Friday, September 19, 2014

HubDot comes to Houston

Through my Inspiring Houston Women blog and because of my love of storytelling, I recently became involved with a new event called HubDot which was about to launch in Houston.
Simona Barbieri,
HubDot's founder

HubDot was founded in London in 2012 by a remarkable Italian lady, Simona Barbieri and it is now spreading across Europe and the US.  The central mission for HubDot is a simple one:

“When we put women together in the same space and put storytelling at the center, incredible things happen.” 

HubDot’s networking events for women of all ages, cultures and backgrounds have one striking difference to the events we have all been to at professional conferences. First, they take place in somewhere women are generally very comfortable – a clothes store – with the beautiful Anthropologie stores joining HubDot to host these events on the shop-floor in their vision, allowing wine, nibbles and shopping to form part of the experience.

Secondly, no one wears a label with her name or her job title or company.  Instead, each woman chooses from a selection of five colored dots (hence the name) which serves as a means of introduction to other guests. For example, if you wear a yellow dot, it means “I have an idea, can anyone help?” or a green dot means “I’m here to be inspired”.  This makes it easier for you to approach someone wearing perhaps a purple dot and ask, “What is your story?” rather than, “What do you do?”  

For those who are really looking for an evening with absolutely no pressure at all, there is even a blue dot for “I am here to socialize and shop”. To get the storytelling between the guests flowing and some ideas sparking, each event also has a handful of speakers, given only one minute to present their story, and also some music, often from a musician who has her own story to tell.  

Leslie Loftis,
Houston Organizer
This week saw the US launch of HubDot here in Houston, organized by a team led by Leslie Loftis, a native Texan who met Simona when they both lived in London and who decided she wanted to share the HubDot philosophy in her home town. 

I was so proud to have been one of the storytellers invited to speak by Simona and Leslie. Because we were only given one minute to share a story we wanted to tell, I focused on the amazing women I have interviewed for  

I was delighted too that one of my IHW interviewees, Anita Kruse of PurpleSongs Can Fly at Texas Children’s Hospital, gave one of the most moving speeches of the night.

Anita talked of her work with young cancer patients at TCH, helping them to write and record their own songs during their treatment programs in the Cancer Center.  She had brought along with her Christian Spear, herself a cancer survivor. Christian sang an excerpt from the Purple Songs single No one fights alone (you can watch the full music video here)

Other speakers included Dorothy Gibbons, founder of The Rose, a breast cancer charity which provides mammograms and cancer treatment to women without medical insurance. For every three insured women who have a mammogram at The Rose, they are able to give another mammogram free to a woman who cannot afford one. Dorothy told us, ‘No woman should die of breast cancer because she could not afford $150 for a mammogram.’

Another speaker, Elizabeth Pudwill, told the assembled group of her battle against a series of addictions which led her to time in jail. Determined to put her life back together again, she founded I Know Somebody – Houston, an organization which aims to connect women to each other so that someone in need of something can find help.

Simona opens the storytelling with story of HubDot
at Anthropologie City Center

We also heard from two young chef/entrepreneurs, the founder of a non-profit organization which aims to help those with chronic headaches such as migraines, and from one of the first female fighter pilots in the US Air Force who then became a stay at home mom, and then found her third vocation as a pastor.

I was not surprised to find any number of inspiring women in that room who would be perfect subjects for future interview, and I will be contacting them in the next week or so to invite them to take part.

HubDot will be continuing its events in London, Milan, Naples, Luxembourg and Houston and over the coming months, will also launch HubDot chapters in Oregon and Barcelona, as well as in South Africa and Gambia.

It was a fantastic evening, and even if I say so myself, I rather summed up the general feeling of the gathering in the last ten seconds of my one minutes speech:

“I know that I am preaching to the converted here when I say that this amazing city, and indeed, this room, is full of truly Inspiring Houston Women, so I have a long job ahead of me to talk to them all.”

If you are interested in finding out more about HubDot in Houston, or in one of the other cities above, please visit the website at

Monday, September 8, 2014

Why do I write? Come join me on a blog hop to find out!

I was very excited to be invited recently to take part in my very first blog hop by Mimi Vance, another Houstonian author.  In case you hadn't come across it either, a blog hop is a virtual equivalent of a chain letter, though far less threatening. Just as well, really.

Mimi is a language specialist and writes gorgeous picture books about baby-signing. Her new website and blog at is full of great information about how you can open up the world of communication to your baby long before he or she is old enough to talk. 

Baby signing is something close to my heart since I used to sign when my twins, who are now 13, were little. You can read more about that, and even see pictures of my twins signing, on my blog here.

Mimi's blog hop post on her own website is HERE, and having done it herself, she set me and our friend Chris Cander, a few questions to answer about our writing.  So here goes with my reply:

What am I working on?
Right now, I am madly spinning a number of writing plates, trying to keep them all from smashing down around me.

I am almost to the end of major revisions to my Young Adult novel, Never Met, Never Parted, which is set in Scotland at the end of World War Two.  It’s about Lorna, a farmer’s daughter with two older brothers away in the army.  When a German prisoner-of-war begins work on the farm as a farmhand and shepherd, Lorna discovers that in wartime, your family and your allies might not be your real friends, and your enemy might just turn out to be the love of your life.

I received some valuable feedback on the opening chapters and the synopsis from a New York editor earlier this year and she particularly suggested that I strengthen Lorna’s voice and her relationship with her those around her.  It has taken me a few months to sort Lorna out, but I feel like I now know her so much better than I did when I finished the previous draft, and I hope that will be reflected in how the reader connects with Lorna too. 

I am also getting back to blogging at, about my writing, reading and research, and about things which interest me.  I haven’t posted much on there over the last year because I have been too busy interviewing inspiring women for my Inspiring Houston Women blog. I took a break on that blog over the summer, but hope to post the next interview before the end of September.

And if all that wasn’t enough, I am also going back to my first writing love – non-fiction articles for magazines and newspapers.  This was something I did a lot of when I lived in the UK, but I have been concentrating more on writing fiction since I arrived in Texas.  I have so many ideas for interesting articles, now I just have to find an editor or two who will let me write them.

Why do I write?
For the buzz! I get the biggest thrill when I am writing, when words are flying round my brain in random patterns before crashing onto the page in some semblance of order.  It’s the thrill that comes from finding just the right word, or creating just the perfect phrase to capture the image in your head so that others can share it. It comes from hearing a character’s voice so clearly in your head that all you have to do is take down what they say as dictation and put quote marks around it.  It comes from planning in detail a scene where two people are standing talking to each other in a farmyard, only to find that when you start writing it that a delivery boy suddenly appears up the road on his bike. He’s uninvited and unexpected, but he takes the whole story down a wonderful path which you would never have found without his help.

I can get that same thrill from reading a really good book, and the two are undoubtedly connected. I love to write because I love to read, and I love to see others love to read too.

How does my writing differ from others of its genre?
I don’t think I really want to be different from other writers. Of course, I want to create my own unique characters, plots, dialogue, and settings, but really, I work hard to be just like those writers whose books I love to read. I want to fascinate and inspire readers just like they do, I want to thrill and to move, to interest and to educate my readers in just the way those wonderful authors have for me.  So while I hope no one will ever accuse my writing of being formulaic, familiar or just plain dull, I do want people to say that my writing has connected with them just like the other writers that they love.

How does my writing process work?
Where do I write? I’d like to tell you how organized and disciplined I am about sitting down in a peaceful office at a tidy desk where I can write to a set daily word count.  But in reality, most of my writing is done in the buzz of Barnes and Noble cafĂ© in whatever hours each week I can grab. I often go to our local Starbucks at 6am on a Sunday morning, so I can get a good three or four hours’ work done before my household gets going for the day. Although Starbucks is always deserted when I arrive at that time of the morning, I have often found that I get so focused on what I am writing, I can look up suddenly and discover that the place is packed and its 9am.

How do I write? I am most certainly a planner and not a pantser (a writer who likes to fly by the seat of his or her pants, with no plot plan as a guide). With both my novels, I have not started writing until I have created a full chapter breakdown of the story and rough character sketches of the main players. I might not know how my character navigates his way through a scene, but I must know where he needs to get to by the end.

Even with this kind of detailed planning, however, sometimes I have reached a fork in my plot road and haven’t known exactly which way to go. Just recently I wrote a conversation which was interrupted by a knock at the door. I discovered that I didn’t know who was knocking (I know that might sound weird, given that I was in charge of the knocking!) It could have been one of two people but I wasn’t sure which it should be and I felt rather panicked.  I could see a rough path which would take me from each person through to the next chapter where I needed to be, but I just couldn’t take that first step on one path by typing the name of one person standing on the doorstep. It took me two days of fiddling around with another part of the manuscript, letting my mind wrestle with my door-knocker dilemma, before I could go back and type that name.

I’ve spent most of this year revising one of my novels, rather than writing something new. And that has introduced me a whole new learning curve. Letting someone else read your novel (a friend, or a professional service, or getting a critique done at a conference) can give you some very useful feedback on what still needs to be done to make your plot, your characters and your setting shine.  But it is daunting to stand over perfect piece of literature with a big carving knife in your hand. This is something you have tweaked and polished over weeks, months or even years, and now you are expected to hack it to bits, rip out some bits of gorgeous writing, or think up new bits to push the pace or fill out a personality? That, to me, is so much harder than writing on a blank page.  But as a friend of mine once told me, “being a published writer is less about being good at writing, and more about being good at revising.”

And so the revision continues, and fingers crossed that the published writer bit comes soon.

So who is blog-hopping next?
I’d like to introduce you to two wonderful writers, two all-round amazing women, and open the door for you to their lovely blogs.

Melissa Buron has for the past twenty-one years worked as an author, librarian and teacher in Africa, Europe and the United States.  She is, like me, a member of Houston’s chapter of the Society of Book Writers and Illustrators.  I met Melissa at my first visit to an SCBWI conference two years ago and she was immediately welcoming and encouraging, had friended me on Facebook within the hour and made sure I was introduced to other useful people. Since then, I have followed her excellent blog on which she posts details of her writing process as well as interviews with other writers.

If her work as an author and educator wasn’t enough, in January 2014, Melissa launched MAB Media, an indie publishing company that specializes in high-quality trade fiction and literary non-fiction. MAB Media will release its first books in Summer 2015.

You can follow Melissa on her personal blog at And for more information on Melissa’s publishing work, you can check-out the website at, follow MAB Media on Twitter, or “like” MAB’s Facebook page. 

 Bethany Hegedus holds the key to stay in paradise – for me and numerous other Texas writers, anyway. As well as being author to a string of books, Bethany is the owner and creative director of The Writing Barn, the most gorgeous space for writing retreats, workshops and book-related events in Austin, Texas.  I won a weekend retreat there in an auction last year and frankly, I could have easily and very happily, stayed a week. No, a month!

When I stayed with her at the Barn at the end of 2013, Bethany was gearing up for the publication of her first picture book, the beautifully written and illustrated Grandfather Gandhi.  Bethany co-authored the story with Arun Gandhi, grandson of the Mahatma, and it was illustrated by Evan Turk.

Bethany’s other books include Truth with a Capital T and Between Us Baxters and she has served as the Young Adult & Children’s Editor of the literary journal, Hunger Mountain, since 2009. A graduate of the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA program in Writing for Children & Young Adults and a former educator, Bethany speaks and teaches across the country.

You can follow Bethany on her personal blog at and please do visit her at The Writing Barn, online at or even better, in person!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Eat, drink, please, thank you - what more signs could a baby need?

I have a new writer friend in Houston, Mimi Vance, who is a language specialist and writes picture books about baby-signing. She suggests that using basic sign language with your baby and toddler is a great way to open up the world of communication long before he or she is old enough to talk.  

Baby-signing is also something close to my own heart since I used signing with my twins (who are now 13 and sometimes I wish they would still sign because it might make my house a little more peaceful at times!). I am sure it reduced a lot of their frustration as they became conscious of having needs and desires but were as yet unable to make them clear to the adults around them.  There is research too which suggests that children who sign early also develop their spoken language skills faster and at a more advanced level.

I had studied British Sign Language (BSL) at evening classes for a year when I was first working, but had never really had the opportunity to use it.  But then I read about signing with babies in a magazine when my twins were around a year old, so I began to teach them a few basic signs that I could remember. 

On her website, Mimi suggests that the first signs you should teach your child would be eat, drink, more, all done, please and thank you. And funnily enough (considering I hadn’t read her books at the time) those are roughly the first signs that my twins learned.  They certainly used signs for milk, juice, eat (yes, and specific signs for cake and biscuit/cookie too), as well as signs for each other’s names and for their older sister.  Interestingly, neither twin could exactly replicate my sign for their sister’s name (I used the BSL sign for pretty), but they each created their own version of it and used it regularly to ask where she was or to answer a question about her.  I remember too that Daddy’s name was the sign for man and Mummy’s name was the sign for woman.

By the time the twins were starting to talk, however, they had around forty words, including animals and places, and signs for the people close to them.  Some of these were BSL signs, but some I just made up.  As I began writing this post, I remembered that I had taken some photos of them signing, and so I went rooting around in my photo archive and found these, taken when the twins were around 18 months old.

Doing her sign for elephant
(see her lifting her trunk into the air?)

And this is squirrel
(well, it was actually the sign for 
rabbit – two waggly ears – 
but she was in the park looking at squirrels
so it's close enough)

And here is ice-cream –
he’s licking his finger as if it were an ice-cream cone.

Just check out that pleading look in his eye!

Of course, you have to be careful not to get so over excited with the fact that your kid at 18 months is clearly and politely asking for ice-cream, please that you give them everything they ask for. Saying no can still cause a fuss, but having a clear sign for later can often dispel the oncoming tantrum.

If you are interested in signing with your baby or toddler, but are feeling unsure about where to start, please trust me, it really isn’t hard to do and you don’t need to know lots of American or British Sign Language before you start.  Just start with a few signs - there are pictures on Mimi’s website here of basic ones to start with.  

But remember to be consistent.  Every time you ask your child if he would like a drink or something to eat etc, use the sign, and I promise you will be surprised how quickly he/she starts to sign it back to you.  Make sure that you also teach the signs to everyone caring for your babe. Can you imagine how frustrating it would be for him or her to be madly signing “I want my lunch” (eat) to Grandma, only to be complimented on how well he is pointing to his mouth, clever boy?

There are great resources for signs you can use in Mimi’s books and online, but if you don’t know a sign for something, you can always make up your own. As long as you and the other carers are consistent with it, it really won’t make a difference.  Children who have hearing impairments or other issues which will mean they are likely to use sign language to communicate throughout their childhood and adult life will need to use the appropriate sign language of their country, but a baby with no problems of that sort just needs to communicate with you and his or her carers.

If you are interested in starting to sign with your baby, here are some useful links both for British and American Sign Language baby-signing, and of course, you can always buy Mimi’s fabulous books and instructional cards right here!

Mimi’s new website and blog at is full of great information. Please visit her there.

British Sign Language: – British resource on baby-signing – free BSL video dictionary

American Sign Language – Mimi Vance’s website and American resource on baby-signing – free online ASL video dictionary