Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Rediscovering London


'When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life' said Samuel Johnson. My life friendship with London started a couple of years ago, when I started to discover the city. Since then, I tried to refresh our friendship, by discovering new corners and meeting new people. Although I considered myself quite experienced in mapping and knowing more than the basics about London, after reading this very challenging guide, I discovered how far I am from this basic standpoint. 
Heather Reyes collected the most important and interesting literary fragments dedicated to the city, from an array of authors - among them Virginia Woolf, Aldous Huxley, Karel Kapek, Julian Barnes, Joseph Conrad, Xialo Guo, Peter Ackroyd - and styles. The reader can have a wide perspective of the historical stages the city went through. However, the book is not aimed to top-notch doctors in literature, but to anyone interested to find out more about the places and people that you should not only see in London, but also understand. The tour starts with love declarations to London, continues with a general tour that will be detailed by descriptions of various issues - 'pomp and circumstances', transportation and, of course, the weather - and geographical journeys - East End, West End. One of my favorite sections is that dedicated to the 'Londoners - old and new', because what is a city without its brave citizens? 
What you will not have in this books are: information about shopping and discounts and the museums and their schedule. Plus, it is not a guide to have in your pocket while you try to find out which tube line will bring you to the next tourist destination. But you have instead the most important guidance for understanding the city regardless of the time spent within its - symbolical - walls. For me, nothing what I've read was known and the guide brought me to the real world of London. Four hours of intensive reading later, I see this interesting city with completely different eyes. 
As I returned from there less than 24 hours ago, I might say that I will never get tired of life in London. 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Coping with the pressure of words

When once asked about how do I cope with the famous and overrated writers' block I was proud to announce that no, I am not one of those people facing such dangers. I am writing for a living for years and I cannot see myself doing something else. I write fast and I love to write and my creativity is an infinite reservoir of topics for blogs, articles and any other writing-related projects.

However, from time to time, and very often lately, I cope with a different kind of problem: the question if I really should write about something unless I will waste my words only for satisfying my hunger for words. It is something really important I want to say in a way that no one else said before?

Especially when I have to deal with a lot of commercial information for different blogs that I write for, such a feeling occurs at least once the week. Indeed, the product reviews or food descriptions are easy to do; I can write at least 5 posts of minimum 300-word the day and still counting. But, at the end of this writing tour-de-force, the question is if I really cared about quality and my perspective is enough original. Plus, after reading so many such easy posts, I do not feel inspired enough for more elaborated posts, such as book reviews. I have more than 10 books that I must review and each time I want to turn the page to some serious topics, I find more tempting to take care of my commercial interests. 

At a certain point, it can be a normal temptation, as my income is generated but exactly this type of activities, while literary reading and writing is something I try to do when the account is feeling good enough to support one day when I am offline trying to find a way to build my stories or to find my literary voice. The best advice I will give to someone fighting such problems will be: wake up as early as possible in the morning, finish your complicated writing first and dedicate the rest of the day to your for-profit activities. But, I am not sure that I can always follow this advice as my schedule may differ from a day to another and some of my meetings can be schedule as early as at 8am.

There is more than one solution in sight, and the relative block I need to deal with regularly can be a good source of inspiration as well. Today, for instance, after 24 hours of literary procrastination and delay in finishing many of my projects, I feel a lot of energy and I already finished over half of the priorities in the agenda. My formative years as a journalist for a very busy daily newspapers brought me the burden of a curse: as long as I have tight deadlines, I am the most efficient person in the world. When there it is no deadline, I can spent days with my books without feeling the need to do anything else but reading - and cooking, but then it is already a push forward to write about my cooking experiences. Apparently, the natural feeling of hunger can help me counter the unpleasant feeling of not writing at all.

Travel books from Oxygen Books

My fine selection of books from Oxygen books is here! Getting ready for new reviews very very soon!


Friday, January 18, 2013

Jerusalem International Book Fair

If you love books and reading and you are in Israel in February, you must not miss the Jerusalem International Book Fair. Held every two years, the 26th edition is scheduled between 10 and 15 February.  As usual, the book lovers will be welcomed with over 100,000 books from over 30 countries and many special editorial events, workshops and conferences.

Thanks to the Editorial and Agent Fellowship Program, young editors and agents will have the possibility, through business sponsorship and other special arrangements, to meet their senior counter parts and learn how to improve their daily work. 

As for me, I will be very interested in exploring the children books, another domain where the Hebrew literature offers quality writing. Some of the guests expected this year are Antonio Munoz Molina and Lidia Jorge. At the end of each edition a special prize will be offered. The recipients of the two last editions are: Haruki Murakami (2009) and Ian McEwan (2011). The first laureate of the Jerusalem Prize was Bertrand Russell, in 1963.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Children books with unexpected endings

Children books represent at least 25% of my Kindle books. I do not have any preference for the age, as I come along very well any for an audience between 4 to 100. Thanks to this passion I succeeded to improve many of the languages that I need to use on a regular basis and very often I take half of the day off to spend some good hours at the closest bookstore for reading some new books, together with the little toddlers and school children. Of course that I plan to write my own children books, but I feel that I am still too far away from the moment when I will start putting on my virtual paper the plans of my first one. It means that I have more opportunities to discover more books and I am (again) in a win-win situation.


In the last days, I finally started and finished reading a book that I wanted to discover for a long time: How to speak dragonese, by Cressida Cowell. This is one of the many books included in the successful series of How to train your dragon. Two different impressions are fighting in my mind when thinking about this book. The first category deals with the admiration for the smart and simple story line, the funny characters and the creation of the that personalized ambiance that makes any children book a great achievement. The story is self sufficient, the characters have their personality, strength and weaknesses and even though at the end of there are some moral and ethical lessons to be considered - Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III wins respect because the way he uses his mind - you do not feel it as a boring lecture. What I did not like - at all - is the language who is too aggressive and dirty sometimes. I did not expect from such a rough world of the vikings a Roman politness, but I tried to overcome too much vulgarity. 

As for the second choice of children books this week, The Bear's Slippers by Maria Ellis, all I can say is that it is an adorable story. This story aimed for 4 to 7 yo is a versified story about a bear whose slippers are lost when entering the water. Poor bear, after being hurt before in the forest, hence his unusual and laughable - for some of his fellow forest chaps - decision to wear slippers, would he be forced to stay at home for the rest of his life? The power of imagination can challenge any bad mood: the bear follows with the eyes of his mind the journey of the dancing slippers. Wish it is a continuation and I can read more stories about this bear and his adventurous slippers. Maria Ellis is the author of both the story and the illustrations. 

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Book review: In Conversation with Exceptional Women, by Monica Bhide

The interview is one of my favorite journalistic style. Through the exchange of questions and answers one may reveal his or her personality and can spontaneously open the doors to his or her real self. In addition, for the reader is more challenging and less boring to read what people really think instead of reading about what some other people assume they are thinking.

I love to read interviews as well, especially on topics that interest me lately, such as food writing or travel or simply inspirational snapshots from people more advanced on the professional writing path. Monica Bhide's book: In Conversation with Exceptional Women: Seeds of Inspiration to Help You Bloom where You Are Planted was exactly what I needed for a good start of the next 12 months. I have the book since the last May, but till a couple of days ago did not feel the need to seriously read it, even though I had the book on my priority reading list for months. My decision to delay the pleasure of lecture was correct, as only now I really feel balanced enough professionally and emotionally to consider seriously the next options in my career and offer myself new challenges.

It does not matter if you are a professional or beginner writer, a woman or a man, and does not matter either if you are a writer or not. The simple and sometimes humble answers offered by the women interviewed by Monica Bhide, an inspirational person and amazing writer herself, will change your perspective at least once during the lecture of the 200 pages of the book. 

The questions are mostly about the background of the authors, the personal recipes about finding motivation and juggling with the personal and professional sides of their life, the message for their 16 yo former self, but also about their favorite foods and the content of their fridge (I found it amazing that the over 50 persons inteviewed rarely shared the same ingredient, except maybe milk). Some were also requested to give a couple of advice for the writers-in-process. 

The definition of success gave by most of them coincides: the freedom to do what you love to do and being your own boss and time manager, and this is my definition too. However, behind any successful story, especially when it comes to writing, there should be a lot of persistence, but also a bit of luck (Andrea Nguyen). Meanwhile, I love the bold line by Ruth Reichl: 'I don't think anyone ever feels really successful. Or at least nobody with a conscience'. 

I have learn something from each of the interview, but I particularly loved: Carla Hall's interview and candid professional mission 'I want to make people happy'; Heidi Swanson's visual perception of the cake; Grace Young's approach according to which when cooking 'you are not only learning a recipe or a culinary secret, but equally observing the unique way each home cook aproaches a recipe'; Jaden Hair's wise advice that embracing failure is a necessary part of a step to success. I completely agree with Lynne Rosetto Kasper's answer when asked what inspires her to cook: 'possibilities, curiosity, new techniques, hunger, sensuality, pleasure, escape, focus, release, and many meals for people I care about'. Do you cope with permanent rejections? 'It does not matter how many rejections you get', said Virginia Willis, 'it only takes one yes'. Nothing helps better the food writer than travel and I am in full resonance with Pam Krauss' advice to writers: 'Travel as often as you can and as widely as you can and keep a journal of your food experiences'.

When I finished the book last night, I felt that I needed more and more such interviews. Maybe Monica will continue with this inspirational adventures, or maybe the readers themselves need to start writing their own stories of success. 

As for me, I have a long long lists of books to read and many recipes to try in the next months and enough inspiration for coping with any rejection. 

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Writing habits

As writing plays an important part of my personal and professional life, I spend over 50% of the my active time juggling with words.

I do write mostly on my computer. When I am out and I should document some blog posts or articles, I usually take notes, but the ideas will be later put together on my computer. I do the same when I read books that I want to review later. In all cases, the notes will disappear later in the recycle bin, as I do not need the information any more. In the old times, I had a lot of files and written notes for my academic papers, but nowadays, either I know already many things or I have a more structured memory, or I have less academic curiosities. If the latter, I better go back to the scholarly habits.

The first words in the morning are written for the usual electronic correspondance. In 89% of the cases, there are not too many intellectual challenges at this time of the day. Usually, I go to sleep quite late and when I am back online many are just starting the day so not too much time to have an inbox full of emergencies.

If no emergencies with my consultant job, I spent at least 3 hours early in the morning writing blog posts or reviews or getting ready with some articles. But as my writing contribution is mostly for free, I should stop and around 10am I am doing the basic paid work, which may involve writing as well or translating, but also social media networking or meetings outside my home office. If everything is fine and I am done with the regular hours assigned for the day and month, I will continue the day with a library hopping. While on the road I do read a lot, especially the easy travel books or easy literature. Back home, I should do another 1 hour of work and continue with the home chores - cooking, finding and trying a new recipe. Such activities are usually inspiring for my blogging life and I take a lot of notes about the directions and many more pictures. The next hour or so is dedicated to school discussions and a good eating, with some sporadic e-mail checking in between. The best is to come: one two hours of reading, when I usually take notes or brain storm with ideas for further posts or articles. 

I work a lot with lists of priorities, but also with my own mental notes. I try to avoid associating my writing with the usual stress of the deadlines and thus, I know how many posts I have in my boxes for one blog and I try to finish with the writing within a given period of time. Now, for instance, I have more than five blogs in the making for my Berlin blog and I plan to finish till Friday, until I will be overwhelmed by other newly added posts. When I participate to an event or I have fresh posts that I need to write for SEO or other branding purposes, I set up the deadline and follow it. 

At the beginning of my blogging life, it was quite difficult to find the right balance between writing and reading. When I was reading too much, the blogs were not updated for weeks, while too much writing leave me with the feeling that I waste my time without learning something new. Now, I am much better, trying to plan my articles in time and avoid wasting too much time with procrastination.

The evening may continue either with a social event - the rule of the last 2 month was almost 3 events the week, plus a very busy cultural week-end - or with more reading. When the spontaneous inspiration haunts me, I take a break of 15 minutes, write a new post and continue the lectures. 

The supper could be another occasion to expand the list of scheduled posts for blogging at the end of which I will prefer some glossy reviews, a chat with friends and maybe another coffee and a new book done for the day. If I loved or hated the book, will take some time for some short reviews on Goodreads and Shelfari and if it is a book I received for review, a couple of sentences on Amazon. 

Late in the night, a new checking of the latest e-mails, the preparation of the next day agenda and everything is switched off before a good sleep.

It is nothing I would like to change from my writing life, except that I have only 24 hours to organize my writing and reading life.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Publications for writers: Writers Forum

As a writer to be, I am frustrated for not having enough time to read all the publications I would like to read for improving my style, grammar and marketing strategy. Unexpectedly lost for a couple of hours in Stansted airport, I discovered Writers' Forum and enjoyed all the minutes thereafter. 
The last issue of Writers' Forum

The main feature, in my opinion: it is a very useful publication. You will learn how to pitch a military history, to research a cookbook or how to make your daily reporting a quality work of fiction. More than 10 pages have reader stories and samples of poetry. You can also have some good advice about how to improve your writing in 2013 and some insights into the world of children writing. Are you unhappy about the pace of your words? You can either do some daily exercises for improving your style and your grammar and/or to use specialized charts that will evaluate your progress regularly.  

Everything is written with the simplicity of those who know very well that writing is not for everyone but if you feel your vocation, you need a good piece of advice not sophisticated lectures. Last but not least, you have a lot of competitions and incoming classes where you can check how far you are on the road to success. 

Those, as me, who cannot find the publication regularly in the drugstore two blocks away, can use the dedicated apps, available for iOS and Android. 

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Interview of the week: Heather Reyes, from Oxygen Books


When I read for the first time about Oxygen Books, I was so excited that could not resist the temptation to write them an e-mail asking for an interview. Heather Reyes, the mind and inspired hand behind this interesting edition house took her time and answered my curiosities about the brilliant idea of a different type of travel guides with full literary flavors.
'Yes. Let's do it.' So we did!
How did you have the idea for such guides?
We were in Athens for the first time. We had all the standard guide books and were doing the usual touristy things but we still had the feeling of not quite being able to 'get under the skin' of the city. Some things about it that were different from what we'd expected.
We were literally on the slopes of the Acropolis when Malcolm said to me, 'What we need is a really good anthology of writing about the city - and not just "old stuff" ... a book that takes you around the city with the best writers beside you, pointing things out, illuminating things ...Novelists, travel writers, historians, whatever ...'  'Mmm, that would be nice,' I replied, vaguely. By this time we were wandering along the hundreds of stalls of an outdoor book fair, astounded by just how many publishers were represented. But no visible anthologies. A visit to the city's bookshops were equally fruitless.
Malcolm was suspiciously quiet and thoughtful, and eventually came out with it: 'If we are looking for something like that, the chances are other people are too. We'll do a bit more research back in London but if there isn't anything ... what do you say to the idea of us setting up a little publishing company and doing it ourselves? I've been in book publicity and marketing, you've been an editor ...' Now whether it was the climate or the effect of finally being in a city I'd always longed to visit, I don't know, but I said 'Yes. Let's do it.' So we did!
 A guide for those who take short city breaks
What is your expected target?
Mainly people who take short city breaks. So we started with some of the most popular destinations - Paris, London, Berlin, Venice, Dublin and Amsterdam. We then ventured as far as New York as there is so much good writing about the city and people often do take a short break there, too. Our most recent book is on St Petersburg, often visited by cruise ships, so perhaps a slightly different readership. 
 Paris, Berlin and New York all sell consistently well
What was the reaction of the readers so far? Which guides are more in demand right now? 
Well, we've had excellent reviews in lots of different places, including major national newspapers, and readers often contact us to say how much they've enjoyed the books and had their visits to the cities enriched by them. So I guess you could say the reactions have been good.
Paris, Berlin and New York all sell consistently well, and St Petersburg, as our most recent book, is in demand at the moment.
Do you intend to publish the guides in other languages? If yes, what would be your main choices?
Publishing in other languages would only be viable if we sold the rights to do so to a publisher in that language. The rights and translations situation for the many, many texts we use would not make it viable for us to take on. And unfortunately we don't have the necessary expertise in languages other than French.
Next publishing stop: Istanbul 
What are your publishing projects for 2013? What will be the next cities to be featured?
Our next city is Istanbul, which will be published in April 2013, to tie in with Turkey being the Market Focus of the London Book Fair. This has been quite a big undertaking as it contains a lot of material translated from Turkish for the first time - there are an amazing number of brilliant Turkish writers whose work is scarcely available in English, if at all, and we wanted to show Anglophone readers just what a wealth of literature there is in Turkey. So, this will be our only book in 2013 - also because both Malcolm and I have personal writing projects to complete before the end of the year.
Rio for 2016
Do you want to extend your geographical area covered by the guides by including other continents, such as Asia, Africa, Latin and North America?
We have already ventured into North America with our New York book. And I suppose an obvious choice would be Rio for 2016, because of the Olympics. There are many possibilities - we are often contacted by readers suggesting certain cities - but before deciding on a city, we have to be convinced that enough people of the kind who would buy our books actually go there ... or are sufficiently interested in the city: we do sell to quite a number of 'armchair travellers'. We also have to know there is enough really brilliant modern writing on the city for us to use in a meaningful way. So at the moment we are still considering where we go after Istanbul.
 The selection starts with the personal library
How do you select the writers?
It's quite a 'messy' process, actually. We start with our personal library, which is quite large. Then, of course, we scour the web and keep an eye on the book reviews in newspapers and magazines for what is most recent on the city. Once our various contacts know we are 'doing' a city, they start to send in ideas or the names of people we might consult. We also simply browse in good bookshops and libraries. We buy some books, but our local library service has been very helpful in ordering books for us. We also belong to a library at the Barbican Centre (a big arts and performance complex in London) which is also very, very good. Then every evening for quite a few weeks is spent on the sofa surrounded by tottering piles of books, speed-reading and marking possible passages to include. (Lots of them don't make it into the final selection: we always start with a lot more material than we can use.)
Variety is important and we aim to include as many different genres as we can - we use fiction, history, memoirs, biography, journalism, travel writing, diaries, letters ... We would even use graffiti if it were useful! The rule for final acceptance of an extract is, 'Does this piece help me get under the skin of the city in some valuable way? Is it something I, personally, would want to read?'
We like to put the famous alongside the less well-known and try to keep one or two slots for young or 'emerging' writers whenever possible, and to use writing translated from as many different languages as possible, including some material translated into English for the first time. It's part of our 'mission' to get Anglophone readers to try more translated writing. The UK publishes relatively few translated books - though it is improving. We want to show people what they're missing and persuade them to enter other cultures by reading the writing that comes from them.  
How would you define a nearly perfectly written travel guide? 
One that doesn't overload you with 'information' but helps you to understand the 'soul' of the place and maybe helps you to fall in love with it - warts and all! One that truly enhances your visit  - or enables you to make a meaningful visit to the city from your own armchair.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

What are you ready to do for promoting your book?

Writers Wearing Costumes, Baking Cookies, & Other Mad Men Trick

I am far away of the wonderful moment of thinking about the launch of my book and I am not sure that I am bold enough to try most of the tips presented here. However, there it is an encouragement that if you have inspiration, a lot of chutzpah and a good book, you can sell your book!


Writing objectives for 2013

Looking around my blogs and other writing activities, the last 12 months were pretty challenging, with a lot of ups and downs, both in terms of writing and reading. 

The most important achievement was that I was able to get real money out of writing in English. It was hard, sometimes frustrating and unpleasant - mainly when I had to do with nasty and rude employers or with people that disappeared without paying - but all those small unpleasant details do not matter at all. The news is that I was able to survive for a good couple of months out of my writing job(s). Now, two months after I finally found a good, normal job, doing what I usually do for money - PR and communications consulting - I miss a bit the long writing hours, but I know that I can focus better on specific writing assignments and more focused tasks. Thanks to this new job I do more blogging and I spend more time reading interesting books and trying to find out the best ways for advancing my own writing projects.

Another good news of the last year - that I wanted to write about but got lost into the rush of the last busy weeks of 2012 - was that I was able to use my first $100 out of the sales of a tourist guide I wrote in 2011. It seems as a lot of time since and not too much money - it is an app sold on Apple store at a very low price, that I need to share with the owner of the edition house anyway - but I can hardly describe my happiness when I was announced that there is some cash waiting for me. 

Overall, there were modest results, with big perspectives for the coming months, that I see in terms of writing in the following way:

- I will need to continue improving my English skills and most probably will be tempted from time to time to get another writing project that will help me to keep the standards high. Plus, I can thus save money for the next objective. I have a dear academic project of mine ongoing meaning that at least once the month will continue to share my ideas on academic work, but I will need to have a specific contribution at least once the week. 

- Continuing to read and watch tutorials about writing. I am looking to enrol in some free classes for creative writing or try to have some savings for 1-2 attending some paid ones. If I want to write a novel - (yes) - I will need more than the basic experience of the reader and book critic.

- More blogging! I contribute with content - and completely for free - to at least six blogs, on different topics: travel, foreign affairs, cooking etc. I already have a long list of topics - from book reviews to daily news - that I should finish writing about in the next days, and this will help me to start anew with my usual schedule of writing, with at least once the day one blog post for one of the blogs. I do not plan to open a new blog this year, just focus better on the branding and quality content of the current consortium! I hope that at the end of the next 6 months to be closer to the dream of getting money out of my blogs. This involves another objective of the year: getting more sponsorships! On a sidenote, I will also need to take a serious photography class as I am not always happy with the quality of my pictures used for the blogs.

- Having a blog, or two, allows to the writer the opportunity of attending various interesting events - online and in real life - and write about it. The last year, I started to use this chance, and went to some professional events, and I have at least one another event scheduled for the beginning of February. My priority will be to set up a schedule of events of interest in the next months and try to get the chance to go there, network and get to know interesting people.

- For my cooking blog, I must take a specific class of food writing. I need to read a lot of similar blogs and try to see the main patterns, as well, and I can do it for free. I write completely by inspiration, with the hunger of sharing a couple of words and ideas. I do not pretend to be a food writer, but I love to write about my food and thus, I should be able to do it professionally. The same should be done for my travel blogs, whose style was improved a lot, but still I need to do more before being considered at least at the bottom of the top writers. 

- I plan to have at least one article the month pitched for another blog or media outlet. I do not have nothing in mind for the moment, and I know how difficult pitching may be for me - as a good PR consultant, I am perfect for my customers, but a disaster for me...I need to use more the niche of travel writing and my experiences as an expat.

- I want to launch a new category of writing products: the interviews - with writers, editors, beginner writers, academics, artists. For each blog, I will establish a category of topics and priotities and will try contacting the persons already. I don't dare to try the video option - yet - as I am a terrible camera shy person, but I will try to do it in writing. 

- More reviews to be published on Amazon.com or Goodreads or Shelfari, that will allow me to have a certain visibility but also to get in touch with writers.

- Tons of books to be read and reviewed! I gathered over 300 books on my Kindle, another 100 on my wish list and another that I will be tempted to read at the library!

- What's next in terms of writing, though?

There are two big files on my desk: the projects in waiting - for over 12 months, and the fresh new projects.

The projects in waiting are books on various stages of execution that I plan to finish till March - the latest:

1. My PhD book that should be edited, formated for Kindle and EPub, and launched.
2. A children book that is ready but without illustrations. 
3. A small book on customer relations, that it is 25% done and can be finished as a draft till the end of the next week.
4. A book on foreign affairs, that I have in my mind for over 2 years, is 15% written but not finished because never thought that I am good enough to do it. I should finish the first draft till the end of February, according to my plan.
5. 2 projects of travel books that clear as projects but need to be started somehow. 
6. The most pressing project is a book that should be ready at least by 5th of February, on foreign affairs topics!

For all the current projects I am thinking about self publishing, as I see them not as an opportunity to get money, but as a good promotion for my coming projects. 

What I want to start writing once those projects are done is:

1. An academic book in English, with topics related to my PhD
2. A couple of short stories
3. Gathering the material and thinking about a novel with a historical topic
4. A history project for whom I need funding and thus, I should launch it before as an Indiegogo project. Most probably, I can have enough material for another travel book as well.
5. A project about freelancing, that is only an idea for the moment
6. A new travel writing book, gathering my experiences over the years as a dedicated backpacker. 
7. Launching series of children book, eventually with the proper illustration.
8. A photo book project is hidden somewhere on the back of my head and I need to get some time one day to think more about it.
9. I want also to write a booklet about foreign affairs, essays on different political evolutions that will be nice to be launched the next December. 

 Wish I can finish with at least 70% of the projects in one year time. Anyway, will promise to write as many updates as possible and to keep the track of all my projects at least once the week.

Happy writing year, everyone!