New resolutions


I’m still climbing up the path to being completely sorted out in my new working-from-home life. Regular readers will remember that I wrote down some Home-Workers’ Resolutions when I first went full-time with Libro, based on what I’d learned while doing it part time.

I’ve been doing it for nearly 4 months now, and all is going really well – the work has expanded to fill the space, and most of it is from a good roster of regular clients, giving me a range of different tasks for different kinds of people and companies. I’ve recently added another transcription client and another localisation client to the mix. But I have learned about a few more tweaks I need to make, and writing this post, writing them down, will hopefully help me to achieve them (as the original post did).

Have my lunch by 2 p.m.

I’ve got a bit bad at this one. Hence writing this at 2.29 p.m. I get into what I’m doing or I go to the gym late, and time is ticking on … It’s not necessarily BAD to have lunch late – I have my breakfast later now, so that I can have a chat with Matthew first thing, so I’m not fainting by this point, but it is important to have regular anchors in your working day when you’re alone all day, and I think this one is important.

Leave the phone alone during meal times

I’m REALLY bad at this one. In my case, for “phone”, read “Blackberry”. All those little email messages binging into my phone with that tempting noise. And I do have a lot of regular clients who need work doing at short notice. But, honestly, in the time it takes to consume a meal, is anything so urgent going to happen that it would really matter if I put the phone to one side? Do I need to be twisting round to grab my phone, only to find it’s spam or bacon*? I’ve started to try this at lunch and will extend it to dinner, too. Fair enough, I will have the phone within reach in the evening, and it’s by my bedside as I find it comforting to just check if something’s come in without getting out of bed first thing. But mealtimes will henceforth be sacred.

*bacon is stuff you’ve signed up for but then feels almost like it’s spam when you receive it – newsletters and updates, that kind of thing.

Spend at least a little time every day doing something that I love

I’m getting better at this one – hooray! In my case, this thing that I love is reading. I was missing reading: I’ve always been a big reader and love reading and reviewing what I’ve read. This nice new home for my book reviews has helped with this. And I’ve taken to grabbing a book when I’m on the way to the gym once a week, and reading on the exercise bike (yes, I still have a good, hard workout!). I’m happier as a result, and less panicky about the size of my Mount To Be Read. Even if you love your job, do a little different thing, whether it’s watching the telly, reading a magazine, or having a bath. If it’s a special thing you can do every day, like reading, so much the better!

I’ve updated the Home-Worker’s Resolutions page with these: and as ever, do let me know if you’re a) following the resolutions yourself or b) have any more to contribute!

Elizabeth Taylor Day and three books: A Game of Hide and Seek, Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont and The Blush


The Blush by Elizabeth TaylorI have been having a bit of an Elizabeth Taylor “fest” this past few days: we’re reading all her novels in chronological order over in the LibraryThing Virago Group, and through that group I heard about an Elizabeth Taylor Day being run in Reading on Saturday 21 April. My good friend, Ali, and I decided to go to that, and so I read one book ahead in the schedule (A Game of Hide and Seek) so as to immerse myself in Taylor, then borrowed Ali’s copy of Mrs Palfrey, because I wanted to go to the book group discussion of it on the Day. Then I decided to read The Blush on the bus journey to the day, because obviously you can pick up short stories for a little time but put them aside if you want to read a whole novel between Birmingham and Reading, for example …

Elizabeth Taylor – “A Game of Hide and Seek”

(30 March 1994)

A re-read, but as it was originally read in 1994, I didn’t remember much, except one character reminded me of someone I knew – and they still did remind me of that person (who I still know, although not so closely!) when I read it this time round. A poignant tale of first, lost love and what happens when you “settle” but then that love comes back to get you. Marvellous cameos from the rather tragic figure of Kitty, and the shop ladies in their little feminine enclave of soup and waxing. There were some excellent mothers, too, as usual in Taylor – I adored Charles’ theatrical mother, all gestures and faces. Most poignant of all was a little meditation of the loss of an old friend in middle age. In fact, looking back at the book from a few days’ distance, all kinds of love are included here: for a son; for a mother; lost; rekindled; friendship; colleagues; pashes on teachers. Mature, devastating and mysterious of ending – a marvellous read.

Elizabeth Taylor – “Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont”


I gulped this down on the train between Birmingham and Reading; yes, I did read every word, but I have read this before, although I’m not sure when. Mrs Palfrey, a fine and formidable woman who can look like a general in drag, is installing herself at a residential hotel as the novel opens. She observes the other inmates: pain-wracked Mrs Arbuthnot, brave Mrs Burton, fighting age until the end (and at the Day we were alerted to the fact that she shares a surname with the person who to us, surely, is the “other” Elizabeth Taylor), and the others. Mrs Palfrey hopes for a visit from her grandson but when she meets a rather Iris Murdochian young impoverished writer (with yet another feckless mother), she brings him into her life – and into some degree of deception. Horrors, of course, ensue. A cast of brilliantly drawn characters seen in various environments including a scream of a party, each with their horrors and their redeeming features. Although the subject matter is depressing, the book isn’t, in an odd way that is testament to the power of the author.

Elizabeth Taylor – “The Blush”


The sticky-backed plastic covering and “Elizabeth”-era bookplate proclaim this to have been bought before I was 17 1/2 and off to University. One of the best collections of short stories I have ever read, each with a proper story, in that old-fashioned and infinitely (to me) preferable way, each deftly skewering the fears, cover-ups or pretensions inherent within the family and out in society. The first story, “The Ambush” is an amazing portrait of grief, while “The Rose, The Mauve, The White” and “You’ll Enjoy it When You Get There” both capture the agonies of youthful shyness (“‘Shyness is common,’ Rhoda’s mother insisted. ‘I was never allowed to be shy when I was a girl'”). One sentence in the latter story seems to capture the essence of Taylor (and why I love her):

“I’m afraid I don’t care for cats,” said the Mayor, in the voice of simple pride in which this remark is always made.

Elizabeth Taylor Day

Ali has captured the day beautifully on her blog but I will add a few words here. First of all, I’m very glad that Ali enthused me into coming along, and thank you, Battle Library, for a great event. It was great to meet friends from the LibraryThing group and very special to “meet” and hear from Taylor’s son and daughter. Seeing Elizabeth Jane Howard was another treat, although I don’t think I’ve read any of her books (that will soon be remedied). The day was a good mix of discussion and learning, and the book group discussions both excellent and different enough to be very valuable. I was very glad to have read Mrs Palfrey on the way down, and it was lovely to finally meet Dovegreyreader, whose blog I have been following and interacting with for a few years now.

As Simon said, Taylor seems to be the best-known “undervalued” author, regularly making lists of people who should be more appreciated. But, as was mentioned at the Day, she is, at least, reliably in print (thank you, Virago Press, although we would ALL like to see the old covers back). I found it interesting that when a rough poll was taken, about half of the 100 or so attendees were there because they were already big Taylor fans (I’ve been reading her since I was about 16), and half had been drawn in and encouraged to read her books by the event itself, so hopefully we have made some more fans along the way.

Book reviews: The Case of the Missing Servant, Nine Parts of Desire, A Beginner’s Guide to Acting English, A Wreath of Roses

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Tarquin Hall – “The Case of the Missing Servant”

(Bookcrossing, 22 October 2011)

In tone a little like the “Marriage Bureau for Rich People” books, in this first book in a series we have a nicely told tale of Vish Puri, Punjabi Detective, and his resourceful family and employees. A nice, rich back story with lots of enticing previous cases is provided, and we know to watch out for Vish’s Mummy, who is just as clever as her son. The murders are not too gory, and I will look out for others in this series. Here’s my friend Ali’s review of this book.

Geraldine Brooks – “Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Women”

(Bookcrossing, 09 October 2011)

A very worthwhile book that takes a deep and personal look at the hidden and often surprising world of Islamic women from different countries and regimes. The parts examining the basis of some of the rules and regulations in everyday life when the Koran and Hadiths were put together are very interesting. But however valuable it is as a historical document, it has become just that, in my opinion, as it was published in 1995 and worked very much in terms of a coverage of current issues, so it is rather outdated now. A shame, as a lot of effort clearly went into it. One can’t help but wonder what became of the women featured in this book.

Shappi Khorsandi – “A Beginner’s Guide to Acting English”

(charity shop, 26 November 2011)

The comedian’s early years, from the time she moved with her family from Iran to England, with refugee status and a father who was wanted by the Ayatollah’s regime and was at serious risk, yet kept publishing satirical articles and sheltering his fellow-countrypeople. The politics are all seen from a very well portrayed child’s perspective, and the fact that for every struggle to explain fishfingers to her mum there’s a racist incident at school or a menacing phone call give this book an edge and emotional depth that I wasn’t entirely expecting. A good read.

Elizabeth Taylor – “A Wreath of Roses”

(Amazon, 14 March 2012)

Known as the darkest of her novels, I didn’t find it so much dark – although there is a very disturbing scene right at the start – as imbued with melancholy and disappointment. Liz and Camilla’s friendship is drifting apart, and their summer trip to Liz’s former governess, Frances, is not like other years, helped by Liz’s baby and husband, the former of which Camilla fears and the latter of which she dislikes. Frances is best by arthritis and her fear of disappointing Morland Beddoes, the most robust character in the novel although he claims to be without character (shades of Iris Murdoch and her good characters being almost faded ciphers), a long-term buyer of her paintings. Then we have Richard, a man who gives the impression of not being quite as he seems, but has clearly made a mistake somewhere along the line.

There is a feeling of conflict when Camilla gets into a dangerous situation which she pretty well deserves, and the usual feeling of being in the company of a superlative observer of the finer points of friendships and relationships. The robust concerns of the domestic help, with their spit and promiscuous daughters, throws into contrast the subtleties of the inter-relationships between the main characters. Are Camilla and Liz two sides of Taylor herself?

There is also an excellent cat, who is left to be OK (actually doesn’t appear in the narrative after the middle).

Liz Broomfield, Professional Editor and Writer


Here’s me looking all professional (thanks again to the wonderful photographer, Adam Yosef).

The reason I’ve posted this? Well, I did my Self-Assessment Tax Return on Sunday.

Not only did I earn what I would consider to be a Living Wage with Libro last year (quadrupling my profit from 2010-2011), but I also didn’t lose as much of it to the tax man as I thought I would (see the posts on my main Libro blog about Payment On Account and on the outcome of my Tax Return).

So, I am able to support myself with my freelance work. I didn’t, to be honest, think I’d get to this point for a while. I’m not saying I’m rolling in money, but I’m certainly OK for the odd coffee out, and a holiday, although I’d be on a tight rein financially this year  (because of the double tax thing) if I hadn’t got some money saved up from when I was in full time employment.

I don’t want anyone to think that I’m being smug or showing off about this. I’m proud of what I’ve achieved, and I’ve worked very hard, but mainly I’m posting this to share with you that it is possible to do this, if you plan carefully, work hard and stick with it. I’m not a natural entrepreneur, and I’ve had pretty much a zero marketing budget; I’m lucky enough not to have too many business outgoings, but I am proving that it can be done.

First action for this financial year: take Matthew out for a slap-up meal (on me, not expenses!) to thank him for his patience and forbearance!

Book reviews: Strictly Annual, The Making of the British Landscape, The Land of Green Ginger

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“Strictly Come Dancing Annual 2009”

(March 2012)

A Poundland find from the first series we watched, and quite well done, with plenty of information about – and photos of – the participants and dancers. A nice memento, but I wouldn’t have paid full price for it.

Francis Pryor – “The Making of the British Landscape”

(06 July 2011)

First spotted when I was unpacking books at the Library, this was an excellent, weighty read that I really savoured. Taking heed of previous works on the subject and starting in prehistoric times, the author takes us right up to the present day effects on the landscape of modern farming and conservation. Just enough personal information and opinion (e.g. as a sheep farmer, planter of heritage tree species and critic of programmes like “Coast” that skate over the landscape, just looking for the pretty bits) and with a theme of connecting (or re-connecting) people to landscape, but this does  not get in the way of a scholarly and dense but immensely readable work on the way our landscape – natural-looking countryside, suburbs and cities alike – has been shape by geology and humankind.

Winifred Holtby – “The Land of Green Ginger”

(16 Sept 2011 – from Ali)

LIke South Riding, this is rooted in the landscapes of Yorkshire, but in this case the characters escape – or yearn to escape – to more exotic climes, symbolised by the odd street name in the town – The Land of Green Ginger. After a little casual anti-Semitism, we follow Joanna, child of a missionary but shipped back to her aunts to be raised, falling for the first man who seems able to match her whimsy, trapping herself unwittingly into a life of hard grind and harder to keep reputations. Neither belonging to the gentry or the village, the failing gentleman farmers are associated with the other outsiders, the Northern European foresters brought in after WWI, to whose fate they must bear witness. Will Joanna ever encounter the islands of her dreams? This powerfully feminist work outlines brutally the choices available to those women not brave enough to strike out on their own, and the fate of those who try for domesticity.

This was the new, “pretty” reissue done by Virago, and doesn’t have the customary introduction or afterword, which I did miss.

End of project … end of year


Photo by Adam Yosef

I really like this photo of me at Birmingham Social Media Cafe and wanted a chance to use it somewhere – my friend, Adam, kindly took some photos for me as I had to submit one to the website of an event I’ve been invited to, and he got this one too. Me, in Libro colours, pouring tea.

Anyway – I’ve reached the end of a big, ongoing project transcribing conference sessions, a project that comes up fairly regularly and is great fun to do, but takes a lot of my time and energy. And I’ve come to the end of my financial year, which coincides with the UK financial year. So a time for reflecting and taking stock of things.

Peaks and troughs in work life

I’ve noticed that I’m a lot more relaxed about the quieter times in my business life. I used to get nervy, thinking it had all somehow, miraculously, “gone away” and I was going to end up destitute in a gutter. Now I know it goes in peaks and troughs. I know that most of my clients are regulars, that it would be rather odd if they all stopped sending me work at the same time, and that I will be as busy as anything really soon.

So I’m using this time to chill out a bit. I had a massive reading in bed session after breakfast today (and finished a book I’d been reading for AGES – watch out for reviews coming soon) and plan to do a lot more of that. Matthew is off for the University General Holidays and the rest of next week, and hopefully I’ll get some time to spend with him, even if we’re just lolling around the house watching telly. We are going to the park this afternoon (mainly to have a cuppa out).

Tax time … and Payment on Account time

It’s nearly Tax Self-Assessment time: hooray! I might post a bit more about this at some point (should I? What do you think?) but basically I discovered early on that you don’t have to do your tax return in a frenzy at the end of January, just before the deadline. You can do it as soon as you have all your stuff together. I used to have to wait for my P60 from the day job, but I have my P45 from December all ready and waiting. I’ve done my accounts, because I keep them up to date all year round and then just make sure I include everything I’ve invoiced up to the end of the year (this may change next year: I hope it does!) even if it hasn’t been paid yet. I just have to get my Statements of Interest from the banks (this makes me laugh: my two banks combined a year or so ago. They use the same computer systems; even their online systems are almost identical. But Lloyds TSB will print out your Statements of Interest there and then, whereas Halifax insist on posting them to you. One for each account) and then I’m ready to go.

I don’t do my Self-Assessment in April, just after the end of the financial year that it’s for, to be smug and feel clever. I do it because then I  know what I will have to pay the tax man by the end of January! I’d just far rather know what it involves. Then I can put that money away in a safe place, take the bit that’s left over and put it into my personal account (to, y’know, live on and all that) and start afresh.

This coming year I will start Paying On Account, which is a bit of a pain but all explained over on the main Libro blog. I don’t mind paying my taxes, but this does seem a bit mean, as I will basically have to give the tax man 30% of my income (income tax and national insurance) on all of my Libro income (I earned exactly the threshold in my day job), twice (because of the Payment on Account thing). So, although I’ve done better than I thought I would this year, I will only get to play with about 40% of it.

I am so glad that I saved up enough money to live on for a year while I was working full time, in anticipation of running the business and eventually needing to support myself. It is possible, even on a smallish wage, but it did mean that I had to be careful in 2009 and 2010 when I started the business and worked full time, saving up living money, 2011 when I was managing to live on my part time wages and not touch my Libro income, and now this year while I am just able to add a little bit to the living-on-money pot. It’s just about doable, but it’s a bit annoying, and doubly so for Matthew, who probably thought I’d be able to justify the odd holiday by now!

Looking on the bright side …

Anyway, I’ve got some time off, I have Matthew with me, will be seeing various friends and doing some good old rest, relaxation … and reading. Happy Easter, everyone!

Keeping calm and carrying on


This picture was taken in Kairouan, Tunisia. It’s the place in the whole world where I feel most calm, peaceful, happy and at home. Yep: a desert town in the middle of Tunisia. It’s a holy place, with a huge mosque, but also a bustling and lively town. Why the connection? I put it down to my theory that my Spanish ancestor originated from North Africa and that it’s some blood connection with the place. I’ve been there twice, felt the same both times. Anyway, I was reminded of this photo when I was adding it to my Facebook page, and I want to put it on here to remind me of happy and calm times.

This post is a quick update on how time and client management is going here at Libro Towers. Many of you were kind enough to read and comment on my previous post where I wondered out loud how to manage a slightly-too-busy schedule. I had loads of advice and was also mulling over various options I had put together: I’m pleased to report that things are going a lot better and more calmly now, even though I’ve just had my busiest week to date!

Managing regular urgent work

I’ve had a breakthrough here, in that I’ve managed to organise back-up for a couple of those clients who are regulars, and great customers, but send me often large files at often short notice. I had already raised the “what if I’m busy, what if I want to go on holiday” issue with them, but we hadn’t got round to discussing it further. Not their fault, not my fault, just timing. Then – crunch time – I have a big semi-regular project on this week. And a big file came through from a regular. In consultation with them, I sourced someone who could do the work, explained it to them and provided back-up as they did it (it wasn’t quite the sort of work they are used to) and was pleased to find that a) the client was happy with their work; b) they were happy doing the work; c) it worked fine to have them invoice the client direct; d) the client is a good payer so everyone was happy there; and e) the client is happy for this person to provide emergency cover in the future.

Hooray! and this just shows that persistence works, and that often solutions come through when there’s a practical issue rather than just a theoretical one.

“Make them pay more”

A strong theme in the comments on the post was around making clients pay more in order to (I think) a) put them off and b) make sure I am being compensated adequately. As I have explained, I adjusted my prices in January of this year so that I was charging a more fair rate (for me!) for the writing services I offer, and moved editing and proof-reading work onto a full per-word rate, allowing for more predictability and again a fairer rate for me, as I had been under-charging. So I haven’t adjusted any current clients, as that would not be fair, and I am charging industry standard rates now anyway. There was an issue with students I’d worked with previously sending me more work on the same project and me feeling I should charge them the old, per-hour rate. But this turned out to be a red herring, as I have actually worked my way through all of those, and all student clients are now on my new rates anyway.

Turning down work

I was doing this already and have continued – anything that looks like it will be a one-off small job (and I don’t have time to do it right then) or is not part of my core set of services, now gets rejected or referred on to a colleague. In the last couple of weeks I have turned down a couple of small localisation jobs, passed on some student enquiries to a recommended friend, and passed on the opportunity to do some virtual assistant work for a current client, directing her on to another recommended friend who is doing well providing that service to her.

Getting support

I was quite amazed how much just writing that Keep Calm and Carry On post helped me sort things out in my head. I was good at letting current regulars know when I have a big project on (that’s just good customer service, I think) and better about talking through individual issues with business colleagues already, but I was also inspired to set up a local “networking” group (I was originally going to call it Cafe Of Pain, which I liked but some others didn’t – it’s  now the Kings Heath Homeworkers’ group) whereby local people can pop a note on the Facebook group or Twitter if they just need a quick coffee and a chat. This has nine members now and I have met up regularly for “grown-up homework club” with one friend (she does her language class homework and I work on my research project). It’s making a difference just to know there are local people around one can call on or meet up with in an informal way.

In summary

  • It’s good to talk
  • Solutions in business usually seem to come out of practical rather than theoretical situations
  • Things are getting better and will hopefully stay that way
  • People who read this blog are marvellous