On Writing

First written January 2011

Jim Netherwood spoke of the small book he hopes to publish in the near future, and asked for any contributions that members would like to have put into print. He was hoping to charge £2.50 a copy and part of the revenue to be sent to the Body Scanner Appeal. This everybody agreed with and it is hoped to have the book ready for the dinner, but not sure which year – 24 Feb, 1987

Jim Netherwood revealed that sales of his excellent book on the Casuals had produced £140 for the hospice – 1 March, 1989

The nomadic team is a great vehicle for a humorous cricket publication. Romany, Retreat and The Casuals will share lots of the problems and opportunities of trying to get a consistent team to travel away and give a good account of themselves. But, it has already been done. Marcus Berkman and Harry Thompson have written good funny books on modestly talented cricket teams, young and old. Both have a style that is direct and simple, and as journalists they would presumably have known where and how to pitch a book idea and what was then needed to keep the project going through to publication.

The Casuals have a long history of writing, right from the first committee meetings. Jim Netherwood, in 1987, put together “Cricket in Perspective: A Potted History of Almondbury Casuals CC”  and in 2005, Greg Smith, Chairman, decided we needed a sequel. He’d wanted to do it for a while he said, but never had the energy. ‘Good idea,’ said Bill, Secretary, and I, and off we went, an editorial team of three. I’d some idea of what was required, Bill was the stats nerd and Greg? Well Greg was the enthusiast with the connections. If he couldn’t do it, he knew a man who could. We met regularly and tried to keep the momentum going despite potential derailment by Greg. He kept reading the old minutes and laughing a lot.

We agreed the purpose was to create a permanent record of events and people, stressing club fellowship rather than the cut and thrust of competition. This was to be achieved through a mix of match reports, committee minutes and commissioned articles on topics such as the ladies, coaching and social events. Bill and I tied Greg down to getting articles out of The President, Tim Beaumont, ……Hooson and Rupe. We could handle the rest.

The readership was to be members, family and friends. Two hundred fifty page brochures were to be printed and the April 2006 AGM was to be the launch. A low key affordable and feasible project that was never going to see the inside of a book shop. Was it going to be a missed opportunity? Shouldn’t we really have set our sites on a book, an agent and a publisher?

This question remained unanswered and disquieting. As soon as the University cricket course, ‘Bat and Ball’, started after Christmas 2005, I wondered if hooking The Casuals up with Pete Davies and Rob Light (both university lecturers, running and helping with the course) might help, but quite how? When we visited Todmorden CC I met Freda and Malcolm Heywood who wrote “Cloth Caps and Cricket Crazy”, published by themselves in 2004. They’d attended a WEA writing course for years and written two books on local history. Then a lot of cricket memorabilia became available, right back to the folk origins and the professional teams of the early nineteenth century. So they did a cricket book too, describing the close relationship between Todmorden CC and the local sociocultural scene. Someone helped with design as did a local photographer. Then they simply took it to a printer and bought ISBN numbers. There was a limited hard back and paperback print run which they tried to finance in advance by subscription, followed by a lot of time delivering books to the subscribers. But the subscriptions didn’t cover the total bill and they were still paying off the debt at the time I met them. In addition, not all the pages were bound, still at the printers. Was this a way forward?

Back in the real world, my new job after requalifying was getting intrusive and taking up more time than I’d expected. There was brief contact with Duncan Cleave. He talked about the launch, key people and the local paper. The printers would be too expensive he said, but I thought the quote was fine (Jim Netherwood’s old company, now called Swiftprint), but I did ask for it in black and white. I told Pete about the brochure. He asked if we wanted the university to edit, proof read and publish the book as part of their university project? Well, yes but where? when? how? what for? etc etc. Will my fellow editors approve?

It was unsettling. We weren’t stretching ourselves enough to consider it a failure if we didn’t mee the deadline, but could we have done a lot more?

Bill rang, ‘Don’t forget the primary club website.’

‘Why?’

‘We’ve agreed to donate proceeds to them.’

‘Oh yes, I remember, what’s the website got to do with it?’

‘Put it in the book.’

‘Ah, “The Book”.’ The website came by e-mail.

No further call from Duncan.

Had another chat with Pete. These were always short and hurried as if tagged on to his real job.

‘Yes I’d personally like to publish with you,’ I said, ‘not sure yet about my colleagues.’ I’d realised that the brochure would get far more exposure with the university.  More or less every time Pete organised a cricket event. ‘But I what about quality?’ I asked. He promised to provide samples.

‘Can it be done for the 24th April?’

‘Yes, there’s a contract. I’ll e-mail it you.’

Then the most amazing thing. I met Pete’s dad. He was on the course but I’d never really chatted with him. He was a retired vicar from N. Wales and as dour as that description suggests. But he was also a publisher. He started with church things and poetry and grew. You payed a lump sum up front, he advised on how to get the project done, bought the ISBN and did the rest. I wasn’t sure about his authors’ readership. Did he publish for general consumption and did he have a network of bookshop outlets?

I got to see the quality of a University publication when Pete organised a cricket conference one Saturday in March. We had about a month left to complete. The photographs were not good and the paper was not really much above photocopy quality. Didn’t know the price yet. To stay or not to stay with the printers? Good quality, good price, but a low exposure internal piece for the membership of an obscure friendly cricket club. The chairman was away on holiday in Australia and the secretary said go with the University.

Pete confirmed he was e-mailing me a publishing contract.

What to do about the printer and publisher, where to put and what to put? I was still struggling with foreword, acknowledgments, contents, introduction. Looking at other books did not reveal a golden rule, though foreword seemed to appear before everything else. The others cropped up in different places, though contents tended to be on the right hand page, as did page 1.

How to structure the articles? By decade, historical era, writers’ alphabetical order? Because I’m interested in a variety of sources from facts through to memory, I chose to begin with hard information and graduate to the softer stuff. Finishing with a punchy piece on middle class comfort zones and complacent tendencies to assume superiority over others. Not really, but there was an element of this.

Peter didn’t e-mailed a contract, though I knew he was willing to have both Swiftprint and University publishing. But I’d yet to find out how this would work. I imagined a deal to split the receipts. The Casuals wanted to cover costs and donate the rest to blind cricket, charging £5 per copy. Needed to sell 20 copies at least. Perhaps a maximum of 50 would go on the night of the dinner. Peter would want to cover the cost of his printing. What was the cost of his publishing? Then any surplus would go toward the university project. Maybe we needed to split the income over printing costs two ways? Goodness, I hope not, but the committee might have to be involved.

The commissioned articles were all excellent. I only made small changes, to get a flow. Kept the tone. Left it ugly if change altered the tone. Cut the pompous bits. Why do people think long convoluted sentences are clever?

Bill had loads of photos and I had the committee minutes, match reports and design software. There were four ‘fillers’. How to design? I looked at every magazine we had in the house, a fifty page A5 black and white brochure in mind. It was never going to be like ‘The Cricketer’, or ‘Home and Garden’. A bit like ‘The Pennine Magazine’ without the colour, but not as long maybe.

Cut down some of the articles, edit the pictures. Where were we? Oh yes, that section, we were okay for the article to run on then. New section needed a new page and heading. Exclude widows and orphans. How did you do those blocked headings and that insert between paragraphs? Page numbering was a real tester. I corrected a huge mistake early. I tried to imagine twelve piece of printed A4 folded into a book and where all the articles would finish up. ‘Do one page at a time,’ said Swiftprint, ‘Which software do you use?’ they asked ‘InDesign,’ I said, ‘great, so do we.’ I have another confession just here. I learned a lot of this doing a choir magazine. I wouldn’t have had the time for The Casuals’ brochure to both learn how to do it and then do it.

I took the a rough copy to David Pedley, The President. Terry Wogan would describe him as a jovial cove. I thought I saw some steel too. He was very supportive and offered great corrections and ideas. No bush beating either. It had to be a quality project. I was inclining this way too and immediately got on the phone to Swiftprint and checked the 100 gm paper and 160 gm cover. This was the day David’s wife let it slip he complained when The Casuals lost. Good stuff. You should see their place. Can’t move for good stuff everywhere. Sort of place you go for a cup of tea, or wine in my case, and peer round things to talk.

Then David said, ‘You must invite Peter Davies to ‘The AGM’ and set up a stall to sell the Casuals book . . . ‘ and he carried on, ‘a photography booth to record all the attendees, especially the older ones before they die, record their names and addresses, ask them about memorabilia, photos, letters, anything for copying. They’ll go toward posters about the history of The Casuals and other publications.’ I left eventually, nicely mellow and exhausted.

Then one day I thought, ‘Why don’t I set up my own publishing company?’ With Eric, my literary friend. Perhaps not. I Browsed ‘An Authors Guide to Publishing’ by Michael Legat and came up with some ideas. Apparently there is a genre of histories of businesses or similar, paid for out of the firm’s advertising budget. This is the sponsored book. Copies are distributed to staff and customers and double as publicity. Some firms have retail outlets and will fund some marketing. Copyright can be an issue if the company wants to buy it. Companies tend to offer low royalties on the grounds that lots of copies will be sold. Sometimes an author is made an employee so copyright automatically goes to the firm, but the author gets a salary. All these ploys are to be resisted by the author.

Then there are vanity publishers, “sharks who express great enthusiasm for your work, however poor its quality, but explain that publishing conditions are so difficult nowadays that they cannot go ahead unless you make a contribution to the costs. You will get your money back they say, because the royalties they will pay on sales will be exceptionally generous”. In reality, you pay for the costs, the publisher’s profit and the royalties do not materialise.

What a about self-publishing? Contact a reputable printer. Distribution is the big problem as there is no sales force to persuade booksellers to stock your book. So no nationwide exposure, but even sale or return in the local bookseller is better than vanity publishing. This seemed the most popular route, supported by several ‘how to’ volumes and websites. I realised this was the feasible route.

Help, proof reading. Do we need to do that? I’ve met one though he never did it for a living. He worked for a local public organisation, as chairman I think, and had to make sure that reports that went out in his name were factually correct, had no spelling mistakes and had proper grammar. The choir recently produced a concert programme in which he identified 30 errors and it had already gone to print. A popular man.

Greg was back from Australia so he got a look before the final draft went to the printers. He was full of questions.

“When will the books be available for sale?’

‘Immediately the guys arrive’, I suggested, ‘It’ll give a buzz to the dinner. They’ll buy and discuss it whilst they’re still sober.’ I knew the president was okay with this.

Greg finally agreed, ‘I wonder whether they’ll pay attention to the speeches if they have a book to read? he said, ‘Well I suppose they usually heckle anyway. The older member photographs is a good idea, and the memorabilia.’

‘There’s still the choice of self publishing or going with the university,’ I said and mentioned the contract.

‘I don’t want a complex contract,’ he replied, ‘The Casuals are a very informal at best. I can see the benefits though. Keeping a profile beyond the dinner.’

‘Dunc should be able to help there, but I’m not sure how,’

‘Its not urgent,’ said Greg, ‘I’ve just had a thought. Will Rupe’s golf club let us have a stall and sell things?’

Goodness, grovelling to Rupe. I can do that.

Good, Greg had been included and not a lot of changed decisions.

Ten days to publication. It was Easter and I was going away so Greg took the disc to the printers for me. I looked at the proofs when I got back. What was an advert for Greg’s business doing in there? It stuck out like a sore thumb and didn’t contribute to either the purpose or the finance of the brochure. I left him a message on his answer phone, not feeling particularly miffed by it, but I wondered if the readers might find it strange. Maybe I could simply remove it in the same way he introduced it.

‘I’ve no idea how that got in,’ said Greg when we reviewed the proofs, ‘I handed my card over and its finished as a full page advertisement.’

We deleted it.

Proof reading was a skill I didn’t have. Take ‘The Casuals’. How often should we use a capital T, quote marks and where does the apostrophe go in the possessive? I hadn’t a clue and it varied. ‘The Casuals scored 20 runs’ was easy because it was the beginning of a sentence. What about: ‘We played the Casuals down at the bridge’; ‘I suspect the Casuals batting averages were . . .’; ‘One of the Casuals fielded on the boundary’. I made a decision to capitalise all the T’s and ignore quotes and apostrophes and we got it to the printers on time.

I collected five boxes of brochures from the printers the morning of the AGM. Grrr, a spelling mistake and a correction they hadn’t made. Thank goodness we’d set deadlines well in advance of the proofs and the printing.

I went to the golf club an hour before kick off and set up the stall in the mixed lounge. Homemade notices pinned to a cork board. Everyone went in the bar next door of course. I could see them all through the serving hatch. The mountain had to move, so in I went well armed with brochures. Greg needn’t have worried that the brochures would take up too much of the guys’ attention. They were all preoccupied with as much free beer as they could drink. In fact they easily parted with £5 and I recouped the printing cost in ten minutes and made a profit in twenty. By the time the guys had sat down they’d be only be able to see the photos anyway. The dinner was a shambles and the speaker heckling was particularly vehement.  Pete claimed to enjoy it. The master of ceremonies introduced him as a cricket researcher. What a great job. He was really a history lecturer, specialising in The French Revolution.

Pete wondered if The Casuals would be part of the next cricket conference to be held at the university. We also talked about a formal history in poster format and a cricket walk and I floated my idea for a larger book. Pete’s first response was always supportive. I’m not sure what he would say if something was crap. He was honest about the brochure which he somehow read before we got to the pudding. The good bits anyway. The attempt at a structure through the kind of sources we used. The absence of a dry chronology. The emphasis on people. He particularly liked the format and the quality of the photographs. Which was nice, and he bought two brochures and a club tie.

Nothing has happened since then. Rupe didn’t even spot the spelling mistake. We didn’t go to the conference as a club, I didn’t write up a cricket walk or create a poster presentation. I had to concentrate on my new role in the real world and my cricket career came to an end. It’s not quite true that nothing happened. Greg and a few others did go to Golcar cricket club for a quiz compiled by Pete. I think we came last. The locals put out one or two special bits of memorabilia. Such as the scorebook open at that Holmfirth cup game. Lots of Rhamadin in the wickets section.

I’m left with one hundred and fifty copies of ‘Cricket in Perspective 2’ in three boxes gathering dust under my desk.

July 2013

Those copies are still gathering dust, but how the landscape around has changed. First, two books have been published by a company I have set up called Shalliley Books. The first was a collaboration with Peter Davies, an anthology of writing from his heritage website, primarily about W Yorkshire. The profit has been allocated to the refurbishment programme for Honley CC pavilion. Peter has retired from the university but still runs cricket societies and as far as I’m aware, he is still writing. Our pathways diverged as he gradually recovered from his mystery illness. I found him difficult to cope with, but there again how easy am I?

In a perverse way I’m grateful for the opportunity Peter’s illness gave me to learn and get on with publishing for myself. It still nearly didn’t happen until in desperation I rang Stephen Chalke and asked whether he could help. Rather succinctly he told me to find a digital printer  and put the phone down. I did – Riley, Dunn and Wilson. I’ve since met Stephen and he is quite the gentleman.

The second book was a celebration of 21 years of New Mill Choir. The profit sponsored an open community evening at Holmfirth High which was a moderate success. The book was good quality.

There are plans for a third book, in collaboration with the University of Huddersfield departments of history and journalism/media. It will cover music in the Holme Valley.

There are chapters in two books and three newspaper and journal articles, mostly about Casuals cricket. So not a bad average from those dim and distant days of 2005/6.

I am retired, having plugged the financial gaps. The publishing company is a social enterprise.

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