Saturday, 14 August 2010

Don't bank on it

I think I must be the only person I know who keeps a bank account as a keepsake. It's a little connection to my late brother - it was his account, before it became our account, before it became my account - and it's also to remind me of possibly the worst customer experience I am ever likely to have.

If you read this blog regularly, you may know that my brother and I had a close if contentious relationship. One thing I will say for him though is that he was a meticulous planner. So, when he became seriously ill, he added my name to his staff account at the bank. That way, when the inevitable came, the funeral arrangements could be made without a fuss. Once it was done, we didn't discuss it again, except when he saw that they'd printed my name before his on the chequebook and got it changed, or when he told me that he'd received my bank card at the flat and had cut it up. Life can be complicated for brothers.

After David died (and even now, those three words have a crushing finality about them), I went through all the processes like an automaton, guided by a close friend of his. Living in Cornwall, she kindly arranged some flowers for me for the service and I wrote her a cheque from 'the account'. You can imagine her distress when her bank bounced the cheque and returned it as 'Account Holder Deceased'. I ranted at the bank and they explained it was procedure, even though it was a joint account and I was not only alive, but seething. I was also told that I'd have to go to his local branch to deal with it, which I did after collecting the ashes - I have to say, not my best week of all time.

In the branch, the manager spoke to Supplier Liaison and determined that not only had the cheque bounced, but the account had been frozen. Supplier Liaison don't make mistakes, apparently; and neither do they write to account holders when they've frozen their accounts like this. The branch manager, to her credit, raged almost as much as I had and the account was reinstated with the promise of a written explanation within two weeks. I'm sure you all know the banks well enough now to realise that the letter never arrived.

So far so bad. Well, David had three savings bonds which he'd taken out less than a year before he died. Each was for a different term and, naturally, these all had to be redeemed as part of the resolution of his estate. Bonds 1 and 3 were closed in a timely fashion, but I had to chase the middle Bond for another two weeks because, '...it seems that the paper got stuck to the bottom of the first sheet and was mislaid or forgotten.'

The final insult came when, having dealt with most of the bureaucracy which has to be attended to in such circumstances, the bank contacted me to offer their services, in the processing of his will and effects. And, lucky me, because he'd been an employee of the bank, they could do it all for a mere £4000 or thereabouts. This, for a single man with a flat and few complications. Generous to a fault, the bank even offered me an extra discount on the day (they sent a representative to my home, on a no obligation basis), when I was walking said rep back to her car. Consistent to the end.

And now, every time I go to a local branch, they look at the account and see that I'm 'staff' and ask me if I'm retired (a London division banking sort code) or on holiday. I smile sweetly and tell them I've never worked for the bank and that the bank has never worked for me.

Monday, 9 August 2010

Shades of grey

Usually, when I start a post, I have a clear idea of what I want to say or at the very least some semblance of a point I want to make. Not so today. I haven't even figured out where I stand on the following situation, but it grabbed my attention and now it's all yours.

On Radio 4 today, there was a short piece about cuts to the Arts Council's budget. I missed the beginning, but I gather from other sources that the Arts Council has to reduce its overall budget by £19m. This will mean a direct cut of £1.8m of funding, affecting around 800 arts organisations.

The radio interview was with one of the owners of Flambard Press (http://www.flambardpress.co.uk/) - I'm afraid I didn't catch her name. Flambard Press has a reputation for innovative authors and I've submitted material to them this year without success. That's not relevant to this post; it's just some context.

So, the owner explained that Flambard Press has been going for 20 years and has received Arts funding since its inception, and currently receives £21,000 a year. She made a convincing case for the importance of independent publishers like Flambard and that £21k is a small sum in the great scheme of things. (I was reminded of the £78m of National Lottery funding given to the Royal Opera House, back in the 90s.)

I came to the arts arena after leaving my corporate job, with two unpublished novels in hand and the promise of publication within a year. Over a year later, I'm come to see the arts world in an entirely different light. Different rules apply and it is a hand-to-mouth environment. Success, it appears, is judged by other criteria. It seems to be more about fulfilling a niche need and it definitely helps to tap into the right networks. Some things have changed though. There are people will go out of their way to help you while there are others will smile as they pull up the ladder behind them and make sure that window of opportunity is securely locked.

So the idea that a publisher can be funded for 20 years was something of a revelation. I wish them every success and I'm flabbergasted, all at the same time. Mainly, I started to wonder. Could a writer get that kind of patronage?

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Number 8*

As many of you will know, I've been reporting on the growing backlash against opportunities for writers which offer no pay but promise exposure and a writing credit. There's a lot of debate over what constitutes an internship, where a website or printed publication offers a reasonable prospect of developing a readership and when someone else is just earning at your expense.

In all of those discussions and ballista exchanges, the common feature has been that the owners of these websites and publications have been upfront about the lack of paid prospects at the outset.

Today, in a quiet moment when I needed a break from editing Line of Sight, I did a plagiarism search using http://www.plagiarismchecker.com/

Imagine my surprise to find my writing repeated on this link - http://www.zimbio.com/member/ajiis54/articles without any permission on my part or crediting me with the authorship. I've written to http://www.zimbio.com with my own version of a Cease & Desist email so watch this space.

How and why did this happen?
A good question. It all seemed to start when I answered an add to write a blog post containing the name E-r-k-i-n B-e-k-b-o-l-o-t-o-v. And they paid me, too. The blog-thief (a novel title if ever I heard one) only appeared after my E-B posting so maybe it was a sprat to catch a mackerel, or in this case, my content. It could be completely unrelated though. Whatever the case, it's made me more vigilant about my content and where it ends up.

* Number 8 = thou shalt not steal.