Where have you been?

Where have you been?

A friend asked me recently why I wasn’t doing any writing and it surprised me because I’ve been writing regularly, just not here.

I assumed (wrongly) that regular readers would subscribe to my newsletter (Book Chat) even though I only ever mentioned it once, possibly in passing. It was foolish of me to think that people would rush to sign up for something new when I hadn’t taken the time to explain what it was all about, so I thought I would do that today.

Let’s start with the first question I usually get asked:

Why do you have a blog and a newsletter and are they the same?

The answer is no, not really.

Book Chat (my newsletter) is very short and contains reading recommendations and simple recipes. I started writing it about two years ago (during lockdown) and since then I’ve sent it out every two weeks without fail. The newsletter focuses on helping people find something good to read because, despite the plethora of books being published every year, it can be challenging to find a really great read. I’m mindful that we all have different tastes, but people often ask me what I’m reading and I love sharing recommendations, so this feels like a useful thing to do.

There’s an archive of past newsletters if you’d like to check out some of my recent recommendations.

I also launched an online book club this year, and it’s turning out to be a fun activity, despite me being quite nervous about hosting an online session. I don’t know why I was nervous because I love talking about books and everyone was lovely. The Book Chat book club meets four times a year and the next book is Matt Haig’s, The Midnight Library. You are very welcome to join in and it’s free for subscribers.

The newsletter has recipes because I also like food! I think that good books and good food go together naturally and people seem to love recipes, if only to remind them to make an old favourite they’ve forgotten about.

It’s been satisfying to see a steady growth in subscribers over the past two years, but in the meantime, I’ve neglected this blog. I haven’t posted anything new here since last October and that seems like eons ago.

This blog remains a space where I can explore topics in more depth. The posts are short essays that are often (but not always) book-related. I like to use my reading as a springboard for articles about issues that interest me. Some of my favourite posts in this vein include The Man Who Didn’t Wash His Dishes and Sunshine on My Shoulders.

I also write personal essays. Plenty is about growing up in the Salvation Army and absorbing ideas about self-denial and Family Secrets is about trying to find out whether my grandfather was a bigamist. There’s a lot more variety here because I have the freedom to write about whatever I like, so I’d encourage you to explore the website. I’ve been blogging here for ten years, so hopefully you’ll find something that resonates with you.

This year I planned to send some articles out for publication, but the thought of that often seems overwhelming, so I plan to post here more regularly, whilst I figure when and where to send my work.

Whether you subscribe to this blog, or my newsletter or both, I appreciate you all. Thanks for being here and reading my words.

Happy birthday to my blog

Happy birthday to my blog

My blog turned 10 in January, but we didn’t have a party, mainly because I didn’t notice. It was only when a fellow writer mentioned they had been blogging for 10 years that I went back to check how long I’d been posting here.

There is an enormous gap between my first and second posts in 2011 (about ten months) and I can’t remember why this was the case, but I’m the first to admit that my posting has been sporadic over the years. I’m trying to post more regularly now. Thank you for hanging in there.

I originally started this blog because I was doing a graphic design course and desperately wanted to share what I was learning. It was all so new and interesting, and the teacher in me just wanted to tell the world. I’m not a natural born teacher because I’m way too impatient, but something kicks in when I find out something interesting. I always think “who can I tell?”

I originally called my blog Design Basics. I set about explaining the principles of graphic design in simple terms, covering topics such as white space, balance and proximity. When I grew tired of imagining myself as a graphic designer (too many poor results and not enough talent), I started writing about anything that interested me, and some common themes emerged. I frequently wrote about communication with a proliferation of writing tips, and suggestions for ways to improve your PowerPoint slides. In those days, my job involved reviewing slide decks, and it constantly amazed me that they were so terrible. When I left that organisation 14 years later, things had improved a little, but not as much as I hoped.

When I look back over my early posts, I’m a little embarrassed by them. They seem amateurish and rather puffed up, as if I actually know what I am talking about, when I was was really just pretending, but I can’t bring myself to delete them as they represent part of my blogging journey and therefore my life. It’s a bit like throwing out the drawings your kids did at pre-school. They may have grown and matured, but you still remember them as little boys and girls.

Having reached this milestone, I wonder what I should write about for the next ten years? The experts advise you to pick a topic and stick to it, but the idea of doing that bores me to tears. I don’t like the idea of being boxed in and having to write about the same thing week in and week out.

These days I frequently write about books and writing, because this interests me, but I don’t want to become a book blogger because then I would have to read books I don’t really like, and I can’t see the point of that. I am very particular about what books I read and like the freedom of being able to pick and choose.

Over the past ten years, I’ve learnt to be more critical about what the ‘experts say’ and more inclined to just do whatever I like. I think this is one of the benefits of growing older. You worry less and less about what other people think, and it’s very liberating.

On a final note, if you have been reading my blog since the beginning, thank you. I love knowing you are there and appreciate your support. If you’ve arrived here more recently, welcome, I hope you will stick around.

Forget Platform—Build a Bridge

Another great piece of writing advice from Allison K Williams. I read everything she writes. She’s always good value.

BREVITY's Nonfiction Blog

There are three big myths about platform.

Myth #1: platform = social media followers

You may have seen writers on Twitter with statistics like “20.1K followers, 20K following.” Some writers build these numbers with “#writerlift” posts (everyone follows everyone else), or use apps to mass-follow hundreds of accounts, hoping they’ll follow back.

That’s not a platform. They have racked up numbers with people they can’t actually engage with. They are followed by people who clicked as reciprocation, not genuine interest.

Even truly impressive social media followings seldom translate to actual book sales. Social media numbers reflect, rather than cause, popularity.

Myth #2: platform = going viral

Only sometimes! If you’re writing memoir or nonfiction, writing a “hot essay” can get you a book deal. For literary fiction, a powerful short story in a great literary magazine can get you an agent.

Or it may not. You can’t control what’s going…

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Introducing the 2019 ‘Anything Is Possible’ List

I completely understand that this is a fancy ad for WordPress.com, but it’s also really inspiring to read the stories of people using the wordpress platform to do their own thing, build communities and make a difference in the world. Good stuff!

Introducing the 2019 ‘Anything Is Possible’ List

Time for a refresh

I’ve recently become a bit addicted to listening to podcasts. I’ve got quite a few favourites which I plan to share in upcoming posts. Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been listening to a series called 31 days to build a better blog by Darren Rowse of ProBlogger fame. I like listening to Darren because he’s Australian and he’s very down to earth. The series is aimed at helping people like me to improve their blogging practices. You can listen to an episode here.

Take a peek

In a recent episode Darren suggested that we conduct some user testing of our blogs to see what a new visitor really looks at when they arrive and how long they stay. You can get a real live stranger to do this via a free service called Peek. It’s really awesome and a bit confronting at the same time. You simply pop your website address into the box and a couple of hours later you get a recording of someone visiting your site for the first time.

Good advice

The result was not quite what I expected but also not too awful. I’m also mindful that this was just the view of one person and that another visitor might have had a completely different response. Their main criticism was that my blog was in need of a bit of freshening up. In other words, it was visually quite boring and a bit dull. On the upside, they liked the writing which made me happy. Since the whole point of starting this blog four years ago was to practice my writing, I was pleased to think that I might be improving.

The result

So here we have a fresh as a daisy new theme and a few new features such as my favourite posts. Let me know what you think. I’d love your feedback.

What have you been up to?

A couple of people have asked me why I haven’t written any posts lately and my immediate response is that I’ve been busy. Too busy to blog? Really?

Well, yes and no. While I have been very busy at work lately (end of year rush and all that), its also true that I’ve had a few moments of self doubt recently, as many of us do. Sometimes it strikes me that blogging is a very peculiar way to spend one’s time… After all, there are so many good books and articles to read, do I really need to contribute to your inbox which is probably already groaning under that weight of all those emails?

The answer is yes I do!

Why I write…

  1. In my last post I wrote about some of the reasons that people like to share their ideas, and in my case it’s because I think that interesting ideas need room to breathe and expand. A good idea can make you think differently about how you see the world, it can change the way to perceive yourself and it can help you grow. Writing helps me clarify my ideas and work through ideas.
  2. Blogging is also a great way to communicate with people all around the world. Some of my favourite writers live diverse (but ordinary) lives in all parts of the world. I would never have stumbled across them except through blogging. They bring light and shade into my world and make it richer and less narrow.
  3. Blogging is a great way to encourage people to learn something new and have a go. I truly believe that you should never stop learning and having this platform is a perfect vehicle for providing advice and encouragement to others. Its not that what I have to say is especially profound or special, its just a nice way to keep in touch with a bunch of random, but wonderful people. That’s you folks!

So if you are looking back on your year, I hope you give yourself credit for all the things you’ve achieved. They don’t need to be grand. It’s the small challenges that make up a life.

Have a happy Christmas and I’ll be back next year with some new ideas about simple design, improving your writing and learning new skills.

If you have any thoughts about topics that would interest you, I would love to hear from you, or you could just say hello and tell me how your year has been.


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Why do people share?

Last night I spoke at a community forum about the impact of digital technology on society. What a lovely bunch of interesting people were there. They asked such good questions.

A couple of people asked me why I started this blog and although I have written about this previously, I thought it might be interesting to look at the reasons why so many people love blogging. On the WordPress platform alone, there are 72 million blogs with over 400 million readers, so it’s quite a popular pastime.

Four reasons why people blog

Many people blog for validation. They want the world to know they exist and they want to get feedback from others to confirm that their ideas and opinions are valuable. People who write blogs for this reason can be a bit obsessed with the number of subscribers that they have. The more the better.  I don’t fit into this category, although I am always thrilled to bits when someone new signs up. I may not have a huge number of subscribers, but I am convinced you are all intelligent and interesting, and that matters more to me than sheer numbers.

Then there are the social bloggers. These are people, for example young mums, who might be find being at home with a baby a bit isolating. I saw a lovely ‘mummy blog’ the other day where women were sharing ideas about what to cook for dinner that would be easy, nutritious and that the kids would actually eat. This type of blog serves an important social function and can help get people make contact with others who might be in similar situations.

Thirdly, there are people who blog to promote themselves or their product. Sometimes they provide really good information and sometimes it’s just a thinly disguised sales pitch.

Other people blog because they love sharing information and ideas. This is the category I fit into. I think it comes from being a teacher – when I read something interesting, I often think ‘who can I share this with?’ and this blog gives me the perfect platform. Blogging also gives me the chance to clarify my thoughts and practise my writing, but most of all it gives me the opportunity to encourage other people to learn new skills and expand their horizons.

Should you start a blog?

It can be time consuming, but it’s fun and rewarding.  It’s also really easy, so if you think you have something to say you should give it a try!


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A curious mind is a wonderful thing

A curious mind is a wonderful thing

I’m just about to do something really brave (or silly, depending on how you look at it).

I’m transferring my blog from this WordPress.com site to a self-managed host. This shouldn’t affect you and shouldn’t make any difference to how we communicate, but it’s risky because I am quite likely to muck it up and lose all of my subscribers (that’s you) in the process. I sincerely hope this doesn’t happen, but if it does I wanted to thank you for coming along with me on my little journey over the past 12 months or so. It’s been fun and I’ve learnt a lot.

I thought that I would end the year with a few thoughts and some suggestions for next year, but first of all I might explain what I hoped to achieve by starting this blog and why I am moving it.


About 12 months ago I started running a training course called design basics (focused mainly on helping people to improve their PowerPoint slides) so I had plenty of ideas and content to share. Starting a blog seemed an ideal way to connect with a wider audience as well as providing some ongoing tips and advice for people who had completed the course. I decided that it was better to jump right in, rather than just thinking about it and WordPress.com made this quick and easy. It’s user friendly and it’s free. I recommend this as a way to start if you want to share your ideas or practice your writing.

I’ve covered a number of topics over the year, ranging from tips on clear writing, using colour and some other advice about improving your communication skills. I have a background in teaching communication skills, so communication design is just an extension of my interest in this area. I’ve really enjoyed reading your comments and feedback although at times, I have been at a bit of a loss to know what you might find useful and interesting, so I’ve just posted about stuff I find interesting and hope that it strikes a cord with some of you.

My main aim is to help people communicate clearly, whether this be in a PowerPoint presentation, a written report, a diagram, a graph or an image. I often observe people struggling to deliver information effectively and I really believe that there are some simple ways to achieve this. I think that writing and speaking clearly is important, especially when you are delivering messages that make a difference to people’s health, safety or wellbeing. I guess you could say that I am on a quest for clarity, both in what I do and say and in helping other people to be clear.


The time has come to play with the grown ups and explore some new pastures. Moving this blog to a self-hosted site will give me more freedom to try new things and will be more of a challenge for me as I’ll need to learn a little bit more about websites, coding and other mysteries that pertain to managing a website. It’s an area I want to explore and I think jumping right in and giving it a go is a wonderful way to learn. It may be a disaster, but I hope not.


Do you have something exciting planned for 2013? I hope so. There are so many interesting things to do and learn that I can’t imagine how anyone could be bored. I recently discovered a wonderful organisation called Coursera where you can enrol in an online course on just about any topic that interests you. The courses are delivered by leading universities in the USA and are absolutely free. Amazing and wonderful.

I’d like wish you all the best for the year ahead and I hope you maintain your curiosity about the world and set yourself some goals that are achievable and fun.

See you next year!