Anticipating more public speaking #buildingpassions

I’m giving a talk on my book ‘Building Passions’ tomorrow at my local library in Ashford, Kent.

I’ve adapted it a bit from the previous one in Canterbury before Xmas. It will be longer, as my friend Tom won’t be demonstrating how to build a model bridge, so I’ve had to add in some extra content.

I still feel a bit nervous about public speaking as you never know what’s going to happen – from the slides not functioning properly to an audience member asking you questions to which you don’t have answers, or telling you they know more than you about your topic.

However, what matters is that we enjoy ourselves as a group and feel that the time spent has been worthwhile. If people want to buy a copy of the book they are most welcome to, and they will get a personal dedication and a discount, as they have to pay a nominal ticket price to come along (which doesn’t go to me).

I will cover the main personalities in the book, so the Brunel and Barry engineers and architects who I write about, as well as some of my favourite structures such as Tower Bridge and Hotel Tassel. I’m assuming you know the former, but may not know of the latter.

Hotel Tassel, in Brussels, was designed by a Belgian architect called Victor Horta in the early 1890s. I will be visiting it for the first time towards the end of March and am already getting excited about this. Why?

Because it is a landmark in the new style of architecture called ‘Art Nouveau’ which suddenly appeared in Europe at that point in time. The style disappeared equally rapidly before the outbreak of WWI. Fortunately we still have many of the original buildings which have been restored in a number of significant cases.

But what is the link to ‘Building Passions’ you may ask? The book examines the influence of the Brunels and Barrys on ‘modern’ Victorian architecture. It concludes by noting the importance of novel approaches to design and materials in the late 19th Century. This had a global impact, such that in Chicago for example, it led to a unique type of high-rise architecture using steel frames and glass panes which is still with us to this day.

The built environment changes over time, with new design styles emerging according to developing tastes. It is an evolutionary process which sees the fittest options spreading, and the less fit ones sticking to safe niches which either adapt and survive or disappear completely.

How to find your audience and win it over #buildingpassions

Communicating is all about tailoring your key messages to the right audience.

When I started in education policy back in mid 2002, we soon realised how important this was. Within a few months we were meeting as a group of education experts and policy staff with the new Secretary of State for Education. He was a busy man, but already impressed with our first report on continuing professional development for maths teachers. We just needed to get home the key points rapidly and convincingly.

We all learned from that meeting and went on to produce other reports and have other meetings with Ministers. At the other end of the hierarchy are the students in our state schools in England, for whom politicians are tasked to provide oversight.

I spoke to groups of them this week at a school in the town where I live. They were teenagers, so inevitably there was bravado and shyness depending on their perceived status in the school. My constant message to them all was be passionate about at least one area of their life.

I realise now, having sat through some fascinating sessions at a Kent education conference today, that communicating with students involves engaging with school staff and parents/carers simultaneously.

Above all, this is a long term process which won’t necessarily produce immediate results.

Like writing and publishing a book.

Developing my writing into fiction #nanowrimo

I blogged a while back that I’ve started writing a novel based on the life of my grandfather Baron Lex von Behr.

This fictional story connects with the non-fiction of ‘Building Passions’ and in deed this website, through the theme of families.

As I said at the book launch of ‘Building Passions’ last week, I’m fascinated with family relationships and legacy. My grandfather almost lived out a novel or even a series of short stories. These included his mother, brothers, sisters, cousins, life partners and children.

While I am more comfortable writing non-fiction, particularly linked to history or education or the built environment, I realise that fiction is the big one. You can mould your subjects and develop their stories in parallel with the flow of events around them.

The book will actually be a trilogy called ‘The Other Red Baron’, split between three phases of Lex’s life as there is so much to cover about him. However, the core story is on his spying career and his passionate love affairs in Tashkent, London, Berlin and Paris.

As things develop I will consider how best to communicate on my progress – currently I’m sharing my writing trials and tribulations as part of National Novel Writing Month (nanowrimo.org), its Kent community forum on Facebook and in meet-ups with local authors in and around Canterbury.

They thought it was all over … #buildingpassions

‘They think it’s all over … it is now’ was an expression from 1966 that became famous in the UK at least (subsequently through an eponymous TV show).

This was the year the English soccer team won the World Cup at Wembley, the home of football. The commentator was explaining why English fans were already running onto the pitch before the final whistle – then the home team scored in mid-sentence to settle the match.

I kind of thought my research, writing and publishing project was all over this week, what with a new Blue Plaque for Sir John Wolfe Barry on the Tuesday, followed by the book launch for ‘Building Passions‘ on Wednesday.

Yet I realise today that in a way it’s only just begun (apologies to the Carpenters singing duo).

I still need to promote the book to potential audiences – there is no point even writing a book if it isn’t read by all those who might possibly be interested in it.

The next event is a lecture on the book in Canterbury, England on 17 December, only 8 days before Christmas. Signed copies will be available to buy as last minute Xmas gifts.

For those who don’t know it, Canterbury is a beautifully historic English city closely associated with the Monarchy and the Church. St Thomas Becket was martyred in the famous Cathedral on the implicit instructions of King Henry II. Pilgrims have visited ever since, and the famous ‘Canterbury Tales’ by Geoffrey Chaucer institutionalised this into English language and culture.

The crime took place because loyal servants to the highest authority in England thought this would please their master. Sounds familiar eh?

Just 3 days until the #buildingpassions book launch

I’m launching the print copy of ‘Building Passions’ on Wednesday 20 November in Central London. The e-book has been out since September on www.kobo.com . The full title is Brunel, Barry and ‘modern’ Victorian architecture .

The day before that, English Heritage will put up a Blue Plaque on the house in Chelsea where Sir John Wolfe Barry lived and died.

Both of these events will be a major personal milestone for me as an historian and author. But they also represent the first steps, I hope, in my shared efforts to expand our knowledge about the built environment. As I have recognised in my book, Roma Agrawal really started this for many of us with her fantastic book ‘BUILT’.

What happens after the book is launched?

Well, I’m writing my next one, an historical novel based on the life of my grandfather Baron Lex von Behr, who may have been a spy … I hope to publish it in 2020, a century after he escaped from the clutches of Soviet Red Guards in what is modern day Uzbekistan.

I will continue to promote ‘Building Passions’ through the website and give talks about it to local audiences in Kent where I live.

I’m also thinking about doing academic research linked to one of the themes in the book – what helped define architectural ‘modernity’ in the Victorian era, how does this link to our built environment legacy, and why is it important for the current process of quality design and build?

Or something along those lines …

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!