Thursday, 31 January 2013

Fifty Shades of Greyscale

Whilst the Itinerant Poet scribes and the children study the work set by us, I should be providing illustrations.  These are done using a Wacom Bamboo tablet directly connected to my MacBook Pro. We have found they make children's poetry much more appealing to the readers even if the pictures are fairly basic.
One major frustration is that, despite the fact that I LOVE colour, I can only use greyscale.  Why?  Because of the huge expense of printing internal illustrations in colour.  I can indulge myself on the cover of the book but inside proves a little challenging.  Another  frustration is having to use free software to keep costs down (Artrage 2.5 and Photoshop Elements 6 came with my £70 Bamboo tablet).

Workarounds used to date:

•               Work in full colour in Artrage or Photoshop then convert it to black and white   in Photoshop
•               Work in greyscale in Photoshop
•               Only select limited blacks and greys in Artrage palette
•               Work in full colour then flip to greyscale in Word

I fell foul of the last of these recently.  We produced a poetry collection for children that was going to have the luxury of 20 full colour images.  Each page that contained an illustration was considered “colour” even if the reverse of the page was normal text.  This led us to put them back-to-back so two illustrations equalled one colour page.

At the last moment, after checking the colour digital proof, we decided the cost of production would be too high (over £2 per copy dearer).  However, the illustrations then printed very strangely - basically coming out black and lighter black with a bit of white despite looking fine on screen in the black and white PDF file.  I had to edit all of them and have another proof before printing.

The problem may have been compounded by errors in the PDF file format.  I have recently switched to using a Mac from a PC.  Although the PDF file format should be a universal, cross-platform standard, it appears this is not always the case.  The PDF supplied to the printer looked fine on my screen and printed out in perfect greyscale on my laser printer.  In submitting it through the internet and reloading on to a PC at the other end, some of the embedded fonts (namely Avenir – came with latest version of Word for Mac) had been replaced by a not-so-near match and the problem with the darkened images appeared.

Lessons for the future:
  • Work only in greyscale in the native software
  • Always have a second proof if you are at all unsure 
  • Choose fonts common to most software packages and check your digital printing company has them too
  • Have a good digital printing company like ours - Orbital Print Services
  • Don't start illustrations unless you are inspired (note to self) 

… well, maybe I will start tomorrow…

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

The Importance of a Writer's Retreat

Where is your shed?

In order to self-publish anything what do you need first of all?

  • you need to write some material
  • you need to be in the right frame of mind to create that material
  • you need as few other responsibilities as possible to distract you from your creative task

Finding your own retreat in which to accomplish this feat is a a challenge in itself.  Some writers have sheds, others have lofts, 19th Century poets had garrets in Parisian suburbs. My Itinerant Poet's favourite haunts are cafes and hotel lobbies with the occasional wild rural setting if the former are not available.

Our current, and oft visited retreat is in Mallorca.  While the UK is a frozen wasteland, we enjoy milder temperatures of 15 degrees Centigrade and the most amazing light.  The warmth seems to awake the creative juices.  We never have "just a holiday". 

The backlog of poetry to be edited and re-typed is considerable and has been demanding attention for at least a year.  The book of school poems awaits my illustrations.  We both work every day for at least five hours on these projects in addition to the deluge of emails requesting workshop bookings.

Here, there are no phone calls, no door bells, no DIY jobs looking at you.  The villa is cleaned everyday by smiling housekeepers.  Emails can be dealt with in due course.  In short, there is freedom to think and create.  Here is where we produce 90% of our creative output and it is essential to our business.

Home-ed Shed

The children's home education runs more smoothly here.  Without the domestic distractions and commitments, as parents we can dedicate more time to giving them intensive tuition.  They progress faster than at home in the Winter.

The benign climate is a contributory factor.  Nature walks reveal hoopoes, red-legged partridge, feral cats and the occasional wild Mediterranean tortoise.  The on-site spa pool, floodlit tennis and scope for uninterrupted rollerblading add to the attractions.

We are currently preparing for IGCSE English Language in June 2013.  It is actually quite interesting to analyse passages from the Edexcel Anthology because it forces me to carefully consider everything I write, from brief emails to blog posts.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Welcome to the first post

Well, here it is!  I have finally succumbed to numerous requests from people to blog about our (apparently) strange and wonderful life-style in the midst of "normality". 

So what is it that we do?

  • We write, illustrate and self-publish children's poetry and fiction in the UK
  • David visits schools to perform his poetry and runs drama and writing workshops
  • We travel regularly in our motorhome in the UK and Europe
  • We home educate our six children (well four now the older ones are in higher education and employment)
  • We do as much as we can for as little as we can

What do I hope to achieve through this blog?

  • To tell of our adventures in the world of self-publishing
  • To describe some of the inspiring travel escapades
  • To share some of the headaches involved with the big juggling act
  • To sell our books and music through the website
  • To learn to write an interesting blog

Well, that's it for today.  I only hope I can remember all the login details for the next post