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Decision made. Introducing Brownlee Donald Associates.

8 Nov

Home fire burningSince we were told that our office was closing at the end of the year and being absorbed into what is now Penguin Random House I have gone through every possible emotion. Denial, grief and anger have all raised their heads but I’ve finally reached acceptance and it’s great. I’ve contemplated every possible option and have come to the conclusion that working for myself in an industry I love with contacts made over 23 years in the business is without doubt the best way forward.

It also gives me the flexibility to work from home thereby walking the 2 year old to the childminders every day, splashing in puddles, kicking piles of leaves and generally dawdling and still be at my desk earlier than I am at the moment.  It means I can light the fire on cold winter nights and the 11 year old can come straight home and get on with her homework instead of standing shivering on the doorstep waiting for us to get back as has happened on a number of occasions recently.  It also means I can decamp to our island idyll of Islay and let the children run wild in the summer while I continue business as usual. I am so happy and strangely confident about what the future may hold.

My happiness is enhanced by the deaf 2 year old who has now been given the much sought after ‘dangly thing’ which I now understand is a ‘radio mike’ and has ‘FM receivers’ attached to his hearing aids. The new aids are enormous and look rather clumsy but the effect on his attention span has been immediate and instead of disrupting Book Bugs and Daisy’s Music Time he is now participating with enthusiasm.

The 8 year old is making me smile too.  After years of my insisting that the Times Table app on the iPad is in fact a game her mental arithmetic is second to none and she is sailing past the boys in top group in her Big Maths / Beat That test every Friday – much to the surprise of her parents and teachers. Download it. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

So looking forward things are pretty good in the Sleepless household.   The 8 year old is currently at a sleepover.  The 11 year old is at the cinema with a friend who is coming back for the night. Their social lives are far better than mine. Last Sunday I let the girls sleep in to recover from a hat trick of late nights which had begun with Hallowe’en. They eventually woke up at 1pm in the afternoon.  When I wrote my first Sleepless in Suburbia blog all those years ago  I couldn’t imagine a time when they might sleep through the night let alone through the day. Life is constantly changing and at the moment it seems to be changing for the better.


National Deaf Awareness Week? How did I not hear about that?

8 May

Slightly appalled to realise today that it’s National Deaf Awareness Week.  As a new member of the deaf community I’m not surprised it’s not a date which I’ve registered before. It’s taken me years to remember World Book Day and I’ve been working in publishing since before World Book Day was launched. What surprises me is that I’m so immersed in all things deaf that I can’t believe no one else has mentioned it to me.

In the last four weeks I’ve seen our Teacher of the Deaf, our Speech Therapist, visited hospital to pick up temporary hearing aids (our 9 month old baby had chewed his other ones), visited hospital to get new hearing moulds, visited hospital to get more temporary hearing aids (he chewed the replacement ones!) and spent the last two Saturdays at sign language classes organised by the National Deaf Childrens Society but no one has mentioned it at all.

There is always the possibility that we were informed about it at the Sign Language Classes and I simply didn’t understand. But I don’t think so. The chat after only two weeks is limited: ‘My name is..what’s your name?’, ‘I’m fine, how are you’ and to my utter horror sharing with the entire class how old we are. In spite of that mild horror I’m really enjoying the Sign Language Classes. Unlike the weekend for newly diagnosed deaf parents which we was populated by parents of deaf babies who were as shocked and upset as we were, the Sign Language Classes are attended by parents of 5-16 year olds who have had time to come to terms with their diagnosis. It’s such a relief to see that their children are just normal children. Shy little girls, sullen teenagers, exhibitionists, the same sort of kids you’d get in a cross section of children who weren’t deaf.  They’re probably more bemused by me. I go along with my six year old who hasn’t got a hearing problem at all and our amazing childminder who gives up her Saturday mornings and time with her own family to learn sign language to communicate with mine.

It’s strangely liberating being in a class for two hours where no one speaks at all. The charming teacher told us by writing on the board that Sign Language is his first language and and since then has communicated only by tapping out the alphabet on his fingers and using gestures. In any group situation I’m normally the class clown but deprived of the ability to speak I’m sitting back and soaking up the experience. I’m also loving the opportunity to bond with my six year old child every Saturday morning.

When our baby was diagnosed I worried about the effect it would have on the family, particularly that as the middle child our six year old would suffer. I would never have thought that our baby being deaf would bring us closer together. But it has.

I would still give anything for the deaf diagnosis to be a terrible mistake. I still cry whenever I think what it might mean for my baby. But on a day to day level life is not that bad. He doesn’t know any different and with the support of the various charities and our amazing friends and family we can see a bright future. Who would ever have thought that Sign Language Classes would be one of the highlights of my social calendar?!

How to get a book published

21 Oct

It's said that everyone has a book in them. Having read an enormous amount of dross, my inclination would be to say that they don't. But that isn't to say it isn't worth having a go! Often the people who get on the bestseller list aren't those who devote their lives to reading high brow literature and describe themselves as an author, in spite of having never been published. They're just people who have a really interesting story to tell. And that could be you!

Don't think it has to be fiction

Everyone automatically assumes that the difficult first book needs to be fiction, however people often have more success writing non fiction. If that works and they establish a name for themselves, it's far easier to make the transition to fiction. Check out the non fiction bestseller lists and see what is selling. Unless you're Jeremy Clarkson or Delia, the delightfully named 'misery memoirs' are leading the way at the moment, but there is always room for the next big thing and you might just be it.

Do it for love not money

There are some wonderful stories of authors getting six figure advances on the basis of a couple of sample chapters but those are few and far between and even then if they get 150,000 for a three book deal and it takes a year to write each, their annual income is still only 50,000. More realistically author advances can start as low as 1000 so don't rely on it to keep yourself in designer clothes or even your baby in nappies!

Market yourself

Once you've had your eureka moment and know what your book is going to be about, start writing.  A publisher will need to see a couple of sample chapters and a synopsis/chapter breakdown, but it's not all about the book. Market yourself.  If you have something which makes you hugely promotable then let them know, you might have wonderful contacts in the media industry who will guarantee coverage, or be the daughter of a leading politican (ring any bells?!)  but try to relate your marketability to your book. If you once posed naked for a men's mag and are trying to pitch a kids book it won't necessarily help your case though it didn't do Geri Halliwell or Madonna any harm!

Get yourself an agent

As a publisher I shouldn't advocate going to a literary agent first as they take 10-15%, but they really get the author the best deal. And the more a publisher has paid for your book the more they need to make it work. A list of agents can be found in the Writers' and Artists' Yearbook, but a good way to find your ideal agent or publisher is to check out the acknowledgements page of similar books and see who the author thanks. In your pitch letter you can then flatter them that you know which books they have worked on and draw the comparison to your own book which will make them more inclined to read it.  Don't be afraid of name-dropping either, if you know an author who might give you a pre-pub quote or another publisher who they might know – use it.  Publishing is a very nepotistic industry!

Don't give up

As everyone knows J K Rowling was rejected by almost every publisher in the UK before Bloomsbury took on Harry Potter.  Don't let rejection get you down. Not everyone has the same opinion, particularly regarding fiction. You just need to get one agent or publisher to really believe in you and to secure a ranking on The Sunday Times bestseller list.


You've got the book deal…..the work is just beginning 

Don't think that once you have the deal in place that all you have to do is deliver the manuscript and watch the money roll in. Your editor will want to make changes, accept that they know the market better than you and go with them. The sales team will have the final say on the jacket design and even change the title at the eleventh hour so grit your teeth. The publicity team will have you talking to magazines you wouldn't normally read and appearing on TV programmes you wouldn't normally watch to promote the book, but it's all worth it. If you want to publish a second book any publisher or bookseller can access your previous sales from a central database, if the first doesn't work you won't get a second chance

The work, life, mummy balance

21 Oct

Following yet another bout of mummy bashing (oh get a life people!), we thought we'd ask one of our own how she manages that cock-eyed juggling act called the work/life/mummy balance. Fiona Brownlee is a 40 year old working mother of two, wife of one, and mistress of her own destiny (sort of) and this is what she had to say about 'having it all'.

For the past 12 years I have worked at the same publishing company in Edinburgh.  In the early years I lived very close to the office and my days were punctuated by morning trips to the gym, late nights in the office and even later nights in the local bar.  Now that I am a mother my mornings are spent dragging the 7 year old out of bed and talking the 4 year old out of a fashion crisis.  I drop both kids off at 9am (4 year old at nursery and 7 year old at school) then cycle madly along the cycle path and up the steep hills of the Georgian New Town to work.  I have just about managed to work out how to combine work wear with cycle wear though have had some close shaves with wide legged trousers and bike chains.  I detest cycle helmets but see the advantages to them in windy and wet weather for protecting my hair. The bottom filing cabinet is filled with a variety of shoes, which I change into on arrival in the office.  I soon discovered that buses didnt give me the flexibility to get to work quickly and rush to my childrens side in an emergency.  Admittedly pedestrians and dog walkers take their life in their hands if venturing onto the cycle path when I am in transit.

I returned to work four months after having my first child and six months having my second, in line with statutory maternity pay at the time.  The current system definitely gives companies more flexibility in terms of finding cover but it also makes it more difficult for mothers to tear themselves away from their one year old and return to work.  I didnt have specific cover so never really stopped working. 

My job frequently requires that I am away from home. In addition to flying visits to London I spent a week in New York in May and am due to have a week in Frankfurt next week followed by another two weeks on a management course. When I first used to go away it broke my heart to leave the kids though they barely noticed my absence.  Now they are able to communicate it is much easier, apart from the time my 6 year old called me in New York at 8am in the morning – 3am US time.  In addition to teaching her the number I must teach her about time zones! 

When I first abandoned my baby for business I flew to Los Angeles and found myself sitting at the bar in Virgin Upper Class talking to a celebrity I had done business with in the past while his friend tried to goad me into accompanying them to the Mondrian Sky Bar.  Ignoring the chat up line completely I proceeded to show them endless pictures of my 9 month old baby girl, barely containing my tears. It was only when I saw them at the MTV Movie Awards the following night that I realised that the lothario had been Colin Farrell.

My work isnt restricted to the 9-5 day job.  At my daughters school, ashamed that I am rarely at the school gate or even After School Club, for pick up I have also joined the Parent Council and the board of the After School Club, both of which take up a lot of time and energy which may well be better directed at the kids themselves.  I am also on the Board of the Edinburgh International Book Festival.

Last year I enthusiastically joined the team at, my passion, and I hope my pension plan, and now write a weekly blog plus contributing various articles and trying to use viral marketing methods to spread the mumsrock message. 

Friends refer to me as the best plate spinner they know.  My mother thinks I overdo it. My husband is enormously supportive and is brilliant at spinning his own plates when I am away on business.  My children arent really aware that I am any different to other mothers they know.  I like to think that to compensate for not being with them for large chunks of time, the occasions when we are together are spent having fun, be it going swimming, on family bike rides or snuggled on the sofa watching X Factor.  I dont think they lose out by having a working mother and I hope that Im a role model they aspire to.  My own mother certainly was.


Are you a working mum? Tell us how you do it…seriously, spill the beans – we need all the help we can get. 


21 Oct

Who: Samantha Robertson (37) 

Company: Sinwaxing 

In the wings: Thurston (9), Corgan (2) and Husband Joe (37)  

Where: Edinburgh 

What: Specialist waxing particularly aimed at men 

Previous Life: Anything from human resources to sound engineering 

The elevator Pitch: I only use hot wax which is a technique where specialist wax is applied and hair is removed without any strips. It is 100% less painful than strip wax and I offer the most relaxed and friendly atmosphere. I will wax anything. It doesnt matter which part of the anatomy, its all just waxing.  

Your light-bulb moment was: Sitting at my job in Human Resources, staring at a pensions spreadsheet and I wondered.. where do the men go for waxing? 

Heroes and Villains? I moved here from South Africa 14 years ago as my dad is English. I hate to get political, but Gordon Brown is my hero. I was a single mom for two years and if it wasnt for Gordons Tax Credits I could never have worked and this would have had a knock on effect on who I met-my future, my confidence, my sons outlook and values of money and where it comes from. Villains = No Shows. I am continuously surprised by the number of people who do not show for appointments and do not even ring, text or e-mail to excuse themselves. Villains, I tell you.  

Pass on your best bit of advice: Learn to separate. It takes a while and sometimes it may feel like work is taking over, but look at your own situation and your childrens needs and it will fall into place with some discipline. 

Kids, work, life… do you juggle? A brilliant nursery, supportive husband and an understanding 9 year-old who realises that 'if I cant now' it is because I am working so that we can for example go camping one weekend next month.. thats the kids and work. The social life has taken a knock, but it is short lived and that is how I deal with that one. The time will come again for me, I call these the head down years. young children and young business, I will get back to rock n roll. 

What is the secret to your success? Treating everyone equally, and offering the service that I would expect to receive. This is a rarity these days with people far too concerned about numbers and cash. People like to be liked and I am fortunate that I have some great clients. 

Hedge fund, Cash in the attic or the kid's piggy bank? Starting very small and slowly was the only way to go for me. A little outlay and a lot of hard work. Starting up 3 months after a c-section would not be my choice next time, but it got the ball rolling. Very strict budgets for everything (still). in hind site I could have raided the swear box! 

If you had your time again you would: I would have done something sooner if for no other reason but to get a grant. Once you are over 30 there is little financial help! I would also try and worry less.  

Wealth or comfort… how does it pay? Comfort is coming, not one to worry about wealth. Want to see my kids grow up and get by and this way works best for us. 

You'd like to thank: My friend Sheri for helping me start a new life in Edinburgh and my husband Joe for being the mom, nurse, cook, cleaner, mechanic, taxi, dad, security service etc. – without him none of it would have been possible. Thirdly I have to thank my clients who have shown amazing loyalty. 

For my next trick: Meet more and more people and when the money is right I will branch into laser treatment, the ultimate hair removal.   

To tame your unwanted hair whether it's your legs or his big hairy back wig, make an appointment at

Ardenlee & Eyre Guesthouses

21 Oct

COMPANY NAME: Ardenlee and Eyre guesthouses

Who: Noreen Moody   

In the wings: Sam (6), Isla (3) Alasdair (43) husband and business partner 

Where: Edinburgh

What: Guesthouses and self catering apartment in Edinburgh city centre

Previous Life:. Management Consultant in the City of London

The elevator pitch:  Running 21 room guesthouses and self catering apartment in city centre

Your lightbulb moment was… Obviously not a new concept, but an opportunity to get out of the corporate world and be your own boss, whilst still doing something that made sense financially.

Heroes and Villains? A friend who already ran a guesthouse who kindly passed on a lot of his own wisdom and experience which helped us to hit the ground running, as we took over the premises during the busy season when it was fully booked. Villains are the websites which have recently sprung up which act as a middleman for bookings and take a percentage from the accomodation provider. This obviously has to be passed onto the customer, by the accomodation provider raising the price. Never use one of these search engines/booking agents. Always contact the accomodation provider direct and you will save yourself between 10 and 15% of the cost per room.

Pass on your best piece of advice …Don't expect to please everyone all of the time. There will always be serial complainers, but if you know you have done your job properly and your standards are high, you know not to take it personally.

Kids, Work, Life – how do you juggle?  By handing over responsibility for certain areas of the business to someone else,whose expertise is greater than yours and who doesn't have kids in tow. Kids need to given equal billing.

Whats the secret of your success? Providing a high standard of service, and comfort so that your reputation spreads. By always remembering this is a business, not a hobby, and taking decisions accordingly.

Hedge fund, cash in the attic or kids piggy bank? Own cash plus a bank loan.

If you had your time again you would Probably invest all cash into self catering rather than a guesthouse.

Wealth or comfort? It pays all the mortgages and it is the pension fund.

And for my next trickSomething completely different after baby no.3 arrives….still investigating ideas.

Heading to Edinburgh? To get a room in Noreens Guesthouse go to 

Barrington Stoke

21 Oct

COMPANY NAME:  Barrington Stoke

Who: Lucy Juckes 

In the wings:  Emily was 2 when I started the company.  Now she is 12 and I have Josh 11, Oli 8 and Rosanna 6  

Where: Edinburgh

What: Publishing books for children who are reluctant readers

Previous Life:.Sales Director at Bloomsbury Publishing

The elevator pitch:  No one was publishing books for children who couldnt or wouldnt read.  I sought high profile authors and asked struggling readers to comment on each manuscript before publication, to ensure the final book was both accessible and a terrific read.

Lightbulb moment: I discovered there was a gap in the market when I was doing my MBA dissertation.  A family history of dyslexia originally prompted my interest. 

Heroes and Villains? Anita Roddick and husband Ben who has been incredibly supportive throughout.  Not bothered by villains!

Pass on your best bit of advice: Cash is King!

Kids, Work, Lifehow do you juggle it all? Badly.  When I started the business I had one child.  I now have four and had to return to work very swiftly after having all of them.  I survived with the help of a nanny and a supportive husband. Thankfully the youngest is six so all are now at school.

Whats the secret of your success? Hard work.

Hedge fund, cash in the attic or the kid's piggy bank? Found shareholders interested in dyslexia.

If you had your time again you would. Do it differently!

Wealth or comfort…it doesn't quite pay the mortgage yet.

And for my next trick…Ive appointed an MD to run the company and am trying to be a silent partner.  Barrington Stoke celebrated 10 years this year.  I now work as a literary agent for childrens books.

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