Thursday, 31 March 2016

Next!: Who Do You Think You Are?

I'm not going to dwell on the Daily Mail article, but I think it was neatly summed up by one of the comments online which ran something like "well, now I've read all that, I don't need to buy the book". I've had some reaction but it was more of a ripple than a tidal wave. And that is what I expected when I saw the article on Saturday morning and realised that their definition of a "snippet" about each man was slightly different from mine, and that there was nothing to entice people to look further, that this was part of a bigger project, that the book was full of so much more, of pictures and letters and poetry, and that the feature writer had told me it was the best book she'd ever read.

One doesn't get many shots at national publicity so it was a bit frustrating, but I'm reminded of what happened when I took part in Open Studios in 2006. I went to a huge amount of effort, getting marquees, having display boards built, printing up and framing loads of work, setting up my shed cinema, painting signs & putting them on all the roads leading to me, booking a band for the opening party - but a combination of appalling weather (which led to the band only just being able to play with freezing hands, and then one of the marquees taking off and nearly performing a loop-the-loop, luckily after all the artwork had been removed and re-displayed inside my tiny house) and poor publicity from the central Open Studios organisers meant that I had hardly any visitors who weren't already familiar with my work and virtually zero sales. But, and it's a very big 'BUT', that Open Studios was vital on the path that led to where I am now with my Group Photograph project. Not only did one of my visitors to my shed cinema become an enthusiast who is still sending me encouraging emails 10 years later, but another booked me to give a presentation in my village, which led to a presentation in a library, which led to all the other presentations I've given. I had had a long lay-off from my project and not only did this re-awaken my interest but I also saw that what I had done actually meant something to other people, that it wasn't just my magnificent solitary obsession. One has hopes and plans, and though those hopes and plans may appear to be dashed, one just never knows what hopes and plans the world has got for you. The important thing is to keep getting out there, making what you do visible and then things happen, often in ways you could not imagine.

And it's been easier to write that because my next hopes and plans are already in motion. Next week from Thursday 7th to Saturday 9th April, I'm at the NEC in Birmingham for Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2016, the biggest family history exhibition in the World. It's all rather happened at the last minute, but I've been given Stand 332 and in the last week I've booked the electric hook-up and furniture and a van to take a load of books and am currently making checklists of things I need to take. I've also had the great good fortune to find a friend to accompany me who has experience of being on a stand at the NEC and who is able to run the whole thing with me, along with some other kind helpers who I've heard from today. On a 4 metre x 5 metre stand I'm not going to be able show much from the Ypres exhibition, but I have set up some projections to throw onto the back wall and am looking forward to talking to people about various aspects of my project. And the big news is that Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine are running an 8-page spread about my project and I think it might even be going on the cover - and it's coming out to coincide with the opening of the exhibition at the NEC. It's all very exciting and I can't wait to get going with it.

Saturday, 26 March 2016

The waiting is over

The promised feature in the Daily Mail has appeared today: - it looks like I'm not going to be in for a quiet Easter! At least I'm better prepared than when I went on the Jeremy Vine Show - there are books in stock and a bulk fulfilment plan to send out any orders this week.More later...

Thursday, 10 March 2016

A cunning plan (among many)

Firstly, apologies to those people who specially bought the Daily Mail last Saturday based on my last blog post only to find no mention of 'A Group Photograph'. I am learning about the fluidity of the newspaper business. Here is what happened. On Friday morning I heard from the feature writer Amanda that she hadn't heard back from her boss as to whether it was going in. At midday I set off to drive the 190 miles down to Sussex to give a presentation (of which more later). Thinking that I needed to be next to my computer early on Saturday in order to be able to react to what was happening from the gazillions of people reading about my project, I left to drive back up to Norfolk immediately after packing up my presentation kit. At 10 p.m. Amanda texted me to say that she still hadn't heard anything (which maybe meant her boss was away for the day) and would be looking online in the morning. At somewhere around midnight I pulled into the salubrious environs of Bishops Stortford services to have a nap and eventually made it home at 2.30 a.m..

Waking at 8 a.m. I soon discovered that there was no trace of my project on the Mail website, and was glad to be able to re-enter dreamland and end up somewhat fresher by the time I arrived at the memorial service that afternoon for Donald Stileman's daughter Elizabeth. The church was full with so many people whose lives had been touched by Elizabeth, and that her husband and children were all able to speak so movingly and joyfully of her was a testament to their love for her and the strength of her faith. It was great to see so many members of the family again in the Village Hall afterwards, even if I was the butt of some good-natured ribbing about all their purchases of the Daily Mail that morning. And so I have come to realise that I have been the unwitting agent of the Daily Mail's cunning plan to increase their circulation (!). I have since heard from Amanda and she has advised me that she will eat her hat if they don't run my feature at some point - they have again told her that they really love it, but given that it is not attached to a particular date, it is just the case that it gets bumped out when something of more time relevance comes in. Last Saturday, there was a feature on the 20th anniversary of the Dunblane school massacre and I can understand why they wouldn't want to include another piece that was also about a terrible event and how it effected the families of both the victims and the survivors.

On Monday, I headed back in to BBC Radio Norfolk in Norwich, this time to be interviewed by Paul Ross for BBC Radio Berkshire. The tiny broom-cupboard of a studio on the ground floor that I'd been in for the Jeremy Vine interview had been taken over by Farming Today so I actually found myself promoted to a huge studio upstairs, surrounded by screens and buttons which I did my very best not to touch. I was taken aback by Paul's introduction in which he made it clear just how much my book meant to him, including saying, "One of the most moving books I think I've ever held in my hands" and "I can only think of half a dozen books that have actually reduced me to tears, and this book is one of them". It was also apparent from the specific nature of his questions (many of which I had never been asked before) that he had really looked at the book in detail. You can listen to the whole interview at

I've had a good turn-out at my recent presentations in Mickleham, Jarrolds in Norwich, and in Firle, with several people driving long distances to come and see me, and I was delighted to see members of the families of Louis Klemantaski, Thomas Lawrence, Cyril Spartali, & David Glen, some of whom I'd never met before and some who I'd no idea were coming and whose presence was a wonderful surprise (including 2 very very recent additions to Cyril Spartali's family tree who I'm sure were doing some kind of call-and-response with the babies' cries in my animated film). I've now got further details about exhibitions/festivals I'm going to be involved in as follows:

  • Who Do You Think You Are? Live at the NEC in Birmingham have given me stand 332 for all 3 days: 7th, 8th & 9th April, to coincide with a major feature that is coming out in the next issue of Who Do You Think You Are? magazine. The exhibition organisers are different from the people organising the speakers for the presentations and with the latter not being aware of my involvement, I will not be giving a presentation, but I will be making some projections to display on my stand, and of course will be available to chat about my project and research.
  • Chalke Valley History Festival (at the end of June) haven't got a sponsor for a light-fast tent this year so I won't be able to do any projections, and quite honestly it's very difficult to scale down other aspects of my exhibition, particularly for an outdoor site, so I'm not going to be exhibiting there this year. I'm still hoping to give a presentation, but their standard slot is an hour so I won't be showing my animated film as I usually do.
  • Appledore Book Festival (patron: Jeremy Vine) (late September, early October) have invited me to give a full presentation and will be getting back to me with a date.

Now that I know that I won't have to do any large-scale exhibition building this year, that gives me a lot more leeway with respect to organising tours of presentations as requested by 50 people so far, and I will be looking at how to programme that very soon (as well as organising some form of holiday - it's been a full-on couple of years!).

And finally, two last bits of news. Firstly, Findmypast are running a competition to win a copy of my book which they started today along with posting a guest blog from me: see &, so yes, you lucky people have got two huge bits of waffle elegant prose from me in one day.

And secondly, my favourite comment of recent times has come courtesy of a friend who's a teacher in a girls' school: "Everyone loves the book and I have to lock the Library copy up when I am not there to prevent it from disappearing. The only other book that has this distinction is a glossy one about the filming of Poldark." !!