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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!

Nudging your audience along #buildingpassions

I told a friend and his teenage son about my book today. It taught me that you can present the same story in many different ways.

I sat them down and literally explained the main characters and the built structures linked to them. This was a good test for my own memory and would help my comms skills when handling larger audiences.

I literally went with the flow, without any planning except my own knowledge of the book.

My main focus was on the two fathers, Isambard Kingdom Brunel and Sir Charles Barry, and their sons Sir John Wolfe Barry and Henry Marc Brunel. I mentally pictured the small tree I have drawn showing their relationships, and those with Sir Marc Brunel, father of IKB, and Sir Charles’ other sons and grandsons covered in the book.

I also covered broader issues such as the development of architectural styles and the link between ‘modernism’, Art Nouveau and the Crystal Palace.

I thought, as I spoke, of what would keep a teenager interested in the story. I tried as much interaction as I could, asking questions and then providing answers where he or his father couldn’t do so. It was all about nudging them along, but trying to avoid any topic which might appear too technical for a layperson.

It would be great if I could write books easily this way (think perhaps ‘Sophie’s World’ or ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’), but I have not quite mastered such an approach to non-fiction. May be fiction will be easier?

You can always teach an old dog new tricks …

The final steps towards publishing ‘Building Passions’ #buildingpassions

I kind of feel I’m almost there!

A pre-pub proof is now ready of my forthcoming book, short title ‘Building Passions’.

All I need to do now is typeset it, arrange the c. 70 illustrations properly, and finish off the index and all page references. Then I will know the exact spine width based on the number and thickness of the pages and so can complete the last stage of the book cover.

I’m still on schedule for an e-version published by end September and a hard copy by end November.

My only slight frustration is finding the right book launch venue in London which won’t break the bank but also fits with the book and invitees. I now understand why events planning requires help from venue finders! I’ve often had the good luck of working for organisations that have their own events spaces and teams, but no longer sadly …

In terms of printing the book I’ve decided to seek advice from a local publisher and printer. I just know that I don’t want to fell hundreds of trees in the process! Also, that a printed book needs to have a good feel about it when handled. I may be a bit weird, but I also like the smell of new (and old) books …

I should remind you of why it’s worth buying the book once available.

If you are above age 18 and have even the slightest interest in the history of the built environment e.g. why buildings, bridges and other structures have been put up in a certain way, then ‘Building Passions’ is a must for you. It does focus on Victorian/Edwardian Britain and its ‘Empire’, so hopefully you weren’t put off too much at school (I loved it!).

I’m afraid it doesn’t mention many women at all, and certainly not as architects, engineers or contractors. I’m afraid that was the way of the world at that time, and while clearly things have changed since then for the better, there is still a lot to do to increase diversity in the built environment workforce in the UK and abroad.

How to self-publish a book in six easy steps #buildingpassions

This is a brief post on self-publishing a book based on my experience to date since I started in February of this year. My first book, ‘Building Passions’ (short title), is due out by end September.

Firstly, you need to commit yourself and your loved ones to the fact that your life will be taken over by something else. The benefit to them might be your happiness and perhaps even some financial reward or recognition.

Secondly, you need to decide if you will write full or part time. This will depend partly on the way your finances play out, but as much if not more on the best way for you to write. In my case I needed a complete break from my day job and a sabbatical wasn’t available, so I had to resign.

Thirdly, you need someone to nudge you along when things get difficult. I was lucky to have an experienced friend who supported my initial plan and gave me tips along the way. But I also accessed a global network of editors and others through a great website called Reedsy.

Fourthly, you need to revise your plans and text as you go along and be realistic about deadlines. What matters is the final product of your efforts – there is no point in writing a book if hardly anyone reads it, or worse still they tell other how boring it is!

Fifthly, you need to understand the complexities of publishing, especially in non-fiction, but not be put off by some of the ‘curious’ professional practices that have existed for ages. If they don’t make sense, question them!

Sixthly, and finally, you need to invest in marketing your book in a way you feel is most appropriate. Social media is a great vehicle for this. If like many you worry about your impression as a public speaker, then only make short speeches or presentations with at least one joke to break the ice. Rely on key friends and networks to push out the good news for you.

Do it now!

There are all kinds of passions not just #buildingpassions

I watched a beautiful film (‘Lea and I’ on Netflix) yesterday about a young woman who had been diagnosed with cystic fibrosis as a child and wasn’t given long to live.

The film was a true story documentary with a strong emotional feel to it given the serious health issue. Fortunately for Lea Moret, now 23, she still lives and is determined to make the most of her life.

In the film, she travelled a few years ago with a close friend to Latin America to find alternative remedies for her illness. This started with a magnetic healing session in Mexico City and then moved on to more spiritual approaches helped by native concoctions. The most extreme was in Peru, where she and her friend experienced a 10 day shamanic retreat taking the powerful hallucinogen ayahuasca.

It was fascinating to see the experiences Lea and her friend went through first hand, and it seems they had an impact on her for the good, both psychologically and physically.

She deserves this fully as she is an energetic and driven young person who will make the most of her extra time on earth. Her passion for life came to the fore in the film.

I write in this blog about building passions linked to my forthcoming book.

Please find some kind of passion that keeps you going before it’s too late.

On the trail of a blue plaque #buildingpassions

Four years ago I was working at the HQ of the BSI Group in Chiswick, London.

For those of you who don’t know, BSI stands for the British Standards Institution and is the guardian of the Kitemark plus many international product, process and people standards.

I’d happened upon this contract-based employment which wasn’t far from where we lived. But I knew BSI well from my previous research on John Wolfe Barry and of course I couldn’t resist looking into their archives. I also found out that they had just started awarding a medal in JWB’s name to honour key stakeholders who help produce standards.

This was all impetus enough for me to resurrect my past focus and start applying for an English Heritage Blue Plaque for Sir John. I submitted the completed application at the end of 2015 and my last update post was a year ago.

Fast forward over three and a half years since I started. Yes, it takes that long for things plaque-related to happen!

I am on the verge of believing that a plaque may really be in the offing before the year is out …

With this in mind, I’ve started preparing for the launch of both my new book, Building Passions, and the unveiling of a plaque commemorating Sir John Wolfe Barry’s life. The big prize is if both can take place on the same November day.

Fingers crossed!

Revealed, the front cover of my new book! #buildingpassions

I am excited to reveal the front cover of my new book which will be published by the end of September.

Firstly, I have to make you aware of the credit for the image, written immediately below it, in case by any chance you wish to save it elsewhere (out of politeness you can tell me in the comments section). This must always be included with it.

My Italian cover designer Elisa worked with me on the original photo, hence the share of the credit she gets.

It was an interesting process which started in May and is not quite complete as I still need to finalise the spine width for the print version.

However, for marketing purposes now is the right time to start promoting the book’s front cover.

Arpingstone, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Tower.bridge.7.basculecloseup.london.arp.jpg, all changes by Elisa Vernazza, CC zero 1.0.

I will explain a bit more how the front cover came about.

As you can see, the image includes a photo of Tower Bridge which Elisa and I both liked as it was one of the key structures in the book. She helped me turn it into something more usable for a book cover and then we filled in the text, advised by my editor and others who had previously given me feedback on titles and use of cover images etc. I’ve blogged about images for my book.

The final title came from working versions and was adapted to suit search engines and the fit with the graphic. The sub-header is also my tagline for the book, #buildingpassions. My name isn’t prominent as it’s my first book, but hopefully that will change in the future.

Once the text is proofed and indexing complete then I will bring everything together into an electronic version that you will be able to download (at a price I’m afraid!). Not quite there yet though.

Who owns an image? #buildingpassions

One of the most interesting findings from self-publishing my forthcoming book (short title ‘Building Passions’) on the 19th-century Brunels and Barrys is that sourcing images is complicated!

I could probably write a separate book about this but below are some bullets.

  • My editor quite rightly advised me to start sourcing images early in the process. It has probably taken me about 4 months and there is still one outstanding one to be licensed.
  • People and organisations have different policies for licensing images ranging from free, no hassle to costly and complex! This seems to bear little relevance to the provenance of the image …
  • The internet has taken the lead in encouraging the shared use of free images through Creative Commons and similar schemes.
  • Certain images of well-known privately-owned buildings e.g. the Burj Khalifa and the Shard are copyrighted, but in the case of the Eiffel Tower while you can use a daytime image freely, you can’t use a nighttime one as the electric lighting is trademarked …
  • Non-fiction works are therefore more costly to publish so if you want to spend less, write fiction and include your own illustrations.

I am sympathetic to living producers of genuine artistic objects who need to be recognised and rewarded for their efforts, in order to allow the creative design process to flourish.

However, I am less sympathetic to others outside this category, particularly archives and agencies that charge self-publishers large sums for the reuse of their images, many of which may have outlived their ‘real’ copyright needs.

I think we need to strike a balance here, as with many areas of life. If not, one day perhaps everything we see will be labelled ‘not for reuse’, including ourselves. See this intriguing piece about copyrighting the tattoos of famous sports personalities …