Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Satisfaction on Two Fronts, by Dennis hamley

Two very different experiences during the last month have made me feel very happy. One is the fulfilment of a long-held ambition. The other is a minor triumph which most readers would regard as small beer but to me is something I would a few months ago never have thought myself capable of.

I've mentioned before my long connection with Harefield Hospital and the wonderful thing they did for me back in 1983. One particular person had about as intimate a connection with me as it's possible to imagine. He delved inside my chest, disconnected my heart and substituted a small electric pump, proceeded to take two veins from my right leg and then, daringly because it was then an almost unheard-of procedure which pretty well only he could do, took another from my chest wall, grafted on all three to replace arteries already blocked, reconnected my heart, sewed me up again and thus gave me an extension  of life I could easily not have had, which has lasted thirty-two years already and is good for a fair few more yet.

That person, of course, was Magdi Yacoub. He's now Professor Sir Magdi Yacoub but I would prefer to think of him as just 'Magdi'. For a few moments in June, perhaps I actually could  have called him 'Magdi'. But of course, I was too tongue-tied. This year is the centenary of Harefield. It has come a long way from its original purpose as a military hospital for wounded ANZAC soldiers in World War 1. There are many events this year to mark this first 100 years and one of them was 'An evening with Magdi Yacoub', in which he would give a lecture on the history of the hospital as a specialist heart centre and his long - and crucial - association with it. As soon as we knew, we just had to go to it.  It was on 15th June, which turned out to be a beautiful, calm, limpid evening. The marquee set up for his speech was packed.  He spoke simply, clearly, modestly, about how Harefield had developed into such an iconic, world-renowned and respected place and then how, even though just coming up to 80, he is still hard at work transferring his skills to hospitals in his native Egypt.

Some very fortunate people, me included.

There were few questions at the end. but there was a lot of recounting of experiences by ex-patients, including me. Some of the stories told were almost incredible, making my experience seem relatively ordinary. At the end, all those present who had actually been operated on by him were invited to come up to the front. Almost half the audience came forward. And it was then that I was able to do something I'd wanted to for the last thirty-two years. 

I was able to shake his hand and thank him personally.

This was an important and significant moment in my life which has given me a feeling of great contentment, almost as if a debt has been repaid. But, of course, such  a debt could never be repaid.

The other experience seems a rather pathetic anti-climax but it still matters to me. It's about Createspace. Obviously I've long been aware of it. I spoke to a few people who'd published books on it about what the process was like.. 'Oh, it's difficult,' they told me. 'Long and fiddly. You never seem to get it quite right.' As soon as they said that, I felt an attack of technofear coming on. Oh dear: I wouldn't stand a chance, I thought.

Even so, I bought two Createspace books, one by Chris Longmuir, the other by Sue Price, to see what the fuss was about. And I was hugely impressed. I've heard that  people have issues with the quality of the finished product. All I can say is, these looked pretty good to me. Then I realised I possessed other paperbacks which I hadn't noticed were printed by Createspace. And they looked pretty good to me too. So why shouldn't I at least try to have a go?

I had a particular purpose. I was horrified to find, when I came to choose a blog from last year for the new Sparks, that my long account of the setting up of Blank Page Press was written nearly two years ago and still virtually nothing has happened. I had an ugly feeling that people might think we were just fantasists. Not so. There have been obstacles and disagreements which I think have been largely got over. And there was also the problem of how to get going with the small amount of money we have as working capital. One solution which I wanted to explore was to start by using Createspace as a printing service which would be, in NHS terms, 'free at the point of delivery'. Nothing to pay upfront: they get your money in sneakier ways than that. But we have our own ISBNs, 100 of them supplied by Neilsen's all ready to be used, so the books would be under our own imprint and we would be as independent as any other publisher. Worth looking at, at least to start with until we can afford more conventional printing.

Well, I want books of mine to go into Blank Page Press.  But this has to be sparing.  I'm stringent in choosing which ones. BPP is not conceived as a vanity publisher: we want a good spread and many voices (memo to AEs who have sent me books. Be patient. There will be movement.) 

So I took two compilations of short stories already on Kindle - Colonel Mustard in the Library with the Candlestick and Out of the Deep: stories of the supernatural and tried to put them on Createspace.  If I published books like these on BPP I would soon swamp the operation. But they're worth seeing the light of day again and they  deserve their own common imprint, a flag to sail under, as well. It's not a publisher: it's just a name. I'm using Createspace's free ISBNs  And here it is.


As you'll see, I've put it in Goudy Stout, a cheerfully weird font used on the masthead of The Oxford Writer which I used to edit. It will be used for O/P books I think worth preserving and new compilations such as these. Joslin refers to Joslin de Lay, hero of my medieval mysteries. Whether that series of six will go on BPP or JB is still a moot point with me.

Anyway, as to the process itself. I set up an account and then downloaded the beginner's template. My first attempt at uploading a Word text was a disaster. The print area was far too big for the template. Horror. Then I saw how to scale it down and all seemed well. I left it for a few  weeks to do other things but when I came back the whole process seemed to have stuck. I couldn't seem to make anything work. It was obviously my destiny to fail. I rather bleakly emailed Createspace for help and received a pleasant reply giving me a clear sequence of operations. 'But I've done all those already' I groaned. Then of course I realised I hadn't really and for the first time began to realise how this thing worked. But I still had formatting problems and had to ask fellow AE Createspacers for help. Which duly came (thanks!) and showed me that solutions had been staring me in the face all the time. So soon everything was great. The Colonel was ready.

No, not quite. Sudden hubris overtook me. Why not be really posh, I thought, and have a header with a running title throughout? All classy books have them. And to my amazement, when I tried, it worked. Perfect, I thought. Thanks to Anastasia Sichkarenko I had a great new cover (the original home-made image wouldn't work and anyway it was horrible) so the book was ready for final review. I had hoped to reproduce the full cover, back blurbs as well, here, but I only have it as a PDF and I can't get Blogger to accept it.  I haven't got the separate cover image and I'm certainly not going to reproduce the old one

I had about six versions of the Colonel text reviewed before I was satisfied but at last was ready to order proofs. I'd heard tales of months before US-printed proofs arrive so I thought it worthwhile to pay for Expedited Delivery. They have promised next Monday, the 20th. We shall see. The normal shipping time would see them here at the end of August.

So now to Out of the Deep. This time I really felt I knew what I was doing. The process was smooth and familiar.  The interior was perfect. So now came the crowning glory - the running headers. Yes, there they were, instant and beautiful. Except that - they ran all the way through the book, including blank pages in the prelims and also over the title pages of stories.  How could this be? Surely the template would take care of that? It had been fine on Colonel Mustard. Hadn't it? I went back and looked.

No it hadn't. I'd obviously hadn't checked properly but just presumed. The titles had turned up in the prelims and on the title page of each story. And I'd never noticed. With only four stories, it wasn't so obvious. So I let it go and returned to Out of the Deep. All I have to do, I thought, is to delete all the running titles, put in section breaks and start again. So I did. It had absolutely no effect. But all the books on formatting for Createspace I'd read said it would.  Why hadn't it?

I could only think of one answer. The Createspace template for dummies is, I think, a brilliant document. It really does what it says it will. I shall go on using it for Createspace no matter how many books I put on. And, even if you haven't got a Createspace account you can download the template and use it on its own to produce your own print-ready copy.  But it seems to me to be a given that you have to prepare some things in advance, so if you want to divide the book into sections to make the headers work properly, you must set the sections up before you download the text. Next time, that's what I shall do. If it doesn't work, I give up on headers for ever.

For Out of the Deep, I just said 'Sod it' and deleted the headers completely. And anyway, who needs them? Who even notices them? A load of needless flummery. Well, that's what I think now. I'll probably change my mind for the next book. But Out of the Deep, even without headers, looks lovely in proof, not a typo in sight, and I shall just have to hope that the reality doesn't let me down. Those proofs arrive on July 29th.

 Product Details

Pity I can't do the full cover of this as well.

My next Joslin Books project for Createspace is more of a job than a new book. Twenty years ago I wrote my first Point Crime, Death Penalty, a murder mystery set in a football club. It had an initially huge success. But it's long gone because the football world it's set in has changed out of all recognition. I've often thought I'd like to update it into the world of oligarchs, sheikhs and multi-millionaire players from Spain and try again because I think it's got some really good bits, including, according to Books for Keeps, 'a marvellous climactic scene at Wembley when the whodunnit is solved in the most surprising way' (NB: the clue is in the name). Adam Fotheringham of Palatine High School in Lancashire said, 'My next book will have to be really good to even compete with this' while Greg Waupekanay of Pulaski High School, Wisconsin, thought that 'it turned out to be a pretty cool read.'

So if anybody could turn a precious copy of the original edition which I would donate, destroying it in the process, into a Word document which I could edit and make the changes (I wouldn't have a clue how to do this - the Word doc.,not the editing), please let me know and we'll negotiate a price.

The cover of the Back-to-Front PoD edition, 2005.
The goalkeeper garotted on his own goalpost.
Dare I use it again? A lot of headteachers wouldn't allow it in their schools!


cally phillips said...

Dennis, Glad to hear both parts of your story. Heart and Soul?
Also glad you've finally got your head round Createspace. One day all books will be POD!

As re your call for football book - go to amazon and put in the title and your name or use link http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/offer-listing/059055705X/ and you'll find several used copies pretty cheap. Buy one. If you must, separate the pages. Scan them into your computer. (This will be the technical bit, depending on what scanning software you use) Once scanned in you can convert to Word (again using software) and then you're on to the editing. Don't expect the scans to come out beautiful first time so there WILL be loads of editing to do. I'm not sure what scanning/conversion software to recommend but I'm sure others out there will have ideas as well! And good luck with it.

Chris Longmuir said...

Dennis what you need to scan pages is OCR (optical character recognition)software. I've used Omnipage in the past and it's quite good, although there will always be glitches with the recognition of specific characters. It doesn't work well if you are scanning the actual book because the inner part bends and doesn't scan flat. It works better if all pages are laid flat on the scanner, which means you have to take the book to pieces in order to be able to do that. The Omnipage I use is a commercial package which means you have to pay for it, however if you Google 'OCR software' there are several free ones online, although I don't know how good they are, but you could experiment on several pages before tackling the job in its entirety. Good luck with the project.

Dennis Hamley said...

Cally and Chris, thanks for these. Cally, I haven't forgotten how you did this for me with Out of the Mouths of Babes, something for which I will be eternally grateful. Chris, thanks for the practical advice. I might gird up my loins to try it, though I will take Cally's advice and buy a few 1p copies, however tatty, to avoid sacrificing a precious mint first edition! Now to find free OCRs!

Jan Needle said...

mein gott, nowt wrong with your brain as well as your heart, dennis! you amaze and shame me. and cally, it must be heartening to see not all your pupils are as idle and useless as me. so glad you didn't fall off that roof xx

Lydia Bennet said...

Great to see so much happiness Dennis, both related to your past and future in both heart and books! I've not tried Createspace yet, it's yet another learning curve ahead of me. Congratulations on your mastery of it.

Mari Biella said...

Wonderful news on both counts, Dennis. Createspace isn't too tricky once you get the hang of it, though I spent a few hours turning the air blue when I first tried it. Good news about BPP, too - here's hoping for another success in the near-future!

Dennis Hamley said...

'Mastery' is hardly the word I would have chosen, Val!

Susan Price said...

Bravo, Dennis! - And Cally, good to see you here. Am also glad you didn't fall off the roof. (Hope it's waterproof now.)

Dennis, I use OCR Free, which you can find here - http://www.ocrfree.com/
It's probably slower than the paid one Chris uses, but it's okay. You have to have a printer that scans and photocopies - then you scan your book page by page - proof-read it because it only gets the words right about 85% of the time. Then paste it into a Word doc.

I'm getting to grips with the formatted C/S template, which I'm finding quite tricky, but it puts in numbers and those fancy headings across the top. With the help of Chris and others on here, I shall get it right one day soon!

julia jones said...

I do so admire your tenacity. Francis's family have "perseverando" as a motto - Dr Yacoub must have tattooed it on your heart!

Cally Wight said...

Haven't fallen off roof YET folks! Still plenty time. Finally have the biceps I always wanted though... Hauling slates is heavy work.

And anyone who wants to come to pointing therapy which will start as we have to pick out all walls... Is welcome. That Dennis is the only reason i'n not offering to do the Ocr scan for you again! But if you get stuck please do get in touch and I'll see if I can free up some time. I have 7 x children's books to get out for September which are kind of taking precedence, but the scan for you shouldn't take more than half a day if you're happy to do all the hard work of fixing the errors. Email me...

Wendy Jones said...

Great post Dennis. I wouldn't be able to get my head around Createspace without the help and support of Chris Longmuir. I am glad you got it all sorted.