Coming Monday: Bestselling Author Alice Kuipers on the story behind her new release!

Alice

Bestselling and award-winning author Alice Kuipers joins Ben’s blog – next Monday!

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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Bestselling 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.

Dinner Jacket or Morning Coat? You Choose!

The Importance of Profile Pics for Casting Agencies

With an exciting new string to my bow—I have signed up as a supporting artist (formerly known as a (lowly) extra)—I need to post photos on my casting agency profile page that will get me noticed.

How does it work?

The production company forwards a brief to the casting agency for, let’s say twenty extras, three of which must be 50-70 years old (check), well dressed (keep reading), and average looking (check) – as supporting artists must blend into the background, not draw the eye away from the leading actors. The casting agency then selects maybe 100 suitable candidates from their books, from which the producer makes his/her 20 choices.

So my profile photos need to include business, casual, sporty, and for today, formal choices—to make sure I get put forward for the greatest range of roles. My formal wear consists of a dinner jacket (aka black tie or tuxedo) and my morning dress (no, it’s not a dress).

Dinner Jacket Jaunts

This has served me well since my university days, when I seemed to clamber into it every few weeks for one event or another: the college dining club, a charity fund-raiser, someone’s twenty-first, the celebration after a wedding. The tie itself is what we call a single-ender: far easier to tie than the double-ender (which proved useful when a playful young woman decided to give it a midnight tug).

This faithful dinner jacket is beginning to show its age (cigarette burn on arm, missing cuff button) but it has rubbed shoulders with royal princes and princesses, billionaires, international sportsmen, politicians…and far more impressively, many dear lifetime friends.

Back in the day, it was an essential prop in a wicked hangover or two (never say yes to a second glass of port). Now its outings are less frequent but at least it still fits!

Morning Dress Mayhem

With my own wedding approaching in my youth, I needed formal morning dress—the traditional attire associated with the greatest day/mistake (delete as appropriate) of one’s life on this side of the Atlantic.

The morning dress comprises uncomfortably thick, coarsely striped trousers, a beige (or grey) waistcoat and black tailcoat. A white or cream shirt and sober(ish) tie. Lace-up shoes polished to within an inch of their lives.

I’ve only worn my morning dress to weddings as the Queen is yet to invite me to Buckingham Palace for a Knighthood after breakfast. Each outing is preceded with a cautious inspection: has the pheromone trap hung on the closet door prevented the clothes moths from masticating my tails?

I need your help!

Please help me choose which of these formal photos you like best. My new career depends on it!

   

Ben Meets Mike Storkey, Toastmasters International President

Last Wednesday, I met the President… Mike Storkey, President of Toastmasters International. And in my opinion, he trumps most other presidents!

An Afternoon at Toastmasters

I spent the afternoon of this hesitant spring Wednesday at a Toastmasters event in Docklands, one of London’s shiny business centres.

Toastmasters International is a nonprofit educational organisation that teaches public speaking and leadership skills in more than 14,650 clubs in 126 countries. Clubs can be community based, themed (by language or profession for example), or corporate (clubs open to employees of a certain company).

Mike Storkey was the keynote speaker at this event and glided through his presentation with a pleasing Australian lilt, handling with finesse a wide range of questions in the Q&A that followed. He gave tips on how to launch new clubs, focusing on the challenges of launching corporate clubs in particular.

My Favourite Quote

When trying to persuade your head of HR to sponsor a corporate Toastmasters Club, he warned you’re likely to be asked,

“But what if we expend a lot money and effort to train someone to be an excellent speaker, presenter, leader…and then they leave the company?”

Mike’s recommended answer?

“But what if you don’t train them…and they stay?

A Focus on Leadership Development As Well

One clear message was that Toastmasters doesn’t exist just to help you improve your public speaking—though many people join for that reason. It’s there to build many different skill sets, amongst which leadership features prominently. Pathways, a new programme being rolled out across regions over the next two years, will offer a modern and effective way of helping you achieve diverse goals.

Mike made the point that because of the leadership development benefits that accrue, everyone should also consider becoming a club official: it offers yet another opportunity to build your skill-set in a safe environment. “Imagine,” he pondered, “you get old and decrepit and ask yourself the what if question: What if I’d taken the trouble to improve this or that skill? Where would I be now?”

The best speech Mike ever heard?

Of course he’d heard thousands and admitted sometimes finding it easier to remember a speaker’s face than their words. The most memorable speech for Mike, however, was one that left him thinking about things very differently: the speech given by Mark Brown at the Toastmasters’ World Championship in 1995, entitled “A Second Chance”.

Pausing, he added, “I think The Gettysburg Address was the best speech I ever read, because it was short and powerful.”

Why Ben Joined Toastmasters

I myself joined about two years ago and never looked back. As an author, I know it’s critical for me to have presentation skills – but indeed, it’s invaluable to for almost everyone, no matter what your walk of life. There are clubs all over the world. Take a look and see if there’s a club near you!

 

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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ODE TO A WREN

A graveyard squats beyond a wall
Where they bury dreams with rocks.
As child, as adult, those dreams once called
And on those caskets knocked.

Each year a thinning wail would stray
From walls bulged thicker, taller.
Each day my prayers, more distant, play
In silence to the caller.

Until that sleety autumn noon
When quiet cloaked my pleadings,
As thorns and claws and hooks of Moon,
Tore love from spirit’s bleedings.

Now death puffs its heartless chest
On bones through broken soil,
A waxen, tuxedoed dinner guest
Slurps grinning at the spoil.

Time tried but failed to fix
My endless melancholy,
A constant acid reflux mix
A three-legged border collie.

Okay, so the dog makes zero sense,
I bet you can’t do better,
Onward then with the suspense,
As I struggle with every letter.

One day the calendar did turn,
And a wren, of fluffy breast,
Who’d dined on creepy-crawly things, and a worm
Flew by to build a nest.

The graveyard scared the birdy so,
It jettisoned its eating.
A deluge white as driven snow
Spattered barren soil in greeting.

And in that spattering, a seed was sown
It germinated quickly.
Then roots and trunk and branch were grown.
The plant grew tall, and thickly.

It burst the walls, it let in light,
The voice of hope returned.
The dreams with their attendant might,
Bore fruit in all I’d yearned.

Now love has settled where all was lost,
I’m no longer a complainer,
Remember—whatever the cost—
Keep hold of hope. That’s a no-brainer.

The moral of this poetic crime,
Strained from slurry, compost, grit?
No one’s more certain than I’m
That good can come from s**t.

 

A Valentine’s Day Poem…from Ben to you.

heart

(Ode to a Wren, Ben Starling, 2016)

A Day at Amazon Academy

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I just spent a fascinating day at the launch of the Amazon Academy in London, on Wednesday. The location was the HQ of their new fashion label (yes, they do clothes too!) in Hoxton.

Amazon laid on a range of lectures and expert-led panel discussions to demonstrate what’s on offer which included KDP (Kindle), Alexa and Amazon Marketplace workshops. There were guest panels in the morning and break-out sessions with Q&A in the afternoon. It wasn’t just for authors – there were also experts who spoke on Amazon Web Services (for serious techies and programmers) and a new service that targets entrepreneurs in the food and beverage space. Professional, entertaining, friendly.

img_3774The company is forging ahead with interesting ideas and isn’t resting on its laurels. The event was a well-planned, precision-executed taste of corporate America before a taste of vegetarian (other diets catered for too) lunch.

Deputy Mayor of London for Business, Rajesh Agrawal, told an amusing anecdote about arriving penniless in London from India in 2001. He spent weeks working on a business plan which he took to the bank hoping for a £10,000 loan. He was turned down. He returned a few days later with a request for £20,000 for a car…which was approved. And guess what he used the money for? He quickly added that the bank has been paid back in full!

img_3771Lessons learned? The company treats its writers as valued customers. Despite its size, Amazon demonstrated a human face and will continue to trial the Academy concept.

As a writer, what did I take away with me? Lots of great tips!

In particular, I learned from the mouth of author/entrepreneur Mark Dawson:

  • have at least one free book on offer;
  • build a loyal following via interaction;
  • have a well though out and researched marketing plan before you begin to spend your budget,

and from the Founder of the Alliance of Independent Authors, Orna Ross:

  • develop your own email distribution list as one of your key pillars in your marketing plan,
  • speed up your operation by using a database manager like Mailchimp and
  • don’t start spending money on advertising until you have at least three books out there.

So far, there have been two other Amazon Academy events on this side of the pond: one previously in Dublin and this one in London. And there will be one more in Newcastle coming soon! After that, Amazon will review feedback to see if they will do it again.

And I, for one, hope they will.

Jodi Bartle: On Writing & Gender

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I am a woman, and a parent, and I write a blog about my life in London with my family.

big-ben-london-eye-1215522-639x1005It started as a way to connect with family and friends who were in New Zealand – a distance a little too far for people to come and spend time with us and to see where we live and work. Too far to meet me for coffee and compare pregnancies and toddler notes, first days at school and the millions of triumphs and tragedies that season an inconsequential life.

gender-symbols-1-1245741-1279x914Initially writing about this stuff was a way of remembering and being remembered by people back home. What it has grown into is a confessional, a catharsis, an outlet for me to rage and laugh and despair. I wonder how much of this writing as therapy comes from my central starting point – that of my gender.

scrabble-stock-xchng-4-1557505-1599x1200-1Women have always shared with each other; certainly, the women in my family have been able to talk about many things in unabashed, frank ways. I remember Southern Hemisphere summers spent on the coast in a caravan, and my mother and her sisters playing Scrabble together late into the night. And talking. Talking about everything and everyone.

Silences when the vowels got too few and the dictionary was hastily riffled through to find a made-up word that, with luck, might exist, but this silence was temporary. We fell asleep on camp-stretch beds in the awning lulled by the quiet hum of their long, single, wavering conversation together.

friends-and-family-1361132-1599x2132Women, I think, are encouraged to talk, to use words before fists, to confide and console and share with one another. Little girls have confidantes and these stay with you – best friends get told secrets and things are written down in a diary, and this early introduction to communication means women have outlets to express themselves in a way that I think boys and eventually men do not.

Openness and vulnerability are thought dismissively of as soft feminine traits – the opposite of the kind of front most men have been taught to project into the world. And it makes me sad, because the freedom I have to write frankly, to share explicitly, to receive intimacy back from anonymous readers and long-held friends is sometimes the only way to bear the load of being a grownup.

51_jodi-boysMy ability to write honestly about a painful marriage impasse, the exhausting and unrelenting toughness of parenting, the jolts and joys of family life in a city that pulses with noise and distraction like a faulty neon sign: writing about these things has made me a better thinker, a better friend, a better partner.

3-balloonsMaking these truths public, sometimes even the regrettable, shameful ones, has connected me to many other people who wish to communicate freely and frankly too.  My years of writing has given me a strong and distinct voice and an audience who reciprocates by sharing their stories with me.

Recently I wrote about losing a baby. Writing about the experience served a dual purpose – practically and pragmatically I could head off the well-meaning but painful enquiries into the size of my bump and due dates and indigestion, but more importantly I could write about my heartbreak honestly and tell my story in my words. I needed to.

coffee-1575043-1599x1066I wrote about the shock and the sadness and the physical and emotional emptiness after. I wrote about what is so often secreted away and, in the process, made it real and tangible. Other women wrote back to me and shared their stories too and thanked me for telling the truth about what happened and how it had felt. So this was good, a good thing to do, and I was thankful that I had a place to say what I needed to say.

But how do you grieve and heal when you have no place to share? My husband lost a baby too when my pregnancy suddenly had to end.

What do you do when you cannot write about rage and sadness? Who do you say these things to? Who knows how to listen? He is an articulate, caring, kind man and he is grieving, but he has never been given the tools or an outlet to express intimate,

difficult, internal things.

spring-notebook-1615550-1599x1066I am so glad that from a girl, I was taught to talk and write and state and share. The women in my family empowered me to use my voice and now words both help and heal me.

For my sons, I can only do my best to teach them that they can and should have their own voices; voices that must be heard because there is freedom and strength in that, regardless of gender.

jodi-bio-pic-2Jodi Bartle is a New Zealander in London who writes The Harridan, a blog about her family of five young boys, one tired husband and a dog. She likes Tom Ford and his lipsticking ways, large doses of wine, and overpriced clothes that she won’t ever wear from sample sales. She cooks, runs, yells at kids, reads, and chronically overshares. Find out more about Jodi and her work at www.theharridan.wordpress.com, on twitter at @JodiBartle and on instagram @harridan1.the-harridan-title

September Ben-isms

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So who hid a tub of Haagen-Dazs triple Belgium chocolate macadamia nut and Icelandic toffee brittle cappuccino Cornish cream with special reserve 1814 Napoleon brandy and smoked goat snot sprinkles ice cream in my freezer? And why is it looking at me like that???

There is a bike on the roof of the house opposite. Can only mean one thing: ET is staying there.

Sprained fingers? Torn nails? Bloody knuckles? .44 magnum. Sherman Tank. Nuclear weapon. How far would YOU go to open that recalcitrant pistachio?

As our favourite Vulcan might have said, “It is summer. It is cold. Therefore I have a summer cold. Entirely logical, Captain.”

Theory of the Day – older people are always complaining that time passes quicker as you get older but here’s my MATHEMATICAL PROOF they are wrong: if you become a father when you are 24, when you are 25, your son/daughter is 1 and 1/25th of your age (or 4%). If you live to 100, your son/daughter is 75 and now 75% your age. That means the young are constantly catching up so time must be passing faster for them. 😉

MY SOLUTION TO THE US PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION CRISIS: the Mexicans build a wall around the Donald (I think they’ll be happy to pay for it).

My Tesco “Baby Plum Tomatoes” taste of absolutely nothing. Is that three breaches of the Trade Descriptions Act?

I was sitting in a park in Soho last night, and David “Haymaker” Haye – former World Cruiserweight and Heavyweight Boxing Champion walked right past. I looked at him. He didn’t look at me. I stared. No eye contact in return. Nothing. He must have been scared… No other explanation possible.

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