Showing posts with label Blogging. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Blogging. Show all posts

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

How to be a film critic

Sunday mornings tend to follow the same pattern. A trip to buy croissants and The Sunday Times, then strong coffee and the omnibus edition of The Archers.

But last weekend I broke out of my rut and did something completely different. By 9.15am on Sunday I was sitting in a darkened cinema in London’s Haymarket – full of excitement at the prospect of seeing some of this autumn’s hottest new movies. I’ll be reviewing films like the eagerly anticipated Anna Karenina when they open in the UK but first up was a Q&A session with a host of well-known film critics and publicists.

The workshop, organised as part of the UK Cinema Showcase, was packed with bloggers covering all film genres – from sci-fi and horror to rom coms and thrillers.

We were all keen to hear the critics talk about how they tackle their reviews. Charles Gant, film editor of Heat magazine, stressed the importance of staying true to yourself. “What you can’t do is write against your gut,” he said. “If you do, it’s a road to disaster. The important thing is that you retain the trust of your readers and that you write what you truly believe. Once you try to second guess the readers you are lost as a critic.”

He added that sticking to your word count is crucial. “One of the great skills of being a critic is the art of concision. I see myself as a reviewer rather than a critic. People read my reviews to know whether to see the film or not. And after all, most people who aren’t film critics give their verdict in two words – ‘really bad’ or ‘really good.’”

Meanwhile Press Association film critic Damon Smith, whose reviews are read by eight to ten million people across the country, explained that two-thirds of the content of his reviews is commentary, while a third focuses on the plot. He concentrates on the screenplay, direction and acting and reckons that mediocre films are the hardest to review, while writing about bad movies can be fun – “because the bile pours from you.”

The conversation also covered the thorny question of awarding stars to films. In Damon Smith’s view the general advice to filmgoers is “three stars out of five – go and see it. Two stars – stay away.” David Hughes, film critic of Empire magazine, nodded. “And five stars means it’s unmissable,” he said firmly.

The critics agreed that it’s vital to stick to your guns and not be influenced by anyone else. They don’t talk to other critics after screenings and don’t read other reviews before they’ve filed their own. “Just sit and write in the dark,” instructed Charles Gant. So that's what we did.

Monday, 25 June 2012

BritMums Live - Is blogging a bit, um, 2009?

Five hundred bloggers, star-studded speakers, babies in arms and a glamorous venue in the heart of the City. BritMums Live promised all that, and delivered all that. Where else could you have your nails painted, learn the ins and outs of Google+, pick up some great tips on blogging and hear a speech by the hilarious Ruby Wax – all within the space of a few hours?

The two-day event kicked off at The Brewery, a five-minute walk from Moorgate tube station, on Friday with an introduction by founders Jennifer Howse and Susanna Scott. Susanna gave a sense of the power of BritMums when she told us that it boasts 4,000 members, 7,000 blogs and a staggering 20 million page views a month.

Then it was on with the first speaker – the incomparable Ruby Wax, author, comedian and founder of Black Dog Tribe, her website for people affected by mental illness. “I have become the poster girl for mental illness,” she declared, before launching into a brave, funny and very honest session entitled Prevailing Through Adversity – How I Beat the Tsunami of All Depressions. One blogger spoke for the whole audience when she stood up and said: “I applaud you for speaking out. It’s a big help to everyone.” Quick as a flash, the spiky Ruby shot back: “I had to. They outed me. Depression loves everyone.”

A panel of five high-flying journalists and bloggers then led a session entitled British Blogging Now. With Carla Buzasi, editor-in-chief of Huffington Post UK and 2012 online editor of the year, chairing the 50-minute debate, the stand-out discussion for me covered what the panel look for in a blog.

Steve Keenan, co-founder of Travel Perspective and an expert in travel social media, told us: “My current passion is video. It’s become more mainstream for bloggers – if you have video on your site, people stay on the page for much longer.”

Jeanne Horak-Druiff of Cook Sister said she wanted to see “good writing,” while Dan Elton of political blog Left Foot Forward said he looked for blogs that grabbed his attention. When a member of the audience suggested that younger people don’t see the point of blogs and asked if “blogging is a bit 2009,” Sarah Ebner, who writes The Times's School Gate blog, gave a spirited defence. She also mentioned the 100 Word Challenge, a brilliant idea where children write a creative piece of exactly 100 words and then post it to their school blog.

The day ended with bloggers gathering for the Brilliance in Blogging party, where we were treated to a glass or two of prosecco, some chic-looking canapés and a toast to blogging. I’m still mulling over the question of whether blogging is “a bit 2009” though. Is blogging really over? Is Twitter the new blogosphere? I’d love to hear what you think…

Thursday, 29 March 2012

From intrepid reporter to chronic worrier

What on earth has happened to me? I’ve trekked across the Masai Mara to discover who murdered a beautiful young woman in the prime of her life, stood on the doorsteps of drugs barons and murderers and covered court cases that gave me nightmares. Yet, here I am having sleepless nights over the slightest things.

The bottom line is that I need to give myself a firm talking to – and stop all this worrying nonsense. I was thrilled a couple of weeks ago when Yummy Mummy? Really? asked me to write a Mother’s Day meme. As I said at the time, I didn’t have a clue what a meme actually was but once I’d worked it all out I jumped at the chance. Anyway, one of the questions was “what's the hardest thing about being a mum?”

Without even thinking I wrote the following. “Worrying. I always reckoned being a mum would get easier as my children got older, but now they’re almost grown up I worry about them even more.”

I didn’t bat an eyelid as I typed the words but reflecting in the cold light of day I realised I was on to something. The carefree girl I once was has turned into a worrier of the first order. For goodness sake, I worry about everything – from my teenage son’s scary bike antics to his dreaded exams to the fact that my daughter’s currently living it up in Berlin with friends. It all sounds wonderful, except she’s staying in a youth hostel dormitory with people she doesn’t know.

I’ve met lots of fantastic bloggers online recently, most of them years younger than me and many with babies and toddlers to look after. As I read about their chronic lack of sleep and how on earth you ever find time for yourself and looking chic on the school run I’m torn in two. I feel half relieved that my 24/7 parenting days are over and half nostalgic for those far-flung times. I made a right meal of them but the truth is that I don’t think I worried quite as much then as I do now.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

A Mother's Day meme

It’s nearly a year since I started House With No Name and I’ve learned so much about blogging in that time. Twelve months ago I was utterly clueless about guest posts and tags and SEO and Stumbleupon, so it’s been a massive (but fun) learning curve. And today I’ve discovered yet another blogging term I didn’t know anything about – the meme. I had to look it up and it turns out that a meme is an idea spread across blog posts, where you answer a few questions and then ask another blogger to answer them too. 

Anyway, I feel very honoured because the lovely Yummy Mummy? Really? has asked me to join in a Mother’s Day meme. The challenge is to answer a thorny set of questions about being a mum. So Happy Mother’s Day to mums everywhere, and here goes:

Describe motherhood in three words

Brilliant. Tricky. Fun.

Does your experience differ from your mother's?  How?

My mum died eight years ago. We used to talk endlessly about everything and there are still days when I reach for the phone to ask her advice and then suddenly remember I can’t. She had me when she was in her early twenties and went on to build a hugely successful career later on. I concentrated on my career in my twenties and went freelance after my two children were born. But even so, I think we had the same ideas about being a parent. Maybe she was ahead of her time but unlike some of her generation she never left us to cry when we were little and when I was older she always said “ring me any time if you need to talk – even if it’s three in the morning.”

What's the hardest thing about being a mum?

Worrying about my children. I always reckoned being a mum would get easier as they got older, but now they’re almost grown up I worry about them even more. I worry about my independent student daughter whizzing around London by herself and about my son doing scary stunts on his bike.

What's the best thing?

The moments when we’re all sitting round the kitchen table at home, reminiscing about their childhoods and laughing hysterically about something ridiculous.

How has it changed you?

On the upside I’m far less selfish, but on the downside I’ve turned into a worrier (see question 2!)

What do you hope for your children?

That they will be happy, fulfilled and realise as many ambitions as they possibly can. My mum once wrote: “I don’t think my children owe me anything… As long as they’re doing what fulfils them I don’t think they owe me a letter, kindly or otherwise, a phone call, a card come Mother’s Day or Christmas, or even a hand-crocheted shawl, if ever I should come on hard times.” Hmmm. I’d really like my two to come home now and again!

What do you fear for them?

That’s a tough one. It’s so hard to imagine what the world will be like in 25 years time so I just want them to be as all right as they can possibly be.

What makes it all worthwhile?

Every second of it (apart from the odd squabble about messy bedrooms and staying out till all hours).

So that’s what I came up with. Now it’s my turn to tag five fellow bloggers, so I’m asking:

Here Come the Girls

I’d love to hear how you all get on.

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Guest post by Trouble Doubled - Twins: twice the work?

Happy Leap Year’s Day! I’m not sure whether such a celebration actually exists but considering that February 29 only comes round once every four years I reckon we should be shouting it from the rooftops. 

An enterprising fellow blogger – and author of the Trouble Doubled blog - agrees. She hit on the idea of running a blog swap carnival to mark the occasion and asked a host of bloggers to write guest posts for other bloggers. So I’ve written one for Here Come the Girls and I’m delighted to say that Trouble Doubled has written one for House With No Name. Here it is:

When I announced I was expecting twins, lots of different people started offering advice. Mainly family, and mainly older generations. Now, I’m not very good at listening to advice, especially from people who are no less clueless than myself on a particular topic, so of course, I inevitably ignored them.

The one piece of advice I heard most often from people (who I hasten to add had not had twins themselves) was that having two together was not much harder work than having only one baby.  This, of course, is complete and utter drivel.

The reality is that two babies are very hard work, and there are some things which really are twice as difficult with two, and some things that are nigh on impossible. On the plus side, I have found that there are some things which are easier.

For example, getting out and about anywhere isn’t just twice the work it’s actually more difficult than that. Single buggies are usually alright to fit through pretty much any shop door, or onto a bus. But with twins it isn’t about pushing two single buggies around, it’s usually a double width one. And you can’t fold up a buggy and carry it and the baby if necessary, twice over.  Once you have a baby in each arm, it’s impossible to do almost anything. The twins are yet to have their first bus trip.

Toddler incidents increase much more than two-fold. Having an active toddler is hard work for any parent, but it’s relatively easy to keep an eye on a singleton and prevent too many accidents and injuries. With two, it’s really tough because you can guarantee while you are being distracted by one, the other will be up to something which will end in a bump or a bruise. The twins seem to have had more accidents each than either of my older children had.

But then you get things that are not quite twice as bad, like sleep. If you can get your twins to co-ordinate their sleeping, waking and feeding, you will need to get up in the night as many times as a parent of a singleton, though you will likely be up for longer each time. Of course, you’ve twice the odds of getting a bad sleeper with twins, but I have also found that my twins settle better and sleep for longer than my older children did. I think this is because the twins keep each other company in the night.

On the positive side, some things are far easier, like play time. My twins are now a year old. They play together lovely. They chase each other round the room, laughing, completely oblivious to anyone else in there. They sit and babble to each other, passing each other toys. They don’t even notice when I leave the room for a minute or two if I need to. At this age, my older children would try and follow me out, banging on the door and screaming for me to come back. I don’t feel as clung to as I did previously. Result.

So if you are expecting multiples, please don’t listen to anyone who’s never had twins or more, themselves. They don’t know the half of it. Parenting multiples is a wonderful experience, which can be hard work but rewarding in so many ways."

Thank you very much, Trouble Doubled!

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Handpicked Media Gets Social Part 2: Blogging Tips

The organisers of the Handpicked Media Gets Social blogging event promised wall-to-wall talks on everything today’s bloggers need to know – and they certainly delivered. The blogging industry is moving at lightning speed, so whether you’re a novice or an old hand, it’s crucial to keep up-to-date. And thanks to speakers like Garry Davis, managing director of Why Communicate?, and super-inspiring businesswoman Sháá Wasmund (above), I learned more this week than I have in months.

First up, here are some tips from Garry’s "tech boot camp" on how to get more traffic to your blog:

1. Content is king. Focus on producing quality, compelling content.
2. Blog regularly. And remember that over time and the more visitors you get, the more content you’ll need to produce.
3. Images are a great source of traffic.
4. Pay attention to blog post titles. You can increase the number of visitors by up to 73 per cent by using compelling headlines.
5. Set up an RSS feed, add social media share buttons and include a blog roll that lists the sites you rate (good for search engine optimisation too!) It’s really important to get visitors to engage with your blog. Ask them to leave comments, include questions in your posts and always reply to comments.
6. Engage in the blogging community. Comment on blogs in your particular industry. It’s a real opportunity to build up your network.
7. Set up Facebook and Google+ pages for your blog.
8. Write guest posts. By doing this, you’ll gain linkage to your site and create awareness of your blog with a new audience.

Meanwhile Sháá, an online entrepreneur and founder of (which offers advice and networking resources to anyone starting and running a small business), instantly endeared herself to the audience by declaring that over the years she’d “probably made more mistakes than anyone in the room.”

Dynamic, driven and fizzing with energy, she quickly ran through her route to the top. She grew up in a single parent family, was the first in her family to go to university and became one of the first ever female boxing managers before turning her hand to business.

She’s recently written a motivational book with Richard Newton called Stop Talking, Start Doing (subtitled A Kick in the Pants in Six Parts) and reckons we should all take control of our lives and do something we really believe in. “I’m not saying it’s easy,” she said, “but it’s utterably achievable.”

PS. For more about the conference, read yesterday's blog, Handpicked Media Gets Social Part 1.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Handpicked Media Gets Social Part 1 - Blogging Event

The first speaker at yesterday’s Handpicked Media Gets Social conference looked slightly stunned when he walked onstage. "The audience is usually full of grey-suited men," said Garry Davis, managing director of Why Communicate?, as he gazed out across the wood-panelled chamber.

This event, however, was packed with 200 top beauty, fashion and lifestyle bloggers, most of them women. They were a very impressive bunch - ranging from the multi-award-winning Fleur de Force, who at 23 has racked up more than 180,000 YouTube subscribers with her engaging, articulate beauty tutorials, to ReeRee Rockette, 29, who blogs about “rockabilly, vintage, tattoos, alternative fashion and lipstick.” Not only that, she’s launched an on-line beauty business selling her own Rockalilly Lipsticks in four stunning shades.

I got chatting to ReeRee, resplendent in scarlet lipstick of course, because she tweeted brilliantly right through the conference. She swears by her BlackBerry by the way – by far the speediest phone to type on, she says.

The event, held at RIBA’s HQ in London’s Portland Place, was organised by Handpicked Media and hosted by founder Krista Madden. Krista launched the highly successful Beauty and the Dirt website 11 years ago and quickly realised that independent sites and blogs were the future.

Two years ago she hit on the idea of handpicking like-minded sites and attracting advertisers to work with them as a group. So Handpicked Media was born - and now comprises more than 230 sites and blogs, which together generate well over 15 million page views a month. Impressive stuff.

I was lucky enough to get an invite and leapt at the chance to learn more about social media and blogging. I’ll blog tomorrow about some of the tips I gleaned but one of the best things about the day was the chance to meet some inspiring bloggers, all of whose sites I signed up to the instant I got home.

First up is The Women’s Room, launched by Amanda Carr and Jane Kellock. The stylish duo have worked in fashion for years and met when they both worked at WGSN, the global fashion trend forecasting website. Frequently lamenting the dearth of fashion and style publications for women over 40, they started The Women’s Room. A fantastic and eclectic mix of fashion, style, art, culture, health, happiness and much, much more, it’s my new must-read.

It was great too, to meet two other journalists. Loma-Ann Marks’s Culture Compass gives you the lowdown on the latest places to go and what to see, while Miss B is the founder and editor of Belle About Town. Billed as a blog “for stylish women who want to get the most out of their lives,” Belle About Town fizzes with interviews, reviews, celebrity news and style. I love it.

Don’t miss tomorrow’s blog: Handpicked Media Gets Social Part 2.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

From Victoria Beckham to David Cameron - the new Grazia

Tuesday is my favourite day of the week. Why? Because a loud thump on the doormat signals the arrival of the latest issue of Grazia. I subscribed to the magazine a few years back, ostensibly for my student daughter. But in truth I love its heady mix of news, reviews and fashion just as much as she does.

I’m supposed to be writing a book review right now but couldn’t resist a sneaky look at today’s edition. It’s a cracker, featuring news that Victoria Beckham’s “in torment” over David’s possible move to play for Paris St-Germain (what are you thinking, Posh, Paris is the most fashionable city in the world), claims that the scar on Kate Middleton's head was caused by a sporting accident at school and an exclusive at-home interview with David Cameron.

The chat with the PM, conducted at No 10 by Sun columnist Jane Moore, is clearly designed to head off criticism that he’s sexist following his “calm down, dear” remark to shadow treasury chief secretary Angela Eagle during a House of Commons exchange. Not only that, a recent YouGov poll found that one in three female voters regard him as the “greatest male chauvinist” of the three party leaders.

Today’s interview runs to five pages but I’m not convinced it will make much difference. Revelations include the fact that romantic dinners with wife Sam are tricky when the protection team is sitting close by, that Sam often tells him to “calm down, dear,” that the couple’s elder two children like taking Fox’s Glacier Mints from the cabinet table and while his daughter Nancy loves The X Factor he tends to wait till near the end of the series because he “can’t be dealing with the man in the silver suit.” Does he mean Johnny Robinson? I’m not sure...

The most touching disclosure is that whatever differences the PM has with Nicolas Sarkozy, he’ll always be grateful to the French president for his kindness before his father’s death on holiday in France last year.

“We didn’t really know how bad it was,” says Cameron. “I was going to do PMQs, then get a flight a bit later, but in the meantime someone told President Sarkozy I was coming to France, and he’d got his own doctor to call the hospital and had found out things were really bad. So he rang me in the car to say ‘you must get on a plane now.’ So I did, and when I landed, he got me to the hospital... Whatever row I ever have with President Sarkozy, I will always remember that he got me to my dad before he died.”

PS: It’s probably mad, but I’ve signed up to NaBloPoMo (National Blog Posting Month), which challenges bloggers to post every day for, yes, a whole month. Can I do it? Watch this space!

Thursday, 20 October 2011

How to write a feature that works

From Emily Carlisle to Sarah Duncan, fellow bloggers have given me loads of fantastic advice over the last few months. I’ve gleaned tips on where to go in New York from Liberty London Girl (the High Line and the Strand Book Store were just two), picked up delicious recipes from Eat Like A Girl and kept up to date with life in France from my old friend Colin Randall at Salut!

Desperate to think of something to offer in return (well apart from the best pubs in Oxford and must-read books), I’ve realised that just about the only thing I know about is journalism. So, if you’ve got an article to write, here is my five-point crash course on the basics of feature writing for newspapers, magazines and websites.

1. Structure. All publications are aimed at different readers and have their own unique style – so your piece must take account of that style. If you’re unsure about your writing, use concise sentences and short paragraphs. Be consistent when it comes to tenses and avoid clichés, waffle and long, convoluted sentences that are tricky to understand.

2. Introduction. The first paragraph of your feature is probably the most important of all. It should grip readers’ attention immediately and compel them to read on.

3. Body of the text. Although your intro is crucial, the rest of the article must fulfil the promise of your stunning first paragraph. Develop your theme, message or argument step by step and make sure, too, that each paragraph flows logically to the next.

4. Quotes. Admittedly some people are more quotable than others, but strong, accurate quotes help to bring a feature alive.

5. Ending. A good ending should tie up any loose ends. But remember that a feature isn’t an essay, so avoid simply recapping all the points you’ve mentioned before. Don’t finish the piece too abruptly or let it tail away either. If in doubt, a good quote often works well and rounds the piece off in style.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

The dos and don'ts of blogging

There’s no question about it. When it comes to blogging, writer Emily Carlisle really knows her stuff.

So when I clocked that she was running a workshop on social media for writers at this year’s Witney Book Festival I hopped in the car and was round there like a shot.

I learned so much about blogging in the space of 90 minutes that I couldn’t wait to put Emily’s tips into action. The rest of the audience, who included an accountant keen to launch her own blog, authors, marketing consultants and journalists, were equally enthused. “I’m going straight home to get started,” one of them told me in the car park.

The key component of a cracking blog, says Emily, is “great content.” This could range from amusing anecdotes and “a day in the life” posts to reviews, interviews, vlogs, excerpts from a novel in progress, background research and hobbies. Your blog can be specialist, generalist or a mix of the two (or “having your cake and eating it,” as Emily describes it.) But, whatever you choose to write about, it must be a good read.

It’s absolutely crucial to post regular updates. Emily reckons bloggers should post two or three times a week – both to keep readers’ interest and to attract the attention of search engines. Blogs should be “short and snappy” (between 500 and 800 words is perfect), the design should make the blog “pleasant to read,” the text should be broken up by an image or two and posts should feature internal links to relevant previous items.

Other advice from Emily (which I’m following to the letter from now on) includes putting links to your most popular posts high up on your blog, tagging the themes you regularly write about (mine are books, France and teenagers) and resisting the temptation to choose wacky titles. As she wisely points out: “Use clear words. If you’re blogging about the best walks in the Cotswolds, then call it that. It’ll be far more likely to be picked up by search engines.”

When it comes to the conundrum of how to build up a readership, Emily says Twitter, Facebook and word of mouth are excellent ways to tell people what you’re doing. She reiterates, however, that 90 per cent of your tweets should be social and ten per cent “business.” Followers soon get fed up and drift away if all you ever do on Twitter is blow your own trumpet. Other tips are add a link to your blog in your email signature, mention it on your business card and consider joining specialist forums where people can click through to your blog.

If you’d like to find out more about the social media workshops Emily runs, go to She also writes a laugh-out-loud blog on parenting called - or as she describes it: ”If you’ve ever put the children to bed early just so you can open the wine, this is for you.”

PS: I’ve just bought this fabulous poster (pictured above) from Pedlars. It’s called HAVE THE VERY BEST TIME and is part of a series of limited editions from final year Chelsea College of Art students. Mine's by Jowey Roden - - and I love it!
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