My Writing

Arvon article in Planet Mindful

It’s been a busy few weeks for me. I’ve started a new job that involves lots of copywriting (yay!), which I’m really enjoying. I’ve also been working on editing my novel that’s been my work in progress for a while now, as well as pitching and writing articles, and working on short stories too.

planet mindful.jpgI’m very happy to share that I have a feature in the current issue of the gorgeous magazine Planet Mindful. The article is about my experience of attending a residential writing course at the magical Arvon centre The Hurst earlier this year. Planet Mindful is a wonderful wellbeing magazine that I’ve enjoyed reading for a while, so it’s great to be published by them.

My Writing, Writing advice

Writing articles: coming up with ideas

I’ve had a few friends ask me how I get articles published, so I thought I’d write a series of posts about the process. This first one is about where to get ideas for articles. It is mostly geared towards print magazines, as that’s where the majority of my work gets published, but a lot of this will apply to online publications and newspapers too.

Go into a supermarket, newsagent or WH Smith and you’ll find hundreds of magazines. And most of these magazines will rely on freelance writers to produce at least some of their content.

I have a few different approaches to generating article ideas. There are lots of ways to go about it, and this is based on my own experience – there’s no wrong or right way to create ideas!

Browsing magazines

One way is to browse magazines and think about whether you could write something for them. Often I’ll be reading a magazine and find this sparks my imagination, finding myself thinking about articles I could write that would fit.

The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook lists hundreds of magazines and newspapers – I like reading through and highlighting any that sound promising, and then go and research them in more detail by reading through.

Write what you know

I regularly brainstorm ideas in my notebook, thinking about what I’m interested in or have experience of that could be used in an article. For example, one of the main areas I’m interested in is disability: I’m disabled, and have worked in the sector, giving me a good grounding in various topics.

I think about what themes or topics I could cover based on this. So, I might list “being a disabled student”, “disability travel”, “disability and employment”, etc. I would then think about these in more detail. Let’s take “disability travel”, for example. I could think about places I’ve travelled to and could write about, or advice for disabled travellers, or hotels that cater well to disabled people, etc. I would then research potential markets and think about what matches up.

We all have things we can write about. Think about your job, your hobbies, your travels, any challenging experiences you’ve had… Are there interesting angles you could take on these? I find creating mind maps or doing some free writing on a topic helps me think through potential approaches.

Combing the two approaches

Often, I find that my article ideas come from a mix of these two approaches – I may know I’d like to write for a certain magazine, especially one I am already familiar with, so I’ll brainstorm ideas that could fit that publication.

Or, I may know I want to write an article on, say, the Lake District, so I’ll read relevant magazines and think about what angle I could write.

It’s important to remember that it’s hard to sell generic articles. So, with my Lake District idea, a simple “Guide to the Lake District” is likely too general to get taken up by an editor. One of the first articles I had published was for Cumbria magazine where I wrote about my experience of going to the Calvert Trust outdoor pursuits centre for disabled people in the Lake District. I was writing about something quite unique that it’s likely hadn’t been pitched to the editor before, giving it a much stronger chance of publication. While I did interview someone from the centre to add depth to the feature, I mostly drew from my own experience to write it.

Next steps

Keep a list of all of your article ideas, even when they’re really rough. I have a spreadsheet with two tabs: one of what I’ve pitched and where, and one with a (sometimes pretty vague) list of article ideas and potential markets. I also have jottings down in various notebooks where I’ve brainstormed ideas. I often find article ideas can take a while to form. I’ll make rough notes and then come back to these a few days later, finding taking a fresh look can help me see the idea from a new perspective.

Once you have an idea as to which publication you’d like to write for, it’s important to really understand that magazine. The next blog post in this series will look in more detail at how to analyse potential markets in order to develop your initial idea further and to get the best chance of being commissioned. Go grab a notebook and start creating some ideas!

My Writing, Travel

Adventure Travel magazine Helm Crag feature

I’m very happy to have a feature in the Sept/Oct issue of Adventure Travel magazine – which is also now available to read on their website. The article is based on a walk Gary and I did last August up the fell Helm Crag in the Lake District. We both adore the Lakes and I always find my trips there leave me full of ideas.Adventure travel mag - Copy

The feature includes a photo of mine from the walk. For a lot of articles, especially travel, being able to provide accompanying photos can be the difference between selling the feature or not. A few years ago I invested in a DSLR camera, partly because I enjoy photography anyway and liked the idea of capturing high quality shots of my trips, but also because I knew it would help with my writing.

Helm crag

I have sold features with photos taken with a phone camera, like my “A Weekend Getaway to Stoke-on-Trent” feature in Simply Vegan earlier this year I didn’t fancy photographing my food in restaurants with a bulky camera! But I’m glad I took my DSLR with me to the Lakes as the photo that accompanies my Helm Crag feature takes up nearly a double A4 spread, and a photo taken with my phone wouldn’t have had the same level of quality to it.

Reading through this current issue of Adventure Travel has me wanting to get out exploring our beautiful countryside more. I live near the Peak District and haven’t been there nearly enough. Maybe this should spur me and Gary on to go out there, with the camera, and do some more walks.

My Writing, Travel, Uncategorized

DadaFest Artist Development Programme and a day in Liverpool

Today I had a wonderful time exploring the city of Liverpool. I was there for a meeting with the disability arts organisation DaDaFest about being supported by their Artist Development Programme.

Blue Coat LiverpoolDadaFest are based at the Bluecoat creative hub in the city centre, in a characterful historic building. It was a really positive chat and I left feeling excited about what’s on offer, in particular setting up mentoring for me with an established writer to further develop my creative practice. I’ve now got some thinking to do around what support in particular I’d like from the programme to help with my writing career. This year I’m making a real push with my writing, and being part of DaDaFest’s Artist Development Programme looks set to be a big help.

My fiancé Gary and I then had a few hours to ourselves in Liverpool. I’ve only been once before, even though it’s not that far from Stoke, so it was good to have an excuse to explore. At Sam from DaDaFest’s recommendation, Gary and I headed to The British Music Experience on the Liverpool Waterfront.

The museum traces the history of British rock and pop from the mid-twentieth century through to the present day and has a whole lot of costumes, instruments and memorabilia, from the inevitable Beatles members’ guitars through to Geri Halliwell’s (in)famous union flag dress. Gary and I both love music and enjoyed exploring its history.

Caroline GuitarThe museum has selection of instruments for visitors to play, so Gary and I had a bit of time trying out various guitars. Gary showed off his shredding and serenaded me with songs from his band, Skybald (who have a gig coming up in Stoke, local music fans!), while I tried to remember the bit of Smashing Pumpkins and Green Day songs I learnt years ago (it’s a while since I picked up a guitar). We’d definitely recommend The British Music Experience if you’re ever in Liverpool.

There were several museums and art galleries that we didn’t get a chance to visit today, but we will definitely be returning to this vibrant city.

 

 

My Writing, Travel, Uncategorized, Workshop

A week at an Arvon course

Recently, I was lucky to spend a week away at Arvon’s The Hurst writers’ centre in the beautiful Shropshire hills.

As I sat in the bright book-filled lounge with eleven other writers who’d travelled from all over, including one from the US, I wondered whether I’d made the right decision coming here. A week dedicated to writing was a lovely idea, but would I find it too exhausting? Would I be able to make the most of my time, or would I run low on ideas? What would the people I’d be sharing this grand old house with be like?

The course was on writing young adult fiction, tutored by the wonderful authors Anthony McGowen and Sheena Wilkinson, and I knew it was going to be an intense week of workshops, tutorials and time dedicated to writing.

20190413_095338Of course, I needn’t have worried. Everyone – my fellow participants, the tutors, and the Arvon staff – were warm and welcoming.

Each morning we took part in workshops, led by Anthony and Sheena, from 9.30am-1pm. It sounded like a dauntingly long amount of time, but each session, covering topics as diverse as characterisation, dialogue and editing, was so engaging and enjoyable that they passed so quick. I filled my Moleskin notebook with notes and ideas generated from the writing exercises set by the tutors.

Our afternoons were less structured, with time to work on our writing, one-to-one tutorials with Anthony and Sheena, or walking in the grounds. The Hurst is set in beautiful woodland, and I took many opportunities to go exploring, both on my own and with fellow writers.

20190410_155428After a delicious dinner (cooked on a rota by participants), each evening held something different – readings from the tutors, a guest author, and a free evening on Thursday. All accompanied by copious amounts of wine and writerly conversation. The Friday evening was a celebration of our work, where we each read a five minute piece of our own writing. It was wonderful to hear everyone’s pieces, ranging from the humorous to emotional.

As I was waiting for my fiancé to pick me up on the Saturday morning (we did a trip to the historic town of Shrewsbury on the way back to Stoke), I couldn’t resist looking on the Arvon website to see what other upcoming courses they have. I know I will definitely be returning – whether to The Hurst or one of Arvon’s other centres in Yorkshire or Devon. I left Arvon with a renewed confidence in and love for my writing, and the promise to myself to dedicate more time to this passion.

My Writing

Article in Simply Vegan

Simply Vegan MagazineI’m happy to have an article in the current issue of Simply Vegan magazine about vegan friendly places to eat in Stoke-on-Trent and North Staffordshire.

There’s nothing nicer than catching up with people you care about over food and a few drinks. I love going out for something to eat, whether returning to a favourite café for coffee and cake or trying out a new restaurant with my fiancé and our friends. I’m also passionate about good vegan food, so writing about vegan places to eat locally was an obvious choice.

The article gives my recommendations of several cafes and restaurants in the local area that are worth visiting for those interested in or following an animal free diet. It was hard coming up with a shortlist of places as there’s an abundance and ever growing list of great eateries that cater for vegans, so I tried to get a mix that showcases different types of food, from a Chinese restaurant that does amazing tofu dishes to a community café that serves cheap but delicious homemade vegan cakes. My aim was to write an article that features something for everyone and highlights some of the great vegan options out there in a part of the country I’ve been happy to call home for nearly nine years.

Travel, Uncategorized

Coffee, books and zines

Last Saturday I took the train down to London to spend the day with my good friend, Anahita. We met at uni but even though we now live far away from each other, we still make the effort to meet up as often as we can.

I love London. Every time I visit I find it such an invigorating place, with so much going on. After meeting at Euston (and stopping off at Boots to buy an emergency bottle of sunscreen), we headed to VX shop and café near Kings Cross for a chat over vegan junk food, before a quick wander by the canal and then heading to the British Library.

The British Library is an impressive modern building, which is free to enter. You need to apply for a pass to access the reading rooms, which we weren’t there for, but we had a look around one of the exhibition rooms. It featured old manuscripts – I was particularly interested in the display of Marx’s old letters and documents, including one of his tickets for the reading room at the British Museum.

We managed to nab the last available table in one of the library’s cafes so we could sit and have a good catch up over a soy latte. It’s useful for me know now where the British Library is and what it’s like in case I ever need to access the reading room for research.

somerset houseOur next stop was Somerset House, located right by the Thames. When we arrived late afternoon there were dozens of children in swimwear jumping around in the fountains in the cobbled courtyard while their parents sunbathed nearby. Who says you need the coast for summer fun?

We were there specifically to see the free entry Print! Tearing it up exhibition. Exploring the history of independent magazines, with a focus on their modern relevance in a digital age, the exhibition featured hundreds of indie mags from the past century, with accompanying information about some of the publications. It was interesting to see old copies of magazines – like Time Out and Private Eye – that have gone on to become mainstream, as well as lower-circulation ones. I have been interested in zines for a while (I wrote in a previous post about making a zine for my MA), particularly as a medium for marginalised voices, so I really enjoyed Somerset House’s exhibition, especially the political zines.

I know that London is a great place for independent restaurants, but with not long before my train home, we headed for Pizza Express. Which was good. Even if they did put non-vegan salad dressing on their vegan pizza.

I’d love to return to London again soon to explore more cultural sites. We only visited the one exhibition at the vast Somerset House – I’d like to have a look round the rest sometime. But, of course, sunny Stoke has its own cultural gems, some of which I still need to visit. Lots more day trips are on the cards!

 

My Writing, Uncategorized

Article on theme park access in Enable magazine

Disability is something I am passionate about. As a disabled person and having worked in the sector, I find that it’s an area I’m drawn to again and again as a writer.

Alton TowersI am also a bit of a theme park geek, the sort who can debate about their favourite rollercoaster manufacture (B&M all the way), why Alton Towers needs more flat rides, and who uses terms like flat rides and assumes everyone knows what she’s talking about.

My latest feature article combines my passion for disability with my love for theme parks. Published in Enable magazine, it explores the issue of accessibility at UK theme parks. While I feel there are many issues and ways access could be improved at attractions, the article focuses on advice on making the most of your day as a disabled visitor.

It covers areas including entry prices, queue lines, getting to, from and around the park, and physical ride access.

This isn’t the first time I’ve written about theme park access – I had a feature in Disability Now a couple of years ago based on a trip I took with friends to Alton Towers. There were two disabled people in our group – me (visually impaired) and Anahita (wheelchair user). As Disability Now sadly no longer exists (it was such a great platform for disabled writers), I’m planning to upload the article to this blog soon.

My Writing, Uncategorized

Article in Dalesman Magazine

cman_0212My feature Return of the Vikings is in this month’s Dalesman magazine.

The article explores the restoration of the Jorvik Viking Centre in York, which has been closed since floods hit the city in December 2015. Set to reopen this month, the attraction has undergone extensive work not only to restore it but enhance the experience.

I visited Jorvik back in September 2015, just a couple of months before it closed, and enjoyed finding out more about how Vikings lived. York is a beautiful city – we spent a weekend there (we were there for a wedding but had time to explore the city too) and I’d love to go back some time.

My Writing, Uncategorized

Disability Now – Lake District Feature

In October 2013 I had a feature published in the (sadly now defunct) Disability Now. I’m unable to link to the original piece that featured on their old website, so I thought I’d share the feature here. The photos are my own which were also published with the piece.

Lake District – Land of Wood, Stone and Water

Holidays with the parents aren’t always the best. But three nights in the Lake District during the Easter holidays was a perfect get-away from my university work, and I didn’t mind being there with the ‘rents and my sister. In fact, I find it hard to imagine going to the Lakes without them.

We stayed with my late gran. A few times every year, until she passed away a couple of months ago, we’d visit her. Her house in Morecambe Bay offered beautiful views of the estuary, and was a great base for exploring the Lake District.

On the first full day we headed north to the market town of Keswick. The hour’s drive took us along the boat-speckled waters of Lake Windermere, onwards past the lakes Rydal Water and Grasmere, and then soon we were snaking by mountains high on either side.

Castlerigg_1Just 1.5 miles to the east of Keswick is the enigmatic Castlerigg Stone Circle. I’d been once before, but, this time armed with a camera, I persuaded the others that another visit was needed.

Castlerigg is one of the oldest stone circles in Britain. Believed to date from around 3000 BC, no one knows exactly why this Neolithic site was built. Of course, plenty of theories abound – was it a place of ritual and spiritual ceremony, or a trading spot, or used for astronomical studies of the sun, moon and stars, or something else entirely? One thing is for sure – it’s a stunning place to visit.

Its 38 stones stand on the plateau of a small hill, surrounded by fields which grow into a panorama of rugged mountains. This breath-taking location means that, despite its popularity with tourists, it has an almost otherworldly atmosphere.

This time, there were at least a dozen other people at Castlerigg. Some stayed briefly, while a few families braved the damp ground for a picnic. I spotted a man slouched between two of the stones, scribbling into a notepad – I like to think he was penning an epic poem!

I joined the many others engrossed in photographing the circle and its surroundings. I told my impatient sister that being partially sighted was why I had to take so many photos, as the camera screen is tricky to see which makes it harder for me to tell if I’ve taken a decent snap. Conveniently, this also gave me plenty of time to slowly soak in Castlerigg’s atmosphere.

An hour and over a hundred photos later, I managed to drag myself away – much to my family’s delight – and it was on to the gentle bustle of Keswick town centre.

After devouring a tasty lunch at the Lakeland Pedlar vegetarian café, we went for a wander, mainly along the main pedestrianized street. A handful of high-street chains punctuate Keswick’s range of independent shops, market stalls and cafés. It was worth a look, but after half an hour I was ready to go. Perhaps I’m too used to city life.

The Coniston area is a place we’d go to pretty much every time we were in the Lake Constion-View-From-BrantwoodDistrict. Ominous grey clouds on the second day meant we gave our near-obligatory picnic on Coniston Water’s pebbled shore a miss. Instead, after my aunt’s recommendation, we headed to the Brantwood Estate.

Resting on the north east side of Coniston Water, Brantwood is the former home of the Pre-Raphaelite writer, artist and social critic John Ruskin.

Ruskin lived from 1819 to 1900, producing vast and varied works ranging from paintings to travel writing to critical pieces on art, architecture and social concerns, to mention just some!

The earlier clouds had mostly cleared when we arrived. “Typical,” muttered my dad. “We should’ve brought a picnic after all”. The emerging sunlight brightened our view from Brantwood over verdant green fields, the north end of the lake, and onwards to the Coniston Fells. I preferred this to shivering on the shore for the sake of our picnic tradition.

We paid the £7.20 each to visit the house and gardens. The house tour starts with a short video introducing us to Ruskin, then we were free to wander around the rest of the house, which brims with Ruskin’s possessions. I could imagine sitting in the study, gazing out of the large window at the view. No wonder Ruskin was so inspired to write!

I had studied Ruskin earlier that year during my degree. Being there in his old house, the floorboards softly creaking as we stepped around, transformed him from a name of lecture rooms and library books into someone who was once very real.

Afterwards, it was time for a coffee and decadent slice of chocolate cake from the Jumping Jenny Café. The café is part of the Estate, but is open to everyone, so there’s no need to pay the entrance fee for the house and gardens if you’re just after a cuppa. The weather was much better now, and we managed to find a table on the café’s busy terrace. Enjoying a drink and cake alfresco while being stroked by the warm tug of the spring breeze, and the gentle chatter of others is abraded by wild bird calls… This was definitely the relaxing break I needed.

On our last day it was time for another old favourite: Grizedale Forest.

Grizedale_Sheep_SculptureGrizedale is near the village of Hawkshead and stretches between Coniston Water and Lake Windermere. Several paths for both walkers and cyclists string the forest. This time, we took the Ridding Wood Trail. The mile-long path (which is wheelchair accessible) took us past many of the forest’s sculptures –there are over 60 dotted throughout Grizedale.

It was rarely quiet the whole time we were there – the Easter holidays equals busy! Yet the heady scent of earth lingering in the warm air made it feel so beautifully detached from the rest of the world. Bliss.

Suddenly, I heard a tuneful thud from nearby, then another, and another… The forest xylophones! An old home video shows a three-year old me curiously hitting the rows of giant logs. So of course I had another go. It was still great fun, and my sister quickly joined me. Then she noticed the kids behind us waiting to try, and we valiantly abandoned composing our musical masterpiece.

Red and doe deer roam the forest, but we weren’t lucky enough to spot any. Apparently buzzards, red kites, barn owls, foxes and badgers dwell there too, though the closest we got to wildlife was the geese that made a beeline for our picnic at the first rustle.

The Lakeland landscape makes it seem a timeless place. The mountains stand as if familiar, reliable friends; unchanging in a hectic world. I keep enthusiastically telling my partner we should visit the Lake District. Staying in a B&B rather than at my gran’s, and not having my parents and sister with me means it’s going to seem odd. Will I drag my boyfriend through Grizedale and other places I already know? Or is it time to explore another part of the Lake District?

Either way, it’s a magical place in which to escape.