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Fireworks please

On the evening of Friday 28th October my dear friend Basil sends me a text: “Congratulations on the publication of your book. Well done.”  I respond quickly: “Thanks for remembering the date but has it actually been published? There have been no fireworks.”

Don’t worry, he texts back, “I’ve arranged some for tomorrow night and some more on November, 5th.”

On Saturday, on a Harry Potter Muggletour for my daughter’s 11th birthday I surreptitiously peer into bookshops from the South Bank to the West End – no sign anywhere of Is Your Child Safe Online? There are, however, fireworks that night.

On Monday, in Kingston with my mum, we pop into Waterstones. Nothing. By Tuesday, I decide to email my publisher, White Ladder. Has the book actually been published? They respond quickly. Yes indeed it has! It was in the warehouse on Friday, my copies will soon be in the post and they are very pleased with the book. Must say, I know the book is about the online world but I’ll be rather relieved to see a paper version. I was starting to wonder if it only existed in my imagination.

Heartened by the news from the publisher, I visit the Wimbledon Waterstones, my local bookstore. I know they have ordered 200 copies because the publisher told me this on the day I did the BBC radio interviews two weeks ago. It isn’t on the shelf yet so I pluck up the courage to ask when they expect it in.

At the counter, a young shop assistant asks if he can help. I ask him if the book is on order and he does a quick search. “Yes,” he says, “we have one on order.” My mother raises her eyebrows. I am hoping he means that is my one of the 200 ordered! Nervously, I mutter, “I’m just curious as I wrote the book.”

“Oh,” comes a rather disinterested response, “well it is in the warehouse so I guess not too long now”.

Before my son’s school assembly, one of the Dad’s congratulates me on the publication of my book. I tell him about my experience in Waterstones. “No, no, no,” he says, “you should have walked out, walked back up to the counter and said to him, look sir, can we try this again, please.  You see, I am the author.”

It makes me laugh. But, I am after all, just another author in a country where over 200,000 new books are published each year – that is over 550 a day.

Okay, so it may not be the next Harry Potter (or War and Peace) but, even if I say so myself, it is a serious book written in an accessible way which I believe will give parents plenty to think about as well as practical advice. In the playground, one Mum tells me she really worries about her children online and thinks there is a need for it. I hope others will too.

It is currently available online at Waterstones, Guardian Books, Tesco and Amazon, among others, will soon be in selected bookstores and as an e-book.

Is Your Child Safe Online?

After six months of fascinating research my book Is Your Child Safe Online: a Parent’s Guide to the internet, Facebook, Mobile Phones and other New Media is finally in production. In the course of research I have interviewed a wide cross section of people from child psychologists to computer scientists, teachers, academics, criminologists, parents, children and experts from the industry.   It is due out in October and will be published by White Ladder.

Feeding Africa

Rising food prices and the link to political instability have been a core theme across global media in recent weeks, following the release of United Nations updated food price index in January. That was bad news; for seven consecutive months the index rose, in both real and nominal terms, to highest levels since records began in 1990. And the forecasts do not look good either Abdolreza Abbassian, a UN Food and Agricultural Organisation economist and grains expert, says “high prices are likely to persist in the months to come”. Continue reading

Vietnam here we come

This Friday (November 5, 2010) I’m off to Vietnam on a fact-finding field trip. My journey begins in Ho Chi Minh city where we set off to Can Tho, the main city of the Mekong Delta. From here we will visit the Soc Trang Province where I’ll be meeting growers and dealers in rice and finding out how technology has helped boost yields of existing agricultural land.

In 20 years Vietnam has gone from being a net importer of rice to the world’s second biggest exporter and is leading the way in productivity. I’ll be looking at the drivers behind this, how it has been achieved and considering what this could mean food and water security. I’ll also be considering what other emerging markets,like those Africa where rice is fast becoming a major staple crop, can learn from a country like Vietnam.

From the Mekong Delta in the south-east I’ll be heading North to the Red River Delta for a vegetable seed demonstration with farmers present. My trip culminates at the International Rice Congress in Hanoi, where with any luck, I’ll be have a chance to meet and talk to scientists, businesses and policy makers.

With food security right back at centre of the development debate and with climate change, the depletion of natural resources – especially water – and the world population forecast to swell by 2 billion within 40 years, this is no time to be complacent. I’ll be blogging while I am away, and hope to take some interesting photographs, so watch this space for details…