BAM Festival!

Just back after a couple of days volunteering to help out one of my favourite charities, Good Lad Initiative (GLI). I helped staff a table at the 2017 Being a Man (BAM) festival, held in London’s Southbank Centre.

A packed 3 day event

The three-day BAM Festival ran talks, lectures, seminars and panel discussions addressing topics from bullying to knife crime, from domestic abuse to fatherhood, from privilege to consent.

There were early morning runs, comedians, a talk by Man Booker Prizewinning author Allan Hollinghurst, LEGO workshops for kids, a lecture on ‘How to be a Superman? Gender Equity for Boys’, a Finnish shouting choir, music,… and much more.

Good Lad Intiative

The crowd ebbed and flowed past our GLI table. I spoke to several teachers who were interested in booking us for their schools. An aspiring actor completing his Master’s in drama was looking for ideas for a 40 minute single-man performance. A psychologist dropped by: she engaged me in a discussion about male suicide (which accounts for 75% of suicides in the UK).

I took contact details for a number of potential volunteers and got to meet other GLI team members. I was impressed by the interest, the enthusiasm, the desire to facilitate change.

What does GLI do?

It trains men to run workshops in all-male school classrooms, for pupils aged 12-18, which address issues of gender equality and masculinity. We encourage them to talk openly using the media of role playing, games and exercises.

It’s fascinating to see the pupils challenging their preconceptions and peer pressure, as they articulate thoughts on various topics, often for the first time. At the end of the day, their feedback—which tends to be highly positive—is analysed. But of course, when I was at school, I’d probably have given anything five stars that replaced three hours of geography and math(s)!

Making a difference

‘Being a man’ is a huge—and until quite recently—a largely neglected topic. I’m constantly learning and questioning my preconceptions. Good Lad Intiative is one of those initiatives that deserves to succeed because it’s really making a difference.


Too late to save the oceans?

The Big Question

It’s been coming up in conversation a lot recently: “Is it too late to save the oceans?”

Perhaps the Professor would answer it…

Greenwich University

With that question in mind, a crisp evening not too long ago saw me travelling twenty-one stops on the tube and Docklands Light Railway to Greenwich University. I was attending a lecture by Visiting Professor Steve Fletcher PhD, of the United Nations Environment Programme and World Conservation Monitoring Centre!

The lecture title? “The Future of the Ocean: Health, Wealth and Biodiversity”.

But first – the Cutty Sark!

But before hunting down the proper lecture hall, a quick moonlight inspection of the Cutty Sark.  This magnificent tea clipper was built in 1869 and recently restored at a cost of £46m following extensive damage caused by fire.

As I studied her pitched, sweeping hull, her proud masts with their triangulated rigging, I wondered at the state of the ocean when she raced back with tea from the Americas and wool from Australia.

She launched just seven years after Alexander Parkes demonstrated plastic (or “Parkesine”, as he named it) at London’s Great International Exhibition in 1862. With the arrival of steam power, the great ship was soon rendered obsolete. I wonder if Mr Parkes ever imagined the benefits and damage later iterations of his invention would bring.

Greenwich University

Greenwich University—a maritime tradition, a maritime lecture

Once inside the spacious lecture hall, I noticed that the attentive audience (to my untrained eye) contained many students and I spoke to one, well into his doctoral thesis on the oceans, who’d attended my alma mater, Oxford.

$190 billion per year

Then the professor started, by painting a rather grim picture.

Did you know that the global seafood industry is worth $190bn but only 6.4% of the ocean is protected? If fish were people, the equivalent is that every one of us would be carrying half a kg of plastic in our stomachs.

The professor discussed illegal fishing (and the link to people and drug trafficking), pollution, the cruise industry, and the damage caused by a host of other human activities. 70% of the Great Barrier Reef has now been lost.

Ghost fishing

One slide of four turtles drowned by a discarded fishing net (known as “ghost fishing”), was particularly upsetting. We were reminded of the 1992 “Warning to Humanity” by 1,700 scientists of where we were headed if things didn’t change. And all this was supported by a series of well-chosen slides.

The professor isn’t alone…

But there was good news too. Teams of politicians and NGOs, often enabled by the UN, are now meeting around the world to agree protocols, set targets, honour commitments.

…even the white spotted wedge fish is on side!

Important (for a variety of reasons) species—such as the white spotted wedge fish—are now targeted for special conservation attention. I admit I had to google that one when I got home, to discover I knew it as the guitarfish I’ve seen on occasion resting on the sand in tropical shallows.

Opinion leaders, and the not-for-profit sector are finally being heard. The general public is beginning to wake up with economic, social, political and wellbeing issues associated with the ocean at the top of the agenda. And things are beginning to happen about plastic: the UK’s consumption of plastic carrier bags has dropped 85% since the introduction of a 5p tax per bag. Make it £5, I say, and do the same with plastic coffee cups and drinking strays!

…back to the Big Question

Asked at the end whether he thought it was too late, the professor answered that he’s an optimist, and thinks we can turn this situation around. He explained that the time has come to embrace the environment and treat it as a partner.

The old model of human activity necessarily causing environmental damage should be changed to one in which there’s a mutuality. Protect the ocean and we’ll all benefit. That makes sense to me. And no doubt to white spotted wedge fish too.

3 things you can do to help save the oceans:

  • Buy a re-usable thermos for all your water, tea and coffee purchases…and remember to take it with you!
  • Use tinfoil instead of cling film (Saran wrap) in the home
  • Join a plastic clean up group. Here’s the one I chose and highly recommend if you’re in the area:


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


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


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: 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!

valentine final_14FEB16


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.


(Ode to a Wren, Ben Starling, 2016)

A Day at Amazon Academy


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.