Friday, 25 December 2009



See you in the New Year!

PHOTO Nieve 44 La Luz

Friday, 18 December 2009

Time to put the lights out?

CC director Ali Muirden joins the debate about Stephen Covey's latest digital deal and what it might mean to traditional publishers.
Well, the publishing world was all a-twitter this week following the news that Stephen Covey (author of The Seven Habits of High Effective People) was to eschew the traditional publishing route and go it alone on the digital highway.

The blogosphere is awash with various writers debating what this means for struggling authors everywhere and vowing the time is approaching when they can be masters of their destinies!

Somehow I don’t think the major publishing corporations will be switching off the lights, turning off the water supply and putting the cat out just yet.

As my business partner Lorelei and I know, digital publishing is not without its challenges and the need of some industry knowledge. I give thanks daily for the rigorous training and skills I managed to accrue over my 27 years with the Macmillan Publishing Group.

One of the most brilliant things (and there were many) was that the company allowed me a great deal of freedom and the space to learn the business - sometimes at great expense to them!
During my time at Macmillan, I learned many skills - including negotiating, communicating, selling, presenting, project managing, audio producing and directing, production methods, copy writing, understanding the finance of the business and jargon-busting, to name just a few. There aren't many industries left where you are given this kind of support - and I look back on my time there with huge affection and gratitude.

But getting back to Stephen Covey: We should not forget that he is already a huge, best-selling author, whose name is known globally. He is not a struggling writer trying to make his mark in the world and to get his work recognised.

He’s also likely to have a great team of people to work with in order to get his book edited, designed and put into production. And we haven’t even covered sales and distribution which is another huge and complex area of the process of selling a book, even digitally.

These are skills worth their weight in gold and without which most authors would be lost.

Let’s face it, most writers gratefully recognise the value their editorial team give to their work. Check out most “acknowledgments” sections in any book and nine times out of ten you’re bound to see a list as long as your arm of people the author wants to thank “at my publishers”.

And there’s a very good reason for that! - AM

We’d love to know: Do you think it’s time for publishers to shut up shop?

Friday, 11 December 2009

When Control Freaks Collide

This week, CC director Ali Muirden blogs about what it's like to work with a control freak. It takes one to know one!
In theory, being in partnership with Lorelei shouldn’t work!

I’m sure if the two of us took one of those psychometric tests, all the experts in the land would say 'you’re both way too similar in terms of personality traits for this to ever work!'

For instance, I’m bossy, controlling, decisive, impatient - and that’s just for starters! And, quite frankly, so is Lorelei!

My family would say that “you don’t suffer fools gladly” and my husband would definitely add “you hate being in the wrong!” and I hate to admit it, but they are so right!

So how do Lorelei and I manage to work so well together and not spend our days battling to be the Alpha female in our business?

Well, I really believe reason we don’t, and this is the crucial point, we both totally and absolutely respect the other’s abilities and the skills they bring to the partnership.

I respect her editorial abilities and her meticulous attention to every grammatical detail, her quick responses and speed of turn around of a task, her humour, her willingness to learn new things, her eye for detail especially when it comes to design and, most of all, her skill at charming the best out of everybody we work with.

So, for the purposes of this Blog entry and with some trepidation, I asked Lorelei what she thought about me and she said:

“I agree with you – it’s all about respect and trust. I respect your expertise, and trust absolutely that you will do what you say you will. You’re also the least neurotic person I know – and I think that’s key. A control freak who’s neurotic is a nightmare – but a ‘control freak’ that’s as balanced as you are is a force to be reckoned with! If you want something done – ask a control freak! I wouldn’t want to work with someone who had to be led all the time… I’m much happier working shoulder to shoulder with someone I admire!”

I also think that when we do disagree, because of this admiration for each other’s abilities we’re able to be rational, consider the other person’s opinion and discuss our views calmly and reasonably. To date when we have disagreed over something we’ve always found a solution that leaves both of us pleased with the end result and that’s what really matters. - AM

We’d love to know: How do you cope with disagreements with colleagues at work?

Friday, 4 December 2009

Is it lunchtime yet?

This week, CC director Lorelei King continues her occasional series of blogs on her life as a voiceover.

As a voiceover and voice director, I spend most of my working hours in the recording studio – and today I’ve been thinking about some of my favourites, and what makes them so great.

Here’s what I think makes a good studio:
It’s clean and looks loved.

The coffee is real, not instant!

They have muffins and croissants, but make them a little bit hard to get to so I’m not constantly tempted.

There’s a bit of natural light somewhere!

The staff love their jobs.

Examples of studios that get it right: there are loads of great studios in London, but I especially like Heavy Entertainment – chic design, great green room, espresso machine, staff who can’t do enough for you – and great lunches!

In New York I’m always happy at John Marshall Sound – loads of laughs, fabulous people, sensational view – and great lunches!
I have a great job – but a good studio makes it even nicer to go to work...
In a nutshell: creature comforts and pleasant people! - LK

We’d love to know: What do you like in a recording studio?

Friday, 27 November 2009

Pulling a 'cracker' for Xmas? Or is 'Staying Single' your New Year's resolution?

Our guest blogger this week is Alison Norrington, author of our latest titles, publishing today: 'Pulling Power - Pick Up Tips for Girls' and 'Pulling Power - Pick Up Tips for Guys'

A promise to stay single for a year....

A sensible move, to stay below the radar and not be distracted by the ups and downs of dating?
Or sticking my head in the sand and missing opportunities with all those great guys I just hadn't met yet?
Just like the laws (or perils) of attraction, which of the above you agree with depends on your point-of-view and past experiences.

Staying Single was my fourth chick-lit novel and was loosely based on 2 years littered with horrendous dates. I really did meet ‘Yosemite Sam’ at a speed dating event in SoHo. I honestly was locked in a car on a rainy afternoon in a public park with a guy who wanted more than just ‘a quick bite’ from our lunch break date. And don’t get me started on the pilot! Ok, DO get me started! The quick version?
• I wanted to take flying lessons.
• We met randomly in a club (he looked great and we started chatting).
• Turns out he’d just got his light aircraft licence and offered to take me ‘up’ (!)
• In short, I was expecting Top Gun to come knock on my door.
• I got Mr Bean - complete with his tin-foil wrapped sandwiches and Simon Cowell high-waisters.
• Don’t ask me how I could have got it soooo wrong.
• But I did.

And this is only the tip of the iceberg.

So I vowed to take a year out. I was traumatised!

I began to rethink everything I’d ever considered about marriage. I even talked with friends about our groundbreaking idea that marriage should be replaced by a 7 year contract - renewable only if both sides agreed. It made sense! Wouldn’t that make us respect each other and our relationships and not take things for granted? It was perfect! Positively groundbreaking! Even Carrie Bradshaw hadn’t figured that one out and she’d been on the singles scene for at least 8 series! We figured we were dating geniuses!

In researching the whole idea about staying single it became clear that there are numerous bonuses to remaining single by choice and of the hundreds of readers who wrote to Sophie many were finding it fun to go out without an agenda. The room really is full of people to just have fun with and with no potential ‘targets’ you go from predator to party animal. Then, by removing those preconceived ideas about who you do and don’t ‘fancy’ you become gregarious and friendly with everybody. Which, in turn, makes you relaxed and fun. Which, in turn, makes you, erm, er... rather fanciable! You only have to Google ‘types of daters’ or ‘dating styles’ to find categories such as cautious daters, ‘if only’ daters, adult babies, flirts and cheaters. So ducking down under that radar really can be very refreshing.

In the Staying Single story, Sophie is an unlucky in love magazine columnist and when her quick-fire, ‘Devil Wears Prada’ boss hears her ranting about yet another disastrous date and her vow to stay single for a year, gets lumbered with a weekly column about her quest. ‘Relationship Rehab’ becomes her outlet for recounting the horrors of pre-organised dating events as part of the Staying Single story, but it’s the Pulling Power mini clips that really show your real experiences of love, lust and loneliness.

Pulling Power was a hugely successful element of the Staying Single storyworld and came from my initial idea of making a series of mini documentaries about chat up lines, dating disasters, love stories and down-right-wicked ways we’ve been dumped. What started as video content soon dried up as I realised I simply couldn’t go on a world tour to shoot this series of short films and so people from New York to Nanching, from Perth to Peterborough and Saskatchewan to Second Life began to email me their chat up lines and dating tales.

I was really excited when Ali and Lorelei approached me to write Pulling Power for Girls and for Guys and it seemed a natural move – especially when I’d learned so much from researching what did and didn’t work on the pulling and dating front! Pulling Power Dating Hints & Tips is structured in an obviously progressive way – taking you from figuring what you want, how you want it and then, the best way for you to get it! There are practical hints on what to wear, where to go and even delves into online dating and text flirts.

So, what did I learn from being ‘Sophie’ and staying single?

• Settling for second-best should never be an option
• Charm school works (only if it’s not too cheesy)
• Chat up line success lies all in the delivery and not in the words
• Beauty really is in the eye of the beholder
• and we’re all looking for different things from a partner at different times in our lives.

Check out the Staying Single story at , there’s a Facebook group for Pulling Power, you can watch the video clips at or at
- Alison Norrington

Friday, 20 November 2009

Sight and Sound in concert!

This week CC director Ali Muirden's husband Al talks about editing audiobooks.
In my last Blog entry, I talked about the myriad tasks I have become involved with to assist Ali and Lorelei in as many ways as I can…

One of the more important jobs that I have most recently got involved with is checking and editing audio content…

Creative Content is an audio publishing company, but it functions in much the same way as any publishing house - CC receives a manuscript from the author, then in most cases there is a period of editing required to get the text into a finished piece that can then be recorded or made into eBOOK format…

The main thing that sets CC apart is that Ali and Lorelei actually comission the content rather than wait to receive a manuscript out of the blue, thus avoiding having to make a decision to publish or not…in CC’s case that decision was made BEFORE receipt of the manuscript…

A reader is then chosen (not an easy task !) a studio booked and the finished text recorded and a “check CD” produced - that’s the point at which the audio edit comes in..!

Now it may come as something of a surprise that the check CD is NOT the finished product…

There may be all manner of noises on the audio files, there may also be re-takes and fluffs, gaps may need extending and so on - depending on the amount of time available, some of these will have already been fixed by the studio, but if time constraints come into play, there may still be a lot of tidying to be done…

One other important point to consider is that it’s sometimes difficult to be objective DURING the recording - a period away from the finished recording is very helpful - hearing it again a few days later when it has had it’s first proper edit, often allows Ali or Lorelei have a better perspective on what the finished product should end up being… especially as one or both of them will have actually produced the recording on the day…

So - what’s the big deal I hear you ask?

Well, to get to a point where the recording is “finished” and ready for sale, the audio has to go through this editing process and we utilise a combination of the senses of hearing and SIGHT… Yes, I did say SIGHT - to amend the recorded text you have to be able to SEE it as well as HEAR it !

In the accompanying picture, you can see what is known as the “waveform” - this is the visualisation of the audio and is what we use to listen and VIEW the sound, making changes as required (this particular example is from “Pulling Power - Pick Up Tips for Girls").

Editing is a painstaking process of listening and picking out the areas that need adjustment and then using the visual view of the audio to cut/paste/extend as appropriate until the file is ready for mastering - this is where the audio levels are all brought into harmony - the track is then finally ready…

So to edit audio in this digital world, we need to be able to SEE IT as well as HEAR IT - strange but true - you need a eagle eyes as well as the ears of an owl - it can be a lot of work, but it’s a crucial part of the production process…you gotta love it ! - Al Muirden

Friday, 13 November 2009

The Creme of the Crop

Friday the 13th is lucky for us! CC director Ali Muirden has some news...
There's been an exciting new development at Creative Content: We’ve signed a partnership deal with specialist crime fiction publisher Crème de la Crime to publish their catalogue of titles in ebook format!

We’ll be launching the first titles in April next year and we’re already buzzing with plans and ideas on how to make a real splash with this wonderful collection of crime novels.

How this event came about is in itself like something out of a novel! Back in the summer, I was invited to a party celebrating the launch of a new crime novel by the author Kaye Hill. It was being hosted by an old friend and ex-colleague (and now one of CC’s authors – he penned ‘Business Etiquette – India’) Mike Barnard at his lovely home in deepest, darkest Hampshire.

I vividly recall it was a filthy night, raining cats and dogs and I was sorely tempted to make my apologies and curl up on the sofa with a large glass of Sauvignon Blanc and the telly, however, a sixth sense told me that I should go - and thank goodness I did!

At the party I met Lynne Patrick, who is the co-founder - along with her husband, Jeff - of Crème de la Crime, a specialist crime publisher based in Chesterfield. Lynne and Jeff launched the company because they felt that there were lots of great crime writers out there, and the fact that their work wasn’t published was – well, there’s no other way of putting it - a crime!

Lynne and I struck up an immediate rapport and we got chatting about what we were both doing with our respective companies. She was really interested in the digital publishing arena and I was happy to fill her in on all our plans and ideas.

And from that meeting over a glass of vino (for her at least - I was on the OJ!) a partnership was born. Crème had a wonderful list of crime fiction, which fits in beautifully alongside CC’s non-fiction business and self help titles,

We got to work on the contract and the nitty gritty of how this would all work - and last week the deal was signed and broadcast to the publishing world at large.

We’re currently busy working on our plans for the launch titles - more on that story later in the year - and we’ll be publishing the first tranche of ebooks in the spring of 2010.

I’m so glad I listened to that inner voice that urged me to go along to the party, as otherwise we never would have met. And just think what a crime that would have been! You have permission to groan…. - AM

We’d love to know: Has your business been impacted for the better by a serendipitous encounter

Friday, 6 November 2009

What is it about catty colleagues?

This week, CC director Ali Muirden talks about a very particular problem for those working at home.
As I begin to write this week’s blog, every word on this screen is being scrutinized by a demanding, aloof and occasionally sinister working companion…. My cat Indy! She is sleek, black and white, half Burmese (her mum had a one night stand with the local Tom!) and totally and absolutely rules our roost! My other “catty” companion is her daughter, Short Round, who is an equally beautiful (if slightly more rotund!) Tortie, but so much nicer in nature than her regal mother!

What is it about living, and more especially, working with cats around? I find them an absolute delight to have as company during my working day, but they definitely have some disconcerting traits.

Why, for instance, when I sit down to read a manuscript (actually, I usually lie down as, for some odd reason, I find it impossible to read a book sitting up!), sitting on the script is absolutely the only thing in the world Indy will want to do at that precise moment. However, if I pick her up for a cuddle she squirms around and growls like a dog and if you don’t heed her warnings is very likely to give you a nasty right-pawer which leaves you nursing a bleeding wound for hours afterwards!

She also delights in walking across my laptop and has the spooky knack of hitting the ALT, CTRL, DELETE keys every time!

Short Round, too, has her funny little ways. She has a brilliant method of attracting my attention when she wants to be fed. She’ll sit patiently by my side “looking” at me and every so often, her little pink tongue will poke out as she licks her lips with a pleading expression which says “lPay me some attention! I’m wasting away and you are a cruel, thoughtless cat-abusing parent and I’m going to phone “cat-line” soon if you don’t get me some grub!” If the “pleading look” routine doesn’t work, she simply sticks her claws into my leg and hangs on for dear life until I yelp and give in and go get her some Whiskas Senior!

Short Round’s other “talent” is “shredding”. On spying a nice manuscript she excels at gripping the corners of the paper in her mouth and ripping it up and spitting it out! I’ve had the embarrassment on many an occasion of having to explain why my abridgment scripts have little tooth marks all over one corner!

The other major problem is that Indy detests her daughter and we live in a constant state of warfare! They have neatly divided the house into two territories… Indy lives downstairs and Shortie lives upstairs. The problems arise when Shortie needs to go out and has to navigate her way through the war zone known as our living room (also known as the Gaza Strip in our house!). Some days their battles leave me feeling a bit like the president of the UN on a major diplomatic mission!

Still, I wouldn’t be without them. It’s lovely to have my furry colleagues around for company and the odd cuddle (when they permit it!)… I’m just thankful they allow me the honour and privilege of working and living with them! -AM

We’d love to know: What’s it like working with your catty colleagues?

Friday, 30 October 2009

Oh the horror...

Creative Content wish you a Happy Halloween!

We’re very excited about the two titles we’re publishing next month: ‘Pulling Power – Pick Up Tips for Girls’ and ‘Pulling Power – Pick Up Tips for Guys’ – and it’s gotten me thinking about my own dating past. So in honour of Halloween, I thought I’d share a couple of dating horror stories!

I remember meeting an attractive Bulgarian physicist – intelligent, intense, dark good looks - and I was thrilled when he asked me on a date. He was taking me to Lake Arrowhead for the day and he picked me up early. I opened the door to find him standing there in a white shirt, white hotpants, black socks, black patent leather dress shoes ... and a Tyrolean hat. I was very young and very shallow – so I’m afraid I made my excuses...

Then there was the gorgeous Columbian doctor. When I met him (standing in line for theatre tickets), he was out on a ‘date’ with his elderly mother. I thought it was so sweet. But when she came along on our first date, it was also our last date. (Paging Norman Bates... Norman Bates, line 1, please...)

And I can't forget the Australian lawyer who, halfway through our date, got pulled over by the police and arrested for some outstanding warrant – leaving me stranded in Los Angeles, without transportation, at midnight!

(I know it seems that I only like foreign men – but in the end, I married an all-American boy... Well, an all-Italian-American boy!)

Here are some dating horror stories my male friends have shared with me:

Mr ‘X’ from the UK told me: “Yes, I’ve experienced lots of horrors, but one in particular is a warning to anyone who thinks of settling their nerves with alcohol!

I had secured a hot date in London and we had arranged to meet at Waterloo station. I had visions of a romantic stroll along the South Bank followed by supper in an intimate Soho restaurant. All very tasteful. Feeling slightly nervous though, I'd mixed myself a gin and tonic to drink on the train (disguised as sparkling water). In hindsight, I was a little heavy-handed with the liquor. After an interminable journey, I emerged onto the platform, no longer nervous but rather worse for wear. I eventually located my [unimpressed] date and lunged towards them like a wounded animal. My everlasting memory of the evening is descending the steps of Waterloo station on my bottom and giving verbal abuse to anyone who dared look at me. Sadly, but not surprisingly, I never heard from my hot date again.”

Mr. ‘Y’ from the US told me: “I went out on a first date with someone the Friday before Thanksgiving weekend. Pleasant enough movie date. They called the next day to say they had gone out to buy a turkey and all the trimmings – and were so looking forward to spending our first holiday together as a couple... Doo, doo, doo, doo. Doo, doo, doo, doo....” - LK

Wishing you a spooooktacular Halloween! We’d love to know: Do you have any dating horror stories you'd like to share?
Photo: D Sharon Pruitt

Friday, 23 October 2009

And another thing...

This week Creative Content director and audiobook narrator Lorelei King talks about audiobook producers and directors.

One of my Twitter pals (and by the way, if you’re not following LoreleiKing and CCTheLowdown on Twitter – please do!) asked me for my top ten peeves when narrating. I must really be a malcontent – because I can come up with a lot more than that!

So I’ve decided to do it in categories. This week – producer/directors!

DISCLAIMER: Most audio producer/directors are fantastic – prepared, helpful, encouraging, supportive and constructive. But just occasionally you get one who lets the side down a little...

My top 10:

1. Producers who don’t prepare because they say they like to come to it ‘fresh.’ This is laziness wearing spontaneity’s hat and hoping to get away with it!

2. Producers who over-prepare and have fixed ideas about how, for example, a character should sound.

3. Producers who are tense hear noises that aren’t there.

4. Producers who stop me a lot and break my flow.

5. Producers who give me line readings (when I produce, I’m guilty of this! *hangs head in shame*).

6. Producers who want me to read hour after hour without stopping. Narrators aren’t machines!

7. Producers who don’t give positive feedback occasionally.

And city by city:

8. London producers who insist I'm wrong when I pronounce 'shone' as 'shown' or 'suggest' as 'suggjest' (even when I prove my point by showing them the relevant entry in the
Merriam Webster dictionary).

9. Los Angeles producers whose idea of direction is not 'a bit slower' or 'I think we had a bit of a tummy rumble there, darling' but rather 'I'm sorry, Lorelei... but like... I just don't feel like... you know ... that it's like... resonating from the core....' (Huh?)

10. New York producers who insist on ordering lunch from a vegan sushi bar instead of Cajun extra-hot burgers medium rare with blue cheese from
Island Burger. (Okay, we're not exactly working on the oil rigs, but narrators need sustenance!)

We’d love to know: If you’re a narrator, what are your pet peeves about producers? Or (fair’s fair) if you’re a producer, what are your pet peeves about narrators?

Friday, 16 October 2009

Music To Your Ears

Ali Muirden wonders if there's a way for musicians and audiobook publishers to work together...

I’ve been reading a transcript of an interesting article broadcast on Radio 4 ‘s Today Programme this week where musician, Nick Cave discussed his love of audio books but was deploring the lack of imagination in the use of music to enhance the listening experience.

This is actually a very old chestnut and one that most publishers have been unable to crack over the last few years. The conundrum is that while most publishers would love to use music with abandon throughout some of their publications, the sheer scale of the cost of doing this and still allowing for a commercially competitive price point means the figures just never balance out!

It made me wonder whether there might be an opportunity here for struggling musicians to use audio publications (especially in download format) as a showcase for their talents? To show your skills off by creating a music score to fit a particular book must surely be a great way to let the world know what you’ve got to offer?

My husband Al and his talented band of musician mates are a great case in point. They spend hours of their spare time devotedly writing songs and creating their own unique music (some of which I love and some I loathe!) but which largely goes unappreciated in an internet sea of downloads and free radio content. Also not being of the age where they qualify to be the next “boy band” no doubt counts against them! Sorry boys! I know its harsh, but it is a valid point!

From time to time I have “pinched” some of their work and used it on audio books, usually paying them a small fee to compensate but which they appreciated more for the exposure it gave to them than for the actual money they got back in return.

Might this be something other musicians would be interested in? Would there be budding musical entrepreneurs who could see the value in doing a deal for their work which while it didn’t pay them a huge fee upfront gave them a great platform to launch their careers?

I don’t want to deny other established music composers the opportunity to sell their work for the normal commercial rates but it does seem to me this impasse is something that needs to be addressed and I just wonder if this might be a way of making it happen? - Ali Muirden

Tell us what you think!

Friday, 9 October 2009

A Cover Story...

This week our fantastic designer, Daniel Raven Clift, talks about the challenges of designing jackets for audio downloads.

Although it may be hard to believe, given my youthful appearance, this year I celebrated 15 years in the design industry. It’s been a slog I can tell you, but one of the things I’ve always loved about my job is the variety. I’m usually working on something different every day and, over the years, I’ve dipped my toes (and tried to make a splash) in many business sectors. I hadn’t worked in audio publishing before, so when Ali and Lorelei asked me to create the cover designs for their Lowdown series, I was cock-a-hoop.

Designing the cover for an audio download is no straightforward task. Of course, you’re not actually designing a cover at all, rather a postage stamp-sized picture to sit on a webpage among other postage stamp-sized pictures. The need to stand out is obviously important. One advantage we immediately had was that we were creating our designs from scratch – have a look at any audio download site and you’ll see that many audiobooks adapted from print simply use a scaled-down version of the book (or CD) jacket for their online thumbnail. Although this will undoubtedly give consistency between a digital download and its physical counterpart, it can – and usually does – suffer with legibility and standout issues. With Creative Content’s titles, we were able to start with a blank canvas (albeit a tiny one) and have in mind, from the outset, that anything we came up with had to grab someone’s attention straight away and tell them at a glance – not a squint – what the title was all about.

Clear typography was an essential part of creating the look for the Lowdown series. With titles like ‘Improve your Speech’ and ‘Business Etiquette’ that encourage you to communicate clearly, we had to ensure that the design echoed this. And, once again, as we were creating a brand new design, we were able to avoid cluttering with reams of text that would have undoubtedly turned into a microscopic, illegible blur on screen. Likewise, any visual imagery had to be unfussy and eyecatching; we used stock illustration to bring the covers to life and give a cohesive look across all of the titles.

The use of colour was also very important and I soon discovered that Lorelei, in particular, is no shrinking violet* where her views on it are concerned. In fact, I fondly recall one afternoon where we were trying to get the right shade of pink for a cover design; the flurry of emails went along the lines of: ‘just a teensy more yellow’ and ‘almost, but slightly less red’. As I was changing the colour, I remembered a story she told me about making her husband paint the same room eight times to get the right shade of white, so I counted myself lucky that all I had to contend with was a few clicks of the mouse. Of course, we achieved perfection eventually and, I have to admit, she was right… as usual!

When we created the first cover designs, the one thing I wanted was to be able to instantly spot a Lowdown title among the competition, and having a browse through some of the audio sites, I think we’ve done a pretty good job. And seeing one of the original cover designs on the iTunes bestseller list is something that gives me a little thrill every time I think about it… which is at least every couple of minutes.
- Daniel Raven Clift
We'd love to know what you think: How important is book jacket design?
*Violet? Not sure, Dan . Could we try something with a bit more blue? - Lorelei

Friday, 2 October 2009

Glass half empty...? Are you kiddin'?!

This week CC director Ali Muirden's husband Al gives us a window into the importance of family support when starting a new business.

OK – I’ve just got a spare few minutes to write this Blog entry between my “day job” and my NEXT task for Ali and Lorelei – I can feel the whip recoiling and about to be well and truly “cracked” even before I get to finish that glass of beer..!

Seriously though, if there was a simple maxim that I could apply to Creative Content's first 10 months of existence it would be “get on with it!” Being a “glass half empty” kind of guy, I’m quickly learning from Ali And Lorelei that procrastinating and putting things off are NOT options when it comes to running a successful business - fuelled by an incredibly strong work ethic, regular communication (all praise the hallowed Blackberry and mobile Internet access !), great ideas, extremely relevant experience to the business they’re in and the highest respect for each other, the two co-founders of Creative Content have come a LONG way in a SHORT time…Couple that to an incredibly strong self-belief shared by both of them - in themselves and the business and you really have something VERY special…

Ali and Lorelei are most definitely two of the most focused, capable, experienced and above all DRIVEN people I’ve met - for sure, two “glass half full” personalities!

Naturally, costs are a factor when setting up a new venture and I (as Ali’s husband) have been very happy (and honoured!) to get involved in as many aspects as I can to assist her and Lorelei in certain areas of the business (…”whip crack away…” I hear you say!), whether it has been shooting and editing video for Creative Content’s YouTube presence, proof checking artworks or most recently checking AND editing audio content, I have been pulled along by the incredible drive and passion that is the bedrock of CC’s reason for being…

Additionally, Ali and Lorelei have some contributions from some very talented professionals that remain heavily involved with the business be it website design and maintenance, artwork, recording and editing or legal matters and not forgetting of course, the authors and readers that CREATE the CONTENT - again, another observation I have made is that to make your business work you have to work with the RIGHT people - Ali and Lorelei have picked EXACTLY the right people - period.

The REALLY cool thing is that I know what’s in the pipeline for the future - Ali and Lorelei are never short of ideas - in fact there’s so much great stuff to come, I can barely contain my enthusiasm !

Ouch..! There goes that whip, best I crack on myself with my next bit of CC business, so in closing this time around, remember - optimism and having a “glass half full” outlook is the new black..! - Alan Muirden

We'd love to know: Did you treat friends and family as a 'natural resource' when you were starting your business?

Friday, 25 September 2009

The most important part of a narrator's day - lunch!

This week, Creative Content director Lorelei King talks a bit about an audiobook narrator's day...
When it comes to recording audiobooks, I’m lucky enough to be tri-coastal (if the Thames can be considered a coast!). I record in London, New York and Los Angeles.

There are some differences in the way they work, sure... but the thing that really sets them apart – is lunch.

This is how it goes in the UK:

UK: What would you like for lunch?

ME: What have you got?

UK: Anything you like. Anything at all.

ME: Oh. Okay. How about a Cobb salad.

UK: Don’t think they’ll have that.

ME: Oh. Um... Caesar salad.

UK: Don’t think they do salads at all, actually.

ME: Oh.

UK: Sandwich?
ME: Okay. Um... turkey club on-

UK: Turkey’s unlikely

ME: Pastram-

UK: Don’t think they know what it is.

ME: You go first. Why don’t you tell me what they have?

UK: Ham or cheese.

ME: Ham and cheese?

UK: Ham or cheese.

ME: Okay. Um. Cheese. Could I have Swiss or maybe Gruy-

UK: Cheddar.

ME: Or...

UK: Cheddar.

ME: Okay. Maybe on pumper-

UK: White bread.

ME: Or?
UK: White bread.

ME: Okay.
UK: Lovely! Cheese sandwich on white bread. That wasn’t so hard, was it?

And then it arrives.

UK: There you are, darling.

ME: This is it?

UK: Yes. It’s what you wanted. A cheese sandwich.

Let me give you the heads up about something: when you order a cheese sandwich in the UK, the clue is all in the name. You get two pieces of bread. And a piece of cheese. That’ s it. Oh, and the bread will be ‘sealed’ with margarine. The cheese will probably be a little dried up around the edges – you could make stained glass windows with the stuff...

ME: I mean – this is it? Two pieces of bread and a piece of cheese?

UK: What did you expect?

ME: I don’t know. Maybe some tomato... or sprouts... or some lettuce or cucumber or something. I mean it’s just cheese. There’s nothing green.

UK: Oh darling that’s a bit unfair. I mean – look.

ME: Oh. Yeah. Sorry. I didn’t see the mould.

Then there’s New York – my favourite city. Unfortunately, I’m kind of used to the London way of doing things by now, so lunch in New York can mean a bit of culture shock...

NY: Sorry to stop you, but it’s important. Where are we gonna order lunch from? I want Thai, but Tony had Thai yesterday, so we’re thinkin’ Italian, but we might go Italian for dinner, so maybe we should stick to Chinese, Japanese or Korean. Ooh, or Cajun and Kosher sound good. Oooh. Or maybe Caribbean, Mexican, Cuban or Brazilian? Or Vietnamese, Mongolian, Ethiopian, Armenian, Polish, Greek, Turkish, Hungarian, German, Belgian, French, Spanish or Swedish?

ME: (overwhelmed by choice) Um - could I maybe have ... (tiny voice) a cheese sandwich?

NY: A cheese sandwich? Sure. Swiss, American, Brie, Gorgonzola, Monterey Jack, Gruyere, Camembert, Limburger, Roquefort, cheddar...

ME: (grabbing onto a familiar word) Um... cheddar?

NY: Sure. Mild, medium, matured, vintage, sharp, extra sharp, smoked, Canadian, English...

ME: (increasingly desperate) English!

NY: What kinda bread? Wholewheat, pumpernickel, rye, multi-grain...

ME: White bread?

NY: White bread? Sure. Sourdough, ciabatta, Wonder Bread if you’re feeling retro, focaccia, bagel, chollah ...?’


There is such a thing as too much choice, you know!

Of course it’s quite simple when I get to LA.

They don’t eat. - LK

We'd love to know: What's your favourite lunch?

Friday, 18 September 2009

Nice guys win big

A few months ago we published “Top Tips for Wannabe CEOs” by Richard Charkin - who is Executive Director of Bloomsbury Publishing, publisher of JK Rowling’s Harry Potter novels among many others!

Many of the things Richard talks about in his book resonate with me - most of all, the impression he gives that being ambitious and getting ahead doesn’t necessarily mean being totally ruthless.

I’ve often wondered if you can be a “nice guy” and still “win big” in the work place and have always tried my very best to be a good colleague and not to get too involved in office politics - but sometimes this is very hard to resist. Let’s face it: we all love a good gossip over a drink after work and a sympathetic shoulder to cry on after a bad day!

But one of the things Richard points out is that in any workplace you are not paid to build your career, but to do the job you are paid to do - and this is a very salient point.

One of the other things he gives advice on is how to deal with any enemies you might make on your way up the greasy pole. He recommends that instead of getting even, it is much more worthwhile to just forget about it and move on.

For some, this might seem too simplistic - but on reflection, I think he is absolutely right. My motto has always been “never burn bridges” - you just never know when and where you might require some help in the future. And who you might need that help from!

And by turning the other cheek, I think you prove that you’re much the better person in the long run…. And just how satisfying and rewarding is that? - AM

What do you think? Is revenge a dish too sweet to pass up, or should you just live and let live?

Friday, 11 September 2009

It's all in the voice

This week, Creative Content director Ali Muirden talks about what she looks for in an audiobook narrator.

When people hear that I work in the audio book industry, they often want to know what the actors that I’ve worked with are like.

Personally, I feel privileged to have worked with some of the best talent in the country over the last few years. And no! I am not going to name names as that could get me into a whole heap of trouble! But I must confess I do have my favourites…

But what do audio producers look for when casting a reader and how do we go about it?

The first step is to read the script for the book you are producing and more often than not, before you know it, a “voice type” will spring to mind. Some books require a flowing, mellifluous voice, some require a quality which conveys excitement and drama, some require someone with a catalogue of character voices at his or her disposal.

Sometimes you require someone with a particular accent skill, or the ability to switch from accent to accent at the drop of a hat. (These people are also probably brilliant at rubbing their tummies and patting their heads at the same time as spinning plates on poles!)

As you read the script, it becomes apparent what kind of voice quality is required and it makes the casting process much simpler.

Sometimes you have a tricky project where you just can’t seem to find the right voice for the job. Then it’s time to get on the phone to your fellow producers to request some help.

Other producers are always hugely generous with their time and help on this subject and can be a great source of inspiration and advice. When we find a new talent, we always tell each other. Likewise, if we work with someone who has not bothered to prepare for the job properly, we also spill the beans! Wannabe audio readers beware: Don’t rock up and think you can just ‘wing it’ on the day…. Your future could be on the line!

Reading an audio book requires great stamina, energy and preparation in advance, if you are going to do justice to the book. Most of the really good readers say it can be one of the most demanding areas they work in, as you need to sustain the level of performance throughout a long recording day (anywhere up to 8 hours in one session) and any loss of energy or signs of tiredness are immediately obvious in your voice.

But they also say it is one of the things they enjoy doing the most and it must give them a great sense of satisfaction when they meet someone who has heard them read an audio book who then says “all my kids love your reading of that story… they make me play it for them over and over and over again!”. - AM

We’d love to know: Which audiobook narrators do you love to listen to?

Friday, 4 September 2009

The green, green grass of home

These days I’m often asked how I “cope” with working from home! Sometimes it makes me laugh, because the person asking makes it sound like I’m having to live with some kind of affliction - like coping with a broken leg or the after effects of a flood!

I used to have a round trip commute of 4 hours, regularly getting home around 8pm and so the truth is - it’s absolutely fan-bloomin-tastic!

So here is a list of the top reasons why it’s great to work from home:

1. You can start work when it best suits you… not someone else!

2. It is totally peaceful and distraction free so you get masses done in a shorter time.

3. When you “finish” work you are instantly “home”

4. No commuting via train, car, tube and having to put up with other people’s smelly armpits in summer! And not paying a king’s ransom for the “privilege”!

5. You can nip out to the bank or shops when everyone else is at work and save yourself loads of time and hassle not queuing! (I’ve still not quite got the hang of this and find myself having a “lunch break” when everyone else does! It must be all those years of corporate conditioning!)

6. Not spending loads of money on lunch, coffee, drinks after work etc. means I am saving masses each month.

7. Having my cats around all day for a cuddle if I need one!

8. Seeing much more of my family and friends instead of cramming social events into the weekend only!

9. If I fancy a cup of tea and a biscuit, I can go raid the cupboards anytime I like.

And just so you don’t feel so bad, here are the things I MISS about not working in an office in London:

1. My friends and former work colleagues, especially as they were all very clever, witty and great company to be with.

2. Going out for a drink after work (I still do this but now I have to make an effort to go up to London especially for it!)

3. Being able to go shopping in Covent Garden or John Lewis on the way home

4. The IT Dept and the Post Room! It was a wonderful luxury not having to fix my own “computer” problems - and having someone to pack up and post off parcels would be utterly wonderful now!

5. If I fancy a cup of tea and a biscuit, I can go raid the cupboards or fridge anytime I like!
- AM

We'd love to know: Do you work from home? What are the advantages and disadvantages?

Friday, 28 August 2009

A tale of inspirational aspirations...

Our guest blogger this week is Mark Caven, author of 'The Lowdown: Improve Your Speech - American English for Chinese Speakers', which launches today.

Recently I was invited to give a seminar on English Pronunciation for a group of students taking the International English Program at New College, University Of Toronto. A recommended summer program if anyone is looking, by the way... When I work with large groups at universities I am always intrigued by the variety of reasons the students have for being there. Different ages, different nationalities, many away from home for the first time, all majoring in different fields, it takes a real level of commitment not to be distracted by the summertime fun, big city, atmosphere and get the most from what your program has to offer.

The day of my seminar was warm and sunny. You could honestly say it was the first summer's day after a depressingly long stretch of rain. As I looked up at the cloudless sky, I thought to myself: there goes half my audience. I then arrived at New College to be greeted with the news that today was in fact a free day, and my seminar was the only session booked! I smiled and thought to myself… if only two show up… I promise I will make an effort to teach those two more in two hours than perhaps they’ll learn for the rest of the course. I went into the lecture hall and set up my presentation and waited. At five minutes to the appointed hour a very nice young lady from Korea arrived. At three minutes to the hour a very nice young lady from Japan arrived, then… nothing. The three of us sat in this large room and waited. Suddenly a member of staff popped his head round the door and proclaimed “This is the slowest bunch we’ve ever had. They are late for everything!”

I decided to stick to my promise and have these two young ladies speaking perfect English in no time. I abandoned my formal presentation, and began to work with them, explaining how the key to speaking any language clearly is learning how we form sounds. After about fifteen minutes the door swung open and five more students arrived. I welcomed them, and did a recap to bring them up to speed. Five minutes later another ten arrived, and I quickly gave another recap, as I could feel we were on a roll. In the end I had to give three more such recaps, as the size of the group continued to grow and grow. It was an extremely interactive seminar and I was able to work round the room unravelling some of the challenges people face when trying to speak English, but what impressed me most were the answers to my question “Why is it important to you that you speak English clearly?”

Experience has taught me that some students who enrol in English programs are only there because they need the credit, and it’s easy to spot the ones who thought it was a good excuse for a holiday abroad - while others can be almost resentful, feeling they shouldn’t have to improve the way they speak, and it should be up to the listener to make the effort to understand them as they are. Well - late in arriving this bunch may have been, but they made the effort on the nicest day of the year, with no other classes to attend, for the simple reason they aspire to be the best they can be. Without exception they were passionate that speaking English well is an important key to achieving greater opportunities in their future. That’s not to say they thought it was fair or they were happy about it, but they each agreed that English is still regarded as the common language of communication, and being able to speak clearly and proficiently offers them a door to greater freedom in life. They were enthusiastic and intelligent, and helped to turn what might have become an anti-climatic event into an inspirational one. Now if we could just teach them how to set their alarm clocks... - Mark Caven

Mark Caven is the author and presenter of 'The Lowdown: Improve Your Speech American English for Chinese Speakers' and 'The Lowdown: Improve Your Speech American English.' Mark is also the director of the Perfect English Speech program.

We'd love to know: Do you think it's important to speak English clearly?

Friday, 21 August 2009

Running through my mind...

My partner Ali last week wrote about how she gets her best ideas when she’s asleep – and I’m sick with jealousy! I only wish I could get my best ideas while I’m snuggled into my memory foam mattress (if you don’t have one, go and test drive one RIGHT NOW! You won’t look back.).

But I’m afraid my best ideas come to me when I’m running. Which means they don’t come to me all that often!

And I call it ‘running’ because it makes me feel rather sporty and athletic, but actually it’s more like ‘waddling at speed.’

When I was a kid, I ran around with the best of them – but once I hit puberty, that all came screeching to a halt. I couldn’t get out of gym class, but somehow I managed to avoid actually running all through junior high and high school.

I am lucky enough to live near what is arguably the most beautiful of the London parks, so a few years ago when my husband persuaded me to head over there and have a stab at a gentle jog, I thought ‘Why not!’

Of course I soon discovered, ‘why not.’ It was HARD! And I was hopeless! I’m not built for running. I’m built for shopping. But the husband refused to give up and patiently coached me through running 10 steps, then walking 10 steps and so on. I remember when I could run 50 steps! I was so proud.

I must’ve looked like nothing on earth. I remember puffing and panting in my husband’s wake, like a fat little pilot fish in the wake of a sleek porpoise, when we passed a beautiful lady in full African dress walking in the opposite direction. She looked at me pityingly, and said kindly, ‘you go, girl!’ It then dawned on me how very, very pathetic I must’ve looked…

But I persevered. And I’m happy to say that on a good day I can now waddle at speed for 40 minutes without stopping!

And as if getting sweaty, red-faced and frizzy-haired and being sneered at by gangs of teenagers wasn’t reward enough, I found something interesting: sometimes problems I’d been struggling with became crystal clear. I’m not sure why, but when I have no distractions (except the sound of my desperately labored breathing!), the repetitive action forces my mind to cast about in desperation for something interesting to think about – and it’s astonishing how often solutions to problems or new ideas pop up, seemingly out of nowhere.

So whenever I’m stuck with a problem – maybe there’s something wrong with the structure of our Creative Content scripts, or I just can’t figure who would be the best voiceover for a particular project – I slip on my running shoes.

But when all is said and done, I’m still jealous of Ali – I think I’d rather be sleeping than sweating! - LK

We’d love to know: What do you do when you’re ‘stuck’? How do you find inspiration?

Friday, 14 August 2009

Let me sleep on it!

Have you ever wondered if insomnia can sometimes be useful?

I know this sounds really odd, but bear with me! I’m not sure if it is just me, but I seem to have my best ideas in that blurry moment between sleep and waking… that tough moment when you can literally feel yourself struggling to open up your eyes to face another day.

Sometimes I wake up around 3 or 4am - usually because my cat, Shortie (who is a little on the overweight side) sits on me - and an idea will suddenly pop into my head with such ease I can’t really believe it’s happened.

I know it’s really because our brains are so amazing: they work all night, filtering out the rubbish from the previous day and are busy filing away anything useful, so that when we wake up our minds are all fresh and shiny and raring to go - as long as we don’t have a hangover that is!

Just this morning it happened again. I woke up because the dawn chorus was blaring out in stereo through the open bedroom windows and I nailed down an idea that has been bubbling away for a special promotional offer we want to do around one of our books…more on that story later.

I really should keep a notebook and pen by my bed to jot these ideas down so I can go back to sleep without worrying I’ll have totally forgotten it by morning!

Lorelei is now so used to this odd quirk of mine that when she needs me to come up with a solution or an idea for a project we’re working on she orders me to go to sleep and is even threatening to get me a supply of sleeping tablets to boot!

Please tell me I’m not the only one this happens to or I‘ll start feeling a bit of a freak? -AM

We’d love to know: What are the best ideas you’ve ever had while you were asleep?

Friday, 7 August 2009

Changing Direction

This week guest blogger, 'A Simpler Life' co-author Annabel Shaw, talks about a change of career...

I am often asked about why and how I came to change from working as a psychologist to working as a radiotherapist and what I've found is that each time I am asked this question, I come up with a slightly different story. Sometimes I explain my decision to re-train at the relatively late age of 42 according to who it is who's asked. Sometimes it all depends on how I'm feeling. I have three stories; a short uncomplicated story, a more complicated version, or the very long and difficult to follow because it's not yet worked itself out yet story - which is the story I hardly ever tell.

Of course there is some truth in all the versions.The short story goes something like this: "Oh, I get bored very easily and I was bored with psychology(!) and wanted to learn something new. I liked the idea of physics because I'd never studied it before and radiotherapy involves a great deal of physics. I also liked the idea of learning about cancer. Oh, and I wanted to help people."

The medium length more complicated version is less facetious. In this version I talk about wanting to change from dealing with purely psychological problems to problems that are more concrete. I talk about being fed up with 'psychologising', where one never knows if what you're doing is any help at all, and wanting to do something where the outcome is verifiably beneficial. Treating someone with a potentially life threatening cancer offered me the kind of instant, positive feedback that research psychologists hardly ever experience. In other words, I wanted pay-back. Selfish, I know.

The much longer and more difficult story includes all of the above, but also talks about the cancer scare that brought home to me that there were greater things to worry about than my own naval gazing had ever suggested. Experiencing the shock of a possible cancer diagnosis, undergoing all the tests, and re-tests, becoming aware for the first time of what is involved in cancer treatment and, for me especially, recognising the efforts of the staff who helped me through the process - these were all important factors in my decision to move from one form of 'helping others' to another.

So where did the wanting to help others come from? Selfishness again, I'm afraid - "It could be me - therefore I must help!" Of course my background in psychology was very useful - but not for the reasons most people think of first. I needed my psychology to help me deal with what I thought would be my biggest problem - my advanced age. Yes, I know 42 isn't very old, but it definitely feels old when my fellow students and later my work colleagues were often not much older than my children. I needed all the help I could get from them. And I got their help. Not once did they ever make me feel uncomfortable because of my age - or as one colleague said, " If you catch me asking for advice about zimmer frames, just hit me!".

I never hit her - but that's only because I don't agree with hitting children... - Annabel Shaw
We'd like to know: Have you ever changed career? Why?

Friday, 31 July 2009

A Simpler Life?

Creative Content director Ali Muirden is thinkingabout a simpler life...

With so many people these days facing either redundancy, or at the very least job uncertainty, it does seem that this could be the right time to consider whether your life is really going in the direction you always imagined or dreamed it would.

I faced this dilemma a couple of years ago when the prospect of continuing to commute for four hours a day into London several times a week became untenable.

It’s not just the physical energy it requires - the mental “battle” to just get to and from work on the train and tube made me realise that I needed to change my lifestyle before it began affecting my health. I was already suffering shoulder pains from carrying large manuscripts and files to and from the office and some days as I walked up the stairs on the final leg up to my office I wanted to cry with tiredness… and that was even before the working day had properly begun!

I really wish I’d had a title like “The Lifestyle Lowdown: A Simpler Life” to help me work out just what it was I wanted to be doing in the future.

I’ve really enjoyed working on this project with Lifestyle authors Lucy McCarraher and Annabel Shaw. This title helps to focus your mind on what really matters to you, to find out what are your “core” values (and they might not be what you think they are when you really consider it seriously!) and to work out a plan to change your future in a practical and realistic way!

One of the exercises asks you to think about what your friends might say about you and your life on your 90th birthday. It’s really a hard question to ask yourself. I discovered that there are lots of things I’d like to be said about me when I am 90, but would they really be the truth? I’d like people to say I was a good and kind friend, but they would probably add in “bossy.” As a work colleague, I’d like them to consider me well organised, efficient and dynamic – but they might also add that I don’t take criticism at all well and hate to be in the wrong!

Rather than just imagining what people might say, I decided to ask two of my friends who have known me longer than anyone else (other than my family or my husband) to write what they thought they might say about me on my 90th birthday:

Lucy Hale, Sales Director at Hodder & Stoughton

“Well you certainly know where you are with Ali! In all the years I have known
her, she has been a very loyal and steadfast friend; but if she has ever felt
that you are not giving as much back in the relationship as she is giving, boy
do you know it! Irritatingly, she usually has a point. She called me a
selfish cow back in the 80s and it still rings in my ears …

I admire her for having the strength of character to follow her own instincts
rather than follow the crowd; once, when we worked together, our company went on
strike, but Ali changed her mind at the last minute and crossed the picket
line; I was very angry with her then, but I see now that she had the guts
to do what she believed was right.

She really knows how to enjoy herself and ‘treats’ are an important part of her life, be they in the form of a mini-break or a new outfit; she has always had a firm hold of her work/life balance in a way that I have failed to do.

Her temper! Well, if you have ever seen Ali’s eyes flash then you know to remove yourself to a safe difference. I think it has got her into trouble a few times.

I guess, in conclusion, I can safely say that Ali has followed the advice ‘to thine own self be true’- and at the same time managed to be very successful. Not a bad combination.”

Anne Mitchell, best friend

"Ali and I became friends well over 30 years ago, mainly through default. I was dating" her older brother and Ali loved to sit on the sofa with us (mainly between us), showing me the latest pony novel she had read and insisting on me taking it home to read (sorry Ali, never did read them - just not a pony person really)! Even in those early teenage years of hers, she had a love of reading, a drive for what interested her, and the passion and determination to persuade others and steer herself forward to whatever path she chose to take in life.

I admire her capacity to fit so much in to her very busy life. Believe me, I’ve witnessed a few ‘simple quiet weekends’ away with her: I never thought it possible firstly to cover so many miles in one weekend and secondly to do and see so much as well - totally exhausting, but so much fun and so much laughter!

Fun that is the word I would choose, if I had to choose just one word for Ali, her laughter is totally infectious, we have often been rendered totally helpless through laughing together!

Capable, oh so capable, Ali is the role model for the phrase, ‘to get something done, ask a busy person’ – she relishes a task or a challenge. Never mention a holiday in front of her, you’ll probably get an email from her within half an hour confirming you flight details etc!

Ali is not good at lying. She cannot lie to save her life. She was terrified before the birth of my two children that she would have to lie and say they were gorgeous (even if they weren’t) – I told her I would know if she was lying anyway, so to just tell the truth , thankfully they were both totally beautiful, so no lying was involved!

Kind, Ali is such a kind person, I don’t think I have the words to express how very kind she has been to me through all our years of friendship, unfailingly so.

Ali is the sort of person everyone should be allowed to choose to take to their Desert Island with them (Radio 4 please take note). Umm ...having said that, she would have to take her collection of make-up, perfumes, shoes, dvds, books, cats, her husband Al, etc. with her - and that may be asking just a little more than the statutory ‘one favourite book and piece of music please’, (other than the Complete Works of William Shakespeare!).”

I was almost dreading finding out what Lucy and Anne would say about me. They both know me so well, in both my personal and working lives, so it was fascinating to discover what my key personality traits are when seen from a different viewpoint. The 90th birthday exercise in ‘A Simpler Life’ suggests using this exercise to see what things you might like to change in the here and now to ensure that people are saying what you would like them to say about you in the future. My friends were astonishingly kind in what they said, but I can see that perhaps I should work on my diplomacy skills a bit – and maybe think about downsizing my personal possessions!

Working on a Simpler Life has enabled me to take a step back from myself, think about what I really want from my life and to look forward to a 90th Birthday Party with my family and friends around me knowing I’ve had a life well lived, full of fun and laughter and hoping that I got the balance right between work and play. It’s important not to forget that. - AM

What would you want your friends to say about you on your 90th Birthday?

Friday, 24 July 2009

The Path to A Simpler Life...

This week guest blogger Lucy McCarraher, co-author of 'A Simpler Life,' talks about the childhood dreams that led her to a simpler life.
When in “A Simpler Life” we were writing about the value of revisiting childhood dreams, I thought I’d better go back and check my own. There they were, three of them: the earliest and most enduring was to be A Writer; a later one was to be A Psychologist (aged 11, I had Lucy from “Peanuts” with the caption, “The Psychiatrist Is In” on my bedroom door); and in my teens I was definitely going to be An Actress.

I’ve never been a psychologist or acted professionally, but every job I’ve had has involved writing: journalist, editor, reviewer, script writer… even when I moved out of the media and into researching parenting, children and families, it was still about presenting the material in compelling and comprehensible ways. As a consultant in work-life balance, working with blue chip and public sector organisations, I battled with the deficiencies of business jargon – but enjoyed learning to blur the boundaries between corporate-speak and campaigning rhetoric in the interests of both productivity and people.

For me, language is thought; the medium and the message. A restricted vocabulary diminishes the ability to think broadly, to process rich and subtle emotions; poor grammar undermines clarity and creates confusion; cliché kills creative conversation.

When Macmillan signed up my first novel I found myself in a whole new linguistic arena – one where there were no obvious restrictions, and I had to develop a writing style that would stand as my own “voice”. What I also found was that in fiction I could combine the roles of all my youthful dreams. Not only did I finally feel like a “real” writer, but I also had the chance to develop psychologically authentic characters with realistic dialogue that I acted out in my head as the plot progressed.

Three novels later, I felt I’d become reasonably proficient as a fiction writer and was starting a fourth about several women addicted to different self help manuals in their quest for a wonderful life. I’ve always enjoyed self help books and had even written one, so reading more for research purposes was a pleasure. But as I read, I began to feel that none of them quite hit the spot – not only in terms of content but in the way they were written. The authors were specialists in their fields, but not professional writers. My plans changed to writing not a novel about self help, but a novel self help book.

Neurolinguistic Programming tells us that using enriched language which appeals to all the senses is the most powerful form of communication. I brought the experience of plot and structure, depictions of thought and feeling, engagement through imagery and metaphor to My Wonderful Life, along with my background of social research and report writing.

Luckily, though, Annabel Shaw, a real psychologist, agreed to collaborate. We have a brilliantly complementary working relationship, in which she is in charge of evidence and research while I get to rewrite and edit our manuscripts. But whenever I’m tempted to stray into the realms of fiction or hyperbole, she hauls me back to the scientific straight and narrow. And I am never, ever allowed to compare the brain to a machine or computer! -LM

Friday, 17 July 2009

The thrill of it all! How it felt to have a Number One Bestseller on iTunes.

I have to admit, the moment I discovered one of our launch titles was climbing high on the iTunes audio bestsellers list, it was like Christmas had come early…very early - especially as this was only in January!

The excitement of tracking its progress became a daily - who am I kidding! - hourly obsession, especially for Lorelei, who delighted in giving me frequent email updates telling me our latest ‘slot.’

The point at which “Improve Your Speech - British English” was outselling Barack Obama’s audio book “Audacity of Hope” was probably the sweetest so far. To think that we were rivaling the superstar of US politics, especially in the week following his inauguration, was a real triumph.

Thanks for all this go to Rob, our contact at iTunes, who had given us great exposure on their home page when it featured “Improve Your Speech - British English” prominently in the centre of the audio books site.

The book is a neat way to tidy up your speech… a series of fun exercises show you how to warm up your voice, exercise muscles in your tongue and mouth you probably never knew you had and banish once and for all any dread of having to talk in public. (Did you know more people fear public speaking than they do dying? Go figure!) The result is a feeling of confidence and control whenever you need to voice your opinion in any situation!

And who knew there would be so many people out there wishing they could speak like us Brits?

A slightly disgruntled and somewhat envious American guy did say to me recently that a British accent seems to makes men irresistible to American girls… - Ali Muirden

We'd love to know: Do you think good speech is crucial to getting ahead these days?

And while you’re at it: Does having a British accent make it easier to wow the opposite sex from other countries?