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writer

Wiltshire journalist shares her story to inspire women throughout the UK

Have you ever thought – I’d like to write a book? I’d like to tell my story? Can I write a book? Would anyone actually be interested? 

 

As a person who does a lot of writing as part of my business, it may seem strange to tell you that I’ve often asked myself all of the above. When I was a child I always wanted to be an author but, as I got older I wondered if I truly had anything to say of value. I was also pretty sure I couldn’t sustain a story of fiction for long enough.

After several years of running my own business I realise that I do have a lot to say, and some people will want to hear it.

 

In fact, I’ve learned that we ALL have something to say and there will always be those who want to hear it. All of us have value.

 

Once I truly accepted this fact, I found it surprisingly easy to share one of my stories. I’m now in a place where I’m not worried about those who don’t want to listen – those people will always be around – I’m reaching out to those who are life’s do-ers. Those who at least have a go at their ‘thing’ and those who want to live life with few regrets.

This week, my first foray into writing about myself in a book came to fruition. The book – available on Kindle – is Playing & Staying At The Top of Your Game – http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00KB2XRYI .

It tells stories from a dozen business women from across the south west who want to encourage and inspire other women to try and to persevere if they want to start or develop their own business. Each story is very different. It’s thanks to my women’s business club – I Am Woman – that I’ve finally taken the plunge. I’m already thinking now about doing an entire book covering many aspects of my professional life.

My story shared in Playing & Staying At The Top of Your Game

My story shared in Playing & Staying At The Top of Your Game

My story about starting my own business and what I learned in those early days is not what you think. I’m not the business person who nurtured an idea, let it grow and then went into it with rose-tinted glasses and making a million in a month. My story is very different.

I had my dream job – and I lost it. I never wanted to be self-employed, I didn’t want to run my own business and I was devastated that life had thrown me such a curve ball. However, I couldn’t change the fact that this had happened. All I could control was what I did next – and that’s the story I tell. Looking back, I realise my more negative start actually stood me in good stead. It didn’t mean I didn’t make any mistakes – I made loads. But my view was always realistic and I seemed to be able to spot when something wasn’t working. To find out more, of course, you’re going to have to read the book.

Is this being arrogant? Some might think so – but why do we women often feel embarrassed about blowing our own trumpet? Is it because men think less of us? Not in my case – I actually think it’s more because some women think less of us. Some cannot stand the fact that others are more ‘out there’ than they are. Women can be women’s own worst enemies. Truth is, I don’t actually care what anyone thinks, those who are interested will read the book, those who are not – won’t.

So I’ll end on these two notes – the woman who writes thousands and thousands of words each year about others has now written some words about herself. She also remembers one very important lesson in life which has sustained her. It was a saying which a teacher, Christopher Drew, put into my autograph book on the day I left primary school back in the 1970s. It’s always reminded me that life is always a journey of discovery and, thankfully, there’s so much more left to learn:

‘HE WHO KNOWS NOT AND KNOWS NOT THAT HE KNOWS NOT. SHUN HIM FOR HE IS A FOOL’.

 

Swindon PR guru takes time off by visiting Exmoor’s hidden zoo.

Have you ever been to Exmoor Zoo? Have you ever heard of Exmoor Zoo?

If you haven’t I’d heartily recommend a visit. Situated in the Devon countryside, down a little country lane, this zoo has more of a family feel than any I’ve visited. We were spending a weekend in the Exe Valley so this location was less than an hour’s drive away.

While nowhere near the scale of Longleat Safari Park or zoos in Bristol or Paignton, it has a charm all of its own and is suitable for families, or those without children.

We visited over the Easter bank holiday and the cost was less than £50 for five of us. Given that’s close to the cost of a cinema visit for us, we hoped it would offer at least a couple of hours of enjoyment and entertainment. We arrived at 11am and left the premises at around 3pm.

When we arrived it was already busy but there is an additional car park as the one near reception is quite small. One tip is to use the toilet on the way in as there are no toilets around the site. This is due to the site not being connected to the mains (it’s all explained on notices around the reception area).

Immediately on collecting tickets as we’d booked online (be aware a family tickets is two adults two children so, in our case, we had to pay an extra amount for our third child), we were given activities for the children to take part in. For me, this is always a good sign. My children love having to find or discover something. So it was a trail where they could collect stamps of animals and another where they could answer tricky questions and then get an Easter egg at the end.

As my children are a bit older, this meant they often ran off for a short time to fill in gaps on their Easter ‘find an animal’ trail.

The zoo has the sense of being a garden, you move quickly from one animal to the next – but there’s also a feeling that the staff know what you are thinking. There are some spaces where you wonder if that space is big enough for the animal within – then you read the blurb and that question is answered.

There is animal activity all around, so bird, bee and bat boxes which children can look at. I personally love the bigger animals but found myself enraptured by the smaller ones too.  I didn’t get the feeling of there being animals which were just ‘making up the numbers’. Even the sparrows had their own special spot.

On site, there are lots of activities where families can get involved in including talks, feeding the animals and holding animals. We’re not good with this in our family, we tend not to like to stick to any timetable or dictate our time around set events, but plenty of families did take part. As you walked around you heard them saying they had to be ‘here’ or ‘there’ at a certain time.

Anticipation was built up by continuous reference to the Exmoor Beast which intrigued the children, who love a sense of the mysterious. So it was quite magical when the zoo’s own beast, languidly stretched, walked down from its perch and marched around its pen.

Another thing which I enjoyed was the good use of the natural landscape and of look-out points around the site. Some of the site is quite steep and rugged, but the animals seemed to like it. Don’t get me wrong, the site is quite accessible, though some paths will be trickier for pushchairs and possibly wheelchairs.

Somerset, Devon, Wiltshire

One of the pumas resting in the sunshine at Exmoor Zoo

 

 

The only odd point was one small enclosed look-out area, overlooking the antelope,  where there was a picnic table in the middle where a family had stopped for lunch. In this small space, this seemed to have two effects, putting off some people from going into have a look across the enclosure as there wasn’t a lot of wriggle room, or interrupt the family who found themselves being watched closely as they tucked into their sandwiches.

Also one of the children’s Easter egg discoveries was in this small enclosure, so it encouraged more and more eager children to mill around the eating family. If I had one tip, it would be to remove that seating as it did seen to give visitors a confused experience. Families do tend to create a private bubble around themselves so it’s easy to feel like you are intruding on them.

However, further around the site the play area for children is very spacious and there’s plenty of picnic room. There’s a small café on site and the quality of the food is excellent. Much better than in other venues. The price tag for five came to £40 but this is fairly normal for us – and in many places would cost far more.

All in all – it was a good visit, value for money, more educational than expected and lots of fun. Even the small egg given as a reward for the children completing the trail was decent and not a disappointing, tiny, hollow piece of low-grade chocolate.

Find out more here –  http://www.exmoorzoo.co.uk

 

 

 

What are you talking about on the train? Giving up secrets?

How many of us have been on a train journey and had to listen to someone talking loudly on their phone?

Can this be harmful? Is this something we should be careful about?

Most of these calls involve talking to someone to tell them we’re on our way home, or we’ve just left or we’re going to be a bit late. No harm there. Normal everyday chit chat.

However two weeks ago on a trip to Manchester, I realised the dangers of sharing information about your business on a mobile phone while on a train. It can be very bad for a company’s image.

Be careful what you say...

Be careful what you say…

Countless times I’ve heard people say ‘well, I can catch up with some work’. This is true but doing business over the phone where other people can listen in, can be very bad pr. You just don’t know who’s listening.

Let me tell you why. I listened to a man take several phone calls in connection with his job. I now know he works for a major sports brand retailer selling clothing – I was able to work out which company too. I know he’s the sales manager for that business and does a lot of travelling. I also know that this company is owed a lot of money – more than a million pounds – by a large British football club.

I now know which club apparently owes the money and I know this company is concerned about whether or not it will get that bill paid. I also know that while this man talks professionally and enjoys jargon in his conversations, there’s a female colleague who calls and his tone changes completely. The phrase used was along the lines of ‘I’ll always do that for you Emily?”. At which point I almost threw up.

Did he think for one minute that there was a journalist sitting in front of him who could write a story about such-and-such football club owing a large amount of money for kit?

If I know this amount of detail, how many other people on the train know this too? And where do these people work? Who do these people work for? Would this major sports brand want that kind of information bandied around?

As I was leaving the same train, I listened to a separate man talking loudly on the phone telling someone on the end of the line that a customer was ‘a right royal pain in the arse’. How lovely. What does that say about that man and his lack of respect for sharing his personal view about a third party in so public a way.

Top Tip – be careful what you say about third parties on the phone while on a train. Sooner or later, you could regret it.

I’m a parrot with a splash of eagle, hint of dove. What about you?

Since being in business, I’ve come to realise that understanding yourself can be key to success.

There are lots of things I know about myself but when I became self-employed, there was one thing I didn’t know – could I actually do it? Could I generate any money at all through my own efforts?

You see, I didn’t want to be self-employed. I was doing a job I loved and I wanted to carry on doing that job – sadly though that job no longer wanted me. It wasn’t a personal thing, it was a business decision and about 1,000 people lost their jobs at the same time.

Now I am almost at the five year anniversary of being self-employed and I’m still here. I’m not rich by any means but I’m earning my own money, through my own efforts and endeavours and that’s got to be something to celebrate.

However, I’m also wanting to be better in what I do. So I’m taking a course! I’ve been searching for ages for something which will make me better but which will engage me. During this course, which I’ll blog about many times I’m sure, I’ve been reading text books.

I don’t know about you but reading business books has been without fail, a hideous experience. They are mostly badly written, rushing off into different directions and lacking in real life examples. Frankly, many are simply tripe.

But I’ve just read one in a single day. That’s a record. It was called Taking Flight…do look it up. It tells a very simplistic story about birds in a forest who have to act when trees start falling down…no literary masterpiece but it does the job required…it shows how certain personality types can work.

It’s all about personality types – using the DISC model – which until recently I knew nothing about. Now it’s all around me. I’ve had two personality profiles done and they do capture lots of things about me.

The truth is, I do know these things but knowing and grasping the reality are two different things. Applying that truth is also tricky.

I’ve found out – in bird analogy – that I’m a parrot, with a large element of eagle and a quite large portion of dove. I’ve got very little owl though.

If you know this book, the previous sentence will make sense.

The biggest immediate impact is that I’ve started to recognise others around me, mainly in my friendship group and realised that the dynamic is visible. For example, one of my children is very, very caring and very detailed orientated – which drives me absolutely potty. But it’s not her fault, that’s her response to things and that’s okay. Now I know it’s okay, I find I’m not so irritated by the constant questioning and asking the same thing over and over again.

I also spent some time with two old friends and hardly got a word into the conversation – very unusual for me. I ended up feeling that I was of little value as no one seemed that interested in me or anything I had to say. As I started the self-pity dance, I realised that these were two eagles vying for position without realising it. As a personality with both eagle and dove, confronted by this, I simply gave up and shut up rather than expend energy trying to be heard. I don’t feel angry at all, I’ve just realised that it’s better to see them individually if I personally want to feel listened to – otherwise I’ll continually be a spare part.

Now I’m hoping to become better at business through this learning….here goes!

No, I'm not a peacock..I'm a parrot....

No, I’m not a peacock..I’m a parrot….

 

 

 

Review my new column – out in Wiltshire on Thursday!

It’s with some pride that today I can shout about my new FAMILY column in the local weekly newspaper in Wiltshire. Rush out and buy it on Thursday! Or even better buy a subscription.

The Gazette & Herald, which covers Chippenham, Malmesbury, Devizes, Calne, Marlborough, Pewsey and all the villages in between, is sister paper to the Swindon Advertiser, the Wiltshire Times, Wiltshire Business and other publications.

New family column for Wiltshire weekly newspapers

My first Family pages for the Wiltshire Gazette & Herald on Thursday.

I’ll be writing about anything and everything which affects families and parents in these areas of Wiltshire, but I want to be interactive. I would welcome any suggestions for subject matter – both serious and more light-hearted. Interviews with people who live or work in the county  are a key factor.

If you are a parent in Wiltshire who has had to grapple with difficult issues eg. domestic abuse, eating disorders, bereavement, obesity, mental health issues, bullying, caring, chronic illness, disability, debt, homelessness – please share your stories. What can others learn from your experience?

If you’ve got a consumer problem that you’ve been struggling with, I’ll try to help. Or if you are a parent who has achieved something amazing, let me know.

Sometimes I’ll be having a rant on something that’s annoyed me, there’ll be consumer items, guest blogs, and lots of mentions of social media. The more interactive the better. If you comment via letter, Twitter or Facebook, I may use those in the following week.

This is an adventure and I’d like you to join me – fionastuff@gmail.com

Are you having a twitter? Even when in court?

There’s been much debate in media circles about the growing use of Twitter in court rooms.

 

 

Attending court, especially if it’s a high profile case, is interesting and bizarrely exciting. So it’s not surprising that people involved might want to send messages out there to talk about what’s going on.


When I give talks about working in the media, one of the most frequent questions I get asked is – what interesting court cases have you attended? Any murders? The answers are ‘loads’ and ‘yes’.

 

 

Clearly I’m a huge social media fan and I like Twitter and Facebook and talking online – but one does have to be careful.

 

Journalists in court will hear many, many things that they are legally not allowed to be made public – sometimes things which are so harrowing that they don’t want to make it public.
I know this was true in the Fred & Rosemary West case as a close friend of mine covered this story from beginning to end. Journalists came together to make a conscious decision not to report on some very distressing details even when they were allowed to do so.
Reporting legally from a court in the UK requires specialist knowledge and training in how courts work and what can and cannot be said.

 

In my experience, good journalists will have more detailed knowledge of this than the occasional barrister/solicitor. I have had a stand-up row with at least one barrister about my freedom to attend a hearing in a family court – I won.
Qualified journalists know this stuff and, if they are unsure about any part of a process, they know who to ask.
Being in contempt of court is no small matter. It can lead to imprisonment and could cause a case to collapse altogether.

 

But Twitter almost allows us to become ‘citizen journalists’ and even lawyers like to have a Tweet.

 

These days with far fewer journalists in employment, quite often there won’t be a reporter in court so anyone can technically ‘have a go’.

 
Now being a journalist is not rocket science, we don’t have special rights, we are simply representatives of the public.

 

But courts are a special case. Some people involved are protected eg. Rape victims, children, those under witness protection, victims of blackmail. These names are often read out in court and put on the charge sheet – but journalists cannot make them public. Would you know that?
Court orders are often put in place in a case (involving children for example) at a preliminary hearing, but if you go along to a court case in the public gallery for a full hearing later on, you might not know this.

 

Ignorance is no defence – but who would think of checking what court orders are in force if they are not journalists? Would you know where to look for a list of relevant court orders or who to ask?



And if a lawyer says ‘bear in mind there’s a Section 39 order in place for this defendant/witness’ , how many people know what that means? (must not name child, give address or school).
I’m not saying that use of Twitter in court rooms should be banned, I could never say that  – I’m just saying be very careful.
Judges are more and more aware of social media risks around court cases now. They will warn jurors not to discuss details of a case and include social media sites within their warning. But this will not extend to the public gallery, where people may come and go all of the time.
Some commentators on the media industry believe that the use of Twitter around court proceedings will lead to live TV coverage. In some ways such explicit exposure could be seen to be good in terms of punishment for a guilty defendant, in others it’s even more harrowing for vulnerable witnesses or for those who are later found to be innocent.

 

The key message is this – be careful, be balanced and use common sense. It’s not in anyone’s interest for a court case to collapse because of a Tweet or two. 

image of black bird with red face walking with something in beak

Having a twitter in court could cost you dear.....

 

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