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Posts from the ‘Create’ Category

Design Monthly April 2013: Text

Here is the latest video.


I realised after I had made it that I have moved on without showing you the result of the work in the last few videos. The Brick Lane quartet of quilts are just having the final handstiching added to them and then they go to the Uttoxeter Quilt show so at that stage I will show them off.

The links I refer to are:

The October Gallery

The book on Ethiopian Art- Ethiopian Passages

Wosene Worke Kosrof


Guest Blogger: Alison Morton author of Inceptio

Today I am glad to welcome Alison Morton to talk about how she succeeded in publishing her first novel and what success means to her. Alison's alias is of course 'The Hand of Philofaxy.'

First of all, thank you so much, Helen, for inviting me on to your blog to talk about the process behind writing INCEPTIO, the first in the series of alternate history thrillers.

Is writing fiction something you have always wanted to do or is it a recent thing?
I’d played with words much of my life – playwright (aged 7), article writer, local magazine editor, translator and dissertation writer. But I came to novel writing in reaction to a particularly dire film; the cinematography was good, but the plot dire and narration jerky.
‘I could do better that that,’ I whispered in the darkened cinema.
‘So why don’t you?’ came my other half’s reply.
Ninety days later, I’d completed the first draft of INCEPTIO.

What happened next?
I didn’t have a clue what to do with my 96,000 words. I’d been so desperate to get the story down, to see if I could do it, that I hadn’t planned anything after the words THE END. Luckily, a business friend who was writing a historic novel – a shock to me – took me along to her novel writing group and encouraged me to join the Romantic Novelists’ Association that had a scheme for fostering new writers. I realised then that I knew nothing about the book world and publishing.

Clearly, I had to educate myself, so I sat down and worked out carefully how to go about this; I didn’t want to waste my time or money. I read, asked questions, researched and joined online forums, then chose and attended conferences and courses that would benefit me most. I set up my blog on World Book Day in 2010 to keep a note of my experiences and discoveries, and networked like mad.

Rejection dejection
Of course, I made the classic mistake of sending INCEPTIO off to literary agents too soon, and received rejection after rejection. Despondent at first, I ‘gathered up my grit’ and sent the manuscript off to a renowned publishing consultant for answers. I’d made the classic mistakes: overwriting, not nailing my story as either a romance or a thriller, but most of all, muddled voice. Voice is how the book sounds to the reader; the words used must be right for the type of story and the tone consistent. Consequence – restructure, rewrite large chunks and polish, polish, polish. Shortly after this, I acquired a mentor and gathered together a group of fairly critical beta/test readers who gave me terrific feedback.

Now I started receiving some encouraging replies, including full manuscript requests, even from a US agent! I had replies like ‘If it was a straight thriller, I’d take it on’ and ‘Your writing is excellent, but it wouldn’t fit our list.’ At last I knew my writing was publishable. But I had reached a brick wall.

Taking control
Apart from a recession not being the best time to bring out a book, the traditional route of finding a literary agent who then secures a deal with a publisher has become very, very hard. Although looking out for the next big thing, agents are tending to stick to sure things rather than interesting things with no track record. Many publishers, especially the big beasts, will not look at direct approaches from the public. It’s all about time, money and cost benefit analysis.

But the revolution of ebooks and Print On Demand technology had changed the publishing landscape. Individual authors could have their books printed as and when needed and upload them to the Internet themselves. Publishing services companies who took no rights, but provided modular services – sometimes packaged together – on a paying basis like any other professional service were emerging. Authors could now choose. Authors now had power and control.

I was (am!) passionate about my alternate history stories so I decided to self-publish with a bought-in publishing services package from SilverWood Books. They have done all the things a traditional publisher would do – editing, registrations, typesetting, design, book jacket, proofing, etc. Their beautiful cover for INCEPTIO recently won a cover design competition. I’ve had hours of support, starter packs of promotional materials, marketing guidance – lots of individual help and fast responses. I’ve found it a fantastic way as a new writer to enter the market.

So what’s INCEPTIO about?
New York – present day, alternate reality. Karen Brown, angry and frightened after surviving a kidnap attempt, has a harsh choice – being eliminated by government enforcer Jeffery Renschman or fleeing to the mysterious Roma Nova, her dead mother’s homeland in Europe. Founded sixteen centuries ago by Roman exiles and ruled by women, Roma Nova gives Karen safety, a ready-made family and a new career. But a shocking discovery about her new lover, the fascinating but arrogant special forces officer Conrad Tellus who rescued her in America, isolates her.

Renschman reaches into her new home and nearly kills her. Recovering, she is desperate to find out why he is hunting her so viciously. Unable to rely on anybody else, she undergoes intensive training, develops fighting skills and becomes an undercover cop. But crazy with bitterness at his past failures, Renschman sets a trap for her, knowing she has no choice but to spring it…

What are you working on now?
The next one in the series, PERFIDITAS (Betrayal). I’ve drafted and self-edited it, but I haven’t looked at it for several months as I’ve been concentrating on getting INCEPTIO published. As with any series, we meet some familiar characters as well as new ones, but as in INCEPTIO, there’s a lot of trouble and danger.

And how do I define success?
When I’m walking up a red carpet to the première of the film!
More seriously, this is a complex question. At first, it’s wonderful to get your story published, full stop. To hold the book in your hand, to click and download the ebook with your name on is heady stuff!

I think the thing is to set modest goals and then revise them, hopefully upward. It can be books sold, positive reviews, guest post invitations, press coverage, however you like to express it. I have some numbers I would like to achieve, but it’s early days. Perhaps you’ll let me come back and update you…

INCEPTIO is available from:
Amazon UK []
Amazon US []
Waterstones: []

You can read more about Alison, Romans, alternate history and writing here:
Twitter: @alison_morton


Design Monthly: Brick Lane to Calligraphy

Here is the latest video. I apologise for the turn of the camera at the end!

The artist whose name I got wrong in the last book is in fact Wosene Worke Kosrof and you can see more of his work here


Hunting the perfect Journal ( and creating it in an Osterley)

My husband is a very patient man, but ( if you will excuse the cliche) in some ways he just doesn’t understand me. I was explaining, at length, over a Thai meal about how I was sorely distressed at not being able to find the One Perfect Journal. I have been using the same range for many years but it is not supporting my needs any more. Plus it is discontinued so I am forced to find a new one.

The One would be beautiful to look at ( thats Moleskines out at a stroke then). It would mysterously morph its paper so the next sheet magically met my need for pretty decorated lined/ simplecream ruled/ watercolour/ cartridge/ plain/ squared paper. It would contain my life thought in one place but would equally meet my need to categorise my life into ever smaller compartments. It would allow flexibility depending whether my mood was Serious Writer or Playful artist. It would hold myriad pens. It would have pockets and pull outs and do dah fripperies. The One would be bound for archive purposes but not bound to allow me to recategorise. It would be elegant and leather and yet affordable. It would be my constant companion with places to put quotes and research notes and my random thoughts and dreams and moans and I would always be able to find everything.It would be perfect for words and encouraging of sketching.

The One was not, I had established that morning, available at Paperchase, WH Smiths, Woods the Stationers, Waterstones or online. Not even at Diagon Alley. The ones instock had competing oros and cns all of which added up to distress and confusion. My husband took a bite of Toong Tong and said, “You should write a book about journals you know so much.” Oh yeah, good advice I’d love to do that…. But I cant find the perfect journal to write my notes in! He rearranged his face to show the look that means: I really am interested and I do want you to be happy but I have no idea what you are talking about. What is wrong with a Silvine exercise book?

But I know there are people out there who feel my pain and so for your benefit, I show you my solution.

First take an Osterley A5 Filofax. Not quite in the affordable bracket new, but mine was cheap on Adspot and when you take into account that (a) it is reusable and (b) I will pay lots of money for a perfect affordable journal, it will do me. In fact as I had it anyway and it was sadly underused, it is in fact free :)

Take one £5 letter set from Paperchase and use every bit of it cover included for added value. The back of the letter paper glued to Filofax own brand dividers is pretty and dividers allow categorisation.There are two styles of paper and the kraft version can be combined with the already curvacious folder to make pockets.

The envelopes can be tipped into contain secrets!

A Jill Bliss journal hacked apart provides pages for a common place section.

The Thoughts section is the main journal and has a range of paper including proper art papers and kraft papers. (Paperchase do a £3.50 journal which includes smooth and pretty thick ivory plain paper and also kraft paper which unglued and punched well). I have sections for notes and ideas for my next book idea, for my financial budgets, for my reading logs and for my monthly life plan reviews and a plastic envolope for general dodah thingies I might have a need to put into a pocket until I get to a glue stick.


In the back pocket is a bound Jill Bliss journal for those random research and follow up notes that come when I am reading or web browsing. (The last few pages deal with my research onto the WW2 activities for the Scots Guards, the cost of a double sink and a list if collage artists to follow up). Bound/ unbound. It makes me happy!

As you can see from that photo the Osterley has two pen loops cleverly out of the way of the tabs. I can fit tow Triplus Pens down the side of the notebook. But, ( and here is where I get arrogant and consider myself a genius) I have recreated this by using stick on velcro on cut up bits of the letter folder to add two Artists sketching pens. I did try flex penloops first but the shape at the bottom of the Pitt Artist pens means that they will not slide into the elastic. I have one more pen clipped inside the rings.


The pockets hold sticky notes spare velcro strips, the remainder of the letter pack (including the four sheets of stickers it included) and a pile of bookmarks. The addition of the velcroed pens did mean that they got inth ewya of a filofax today ruler so. A using Iclips magnetic calligraphy bookmarks as page markets with the ruler in the back for when drawing a straightline is necessary.

I have trialed this set up for three days now and it is magic! Already my journal is much more visual than when I used a bound lined journal. I feel I can write/ draw what I feel as and when it comes and if it turns out that if I am writing ideas relating to an art project ( current or future) I can take it out and put it in my studio binders. Previously I would not write it in the journal I carried with me because it was the ‘wrong place’ and so usually it got forgotton or the moment passed between thought and getting home to the studio journals.

At first I thought it was not perfect for two reasons. First, portablity. It is often said by filofax users than a full A5 feels like a brick. This does not. Its more like a house extension. But, when I think about it, the places I journal are home, work, parents house and a variety of cafes. All of which are within feet of my shelf or car at any time. So true portablity is not really an issue. And should I go roaming a selection of loose leaf pages tucked into a folder or ipad cover can come with and be inserted later. But what should I somehow come separated from my journal ; like when I go to the theatre, don’t think I would possibly need it sitting in the dark and then get inspired by a set design….Happens more than you would think! I can write on anything to hand, napkin, icecream receipt whatever, and punch or put in a pocket later. And actually, I can just about fit two pocket molekines in the front cover should I want to have a stand alone art element for sketching whilst out and about.

The second issue I struggled with more is archivabilty. Loose pages with treasury tags in a box? Blah. Not elegant or beautiful for back reading. Thermal binding? Spiral Binding. Ditto. Self binding with stab stitch with a beautiful cover like this one I found on Etsy? Oh yeah baby, and an extra tick for my journal supporting creativity in a different way.


So this is my journal and I shall be sticking to it now I have created it. Although it does not stop me wondering what it would be like to use a moleskine with this beautiful cover….

What are you using as a journal? Is it perfect for you?


Design Monthly: Transitions part 2 – the progression of an art quilt

Last month I showed you the start of an art quilt inspired by Brick Lane.

Here you can see how it is progressing and how my design book looks.


Learning from: Elizabeth Gilbert

Have you every had a day when you thought you were deluded to believe you had a single creative bone in your body?
Or a day when your creativity hit the heights of wonderment and you feared you would never get back there?
Have you ever felt fear about your creativity?

Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray Love (and who might have inspired the title of this blog a little!) has a fascinating theory to alleviate your pains. It involves bullfighting, Greek philosophy and talking to empty corners of a room.
Watch and see what you think.

Book Review: Mindset by Carol Dweck

The basic premise of this book is that, in all area of life, people can be divided into those who have a ‘fixed mindset’ or a ‘growth mindset’. The basic premises and the author’s research are explained  in the first two chapters with the remainder of the book devoted to very readable examples of her theory in practise using public figures in the worlds of sport and business. She applies her theory to relationships, parenting and education. It has only a tiny section devoted to creativity but nonetheless the book helped me fathom out a possible answer to  something that always puzzled me?

Why do some people stick rigidly to using published patterns or kits to make art or craft items and refuse to try original design? Read more

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