Tag Archives: publishing

Three books at three stages

(Llfyr, book. Long before any of these stages comes learning a language!)

When I was young, I was once asked – so my mother tells the story – by a teacher: what do you want to do when you grow up? I told her that I wanted to be a bookmaker. Cue much adult laughter, especially in our anti-gambling Quaker household.

Later, an English teacher who for whatever reason had us in a computer lab for a class once set us an exercise: for this whole hour’s lesson, just type. Start a story and simply write as many words as you can. At the end of the lesson, he said to the class: there, wasn’t that difficult? Aren’t you glad you’re not a writer who has to do that all day, every day?

No, I said. Sounds like a good way to live to me.

Now, I haven’t quite achieved that goal. (And I suspect the picture he painted of a writer’s life wasn’t 100% accurate anyway!) But I have arranged my life so that I can spend a considerable proportion of it working on books in one form or another, and at the moment I have book projects in three stages. To pick three different metaphors, I’ll call them the seed, larva, and hibernation stages.

Hibernation is a process some mammals use to get through the winter. I have a book which is a real book, but waiting to come out, and it’s sleeping like that: it takes nine months for information to propagate through the arcane reaches of the publishing and distribution industries, so although there are copies of “Telling the Truth about God” in existence, and you can pre-order it from your favourite more or less reputable bookseller,  it will be five more months before it is officially ‘published’.

A larva is an active but immature form, like a caterpillar. At the moment I have a novel manuscript which is at this stage. A few months ago I had an egg, which hatched and turned out not to be exactly what I thought it would be – but similar – and now the caterpillar is growing and growing, like Cecil. (You know that song, right?) Every day, it needs to be fed cabbage leaves – I’m aim to give it about a thousand words of cabbage a day, whenever I can – and it gets bigger and bigger and bigger. I think I know what it might grow up to be – but it’s hard to be sure. At one time I thought it was going to be about university lecturers and researchers who were also witches, but now it’s about neolithic traders and farmers who are also sort-of Quakers. On the other hand, it’s still a romance novel about two women who meet under slightly unlikely circumstances and have to work out whether it’s possible to build a life together.

I also have a book which is just a seed. I’ve got the seed – a very solid form of seed by my usual standards, in that I have a contract for this book – and now I’m preparing all the ground and the space and the things it will need to grow. It will be a book about liberal Quaker theology, so I’m doing lots of reading of Quaker theology, old and new, British and international, things which are mentioned by things I read, to get the material ready. I’ve made some space (in particular, Woodbrooke have agreed to give me study leave for twelve weeks next year, which will help a lot). I’m also planning to blog about the process as I think through the issues involved, so watch this space.

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I is for Interaction

At the end of last week, I was at the Quakers Uniting in Publications conference for, oh, almost twenty-four hours. In that time, I presented a two different sessions – one with Gil Skidmore on the Quaker Alphabet Blog project, and one with Susan Robson about Living with Conflict (the book, the website and the Facebook page). Both sessions were lively and interactive, and the interaction was at least partly around the topic of interaction: conflict and disagreement in the broad sense require interaction (the ‘it takes two to tango’ principle), and questions about the alphabet blogs sometimes focussed specifically on the nature and purpose of the interactions taking place. Interaction is key to community, of course, and to communication, and also to many people’s learning styles.

In teaching, one of my interests is to encourage interaction with the material and with other students or participants in a course. It’s possible to take this too far – some topics need a certain amount of straightforward input, and some people are much more comfortable listening to a speaker than discussing questions in a group. That said, I think a lot of people don’t go far enough, and much of today’s media (at least, the traditional media: TV, radio, newspapers) don’t readily support interaction with the material they present.

The nature of online material often makes interaction much more possible – comments sections on news articles, message boards and blogging sites where you can share you views with other fans, and of course social media sites which are designed to facilitate interaction (and then market your desire for possible interaction as a point at which you can be shown an advert). It’s not always clear what these interactions mean and what weight they should be given. To some, a handwritten letter is more precious than an email; depending on the topic and recipient, I can spend an hour on an email and dash of a handwritten note (in ink pen on proper letter-paper) in ten minutes, so I don’t tend to share that weighting. Sometimes when people click ‘like’ on Facebook, they also comment to say what they mean (“Liked for happy ending”), but much more often we are left in the dark. Does ‘like’ mean that you’ve seen it, that it made you pause, made you smile, made you happy? All we can say for sure is that it made you click your mouse.

Sometimes, of course, there is a much more substantial interaction – in response to my post last week, Gordon Ferguson posted at Sheffield Quakers, and we continued the conversation a little in the Quaker Renewal UK Facebook group. At other times the interaction is less obvious, or not online: people coming back months or even years later. After my workshops, I try and measure ‘impact’ (an academic ‘i’ word I’m avoiding writing about!) by asking people whether they will change what they do or say. Of course, at 4pm having only met the material for the first time at 10am, they don’t really know. It’s the bits which come back later – the ministry inspired by something which was said, or the way it feeds into another project – which is the longer term and I feel more valuable form of interaction.