Monthly Archives: June 2010

Growing weird vegetables in Germany

One of the intriguing things about growing your own fruit and vegetables is that you can experiment with varieties which you don’t normally find in the shops.

This year I’m trying out a new type of pea. What could be different about a pea?  Well… for a start, instead of the normal white flowers, these have pretty pinky purple blossoms.

What’s slightly more alien though is the pods which are now starting to form. They’re purple.

It’s actually a Dutch variety, called blauwschokkers (blue shockers!). Apparently the peas inside will be green… or greyish if I dry them for winter storage. I like them because they’re unusual and pretty… and also because I can find the pods more easily on the tangle of pea plants in the garden.  It won’t be long before they’re ready for eating. Can’t wait…

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Filed under About Germany, Life in Germany

Planet Bavaria

Just when I thought I’d got used to the strange country that is Germany, I went to Bavaria. Bavaria is actually another country situated about 5 million miles away from the Federal Republic and has nothing whatsoever in common with it.

They speak a different language for a start…

They also eat things which other Germans wouldn’t necessarily recognise as food. Let alone squeamish Brits…

In fact Bavarian cuisine seems to consist entirely of strange unidentifiable bits of animal… anyone got a clue what this is?


Filed under About Germany, food, Life in Germany

The alternative workplace revolution and me!

Today I received a parcel in the post, containing Alex Johnson’s Shedworking book.  I was excited, partly because I love his blog of the same name which is always brimming with pictures of the sort of amazing sheds, garden offices, treehouses, shepherds’ huts, beach huts etc. which make you want to drool.

I was particularly intrigued though, because Alex had promised me that my very own lovely pig sty would feature in the book. And he was true to his word! There on page 85 I found this.

My lovely red-doored pigsty-office with the vine, ivy and roses trailing over it! Not to mention a lovely account of some of our nicest and weirdest shedworking experiences.

My excitement grew even more as I browsed the other sheds, huts, trailers and caravans… and I discovered just how cool and hip I have become since I worked in a shed. Apparently I am now glowing with productivity, significantly less stressed, healthier, more creative… and this because I work from a pigsty in my garden, rather than an office. I haven’t read the whole book yet (I’m saving the next chapter for this evening)… but I’m already looking forward to finding out if my intelligence, sex life..and even my vuvuzela-playing skills have also benefited.  I rather think they all have!

I have certainly been a convert for many years to the lifestyle enhancement that working from a garden-office brings. Not just the  tranquility and closeness to nature, not just the lack of distraction and the ability to switch in and out of work-mode at will… but the fun that accompanies working in this kind of environment. The spontaneous barbecues if the weather is nice, the ability to sit out and work in the garden in Summer, the lack of commuting and needing to dress up for work, the ability to fill in downtime usefully by picking rhubarb or planting beans.

So this evening I shall sit in the sunshine outside my lovely pigsty with a cold beer and feel warm and smug.

And I rather think my husband, who works in the adjacent lean-to will do the same…


Filed under books, Life in Germany

So you want to publish a book?

Every few months, someone or other (usually an expat in Germany) contacts me to explain that they too are keen to publish a book and would like to know about the process of getting it published.  This post is for all those people – and for any others who haven’t yet got round to asking me!

First of all, a bit about the publishing business.

There are lots of different types of publishers, but the main ones you need to be aware of are:

–          The big mainstream guys

–          The specialists

–          The self-publishing houses

In addition there are also online publishers (ebooks) – which is a smaller but rapidly growing niche. Each of these has a potential role, but only one will be right for YOUR book.

The big mainstream publishers

Obviously it would be great to be plucked from obscurity by the likes of Harpur Collins, Penguin or Bloomsbury… but let’s be realistic about the chances of this happening. For a previously unpublished author, it is very, very low. There is, however, one potential route to this (if you’re prepared to give it a go). Harpur Collins runs a portal for aspiring authors at: and usually picks out two or three new writers a year from the many thousands who submit manuscripts. Not only that, their competitors and various agents also trawl the site looking for new talent. It’s not a bad place to showcase yourself, but you will need to do plenty of reciprocal reading/commenting/arselicking in order to get your book up the rankings and into prominence.

The specialists

This is the more realistic scenario for a first time author. Smaller publishers tend to have certain areas where they specialize (travel, cooking, history, gay writers, poetry, etc.). It takes quite a bit of online research to find which publisher would be the right one for your book… but if you do hit one who is looking for exactly what you have to offer, then you’re in with a chance.

Self publishing

For most first time authors, self publishing is the only realistic route to getting into print. The advantages are that you are guaranteed to have the printed books in your hand and on Amazon within a matter of weeks. If your book sells well, you will also make more money than you would through a mainstream or specialist publisher. The downside is that you have to fund the publication yourself and take on the commercial risk and the marketing. The bigger upside is that self publishing can be very inexpensive (remember – it’s a print-on-demand model rather than one which requires a large print run), and as the marketing support most of the mainstream publishers would give your book are negligible, you’re going to have to do that bit yourself anyway! The only real disadvantages to self publishing are actually that your book won’t physically be on the shelves of bricks and mortar bookshops (though booksellers will be able to order it for anyone who asks for it).

The economics of publishing a book

First time authors sometimes forget that publishing is a business. A publisher will look at your manuscript as a product and will be working out how many copies they can sell at what price and margin. They really don’t care much about your honeyed turns of phrase or how much you agonized over the title of Chapter 3. Publishers are risk averse (in an inherently risky business). Even some of the best (commercial and/or literary) manuscripts are rejected many times before someone spots their potential. The first Harry Potter book was rejected by more than one publisher before Bloomsbury picked it up. Teenage wizardry was an unproven concept and carried a degree of risk that some publishers wouldn’t accept.

Royalties on a paperback for a first-time author would normally be about 6% of the net price. So if the initial print run was 5000 (and all were sold) at €10 + VAT you would make €3000.

If you were to self publish (print on demand), you can spend anything from €300 – over €1000 upfront depending on what is included in the package (things to look out for are layout, cover design, editing, pr support, etc.). But you get around 20% of the net price as royalty (this is illustrative based on what most people charge – with self publishing you can choose the price point yourself).

If your self-published book sells for €10, you’ll make €2 per book sold. If it cost you €1000 to publish (assuming you went for a fairly full service package), you’d need to sell 500 copies to break even.  If you sold 5000 copies (as in the publisher example above), you’d make €10,000 –less the €1000 initial outlay – so €9000.

The point is, if your book is likely to appeal to a fairly niche audience, first of all, no commercial publisher will look at it because it won’t shift the volumes they require. But self publishing offers you a route to getting into print economically at very low volumes. And if you do happen to publish something with a wider appeal, you’ll make a lot more money in the end.

Is my manuscript suitable?

Only you can decide whether your manuscript is suitable for publishing. A couple of important points though:

–          If your text has already been published in any other form and is still available (e.g. online, as a blog or articles on a website) no commercial publisher will accept it

–          Readers are far less likely to pay for something which they can get for free elsewhere

–          Blogs, articles and unrelated snippets sometimes make good books… but usually don’t, either because the manuscript lacks cohesion/storyline/plot/structure or because some essential aspects (photos, videos, links, comments) are lacking – if your manuscript wasn’t written as a book initially, be very self critical. It might be better to start again and write something new. Remember – the planning is the most important stage in writing a book. You should spend at least as long on this as on the actual writing. (Editing is also critical).

When thinking about publishing a book, you need to ask yourself some key questions:

–          Who is my target audience? (Hint: the answer can’t be “everybody” or “all parents” or “women” … it’s more likely to be “women in the UK aged 25-35 who are trying to juggle a job and a toddler” or “middle-aged women whose husbands are going through a mid-life crisis” … or whatever. But there must be a core target market who are the people absolutely pre-destined to buy your book. )

–          How many people are there in my target audience? (You need to manage your own expectations here about how many copies you can sell – if your target audience is “rollerblade salesmen in Switzerland”, rethink your book.)

How do I get people to buy my book?

Your publisher (or self publisher) will sort out the mechanics of it all – ISBN number, sending copies of record to the appropriate libraries, getting the book listed on Amazon and other online bookseller sites. But the marketing will be mainly up to you. This is true, whether you are self publishing or with a mainstream publisher. You are the one who will need to publicise your work.

Here are some things you can do:

–          Email all your friends, relatives, colleagues, acquaintances…. These people will buy your book without a second thought. They will also tell you it’s great, (even if it isn’t). When they do, make them put that thought into writing in the form of an Amazon review. Reviews on Amazon do help sell books, particularly if someone is dithering. Specific, detailed reviews are much better than “I enjoyed this book” – so if necessary get your family and friends to run their review past you first. Be shameless about this – it’s your single most important piece of advertising!

–          Find out where your target audience is on the internet. Forums, Facebook groups, Twitter, blogs, communities etc. Join all of these, and become an active member. Don’t annoy people by “pushing” your book, just play an active role, get people to like you and eventually they’ll buy. Occasionally you can slip in some anecdote which alerts people to the fact you’ve got a book out… but don’t overdo it.

–          Set up a blog on the same subject as your book, and advertise your book there (link to the Amazon page). By blogging regularly on the same subject, you’ll draw traffic from search engines – and they’ll be people with a specific interest in this subject

–          Do some offline marketing – give readings, book signings, etc. to appropriate groups. You can buy copies cheaply straight from the publisher and make a far higher margin than normal.

–          Send review copies to bloggers who blog on the same subject – they particularly like it if you give them an extra copy to give away via their blog

–          Send review copies to any appropriate other media (newspapers, magazines, radio stations) – include a press-pack with biographical details, a photo and a summary of the book

–          Donate copies of the book as prizes – the more people who read it and like it, the more they’ll recommend it to others

–          Join sites like, shelfari and goodreads and ensure that your book is on there


Filed under About Germany, books, Life in Germany

A vegetable jungle

I posted in April about starting a vegetable garden. It seems that two months is a long time in gardening.

Those pictures of bare soil and a windswept wasteland of a vegetable patch are now distant memories… today the vegetable patch looks like this.

The greenhouse is nearly impassible…

We’re already almost self sufficient in vegetables.

Every conceivable piece of waste space where I put a tub has now sprouted triffids…

I shall need a machete just to get to the gate soon! Herr Doktor Livingstein I presume?


Filed under food, Life in Germany

Do they mean us?

OK… when I say us, I actually mean the Germans for once.  I was in London this week… and I discovered that in the midst of World Cup fever the Brits have introduced a whole range of new flavours of crisps. (For the benefit of our American readers I should explain that crisps are what you call chips, not to be mistaken for what we call chips, which is what you call fries… (French, Freedom or whatever…). Are you still with me?).

Anyway, it seems that in honour of the Germans, the Brits are now eating these…

Yes… you saw it correctly. German Bratwurst Sausage flavoured crisps (not my tortology).

What will they think of next?


Filed under About Germany, food

Hitler sings …

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Filed under About Germany, comedy, World War 2