Three is the magic number

Three is the magic number

On 5 November 2012, I officially started my own business. I became self-employed, freelance, whatever you call it. And it was perhaps the most un-thought-through thing I have done. Looking back, I can see that I really didn’t know what was going to happen. Armed only with my redundancy money, a handful of contacts and a sense of overwhelming optimism, I set out quite unaware of the personal magnitude of what I was doing.

Work came slowly at first. I would go on walks round Wolverton, where I live, thinking, praying, wondering where I might go to get more contacts, more contracts, more jobs. It was easier than sitting, staring at the keyboard. Some people told me that when they started, they never struggled for work (so what was I doing wrong?), while others said that it took them four years to get going (could I wait that long?). However, slowly but surely, one client led to another, and another, and another. Regular work built up and I started to risk agreeing to more ambitious projects. I passed my first anniversary, then my second and now I have reached my third in rude health.

Now my business is well and truly a toddler. And I would like to thank the people who supported me at the start – my family and friends, my old work colleagues and my first clients. You all helped to lay the foundations for what has turned into quite a successful venture! Thanks for being actively supportive and for just being there. Thanks for those initial jobs and for passing my name onto other potential clients. Thanks for being patient and understanding.

I am officially listed as a ‘sole trader’, but I am anything but. I couldn’t do what I do without that network of supporters, clients and cheerleaders. If I could bake you all a cake, I would, but that would take a while. So I’ll just content myself with saying THANK YOU. And who knows? I might just surprise you with a Victoria sponge sometime soon.

One (challenging) singular sensation

One (challenging) singular sensation

Last week, I got to indulge one of my worst character traits – I’m a terrible show-off – by performing in the musical, A Chorus Line. Set in a theatre in 1975, it follows a group of dancers auditioning to be in the chorus of a Broadway show. I love performing and being on stage – as I’ve said already, I’m a terrible show-off – but I found this show quite difficult.

Even though there were large parts of the show where I did very little, I was on stage almost all the time (most of the cast were). It sounds a bit daft, but not doing very much while still staying in character is actually quite tricky! The temptation is either to switch off and start thinking about something completely unrelated (like tomorrow’s dinner) or to become a spectator and watch the action as if you were an audience member (albeit one with a very good view).

It was also difficult because the dancing was quite complex and because I had a long monologue to deliver. The worry that I would forget dance moves or parts of the speech kept me awake at night for weeks before the show. And on stage, concentrating on routines and lines was quite hard work.

And yet, I think these issues made it a more enjoyable experience. I appreciated the challenge of the dancing and of the character I played: needing to find the emotional journey to take the character on (if that’s not too much of an X Factor cliche) meant that I had to spend time working at it.

If I’m honest, I think I enjoyed it more than last year’s Acorn Antiques, even though I’m a massive Victoria Wood fan. For me, Acorn Antiques was comfortable and fairly easy to do. I loved the comedy, the silliness and the songs, particularly the epic and daft ‘Macaroons’. But in terms of a sense of satisfaction and achievement, A Chorus Line was streets ahead.

Now, I’m essentially a very lazy person, and when I’m faced with a challenge, my first though is that I’d rather not take it on. I’d rather have an easy life. Better to sit on the sofa than to put the hard work in. Nevertheless (and if you’re a client of mine, this might be a relief to hear), it won’t be long before I’m squaring up to what needs to be done and the rewards for that hard work will vastly outweigh those of just watching TV. And A Chorus Line is proof of that – something that needed to be worked at but brought great reward.

I’m not sure where my next challenge will come from. Writing the Guardians of Ancora brings new challenges every time I have to create a new quest. I’ve just written a column for the Mothers’ Union which was a struggle to produce, but that they were very happy with (which is encouraging, but I’ve got to write five more and I’m not entirely sure I can!). However, wherever it comes from, I need to remember the satisfaction and sense of achievement I’ll get when it’s finally done and in print/on stage/on film. So, who’s going to challenge me?!

Lane rage

Lane rage

I go swimming three times a week, though I am a functional swimmer at best. My front crawl is never going to win any prizes, but I can manage over 1,000 metres without drowning myself. I say this not to show off (anyone who’s actually seen me swim should realise that), but just to help you understand that I’m a middling swimmer.

My swimming pool, like many others I suppose, designates some lines slow, some medium and some fast, and usually I end up in a medium or fast lane. Unfortunately, when there’s a choice of two lanes – one slow and one medium – because there’s a school swimming lesson going on in the rest of the pool, I sometimes end up in a lane with someone going slower than I am. And herein lies my problem.

I get terrible lane rage. But it’s terrible British lane rage – I get annoyed, but don’t do anything about it. I huff and I puff when the slower swimmer doesn’t let me pass at the end of the lane. I mutter to myself in my head about how inconsiderate the slower swimmer is. But I do nothing.

In the rules, displayed clearly on the wall, it says that if you want to pass someone, you should tap their feet as you swim, so that they know you’re behind them – a water-based version of the blue flag in Formula 1. But I can’t bring myself to do it. It just seems too aggressive. So I go back to my British passive-aggressiveness.

But I shouldn’t. A couple of years ago, I posted about a bizarre and totally unnecessary confrontation on a train where a child was moving about in his seat and jogging the man behind, who was trying to watch something on his iPad. The man eventually exploded, made the boy cry and caused the boy’s mother and grandmother to start having a go at him. If the man had asked the boy early on to settle down a bit, all that yelling would never have happened. It’s the same in the pool. I should just get over myself, tap the feet of the slower swimmer, as I’m supposed to, and carry on swimming.

As I sit here, still smelling slightly of chlorine (no matter how much shower gel you use, there’s always a faint whiff left over), I’m wondering to myself how much I get lane rage at other times in my life, when I hide away from confrontation, rather than face up to things, resolve them and move on in peace. That initial conversation might be difficult and/or embarrassing, but the rewards far outweigh that one-off awkwardness.

So better the redeemed relationship than the festering wound. Better the real peace than the awkward truce. Better the tapping of the feet than the passive-aggressive front crawl.

A tale of two hospices

A tale of two hospices

When you think about the word ‘hospice’, what images come to mind? A grey place where people go to die? A place of sadness, illness and overcooked cabbage? You wouldn’t be alone – these are certainly some of the things that I conjured up in the past.

But I want to tell you about a hospice. Well, two, actually. Children’s hospices. They are places where children and young people with life-limiting conditions go to be cared for and yes, perhaps to die. However, they aren’t drab, they aren’t depressing or oppressive and there isn’t even a whiff of overcooked cabbage.

Christopher’s in Guildford and Shooting Star House in Hampton together make up Shooting Star Chase. These two amazing places serve families across south-west London and Surrey, helping to manage the care for children and young people with life-limiting conditions, and their families. I provide editorial support to the charity (and even voice-over work) – I’ve just finished doing some editorial work on their supporter magazine and my head is full of the tough, but inspiring work that Shooting Star Chase puts in to make the lives of the families they work with immeasurably better.

They don’t only manage and care for the medical needs of children and young people, but their emotional and psychological needs too. Nurses and carers get to know a child’s likes and dislikes, their habits and comforts, as well as their medication and therapeutic requirements. Chefs, maintenance staff and volunteers strive to create an atmosphere of support, relaxation and fun. Social workers, care managers and support staff work hard to make sure children and young people get the best care possible.

I was lucky enough to visit Shooting Star House about a year ago, to see for myself the fantastic facilities, meet one or two of the care staff and even have a fine cup of tea from the creative kitchens. It was a privilege to see everything in action and a help to my editorial work for the charity, to have seen the facilities within which the stories are all set.

I’m writing this partly because my mind is buzzing with the stories of children, young people and families well cared for, but also because their story, and the stories of children’s hospices around the country, needs to be heard more widely. Financially, Shooting Star Chase only gets a tenth of what it needs from government funding, and so has to raise the remaining 90% itself. And when your care bill tops £10 million each year, that’s a big ask.

So, if you live in south-west London or Surrey, why not find out how you can support these two fine establishments? And if not, is there a children’s hospice near you that can make use of your time or money? That places like Shooting Star House and Christopher’s have to rely of charitable support is discomforting, but the work they put in to make the lives of children, young people and their families immeasurably better is worth every penny.

Don’t panic

Don’t panic

Oh dear.

This work blog has been neglected for too long. In my defence, I’ve been so busy writing and blogging for other people that I’ve not had time to write and blog for myself. This particular blog is like a wasteland and my poor novel languishes untouched and unloved, stuck on chapter 11.

The thing about being freelance, which people told me about but which still takes me by surprise, even after almost three years, is that work comes in waves. Sometimes you’re so busy you can’t think, and you end up working weekends (I even worked the August Bank Holiday this year). Yet at other times, you don’t have much on the go. It’s not that you’ve been abandoned by your clients, it’s just that the down time in all your work relationships happens at the same time, and you’re left twiddling your thumbs for a while.

This happened to me recently, and although it wasn’t the first time (and it certainly won’t be the last), I was still taken aback a little bit. After years of working in mainstream employment, the guilt of not doing very much for a day or so hung heavy over my head. I felt like I had to stay at my desk, because if I was in front of the computer, I was still ‘working’.

What I should have been doing, and what it’s taken me three years to realise, was to enjoy the down time as well as the busy periods. To make use of these pauses to reflect, to write for myself and to catch up with all those tasks that are important, but not urgent (or indeed paid). For one thing, I managed to file my tax return (now that’s something that also takes me by surprise, even though I’ve done it three times – the rising panic that you’ve done something wrong or even worse, underestimated how much you would have to pay and end up thousands of pounds out of pocket).

So, thanks to that quiet period, I’m up to date with my tax affairs, my personal blog is back up and running once more and the 11 chapters of my novel have been rejigged and added to (a little). All I need to do is remember these things the next time work eases off and not panic too much. But that, unfortunately, is easier said than done.

Maybe I need some kind of book with a reassuring message printed in large friendly letter on the front.

Now I am 2

Now I am 2

No, I’m not getting married, nor do I have a newborn child. It’s my business – it’s 2 years old. 2! When I took voluntary redundancy in the autumn of 2012, I never thought I would be where I am now. In fact, if we’re being honest, I didn’t think much at all. If you’re looking for a model of how to plan a business, then steer well clear of my model of start-up.

However, despite my gung-ho and slightly clueless attitude to starting my own business, things really haven’t gone badly. I set myself a target for this financial year, which it looks like I might just exceed. I’ve done some really interesting stuff – creating stories for virtual worlds, delivering training to groups as small as five and as large as 200, writing for social history exhibitions, compiling books, creating exhibitions spaces, commissioning songs, piecing together magazine articles… And, perhaps the biggest achievement, I haven’t gone loopy working from home.

When I reflect back on the last two years, one thing I can say is that God has been with me every step of the way. If you don’t think much of Christianity, then you’re welcome to disagree, but I truly believe he has.

So, thank you so much for supporting me. No one said I was being foolish by taking voluntary redundancy (and I really thought loads of people would!) – everyone was awesome. And thanks also to those who had enough faith in me to give me work, I’ve loved every minute… well, almost, but that’s the case with any job, isn’t it?

Here’s to the next two years!

Community service?

Community service?

Recently, I have been spending a lot of time eating macaroons, wearing a tight white suit and singing a song about breaking a man’s leg. This strange and questionable behaviour can be explained by the fact that I was in a production of Acorn Antiques – the Musical, produced by my theatre group, Company MK. It’s not ‘my’ group because I own it or run it like a tin-pot dictator, but because I belong to it.

I belong to the group because I share its aim to produce top-quality amateur musical theatre. I belong because lots of my friends are also part of the group. I belong because it gives me the chance to show off perform on stage in interesting shows. I belong because I feel proud to be identified with the group… and I know lots of other people feel the same way.

When we started to put on productions again after a two-year hiatus, one of my objectives was to help build a community that was welcoming, fun to be part of and that gave everyone a fair crack at being cast in a role. By no means do I think we’ve done this perfectly – we’ve got things wrong on the way. We’ve made mistakes and have offended or disappointed people, or just got up their noses (and if we’ve done this to you, we’re really sorry).

However, I think we’ve started to build a group where people enjoy themselves, are stretched artistically and feel welcomed and included. People have stuck with us and the feedback we have had after successive shows has been how much people have enjoyed being part of our community. We’ll probably make more mistakes and be idiots from time to time, but we’ll try our hardest to continue this ethos and produce the best shows that we can, as we look to 2015 and beyond.

Thinking more widely, surely this is the same with any group we’re part of: a church, a sports team, a school… Even if we’re working with dysfunctional and difficult groups (and, given that all groups contain humans, each one is going to have its dysfunctional and difficult aspects), we need to work together to make things better. We need to be generous and gracious when others make mistakes or get on our nerves, just as we hope they will be when we inevitably mess something up ourselves. We need to encourage and push each other to reach higher, to develop skills and to surprise ourselves in what we can achieve.

Talking about groups in this way can sound idealistic and a nice idea (‘it’ll never happen’). But if you don’t give it a go, you’ll never know.

Highgate, Halloween and High-frequency High Jinx

Highgate, Halloween and High-frequency High Jinx

I’ve just realised how long it has been since I updated my blog, how very lazy of me. I have been quite busy, mind you, so that’s some sort of excuse. I thought I’d fill you in on the kind of things I’ve been getting up to. Who knows, maybe it might spark an idea that I could make happen for you!

In Highgate, I delivered my first full Academy Basics course for the Diocese of London. This was with a  bunch of willing and enthusiastic children’s workers from St Michael’s Church and surrounding parishes. I had a great time, exploring different aspects of working with children, and giving people a chance to try some new stuff out. One group came up with a Prodigal Son rap that deserves a wider audience – if only we’d filmed it! The Academy Basics course is for those who are at the start of their children’s ministry journey, and covers things like learning styles, storytelling and managing difficult behaviour. Later in the year, I’ve got more courses in Poplar, Kensal Rise and Fulham.

I’ve also put together part of a Halloween/Light Party resource pack for Scripture Union, commissioning writers and writing copy to help churches make intelligent use of Halloween. That comes out very soon, check it out here.

A new client, FEBA, brought the chance to work on some children’s resources and to create a radio character called Roger. It was good to work for them and to renew a working relationship with Simeon Whiting, another Christian charity worker turned freelancer. Look out for the FEBA pack soon on their website.

There’s been lots of other things happening – proofing fundraising and supporter communications for Shooting Star Chase, editing a book called @BibleIntro for Authentic Media, writing and commissioning blog posts for the Diocese of London as well as writing their children’s ministry newsletter, my ongoing work with Premier Childrenswork, compiling a youth book for BRF… the list is pleasingly varied 🙂

If you have anything that you think I might be able to help with, don’t hesitate to get in touch!

Gelatin-based confectionery and other lessons

Gelatin-based confectionery and other lessons

Well, Creative Daydream has been going for 18 months and I’ve learnt quite a lot. Particularly:

1 I have little self-control if there’s an open bag of marshmallows in the house.

2 If you’re going to be part of a meeting via Skype, you’ll spend an hour staring at the top of people’s heads.

3 It’s not going to go well if you put a TV programme on ‘in the background’.

4 Going to the supermarket at 10 on Monday morning means that you avoid the crowds, but also that the aisles will be populated with pensioners who stop suddenly for no apparent reason.

5 Searching iTunes for old Eurovision songs is not an acceptable way to spend the working day. (But you do rediscover beauties like this – I love a song with whistling…)

On the other hand, I’ve had a great time writing, editing, training and generally being creative for companies and organisations such as the Diocese of London, Dubit, Leprosy Mission, Dodo and Co, Shooting Star Chase and Childrenswork magazine. And I’m really looking forward to what the next 18 months might bring!

If you’ve got a project that requires a great way with words, a hundred ideas or a warm presenting style, then get in touch. What can Creative Daydream do for you?

 

All at sea

All at sea

I went to see the Noah film last week, and I have to admit it was with high hopes. Despite the fact that I’d heard the story went a bit off-piste, despite the fact that the last thing I’d seen Russell Crowe in was his curiously wooden performance in Les Mis and despite the fact that recent cinema trips had been disappointing (I’m looking at you, Muppets). While at SU, I had republished a book by Andrew Guyatt called The Oncoming Storm, which retold the Noah story for a young adult audience. I found his description of what the world might have been like for Noah really interesting – how did one family build the ark, what did Noah’s wife think of it all, how bad had humanity become for God to contemplate wiping nearly everyone out? I was really intrigued to see how the film answered some of these questions.

However, my hopes were mostly misplaced. I did enjoy it more than Muppets Most Wanted (though that’s not saying much), but it was still quite disappointing. I couldn’t decide whether I didn’t much enjoy it because it didn’t follow the Bible story, because it didn’t meet expectations raised by The Oncoming Storm or because it just wasn’t very good.

Noah, as portrayed by Crowe, was impenetrable, obsessive and almost entirely without sympathy (him for others, or the audience for him). His family were one dimensional and underwritten. God was distant and mostly silent. The Cainites were woefully underused. But most of all (and it may seem strange to say this in a story where thousands of people are wiped out), there is very little love. At the start of Genesis 6, God’s pain and sorrow is evident. Humans, whom he made in his own image, have turned their back on him. Noah loves God and God loves him, and the pain and desperation Noah goes through is because of this love.

For an interesting and thought-provoking retelling of Noah, read The Oncoming Storm instead.