Thursday, 29 January 2009

On interviewing...

I subscribe to several blogs.  One of them is written by Simon Whaley, my old Writer's Bureau tutor.   

Simon's Tutor's Blog is full of useful advice and yesterday he blogged about interviewing, offering some helpful hints and tips for new interviewers.  This triggered off some memories for me and so I emailed him.  Today he has published my comments, which you can read here.

Interviewing someone can be a daunting experience for the new writer.  Of course you do not want to make a mess of it or have the interviewee think you an amateur, so it is a juggling act. For me the fact that I had been a market research interviewer in a previous, and very distant, life, helped me a lot.  The fact that my husband's job has led to my having to be able to talk to people from all walks of life and in any situation has helped too.  Therefore, when the first interview came along, I concentrated my energies on researching the subject rather than thinking about how it might go wrong.  Of course, making sure the dictaphone had fresh batteries, I had more than one working pen and the camera was fully charged with an empty data card also helped!

Looking Back at a Successful Year - The Anguilla Chamber of Commerce and Industry

Whilst writing the Annual Report for the Anguilla Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACOCI) I was struck by the number of different areas the Chamber has been involved in on island in 2008.  

Below is an extract from the Annual Report:

The Chamber's Active Year

At Home...

2008, the year that The Anguilla Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACOCI) was proud to have been selected to join the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States' (OECS) Private Sector Forum, was characterised by continued activity on island, designed to assist the Anguillian business community.

The goal of the OECS Private Sector Forum is to be a development-networking forum, which researches, identifies resources and exchanges ideas about the role of private enterprise in an attempt to enhance economic competitiveness.  'Being selected to join the Forum is an important achievement for the Chamber of Commerce,' said a delighted Calvin Bartlett, ACOCI Executive Director, at the time. 

In addition to this the Chamber has been busy in other areas.

Officials from UK Customs and Excise and the Caribbean Customs Law Enforcement Council wee on Anguilla to review Customs and Excise Operation on Anguilla.  They specifically asked to speak to the Chamber as part of their review.

Danny Pedley, Operations Team Leader, when asked why the team particularly wanted to speak to the Chamber of Commerce, explained, 'Over the years the Customs business has changed dramatically in the way it approaches how it delivers the service to the public.  At one time customer service tended to operate autonomously and without reference to its main customer base, which was trade.  That thinking has moved on, certainly in the last ten years, to the point now where effective dialogue between Customs and the Commercial Sector is an integral part of the way customs internationally does its business. If Customs aren't sensitised to the needs of the trade they cannot get their delivery systems working perfectly.

'We are here as a Review Team looking at, and working with, the Customs and Management in Anguilla, as it works through a transition process which includes changes in management, changes in structure and also, the introduction of some automated systems.  Part of our review is about looking at who are the key stakeholders that must be consulted, so that when customs worked through its transition process it's able to do so and come out at the other end as en effective organisation which complements the working of trade.'

ACOCI's first information meeting took place in May.  Members turned out to hear speakers outlining how the National Health Fund would affect them and to hear about the emergency medical transportation service offered by MASA (Medical Air Services Association).

Ms Gercheal Richardson-Gumbs outlined a National Health Fund which aimed to benefit all equitably in providing health care for life.  All family members would be covered for one small contribution.  'The object of the national health fund,' she said, 'is ensuring that all Anguillians and residents have access to good quality health care when they need it and in an equitable manner.'

Aaron W Mitchell, Director of Eastern Regional MASA outlined the services his company could provide.  He pointed out that since 1974, when MASA invented the industry, the company had grown to 12 international offices and 800,000 members worldwide.  In the last year MASA had facilitated 600 medical evacuations in the Caribbean. 'When something happens and someone needs to be flown out, we don't panic, it is something we do every day,' he said.

In July the Chamber hosted a General Meeting and Forum.  Members of the public were able to ask panel members, department heads of public services, questions on areas of concern.  This well attended meeting produced questions on such topics as sand mining, the preservation of older homes, beach access, the issue of stray or dead animals on the roads, condoms on the beaches, gastroenteritis among the population, rubbish burning, arming of the police, rudeness of immigration staff and the costs of rental property.  

ACOCI hosted a media luncheon in October to inform the public of its activities throughout the year and to highlight the forthcoming Caribbean Home Expo and the Business After Hours Initiative at La Sirena hotel.  This event also spotlighted the fact that ACOCI had facilitated Anguillian businesses to travel, all expenses paid, to attend the 11th Annual Americas Food and Beverages Show.  

The Business After Hours initiative, a networking event designed to provide Chamber members with business to business opportunities, featured a presentation by Niguel Streete, Director of Anguilla's Financial Services Commission.  He spoke on the Financial Action Task Force, combating money laundering, terrorist financing and managing risks.

ACOCI, with the Anguilla Hotel and Tourist Association, in the first collaboration of its kind, hosted a Renewable Energy Forum in December. Members of the public were invited to hear about the ever-growing problem of energy and proposed solutions for Anguilla, from a panel of three members of the Energy Committee.   

As you can see, the Anguilla Chamber of Commerce and Industry was involved in a varied spread of activities on behalf of the business community.  With the global financial problems looking to worsen in 2009, it remains to be seen how the Chamber will fare in the coming year. The workshops on Business Planning by Morton Patterson, Business Consultant, which take place today at the Paradise Cove hotel give some indication of the way that the Chamber plans to continue to assist Anguilla's businesses through this most difficult of times.  It will be interesting to read of the Chamber's activities this time next year.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

A Charming Gentleman - Morton Patterson

Sick or not, writing has to go on.  

A short time ago I was asked to write the Annual Report for the Anguilla Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACOCI), as I have done in previous years. This year though, I am in the UK and not in the Caribbean, so it has been a little more challenging to get all the information, write everything up, get it laid out and for me to edit and proof read it in time for the AGM tomorrow.  Suffice to say that it has meant some long hours to get it all together in time. Thankfully Skype, that wonderful VOIP system that allows free calls between computer users, was up and running and I was able to talk to the ACOCI Graphic Designer, Valerie Zaharia, at length and work with her in real time.  

What is different this year is that I was able to meet and interview the keynote speaker, Morton Patterson, (of Morton Patterson and Associates,  in London before he left for Anguilla.  He and I met, having braved the English chill, at the Royal Festival Hall.  

Morton is a business coach, keynote speaker and facilitator specialising in working with business owners, managing directors and senior management who feel overwhelmed, need someone to help them clarify their business vision and plan a way forward.  He works with clients who are submitting major tenders for developments across East London, the Thames Gateway and the 2012 Olympic Games.  He is also a charming gentleman, who genuinely wishes to use his considerable skills to assist business people.   

The resulting article was published in The Anguillian on 23 January 2009.  To read it click here.

Whilst on island Morton will be running two workshops, 'Goal Setting and Business Planning' on Thursday 29 January 2009.  These have been sponsored by the OECS.

The AGM is tomorrow, Wednesday 28 January 2009, at the Overlook Restaurant between 12.30 and 2.30 pm.  For more information call the Chamber on 497 2839.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

The Curse of Penny's Birthday

I had thought that the Curse of Penny's Birthday was at an end!

Over the last few years I have been fortunate enough to have enjoyed birthdays with friends and, sometimes, with family who have made the trip to wherever I happen to be living. It was over a birthday dinner for example, that I was asked if I would like to take up scuba diving, which has since become my passion. I have been lulled into a false sense of security by fun and frivolity!

Over the years my birthdays have been characterised by such delights as food poisoning; on a trip to Malta, family forgetting the day; husband nipping down to the corner shop and my being presented with a hastily bought box of chocolates in a white paper bag with the price label still attached, receiving such interesting and wonderfully thoughtful gifts as a frying pan, an ironing board cover and a jar of instant hot chocolate mix (that birthday was a laugh a minute) and many other such super surprises to make me think that birthdays really are not for me. All of these have combined in my really wanting to forget the day.

This year is no exception. As my birthday looms on the imminent horizon I am full of the most grotty cold and hacking cough I have had since the last time I was sick, back in October. My father has gone down with Shingles and is not at all well and the family get together I had looked forward to has been scrapped. Good, eh?

It would appear that the Curse of Penny's Birthday is alive and well after all!

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Torrevieja Writers Circle

It gives me great pleasure to reveal that I have been asked to speak at the Torrevieja Writers Circle, Alicante, Spain, in February.  

This group, encompassing both published and aspiring authors and writers, meets weekly to discuss works in progress, offer advice and assistance and generally allow writers the opportunity to socialise with like-minded people.  

This is terribly important.  Writing is a lonely business.  I could go days without speaking to a soul apart from my husband if I did not make an effort to get out. Sitting at my desk trying to put fingers to keyboard creatively is not as easy as you might think and there is no one to bounce ideas off of or to gossip with over a cup of coffee.   Walks down to the paper shop become important and trivial conversations at the till take on a new meaning when you are in such a situation.  

I attended a meeting of the Society of Women Writers and Journalists (SWWJ) Council on Monday and there heard about a new Writers Circle being formed by Silja Swaby, a Council member, in Surrey.  It had its first meeting yesterday and I look forward to hearing all about it. This was formed as a result of there not being a group in the area and Silja seeing a gap.  I too have spotted a gap here in Southampton and am looking into the possibility of starting a group nearby.  I will see how Silja gets on and report back!

For now though, I am looking forward to meeting Nik Morton and his fellow writers on 4th February.  As Editor of The Woman Writer, I will bring a little of my life and work to the group and mention the SWWJ, a wonderful organisation for professional and aspiring writers.  I'll let you know how I get on.

Monday, 5 January 2009

Master Scuba Diver

How could I miss it?  I spent months working for it and picked up lots of bumps and bruises along the way and then, when I reviewed the year forgot to mention it!  

I am speaking of my Master Scuba Diver Award.  

As readers of this blog and my column in The Anguillian will remember, I started scuba diving in Anguilla in 2007 when my friend and dive trainer, Rob, asked me to try diving.  He knew I loved swimming and snorkeling and thought it was a shame I did not dive.  I thought about it. My son dives and I had always associated diving with youngsters, which was daft as several friends dive and my son was initially introduced to diving by one of them, who is several years my senior.

I will always remember my first dive.  I hated it.  I did not want to tip backwards off the boat into the water and then when I finally plucked up the courage to do so, found the water so choppy it really upset me bobbing about in it.  Then there was descending!  Well, that was another challenge.  Rob took my hand and we went down together.  Then he found himself with a Penny attachment as I would not let go.  If he had let me go I would have ascended and never dived again.  As it was, we stayed down for over half an hour and in the end I could appreciate all that I saw.  It was beautiful, teeming with life, flora waving majestically in the current.  

Unfortunately when we were on the surface again I had to do some drills.  One of these was to take my buoyancy control device (BCD - looks like a sleeveless jacket which holds the air bottle and equipment) off and put it on again.  I nearly drowned myself and had to be rescued by the ever vigilant Rob.  After that it took lots of tears, counselling from my instructor (poor man) and some stiff words to myself to make me carry on.  I hate to be beaten by anything and this was not going to get the better of me.

I carried on and waded my way through the rest of the PADI Open Water Certification course. That was my goal.  Complete the course and then walk away.  It had not beaten me.  The problem is that I really do like the marine life.  I was asked if I would like to dive off Anguillita, the tiny island just off Anguilla.  I bravely said I would and got hooked!  I loved it. Anguillita is my favourite dive site, as you never know what you are going to find there.  I have seen reef sharks, turtles and tarpon to mention just a few of the myriad species there.  So then, of course, there was no stopping me.

My instructor, who freely admits he did not think I would complete the Open Water course, found himself being pestered for further training.  I wanted to do the Underwater Naturalist course.  He taught it as part of the Advanced Diver qualification, so I took that.  

For this I had to do a night dive, deep dive, wreck dive, the naturalist dive and a navigation dive.  I had to learn lots of new skills and conquer my fear of being in the water at night.  A lot to take in and I was absolutely terrified of the darkness.  What was there just beyond the torch light?  I now this is irrational.  I was perfectly happy to go on a deep dive and sit doing my drills at 80 feet without a thought of anything apart from what else I could see while I was down there.  

One day I sat and thought about my diving.  I decided I really wanted to go all the way and become a PADI Master Scuba Diver.  This is the highest non-professional diving qualification PADI offers.  I think Rob thought I was mad when I announced this to him.  It was only a matter of a few months since I would not let his hand go and now here I was telling him I wanted to be a Master Diver!  

After assuring him I was not bonkers, we decided on a plan.  This changed once or twice but essentially I worked through the courses I needed one by one until I  had got there.

I took an Underwater Photography qualification while I was in Miami at the end of 2007 and then took a first aid course back on Anguilla to prepare me for the Rescue Diver Course, the huge hurdle I needed to get over.  

This course is really tough.  I am not just saying it.  It really is.  I still have the scars and I am sure that both Rob and Dougy, his partner, still have some too.  (Particularly poor Dougy as I dragged him into the corner of one of his boat's engines on one of the rescue scenarios.  It really hurt!  Sorry Dougy.) We did the course over four days, which I was glad about as I do not think I would have been able to do it any faster.  I was exhausted every day after the gruelling scenarios and trying not to get drowned as I 'rescued' Rob or Dougy, or both.  I was really pleased to have passed, particularly as Rob and I had had words during the course.  Stress, it really gets to you.  I needed to get it right and he would not pass me until I did, which is exactly as it should be.

I needed five speciality dive courses and had two, the Underwater Naturalist and the Underwater Photographer.  I then took the wonderful Boat Diver qualification.  This was really fun!  I got to take control of the boat and found how difficult it is to steer, particularly at speed. I thought the other passengers were very good not to panic when I sent the boat into a huge circle and could not pull it out again!  Luckily Claudelle, (aka Punky) the lovely Boat Captain was there to rescue me (and the others!) and set me right again.  It taught me a valuable lesson.  Do not underestimate the Captain's job.  

Next I took the Deep Diver and Night Diver qualifications to complete the requirements of the Master award.  Once again, I loved the deep diving.  I was already qualified to dive to 130 feet, after the Advanced Diver Certification.  Now I learnt more about the effects of pressure and the way light is perceived at depth.  It was fascinating.  

Not so, the night dives.  My husband was keen to do this course and so I tagged along too.  We had not done a shore dive and so we went along to a local beach and dived from there, along an outlet pipe in very shallow water.  I did not enjoy it the darkness, although I loved the marine life we met along the way.  There was everything from cuttlefish to octopus.  Fantastic.  

So there I was, finished.  I had worked hard, but no harder than my excellent instructor, Rob.  I was awarded the Master Scuba Diver Award in September 2008.  I was overjoyed!  I love diving and now look back on my earlier experiences with a laugh.  I can remember how I felt at the time and do understand my feelings, but have moved on.  I was determined to do it and I did it but I could not have done so without Special D Divers, Dougy, Rob and Claudelle.  Thank you Guys!  A special thanks to Rob, a wonderful instructor, a kind and patient man and a good friend.

Friday, 2 January 2009

Happy New Year

Well, the festivities are all over and 2009 has arrived.  

I thought I would take a moment or two to reflect on the past year and when I did so I was quite startled by what I found!

I began 2008 by hearing that my application to join the Society of Women Writers and Journalists (SWWJ) had been successful and I was now a full member of this prestigious group. Leafing through the 'Centenary of The Society of Women Writers & Journalists 1894-1994' written and compiled by Joan Livermore and Jean Bowden, is fascinating and provides many points of interest.  Started in 1894 by newspaper proprietor, Joseph Snell Wood as the Society of Women Journalists, over the years the Society has listed as members Lady Sarah Wilson at Mafeking who was the first woman war reporter, the first woman MP, Lady Violet Astor, and Phyllis Deakin, the first woman staff reporter to be appointed to The Times and who was also the first woman journalist in Paris after it was re-taken in WWII.  Joyce Grenfell was the Society's President from 1957 until her death in 1979.  Being granted membership of a group which attracts such heavy weights in the writing world was wonderful and I am now thoroughly enjoying my membership.

In January too I was surprised, and very pleased, to be presented with an award for my 'Outstanding Contribution' to the Anguilla Chamber of Commerce and Industry for my work, as Editor, writer and photographer, on their bi-monthly publication, ACOCI Connection.

In April I travelled from Anguilla, my home until September, to be awarded an Honours Degree by the Open University.  My family and I went to the Barbican in London for the award ceremony and we had a wonderful meal later, with a little popping of champagne corks along the way.

I continued my fortnightly column, 'Thoughts of an Expat,' for The Anguillian newspaper until the last moment and it was with real sadness that I submitted my last piece in late August, just before I returned to Britain.  This column has left a real gap in my life.  I am actively looking for another opportunity to write regularly for a publication in the UK.  Building a rapport, both with my editor and my readers is something I really enjoy.  I miss it.

Over the year I reported on regattas and ships visits, art exhibitions and flower shows.  I met some wonderful people, who were good enough to find a little time for me and to answer my questions with patience.  So, cake making DJs, pie making stock brokers, up and coming pop stars, the masters of ships both military and civil, quilters and sailors, those doing their bit for their community, from the first locally engaged Deputy Governor of Anguilla, to the owners of a 1925 Alden Schooner, using it to raise money for local kids to sail for their country abroad, these and many others helped to make my job both interesting and enjoyable.   They provided articles for The Anguillian, and magazines in Anguilla, the wider Caribbean, the USA and the UK.

Her Majesty's prison on Anguilla had asked me to become the first editor of their publication, The Insider and this, after many and varied trials and tribulations, was published in August.  It represented much hard work by many people and I was proud to have been associated with it.

I interviewed the Master of the Queen Mary 2 on my way back to the UK in September and what a pleasant man he was!  This article is out now in Hampshire Life magazine.

I learnt that I had been Highly Commended for two articles I sent in for the Sir Harry Britain Scholarship Award, run by the SWWJ, in September.  This was happy news indeed!  To be well received by your peers is a real boost.  One of these articles is on my website for those interested in reading it - 

Since I have been back in England I have been busy trying to establish myself again in my native land.  I had been away for almost 7 years and that is a long time. 

The Observer published my tale of woe in their 'My Crap Holiday' spot in November.  I know I must have set readers chuckling as they read of the huge number of things that went wrong on our one and only package holiday to Spain a few years ago! -

I have been working on my first edition of 'The Woman Writer,' the SWWJs magazine, which is one of the oldest publications in Britain.  I took over as Editor in November and my first edition will shortly be hitting the stands.  This has been a steep learning curve but I have had much assistance to guide me in the right direction from the out-going Editor, the Society's Chairman, Jean Morris.  

The big news in December was that I was offered a book contract by The History Press. The book, a local history on folklore, will be published in June 2010.  I am very happy indeed and look forward to working on it in 2009.  I am also working, with a friend, on a proposal for another book, on a completely different subject, but more about this in a later posting.

So, 2008 was a busy year as you can see.  

It was lovely to spend Christmas with family for the first time in years and to be here for my son's birthday.  He and his partner have recently presented us with a granddaughter.  Her name is Bluebell and she is a giant British Blue rabbit.  She is completely house trained and lollops about their house boat as if she owns it.  She joined the rest of the family and enjoyed the celebrations as much as we did.

I hope that 2009 brings you much success, peace and happiness.  Happy New Year!