How to win work as a writer: be brave and send a cheeky letter!


Last May I was lucky enough to be involved in ‘For and Against: Art, Politics and the Pamphlet’, a multi-media arts project staged by Loughborough University’s Radar Arts.

I say lucky, but in truth it happened because I did that thing creatives often find hard to do: I opened my mouth and asked if I could join in.  In other words, I emailed the project’s producer and let her know that I was available, have relevant knowledge and skills, and was keen to do something for the project.

Self-doubt is no stranger to the writer: we already live with that mocking voice asking why we’d think anyone wants to hear our stories.  If you add to that a reluctance to push ourselves ahead of others – to queue jump, in effect – and to ask for something that we want, then we’re stuffed.

But several years as a freelance have shown me that simply having a good set of skills and being in the market place isn’t enough to get you picked for things. Sometimes there’s no turn-taking.  Sometimes when you spot an opportunity, you’ve got to be brave and just go for it before somebody else thinks to do it instead.  To send off what Creative Coach Pete Mosley calls a ‘cheeky letter’ and suggest yourself for a piece of work.

What’s the worse that can happen?  They might say no – and your ego will be bruised for a bit (and, for a while at least, you’ll probably hate every artist who does get taken on for the project!)  Even then, they may well remember you for next time, when your skills and experience are a better fit for what they need someone to do.

But they might also say ‘wow, that’s a fab idea – let’s talk!’ and you’ll be one step closer to running that workshop, or book reading, or the contract with the new agent.

It’s then that luck comes into it – luck that they’re running workshops at all, that they haven’t already got someone who can do what you do, that your style and experience fits with what they’re looking for.

That’s what happened to me.  I was lucky, but I wouldn’t have achieved that luck – and the freelance fee – if I hadn’t first been brave and let LU Arts know that I was out there.

And that means that I wouldn’t have run the writing workshop at Charnwood Museum which introduced me to new members of the local writing community nor heard the fantastic things that they wrote.

I wouldn’t have read my children’s story to an appreciative audience in Queen’s Park (thus achieving my New Years’ Resolution 7 months early!)

I wouldn’t have flagged my ‘writer’ status to 45 pupils at a local primary school nor worked with artist Chiara Dellerba on the workshops we delivered there.

Nor known what a positive impact it had on the children to see their work published, nor been as proud as punch to view it on display at the end-of-project exhibition on campus.

I very nearly didn’t hit ‘send’ on my email to LU Arts because it felt a bit ‘spammy’ sending it.  But I’m so glad that I did.  Because they clearly didn’t mind and the project ended up being a wonderful opportunity for me – to my standing as a writer in the community and for my creative output, too.

What ‘cheeky letter’ could you send to move yourself forward with what you want to do?

For and against




I love the ORM!

Yes, I definitely do!  And we need more people to love Loughborough’s Old Rectory Museum, too, so it can be preserved and made use of for generations to come!

Acts of Remembrance: National Memorial Arboretum visit


I spent the day at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire yesterday with the guys from Coalville’s Hero Project.

The site is a twenty-year-old, 150-acre ‘centre of remembrance’, much of it planted with nicely maturing trees which extend the wildlife corridor of the National Forest surrounding it.

There are lots and lots of memorials there, too, designed and paid for by the many groups who applied to have their comrades, workmates, friends and townsfolk commemorated forever on the site.  Including those who served in the Armed Forces.

Coalville Hero’s are currently working on a project – the Famous Fifty Exhibition – to honour the memory of the Coalville men who served in World War I.  The trip to the Arboretum was to find out more about their experiences and about post-conflict acts of remembrance in general.

I’ll be honest and admit I didn’t think I’d enjoy the place much.  I’d imagined it would be aggressively patriotic, applauding the sacrifice of dying for your country instead of highlighting the sadness of such needless loss.  That sadness was over-whelming at times, it’s true – there’s nothing like seeing rows and rows of trees and knowing that each represents one lost life (or, in the case of the wooden stakes of the Shot at Dawn memorial, one life that never reached its full potential).

But the whole thing was dealt with very tastefully and I came away with an understanding of the place as somewhere for the grieving to focus their grief, to share it with others who have experienced loss as they have, and to ease the pain a little. For many, it seems, parking the weight of it there lightens the burden they must carry elsewhere in their day-to-day lives.

There’s something life affirming about trees, too, isn’t there?  They’re a fantastic metaphor of the cyclical nature of life.  Leaves fall, but spring brings new growth.  Seeing the trees of the Arboretum in autumn, with their leaves turning to such beautiful colours, was very special.

I’m very grateful that Coalville Hero’s invited me to go along for the visit, and very honoured to be involved in their wonderful remembrance project.

Victory over Blindness

A sculpture representing the 2 million British servicemen who became permanently disabled during World War 1.

Poppy display

Visitors are encouraged to add poppies to this memorial.

Signpost to WW1 memorials

'Gas, boys, gas!'

A re-enactor demonstrates the 9 seconds a ‘Tommy’ would have had to put on his gas mask. The air breathed in was made ‘safe’ by passing through an asbestos filter in the bag.

Sleeping quarters in the trenches - if you were lucky!The Funk HoleA trench sign

Memorial to the Bevin Boys

A memorial to the Bevin Boys, who helped the war effort by mining coal back home in the UK.

Memorial to the Bevin Boys (2)Memorial to the Women's Land Army