My Writing, PhD

Sunshine, writing, and reading

It’s the kind of weather this week where I don’t know whether to be celebrating the sunshine or desperately hoping for it to cool down!

I’ve had two more articles published in the past couple of weeks. The first is on mental health support at work, and is available to read on the Stylist website. I interviewed two experts for advice on what our rights are at work if we have a mental health condition, and the article covers everything from deciding to disclose to your boss to what reasonable adjustments you can get and what to do if you face discrimination.

Having a mental health condition myself, I know that navigating this at work can be a challenge. It was a really interesting piece to research, and I hope that this article helps others get the support they need and deserve.

Photo shows the front cover of Oh magazine, with an illustration of a bird and a vibrant summer garden, with a pink and orange sky in the background.

The other piece is a feature in the always lovely Oh magazine. It’s on the disability arts movement, and how art can be used to explore and celebrate our lives and challenge ideas about what it means to be disabled.

I was lucky enough to speak to two talented artists, Anahita Harding and Nina Thomas, for the article to share their insights. I also reflected on my own experience of writing about disability – how writing allows me to, quite literally, take authorship of my experiences. I love how the feature is illustrated in the magazine with photos of Anahita and Nina and their artwork.

Photo shows an open magazine showing an article. The article is called Every Body. There is a photo in the magazine of a woman in a wheelchair sticking the wheelchair symbol onto a wall.

I’ve also been focusing on getting more reading done for my PhD this week. I’m currently reading The Wounded Storyteller by Arthur Frank, on life writing and illness. I’m only a couple of chapters in, but already I have pages and pages of notes on his work.

Focusing on anything for too long is hard in this heat, but I’m glad to have been making progress and having exciting projects to work on.  

My Writing

Reclaiming my story

I’ve not been as good as I’d like at keeping my blog updated recently! It’s been a busy time with lots of writing and PhD work.

Today I’ve had an article published by the Wellcome Collection. It’s called Reclaiming My Story and is available to read here.

The article is about how I’ve used my lived experience of mental ill health as part of the service user movement. I talk about how I share my story to help improve mental health services, and also how this helps me make sense of my experiences and feel a sense of taking ownership of what I’ve been through.

It’s a little nerve-wracking having something so personal published. But I feel it’s an important piece, and I hope it helps highlight mental health, and is helpful to others reading who may have been through similar.

My Writing, PhD

Writing about difficult experiences

It’s been a strange couple of weeks for me. Some days I’ve been really productive, others I’ve wondered what I’ve even achieved. But I guess that’s part of the reality of our lives right now. With being home all the time apart from when I venture out for a daily walk, it kind of makes sense that my energy levels are a bit all over the place.

I’m excited to share I have an article in the current issue of the fantastic Writing Magazine. My article is called “Dealing with Difficulty” and is all about how as writers we can draw on our difficult life experiences in our work in a way that’s relevant, sensitive, and powerful. My own experiences are a huge influence on my writing, so this was a topic I’m really passionate about. I talk about things like how to keep your reader in mind, how to include details to make your writing evocative, and how to set your own boundaries and take care of yourself when writing about challenging times.

Photo shows the open pages of Writing Magazine with the article entitled 'Dealing with Difficulty'. There is also a green notebook and a pen.

Disability in particular is a topic that I write about a lot, and where I draw on my own experiences. Our life experiences can be a great source of inspiration for our work, and be used in a way that helps our readers or offers a new perspective. I hope this article helps other writers in deciding if and how they can draw on difficult experiences in their writing.

I also have a feature in the current issue of Oh magazine, which explores witchcraft and how we can all weave it into our daily lives, like celebrating the changing seasons or mindfully meditating. I loved writing this feature, and interviewing the wonderful author Alice Tarbuck for it, who was a joy to chat to. Oh mag is one of my favourite magazines and I’m really pleased to have had another feature published by them.

The past couple of weeks I’ve also been focusing on my PhD. Although I do other writing, day to day my PhD has to be my main focus. Recently I’ve been doing some reading on models of disability and thinking how my creative work can explore this. Yesterday I had an interview with two assessors as part of my mid year review – 45 minutes of answering questions about my research. It was intense but I think I dealt with it well, and it gave me ideas about what I need to do moving forward with my PhD.

Over the coming weeks I’m looking forward to hopefully getting outside more as the weather improves. I also can’t wait until we can start having friends over to sit outdoors and enjoy a barbecue or drinks together. Recently I’ve definitely been feeling the need for a change of scene and to see other people. Hopefully as spring unfurls and lockdown lifts there will be plenty of chances to go out more and see others. And always, there is writing to do.

My Writing

Use Your Voice article for PosAbility magazine

I’m really happy to have an article, “Use Your Voice”, published in the current issue of the always wonderful PosAbility magazine. It’s also available to read on the PosAbility website here.

Photo shows the front cover of a magazine

The feature is about how disabled people can use our experiences of living with disability, whether campaigning for policy changes or blogging about what it’s like to live with our conditions. I talk about my role as a member of mental health social work charity Think Ahead’s Service User and Carer Reference Group, where those of us with lived experience of mental ill health are involved in the recruitment and training of future mental health social workers. I’ve been a member of SUCRG for around two years, and it’s really rewarding to be able to share my experiences to help improve services. I always enjoy our meetings and getting involved in teaching activities with Think Ahead. I also talk about how I started a group for disabled students when I was an undergraduate, and how we campaigned for change on campus and made sure disabled student voices were heard at the university.

Photo shows part of the page of a magazine article, called "use your voice", with some of the text visible and an illustration of a person using a megaphone.

As well as talking about my own experience, the article gives examples of how disabled people can find opportunities to get into a variety of lived experience work. We all have something valuable to offer by sharing our stories, and I hope that this article inspires others to get involved.

My Writing, PhD

A walk through other people’s expectations

Anyone else feeling relieved that spring is nearly here? I’ve been loving the fresh smell in the air and the sight of crocuses and daffodils on my daily walks. I love that it’s lighter each evening, and the increasing warmth each day brings.

I’m excited to share that I’ve had an article published today by the Wellcome Collection, entitled “A walk through other people’s expectations” – it’s available to read here. The article is structured around a hike up Loughrigg Fell in the Lake District and weaves together two of my interests, disability and hiking, in an exploration of what it means to be a visually impaired walker.

A photo of a view from a mountain walk, looking down at a lake

This was such an enjoyable commission to work on. The ways disabled people often have to navigate other people’s perceptions and expectations of us is something I’ve been acutely aware of for many years as a visually impaired person. It’s also an important theme emerging in my PhD so far – the idea that societal expectations of disability affect how disabled people feel and behave, like feeling apprehensive about using a white cane or other mobility aid.

I hope the article resonates with other disabled people, as well as giving an insight to nondisabled people about this topic.

Photo shows the view from the summit of a mountain, with a man holding a map and looking ahead

It was also lovely to be writing about my favourite place, the Lake District, in this article. I can’t wait until I’m able to visit again and go fell walking, and maybe even dinner and live jazz at the wonderful Zeffirellis restaurant in Ambleside…

I’m really lucky to have other articles due to be published in the coming months that I’m excited to share, and other writing I’m working on, as well as of course my PhD. Lockdown is a challenging time for everyone, and while, of course, I completely agree with the restrictions, it is still hard being away from friends and family. My mental health was really affected in the first lockdown last year, and I’m glad to say that this time round I’ve found it easier to manage. Maybe it’s the spring-like weather, but I’m feeling cautiously hopeful about the future. I can’t wait until we can safely meet up with loved ones again, sitting out in the garden in the warmth. Until then, I’m fortunate that I have plenty to keep me distracted at home. I hope that more good times are ahead.

My Writing, PhD

Winter thoughts

Like much of the country, there has been snow here in Staffordshire the past couple of days. But despite the cold, there are signs of spring emerging. I’m lucky to be getting out for a daily walk around my neighbourhood, enjoying the daylight and the frosted trees, looking out for snowdrops peeking through the frozen grass.

Photo of snowdrops in the grass

I’m fortunate that I’ve had a lot of writing to keep me busy over the past few weeks. The main focus in January was preparing for the mid-year review for my PhD, which involved submitting a sample of my writing and a research statement outlining my project so far and how I hope for it to progress. Thankfully I got that all submitted in time for the 1st February deadline. In a few weeks’ time I’ll have a mini viva interview to assess my work so far and check I’m on track. I find talking about my research can be really interesting, but I still feel at the stage where articulating it all feels challenging! But I am enjoying my PhD, and have been doing some really interesting reading for it this past week, exploring published mental health memoirs, as well as doing my own creative work. I feel very lucky to have this opportunity to focus on something I’m so passionate about.

I’ve also had a few articles to work on recently, as well as seeing ones that were commissioned towards the end of last year being published. My feature “Art in the Everyday” is in the current issue of the absolutely gorgeous Oh magazine. I love the front cover of vibrant daffodils – I can almost feel the spring warmth and scent of flowers just looking at it! My piece is about how we can all make art and poetry out of the items we’re surrounded with, drawing on the idea of found object art and movements like surrealism and dadaism. It was a fascinating feature to write, and I’m so pleased to have it published in such a wonderful magazine.

Photo shows front cover of Oh magazine with an illustration of daffodils

There are a few more articles of mine due to be published in the coming months which I’m excited to share. I also submitted a draft of my new novel to my literary agent recently, and I’m nervously waiting to hear her thoughts. She really gets my writing and always has valuable insights into how to make it better, so I’m confident that her feedback will be so useful.

I hope that you’re doing okay in this difficult winter lockdown, finding ways to get through. I can’t wait until the evenings are light again so I can go on an after dinner walk. And, of course, I can’t wait until things are safer and lockdown can start to ease. I hope things will get brighter soon.

My Writing

Misconceptions about sight loss

I have a feature in the September issue of the lovely Happiful magazine that explores common misconceptions about sight loss. It’s also available to read on their website.

The article explores some of the views I’ve come across about what it means to be blind or partially sighted. It looks at things like the perception that anyone who uses a cane has no vision at all, whereas many of us with a visual impairment have some level of sight. Personally, I use a cane in busy or unfamiliar places to signal to others that I’m not being rude if I bump into them and that I may need some extra space to find my way about – this is especially true right now with social distancing being so important when out and about.

Other areas covered in the feature include how we access sports and the arts, visual impairment and work, and how people with sight loss can enjoy fashion and beauty.

I loved writing this piece – disability is one of my key areas as a writer, and I enjoy drawing on my experiences in a helpful way. I’m happy too that it’s my third article published by Happiful this year. Happiful is a great monthly magazine focused on wellbeing, and they also have a brilliant website that’s well worth a look.

My Writing

Creative ways to stay in touch

The lovely Happiful have published my article “Creative ways to stay in touch” today – take a read here. It’s also in the June issue of the magazine.

I’ve always loved connecting with people creatively, and now more than ever, when we find ourselves separated from so many we care about, it’s a great way to reach out.

postcards
When writing the piece, I thought especially about how I’ve stayed in touch with a close friend who now lives in a different country. She’s a visual artist, and naturally we’re both drawn to creative ways to connect – though we do still embrace WhatsApp and Skype. I love it when a postcard from her lands on my doormat, or when I spend time handwriting her a card.

One of the ways I explore is through crafting handmade zines – something I’ve written about on this blog before. There are also suggestions for putting together a playlist, sending a gift box or penning a poem.

How do you like to stay in touch with people? What’s helping you right now?

My Writing, Writing advice

Writing articles: analysing magazines

A while back I started a series of posts on how to get articles published to help demystify the process, with the first looking at coming up with ideas.

Following on from that, this next post in the series explores how, once you’ve got an idea for an article or at least an idea as to what magazine you’d like to write for, you go about researching and studying your target publication.

magazines

Getting a feel for a magazine and its readers

Read as many recent issues of the magazine as you’re able. Think of key themes and words you’d associate with the publication’s content, perhaps noting these down as you go.

As you do this, keep a key question in mind about who the magazine is aimed at. OK, so let’s say it’s a travel magazine. Yes, it will have travel features, but what kind of travel? Is it mostly UK based or abroad? For families looking for an easy and fun getaway or an adventurous backpacker? Are they aspirational features about luxurious private sea huts in the Maldives, or is it wild camping in the Highlands on a budget? Or somewhere in between? This will give you an idea as to whether your idea fits into the overall angle of the magazine. Notice too things like the adverts that give a clue as to who the reader is, in terms of how much they want to spend, their age, their interests.

Think now not just about who the reader is, but what they want. When they make a brew and curl up on the sofa with the magazine, what are they hoping to get from it?

This involves looking not just at the overall theme or topic of an article – say, ‘A weekend in Paris’ – but the style and content. Is it filled with practical tips on navigating your way around a busy city and the best times to visit popular attractions, or is it a long first person account that absorbs you in a narrative around someone’s trip and the people they met? Often articles may be a mix of both: I’ve written many features that draw on my own experience of a place or situation, but also provide advice or other information that may help the reader.

Where your article fits in the magazine

Magazines will have different sections, or different types of article. So a travel magazine may have one or two long, in depth features about destinations, but then also shorter travel pieces that may only be a page or two each, articles that offer advice on a topic (e.g. ‘How to save money on flights’), gear reviews, etc. And of course many magazines have content such as a page for readers’ letters, news pages, regular columnists, shopping recommendations, etc. Some magazines are structured around themes – a wellbeing magazine may be divided into features around ‘Living’, ‘Creativity’, etc. Looking at the contents page can show the different categories they use.

Think about where your potential article would best fit in the magazine. This is where reading a couple of recent copies of the magazine is particularly helpful, as it gives you a real sense of how it is usually structured.

writing

Close reading a magazine

By now, you’ll hopefully have a bit more of a sense of what sort of content the publication is looking for and who their reader is, and whether your article idea could potentially fit. Now it’s time to do a close read of the magazine.

Choose one article to start with. Read it through, asking yourself the following:

  • How long is the article?
  • Is it written in third or first person?
  • What is the tone of the article? Chatty? Jokey? Friendly? Authoritative?
  • What level is the article aimed at? Does it assume a level of expert or insider knowledge, or could anyone understand it?
  • Does it give advice, inspiration, an argument, analysis, or something else?
  • Does the article use humour or other interesting quirks?
  • Does it include quotes from other people? If so, who? Are they experts such as academics or specialist authors, or perhaps people who have personal experience of a subject? How many people does it quote, and how are the quotes used – are they a key part of the article, or is there one or two that add a bit of additional insight or authority?
  • How broad a focus does the article have?
  • How is it structured? Is it a list, e.g. ‘The best places to eat tiramisu in Bologna’, or a longer narrative, such as ‘How I came to terms with my existential angst through eating tiramisu in Bologna’?
  • Does it include box outs / side bars? These are common in a lot of magazines – they are presented separately to the main body of an article, providing additional, complimentary information. E.g. a long first person travel feature may be accompanied by a box out about ‘How to plan the trip yourself’ or ‘Where to stay’.
  • How is it illustrated? It’s worth looking at who the photos are credited to – did the article’s author provide them, or are they stock images? This will give you a clue as to whether you may be expected to provide photos and if so, what kind of photos they use (dramatic landscapes, images of people, etc.).
  • What is the reader ‘take away’: what do they leave the article with? Inspiration to plan a round the world holiday or start a new hobby, practical knowledge on how to bake the best courgette cake or plant potatoes, advice on dealing with a difficult issue, thoughts about an interesting debate, insight into an unusual perspective..?

There may well be other things you pick up too as you close read. Do this for a few articles to really get a good feel for the magazine.

Adapting your article idea for the magazine

Now, think about your article idea. Having done your publication analysis, can you imagine your article belonging in those pages? It’s quite likely that your idea may not quite match, but that it’s along the right lines – in this case, think about how you adapt your article idea to fit.

Let’s say you wanted to pitch an article about the South West Coast Path that was a ‘top ten sights to see’ kind of deal. You read your target magazine and realise they prefer travel articles that focus on a first person narrative detailing your experience of the walk, any challenges you came across, quirky little details or events that happened along the way. You can now adapt your idea to fit the magazine. (But, do keep hold of that original idea of ‘top ten sights’ – you may find another magazine to pitch it to as well.)

This may sound like quite a lot to do. But it will become quicker as you get more experienced. If I want to write for a magazine I’ve not approached before, I will certainly dedicate some time to reading and absorbing it, but the analysis now comes to me naturally as I read – I find I instinctively pick up on these things, without needing a checklist. I can usually tell quite quickly whether my idea will fit, and what angle and approach I need to take with it. Sometimes I read magazines without a set idea in mind, but knowing they fit with my areas of interest as a writer, and that ideas come to me as I read.

The next post in this series will cover one of the most important skills for a freelance magazine writer: how to pitch article ideas to editors.

I hope this helps and let me know if you have any questions! Take care.

My Writing

Accessible wedding feature for PosAbility magazine

It certainly brightened my morning when the new issue of PosAbility magazine came through the post. I always enjoy reading this disability lifestyle magazine, but it was especially nice to see my feature ‘The Perfect Day’ about planning an inclusive wedding gracing its pages.

Posability 2
Disability is my main area of focus as a writer, from writing for the Guardian about disabled student support to features on accessible travel. I’m also pretty wedding obsessed – Gary and I got married in July last year, and I was one of those brides who loved when people asked me about what I was doing for table decorations or the first dance or cake flavours.

 
Accessibility was a key part of my wedding planning, with me and several guests being disabled, and I realised that through the process of organising an accessible wedding I’d picked up lots of tips that could be useful for others.

posability 10
I really enjoyed writing this feature – not least because it was an excuse to talk weddings! I hope it helps others who may be thinking ahead to their own big day or that of someone they know to help make it an inclusive and enjoyable experience for all.