Apple Screwup – iCloud Drive & Yosemite

September 22nd, 2014

Apparently there have been lots of warnings not to hit upgrade on the iCloud drive just yet when you upgrade to iOS 8. So I'll admit that I am late to the party with this post. When I do a search I see that by and large across the webisphere the warning is widespread and 5 days old (at the time of writing). Unfortunately I didn't get the message.

Until today… when I was more than a little gobsmacked to get this message when I tried to access my iCloud from my Mac:

iCloud Drive Warning

iCloud Drive Warning - Sorry iCloud Drive isn't compatible with OS X Mavericks

What the hell is going on???

And there's nothing like getting the reply from your nearest and dearest "well didn't you see the warning?"

Well yes. Here is a screenshot:

iCloud Drive warning

iCloud Drive warning - Note you will not be able to access documents currently stored in iCloud on the following devices until they are also upgraded to iOS 8 or OS X Yosemite


So yes, yes I did see the warning, but what I didn't understand was the gravitas of the statement.  What about the warning really presents itself as a problem?? I just assumed my other devices would get upgraded in their turn. What I didn't think about checking out was WHEN OS X Yosemite was likely to be released for my MacBook.

I mean think about it … iOS 8 was presented to the world at the WWDC Keynote back in June 2014 and Yosemite was announced during that same presentation. It's a reasonable assumption to make that iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite (10.10) would be released at the same time in the fall of 2014 as promised.

But no. The warning made no mention that the update for the Mac OS wouldn't be for some time yet.

In fact it may be as late as the end of October 2014 before Yosemite is released.

That's another FOUR weeks without access to my files. (OK I can access Apple files, created in Apple's own apps e.g. Pages, Numbers, etc, through, but files saved to iCloud by third party apps can't be accessed.)

This is a righteous screw up, Apple! Why have you released part but not all of this exciting set up you promised us back in the summer? At least tell us why you released iCloud Drive to iOS 8 users now when you could have just held off until Yosemite is released. Why have you not made more mention of this? I mean, a lot of your customers have multiple Apple products. And many of your customers won't even know what Yosemite IS when they are faced with the button during the iOS install. Some people will have Macs that won't be able to upgrade to Yosemite and they will lose access to their iCloud until they purchase new hardware.

All with no explanation.

It's worse than poorly handled - it's a giant mess!!

Whatever happened to 'It just works' …???

Jeff Goldblum will be spinning in his ironic hipster jeans!!!



Open Letter to England on Scottish Independence

September 10th, 2014

My (light-hearted) thoughts on the United Kingdom, Scottish Independence, England and living in Wales

FlagsI was born in England, but I've spent almost all of my life not living there, having spent the better part of my childhood in New York and my adult life in Wales.

First a little bit about me…

I say I spent the better part of my childhood in America, not because it was the larger part of my childhood, but because it was, well, better. The English bit of my childhood had been frankly terrifying. I got mercilessly bullied by both schoolchildren and schoolteachers alike, and the only thing I can compare it to is that old black and white film of Tom Brown's School Days, where the bullies hold down poor Tom just inches from a blazing fireplace.

And although my bullies never went quite as far as roasting my behind on an open fire, I always suspected they might decide to do so at any moment, given the chance. Luckily I didn’t have to stick around to find out as my family was moved by IBM (which stands for I've Been Moved) on a five year assignment to New York.

So at age eleven I set off for the New World. Luckily for me, America welcomed my tiny, frightened, huddled mass into its vast melting pot. Once there, America comforted me and schooled me in new, kinder values, that consisted of such entrancing subjects as health class (which taught me to respect myself as an individual - as well as giving me lots of wonderfully useful 1970s psychobabble) and social studies (a curiously skewed account of history and geography that contained hardly any of the anti-communist propaganda of the time). It was all Telly Savalas, who loves ya, baby, Watchoo talking ‘bout Willis, designer sneakers and pop tarts for breakfast, and, baby, I loved it. It was cool! I was hooked and, more importantly, I was home!

Or so I thought.  America then helped me up onto my sneaker-clad, ruggedly-individualistic, teenage feet and promptly sent me home when my visa ran out. That was a bit of a shock to be honest, because I'd really bought into the whole American dream thing they'd taught me and I hadn't noticed the small print that said 'Available to US Citizens and green card holders only. Terms and conditions may apply’.  But, hey ho, no hard feelings, me and America have remained firm friends ever since.

So off I trotted back to England and, while they still didn't quite roast me, they didn't exactly welcome me home either. Students and teachers alike made fun of my American accent, my American ways, my psychobabble and my star-spangled sneakers, but worse still they told me I would have to try to fit in if I wanted to be English again. That really steeled my ruggedly-individual wool that, while I could lose the sneakers, the psychobabble and maybe the accent, what I really didn't want to be was English. So before they could stoke up the fire to roast my American-sounding ass, I quickly left home and moved to Wales in a wonderfully impulsive fit of teenage rebellion.

And I don't regret it for a minute.

Wales welcomed me into its hillsides, sat me down beside its warm hearth, which they neither seemed to want to roast me on or melt me with, which made a pleasant change. Then Wales suggested I drink some tea and have a bit of a think about things for a while.

And I did.

Which is why, thirty years later, as Scotland teeters on the edge of leaving the Union, I am sharing these, my thoughts, on all this nationhood, identity and individuality business.

Such conversations don’t sit well in the UK. The waving of flags is, at best, patriotic, and, at worst, racist, and therefore often best avoided as it’s all rather hot-blooded and can have too many confusing meanings, good and bad, which in turn might prompt uncomfortable conversations, that are, likewise, best avoided. But I grew up in America, so uncomfortable conversations are my thing. Undoubtedly, I will offend some if not all, but I grew up in America, baby, and offending people is no reason to not say things.

So let’s do this! Think of it as one of those conversations after a break-up where your best friend says ‘yeah, but, fair play, you did treat him like dirt for 300 years…’

To me, England has always had an odd, uptight, foreign feel, even as a small child when I was living in my birthplace. Not much seems to have changed. Class still seems to matter so much to people there, and even if it’s not exactly class, then a certain following of the rules, a keeping up of appearances, and the habit of giving undue deference to those who have the 'right' education, seems nearly as important. And if you don't have that education, or even if you do, then you at least need to be seen to be appropriately 'down with the people', with a set of faux grass-roots values that seem to sit very oddly on people that clearly have no direct understanding of life for the less educated and the less well-off, they just know they're supposed to sound like they do and feel guilty that they’re not. This is, of course, a mixed message. For how can you make money and keep up with the Joneses and the work ethic, whilst simultaneously acting as the lightning rod for all the middle class guilt that comes with doing so? Meanwhile the toffs, unfettered by all this angst, just get richer.

I’m not saying it is this way, just that it’s how it seems from the outside. It’s as if England and the English are perpetually stuck in that old Frost Report class sketch with John Cleese and Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett. Maybe their positions have changed but they’re still playing within the same parameters 

Individuality in England seems frowned upon, just as much as stepping out of the grind of the middle class work ethic or not keeping up with the Joneses. I get still chided (which is a gentler form of bullying) by my 'posh' English friends for my unconventional work, lifestyle and values, why don’t I get a decent job/car/holiday?, why do I want to live in Wales? etc. However I get similar jibes from my friends who are, shall we say, lower down the totem pole, who do I think I am? why don’t I watch TOWIE, why do I want to live in Wales? etc.

In fact, on that totem pole there doesn't seem to be any spot anywhere on it where it's OK for anyone to just be, or to let others just be, living their lives how they see fit, making as much or as little money as they feel is right for them, consuming or not consuming products as they desire, living where they want, or generally being left in peace. Life in England seems anxious. Again I’m not saying it is this way, this is just that it’s how it seems to me, like there it is a continual scrabble to get higher - or lower - on the pole; no one seems happy to just let go of the pole and simply be themselves. Being myself is what America taught me to do. And Wales has been the only country that would let me stay there and do it.

One of my favourite phrases, that's used regularly in Wales, is 'Fair Play'.

You hear it a lot and it can be used in so many ways. It can be used anywhere from a reply to hearing how Mrs Williams' cat fell down the sewer and refuses to come out ‘because, fair play, it’s getting more to eat down there than it ever did from Mrs Williams’, to being the ‘Fair Play on Fuel’ rallying slogan for the fuel protesters who blockaded the refineries back when petrol prices went over 80p a litre back in 2000. (Which is a sobering thought considering the price is now over £1.30!)  And sometimes it’s used in a way that doesn’t seem to mean anything at all, like OK or yeah. But fair play is not just about being fair and keeping things equal; it also speaks volumes about keeping it real. The word play is just as important in the phrase - reminding us that life’s just a game after all, so lets not take things too seriously here, eh?

‘Fair Play’ is a deliciously emollient entreaty that reminds us to look at things from both sides, and those two little words are one of the reasons I love Wales so very much, and why I consider myself to be Welsh rather than English. Welsh people might not agree of course, birthed as I was into England's home counties, but most of them are too polite or just too laid back to tell me so. They just smile and think 'Aah bechod, that Saesnes thinks she's Welsh, but we know better. Still, fair play to the old girl, she seems to like the place quite a lot, so let's not bust her bubble over it.'

In fact, in Wales it's not really considered the done thing to talk about this English/Welsh/Britain stuff at all, and if there's one thing that does mark out my Englishness here is my willingness to do so.  It's much better to say 'Let's not talk about our differences, let's talk about how we're the same - or better yet, let's talk about the rugby'.

But nevertheless I do talk about it in Wales … with my friends, my colleagues and my hairdresser. I try to find out how they really feel about it something which so supposedly defines them - their alleged hatred of the English. I listen to hear if Welsh people really do start speaking Welsh whenever English people walk in. English tourists so often bemoan this switching of languages as some kind of pointed snark at them, but I can assure you, Welsh speakers were speaking Welsh long before you got there. And when they do switch to Welsh it's just because that's the language they feel comfortable talking to their friends in. Just like you may speak Spanish on holiday in Spain, but switch back to English when talking to your travelling companions. Yes the Welsh can speak English as well, but they switch fluidly between the two languages, often mid-sentence. Even to first language Welsh speakers, some things are easier said in English. You may know a fancy little-known Welsh word for ‘deforestation’, but if the person you're speaking to doesn't know that word then you probably say that word in English. It’s easier that way.

Getting your point across is more important than language purity, so guessing plays a big part in communication in Wales - guessing which language someone speaks and how well they speak it, guessing if you're on holiday or not (you can get asked this when you were born just in the next village!) and lots of other little guestimations designed to ease the flow of communication. I also listen to what is said and, trust me, Welsh speakers are really not using the language to talk about you. The Welsh have a language they are proud of. It's lilting and warm and lovely and what's not to love? It's not a threat. I wish English tourists would just enjoy it. Welsh is a living, breathing piece of the heritage of these isles, every bit as much as Shakespeare, the Royal family, bucolic villages, majestic castles and mysterious ancient ruins.

I am familiar with the tensions within the Union, primarily because being prejudiced towards the Welsh seems to be an acceptable form of racism that I hear often.  I hear anti-Welsh comments both from tourists who assume I don't live here and from English friends who know that I do. Sadly, I hear it from my Scottish and Irish friends too, and that chafes perhaps a little bit more, because they don't seem to realise they're like the older brothers Wales looks up to and yearns to share that Celtic kindred spirit with. Wherever you are, it seems anti-Welsh sentiments are acceptable verbal currency everywhere in the UK. Even when discussing Scottish independence in a pub in Glasgow, as I was recently.

What bothers me most is that for some unknown reason people seem to think it is OK to share these views with me. Perhaps this is because I have the leftover of an English accent that I can't seem to shift (mixed in with my mid-Atlantic drawl and, annoyingly, any other accent that happens to be within my earshot). Or maybe they feel it's alright to share the bile because I'm too polite to say anything to correct them on my self-perceived nationality. Instead I just smile and think 'fair play to them, they think I'm not Welsh, but let's not bust their hump over it'.

But the anti-Welsh jibes do get to me. Until recently at least I had never heard that stuff said about Scotland and certainly saying that nastiness about any other group or race would just be wrong and I'm quite positive those self same 'down with the people' middle Englanders would think it politically incorrect to say similar things about ethnic minorities, races or creeds. Whenever I have been bold enough to ask why it seems OK to people to be openly anti-Welsh the only excuse I've heard is 'well the Welsh do hate the English, don't they?' said in a ‘well they started it’ kind of way.

But the Welsh don't really hate the English. It's just that, from this side of the border,  everything starts to look a bit uptight over there. It can seem like everyone is a bit John Cleese on the English side, either rushing around beating up their car with a stick or marching round with a bandage on their heads, insulting German tourists.

You just get the overwhelming urge to say 'sit down, take a load off your feet, have a cuppa and stop taking it all so seriously for a minute’. I mean just think about it. Do the Tories in Westminster really need to be lining their pockets quite as fast as they do? Do the Labourites really need to be quite so nanny-state? Couldn't the toffs forget their status for just a minute? And Middle England, how about you stop polishing your car and fretting about your house prices and just relax, enjoy the view, enjoy what you've got - middle class guilt free! - at least for long enough for the wax to dry.  There's plenty of time for a bit of a sit down and a think.

There that's better. Welcome to Wales!! 

Because it is good to savour what you've got. It's alright to enjoy it. Sure the newspapers want to keep you frantically John Cleesing all over the place, but you don't need to listen to them. Hand the guilt back to the Guardian and the Daily Mail and say 'no thanks, mate’. No matter how bad things are there's always something to feel good about. So what if you're not an empire any more and America makes you feel inferior? So what if Europe gets a bit pushy sometimes?

And so what if Scotland is thinking about leaving you?

All good marriages go through times like this. Let's face it, you have been strutting around like a frantic, overworked fishwife for a good while now, issuing orders and getting, well, a bit overheated. Relax. Maybe it's just a spat. A mid-life thing. Maybe he won’t actually leave you…

But if Scotland does go, you'll find yourself quick enough. Wales is here like a kindly auntie to calm you down and give you a cuppa and a bit of a sit down. It will probably all work out for the best in the end. You just need to chill out. It could be the best thing that ever happens to you. Scotland needs to figure out who it is and what it wants.

The best unions, like the best marriages, are when they are the joining of two whole people. (Emphasis on the whole here, not the two, as there's actually four people in this particular marriage, but we’ll put that on one side for the moment.) It's all about having a sense of identity. Being whole. Being yourself.

And you DO get a bit bossy sometimes and forget that we aren't ALL English and that you are just ONE part of the United Kingdom.

Fair play now, England, you do DO that.

We don’t all have to change in order to fit in with you. It’s about cooperation. Letting go. Letting be. Working together.

So right now Scotland's half way out the door, and like the wife that's belittled and bemoaned her husband for years, you've realised you're not quite the big shot you thought you were, once he's packing his suitcase with a bulk size carton of condoms and a new pair of Saltire boxers. But, no matter. Everything's all right. It's not the end of the world.

So Scotland doesn't like you and all the other countries, well, they do make fun of you quite a bit. But after the rampage of an empire you’ve been on, with all that 'sun never sets' nonsense, well, it's not really surprising, is it?

It's OK.  You're England. Remember, you know how to play up to your own sense of dignity and make it look funny! Bring out your inner Hugh Grant. Bluster, blink a few times … and laugh it off!

Whether or not Scotland goes and there’s a divorce, it's time to settle down and have that little think I was on about.

Don't get all jumpy and nervous and start tarting yourself up and going down the disco to flirt with new ideologies. And don't forget that Wales and Northern Ireland are still here - for now at least - so don’t start acting like you’re the only one here. No bringing new boyfriends home and making out on the sofa like we're invisible, coz that's just going to make the rest of us get up and leave the room. Because you might think you can go it on your own, and get all big and bad and you don’t need nobody, but, c’mon… we all need a fireplace, a family and a sympathetic ear sometimes.

You just sit down there and have a bit of a think, while I put the kettle on.

A bit of soul-searching is, well, good for the soul. And if the break up brings you down a peg or two, that’s OK. If it gets you off your high horse, knocks off the sharp corners, well that just makes you a bit more human all round.

I'll just go fetch some more hot water and some Welsh cakes…

(Whispered to Northern Ireland: I’ve got England in there on the sofa. Right mess she is. Fair play to her though, the old girl’s been through a lot.)


Here's a video of Historian, Dr John Davies, who was a guest speaker at the YES Offices to give an historical perspective on Welsh and Scottish politics and why Scotland should vote YES:

Writing with Actors

July 28th, 2014

I like working with actors when I write. It’s such a powerful experience. Actors love a script because they glean from it nuances that I, the writer, didn’t intuit or even intend. It’s like when you fall in love with someone and they start to notice little things about you that you didn’t even know were there yourself. It feels very validating. For the writing process it can be invaluable. Working with actors can enrich a script even right at the early stages of writing.

You might work with an actor on a completed script in order to deepen a character or to make the dialog flow better. Working with an actor on a script that has stalled can breathe fresh life into it with the added bonus of breathing fresh enthusiasm into you the writer. You can even start off a script project from scratch armed with just an idea, a tape recorder, notepad and an actor.

createI was lucky enough to meet Mike Leigh at the London Screenwriter’s Festival a couple of years ago. As a writer and director, he works with actors and lets them find the performance before the script is written. This really appealed to me as a way to work, so for me working with actors is nearly always part of what I do. And it makes good sense. Actors are going to be performing the script, so why not let them get in on it as early as possible? The actor will interpret the script eventually, why not let the writing be an interpretation of the actor too?

Fundamentally what is required is a willingness to play along. A spirit of playfulness is vital. Likewise it helps if you can check the egos at the door, at least for long enough to get the ideas flowing. There is a wonderful synthesis that can happen when a writer and an actor work together. Here are a few guidelines that are best acknowledged from the start:

  • Check your egos
    This is vitally important. Make the creative space a safe place. All ideas are good. No one is right and no one is wrong. If you work well with the actor you may find that a little creative friction can be a good thing and your differences can work to push the ideas, but monitor this carefully as it can easily go too far and destroy what you've set out to build. Remember your goal is to create an environment where you the writer can get ideas. Personally I prefer to approach it from a more open position and try not to defend or reject ideas too strongly. Not all writer/actor combinations are going to work well but that doesn't mean you can't get a lot out of the session.
  • Structuring the Session
    Take some time to set up an atmosphere of playfulness and creativity. You can do this with some improv exercises (more on this soon!) and be sure to set out clear rules for acceptable behaviour during the session, especially if working with multiple actors/writers. As the writer, this is your show but you have to play a genial host and be accommodating of your guests. You can choose to set an an agenda for the session or you may just like to keep the agenda in the back of your head just in case things don’t go to plan organically on their own. Set a time limit for how long the session will last. Actors and writers alike can get carried away when a session is working out well, but remember everyone has finite energy. Breaks, refreshment and time limits are important. No one wants to end up feeling too drained for their bus ride home, and it won’t help good feeling in the long run.
  • Respect your Roles
    Everyone thinks they can write, just like everyone thinks they can act, so from the off there’s likely going to be an element of thinking we can do the other person’s job. It’s important then that you both recognise the skills and the training that each of you has. Actors are skilled at intuiting character and subtext and using their knowledge of behaviour and emotion to build their performance from that. Writers are masters of crafting their knowledge of style and story with their own experiences and research into a complete and satisfying whole. It’s important for both of you to recognise these strengths and do the part that you do best. The writer’s job is still to write the script. Likewise for the actor it is a chance to get a deeper insight into the character to strengthen and enhance their end performance. But as the writer you are running the show. If you can check your ego and see yourself more as a facilitator then you will find that the session runs better and you will get more benefit from it. Don’t preempt the results of the session beforehand. Try to let it be what it is. Trust me you will get more out of it than you realise. Remember that writers are actors to some degree as we play out what we write in our heads before it goes on the page. It’s not uncommon for actors to feel a little insecure about the idea of writing and this can lead to them being more forceful than perhaps they need to be. Remember they are there because you want their input so it is in your interest to have them be as relaxed and secure as possible. Help the actor to do what they do best. They are used to being directed and they are used to improvising so you have the best of both worlds and it will work if you let it. Be a gracious host and it’ll work better for everyone.
  • Stay fluid
    Icreatet’s vital not to get too attached to a particular scene, storyline or plot device. The idea here is to try out possibilities for size. Let your writer’s mind feed off the skill and experience of the actor. Let the actor feed off the boundaries set by the skill and experience of the writer. Writers afraid to ‘kill their babies’ as the popular phrase goes, whereas actors will often want to hold on to what they see are precious moments and opportunities. Writing this way is about exploring. Don’t be afraid to let the actor run with things as it will deepen the character you’re writing. Remember you get the final say on what ends up in the final script.
  • Meet the moment
    If you’ve ever jammed in a band, you’ll know how sweet it is to find yourself in that moment where you’ve found a groove that’s borne out of the gestalt of the players and the essence of the moment. The vital thing to remember is that it is AWAYS temporary. A creative jam session between writer and actor works in exactly the same way. That sweet groove you’ve discovered will disappear as fast as it materialised. So enjoy it while it’s happening, try not to think about it too much, and above all createrespect the ephemeral nature of it. Nothing will kill it faster than trying to hold onto it. Have faith in the moment that you will be able to preserve and recreate the best elements of the improvisation session later. What’s important will stick. Don’t try to force it. Respect the moment.
  • Record your session
    Set a recorder well in advance of getting down to business. That way you can forget that it’s there and you won’t feel self conscious. Once there’s a recorder running very often you can relax and stop stressing about remembering everything that’s been said. And guess what? Yep you’ll start naturally remembering what’s been said. That said check your recorder is still running. I rarely end up listening to these recordings, but you can bet your boots that if you do want to recover a particularly important part of your session that can never be recreated, yep, it’s two minutes after the tape ran out.
  • Webcam vs Video
    Using webcams can be great for recording an entire room during a creative session. It’s easier to forget that it’s there and there tends to be less performance to camera which can lead to an actor getting too attached to a particular scene or storyline because of the performance opportunities that it offers.
  • After the session
    Icreatef the session was successful then you’ll most likely go away from it feeling good. Now you can sit straight down to write and pour it all out onto the page. Or you can sit on it for a few days to let it gel a little before starting to write. Personally I prefer to do the latter. It can be tempting to go with the heady excitement generated by the session, but I generally find that the writing works better if I let the session settle into my memory a little longer and my writer’s head clicks back into place better. Write too soon and I find that I’m trying too hard to stick to the story elements that came out of the session. Plus you will be more stressed about getting everything down just as it was in the session. Stress inevitably creates poorer writing. Trust yourself that the important stuff will stick in your memory and make it into the finished script.
  • Respect the session
    Long after the session you will undoubtedly remember it, whether or not the discoveries you made there made it into the final script, whether or not there even was a final script. It’s important to respect the session and remember that, for the actor, it was a performance for which you may have been the only audience. That’s a sacred thing and a valuable memory. Treasure it!

Happy writing!!


May 26th, 2014

So I kinda got married.

More of a divorce undo in this case. Same groom different decade. Adi and I retied the knot last week in a very low key ceremony (ten minutes from parking the car to driving off. And no they don't have drive through wedding chapels in the UK!) This was just short and to the point with the minimum of fuss.

Marrying the same person twice is not for the faint-hearted I must say. I had the biggest case of nerves beforehand! But it all went off well and represented a lot of personal growth and achievement.

Reconciliation is tough! I am the better person for it all and it feels good to have overcome such tough times … and my reward is once again having my best friend and soul mate by my side.

I'm very grateful!!! :)

Balancing Teaching with Practicing your Craft

May 22nd, 2014

Among many teachers I meet, I have noticed a trend that it has taken me a long time to realise applies equally to me. This trend is summed up by the phrase:

"Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach." 

(* There is also an addition to the phrase, most oft heard at teacher trainer schools:
"… and those who can't teach, teach teachers!!!”)

I have always disliked this ugly phrase since first hearing it as a child - after all how could you have teachers who were skilled at what they taught or skilled people who can pass on their skills? - but I’d also noticed that it was often somehow accurate. Capable people chose to teach what they chose not to do.  Teaching is all well and good - for how would anyone learn without teachers? - but should it be at the expense of doing?


I began teaching more than 20 years ago. All too often I have seen my friends and colleagues - most frequently women - opting to teach the skills they have struggled to master for so many years rather than using those skills themselves. And while teaching is a noble profession, and one that not all teachers are good at, what happens to the doers when they constantly strive to pass on their skills to others rather than practice those skills themselves?

Time flies by when you're busy and it's easy to find yourself resenting the very people you are supposed to be inspiring: your students! 

I met a woman a while ago who had for a long time been teaching creative writing yet she was feeling unfulfilled - and something else, another feeling she couldn't identify. Having been in this position myself of teaching and not doing many times in the past, the name of this particular feeling was easy for me to name:  jealousy!!


This seemed to hit her as a revelation! At first, she dismissed it. Jealousy is an ugly emotion and none of us likes to think about ourselves in such an ungenerous way. So I gave her permission to feel jealous, just to entertain and explore the feeling for a few minutes. She gradually began discussing recent events and placing them in the context of her own dissatisfaction at teaching what she had started to believe she could only teach and no do. A big admission for anyone!

The longer she spoke, the clearer the reason became in her mind. She had been teaching so long she began to doubt her own abilities. Like the long time editor, who took a job to pay the bills, she had spent so long honing other people's work she had lost the habit of producing those words herself.  She spoke about the joy and pride she felt in her students but also the envy of their youth and the opportunities to succeed where she never would. As we talked more, she eventually admitted she resented teaching others to do the things she wasn't taking the time to do herself. She was even feeling envious of the energy and enthusiasm of her students. Very quickly she had started to devise a plan to rectify this state of affairs by practicing what she preaches!

I felt great for having been able to use my own insight and experience to help her, and in truth I had shared this wisdom with several women over the years, but something in this encounter made me wonder why teaching can be so rewarding to ourselves and yet so destructive to our own ambitions. And how can we teach as well as practice our craft?

She left full of renewed excitement for BOTH her careers, with a promise to keep me posted.  I left with a promise to write about this teacher jealousy phenomenon in due course. Hearing from her recently, her novel is in its second edit and she is feeling happier than she's ever felt since being a student herself. Indeed she went on to say that being a teacher now enables her in her career by constantly supplying her with new students who are passionate to learn the skills she has to offer. All from one word: jealousy!

How can I beat the "Them as can, do. Them as can’t, teach" conundrum?

Having been in the position to advise several people in similar situations since, I have now identified several tips to help protect teachers from the "Them as can, do. Them as can't teach" conundrum.

I hope they are useful to you!

  • It's All in your Title.
    Do you introduce yourself as a teacher when meeting people in your profession? Or do you identify as an artist/writer/filmmaker who also teaches? Choosing the latter can be a very simple key to maintaining your sense of ownership of your craft. It can be as simple as keeping a second set of business cards or maintaining a website to advertise and remind yourself of your skills as a professional.
  • Network within your skill area.
    It's easy when you're teaching at an academic institution or vocational college to mix with only other teachers. It's likely that many of those people you call colleagues teach a different skill or craft. After a while practicing in your own area, whether it be art or writing for example, can even start to seem a little silly. It's vital then to maintain links to professionals working in your field. Maintaining those links is also very useful for your students hoping to break into your industry of course, but let's not think about them right now. Concentrate on you and keeping your contacts in tact. If you've let those contacts go over the years, don't fret, Linked In is a great way to reconnect, as is Twitter. And don't need to remind you not introduce yourself as a teacher! If someone asks you how you support yourself with your craft, simply say something along the lines of "Well I also teach, which helps keep the wolf away from the door." Mostly you'll get an expression of envy from the struggling artists rather than any negative comment you're expecting. Pretty much everyone has a second job these days that supports their passion-but-doesn't-pay-well career!
  • Craft is Discipline.
    This may be one of the sayings you teach your students but it is so easy to forget to apply it to yourself! Time is always one of the biggest constraints. If you're spending six hours a day teaching, then practicing your craft may be the last thing you want to do at the end of the day, but do make the time. It's all a matter of habit and you'll quickly find you're getting back into the swing of it. If you can't manage a day a week, then a day a month, or taking a regular weekend for honing your skills and creativity.  You can sometimes even count a certain amount of planning and practice of your craft into your working hours. So what if what your students are learning coincides with your own areas of research? This can often make you a more enthusiastic teacher and will help your students to relate to you and inspire their skills to new standards. One of the biggest sources of self doubt amongst students is when they fear that someone as knowledgeable and talented as their teacher can't actually find the time or summon the interest to practice the craft they're sharing. Remember if your students see or hear from you about your work in progress they will be inspired. And that in turn will inspire you!
  • Have a plan.
    It's easy to have a career development plan for your teaching career and completely forget to have one for your craft. How do you intend to develop your skills over the next year, two years, five years? Make a plan and keep it up to date. If you're noticing it's a month since you last did any painting/programming or composing, then you may already be on that slippery slope. Act now!

The main key is in recognising the problem. If you’re happy just teaching, then great.

Speaking from my own experience however, this problem of doing -vs- teaching has affected and shaped my whole career, even spanning several different careers as I reinvented myself over the years. Every time I would inevitably end up teaching the skills I’d spent so many years mastering.

Eventually I decided that the thing I would give up doing was teaching. I still do it occasionally, but now I prefer to teach as a guest lecturer or on a part time basis. Teaching online and writing text books has also proved a good way to exercise my teaching muscles without my skills getting lost in the process. If that’s not possible for you, then think seriously about creating balance between your art and the teaching of it.

“Recognise jealousy as soon as it rears its ugly head - it’s a wake-up call telling you it's time to walk your talk.”

If you’ve noticed your own green-eyed monster straying towards your students it is TIME TO WAKE UP. Ban that bitterness before it takes a grip. No more putting it off. It's time to start writing that great novel today or working on that big project today.

Eventually you can find the life you had dedicated to your craft somehow became devoted to teaching and then has suddenly passed you by and you're not even teaching that craft very well anymore.

Don't let it happen to you. Remember the eagerness and passion of your younger self who went into your field and honour that person by taking back your creativity now.

Time to take back control. 

For you! And for the sake of your craft!! 


On the Set of “Behind the Book”

May 21st, 2014

Behind the Book

Behind the Book

This last weekend I had the great fortune to be invited onto the set of a short film for my great friend and fellow screenwriter and Bournemouth University alumnus Romana Turina. She is making an important film about how the media narrates history which ties in with her doctoral research on the same subject.

I was there in an unspecified capacity, helping out where I could, being a runner, rehearsing lines with actors, helping feed the cast and crew and generally doing anything I could to be useful. It was a wonderful experience. The actors were excellent and the crew, who were students from York University's excellent Theatre, Film and Television department, were very professional and worked together with a smoothness that I've get to experience on professional film sets. Overall it was an inspiration and I was grateful for the opportunity to be involved.

From everything I saw, I have great confidence that the project will do well and I shall watch with loving interest as it moves through post-production. Filming it was an experience I shall value for a long time.

So what did I learn?

    • Caring for one another is caring for the production - I was really impressed how well everyone cared for one another. The crew took care of the actors - everything from helping them keep up with what was being asked of them, keeping them hydrated on what were several unseasonably warm May days, to just about everyone thanking them for their performances. There was a wonderful atmosphere of respect and it was quickly catching, so I found myself doing it too. In fact it's not a bad habit for life and work in general. We should all be thanking one another more - and I shall!
    • Dive in and do your best to help. - Before the shoot, I must admit I was a little confused about what my role was, if any. I asked several folks and they didn't seem to know either, so it was just a matter of going along and doing what I could. On set it wasn't long before I was seeing ways to help out and pretty soon I was being asked to do tasks too. I enjoyed being helpful and it was a really pleasant change to everyday life. I am used to giving the orders so being in a different position was both educational and good for the soul.
    • Working with a female director - I've heard a lot of people say they've never worked with a female director and didn't even know any. I have received so many warnings from the well-meaning: 'don't be too strident' and 'modulate how you speak' etc etc, all suggesting that somehow just being female and a director will get up everyone's noses. Finding this balance has perhaps been one of my biggest fears about expanding my cast and crew and working with strangers. Luckily working with Romana was inspiration. I watched her get what she wanted in a strong determine way and yet she managed to make everyone feel good. Everyone wanted to please her! I am not sure her model is something that I will be easily able to emulate but watching her in action has given me something to strive for and a yardstick up to. It was very worthwhile experience!!

If you want to know more about Behind the Book it has a Facebook page.

Onset of Behind the Book

Onset of Behind the Book

Now I'm home I can't wait for my own crew to have some available time to start putting everything I've learned into practice!!

THANK YOU to Romana Turina and her wonderful cast and crew for a very special experience.

Filmmaking Family

April 29th, 2014

I've been struggling to motivate my crew for months. It's been bone-gnashingly hard. Working with teens is difficult on its own but working with family gives it an added grind factor. At times the returns have diminished down to zero. I've even wondered whether they were working for me or the other way round.
Learning Filmmaking Together
As ever working with your own kids has added implications that don't apply with other people. If I tell them to do something it is mom telling them to do it, not their director. If they're noisy onset they hear the echoes of being told off as children, rather than immediately understanding that we need quiet in the studio. It's hard. I thought about putting this post on Sit up a Tree, the personal development blog, but really I have no solutions to offer other than to say that working with your kids means superhuman levels of patience. With the best will in the world and the best kids in the world it's always going to need the parent to be the bigger person. On other people's sets they are great, composed, obedient, helpful but on mine I have needed to get to screaming pitch just to get attention. There's been more than a few tears and at least one firing. And prompt reinstatement too. Because we are family and because sometimes it's easy to forget that you're dealing with young people who haven't fully figured out the world and who don't necessarily see the realities of time and money in the same way you do. Yet. And that's the key. As the parent or older relative you need to stick to your guns in what you expect from them, whilst having patience as they learn and stumble and lose their way.

In many respects it is no different to when I was teaching young people at college … it's just that teaching your own kids is like teaching the most rebellious students and the most challenging learners. Simply because they're your own kids. For any other teacher they'd be a dream!

At the end of the day of course we will all grow as people. And we will either make films together or we won't. In the meantime I am happy to be practicing filmmaking skills and I am happy that they're learning the nuts and bolts of working life. As ever, it is a privilege. I love working with young people and these are no different because they're my family. It's just a tougher job for me because they're my family!!

In terms of filmmaking, we are making painstakingly slow progress, but it is progress nonetheless. Skills take time and effort and dedication. The most important things I bring to the table are a clear set of goals and a lifetime of experience at getting projects off the ground.

The flip side of that is, of course, that goals can be blinkers and a lifetime of experience can result in less innovation. So working with young people is a perfect balance because they bring energy and ideas and the pioneering spirit to try out solutions in directions my experience might, rightly or wrongly, warn me not not to go.

Working across the generations enables the perfect fusion of wisdom and courage that comes from the compassionate and respectful blending of youth and wisdom that brings about truly new ideas and innovative solutions.

The most important thing about working with your family is recognising and respecting what everyone brings to the table!

New Photo Blog!

April 18th, 2014

Exciting news - Adrian and I have started a new photography blog.

It's already turning into a lot of fun!

I get to write the background story to my photos, which is a new thing for me. It also means I have to think a little more about the why and the how of going about taking a photograph. If my Flickr views and feedback are anything to go by, this attention to detail is already paying off in my photos. I would advise all photographers to taking the blog approach to their images as it really forces you to up your game considerably. On Flickr especially, fellow users love the background detail to your photos, and of course, everyone is looking for tips and tricks that they can apply in their own work.

Here's one I took a couple of nights ago:

I am also going to be producing some Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop tutorials on the blog, and I hope to include DSLR Video how-tos as well. All in all, as well as enjoying the photography and writing, I am having fun testing out lots of new kit, including camera filters, portable hard drives and new post processing software. All fun stuff to play with and evaluate!!

So, if you're into photography or DSLR Video, watch THIS SPACE for more updates.

In other great news, one of Adrian's photographs of the Aurora Borealis spectacle that hit the UK in February, was bought by Sailing Today magazine. It was a really great shot. Well done, Adrian! Take a look here:

Adrian's landscapes and seascapes are brilliant. He's really challenging me to improve my work. Having someone to compete with (in a friendly way, of course!) can be a great way to help raise your own game - and I think it's working!!

In the last month I haven't just been taking photos in the outdoors. I've also done a fair bit of studio work. This one was taken last weekend in my studio:

The shot is of my wonderful actress daughter Amy and her friend Bobby who obligingly modelled for this and many other shots. Great sports, both of them!

Here's another studio photo, this time taken in Welshot's studio setup in Chester.

It was taken at a photoshoot with Welshot and the Autonomy dance group, a fantastic group of young people who were only too happy to pose for our cameras!

OK I am back to writing my big script!!

Guerilla Filmmakers Masterclass … here I come!!

March 13th, 2014

DSCF0939This weekend is the wonderful Guerilla Film Makers Masterclass 2014 and I am so very excited.

Now it's not the first time I've been to the masterclass. It's not even the second. In fact I try to go every year. There is a metric tonne of information about filmmaking to be had and it's true by now I know some of it by heart, but that doesn't mean hearing it again isn't useful. In fact if I'm to meet my goal of getting my first feature made in 2014, then I really need this info hammered in big style this year. Of course Chris Jones can do that. He is just so inspiring. And he has all the tales to tell, of both the triumphant and the cautionary varieties.

Guerilla Filmmaker's Handbook

Guerilla Filmmaker's Handbook

This year I am taking my trusty assistant with me so it's guaranteed to be both fun and creative. I am positive we will come away with a truckload of creative ideas to get busy on in the coming weeks.

If you're at the masterclass, make sure to say hi!

Happy New Year! Now get up and write!

January 7th, 2014

Happy new year to you all!

Natural Posture

Mindful posture - good for writers and all who sit for too long!

I've been out of action a while after a spinal injury. I'm on the mend now and finally back to work. I'm not allowed to sit for long periods following surgery and this has been a major blow to my writing.

It's been so frustrating not only being unable to sit, but also having to stay on the move for half the day and lying down trying to give my spine a complete rest for the other half. It's been tough to figure out whether writing fits into the mobile half or the resting half. Many people suggested a standing desk and I did try to write upright, really I did, but I find after a minute or so my posture would slip and I'd be resting on one hip or the other. Keeping good posture at a standing desk is not easy and needs building up gradually over time. I quickly realised that post-surgery was probably not the best time to build up duration in these muscles.

I tried writing lying on my back, but as it turned out this was just as short-lived an activity as writing standing up. And that's the thing about recovering from spine problems, you're going to be frustrated and uncomfortable and what you're just going to have to accept is that you can't do the things you want to do for some time. Accepting not writing as my path back to writing was a hard pill to swallow.

An ounce of prevention…

If you're writing (or editing film or processing pictures or making music or working in any job where you're sitting in a chair for any length of time) prevention is much better than the cure! The moral of the tale, if there is one, is to mind your spine. Get up regularly, move around, stretch, do some squats, walk around your desk.

If you're working from home you have more opportunity to do other activities, not less. Go put a load of laundry on, make the beds, put a stew in the slow cooker, run the vacuum cleaner round. These are all activities that can get our bodies out of those stuck positions we get into when our minds are occupied with work.

Remind yourself to move!

The Jawbone Up

The Jawbone Up - bracelet pedometer that connects to your smart phone and monitors your exercise and sleep as well as being a great way to remind you to move when working and writing

The Jawbone Up is a good way to get you out of your seat. You can set the bracelet to vibrate every 15 minutes. You can even plug it into your iPhone or Android to track the number of steps, the depth and length of your sleep and the intensity of your workouts.

Maintaining good posture while you work is important, as is having a good supportive seat. But, the main thing is to move regularly.


Happy Writing! And Happy Moving!!

Some things I found that helped:

Book - Treat your own Back

Book - Treat your own Back

Treat Your Own Back

Physiotherapy cushion - posture wedge

Physiotherapy cushion - posture wedge which helps to take pressure off your spine when sitting at a desk

PhysioRoom Seating/Seat Wedge Posture Spine Cushion

Physiotherapy cushion - lumbar roll

Physiotherapy cushion - lumbar roll which can help to prevent slouching in your chair by supporting the curve in the lower back.

The Original McKenzie Lumbar Roll - D-Shaped (Packaging Varies)

Ginger, Curcumin and Boswellia

Ginger, Curcumin and Boswellia - I found this very useful for joint inflammation and pain relief along with Omega 3 Fish oil capsules

FSC Ginger Curcumin & Boswellia 120 Tablets


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