Saturday, September 30, 2006

Paper trails

Only one month to go before we head off for our annual trip to England. This time we'll be combining business with pleasure, visiting friends and family in Hampshire, Yorkshire, Sussex and Hertfordshire, while we juggle visits to bookstores to sell our books, and presentations to writing groups. The first is already booked - and CBC As It Happens listeners might get a kick out of this. I'll be speaking to a writing group in Reading, which is only 3,000 miles plus from Vancouver.

View of Winchester, Hampshire from St. Giles Hill

We'll also be exploring some ideas for travel articles in Winchester and London, and I'll be following up on some research leads for my novel.

All in all, we'll be doing enough work while we're on the road to be able to write off some of the expenses we'll be incurring - not inconsiderable given the strength of the quid these days.

Used to be, I was happy to take out the whole family for a meal on my last night 'at home'. These days, even coffee out for four almost breaks the bank. But the coffee! What used to be served up was something that resembled dishwater in which the family dog had been bathed. These days most places serve it rich and hot with good cream, and brown sugar.

My favourite coffee shop is in the Winchester Cathedral Refectory served by proper English ladies (volunteers all). Then I like to take to wander around Cathedral Close, past Pilgrim's School - where I once held down an after-school job as a kitchen maid - and through the South Gate at Cheyney Court into Southgate Street, one of my favourite areas of the city (picture below).

Searching for the perfect notebook or daybook/journal

Ever watch shoppers scrutizing every notebook on the stationary store shelves? Chances are they're writers.

Everyone has their favourite type of notebook. Mine's a coil-bound one with squares rather than lines so I can use it either horizontally or vertically and still stay more or less on the level. (A Mead Five Star two-subject notebook, with those little pockets inside for keeping notes and receipts safe).

My annual search for a good daybook has led me in several directions. For years I used Polestar's Business Calendar (again, I loved those pockets!) Then one year when I couldn't find one, I discovered the Brownline weekly version with a full week's calendar on one page for appointments, etc. and an adjacent page for additional notes. The trouble was that when the pages were folded back, as intended, I lost sight of the notes which I needed to help me get through the day.

Then in my search for a 2007 calendar I discovered a Moleskin one designed in a similar way, but with this one you can see both pages at once. And the paper is lovely. And the cover feels almost like soft kid leather. And it comes in two sizes. And the overall look is so classy. And it weighs next to nothing. And comes in two sizes. And the word is that Vincent van Gogh and Bruce Chatwin both used the original Moleskin notebooks produced by a French company.

A great source of them is the little Japanese giftstore in Steveston. They have small, medium, and large notebooks with line and squares or blank pages, with handy pockets and an elastic closure.

They're all lovely to look at and to use.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Direct mail expert Alan Sharpe delivers the goods

One of the things I do in my 'real job' is develop direct mail fundraising appeals for the organization I work for.

I've just completed two days of workshops with Alan Sharpe, a London, Ontario direct mail consultant and developer, and a dynamite workshop presenter.

You rarely find workshop leaders who manage to combine great content with really effective and well-paced presentation skills. The information Alan shared with the fundraisers who participated in his Vancouver workshops was well-prepared and thoughtfully presented in careful units which allowed perfectly timed chunks of breathing space, participation, and discussion.

He started on time, resumed on time after the alloted breaks, responded to questions, kept things moving, and shared an enormous wealth of information, experience, and insights.

And in answer to the familiar post-workshop question, "How were the handouts?" They were great.

If you are involved in a non profit as a staff or volunteer, and already conduct or are planning direct mail fundraising campaigns, you'd do well to attend one of Alan's workshops. And/or you can always visit his website, sign up for his useful newsletter, and buy one of his handbooks which present many topics related to direct mail fundraising in a coherent, logical, and information-packed format.

Check out Alan Sharpe's website at