Saturday, 14 November 2015

How to write a book

Our book - in Waterstone's!
It's only now we've finally written and published a book that I realise every book on every bookshelf contains two stories - the story within the book and the story of how the book came to be written.  If you ask Google "How to write a book" you'll get over 26 million results - many of them will tell you about the structure and the process of writing a book but few will tell you about the journey the author has been on - so let me tell you our story (and don't worry, I'm only going to cover the highlights).

Childhood:  My addiction to books began early - prompted by older bookworm siblings, aged 4, I nagged my mum to teach me to read before I started school.  Throughout my childhood I progressed from Janet and John to pretty much anything Enid Blyton ever wrote.

I clearly recall visits to the local library - I remember how it smelled with its wooden floors and miles of wooden bookshelves.  I remember being fascinated by the "trains with the faces" books (Thomas the Tank engine long before the cartoon series) and I remember the excitement of clutching 6 library tickets and knowing I could pick any 6 books I wanted (within reason!).  I also remember the HUGE carousel of library tickets behind the checkout counter, the swoosh it made as the librarian spun it to find the ticket for my book and the "kerthump-chink" of the date stamp on the inside cover.

Teen years:  Still reading and Malcolm Saville's "Lone Pine" series entered the mix.  I also tackled Gone With the Wind, All Quiet on the Western Front and Z for Zachariah.  Then there were the books we were forced to read for exams:  Lord of the Flies (hated it!), Midsummer Night's Dream (at least it was funny) and the World War 1 poets (absolutely loved them and still do).

My first foray into real life adventure books began with "The Dove" by Robin Lee Graham - the story of the round the world sailing trip he made when he was just a teenager.

To be honest I read a lot less at Uni as I was a) too busy studying and b) too busy drinking... (hope my mum isn't reading this)

The working years...  Books came back into my life in a big way at roughly the same time commuting did and Richmond Library was my supplier of choice.  It was there that one day I borrowed "The Turquoise Mountain" by Brian Blessed (who I vaguely remembered from Z-Cars).  He introduced me to the mystery of Mallory and Irvine, so I borrowed books about them, which led me to Heinrich Harrer, Edmund Hilary, Joe Tasker, Scott, Bonington, Shipton and a passion for mountaineering books that continues to this day.

My fav spot around Fleet Pond
Steve:  We met in 2002 and married in 2003 having bonded while solving the problem of 24 sausages on a BBQ and no bread roles.  We started off living in his tiny bachelor pad before saving enough to finally move to our "if not forever then at least for a really long time" home in Fleet in Hampshire.  Steve was happily working away in IT and I took my first steps into freelance training with a lovely part time job to keep me ticking over.  Life was good!

In September 2009 the dark clouds of the recession and job losses began to gather; by summer 2010 the writing was on the wall and it became clear that we had some big decisions to make. We headed off for 6 weeks in our camper van to get our heads together (and I will be forever grateful to my boss of the time for allowing me that essential sabbatical).

Having explored Northumberland and Dumfries & Galloway we ended up in Cumbria - while I'd been busy reading my way around the West Midlands Steve had been preoccupied with growing up in Kents Bank and wanted to show me his old stomping ground, which was when the idea hit us - let's start a whole new life.  You can read the details of how all that unfolded here - below I'm now going to tell the rest of our story via my social media updates which pop up in my "on this day in history" type app.

Nov 2010 following a house hunting trip
to Cumbria
We ended up living in our campervan for 3 months while our house in Fleet failed to sell.  I was working full time for Lancashire County Council and doing a spot of blogging on the side.  We eventually moved into a tiny bungalow with bags of potential while the tenant from hell took over our house in Fleet - it took us well over a year of absolute desperation on the money front while we got him out and eventually sold the house.

Our plan now was to build up the writing side of things using my words and Steve's pics so we began working (for free at first) with anyone who'd have us.

By November 2012 things had begun to pick up and this happened.

This was the new profile pic I mention in the post:

There then followed a couple of bumpy years - summarised here - where we got involved in anything and everything we could and learned loads about ourselves, the world of writing and Cumbria.  Then on 5th August 2014 this email popped in:

"Dear Beth Pipe,

I work for Amberley Publishing, and came across your blog about Life and Hiking in Cumbria.
I was wondering if you’d be interested in producing a book ..."

Naturally I was convinced it was a wind up, but apparently not.  By the time content was agreed and contracts were signed it was November.  I'd kept the secret from my friends for 3 months (a miracle really) but now was the time to break the news...

Reading back I fear I sound a little grouchy about the deal - not so - the message I was trying to convey to my friends was that we weren't about to become overnight millionaires rather than any dissatisfaction with the contract.  Believe me, we were over the blooming moon that anyone was prepared to take a chance on us!

There then followed many months of me hiding away in libraries while Steve was out and about taking the photos. before we delivered the final draft of the book at the end of June 2015 - all we had to do now was wait...

The day it finally arrived my over-riding emotion before I saw it was, believe it or not, fear.  What if it looked awful?  What if there were loads of typos?  What if people hated it?  What if I'd got all my facts wrong?  I've seen other writers talk about their delight and excitement when they first saw their first book for the first time - I was more overwhelmed in a "Really?  Did we just actually do this?" kind of a way.

It's gradually sinking in now as sales are taking off and most days see us off to drop books into a small local shop or send them out in the post - and the feedback so far has been good so I may even open that long awaited bottle of fizz to celebrate this weekend.

As coincidence would have it a friend from Fleet sent us some photos of our old house a few days ago.  The new owners are doing the extension we'd always planned to and it's looking great.  We had a moment when we saw the photos as we peered around our still small bungalow with half our stuff still in boxes in the undercroft (and by "half our stuff" I mean several dozen boxes of books for me and three thousand miles of computer cable for Steve), but the reality is, if we'd stayed there we'd have missed out on all the adventures we've had together over the past few years and, most importantly, we'd never have learned how to write a book.

PS You can buy the book here. :-)

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