Ch. 23 – a muddled history – or a history of muddle?

You only begin to appreciate the the difficulties of writing history when you try to do it yourself: for the benefit of your readers, you are trying to give an ordered account of something that was far from orderly and occasionally teetered on the brink of chaos.

Last August and September I was doing something I had never attempted before – making a hundred books, from scratch – against a looming deadline, the start of  Wigtown Book Festival,  on 22 September. To complicate matters further, our younger daughter was due to give birth to our first grandchild around the same time, a happy event that might entail a trip to Shetland at short notice, or possibly to Aberdeen.

So although I have been setting out what seems an ordered progression, these contemporary notes give a more accurate flavour of how it really was:

Screenshot 2018-03-15 10.26.11

What surprises me here is the extent of the overlap of all the activities – e.g. by 11 September I am still folding printed sheets into signatures, when I have already embarked on sewing books  and making covers, and have indeed completed some books for early distribution to various parties. Likewise, I had thought that I completed the printing in August while at my sister’s, but as I am now reminded, there was a complication with ordering supplies for the printer. I had ordered toner and an imaging unit (or drum) together to be sent to Linlithgow, but in the event they were sent separately so that I had returned to Perth before the drum arrived.

The toner came on the Friday, but the Monday was a bank holiday, so the drum did not come till the Tuesday, but to complicate matters further there was no-one in, so it was left at a local business address for convenient pick-up – except that the address was no longer local to me by this time.

To spare my sister trouble (and myself a return trip to Linlithgow) I asked for it to be rerouted, imagining that would mean that the courier would pick it up from the Linlithgow address and take it up to Perth, which is about an hour up the road – but instead it involved sending it back to the distribution depot (presumably by the same courier that brought it) and then the distribution depot sending it out again to Perth, with the end result that it did not come till the following Monday – 4 September. Hence the suspension in printing.

However, the advantage of a project of this sort is that there is always something else you can be doing, though the skill then becomes juggling the activities so that you are never brought to a stand by one critical delay that holds up all the rest. With the printer chuntering away in the background to complete the remainder, I was able to embark on sawing and sewing those that were already folded and folding those that were still stored flat to ensure a steady supply; but as I turned out the sewn copies in lots of five, I began to have an eye to the next stage, casing-in.


batch of spines –  at least 25, probably more

To do that, of course, I needed to make up covers. I had already done most of the spines with their paper hinges in Linlithgow, and with the cover-boards pre-cut, making up the bare covers was a simple matter of pasting the prepared spines, sticking the boards to them and setting them aside to dry.


But the next stage called for a bit more skill and care. First I needed to mark out and cut the bookcloth, so the table had to be cleared and the big 10 metre roll hefted up on it. I marked off a metre, then divided that into 4 strips of 250mm width, then divided each of these into thirds (about 366 mm apiece, since the roll was a (generous) 1100mm wide). Then I cut off the metre, for ease of handling, and divided it into strips, which I hung over the door – where some of them are to this day…


Not trowzers drying, but several spare strips of bookcloth handily stored. Useful things, doors.

I decide against dividing the strips into individual covers till I actually needed them, again for ease of handling, the thirty-odd 1100mm strips being more manageable than three times as many individual cover sheets (250×366) would have been.

The next step – covering the bare cases with bookcloth – would be reminiscent of schooldays, that ritual of covering books in brown paper that marked the true start of the school year – do children still do that, I wonder? do they even have books?

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