The Hack’s Progress

Harriet has been a journalist for 16 years. At first, she hoped to become a household name.  

Household names

Now, as she sits in Starbucks, her goal is more mundane: to pay Simon back. Her boyfriend put a roof over her head and this new laptop in front of her. Still, it would be nice to be invited to speak at an Editorial Intelligence Breakfast Salon.  Or just contribute to a trending topic on Twitter, ideally in the same week that it’s trending.

Simon does not approve of Starbucks, or, as he puts it, ‘all that it stands for’. Harriet’s view is less complex. It stands on the corner and it’s a place to work.

Whenever Harriet thinks her career’s going OK, she brings herself back down to earth. What kind of household name would pen features like “What your loo roll says about you”?  

What does your loo roll say about you

That was at least easier than some of the other features. The commissioning editor of RightHere! magazine, a terrifying Glaswegian woman, once wanted a really fun piece on women who’d traded their baby for a Hermes handbag. When Harriet’s jaw dropped, the editor assured her there were zillions of women out there that would feel unconditional love for a Birkin, hen. Especially since it wouldn’t poop and cry all night, and it certainly wouldn’t tell them it hated them in 12 years time.

Harriet knows all about ‘really fun’ pieces.  After making a zillion phone calls and pestering everyone on Facebook, she still ends up without any case studies willing to give their real names and photos, let alone women young, slim and blonde enough. Editors always claim to know their readers, but Harriet doubts if any of them are smart sassy under-40s. RightHere! magazine could probably keep 99% of its readers happy with knitting patterns and offers on cod liver oil.      

Instead Harriet asked “Could it be a Mulberry bag?”

The editor was withering.  “Are ye daft?  Nobody would do that.”

Christmas is coming up and Starbucks has gone all red and green.  This time of year makes Harriet blue so she tries to keep busy. She is up to her eyes in her piece Great Gifts for Under £10.  These are remarkably similar to Great Gifts Over £10, except for the quality.

She wonders about covering Fabulous Festive Gifts Over a Grand, but doesn’t think PR companies will send over the freebies she has in mind. 

freebies over a grand

By now most titles have Christmas sewn up, but there’s always the chance of a last minute request.

The editor at RightHere! will probably ring her with a really fun festive feature idea.  All Harriet would have to do is find three women who’ve had an immaculate conception. They’d have to give their real names and be photographed, of course.  And it would a bonus if their partners are carpenters. 


Harriet is a freelance journalist from my novel One Night at the Jacaranda. This weekend you can read more about her and other single Londoners for only 99p (UK Kindle edition). And let’s face it, what could you get at Starbucks for 99p?

The 12 Quotes of Christmas

Right now you can hardly turn around without hearing the word Christmas, usually accompanied by lame puns on seasonal words like holly and merry, and the lazy journalist’s headline The 12 whatever-they-are, even if those particular whatever-they-are have nothing to do with Christmas.  Well, I’m not about to get left behind in this frantic festive scramble, so here are my 12 favourite quotes.  Just in the St Nick of time.

If you love somebody, let them go, for if they return, they were always yours. And if they don’t, they never were.”  Khalil Gibran

“What we’re saying today is that you’re either part of the solution or you’re part of the problem.” Eldridge Cleaver

“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”  Nelson Mandela

“What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything?”  Vincent van GoghMLK crop

“If a man hasn’t discovered something that he will die for, he isn’t fit to live.” Martin Luther King, Jr

“True friends stab you in the front.”  Oscar Wilde

‘There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”   W. Somerset Maugham

“I still have my feet on the ground, I just wear better shoes.” Oprah Winfrey

“Stupid is as stupid does.”  Forrest Gump

“I have nothing to say and I am saying it and that is poetry.”  John Cage

“You cannot predict the future.”  Stephen Hawking

and that’s why you probably didn’t expect this 12th quote

يوم عسل يوم بصل

This anonymous Arabic quote translates as “One day honey, another day onions” and I think it nicely encapsulates the bittersweet nature of life.

What are your favourite quotes?

Seven Days as a Novelist

Thanksgiving Day 2013 and my novel comes out after spending years getting ready. 

front cover reduced

First cover of my novel

Day One is great:  congratulations arrive on Facebook, in cards and by email.   I don’t have a launch party but I go to Women in Journalism’s Christmas bash.   Everyone can see that I’m floating about 6″ off the ground.  That’s because I’m wearing red suede heels like these.

By Day Two, I’m seeing stars in the form of my first review.  Five stars to be exact, and from an author I respect hugely.  I tell all my friends, which means I post the news on Twitter.  Writers lose their real friends because they spend all their time writing. 

On Day Three I see a neighbour who wants to know all about my book. When I explain how she can buy a copy, for instance here, I get a blank look.  She asks “What do you mean, buy?”

It’s the Primrose Hill Christmas Festival on Day Four   The place is crawling with models, writers, actors, whatever (MWA, darling).  I don’t see any celebs out and about with their noses in my novel, but I spot these supermodels in their new winter coats.

Ruff & Tumble

Monday night is Day Five.   I attend the British Lung Foundation’s Christmas Carols by Candlight at St Pancras Church.  It’s a big occasion so I’m wearing THE shoes off the cover, not a stand-in pair.   Along with Linda Robson, Tommy Walsh and David Oakes, I read a poem. By now my book and I are feeling proper festive.  

jacaranda tree

But that day my elderly mother has another fall and can’t stand up.  I catch a flight out as soon as I can.

She’s in a geriatric hospital.  Her lipstick tells me she’s still fighting but the rest of her tells a different story.  She has severe osteoporosis and has broken several more bones.  They give her morphine which barely helps her pain.  You have to work up gradually to the right dose and we’re not there yet.  

The red heels have come off.  I sit by her bed and help her drink from a drinker, the kind my children had as toddlers.

This, now, is reality.  Fiction?  That’s just escapism.  But what a welcome escape it can be.