Wednesday, 29 February 2012


Two days ago I had a phone call that the paper proof of The Boy with Two Heads had arrived. I whizzed over to Trifolium and held the book in my hand. It felt heavy, substantial. I shall never feel as thrilled by a copy on an iPad or a Kindle!
I flipped through it and enjoyed the crispness of the print and the clarity of the maps. Connie had done the same and found a name divided in two, the last half at the beginning of the line and the first half at the end. This was a serious mistake, probably caused by inadvertently copying and pasting somehow. There were also one or two headings on the last line of the page, and some punctuation anomalies.
The Zeus of Phidias reconstructed
by Adler. Notice the scale of metres.

I stretched out on a sofa with the 370 page book and ran my eye over each page looking for broken words, spacing and punctuation errors, and general inconsistencies. It took four hours to check all the pages. I have almost no memory of that time, I was concentrating so completely. Except I do remember two or three times I found myself just reading certain passages instead of skimming. I still find the scene amusing where Themis and his uncle are walking to the market and Themis is intrigued by the size of his uncle's belly. And I love imagining again what it must have been like for Themis when he got stuck inside the mighty statue of Zeus, which was 12 metres high and mainly hollow. 

When I left Connie's, the proof copy had a thick fringe of pink and yellow mini-post-its. Connie patiently made all these and some other minute corrections. Later I learned that there were over 100. So spell checking obviously doesn't catch everything!

And today we checked through the next proof in soft copy, which seemed to be fine. Connie uploaded it for printing around 6 pm and ordered the copies we'll need. They should arrive early next week. So we managed to publish on February 29th as she planned. 

I am trying to contain my excitement. It will be five or six days before we get the books. Thinking and working on my scene for the Wigton play will help. Our next script meeting is in two days.

Saturday, 25 February 2012

No more nail biting

The Monument, Wigton, by Nigel Monckton from Wikipedia
Six of us from North Cumbria Scriptwriters are involved in a group writing project. We had a meeting last night and put together a structure for a short play about the history of Wigton. It will be performed in the early summer to celebrate the 750th anniversary of the Market Charter granted to the town by King Henry III. Many of the scenes have already been drafted, and now we can work on the links between them. My own scene will be a love story set against the background of the changing fortunes of Roundheads and Cavaliers in the 1640s.

Meanwhile, Connie up-loaded the cover and interior text of The Boy with Two Heads two days ago to Lightning Source. It is now being made into a proof for us to check.   
The back-cover text is this:

In 432 BC they think Themis is dead. Suzanne is drawn through thousands of years to keep him alive. Will his destiny be death or glory at Olympia? Will she regain control of her life in the present, or will her mind be occupied forever by the past?

‘A wonderful story which brings the ancient Olympics to vibrant life. You can almost smell Greece from its pages…’ Philippa Harrison, former Managing Director of Macmillan and Little Brown UK.

‘It seems that young people's issues have hardly changed in 2,400 years!’ Marion Clarke, fiction editor.                                                                                                                        
And inside, on the first page, we have put a quote from the actual story, followed by the longer versions of the two reviewers’ notes, like this:

                                             THE BOY WITH TWO HEADS

     The dark woman, who may have been his mother, dropped his hand. He felt the wind of her garments as she whirled away from his bed. Even with his eyes open he couldn’t see her now. But he could hear her.
     ‘Oh, Apollo! Devious Lord of Delphi! What have you done? … Other gods have taken so many from me – one son, one daughter, two husbands. And now you too have failed me! You have given me back half a son, his body but not his mind!’
     So he was her son – a boy. ‘No,’ he said. … All the other voices stopped. ‘No. I have a mind. But I don’t know … who I am … or where I am, and I don’t …’ He searched for the word, ‘… re … remember anything.’


“A wonderful story which brings the ancient Olympics to vibrant life. You can almost smell Greece from its pages… and there is a lovely equivalence of teenage feelings and humour, then and now. I was so engrossed by the story and the dramatic climax that I did not realise how much I had learnt until it was all over.” 
Philippa Harrison, former Managing Director of Macmillan and Little Brown UK.
“This book transported me effortlessly back to ancient Greece, vividly evoking its exotic sights, sounds and even smells. And it seems that young people's issues have hardly changed in 2,400 years!” 
Marion Clarke, fiction editor.

Themis' and Suzanne's story begins on the spot in this photograph. In 432 BC, this was the end of a bridge over the River Ilissos. In the 1960s or 70s the river was covered over and this road was built. Now, in the 2010s, there is an entrance to the Zappeion Park nearby. Opposite is the huge paved area in front of the Panathenaic Stadium, so this is a busy pedestrian crossing.
The Panathenaic Stadium
Athens, 2010

Our publishing story continues this coming week, when we’ll be correcting the proof, making the flyers, writing the press release and beginning to get in touch with bookshops, schools and libraries.

To me this stage is exciting, but scary, too. I haven't been personally involved in promoting my fiction so far, and I’ve hardly met any of my readers face to face, mainly because they live in far-away countries where they are learning English as a Foreign Language. So I keep asking myself questions like Will people enjoy this book? Will they dislike it? If so, why? Will anyone read it anyway?

But I can't answered myself now, or maybe ever. So no more nail biting: on to the next project!

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Spinal snag and last chance

spine comparison
On Valentine's day, it stopped raining for a while, but we were indoors, quietly concentrating as Kate went through a series of possible variations to the cover for The Boy with Two Heads. When she flipped the two heads to look the other way and turned the tag-line 'You don't get to the Olympics unless you're the best'  into a 'sticker', we all said ‘YES! That’s it!’ 

But the printout showed that the wording on the spine was illegible from a distance. I had asked that we made it read vertically to be different from other covers on a shelf. With the small letters necessary for that and because of the dark and light stripes in the background photo, it didn't look good. So Kate made some changes that improved it, and at last the cover was done.

On the days that followed, Kate worked on the maps and Connie on the prelims. We decided to put the map of Ancient Athens opposite the first page of the story to help the reader during those first important scenes. The other two maps will be near the end.

I read through my Author’s Note and Acknowledgments again. I wrote these some time ago and so needed to alter a couple of details.
Sketch map of Ancient Athens

We also combed the main text for the final chapter spacing and any ends of lines where a dash or other punctuation fell on the next line. We have proof-read the text many times, and on the last read-through I only found one error – which doesn’t mean there aren’t others, of course ...

So all the pieces were ready and Connie could bring them together, check the page numbers and finish off the Contents page.

She uploaded the cover and text files yesterday to Lightning Source – and that’s it. All done, except for the final proof. We should know the publication date in a few days.

So there will be no more chances to change anything. And I can think of more than one sentence that I want to rewrite ... A lot of writers seem to have this knowing-when-to-stop problem – painters, too, I’m told. 

This experience of preparing for publication with Trifolium Books has followed the same series of procedures as my experience in the main stream. But these procedures have been speeded up and personalised, so that I felt in control of my own work. Sitting beside Connie and/or Kate while they tried out and discussed possibilities has been exciting and worrying and enlightening in turns: overall, a fascinating experience!

And I can’t believe it’s over ...

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Robbery in Olympia

This is not the place to post an opinion on the paralysing economic problems of Greece. But sadly I am not surprised by yesterday's theft from the Museum of the History of the Olympic Games in Antiquity, which is one of three museums at the site of the ancient Games in Olympia. 
Museum of the History of the
Olympic Games in Antiquity
Cuts in staff numbers and salaries due to the austerity measures mean that these museums are more vulnerable than ever to criminals. It seems that armed thieves tied up and gagged the one female security guard, broke glass cases with hammers and grabbed sixty or so bronze and pottery artefacts, although exactly what has been stolen has not been reported yet.

All the artefacts in the museum, though, were relevant to the ancient Games and so depicted athletes, their equipment and their concerns. I was in that museum in late 2009 researching for The Boy with Two Heads and I took these photos. 

The athlete in the centre of the kylix (a drinking cup) is preparing for a long jump, holding weights to help him go further. I don't have a record of who the male statue is as he is of a later period than I was interested in for my research.

Nike, ancient Greek goddess of victory
The female statue is a modern copy of the flying Victory or Nike that stood on a 10 metre high column near the ramp up to the Temple of Zeus. The remains of the original, made by Paionios in about 421 BC, are in the larger Archaeological Museum nearby.

In May the Olympic Flame will be lit in the precinct known as the Altis, near the site of the most ancient temple still discernable (the Heraion) and about 200 yards from the museum that was raided. There’s a brief but pithy article about this on the Inside The Games website.  

Monday, 13 February 2012

Dancing Chapters

one finalised component of the front cover

The preparations for publishing The Boy with Two Heads have fallen into three distinct sections: the cover, the text, and the prelims/endmatter. All three progressed today at our Trifolium production meeting.

Connie and I worked on the layout of the pages of text. Making the space consistent between the end of one chapter and the beginning of the next sounds quite straight forward. However, the built-in formatting means that no paragraph of three lines or less can be split between two pages. Most of my paragraphs are short, to help the story move along faster. So when we introduced the spaces above the Chapter Headings the text began dancing around all over the place. We got the giggles in a despairing sort of way, but sorted it in the end. I wrote extra dialogue in a few places to push the Chapter Heading onto the next page. But mostly I made the text above the Heading shorter (this is a very good intellectual exercise!) to raise it towards the middle of the page.

one component of the back cover

Now was the time to review the names of the chapters. We agreed that single words would be best where possible, so I had a lot of fun adding such titles as ‘rupture’, ‘curse’,  ‘secrets’, ‘oracle’, and some more mundane ones, such as ‘home, ‘uncles’, and ‘work’.

Meanwhile, Kate sorted the last details of the cover before she gets the template. We know the exact number of pages at last, so the template can be ordered to the right size. 

one of the three maps
from The Boy with Two Heads
She also began on the maps. I can hardly believe how good my sketch maps look after her clean-up and addition of neat lettering and frames round the keys.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

My Olympics novel

Progress on The Boy

Last weekend I spent an afternoon and evening working with Kate of Amber Images on the cover of The Boy with Two Heads. And this weekend I’m working on the final check of the text and its styling. So there is progress!

There was a photograph of a statue we had seen on the internet that we wanted to use on the cover but we needed permission from its owner. After many emails and phone calls (the owner works for a huge international corporation with offices in London and the phone answering mechanism does not allow you to speak to a human being) and a visit to the offices where I was not allowed even to leave a message, we decided to try our fallback solution.

Alexandra, who lives in Athens, had taken some photos of the same statue. She sent them to us by email, but Kate and Connie felt that none of them would be crisp enough to use on a book cover. However, in the circumstances, Kate was prepared to have a go with one of them.

The Youth of Antikythera
Alexandra's 'before' photo
Kate's 'after' photo (with a little
help from Photoshop)
I cannot thank Alexandra (who held her camera way above her head to get a level image of the face) and Kate (who has a winning combination of patience and skill) enough for this image of the Boy, Themis.

The statue is called the Youth of Antikythera and is two metres tall. It was found in heavily corroded pieces at the bottom of the sea off the island of Antikythera in 1900. Elisabeth Myers has written a detailed thesis on it and Wikipedia also has a page about it where you can see how high Alexandra must have reached! It is now in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens, along with hundreds of other amazing works of art from Ancient Greece. The Youth of Antikythera was their Object of the Month for January this year.

While Kate was working on this and other aspects of the cover, I was fascinated by her pet snake, two cats and a puppy. The snake lives in a huge glass tank and eats a mouse every week or two. Kate says he’s more than a metre long and three or four centimetres in diameter in the middle, but I only saw his head poking out from behind his log. He yawned at me.

The cats were almost as lazy, but easier to stroke… And the puppy was just adorable, a bundle of fluff either constantly on the move or flat out asleep on the carpet.

By the end of a day when all I had done was play with the animals and answer some questions as to preferences, magically we had the main components of the cover in place! Connie of Trifolium Books has put this picture on her blog, too. It's not 100% perfect, but we all feel it's getting there.