A Summer Full of Health (Articles)

Every writer likes a regular gig and I’m lucky to have a few. My regular health column is written for the Discover magazine group but syndicated all over the place, so I’m never sure where it will turn up – or when!Have a Healthy Holiday 1

This article on the right is from last year, but I notice it’s doing the rounds again this year. This makes no difference to my finances; once it’s gone and I’m paid for it, it’s gone, because that’s the nature of the deal I have. But it’s nice to see it about.

I write the column around 10 weeks in advance, so the articles that have appeared in the July, August and September magazines were all written in the spring.

Brace yourself pic

July’s column was on a topic I’ve written about before, and something I have experience of – orthodontic braces. In November my braces will turn three, and I’m really hoping they don’t make it to four! I’ve had some awful dentistry in the past, and eventually I was faced with either getting the damage fixed at huge expense and still having potential problems and crooked teeth, or having the damaged teeth removed and all the others moved so that the gaps disappear – for just a little more. I knew it could take two years, but three was more than I was bargaining for. It’s been worth it though, and the end is in sight.

However, this article wasn’t about my personal experiences. It looked at the advantages of orthodontics and the available options. The image on the left shows a shortened syndicated version with a truly scary picture (nothing to do with me!).

Why Breast is Still BestAugust’s title was ‘Why Breast is Still Best – But Not Compulsory’, timed to coincide with World Breastfeeding Month. I covered the benefits for both mother and baby – hopefully including a few that some people weren’t aware of – and looked at some of the myths and misunderstandings that discourage new mums from even trying it.

The longer version included a selection of personal experiences and comments that I gathered when surveying friends and friends of friends – it’s good to get a real-life perspective on these things!

sitting 2

Sitting down was the theme this month – but the article wasn’t about how dangerous a lack of regular exercise is (although of course, Exercise Is Good).

It was about the dangers of sitting for prolonged periods, regardless of whether you train for marathons in between those three-hour TV binges – because sadly those marathons mean very little if you spend hours sitting. Strange, unsettling, but true.

I was aware of some of the research, but looking into it more deeply certainly made me think about my work patterns. I go for at least one walk every day and subject myself to some form of torturous, thigh-killing exercise once or twice a week; but it’s very easy to sit at the computer for hours when you’re a writer, and working from home means you have to discipline yourself to take regular breaks and go walkabout. Nobody else says, “Coming for a cuppa?”

But of course, these articles have all begun to fade in my memory because in writing terms, they were over and done with long ago; October and November’s columns are already written, so Psoriasis and Movember are coming soon to a magazine near you.

Meanwhile, I’m waiting for my editor to confirm which of my pitches she wants to choose for December’s column. Hmm… that’s a timely reminder that the month is flying by and I need to give her a nudge. December’s column won’t write itself, and it needs to be in Monday week… *scribbles note to self*

If you’re a writer, what have you pitched or published recently? Do tell! 🙂


A Fair Hearing in February

Apologies. The title of this post is a terrible joke based on two of my articles published this month. At least I presume they’ve both been published, because I can’t find one of them in any digital versions of magazines that usually publish me, but where they go is up to my Ed, so who knows :).

My health column this month was on tinnitus, because tinnitus awareness week was this month (2nd to 8th February). It’s a common misconception that tinnitus is ‘just’ an occasional ringing in your ears. Not so – it’s a lot more complicated and varied than that, and I wrote about it for three reasons. Firstly, Techie Husband suffered from it quite badly (not so much any more – I’ll explain why in a bit), as does Arty Daughter on and off; secondly, it’s a poorly understood problem that needs a higher public profile; and thirdly, I’d also recently gained a greater knowledge of tinnitus by pitching for (but narrowly missing out on) a contract to write three leaflets for the British Tinnitus Association aimed at children from different age groups.

Tinnitus pdf snip

Even though it’s still not fully understood, tinnitus appears to occur when our brain, used to filtering out superfluous signals (e.g. noise from humming refrigerators), finds itself not getting enough noise. It demands more information from our ears, and this is what triggers tinnitus. This phenomenon in itself can have other root causes, such as certain medications or illnesses. Of course, if your ears already don;t work as well as they should, your brain is aware that it’s not getting enough signals – and this is why people like Techie Husband, who have poor hearing, are more prone to tinnitus (particularly if, like him, they are missing specific frequencies or narrow frequency bands). Techie Husband has now had hearing aids for several months and it’s really made a difference. That’s great news because his tinnitus had been getting steadily worse, growing from a minor and occasional irritation into a major nuisance that made it difficult to relax.

So there’s the hearing reference. As for the ‘fair’… Fairtrade Fortnight is coming up soon. From 23rd Feb to 8th March there will be a host of events and promotions to spread the Fairtrade message, and to draw attention to this year’s specific theme – as I explain in this paragraph (from the short version of my article’.

This year, Fairtrade Fortnight’s nationwide ‘I See’ Campaign aims to ‘reinforce personal and emotional connections with Fairtrade’, making us more aware of how our shopping choices can have positive and profound effects on the lives of others, and helping us understand how Fairtrade benefits producers.
Claire Salundi, Project Manager for Fairtrade Fortnight, hopes the celebrity-fronted campaign will help consumers “understand more about what lies behind their everyday shopping and to make the connection between brewing a cuppa and someone’s son learning to read as a result.”


So I’ll leave you with this thought from my article:

The Power to Change the World Every Day’
By swapping your tea, chocolate or even your skirt for a Fairtrade alternative, you support farmers and producers in developing countries and Fairtrade’s campaign for a fairer, more sustainable food system.

“When you buy Fairtrade tea, I notice,” says Mario Mantagna, a Sri Lankan tea farmer. “Thanks to the premium price I get, we’ve been able to build a school in my village.” Proof enough that we really do – as Fairtrade says – have ‘the power to change the world every day’.

Before We Say Goodbye To Christmas…

Before we say goodbye to Christmas, I thought I’d (somewhat belatedly) share one of my favourite projects this year – researching the Christmas Truce of 1914. The resulting article was my most syndicated yet, and appeared in more than 15 different magazines, which I was very chuffed with!

Christmas Truce Harpenden NowI particularly liked this layout used in Harpenden Now magazine, because I thought the image of soldiers used behind the text was very effective. The layout below is from The CM21 Connection, who seem to have bought the full length version rather than the edited one.

Christmas Truce The CM21 Connection






Christmas Truce handy mag
The Handy Mag designers used some charming Christmas imagery to illustrate the article, shown here on the left. I like the snowy background effect.

When researching the article I used many letter excerpts, including some from letters written by Henry Williamson – yes, the same man who went on to write Tarka the Otter, a book that made me cry when I first read it around age ten. If you would like to read letters from this period, I can heartily recommend the amazing Christmas Truce website, “borne out of research conducted by Alan Cleaver and Lesley Park in 1999 for a booklet on the Christmas Truce called ‘Plum Puddings For All'”.  Alan and Lesley became “aware of the vast resource lying dormant in newspaper archives: original personal letters from participants describing what happened and the effect it had on them”. Alan, Lesley and other volunteers have since made it their task to seek out and transcribe these records, and it’s a stunning resource, so do visit.

Several magazines had obviously noticed the emphasis on personal letter excerpts and the mention of carols sung by both sides, and chose to to illustrate Christmas Truce the article with letters or German music scores, as Community Spotlight did (see right). The photos used were very touching too and provide proof that it wasn’t all swept under the carpet; the Christmas Truce events were reported in the UK just days later, with letters and photos appearing in national newspapers. While there was some disapproval in the higher ranks, it wasn’t the national disgrace it’s sometimes made out to have been.

If the experiences of WW1 soldiers interests you then there are dozens of books to read, but some I’ve dipped into recently are The Soldier’s War  and The Quick and the Dead by Richard Van Emden, and also Mud, Blood and Poppycock by Gordon Corrigan. Corrigan’s book raised a few hackles when published due to his determination to bust what he saw as some of the most troublesome and persistent WW1 myths.

If you would like to read my article, you can find it here on page 52 of the digital version of Yes magazine – if you’re interested in vision correction, my article on that is in the same magazine on page 36!

What Do The National Lottery & Diabetes Have in Common?

I’m not keen on November. It doesn’t tend to be a great month for me generally – no idea why! – and all the darkness and dampness don’t help either. But it was nice to go to a firework display without freezing to death, so score a point for that one Nov 2014.

I didn’t write about fireworks for November though; I wrote about diabetes and the National Lottery (not in the same article).  These weren’t random choices. It so happened that the 14th was World Diabetes Day and the 20th birthday of the National Lottery.

I can’t find any handy online clippings of the National Lottery article, but it was a short collection of quirky facts. Did you know, for instance, that  strictly speaking the first National Lottery was held in 1567? It was organised to fund Elizabeth I’s shipbuilding programme and offered a first prize of £5000, but the winner only received part of the prize in money; the rest was in ‘plate’. However much you hope to win in our modern lottery, you might want to avoid picking number 20, as it has made the fewest appearances in the draw.


My article on diabetes appeared in Yes Mag, Potters Bar Eye, The Villager and Town Life (Henlow edition), The Local Directory (Apsley & Beaconsfield editions), Malmesbury Connections, The Bournville Pages, Now (various editions),  In and Around magazine (various editions), the Bearsden & Milngavie Directory and the Berrylands Companion.


Looking forward to December because I’ve already seen some great clippings! 🙂



In print: Tea and Coffee – the Good,The Bad and The Ugly

Whatever else I produce, every month I have a health article published. I write a long version and produce a shorter version too, because it’s syndicated on and some publications prefer a shorter version. They always appear in publications from the Discover Magazine group, but they end up all over the place. I rarely know where, and never get a decent clipping unless I’m published in my local magazine, The Villager and Town Life (which seems to have stopped happening since I’d mentioned to them that they always spell my name wrong. I’m sure it’s just coincidence. Or perhaps it was me asking if I was free to use the article of mine they’d had for three years, meant to be the first in a regular series of historical articles…).

Sometimes a search of the internet will let me see where my literary babies end up.

Villager Henlow Oct14 coverThe Villager Biggleswade Oct 14 coverIronically this month I have been published in The Villager, but in two Bedfordshire editions (loving the covers).


And I’ve also been published in Berrylands Companion, multiple editions of Discover Magazine, Thatcham Connections and others including these…

In & Around Iver Oct 2014OneStopLocal Mansfield Oct 14 coverIn & Around Ruislip Oct 14 cover
tea & coffee 1

So it’s all good. The only aggravating thing was that the article was meant to be called ‘Tea and Coffee: The Good, the Bad and The Ugly Truths’ – see what I did there? – but it was edited to Tea and Coffee: The Good and The Bad’, which, being no longer funny, was a really weak title I’d never have used; it made the ‘truth’ paragraphs read a little strangely too. I could have come up with a better alternative title if I’d known they didn’t like the ugly!

But that’s publishing for you 🙂