Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Looking For Work As A Freelance Writer

I'm sure some people think I live a privileged existence as a self employed worker - bumming around the house in my PJ's, getting up when I like, flexible hours etc. Working for myself does have it's advantages (maybe I'll cover that in another blog post), but it's also like you're on a constant cycle of looking for work! especially in the quiet times in between projects, when the fear of the unknown creeps in, and you think you may never work again!

It's impossible to have my eyes everywhere, and my brain honing in on every possible avenue I could look down, or use to find new connections and opportunities, but having my virtual ears pricked is something I think I'm pretty good at.

I'm on a few Facebook groups for journalism and copywriting, and they are useful for writer shout-outs for articles, jobs, and possible networking opportunities. For me these groups work best for those reasons, and if I just happen to come across a useful tip, resource, or piece of advice I hadn't thought of. If I'm honest though sometimes when I have posted, the resulting comments have been a bit 'obvious' - i.e. suggesting I contact past clients.

Twitter is also a must, but for slightly different reasons, for me this is the public place to be seen, and to show what I can do, what I know and am passionate about, and to build relationships with people in the field. Showing genuine interest in something goes a long way! I've found a few things/people to write about recently on there who I am still in touch with, whereas I prefer to keep my Facebook profile private, and for who I know.

It's also worth playing around with hashtags and search terms as well. It's worth keeping an eye on general ones such as #journorequest, prrequest, journalism job etc, but adding some specifics can also give good results, such as copywriter job uk, freelance writer job, content agency Essex, content editor remote (if you're looking for homebased work).

Here's a few other things I'd suggest:

1) Keep your eyes on job sites, even if you see a position advertised that isn't for you, if the organisation, publication etc. has captured your interest, make sure you read the fine print of the advert - I've seen 'commission freelance writers' a fair few times in job descriptions, so have added them to my contact list.

2) Advertise your availability, but with care - I personally have no problem writing little adverts reminding people I'm about, or highlighting certain things, but I think they have to be done in the right way. Talk about a recent project you've done (are you looking for similar?), show your keen to make new connections and broaden your experience, but don't appear over keen, or highlight any quiet times in a negative way. Use your time constructively.

3) Think outside the box - apart from a typical media job, project, pitch - where else could your writing skills benefit people, and how could you combine these with your other passions/hobbies/knowledge. I love craft, and have been lucky enough to be chosen for 2 design teams, and been published a couple of times in that area, so I have started to do a little advertising targeted towards craft businesses and start-ups who might need help with content. It helps with the cold calling element as well if you are confident in your knowledge.

If you are self employed, what do you suggest for finding work and advertising yourself? It's not always easy to realise your strengths and get out there, and keep going through freelance ups and downs, so if you have any tips please share them below.

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Sherbet Lane - Stationery Subscription Box Review

I don't think everyone quite understands it, but I love stationery, and while I wouldn't call myself addicted, I have to write letters on pretty paper, and use notebooks with a funky cover. Plain is just a bit boring! I was lucky enough to chat with designer and illustrator Claire Keay for Essex Lowdown, and kept in touch after doing the article. It's great when you freelance and you can keep some of the connections you make, and write follow up content.

So hear I am with a new and shiny #SherbetBox - this is the stationery subscription box from Claire's Sherbet Lane brand, which was initially crowd funded in super quick time. So far it seems, so good, so well done, as I know it's not easy launching a new project, and wondering if anyone will fund or buy it.

My Sherbet Box was the second one to be released for July 2016, and the theme was all seaside related. Inside my box of goodies was a themed pencil, a themed gift tag, a small sweet, a colouring sheet, a small note pad, 3 large greetings cards, postcards, and a seaside print, limited edition for the box. There was also a large sticker, some small stickers, and a tin with magnets and paper clips in.

The box fits through your letter box, and it's surprising how much you can fit neatly into it - maybe I'll put together and send all my presents like this in future! First impressions were good, it was all nicely themed, and the note describing the theme and why it was chosen was a really nice touch. I think it makes it more unique and a bit more personal, plus I love hearing the inspiration behind things I'm buying.

The quality was a big plus point for me, the small print was on good quality card and ideal for framing. The greetings cards were also really good quality, better than I expected to be honest, and unlike some have said not too large for me.

One thing that was slightly disappointing was the colouring sheet, it was a bit flimsy, and got a bit crumpled tucked into the bottom of the box. Perhaps thicker paper, a sheet placed in an envelope for extra protection, or maybe a mini book of a few sheets to colour would have fared better in the post.

The contents are a surprise, so you are partly buying on Claire's previous work, other boxes, or because you like the latest theme. My concern would be while I love stationery, and the idea of getting a box full of goodies through the post, different to what's in the shops, I might eventually end up with a lot of 'stuff''. Lovely stuff, but stuff that might start gathering dust, if it's the sort of items I don't use all that often, or slight repeats from previous boxes. I think that will be the challenge, producing box after box, and balancing the mix of treats and useful things you can never have enough of.

Money Talk:

The Sherbet Boxes currently cost £45.00 for a 3 month subscription, and £15.00 for a one-off box.

I absolutely appreciate the effort gone into creating the designs and producing/sourcing items for the box, and that you get free postage in the UK. It was all very well done, but I would have expected some kind of deal if I was subscribing for more than 1 month.

Some contents were absolutely worth the money and had value to me, but I think overall I wanted a bit more - 1 pencil is great, but one gift tag? it was cute, but it looked a little sad on it's own and would've been great as a set.

I don't think I'd buy regularly as a subscriber, but I would consider buying occasionally as a treat if I had the funds, and they'd make a lovely gift for someone. I think the designs will appeal to a wide audience as well - cute stationery is fairly well ageless!

For all the insider gossip on #SherbetBox and the chance to have your say on future themes, visit Facebook or for all of Claire's work check out he Sherbet Lane website. You can also read my interview with Claire on Essex Lowdown here.

* This box was sent to me for a review, but all opinions and feedback are my own.

Sunday, 7 August 2016

Book Review - The Woolworths Girls By Elaine Everest

Although I don't get the chance to read, or be in the mind set to read as much as I'd like, yep I still have a pile of un-read books to keep me going for the rest of the year, I couldn't pass up the chance to review a new book by fellow writer/journo Elaine Everest. The Woolworths Girls jumped out at me, apart from loving and missing their Pick and Mix, I also love seeing and reading about what town centres and iconic shops used to be like, so this novel sounded a great fit.

The story opens on three nervous young women, all slightly different ages, and coming from different backgrounds. Maisie, Sarah, and Freda all turn up at Erith Woolworths on the same day hoping for a job. They became instant friends, and the shop where they ended up working becomes the backdrop for life, love, and sometimes pain.

New characters are introduced at various points in the story, some like Alan, trainee manager, make an instant impact as a love interest, while others such as Betty Billington develop bigger roles as the story moves on, both through daily life, bigger dramas, and the onset and eventual impact of war.
Sometimes the book left me wanting more - it would've been fun to see old pictures of Woolworths, and what the store was like, beyond working for the company. I also questioned how quick Sarah fell in love, and would've liked to have seen a bit more of Freda and Lenny together.

I'd say this was a book full of moments, and all of those moments I enjoyed. The obvious contrast between the 3 girls when they met, the insights into the local community, and the inclusion of local busybody Vera were all well-written. I don't want to give away too much and end up writing a spoiler post, but some of the lesser characters have some surprises I didn't expect, and as for the ending - it's a poignant one.

My concentration did go a few times, but overall I was engaged, and enjoyed Elaine's vivid writing style. I've read a fair few historical based novels before, and some of the story is nothing new, but this novel will stand out against the rest for the variety of characters in the same community, and the shop setting provided scope for interesting day to day details.

I can't imagine the work that goes into writing a whole book, I've only ever tried the odd short story, so well done Elaine, and I would read/buy your work again in the future.

Friday, 5 August 2016

Nickleodeon's The Other Kingdom - Accessories and Craft Unboxing

When I was living in a rented house for six months last summer we didn't have any access to a TV aerial, and rather than connect to Sky, we bought Internet TV boxes. I had a Now TV Box connect to my TV, and I have to admit to using the entertainment pass, and watching some of the American teen programmes on there - light and easy Saturday morning viewing! It's more of a guilty pleasure, rather than me being their target audience, but when an email popped through about a new show The Other Kingdom, promising a box of handicrafts, or make-up/accessories I wanted to give the opportunity a go - you know me and crafts.

What came through the post was a very pretty gift box (definitely a keeper), with an outer sleeve that had the programme logo on, and a 3D butterfly. Opening the box wasn't quite what I expected, as I thought it would be a mix of branded merchandise to make or use, but it was a mix of products from other sources.

My box had - glitter nail art and body glitter sets, small fabric flowers, shimmery fabric in 2 different colours, an unusual Amethyst Necklace, small pink beads, and two colours of ribbon, along with a beaded fairy crown headband.

I think the ribbon would be great to make hair bow clips with, or a bigger bow to decorate a plain top. I even had the idea of hemming the fabric so it doesn't fray, and shaping it into an apron, with the ribbon as a tie at the top - I've not tried it out yet, but you could easily accessorise to make a fairy costume without cutting up any existing clothes, or buying a one-time wear fairy outfit.

I couldn't resist a more crafty project though, so I used a plain cardboard wreath from my stash, and cut strips of fabric to tie around the wreath, with the ends pointing into the middle to make it look more quirky. I then added some fabric flowers, a fairy wand, and a few other bits to finish decorating the project. Time is needed to tie up the fabric pieces, and let the glitter glue dry, but other than that it's a fairly quick project to do, and would look great hung up for a party, or room decoration.

I hope this gives you or your teens a few ideas for fairy princess makes or decorations - if you keep an eye on my blog or follow my Instagram account (These City Days) you may find a few other bits and pieces as the series gets under way.

About The Other Kingdom

The Other Kingdom premieres on Nickleodeon at 6.30pm on August 8th 2016. It's a live action series featuring Astral as the fairy princess. Follow her journey as she has to choose between being a fairy princess, or living her life as a human. Human teen-dom v's the fairy kingdom of Athenia!

* I was gifted this box of goodies for a possible unboxing post, but any opinions expressed are my own.

Friday, 29 July 2016

Popband London - Mini Haul And Review

Hair, I am very lucky to have lots of it, although I am not very good at styling it, and it normally ends up in a pony tail of some description. Because I have my hair back a lot hairbands are important to me, and I've probably bought a lot over the years that either don't grip my hair at all, or they pull it too tight, which can hurt and give me headaches.

My other gripe is there isn't much choice in the shops for hair ties, unless you want a plain elastic, or vintage style floral, and yes sometimes the quality isn't there and material is fraying on shop shelves as well. When I received a You Beauty Box recently, one of my extras was a Popband sample, and after trying that out, I had to order more!!

A Popband is made from soft, stretchy elastic, knotted to form a hair tie. It sounds simple, and it is, but I think behind the scenes thought has gone into the type of materials used here. The claim is that they will be kind on hair, and leave no kinks, and they have scored on both counts. The hair ties are really easy to knot around my thick hair, and I don't even notice they are there, which is just what I wanted it.

In my mini haul I ordered:

Sweetie - A set of 4 Popbands, 1 with a cute cupcake charm - £8.00

Pop - A set of 5 Popbands in different colours - £6.00

And I ordered around the time of HRH The Queen's Birthday, so I got a cute red, white, and blue set free. Delivery is free to UK addresses, and I received my order in the 3-5 day timescale listed - in a shiny, pink jiffy bag - which looked great sitting on my door mat when I arrived home.

I did hesitate a bit on price - I have bought a set of basic hairbands from the pound shop for a lot less, by the same token I could spend £4-5 on a hair ruffle/set which don't seem to last all that long, and I end up throwing them away. I was indecisive as to whether I wanted to spend £14.00 on hair bands, but I did need to replace and invest in new hair ties, so I am glad I did. the quality is there, and I love the colours. The jury is out on how long they will last before they need replacing, so I'll get back to you on that one.

The free delivery appeals, and I've found smaller size bands and sets in Superdrug, so I would buy again as treat.

See all the colours in the Popband range online, along with their shoelaces and headbands - just click here.

Thursday, 28 July 2016

On My Doorstep - Hylands Park, Chelmsford

I remember once suggesting to Dad he go out for a walk when he was bored, and he gave me a look as if to say I'd feel silly just walking around somewhere. I'm completely different and will quite happily get out and walk or cycle around the area I live, but sometimes I forget the wider area I live in. I know I'm not alone in sometimes forgetting what's on the doorstep, or taking it for granted. So I have made it my mission, now the weather is nicer, to explore places that I haven't yet seen, or don't go to that often, starting with Hyland's Park over towards Writtle.

Copyright These City Days 2016

I cycle over to Hylands, and it's actually quite a good route from where I live now, although still a hike that tires me out a little afterwards. It partly goes through parks, and a registered cycle network path, and then you end up in the village of Writtle, not very far from the duck pond.

I went to Hyland's for a pet and country show, but the event wasn't all that great. I think they struggled with the concept a bit, and didn't have enough pet, or enough country in there. Most of the things you had to pay for, or donate to, and some of the displays weren't very clear, or in the case of the arena shows, accessible to all the audience watching around the area.

I did however find an amazing food van offering proper coffees and pastries, and got myself a yummy cake - I wish I could remember their name as I'd recommend them for sure. After that I took my cake, and went and sat and enjoyed the view, before heading off with my camera to explore the rest of the park.

Copyright -These City Days 2016

One of the things I love about Hyland's is it's a mix of parkland, and formal gardens, and there's always something new to look at. This visit I finally found the lake, which I'd often seen signposted, but never found, the formal gardens almost looked brand new as they were in full bloom, and very pretty, and it never feels too crowded. It's just a peaceful place to go around, and although it's a longer ride, I definitely feel better after doing it.

There's also a visitor centre with artist studios, café, and a gift shop, and I normally stop off there for a drink and a little shop on the way home. This trip I came back with a scarf, and a model dinosaur for my nephew.

Copyright - These City Days 2016

Copyright - These City Days 2016

If you've been to Hyland's Park, what are some of your favourite things about it, do you have any suggestions for other open spaces to visit in Chelmsford?

To find out more about Hyland's Park, Hyland's House, and their forthcoming events programme, please click here.

Thanks for visiting, and if you like what you see, sharing is caring.

Monday, 6 June 2016

You Beauty Box - May 2016 Review

Hi all,

It's been a while since I've had a beauty box, around a year in fact, and that's partly money, but also the free beauty samples I have been lucky enough to get were more interesting than the promised contents of the beauty boxes. But after a decent break I decided to give the You Beauty Box another go, and order one for May.

The good thing about this beauty box is it's very easy to cancel your membership if you're not interested in the next months contents, which are normally emailed in advance. I'm probably going to cancel for June as I am saving for things, so just have to do it before the 28th of the month. At £6.95 including postage it's one of the cheaper options as well, but most of the time they manage to get a good selection of brands to provide samples. Some are full size products or small sample size pots, others sachets.

Here are the two items I chose this month:

Burts Bees Tinted Lip Balm Hibiscus - I'm a bit of a lip balm fan, and have a little pot which at one point probably had 5 sticks in, I was also attracted to the fact that it's 100% natural. The blurb says it's made with shea butter and botanical waxes so I thought this would be kind for my lips, and a good option if I want something subtle in summer, or extra moisturising in winter. I've used it a few times already and it lasts a while so think I chose well.

MUA Prime & Conceal Palette - I am a big fan of primer ever since I first reviewed one in a beauty box years ago, it just makes my skin feel nice and provides a good base for make-up - hopefully helping tone and protect my skin on the way. I've not used MUA products before, and they do have a bit of stiff competition with my favourite primer (Sheer Cover is brilliant) but I look forward to giving this a go. It has 5 correcting cream shades to target different areas/issues and suits a variety of different complexions. There's a free tutorial online, so although I've tried out a couple of shades, I'll have to load that up and have a proper go.

The freebies this month were a small Verso Super Facial Serum, I'm saving this for a pamper day, an Anne Semonin Gift Card, which went in the bin as it's basically discount on a spend so won't get used. The last freebie was a sample hair tie from pop band - these things are great, they are designed to be kind on your hair, leave it kink free, and are soft to touch. I have my hair in a pony tail a lot, but it's quite thick, so wasn't sure it was going to work. Surprisingly it holds my hair really well, without grabbing it too tight, and I don't even notice it's there. I've noticed a little discount voucher in the booklet that comes with the box, so may have to buy a few more!

Have you received this months box? what did you think of the freebies? Do you have a favourite beauty box or product you've received in one? Would love to hear your thoughts below.

Find out more about the You Beauty Box here.