Sunday, 11 September 2016


All things Startup and Business are entirely new to me. As I've tried to get my business, BearHugs, off the ground it's been a steep learning curve. At times, it's felt like learning an whole new language. So when it's come to pitching my business to people who undoubtedly have a much better grasp than I do, I've been incredibly nervous.

I'm not a natural public speaker. Having all eyes on me is my least favourite thing in the world and just the thought of it brings on palpitations. The very first time I attempted a business pitch at an event hosted by Huddersfield University, I was mortified to completely freeze mid-sentence about BearHugs and forget everything I wanted to say. As I stood there on shaky legs, utterly exhausted with a blank mind, I wanted the ground to swallow me up whole. I just about managed to mutter 'I guess it's me who needs a hug' before retreating to the loos in tears. As I had a good old cry, I convinced myself that that was it, I would never attempt it again.

Then I had the fantastic opportunity of taking part in the University of Sheffield's Evolve Startup Showcase competition. I learned that I was finalist and of course was filled with excitement. This was immediately followed by dread at the realisation that I'd have to get back on stage. I argued it out wth myself though and in the end decided that my love for BearHugs one hundred percent won out over my fear of speaking.

I bought myself 'Talk Like TED' in the desperate hope that the book would somehow be a miraculous cure for my crippling fear. The absolute best thing I took from it was a chapter about Amanda Palmer who spoke about 'The Art of Asking". It explained that, despite giving one of the most popular TED Talks ever, she too was terrified beforehand about public speaking. To overcome this, she obsessively practised.  I decided to give this tactic a go myself.

I forced myself to talk through my presentation out loud over and over again in front of anyone who would listen. I've always found performing for people I actually know far more terrifying than performing for strangers so this process was quite an ordeal. Gradually though, I did become desensitised and it was comforting to be so familiar with the content that I could practically do it in my sleep.

When it came to the actual day of the event, I was amazed to find that when I got on stage the fear was there but nowhere near as crippling as it had been before. When I realised that I was almost half way through, a huge wave of relief hit me as I knew it was going to be ok. I wouldn't go so far as to say I enjoyed it but it felt amazing that it was manageable.

To manage to speak reasonably confidently about my business with hundreds of eyes on me was one of my biggest personal achievements to date. To then later find out that I'd won the competition absolutely blew me away.

I wanted to write this post so that in the future, when the nerves inevitably creep up on me again, I can look back it and remember that I've done it once so I can do it again. I suppose it's also nice to think that if anyone sharing the same fear reads it, they might see that if I, the scared-est of them all, could do it they definitely can too.



jared a carnie waves interview

This interview is with Jared A. Carnie. I live with him so could actually ask him these questions privately. With his debut novel, Waves, coming out this week though I thought I'd take the opportunity to show him off here instead.

Jared would be uncomfortable if I listed all the reasons I think he is great so I will just say that I am more proud of him than I could ever put into words. He has been consistently and selflessly supportive of me over the last few years and I am so happy to have the opportunity to return the favour a little.

I'm definitely biased but Waves is my favourite book in the whole world. There's information at the bottom of this post about where you can find it.


What's the book about?

Mainly I think it’s about fear. It’s not necessarily a plot-driven book so I always feel like I’m misleading people by describing the plot. I’ll try though, because I feel that if I don’t you’ll be mad at me.

The main character is in a long-term relationship with his high school girlfriend. She goes off to university to study medicine. He stays with his Mum and waits for his girlfriend to finish her degree so they can be together. Before she finishes her degree, she decides to break up with him. He is crushed. He had been building the whole idea of his life around that relationship and now it’s gone. He is totally lost.

His best friend decides to take him up to the Outer Hebrides to get him out of his rut. He then experiences a bunch of things that only the Outer Hebrides can offer, and tries to sort his head out a bit.

What inspired the book?

There were a few different elements. First of all, I feel like, at pretty much any age, but especially in your twenties, people are told that they must know exactly how they want their life to be and build towards it. They’re not really afforded the opportunity to make mistakes or to feel their way around for a bit. I wanted to write something about that pressure and how devastating it can be when you lose something you were counting on, even if it wasn’t necessarily something very healthy.

Secondly, a big inspiration was the Isle of Lewis itself. There was not a moment in the two years that I lived there where I took for granted what a strange and brilliant place it is. I definitely wanted to capture that.

Thirdly, I wanted to write something where the main character tried to find his way out of a depressing situation in a healthy way. I quit drinking a good few years ago and kind of had to find a new identity when I did so. I wanted to write a book that did the same thing. One that didn’t focus on the tropes that a lot of my favourite books do - he’s not going to drink his way through despair, he’s not going to fall into drugs or crazy sex, the main female character isn’t going to fall in love with him in order to save him. I wanted something someone could read and maybe leave feeling a spark of excitement.

What are you proudest of about the book?

I hope that the writing style, which I’ve put more effort into than it probably appears, allows people to read the book with little difficulty at all. My hope is that this means people can easily absorb the book, and that hopefully, if anyone can take anything from the book, it might be something positive.

How do you feel about the idea of people reviewing the book?

I’m a neurotic mess of a person and this is something I struggle with the idea of. It’s not that I’ll take it personally if people dislike the book - I’m perfectly ok with that. I can see there’s a lot of things about the book certain readers won’t necessarily be a fan of. My issue is more that I think my brain sometimes reacts unhealthily to the idea of people analysing or assessing me. It’s the same reason my mental health improved tremendously once I got rid of Facebook.

I also know it’s definitely something I worry disproportionately about. It’s not as if it’s going to get a great number of inescapable reviews. You know, when it’s out I’m not going to see a copy of The Times with IDIOT JARED WRITES IDIOT BOOK on the front cover. The reviews will mainly be on Amazon or places like that, from people who were kind enough to give the book a chance. And I’m very grateful to anyone who chooses to read the book, and respect anyone who takes the time to write a review of a book, good or bad, because from what I’m told that’s a vital part of the process of how books get out there.

I’ve also read a huge number of terrible reviews of things that I believe are objectively fantastic, so I’m pretty comfortable with the idea of not taking a review to heart.

So basically, in short, I think the message I’m meant to be putting out there is, please do leave a review of the book, especially if you enjoyed it, as things like that really do help other people discover the book. And I promise to try my best to keep my resulting emotional turmoil as internal as possible.

What advice would you give to people who want to write a book?

This is the sort of question you tend to see two types of answers to. People either offer romantic expressions that don’t really mean anything, stuff like, it’s in your soul, man, just let it flow out of you. Or the other kind. The advice that’s almost aggressively smug in how unromantic it is. Stuff like, always wake up at 6am, write 2000 words a day, only drink this sort of coffee, make sure X event happens on page X, never use adverbs, never tell anyone what you’re writing, editing is cutting out 20% of what you’ve written etc etc.

I probably lean 10% more to the romantic side of things, but am also well aware that that is often the recipe for some utterly terrible writing too. I’ll try to come up with an answer that isn’t too much one thing or the other. I’d also like to make it clear I think I’m in absolutely no position to be giving any advice on any of this.

I guess my first bit of advice would be that pretty much all writing advice is wrong, and the most definitive writing advice you come across often comes from insecurity - people who hope if they can shout their method loud enough then it might drown out their own internal voices telling them that the way they’re doing it is wrong. So, by all means, read writing tips, try things on for size, but never feel any guilt about not doing things the way someone tells you. My second bit of advice, given everything I just said, would be that you can’t do it wrong. Everything about how you write your book should depend on what kind of writer you are and what kind of book you want to write. You can read that Stephen King book about writing and totally ignore it if it doesn’t work for you. A book is just a bit of writing with a bit more writing and then a bit more writing. The rest is up to you. Some people plan it all out meticulously and have internal structure rules they stick to and marks for when events must happen. Some people wing it and hardly proof read at all afterwards. And there are loads of examples of brilliant books coming out of both methods. Just try not to build up the idea of ‘I am writing a book’ in your mind because that will automatically come with a load of baggage. You’ll spend the whole time comparing what you’re doing to your idea of what a book should be, and it’ll never match up, because the reason you are writing your book is because it doesn’t exist anywhere else yet. At one point every bit of art you’ve ever loved was just an idea in someone’s head. And most of them managed to find their way into being without the help of a passive-aggressive listicle.

How can people get the book?

It’s available on Amazon, which I know is everyone’s preferred choice despite their questionable morals and the fact that it’s not free delivery for books under ten pounds. You can also get it direct from Urbane, which is the same price and free delivery, and supports the publisher more directly. You can order it through Waterstones too. If you’re doing that, I recommend asking to collect it in store, and when you do, loudly declaring your disgust that they didn’t have the book already stocked (unless they do, in which case don’t do that).

There’s a few other options. Foyles, WHSmith etc. I’ve got a reasonably comprehensive list on my site here.


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