Focus interview with freelance journalist Louise Bolotin

Louise Bolotin is a freelance journalist and author. She writes on finance and technology, sex, food and disabilities. Her work has appeared in the Guardian as well as Skin Two and she’s just released a new book on living with epilepsy.

This week FeaturesExec caught up with Bolotin to discuss her work, targeting press releases and how she’s proved her mentor wrong.

About your journalism:

What do you write about?
Mainly finance, technology, alternative sexualities and fetishes, and disability issues, but I also enjoy writing about food and sustainability issues. I’m very versatile. I started off writing about music and have since covered everything from TV reviews to war crimes via commodities, the collapse of communism and consumer rights.

Where are we likely to see your work?
Lately, not many places, as I’ve spent the last few months writing a book, plus I’ve been under contract to a major publishing house to write about finance for another book which is coming out in the autumn. I think I’ve sold only two features so far this year! The Guardian’s a regular outlet for me, as well as Skin Two, the fetish magazine, which I also commission for, but in the last couple of years I’ve also been published in Green Consumer, Fabulous, Candis, among other places.

Tell us about your book:
My book is called Epilepsy The Essential Guide and is out now. It’s a self-guide for people living with epilepsy. I have epilepsy myself and it’s had an inevitable impact on how I work, as well as turning me on to writing about disability issues. I like to think I’m living proof that it’s possible to continue working at a fulfilling career and living a full life, despite having epilepsy, although it can be challenging at times.

What’s the most memorable work you’ve done?
I hope it will be my book, simply because it will help a lot of people manage their epilepsy better and improve their lives. I reported on the Paul Touvier trial for an international magazine (Touvier was a French war criminal, second in command to Klaus Barbie in Lyon, and he sent many Jews to their deaths). I sat through 6 weeks of harrowing evidence but justice was finally done and it was a story I was proud to help tell outside France.

About you and PRs:

Where do you source ideas for articles?
I get ideas from absolutely everywhere, but mainly just from talking to people. Chance conversations with casual acquaintances in the pub often spark something useful. It’s the randomness of that I like, plus the fact the trigger for an idea is often something that really affects people in some way or other. I’m also getting great ideas from Twitter conversations with total strangers. It’s so important we listen to people and Twitter is incredibly useful for talking to people you’d never otherwise have the opportunity to chat to.

How can PRs be useful to you?
By not sending me press releases that appear to be personal but have, in fact, been sent to lots of other journos. Likewise, not sending me unsolicited attachments or ringing me to ask if I’ve received their release!

How and when do you like them to get in touch?
Email preferably and then I’m happy to chat on the phone if there’s something we can work on together.

Do you find press conferences, trips, parties and other events useful or an interruption?
It depends. I rarely go to press junkets but I think that’s because a lot of them are irrelevant to me. They are definitely useful for networking but I’d like to see more stuff happening outside London instead of PRs assuming we’re all in the capital and all available at very short notice.

If you could make one change to the way PRs deal with you, what would it be?
Please target journalists properly. I get really fed up being contacted randomly (for which read bombarded with irrelevant press releases) by PRs who don’t do their homework and make the effort to find out what sort of stories I’m interested in. Sending me blah about music festivals when I stopped writing about music 25 years ago is only going to put my back up.

About you:

How would you pay the bills if you weren’t a journalist?
I have no idea as I’ve done nothing else since I left school at 16. I’m probably unemployable! Actually, I have a portfolio career and I earn a steady living as a copy-editor specializing in investment banking – I work on books and also for several overseas investment banks who trade in the UK.

If we gave you £1000, how would you spend it?
I have no idea! On books and music probably, but I’m the type that doesn’t really consume so I’d struggle to blow it all in one go. Maybe on a bar tab for me and all my freelance colleagues in Manchester…

What’s the best advice anyone ever gave you?
Someone once told me when I was still a 17-year-old trainee that I’d never make it, was a terrible writer and should give up now. It just made me more determined and 30 years later, I’m still here and feeling ever so slightly smug. I’ve no idea what happened to my “mentor”.

What books are on your bedside table, magazines in your bag, or blogs on your screen?
I’m currently reading Nick Davies’ Flat Earth News, which is a must for anyone in the trade. I usually have several books on the go, so I’m also reading a whodunnit and the history of Penguin Books, plus skimming a pile of porn novels, which is actually work (honest!) as I’m reviewing them for Skin Two.
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