmen when stuff breaks down.  Told you I wasn't technical:

The two excellent tradesmen I've hired recently both recommended a site called DIY Not which is full of really useful tips from professionals and DIY experts.

I had my electrics sorted out from a company I found through Which.  If you need some unbiased, consumer led guidance on who to hire and what to buy, you can't do better. They also have a section on recommended tradesmen.

Whatever job you need doing, always ask for at least three quotes in writing.  If they baulk forget it.  Never ever pay upfront for a job.  Or agree to a lower rate for cash.

It's also reasonable for a professional to have a clear idea of how long it will take for them to do the job.

If at any point you don't understand what your trades person is talking about, say so.  Ask them to explain and write it down because it is boring and you will forget it.  But I am now proud to say that like Father Purcell in Father Ted (the most boring priest in the world, I can now hold my own in the world of boilers).  Do you still fancy me?

Saturday, 7 July 2012

I'm back! And with a Mallen Streak!

Does anyone remember The Mallen Streak?   Catherine Cookson meets vampiric white slug on the on the front of hair?  Sometimes it can look sexy as with Caitlin Moran or not as in the case of the bloke on the front cover of the Mallen book who looks like a cross between Michael Bolton and Wolf man (not sure which is worse.)

Anyway the POINT is that I've got one.   A Mallen streak.  A big grey one at the front of my hairline.  Possibly through the sheer stress of moving house.  Or maybe because I've got a hitherto untapped streak of badness.  'Or it could be that you're really really old mummy,' as The Girl pointed out the other day before going outside and doing a handstand in her knickers.

It could be.  But then moving house is unbelievably stressful as well as time consuming.  It's not the actual physical business of moving your stuff from one location to another - it's the getting of the mortgage, the realisation that although banks have no trouble squandering our money, when it comes to lending it, they are still firmly back in the 1950s, by which I mean they look at anyone who doesn't have a 9 - 5 regular job with a solid income - with horror.  And considering that jobs like this just don't exist anymore and most of us are on contracts, and even more of us are self-employed, you would think that a tiny amount of flexibility would be called for.  So although I had a pretty decent deposit, I still had to jump through more hoops than a circus dog and with the aid of a good mortgage broker.   No wonder everywhere I look, people are renting.

I did find throwing stuff out very therapeutic though - even books.  I always felt guilty about chucking out books, it has this Nazi esque connotation to it - the next step down from burning books.  But I knew I was moving to a flat and many of my books felt connected to my past so I gave loads away, recycled the rest and only kept the books that make me look intelligent I love and cherish.

So I've moved house and am now in that stage of finding out how things work (or don't) while working on my next Radio 4 thing, a series.  But I'm acutely aware that I've been neglecting my blog where I moan and whinge constantly write about my fascinating life.  So I'm back and Mallen Streak or not, I'm going to write a lot more from now on.