Publishing Embarrassment of the Year
The second life of throw-away lines
As is so often the case, it was just a chance remark, a throw-away line — the fluttering of wings that sparked distant consequences — with unlikely life-changing impacts. But, as is said so often in those inspirational leadership seminars, when imagination is stretched, it rarely returns to its original shape.
Our local Reading Group meets in the library on the 3rd Monday of every month. June’s discussion centered around a collection of short stories by William Boyd, all of which had first appeared elsewhere. Around the table, the audits were not plaudits. One member homed in on a common theme, dismissing Boyd’s collection as a catalog of hopeless failure — stories of disappointments, dashed dreams, and unfulfilled aspirations. My contribution, however, struck a quite different, more positive, note but, today, this story is not about ‘The Dreams of Bethany Mellmoth’.
The ensuing discussion could so easily have been clipped from some earnest McArthurian debate about the Circular Economy featuring re-design, recycling, and reuse. Whilst some life remained in those words, the creative fuel, although first deployed for some other editorial purpose, should, surely, not be wasted. That was where the rot set in, there, then, at that moment, a realization that the oft deferred, crazy notion, the seemingly impossible, was but a hop, skip, and modest jump away.
For years, whenever words fell from the mass, or mess, of jumbled junk that is my brain, I’ve turned to the keyboard to work out, to exercise (or exorcise) unhinged urgencies. For years I’ve dumped that stuff — daring only to share those rambling thoughts to a limited and trusted audience. The Medium.com platform suited my purpose, not with the intent of gain, but admittedly with occasional pleasure that some pieces were later selected for ‘hand-picked’ applause. If a few readers were entertained, that was surely bonus enough. So meager was my ‘following’ that it never reached its revised threshold for any revenue return on a platform where most contributors seemed mainly obsessed with growth or profit and very few concerned with giving or prose.
How many times have readers asked — how many times have I balked at the suggestion of creating a tangible tome? My life has always, even during schooling, centered around libraries and books — and yet the notion of creating one seemed an impossible mountain — but here, lying around, were these fragments of unstructured ramblings waiting for recycling and redesign. TBH it was always a naff idea but the production journey, aided and abetted by Kindle Direct Publishing was gloriously educative.
What better way to learn that publishing, as an art form, demands far more than words. The easy part — the cover and back page blurb — were but nothing compared to layout design and illustration. Even for this slim volume, the selection of texts and their structuring to pretend they’d always been intended to form some greater whole, some complete work, was exhausting. ‘Portchester: the place I call home, (now available via Amazon) stands as an example of amateur production and ill-conceived purpose. Here, across an entire year, the author rambles around his parish and rambles on about events both local and far-flung — sporadically trying to make sense of climate-challenged, post-Covid, post-governable, post-Brexit Britain.
And yet, amazingly, copies are bought, and words appreciated — and readers are variously entertained and/or confused. But oddly, the demolition of my imagined mountain — the removal of restraint — has, alas, released my storytelling from captivity. The imagination has been stretched, its elastic muscle memory is broken, never to return to its original shape. But now, armed with this newfound capacity, old excuses are rendered impotent and new questions arise. The butterfly has flapped its wings. Readers should be warned.
‘Portchester: the place I call home’ — ISBN 9798843838867 — is available in paperback format from Amazon.co.uk
This article is included in the Groupe Intellex listings on the medium.com platform.