Saturday, 24 December 2011

Happy Ho Ho!

I just wanted to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and the Happiest and Healthiest of New Years!  I'm busily making snow angels in my mom's front yard but will be back in 2012 to share more of my writing and publishing odyssey experiences with you!

See you next year!
Anne






Wednesday, 14 December 2011

The Tour Picks up Steam

Looking forward to tomorrow's tour stop at Jet Settlers Magazine where I'll talk about 'Expatriation Then and Now' and Linda at Adventures in Expatland will share her thoughts on @Home in Dubai.  Hope you can join me for a visit!

Anne


Monday, 12 December 2011

Virtual Book Tour Launches to Amazing Reviews

We launched the tour today on Arabian Tales and Other Amazing Adventures and I Was an Expat Wife. Thank you Katie and Maria for a couple of incredible reviews (that quite honestly left me blushing).  I had a great chat with Maria too and invite you to have a read.

Katie's blog also appears on The Boomer Chronicles today as part of their Blogging Boomers Carnival series! Very exciting!

See you tomorrow when I visit Jo Parfitt at Summertime Publishing and Lynda Martinez at Longhorns and Camels.  We'll also launch our 'Funniest Dubai Stories' contest on The CAT (Cultural Arts & Travel Dubai).  Don't miss that! 

And don't forget...if you can post and tweet the following message that would be great!

"@Home in Dubai launches today! Full of advice for #expats moving to Dubai. Get it on Amazon http://amzn.to/vZJKYW #dubaiconnection"


Monday, 5 December 2011

The Virtual Book Tour Schedule - Connecting @Home in Dubai to the Blogosphere

-->

I’m excited to share the plans for the Virtual Book Tour for @Home in Dubai…Getting Connected Online and on the Ground, which is taking shape quite nicely. The tour will run from Dec. 12-17 and feature some of my favourite bloggers (and stars of the expat and Dubai blogger world). There are more in the works but as of today I’m thrilled to announce the following blogs that I’ll be visiting on the tour:

Dec. 12 – Launch Day is going to be a very exciting and busy day!  We kick off with a review on Katie Foster’s, Arabian Tales and Other Amazing Adventures as well as an interview/book review with Maria Foley (fellow Canadian and intercultural communications expert) at I Was an Expat Wife. I’ll also be sharing some quick tips on writing and publishing a book and setting up your online platform that will air on Jo Parfitt's Writers Abroad radio show.

Dec. 13 – I’ll be dropping by The Cat for a guest blog and will announce the rules for a fun contest that blogger Jan D’Sa and I have cooked up. Stay tuned for details. On the same day I'll be visiting Lynda Martinez's blog Longhorns and Camels.

The day will wrap up with Linda Janssen sharing her thoughts on @Home in Dubai with a book review in on her blog, Adventures in Expatland… and I’ll be popping by for sure to give it a read. 

Dec. 14 - I'll swing by Jetsettlers Magazine and do a guest post on getting connected 'then and now' and also drop by for a short visit with Expat Women.

Dec. 15 - My friend, Susan Castle (Susan the Coach) from Outwith the Dots will be hosting me on her blog as I explore the all important the Big 5 Personality Traits of successful expats that I first came across on Maria Foley's blog.  I will also return to Writer's Abroad and share some Blog Tour Secrets that I've learned as I go through this process.

Dec. 16 – The tour will find me happily digging my toes in the sand at Grace Fujimaki's Sandier Pastures with a guest blog on escaping into the desert.

Dec. 17 – I’m thrilled to say that I’ll be wrapping up tour week 2011 with a guest blog on connecting with your angels on fellow blogger and author, Zvezdana Rashkovich’s blog, Sleepless in Dubai
There are more to come on board in 2012 so I’ll be posting updates as they come in!

*There will also be a Book Blast on launch day when all my friends, family, colleagues and anyone connected to the book will post on Facebook and LinkedIn and Tweet the following message: 
@Home in Dubai launches today! Full of advice for #expats moving to Dubai. Get it on Amazon http://amzn.to/vZJKYW #dubaiconnection” 
- Feel free to join in on the Book Blast on Dec. 12 – you could even schedule your Tweet now so you don’t forget.  See you then :)
*Updated on Jan 18, 2012

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Book Review - Dubai Wives by Zvezdana Rashkovich


I don’t typically review fiction but there are so many kernals of truth in Zvezdana’s book, Dubai Wives: A Novel and many instances where I was nodding my head, recognizing similar situations I had experienced (or read or heard about) while living in Dubai, that I thought it would be appropriate! 

Dubai Wives is realistic, yet fictional, journey into the lives of eight women, all from different backgrounds and walks of life, but all living in the very cosmopolitan city of Dubai. Their experiences are fraught with the unique conundrums of living in an exciting, contemporary city with an undercurrent of Muslim values and Islamic law.

It’s full of mystery and intrigue, high emotion and colourful characters whose personalities both clash and meld all at once. Zvezdana cleverly describes the wildest contrasts that bring the reader skilfully into the private lives of each woman…. like the demur outer trappings of the Emirati heroine, Jewel, to the inner sanctity of her bedroom. Steamy stuff! She also takes you on the crazy roller coaster ride of Tara's life, an expat, married to a high powered executive, living and breathing his job and the toll it takes on her family.

Dubai Wives is full of all the elements that make a book a page-turner… power, betrayal, romance, exotic locations and a few plot twists to keep you glued.  Happy Reading!


Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Planning my Virtual Book/Blog Tour

So, it’s finally here!  My publisher (Summertime Publishing) and I have chosen a launch date for my book, @Home in Dubai… Getting Connected Online and on the Ground.  We’re fleshing out the marketing plan, which includes (drumroll, please) a Virtual Book and Blog Tour!  It’s all very exciting as I enter this realm with wide-eyed, newbie wonder. I’m lucky to be following in Jo Parfitt’s very successful footsteps (she is my publisher and a prolific author as well). She just completed a successful blog tour for her first work of fiction, Sunshine Soup - nourishing the global soul,which I watched in admiration and took lots of notes.


Learning and Sharing
I’m learning so many amazing new things in this process.  What blows me away is how helpful other authors are who have gone before and how willing they are to share their experiences to give you a hand up.  Jo’s expertise is invaluable and I’ve been following others as well. I happened on a great teleseminar on setting up a virtual book tour by D’Vorah Lansky recently. It ran last night but you can get the replay on her website… great reference!

I’ve been in marketing and PR for years (I started when media tours meant you were going on a 'road trip'... for real, not virtually) and can obviously put that experience into action, but there’s always something new to learn.  I’m approaching this, not only as a marketer, but also as a new author (same game, different ball park).  As I add this new area of expertise to my repertoire, I will certainly ‘pay it forward’ and continue to share my thoughts and never-ending advice and words of wisdom!

Oh…the book launch is Dec. 12 and the Virtual Book/Blog tour is Dec. 12 – 17.  If you’d like to participate, leave a comment or send me a note to anne@globalwritingsolutionsonline.com.



Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Writing Between Genres


I’ve been reading a lot lately about transitioning from one genre of writing to another.  Seems that there are those out there who feel like it’s either or.  What if, in the middle of a transition, you find that halfway through is a great place to be?  I’ve found a very happy place part way between corporate copy writing and book writing (both fiction and non-fiction). The latter is a very new development for me (my first book is coming out in December) and I’ve found the process very stimulating.

I was preparing for a blog interview with my publisher (who wrote a great blog recently about Crossing Genres) and she asked if the process of writing a book had helped with my business. Well, since my ‘business’ is copy writing my answer was a resounding YES! It’s okay to have a niche, or an area of expertise but I am finding that breaking out of that mould every once in a while energises the creative juices and injects a whole new perspective into your writing when you switch back.  Even when writing for corporate communications, it’s important to shake it up every once in a while.

As I work on the marketing plan for my book (@Home in Dubai) that is launching next month and simultaneously juggle my copy writing clients and peck away at my first novel with National Novel WritingMonth (NaNoWriMo), one of the NaNo cheerleaders gave some great advice – just keep writing!  And, that’s what I intend to do.

Anyone else out there found a halfway happy place? How is it working out?  Or, is it?



Thursday, 10 November 2011

Moving to a new country? Get to know the dangers… big and small!


I’m happy to say that we are getting nicely settled into our lives in Thailand.   We miss our friends in Dubai but it’s on to another adventure, right?  I’m still happily writing away – copy writing for clients, getting ready to launch my first book, @Home in Dubai… Getting Connected Online and on the Ground, AND participating in NaNoWriMo for the first time (yes, I’m a little crazy but happy – I’m writing! And that’s what counts).

So, back to the topic of this post… we had visited Thailand several times while we were living in Dubai and fell in love with it on the first landing.  It was decided early on that it would be where Doug would like to retire.  Our comfort level with the place was truly at a 10 out of 10. Any of the small irritants of settling into a new place were easily overcome because of the huge number of positives – like the food, the amazing people, the gorgeous beach, lush greenery, cheap cost of living and so on.  BUT, I forgot to also pay attention to the possible dangers of living here (no, I’m not talking floods, but that would be a good guess considering what’s been going on in northern Thailand and parts of Bankok)… I’m talking about creatures, big and small, that you have to look out for.

Creatures BIG
The other day, I was sitting in my office, working away, minding my own business, when I caught Zorro, my cat, out of the corner of my eye.  He was the perfect depiction of a Halloween cat and he was fuzzed out so much, he looked twice his large, 15-pound kitty frame.  Alarmed, I went out to investigate.  He was looking over the back wall and was obviously petrified.  I tried to coax him down but he was frozen in place.  I went out the front door, around to the back of the villa to investigate what was freaking him out.  I know, I know.  You’re thinking, what the hell was I doing? It’s like in those horror movies when the stupid moron goes into the house that’s oozing blood from the windows, right?  Well, I rounded the corner and just about stepped on a very large (I’d say he was about a four-footer), shiny, black snake.  Holy Crap!  The good thing is that, it seems that what they say is true, they’re more scared of you than you are of them.  He immediately slithered away up a banana tree and over the neighbor’s wall.  My heart was in my throat but both Zorro and I were untouched.  Phew!
Photo kindly provided by www.thailandsnakes.com

Creatures Small
A smaller beast that I forgot to beware of and that had a much more uncomfortable impact on me than the snake encounter, was the very nasty, intestinal parasite.  Microscopic, yet deadly.  Again, my comfort was my downfall.  I puff out my chest and say confidently, “I live here now. I can eat anything and everything, just like the locals.”  Well, my somewhat virgin intestines had a different take on the new situation.  The locals have had their whole lives to develop a tolerance to these little beasts.  Me… not so much.  I always claim to be an adventurous eater and the first few weeks we were here, we ate from every little hole in the wall and sidewalk vendor we happened upon when we were hungry.  My reward… five days of fever and chills, headache, cramps and… well, you know what comes with that.

Lessons learned:
  1. No walking around barefoot (especially at night) and make lots of noise as you’re coming around corners.
  2. Ease yourself into the local food, carry anti-bacterial hand wash at all times, and don’t put fingers in mouth until thoroughly sanitized.
  3. Always have a back-up supply of anti-biotics.  You can get them over the counter here!
 

Monday, 7 November 2011

Book Review - A Pirate Looks at Fifty by Jimmy Buffet


I’ve just finished reading Jimmy Buffet’s A Pirate Looks at Fiftyand I want to read it all over again!  I don’t say that about too many books but this one had me grinning, nodding and laughing out loud from the first page.  I’ve always been a Jimmy Buffet fan and have listened to his music for hours on end on many a sailing trip and while sipping Margaritas in so many Tiki bars throughout the Caribbean, I’ve lost count.  After reading this book (he has others but this is the first one I’ve read), his Joie de Vivre is palpable.  It’s no wonder he writes such wonderful music.  He’s had a life full of crazy adventure and experiences that are hard to believe (some of them aren’t so hard to believe for me as many of his stories of flying into remote island airports and dropping anchor in beautiful bays brought back some great memories of our travels).

Story Telling Wrapped in Good Advice
If you like to get lost in stories of adventure, with colorful characters, this is the book for you.  Buffet also intersperses his skilful storytelling with little nuggets of advice for world travelers… like this little gem: “I learned a long time ago to leave my Yankee bravado at home when I travel.  The best way for an American to get around the world is not to act like you saved it or own it.”  Good advice.  He also gives great relationship advice.  I’ve always believed that if you want to test the mettle of a relationship, do some traveling together.  

Traveling in Pairs
My husband and I love to travel and we’re very well-suited.  I think that bodes well for a relationship (and it’s served us well for over 20 years).  Buffet shares the highs and lows of his marriage (which broke down once but they reconciled and are still going strong).  He ponders that, “We have learned through experience that it’s okay to not like some things that your spouse likes to do, and it’s better to make it known rather than go along.”  Again, a brilliant insight that more couples would be wise to heed.

You’ll hold your breath as he tries to clear his airplane (and family) through customs in Bogal, Columbia after being diverted from his planned landing in Cartagena; and you’ll laugh along with him as he’s constantly entertained by his two pre-school aged children.

He’s a world traveler, avid angler, aviator, world famous musician and devout family man and he’s opened his heart and soul to his fans in this great memoir chronicling some special highlights from his life’s journey.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Social Media - Harmful or Helpful?

I often blog about social media - the business applications, the triumphs, the evils and the pure fun of it.  I came across this gem today on Social Times, "Has Facebook Become Beneficial or Harmful to Students," which had a really interesting graphic that they invited everyone to share on their websites.  So...have a look at this!

Facebook University
Created by: Online PhD

Thanks to Social Times for encouraging us to share this infographic.  How do you feel about this?  When used with some thoughtful consideration and respect, any form of communication is positive.  Social Media is just the newest tool in the box...and it removes so many barriers.  When the printing press was invented in the mid 1400s it allowed the first printing of the bible, which meant that even the 'common man' would be able to read and interpret it.  It sparked many religious revolutions but with more people (rich and poor) having access to books and learning to read, it built the bridge to cross over from the Middle Ages into the Renaissance.  There's no doubt that Social Media has brought to the 21st century an information revolution.  But, how will it play out?  Where will this bridge lead?

Saturday, 15 October 2011

iPhone Apps for Expats, World Travellers and Writers


As much as I was fighting back and as much as I loved my little Samsung flip phone (it was smart enough for me)… it finally died.  After a brief grieving process, my husband returned from a trip to LA with a new iPhone 4 for me .  After I stopped sulking that I’d been “forced” into the Apple tribe (I recently blogged about the Steep Learning Curve of switching from a Toshiba laptop to a MacBook Pro), I started exploring the wonders of this device that was foisted upon me.

Finding Your Way
I admit, I am getting a little smitten with it but not addicted just yet.  However, my first favorite thing about this new little genius that I carry around in my purse is some of the cool apps that do truly help you get through the day.  Enter the Google Maps application.  Holy cow!  It actually shows exactly where in the entire world I’m standing at that very moment.  I can zoom in for detail or zoom out for orientation (to establish the direction I need to head in order to get where I want to go).  For the directionally challenged (my hand is up in the air), it’s a lifesaver!  I love watching the little blue dot (which is me) come closer to the little red dot (my destination).  This is quite often happening as I’m sitting on the back of our motorbike as my husband weaves his way through the busy traffic of Phuket, Thailand.  It’s best if I don’t look anyway so it gives me something else on which to focus.

Making Yourself Understood
The next amazing little nugget that we found was LingoPal.  For only 99 cents (US) you can carry around your very own translator (and you can choose whatever native language you speak and what language you want translated).  And, there's no need to worry if your pronunciation is crap (in Thailand there are many inflections that make the same word mean tons of different things… you think you’re saying ‘yes’ when you’re really saying ‘cow’ or something equally as ridiculous).  You can just hit the play button and a sweet little Thai lady’s voice melodically delivers the phrase you were innocently butchering so that your puzzled taxi driver/waiter/doctor or any Thai person (or whatever country you're living or traveling in) you’re desperately trying to communicate with, understands.

Global Communications
Of course, there are always Skype, Facebook and Twitter apps for iPhone too.  I always felt that I didn’t need to be connected 24/7 (and still feel that way) and I certainly won’t be typing obliviously away while in the company of others.  But, there are times that I’m sitting by myself in an airport, doctor’s office, restaurant, hairdressers and such that it comes in handy.

For Writers
I would be remiss if I didn’t include a couple for writers.  If I’m on the fly, doing a quick draft of a blog or article and I’m stumped for the right word, I’ve got Dictionary.com right there on my iPhone.  It has both a dictionary and thesaurus, gives synonyms and antonyms and even an audio option to give you the right pronunciation or for you to speak your word instead of typing it.  Cool, eh?  Then, for writing guidance and inspiration, there’s the Creativity Portal (it made Writer’s Digest Magazine’s 2011 list of best web sites for writers).  I also devour apps that offer ebooks like Wattpad and Good Reads.

I know these are pretty elementary but it’s probably because I’m such an iPhone newbie, but I just had to share!  What are your favorite apps?

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Phuket Vegetarian Festival Celebrates 185th Anniversary


Every year, during the ninth lunar month of the Chinese calendar, the streets of Phuket ring with the sound of loud drumming as mah song are possessed by Chinese Gods and Godesses. Rituals that cleanse and heal take place simultaneously.

As I watched one of the Chinese Goddesses, Ama Hua San Neo Neo, enter the body of Aea, a 14-year-old girl who is the daughter of my friend Thanya, she started writhing and shaking, her eyes rolling back into her head.  Aea is a Shaman or medium, chosen for her purity by the Goddess to be a vessel for messages and guidance, especially during the Phuket Vegetarian Festival. 


I joined the other devotees dressed in white from head to toe, and gave praise to each of the Chinese Gods and Goddesses, handing over my burning incense in homage.  Participating in the rituals brings good fortune, good health, brightness and inner peace.  During the celebrations we even burned gold leaf as an offering and in return will have ‘beng ang’ (good luck) and be rewarded with much gold.

The rituals were taking place in Chung Talay Chinese Temple in Bang Tao, Phuket as part of the annual Phuket Vegetarian Festival that runs from September 27th through October 5th.  



The festival started in 1825 after a group of opera singers fell ill while visiting Thailand from China to entertain the Chinese tin workers who had settled in Kathu District.  They believed that if they ate a vegetarian diet for three days (the original detox) to honour two of the emperor Gods, Kiew Ong Tai Teh and Yok Ong Sone Teh, they would be cured… and they were.  

According to the Phuket Vegetarian Festival website: “It later happened that one familiar with the festival volunteered to return to Kansai, in China, where he invited the sacred Hiao Ho-le or Hiao lan (incense smoke) and Lian Tui (name plaques), which have the status of gods, to come stay in Kathu. He also brought holy writings used in the ceremonies, returning to Phuket on the seventh night of the ninth month. The people, upon hearing of his arrival, went in procession to Bang Niao Pier to bring him and his sacred cargo back. This was the origin of the processions that figure so greatly in the festival.”

Once the possession was complete Aea, the embodiment of her Goddess, joined her compatriots who had been simultaneously taken over by other deities.  They are the ‘mah song’ or ‘horses of the Gods’.  They would all carry their new hosts in a procession through town to the next Chinese temple to give praise to the all-mighty chairman, Kiew Ong Tai Tee.

I joined the procession riding in a truck in the company of a group of children who had been given the very important role of percussionists.  They were responsible for keeping up the drumming and clanging of symbols throughout the two-hour long meandering through the streets of Phuket to ward off evil spirits.  It was an exuberant cacophony periodically amplified by others we passed on the roadside who also offered food and drink to the Gods.

It was a joyful day punctuated by dramatic, even shocking demonstrations including self-cutting of the back and lips by some of the mah song with sharp axes (I saw the blood with my own eyes).  They claim that while they are possessed, they feel no pain.  It was so unbelievable as I watched one young man slice his bottom lip open that I couldn’t bring myself to pull my camera out.  But the image will remain in my mind’s eye for a very long time.  He didn’t even flinch.  Such is the strength and passion of his commitment and belief in his religion.


 More detail at:

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Learning Curve Gets Steeper


I am working through the pain of typing this update sort of as a punishment for not blogging more regularly.  The pain is from an inflammation in my wrist that has developed as I switched from my Toshiba (PC) laptop to my new MacBook Pro (which my converted friends insist I will love once I get used to it).  The learning curve is very steep simply because I’m being obstinate.  Since I write for a living I wanted (needed) to adapt very quickly to my new technology so took a few shortcuts… one of which included loading my Palm Software onto my Apple laptop so I could quickly access my contacts… rather than actually learning the new address book software from Mac and doing a proper conversion.  Now my Palm contacts won’t convert (the Palm software keeps quitting ‘unexpectedly’ after only converting four of my 1,800 contacts) and in the process of ‘clicking around’ to find the solution I inadvertently duplicated them so now there are over 3,000!  The repetitive action of clicking that many contacts away made my wrist cease up.

I’m not sure what the lesson is other than my mom’s old fashioned saying, “Patience is a virtue.”  I must say I’m not feeling very virtuous right now but in the future if I’m writing about anything that requires a description of a nagging pain that starts at the wrist and shoots up your right arm, I’ll be able to describe it quite nicely. 

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Old Habits Die Hard


O.K…I promised I would keep you posted on the progress of publishing my first book.  I’m happy to say that we’re in the final edits of @Home in Dubai…Getting Connected Online and on the Ground (I hope).  Thing is… even though I’ve been writing all my life, this is a whole new realm for me and getting used to a particular publisher’s ‘style guide’ takes a little time and effort.  It’s significantly different than writing Associated Press (or Canadian Press) style for journalists or PR releases, or if you’re a business writer, whatever style you follow. 

More than just British versus US Spellings

I grew up in Canada and then lived in the US for 14 years and now, working as a freelancer for an international clientele, I’m used to switching back and forth from British to US English (depending on client preference and target audience).  But, it goes much deeper than that.  See the ellipsis I used above?  I was always used to no space after the…but, my publisher’s style guide specifies a space… like this.

What I’m getting hung up on at the moment is quotation marks.  I honestly didn’t realise (note the ‘s’ versus ‘z’ since I’m writing with British English) that with British style single quote marks go inside of punctuation marks, not on the outside, as I’ve always done.  One other issue that took some getting used to is that the style guide called for only one space after a full stop, not two, like I’ve always done.  And then there are those pesky ‘en’ and ‘em’ dashes.  For some reason, I’m having a hard time getting them to appear properly so I’ve just gone through and removed most of them by re-working sentence structures.

Lessons learned so far

Lesson #1
The important thing is to know what the required style is for the particular genre you’re writing in and make sure you follow it.  It’s certainly an argument for sticking to one type of writing but I sure do like variety so it’s going to be a tug of war for a while, I think.   

Lesson #2
What this experience has shown me is that I like the process of writing a book (and I am getting into the groove of my publisher’s style guide... she's been very patient) and I have the discipline to stick to a demanding writing schedule to get it done.

Lesson #3
No matter how old you are or how much experience you gather, you never stop learning.  That’s one of the many things I love about what I do.  I guess I’m just a lifelong learner.

So… bring it on!

...and watch for the launch of @Home in Dubai...Getting Connected Online and on the Ground, before the end of the year (published by Summertime Publishing). 
www.athomeindubai-gettingconnected.com

Friday, 2 September 2011

Book Review – Corporate Embers and Become in the Corporate World by Debbie Nicol


I’m excited to do this particular book review because it highlights the hard work and passion of a good friend of mine, Debbie Nicol, also known as ‘The Enablist’.  I’ve watched over the last several months (and put my two cents worth in every now and then) as she poured over this labour of love.

As business books go, this one’s in its own category, since it’s the product of a new way of thinking about leadership.  Debbie’s teachings bring her clients (and now readers) through a process where leaders: Reflect, Connect, Collaborate, Innovate and Become.

Corporate Embers is the ‘reflection’ part of the book duo and Become in the Corporate World is the ‘connection’ part, which is actually a workbook that guides you through the steps to finding your own leadership style.  If it does its job, and you are honestly interested in digging deep into your leadership soul, it can be very thought provoking and quite practical too.

Debbie created the ‘embers of the world’ concept itself as an illustration of her leadership style of story-telling around a campfire where the embers flick off the flames and we watch as they float up into the sky; we contemplate the ember (reflect and connect), let it percolate in our heart and mind and then share ideas (collaborate and innovate).  People who share stories tend to connect and learn from each other.  

Corporate Embers is Debbie’s contribution to the corporate world.  She tells stories from her vast corporate leadership experience and offers lessons that could lead to what she believes will be the leadership style of the future.

Corporate Embers is part of a series which will soon include: Traveling Embers,  Nature's Embers, Domestic Embers and Spiritual Embers.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Book Review: Bangkok Days by Lawrence Osborne


I picked this book up at a fabulous bookstore in Dubai called Kinokuniya.  I only bring this up because it’s almost a destination in and of itself (not to mention it’s located in the biggest mall in the world). I was just perusing the shelves actually looking for a reference book on search engine optimization (SEO) and I can never help myself…I wound up in the travel section.  That’s where I spied Bangkok Days by Lawrence Osborne.  It grabbed my attention, not just because the cover was a fabulous cartoon depiction of the crazy streets of Bangkok, but because my husband and I have been recently putting a plan together to retire to Thailand.  Great timing to read something like this.  Even though we’re targeting Phuket I envision weekend jaunts into “the city.”

Anyway, on to the book review.  I have to caution you, this is not a book for someone with delicate sensibilities.  Of course, neither is Bangkok.  Osborne takes us on a raucous romp through the seedier back streets of the city with stops at the burlesque shows featuring the ubiquitous lady/boys and even a brief stint in a hospital that has a bar (yes, an actual bar that serves alcohol to patients dragging around IV poles…he paints a very vivid picture).  On the surface, his tale is a sad commentary on some of the Western retirees who “escape” to Thailand because of the attention that’s guaranteed to be showered upon them on every corner and their ability to create whole new personas.  It is escapism at it’s finest.  It’s a place where everywhere you turn, there’s companionship being offered.  However, he balances the melancholy with a touch of humour and poignant insight into the psyches of his neighbours in Wang Lang and the people he meets; and skilful descriptions of his surroundings as he meanders through the crowded, aromatic, streets (mostly at night). 

Having travelled around Thailand myself, I often said you have to see it to believe it.  But, Osborne creates a sensory overload that is overwhelming yet titillating. 

Osborne is also the author of The Naked Tourist and The Accidental Connoisseur.

Bangkok Days

Monday, 18 July 2011

Is Content King or Court Jester?


Since Google changed its search algorithm a little while ago everyone is scrambling to regain the position that may have been lost in the rankings.  Many really high page rankings were falsely awarded based on questionable strategies like key word stuffing.  The content was garbage (certainly not king) and rose to the top because of the bells jingling on the jester hat it was wearing.  When you got past the singing and dancing, there was no depth.

I’m glad this has happened for one basic reason…there’s too much jester and not enough king out there and I’m tired of trying to sift through it to find the quality content.  Just because it’s on the Internet doesn’t mean it’s gospel. 

As a professional writer, I could certainly crank out 10, 200-word “articles” in one day (and get peanuts for it, of course) but I prefer to take my time, do some original research, talk to some experts and produce a quality piece of writing of which I can be proud.  I knew that common sense and rational thought would eventually prevail (enter the Panda), but the unfortunate thing is that some good content sites (like Suite101 and e-zine) have been caught in the clean up.  But they will rise again by using organic (and longer lasting) SEO strategies and perhaps get rid of some of the not so great content that they do have and tighten up the submission requirements.

Google's new search formula (sometimes called "Farmer") actually looks for quality.  I honestly don’t understand how it’s done from the technical perspective but what I do know is that the tail isn't wagging the dog any more.  Your content actually has to provide good information to be ranked high up in a search.  Google has a responsibility to its users as well as its advertisers. It’s a fine line but I think it will help weed out some of the weaker content.  Of course, I understand that, as information consumers, it’s up to us to decide what we want to read and what we don’t, but there’s no end to this virtual bookshelf. Sometimes information fatigue sets in before you have a chance to find the kings ransom.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Finding your Writing Rhythm


I always knew I had a penchant for writing but had no idea what life as a freelance writer would look like when I decided to journey down that path.  I could always find my way around a paragraph or ‘turn of phrase’ but it had always been for someone else while I was collecting a monthly paycheck for doing it.  Writing always took up a huge chunk of time throughout my PR career, whether it was press releases and company profiles, letters and memos, scripts or speeches.  All I know is that I was never so happy as when I had a writing project that would keep me at my desk, crafting the best messages and using the most impactful words I could find to reach our audience. 

For three years now I have been freelance copy writing for a variety of companies and industries and have been thoroughly enjoying it.  I have also interspersed writing with conducting writing workshops and communications training.  I will continue to do so as my expat journey continues, as it’s the most portable career around.  But I have found another path with very new direction leading me to book writing and editing.  I hope that I can do both simultaneously!  I have my first book contract deadline looming with Summertime Publishing (I’ll share more on the editing and publishing process as I go through it) and am continuing to work with just a couple regular copywriting clients and… So far, so good!  It’s great variety and both keep me motivated to write every day.  Since I’ve been freelancing I wake up every morning, very happy about the day ahead because I know I’ll be writing.

What keeps you writing?

Friday, 1 July 2011

Author Interview: Bitten by Spain by Debbie Fletcher

I have several books on the go right now but none that I'm ready (or willing) to review at this point.  So, in place of this month's book review I'd like to invite you to listen to a great interview that Jo Parfitt recently did with Bitten by Spain author Debbie Fletcher on The WIN (Women's Information Network)

It definitely made me want to add it to my summer reading list! 

Enjoy the interview!  And...Happy Canada Day!

Thursday, 16 June 2011

LinkedIn Etiquette: Is there such a thing?


 Miss Manners would be rolling in her grave…or, is she still alive?

I have been enjoying the power of LinkedIn and recognize the value of being able to pre-qualify leads and target exactly the right company and person to pitch to.  It’s also a gold mine of great advice and opportunities to brainstorm with other experts in your field.  I belong to a few groups that are stellar (like Freelance Web Writers run by Paul Lalley).  Bottom line…I use LinkedIn, I enjoy it and it’s been a real incredible marketing and professional development tool for me.

Developing Contacts
But, it has its irritants.  For me, it’s people who don’t seem to know how to use it properly or at least don’t use common sense and good manners.  Maybe I approach it too old school and need to get with the program but I still feel that there should be some commonly accepted ground rules. 

What do you think is the best way to develop new connections on LinkedIn?  Some people troll the 2nd, 3rd and 4th contacts of their contacts and blindly send requests to connect to people they want to do business with using false claims of being “a friend” or that they’ve done business with them in the past (I get this constantly).  In my opinion, the better approach is to ask the common contact to make an introduction.  Wouldn’t that be more productive…and professional?  At least include a note as to why you’re contacting the person.  However, there are those who bi-pass this extra step (that takes just a little extra time, and time is money, right?).  They’re counting on the fact that since there are millions of users and a good portion that are doing the very same thing (playing the numbers game) there’s a good chance that a high percentage are going to accept the invite (whether the connection is of any value or not).  Then what do you do with it?
 
Rules of Engagement
Wait, there are no rules.  Where one invitee is clicking his tongue and shaking his head over what you’ve just done another will welcome you with open arms.  Some groups will police behavior in discussions but in others it’s a free for all.  LinkedIn does have some rules that you must follow but, for the most part, they don’t seem to be applied consistently or very stringently.  We’re to police ourselves (which isn’t a bad thing but some people have no self-discipline).  It really is the Wild West out there.  What do you think?


Monday, 6 June 2011

Book Review - Expat Women: Confessions – 50 Answers to Your Real-Life Questions About Living Abroad

Finally a way to let it all out among friends!  I have to admit, I found the title, Expat Women:  Confessions a little misleading.  The term “confessions” leads one to believe that there’s something scintillating or juicy “a la Desperate Housewives” but if you’re expecting wife-swapping and shop-a-holic stories you’ll be disappointed.  However, what you will find is page after page of sage advice from two women, Andrea Martin and Victoria Hepworth, who have “been there, done that” for years.  Each chapter highlights a question from a woman in the thick of all things expat, followed by an answer that is thoughtful, insightful and thorough that includes great tips and helpful suggestions.  The authors have backgrounds in HR and psychology and have both lived around the world.  They come to the table with an in-depth understanding of human nature and a boatload of empathy built from personal experience.

In the introduction, expat author Robin Pascoe says, “remaining silent about your concerns can be a survival tactic.”  Wow…that one really hit me.  I go through entire conversations in my head thinking, ‘if I said this out loud, everyone would think I’m nuts!’   So, you smile through the confusion and start each day believing it’s going to be a little better.  For me, it really was.  I thoroughly enjoy my expat life.  But, for many, it’s torture.  You can almost feel the cathartic relief as the “confessors” pour out their souls (anonymously) looking for reassurance and advice on how to make it better.

Each chapter attacks a different aspect of expat life from career advice to raising children.  There’s great general information as well like “Spend as much time as possible researching your new home location and office environment.  Go online and learn as much as you can about both the country and it’s people.”  Of course, if you’re planning a move to a whole new country and culture and you’re not already doing that, you should probably stay put.

One of my favorite bits of advice that few people suggested to me but I went ahead and did myself is - “If you don’t find a group, network or association that interests you, do not be afraid to set one up yourself.” You might be thinking that it’s way out of your comfort zone and you’ve never done anything like that, but Andrea and Victoria suggest that sometimes it’s just a matter of “recalibrating your mindset.”

“Sometimes expat life calls for improvisation and resourcefulness,” they say.  Even consulting an expat life coach could be a good step for some, they suggest.

Their advice comes not only from their own experience and expertise but also from well-respected resources like the Global RelocationTrends 2010 (Brookfield Global Relocation Services).  The stats they quote go further to reassure the confessors that they’re not alone in the world.

Do the Research
There are so many issues that can create problems in a relationship when making a move overseas but they’re often the same issues that create problems in relationships no matter where in the world you live.  There’s a great chapter on considering the financial ramifications of an overseas assignment, which gives some great advice.  They caution new expats to research the policies of moving money out of certain countries, like China, and to look into the laws in countries like the UAE where Shari ‘a Law prevails (for example, if your husband should die, your local bank accounts are frozen and you won’t have access until the courts decide who the rightful heir is, which can often take several years). 


Expat Scenarios
One expat wife writes that she is worried that after several years of living the expat life (which can very exotic and inebriatingly addictive) that she and her husband are repatriating and lo’ and behold, only have about two months salary saved up!  What happened to the rest of it?  You can’t cry over spilled milk so the authors take her (and us readers) through a step-by-step process for moving forward so that this “worst case scenario” has a not so horrible outcome.

A new mom in Korea, cooped up in a small apartment, no parks, no way out…yeesh!  My heart broke for this young mom.  Trailing spouses are often “trying to deal with various situational, environmental, emotional and personal issues simultaneously.”

Andrea and Victoria give this mom some very practical, applicable, easily followed advice…if you have the will.  My mom always said, “When there’s a will, there’s a way.” They suggest for this mom, if you don’t have a yard for your son to play in, find a friend who does have one or enroll him in a nursery school a couple mornings a week – great suggestions!

Expat families can become enmeshed families (a new term for me)…where they start to rely on each other for everything from moral support to entertainment and everything in between.  The authors caution the new expat to be aware of this starting to happen and to force yourself to get out and meet new people and make new friends. 

Even after all the years I’ve lived as an expat, Expat Women: Confessions was still a great read and offered some new advice I hadn’t thought of as my husband and I plan our next expat adventure. 

You can check out the regular Expat Women Confessions column on www.expatwomen.com for more ongoing advice…It’s like Ann Landers for expats!

Expat Women Confessions