Ten Years a Writer

September 18th 2006 was my first day as an agency-based online news correspondent - my first day as a professional writer.

It was not, of course, my first day of being a writer at all; I'm 33 now and have been writing stories for close to 30 years. I taught myself to read before anyone else knew I could do it, and by the end of infants school there was a hand-stitched copy of one of my stories in the classroom's mini-library area.

You might imagine I've had a clear idea of what I wanted to do with my life, based on that, but it hasn't been easy. At A-level there were no creative writing classes, no after-school writing clubs, and it was only a last-minute decision that saw me switch from Geography to English Language.

At university I didn't make that decision in time, and wasted two years studying Physics before I realised I needed to switch. In a sense I'm glad of that, as the BA Language, Literacy & Communication degree programme I ended up studying was fantastic and I use what I learned from it every day in my writing and in life in general.

Charlotte Woods gave me the opportunity to join the programme, and Steve Jones - perhaps more than anyone in my further and higher education - made me feel like I had something special. Alex Baratta and the incomparable Ludovica Serratrice (probably the cleverest person I've ever met, and far far better at English grammar than I will ever be) made learning feel worth it again after years of it feeling like a chore. Three years taught me most of what I now value and built my confidence hugely - and gave me everything I needed to start writing as a profession.

My agency days weren't always easy either, as many of you already know. The first year or two were fantastic though. The office was quite new, and there was a real sense of building something together. John Mills knocked the last rough edges off of my writing, and Richard Pattinson offered moral support when it was needed. Both were (and still are) legends; neither will be matched in my career. Several of my favourite people are former colleagues from those days, and I'll always be grateful for knowing just how productive I can be when facing an impossible task against an unreasonable deadline.

I lasted (almost) five years - until June 30th 2011 - and have been self-employed since July 1st of that year, which means my five-year freelancerversary passed this summer. But today feels much more important: proof that whether employed or self-employed, permanent or contracting, I've got what it takes to flourish as a writer, a jobbing word-merchant for hire.

This has been a completely self-indulgent post because, after all, I'll only have maybe four or five decade anniversaries (I'm sure there's a specific word for that...) during my career, and this is my first. Although if I'm honest, I still sometimes miss making Chicken McSandwiches four days a week instead.

The Pedantulum Swings

There is a curse among copywriters - the inability to read anything without automatically proofreading it, too.

If you are friends with any writers, you'll know how hard we find it not to point out every punctuation, spelling and grammar mistake we see in newspapers, ad copy, even blog posts.

"Why do you do that?" people ask us. "Why don't you just ignore it?"

Well, y'know when you're listening to the radio in the car, and you drive under a bridge, and Adele goes:

"Never mind, I'll find CKKKRRKWWWKRR you-ooou..." ?

That's what it feels like inside our heads when we hit a grammatical speed bump. It's like static interference blocking out the message of the text; like the water jump in the steeplechase of the page.

Just as you or I might not notice one wrong note in a concerto (unless you happen to be a concert pianist, in which case I apologise...), many people can probably skim over a typo or an incorrect word choice without really noticing it.

But writers work with words every day, and we love them. And inside our hearts, there's this little pendulum marking out the metre of everything we read - tick tock, tick tock, nouns, verbs, phrases, clauses, all carefully constructed and sequenced to make the page sing.

And then you see 'stationary' instead of 'stationery', or 'forego' instead of 'forgo', or (more commonly) 'there' instead of 'their'.

Sometimes you get a really bad sentence and it's akin to the piano lid falling on the pianist's fingers - there's just no way to ignore it.

I call this the pedantulum, the rhythm of righteousness, the discord of truly dismal writing. It clocks us off balance good n proper, and no mistake.

So don't judge us too harshly for being pedantic - you have no idea how loud the proofreader within is screaming each time we see 'accomodation' or a 'desert menu' or 'food alergies'...

Echoes

Forgive the glitchy handwriting, this was written at 4am as fast as I could get the words down on paper...


Our footsteps will always echo in the places where we ran
hand in hand, feet flying, unafraid that we might fall
or pull each other to the ground.

Over grass we flew, over cobbles and concrete,
down the lane, across the street,
each somehow leading; neither, never, behind.

No broken flags to trip us, no bollards to block our way,
but a clear run, on and on,
out of the town and into the fields.

And there, a slip;
a sudden relaxation of my grip,
a hand once full, now empty.

You lead us now, my love,
down cobbled lanes into leafy glades,
always one step ahead
while I, behind, reach to take your hand once more.

My footsteps will always follow in the echoes of your own.

But you lead us now; look ahead, my love,
and never turn to look behind,
never, neither, try to find
my hand with your own.

My feet fly, never to fall, waiting for the day you soar
and climb within my reach.

Hand in hand, I will lift you higher, unafraid
while beneath us, in the places where we ran,
our footsteps will always echo.

'Echoes', December 9th 2015, 4:16am.

Believe

A modern ballad to the perils of getting dressed on a cold winter day...



(Skip to 1m 05s to sing-alonga-Henderson)

No matter how hard I try
I can't push my feet inside
If I can't break through
There'll be no stockings for you

It's so cold, I was freezin'
That's why, there's a reason
My manual dexterity's gone
Now I've got these mittens on, oh

Do you believe in tights after gloves?
I can feel my toes inside them now
But I really don't think I can pull them up, no

Do you believe in tights after gloves?
I can feel my feet inside them now
But I really don't think I can pull them up, no

Well I know that I'll get through this
And I know I'll get them on
I'm not freezing anymore
No I'm not freezing anymore
I'm not freezing anymore
I'm not freezing anymore

Do you believe in tights after gloves?
I can feel my feet inside them now
And I'm starting to think I can pull them up, oh

Do you believe in tights after gloves?
Do you believe in tights after gloves?

Need a Leigh copywriter, Wigan Council??

Shout-out to @80sNostalgia on Twitter for spotting this one - clearly my reputation as a Leigh copywriter and proofreader hasn't reached as far as Wigan Council, or no doubt they'd have hired me to edit their latest road markings!


Atherton is hardly miles away - it's within walking distance of my house, especially if you catch the wrong night bus and find yourself abandoned there - but with the road now clearly marked 'Liegh' there's not much feeling of neighbourly respect...

It's not even the best way to get to Leigh (or 'Liegh') as, unless you want to bypass the town completely and come into it from the far side, you're better off taking the undirected left turn on to - yup - Leigh Road.

Leaving Atherton in the direction of Wigan to get to Leigh is a case of literally going round the houses.


In case any proof were needed, Google Maps clearly shows the old road markings as of May 2015, complete with the correct spelling of Leigh!

C'mon Wigan Council, if you need a Leigh copywriter to proofread five-letter words for you, I'm right here...

UPDATE

Thanks to @leythdave we now know 'Liegh' has been scrubbed from the surface of the street and replaced with the correct 'Leigh' spelling, hurrah!

Update WordPress to Mobile-Friendly

If you have been affected by Google's recent 'mobile-friendly' algorithm update, AKA Mobilegeddon, I can help update your WordPress site to be mobile-friendly, using official WordPress plugins - no dodgy third-party add-ons or extensive website redesigns.

If your website is powered by WordPress (and I'm talking about using WordPress on your own website or URL, not having a blog hosted on WordPress.com) then it should be possible to make it mobile-friendly without needing a huge amount of work to your existing site template.

As of late April 2015, Google announced an algorithm update which means, if your website is not 'mobile-friendly' according to Google's definition, it will be penalised in the search results for searches conducted via a mobile device.

(It's important to be clear about this - only searches carried out on a mobile device will be affected, but in almost all cases it's still worth making sure your site is viewed as mobile-friendly by Google.)

Unless your website has a responsive design or a specific mobile template, it's very likely that it will fail the test - but simply updating it to be mobile-friendly can give you an edge over your competition in mobile search results for this very reason.

As I said above, there should be no need for extensive redesign work - I am by no means a professional web designer, but I can make your WordPress site mobile-friendly all the same, from an SEO perspective.

How do I do this?

I can install an official WordPress plug-in which will allow you to switch on a mobile-friendly site template just by ticking a box in your settings page.

This is the fastest and easiest way to get a non-mobile-friendly WordPress site to be mobile-friendly, and even if you plan to get a fully responsive website designed later, it's still a quick way to make sure you don't lose any more of your SEO value than you already have done.

In order to install and activate the plugin, I'll need admin access to your WordPress installation; many of my clients already give me a login so I can upload SEO content directly to their site, so there's no need to feel awkward about it, I know my way around WordPress and what's safe to touch.

To install the plugin I may need to update your WordPress installation, but this is very quickly and easily done just by clicking the prompt at the top of your admin screen.

What will it do?

Google look for a few specific things that could make your website difficult to view on a mobile device - links too close together, text too small, and so on.

Activating a mobile-friendly template means your website will detect visits from mobile devices, and show those visitors a stripped-down version of your site.

It will still include navigation to all of the main pages of your site, your main homepage content, and a link to view the full desktop version of your site too, so you're not making it impossible for people to find any of your pages - in fact, you're making it much easier for them to read the information on a small screen.

The mobile-friendly template is a standard WordPress one and is typical of most mobile sites of this kind; I'm not offering a web design service here and I won't be able to edit the template, but as a low-cost option or as a stop-gap until your fully responsive website template is ready, this is a fast and cheap method.

(To put it into some context, the method I'm offering here is the approach I have used on my own WordPress sites, and I'm perfectly happy with the results.)

How much will it cost?

I'm offering to:
  • update your WordPress installation (if required)
  • install the relevant plugin
  • activate the mobile-friendly template
  • confirm that your site is mobile-friendly
I can provide you with before and after results from Google's own mobile-friendly testing tool to show that the process has been successful, and show you how Google now sees your site on mobile devices.

Where we encounter any problems - unusual server configurations that prevent the plugin from working - I can offer a certain amount of troubleshooting to try to get it to activate correctly (if you've ever done anything like this with WordPress before, you'll know it can take a little bit of persuading sometimes) and if it's clear that it won't work for any reason, obviously I won't charge for the work done or the time taken.

If you have a standalone WordPress site and you need it to be mobile-friendly, this is the fastest, cheapest and easiest way to achieve that - if all goes well, the whole process can be completed in a matter of minutes, although I'm allowing extra time in each case for before and after testing, troubleshooting and any other delays.

For everything I'm charging a flat fee of £100 - by comparison, I've heard of some website owners being quoted over £1,300 for a responsive site template, so this is very much a cheaper option! And if I can't successfully complete the update on your site for any reason, there's no charge, so hopefully no risk.

Interested?

All enquiries are welcome, doesn't matter if you're a company, a sole trader, a sponsored blogger etc, the Mobilegeddon algorithm update potentially affects everybody so now is the time to act and make sure your site is mobile-friendly.

I simply need administrator access to your WordPress dashboard, and you should be aware that:
  • any updates are carried out at your own risk, I will follow the normal update process as outlined above, but if anything goes wrong for reasons outside of my control, I'm not promising limitless resources to put it right!
  • this is a one-time procedure to make your WordPress site mobile-friendly, I'm not offering ongoing tech support or any future updates if Google's algorithms change again, or a bespoke mobile site template.
That being said, I genuinely believe this is the easiest and best option for small businesses etc who just need to quickly make WordPress mobile-friendly to avoid losing out on any SEO value you've built up over the years.