Any writer tempted by the seductive pull of the travel pages should plan how to approach the task and appreciate the work involved, says Humphrey Evans.

Food: 54 Fairly Funny FactsHumphrey Evans teaches subediting and has been involved with the National Union of Journalists Getting Started as a Freelance course since its inception.


All material on this website is copyright © Humphrey Evans.
 


Humphrey Evans
 has put together a number of Kindle eBooks. Quite a lot of the material on this website has gone into two of them, making it available in what you may find a more convenient format. These two are:
Edit: 23 Guidances for Editors, Subeditors, Copyeditors
More Edit: 20 Guidances for Editors, Subeditors, Copyeditors


Subedit: 25 Instructories for Anyone Who has to Sub 
adds extra materials. If you're starting out as a subeditor or copyeditor, this could be the one for you. 


Other titles on offer include:
Freelance: 24 Pointers Towards Journalism That Pays
London: 14 Random Observations
Poems by Post: 22 Ditties, Diatribes and Doggerels
Food: 54 Fairly Funny Facts
Workplace: 34 Revelatories Hewn From the World of Work

Way to Go: 35 Advisories for Would-Be Travel Writers


Find out more at 
Humphrey's Kindle list

 


Far-flung beaches, great adventures, the best pub in Bolton or a subsidy for the family holiday - whatever your inclinations, travel writing can help bring the fantasy to life if, as the how-to books say, you just go about it in the right way.

 


Recognise first that good travel writing is hard work. A bland re-telling of jolly holiday japes ("Diarrhoea of a Nobody") may fill pages but will probably leave the reader cold.


Do some research. One writer set himself to find out when the bells in a particular church tower had been cast so as to establish whether he could casually refer to listening to the same peal as the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge.


Put yourself about. One definition of journalism is that it's writing down what other people say, and that applies to travel writing just as much as any other kind. Talk to waiters. Ask the local tourist board for advice. Interview people - you are, after all, trying to write like a journalist.


Check your facts. Other people following in your footsteps will be irritated if they turn up at a museum, say, on a dusty Tuesday, find it closed and realise that you could have warned them. The place is always closed on Tuesdays unless - in the kind of detail travel writers get used to handling - the preceding Monday had been a bank holiday or the second after Septuagesima, or whatever.


Work out what you are good at. One editor of a holiday magazine told me: "Some people are just wonderful writers who can capture the spirit of a place. Others are brilliant at facts, serious, comprehensive, handholding information."


Another emphasised what is gospel for anyone hoping to write for magazines and newspapers: "Please read the magazine before sending in articles or ideas. Nothing is more annoying - to us and the writer - than the waste of time involved in dealing with an article that is completely unsuitable."


However, by all means indulge your own interests. One would-be writer, just starting out, realised that her own responses to food mixed in with an upcoming holiday in Morocco ought to lead to something. The result was a piece on the street kitchens of Marrakesh's central square that made a double-page spread in the Food & Drink section of one of the quality newspapers.


Remember that travel writing is work. A writer of travel guides once told me about her 12 weeks' research for a book on the Greek islands: "Everyone around was tan and lithe. It was just me and the Greeks who were drawn and haggard and pale because we were working so hard."


Another travel writer, John Wilcock, the American author of a classic guide to Japan, says that listing prices provides sheer historical, sociological documentation. He provides another tip, pointing out that it is important to physically get around each place: "Climb to the highest point - tower, skyscraper, hilltop - to understand the physical layout."


Keep the receipts. In the long term, those prices will be of real interest to you when you look back on them after a few years but, in the short term, if you're earning enough from your writing to interest the tax people, receipts can lessen the levy. One experienced travel writer told me: "Keep all your bills - airline tickets, hotel receipts, credit card slips. They prove that you have been away and that you did pay that bill."


And brush up your writing. That may sound awful, but travel writing usually benefits from something a little more stylish than what appears on the more workaday pages of newspapers and magazines. So set yourself to pore over those purple passages.


So go - and may the going be good. Accept that the first footstep that begins a journey of a thousand miles is best accomplished by throwing yourself in at the deep end.


All material on this website is copyright © Humphrey Evans. 


 

 


Humphrey Evans
 has put together a Kindle eBook "Way to Go: 35 Advisories for Would-Be Travel Writers". This piece, Good to Go, provides the introduction for the book. 

And if you want to use a photograph taken with a subeditor's sensibilities, go to www.alamy.com and put prettygoodpics into the search box. Here you see a passageway in Beijing's Forbidden City which you can call up by putting BAFK00 in the search box.

 

 


Diarrhoea of a nobody

Travel writing has a technical vocabulary of its own. Make sure that you get to grips with the most perplexing word of all, says Humphrey Evans.

 


Holidays mean diarrhoea. Whether it's just one day of the runs, the squits or the trots following on from the salad of the bad cafe, or the full-blown agony of an entire cruise ship succumbing to a norovirus, the result is the same.


Someone's got to write the postcard home. Someone's got to note it down in the medical statistics. And, in the case of major outbreaks, someone's got to write the newspaper reports. All fair enough, except that no one can spell the blasted word.


For some time now, I've been teaching journalists the skills they'll need when editing other people's writing - things like spelling and grammar. I've taken to asking people on the various courses to write down the word diarrhoea before moving on to talk about dictionaries and spell checkers and other ways of getting to grips with recalcitrant words.


Of 30 participants, just three got it right, and one of those was using the American spelling. The rest were all over the place: diaarhea, diahorrea, diahiaria, diarrehia, diaorreah, diorrhea, dioherra, dihorea, diohoerria, diorherea . . . .


Presumably the problem lies in the fact that the word comes to us through late Latin from an earlier Greek formulation - Hippocrates knew a lot about diarrhoea - which means to flow through. The concept is fine. It's just that the letters go wrong because we're not used to the spelling conventions that come into play.


My own solution would be to rename the condition so that it's easier to spell. Dire Rear seems about right. It conveys the meaning while matching a much easier set of English spelling rules. It would certainly make writing the postcards easier.


Note to subs: do not run this piece through the spell checker. It just won't make sense if you do.


And real note to subs: don't delete the previous note. It is meant to be part of the article.

Subedit: 25 Instructories for Anyone Who has to Sub 


Humphrey Evans teaches subediting and has been involved with the National Union of Journalists Getting Started as a Freelance course since its inception.


All material on this website is copyright © Humphrey Evans.
 


Humphrey Evans
 has put together a number of Kindle eBooks. Quite a lot of the material on this website has gone into two of them, making it available in what you may find a more convenient format. These two are:
Edit: 23 Guidances for Editors, Subeditors, Copyeditors
More Edit: 20 Guidances for Editors, Subeditors, Copyeditors


Subedit: 25 Instructories for Anyone Who has to Sub 
adds extra materials. If you're starting out as a subeditor or copyeditor, this could be the one for you. 


Other titles on offer include:
Freelance: 24 Pointers Towards Journalism That Pays
London: 14 Random Observations
Poems by Post: 22 Ditties, Diatribes and Doggerels
Food: 54 Fairly Funny Facts
Workplace: 34 Revelatories Hewn From the World of Work

Way to Go: 35 Advisories for Would-Be Travel Writers


Find out more at 
Humphrey's Kindle list

 

 


 


Desperate freelance seeks work

 

Humphrey Evans, who has written for publications that range from The Guardian to Cat's World, as well as earning money as a subeditor and teacher of proofreading and the like, offers guidance to those looking to freelance.

 


My own preferred strategy for getting work is to sit at home waiting for the phone to ring. Often enough it does. But that is because the work they want me to do is subediting or copyediting and I make a point of looking through the ads in the 'Media Guardian' on Mondays and writing off to outlets that look in need of a freelance sub.
I do some teaching - of proofreading, that kind of thing. This follows on from organising the long-running 'Getting started as a freelance' day for the National Union of Journalists' London Freelance Branch.

Over the years I have written a fair number of articles and even a couple of books. One, 'Freewheeling', the Marks & Spencer guide to cycling, came about, I think, because the commissioning editor, a one-time colleague from my time on the staff of part-work publishers Marshall Cavendish, remembered me turning up at a dinner party by bike.

Right there you have a number of strategies for getting work: creative use of job ads, unlooked-for spinoffs from union activity, and contacts with past colleagues. You can find plenty more: the point is to do something.

Financial writer Richard Willsher, for example, runs a weekly ad in 'Press Gazette' which, he says, has brought him some good commissions. Over the seven years he has been freelance, he has written for some 75 publications.

He advises that the way to get work is to concentrate on work, not the fripperies of lunching with PR people: 'That wastes an hour of my time, plus an hour there and back.' He also advocates making sure that people know about your areas of expertise - before going freelance he had been an investment banker and editor of 'The Investor' magazine.

Andrew Crofts is another who advertises, regularly offering his services as a ghost-writer in 'The Bookseller'. Under his own name he has written 'How to Make Money from Freelance Writing' (Piatkus, ISBN 0 7499 1233 2) which suggests something is going right. One point he makes in the book is that commissioners want speedy responses. This means sorting out answering machines, e-mails or mobiles so that you can get back to them before they think of ringing someone else.

However, advertising succeeds only when there are potential clients out there. Worcester-based David Bubb, who hoped to earn a living from freelance proofreading after being made redundant as a typesetter, placed a small ad in 'The Bookseller' two weeks running. 'It didn't get me any work,' he says. 'Not one call.' Perhaps that was because Bookseller-reading publishers are already operating with banks of known freelances. David Bubb might have had more luck aiming at clients outside publishing.

Even with clients identified, you still have to determine what it is you are offering, whether it is experience, as with many who have gone freelance from an equivalent staff position, or expertise with particular computer software, or just willingness to work over weekends.

Valerie Mendes set herself up in Oxford some years back as the one-woman organisation Wordwise, announcing herself with a nicely printed tri-folded A4 flier to outline the editorial services she could undertake. Lately she has shifted into writing fiction, mostly for children, but remembers her thoughts about successfully finding work editing other people's work:

Put the quality of your work first and last. Clients will always come back to editors who can do a first-class job;
Always deliver on budget;
Always deliver ahead of schedule.

She also has some more general advice: 'It's a long haul, so hang on in there. Don't expect to make very much money. Never expect to be thanked. Never work when you're tired. And never, never work on alcohol - which you won't be able to afford anyway.'
 


Word of mouth 

Eventually, with freelance copyediting and proofreading, what you rely on is word of mouth.


One way of helping along the word of mouth is to take an active part in whatever organisations you think are relevant - which also helps with any feelings of isolation. Organisations such as the NUJ and the Society of Freelance Editors and Proofreaders are not primarily job marts, but you do find yourself meeting people in a similar line of work, and they do both publish directories, now online, listing the services individual members offer.

Both have branches spread around the country, although in London NUJ copyeditors and proofreaders will tend to be in Book Branch, while reporters, writers, photographers and the like congregate in London Freelance Branch. Book writers may head for the Writers' Guild or The Society of Authors.

Freelance copyeditor Penny Williams, who acts as volunteer PR co-ordinator for the SFEP, says that they tell prospective members that finding work is very difficult, but they do put a lot of effort into publicising and distributing their directory. 'Most people seem to get at least one job offer from it,' she says, 'which more than covers the £50 an entry costs.' Penny Williams is also aware of informal networks springing up in local groups where people with too much work pass it on. 'Some members even employ other members to handle work for them,' she says.

Some groups may be more social - such as the Freelance Media Group, which meets for a work-oriented sandwich lunch in Soho's Groucho club once a month - or aim to bring together people with something in common, as with the Women Writers Network or the Outdoor Writers' Guild.

Other routes to word of mouth involve such things as making sure that everyone you have ever worked with is kept aware of your freelance status.

Freelance writer Sue Barker, based in Shropshire, finds that much of what she does, writing educational material used in support of television programmes, traces back to a previous existence as a broadcasting staffer. 'People I used to commission now commission me,' she says. She does feel that life outside the conurbations makes personal contact more difficult, but compensates with a lot of e-mailing and phoning.

Even a simple letterhead can play its part. A South African journalist now based in Kent but still mainly writing for South African publications puts the line 'Covering Europe from a South African perspective' on everything she sends out.
 


Approaching clients

Remember that you are trying to persuade people to ask you to work for them. Bear this in mind when thinking about how to approach potential clients.

Given that publishers tend to have well-established routines for handling copyediting and proofreading, forget about urgent phone calls touting your presence as the new kid on the block. A mailed statement of what you can offer backed up with a cv-style outline of your past experience looks a better bet.

Liz Jefferis, (correct) who is production manager for the academic journals publisher Taylor & Francis Ltd, says that a phone call is no use at all, you must put it in writing. 'We put it all in a database,' she says. 'But it could be months, if at all, before anything happens.' New work tends to go to people already working on other journals, so effectively you are waiting for someone to drop out.

Similar advice comes from Victoria Jackson of the publishing recruitment agency Judy Farquharson. She says it wouldn't make sense for them to handle freelances. 'If you want permanent, part-time or temporary work actually in a publishing house, we can help. But if you want to work from home, all we can advise is that you write direct to publishers.'

Writers, reporters and photographers seeking more journalistic work equally need to look at things from the point of view of potential commissioners. Indeed, Women in Journalism found it had to tell its freelance members to lay off the hard-sell pitch at WIJ social events because the editor members were getting so fed up.
If you are working with news material or the kind of fast-moving features where decisions need to be taken quickly, then by all means phone or e-mail your contacts. For anything less urgent, think about sending a letter.

Alex Hamilton, in the days when he was travel editor of The Guardian, was among those adamant that would-be contributors should write in - he just wouldn't have had time to deal with them all on the phone. What he liked to see was a short synopsis of the proposition together with something already published. 'That way,' he says, 'I could see whether someone could write and whether the notion would stand up.' He was also keen that would-be contributors should suit their proposition to the publication.

Whether you are phoning up or writing, keep thinking about what the commissioning editor needs to know. Outline the idea but make sure you also add in why the ultimate readers will respond to it. Nudge the commissioner's imagination into seeing why it really is a good idea.

Go on to explain why you are the person to do it, whether you're the world expert, prepared to undergo the hardships, or sitting on the ex-directory telephone numbers of the interviewees.

Lastly, when seeking commissions, think how you expect the interaction to develop. It is true that freelance writer Jay Rayner did once say (on John Diamond's 'Stop Press' radio programme) that his job-getting technique involved phoning commissioning editors and talking away until they said yes. If you feel this pressurising approach is a bit beyond you, be ready to allow them time to think about their decision. In a letter, for example, you could say you will ring in a few days to find out their reaction, allowing time for editorial meetings yet hinting at a deadline.
 


Negotiating better deals

All this, with any luck, gets you to the point where they are saying yes to what you propose. They want you - so now is the moment to raise all those niggly questions about pay, hours of work, expenses, copyright or whatever.

Build up background knowledge. The NUJ and SFEP provide advice to members: the NUJ Book Branch newsletter, for instance, has featured a recommended minimum rate for copyediting of £17.50 an hour, which puts into perspective a standard house rate that might be offered. The NUJ London Freelance Branch website (www.londonfreelance.org) reports actual payments made: the London 'Evening Standard' travel (overseas) £450 per 1000 words, 'The Independent' diary item £35 and so on.

Experienced negotiators try to get the other side to name a price first. It could just be that they will offer more than you would have dreamt of asking. Experienced negotiators add in another principle - always ask for more.

Negotiating in this way is emotionally demanding, but put it together with some work-getting strategies and you increase your chances of a sustainable career. 
 


Build up contacts

Mitzi Bales, freelance copyeditor, active member of NUJ Book Branch, says:

'As a freelance copyeditor working on primary school educational materials for publishers such as HarperCollins, I know that finding that kind of work is very nearly always done by word of mouth.

'Editors who need freelances keep a file of freelances who they know and like and trust. Getting on that file is what counts.

'Some people sent out speculative letters with a cv. Editors ask people like me to recommend other freelances, which comes back to who do you know - you're constantly trying to build up contacts.

'Often, ex-employees are plugged back into the publishers they used to work for, established people whether they went freelance because they wanted to or because they were made redundant.

'In an NUJ survey last year we asked freelances how they found work. Most of the 40 people from Book Branch who sent replies said word of mouth.'
 

Promote yourself
Terry Marsh, writer, photographer, secretary of the Outdoor Writers' Guild, says:

'Editors don't know you exist unless you tell them - and you must go on telling them.

'When writers say to me that they're not getting any work I ask them what they're doing to promote themselves and often they're not doing anything. You've got to be sending out ideas to magazine editors on a regular basis - some will stick.

'Belonging to organisations such as the Outdoor Writers' Guild will help. It combats isolation. You get to know other members and, once you've built up mutual respect, you'll recommend each other.

'Self-promotion is the key. You need a decent website. Don't go for the free services: get a proper unique website address. Mine is www.countrymatters.net. It costs about £400 a year to maintain but it brings a lot of work. I tell editors that if they want to see my work they can look at my website and seven times out of ten they ring back.'
 


Ways to extra income

Seeking work - keep marketing yourself to new clients and keep remarketing yourself to old ones.

Extra sales - try selling something similar to different clients or something different to present clients, and think about syndication.

An editor leaves - present your ideas or services to the incomer, but keep track of where the leaver moves to, and hope for two clients.

Approaching clients - whether you use phone or letter, plan to roll out any unaccepted proposals to other outlets.

Retaining control - suggest deadlines for getting reactions so that you know what is happening.


If you want more of this kind of advice, turn to Humphrey Evans's Kindle ebook Freelance: 24 Pointers Towards Journalism That Pays


 

 Workplace: 34 Revelatories Hewn from the World of Work


Humphrey Evans teaches subediting and has been involved with the National Union of Journalists Getting Started as a Freelance course since its inception.


All material on this website is copyright © Humphrey Evans.
 




Freelance: 24 Pointers Towards Journalism That Pays 

 


Forensic science for writers
Put a dozen writers into a room with a real forensic scientist and suddenly all sorts of possibilities, gruesome and investigative, open up, reports Humphrey Evans.

 

Interfering RNA represents cutting edge science. Messenger RNA and transfer RNA have well-known roles in cell division and growth, taking information from the DNA of genes and turning it into proteins. Interfering RNA, the theory now goes, messes up the process. It takes the information and does absolutely nothing with it at all - no proteins, no growth. Imagine that as a magic bullet for cancer treatment. Or imagine it as the perfect poison. What if the RNA is not making the proteins the body requires? Who would know? What lab would be able to detect it?


Hang on a moment. Where did that idea come from? The answer is a seminar run by Dr Allan Jamieson, director of the Edinburgh-based Forensic Institute, aimed at writers of crime novels and television thrillers. People are here to brush up on their bruises and their strangulations, their decaying bodies and their false identifications, the ins and outs of forensic procedures.

John Fullerton wants to know about cut carotid arteries, for instance. How long until death? How far does the blood spurt? Dr Jamieson, Allan as we are happily calling him by now, lets us do the calculation: 100 millilitres through the heart at each beat, 65 beats a minute. With a completely severed artery you've probably got about 30 seconds and the blood isn't going to spurt much higher than your head. If the artery is just nicked, on the other hand, you've obviously got longer but the blood will be coming out under pressure and spraying much further.

John, curiously, has some knowledge of cut carotids. In an earlier existence as a journalist, he interviewed a doctor in a Beirut hospital who had had his throat sliced open by shrapnel from a mortar burst. This man had seen his own blood spray up to hit the ceiling. Luckily a colleague got to him in time.

John now writes political thrillers with his fourth, Give Me Death, coming out next month. His fifth has a big set scene in which someone's carotid is cut - that's why he wants to get the details right. Somehow, in the subsequent discussion, it becomes apparent that Allan and his colleagues are in the habit of taking their own blood - he makes a syringing gesture towards his arm - then coughing it up, blowing it out of their nostrils, spraying it around to see the patterns it makes, and waiting for the droplets to crust over and harden to see how long these processes take.

Theory only takes you so far. If you want to interpret the observations made at a crime scene, you have to do the practical experiments, right up to what goes on at the legendary Body Farm at the University of Tennessee where Professor Bill Bass leaves bodies around the place for months on end to find out what happens. 

Mention of crime scenes brings questions about how they are organised and what evidence is collected. "You can't scoop it all up and take it into the lab," says Allan. "It's only relevant if you can match it to a story."

He sketches out an outer perimeter to keep gawpers at bay, an inner one guarded by a constable filling out a log of who goes in and out. He throws in some personal observations, about the discomforts of investigating fires, say, dressed in waterproof overalls plus wellington boots with steel plates in the sole to prevent nails spiking through. And he mentions his personal belief that far more fires are started by arsonists than show up in the official records.

He also lists the people likely to be around: the senior investigating officer; scene of crime officers (SOCOs), who are as often as not called crime scene investigators (CSIs); pathologists, if bodies are involved; and forensic scientists if the police decide this will be helpful. That decision comes with budgetary restrictions - a forensic scientist is going to be charged out at £800 a half day.

You want to make sure your scientist really does know what he or she is talking about, too. Allan confesses himself amused by one case where a pathologist, looking at photos of a woman's body, strayed out of his own area of expertise to suggest to the police that they ought to be investigating some kind of skullduggery as her knickers were apparently on inside out and back to front. It took a real expert in ladies' knickers, from Marks & Spencer, to identify what he had taken to be a label, wrongly positioned front and centre, as a decorative bow.

By this time we've covered things like evaporation rates in alcoholic drinks; gas chromatography, which will tell you if a lemon has been added to a gin and tonic; differential rates of build up and decay of drug concentrations in stomach, blood and tissues; what happens to bodies as they decay; estimating age from the left or right handedness of chemicals in tooth enamel; and the ins and outs of DNA identification.

Allan has even let us see the problems the forensic scientists themselves are grappling with over matters such as profiling DNA from semen samples. Each sperm head has, once you think about it, only half of the DNA of the man it came from. So how many sperm heads do you need in a sample to have a reasonable chance of building up a full DNA profile and, by implication, what are the chances of getting a false match?

This is the point at which Allan the scientist steps back and Allan the facilitator of believable mayhem comes to the fore. "Make it up," he says. "You're the writers." He's not that bothered, it seems, about total verisimilitude, more about getting across an attitude about how forensic science should be used, about what kind of questions it should and should not be asked to answer. Talking to writers is just one facet of an approach that co-ordinates standard setting among fellow forensic scientists, offers advice to government and is pleased to see the Association of Chief Police Officers putting their weight behind a manual of procedures for police to follow at crime scenes.

Equally, the writers are happy to be guided by the science without necessarily being totally bound by it. Inspector Morse is a different matter from CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. Stephen Churchett, who has written for Inspector Morse and Kavanagh QC, says that as a writer he comes up with the story but then puts it to an expert adviser. "You need an expert who doesn't just say that wouldn't happen but who can go on to say what might happen," he says. Of the seminar itself he says: "I just like to listen to people at the top of their profession." And of where his profession has taken him he says: "Silent Witness sent me to view a post mortem, at Southend. That was humbling."

Eventually, forensic science is forensic science, and drama is drama. And Allan Jamieson is happily robust about the difference: "It's fitness for purpose," he says about what you see on tv. "They're not there to show people how to do forensic science. If viewers believe these people are true, then there's an issue there."
 


Humphrey Evans teaches subediting and has been involved with the National Union of Journalists Getting Started as a Freelance course since its inception.


All material on this website is copyright © Humphrey Evans.
 

Humphrey Evans has put together a number of Kindle eBooks. Quite a lot of the material on this website has gone into two of them, making it available in what you may find a more convenient format. These two are:
Edit: 23 Guidances for Editors, Subeditors, Copyeditors
More Edit: 20 Guidances for Editors, Subeditors, Copyeditors


Subedit: 25 Instructories for Anyone Who has to Sub 
adds extra materials. If you're starting out as a subeditor or copyeditor, this could be the one for you. 


 

Subedit: 25 Instructories for Anyone Who has to Sub 

 


Doorstepping with Nick Davies

Absolutely nothing happened to me on 22 April 2005. Or rather, what happened I can't tell you about because it was designated as being off the record, Chatham House rules etc, etc, so read on, says Humphrey Evans.

 


What I can tell you is that on that day Nick Davies, the respected Guardian special correspondent, staged a one-day masterclass in London on investigative reporting. And what I can also tell you is that somehow or another I seem to know an awful lot of useful stuff about finding stories, making contacts, working round the law and other things that go into investigative reporting - reporting of any kind, really.


Take doorstepping, the art of getting yourself through a front door without the threat of the hack pack at your back or the lure of the promised cheque waving in front of your face, both of which will get you minimal co-operation in any case.


Start with the clothes you're going to wear, something formal for a chief constable, something less so for a squat. Even colour counts: pastels are good, avoiding that skeletal glow that comes from white or the sinister connotations of black. Nick Davies, I can tell you, tends to wear a pale blue shirt - as does Tony Blair. Don't wear a coat or carry an umbrella, even it it's cold and raining, because you're looking to elicit sympathy.


If you're driving, park the car around the corner so you don't alert them to your arrival. And do the unexpected: when they open the door, step back. If you push forward all you'll discover is just how painful it is to have a door slammed on your foot.


Above all, try to think about what the world feels like to the person on the other side of the door. You have to find that thing you can say to which they can't say no. It may be as simple as telling relatives of someone who has died that you are planning to write a tribute.


Bombard yourself with questions beforehand: Who do they love? Who do they hate? Who do they trust? Explore their emotions - not yours. It may be that one way in is to offer them information, rather than asking for it. Think of the effect of saying: "I can help you find out what is going on."


A couple of people, representative of the 30 or so who, like me, can't tell you what they were doing on 22 April, offered praise.


Aliya Frostick, news editor of a Somerset weekly which paid the £117.50 fee for her to attend, said: "I wanted to come to re-invigorate my reporting. I hope that with any story I will be looking for other avenues, for that hang-on-a-minute moment."


Will Callaghan, working on the Men's Health website, said: "It will enable me to take a step further. Nick Davies is a real performer - fascinating."

 Freelance: 24 Pointers Towards Journalism That Pays


Humphrey Evans teaches subediting and has been involved with the National Union of Journalists Getting Started as a Freelance course since its inception.


All material on this website is copyright © Humphrey Evans.
 


Humphrey Evans
 has put together a number of Kindle eBooks. Quite a lot of the material on this website has gone into two of them, making it available in what you may find a more convenient format. These two are:
Edit: 23 Guidances for Editors, Subeditors, Copyeditors
More Edit: 20 Guidances for Editors, Subeditors, Copyeditors


Subedit: 25 Instructories for Anyone Who has to Sub 
adds extra materials. If you're starting out as a subeditor or copyeditor, this could be the one for you. 

 


Doing it in styli

Freelance journalists do need to tangle with the internet - and even set up their own websites - but resist over-optimistic blandishments, says Humphrey Evans.


Angela had me firmly located in the 21st century. Cold-calling, on the phone one afternoon, she told me her organisation could provide me with a self-managed website the minute I specified which of the three levels of sophistication I wanted.


When I said that I, as a freelance journalist, couldn't see the use of having my own specially-built website, she countered with an encouraging come-on: "The guys who do the demo will tell you how you can make money from your website."


I agreed that she could send me an email explaining more - although only after I'd got an assurance that there wouldn't be follow-up phone calls. She took down my email address, after I'd spelt it out, and that was that. Except it wasn't. She rang me back in about ten minutes to say the email hadn't gone through.


I didn't like to tell her that that was my experience with just about everything to do with computers and the internet. Vast promises and then the simplest things don't work. And I really didn't like to tell her that my attention that afternoon was firmly on 20th century technology, tracking down a replacement stylus for my hi-fi.


At some point in the 1970s, I replaced my Dansette record player with a proper turntable, amplifier and speakers purchased from, delivered and set up by a shop near the Finchley Road called Studio 99 at the instigation of a friend who enthused about that kind of thing.


When CDs and so on came in, I'd let the stuff go dormant but I'd never thrown it away - could you face putting a pair of polished rosewood speakers in a skip? At some stage I'd brought it back into use. I still had the records. The speakers slotted into a shelving unit; the turntable went on to a box in one corner of the room; and I discovered Oxfam.


Oxfam was where the records ended up that were being discarded by other one-time hi-fi fans. At that point you could turn up gems for 99p, although the Oxfam shop in Highgate now seems to be cashing in with a price rise to £1.99.


Some of what I've picked up has just been quality I couldn't afford the first time round - anything with the yellow blazon of Deutsche Grammophon, basically. Some of it is attractively interesting although perhaps not what you would start a record collection with - for example, Glenn Gould playing Liszt's piano transcription of Beethoven's Fifth.


And some of it just spoke to me in the way that something costing 99p does - Beethoven again, say, only this time Four Pieces for Mandolin and Harpsichord. I'm hoping against hope that the soloist, Maria Scivittaro, will turn out, despite what her name suggests, to have been born somewhere like Brussels or Antwerp just for the sheer joy of being able to describe her as a plucky little Belgian. And the record itself is a joy in any case, as jolly as anything.


But the little bit of grit in the oyster, the nagging worry, has been the stylus. What would happen when it wore out. I trekked down to Tottenham Court Road in the hope that one of the shops there could do something. The place I ended up was less a shop, more a sort of bazaar with each counter running an independent business. The guy they pointed me towards was confident, pulling out a stack of tattered catalogues, but when we looked up the names, Thorens, SuperE, nothing showed.


This was where I finally did think the internet would help, and in a way it did, although only at one remove. The turntable designation went in, Thorens TD150 MkII with TP13A tone arm, but all that showed up was a network of people swapping notes about what they were doing to keep theirs going. SuperE went in, and went nowhere. Stylus, on the other hand, brought lists, with photographs, of perhaps two hundred or so without any hint of mine.

What did show up, however, was a real shop, Musonic, in Watford, with a real telephone number, and a real young man on the end who actually knew about the SuperE. "It hasn't been made for 30 years," he told me. But he knew what to do.


"There is an E," he said. "That will fit, although it is a lower spec." I could have told him my ears were probably a lower spec than they were 30 years ago.


They had one in stock, at £27.50, which turned up the very next day by post. They've ordered another, which will come at some point. That, in the magic words of the gently aging, will probably see me out. Oh, and I probably won't be setting up a personalised website either.

 


Humphrey Evans teaches subediting and has been involved with the National Union of Journalists Getting Started as a Freelance course since its inception.


All material on this website is copyright © Humphrey Evans.
 


Humphrey Evans
 has put together a number of Kindle eBooks. Quite a lot of the material on this website has gone into two of them, making it available in what you may find a more convenient format. These two are:
Edit: 23 Guidances for Editors, Subeditors, Copyeditors
More Edit: 20 Guidances for Editors, Subeditors, Copyeditors


Subedit: 25 Instructories for Anyone Who has to Sub 
adds extra materials. If you're starting out as a subeditor or copyeditor, this could be the one for you. 


Other titles on offer include:
Freelance: 24 Pointers Towards Journalism That Pays


 

Novel routes to journalism

Journalists can pick up hints from anywhere. Here Humphrey Evans records his exposure to three intriguing novels written by journalists. 

 


What do journalists know of love? Who can tell? But James Meek, who has worked as a journalist since 1985, as a freelance and for the Guardian, has just won the prize for a "literary love story" awarded by Le Prince Maurice, one of the top hotels in Mauritius.


His winning novel, We Are Now Beginning Our Descent, whisks its love affair into being between two journalists reporting from Afghanistan at the end of 2001 in the Twin Towers aftermath. One detail stands out.


Each morning, we are told, our protagonist squats over the outhouse hole and imagines his money belt breaking and him having to retrieve it from the Marscape of ordure down there. That's not the detail. This is: "When he left London the pouch contained twelve thousand dollars."


James Meek reported for the Guardian from Afghanistan on the war against the Taliban in the autumn of 2001. Are we being told that this is what the average correspondent was toting, concealed in his, or her, trousers? That's the distraction of novels by journalists, about journalism - the temptation to look for hints about how the journalism was done.


Another novel, The Painter of Battles by Arturo Pérez-Reverte, pushes us up against another conundrum, as well as another love story. The conundrum in this case involves a war photographer caught up by the question of what responsibility he owes to the people he has photographed.


His love affair ended when his amour, another war photographer, stepped on a roadside bomb. Now, burnt-out and perhaps already looking for death, he finds himself tracked down by a former soldier featured in one of his prize-winning photographs. The soldier explains that he has come to tell him of the consequences of that exposure - in all senses - and then kill him.


Again, Arturo Pérez-Reverte has been a journalist, a war correspondent for Spanish newspapers and magazines for 20 years, and he has assured questioners that the horrors described stem from his own experiences. Again there are inconsequential details, a smiling Lebanese taxi driver, for example, to whom the photographer "was paying two dollars commission for every good photo he helped him get." Is that, indeed, how it is done?


And then a third novel, Born Yesterday by Gordon Burn, just is journalism. Gordon Burn, too, has worked for the Guardian as well as writing Happy Like Murderers about Fred and Rosemary West. Born Yesterday takes us through the journalism of 2007 - Madeleine McCann's disappearance, Gordon Brown stepping up as prime minister. And again there are these details.


At one point our narratee, the person about whom the story is being told, a writer, travels to Sedgefield for the by-election to pick Tony Blair's successor. He makes a list of items picked up from the late shop, then "next he felt he should add a description of the room where he was going to be for several nights in case at some time in the future he should need to recall the details." Is that how it is done?


Maybe it's pure coincidence that three novels by journalists which all feature journalism should come along so close together. Maybe this isn't the way they are meant to be read. But there's something to be said for finding another way of learning about journalism from people who have been doing it.

 


Humphrey Evans teaches subediting and has been involved with the National Union of Journalists Getting Started as a Freelance course since its inception.


All material on this website is copyright © Humphrey Evans.
 


  

 


Water, water everywhere

Subeditors work with other people's words so it helps to have a go at writing articles. Here Humphrey Evans records his meetings with remarkable plumbers.

 


My life has been measured out less in coffee spoons than by inundations. And, of course, by plumbers.


El Biggy took place by night in a mansion block where I was living in north London. The owner of the topmost flat had installed a central heating system by running an unlagged small-bore copper pipe through an unheated north-east facing attic, sweating it into the ancient lead pipe of the rising main without any intervening stopcock. There is a word for such a man: that word is architect. I'm sure all the paperwork was in order, there may even have been diagrams, but the first spell of seriously cold weather and the resulting burst pipe send a cascade down the walls of three floors of sleeping leaseholders.


The Fire Brigade hunted out an access pit in the forecourt of the block where they cranked down on a somewhat corroded stopcock. Any washer had long since perished, however, so they cranked down harder. Lead is marvellously ductile when first formed, but, over 50 or 100 years begins to crystallise. A couple of firemen heaving away may have stopped the immediate problem, but created another by cracking the pipe.


That's where I came in, because no one else seemed worried about what effect this broken pipe was having. Only when you've stood alone in a dark basement watching water seep through the brickwork and lap towards the tangled wires of 15 fuse boxes do you know what panic feels like.


The plumber I found, the one who told me about perished washers, ductility and crystallisation, was a recovering alcoholic who had once run his own building firm. After some grandiose suggestions involving a JCB, we eventually settled for running a diversionary plastic pipe around the problem, something that seemed to work.


Water always has this panicky effect on me. A stain spreading across the bedroom ceiling led to putting in a new cold water tank, although a calmer assessment might have diagnosed a condensation problem. Plumbers usually ask about the state of the roof as well, since rain getting in is more common than a leaking tank. Whatever. This plumber, tiny, bijou even, happened to be ideal for the job of fitting the largest possible tank into the smallest possible space.


It also gave us a new ballcock and valve. Ageing ballcocks stick. Usually this doesn't matter because people use enough water every day to keep things under control - but people go on holiday. This plumber told of being called to a house in Hampstead where the family had come back from three weeks abroad to find something like a small river flowing down the staircase.


Another plumber on another job, replacing a length of copper pipe leaking into a concrete kitchen floor, told me of another horror where builders who had spent months renovating and redecorating a woman's house up in Barnet offered to put up a couple of curtain tie-backs for her as one last service. Gaily they drilled into the wall, and straight into the pressurised micro-bore supplying the radiator underneath the window. By the time the plumber reached them, half the plaster on the wall was down, the carpets and the floor were sodden, and the woman was facing weeks of drying out, let along the work that had to be redone.


In comparison, my own last water wonder is nothing, a cold tap, just two years old, that suddenly stopped working. The plumber who came to look at it was an older chap, semi-retired, who sticks to these smaller jobs, replacing washers and the like. "These new taps keep me in business," he said. They're complicated - washers, O-rings, they just go." He spotted the kitchen mixer tap. "Ceramic valves," he said. "They go." And the radiators' thermostatic controls. "Rubber diaphragms," he said. "They go too. They don't tell you, but they do." A beautiful relationship looks like getting under way.

Workplace: 34 Revelatories Hewn from the World of Work 




Against the rub

Journalists make their mark in many ways, says Humphrey Evans. Victor Noir may have died unfortunately young, but his influence lives on. 

 


Paris, the city that did so much to make sex part of its attractions, has sometimes found itself embarrassed by a venerable custom that might be viewed as overly lubricious. And yes, it does involve a journalist.


The scribbler in question was the 22-year-old Victor Noir, a republican-minded writer on the Parisian La Marseillaise, who was shot dead by Pierre Bonaparte, cousin of the emperor Napoleon III. Noir was, admittedly, on the non-journalistic errand of delivering a challenge to a duel on behalf of his editor, so may have fallen victim to an unfortunate mix up, but his death was taken seriously enough to set off a 100,000-strong anti-Napoleon demonstration.


His grave, in Père-Lachaise cemetery, is topped by a life-size bronze statue showing him as he fell, arms flung out, top hat rolled to one side. Life-size, and life-like. So much so that the groin area of his tight-fitting trousers noticeably features what Le Monde has described as "un membre turgescent".


From almost as soon as the statue was lowered into place - it lies virtually flat to the ground and we certainly don't want to use the word erected - women afflicted by childlessness, and other love troubles, took to seeking help by giving the protruberance a gentle rub.


Gentle though they may have been, these cumulative caresses mean that those particular few inches of bronze gleam gold against the surrounding darkness. (So too, as it happens, do the toes of his boots.) Flowers and notes of thanks are left tucked into his top hat, which suggests some level of success.


At one point municipal bureaucrats decided these surreptitious caresses offended some sense of propriety. Railings were placed around the grave and notices banned, on pain of prosecution, frottements indécents. Public reaction was so strong, however, that the railings were soon dismantled. Journalism needs its icons. Death and the maidens, indeed.

 


Humphrey Evans teaches subediting and has been involved with the National Union of Journalists Getting Started as a Freelance course since its inception.


All material on this website is copyright © Humphrey Evans.
 



 


Beware the lures of training

Make sure you can see how training will lead to work before you hand over your money, says Humphrey Evans.

 


Just at this moment, I'm torn between becoming a forklift truck driver and a business analyst. The training course for driving forklifts looks as though it might be as little as £55. Business analysis costs a heftier £500 but the ad does say "Start work immediately!" and presumably they know what they are talking about. "Become a solution provider for a range of organisations," it goes on. "This is the latest career in town."


But what about this equally seductive adjacent ad: "Retrain Now in a Growth Industry . . . become an accredited Life / Business coach." They point out that 70 per cent of all organisations use coaching, so the £997 for the course could set me up for life, a new life at that.


Once you start noticing these ads, they come at you from all directions. Door Supervision costs £125 to pick up while a CCTV course is £170. That's watching TV isn't it? I could do that.


At the other end of the fitness scale I could become a Gym instructor or a Personal Trainer. I've seen them in the local park urging people through the next set of 10 push ups or knee bends. I could do that too.


Actually, here's one I think I couldn't do - or wouldn't want to: Close Protection. The course costs £1,195 plus £55 exam fees. I don't quite know what an exam in Close Protection would entail and I'm tempted by the notion of an exotic lifestyle by proxy. But I've seen enough films to predict that one course module will be called something like "Taking a Bullet for the Client" and I suspect that's the day I'll phone in sick, regardless of what effect it has on the exam results.


So far the income possibilities have been hinted at, rather than guaranteed. But here are some that seem to take that further step.


"Urgently required," says one, "motivated people to become Plumbers and Electricians. No experience necessary as we will train you. Salaries from £17,500 to £35,000." And here's another, this one requiring motivated people to become Web Designers, again with salaries of £17,500 to £35,000 mentioned. The telephone number to ring is the same for both, and both have a line of easily overlookable type at the bottom that says: "A contribution may be required."


Another ad invites people to train for an exciting career as a self-employed Alternative Health Therapist, giving a figure of £42,000 Pt/Time OTE. If I knew what OTE meant, I'd be better able to judge the likelihood of attaining it, but that £42,000 Pt/Time certainly looks tempting.


And then an ad offering training to become an Immigration Adviser or Housing Officer reveals a possible explanation for the plethora of similar offers. "Beat Recession," it says. You've lost your job, or never had one. Cough up the training fees, you think, and suddenly a new career will be yours.


But here's one last ad, for training as a proofreader, with a headline figure of £24 an hour. This is a world I know - unlike those of forklift drivers, web developers or alternative health therapists - and I know it doesn't function like that.


What I tell people who ask me about training as a proofreader is that if they find a job or freelance work that contains an element of proofreading they can easily take in the training that will enable them to make a go of it. But it just doesn't work the other way round. You can do as much training as you like but it won't guarantee a single offer of work.


Only one real message emerges - check out the actual job market before handing over the fees for any training course. If the jobs are there, fair enough. If not, you could end up with a skill, a certificate and a vague feeling that you've wasted your money.

 


Humphrey Evans teaches subediting and has been involved with the National Union of Journalists Getting Started as a Freelance course since its inception.


All material on this website is copyright © Humphrey Evans.
 


Humphrey Evans
 has put together a number of Kindle eBooks. Quite a lot of the material on this website has gone into two of them, making it available in what you may find a more convenient format. These two are:
Edit: 23 Guidances for Editors, Subeditors, Copyeditors
More Edit: 20 Guidances for Editors, Subeditors, Copyeditors

Subedit: 25 Instructories for Anyone Who has to Sub adds extra materials. If you're starting out as a subeditor or copyeditor, this could be the one for you.