Experiments in writing

My first book was non-fiction and specialist (‘Building Passions‘). It was self-published in 2019 and then I moved on to fiction.

My second book is almost finished. The text just needs a final proofing and the cover is designed for the e-book. The printed version may be print-on-demand. It is historical fiction based on the true life story of my grandfather.

My third project is a trilogy of novellas within the same theme about dictatorship versus democracy. All pure fiction but related to politics and philosophy.

My fourth book is a collaboration with three other writers. It’s a murder mystery where we have created our own individual characters and are writing from their different points of view.

I may need to restart the cycle with some non-fiction. This depends how things develop with my historical research. If I get PhD funding then it will relate to that topic within architectural history. If not then I will go wider to consider other areas.

I enjoy writing and experimentation with different genres makes it even more worthwhile – they all have their challenges and surprises.

Easing lockdown for #buildingpassions

Once lockdown started in the UK I stopped making print copies of my book ‘Building Passions’ available to purchase. This was because I couldn’t guarantee that I wouldn’t spread COVID-19 via the book and the postal system.

To compensate I have halved the e-book price in April. Since my goal has always been to sell mainly in e-format then this made sense. However no sales have taken place via Kobo.com .

Therefore I will resume with postal sales from the end of April and review how I distribute the book electronically. I dont want an exclusive contract with Kindle. I’m starting to dislike anything linked with Amazon, who seem keen on maximising profits at the expense of their workers and independent publishing.

I would have promoted the book more through physical talks but obviously the pandemic came along. I’m less safe at remote talks but I will try to develop these skills.

Stay safe!

NHS Nightingale Hospital and IK Brunel #buildingpassions #beatthevirus #NHS

The National Health Service in the UK is opening a new emergency hospital today in London to handle the growing number of COVID-19 cases – it’s called the NHS Nightingale Hospital after the famous Victorian nurse with her lamp, a symbol of the Crimean War which had so many military casualties, many from diseases spread amongst the besiegers of Sevastopol.

I have visited the Crimea twice (prior to the illegal occupation by Russia) and seen the magnificent Panorama of the siege of Sevastopol. I’ve also been to the small port of Balaklava, better known for the woollen headgear named after it, where the British were based during that war. I haven’t yet been to the site of another temporary hospital, which served the needs of the ill and wounded many miles away on the other side of the Black Sea.

Isambard Kingdom Brunel was asked by his brother-in-law Sir Benjamin Hawes in the War Office to design a prefabricated hospital in Turkey – supposedly to placate Florence Nightingale who was pressing Hawes for more support. This he did rapidly and it was shipped out to Renkioi in the Dardanelles and assembled there.

Medical experts have since said that the unique modular design had an influence on the development of all hospitals subsequently. You can read more about the project at Brunel’s SS Great Britain website – the vast ship was used to transport troops to the Crimea. For more on Brunel read my book ‘Building Passions‘ which from today is available for only £2.00 as an e-book in the UK for all April (different prices for other countries covered).

Temporary or emergency hospitals have been pivotal in helping society to deal with major crises such as viruses and wars. When I worked at the Institution of Structural Engineers we developed a learning resource for students based on a military engineer’s rapid construction of an Ebola hospital in Africa.

Stay safe!

17 days and counting #buildingpassions

It’s 17 days until I launch my book ‘Building Passions’!

The last time I used a countdown on this website was leading up to celebrating 125 years of Tower Bridge earlier this year. Before that I properly launched the website in January 2018, a hundred years after the death of Sir John Wolfe Barry.

A lot has happened since then and even earlier when I first sent in my application for a Blue Plaque for JWB. In 16 days time a plaque should finally go up on the front of the house where he died on Chelsea Embankment in London.

I am currently part of a local Kent group of writers who are aiming to complete 50,000 words of a novel n the month of November, as part of a worldwide charity called NaNoWriMo. It’s not easy, but more doable if you have others in the same situation.

I have promised the group that I will tell them more about self-publishing based on my experience to date so below are some brief bullets to whet the appetite:

  • Plan, plan then plan some more – you can’t do too much!
  • Seek out those with a greater expertise than yourself whether directly or via social media
  • Be realistic about deadlines – they can shift as long as the end product is completed to a high standard, but not for ever
  • Break down the project into streams and tasks so it becomes more manageable
  • Don’t give up however bad you might feel on certain days – good news is just around the corner!
  • If you want to use lost of images and fancy design features then be prepared to spend time and money on it
  • Find reliable people to work with – they may not always be the very best, but at least they will deliver when you need it
  • Imagine what your book will look like and try and stick to that dream, with occasional adjustments
  • Above all, don’t even write a book if you aren’t convinced that people will want to read it!

The madness of self-publishing #buildingpassions

Because I decided to self-publish my first book, I have become obsessed with every single stage of the process.

This may or may not be a good thing.

Currently, I’m fixated with marketing and distribution issues. This means trying to set up the Building Passions website for direct sales and all the associated technical and legal requirements. It also means working out the easiest and most cost effective way to mail books out to UK and overseas purchasers.

A simple example was what I did this week.

I mailed 2 proof copies of the book to a UK and and EU address to check delivery costs and duration. The EU one required a customs declaration. The UK one was tracked, but that may be a luxury.

I found a friendly, quiet Post Office where they are happy to process as many packages as I want, though they told me a No Deal Brexit could raise prices and slow down delivery times to the EU. Two large parcels arrived today with jiffy envelopes, so I just need the printed books to put into them, which should be with me from the week of 8 November.

I will commission others to do fulfilment for me assuming the orders come in regularly. It would be nice if people wanted to read the printed book enough to justify this, but they can do it electronically as well at www.kobo.com, and ultimately the environment would suffer less.

There’s always a silver lining …

The final countdown #breakingpassions

It’s 38 days until I launch the hard copy version of my first book ‘Building Passions‘.

Between then and now we will have Diwali, Halloween/Brexit Day and Guy Fawkes Day in the UK. The lead up to Christmas has already started with cards and adverts.

The draft has gone off to the printers and once a proof is returned and corrected for any errors then that’s it, until delivery of the final soft backs in time for the 20 November launch.

I am firming up plans with English Heritage to promote a Blue Plaque for Sir John Wolfe Barry, which will hopefully be unveiled in London on the same day as the launch.

In some sense I will be relieved once the hard copy is out as it is the final piece in the lengthy jigsaw of self-publishing non-fiction. The e-book is already available on www.kobo.com and a temporary sale will start tomorrow for about a fortnight – if you have never registered on Kobo before then the book will be free for UK purchasers, as you will get an introductory discount of the same amount (in other countries this will depend on exchange rates).

Fiction looks easier to me … which is why I need to get more words down for my next book to be published in 2020 about an amazing story based on my grandfather’s ‘fantasy’ life.

From drafting to print, it’s a long haul #buildingpassions

Sometimes I wonder why it takes so much effort to self-publish a book!

I thought the writing part would be hardest, and at times it was a struggle for me. I had to start again with a new structure a few times until I got it right.

Then the editing, design and image search took me longer than expected. This pushed back the original finish deadline from July to end September.

But even the final run in was frustrating at times, including indexing and finalising the e-book version to hit a final publish date of 24 September.

I have been working on the print version in parallel, almost as a separate project, which in fact it is. There are still frustrations with simple things about getting the right page size and numbers, plus ensuring good quality print. And then there’s the launch on 20 November in London …

Would I want to do this again? Not for architectural history! But yes for historical fiction which is my next book due out in 2020 I hope.