Book review: Medieval Woman

Medieval WomanMedieval Woman by Ann Baer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A fantastic book. Totally enchanting look at the lives of a farming family in medieval England. Each chapter is a month in the year, giving the right level of information on the tasks to be done in the fields, the home and the hall.

I believe there is a sequel…

View all my reviews

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One month down…

Who knows how many to go? I’ve been freelance for many weeks now, and I’d like to share some of the things I’ve learnt, and some of the software I’ve been using during this time.

 

Producteev

I’m a little bit in love with this online to-do list and organisational system. Not only can I access it on my laptop, but also on my phone when on the go. The best bit isn’t that I can assign tasks to myself, set myself deadlines, and mark the tasks as complete, paused or active – but those are great features.

My favourite bit is the individual task window, where I can add facebook style ‘posts’ to myself in a stream. As I make each post within a task, the date and time is recorded. So I can simply write ‘Sent to client’ and look back and know that I’ve done my bit.

producteev

Oh, and did I mention I’m using the free version. My only wish is that it had a ‘cancelled’ status for tasks – as my clients have sometimes suggested a project with me, and we’ve discussed the project – only to have it fall through. In this case, the task isn’t paused or completed, so I feel a little odd changing the setting of this task. But I don’t want to delete these tasks, because they may start later on, and I don’t want to lose my notes.

What did I learn from this?

Many of my clients don’t work on weekends, and while I do, I shouldn’t expect a response during this time. A friendly reminder can work wonders, and certainly has during the times when my clients have been snowed under with work, or simply forgetful.

 

Wave

As a Sole Trader, I have signed up with the HMRC so that I can pay my tax. That was done in my first few days as a freelancer, and requires me to record my financial incomings and expenses. Of course, I’d planned to do this anyway, but I wanted some help.

Wave lets me input my incomings, raise invoices and send them – which many of my clients appreciate. The invoices look professional, and provide all the details needed to pay me. Once I send an invoice via Wave, I can also track the amount of time which elapses before the invoice is paid. Why? Because I can see which of my clients are ‘good’ and pay promptly, and which ones are not. While I have been using freelance websites like People Per Hour and ODesk, and don’t need to worry so much with these clients, it’s the contracts I have found independently which I need to look after.

What did I learn from this?

Pairing Wave with Producteev lets me track the tasks I need to complete, and when I’m relying on a response from a client. This shortens any turn-around time, and gets projects completed more quickly. While I’ve worked with project managers before – I’ve never been my own project manager. So I’m very glad of these two resources!

 

Hubspot CRM

I did briefly dabble with Hubspot’s Customer Relationship Management online platform, but it was too regimented for me, as my writing tasks are often varied and require different stages. Perhaps I’ll work out the pipeline eventually, but for now, each task is unique, and I need to treat them as such.

 

What did I learn this month?

Aside from the software I’ve been using, I’m also learning the joys of repeat business. One client has returned to me three times for original blogs. I am hoping that that relationship will flourish, and that the client will continue to use my services and be happy with them.

Copywriting Case Study: Brakes

Who are we talking about?

Brakes is a food wholesaler which aims to be the food partner for many businesses such as pubs, clubs and hotels, and the favoured supplier for chefs.

 

What are they selling?

Their products range from raw materials to ‘ready for the oven’ meals, like toad in the hole. Their products are not individual items, as you would find in your local supermarket, but instead offers its customers small quantities of products – just the right amount to keep your café stocked.

 

What do they want their customers to do?

Judging by their website, Brakes encourages their customers to sign-up for online ordering. I imagine that once registered, the experience of making a purchase will be similar to that of ordering from Ocado, or Tesco Food Shop.

 

What is the copy like?

Much of the copy on the site is literal, with only subtle hints of writing flair. It seems obvious that their customers are not looking for benefits and features, but want to know quickly what a product is. For example, ‘Milk chocolate brownie made with a dash of espresso (individually wrapped)’. Other products are simply announced by their title (like ‘Corona Extra’, Promotional Price: £21.99, £0.92 bottle), counting on the brand name and the price to win the sale.

To suit the audience, copy such as ‘Bite into these Honeybun Amondi biscuits for a satisfying crunch. Individually wrapped, they’re a sweet, nutty treat for your lunchbox’ would not be appropriate, as this text is appealing to the end consumer, rather than the customer, who will be wanting good food in large quantities for the right price.

 

Is all the copy that short?

After hunting through their website, I did find some longer copy. In this case, the longer text is likely due to the competition between products in this category, and the need to explain to buyers why this product is more expensive than the competition. Where there is quality, a quantity of words often follows.

‘Sundried tomato and basil flavour pork meatballs in a smokey Spanish style sauce with oregano, basil and smoked paprika, ideal for tapas. Serve hot or cold in flatbreads. Quick and easy to use, reheat 100g in microwave for 45 seconds. Once opened has 72 hours shelf life.’

 

What would you do?

It’s clear that brevity is key to Brake’s webcopy. So that presents more of a challenge to a copywriter. I’ve had a go at creating some copy that might just work for Brake’s website.

Brakes Multi-Use Tomato Sauce

DaVinci Summer Fruits Smoothie

Brakes Select Port, Cranberry & Orange Stuffing Log

pasta fruits stuffing

My suggested copy

A versatile chunky sauce, great for pastas, pizza, and paninis. This sauce contains all the ingredients of a classic Italian staple; onions, seasoning and herbs. A litre of cool berry smoothie with no artificial flavours, colours or preservatives. A tangy alternative for your Sunday Roast, this stuffing log contains 16 portions.
Despite highlighting the versatility of this product in its title, the copy was originally ‘Chunky tomato sauce with onion, seasoning & herbs’. Let’s spice it up. I’ve had a bit of fun with alliteration, and kept in the details about ingredients, but this copy is definitely ‘selling’ harder. I’ve kept this description simple, but as I can’t think of any smoothies which are served warm, I’ve highlighted the ‘coolness’ of this drink. This is an assumption, but one that I hope will evoke the sensation of cold fruity drinks for the reader. Second person pronouns (you and your) are often used in advertisement. This is not a feature which Brakes seem to use, but could be employed to help chefs consider adding this item to their Sunday menu.

 

 

Is there any other copy on their website?

Aside from their ‘About Us’ page, which really sells its service to customers, Brakes have also attempted to provide some inspiration for their audience. They’ve created an extra series of categories for their products, and taglines for them.

The ‘breakfast’ category hosts a range of Brakes products. ‘Eggs’, for example, has the tagline ‘How do you like yours?’, but ‘Continental’ breakfast foods use the tagline ‘sweet & savoury’. As a UK citizen, for me, European and foreign breakfast foods are often meat or cheese based. So, I’d prefer to read something like ‘Try something different’, or ‘Taste like you’re on holiday’. But that’s just me.

 

So that’s how you do it.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this little window into my process, and I will be doing some more case studies in future, to practise writing product copy, dissect webcopy, and how it works.

 

 

Life Lactoseless

Previously published on LeftLion.

Fancy a cheeky takeaway after a night of partying? Nope. How about some cheese on toast? Being a student and suffering with lactose intolerance can be tough.

You’ve just moved to a strange city, eager to start your course and meet new people– then the discomfort starts. You make a terrible discovery–you’re lactose-intolerant.

All the ‘student foods’ are denied to you. No pizza or cheeky takeaway, not unless you want to spend the next day in bed, curled up in pain. While people tend to accept the inevitable Sunday in bed due to a hangover, doubling up on pain because you treated yourself to a portion of chips and cheese seems both unnecessary and unfair.

takeaway

It’s surprising how many foods contain milk

I arrived at Nottingham University feeling ready to challenge everything; ideas, people and myself. I joined several societies, and despite plenty of late nights, I went to all my lectures.

Late nights and early mornings meant tea, hot chocolate and frequent trips to get milk, but when I started to feel ill throughout the day, I couldn’t work out why.

My symptoms slowly increased. I would be in pain after meals, and I suffered embarrassing symptoms. I prayed my flat mates weren’t around during the bad times and had no idea why they were happening to me.

Finally, I was diagnosed with lactose intolerance. But what was the cause? Why was I suddenly affected? My doctor and I have no idea. The new stresses of university life could have done it. Anxiety can cause IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) and lactose intolerance. I only know that when I took lactose out of my diet, these symptoms went away almost immediately.

Apparently, one in five people have lactose intolerance and don’t even know about it. In these cases symptoms are so mild that the sufferer hardly notices their discomfort (lucky them.) The NHS defines lactose intolerance as; “A common digestive problem where the body is unable to digest lactose, a type of sugar mainly found in milk and dairy products.” This can cause nausea, stomach pain or discomfort, flatulence and diarrhoea. Some people are affected more than others and can eat foods with milk as long as it has been processed or cooked, others not so much.

sweets

Oh, sweet torture

As I said, I am a student and therefore I require some encouragement while I work. For me this means an incentive of a snack for finishing a page, and even as I write this piece, I have sweets at my side- promised to me once I reach a certain number of words. Now I’ve had to cut out the lactose though, I’ve switched my butter and other dairy products to soya based variants, or I avoid things altogether. Before the swap I had no idea why I felt queasy during the day. Biscuits and baked goods contain butter, ergo milk. So my regular elevenses of tea and biscuits have changed. Soy milk and ‘own brand’ biscuits seem to be the safest option for me now– and I’ve learnt from my mistakes to always check the label.

Semi-skimmed milk powder is my nemesis, lurking in the small print, trying to catch me out. Just because it’s powdered does not mean the lactose is gone. It’s in everything! Luckily, supermarkets have a quick and easy ‘allergy’ tag on most of their products. If ‘milk’ is listed there, then I know it’s not okay for me to eat. If the product isn’t something I’ve had before, I check the ingredients list- just to make sure, but to do that with every item you buy on a weekly shop and your eyes will soon get tired.

However, there has never been a better time to be lactose intolerant. There are all sorts of ‘free’ foods. Soy and lactose-free milk and cheeses are available in most supermarkets.and ‘free’ chocolate and ready-meals are here! Bring out your dead recipes and revive them, for the milky revolution is upon us!

orientalfood

It’s surprising how many foods contain milk

Sometimes you can’t check the label, though. I forget to ask for soy milk a lot and have to ask for a swap (and because soy milk lasts longer than regular milk, it’s often less than fresh) I’ve become a much better chef, riddling out exactly what would go into a meal in a restaurant. Sure, I like vegetarian options, but they aren’t always as nice, and sometimes cheese is unavoidable. But there are alternatives to discomfort. If you do find yourself caught short, ask your doctor about Lactase – an enzyme pill which breaks down lactose. If you are in a restaurant and the only tasty option contains milk, throw one down and wait for your meal.

Allergies and intolerances are becoming ‘more common’ as people are more aware of their symptoms and the possible causes of them. Becoming more aware doesn’t mean suffering more though, with a little planning and armed with the right information, you can eat a healthy, well balanced diet, that doesn’t make you feel horrendous. The future of food for those with lactose intolerance is a lot brighter, and tastier, for everyone.

Simplified tax for sole traders

Today I took the plunge, and became freelance. I registered as a sole trader. Before filling out the paperwork, I researched everything for two hours. To register, it took ten minutes.

As I read, I decided to write a blog about how to register as being a sole trader in the UK, so that no one else needs to go through dozens of pages on HMRC totally mystified.

journey

Starting a new journey into freelancing is scary enough. Time to learn about tax

What did you find out?

My main concern was, and is, tax. Very few freelance websites talk about this, and there are lots of different types of tax. I wanted to know which ones applied to me and how much I need to pay. It turns out that even without registering, everyone is considered to be a sole trader. Without registering, you still need to pay your taxes. These are:

  • Income tax
  • National Insurance (Class 1, 2 and 4)
  • VAT

 

Okay, how much?

I made this chart, which puts all the different taxes in one place.

Basically, if you earn less than £155 a week, you won’t qualify to pay any of these taxes. It’s only when you earn £156 in one week that you will need to pay Class 1 National Insurance for that week.

You need to pay if you earn How do I pay this? How much will I need to pay?
Income tax between 11k and 43k per year Online self-assessment 20%
National Insurance Class 1 – more than £155 per week Online tax return 12%
Class 2 – more than £5965 per year Online tax return £2.80 per week
Class 4 – more than £8060 per year Online tax return 9% on profits between £8,060 and £43,000
Business tax ‘VAT’ more than 83k per year Until this point, you don’t need to register for VAT

(These figures were correct May 2016)

 

What counts as ‘earnings’?

It sounds straight forward. Your ‘earnings’ are the money you make from your employment. It includes the profits you make from self-employment, most pensions and any rental income (to name a few examples.)

If you’re employed elsewhere, perhaps in a part-time job, you also need to distinguish between the money you make from your self-employment, compared to your ‘regular’ employment.

 

That sounds complicated

Well, it can be, but it doesn’t need to be.

You can register as a sole trader, and for all of these types of tax in one place, and the online tools which will help you to complete the paperwork, with a Government Gateway account.

 

Top tip: While registering I breezed through one screen, and didn’t see my User ID. This is a unique number used as your login detail, and won’t be displayed again, so write it down! You’ll need it every time you log in. It’s 12 digits long. Write it down.

 

But I’m not going to make much money, do I have to register?

Yes, you should register. You can be fined if you don’t. And anyway, freelancers who are only dabbling in a few small commissions probably won’t have to pay tax.

 

What if I get a job elsewhere?

You can stop being self-employed at any time, filling out a form on the HMRC website. You can also restart your business after a hiatus, so if working for yourself doesn’t work for you during one stage of your life, there’s no reason why you can’t try again later.

 

So, I’ll register. Then what?

You’ll need to keep track of sales and income, expenses, PAYE (pay as you earn) records, and details of any of your other personal income. I’m going to be trying some free software called ‘Wave’, and will write a review about how I find it.

 

I’ll also write about how I’m finding submitting my own taxes, so if this is the reason you’ve been hesitant to register as a sole trader, hopefully I’ll be able to clear up any confusion you may be experiencing.

Between Two Thorns

“Learning to be a young lady has never seemed so dangerous.”
– Mary Robinette Kowal, Hugo Award winner

Upon opening the beautifully illustrated red cover, I knew I was in for a treat. Emma Newman’s first novel with Angry Robot Books Between Two Thorns. It’s a story of Cathy’s coming of age, and the politics between the Fae and the groups of magicians and arbiters in Bath- and the Fae mirror City Aquae Sulis.

Layered, like every fae promise, with conditions and tangles, until the fates of the main characters are bound up together. So neat, so cunning. Two chapters in, and it was turning out to be exactly my kind of book.

 

The Main Characters

Although we spend most time with Cathy, there is a number of characters, and between chapters we switch between viewpoints. Each time this happens, the plot thickens.

Cathy- the fae who wants to be human. Unfortunately for her, she’s been born to a rich noble family, and is expected to make a good marriage. She’s a rebel. For her coming of age she requested to go to University. After getting her wish, she runs away, in order to stay. She is betrayed (and not for the first or last time) by her boss, a shop keeper. Against her will she is brought back to her home by Lord Poppy. He seems to act simply for his own amusement – especially when it makes Cathy’s life harder.

Sam- just a guy in the wrong place at the wrong time. He’s an innocent, witness to something beyond his understanding. He likes a beer at the end of the day, and struggles with his marriage. He doesn’t want to ruin what he has… but it hasn’t helped that he took a leak at his wedding day, illuminated on the side of the marquee.

Max- an arbiter (who police the acts of the Fae.) He’s a down-to-earth kind of guy with a strong moral compass… without a soul. All arbiter’s have their souls kept in jars at their headquarters. But when the Bath HQ blows up, he’s the only one left to deal with the current crisis. Max’s life now focuses on Gargoyles, pain-killers and a mad librarian.

 

The Plot- WARNING: spoilers ahead

We begin with Sam the hapless human. Drunk, he stumbles from the pub and goes into an alleyway to relieve himself. He continues walking onto an old estate and witnesses two men, oddly tall, impossibly strange carrying something through the garden. A something large enough to be a body. He waits, trying to be stealthy. They find him, but don’t kill him, deciding instead to place him under a magical contract. He will be unable to talk about what he saw.

Then we meet Cathy. It’s her last day at work, and she is betrayed to Lord Poppy by her boss. Hidden from her family and all Fae, her boss protected her, even cast the simple charm to keep her safe. Despite her wishes she must become the fae lady she was born to be.

True to the crazy-paving nature of the chapters, we jump to another character- Max, the arbiter. The only a arbiter left in Bath after a freak accident, the Fae of Bath take advantage. They let their magic run riot, and there is no one but Max and a few allies to protect humans, fae or arbiters.

A volley of questions are thrown into the reader’s mind, and the plot matches the complexity of a fae’s lying tongue. The ‘uncorruptable’ Arbiters have been corrupted. Who is kidnapping mortal blondes, and what does this have to do with Max?

Meanwhile, Cathy has been ‘gifted’ with 3 wishes, which must impress the fae lord Poppy and be given before the first ball of the season- which, did I mention, is only a few days away? Or she’ll be turned into a walking puppet for eternity. Now that the spell hiding her has been removed, Tom catches up with her. He’s Cathy’s brother, and has been hunting for her for years. She doesn’t run. She’s calm, collected, and makes a cup of tea.

Then at chapter eleven the writing slumps. Another main player in the plot is introduced, a man from the Rosa family. He demands that he be repaid for Cathy’s first misspent wish. Causing him to lose out on a beautiful mortal lady. It seemed a little contrived, and just an attempt to make the first ball of the season a little more interesting. I was not convinced about these character’s motivations. It was farcial, and didn’t keep with the serious magical atmosphere of the rest of the book.

At the ball, Lord Poppy hurries Cathy along with her final wish and is reunited with her parents and her fiancee. (I think they’ll actually be a good for each other.)

Sam ‘the loveable drunk human’ is cornered by Max and the librarian, and asked to talk about what happened – but all his words turn into nonsense fiddle-de-dee. They use Cathy to break the spell on Sam and all converge at the party to solve the mysteries they are faced with.

At this point the worries of Max and Sam weren’t really getting to me. I wanted more reasons to care about them, but as a recently non-teen girl, I must suppose I sympathise with Cathy, who begins to re-learn the tricks of the Fae and kick ass.

What happens then? I’m trying not to spoil the ending, but I can assure you that it was a firework display of plot lines, criss crossing, finishing and beginning anew.

The next book in the series is out now. I must get my hands on a copy.

 

My Rating

I’m going to give this book four out of five. The ending felt a little rushed (perhaps that was just my reading speed), and in places the plot didn’t really seem logical. I like a plot that I don’t expect, but makes me sit up and say ‘Of course, yes, that is exactly how it should go.’

 

If you’d like to know more about the series or find a copy, go to:

Emma Newman

 

Originally published on Heart Of Glass online

Make your Desk Work for You

Desk of a writer, student or freelancer is a sanctuary. Where would you be without it? It’s your port of call in a storm of deadlines. But before I get sentimental, just what makes the perfect workstation?

A desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world.
John le Carre

Science Daily says that the modern person spends and average of 5 hours 41 minutes at their desk every day. As a student and writer, I know I’m chained to my desk for much longer. Believe it or not, you can strain yourself while sitting down. Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) is often caused by typing too much, using a mouse for long periods, but is also found in the arms, wrists, hands, shoulders and neck. Looking up at a screen, looking down at a screen can also cause discomfort. If you are long-limbed or not of average height, think about a booster cushion for your chair, a computer stand, and wearing a scarf.

Happiness is a very small desk and a very big waste-basket.
Robert Orben

A scarf? One day, they may join the suits and ties in the office. They help keep your muscles warm around your neck, and are a reminder of and discomfort. I often wear a scarf, even in summer, as I suffer from Upper Cross Syndrome, sometimes called ‘Student Syndrome’. It weakens your neck and shoulder muscles while the back of your head and pectorals will be tighter. This will make you slouch and cause pain, spasms, and pinched nerves. Take breaks, stand up and move before this develops (it’s also a great excuse to make a cuppa.) It pays to pay attention to your posture.

Adjustable furniture is rare, so make sure to try before you buy. Are you having to reach for your keyboard, do you have plenty of space for your legs and arms? There’s plenty to think about.

The writer has to force himself to work. He has to make his own hours and if he doesn’t go to his desk at all there is nobody to scold him.
-Roald Dahl

Once you have a suitable desk, the next thing think about is where to put it. Think about light. Is there glare on the screen? Is it too bright or too dark to read? Where are the windows? Where does the sunshine fall, and at what moments during the day? Make the most of natural light. If you can, place your desk beside a window. Hopefully the view wont be so distracting, but you won’t have your backlit screen famed in a bright light. After these considerations go for good over head lighting, and a desk lamp which focuses on what you are working on rather than lighting your room.

I have my favourite cat, who is my paperweight, on my desk while I am writing.
-Ray Bradbury

While clutter and chaos is said to be the sign of a creative mind, it can also stop you from creating. If you’ve ever been looking for ‘that’ little bit of paper, then you know what I mean. Unfortunately, there are only two ways to sort this out. One, to throw away all the clutter. Two, to organise it. Both these options involve getting rid of the unnecessary things.

Right now I’m tackling some concentration issues. On my desk right now are several to-do lists, tissues, a few books, my guitar tuner, a necklace, post-it notes, a hairbrush, five pens and a pair of scissors. Every now and then I look away from my screen and let my eyes wander across these items. They are distracting. They remind me of other things I want to read, places to go, and I’m constantly hoping my phone will provide some distraction.

See if you can make your office furniture work for you.

 

Originally published on Heart Of Glass online.