Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Lend me a tenner mate.

Social media is a slot machine. You put up a post, a blog, a tweet, pull down the handle and watch dry-mouthed hoping your readers go up as the comments roll around and around - till it all grinds to a halt on three lemons and a shower of interest and LOLs. You can stand there in the dark for hours playing it - man against machine. The souls of your shoes tacky against the nylon carpet. An almost empty pint glass in your hand, the dregs warm and flat. Hoping for a jackpot. An addict hoping for a hit. And the etiquette of it all is tough. Some people you like but there is never the time to get to know them properly. Others want stuff from you - a review, a signed book, or just to be your friend. What for instance is the done thing when someone who owes you money wants to be your friend on Facebook? Not that he owes me much. I can't even remember whether it was five or ten or twenty. I think it was ten and it was years ago. And it is not the money. It is just I can remember feeling stung as happening upon me in a cafe, this chap greeted me warmly, chatted loudly and effusively of how great it was to see me as he queued for coffee and a pastry, and then called to me as I sat at my table asking me to pay for his breakfast as he didn't "have the time" to pay himself. And the hungry, snaking queue of patrons heard him, watched me, as I was had. I remember thinking "Are you kidding me? You're standing there. At the till. Ofcourse you have the time." And he must have had the money because he was in a bakery buying coffee and a pastry - had joined the queue to buy them. And I'd liked this chap. And I'd felt let down and used up. But I paid for his coffee and his pastry and he left the cafe, calling how he would get the money back, and raised a hand in warm salute and I thought "I bet you don't. I bet you won't." Ofcourse perhaps that's why he wants to be my Facebook friend.

Card Sharp

So Penguin asked me for five top tips for good deeds at Christmas. Despite having done my year of good deeds, I am slightly leery setting myself up as any moral authority on what is and is not a good deed (particularly bearing in mind I am a journalist and as Lord Leveson will point out tomorrow journalists have no kind of moral authority at all.) Still bearing in mind I am a firm believer in a free press, my first top tip for doing good at Christmas is:

"Buy charity cards direct from a charity. Every year you say you will, then your eye gets caught on that snowy, sparkly woodland in the department store. Put your hands up and step away from the robin."

And since I am writing about good deeds for Christmas I am going to have to in all conscience give them a go and do them myself.(Makes hand into gunshape and holds finger-barrel to own head.) Yesterday I duly went online and ordered 100 charity Christmas cards and today 60 of them arrived.

Anyone who knows me stand by your beds (doubtless already covered in your festive quilt and festooned with sparkling pointsettia lights.) The likelihood is you will soon be in receipt of a Giotto nativity from Arthritis Research UK; glittery snowdrops from Cancer Research; a leafless winter's tree (hopefully not an ash) from Save the Children; or this one called "Christmas Post" from Action for Children.

Whatsmore I am, in one fell swoop, helping "reduce the pain and disability for the one in six people including children, in the UK who are living with this debilitating condition (of arthritis)", helping "save children's lives...fight for their rights...fulfil their potential" and beating cancer. And I haven't even written the damn cards yet. Yeah. How about that?

My husband looked a little confused at the delivery of the Christmas cards. This is because he is normally the one who writes them. In fact normally I never send a Christmas card. Not one. I haven't for years. Maybe one in a blue moon to an aged aunty but that is it. (Grits teeth and reaches for address book).

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Hot off the Press

Went down to Suffolk to Clay's factory to see the book being printed, and took my eldest along on the grounds that if this one crashes and burns I might never get another book published.

I also thought there has to be a good chance by the time he is my age, books will all be on kindles and suchlike. Even I was surprised as we witnessed the process though, because when you think of a book, you think of the intellectual and emotional response that book elicits in terms of reading, whilst in terms of writing you think of the inspiration and creativity and the hard work involved. Books though are also a thing to be manufactured with consideration given to the grain of the paper, and glue and guillotines and conveyor belts. Then of course they have to be sold. Don't start me on the selling of books because I'll end up mewing in a corner. Who knows whether a book will sell? Can you make a wish? Clay's published all the Harry Potter books, so maybe it is a good place for magic to happen.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Is that a Handbag Beneath Your Burka or Are You Just Pleased to See Me?

I am not big on conferences. I have had to cover a fair few - usually political, occasionally educational. I associate them with late nights, thick heads, deadlines and trying to look like I know what's going on when I haven't a clue. I spoke at a Britmums blog meet-up a couple of years ago and this weekend I went along to the Mumsnet Blogfest. I admit I was slightly wary. It is one thing covering a conference when you are being paid to be there as a hack, it is fair enough if you are speaking or chairing an event which I have also done, but going along as a punter implies you are a believer or an enthusiast, and that is a hard admission to make if you are a natural sceptic like me.

Anyway on the basis that I am a mum, I am a blogger, I have a net and I am all for festing, I went. Here are my top ten things I took away from the conference. (There are 12 that is because I am adding value to my blog bulging as it is with unique content.)

1. I need to buy a wrap-dress in jersey with a nice geometric print immediately. Similarly, I need an expensive leather handbag.

2. Don't presume if you go to a conference on your own that you will spend the day friendless. I worried that it might be cliquey, that I would be left standing by myself talking to an aspidistra. I was entirely wrong (and I hope the lovely girl in tears I met in the Ladies at the start of the day recovered herself.)

3. "Why Miriam Gonzales Durante?" I asked myself looking at the agenda which had her down as the opening keynote speaker. "Because she's absolutely great" I answered once I'd heard her. Miriam is a partner in a law firm specialising in EU Trade and EU Government affairs.(She also happens to be married to the deputy prime minister.) She is seriously clever, warm and very glamorous. (The woman next to me described her as "like Jackie Kennedy" when she first appeared with her shiny, shiny dark hair and chic white top. Tell me I wasn't the only one in the audience thinking "Miriam, baby - Nick Clegg? Nick. Clegg. Why?"

4. Bloggers over-think the troll thing. Occasionally horrible people stumble into your world - real or virtual. Courtesy of psychologist Professor Tanya Byron, I realised that they are probably damaged, and that what they say is their problem and not yours.

5. Bloggers who are writing for themselves rather than on behalf of a company should forget about including keywords in titles, tags or disappearing down any such SEO (search engine optimisation)rabbit-holes. Where is the fun in angsting about rankings when you could be writing?

6. Similarly social media. Apparently we all need to get on google+. Which I am on. It is just I have forgotten what to do with it. I know it has circles like Dante's inferno and you have to send different things to each circle. As far as I can see this leads to a permanent sense of anxiety that you are sending the wrong thing to the wrong people.

7. Do not get there late if you want a cupcake.

8. The dos and don'ts of blogging about children is a coming issue. Blogging is growing up. As are the children some bloggers write about. Best question of the day - what do you do if your 16-year-old tells you he doesn't want you to write about him anymore?

9. There are some women out there who want to wear Caitlin Moran's skin. Personally I'm settling for throwing away my hairbrush and giving myself one of those fetching blond Mallon streaks that make you look like you are licked awake every morning by a golden retriever.

10. Don't invite Mail on Sunday columnist Liz Jones and expect her to send a floral notelet saying "thank you" and "how nice it was to meet you" - it ain't gonna happen. Don't feel hurt or bitch about her attitude when she accuses mumsnet bloggers of being patsies whose view of the world is so restricted they might as well be wearing burkas. Laugh. In a burka, noone can see you laughing.

11. I am all for writing. I have written three books Wife in the North, the-novel-that-lives-in-a-drawer-that-is-pants, and the one due out in January called A Year of Doing Good. I want to write more books. I also want to be happy. I'd like to think these things were not mutually exclusive.

12. If you paint your nails with a wacky chocolatey-plummy varnish courtesy of nails inc. that came in the goody bag, apparently it is flammable and your fingers catch fire as you type.