Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Maria Miller bound to bounce back - nothing new in politics!

Just had to put this poem up that the Itinerant Poet wrote way back in the 90s but, unsurprisingly still resonant today with the Maria Miller fiasco.


Let's all do the cabinet reshuffle
If you can't do a job
Don't worry it's no trouble
'Cos nobody can
Despite the nod
Come on and a-shuffle
Like policeman plod!

Let's all shuffle with the cabinet.
Hubble, bubble, toil, no trouble.
Ip-dip-applepip and you are out of it
One potato more and you are back again.

(C) 1998 David J. Mason

Friday, 4 April 2014

Experimenting with social media and brands

I currently find myself venturing into the world of social media.  I have toyed with it before and used Facebook to keep in touch with friends but I have not yet been brave enough to take on the challenge of trying to make it really WORK for our business.

 It occurred to me that one of the problems with Inspire To Write, is its identity.  The creative consultancy side is the main earner and is the service delivered to schools.  However, there is also the performance poetry side (overlapping with the consultancy), ditto the story-telling.  Then there are the books and the music.

Divide and conquer?

I decided it would be easiest to start with the creative consultancy.  I set up a Twitter account for this purpose @mason_creative and started selecting educationally related sites/people to follow.  This extended occasionally to publishing and poetry.  The good news is that currently 22% of people I followed have followed me back plus a few who found me and followed - I have generally reciprocated.  I have yet to find out how come some have tens of thousands of followers and if they have been generated via an app, just dedicated clicking or otherwise!  Hootsuite is the next phase, automating the posts to each Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn account.

I intend to set up a separate identity for North Street Publishing that leads to our book shop page, Amazon and any other platforms I upload the digital books on to.  The music and poetry will lurk on the YouTube channel that I set up some years ago but which needs some updating.  I just need time to get my head round the rest of it before taking that on too.

My thanks go to...

Stephan J. Myers who spent time talking me through some strategies that have been successful for him.  Hopefully I can return the favour regarding the creative consultancy aspects in due course.  Stephan is the author and illustrator of the wonderful Loss de Plott stories and The Prayer.  Here is a link to his page on

Friday, 7 March 2014

Time to revamp my blog

I have been blogging for a year and a bit.  I only ever started  as an experiment and to let loose a bit of my own creativity in the form of writing, not just illustration.  I was only playing at it really.  While it has been pleasant to see that people around the world are finding it but has made me realise that you really need to put a lot of effort in to spreading the word if a blog is going to really generate traffic and, one fine day, increased book sales.  Perhaps I am ready for that now.

Although there is loads of information on the internet, I feel there is too much to digest on screen so I have turned to my local library and picked up a good old-fashioned book:  "Blogging All-in-one for Dummies".  I still prefer paper to digital publications despite being sat in front of screens more than I used to be.  Reading this book (a substantial tome so reading is also a physical work-out) has made me think that I ought to split the blog up into separate blogs for self-publishing and home-education.  The travel elements come into both so I will just incorporate them as necessary.

I had never even heard of Technorati or IceRocket - blog search tools.  I had heard of "backlinks" and I knew they were important in promoting a blog but I never found time to investigate how key they are.  All that is changing...gradually.

I intend to run three blogs:  one for self-publishing; one for home education and finally one for my Mr Smile character.  The Itinerant Poet and I have decided that Mr Smile's success with children and adults merits his own outlet for all things happy.  This will range from poems to thoughts for the week, videos, podcasts and whatever else we dream up.

Here they are then:

Home Education blog - Doing it our Way


Mr Smile's Happy Blog

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Publications that don't fit standard Genres

If your book does not fit into any of the marketing pigeonholes for age range and genre, you are even more likely to have your manuscript rejected by publishers.  The Itinerant Poet's latest creation will definitely fall in this gap so we are not even considering submission of the manuscript.

When a writer has a eureka moment and the muse is riding high, I don't believe it is possible to deny the creative urge: a book is begging to be born.  The decision needs to be made to commit hundreds of hours work to its production - it is not for the faint-hearted.  So, why should it matter that no one will publish it?

There has been much coverage in the media of the extent of mental illness in adolescents and adults.  Often the sufferers go undiagnosed and untreated because they feel the condition to be a social stigma.  There are obviously too many other related issues to consider in this post but the topic came up in conversation between the Itinerant Poet and myself about what we might be able to do to help children avoid sliding down the slippery slope.  What could we do to help children manage their lives so that they learned how to be happier and more content?  A book is born!

Further inspiration came in the form of a post by the Canadian blog Collective Evolution entitled Ten simple things that you can do today to make you happier backed by science.  The post was obviously aimed at adults but made us think that we could use it as a basis for a self-help publication for children, in the more palatable form of fiction, that could act to prevent the slide to begin with.  So we did.

The finished product needs one more edit and a few illustrations but it looks good.  I just can't decide which cover to go for.  However, there is only one way to offer it to the world...self-publishing!

The Big Warm Shed

Once again, the above book was created in the warm seclusion of Son Antem near Llucmajor in Mallorca.  Our annual pilgrimage extended to four weeks in November and December.  The lack of responsibilities and every day chores freed up the creative juices.  The first draft was completed on the final day.

Further editing has been done in the rather cooler climes of Cheshire.  For economic reasons, the Itinerant Poet does not switch the heating on when he keeps to his early morning rising as per the Central European Time Zone.  Hence he has been at the dining table from about 6am each chilly morning.  He definitely finds it more difficult writing back in the home environment.  In our new house, there is no studio to escape to so the small hours are the only quiet times of isolation when he can shut out the rest of the world...and the household.

Home Education and the Teenage Years

Home-educated or not, there is no doubt that the teenage years can be very challenging - both for the teenagers and their parents.  The children are emergent adults and wish to take more responsibility for themselves, it is just not always in the direction parents may wish.  At what point do you stop trying to guide them according to your experiences and let them make their own mistakes?  I don't believe there is any REAL text book for being a parent, you just have to fly by love, instinct and your own upbringing.

We continue to pursue IGCSE Geography and Physics with our two teenagers.  It is difficult sometimes when the desire to create worlds on Minecraft or trade horses on Howrse outweighs the appeal of text books.  These are the only computer games we allow access to and we try to strike a fair balance between the two.  However, it never happens without a bit of animated discussion!

Recently, I found some solace and re-balancing of my own approach when I stumbled across the video by Logan Laplante - a home-educated 13 year old boy in the U.S.A. - that has accumulated over 4 million views.  It is well worth watching and made me think again about what makes children happy versus what makes adults happy.  There are plenty of areas for consideration and discussion so take a look...

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Breathing new life into old manuscripts

December is the most productive time in our year.  We take ourselves off to our retreat on the glorious island of Mallorca and work our socks off for a few weeks!  Only when we are away from the telephone and the mundanity of everyday jobs can our minds be free to create.  What we produce will be finalised following our return and published in appropriate formats.

This year, we have at least four projects to work on.  One of these may be submitted to publishers or agents for consideration which is something we have not bothered doing for years.  However, the idea is extremely sound and is worth a go...or so we think at the moment.

Of the other three, two involve the resurrection of long-dormant manuscripts.  "The Dog Book" will be the main focus.  It has nearly been published under different titles and guises for about ten years.  Each time, the Itinerant Poet has decided it just wasn't quite right.  We even came close on a publishing deal on one occasion but apparently "episodic fiction wasn't in".

The second project is actually one of my own little indulgences.  I am going to epublish the Itinerant Poet's first children's novel.

In the Shadow of J.K. Rowling

We self-published "Leo's Magic Shoes" way back in 1999, long before the advent of digital printing and seamless use of "save as PDF" in Microsoft Word.  Back then, the files were converted for Pagemaker 5 before the local printer scanned in the images for us, produced the cover design and created the plates for the litho run.  The minimum run was 1,000 copies too!  It was not cheap.

Publishers were not interested in the manuscript.  The industry was in a Harry Potter feeding frenzy and a cute little story with mere magic shoes was not enough to sate its hunger especially as it was submitted by someone without a suitable sponsor to encourage anyone to lift it out of their slush pile.  We sold out of the 1,000 copies that same year and printed more.  We have long since sold out of those.

We re-released the book with some revisions, new illustrations and a new title to try to appeal to American publishers but alas to no avail.  We still managed to sell all of those 1,500 copies too.  The book has always been popular with children even though the adults selecting what they should be offered did not think it would be.

Digitally re-mastered

What has inspired me to bring it back?  The Itinerant Poet recently visited one of the first schools at which he worked in the late 90s, in the local village where we lived at the time.  The school bought five copies of the book.  In 2013, they were all still in regular use albeit looking a little dog-eared.  The children at the school today have no idea that the characters within were based upon my two eldest children who used to attend the school (they are now 23 and 21) and yet the appeal of the book endures.  Three of the books were "retired" as the spines had disintegrated but the other two live on...for the moment.  Their eventual demise is what moved me to consider creating a digital version for the digital age (hmm...that sounds a bit corny).  I don't want to see the book die out.

I may produce colour images for the inside pages.  This will involve doctoring the originals that were created in black ink by the artist Kirsty Munro.  I also have to hope that the original scanned TIFF files have not become corrupted or I will have to dig the hand-drawn copies out of the depths of the loft.

I may offer the finished article as a complete freebie on Kindle...

Chocolate Temptations

The original book contained a second, shorter story entitled "Another Quarter Pound of Chocolate Drops, please!"  The temptation to produce this as an additional publication may just prove too much for me!

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Stress, Creativity and Balance

I can hardly believe it has been so many months since my last post.  The reason is quite simple: stress and creativity do not mix!  Our family has been in upheaval during the protracted process of a house move - a relocation to a completely different region of the country.  There is a good reason why reports list house moves alongside death and divorce in the stress top three.

The Itinerant Poet has been unable to write a single line.  The school Summer break meant that there were no school workshops and normally we would have been travelling and writing at the same time.  However, now we are beginning to settle in our new location, the levels of anxiety are diminishing and the resumption of school visits is restoring balance.  He has not found his new "shed" yet but we will wait and see.  Meeting colourful characters living on canal boats on the nearby waterway are proving to him that inspirational fellow eccentrics are always out there...somewhere!

Furthermore, we have booked our annual pilgrimage to the wonderful island of Mallorca for our Winter of creative output (unlike Chopin and George Sand).
 Ideas are beginning to sprout from tiny kernels deep inside the mind and now we have two major projects to complete in the four week period of our stay.

Much like writer's block, I think the best course of action in the face of stress is to let time pass and think upon the fact that life does come back into balance, although it may not be quite the same as it was before.  I try to avoid using cliches but I take a few deep breaths and trot out the occasional one to myself as its mundanity seems to have a calming effect upon me: "It's all part of life's rich pattern."

Fighting on the Home Education Front

Another couple of successes on the IGCSE front mean that our two teenagers are piling up a stack of useful qualifications.  The nearly 16 year old is now looking to her future in the world of further education and employment.  The past year and a bit has allowed her to develop her enduring passion for animals, in particular horses.  You can imagine the conversations we have had regarding aims matching abilities but in the end, the decision is hers - guided by us (hopefully).

She may take an early gap year from 16-17 if the recent changes to UK law allow.  She intends to work and the job will involve elements of training so I am hoping that will suffice - more research needed though.

I am really keen that our children are indeed passionate about what they choose to do so that they can be happy when they are doing it.  I don't mean walking around with a smile on their face every day but that they have a sense of contentment in their chosen path.  It is looking increasingly like 'A' levels are going to be necessary for our daughter to achieve the entrance requirements for the undergraduate course in "Veterinary Physiotherapy".  This also means that she will be going to an educational establishment for the first time in her life.

The balance in her life is changing - I hope we can support her through the inevitable stresses through to a new state of equilibrium and help her to retain her evident creativity.