Toastmasters Annual Club Contest – A Record Breaking Turnout!

TFL on Overcrowding Alert
The feverishly anticipated annual Humorous Speech and Table Topic Contests at my local club came around last Thursday night. Transport for London (the city’s underground train service) issued a Code Red warning that Central Line trains to the station nearest my club would be seriously overcrowded between 18:30 and 19:00 hours — at one point the Club Committee held an emergency session to consider relocating to Wembley Stadium…

But seriously… Soon our venue was filled to bursting with enthused members, expectant guests and effulgent contestants. Judges and contestants were briefed and moments later, we were underway…chaired by yours truly.

Armed and Dangerous
Paul, our armed and dangerous Sergeant at Arms (day job: accountant), then delivered a series of rib-ticklers borrowed from the Edinburgh Fringe Festival (eg: “I’m not a fan of the new pound coin, but then again, I hate all change”).

Humour Competition
We began with the Humorous Speech Contest in which our brave competitors regaled us with speeches that involved motor-cycle rider Dave Death, the ramifications of being rammed by a ram (in a particularly sensitive spot), all that’s wrong with squabs (young pigeons, apparently), how to survive a hangover and why touching your interviewer’s beard is unlikely to land you that dream job.

Many congratulations to Michael, whose well-structured and highly amusing “The Worst Day of my Life” pipped the others and secured him a place in the Area Final.

Impromtu Competition

My Co-Chair, Robin, successfully retrieved the secret Table Topic question, “If I could grant you one wish, what would you wish for?” from a bunker 4,000 feet below a North Korean mountain. It was cleverly and entertainingly answered by all contestants. Jeff triumphed and his ability to think and talk so elegantly on his feet will be tested again on the 27th where he will join Michael at the next Area level contest round.

It was a fun-filled and memorable evening with friendships made and new members signed. Many thanks to everyone who undertook a role. And a big congratulations to all the contestants. It was an evening in which everyone was a winner.

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Become a TV Presenter

A few weeks ago, I attended a one-day seminar on Presentation Skills, hosted by the very experienced Brian Naylor of the TV Training Academy, London.

It seemed like a good way to build video skills–and turned out to be an excellent day! The event was filled with useful hints and tips on further resources.

I absorbed advice on how to approach producers, market myself, the expected highs and lows, and the need to never give up. Brian’s speciality? Shopping channels for which he demonstrated fundamental skills, like engaging with your viewers, body language, movement, being believable/trustworthy, holding items to camera and closing the sale.

Some key points

  • communication is 55% visual, 38% tonal – therefore passion, energy, confidence are a must!
  • preparation is key – the hard work is done before you get on camera. Know your subject cold, so you can focus on your presenting
  • the closer the camera shot, the less body movement you should include. Speak with your hands below your waist. Keep your feet still and stable in a power pose
  • look straight down the lens always. Only avert your gaze to look at objects the audience can also see. You can assume you are speaking to an audience of one, so speak/chat as to an equal
  • do your own practice reporting or “pieces to camera” for youtube. Make your own channel. Practice working to time, with props, mic technique and in different locations
  • bring your own area of expertise to your personal brand. Become a topic expert to differentiate yourself
  • recommended text: “The Charisma Myth”

Lots to think about and a day well spent! Brian’s explanations were incisive, useful and illustrated with great demonstrations. If you’re interested in improving your presentation skills, my experience with the TV Training Academy was positive.  You can visit their site and view clips at youtube.

 

An Odyssey and JYC

A humid afternoon found me not structuring the plot of a new novel as I needed to, but rather waiting for the doors to open outside the iconic Gate Picturehouse in London’s hurrying Notting Hill. Because today they were showing The Odyssey, the biopic of the life of diver, explorer and underwater film-maker, Jacques-Yves Cousteau (1910-1997).

Merriam-Webster defines an “odyssey” as a long wandering or voyage usually marked by many changes of fortune, and as much of the film took place aboard (or beneath) his creaky converted minesweeper Calypso, the title fitted like a hermit crab in a discarded shell.

This charming, polite but driven man brought the underwater world into the homes (via TV, not flooding) of millions worldwide. By adding a demand valve, he revolutionised the design of the SCUBA system (Self-Contained-Underwater-Breathing-Apparatus), vastly increasing divers’ underwater times. (Curiously, the film skipped this important point!)

Sublime Footage

I hoped for glorious footage in director Jérôme Salle’s 120 minutes and I wasn’t disappointed. Whether it was the frozen monochrome of the Southern Ocean, pulsing tropical reefs, or a humpback whale and calf, it was so real that I almost felt the undulating sea grass of the Mediterranean seafloor brushing my weight belt.

Beyond mere flora and fauna, what was brilliantly captured was the majestic infinity of the oceans. Equally impressive were the opening scenes where an old sea-plane danced with its shadow above a sunset ocean (in a subtle foreshadowing of later tragedy).

Interactions

JYC (as he was known by those close to him) was expertly played by Lambert Wilson who has a passing resemblance to the great man. We met JYC’s family, including increasingly lonely wife Simone (played by Audrey Tautou) and son Philippe.

Message

Sooner or later it had to happen and what started as a journey of discovery eventually reconfigured itself into an environmental message. Perhaps the treatment was a little overt—it felt like an after-thought—but given the state of our oceans, it was essential.

Conclusion: Four Stars

I’d recommend Odyssey. It’s a film about an important man and a critical topic.

Make-An-iPhone-Video Lecture: Lessons in Fun!

I attended a “how to make great videos with your own phone” lecture recently! See, I have plans…

I’d like to make some great videos – the kind you see popping up on youtube everywhere. Actually, I’d be happy with making just regular videos to cover my stage work from good angles without technical flaws.

So I trundled along to an informative lecture by Alex Pell, founder of Dashboard Media, at the amazing WeWork Old Street building in London on this very topic. Here’s one of the helpful tips he recommended, shown in a recent video.

It looks like I’ve got a lot of learning to do – just my kind of fun!

Ben’s Art Book 1 – Progress Report!

A project that I thought would take a week has taken several months – what with so many other distractions in my life – but we are nearly there! And the book is looking goooooood! I’m optimistically estimating that I’m 85% of the way to the yearned for (by me) release day.

A fascinating few specs…

My 94 illustrations have been split into ocean- and land-themed images (some pictures could have landed in either pile). Book One will be about the ocean.

I’ve checked the scans (300 dpi), and cleaned, resized and optimized the images. Half the scans for Book One (title reveal coming soon!) are now in the Word document that will soon become a…book. The portrait:landscape ratio is about 70:30. The text that accompanies the pictures (text on left, image opposite) just needs final editing and is comprised of (hopefully) interesting facts and personal experiences.

Most of the illustrations are traditional dark(er) images on white paper but (what I like to call my) Twilight Worlds series are white/grey images on black paper for a powerful and spooky effect.

How long does one drawing take?

I’m often asked how long a picture takes me. When I started this project, it’s fair to say I couldn’t draw – at all. Any skills I’d developed in my youth had long since evaporated through decades of non-use. But I didn’t realise this..

I embarked enthusiastically on the first picture and was horrified when, after a few hours, it bore no relationship to the image I had in my head. So, I tried again…and again… Some of the earlier pictures took many attempts before I was reasonably satisfied. Dozens of completed illustrations were discarded when finished and typically, each iteration would represent twenty or thirty hours work.

The reason they took so long is I work very, very slowly: planning, visualising, sketching, outlining, amending, filling, contrasting, completing. Revisiting short-term. Revisiting medium-term. Then, over the coming months and even years, I’d look again and find myself dissatisfied with this or that detail – and go back to work on it.

A 100 hours work per picture

I think it’s fair to say that many of the more complex pictures each represent maybe 100 hours of work…and the entire collection required several years of my time. More than a decade. But it’s nearly done! I’m looking forward to your thoughts on the collection when it is released.

Sign up to be the first to know when it’s released. Or keep an eye on the blog for updates. It’ll be announced here soon…

Turns out I’m British too…

Although I’m American, by birth and by blood, I’m also something else too: my mother was English.

I recently applied for a British passport – and was approved! Joint citizenship for Americans is now allowed, so I can carry both. It means, in a few weeks, a second passport will be winging it’s way to me. I’ll be the bearer of not one passport, but two!

How did this happen? After filling in many forms and providing much data to show 1) I am me, and 2) I am related to my mother, I was granted approval to ‘naturalise’ as a British citizen. Yesterday, I attended the all-important naturalisation ceremony to receive a shiny new paper, confirming the same.

It was a lovely event, with a prominent citizen from my locality addressing and welcoming us all, cups of tea and biscuits afterwards, and a view over a verdant park. A quiet day to reflect.

Has this changed me at all? In a bureaucratic sense, possibly. Both halves of me are now recognised by relevant bureaucratic powers.

And yet fundamentally, there is no change. I am who I am, one man from two sides of a very large pond. I savour cool Jack Daniels as deeply as a room-temperature Glenmorangie. I drift away to Hotel California as effortlessly as I do to Stairway to Heaven.  And I enjoy Hemingway and Proulx, as much as I admire Austen and Conan Doyle.

These halves of me – they’ve been here all along.

Receiving my British Citizenship Certificate from Lady Arnold

 

 

 

Bestselling Author Alice Kuipers on her new release!

Bestselling and award-winning author Alice Kuipers took time out from her busy schedule (which now includes a monthly literary segment for CTV Morning Live!) to answer a few questions for us about her new release Me (and) Me.

Welcome Alice! What’s your newly released book about?

Me and Me is the story of seventeen year old Lark on the day she has to make an impossible choice. Because she can’t decide who to save–her boyfriend or a young child-her life splits into parallel lives with huge consequences.

Who will it appeal to?

So far teenagers and adults have been warmly responding to the book–I love to write for Young Adults, but I think a lot of adults enjoy reading YA novels and so this book might appeal to them too.

What’s the “story behind the story”? (How did you come up with this idea?)

I started writing this story twenty years ago when I was first attempting a novel. I wrote it about me–or, rather, a version of me who split into two. It was only when the character of Lark Hardy came into my head that I realize the story I’d been trying to tell for years could finally be told. Lark is feisty, fun, cool, and yet paralyzed by the choice in front of her. She was the perfect character for this book.

How long did it take to write?

Twenty years! Well, from the first idea to getting the book on the page it was twenty years, but there were lots of books in between. I stopped writing this book for many years and when I got back to it, the book took about two and a half years from first sentence to published book.

Was there anything unique about your research or work method for writing this particular novel?

I had to learn a lot about the passions Lark has–she’s a singer songwriter, so I interviewed singer songwriters, and listened to a lot of music, and Lark is also interested in parkour. I asked the local parkour community lots of questions, watched them, and immersed myself in YouTube videos of people doing parkour.

How do you see media handling of novels evolving these days? Is there anything different about the way you communicated this novel to your audience compared to your previous works?

A local filmmaker made a book trailer for this book. I noticed that lots of people viewed this and shared it on their social media streams. A book trailer is a glimpse into what the novel might be like and what interested me was that the filmmaker cast Lark and Alec so perfectly that it made me feel like the characters had come alive.

I’ve also done more media than I have done in the past for this novel, which has been fun. I worked with a local publicist which was a great way to connect with people in my home town of Saskatoon. Normally I work with publicists located in Toronto or New York, who have less time to reach out to the prairies.

Which Hollywood stars would you like to see in the movie version of this novel? (and why?)

I think, if a movie were to be made of this book, I’d like to see unknown actors take on the roles. The book is about how we make choices–and I think that is something all of us have to deal with all the time. Who would we be if we’d done one tiny thing differently? What would it be like to encounter ourselves if we could cross into our parallel life–if there were one? I’d like the movie to reflect that everyone/anyone feel of the novel.

What are you working on next?

I have a YA novel that I’ve just finished that’s being edited right now. I’m launching an online course for people who want to write Middle Grade or YA novels. I’m writing a memoir of Toronto teenager Carley Allison. I’m finishing edits on the second chapter book in my new chapter book series coming out with Chronicle Press in the spring of 2018.

I’m surprised by all the projects I have happening, but the way the publishing industry works for me seems to be that–while it sounds like I’m doing ten things at once–each project gets the time it needs. Some are slow, some are fast. Some have deadlines. Some don’t. All of it falls into place. I share updates about my writing life, and tips about how other people can get writing too, through my newsletter and free online course. Find all that at alicekuipers.com

Where can we get a copy?!

At Amazon!

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Kuipers has recently released Me (and) Me in Canada, and it’s set for release outside of Canada in Fall 2018. It has received accolades in the Canadian media.

“Haunting and mysterious, this is a powerful book about love, life and choices. Both page-turning and thought-provoking, Kuipers deftly tells a lyrical tale that’ll keep you questioning reality right up to the very end.”
Arthur Slade

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AliceBestselling author Alice Kuipers has published five award-winning YA novels internationally, most recently, Me and Me, described by Bif Naked as mesmerising. Her two picture books feature twins Violet and Victor, and she has an upcoming chapter book series with Chronicle Press. She is writing a memoir about teenager Carley Allison with Kids Can Press. She has had stories produced for CBC and essays published in Bristol Review of Books and Easy Living magazine. She blogged for Today’s Parent, and The Huffington Post. Alice’s work is published in 34 countries. She has four children.

Alice’s website is full of tips and hints for writers. Find her here: www.alicekuipers.com or online.