Friday, 25 May 2012

Bloody Rose

To celebrate the Chelsea Flower Shower, we present a short story written by our very own Ali Muirden, director of Creative Content Ltd....

The first time I did it was at the Chelsea Flower Show.  

I was rooted to the spot, surrounded by crowds of those ghastly day trippers.  You've seen the type, up from the sticks on a cheap day return, clutching their free seed catalogues and red in the face from the heat of the relentless sun, which for once had shown up on cue.

Suddenly I spotted him, weaving through the crowds, headed directly towards me.

Oh my! I thought.  He's just what I'm looking for. 

 He was tall and skinny, with an iPhone welded to his ear as he chatted animatedly into it. A Prada man bag was slung over one shoulder.  He was obviously wealthy by the look of his suit and shoes (you can always tell a handmade job by the quality of the leather).  He also looked gullible and I like that in a man.


I didn't move; it was impossible in that situation anyway, so I just let him come to me.  Always  the best idea. Men like the chase.  

He moved closer until I could see the colour of his eyes, which turned out to be an incredible green.  I hoped they weren't colour contacts.  That level of vanity in a man is always off-putting.

He was no more than a foot away now.  His gaze was intense and utterly focused on me.  I shook slightly with longing.  Subconsciously I urged him to move next to me. Come on, get closer... don't be shy.

It worked. He moved nearer, circling me and stopped.  A blessed cool breeze suddenly blew up and I trembled again, swaying slightly, trying to reach him without actually moving. He bent down slightly, reached out his hand and I just couldn't help myself.  I let him touch me, stroke me, pull me gently towards him.  

And so I did it.  Right there and then, in the middle of the flower show with everyone looking on.  I didn't care if anyone saw me or what anyone thought.  I just couldn't help myself.  I didn't even know his name.

Before I was ready for him to stop, he suddenly pulled his hand back and sexily licked his fore-finger and thumb of his right hand.   

"Shit! That was a mistake" he said.

He looked down at his hand and a long, deep gash was beading with his blood which he licked away before turning back to gesture to me.  

He called over to the guy manning the plant stand

"How much for this Rose bush?" he asked. - Ali Muirden

Friday, 18 May 2012


In an extract from “The Lifestyle Lowdown: A SimplerLife”, Lucy McCarraher and Annabel Shaw talk about how your Reticuar Activating System can help you achieve your goals....

The difference between a dream and a goal is simply the written word and a careful plan. So to replace your disappointment with triumph, you need to convert your values and dreams into concrete, attainable goals.

Setting and achieving goals has a powerful influence on creating well-being in our daily lives. Humans have evolved as goal-seeking creatures and large parts of our brain are dedicated to helping us get what we want. Working with our own internal structures keeps us motivated, satisfied and growing continuously better at achieving our desires.

At the top of your brain stem, just above your spinal cord, is a two-inch stem of nerves that decides what information you can ignore and which part of your brain should deal with what is useful. It’s called the Reticular Activating System – or RAS - and it plays a vital part in your ability to achieve goals.

Imagine that you've walked into a huge party in a place you’ve never been to before, full of people you don’t know, to meet a friend. Think of all those faces surrounding you, a new environment to take in, not to mention the noise: people greeting each other, talking, eating, music, waiters offering food and drink…

How much detail of this is brought to your attention?

True, you can focus on individual people if you look, hear a general background noise and snatches of conversation as you pass by, but you’re not bombarded with each individual sight and sound to process and make sense of.

Then someone greets you from the other side of the room. They call your name, in a voice you know well. Suddenly, out of all the other environmental stimuli, your attention is attracted by this one sound and among the sea of faces you can easily pick out the one that you recognise.

Your RAS is the automatic mechanism inside your brain that separates out the irrelevant and brings relevant information to your attention. When you set yourself goals to achieve, even small ones like finding your friend in a crowded room, your RAS keeps you unconsciously on the alert for information and opportunities that help you move closer to achieving them. It enables you to receive feedback and adjust your course where necessary, but always keeping the end goal in sight.

By activating your brain’s automatic goal-seeking mechanism, you make life so much simpler for yourself. You won’t have to think about whether each and every action is moving you closer to your ambitions – your RAS will be on the case. Having clear goals, in each important area of your life, helps to cut down on distracting activities and time-wasting interruptions. It’s not that you’ll become a goal-oriented robot, intent only on rising through the ranks of your organization, or on an obsessive seek-and-destroy mission to find your perfect partner, because your personal goals will describe the breadth and depth of your life. - Lucy McCarraher, Annabel Shaw

Friday, 11 May 2012

Be prepared!

Audiobook editor Al Muirden talks about the importance of preparation!

This time around, I thought I would touch on how important it is for audio narrators to have done their homework prior to arriving at the recording studio to record!

As I have mentioned many times before, audio recording is a team effort and in the normal course of events, the producer will have liaised extensively with the narrator and sent them a copy of the script well in advance and sorted out any queries on pronunciation - for example names and places - something particularly relevant to plots set in non-English speaking countries. Beware the narrator who has no questions on pronunciation/characterisation or even worse, no questions at all... (it does happen!). A smooth recording will make life a whole lot easier for the narrator, producer, engineer, editor and ultimately... the listener.

The best narrators will read through the script and will have worked out accents/voices for each character - then they'll have a clear idea of the plotlines - also any "oddities" (e.g. a character might have a "nasally" voice that is clearly stated in the text). The worst narrators don't bother to read the script in any great detail or at best skim-read it, hoping that their acting and reading skills will save them...unbelievably, they think they can just turn up on the day and breeze through the narration without any problems - unsurprisingly, this has a very low rate of success and inevitably causes frustration for all concerned.

I am currently working on a title which is (brilliantly) narrated by a female reader and which has several characters (male and female) and interestingly, is written in the first person, with the main character also having a specific accent..! There is no way in the world that this would have worked if the reader hadn't prepared meticulously. Another HUGE help is if the narrator loves the book they're reading - which was the case with this reader/title.

There is possibly one exception to the rule of uber-preparation that comes to mind and that's when narrating works of non-fiction where there are minimal (if any) characterisations to consider (although I recently worked on a non-fiction title that included several quotes from American icons - the narrator was well up to the task though and in this case had prepared very well).

So there really is nothing like being prepared - especially when narrating audio!- Al Muirden

Friday, 4 May 2012

Happy Cinco de Mayo!

To celebrate, we're posting Christopher West's views on doing business in Mexico. To learn more, check out Christopher's book, "The Lowdown: Doing Business in Mexico"...

Q:      Is Mexico a difficult place to do business culturally? 

A: `    Usually, not at all - but you should be aware that there are at least three types of business culture, and behavior differs in each.

Firstly, there are the subsidiaries of foreign multinationals. The United States and Spain perhaps have the largest number of subsidiaries in Mexico, but there are companies belonging to multinationals from all over the globe.  Here, the culture of the HQ of the multinational usually prevails, so a subsidiary of a US company will tend to do its management accounts following US GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Practices), and follow US habits, perhaps starting and finishing relatively early in the day by Mexican standards and taking a buttoned-down no-nonsense approach to negotiations.  A subsidiary of a Spanish company will do its management accounts following European IFRS (International Financial Reporting Standards) and may well work later and longer hours, with a longer break at lunch time.  Senior staff will usually speak English fluently, as well as the language spoken in their corporate HQ, if it’s not English.

Secondly, there are the Mexican multinationals and larger Mexican national companies.  Some of the largest cement and glass manufacturing groups in the world are headquartered in Mexico.  These companies will typically lean toward a US way of doing business and it’s likely some of the senior executives will have postgraduate degrees from US universities. Most senior staff will speak English fluently.

Thirdly, there are the Mexican family companies. “Family” should not be taken to mean “small,” as there are some very large companies run by two or even three generations of the same family.  Such companies vary widely in culture, with some having the characteristics of multinationals, while others exhibit the traditional traits of the Mexican family-held company, such as excessive deference to family members and all important decisions (and perhaps even some that aren’t very important) being passed up the line to the head of the family.

There are two other cultural differences the visitor should be aware of:   

Firstly, salary spreads between the highest- and lowest-paid employees are much greater than is normally the case in the US or western Europe, and either because of this, or perhaps for unrelated reasons, there tends to be a greater sense of hierarchy in many Mexican companies.  Senior executives will tend to have private offices and many will have several support staff.   In the second and third business categories we talked about, don’t be surprised if the most senior people never take notes and correspond intermittently, if at all: they will want to understand the big picture and will ultimately take the decisions, but you may need to spend a considerable amount of time working on the detail with more junior people, either before gaining access to senior executives, or in parallel with your meetings with them.

Secondly, the culture varies to some degree with geographical location. The north of Mexico, bordering on the US, adopts US business practices more widely than the south, which borders on Guatemala. Not surprisingly, Mexico City, in the geographical center of the country, reflects a mid-way practice. Broadly speaking, the further north your business takes you, the more appointments you are likely to be able to fit into your working day, and the more likely you are to be negotiating with a fluent speaker of (American) English. Your visit may be squeezed in to the busy schedule of a senior executive in Monterrey, the industrial capital of Mexico, located just 100 miles from the US border, while it may be the highlight of the day of a senior executive in Mérida, in the southeast, and he may well take the trouble to show you something of the city and take you to a leisurely lunch. - Christopher West

Photo by maveric2003