Sunday, 14 December 2014

My Downton Abbey Addiction

Confession: I have gobbled up the whole of the Downton Abbey series over the past two months.

I resisted it for ages, but by episode two of the first series I was hooked. And as I come to the end of what's available (I'm up to episode six of series five) I am steeling myself for going cold turkey. What is so gripping about it?

The beating heart of Downton Abbey is the conflict between cherishing the beauty and quality of what exists now and seeing what needs to change for the sake of future happiness and success.

This is deliciously expressed by Granny and Mrs Crawley duelling it out, albeit in a friendlier fashion by series five. Granny savours all that her family has, and their status in society, and Mrs Crawley can see how deeply flawed and unfair the current situation is.

The upstairs clan can be seen as the conscious mind - the team that gets to call the shots, and take action out in the world. Lord Grantham's goal to uphold convention is undermined by his daughters, who are agents of change. Their desires for love and authenticity naturally undermine the status quo.

The family is closely connected to the downstairs team (the unconscious) which works tirelessly on their behalf. This conscious/unconscious element means it is deeply satisfying when there is recognition and increasing understanding between upstairs and downstairs.

On another level, just being in those beautiful settings and listening to the character's distinctive voices is a pleasure. I am truly reluctant to leave this world.

Hear hear, to Julian Fellowes, for creating a series with such depth and glamour!

--oo0oo--

To avoid accidentally jumping ahead, here's the order of the Downtown Abbey series, including the Christmas specials:

- Series 1 and 2
- Christmas at Downton Abbey (released Christmas 2011)
- Series 3
- A Journey to the Highlands (released Christmas 2012)
- Series 4
- The London Season (released Christmas 2013)
- Series 5
- A Moorland Holiday (released Christmas 2014)


Sunday, 7 December 2014

My top five novels for 2014

It's that time of year, when I start reflecting on the books I've read - and thanks to my Facebook books listing, I can now recollect the titles without straining my brain!

My top five for 2014 is a mix of two new authors, for whom I will definitely be checking out their previous books,  two new books by a couple of  known authors (to me), and a surprisingly fabulous return to an oldie but a goodie.

So here they are:

New authors I have recently discovered and highly recommend:
David Nicholls, whose recent book is 'Us'. The topic sounds tortuous ... a family on the verge of break up, taking a tour of Europe. But, like Graeme Simsion (The Rosie Project and The Rosie Effect), the male narrator has an original and serious-yet-comic voice which I loved.

Lauren Fox's 2012 novel 'Friends Like Us' also has a great first person narrator, on what could also have been a rather tired subject - a young woman being jealous of her best friend's boyfriend. The ending stunned me.

Known authors with new books I highly recommend:
'I See You Everywhere' is Julia Glass' third book (published 2008), and tracks the lives of two sisters, and their relationship. Again, this book packs emotional punch and the ending is a cracker.

I loved Karen Joy Fowler's 'The Jane Austen Book Club' and always keep a look out for her new books. Her most recent one 'We Are Completely Beside Ourselves' includes a really original, thought-provoking topic which I would not usually read about (a chimp growing up in human household), but which is emotionally gripping and deeply thought provoking.

Known author, known novel I highly recommend:
I bought an ebook reader (a Kobo Glo) in September. I know, I am an extremely late adopter of this great technology! The first book I read on it was Pride and Prejudice. It's still fresh and funny, and I still cared about the characters, even though it was first published more than 200 years ago (in 1813).




Sunday, 30 November 2014

Rushing to Relax

As for most people, November has been a crazy month for me. It's the time of the year when we 'rush to relax' ... trying to get everything done before we collapse in a heap at the end of December.

Something that has helped me enormously over the last month is the acronym 'WIN - What's Important Now'. It's one of the most valuable things I learnt during my  business course at the Barbican Training Centre.

It's so simple, and yet asking 'what's important now?' has helped me not to panic about my long and growing list of jobs to be done, and to focus on just one thing at a time. And when that 's done, to ask the question again.

It calms my mind, allowing me to let go of everything else on the list, and to inch my way, one step at a time, closer to the holidays. Three weeks to go!

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Setting up a business - facing up to fears

My business classes at the Barbican Training Centre are coming to an end tomorrow night - and the last thing each student has to do is give a short presentation on the two projects they worked on during the course. Here's a summary of mine.

The two issues I wanted to work on were: gaining more clients (I had one client when I started) and to have an online presence (I had nothing). So my two projects were to develop marketing materials, and actually do some marketing.

When I started writing my website content I realised that my writing and editing work with councils and for other clients just didn't fit together. The things I wanted to tell my council clients would not appeal to my other clients, and vice versa. So I changed my business and website name and address to 'Writing for Councils'. Suddenly the words flowed, and I had a coherent message and range of services to offer.

That left a question, what about my other clients? After talking with the business mentor provided as part of the course, I realised I didn't have to solve everything at once. I could focus on 'Writing for Councils'. I could let the other writing and editing work evolve organically. That was a huge relief.

The two scariest things for me about my two projects were:
- everything related to the computer, including setting up a website and social media
- having a 'cup of coffee' with potential clients.

But look at these things - how scary are they?





I took two months from purchasing my laptop to taking it out of its cardboard packaging ... that's how wary I was! But now I love it. And I have people who can help me if things go wrong with my website www.writingforcouncils.co.nz or the computer itself. And as Susan Piket (Barbican business tutor) kept saying, having a website for your business is non-negotiable these days - you have to have one.

After attending a workshop run by Peter Hercock (Monaco Business Services) on 'rethinking' I realised I was preferring to think about the potential of getting new clients rather than  actually making contact and asking someone to have coffee with me - with the risk that they would say no thanks. But that was the worst that could happen - and that would mean I had exactly the same number of clients as before!

It helped to treat these coffees as 'practice'. I didn't have to do it perfectly.And every time I did it would help me do it better next time.

The other thing that helped was seeing these cups of coffees as part of the 'marketing cycle' referred to in my previous article, selling your services. The meeting wasn't a failure if I didn't come away with a job. Just getting to know someone better counts as successful marketing.

I have now had two of these 'cups of coffee' with potential council clients and I was really nervous before both of them. However, one has led to a big contract, and the other led to an invitation to write a proposal to do some work for them. This is hugely encouraging.

The biggest lesson of all for me is when doing something new that will help my business - think a whole lot less about it and just jump into doing it!

Monday, 29 September 2014

Sandscapes - new paintings by Dean Bradley

Here are two new paintings by Dean Bradley, completed in September 2014.

Sandscape in lavender-grey



Sandscape in salmon-pink

                                   
Sandscape in salmon-pink is on show at the Refinery Artspace, 3 Halifax Street, Nelson until 4 October 2014 .


Saturday, 30 August 2014

Smashwords - smashing through publishing barriers





Smashwords is helping authors around the world to publish and distribute their e-books. Here's a summary of how it works.
  • You send your formatted document to the Smashwords website, at www.smashwords.com. Formatting guidelines are provided, as well as a list of recommended suppliers of formatting, editing and cover designs.
  • Smashwords then converts your Microsoft Word or Epub document into the range of different formats used by e-readers. Microsoft Word documents (rather than Epub ones) are preferred by Smashwords because they are easier to convert to the range of different e-reader formats.
  • You decide on a price for your book. Fiction books costing $2.99, $3.99 and $4.99 tend to sell well. Non-fiction in specialty technical areas can sell for $25 and more - it is less price sensitive. It's easy to change the price of your book, and you can do that as often as you like.
  • Your e-book needs to have a different ISBN number to the printed version of your book, but Smashwords provides this ISBN number for free.
  • Once this is all set up, you review a list of book retailers and tick where you want your book to be distributed.  Smashwords sends it to them. Note the exception - Amazon prefers to receive e-books directly from the author.
  • You can then view a Smashwords dashboard to see where your book is selling. Royalties for the sales from all of the retail outlets are managed by Smashwords, which pays its authors on a quarterly basis, through PayPal. Smashwords takes 10% of the list price of the book, the retailer takes 30%, leaving the author with 60%.
  • The monthly subscription services (Oyster and Scribd) have been great for Smashword authors. They allow subscribers to read as many books as they like for $8.99 a month.

Thanks to the Top of the South branch of the New Zealand Society of Authors for hosting Jim Azevedo in Nelson, where he delivered two talks for authors in August 2014.



Sunday, 24 August 2014

One Hundred Days of Self-Employment - the three biggest surprises

Twenty weeks into my new way of life, the three biggest surprises are:
- I'm getting better at dealing with uncertainty
- My novel has been abandoned
- My relationship with time has changed.

Uncertainty
I'm not your most courageous person. I like stability, certainty, and a regular income. That hasn't changed. But somewhere along the way of the past 100 days I have become more comfortable with not knowing what I'm going to be doing in three months' time.

At the end of the first month of self-employment, I experienced days of rising anxiety about the future. It affected me physically - my back and shoulders practically seized up. The breakthrough was walking with my husband around Monaco, and him saying "if uncertainty worries you this much, maybe having a business isn't going to be such a good idea for you". Right then, I knew I wanted this new lifestyle, and I loved the work - I just had to deal with not knowing a whole lot better.

I have experienced similar feelings of doubt several times since, but each time it has been less intense.

This experience is written about in the 'Tibetan Book of the Dead', later told to me by a friend. A man falls into a hole and needs help getting out. The second time he falls into the same hole but he knows where he is this time, and can get out by himself. The third time he sees the hole and is able to walk around it, and finally he chooses to walk in a completely different street. I love this story!

Abandoned novel
My husband and I have been working on a third novel for several years. We think it's a good idea. We have talked and plotted, written and rewritten chapters of this novel. It's been such a big part of our world. Now it's sitting in a heap in the wardrobe.

That was not our intention but it seems that when one aspect of your life changes, everything else does too, just like an ecosystem.

Time
Time management has always come easily to me. I'm a list maker and a ticker off. But it's amazing how hours can whip by these days. I feel like I'm in a new relationship with time, that it's an elusive and temperamental character I need to get to know all over again.

Friday, 22 August 2014

Selling your Services - lessons for the nervous marketer

One of the major challenges for newly self-employed people is no longer having work come to them from their employer - and instead having to step out into the world to find clients.

The hall full of people at Laura Raduenz's marketing talk on Wednesday (at Mapua Bowling Club) confirmed to me that I am not alone in finding the work of selling my services to be one of the most scary aspects of starting a business.

Laura asked the participants to come away with three things from her talk that would make a difference to them. Here are mine:

1. Be clear about what you offer, and be able to talk about it in a way that is comfortable to you.

2. Realise that marketing includes all of the following: people getting to know, like and trust you. Then trying, buying, repeating their purchase and referring your service to others. It also includes rewarding people who refer your services to others - by giving them something they value.

3. Expect something wonderful to happen when carrying out any of the above marketing activities. My puppy, Max, is a great example of a positive approach to people. He runs up to people expecting them to like him. If they rebuff him, he just moves on, ready to meet the next person. But I think it helps that he's this cute!


Saturday, 16 August 2014

Launching into Social Media - Ten Ways to Move Beyond Ground Zero

Moving from employment in a job you're qualified to carry out to self-employment is like one day being a competent shot putter or 100 metre sprinter and suddenly finding yourself signed up for the heptathlon. Which means doing a whole lot of sports including that one where you throw yourself over a high bar with nothing but a bendy stick.

Launching into social media over the past fortnight has been about as comfortable as putting on those very little shorts and running with determination towards a very high bar with not many ideas about how it's all meant to work.

Here are a few things I have learnt along the way.

1. Find a way through your inner resistance to the whole idea of social media. For me this light bulb moment was when my awesome business mentor Anne Harvey (LifeWorks) said blogging is social media, and blogging is writing. I came away from that meeting ready to have a crack at writing a blog, at least. I can do that - I like writing!

2. Once you learn how to set something up on social media, do a lot of that thing before you forget how to do it. I set up four blogspots in one weekend, fuelled by the excitement of remembering how to do it. I received some excellent tuition on this in June from Jocelyn Watkin (www.thestorybridge.co.nz) but had not followed it up enough at the time to be confident of being able to repeat it.

3. Expect to get a fizzy head when doing a lot of this technological stuff.
That weird feeling doesn't mean you shouldn't be venturing into these new fields. Instead, take a walk, or do something else that's grounding, and that you know how to do! Even doing the dishes is a joy at this time.


When the fizziness dies down, underneath there'll be some pride and surprise that you are actually making progress. I took this photo while dealing with fizzy head yesterday, which is now my Facebook cover:




4. Read a bit (if you feel you need to, like me), but not too much before setting up pages on Linked In, Facebook and Google Plus.

The key things to know are that to set up a business Facebook Page you need to go to www.facebook.com/pages/create and follow the simple instructions ... I ended up setting up a personal page as well, by accident, but I don't think you have to. Business Facebook pages can be accessed by anyone, and picked up on Google. People 'like' these pages, rather than becoming a friend of the page, as they do with personal Facebook sites.

To set up a Linked In Profile go to www.linkedin.com. You'll be entering some similar information here, as for your Facebook personal page - where you went to school, university, interests and so on. The trickiest thing was uploading a photo that was small enough to meet their specifications. But persist, because it's really important to include a photo.

5. Don't try to do everything at once. When you start pulling at your hair walk away! Bear the shame of having a friendless Facebook page for the sake of your sanity. And don't reach out in desperation to request to be friends with people you went to school with thirty years ago, and haven't seen since - unless you genuinely want to connect. Otherwise it will start feeling like a social sham, and could build up to being a reason to close the whole thing down (as I have previously done).

On the other hand, I read somewhere that accepting a Linked In invitation is equivalent to exchanging business cards with someone - no big deal, and with no obligations for ongoing involvement with them, so you can be more relaxed about that.

6. Make as many connections as you can between your different social media platforms. When they're connected, activities on one platform will register as an activity on all the connected platforms. Google likes this - which means you will go up in their ratings, and have more chance of showing up on that valuable first page of a Google search.

This connection is created by listing your website in the profile of your Facebook business page, and on your Linked In profile. Also include links to your Facebook and Linked In profiles on your website. One of the simplest ways to post a newly created blog to Facebook is to push the button at the bottom of a blog.

7. Start writing regular blogs, even when the only person reading them is your mother. Remember that you also have Google as an interested reader. Squash that recurring question in your mind: 'who reads blogs anyway???' Just think of all those sports at the recent Commonwealth Games that you didn't realise so many people were doing!

8. Set a time, day and place that suits you to write your blog, away from your office. It needs to feel like fun rather than a work task. I like to do this sitting on the couch with the laptop on my knee.

9. Write a content plan for your blogs. I haven't done this yet, but every book I've read on the subject says it's essential if you are to stay in this game for the long haul. Categories for blogs generally come under these headings: a list (eg top 3 or 10 of something), a story (eg a situation, a problem and an outcome), a how to column, my take (your point of view about something), a review or interview, a round up (a collation of articles recently read or talks at a conference recently attended).

The general idea is to mix up these categories over a period of time.

10. When starting up, just do something each day related to social media, even if it's tiny, like sending or accepting one invitation on Linked In, adding a photo to your Facebook page, or figuring out how to do one more thing. That way you can feel like you're making progress, and feel connected to this new world, while still getting a few other things done!

PS. Blogs are meant to be about 250 words long, so this one breaks that general rule. It's also a great idea to include a photo, if possible, to dress up the text.

Thanks to the following people and books, without whom this blog would not have been possible:

Jocelyn Watkin - www.thestorybridge.co.nz
Anne Harvey - Lifework business coach (email lifework@xtra.co.nz)
Pam Bradshaw - my mother, and the first reader of my blog

Learn Marketing with Social Media in 7 Days, by Linda Coles
Built.in Social - Essential Marketing Practices for Every Small Business, by Jeff Korhan
Blogging for Creatives, by Robin Houghton