Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Nearly there, by Dennis Hamley

It's February 13th today and my schedule time is dangerously close. But there's a reason for that which I'll come to in a few minutes. Meanwhile, we're coming to the end of our annual two months stay in New Zealand, which is turning out as lovely as ever even if the weather has been pretty rubbish. In previous years my Kiwi blogs have been mainly rants about the appalling 'reconstruction' process after the Christchurch earthquakes and I don't retract a word of them. But, after six years of persistence and watchfulness  Kay has reached a satisfactory settlement for her property, so in future I can justifiably shut up about it.

And this morning we attended a small ceremony of a sort which is now distressingly unlikely  to happen in Britain. We are in New Brighton, a part of Christchurch which, as I have said before, is almost a ghetto, especially since the earthquakes. When the post-earthquake goodies are shared out, Brighton is always the last in the queue. But it  was not always so. Long-ago ambitions for it to become the local seaside resort are nw forgotten, but in 1999 there was a brilliant exception to this rule. A magnificent new building rose up by the beautiful sandy beach, next to the pier. The  Library by the Sea. A building of distinction, a library of reach and purpose, wonderfully equipped, a beacon of knowledge and culture and a centre of local history, of which there is much. And fascinating it is as well, largely because of its material wconcerning the meeting of two very different cultures and their subsequent relationships.

A year ago, it closed, for refurbishment and repair to earthquake damage. There were those who suspected it was closed for ever. But this morning it opened its doors again, refurbished, re-equipped and, not five minutes after the ceremony, full of happy users once more. And we came out into the sunshine again feeling that a little lamp had been lit in he increasingly dark world.

Oh, if only Alan Gibbons had more occasions like that to report in 'Campaign for the Book'.


Anyway, enough of that. Here is why I'm writing this so late. Some of you know that for the last two years I have been working with the wonderful Ganev family from Bulgaria, telling the story of their escape and defection in 1976 from the Communist regime and of the grim, sinister events which made this escape essential if they were to  stay alive. Now, for forty years they have lived a calm and prosperous life in New Zealand and it was there that I met them, Stojan, Kamen and especially, Dora.

Dora Ganeva (properly named Dorka) is an indomitable lady who is now 94. This is not the usual age to write your first book. But she had always wanted to do it and I resolved to make it happen for her. It's taken a long time. It's longer than anyone, including me, ever predicted. It will, when completely finished, be more than 40,000 words. And this afternoon we are going to that strangely European-looking house set among sleek New Zealand bungalows to meet Dora again and discuss and even finish the very difficult missing link, the death of her dissident husband.

So off we go.

Well, we're home again now and taking stock of our afternoon's work. And yes, the book is nearly done. A few tweaks, some editing and rearrangement, a cover to produce and a new title to find because Dora's Story sounds too much like a children's book, like, for example, the old Scholastic series Everystories. It even has overtones of Dora the Explorer, which would never do!

And then publication. I shall use Creatspace, naturally. But here is a problem. Dora first intended this as a private book for family members only. But - especially now, in these troubling days - it is a story which should be read widely.  So do I publish it on my account, with a Createspace ISBN, and make sure that only author copies are printed or do I open an account for the family, remove the book from my list, transfer it to the family's with our own ISBN from Neilsen's so that Createspace is only the printer, the book is part of a publisher's list and theirs to do what they like with? After all, we have 99 Blank Page Press ISBNs still unused. We shall see.

The book has an interesting and entirely fitting construction. The Ganev family has a background mainly of farming and teaching. They are about as normal and typical as you could find anywhere. And yet they are unique. In a sense they are  Bulgaria. So the book begins with, in cinematic terms, a panning shot, a wide panorama on which a drama will be acted out. It starts with a short account of Bulgarian history which sets a context for the whole story. It becomes steadily more detailed and precise until it reaches one man, Hadgi Radi Kardjilov.

In the 19th century, Bulgaria was part of the Ottoman Empire. The small town of Kesarevo had no Christian church any more. Pleas to be allowed to build one fell on deaf ears. So Hadgi Radi traveled alone to Turkey, managed sonehow to have an audience with the Sultan himself and come back home in 1857 with permission granted. A significant act. And Hagdi Radi was Dora's great-great-great grandfather. So there is the link between history and family and once made, generations and lives can be portrayed so that the later link with the thrust of Bulgarian history becomes not just personal but significant in this wider structure.

There's a lovely passage in the account by Kamen and Stojan, Dora's sons,  of their own separate escape out of Bulgaria. through Jugoslavia and Italy. Before they made their final plan they surveyed the mountains which they would have to cross to reach the border. And here, Stojan has an unexpected encounter.

We moved very quietly under the cover of the forest. We must have been quiet because once we got within metres of a wild red deer browsing on some shrubs. I suddenly felt really excited. This deer was wild and free. Sharing, even for a moment, its freedom was inspirational. I know that Kamen felt this too. Was it a foretaste of what was to come?

Well, yes, it was and this little extract in many ways sums up the whole book.

Dora and I worked steadily through the afternoon. Kay took some lovely pictures of us but sadly we have failed to load any of them onto the little Samsung tablet with Bluetooth keyboard which I'm using here. They'll be I hope, in the next blog, even if the text has nothng to do with it!

Dora corrected many of my mistakes and misunderstandings in the text so far. And then we came to the last piece of the jigsaw, the death of her husband Stefan. I know why Dora wrote this last. The story at this point becomes harrowing and must have been cruelly difficult to write. 

Stefan had been declared 'an enemy of the people', and had stood as an opposition party candidate in the first 'free' elections after the war, which brought the Communists to power. He had spent three years in a concentration camp and then been offered good jobs in government if he would join the Communist party, which he refused to do, He spent long periods on the run and in hiding.

And then he was killed in a car crash.  Accident? Who knows? It's left open at the end. But, as the Kiwis who surround me would say, 'Yeah, right.'

We didn't come away with everything I needed but we're seeing Dora again before we leave on March 1st so I'll be able to complete the text for the whole book pretty quickly. And then, when all the other elements are in place, I'll aim for it to be out by June at the latest.

PS. My three latest books on Kindle and Createspace are looking very lonely on the Amazon review pages. So if anyone would like free copies as PDFs in exchange for full and fair reviews, please let me know and I'll send them as soon as we're home.

They are:  

Bright Sea, Dark Graves 1. The Guns of St Therese, 2. The Nightmares of Invasion

Yan Tan Tethera: five stories and a very tiny novel.



Jan Needle said...

Lovely, fascinating stuff, Dennis. Look forward to seeing you and Kay back in civilisation soon. (Bits of that sentence are a joke!) Come oop north and see uz xxx

Chris Longmuir said...

Dennis, I wouldn't advise a Createspace ISBN, it's too restrictive and ties you to Createspace. If you decide at a later date that you want to publish elsewhere then the result would be the same book with two different ISBNs which is not a good idea because the ISBN is an identifier for the retail trade and libraries, and they won't buy from Createspace. I have published my new book with Createspace and Ingram Spark using my own ISBN. The reason? The weak pound has made author copies from Createspace uneconomic, and I'm losing money each time I sell to the book trade. Plus Ingram Spark also does distribution. One thing to watch out for if you publish to Createspace and you are unsure whether you might want to use Ingram Spark, do not opt into Expanded Distribution, it creates problems if you want to publish elsewhere because they use Ingram for their expanded distribution.

Cally said...

Also on the question of iisbns, what you can do is set up an imprint of blank press (any name you like) and then you can use one of those 98 iisbns...you need to contact nielsens and tell them you are setting up said imprint and you want it to be associated with your main publisher name. I can't remember exactly the procedure but I've done it a couple of times and it's no more than a couple of emails and some online form filling! Just have your new imprint name chosen before you start the process.
Now i have that off my chest I'll go back and read your post!

Reb MacRath said...

This is all so complicated. My own first hard copy book is coming out soon and I'm too excited to worry about ISBNS, Ingram Spark, combobulations or equeezeefibulations. Maybe Bill can clarify. Dennis, your review concern is something all of us share. I could tell you tales of Monstertime...