October 2012

A note before I begin: The following posts will be focused on trying to sell more copies of my book.

I don’t know how I’m going to do this yet. So to help, I thought it’d write myself a “Brief” (this is a hangover from the 18 years I spent working as a copywriter). You can’t do anything without a brief. Professionally, they’re often written by fiercely intelligent people with degrees in marketing who can earn vast amounts of money and drive company sports cars. They’d be horrified to learn that, as soon as the “creative team” (typically a copywriter and an art director, although this was changing as I left the business in 2007) have read the brief, it is cast aside and sometimes never referred to again. (Except for the “Proposition”, which is explored well beyond the bounds of plausibility.)

This is probably not a very good brief, but it will suffice. If you’re going to do your own marketing, just copy the headings and spend some time writing the necessary information underneath. “Suits” (the client-facing people who write briefs in agencies) – please feel free to criticise this brief in the comments section. Or tell people what is missing.

C R E A T I V E     B R I E F


People thinking about moving to France. Adults 18-60 & young families.


écovallée behind the seams Part One: “The yurt camp, the English mafia and the French resistance”, a 50pp pdf describing one young family’s journey from suburban Brighton to rural France.


Alex, Clare & their two young children left England to live in France and create a sustainable life, with a dream of building a smallholding for food, and running an eco-luxury family yurt camp for money. Part One tells the story from before they had the Big Green Idea, through the move to France and what happened during the first year of being there. It is a cautionary tale of hopes and dreams dashed against the wall of unfeeling French bureaucracy. In short, they were lied to, ripped off & left penniless in months. The only reason they survived was thanks to the help of the English community – the people Alex came to call “mafia”.




Dreaming of a new life in France? See what a nightmare it can be.


Part One contains real experiences of buying property and trying to start a new business in France. It also covers practical aspects, like registering a non-French car and joining the social security system. But France doesn’t operate in the same way as, say, England. Assumed rules of fairness, honesty and decency do not apply. Instead, even people you’d expect to trust can end up plunging a knife in your back, with a small smile on their face. Essential reading for anyone considering making the move – to France or to the self-sufficient lifestyle. A bargain at €1.






Link to the écovallée facebook shop.


I forgot to include the section “Mandatories”. (Oh the irony.) This is where logos etc. are listed. Much of it seems like common sense, but it’s essential to have on the brief. (Hence the name.) Real life example: In 1992, when I was working in Leicester, an artworker was bollocked by a suit for not including an address on a press ad for a housebuilder client. He picked up the “copy sheet” and threw it at the suit, saying: “It’s not on the f*cking copy sheet”. Needful to say, every copy sheet for the rest of my career included every image, logo and piece of punctuation that was intended for the ad.

Then, if someone tried to give me a hard time for something that was missing on an ad, I could say: “Well, it’s on the copy sheet.”

A couple of weeks ago, I published the first part of “écovallée behind the seams” – my book about our life since having the Big Green Idea.

It’s quite a good book, even though I write so myself. Funny, interesting, surprising, educational – all the stuff you should expect from a book – and at €1 for 13,267 words, impressively cheap. I thought this was a reasonable price to ask, being somewhere between the €0 I’d already earnt from the book and the over €200,000 it cost me to write (a figure arrived at using applied Man Maths).

I launched Part One of the book, called “The yurt camp, the English mafia and the French resistance” using this blog, which is linked to the écovallée facebook page and the twitter account. Then I sat back, excitedly, to watch social media work its magic.

The first sales were exciting. Selling two copies in five minutes was very exciting. But since then, I’ll admit, sales have been sluggish. And after a week without a sale, it’s clear I’m going to have to work on my marketing if I’m going to stand any chance of selling the 1,000 copies I need before I can start writing part two (ominously entitled “Descent into Hell”).

I’ll be using a variety of tried and trusted marketing techniques and giving totals of sales made as a result. I hope you find them interesting and/or amusing.

It’s a personal challenge for me – I spent 18 years as a copywriter (if you’ve seen “Mad Men” you’ll know what this is now), working in the UK and USA. I’ve written a The Afternoon Play for Radio 4 and an episode of The Tomorrow People for Big Finish Productions. I’ve also written a number of unproduced film and TV scripts, which I absolutely love doing (although if you haven’t done it, coming up with a story is astonishingly hard).

Now, I want this experiment to work. I do actually want to write Part Two – and not just for the second euro it might earn me (less fees from paypal). But there’s no sense in doing that if no one is interested. Or if no one likes what I’ve written already. Only time – and the next few posts – will tell…

UPDATE: If you want to buy a copy of “The yurt camp, the English mafia and the French resistance” right now, simply click on the sock monkey in the écovallée shop.

Here’s another suggestion for the recipe section of my never-to-be-written-or-read book entitled: “Embracing Austerity”.

Take four parasol mushrooms from a nearby field (having checked to make sure they will not kill you), fry for a few minutes in shop-bought butter with home-grown garlic, add some home-grown chilli and a sprinkle of shop-bought mixed herbs, and season with shop-bought salt and pepper. Meanwhile bring a pan of utility company provided water to the boil, add a large pinch of salt and drop in some leftover home-made pasta. Boil for a few minutes, during which pour a little shop-bought cream into the mushrooms.

Plate up the pasta, spoon on the mushies, grate some shop-bought parmesan and black pepper and finish with some home-grown basil. It should look like this:

We reckoned, excluding the cost of gas and lighting, each plate cost about 10 cents. Obviously, if you have a milk-producing animal you can make it for almost nothing. We’d have been happy to pay €8.95 in a restaurant – and would definitely have gone back.


I forgot to mention this earlier. You must put a few drops of lemon juice in the sauce at the end of cooking. You won’t believe how much it brings out the taste of the mushrooms.

Last Winter I wrote this:

It tells the story of écovallée from before the Big Green Idea, through where it all went horribly wrong, and up to the point where we…

No, I shouldn’t give too much away. The thing is, I could spend ages looking for an agent, then a publisher, then go through the stress of meetings, edits, proofing and the like. Or I could just publish it myself. Which is what I did a few minutes ago.

As you might expect, I’ve gone about it a bit differently. Part One, called “The yurt camp, the English mafia and the French resistance” is available via paypal from the shop on the écovallée facebook page. It costs €1 and will be emailed as a pdf. Obviously, this gives you the chance to share it around for nothing – but if you did that, you’d never get to read Part Two. Because I will only start writing “Descent into Hell” when I have sold 1,000 copies of Part One.

Obviously, you could go about it a bit differently too, and share it with everyone you know for nothing. They could always come back and buy their own version at a later date.

Right. Having launched myself onto the world stage as An Author, I have to go and feed the animals.

I have this idea for a book I may never write called: “Embracing Austerity”.

It would be full of practical information on managing the transition from the current, destructive, waste-based economy where almost everyone is stressed, unhappy and disconnected from the food they eat, to the new waste-not world where everyone will work hard, feel fulfilled – and the only unhappy people will be those who used to be fabulously rich.

One important section of the book would be recipes like this:

Roasted butternut squash ravioli

Roast some butternut squash from the polytunnel (or greenhouse). If you don’t have access to gas or electricity, a clay oven or neighbourhood bread oven will do. You’ll need to cut the squash length-ways into quarters, then cut again, smear with oil, salt, pepper, fresh herbs and chilli, if desired.

Make pasta, using that machine you bought years ago and only used twice. Or borrow one from a neighbour. You’ll need eggs and flour (and a recipe.) If you don’t have a pasta machine, you could use a rolling pin – the finished ravioli will just be a bit thicker. Which means you’ll eat less of it. Which means you can feed more people. Bonus!

Mash up some butternut squash. You won’t need much. At all.

Make ravioli with the mashed up squash. It will look like this:

Re-heat some tomato sauce. This was made by roasting a tray of tomatoes sliced lengthways, with a sprinkling of garlic, herbs, salt and pepper, and drizzled with oil, in a low oven (or clay oven) until it smelt incredible. This was then mashed, eaten as soup, with the rest reduced to use for this meal (with even more left over for pizza topping next time the clay oven is really hot).

Boil the ravioli for a few minutes, on a hob (or fire).

Plate up the ravioli, top with the sauce and some ripped basil.

Cost per adult serving last week: 7 cents. (Tasted like: €12.95.)

There was a gunshot earlier, a bit close for comfort, so I went down the hill to see if I could catch myself a hunter. I didn’t see him (almost certainly a ‘him’), but I did find that Coulemelle season is upon us!

Obviously, I had to fill a large bag with nature’s bounty…

…which I started processing immediately…

(The wine bottle is there for scale.) The mushrooms on the board went into two batches in a wok, cooked in the same way I described in this post. I ended up with all this…

…for the cost of some mixed herbs, salt, pepper and olive oil. Good for a month of Sunday supper times by following this recipe, stolen from a pub in North London:

1) Reheat the mushrooms, adding a chilli or two

2) Make some toast

3) Add cream to the mushrooms

4) Butter the toast

5) Lay some wild rocket on the toast and pour the mushrooms on top

6) Shave parmesan onto the mushrooms and finish with ground black pepper

It takes a few minutes, costs almost nothing and tastes as good as it sounds.

I got an email yesterday from a London production company looking for people who have just started, are are just about to start, living off-grid. If you fancy sharing the agony and the ecstasy of this life-changing event with a TV audience, send me an email through the booking form on the écovallée website and I’ll give you their contact details.

You never know how useful your experiences could be to other people. A couple of years ago, we had a guest at the yurt camp who experienced our Mark I compost toilet (a dustbin hidden by chestnut boards). She went back to New Zealand where, a few weeks later, the big Christchurch quake happened. The epicentre was 6 km away from her home and they lost their amenities instantly. One of the first things she did was grab a spade, go into the garden and make a new toilet.

If you do decide to take part, at the very least you’ll have something to remember how young (and flabby) you looked before off-grid living made its mark. Although, obviously, you’ll have no way of watching it.

So, the other half of my other half’s studio is almost finished:

In the right hand corner, there’ll be a seat/bed I’ll make when I get a moment. And opposite that will be a strange Dutch wood burner a friend gave us a few years ago.

As always happens, there are some really satisfying elements of this project. One is the curve of the hardboard patch under the window – it’s the off-cut from the window end, but it just works beautifully for some reason. Another is finding a visible place for that board with writing on it. The words are printed in Robbie Coltrane’s Eastern European accent from the Bond films: “Made in Republic of Belarus”. (They’re only little things, but they make me happy.)

But probably the best bit is the door:

More precisely, the aluminium (US: aluminum) upper hinge. It’s from the original caravan door but was completely seized. I nearly threw it away a few times, but just couldn’t do it. Then the moment came during the week when I thought I would have to buy some hinges. As you may know, we don’t have the budget for that. So I spent a few minutes with some oil, a couple of pairs of pliers, and some determination. It loosened up very s-l-o-w-l-y and eventually came apart in tact.

Which means, having spent a total of €0.00 (£0.00), the new studio is bang on budget.

Sadly, there’s no time to celebrate right now. Because we’re taking advantage of some excellent weather to prepare our yurts for the Winter. The wall of our living yurt has a massive hole that needs patching:

The hole happened for a couple of reasons. One, because there’s a very small gap behind the yurt that catches leaves in the Autumn:

And two, because the cover is made from cheap canvas that doesn’t cope at all well with rotting leaves.

As well as fixing this (in the new studio), we’re taking the roof off and re-proofing it, sealing the seams with silicon, bringing the insulation from the tractor shed, putting it all back together before dusk, cutting wood and a whole load of stuff I’ll remember as soon as I stop writing this.

Like digging away that embankment so we don’t have the same problem again next year.