Be Careful What You Wish For

Just under a month ago, I wrote a post on the Write Romantics blog called ‘Chasing My Tail’ and I re-blogged it here. At the time, I found myself massively struggling to to everything I wanted to do. In fact, I was struggling to even do the things I needed to do; never mind the extras. Although I didn’t write it in my article, a little voice in my head kept telling me that it would be nice to catch one of those bugs that was going round to get me a little time off work so perhaps I could catch up a bit.

Be careful what you wish for.

On Wednesday 25th February, I came back from my morning bootcamp and couldn’t stop sneezing. My nose was like a tap that day and I had a constant headache. This continued the following day but, by the time I went to bed, I was aching. My head pounded all night, I went from pouring with sweat to shivering, and I barely slept a wink despite feeling exhausted. I phoned in sick and slept most of that Friday. Things went from bad to worse. I felt drained all weekend. I’m not often ill and, when I am, it’s likely to be two days at the most so I figured I’d be back by the start of the next week. Instead, I was at the doctor’s. I discovered I’d contracted two viral infections at the same time – the cold and flu one and the D&V one – and I could expect to be ill for quite some time as they were particularly nasty strains.

After a week of self-certifying, I had to get a sick note for another week off because I’d still got the infection, but had added conjunctivitis in both eyes to my list of problems. Saturday 7th March was a particularly low point for me. The cough – which kept me awake most nights and added to my exhaustion – was so bad that it made me sick, but the force of doing this burst blood vessels in my eyes. Bear in mind I already had conjunctivitis so was suffering already. My eyes were red and swollen and I could barely see. Early last week, I started to see a slow improvement. Very slow.

I returned to work on Friday. I’m still really tired, but I am well enough to be back at work and I’m definitely not contagious anymore. So was I well enough to catch up on anything or do any writing while I was off sick and therefore fulfil my little wish? Was I heck! I have a strong work ethic and have never/would never skive. If I’m off work, I’m off because I physically can’t work. Which meant I didn’t have the energy to write either. It turned out to have been a very stupid thought!

My first few days were all about bed. After that, I could make it downstairs to the sofa, but spend my days watching films or napping. On the plus side, I saw a lot of films I haven’t seen before. We have Netflix so I had a lot of choice. Particular favourites included a Sandra Bullock film called “28 days”, two based on Nicholas Sparks novels called “Safe Haven” and “The Last Song”, a Natalie Portman film called “Where the Heart is”, plus a Gwyneth Paltrow film called “Country Strong.” I’d never heard of any of them and would therefore never have sought them out if I hadn’t been ill.

Although I didn’t have the energy to write, I did have time to think about my writing. I’m nearly ready to send book 2 to my publishers. It’s being read by two beta readers, one of whom has read it before and the other who is reading it for the first time. I feel like I’ve made some great improvements to it recently, but something still wasn’t quite there. The storyline for one of the films bears no resemblance to the plot for book 2, but something that happened in the film triggered a thought process around book 2 and, along with some initial feedback from one of my beta readers, I think I might have found the missing piece. Yippee!

I’ve done very little writing since my return to work on Friday but it’s my flex day tomorrow (I work a full time week across four long days) so I’m hoping to crack on again then. One thing I’m a little scared of is whether I’m trying to do too much. I do cram a ridiculous amount in with work, writing, bootcamp, Brownies, and family, and I’m wondering if this little illness episode was my body’s way of telling me to slow down and relax a little. Perhaps I do need to have a night off a week where I just lie in front of the TV or watch another film I’ve never heard of on Netflix. I’m back at bootcamp in the morning and I’m back at Brownies that evening after a 2-week break. I just hope that I don’t set myself back again.

Moral of this story: if you are ever chasing your tail and need some time off, book some annual leave. Don’t hope for a minor bug; there’s no such thing!

Jessica xx

Pick my product! Pick my product! Buy me! Buy me! Now!

I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that, every so often, a headline appears on Yahoo!’s home page that intrigues me and that, instead of doing what I’m meant to be doing (writing!), I click through to it. Come on, you know you do it … that’s why advertisers pay a fortune to appear on these links. Sometimes I’m glad I did as I read something genuinely funny or interesting but, more often than not, it’s a waste of my time.

About a week ago I was particularly intrigued by was this one:

http://uk.movies.yahoo.com/secret-life-of-walter-mitty-wins-worst-product-placement-award-123218430.html

I studied marketing at university and, although I’ve never followed a career in marketing (I went down the HR route instead), I’ve always been fascinated by adverts and product placement. I confess I have neither read nor seen The Secret Life of Walter Mitty but I’m now curious to do so simply because of the apparent randomness of product placement. Over the years, this is something I’ve noticed become more and more blatant in films and TV programmes and it’s quite often laughable. I imagine Coca Cola and PepsiCo have quite brutal fights over the right to have the stars drink their brand of pop when, truth be told, it wouldn’t make a jot of difference to me as I’d pick the one that I like the taste of best (Diet Pepsi in case you’re curious). However, it clearly makes a difference to those who are perhaps slightly more influenced by these things. Or they wouldn’t bother.

A couple of favourite examples of product placement are two films that blatantly satire it: Wayne’s World and The Truman Show. Two very different films but love them both … and their approach to advertising!

So what does this have to do with writing? Quite a lot actually. It’s only a matter of time before the massive reach of books is exploited by advertisers. There are examples out there already but nothing on as grand a scale as TV and films but how long will this last? 

In my debut novel, Searching for Steven, my protagonist has two cats. Good friends of mine had two cats who they’d named Caffrey and Guinness. As our student days weren’t long behind us and we were very fond of Irish ales, this seemed a great pair of names. Inspired by this idea, I named Sarah’s cats Cadbury and Buttons. I love chocolate so why not? But then I started work as a Recruitment Manager for Nestle and it seemed very wrong to be promoting the competition so I changed the names to Kit and Kat which I thought was genius on another level (small things amuse me!) I also thought it would be a great little story when (if) I got my publishing deal and I could maybe try and wangle some sponsorship out of my employer in the meantime. It wasn’t to be. I never got the book finished while still working for them! When I left Nestle four-and-a-half years later, I decided to change the names again. But I couldn’t do it. I’d lived with Kit and Kat for so long and the poor little things didn’t deserve another identity crisis.

Last weekend, I went away to a lovely lodge overlooking a lake and asked my husband to take some photos of me writing on the balcony to use on this blog. His twin sisters were with us and they decided that the pictures should include a little bit of product placement. Except it wasn’t a little bit. They dragged every branded item they could find out of the cupboards. What do you think?

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Hmmm. Even The Truman Show would be proud of that one!!!

Personally I prefer the slightly more under-stated Apple product placement …

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Plus it’s a far more flattering shot of me. Not that I’m vain. But that first one is pretty grim and a reminder that I really need to get the diet back under control. I will just point out that I didn’t then go on to trough the Flake, Walker’s Crisps, box of Thorntons etc. Well, not all in one go anyway!

Over to you. What do you think of product placement in books? Have you come across it in any books you’ve read? Have you done it in yours? Would love to hear more