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A bear, an alien, and two stories of migration. Our book pick for August.

The question of migration and its impact on societies is everywhere in the print and broadcast media. So too on social media. The debate rages today as much, if not more so than it did in the late nineteenth to mid-twentieth century. Only this week India and Pakistan have been marking the partition of India on 15th August 1947 when 10-12 million people were displaced from their places of birth to comply with the Radcliffe Line, the boundary drawn up by the British demarcating the two new states. The violent nature of the partition created an atmosphere of hostility and suspicion between India and Pakistan that plagues their relationship to the present. Last year’s EU Referendum in the UK brought the subject of migration to the fore of British politics once again and was articulated further afield after the installation of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States of America. Election races in the Netherlands and France had the same effect.

Today we are launching our Book Pick of the Month. Just to get things off to a good start we decided to subvert the one book rule and select two! Why make a rule if you can’t break it?  Our choices for the Book Pick’s first outing are How to be an Alien. A Handbook for Beginners and Advanced Learners by George Mikes and Winnie Ille Pu (The Latin Edition) by A. A. Milne, translated by Alexander Lenard.

At first glance the two books may seem like odd bedfellows but on closer inspection the common factor is the shared experience of migration of the author of one and the translator of the other. ¹

George Mikes and How to be an Alien

George Mikes was born in Hungary in 1912 under the reign of the Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Josef. Whilst his father had ambitions that George would follow his profession of the law, his son’s interest lay in writing and journalism. After graduating in Budapest in 1933, George gained his first post as a journalist for the Budapest newspaper Reggel (“Morning”), shortly followed by writing a column for Színházi Élet  (“Theatre Life”).

By 1938 he was the London correspondent for Reggel and 8 Órai Ujság (“8 O’Clock Paper”), a post he held until 1940. Despatched to London to cover the Munich Crisis he was only expected to stay for a couple of weeks. In fact he stayed for the rest of his life, becoming a British citizen in 1946.

Mikes’ real talent was as a humourist. In a long career he wrote over 40 books, 35 of them humorous and many post-war British classics. He was recognised as a blender of elements of Hungarian, English and Jewish humour.

His most successful and outright best-selling title was How to be an Alien, first published in 1946, translated into 22 languages and published in 39 countries. In it he portrayed himself as a bumbling alien who describes the habits of the natives in the vast, strange but friendly “country” of London. ² How to be an Alien

Quoted examples of his gentle and wry poking of fun at the British still ring true:

“Continental people have a sex life, British people a hot water bottle”, “An Englishman, even if he is alone, forms a queue of one”, “Many Continentals think life is a game; the English think cricket is a game”, “Overstatement, too, plays a considerable part in English social life. This takes mostly the form of someone remarking: ‘I say …’ and then keeping silent for three days on end”, and a particular favourite, “Remember: If you go for a walk with a friend in England, don’t say a single word for hours; if you go for a walk with your dog, talk to it all the time.”

To accompany the witticism of Mikes’ observations the book was illustrated by Nicholas Bentley who captured the essence of the author’s comic perspective.

Alexander Lenard and Winnie Ille Pu

In the case of Alexander Lenard, born in Budapest in 1910, the unexpected success of his Latin translation of A. A. Milne’s classic and beloved story of the bear Winnie the Pooh and his friends Christopher Robin, Piglet, Eeyore, and Tigger, threw the spotlight of fame on to an otherwise almost reclusive 50 year-old Hungarian-born doctor who spoke 12 languages, who with his wife Andrietta was resettled in Brazil in 1952 by the International Refugee Organization. One of the few possessions they took with them on their odyssey to find a safe haven was an English language edition of Winnie the Pooh.

Because his Austrian medical degree was not recognised in Brazil, Lenard worked as a nurse in a lead mine, a pharmacist, and a translator at medical conferences. Eventually buying land in the sparsely populated Itajai valley in Southern Brazil the Lenards built a two-room house where he painted, wrote poetry and indulged his passion for Bach. In 1956 Lenard won the equivalent of $2,000 on the Sao Paolo Television Bach Competition. With the winnings more land was purchased and a larger house was built. Winnie Ille Pu

When teaching Latin to the daughter of a local resident who expressed a wish for something interesting to read in the language Lenard began translating Winnie the Pooh. Over a period of seven years he mined the classics for idiomatic expressions used in ancient Rome and its empire. Whereas the original was a children’s book Lenard’s “Pu” was filled with puns and alliteration from centuries of Latin literature.

Not able to find a publisher for his “Pu” Lenard paid a printer in Sao Paolo to publish a print run of 100 copies, sending review copies to foreign publishers. This led to a Swedish publisher printing 2,000 copies of an abridged version which in turn prompted Methuen, A. A. Milne’s publisher, to publish several thousand. Milne’s American publisher Dutton, published “Pu” in 1960 with the result that Lenard’s book remained on the New York Times bestseller list for 20 weeks – a feat unheard of for a foreign language book let alone one written entirely in Latin.

The New York Times writer, Lewis Nicholls described it as ” … the greatest book a dead language has ever known.” The Chicago Tribune exclaimed that “… it does more to attract interest in Latin than Cicero, Caesar and Virgil combined.”

The message from these two Hungarian migrants, writers both, is that we are all someone else’s foreigner. And that includes a funny little bear and an alien.

¹ Strictly speaking Lenard and his wife were refugees.

² As a matter of interest Montesquieu used this satirical literary device in his Lettres Persanes to excoriate and satirise French society especially that of the court of Louis XVI. It was first published in 1721.

Read more about George Mikes here

Read more about Alexander Lenard here

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So old it’s new. How Letterpress is making a comeback.

Was it coincidence that I recently bought a birthday card designed by using Letterpress? I think not, for this method of printing is making a comeback according to The Economist.

This centuries old method of printing, whereby letters are pounded deep into the paper, is no passing fad for a new generation of artists, graphic designers and others accustomed to the world of digital print. They have “discovered” a printing process barely changed since its invention by Johannes Gutenberg in the mid-fifteenth century, and as a result are basking in the tactile and visual splendour that letterpress brings to their work. It’s a very far cry from the 1980s and 90s when photo-offset and computer printing deemed lead type redundant, and the only letterpress printing left standing were private presses whose handmade books were mostly aimed at bibliophiles.

LetterpressSo what accounts for this resurgence? Apparently, two factors. Firstly, digital fatigue and second and somewhat ironically, technology has made it easier to print letterpress than ever before. An apprentice need no longer spend years learning how to set metal type into rows as a computer design can be turned into a plastic printing plate. Thus, for both the hobbyist and the professional designer, letterpress, be it metal or plastic, is now the latest on-point tool. Those who are returning to letterpress are learning the fundamentals of typography; leading the charge are those trained in the visual arts, such as graphic designers, fine artists and illustrators.

I say, let’s have more of “what’s old is new”.

For an insight into the history and techniques of letterpress printing you can read Justin Knopp’s fantastic blog TypoReturn at http://blog.typoretum.co.uk/

He has his own letterpress printing business and is also involved in the conservation and restoration of old printing presses.

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Happy #BookLoversDay!

To celebrate #BookLoversDay today we are turning to Erasmus, the fifteenth century Dutch humanist and theologian.

Desiderius Erasmus

Copyright, Erasmus Centre for Early Modern Studies, Erasmus University, Rotterdam.

In 1489, he wrote in a letter a description of what he understood to be a lover of books. For him, what distinguished a book lover, is a need to integrate books in their daily lives such as one might food and drink. Ownership is not the point, what counts is continuity and familiarity:

 “I consider as lovers of books not those who keep their books hidden in their store-chests and never handle them, but those who, by nightly as well as daily use them, thumb them, batter them, wear them out, who fill out all the margins with annotations of many kinds, and who prefer the marks of a fault they have erased to a neat copy full of faults.” ¹

¹ Letter to an unidentified friend in 1489 as translated in Collected Works of Erasmus. The Correspondence of Erasmus, Schoeck, R.J., and Corrigan, B, (University of Toronto Press)1974, p. 114.

To read more about Desiderius Erasmus click here 

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How to make a killing on camera: from our guest writer Adam Dickson.

The UK film industry has never been healthier. According to the British Film Institute an income of £1.6bn was generated from film and television production in 2016 with Rogue One and Fantastic Beasts leading the box office.  Drama series like Wolf Hall and Downton Abbey continue to enthral viewers on both sides of the Atlantic, highlighting the wealth of acting and technical expertise for which the United Kingdom is renowned.

Generous tax breaks encourage investment into what is generally accepted as a high-risk industry. Film Tax Relief opens the door to big production companies who previously looked to foreign locations to meet their budgets.

The digital age has revolutionised both the way films are made and the demand for content. Netflix alone invested $3bn on media content in 2014, and plans to spend $6bn over the next three years. Good news indeed for the legion of screenwriters out there, hunched over keypads in dusty garret rooms, looking for a break. Competition is fierce. But the opportunities to pitch unsolicited work are considerable. From the BBC Writersroom to screenwriting contests like the Nicholl Fellowship, ¹ there are no end of resources out there, all on the look out for fresh talent.

You may, of course, wish to bypass the conventional route and make the film yourself. As an incentive to investors, HMRC offers tax relief of up to 50% under SEIS (Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme) Guidelines. Independent production companies can apply for Advanced Assurance, proving their legitimacy to third parties.

Through a chance meeting at a networking event, one such opportunity came my way. I had written a screenplay based on a real-life murder case from 1946, which had generated some interest locally in my home town of Bournemouth. A contact at the networking event introduced me to Martin Spooner, a finance facilitator who specialises in investment for film. I pitched the outline to him and, in August 2014 we agreed to meet.

Since then the project has grown in size and stature. In March 2015, we submitted a 26-page application to HMRC’s Compliance Department, and sat back to await their decision. Several weeks later, we received the good news that West Cliff Productions Ltd had been given Advanced Assurance – in other words, the green light to go out and seek investors.

From a humble writer’s point of view, all this is quite daunting. But the excitement of being involved in something as ambitious and enterprising as a film project far outweighs any reservations I might have.

And now to the screenplay …

Neville Heath was an ex-RAF pilot, hanged for murder in 1946. The case became the subject of huge media interest, with women queuing for up to 14 hours for a glimpse of the charismatic killer from the public gallery.

Neville Heath

Neville Heath.

However, many questions remain unanswered to this day. Who was the real Heath, and what was his motivation for killing? How did he become, in the words of one biographer: “… the most dangerous criminal modern Britain has ever known”?

Such was Heath’s deadly appeal that film-making legend, Alfred Hitchcock, optioned a screenplay based on the case. Horrified at the leading character’s warped persona, studio bosses vetoed the project and the idea was abandoned. So, there you have it.

This is the film that Hitchcock never made!

Our guest writer, Adam Dickson

Adam was a student of Bill Stanton’s Writer’s Tutorial for several years, learning the craft of writing fiction. The Butterfly Collector was his first novel. Drowning by Numbers, his second was published in June 2013.

A lifetime fitness enthusiast, Adam suffered two massive brain seizures in 2003 and was left permanently disabled. In spite of this setback, he took up triathlon and began entering races, competing in Ironman UK in 2007. He co-authored Triathlon – Serious About Your Sport which was published by New Holland in May 2012.

Two more titles on swimming and cycling were published in March 2013.  Adam has also written a book on mental health, Surfing the Edge – a survivor’s guide to bipolar disorder, which was published in 2015.

His screenplay, Heart of a Murderer, is based on a real-life murder case that caused a media sensation in England in 1946. Filming is scheduled in Bournemouth and London for Spring 2018.

¹ See http://www.oscars.org/nicholl

You can discover more about the Neville Heath film here or email adam@westcliffproductions.com  

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Dying for your art? Charles Dickens’ indefatigable writer Walter Thornbury.

Some time ago I came across an article in The Independent about Charles Dickens and his many publishing ventures such as Household WordsHousehold Narrative and All the Year Round, and I couldn’t get it out of my mind. Here’s why.

The author of the piece, Jeremy Parrott, ¹ described how he had unravelled the roll call of contributors to these journals which up until his research had largely remained something of a mystery. Within his article he refers to the University of Buckingham’s online digitised archive of these magazines which can be accessed by researchers and the public alike. I was especially intrigued with this extract from the article:

“As well as staff writers for the magazine, Dickens had a small group of regulars including the nigh-indefatigable Walter Thornbury who wrote close to 200 pieces for All the Year Round and Household Words before dying of exhaustion in a mental asylum at the age of 48″. ²

Walter Thornbury

It would seem that in the service of Household Words and All the Year Round Thornbury travelled widely, writing articles that vividly depicted the United States and Palestine, the Iberian Peninsula, and European Turkey. He also wrote a long series of articles in All the Year Round entitled “Old Stories Retold”, where he covered topics such as “Trafalgar in 1805”, “Bombardment of Algiers in 1816”, “The Assassination of Mr. Perceval in 1812”, “The Cato Street Conspiracy in 1820”, “The Two Great Murders in the Ratcliffe Highway in 1811”, and “The Resurrection Men—Burke and Hare, in 1829”.

Apparently the series was curtailed due to Dickens dislike of their sanguinary and salacious content!

You can read more about Walter George Thornbury, Dickens’ indefatigable writer here  

¹ http://www.independent.co.uk/…/charles-dickens-all-the-year…

² SadlyThornbury died of overwork at Camberwell House Asylum, Peckham Road, London, on 11th June 1876, and was buried on the 13th at Nunhead Cemetery. He was survived by a wife and three sons.

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Bonkers! The Diagram Prize for the Oddest Book Title of the Year 2017.

It’s that completely and utterly bonkers time of the year again with the nominations for the Diagram Prize for the Oddest Book Title of the Year.

The Prize is the brainchild of Diagram Group founders Trevor Bounford and Bruce Robertson and came about as a way of avoiding boredom when they attended the Frankfurt Book Fair in 1978. As a many-times survivor of this event myself it’s easy to understand why they resorted to this madness. The very first winner was Proceedings of the Second International Workshop on Nude Mice. The competition is managed by the Bookseller, the industry’s key magazine, trading since 1858.

Among other winners are such classics as How to Avoid Huge Ships (1992), Greek Rural Postmen and Their Cancellation Numbers (1996), Living with Crazy Buttocks (2002), Cooking with Poo (2012), How to Poo at Work (2014), and last year’s winner Too Naked for the Nazis.  

This year’s front runner is Nipples on my Knee co-authored by Debra and Graham Roberston, a memoir of “25 years in the sheep business” and according to Tom Tivan, the prize coordinator, “has got to be an early bookies’ favourite, as it combines both animal husbandry and Carry On-esque ribaldry”.

As usual, academic and specialist texts dominate the shortlist, which is drawn from readers’ nominations. According to the magazine’s pseudonymous diarist Horace Bent, Peter Andrews’s An Ape’s View of Evolution is:

“classic Diagram: a sober and worthy academic tome, which is unintentionally humorous”.

He added:

“It brings me back to previous winners like Designing High Performance Stiffened Structures (2000) or American Bottom Archaeology (1993).”

Also in the running are Love Your Lady Landscape by Lisa Lister, whose subtitle encourages the reader to:

“Trust your gut, care for ‘down there’ and reclaim your fierce and feminine SHE.”

Two other titles in the mix are Renniks Australian Pre-Decimal and Decimal Coin Errors: The Premier Guide for Australian Pre-Decimal and Decimal Coin Errors, edited by Ian McConnelly, and The Commuter Pig-Keeper by Michaela Giles. The latter according to Tivnan is reminiscent of memorable past winners such as Goblinproofing One’s Chicken Coop (2013), and The Big Book of Lesbian Horse Stories (2000).

The winner is decided by a public vote. If you would like to view all five nominees and cast your vote click here. Voting closes on 21st July. So get cracking!

The successful author and publisher win nothing (save the adulation of millions), but the nominator will be sent a passable bottle of claret.

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The literary shaping of a novelist: from our guest writer Marius Gabriel.

My parents’ house was full of books, thousands of them; and I have belonged to many public libraries in different countries. But two particular libraries shaped my mind more than any others. The first was in Villa Valverde, in Sicily, where I spent part of my childhood.

The Villa Valverde was a pensione which had been built by my paternal grandfather, Pancrazio Cipolla. He’d spent decades working in London hotels, rising from waiter to manager. He took his savings back to Taormina and built Valverde around 1910, as a luxurious retreat for British tourists.  It had all mod cons, including a library of English books. These had all been supplied by a publisher who specialized in such things, and were in a uniform edition of brown leather with gold tooling, proudly stamped with the hotel name and crest. The books were all Victorian and masculine – Sir Walter Scott, Charles Kingsley, Conan Doyle, Fennimore Cooper and the like.

It was here I met Dracula, and Frankenstein’s monster, and Amyas Lee, and Sherlock Holmes and Natty Bumppo, and the ‘Man Who Would Be King.’ Rather heavy going, since I was not yet ten, but I swallowed it all down in huge draughts.

The second library was at my high school, when my peripatetic parents took us from Sicily to South Africa. It was in a decaying part of the school that has long since been knocked down (we used to spear rats there during break, with compasses tied to rulers). The collection itself was large, and consisted mainly of bequests from Old Boys, some of them dating back to Edwardian and Victorian times, and smelling strongly of tobacco and damp. No attempt had been made to catalogue or filter this heterogeneous collection. They were simply in alphabetical order according to author. In my six years there, I must have read almost every volume.

I lugged home bound editions of Punch dating from the 1850s to the First World War, which was where I began to pick up what little modern history I know (and developed a fondness for weak jokes.) I found, and read with wide eyes, Henry Miller (an education of a different kind), Colette (I had to ask my mother what a Lesbian was) and D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley (nothing left to the imagination there).

I read fusty old copies of Sheridan le Fanu, H. Rider Haggard, Sax Rohmer and Robert Louis Stevenson. I ploughed my way through novelists popular in the 20s, 30s and 40s: Sinclair Lewis (I must have read Kingsblood Royal a dozen times), Thornton Wilder, Edgar Wallace; Pearl S. Buck, John Steinbeck (I adored him), J.B. Priestly (very heavy going), Daphne du Maurier, A. J. Cronin, H.G. Wells (where I learned what socialism was); Robert Graves (also pretty hot stuff) and Somerset Maugham.

I read voraciously, sometimes a book a day. I read at night, under the sheets, with a flashlight, till two in the morning. I read on the bus to and from school. I read on the toilet and at the supper table. I read without even knowing why I read at times, so long as the words on the page held me.

A tenacious memory for useless things means that many of these books are still rattling around inside my head, and will surface at odd moments; or, what is worse, half-surface, and lead me a merry dance trying to recall which book and which author, in which library, in which country, in which year…

Marius Gabriel, our guest writer

He is the author of eight sagas and historical novels, including the best-sellers The Mask Of TimeThe Original Sin, and The Seventh MoonCosmopolitan accused him of “keeping you reading while your dinner burns”. Born in South Africa in 1954, he has lived and worked in many countries, and now divides his time between London and Cairo. He has three grown-up children.

His latest novel, Wish Me Luck As You Wave Me Goodbye, is set during World War II and published by Lake Union, is available on Amazon or by placing an order with Marius via his website. To view all of Marius’s books click on link: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Marius-Gabriel/e/B000AP9HOU

You may also be interested to read Marius’s GoodReads page where he also writes a blog. If you like cooking Marius is the man for you. Baking bread being a speciality.

P.S. Marius served his author apprenticeship as a student at Newcastle University. To finance his postgraduate research, he wrote 33 Mills & Boon romances under a pseudonym. His identity as a man had to be kept secret until he turned to longer fiction under his own name.

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Graffiti makes its mark at Burnt Toast Editorial!

 

At Burnt Toast we have the pleasure of working alongside a cartoonist. Robby Bullen is a master of the genre, who’s regularly published in Private Eye, The Oldie, and national and regional media.

He has turned his cartoonist’s eye to another format by producing a short video clip for us. Nothing like making your mark! We think it’s the biz and hope you like it too.

Robby can work on private commissions as well as corporate clients. His work can be viewed here and here.

What do you think of Robby’s clip? Let us know.

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What do olives and Charles Dickens have in common? The #wonkyword oleaginous.

Here’s another glorious #wonkyword – oleaginous. As you pronounce (olee-a-gee-nus) it’s hard to resist elongating and savouring the sound of this elastic adjectival word.

Its etymological origin is Middle English from the French oléagineux and the Latin oleaginous (“of the olive tree”) and its meaning is two-fold:

1) rich in, covered with, or producing oil;

2) unctuous, exaggeratedly complimentary, fawning, smarmy.

Thus, oleaginous is a perfect combination of meaning and descriptive representation.

Charles Dickens’ character Uriah Heep in David Copperfield is arguably the most powerful depiction of someone who’s oleaginous. When Dickens’ eponymous hero first encounters Heep, Dickens holds nothing back in his descriptive powers:

“Heep’s face was quite as cadaverous as it had looked in the window, though in the grain of it there was that tinge of red which is sometimes to be observed in the skins of red-haired people. It belonged to a red-haired person – a youth of fifteen, as I take it now, but looking much older – whose hair was cropped as close as the closest stubble; who had hardly any eyebrows, and no eyelashes, and eyes of a red-brown, so unsheltered and unshaded, that I remember wondering how he went to sleep.”

“He was high-shouldered and bony; dressed in decent black, with a white wisp of a neckcloth; buttoned up to the throat; and had a long, lank, skeleton hand, which particularly attracted my attention, as he stood at the pony’s head, rubbing his chin with it, and looking up at us in the chaise.”

Like many of Dickens’ villains, Heep is motivated mainly by greed; yet embodied in his character there’s a commentary on the English class system. As the plot of David Copperfield unfolds Heep eventually reveals his lifelong resentment at being the object of charity and low expectations. His thwarted ambition is the driving force behind his cunning and villainy.

Much of Dickens’ fiction was inspired by personal experience and scholars have attributed the inspiration for Uriah Heep as either Hans Christian Andersen, ¹ whom the author met in 1847 shortly before writing David Copperfield or more likely Thomas Powell, a friend of Dickens’ ne’er do well brother Augustus and an employee of Thomas Chapman, a friend of the author. Powell apparently ” … ingratiated himself into the Dickens household” and was duly discovered to be a forger and a thief, having embezzled £10,000 from his employer. He later attacked Dickens in a number of pamphlets, calling particular attention to Dickens’ social class and background. ²  So quite a step from olives to embezzlement!

¹ Hawes, Dennis, Who’s Who in Dickens, (Routledge), 1998, p. 109.

² “The Extraordinary Life of Charles Dickens” see http://www.charlesdickensonline.com/Gallery/g322.htm

Click here for a biography of Charles Dickens at the BBC website.

Click here for information about the actor Bransby Williams.

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News from the print room. Our print partner wins big in Cape Town.

We have used Southampton-based printers Hobbs since 2008 for all our book projects and other print requirements.

It’s always a good feeling to know that people you like and admire are making their mark so we’re jolly happy to announce that our print partner was recognised with two Awards at the International Print Network’s Conference held in Cape Town, South Africa.

The first Award of the two was given for Hobbs’ development of a fully automated Article Reprint solution built for the Institute of Physics Publishing in Bristol. The Award recognised the complexity and intelligence of the solution that allows an academic audience access to over 600,000 articles and the ability to purchase multiple copies of those of interest.

The Institute of Physics Publishing’s Head of Production, Liz Martin, says of Hobbs’ accolade:

“The Hobbs team took a very pragmatic and practical approach to dealing with this complexity and were always proactive in their communication. They were a pleasure to deal with throughout … they were dedicated, solution focused and detail orientated; highlighting many aspects of the project that we had not previously considered.”

“Hobbs successfully delivered on a tight timescale and I am looking forward to working with them on the future development of this system.”

The second was the Outstanding Recognition Award presented to Graham Bromley, Hobbs’ Deputy Managing Operations Director, saluting his contribution to the IPN through management of the IPN Technical conferences and work of the IPN Board. Graham is one of 13 people who make up the Board of the IPN. Members are drawn from partners in the UK, Netherlands, USA, France, Canada and Singapore – a truly international group.

Want to know more about the high calibre work of Hobbs the Printers Ltd? Click here.

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David Ogilvy’s 10 hints on how to write for clarity and precision.

David Ogilvy CBE (1911-1999) was the doyen of advertising in America in the 1950s and 60s. Whilst his mother was Anglo-Irish, his father was a Gaelic-speaking Scottish Highlander. During the Second World War David Ogilvy worked for the British Intelligence Service at the British Embassy in Washington where he analysed and made recommendations on matters of diplomacy and security.

It was his reputation as a superb wordsmith and communicator on Madison Avenue that established him amongst his peers as the pre-eminent ad-man in America, and his ideas on effective writing and branding are still highly influential. The character of Don Draper in “Mad Men is loosely based on Ogilvy and another famous ad-man of the 1960s, Leo Burnett.

On one occasion Ogilvy crafted a memo for his employees at Ogilvy and Mather, identifying 10 “hints” on how to write for maximum clarity and precision:

“The better you write, the higher you go in Ogilvy & Mather. People who think well, write well. Woolly minded people write woolly memos, woolly letters and woolly speeches. Good writing is not a natural gift. You have to learn to write well.

1. Read the Roman-Raphaelson ¹ book on writing. Read it three times.
2. Write the way you talk. Naturally.
3. Use short words, short sentences and short paragraphs.
4. Never use jargon words like reconceptualize, demassification, attitudinally, judgmentally. They are hallmarks of a pretentious ass.
5. Never write more than two pages on any subject.
6. Check your quotations.
7. Never send a letter or a memo on the day you write it. Read it aloud the next morning – and then edit it.
8. If it is something important, get a colleague to improve it.
9. Before you send your letter or your memo, make sure it is crystal clear what you want the recipient to do.
10. If you want ACTION, don’t write. Go and tell the guy what you want.”

¹ How to Communicate Effectively in Business, Kenneth Roman and Joel Raphaelson. See: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Writing-That-Works-Communicate-Effectively/dp/0060956437/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1332602643&sr=1-1

See also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Ogilvy 

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#wonkyword! Palimpsest, Gore Vidal, and reading between the lines.

In 1995, the American writer, political commentator, and essayist Gore Vidal ¹ broke his own declared vow never to write a memoir. Palimpsest – the first of what was to be a two volume work ² – was published to great acclaim and some criticism as befitted a public figure whose intellectual and cultural writings on American history and American life had created enemies as well as supporters.

When writing on the subject of his name he explained that his birth certificate had originally recorded it as Eugene Louis Vidal; this was then changed to Eugene Luther Vidal, Jr.; subsequent to this the name Gore was added at his christening in 1939. Fourteen years later as an adolescent he took the decision to discard the first two names.

This act of self-alteration or indeed erasure links directly to the meaning of palimpsest, our latest #wonkyword, with its etymological root in Latin from the Greek palimpsēstos, from palin “again” + psēstos “rubbed smooth”. Its use is most commonly found in the study of old manuscripts, scrolls and books; in modern usage it is used in architecture, archaeology and geomorphology. #wordwonk

Perhaps one of the best known palimpsests is that attributed to the Greek mathematician Archimedes. Known as The Archimedes Palimpsest, the manuscript is a Byzantine prayer book from the thirteenth century assembled using pages from several earlier manuscripts – one of which contained several treatises by Archimedes that were copied in tenth century Constantinople. These were first discovered in 1906 by the Danish Archimedes scholar Johan Ludwig Heiberg.

As the key aspect of such a manuscript is its layer upon layer of writing, for one so acutely aware of self-fashioning and self-actualisation as Gore Vidal, Palimpsest was perfectly judged.

¹ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gore_Vidal

² Point to Point Navigation is the second volume of Gore Vidal’s memoir and was published in 2006.

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J.K. Rowling and Norman Mailer. How authors of blockbusters plan their plots.

It doesn’t readily spring to mind there’s a connection between J.K. Rowling, author of the world’s most famous wizard since either Oz or Merlin and who has just celebrated the 20th anniversary of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, and the late Norman Mailer, ¹ an author best known for his belligerent and bruising intellectualism.

So what is it that binds them? The answer is planning the plot; what Tony Buzan would call “mind mapping” or what was known in the 1970s as “idea sunbursting”.

Currently held in the Mailer archive in the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas, ² the mind map of Harlot’s Ghost reveals how its author managed the monumental amount of ideas, events, and characters that propel a novel about the CIA from 1959-1964 to its 1,100 plus pages conclusion. ³

So vast and complex are the strands that pull the story of Mailer’s central character of Harry Hubbard, that each year is worked out in detail with key plot and character developments highlighted with column headings e.g. “Havanna”, “Judith Campbell” (JFK’s mistress), “Hoover and FBI”, and “RFK” (Robert Kennedy). In the column “World Events” you will find amongst many other entries: “Nixon-Kruschev kitchen debate” (1959), “Berlin Wall goes up” (1961), “Glenn first American to orbit Earth” (1962), “Kim Philby named as Soviet spy by British” (1963), and “Sex scandal forces out John Profumo” (1963).

Under the column “Miscellaneous”, Mailer identified contemporaneous keynote detail such as the films La Dolce VitaGoldfingerCleopatra, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf, and Psycho; the publication of books such as A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch, The Tin Drum and Hertzog; and popular music hits as in Moon Riverand Let’s do the Twist. He even made a reference in the “JFK” column to Motown Records and some of their most famous acts of the time − the Supremes, Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye.

Yet, Mailer is far from being the only author whose plot planning and story outlines have been captured in formats not entirely dissimilar. Nor is it the first example of plot planning by map that I have seen, for example Joseph Heller’s plan for Catch 22 was hatched in this fashion. But it is perhaps the most fascinating for its use of historical event to flesh out character and context and clearly demonstrates Mailer’s expertise in this form of literary writing.

Which brings me to J. K. Rowling. A writer whose stories could not be further from those of Norman Mailer – except in one respect – they both write (wrote in the case of Mailer) ³ bumper-sized books with complex plots. For example, here is how she mapped out the plot of The Order of the Phoenix, drafted on hole-punched A4 lined paper no less!

¹ Norman Mailer (1923-2007). See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norman_Mailer

² For the Harlot’s Ghost mind map at the Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas click http://blog.hrc.utexas.edu/2011/06/16/in-the-galleries-mailers-character-timeline-for-harlots-ghost/

³ Mailer’s original intention was to write a two-volume chronicle of the CIA of which Harlot’s Ghost was the first. The project was never completed.

For an enlarged version of the mind map of Harlot’s Ghost click http://editorial.designtaxi.com/news-outline1505/1big.jpg

For an enlarged version of J. K. Rowling’s plan of The Order of the Phoenix click http://editorial.designtaxi.com/news-outline1505/3big.jpg

To purchase a copy of Harlot’s Ghost click here.

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When a #wonkyword means business.

Blog. It’s a #wonkyword isn’t it? By that I mean it’s an odd, unusual word. What’s its meaning? First of all it’s a noun and a verb and a shortened version of “weblog”. According to Wikipedia a weblog (blog) is:

“a discussional or informational website consisting of discrete, often informal diary style text entries”.

Blogs have developed from the single-authored single-subject site to multi-authored blogs (MABs) written by large numbers of authors, sometimes professionally edited and most commonly published by newspapers, broadcasters, opinion makers, universities, public sector bodies, and now account for the increasing numbers and quality of blog traffic. Add to this the exponential growth of micro-blogging and social media and you get a sense of what a huge phenomenon it’s become.

I know there are people who can’t see the point of writing blogs. Of those that do some may write sporadically. Others begin writing blogs rather enthusiastically and then tail off because they’re not seeing immediate results. There are also those who don’t like writing or think they can’t write; and let’s not forget those who don’t even know what a blog is.

Would you like to know how many small businesses don’t have a website let alone use it to write blogs? In 2010, 51% of small businesses in the UK did not have a website and by 2015 this figure had reduced – to 50%. Yes, 50%. Surprising ain’t it? When you put this in the context of the record 5.5 million UK private sector businesses trading at the start of 2016 and with SMEs forming 99.3% of this sector, it’s hard to compute such a sizeable disparity even when taking “white van man” or the small local shop owner and sole trader into account.

These days the internet is an essential marketing component for any company big or small. However, unless you can hire specialists in social media and SEO (Search Engine Optimisation), learning how to maximise your social media often comes through trial and error. Not a bad way to learn the ropes but you have to factor in the hours spent doing so.

Here’s why I think you should blog.

Information

This is how it should flow.  Your blog is a deliverer of information about you (mission, aims, expertise, brand, services, value, benefits, USP). You want your readers to visit your site to learn about all of these fabulous things that you embody and then become interested in what else you have to say. Create the opportunity to hear from your readers e.g. encourage comments and feedback. Ask for their opinions. Dialogue of this kind establishes initial engagement, then further engagement, and hopefully profitability – I hasten to add here that profit is not always of the monetary kind. Use your blog to link to other blogs you may have written, to studies and research, hot topics in your field, and other weblogs. Build a “web” of links across the internet.

Reputation

Blogging enhances the reputation of your business, organisation, or whatever you want people to know about, follow and support. By blogging you demonstrate your expertise, prove your credentials, and position yourself as the “go to” person for ideas, advice, creativity, problem-solving and let’s face it, to do business. People want to associate with the best, the original thinker, the innovator, the success story, the opinion maker. Blogging gives you the chance to demonstrate your capabilities and create your own niche.

Keeping your clients happy

Writing regular, interesting, and “authentically you” blogs means that when you wish to stand back from the more obvious sales pitch you can do so without losing touch with your client base. Blogging keeps your finger on the pulse without having to have “face time” as good and helpful as that is.

Website ranking

That Was The Week That Was

This is important as it’s the way that search engines will find you online and therefore more visible to potential clients and supporters. Once again we get back to the necessity of writing good content and regular news items for your site. You may also want to explore vlogging, the video clip equivalent of blogging. Research other websites to see the creativity of vlogging and then experiment yourself. With the benefit of smart technology on tablets and mobile phones you don’t need to use a video camera. Just think of Facebook’s new “Live” streaming where users can upload real time videos and you will get a sense of how popular vlogging has become. And now add Instagram (who are owned by Facebook) to the mix with their live streaming facility.

Extend your reach

Blogging is not about creating content solely for your website but your social media too. Publishing and sharing your blogs on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Google+ (or whatever permutation of social media you use) will boost your reach and penetration of your target market, and as with website ranking increases your visibility. The overall aim is to persuade people to contact you because they like what they see and the answers and solutions to what they need. Start to see blogging as creating search engine optimisation (SEO) that is promote-able, with the power to generate business and brand value.

Building up your brand

Mojo

Blogging is a wonderful way of expressing your company’s mojo and by extension its brand. The informal nature of blogging means that they it is brilliantly suited for brand strengthening because its reasonably affordable, allowing you to manage your promotional messages and values in a cost-effective way.  The main cost or should I say investment, for this is what it is, lies mostly in the time it takes to write good copy.

Media engagement

Picking up from the usefulness of blogging in building your brand it should also start to attract media attention. This may be local to begin with but with regular postings that demonstrate your expertise, industry knowledge and writing dexterity, you may find that the national media will notice your work and and be compelled to contact you for a news story.

Finally and to reiterate, good blogging brings you:- 

  • Reputation
  • Prospects
  • Existing customers
  • Potential employees
  • Brand awareness
  • Marketing partners
  • Potential investors
  • Media engagement

Have I convinced you? If so, perhaps the “wonky word” is worth getting to know a little better?

Read More

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#wonkyword! Dégringolade, Captain Haddock and Theresa May.

Our latest #wonkyword is one you might be forgiven for thinking was the name of a villain in a James Bond film but in fact dégringolade is used either as a verb or a noun to describe a more serious state of affairs – that of a decline or deterioration. Not just any old type of decline but a rapid one. One minute up, next minute down, just like Captain Haddock of Tintin fame whose life is a series of disasters interspersed with acts of comedic heroism. It also brings to mind the very recent inglorious tumble in political clout and prestige of the British Prime Minister, Theresa May.

A prime case of semantic drift dégringolade’s etymological origins are Middle French (desgringueler) meaning to tumble and also Middle Dutch (crinkelen) to make curl, similar in fact to the English words of “crinkle” and “crank”. In other words dégringolade indicates not only decline but its speed and trajectory. Got it?

Its first known use was in 1873; perhaps not so surprising as this was but six years before the French Revolution. Although mostly commonly found in French usage it does pop up in English especially in political and financial journalism, for example,

“For a Democratic Party in the depths of political dégringolade, liberal-Progressives throughout DC and the media are expressing a level of bravado that reeks of either an embarrassing feign or a deep level of denial of the message sent to them by the American people.” ¹

Or in the case of the English author Julian Barnes from Nothing to be Frightened of, his maverick twist on the family memoir,

“Though I based the story on a septuagenarian dégringolade I heard about elsewhere, which I then grafted on to my parents’ home life, I didn’t deceive myself about what I was up to. I was retrospectively – posthumously – giving my father a bit of fun, of extra life, of air.” ²

Either way it is a fantastically expressive and imaginative word to be savoured.

¹ Winters, P. M., “Democratic Party Dégringolade”, Dignitas News Service, 6 November 2014.

² Barnes, J, Nothing to be Frightened of, (Jonathan Cape), 2008. For a review of this book written in the New York Times by Garson Keillor click here.

For the pronounciation of dégringolade click here.

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