The Accessible Voice: Dave Williams’ Aspirational Advice for Journalists

Perhaps it’s his Northern Twang or the way he speaks as if he’s really thought about what he’s going to say – in any case, journalist Dave Williams has one of those voices that radiates warmth. I first met Dave last year, when he came to interview me for his recent venture, Braillecast . It didn’t feel at all like being questioned by a journalist; we chatted away for a couple of hours, sipped our tea, and Dave made a great podcast out of it. That’s the mark of a true professional.


During our conversation, I felt that I had found out as much about Dave as he had about me. He has a family, works as an accessibility consultant, and enjoys cricket and cycling in his spare time.

“I’ve recently got into running,” he told me. “I found a guide runner, who happens to live next door. I think it’s important to do it every week so I don’t feel like I’m dying!”

With his busy work schedule, taking his son to various after-school activities and his frequent trips all over the country, it’s not surprising that he doesn’t have time for all the things he’d like to do.

“I want to go to Toastmasters. It sounds fun, but Monday evenings are when I run.”

Dave is a natural public speaker. He has presented on Calon FM, BBC Radio 4’s In Touch, and has recently reported on the centenary of World War I. It didn’t take us long to discover that we have a lot in common. We are passionate about the use of braille in the education of blind children, enjoy exploring the latest technology, and share a love of journalism.

In our turbulent world, with news coverage radically changed by the internet, I ask him what his tips are for getting content out there. He agrees that the journalism industry is a challenging one to get into.

“For that reason, you can’t do it as a job,” he says. “It’s unlikely that you’ll get regular work. You have to enjoy it and be passionate about what you’re doing. It’s a labour of love.”

Dave describes how any requests that come to him are opportunities he can’t refuse. The demands of being in a certain place at a certain time are easily outweighed by the people he meets.

“I spoke to this veteran who had no arms, no legs, and he was blind. He’d been blown up at the age of nineteen, and he was just… It was good to hear his story.”

Dave also recommends connecting with radio producers on social media.

“It says at the end of the broadcast who produced it. They’re always looking for content, and you want to attract their attention.”

His most salient tip was to continuously generate new content. In the ever-changing climate of news coverage, we never know what producers might decide to use. Dave told me about how he recorded himself going to vote several years ago. The polling station didn’t have the tactile template that is required for people with a visual impairment to vote. He shared the footage on his social media and soon, a BBC producer got in touch.

“We had to check that we could use the material,” Dave says. “You’re not allowed to film at a polling station but because this was audio, it was fine.”

Dave’s recording had brought an important issue to public awareness. The atmosphere of a polling station can be so powerfully conveyed through sound that the visual aspect isn’t necessary. I want to ask Dave if he believes that there are other benefits of audio reportage over film, but he has a train to catch. If our conversation hadn’t been cut short, we would probably still be sitting with our cold cups of tea, discussing the ethics of audio recordings, and how these compare to the tricky business of creating video footage. It occurs to me that there must be many situations when a recording is preferential and more poignant. I’m sure Dave has many examples; I must remember to ask him next time.

Another aspect of Dave’s friendly nature is that he makes everything sound easy. As a blind journalist who advocates for accessibility, he must come up against barriers on a daily basis that would give him plenty of license to moan. If our conversation turned to negative matters, Dave only touched on this lightly before posing another thought-provoking question. His main worry was about what to get his son for Christmas! I promised to have a think and received a hearty handshake in return.

Celebrating Zoë for being Zoë

Once journalists had got over the fun of sandwiching Zoë Ball’s name into amusing headlines, they homed in on a well-worn angle. There were few stories about how warm, engaging and otherwise talented media presenter Zoë Ball had been appointed as the next presenter of BBC Radio 2’s weekday breakfast slot; instead the headlines were full of exclamations that she is to be the first female presenter of the show. You can hear the big reveal here, with an emotional Zoë raring to get started. If it niggles that the current Breakfast Show host, Chris Evans, preceded the interview with Cyndi Lauper’s Girls Just Want to Have Fun, our sense of injustice increases with the discovery that she is to be paid less than Evans . Yet, this too makes for smug news, with Ball reported as being the BBC’s highest paid woman. Although Jane Martinson calls their inequality of pay an ‘outrage’, she acknowledges that we’re talking about vast amounts of money. It’s the enviable difference between £1.2m  and £1.6m, or does this difference run deeper?


I have friends who are vocal about being feminists. I’ve seen some who trample men to advocate their womanly rights and most, like myself, believe that feminism is a matter of gender equality. They found it hard to understand why I stayed away from the university’s society, bewildered by my remark that I had as much intention of going to a meeting of feminists as I did to the nonexistent Alliance of People with Brown Hair. In a culture of true gender equality, there would be no need for a Feminist Society – or for the Trampled Men’s Brigade, come to that.


Although we have undoubtedly become a much more accepting society in the last century, we have a lot of work to do before we can call ourselves a fully equal and diverse nation. Interestingly, this is the second time that Zoë’s status as a woman is being used to make history; in 1997, she was the first female presenter of Radio 1’s breakfast show. Notice from her interviews how she is thrilled at the privilege of taking over from Chris Evans. Her acknowledgement of being the first female presenter of the show pales in comparison to her fountain of enthusiasm for the role. You’d think that journalists would have a more interesting angle to take than recycling the one they employed twenty years previously.


This way of thinking stems from my experiences of how society views me as a disabled person. Whether the public are questioning me, grabbing me or looking determinedly in the opposite direction, I am treated as blind, therefore different, and what your classical philosophers call ‘the other.’ We are quick to pick out the ‘other’ in people: an unusual hair colour, a rare name, an accent that isn’t regional. For me, being an ‘other’ means that I view things differently, use alternative means of achieving my goals, and I have a good laugh along the way. I can often be found chuckling to myself for reasons that aren’t always apparent. Finding a brailled card in the shops is so rare that you can imagine my amusement when I discovered that it read: ‘with festive fishes for the season.’ Or when I fight to keep a straight face as I ask my friend to accompany me on an urgent toothbrush buying mission because I got the toothpaste mixed up with the hair remover and have a bald brush to show for it! I wouldn’t have blamed you for giving me a few strange looks on that night out with my visually impaired friends. You would have watched us, after a few drinks, get up and meander across the bar, clearly in search of the loos. We crossed the room together, opened the door, piled in, and then realised that we had ceremoniously shut ourselves in the broom cupboard! How we laughed amongst the mop buckets!


The point is that it’s ok to be ‘the other’ if it means being a unique package of your faults, differences, and the quirks that make you memorable. Zoë has those too. Her fully functional toothbrush is only evidence that her mistakes come in other forms. I find it sad that in the era of great advancement, we are unable to see difference as one of the few things we have in common. Zoë isn’t Radio 2’s first female breakfast show presenter; she’s the person whose music taste sometimes matches mine, and whose manner of speaking makes us all feel included. I wish her every success in her new role and if one of her nights out ends in a broom cupboard, I’ll be laughing with her.

Why NaNoWriMo Makes Monkeys of Writers

Monkey TypingFor writers, November is about closing the blinds to block out the fireworks, plugging our ears, and chaining ourselves to the desk. We used to think of it as National Novel Writing Month, which sounded prestigious even if the most sophisticated thing about that month was reading another letter of rejection over a breakfast of takeaway left-overs. Yet, November is now known to writers by the Hashtag NaNoWriMo. You could be forgiven for thinking that it sounds tacky – shouldn’t writers be more inventive with their words, after all? Type it into Google (patting yourself on the back that you’re

one of them good writers that do their research proper), and you will see thatNaNoWriMo is no longer a term, so much as a phenomenon.


Next year will see the twentieth anniversary of NanoWriMo, better known to writers as a challenge to write a novel of 50.000 words or more in November. If that seems daunting, it can be made to sound manageable by breaking it down into 1667 words per day. A simple concept, which has somehow spawned avirtual writing retreat, ,merchandise to buy as proof of your accomplishment, and even opportunities tofundraise for, anddonate to this nonproffit organisation.


The best thing that can be said about NaNoWriMo is that it helps aspiring authors to practice writing every day, although I would argue for doing away with regularity in favour of passion and creativity. In my seven years of studying creative writing, I found that no two writers take the same approach to getting their words down. My friend forces himself to write at a certain time every day, yet often has little to show for it because he tears out pages and deletes documents faster than he can finish them. I wonder if he’s a fan of Roald Dahl. It leads me to question whether being able to write daily is really something to celebrate, especially when you consider what all those monkeys do in front of typewriters. I am proof that it takes less than a week to sit and write out 50.000 words of nonsense. Surely the focus should be about the quality of the language and how the writing is structured.


We arrive at the age-old debate of how we judge the quality of something as subjective as creative work. There is no definition of good writing; some, like myself, value well-written literary fiction, whereas others prefer writing as escapism and all the goblins and Martian dragons that come with it. Chiclit is not to everyone’s taste, yet it still makes up the majority of commercial fiction. Creative writing studies encourage the production of work that is of publishable quality. The university tends to deride self-publication, probably because it is the antithesis of the peer-review. I wonder how many NaNoWriMo projects become commercially published novels.


Laura Milleralso questions the productivity of a 50.000 word November in view of literary agents’ reactions to it. The word NaNoWriMo is a big turn off when mentioned in an author’s cover letter, which should be a turn off for any writer who wants to take the business seriously. Besides, any author who does take it seriously isn’t going to limit their word splurging to a specific month; a writer’s work is never done, and work we do, all year round. It makes you wonder who the big writing challenge is aimed at. Does NaNoWriMo promote a true writing experience, or is it an exploitation of the impassioned hordes who have a novel they’ve always wanted to write?


I was sceptical of Miller’s observation that a lot of writers don’t read. The writer and reader are two co-dependent entities in my mind; it is impossible for one to exist without the other. Yet I had to reconsider this assumption when she gave examples of how the ‘selfless art of reading’ is being overshadowed by the ‘narcissistic commerce of writing.’ Writers project themselves out there to be heard; the reader digests what they have to say. Add to this the difficulty ofcoming up with something original,the importance of structure, the dilemma of which viewpoint to take,and it seems a wonder that any author makes it at all. At a rowdy party where the authors are all talking at once, the readers look on quietly with increasing confusion about who to listen to and what is being said. My metaphor illustrates Miller’s point that in our ever-increasing abundance of published novels and their authors, who will be left to read them?


In any case, who would want to read the by-products of an authorial challenge which views wordpadding as some sort of achievement? Writing is a qualitative phenomenon by nature and the number of words on the page is irrelevant. If spouting 50.000 words was all it took to become a successful author, I’d be a millionaire. This is only the beginning of the process, with months of grafting, ruthless cutting, persisting, editing, fistbanging, and revising ahead. Part of the reason that so few books are published is that it takes a great deal of self-discipline, resilience, and persistance on the author’s part.


I’m therefore advocating for a National Month of Novel Writing that focuses on the editorial aspects of the process. It would be sensible for editing month to come after wordsplurge November, but we’ll let people get Christmas out of the way first. In the bleakness of January, when we draw up the same list of resolutions we’ve striven to keep year after year, this seems like the perfect time for a month of editing and all the self-loathing that comes with it. Your 50.000 words will probably be more like 2000 by the time you’ve finished, but it will be the strongest short fiction you’ve ever penned. So, who’s joining me for National Editors’ Month? Let’s make NEdMo a thing.