Author Corner: Roberto Ampuero at the Cervantes Institute

We were delighted to welcome Roberto Ampuero, author of bestselling The Neruda Case, to London, where, on Tuesday 26th May, he delivered an insightful, inspiring speech to a sell-out audience at the Cervantes Institute.

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Available now in paperback, The Neruda Case spans lies and truth, travelling between uneasy peace and political coup, from life to death. Cateyano Brulé, a daydreamer and reluctant detective, is lost among Latin America’s uncertainties, venality and corruption, desperately trying to fulfil Neruda’s final request amid the brutal beginning of Pinochet’s dictatorship.

Among the pleasures of The Neruda Case is its provocative fictional portrait of Pablo Neruda, as the poet re-evaluates his life and begins to question abandoning those he loved for his poetry.

You can read the author’s Afterword on the Foyles Book Blog here.

Figuring that you’ll all be needing something to help pass the time on your extra long commute this Thursday evening, (thank you #TubeStrikes) we’re very pleased to re-produce the first of three parts of Roberto’s speech for you on the Souvenir Press blog, entitled “Why Do I Write Fiction?”

We’ll be publishing the next two parts in the coming weeks, but in the meantime, we’d love to hear what you think about Roberto’s speech in the comments section below.

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Author Corner: Caroline Deput on the Joy of Allotments

Book Review Two for Vegetable Growers The Joy of AllotmentsCaroline Deput is the author of THE JOY OF ALLOTMENTS, a beautifully illustrated diary of two years on her allotment. A must-read for all gardeners, who will all recognise the trials and rewards of tending a garden, you can read a free sample here, or read on for Caroline’s illustrated guide to planning your allotment. From crop rotation to pest prevention, you can plan for everything – except, of course, the great British weather.

For more blog posts in our Author Corner, click here.

The Importance of Planning
By Caroline Deput

Over the last 13 years, I’ve discovered that tending an allotment requires a lot of planning and organisation.

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 Crop Rotation – not my strongest subject

I’m not good at remembering which vegetables should follow one another. I know it’s important and I should look it up and write it down, but I always forget. Do brassicas go before or after potatoes? No idea. And what about this new tomato grafted onto a potato plant, so it produces tomatoes above ground and potatoes below? How does that fit into a crop rotation?! If I could eventually get the hang of it, my veg would grow like a well-orchestrated symphony.

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 Crops need constant vigilance against all sorts of pests.

Perhaps I’m paranoid, but right from the first day I got the allotment, I could sense the wildlife watching, waiting for me to fail.

I try to garden organically, and that means I have to be quite tough. So look away now if you are squeamish…

I’m afraid slugs get stamped underfoot, whitefly larvae get squished, and the rabbits are eaten by the foxes. I don’t mind the parakeets, rumoured to have escaped from the set of ‘The African Queen’ at Shepperton Studios nearby, as they look pretty eating the sunflowers.

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You need accommodate different veg’s particular growing needs.

Some like a sandy soil; others need protection from the elements at the beginning of the growing season while others are unhelpfully described as ‘not fussy.’

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Plan DIY projects properly

I’ve always fancied one of those ornate circular seats that fit round a tree – the sort you see at National Trust properties. Our local DIY store was throwing out 6-foot long pallets, so my husband helped me take 5 of them up to the allotment.

‘What will you do with them?’ he asked.

‘Make a bench!’ I replied.

‘Need a hand?’

‘No, I’ll be fine, ta.’

Well, I measured and re-measured for my octagonal bench, which would fit perfectly around my palm tree on the allotment. Yet somehow I ended up with something more like a septagon-and-a-half than an octagon. And so flimsy, it would collapse if anything more than a robin should sit on it. Hey ho.

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 But not everything can be planned…

Unexpected generosity

One of the chaps on the allotments had some manure delivered this summer. I say ‘some.’ It was more like a ton. We all couldn’t believe it when he told us all to help ourselves. You could barely see us, we moved so fast with our wheelbarrows up and down that path to the main gate. (The soil is so sandy on the plot that without constant muck it would dry out and blow away.

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And you can never plan for the weather

When you work full time, as I do, you have to get onto your plot at the weekend – whatever the weather.

Last summer was like a monsoon. The rain just kept on coming.

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So I gave up hoping the weather would improve, and longed instead for a stylish boat that I could use to sail around the potato beds…

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Author Corner – Lauren Scheuer’s Chicken Day

Once Upon a FlockLauren Scheuer is the author of ONCE UPON A FLOCK, a beautifully illustrated account of life with her chickens. A must-read for all animal lovers, you can read a free sample here, or read on for Lauren’s illustrated guide to daily life with her flock. You’ll be drawing up plans for your own backyard coop before you know it!

Chickens are the ideal addition to any backyard.

With very little trouble, you can have fresh eggs for the table and fresh compost for the garden.

All it takes is a quick jaunt out back first thing in the morning to unlatch the coop and set your ladies free.

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After you’ve had breakfast, your hens will appreciate the leftover crumbs.

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As long as you’re outside, you might as well do a bit of gardening.

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The daily collecting of eggs is always joyful.

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Lunchtime already? Might as well savour that sandwich outside among the gals.

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A quick coop clean-out won’t take long.

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Afternoon tea tastes best when sipped in the garden.

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As the sun sinks low, your ladies will file back into their coop.

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You’ll need to make only one final trip outside to close their door .

…and then one more time, in your pyjamas, to whisper good night to the ladies…

Scheuer blogpost I

And to hear them whisper back.

Author Corner: Amanda Kirby’s top tips for starting at university

Read more posts in our Author Corner

Professor Amanda Kirby’s new book, How to Succeed with Specific Learning Difficulties at College and University is published next month as part of the Souvenir Press Human Horizons series, and is the ultimate resource for new students with learning difficulties. It offers advice on tailoring your study methods to suit you, links to loads of helpful online resources and apps, and contains tips for living independently, covering everything from cooking to meeting new people.

In short: your one-stop guide to starting at college and university.

But for now you can have a read of her guest blog, new in our Author Corner, giving you ten (OK, eleven) top tips for starting college and university.

Read on for Amanda Kirby’s guest blog, or click here to read a sample of her new book How to Succeed with Specific Learning Difficulties at College and University.

Amanda Kirby’s 10 top tips for starting at college or university with Specific Learning Difficulties

  1. Be prepared.
    This can seem too easy to say and quite hard to do. The more you know about your college or university before you start there then the easier it will be to settle down, make friends and get the most from your course, and the experience of studying where you have chosen. This means finding out what support is available if you recognise you have had some difficulties with learning, or with communicating.
  2. Contact student services- ask what help is available.
    You usually need some documentation to say what your learning difficulties are. If you don’t have this then they should be able to organise an assessment for you, but you may have to pay something for this. They can offer help with assignments, study skills , exam provision etc.
  3. Be as organised as you can be.
    Find out what you need to do in the first few days of your arrival. Read any information sent to you. It has been usually designed to be as helpful as possible. If you are not sure contact the college and ask what is expected of you and what do you need to bring with you.
  4. Sort out your finances.
    You will probably need a bank account in university. Make an initial plan of your spending for the term. If you are not sure how to do this then ask your parents or someone who can help you with budgeting. Planning ahead can minimise large overdrafts and years of debts.
  5. Get your kit together.
    If you are moving to university, then you will need some basic kit to take with you such as stuff for work e.g. laptop, paper for printer, notebook and stuff for your room and kitchen. However different halls of residences will have different rules e.g. bedding (not all universities require this), pots and pans, kettle etc. Use colour coding to help you find things easily e.g. different folders for different topics.
  6. Be prepared to talk (and listen) to new people- the first few days is a crucial time to make friends.
    Everyone is new and nearly everyone will be nervous. Try to smile. Ask people about themselves at the same time giving something away about yourself e.g. “ Hi, I am John from Cardiff, and am studying medicine, where do you come from?”
  7. Don’t stay in your room if you are in a hall of residence.
    Have your door open, have some tea, coffee, biscuits and some beer/wine (if you drink alcohol) that you can offer others.
  8. Get to know the area.
    Find out where and when the buses run; where the local ATM is; the pub and sports facilities.
  9. Go to any sessions on using the library and study skills that are offered
    These can be of enormous help and often will give you a big advantage when having to write a first assignment.
  10. Ask for help- don’t wait till things go wrong.
    If you are struggling emotionally or with work, discuss this with parents, or go to see student services.

And one extra tip for you:

Most of all have fun! But remember: while college and university is a great opportunity to learn all sorts of things about yourself it is also about getting a qualification.

Author Corner: Ray Axford on Archery Anatomy

Read more posts in our Author Corner.

Ray Axford is the author of Archery Anatomyan introduction to techniques for improved archery performance. This unique book explains the science behind the sport, looking at how the muscles, tendons, bones and joints work together during archery. It combines clear, accurate drawings and diagrams with explanatory text to make an invaluable contribution to the overall improvement of performance standards in archery.

Ray Axford shares the story of how this book came to be. From contributing to archery’s National Coaching Manual, and lectures on the subject, he developed the manuscript for one of the most informative and enduring books on the subject, constantly reprinted (and with yet another reprint coming 2014) and sold all across the globe.

Found and Read in the Most Unlikely Places
Archery Anatomy by Ray Axford

At its launch Archery Anatomy was sent to as many archery specialist shops as possible and, on the whole, accepted by the majority for what it was; an illustrated explanation of how the structures of both the human body and the modern high performance bow work most effectively together.  However one dealer phoned me to say;

“It won’t sell you know? It’s all about bones muscles and mechanics, and no one wants to read about bones muscles and mechanics?”

In some ways he was correct of course, some people could be put off if the book was advertised as being about the use and positioning of the muscles and bones of the body in archery practice. Fortunately many others worldwide see things somewhat differently and continue to benefit considerably from it to this day.  Based upon the muscular-skeletal construction of the human body and mechanically on the laws of physics, the information contained is unlikely to ever change unless something really catastrophic occurs to the world to alter either or both?  Although one of very few criticisms did suggest that the book was:-

“Out of date and no longer applicable…”

I suppose the foundations for Archery Anatomy was laid during the early 1980s, when someone at the governing body for archery thought it a good idea if some instruction on how the muscles and bones of the shoulder girdle should be used when drawing the bow, was introduced.  As a result, what was then called Unit 5 came into being and yours truly one of the first to lecture on the subject in Southern England.  My knowledge on the subject grew; I started keeping more detailed notes, did a quantity of analytical drawings to help clarify certain points and eventually had a large bundle of technical papers that I jokingly referred to as my manuscript for a textbook.

At first slightly intimidated by knowing that some of my workshops contained doctors and nurses in the audience, I later realised from their comments, that far from making a fool of myself I was in fact helping them with their own knowledge of anatomy etc.  Egged-on by friends and colleagues I was eventually persuaded to have my notes published in the form of a book. I selected Souvenir Press from a copy of ‘The Writers Yearbook’, because the name appealed to me, then sent the whole unedited bundle of original text and illustrations to them.  That was it I thought!  I’d done my bit, I’d sent the whole thing to a publisher, either it would be published or it wouldn’t.

Neither knowing nor caring, at that time, about double line spacing, one inch margins or the fact that one submits a synopsis first and never sends original drawings, it was a bit of a shock to be asked if I’d submitted it elsewhere and offered a contract by Souvenir Press.

Bit embarrassing if the truth be told, I’d never expected that! Never thought for one moment that anyone would actually read the original, have it vetted by some of my peers and want to put it into print; let alone several years later have it published in Spanish!  A lovely friendly and exceptional lady at Souvenir suggested a different order of illustrations and text, corrected numerous grammatical errors, learnt a few bits of archery jargon herself and between us and another close lady friend, who did a total re-type in double line spacing etc, whilst also learning much about this Core Olympic Sport.

Archery Anatomy hit the archery world in 1995, since when it has sold steadily mainly abroad, has been reprinted numerous times and can occasionally be found in some unlikely places for unusual reasons. In many doctors surgeries, primary school libraries, technical colleges, physiotherapists and would you believe it, I’ve even seen it in a Solicitors office. Why?  I don’t really know, but it may be that both anatomically and mechanically I managed to pitch it at just the right level for anyone to understand; neither too advanced nor too basic.

Archery, although being the oldest sporting activity employing a machine in the world, is not the most popular of pastimes despite the London 2012 Olympics and films such as ‘Brave’. As such, Archery Anatomy will never make me a millionaire or the world’s most popular author, but it’s a nice honest little earner.

Now! Had I taken-up Golf on the other hand, then…………oh well, never mind.

Archery Anatomy

Author Corner: Daniel Sieberg and the Digital Diet

The latest post in our Author Corner comes from Daniel Sieberg, author of The Digital Diet. The book provides a four-step plan to help you re-think your tech usage and to regain balance in your life.

 Daniel Sieberg’s guest blog post tackles that modern problem we all struggle with: how to switch off on holiday. Whether you’re going screen-free altogether, or simply cutting down (because no-one wants to get between a teenage girl and her mobile phone), Daniel Sieberg offers some useful tips for your summer holiday, to help you step away from the screen and into the sun.

Planning for any holiday these days often brings up a digital-era dilemma: how to enjoy being out of the office without being totally out of touch? And is it better to completely disconnect or keep one finger plugged into the online world? Just like “The Digital Diet,” there’s really no one-size-fits-all approach to solving this question but there are ways you can at least minimize any high-tech interference while soaking up some rays.

 First, create a customized away message for your work email with specific guidance on what people should expect from you. In other words, if you tell people you will not be online and won’t be responding to emails then stick to it– anything less than complete adherence creates a slippery slope of expectations from other people and erodes separation from your inbox. Should you prefer to check email on occasion then say you’ll do just that with the understanding that your response times may be delayed.

Next, think about which devices you really need to bring. Lugging around every phone and tablet and “phablet” you own will only mean increased diversions. Try to consolidate your content (books, movies, games) so you can minimise the distractions but still have some entertainment for when the weather turns sour or you just want to kick back for a bit. There’s no shame in using your devices for an occasional distraction provided you aren’t going on safari or ignoring someone around you who expects your attention (this is key to enhanced marital relations).

It’s also worth considering a strategy for the family unit as a whole. For example, the kids (and parents) can each bring one (or two) devices but no one is allowed to have them out during meals or sightseeing unless it’s to take photos. Think of creative ways to incentivise it, too, like offering an ice-cream or more spending cash if they stick to the rules. Cutting out technology entirely with most kids means there’ll be pushback and depriving them of all connectedness might result in more family conflict than closeness. As such, it’s worth exploring the idea of moderation with the caveat that as a parent you’ll need to be more available to interact with them rather than letting the screens do all the work.

With any travel or vacation I’d also suggest a few standard “Digital Diet” rules to live by:

  •  don’t charge any devices you bring in the bedroom– it’s too much of a temptation and only means you’ll be endlessly interrupted
  • try to enjoy an exhilarating moment fully in person first before feeling the need to post it on social media
  • take some time to improve your own sense of well-being whether it’s yoga or reading or simply observing what’s around you; a little zen-like focus can be a powerful way to get grounded before going back to the daily grind

Remember, too, that we often falsely amplify any demands on our time and the urgency with which we communicate. If you don’t check email every 15 minutes then your co-workers will still survive. The world will carry on. And they’ll probably just be jealous that you’re likely having an amazing time. We all need to decompress once in a while and I often talk to employees about having renewed perspective by getting some temporary distance.

Finally, if you really need help to detach from all the cords then you might want to consider a vacation somewhere that affords no access to the internet or a tech-free retreat. The charity Anxiety UK released a study that found 60 per cent of us need to fully disconnect to begin to really relax and get a true break. Just be prepared to dig through more emails upon your return since of course we know that hitting the pause button won’t make it all go away.

But you can go back feeling more invigorated than ever to surf the digital waves away from the beach.

Digital Diet

The Digital Diet by Daniel Sieberg is published by Souvenir Press. It is available now in paperback and as an e-book.

Don’t forget to check out the rest of our Author Corner blog posts!

Author Corner: Jena Pincott on the Surprising Science of Pregnancy

The latest post in our Author Corner comes from Jena Pincott, author of Do Chocolate Lovers Have Sweeter Babies? The book explores the weird and wonderful science of pregnancy – the why rather than the how-to, and is a fascinating must-read for curious mums- and dads-to-be.

 Her guest blog post tackles 12 old wives’ tales about pregnancy, including morning sickness, baby brain and labour pain. All these and more can be found in her new book Do Chocolate Lovers Have Sweeter Babies? which is available now from Souvenir Press in hardcover, paperback and as an e-book.

 Science vs. Pregnancy Myths

Science tackles 12 old wives’ tales about pregnancy.  Guess which ones endure?

Myth #1: Girls steal their mothers’ beauty:  False. You might even argue that being pregnant with a girl enhances your beauty! Statistically speaking, women carrying girls have more sex during pregnancy than those carrying boys.  Our breasts also grow larger when carrying a girl than a boy.

Myth #2:  You’re eating for two. Not really. You’re actually eating for 1.1.  Even in third trimester, this means eating only, say, three bananas more daily than you would pre-pregnancy.

Myth #3:  You’ll crave dirt and clay.  Possibly true. The scientific explanation: Clay seals the stomach — and, in the past, may have helped to protect mother and foetus from toxins, bacteria, and viruses.

Myth #4: Basketballs are boys, watermelons are girls:  False.  Truth is, your belly can be both a basketball and a watermelon during different phases of the pregnancy.  If you’re pregnant with your first child, you’ll carry higher for longer into the pregnancy because the ligaments holding up the baby are tighter.

Myth #5: Girls make us sicker than boys:  Somewhat true.  A hormone called hCG contributes to pregnancy sickness. Generally speaking, female foetuses put out higher levels of hCG than do male foetuses.

Myth #6: More babies come out on a full moon.  False. The full moon doesn’t trigger labour, according to multiple studies that track births and the lunar calendar. (Note:  Nor are more loony people admitted to psych wards at this time.)

Myth #7:  You can induce your own labour.  Mostly false. In studies, most home-induction remedies such as walking, sex, spicy foods, castor oil haven’t had any significant effect on triggering labour.  BUT there is limited evidence that nipple stimulation (breast pumping) helps the process along if you’re already close to going into labour naturally.

Myth #8: The Chinese birth calendar accurately predicts gender.  False. Multiple studies have shown that when it comes to predicting gender, the Chinese birth calendar is no more accurate than flipping a coin.

Myth #9: Babies look like their fathers.  Not necessarily.  Of course some do, but this doesn’t happen as a rule. The strange thing is that we really think babies often look like their dads— possibly because fathers favour look-alikes. From an evolutionary perspective, this may have reduced the risk of infanticide.

Myth #10: Pregnancy is a turn-off for men. Nope. To the contrary, some studies find that men are generally as attracted or more attracted to their wives during pregnancy than beforehand. While couples may not have sex as often as before (expectant fathers may have a lower sex drive), pregnancy is not the turn-off they fear. From an evolutionary perspective, the pregnant woman benefits from her mate’s support, and sex helps couples bond.

Myth #11:  You’ll forget all about the pain.  Maybe. There’s a 50/50 chance that, five years from now, you’ll think labour pains were less painful than they felt at the time.  Only a small percentage of women look back at their labour pain and remember it as worse than they felt at the time.

Myth #12:  You’ll get pregnesia.  Probably. Many (but not all) studies find that pregnant women experience difficulty storing and retrieving memories. This may be due to hormones or the foetus diverting resources to grow her own brain. While your visual memory is intact (in fact, your ability to recognize and remember faces is better than ever), your ability to remember to do what you  say you’re going to do, or recall a name or street address, may be impaired.   Women carrying girls may be especially afflicted.

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