I’ve not blogged yet about the current pandemic facing the world. It didn’t seem appropriate for my typical themes.
However, now that people are wondering what to do with themselves as they self-isolate (the word of 2020?), it does seem appropriate to encourage them to read more books.
Not only will they derive more pleasure and knowledge, they may learn a few tricks. Equally, they will help authors and smaller publishers such as myself. I would strongly recommend reading ‘BUILT‘ by my structural engineer friend Roma Agrawal, which inspired me to write my own book.
In the case of ‘Building Passions‘, all you need to do is look at the website and then decide if you want to read more. You can only buy the e-book via Kobo.com as a print copy is too risky currently to mail.
I’m also looking into remote casting talks about the book and its related topics, which cover the 19th-century Brunel and Barry families and ‘modern’ Victorian architecture. I know a fair bit now about the highly decorative ‘Art Nouveau’ architecture of the later 19th and early 20th Centuries, as I’m planning a PhD in that area once things have calmed down.
Above all, be wise and stay safe for your sake and everyone else’s.
I published my first book ‘Building Passions‘ electronically in September 2019 and then in print in November 2019. It covers the story of the Brunel and Barry families of Victorian engineers and architects.
At the time I wasn’t fully aware of European book pricing regulations. It turned out that they vary by country (so much for an EU!) and in some cases you are not allowed to offer price reductions for up to 18 months.
The UK is more flexible and this is an area where Brexit will have little impact. So I have been able to run UK sales on the book at appropriate times linked to promotional events.
That said, I am still keen to know how to come to the right book price if you are a self-publisher. ‘Building Passions’ e-version is priced at £4.50 in the UK based on a minimal return per download and the print version then adds on £9 to cover printing related costs (could be lower if you print bigger batches). Some e-books are available free of charge, simply to promote the print or audio version. Big publishers can afford to cross subsidise, and some of them have few qualms about cutting down forests to print vast numbers of less costly books, or pay celebrities large (fixed?) fees to record their narratives.
The market needs to be only lightly regulated. This can happen with some form of agreement between the small and the large operators. Will this emerge? Perhaps after life has readjusted post-virus …
Writing is about communication. But is it more than that?
I ask because I have always been a writer, since my earliest days learning the craft. Once I became reasonably confident, then I allowed myself to experiment with ideas and phrases.
Publishing my first e-book and print version ‘Building Passions‘ last year was another first step for me. It was built on the foundations of this website about John Wolfe Barry, Henry Brunel and Tower Bridge. I simply extended the concept to their wider families and structures.
A crossroads has appeared recently.
I finished my first novella, still connected to the world of historical biography. I am currently writing my next one, which is pure fiction, but inevitably features references to history. A leopard can’t hide its spots.
I will continue to blog here on topics of interest to me, but not always directly related to the Barrys and Brunels. The common theme will, however, be writing.
But at the same time I will develop other communication techniques through the amazing tools of the internet, as well as direct interaction with audiences at venues.
Of course you will always be able to buy printed versions of my books, but there won’t be many copies available as I refuse to sacrifice trees for this purpose.
As part of scoping for a potential PhD in the history of architecture and engineering, I have been considering the tension between being creative and sticking to norms.
It’s a topic I’ve skirted around already on this website and in my book ‘Building Passions‘.
Imagine you have to design a new house for someone you admire and respect. They have given you a brief which tells you they want the building to be unique for them, but that it needs to conform with local health and safety regulations. This immediately produces creative tension in the design process.
That’s not a bad thing in itself and forces you to think about new approaches to form and function, but which can still meet the set standards. It is possible that artistic recognition may come out of this process. This will depend on the nature of the materials used and the skills employed at melding them into an original work of beauty.
What makes humans different is our ability to appreciate our wider environment. Other creatures just live in theirs. They may have unwritten rules, but these are purely designed to serve the group rather than the individual.
So creativity and norms can co-exist in societies. But we humans need to rise above our basic motivations and reflect on the bigger picture.
Can we do this?
Weird title for a post, I know. But humour me a little.
My book ‘Building Passions‘ is about the history of architecture and engineering in Victorian Britain, seen through the eyes of two key families, the Brunels and Barrys. I came up with the short title (there is a long one) while drafting the text. It seemed to fit sections describing how and why a built environment is important to the communities that live within it.
‘What about STEAM engagement?’ you might ask.
Well, it’s what I am trying to do through this blog, my websites and my book. STEAM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics. In the UK it once used to be SET, so without the maths or arts included. I had the privilege of once working closely with Professor Dame Celia Hoyles, who became England’s first Maths Czar in the early 2000s, and she definitely got the M into SET!
Since then there have been pushes to get an A into the acronym. Again, the US leads the way on this. I am a supporter because the built environment needs young people with all five facets. This is a big ambition! It is also broad and there is a risk it all just turns into words rather than actions.
Styles and fads have cyclical lives, adapting as they develop and reinvent. The same may happen with STEAM.
So be it.
But while it is alive let’s make the most of STEAM’s potential impact and stoke up some passion for buildings amongst wider audiences.
I am writing a novella based on the life story of my grandfather, who was a spy in the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, we think.
I started the process with scoping the story back in the summer, and then some preparatory drafting until November, when I started writing proper. This coincided with NaNoWriMo which is held every November around the world to encourage novel writing. I met a group of local writers and we have continued to engage since then.
I thought I could write fiction as easily as non-fiction, having completed my book ‘Building Passions‘. As it turns out, fiction is equally difficult. While you don’t rely on the accuracy of historical facts, for example, you do need to now how to build a close, personal link to your readership.
The big learning curve for me has been writing dialogue. I found this a challenge as it wasn’t a strong point for me. I’m good at narrative. However, my writing group has helped me develop these skills, so now I feel more confident. I can turn narrative into dialogue fairly easily, though know I must resist the temptation to write a screen or theatre play.
“Tell me John, why do you not want to be an architect like you father and brothers? Why a civil engineer?”
“I like sketching and designing, but I’m more interested in the maths behind those structures first proposed by myself or others. I have no ego about creative proprietorship. I just want to be sure buildings and bridges stay up for ever.”
Such might be a fictional dialogue between a young John Wolfe Barry and a Victorian contemporary.
Perhaps I should write more such exchanges?
I am considering studying for a PhD.
I will only do this if I can get grant funding, otherwise it’s not worth it.
My reasons are partly self-satisfying. I like the sound of being Dr von Behr. But, I also want peer validation for my historical research and analysis skills.
However, if I do undertake doctoral studies, then I am determined to ensure they produce something of benefit to the system. What precisely this will be is still unknown, but ideally it builds on the work I have started in STEM and built environment education and public engagement. This is likely to use historical examples, as I have done in my book ‘Building Passions‘.
Once I am clearer on things I will of course share my research proposal more widely, so watch this space.