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Damn Your Spoilers

15 Jun
Image by Chris, shared under a Creative Commons Licence

Image by Chris, shared under a Creative Commons Licence

My spoiler story begins in 1999, not long after the dot-com boom, when the internet was seen as a luxury, not a necessity, and social media was in its infancy. Back then, Twitter and Facebook didn’t exist, the mainstream press were becoming aware of blogs and broadband was a distant dream. In my day, we had to rely on a dial-up internet connection for our kicks, baby.

In 1999, we feared the Millennium Bug, Y2K was something people genuinely said, and one of the films that dominated the UK box office that year, besides The Matrix, was M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense. Being a teenager with an obscene amount of free time at the weekend (oh, those were the days) I was meant to see the film with some friends, but for some reason that has vanished in the sinking sands of time, I couldn’t go.

At school that Monday, my dear friend Paul, who had gone to the cinema that weekend, bounded over to me at registration. I forget what he said exactly, but our conversation went something like this:

Paul: “The Sixth Sense was amazing!”

Me: “I’m sorry I couldn’t make it.”

Paul: “It was one of the best films I’ve ever seen!”

Me: “Cool, I’ll try to see it this weekend.”

Paul: “It was amazing, the ending, Amy, the ending! Oh my God, I have to tell you…”

And that was how my dear friend Paul hurled the ending of The Sixth Sense into our conversation like a fraternity pledge on an Ipecac bender, and burned it into my memory. The ending was, at the time, a surprise and is, by now, one most people will be very familiar with, but I’m saying nothing, just in case.

I told him that I now wouldn’t be able to see the film, because he’d just given away the ending, to which he answered with all the innocence and confusion of a hungry toddler caught with their hand buried deep inside the cookie jar:

“Yes, you can! It’s still at the cinema.”

Spoilers don’t just come up in conversations with overly enthusiastic friends these days. They lurk in careless tweets, they are revealed in late night Facebook statuses, and they wait in poorly written reviews by inexperienced writers.

Unlike 1999, it’s now never been easier to have an online platform where you tell the world your opinions, and it’s the immediacy of the internet that has spawned a culture that thrives on not just new information, but the speed at which we can receive that information. It’s the ultimate competition, where those who hesitate instead of posting will not get those extra visits to their website, and they won’t have their thoughts retweeted hundreds, if not thousands, of times.

We have created an online culture that is saturated with opinions on just about everything, and the more controversial the article, the more notoriety and more attention it creates for the writer. But this yearning for affirmation on the part of the writer lacks something vital and human: empathy.

When my dear friend Paul told me the ending to the film, he did it because he was so amazed by what he’d seen. He wanted to share his experience of being in the cinema with me, because in his mind, I had missed out. However, by spoiling the film for me, he robbed me of the experience entirely, because it meant that I would never be able to view the film as he did when he watched it with no expectations. To him, and others who spoil things, he wasn’t in the wrong for giving the ending away; I hadn’t seen the film, therefore, it was my problem.

Spoiling a film is not the same as a real robbery in the street, nor can it ever equate to the violation of having your home burgled, but when someone spoils a film, it’s theft. It’s not a violent act at all, but they have taken an experience from you ensuring that it can never be yours.

I saw The Sixth Sense many years later, and although it’s no Citizen Kane, The Usual Suspects or Alien (films which, thankfully, all remained spoiler free until I saw them) I couldn’t help but wonder if my reaction to it would have been different if I hadn’t been aware of the film’s definitive scenes.

While we now know that Shyamalan’s movies typically contain some sort of twist, and his subsequent films have received very mixed reviews, whenever I think of The Sixth Sense, I remember that morning, in school with my dear friend Paul, telling me the ending to it, first, before the memory of actually seeing the film.

I want my memories of watching a film or TV show to be about that film or TV show, not of the person that spoiled it for me. I remember when I went to see Star Wars for the first time when the Special Edition was released in 1997. I knew nothing about the film, I sat there, mute and still as the action played out before me, a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

I went back to that galaxy again to watch The Empire Strikes Back and again to watch Return of the Jedi with an identical sense of wonder and ignorance, and there I realised the true joy of discovery. There was no friend desperate to tell me their opinion, and no spoilerific review waiting for me in the paper, I saw the films as they were meant to be seen; for the first time, by someone with no preconceptions.

I want to be that child in the cinema once more, with no preconceptions, no prejudices, no bias. The child that walked home on air, her head full of the memory of seeing a film that I loved, a film that hadn’t been ruined or tainted by a careless comment or selfish tweet. But, in our post-digital world, where we value the immediacy of our content, over the accuracy of our content, can we learn to be silent once more?

I’ve gone out of my way to ensure that my social networks stay spoiler free; muting specific hashtags, keywords and even the names of characters in shows or a new film that I want to watch. This works, but because I can only control my own behaviour online, and nobody else’s, the odd spoiler slips through.

So, how do we stop the spoilers spreading? The answer is simple: shut up. Seen a film and can’t believe the ending? Be quiet. Did your favourite character die in Game of Thrones? Grieve quietly. Writing a review? Then be mysterious and subtle when writing the synopsis. Don’t assume that everyone you know has seen what you’ve just seen, let them discover it for themselves.

Be silent, or be damned.

My Failed New Year’s Resolutions

8 Jan

Image by elycefeliz, shared under a Creative Commons Licence

I love New Year. I love the fireworks, the celebrations and the sense of optimism that comes with the dawning of each new calendar year.

But I absolutely suck at sticking to my New Year’s resolutions.

That’s not to say I haven’t tried; for a while my only resolution was to not make a resolution, and I stuck to that for a while. I’m also lucky in that I don’t fall into the usual resolutions of stopping smoking or drinking, because I don’t smoke and I very rarely drink.

But when I look back at the resolutions I’ve neglected to achieve over the last few years, I’ve come to the conclusion that they failed, not because I didn’t try, but because they weren’t the right resolutions for me at the time.

Resolution One: Lose Some Weight, Fatty

I was quite skinny when I was younger. In fact, I was so skinny that I never realised just how skinny I was until I wasn’t that skinny any more. Your body, like your personality, changes over time, and while I’m not a size 8, I’m still a healthy weight for my size.

In fact, I’m happier now in my body than I ever was before, and while some bits could do with firming up, and I fantasise about having Linda Hamilton Terminator 2-esque biceps, it won’t happen overnight, and that’s ok. I’ll continue eating healthily and working at my physical day job, that’ll do for now.

Resolution Two: Stop Procrastinating…Tomorrow….No, Today

“Procrastination,” my mother once declared, “’tis the thief of time!” and she was right. I procrastinate too much, I live in my head too much, I think about doing something for too long when I should just do it. Case in point: I thought about blogging for four years before I actually did anything about it.

I know I’m not alone in procrastinating, which is reassuring, but whilst I have looked at other ways of working, such as the Pomodoro Technique and blocking access to Facebook and Twitter while working, my mind needs to wander.

While I may not be able to stop procrastinating altogether, I can deal with it in better ways; such as allowing myself breaks, getting into a better work at home routine and changing my attitude towards tasks that have to be done. As someone once said to me, “You have to stop thinking that you should do something, and instead start thinking that you need, want or wish to do something.” This advice has made a big difference to just about every aspect of my life.

Resolution Three: Go Back to University

Around this time last year, I blogged about my quest to get back into higher education after graduating nearly four years previously. This year marks five years since that fateful day when I put on a big, silly gown, got all nervous, shook Sir Tom Farmer’s hand and got my degree, and I’m still no closer to going back to university.

In fact, if anything, I’m a little more conflicted about the whole thing; it’s expensive, you’re not guaranteed a job, and there are lots of journalists that say that postgraduate degrees aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on. All the advice I’ve had about getting into the media has been pretty contradictory, and while some still insist that experience, not qualifications, matter, I’ve noticed that an alarming number of media job adverts begin with the terrifying statement: “You will have a journalism qualification.”

So, what next? In the next few months, I aim to find out more about funding and bursaries and see if there’s anything that I would be suitable for. I can also do a much less expensive, but very respected NCTJ Course in my own time, which would give me that elusive journalism qualification without the £6,000+ price tag.

Resolution Four: Learn to Drive

I’ve been meaning to learn to drive since I was 17. I’m now 28, and although I have a provisional driving license and I once owned a car with my former partner (it was a purple VW Golf MK3, affectionately referred to as Reggie, I loved that car) I’ve never had a driving lesson.

There are many reasons for this; procrastination, sheer laziness, expense and the fact that Edinburgh’s bus service is really very good, so, logically, when would I actually drive? Still, I need to learn to drive because it’s an important skill to have on my CV, it would allow me greater freedom to travel around the country and beyond, and at nearly 30, sitting behind the wheel of a parked car going “Vroom! Vroom!” Just doesn’t do it for me any more.

Resolution Five: Read More

I used to love reading. I’d read into the early hours of the morning and then read again the next day. My parents would buy me a small pile of books every Christmas, thinking they would last me until March and then despair when they realised that I’d read them all by New Year.

But then, I went to university, and I wasn’t allowed to read for fun. My degree, while a drama course, was more academic than practical, and we had to read at least three plays a week, combined with several dull critical theory texts. Have you ever read Roland Barthes’ Death of the Author? It makes an interesting point, but it’s turgid; it’s worse than Sunset Song and Highland River, both of which I had to read in High School, and both of which keep popping up on Scotland’s greatest books lists, much to my utter disgust.

And if you think about it, reading a play is a very different experience to watching a play. Just as reading a book because someone in authority says you must read it takes all the fun out of the experience.

So, I got bored with reading, and all these years later, I still struggle to finish a book, because I get distracted. I have got better; last year, I read the entire Stieg Larsson Millennium Trilogy, and I’m halfway through Mark Kermode’s latest, and really very good tome, Hatchet Job. After that, I’m going to read all the A Song of Ice and Fire books by George R.R. Martin, so I’m getting there.

Resolution Six: Go to the Theatre/Cinema For Fun!

For years, going to the theatre and the cinema has been work for me – I’m there to review after all – and so, I go there in full critic mode, complete with notebook and eagerness to ‘read’ the work.

Sometimes it’s hard to get out of this mindset, and I have to re-learn how to enjoy going to the theatre or the cinema as a regular audience member, not some poor arts hack with a bashed notebook. The experience needs be an escape again for me, as it should be for everyone else, and I need to stop getting so annoyed by badly behaved audiences.

Resolution Seven: Stop Getting Annoyed by Badly Behaved Audiences

Hey, I’ll stop getting annoyed when they learn how to behave.

Letter to a Young Journalist

5 Oct
Letter to a Young Journalist

Image by A.K Photography, shared under a Creative Commons Licence.

Dear Young Journalist,

I want to talk to you about journalism; the path you have chosen. I don’t want to talk about theatre criticism, arts reviewing or news, but journalism as a career. I want to talk to you about the life that you might lead and the people you will meet.

I want to tell you about the nights you will spend alone, writing, editing, researching. The nights you will miss out on because you will be busy, or the evenings you will lose as you edit yet another blog post.

The first thing I want to tell you is that you have to read to be a journalist. You can’t be a good writer if you don’t read, and you can’t pitch to publications if you don’t read them. Get subscriptions to the publications you want to write for, and read books whenever you can; on the bus, on your lunch break, in the bath and just before bed.

Secondly, I must tell you that unsurprisingly, (well, it was somewhat of a surprise to me) we journalists aren’t always the most respected, or well-liked people on the planet. We are doubted, questioned and dismissed. You will have your integrity challenged and your writing ridiculed, but you will get used to it.

If the there is a ladder that leads to journalism success, then it’s a very long ladder. I like to imagine that it’s made of wood, that it looks sturdy and strong, it’s the kind of ladder your parents might use to go up to the attic, it’s familiar and seemingly friendly. But appearances are deceptive; this ladder is treacherous in places, and it may be risky at points to climb.

In fact, you may have to go down a couple of rungs before you are able to go further in your career. And some rungs on the ladder are unforgiving. Some rungs are old and not fit for purpose. Be wary of these rungs, they will set you back, and if you put too much weight on one of them it will break and you will fall.

You will not fall far, because you will reach out and grab something, anything to steady yourself, but you must remember falling is inevitable. Falling is what I call failing, such as a job rejection, a missed deadline, a misunderstood brief, etc. I’m going to tell you something that will sound strange to you, but not only will you fail at some point as you attempt to climb that ladder, you are going to fail, and I want you to fail.

From a young age, we are taught to believe that failure is a bad thing, that failure is the worst thing we can ever do, but I disagree. It is only when we fail that we can truly learn from our experiences. I’ve failed at this many times; missing job deadlines, not staying in touch with contacts, etc, but it’s how we deal with out failures that really matters. The trick is to go with it, so if you feel sad, allow yourself to cry, if you’re angry, then find a way to healthily express that anger.

Do what you have to do, just pick yourself up and move on with new knowledge, and safeguards to stop yourself committing the same mistake again.

Next we need to discuss money, because if you’re going into journalism for the wage, then you’re going to get a shock. We don’t make a lot of money, because journalism isn’t very well paid, and it’s getting even harder to make money from it. So, you’re going to do a lot of unpaid work in the beginning to build up your portfolio and have something concrete to show an editor. Once you have experience and once you’ve started to get pretty good and reliable, then start asking for money.

No one is going to pay you for the hell of it, you will have to prove that you are worth paying. Never undersell yourself, know your worth and know the law. There are many internships in journalism, some of them are really great, but others won’t lead anywhere; be hungry, but wise and know the law.

The current law on internships in the UK is that all interns are entitled to the National Minimum Wage, so those internships that offer travel expenses, lunch expenses, or offer expenses at the end of a three-month internship – avoid them like the plague. Your time and your future is worth so much, so again, read, be aware of your rights and stand up for yourself. Intern does not mean ‘subhuman’ never forget that.

That’s all I can say for now, I’ll see you on the ladder.

Cheers,

Trash

Trash Goes To a 4Talent Day

22 Sep
4Talent Day Image

4Talent Day Image

“Most rock journalism is people who can’t write, interviewing people who can’t talk, for people who can’t read.” – Frank Zappa

Earlier this week, I boarded the 07:30 train from Edinburgh Waverley to Glasgow Queen Street. From Glasgow Queen Street, I went straight to Buchanan Street Subway Station, where I bought a return ticket to Govan. Less than 20 minutes later, I arrived in Govan, and despite nearly falling up the escalator on my way out of the station – yes, there were witnesses – I emerged, unscathed, nervous and only slightly tired, into a cold and wet Glasgow morning at 08:45 on the dot.

I was in Govan because in August, I had applied to take part in the upcoming 4Talent Day in Glasgow. I’d filled out my application with little hope, but I told myself that after the inevitable rejection I’d know that I’d tried my best, and I could go ahead and try something else. So, when I got the email saying that my application had been successful, I nearly fell off my chair.

4Talent Days are organised by Channel 4 and are designed to support people over the age of 16 who want to get into the creative industries. The purpose of a 4Talent Day is to nurture and inspire people by holding workshops, talks and giving people at the bottom rung of the media ladder the chance to speak to those at the very top. It makes the creative industries accessible and as open as possible to people of all ages and backgrounds around the UK, and gives all attendees a taste of life in the media.

Beginning at 09:30, after registration opened at 08:45, the day began with talks by Channel 4’s Industry Talent Specialist, Priscilla Baffour, and Head of Creative Diversity, Stuart Cosgrove; a dedicated Northern Soul devotee who is perhaps better known to listeners in Scotland as one half of Radio Scotland’s Off The Ball.

Their speeches were inspiring and energising as Priscilla discussed Channel 4’s “content revolution” about how creating and publishing content is changing, the history of Channel 4 and what they look for in applicants. Stuart gave an uplifting speech about his journey from the deprived council estate of his childhood, to his love of Northern Soul and how his passion for the genre opened doors for him.

There were many different master classes available, from radio production to music journalism, pitching documentary and factual films, to personal branding and how to get started in film making. I chose the music journalism master class with Sid Smith, a well-respected music journalist, and a man with a real passion for King Crimson.

While I have a lot of experience of writing about the arts, I’ve only focussed on theatre and film, and I’ve been thinking about music journalism for some time. However, despite writing some very brief album reviews at the beginning of my career – I think they were around 100 words – I don’t feel confident writing about music, and I want to learn how to write about music and more importantly, how to write about music with authority.

Sid was a fantastic teacher, and as well as discussing music journalism with us, magazine circulation figures, pitching, interviewing and the music which makes us cry (mine is ‘Don’t Speak’ by No Doubt). He also brought a room full of aspiring music journalists to shame when he asked when was the last time we bought a music magazine, and collectively, we looked at our feet. He also had us listen to a piece of music called ‘Joyful Reunion’ by Sweet Billy Pilgrim before phoning the songwriter, Tim Elsenburg, and having some of us ask him questions about the song there and then.

Sid gave us all a lot of advice, and he sums it up very well in his own blog post about the 4Talent Day in Glasgow. But I would add that the clearest piece of advice that Sid, and all the other speakers gave on the day was that young creatives need to have two things: discipline and persistence.

So, if an editor doesn’t email back within a few days, call them, introduce yourself and tell them what you do in 20-25 words. Research who you’re contacting and tell them what makes you different. Also, take what you’re doing seriously, be nice, polite and develop habits. Habits and discipline will keep you going, as well building a network of contacts. As Philip Edgar-Jones, the Head of Entertainment at Sky Arts put it, “Be persistent, but patient.”

The day was so inspiring, and as well as learning a lot, and getting some really good advice, I met a number of interesting people, that I’m hoping to keep in touch with, I gave out many, many business cards and I got lots of business cards back in return. But what the 4Talent Day was really good at, was making the creative industry seem more open, and more accessible than it ever has before. There was no mention of degrees or specialist qualifications, and it made you feel like you could have that career that you’ve always dreamed of. It made you feel that there are people out there that are interested in your story, and what you have to offer.

After a long but wonderful day, I headed back to Govan Subway Station – avoiding tripping on the escalator this time – and headed back to Queen Street Station. Once there, I boarded the 18:15 train back to Edinburgh Waverley, and as soon as I arrived in Edinburgh, I got my hands on the first music magazines I’d bought in nine years; Q and MOJO, before I heading home to read, research and think about my next step.

I would highly recommend a 4Talent Day to any young creative, and who knows, for me, it could be the very beginning of a brand new adventure.

Dear John Bellany

28 Aug
John Bellany Image by Robert Perry

John Bellany, Image by Robert Perry

Dear John,

We never met, but when I read of your death earlier this evening, I knew I had to write this letter.

I’m not an artist; I gave up on drawing after a classmate made fun of my clown drawing in primary school. “Amy,” she spat, with real venom, “Your clown has six fingers on one hand and eleven on the other.” It wasn’t good enough, she said, clowns had five fingers on each hand, she explained. So, I’m going to honour you the only way I know how to, and that is to write about how your words have affected my life.

You received an honorary degree at my graduation in 2009. You were the second person to receive a degree, the first being Jonathan Mills, the Director of the Edinburgh International Festival, but his speech was, dare I say, very, very boring.

I was starting to drift off with my degree certificate sat smugly on my lap when you stood up and slowly moved to the front of the stage. You fumbled with the papers you’d written your speech on, you seemed nervous. “Oh dear” I thought, “It looks like we’re in for another dull speech.” And I prepared myself for a long morning.

You began by thanking the university and launching into a speech about looking out from the stage to all the young graduates assembled. But then, you paused, and uttered the now immortal words, “Well, if I’m honest, I’ve forgotten my glasses, so all I can see is darkness.”

The audience laughed; we cheered, we giggled, I think there was even a round of applause. You had won us over with your confession. You were honest, you were on our side. You cast aside your speech, and launched into what can only be described as something truly extraordinary. To call it a pep talk would be insulting; you were preparing us for battle.

As you gazed into the darkness of the theatre, trying to make out the faces of the hundreds of graduates gazing back at you in awe, you said that we were going to come up against barriers once we graduated. We were, you assured us, going to experience having “…many doors slammed in our faces”. But, we were not to be disheartened, you said, instead, we were to pound on the doors that would be slammed in our faces. We were to pound on them repeatedly, until our knuckles bled. I remember you held your hands up, and squeezed them into tight fists as you punched the air, your eyes screwed tight, pounding on all the doors that had ever been slammed in your face.

I can remember imagining a nondescript pine door being slammed shut as you smashed the figurative doors that had stood in your way for years. It’s the same pine door that I see now when I get yet another job rejection. It’s the same pine door that closes when an editor tells me I don’t have enough experience. It’s the same pine door that rattles in its frame as it slams closed when a promising internship turns out to be another dead-end.

But whenever that nondescript pine door has smacked me in the face as it closed – and it’s been closed to me so often, and it will be closed to me again – I’ve heard your words. And suddenly I can see you again in my mind’s eye, on that stage, slamming your fists into your own imaginary door over and over again.

So I started knocking; I would ask that editor for feedback. I would pound my fists against the door; I would look for new opportunities and ways to build up my portfolio. I would start to smash the panels of that door, one by one and then I would pick myself up and try again.

I’ve never been in a fight, but my knuckles have been split open and bloodied many, many times. You taught me that when you go out into the big bad world, you’re not always fighting other people; more often than not, you’re fighting with yourself. Battling self-doubt and a lack of drive is hard, but that’s why they call it work. More than anything, persistence is key.

I’m sorry that we never got the chance to meet, if we had I would have thanked you for your wise words, and I would have told you how much they meant to me on the day I graduated, and how much more they mean to me now, just four years later.

Thank you, John. Thank you for speaking to a sea of excited and unsullied graduates that day. Thank you for showing us that you’d been there, that you knew the struggles that we would face and for giving us all the advice that we will never forget:

“Always do your own thing. Don’t follow trends. Be your own person.”

Thank you, so, so much.

Yours sincerely,

Amy Taylor

Class of 2009

The 10 Commandments of the Successful Critic

15 Jun
Candle by clemetchene used under a Creative Commons License

Candle by clemetchene used under a Creative Commons License

1. I am the Editor, thy employer. Thou shalt turn up to the performance/show/film/gig that thou art reviewing on time, wherein thou shalt be able to arrive calm, content and able to review the piece in question.

2. Thou shalt research the work that thou art reviewing, be it the previous work of the performers/actors/director/writer, so that thou shalt know what thou is talking about, and won’t give the impression that thou art talking out of thy ass.

3. Thou shalt act as a respectable member of thy’s publication team when reviewing. This includes not overdoing it with the free alcohol and then embarrassing oneself because of said alcohol.

4. Thou shalt file copy on time and within the word limit.

5. Thou shalt not steal work from another writer, be they living or dead and pass it off as thine own. Plagiarism will be discovered, and thou will only set thyself back by ripping off the intellectual property of others.

6. Thou shalt be respectful to venue staff, including FOH staff, PR people and press officers.

7. Thou shalt write about more than the performance; thou shalt consider the cultural, political, social and historical context of a piece. Criticism must move beyond the tired “It looked nice, it was acted well” narrative.

8. Thou shalt write with brevity and clarity; why write a 20 word filler sentence when a simple 10 words will do?

9. Thou shalt proofread thy’s own work before sending it to thou’s editor.

10. Thou shalt be prepared to listen to constructive criticism of thine work, and thou shalt take this criticism to heart.

Surviving Life After Graduation

21 May
Trash on Taylor Street, SF

Trash on Taylor Street, SF


It’s here, graduation, it’s what you’ve been working towards for a number of years and it’s finally time for you to step outside and view the world, not as a poor student, but as a poor graduate. May I be one of the first to say, congratulations, and don’t worry, it gets so much better.

Right now, you might be thinking about hiring your graduation gown and getting your sweaty hands on the piece of paper that is your degree, but this will not automatically change your view of the world. Don’t get me wrong, your graduation will be great fun, it should give you some great memories, but it’s what happens after your graduation that really matters, and here’s some advice to get you through the weeks, months, even years after this.

Don’t Compare Your Life to Anyone Else’s

This is the rule that I simply cannot stress enough; your life is your life, so quit comparing it to everyone else’s. When I graduated in 2009, which was a very tough year to graduate – especially with a drama degree – I felt like so many of my classmates were walking into great jobs. One person more or less walked into their dream job and had numerous other opportunities thrown at them, yet I was still working at my not-quite-minimum-wage-job in the fast food industry.

In short, I was barely out of my graduation robes and I already felt like a failure; I was intimidated by other people’s progress and envious of their success. When one former classmate moved to London, I was stunned, I couldn’t imagine leaving Edinburgh, let alone Scotland. But the path you go down isn’t the same path that your friends will tiptoe along, and no path is set, you can always change your direction, and you can always, always go back.

It’s OK to Not Have a Plan

You might be one of those people who has a plan, a plan that will not be changed, a plan that they have no intention of changing in any way shape or form. This is fine, but this is not the way that a lot of people work. You don’t always need a plan, you don’t always need something that you set stone; you need that spark, that flash of inspiration, the revelation that comes to you when you’re doing the washing up, the epiphany that emerges as you’re about to fall asleep. Whatever it is, write it down, don’t forget it, and see how you can make this new dream a reality.

Have Something Else To Do

By this, I mean have a hobby. If you’re trying to become a professional writer; write, read, but also have something to do on the days where you just can’t face sitting in front of the computer for another long and unproductive afternoon.

Get out the house; see family, see friends, go to the cinema, the museum, go for a long walk to nowhere and sit and gaze at the sunset. Cook, clean, learn to play a musical instrument, volunteer, head to the gym and work with the Iron, run with no destination in mind, do something that helps you remove yourself from your work so that it remains your goal, your dream, not an instrument of torture. Creating something, working towards your future and being artistic shouldn’t mean that you have to over work yourself; know when to give yourself a break, and know when you are burning out.

You Are Not Your Degree

If I had a penny for every time that I mentioned that I have a drama degree, and every time someone has asked me if I was an actor because of my degree, I would have a fair few pennies. Yet, I would still not be a rich woman. I work with a team of very, very talented people in my day job. One has a PhD, some have degrees in art, others have degrees in history, some are in really good local bands, yet, we work in online marketing, which, we’ll admit, was not part of our plan, but it’s where we are for now. Your degree doesn’t control you, it doesn’t bind you to a certain industry or job, and remember that it can only hold you back if you let it hold you back. Your degree is a small part of your life; that doesn’t mean that it is your life, and it doesn’t mean that it will be part of your future.

Never, Ever Let Anyone Make You Doubt Yourself

One of the biggest mistakes I ever made in the years after graduating was listening to the wrong people. At that time, there were people in my life that liked to remind me of my limitations, and in doing so, held me back.

For example, during a conversation with a former friend last year, I mooted the idea of moving away from Edinburgh, possibly Scotland, maybe even the UK, to find work, to travel, or just to start anew. This former friend then reminded me that I own a flat, that I was very lucky to own property, and that there were so many other people out there that wanted to get their feet on the property ladder, which wasn’t fair. I can’t remember what it was that they said exactly, but their argument was that because I owned property and because other people didn’t/couldn’t, then I should never, ever think about travelling, ever. I was made to feel guilty and selfish for committing the terrible crime of Expressing a Desire to Travel Whilst Owning a House at the Same Time.

There are many reasons why this way of thinking is completely wrong, but when I thought about the conversation later, I realised that this person was talking about themselves, “I don’t think you should travel”, “I want to buy a house, how can you be so selfish when you have something that I want?” Don’t get into this way of thinking, anything is possible, even if you own property, have a small family, or a well-paid job. Don’t let anyone tell you not to follow your dreams, don’t let others have too much say in your life, this is your time, be your own person, create your own adventure.

21 Things I Wish University Had Taught Me

29 Apr

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Graduation Cake by CarbonNYC - image used under a Creative Commons Licence.

Graduation Cake by CarbonNYC – image used under a Creative Commons Licence.

I learned a lot during my time in higher education; some of which I realised fairly quickly, however, other lessons took a little longer to work out.

Here are just some of them.

1. The nervous first year student at matriculation and the new graduate receiving their degree four years later will not be the same person.

2. You will have doubts about your course/life/direction/goals.

3. If you get through university and are able to look after yourself through cooking, general hygiene and handling money responsibly, then you will know more than a great number of people in the UK, and indeed, the world.

4. Your Student Loan will take a while to pay off, but you WILL pay it off.

5. You will make post-university plans that you won’t stick to, and this is ok.

6. You will not walk into your perfect job after graduating, this will take time.

7. It’s never too late to change your mind.

8. Don’t listen to other people when they tell you that you can’t do something, such as travelling or moving away. This is your life, live it your way.

9. You will have to take a job for the money, and not for the thrill of the job.

10. You will lose touch with friends from university; this is natural.

11. Find a good hobby; it will keep you occupied.

12. Change is normal, don’t fear it.

13. Find your comfort zone and destroy it. Comforts can only hold you back.

14. You might have to start all over again.

15. People change and outgrow each other, it’s painful, but it happens.

16. Never lose sight of your goals.

17. Do not be afraid to ask for help if you need it.

18. Take a risk, because failing at something is not the end of the world.

19. Jealousy does awful things to people; rise above it.

20. Know your worth; never undermine yourself or undervalue what you mean to others.

21. Don’t drink too much. Save your money and spend it on something more useful than a hangover.

Trash On Disappointment

6 Mar
The Ultimate Disappointment

The Ultimate Disappointment

Remember when you were little and you were caught doing something you shouldn’t have been? Something so bad that your parents would shake their heads and say; “We’re not angry, we’re just very disappointed” and you felt completely and utterly crushed at the mere mention of the word ‘disappointment’? We all do, because that is probably one of the worst things a parent, guardian or someone in a position of authority or trust can say to another person: “I am disappointed in you.”

Of course, being disappointed is something that does still crop up in life; I was disappointed when my long-term relationship ended, I was disappointed when I found out how much post-graduate training costs, I was disappointed when I saw Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. All these events were very disappointing, but nothing hurt more than those long hours I wasted watching that Indiana Jones sequel, where I spent almost the entire time in the cinema thinking: “Aliens! This had better not be about bloody aliens. OHGAWDIT’SABOUTALIENS.” It was so traumatic that I vowed then and there to never watch it again. I even considered trying to find somewhere I could hide, somewhere this terrible film wouldn’t be able find me. (I’m lying, of course, the breakup was the worst; when that happened, I felt like I was full of shattered glass; it coursed through my veins, cutting through me, every breath hurt, but I digress.)

In journalism, you must expect disappointment. You will not always get that interview you’ve been trying to secure for months, you might get passed over for a promotion, you might find that your work somehow gets published without your byline, and of course, you won’t always get to write about the things that you want to write about. You might get yourself an internship or secure a place of a work experience programme that doesn’t lead anywhere, but remember, it’s all part of the learning process. After I had a particularly disappointing internship last year, that turned out to not only be very expensive, but also pretty dull as the journalists there were reluctant to give me any work to do, a former friend of mine snapped, “Oh, you had one bad internship, get over it.”

As dismissive and as unhelpful as her remark was, it got me thinking about the nature of disappointment, especially in the journalism industry. Trying to avoid the inevitable crushing pain of disappointment is useless; it’s going to happen at some point in your journalism career, so learn to roll with the punches. A few months ago, I wrote about rejection in journalism, something which even the best journalists in the world admit happens to them too. Don’t simply attempt to get over it; get angry, channel that anger into something positive, there is no point bearing grudges against people or publications. Don’t waste your anger on others, they don’t deserve it. Use it to better yourself, and change your feelings of disappointment into something much more useful; belief.

Journalism is a competitive industry, an evolving industry, but one that has so much potential for the next generation of journalists.=, and there will be a place for you in it.

Believe in yourself. Don’t give up.

The Theatre Critic’s Guide to Life

24 Nov

Do you want to be a theatre critic? Do you have dreams of visiting local, national or even international theatres and writing about what you see? You do? Well, that’s great, it really is. But first of all, I need to give you some advice to get you through the first few years of reviewing.

You Are Going to Miss a Few Meals

I know, everyone gets hungry, but one thing that unites all critics in all forms of arts criticism, is our poor eating habits. Running from show to show, or legging it from your day job early in order to jump on a train to take you to a theatre in another city, leaves you with very little time to grab something to eat.

Food in train stations, as we all know, is far too expensive, so try not to waste your money on sweaty cheese sandwiches and lacklustre pasta salads from well-known chain stores, and bring something with you. A packed lunch (or dinner) may seem a bit naff, but trust me, when you’re on a train, with no money and horrendous stomach cramps after not having eaten anything for the best part of a day, you will thank yourself for making that packed lunch. Trust me.

You May Not Always Want to Write

It’s a sad fact of any writer’s life that there will be days when they find that they have nothing to say about the show that they’ve just seen. It happens to us all. It could be that the production didn’t inspire you, it could be that you thought the piece was pretty average, or it could be that you’re just having a bad day. When this happens, don’t panic, you are by no means alone, calm down, give yourself a break for an hour, and find something to say. Never forget that deadlines can be a source of great inspiration, and desperation.

You Will Suffer a Crisis of Confidence

At several points in my writing career, I have wondered if anyone out there actually reads my reviews, or finds what I say interesting. When I started work as the The Journal‘s Theatre Editor in 2009, I never got any comments on my reviews, bar spam for, oh, I don’t know, handbags, or shoes, and so, I convinced myself that nobody, absolutely nobody, was reading what I was writing. I know now that this wasn’t true; my Dad was reading my reviews, as were other people; they just weren’t commenting on them. Don’t mistake a lack of comments for a lack of interest.

You Will Meet Obnoxious People

Obnoxious people are everywhere, but when you meet one in the theatre world, it can seem impossible to escape from their self-indulgent behaviour and general arrogance. It’s an unfortunate fact of life that not every person you’ll meet will be a nice person; you just have to deal with this. You might meet a particularly unpleasant critic or two, you might somehow end up on some actor or director’s kill list for writing a negative review, but learn to laugh at these people, having a sense of humour when reviewing is vital.

Not Everyone Will Agree With You 

You could absolutely hate a show, you could write and publish a very negative review, but find that someone else you reviewed it on the same night absolutely loved it. This is the magic of reviewing; having a difference of opinion, and this is what sparks most spats between critics and directors/producers/actors and the like. If someone disagrees with you, great, we live in a democracy where people can voice their opinions freely, accept it, after all, that’s why you are free to express your opinions.

However, if the person, or people who disagree with your review start resorting to personal attacks on you, your writing, your character, or your publication, when responding to your review, leave it. Don’t answer back – you will be surprised how many of these commenters are connected to the show, either because they’re in it, or because they know someone who is. I’ve seen PR agencies for shows writing abusive comments under reviews – and what trapped them was their IP address. So please, for your own sanity, don’t feed the trolls.

You Will Make Mistakes, But You Must Learn From Them

In an ideal world, every journalist would get their copy right every time; every piece of information would be correct and verified, every quote would be correctly attributed and every actor name would be spelt correctly. But, this doesn’t always happen, and tiredness, deadlines and other factors can seriously affect the quality of a critic’s copy.

So, accept that at some point you will make a mistake, and when you do, learn from it. Because trust me, the first time you realise that you misspelt an actor/director’s name in your review, you will never, ever forget that horrible sinking feeling.

Some People Will Do Anything to Discredit You

The sad fact of reviewing is that people only like critics when they agree with or enjoy what they have written. The rest of the time, our work can be so easily dismissed by those who disagree with us. Don’t be surprised to find that some people will do anything to attempt to discredit your review, such as go through your tweets, find your Facebook profile, question your credentials, your experience and even, your reasons for writing the review.

There have been incidents where false accusations have been made against critics, and two that I know of have involved critics being accused of being drunk while reviewing a certain show. One of these instances involved two critics I know, who had arrived early for a show, and both had a bottle of beer at the theatre bar before the show began. Someone later contacted their editors, and accused them of being drunk in an attempt to discredit their work. This didn’t work, and as we all know, having a single bottle of beer, or glass of wine before a show isn’t illegal, after all, booze is something that comes with most press nights. Just remember that if you want to have a drink on a press night, not to have too many.

You Will Never Stop Learning

I studied theatre for four years at university, I learned so much about theatre from around the world, and I have seen countless productions and performances for the last 5 years. But, like all good critics, I am constantly learning about theatre, reviewing, journalism, in fact, good journalists never stop learning about the field they are working in. Open your mind, keep and open mind, and never stop reading, writing, reviewing and meeting new people in the industry.

You Will Have a Lot of Fun

While reviewing might seem like a thankless task, it really isn’t, after all, you get to experience the good, the bad and the ugly of theatre while witnessing performances and productions that you could be talking about for years to come. Yes, you may come up against some difficult people, and you may have to sit through some terrible, terrible theatre, but there is so much fun to be had as a theatre critic. So, never, ever give up, keep writing, because theatre criticism needs new, fresh, inspiring and knowledgeable writers.

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