105 years ago today it was Easter Sunday. My father was born. Half a year ago, the arrival of my grand-daughter, Miss Izzy Flaws, put paid to my chances of hitching a ride on the book event of the year, the launch of Shaun Bythell’s Diary of a Bookseller.
Instead of heading South-West to Wigtown, I was going in the diametrically opposite direction, North-East to Aberdeen.
It is only in looking back at my notes that I am reminded of how close-run a thing making McAvinchey was. I may have given the impression that all was proceeding serenely to a close by now, but this contemporary note, made two days before the Wigtown Festival was due to start (and, as it turned out, the day before Izzy was born) shows otherwise:
Endpapered 66 books, which appears to be total sewn so far. Stamp arrived. Need to rig up some sort of mask and decide best position for it. See if it is feasible to stamp in two colours., black and gold.
Need to guillotine then mull endpapered books.
20 remaining books sawn – so where are the missing 14??
Raised total endpapered to 70 plus one book sewn (no more papers)
guillotined all 70 top edge, some fore-edge.
I am startled to realise that I was not only still sewing books at this point, but was yet to stamp a cover (and that I appeared to have mislaid 14 books – which I must have found eventually). I was faced with the possibility of making an extraordinary effort to get all the books finished for the Friday or else delaying till a more realistic date the following week. Since I had got where I was by working steadily and carefully, I thought it wiser to carry on in the same way, rather than push myself and risk producing sub-standard work, which tends to happen when you hurry. And, as we have seen, I got there in the end:
So what are my reflections on this grand adventure? For all its incidental stresses and occasional frustrations, it was as enjoyable a time as I had spent in years. I would certainly repeat it, drawing on the many lessons I have learned.
But could such a venture ever be more than a glorified publicity stunt, staged in the ultimate hope that it might catch a conventional publisher’s eye?
I was awake to that possibility – would not be averse from it even now – but it was far from being my sole or even my main hope. I do think there are possibilities in ‘extreme self publishing.’
For a parallel, I would look to the Slow Food Movement and its associated local markets which have come to the fore in this country as part of farmers’ recovery from the horrors of BSE compounded by the foot-and-mouth epidemic. Taking its inspiration from continental models, where local produce and associated markets are strong, it is premised on promoting local identity through locally-sourced high quality produce, so seeking to establish regional diversity within a national framework.
A line that occurs in The McAvinchey Codex is actually lifted straight from my notes in the days when I was on the committee of the Society of Authors in Scotland and occasionally attended a body called the Scottish Literature Forum (which supplied the inspiration for ‘The Forum’ described in the prologue, though its proceedings are not so dramatic):
‘This momentous meeting opens with some brief remarks anent the role of literature in the Scottish economy. Its contribution is significant, greater than many realise – ‘more than golf and cashmere put together’ as one wag succinctly puts it.’
Literary festivals flourish the length and breadth of Scotland. It would not be worthwhile for any mainstream publisher to produce a unique edition tailored to a particular festival, but an extreme self-publisher could:
And for the festival-goer, what better souvenir than a book produced expressly for the festival, and quite possibly made before their very eyes in the course of it? It would be no great task to set up a temporary book-making operation on site, a sort of pop-up publisher. And as my ingenious friend Dougie Macdonald points out, mass-produced books are now so commonplace that they lack that ‘special’ quality that is sought in a present – not so a hand-made limited edition.
Perhaps, in this age of ‘value added’, the present is the future of the book.
I have long thought that writers should do more to invest in themselves and so reap the rewards from their own work that publishers presently do, commanding the various resources of production themselves, rather than going cap in hand to agents and others to arrange it all for them. ‘Extreme self-publishing’ seems to me to offer the possibility of doing something like that.
It takes no great leap of the imagination to envisage small bands of writers pooling their resources to run small self-publishing operations expressly geared to work with literary festivals – we have micro-breweries, why not micro-publishers? The model also holds out the prospect of co-operative work with local artists and printers and has the potential to be an event in itself, at the heart of its own festival rather than simply on the edge of others.
Anyone fancy it? It could be fun.
For now, farewell – but I’ll be back, depend upon it.
or, the beginning…