Steady Yourself: How to Get into Journalism

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Last year when I left my home, my job and my partner in the space of a month, I think my Mum thought I was undergoing some form of mortal crisis. She’d come into my room proffering cups of tea and if not tea, then maybe a sandwich? The problem: I was bored. Bored of London, bored of office chairs, bored of washing a man’s pants. In the wankiest way, I knew that I am a writer. But a writer who does not write is, astonishingly, not a writer. It was time to stamp my be-Dr Martened foot down and let myself bloody get on with it.

I saw my Mum work days and nights to bring up two daughters on her own. I’ve worried about money for as long as I can remember. Somehow it enabled me to become a wily little fuck. But not a nasty one, wily in the way whereby I basically just told everybody I was a writer until I was. Until I’d sold all my possessions at carboots for rent money, subsisted entirely on water-porridge and written so much for free that I had a portfolio.

Never at any point during this, however, has it become easy for me to worrylessly submit any writing. I get readily nervous every time I send something, anything off; it’s always a battle between my belligerence and an acutely nuanced sense of vulnerability. I believe in everything I write and it’s a stupid position to put yourself in. I should maybe just go into copywriting and fart out puns, giddy along capitalism with some choice-phrased commercialised merriment.

Instead, I choose to sit in corners swaddled in woollens, legs splayed in spine-wrangling shapes whilst I scribble silently into notebooks. Within these notebooks are quotations and drawings, parts of plants or recipes ideas, various oddments and the odd cake stain. One harbours all the little things that make me laugh: the Mum who gets onto the tram and reaches up to grab the handrail to steady herself; her toddler echoes her movement and reaches up to grab up simply onto thin air. He looks up to smile at her in appreciation and shared motion. Elsewhere, a recount of overhearing an old man expertly and lengthily playing the harmonica on the street before spouting hot vitriol about how dreadful women are. He hasn’t seen his daughter for 33 years, she’s now 35: ‘That’s life’. Somewhere the daughter doesn’t know her Dad is sat on the street gregariously playing the harmonica and defaming her sex. I wonder whether maybe that’s a good thing.

I wrote flat out for a month to finish a play I started two years ago. These feverish throes saw me waking up at night slamming down my sleep-enabled plot points on my phone or hurriedly jamming scene changes into margins. I got it done, I sent it off. And then there are my articles. I’ve written before that ‘freelance’ is a word I’ve begun to use more and more synonymously with ‘imaginary’. Freelance work is stupid tough, freelance journalism is just outright hilarious. (The fact that Lois and Superman apparently subsist on journalist’s salaries is one of the biggest unrealities in the film).Editors are elusive at best, deadlines are tough and money is never mentioned. This is annoying, it’s as though writers are expected to feed themselves on figurative language alone.

On inconsistencies, writing itself is awake with them. Quite often I’ll come up with the words but it’ll take me days to work out where they’ll sit. Meanwhile, I sit belching out bad syntax and consuming ungodly quantities of chocolate. And then, of course, there are the times when words fall out in perfect reams and you half expect a congratulatory centaur in a linen apron to bring you a strong black coffee and remark something along the lines of, ‘Why, Miss Mimi, today you are your own muse’. I often find that these will strike late at night or early in the morning. There’s nothing practical or remarkable about these times, it’s simply when I get twitchy hands and my brain’s banging about too many ideas to be quelled with either sleep or breakfast. The latter being the only reason I’m usually able to get out of bed.

This week I got my first big break. It’s taken me 8 month’s solid work to whack my way upwards with incrementally bigger pieces of serious journalism but now I can proudly say that I officially work as a Book Reviewer for the largest Arts magazine in Australia. There’s hope yet, friends, and there’s higher places too. If I’m reaching up and grabbing the air, not quite making the bar, I’m going to be smiling as I keep reaching. 

Meanwhile, I’m happy and self-sufficient and it all comes down to wanting to take something seriously and, because I knew it could never be myself, then it had to be my writing. To document all the thousands of little lovelinesses, to bewilder the masses with my rampant rationalisations, to call out all the willy-wavers who’d rather have women put energy into starving themselves and contouring their noses thinner with skin gunk than investing in and exercising their talents. If you really want it, simply pick up that pen and don’t let go. 

Five Things to Get You on your Way 

It might not be necessary for you to perform such a physical form of catharsis, for you it might be as simple as changing your washing powder. But, if you’re ready to steady yourself and get scribbling, I’d highly recommend fulfilling the following.

Start Reading 

Everything from Private Eye to singing aloud your shampoo ingredients from the bottle in the shower. Get used to the sounds, the sibilences, the various rhythms of things. Look up words, then use these words, make up new words. Start noticing when people use the rule of three.

Designate a Notebook 

This is the first step of creating yourself some space. Next, fill it with your wordy wisdoms. The most important thing to identify at this point is whether sitting down and scrawling out the insides of your skull is something you actually enjoy doing and furthermore: can see yourself doing continually, to earn your rent money, to be an adult with a job. You can’t be a romantic here: if frantically sharpening pencils and staring into the wordless abyss hoping only to yank out maybe one appropriate adjective after an hour’s worth of tears isn’t, in fact, your life ambition, it’s time to write yourself off. I’m being hyperbolic but this is important: there’s a difference between writing as a hobby and writing for money to live on. Decide where you’re at.

Write Some Articles 

About anything. Review a film you’ve seen or engage with a waffling meta construct about how to be a journalist. Publish them yourself on a blog (reference my very own ‘Bloggadike’ if you wish to witness the mortifying beginnings of my writerly nascence) or keep them to yourself and look back on them to further gauge and solidify your style. Next, approach people.

Email All Editors 

This is where your research skills kick in. Start furtively photographing editor’s email addresses out of magazines in newsagents, identify the websites which look like they may need writers, search for local magazines (Instagram is insanely useful for this with its suggestion tool, follow one and many more will line themselves up for quick perusal). Once you’ve got some ‘YES’es, start forecasting this writing for free. You’re building a portfolio, one which will enable you to later land something that’ll pay you real world monies. Essentially, detail your trajectory and hone your skills with these freebies to carve a niche for yourself on how you’ll wish to be employed further down this line.

Ask the Awkward Questions 

Most of these will be financial. For some ever-irrational reason, no-one will talk money to you. Sometimes not even until the article is published and you’ve sent them 5 emails in the space of four swiftly drawn breaths. Therefore: ask first, be blunt. Know how much you charge and, regrettably, know too that you’re not going to be able to garner much paid work initially… For a good year… Maybe two… Sorry. If you follow the advice above though and selectively secure yourself that preferred niche, at least by the time you are paid it’ll actually be for stuff you care about.

And, for some much needed quid clarification: expect to be paid around £100 for approximately 1000 words for your first job(s). Progress to almost double that once you’re starting to gain some ground and can approach the larger publications with a wealth of articles and expertise. This will only increase once you’re starting to specialise, just keep going mates! And if you’re wanting to do some copywriting on the side to ensure the continuation of a healthy cheese and cake habit, then typical rates for this level around £30-40 ph.

I wish you luck, I wish you good words and if you get stuck: revisit your favourite wordsmiths. For me, Frank O’Hara, every time.

R’as Al Ghul 

Sometimes I wake up with words or phrases whacking themselves around my head. I’m not sure whether this is because I like words or whether this is because I’m a nutcase. This morning’s word was R’as Al Ghul. This is important for no reason. 

I’ve found justifying this post difficult: my recent antics mostly involve sugar-psyched gallivants and necessity-knitted woollens for this Melbourne winter: my new creations include a red bobble hat and half a sock. This perusal of contented, layer-swaddled days recently lead me to a prize revelation when leaving  restaurant review with a belly full of mushroom brunch. I was feeling contentedly digestive when I saw a fat pigeon with one toe and realised that it was my spirit animal. I’m sure we’re all pleased. 

Last month I found myself turning 24. I was prepared, I had a 7-day strong cake plan and an intent to garner as much celebratory rigour as possible. It worked out well for me, especially as it coincided with my starting work as a chef which nicely justifies the consumption of whole teaspoons of butter-icing. Finding myself back in a commercial kitchen with dough hooks and pans abound has been a perfect joy. If you want to witness this ingredient-based Elysium, pop down to Smith & Deli of a weekday: I’ll be the one jauntily bobbing up and down with spoons gurning like a happy goon. The baked goods include Peanut Butter and Chocolate Pretzel Cookies or a Hazelnut and Pesto Scroll Bun with a Lemony Tahini Glaze. Upon seeing the latter, the floor manager exclaimed, ‘Wow, you’re fancy as fuck aren’t you!’. I blushed my pride and mumbled goof as any good English woman knows how. 

Elsewhere, I have adventured around the Philippines and Singapore with my friend and all-round powerbabe, Disha. In our three weeks o’frolics we became certified open water divers, street food seekers, commendable poker players,  and improvisers of wet t-shirt based air cons to survive the night time lows of 35 degrees. I finished reading The Handmaid’s Tale. Holy Womb, the best of books. Incidentally, the heat in Asia is such that it melts book binding glue and the pages flap out; never was there such an accompanying visual metaphor to a novel of distopyoan collapse. Upcoming adventures include a trip to Phillip Island for a FOUR HOUR WHALE WATCHING BOAT TRIP and a two week camping trip in Tasmania with my future wife, Caitlove who’s flying over to be a gift to me at Christmas! We’re going to climb mountains and carefully drink ciders in the kelp forests in the sea. 

Lastly, letters. Oh, you glorious lot of pen and envelope keepers: they are all so marvellously witty and gentle and brilliant. I have them up all over my room, tucked into my notebooks and sometimes nestled neatly in my pockets. I love and miss you all as much as there is fluff in/ on Trump’s skull vacuum. I shall endeavour to be less of a flying shambles in future and reply to you all dutifully and have more to say on a blog post other than I’m happy and bake biscuits professionally now. 

Also, you all need to watch The Castle. 

Farm Thighs 

I am offensively happy. I often catch myself singing in public (should probably stop that), my beauty babe Helena and I are posting each other cake diaries and I throw myself into every body of water I come across, swimming costume or no swimming costume. The highlights of my inner Selkie (half seal, half human hybrid: I’m not elegant enough to be a mermaid) include Massage Ponds in Eungella where you can couch in the cascades and let the falling water take your shoulder tensions downstream and Wottamolla which is a cove, lagoon AND beach. At Massage Ponds I came across a floating log scattered with blue and green Terrapins and I lost my pants and my earrings at Wottamolla after throwing myself off a 9m high rock into the lagoon. From there you can swim across the river to the beach and walk your way down to the sea.
It’s a good job I love water- I got flooded out of my tent in the rainforest twice. It rained so consistently the first week that my hair didn’t dry for 5 days straight and I think I became my own eco-system; the second time came in the form of hurricane Debbie and she was a persistent bitch. Thankfully nothing can persuade my appetite that it’s not the most important thing in the universe, and the Temple Kitchens were a beautiful source of respite. 

The Hare Krishna Organic Farm is settled in the middle of an extinct volcano in the New South Wales subtropical rainforest. Breakfast and dinner are served in the Temple at the tip top of the hill, you eat together on matts on the floor and are served ladlefuls of rice, dals, curries and many other splendid things out of buckets. Before you are allowed to cook in the kitchens, you must mediate to dispel bad energy and purify yourself with fire so that you don’t cook any negativity into the food: eating together is an act of sharing and community not to be ruined by my rampant PMT. 

Spirituality is one thing, but silly rules are another. In the spirit of abstinence, physical contact is mostly disallowed. A friend was confronted with this argument after having hugged someone: ‘What if they’d just been for a shit?’. Based on such strong and reasoned evidence, I’m certain he’ll never be hugging anyone ever again. 

In other news, my farm partner Jo and I found and bought a van we’ve christened Tough Little Nugget. Jo and I share the exact same birth date in 1993 and we arrived in Melbourne to the same hostel on the same day. As a pair are 3/4 British and 1/4 German, this meant regulated spontaneity with results. In the three weeks we spent travelling together, we managed to dreadlock her waist length head of hair and kit out the van with a mattress and double bed for less than $30, many allen keys, saws and swear words were involved. She’s still at the farm and I’ve journeyed to Sydney for 10 days before loping back to Melbourne where much recipe testing and writing awaits, there’s some really exciting things to come … (I’m building my own recipe site and there’s talk of a book…). 

Peanut Butter Cookies


First month in Australia accomplished; seen a kangaroo, screamed at a stick I thought was a snake, learnt what ‘bogan’ means and burnt the skin off my back because apparently throwing myself off a rock into the sea for about 12 hours solid means sun cream comes off, fucking useless. I have been baking and cooking for the beautiful family I’m staying with and am in talks with a restaurant to cook and host my own supperclubs!! 

Will be spending the next month travelling first to Brisbane, staying for 2 weeks on a Hare Krishna organic farm and yoga retreat where I plan on becoming bendy and zen (zendy) only to finish up with my cousin in Sydney for double Biggadike road trip adventures.

But for now, biscuit joy:

I limit myself to only making these once a month and preferably in the company of others; all are eaten within the half hour, company or no company. This recipe has taken inspiration from the beauteous biscuits baked at Luminary Bakery, my version is a hybrid of their recipe and my own and is easily altered to be Gf and Df if desired…

Preheat oven to 160

Ingredients:

200g crunchy peanut butter

100g brown sugar

1 egg

1tbsp plain flour

100g chocolate 

(I like to use half white and half dark) 
1. Beat the PB with the sugar until smooth

2. Beat in the egg, followed by folding in the flour and the chocolate.

3. Take your lined baking trays and scoop out teaspoon sized bundles onto the tray. 

4. Using your hands, roll them into soft spheres and space them in rows 6cm apart. Go through and squash them slightly with the back of the teaspoon. 

5. Sprinkle over sea salt flakes and pop into the pre-heated oven for 12-15 minutes. They should be golden but still a little gooey when they come out. 
Your head will be convincing you otherwise but, surprisingly, they will be hot when they first come out. Leave for a good five minutes before shoving them all into your face.
Tummy Tips

-Vegan Version: 

Replace the egg with 20g of butter, and a good sprinkle of chia seeds. Only use 180g PB and it’s best to chill the spheres for at least 20mins before baking to firm them up. 
– GF version 

Simply omit the tbsp flour, they’ll be softer and greaser (yum). 

Revelations on my Own Ignorance 

This first week in Melbourne has seen me deathly tired, supernaturally pumped yet regrettably without the undead’s necessary apathy to spiders. Insects so far have been minimal but there are fruit bats abound and I swam into a be-barnacled glove in the sea which I believe to have been Poseidon’s own.

I have ice cream, coffee and watermelon 10 times daily; I spend hours staring at new flora and have started a collection of seed pods. Amongst all of this I have my first Australian commission for an article and begin my first cheffing stint at the glorious Kinfolk on Monday- she’s a social enterprise cafe who uses local, organic produce and shall be my hostess for a while. This mostly means me being back in a kitchen (OH GLORY BE!) and many photos of the delicious from Monday through forever. All this wonder, however, has defined fully the very obvious failings of my British Brain. Here are a select few of my biggest failings so far:

1. I am very ignorant about artsy culture outside of Europe, probably even outside of London. From David Gulpilil to Rosslynd Piggott, I have no idea. Look up Piggott’s painting, ‘Tattoo’ – it’s how I’ve felt when I’ve told people I love them for the first time: gruesome, bare and theatrical.

2. Birds stand still and open their beaks because they are hot, not because they’re trying to speak to me.

3. Olive oil is an ice-cream flavour. It is delicious, unless you don’t like olive oil in which case you’re already a fool.

4. London’s hipsters are but Hairy Babies.

(Read: Fitzroy is terrifying and beautiful and the locals here have their own coffee bean-based barter system because money doesn’t grow on organic, worker’s Union farmed trees. Or even little bushes).

5. I must refrain from having more than one coffee a day. Makes me mental. And poor. And like I’m going to vomit up a physical form of Limerick.

My sister, however, wrote me a letter which she stole into my rucksack as I left. It is such a beaut of a letter that the envelope is already wearing soft from my re-readings. On the occasions I’ve felt a little alone or unsure, I’ve spoken- as loud as I dare- the mantra she’s gifted me: FEAR ME FOR I AM STRONG. I come from a veritable dynasty of strong-ass women. We can crack walnuts between our cheeks. And by walnuts, I mean chauvinists. But everyone’s predisposed to feeling a little delicate now and again.

Follow Your Stomach

My January to do list is now scarily near completion. February’s to do list is much less packed: ‘Don’t miss flight, remember to have time of your life’. If I manage to successfully board the plane, I will be travelling 48 hours to Melbourne where I intend to stay for a year and eat my way to becoming a proper chef with pastry skills and sauce expertise and many many recipes covering the blog, my notebooks and maybe even tattooed onto my skin. 

Two years in London have seen my days transform from bum-skin skintness and water porridge to food-filled restaurant reviews and recipe testings with some of the kindest, most talented people I have ever met. In the hope of continuing my lucky streak, and of the perpetual satisfaction of my stomach, I am embarking on the best of adventures- namely a world wide kitchen touring one. I’ll be working all over from Social Enterprise cafes to Organic Farms to massive yachts and writing up all the delicious I can find. 

Australia for a year, New Zealand, Japan and then South East Asia. From there I will be heading back to tiny Lincolnshirean Harrington and the family farm by any route which seems most sensible at the time and staying with anyone divvy enough to let me in their near proximity with a wooden spoon and a spatula. 

When I’m back in England if anyone comments on the 8 stone I’ve amassed whilst away, be aware your invite to the restaurant I will open when I’m an adult will be irrevocably rescinded. 

Seville

My friend who lives in Seville says that she’s never seen as much rain in the city as fell in the 5 days I was there recently. My trusty DMs broke right across the sole and so I had to wear multiple plastic bags over my socks to prevent gangrene. Being wet, mostly lost and with unprecedentedly noisy shoes did not, however, decrease the glory of this be-tiled Andalusian town of food, many churches and sometime terrifyingly heavy rain.

Once my friend managed to convince me not to eat the oranges (these are the special Seville oranges, very bitter unless boiled down with sugar into delicious marmalade) she told me the fable of the Orange Trees. It goes a posh man in Seville, a nobleman or something similar, had a girlfriend who wanted to move to Granada where it snows. He didn’t want her to move to Granada and so asked her to wait until the Spring. In the meantime he went on a planting spree and planted Orange Trees LITERALLY EVERYWHERE so that by the time Spring came he took her outside and shook an Orange Tree’s blossom on her and pretended it was snow. Apparently she moved to Granada alone. Someone else told me she stayed, I think this person might have been in denial.

Seville is a city of limited resources and incredibly bloody history meaning that with every new civilisation (first Islam, then Judaism, then Christianity) the buildings of the previous settlement were kept and re-appropriated. The main tower of the cathedral is still very ostensibly a minaret. It also is 17 storeys tall and has a grand total of no steps, it is instead ramped so that the bell ringer can reach the top on a donkey as opposed to his own feet. Another good place for exploration is Triana: the gypsy village relegated to the other side of the river where their colours, dancing and general cackling couldn’t disturb any of the conservatively Catholic locals. They set up their settlement with such joyous vibrancy, however, that in the end Seville decided they’d quite like to be friends but were satisfyingly refused by these lovely gypsies.

And now for the food! Although familiar with Gazpacho, I had no idea about Salmorejo and even less idea about how to pronounce it. It’s Seville’s special recipe Gazpacho, still cold but much creamier because bread is blended into the soup! It is so delicious, you’ll find it served with egg and jammon atop and the best place I found to have it was in a little cafe called Génova where the waiters preternaturally aware of when you’ll need your next top up of beer. If instead you’re in the food mood for a whole fried goats cheese well then, my friend, you need to head over to La Bodega Santa Cruz on the Cathedral Square. It’s technically tapas to be shared but the other tiny forks on the cheese plate went into my companions’ hands if they tried to get anywhere near it. You can get whole deep fried anchovies (boquerones) at this Bodega and the thrill of seeing your tab written out on the bar.

A less lovely thing about Seville was The Spanish Inquisition who were so insidiously present that they trained people to smell the breath of the converted Jews to see whether they could smell pig fat. Knowing that traditional Spanish cooking calls for lots of lard and that Jewish people would prefer not to use said lard, these Secret Sniffers would pally up to people at church and attempt to catch a whiff of vegetable oil in order to denounce them. Nicer Pork stories can be found in Aracena, the small town in the region of Huelva where, as a Spanish friend told me, ‘all the pigs grow’. As well as boasting the tastiest pigs in Spain, there are also the Gruta de las Maravillas, caves with icy 10m deep lakes and ‘the chickpea walk’ where the stalagmites are so teensy that it really does look like a can’s been emptied all over the floor.

The one place you must see is the Alcazar. I arrived on my final morning and wished I’d turned up on my first morning with a tent and set up camp there forever, even despite the biblical rains. It is palatial and beautiful with gardens, history and an astonishingly riveting tile museum. It’s the combination of all the separate culture’s palaces all built into each other and it probably best enjoyed wandered around with a cool cerveza and dry feet.

 

 

What to do on a date when you forget what words are and how you use your limbs.

The remedy to this is simple: you remember that your date is more scared of you than you are of them. Especially now that you seem to have become a limbless, incapable mute. FYI: you are a capable human being who has successfully held at least one conversation before, have faith.

Dates are some of the weirdest situations you will find yourself in. You want to show only the good bits but without just coming across as the chief of bombast and self-obsession. The number of times I have spilt food down myself, fallen over and one time straight-out just landed in the sea are times I can now look back on fondly, because in truth, they are not that far from how I behave normally. The fact is that it’s just the circumstances that make you judge your own actions more than you normally would. So, take this golden nugget of advice from me: stop being so self-conscious. If they don’t like you for who you are, that’s that then, NEXT! Here are some of my own embarrassing date stories and their concomitant solutions to help you think of ways to deal with the all-body awkwardness.
I once managed to drop a whole pickled egg out of my mouth onto the floor on a date. I still don’t know how or why this happened. What I did about this is that I laughed at it and then walked away as if to pretend that the egg was completely disassociated from me and whatever the hell had just happened. I believe this tactic worked.
Picture this, second date: you’re arriving on a train. He’s standing on the platform with flowers. You rush over and whilst taking the flower, simultaneously kick over his coffee and then slip in it. Blame him. My work here is done.
Once, a guy I was on a date with asked me if my parents had had a ‘nice divorce’. I am still fairly certain that I had never mentioned the fact that my parents are divorced AND it was a first date AND I took issue with the word ‘nice’ (Why not lovely?!). Rather than immediately assuming that I was the very obvious product of a ‘broken home’, I assumed that this was projection and that he really wanted to answer that question himself. And holy turd did he…
There are always the dates where you seem to spend most of the time waiting for the guy to make a move. Why are you waiting, if you want to kiss them then just go for it. This, inevitably, leads to head-butting the shy man who fundamentally disapproves of the fact that you’ve just dropped a pickled egg out of the self-same mouth. Offer them some of your hipflask afterwards as recompense. Basically what I’m saying is stop giving a shit. And stop trying to impress. The whole point is that you have fun too, it’s not a performance and it certainly isn’t a sales pitch. Anyways, silliness and fun is memorable in a way that spending 3 hours on your eye makeup isn’t. Go out there and have some fun. 

Pancakes

The simplest and most satisfying of meals. And a good one to make in the morning before you’re even awake, especially because everyone knows that calories eaten whilst unconscious don’t count. (If they ever do).

This will become your pancake failsafe.
It is essentially an american pancake recipe but use it to make BIG pancakes out of. They are soft and light and the right amount of sweet and you can eat 10 in one sitting, so win.

Ingredients:

self-raising – 1 and a half cups
sugar – 1/4 of a cup
bicarb – a bit
milk – 1 cup
egg – 1 egg

Bung it all in a bowl and whisk.

 

 

Womanifestos

9.1 million women didn’t vote in the elections in 2010.

I haven’t managed to find the ‘safe place’ where I’ve put my polling card yet, but when I do I shall be out and voting for one of the shouty people. My wonderful companion, Caitlin, has done these splendid cartoons for to you amuse and for to you abuse of one of these parties. I would like to vote for her, but apparently that’s not allowed.

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