Can't see the tree for the... erm....

No, the image is not a Magic Eye picture of ET smiling, it's the remainder of our much-loved, but much-addled Lawson's Cypress tree from our garden.

When we could see right through one of the candelabra trunks and the split on two of them extended up from the base, it was clear that action needed to be taken. And while it's a sad loss to the ambience of the garden, the front room (the tree was very close to the house) is much, much lighter now. Add to that the wide open space, the trailer load of logs now seasoning in a wood store and enough kindling in the future to toast the coldest of heart cockles, and you can see that there are many gains.

Similarly, I've come to a point in some of my writing projects where I've needed to take appropriate action, fell some longstanding ambitions (although not as long as the 75 years that the tree stood its ground) and clear space for other things. For example, I've been submitting to every series of a radio show without success and I've decided to call time on it. Elsewhere, my prices for some clients are under evaluation and I'm giving serious thought to streamlining my services.

Those kindly folk at Business Link have been offering guidance on sustainable enterprise and have also provided me with a website for my business. So if you have any writing or editorial requirements, you know where to come -

Cloud and Proud

Sometimes it's great to just kick back, forget the creative deadlines you've imposed upon yourself like a cross between the Marquis de Sade and a desperate novelist, and just play with words. As I'm a visual learner (I read that in a book once), I was delighted to receive an email from fellow novelist Warren about a neat little cyber toy that also serves a practical purpose.

It's called a Wordle and not only does it give you a visual representation of your most used words in the form of a delightful "word cloud", but you can also play with the font, colours and layout. And it's free too - what's not to like? Here's the all-important link:

The wizardry is a not-for-profit device and you can use it on all kinds of neat stuff. As if that wasn't enough, you can use it on text, on blogs (see image above) and, as Warren ably demonstrated, on an entire novel.

What are you waiting for? Go play!

Where the web-links live

Here are some web-links for my writing on the net:

Cold Heart – Dark Valentine magazine
The Seeds of Happiness – Stories that Lift
Saturday Night – Molotov Cocktail magazine
The Silent Hills – Also contracted to Musa Publishing - 14/10/2011 - 13/10/2014.
Through the Veil – hyperFeedia
Night Train – Fiction 365

Political pieces for AND magazine
Human Responsibilities, The Curse of a Jaded Eye, PTSD The Hidden Wounds, Right to Remain Private, WikiLeaks Media Frenzy and Job Equality in the UK.

The best writing job ever – by which I mean the worst

I don’t know exactly what it is that draws me time and time again to trawling the Internet for writing gigs. Could it be the great clients I’ve met along the way and even the not so great? Maybe. Could it be the rich diversity of business requirements across three continents? Yep, that would be part of it. But it’s also the occasionally breathtaking, stupendously ridiculous ads that are out there if you lift enough rocks.

This ad that not only took the biscuit, it licked off the cream in the middle (the metaphorical biscuit was a custard cream), put the two pieces back together and then replaced it in the packet. It went something like this…

Hello there!

I have received a lot of replies to my job advert and after going through all the resumes and replies I have chosen a couple of writers [if ‘couple’ meant a dozen] that I think would fit the job well. For a job like this, a small amount of training is required. I know you are an experienced writer and all, but I require you to read an e-book that is similar to the content and tone I'm after. This position is a very laid back job and brings you great pay and incentives. You get to write about what you know and love, which itself is something you can’t put a price on.

So in order to be one of the chosen few for this job I need you to:

1. Get this e-book called – [Naturally I Won’t Be Advertising It Here!] which you can find at: [http://one-born-every-minute] I know that it costs around $10 and I'd like to provide it to you for free. But I simply can't due to copyright laws and creative commons laws. I’m sure you understand as a writer and wouldn’t want your work stolen or given away. The writer of that e-book is actually a great guy and a friend of mine [they might even share the same name...] so by paying for it you are helping out a fellow writer. And you’ll be able to afford two copies of his book in only one paid hour working for me. After the trial, I mean.

2. When you get the book, I need you to read it quickly - it’s pretty short so don’t worry, but it's still worth $10 of anybody’s money. Then write at least a 300 word article that summarizes what the e-book is all about, for the readers of my site [http://client's-nearly-empty-website]. And I need to know exactly how long it took you to write the article.

This will be your training and a test for this job – that way we save time. Training isn’t paid for - that way I save money. Good luck everyone and remember to submit the article to me by the 5th of February to be in with a great chance of employment. I’m expecting a lot of entries so write quickly and let’s do business! lol.

And the client very kindly put everyone’s email address in CC so we could write to one another about what a great opportunity this could be. Not.

Here is my reply:

This is the most entertaining job offer I've had in a long while.

If I may:

1. Creative Commons specifically allows for the distribution of copyrightedworks:

2. Plumbers don't so try-outs, carpenters don't do try-outs and shop assistants don't do try-outs. Neither does this writer. Money should flow to the writer and not from them. The idea that a writer ought to pay for the privilege of trying out (i.e. writing a piece for free) is ludicrous.

So thanks for the opportunity, but I'll pass this time.

I'm guessing the would-be client was too busy with their other writers to respond.

Well, this is a novelty

I like to think that I've experienced most of the surprises that freelancing has to offer, but don't count your chickens - or your clients - before they're hatched. I recently ticked off a brand new one for the journal by firing a client.

The client wasn't a difficult person; they weren't hard to get hold of or vague in their requirements. There was just one thing we couldn't agree on and that was money. Or rather, we had agreed on it and then subsequently it turned out we hadn't. And then after all that was resolved, we ended up in some spooky Twilight Zone re-run of the first issue.

It played out a little like this... (and you'll have to imagine your own Twilight Zone music tinkling in)...

The client and I swap a few emails and agree terms for the freelance writing and editing. As part of that agreement we have a two-hour 'trial' which the client agrees upfront to pay for. I try to avoid spec work as there is a tendency for spec to end up being an abbreviation for suddenly proves economic catastrophe.

Anyhow, I do the work and the client is happy and we speak on the phone - not skype, but the real phone and long-distance too. And the bluebirds of happiness are dancing over the keyboard because they know that the freelancing faeries have cast their magic spell.

Shortly afterwards, the Paypal faery shows 4 hours payment, but the email says that's for four hours in advance. I do a double-take and check back and sure enough, I did the writing I thought I had. I also know this because those bluebirds are still on my keyboard. So I email my client and ask what the dickens is going on.

The client says they 'sort of thought my original two-hours of work was a way of me selling and showcasing my skills to get the gig'. Being both organised and twitchy, I keep all emails and quickly dig out the 'I'll pay you for the trial' email and ping it off with a sense of concern.

But it's fine. The client emails back and says 'no problemo' or something similar. I finish the second two hours of writing and editorial work and clear the decks for the next four hours, reasonably reassured. So which of these scenarios do you think occurs next?

1. The client asks me to work for four hours and then send an invoice for payment.
2. The client asks to pay in advance for another four hours of work.
3. The client pays for four hours of work in advance, but says I owe them six hours because there's still two hours to be done from the first payment?

If you answered number three, award yourself a cookie, a piece of chocolate or some other sugar-filled delight. Yes, that's right, 'no problemo' has gone on a diet and become just 'problemo'.

What I did was go back through all the emails to give the client a chronology of our exchanges, including work and payment. I also pointed out we were having our second disagreement about the same two hours in a matter of days (okay, a couple of weeks), and that consequently I was returning their advance payment and ending our work agreement with immediate effect.

And that, dear reader, is how I came to fire my first (and potentially lucrative) client. And the lesson here? Even when the money is good, know your own boundaries.


Someone got in touch with me recently about a computer query because, thanks to the combination of the magical letters IT and the extent of my perspective-less confidence, they naturally thought I could solve their problem.

My friend had been contacted by phone and advised that their computer had been infected with a virus, which could be resolved remotely (by about 4500 remote miles, it transpired) and for a mere £199 or thereabouts, the computer would then be as safe as Fort Knox - not counting that one time with Goldfinger.

It's easy to scoff at these seemingly obvious scams, but my friend was both unworried and unused to checking out anything suspect on Snopes. So, rather than get immersed in Technical Support Auto 4, I reverted to my Sherlock Holmes persona.
1. How could the caller know your number? Answer: "I don't know."
2. How could the caller know you had a computer? Answer: "I don't know."
3. How could the caller know your computer runs Windows 7? Answer: "I don't know."
4. How could the caller know your computer has a virus? Answer: "I don't know."

Some bright spark somewhere will one day write a book, CD and developmental workshop on The Healing Power of Logic.

Logically, they could not have all that information unless you had given some of it to them previously. And the only way they could tell your computer was infected with a virus was if they'd been able to scan it or if you'd accidentally sent them an infected file. Not really a three pipe problem. If it looks like a duck, sounds like a duck and smells like a duck, it's probably a duck; either that or a goose with a growth hormone deficiency.

In a similar vein, when a writing opportunity presents itself, logic is king. If it looks like a scam, sounds like a scam and smells like a scam, it's probably a scam; either that or a solid opportunity with a growth hormone deficiency. And more on that another time.