Journalist and blogger Linda Jones has tagged me in her meme about writing. I really rate Linda’s writing as well as her business acumen so I’m responding to the challenge (and it’s the perfect excuse to kickstart this sadly neglected blog, too).
Which words do you use too much in your writing?
I probably swear too much, certainly when blogging, tweeting or posting in forums. I try and keep commissioned pieces clean, though! I’m probably more guilty of writing over-long sentences, scattered liberally with commas to break them up. And I definitely overuse the ellipsis…
Which words do you consider overused in stuff you read?
Most tabloidese. The word “star” seems to be applied to anyone who’s come within sniffing distance of a TV studio and is guaranteed to get my back up.
What’s your favourite piece of writing by you?
I covered the trial of Paul Touvier when he was in the dock for crimes against humanity, as I was living in France at the time. I was the only foreign freelance journalist to get a press pass (and they were very scarce). My feature’s not available online but I’ll dig it out one day, scan it and post it on my website.
What blog post do you wish you’d written?
Lots! I follow so many fantastic blogs that are brimming with great writing, I’m not sure I could choose. I’m a massive fan of Benefit Scrounging Scum – her posts always resonate with me because she writes about the realities of living with a disability in such an accessible way. I wish I could laugh about my own, comparatively minor, disability in the same way she does about hers even while letting you know the seriousness of her situation.
Regrets, do you have a few? Is there anything you wish you hadn’t written?
I wish I’d never written for Fabulous (the magazine of News of the World). It was a very unhappy experience for me and I’ll never sell out for a high word rate again. I felt grubby afterwards and I learned the lesson that selling my personal experience for shekels is not worth it when the subs distort everything you wrote. Otherwise I try not to regret things. I’d rather learn from my mistakes and move on than dwell on them.
How has your writing made a difference? What do you consider your most important piece of writing?
Most of the stuff I’ve done over the years is not that important in the great scheme of things. I started out as a music journalist and I’ve also done a fair bit of TV reviewing. There have been ranty columns galore, too – amusing to read but hardly world-changing.
I’m really pleased with the stuff I’ve done on disability benefits as I know I’ve helped people directly by exposing some of the system’s anomalies. Around 20 years ago, I wrote regularly for foreign magazines on the rise of the far right in a post-Communist Europe – I’m a little bit proud that I helped expose a small bit of that to a wider audience. And, of course, my Touvier piece is the one that I consider my most important (see above).
Name three favourite words
Yikes! Wordsmith. Brandy.
…And three words you’re not so keen on
British National Party.
Do you have a writing mentor, role model or inspiration?
I’ve never had a mentor but thanks are due to my old friend Fritz, who first published me in his fanzine, Wrong Image, when I was a 15-year-old punk in the mid-1970s. I’d already decided I wanted to be a journalist but seeing my first articles sealed the deal for me. A huge nod also goes to Mel Young, who gave me my first proper break in 1978 at Edinburgh City Lynx.
I’m inspired by many, many writers – every journalist I admire is a far better writer than I could ever hope to be.
I did want Julie Burchill’s job when she was at the NME, though. And her subsequent salary. But I never actually wanted to be her.
What’s your writing ambition?
I’ve never been terribly ambitious, which is probably why I never replaced Burchill at the NME. I’m fairly sure I had the talent but I lacked the drive and still do. So as long as I can somehow keep making a reasonable living as a wordsmith, that’ll do me nicely. I may even sling another book together at some point…
Plug alert! List any work you would like to tell your readers about:
I published my first book, Epilepsy The Essential Guide, in May 2009. I’ve had epilepsy myself since 1996 and I basically wrote the book I wanted to read when I was diagnosed but it wasn’t available. It’s selling well, has had good reviews and I know it’s already helped a few people, which is what I wanted to achieve with it.
In spring 2009, I collaborated with Linda Jones on TwitterTitters, which we did to raise money for Comic Relief while seeing if it was possible to a) create a book through Twitter and b) do it from scratch within a month. It was, but it gave me extra grey hairs. And sod it, I’d do it again!
Forthcoming this autumn, I’m one co-author (of around 250) of QFinance The Ultimate Resource, which is an encyclopedia on one of my specialist subjects – finance. It’s not dull, honest!
Tag time. Some colleagues I hope will also do the meme:
The rules: If you have time to do this meme, then please link to my original, then link to three to five other bloggers and pass it on, asking them to answer your questions and link to you. You can add, remove or change one question as you go. You absolutely do not have to be what you may think of as a “published” or “successful” writer to respond to this meme, I hope people can take the time to reflect on what their blogging has brought them and how it has been useful to others.