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Wine Dark Sea Blue- Out now!

So, over this last year or so, the goal has been to get published. Yay, level up! The next goal is to sell those books.

Wine Dark, Sea Blue is a coming of age story. It’s about London, the recession, finding comfort in strangers, escapism, loyalty, and never really knowing how to say the things you want to say. It’s about secret keeping, family connections, unsaid truths and making art.

You can buy Wine Dark, Sea Blue from my publisher Stairwell Books. It will soon be available on Amazon and kindle, but please bear in mind, if you want to support the author and publisher, don’t buy hard copy books from Amazon, buy them straight from the source.

I’ll be blogging about the launch party and how it went (fantastically!) but for now, get hold of your copy, and show how much you’ve enjoyed it by posting a pic of yourself with the book, and hashtagging #almichael #winedarkseablue like all these lovely people have done! Get involved!

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How to Make Art and Influence Your Bank Balance

(Or ‘Why I’m Poor’)

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Having been spreading the gospel of creative entrepreneurship left, right and centre, you think I would have figured out how to be a millionaire by now. Sadly not. It still remains that often creative fulfilment and the ability to buy a pair of Louboutins are not aligned.

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I am (technically) quite successful at the moment. I am working, I am getting published, I’m moving into the area of adult creative writing workshops, something I’m absolutely passionate about, and all in all, life is good. To feel creatively content, I think the only qualifiers are that a) you’re writing and b) people are recognising that you’re writing.

However, that doesn’t mean that you’re being commercially successful. Talking to another creative entrepreneur recently, we came to the conclusion that whilst both reaching artistic milestones, and being happy with our achievements; we’ve never been this broke.

How can the creative entrepreneur align this? Surely the idea is to make art, and then sell it and make a lot of money doing it. Or alternately, make two types of art: one for your own enjoyment and one for the monies.

So does being creatively ‘in the zone’ mean that you’re not focusing enough on profitability? Perhaps you’ve just wanted to create something you love. Fair enough. If you haven’t been focusing on your cash cow, maybe you should be considering your target market. How can you maximise profitability on your current project?

Mr BrainWash. From 'Exit Through the Gift Shop'. Biggest artistic sell-out I've ever seen
Mr BrainWash. From ‘Exit Through the Gift Shop’. Biggest artistic sell-out I’ve ever seen

I have never written books expecting great wealth. I do, however, lead classes and do workshops and work with kids, and explain the themes in ‘Of Mice and Men’ over and over again until I want to punch myself in the face. These are the compromises we make. I’ve recently been wondering if maybe I could just do a nine-to-five and write in the evenings, like countless writers do. But somehow, that feels like it reduces my sense of legitimacy. Plus, I hate routine. And being told what to do. And sitting down for eight hours a day.

So, as my mother very politely tried to offer me alternatives, I realised one thing: Commit to a career in the same manner you commit to a project. I write a novel knowing that there are going to be certain bits I love (the random scribbling) and the bits I hate (the fourth round of editing) and that it will eventually have a purpose and an end. I may not know what that is whilst I’m writing it. I have a chic lit book I wrote last year sitting in a box, that I may not use for years or so. But I trust that at some point, it will find its purpose. I must look the same way at my career. The jobs I am doing now may not be particularly profitable or enjoyable, or easy, but they are paving the way to their own purpose. I just may not be entirely sure what that is, yet.

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Dear entrepreneurs, we have always said to have an endgame, and find your focus. But sometimes, it’s just about riding the waves and getting on with it whilst you’ve got your creative head on. And that’s fine. You don’t always know the end before you’ve written the middle. Trust that what your doing will either serve a purpose, or it will reach its limit, and be left behind. If we do that, perhaps, the penniless artist will cease to be a cliche, and the business-minded artist will have both creativity and cash.

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How to Plan a Book Launch Party

(Without losing your mind and sense of perspective)

Is there a better reason to write a book than to get to have a big party and celebrate? Well, maybe that the story needed to be told, that you’re a committed writer or a thousand other important reasons. But the idea of a book launch, and the level of legitimacy that offered, really got me through the last face-dragging, eye-rolling, teeth-grinding round of editing.

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But if you’re a new author, or being published by a small press, or self-published, how do you do it? I’ve read articles, surfed the web for ideas, called on all my writer and artist friends, and it’s hard to get a set idea. Especially once family get involved.

I’ve gleaned a few tips from other authors who seem to have the right idea so here’s what I’ve come up with:

1. Make it a damned good party!

You’re there to celebrate an achievement, having created something. Now, the ‘Book as Baby’ analogy has been done to death, and I won’t go into detail likening inspiration to conception, or editing to childbirth (or the desperate hunt of the singleton with low self-esteem to the writer looking for her perfect publisher husband) but it’s something you’ve created. You worked hard. You made something. Finishing a book (and being pleased with it) is a big enough deal. Getting it out into the world for people to read is a bigger deal. So party on! Food, drink, music.

 

2. Make it about you.

It should be something you enjoy. I had the option between a fun pub environment with a band and spoken word artists, and a gallery event with canapes. Now don’t get me wrong, they’re both fun, but take into account your book’s concepts, and what makes you comfortable. I’d much rather be joking about how many glasses of wine my main character drinks than making awkward speeches in a white room. Also, I tend to spill stuff. Plus, there’s things like cost, location, guests to consider. If you’re the kind of author who can eat a salmon-dill crostini without dropping it down your cleavage, then go have a grown-up party!

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3. Don’t Make it All About You

Yes, your friends love you, your family are proud of you, and they will probably do everything they can to help you sell books and celebrate. But they do not want to spend an evening listening to you recounting what made the story arc come to life in chapter sixteen, and how many times you changed the main character’s surname. No matter how much wine you ply them with. Give them a few guest speakers, some music, some entertainment of some sort that isn’t you. Now obviously, you’re going to need to do a reading, but hours of you reading segments of the book is probably not going to sell it. Unless you have a voice like David Attenborough or Stephen Fry.

 

4. Publicise!

Facebook, twitter, flyers, posters, invites. All the basics. Word of mouth, friends of friends. Book groups, writing groups, people in ‘the biz’. Even more importantly, people desperate for a bit of local news, like local radio stations and magazines/local newspapers. Maybe even your old schools/clubs etc. If you live in a suburb of a big city like me, it’s surprising how much they need news. Otherwise it’s all letters from angry people, and articles on changing the paving. Go on, invite them to a party, send them a press release with an invitation and see what happens!

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5. It’s Not Just a Party

By this I mean that if you are a young female author like myself, then sometimes your family get very confused about having a big party in this time of life that is not a wedding. So do as I do, and don’t let yourself get drawn into it. Keep it simple: snacks, drinks, entertainment, sales. It’s a celebration, but it’s also business. If you feel yourself getting too drawn in to colour schemes, floral arrangements and seating charts, go outside and slap yourself in the face. Or do as I do, and desperately scour the internet for people who will tell me how to do this correctly.

 

6. Sell

I’ve read various reports on sales at book launches. Some say it’s just a party and not really good at selling your books, and others have claimed they’re invaluable starters to a brilliant sales target. You need to remember why you’re there. 1) to celebrate your achievement with people who support you, 2) to sell books and get the word out about them. Ideally, get someone else to be in charge of sales (I have bribed friends with wine and everlasting gratitude) and be that person who can talk to everyone. Answer questions, get to know people, be available- don’t ramble on about it for ages, but a chance to chat and actually explain what the book means to you is probably invaluable.

 

7. Merchandise/Neat Touches

I decided to copy an idea found online and print my own bookmarks to put inside the books. These will say thanks for supporting the book, offer more info, website, future possibilities to support etc. It’s a cute way to stay in touch with your readers, give them a little something extra, and publicise. I’m also tempted by tote bags, badges and all manner of other ridiculous things, but I’m a merchandise whore. I also want to make book cupcakes.

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Do what you feel

I haven’t had my launch yet, these are just some thoughts I’ve had whilst planning it. I find a lot of American authors have had great ideas, but some of them aren’t always applicable in the UK. This is definitely a list in progress, and I’ll keep you guys informed as the publication for Wine Dark, Sea Blue looms nearer. In the meantime, you can see my author’s profile over on the Stairwell Books Website. Fun Fun.

Any recommendations or launch night horror stories?

 

 

 

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What is Creative Entrepreneurship?

I was recently asked to give a talk at the UEA London Campus on what it means to be a creative entrepreneur. I thought I’d post the talk here, as most people still seem to have trouble with the concept of arts and business intermingling.

This is only my personal account of the course, and is fairly anecdotal, but it sums up what I think I gained from this excellent MA, and how I got to where I am now.

It’s a bit like therapy when you start out. Hi, my name is Andrea Michael, and I am a creative entrepreneur. It feels a bit strange when you first tell people that, and we certainly spent enough time on the course examining the root of that word, ‘entrepreneur’, and what people think when you say it.

 

I can tell you this:

 

I do not look like an entrepreneur. I do not wear designer suits to get attention, you cannot judge me by my watch. I, like most other graduates, still live at home. In short, I am not Alan Sugar.

But I am a businesswoman. And an artist. And that merging of two amazing worlds is what I’m here to talk to you about. Because I think getting a Masters in Creative Entrepreneurship has been the most important thing I’ve done so far, and I’ve been an ambassador for merging business and art ever since.

I am a writer. I write novels. Mainly for adults, but also for teenagers and children. I write poetry, blog posts, articles, reviews, web content, comedy and outraged letters. And still, after doing this for years, even after graduating from UEA’s highly respected BA in English Literature with Creative Writing, I still walked into my first lesson on this MA, unable to call myself a writer.

 

I studied, I practiced my craft, and I was actually pretty good. But I still didn’t have the confidence to proclaim myself an artist. I had a excellent degree from a distinguished university and  had absolutely no idea where to go next. I didn’t even know it was possible to be a full time writer! I certainly had no business skills. All I had was my writing, my passion and a desire to never work a nine-to-five in my life. I like to think it’s my enthusiasm that got me accepted onto the MA, and the skills that I gained there that got me to where I am now.

 

We learned about all the things that my academic degree had failed to give me- an understanding of how to do things for yourself. How to market myself, to analyse my strengths and weaknesses, and work through, or around them. To use budgets, understand self-employment and tax. To set up a website, apply for funding. How to best use your ideas, and your art, to benefit you and others.

 

Traditionally, art has been seen as almost a polar opposite to business. But if there has been anything I learnt on this course, it is this: Art has two types of value. The first is the obvious, the aesthetic. The first reason an artist creates: to speak to an audience. To express passion or ideas, to create something meaningful and send it out into the world. But the second is monetary value. Art is worth a lot. And like all things, it has a price.

An artist may be creating out of love, or hatred or politics, or whatever drives them. But that artist also has overheads; tools to pay for, travel expenses and labour costs. Why shouldn’t that be viewed in terms of business? An artist has goods and services to sell. There is no shame in combining artistry and money. Good art is not made through starvation. It is made through understanding your own value.

That, above all, is what I prize most about this course. It gave me a sense of my own value. It made me confident enough in my skills to stand before you today and call myself a writer.

There are many other benefits. Being surrounded by like-minded people from different artistic backgrounds, ages, parts of the world, all of whom want to do the same thing- make a living from their art. With the course being so intimate, you create a support network, one which I still rely on today. My course-mates are talented and passionate professionals, and we still stay in touch, passing on work, bouncing ideas. We created a sense of identity on the course, we became artists who understood the importance of creating our own revenue, not depending on grants or funding from outside sources.

Similarly, that network expanded to include the specialist advisors and guest lecturers who gave lessons in their fields, whether that was how to write a press release, how to identify your selling points, or how to use social media to your advantage. Like the business world, the arts world is also all about who you know. And this course introduces you to all the right people.

 

Traditional scholars may tell you that art is sullied by business. But we are not living in a world where the cliched whimsical artist is provided for by a patron. Art cannot afford to be blind to value. Artists cannot afford to ignore how their talent can be used. There is no reason that when I call myself an artist, people should assume that I am not a businesswoman also. Companies seems to search for creativity amongst their employees, and the artist has this in abundance. Knowing how to apply it is the key. Creativity is not a weakness. Don’t I have to work to deadlines? Search for new clients? Imaginatively problem solve? Appeal to my target market? I can do these things, and now I realise how much they are worth.

 

 

It has been a year since I graduated, and in that time, my life as a writer has taken tremendous leaps forward.

A large part of the course is creating an Arts Plan, a guide for how I plan to steer my creative career over the next five years. It is a collage of aspirations, strengths and weaknesses, contacts, business plans, account details and a constant reminder of how far I have come, and how far I have to go. I ‘check in’ with this document, update my plans, maybe change things, but having it there to look at helps me push forward. And I am going places.

 

My first novel (which was a coursework piece) is being considered for publication, my second novel has just been finished, and the third is in the works. Various articles on the intermingling of arts and business, as well as fiction, have been published in magazines, and I’ve gained some great contacts in the publishing industry, as well as winning a few prizes along the way.

 

My comedic blog, Cafe Disaster, about the trials of working as a highly educated but minimally paid barista in Kensington, now has thousands of hits a week, a dedicated fanbase, and various advertising offers. This started as a creative outlet on the course, to amuse my friends and classmates. It’s now taken on a life of it’s own and is being seen as an example of the problems facing the graduates of the recession generation.

 

I started my own business, The DumbSaint Project, which provides creative writing workshops for children, teenagers and adults. It’s gained a great reputation at festivals and is expanding on target. I have since been able to quit my job as a barista and focus solely on my writing and workshops. My readers are worried that the blog will suffer.

I cannot recommend this course highly enough, and I have friends who joined the MA after me, because I pointed out that they had perfected their craft over the years, but were strangers to the life skills needed for their career. This course equips you with the tools you need to carve out a life for yourself as an artist. It allows you to find your own path, your creative niche, but also gives you the chance to experiment before you’re thrown out into a world that doesn’t always recognise the value of artists.

 

I can now legitimately call myself a writer. Because that is what I do. I write, I advertise, I arrange a business, I network, I do my accounts. I apply my skills in ways that allow me to live. I use my ideas to survive. And that is what being an entrepreneur is.

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Time to Grow Up?

I’ve spent a lot of time wanting to be an adult. As a petulant teenage moaner, I used to insist that whilst I was thirteen, I clearly had the mentality of a thirty-year-old. Not only is this not true (was I desperately crying that all my friends were married and my job wasn’t what I wanted? No. Did I care about interior decorating or what type of wine to take to dinner parties? No. Was I a rampant, yet acceptably charming, alcoholic? No.) it was a waste of the opportunity I had to be a whiny thirteen-year-old.

And now, as the Walrus said, the time has come. Not to grow up entirely, but to perhaps embrace that grown-up responsibilities (whilst horrible and stressful) are the signal of a new era in life. I knew this mindset had occurred when I started craving matching tableware.

What signalled this thought process about accepting responsibility? Watching Clerks. Clerks, if you don’t know, is an absolutely awesome film about two guys who work in rubbish jobs. That’s kind of it. Which is why I identify with it, as should any graduate. You’re doing shift work? You get called in at random times? Your customers are morons? Weird stuff happens and you’re never entirely sure how to deal with it? This film can be summed up in these words: ‘I wasn’t even supposed to BE here today!’

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No, no, you weren’t. But you are. And you’ll have to deal with it, until you can figure out what the hell you’re going to do with your life.

That’s why the film is comforting. We’re all in the same position, in a moment of transition. Are you going to university? Do you want to change jobs? What are you going to DO with the rest of your life? Assuming it’s going to be long, do you want it to suck this much forever?

That’s fine. We’re all working these jobs to get by, to be able to afford rent and alcohol. As long as you’ve got your friends with you, it’s all going to be okay. And isn’t that nice? I can deal with my life being like Clerks.

It’s when your life is like Clerks 2 that you realise everything you hoped and dreamed of has already passed you by, and it’s time to panic and DO SOMETHING. Forget all that ‘Keep Calm and Eat Cupcakes’ crap, you need to wake up and realise your life is awful, and you may have already missed the best parts.

In the sequel, the characters are older, and have traded their jobs at the video and convenience stores for a Maccy D type existence. So, things have only gotten worse, then. Oh no, wait! One of them has a fiancee! So everything must be alright! Because that’s a symbol of responsibility, right? Yes, yes it is. Unless you’re MAKING A TERRIBLE MISTAKE.

The point here, if I’m not mistaken, should be ‘If you have a shit job, at least enjoy the rest of your life’. But they’re not, because they’re spending the rest of their lives moaning and worrying about the fact that their jobs suck. And yet aren’t motivated enough to change it.

I don’t particularly need to worry about this. I have a Five Year Plan. And a Ten Year Plan. And a special addendum on the plans that allow for specific amounts of spontaneity and frivolity per annum. But it does make one wonder. Are we able to just bumble around day to day, year to year, until we shuffle off this mortal coil with nothing more than a couple of hundred in the bank, and high cholesterol from the free food at work? Should we even be prescribing to this existence?

This is the daily grind, and we take what we can. If you’re living as an artist, you’re going to be doing these kind of jobs. And it’s the art that makes it worth it, makes you something beyond your shitty shift work. Which funnily enough, was the whole point of Clerks. The film itself was made on a teeny tiny budget, and was based around the creator Kevin Smith’s job. So, that’s comforting, right? The banal and frequently rubbish times spent working in a convenience store can become a work of art.

So…time to grow up. Or, maybe don’t grow up, just start making art about it. Yeah, maybe that’s a better plan.

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What the Bloody Hell Am I Writing About? (and other questions from a self-loathing writer)

 

Writing a synopsis is a bitch. Anyone who has had to write one will know this. You’ve written an entire book. Finally, you’ve finished something that doesn’t send you into the corner of your writing room, rocking back and forth in disgust and fear, and now you’ve got to explain what you wrote?

Well, how the bloody hell should I know what I wrote? I just wrote it! Sure, I had themes and ideas and concepts. But none of these turned out exactly the way I thought they would, and as each of my ideas developed and matured, so did my characters and what they meant. And sure, maybe I had a ‘message’ to begin with, but after you’ve edited 60,000 words a good few times, you start to think maybe you had no message, no idea, no clue as to what you were saying, and the characters themselves did all the hard work.

So what does this mean for my work? 

Well, I’ve got to tell you, I’m pretty damn good with spin. You want me to write for advertising, to make something sound amazing. I’m there for you, my friend. You want an outraged letter focused on the school system? I gotcha with the outrage. But selling my own stuff? Oh jeez, well, I just couldn’t! It would be far too much like boasting. And that’s not English at all.

But, we are Creative Entrepreneurs (or trying to be) after all, and selling yourself (no, not like that) is all part of the game. So, sure, if I was to sum up my writing, it’s usually very easy, and I’ve defined it this way many times before:

I write about drugs, love, sex and death. Not always in that order.’

It’s snappy, isn’t it? Except my debut novel Wine Dark, Sea Blue is not just about that. It’s about family connections, and being a different person for your friends and family until you don’t know who the ‘real’ you is at all. It’s about being scared of attraction, of not believing you’re worthy of love. Of being haunted by memories and nostalgia until you’re convinced all you can do is follow in the footsteps of your family, no matter how many mistakes they’ve made. It’s about trusting your friends, believing in strangers and eventually, letting the past go. It’s about things not being perfect or even being fair, but about finding snippets of happiness where you can.

Sounds intense, right? Alternately, it’s about ‘one-night friendships’, how happiness can be chemical, ecstasy and clubbing till the early hours, Camden pubs and Hampstead Heath on Sunday morning. It’s about boys with blue eyes, and best friends who break your heart. It’s about how that person you first loved never really leaves and that terrible moment when you realise that your parents might be flawed people after all. It’s about graduating in a recession, about trying to make art in a world with no funding, when your family think you should get a ‘real’ job. It’s interning for no money, slaving for no reward, and rewarding yourself with a bottle of wine and a joint.

It’s about family and friends, happiness and chaos, drugs and love and sex and death and everything that makes us who we are.

So only one question remains:

How the fuck do I turn that into a synopsis? How do I sell what I created, with the intense complexities of what I think it’s about, versus what it may actually be about? This is where I used to get irritated during English lessons, and in lectures. Someone writes something, and then we sit around talking about his or her intentions, coming up with themes in the book that may never have even been there. We apply a critical view, some theory to how to interpret a text, when really, the author might have just thought it was a good story.

Or, more likely, was cowering in fear in the corner, wondering why anyone agreed to publish them, because they had no message and nothing to say.

I did a terrible thing last week. I read an article where some writer guy said something along the lines of ‘I don’t understand people who get writer’s block. If you’re a writer, get on with it. I have no time for people who sit around and bitch about it.’ (I’m paraphrasing)

My first thought was ‘what a dickhead’. My second was ‘hmm, well, he’s published, maybe he’s got a point. It is better to get on with it rather than be a self-loathing cliche’ and then the next day I did a horrible thing: I said the same thing. To a group of writers and artists. And I felt like a tool.

Because it’s hard, putting your work out there. It’s akin to giving birth and then walking around wondering if someone’s going to walk up to you and say ‘boy, that’s one ugly baby you made there!’ No-one does that with babies. Because they’re people. But they do with books. Especially now that the internet means we can publish our every scathing thought with no regard for what the creator might be feeling.

So there’s my little worry. Encapsulating something big and wondrous that you’re proud of, but simultaneously almost ashamed of, and defining it as something. Something that exists, in the world.

The only thing I can do is turn to the people I trust, and ask what they think I meant. Whether they’re writers, readers, editors or friends- they’ll see the message in the text. Because just as we look down at our newborn baby with the huge ears or crooked nose, we still can’t see anything other than our own egos. But our friends, well, they’ll see the ears and the nose, but still find the beauty somewhere.

 

Note: Also, an advantage of creating a book over a baby is the ability to edit. And that a book isn’t likely to inherit your father’s crazy eyebrows. Win.

 

 

 

 

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We’re Half Way There..Oh! Oh! Living on a Prayer!

Sometimes, looking at your life from the outside can appear a bit deceptive. For example, in the last week I gave an interview to The Times about how great my creative life is since graduating from the MA in Creative Entrepreneurship, I then took part in the advert for said course, and went back to talk to the current class about my achievements.

This, surely, should mean that I’ve ‘Made It’, whatever and wherever ‘It’ is, right?

So how come some things (like panicking about whether the kids you’re teaching are going to hate you and think you’re a washed up writer with nothing to say, or you know, spending a considerable amount of time ‘Arranging your Social Media Pathways’ in your pyjamas) never change?

When will we actually know that we’ve achieved what we want to achieve? When we see our names in print? When our books are on shelves, or we’ve got a steady income?

I think perhaps it’s all about spin. As creative entrepreneurs we need to be our own spin doctors. Especially when we direct it towards people who doubt us. Those who judge the writer/artist/actor/musician and sees that they’ve got multiple income streams, that they’re not just an actor, but an actor/writer/teacher can sometimes snigger and make pointed comments about our lifestyle. So I use my talent for telling a story, and make my life wonderful. Of course, the writing workshops are doing well, of course I’m having absolutely no problem banging out the second novel. Everything’s amazing, and my life is how I want it, thank you very much. 

For the most part, this isn’t spin, it’s reality. Possibly with a little bit of sparkle dust thrown in for good measure. But the danger is when we start to believe our own good publicity. Sure, we need a good bit of advertising now and then, but when we look at the media version of ourselves, conquering all they touch, achieving everything they need to achieve, it appears effortless. It’s when we get out of print, and look down at our pyjamas, see the pile of laundry that needs doing, those two-hundred words that need editing, the reading that needs to be done, the unfinished press releases, or worse, the rejection letters strewn across the table that you just can’t bear to throw away….it’s then that we realise we may be doing pretty well, but we’re just making it look a hell of a lot easier than it is.

So, seeing as The Times doesn’t really like publishing it’s content online for free, I thought I’d take a picture of this tiny snippet of an article I feature in. I’m hoping this doesn’t make me liable for something. I bought two copies of the paper to try and even out the monetary issue! See, I’m nice! I recognise that journalists work hard for their money and deserved to be paid for content! I would just prefer that it’s content I can refer to online.

Probably too small. But it says I'm a professional writer lady. And stuff.

 

Also, to give a note to my creative writing workshops The DumbSaint Project, which was mentioned in this article. We’re running classes for ‘Scribblers’ (Aged 7-10) at Copthall School this February Half Term. It’ll be from 9.30am-11.30am every day that week, and costs £12 per session, or a reduced price of £50 for the whole week. Bargain for a bit of peace and quiet whilst the kids learn something, right?

Get in touch with my admin assistant Dinah at dumbsaintproject@aol.com or go to the website for more info.