Sarah Irving

I do things with words, mainly English and Arabic

End-of-year stocktake

Here’s my end-of-year, stock-taking kind of post. Yes I’m blogging on Christmas Day, but only because I’m online waiting for my Mum on the other side of the world to log on to Skype…

The beginning of 2010 feels like about a decade ago, but from the start it’s been a year of personal watersheds. My first book, Gaza: Beneath the Bombs, was published – although my role in it was more that of editor, contributor and facilitator to the wonderful writer, Sharyn Lock. With it came exciting experiences like my first appearance at a book festival, courtesy of the Edinburgh Book Festival – Sharyn and I were both totally over-excited about it, very flattered to be asked, and utterly stunned at the packed-out theatre of festival-goers who came to hear us. In the last couple of days, Gaza: Beneath the Bombs was named as one of the critics’ pick of ‘page-turners of the year’ in the Morning Star, and ‘highly recommended‘ by Richard Falk as one of several eyewitness accounts “capturing with compassion and concreteness the daily suffering and insecurity of Palestinian lives.”

My third book (which was meant to be the first), a biography of Leila Khaled, is completed (sort of. The ever-patient David at Pluto will be waiting into 2011 for the final amendments, but it won’t be out till 2012). The out-of-the-blue email from Bradt asking if I wanted to write the new version of their long-out-of-print travel guide to Palestine was the icing on my publishing cake.

That Bradt contract has also meant that I got to make a very welcome extended research trip to Palestine in September and October 2010. Visiting West Bank towns and cities from Jenin to Hebron, Jericho to Sebastia, as well as sites in ’48 like Akka, I got to visit friends and colleagues I thought I wouldn’t be seeing face-to-face for much longer, since I’m now just a month into a year away from home, comprising perhaps 8 months in Australia with my husband’s family and then 3-4 travelling back to the UK overland. That’s the plan, anyway! It also meant I got to witness the fast-moving and sometimes disturbing developments that are happening in the West Bank at the moment, from settlement expansion to growing fears that the PA will curb freedom of speech and action much as Israel has done. Which was enlightening, and deeply unpleasant.

I’ve also been very happy with some of the work I’ve done. In writing Trying to Watch the Stars in the Palestinian Desert I found that maybe a little bit of creativity is still buried somewhere within me, not completely crushed by over a decade of writing for a living (another watershed: October 2009 marked the 10th anniversary of my first day with Ethical Consumer magazine, my first writing job). The Creative Co-ops website and brochure for Co-operatives UK was a big, satisfying project to really get my teeth into, and I got to interview lots of interesting people in the process of writing it (and get very frustrated with some very stupid ones). And Electronic Intifada’s end-of-year appeal also paid me the compliment of including my article on the challenges facing journalists trying to work in Palestine as one of their showcase articles for the year.

Of course, it’s not all been professionally perfect. Between the recession and government cuts from both the Labour and Tory administrations, a substantial amount of my solid, respectably-paying clients have disappeared in the last couple of years. Some, like New Start magazine and New Start Plus copywriting, have simply cut back on their use of freelancers. Others, like the DFID magazine Developments, have been slashed altogether. And organisations dependent on grant funding have had to reduce the number of projects they undertake, and therefore the opportunities for freelancers they generate. At least back issues of Developments – including the one with my article on fair trade in conflict zones – remain available. It’s been frustrating to see useful documents, including briefing papers I’d written for ReNew (the ‘Northwest Centre for Regeneration Excellence’) and the British Urban Regeneration Association disappear because there were no legacy websites for these organisations. Surely if public money is put into producing documents such as best practice case studies, it makes sense to find ways to make them accessible even if their commissioning organisations no longer exist?

Trying to make a living as a freelance writer – and trying to maintain some personal, political and professional ethics at the same time – is not easy in the current economic and political climate. Reams of print and gigabytes of cyberspace have been taken up in talking about the impacts of new technologies on all branches of the media; fortunately, some people are trying to think creatively about what this means for journalists and other writers. It’s an exciting time to be writing, but also a scary one. And who know what the new year will bring…

(Photos from our stopover in Singapore on the way to Australia, November 2010)

One comment on “End-of-year stocktake

  1. Pingback: Exciting things on the way home… | Overland

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