9 July 2004

June Tabor playing on the stereo. After some windy days, there’s some sun this evening, but it’s cooler.

I’ve been in production mode for two weeks, which is why I haven’t written any diary (or read any books, or done much else to be honest). It took me from Monday 28 June to Thursday 8 July to read through Kip Fenn. This time, though, I was reading it on draft final pages (450 of them) in hard back book format (Royal size). I had thought, after my last read through, it was in near final condition, and for that reason I wasn’t going to read it through just yet. But I felt impelled to, because I couldn’t really get on with anything else to do with the book. And then I realised why I was subconsciously driving myself to read it again - it was far from ready. I think when I read it recently, I wasn’t reading it in proof-reading mode, but in assessment mode. I hadn’t read it in six months, and I needed to decide whether to go ahead with self-publishing it. So, it’s just as well I did read it through. Occasionally, I got a bit insecure about the grammar (for example, when I actually looked, I found half a dozen places where I’d used ‘I’ where I should have used ‘me’). I also found I’d over-used dashes and brackets, and to remove them took some re-arranging and re-punctuating. But I didn’t change any of the story, or rewrite anything of substance. When I finished yesterday, I gave the office a good clean (like I used to after the EC Inform newsletters went to press), and then made a check list of things I still need to do.

I’ve set up my Pikle Publishing company, with a bank account and VAT registration. I’ve sent off for ISBN numbers, and I’ve chosen a printer. I intend to finalise the text and dust jacket before the end of July, within three weeks, so that I get the books before I go to Sri Lanka on 28 August. During August, while the book is being printed, I’ll work on the adverts and letters for review copies. I’ll also need to organise the website, and the Amazon Advantage scheme.

Most of the time I feel upbeat about the decision to self-publish. But I’m also acutely aware that once the thing is printed, all I can do is send off a hundred or so to potential reviewers and sit back and wait. But the hope of a review or media attention will be the same kind of hope that I had all through last autumn waiting for an agent to want to read the full manuscript. I waited and waited and waited and waited. The same will happen in September/October. It’s perfectly possible and likely, that not one single person will review the book, that not one single copy will be sold on Amazon.

But the reason I feel upbeat is that I just have to do this thing, and get it out of the way. I don’t think I could have moved on, if I was constantly thinking I should have tried a bit harder.

I should mention that I had an interesting reply from an agent this week. Well, it wasn’t an interesting reply in itself, but the returned manuscript came complete with a short reader’s report. It had been left in by mistake, I think. Before I type into my journal the full text of the reader’s report (because it would be the first time I’ve ever had a professional say something about any of my fiction, and I can’t resist this small little crumb of comfort - somebody, somewhere has, at last, taken the book seriously).

I first wrote to Conville & Walsh in October last year. I sent two follow-up letters. Just now, in July (nine months later), I got a standard rejection letter with ‘I’m very sorry for this terrible delay’ hand-written on the bottom. But, in the middle of the (tea-stained) papers I found a reader’s report, by someone called Belinda Liversedge. She wrote (on 9 January):

‘The accompanying letter is not an accurate reflection of this author’s writing talents - he is capable of sophisticated writing. The idea of a fictional character attempting to write his own autobiography, is also good. I like the way Paul Lyons looks intelligently at autobiographical writing. On p2, for example, he says: Writing in the Reflections mode means I am less constrained by time . . . and I can embellish the facts more generously than in a formal biography . . . I need not worry where failures of memory . . . leave me struggling to fill in certain . . . gaps. Perhaps this comes close to Rousseau and his belief that autobiography need not be factual in order to relate the truth of a person’s life. His writing can strike at you at points. The author’s description of this mother’s reaction on p11 to Kip telling his mother his Dad is not his real father, is perceptive and I like the recollection of his father’s funeral on p2. However, ultimately he does not grip the reader’s attention with either the story (his searching for evidence of his real father through his mother’s love letters, girlfriend’s death by fishing rod [sic] in chapter two) the character’s internal life or his writing style. Conclusion - good enough to stand out, but probably not good enough to seriously consider.’

And so, I stand on the threshold of spending at least £5,000 without any critical support at all. It’s hard to imagine, given that I do have friends and family, that even if this were the worst novel in the world, I would have any less support. Am I am absolutely crazy?

My dear son Adam has finished his lower sixth year at Godalming college. Despite lots of encouraging support and low-key pressure from me, he’s not put any effort into getting a job or thinking about his university course.

I enjoyed the European football championships. Astonishingly Greece won. It must have been heartbreaking for the Portuguese to lose, at home. I blame Figo. I didn’t watch it all, but towards the end it looked like Portugal had given up, not at all how they played against England. In a way. Portugal deserved to lose, because England should have beaten them, and would have done so but for the disallowed goal. Greece hardly scored any goals through the contest. Greece’s German coach was much applauded, though, for having taken such an outsider team to win such a glorious trophy.

I didn’t much enjoy Wimbledon, as there didn’t seem to be any classic battles. However, the win by the 17 year old Russian in the women’s final was as staggering as that of Greece’s in the football.

Last Saturday, was the final field trip on the Planning/Mapping course. We used Theodolites and Total Stations to map out areas. Not very interesting, but I liked the two people I worked with Angela and Roger. We worked well and hard together, but had a laugh too. I need to write up one more mini-essay and then that course will be done. I should also decide on which courses to do in the autumn. In the meantime, I’m wondering how the staff might reply to my letter of complaint about the marking system!

Saturday 17 July 2004

I haven’t done much today. I went shopping early, to buy food, and a new kettle, and more preserving jars, and little presents for Peter’s 85th birthday (I’m leaving in a minute for Julian’s where Peter and Tony and Mum are congregating this evening). I spoke to Mum on the phone for an hour. She was talking about her increasing sense of anxiety. I am fairly sure this comes from thinking about the future and what might happen to her when she finishes at the Ham & High. For years I’ve been trying to persuade her to consider moving to an easier (smaller) house and easier neighbourhood (for shopping etc), but even five years ago it was too hard for her contemplate such a move, and now she’s only less capable of moving not more.

I didn’t do much proof-reading today. I finished off chapter eight. So, tomorrow, I’ll do nine and ten. And then I’ll spend Monday and Tuesday on peripherals. I’ll talk to B on Tuesday night; and then I’ll be ready to send a cheque to TJ International for the first half payment for printing. A week or so, thereafter, I’ll send the final pdf files.

I saw G. last night. She said we hadn’t met for nearly a year. I didn’t think it was that long but apparently it has been. We had a nice evening. As the evening wore on, something funny started happening. We seemed to be talking about her relationship with Steve a lot, as she seemed to be expressing some doubts as to whether he was right for her. I was trying to help bring some logic to the question, a weighing up of what she had with Steve and what she might want with someone else. I know that, before Steve, there was a married man, she saw for a while. And she mentioned him a couple of times, but she also talked about someone before the married man, a complicated person who she thought she might prefer. I’d never heard about this person, but I tried to help her weigh up the advantages of the two people; and then, suddenly, I got the distinct feeling that she was talking in code, and that I, myself, was this complicated third person. We’ve known each other many years (although I wouldn’t say we know each other well), and she’s never intimated even slightly any interest in me other than as a friend. I’ve never been interested in her, other than as a friend, except right at the beginning, when I couldn’t make up my mind - but I did after a first or second date. The more I thought about the way she was referring to this complicated man, the more I thought it was me, and the more I very pointedly didn’t ask any questions about this person. We stayed until the pub closed, and then left. G. promised to invite me over for a meal with Steve and a girlfriend of hers during the summer.

The Butler report came out. As with Hutton, Butler absolutely refused to point a finger at Tony Blair, but this didn’t stop every anti-Blairite whether on the left of his own party, or in Howard’s mucky group of Tories, being hauled in by the BBC to say something damaging against Blair. I was so incensed after one interview that I ran to the computer and wrote an email: ‘Why, why, why, why oh why can’t we just be thankful, joyous even, that we have a hard-working, intelligent, clean prime minister with his heart in the right place. Look back for a moment, would we want another bully like Thatcher, an incompetent like Major; look across the Channel, would we really prefer a leader like Chirac or Berlusconi. What is it about the British people that we can’t recognise a good thing when we we’ve got it.’ But I didn’t send it.

Saturday 31 July

Saturday morning. Mike Westbrook’s ‘Platterback’ plays on the stereo. It’s a hazy morning, warm. The garden is looking unkempt, the vegetable plots are full of weeds, since I’ve cared for them so little this year. Oddly, it’s the uncared for plants that have done well (the blackcurrant bushes, and the vine on the front of the house is replete with bunches of grapes), whereas almost everything else has grown more poorly this year than any other. And, as if to mock my green fingers, the only thing I planted that I thought was growing reasonably this year, the two aubergine seedlings I bought from Secretts, have turned into short squat sunflowers! They were definitely labelled aubergine, and I thought they were aubergine because of the tough and slightly bluey leaves. I had, however, thought it odd that they didn’t flower in the spring (it’s some years since I grew any aubergines). Any how, I now have two brilliant sunflowers illuminating my weed-full vegetable plots. (Perhaps they are sunflowers grown for edible seeds.)

It’s two weeks since my last diary entry, two weeks in which I’ve been in intensive production mode. Somehow time crept up on me, and suddenly it was time to be preparing Kip Fenn to send to the printer. Astonishingly - and I say this because I do astonish myself - I have kept almost exactly to the schedule I decided, even including the day and the deadline for deciding whether or not I should actually proceed and self-publish Kip Fenn. I remember that day was a Tuesday. I planned weeks in advance that I would make the decision by that Tuesday and I did, and since then I’ve simply guided myself, sometimes with brief written-down schedules but mostly not, towards a deadline of delivering the manuscript to a printer in the last week of July, so that I can have the physical books before I go to Sri Lanka, which I need so that I can set the Amazon distribution system up. While the book is printing, over the next few weeks, I’ll prepare the website, advertisements and review/press release letters, so they’ll all be ready for use the moment I get back from Sri Lanka in mid-September. I’m sitting here this morning, two days after dispatching the files, and I still can’t quite believe I’ve sent them, that I’ve finished exactly on schedule. It’s as though I have an instinctive internal time-management system; everything just works right.

I was very nervous last week though. I’d sent test files of both the text and the dust jacket a week earlier, and neither of them worked properly. The printing company (TJ International in Cornwall) has a sophisticated system which takes a client’s pdf and automatically converts it into a 16 page layout for printing. But the software wouldn’t accept my pdf, so I was sent a desktop printing file (to convert a quark file to a postscript file on the desktop rather than to a printer) and a set of settings for Acrobat Distiller (which converts the postscript file to a pdf). Still it wouldn’t work. But, after several trials, the technical guy wanted to leave it until the final file, and for me to send him a postscript file (rather than a pdf). And, as for the dust jacket, I was pleased that the sub-contracted graphics printer asked for my Quark file rather than the pdf, because the colour on the pdf was much duller and less distinct than that on the Quark file, and I didn’t know how to ensure the pdf took over the exact colour. But then I had a problem because the grey background I’d made in Appleworks which (unlike Quark and Distiller) is not a professional software, and I couldn’t create a proper high res image file (nor did I understand enough about pict and tiff and eps files). So when I sent the file, I was very concerned as to how the jacket printers would deal with my Appleworks images.

I sent all the files on Thursday afternoon night, and by the end of Friday, I’d been reassured that everything was OK - the pdf was working (there was a rogue security code hindering acceptance), and the jacket printers had told TJ International that there would be a slight extra charge because I’d only sent them a low res image (which, oddly, eased my mind, because I felt they had obviously understood what I needed - and besides, I’m getting a proof to look over).

But it’s been a hell of business to get here. I think I’ve read the novel four times in the last month or month and a half. I read it once in the original A4 format before deciding whether to self-publish or not, and then I reproduced the novel for a Royal size hardback (15.6 x 23.4cm). At first I was aiming for 480 pages, but then I cut it back to 448, not only to save money on printing but to save money on packaging and postage. Whereas most Royal size hardbacks set their text in boxes 11 cm wide and 19.5 high (inc page numbers), I scrimped a bit and increased the width and height by 0.6-0.7cm. I also set my leading and font size to pack 40 lines to a page rather than the more normal 37-38. I used Georgia font rather than Times simply because I heard a discussion about fonts on the radio, and an expert was asked what his favourite was in today’s world, and he said Georgia.

And then I read it once, and it took a week and a half, including stylistic corrections (removing too many dashes for example); then I read it again in about one week, and although there were not many changes I did still mess around with some passages. Then B came over and gave me a few comments (the most important of which was that I hadn’t said enough about why Kip loved Lizette, so I thought that through carefully and changed two or three things.) I thought that would be it, but then I asked Adam to read it, which he did over four days (23-26 July), and as I still had a week to go before sending it off, I had to read it again; and it’s just as well I did because I found several mistakes and things worth changing. I did also continue messing around with some paragraphs which just didn’t read as smoothly as they should have done, or where I tried to remove repetitive word use. On Wednesday Adam went through checking all the corrections, and on Thursday I went through them all too.

Since I sent the files on Thursday afternoon, my brain has been chugging away searching, desperately searching (when awake, and in half-sleep) for some mistake I’ve made. It goes over the text, and the ideas, and reiterates them, double-checking with itself: did I write that correctly? did I make that correction? should I have written that better? In half sleep it’s even worse, because my brain makes up text which was never part of the book, and the mistakes in that text feed my paranoia.

I’m a bit calmer today and there is one thing I really do want to pat myself on the back for, now it’s occurred to me. For the last few years, I’ve been very conscious of the fact that my life has come to a standstill. I have no romantic or sex life, my social life is virtually non-existent, I’m not working in any professional world, it’s almost as if I don’t exist. Only A and B and my mother, I suppose, remind me that I do. But one of the things that I’ve always said about myself, is that I try to live in such a way that I won’t regret the past. In other words I need to be doing things in the present which will not disappoint me in the future. I’ve certainly felt that these last few years, I am heading for a deep depression simply because I haven’t been able to sustain an interesting life for myself in this five year period, roughly from the time I decided to close down EC Inform through to say next summer when Adam leaves home. But now I realise that I have followed my head and my heart and I have done something deeply significant. I don’t care if I don’t sell a single book. I’ll put a couple of months of effort into the marketing, but if it doesn’t achieve anything, it doesn’t achieve anything, The point is, for me, that I’ve tried; I’ve made the effort, I’ve taken the risk; I’ve travelled around the world again - only this time it’s a different kind of travelling.

I have never contemplated self-publishing any of my other works, certainly not seriously, and, I doubt I’ve even done so lightly (although I can’t remember enough to be precise about this); but Kip Fenn is a major book, and, I think (although it’s hard to be sure of this from the paltry feedback I’ve had) something to be seriously proud of. I have no plans as to what to do in the autumn, when I’ve finished the marketing. But, nevertheless, I’m not expecting any response; I feel fairly sure that I’ll be filling the wheelie bin with boxes of Kip Fenn books regularly in the spring. But at least then I’ll be ready to move on, to move probably and to find a new job/occupation.

England are playing West Indies at Edgbaston. England won the first test at Lords, but the Windies are battling hard to reach the England total over 550 in this test. The Olympics are coming.

August 2004

Paul K Lyons


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INTRO to diaries