Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Writing a New Book & the Poverty Gap between Rich and Poor!

A New Book is on its way:

'The League of Disgusting Gentlemen' will be out soon!

My apologies for the lack of new posts the previous week, but guess what – I’ve been writing again!

The next ‘Beastly Bullies’ Children’s Book is in the process of being written. It is suitably titled The League of Disgusting Gentlemen’.

After suffering from writer’s block whilst preparing my new upcoming ‘sister blog’; A Visitor’s Guide to Liverpool (there’ll be more on that in the future), I finally made a real start on my next new story, having already planned it a couple of months ago!

It tells the tale of two horrible rivals who must compete in a disgusting contest to see who will become the next President of The League of Disgusting Gentlemen’. However, things soon get out of hand as they bribe their own daughters into getting involved in the struggle, as things become more disgusting and even rather dangerous.

I don’t want to give too much away as it is still a ‘work in progress’, but it will be my longest story so far and I am writing it for 9 to 12 years olds (although younger advanced readers or young teenagers with a sense of humour should also like it).

So, watch this space – The League of Disgusting Gentlemen’ will be out in the next month or so! In the meantime, you can enjoy reading the first release in the ‘Beastly Bullies’ Chidren’s Story book collection: ‘DoctorGremlin and the Battle of the Brats’, available on Amazon:

In between writing and visiting friends in Liverpool, I’ve been a little distracted by something that’s been troubling me. Last weekend I went to watch an entertaining game of football at Anfield (the atmospheric, historic home of Liverpool FC), which was spoiled only by an appalling referee (when will English football follow the style of Rugby referees? The FA is indeed a disgrace). However, it wasn’t the ridiculous referee that bothered me the most...

liverpool anfield atmosphere crowd
Atmosphere of Liverpool's Anfield stadium: Amazing!
 steven gerrard liverpool fc

It was only after that match that I found out about the new football rich list. I was horrified to learn that many English soccer clubs are now worth hundreds of millions of pounds, with players who get paid millions each year, while the fans have to spend most of their hard-earned money on expensive tickets and TV packages just to be able to watch them play. However, the media reported all of this like it was a really good thing!

The Gap Between Rich and Poor: it's Growing!

This rather disturbed me so I then did some extra research into the gap between the ‘rich and poor’, I soon discovered that the wealthiest 85 people in the world have more money than the poorest 3.5 billion(!!!), as the BBC (who should really be doing much more to help expose this problem, not hide it) tells us here: 

I ask you, is this acceptable? NO! Of course it isn’t! But what can we do about it? Well, there must be something - it affects all of us, not least our children!
How about an international wage limit? Does anyone (some of whom don't even pay tax!) in the world really need to make more than a million dollars a year or have more than ten million dollars in the bank? No, they don’t. I know plenty of hard working poor people who deserve to share some of that wealth, so that maybe they can enjoy a less stressful life.

However, it is most worrying that some of the richest people in the world don’t seem to care at all about the poorest. In fact some people think the poverty gap is a good thing! Just watch this clueless fool: 

To make things worse, by 2016 apparently the top 1% of people on Earth (‘top’ meaning financially, not spiritually!) will own more than the other 99% of humans combined. Again, this is obviously WRONG, is it not? Inequality is apparently as bad as it’s ever been. You can read more here:

As a teacher and children’s author I believe our kids should have as much of an equal right as possible to succeed or fail, depending on their attitude and how hard they work, not on how much money their parents have in the bank.
Of course, if someone succeeds financially it still doesn’t mean they’ve succeeded in becoming a good person, and alternately someone with money problems can still be a successful human being, for instance if they are kind to others or care about nature. However, isn't life usually more enjoyable when you don’t have to worry about survival? What do you think?

A couple of good books about how the rich selfishly keep on getting richer and how the rest of us must struggle to avoid becoming poorer as a result are:

Hand to Mouth is written by the inspiring Linda Tirado (whom I have seen speak very eloquently about how someone very poor can be much more intelligent than somebody who is very rich. We are who we are, not what we have!).

perkins confessions economic hit man
A firsthand account of international abuses of power

Confessions of an Economic Hit Man by John Perkins – a ‘behind the scenes’ look at how rich countries exploit poor ones and keep their ‘fat cats’ rich and everyone else without financial freedom.

max keiser report business show
Max Keiser, an Honest Business Commentator

One of my favourite TV shows is currently The Keiser Report on RT News. Like Perkins, Max Keiser has also been on both sides of the fence and is as funny as he is honest in his assessment of the world’s economy. Watch this highly entertaining and informative show featuring Alec Baldwin and self-styled ‘revolutionary’ Russell Brand:

keiser report meeting of megaminds baldwin
The Keiser Report: Meeting of the Megaminds

Indeed, Brand has his own book about how we can try to change the terrible ‘status quo’, simply called ‘Revolution’:  
A new way of looking at things?

If you're wondering how it all came to this, and why people tend to just say 'Oh dear' rather protest more, or might read this post and think I'm a 'conspiricist' (I can assure you I'm not), here's Charlie Brooker's take on the situation:

charlie brooker austerity oh dear
Charlie Brooker: 'Oh dear'

Well, I hope you’re not too depressed after reading this sad update on the state of the world and its ‘haves and have nots’. But if you are, you could try cheering yourself or your kids up with one of my books – (sorry, I have to suggest it):

humorous kids' book
Cheer you or your kids up with a book

I looked for some good resources for kids on the topic of the wealth of the world (or lack of it) but, I couldn't find any! If you know of any, please share them with us in the comment box, thanks. In the meantime, I plan to read this book if I can find the time:

wealth poverty nations landes
Wealth and Poverty - a description

Well, thanks for reading and take good care of yourselves. I hope to be back soon with some Scientific Facts to blow your mind (or at least cheer you up – it’s hard to worry too much about the world of humans once you know how big the Universe is or how small a photon is!)!

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Top Ten Amazing Space Facts

Top Ten Amazing Space Facts!

(Boost your general knowledge!)

I’ve had my nose buried in the books this week, as I’ve somewhat belatedly rediscovered my love for science (which has luckily coincided with writer’s block!).
My only regret is that I didn’t study this stuff more when I was younger (hating being stuck in school was probably one reason for that – ironic isn’t it!), as now my memory is rather damaged – the result of living a crazy life since leaving school all those years ago...
At least I suppose one benefit of having a poor memory is being able to enjoy the same thing again and again, like when my mother watches repeats of murder mysteries on TV as she can never remember ‘who dunnit’ in the first place!

Currently on the tables next to my bed, sofa and in the kitchen are the following brilliant books:

‘History Year by Year’ and ‘The Natural History Book’ from DK Publishing, the ‘Space’, ‘Body’ and ‘Science’ Encyclopedias from Miles Kelly, and (also highly recommended) Bill Bryson’s 'A Short History of Nearly Everything' – no other book is as informative and amusing at the same time!
Some of the things I’ve recently learned from the above books are just as remarkable as anything I’ve ever read in any fiction.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be sharing this information with you in the form of the 'Top Ten Amazing Facts' that I can find, starting today with the ‘Space Encyclopedia’ which covers everything from unimaginably small electrons whizzing around inside atoms to clusters of galaxies spreading out over trillions and trillions of kilometers.
It also tells us about the Earth, what it’s made of, its atmosphere, the tides, you name it! For instance, have a chew on these amazing space-related facts...
A Concise Space Encyclopedia
A Concise Space Encyclopedia

Top Ten Space facts

Space Fact 10: Crazy Cosmonaut

Cosmonaut Valeri Poliakov spent 437 consecutive days in space! He couldn’t even walk when he landed back on Earth because of the return to gravity. If the air pressure on his spacecraft were to break, his blood would have boiled! To remain in orbit 200km above Earth, he had to fly at 8 km per second. Check out this clip of footage taken by astronauts from space:

Footage of Earth from space
Footage of Earth from space

Space Fact 9: Voyager Catapult

The Voyager 2 probe has already flown over 10 billion km from Earth and is still going. It uses the gravity of planets it passes by to catapult it onwards.
Learn more Voyager 2 space probe
Learn more about the Voyager 2 space probe

Space Fact 8: Scouse Astronomy

You can see about 2000 stars at night with your ‘naked’ eye. You can only ever see 3% of what is in the universe, as the rest is dark energy and matter... Galileo was the first person to recognise the Milky Way through a telescope, describing it as ‘conergies of innumerable stars.’
My own hero of astronomy is Jeremiah Horrocks of Liverpool, who was the first person to predict and chart the transit of Venus aged just 19 years old! (if you ever visit the World Museum Liverpool, they have a really cool exhibit about him next to the Planetarium).
life of Jeremiah Horrocks
Read here about the remarkable life of Jeremiah Horrocks

Space Fact 7: Far, far away...

Light travels at 300,000 km per second (it takes 8 minutes for light to reach us from the sun). Space is so big that distances are measured in light years (ly) with 1ly being 9.5 trillion km(!!!).

Space Fact 6: Seeing into the past!

Since the Big Bang 14 billion years ago, most galaxies have been moving outwards, with some travelling at 90% the speed of light. When your TV goes fuzzy, you are in fact watching cosmic radiation from the start of the universe itself.
Big Bang Theory chart
Click here for info on the Big Bang Theory - not the great TV show!
When you are looking at the stars and galaxies, you are effectively looking back in time. For instance, the star Deneb is 1800ly away, so you are seeing it as it was in the time of Roman Emperor Septimus Severius in 200AD. However, the most powerful telescopes can see galaxies 2 billion(!) ly away.

Space Fact 5: We are made of star dust?

A supernova (exploding star) releases 125,000 trillion times the energy that came from the murderous Hiroshima bomb and shines brighter than 100 billion stars combined! They only last for less than a week and many of the elements that make up our bodies (such as carbon and iron) actually come from them.
Supernova Explosion
Supernova Explosion
Even brighter than a supernova is a quasar, which can glow as brightly as 100 galaxies and has the mass of a hundred million suns due to the black hole at its center.
 learn more about Quasars
Click here to learn more about Quasars

Space Fact 4: Death by sand!

The heart of a star can reach 16 million degrees Celsius. A grain of sand at this temperature would burn you to death from 150 km away (COOL!).
Inside a star - how hot can it get
Inside a star - how hot can it get?

Space Fact 3: Magnetic Whiskers

- Neutron (collapsed) stars are so dense that just a table spoon of one weighs about a million tons. They have incredibly strong magnetic fields (billions of times stronger than that of the Earth) which stretch atoms out into ‘frizzy’ whiskers on the star’s surface. Because neutron stars are so dense they have an enormous gravitational pull for such small space objects (they sometimes only measure about 20 km across).
Neutron stars and their magnetic fields
Learn more about Neutron stars and their magnetic fields
Isaac Newton’s theory on gravity and his 3 other laws of motion have helped astronomers work out the pull and movement of every planet, star and galaxy they can see in the universe. He was one of the cleverest people who ever lived, but he also stared at the sun and stuck a spike in through his eye socket just to see what would happen – an eccentric genius eh (more on that in the upcoming post on ‘A Short History of Nearly Everything’).
eccentric genius Isaac Newton
Find out more about the eccentric genius Isaac Newton

Space Fact 2: Human Spaghetti

Black holes have so much gravity that they keep entire galaxies intact and spinning around them. Indeed, the reason most galaxies are brighter in the middle is because light cannot escape a black hole so it ‘sticks’ on its ‘event horizon’ (edge).

If a human were sucked into a black hole, they would be stretched out like spaghetti. Black holes (sucking you in) and white holes (spitting you out) can join together to form ‘wormholes’ which can distort space and time, as the crew of the Red Dwarf discovered in Season 6's hilarious 'Rimmerworld'.
Red Dwarf crew white hole
The Red Dwarf crew

Space Fact 1: Out of reach...

There are over 500 billion galaxies in the universe, each one containing up to trillions of stars. The Milky Way is 100,000 ly across and 1000 ly deep, containing over 100 billion stars. The sun takes 200 million years to orbit around it and the next nearest star to us is trillions of kilometers away.

It appears quite a challenge for aliens to visit us after all, and if they went to the trouble of travelling all that way, do you think they’d just hover in the sky for a moment and disappear again? Or maybe they do because they just don’t like the look of us... which is understandable!
Our galaxy: the Milky Way
Our galaxy: the Milky Way

Well, there you have it. I highly recommend that you take a break from whatever fiction you’re in the middle of (unless it's one of my books!) and also learn more about the ‘the miracle of science and nature’ and our place in the universe and how it works (we can never know enough eh).

Space distances, the size and number of galaxies, the speed and age of the Earth, if we’re not finding out about this stuff or aware that we can actually be experiencing it all around us, then are we spending our time here wisely? Or are we too busy following our egos and chasing things we want but don’t need, while missing what’s right there in front of us? Hmmm, tough one, though it’s not my place to judge...

Coming soon...

Top Ten Scientific facts...
Top Ten Human Biology facts...
Top Ten Natural History facts...
Top Ten Human History facts...

Do you have any Amazing Space Facts to share? Let us know...

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Self-publishing guide to POD with Createspace: 'Smell of Poo' Children's Book out in paperback!

The 'Smell of Poo' Children's Book Collection is now available in print!

After completing the rather arduous task of formatting the text and cover design to suit a high quality paperback edition (see the guide below so you may benefit from this experience), the 'Smell of Poo' collection is now available in print - for those of you who prefer to hold the actual book in your hands (I still prefer the feel of paper to holding my kindle, but maybe I'm just old fashioned?).

You can find it with all the information you need here:

smell poo funny children's book print
The 'Smell of Poo' is now out in glossy paperback!

How to prepare, format and process your book on Createspace - an easy 'Print on Demand' self-publishing guide:

Even though I don't expect to sell too many print versions as they are more expensive than the ebook version, it'll be nice to give out a few copies to friends and family (my parents are afraid of anything with buttons anyway), so the whole POD process has already been worth it in my view...

With regard to the formatting process, people can charge a lot of money to help you but I recommend being patient and trying to manage it for yourself (as much as I appreciate Createspace and their enabling self-publishing authors to print on demand, I did raise my eyebrows at their fees - hence this advice).

If it's just a regular paperback you're going for, i.e. no colour or pictures inside, then it's not too tricky. Just remember to set your margins for the text, have someone redo your cover design with a blurb on the back, and tick all the necessary boxes in createspace in their step by step self-publishing process.

Firstly, for text formatting, you can see the margin requirements here (6x9 is the recommended book size for most regular fiction):
createspace printing options
createspace printing options

For further advice on this, The Creative Penn is as helpful as ever:
creative penn self-publishing printing advice
Print on demand self-publishing advice
Then, go to Fiverr to find someone who can 'redesign' your ebook cover into a paperback cover with all the right dimensions, etc (it needs to be 300dpi, by the way). Personally I used 'Fluxydesign' who I hope you agree did a nice job:
fiverr createspace POD cover design
createspace POD cover design

children's funny poo paperback cover
Here's the full glossy paperback cover with spine - not bad eh?
Createspace give you a choice of 'matte' or 'glossy' covers. They say that matte is better for fiction / glossy for non-fiction, however for children's books I was advised by an experienced self-published author (see the next link) to still go with glossy - aren't we all usually still drawn to shinier things after all..?
Matte or Glossy book cover
Matte or Glossy book cover?
For the book description section, make sure you have your 'metadata' ready with lots of keywords to help your readers find your book, while also making sure it matches what is in the book itself! Here's a few hints and tips from 'The Book Designer':
Guide to Metadata / Keywords for ebooks bookdesigner
Guide to Metadata / Keywords for ebooks
Incidentally, Createspace also give you the option of choosing a FREE ISBN for your book, which will save you a fair bit of change if you're on a budget.

Everything else in the createspace process was so simple that I'm sure most people will be ok, i.e. selecting distribution channels, pricing and so on - it's a bit of a 'no brainer' really and basically depends on your own intentions.

However, it isn't too obvious that you can 'create' your own createspace estore! It is already set up for your but you can change the colours and background and even add your own banner. Here is a guide to help you along with this:
publishing solo guide createspace estore
Guide to creating your own Createspace 'estore'!
For resizing an image for your banner (good luck with this!) I found the best way was to simply do a 'print screen', paste it into Microsoft Paint, then resize it there. This link might help you if you're as 'techno challenged' as me..:
Guide to 'resizing' with Microsoft Paint
Guide to 'resizing' with Microsoft Paint
Phew, having just written this post it actually seems like quite a lot - but compared to going through the process of finding an agent, then finding a publisher, then getting published and making any kind of profit or reaching a potentially large audience, Createspace and their kind are heaven sent!

Good luck with the self-publishing process! If you have any other useful hints or tips, please leave a comment...
smell poo funny children's book print
The 'Smell of Poo' is now out in glossy paperback!

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

The Top Ten Best Ever Children’s Books!

The Top Ten Best Ever Children’s Books!

Which are your favourite stories? Do you agree with any of this list?

(Click on the covers image captions below to visit each book's page on Goodreads)
1. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by JK Rowling
I was so hooked by ‘The Goblet of Fire’ that I simply had to finish it the day I first opened it. Addictive characters, plot twists and pure, well crafted escapism, I raced through it. My advice to children (and adults for that matter) who haven’t yet read the books is to do it now, before watching the movies. As good as the excellent films are, they rob the reader of their imagination, something that JK Rowling really opens up with her writing style. 'Goblet of Fire' isn't just my favourite ever kids' book - it's my favourite ever book!

hobbit tolkein
No.2: The Hobbit
 2. The Hobbit by JRR Tolkein
My second best ever Children’s book is another classic fantasy. I don’t usually go in for fantasy so much, as it’s so hard to do well – but Tolkein manages to create an entire world (literally) in the reader’s mind. Goblins, wizards, trolls, evil spirits, elves, dwarves, dragons, he is truly the father of fantasy. From the Shire all the way to the battle of the five armies, Bilbo takes us on a truly amazing adventure. Another one where you must read the book before watching the movies!

lion witch wardrobe cover
No.3: Lion, Witch & the Wardrobe
3. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis
My favourite thing about The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is the idea of accidentally using a portal to suddenly appear in a fantastical world, where you can even grow old and then still return as a child. Such a concept was still rather new at the time C S Lewis wrote his timeless classic. Some excellent creatures and characters in a setting where you feel anything can happen, this battle of good against evil kept me busy throughout an entire school holiday.

dahl bfg cover
No.4: The BFG
 4. The BFG by Roald Dahl
Roald Dahl accounted for about half of my memorable childhood reading and my sisters and I loved the humour and crazy language found throughout the BFG. I usually never liked being spoon fed images in books but Quentin Blake’s illustrations actually added to an already brilliant story. The giants helped make the book especially re-readable.

5. Kensuke’s Kingdom by Michael Morpurgo
Kensuke’s Kingdom is a great escapist’s tale with a nice mixture of making the reader wish they were in the story too while at the same time being grateful that they are not! Following how Kensuke slowly reveals more positive aspects of his personality whilst enticing you to wonder more about his background, my class loved putting themselves in the footsteps of the main character. In fact, reading this book a little bit at the end of each day (initially as a calming exercise) helped me turn around a real ‘problem’ Year 6 class into a group of avid readers at a very inclusive London Primary School (we also had the audio book as some children still struggled with the words).

rowling azkaban cover
No.6: Prisoner of Azkaban
6. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by JK Rowling
As good as the first two books in the Harry Potter series were, I feel The Prisoner of Azkaban was really the one that made me realise I was reading an incredible series as I became more engrossed in the wizarding world. The introduction of more complex characters, the further development of relationships, visiting new places such as Hogsmeade and with more twists and turns than a snake’s obstacle course, the quality of Azkaban means JK Rowling is the only author to feature in this Top Ten more than once.

7. Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
With its brilliant, varied characters and a plot that leads the reader to develop an affinity with – and grow alongside – Jim Hawkins, Treasure Island is truly a classic. So many things from the book can now be seen in themes across popular culture (such as my favourite one, ‘the black spot’!). Jim learns plenty of lessons in life along the way as he meets all kinds of characters like the captain, the doctor, the squire, buccaneers, the scary Blind Pew and the enigmatic Long John Silver. A special mention must also go to another great pirate story, ‘Moonfleet’, which I also loved reading and helped get me through a wee spell in a children’s hospital.

8. Artemis Fowl by Eion Colfer
When I started reading Artemis Fowl with my Year 6 class, I was starting to wonder if it was all a bit too ridiculous or whether the blurred lines between humour and having such a dark protagonist might have been a bit much for the kids (never mind the complex new vocabulary which my class full of international school students in fact lapped up no problem). However, the kids soon started to clearly love the story and so did I. A really good example of how to convey a highly unusual setting in such a way that the reader ends up finding it rather plausible.

gruffalo cover
No.9: The Gruffalo
9. The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson
The Gruffalo is perhaps my favourite book for younger readers. Never mind the pictures, the story itself is great, with a little lesson hidden inside it too. How can anyone not love a creature as improbable as the Gruffalo? I remember when a school I was working at put on a ‘Gruffalo the Musical’ for a big assembly before the holidays, and it was genuinely terrifying until the end!

stig king cover
No.10: Stig of the Dump
10. Stig of the Dump by Clive King
Stig of the Dump is another favourite that spoke to me as a child. How many of us would have loved to meet a character like the stone-age Stig while wandering about the countryside feeling a bit bored and lonely. As an adult it is certainly something I wouldn’t fancy but as a kid I loved the idea! Being able to teach each other different things and putting ‘modern life’ in perspective, Clive King’s story still has plenty to offer.

Honourable mentions must also to go:

box delights cover borrowers norton cover  machine gunners westall cover boyce millions cover 

diary wimpy kid kinney

The Box of Delights by John Masefield
Scary, gripping, brilliant. A highly original and unforgettable tale.

The Borrowers by Mary Norton
Which child doesn’t want to shrink into a miniature world at least once?

The Machine Gunners by Robert Westall
An involving story of living through a terrible war on the ‘home front’, told through the experiences of a child.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney
The trials and tribulations of a suburban adolescent made me laugh a few times and I like the way the illustrations don't influence the imagination too much.

Millions by Frank Cotrell Boyce – I intend to read this next!

Which are your favorite children's stories? What is your number one? Leave a comment...

Newsflash: Please note that The 'Smell of Poo' Children's Book Collection is now available in print from today on Amazon Createspace. Order your copy here:

smell poo children's story book print
The 'Smell of Poo' is now available in print!