The Magic of Books

Books are the bedrock of our civilisation and our psyche. The three largest religions of the world are faiths based upon books (of the Torah, the New Testament and the Koran). The most powerful political ideologies that changed nations were books (the Communist Manifesto, Mao’s Red Book and Hitlers Mien Kampf among others). Books hold the laws of the land, both civil and moral. Books hold our histories, our mistakes and our glories. Books hint at our dreams and our future. With books, the dead live on, our ancestors speak to us.

As a species we inherit no survival skills from our genes. We have to learn everything from our predecessors. Oral traditions pass on local and immediate information but it is books that open up the universe to us. Books make us time-travelers and explorers of outer and inner space.

We rate reading and writing with as high as mathematics in our schooling, and quote rightly so. The actual language of English we speak has been shaped and coloured by the big books of the King James Bible and Works of Shakespeare among many others. There are good books and there are bad books. Some books are so feared they are banned or even burned. Some are so highly sought after that they become priceless. Books contain magik spells and incantations. They contain healing and support. They contain horror and outrage. They contain love and hope. They contain beauty and joy.

Books will never die. As the lowest tech method of storing information, books will live on. Hidden in jars for two thousand years the lost secrets of the Gnostics were uncovered. New media may come along to dazzle and delight, but the ruggedness of marks on paper, able to survive almost anything but fire will not suffer from low battery power or outmoded file formats.

The only things rated as high as books in our world are the pantheon of creator gods who wrote them. Those heroes who took quill to parchment, pen to paper, hammered on a typewriter or pressed buttons on an electronic keypad. We look up to these inspired super-humans who stared onto bare stone, plain parchment, blank paper and conjured up into corporeal existence, men, beasts, angels and demons, history forgotten and futures unknown. They created life from facts and fictions and wove them into tapestries of stories to transmit their consciousness direct from their minds into ours, using only words.

We can all be certain that one day our physical bodies will die. Our personality, our consciousness, our uniqueness, our soul, will travel beyond the reach of influence in this world. But our ideas need not perish with it. The one path to immortality that we can solidly guarantee is open to us all. We can capture our ideas, our thoughts and feelings, our uniqueness, our voice in a living, new body, capable of transmitting our consciousness, perhaps to even live forever.

We can all join the pantheon of contributors to the great library of humanity. We can all add our chapter to the great human story. We can all become immortal and have our influence reach out and echo through to the future.

Be part of the magic by by writing and publishing your own book.

Learn more about writing and publishing your book:

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Everyone remembers a good teacher

One of my model spaceships. A bit battered now.

When you’re 9 the summer holidays are about two years in length. They are so long that by the end you almost can’t remember the beginning. As it draws to a close there’s that feeling of rejuvenation and excitement as the weather changes from sunny and hot, to sunny and cold, to dark and cold in just a few days. But 1980 was different. I had an overwhelming feeling of dread that I couldn’t shake off.

They say everyone remembers a good teacher. Perhaps you remember the bad ones too.

We’d left behind the most magical year with Mrs Edwards, before the summer. It had been a great year that had started that previous 1st of September with the Daleks back on TV in Doctor Who. The last time that had happened was 1975, half my life ago. The excitement was unparalleled. From Doctor Who Weekly I’d become aware that the programme had started in 1963. I worked out in my head that that meant it was now 17 years old and in three years time it would be 20 years old. Something to look forward to.

Then we had the second Star Wars film, The Empire Strikes Back, out in the summer. We’d waited three long years for that. Our heads were filled with the concepts of strange worlds, powerful starships, bounty hunters, the mysterious Force and good verses evil. Mrs Edwards said the entire class could build a space station. We all collected bottles and boxes from home and brought them in. We all worked together, boys and girls, gluing them together to fill the entire classroom floor with our space base.

But most of all, what caught my imagination that year was the concept of stories. Everything I was interested in was a story. Stories of adventure, of self-sacrifice, of traitors and heroes, of greed and of hope.

I thought we should re-enact The Empire Strikes Back in the bike shed. It was a large covered area that would serve perfectly as the cloud city of Bespin. I needed more players so recruited friends, then more joined. A group of younger children wanted to be stormtroopers (headed up by my brother). Another batch were bounty hunters, guards and Ugnaughts. We had the Princess and Han. Sean was Chewie. We had a Luke (I think that honour fell to Alex Chakrabarti) and I played Darth Vader and Boba Fett (which was tricky as they were required in the same scene). We did it and it worked, with twenty or so 8 and 9 years olds, during a damp breaktime, with no planning or explanation necessary. We just acted it out. Then the bell rang and we all went back to our separate classes.

When you have enough data, on any topic, your creativity starts to play with it. If you listen constructively to enough songs, you want to write your own and if you play out enough stories, you want to create you own. In 1979, that’s what Barry and I started to do.

We set it in the near future. Earth was at peace and was exploring the stars. It was about two brothers who had been assigned to an exploratory mission. They had fallen through a time vortex portal just outside our solar system and crashed their ship on a strange hostile world populated by robotic people who lived in a giant dome. They had been captured, but eventually escaped with the help of their clever but annoying small robot and managed to be rescued, but not before the leader of the robot people learned of Earth and planned an invasion to fly through the portal and attack all that we held dear. We acted the story out in the yard at playtime and developed the characters. But there was more to it than that. Everything in the story had original names and designs. We designed the uniforms and insignia. We designed and built spaceships and robots. Perhaps the actual story may not sound that original to you now, we’d thrown in elements from all that we’d known, but for two 8 year olds in 1979 I think it stills sounds pretty good. (This was 20 years before things like Deep Space Nine and the like that later made use of similar plot devices.)

Barry’s family were in the military so he added his knowledge of that into the detail. We’d seen the creepy Sapphire and Steel on television and added in psychological twists and depth that we picked up from that. We drew plans of the battle Armada, the bases on Mars and created the family trees of all the characters. We explored the political system of the robot creatures who lived like worker bees under their cyborg leader whose mind was now pure computer. We worked out how the impending invasion caused Earth governments to have to declare martial law and create a coalition, headed up by a right-wing leader from Britain called Eliot Joseph Livingston who had seized the opportunity. We were aware of the dangers of such emergency politics and built that into the story. There were threats from within as well as from outer space.

Mrs Edwards said we could stay in at lunchtime to work on the story more. She suggested we use larger bits of paper and stick them on the classroom wall to have more space to work out the detail.

But by September 1980 all that was a distant memory. The sun had gone out. Now we were lined up to have a new teacher, the dreaded Mr H. It was like heading for the gallows. Sean and I knew we didn’t like him and we knew he didn’t care for us. Sean said it would be alright though, things always turned out ok. But I couldn’t shake the foreboding. Doctor Who Weekly turned into Doctor Who Monthly so at least I had a good magazine to read and take my mind off it.

Mr H employed the ‘dark sarcasm in the classroom’ that had been highlighted by Pink Floyd’s number one single the previous year. He drove a bottle green Ford Cortina mark III. He didn’t let me and Sean sit together. He put Barry by the sink by the window so he could “dry his hands on his long hair”, or so he said.

We had to do a role play. We had to pretend to take a broken toy back to a shop. Darren was bringing it back and I was the shopkeeper. Darren explained that it had exploded and was a dangerous toy and demanded his money back.

“So what are you going to do?” asked Mr H.

“Give him his money back?” I said.

“No you idiot” said Mr H.

“He should have asked to see the receipt” said Darren.

“That’s right” said Mr H, “useless. Sit down”.

That’s how Mr H worked. He taught by humiliation. I didn’t think about asking for a receipt. Why would I? Darren’s family ran the VG shop. He’d worked there. Of course he’d know what to say. It all seemed terribly unfair.

I got depressed, although I didn’t have that word in my vocabulary then. I started thinking about death and felt as though I was going to die, that I didn’t have much time left. I dreamt that I’d asked my parents they could cancel Christmas, anything, to let me not go back to school. But in my waking life I said nothing.

Then it was Maths. Mr H explained about the budget and how prices go up. I wondered if the price of Star Wars figures would be going up. They did, from 99p to £1.49 putting them outside my purchasing power so I had to rely on the single beacon Christmas and my birthday (which are only 5 days apart) to get new toys.

Then Mr H had us all standing up. He asked us various quick-fire maths questions. If you got it right you sat down. Joanne Killian sat down straight away. I got it wrong and had to stay standing. Sean sats down. I got another one wrong again and had to stand on my chair. Kevin Tall sat down. Alison Ball sat down. I got it wrong and had to stand on my desk. Barry was standing on his chair but he too soon sat down. Then it was just me and John Moody left. Everyone else was sitting down.

“7 and 6” said Mr H.

“13” said John earning him his seat. Mr H starts having fun now. Multiplication, division, subtraction, the questions kept coming at me while the others laughed. I though I was going to die, or that I wanted to die, I didn’t know which. Mr Hall toyed with making me sit on the wardrobe but settled for having me sit at the front of the class, facing the blackboard for the rest of the session with a pointed card hat with a large ‘D’ on it.

My confidence had gone. There was a hole where it had been. From then on I struggled with maths. I had to stay behind at breaktime to watch David Shed do long division on the backboard just for fun, just to rub it in how useless I was at it.

Mr Jackson, the headmaster heard me talking to some kids one lunchtime about the Space Shuttle which was about to launch for the first time. He called me over and asked me to explain it to him. I told him all about it, how the boosters worked, how it would take off like a rocket, the duration of the mission, how it would land like an aeroplane, protected by the heat-resistance tiles and how it opened a new age in space exploration. He thanked me and went back to his office. I felt different, excited. There was no hole. When I got home I drew pictures of the Shuttle and compared the scale to the shuttles Barry and I had invented for our story. We were back on.

Barry and I continued our story for decades afterwards. They turned into comic strips and then into short stories and finally novels, adding more and more to the mythos we’d started back in Mrs Edwards’ class.

Mr H went on to be headmaster two years later after both Mr Jackson and I had moved on.  He would never know that I would go on to get a degree in Physics and to study maths to a far higher level than he ever did. But I don’t do mental arithmetic.

If you liked this theme of childhood and school memories you may like:

I own the only surviving copy of time

My headmaster still owes me £50

Why do we remember what we remember?

Where does our ‘right and wrong’ come from?

The Creative Troublemaker

Don’t Talk to Strangers

The End of a Friendship

The Thinking Cap Experiment(This is an adapted extract from my forthcoming book, ‘The Thinking Cap Experiment’)

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The Changing Business Landscape

Me at the BWC doing my "40 seconds". Thanks to

I took my Dad along to a recent Business Wealth Club networking meeting and it made me think how much the business environment has changed. When he was out on the road as a sales engineer from the 1960s to being a sales manager in the 70s and 80s and director in the 90s and 2000s he was employed by a company and travelled around his area visiting prospects and customers. He’d meet his colleagues at head office or regional offices and at the various exhibitions and dinners. There was no real line of communication with competitors, why should there have been? After all, his was the first generation to discover that a job is not for life, there wasn’t an environment of switching allegiances to rival companies.

Now it’s different. I know who my competition are and what they’re doing. I often team up with them to pitch for larger jobs o to work together on certain projects. We are in an age of joint ventures, of companies being smaller but teaming up to supply each other with extra knowledge or resources.

Looking around the room at the networking event I could see 150 people. I knew 75% of them personally. Even though many of their businesses are completely different to my own. I’d probably worked with about 15% of the room and had made profit making connections with 40%.

What’s changed since the late 20th century is the concept of silos, or companies as competing tribes. Most people wok for a small business with less than 100 employees. There’s much more interaction with people who don’t work for the same business and this has allowed, in the more entrepreneurial businesses to realise that cooperation and cross-company teamwork (often called Joint Ventures) is the new way to do business.

Photo by

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10 Years, In the Blink of an Eye

Apple PowerMac G4

The first thing I bought when I started my own business…

I wrote a song in 2000 called ‘5 Years in the Blink of an Eye’, about how my band, formed in 1995 was now 5 years old. Now I’m writing a blog with a similar title, about my business, started in 2001, which is now 10 years old.

But back in September 2001 I never heard of a ‘blog’. No-one had broadband (I dialled up and downloaded emails and the  switched it off again quick). My Apple Powermac G3 had a 6Gb hard drive.The first Lord of the Rings film wasn’t out yet. I drove a Volvo 240. I didn’t own a DVD player or a mobile phone but still made use of my cassette player. I didn’t have a TV or TV licence in protest that Doctor Who wasn’t on.

Today my day consisted of a Skype call to a client in Saudi Arabia (I’m publishing his book), then I went into town to my favourite bookshop to write 1600 words (on my MacbookPro) in 90 mins for my own products. Then back for a video Skype call with a colleague who’s organising my appearance on his radio show in America next week. Then a bit of other client work on their books, follow up some arrangements for future speaking appearances. Once I’ve set up my newsletter it’ll be time to get back to put my three children to bed before getting ready for the final episode of Torchwood. What a day. And all unimaginable 10 years ago.

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10 Years in business and the problems of working for yourself

Tigerlilly disrupts work

On 12th September 2001 the world changed forever. Or at least my world changed. Because of a decision made that day I would never go to work again.

I decided to work for myself.

Having a boss. Commuting to work. Being late. Being early. Having to be somewhere at the same time each day. Looking forward to lunchbreaks. Getting stuck in traffic on the way home. Office politics. Feeling naughty or odd to be in town during the week. Having to make do with out-of-date equipment. Naff coffee. Poor seating and lighting. Head aches. Bad back. Having to cope with co-workings odd habits. Watching the clock and noticing time slowing down in the afternoon.

These are the things I certainly don’t miss.

But it’s not quite as simple as that. There may not be office politics but there’s plenty of relationships with clients and suppliers that need careful handling. I have plenty of meetings, conferences and seminars to get to on time and often that means coping with traffic.

I don’t have a boss, but by having hundreds of clients I have hundreds of bosses. ‘Working for yourself’ is a bit of a misnomer. It’s more accurate to say I’m actually working for everyone, or anyone.

The fact that anyone could be a prospect, lead, supplier or advisor is an interesting concept. It means that the self-employed/entrepreneur is always ‘networking’. There’s never really a time when I’m not ‘on’. I always carry my business card and notebook (you never know when ideas may come) and I’m always dressed appropriately as my personal brand has to be consistent, you never know who you’ll meet.

Working for yourself or setting up your own business gives you freedoms you couldn’t have imagined when being an employee. (I’m writing this is in my favourite coffee shop on my MacbookPro at 11.30am on a Thursday). But some are taken away. There is no scheduled lunch or coffee breaks. Sometimes I don’t bother with them at all. There is no scheduled start or finish time: the division between work and home life becomes blurred.

Some people say, ‘Oh, I could never work for myself. I’d stay in bed or watch TV all the time’. The opposite is often true: early mornings, late nights, sometimes are taken up by work projects. You have to learn your own time management and project management  methods fast. After all, up until you choose to work for yourself, timetables have always been provided, by parents, at school and colleges and then by companies.

There’s the knowledge that if I don’t perform well, there’s no money coming in. A salary is not guaranteed. This is the main difference in attitude that I’ve noticed over the years. Employees can usually afford to be complacent, ignorant or snobbish towards money, after-all it arrives in their bank every month. That pay cheque becomes a divine right and a pay-rise is thought to be compulsory. A lot of people feel that their pay is just for showing up and gracing the company with their presence. This leads to a disgruntlement if they feel they’re not being paid enough or appreciated enough to why not take a few pencils and envelopes from the stationary cupboard? After all, you deserve it.

There’s no such luxury when you own the business. It’s all your money. You’re suddenly responsible for every penny that comes in and every penny that goes out. You become aware very quickly that your job is to provide value. The more value you add, the more money you can charge. Doing a good job is not good enough, it has to be exemplary.

There have been ups and down over the past decade but one thing is certainly clear: I wouldn’t change it. I would never go back to employee status. In fact many people who do work for themselves feel that they become in many ways ‘unemployable’ due to the attitude changes that have to take place to be successful working for yourself.

I think they’ll come a time when almost everyone is working for themselves, or at least realise that that is actually what they’ve been doing all along.

When more people realise that they are responsible for their performance, training and education and that they can decide when their pay rise will be, we amy see a paradigm shift from victim and blame culture to empowerment and positivity that would not only benefit individuals but the economy and country as a whole.

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In Business

Click on the image to download the pdf

While celebrating 10 years in business I came across an article from the Oxford Times’ magazine In Business, which I featured in back in 2004. here it is for your perusal and delight.

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10 Years in Business – How I got it wrong

Ayd Instone Waterstock

One of my early promo photos... One of them looks a bit wooden, with ginger hair and the other one's a rocking horse.

There are many things I feel I’ve done right:

• Investing in the right equipment to speed up processes and quality.

• Not employing people but having strategic partners and suppliers to provide extra resources and skills as and when I needed them.

• Not wasting money on advertising but heavily investing in networking and teaming up with numerous people and opportunities that came from them.

• Outsourcing certain processes and marking up some of them as added services to clients.

• I’ve kept the business flexible and specialised in what I offer but not been too restrictive on the sectors I’ve worked for. This has paid off recently as some clients have seriously reduced their spending but other have not. I’m still here because I didn’t put all my eggs in one basket.

• Investing in personal business development to make me better at all aspects of what I do from the technical skills, to business skills to people skills.

But there are a fair few things I’ve done wrong:

• Not thinking big enough. There have been times when modesty should have been replaced with confident assurance. Opportunities were missed.

• Staying too local for too long. Today we can be either super-local and have that as a USP (Unique Strategic Positioning) or we can be global. There is no such thing as semi-regional or semi-national. It took me a long time to realise this. I’ve since worked with companies that are walking distance away as well as ones in Africa, America and Asia.

• Getting bogged down within projects and letting my own marketing slip and be too sporadic. It’s the old trap of the rise and fall of looking for work, then doing the work, then having no work so starting to look again. Marketing should be continuous and we all need to create systems to ensure that.

• Not being consistent in collecting testimonials. I’ve had some big name clients who I’ve worked for who’s endorsement would have opened up similar doors elsewhere. Sometimes I simply didn’t ask so didn’t get.

But the biggest mistake, which in effect encompasses all of those above is one that is so hard to get right as all instincts fight to prevent it happening and that is to say no to somethings so there’s more room to say yes to the right things. When you run you’re own business, especially at the start or when things get tight, we tend to say ‘yes’ to everything and anything. This has been the cause of most stress and the cause of reduced profits. Annoying clients, fiddly time consuming low grade jobs, unclear briefs and in some cases inappropriate jobs slightly outside of my expertise all take their toll on confidence, time, your brand and your profits. We often forget that we’re in control and can say no when it’s right to do so.

So there you have it. Hopefully you won’t make as many mistakes as that, but if you are working for yourself or embarking upon it soon, take heart that it is the most rewarding and exciting journey and I wish you every success.

Perhaps we can even work together on something one day.

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Change, and not a moment too soon: How I started my own business 10 years ago

My first business card, front and back. The grey part was actually metallic silver.

I started my own business on 12th September 2001. That’s right, one day after 11th September 2001. On that fateful day I was flying back from the Caribbean after a two week holiday and had just landed at Heathrow when the first plane struck the North Tower. The next day I went back to work to find the company I worked for had gone bust (unrelated to 9/11). It was a very strange, unnerving and memorable couple of days.

I was creative director of a multimedia firm. Don’t let that title throw you, I wasn’t on the board and I had no insight into the accounts or general finances of the company. My job was mainly to manage and do the jobs in the studio. I did know, however, that the value of the work coming in couldn’t possibly cover the salaries going out, which had been propped up with loans secured against the boss’s house.

The company had been set up ten years earlier to build bespoke PC systems that were used for multimedia presentations. Most of that market had disappeared due to the advancement of PCs and the availability of straightforward software like Powerpoint which virtually did the job for you. Why spend thousands on a bespoke system when you could pay hundreds for an off-the-shelf one that was probably better?

As creative director, I saw my role as attempting to guide this outmoded offering into the much richer vein of design-led graphics. The company could easily pick up branding, print design and of course web design as well as still doing high-end multimedia such as CD-ROMS which were still in demand. My team created a new identity and marketing campaign along with a brilliant website, mostly due to the talents of Michael Reading (now running that I was sure could have attracted press attention, if not awards, had it been properly launched.

But the boss had put the brakes on. He just wasn’t comfortable with ‘creativity’ and ‘design’. He wasn’t comfortable with newer technology, especially things like the new Apple iBook that Michael has just bought and amazed us all by editing video on it. It was able to do exactly the same job that the bosses hot-wired custom-built three tonne editing suite could do, except that it was a lot faster and didn’t take up half the office. The boss would really rather be fiddling with PCs with their cases off and discussing servers over a pint of ale at lunchtime than creating better and more profitable ways of doing things. He was a great guy, but in the wrong role.

While I was on holiday I had come up with more marketing ideas and the concept of a ‘sub-brand’ that could be used to sell the new design portfolio without appearing to impact on the more traditional technical image the boss wanted to cling onto. I did a lot of thinking about creativity and how it can be used to solve our potential clients marketing and branding challenges and came up with ideas for names such as ‘Ideas Workshop’ and ‘Ding!’ (which I later put to good use).

So, although shocking, it wasn’t exactly a complete surprise that the company was no longer in business when I got back.

The next day I started my own company and began to put all the ideas I’d come up with into practice, except this time, for myself.

Many people have started their own business in this way: because they had to. Sometimes you need a kick in the teeth to actually take action and get on with things.

So why did that multimedia company fail? To an outsider it could have appeared to have everything going for it. All the ingredients were there (Except for clients of course.)

Inflexibility, stubbornness and fear of change were characteristics of the boss. He yearned for the good old days of 1990 when it was just him and his mate building custom PCs. He saw the market was moving, but couldn’t or didn’t want to follow it.

With all it’s imperfections, that business helped give birth to mine. To start with all I did was the exact opposite of what it did and hit the ground running with the rejected ideas I’d come up with that my gut instinct felt would work, and it did.

But all the time I was aware that it’s oh so easy to fall into the same trap that my old boss found himself in. He loved doing part of his business. But it became the part that no-one needed anymore. His business had become a comfortable slipper to wear, but the terrain outside had transformed into a rough and dangerous landscape.

Over the last decade, I’ve tried to keep my business flexible and in many ways it’s completely different to what I started doing on that day in 12th September 2001. My old boss has found his feet too, finding a role within a technology business where he can at last do what he does best.

So here’s to the next 10 years. Who knows what we’ll all be doing then!

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