Why my daily blog is going weekly

Sorry to all you lovely regular readers, but this blog is now going weekly because my life is insane (in a good way) at the moment. To give you an example, on just one afternoon this week, my schedule goes:

2pm: Job interview for great job I really want (fingers, toes and eyes crossed)

3.30pm: Meet the very funny Jon Holmes and record his comedy podcast The The One Show Show (which may well jeopardise my chances of ever being on The One Show again)

6pm: Watch my daughter’s drama school play Beauty and the Beast (she’s a bit grumpy as she wanted to play Belle but has the tiny part of Bookseller. At least she’s not the Beast!)

7.15pm: Dinner with friend I haven’t caught up with properly for over ten years (I’m cooking)

Other things I’m doing this week: interviewing the wonderful Richard Osman and Emma Gannon (separately) for my next book How to Live to 100; genning up for job interview and having hair and eyebrows done and laying clothes out and ironing them (of course); pitching a load more Daily Mash stories; ferrying my daughter back and forth to drama school (four whole hours of travelling per day!); making my daughter’s packed lunches plus breakfasts and dinners; shopping for dinner with friend; watching three episodes of The One Show in preparation for Jon’s podcast; going to Slimming World; etc etc.

So pulling blog posts from my overloaded brain and typing them up is quite tricky with all that going on. But I have really enjoyed these seven weeks of blogging daily. Thank you for reading and I hope you’ll check in here once a week from now on.

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This post has been made possible by my awesome Patreon supporters Peter Weilgony, Ricky Steer, Marc Alexander, Chris Birkett, John Fleming, Mary Clarke, Matthew Sylvester, Brian Engler, Jack Scanlan, Dave Nattriss, Musical Comedy Guide, Mark White, Lucy Spencer, Shane Jarvis, Graham Nunn, Emily Hill and Marcus P Knight.

They receive a whole host of exciting rewards in addition to this credit, including my secret never-published fiction and top secret photos! If you enjoyed this post, please support me on Patreon.

Rewards start from just $1 a month for my weekly Patreon email. It’s like this blog, but I’m even more open in it (if you can imagine that!)

The secret to success (well, some thoughts anyway…)

I once heard an anecdote from a famous literary agent’s assistant that made me laugh:

‘Every author wants a publishing deal. The authors who are critically acclaimed want to be commercially successful, and the authors who are commercially successful want to be critically acclaimed.

‘Every author is desperate to win an award. And those authors who win an award are most miserable of all, for they see the award as an albatross around their necks and fear nothing they ever do will scale those heights again.’

(Basically, every author is miserable!)

People definitely compare themselves upwards. None of these authors were thinking ‘It’s so great I have an agent!’ They were taking that for granted and wishing they were more successful. So there’s definitely something to be said for being extremely grateful for where you are now in life, rather than always striving for more.

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But if I had any advice for achieving your goals, it would be along the following lines:

Work out what you want to achieve. You can’t aim for a target you haven’t set. I know many people who want to lose weight, but that’s such a nebulous goal that it doesn’t focus the mind. In contrast, a goal to lose 4 stone is specific and measurable, and you know when you’ve achieved it.

Figure out the steps between you and your goal. Break it down into manageable chunks. For instance, today I weigh 12st 4.2lbs. To get down to 8 stone, I need to lose more than 4 stone, but right now I’m aiming for a ‘Club 10’ target of 12st 2.5lbs, which means I’ll have lost a tenth of my body weight since joining Slimming World. (SW is good like this – it rewards you at least every 7lbs.)

Recognise that you’ll fail before you succeed (especially true of weight loss). You’ll take two steps forward, one step back. If we’re talking creativity, everyone gets rejected at times; everyone has to produce more than will ever be published or used. Just think of all the many drafts of novels. Remember Samuel Beckett’s quote: ‘Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.’

Keep going. You’ll fall down, but make sure to keep getting up and attempting to succeed. You’ll be amazed by how many people fall by the wayside. The person who succeeds is often the last (wo)man standing. There have been so many times when I’ve thought, ‘Fuck it, maybe I’ll just stay fat!’ but I also know that won’t make me happy. So keep your goal in mind when things get tough.

You never know when your luck will turn – when you’ll come to the attention of a gatekeeper who could change your life, or just get an exciting opportunity. Last week, I was headhunted for a role. It wasn’t right for me, but at least that person now knows I exist.

I also got invited to debate Brexit on Good Morning Britain. They went with another guest in the end, but I wasn’t expecting the invitation, and the randomness of it cheered me up. (Though I was also slightly relieved at being stood down to be honest – pretty sure Twitter would have been unusable for me for about two days afterwards thanks to angry Brexiteers!)

Writers: remember to preface harsh feedback with ‘in my opinion’. I’ve been told before by a literary agent that I can’t write. It floored me; I had to remind myself I’ve written endless columns for the Guardian, and lots for the Spectator and the Sunday Times. That knowledge helped to reframe this person’s opinion as ‘in my opinion, you can’t write’. And, in less polite terms: fuck ’em. Feedback should be constructive, and that wasn’t. Metaphorically kick them in the fanny and move on.

People who aren’t gatekeepers will also be shitty about your achievements. Look at the comments section of any comedy article. You’ll find ‘This isn’t funny’; ‘That’s five minutes of my life I’ll never get back’; ‘I can’t believe [publication] pays for this crap.’ That’s cool: you got paid and credited and you aren’t the person wasting your life leaving negative comments. Put it down to jealousy and don’t let it bother you. The publication wouldn’t have run the article if they didn’t like it.

Realise that you have to adapt to life’s changes. The Guardian stopped running me regularly in 2010; it hurt as it was the paper I grew up reading, and I still love it. I’d write for it again in a heartbeat, but if not, other publications are available. I also really enjoy writing for the Daily Mash and writing books for Little, Brown.

Sometimes things change because of you, not your employer. I realised I wasn’t enjoying writing for television in late 2007, and made the leap to journalism after six years of telly. I used to love going into the BBC and being the youngest person in writers’ rooms, but now I go into the BBC as an occasional commentator and am sometimes the oldest person on the panel, and that’s OK too. Life changes and you have to change with it rather than be depressed by it.

Oh, and lastly: never self-deprecate! As someone wiser than me once said, ‘People accept the value you place upon yourself’. Keep telling people you’re rubbish and they’ll eventually believe you.

Thank you for coming to my TED talk.

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THE GREAT WEIGHT LOSS CHALLENGE!

Day 41

Me: 12st 4.2lbs (total loss in 41 days: 10lbs)

I need to keep going.

John: 14st 4.75lbs (total loss in 41 days: 2.75lbs)

John’s doing well again!

This post has been made possible by my awesome Patreon supporters Peter Weilgony, Ricky Steer, Marc Alexander, Chris Birkett, John Fleming, Mary Clarke, Matthew Sylvester, Brian Engler, Jack Scanlan, Dave Nattriss, Musical Comedy Guide, Mark White, Lucy Spencer, Shane Jarvis, Graham Nunn, Emily Hill and Marcus P Knight.

They receive a whole host of exciting rewards in addition to this credit, including my secret never-published fiction and top secret photos! If you enjoyed this post, please support me on Patreon.

Rewards start from just $1 a month for my weekly Patreon email. It’s like this blog, but I’m even more open in it (if you can imagine that!)

A Sunday Times travel trip, and a shocking revelation

No word from Richard Dawkins about yesterday’s blog, despite my tagging him on Twitter. I suspect he has muted me and is presently sticking pins in a voodoo doll of my image. Anyhow, on to today’s true story…

One sunny day in June 2010, I was on my way to Geneva, on my third travel trip for the Sunday Times. It was a walking holiday in the French Alps, and I wasn’t much of a walker. I was also having a full-scale nervous breakdown, permanently trembling and worrying about being killed, thanks to running the Atheist Bus Campaign and receiving an Inbox full of hate mail. Two months later, my mental state would grow so dark that I would no longer be able to continue working, and would start frequenting suicide forums instead. But until that point, I struggled on.

That day, in addition to my acute anxiety, I was also worrying about flying. I hate flying, and even though the Sunday Times had sent me on a fear of flying course the previous September and I desperately wanted to travel, I couldn’t quite rid myself of my irrational fear of planes. (Read my quite fun piece on flying here, or just the quite fun first paragraph if you can’t get past the paywall.)

My boyfriend at the time, who I was deeply in love with, accompanied me to Gatwick, and I sat nervously with him in the airport. Suddenly, he started crying big tears. ‘Oh baby!’ I said, stroking his face, full of emotion, ‘I don’t want to leave you either!’

‘No, it’s not that,’ he replied.

‘What is it then?’ I asked, confused.

‘I’m thinking about my ex,’ he replied, dabbing at his eyes. ‘I dropped her off here a few years ago when she went away for a long time.’

So that was nice.

But I had bigger problems: I had a whole world of fear and depression in my head, and had to get on the plane. It was only a short flight to Geneva – less than two hours’ duration – but I was still terrified.

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[An easyJet plane. I didn’t find flying in it so easy.]

Eventually I boarded the small easyJet aircraft, and settled into an aisle seat halfway down, next to a middle-aged man. Hoping to distract myself from the prospect of my impending death in a fireball, I tentatively struck up a conversation with him.

He was lovely and happy to chat: I remember that he reassured me about the safety of the plane, and showed me pictures of his kids. I showed him a picture of my boyfriend and told him how much I loved him (my boyfriend, not the middle-aged man. That would have been a bit forward).

‘Why are you going to Geneva?’ he asked.

‘I’m covering a walking holiday for the Travel section of the Sunday Times,’ I told him.

‘Oh wow,’ he answered. ‘That’s very cool. I’ll look out for your write-up.’

‘Thanks,’ I said. ‘How about you? Why are you going to Geneva?’

‘I’m on my way to a conference for work,’ he replied. So far, so dull.

‘What do you do?’ I asked.

‘I’m in armament sales,’ he said breezily.

Armament sales? This lovely man was an arms dealer!

I gulped, and tried to recover my composure. ‘And are you going to the conference alone?’

‘Oh no,’ he said matter-of-factly. ‘Pretty much everyone else on this plane is going, except you!’

I WAS ON A PLANE FULL OF ARMS DEALERS! I started freaking out even more inside, thinking the plane might be a target (for whom exactly, peace activists? I hadn’t really thought this through) but thankfully my fears were unfounded.

I made it to Geneva in one piece, and was met at the airport and driven to the location by the organiser of the trip. However, I was so sick with anxiety the whole time I was there, I failed to do any walking. Feeling guilty and unprofessional, I wrote the piece as though I had, but I actually spent all my time in the chalet shaking and crying.

On my last day, the organiser drove me up a hill and took some photos of me pretending to walk.

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[Me in the Alps. I am smiling for the photograph. Inside, I was dying.]

The Sunday Times never ran the piece, though I’m not sure why. They said they were very happy with it; it was slated to run, and they accepted a pitch for a further piece, but sometimes features just don’t make it into print. I haven’t written for them since, though I’d like to.

I left the boyfriend two years later (he was still in love with his ex, and probably is to this day) and never really got over my fear of flying.

I also never met another arms dealer, to my knowledge – though if they’re all as nice as the bloke on the plane, I wouldn’t mind.

THE GREAT WEIGHT LOSS CHALLENGE!

Day 7

Me: 12st 9.2lbs (total loss in seven days: 5lbs. Not bad for one week!)

If you’re wondering how I’m doing it, I’m mainly following Slimming World’s SP plan (protein and vegetables, no starchy carbs).

John: 14st 7.75lbs (total gain in seven days: 0.25lbs. Ahem!)

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He is an amazing friend though, not least because he’s making my diet look like a comparative success.

Also: I bring you the exciting news that I have some cheap-but-excellent new scales! They only measure in lbs or kg, so I’m not using them for weight for this blog – but just look at what else they can do!

I’m going to hit the gym even harder and see if I can get my body fat down to 22% and my visceral fat way, way down. My muscle mass is very good for a woman of my age though, thanks to strength training. I’m practically Arnold Schwarzenegger!


This post has been made possible by an arms dealer AND my awesome Patreon supporters: Ricky Steer, Chris Birkett, John Fleming, Mary Clarke, Matthew Sylvester, Brian Engler, Jack Scanlan, Dave Nattriss, Musical Comedy Guide, Mark White, Lucy Spencer, Shane Jarvis, Graham Nunn, Emily Hill and Marcus P Knight.

They receive a whole host of exciting rewards in addition to this credit, including my secret never-published fiction and top secret photos! If you enjoyed this post, please support me on Patreon.

Rewards start from just $1 a month, and yesterday a wonderful man called Mark pledged $5 to take me up to $100 a month! I’m hoping to reach $200 by the end of the year. Can you help? For $5, you get excerpts of my secret fiction, photos of me I’ve never uploaded before, and my weekly Patreon email. It’s like this blog, but even better!

 

 

 

My first ever (technically illegal) job

On Twitter recently, there was a trend for people to list five jobs they’d had. I’ve had some truly crazy jobs – and that’s before we get to TV sitcom writing, journalism and broadcasting. Here’s my tweet:

My first ever job as far as HMRC are concerned was being a cleaner at McDonald’s in 1996, aged 16, which I wrote about for the Guardian in 2008. But a year before that, in 1995 when I was 15, my dad employed me for six weeks.

My dad was often a physically violent, emotionally abusive, utterly deranged monster. I still have regular dreams (nightmares, really) about escaping from him and my mum, running from the house and never looking back.

But he could also be kind, funny and encouraging – and he and my mum were always very generous with money. So when I couldn’t get a job aged 15, he agreed to ’employ’ me for £4 an hour, writing sticky labels for videos.

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[Dad and me in 1982, when I was 18 months old. I was slightly older than this when I wrote the video labels.]

My dad taught at the University of Westminster (which was called the Polytechnic of Central London for the first half of his career). He was Course Leader or Lecturer on each of three degree courses – Film & Television, Media & Communication Studies and Journalism – and it doesn’t take a Freudian to point out that these are all the areas I ended up going into as a writer. Excuse me while I get the brain bleach!

Dad lectured several future celebrities, a couple of whom I now know – Charlie Brooker and Jon Ronson – and I ended up going to the same university for my own first degree (a BA in Commercial Music). Sadly or happily though, depending on how you look at it, Dad didn’t give me any contacts in the media, and he didn’t help me get into university either. I had to graft and do all the hard work myself. I got into television aged 21 after entering a BBC scriptwriting competition I found in a leaflet in HMV, and got into journalism at the same age after applying to do work experience at the NME.

When I was a kid, Dad would occasionally take me into work with him, and I once disrupted a lecture aged four by screaming ‘Daddyyyyy!’ after I got my leg stuck in a chair. My dad had to stride down the theatre aisle and rescue me in front of hundreds of laughing students.

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[Me aged four. My parents were not the best at framing photos.]

Anyhow, my dad had amassed what I believe is technically called a ‘shit ton’ of video tapes. For over a decade, he’d illegally taped films off the telly to show in his seminars – every day, he circled all the films he wanted to record in the Guardian TV guide – but all these black cassettes were in blank cardboard VHS cases with yellow Post-it notes on.

Post-it notes aren’t very sticky after a while, as I’m sure you know, so my dad wanted me to transfer the information on them to proper white adhesive labels to stick on the sides of the videos. He could have done it himself – he certainly had lovely neat, precise handwriting. But it was a menial and boring chore, so he delegated it to me, even though my handwriting was very scrappy indeed. And he actually paid me 25p more per hour than the £3.75 I subsequently got at McDonald’s for cleaning toilets!

So I spent the summer I turned 15 holding a squeaky marker pen in the Film & Television department of my dad’s university, hunched over a roll of sticky labels, writing titles like ‘The 39 Steps (1935, Alfred Hitchcock, 86m).’ It was very dull, but school was very dull too, and at least I got paid for this.

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[Me aged 14, when I didn’t have any jobs at all. I did, however, have a horrible bag.]

My dad was forced to retire from the university in 2003 when he turned 65. It was truly sad to watch, as he was crushed by not feeling needed anymore. Ironically, it was a bit like the film About Schmidt, as Dad kept on going into the building unpaid until he was told he was no longer welcome. He threw himself into researching his family genealogy for the last 13 years of his life instead – I think it was a suitably academic task that made him feel needed again.

Still, I bet somewhere in a dusty library in the University of Westminster’s Film & Television department are several thousand illegal videotapes of films off the telly, recorded by my dad and labelled by 15-year-old me.

THE GREAT WEIGHT LOSS CHALLENGE

Behold my toes, resplendent in neon orange varnish! I even partly waxed my legs for you, before I got bored and stopped. Don’t say I never spoil you.

Day 4

Me: 12st 10.6lbs (total loss: 3.6lbs in four days)

Hallelujah! Praise the Gods of weight loss. Yesterday I was downcast, but today it’s all turned around for me.

John: 14st 5.75lbs (total loss: 1.75lbs in four days)

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I am now doing over twice as well as John! Will he be able to catch up? Stay tuned…

This post has been made possible by my Patreon supporters Chris Birkett, John Fleming, Mary Clarke, Matthew Sylvester, Brian Engler, Jack Scanlan, Dave Nattriss, Musical Comedy Guide, Mark White, Lucy Spencer, Shane Jarvis, Graham Nunn, Emily Hill and Marcus P Knight.

They receive a whole host of exciting rewards in addition to this credit, including my secret never-published fiction and top secret photos! If you enjoyed this post, please support me on Patreon. Rewards start from just 85p ($1) a month.