Personal update

Writing a novel on the iPad

Writing a novel on the iPad

I just finished a novel yesterday. Whenever I mention this, people say ‘oh, what were you reading?’ That’s people who weren’t taking part in NaNoWriMo, the (inter)national novel writing month, which is every November. November, it seems, is a good time for doing things you wouldn’t otherwise do, such as growing a moustache (Movember), or writing the aforementioned book. I did Nano last year, and it produced the best book I’d written thus far. This year, though, I wanted to do the whole thing exclusively on the iPad.

The iPad has two huge benefits over a laptop. First, it’s truly portable. I always thought my laptop was portable until I started with the iPad. The truth is, anything bulkier than the very latest MacBook Air is not so much portable as luggable. If it has a hard disk, you have to be careful how you handle it. Screens are fragile, as are laptop keyboards. Don’t believe me? Try this experiment (your liability not mine!) just lift your laptop about five inches from a hard stone floor and drop it. Actually, the result of dropping it wasn’t the experiment — the experiment was that you didn’t do it. Why not? Because deep down you know that a drop like that might well kill it.

The other benefit is absence of distractions. The iPad does one thing at a time — well, you can listen to music while you type, but the only way to quickly update Facebook is to leave your word processor and go on to the web browser. If you do that, you  are making a conscious decision to distract yourself. On a desktop or laptop, open windows beckon to you. Facebook wants you to check it, the Cricket Score must be looked at (that’s a bat and ball game if you’re reading this in American), email must be answered.

Actually, when you are writing a novel, everything becomes a potential distraction. Marketers should identify the month of November and target it for their spam emails, because even the dreariest marketing email (“Get Free Cable Insurance When You Buy From USB-is-US”/”Spa Days for the Over 90s — Hurry”) suddenly becomes worth reading. If you want to release a trivial but addictive game, do it in November. The budding novelists will flock to it.

The two other components of my iPad writing regime are a bluetooth keyboard — handy for that typing stuff — and a little-known word processor called Daedalus. Daedalus is so hard-core iPad that it doesn’t even have a search function. Instead you swish and pinch pages, and it is all so much like paper that you almost want to tear off the sheets and hand them to people.

The other question you want answered, I suppose, is, what’s the novel about?

Well, in 2009 an enormous horde of Anglo-Saxon treasure was discovered near Penkridge in Staffordshire. Known as the Staffordshire Horde, its origins are completely unknown. All the treasure is damaged in some way, and all of it is taken from military equipment. There are the remains of 150 swords there — a fantastical number, given how valuable the Saxon pattern-welded weapons were.

The Saxon Thief is the story of how it came to be there — and also the story of how the last Roman city in Britain, Wroxeter. It’s about heroes and weapons, about the dating of Easter according to the Ionan calendar, about the death of kings, about revenge, forgiveness, and young love. Most of all, it’s — as far as I know — England’s earliest mystery story, set in AD 660. It ends with fire, and flood.

One day, you may get to read it.

Milestones on the blog

Milestones on the blog

Orange: Unique visitors. Yellow: Visits. Blue: Pages. Turquoise: Hits. Green: Bandwidth. Each is autoscaled to its own scale, so there weren't ever more visitors than pages, for example. passed a few milestones in April, based on AWstats which is my preferred measure 1.

In April, for the first time:

  • More than 5,000 unique visitors came to the site (April — 5,282, highest previous was March at 4,890)
  • There were more than 9,000 separate visits to the site (April — 9059, highest previous was March at 8,528)
  • The pages visited went over 50,000 for the first time (April — 54, 578, highest previous March 49,998)
  • The highest ever number of visits in a day, which was 498.

Thank you for making my April, everyone who has been before!

Actually finding out what people are interested in is even more enlightening.

About 2/5 of the pages read are read in the USA, with the UK coming in just under 2/5, and the rest of the world sharing the remainder. Americans are most interested in How to Write a Sword Fight and the Best Doctor Who Adventures. UK readers tend to read more of the politics stuff, though both groups were highly interested in Filemaker Go for the iPad.

The Lord of the Rings excited more than the average monthly comments in April. Someone obviously thought I didn’t like it and decided to write a spirited defence. I’m not sure they quite got the point, but it was nice to have the discussion.

In terms of searches that brought them there, I am (sadly) now only the third most interesting thing on my own site. The top three searches were, in order, Best Doctor Who, Worst Doctor Who Episodes, and Martin Turner.

Happy reading for the month of May.

Show 1 footnote

  1. AWstats doesn’t use cookies, and so is compliant with new legislation. It tends to produce higher figures than Google Stats, which under-reports. The milestones are comparative, and Google shows the same trend, just so you know
Wife launches campaign…

Wife launches campaign…

Marjolein Turner for Bidford and Salford Priors

Today my wife, Marjolein Turner, launched her campaign to represent Bidford and Salford Priors at Stratford on Avon District Council. It’s her first time standing for election.

We’ve been out and about already putting leaflets through letter boxes. People have started to stop her in the street to say they are going to vote for her.

Although it’s her first time standing, Marjolein is no stranger to campaigning. She did a lot of photographic work for the successful Save Bidford Fire Station campaign in 2009, and she’s been involved in the local community here in Marlcliff (the village where we live) and in Bidford (the big village over the river) since we moved here in 2009.

Just in case you’re wondering, Marjolein runs a successful translation and interpreting business with a list of famous clients rather longer than your arm (even if you have disproportionately long arms). She’s Dutch, speaks English, Dutch, Frisian (yes, that is a language), German, French and Turkish, and has been a gigging bass player, though now she mainly plays at theBarn, our local church which gets around 180 now to a typical service.

We got married in 1990. Since then we’ve moved house twice, moved countries once, fought five elections together (this will be our sixth), fought each other with swords (regrettably she stopped fencing a few years back), founded a rock band and two businesses, and are excited about this new challenge.


I will also be off to Swaythling before the local elections to help my mother, Councillor Maureen Turner, in her campaign to get another Lib Dem elected in the ward. Swaythling is primed to become part of the Eastleigh constituency if the boundary changes as currently proposed go through, and it’s important that we strengthen our position there.

In the mean time, I’m pressing ahead with my new business Brand Motor.

It’s all go.

Now you’re up to date on what we’re doing.

Brand Motor launches

Brand Motor launches

Today I launched Brand Motor Limited, my new business. Oh, and it was my 46th birthday. There is a connection — but more on that in a moment.

Brand Motor is not, as some scurrilous friends suggest, a second-hand car dealership. It’s a branding consultancy aimed at powering business growth through branding. To be exact, Brand Motor exists to power the growth of small and medium enterprises in the Midlands, UK, by giving them big business class brands.

I’ve been doing branding now — to a greater and lesser extent — for twenty-four years. This has been mainly alongside marketing, PR, public affairs, social media, internal communications, advertising and event management. When I went for my Chartered Public Relations Practitioner viva voce in 2009, I told the panel that when I was 25 I knew 100 things about PR and marketing, but now (that is, then) I know just five things. I’ve narrowed it down again: now I only know one thing. But it’s the right thing.

If that is a little cryptic, let me unpack it somewhat.

When you start out in PR or marketing there seem to be hundreds and hundreds of things you have to know and remember. What’s the difference between ROI and ROAE? When do you use your 4 Ps, (or 7, or 9, or I once found a list of 16)? Above the line or below the line? Exactly where is the line, and how do you draw it?

After a while in the business it begins to settle down. You discover what works and what doesn’t. You discover that some things are fads of the moment, some are longer lasting but equally faddish (like USPs). And some apply whatever you’re doing.

At the age of 46 (that number again), I’ve come to the conclusion that if you get the brand right, then everything else falls into place. If you don’t, then you’re just pouring money into bad marketing, bad PR, bad advertising, bad social media campaigns, bad publications and bad staff newsletters.

By the brand, I don’t mean the logo. There are great brands that have no logo, and some beautifully designed logos which contribute nothing whatever to the brands they are supposed to represent.

Ultimately, a brand is a promise, and the strength of your brand isn’t based on how magnificently you make the promise, but on how well your customers think you keep it. To make it work, of course, it has to be wrapped up in something identifiable and memorable. That’s where a logo might come in — or not. Often it’s just a name. Radio 4’s Today Programme may well have a logo, but I have no idea what it is. My relationship to it is entirely auditory. The Spice Girls probably had a logo as well. My relationship to them wasn’t even auditory (except by accident). The Spice Girls represented something, and I knew more or less what it was. They seemed to fulfil their promise to their target market (which definitely wasn’t me) pretty well, at least for a time.

But I digress.

When asked to go in and help with PR, marketing or advertising for a company, a charity, a not-for-profit, a special event, a new product or even a political candidate, what I’ve learned is that if the promise is right — which is to say, it’s promising something which the promiser can deliver, and which the people who it’s being promised to actually want — then all the PR, advertising, marketing, publications and so on are fairly easy to do, and to do well. When there’s an issue about the promise — not delivered consistently, doesn’t solve a problem for the people its aimed at, doesn’t do it distinctively or uniquely, or is just too hard to explain and remember — then all the other bits move painfully slowly, they cost more money, and they deliver less results.

Which brings me back to launching a business in branding for SMEs in the Midlands.

Britain’s economy has taken a knock over the last few years — not just in the banking crisis. We became more and more reliant on banking because we spent less and less time either making things or delivering services that enhanced our economy in some other way. That doesn’t mean that other activities aren’t valuable (they are). In solely economic terms, though, it’s the business of doing business which powers a stable economy.

The backbone of Midlands business has always beens small and medium enterprises — essentially businesses with a turnover now of £1 million to £15 million. Although the big names such as Lucas, Jaguar LandRover and Cadbury’s  were individually the big employers with enormous turnovers, it was (and is) the network of small and medium enterprises which served them and each other which were our powerhouse.

In a global economy, though, local and regional businesses that used to do very well are under threat. It’s as easy to source from Czech Republic as it is to source from Wolverhampton, and as easy to source from China as Czech Republic. Businesses which were the sole provider of a trade or skill in a region are now facing competition from overseas. Equally, they have new opportunities for serving markets from Dresden to Delhi and from Moscow to Mexico City.

The contribution I want to make here is in strengthening their brands. So that when they go to international trade shows, Midlands business leaders can by solid in their confidence that their brand will compete with anyone else’s. There’s nothing worse than arriving at a trade show with a rag-tag collection of bits and bobs to see your main competitor there with a glossy stand which is pristine, organised and confident. Actually, there is something worse. It’s going to a trade-show with the best stand you can possibly get together, and then discover that someone who didn’t have a stand at all, and just went from one place to another with his business card, stole the march on you. Great brands don’t need a tonne of marketing collateral behind them. If the promise is right, it sells itself, and every other almost-right promise, no matter how glossy the brochures, serves only to accent the difference between getting it right and getting somewhere close.

And 46?

Everyone should start a business at least once by the time they’re 46. At least, that’s what I’m saying now. We are all living much longer than we used to. Life expectancy is going up in some places faster than we are aging. But it’s still for us to make the most of it.

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