Confessions of an American

...on writing, humour, transformation, modelling/acting, culture and other random musings

New Website, Blog and Podcast . . Check it out!

New Website, Blog and Podcast . . Check it out!

My blog has been in hibernation these last few months.  Yes, I have been busy with my ever-expanding portfolio career but I've also moved my website and blog into one place.  It has a new look,  and I'm finding it much easier to manage. 

I'm keeping this post short but feel free to take a look at my new site at this address (  . . hopefully, it's not as overwhelming as the last one which is the feedback I consistently received!

And a new podcast has come out on Cornucopia Radio.  It's a true short story I wrote about my last year in beauty pageants . . where I felt like a fraud most of the time.

It's called 'Frauds, Hawaiian Bikinis and Mannequins' so, please enjoy a bit of cringey humour.    

Special thanks as well to Sam Radford who helped over months redesign my website and blog. Sam helped with all that super tech stuff I didn't understand, and I'm very grateful. 

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What's New For 2016

The blog has been rather quiet these past few months, and this entry will be short and sweet. I've had numerous projects in my ever-expanding portfolio career - from adverts to commercial shoots to boatloads of voice overs. I'm grateful that it's never dull. A few new things are in the works. I'm in the process having my website revamped and moving my blog over to when it is fully functioning. I'm trying to condense things, combine things and make my life more simplistic in the midst of all that I do.

I'm continuing to expand my career as a voice artist, TV presenter, actor and model BUT I've had a growing itch to go behind the camera more. I have a few relationships with production companies where I have recently been given opportunities to give input . . .it most likely is putting me on a path to start directing and producing in 2016.

One solid development is that I'm expanding my role as the TV presenter for the Sheffield Sharks basketball team.

Presenting for the Sheffield Sharks Basketball Team

Presenting for the Sheffield Sharks Basketball Team

Starting now, I'm the director/producer and will work with a team to develop not only the home game shows but also feature pieces on the players, coaches and basketball. I am really really excited as I can't wait to help educate the British public on the American sport of basketball that is growing in popularity here.

So this blog may be dormant a little while longer until everything is up and running.

My next post that I've been working on is the behind the scenes of a recent music video. Here it is . . And Happy 2016.

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New Post: Voice Artist Career Milestone, Special Thanks & New Demos

Over the past two months, I’ve turned a corner in the world of voice overs. I have a niche as an American in the north of England, a very small niche, but there are opportunities. It’s taken two years of experimenting, taking risks, creating a home studio through trial and error and a few voice artist courses to get where I am today . . . which is recently signing with a voice agent after two years of freelance. Unlike my other job areas of modelling, etc. – I found getting a voice agent to be quite difficult. Microphone with pop shield

After taking a recent course I found out that voice artist agents want to see that you have a USP, you’re reliable, and clients want your voice type. You need a credible CV to be represented and not just ‘a great voice.’


It's interesting that in a particular week when I had numerous freelance VO requests was the one that an agency imitated with me. It felt like a confirmation that I was becoming an established voice artist.  I’m quite excited as having an agent as it will open up some new possibilities with larger clients though I will be able to keep and continue to build my current client base.

I think in any self-employed job, you have people who help you along the way out of kindness. This is been more than the case for me, especially on my limited budget.

It first started with a few people who had a vague connection to the voice industry. One is my friend Philo who lectures in broadcast journalism at a local university. He helped me to record and put to music my first demo. Then I started asking around to get advice on a home studio. A London-based actor friend of mine, Cyd, told me about her set up and passed on all kinds of helpful information about the mic, sound proofing and editing.  It was invaluable advice in the midst of confusing research about home studios.

Next, about a year after my first demo, I got help from two different sound engineers and a friend who works in a production company getting all the kinks out of my home set up. I changed my editing program, got a few tutorials and sound-proofed my studio even further. Until then, I could only do audition-quality work and had to rent out local studios for paid jobs.

voiceartistcopyOver this past year, I have been networking and building up consistent clients with everything from video games, corporate work, beauty infomercials and even radio adverts of clients in Oman (I know . .very random!).

I also discovered a new hobby, and it has become one my favourite things– playing characters in audio dramas as I can record them in my home studio. To date, I have been in a Batman series, Emma Frost in x-men, and I was recently cast as Lana Lang in a Superman series. And lately I’m grateful to Ross with VO Focus, who has helped me produce a higher quality, agency standard demo.


I’m excited about going to new levels with voice work. Below are both my new reels but if you have never heard a voice over reel, it’s good to explain. It demonstrates your versatility with your natural voice. A demo is a montage of the types of things you can do (or work you have done on jobs) in areas of commercial, corporate and narrative (i.e.,. documentaries). It also can highlight very natural accents if you can do them. It will vary from energetic/upbeat, or slow/ sultry to journalistic/newsy.

A character reel is quite different as it shows the different kinds of ‘characters’ you can be showcasing not just accents. It also demonstrates ways you can change your voice – some of my ‘accents’ are parody’s and not true to form accents. A great example of how a character reel is used is when I recently did a video game. They had three characters for me: a good sister, a bad sister and a cat (yes, a cat!). I sent my reel and they requested for the more ‘barbie-like/Disney voice’ for one sister, and a combo of raspy and an annoying California parody voice for the other. I had to meow in various ways for the cat . . . which was not on my reel.  A character reel is mostly for animations/cartoons and video games.

Again - a very special thanks to all the generous people who have helped me along the way.  I hope to do the same for others.

Here are my new reels:

Voice Demo:

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Character Reel:  

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New Post: On Writing - Five Ways I've Used Journalism Skills in Creative Writing

Around this time two years ago I began to apply for a Master's in Creative Writing. In the end, I was accepted on the course but chose to follow my portfolio career. Though I know it would have been a rewarding journey, I figured I could write creatively with or without an MA. But applying for a post-grad reminded why I valued my journalism degree that has proved to be incredibly useful not just in writing but in other areas such as TV presenting, acting and PR. In the process, I scoured my old uni transcript from the early nineties, contacted a former professor and dusted off my CV that brought back memories of the days at uni. We stuck up our noses at the creative writers in the English department - we seemed to be in two different worlds with an unspoken (or sometimes spoken) rivalry. As I perused the classes I had taken, I was grateful for many of the skills I learned as an undergrad that have helped me write creatively today. This includes my first novel, but also short stories, poetry, radio plays and short screenplays.

So here are a few ways I've incorporated the formulaic way of writing (who, what, when, where, how and why with facts and quotes to back it up) into fictional prose.


1) The Power of Observation - As a student journalist, I was always observing my environment while looking for a budding story. In my different roles, I've met street workers in the red light district, basketball players, celebrities, aerial photographers, method actors and more. When I observe, I find endless ideas for characters, stories, and descriptions. To pay heed to my environment means I have fuel for future creative writing.

Peoples minds are changed through observation and not through argument. - Will Rogers


2) Everyone has a story - it just needs to be unlocked.  And I mean everyone. I'm a closet introvert, but I love going to a party or event and sitting down with one person and finding out their story. I think a journalist can ask the deeper questions that cause people to open up and tell their story.  A friend of mine is a broadcast journalist and recently I listened to an interview he did with a musician.  He told me that it was a spontaneous interview and had little time to prepare.  But he is a trained journalist who knows how to draw a story out of a person.  It was a 20-minute interview and in the middle I almost cried as the musician relaxed and began to share vulnerable aspects of his personal life.  I credit it to my journalist friend who had 'unlocked' the story through his open-ended questions and really listening to the musician as his story unfolded.everyone-has-a-story-to-tell-final-copyppt-1210900512040492-9-thumbnail-4


3) Ask the deeper, unexpected questions. I think this comes from learning how to unlock someone's story, I also think it comes from experience of what I would like people to ask me. For example, I couple I know came back from a two month trip to India. The first question I asked was, 'So tell me your 2-minute version of your highlights of the trip.' This, of course, led to TONS of other questions, and I think they shared things that they hadn't even thought about.  The obvious question would be 'how was your trip? that would probably elicit a rehearsed answer.  But I want vulnerability and colourful descriptions . . .which is what I got.

I don't think there are any rude questions.   - Helen Thomas

(* I agree with the quote above, I think rudeness is on HOW you ask, not what you ask).



4) Use Economical Words and AVOID Flowery Language - How many books bore you when you read a spew of synonyms? I think that young adult novels have learned to avoid this trap. A sentence or paragraph is there to make a point, not a melodrama. In journalism, you HAVE to get to the point quickly because of space issues, and the end of your story could be chopped. Today, with lower attention spans or social media word count constraints, being economical with your word choice is key. I believe people want to read your content. And unless you are trying to make a point, flowery language is only a stumbling block in things like radio or screenplays . . .in most things really.

5) Fact Collecting & Research - It has been said to 'write what you know'. And I agree but I think that you can also research in this age of easily 'googling' a subject. I remember one of my writing groups several years ago where a woman had researched numerous ways you could murder someone without leaving a trace. She chatted with forensics experts and even visited a morgue. In class, she explained why some crime authors were inaccurate in their murder descriptions (let's just say this was a fascinating but rather morbid class). We have the power of the internet at our fingertips; I can look what someone's house might look like in Canada just by pushing a few buttons on Google Maps. And I can find out more facts than I care to know about practically any subject on the planet. But don't rely on google.  An author I read about recalled when she wanted a character in her book who was an avid gardener.  She spent the day with a friend who loved to garden, and wrote down her observations which in the end led to a very believable character in her book.

So in all, I am incredibly thankful for my journalism degree. They are skills that I've learned not just for journalism-related jobs such as PR (by the way 'brand journalism' is now one of the hip terms to use instead of PR) but also in my creative writing.

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An American in the UK - Applying for Permanent Residency and the CHALLENGING test

The last few months I've been travelling with various jobs, but most of my extra time has been spent gearing up for applying for permanent residency in the UK as a family. As of the end of June, we will have been here a decade in Sheffield. My son was three months and my daughter two years old when we moved, and though I haven't lost my accent, they have British ones. This is our home. So despite the effort, cost and stress, it's worth it to go through the arduous application process. I've had American friends joke about moving to the UK, but visas are not easy to obtain and even when you get them, it is a huge expense. Because my husband went through a full Masters then Ph.D., we were on student visas before work visas which meant we had to wait a full ten years before applying. We have also had to apply every 2-3 years for new visas for my family of four which is full of challenging paperwork, visiting government agencies for small interviews and paying large amounts of money.

For a non-EU citizen, permanent residency means that 'there are no longer any immigration related restrictions on the work or business you may do in the UK and no time limits on your stay in the UK.' YIPPEE!!!!

Permanent residency is what we have been holding out for but before we can receive it we have to jump through numerous hoops:

1) Prove we are proficient in the English language;

2) Take the 'Life in UK' test;

2) Pay about several 1,000's of £££;

4) Fill in (without error) a 30 page application PER family member . . .120 total to fill out;

5) Apply through the post along with sending our passports (meaning we can't leave the UK);

6) Apply for a biometrics card (our personalised ID); and

7) Wait up to six months before hopefully getting full approval.

So here are the positives:

My kids don't have to do anything until number 6 when they will come along with us to an appointment. Both of us have higher education degrees that prove we know English so we can skip number one. We have had a few people be REALLY AMAZING and give our family financial gifts to help contribute to the cost. I am learning more than I ever wanted to know about England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.


Everything else.

It's still going to be a lot of money, AND we may not be able to leave the country for six whole months. That's challenging if you think about friends getting married or a family crisis back in the States. The paperwork is tedious. But what most of my mental energy is going towards these days is the test I take tomorrow.

It's hard. Not because the information is all that challenging but rather you have a book, and you have to 'know' all of it. It's not just a huge summary since the Iron age of UK history; it's also current politics, landmarks, notable personalities throughout history along with things like the judicial system. Again, you could be tested on anything in the 24 multiple choice question test. Even very small details. Speaking of the judicial system - here is a sample paragraph from the book just to give you an idea (FYI - I'm typing this out because it is helping me learn it!):

'In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, most minor criminal cases are dealt with in a Magistrates' Court. In Scotland, minor criminal offences go to a Justice of the Peace Court.

Magistrates and Justices of the Peace are members of the local community. In England, Wales and Scotland they usually work unpaid and do not need legal qualifications. . . . In Northern Ireland, cases are heard by a District Judge or Deputy District Judge, who is legally qualified and paid. In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, serious offences are tried in front of a judge and a jury in Crown Court. In Scotland, serious cases are heard in a Sheriff Court with either a sheriff or a sheriff with a jury. In most serious cases in Scotland, such as murder, are heard at a High Court with a judge and jury . . . ' p. 144-146 'Life In the United Kingdom: A Guide for New Residents'

AND IT goes on and on about youth courts, civil courts, and all the judicial system differences in parts of the UK. Bored yet? Stressed maybe (aren't you glad you don't have to take it)? There are so many combinations of questions that can happen in that one paragraph alone. Here is an example from the practice test book:

Which two courts deal with minor criminal cases in the UK?

A) Justice of the Peace Court

B) Centre Court

C) Crown Court

D) Magistrates' Court


Now that was probably rather easy because you just read the information.  BUT times that info by about 200 and you have what you can be tested on.  Its not easy to remember the details.

So follow it with another question and it gets confusing:

Which court would you use to get money back that was owed you?

A) County Court

B) Magistrates' Court

C) Youth Court

D) Coroner's Court

(Answer is A)


Which of the following statements is correct?

A) Magistrates usually work unpaid and do not legal qualifications

B) Magistrates must be specifically trained legal experts who have been solicitors for three years.

(Answer is A in England, Wales and Scotland but remember in Northern Ireland they are called District Judge or Deputy District Judge and are qualified/paid.)


Anyhow, all this to say tomorrow is a big deal for me and my husband (he has a Ph.D. and even he is stressed with the amount of information). We can miss 6 out of 24 and still pass.

There are a guaranteed 2-3 pretty easy ones like 'What is the day after 25 December?' Answer: Boxing Day. BUT most will be nitty-gritty details that we could be quizzed on. It is timed and on a monitored computer system at a test centre. I've studied tons for this test, so please remember me this Wednesday, prayers and thoughts are much appreciated.

Below are links to a few you tube videos that give examples of questions (even the hard ones) on the test.

Please enjoy!


Life In UK test Practice Questions 

Life In the UK test hard Questions 2

Life In the UK test hard Questions 3.  


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Becoming A Voice Artist and My New Podcast with Cornucopia Radio

Becoming A Voice Artist and My New Podcast with Cornucopia Radio

I'm a voice artist, and it's probably one of my favourite things I do in my portfolio career.  I've done this for the last 18 months in everything from short films, audio dramas and video games to corporate scripts, adverts and animations.  You don't have to memorize lines though you do need to know how to read and feel a character (or the product/idea) in a script.  You also shouldn't quit your day job as voice work isn't consistent work, though you can do a lot of it at night from a home studio if you have one. Many people have the misconception that all voice over actors must have that “unforgettable” vocal quality such as the famous movie trailer deep booming voice of  *cue cinematic scenes* ‘In a world . . .’ This isn't the case.

Voice-over actors, or artists as I prefer to call them, have a wide array of talents and vocal types. Though my natural accent is American neutral, I also do various other American accents as well as character ones such a nasal baby animal or Barbie-like irritating voices for my various jobs and auditions. Just as different types of actors are needed, it is also true for voice-over artists.

So here are a few tips if you want to get started as a voice actor:

1) Find a company where you can get training and advice. . . even if it’s just a day workshop.  Voice acting is different to acting in the sense that you have to convey EVERYTHING through your voice.  In my voice work, I have been warm and smiley with authority to angry with a bit a sultry edge and everything in between. I spent invaluable time with a company in London getting helpful hints, coaching and feedback. This training has helped me with larger jobs where I work with engineers and directors on different projects.  It also helped me get started with demos, equipment and how to pursue voice over jobs.

2) You need a basic home studio at least for auditions.  For larger work, the client will always want you to work with them, their preferred studio and engineer but for smaller jobs or auditions, you need an audition quality studio.  I did a lot of research on a good but not too expensive kit that comprises of a mic, a stand, a good sound editing programme and sound proofing.

3) You need to learn basic sound editing.  Whether you are submitting an audition or a small job, you need to learn how to record and edit your work.  It ALWAYS takes me several takes even if it’s just a few lines.  And usually the client wants several takes to hear different styles and ways you have said a statement.  In the midst of this the phone rings, or you sneeze, or you fumble over the lines, so you need to learn how to edit and create a clean recording.  I learned from a sound engineer the basics.  And though I feel confident in the basics, I will probably take a course in the future on more complex sound editing.

4) Build up the CV by doing a few freebies but then only do freebies if it will benefit you.  I needed to get ‘out there’. I now have a CV, agents and do paid jobs.  However, because I have a home studio, I do audio dramas as a hobby.  The audio dramas help me practice various characters and accents, but I found it was something I enjoyed consistently.

5) You don't have to have an agent to get started, but you do need an online presence.  I found it a challenge getting a specific voice agent (as opposed to my modelling agents where I have one per region) because I'm not based in London.  However, I am on several freelance voice sites, registered with a few production companies, and I have a website. I have been ‘scouted’ through these sites along with LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook, especially as there aren't that many American voice artists in the North of England.  voice artist2

These are just a few tips, but I think my overall advice is do what you love.  I love writing, and I love voice work, and an opportunity recently came along through Cornucopia Radio, an audio drama company.  It was a no-brainer as they wanted me to narrate personal stories (I wrote and narrated ‘Bits and Bobs’, a personal short story with them) and they would produce it as a podcast.  So far, we have done two short pieces together but I am looking forward to what is going to evolve out of it.

So have a listen to the launch of the ‘Jeannie McGinnis Podcast’ here!

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20 Things You May Not Know About Commercial Modelling

It has been a year and a half since signed with my first modelling agent here in the UK. I stumbled into all this after being scouted . . . in my 40s. Though I had some experience as I modelled in my teens with pageants and a department store, crowns and ball gowns are a far cry from working with agencies and clients across the country.And as a middle-aged woman and mum, I honestly associated modelling with fashion, catwalks and . . anorexic/moody 17-year-olds - a stereotype and prejudice that I've discovered many others have unfortunately as well. Maybe it was my journalism background, or maybe because I had no clue what I was getting into, every time I had a job with another model,  I asked as many questions as I could. I found a lot of commonality with those over 25 in this field. I can't comment for those under 25, especially those involved in fashion/editorial modelling as from what I have noticed it is very competitive and only a few are really successful.

This post is more for the commercial model. I wrote two blog posts (Becoming A Classic Model part 1) and (Becoming a Classic Model part 2) about this last year, but I wanted to continue to dispel misconceptions a paint a clearer picture of what modelling is really like. Here are 20 things you may or may not know about commercial modelling. . .

1) Commercial models primarily are trying to represent normal people who have a great smile and a warm 'look' to them. We do not have the moody catwalk model expressions. Clients hire models to help promote their products or services such as phones, holidays, furniture, and more. In the majority of my model jobs, I look mumsy or corporate, with a cup of tea, reading a magazine on a sofa, chair or outdoor patio set.


2) Modelling, in general, is NOT glamorous. The final product looks polished and great, but this is after you have taken 200 pictures. Often it's a shoot outside when it's cold (pretending it is warm and sunny, but actually you are turning purple) and you are wearing shorts in February for a Spring ad. I have had to contort into odd positions to 'look natural', had my hair and make-up done for photos that I would never, ever wear to create an effect on camera. No, it's sooo not glamorous.

3) I wasn't exaggerating that you take 200 pictures. I can take bad pictures, but also there is the issue when you model something, your feet need to look right, your smile not too gummy, your jewellery needs to be sitting correctly, etc. Out of 200 you may have 50 great pictures but usually there are only about five that capture an emotion or look that you are really going for during a shoot.behindthescenes3





4) If you begin to pursue a modelling career, like any business, there is an investment phase. The investment includes driving to meet agents, going to numerous castings (that you don't get), creating and updating portfolios, along with signing up to essential sites that casting directors and clients can use. All of this adds up. After a year and a half, I finally feel like (in the modelling area), the income is greater than the expenses.

5) To get bigger, well-paid jobs you have an agent. I do freelance work, but if I want a good job with well-known clients, my agent searches those out. I highly advise an agent if you want to be an established model. But beware as a model because there are A LOT of scams out there (especially with children's modelling), and you need to find out the reputable agents before applying.

6) To be full-time in the UK as a model, you have numerous agents but only one per region. Every city has a different client pool, but you don't want separate agents submitting you for the same job, so you keep them spread out. All my agents are non-exclusive but you stick to having one per geographical area.

7) Your portfolio needs to represent the type of work you want to get. As a 40+ mum of two, I'm not going to do swimwear (I don't want to) unless I'm a mum with kids with most of me underneath the water in a pool. I have beauty shots, but agents have told me that a client wants to see you in the environment. My jobs are adverts/stills/videos for sofas, patio furniture, phones, etc. - so my portfolio reflects that.jeanniehighvis

Photographer Chris Rout - OK, so I don't own the high vis gear :) but everything you see me wearing I do own.


8) Most clothes you see on adverts unless its a particular fashion brand, are the model's own clothes, and you have to have an EXTENSIVE wardrobe. I have evening wear, business suits, neutral coloured clothing, pastels, and lots of white tops and beige trousers among other items. Every brief is different, and I always have to bring a ‘selection' that the client chooses. For example, in the last few weeks I had a job that required only light neutral coloured clothing followed by two filming jobs where I was in smart business attire that was mostly darker clothing. The following week I needed outdoor wear such as coats, gloves, boots and then several options of each. For all the jobs, I had to have a selection to show costume/the client or photographer, and they made the selections.

9) One of my secrets (and many other models I know do the same) is that I scour charity/second-hand shops for clothing additions. My wardrobe is probably 20 times the size it was before I started modelling as part of my career (and I've never been a huge fan of shopping). Most of what I buy are things I wouldn't wear normally like pastels or lots of beiges though I have to admit, I have expanded to different colours and styles into my everyday wear. At the beginning of the year, I had a 'colour' consultation and discovered what colours look great on me and what drains my colouring. Before last year, I would have never realised that 'rust' would be one of my best colours.

10) There is a tremendous amount of driving or train rides unless you live in London (and then you are probably on the tube all the time). In August, I had a week where I was in a different city every day for a job. In a usual week in higher model seasons, I travel at least twice a week to another city. If I'm lucky, it's only an hour but it is normal to drive 2-3 hours for a shoot.


11) Most commercial modelling jobs are what I call 'bread and butter' shoots. The large, lucrativeones are few and far between. These are a typical day rate (or half day) plus travel and can range from a corporate video to photographic stills for a brochure or online. These usually don't require a casting and are booked directly by your agent. I appreciate these types of jobs.


12) You have to attend out-of-town castings for larger jobs that are usually commercials or very big, well-known clients. So much can be done with photo editing, and casting directors/want to make sure you are the right person with the look they want for that particular campaign to represent their company. BUT If you want a larger job, you have to go to the castings (if you can) even if you chance is slim. The UK is not that big, and even if you weren't right for one job, the casting director or the production agency might remember you for another one.


13) The percentage of castings you attend and then actually landing the jobs is small. I don't want to put a figure on this, but many models have said 1 out of 10-15, but then they might get 4 in a row. There is no formula or way to predict. However, you have to get out there and show up to have results.

14) It is normal to travel 2-3 hours at stupid o'clock in the morning to get to a job. In November, I had a job with a pram/pushchair aka stroller company in the middle of London. I was picked up by the production company at 3 am to be in central London before traffic hit. They told me to bring a pillow since I wasn't driving so I could nap (which didn't happen *yawn*). The job lasted most of the day, and we headed back right before the London afternoon traffic. If you are not staying overnight somewhere before a job, you have to learn when to avoid the traffic that can make your drive twice as long and WAY more stressful.



15) Every agent operates differently; you have to learn how to work with each one. Some are high tech with online calendars, some phone, some email, others text. Overall, you need to be very organised, highly professional and have a good work ethic to continue to work with your agents.

16) The ‘all models are anorexic' is not true. Of course, there are exceptions but that is not the norm in the commercial model world. I get asked this a lot because I'm this industry, but commercial models are normal fit and healthy people. I have to say here that it makes me sad that this is a huge assumption from those outside the industry. Healthy and fit is the key, not a specific dress size.

17) Another misconception is that those in the modelling industry are ‘full of themselves' and it's all about how they look'. Again, I think the younger ones can fall into this trap, but most older ones I've met have been weathered by life and know that self-centered egotism gets you nowhere. I know that when I get home from a shoot, I make dinner, fold laundry, tidy the lounge, put my kids to bed and all those other things that make up life. I also know my 'flaws' and well, not much I can do about them, so I've learned to be content.

18) I've been asked if I have a ‘shelf life' as a model. I found the opposite is true. Most of the models I've worked with who are over 50 have gotten more work. There is a huge market for those who have grey hair and a nice smile. My favourite was when I worked with a 77-year-old who had been a model since 1968. He said he had more work after he turned 60 then he had most of his career combined.

19) Here is another misconception: The modelling world is full of dodgy/shady people. Again, there are always exceptions but all the individuals I've met in the industry are normal people with families trying to earn a living. This includes not only the models, but the photographers, make-up artists, production companies, as well as the clients. I spend all day with individuals when I am on a job, and I have met some amazing people who have done extraordinary things with their lives.

20) Commercial models usually have one other job that is fairly flexible. There are also busier seasons for modelling and not busy seasons such as the end of December through January. I have colleagues who are lawyers, real estate agents, artists, painter/decorators, truck drivers (really!), etc. I found this also to be true in the acting world as well. The key is having something that pays the bills in low weeks and is flexible when you are busy with castings and bookings. I'm grateful to have a diverse career in voiceovers, TV presenting, journalism and PR all under the banner of media.

I enjoy my career as a model, despite the prejudices and misconceptions. But if you want to be a commercial model and make a viable income, don't quit your day job . . .just have a flexible one.





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On Writing - Detours on the Publishing Journey and Six Tips On Writing

At the end of 2014, I was interviewed for almost an hour on a local radio show.  The subject was my journey of writing and pursuing publishing with my novel, 'Beauty Pageants to Brothels'.  I write journalistic pieces, blogs, corporate scripts, radio plays, short stories and various other things but I have found over the last few years that when I tell people I'm a writer I'm often asked how to go about writing a book. So in this blog entry I want to go through my journey of writing a novel, hopefully a few tips and then give an update on where I am at with publishing.

I studied journalism back in the mid-90s which gave me a foundation for writing.  Until about 5 years ago, I saw myself as more of a 'journalist', someone who could interview, ask probing questions, and report the facts, versus being a writer.  In fact, back at university there was an ongoing snobbery between creative writers and journalists.

When I joined a local writer's group 5 years ago I knew I wanted to write a book.  But don't most of us want to 'write a book'?  I think it's a huge desire, but getting from point A to actually writing a flippin' entire book takes a long time and a lot of perseverance.  Much longer than anyone realises.  So I started, and not really intentionally, with a short story under 2000 words.  I needed to get out what was in me and then have a completion point.  I put the novel idea aside, and thought 'if I can write something people may enjoy then I have a shot at writing a book.'

My first short story was on a funny experience I had in my pageant days and was well received by the (very Yorkshire British) writing group (they thought it was hilarious),  which was motivation enough to keep going.  So week after week I wrote a new short story on various true narratives ranging from pageant life and university wild days to the challenges of motherhood, and living as an American in England to my then current work with helping women exit the prostitution lifestyle.  After about two years I put them all together and called it a novel, but really it was a collection of short stories that each had a beginning and an end.  So for two more years I edited, I got feedback, and I created a fictional subplot of a writing group that added conflict.  In that process, I took novel-writing classes, changed (and eventually left the writing groups) and had others edit the manuscript.  So in the Autumn of 2013, I researched and sent it off to about three agents.  I also had a small publisher (a contact through a friend of mine) who was interested.


First came the three rejection letters, which were all complimentary, but my novel wasn't suitable to what they wanted.  JK Rowling apparently was rejected by 12 agents, Anne Frank's The Diary of A Young Girl 15 times, and William Golding's 'Lord of the Flies' had 20 rejections, so I had no need to throw a pity party.

But after rejections, it always begs the honest questions, 'is this rubbish? or 'is this worth it?'  The small publisher had only read a few chapters and passed it to his editor at the beginning of 2014, so I waited even longer.  In fact, I did not hear a final word until July 2014.  In that time, I honestly put the book on the electronic shelf and began to let it collect dust.  When I finally heard, it was a gracious, 'we really like it as a story, but it will take a lot of work to make into a novel as it feels like a collection of short stories.  We don't have the current resources to do that so it would be best for you to pursue someone else.'  Hmmm . . .

During this time of waiting, I picked up my journalism hat again and started writing for an online magazine.  I also started writing scripts after a screenwriting class and began a PR job.  After last summer, I honestly thought I would just turn the thing into a screenplay and forget the novel idea.  It's been said your first novel is just practice and probably won't be published.  So this is what I resolved and with my new career in modelling, TV presenting, PR, etc.  I didn't think I had time.

Photographer Chris Rout

But at the end of 2014, another publisher had heard about the manuscript and asked for a copy.  It was out of the blue and when I sent it off, I knew I wanted to change it dramatically (but I let them read the original with that disclaimer).  This resulted in an offer to publish IF I did a major overhaul.  The biggest feedback was that it felt more like a string of short stories (which it was), that I needed to get rid of the subplot and develop a few more key areas of the characters life.  The hoped-for result would be a novel, based on a true story, written in first person.

We have a few deadlines for the book, the first 20,000 words of the rewrite is due mid February and at this point I'm at about 14,000  . . . as raw copy.

And even though I haven't published, I have learned a few things from others about how to go about writing a book:

1) Write a little consistently.

Exercise the writing muscle every day, even if it is only a letter, notes, a title list, a character sketch, a journal entry. Writers are like dancers, like athletes. Without that exercise, the muscles seize up. - Jane Yolen

2) Have someone or a group who can encourage and give honest feedback.  It helps motivate you when the last thing you want to do is start writing.  I started with writing groups, and now have a writing accountability partner.

3) An author friend of mine gave me a valuable piece of advice:  'When you are writing something at length, don't ever finish it.  That way you have something to pick up the next day.'  I found this incredibly helpful in preventing writers block.

4) Let your first draft be your 'vomit draft' where you don't worry about edits or perfection, but rather you get the ideas out.  It takes the pressure off and helps creativity flow.

5) Remember to 'murder your darlings', a phrase coined by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch.  It means to be ruthless with all those bits that you think are great pieces of writing but REALLY just get in the way.  Usually it pops up in the form of pet phrases or descriptions that you use (where you think you have been clever).  Be ruthless and get rid of these hindrances.

6) Don't start with a novel if you are just beginning as a writer.  Start small such as flash fiction, a poem, or a short story.  It is very satisfying and builds your confidence when you finish something.  A novel is like running a marathon and takes training, time, effort, planning and many other factors . . .so build up your confidence with more attainable goals.

So here's to a new year and a new novel! *said with a bit of fear, a bit of excitement mixed with a little nausea*.  Despite the setbacks with the novel, I feel it has matured me as a writer which is better than releasing a half-baked novel that I would later regret.

What about you?  How do you 'exercise' your writing skills?  I'd love to hear.

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The Rare Pumpkin Pie in the UK and The Benefits of Giving Thanks

Since I moved to the UK in 2005 with my two kids and husband its taken time to adapt to the British culture with how they do certain holidays,  but many things I've embraced as my own.  Honestly there is very little in the way of traditions that I've kept from the States.  However, one holiday I have continued to celebrate in England is the American tradition of Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving falls on the 4th Thursday of November, but because it’s not a day off in the UK, I usually have a celebration meal on a weekend since it is quite the feast.  We also have made it more of an occasion to introduce British friends to classic foods such as sweet potato casserole, corn bread stuffing, green bean casserole and my favourite, pumpkin pie.

pumpkin pie

This past Sunday we invited three other families and gave each the challenge of making at least one American dish.  I was rather impressed with their versions and resourcefulness because the UK lacks of some ingredients that are common place back in the US. Of course, pumpkin pie was on the top of the list.  Apparently, like it normally is for me, it was an ordeal for the friend who made the pie to actually find pumpkin.  She searched numerous grocery stores and ended up reserving 1 of 6 cans in city centre store.  I have a feeling the other cans were for expats who live here as well.

From my earliest of memories of celebrating Thanksgiving, my family always had a pumpkin pie.   I think a well-made pumpkin pie has a very fresh and healthy taste with a dash of seasonal flavours such as nutmeg or cinnamon.  It was and still is a much-loved dessert.

Since no Thanksgiving is complete without the pumpkin pie, I searched all across the UK to find tinned pumpkin right after the international move almost a decade ago.  I ended up asking my mother to pack her bags with the prized commodity when she came to visit that first Thanksgiving.  I think she brought over three huge tins.  The following year I was left to try to find it on my own.  In desperation, I made a terrible attempt of getting the pulp from an actual pumpkin creating more of a disaster on my hands than a success.  So I ended up buying about 20 jars of pureed pumpkin baby food.  Let’s just say that when a friend found a tin at a more upscale supermarket, I think I bought every last can they had – this is the same store where one my friend had reserved a can for last Sunday’s spread.  These days it is a little more readily available, and I’m grateful I can still make a version of my favourite dessert here in the UK.canned pumpkin


But Thanksgiving is more than just a feast, it’s a great time to reflect on the year, and tell the things we are grateful for in our lives.  One of the things my husband and I do with the kids is go around the table and recount what we have been blessed with, with the opportunities we have been given, and then also for things we are grateful for in each other (sometimes a bit of challenge for siblings!).   To me, Thanksgiving is exactly what the name is:  a time to give thanks.

When we are thankful, something amazing happens:  our muscles relax, we find ourselves smiling and enjoying the moment and then our perspective on life starts to change as we take time to be grateful.  I love celebrating Thanksgiving once a year but I hope to take time to be grateful every day.

This week I’m in both the local paper and radio on Thanksgiving as an American in the UK.  It’s giving me an opportunity to see why it is important to be thankful.  As I did research, I actually discovered that there is a whole science behind gratitude, thankfulness and appreciation because there are so many personal benefits.

In article published a few years ago, journalist John Tierny summed up the personal benefits well.  ‘Cultivating an “attitude of gratitude” has been linked to better health, sounder sleepless anxiety and depression, higher long-term satisfaction with life and kinder behaviour toward others, including romantic partners. A new study shows that feeling grateful makes people less likely to turn aggressive when provoked . . . .’

I would describe myself as a realistic optimistic.  Maybe because of all my travels ranging from the jungles of Mexico to ice lakes in Siberia, or maybe because I work with surviviours of human trafficking, I always take the stance that life is all about your perspective.

For example, I’m FREQUENTLY asked why I stay in the UK when it is cold and rainy half the year and why I call the UK home.  Bottom line is that I love the culture, the people, and yes, even the weather (for the most part, I’m a realistic optimist not just an optimist.)  Well, when half the year in Texas you can’t even stay outside without the fear of turning into a sweat ball or worse having a heat stroke, a little rain is nice.  I, in fact, enjoy the weather because I prefer that over sweaty armpits any day.  But I’m not going to grumble and complain in either because it could always be worse (African deserts for example).  I try to be grateful where I am because whinging about it never helped anyone and it certainly doesn’t change things.

I am working on cultivating more of the practice of gratefulness as a lifestyle – the biggest reason is because personally I want to be a joy-filled person who enjoys life.  One of my favourite authors, Brene Brown says,

“We're a nation hungry for more joy: Because we're starving from a lack of gratitude.”

When I take time to be grateful, not only does my perspective change, I change.  That disquiet I feel sometimes or frustration that I didn’t do enough, sleep enough, and all those other ‘not enoughs’ calms down and my soul feels more at rest.AV1C8169

So whether you celebrate the US holiday of Thanksgiving or not, my challenge to you and myself is to experiment.   Make an extra effort through the month of December, one of the more stressful months of the year,  to daily make the habit of taking time to appreciate, be grateful and give thanks.  And then let me know how it goes!





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On Health: My Journey To Overcoming A Caffeine Addiction

At the end of the summer, I realised I’d become an addict.  Three to four cups of coffee a day, interspersed with a few cups of tea, and I noticed that I was easily prone to headaches if I didn't drink my caffeine.  I don’t like having addictions for numerous reasons, but as I'm on the quest have a healthier lifestyle, I knew something had to be done.  Cutting cold turkey in my busy lifestyle of a mum and business woman, sounded miserable and it was not an option. So I made a plan.  I looked at the next two months and decided that by the end of it I would go caffeine free for several weeks before introducing it again with only 1 cup a day here and there.  Of course, I normally drink water and herbal teas on top of my caffeine intake so I made a choice to increase this as well.

Week 1 – I invested in quality decaffeinated coffee and tea.  At home I made a coffee mixture of half caffeine and half decaffeinated and switched to this.  I didn’t worry about it if I was out at work or social situations, but that first week, my three cups of coffee were now a mixture except for one normal coffee in the day.  I did the same with tea and by the end of week one, I replaced half my tea with decaf or herbal tea.

Week 2 – I was really busy this week with travel so I stuck with week 1’s plan but when I was out, I ordered herbal teas instead of coffee.  It was hard.  I love my coffee and being in a Starbucks or Costas just doesn't feel right without ordering a real coffee.  But I stuck to it trading peppermint for the Americano.  I had a few mild headaches that week but it could have been hormones, stress or caffeine?  I wasn't sure.

Week 3 – I'm pretty bothered that I'm THAT dependant on caffeine so I got a bit more rigorous this week.  For some reason, decaf tea tastes the same but decaf coffee doesn't.  So I replaced all tea with decaffeinated options.  My coffee was still half and half except for one cup a day.  By the end of week 3, I was down to the equivalent of two cups of caffeine a day.

Week 4 – I still didn't have the gumption to fully cut out caffeine – I realised it wasn’t the hot drink that felt comforting, but rather the thought that if I felt dragging or sleepy, my coffee would ‘wake’ me up.  Hmmm.  So this week I managed to do all decaf except for one cup of coffee a day.   It was good to see that long term this would be my goal:  1-2 cups a day but not every day.  I think my biggest battle is psychological.

Week 5 – I needed to take the plunge but do it slowly.  I decided before fully leaving caffeine for a few weeks I would  a) make sure when I’m completely free I would have at least three low-key days just in case I had side effects and b) I was drinking more water than normal. This week I stuck to one full cup of coffee with full caffeine but replaced several hot drinks with hot water.  It was a bit weird at first, and I was in several situations where others thought I was weird - until I said I was detoxing, and then they thought I was cool.  Sort of.  Week 6 was my new goal for being free from caffeine as I knew I had a long weekend where I could relax and drink extra water to flush out my system.

Week 6 – The first part of this week honestly was rough.  For two days my joints ached and I had headaches, including two migraines.  I definitely used ibuprofen.   This is after I had spent  the last six weeks avoiding withdrawal symptoms.  I'm not sure if all my symptoms where from having no caffeine but I was determined to stick it out.  By day four of being fully free, including no decaf tea or coffee just in case there were traces because I had heard a rumour, I was starting to feel better.  I had more energy and most of all I was very proud of myself for making it through.  My goal was two full weeks of NO CAFFEINE before introducing it in small amounts.

Two months later and I drink a lot more water than I ever have before, either plain, hot or as an herbal tea.  I try to stick to only one coffee a day and one tea, but less if I can.  To be honest, it’s more the social/work situations that tempt me versus being at home as sometimes that can be the only option for a hot beverage when I am out.  But the result is that I don’t have the dependence, and I feel less fatigued than I did from before I got free from my addiction.  It was quite the journey breaking a habit that formed over 10 years since my being pregnant with my son, but I am really glad I persevered.


I’d love to hear others thoughts on their experiences from caffeine addiction to freedom!

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