A rescued novel

I’ve got a story to tell you this morning, about a novel that was treated so badly I gave up hope for it and now low and behold it has been rescued by my lovely new publishers Endeavour Press. Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.

This story began at the turn of our new century, when my fortunes were at a low ebb and I felt that my only hope was that I would be published by one of the library publishers and that the book would find it’s way into the libraries and be taken up and hopefully enjoyed by all my library readers. There were lots of libraries in those days and I had a large fan base there.

The publisher, who had his eye to the main chance, asked if he could divide the book into two volumes to which I agreed because it really didn’t matter to me if it was one volume or two, as long as my readers could find it.

So two volumes it was and these were the covers. So far so good. Not spectacular in the way my earlier publications had been but available for my library fans who got back to me fairly quickly to say they’d enjoyed it. I sent a note to my new agent who was a lovely helpful man and thanked him for the work he’d done to place it.

Then, very much out of the blue, the novel’s fortunes took a sudden turn for the worse. My publisher wrote to tell me that he had got a wonderful paperback deal for me. Apparently a gentleman called Mr Fisher wanted to print sixty thousand copies and sell them in his various outlets. It sounded too good to be true. And of course, it was.

It didn’t take me very long or much effort to discover the real truth of what was going on. Yes Mr Fisher did want to publish sixty thousand copies but he was going to sell them in very cheap, downmarket outlets – certainly none of the big booksellers were going to take him nor the supermarkets – and what was even worse was that he proposed to sell them for about four or five pounds each, to pay my publisher 40 pence per copy and, out of the kindness of his heart, to give me tuppence a copy. I wrote to my publisher at once to say that this was an appalling deal, I that I didn’t agree with it and didn’t want it to proceed. To my horror he wrote back to say that he and Mr Fisher had signed a contract and the deed and the deal were done.

To cut a long and miserable story short it took months of arguments, letters and telephone calls from me and my agent who was very very supportive before the publisher finally told us that the deal was off and these pirated copies were not going to be published. I breathed a sigh of relief. But it was very silly of me. Several years later I found a second hand copy of the pirate version in a second hand bookshop. It had been published, I hadn’t been told and surprise, surprise, I hadn’t received even a penny piece from the deal leave alone tuppence.

But now, hooray, hooray, hooray! Endeavour are planning to bring it out with a lovely new cover as a proper ebook where my non library fans can find it. When it’s up I will put up another blog to tell you more about it. At the moment I’m just waving a cheerful flag.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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This entry was posted on September 13, 2017. 4 Comments

Inspiration

I have to admit I cheated over this book, because I began by trawling back into my own family history, not because I wanted to search out all my long-lost relations but because of three of the people I grew up with. All three of them had very interesting tales to tell and I sat at their feet as a very young child with my ears flapping and afterwards and in secret wrote up everything I could remember of what they said in my well hidden, very secret, diary.

One of them whose name was Jesse Garnsworthy, had been a soldier in the First World War and served in the trenches for the full four years, I heard things from him that I’d never heard before and have never seen in any history book. One of them was the ‘morning hate’ which I’ve described in the book exactly as it was described to me but he also told me about the food, the rats, the lice and the general filth of the trenches. Respec’ Jesse.

The second one was Jesse’s wife who’s name was Minnie but whom I always called Dardy because Garnsworthy was too difficult for my infant tongue and the nickname stuck. She told me almost casually that she had been sent out to work the day after her twelfth birthday, I was absolutely horrified to hear it and thought how cruel it was, but she said that was the way things were in the old days and they all had to put up with it. I loved her to bits. She was the most hardworking and loving woman I’ve ever met, she worked every day of her life, from twelve years old until the day before she died when she was in her eighties. And she became my heroine as she always was. Respec’ Dardy.

The third, was an Aunt called Vera Dawson and she (Respec’ again!) was a Suffragette who chained herself to the railings in Parliament Square and of course was arrested, she told me how Suffragettes were despised and openly abused especially by what she called ‘rough-necks’, so there’s another thread for my book and again it was verbatim.

This entry was posted on September 6, 2017. 1 Comment

Sorry about this, I’m blowing my trumpet!

This novel is now published. So I’m afraid I’ve got to blow my own trumpet a bit  and tell you something about it, even though it’s a very painful thing for me to do.

The first thing I must admit to is that it is not yet in the shops. Small publishers cannot afford the massive bungs they have to pay to get their books on the shelves but it is on Amazon both as an e-book for £2.99 and as a paperback at £7.99 and it is available through this link: http://amzn.eu/cpdyGNV

It already has 6 reviews, all of them warm and appreciative. If you are tempted to buy the book and want to know more about it, these reviews might help you.

I am currently arranging talks and appearances in support of the book and have so far booked to speak at Tooting and Crawley. I shall be at Tooting public library at 75 Mitcham Road on Friday the 13th of October at 6pm, I hope this will appeal to Tooting residents who are interested in the history of their part of London. I grew up in Tooting and know it and it’s history very well indeed. The following day, I shall be at the Crawley library in Southgate Avenue from 11am – 2pm at the local authors book fair. I’ll keep you posted about other events as and when they are arranged.

In the meantime if you are a fan and friend and have read and enjoyed the book do you think you could rate it and perhaps write your own review.  It would be very helpful to me (and to Amazon!) to know how many people are enjoying it. Many thanks.

Now I can take off my bragging hat, hide my trumpet in the wardrobe and write another and different blog to entertain you!

This entry was posted on September 6, 2017. 4 Comments

How standard is a standard?

It’s that time of year again when school children receive their exam results and politicians make speeches about maintaining ‘standards’. So let’s consider what we mean when we use the word ‘standard’. A lot of people are convinced that if a child has achieved a grade A or 9 or whatever it is they are calling it now, the level he or she has achieved will be the same as it was last year or the year before or even ten years ago. But it ain’t necessarily so.

Stand well clear, I’m going to bombard you with facts and statistics, but I’ll make them as painless as possible, for like everything else political, standards have been developed to fit certain situations.

Let me start with the 11+, which some of you will remember and will have taken. The standards set in every part of the country depended entirely on how many grammar school places there were in the area. In Sussex for example, 11% of the child population could be given a place in a grammar school. In South Wales it was 25%. In London it was 20% but the mark achieved by boys was lower than that required from girls because there were almost twice as many grammar schools for boys in London as there were for girls. The examiners had an easy task, the 11+ examinations came in three parts, English, Maths and Verbal Reasoning. All that was required was to add up the total of all three marks, type them out in rank order and count down the column until you had reached the number you could accommodate in your local schools. Simples as the meerkat would say.

Those of us who taught in London primary schools like my old darling, knew perfectly well that a lot of girls were ‘failed’ who were much more intelligent then some of the boys who passed. It was an unfair system and we brought in Comprehensive schools in an attempt to solve it and to give all our children a chance to succeed whenever they were ready for it.

 

When it came to O-Levels and A-Levels, which were then called ‘Lower school and Higher school certificates’, quite a lot of people – even some teachers – described them as being necessary to ‘sort out the sheep from the goats’. There was a time when you would not be allowed to take Higher schools unless you had ‘matriculated’ in Lower schools, which meant achieving a good pass in five key subjects, English, Maths, a Humanities, a foreign language and Science. And why was that? Well because there were simply not enough University places in the lesser universities to cater for more pupils – and by lesser universities they meant universities other than Oxford and Cambridge – to which we lesser mortals couldn’t possibly aspire.

There were a good many sociologists around in those days who spoke boldly about the fact that our education system was a means of social control. I think they were entirely right and anyone who studies Margaret Thatchers actions in the educational sphere, will surely see it. She spoke loudly to her potential electors about how she and her government would improve standards so well that over half the pupils in an academic year would be capable of going to university. It was the simplest thing in the world for her to achieve. All she had to do was to shift the boundaries between the grades, so that grades that had been A and B became A’s, C’s and some D’s became B’s, the rest of the D’s and E’s became C’s. I was teaching then and got the picture quite simply by comparing the results we had predicted with the results that were awarded.  I heard a whole chorus of meerkats saying ‘Simples’ that time.

As Mrs May would say, ‘A standard is a standard.’ Yeah, yeah!

Hooray for Autumn!

I don’t know about you but I’ve had some really splendid crops in my garden this Autumn. One of the apple trees has fairly excelled itself and the blackberries have taken over the fruit garden. Blackberry and Apple crumble here we come!

Keats called Autumn, Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, which is accurate but a trifle gloomy. I prefer Andrew Marvell’s description because it’s so lush and so full of pleasures.

Andrew Marvell (The Garden)

What wond’rous life in this I lead!
Ripe apples drop about my head; 
The luscious clusters of the vine
Upon my mouth do crush their wine;
The nectarine and curious peach
Into my hands themselves do reach;
Stumbling on melons as I pass,
Ensnar’d with flow’rs, I fall on grass.

 

 

 

There is in fact a lot to be said for the Autumn of life, if it doesn’t sound too conceited to say so. We oldies have learnt enough if we’re lucky, to have sorted a few things out in our minds and to see that there is much to celebrate in every season, from the springtime of the delicious newborn to the gradual farewells of winter. I’m currently organizing another one of our family parties, to mark the fact that family Autumns are full of life.

The roses are already growing to decorate our tables.

 

 

Vanity and beyond

Some years ago I did some research  on a Vanity Publisher who operated from premises in Bognor Regis and was close to hand. I think I had a vague idea that he might make an interesting subject for a short story. It was certainly a revealing experience.

His HQ was a single storey building packed with piles of books so, while I was waiting for him to emerge from  his office and talk  to me, I turned some of them over and read the titles. ‘My life as a Brigadier’ ‘A Country Parson’ ‘My years in the Kasbah.’ ‘My life on the stage’, written by someone I’d never heard of, ‘Me and the Arab Sheik’. !!!  Time passed and the great man still hadn’t put in an appearance, so I opened some of them and read the first few paragraphs because that’s what I  always do when I’ve found a book I think I might want to read.  They were all, without exception, badly written, poorly spelled, full of cliches and excruciatingly boring.

But having started out on my charade, I decided to go on with it and when he finally arrived to shake my hand and usher me into his office, which was as dusty as his storeroom, and asked me how he could help me, I gave him a false name and wondered if he would be prepared to publish a book I had written. He didn’t ask to see it but said of course he would and proceeded to detail his terms. It soon became clear that it was going to cost me a great deal of money and that I would have to market the thing myself. No wonder he had so many books lying around in that storeroom. I thought of all those poor things who had fancied themselves as writers and hadn’t been able to sell their books. It all seemed very sad. I told him  I would think about it and get back to him if I was interested and drove home, feeling sorry for all those poor vain wannabees.

But it was certainly making a living for the dusty gentleman. I’d learnt enough about the cost of print to know that the price he was charging to print his books was exorbitant, even if you allowed for the rent he would have to pay for his seedy premises.

I haven’t thought about the gentleman or his dubious business for years, but this week I have discovered the latest twist in vanity publishing which has taken a further step into exploitation which I find deeply unpleasant.

I met a would-be writer at a local authors meeting who introduced herself to me, told me she’d written a book and that she wanted to have it published and, despite my attempts to deter her, insisted on telling me the entire story of the book blow by boring blow. But that was not all, worse was still to come. This week the lady sent me an email to remind me of her novel and to explain that she is hoping that SWWJ, Scriptora will take it on and publish it. But there was a snag, which she explained. ‘They require me to get, from two persons of literary standing, an endorsement stating that my work is worthy of publication. I have already got one such approval. Would you be willing to look at my manuscript and give it your consideration?’ 

Now I don’t know about you but I call that presumption. It would take me a considerable time to wade through a book I don’t particularly want to read and now that I am 86 my time is very precious to me. And I do wonder at the presumption of the vanity publisher who wants a ‘person of literary standing’ to read  through one of their proposed scripts and give it their blessing. That is the work of a sub-editor whom they should be employing and paying. from my point of view, I see it as the deliberate exploitation of a hardworking professional.

What do you think, all you professional writers out there?

 

 

This entry was posted on August 16, 2017. 2 Comments

Is bullying in our genes?

I found a story on Twitter this morning about some new scientific research which is examining bullies and victims and has discovered that bullies very rarely suffer from depression and that victims suffer from it a great deal. It wasn’t a surprise, I have to say. A bully shoves other people around in order to get his own way and once he’s got it he feels mighty pleased with himself and on top of the world.

 

Victims on the other hand are always having to give way to the bullies, even when they know that it isn’t sensible or safe to do so. Is it any surprise that they have very little sense of their own value and if they’re being heavily and frequently bullied have little or no sense of their worth at all. All of which leads to depression.

But sadly the research doesn’t seem to suggest any solutions. And we are now under the rule of some pretty formidable and dangerous bullies, Trump being the most powerful and therefore the worst of all. So what can any of us, non-bullying, ‘ordinary’, compassionate and loving people do to prevent the worst of their abuse or even – if only – find some way to stop it before it even begins.

 

 

I have met and watched the actions of several, formidable bullies during my long life-time and I’ve been asking myself this question for years. Three of them are pictured here. But there were and are plenty of others. The one answer that has always come into my mind is that the bully should be opposed and that in order to do it there need to be a great many of us and we need to be organised, determined and prepared to be hurt when we take action. It’s a very high price to pay.

Mahatma Gandhi led the way and he called the technique that he was asking his followers to use ‘non violent action’ or ‘Satyagraha’. In one terrifying and shameful incident in India his followers sat in the road, in front of well armed and determined British soldiers, to protest against the salt tax which they all felt was blatantly unfair and punitive.

The first row of the protesters were clubbed mercilessly until they were bloody and unconscious. Then their friends removed their bodies and the second row took over and were beaten in their turn. It was a terrible test of gentle protest against bullying brutality, but in the end the gentle protesters prevailed. The soldiers had beaten and bullied until their consciences began to worry them and eventually they stopped. The event was photographed by an American reporter and published in the American press. It caused an international stir and was a turning point in the long struggle for Indian independence which was eventually and inevitably granted in 1947.

Could we use Satyagraha now do you think?

This entry was posted on August 9, 2017. 1 Comment