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.
When I used to work at the UK Academy of Sciences, we often got calls asking us about our Christmas Lecture, particularly as the Autumn days began to darken.
We would politely reply: “I’m sorry, you want the Royal Institution. We are the Royal Society.”
In some cases this led to a follow on conversation about the difference between the two organisation’s titles. We would explain that the Royal Society was one of the world’s oldest science academies founded in 1660, whereas the Royal Institution had been set up in the 19th Century by science communicators with the purpose of educating the public about science. Michael Faraday’s famous lectures on electricity morphed into the annual Xmas events broadcast on the BBC.
I am giving a Christmas lecture in Canterbury on 17 December with the same title as my book ‘Building Passions’. It may not be on the same level as the RI ones, but it is about communicating on the STEM subjects, as we now group them. Mine will focus on engineering and architecture as part of our built environment’s history.
I will talk about the Brunel and Barry families of engineers and architects. Sir John Wolfe Barry and Henry Brunel, sons of famous fathers, worked together on building Tower Bridge in London. I will cover other well-known and interesting structures and there will be a live demonstration of simple bridge building.
Do please come along! Whether you manage or not you can still buy the book and/or donate to my favourite charity campaign Time to Change.
I’ve produced a list of structures mentioned in the book ‘Building Passions‘.
I created the list for indexing purposes, as it naturally flowed out of my text for the book. Perhaps I should have done it the other way round?
All lists need choices to be made. The public voted Isambard Kingdom Brunel the second greatest Briton after Churchill. Does that make his structures the best British ones ever? Of course not!
This website focuses on the works of his son Henry Brunel in partnership with Sir John Wolfe Barry, who really gets the credit as project lead. His father Sir Charles Barry has many buildings on the list, including the Houses of Parliament, but no tunnels, bridges, docks or rail lines and stations. Sir Charles was an architect, unlike the previously named engineers.
Other architects and engineers are on the list, as well as unattributed structures such as the Acropolis or the Burj Khalifa.
Some might say it’s a bit of a dog’s breakfast. I disagree. There are connections between all these structures across and over time.
Which is my favourite structure on the list? No surprise to those who know me, it’s the Travellers Club in London by Charles Barry and his close friend John Lewis Wolfe. Apart from sheer admiration of form and function, my father used to be a member and often stayed there on trips from Switzerland to the UK.
I also appreciate the significance of John Wolfe.
Sir Charles’s fourth son was named after him, and in tribute to his memory and lineage, he continued with the ‘Wolfe’ title in a family name that is still alive today.
My website ‘Building Passions’ now lets you pre-order a print copy of the book prior to its launch on 20 November 2019.
To note, this is currently only for deliveries to UK addresses, as I’m waiting for more clarity on Brexit to see what happens in the EU. The rest of the world will have to wait a bit while I decide on which fulfilment service to use.
If you still don’t know what I’m talking about then here is a quick recap:
- the book’s full title is Brunel, Barry and ‘modern’ Victorian’ architecture.
- it covers the story of two families, the Brunels and the Barrys, who were famous Victorian engineers and architects. Think the Houses of Parliament, Tower Bridge, Clifton Suspension Bridge, the Great Eastern etc.
- the key relationship described in the book is that between the civil engineers Sir John Wolfe Barry and Henry Marc Brunel, respectively sons of renowned fathers, Sir Charles Barry and Isambard Kingdom Brunel.
- the book also looks at the story of architecture and civil engineering as key built environment professions in 19th- and 20th-century Britain.
- Finally, the content examines the ‘modernisation’ of architecture globally from the 19th Century on and the modern legacy of the Brunel-Barry partnership, both in terms of structures, but also the connection with physical and product standards.
If you prefer not to buy a hard copy or don’t live in the UK, you can instead purchase the e-book which is considerably cheaper and more interactive – it has an index which helps the readers easily cross-reference people with structures in the book.
Note: I’m very pleased to say that an English Heritage Blue Plaque will be put up on the London building in which Sir John Wolfe Barry died in January 1918. This is planned to take place on 19 November, the day before the book launch.
The answer depends on what you mean by a builder.
At one time, many millennia ago, they would have been one of the most highly respected people in a kingdom of China, Egypt, Mesopotamia or Greece.
Since then the respectability of their role has been superseded by that of architects and engineers.
That’s not a bad thing in itself, in the sense that the world has many more professions nowadays and opportunities for people to shine within them.
However, the down side is that builders have accumulated negative press, particularly those unregulated ones who operate on the edges of the law, interested only in making a quick buck out of unsuspecting clients.
Regulation is one option, but not necessarily the best for society if imposed from above. The fact is, people all over the world will always want a cheaper quote for what can seem very expensive manual work to them.
Alternatively, more of them are trying out self-build for smaller projects. This is a good development as it helps clients to identify, and appreciate more, the skills required to construct something solid and long-lasting.
The biggest worry is that those populations living in regions of the world susceptible to earthquakes or flooding continue to seek the cheapest building option, even though they have chosen t0 stay where they are rather than move to safer ground.
This is why education about the built environment is so useful and why I hope my new book ‘Building Passions’ can somehow stimulate a wider interest.