Friday, 30 July 2010

Counting my blessings!

This week, Creative Content director Ali Muirden talks about friends, colleagues and contacts...

There have been many, many times over the last couple of years when I’ve given thanks to my career at Macmillan and the way in which it has given me such great friends, colleagues and contacts in the publishing industry.

However, it was never more apparent this week when we recorded our latest history title, “The Lowdown: A Short History of the First Gulf War,” with none other than the BBC’s World Affairs Editor, John Simpson reading it.

A few months back I was lucky enough to be producing the audio edition of John’s book “Unreliable Sources,“ an entertaining and witty look at the history of journalism, published by Macmillan.

I’ve produced many of John’s audio books, so it was great to be back in the studio with him. He is such a fluent reader with his own inimitable style, that it’s always a treat to work with him.

During one of our tea breaks we were chatting about what we had both been up to in recent months and I explained how Creative Content had come into being and the kind of books we were publishing.

John was hugely encouraging and very kindly offered there and then to read something for us. He said he really enjoys recording audio books and would love to be part of one of our projects.

So I carefully filed this piece of information away in the back of my mind, ready to take him up on his kind, if rash, offer when the time was right.

It turned out we didn’t have to wait long as we had already commissioned “The Lowdown: A Short History of the First Gulf War” for publication this summer. It’s been written by Dr Rob Johnson, who is Lecturer in the History of War at the University of Oxford. Rob’s primary research interests are Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran and Iraq, and his work includes conventional military operations, irregular warfare and counter-insurgency, as well as intelligence and strategy.

He lectures on the History of War in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Century, and is a specialist on Afghanistan. Rob Johnson's recent publications include: The Iran-Iraq War (Palgrave, 2010); How to Win on the Battlefield (Thames and Hudson, 2010), and Oil, Islam and Conflict (Reaktion, 2008).

We wanted to publish a book which explained clearly and concisely how the First Gulf War came about and what events led up to it.

Clearly Rob was the ideal person to write this book for us.

Even more so, John was clearly the right person to read it!

In a BBC career spanning more than 30 years, John has earned a reputation as one of the world's most experienced and authoritative journalists. He has reported from more than 100 countries across the globe, from 30 war zones, and has interviewed numerous world leaders.

He has also worked as a correspondent in South Africa, Brussels and Dublin. He has received numerous awards including a CBE in the Gulf War Honours in 1991, not to mention three Baftas and an International Emmy award for News Coverage for his report on the fall of Kabul for the BBC Ten O'Clock News.

And who can forget that iconic moment during the missile attacks of the First Gulf War in Baghdad in January 1991, when one whooshed past his hotel window just as he was reporting on the attacks on the telephone to the BBC.

We can’t thank John enough for taking time out of an incredibly busy schedule to come and read this for us. We’re very proud to add his name to our growing list of superb audio book readers - and I can’t thank him (and Macmillan!) enough for providing the opportunity to do so. - AM

"The Lowdown: A Short History of the First Gulf War" publishes on 6th August.

Photo by bootload

Friday, 23 July 2010


Our guest blogger this week is Al Muirden, who talks about the pros and cons of working at home....

Home working - good or bad?

Since I became a freelance worker and based myself at home, I’ve been pondering on the pro’ and cons of living and working in the same place and whether it works for me or not.

Up to the point in April where I cut myself loose from a regular job in a regular office which involved a 10 minute drive or an hour long walk or a 15 minute cycle to get there, I HAD been working from home on the various sound editing and proof-checking work that Ali or Ali and Lorelei had generated for me and I have to admit that when slotted in around a “regular job” it worked quite well, as it was very much in the minority when it came to how I spent my working day. I could easily get changed when I’d finished my day job and go up to my den-room and settle into my “other” job and all was good.

However, when the balance was upset by not having a regular job in a regular office that involved detaching from home-base each day, I quickly came to the conclusion that it doesn’t fit the bill quite as well!
Ali and I are of course married and she has been based at home for the best part of 2 years now, so is well used to it and finds it very agreeable. She had got used to me being out of the house for most of the day and not being in a position to distract her (other than by the odd email I would send during the day).

But with me becoming a freelance worker, I was also based at home and the dynamic changed somewhat - suddenly I was free to ask inane questions on a regular basis and interrupt Ali at will. I soon discovered that this approach didn’t work with Ali (I think I knew already if I’m honest!) and I found myself getting the cold-shoulder treatment (quite rightly!) - she has so much to do with Creative Content and all of her other projects that the last thing she wanted was more distractions from me! I was finding as well that there is always another cup of tea to be had, the latest news headlines on the TV to be checked, washing to be done and hung out - the list goes on and on!

So I rapidly realised that working from home for me (and more importantly for me and Ali as a team) didn’t work quite as well as I’d hoped, so a solution had to be found - pronto! Luckily, my mum and dad live just over 5 minutes walk away, so I approached them and asked if I could take over a room at their house and work there!

They said “yes” and promptly had a clear out of my dad’s old office and within a day, I had a place to relocate to - all very excellent! Now I have moved all of my stuff to my new “office” and I can now have breakfast at home, check the overnight news etc and then walk out of the house EXACTLY like I used to and go to a regular office - this just happens to be at my parents house! I can close the door - they know not to disturb me - I just come out for a 10 minute tea break morning and afternoon and a half hour lunch break at midday - sometimes I even get dinner thrown in, if Ali happens to not be at home for when I finish (usually around 4:30pm).

I admit I’m lucky having such a convenient and comfortable place to work from, but believe me, when people say “I’m working from home,” don’t get too worked up about it - it isn’t everything it’s cracked up to be! - AM

photo WoodleyWonderWorks

Friday, 16 July 2010


Our guest blogger this week is Pernille Rudlin, co-author of our latest title, "The Lowdown: Business Etiquette - Japan."

For most non-Japanese people, bowing correctly is a challenge, and in my opinion, we worry too much about it. Most Japanese people, when meeting with a foreign person, will expect to shake hands. I usually advise that a slight nod of the head or bend at the waist is a good cultural compromise when shaking hands with a Japanese person. If you have not been brought up to bow, and also had it drilled into you again at an induction course in a Japanese company, when you do try to do a full bow, you will almost certainly get it wrong, by bowing too deeply or for too long a time, which will result in your Japanese counterpart feeling obliged to dip down again for a further round of needless bowing. You often see this happening in public in Japan, where neither party wants to stop bowing first, in order to show respect. I remember an English language magazine in Tokyo a few years ago published an article on April Fool’s Day, claiming that the Tokyo authorities were going to set up “no bowing” zones, near revolving doors, station platforms and so forth as excessive bowing was causing a safety hazard. Plenty of people believed the article!

I do know of one case where bowing actually did lead to physical injury, as told to me by the British employee of a Japanese company in Europe: “Our new Japanese Managing Director for Europe was going round all the departments to introduce himself and as he turned to me I put out my hand to shake hands. He, however, had started to bow down low, and I caught him right in the eye. Fortunately it turned out he has a good sense of humour, and whenever I see him in the corridor now, he covers his eye with his hand!”

Bowing is deeply engrained in the Japanese psyche, it would seem. One Japanese friend of mine, who has been living in the UK for 30 years, still bows whenever he meets a Japanese person, even in the streets of London. I asked another Japanese friend of mine, who has also been living for many years in London, if she would ever consider hugging her mother when she came to meet her at Narita airport each time she returns to Japan. “Ewww no!” she said, and then laughed, realising how years of kissing, hugging and shaking hands in the UK had made no impact on her instincts at all. - Pernille Rudlin

Pernille Rudlin is the European Representative of Japan Intercultural Consulting

Photo by qwaar

Friday, 9 July 2010

What's the most important word you can use when writing?

Very excited to have won a prize on Twitter from Rob Garner, aka @robthewriter. He offered to write something for free - so I asked for a guest blog! And here it is...

Rob Garner is a freelance copywriter who writes sales copy and ads for the BBC. He has also created new strategies and concepts for several advertising agencies. You can contact him at and follow him on Twitter.

What's the most important word you can use when writing?

What jumps to mind? What do you think the most useful word to include in your writing is? Go on, have a guess. ‘Free’ is a good one. A friend of mine loves the word ‘sale’. But I discovered an even better one ten years ago at a garden party in Gibraltar.

Imagine being abroad and trying to make small talk. It’s never easy, and it’s even harder with people you’ve never met before and are never likely to meet again, people who are much older and who have completely different interests from you.

That classic fallback - the weather - has only limited longevity and then it’s awkward pause time. What would you do next?

Fortunately, inspiration flashed into mind: ‘Who else are you with?’, ‘Do you like living here?’, ‘Where do you work?’, and so on. They’re not remarkable questions and, out of context, they do sound a little bit dull. But they were lifesavers. They sparked up conversations, which led onto other topics and banished silence into a corner to sulk. And, I realised, they all had one thing in common. Or, more specifically, one small word…

It’s so versatile, it works just as well in text. And it forces you to focus on your reader (or listener), which is one of the most important things you can do as a writer. But the question is, have you worked out what the magic word is yet?

If not, take a look again. I’ve just used it 13 times... -Rob Garner

Thanks Rob! And if anyone else is giving away guest blogs as prizes - please let me know! I may never have to write one again...

Friday, 2 July 2010

Turning Japanese....

We're continuing to celebrate the publication of our latest title "The Lowdown: Business Etiquette - Japan," by have a Japanese-themed blog this week!

First of all, an excerpt from the title, written by Rochelle Kopp and Pernille Rudlin and narrated by Trevor White and me. This excerpt gives you a little background on Japan.

In their book, Rochelle and Pernille talk about the importance of the exchange of business cards. Here’s a beautifully produced video that shows you the correct way to do it:

If you want to learn Japanese, you can’t do better than the fantastic Earworms download from and

Or you could learn a bit of Japanese with this beautiful song. So haunting!

And just because we’ve fallen in love with the Japanese football team this world cup – GOAL! Enjoy... - LK