Writer and Author

Category: Journalism (Page 3 of 4)

Journalism Movies and Bus Shakeups

Weekends are a time to leave work alone if at all possible.  When you spend all day in court listening to the gruesome details of murder after murder switching off is even more important.  If you dwelt on everything you hear on a daily basis you simply wouldn’t sleep at night. And by “you” in this context I do, of course, mean “I”.  So while today might be off the point tomorrow it will be back to normal service and further coverage of the Ronald McManus trial for the murder of Melissa Mahon.

In the quest of a break myself and the husband headed to the cinema this morning.  I love early showings – a throwback to the days I used to get into press screenings while working for a local radio station in college.  This week we went to see State of Play with Russel Crowe and Helen Mirren.  I’m a big fan of the original BBC series written by Paul Abbot and was initially highly dubious of a Holywood remake.  If you haven’t seen the series I’d still highly recommend it but I’m pleased to say that the movie actually does live up to the hyoe it’s receiving and is a damn fine thriller.

I’ve always been a sucker for films that centre around aheroic hack.  I’ve a reasonably comprehensive collection of these journalism movies from 1961’s The Day the Earth Caught Fire to Good Night and Good Luck via Mel Gibson in Peter Weir’s The Year of Living Dangerously and of course All the Presidents Men.  State of Player is a worthy addition to the genre.

The original was one of the best drama series the BBC have produced in the past twenty years with a fantastic cast including John Simm, David Morrisey, Bill Nighy, James McAvoy and Kelly McDonald.  The movie also has a pretty impressive cast with Russell Crowe as journalist Cal McAffrey, Helen Mirren as his editor, Ben Affleck (well cast for once) as the beleagured congressman Stephen Colllins and Robin Wright Penn as Collin’s wife.  But the best thing about the movie is it’s not just a cracking thriller, it’s also the kind of film that makes you proud to be a journalist (and god knows, those films are few and far between!)

The film version of State of Play sticks pretty close to the plot of the original but the context is now totally up to date, dealing with media ownership, the threats to traditional media and the rise of the blog.  More than any of this though is the championing of good old fashioned journalism.  I remember watching the original series when and cheering at the television when Bill Nighy as the editor stood up for the story and rallied his troops.  Helen Mirren is equally inspiring at the relevent bit but it was Rachel McAdams as blogger Della Frye who was the best line “With a story as big as this, people should have newsprint on their fingers while they’re reading it.” (or words to that effect)

It’s nice to see journalists portrayed as something other than scurrilous muckrakers and unprincipled hacks.  That attitude is prevalent enough as it is.  It’s nice to feel proud of the job I do.

The second thing I wanted to write about today is a little bit of a rant.  Dublin Bus today introduced changes to their timetables in the first stage of their fleet reduction as a cost cutting measure.  Looking at the list of routes that have been affected one thing stands out.  The changes are extensive and affect a wide range of buses.  Some routes have been done away with entirely.  This would be fine if the cuts were made across the board but that’s not what’s happened here.  Looking at the list of bus routes it’s noticeable that the majority go to the north and the west of the city, areas where a large percentage of the population live in local authority housing and who do not have access to DART urban rail services of the LUAS trams.

One of the most frequent services that frequently trundles into town with empty buses at off peak times of day has not been touched.  The 46A goes through the more affluent parts of town, Donnybrook and Dundrum.  During the afternoon buses frequently go past empty, at a frequency of every five or ten minutes.  It’s one of the most over supplied bus routes in the city but because of it’s route I’d be surprised if Dublin Bus reduce the service.  It’s nothing new of course.  Here in Dublin the poor always pay when the powers that be decide to save a few bucks – the recent decision to cut the Christmas bonus for those on the dole is a case in point.  But I’m not here to bang any particular political drum.  There are others who do that far better than me.  Dublin Bus may yet produce sweeping cuts through the posher bits of town in their second volley in May but I’m just saying what I noticed this morning and throwing it out there.

Hmm, reading back over this post it occurs to me that anyone who has issues with the liberal meeja is probably going to have their worst fears confirmed.  Well you can’t please all of the people all of the time.  As I said before, tomorrow I’m back in court and this blog will return to it’s normal subject matter.  Happy Sunday!

Dangerous Mammy’s Boys?

I’m used to sitting beside people accused of murder.  When you work in a courtroom that doesn’t have a press bench you have to sit wherever you can.  An Irish courtroom doesn’t have a dock so the two roomy benches facing the jury tend to be a favourite perch for both the media and the accused.   OK the accused is usually less than happy to be seated there, but for us it has it all – space, somewhere to rest a laptop, a good vantage point.

Being left handed, I’m usually the one sitting furthest on the left, closest to the accused.  I’ve sat beside the Colcloughs, Dane Pearse and Gerald Barry (who we were warned had a tendency to bite).  Most recently I sat beside David Bourke when he told the court how he killed his wife.  I was close enough to feel the bench shudder as he sobbed into his hands when he sat back down.  I was close enough to see how he crossed his ankles, white socks with black shoes, while he listened to the evidence stack up against him.

It’s hard to be absolutely objective when you’re sitting in an emotionally charged courtroom all week.  All you can do is make sure partiality doesn’t creep into your copy but outside of that every one of us will have an opinion on the guilt or innocence of the accused.  When it’s a case that falls into a category, say wife killers or gangland or fratricide, there are a whole lot of extra preconceptions garnered from sitting through far too many of these cases to begin with.

Bourke was of course firmly in the wife killer camp.  He might have differed in some ways from those who had gone before; Joe O’Reilly, Brian Kearney, Anton Mulder, but you can’t help but compare.

One thing I’ve noticed about the rash of wife killers who’ve passed through the courts over the past couple of years is how many of them are the same basic generation with similar quirks and weaknesses.  Very often, for example, you will see an extremely close relationship with the female members of their own family.  We frequently have to share the long bench not only with the accused but also with droves of the extended family there to offer their support.  It’s often the case that it’s the women who give us the hardest time, who look at us as if they just scraped us off their shoes and tut as notebook pages are turned.

Joe O’Reilly’s mother has always been one of his most trenchant supporters, his sister was the one he emailed joking about her beating up his wife Rachel.  Brian Kearney’s sister spent much of his trial stroking his back when he got stressed.  It’s a common pattern. Bourke seemed to fit the bill in this respect as well.

I’m not for one moment saying these women had anything to do with their male relation’s murderous tendencies but sitting looking at them during their trials it was commented on that these were men who came from a generation when men in a female dominated family could be treated like little tin gods.  Picked up after, fed, made to feel they were the centre of the universe.  I’ve met men like that over the years.  They had a difficulty encountering a strong minded woman.

These men also show childish impulses.  O’Reilly had a room dedicated to Star Wars memorabilia.  The way Bourke cried on cue smacked of a kid used to stamping his foot and turning on the waterworks to get what he wanted.

I’m not making a hard and fast rule here.  There have been plenty of men on trial who were simply bullies and abusive thugs but the highest profile killers, the one’s branded middle class and media fodder, these were the ones who tend to fit the bill.  The cossetted princes of their own little fiefdom who simply couldn’t understand how the woman they had deigned to allow to step in to look after them should want her own way.

It’s staggering how often you hear stories from the witness stands about how the accused would niggle and bitch when he didn’t get his way, would throw a tantrum when things didn’t happen the way he liked it.  After you’ve seen the same story played out half a dozen times you can’t help wondering what the hell has the Irish mammy bred?

Was it this cosseting, this deference, that made them the time bombs that suddenly went off in their wives’s faces?  It’s a horrible thought.  Because if it did happen to be true how many more will there be?

Remembering why you do it…

Back in January I wrote about the overturning of the life sentence for child rapist Philip Sullivan.  I discussed the sentencing in rape cases in the Irish courts.  Working down in the Four Courts you get to see a lot of things that you wouldn’t necessarily agree with.

I’m used to writing nice, clean, impartial copy on the facts of the case for work but here I don’t have to be quite so impartial.  This blog contains my own views and while, even here, I might hold back on occasion if there’s something I feel strongly on it will eventually be written about.

Writing a blog can feel a bit like shouting into the darkness.  You sit at your computer and type away and chances are the vast majority of readers will drop by without leaving a comment.  That’s why when someone does comment on something I’ve written it is always much appreciated.

I got a comment for the Philip Sullivan piece a couple of days ago that quite simply made this thing I do worthwhile.  I’ve had comments on court related posts before but usually from people who disagree with my point of view.  This comment on the other hand was from someone who has good reason to feel passionately about the subject of rape sentencing because she has been through the ordeal of facing her rapist in court.  You can read the comments at the bottom of the Sullivan post.

Way back when I first considered journalism as a career I had visions of being the kind of crusading hack that you see in the movies.  After a total of five years in college I was happy to get whatever shift work came my way and any crusading tendencies got quickly swamped by the necessity to pay the bills and a general news room cynicism.  The problem with being on a general news beat, especially in broadcast journalism, is that stories rush past so quickly during a day that you don’t really have time to have an emotional reaction to any of them.

When you’re stuck finding enough stories to fill five minute hourly bulletins there’s no time to save the world.  Even as a freelance I find myself writing about stuff I know will sell rather than anything that will make a difference.

Down in the courts it’s easy to get blind to it all.  There’s such a never ending stream of human misery down there that a certain gallows humour tends to develop and stocks of sympathy run dangerously low.

But I suppose deep down inside, what I’m really looking for is appreciation, in a rather puppy like way.  I know that the dream has always been for someone to come up to me and say, spontaneously without me fishing for it, that they love what I write.  I’m not talking about editors and agents here but about the end readers.  I became a writer because I had an emotional response to what I was reading and I suppose that’s what I want to give to someone else.

This has ended up a rather advanced navel gazing exercise so please excuse me.  I was proud to receive the comment on the Sullivan post and it made me think about why I became a journalist in the first place.  That bleeds into why I became a writer and this is the result.

Now that’s what I call a signing!

I went to see Neil Gaiman read from the upcoming book he’s written in collaboration with musician Amanda Palmer today in Chapters bookshop on Parnell Street.  I love going to readings and signings.  I’m a total groupie when it comes to watching and listen to writers I respect and especially ones who’ve inspired me as a writer myself.  There aren’t half enough of these kind of events in Dublin so it was a real occasion.

Today’s event was absolutely packed.  Around 500 people had shown up.  Even when I arrived at around 3.30, an hour and a half before the reading was due to start, there were droves of people clustered around the display of Gaiman books stacked in enticing view of the door.  Wandering around the shop there were people ensconced in every cranny, taking up their positions and preparing for a long wait.

By around 4 o’clock there was an almost carnival atmosphere.  Around the black swagged corner where the reading was due to take place there were drifts of people, mainly young, all clutching their books for signing.

As I’ve written here before I’ve signed books myself for Devil.  Not for 500 people of course.  In fact not even for people.  My form of signing involves the Customer Service desk and some usually stressed staff.  I’d love to do the other kind of signing …if I’m very lucky maybe one day I’ll get the chance.

Writing is something I do, something I’ve always done, but now I want something more.  I want to be an author.  OK technically I already am, I have a card saying I’m one and I can walk into book shops and see a book with my name on the cover but what I want one day is different.

What I write at the moment is True Crime.  It’s an extension of the day job, a longer form of journalism.  But when I’m writing for pleasure, the kind of writing I spent hours at when I was growing up, it’s another thing entirely.  Left to my own devices I write fantasy.  Not full blown fantasy, in fact several friends who are more avid readers of the genre than me have informed me that what I write isn’t even really fantasy.  When I’m talking to them I tend to refer to it as satirical fantasy.

When I write that it flows unlike anything that hangs on the facts.  I can write passionately about the stories I see unfolding in court but it’s always going to be a case of setting down the facts in order.  You can’t change dialogue that didn’t quite flow in real life, however much it may jar.  People look the way they look and the facts are totally immovable.

When the fiction’s flowing it can feel as if you are simply rreplaying scenesthat are taking place somewhere but at the back of it all there’s the knowledge that what you are creating something rather than simply recounting it.  But even then there’s more to it than that.

When I write journalism I expect the reader to be interested, diverted, maybe even moved if the subject’s strong enough but fiction can be loved.  Over the years I’ve met many writers as a journalist.  A lot of them were people I respected and I would have had more than a little bit of hero worship but it’s the novelists I was always most eager to meet.

These are the people who’ve actually created the worlds that lived in my imagination.  That’s something completely different from being someone who uncovers truths.  I’m not explaining myself particularly well here but there is a difference.

My first love is writing fiction.  I’m not saying I’m up there with Mr Gaiman, I’m still learning and I’ve got a long way to go but one day if just one person comes up to me and says that a world I’ve created caught their imagination that’s what I want as a writer.  My words, my stories, firing imaginations and maybe even making people want to write.  That would be the achievement.

Maybe one day…and in the meantime Devil has it’s own path to wander for a while yet.  In that regard I may have some news soon.  But tonight I’m finished for now, and off to read my newly signed copy of Coraline!

Good Days and Bad Days

There will always be days when the sun shines, the writing flows and the opportunities arrive in packs but there will also be days when the wind howls and the world seems topplingly precarious and nothing will work.

Yesterday was one of the second kind of days.  Nothing went right or felt right and everything seemed impossible.  Today on the other hand the sun was splitting the sky (especially welcome after so much snow and sludge) and the possibilities seemed endless.

I pitched a story successfully, got some editing done on the novel and heard from two old friends.  All is good.

That of course is the nature of this business.  It’s particularly easy to have the down days at the moment.  The Mean Reds are tempted into view with every news report and further news of cuts throughout the global publishing industry (like today’s news of sweeping cuts in Harper Collins) makes it hard to be optimistic as a first time author.

But even when the world isn’t in the throws of a massive recession writing, even freelance journalism, isn’t the steadiest of jobs.  I knew that when I got into it and most of the time it doesn’t really bother me.  I’m used to days of feast and famine.

You just have to trust that days like today will come along and make the whole thing worthwhile.  I’m aware though that in a blog like this one, under my own name and readable by anyone who comes across it online, that pouring forth anytime things seem a bit black probably isn’t the best idea.

I want to be honest in this blog and give a fair idea of what life is like writing for a living at the bottom end of the scale but now I’ve got to this stage it’s all got a bit more complicated.

It was one thing sounding off in the days when I had a nice anonymous blog but when people come here to find out about trials I’ve covered, or the book or even, on occasion, me, ranting about issues I may have with the business side of things is perhaps not quite the thing.

While I want to give a warts and all impression because I know that somehow, when Devil was published I magically became an author rather than one of the ranks of the unpublished.  That doesn’t mean I’ll never again see the inside of a slush pile but it certainly seems to be a step in the right direction.

Before I had any dealings with publishers I would trawl the net to find out everything I could about that closed shop.  I’ve linked to a couple of the best publishing blogs in my blogroll but over time I will be expanding that list.  I always intended that when I was finally published I would keep up a very honest blog to help the people who looked like I did (and still do to be honest – things are changing so much out there daily reading is essential).

The problem is that I know have a book to sell.  That means that all the things I’ve discovered that would serve as salutary tales for those dreaming of getting into print suddenly become a pr minefield when you know that among those dropping into read are colleagues and the competition.

While I want to be honest I also want to sell the book so the stuff that happens on the bad days isn’t necessarily the stuff that will find it’s way here – in the short term at least.

There will always be good days and bad days but until I’m a little more established on the writing end of things the bad days will have to stay in the diary and this will have to be a good day blog (most of the time anyway).

On Whether or Not to Join the Union…

I got my membership card for the Society of Authors on Friday.  OK I know, as an Irish writer I should join the Irish Writers Union but that can wait a little.  I’ve wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember and, growing up in a family where it was considered a matter of considerable importance to be a paid up member of the appropriate professional body, I had sussed out that the Society of Authors was the one I wanted to be a member of before my family had even moved to Ireland.

As I’ve mentioned before I grew up in an acting family.  I was always aware of the actors union Equity being an organisation that a young actor had to join before being able to get proper professional work.  Back in my late teens when I was considering acting as a career path (well, back then I hadn’t worked out how to make writing pay and even writers need to eat) I was anxious to find out how I could get the five contracts necessary to qualify for full membership of the union.

When I began to study journalism one of the first things we were given on our first day as students was the form for student membership of the NUJ.  I was just as excited to get that blue card as I was to get this new one the other day.

When I finished college I was so proud to see the blue card changed for the orange one that now lives in my wallet.  It never occurred to me not to join the union.  In a career as precarious as acting or freelance journalism it seemed like a complete no brainer.  All my lecturers in college were die hard union men and we learnt journalism according to union rules when it came to ethics and even the money we could expect to be paid.

It was only when I went out into the real world I discovered how little respect unions can have in the modern media workplace.  I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard my peers in various newsrooms (generally in the independent broadcast sector) query the point of joining a union at all.  Several were even vocally against union membership.

It’s easy to see how these attitudes can grow up though when you look at the treatment of staff in the independent broadcast sector in Ireland.  TV3 for example has never recognised the union and even where a chapter exists they are frequently seen as having no teeth.  The freelance chapter is one of the more vocal sections of the NUJ and yet the Competition Authority has ruled that freelance journalists in Ireland should be viewed under competition regulations and not be able to set standard rates.  The union was therefore unable to advise freelancers on a ballpark figure to charge leaving new comers to the field at a major disadvantage.

Under the recent partnership talks there was a promise that this rule would be reversed but since the Celtic Tiger keeled over and died it looks like all bets are off.

I can remember talking to French classmates when I was on exchange there in college who couldn’t understand why the Irish were so slow to strike (we seem to be getting over our aversion at the moment but I’m talking about the days of the “Blue Flu” when the French journos couldn’t understand why the gardai didn’t just down tools).  Certainly compared to their British counterparts the Irish branches of the NUJ and Equity do seem to whisper their demands and lack a little organisation (compare the web presence of the Irish NUJ compared to the resources offered by the London Freelance Branch).  I can’t help worrying every time I talk to another young journo who can’t see the point of membership that the Irish unions are in danger of becoming toothless social clubs that offer little or nothing for their members.

But I didn’t want this post to be a rant against unions.  I do believe in joining professional organisations even if I would be slightly quicker to join the British branch if I wanted support and action.  I’m seriously cutting a stick for my own back here but I do believe it’s a problem.  Unions won’t survive without a constant supply of new members and since Ireland is a naturally conservative country we do have a tendency to lean towards the thatcherite when it comes to business practices.  There are strong unions in Ireland but they seem to be overwhelmingly in the public sector and that’s a topic I don’t intend to get involved with just at the moment.

The problem is that it’s frequently the private sector that really needs someone gunning for them and often, through the apathy of those who could join and the weakness of the voices who could persuade them to, an environment grows up where staff are treated as expendable and worthless.

I’m not saying that unions are dead in the media and arts in Ireland.  Far from it.  They just have less weight than their counterparts in other countries.  I still see my membership card for the professional organisations that I’m a member of as something to be proud of and I would always advise anyone entering the media in Ireland to join up as soon as possible.  As a writer I think membership of your professional body is even more important as it’s such a solitary profession.  I will be joining the Irish Writers Union as soon as possible since they’re the union that can fight more directly for my corner but I’m still thoroughly enjoying the SoA magazine and the fact that I now qualify for a readers ticket for the British Library (it’s an old thing).

I know that union membership is a contentious issue here and I’d be glad to hear anyone’s differing take on the subject.  I’m not a rabid union head but as I mentioned journalism, writing and acting are all professions that particularly need the support.  Let me know what you think.

Another Sentence Controversy in the Irish Courts…

Yesterday 45-year-old Philip Sullivan learned that the life sentence he had received for the rape and violent sexual assault of two young boys had been over turned.  The Court of Criminal Appeal once again decided to go on the light side when it came to the sentence a convicted sex offender should serve.

Sullivan will now serve 12 1/2 years of a 15 year sentence.  He’ll probably be out sooner than that.  As a prisoner under Irish law he’s entitled to an automatic quarter off his sentence and today he Minister for Justice announced that he would wouldn’t be touching this automatic entitlement any time soon.

In fairness this isn’t all that much sooner than he’d be back on the streets if the life sentence had been left intact.  The average length of jail time for Irish life sentences is about twelve years.  That includes those who received mandatory life sentences for murder.

The subject of minimum sentences has been buzzing around for years and there are arguments on both sides.  Certainly sitting in court on a regular basis and watching the sentences handed down I’ve often heard Judge Paul Carney voice his displeasure of the Court of Criminal Appeal’s tendency to knock down the more punitive sentences to an arguably lenient average.

Take the Sullivan case.  I covered that sentence last year and the story was immediately the fact that a life sentence had been handed down and the speculation about whether it would stick.  This was a particularly nasty case.  Sullivan was in a position of trust as a caretaker to an apartment building.  He was a repeat offender.  The victims were only nine and eleven years old and his crimes were of a particularly nasty type.

The guy is a predatory paedophile who had served time on previous occasions and yet went on to abuse these two boys over a period of over two years.  12 and a half years just doesn’t seem enough.

With the Finn Colclough sentence there was some surprise when the figure turned out to be ten years.  Quite a few of those in the press bench had been speculating a lower figure.  The sentence for manslaughter can be anything from a suspended sentence to life.  It seems to average out at around seven or eight years.  Wayne O’Donoghue served three for the accidental killing of 11-year-old Robert Holohan.

Rape sentences are usually in and around eight years but have notably been a lot less.  Adam Keane hit the headlines in 2007 after his three year suspended sentence for rape was activated and subsequently extended by the Court of Criminal Appeal to seven years after it emerged he had made a triumphalist gesture at his victim as they caught the same train home.

That’s another trial I followed and coincidentally yet another sentence handed down by Mr Justice Paul Carney.  Looking back on the cases I’ve cited here they’re all his sentences.  He’s often quoted as making side swipes at the CCA as he hands down sentence and it’s easy to see why.  He’s the most vocal of the judges who dislike having their sentences more often than not reduced.

I’ve often wondered if some of the more lenient sentences he imposes are there to make a point on the assumption that they’ll end up the standard length on appeal.  The Adam Keane sentence would fall into that category.

But back to the subject of minimum time served.  I noticed another news story this evening while I was checking the rss feeds on my phone.  A judge ruled today that a man who raped and murdered a women should serve at least twenty two years in jail.  As soon as I saw the headline I knew it wasn’t an Irish story.  No matter how bad the crime, here a judge won’t be able to say how much of a life sentence the accused should serve.  Sure enough it was a court in Belfast.

Mandatory minimum sentences do exist under Irish law but only in very specific circumstances.  Murder carries a mandatory life sentence but as I’ve already said that can end up meaning as little as twelve years.  Some drug sentences have mandatory minimums but that’s about it.

Covering rape after rape after rape and seeing traumatised women watch their attacker walk off to serve a sentence that doesn’t usually even hit double digits, it’s hard not to be in favour of minimum sentences.  Rape is considered serious enough to be dealt with by the Central Criminal Court, the highest criminal court in the country.  But the sentences don’t always reflect that.  Of course every case is different but the average sentences for sexual offences in this country tend to be pathetically low.

I’m generally madly here but it’s something that you see again and again.  A man who stole the childhood of his now adult victim gets a pitiful couple of years compared with the lifetime of damage he’s inflicted.  Those who have held a woman against her will, terrorised her, traumatised her get a sentence in single figures once all the mitigating factors are taken into account.  I’ve watched trials that would fit these descriptions and each of them has helped to make up my mind on this one.

The subject of sentencing is always going to be a minefield, once again by virtue of the fact that each case must be judged by it’s own merits but as long as stories keep appearing that this one has been released early or that one had their sentence reduced on appeal it’s going to feel as if an attitude exists that sex crimes are somehow less serious.

I wouldn’t be in favour of mandatory life for any rape conviction but there should be some that deserve the same automatic penalty as murder.  In the meantime these stories will keep cropping up and the perception that you can commit a crime in Ireland and be out in a flash will prevail.

Deciding Whether to Follow the Dream…

I’ve been thinking a lot about what to do with myself regarding the writing since the book was published.  Ever since I can remember I’ve wanted to tell stories.  I used to recount fairy tales to my classmates when I was still in primary school and I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t writing down scenarios on any scrap of paper I could lay my hands on.

I trained as a journalist because it was the only way I could think of to earn my keep while doing what I loved.  Somewhere along the road I started to love the chase and the feeling of being there as the news happened.  But writing is still my first love.

I took the decision over Christmas to concentrate on freelance work to allow me more time to write (it might seem like a contradiction but journalism isn’t the best profession if you want to write, fiction at any rate, it’s too time consuming).

I’ll still be covering major trials – like the Brian McBarron sentence on Monday – but the rest of time the idea is that I’ll be working on the novel.  The problem with that is that, for the moment anyway, working on the novel doesn’t exactly pay the rent.

In the current economic climate I’m probably totally crazy to be taking this route now and if things don’t work out financially I’ll be back taking every shift I can.  So far though, things are ticking over but even so I’ve suddenly started thinking thrifty as if my life depended on it.

When I was younger and broke I was pretty good at making my weekly money stretch to a pretty good standard of living. I’m remembering a lot of those old tricks now – it’s amazing how self enforced privation sharpens the mind!

The scary thing is how much money I’m used to spending in just day to day living.  It’s a habit I think a lot of us have fallen into over the last few years; the take away coffees, lunches out, spending money on convenience rather than value.  Dublin’s not exactly the cheapest of cities but we haven’t exactly made it difficult for the various vultures out there to fleece us rotten.

Well, in my new spirit of frugality I’ve decided enough is enough.  I don’t intend to cut back too much, after all things haven’t got that bad yet, but there are some things that are simply no brainers.  My plan is to save money but not to feel deprived and from my initial investigative forays that shouldn’t be too difficult.

I’m thinking about running a series of posts detailing some of the savings I have.  It’s a bit of departure from what I usually write here but since my plan has always been to use this blog to detail my professional life  and, as a freelance in this scary world we now find ourselves in, money becomes part and parcel of that life.

That’s the plan anyway.  The first post in the series should be ready in a week or so.  Watch this space.

Back to Work…

On Monday I’ll be back in court for the first time this year.  The trial of Brian McBarron is listed to start, the man accused of the murder of Sara Neligan, the daughter of prominent former heart surgeon, Maurice Neligan.

I’ve posted here before about the kind of trials that make news editors prick up their ears and this is one that ticks all the boxes.  The fact that Sara’s father is well known in media circles and has commanded more than the odd headline himself over the years with his outspoken criticism of the failings in the Health Service, will guarantee that the press benches will be full on Monday morning.

I’m not going to go into any further detail about the trial today.  I’ve written a short piece for this week’s Sunday Independent which gives a brief outline of the facts and I don’t want to talk more about it until the trial is up and running.

It’s all too easy to write something that could be deemed prejudicial even when all you’re doing is going over facts that have previously been widely reported.  There’s a big difference between speculation in the days after a violent death and the careful words which go to form the coverage of a trial.

Writing a court report is a fine art and writing a preview can be even more delicate.  Even though anything said in open court is privileged information which may be written about by anyone who wishes to do so, the reality of writing about a live trial or one that is soon to be live, is that there are twelve reasons to watch your words very carefully.

The twelve men and women of the average jury are seen by the law as a fragile bunch, vulnerable to nefareous influences from the slanted accounts supposedly bombarding them at every turn. Consequently they will be warned repeatedly during a high profile trial not to concern themselves with media reports of the case or to spend their evenings Googling background that might not appear in court.

It’s not unusual to arrive into court in the morning to find the barristers poring over the days newspapers weighing up the danger posed by this headline, that photograph or the other article.

You see, it’s not simply the jury’s possible tendency to be influenced, there is a far more fundamental issue at stake.  Any person who stands accused before an Irish court is presumed innocent until the jury decides otherwise.

From a journalistic point of view this usually translates as us reporting matters that might have come to light during the garda investigation which cast the accused in a bad light.  This can be as blatant as in the case of Joe O’Reilly whose guilt was a barely veiled accusation in almost any article printed about him from the time of his wife’s death.

Obviously, that particular trial ended in conviction and he is now serving a life sentence for the murder of his wife Rachel and awaiting to hear if his appeal is successful.  But copy doesn’t have to be as blatant as screaming GUILTY to be prejudicial.

Certain facts, comments that may have been made at earlier stages in the legal proceedings, even the juxtaposition of the name of someone accused beside that of someone convicted can all land a reporter in very hot water, and it’s not nice being told off by a judge!

When a trial is connected to someone as well known and well connected as Mr Neligan then even greater care needs to be taken because the more people who write about it the more places there are for the defence team to look for prejudice.

So I will be back in court bright and early on Monday morning, prepared for the scrum and in the meantime I will say no more about it!

A Frustrating Day…

I’ve always found working from home a challenge.  On the one hand I love being able to work at my desk with all my stuff near at hand.  I’ve worked at the same desk since I started secondary school (it has fuchsias on it that my mum painted on using nail varnish for the petals).  It’s not the biggest desk in the world but plenty big enough for me and my laptop and it’s always been my little oasis in every place I’ve lived since home.  Someday I may post a photograph but at the moment it’s full of the detritus of the day and not fit to go out in public.

That’s the drawback with working from home, the day’s detritus.  When you’re out in the field you’re focused on the matter at hand and aware that the day won’t be finished until you’ve done what you came there to do.  As a journalist I’m used to working with multiple distractions, be it TVs blaring, people having minor nervous breakdowns, constant questions and random jokes, but you learn to focus through it to get the job done within the deadline.

It’s the same at home if there’s a deadline.  You sit staring at the computer screen until the page in front of you is filled coherently to the right length.  Working at home when there’s no deadline however, is a totally different experience.

I had decided to take the time off until New Year after what had turned out to be a particularly hectic year.  It’s now well into the second year of 2009 and I’m craving structure.  The problem is that it just keeps slipping away from me.

I’ve been at this game long enough to know that I work best with a routine – most of us do.  The difficulty I’ve always had has been making a routine when there’s nothing to hang it on.  Now that I know that I am actually capable of writing a book within an allotted time by working 25 hours a day I say to myself that if I’m going to be doing this more often then structure is vital, there has to be balance.

Well let me tell you, the house is looking lovely.  I’ve been baking, there are fresh flowers sitting on my desk (really should put up that photo) and the husband has had a good square meal every day.  The problem is that the manuscript of the novel is sitting where I left it almost a week ago and the notebook page I headed Pitch ideas is accusatorily empty.

In fairness, today I did get up and settle straight down at my desk to do some work.  I was planning on uploaded a radio interview I gave on Clare FM about the book back in December.  That’s when things went arry.  While I’m loving the shiny new look of WordPress 2.7 I’m still having one or two problems uploading files to display on this blog.  Well one problem really.  It’s not working.

The problem with stuff going wrong technically speaking is that I’m not particularly technically minded.  I’m not completely useless.  I’ve grappled with the various programmes and gadgets that are bread and butter for todays journos for long enough and if the printer has a paper jam, I’m your man.  I would count myself as reasonably web literate but unfortunately that doesn’t yet extend to coding of any kind and I’ve only been dealing with the more nuts and bolts end of online communication for a few months so sometimes I can’t see the wood for the trees.

This means I turn to Google in search of the people who do know what I’m talking about and the hours tick away.  So it’s now 8 o’clock and all I’ve managed today is a blog post.  The printer has now stopped it’s annoying habit of refusing to print from the web and I’ve gone from WordPress 2.5 to 2.7 but I still haven’t been able to upload the interview.

Maybe tomorrow I’ll get up and shoot the book trailer.  I know how to use a camera!

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