The next day I produced 12 alternative versions for the outside cover. A rigorous comparison and selection procedure narrowed that down to 3 (two with subtle changes and one with something more extreme in case subtle was not enough). I sent them off and they were printed on the press as a composite alongside the original on Thursday. I waited in for the courier on Friday. No show. I agonised over the weekend. I waited in for the courier on Monday. No show. Two more sets were sent out to me by different couriers. All three sets arrived within an hour of each other on Tuesday morning. And then I had to work out which version was best! I was just too close to the work to decide so I rang my friend Paul who has been with me every step of the way with this book. No answer. I rang the Library. He was there. I drove in to Fakenham and one confabulation later I had a decision as well as a telling-off from one of my ex-work-mates for using the Library as a meeting place in this time of Covid. Completely justified but it’s been difficult to keep thinking of the bigger picture when I’ve got so much riding on this book. 3 years of work plus 42 hours of press time plus a cost of £29,000 is an awful lot to put into something for it to come out less than perfect. And of course perfection is not achievable (at least not without driving everyone completely round the twist).
The whole process is like buying a house in that it is very stressful because it is such a rarely-done big thing that one is not an expert in and there is the constant feeling that something important might be being missed. Even working with experienced high-quality printers is no guarantee of good results because they are generally used to working with professional designers who are au fait with the way things are supposed to be done, rather than someone like me who has got a pretty good idea of the process but is basically self-taught (and who is pushing the boundaries of things with layered and transparent images). It is also too much to expect of printers to spot the nuances that are important to a designer who has such familiarity with the material having concentrated so much effort into it.
I am therefore delighted to report that the printing has turned out fantastically well – better than the proofs and better than I could have hoped for at the start of all this. I am thrilled and the icing on the cake was having two of my contacts at the printers separately telling me what a good job I’d done of the design. I’m really looking forward to hearing the reaction of readers.
Next step in the process is binding the pages into the covers to produce the final books. My printers don’t have the machines to do thread-sewn binding in-house, so all that they have printed is going up by lorry to a binders near Derby to be bound this week. Covid has already thrown a slight spanner in the works because that area is in Tier 2 and quite understandably they are not allowing external people into the factory. The current plan is that I drive over on Wednesday then wait in the car park ready to be shown the first books as they come off the production line. Once they’ve got my go-ahead, they’ll bind the rest and I’ll head home taking some boxes of books (but not so many as to ruin the suspension on my car). The first delivery of finished books is expected to arrive back in Ipswich on 6th November, ready for my printers to dispatch, with the remainder arriving on 11th November. I’m hoping that all that stays on track despite the new lockdown that is starting on Thursday as there are some big pieces of publicity in the offing.
Firstly reviews have come out in two magazines including these lines:
- ‘If there’s one book you read about the Great War during this time of remembrance, I heartily recommend this one.’ – Britain at War magazine (as part of a whole page review as their book of the month)
- ‘Tatham does the roller-coaster ride of Bartlett’s life proper justice in an impeccably produced book.’ – History of War magazine
- On Saturday, 7th November, there will be a four-page feature in the Telegraph magazine, with their response being that they love the letters and think my book is amazing.
- On Tuesday, 10th November, at about 9 a.m. I’m being interviewed on BFBS Radio (British Forces Broadcasting Service).
- On Wednesday, 11th November, Country Life magazine is featuring ‘I Shall Not Be Away Long’ as their book of the week.
- RNIB Connect Radio (for blind and visually-impaired people) will be having a feature based on an hour-long interview I had last week with one of their producers. This came about because I told the RNIB that I would be making a donation from the profits of this book in honour of the efforts made by Charles Bartlett (my new book’s letter writer) in his work for blind people both before and after the war.
With a new lockdown imminent in amongst all the current difficulties the world is facing, I hope that my book will provide some distraction and inspiration. I would also like to recommend two books that I have recently read:
'I Shall Not Be Away Long' is available via www.ishallnotbeawaylong.co.uk
PS In the process of testing things, I’ve discovered that ‘I shall not be away long’ is not as common a phrase as one would have thought – put it into Google and you’re led straight to my new book or commentaries about the story of Joseph in the Book of Genesis, and not much else. Just to be clear: Charles Bartlett does not have a lot in common with Joseph, not least in that his coat was of one colour: khaki.