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At last! A Blue Plaque for the man who built Tower Bridge #buildingpassions

After almost four years since applying for one, it seems that we will finally have an English Heritage Blue Plaque for Sir John Wolfe Barry!

I often say patience is a virtue. In this case it really is.

I remember completing the application thinking that it may well be rejected due to the sheer numbers of competing ones. But it was worth a try. The process is deliberately slow and careful to ensure that literally everyone is happy with the decision.

Why does JWB deserve this commemoration, given that he already has a window in Westminster Abbey, and the iconic Tower Bridge he built with his business partner and close friend Henry Marc Brunel is a global landmark?

I could give many reasons, but I think foremost is a tribute to the great metropolis of London where he was born, raised, worked and died. He wasn’t just there all the time, but it clearly was a very significant city for him.

My book ‘Building Passions’ not only covers the story of John Wolfe Barry, but also of his father Sir Charles Barry, architect of the Houses of Parliament (who already has a Blue Plaque at his former home), as well as other members of the Barry and Brunel families. Not least the ‘2nd Greatest Briton’, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, starts it all off.

The location of the Blue Plaque will be adjoining Chelsea Embankment on the Thames, on the outside of the house where John Wolfe Barry died in 1918 aged 81 years. While it has just missed the centenary of his death, I’m hoping it can still mark 125 years of Tower Bridge.

His life was a great innings, to use a cricketing metaphor, and its legacy continued through the organisations and structures associated with him, the Brunels and ‘modern’ Victorian architecture.

Once I know more about the exact details of the unveiling I will publicise it on this blog.

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A ‘Building Passions’ website now exists #buildingpassions

So, I’ve finally managed to launch a website about my forthcoming book ‘Building Passions’.

It provides a bit of background for those who know nothing about the book. Once it is published electronically and then in hard copy, I will add links to the retailers who will hopefully sell it for me. I’m expecting an e-book will be out soon, but definitely by the end of September.

One thing I am missing is images. As I’ve blogged before this is a tricky area in self-publishing due to image rights. I will try to add in free images and links to ones you would need to pay to use (which I have done for the book!), but of course you will be able to see them all in the book, with appropriate text linked to the story of the Brunels, the Barrys and ‘modern’ Victorian architecture.

I will continue to use this website for blogs about the book and related news, including progress on an English Heritage Blue Plaque for Sir John Wolfe Barry. With luck everything will coincide …

I will also continue to use the #buildingpassions tag to promote the built environment to wider audiences through its history and the individuals involved.

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#buildingpassions is about rebranding the built environment sector

#buildingpassions is the tagline for my forthcoming book about the Brunel and Barry families of Victorian engineers and architects.

Why I have I chosen it?

Firstly, because I like the play on words similar to the #buildingstories tag used by Roma Agrawal for her ‘Built’ podcasts.

Secondly, because no one else seems to be using it currently so it ticks the U in USP (unique selling proposition if you didn’t know, a marketing term).

Thirdly, because while my book is mainly about the history of architecture and civil engineering, it references the wider built environment in which they belong. This is the key sector which visibly and materially transforms our towns, cities and landscapes, generally for the good.

The nouns ‘building’ and ‘builder’ don’t always have great press currently in the English language at least, as they are mainly connected to the construction industry. This is just one part of the built environment sector, and not always the most reputable bit due to the ‘cowboys’ who operate for lower prices but with a higher risk of serious problems later on.

The worst recent example that comes to mind is the 2016 structural collapse of a church in Nigeria where building regulation corruption is rife – 160 people died! Similar issues have arisen with houses in earthquake zones in Nepal and Ecuador, for instance.

So we clearly need a rebrand with a strong positive feeling to it and I hope #buildingpassions (click for the relevant page) can somehow contribute to this.

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Welcome to Sir John Wolfe Barry’s site

He built Tower Bridge

This website tells the story of Sir John Wolfe Barry.

Who was he?

He was the civil engineer who built Tower Bridge. He doesn’t get as much credit for this as he perhaps deserves. So the purpose of the site was to tell his story to mark the centenary of his death on 22 January 2018. Content has been added since then mainly via the blogs (see below) but also in anticipation of the 125th anniversary celebrations of Tower Bridge’s first opening on 30 June 2019. The author is also publishing a book on Sir John, his partner Henry Brunel, and their (grand)fathers and brothers due to come out by end September 2019.

The site is split into blog posts and content pages which connect with each other and external links.

If you want quick snapshots then read the blog posts – use the category cloud to help you find things you are interested in e.g. Tower Bridge.

If you want to read the story of JWB (as I call him) then use the top menu for sections of content which all link to each other in the same order.

Enjoy!

When you first get your own book, it’s like seeing a new child #buildingpassions

I saw the printed version of my book today! The feeling was one of elation after 9 months gestation.

Though I didn’t carry our daughter for a similar period 19 years ago, I kind of understand the emotional ride. As a father your relationship tends to develop later on, once they are up on their feet more and starting to think for themselves.

Why did I leave it so long to write a book?

Because there were other things going on in my life and they always came first. I’m not complaining. But I did have to take a risk and stop full-time work to self-publish the book.

I did other things as well, but in effect I have had a type of parental unpaid leave with no job to go back to. My wife has been incredibly supportive throughout this period, for which I am very grateful.

What next?

I’ve started planning my next book, a historical novel, and will write it during November as part of National Novel Writing Month. I’ve already sought editing proposals for the finished draft. It will be published in 2020, 100 years since the protagonist, based on my grandfather, escaped from the Communists in Tashkent and ended up living a new life in England via Persia and India.

The final countdown #breakingpassions

It’s 38 days until I launch the hard copy version of my first book ‘Building Passions‘.

Between then and now we will have Diwali, Halloween/Brexit Day and Guy Fawkes Day in the UK. The lead up to Christmas has already started with cards and adverts.

The draft has gone off to the printers and once a proof is returned and corrected for any errors then that’s it, until delivery of the final soft backs in time for the 20 November launch.

I am firming up plans with English Heritage to promote a Blue Plaque for Sir John Wolfe Barry, which will hopefully be unveiled in London on the same day as the launch.

In some sense I will be relieved once the hard copy is out as it is the final piece in the lengthy jigsaw of self-publishing non-fiction. The e-book is already available on www.kobo.com and a temporary sale will start tomorrow for about a fortnight – if you have never registered on Kobo before then the book will be free for UK purchasers, as you will get an introductory discount of the same amount (in other countries this will depend on exchange rates).

Fiction looks easier to me … which is why I need to get more words down for my next book to be published in 2020 about an amazing story based on my grandfather’s ‘fantasy’ life.

Family stories are great stories #buildingpassions

I’m currently sitting in our hotel room on Ischia trying to write my next book.

Since recently self-publishing my first book ‘Building Passions’, I now have some time to focus on the subsequent one. It helps that it’s raining all day here and that yesterday we went on a 10k walk which included the 800m peak of the dormant volcano on the island, so my legs are still recovering a bit.

My next book is historical fiction based on a true story close to me. It’s about the eventful life of my grandfather, Lex von Behr, who had no links of any kind to a Batman villain with the same first name. However, he may well have been a double agent for the British and Soviets, possibly also for the Germans. We may never know the entire truth.

We do know that he died in Paris in 1951 from serious burns caused by a fire in his apartment. My grandmother was convinced this was due to his spy work, I have my doubts, but then this is why I’m writing it as historical fiction …

The common theme is family stories, which I feel are both historically and socially important. The former, because they provide a case study in a different context of how human groups have behaved and what they have created. The latter, because we are all part of families, whether fully related or not, and these close networks need to be reinforced by their stories, good or bad. I’ve blogged about this before.

I’m still mulling over whether I need a new website for the new book, or one that brings together the two books under the family story theme. Watch this space.

From drafting to print, it’s a long haul #buildingpassions

Sometimes I wonder why it takes so much effort to self-publish a book!

I thought the writing part would be hardest, and at times it was a struggle for me. I had to start again with a new structure a few times until I got it right.

Then the editing, design and image search took me longer than expected. This pushed back the original finish deadline from July to end September.

But even the final run in was frustrating at times, including indexing and finalising the e-book version to hit a final publish date of 24 September.

I have been working on the print version in parallel, almost as a separate project, which in fact it is. There are still frustrations with simple things about getting the right page size and numbers, plus ensuring good quality print. And then there’s the launch on 20 November in London …

Would I want to do this again? Not for architectural history! But yes for historical fiction which is my next book due out in 2020 I hope.

Soft launch: T plus four days #buildingpassions

So, I soft launched my book four days ago.

It first went up for preordering as an e-book on www.kobo.com . Unfortunately, I couldn’t see how many preorders were made.

Then on Tuesday morning it was open for direct purchase and I can see all sales now. The numbers are still low but I expect them to pick up in due course.

I’ve tried to do a fair bit of social media marketing for the book during this period, in addition to handing out flyers in Central London last week at places I know will have an interest in the structures/people.

My main social media approach has been through this blog, which gets published on Word Press and distributed to my networks through my Twitter and LinkedIn accounts. I’ve also texted, Whats App’d and emailed people.

I will get some reviews and other blog posts done by myself or people I know, particularly as I near the hard copy launch on 20 November in London. It would be good to get press/television interest, but I realise there’s a lot of competition out there currently on news

Planning for producing the hard copy continues, including re-indexing the book from scratch using MS Word – the e-book has the advantage of hyperlinks taking the reader straight to relevant sections of the book, as well as connecting people, place, organisations and built structures. Print is more difficult and I just don’t have the time or will power to work it out so neatly!

Brunel, Barry and ‘modern’ Victorian architecture eBook by Nick von Behr – 9781916225701 | Rakuten Kobo

The book cover image above should always be credited as follows: Arpingstone (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Tower.bridge.7.basculecloseup.london.arp.jpg), size and alignment by Elisa Vernazza, https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/legalcode

The e-book is currently available to order at https://www.kobo.com/gb/en/ebook/brunel-barry-and-modern-victorian-architecture