It’s World Book Day, which seems an opportune moment to announce that my new book, Jade Pearls and Alien Eyeballs has been accepted by Smashwords, and is now available to preview! The official publication date is 1st May 2014.
Jade Pearls and Alien Eyeballs tells the story of some unusual edible plants and the people who choose to grow them. It’s a guide book to the world of unusual edible plants, whether they are old or new, rarely grown or from somewhere far flung. It looks at the history of plant hunters moving these plants around the world, and tells the stories of modern day enthusiasts, showcasing some of the unusual plants you may encounter as you being your own journey into this intriguing world.
It has been a long time in the making, and I’m thrilled to bits that it will soon be published and available for you to read.
Smashwords distribute the book in various formats, including ePub and Kindle. There’s a PDF version if you don’t have an e-reader, and you can also read online at the Smashwords site. They have a system they call the ‘Meatgrinder’ to transform Word files into ebooks, which has been an interesting experience. There were some quirks that only showed up in one format or another; hopefully now all the odd page breaks and badly-rendered accents have disappeared. Over the next few days it should make its way out on pre-order to Apple, Barnes and Nobel, Sony and other places I probably don’t know about yet! Keep an eye out for it in your favourite ebook store (which doesn’t yet include Amazon, but you can order a Kindle version via Smashwords). During the pre-order period you can get your hands on a copy for $2.99; once the book is published I will be raising the price to $3.99 (still a bargain!).
So hop on over to Smashwords to check the book out, and get your copy hot off the virtual presses on 1st May! In the meantime, I am adding related content to the book’s Facebook page and Twitter. If you’re not a fan of either than you can keep an eye on my linklog.
I’m planning on doing a proper press release in due course, but if you’re a member of the press and you’d like to talk to me about the book (or you’re a blogger and you’d like to host me during my virtual book tour
then drop my PR monkey an email
Posted in Blog on Mar 6, 2014 · ∞
Last modified on Mar 6, 2014
Tags: books & unusual.
It’s March, and so the Plant Nutter’s (Virtual) Book Club has started a new book – The Lost Art of Potato Breeding, by Rebsie Fairholm. If you haven’t had a chance to join in the discussion on Buffalo Bird Woman’s Garden, there’s still time to do that, and if you still need to get your hands on this month’s book you can order a copy directly from the publishing company, Skylight Press, or via Amazon UK and Amazon.com.
You can use the comments on this post to record your thoughts about the book as you read it, if you like – the main discussion will open up on 15th April. In the meantime, you can also suggest a title for our next book, which we’ll start reading on 1st May. How about Saffron by Sally Francis, the history of saffron cultivation in England, complete with recipes? Or The Lotus Quest by Mark Griffiths? Or something by the man himself, Charles Darwin?
If your suggestion didn’t get picked in the last vote, feel free to suggest it again! The voting was really, really close :) Just leave a comment with your suggestion(s), and I’ll add them to the vote at the beginning of April.
In the meantime, happy reading!
Posted in Blog on Mar 2, 2014 · ∞
Work on Jade Pearls and Alien Eyeballs is going well – it now has a foreword, and the whole book is in the same font! I am hoping to be able to transform it into a readable ebook very shortly now; the official publication date is set for 1st May 2014.
In the meantime, my PR Monkey has been beavering away, and has conjured up an author interview for my Smashwords profile. Head over and see what you think. If there’s a question you’d like me to answer then submit it as a comment below, and PR Monkey will see what he can do!
Posted in Blog on Mar 1, 2014 · ∞
I am busy updating the manuscript for Jade Pearls and Alien Eyeballs, and am making good progress. I am anticipating having it all ready to be published at the beginning of May 2014, and at that point I would like to embark on a virtual book tour.
What’s a virtual book tour?
Publishers with marketing budgets often send their authors off on book tours when their new book is published. It’s a chance to do signings in book stores, give talks or readings and meet some of your audience – who may well then buy a copy of your book.
A virtual book tour is exactly like that, but it doesn’t involve me leaving the house or lugging a crate of books around the country (which would be tricky with an ebook, anyway). Instead of frequenting book shops and church halls, I will popping around blogs and websites and spreading the word about my new book and how wonderful it is.
Which is where you come in. If you have a blog or website, you could host an event for me. On a given day on the tour you could post an interview with me, or host a chat. You could review the book. I can record a reading from the book or write a guest blog for you. If you’re a foodie you could put together a special recipe post, so that people have something to sustain them at the book launch party :)
Of course, you might have a better idea – something that would fit with both the book (which is about unusual edible plants and the people who grow them) and your blog audience.
If you’d like to book a place on my virtual tour, send an email to my PR Monkey with your blog/website address and an idea (if you have one) of the event you’d like to host.
Thank you :)
Posted in Blog on Feb 25, 2014 · ∞
When I started writing a book about the wide variety of unusual edible plants, and the people who choose to grow them, back in 2010, I never thought the project would take so long to come to fruition. Two years ago, when I picked up the manuscript with the intention of finally publishing it, I didn’t realise that a serious upheaval was about to ensure it had to be put to one side yet again.
Now I am determined it will see the light of day. I have started going through the finished manuscript, making the final corrections and any updates required after two years in mothballs. I’m finding it really interesting to go back and read it, having largely forgotten what I wrote! I intend to self-publish it as an ebook, and have applied for my own set of ISBNs.
In the UK, the allocation of ISBNs (which are required for books and ebooks if you want them to be widely distributed, but not if you’re going to handle sales yourself) is handled by the Nielsen UK ISBN Agency. You cannot buy a single ISBN, they are sold in blocks – with the smallest block being 10.
If you are applying for your first batch of ISBNs then there is a registration fee; if you need further batches in future this no longer applies. With VAT, the 2014 price to register as a new publisher and receive 10 ISBNs is £132. (Note that ISBNs are not transferable; they will always be assigned to the publisher name you’ve chosen.)
To apply you will need to have a publisher name (you can use your own, or choose a trading name) and to know some details about the first book you’re going to publish. For ebooks it’s relatively simple as some details (e.g. page sizes and the number of pages) aren’t relevant; you just need to have chosen the book title. You also need to supply the title page and verso for the book – essentially just draft statements of the title, author and publisher details. They don’t have to be the final versions, and the application form gives examples you can copy. Oh, and you need to give an estimated publication date. Nielsen will enter all of these details into their book database for you when they process your application.
Once you’ve submitted your form, your ISBNs will be sent out (by email or post) within 10 working days.
My intention at the moment is to publish the book via Smashwords. In theory, if I supply a correctly-formatted Word document they will do the rest and turn it into the main ebook formats. I estimated that I could have all of this done by the beginning of May. I will keep you posted.
In the meantime, you can find more details about the book on the Jade Pearls and Alien Eyeballs page.
Posted in Blog on Feb 22, 2014 · ∞
Have you finished reading Buffalo Bird Woman’s Garden? What did you think? Readers have left a few comments on the introductory book post, but now it’s time for a proper discussion.
I’ve heard from several of you that you were thoroughly enjoying reading the book. I didn’t find it that engaging, but I was struck by the amount of work that went in to maintaining a Hidatsa garden (more of a smallholding, really) and processing the resulting harvest. At several points the book makes reference to work being carried out communally, with other members of the tribe coming to help with some aspect, and being ‘paid’ with a share of the harvest and a good meal.
I was also intrigued by the apparent monotony of the Hidatsa diet – it seems to have been based mainly on ‘messes’ of corn and/ or beans and squash. Very little was mentioned about the green vegetables or herbs they may have gathered, rather than grown, to liven things up a bit.
Clearly expert gardeners, the Hidatsa women knew that there were two different types of squash flowers – one that bore fruit, and one that didn’t, but don’t seem to have made the connection to male and female flowers. They made no effort to keep their squash lines breeding ‘true’, but the corn varieties were kept distinct by growing them some distance apart.
And it was fascinating to read that “Young men didn’t smoke much, believing it would damage their lungs and make them poor runners. Tobacco was grown by old men.”
How about you, what did you think of the book? What did you find most striking? Please post your thoughts in the comments. If you’re struggling for something to say, try pondering these questions:
What did you most enjoy about the book?
What did you least enjoy?
Do you feel the book has relevance to gardening today?
Is there something from the book that you can take away, into your own garden?
Did you learn something new about the plants in the book?
The comments will stay open for 6 weeks (it’s an anti-spam thing), so if you’re still finishing the book there’s time for you to join in the discussion later.
And the results of the vote are in – we’re going to be reading The Lost Art of Potato Breeding in March! You can source a copy directly from Rebsie Fairholm’s publishing company, Skylight Press, or via Amazon UK and Amazon.com.
We start reading on 1st March 2014 :)
Posted in Blog on Feb 15, 2014 · ∞
How are you getting on with Buffalo Bird Woman’s Garden? We’ve had some early comments from readers on the introductory book post, but I’ll open up a proper discussion on 15th February. Before that, it’s time to choose which book you’d like to read next, in March.
My original suggestions were:
Around the World in 80 Plants, by Stephen Barstow. Stephen’s book is about perennial vegetables for a temperate climate, and should prove very interesting – but it’s not published in the UK until 7th March and won’t be available in the US until later in the year, I think.
The Moss Grower’s Handbook, by Michael Fletcher, is available online as a free PDF download. First published in 1991, it’s about forming and maintaining a collection of living bryophytes, based around Michael’s work in his greenhouse in Reading.
Alys has suggested The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean. It’s about botanical obsession and crime, which you might find timely, given the recent theft of an endangered waterlily from Kew Gardens. This book was published in 2000, and is available in paperback and Kindle forms. You should be able to find a secondhand copy, or possibly borrow it from the library.
Another free, online book is Stephen Nottingham’s Beetroot, published in 2005 and available to read online. If you’ve ever wanted to know everything there is to know about beetroot, now is the time!
And I added Rebsie Fairholm’s The Lost Art of Potato Breeding to the list, which is a newly published paperback. Breeding your own potato variety might not have been on your To Do list for this year, but it will certainly be on next year’s if you read this book!
The Plant Nutter’s have spoken, a new book has been chosen :)
If you missed it, I did a quick preview of The Lost Art of Potato Breeding, Rebsie Fairholm’s very new book. You can order a copy directly from Rebsie’s publishing company, Skylight Press, or via Amazon UK and Amazon.com.
Posted in Blog on Feb 1, 2014 · ∞
Last modified on Feb 15, 2014
If one of your New Year’s Resolutions was to take up a new hobby, then how about tubermorphosis. No? Then maybe solanogenesis? Spudmosis? Perhaps you’d prefer to call yourself a Potato Creator, or simply to say that you’re getting involved in creative potato breeding.
This is the exciting opportunity open to me since a lovely gift arrived on the door mat earlier this week. Rebsie Fairholm has distilled many years of experience of back yard potato breeding into her new book – The Lost Art of Potato Breeding.
Rebsie is a friend from way back – she used to write the Daughter of the Soil blog, which is still a tremendous resource for anyone who feels like going beyond seed saving and trying their hand at breeding their own vegetable varieties.
I haven’t had time to read very far yet, but I can tell you that The Lost Art of Potato Breeding is funny, and a good read, and skillfully demystifies potato breeding, which – contrary to popular belief – needn’t be hard and isn’t risky.
It has to be said, mashing up your own unique potato variety for dinner sounds like a lot of fun. Who wouldn’t want to give that a go?
You can order Rebsie’s book directly from her publishing company, Skylight Press
, or via Amazon UK
I’ll add it to the list of suggestions for the next round of the Plant Nutter’s Book Club – the vote for our next title will take place very soon now.
Posted in Blog on Jan 30, 2014 · ∞
Last modified on Jan 30, 2014
Sybil Kapoor, author of The Great British Vegetable Cookbook, has impeccable foodie credentials. And this is a book from National Trust Books, so you know you’re getting a high quality product. Its premise is that “cooking with lots of seasonal vegetables has always represented an ideal way of life in Britain”, and that we should be making the effort to cook and eat British-grown vegetables whilst they are in season. This isn’t a gardeners’ cookbook, there are no growing instructions – it assumes you will be buying ingredients, not harvesting them.
That said, some of the vegetables included will be hard to find unless you grow your own, or are a member of a vegetable box scheme with a large palette of ingredients. As the book says, one of the goals of the National Trust is to “nurture forgotten plants, such as Clayworth Prize Pink celery at Clumber Park in Nottinghamshire, Cottager’s Kale at Knightshayes Court in Devon, and scorzonera in the seventeenth-century inspired kitchen bed at Ham House in Surrey.” The book isn’t prescriptive – you won’t find recipes calling for a particular heritage variety – but you will find nice photos of National Trust gardens, and vegetables harvested from them.
There’s also the occasional historical recipe, including one from Upton House for buttered and spiced beetroot that is believed to come from the 1920s, and may not be the kind of dish the modern palate is expecting.
Beyond the introduction there is a chart showing when the various vegetables are in season, and then the recipes themselves are divided – somewhat arbitrarily in some cases – into seasons.
So you have recipes to use purple sprouting broccoli, asparagus and radishes in spring, but you also have new potatoes. There are some unusual inclusions – nettles and sorrel don’t normally make it into mainstream British cookery books. For those of you looking for new ways to use your mustard seeds, there’s a tasty looking recipe for stir-fried spring greens.
Summer begins with broad beans and spring onions and works its way through globe artichokes and tomatoes to aubergines and chillies – items not impossible to grow in a British summer, but easier commercially with a nice heated greenhouse.
Autumn follows on, with cauliflower and broccoli and a range of root crops, including salsify and scorzonera. Courgettes (and their flowers) are included here with squash and pumpkins, although Kapoor does have the decency to admit they should be in the summer section. You’ll also find recipes for lovage, fennel and celery, borlotti beans and mushrooms.
The list of seasonal vegetables is shorter for winter, as you would expect, visiting such winter favourites as Brussels sprouts, cabbage and kale, chicory and endive, leeks, celeriac and Jerusalem artichokes.
The final section of the book, called “In a perfect kitchen” contains a selection of basic recipes for use if you have the time, space and inclination. It’s about making homemade stock, bread and pastry, and pasta. If you buy these in then none of the preceding recipes should take you too long; if you’ve got a free weekend and are in the mood to start from scratch, then you can do so.
All-in-all this is an attractive and reliable book that does explain how to make use of the seasonal bounty that Britain has to offer. It’s not all traditional recipes – it recognises that British tastes have changed over the last few decades, and there’s recipes for our favourite dishes from overseas.
The Great British Vegetable Cookbook
by Sybil Kapoor
Hardback, 320 pages, RRP
Publisher: National Trust Books
Disclosure: I was provided with a review ebook by the publisher, but my words are my own.
Posted in Blog on Jan 22, 2014 · ∞
Last modified on Jan 19, 2014
Tags: books & food.
The weather continues disappointing, but since Christmas I have the solace of repairing to my library, reunited as I am with the bulk of my volumes, although I have not yet space for my whole collection. The esteemed publisher, Timber Press, has sent a copy of their latest publication for my review – Beatrix Potter’s Gardening Life – and so I have been following the adventures of that most renowned lady.
The book is written in the modern style, divided into a number of parts. The first recounts the life of Beatrix Potter, which was ordinary only in the sense that it contained the usual measures of restriction and triumph, happiness and grief.
Born into a wealthy family but frustrated in her desire to be a naturalist (merely on account, it seems of her sex), Beatrix Potter turned her considerable illustrative talents down a different path and became the author of the children’s books with which we are familiar. Her animal characters are what we remember best, but they are frequently displayed in gardens and natural settings, in which the plants are accurately rendered.
The proceeds from her literary endeavours financed the purchase of land in her beloved Lake District, and Miss Potter turned her hand to planting gardens, both ornamental and productive. She soon discovered that gardening neighbours can be the most powerful allies in this endeavour, generously offering up cuttings and divisions of plants that grow well in (and sometimes threaten to overwhelm) their own gardens. And though undoubtedly otherwise of good character, Miss Potter was known to succumb to temptation and pilfer plant material when the opportunity arose.
She soon found that her independent income could not keep pace with her gardening endeavours, an unwelcome realisation common to keen gardeners, who discover that “gardening can be described as a hole one digs in the ground into which to shovel funds.” In Miss Potter’s case her desire for gardening provided the motivation to write more books!
Having been treated to a summary of Miss Potter’s (later, more properly, Mrs Heelis’) life, we are guided through a year in her gardens, watching the plants grow and bloom just as she would, seeing moments that she captured in her drawings and paintings. The details we learn here will resonate with the most modern of gardeners; Miss Potter is described as a ‘locavore’, growing her own vegetables, foraging for wild fruits and sourcing other foodstuffs from the local villagers and farmers. This was as much a lifestyle choice for her as it is for us, as she undoubtedly had the funds to import anything she desired from London, and was certainly not averse to bringing in new species of plants.
Miss Potter had some habits that would not chime so well with current thinking, however. She was known to remove wildflowers from the countryside, to plant them in her own garden. And worse still, she planted rhododendrons by the tarns – such meddling with the ecosystem would now be very much frowned upon, although she was merely trying to preserve an environment of which she was very fond.
In the final part of the book we are encouraged to venture out into Miss Potter’s legacy and visit the places in which she lived and the gardens she left behind – not all of which are, as may be expected, located in the Lake District. For an armchair explorer such as myself, a trip to the Scottish highlands may not be on the cards in the foreseeable future, but as the book says,
“The best place to end this tour of Beatrix Potter’s gardens is in your own. Plant a gooseberry, or a foxglove, as she did. Steal ideas, if not plants, from other people.”
To help us in this endeavour, the book is furnished with both a list of the plants that Miss Potter included in her garden, and one of the plants she included in her book. There are notes and suggestions for further reading, and a proper index.
Throughout the book we are delighted by the inclusion of many of Miss Potter’s illustrations, whether they be still life from her gardens or the colourful characters from her books. There are also black and white photographs, taken by Miss Potter or her family, and modern colour plates of her surviving gardens.
As the late, great, Carl Sagan said,
“One glance at a book and you hear the voice of another person, perhaps someone dead for 1,000 years. To read is to voyage through time.”
Having done so myself, I invite you to open this book, travel back in time and walk for a time in the gardening shoes of Miss Beatrix Potter, a gardener just like you or I.
Beatrix Potter’s Gardening Life: The Plants and Places That Inspired the Classic Children’s Tales
by Marta McDowell
Hardback, 339 pages, RRP
Publisher: Timber Press
Disclosure: I was provided with a review copy by the publisher, but my words are my own.
Posted in Blog on Jan 4, 2014 · ∞
Last modified on Jan 4, 2014
Tags: books & adventure.