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

FR Publishing, FR 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. 


Friday, 13 November 2015


As this wet and windy week has gone on I have fallen in a bit of a physical heap. Various aches and pains laying me low. A sore throat has been the latest symptom added to the list. Nevertheless I managed a 'very' social day yesterday – which included an afternoon playdate at a friends house with lots of mummy and kid chat, and an evening out to celebrate a work colleges promotion – being on maternity leave I had lots of news to hear and share. By this morning I could barely manage a whisper. Usually even if I am a little horse my voice will find its way back before to long. But not today. Today I am voiceless.

Looking after a toddler – who is himself learning new words at a rapid rate – without a voice has been interesting. A lot of our usual conversations go like this:

'Yes Rafa'
'Yes Rafa'
'Yes Rafa'
'Yes Rafa'
'Yes Rafa'
'Yes Rafa'
'Yes Rafa'

And I wait, always saintlike for him to get to the point. He is evolving. His conversations with strangers of: 'Hi,... by', now sometimes have a few words thrown in the middle, and even if he does not know all the words he does this very cute 'mumble mumble mumble dog mumble' - sentences in waiting. I have been thrilled with him learning to say Finn, on top of his usual repertoire of Mummy, daddy, baby. Anyway – the point is he expects a response! And I have had to whisper at best, which is confusing – and confusing, or frustrating a toddler is not something you want to do.

Our two boys in Autumnal Edinburgh, 2015

I did not dare take charge of walking Rafa along the street today. It is a challenge which requires a very firm voice – with clear 'Stop' commands. Luckily Jon was home and able to look after that task.
While Jon and the little boys went off to playgroup, voiceless me took my laptop to the local cafe to send some emails – a task not requiring a voice aside from an apologetic whispered 'Flat white.' I got on well enough. People who come to cafes with laptops are expected to be anti-social after all.

When the boys all came back after playgroup I took wee Finn and gave him a feed – he and I like to be together without words. Jon told me about the playgroup events and I nodded along.  Somehow due to the small cafes configuration Rafa ended up in a high chair adjacent to the woman sitting behind us in a wheel chair. Armed with a pork pie and plenty of words he did his best to chat with her and she did her best to chat back.

'Mumble mumble mumble mummy,' said Rafa
'Yes,' said the lady
'Mumble mumble mumble mummy,' said Rafa
'Yes,' said the lady
'Mumble mumble mumble mummy,' said Rafa
'Yes,' said the lady
'Mumble mumble mumble mummy,' said Rafa
'Yes,' said the lady
'Mumble mumble mumble pie,' said Rafa
'Yes,' said the lady.

As their chat went on – and round and round I began to realise that her chat was as limited as Rafa's and mine – though for different reasons. She had perhaps suffered a stroke at some stage. Rafa eventually got restless and I turned around to him. The woman's face showed her delight in realising that there was a smaller baby nestled in my arms and the movement I made distracted Finn from his settled feed – and drew his attention to the woman smiling at him. He smiled back. Sharing the delight of a beautiful babe in arms does not need any words. 

As the day has gone on it has been interesting to see how communication between my husband and I is impacted by my not having a voice. I have been limited to 'necessary' additions. A bit like speaking to someone who does not speak much of the same language – you are not going to speak of feelings or tell involved tales, you are going to ask where the bathroom is, and how much the beer costs. 

His speech however has been in full flow! With no pesky wifely interjections he can tell long Nordic sagas whilst I can only listen and nod along. If the occasion should arise that I should need to leave the room to feed the baby I can only hope I have the chance to catch his eye before I go in case he continues telling the story to an empty room.

Rather than calling out from room to room with a list of tasks I think he should be doing, if I want to speak to him I need first to make sure I have his attention. A touch on his arm, and eye contact needs to precede my quiet murmurs – or else all the effort is blown off in the wind. Nordic sagas aside I did at one point remind him that he need not whisper back to me, but there is something nice about looking your beloved in the eye and speaking the quiet important things that need to be said in the day.

Silence has interesting resonances. Pesky, frustrating at times, but on occasion the unsaid, or quietly just barely spoken connects us all. 

Monday, 12 October 2015

Clutter Queen

I find notes she's left. Little tid bits. A train ticket from Melbourne 2011, half a postcard, a small pile of stamps shorn from past post, a stack of old magazines with pictures cut out, a bag of lace doilies- moth eaten but with some usable fragments, wrapping paper from last Christmas and don't get me started on the drifts of old receipts - avalanche warning!

Every time I come across one or more of these hindrances to my stream lined self, these annoyances, this... this clutter - I curse her. I curse myself of yester-year and yesterday. I swear it will be no more. There will be bin bags in the skip, there will be Japanese books on streamlined living read (online so as not to add to the groaning bookshelves). There will be order in my life and not this debris underfoot. Past recollections be dammed.

And for half an hour I sort and throw out.

But she's crafty. She gleans things back. I see her out of the corner of my eye as she tucks the old train ticket between the pages of a book. She is touching that top that used to fit and I think she's going to add it to the throw out pile, but then I find it hanging back in the wardrobe. She's artful that clutter queen, she stacks things under the bed while I get the dinner on.

 'Look, look,' she says. 'We've made progress, real progress. Life will be orderly!'

And I believe her until I stub my toe on the box containing almost nothing but thimbles.


Monday, 15 June 2015

Imaginary Mansion

plural noun

a large, impressive house..
stately home
manor house
country house

In May we welcomed baby Finn into our home. With our nuclear family up to four, and our post baby support team swelling the bodies in our two bedroom flat to six, I have been imagining what life might be like if we lived in a slightly larger house. 

In my imaginary mansion I would have a sewing room in a turret,
and a writing room in another turret.

I would have at least one sound proofed room.

I would have a library in the entryway so that everyone was greeted by books when they arrived.

I would have plenty of storage for prams and mice would never play in the linen.

There would be granny flats for all the grannies who wanted to come and visit the babies, and guest rooms for all our near and far visitors.

The wifi would work in all the rooms so that nobody had to use the toilet as a desk.

I would have a cleaner.

I would have a kitchen that can hold more than one person at a time.

Tenement kitchen and Rafa, Edinburgh

I would still have a communal backyard because it is lovely to share toys and bump into our friendly neighbours while we are in our yard. Wine time and playtime are especially sweet when you don’t have to catch the bus home afterwards.  

Communal backyard. Edinburgh.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Bath Time

This pregnancy has seen me take many baths. Resting, with the weight taken off for a little while has been helping me get through my busy days. The bath was one of my pre-requisits when we were flat hunting: No bath = No deal.

I recall a conversation a month or two back, with someone who commented that baths were good 'me' time, letting you shut the door on the world for a little while. Personally although I remember the concept of 'me' time and shut doors my baths do not represent either. They take place amidst the busy flow of my day, not outside of it.

This afternoon's was not a 'me' time bath, though it did start out promisingly. I worked the morning shift and got home with a sore back to an empty house. I emptied the bath toys out of the tub, turned on the hot tap, put some bubble bath in and fetched a glass of water, a small packet of potato chips* and a book. I got into the bath before it was full and kept the temperature on the lower side of too hot as per my midwife's instructions.

I breathed out, and let the hydro magic begin. Then I opened my chip packet and began to eat. I am aware that eating in the bath is possibly not for everyone, but hey, I'm pregnant and it was what I was in the mood for. I started to relax, though I was aware that my husband and son could be arriving home at any moment.

I enjoyed my first few chips and then I heard a cry that could only be Rafa's coming from the base of the stairwell. My son sounded like he was in considerable distress. I ate another chip – not enjoying it quite so much. The wailing got louder, but did not seem to be getting any closer. Should I go into mummy panic mode? Why wasn't my husband a) soothing the beast? or b) getting his ass up the stairs more quickly? Should I leap out of the bath and rush my seven month pregnant self out into the communal stair well dripping bath water and bubbles? Was there time to pick up my towel?

I did have all these thoughts but because I am a slummy mummy I sat in my bath and ate chips while my son screamed. I ate them without particularly enjoying them and slightly more quickly than I would have otherwise. I didn't want to have to share. 

Rafa trampolining, March 2015. Edinburgh.

Eventually Jon and Rafa made it up the stairs and inside. The cause of distress was not a violent bump to the head or a dinosaur having bitten off his hand, it was Rafa's response to not being allowed to go out and play on the trampoline. My son was snot stained but perfectly healthy. I wet the clean face washer I had been planning to rest my head on when I got around to lying back in my bath, and washed Rafa's face with it. Once inside his anguish was forgotten (by him at least). Despite my knowledge that his screaming was a tantrum and not a 'real' trauma, the distress still clanged in my brain like a burglar alarm.

As did the knowledge that I had sat in the bath eating whilst he screamed. Earlier in the day there had been a saccharine facebook post asking mums to repost something or other if you were a mum who thought about their children with every breath ect ect; I kept scrolling. Now I had to wonder if all this made me a second (or third) rate mum.

Did I want to be that person?

While I was trying to stop Rafa from throwing good Sherrin AFL footballs into my bath Jon showed me the jeans he had picked up for me from the mummy store. Once buying jeans was a highly personal task that involved mirrors and visits to different shops and your best girlfriends. This week with my current maternity jeans falling off me every three steps and sick to death of the skinny jean shuffle I went online and found some bigger, baggier, higher waisted mum maternity jeans and sent my husband to collect them.

How did I get to be someone who does not even have time to go shopping for herself? For jeans: the modern woman's wardrobe staple and personal statement about who she is?

Did I want to be her?

I lay down in my bath and Rafa repeatedly drove his matchbox ute across my head whilst going 'ne naw ne naw'. All cars make this sound, especially when they are repeatedly smashed into mummys skull. I closed my eyes.

Did I want to be here?

My husband was in the doorway. Over the sound of Rafa's burble he told me about the rest of his afternoon. After the shopping errands he had been to the hospital. His work college and Wednesday night football buddy had missed a few games with a sore back. A few days ago he had emailed to say that he had been diagnosed with an aggressive tumour and was about to start chemo. As far as he had known, this forty something year old man with a young family had been healthy a week ago, and now he was bed bound without the use of his legs or his bowels. I had read his email and been struck by his brutal honesty about where his body and head were at.

The word was that he wanted visitors, so Jon and Rafa spent the afternoon visiting a man whose life has been knocked out from beneath his feet.

I lay in the bath with my own young family crowded around me and wondered did I want to be here?


*or crisps if you are from the UK.

Saturday, 28 February 2015

Learned Behavior

My 18 month old son was exhibiting somewhat disturbing behavior the other day. After my initial surprise at his actions had worn off I realised that his behavior was of course entirely the fault of his parents. He is not in daycare, does not spend large chunks of time with anyone besides us, nor does he watch a lot of television.

He has been demonstrating just how susceptible he is to following our lead for quite some time. His favorite thing to do is talk on the phone, or talk to anything his brain vaguely conceives could be a phone. He and I had quite a squabble during a skype conversation with his Australian Grandmother the other day. I was willing to share the phone: he was not.

Other behavior he has obviously taken on board hi is his love of sweeping the floor and wiping up spills. I do not love doing these things but I certainly spend a good chunk of time doing them. Unfortunately unlike his little friend Rose, Rafa does not have a mini broom and he quickly comes to grief when it comes to navigating around corners with an adult sized broom.

Rafa playing in the mud, February 2015, Edinburgh.

He also loves to help push his own pram, play on the beach, eat from my breakfast bowl, splash in mud puddles and give cuddles. It was with cuddles that the disturbing behavior started. This morning whilst I was sitting on the floor playing trucks with Rafa he came over and gave me a cuddle. That was very nice - one of the highlights of my life. But he quickly moved on from the cuddle and leaned in to give me a kiss. It was not a fairy kiss on the cheek. It was a full and insistent open mouthed pout. Whenever I tried to move away he gripped me tighter and shoved his mouth at me again. If this unwanted advance was taking place between adults at a party there would be a knee in the family jewels.

When I howled with laughter at his passionate embrace he howled back in distress. Eventually I managed a compromise and returned a couple of his open mouthed kisses with my own closed mouth kisses and he let me go and returned to his trucks.

Appartently a similar pattern had played out when his father was putting him to bed the night before. Jon's question was - what has he been watching that he is doing that?  My answer was - us.

 He is at an age where he absorbs everything around him and he lives in a house where his mum and dad exchange kisses. We give him plenty of kisses as well - but they are different from the kisses we give each other. I am not saying we spend the majority of our time together playing tonsil hockey, but obviously from the perspective of our little blond angel kisses happen.

This demonstration of how much of a sponge toddlers are is a good reminder of how aware we need to be of our own behavior around these precious bundles. Rafa does not live in a home where he is ever exposed to violence, but his slimy kissing attempts made me think of the ugly adult behavior that a child can learn at his parents side; making the saying that violence breeds violence take on a real and scary dimension.

Luckily I am so far seeing good evidence that love breeds love as well.

I just have to hope that  Rose or some other of his other girl or boy friends teach him what happens to slimy unwanted advances before he hits the teenage party circuit.