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.

Small victories matter #buildingpassions

I had a small victory yesterday in the process of self-publishing my forthcoming book.

After many weeks of email correspondence and occasional calls in the direction of the Gulf States I finally got a result.

Let’s start at the beginning.

The new book is about the Brunel and Barry families of Victorian architects and engineers. It starts with Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the most famous of all the subjects, voted second greatest Briton of all time after Churchill.

IKB’s first major project was working with his father to build a passenger tunnel under the River Thames in London. This was literally a ground-breaking exercise!

Roma Agrawal has covered the tunnel story excellently in her brilliant book ‘BUILT’ for which a children’s version is due to be published in 2020.

In my book I make the link between that early 19th-century underground structure and the world’s tallest skyscraper. Do you know where it is? Hint: the Gulf States.

The connection comes through the story of Brunel’s son Henry and the son of Sir Charles Barry, the architect of the Houses of Parliament (for which the name of this website is a huge clue!). It goes on via Tower Bridge, which the two sons built, to their expanding civil engineering consultancy in the early 20th Century.

Ultimately, the legacy organisation from their partnership was involved in the construction of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, UAE, at the time of writing the highest skyscraper on the globe, but please check with the official database.

You need permission to publish a photo of the Burj Khalifa (worth remembering if you go to Dubai!), hence I have it for my book but not for this website yet.

How wide is your spine? #buildingpassions

I was going to blog about the importance of my new book’s cover and particularly the spine, but never finished it.

Today is a major event for me personally and hopefully for others with an interest.

125 years ago today a bridge was opened in London, the capital of Victorian Britain and its empire.

The challenge was to cross a busy River Thames without blocking ships with tall masts. The answer was a bascule bridge which could open and shut to allow river and road traffic through.

The men who answered the challenge were the City of London’s Architect and two civil engineers. Sadly the former died early in the construction phase so responsibility rested on the shoulders of the senior engineer.

His name was John Wolfe Barry and his famous father Sir Charles Barry had already built the new Houses of Parliament in London. His engineering partner for the bridge was Henry Brunel, the younger son of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the second greatest Briton after Churchill according to a poll.

Together the two engineers, with the help of many others, built an amazing bridge which still works today. Tower Bridge (NOT London Bridge!) is a tribute to all their efforts. It is a technical wonder, whose architecture was designed to fit with the neighbouring Tower of London.

My forthcoming book #buildingpassions (the title is longer!) will tell you more about Tower Bridge and the Brunel and Barry families of Victorian engineers and architects. It is due out by end September and follow this website to see how it progresses.

Mid year report

It’s getting to the mid-year point and here’s a quick summary of what has happened in 2019 in connection with Sir John Wolfe Barry.

I started the year with concrete plans to write a book about John Wolfe Barry, and probably his father and brothers as well.

To focus 100% on writing I quit my full-time job in February.

In March I restarted the book with a new structure to it.

In April I expanded the title to include the Brunel family.

In May I submitted my finished text to my editor who has just returned it with tracking.

Separately I commissioned a cover designer to start producing concepts for the book. We should have this finished by end June. One issue has been the title which has changed many times!

I’ve spent months thinking about and sourcing illustrations for the book. This was a bigger challenge than I had anticipated due to copyright law. The system seems weighed heavily against first time self-publishers, with some notable exceptions led by Creative Commons.

I started some marketing using social media and this website with the hashtag #buildingpassions . Once the book cover is complete I can do much more.

I’m still aiming for at least an e-version to be available before end September and I’m thinking more about a hard copy launch in early November at a suitable venue.

Next weekend Tower Bridge will be celebrating its 125 years. Not sure if I will be there in person, but I certainly will be thinking about the Barry-Brunel team that built the structure.

#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.

From writing to editorial and design: next stages in my self-published book

So, I have finally submitted my book’s text to a freelance editor to start what is called a developmental edit combined with a copy edit. My impression is that this will combine general comments on content and style with language and other corrections. I look forward to receiving the end product and somewhat masochistically would prefer a lot of tracking to not very much.

At the same time I’ve commissioned a freelance designer (based in Italy) to start researching concepts for the book cover. We have discussed my feelings about this and she will try to capture them in some alternative designs. We hope to end up with an attractive proposition which will appeal to my target audience. I’ve hinted at possible titles and sub-headers previously.

Once I have a better idea of progress in these two key areas, hopefully by the end of June, I will be ready to start bringing things together with cleared images and final adjustments to text. The plan is still to publish electronically by end September latest. Hard copies are likely to be print-on-demand.

I have started to think about marketing and indeed my lovely teenage daughter has volunteered to help me with social media. This website is currently the main platform for information about the book, but when I fix a distribution contract I will benefit from whoever runs that, less their cut of any sales revenue – still not sure if I will go for the big players or try someone smaller, more niche, or just plain different.

A mental note is to think about a suitable launch date and venue from mid-October to end November during the Xmas lead up period. It’s likely to be in London and may well link to one of the structures in the book. But it would be good to surprise people …