Beard baubles – ho ho ho!

Fantastic Christmas Decorations – bring it on!

Come on guys, lift your game with these wonderful beard baubles.

A man with real balls

Don’t Trim Your Beard With Scissors. Trim It With Holiday Cheer!.

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The bittersweet taste of traditional publishing

book-436507_640One of the many reasons I have been more than usually absent from this blog in recent months is a rather large side project – a non fiction book. Now that we are in the final stages of reviewing the contract with the publisher, I think it may be worth adding my two-bobs worth to the discussion about self publishing vs. traditional publishing.

The new book, which will be about playspaces, came about in the most unlikely of ways. A chance in a million. On a whim, back in the dim dark days at the start of the year, I entered a competition on Goodreads. Remarkably, I won it, and some time later received a lovely hardback edition of a landscape design history book. Finding it hard to maintain the CPD points I need to maintain my qualification with a bub, I inquired of our professional magazine if they would like a review of the book, to which they agreed.

Now comes the remarkable part. I wrote to the publisher, asking for some of the images from the book to accompany the review. They forwarded these, and then came back asking if I would be interested in writing a book on playspaces. It’s a little eerie to know that you’ve been googled.

Joining forces with a friend of mine, we spent the next three or four months nutting out the exact contents of each section – chasing contributors from around the globe, and writing the first chapter. My other books have been much more ‘pantzer’ enterprises – they have been organic, growing during the process of writing. This one is firmly a ‘planner’, which is a real novelty for me. It remains to be seen if it will remain so, or if the ‘slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’ shoot us into uncharted territory.

After that, it was all bundled off to the publisher, and went into limbo while it was reviewed by them and independent experts. All very rigorous, and very serious. Then suddenly, after a little back and forth, we have been offered a contract. Hardback and paperback, worldwide distribution. Hooray!

But wait…

The contract, as far as we can tell, if quite standard for the industry. It is, as a friend said, “no crapper than anyone else’s”. However, after getting used to the idea of 70% royalties in the self-publishing world, 6% on received royalties seems, frankly, more than a little exploitative. We worked out that on the first run, assuming all copies are sold, we won’t make enough to cover our communication, let alone any of the hard labour in writing the thing.

The other major difference of course is that we will have little or no control over the appearance of the book, where it is sold, or the marketing of the text (which may be a bit of a relief!). My other books – ‘The Artemis Effect’ and ‘The Milk of Female Kindness’, I have complete control over, and it may not be easy to let that go. I chose to self publish them for exactly that reason.

So – nearly a year down the track we are faced with a hard decision. Should we go ahead, on what is basically a pro-bono basis? There is the intellectual challenge, the kudos, and maybe the hope of improving playspaces around the world. One the other is a serious time and mental commitment when I have a small child, work, and have other things I would like to be writing. My co-author is trying to run her own business.

It looks like I may end up writing in every genre after all: Science Fiction and Parenting – done. Speculative Short stories and Poetry – underway. Non-fiction – pending.

I suspect we will go ahead, but I’d be interested to hear about your experiences and thoughts…

Dinosaur unearthed, inspiration refreshed

New species of giant dinosaur unearthed

I realise that this is perhaps a little off-topic for my blog of late, but I just had to share this wonderful new discovery. They have found a new dinosaur which they have called Dreadnoughtus schrani, and it’s a seriously big beast. As the scientist in the video says – “It had a really big butt.” 😉

New species of giant dinosaur unearthed.

What I love about this is that even now, when we think we know so much about the world, there is still something as gigantic as this to discover. Writing fantasy or sci-fi is really about imagining new worlds for me, and if we start to think that there is nothing left to explore and discover, inspiration can evaporate.

Knowing that there are still 26m long dinosaurs out there to find is a truly wonderful thing. 🙂

Mum trumps all

I don’t normally write about my private life on here, (other than my private creative endeavors of course), but this week is different. This week my child had gastroenteritis serious enough to get us admitted to hospital.

He is starting to turn the corner, I hope, but it has really brought home to me some truths about being a mother like a snowball to the face.

Firstly, there is nothing more important than your child, especially when they are sick. I love my partner dearly, and so I almost hesitate to type that, but being an adult he can look after himself, rationalise things, and he can seek help and resources outside me. My bub, especially as he can’t speak more than a few words, is entirely dependent on us to help him. We are his entire world. Sometimes all you can do is cuddle him. My professional work and my creative work, come so far down the list of priorities in comparison that they don’t even rate a number on the list.

The other thing is that gender equality and that delicate balance we weave as joint partners in bringing up this little person go completely out the window. My child is no respecter of politics, or even other people’s feelings. All week he has pushed his father away (and is grandfather is out of the question), because he needs ME. Intensely, 24 hours, and in close contact at all times. It’s been hard on my partner to be left feeling second best, especially as they have such fun when he is well.

Someone at my work recently suggested that a colleague who was going on maternity leave at the end of the month would have a lovely relaxing time when the baby comes, reading books and putting her feet up. I confess that I did have to pipe up and put him straight – about the intensity of the relationship – about how it is hard to explain what you do all day, but your days are completely full – about how my child was so demanding when he was tiny that I lost weight as I had no chance to eat.

One of our reviewers (Ella Dee) for ‘The Milk of Female Kindness’ said that as she is not a mother, reading the book was like reading science fiction, the worlds of mothers’ real and honest experiences were so different from her own. I can completely agree with that. I don’t think you can have any real idea of the intensity of the relationship until you are caught up in its whirlwind.

Hopefully this particular whirlwind will set us down somewhere a little sunnier and calmer soon.

The Empathy Library

Have you heard of The Empathy Library?

Founded by School of Life member Roman Krznaric, it’s a fabulous new on-line resource to help us to walk in mile in someone elses shoes. It seems an idea very much in the footsteps of what the School of Life has been pioneering: a new and more considered way of thinking about the big issues of life, free from the traditional ways of teaching. If you’ve read any of the books by the philosophers and writers involved, you’ll know just what I mean. In an increasingly ‘blip-vert’ society (extra points if you get the reference! 🙂 ), their work is refreshingly well considered.

The Library contains more than just philosophical works though. As they say:

“What might it be like to be a child growing up in Tehran, or to be born without sight, or to be a soldier fighting someone else’s war? The Library takes you on journeys to these unknown worlds.

The Library is founded on the belief that empathy can transform both our own lives, and the societies we live in.”

Beyond my personal interest in trying to understand other people, which is always a challenge, I think that the Empathy Library could also be a terrific resource for writers. I want my characters to be believable, and ring true. My imagination, although pretty broad, probably can’t extend to all walks of life without a little guidance, and so I’m looking forward to browsing its shelves. Maybe you should too.

‘The Milk of Female Kindness – an Anthology of Honest Motherhood’ is listed in the Empathy Library, in the hope of helping people understand what the experience of being a mother is really like for a range of women around the world.

 

What might it be like to be a child growing up in Tehran, or to be born without sight, or to be a soldier fighting someone else’s war? The library takes you on these journeys into unknown worlds. – See more at: http://empathylibrary.com/about-the-library#sthash.EGbLUl45.dpuf
What might it be like to be a child growing up in Tehran, or to be born without sight, or to be a soldier fighting someone else’s war? The library takes you on these journeys into unknown worlds. – See more at: http://empathylibrary.com/about-the-library#sthash.EGbLUl45.dpuf
What might it be like to be a child growing up in Tehran, or to be born without sight, or to be a soldier fighting someone else’s war? The library takes you on these journeys into unknown worlds. – See more at: http://empathylibrary.com/about-the-library#sthash.EGbLUl45.dpu
What might it be like to be a child growing up in Tehran, or to be born without sight, or to be a soldier fighting someone else’s war? The library takes you on these journeys into unknown worlds. – See more at: http://empathylibrary.com/about-the-library#sthash.EGbLUl45.dpuf
What might it be like to be a child growing up in Tehran, or to be born without sight, or to be a soldier fighting someone else’s war? The library takes you on these journeys into unknown worlds. – See more at: http://empathylibrary.com/about-the-library#sthash.EGbLUl45.dpuf
What might it be like to be a child growing up in Tehran, or to be born without sight, or to be a soldier fighting someone else’s war? The library takes you on these journeys into unknown worlds. – See more at: http://empathylibrary.com/about-the-library#sthash.EGbLUl45.dpuf
What might it be like to be a child growing up in Tehran, or to be born without sight, or to be a soldier fighting someone else’s war? The library takes you on these journeys into unknown worlds. – See more at: http://empathylibrary.com/about-the-library#sthash.EGbLUl45.dpuf
What might it be like to be a child growing up in Tehran, or to be born without sight, or to be a soldier fighting someone else’s war? The library takes you on these journeys into unknown worlds. – See more at: http://empathylibrary.com/about-the-library#sthash.EGbLUl45.dpuf

Book Launch!

On Sunday the 23rd of March, we had a joyful celebration of the Launch of ‘The Milk of Female Kindness – an Anthology of Honest Motherhood.’

Somewhat ironically, the launch was held at Abbottsford Convent, which still seems to have the aura of nun’s ghosts floating down the corridors. Despite this, it really was a fantastic way to finish a project, if you can ever call a project like this finished. The energy of having all those supportive people in one place – estimates say that we had about a hundred attendees – really can’t be beaten. I was on a high all day. 🙂

I confess that I did umm and ahh about whether or not to have a launch, as it’s a lot of extra time, effort and cash to organise. I don’t think I would have done it if the fabulous Dr. Carla Pascoe (who has a bub even smaller than mine – and mine is only 17 months) hadn’t stepped in to give me a hand, especially as I am a book launch virgin.

Our Book launch was perhaps a little unusual. Bearing in mind that many of those attending would have small children, we thought it best not to have a boozy affair at a sleek bookshop, although that would have been fun. Instead, our venue opened out on to a green courtyard, and we were blessed to have Judy McKinty facilitating play, and the talented Richard Morden helping with Colouring-in. There was even fairy bread, although how much was consumed by adults on the quiet I cannot say.

The Milk of Female Kindness: An Anthology of Honest MotherhoodHeather Harris, one of the contributors to the book, and also a midwife with Medecins Sans Frontiers, spoke eloquently about how the cover of the book represented women form around the world spitting the dummy, and refusing to be silenced about our experiences, despite the societal pressure to fit us into neat little molds. I also wittered on about something or other – its’ all a bit of a blur…

 

Anyway, thank you to everyone who came along, and to all the wonderful people who helped out along the way!

A once in a lifetime experience.

 

Dwarf planet Ceres has water vapour

Dwarf planet Ceres has water vapour

To break from the tradition of the last few posts, and back to my love of science and science fiction…

In news recently released, it turns out that scientists have observed two plumes of water vapour on Ceres – a moon in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

You can find out more here:

Dwarf planet Ceres has water vapour.

Ceres asteroid vents water vapour

Article in ‘Nature’

I find the possibilities of this pretty exciting. As the search for life seems to centre around a search for water – perhaps because we find to too hard to imagine life forms which aren’t carbon-based and organic – then this discovery has fascinating implications.

Not only does this add to the argument that water and life arrived on Earth via some sort of asteroid impact, but also raises the possibility of alien life really quite close to our own.

I’m sure there is a fascinating story just waiting to be written about it, once we consider all the implications of being in the asteroid belt, that far from our Sun….

Giving yourself a Green Light

ImageHave you heard of slashies?

It’s a label that is being attached to people who do multiple things, typically actor / writer / dancer / superheroine, etc.

Somehow I’ve managed to become a slashie, and I can tell you, at times that slash feels like a physical one. Personally, I’m a writer/ mother/ landscape architect. But with the writer part, there also comes the baggage of writer / publicist / marketer, which I’m really not all that keen on. There are other slashes I could add, but let’s not go crazy here. Yet. Going crazy might let some of the things I’m balancing topple.

The other day, all my slashes were starting to wear me down a bit, I confess. I think particularly because I have a little one, time out without him is so precious that I feel I have to stuff in something useful. I’m new at this parenting lark, so I guess I’m still trying to find the right balance, but it had gone too far into the “All work and no play makes Jane a dull girl,” territory.

So I chucked it all in, and in my precious free time, ripped into the garden. I pulled out weeds, snapped dead branches, and stuffed them enthusiastically into the green bin. I clipped and pruned and freed poor light starved plants. It was tiring, but so cathartic. At work, I try to remind myself that I need to get up from my computer and go for a walk in the park at lunchtime. It may not be directly productive, but I’ve come to the conclusion that some green time is like sleep.

You need some time out, preferably in nature, to recharge.

It’s actually one of the principles that they use in Bhutan to measure how happy their population is, and they are a country taking happiness seriously, since they use it instead of GDP to see how they are doing as a nation.

My best ideas usually come not when I’m slogging away at my keyboard, but when I’m idle – although sometimes that mental idleness has to be forced upon me, like when walking with my bub in his pusher, or when the trains have been cancelled. I understand that it’s actually a recognised phenomenon, which has something to do with allowing the right brain to have a bit of a kick outside the controlling influence of that stern task-master, the left brain.

So if I have a New Year’s resolution, it’s to give myself the Green Light. ‘Go’ to getting out there: ‘Go’ to a bit more balance: and ‘Go’ to some guilt free idleness. 🙂

Have you resolved to be more idle too? Would love to chat about the idea.

Book launch!

MOFK COVER front finalI’m very excited to announce the launch of our new Anthology about honest motherhood – The Milk of Female Kindness!

It’s out now on Amazon and Createspace, with The Book Depository to follow.

Terrifically proud of the 28 women from all around the world who have shared their thoughts, creativity and time to make this book. It’s wonderfully diverse, with artwork, poetry, short fiction, essays and interviews, from women at all stages of motherhood. Many are established writers and artists: others are new to the world of publishing. Some of them have been featured in Writer’s Block already, and more are to come.

So – if you are a mother, know someone who is, or have a mother (and let’s face it, most of us have at some point ;)), then this book will touch you, challenge you, confront you, and best of all, make you rethink the role of motherhood.

If anyone is looking for a book for the holidays – this could be the one for you. 🙂

Avid Reader’s Cafe

PrintJust a quick note to let you know that my novel ‘The Artemis Effect’ is being featured over at Avid Reader’s Cafe at the moment.

The cafe is part of an initiative by the Independent Author’s Network, which I’ve finally joined after all this time. I’m not sure how many people find their books here, but fingers crossed someone will find and enjoy mine!

It’s really rather daunting the huge number of books out there, and many of them are genuinely worth reading. I wonder sometimes, whether the huge explosion in published books will be looked back on as a time of Renaissance – a flourishing of ideas? Will the best ones really rise to the surface, or will only the ones with the best marketing make it? Did Leonardo just have a great agent?