Writer and Author

Tag: Freelancing (Page 1 of 2)

A New Year and a New Decade

2010 has arrived and I’m feeling optimistic.  It’s been an incredible roller coaster of a decade but I’m ready for something new.

As we went into the new millennium I wasn’t married and I hadn’t graduated college. Both those happened in 2000 and I’m hoping 2010 will be just as exciting.  Over the past ten years there have been ups and downs but I’m happy with where I am now – it’s all to play for.

In the last few years I’ve started working in the courts and had my first book published.  My first novel is with my agent and I’ve high hopes that 2010 will be the year it finds a publisher.  Looking back on where I’ve come from I’m proud of where I am and confident of where I can get…one day.

So I’m sharing my New Years Resolutions in the hope that, once they’re out in the world I won’t be able to back out of them.

First on the list is a commitment to write.  Quite apart from the freelancing I already do I want to get more disciplined about fiction writing.  I’ve been talking for ages about posting short stories on this blog to give you readers an idea of the non court reporting stuff I do so that’s resolution number 1.  At least one story to be up on the blog each month.

Next I have to look to my next fiction project.  If Book 1 finds a publisher I’ll probably have to start work on the sequel (it’s the first of a trilogy) but these things can take time so I’ve another book to be working on in the meantime.  I know my characters and have a strong plot outline…what I need to do now is start seriously drafting it.

With all this fiction to be written, on top of the day job, I think resolution 3 ought to be to do with the blog.  I’ve ideas to expand it, including podcasting and possibly themed posts but at the moment all I’m committing to is at least three posts a week – I’ll be aiming for daily but if deadlines loom I’m afraid the paying gigs get priority!

Finally one of those grandiose resolutions that really don’t have any major bearing on day to day living.  I’m resolving to have faith that all this will work.  That even on the slack days when I’ve no commissions and the fiction looks like nothing more than a pipe dream, I will trust that this is all going somewhere and I’m not wasting my time.  It’s so easy to have doubts but I’m going to try to keep them to a minimum this year.

I’ll try and keep all of these resolutions and a few more I’m not sharing.  It’s a good time for promises and this year anything seems possible.

On the Perfect Trial and the Bane of Tax Returns

I haven’t been writing about murder here much for the past few months.  There’s a reason for that.  Apart from the fact I’ve been busily immersed in a fantasy of my own creation (the book I’ve been working on not some kind of breakdown) it’s been very quiet in that department since July.

The courts summer break, through August and September, is always a quiet period.  It’s one of the things I love about working down there…I have two clear months every year to write without a daily deadline.  Last year I wrote Devil in the Red Dress, this year I spent the months editing my novel.

The courts have been back since the beginning of October but it’s been a slow start. The trials passing through the doors of the Central Criminal court haven’t been the type that would easily tempt an editor.  One of the least savoury aspects of this job is the fact that you rapidly start to see trials from an almost commercial standpoint.  There are certain cases that get everyone talking, the one’s with the “water cooler” edge and those are the ones you look out for.

It’s not that journalists are unnecessarily ghoulish, it’s just that we know the trials the public want to read about.  Cases with elements that mark them out of the ordinary so that they stand apart from the standard details of these brutal crimes.  It’s a sad fact that familiarity really does breed contempt so if there are too many of a particular type of trial the public, and consequently the press lose interest.  Every murder used to be big news in the days when there were only a couple a year.  These days we can have one a day so the process of selection begins.  Anything unusual about a trial will elevate it to something of interest.  The bigger the violence, the tragedy or the irony the bigger the splash will be.  It’s not unusual, the selection process was no different in the Victorian press, even if the style of writing may have changed over the years.

Anyway, trials like this have been thin on the ground since the courts went back.  It might seem as though there is always a big murder in the news but that’s not always the case.  There can be a run of trials at some times and nothing for months at others.

So here I am at home waiting on news of one book and the next one not yet started.  This is a time to catch up with all the minutiae of self employed life; updating the diary, filing notes and cuttings, filling in tax returns.  Tax returns are the bane of the self employed existence.  I’m not organised enough to find myself an accountant ahead of the deadline so in the middle of October you’ll find me up to my elbows in receipts, tearing my hair out and shouting at my calculator.  I like the freelance life but taxes are our penance for a bit of freedom.

If you’ve never filled out a return you are very, very lucky.  It’s a labarynthine form and if you’re not mathmatically inclined or, I’m increasingly inclined to thing, in possession of a qualification in advanced cryptography, trying to understand them is like trying to run while waist deep in mud.  They’re doable, eventually, but at the end I always feel as if I’ve handed over a portion of my soul as well as a chunk of my bank balance.

Speaking of which I’d better get back to them.

Looking Forward to a Change of Tack

With the end of the first really sunny day of the year my thoughts have turned towards the summer break.  Each year the courts have a summer recess that spans the whole of August and September.  It’s lean pickings if your day job depends of trial reporting but I look forward to it every year.  Last year it gave me time to write Devil, this year I have something completely different planned (well, sort of).

I’ve been working on a novel for years now.  Since I started working in the courts it’s been sitting in the filing cabinet gathering dust but I’ve been persuaded to take it out and have another look.

So that’s going to be my summer this year.  Instead of chronicling real life I’ll be living in my head in the company of the characters I made up so long ago.  I’m still rather fond of them so it should be fun.  Fiction writing is an entirely different discipline to journalism or non fiction work so it’ll be great to slip back into that gear.

When I’m working on non fiction getting things right is, obviously, key so I tend to work at my desk away from the distractions of the outside world. I might do initial planning in a cafe or sitting in the garden but when it comes down to the actual drafting I need my notebooks around me and to be as free from distractions as possible.

Fiction’s completely different. When I’m writing that I could be sitting in the middle of a brass band with fireworks going off around me and I wouldn’t notice.  The scenes I’m imagining into being seem far realer at the time than anything around me.  Writing about world’s and characters I’ve created is like flying, a freewheeling dash that’s only stops when it’s run out of steam.

Non fiction is different.  It’s a far more cerebral experience, an almost academic excercise to fit seperate events and quotes into a cohesive whole.  It’s just as rewarding, and as absorbing when it’s going well, but very, very different.

I remember talking with a very good friend once about these different gears.  I was saying that I find it much easier to switch between fiction and non fiction when I’m working on different projects in one day than to switch between cases.  Facts can get muddled, the language, the way you write in these two different ways doesn’t.

My friend is a translator and also a trained journalist.  We ended up speculating that perhaps the different styles of writing use the brain in a similar way to switching between languages.  Once you’ve got the knack you can switch back and forth perfectly happily, it’s hard wired into you so the gears don’t tend to slip.  Writing fiction and non fiction are almost like totally different languages, at least as far as your brain is concerned.

Neither of us is a neurologist so I’ve no clue how accurate our theory is but it that’s what it feels like.  And this summer break I will be spending my time (most of it anyway) talking in that other language. I can’t wait!

Is there a future for Irish publishing?

As I’ve written already this week this week saw the second annual Dublin Book Festival at the City Hall.  It’s organised by Cle, the Irish Book Publishers Association and will hopefully become a fixture of the Dublin cultural scene over the next few years.

Yesterday I went to a seminar on the future of Irish publishing.  Obviously, as a writer with a book published by an Irish publisher it’s something I have a vested interest in but, as a reader, it’s something I’ve always had a keen interest in as well.

Ireland is a country where it’s quite hard to avoid bumping into an aspiring writer. I’ve lost count of the times friends and acquaintances and in some cases total strangers within a few minutes of meeting have brought up the subject of the book they’ve either always wanted to write or that has been sitting in a box under the bed for years.

Don’t get me wrong there’s nothing wrong with being an aspiring writer – I’ve been one for years – but I’m not talking about the serious obsessives.  The saying that “everyone has a book in them” has been taken to heart in Ireland and there are a lot of very peculiar people out there.  I’ve read a lot of publishing blogs over the years and I know every agent or editor has their horror stories about slush pile rejects but we do seem to have more per head of population than average.

With this in mind it’s always surprised me how little there is for the aspiring writer in Ireland.  Once you’re published it’s grand, there’s the Artist’s Tax Exemption, Aosdana and the Arts Council for starters, but in terms of places where you can rub shoulders with the publishing elite we’re a bit under stocked.  The Book Festival aims at setting this right.

I’ve already posted here about the Forum on Copyright issues that was held on Friday.  As a journalist I’d always been aware of copyright but it’s such a huge subject and when you can publish your words online in seconds these days it’s a massive issue for anyone who wants to make a living from writing.

There’s been a lot of discussion online about the future of publishing in the current economic climate.  Like any other business it’s been hit hard but there are also plenty of new opportunities as technology changes on an almost daily basis.

Yesterday, the Seamus Brennan Memorial Seminar on Irish Publishing tackled the issue from an Irish perspective.  I’d gone along expecting to find it depressing listening but the four speakers all shared a bullish attitude to the rocky seas.

I tweeted the talk live as much as I could, although using a mobile phone isn’t the most efficient way of using Twitter in Ireland.  Apart from anything else I kept getting distracted by the points being thrown up.  For example, there are around 100 publishers in Ireland at the moment.  For such a small country that’s a massive amount.  A lot of them would be virtual cottage industries dealing with a very niche market but it still represents a bewildering amount of choice for the writer with a manuscript to pitch.

Author and publisher Steve McDonogh of Brandon press spoke passionately in favour of amalgamation which would allow Irish publishers to pool their resources to better confront the international scene.  He also spoke at some length about the challenges introduced by the new technologies.  The fact that digital rights are now such a hot issue is a fascinating subject and it’s one that Irish publishers are just as concerned about as their counterparts elsewhere.

Ireland has it’s own issues to deal with as well though.  Even though the majority of books taken out of the library here might be by Irish authors, the vast majority of books on the shelves of bookshops have been published elsewhere.  Irish publishers can’t compete with the UK houses if they decide to come and throw money at Irish authors.

As a writer myself I don’t think I’d refuse if someone offered me shed loads of money, any opportunity to spend all your time writing without having to worry about how the bills are paid.  But Ireland has such a rich literary heritage it would be a shame if Irish publishing couldn’t withstand the pressures.

The Arts Council came in for a lot of criticism.  Growing up in a theatre household I’m familiar with their work but I had never realised that there was such a major disparity when it came to funding for drama and funding for literature.  Theatre receives a third of the funding…Literature gets a mere 8%.

How is publishing ever supposed to move into the 21st Century if they can’t apply for state support for R&D, not to mention supporting us poor starving writers.  We might not have to pay tax on our earnings but to qualify for that you actually have to earn something.  Writing is not a very well paid profession (unless you are one of the golden few).  Advances don’t come along very often and when they do they arrive piecemeal.  Research takes time and funds and usually isn’t paid for at all.  It’s no wonder so many writers have a day job as well.

All in all though the mood yesterday was upbeat.  Jean Harrington, the MD of my own publishers, Maverick House, told us to “read our way through the recession” and to support Irish publishing by buying Irish.  It’s easy to be drawn to the latest blockbuster release but as the Book Festival showed there is a phenomenal choice of Irish writing out there.

Patsy Horton from Northern Irish imprint Blackstaff Press spoke about the possibilities for niche markets, especially in an environment as small as the one in the North.

Finally Michael O’Brien, the man behind O’Brien Press gave us the A-Z of Irish publishing.  There are a lot of strengths out there but the problems of negotiating the international markets kept rising again and again.

It’s was great to see the crowds of people wandering around the bookshelves arranged around the entrance hall of the City Hall.  Apart from the publishing bods, out in force, there were plenty of writers not to mention a gratifying number of members of the public.

It would be nice to see the festival grow in the years to come.  We do great arts festivals but there is very little in terms of a proper literary festival.  Yes, every so often there are opportunities for successful writers to give readings to their adoring fans but we have very little in terms of the kind of festival that offers master classes and seminars.  The Dublin Book Festival is definitely going in the right direction but it’s getting there and with luck it will only get better.

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.

Disembodied Voices Mark a New Era in the Courts…

I was meeting a friend for lunch today and ended up meeting her in the Four Courts where she was on a jury wait in the Brian Rattigan trial.  Things were running late for lunch as the jury had asked to hear some of the testimony given in the trial during their deliberations.  It’s not an unusual occurrence.  A jury can ask for a recap of any piece of evidence if they feel it will help them come to their decision.

As I stuck my head around the door of the courtroom I could hear an unfamiliar voice speaking.  Normally evidence is read out by the trial judge from the transcript of the trial or from his own notes taken during the evidence the first time round.  For the last few months however the Courts Service have been trialing a new recording system.

It’s been running in Court 1 since the middle of last year but has only recently been introduced into Court 2 as well.  The system runs alongside the transcript made by the stenographer, but will eventually replace them. I gather that a similar system is already running in New Zealand.

Here in Ireland it’s a decidedly high tech innovation – up until a year or so ago even watching CCTV footage meant wheeling in a television that would be positioned opposite the jury and plugged into a video.  We have a more up to date system now but as I say, it’s a pretty recent introduction.

In the courts where the recording is in operation there’s a large red digital clock on the desk in front of the stenographer facing out into the courtroom.  All the principal players, the judge, the barristers and the witnesses speak into microphones that feed into a black box recorder.

Today was the first time I had ever heard the results.  I was surprised at how clear the recording was, almost broadcast quality.  Clearer, thanks to the amplification provided by the microphones, than hearing evidence from someone sitting in front of you in the old somewhat acoustically challenged courtrooms.

It sounded bizarrely like a radio play.  Everyone sat in rapt attention as the drama of that particular piece of evidence was played out once again.  I couldn’t help wondering what Mr Justice Barry White was thinking as his voice filled the courtroom in answer to something the now absent witness had said.  It’s a slightly surreal situation.

Of course recordings are played in trials all the time.  We watch hours of CCTV footage and it’s not unusual to see the videos of an accused persons interviews with the gardai.  But these recordings are all of somewhat dubious quality.  You frequently have to strain to hear the mumbled questions of the gardai off mike in the interview room.

The new digital service provided by Fujitsu is a whole different kettle of fish.  It’s the kind of quality you’d expect from digital and having an audio recording of proceedings will mean no question of human error creeping into transcripts (not that that happens at the moment in any major way).

However, as exciting as all this new technology may be – it really is very, very clear – it’s unlikely to change the journalist’s job of covering court proceedings.  While digital recordings and transcripts will be available for judges and counsel in cases we will have the same chance of getting hold of them as usual (about the same as a snowball in hell).

It also doesn’t have anything to do with the debate about whether or not to allow tv cameras into Irish courts.  It also won’t affect note taking for those of us not fortunate enough to see the transcripts (when you work in the Four Courts you suddenly realise why shorthand is taught in journalism courses).

All it is is part of the modernisation of the court proceedings here – a process that will get another boost when the new criminal court building by the Phoenix Park opens next year.  I love the old Four Courts complex with it’s James Gandon designed courtrooms but the modern kit is quite impressive and even with a structure as old and traditional as the legal profession, time has to move on.

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.

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!

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