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.

18 days, 125 years #buildingpassions

The last time I ran a countdown on this website was for the 100th anniversary of John Wolfe Barry’s death in January 2018.

This one is for the 125th anniversary of the first opening of Tower Bridge to the London public on 30 June, only eighteen days away.

I was hoping to publish my forthcoming book about JWB, his family and close friend Henry Brunel, son of IKB, by now. It will happen by the end of September latest.

The good news is that I have had more time to adjust my text to address a broader readership and write more about the famous Brunel family. While the Barrys rightly got the credit for Tower Bridge and the Houses of Parliament, they couldn’t have achieved this without the legacy and contribution of others.

In addition to the Brunels the book covers Augustus Pugin and a little on his father, from whom he inherited his incredible gothic drawing talents. It also looks at William Arrol’s contribution to the building of Tower Bridge and the more structurally impressive Forth Railway Bridge.

Which shows that there are stories behind stories behind stories. Meeting recently with former work colleagues, providing the ‘back story’ to key issues was one area we felt had been part of our career learning.

The trick is to find the key stories, dig up enough relevant detail and communicate this to your intended audiences.

#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 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 …

How (not) to review (parts of) a book you refuse to reach

This is new for me but I needed to blog about a book I refuse to read. The title and image refers to a famous ad about a beer ‘refreshing the parts other beers cannot reach’,

Let’s imagine that a well-known politician has just launched a book about a dozen characters from Victorian Britain. For context, the politician has right of centre views and is identified with his passionate arguments for a ‘No Deal Brexit’. It is possible that he may have a biased approach to history?

Coincidentally, two of the characters he includes in his book feature in my forthcoming publication, though not as prominently in my case.

One of these is Queen Victoria, about whom much has been written and put on our screens of late. Difficult to be objective possibly?

The other of more immediate interest to me is the architect and designer Augustus Pugin. My book will look closely at his working relationship with Sir Charles Barry in the building of the New Palace of Westminster. Others have already researched and written about this, and a new, long-awaited biography of Barry may eventually appear by the end of this year.

Not wanting to give away my conclusions before publication, let’s just say that I attempt to provide a balanced view between the two extremes presented by Pugin’s and Barry’s sons in the later 19th Century after their fathers had died. One end of the scale suggests Pugin should get all the credit for this iconic structure, the other end goes for Barry. Somewhere in the middle seems more sensible, but like politics that doesn’t always prevail.

Hence my keenness not to read where Mr X stands on things, if indeed this is mentioned at all …

The end: you will know when you’ve got there

I’ve just about reached the end of drafting the text for my book on the Brunel and Barry families of Victorian engineers and architects.

I started in January of this year but only got into it properly from 12 February after I had stopped full-time work in London and the commute that went with it.

So it’s been about 3 months of writing with two restarts in March and April. The first one was on the back of an editorial assessment and the second when I decided to extend the remit to include the Brunel family. Until then it had focused on Sir Charles Barry and his son Sir John Wolfe Barry.

Where do we stand now?

Not as many words as I’d hoped for, but those there have been extensively self-edited and fact-checked – the problem with writing non-fiction rapidly I guess. Fortunately I had prepared some of the way with this website, as well as previous research, articles and talks.

I’ve also learned that finding minimal cost images for non-fiction publishing is a tricky exercise – in fact it makes me rather annoyed that some (inter)national museums, galleries and institutions are raking in large amounts of cash for image rights, when they should be serving an educational purpose through disseminating these as widely as possible, hence also luring people in to see the real exhibits. Enough said!

Next steps are reviews by trusted people and then the text goes off for a developmental edit by start June. At the same time I will start working with a designer on the cover. I’m still on plan to deliver as scheduled.

One upcoming date to note which is highly relevant to this website is 30 June, when Londoners will celebrate 125 years since Tower Bridge was first opened to the public. You can find out here more about activities this special year.

Building stories, building passions

This a quick post to promote Roma Agrawal’s new podcast website called ‘Building Stories’.

I have listened to the first three casts on it which are all fascinating and ‘build’ on the stories in her amazing book BUILT.

I particularly like the one on the Shard, so some highlights:

  • Roma explains how she helped build the Shard and a colleague tells her how the steel in it was first developed in Sri Lanka in the 3rd Century BC and industrialised in 19th Century Britain.
  • Roma was born in India like my brother and I! One of her skyscraper heroes was a structural engineer/architect, born in Bangladesh, who designed the ground-breaking John Hancock Centre and Sears Tower in Chicago. You will have to listen to find out more …
  • The legacy business of my favourite civil engineer (hint: this website is about him!) helped construct the world’s tallest skyscraper, the Burj Khalifa.

Finally, I’ve called this post ‘building stories, building passions’ because the second part is in the subtitle of the book I’m writing – for my latest post on progress see the previous one to this.