Headline: If you enjoy Christmas movies as much as candy canes and baked cookies, you’ll love this
I love television Christmas movies, cheery 90-minute productions where cookies are always in the oven, mugs of hot chocolate plentiful on the counter, small town celebrations every other day. More festive than tinsel itself, I cannot get enough of them. When Fred Olen Ray’s book, Writing the Perfect Christmas Movie, appeared in my inbox I could not resist, jumped at the first chance I got.
Ray is no stranger to the industry of televising Christmas charm, in the space of ten years he has written fifteen Christmas films for television and directed several more. Having spent time with aspirational hopefuls wishing to break into the industry, Ray’s guide pitches itself as a one-stop shop for any budding scriptwriters of the genre with chapters that are intended to be all inclusive of the various considerations that need to be made when putting pen to paper. From story and act structure to considerations around budgets and casting and, the all important question, how Christmassy is too Christmassy? (In the world of festive films? It transpires there is no such thing.) In a short space of time Ray does an excellent job and condensing a genre and getting the main points across professionally and informally. You get a real sense of this being an author who genuinely wants to help others break into the industry.
Ray’s approach to producing this guide is consistent with an experienced professional; recounting past projects and how to avoid potential pitfalls with each approach. It is almost semi-autobiographic, from a place of passing on experience as opposed to providing a line-by-line tutorial of scriptwriting. There is a general expectation here that you can already write screenplays. To this end, Writing the Perfect Christmas Movie could be more likened to the Masterclass brand of video tutorials and may therefore cause disappointment to those hoping to see annotated case studies of previous scripts.
A choice purchase for those who are actively trying to pursue a career in scriptwriting whilst also sitting comfortably as my recommendation to any festive film-fans, Writing the Perfect Christmas Movie offers a rare peak under the covers of what makes the seasonal film genre tick.
Headline: Three simple mantras to change mindset and create lifelong opportunities? Sign me up!
Think in Color by Sophia Santiago is a self-betterment guide which puts forth a proposition for a new way of thinking, branded “ColorThinking”.
This approach is broken down into three mantras, also referred to as mental cones:
Think “and” before “or”
Think “how” before “no”
Think “can be” before “is”
In all three scenarios theory and approach is backed-up by some interesting real-life and fictious scenarios, coupled with a step-by-step walkthrough of how things could have been better handled. A fourth section focuses on how to break away from external negative influences which may be impacting on your ability to implement a new way of thinking, and finally there is an advisory on the dangers of overuse; applying ColorThink to every scenario.
Santiago’s style of writing may not suit every reader, author jovialness bubbles to the service with the use of phrases including “just kidding!” and “a nice twist, ha?” In a self-help guide I prefer the tone of author voice to be informed and neutral; in places the over-informality of the writing distracts from the otherwise invaluable information and action items which the book is trying to impart.
As someone who works in Project Management, I really like what Think in Color is trying to do. Whether Santiago was aware when devising the concept of ColorThinking or not, the three mental cones have striking resemblance to Agile methodology, with its four simplistic principles for transforming and embedding efficient delivery. While the subject matter differs, the theory of ColorThink is similar in that respect and, at just over eighty pages in length, it is as equally digestible as another ground-breaking manifesto adopted by millions worldwide.
Think in Color convinces readers to reconsider the traditional black and white principles of thinking, offering a fresh perspective in a way that does not seem that different at all. I like it.
Headline: Questionable facts, confusing anecdotes that lead nowhere and uncomfortable levels of over familiarity. Diagnosis? Checkout
Burnout is, to pardon the pun, a hot topic at the moment. I only need to pop down to my local community centre, shop or healthcare provider and within seconds there will be someone venting about their personal frustrations of working in an increasingly pressurised environment. From this inevitably comes the term ‘burnout’, a mental health condition that can be triggered by chronic workplace stress.
From this the writer Ariyana S. Nishe has decided to invest her passions into producing a 45-page self-help guide, Diagnosis BURNOUT.
With the subline, “Reclaim your time, health, energy and relationships” I was expecting something that could provide clear and concise guidance for those on the brink (or wanting to take proactive steps to avoid) a mental health crises. However the cover imagery is very divisive and features an eclectic mix of imagery that is distracting.
Nishe states in her introduction that burnout has been added to the list of medical diagnoses by the World Health Organisation (WHO), yet when visited the WHO website the only definition of burnout I could find was that the condition is “an occupational phenomenon. It is not classified as a medical condition.”
My confusion over the author’s interpretation of burnout left me doubting many other elements of this book. I’m not an expert on mental health conditions, let alone burnout syndrome; that is why I turn to publications like these. Yet suddenly my eye is drawn to other elements; the formatting could be tightened, use of imagery could have been reduced and improved and the tone of voice would have significantly benefitted from editorial input.
It’s clear that the author is passionate about this field of study, and I appreciate her detailed reference section to acknowledge her source materials, but it’s not enough to pull at quotes from obscure places, couple them with images pasted from search engines and label it as self-help. This is a publication that is both confused and lacking direction.
While Nishe’s attempts are valiant, sadly they don’t hold enough water to make Diagnosis: BURNOUT marketable to the audience it’s intended for. This should be seen as a product of the author’s aspiration to be published, not something for mass-market consumption. Less book material, more blog.
Find out more about the other painted doors which feature in the city of Funchal’s ‘Old Town’ district (Rue de Santa Maria). Click this link or enter “Painted doors Madeira” into your trusty search engine. There are some absolute beauties to be found.
Headline: For those who want to stay ahead of the increasingly steep and bloody curve of customer satisfaction, this book is a must
Once upon a time, loyalty was decided by large armies and costly landgrabs. A knight (or similar) would swear their loyalty and in turn all the sprawling hordes of peasants (or similar) underneath would also find themselves also pledged to that cause. But we are no longer in that period. In Westernised countries, gone are the knights, swept away the uneducated masses and in its place born is the freely accessible internet.
Joss Gillet’s guide to business, The Customer Affinity Manifesto: How AI can Help Businesses Connect with Customer Emotions, brings into conversation the need to incorporate artificial intelligence (AI) into brand building. Before all else, Gillet details two home truths, 1) AI is not going anywhere and 2) your business is not going anywhere without it. (The phrase “suck it up and move on” springs to mind.)
That said, Gillet is equally keen to not let AI become seen as a digital enemy, if anything in many cases throughout recent history he cites many examples of where AI systems have benefited improvements in marketing and how, before then, psychology experimentation was mimicking a lot of what we see today, be it on a much more labour-intensive scale. From telephone response times to the words and colours on a digital app, a better understanding of customer frustrations can lead to better targeted improvements. Happy customers equals happy economic growth.
Using his previous experience in the Telecommuncations sector to build a case study, Gillet identifies sixteen specific pain points (or ‘topics’) where customers feel particular disillusionment with their provider’s service. Gillet then presents the case that anyone can use deep learning to build a simple AI model to utilise freely accessible data on social media platforms, such as Twitter, to produce highly effective data charts and sentiment scores. Later on, there contains more detail about how business can implement effective AI, without needing to rely on the brand popularity of 10,000+ Tweet mentions a day.
Gillet’s book is well researched, well put together and visually is very engaging (the use of clearly explained graphs being welcomed sight). Granted, this would perhaps not be the best birthday present for someone selling the occasional bead necklace on Etsy, but for the truly aspirational, those who want to grow their business and stay ahead of the increasingly steep and bloody curve of customer satisfaction, this book is a must.
Someone abandoned their catering van on my housing estate. And I was not happy.
Look at it! It’s massive!
Naturally, I applied a very level-headed attitude to this. That’s right, I sent a ranty email to estate management. It went something like this:
WHY IS THERE A MASSIVE CATERING VAN PARKED IN A VISITOR SPACE? I’VE CHECKED THE REGISTRATION PLATE (“XXX XXX” for your reference) AND IT’S NOT TAXED OR INSURED. IT’S UGLY AND CLEARLY BEEN ABANDONNED. I PAY MY MANAGEMENT FEES, SORT IT OUT!
(The caps are a reflection of the shouty voice in my head…I may have also left the last bit out.)
Estate management responded, saying thay they’d located the vehicle’s owner and told them to move it within the next 48 hours.
48 hours came and went, the van unmoved.
I wish I could say I became tolerant of the pudding van’s presence, but when you’re facing onto something like that every time you go to make a cup of tea, it’s very hard to let go. (Plus, you know, me.)
Whilst waiting for the owners to be chased up again, I did a little investigation of myself. By in investigation, I meant be super nosey.
There weren’t any company details on the van and the only online presence seemed to take me back to a deactivated Facebook page, from when it operated out of Pershore some 56 miles away.
Instead of hard, concrete information, I had to deal with statements like this:
I don’t know what bothered me most; the font, the words or the fact that it’s annoyingly true. Everything about it grated on me more than the sugary sweetness of the food it claimed to provide.
Update: I drafted this post in September 2021, however in June 2022 the van disappeared altogether. I assumed it was at local festival but it never came back and I haven’t seen the van since. No idea what has happened but the problem of the Pudding Van seems to have sorted itself!
I’m totally putting it down to my ability to moan, that or my top-notch judgemental stares out the window.
(And as for why I’m not posting this until now…well, I forgot I’d written it.)
Headline: The only place where you can complete sudokus and hug trees: a little book of fun
The Ultimate Workbook to Train Your Brain, Body and Spirit by Steven Clinch is a neat little publication, at 129 pages there is by far more visual content in here than words (for context, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is around 77 thousand words in length, The Ultimate Workbook nears a modest 1000). It is a welcome relief from a lot of the denser material that exists in the market.
This publication provides the reader with 150 different exercises to conduct at their own pace. Activities include colouring in, wordsearches and short exercise routines, all of which are intended to trigger feelings of relaxation or deep thought as the reader is given the opportunity to pick (and subsequently tick off) the activities they’ve completed. For those needing a bit more guidance, answers to the puzzle activities are provided towards the back.
Be it sudoku or crosswords or even wordsearches, for a indecisive person like me I like the variation in activity and puzzle. I could pick and choose an activity based on how much time I had or how I was feeling on a particular day. I tended to reserve the ethical dilemma questions for when I had the most time and use the brain teasers as a bit of fun when spending time with friends and family. In this sense the book is perfect across a broad range of age groups.
The cover’s intense and dark imagery is easy to misconstrue, I had to take a second glance before recognising this as being aimed toward mental stimulation rather than physical. The solutions on the final pages have not taken into consideration accessibility – my eyesight is perfectly fine but I still found myself struggling to read some of the answers and I am not convinced the author should be making bold statements. Claiming the completion of the activities will create more brain neurons and therefore result in to a longer and happier life? The colouring lead to a happier half hour, let’s start there.
Headline: Offering bite-sized ways to make significant improvements, this is perfect self-help for creatives, big and small
The last two (plus) years have been challenging for the best of us. Lockdowns, 24/7 global news coverage, crises after crises, current affairs have taken a huge toll on even the most resilient of individuals, let alone the those of us who are prone to succumbing to negative thoughts and letting them play out into the everyday.
Against this backdrop Karen Kinney enters into the ring with her new book Doorways to Transformation, a self-help guide that aims to restore self-belief and confidence to the reader by means of personal mediation. Each chapter opens with an inspirational quote and closes with reflective questions or prompts to encourage the reader to broaden their horizons and apply the learnings on that topic to their unique situation. Of the 37 bite-sized chapters few go by without a nod to a personal experience linked to the topic in hand.
That’s what I like about Kinney, she brings a very real and relatable touch to this book by bringing in her own personal experiences (and challenges) from her relocation from America’s Los Angles to the city of San Miguel de Allende in Mexico.
The digestibility of this book also appealed to me. I’m a busy woman at the best of times and there are days where five minutes to myself can seem an utter luxury. The brief nature of the chapters meant I could pick this up and quickly flick to the relevant section before diving straight back into the hustle and bustle of daily life. Kinney even states in the introduction that there is no order to how the chapters should be digested, that their placement should be seen more as a guideline; music to my ears!
For anyone looking for a mid-morning alterative to coffee, Doorways to Transformation is the perfect pick-me-up. Caffeine, in paper form.