About Me

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Weston Super Mare, Somerset, United Kingdom
Hello and welcome to my blog. My name is Robin Whitlock. I am a freelance journalist with a special interest in environmental issues and renewable energy. I have numerous published articles to my credit and write regularly for a number of renewable energy websites. I am also a writer for Renewable Energy Magazine and a sub-editor for Renewable Energy Focus. I am currently based in Bristol, UK. Besides renewable energy and green issues I have a wide variety of other interests which includes World War 2, mythology and folklore, gardening, railways and lots more besides. You can also reach me on either of my two email addresses, which are: robinwhitlock66@hotmail.com and robinwhitlock1966@gmail.com Thanks!

Hire Me!!

Hire Me!! - Freelance Journalist specializing in environmental issues and renewable energy
Writer for Renewable Energy Magazine
Sub-editor for Renewable Energy Focus
Contributor to Holmes Digital Media websites (Solar Guide, Renewables Guide, Boiler Guide, Builder Guide)
Contributor to Cleversolar blog and Find Energy Savings
Published in numerous national magazines
See below for writing samples

Friday, 5 July 2013

Katie Hopkins, not someone you would want to emulate

Someone posted this on to my Facebook profile today. I was horrified, along with 90 percent of the UK population I expect.

Katie Hopkins, quickly, as far as I can tell, becoming one of the UK's most reviled journalists. Especially after this performance.

Monday, 17 June 2013

Water sector articles for IWA Publishing

Breaking into the rail sector

Earlier this year I managed to break into the modern rail sector with an article on the plan to reopen the branch line from Bristol to Portishead. The article made it into Rail Professional magazine, unpaid unfortunately, but I will shortly have a similar article appearing in another rail sector magazine with any luck.

Frankie... my review of the BBC's new drama

Following the views of this rather dire BBC drama I posted earlier on this blog, I wrote a review piece for Bristol 24-7. Here's a copy of it for you to read. http://www.bristol247.com/2013/05/15/frankie-lives-in-bristol-apparently-or-does-she-51042/

Two recent articles in Kindred Spirit

I have been fortunate enough to have had regular articles published in the spirituality magazine Kindred Spirit. Here are the first pages of the two latest such articles.

The Mindful Gardener looks at the gardening practice followed by the Head Gardener of Chalice Well in Glastonbury, Somerset, who is a close personal friend of mine. He follows the 'mindfulness' practice of the Buddhist Thich Nat Hanh and applies it to his gardening practice. Because of this, a year or so ago, he was asked to write a book about the subject and so the article explores both Ark's practice and also provides a few insights into his book and how he came to write it.

Following this success I was then asked by the magazine to write a specially commissioned article on the archaeological excavation of Goebekli Tepe in Turkey, which is one of the oldest ancient cities in the world. There is considerable evidence for shamanic practice having been followed at this location with a city priesthood and the worship of animal and/or ancestor spirits.

With Andrew Collins being a Facebook friend of mine, I decided to seek his opinion on the site, and upon having taken this decision discovered that Andrew had, unsurprisingly, been following the excavation all along and was even working on his own book about the site. All of which made a very interesting article even better.

Friday, 14 June 2013

Fits and starts... and a little patience

One of the most annoying things for a freelancer in my experience is turnover. I don't mean with regard to the amount of work engaged in at any one time but the time it can take for payment to arrive either in one's bank account or through the letter box in the form of a cheque. Unlike people employed in a regular salaried job, a freelancer's payment can often be best described in terms of "fits and starts". So, for example I have precisely 15 pence in my current account at the moment, requiring me to keep the £20 in my wallet, exactly where it is, for any sudden emergency, or for a sudden bus trip should I be required to travel into town for some reason. If it wasn't for my partner, there would be no chocolate every now and again.... a complete disaster for a confirmed chocoholic... and as for beer... can't even remember when I last had any of that. I suspect however, being the end of the week, and with a polite call just having been made to a particular publications finance department, at least some of that £20 will go on a few bottles of "Old Speckled Hen" from the shop up the road a bit later.

This is a regular occurrence, in between the times when suddenly I get two or three payments at once resulting in my bank account leaping from very little to a figure somewhere between £200 to £400.

How do I pay my rent and bills I can hear people say... ah, well fortunately the figures I am discussing here are basically my spending money, over and above the money I receive from my regular spot writing for Renewable Energy Magazine (REM). Yes I do have a regular writing gig, a daily commitment to write at least 2-3 renewable energy articles per day with regular interview-based pieces and longer ad hoc articles, for which I get paid a monthly sum. This makes the guys at REM my saviours, aside from the fact that they are all totally wonderfully nice people whom I now include among my best friends, if it wasn't for them I would almost certainly be in a right pickle.

I am sure for every freelancer it's the same story, particularly when starting off. Unfortunately, this irregularity of payment just goes with the territory of being a freelancer I am afraid, but the payoff is great. I get to decide my own routine, more or less, I have far more creativity and flexibility in what I can write and when than say I would do in a staff job, and thus have far greater freedom and less stress. I can also say that my achievements are clearly identifiable as my own achievements and no-one else's, which makes it all the more rewarding when contacts at LinkedIn give me a nice cyber 'pat on the back' for a job well done.

So, one of the qualities of being a good freelancer, aside from tenacity and ambition, is patience.

Because even though your belly is starting to rumble and the fridge looks bare, you know that all you have to do, providing you've worked hard of course, is just wait a while, and then a nice fat cheque will come bouncing through your door.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Frankie lives in Bristol apparently... Or does she?

Having watched the first episode of Frankie last night  it seems the working class are now invisible, or at least they are in Bristol according to last night's episode. Frankie may say she lives in Bristol but I just don't recognise the Bristol the series attempts to portray. There's not a Bristolian accent to be heard for a start off, and this portrayal of the city is filled with very middle class characters that are obviously doing very well thank you. But there again, what else can you expect from the BBC?

To  my mind, "Frankie" was just another exercise in writing the working class out of British society and culture while attempting to convince us  all that "we are all middle class now". Yes, admittedly, I do think of
myself as middle class, but nevertheless I really object to the demonisation of an entire subset, and a very important one, of British society. Owen Jones book "Chavs: The demonisation of the working class"
goes into this in far greater detail, but having read that book I can now see instances of it right across popular culture, and I object, particularly when it regards my own city.

Really, the BBC needs to balance this middle class tripe with a programme looking at what Bristol is REALLY like, investigating the lives of ordinary working people and exposing some of the hardships that
many of them have to put up with. Yes, there are many areas of Bristol that resemble the society portrayed in Frankie, but that only represents half the city at best. In general Bristol has a very tough, stocky,
working class atmosphere, which I don't particularly like. Even so I certainly recognise unfairness when I see it, and last night's offering by the BBC leads me to cry 'object' on the basis that Bristol's working class population appear to have suddenly been transported elsewhere.

How long did the BBC actually spend in Bristol? Five minutes? Clifton is only a very small part of the city, how about entering Easton, St Pauls, Ashley, Southmead, Knowle, my own district of Broomhill, Lawrence Hill, Stapleton Road, or any number of other places that actually represent the REAL Bristol?
In short, although it may have been rather quaint and fun in some ways, in reality Frankie was another instance of upper middle class hogwash.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Old friends...

I went to George Monbiot's talk on Rewilding in Bristol yesterday. He is actually an old friend of mine from activism days back in the 1990's, particularly the road protest at Solsbury Hill in 1994 and the Land Is Ours campaigns of 1997-8. I talked to him once since, in around 2008 by email, but not actually seen him in person since 1997-8 or thereabouts. So I thought I would buy a copy of his book, which I was going to do anyway, and see what he had to say if I suddenly appeared right in front of him with a copy of his book to sign.

So anyway, he recognized me immediately I am glad to say, and I had to laugh as he suddenly said in surprise "Oh hello, how are you?" "Very well thankyou" I replied, "how are you doing? Been a while..." "Indeed" he said before asking me what I was doing these days. So I told him I was a freelance journalist working for Renewable Energy Magazine and writing a few odd extra magazine articles besides. He signed the book with a greeting of "For the trees! With best wishes George Monbiot" on the basis that that was where we both, more or less, started out from (although he had admittedly been involved in a few scrapes in the Amazon and, I think, Indonesia, before he ended up at Solsbury Hill.

I have to say it was actually quite a magical experience exchanging a greeting with George as an old friend, rather than as an internationally well known author, environmentalist and Guardian columnist, and quite an amusing one too!

Monday, 29 April 2013

Always check your batteries...

I went along to a meeting of a Bristol Pagan Parents group this morning in order to interview a group of parents for an article in a major UK magazine. When I got there however I found that I couldn't switch my dictafone on!

I thought it might be because I still didn't know how to use the thing properly (most of the interviews I do are online these days but that really ought to change as its just not healthy being computer bound all the time). However, having bought and loaded up some new batteries on the way back home I was relieved to discover that I did actually know how to use it and that it was merely a case of depleted batteries. Normally I carry a stock of spares around with me in my bag, but on this occasion had obviously run out.

So, there you go. Proper preparation works best every time - and I need to get out more, there's just loads of interesting stuff happening in Bristol, and that's all good writing material.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Things as they are...

Hello everybody...

I rarely get the opportunity to post things on here these days, and that's a good sign because most of the day I am really busy with other things. My daily job at Renewable Energy Magazine is carrying on and that takes up at least a good two to three hours if I have to look around for press releases or suitable stories first, although normally I try to have a stock of them ready for successive days. Recently I have also written an article (worth £400) on innovation for the Technology Strategy Board, ghost-written for the TSB's Chief Executive to go into The New Statesman. Quite where that article is now I don't know as I haven't actually seen it published yet, but I have at least been paid for it and that's the main thing. I am also due to have another article published in Kindred Spirit, this time on the ancient ruined civilisation of Goebekli Tepe in Turkey, including an interview with writer Andrew Collins. That is due to come out in June I think. I've also had an article published in a rail sector magazine Rail Professional on the planned revitalisation of the Portishead Branch. Furthermore I am also sub-editing press releases for IWA Publishing, a website associated with the water treatment sector.

So things are at least ticking over nicely...

... and that can't be too bad in a recession. I am going to try to post at least something here every day, if only its just a short note to say what I've been doing. Hopefully I will also get back into posting some scanned clips of my published pieces as per usual.

Bye for now

PS: If you want to keep up with my writing for Renewable Energy Magazine, this is the page to visit:

Monday, 25 March 2013

Sensible advice from Sarah Ditum

I’ve been working as a journalist for five years. In that time, I have learned just enough to fill a 90 minute talk, which is lucky, because I’d agreed to give a 90 minute talk to journalism students at the University of Cardiff last week. I spoke without notes, and a lot of the most interesting stuff came out of questions at the end rather than my main talk, so this write-up is a patched together version of the advice I’d like to give to young writers. Following this won’t necessarily make you successful (you can ask to see my bank statement if you’d like to gauge exactly how successful it’s made me) but it will help you avoid some of the stupider mistakes I’ve made.

Rejection is part of the process, so pitch a lot
When I started freelancing, I would send in timorous pitches with extensive hedging and a lot of information about my CV. Hey, I didn’t want to look cocky by making my idea too obvious. Then I would wait, and fret, and chew my hands, and go from having great hopes for this idea to utter despair, all without ever knowing if my email had been opened by an editor.
Here is what you need to know about editors: most of them are busy. They get a lot of emails, and don’t always have the time to respond with detailed feedback on how you can improve your pitching technique, so present your idea clearly and directly. They don’t want your CV, they want your idea. Make sure you’re sending your pitches to the right person: the editor who can commission you might not be the most famous name in that office, but they’re the most important person to you. If you’re not sure who deals with commissioning for the section you’re interested in, ring the office and ask.
There are plenty of reasons why your idea might not get picked up, and most of them have nothing to do with the quality of your pitch. Your brilliant idea might be so good that the editor has already commissioned it from someone else. You might be pitching the day after that magazine’s biannual features meeting, and they’ve got everything they need for the next six months. Maybe you’ve got a wicked idea about romcoms, and the magazine you’re pitching to is organising a themed sci-fi issue.
Luck plays a big part in the success of your pitches when you’re starting out, so play the numbers: once you’ve got an idea, think about how it could be packaged for many different titles, and pitch it to all of them accordingly. No title owns your pitch until they’ve commissioned it, so if two titles are interested in similar takes, you get to choose which one you write for – pitching isn’t about passively skirting the ballroom floor, waiting for your dance card to be marked.

Decide who you are and what you can do
I have asked for, and received, loads of advice as I’ve pursued a career as a writer. It’s worth mentioning that my ambitions are towards a specific kind of writing: when I was a kid, I used to splay my parents’ Observer across the living room floor each weekend, crawl over the comment pages and think, “I want to be one of you guys.” I want to write columns with my face at the top, and I want to write novels with my face on the dustjacket. Modesty is a rare virtue in writers. You’ll need a sturdy chunk of ego to shoulder the rejection discussed above, and if you don’t get that rejection, your high opinion of yourself will have been confirmed anyway. Sorry. There isn’t really a way round it.
Anyway, the best piece of advice I ever received came from Times columnist David Aaronovitch, who very kindly had a coffee with me and answered all sorts of idiot questions. This was his advice: “Decide who you are, and what you can do that no one else can.” Who you are means fixing on a character for your writing. In all likelihood, that character is going to be a lot like your actual character, because going Stanislavsky every time you sit down to write a column is a bit of a pain in the arse. My character, suggested Aaronovitch, was “warm. An old young-person.” I stopped trying to carry myself like a hardy old cynic, and worked my way into a voice that flowed more naturally from the observations I make.

As for what I can do, I found that a bit trickier. At the time I started working in journalism, I’d bailed out of a stillborn academic career in English literature, and the only thing I thought I knew about was George Eliot. This did not seem like a very promising lens through which to view the world. But it turned out that what I am good at is close reading: looking at words and weaselling out their buried meaning, trying to understand better.
Lots of my most successful columns start from a small noticing that opens up a way of looking at something. It’s not quite as impressive as being an economist or gay dad of a blended surrogate family or something, but it’s my thing and goddammit I can do it. (By the way, when I thanked Aaronovitch for his time, he said, “Well, if you’re a success, I might get some sort of public credit for helping you.” See? Writers: ego-y, in the nicest possible way.)

Get paid
Hurrah! Your brilliant pitch has been picked up by an editor. They’d love you to write it for them, but – oh dear, this is embarrassing – they don’t have the budget to pay you. Would you like to do it for free? After all, you’ll get a byline and a link to your blog, so there’s exposure to be had and you’re building a relationship with an esteemed title.
Let me answer this for you: no, you would not like to work for free. If this title doesn’t have the budget to pay you now, they won’t find the budget to pay you in the future. Remember, if there are ads on a website, someone is making some money from it: if none of that is trickling down to you, you are being had.
There are exceptions, of course. Perhaps you’re not a writer by trade, but a campaigner or a PR hawking something or a person with a TV show to promote: for you, exposure may be recompense enough. Or perhaps you’re a writer at the start of your career, and this unpaid copy is part of a work experience stint in which you’re receiving detailed advice and feedback. That’s OK too. Or you’re writing for a blog rather than a revenue-turning title (but in this case, consider trying your idea on someone who can pay you first).
Don’t let any editor guilt you by saying, “No one really knows how to make money on the internet,” or something similar. It’s not your job to work out how to make money on the internet, it’s their job (or more accurately, their publisher or business manager’s job) – your job is to write, and you should get paid for that. If none of us are getting paid, then we’ll all just have to go and get different jobs, won’t we?
I should add that I have supplied copy without the expectation of payment, once: after publication, when the piece had obviously been quite successful, I went back to the editor and negotiated a fee for the work. I got my money, but it was a dicey strategy and not one I would recommend. If you want to write for a living, you must focus on the making a living part as much as on the writing. If there’s one thing I’d like to impress on young writers more than anything, it’s that.

One more thing
You’re about to embark on one of the most radically sedentary careers known to humanity. Your working day will involve mostly sitting down, with the odd exertion when you need something from the kitchen. For the love of God, before you wake up one day in your mid-20s and realise you’ve become a grey-faced, wheezing beanbag, take up some kind of exercise.

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

To Build A Barrage… Hafren Power and the new Severn Barrage proposal

The much-discussed Severn Barrage is back on the agenda with a new plan by Hafren Power. REM hears what the company has to say about it.

Trina Solar to supply 30MW of solar PV for South African solar projects

The Chinese company Trina Solar has announced that it will supply 30MW of solar PV equipment to Gestamp Solar, a company involved in development and management, for two projects in South Africa.