Thursday, 21 June 2012


Tin of biros
I need to write with blue Bic biros

My article for the Mapping the Change - Hackney Legacy project has been submitted.  I wrote a long feature article, that incorporated elements of both an interview and an opinion piece. 

Once I'd done the interview with Eton Mission Rowing Club, I knew that the final stage of the process was about to start - actually sitting down and writing the article.  This is the stage I am always most confident about - because it just involves me and some pens and some paper.  Nobody else needs to get involved, and whatever else is going on with me or the rest of the family, I can pretty much always make an hour or more at a time to write.

I make a plan of the article first - usually as a mind map.  I decide what I want to say, and what I must make sure I include.  Then I write a first draft - always longhand with my pen of choice and some nice paper.  This first draft looks very scrappy, with much crossed out, extra words added in the margins, new paragraph marks, underlinings and arrows everywhere.

The second draft is usually typed into Word, and then I print it out and leave it alone for a few hours or a few days - as much as I have time for.  When I come back to it, I read it through, marking the pages with any corrections I want to make, or anything that needs to be cut or expanded.  Once again the pages are covered with arrows, crossings out and underlinings.

Then I type it up into the final version, put it aside once more if I can, and then do a very final read through before I send it off.  This is how I've written for years, and it works very well for me, but I do need to build in plenty of time for all the drafts and re-reading that I like to do.

Friday, 1 June 2012

Interviews revisited

Interviews have always been a big challenge for me.  The experience I gained from conducting them and writing them on the last course has meant that I am much more confident and enthusiastic about them this time around.

A couple of weeks ago I interviewed my Mum over the phone about learning to knit, and then I wrote it up as a 350 word piece.  I surprised myself by enjoying the whole process.  The feedback I was given gave me another boost of confidence and I wanted to go right out and do another one - making it even better this time.

The feature I am writing for the final legacy publication is based around an interview with the committee of the Eton Mission Rowing Club in Hackney Wick.  I went down there to interview them on Monday evening.  This was my first face-to-face interview, rather than over the phone, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  Having Ian, the photographer, with me was a big help - it felt like we were all having a good chat rather than anything stiff and formal.

So I'm an interview convert...right up to the point where I have to type up the transcript.  I still hate this part - I sound like such an idiot when I hear myself back.  I type as quickly as I can, and reward myself with a big slice of cake when I'm finished.

My voice recorder
My voice recorder - useful and mortifying in equal measure

Monday, 21 May 2012

Back again

I am back on the Mapping the Change project - this time with Hackney Museum.  This is the final course that Hackney Museum and Words of Colour will be running for Mapping The Change and the edition of Hackney Circuit that we are going to produce will have a theme of legacy.  As one of the graduates from a previous course, I am also part of the theme myself.

I want to focus my writing on the idea of legacy as something we inherit from the past, as well as something that is left to us for the future.  The constant use of the word legacy by the Olympic Committee and the Government always refers to future benefits, but what about the facilities we had in place already?  It is all too easy to forget them, or assume they were insignificant.

I've been researching and arranging interviews with the Eton Mission Rowing Club in Hackney, which is 127 years old, and borders the Olympic Park.  Things are starting to fall into place, and it looks as though I will be able to write the article about them.

Early morning coffee
Early morning coffee on the steps of Hackney Town Hall

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Change all mapped

Yesterday was our final session at Mapping the Change.  I would be devastated that the course was ending if I wasn't so busy tying up the loose ends for my articles, which are due next week.

I have a couple of days free, at home, to chase press offices for information, and then I am planning on spending all Saturday at the British Library, writing everything up.  I like the practicalities of writing these articles - the books spread everywhere, the bookmarked websites, the paper, pens and voice recorder on my desk.

At the end of our final session yesterday we talked about what our plans were for after this course.  Mine seem very clear to me now - to earn money from my writing.  Once these articles are finished I'll be setting aside a few hours to make some concrete plans on how I'm going to go about this.

A mind map, drawn by my 9 year old

Friday, 21 October 2011

Others' experiences

One of the best things about the Mapping The Change course has been meeting all the guest speakers.  In just five weeks we've met an awful lot of people:
Each one of these people has shared their knowledge and enthusiasm with us in a way that has been very motivating.  As a result of all these meetings, I feel less like I am an imposter in someone else's world, and more like somebody with useful ideas to contribute.  They have all suggested possibilities of working with my writing in the future, and for that I am very grateful.

I've also loved going back to the City and Canary Wharf, where I worked in finance for so many years, and seeing these places with a different perspective.  They were physically such inspiring places to work, and although I knew that at the time I appreciate them so much more now that I am based at home.

Southwark Bridge
Southwark Bridge, close to The Financial Times' offices

Today I've been talking to various Press Offices, and introducing myself on the phone as a journalist.  I could not have imagined doing that five weeks ago, but now it seems perfectly reasonable.  Others' experiences in journalism and writing are supporting me in my own.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011


I've been interviewing this week, and finding it outrageously difficult.  I have to fight my natural shyness and my somewhat phobic attitude to telephones. There's no point trying to interview someone if you're too shy to speak to them.  But there's no point being a writer if you can't interview people.  So I gritted my teeth and did it anyway.

Photo from smiling-da-vinci on Flickr

For my Mapping the Change assignment I had to do a 15 minute interview with someone I know, and then write up the transcript and turn it into a 350 word article.  I decided to interview my brother-in-law about his experiences as a troop commander in the British Army, serving in Iraq.

I was shy about asking him if he would be interviewed - and I needn't have been because he was very happy to do it.  I was nervous about speaking to him on the phone - and I needn't have been because we've known each other for years and he's very easy to chat to.  So the lesson there is to not be so ridiculous about using the telephone and just do it anyway.

The preparation for interviews can be quite lengthy, because you need to think up more questions than you'll need and plan a little how you want the conversation to go.  This preparation really paid off when I was talking to my brother-in-law.  I had enough questions, and I found out what I wanted to know, but I also learned some things that I wasn't expecting (annual appraisals must still happen, even when you're serving in Iraq!) and the conversation went off in unexpected directions which I felt I managed to respond to well.

I was very pleased with how the interview had gone, until I came to write up the transcript.  I quickly learned all the phrases I constantly repeat: "Oh, that's so interesting!" "So, in some way..." and "" (this last one all the time).  I also talk far too much for an interviewer - so perhaps I should use my shyness to my advantage and just try and shut up a bit more?

Once I had finished squirming at the transcript I started to write the article.  This was even more frustrating as I had such a low word count so couldn't possibly include everything I wanted to.  It was a very good lesson in restraint and editing.  I ended up going with a topic we talked about that was perhaps not the most interesting one, but the one that I thought had the best quotes and the best story with which to frame it. 

Thoroughly bad-tempered after all this word-wrestling, I emailed the article off to our tutor with mixed feelings. The darn thing was done and dusted, but I was frustrated that I had probably not submitted one of my better pieces of writing.

Interview recording equipment
Picture from tlg_interviews on Flickr

Yesterday I went to the LOCOG offices at Canary Wharf with the rest of the Mapping the Change groups to talk to Jonathan Edwards.  It was an interview in a press conference format.  We each went with some questions to ask him, but only had time to ask about one each.  I loved this, and really enjoyed hearing other people's questions, but found it hard to pick which one of my fifteen-or-so questions to ask Jonathan. 

In the end I asked him how he personally would judge if the London 2012 Olympics had been a success.  He gave a full, but rather standard, answer and I wished I had pushed him further to narrow down his response and be more precise.  So that made me think again about that balance between polite and pushy.  It will be difficult for me to find a balance I am comfortable with.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Still writing

The tricky chapter of the Sheffield book is coming along nicely.  Not finished, but looking less tricky all the time and with just one more chunk of about 1,000 words to write.

After yesterday's day with Mapping the Change though, I have decided to put the book down for the next month or so and just concentrate on the journalism.  There is much to do and even more to learn.  We had a guest speaker from The Guardian this week, talking about interviewing and writing.  I do love to meet actual writers - it makes the whole process of trying to become one myself seem much less ridiculous.

So this week I am heading off to the local museum to research lidos, ordering a digital voice recorder and a voice pick up cable, doing an interview, writing full outlines for four articles and starting a fifth one.  This new busy-ness of writing is starting to feel normal.  And that is a very good thing indeed.

Tin of biros
My tin of blue bic biros - I am slightly addicted to them