What's the best route into comedy writing? And how can I get into an overseas charity?

It's no joke

Q. I am trying to break into comedy scriptwriting and have tried the usual routes of applying, with thousands of others, to the competitions run by the BBC, with no luck. Can you tell me how I would make contact with comedy performers, or go about trying to start a career writing for comedy programmes?

A. As you've found, this is a difficult area to break into, partly because producers don't always have the time or budget to try out or risk new talent, and there are regular trusted writers who often get wind of ideas in the pipeline and pick up new work, perpetuating a pretty closed circle.

Apprenticeship in an organisation where humorous writing is what you do - journalism, perhaps - can help. But you have to learn the craft by writing sketches. On its website ( www.bbc.co.uk/writersroom/) the BBC recommends writing for topical sketch shows which have an open door policy like Bearded Ladies, Punt & Dennis or The Now Show.

Competitions, the BBC admits, are popular, in fact they say 500 people applied to take part in its New Comedy Awards last year, which this year is being replaced by what they call its "biggest ever radio talent search", see www.bbc.co.uk/newtalent/showmethefunny/. Under this scheme, 10 entrants will be selected to join an academy where they will be mentored by leading comedy writers.

There are other ways to get into the comedy network - go along to studio recordings and talk to the warm-up comic, or hang out at comedy venues and see if performers will accept submissions. One route (taken by performers such as Ben Elton) is also probably the hardest - write stand-up comedy yourself and perform it. If you feel you have the confidence to be funny in public as well as on paper, try an open-mic night at a comedy venue.

I speak three languages

Q. I want to work for a charity which deals with children's education on a voluntary basis, preferably overseas. I don't know which organisation is best to contact. I am fluent in English, Spanish and French.

A. Working for a charity is popular - some two per cent of the working population are estimated to be working in this sector. So it is competitive, but there are also a huge number of different careers to choose from - charities need all kinds of professionals.

Organisations that specialise in working with children range from those dealing with children's welfare, such as Save the Children, to more education based ones such as ContinYou ( www.continyou.org.uk), which deals, among other things, with community schemes like after-school clubs. Gideon Burrows, editor of the online portal for charity jobs and information www.ethicalcareers.org, says jobs abroad are, if anything, more competitive.

This is because nowadays agencies often prefer to employ local people and train them. Your language skills will help, but the crucial thing to have, says Burrows, is as much concrete experience as possible of working with children here or abroad.

Consider adding to your CV with regular relevant volunteering. You might consider an overseas volunteering placement - see websites like www.2waydevelopment.org.uk or www.volunteerlatinamerica.com, or have a look at the placement search facility on www.gapadvice.org.

Check prices being charged. You should also get along to one of the free charity jobs fairs. Forum3, coming up soon in London on the 13 and 14 October, is the biggest one - see ( www.forum3.co.uk).

Send your queries to Caroline Haydon at 'The Independent', Education Desk, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or fax 020-7005 2143; or e-mail to chaydon@blueyonder.co.uk