Monthly Archives: January 2013

Week 3 – final edits and the aesthetics of space

You may remember that I posted last July about a writing project I’d decided to take on. Well, just six months on, week 3 of this year saw me doing the final edits on the print-ready PDF of the whole thing before it went to press a few days ago – yay! It’s hard to believe how fast it’s all gone, the sheer volume of work and effort that were involved, the amount I’ve learned and the new skills and responsibilities it’s brought. I can’t wait until it finally comes out – I think the publication date is in March (watch this space…).

Any writing project brings with it serious considerations about use of space. In the academic writing I did in the distant past, word counts and style sheets were the all-important units of measurement. Writing for the commercial educational sector brings further constraints, most significantly the need to plan content for each page of each chapter in detail before you’ve even started, and the need for your units to fit onto the page format of the final product. For the first publication of this kind I did, I didn’t really know in advance what kind of space per page was going to be available and this led to much agonizing cutting of material in the latter editing stages (and given that this then had a knock-on effect for the solutions section and the glossary, it was all the more of a headache as a result). For another project, where limited space was a major and deliberate feature, the template I was given to insert content into was so detailed that it more or less automatically generated a WYSIWYG final format and I could see immediately where I needed to economize. This latest project has been somewhere in between these two extremes. While the document template took into account page size/layout and roughly managed things like font size and spacing for the different types and functions of text on any given page, there was still a lot of guesswork regarding how much space various other essential non-textual elements might take up.

Most significantly, this publication was to have lots of full-colour pictures, ranging from thumbnails to double-page spreads, and these in fact accounted for many of these unknown quantities regarding space. The necessity for me to think of the illustration aspect at all times really added a further major layer of planning to the whole project and one that proved at least as complex as the generation of text “content” – and this, I think, was the biggest eye-opener of the whole experience. In many instances I could just indicate where I wanted a photo of what, and someone else would later have the task of sourcing suitable images, but I was also given a list of stock photo sites I could use to source particular images if I wished to do so. I think this combination of perceived freedoms gave me a bit too much ill-founded confidence at first: it was tempting to think the world was my oyster and that I would find a photo of anything I damn well wanted via the powerful search engines each stock photo provider offered, or that writing “please insert photo of x here” would be the end of the matter. Wrong. Big fat wrong.

It was only when I was part of the way through the project that I started actively trying to select my own choice of images for inclusion, having decided that since I do have ideas about what sorts of photos I like and what I don’t, I might as well exercise this choice. And it was at this point that my naivety became blatantly obvious – no, you cannot simply find a picture of this or that brand, this or that paid tourist attraction, or this or that celebrity on stock photo sites, or at least not for any kind of commercial use. This set me into a spiral of despair at first as it necessitated rethinking a number of activities I had planned to base around just these kinds of pictures. Ultimately, though, it led to me having simply to think rather more creatively about how to adapt to the constraints I’d discovered, and although the frustration at not finding a picture of this or that did continue to the end, I think it’s true to say that rather more good ideas were born of this restriction than were nipped in the bud by it. [Insert pithy quote about adversity and creativity here :)]

Needless to say, it was quite something to receive the “semi-final” PDF version of the final document, all typeset, in full colour and with all the photos, for detailed proofreading and final tweaks. What needed to be changed at this stage wasn’t generated so much by mistakes – almost all of these had been nit-pickingly spotted and eradicated earlier – or by the desire to reformulate something more impressively / simply / effectively, but rather by aesthetics and more immediate, measurable considerations of space and spacing. This sentence needed to be shortened so that it didn’t run on to a second line or have such an awkward line break, or that item should be deleted or moved so that there was enough space for the picture / map / diagram; here something needed to be moved up or across a bit, while there some colour-coded items needed to be swapped around so that the overall impression was better balanced visually. It was quite a different kind of scrutiny and editing dictated by often very different considerations from what would govern a purely text-based entity, but I have to say that I enjoyed this challenge a great deal.

So now my work is done, and I can breathe a big sigh of relief. Thanks to all those who suffered and stoically put up with my periodic moaning, groaning and gnashing of teeth during this whole project. You know who you are.

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Week 2 – taking stock and tackling nasties

Well, after the excitement of some new furniture and redistributing stuff in the first week of the year, week 2 was rather more sedate and more a case of small jobs (plus one big one which I didn’t do myself but will report nevertheless).

First things first, though: It had been bothering me for ages that a cupboard above the fridge that had been transformed from a junk hoarding place into a – in theory at least – practical storecupboard for spare tins, jars and packets of food had ended up really not very practical at all, given that I wasn’t actually tall enough to either see or reach the things right at the back. Fetching a stool to stand on every time I just wanted to check whether I had something seemed a waste of effort. To cut a long story short, I took all the stuff out, put my baking tins (which are rarely used) into the cupboard instead, where they have a LOT more room and now don’t fall out when I open the door (note to self: maybe this will make me more favourably disposed towards baking in future!), and in turn put the food storecupboard contents into the much more accessible cupboard that the baking tins came out of. Result!

This was also the week that saw me missing the Christmas tree, so what better to do than to go and plunder the post-Christmas sales (up to 70% off!) to buy more (yes, MORE!!) decorations for next year’s tree. I got a pack of eight medium-sized gorgeous orange baubles for about €1.80 plus various other bits of bling – nothing tacky, mind – that will also look rather nice in situ.

The achievement of the week – and now we get to the thing that I can’t really take any credit for – was getting the bathroom into rather better shape than it’s been in for some time, and hopefully sustainable shape, too. The mild, damp winter had led to some mould patches on the ceiling – especially above the shower and by the window – becoming more and more apparent and ominous. So, one day in this second week of the year, M donned his oldest clothes and set to work – carefully! – with rubber gloves, safety glasses, a spray canister of strongish bleach solution, and a scrubby sponge. An hour or two later, the ceiling was spotlessly white (and his clothes, in places, decorated with white spots).

Having removed the surface evidence, we needed to tackle the source of the problem: a bad combination of moisture and poor ventilation. Now here I have a confession to make. In all the 13 years I’ve lived here, there’s been a suction ventilator (is there a technical term for these things?) built into the wall that has never worked, and no one had really thought to investigate its innards as its absence of function wasn’t really an issue until this winter. I’d taken the front cover off a couple of times, thinking there might be a switch inside, but there wasn’t and so I’d simply shrugged, closed it back up and forgotten it again. On this occasion, though, M decided that investigative open-heart surgery was probably needed, so he took off not just the front cover but also unscrewed the outer panel of its inner workings. And guess what: it wasn’t even wired up to the mains, hence the lack of functionality. So we deactivated the mains circuit in the bathroom temporarily while the loose wires were screwed into the right connectors, and now we have a very powerful ventilator that kicks in immediately when you switch the bathroom light on, and switches off with a time delay of 5-10 minutes after you turn the light off again. And it sucks. Which is what it’s supposed to do – you really notice that the steam disappears much more quickly after a shower. It isn’t exactly silent – which is why the people who were in the flat before me might have disconnected it – but compared to mould, I know what I’d rather put up with.

Big thanks to M for his sterling work. xx

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Week 1 – furniture exchange

My blog project for 2013 is going to be to document something creative or home-improvement-y for each week of the year. I’m not going to put myself under pressure with deadlines – last year showed that I don’t blog well under pressure – but I’ll try to get something up for each week in due course, even if it’s irregularly…

20130111-184753.jpg Part of the first weekend of 2013 was spent assembling this handsome chest of drawers, courtesy of IKEA (as if you hadn’t guessed). I’d had my eye on it for a while and decided it would make a good Christmas present for the flat, though it was only in the lull after Christmas and the New Year that it seemed a good point to actually get it. You hear endless jokes and horror stories about self-assembly furniture experiences, but I have to say I find putting this kind of thing together surprisingly therapeutic. OK, maybe not in the moment when you open the box and discover the three (!) numbered bags containing a total of what seem like hundreds of screws, rivets, nails and dowelling plugs; but if I’m left in peace to work away, I can usually get the thing assembled without a single hammered thumb, forgotten screw or disgruntled curse (M in fact commented on the latter in particular – I’m a terrible one for turning the air blue when a project doesn’t go to plan).

20130111-185003.jpgThe new bit of furniture has replaced the bookcase containing the cookery books, which has been a great deal less tidy of late than it looks in this picture, so it was rather good to get it out into the hall, where it’s next to the kitchen and not actually in anyone’s way. It in turn has replaced a rather tatty little pine chest of drawers that someone who shall remain nameless spilled a glass of red wine over a while back – the wood is untreated so of course a lovely dark red stain ensued, and it had looked pretty manky ever since – a bit of a disgrace, if truth be told… It has been demoted to the cellar, where it has already been earmarked for storing bits of bike.

The new chest of drawers doesn’t actually have a great deal in it yet – what happened when I cleared the old one was that a lot of the contents were either ready for the bin (including a broken umbrella, some insoles that had gone a bit horrible, a defunct torch and three partnerless gloves), could be stowed away in the cellar or was better stored in the kitchen or bathroom mainly cleaning stuff). Still, it’s nice to have that breathing space for storage, and I bet it’ll be full within a matter of months.

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The cupboard from the same range I bought a couple of years ago has become a real feature of the room, so it’s lovely to have something to balance it over on the other side. This earthy red seems to have become one of the dominant colours in the room, and the way it works with the white walls, parquet floor and the other furnishings is just lovely. Well, we think so, anyway! 😉

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