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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


Budgeting the Malden way.

I'll swap you something today:

You go first. I have been reading many blog posts recently about how people struggle to manage money and would appreciate some budgeting advice. Now, there are many things I am utterly rubbish at (hockey, washing up and finding my glasses being but three). However, thanks to the good teaching of my mother when I was a child, and a career spent dividing other peoples assets after their divorce , money management is something I get straight As at. So In collaboration with Alison Reeves's copyreading skills, I have plans to put together an ebook. So I would like you ask you: what do you want to know about budgeting? What do you struggle with and what do you want more knowledge about? What do you know that you think I should pass on as an essential? If you prefer email me in private rather than leaving a comment.

And in return I'll give you a sneak preview of an essential tool of mine…

To manage money well I firmly believe you have to know how you spend and on what. My old perfectly good system was to collect receipts in my purse and sort them out every now and again. But when I rediscovered filofaxes and saw that they could be used as wallets I upgraded the system to a wallet that included paper so I could jot down as I spent. Much, more efficient.

I have been using the pocket Chameleon as shown above. It works well but the financial pages are a little small for my liking. As part of tracking I like to note what I bought and often what category of spending it fell into. So today I took delivery of a compact Malden zip to try out. I think it is right that this model is not widely available the UK but is about to be rolled out with the new catalogue due soon.

Its longer but, compared to my stuffed pocket, is slimmer.

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Kanban planning in a filofax

Kanban is a Japanese organisational card system developed by Toyota to control the logistical chain of production’. But I suggest we skip that bit and let me talk about how applying washi tape to its basic principles results in a simple, attractive and effective planning tool.

I get Enthusiasms. There is so much I want to do and learn in life that I get pushed and pulled in all directions. Even if I focus on one activity – say art quilting – I have too many ideas to do all at once. Even though I have pretty good time management skills and cram a lot into a day, I cannot do everything all at once. But I refuse to give up on good ideas and dreams. Which results in one of two issues happening. Usually both at the same time!

Either I start things straight away but then I can’t get back to them and my head is full of unfinished things with no end sight. Or I don’t start them because i now I don’t haven’t time and my head is full of trying to hold on to my excitement and the details of the ideas so I can start them in the future. Not good. So, when I bought yet another filofax I decided to set up a Project Management Centre. I will post more on that later when it is fully set up but one key feature was to have a visual overview of how much I had on the go and at what stage those projects were at.

My first attempt was to draw colour coded lines on a Horizontal Year Planner. BIg Fat Fail! Way too many lines all competing. And this is not even finished. But doing it gave me an idea. A Kanban system.

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Notching an obsession back down to a passion

Yesterday I gave you some thoughts about how tell when an activity you are passionate about starts to become an unhealthy obsession. I used the example of my husband's ( still healthy) rugby watching which is why I have chosen the rather tenuous illustration for this post.. Any excuse!!

I promised that today I would give you some ideas as to how to ensure that your time and money spent on your favourite activities remained in balance with the rest of your life.

1.Do not go cold turkey

There is no need to do so. We are aiming for balance not abstinance.

2.Budget time and money.

Sit down at a time where you are quiet, alone, comfortable, unrushed and away from the source of your obsession. Evaluate your life and allocate a sum of money and time that would create a good balance in your life. What is appropriate will vary depending on the activity ( mountaineering cannot be done in ten minutes for example) and your income/ other needs. Then enjoy spending that time and money without guilt knowing that you allocated it as an appropriate sum.

3. Garner support to stick to your budget.

Tell friends, people you communicate with online, your family about your decisons and tell them in advance that you want them to remind you and encourage you to stick to it. They dodn't need to nag, but even a sort of code word to bring your resolution to the back of your mind will help. For example, I asked my husband recently to help me in my resolution to go to bed when I should and not stay up for hours reading. He never tells me to go to bed. What he does do now is come and tell me that he is thinking of going to bed soon. Its enough to remind me that I need to do the same if I am not be be cottonwool headed in the morning.

4. Use technology.

Iphone apps help you track your spending ( as does a pen and piece of paper!) or use stopwatch with a timer on it to limit the time you spend at any one time.

5. Talk positively to yourself and focus on your long term aims.

If we tell ourselves we can't we are less likley to act accordingly than if we tell ourselves we can. So, work out your motivatons for your change and stress the benefits to yourself. Do not say, ” I really want that new xxx but I can't because musn't spend.” Rather tell yourself, “I am going to be able do yyyy next week if I dont waste money today on xxxx”. Apparently people have a tendancy to take small short term benefits rather than waiting a while for something more vaulable. If your obsession is preventing you saving up for something bigger and better place pictures of your future goals around the place or journal about it frequently to keep it forefront of your mind.

6. Avoid undue temptation.

It is not possible to spend too much unless you actually go to the shop be it online or physical. If browsing ebay over coffee is your morning ritual, decide inadvance what your new ritual will be and set that out ready to do each night so your decision to follow your new habit is easy.

7. Create more time or money

My husband buys a lot of books. I mean a LOT. But its not a problem because he never spends more than we allocate to discretionary spending and if he wants more he sells other books or CDs and rolls the money back into new ones. Often he sells at a profit which makes him very happy. The postman is less happy with the amount of parcels he has to deliver to us but thats not our problem! Are there ways you could save time eleswhere to free up time for your hobby?

8 Reward yourself

We all respond well to motivation.but just as a reward for dieting is best not a bar of choclate, its probably best to make your reward something unrelated to the nature of your obession.

Passion or obsession?

This is a household in which we allow, nay, encourage, indulgences in passions. I happily support my husband in his recent quest to collect all 84 Agatha Christie novels and all 85 Wodehouse novels. In one very particular matching ediition mind you, which might become unavailable at any moment and so which needs to be bought as soon as possible, certainly faster than he can read them. I have agreed to us started a holiday by staying in a half-way motel so we could get up at 2am so he would fulfill his aim of watching every single match in the Rugby World Cup ( played in New Zealand hence the hideous timings) and still get to our destination in time to see a live rugby match. And my Filofax tower has been revealed online previously so a picture will do for explanation there.

So, passion is fine with me. Indeed, I believe research shows that a passion brings happiness and mental health to your life. However, a discussion on Philofaxy yesterday, a private email conversation on the subject as a result and reading this post this morning made me think: where is the fine line between passion and obsession? I am not talking ( for I am not qualified do so) about medically diagonsable condutions like OCD which require professional assistance. Ad ai am not talking aout those jokey moments where people bandy the terms ‘addicted’ and ‘obsessed’ to mean ‘really keen’ in a self depracating way. I am talking about those moments where we lose balance in our lives.

Balance is not a static state. It is not something you achieve and then you can stop worrying about like a degree or a driving license. It is, as anyone who has done yoga knows, a very active endeavour using mind and body and a constant series of micro adjustments to maintain. Balance will look different for everyone. In tree pose some people put their foot right by their groin others by the ankle. Depends on your body on the day and both are equally right. The same with hobbies.

So, Where is the line crossed between passion and obsession? Here are some thoughts I had to help you decide whether your activities need to be drawn back a touch at this time in your life

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