Pen Coed Publishing​ - a local publisher based in Wales

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wallpaper approach to structure a book

The Wallpaper approach to deciding the structure for a piece of writing.

As a topic to write about, wallpaper may not spring to mind as an inspiring read, so I accept you might be reluctant to carry on reading. But please do!

You didn’t think “Wallpaper” could be so interesting!!


We regularly receive lots of queries about how to write non-fiction, where to start, how to plan the structure. Having referred to the wallpaper approach before, I decided to illustrate how to use it. So, here are brief notes about different aspects of wallpaper, both personal and historical.

Wallpaper topics (in no particular order)

1. Victorian (19th century), wallpaper often had a strong stylized pattern and single colour. If it was dyed dark green, Scheele’s Green, it was likely to contain large amounts of arsenic. As it was often used in bedrooms, people could become seriously ill, a plotline often used in murder-mysteries. 

2. The Yellow Wallpaper, a book with a creepy story that revolves around a woman who is locked in a room by her husband, supposedly for her health, but who starts to hallucinate about the patterns she sees on the yellow wallpaper. Eventually, she peels it off the walls to release the women she can see creeping around behind the paper. Fascinating story of the psychological collapse of a person.

3. As an art historian with an interest in printmaking and textiles, it was interesting to discover how many well-known early-20th century artists designed wallpaper and curtain fabrics for manufacturers such as Sanderson. Names include John Piper and Matisse.

4. In the 1970s in the UK, the most popular wallpaper patterns included big swirls or circles in yellow/ orange/ brown colours. Or purple. Or green. Very psychedelic and enough to make you feel queasy. If you moved house, you would always find several layers of wallpaper, often with the middle layer painted with gloss paint.

5. When I bought my first Victorian house we found 10 – yes, 10 – layers of wallpaper on the kitchen wall, including a layer of painted ‘woodchip’ paper. Every night after school, me and 5 sons scraped this wall inch by inch to remove the paper, taking 2 months in total.

6. Just written a guest Blog on the skills of an Introvert – perfect if you decide to become a writer. It refers to the notion of a “wallpaper complex” – when you want to fade into the background/ wallpaper when in a group setting

7. My ex-husband would start DIY and decorating projects but never finish them, leaving the tools and materials out. I first learned how to hang wallpaper when I got tired of waiting 2 months for him to hang the last two pieces in the hall.

8. When I was a little girl, one drop of wallpaper in my bedroom wrapped into the corner and along the adjoining wall. It really irritated me even at age 6! It didn’t fold directly into the 90⁰ angle of the corner but curled into it. I used my thumbnail each night to try and push it into the corner leaving little thumb-shaped holes. Sadly, not appreciated by my mum.

9. One panel of flowered wallpaper in another room was hung upside down in the middle of the wall. Once you see it, you cannot “unsee” it however hard you try.

Decide the order of sections

What order to put them in? Historical – by age? By design? The way wallpaper is used? By personal recollections?

Easiest way is to cut out these little notes and place them on a large piece of wallpaper. Move them around to form some sort of logical progression until you are happy with the suggested structure. Here, for example, I decided the order and numbered them in sequence A – I. On second thoughts I rearranged the middle 3 but kept them in that section.

Now with 3 distinct sections related to Personal experience/ how wallpaper is used/ Fascinating Facts, this is where I decided the title might be The Dangers of Wallpaper. 

For each of the 9 factors, decide what research is needed, where to find images, and extra details.

A great example of initial research to back up what I already knew about potential arsenic poisoning – lots of information online, examples of types of wallpaper patterns, description of how the poison takes effect [ref: Smithsonian magazine and Envirochem].

The book by Charlotte Perkins Gilman in 1892, The Yellow Wallpaper, is one I knew about but was not aware it was possibly describing the effects of arsenic poisoning from the yellow wallpaper. While it is suggested it relates to post-natal depression, there are clues about the strange smell, hallucinations, and potential toxicology. More research needed.

Needs an Introduction and Conclusions once this order/structure is decided. Final stage is to add the extra material and bring it all together with a Conclusions section to summarize why it was a fascinating subject to start with!

With arsenic-containing wallpapers there is an additional and interesting effect. If the paint or wallpaper becomes damp, a mould can grow on the wallpaper that can metabolise the arsenic into a volatile form of arsenic called arsene. This arsene can then be inhaled by the occupants and even if concentrations are low, prolonged exposure can lead to arsenic bio-accumulating in the body. It was this that is believed to have contributed to the death of Napoleon when imprisoned on the island of Elba.


English Heritage has lots of © images to show how patterns changed https://historicengland.org.uk/research

3rd​ edition of Open Book Newsletter published

October 2020 Download pdf on Extra Resources page 

Open Book Newsletter 3 for the Autumn is here. We have featured 2 Craft books this time, on Peg Loom weaving and Felt Making, to inspire you with some colourful and simple ways to create beautiful unique textile pieces.

Both books are aimed at someone new to the craft. They are available as individual books, but this month's deal is to buy both books together for £20.00 + p&p - great to keep for yourself or start your Christmas shopping!

Even better, we are giving away a copy of "Badly Chopped Carrots", one of our favourite memoirs with the added bonus of lots of Recipes. See the Newsletter for details, but just send in a Contact Us form by 24th October for us to pick someone at random as the lucky recipient.

Finally, there is a section on using the Wallpaper approach to plan the structure of your article/ blog/ book and a more detailed description as a Blog (above).  

Pen Coed Publishing, Newsletter, Open Book, writing non-fiction

2nd edition of Open Book Newsletter published

August 2020

Some great feedback from everyone for the very first Newsletter from Pen Coed Publishing, so hope you enjoy this one too.

As business risks are currently high on the agenda as we continue to try and deal with the impact of COVID19, it might be a good time to step back and think about the business as a whole to try and work out the positives for the future. The featured book - 10 Ps of Managing Risks by one of our main authors Dr Jacqueline Jeynes - is a Checklist approach to start thinking about the range of risks in your own business, using a consistent approach to record your findings. It is not aimed at the person who is already an expert, so assumes you are fairly new to the whole thing.

Free Charts and Checklists can be downloaded (see Extra Resources page) so feel free to take a look. 

Open Book Newsletter 2 continues the theme of 10 Tips about Writing, Editing and Publishing - this time considering what you want a reader to think or feel after reading your work, and being clear who the potential reader might be. All things a publisher will be looking for.

You can download a copy of Newsletters 1 and 2 on the Extra Resources page, but why not sign up to received it direct to your inbox every month? Use the Contact Us form and enter "newsletter" in the subject line or body of the message.

Let us know if you have any burning questions about any of the topics

Pen Coed Publishing, newsletter, tips on writing, non-fiction

1st Edition of Open Book Newsletter published

 July 2020

Just published our first Newsletter so very excited! This month's featured book is Anita's "Badly Chopped Carrots & Everyday Dinners" - an inspiring memoir as a Canadian moving to live in rural Wales. This month's £5 voucher off a further purchase went to Carol as the first person to sign up for the Newsletter - Congratulations. Each Newsletter will include a voucher for someone as a Thank You for signing-up. 

Our 10 Tips About Writing this month are pointers about writing Non-Fiction with more tips each edition. Some great feedback so far and next edition due to be published mid-August. Use the Contact Us form to make sure you get a copy each month