Many of us treasure memories of a key person, event or simply a ‘thing’ that caused us to take a particular path in our working or personal lives.
Someone or something igniting a spark, generating enthusiasm and energy, taking us in a direction that we may not have thought possible.
When talking about influential people, the catch-all term is ‘mentor’ – an experienced and trusted adviser. Whether it be a teacher, family member, colleague or a chance meeting, the result can be life changing and the start of something special.
That’s why giving the gift of time, passing on experience and knowledge, is important and even more so for people who don’t have easy access or links to a particular profession – in my own case print and broadcast journalism.
As a child growing up in a Birmingham working class community, I didn’t know anyone who wrote for a living or worked in broadcasting. Libraries were a place to escape, somewhere to lose yourself in books and marvel at the sea of titles and author names. A library ticket was a key to another world, a sanctuary but at the same time a special place to visit.
Later on when we moved to a house right opposite a library, I got to know some of the people there who were always helpful and often shared their own favourite books. They didn’t call themselves ‘mentors’ but that is exactly what they were, fostering a love of words and writing.
Knowing where you want to go is one thing but getting there is quite another and I owe a huge debt of gratitude to all of those inspirational people who have helped along the way.
Over the years I’ve often been approached about giving advice to young people who are interested in TV production or print journalism careers
Having already contributed to a magazine aimed at young people in the care system, this gave an ideal opportunity to share my work experience with some of them too, their glimpse into the world of print and broadcasting.
At the time I was working on a demanding TV series which meant long unpredictable hours with lots of travel, so was reluctant to promise something that would inevitably be subject to last minute changes – they had already gone through enough of that in their lives.
In the end it was a case of reaching out to other industry contacts to arrange studio/location visits while offering advice where possible. After leaving care, some of them went on to take part in news and documentary programmes shedding a light on their real life stories.
It was a stark reminder that just because you can’t always do a lot it doesn’t mean that you should do nothing. At the same time it’s important to only promise what you can deliver.
Giving even a small bit of time isn’t just about ‘do gooding’ to use that perjorative term. It is about passing on knowledge and helping to open doors for people who might otherwise not get a look in.
Whether you use the terms ‘mentor’, ‘adviser’ or ‘career buddy’, it’s really about being dependable, willing to share your experiences both good and bad, and appreciating the needs of the person seeking advice. A healthy sense of humour always comes in handy too!
On the subject of humour, former GB gymnast and brilliant performance poet, Sally Crabtree, (aka the ‘Poetry Postie’), shares her own childhood inspiration – the Beano comic! – and how it has led to a fantastic work collaboration.
‘I loved reading books as a child – anything from children’s classics to modern fiction. But in truth, what filled me with the most excitement was my Beano comic which was delivered every week through the letterbox! I can remember being at the top of the stairs having heard it land on the mat and the feeling of utter happiness and excitement as I rushed down to pick it up. Little did I know that I would be working with Beano Cartoonists Nick and Fran Brennan from Cartoonfun later in life, collaborating with them to create our very own comic inspired by the ‘Parcel Pets’ – who are the mascots of my Poetry Postie project. You can find out more about it all here www.thepostalserviceofhappiness.com ‘
The term ‘portfolio’ career has been much in vogue recently – the idea of having several separate or interconnecting work roles.
For many of us this is nothing new and as someone who has always worn several hats – ‘Television Producer’, ‘Print Journalist’, ‘University Visiting Editor/ Associate’, ‘Broadcast Mentor’, ‘Author’ – how to answer when faced with a question about your line of work?
For ease I usually opt for the two things that have dominated, TV production and journalism. Then the inevitable question. ‘You must have worked with some well known people?’ (Or something along those lines).
Yes I have worked with a number of so-called celebrities but it has not been the main focus. Access based TV documentaries and news/current affairs programmes have been my area and I’ve been fortunate enough to meet some wonderful, inspirational people along the way.
Usually ordinary people doing extraordinary things and helping to change the world for the better. They may not be celebrities but their life footprints are still huge and important.
What is meant by ‘access’ based programmes? This is just shorthand for more in-depth and often exclusive filming of groups or individuals with a strong story to tell, putting a spotlight on their world, usually for the first time.
So far I have made TV films with hospitals, RSPCA Inspectors, police forensic photographers, charities, lawyers, health campaigners and social workers to name just a few. All have involved close collaboration with organisations and individuals to put their stories centre stage.
Crucially, most of these have been in prime national TV slots – despite starting out as a specialist social affairs journalist, getting those stories out to a larger audience has always been important.
These types of TV projects involve a huge amount of trust on both sides and a good deal of negotiation before filming even begins, so not for the faint hearted. Having just spent some time revisiting a number of programmes for a current project, here are just a few things learned along the way:
Setting up these bespoke filming projects takes patience, tenacity, diplomacy and resilience. All good life lessons.
Trust has to be earned and honesty is the key here. Appearing in the TV spotlight is still a huge deal for most people and there can be understandable concerns which shouldn’t be understimated.
Agreeing a good clear filming protocol from the start is essential. This is the template for how you will work together, the key lines of communication, a time line for filming and post production with enough ‘wriggle room’ for when things don’t go to plan. Fail to prepare here – well you know the rest.
Using the same core production team throughout does help. This becomes even more important where the filming is done over a longer period of time and the issues covered involve high levels of sensitivity.
Sometimes wider communities are involved. Making a documentary on the 1974 Birmingham Pub Bombings, when 21 people lost their lives with many more injured, meant gaining the trust of the city’s Irish community, survivors, families whose lives were changed forever and the impact of the ensuing miscarriage of justice. Coming from the city and having a working class Irish heritage helped to open doors here.
Make the effort to keep in touch after filming – small thank you gestures go a long way and there may be follow up stories to tell. To this day I’m still in contact with some of the people who have featured in programmes. They know who they are!
Finally a few wise words from the talented photographer/multi media producer and former Central TV colleague, Pogus Caesar, who has had filming access to some incredible people and events
‘While working in television, the thing that guided me was to assemble a great production team bringing valuable assets. Good quality research is important as you need to unearth new information relating to your subject. Finally don’t give promises you cannot fulfill – as the producer/director everything falls at your feet’.
People often talk about ‘sliding door’ moments to describe pivotal life events that could go one way or the other. (The ‘Sliding Doors’ film is a firm favourite).
It’s also one of the themes in my current writing project and has led me to look back at my own sliding door moments. Over the years there have been a good number and here are a few relating to work choices…
– Becoming a journalist. How many people get to do the work they have always dreamed of? This was a childhood ambition and I chose to ignore a po-faced school careers adviser who suggested that it might be a good idea to take up shorthand and typing to give the ‘option’ of becoming a PA or ‘secretary’ to use the old name. A fine job though not one for me. Instead I took a year out between leaving school and studying for a degree to do an accredited journalism course, while working full time to pay for it. By the way, I never did learn to type properly and still get by with a speedy one handed version.
– Local newspaper or specialist national magazine? My first job offer was on the weekly national SWT magazine aimed at social and residential care workers. Alternatively, I could have waited a few months longer to join a large respected local newspaper group as a trainee. In the end I opted for the more specialist route. It was only a six month trial period to start with but after being thrown in at the deep end, it worked out well. A door that led to a varied written journalism career, including feature pieces for a number of UK broadsheet newspapers/ magazines – something I’m still doing decades down the line.
– Stay in print or move into television? Around 5 years into my first journalism job – by which time I had gone from a rookie to senior reporter/feature writer – I spotted a national newspaper advertisement for a TV researcher at Central television. The programme – a network TV slot aimed at older viewers – fitted with my social affairs background. Predictably, there were a huge number of applicants and many already had television production experience. It was a two stage interview which included viewing some of their existing programmes and giving feedback. After watching the given selection of programmes, I liked some a lot more than others. Should I be honest and say this or just be diplomatic about them all?
It had to be the ‘honesty’ door. The comments seemed to go down OK and in the end I got the job. It meant giving up a magazine staff post for a more risky 12 month contract but was the start of a TV production career covering news/current affairs, documentaries and popular factual series, while working alongside some hugely talented people. That early interview call was a good one.
– A move abroad? In 2011 my husband Paul, a digital forensic expert, got the chance to go to Bermuda to work with the police service there. Should I stay put or go out there too? Of course I went and in the end we spent over a year in that beautiful part of the world. Although my ‘visitor’ status meant that paid work wasn’t an option, I did write a regular guest column for one of the island newspapers and completed most of my first novel ‘My Bermuda Namesakes’ while there. We made some lifelong friends too and yet another doorway well worth choosing.
So there you have it – a few personal sliding door decisions and I’ve learned along the way to always go with those gut instincts. If something feels right, then just move with it. If not, drop it and have confidence to take that alternative route even if it feels a bit scary. It really can be that straightforward
Here is an inspirational quote from fellow writer Jude Lennon about her own big sliding door decision to leave her teaching career and become a writer. A friend told her ’ Sometimes you have to take the leap of faith and grow your wings on the way down. Just make sure they sparkle!’
Jude has certainly done that. Check out her sparkly work on www.littlelambpublishing.co.uk
It’s been a while since my last blog post – a busy year! – and having just got back from a 17 day Motorhome trip to France, thought I’d share a few memories of our stay there.
This time we travelled from Folkestone via Eurotunnel and I used my new Irish passport for the first time – so no stamp needed at the check-in!
Now that we are no longer in the EU, we had to purchase a detailed animal health care travel document for Bonnie dog before setting off – an expensive exercise (it cost just under £170 at our local vets) and only lasts 4 months!. This has to be shown at separate Eurotunnel animal reception centres on both sides of the channel, whereas under the previous pet passport system everything was sorted at the same time and place as our own check-ins/outs.
The Eurotunnel journey was great – smoother than we expected and in just over 30 minutes you pop out in Calais. Enough time for a quick coffee and Bonnie dog was unfazed by the ride. Just in front of us were a group of high end sports cars being driven by a BBC film crew for a shoot in France. Cue a chat about what cars we would have if we won the lottery – mine is a Lexus Convertible by the way.
Then it was an easy exit from the terminal onto the road for our first stop-over, the lovely Saint Valery Sur Somme. We stayed two nights at the Le Walric site which is on the edge of the main town but well worth the half hour walk to the river promenade area with its shops, market stalls and restaurants.
Next up was a three night stay at Fresnay Sur Sarthe near Le Mans, before heading to our main destination – Ile de Re just across from La Rochelle on the west coast. It was a hot journey as the temperatures had started to climb over 30 degrees – unheard of in that region for mid June. This was followed by another three days of scorching weather when the temperature inside the Motor Home hit a jaw-dropping 40 degrees one afternoon.
Thankfully we have an awning and we even clipped Bonnie dog’s coat (we took some battery clippers along just in case they might be needed!), to help keep her cool. Walking anywhere during the daytime was out of the question – just moving brought us out in a sweat – so we were restricted in what we could do for the first few days there.
By day 5 things were starting to cool back down, so we were able to explore the backstreets and the stunning church. Ile de Re harbour area is beautiful and just a 10 minute walk from the site where we were staying.
Then the unexpected happened – what do they say about animals and children?
I was stepping out of the motor home with Bonnie dog on her lead, when she lurched forwards and landed awkwardly on the ground below. It was our last evening in Ile de Re so a planned stroll by the harbour was abandoned and we realised we’d have to get her checked over by a vet.
That was done on our return trip to Saint Valery Sur Somme and hats off to Helena, the manager of Le Walric site, who dropped us off to the local vet in her car. We then made our own way to a bigger practice 10 miles up the road for the more detailed examination involving an Xray, pain relief injection and some anti inflammatory tablets.
On the plus side we were rewarded by some stunning rural scenery which we didn’t fully appreciate until the journey back from the vets, relieved that it was nothing more than a leg sprain. Phew.
Overall , despite the unseasonable heatwave and Bonnie’s mishap, it was a great road trip and we’ll certainly be heading back there. On the way home to Cornwall we stopped for one night at the South Lytchett Manor site near Poole in Dorset – a perfect spot to break up the long journey back. It has been voted the 2021 UK AA site of the year and you can see why, though we didn’t get to try out the quaintly named St Peter’s Finger pub down the road – Bonnie dog was still only allowed short walks. Again we’ll be heading back to put that right!
My reading for this trip included Jude Lennon’s debut novel ‘Kintsugi’ which is a family story involving secrets and lies across the generations. It is a strong first novel – the author has already written a number children’s books and a collection of short stories. The story shifts deftly from the present day to the past after the main character, Eve, receives an unexpected bundle of letters uncovering disturbing details about her family history. Using a television analogy, think ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ with a smattering of ‘The Repair Shop’! If you like family sagas (with a twist) this is one to read. https://littlelambpublishing.co.uk/product/kintsugi/
As my friend often says, ‘time is elastic’. You can stretch it out to fit your priorities and he hates it when people say ‘I haven’t got the time’.
His response: ‘Well go and make it!’
To some extent he is right – you can often pack more into a day if you really want to – but then you also have the option of saying no, especially if you need down time and rest.
Having juggled a number of projects over the past few years, managing time has become more of a priority. My own advice is never to put more than three significant things per day on your mental or written ‘to-do’ list.
What – only three? Already I can hear the protests that nothing would get done if you focussed so narrowly .
The key is that little word ‘significant’. Of course we have any number of smaller tasks to get through in a day, but only a few can be considered important. By priortising the significant stuff – and strictly limiting this to no more than three things – you are homing in on what really matters. The rest can be fitted in, pushed forward, or even deleted altogether.
It is a system that works for me, while balancing time on written journalism features, a long term project, a new role in broadcast mentoring, being an adviser to the board of Coast FM radio and writing books.
Oh – not forgetting the Motor Home travel and Bonnie dog’s ‘Pets As Therapy’ care home visiting role. Both of these have been put on hold by Covid restrictions but are now starting up again in earnest. As I write this we have just got back from a short MoHo stop-over at Lizard Point – only a few miles from where we live but it’s great to have the freedom to hit the road again.
Lately, it is the creative writing that has taken a bit of a back-seat but that is about to change big time in the coming year. (Have some exciting news to report on this soon!).
When people ask ‘How do you fit it all in?’, the simple answer is that I don’t – sometimes life gets in the way with unexpected challenges thrown into the mix. Time is a valuable currency and has to be used wisely. It also has to include that all-important ‘me time’ which needs to be factored in with the same discipline as all those other things.
Overall though, this simple method really does work – give it try and see how it goes.
Bonnie dog has made her first return PAT dog visit to our local care home following the Covid lockdowns and restrictions. During the intervening 19 months, we have posted a few on-line updates for the residents – all created by Bonnie herself of course! – but it didn’t make up for being there physically.
Of course visiting isn’t the same now with lateral flow and temperature checks, wearing masks and being restricted to one designated area of the home. Still, it all went well, with the care staff enjoying it as much as the residents. We’ve seen first hand just how much happiness a PAT dog can bring and her regular appearances have been missed – it was heartwarming to see everyone smiling after such a long absence.
Another bit of Bonnie news to share – she is also a calendar girl with her photo featuring on this year’s British Cockapoo Society calendar in aid of Hearing Dogs. My friend Russ managed to grab a rare shot of her looking straight to camera!
Now for a cheeky bit of promotion given that it is coming up to Christmas. We all know what valuable work carers do across the board – whether in the care related professions or within voluntary groups and families. xButterflyBoxesx have come up with this lovely bespoke afternoon tea gift-box aimed at carers which includes my book of short stories ‘Shorts and Thoughts’ and all details are on Etsy https://www.etsy.com/uk/listing/903972491/finest-carers-gift-box-for-her-him-thank . Half of all the book proceeds go to the Social Worker’s Benevolent Trust charity swbt.org and I’m now one of their supporting authors. So if you are looking for a gift idea while helping a charitable cause, then take a look!