Saturday, 31 August 2013

Being A Freelance Writer

When I tell my penfriends or other people I meet - mostly non writers, that I am a freelancer writer, the reactions are quite funny. I think they assume I inhabit a world where every job is glamorous and exciting, where work just falls onto my lap, and where the pay is brilliant. The reality of a freelance lifestyle is a bit different, and while I love many things about it, it's far removed from a walk in the park.

Here are a few little snippets of my life as a freelancer :

- Much to my families disgust I have committed the ultimate sin of starting work in my PJ's - very glam - but it is practical - sitting here at my laptop I can feel the cold very easily - that's my justification anyway.

- A Freelancer doesn't just take time off whenever they feel like it, and swan around taking long lunches and popping to the shops when others are chained to the desk. Yes our flexible schedules do allow for both on occasion, but they are perks, and not always the norm. I could work later than normal, work weekends if a last minute request comes in, and sometimes my free time is spent sourcing more work, or taking a break from the computer. That said I don't feel guilty for taking a break - I deserve one just as much as a staff writer.

- Work requests have been up and down like a rollercoaster from day one. For various reasons I am a home based freelancer - and searching for remote projects can sometimes be a trial. Tag home based on to any of your Google based searches and you'll know what I mean. Sometimes I'll be turning down work, other times it'll be quiet, and I will be stepping up the efforts to source new clients.

- Even the 'boring tasks' can be fun - On and off I've been doing some outsourced work for a client, who wanted to outsource some basic article re-writing so she could more effectively plan her own time. I actually really enjoyed it, maybe it was partly a new client buzz, but the topic was also small business, so I was eagerly soaking up the content as I wrote. You can find interest in all sorts of things, equally, yes, there are projects that pay the bills above everything else.

- Rejection - a lot of people I know who would love to try out writing for size one day are scared of rejection - It was a mixture when I started writing. I was scared of being rejected - but partly because I feared silence above all else, and thought if I never had any feedback on my pitches or applications I wouldn't know if I was on the right lines, or if there was anything I could do or say better etc.

-Thinking Outside The Box - although I am reluctant to approach people completely and entirely cold, I do feel quite confident emailing my CV off on-spec when I have an outside the box reason for doing so. If I see a job ad for an editor, and commissioning freelancers is in the job description, I will email them, similarly if a freelance role is advertised, but it doesn't say in black and white office based, then I will email too.

This is just a few random ramblings about my life as a freelancer, it isn't easy, you are always learning about selling yourself and your ideas, not always attracting the salaried work offers your skills deserve, and always hunting for work. But for now it is me, my life, and it turns me into a little kid when I see my work in print!!

Have you got any writing ambitions, success stories or experiences to share? one of mine is to write a book of Children's short stories. Feel free to comment and share your freelance tales below.

Sunday, 25 August 2013

My Holiday Destination Wish List

I can't believe how quick the summer goes sometimes, but although we are getting towards the end of August there are still people going off on holiday, enjoying the sunshine when it arrives, or planning to attend end of season festivals. So, although for various reasons I haven't been on holiday in a good few years now, I thought I'd indulge in a holiday wish list style post. In no particular order here are a few places I would love to visit:

Center Parcs

I have always loved holiday parks ever since I was small, and used to get quite excited whenever we were going to one. I like the home from home feel of the accommodation, don't mind making my own food or going self-catering, and prefer the informal style of the holiday, as oppose to always dressing for dinner, being in a hotel with noisy guests, and having more structure.

Center Parcs to me would be the ultimate UK holiday park stay, I love the woodland settings of the 5 parks, the lakes, and the idea of taking my bike and riding through the park to blow the cobwebs away. The indoor water parks look pretty amazing as well. I think it would make for a special chilled out break, perfect for someone like me who doesn't like things too frantic, but wants plenty of options so I don't get bored. I have to say the woodland lodges look really cute too.

Euro Camps

Yep, there is a bit of a theme here! I always wondered what Europe was like in terms of holiday parks, and liked the idea of staying in one, but didn't really want to delve to far into the unknown. So when I found a Euro Camp brochure in a travel agents this seemed perfect. A recognised brand, top quality facilities, and a great choice of destination.

Although the 170 plus parks may vary a bit in terms of size and facilities, overall I like the mix of relaxation and activities that are promised. There are some great looking pools with water slides pictured at some of the parks, along with activities ranging from cycling to golf available on the park or nearby. You can even book for a park that has it's own private beach, is close to popular tourist towns and cities, or near to a theme park.

Browsing through the destinations on offer it's pretty hard to narrow the choices down to one place I'd like to visit, so I'd have to put Lake Garda and the Adriatic areas of Italy, Interlaken in Switzerland, and Costa Dorada in Spain would be top of the list.

Lapland

One of the things I've always wanted the chance to see and photograph is the Northern Lights, and I've heard if you go far enough North in Lapland you may be able to see them. Sounds like a plan, and some companies allow you to book a 'Northern Lights Experience' as part of your trip.

Short transfer times are always top of my list, so I think I'd book for Lapland's capital Rovaniemi. Easy access to the wilderness - and activities such as reindeer sleigh rides - yet in a lively city with good quality accommodation and shopping. Rovaniemi has a hotel called Hotel Santa Claus and cosy looking cottages - bookable through Thomson. The Santa Park - an underground grotto full of ice sculptures, Santa, and his elves, sounds quite magical as well.

Disneyworld Florida

I have been lucky enough to visit Florida and Disneyworld twice when I was younger - and this destination is without a doubt my favourite ever that I've visited. We stayed in an amazing hotel on resort called the Polynesian Village Resort - all Hawaiian themed - with it's own private beach, monorail to Disneyworld and Epcot - epic mickey mouse waffles for breakfast - and views of the fireworks every night. I'll save all the memories and photo's for another post, but Disney really does stick with you forever, and a lot has changed and been added since I went years ago. I would absolutely love to go back and visit all the main parks, and hopefully fulfil a lifelong goal and swim with Dolphins at Discovery Cove.

To go back to the hotel where I stayed twice with my family would be amazing, and staying on resort is brilliant, with a lot of the attractions easy to reach - or on the monorail network, although the idea of staying in a villa or checking out one of the other resort hotels is pretty tempting as well - maybe I'd need a split centre holiday!

Have you been to any of the places on my list? what would be on your holiday wish list? would love to hear your thoughts as always, so please join in the holiday dreaming, and maybe one day we will all be ticking some destinations off our list.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Positive Vibes Purple Baking Challenge

I know it's bad form to publicly admit you're bored, but sometimes it happens, although luckily Twitter came to the rescue on this occasion. I don't mean I spent endless hours trawling all the gossip, links, and general twit-chat people had been posting, I found something fun to get involved with instead.


Fresh from the oven, but not looking very purple!
The Positive Vibes project is headed up by RRS Counselling, and promotes creativity and the positive effects it can have on your well-being and mental health.

This could mean music, photography, art, baking and more. As someone who has, and still does experience mental health issues, I know first hand how wonderful creative hobbies can be, and how much they have helped - so when I saw a Twitter post asking for people to join in with a baking challenge I jumped at the chance.

Inspired by the 'Depressed Cake Shop' idea, which aims to raise awareness of depression through a pop-up selling grey cakes, this baking challenge, Positive Vibes wanted some baking bloggers to create something for a fun feature on their website. Thankfully the challenge this time was to create something purple (I really didn't fancy making a grey cake!) , and I knew right away what I wanted to make.

One Complete Purple Cake
My purple bake of choice was a yummy blackcurrant cake - the fruit goes purple when cooked, so I think that fits the bill. I also treated myself to some glitter icing tubes, and violet food colour gel for the decoration. I was a little nervous baking it, as I don't always have the best of success with cakes (sometimes they come out smaller than expected), but this one worked out pretty well, and judging by what's left, passed the taste test too. It was a lot of fun to make, and was just the distraction I needed on a Saturday morning. My icing skills are improving as well!


I don't get the chance to bake as often as I'd like - we don't always eat much cake, but it is something I can lose myself in when I am restless, and while I may not be a contender for Great British Bake Off, I think my purple baking has passed the Positive Challenge.

Obligatory taste test - nom nom!

Monday, 19 August 2013

Harris Tweed Laptop Rucksacks *sponsored post

Some of you may have read my profile, but in case you haven't, my lifestyle, or at least the 'work' part of it, revolves around freelance writing. Although a lot of the time I am in front of the laptop screen at home, I have been thinking recently about what I'd do if I decided on a change of scene, opted to try a co-working space, or just needed to take my laptop out with me for work.

Normally I just have to choose a bag from my collection that will fit my trusty notebook, pen, and camera in it, but if I needed my laptop with me, I'm not sure a normal rucksack would fit the bill. To me, my laptop needs to be safe and secure, and not bashing up against my other items as I walk out the house. If you're thinking along the same lines, then maybe the stylish backpacks on offer from City Backpacks will provide a solution.

City Backpacks are an online retailer, and the largest European stockist of a Korean backpack brand called 'The Earth'. The Earth have two different laptop friendly designs - the Harris Tweed Laptop Daypack, and the Harris Tweed Laptop Rucksack. Both combine leather, hard wearing canvas, cotton twill, and Harris Tweed, woven by islanders in the Outer Hebrides in their designs. What struck me about the items was their durable and practical nature. If I want to carry a laptop around I want something comfortable and hard wearing on my back, and it looks like The Earth have produced items catering for both those needs.

Both the laptop day pack, and laptop rucksack come in blue or brown colour schemes, and each has slightly different features, so you can choose one to suit your needs, whether you are looking for a college backpack or something to take to work.

My favourite of the two designs is the Harris Tweed Laptop Daypack, as I prefer all my pockets to be internal, and like the larger panel of Harris Tweed at the top. This design has a separate 15" laptop pocket, zip fastening around the top, and the signature padded shoulder straps and branded detailing. It looks like there is plenty of room for a laptop and all my other bits, but if you're looking for something a little bigger, with a couple of extra external pockets, then check out the Harris Tweed Laptop Rucksack.

City Backpacks also offer a range of urban backpacks, and other items to suit sports and outdoor use. The Harris Tweed Brand from The Earth illustrates this companies commitment to providing products using high quality materials that are built to last, and you'll find this is a common thread throughout all their products.

You can find out more about City Backpacks and The Earth on their website, and maybe discover you're own backpacker style.

Friday, 16 August 2013

August Shopping - Cosmic Shimmer, Chad Valley, and Candice Wren

When I first started blogging, and thinking about the type of posts I wanted to put up, there were some ideas that I just didn't think anyone would be interested in, but shopping posts seem to be quite common so I thought I'd have a go and see how it goes.

I feel quite organised this month as I have bought my nephew Joey his first birthday present. He is 1 in November and at the moment absolutely loves knocking his play bricks down when we build them in a tower. With this in mind I found a really cute soft skittle set for 1 year olds in Argos for a good price. I've had a peek in the box (Joey won't know!) and they look well made and very colourful. I like the fact they all have numbers on as well. I look forward to seeing him open it later this year.

It feels quite naughty to buy more craft stash when I've got plenty at home, but I have wanted some of this for a while, so decided now was the time to buy, especially with Xmas crafting approaching. This purchase is Cosmic Shimmer Embossing Powder. I have Create and Craft to thank for introducing me to this, although I'd wanted a powder with more shine and impact for a while. It may not look much in the tub, but as you can see the results are a little bit different. I tried stencilling here, and now need to find some suitable stamps to try it out on as well! You may see the results on
various Xmas makes very soon.

My last shop was an impulse buy, and it's all for me!! When I joined the Getting Around Chelmsford Pop-Up Shop Candice Wren was sharing my table. She's in the new unit now, but I couldn't help but notice a skinny scarf that I hadn't really seen before. I snapped up this pretty pink scarf with butterflies on, which is great to wear. It's not too heavy so I've worn it even when the weather is warmer, and it's nice and comfortable round my neck. The butterfly designs are pretty with occasional hints of glitter and  go well with the colour of the scarf. A lovely buy, great quality, and just £5 - I suggested she make some more as I think Mum has her eyes on mine!

Candice specialises in silk screen printed pashminas and also skinny scarves, and printed tote bags as well. You can find out more about her work here, and she also has an online shop which is well worth checking out.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Neal And Wolf Haircare Products Review



Although it's still stayed quite warm, the heat wave days and random rainfall meant that my hair was in need of some attention the other week. The perfect time to try out Neal and Wolf's hair care products which I was sent to try out.

My postman brought me sample sachets of the Ritual Daily Cleansing Shampoo, Rituals Daily Conditioner, and a full size bottle of Guard, which is a heat protection spray. One of my bug bears with sample size products is that sachets have so little in them, and it's always a bit time consuming trying to get every last drop out. I also have thick hair, so my review didn't get off to the best of starts, as I didn't have enough product to cover one wash, although I still have comments to make.

I was a little sceptical at first, wondering if an everyday shampoo suitable for all hair types would suit my hair, as I normally buy products for colour treated/dry hair - but the Rituals products still promised to add moisture and shine so I was hopeful of good results after reading that Shea butter and protein complex were part of the make up of these products.

Both the shampoo and conditioner have nice subtle scents and lathered up well as I massaged them into my hair. After rinsing my hair was tangle free, and ready for drying and straightening. The heat protection spray was my favourite of the three products, which I applied generously with no hint of stickiness. After drying and straightening my hair felt nice and smooth so I was pretty pleased with the results.

I would qualify this as a partial success. the products were all good quality, as I would expect from a company founded on sound principles in hair care, and I would try out some of their other products if I had the opportunity. The heat guard protection spray performed well, and I look forward to draining my bottle, but the shampoo and conditioner are a bit beyond my budget for a regular use product, and I'd prefer something more suited to my hair type.

Neal and Wolf have an online shop packed full of hair care products, for washing, styling, and finishing. Find out more about their product lines and stockists there, and maybe try them out for yourself.

I trialled:

Ritual Daily Cleansing Shampoo - Starts at £10.95
Ritual Daily Conditioner - Starts at £11.95
Guard Heat Protection - £10.95

Friday, 9 August 2013

Blog Sale - Custom Wooden Keepsake and Handmade Card

I have been blogging for quite a few years now professionally, but this is my first full blown attempt at my own blog, so I am still discovering, learning, and finding out new things. One of those are 'blog sales', something I've often found on beauty blogs, as people seek to get rid of unwanted stash. To be a bit different though, I've got together with my sister, a fellow maker, and we've decided to do a craft blog sale post.

We are offering readers a custom decorated wooden keepsake heart and a handmade card. Both can be customised with names, numbers, colours, perhaps even themes stash permitting. We often deal with custom requests, so welcome all ideas, and will do our best to meet your needs, whether you'd like something for a new baby, wedding, birthday or other occasion. You can choose to have both items for the one person/occasion, or have them made for separate people. I've included a recent joint commission below to give you an idea of what we can do. If you are looking for something unique, and not available on the high street, then you can buy this heart and 7 by 5 card package, which includes postage and packing, for £7.50.

If you are interested in this blog sale please send an email to lauren.john@btinternet.com and quote #TheseCityDays when you order.

Copyright Lauren John/Alison John 2013



Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Getting Started With Cardmaking


Cardmaking is all about taking inspiration, and putting your own stamp on it!

I've been making handmade cards for quite a few years now, and quite often when people say to me, "that's lovely, I wish I could do that" my response is normally "why don't you have a go" but there is often some reluctance as they fear not being 'any good', and making a mess of it. I even came across a lady at a pottery painting session who was constantly seeking reassurance, and was very afraid of making a mess. It's easy to understand a lack of confidence when you are new to something, and you want it to look good, but I don't think that should stop anyone having a go!
With this thought in mind, I thought I'd blog with some tips on getting started in cardmaking, one of the crafts I do a lot. I hope you will find it useful and inspiring.  

  • Don't worry about making a mess
Every crafter, without fail, will make a mess, and while something you have toiled over ending up in the bin can be frustrating, it's part of crafting you have to get used to. You have to experiment to discover where your crafty strengths lie and which crafts are for you. Making a mess with your card making materials may seem like a waste of money, but in the long run you will get bigger and better ideas from it, so don't let it put you off having a go.
  • Shop wisely
I am just like any other crafter and have found that I'm like a kid in a sweet shop when I walk into a craft store, or spot a new selection of products in a high street shop, but I've also learned what's worth spending a bit more money on, and when cheaper products are just as good. First up, here's a few things I think it's worth spending the money on.
  1. A decent pair of scissors - I recently won a pair of Fiskars scissors for appearing on the letters page of a craft magazine, and now I've been using them for a while I wouldn't go back. Having a good quality pair of scissors, with a sharp and correctly shaped pair of blades makes such a difference to my crafting.
  2. Ink Pads - I have a Memento black ink pad that I use a lot and it is so far giving me good results every time. It cost more than own branded ink pads, but I am getting the results I need and so far the product looks to be long lasting. When I first started stamping the small ink pads I brought just weren't giving me the same results, and often came out too wet. A well-made branded ink pad has proven to be a worthwhile investment. 
  3. Nobody can cut in a straight line no matter how hard they try, so I'd definitely reccommend investing in a paper trimmer, and one aimed at crafters with all the gridlines on as well. It will become your new best friend, and my first one lasted years, so it's a good purchase too. My current one from Hobbycraft also has a handy corner rounder for a more professional finish.
  4. Christmas Paper Pads - Most of the time I don't really buy paper pads, although I've been tempted, I've just got a few from magazines. Christmas is different because I think the patterns and designs are a lot more timeless, and can be matched up with stash old and new. I don't say know to a paper pack as a free gift in a magazine though!
  • Other Tips
I'd also recommend buying quite sturdy sticky pads. If they are quite big you can cut them up if you need to, but too small and flimsy and they really don't add the right height to decoupage projects.

My other tip, is just a personal taste thing, but when a paper crafting brand brings out a new range, I stop myself from buying the whole collection of toppers, papers, and embellishments, and just buy the odd thing. I think it keeps things fresh to mix and match between collections.

But it's not all about shopping, and what to buy and not to buy. It's about getting started, having a go, and having fun. Cardmaking kits are a great way to get started, and you'll normally get an ideas sheet in with your goodies to get you started, so there's no excuse not to make. If you still need inspiration, then why not look around at a bootsale, or magazine stall at your local market, the magazines may be minus the ever handy free gifts, but it's a cheap way to get some new ideas.

I hope this post has helped encourage you to get crafting, or perhaps you already are a crafter and have some handy tips to share, as my ideas are by no means the only ones out there. Either way I'd love to hear from you, and keep it here for a make of the month post coming soon.













Friday, 2 August 2013

PaperShaker Photo Postcards Review



Product reviews come in all shapes and sizes, but normally I am blogged about those rather than products or services. I do love photo's and anything vaguely creative though, so agreed to try out the service offered by Papershaker.com.

The site is part of the Photobox family and offers customers the chance to personalise flat postcard style cards to celebrate 'special moments'. In the promo blurb I received it didn't make it clear what those special moments were, so I had to go onto the site to investigate. PaperShaker's website is easy to navigate, and currently has drop-down menu's for wedding and new baby, and party invitations for adult and children. The wedding and new baby sections contain most things you would need, from birth announcements and save the date cards to thank you cards, so the choice is pretty comprehensive, and the template pages provide a choice of layouts for your photo's, along with backgrounds, graphics, and general designs, which range from simple colour blocks, and cute graphics, to retro fonts.

I was given the opportunity try out the service and order a pack of 10 cards, but at first I wasn't sure what to do, as I wanted to make the most of the opportunity, but obviously didn't have a wedding or party to design cards for. So my first bit of feedback would be, don't be put off by the occasion headings. You can remove a lot of the graphics, and pick others from the menu which may not be occasion specific. You can also customise colours, and add text boxes with your own messages or greeting. You may even find the options to make your card slim, square or panoramic, with the templates providing a starting point for you to play from.

I ended up making some cards with my very cute nephew on them to use as keepsakes, and easily customised the back and front of the flat postcard style cards with his name, some cute animals, and a border, and background for the flipside. Then I hit send, entered my details, and waited for my cards to arrive.



As PaperShaker is under the Photobox umbrella, this must give them the infrastructure and facilities to respond to orders quickly, and I only had to wait a couple of days for my cards to arrive. In fact they arrived quicker than the computer system could send me an email to say they were on their way! Very impressed with the speed, and happy with my card order as well. They arrived in a hardback envelope, and were then packaged in a nice little folder which was an addition I didn't expect. The cards themselves were glossy and printed on good quality cardstock, and I was pleased with how my chosen photos looked in the finished product.

It's a service that is suited to ordering in bulk, as sets start at 10 cards, then go up in increments of 10 up to 250. Prices vary depending on the design, but they can work out as low as 65p per card, with savings if you order higher quantities. Although there are a lot of photo printing services out there, the advantage with PaperShaker is you get a hardwearing, quality product, and when you are marking a special moment, it's more of a keepsake, rather than a throwaway invitation or announcement, and for that it's worth the money. For me personally, I wouldn't order large quantities of items like this, as I'd want the money for other things, but I was very happy with my small number of cards, and would be interested to see how their site develops.

To find out more about PaperShaker, or try out their service for yourself, why not check out the website.

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