Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Musing on the Changes in Publishing

I am in the process of moving from a three-bed house with a 21 year tenure to a tiny 2-room sheltered flat. Downsizing with a vengeance. Apart from having my mother’s goods and chattels to sort, I have been faced with what to do about screeds of old letters to and from agents, editors and publishers and paper copies of old books, and it got me thinking about how much has changed since I began in this business.
In the first place, any approach you made in a hopeful spirit to an industry professional had to be done by letter. Yes, I mean snail mail type letters. If you sent sample work, it was printed out. In fact, now I think of it, when I started it was typed out! Just as it was for all writers before the advent of word processors.

One thing that hasn’t changed is the double spacing, which meant sending a manuscript involved about 300 pages of printed material in a jiffy bag. Printed on one side of the paper only, that was about the size of an 80,000 word manuscript. Those bags were heavy. They cost quite a bit, and you had to enclose return postage too. The last thing you ever wanted to see was the postman standing outside with a whacking great oblong jiffy bag in his hands, because it meant your manuscript had just boomeranged with another rejection.

Since all approaches went by snail mail, everything took forever and a day. You enclosed, if you were wise, a postage paid postcard to acknowledge receipt. Some publishers actually used it. Then you waited. And waited… and waited. There’s an unwritten rule that you should wait six weeks before nudging on a submission, but it wasn’t unusual to wait months for a response while your hair went grey and the wrinkles in your face doubled.

If you actually went to the expense of approaching publishers in foreign lands, the whole thing cost four times as much and took even longer. None of this digital age winging an attachment across the pond in seconds. If you couldn’t afford air mail, it went by sea. Don’t even count how long that took.

Once you were lucky enough to get some kind of contract, there was more delay while the two copies were sent to you, signed on every page and returned to the publisher, who then signed both copies and finally returned your copy for keeping. These days, the contracts are whisked back and forth, digitally signed to start the process going, and then the printed version follows in due course. But by then it’s all rolling along merrily.

When the book was in production, along came the proofs. Yes, more print-outs (which actually looked like book pages then, two to a sheet), more jiffy bags. You got around two weeks to go through, make your corrections and send it back. At some point, actual glossy covers would come through in a card-backed envelope, and finally your copies of the book arrived in a box. The books arriving in a box still happens if your work is going out in paperback, but all the earlier process is done digitally by email these days.

During the life of the book, twice yearly, in came the batch of royalty statements. Of course I can’t throw away either these or the contracts, as they are the only records prior to shifting to digital. Now imagine 18 odd books over a period of 30 years, reprinted in different editions including foreign, and you’ll get an idea of the piles of paper accumulated. Not to mention the piles and piles of books. What I’m going to do with them all I have absolutely no idea!

Elizabeth Bailey

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Home Guard - 1941

 I was looking through my research bookshelf and came across the Home Guard Manual 1941 and thought I would dip into this for my monthly post.
"The primary object of the Home Guard is to have available an organised body of men trained to offer stout resistance in every district, and to meet any military emergency until trained toops can be brought up."
There were to be five platoons – signals, medical, transport, engineers, and supplies. I think that most Home Guards would have been lucky to have one platoon let alone five. The platoons were scattered about the neighbourhood. 
With regards to equipment each unit was supposed to supply their own which would have been made available in a store at the unit headquarters.
Each man was supposed to have when mobilised – a haversack, two blankets, waterproof coat or sheet, a greatcoat, knife, fork, spoon, plate, a change of underclothes and socks, a serviceable pair of boots, soap, towel, rations for at least twenty-four hours and a bottle of water.
I don't know about you, but whenever I think of the Home Guard my mind goes to the brilliant TV series, Dad's Army. Imagine the very elderly chap, who was the medical man, having to carry that lot.
They were also supposed to understand and be able to use semaphore, drill in a disciplined manner and have enough weapon training to make them effective with a rifle or whatever weapon was available. They were also supposed to be skilled at field craft, map reading and reconnaissance, field engineering, first-aid and basically anything else that might crop up.
Remember Pike? "Stupid boy!" 
It does add that training and ability will vary according to the physical capabilities of the men and meet local conditions or national urgency.
I can only be thankful that their role as protectors of the country was never needed.
 best wishes
Fenella J Miller

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Richmond, a Georgian Theatre and Miss Moonshine

Earlier this week I took a trip to Richmond, North Yorkshire. The town is full of beautiful Georgian buildings, many of them still with original features. 

The weather was lovely and we had an excellent day visiting the castle and making our way to the top of its massive tower, from where one can see for miles in all directions. 

The castle is perfectly placed to defend the town and lookouts would have had plenty of warning of an advancing army. Lots of information there for my current project, a hero who owns a sham castle, known as "Duke's Folly". He is weighed down by responsibility and needs a suitable wife, certainly not the tomboy hoyden who currently lives in Duke's Folly!  Look out for this charming story in the forthcoming Regency Romantics box set, due out soon!

Later that day we had a tour of Richmond's beautiful Georgian theatre. It seems tiny by modern standards, and seats an audience of about 200 these days, although our guide told us in the 18th century they would cram in about 400! We sat in the boxes, where the fashionable and wealthy patrons of the theatre would have enjoyed being seen by all and sundry (being seen was so much more important than anything that was happening on stage!).  In the eighteenth century it would have been lit by candles, about as bright as it is in this photo, but they were left burning throughout the performance, so the actors had to work hard to keep the audience's attention.

Then we went down past the pit, where the hoi polloi might have been sitting to enjoy an evening of heckling and throwing things at the actors, and down to the dressing rooms. The theatre was built by a travelling troupe and would have been "dark", or closed for most of the year until the troupe returned from the circuit (the actors walking, props and costumes taken by cart). We saw two of the three beautiful fireplaces in the theatre, one in the dressing room and one at the back of the stage, and fires would have been kindled a few days before the theatre opened, to drive off the cold and damp that would have permeated the building while it was closed up. Some of the actors might live in the dressing rooms during their stay in Richmond, so it was important that it was not too cold for them.

Finally, we wandered about the town, enjoying the large cobbled market place and the beautiful Georgian buildings that surround it, and while we were exploring we came upon this beautiful Emporium, and I couldn't resist a photograph, because I thought how much Miss Moonshine would have loved it.

For those who haven't heard, Miss M is the main character in an anthology to which I had the privilege of contributing a short story. Miss Moonshine's Emporium of Happy Endings is published on 18th May, and includes feel-good stories from nine northern authors - a perfect read for the long summer evenings ahead.

Happy Reading!

Melinda Hammond

Saturday, May 05, 2018

Jane Austen: A Writing Master Class

Jane Austen’s niece, Anna Austen Lefroy (1793-1872) was, as far as we know, her only relation who was also a novelist – though an aspiring one. When she was nineteen, Anna asked her aunt’s advice on her own novel Which is the Heroine? Does Dawlish have a decent library, she wanted to know - the answer was that it was ‘pitiful and wretched’. What I found interesting was that Jane understood her niece’s concern to get things right. Both wrote contemporary novels and they knew that accuracy was important.


Jane Austen by her sister, Cassandra. National Portrait Gallery

For example, in a letter to her sister Cassandra in January 1813, Jane asks her if she ‘could discover if Northamptonshire is a country of Hedgerows.’ This seems a very minor point but it is all part of her creation of a convincing depiction of the countryside around Mansfield Park, which is set there and which she was writing at the time.
Later that year, Jane learnt ‘from Sir J. Carr that there is no Government House at Gibraltar’ and that, therefore, she ‘must alter it to the Commissioner’s’. It gets a tiny mention by William Price when he comes to visit Fanny at Mansfield Park, but fellow writers will give Jane Austen a tick for her attention to detail.  We all know how mortifying it is to be picked up on some small point we have got wrong. Readers, then as now, rightly expect authors to have done their research properly.

Mr Collins introduces himself to Mr Darcy

Jane also picks up on a social point in Anna’s novel: ‘I have also scratched out the Introduction between Lord P. and his Brother, and Mr Griffin. A Country Surgeon (don’t tell Mr C. Lydford) would not be introduced to Men of their rank.’  It reminded me of Elizabeth Bennet’s acute embarrassment when Mr Collins insists on introducing himself to Mr Darcy at the Netherfield Ball: ‘Elizabeth tried hard to dissuade him from such a scheme; assuring him that Mr Darcy would consider his addressing him without introduction as an impertinent freedom…’  a moment nicely captured in Charles E. Brock’s illustration above.

Later in the same letter, Jane has some further advice for Anna: ‘We (she and her sister, Cassandra) think you had better not leave England. Let the Portmans go to Ireland. But as you know nothing of the Manners there, you had better not go with them. You will be in danger of giving false representations. Stick to Bath There you will be quite at home.’
We note that Jane Austen follows her own advice in Emma. She does not follow Colonel and Mrs Campbell (and Jane Fairfax) to Ireland to visit the Campbell’s newly married daughter, Mrs Dixon; instead, Miss Fairfax insists on visiting Mrs and Miss Bates, her grandmother and aunt in Highbury, which is where we meet her. Miss Fairfax is doing that dangerous thing for a Regency lady – being proactive – and, when Mr Frank Churchill arrives, that precipitates a very tangled web of deceit indeed.
Promenade dress, 1809

We know that Jane Austen had a holiday in Lyme from her letter to her sister Cassandra in 1804. Sea bathing is mentioned, presumably from a bathing machine, something she really enjoyed; she attended a public ball; and walked for an hour on the Cobb. We have only the one letter from Lyme, but she must have taken the opportunity to note what it had to offer and used it in Persuasion many years later. I’d have loved a scene with Anne Elliot sea-bathing!
Jane wrote to Anna again in September 1814 with some more interesting plot advice: ‘We are not satisfied with Mrs F’s setting herself  as Tenant & near Neighbour to such a Man as Sir T.H. without having some other inducement to go there. A woman, going with just two girls growing up, into a Neighbourhood where she knows nobody but one Man, of not very good character, is an awkwardness which so prudent a woman as Mrs F. would not be likely to fall into. Remember, she is very prudent, you must not let her act inconsistently.’

 Reading lady from 'The Ladies' Pocket Magazine'

She suggests: ‘Give her a friend, & let that friend be invited to meet her at the Priory and we shall have no objection to her dining there; as she does; but otherwise a woman in her situation would hardly go there, before she had been visited by other Families.’  This refers to the custom of leaving calling cards. Mrs F. will make sure that she leaves a calling card for any lady with whom she wishes to be acquainted – presumably those introduced by her friend. Her call should be returned within a week which will signify that they are happy to know her socially. But she could not possibly dine at the Priory before this has happened.
In all of Jane Austen’s novels, her heroines need to be properly introduced; apart from anything else, it establishes their social credentials. Emma’s friendship with Harriet Smith is important in giving Harriet an entrée into Highbury society – something which Harriet, a mere parlour–border with a dubious pedigree, could never have done on her own. 
A lover from 'The Ladies' Pocket Magazine'
Anne Elliot is entirely dependent on the Musgroves to re-introduce her to Captain Wentworth; to include her in the outing to Lyme; and on Lady Russell to take her to Bath. Lady Russell can travel where she likes, but then, she’s the widow of a well-to-do knight and has her own private carriage. Unmarried ladies, like Anne, have very little opportunity to be proactive.
Lastly, Jane’s other piece of advice to her niece is well-known but is worth repeating: You are now collecting your people delightfully, getting them exactly into such a spot as is the delight of my life; 3 or 4 Families in a Country Village is the very thing to work on… I hope when you have written a great deal more you will be equal to scratching out some of the past. The scene with Mrs Mellish, I should condemn; it is prosy & nothing to the purpose…. One does not care for girls till they are grown up.

Frontispiece from 'Correspondence between a Mother and Daughter' by Ann Taylor, 1817
How many of us write scenes which we realize, in the cold light of morning, are ‘prosy & nothing to the purpose’. Another earlier comment: ‘till the heroine grows up, the fun must be imperfect’ is odd, considering that 1814 was the year when Mansfield Park came out, the only novel where Jane Austen shows us her heroine, Fanny, as a child.
Sadly, Anna did not fulfil her literary ambitions – apart from a couple of short stories and a novella published in the 1840s. A few months this exchange of letters with her aunt, she married the Reverend Benjamin Lefroy. He died in 1829 leaving her with seven children and very little money, which may explain why she abandoned Which is the Heroine? and later burnt it.  
But we owe her a debt of gratitude for giving us a glimpse into how Jane Austen constructed her novels and what she thought was important.
Elizabeth Hawksley