Learnings from Month One of Parenting

Hark the herald angels sing! Glory to the new born King! Yes indeed, our little man made his long-awaited entrance into the world at 11.45pm on 24th May. Introducing (drum roll please…) Charlie Joseph Batt! We are, of course, delighted with him. We have also experienced a maelstrom of other emotions in the past five weeks, some of which could be categorised as somewhat (read: significantly) less positive. In this post I will spare you the blow by blow account of the labour, not least because I have some friends whose own labours are imminent, and I’m not sure they would thank me for it. Instead, I will share the following:

Learnings from My First Month as A Parent:

  1. Sleep Deprivation
    It’s not as bad as they say: It’s worse. These days “who am I?” is less an existential question and more a genuine 4am moment of confusion. If you loved your sleep before, the first thing parenthood does is smash that love affair to pieces. And believe me, it’s the worst heartbreak there is.
  2. Alcohol
    The hard, sore boobs when the milk ‘comes in’ were enough of a shock to the system, but more so was the painful realisation that, far from being able to drink wine at every opportunity as soon as you’ve pushed the little bugger out, the breastfeeding period is basically an extension of being pregnant. Unless you’re super organised (two things you are definitely not in the first month of parenthood) and express your milk in advance, you can only have one drink without raising eyebrows in the mummy – and wider – community. This, for someone who had literally been dreaming about champagne and red wine for nine months, has been a bitter, bitter (so bitter it needs naming twice) pill to swallow.
  3. Caffeine
    Apparently, stimulants such as caffeine can dehydrate you and lead to a hyperactive baby (trust me, no one likes a hyperactive baby). Ergo, after months of dreaming of coffee, I can only safely have one a day – and believe me, when you’re not getting more than two to three hours sleep at a time during the night, one coffee doesn’t even touch the sides.
  4. Maternity Leave
    Having spent months looking forward to time off work, dreaming of balmy summer days brunching and drinking mimosas with other new mummies, the reality is somewhat different. Admittedly it’s still early days, but thus far our attempts at meeting for brunch have fallen considerably short of our expectations. It turns out there’s one thing balmy summer brunches need to be relaxing and enjoyable: no babies.
  5. Comparison with Other New Mums and their Babies
    This one’s a killer. Even though you all got on like a house on fire during your pregnancies, as soon as you’ve popped the sprogs out everything becomes a competition. As you drain the dregs of your single cup of coffee or glass of wine (sigh), other new mums will regale you with tales of little Ophelia, who was sleeping through the night at only three weeks! And she never poos at night, making nappy changes obsolete! How wonderful, you reply, whilst staring murderously at your coffee grinds and ruminating on last night’s 5am poonami.
  6. Baby Books
    During your pregnancy you spent hours poring over books charting the daily changes in your little one inside the womb. Then you realise, too late, that what you should have been reading for the past nine months was the books about what to do with them when they arrive. Because once they do you will never again find more than five minutes to sit down and read anything.
  7. Personal Grooming
    As soon as you deliver your little bundle of joy, personal grooming becomes a thing of the past. Your legs are the first to suffer – as if you’ve got time to shave them when you’re grabbing a micro-shower as baby naps in the next room. Next you find yourself staring longingly at the tweezers and nail clippers, noticing you’ve still got the (now very chipped) pedicure you had when you were waiting for baby to arrive five weeks ago. From now on, the only nail maintenance you’ll be doing is clipping your baby’s nails so they don’t gouge your eyes out with them as they writhe in digestive discomfort post-feed. You’re welcome.

Aside from the learnings detailed above, I thought it would be helpful for those that come after me in this joyous and rewarding journey if I also listed some tips on how to cope in the first few weeks of being a parent.

How to Cope

  1. Establish a routine.
    For me, mornings are now sacred. When you’ve barely slept it’s imperative to have some things you do daily to keep you sane. For me, that means washing myself, getting dressed, drinking my coffee while it’s still hot (or at least warm), and – God forgive me – watching the previous night’s episode of Love Island while I eat my breakfast. Only once these milestones have been reached do I feel truly able to start my day.
  2. Accept you will henceforth (or at least for the next two years) be covered in puke and poo.
    And make peace with it.
  3. Accept that your brain is essentially broken.
    At least in the short term. Anything important must be written down or forgotten forever.
  4. Your ‘To Do’ List should now be renamed ‘Not to Do’ List.
    Linked to point 3. If you do find the time or energy to do anything on it you will literally feel like Superwoman. Revel in that feeling. It won’t last long.
  5. Live by the ‘Good Enough’ Rule.
    If you were a perfectionist before, you need to adjust your expectations. The ‘good enough’ rule applies to everything, but in particular baby changing: baby’s pooed/puked a little bit on his/her Babygro? Unless it’s sodden/stinks to high heaven, give it a wipe and it’s good to go. Unless you’re prepared to give your kid more outfit changes than Naomi Campbell on the catwalk, this is the only way to go to preserve your sanity.
  6. Everywhere you go must be baby friendly.
    Or you don’t go there. Simple.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to revel in my five minutes of feeling like Super Woman..

The Little Prince Himself

The Little Prince Himself

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For Fellow Aspiring Writers: Advice from the Writers’ & Artists’ Conference

On Saturday I went along to the Writers’ & Artists’ ‘How to Get Published’ conference in Euston. Given my aversion to early rising it was quite a commitment for me to show up at 9.45am on a weekend, but by the end of the day I was so glad I had. I live-tweeted throughout the event but it has since dawned on me that advice drip-fed through Twitter isn’t that easy to come back to afterwards. So for all my fellow aspiring writers I thought I would encapsulate the key learnings in this blog post for reference purposes.

Tom Tivnan from the Bookseller, on self-publishing:

  • 86% of those who have self-published would do so again
  • The print self-publishing market is comprised almost entirely of non-fiction
  • Most self-published e-books retail at around £1
  • 69% of e-books are bought by women and only 11% by men
  • 58% are published by women
  • Crime makes up 50% of the e-book market
  • Amazon controls 75% of the e-book market in the UK
  • The royalty rate of self-published books decreases considerably when the retail price is below £2.49
  • When self-publishing, tweak the price of your book often
  • Remember that people buy e-books for price not content
  • Design matters – it’s all about your brand
  • It’s difficult to get into the print market through self-publishing (Amazon has 20% share)

Stefan Tobler, CEO of And Other Stories, an “unashamedly literary” publishing house:

  • “Think of the publisher as the donkey who will get your riches to the reader”
  • The literary fiction market is in decline

John Mitchinson, founder of Unbound, a ‘new way of bringing authors and readers together’: 

  • The concept of Unbound is “about sharing an idea, sharing the potential of the story and, if there is enough critical mass, it will take off”
  • “Publishing is like agriculture. Retailers want the crops with the highest yield and won’t look at anything else”
  • Authors have a 1 in 5,000 chance of getting in with a big publishing house – but there are other ways to get published
  • It’s been in the news recently that the average author’s salary is as little as £11k per year but, f you take the top 10% of authors out of that, the average author makes less than £3k per year.
  • “We’re fighting to keep people reading”
  • Unbound chooses the projects with the best chance of funding
  • People can then make pledges against a particular project. The average pledge value is £35
  • 92 projects have been launched to date. Of those, only 16 failed to achieve funding
  • Unbound has 48k registered users

Polly Courtney, Author, on self-publishing to a traditional deal – and back again:

  • “Everyone’s got a book inside them, but not everyone should publish it”
  • “Whatever way you’re publishing, be sure to build up your own direct fan base.” e.g. by capturing email addresses through cards slipped into the back of your book at a launch event
  • Re-write extensively
  • Never scrimp on cover design
  • Self-publishing CAN work – but it’s all about collaboration
  • For a lot of people the first book is semi-autobiographical. Once you’ve got that off your chest you’re free to write about something else e.g. a theme you particularly care about
  • “If you do get into a conversation with an agent or publisher, ask what their long-term vision is for you and your book. Make sure you understand one another – it’s not arrogant, it’s sensible. Take control of your destiny”

Alysoun Owen, Editor of the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook, on traditional publishing:

  • “Finding an agent or publisher is like buying a car – you wouldn’t buy one without finding out about it first”
  • “Be yourself and write the book you want to write”
  • Good things CAN happen to first time writers
  • Identify the market and identify your niche
  • If you can’t encapsulate your story in a 200 word pitch, why should anyone else look at it
  • Self-publishing has gone up by 25% but the lion’s share of the (admittedly plateaued) market are traditionally published books
  • Rejection is not an uncommon thing – all the best authors have been rejected (William Golding 21 times!)
  • Things to do to improve your chances:- Read, Read, Read
    – Research / know your competition
    – Join a writer’s group / attend events
    – Practice e.g. by entering competitions
    – Promote yourself e.g. on Twitter, a blog etc.
    – Be patient
    – Be ambitious

Charlie Campbell, Agent:

  • Agents can tell if they’re the first or two hundredth you’ve submitted to, so research carefully before submitting
  • The bar has been raised, so these days agents need to put more editorial work in
  • Having to do too much editorial work limits how much work you can take on
  • When working in a big publishing house out of thousands of submissions each year, only one or two would be taken on
  • “Sending a partial manuscript is almost never the right thing to do”
  • Writers get rejected by agents, agents by publishers, publishers by supermarkets. If Amazon rejects a book, the reader rejects it
  • Successful stories are imitated until they dwindle into nothing. Do what you want but don’t be too out there. It’s the role of the publisher/agent to talk to you about how you can progress

Jo Unwin, Agent:

  • Take care to read submission guidelines and be targeted
  • “You can only be a debut novelist once in your life, so your manuscript needs to be as good as it can be”
  • “I would strongly recommend getting the whole book as perfect as you can before submitting your opening chapters. It’s a different trajectory if you submit a partial manuscript and don’t complete it for another 18 months. The market will be different and the mood of the agent will be different”
  • Whether an agent likes your book or not is a chemical thing. Writing is a craft you have to work on
  • What an agent does in building a writer’s career outside of the UK market is not to be underestimated
  • “In a synopsis I’m looking for storytelling ability, so tell me everything – including the ending”
  • Don’t use the agent as a sounding board – think of them as sales people

Cressida Downing, Editor:

  • Just because you can hit submit doesn’t mean you should, and just because you should doesn’t mean you should now
  • Whether sending to agents or self-publishing make your work the best it can be. People should find your writing frustrating
  • You can’t be a good writer if you’re not a good reader
  • “I read non-stop, all day, every day – and so should you”
  • Self-publishing is ideally suited to people with an entrepreneurial spirit
  • Novels go through 17 edits, on average, before they are successful in being published
  • Good presentation is crucial – get advice but don’t get someone else to re-write it or it will be their work and not yours
  • If you’re interested in money don’t be an author or work in publishing!
  • If you’re self-publishing and can only afford to invest in one thing, make it the cover design
  • When choosing an editor consider their track record, whether you would prefer to be edited by a well-known author or not, whether their style will fit your work, whether they offer a clear explanation of the service they provide, their costs and timings
  • Tips for going it alone: Never publish your first draft, always get someone to have a look, read it out loud and find a peer group
  • Self-publishing is about far more than writing a book and hitting ‘publish’
  • As long as you know what you’re asking and they tell you exactly what they’re providing, paying an editor can be useful
  • If everything in your story is doing it’s job, great. If not, cut it
  • There are four types of edit:

1. Read and Review

“If you pay one industry expert once in your life make it for this.”

Not a line by line edit, help with grammar/spelling or re-write (though they will say if it needs work in those areas).

Does give advice on how to avoid common pitfalls, how well your book is working and what to do to improve it.

2. Deep Structural

Most similar to advice from an agent or editor in a publishing house.

Doesn’t give line by line re-write and won’t correct spelling/grammar.

Does break down and re-build novel – sometimes to extent of changing genre or structure.

3. Copy

Line by line edit looking for continuity and what works to best show off your prose.

Doesn’t look at structural/major changes.

4. Proof

Picks up errors, typos etc. in spelling/grammar.

Doesn’t give advice on writing.

Preena Gadher, Publicist:

  • A publicist’s job is to make your book stand out from the crowd
  • Once you’re published by a house they’re invested in you and can afford a dedicated PR person. That’s the big difference between traditional publishing and self-publishing
  • Promote yourself with a website, on Twitter etc. Always keep sites up to date
  • Read the paper and magazines you want to appear in
  • Work out who your audience is, and what you have to say that would be interesting/relevant to them
  • The relationship with the publicist works both ways
  • It helps to be shortlisted for / win prizes

Laurie Penny, Blogger:

  • Being time-rich and cash-poor is how a lot of creativity comes about
  • Keeping a blog is good training for editing your work

Hope you will find this as useful as I did.

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Want to be a columnist? Then read this.

It’s difficult to sit in a room with Guardian columnist and features writer Hadley Freeman, author of the soon to be published ‘Be Awesome,’ without feeling somewhat inferior. Hadley is, after all, what so many women – and men – of her generation aspire to be; a celebrated writer. But one thing Hadley is not is intimidating; in fact she’s both naturally funny and utterly charming, which makes it impossible to dislike her. Is there anything this American in London can’t do?

The event Hadley is speaking at is the Guardian Masterclass on column writing. She begins by telling the audience how she got into writing for a newspaper. Her “pushy Jewish mother” entered her in a competition whilst she was at university which, unbeknownst to her, she went on to win. Her mother duly collected her award and she was none the wiser, until an editor spotted her writing and approached her – and the rest, as they say, is history.

What would Hadley’s top tips be to succeed in column writing? Firstly, she says, write as widely as possible. Be funny if you can, and write for yourself rather than your audience. Don’t feel locked in by your voice; change it as appropriate, for example when writing about something outside of your comfort zone. Don’t feel pressure to always write news-reactive copy. Be careful how much of yourself you reveal to the reader. And, above all else, only write what you feel strongly about – if you don’t care then why should the reader?

After imparting her words of wisdom Hadley dashes off home (to write a feature, she tells us, somewhat appropriately). Replacing her at the front of the room is Michael Hodges, who writes for Time Out magazine. His advice to aspiring columnists is to be forceful and willing not only to be knocked back but also to write about things you don’t necessarily want to write about. He stresses the importance of being concise (“cut, cut, cut,” he says, “like sharpening a sword. It’s always better afterwards.”)

Michael’s style of journalism differs from Hadley’s, he says, because he waits for things to happen rather than seeking them out. He believes that “the weird is in the every day,” and that “there’s nothing more rewarding than observing your fellow human beings.” Ultimately, he says, it comes down to discipline. If you practice anything let it be producing clean copy that is well paced and holds the reader’s attention.

After the break Guardian columnist Marina Hyde takes to the stage. Marina has such presence that she wins over the audience immediately. Her chatty style, relaxed demeanour and her ability to laugh at herself make her approachable and real. She begins by warning the audience against using the word “I” – “know the rules before you break them,” she says, giving the example of Caitlin Moran as someone who has earned the right to use the word.

Comments, Marina says, should be largely ignored. And she agrees with Michael that being concise is vital: “If you can’t say what you want to say in 750 words you’re going wrong.” The best things she has written were completed in under an hour; the worst took three or more. “Sometimes I put the brakes on the word count and accept it’s a piece that has to go stillborn into the world,” she says, to laughs from the crowd.

Always be honest when you make a mistake, says Marina. And don’t assume that even if you put links in your stories people will know what you are referring to, because, she says, “It’s courtesy to explain.” Keep anger out of your writing because “it makes people switch off.” Be careful of your tone, and always try to get a joke in early to win over your audience. It’s also important to be able to write about a broad range of subjects, she says – and if anyone’s got that down to a fine art it’s Marina herself, writing three columns each week on completely different themes.

Marina closes with one final piece of advice: “Be someone people want to have a pint with.” Looking around the room it’s clear she’s easily achieved that goal.

Belle’s Top Internet Tips

For today’s post I’m going to give you all a break from the minutiae of my daily life and instead let you into a few of my best kept internet secrets. So if, like me, you’re partial to some fitness tips, like to be ‘in the know’ about great places to frequent in London and love a good bargain (especially if it helps people in need) I invite you to read on…

For aspiring health/fitness freaks

A lot of the emails that flood my inbox are deemed as junk and deleted without a moment’s hesitation. But the one I’ll never delete is from Real Buzz. Packed full of useful dietary and exercise tips, I find something of interest in almost every update – definitely one to sign up to.

For London socialites

You’ve probably already heard about The Nudge, London’s hottest newsletter updating city dwellers of the coolest places to hang out (also, incidentally, where I first heard of seasonal rooftop supperclub Forza Winter and the much acclaimed Hot Tub Cinema). But I’ll hazard a guess not many of you have heard of Great Little Place. Billed as “a guide to Planet Earth’s charming spots” and a mission statement of “death to dull chains,” this is the site where you’ll find all manner of quirky and interesting restaurants, bars and shops – perfect to impress on a first (or second, third or fourth) date.

For discerning fashionistas on a budget

If you’ve always hankered after a Mulberry bag or a pair of Celine boots but simply can’t afford to take the financial hit, then fashion redistribution business Chic and Seek is for you. The company was founded in 2009 by Tara Nash, whose aim was to make designer fashion affordable for the masses. She personally meets and selects “the chicest women in London” before bringing the wares back to her gorgeous mews house in Notting Hill and uploading them onto the website. She also hosts the occasional event at the house where customers can pop in and peruse the items in person. Not to be missed if you want to pick up a gorgeous designer bargain at a fraction of the cost!

For fashionistas with a conscience

A friend recently made me aware that Oxfam Shop, where you can purchase second-hand clothes, books and vintage items, along with charity gifts from Oxfam Unwrapped. Every penny spent helps to support Oxfam’s work around the world. You can browse through more than 100,000 donated and vintage items, happy in the knowledge that your money will be going to a good cause and not just into a high street retailer’s pocket. Now if that’s not a reason to get shopping I don’t know what is…

No need to thank me.

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Shoes glorious shoes…