The day I met the REAL Santa Claus

As we all start to feel that little bit more festive, I thought I’d share what happened when I met the REAL Santa Claus…

They say you should never meet your heroes, but there are some opportunities you can’t refuse: like interviewing the REAL Father Christmas.

Here’s what happened…

I’m led by an elf (whose name I didn’t catch – could it have been ‘Squeaky’?) through the vast workshop complex here at the (rather chilly) North Pole. ‘Impressive’ doesn’t begin to describe Santa’s HQ, candy-striped elves fill every nook and cranny doing anything from painting rocking horses to soldering tablet computers (I make a mental note to consult an elf next time my laptop plays up. Although I’m not exactly sure how I’d get hold of one, they don’t use social media ‘It’s bad for your elf’ says one rather smug fellow).

Lovely as the complex is, I can’t ignore the strange smell in the air. Eventually I bring it up and I’m informed the sickly odour is emanating from Santa’s reindeer: ‘They stink,’ says my nameless guide. I must say, I’m relieved it’s the deer and not Santa with the issue – discovering that Father Christmas has a record-breaking case of B.O. would have been too much to bear. Feeling slightly nauseous due to the stink from Santa’s flying friends, I’m glad of the distraction when we finally arrive at Santa’s office. Face to face with the man himself, I can’t help but smile as he welcomes me with his trademarked cheeriness.

‘It’s our busiest time of year, of course. It’s tiring,’ says Santa, opening a can of a popular fizzy drink. ‘Caffeine helps,’ he says between slurps. ‘I used to drink full-fat, but frankly it was having an effect on the old waistline.’ Santa slaps his tummy, which I can confirm does indeed wobble link a bowl full of jelly. ‘No, it’s diet drinks for me now. Probably not the best for you, but at least they mean I can fit down the chimneys… or most chimneys at least!’

The day I met the REAL Santa Claus, Eastern Daily Press

For the full piece, click here.

Meeting author Tom McLaughlin

Interviewing Exeter’s own Tom McLaughlin, the amazing children’s author and illustrator, was a genuine pleasure. Tom is a lovely fella and was on a high that his book had just been read on CBeebies by another famous Thomas…

“It was definitely supposed to be today.

From my limited interactions with Tom McLaughlin (40), I didn’t expect him to be late – he just doesn’t seem the type. I decide to send a text message. Nothing too pushy, just a gentle nudge:

“Hi Tom. Are you still OK for our meeting? Best C.” 

A reply lands.

“Yes, I’m here too.”

The penny drops. Who’d have thought there were two branches of the same coffee shop in central Exeter? I race through town, thinking I wouldn’t have made a good secret agent or prime minister (two of the roles the stars Tom’s children’s books themselves in) with organisational skills as bad as mine.

Finally united, we exchange notes about babies as I search for a notepad in a bag overcrowded with wet wipes and teethers. Tom’s partner, Elle (34), I learn, has just given birth – their first child together.

Down to business, there’s no way of avoiding that Tom is currently part of a social media sensation. He grins. “I got an email a while back, but wasn’t allowed to tell anyone.”

Tom’s book The Cloudspotter was read on CBeebies by none other than the smouldering star of of Taboo and Peaky Blinders, Tom Hardy. The internet went crazy about it. “I remember tweeting,” Tom says, of when the embargo lifted. ‘I said Tom Hardy is reading my book on CBeebies. This is the coolest sentence I’m ever going to write.’”

I’d dispute that. Tom McLaughlin’s written some very cool sentences in his books – or funny ones, which are, surely, the same thing. It’s not for nothing that Tom’s often compared with David Walliams.”

The Story Teller, Tom McLaughlin interview for West Magazine

For the full ‘West Magazine’ (Western Morning News) piece, click here.

Mum’s the word…

Over the years I’ve interviewed quite a few high profile people. One of the most inspirational amongst their number was Sarah Turner, known to the world as The Unmumsy Mum.

Her realistic and hilarious approach to parenting drew me to her writing, I was glad to discover that in ‘real life’ she was just as good company as I’d imagined.

The morning we meet, Sarah Turner couldn’t have been more ‘on brand’ if she tried. Waiting in an Exeter coffee shop, I receive a message telling me she’s going to be late – one of her boys is unwell, causing problems with childcare. As someone who’s read Sarah’s laugh-out-loud blog ‘The Unmumsy Mum’, and the bestselling book of the same name, this is all too perfect. Of course she’s grappling with a very unglamorous parenting problem! In a parallel world, a branding consultant might suggest running significantly more than ‘fashionably late’ to reflect her brand. But Sarah is about as far from branding and spin as anyone I’ve ever met. What I experience is her reality – not a PR stunt. Sarah’s having a nightmare morning and I’m part of it – for real.

Sarah Turner’s, often startling honest, blog about raising her two sons, has resulted in a generation of parents (including me) religiously following her glamour-free escapades. When Sarah (finally) arrives, endearingly apologetic about her tardiness, she launches into an enthusiastic explanation of how, after her eldest son, Henry, was born, she became frustrated by the representations of parenting online. “None of it resonated with me at all. It was either really jokey, or it was just the glossy edit. The Instagram version – too aspirational. That’s what I thought parenting would look like and it just didn’t.”

It’s clear that Sarah passionately believes a rose-tinted image of parenting is damaging to new parents. “It’s really harmful because, when you’re feeling low, and you’re thinking ‘I’m not doing anything right! ‘My child is broken’, ‘Why won’t they sleep?’ ‘Why do they hate me?’ (…) You’re knackered and you’re scrolling online for stuff that might make you laugh or feel better, but it made me feel ten times worse. It was all: ‘You may be struggling, but don’t forget to cherish this moment, because you won’t get it again!’” Sarah continues: “If you’re feeling any level of guilt or inadequacy it’s just heightened by wall to wall images of moment cherishing where you think ‘Oh, I’m really screwed in comparison to this!’” These frustrations proved a catalyst for Sarah: “I thought: ‘I’m just going to write something’…”

Chris McGuire ‘Mum’s the word…’ West Magazine, Western Morning News

To read the full piece, click here.

Write about what you know?

“Write about what you know.”

Common usage

That’s what they say, isn’t it?

It’s one of those truisms that is so widely disseminated nobody ever stops to think if it’s actually good advice.

Personally, as a concept, I’m not sold.

Why?

Well, it seems to me that people writing about ‘what they know’ can get too close to their subject.
If, like many content creators, you’re writing about a subject that you immerse yourself in 24/7 you can easily lose objectivity.

Before you know it you can’t see the wood for the trees – meaning that you’ve lost sight of what makes your subject of specialism, of expertise even, engaging to the average person ‘on the street’.

Too often, when I talk to a business’s in-house experts, I find they’ve lost their sense of wonder at what they do. They’ve become stuck in the minutiae of expertise, kept up at night pondering detail which, ironically, would send the uninitiated reader (or customer) to sleep.

The ability to step back and calmly assess how to tell your business’s story to your customers is vital. Which bits does your demographic NEED to know about? What will ENGAGE with them? What will leave them COLD? This process needs the input of someone with no vested interests. Someone fresh, an outsider with an interested, but not partisan perspective.

Think of the times when you’ve struggled to write your own CV. It’s bloody difficult.
Why?
Because it’s yours and it matters a lot – to you.

Then think of how much better your resume sounds if you allow a friend to write it. With their fresh perspective they can cut through to the interesting bits of your story – without becoming bogged down in the detail.

So what am I saying?

I’m not anti-expert. Far from it. What I am is pro-perspective.

When I write for your business I don’t bring baggage.

I don’t pretend to be the expert in your field – you are.

What I do is work with you to communicate the best bits of your organisation’s story in a way that is engaging to people who may not know what you do, but given the chance, might like to learn.

The most effective content is, in my view, created by someone who isn’t writing about ‘what they know’.

Know what I mean?

How do you Zoom?

So, how is your day going?

Personally, I’ve had a busy, but productive, morning talking to clients over Zoom.

I don’t know about you, but I’m still finding ‘Zoom’ calls tricky.

Not the technology, it’s pretty straight forward for someone as technologically savvy as me. I say that with my tongue slightly in my cheek – although I do pride myself that, at times, I’m able to work two remote controls at once during a heavy Netflix session.

What I’m talking about is the unwritten elements to Zoom – the nuances that we’re all (slowly) getting used to…

For example, where do you look?

It may seem a strange question, but think about it.

Do you look at the other person (for ease of argument let’s assume there’s only two of you)? In any other context looking straight into the eye of the person you’re talking to is essential – but doing that is difficult in Zoom.

If you actually look into the eye that you see (on the screen), the other person gets you looking downward – which is subconsciously odd. Counter-intuitively, to look straight into the eye of your fellow Zoomer you must look into the camera – which means you don’t actually see them and miss a whole host of non-verbal cues.

Tricky eh?

To be honest, I often find myself looking at me. Rather than being driven by some narcistic urge, my fascination with my own fizzog comes from a growing sense of horror. It’s a similar feeling to when I have my hair cut – after 30 minutes of staring into my mug I find myself making mental promises to lose weight, moisturise and… well, you get the idea.

Will I ever act on any of these impulses for self-improvement? It’s unlikely. But Zoom is bringing these concerns into my consciousness on a far more regular basis than life used to back in the days where I could simply avoid mirrors.

Then there’s the time delay. I’ve gone from constantly tripping over the sentences of my co-Zoomer, to leaving such long gaps between speech as to make both of us check the connection hasn’t frozen.

And how do you say Goodbye on Zoom? Do you wave? Do you smile. Do you press ‘End’ and then realise you have to press another (additional) button to truly end the call, leaving you with the lingering feeling that your co-Zoomer’s last impression of you was one of frustration as you fiddled with the tech.

As we go into this second Lockdown, many of us are feeling a little gloomy. I certainly am – sequels are never as good as the originals. But I do maintain a thanks for video calling technology – imagine how tricky a pandemic would be without it. And beyond that, there’s a determination that by the time we’re all Covid free, I’m going to have mastered Zoom.

Watch this space.

End.

Really, that’s the end.

Hannah-oke

Really saddened to see that Disney Channel has closed in the wake of the popularity of Disney+.
I loved worked for The Disney Channel, where I produced the Hannah Montana karaoke show ‘Hannah-oke’. Presented by Duncan James and Konnie Huq, this show saw families show off their singing skills – using the Hannah Montana back-catalogue.
A lifelong memory / cringey moment of mine will be, during a rehearsal for the show, singing ‘The Best of Both Worlds’ in front of an audience of 300, Konnie, Duncan, Nicki Chapman and Jason Gardiner. Trust me, I’m no singer!
Good times…

Homeworking: Eastern Daily Press Feature

Here’s a piece I wrote to publicise my book “Homeworking: The Ultimate Guide” illustrated by the amazing Spencer Wilson and published by Halfmoon Bay.
I gave my top tips for anyone planning to work from home…

“Whatever you do, avoid procrastination.
Procrastination is the nemesis of the anyone who works from home. Freed from the restrictions of conventional office environs, the homeworker is at liberty to do what they want, when they want. This perceived freedom is a double-edged sword. Before you know it, those who are new to this game are rearranging their sock drawers, vacuuming stripes into their carpet and watching hundreds of episodes of Tipping Point. All I can say is: resist procrastination, resist it with all your might! Procrastination is not your friend. It may seem like fun to put your feet up and watch old Adam Sandler movies during your workday, but you’ll regret it as soon as your next deadline looms. TBH, with my experience of Adam Sandler movies, I’m regretting it as I watch them!”

Chris McGuire, ‘Homeworking: The Ultimate Guide’

For the full Eastern Daily Press piece, click here.

Classic Column: The Olden Days

If there’s one thing I love to write, it would have to be newspaper columns. These 5 minute reads give a columnist the chance to take a 600 word flight of fancy.

Here’s one of my favourites, taken from my tenure at Western Morning News’ ‘West’ magazine.

“What was it like?”

This statement ended my daydream with a jolt. I ‘zone out’ a lot at the moment. It’s probably because, as a parent, I’m tired and increasingly good at ignoring the incessant noise that all children seem contractually bound to make.

“What’s that?”

“What was it like? ‘The Past’?”

My friend’s son waited eagerly while his father gave a ‘I can’t wait to hear how you deal with this’ expression. This week, I learned time is passing at a steady march. Things I thought were mere moments ago are now considered historical events. It’s so true: the past is a foreign country, they do do things differently there.

The last few days seem to have been designed to make me aware of the passage of time. It’s like aging his crept up and shouted ‘Boo!’ – causing me to mutter something about ‘kids these days’. There’s my hair for a start. Famously uncombed, it’s losing the battle against the grey. I had thought this made me look a little bit ‘George Clooney’, but yesterday an honest appraisal made me realise I’m the ‘Before’ man in one of the those ads that drop from the back of magazines…

Chris McGuire, ‘The Olden Days’

For the full Western Morning News column, click here.

Expect Fireworks…

Something a bit lighter from me today.
I’ve never enjoyed #BonfireNight – I just don’t ‘get’ it.
So here’s a piece, from me, moaning about November 5th – it’ll be here before you know it!

“We spend the rest of the year sorting through recycling, rinsing out washing-up liquid bottles, offsetting our carbon foot prints and attempting to shop locally and sustainably. So why does all that go out the window when November 5th comes around? “Hey you lot?” is the cry up and down the country. “Fancy spending an evening burning anything you can lay your hands on?” Wood? Brilliant. Bits of furniture? Great, especially if it’s heavily varnished or glue-filled chipboard. Paper! Recycling is so last year! Let’s burn them all! In fact, let’s buy stuff, just to be burn it! But what happened to limiting CO2 emissions? Who cares! Every Nov 6th I wake up feeling as though I just smoked 200 cigarettes, and this is somehow a ‘family friendly’ event.”

Chris McGuire ‘West’ Magazine

For the full piece, in Western Morning News’ ‘West’ magazine, click here.