Behind the Scenes, Friday 13th Edition

So it was on this very day, sort of, that I released my Ghost Stories zines last year. If you haven’t read them – and you should – they’re full of short stories, advice columns, quirky advertisements and art all pertaining to death, the afterlife and magic. And I hadn’t even heard of Maggie Stiefvater then. Anyway, I don’t have a Volume IV to share with you all, but I have made even more ridiculous death/the afterlife/magic work since, so I thought I would take today to share a bit about how and why I ended up with so many macabre-ish, funny-ish arty-ish things in my portfolio.

Ghost Stories

A couple of years ago I wrote a (very) little story for The Story Shack about something that in retrospect sounds suspiciously like the church watch on St Mark’s Eve. It was sitting by itselfie on the internet and last January I noticed that 2015 contained three Friday 13ths. I am not one to look a gift horse in the mouth and it’s useful to have solid deadlines, so I thought I could do a project to practise my Photoshop, actually write and maybe have a laugh. My friend Ruby, who proofread, had less of a laugh. By 13th November I had three relatively well-formed zines, a more thorough understanding of the YouTube playlist format and a healthy respect for the black and white filters on Photoshop. I kind of love Ghost Stories – I mean, I also hate it because I read it back and think ‘ew’ – but it’s the first thing I made after I finished school for the hell (ha) of it, and it reminded me why the term ‘black humour’ warms my soul. Now go warm your soul.

Ghost Stories Volume I by Francesca Burke

 

Hell’s Belles

You know that feeling when you’ve recently quit a job, rediscovered supernatural YA novels and decided to dye your hair pink and commit to being a full time eccentric? Last autumn I tried to supplement my income with waitressing, which to cut a long story short was not the career for me. When I rejiggled my freelancing so I could afford-ish to go back to marketing full time, I realised how much I valued being my own boss, muttering swearwords, blasting Fall Out Boy and making ridiculous things because I could. There’s a stall in Southend high street selling home accessories that say things like ‘eat glitter for breakfast and shine all day’, ‘life’s a journey’, etc.; I always wanted to paint them black and ad lib… so I did.

I even made stickers. Hell’s Belles – which was also influenced heavily by the pastel goth tag, 9 years of listening to My Chemical Romance and the exact colour I wanted my hair – is one of my favourite lines on my Etsy. It’s weird, either offensive or funny depending on your sense of humour and made of everything I’ve been interested in over the last couple of years: magic, cynicism, cursing, cynical cursing and inspirational Instagram posts.

I have a suspicion I’ll make more of one or more of the above. Look out around Halloween.

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The Queen is Quite Lovely Really, and Free Etsy Delivery (unrelated)

Hay birthday, your majesty. I can’t wa as lyrical as I would like to about the Queen turning 90, for reasons obvious when you notice that ‘hay’ was meant to be the word that comes before ‘birthday’ in the song we’re forced to sing when the ageing age, and that ‘wa’ was meant to be the word that has the same letters but a different meaning to the gross stuff that we get in our ears.

TL;DR: I need to buy a new keyboard before any more keys start to stick. I can’t afford to get another fancy ergonomic one, so I think I will head to Amazon with a voucher and get a standard ergonimic one instead. I’m going to miss this one, although it is unfairly enormous and makes me feel like an 80 year old, because it is so fuckin’ comfy. It’s cushioned. Cushioned keyboards should be mandatory.

Back to Elizabeth II. I have never considered myself an ardent monarchist, but I’m definitely not a republican either (thank you to sellchecker for fiing that for me. While I’m at it, I’ll let it fi sellchecker and fi too – oh wait it’s not that clever) and I think that’s down to her. How many 90 year old ladies continue their day job aged 90 having committed to it vocally half a century before, and do so followed by the tabloid media, 80 security guards and a husband constitutionally banned from walking alongside her? Also, let’s face it, without the Royal Family the UK’s international influence would be even shittier. What else is there for tourists to do in London but visit another royal-related building?

I can’t remember if the walking-alongside-the-queen thing is a rule or tradition, but I think if I were her I’d bloody hate it (and swear too much at foreign dignitaries, etc) so long may she reign over us, contribute to tourism and international goodwill, and fake being okay with our terrible choices of government.

That’s it, I’m going to Amazon. I can’t take this any more – what if the F goes? How will I communicate?

Oh, before I forget: with Shakespeare’s (oh, you can correct that) birth and death day this week, Charlotte Bronte’s birthday today and The Raven King out on Tuesday, I thought I would celebrate on Etsy. Enter CHECKTHEATTIC at the checkout between now and the end of the 26th and get free, er, mailing. You know, that thing that gets tacked on to the end of every online sale. The, er, carrier charge. THESE. I WILL COVER THESE.

Elizabeth II 90th Birthday
Oh look, that links the two subjects nicely.

Because Jane Eyre should have checked the attic, right?

A Retrospective of the Fiscal Year and Dubious Freelancing/Artist Advice

Who’s excited for the end of the financial year? Who wants it to be 6th April already so they can relish a clean slate and make 2016/17 the year they go up an income threshold? Who sometimes wishes they had someone else to make tough decisions regarding business card expenditure?

Yep.

Since we are nearly at the end of this fiscal calendar, I thought I’d reflect on what I’ve learnt since 6th April 2015, as a writer, shopkeeper and digital marketing freelancer and share some of my pearls of wisdom.

  • It’s genuinely really hard to invest in necessities like business cards and packaging when you have no capital. Use some savings (or visit one of those bank things or find some investors) to get you off the ground. It will cause less stomachaches.
  • Speaking of packaging, it’s completely okay to reuse bubble envelopes if they aren’t scummy.
  • You might think you can predict what will sell, but you can’t. You just learn to guess what your customer wants, and even then they will probably surprise you.
  • If a product isn’t working, photograph it better. Or replace it with a better product.
  • Photographs.
  • Photographs.
  • Photographs.
  • 80% of your time is spent marketing and organising, 10% is spent corresponding, 5% researching and developing and perfecting, and 5% making the art you sell.
  • Look after yourself, mentally, physically and financially, because freelancers don’t get sick pay, holiday pay, pension schemes or sympathy when they’re ill.
  • Always try to correspond with clients or customers in the same way your teachers wrote home to your parents: politely, firmly and with the spellchecker on.
  • As a freelancer, you make your own motivation and set your own timetable. I’ve learnt that my motivation is my desire to spite the people who think I should get a ‘real’ job, and nothing sets a timetable like knowing you have 8 hours to complete 12 hours worth of work.
  • If you’re not busy, clean your desk and do your accounts because when you are busy, you will come downstairs and realise you work in a pigsty with no recollection of where your money went. Oh and if you’re not busy, you probably need to improve your marketing.
  • Taking a step back from this blog last summer was one of the best decisions I made all year.
  • My readers and my customers are the strangest, most eccentric and most generous people. (I already knew that. You’re welcome for the reminder.)
  • Social media marketing is about being social. Not copy and pasting the high five/praying emoji onto  twelve Instagram posts alongside the phrase ‘keep up the good work!’.
  • Marketing.
  • Marketing.
  • Marketing. Work out who your customer is. Work out where they are and what they want. Go to them with the thing(s) they want.
Artemis was right, Greek mythology poster postcard by Francesca Burke
In retrospect I shouldn’t have been surprised that this was a hit with the asexual and aromantic bloggers of Tumblr.
  • #GIRLBOSS the shit out of your life, because no one else will do it for you.
  • Read #GIRLBOSS. Even if you are a guy, non-binary or allergic to hashtags.
#GIRLBOSS by Sophia Amoruso, girlboss.com
from girlboss.com
  • Nothing is more isolating than being the only person you know who does what you do and working from home while you do it. Find other people who do something similar and meet for coffee, follow their blogs and write your own, or join an Etsy team. Or all of those things.
  • A wise man in a World War II film I saw recently said something along the lines of ‘if you want something done, ask a busy person. People with all the time in the world never get anything done’. TL;DR: if you really want to make art or write a book or start a business, you will make the time to do it.
  • Paying yourself with meagre wages, knowing you can account for earning every single pound, makes up for being perceived as unemployed by your nearest and dearest, explaining that you post to the Internet for a living but no, you can’t wire up a wifi connection, and working on a Saturday night because you can’t afford to go out, move out or use up the bubble bath.

Most of the time.

Now bring it, 2016/17, I want to win at this game.

Would You Like that Gift Wrapped? A Question About Customer Service

I must say if I had known how well people would react to a blog about the perils of salad, I’d have opened up about IBS a lot earlier. Watch the cracked tiles for more anecdotes, I guess.

This week I have been wonderfully, amazingly busy packaging up Etsy orders, most of them for Valentine’s Day (or I presume they are, since they’ve nearly all been postcards with puns about the Greek gods) and I’ve also had some lovely feedback from customers – the sort of stuff that makes you smile and stand up a bit straighter. I try to offer the sort of service I’d like to experience myself, like lots of communication about processing times, cute packaging that makes a change from bills, and inexpensive postage. Essentially I’d like to be a more time-and-customer sensitive version of this:

Let me send you cinnamon sticks.

Anyway, I have been thinking about what makes good customer service and how everyone has different standards (the fact a bow wasn’t tied on the cellophane in that clip would have upset some people) and I was wondering if you guys have any horror stories or good experiences to share? In a shop the other day, the cashier complimented my purse but didn’t make eye contact, so it felt like he was trotting out a line more out of general politeness (and because his boss told him to) than because he actually gave a shit. In a ceramics studio in Zante, the proprietor served home made lemonade and gave my friend a free accessory because they were both artists.

Do you expect free lemonade? Do you expect eye contact? Do you secretly want lavender added to every bag ever?

It Never Rains But It – Oh Wait, It’s Stopped.

When we walked the dogs this morning the sky was that white-blue hue unique to autumn and winter months; the air was crisp and verging on cold; the sun was low and almost too bright.

What the hell happened, Essex? Within half an hour you deleted the autumn setting in favour of the English downpour setting. I can no longer take a leisurely walk into town. I might not even take a hurried walk into town. Today has become the perfect time to curl up with a marketing plan and hot drink, plotting my rise to fame/fortune/financial independence, instead of a day stamping around Southend doing the marketing plan. Pfft.

Tell you what though, I know something you guys can curl up with if strategic Excel documents aren’t your thing.

Ghost Stories III

I have even made merchandise. I just checked the calendar and there’s a Friday 13th in May next year, but I’m not in the habit of planning that far in advance even with the old marketing ploys, so I haven’t decided yet whether or not I’ll do a fourth volume. I planned all three this year back in January and did most of the heavy lifting then too; today I am less inclined to reopen a set of Photoshop files that I spent 11 months tweaking. Still, never say never – I always forget how much I love working with the macabre and/or black humour until I’m doing it, and then I always wish I do it more.

Speaking of the macabre, my freelance work calls. Well, emails. Well, there’s a post-it on my desk reminding me I’m going out tomorrow so really ought to take advantage of the rain and get shit done today.

Hang on, it’s stopped raining.

Summer Buzzin’

This is one of those weeks where I’m glad I’m a freelancer. I go to work in short shorts, I have lunch in my garden and I start the day watching my dogs lollop around the field with the canine equivalent of beaming smiles before flopping down inside all day like sleepy cherubs.

pinterest.com/pin/6896205649449915
pinterest.com/pin/6896205649449915

It’s also one of those weeks where Instagram stops working, I realise that I’ve got a lot of birthday and holiday-related expenses coming up and I just splashed frappe all over myself and the kitchen.

Still, maybe by the time I get to Zante the euro will have been replaced by a skills-based economy in which my particular brand of cute sarcasm will be gold dust… and maybe Brussels will have cancelled the debt, handed out icecream to every Greek citizen and worked out a solution to the refugee crisis.

Actually, while I’m thinking about it: I shall be offline from 26th July- 6th August, mostly because I need to retrain my brain not to assume every second sound is an email. My Etsy will be on ‘vacation mode’ – it’s going to Tahiti with its girlfriend – and I might schedule some posts for here/Tumblr/wherever to remind you all I exists… hopefully on a beach or clifftop with some nice music and some decent Fanta.

Okay I have to stop typing now because I’m having this paradoxical experience of daydreaming about my holiday while quashing suffocating terror that I can’t really afford one. If this were a Tweet, #freelancelife would be apt.

Enjoy the weather while we have it and drink lots of water!

Let’s Talk About the Weather (and Eurovision and some guy I read about on the news)

Before I forget, because I might, there’s a giveaway running on my shop at the moment. Everyone who buys my Eurovision game is automatically entered to a draw to win one of my mirrors (your choice which one, of course). Yay!

Right, important stuff: is it really windy where you are at the moment? Because a lot of supplies that are being used to fix my house’s roof have fallen down outside the front door so I may well be trapped inside by timber, which wouldn’t be annoying if Donnie didn’t freak out every single time a leaf rustles.

But he does.

So I hope we can both leave someday.

Speaking of business ventures – sort of – this bloke has made me feel highly inadequate. I have very little understanding of what his company actually does, but the fact he just sold it for £40 million, having started it aged 16, tells me all I need to know…

… and that’s that I should have misbehaved at school a lot more.

Mirror, Mirror

I fell asleep on the patio with my trousers rolled up yesterday, which means one thing… summer’s here. Or it’s visiting at any rate.

I love it. I love that I can swap hot coffee for frappes, jeans for short shorts and procrastinating on the Internet for sitting outside being, like, zen. It’s a bit strange that it’s May and for the first time in half a decade I’m not about to sit an exam, but it’s the sort of strangeness one associates with waking up on holiday.

Speaking of summer, this weekend I added two new things to my Etsy that I’m really, really excited about: pocket mirrors. I don’t know how many of you have a collection of mirrors that you take out to different places, but I have a little stash and I love them. Course, none of them are sarcastic, grumpy or outright rude, so I had to design my own.

It's Rude to Stare  It's Okay You Can Tell Me I Look Great

Cool huh. Get them here, for less than the average Starbucks beverage (in fact, I think everything I sell is less than the average Starbucks beverage… and I do my tax in the UK).

I’ve also managed to make myself a portfolio site that isn’t completely repulsive – the link is in the menu bar if you fancy my attempts to be incredibly professional. Speaking of, I have some emails to sort out. Happy Monday… unless you’re packing your bags to leave Tory England forever, anyway.

Is anyone actually doing that?