Fourteen tips for getting the most out of your Zoom time

Now that we are all getting comfortable with using online video software, there are certain do’s and don’t’s that we really should all be following.

Online you can find dozens of Zoom etiquette guidelines. They’re couched in earnest helpful tones; they tell you stuff that’s basically obvious, common sense so they’re sort of useful. But if the earnest common sense annoys you, here are some less obvious gender, race, age and ethnicity nonspecific tips for getting the most out of your time in Zoom meetings. Our fourteen pointers start with what not to do. Why fourteen and not five or ten? Well because fourteen is four more than ten and four more than five is nine and nine is my lucky number.

During Zoom meetings don’t …

1. … pick your nose (You can do this if you do it behind your hand, but it’s unlikely to go unnoticed so only do it if you’re desperate.)

2. … wear see through clothes (They’re distracting and while this can be a useful way to put off colleagues you want to get into trouble, it’s unfair for everyone else. But if you want to send some people into a frenzy, choose the outfit wisely.)

3. … file your nails under the desk (This is especially to be avoided if you are prone to gazing rapturously off screen, however it could be diverting in very dreary meetings. Choose your moment wisely.)

4. … stroke your dog’s head under the desk (Stroking even the shortest dog risks you coming across as elsewhere; coughing and moans as you struggle to reach make it worse.)

5. … take your computer to the loo (If you have to wee or more hold it for as long as you can, but keep a straight face and keep still. Jiggling is a no-no.)

6. … shout at the screen without first checking that you are muted (This is a really big no-no, unless you are angling to be furloughed or fired)

7. … make rude gestures at the screen without first checked that video is off (see 6.)

8. … hum (you might find it soothing and a tricky habit to break, but humming means you’re not listening to whatever drivel is coming through. Remember that humming can happen subconsciously.)

9. … practise your impressions of colleagues during the meeting, especially not those in the meeting (take notes of particular traits and tics for future use)

10. …if you’ve mastered the art of sleeping with your eyes open, remember not to snore

11. … forget to pay attention (It’s impossible to fake a look of thoughtful pondering on screen when it happens suddenly.)

12. … play video games in a secondary window (Although it might look like you are paying attention to the meeting, you might inadvertently go mental. This disconcerts colleagues and undermines your appearance of engaged attentiveness)

13. … try to answer emails if you are prone to talking to yourself 

14. … get drunk unless you do it discretely and can be sure not to go red in the face as the booze kicks in

Of course there are some useful things you should be doing during online meetings.

… do

1. … use the Chat function to warn that your Internet connection is playing up so that you can duck out when you’re fed up with the ramblings

2. … wash your face and dress (if you only dress your top half, remember not to lean too far sideways if you have to reach for something. If you think there’s a risk of your bottom half coming into view, wearing big, fancy underwear.)

3. … nod slowly and thoughtfully no matter what’s being said, by whom (Make sure to practise your nodding beforehand, so that it isn’t too mechanical.)

4. … mute yourself when talking lovingly to an unseen pet, as this could easily be misunderstood

5. … keep your wine/beer/cocktail glass discretely hidden, ideally on a tray the floor to avoid it slipping over and spillage (you can slurp whilst retrieving a dropped pen see 6.)

6. … appear to be taking copious notes (Asking people to repeat themselves can reinforce your apparent commitment, but don’t overdo it see 5.)

7. … keep your expression engaged, with no eyerolling or heavy sighs (Remember to change your face from time to time.)

8. … clasp your hands under your chin if you need to stick out your tongue at half-wits

9. … hide the plate and napkin when you’re eating (Avoid spicy or messy food that might lead to choking mishaps and eye watering as this can be misinterpreted as sincere emotion.)

10. … remember to ensure your chat messages only go to the intended person and that most of your colleagues are likely to have had a sense of humour bypass

11. … prepare for the meeting in advance, or at least appear to have done (Shuffling notes and looking over your glasses helps here, as does looking at your watch.) 

12. … get there early to check everything works and to be first for maximum creepy creep points (See 11.)

13. … be well rested or use makeup to hide the bags under your eyes; sunglasses are a no-no.

14. … snap back promptly when you hear your name, and remember to blame the connection when you ask for the question to be repeated

This is my favourite review! Someone said “Wow” about The Draftsman!

The Draftsman by Laurel Lindström 

BY SHELLEYFALLOWS ON  • ( 1 )

Martin Cox is a brilliant but untrained draftsman in his early twenties. He is rich, damaged, obsessive. Shadowhurst Hall, remote, desolate and forgotten, exerts a peculiar pull. The country landscape, a world of shades and shadows, both confuses and beguiles Martin, a man more comfortable in black and white, with facts and numbers.

As he explores the house, the landscape and its history it leads him on a journey – back in time to two world wars, and forwards, unexpectedly, towards a healing. A novel of memory and history, and of the scars left by
unacknowledged damage and how they can shape us, The Draftsman is also a story of renewal.

Wow. This is an absolutely stunning novel. Beautifully written. Laurel captures the vice like grip of anxiety and the shadow it casts over a life just brilliantly. Trauma and memories from the past have a hold over Martin. It is something he will never talk about, there is no resolution. But this story shows his journey through the darkness, how he emerges blinking, slowly finding acceptance and life. Upon entering Shadowhurst Hall, his world shifts slightly and he is disorientated. His view changes in more ways than one and suddenly he is able to look out past the trauma, able to face different situations.

Upon first glance this is such an unassuming novel but, oh my goodness, what an absolute gem it is. It is stunning and wonderfully unique. The cover image grabbed me initially. It packs such as strong visual pull and then of course the synopsis, mysterious and with the intrigue of the house and surroundings – I just couldn’t wait to read it. 

I absolutely devoured it. The prose is beautifully constructed. Laurel has a degree in Linguistics and you can see how much she loves (and breathes) language. It isn’t a novel to rush though, but one to savour whilst you slowly digest every single morsel. 

“Martin looked back at the lake lying smooth in the still, dead air, its uncertain shades and shadows rimmed with weedy debris. He didn’t see the seasonless, lifeless memories of long-gone summers shivering on its surface. Nor did he see that close to the tired fence, the twisted grasping fingers of bare trees were writing long-forgotten secrets in old blacks and sepias against a miserable sky. Martin’s cigarette burned down in a series of tiny pops and hisses, masking the whispers hanging momentarily in the desolate grey air. As he stared out at the baffle of the landscape he felt a curious sense of erosion, a creeping, unidentifiable darkness. He looked again at the shades and shadows but only saw the lines between black and white.”

Dripping with metaphor we see Martin’s state of mind through his surroundings. He spends his time between his London flat – a place where he smokes heavily, rarely cleans and lives in squalor and Shadowhurst Hall the complete opposite. Whilst at Shadowhurst he doesn’t smoke and has a cleaner every day to keep the place spotless. It is almost as though he is trying to cleanse his soul – to break free whilst he is there. Martin is a strange, damaged character who has built his own coping abilities to deal with the shadows in his past. This story is an awakening of not only Martin, but also of Shadowhurst Hall and the secrets locked away in the past. 

For me, this story was unforgettable. It was incredibly moving and touched a part of my soul. There is much darkness but you feel the mist lifting as the novel progresses and the story is ultimately filled with hope and light. Thoroughly recommended.

My thanks go out to Anne Cater for inviting me to take part in the blog tour and to the publisher for sending me a review copy. I know this will be a novel I will return to again and again. It is available on both eBook and in paperback. I do hope that one day an audiobook will be available, the prose written hear cries out to be read aloud. 

What Would Laurel Lindström Say, As A Critic, About The Draftsman?

What would they say?
In reading and critiquing Best First Novel Award contenders it occurs to me that I am too harsh, too demanding and way too mean to these brave writers. It makes me wonder what would I say about the Draftsman if Unbound puts it forward as a candidate? There is certainly lots to say about this book, starting with its basic premise: it’s about a brilliant but damaged man and is the story of his genius, his healing and a forgotten mystery. Well yes it’s all of that, but it took me ages to come up with this tight little distillation. Unfortunately it makes the book sound quite interesting, which I am not sure that it is.
 
It’s all about …
The Draftsman is about Martin Cox an untrained draftsman of 24. He’s accidentally rich, a heavy smoker, damaged, obsessive, binary. He buys a house in the country as an investment and to get away from his squalid London flat. The country landscape surrounding Shadowhurst Hall confuses and beguiles Martin, who obsesses with black and white contrasts and binary expression, facts, numbers, in a world of shades and shadows. The desolation and the twin lakes on his property exert a peculiar pull that he doesn’t understand, but which attracts him. He doesn’t smoke in his new house. Let’s face it, he’s weird.
 
The story slowly unfolds in a series of flashbacks which explain how the man came to be so wealthy, why he’s strange and how he might get better if only he would learn to be at least a little bit nice to people. Except that he cannot, at least he cannot until he starts getting interested in his new house and its history. Gradually he moves towards renewal, but not for any particular reason and this is perhaps annoying for readers.
 
This is the bit that the critic in me hates in the Draftsman. He moves so damn slowly from thing to thing and there are way too many words cluttering up his aimless meanderings. His friends are nondescript and his relations mostly dead. How can you have a central character who is so closed up and strange? Why would a reader want to know more about Martin Cox? Unless you want to categorise him somehow, which seems to be a popular sport these days.
 
Reading it as a critic this is what I would say. Of course as the author I have some power to fix it, but here’s a thing. Once something is written and finished it is really hard to go back and restructure it, rewrite it so much that it turns into something completely different. The only way I can correct my own omissions and errors, is to revisit Martin Cox and put him into a new and different context. This context will have to be Martin Cox as the intrepid brain, searching for the answers to the mystery that is only uncovered at the end of the Draftsman. Giving his razor wired brain something to unravel will give me some structure within which to elaborate the whos, whys and wherefores of Martin Cox without using imagistic flashbacks. One to think about.