Friday, 25 October 2013

Books - books to be signed and books of account.

Last Friday and that meant Tavistock and a signing in Bookstop for Marcia while I had a meeting in the Bedford Hotel (where else?) with our accountant. The accounts for our company have to be lodged with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs by the end of the month. They have been prepared from the books I keep but I still don’t fully understand how the final calculations are made. Anyway, I went through them with Hugh and tried to look reasonably intelligent thus giving the impression that I really did know what was what before I signed as requested and, by so doing, take full responsibility for the returns. All done for another year – but isn’t it scary that we have to place our lives in the hands of professionals? I would trust ours through thick and thin but he mentioned that he is thinking about retiring from the firm he founded which is a bit worrying. I think I shall have to make an effort to meet the man he has taken into partnership and who will eventually be at the firm’s helm.

Meanwhile, Transworld was out in strength for this event. Emma Buckley, Marcia’s editor and Elizabeth Masters who looks after her publicity had travelled down from London the day before and had spent the night in the Bedford Hotel (where else?). They were with Marcia in Bookstop and I was to join them for lunch in Taylor’s – as was Chris Smale who looks after the south west for Transworld. We all had a great time.

Chris, Emma, Elizabeth and Marcia

Next morning and Chris rolled up to take Marcia to The Torbay Bookshop in Paignton. This turned out to be a splendid event and so many congratulations to all involved.

Then it was Tuesday and time to go down to Saltash to a very unusual bookshop run by two sisters. Is it a café? Is it a bookshop? Is it a place where people pop in and out for a quick chat? It seems that Bookshelf is all three. Saltash is, of course, at the mouth of the river Tamar on the Cornish side just a mile or so from the setting of The Sea Garden. I only say that to give me a good reason to show you another Tamar photograph.

Tomorrow is another busy day: Waterstones in Plymouth in the morning at 11 am and in Exeter in the afternoon at 2 pm (both lasting one hour). There are two Waterstone’s in Exeter: Marcia will be at the Roman Gate branch – not the one near the cathedral.

The old mill tail race in Totnes the other day and . . .
... and there was a moorhen (I think) lurking in a drain.

Then there will be no reason at all why, on Monday, Marcia should not be back in front of her computer typing like mad. Well, there is one. There may even be two. For a start all this dashing about is surprisingly tiring and she probably need more than one day off to get back to normal. The other is in the lap of the gods. Will she be able to wriggle out of the real world into her own imagined landscape without at least one trip down to the coast to reconnect with her people? I rather hope not – I do enjoy our jaunts. The weather forecast is a bit worrying:  “sunshine, showers and strong winds on Sunday. Potentially turning very stormy on Monday.” Well, that could make it quite dramatic, couldn’t it? I’ll let you know what happens next week.

This week we have another reader's dog.
Mutley, a collie cross, - and friends.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Let the signings commence

So the time for signings is with us again. Usually the first one takes place in the Harbour Bookshop in Kingsbridge but this year the proceedings started in the Totnes Bookshop on the Friday after publication day. Marcia was really delighted that this year the signings started in her home town. Friday in Totnes is, as you know, market day which means the town is very busy and the car parks are full – and especially so in the morning – so this year it was decided to try the afternoon instead. 

In Totnes Bookshop
It just so happened that Marcia's friend for a couple of hundred years or so, Susie (you may remember that our last dog, Jossie, came to live with us after Susie's mother died), was in the town as was a chap called Terry Ford, with whom I worked about fifteen years ago and have not seen for ages. It was a wonderful surprise to see him and to swap news. While we were waiting for Marcia to finish at the bookshop, Susie, Terry, his cousin and I sat chatting around a table in Rumour – the bistro just down the road from the bookshop – where we were joined by Bob Mann: writer and historian (Bob and I have collaborated in a couple of books on local history), literary critic (it was Bob who wrote the very first review of Marcia's first book - Those Who Serve), publisher (he now runs Longmarsh Press which he describes as a "craft publishing house") and good friend. Eventually Marcia joined us and the party really took off. Indeed, it was gone five thirty before we all decided, reluctantly, that the time had come to move on.

Bob Mann: writer, literary critic, historian and publisher.
Next day it was down to Kingsbridge and the Harbour Bookshop. As always here, there was a group of readers waiting for Marcia and a pile of books to be signed for people who were unable to be there in person.

Work is being done on one of the roads we usually use.
As a result we were driving down a lane we haven't used
for years and there, suddenly, in the middle of nowhere
was this lovely group of cyclamen in full bloom/
There seems to have been a subtle change in the signings over the last eighteen years or so. To start with there were far more people at the signings and virtually no books set aside to be signed in the purchaser's absence. Now that is changing. This is probably because more people work these days and so cannot make the signings but, whatever the reason, the number of books Marcia signs steadily increases each year.

This is the first of the foreign editions of
Postcards from the Past to arrive.
Please note the Newfoundland dof!
There was a report of an interview by Benedict Nightingale with Tom Stoppard in Wednesday’s Times. Here is something he said: “There are too many things I find it difficult to say no to. So I’m clearing my desk and planning to work without interruption. When I was younger I could do something useful just by being free for half a day but now I need five days to get the world I’ve left out of my head and ten days or a fortnight of not talking to anyone to hold what I need to hold inside my head. I can’t just put things aside for a day and come back. My brain just isn’t good enough any more.”

I’m a year younger than Tom Stoppard and I have to agree that getting back into gear is taking me far longer than it used to – and, unlike Mr Stoppard, what I do is not creative. These days I find myself starting to stare at the blank screen and then, without really willing it to happen, find I am doing something else by way of displacement therapy. Sometimes this is something useful (like paying the electricity account) but often it is totally pointless. Clearly this needed to be discussed with another creative writer, Marcia (eight years Mr Stoppard’s junior). Did she recognise this problem?

“Yes, very much so. Every year it is harder and harder and so difficult to get people to understand. It doesn’t take me as long to switch from one world to the other as it does Tom Stoppard but stopping for ten minutes to drink coffee with someone may not look much to them but it probably means it is the end of writing for that day. How can you be, say, down on the River Tamar inside Oliver’s head as the world shifts beneath his feet and be talking about something else, something completely away from your inside world at the same time? You can’t and I am going to have to learn to say ‘no’ more often.”

There is a bit of a story about this week’s very tiny blog dog, Beau. He has been rescued from a home where they could no longer afford to keep him and where he lived with a number of flea-ridden cats. These had been such an irritant that he had bitten himself almost bald. Now, after treatment at the vet’s and a few week’s wearing a collar to stop him licking off the medication, he is as right as rain.

A few weeks ago, we had an Oscar of unknown breed and I was asked what he was. Well, I have been hoping to see him again and find out from the owner but no such luck. My guess is that he is a cross and may even have three breeds tucked away inside that strong little body. Do I see a touch of terrier and a bit of labrador? I think I do.

Signings as of today (all signings last 1 hour):

Friday, October 18: Bookstop, Tavistock 10.30 am
Saturday, October 19: The Torbay Bookshop, Paignton 10.30 am
Tuesday, October 22: Bookshelf, Saltash
Saturday, October 26: Waterstone’s, Plymouth 11 am
Saturday, October 26: Waterstone’s, Roman Gate, Exeter 2 pm

To be scheduled: Waterstone’s, Truro and The Bookshop, Liskeard.

Lastly, Marcia will be appearing at the Taunton Book Festival at 7.30 pm on Wednesday, November 6th in Brendon Books, Old Brewery Buildings, Bath Place, Taunton. For details CLICK HERE.

Friday, 11 October 2013

A Tale of Two Worlds

One of the problems associated with living in two worlds – the real one and the one that Marcia creates is keeping the two separate. Marcia tends not to consider this a problem. As far as she is concerned one is of extreme importance and the other pretty irrelevant. I find it difficult to go that far although I am happy to concede that her world should take up about sixty percent of our time I do feel that the real bit deserves the other forty.

The worlds clash, as you would expect, and no more so that when it comes to where we should be living. Unlike some really lucky people, neither of us quite knows where our roots lie (other than the fact that we both yearn for the south west corner of England when we are away from it).

Are we moorland people? Should we be living by the sea or in a remote area of farmland? We still don’t know even though we have done all three.

Then comes the where? Cornwall, Devon or Somerset. Again we don’t know even though we have lived in all three.

It has been suggested that it is time for
cats to have a look in so...
As part of an occasional Magnificat series
please welcomw Kiri from Porlock on Exmoor.
What we do know is that we always want to be wherever the book that is in the making is set. This has led to all sorts of heart searching moments which have been made no easier when the locations involved include fictional communities – as in Peneglos in The Christmas Angel (which, incidentally, reappears in Postcards from the Past). I won’t bore you with the houses we really thought for a while we would buy but didn’t. There was, for example, a lovely place down on the River Tamar, not far from where Marcia put The Sea Garden, which we both coveted and which, astonishingly, came on the market at that time.

Now, however, matters are going critical again. Not only is the book on which Marcia is working set in real places but in real places we love: Dartmouth along the south coast to Torcross and beyond. The time has come, of course, to consider what we are doing in a hard-nosed and very practical manner. Well, we have been trying to do just that, we really have. So we have a list of things we want and a list of things we don’t want. It is the latter that is causing so many problems. When you get to a certain age you have experience of all the difficulties that life can throw at you (either first or second hand) and they are legion.

So, for my part – no hedges: I have been cutting and trimming hedges most of my life and I have very fond memories of the one place that had none. I really, really don’t need all the hard work but this closes many doors.
For Marcia’s part – the house must be bright and sunny. There is nothing more depressing than living in a gloomy cottage. We speak from experience: this is another of those things we have done and do not intend to repeat.

The list goes on an on. What is really good is that we agree on everything: we need to be near a railway station so that it is easy for people to come down to see us and vice versa; we need reasonable access (preferably on foot) to the basic shops having learned the problems of a fourteen mile round trip when you need anything; we need quick and easy access to the natural world from which both of us draw a great deal. Yes, the last two requirements are incompatible. We know that. Oh, how we know that!

Anyway, we had more or less settled on the idea of making the town of Totnes our centre: it has a railway station, all the shops we need, is close to Dartmoor and to the coast. Like most towns, it is surrounded by suburbs. Neither of us want to live in a suburb which, in our extremist views, is neither one thing nor the other and offers no positive advantages. Really life would be so much easier if we were just normal but we’re not. Anyway, apart from anything else, most properties in the suburbs have hedges. That means we are either well outside Totnes (as at present) or we need to be bang in the middle. The problem is that neither of us is quite able to go for the latter although I suspect it could well happen when we get old.

Dartmouth, however, holds a special place in our hearts. We both lived there before we met and we lived there again when we were together. So we have been looking at properties in Dartmouth.

Richard Blake

Our favourite estate agent in the town is Richard Blake – and no doubt it helps that his wife loves Marcia’s books – but I have a nasty feeling that we are far from his favourite clients even though he hides that very well. He has patiently shown us a number of houses and flats which we have turned down for one reason or another but one of these days we are going to be shown a place we really love. Then what? Well, Dartmouth does not have a proper railway (there is a heritage railway that links Kingswear on the other side of the river to Paignton which has one but …). Dartmouth is now fully geared to the tourist industry and this has an odd effect. If Marcia and I walk into a shop or café in Totnes it is assumed we are locals: most people are. If we walk into a shop or café in Dartmouth it is assumed we are visitors: most people are. It is an odd feeling.

Meanwhile, it is time to leave the real world and return to the one that really matters, Marcia’s world, and to celebrate the publication of her latest book Postcards from the Past which happened yesterday. In a moment we are off to Totnes where she will be signing books in the aptly named Totnes Bookshop and tomorrow she will be off to Kingsbridge to the Harbour Bookshop. Let the dance commence.

Ti and Chloe share the rostrum as blog dogs untied this week.

Friday, 4 October 2013

Publishing and exclusive territories

Last week I said that I would explain the situation regarding publishing areas in the world. When a book is published in, say, German it is assumed that the only people who will want go buy it are those who speak German but English is spoken in many countries and that creates a problem.
A little while ago I mentioned that most of the colour has gone from Dartmoor.
Not so in our garden as this and the following photographs demonstrate.
There were two English speaking nations when mass publishing started - the United Kingdom and the United States of America. Publishers in these two countries were faced with a decision: outright competition or some sort of agreement to enable them to work together. No doubt driven by the thought that there was more profit in cooperation than in war, they choose the latter. 

Thus the contracts Marcia has with Transworld do nor give them world rights but only over what are known as “The Exclusive Territories”. This list is too long to reproduce here but it includes most of Africa, America (Central and West Indies), The Falkland Islands and French Guiana in America (South), parts of Asia where English is generally spoken, most of Oceania and virtually all of Europe and Scandinavia.

Likewise when the same books are then published by St Martin's Press - the same but sometimes under a different title - their rights too are restricted. They have “The United States, its territories and dependencies (including but not limited to U.S. Diplomatic, military and educational establishments wherever located), the Republic of the Philippines and the same rights, but non-exclusively, in the Open Market.”

These two lists do not cover all the world and the sale of English titles in the rest of the world is available to both publishers as suggested in the paragraph above. Translations into other languages are outside this agreement and these are available worldwide.

None of this, of course, stops readers in one territory from buying books sold in another. Indeed, I know that a lot of Marcia’s readers in the U.S. buy her books from the U.K. and have them shipped over The Pond. This can be done either through some of the bookshops here or on-line. (If you want help in this regard, send me an email and I will do what I can). Usual address for me is

Indeed the arrival of internet bookshops, e-books and Amazon’s Kindle books has thrown a rather large spanner into the works and has caused problems that have yet properly to be addressed. We shall have to wait to see how it all pans out.

Meanwhile, Marcia and I are still hunting down her people. Some of the ideas with which she started have been discarded. This is usual and the explanation nine times out of ten is that they come back again for another book. You will remember how often in the past characters from two books have caused all sorts of problems by jostling for attention at the same time. Well, Marcia is now more aware of this tendency and can talk quite severely to them if she feel they are speaking out of turn. Liv (you will, I am sure, remember Liv from The Way We Were) is such a one and will not be in the book Marcia is working on right now but will, I suspect, be back. Watch this space.

While all that is going on, I am working on a book I have titled Hattie’s Mill Revisited. Telling you about this is pretty stupid. The idea is that it will be available by mid-December but that timetable is by no means certain. Just to explain a bit more, here is an extract from the Preface.

As many readers know, and especially those who read my Friday blogs, the way in which Marcia discovers her characters, where they live, what they do, where they shop and so on is . . . well, let us say “unusual”.
This little booklet is the first of what I hope will be a collection covering a number of her books. It shouldn’t be the first, really, as Hattie’s Mill was the fifth novel to be published. It was, however, the first one where we worked together by exploring ideas and then talking endlessly until Marcia was satisfied that we had both met the demands (and it seems they really are demands) of her characters and my stubborn insistence that there has to be at least a shred of reality for me (and readers) to hold onto. That will make more sense as together we revisit “Hattie’s Mill”.

Part of this booklet consists of quotes from the book and, at the back there are a few pages devoted to some history about the Dartmouth waterfront. Why? A good question but it happens that my grandfather, then the Royal Borough of Dartmouth’s Engineer, reclaimed the last cove and built the last part of the embankment so this is, if you like, in memory of him.

Anyway, as all who have read the book will know one of the most important characters is Admiral Jellico. That being so the blog dog this week is of our last Newfoundland, Trubshawe, on whom “Jelly Baby” was based so this is, if like, in memory of him. Clearly he has just come in after running about in the long wet grass of the field next to where we then lived.