Tuesday, August 18, 2009

"Es gibt hier keine Baeren."

Am very excited. Wife in the North came out in Germany last Wednesday (courtesy of a brilliant translator called Cornelia Holfelder-von der Tann) under the title Stadt, Land - Schluss and is about to hit number 15 in their bestseller charts. (Bearing in mind it sank like a stone in the US and we speak the same language - what's German for "hooray!"?) Even better my publishers have tweaked the book trailer so I now know how to say "There are no bears" in German.

What's happening in Germany is a real pick-me-up because the thing about getting a book published is you want another published after that, and then another, and chances are that might not happen. Me and my nose are writing away on Book No. 2 without a contract, which means without money, which means shedloads of guilt for not earning anything, and the acute suspicion that I'm playing at being a writer and really I should snap out of it and do something useful with my life. Of course, if I finish it and someone buys it, me and my nose are vindicated. But the last real writer I spoke to told me that the first novel she wrote never made it out of the drawer and went down as a "learning experience". I hate "learning experiences". Generally speaking they are unspeakably horrid and misery-making and give other people the chance to say things like "I don't think so" and "I'm afraid you're just not good enough."

The other night I went for supper at a friend's and before she'd allow us to eat we all had to troop out to the dusking lawn to play croquet. Croquet brings me out in a cold sweat. I'm a working class girl from Leeds. I wasn't brought up playing croquet. I don't even know how to hold the racket and I've never liked jumping through hoops. I'm short but even for me, it's difficult. I associate it with being a teenager and having lunch with the family of my then boyfriend. I could be wrong (these are only memories after all and what are memories made of?) but I have always laboured under the opinion his mother disliked me. In my memory then, the sun blazed, and I opted out of the game of croquet in the garden to sit in the shade. Later that afternoon, rowing in a boat along the river, the sun still shining, a girl (staying with the family on some sort of exchange) told me that my sweetheart's mother had asked her what she thought of me; and a victory of sorts - she said she liked me very much. I have always wondered how a grown woman could ask one child what she thought of another. The realisation that not everybody likes you - a learning experience.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

"Don't hesitate to get in touch"

As a journalist, when press releases came in, you would skim the first couple of pars, roll them in a ball and shoot them into the nearest bin. Alternatively, someone called something like "Izzie" would ring when you were on deadline and say "Hi-this-is-Izzie-from-Bright-Light-And-Sunny-Days-I-just-wanted-to-check-you-got-our-fax-about-our-fantastic-all-inclusive-merino-goat-herding-vacations-in-Snowdonia-which-train-you-to-knit-as-you-ramble." About this point Izzie would break for breath and you'd say "Got the fax. Got your number. Have to go" or "Let me give you the number of a goat-loving colleague who might be able to help you" depending on your mood. I never resented such approaches. They were an occupational hazard but then I was being paid to deal with them.

In blogging - more particularly in the world of the mommy blogger, I'm not paid to deal with them but still they buzz round anxious to get something for nothing. A whole social media industry is being built on the back of bloggers apparently fuelled by the conviction that mommy bloggers are laptop patsies with floral aprons tied round our midriffs and too much time on our floury hands. They think we care about whatever it is they are trying to get the word out about. They expect us to care. I for one don't. I have an advertising column and am more than happy to take an advert (see Sony and Northumberland Tourism for instance), but the PRs don't want to take an advert they want it for free. They want me to embed a YouTube video about pushchairs or a banner about soap because they think I'm a mummy and this is what I want to do with my blog.

Occasionally a quid pro quo, or what is otherwise known as a "freebie", is offered. Now this is fair enough although I have so far taken only two things from PRs - Kipper books and a phone. Both of which I would probably have written about. I am a big fan of Kipper (unlike Spot the world's most boring dog) but I never got round to it.(Sorry, Kipper.) The O2 phone I felt bad about because it looked great but I used it a couple of times and then completely forgot the code to open up all the high tech functions so it hangs around my office reproaching me, a technological dodo. In all conscience, I didn't feel I could write up "Am mommy blogger moron and forgot code so cannot use phone though it looks very pretty " on the special high-tech geek blog they set up for it.

The latest such approach is from a nice man who works for Sainsbury's who starts off telling me that Sainsbsury's wants to "reach out to you". This he tells me is because I'm an "influential blogger" (I suspect he wants to make me feel good.) He wants me to attend a meeting at Sainsbury's Head Office "a completely closed meeting" to offer 8-10 bloggers a preview of something or other. (A "completely closed meeting"? I'm a blogger - why would I go to a closed meeting?) This invitation was later withdrawn "Unfortunately we didn't give everyone enough advance warning to be able to make it on the day."
However, the nice man assures me they really do want to work with "important bloggers like you" and "yes, we have been reading your blogs for a while now. We see:
*Depth of thought in your posts
*How much conversation is generated both in commenting and others externally from your blog".
Impressed as they are he tells me he will be giving me a £75 voucher to use when sainsburys.co.uk goes live with an extended range of products. All I have to do is let them know what I think of the site.
Five days later, my price has dropped. The nice man tells me the new site is now "LIVE" and that he has £50 for me to spend. £50? What I wonder did I do in the intervening period to make my price drop? I contemplate emailing him but it seems pushy doesn't it. "I'm wondering what happened to my other £25 - is it the stock market? Did I become £25 less "influential" when I wasn't looking?"

Still, at least it is a better offer than Haliborange with their "exclusive" trial of new Kids Multivitamin Fruit Softies. "Strawberry shaped with a delicious strawberry fruit flavour". I don't know how I held myself back from that one. Particularly when it came alongside the offer of a video for my site on how to paint icecubes. Or then again, there was the Carex offer of testing and reviewing a selection of products along with a lightbox to help my kids learn to wash their hands and a parent information pack with a "number of fun activities" for me and my daughter to try. Presumably the conversation would go something like this - "I know kids - don't just lie there and watch television, let's all go wash our hands again." Even better was the offer of a hoover. Not a whole hoover to keep, just one I could push around for a few days and then write about. (Tsk. If only I hadn't got that pesky RSI. A visiting hoover - what's not to blog?)

Message to social media PRs: Don't patronise. Don't flatter. Don't send me a press release about something that's been in the papers the week before - I read the papers. Don't invite me to a meeting to pick my brain and pay me with a cup of coffee. Don't waste my time.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Arms and the woman

The thing is when you stop blogging for a while, you lose confidence you can blog at all. I came down with a bad flare-up of RSI or tendonitis or whatever you want to call it - something that makes you say "Ow" a lot and drop things. So I stopped, stopped blogging, stopped writing the next book, stopped all that hoovering I do to unwind (yeah right). And let's face it, it's fatal to stop. I decided I wasn't really worth listening to after all, and that's probably true, but I'm going to start again because otherwise I may go mad. The RSI is better than it was, I've got some voice recognition software now anyway, and, if all else fails I'll type with my nose. My nose can't spell of course, so prepare yourself for some really bad spelljng in the days ahead. And I'd really better not get a cold because that could play hell with my syntax. OK - brace yourself for summer.