Monthly Archives: November 2011

Other Hard Ways to Make an Easy Living

So. Last Friday, a corporate client who I’ve previously written for asked me how much I would charge to rewrite 350 words of their copy.

‘Fuck knows,’ I replied (I’m paraphrasing here). ‘Six hundred pounds?’

‘Cool. Get started.’ He said. (I’m paraphrasing for him, too.)

This got me thinking. It got me thinking, primarily, about the shitty rates I’ve been paid by newspapers and magazines over the years. It got me thinking that perhaps I should focus my energy away from journalism and towards being a corporate putzfuck (see previous post for hilarious layers). And not only that, but that I should also consider revisiting other areas within the writing industry, whatever the hell that is, where I’ve tried to make a living. Over the years I’ve tried to become a successful political speechwriter, scriptwriter and novelist and perhaps I should try these things again.

Here’s what happened before.

1. Political Speechwriter

Sometime in 2009 I received a phone call. ‘Fly to New York tomorrow,’ it went. ‘Then fly to the Caribbean. We want you to write speeches for politicians.’ So, the following day I flew to New York and then the Caribbean. Along the way I picked up a book called something like, ‘Greatest Speeches of the 20th Century’ and read the whole thing. The first speech I wrote took less than an hour and was called ‘Let Me Tell You About Change.’ The candidate who I wrote it for looked to be a no-hoper, but ended up winning the seat in the election. I had to record the speech to check the length, and when I first read it aloud I was overcome and cried. It was that good. The next two speeches I wrote weren’t as good. Then I stole a computer and ran away. That wasn’t very good either. When I came back to London I saw a job advertised at the US Embassy for a speechwriter and I applied, but they said no.

A stolen computer, earlier

2. Scriptwriter. 

Either shortly before or shortly after stealing a computer and running away from the Caribbean, I was approached by two people who asked me to write a short film. They had the shell of an idea. They wanted me to fill that shell. We all got very excited (they had won a bunch of awards between them and had contacts with lots of money to invest; I was a brilliant thief) and talked about Cannes, Sundance, Oscars – stuff, essentially, that was no way going to happen. One evening I sat down and wrote the script. It was about two Arctic explorers who end up sabotaging each other. A comedy. I called it ‘What More Do You Want Me To Give Up Now?’ which were apparently Ernest Shackleton’s last words. I asked them if they liked the title and they said no. They did, however, really like the script. They said it was sharp and funny. They said we would definitely get funding. We had a meeting and talked a lot about shots from a helicopter. We had another meeting, but I can’t remember what was said. Perhaps I was supposed to do something. Nothing else has happened with it since then. It’s only just occurred to me that we gave up on a project that had the words ‘give up’ in the title.

Ernest Shackleton, earlier

3. Novelist.

Eleven years ago, I hitchhiked from Bournemouth to Barcelona. Within five minutes I had my first lift, in a BMW. This is easy, I thought, there’s no way this can fuck up. A few days later I was in Paris stealing food from shops and eating out of bins. I tried to sleep on a roundabout one night, and car loads of people drove past and stared at me like I was demented. When I got to Barcelona I met two Italian girls at the ferry terminal. They gave me pasta and cigarettes. I alluded to being an eccentric millionaire and suggested that if they ever found themselves in Mallorca, they should come and stay in my mansion. A few days later they found themselves in Mallorca and they ended up sleeping in a disused sauna of a semi-abandoned tennis club. After they left, I started writing a novel. The novel was about the death of childhood. At one point it looked like it would get picked up by a publisher, but in the end they said no. A few years after that I began to write a novel about a psychopath who seduced women by telling them he was playing a young Stanley Kubrick in a biopic. Everyone said no to that. A month or so ago I started writing a novella and abandoned it.

Journalism it is, then.

Pork-Barrel Fuck

Earlier this evening, someone came to see me. They had to pick up a cat. Somehow, I’ve found myself in a situation where I’m living in an expensive house on top of a hill looking after cats. I don’t know how many. Two? Ten? A number of cats, anyway. And a dog. The dog is old and brilliant and three or four times a day I have to scrape out the green gunk that hangs out in the dog’s eyes and then put in eye drops. It’s not as bad as it sounds.

So a man came to see me about a cat. I hadn’t seen him for maybe fifteen years. Now he looks like a New York playwright. I told him that he looked like a New York playwright. This seemed to make him happy.

“So, how have you been? What have you been doing?” he said.

“I got married. For a bit, then I got div-”

“Fuck, fuck, fuck,” he said. “Oh fuck.” He’s also divorced.

“Yeah, I got divorced. She’s having this kid.” Jesus, I thought, I’m speaking American. Am I trying to impress him? Do I know that he isn’t really a New York playwright, that he just looks like one?

“Oh, fuck,” he said. “Fuck, fuck, fuck. And you’re writing now I hear?”

During this thrilling exchange of words he’d wandered over to my desk. On that desk, was my days’ work. One sheet of paper. On the top of the sheet of paper, I’d written: ‘EVERYTHING IS FUCKED’ and then listed everything that was fucked. Hair, face, shoes, glasses (before I lost them), computer, career – that sort of thing.

He picked up the piece of paper and looked at it. Underneath ‘EVERYTHING IS FUCKED’ and the list of everything that was fucked, I’d written: ‘How do I get to be one of the voices on Points of View?’

Underneath that, I’d written: ‘From now on, only insult people with four letter words where ‘u’ is either the third or fourth letter. Try: turd, slut, fuck, rube, putz, fuck, chump (almost), cunt, plum, bum (almost)’

“That’s just.” I said.

We smoked some cigarettes and we talked about me writing for his charity and then he left. What an impression, I thought. What a days’ work.

Where do we go from here, I wonder. Further down? How much further is there to go? Since starting this hare-brained putz of a project I’ve lost my career, my wife, my shoes, my mind and lots of other stuff that I can barely begin to think about. The night before last I had a vision. I had a vision of me trying to rob a casino. Is that where I’m headed? In the vision, I wasn’t all cool and cinematic. In the vision, my gun was made of paper mache because my visions are smarter than I am and my visions know that when I do go to rob a casino (and I will, I definitely will), I won’t be able to afford a real gun, I’ll have to make one out of the fucking Guardian or something. And I won’t have a getaway car. I’ll have to take the bus. And I won’t have clothes. In the vision, I was dressed in a barrel. You know those old films or cartoons or whatever the hell they are when the wild west town idiot has to walk around in a barrel? That’s going to be me.

‘Going to be me’ – it fucking is me. Now. I’m in that barrel now. I’m standing in front of the cashier in the casino in my barrel with a gun-shaped Guardian. Ace, isn’t it?

Wow. Apologies for the drama. What a rube. It’s been a tough few days. Apart from the playwright, I haven’t spoken to anyone for five days. I think I better get back to cooking up pitches that will be ignored.

Thanks for everything.

A Handful of Pitches I Sent Last Night and This Morning to The Guardian, Vice, Fabulous and Grazia.

 

The title says it all, really. Here’s the first, to Rob Fearn.

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To: Rob Fearn @ The Guardian.

From: Pitching the World.

Subject: Ideas for Shortcuts

Hi Rob,

It’s been a couple of years since I sent you a pitch, so I thought ‘Why not?’ In fact, I thought, ‘Why not send you two?’ Here they are:

1. I read recently that according to nutritionists – or, at least, according to some nutritionists – we should be aiming to eat up to 120 different types of food a week. Is that even possible? At the moment I eat about four: chicken, potatoes, beer and oranges. Anyway, perhaps I could try it out for a week and see how I get on. Could seek advice from leading nutritionists. Perhaps it’s not good for us. Prior to the last 50 years or so, how many different types of food would we have been exposed to in a lifetime? Fifteen? Twenty? Thirty? Can’t imagine it would have been much more.

2. Whilst conducting some research recently into sleep deprivation, I came across a NASA report that suggested a 20-minute nap during the day helps increase productivity, mental sharpness and has a beneficial effect on health generally. In the future, will we all be encouraged to sleep at work? Or at least some of us? Do some companies implement such a practice now? Again, I could inject this with comment from experts. I’d also be willing (keen, even) to phone up or write to the top five or so employers in the country and get their thoughts on this.

Cheers,

Pitching the World

(PS I’m the person who wrote about having a football trial for Colchester United a couple of years ago for Shortcuts, assuming you have a long memory)

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Fairly pedestrian stuff, I’m afraid. I’m not sure how sold I am on this breezy, unaffected air that I seem to have affected, full of ‘Cheers’ and ‘Why nots?’ Well, why not? Why not mess up my life by disrespecting my pitches Rob? Why not come round and screw my wife whilst doing so, Rob, whilst I sit in the corner masturbating and crying?

Oops, what happened there? Of course I don’t have a wife anymore. I can’t work out if this makes the idea more heartbreaking or not. Anyway, onward. Come on, let’s not dwell on things. We’re fine. We’re moving on.

The Guardian, earlier

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To: Dominic Utton @ Fabulous Magazine

From: Pitching the World

Subject: Is It Just Me Or…

Hi Dom,

Is It Just Me Or Does Food Packaging Treat Us All Like Children?

There was a time when if you went to the shop to buy bread or meat or soap, the packaging would simply say that: ‘Bread,’ ‘Meat,’ ‘Soap.’ Obviously I can’t remember that time, I’m 36. Then, manufacturers started listing ingredients, a place to write to – that sort of thing. That was fine, it was good to know what was in the chocolate bar you’d just eaten, and good to write to the people who had made that chocolate bar telling them that you’d just eaten one of their chocolate bars. Then something strange happened. Then, they started putting pictures on the front of their products as a way of showing you how to eat them. Beans would be shown on top of a piece of toast and accompanied with the words ‘Serving suggestion’. As if that helps. As if, prior to this, shoppers were coming home with their tins of beans and then just stopping dead in their kitchens, wondering what to do with them. Pour milk on them? Put them in a fruit salad? Fashion them into a chicken-shape and put them in the oven for an hour and a half? The other day I saw a serving suggestion for frozen chips that was just a plate of chips.

But that isn’t it too bad. Recently things have got worse. Much worse. I blame those plums at Innocent and the bullshit whimsy that they spout on their smoothie cartons. ‘If you want me at my best,’ they sing, ‘You’d better put me in the fridge.’ Me? ME? They’re not a me, Dom. You’re a me, Dom. I’m a me, Dom. My mother’s a me. Some crushed up bananas and loganberries in a carton is not a me.

I have plenty more examples of packaging treating us like children and the anthropomorphism of food,  but fear this email could run to four thousand words if I don’t shut up now.

Anything in this?

All the best,

Me

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Well, it’s not terrible at least. And I did sign off hilariously. Didn’t I? Be quiet, just read this next one.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

To: Alex Miller @ Vice

From: Pitching the World

Subject: I’ve got the skills to pay the bills

Hello Alex,

Hope you don’t mind, but [Redacted] gave me your email address.
I’d like to write for you. I don’t imagine you’ve heard that one before. Initially I wanted to email you with a feature idea about the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of soldiers who are currently AWOL from the British armed forces. Where are they? What are they doing? I’ve heard from one or two people that a lot of them hang around south-east Asia but I’ve been unable to verify this. If I managed to track a handful down (both in the UK and elsewhere) is this something you would be interested in?

But that’s not really what I’m writing to you about. I’d like to write a weekly column about my attempts to go around the world living in hotels in developing countries whilst trying to make a living from gambling. This a slightly sore subject because I used to see a psychologist for a gambling addiction, but someone recently offered me a poker column and last year I split up with my wife and have spent my time since then either living in my nan’s dining room or living in houses that people ask me to look after for them and I thought, ‘Why not?’ Why not travel around the world gambling and writing about it? I imagine it would be a mixture of gambling locally and online.

This email may or may not suggest it would be good. It would be good. I’ve written features in the past for all the usual kinds of publications that people like me write features for (Guardian, Independent, Square Meal, Front, British Journalism Review) but perhaps the best indication of how I write is here, on my blog. “On my blog” – pathetic, isn’t it? I’m 36. Still, one magazine editor did call it ‘The best written site on the internet.’ That’s something, right?

Anyway, here’s the link:

Thanks for reading.

All the best,

Pitching the World

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The beadier-eyed among you will have noticed that I’ve used that whole ‘Why not?’ blather again. They will have also noticed that I clearly can’t be bothered with the whole, “I’ve written for The Guardian and etc. etc. etc.” bit. And they will have noticed a crap subject line. Oh well. Shame, really, as I’d love to do this.

This, below, was inspired by and a product of my previous post.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

To: Laura Atkinson @ Grazia Magazine

From: Pitching the World

Subject: I Love Buying Women’s Clothes

Dear Laura,

Apologies for barging into your life like this, but Suzy Cox from Grazia contacted me years ago about something I had written for the Guardian that was later written by my then wife for Grazia so I reckon Grazia owes me one. Actually, that logic is twisted. If anything, I owe you one. Still.

Perhaps I should start again. I’d like to write a feature for you. Specifically, I’d like to write a feature about buying women’s clothes. For women, not for me. I love it. When I was married I loved it. When I had girlfriends I loved it. In fact, even though I’m not really looking for someone new at the moment, part of me wants a new wife or girlfriend just so I can buy her clothes. I’m not talking about saucy lingerie and the like, but nice floral prints and tennis dresses – that sort of thing. I even enjoying buying women shoes. It’s odd, I spent most of my twenties working on building sites and have spent the early part of my thirties writing and smoking and drinking myself to death in pubs, playing football and so on and bar this little peccadillo am not in the least bit effeminate.

What do you think? Could pepper the whole thing with the opinion of other men who hate/like this kind of caper and of women who both enjoy and can’t stand being on the receiving end of clothes that men have bought for them. I’ve already sought the opinion of female writers about this and have some cracking material.

Here’s the piece that attracted the attention of Grazia before, but have tons more clips if you’re interested.

Thanks for taking a look at this.

All the best,

Pitching the World

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Writing the above – although completely true – left me feeling slightly grubby. But then I thought they might pay me lots of filthy money that I could go out and spend on dirty things and – in the same way that a double negative works – I might come out of the whole thing spectacularly clean and brand new.

What do you think? Not about my half-baked theory, but about the pitches. Any of them going to make it? Which ones are the swimmers? I’d be delighted to hear your thoughts. Thank you.

A loganberry (actually, three of them – perhaps four. If you look closely – five?), earlier. 

Have I Got 9* Incredible Feature Ideas for You? (Answer: Probably Not)

Why did it all turn out like this for me? I had so much promise. I was personable, I was bright. Oh, maybe not academically speaking, but … I was perceptive. I always know when someone’s uncomfortable at a party. It became very clear to me sitting out there today, that every decision I’ve ever made, in my entire life, has been wrong. My life is the opposite of everything I want it to be. Every instinct I have, in every area of life, be it something to wear, something to eat … It’s all been wrong. – George Costanza

This morning I started panicking about work. This afternoon, I sat in a field and stared at sheep and black pigs and dry stone walls and tried to stop panicking about work. I think I got somewhere. I realised that, like George Costanza, I should do the opposite of what I’ve been doing. Rather than thinking about the sort of features that I want to write, I’ve begun to think of the title of a feature and then watch everything else slink into place. A breakthrough, perhaps.

Earlier today – in the field – I spent ten minutes trying to work feature ideas around the title of so-so news quiz Have I Got News for You. Here’s what I came up with:

1. Have I Got Views For You: The top 9* open top bus journeys in the UK.

2. Have They Got Views for You: I revisit the work of some of the most well-known and well-paid columnists in the country – Richard Littlejohn, Jeremy Clarkson, Julie Burchill, Jan Moir etc. – to see if there is consistency and belief in the offensive, hinky bullshit that they spout or whether they just come up with stuff to get attention and make more money.

3. Have They Got Views Whilst I’m Looking at Views for You: As above, but I conduct all of my research on open top buses.

4. Have I Got Shoes For You: When I was married, I used to enjoy buying my wife shoes and dresses. I’ve enjoyed buying shoes and dresses for girlfriends, too. In fact, although I don’t really want a new wife of girlfriend just yet, I sort of would like one so that I could buy her shoes and dresses. Is this normal? I could write about this, and other men who like to do this.

5. Have I Got Screws for You: A year-long weekly column about my attempts to sleep my way to the top of the journalism industry. The best bit will be when I try to give Alan Rusbridger a handjob in a public toilet.

Alan Rusbridger, possibly getting a handjob, earlier.

6. Have I Got Snooze For You: Research by NASA suggests that a 20-minute nap during the day increases mental sharpness and productivity, and has a favourable effect on mood. Could we see a situation in the future where companies actively encourage sleeping at work? Probably not, but I could write about it.

7. Have I Got Pews for You: An investigation into church attendance and whether the decline can be halted.

8. Have I Got Ewes for You: God knows. Farmer’s Weekly?

9. Have You Got Eyes for Two: I’ve no idea what this would be about, either. It was a long and heavy weekend. (And I haven’t even touched upon booze/crews/cruise/boos and so on. You can have those. Do what you want with them.)

But hopefully you see my point. And although I’ve been capering about up there a bit, there are one or two strong ideas – the getting a girlfriend just so I can buy her clothes, the sleeping at work – that I could work on and pitch this evening. I probably will do. And that’s just from  a 10-15 minute brainstorming session. (If I ever write ’10-15 minute brainstorming session’ ever again you have my permission to kill me.)

Anyway, please try it and let me know how you get on. It doesn’t, incidentally, work with the next batch of films/television programmes I thought of (Back to the Future, Newswipe, The Karate Kid, Countdown, The Big Lebowski), but sort of works with Dude, Where’s My Car? and Last of the Summer Wine.

*According to a friend who is the assistant ed at a fitness magazine, putting ‘9 Ways to Get Better at Whatever’ leads to higher sales than ’10 Ways to Get Better at Whatever’.  Or, indeed, any other number. Some world we live in, isn’t it? 

We in Trouble? A Bad Guide to Good and Bad Rates.

On September 18th of this year I wrote: “For me, freelance journalism is tough at the moment. Anecdotally, freelance journalism is tough at the moment. I’ve heard of a handful of people in the last week alone who have either given up or are on the verge of giving up. Rates are low and dropping. Editors make you fuck them in bins and buy them hats before they commission you. Accounts departments spend all their time laughing and masturbating at you. All very grim and seedy, I’m afraid.”

For the record, I have never made love to an editor in a bin. I may, however, buy the next editor who commissions me a really nice hat. Bear that in mind, editors.

Anyway, rates. I’ve been promising to write about rates for some time now and I’m the sort of person who, if they promise to deliver something, they damn well deliver it. Please don’t write in saying this is not true. I know it’s not true.

Until a day or so ago, I thought that if I did write a post about rates, I would illustrate it with graphs. I imagined the graphs would look something like this:

After some digging around, I’m not sure how accurate that graph is, not sure to what extent ‘we in trouble’. Things could be a lot better, granted, but after seeking and receiving the advice from a couple of dozen journalists and editors over the last few days, I’m actually feeling more positive about being a freelance journalist than I have done all year.

In fact, I’m feeling a bit like this:

This man pops up if you type ‘online graphs’ into Google image search. He looks okay, he looks happy enough with things. Who is he? Maybe he’s reading this. If he is reading this, perhaps he could inject his opinion into this borderline laborious post. In the meantime, here are ten (later changed to eleven) things that I’ve found out about current freelance rates for journalists.

(Non-journalists/everyone may want to skip to the end, as I have a feeling I may put up another graph decorated with fuck words and dicks.)

1. Rates may well have stagnated over the last decade or two. According to Mari Molid*: “A friend of mine who’s freelanced forever says that the dirty little secret about freelance journalism is that rates are the same as 20 years ago. But our grocery, fuel and housing costs are sadly not.” Ida Alstad* seems to support this: “Some rates haven’t changed much in 20 years. I used to get £100 a day freelance subbing in 1990/1991. You’d be doing well to get much over £120 at most places today.”

2. It could be that rates, after a fall, are rising again. Gro Hammerseng*: “I found that rates dipped considerably about two years ago when the recession hit, but I’m finding some are getting better again this year. They’re not up to the levels they were in the middle of this decade, but they’re better than rock bottom.”

3. You can sometimes earn a lot of money. Richard Parker**: “The top rate I’ve been paid was £2,000 for selling a few quotes about a celebrity for a tabloid – it was a major exclusive and the quotes were only two hundred words long.” Stephen Fry, apparently, tried to get £3 a word from the Guardian (thanks to Central Park Mugger**). Both Tonje Larsen* and Tine Stange* reported getting £1 a word (for Bella). Both reasonably high and pretty damn low rates were included in an email from Kaari Aalvek Grimsbo*: “Well firstly I’d like to make it clear that I don’t really write on a pound per word basis… I normally get a day rate (between £70 and £250).  However for dramatic effect, I word counted my short story for the illustrious People’s Friend.  It came to 3p per word.  That’s 1450 words at £50.  The more normal amount is around 50p per word.  The most is £1.”

4. It’s probably time for another graph, summing up what we’ve learnt so far:

5. The highest word rate received among those I spoke to falls between 50p and £1 a word, with the Daily Mail coming out as one of the highest payers.

6. Bernie Lomax** from a leading men’s magazine has this to say: “Rateswise, at our mag we generally do about 15-20-25p/word, depending on who’s doing it and how much research/organisation it requires. Generally we work with round figures, using the same several people most of the time, so it’s more casual like “Hey Pitching the World, can you do this, about twelve hundred words, call it three hundred quid?” If it’s an interview where we’ve arranged it and it’s using our questions so they’re literally just ringing up and reading them we’ll sometimes just do a token fee. It varies to be honest. It’s kind of based on whether we’re using someone because they’re the fucking tits as a writer or whether it’s because there’s something any dork could do, but none of us is about.”

7. Some US magazines pay very well. According to the NUJ guide, US Vogue and Vanity Fair pay up to £2,746 per thousand words and US Esquire offers £2,060 per thousand words. These figures, however, do look to be out of date. Apparently, Good Housekeeping used to pay a dollar a word in 1966 and still paid the same in 1998.

8. Some publications pay very poorly. Again, according to figures posted on the NUJ website, one journalist was paid £625 for a 4,200 word feature for High Life, the New Statesman pays £187.50 per thousand words and the NME £140 per thousand. Recently, I was offered £100 for 1,800 words.

9. Some publications don’t pay at all. Please try not to write for these publications.

10. Fucking hell, this post has taken about a hundred thousand hours to do. Has it been helpful? Hope so.

11. At the time of going to press (how grand am I?), this just dropped into my inbox (how casual am I?). Seems to sum up everything rather well. Larry Wilson**:

“When I was working for travel mags in 2003-5, I wouldn’t go under 35p/word. Today, the standard rates I get from almost all the papers are lower or about the same. Guardian/Obs c.30p, Telegraph 30-35p, Indie even less.

– At the time I joined the Telegraph, our desk had been paying the same standard rate since its inception 10 years before (50p). That stagnation was bad enough, but no one ever thought that rates would actually go down. Then the management consultants came in, and they did.

– Best gig I’ve had was travel writing for a corporate – just shy of nine grand for seven days skiing and getting drunk in Italy, and producing 3,000 words of copy.”

In graph form, that is represented like this:

Jesus, that looks terrible, and is not at all representative of what he said. If you really try though, it does look a bit like someone skiing.

Thank you very much to everyone who contributed. Apologies if I’ve mangled your fine words.

* To preserve anonymity, all females have been named after members of Norway women’s national handball team.

** To preserve anonymity, all  males have been named after characters in Weekend at Bernie’s.

Five Journalists Who Have Beards

Since I made a throwaway remark (that took 25 minutes to write) yesterday about having a beard, I’ve been flooded with requests to put up a picture of it. “Show us your beard,” these requests would say if they existed. “Go on,” they don’t continue, “show us your beard.”

So, I’m showing you my beard. Here it is. In order to protect my thinly veiled anonymity, I’ve put on a big hat and a pair of prescription sunglasses (not mine). 

Image: Charlie Wiper

Look at me. Cool, aren’t I? What am I doing there? 60? 70? 80? I’m not doing 90 am I? No. Actually, I’m not doing anything. I can’t drive. This is how I get my kicks these days, by sitting in cars pretending to drive. I used to do this when I was six.

But that’s not enough, is it? Well, it’s both not enough and too much and at the same time all a bit empty and seemingly pointless, just highlighting my beard. I’m well-known for posting entries that provide invaluable insights into the magical world of journalism. With that in mind, here are five other journalists with beards.

1. Ernest Hemingway.

Hemingway had a beard. He started out as a cub reporter for The Kansas City Star. He wrote some books. In 1961 he blew his brains out with a shotgun. His father also committed suicide.

2. Giles Coren.

See what I did earlier? I wrote the Ernest Hemingway entry in his style. I found it to be largely unsuccessful. Still, when has being largely unsuccessful ever stopped me? Never, that’s when.

Anyway, Giles Coren. In 2008, he famously sent a letter to the subs at The Times where he said things like:

“When you’re winding up a piece of prose, metre is crucial. Can’t you hear? Can’t you hear that it is wrong? It’s not fucking rocket science. It’s fucking pre-GCSE scansion. I have written 350 restaurant reviews for The Times and I have never ended on an unstressed syllable. Fuck. fuck, fuck, fuck.”

And:

“This is someone thinking ‘I’ll just remove this indefinite article because Coren is an illiterate cunt and I know best.'” 

And: 

“The way you avoid this kind of fuck up is by not changing a word of my copy without asking me, okay? It’s easy. Not. A. Word. Ever.”

Earlier this year, he wrote another letter, this time to the photographer who took the above picture, where he complained: “I look like a fucking idiot in this picture. Fuck. Why did you make me touch my chin with my fingers, people will think I’m a right fucking plum. And what’s with my eyes? What have you done to my fucking eyes?”

He didn’t really say that, I made it up. And on second thoughts, I’m not really sure if Giles Coren has a (fucking) beard. Let’s check, shall we, with another picture of him looking cool.

Yeah. If a photographer asked me to pose like that, I’d definitely say yes. I would also say that, on balance, Giles Coren has a beard. This is going well, isn’t it?

3. Gary Bushell.

According to his website, Gary Bushell has appeared on 2,500 television programmes. I didn’t think there were that many television programmes. Anyway, look at his beard. It’s one of those rubbish shaved underneath ones, those cop-out ones. What do you think to this post, by the way? I think it’s dreadful. “Five Journalists Who Have Beards”? Fucking hell. Really? And a photo of me pretending to drive a car? Is this what it’s come to? I never imagined that at 36 I would be writing about Gary Bushell’s beard. For free. What is wrong with me? Don’t tell me, I couldn’t take it. If only there was something – just one thing – in the world that could cheer me up right now.

4. Irwin M Fletcher.

And there it is. That’s cheered me up no end. The best fictional journalist of all time, with the best fake beard of all time, in the best film of all time. And we’re nearly at the end of this entry, too, which is also cheering me up. One more to go.

5. Mike Rampton.

This is Mike Rampton from Front magazine. He’s very funny and writes very well. More importantly, he has TWO beards, one made of clips and another, underneath, made of beard.

And that, thank fuck, is that.

Do YOU have a beard? Are you thinking of getting one? Perhaps you KNOW someone with a beard. Do you have any FUNNY stories about beards? Do you have any funny stories about things that are NOT beards? If so, I’d love to hear from you.

The Secret Life of Pitching the World

At some point it all has to stop. At some point you have to be grand and say to yourself, “My work is far too important to me. Tonight, on a Saturday night, I will stay in. I will work. I will drink camomile tea and weak beer and read Peter Beaumont’s The Secret Life of War. I may smoke, if I choose to smoke. Actually, I will smoke. Lots. But I will work. I shall work. Later, I shall watch that second-hand Columbo DVD I bought from a charity shop earlier in the year. Why am I talking to myself like this? Have I become chronically insane? What was wrong with being mildly insane? That worked. How did things – how did I – turn out like this? I used to be full of pluck and ambition. Now, this. Now, Peter Beaumont and camomile tea. Did I think things would turn out like this – that the only thing I have to look forward to in my life is watching old Columbo episodes? Or are they films? Yes, probably. ‘Yes, probably,’ what? That they are films or that I thought my life would turn out like this? Answer me, you fool.”

Sometimes you have to be grand and say that to yourself. Sometimes you have to hallucinate, too. For example, just outside of my window where I type this, I can see a ghost. But… what’s it doing? It seem to have a pen and it’s…it’s writing something down on a bit of paper. How strange. I’ve no idea what it could mean.

Which leads us neatly on to ghostwriting. On Wednesday, a book that I was involved with (not sexually, of course, but when it comes out I’m going to put it in a bin and fuck it to bits) goes on sale. I wrote parts of it. I’d like to get my hands on a copy, take it round to my family and bathe in their acclaim.

“Come! Gather round!” I’d say. (I’d probably be wearing a cape for this bit.) “Here is my book. Feast your eyes on it. Good, isn’t it? Of course it’s good, it’s my book.”

“But your name isn’t on it,” my family would say.

“Here is my book. Feast away. Specifically, take a look at the mini-chapters on Kosovo, Bosnia and Lebanon. I wrote most of that. It’s about the role of strategic communication in modern-day conflict.”

“That’s nice dear,” my family would say. “I’m sure you did write the chapters, the mini-chapters, on Kosovo, Bosnia and Lebanon. You do seem to know a lot about those places. You go on about them all the time. And about your expertise as a strategic communications practitioner. Oh, you’re doing it all the time. Of course you are dear. You’re doing very well. Have you taken your pill?”

So I then have to take my pill and lie in the corner like a sick dog whilst my family laugh and point and throw coins at me. The life of a ghostwriter, dear readers, is not an easy one. On Friday, my agent rang. We talked about some writers who we think are dicks. He laughed a lot at my jokes. It was brilliant. He talked me out of self-publishing my book. It was brilliant. We talked about me doing some ghost writing. It was brilliant.

“Now there’s an idea,” he said, when I brought it up. “I hadn’t thought about that. Definitely worth considering.”

It must have been worth considering, because during our first meeting around eleven months ago he said the same thing. Actually, he said a bit more. “You have a style,” he said then. “And a voice. You’re personable. Have you considered ghostwriting?”

My agent, Matthew Hamilton, earlier.

You won’t believe this (and it isn’t true) but there’s another ghost outside my window and he keeps looking at the roof of the house and the walls and the buttresses and then scribbles stuff down on a bit of paper. How strange.

Which leads us seamlessly into my other bit of ghostwriting work which was about architecture. Regular readers will remember that earlier on in the year I was being paid £3 a word to ghostwrite the foreword to a famous architect‘s book. In the end, I wrote the foreword in 25 minutes on the train from London to Bournemouth and only really wrote it then because I was trying to show off to a woman who may or may not have been staring at me. Here it is below. I’m not sure of the legalities involved, so to protect all parties I’ve named all identifying people and places after members of Liverpool’s 1987-88 title winning squad. Other than that, all words are as filed and published.

[Name redacted] Foreword

Sir David Chipperfield once told me: “Beauty in architecture is about the synthesis of function and form.” To say that Barry Venison appreciates this is an understatement; in his work, the sentiment is gloriously apparent. His designs are beautiful, yes, but aesthetics are perfectly synched with functionality. Over the years he’s become increasingly celebrated as an architect, having been labelled by various style bibles as both a ‘design master’ and a ‘design wunderkind’  – yet whilst such tags are no doubt pleasant to be on the receiving end of, I get the impression that he isn’t terribly bothered by such accolades. Nor is he interested in creating egotistical monuments. Rather, his interest lies in simply creating extraordinary environments for people to work, sleep and eat in.

I say simply, although the process is anything but. I’ve had the pleasure – and I don’t use the term lightly – of working with the man. Both of us relish a challenge, and so it was fortuitous that we came together over John Wark’s Kitchen – a new venture of mine in Hong Kong. The space was tricky: rectangular, but unusually long and narrow with structural columns punctuated throughout. One evening we talked and sat and thought about the problem and at three am the solution appeared: an extra column, Barry Venison suggested, would give the room the extra space and gravitas that was necessary.

This neatly illustrates the way he works: long periods of contemplation and consideration, followed by sketches, inspiration and sharp bursts of insight. Where does such insight come from? Almost everywhere. “Everything has a way to inspire, it just depends how you see it,” he once said. Not to say that his influences are opaque. There are resounding echoes of Ray Houghton in his work (under whom Venison studied at Cambridge), yet Houghton tends to scorn embellishment and luxurious decoration where-as Venison often embraces it, being unafraid to use colour and texture to create intimacy. Perhaps nowhere is this sense of intimacy more apparent than in the Steve Nicol Hotel, Hong Kong, where he deftly managed to create a serenity and balance in one of the loudest playgrounds in the world.

Barry Venison could thrive anywhere, but it seems that Hong Kong is both his physical and spiritual home. “Without an understanding of the old, you cannot create something new,” he is quoted as saying, and what better place to put such wise words into practice, where the traditional and ultra-modern exist side by side. Such a sound ideology and grounding, coupled with no small degree of talent, mean that he’s certain to be at the forefront of creating new spaces for some time to come.

Venison, earlier.

Think Of Your Own Title, I’ve Got Too Much On.

A week or so ago I emailed my agent, Matthew Hamilton of Aitken Alexander Associates. In the email, I suggested that we shouldn’t be submitting the Pitching the World book proposal to publishers for a while. There’s too much going on, I told him, I’m trying to write and self-publish a book over the next month or so, I have a well to render, and I have a poker column starting soon. That’s what I said.

What an email. What an idiot. Readers, when all you’ve ever really wanted is an agent who believes in you and who works for an agency that is one of the best in the country, this is precisely the sort of email you should be sending. Get an agent and give it a whirl. Tell him or her not to try and get you an advance. Casually mention that you’re self-publishing. Be a prick.

It works. Last night, Matthew Hamilton emailed me back, saying that he was holding fire on my submission but in the meantime wondered if it was “worth us talking about a book on poker?” I presume that he doesn’t mean that we both read a book on poker and then discuss it, rather that perhaps I should be thinking about writing a book on poker.

Well, why not? Why not write a book on poker? Or rather, why not not write a book on poker? I’m not writing lots of books at the moment – what difference does one more make? Why not not write another one? I can not write lots of books. That said, if we did decide to write a book on poker, it gives me the chance to do my joke.

Me: I told my wife last night that I’ve been asked to write a book about gambling. She was very happy.

Friend: Poker?

Me: What? No. Of course not. For a start we’ve been separated for well over a year…why would you think…? Why would you think I poked her? She’s probably seven or eight months pregnant by now. Did I tell you what happened when I found out she was pregnant? No? Oh, you’ll love this: I spent a whole morning wondering whether or not I should fuck a bear or a tree or a bit of pavement. It was brilliant. Why are you looking at me like that? Have my eyes gone weird?”

It’s a good one, isn’t it?

Anyway, where were we? Ah yes, we weren’t writing books. The book that I’m writing at the moment is currently not being written. I blame Nikola Tesla. Damn him and his interesting life. The other afternoon I was watching a documentary about him and thought, ‘Fuck writing this novella, what you should be doing is writing a graphic novel about Tesla. It’s all there. He came to New York on a boat as an immigrant and died in New York, alone and mad in a hotel room. In between he came up with a bunch of inventions including the radio, wireless communication and some free-for-everyone electricity thing that I’ve just heard about and forgotten. He had a bust up with Marconi, got (figuratively) fucked in the ass by JP Morgan and had a long running feud with that plum Edison over AC vs DC. He had OCD, experienced two nervous breakdowns and saw ghosts. He hung out with Mark Twain. He once sent one of his employees home to change because he didn’t like her clothes. Towards the end of his life he couldn’t bear light or sound. It’s perfect. Or, forget writing a graphic novel – too complicated – write a novella about Tesla. From his point of view. Or about JP Morgan. Could College Bear stretch to 30,000 words? Who invented the radiator? Could I write a novel about them? Or something about my nan? Or her shoes? A life seen through my nan’s shoes? Has anyone written anything from the point of view of a shoe before? If I do write about this on Pitching the World I must remember to include a disclaimer to the effect that such a whistle-stop account of Tesla’s life – whilst vivid – is the product of a poor and selective memory and is liable to be littered with inaccuracies. Also, please please please don’t write anything about your nan’s shoes, you’ll sound demented.”

And on and on and on.

Yes, too much. So today I did something about it. I need to focus on and stick with my initial idea. The pitch below is one of the best I’ve ever sent, despite there being nothing stand-out or show-offy about it. Perhaps that’s why. Or perhaps it is stand-out and show-offy, how am I suppose to know? A day or so ago I was prepared to write a novella about the history of the radiator.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………

To: Eds at Writer’s Digest (U.S.), Prospect, and Writing Magazine (U.K.)

From: Pitching the World

Subject: Can I Plan, Write, Edit, Publish, Market and Sell A Book in 6 Weeks?

Dear Ed,

It seems unlikely, doesn’t it, but that’s what I’m trying to do. At the moment, I’m at the writing stage. Towards the end of November I’ll quickly edit the whole thing, then it’s on to typesetting, cover design, ironing out copyright issues and then distribution. Perhaps not in that order. Do you think your readers might be interested in something like this? A step-by-step guide to self-publishing but shot through with dark humour. It will deal with the seemingly pedestrian (what software is the best for page layout, say) to the more unexpected and colourful. For example, what happens when a week or two into your project you decide to write a book about Nikola Tesla instead? How does your agent react when he hears you’re temporarily going down the self-publishing route? How does it feel to write over 10,000 words in a day? That sort of thing. 

Assuming the book is a success – and doing so requires a bit of a leap of faith – is this the sort of thing you can imagine running? By success, I’m thinking something that I’m happy with, something that gets reviewed in the national press and something that sells over 500 copies within a week or two of publication. Sounds ambitious, I know, but I reckon I can do it.

Any thoughts? I would be able to file at the end of the year.

All the best,

Pitching the World