Check out an Independent Book Shop during the Lockdown

This blog post was inspired by a Twitter chat this morning all about helping out independent bookshops.

3 bookshelves containing a mix of colours and sizes of book

Here is a link to the amazing chat:

https://twitter.com/RobGMacfarlane/status/1253073923916402689

although you will have to have an account with Twitter to see it. I know that Twitter can be toxic, but I also really enjoy hanging out there with other writers. On this thread, lots of independent bookshops tweeted back that they were still open for business.

You could also try a search on Facebook, as lots of bookshops will have pages there too. The aim of this post is to encourage you to use your spending power to support smaller businesses.

In this lockdown time, why not support your local small businesses? You can find a good-sized list at Indie Bookshops.

One of Jane Austen’s characters said,

“I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of any thing than of a book! — When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.”

Caroline Bingley may not have been entirely honest when she said this. She was trying to compete with Elizabeth Bennett for Mr Darcy’s attention by reading a book, at a time when Elizabeth was really trying to avoid conversation with people that she felt uncomfortable with, by reading a book.

Reading a book is a great way to get away from our tablet screens.

What are you reading at the moment?

I am reading ‘The Tennant of Wildfell Hall’ by Anne Bronte. It was bought it when we visited the Bronte’s old home last year while on holiday in Yorkshire. I had previously read ‘Jane Eyre’ and ‘Wuthering Heights’. It is a great read – took a while to get going, but now I am really into it and not far from the end. I am already planning which book to read next.

Five reasons to look at a smaller bookseller:

  • They really appreciate your custom
  • You may find some unusual books that you may not have found anywhere else
  • It is so easy to place an order and pay online – good for socially distancing too! Check with each shop how they would like you order – some take orders by phone.
  • Browsing books is so similar to the actual experience except you are probably wearing the right glasses already
  • You can often find unusual or specialist books at smaller bookshops.

Some Midlands independent bookshops that are open for postal business:

The hive offers a selection of books and supports local booksellers through the purchases made. You can choose an independent to send some money too. The hive offers both books and ebooks and book-related gifts.

AbeBooks offers a network of independent booksellers which offer rare, used and out-of-print books which can be posted to people through internet orders. Books are shipped directly from the seller.

  • Astley Book Farm in Bedworth, Warwickshire offers the ability to buy online. It looks an amazing place to visit and seems to have a vast array of books
  • Warwick Books in Warwick are currently selling books online. You can request books through email from this page, and they are putting together book bundles too.
  • The Chaucer Head Bookshop, Stratford-upon-Avon are selling through AbeBooks or you can call them directly from the number listed on their website, including a number for overseas visitors
  • The Five Leaves Bookshop in Nottingham is able to sell existing stock. They are also offering mystery boxes. You can email them from their website.

I have only been able to include bookshops with an online presence. Many independent bookshops have bricks and mortar only and so I could not include them. This is a list for Midlands-based booksellers and I will be doing more blog posts about other areas of the country. If you have had good service from an online bookseller, do let me know in the comments below.

The fact is, that we need independent sellers as well as the big giants. If the big giants are able to capture all our sales and shut the independents down, then the lack of choice will make us all captive audiences. Bigger is not always better.

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Writing a CV, online networking, avoiding scams and losing a freelance writing job – the best of the last 9 days of the 30 day blogging challenge

I had great fun taking part in the 30 day blogging challenge this year, writing about a number of different subjects and adding 30 posts to my blog. My new challenge is to carry on taking it forward and keeping it up to date. So in the spirit of this (after a few days off to rest and recover) here is a round-up of the best posts in the last 9 days.

daisies-in-the-shape-of-a-heart

Freelance CV help

Writing a freelance CV is an essential part of being a freelancer. Job opportunities often require you to send one off. You should never just drag up an old CV however, you need to tailor it to the requirements of the person description. My CVs have got me a lot of interest over the years, so here’s one way to write a good one.

Write what you know

That old adage should you write what you know, brought a lot of interest from the other bloggers in the blogging challenge group. It was a different way of looking at an old subject.

How to avoid scams

Avoiding scams should be on everyone’s radar, particularly in these days, when it can be difficult to know who is contacting you and whether their intentions are good or not. Always question everything.

Things to do during lockdown

Some great ideas to get involved in while you stay safe at home, were the subjects of two blog posts during these 9 days. I have already started taking a look at my old photos and enjoying the memories.

Lost a freelance job?

Lost a freelance writing job? Here is a personal post with my take on it. There are many people losing their jobs at the moment and it is important to take time for yourself, to grieve and to come up with a new plan. Since this post was written, I have been let go completely, thanks to the lockdown. I choose to look at this positively. There will be someone else who will appreciate my skills – I just have to find them.

Other bloggers who managed to finish

Shout outs go to Cindy Fox from Hearth at Home, Jacqueline Redmond, Your Story Works and Regina Byrne from Leadership & Management Coaching who also managed to finish their challenges.

Finally, I looked at my transformation through the 30 days of blog posts process. I have gained confidence and enjoyed interacting with other bloggers. I would definitely do it again and I would recommend that you do, too.

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My transformation through 30 days’ blogging

30 days ago, I was not quite at the beginning of my 30 day blogging challenge. You see, it has taken my longer than 30 days to reach 30 posts. I was at Day 7, thirty days ago, but it has still been a transformation.

notepad-lavender-candle-table

I love writing, but producing content for my own blog is a struggle. Sometimes I have lots of topics and can write easily, but at other times, ideas come more slowly. Signing up for 30 days of consistent blogging is a test of faith, but I managed it with my trusty editorial calendar by my side!

I have really enjoyed creating the round-up posts and the weird titles they create. Both round-ups consisted of a wide variety of subjects which probably best reflect my brain and the way it flits around! I found that people still commented on the round-ups, even though they had had the opportunity to see the post first time round.

The blog post that got the most attention was Blogs Interrupted, which was the week the world changed. The schools closed, most people were told to stay at home and stuff got real! None of us have ever known a time when the world as we know it changed so dramatically, and I got behind on my blogs for a few days as we learned to deal with our new reality.

Blog with a group

I wanted to join the blogging challenge in March, because I could see that lots of people were signing up for it and I wanted to be part of a group. It’s no fun blogging in isolation, you need people to take part. So many of the people I was blogging alongside, inspired me. People like Vaishakhi, who created Beads of Hope and Regina Byrne Coaching as well as Melina Abbott and Dale Darley. The people you meet while taking the challenge are wonderful and you get to read so many different types of blogs.

You learn so much on this challenge. Some of it I knew and had forgotten, other pieces of knowledge were brand new. Each email arrives jam-packed with information, things to do and actions to take. I learned how to use Canva (and pick the free images), I installed Yoast (and I still have arguments with it on SEO vs my style) and relearned the art of the round-up post (bit difficult to do when you post so infrequently but easy when you have 30 days’ worth of blogs).

Do Yoast & I have a future?

So, what of my future plans? Obviously I plan to blog more and want to work on a content series. I hope to continue with a mix of topics, completely confusing Google and I look forward to reading even more diverse blog posts on the 30 day blogging challenge group. I also intend to take the challenge again some time in the future, but possibly not yet! Yoast and I will also try not to break up, but just be like that annoying warring couple that everyone knows and tries to ignore.

Should you take the 30 day blogging challenge? Absolutely! It will hurt as you stretch your writing muscles, but it will feel so good after! Go on! You know you want to!

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How to put together an editorial calendar for bloggers

Since my first 30 day blogging challenge in 2016, I have used an editorial calendar. Different people may have different ideas of what constitutes an editorial calendar.

laptop-notebook-camera-pen

I use a spreadsheet to store ideas for blog posts or other content so that I have a constant stream of ideas to use when I am trying to think of something to write. PR people use editorial calendars so that they can put useful content out when they are trying to run promotions, or publishers might use one to keep track of their publications. Depending on what you are trying to achieve, you might find this tool useful.

How can an editorial calendar help you in your business?

It’s a great place to store ideas. Ideas are all around us, but sometimes it can be hard to remember them. When I find a great story or possible blog post, I make notes about it.

You can use your editorial calendar to note the angle that you are going to take on the subject. This might not matter if it is a personal blog, but if you are working for someone else or even several other people, it might be worth making a note to ensure that you remember your original thoughts.

I find it best to keep an editorial calendar for each different blog, especially for clients. For the blog posts that I write at the moment, some can link to awareness weeks or months and it can be handy to have those planned out in advance, so that I already have some ideas for topics. Bloggers could also use the tool for planning guest posts to keep track.

Using pictures can be a good way to jog your memory. You can add a link or an actual picture to the spreadsheet if you wish.

Dates: I always date when I had the initial idea and I will usually add a date at the end of the row when I have used the idea. Sometimes I will have brainstorming sessions for a number of blog posts and it is useful to know when they came in handy.

Keeping track of sources in an editorial calendar

As well as adding the website for the source, there may be other sources linking to the idea. I will add these too, so that I can keep track of them all. I also keep notes on the possible blog posts, which may include headline ideas and possible keywords.

If you have a number of blogs, then you might like to indicate which blog the idea is for. This enables you to keep all your ideas in one place. It also means that you can repurpose ideas for different blogs, by finding a different angle.

The best thing about the editorial calendar is the ability to plan content. If there are particular dates you want to publish around, or events, then it can help you to plan this in detail. If you want to do a blog post series, then you can use your calendar to plan this. If you have some guest posts planned, then you can include these too.

You can add social media planning, include video links and plan the launch of your next ebook. You can make your editorial calendar as simple or as extensive as you wish.

Here is an example of an editorial calendar:

Date

Idea

Source

Source

Notes

Date used

Social Media Notes

5/3/2020

Using editorial calendars

https://buffer.com/library/all-about-content-calendar

Bloggers – kw

The headings can be changed to suit your own particular blog.

Do you use an editorial calendar? Do you find it helps to plan content? Comment below.

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How to connect with bloggers in your niche

First of all, I want to apologise for using the word, ‘niche’ in a heading! Getting a bit jargon-y there!  A niche is simply a narrowed-down subject that you like to blog about. The narrower the better if you really want to know your subject well.

Red-and-white-heart-connected

I have just read the blogging challenge email where Sarah Arrow encourages us to connect with bloggers who do the same sort of thing that we do and comment on their blogs, helping their visibility and ours. I already knew this, but I had forgotten it. Long ago, before Linked-In and Pinterest came along, the first thing that came up when I searched my name on Google, would be comments that I had made on blogs. I just checked today and on page 4 my name comes up linked to comments that I have previously made on blogs – the oldest of which was in 2010 when I was just starting out!

So comments on blogs can hang around for a long time, especially on high-ranking blogs. It is worth doing as long as you are happy with your comments.

I love finding bloggers to connect with in the things that I do. But how can you find people to connect with? And when you do, how do you connect?

Ask a question

If you have any burning questions, then ask them on Google and quite often bloggers who have answered those questions will come back. You can then check out their websites and look around. You may also want to see how well they answer the question as it will help you to see what their knowledge and experience is like.

Search hashtags

You can use hashtags to search on Twitter and Instagram, and even Facebook as hashtags are used there. Look for keywords that link to what you do and see what links the hashtags bring back. Twitter is a great place to connect with other writers and you can get to know people through hashtag hours as quite often the same people show up to chat.

Search keywords

Intentionally searching for people starts with keywords. The bloggers that come back are worth checking out. Again, look around the website and see what kind of information they offer. They may offer free ebooks for signing up to their mailing list or courses. I have to say that I am normally turned off by hyper-spammy websites – the kind where an advertising pop-up follows you down the page like a dog! I normally close those straight away and never go back! However occasionally you find an amazing website that’s full of useful information and those are worth bookmarking.

Facebook groups

Finding and joining Facebook groups that link to what you do is a great way to connect with other people. They can also be the most helpful in terms of giving advice and help to other people. Not all groups are public and you may need to apply to join and even answer a question or two. Of course you could start your own Facebook group too.

Blogging Challenge

Doing the 30 day blogging challenge with Sarah & Kevin Arrow is one of the best ways I know to find some like-minded people and connect with them. You are not necessarily writing about the same things, but that means you get to learn more and enjoy meeting people online. You also get to read some blogs that you might otherwise not have read. 

Other Challenges

Other blogs offer other challenges which can be just as useful. It’s worth searching out challenges to take once in a while. Pushing ourselves brings growth and change.

How to Connect

When you find a blogger that you like, how should you connect with them?

You can try a number of things:

Interview them (I interviewed Sarah Arrow for my blog once) and write up as a blog post

Comment on their blog post (if allowed)

Bookmark the website and come back to it

Even better subscribe to their feed and their email list

Follow on Twitter

Take their challenge

Join their Facebook group

Just one word of warning: try the things that seem right to you, but don’t do it all at once. You’re trying to make friends, not scare them off!

How do you get to know other bloggers online? Comment below and let me know.

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10 tips to working from home when you’re used to being in the office

Many people are finding themselves working from home for the first time in a long time, or even ever! Adjusting to this situation, which has occurred very quickly could take some work. The children may be home from school and your partner may also be around more. There could be a lot of distractions, but you’ve still got to get work done. As someone who has been working from home for a while, here are some tips to being able to effectively work from home.

Laptop, coffee and cake on a duvet work from home

Set up a workstation. This may seem simple – but you need a chair that you can sit in comfortably, a good internet connection and a big enough screen so that you can see your work. It is best if you can find a space where no one else is, so that you can take telephone calls and conference calls.

You may also need to find a different space so that everyone can work. It is still best to supervise children while they use the internet. They should have work set for them, but it won’t take up the whole day.

Stick to Work Hours

Decide on your work hours. These do not have to be the same as your normal hours, as long as you can fit your work in. You need to take work calls into account, but allow yourself time to get away from the keyboard in the middle of the day.

Stick to your work hours. Once you start answering emails at 10pm at night, then there’s no going back! Well, there is, but it’s best not to start.

Make time for your loved ones too. Make sure you have time to connect with them and spend time with them. Equally, don’t let go of your work friends. Find some time together to chat or you could spend time in a team chatroom over lunch.

Ignore the Housework

Ignore the housework that is calling to you. Do it at the time that you normally would.

Make time for exercise. This might be pedalling an exercise bike, following a YouTube exercise video or going out for a walk in isolation. You really need at least 15-30 minutes of exercise every day.

Make time to connect and spend time with the children if you have any. If your children have just finished their school term, it could be a very strange and confusing time. Encourage them to get their school work done, but also to have down time and be more creative.

Take time away from the Screen

Give yourself some time away from the screen. Dig out the board games or even have a conversation so that you’re not constantly staring at a brightly lit screen. Get out in the garden if you have one or take a socially distanced walk.

Take advantage of the shows and concerts being live-streamed at the moment. Look for things that you would enjoy and make time to watch them.

Take time to be creative yourself and do something you enjoy.

Have you got any tips for someone working from home for the first time? Share them below.

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Sunday Church Children’s Talk

Today, I have been promoting my Sunday Church children’s talk.

I was due to lead an all-age worship service for the baptist church I attend, but it was decided fairly early on that it would move online. With my daughter’s help, I recorded both a children’s talk and a sermon bit.

 

I offer this as a piece of vlog! Enjoy.

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Blogs Interrupted

UK March 2020

Day 14 30 Day Blogging Challenge

Things have gone quiet round here. I’m still hoping to publish 30 blogs, but not in 30 days. The world seems to have gone mad: university students are being sent home, IT people are being told to work from home, schools are shutting and everyone is being told to stay home. I can’t think of anything to compare it to in my lifetime and I don’t think I will again.

The good news is that we have the internet to keep us sane. One of the consequences of the direction of non-essential gatherings is that churches are unable to meet. I was about to do an all-age service on Sunday. You know when I chickened out of doing a vlog post? Looks like I will be doing one after all – for my church!

So how do you keep your head when all about you are losing theirs?

Find the positive.

Thankfully, my children are old enough not to need supervision, although my son might if he is to do the work that the school sets. My daughter, the university student is coming home at the weekend and may not pay the third instalment of her accommodation. But what if your child is of the age where they are meant to be doing GCSEs? Or your children are too young to be able to be left?  Hopefully solutions can be found. Everyone’s situation is different and we will all have to find our own solutions. Don’t be afraid to reach out to other people – everyone has got a similar problem.

Allow yourself to be overwhelmed

I know, it’s hard, but sometimes you just have to feel the emotions in order to get past them. Then you can pick yourself up and find a way through.

Social distancing, not social isolation

These two things are very different. We need social distancing – to stay 1-2m apart to prevent the coronavirus spreading. In China, there were lots of clusters where family members from the same household all caught it. Finding ways to be apart while being together is going to be a crucial part of this time. No one wants to be socially isolated. Those online communities are going to matter more than ever.

Money matters

If this time is going to leave you financially worse off, then reach out to the people who can help sooner rather than later. Contact your bank, talk to the people you owe money too and make sure you take full advantage of any help the Government is offering, even if it is a loan. Businesses that were profitable before this virus will be profitable again after it. Take all the help you can get and make sure that you have money coming in.

Mental health matters

Do look after yourself and your mental health. Stay healthy, get some exercise, eat your 5-a-day fresh fruit and vegetables. Find some hobbies to do that can help you – knitting and crochet, painting or even journalling. There are lots of companies about to offer deliveries online – take advantage.

How do you plan to sit out the current situation in the UK or where you are? Keep in touch via the comments below.

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Secrets of Stronger Fiction – more realistic bad guy/girl

Please note there are some spoilers in this blog post in the interest of creating stronger fiction.

Many adult stories do not contain a definitive bad guy.girl. In many children’s stories you will find a baddie character – someone who sees it as their life goal to thwart the main character and make their life difficult. Sometimes that evil character is just out-and-out bad, but sometimes, they are more morally ambiguous. This makes for stronger fiction.

Harry Potter series

For example, in the Harry Potter series by JK Rowling, the evil-doers are evident from the start. Even the reluctance to name him (he-who-should-not-be-named) points to the fact that Voldemort is not someone that you would like to be best friends with. Some of the other characters who support him are not so clear cut (and some are!). Draco Malfoy, for example, hates Harry with a loathing and the feeling is mutual. Draco tries to kill Dumbledore and this reinforces that he is evil. However at the end of the books, Draco is rather a pathetic figure who has been damaged by the evil that he has done. Dorothy Umbridge, however is definitely evil, but Professor Snape is eventually revealed to have been working for the good forces, for all he disliked Harry.

Of all the characters in Harry Potter that appear to be evil, Snape is the most interesting. At the start he is always there to catch Harry out, his allegiance as head of the house of Slytherin gives him a vested interest in taking points off Harry and therefore Gryffindor, his rival. But as more of Snape’s story is known: his closeness to Harry’s mother Lily at one point and how he felt when Janes and Lily got together gives the reader a sympathy for him by the time of his last scene.

Matilda

The best stories have a mix of characters including those who are borderline. Matilda by Roald Dahl has a very definite bad gal in Miss Trunchbull, the angry headmistress who hates children. Miss Trunchbull is tall and broad and uses her size to intimidate both the children and teachers. Everyone that is except for Matilda. Matilda is able to use her new powers to scare Miss Trunchbull and protect her friends. But while the headteacher is a very obvious evil person, less so are Matilda’s parents. These two people are self-centred and not above indulging in criminal activity. They don’t seem to care very much for their daughter and even less for her schooling. They are not as vicious as Miss Trunchbull, but because they ignore Matilda instead of chucking her in the chokey, does that make them any better?

Matilda knows her parents’ failings and they do not seem to affect her, but neglect could be a very serious thing for her. Thankfully she has met Miss Honey who is prepared to take her on and love her.

Artemis Fowl

The Artemis Fowl series by Eoin Colfer introduces a character who self-identifies as a criminal mastermind, or at the very least an anti-hero. He aims to steal to further his own ends, but finds himself in trouble when stealing from fairies, more specifically a police fairy known as Holly Short. Artemis may have started out as evil (how can you help it after being named Artemis), but he fairly quickly finds himself being forced to do the right thing. Throughout the series of books, he finds himself involved in a number of scary escapades, but usually on the right side of the fairy police. Incidentally, the books introduce Opal Koboi, a narcissistic pixie who is capable of far more evil actions than Artemis, himself.

Which characters are your favourite bad guys/gals and why?

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Is there ever a time when a freelancer should work for free?

I came across a job website tonight and read their information on becoming a freelancer. I was shocked to see that they advocated taking a first job and doing the work for free. I am a firm believer that at no point should a freelancer ever work for free. Nor do I believe that they should sell their skills cheaply.

When you are just starting out, it is tempting to take any offer of work that is going, so that you can add to your portfolio and have something to show other prospective clients, but I still think that you should expect to charge for your work.

There is a process of thought that suggests that early-stage freelancers should take work in order to prove themselves. They should take low-paying or free work until they can work themselves up to a more reasonable level of compensation. There are several reasons why this is unacceptable:

Freelancers have to pay bills like everyone else

Taking low-paying work can make you feel as though it is all you are good for

You have to have a certain level of competency to even consider going freelance. Why should you sell it cheaply?

I’m a start-up, will you work for free?

Then there are the people who advertise jobs who usually suggest that as they are a start-up, they cannot currently afford to pay someone to do the work. They usually dangle the offer of more, paid work down the line. But there are some problems with that:

If they can’t afford to pay someone, then why are they starting up a business? Surely if they have no money for it, it will be doomed to fail.

The promised paid-for work rarely materialises or when it does, the pay is not worth the effort

Consider this:

The time that you spend working on something for free, is time that you can never get back.

Does that make it more valuable?

Or

The time that you have offered for free, could be used to market yourself to find a paying customer

Or

Will the product that you have created for free be used to bring this client money?

Then you deserve some compensation for it.

When you start up as a freelancer, it is advisable to work out how many billable hours you can find for your job. That is, the amount of time that you have available to work for clients. Once you have that number, you can use it to do a number of things.

You will need to set aside some time to market your business. This includes writing for your own website, creating products for your own website and running your own social media (without getting sidetracked on Facebook).

You will need some time to do the administration of your business – invoicing and chasing payments.

You will need time for clients.

If you give up some of your time for free, then you are taking some time away from your business. Even if you are a brand new freelancer, you have chosen this path because you believe that you are good at what you do and that you can bring some skills to the table. Your skills deserve a decent reward.

Don’t sell yourself short.

Have you ever worked for free? If so, then do comment below. Did more work materialise? Do you agree with me that freelancers should not work for free? Please comment below.

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