Friday, 30 March 2012

In praise of single parents: when working from home gets messy

Although I am working from home I do have to fit my work in around looking after our two young children. There are also times when my wife has to travel for her work leaving me home alone with Thing One and Thing Two. This is usually not a problem but on her latest three day trip things started to get a bit hairy.

It started on the first day after I was propelled out of the front door by the sheer determination of the constant babble coming out of Thing Two’s mouth. We were off to the shops and no longer had I started to swing the front door shut I realised that I didn’t have my keys.
I darted back to stop the door but was fractionally late, my despairing fingers meeting unyielding wood. I was locked out with a two year old and my wife was just taking off from Heathrow bound for Jordan.

Thing Two turned to me and said “Come on Daddy! What are you waiting for?”

“I’ve locked us out of the house.”

“Oh dear. Silly Daddy. Let’s go to the shops.”

“We can’t. The car keys are with the door key.”

“Why did you do that Daddy?”

Luckily I had my phone on me and I Googled the number of our letting agency. They were supremely uninterested in my plight but did give me our landlords number. However, no-one was answering the phone.

Fortunately, a nerve racking 30 minutes later when I was imagining my landlords away for a week on holiday I got hold of them on their mobile and we were rescued within the hour.

Now Thing 2 never lets me leave the house without asking if I have my key.

The next morning I was getting Thing 1 ready for school and Thing 2 ready for and I was ahead of time. I decided on the luxury of a shower. I explained to the Things that they had to entertain themselves for five minutes and nipped into the shower.

I had just got wet when Thing 1 announced he needed a poo and proceeded to stink out the bathroom. Not a huge problem, unless he flushes the loo and scalds me, but the chances of that happening were slim.

However, Thing 2 started screaming and announced that she needed a poo.
Covered in soap I slipped out of the shower, checked that Thing 1 had cleaned himself properly, put Thing 2 on the loo and rinsed myself off.

I turned off the shower to find that Thing 2 had pulled off the rest of the toilet roll and put it down the toilet. She had also wriggled off the loo and was walking around the bathroom with a hefty lump of the brown stuff threatening to fall from her hind cheeks.

The spare loo rolls were in the ‘workshop’ in the garden so I had to run outside, wet and naked in the cold morning air, to grab some loo rolls and clean her up before she escaped to sit on her bed or worse, my bed.

I would like to thank my neighbours for their help in contacting our landlord and also apologise if my impromptu streak put any of them off their breakfast.

I now have full admiration for any single parents out there. There are times when two pairs of hands are considerably more than a ‘nice-to-have’.

Monday, 26 March 2012

My three favourite moments of business genius

When you’re working from home you rarely have a huge marketing budget and it seems to me that when companies have lots of money to spend it’s so often wasted.

I’m preparing to launch my new novel Working from home and while planning my marketing I remembered some excellent examples that have inspired me, so I thought I would share them.

Apologies for the lack of detail in some parts, not very professional of me, but my references are still packed away in boxes pending our house move. The genius of these schemes will still shine through.

Number 3 – Richard Branson getting free video screens for his Virgin Atlantic planes

The story goes that Richard Branson was trying to raise funds to install seat video screens on his transatlantic planes to gain an advantage over his fierce rivals British Airways. However, it was just after 9/11, fewer people were flying and money was tight. No-one would finance his plans.

He was just about to give up when he had an idea and phoned Boeing. They were having hard times as no-one was ordering their planes. He ended up being financed by Boeing to buy a new fleet of planes with seat video screens installed for free. When public confidence in flying returned he had the latest airplanes and gained market share from BA.

Number 2 – Michelle Mone and the perfect PR gimmick for Ultimo bras

I attended an excellent talk by Michelle Mone and she recounted this story with great gusto. Michelle had managed (by sheer effort and an excellent product) to get Selfridges to stock her new Ultimo bra, but she had very little money to promote the launch. She hired some actors to dress up as plastic surgeons and demonstrate against the new bras; complaining that they were so effective they would be out of a job. The stunt gained coverage across the world giving millions of pounds worth of coverage for a few hundred pounds of investment.

Number 1 – Real estate company in America

Sorry the details are so vague but it is such a perfect story I’m going to include it anyway.

A real estate company in the US had built a large housing estate near a popular and expensive city. In fact it was on a curved bay opposite the city so while it was close to the city it was still a considerable commute away. The company set aside a huge fund for advertising and PR but the marketers didn’t spend any of it in these areas. Instead they used it to build a bridge from the new development to the city. This was very popular with the locals, it got them endless coverage in the local media and, even better, it increased the house prices and thus profit margin.

What are your favourite stories, stunts or deals? I’d love to hear them.

I’ve got a few tricks up my sleeve for my novel launch but for now if you 'like' the Working from home Facebook page you get entered for a draw to win a Kindle!

Friday, 23 March 2012

The Working from Home Twitter Follow Friday list for March 2012

It’s been an odd week for me in many ways. I managed to lock myself out of my house with my new year old daughter and had to re-brand my lucky orange pants to my silly orange pants. There’s been a lot of banter and cheering up on Twitter this week so here are my #FF’s along with the reasons why you should follow them (the original point of #FF after all).

Having written the list it is very obvious that I need to interact with more men – but they so seldom return my calls. Perhaps it is my delicious daddy role?

@beatlebrain She’s supportive and funny at the same time and believes in equality for all

@Rebeleith Writer, encourager and the only person I know who can make me fancy Chinese food for breakfast at 7am.

@akjames61 Author of the excellent book Righteous Exposure that I reviewed recently. She claims to have an odd sense of humour and she is correct.

@JustSJP She takes three bottles of wine when she visits her mother-in-law. Enough said.

@JessSturman She’s fabarooney and fantastico, rubbish at drinking and just a teensy bit mad.

@LesleyPearse She’s a proper grown up author with a new puppy and claims that none of her readers do much housework.

@Britt_W She’s a wolf, not a poodle and she’s Swedish but speaks most languages and seems to know something about everything.

@cyteen02 He’s a knowledgeable chap but is known to leave his purchases behind in shops.

@ClaireAgius Translator, adopter and able to poke fun while showing concern at the same time.

@TashaHarrison_ Talented writer but provider of the most dubious healthy eating advice ever.

@1ManBandAccts Specialises in accounts for sole traders and purveyor of funny comments.

@Jenny_MesZaros Writer who likes her views and characters rose-tinted.

@MarDixon Single-handedly saving libraries and museums while existing on a diet of Skittles and Relentless.

@julie_cohen Another proper grown up author, she writes in her pyjamas even though it makes delivery men knock on her door.

@AnnaHill She’s musical, cultured and can be very cheeky.

@LizDawes She’s a funny writer looking for votes and does fab jazz hands.

@helenmariegrant Writer, young glamorous granny-in-waiting and owner of an innocent smile.

@Liebesdings New mum, my sweet ex-Mary Poppins from Germany.

@LilinhaAngel The mum, worker and student who won new wellies but needs a new buggy.

@JDSdesign Brand expert and expert thrower of hot drinks at wasps, legs and computers.

@relucthousedad He’s funny, he irons underwear and he’s a fabulous cook.

@nikkipilkington Expert about everything online and works three times as fast when her young daughter is asleep.

@lisabodenham Writer and laugher who eats kryptonite for breakfast washed down with absinthe.

@Joannechocolat Grown up writer and owner of a magical metamorphosing shed that is probably fuelled by diet Coke.

Working from home book launch set for 18th April

It’s been a long time coming but my novel Working from home: Mixing business with pleasure will be launched on April 18th 2012. As befitting the subject the launch will be coming to your home via the Internet and the local press across Somerset and Devon.

There will be an online competition to win an Amazon Kindle (or £90 of Amazon vouchers) so there is no excuse not to buy a copy! Full details to follow but you can get an early competition entry by liking the Working from Home Facebook page.

Working from home Book blurb

Jonny has an interesting twenty-four hours. One evening he walks in on his naked flatmates in a compromising position on the sofa. The next morning he discovers that the improper use of a Matalan card can result in a bloody nose for the woman of his dreams. By lunch time he discovers that the huge company he works for is shipping out making him and hundreds of others in the area redundant.

Cat is one of those employees and her efforts to turn to freelancing are hindered by someone trying to black-ball her in the industry unless she agrees to sleep with him. Added to this she is just about to catch the attention of a serial adulterer via her new age sister, whose idea of a business plan for her local pub is persuading the barmaids to wear low-cut tops.

Will Jonny and Cat find enough work to pay for the necessities in life like beer and shoes? Can you really work via the Internet from home in your pyjamas? Will Jonny and Cat manage to mix business and pleasure, or will they fail to close the win-win deal?

Working from home is lads’ lit asking chick lit out for an adventurous date into the serious world of business networking, where it’s not who you know that really matters, but who knows you.

Early orders for the Working from Home e-book

Working from home has a launch date of 18th of April 2012 and in order to achieve my aim of getting into the Kindle top 10 bestsellers I need to concentrate orders on that day. I have a fancy spreadsheet running listing people who have expressed an interest in buying a copy. The launch price will be £2.99. If you want to be added to this list please email me at russ(at) replacing the (at) with @ (a cunning ruse to prevent my email address being harvested by spammers).

Once on this list you will receive three emails from me. One on the 17th April, one on the launch day and one afterwards telling you how the launch went and giving you the opportunity to be on the list for my next book launch.

You will not be added to a newsletter list and your email address will not be sold or given to any third party even if they offer me three camels and a packet of Skittles for it.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Would you prefer to give up your television or dishwasher?

Working from home often means fitting in domestic chores like emptying the dishwasher into the work day routine. If like me you are also looking after the kids it can be a case of fitting work into domestic routine. This is why I would happily swap our television for a dishwasher.

I’ve grumbled before about our rental house but another gripe is that there is no space for a dishwasher. This has led me to believe that a dishwasher is the second most important machine in our house; second only to the washing machine. The television only comes in third, but would be fourth, after the tumble dryer in winter as nothing dries in this house.

I’ve just realised that I’ve missed out the oven, fridge, freezer, microwave etc, but my point is that our TV is way down on the importance list.

I’m confident in this as we have not had live television since we moved in at the end of November. The house is wired into Virgin cable who demand a year’s subscription and we are already tied in to a year with BT as part of the moving process.

The kids missed CBeebies at first but they have DVD’s to watch and can choose which programmes to watch on the iPlayer in the evening. We also sometimes watch something on iPlayer in the evening after they have gone to bed, but we often struggle to find something worth watching.

The only channel I really miss are the music channels that I used to sometimes have on in the background. In an ideal world I’d watch test cricket but when you spend more time washing up than watching TV, the extra expense for the Sky set up hardly seems worth it.

All going well, we will be in our new house soon so will our behaviour change? Probably not. I’m just looking forward to having a dishwasher! Unless there is some unmissable TV out there that we don’t know about? Answers on a blog comment post please!

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Working from Home book review: Righteous exposure by A K James

Righteous exposure is a thriller novel following one woman’s quest to expose the crimes of a rich and powerful man. It has all the necessary components of a goodie versus baddie against the odds plot.

The heroine is softly-spoken, yet strong and there are not one, but two nasty baddies who wouldn’t think twice about raising the body count. It also has a varied array of victims who are linked directly or indirectly to the main crime and the many repercussions of the heroine’s actions.

Unusually for this genre the heroine’s quest for revenge does not come from a recent incident but from a memory from her childhood that is brought up to date by current, almost unrelated, events. As it is not an immediate retaliation the heroine is facing much harsher consequences if her master plan goes awry.

However, if you are looking for something that will sit happily next to a Nora Roberts novel you will be disappointed; as James has a sense of humour. You won’t be in fits of laughter but the book exudes a gentle warmth that adds a necessary dimension to the lightning-fast pace of the narrative. So get ready to curl your toes one minute and smile the next.

This is not chick lit by numbers and deserves a place on your reading list. You can also lend it to your partner. If he complains about reading a ‘book for girls’ just try to distract him from reading it once the tension kicks in!

You can buy Righteous exposure by A K James here.

This book stole my Kindle virginity. You can read more about my experience and discover if A K James respected me in the morning here.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

A real books lover discovers that a Kindle improves marital harmony

I was sceptical when e-books first arrived. I have always read a lot and books are more than just something to read; they are an experience. Although we have very little space in our rental house I have a selection of my favourite books to hand. It makes it feel more like home.

Can this experience be matched by the modern reading devices like Kindles. I doubted it. But then the book buying process started to change. Walking into a book shop used to be a like walking into Willa Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, with new delights on every shelf. However, unless you walk into a really large book shop you now see the same titles on display.

There are sections for vampires, chick lit, detective, thriller, sci fi and true tales of abuse and the books in each genre all look the same. This is frustrating if you want to discover new authors and this is where Amazon has shattered the book-buying paradigm.

Their ‘long tail’ approach of stocking such a huge range of books allows me to follow a specific interest and find new authors and styles around a common theme – complete with reader reviews. I would not find these books in most book shops but in Amazon they are nearly always in stock and are delivered quickly for free.

Now with Kindle you can buy at low cost and receive the book instantly. But what is the reading experience like?

I took the plunge and asked for a Kindle for my 40th birthday. The first thing to notice is that a Kindle is a low-tech gadget. True it downloads books unfeasibly quickly and you will never lose your place again. However, for someone used to smart phone screen controls it seems very basic.

In many ways this is a good thing. The battery lasts forever, it is unfeasibly light and it’s easy to use. The screen is like Rachel Weisz, very easy on the eye, with no glare and you can store loads of books on it.

I lost my Kindle virginity with an ebook novel Righteous Exposure by A K James, a fellow writer I banter with on Twitter and I was soon speeding my way through it. Either it’s the fast-paced thriller style of the book or the format of the screen seems to encourage faster reading. It was an enjoyable experience let down only by not seeing the book cover. Mandy’s book has a fab cover but, unless I’m doing something wrong, you don’t see it once the ebook has been downloaded.

I will now be downloading the Kindle novels of my Twitter and Facebook friends, giving me access to low cost, good quality books that I can then discuss with the authors. Just as video didn’t kill the radio star I will still be buying some traditional books and I have about four of these in my to-read pile.

An unexpected bonus is the way I can cuddle up with my wife when I read it in bed. I usually read at night as there is no time during the day. As the Kindle is so light she can cuddle up and fall asleep on me without causing any page turning difficulties. Now I’m wondering why I didn’t turn to ebooks sooner!