Busy? Me? Hahahaaaaaaa. No. (YES!)

I can confidently say that until this point in my life I have never even known busy. In the past week, whilst attempting to juggle several major projects for various important clients, I have averaged twelve hour working days. There have been moments when I have entertained, in my exhausted fugue-like state, the idea of physically splitting myself in two, so that I might actually have some hope of completing all the tasks on my ‘to do’ list. Who am I kidding? I don’t even have a ‘to do’ list anymore. I realise now that is a luxury only afforded to people who are familiar with the concept of having free time in their waking day. At the moment that concept is as alien to me as, well, aliens. As for my email inbox, it doesn’t take an I.T. expert to know that when it hits 250 and at least 50 of those are still unopened, that’s not good.

But for all my whingeing and moaning, it’s also true to say I have felt more fulfilled in my job in the past week than I have for a long time. Yes, I’m busy, yes I’m tired (beyond tired, David Blaine in his sleep deprivation experiment had nothing on me), and yes it’s a shame that our June wedding will at this rate be a rather sparse affair thanks to the fact I have literally no brain space left for planning it. But there’s something to be said for a bit of hard graft, and the feeling of satisfaction you get when you’ve worked your arse off and are recognised for it. It hasn’t all been plain sailing (what is?), but I finally seem to have found a company that appreciates its employees and isn’t afraid to say so when they go the extra mile – which makes me more amenable to running that extra mile, at least from time to time (and ideally in very short bursts).

That said I’m hoping normal service will resume soon. For all the excitement that manic twelve hour working days afford, there is only so long one can neglect the important elements of a healthy life, like sleep, food that isn’t fast, physical movement that comprises more than three steps to the toilet and another three back to your desk, and actual, meaningful, non-work related social engagement. It would also be rather pleasant to focus my eyes on something more than twelve inches from my face again. But for now I’ll have to make do with another two hours of staring at a screen and some nasty supermarket filled pasta before my midnight bedtime. And then the cycle will begin again. Oh well, such is life…

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If at first you don’t succeed…

Tomorrow’s my first official day as a freelancer and I’m excited. I’ve set up a morning meeting with an agency contact who might need to outsource some PR, and will be spending the rest of the day working on a commission for a man whose garden shed product I’m managing the PR launch for. In between those jobs I’m also planning to start working through the exercises in my book on how to pitch feature ideas to publications, and am also keen to start planning out characters and a plot for a new story that’s starting to take shape in my mind. Then on Tuesday I’ll be kicking off week two of the new job by planning a PR strategy. In short, I’m going to be a busy bee!

The past few months have been frustrating career wise but I’ve learned some valuable lessons that I’ll put into practice going forward. It’s scary but exciting to go from being one of many communications professionals to the only one; there’s no one to hide behind and if I don’t deliver it’s my head on the block and nobody else’s. But I’ve always thrived on pressure and now have the autonomy I’ve been craving for a long time-both in my main employment and my fledgling freelance career. I’m determined to succeed – because failure just isn’t an option.

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I love the quotes the station staff put up at Clapham North station. This one was taken a while back but is particularly appropriate for today’s post.

And so to work…

The first day in a new job is a funny old thing. No matter how old or experienced you are you always feel like the new girl who doesn’t know her arse from her elbow, which is really quite disquieting.

Fortunately for me, the minute I walked into my new office near London Bridge this morning my new colleagues were so welcoming I felt instantly at home. My boss gave me a thorough tour of the building (starting with “the most important room,” the kitchen – a woman after my own heart) and introduced me to everyone, then treated me and the colleague I’ll be working most closely with to lunch at Strada overlooking the river, which was just beautiful today against the backdrop of a bright blue sky. She even informed me that my “official” welcome lunch to meet the whole team (quite a few of whom are on holiday this week) will be next Tuesday, when we’ll most likely be going out for Thai (I don’t think I need to tell those of you who have been reading my NYC blog just how much I love my food, and therefore how appropriate this plan of action is. Like I said, a woman after my own heart).

The work my new charity Teens and Toddlers does – running a programme pairing disadvantaged teens with toddlers in a nursery setting, complemented by sessions with facilitators discussing such topics as risky behaviour, sexual health and education – is fascinating to me, not least because it’s firmly rooted in psychological principles (psychology being the subject I studied at university-too many years ago to admit). I’ve always harboured some regrets about not pursuing psychology as a career, though in truth I don’t think I’m academic enough to succeed in that field. Now I’ve got the best of both worlds as I can stick with what I know – PR – whilst working alongside research psychologists whose job it is to constantly evaluate the programme in its various locations.

I’m too long in the tooth (and bitter from past experience) to proclaim on day one that I’ve finally found the perfect job for me, but I will say that I like the atmosphere in the place and get a warm and positive vibe from the people who work there. It’s also such a treat having a view of Tower Bridge just metres away from the office. So far so good…

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Confession

I’ve been a busy bee setting things in motion for my impending part-time freelance career, and already the fear is being outweighed three to one by excitement. Today I had my first freelance proposal accepted – admittedly it’s only for a book review that will earn me the paltry sum of thirteen Great British pounds, but nonetheless it’s a step in the right direction. I’ve also set up a meeting with a PR agency contact on my first ‘official’ day as a freelance in April. So it’s full steam ahead with all writing-related plans and I couldn’t be feeling more positive.

Now, as it’s been a while since I posted any fiction I thought today was the day to redress the balance. This post was inspired by the current situation in Rome…

Confession

It was raining hard when Ellie arrived at the church, yet she was barely aware of being soaked to the skin. She pushed open the ancient metal-studded wooden door and, after a moment’s hesitation, pushed aside the heavy damask drapes and stepped into the darkness within.

Ever since she was a little girl she’d found being inside churches comforting. They had, she thought, a womb-like quality, providing an invisible yet protective barrier between those inside and the real world outside. Whenever she’d had problems in her life she had come here, to this very church; to pray, to repent, to seek forgiveness. Not that she’d ever been given a choice.

Today the church was silent but for the distant flapping of avian wings in the eaves. Motes of dust floated in the musty air. Ellie tread softly across the faded flagstone flooring, worn down from thousands of worshippers’ feet that had trodden this path before her own. She kept her eyes down as she passed row upon row of mahogany pews, each cradling hymn books and orders of service for that evening’s mass.

She approached the altar, too ashamed to look heavenward and meet the non-judgemental eyes of Jesus. Her knees sank into the crocheted cushion, her elbows settled on the hard wood railing. She bowed her head still further, clasped her hands together and closed her eyes, offering her thoughts to a higher being.

No priest was privy to her confession; it was witnessed only by the God she had served for all of her eighteen years. Once finished she allowed herself the briefest of glances towards her Saviour, who was but a silhouette against the wall of multi-coloured light that now streamed through the window behind.

As she rose from her knees she briefly wondered what the Pope would say about her predicament, what advice he would give from his seat in the Vatican. Would he offer her forgiveness? Would anyone?

Feeling suddenly claustrophobic, she turned and walked back down the aisle, her pace quickening with each step. She passed the parapet, pausing for a moment to remember sermons of days and years past. At the font she hesitated again before dipping her finger in the cold water and hurriedly making the sign of the cross. Then, with a final nod to Jesus, she walked to the door, pulled the damask drapes aside and stepped out into the light.

The heavy door shuddered to a close behind her with a bang that made her jump. She turned and traced the warping of the wood lightly with her finger, then laid her palm flat against its surface. A single tear escaped her eye and trailed across her cheek.

Today, she knew, there would be no forgiveness.

This would be her last confession.

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I took this photo on Charles Bridge in snowy Prague a few weeks ago.

What makes you tick?

Recent “research” from the folk over at Facebook posits more people see our posts than we might think. I put the word research in speech marks because this comes at a time when Facebook is being criticised for limiting the reach of peoples’ posts to force them to pay for promoted posts. The research in question, therefore, could be taken to be a poorly disguised and somewhat unscrupulous attempt to generate positive PR in response to the media backlash.

But whatever the reason, the research has got me thinking about the reach and impact of my own posts on social media, and indeed my blog. I must confess to feeling a sense of deflation when I see the number of views on my posts declining, and a rush of excitement when they begin to climb again. When someone new follows my blog I beam from ear to ear. Why? Because it means there are people out there who actually like what I write and who, rather than briefly scanning posts before deleting them, want to read them with some degree of regularity.

But who are my followers, and those who like to read my musings frequently? What drives them? What makes them tick? And what is it about my writing that keeps them coming back for more? It strikes me now I think about it that thus far in my writing experiment it’s been almost entirely one-sided. What I’d love to know is what my readers would like more of, what they’d like less of, and generally how I can write in a way that’s more agreeable to them.

It’s fair to say we writers crave acknowledgement, and the best form of acknowledgement – to my mind, at least – is feedback. But the online world operates in a similar way to the real world when it comes to levels of active involvement. Humans fall roughly into two categories; introverts and extroverts. I say roughly fall into, because it’s rare to find someone who would claim to be entirely introvert or entirely extrovert – we usually all exhibit both persuasions from time to time.

This brings me back to the Facebook research. I think it’s probably true that we engage more people than we think when we post things on the internet – because a lot of those who read it aren’t inclined to comment or to actively engage with the content. They are passive observers, perhaps because they’re introverts whose nature isn’t to wade in and shout about their thoughts and feelings but rather to consider them and process them privately. Them not engaging may not, therefore, mean they aren’t enjoying the content, but rather that they prefer to enjoy it from afar.

This rationale (irrational as it may well be) makes me feel better about not having lots of feedback on my writing. What it fails to do is make me any less curious about who my readers are and what they most like to read.

So if you’re reading this and feel inclined to drop me a line about what makes you tick, I’d really love to hear from you…

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Letting go

This afternoon I did a presentation to a group of volunteer fundraisers about ‘Don’t wait until you’re certain,’ the campaign I helped to manage to promote the organisation’s adult helpline service. The first burst of the campaign was handed to me to manage by my outgoing manager three months after I joined the charity, in March last year. To say it was a stressful experience to devise and execute a PR plan for a national media campaign in under a month would be an understatement, but when the launch turned out to be a huge success and contacts to the charity about serious cases of child abuse increased by 16% I was delighted that the blood, sweat and tears had paid off.

Fast forward ten months to January this year and it was time to do it all over again. With a bigger budget to play with we were able to pay for TV advertising as well as digital, which gave a much bigger reach. As before my role was to manage the PR for the campaign, which included the development of a content plan across the charity’s website and social media channels to drive engagement with the campaign messaging. I even wrote my first film script – for a message of support recorded by the rather lovely actor, Dominic West (though sadly I didn’t get to meet him in person).

This time around, with the benefit of TV advertising and a sponsored trend on Twitter, we’ve seen a 46% increase in referrals to the helpline – an uplift that has stayed constant for the duration of the campaign. Social media engagement has also been through the roof as a result of the campaign, which has been exciting to see.

In truth it choked me up delivering a presentation on something that I’ve been so close to for the past year but which I will soon have to walk away from. Yet despite my impending redundancy, this campaign is something I will always feel enormously proud to have been involved with. I know that wherever I go next I will always feel a glow of satisfaction that its success was in no small part down to my contribution.

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The path to dotage

It’s a depressing fact that my generation will be required to work well into what was, by previous generations, considered to be the dotage period of life. I for one am particularly aggrieved by this knowledge, because hand on heart I can’t say I have ever had a job that I have ‘loved.’ I’ve come close once or twice, but generally speaking ever since I left university I’ve been drifting from one job to another, each time hoping it would be the ‘dream job,’ each time being disappointed.

At times I have questioned whether the ‘dream job’ does, in fact, exist at all, but I believe for a lucky few it does. My best friend, for example, works long hours and is often dog tired, but she enjoys her job enormously and freely admits it. Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve only had one job that I could say I hated (with every fibre of my earthly being, but that’s another story that we won’t go into here). All the others have been good in some ways, but ultimately not fulfilling enough to stay. But maybe, as I say, such a phenomenon is rare, and those of us who aren’t blessed with the perfect job pairing in our lives should seek fulfilment elsewhere, through hobbies, volunteering and so forth.

One thing I have learned in the course of my ten year (has it really been that long?!) career is that it’s better to be too busy than too quiet. If you have to spend eight hours (and the rest) a day in a soulless, strip lit office, you may as well fill your hours as much as possible to make them go quicker. There is nothing, and I mean NOTHING worse than being bored. And it’s just as well I feel that way, as this week most days I’ve  been in the office by 8am every day and haven’t seen daylight until gone 7pm, notching up an impressive 13+ hours of overtime.

Of course the downside of being rushed off your feet at work is that the days tend to just merge into one long round of waking before it’s light, commuting, frantically trying to plough through everything on the to do list, commuting back, eating, sleeping and getting up again.

But I shouldn’t complain. In the current financial climate I’m lucky to even HAVE a job, and the world of PR is a fickle beast – when I’m flat out busy it’s downright exhausting, but it’s also exhilarating when all the hard work of selling in a story pays dividends.

Nonetheless, I’d rather like to make my millions a la JK Rowling in the not too distant future, because the thought of spending the next 39 years with my nose to the grindstone, slogging my guts out for somebody else’s reward, just isn’t that appealing. And living in a beach hut in the Philippines, well, that really rather is…

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This photo was taken towards the end of my travels last year, whilst languishing on the private balcony of my friend’s 5* hotel room in Koh Tao, Thailand. I remember thinking as I lay there that my freedom was nearly at an end, and revelling in the twilight of what had been an amazing adventure. The book, The Beach, has always represented to me the ultimate freedom, a form of escapism (as reading itself is), and so when I look at this picture I feel somehow this is what I’m aspiring to get back to, if that makes any sense. It’s been a long week.