Sunday 2 August 2020

Bittersweet moments - by Steve Way

This time round I’ve decided to write about a couple of bittersweet experiences I’ve had in relation to my writing. My decision was partly crystallised this week when I accidentally discovered that back in 2012 a series of twelve non-fiction books that I either authored or co-authored had been published in India. I’d worked on commission for a publisher who tries to license books to different countries, so in one sense – but purely a financial one - my interest in the books had ended. Whilst it was an exciting surprise to find out about the books – I may even (at a fair cost!) be able to order a copy of one of them from the USA via Amazon! – it seemed incredibly mean minded of the publishers not to inform me about this, let alone send me some copies!

I suppose I should have known. For that self-same publisher I and a friend I enlisted did some voluntary research for a children’s science book published under the name of a very famous American author. Neither of us got any recognition, or even the promised copies of the book!

Still, one day, a few years ago, I was delighted to see what confronted me when I arrived at the headquarters of the education authority based in Huddersfield’s council offices. The authority, along with the council, had decided to have a crack at the publishing lark, and commissioned six ‘big books’, one of which was a maths-based adventure written by me and illustrated by experienced teacher and artist June Norris-Green. The idea was that in Hillary’s Yorkshire Adventure Hillary would be set several mathematical challenges by the ‘Mathematical Maestro’ (boo!) for the children to solve. The designer and I carefully worked on the layout, incorporating June’s wonderful illustrations, seeing to it that each challenge was laid out on one double spread, followed by a double spread explaining the solution. This of course meant that when used as a teaching tool the double-page spread of the challenge could be presented to the children, without any clues being given away as to how to solve it. The following double spread would confirm whether their solutions were correct or not.

On the day in question the published books had all arrived at the council headquarters before I did and so stacked up on several pallets just inside the entrance were copies of my book! As I raced up the stairs to the designer’s work area I could look down on the tall stacks from above! How exciting! 

When I arrived at his desk, the designer was looking through one of the copies. It didn’t take long before I realised something was amiss. Instead of the challenge being laid out on a double spread, one half of it started on the right-hand page. To read the rest of the challenge it was necessary to turn the page, on the right had of which was the first page of the solution. The dispirited designer explained that just before being sent off for publication one of the Huddersfield Councilors had looked at the draft and declared that there should be a blank page on the first inner page of the book. The designer didn’t dare contradict her. You don’t question a councilor – not if your job ends up on the line for doing so. God bless politicians. This meant of course that the layout of the whole book was out of sync and in my mind largely ruined. As I walked down the stairs looking down on my books, I felt very differently about them as I had going up.

Further insult to injury was added about a year later, when the educational authority finally realised that it didn’t actually know how to successfully operate as a publisher. Every school in the authority had been presented with a copy of my book and the five others but after that they had several books that they had failed to sell. Rather than allowing me to have them – I managed to buy a few - with the aim of distributing them to other schools in Yorkshire* (and beyond!) they insisted on incinerating them instead. As I mentioned these were big books – what a waste! Still perhaps it warmed up Huddersfield for a while, a not uncommon necessity!

*Something they could also have done of course!


Recent book; Spy by Accident. ISBN 978-1676604969 Simon’s mum Mary is a spy though neither he nor his father know this. Simon and his father inadvertently become embroiled in Mary’s latest case, causing even more intense concern and problems for Mary and her colleagues.


Enid Richemont said...

Oh what a heartbreaking, infuriating, but unsurprising story. Many, many words to say, but most of them unprintable. Writing's easy, innit? Likewise research, and these days ANYONE can be a publisher, however unqualified. A writer friend recently confided her own recent experience with a so-called indie 'publisher', and this friend is a professional, moderately successful professional author, not a vanity seeker. Horrifying!

Anne Booth said...

That's really shocking. I am so sorry to read this.

Steve Way said...

Dear Enid and Anne, Thank you so much for your supportive comments, they mean a lot.