Monday, 25 July 2011

Saturday, 2 April 2011

I Didn't Get The Job

But I'm not too down-hearted, or even particularly surprised - after all, it was my first job interview in 16 years! I had some very helpful coaching from a highly experienced person, and I think the interview went reasonably well. I was able to answer all the questions, and felt as if I'd established a rapport with the three interviewers. I haven't had feedback yet but, unless I've completely misread the situation, I think the panel would have concluded I was appointable rather than a complete no-hoper. However, evidently someone else was a closer match for their requirements. I wouldn't be surprised if they had an internal candidate, perhaps someone who had volunteered for the organisation, and they're always hard to beat. Apparently there were zillions of applications, so I did well to get an interview. And I've got two other applications in, and another almost ready to go off next week, so with luck I'll get another interview soon.

I've learned a lot from this process, and one thing I've learned is that from now on I'm going to keep quiet about any future interviews. This time round, I needed all the advice, encouragement and cheer-leading I could get, so thanks very much for that. But it's too depressing telling everyone I didn't get the job! Yet it's been a positive experience, overall, and the next interview won't be nearly as daunting.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

A Smidgen Of Good News At Last

I've got an interview for a job!!! I don't want to give specifics here, but it's a job for a national charity, with real social value, as well as being part-time and home-based, so it's exactly what I want. Of course having the interview does not mean I've got the job, but after trying so long and getting exactly nowhere, it's a real boost. Also I'd written this one off because they said 'if you haven't heard within three weeks you've been unsuccessful', and the three weeks was up today. But the woman who rang said the shortlisting took longer than they expected; they probably had a gazillion applications, like everyone else.

Which means I'm dead clever, doesn't it? ;-)

My Paramour and I are taking a spontaneous midweek flyer to the pub tonight, to celebrate. Rejoice with me, lovely blogfriends - I'm all excited!!!

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Why I Haven't Been Blogging Much

Since 1999 I have been making a comfortable living as an independent social researcher. 'Independent social researcher' means I am self-employed, researching social issues such as parenting, poverty and drug misuse, with clients who are mostly local authorities and charities. 'Comfortable living' means the approximate equivalent of a gross salary of £25-£40K, varying from year to year with the ups and downs of the business, but overall enough to make me feel rich.

However, since the spending review, my work has dried up. In the last six months, I've had one contract worth £1,250. Which doesn't even cover my business expenses for the period (telecomms, stationery, heat/light, insurance etc) let alone providing any money for me to live on.

Luckily I have a supportive partner; also self-employed, but in a different sector with steady work. We decided a while ago that I should start applying for part-time temporary jobs - my PhD means I can apply for work in academia, and my social work and voluntary sector background means I can also apply for work as a practitioner. So I've been doing loads of job applications, as well as doing tenders for research.

I haven't applied for jobs for 14 years, and it's a dark art. I'm getting great support from my brother-in-law, who is development director of a charity, and from a friend who is an academic. But each application, and each tender, takes me days to write.

I am having to use all my mental energy trying to generate some income, and I simply don't have the headspace for my own writing. I don't know when I will. I'm surprisingly unbothered by this. I suspect a break will do more good than harm. I'm not giving up or anything - but I've been working so hard on my writing for so long, yet making so little tangible progress, that it's a relief to have a reason to put it down for a while.

I'm still getting nice rejections, but now for jobs and tenders. The job market is quite alarming. I am applying for jobs where I can demonstrate ample experience against every point on the person specification, but I'm not even getting interviews. This seems to be because of the sheer numbers of people looking for work. For example, I applied for a part-time job with a national charity, and got a lovely letter today saying that while my experience was a good fit for their needs, they'd had over 200 applications and found someone whose experience was a perfect fit. I recently met a woman from another well-known charity who told me that they're getting 180 applications for every admin job, including people with PhDs.

But I have to keep trying. So that's what I'm doing. It's why I'm not around much online. Don't waste time feeling sorry for me, though. I'm unsettled, but I'm not depressed (any more - I was for a bit). I do realise that I'm so much luckier than most people: I don't have to worry about where my next meal is coming from, or how to pay the heating bill. I don't have an aspirational lifestyle, and I know how to economise - my family never had any money when I was growing up, and I was unemployed for two years in the mid-1990s, so I have lots of nice lentil recipes.

And: this too shall pass.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

That Pesky Second Draft

Woke up dis mornin', got the second draft blues.
Woke up dis mornin', got the second draft blues.
Looked at my MS, wasn't nothin' but bemused.
It's as much fun as a bruise.
I would rather have a snooze.
Etc etc etc etc etc.

Progress is being made, but it's sooooooooo slooooooooooow and I'm very impatient which is a terrible combination. I'm pleased with my first draft; it's not bad, as first drafts go, but of course it still needs a hell of a lot of work. It takes me such a long time to really get to know a character; to fully understand their motivations; to distinguish their voice from the voices of the other characters and from the voice of the book. My lovely mentor Debi always tells me that 'marinating time' is essential. I know she's right, but it doesn't make me any more patient.

I also know about 'bite by bite eats the elephant' and all that. But there's a part of me that thinks, for goodness' sake, all I need are the right words in the right order. It's not so simple, though, is it?

Why did I want to be a writer anyway? Could someone please remind me?

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Accidental Resolution

I didn't intend to make any New Year's resolutions this year.

In my young adult life, I made the conventional kind of resolution - eat healthier food, take more exercise, become a tidy person overnight - and, like most people, I dropped them in the first few days of January. As I hit middle age, I got better at the whole resolution thing. Mostly I stopped making resolutions, and when I did, I made only resolutions that I could keep and which would improve my life.

I remember two in particular. The first was that for a whole year I wouldn't buy any black clothes (not including underwear). This came about because I opened my wardrobe one day and realised it looked like a funeral outfitters, and around the same time I realised black didn't suit me as well as it had when I was younger. I had fun changing my shopping habits, and by the end of the year my wardrobe looked like a rainbow.

My second, and best, resolution was to take a sensible amount of time off from work. This came after years of building my own business, doing postgraduate study, and working through most weekends and holidays. I decided I would take weekends off unless I had an urgent deadline, and that four weeks' holiday a year would be 'a sensible amount'. This resolution saved me from becoming a complete workaholic.

This year I didn't have anything in mind, but in the first few days of January a resolution crept up on me. I'm not entirely sure why, or where it came from, but I'm loving it. And here it is: I resolve to be easier on myself.

I'm a great one for internal self-criticism. If I want to spend Saturday morning in bed with a novel, there's a little voice which says things like, 'You shouldn't be so self-indulgent, what about all the housework, and you haven't phoned your mum in ages, what makes you think you have the right to lie around reading novels?' If I fancy a glass of wine on a weekday evening, the voice pipes up again: 'You have no self-control, you lush, you know you shouldn't, it's bad and wrong, and what's more you'll be an alcoholic any minute and then where will you be?'

This year, I plan to give up destructive self-criticism. And so far, it's working, mainly because I've stopped listening to the little voice (which, frankly, after all these years, can sod right off). I'm not planning to give up the constructive kind, because I don't intend to lose my self-discipline - I need that as a writer and as a self-employed person - but I'm learning to tell the difference between self-discipline and self-flagellation.

My new mantra is 'I can if I want to', which sounds rather Violet Elizabeth Bott, but I'm finding it helpful in working out what I really do want rather than arguing with myself. After all, I'm mostly quite nice to other people, so I don't see why I shouldn't be nice to me.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Writing, Not Writing

So I'm having a month off from fiction writing. And indeed I have written nothing but a few jotted reminders in the first couple of days after I finished the first draft. But my characters are still being very lively in my head and I don't seem able to stop getting to know them better. I guess this is a good thing, on balance. It's helping me to see aspects of the story more clearly. So I now understand, for example, that event X causes person A to have an entirely understandable sense-of-humour bypass until event Y, which helps her regain the ability to laugh at herself, and that changes her relationship with B and C because they didn't know her before event X so to begin with they thought she was a humourless git. Which all seems very logical now it's written down, but came as a proper revelation when I was idly playing with ideas in my head while my body was busy on the cross-trainer.

And next week, all other things being equal, I get to start editing. I can't wait!!!

Thursday, 6 January 2011

You Said What???

I have a mild hearing impairment. Not as severe as Debi's - but enough to make some similarly amusing anecdotes. Here's one for you.

My dear friend Lauren was having a New Year party last weekend, to which my Paramour and I were invited.

She rang me in a slight panic the week before Christmas. 'It's got a bit bigger than I expected. Any chance you could do a veggie chilli?'

'No problem,' I said. 'How many people?'

'Thirty or forty,' she said.

Right, I thought, I'll need to use my biggest stockpot.

So I spent the afternoon of the 30th making an enormous vat of veggie chilli. Well, it's always better the next day, and it didn't matter that the stockpot is too big to fit in the fridge as it was sub-zero outside.

When I arrived at Lauren's, staggering under the weight of several kilos of chilli, she boggled at the size of the stockpot. Good, I thought, she's suitably impressed by my Herculean efforts.

By nine pm there were only about a dozen people at Lauren's. This seemed odd to me, as here in the countryside the whole late thing isn't fashionable like in the metropolises.

'What time are you expecting the others?' I asked.

She consulted a list on the fridge. 'It's only Tim and Anna, they should be here any minute.'

'But... how many people did you say you were expecting?'

Lauren looked at me, surprised. 'Thirteen or fourteen,' she said.

My veggie chilli, though I say it myself, was excellent. Which is just as well, as there is rather a lot of it in our freezer.

Saturday, 1 January 2011

Bye Bye 2010

Some of my friends had a terrible year in 2010, but for me it was OK, overall. And here's the evidence.

I submitted my memoir to 20 agents (eighteen rejections so far, including several very kind personal ones) and, later, to 10 publishers (four rejections so far). I wrote 12 short stories, submitted at least 30 and sold one. I finished the first draft of my fantasy novel.

Work was variable: plenty in the first half of the year, much less in the second half due to the spending review. I'm hoping it'll pick up early in 2011.

I had fab holidays. A long weekend in Antwerp, Amsterdam and Brussels in January; ten days in a ski chalet in the French Alps in June; another long weekend at Shrewsbury Folk Festival in August; and a third long weekend in Bishop's Castle in Shropshire in November, to celebrate 15 years of wonderful partnership with my beloved Paramour.

Health was good, although I had one miserable week in November when I was diagnosed with arthritis in my hands AND got my first pair of varifocals. I'm not old enough for either of those! Except, apparently, I am. Oh well.

I was given the long slow dump by one old friend, which made me sad and angry for a while, but I'm over that now. After all, I've made so many new friends recently: at least six this year, four from the Internet and two from real life. So there's no point trying to hang on to old friendships with people who have lost interest.

Nobody close to me or to my Paramour died in 2010. My family are all well and happy: my beloved nephew started university after many difficulties and is loving it, and one of my favourite cousins and her delightful partner are due to have a baby at the end of March.

I confronted my long-standing fear and loathing of maths and science through three OU short courses. The bookkeeping and accounting was grim, although I still scored 74%, but the maths was surprisingly enjoyable (except for scientific notation which did my head in) and I 'achieved' all eight sections ('achieved' being the highest possible score). I enjoyed most of the science, too, except for the chemical formulae which never did balance, and I gained a score of 92%! I'd like to do more OU maths and science courses, and will, when I can afford to; in the meantime, I've rewarded myself with Alex's Adventures In Numberland which I'm loving. I'm also over halfway through a non-fiction writing course run by the London School of Journalism, and getting good feedback from my tutor.

So there we are. Not a bad year. Nothing spectacular - but lots of fun, interesting, enjoyable times. If 2011 is as good, I'll be happy. And I wish a most excellent New Year to all of you.