back to work

Back to School | Learning How to Write Aged 49 and Three Quarters!

So today I went back to school!  I was surprisingly un-nervous about the whole thing considering I haven’t set foot in a classroom for something like 10 years – and that was for a Spanish evening class. Admittedly it’s only a two day course, but the prospect of returning to the ‘big smoke’ after a long absence and having to mingle with grown ups and hot young digital executives plying their trade on an IDM Digital Copywriting course, should have made me quiver in my dinosaur skin boots. The prospect of having the luxury of a total of three hours on the train to focus on my long ‘to do list’ soon evaporated any fear!

And sure enough I was pleasantly surprised. I didn’t feel old at all, despite the fact that when I actually looked around the room, I had 20 years, if not 30 on most of the people in it.  That was with the notable exception of the course tutor,  who looked exactly how you would imagine a communications lecturer in the mid 80s to have looked! That at least hasn’t changed. The subject matter has of course changed dramatically. He introduced himself as somebody who had been writing since ‘before the internet’ was invented, and that gave me much comfort indeed.

He was of course exceedingly knowledgable, which also gave me hope that there is value in the digital world, and some inspiration in the creativity, flexibility and freedom that it allows you. He addressed his varied audience appropriately and enthusiastically, and I felt like I belonged in that room – a very pleasant surprise.

So why did I feel the need to ‘go back to school’? Well, I have been thinking about that. I have always loved to write. Apparently I was okay at it at school, but somebody forgot to tell me that, which was why an A in my English ‘O’ Level was a bit of a shock to me.  But in all honesty I assumed that it was because I hadn’t had to revise for it!  Ds in RE & Sociology seemed to bear that out!

As my life has gone on, people have said things like, ‘I love the way you write’, ‘you’re a good writer you know’ and ‘I love getting your letters’. And over time, I have slowly come to realise that writing is not only something that I love to do, but that sometimes people actually enjoy reading what I’ve produced.

Thanks to the extraordinary age of the internet, it has become gloriously easy to ‘publish’ yourself for the enjoyment of others, but mainly yourself, these days, with absolutely no experience or qualifications to justify it.  I finally took that plunge about three years’ ago creating not one but two blogs, and I’ve never looked back. To write is a joy – to have it read, an even greater one, to have web stats confirm that even strangers have read it, and have people say nice things..a dream come true.

But the truth is, despite having worked in marketing, and having written many many pieces of copy over the years, I have never actually been paid to ‘write’! Writing has been part of my job, but a very varied job indeed. I have never felt that I was getting paid to do that specific thing – partly also, I am sure, because I’d blagged my way into most of those jobs with other skills!

One day last year I got a phone call asking me if I was interested in a freelance copywriting role. I didn’t get it, but almost immediately I realised that that is what I wanted to do. At that point I didn’t have the confidence to even consider charging people money for my writing, and even though I write a lot of stuff for free for various organisations, that leap seemed too great. Writing for free is easy to do – nobody is judging you for something they don’t pay for, and they are often even grateful.

All of this prompted me to think that I needed some benchmark to make me feel like I actually knew what I was doing. Despite having spent almost 8 years doing some sort of social media, blogging and online marketing entirely self taught, I just didn’t feel like I did.  After some research I found a lovely little 2-day course run by the Institute of Direct & Digital Marketing specifically on Digital Copywriting – a perfect way to check in and make sure that what I’ve been bluffing my way through had some value.

And after day one I’m feeling pretty positive! Yes, I need to adopt some disciplines specific and important to digital copy and think things through in greater detail. But when the lecturer went round the room and asked what we would take away from the day, I said I would be thinking about who I was writing for in future.  Because in all honesty, I have always written for me, the act of splurging words a pleasure in itself. Which is probably why I often feel embarrassed about what I write – because it’s self indulgent.

To write for a living would be a dream come true – of that there is no doubt, but to do that I must learn to write for others. And that has to be my overriding lesson from my first day back at school!  That and that according to Ernest Hemingway, every first draft is shit!  Well that’s a relief!

PS. I think I’ve just broken just about every single rule that I have learned today, but practise makes perfect, and I’ve always been a bit of a rebel in the classroom!


For the Love of Books
A Resourceful Life

Happy World Book Day!

So I have two obsessions/passions in life – one is of course waste reduction and recycling – the other is a much more simple pleasure, and that is books!  World Book Day gets me particularly excited about life. I think some people would call me a bibliophile because the sight of a book shop or a library or even a pile of books gets my heart racing, and the likes of Waterstone’s, and even better, a dusty old independent book shop, is my idea of Shangri-La! My dream would be to have a coffee shop full of vintage upcycled furniture, and books, hundreds of them, where people could come to relax and read! One day…in the meantime, here is my Waste Not Want Not Guide to making the very most of every single tome, and every single page, and every single word of beauty!

Sadly, books cannot actually be recycled – the glue that binds them together prevents this at the moment! So here are a few ideas as to what you might want to do with your books to prolong their life!  A book, after all, should live forever!


One of the most beautiful things about a book is its ability to go on a journey!  From the moment it is bought and read, enjoyed, reflected on, to the moment the pages finally turn to dust, it will have passed from hand to hand, reader to reader – it is one product that was destined to be recycled over and over again!  So if you have a book that you have loved, pass it friends, family, on social media, wherever! Talk about it, engage people in the pleasure that you have experienced and pass it on!  That said, when I have read a book I REALLY love, I have to hide it in the depths of my bookshelf, and jealously keep it!  I did that yesterday with The Miniaturist! But for the most part, I pass my books on. I particularly love it when I find a book that people have written in saying who they are and when and where they read it! Some of those journeys can be quite remarkable!


There are several sites online where you can simply exchange your books! Great idea! A win/win for everybody! Check out Book Crossing which is lovely as it also enables you to track your book’s journey, or Book Mooch.


For whatever cause you fancy! I did it as part of a Jumble Sale for our school last year, and I got excited by every single donation.  People love book sales, it means that they can add  to their children’s libraries or pick up obscure titles, very very cheaply, and it is a fabulous way to raise money for a good cause. For more information on how I organised our Jumble Sale, here you go!


Obviously the book is a staple of the charity shop – I think the most common reason people pop into a charity shop is to have a browse of the books, so it is vital that they keep their stocks healthy, as that then leads people to spend more money while they are there.  Some charities, such as Oxfam, the Red Cross, even have specialist bookshops to make sure they make the most money they can – often people have no idea of the second hand value of their books, and this ensures that everything is sold at its appropriate value.  You will often see book banks at your local recycling facility so it is a simple job to donate them.


Now I wouldn’t normally suggest this because my first choice would always be to give your books to charity, but it is better than throwing them in the bin! If you Google recycle books, you will be met with a raft of options if you’ve got some books you would rather sell.


So the other option is to create something beautiful out of unwanted books! Here’s a great article with some lovely ideas, and of course Pinterest is awash with more!

I personally can think of about half a dozen other things I would like to do with books – supply them to schools in Africa, Asia and anywhere else they don’t have any, set up book exchanges in railway stations, hospitals, and even telephone boxes in villages, but at the moment, these are your options.

If you have any other ideas, then please do get in touch – we’d love to hear!

This article was originally written for my other blog, Waste Not Want Not, which focuses on living life resourcefully!  If you would like to find out more, check it out!