Weird title for a post, I know. But humour me a little.
My book ‘Building Passions‘ is about the history of architecture and engineering in Victorian Britain, seen through the eyes of two key families, the Brunels and Barrys. I came up with the short title (there is a long one) while drafting the text. It seemed to fit sections describing how and why a built environment is important to the communities that live within it.
‘What about STEAM engagement?’ you might ask.
Well, it’s what I am trying to do through this blog, my websites and my book. STEAM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics. In the UK it once used to be SET, so without the maths or arts included. I had the privilege of once working closely with Professor Dame Celia Hoyles, who became England’s first Maths Czar in the early 2000s, and she definitely got the M into SET!
Since then there have been pushes to get an A into the acronym. Again, the US leads the way on this. I am a supporter because the built environment needs young people with all five facets. This is a big ambition! It is also broad and there is a risk it all just turns into words rather than actions.
Styles and fads have cyclical lives, adapting as they develop and reinvent. The same may happen with STEAM.
So be it.
But while it is alive let’s make the most of STEAM’s potential impact and stoke up some passion for buildings amongst wider audiences.
I am writing a novella based on the life story of my grandfather, who was a spy in the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, we think.
I started the process with scoping the story back in the summer, and then some preparatory drafting until November, when I started writing proper. This coincided with NaNoWriMo which is held every November around the world to encourage novel writing. I met a group of local writers and we have continued to engage since then.
I thought I could write fiction as easily as non-fiction, having completed my book ‘Building Passions‘. As it turns out, fiction is equally difficult. While you don’t rely on the accuracy of historical facts, for example, you do need to now how to build a close, personal link to your readership.
The big learning curve for me has been writing dialogue. I found this a challenge as it wasn’t a strong point for me. I’m good at narrative. However, my writing group has helped me develop these skills, so now I feel more confident. I can turn narrative into dialogue fairly easily, though know I must resist the temptation to write a screen or theatre play.
“Tell me John, why do you not want to be an architect like you father and brothers? Why a civil engineer?”
“I like sketching and designing, but I’m more interested in the maths behind those structures first proposed by myself or others. I have no ego about creative proprietorship. I just want to be sure buildings and bridges stay up for ever.”
Such might be a fictional dialogue between a young John Wolfe Barry and a Victorian contemporary.
Perhaps I should write more such exchanges?
I blogged a while back that I’ve started writing a novel based on the life of my grandfather Baron Lex von Behr.
This fictional story connects with the non-fiction of ‘Building Passions’ and in deed this website, through the theme of families.
As I said at the book launch of ‘Building Passions’ last week, I’m fascinated with family relationships and legacy. My grandfather almost lived out a novel or even a series of short stories. These included his mother, brothers, sisters, cousins, life partners and children.
While I am more comfortable writing non-fiction, particularly linked to history or education or the built environment, I realise that fiction is the big one. You can mould your subjects and develop their stories in parallel with the flow of events around them.
The book will actually be a trilogy called ‘The Other Red Baron’, split between three phases of Lex’s life as there is so much to cover about him. However, the core story is on his spying career and his passionate love affairs in Tashkent, London, Berlin and Paris.
As things develop I will consider how best to communicate on my progress – currently I’m sharing my writing trials and tribulations as part of National Novel Writing Month (nanowrimo.org), its Kent community forum on Facebook and in meet-ups with local authors in and around Canterbury.
I thought I would have some pre-Christmas fun and think of alternative long titles for my book ‘Building Passions’, assuming I knew nothing about the content.
Here goes for starters. Enjoy and feel free to add:
- How to arouse your partner in three easy steps
- Why model-making turns me on
- The 10 best buildings in which to have secret liaisons
- Build yourself the thing you’ve always wanted, from white elephant to crib
The real challenge would be to write them!
So, I’ve finally managed to launch a website about my forthcoming book ‘Building Passions’.
It provides a bit of background for those who know nothing about the book. Once it is published electronically and then in hard copy, I will add links to the retailers who will hopefully sell it for me. I’m expecting an e-book will be out soon, but definitely by the end of September.
One thing I am missing is images. As I’ve blogged before this is a tricky area in self-publishing due to image rights. I will try to add in free images and links to ones you would need to pay to use (which I have done for the book!), but of course you will be able to see them all in the book, with appropriate text linked to the story of the Brunels, the Barrys and ‘modern’ Victorian architecture.
I will continue to use this website for blogs about the book and related news, including progress on an English Heritage Blue Plaque for Sir John Wolfe Barry. With luck everything will coincide …
I will also continue to use the #buildingpassions tag to promote the built environment to wider audiences through its history and the individuals involved.
From an early age I’ve always loved writing.
This was evidenced through stories I wrote for English homework which were full of fantastical ideas.
I also enjoyed marathon reading sessions. I remember getting through the Lord of the Rings on a beach in Corsica, while I was staying with a French family as part of an exchange trip. My back went as brown as a berry.
I tried some more serious writing later in life, but never dared to publish anything. Only when I first started blogging in 2012 did I start to open up and set free my urge to produce my own words.
Now I feel almost liberated.
I am on the verge of self-publishing my first book called ‘Building Passions’. I have started planning my next book, which will tell the world the fictionalised story of my grandfather Lex von Behr.
I want to encourage you to write as well.
People say actions speak louder than words, but writing and publishing a book is action with words. Please participate!
I told a friend and his teenage son about my book today. It taught me that you can present the same story in many different ways.
I sat them down and literally explained the main characters and the built structures linked to them. This was a good test for my own memory and would help my comms skills when handling larger audiences.
I literally went with the flow, without any planning except my own knowledge of the book.
My main focus was on the two fathers, Isambard Kingdom Brunel and Sir Charles Barry, and their sons Sir John Wolfe Barry and Henry Marc Brunel. I mentally pictured the small tree I have drawn showing their relationships, and those with Sir Marc Brunel, father of IKB, and Sir Charles’ other sons and grandsons covered in the book.
I also covered broader issues such as the development of architectural styles and the link between ‘modernism’, Art Nouveau and the Crystal Palace.
I thought, as I spoke, of what would keep a teenager interested in the story. I tried as much interaction as I could, asking questions and then providing answers where he or his father couldn’t do so. It was all about nudging them along, but trying to avoid any topic which might appear too technical for a layperson.
It would be great if I could write books easily this way (think perhaps ‘Sophie’s World’ or ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’), but I have not quite mastered such an approach to non-fiction. May be fiction will be easier?
You can always teach an old dog new tricks …
I watched a beautiful film (‘Lea and I’ on Netflix) yesterday about a young woman who had been diagnosed with cystic fibrosis as a child and wasn’t given long to live.
The film was a true story documentary with a strong emotional feel to it given the serious health issue. Fortunately for Lea Moret, now 23, she still lives and is determined to make the most of her life.
In the film, she travelled a few years ago with a close friend to Latin America to find alternative remedies for her illness. This started with a magnetic healing session in Mexico City and then moved on to more spiritual approaches helped by native concoctions. The most extreme was in Peru, where she and her friend experienced a 10 day shamanic retreat taking the powerful hallucinogen ayahuasca.
It was fascinating to see the experiences Lea and her friend went through first hand, and it seems they had an impact on her for the good, both psychologically and physically.
She deserves this fully as she is an energetic and driven young person who will make the most of her extra time on earth. Her passion for life came to the fore in the film.
I write in this blog about building passions linked to my forthcoming book.
Please find some kind of passion that keeps you going before it’s too late.