Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Counting down to Christmas

A week or so to go:
Christmas is coming, Christmas is coming, Christmas is coming... and I've done very little.
Edinburgh is bloated with pre-Christmas activities. I think perhaps the intention is to distract us from the gloomy weather setting in – so the locals feel cold and are indoctrinated to think 'ah Christmas is coming' rather than 'ah, must immigrate.' Even though, once the Christmas lights, Christmas market, Christmas jumpers, ice skating, Santa and fire works have all been packed away comes the long dark of January, February and March.

Being Australian the Christmas Jumper thing is possibly the hardest tradition to fathom. There is something deeply uncomfortable for (this) antipodean about Christmas jumpers. You see, I had always assumed that the Christmas jumper moment in Bridget Jones's Diary was pointing out the freakishness of the gift giver in question, but in fact I now realise this is a popular phenomenon- grown men walk the streets with elf jumpers on, and no one bats an eyelid.

Sunday 18th December– an actual week to go!
If I am sounding grinchy I think it is because of all the added pressures of having a three year old in the house. Now is the time that traditions mean something, that memories are made – only I am adrift myself. I grew up with big noisy family Christmases in Australia. We often had to drive from place to place, over committing ourselves, over spending and overeating. There were aunties and uncles and cousins and bubbles and kids and general chaos. My adult traditions around Christmas are about sunshine and king prawns and oysters and my gang of female cousins and gossiping. I am trying to recall my childhood recollections of Christmas – helping to decorate the tree, the anticipation, running into mum and dads room to unwrap presents.

This year we are just... us, our little nuclear family here in Scotland. I am working Christmas Eve and I am working Boxing Day and we have had builders in all month and mummies book distracting her and interrupted sleep patterns to deal with. Very little focus has thus far landed on Christmas.

Monday 19th December– Christmas is Sunday. What's that you say? Christmas is on Sunday! This realisation was followed by much yelling and the slamming of doors.

Once the caffeine settles down I remind myself that we have been 'participating' in the build up. Jon was Santa again this year at the playgroup Christmas Fayre, - so there have been conversations around Santa, and attempts to persuade him that daddy is not Santa ... 'Daddy is Santa.'  I've hung up the cards we've received, and found the Christmas stockings. Rafa was in a Nativity play at his nursery and Finn has come home covered in glitter more than once. We are reading our Christmas book, and we have cleaned up most of the building debris and made some space for a tree. Last night I wrote two cards,  Today I WILL post them.

Finn - exhausted by Christmas. Edinburgh 2016

I'm trying to focus on how to best marry the needs of the two wee ones v's how to 'create' a memorable Christmas day. I have learnt in the past that novelty is not always best when it comes to the babies.

I keep reminding myself that a day just for our little family is probably the best gift we could give the boys. Day to day we more often than not resort to split shift parenting – we are rarely all together all day- so if we can achieve that, plus some presents and some tasty food, talking to the relatives on the phone, that will be enough - won't it?

Tuesday 20th December
I rallied today. Christmas love abounds. Jon cut some branches from the gigantic conifers out the back and put the children's nursery made decorations on them. In the chaos of moving things around to accommodate the builders my collection of nice decorations has been lost. And Jon's ugly baubles are lost also. Pity.

Jon, Finn and I walked up the hill to Bruntsfield to do a local shop- something I made time to do last year- so we would have a nice local 'hamper' for when my brother and his girlfriend arrived from Australia. Today we came home with locally made coco chocolate, sea salt from the isle of Lewis, olives – for me from 181delicatessen, black pudding – for Jon, some stocking fillers from the gullivers toys and a few other tasty treats here and there.

I got home, found one extra bauble for the tree and I put Norah Jones on in the background. Baby Finn pottered about briefly and I looked over the progress of this blog – only to realise that somewhere along the way my wee family has gathered a couple of its own traditions – my biggest one seems to be Jon as Santa – because actually he has dressed up as Santa for the last three years to the mingled delight and confusion of children from regional Victoria to Edinburgh. Another tradition I now see is doing a local shop for special tasty Christmas treats.

'Daddy is Santa.' Edinburgh - 2016

Some years we might travel down the road, others we might fly vast distances or someone special might fly to see us – living the life I live now – inevitably someone will be far from me. Lots will change and more traditions will emerge – but if we continue to be as blessed as we are now – I will try to keep the grinch at bay.

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Cover Art

So much of my communication with the world these days takes place on a screen. Big screens, small screens, in the case of my phone: a repeatedly smashed, repaired, smashed and dropped in the toilet screen. And I am not complaining; computers and phones help me stay in touch with my family and friends in Australia, they help me see the journey of a dear friend as she battles major illness and they help me stay in touch with fellow mummies down the road.

I have recently managed a few non screen based communications. I wrote a letter to my friend Helen in Australia, and received a lovely card and vintage sewing paraphernalia through the post in return. 

an Alice Retrocard in the post from Australia

I also got a great card from my mum to congratulate me for being a 'paperback writer'. The other non-screen communication is of course the book. Ok yes you can access it via a screen, but it is also an object that you can hold in your hands – and the first moment this book – or any book communicates is via the cover. Cover Art is a big deal- No matter what they say, people do judge a book by it's cover – nowhere more so I think than in the world of self/ independent publishing.

For the cover of You Won't Remember This I started out pondering photographs, I spoke to contributor Meghan about using some photography by her husband, I trawled my own travel photo archives (lots of good memories- but never quite the right thing), I got in touch with another photography/mummy friend Amelia Shepherd  who sent me some lovely options, but still I pondered. As the book progressed and I looked about at other travel books I realised that this book was not a 'traditional' travel book. I had poetry, very creative non-fiction and most of all unlike much traditional travel writing, the people were at the forefront of every story, rather than the places. A cover needed to communicate this and I eventually realised that a photo based cover was not going to work. 

I (literally) bailed up the artist who painted the beautiful 'You and your boy' cover artwork. The wee boy's and I were at my mum's in Australia in early 2016 and Gary Yelen (who is a man of many talents; a story in the book, cover artist – and was many years back the sounding board for my blog name before I headed off on my travels) had dropped in having given himself a minor injury doing some renovations to an unequipped house across the road. I gave him access to a sink and some rags to clean himself up, and while he bled into the sink I asked him what he thought about having a go at an image for the cover of the book.

I sent him a photo I thought could be a jumping off point (you can see it on the books facebook page @youwontrememberthis ) and some vignettes of stories from the collection, and I went back to my editing and parenting (a lot of toilet training that summer if truth be told). Not long afterwards Gary sent me the beginnings of an image that was to become the cover. As is often the way with screen communications – I sent back an affirmative reply, he did not get it. Eventually in a chat to his wife I repeated that affirmative, it got passed on to him and we went forwards.

It was not until Gary was back at his French life working at his gallery frukt and I was back at my Edinburgh life that I got to see the finished painting off screen – I was delighted – I had an image – but not yet a cover. 

With my foray into publishing I had also decided that the timing was right to 'brand' myself. If my Flamingo Rover blogger identity was to move forward in the world it needed to do so with style. As with so much of this project branding and book design was entirely new to me. With the screen of my computer bringing a plethora of design options to my feet I went with (as we often do) someone I was familiar with. I love my husbands logo, it was designed by a friend of his 15 years ago – and as far as I was concerned it did not look dated – a key element to a logo. And as luck would have it she still worked in design and had an office space that opened onto a kid friendly cafe. On a hot Edinburgh day I took the small boys on the bus down to Leith to visit Jenny Proudfoot at the Drill Hall to discuss logo's and cover design.

The meeting itself was mayhem. Rafa demanded all my attention, Finn was grotty and grizzly, but we managed the beginnings of a conversation which continued back and forth – sometimes on screen and sometimes in person until I had both a cover design and a logo.

One of the new Flamingo Rover logo's!

One of the things Jenny and I discussed was the way the colours of the book would communicate. Now I do love my pink, but I wanted the book to appeal to more than just mummies, ie- not to look like chic lit (which I love by the way). In a happy compromise I got to keep pink with my logo and (I think) I have ended up with a beautiful book cover which perfectly suits Gary's painting.

With the book in hand, and baby Finn in the pram, I trekked about to some landmark Edinburgh bookstores. It was an educative experience. By the end of the morning I had come to realise that there is a universal horror of self publishing. An almost identical quiver of horror ran through each and every bookseller I approached – until they saw the book, at which point there was a little sigh of relief.
Cover Art win. (Ok yes having a nicely bound book with an ISBN also helped)

You Won't Remember This - travel with babies

Thanks (at least in part) to the attractive book cover you can now buy the book from an actual bookstore - Word Power Books, and in a nice bit of synchronicity, our second retail outlet is also on Nicholson street. Word Power is in Edinburgh, UK and Foundry is in Bairnsdale, Victoria Australia- but both Nicholson Street.

Friday, 11 November 2016

You Won't Remember This- travel with babies -Published

In the underrated film Sex and the City II Carrie announces 'I've been cheating on fashion with furniture.' I have a similar confession to make, I've been cheating on blogging with editing/publishing. 

Twenty writers from around the world (OK 19, plus me!) have trusted me with their stories of travel with babies, they have waited patiently while I edited, had a baby, looked after it,  landed in hospital with mastitis, bought a house, stripped wallpaper, painted, moved furniture about, wished my boys would have a nap at the same time, travelled to Australia, edited a bit more, attempted to learn about typesetting, realised it was beyond the scope of my abilities at this juncture. They waited while I fiddled about with my introduction, pondered various options for cover art, contemplated book dimensions... made decisions, lost the bits of paper I had made the decisions on, started all over again, had my computer re-booted, went back to work at my day job and picked up every single possession off the floor every day, only to find it had been thrown on the floor again twenty minutes after my boys got up in the morning. Non of this is in any particular order, but it was all going on throughout the books gestation.

Finn cooling down at Lake Tyres, Australia 2016

It is a scary thing to take on something you are not very good at (editing) and something you know nothing about (publishing) and work at it and work at it and work at it. Sometimes I wondered if I was taking so long because I was hesitant about putting it out into the real world; but mostly I was just super excited about sharing it, and frustrated by my incapacity to move forward as quickly as I would have liked.   

BUT... the project I began long long ago, and blogged about here and there has finally finished its gestation and been birthed into the world. There are real books, with pages you can turn and dog ear, a cover you can pat, stories you can read and re-read and even scribble on if you wish.

I know everyone says this about their book, but my book is a true beauty: from its cover art by Gary Yelen, its cover design (and my lovely new logo) by Jenny Proudfoot, its splendid typesetting by Hewer Text, and most especially the stories collected inside. You Won't Remember This - travel with babies - has it's very own website and I can't wait to send the book out into the world.