Freelance Journalist Focus: Simone Castello
Today we talk to Simone Castello, a freelancer who specialises in baby care, nutrition and parenting. While she started out in print, Castello tells us about the pros of digital copywriting and why working from home is a plus.
About your journalism:
What do you write about?
I mainly write about baby care, nutrition and parenting. I used to edit and write about a wider range of subjects but since I had a child and started doing newsletters for the NCT and getting breastfeeding training from another charity I have specialised in family issues. I started volunteering for parenting charities when I was on maternity leave to keep busy and it has totally changed my professional life. I don’t work inhouse anymore and by being a freelance writer I can work from home and still volunteer in my local community.
Where are we likely to see your work?
Since I switched to online copywriting I don’t write many features for print publications anymore. Aside writing web copy, I test children’s products and write features for parenting website MadeforMums, produce the Cambridge NCT newsletter and do some indexing for a local academic publisher. My main client is Strategem a digital marketing and advertising agency based in Ireland. I believe they found me through my website, www.simonecastello.co.uk, which I set up on a shoestring budget around two years ago. So those dull evenings spent learning SEO did pay off. With digital copywriting you don’t see your name in print but the projects run for longer. One website I worked on, plus all the campaign literature, clocked up over 30,000 words.
What’s the most memorable work you’ve done?
I think the most memorable projects I worked on were through volunteering. Throughout my career I have been supporting various charities and I got quite a kick when I raised 10,000 for a youth charity back in 1994. The good causes I support have changed and overall I have found volunteering really fulfilling. Workwise, I think the beginning of my career was quite exciting. I remember finishing my course as a subeditor, sending 300 CVs out and getting booked by Radio Times. Freelancing at BBC Worldwide was a dream come true, so it was working for IPC, Emap and Natmags. As a freelancer I have probably subbed copy at most newsstand magazines, but I really relish the opportunity of working from home. It might be less glamorous but I enjoy the freedom of it.
What interview or feature would you love the chance to do?
I would love writing features on interiors (I love interior/DIY programmes) and travel features. I grew up and was educated in Italy, so aside Italian, I can speak French and a very, very basic German. The idea behind studying foreign languages was to travel around the world, then I got ‘stuck’ in London trying to break into journalism. Interior and especially travel writing are quite competitive so if I have an idea, I will please myself by writing a short feature and uploading it on Suite 101. I also use my blogs to write about what interests me. I love the arts and enjoy crafting.
About you and PRs:
Where do you source ideas for articles?
In most cases I’m commissioned to write an article or web copy, but on occasions I have suggested ideas for features, especially if it’s something I enjoy doing with my child. I have recently tested a child bike seat and I’m planning to write a feature about cycling with children for a magazine. If I’m after a particular product, I’d use Response Source to find a willing PR.
How can PRs be useful to you?
Well, when I was working inhouse, a PR was useful if they provided the information or the product the editor wanted to feature as soon as possible. It’s the same now that I’m working from home, except they have to send their product direct to me rather than to a publication. But I do get more interaction with the PR as I am asked to source pictures, which was previously done by the inhouse picture desk.
How and when do you like them to get in touch?
I’m fine with unsolicited press releases, but sometimes I wonder why they send me certain releases as I don’t test all children’s products or the products are wrong for my daughter’s age. Just a quick peek at my parenting blog would show that my daughter is a preschooler not a tiny baby.
Do you find press conferences, trips, parties and other events useful or an interruption?
Since I moved out of London, I have found myself a bit in a limbo eventswise, especially since I only have partial childcare. I’d love to go to parties and PR presentations…time will tell.
If you could make one change to the way PRs deal with you, what would it be?
If a PR is sending me products that I don’t review, it’s fine if the PR is happy for me just to blog about them, but I can’t do more if the website I work for doesn’t review toiletries or children’s clothes. I have done some reviews on my blog through British Mummy Bloggers and my blogs also carry affiliate marketing links.
How would you pay the bills if you weren’t a journalist?
Teaching Italian (which I did when writing work was scarce), temping in an office (I can touch type pretty fast and have a good phone voice) or working in hospitality (I grew up in a restaurant and did work in a hostel and hotel in London during my holidays when I was a student).
If we gave you £1000, how would you spend it?
A holiday with my partner would be nice. When I’m busy I tend to work at unsociable hours, weekends included. It’s a juggling act involving childcare, volunteering and writing. My partner works really long hours and when he is busy we hardly see each other as I now tend to go to bed early so I can wake up at the crack of dawn to do some work before my little girls gets up. I love being busy, though, I feel down in the dumps if I’m not.
What books are on your bedside table, magazines in your bag, or blogs on your screen?
I love reading fiction. I would have enjoyed working for a book publisher but at the end I got into magazines as the opportunities and day rates were better. I do like good reads, so I either go for quality writers or re-read classics. I occasionally read non-fiction books. I recently enjoyed Stet by Diana Athill, which is about the golden age of book publishing. I bought Sarah Waters’ The Little Stranger and have borrowed Kate Moss’ The Winter Ghosts from the library. My favourite novel of all time is Pride and Prejudice, I used to love Wuthering Heights but I re-read it a few years ago and found it less compelling than when I was 16.