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.
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 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?
I’m launching the print copy of ‘Building Passions’ this evening 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 .
English Heritage has just put up a Blue Plaque on the house in London where Sir John Wolfe Barry lived, no. 15 Chelsea Embankment. This is in the 125th year since he built Tower Bridge with Henry Marc Brunel and others. It is also a little over a century since Wolfe Barry died, at his home, in 1918.
I will continue to promote ‘Building Passions’ through the website and give talks about it to local audiences in and around Kent where I live.
The next one is on 17 December at Canterbury Christchurch University. It is being organised by the STEM Hub based there, which coordinates volunteers such as myself to speak to Kent school-age children about careers in science, technology, engineering and/or mathematics/medicine.
I will also be talking about the book at Ashford Library on 25 February 2020 and am happy to come to an easily-accessible venue in London and the South East to do the same. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org .
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 …
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.
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 …