Sunday, 5 November 2017

Inner Ear Damage, Glue Ear, and Crap Foam Earplugs

Nearly four years ago, I was covering a music weekend for a magazine article. The editor said I should get great photos - the whole commission depended on that. I thought foam ear plugs would be sufficient to protect my ears and I went down the front to get the best shots. The event was an absolute blast. I loved it. But half way through, I became aware of a horrible pressure building up behind my ear drums. I went to buy new ear plugs, but they were worse than the ones I'd bought with me, so I fitted them as tightly as I could and carried on.

In hindsight, I wish I'd just left at that point, but I hoped the feeling would pass, like the ringing in your ears passes following a concert. It didn't. So I'm writing this blog to warn people about the risks of relying on foam ear plugs at concerts, and the little known symptoms of permanent ear damage to watch out for.

When I returned home after the music weekend, I hoped the problem would pass, but it didn't so a few weeks later, I went to see the local practice nurse (there were no doctor's appointment's available). She said I had a blocked eustacian tube - fluid in the ear, putting pressure on the ear drum. A bit of web researched revealed that this is called Glue Ear. I was told to steam my ears, so I did it obsessively, every day, and it helped a bit. Six months of steaming later, my symptoms were still troubling me, so I tried to get a referral to a specialist. The doctor wouldn't refer me until I'd tried a load of drugs: antihistamines, decongestants, steroids, etc etc. All designed to eliminate glue ear, while at the same time, they now insisted that I didn't have glue ear.

To cut a long story short, it actually took three-and-a-half years to get an appointment with an ENT specialist. He said I have inner ear damage. It's not hearing loss, although sounds are muffled, but the feeling of pressure behind the ear drum drives me crazy. And there's a humming that's pretty awful too. Had I known that ear pressure was a sign of permanent damange, I'd have left the music weekend as soon the problem became apparent.

Most people know that noise can damage your hearing, but they probably reckon foam ear plugs offer sufficient protection. With hindsight, I can only suggest people exposed to loud noise invest in metal earplugs, try wax earplugs, or get professional musician's ear plugs. Better still, get industrial ear defenders. I wish I had.

What about the article covering that music weekend? Well I did get amazing photographs! But the editor who commissioned the article never published it. A cut of the original piece was sold to another publisher a few years later and was published last year. Was it worth it? Aboslutely not.

So for people searching Google for Glue Ear - like I was for years - trying different treatments, but finding nothing works, perhaps that pressure is caused by inner ear damage. I hate to say it, but there's little medics can do about that. My GP says, at some point in the future, it may be worth trying a low-dose of a drug to reduce the unpleasant sensation behind the ears.

If anyone stumbles across this blog and has any experience or advice on how to improve this situation, do leave a comment below. Thank you.

Saturday, 16 September 2017

This year has been stressful. They're building 70 flats on the plot next door.

This year has been stressful. They're building 70 flats on the plot next door. Our house forms the boundary wall. I've had 18 months of noise and vibrations. The whole house shakes daily, and last week they piled soil up against the wall of our house, with no consultation. Then they had diggers collecting the soil from the wall of our house, and ignored my attempts to communicate with them. I wanted to say, "Be careful - that's a load-bearing wall! It would have been nice to be consulted about this! And what about damp?"

But none of the workers speak English, making it impossible to effectively communicate with them directly, and the management's communication is awful. So I threw my toys out the pram (metaphorically speaking). I'm now expecting a call from a surveyor next week... because they're also planning to plant a privet hedge next to our wall, with the potential to grow to 12ft. This would block access to the wall for maintenance, prevent the wall from drying out after heavy rain (we've had damp problems there, rectified them for now, but need to keep an eye on it). And there's a threat to the foundations of our house from 40 x 12' trees.

It's stressful and I feel I need to get away from this environment, so we've had lots of holidays this year. Now the holiday season is ending, I've decided to start going down to the library more often. I can use the desk space and their amazing wifi. Last time I hot-desked at the library (due to our internet being down), there were 30 kids singing in the kids' section, so it's not always great for concentrating, but it's got to be worth a try? Perhaps I'll write another blog in a few weeks to let you all know how I'm getting on!

Sunday, 9 July 2017

How to sell your feature ideas to a magazine

I recently received an email from a lady who'd read my book, "Freelance Writing: Aim Higher Earn More". She asked, "My question is, how do I pitch? Do I write a story then think what magazine to send it to or do I write to the magazine asking for a page for a story?"

I did write a small section in the book on this, but it doesn't go into much detail on pitching because it's aimed at people who've got the basics covered and are now looking for new markets and new sources of inspiration. So... how to pitch?

You need to write to the magazine outlining your idea, why you're the best person to write it, and why you think it would suit their magazine. Be aware that many publications have six month lead times, so you need to be thinking aboug new year features now, in July. Weeklies have a shorter lead time. It varies between publications.

So to pitch, email the features editor / commissioning editor / managing editor and explain in one or two paragraphs what your feature idea is, why you're the best person to write the article, why the publication's readers would enjoy it, and provide a 'hook' - a link to an upcoming event, season, or newsy topic, to make it current and newsworthy. Make the idea really compelling, be able to provide pictures if you can, and with any luck, you'll get a commission if you keep doing this repeatedly, and for long enough!

When I write a pitch, I keep a copy of it and record who I've sent it to, so that when I'm uninspired, I can return to my previous ideas and see if I can use them to generate more work. I have hundreds of pages of ideas that I recycle with every new season.

In terms of sending completed articles on spec, there are a handful of magazines who ask for articles to be submitted in full, on spec. A case in point is 'The Oldie'. Look online for submission guidelines for the publication you want to write for, and they may have specific advice on this. If they don't specifically ask for articles on spec, then the rule of thumb is to send the idea only, and not write the article until you receive a commission. The Oldie's submission guidelines are here:

Good luck!

If you're interested in my books, you can view them here.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Writing, the environment, and story inspiration!

I wrote this RANT for The Oldie, who duly ignored it, so I thought I'd post it on here! I work from home and can concentrate better in a quiet environment. Next door, 70 flats are going up. It's been like working in an earthquake zone for 18 months, with all the noise and vibrations. But on the upside, my noisy, polluting builder buddies have been the subject of a couple of features I've sold to magazines! I'm sure they'd be delighted if they knew. Here's the RANT!

The builders idle outside my house, pumping fumes from their stationary vans, polluting the air, creating noise and a nuisance. It irritates me, so I ask them to stop and they look at me, like I'm mad. I explain that unnecessary stationary idling is illegal, that we have a pollution problem in the UK, and they should turn their engines off when stationary. They're standing on the pavement with the doors wide open. It's not like it's even keeping the van warm!

They're part of the Considerate Constructors scheme, so they apologise, turn their engines off, and all is well... until it happens again later, or the next day. Some sit there for half an hour or more pumping fumes unless I intervene.

This building work will take 18 months and they're already clogging up our road with their vehicles. So I now have a sign outside my house, provided by the site manager, asking the builders to turn their engines off when stationary. Some idle in front of the sign until I go outside and ask them not to. One repeat offender has vanished altogether since the site manager 'had a chat' with him, and promised me it wouldn't happen again.

But the thing is, it's not just the builders. I walk into our little town, and all along the high street people are idling in their cars - young and old alike. No-one seems to care about pollution or the environment. I've asked a few people to turn off. My husband thinks one day I'll get beaten up. But all this idling, all this pointless pollution, is really irritating me. Does no-one care about our health, or the planet?

Some of the London Borough councils now hold anti-idling days. They enforce the law and issue £20 fines to anyone who refuses to turn their engine off when stationary. It's progress, but it's not solving the problem across the country.

Leaving your car idling for more than about 30 seconds uses more fuel than switching off. It's in breach of road traffic regulations (see Highway Code section 123) and it can incur a £20 fine. Some Boroughs say you can keep the car warm by cutting the engine and leaving the fan on. There is no excuse. I'm glad some councils are now taking enforcement action, but sadly, they're not in my area.

We know air pollution is bad for our health; we know it's bad for the environment. We know it contributes to thousands of premature deaths every year. So why idle? Just turn off! If you're an idler, save yourself a few quid in fuel too. Let's all be responsible and stop the pointless pollution.

I sold two articles about the idling issue, with the builders playing the starring role. Is someone irritating you? Perhaps they could be the source of a short story or article!

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

My plan for 2017 is a bit like the plan for Brexit

My plan for 2017 is a bit like the plan for Brexit. There isn't one. And I think I need one. I started off on day one, after the new year bank holiday, finishing off a couple of jobs left from last year and by 10.30am, it was like, "What now?"

Having spent a lot of time in December pitching to my 'hottest prospects' list, I decided to try a different approach and coughed up £9 for membership of a writing website for three months. It highlights jobs and freelance opportunities in publishing. It goes against the grain to pay for these things, but it came recommended by someone who'd got work from it, so I thought it was worth a punt. First impressions: disappointment. It's a list of publications with links to their writers' guidelines - and they're all in the USA, which is less than ideal for the regional publications who only want regional articles (in the USA). I've already got The Writers' Market (the US equivalent to the W&A Yearbook), so it's mostly duplicating that. But hey, it's a new way of looking at the opportunities, and it's making me think again. So I pitched to two of the publications listed, and I'll keep an eye on it, because I think it might turn out to be more useful than my first impressions suggest.

Anyway, I didn't stay on that website for more than an hour or so, because some good news arrived in my inbox... Before Christmas one of my old clients said he wanted a series of articles written for 2017. I'd pondered his comments over the Christmas break and sent him some ideas. He came back to me in the new year, saying he liked them all... and had some ideas of his own. By the end of the day I'd secured 11 assignments, which should keep me going for the next couple of weeks.

I've also subscribed to a writing magazine for the year ahead, so hopefully these things will all pay dividents. After all, it only takes one new client to make an investment worthwhile.

There's still no plan. But I've now got a few more resources to draw from, and I've got work for the next two weeks. After that, I expect something will turn up. It usually does. If not, I usually spend the time pitching relentlessly, until a new job comes in. I do have ambitions to do more fiction in 2017, so perhaps working on that will bear fruit.

On another topic, this vibration from the builders next door is utterly horrendous. Perhaps I should just go on holiday!