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A trip down Fleet Street (aka "Memory Lane")

Updated: Jan 1

It’s tough being a freelance journalist. Thinking up interesting feature ideas is hard enough; the writing and researching is probably the easiest aspect of the whole dismal process. The really hard bit is getting newspaper editors to respond to polite emails in which you propose what you want to write and why you think it would work particularly well for their publication.

Every so often, when some newspaper editor fails to return my polite email, or says they only take stuff from staffers, or gets a bit snappy when I call to ask if they actually received my idea (certain people at the Indie and Telegraph spring to mind), I wonder if I’m in the wrong. After all, I’m only a humble freelancer, and one who doesn’t get published that often at that; doubtless they’ve uncovered countless scoops, done all the dirty work themselves, right?

Being a fairly naive sort of person (admittedly not a great quality in a journalist) I did think that having two novels on the shelves might make a tiny bit of difference; it didn’t. Nor did the fact I’ve had some pretty major features in various supplements over the years. But most editors refuse to even acknowledge my existence. I mean I don’t even have a media studies degree let alone a journalism qualification. Who the hell do I think I am anyway?

Lately however, I’ve been digitalising my entire portfolio (at least, most of it – some is lost, such has been the chaos of my life) and as I went through my published features I realised that I’ve been doing this a long time. My first article (“whatever happened to the hippies of Hebden Bridge") was in 1984; my first paid gig (an opinion piece for now-defunct London listings mag City Limits) in 1987. I still remember getting that first cheque for something I’d written; it made me realise anything was possible, even writing for a living...

Journalism for me has been a bit like scoring goals for Wayne Rooney: a few productive periods and then some long gaps when your confidence begins to go and you wonder where that next commission is coming from. There’s also a six year gap from 1990 to 1996 when so far as I recall I didn’t even try to sell a feature (to my knowledge, no newspaper editors noticed the fact I’d “retired"). But though I now class myself a novelist I’ve always got a buzz from writing for the papers, so in the end I went back to journalism.

Along the way I’ve interviewed pop stars, terrorists, drug dealers, pimps, politicians, priests, authors, actors,victims of abuse and many more. I’ve written about housing, Northern Ireland, gangs, drugs, hooliganism, mesothelioma and Vioxx. I’ve appeared on TV and radio, researched programmes, gone undercover (sometimes to fairly dangerous places) and written for broadsheets, tabloids, lad mags, music mags, women’s mags and papers overseas.

Some of the older features in particular make for excruciating reading with hindsight; an “expose” of ecstasy in 1988 that seems really OTT now; some of that laddish stuff I churned out in the early Noughties; my attempts at record reviews (music writing’s harder than it looks); and perhaps best (or worst) of all, my one attempt at fashion journalism, where I attempted to ask some bemused Flemish designers about unemployment (when they responded in their own language I said “sorry mate, I don’t speak Belgian").

But you know what? No matter what some newspaper editors might think, no matter how dismally they treat me (and countless other hacks), no matter what flak I get about my journalism from anonymous warriors via email, overall I’m proud of what I’ve written.


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