Author: David Atkinson

I am an independent #media professional: #journalist #author and #blogger for hire. Sign up for my #writing workshops as a media tutor.

#WriteHereWriteNow: How to write reviews

I was reading an interview with Danny Baker last week.

You may remember him as the man from those Eighties TV ads for Ariel, the hungover wingman to Chris Evan’s Britpop benders in the Nineties or the first one voted off last year’s I’m A Celebrity.

But, back in the summer of ’76, he was one of the Depford punk-rock gunslingers behind the legendary punk fanzine Sniffin’ Glue. No, really.

And he had a motto for his early reviews of The Sex Pistols and The Clash, notes scribbled under a hail of spit and stale beer down the front of the moshpit.

“Sometimes right, sometimes wrong; always certain.”

Could we all learn from Baker’s juvenile chutzpah?

Here’s the issue: when it comes to writing reviews, it’s easy to be dull. Reviews are, essentially, a form of features in style yet it’s a format many even experienced writers struggle with.

Try this one, a review of the new Titanic hotel by the Belfast-born writer Glenn Paterson — a writer I admire.

Does it inform? Does it entertain?

Reviewers tread a fine line between information and entertainment. After all, most people reading reviews have no intention to ever buy the album/ see the film/ eat at the restaurant.

It’s a vicarious pleasure.

And the writers that tend to stand out are the ones with a distinctive voice, as well as in-depth knowledge of their specialist subject.

Think the late A.A. Gill of Sunday Times restaurant reviews fame, or Charles Spencer’s description of Nicole Kidman in The Blue Room as “pure theatrical Viagra” in a 1998 Daily Telegraph theatre review.

Gill died of cancer last year and, indeed the critics generally are dying off in the face of celebrity bloggers.

The media commentator Peter Preston laments this in today’s Observer. He writes:

“I think that, in small but important ways, critics help civilise journalism.”

This month at #WriteHereWriteNow we will consider the art of the critic.

Before the meeting on October 26, let’s try to write a 150-word review of something — a TV programme, a film, a new CD etc.

Can you channel a youthful Danny Baker to establish your voice?

Be right, or be wrong; be always be certain.

Liked this? Try also How to make the most of direct speech

Questions? Follow me on Twitter and DM me, or sign up for my newsletter.

Writing workshops: how to read magazines — and write for them

If it’s Friday, then it’s a magazine masterclass in Chester.

I ran the first in a series of new-style workshops today, hosted by Meltdown, in which we got to grips with some of the thorny issues of making it as a magazine journalist.

Such as, you ask? Well, try signposting, pitching editors and, the thorniest of all — money.

Magazines matter, I think. They educate and inform; they define the age in which we live.

That’s why our discussion moved from Nineties Britpop and Loaded to Monacle‘s spin-off brands and the rise of the indie magazine as celebrated by Stack Magazines.

It was a lively debate with four super-keen wannabe hacks [pictured above], all of whom brought loads of experience, ideas and enthusiasm to the session.

Here’s a taster of some of the take-away tips of the day …

If you’re going freelance, then you will need:

  • An ability to generate lots of ideas and pitch them successfully, turning your ideas into hard cash
  • An ability to take old ideas and recycle them or spin-off fresh ones with different angles. Either way, you need to refresh quotes, rewrite intros and concs, and check with editors re copyright contracts
  • Some business sense and a basic grasp of accountancy to keep your own records

Thanks to the attendees and for the great feedback, such as:

And this comment from the feedback sheet:

“This has given me the confidence to give it a go and actually start pitching stories to editors.”

The plan is to take these workshops quarterly, so look out for the next one in the new year.

Tortoise Magazine writing workshop at the Good Life Experience

A phone call out the blue.

It was the nice people from Tortoise, Chester’s independent magazine.

They had a stand at the Good Life Experience, the annual festival of, well, good life, taking over Hawarden for a weekend each September.

And they were thinking of running some writing workshops to encourage visitors to react to the sights, sounds and, in particular characters at the festival.

That’s where I would come in.

So it was last Saturday was spent running three workshops during the day [that’s group one with me, above].

We encouraged wannabe bloggers and writers to explore the festival site in search of a good story and a even better soundbite.

I had adults, kids, creative writing students and fledgling mummy bloggers amongst others.

But they had one thing in common: they all did us proud.

From a profile of a dog portrait photographer (yes, that is a thing) to two schoolgirls saving the world from plastic (check out Kids Against Plastic), it was a rich source of material.

Okay, I missed the set by Michael Head as I was working but it was great fun and we had loads of nice comments afterwards, such as:

Look out for the edited compilation of stories in the next issue of Tortoise magazine.

A travel-writing masterclass at HiOA university, Oslo

To Oslo then — thanks to an Erasmus exchange with a British university.

After a week in the Norwegian capital, I learnt that photojournalism is alive and well in Scandinavia, you can buy a pint for less than £10 and knitting is actively encouraged in the front row of Nordic lecture theatres.

But, most of all, I spent a couple of days teaching features classes and running a travel-writing with some very smart Norwegian students.

They rose to the challenge to write travel features in English and came up with some great story hooks.

My time at Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences (HiOA) was a chance to reflect on my own teaching and see how lecturers do it in other countries.

The students [pictured above] seemed to enjoy it, too, and I had some good feedback about engaging learners through my communication.

I’m hoping to make the exchange between the UK and Norway into a regular event. Watch this space.