Blog

Book Stack

Book Review: Different: Escaping the Competitive Herd

Title: Different: Escaping the Competitive Herd

Author: by Youngme Moon

Book Review

I just loved this book. Andrew, who as a 16 year old came to work with us 12 years ago, now with aspirations to set up in business himself, suggested I read this book, and I am glad he did!

Youngme thinks there’s a better way. She believes that the way to compete isn’t by being better. It’s by being different. Real people do not see the world the way business people see it; they don’t speak in bullet points; they don’t organise the world in flow charts and wireframes! Real people are unpredictable and beautifully disorganised.

Youngme doesn’t pretend this book is complete, however, she can communicate her ideas well and I would love to sit in on one of her lectures at Harvard Business School, where she is a professor of Marketing. Reading ‘Different’ is more like having an informal coffee with Youngme and discussing her ideas; her narrative style makes her examples more memorable and, in my mind, more useful.

Feedback from customers is how businesses are driven, however this creates a proliferation of sameness rather than differentiation. BRANDS do not stand out anymore and our emotional attachment to them is weaker than it has ever been. We need a new way to think about competition and Youngme had certainly got me thinking about this for the future. Brand affiliation is dying and we need to think about how we engage with our customers in a very different way. Just think about training shoes, bottled water and cereals at the supermarket, and in fact supermarkets themselves – they all just blur into one.

I love her concept of reverse brands, brands who say NO when others say YES; think Google and Ikea as good examples of these.

Hotels allow guests to have free cable in their room, but charge for a local call; they put soap in the bathroom for free and charge for the mini bar. If you question it from the inside out, you might just become different! We need creative thinking in all our economies and businesses.

The most refreshing business read so far this year and I love the graphics – well done Lynn Carruthers.

Quote:

““DIFFERENT is different in every way. It is different from most business books in that it is full of wisdom and it is a real joy to read.” Jim Stengel, former global marketing officer, Proctor and Gamble; CEO, The Jim Stengal Company.”

Social Media

How To Use Social Media To Promote Your Art

As an artist, there are so many more ways to promote your art rather than the traditional ways of going to functions, meeting and greeting and networking with others. We still recommend all of these ideas and more but now with social media, there are so many new ways to promote your art work, meet the right people and get ahead. Here are some ideas on how to promote your art, for free and meet people who are like minded or can help you get your art out to the masses.

Twitter

Social Media

In 140 characters or less, it is easy to connect with those who are like minded and may be interested in selling your art or just being connected to you. Introduce yourself to others, add your images to accompany your tweets! For explanations of your piece, you can add a link to your blog. Engaging with people is quick and easy, but to truly express yourself in more than a few sentences requires you to be more creative with links or sites that redirect the tweet to your longer explanations.

Hashtags are a great way to search keywords that apply to you and find like minded people. Use the search engine to find hashtags that relate to you work and make sure to use them when you tweet. You can connect with some pretty interesting people!

Instagram

Social Media

This visual tool is the perfect way to show off your talents! Post your art on Instagram and use hashtags that apply to your piece. Like Twitter, you can search hashtags that apply to you and use them, which allows people from all over the globe to potentially connect to you. This is also a great way to sell your art online. Many artists have been successful directing their followers to selling their art. We recommend Instagram as the must have social media platform for all artists searching for a platform to sell their art. Make sure Instagram is connected with your art webpage!

Facebook

Social Media

Facebook is a great way to connect to your community and give detailed explanations of your piece. From the inspiration of why you created this work to price ranges, you can do it all with very little restriction! Facebook is great for the artist who wants to connect with their community.

Blab

Are you looking to connect and really get to know your viewers? Consider Blab! Not only can you share content with your followers but invite them into a video conversation. For a potential gallery owner or a potential buyer, this is huge for people to learn your true essence behind your pieces.

Linkedin

Social Media

Set up your professional profile as an artist and be seen by other professionals! Linkedin has so many features, including a place for essays. Connect with others and instantly read their profiles and credentials. It’s a great way to make sure the person on the other end is legitimate. It is perfect for connecting with business professionals and connect with businesses and professionals on artistic projects.

The Vineyard 1

Novels Set in the Napa Valley

The Vineyard

The Vineyard,Always Coming Home

by Idwal Jones
Paperback. 285 pages. 1997.

Set in the Napa Valley at the turn of the century, this novel beautifully evokes the characters’ love of the land and the rhythms of life lived close to the earth and its seasons. Spirited Alda Pendle is the daughter of a viticulturist who has taught her his craft. When he dies, leaving her without property, her skills make her indispensable to the solitary owner of one of the old vineyards in the valley. The novel provides a vivid history of winemaking in California to the Prohibition era.

The book is structured along the sequence of the vineyard year, from planting to harvest, so that every essential process of grape growing and winemaking comes in for its due attention. Jones knows about the various crises of disease and of economics that troubled the industry, and he identifies and describes the kinds of wine, good and bad, that were sold in the state. – From the publisher.

Ton of Trouble : A Josephine Fuller Mystery

by Lynne Murray
Hardcover. 160 pages. 2002.

Set in the beautiful wine country of Napa Valley, A TON OF TROUBLE once again has plus-sized sleuth Jospehine Fuller caught in the middle of a gruesome murder. When she receives a note from Wolf Lambert, the director of X rated films starring XXL women, Josephine decides to stop and visit him at his winery. Her spur of the moment impulse, however, leads her right into the middle of a murder investigation when a body is found in one of Wolf’s wine barrels and her friend Thelma, a supersized porn queen, is one of the leading suspects.

Her investigation, however, has to take a backseat to her day job – looking into a women’s clinic to see if it is a worthy cause for her wealthy boss to support. Josephine soon discovers that this women’s clinic is a cover-up for extreme anti-abortionists. Unfortunately, it’s headed up by a gun-toting, self-righteous, religious woman who has taken an instant dislike to Josephine.

Soon Josephine is balancing her time between digging up the secrets of one of the most powerful wine families in the valley and uncovering what exactly is happening behind the closed doors of the clinic. As if that weren’t enough, her on-again, off-again relationship with Mulligan seems to have turned back on. If only she can convince him that her involvement with the porn industry is a purely professional interest.

Filled with Josephine’s common sense approach to life and her ever-present sparkling wit, A TON OF TROUBLE is a fast, fun, entertaining read. – From the publisher

Always Coming Home

The Vineyard,Always Coming Home
by Ursula LeGuin
Paperback. 525 pages. 2001 (Originally published in 1985).

Ursula Le Guin’s Always Coming Home is a major work of the imagination from one of America’s most respected writers of science fiction. More than five years in the making, it is a novel unlike any other. A rich and complex interweaving of story and fable, poem, artwork, and music, it totally immerses the reader in the culture of the Kesh, a peaceful people of the far future who inhabit a place called the Valley on the Northern Pacific Coast.

Ursula K. Le Guin is the author of novels, children’s books, short stories, critical writings, and poetry. She is the winner of the National Book Award and the Nebula and Hugo awards for science fiction. She grew up in Berkeley and the Napa Valley and now lives in Portland, Oregon. Her most recent book is The Telling (2000). – From the publisher
Book Review

Are Book Reviews Important?

Book Reviews

Many book reviews will critique the book and the author, although most book reviews are generally favorable towards the author. There are a few that are panned, but this is not like a movie review where a movie is panned by critics but still rakes in money at the box office. A negative book review can be devastating for an author but more importantly, for a publisher. For this reason, book reviews do not pan a book as they might a movie. The exception is when a book is written by a well known writer that does not live up to previous works.

Anyone who wants to sell their writing should seek out book reviews for this purpose. If the author knows a book reviewer, this can be easy. More often than not, the writers who write these notices are not known to the authors. While major publishing houses can easily get book reviews about new works, it can be difficult for the self published author to do the same. A self published author has to try to get self published book reviews for their novel through self published book marketing.

A good book review should discuss the merits of the book, give a basic outline as to what the book is about and talk about the characters and writing style. It should not give away the entire plot, or the twists and turns, if any. This is for the reader to discover. Good book reviewers can be found working freelance as well as for major magazines and newspapers. Most people do not pay attention to the name of the reviewers, but do read the notices. If the book reviews seem encouraging and of interest to the readers, they are more inclined to buy the work. For this reason, it is in the best interest of any author to get as many book reviews published of their work as possible. Readers look for book reviews to tell them if the book is worth reading. If they feel that it is, they will then buy the book.

Book reviews help marketing

Book reviews are an essential part of marketing. In fact, they are so important that most publishers will send works out for book reviews before printing up the dust jacket so that the notices can be displayed on the covers. Book reviews give readers a look into the work so that they can see if it is something that they will enjoy reading. These notices are not sales pitches, but a review of the plot, the writing style and the characterization in the book. They should not give away the secrets of the work. They are used to tell prospective readers a bit about the book so that readers can make up their minds whether or not they want to buy the work.

White Dog

How to Choose A Vacuum for Pet Hair Like an Expert

Pet on Couch

You just moved into a new neighbourhood, and now you’ve been invited to join the local book club. However, with the whole moving process and your furry friends running around the home dragging in dirt and hair on your rugs, you’re frantic and wondering how you’ll clear that mess. You have probably even tried cleaning with some detergents and brushes, but nothing seems to clear out the hair and dander.

Well, if you don’t know already, by getting the right vacuum for pet hair, you can seamlessly clear out all the dirt and built-up cat hair mess. That said, here’s a comprehensive guide to usher you into the wonderful world of pet vacuum cleaners.

Upright or Canister Vacuums

The first thing you have to consider when buying vacuum cleaners is the type of vacuum system you want, and the most common types are the upright and canister vacuums. Both clean carpets and bare floors effortlessly, but upright vacs have a slight advantage, especially if your home is mostly carpeted. They can also work on bare floors, but it would be better if you chose one that offers you a switch to turn off the brush roll to keep the dirt from scattering as you clean.

Canister vacuum, on the other hand, makes vacuuming stairs more manageable, and they come with a long narrow brush attachment that makes it even simpler to clean the tiled and bare floors.

Bagged or Bagless Vacuums

Another aspect you need to consider is if you need a bagless or bagged vacuum cleaner option. Both clean well but if you don’t like shopping for and storing vacuum bags, the bagless option would be your best fit. However, it would be best if you kept in mind that bagless models feature dust receptacles that require emptying and frequently cleaning to maintain the vacuum cleaner’s suction power.

If you also suffer from allergies or are sensitive to pet hair, then you’d be better off with the bagged vacuum cleaner option.

Shop At A Store That Allows You to RoadTest the Vacuum

When you take your preferred vacuum cleaner model for a spin before you purchase it is an excellent idea. So, be sure to check if your local store allows it and check the hoover’s weight and manoeuvrability. Is the cleaner easy to push and carry around? Does it seem robust enough to handle the tough stains and massive pet hair buildup? Is it cost-effective and does it come with a warranty?

You need to be precise about everything and also try to see if the switches and levers are easy to access and also adjust. You don’t want to buy a vacuum cleaner only to end up more frustrated.

Vacuum Cleaner Attachments

A ‘bag’s full ‘indicator light is also an essential feature to have on your vacuum cleaner, especially if it also comes with an in-built headlight.

Other attachments you need to consider including the incredible crevice tool that allows you to get the dust out of your drawers, heating and air-conditioning vents. You don’t want to host the book club only to have your guests breathing in the dusty air.  For your upholstered fabrics and drapes, the upholstery attachment offers you excellent service. You might also want to get the dusting brush for getting rid of dust from the blinds, lampshades and mouldings.

As a pet lover, you know that it isn’t easy dealing with shed pet fur. It can make you cancel on several events. However, you don’t have to be the neighbourhood, Debbie Downer. With the best vacuum for pet hair, you can tackle any task thrown your way and have the best time at the book club meeting!

Mutant Children

Marvel’s Mutant Metaphor Massacre

So here’s something that comes up in Team Comics conversations every few months and I never get around to putting in writing:

Mutantkind as a demographic group is a terrible analogue for any real world demographic group and people should probably stop doing it.

Marvel Mutants

I have no idea if Stan Lee or Jack Kirby had the Civil Rights Movement on their minds in 1963 when they created the X-Men — it certainly doesn’t peek through much in the text if they did — but it’s undeniable that for four decades writers have mined that vein, and it’s resonated with a ton of readers. Individuals who are feared and hated for what they are, the search for safe spaces to “be themselves”, the path to taking pride in their identity, drastic measures taken to hide or “cure” their differences, it’s completely understandable why so many people of so many stripes saw themselves in these stories. If those stories helped anyone grow as self-actualized individuals that’s fantastic and I don’t want to take that away from any human past, present, or future.

This was all well and good back in the 1970s

when writers were able to tackle racism, homophobia, religious persecution, etc. in coded terms, flying under the radar of the Comics Code Authority. But it’s not the 1970s anymore and Marvel can (and should) just go ahead and tackle those issues directly. If the creative staff at Marvel isn’t sure they can handle these topics using real people and cultures properly, go ahead and find some people who can.

Marvel Mutants

This isn’t a huge problem and I don’t really mind these stories of individuals, except for the times when fans and companies point to Nightcrawler’s fuzzy blue skin or Deathbird’s Shi’ar heritage as examples of diversity. Most people have learned not to say that (in public) so this is a much smaller problem than my real issue.

Marvel Mutants

Seriously, you can’t do a big sweeping sociological storyline with mutants filling in for any actual demographic. It doesn’t work, especially not after Marvel’s spent the last decade-plus sweeping Nu-Marvel/Morrison/Millgan/etc. era X-Books under the rug in spirit if not in cosmetics. Those books went into the speculative fiction realm where mutants were an actual social presence and force beyond some isolated gangs of combatants. Then they literally wiped that away, because the Marvel Universe is supposed to be “the world outside your window”, not a world fundamentally changed by fantasy elements. I get why they did it, I’ve gotten over my disappointment at this regression, but it should have closed the book on any of the “Mutants Are Just Like [Real Group of People]” for the foreseeable future. I know what some of you are saying though:

Really though, mutants are just like black people! You know, Professor X is Dr. King, Magneto is Malcolm X, Apocalypse is Yakub, Cable is um… Michael Eric Dyson?

Nope.

Mutants what are they?

First off, mutants are basically a few pocket groups of people who are almost entirely dedicated to fighting crime, fighting people who hate them, or fighting each other. You can barely (barely) try to take major sociopolitcal opinion leaders on Civil Rights and map them to mutant figures, but mutants exist in such a narrow band of society it’s absurd to even try. Reduced to soundbytes, Xavier/King are all about peaceful coexistence and integration, and Magneto/Malcolm are about protecting their people “by any means necessary”, but neither real-life leader existed in the sort of mutant culture vacuum that Magneto and Xavier do.

Marvel Mutants

There’s no “mutant” Barack Obama because no mutant is ever going to run for state Senate, much less President in a mainline X-Book. There’s no “mutant” Frederick Douglass or WIlma Rudolph or James Baldwin or Kanye West or Jackie Robinson or Bill Cosby or James Brown or Clarence Thomas or Beyonce or Neil DeGrasse Tyson or Laverne Cox or Condoleezza Rice, because superhero comics can’t be bothered to tell stories involving those types of figures. Likewise, you can map out a couple of characters to (say) George Wallace or Lyndon B. Johnson if you really squint, but there isn’t and will never be a “mutant” Thomas Jefferson, or Amos & Andy, or Branch Rickey, or Vanilla Ice, or Eminem, or Rachel Dolezal either. Superhero comics generally concern themselves with such a narrow, hyperbolic, violent plane of existence that mutants will never really have anything even approaching the depth and complexity that actual cultural intersections have. We’re not even talking two-dimensional.

ALSO: you know how all of this complexity exists for real life black people? Because one or more of their parents were black. Their family is black, and there are parts of the world with large traditionally black populations, but also areas where there traditionally were not black people, and black people have existed throughout history, and black people interact with each other and other people their entire lives. This history (personal and cultural) informs everything for better and worse.

Mutants exist because a random gene (or writer) decides one day that at puberty you’re going to burst into flame or grow horns or whatever. 99% of the time, your parents weren’t mutants, and even if they are they can set people’s blood on fire while you just turn into a giant snake. There’s no historic mutant district in big cities, no mutant homeland, no genealogy project to find out that Jimmy Fallon is in fact 1/16th mutant and that Michael Chabon’s ancestors owned mutants. The harder you work at developing it, the less sense it makes. I guess there’s at least one Historically Mutant College out there, though.

Okay okay, but what about mutants serving as the LGBT community? Straight parents have gay kids, they’ve existed forever but have only become a public demographic in the recent past but they’re still actively persecuted in many parts of the world. Mutants are gay! Mister Sinister is Oscar Wilde in this scenario, and Professor X is Morrissey?

I admit, this is a better fit, especially in terms of localized social groups and especially in terms of Sinister being Oscar Wilde. You get the whole “coming out” process, self-loathing closeted politicians, people trying to ‘pass’, praying the mutant away, taking medication to suppress their mutant powers, girls pretending to be mutants at frat parties to impress humans… at least some of these things have happened in comics!

Honestly, if you’re doing a pedagogical X-Men story about how bigotry is bad, going the LGBT route is probably the way to do it in the 21st century, and it’s been done to fine effect. I’m extra fine with people using this on a person-to-person level as a metaphor in stories. The flatness of the Mutant Experience in comics is a little easier to swallow in this case because while there’s been a sub rosa culture for millennia, the idea that big public organizations and structures dedicated to LGBT/mutant culture only started in the past several decades is an easier pill to swallow than “There were only a handful of [Jewish/Chinese/whatever] people, living in secret up until 1985, but now they’re everywhere!” That’s not an accurate depiction of the gay experience either, but at least you can close your eyes and pretend it is for a second.

Marvel Comics, the past fifteen years.

When you expand it out to the grander narrative of Marvel Comics of the past fifteen years, it gets really silly. As everybody knows, Mutantkind was decimated in 2005 when Wanda Maximoff used her poorly defined mutant powers to take away all mutant powers except for a few of the most marketable ones. For the next eight or so years, the mega-arc of all of the X-Books was about people desperately trying to “preserve/re-ignite the Mutant race”, culminating in 2012’s Avengers vs. X-Men, where the X-Men’s militant leader Cyclops thought that rolling the dice on “the destruction of the planet Earth” versus “a cosmic being might bypass planetary annihilation and instead reignite the mutant gene” is a gamble worth taking, and the Avengers thought it might not be? Chaos ensued.

Eventually a combination of faith-based mutant action, faux-Eastern mysticism, chaos magic, and pep talks about responsibility from Spider-Man really did end up re-igniting the mutant gene, so there are new mutants again! This probably isn’t seen as a boon by anyone who turned into a mutant acid monster and accidentally dissolved their prom date, or anyone who gets killed the next time a freshly minted evil mutant decides to pull a double 9/11 and destroy four skyscrapers to prove they’re a threat worthy of fighting X-Force and X-Factor at once, but this is still a net societal good, right? I mean, where does Captain America get off saying that a world where no more mutants are born is a just one?

A decent portion of the Marvel creative staff and readers decided that Cyclops was 100% in the right, and even if this mutant renaissance wasn’t a foregone conclusion, how can you blame people for wanting to preserve their culture? Who wouldn’t want something so central to the core of their self preserved for future generations? While I can’t disagree with that in real world terms, what exactly is the core identity for mutants?

Marvel Mutants

As previously stated, “being a mutant” isn’t something hereditary or cultural in any meaningful sense. People aren’t raised mutant, and while they’re born mutants (except when they’re not), what does that really mean? This is again where LGBT identity is a much better guide than race or creed or culture, but even then: beyond affinity culture overt or covert, the biggest thing that brings LGBT people together is the basic human need for love. If you were a gay woman who found out that the population of gay women was reduced drastically, and that no more women will ever be gay, then your chances of romantic love have just been damaged horrifically. Not so for mutants! Mutants can and have formed romantic bonds, marriages, even had children with just about anyone. Not only have mutants loved mutants, they’ve loved baseline humans, differently-powered humans, Inhumans, Eternals, Externals, demigods, alien races, hybrid alien/humans, clones of past lovers, synthetic lifeforms, abstract cosmic entities, time travelers, ghosts, possibly themselves from an alternate dimension, I forget. If there were never more than 198 surviving mutants, those 198 would still do fine on Tinder.

Part of this is that outside of the ill-defined biological/sociological concept of ‘mutants’, mutants have nothing in common. Even genetic abnormalities in the real world (say, left handed people) have shared experiences with left-handed issues like constantly being given the world’s worst left-handed scissors; Emma Frost’s experiences growing up as a rich telepath in Massachusetts compared to Maggott’s experience under Apartheid with two giant metallic sentient slugs instead of a traditional digestive system have as little common ground as my left-handed scissors struggle versus a blind person, or someone who can wiggle their ears. We’re all “different”, but who isn’t on some level, and why should we all band together and fight crime? Why would we have to go to a special school and protect humanity, because of these quirks of birth? And most of all, what sort of extreme measures can you expect any of us to take in order to ensure that future generations are left-handed or color-blind or good at moving one eyebrow just like the Rock?

I don’t wish to belittle or negate any sort of identification, solace, or solidarity anyone got/gets/will get from X-Men comics, I want to make that clear. In summation:

Comics which tackle real world issues between individuals using the lens of “mutants” instead of real world groups: Fine.
Comics which tackle real world issues in society using real world groups: Better.
Comics which tackle real world issues in society using the lens of “mutants” instead of real world groups: STOP.
Though I remember someone suggesting in an un-Googlable way that the X-Men should be used as a metaphor for explaining gun ownership in America. I’m willing to let Marvel give this a shot, if I ever thought they would!

Equity Release

How the Equity Release Mortgage Helped Lisa’s Venture

Lisa had always dreamt of being a published author. She was a financial expert and worked in the banking sector for twenty years. After retirement, though, all Lisa wanted was to make her dreams come true. After working in the financial world for more than a decade, she knew a lot about the equity release mortgage. So, she got her financial advisor, as required by the Financial Conduct Authority1 (FCA) and Equity Release Council (ERC), to help out with the process and get the cash she needed to get her books into the market.

Understanding Equity Release

Equity release is a mortgage scheme that allows you to untie the equity tied up in your home. You receive the tax-free capital in the form of a lump-sum2 or as a monthly income. Typically, the plan consists of two schemes, the lifetime mortgage plan and the home reversion plan. The lifetime mortgage is the most popular and allows you to continue living in your home until you move out permanently or pass away. In this plan, you pay the total loan you received plus any interests accrued overtime, one of the best providers out there is aviva equity release.

With the home reversion plan, however, you sell a portion, or your entire estate to the plan provider, of which when you move into residential care or die, the lender puts up their house for sale and takes their share of the estate. The remaining proceeds go to your family. Unlike with the lifetime mortgage plan, in this scheme, there are no accrued interests.

Taking out a home reversion plan also means that you receive a pre-arranged amount of cash to spend as you wish, in return for selling the part (or all) of your estate to your lender. The money you receive is discounted since you continue to reside in your home as long as you want.

It also enables homeowners to raise a more considerable sum of cash as compared to the lifetime mortgage plan. You also get the chance to ring-fence3 a portion of your estate for inheritance purposes and benefit from your share of ownership when there are increases in the estate market value.

Lisa chose the home reversion plan since it best suited her needs.  After consulting her adviser and with her vast knowledge about equity release and other mortgage plans, she opted to go with Bridgewater Equity Release company, who helped her get the best home reversion deals.

Bridgewater is one of the best equity release companies.

It’s a subsidiary of Grainger PLC, the most popular home reversion plans specialists of residential property in the UK. Moreover, since Lisa lived in Wales, Bridgewater was her best option.  The firm offers equity release plans in England, Wales, and Scotland.

Bridgewater’s home reversion plan required the homeowner to be 65 years of age, and it offers you a flexible release plan with a starting lump sum of £50,000. Lisa’s home was worth €200,000. Thus, Bridgewater offered her a lump sum of about €120,000 – they offer up to 60% of your home’s market value in a plan based on the property value and age of the individual.

Lisa used this cash to finance her first book ‘The Financial Guru’, and with a sale of over a million books, she’s now about to publish her second book. Like her, you can also actualize your dreams with equity release. All you need is a home worth more than €70,000 in the UK, and be over 55 years of age. It’s that simple!

Brilliant Story App

How to Make a Brilliant Story App

Children Story App

1. First, choose what story you’d like to tell! We’ve made lots (well, four) apps based on fairytales so far – they work well because they’re popular all over the world, children already know the stories, and they’re really exciting. Giants! Kings and Princesses! Cross-dressing wolves! Fairytales have EVERYTHING.

2. Next, decide how you’d like to tell your story. Our apps have lots of clever ways of drawing you in – there are tasks to complete, places to explore, lots of characters, and all sorts of fun extras. Sometimes you can choose different paths and make a new story every time!

3. Once you’ve decided the “what” and the “how”, it’s time to start drawing! Ed Bryan is the incredible illustrator behind our apps. First he starts with some pencil sketches (these ones are from our Little Red Riding Hood app):

And then he adds colour and more detail on a computer:

Children Story App

4. Once the characters have been drawn, Ed and another brilliant member of the Nosy Crow team, AJ, animate them. So that their arms and legs can move around properly and look real, the characters are separated into lots of different parts.

The drawings are also put onto a ‘wire frame’ so that they look solid and three-dimensional.

Children Story App

5. Lots of computer code is written into the apps, telling them exactly how to work and what to do. There can be hundreds of THOUSANDS of lines of code in each app. Our coder is the amazing Will Bryan.

6. Then it’s time to write all of the text that appears in the app! As well as the main story, each character has lots of dialogue, which you can trigger by touching them. A few of us sit down to write the text together, but there’s always extra bits that we add later on!

7. Once we have our text written down, we can record it. We go to a recording studio, where all of the parts are read aloud by children. By this stage we’re nearly finished with the app! We also add sound effects and original music.

Children Story App

8. The last thing we do is test the app lots to make sure it doesn’t break – this is called bug fixing.

And that’s it! We hope you enjoy reading our apps lots and lots – and hopefully even more, now that you know how they’re made!

Funny Books

Why Funny Books Are So Important for Today’s Audience

“There’s nothing like deep breaths after laughing that hard. Nothing in the world like a sore stomach for the right reasons.” — Stephen Chbosky The Perks of Being a Wallflower

“Sometimes crying or laughing are the only options left, and laughing feels better right now.” — Veronica Roth Divergent

Life can be crap when you’re a teenager. Whatever you call them – the youth of today, young adults, the not-quite-grown-ups, the one-day-will-be-quite-tall-and-able-to-grow-beards – they have a pretty rough time of it. Adults may wax lyrical about the crud they have to deal with (kids, interest rates, mundane jobs, expanding waistlines, having to wait months for the next episode of Game of Thrones etc) but quite frankly, being a teen is harder in many ways, not least because the best part of life (being a child) is over. 

Teenagers are still learning, still growing, still finding out what an all-round depressingly disappointing world this can be. They didn’t ask for those heady days of childhood to end – days when the most one had to worry about was what you wanted for your birthday, whether the rain would hold off for just one more round of Off Ground Tig or which Ninja Turtle you got to be at play time (I was Donatello). 

Funny Book

Teens didn’t ask to be thrust into this No Man’s Land of peer pressure, zits, periods, hair growing in unusual places, hair not growing in the usual places, exams, hangovers, rebellion, git boyfriends, ghastly girlfriends, being touched up when you don’t want to be, not being touched up when you want to be, boredom, bullies, body dysmorphia and lame-ass rom coms where everything ends oh so happily dappily and not at all like real life. But thrust into it they were, like grenades thrust over the top of No Man’s Land, rolling out onto the soggy field of life, no telling when they would eventually explode. 

I think if you can make a teenager laugh, you’re providing a very important service. Because teenagers, disadvantaged adults, hoodies, ruffians, youfs, the not-quite-able-to-drive-yets, the too-old-for-the-monkey-bars, the too-young-to-drinks, whatever you want to call them, NEED to laugh. They NEED something on the horizon showing them that actually, life is a bit of a cabaret and that it’s very much not how rubbish things are, but how you look at them.

No reviews mean quite so much to me as the ones where my books have provided a vestige of light in a dark day. A day when a relative passed away and a young person picked up Rockoholic and it took them from the horrors for an hour or two. A day when a Maths exam went badly and their dad shouted at them and they escaped into their bedroom with Dead Romantic and it made them giggle. A day when their boss docked their wages, a customer was rude and their bus was late, but they got home and read Pretty Bad Things and allowed Paisley to make them smile by shoving a tramp’s head into a plate of pancakes.

That, to me, is gold. 

When you can provoke a physical reaction in someone else – a physical happy reaction – that’s a real marvel. And okay, yeah, I am a bit silly in my books. I do go to certain, shall we say, lengths to get my giggle quota. I kidnap rock stars and hide them in garages and make them read the Argos catalogue naked. I knock down giant M&Ms; in Vegas, burn down gingerbread mansions and hold people hostage for doughnuts and candy bars. I blow up chemistry labs, put severed heads in the bagging area at supermarkets and make Jack Russell puppies do unspeakable things with poodles and decomposing fingers. And on more than one occasion, I have got a cheap laugh out of the word ‘winky’. And am I proud of myself? Damn straight I am. 

If you’re laughing at something, you’re not angry. You’re not sad. You’re not dwelling on how horrible the world can be. You’re not obsessively mulling over events you can neither help nor change. You’re not being reminded of how ugly you think you are, how that spesh boy or girl fancies someone else now, how you failed that test, how your parents just don’t arsing understand you, how trapped you feel. Instead, you’re seeing life for how it sometimes is. Silly. Insane. Ridiculous. Life, when all’s said and done, is a big fat joke. And if you can laugh at it every now and again, you take away its sting. And even if that’s just for a brief moment, isn’t that a good thing?

 I cling to funny books like The Madolescents by Chrissie Glazebrook, Lobsters by Tom Ellen and Lucy Ivison, From What I Remember by Stacy Kramer and Valerie Thomas, Hellbent and Henry Tumour by Anthony McGowan. I cling to them like a barnacle to a boat in a stormy sea. Yeah we need to get our rocks off to a bit of romance sometimes. Yeah we need to be thought-provoked by facts. And yeah we need a bit of thrill and adventure to get the old adrenalin going. But funny books are vital because they remind me that far from being crap all the time, life can actually be quite awesome and we really should treasure it while we’re here. People are hilariously funny, sometimes without meaning to be. 

And laughter of any kind is gorgeous (except if a serial killer’s doing it, I suppose). There’s a poem by the late great Maya Angelou called ‘Old Folks Laugh’ and it ends “When old folks laugh, they consider the promise of dear painless death, and generously forgive life for happening to them.” I think funny books for teens are a way for them to forgive life of robbing them of the magic of their childhoods. I know that’s why I write them.

Book Leaf

Three-Minute Space Missions From the Space in 30 Seconds Team

Make an Expanding Universe

Space Mission Story

1 Slightly inflate a large balloon and clip a peg over the end to keep in the air. 

2 Mark ten swirls with a marker pen on the balloon. Each swirl is a cluster of galaxies. Mark a tiny M for the Milky Way. 

3 Inflate the balloon to about two-thirds full size and see how the distances increase between the swirls. 

4 Fully inflate the balloon to see the distances increase again. The swirls are not moving on the balloon. It is the balloon that is getting bigger, just like space is expanding.

Go Star Spotting

Constellations are patterns of stars we can see in the night sky. They change their positions throughout the year. Print or copy out a star map from a book or website. On a clear night, try to spot three constellations.

Here are some useful websites to help you:

Space Probe Check

Two space probes, Dawn and New Horizons, are set to visit two dwarf planets in 2015. Visit the NASA space probe webpage  Click on the target button and select dwarf planets from the drop down menu. Check which ones are being visited and which other asteroid Dawn has already travelled to.

Interplanetary weigh-in

Weight measures how strongly gravity pulls on objects. To find your weight on another planet, first weigh yourself on scales, then multiply your weight by the planet’s gravity relative to Earth’s gravity, listed below.

Mercury 0.38  Venus 0.91 Mars 0.38  Jupiter 2.54 Saturn 1.08  Uranus 0.91 Neptune 1.19  Pluto 0.06

Contact aliens

Imagine you are designing an image to be beamed out into the Universe to make contact with alien life forms. What information would you include? How would you show it? Aliens will not understand English! Think about symbols, signs and images that could show them humans, the Earth and its place in the Universe.

Launch a rocket

1 Blow up a long balloon, fold over the open end and keep it shut with a clothes peg. 

2 Run a long thread through a drinking straw. Tape the straw to the side of the balloon. 

3 Tape the thread-end nearest the peg to the floor. Get a friend to hold up the other thread-end as high as possible. Push the balloon down and release the peg. 

4 Lift off!