Monday, 2 November 2020

On the brink again, with fantastic printing and publicity

I have recently re-discovered the truth of the saying ‘life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans’. At the beginning of my last post I said that ‘There will be no more tweaking or correcting or fine-tuning’ of my new book. That lasted about 16 hours. I went down to Ipswich to see the start of printing. Item One was the inside of the cover with the maps and list of supporters. A little on-press tweak led to a result that just gave me a huge lift, seeing that it had come out just as I meant it to be (for those not familiar with the vagaries of colour printing: just because something looks good on screen or in a proof doesn’t mean it will look the same amount of good when you print it on the press). Next was the outside of the cover. Again there was a little on-press tweak and things appeared to be OK until I was then shown the result of applying the anti-scuff laminate to the outside (this is essential to protect the cover and hold the creases for the spine and flaps without cracking the card). It was just too dark. The cover is supposed to have a dirty feel to evoke the circumstances in which the letters were written, but there is also meant to be a warmth and lightness that reflects the human spirit at the heart of the book and that just wasn’t there. I made a brief attempt to see if I could make adjustments to the original artwork whilst on site but given that the outside cover alone contains 55 image files and the computer I would have to work on was not running Windows as I was used to, it wasn’t long before I came to the decision that I was going to have to sort it out at home. So after seeing prints of the first few pages from inside the book, I headed back up to Norfolk. 

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 
Then coming up are: 
  • 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. 
That any of this has been possible is due to the kindness and faith shown in me by people who have made donations and pre-ordered copies of the book (the total is now up to 450) such that I have now covered 75% of the cost of printing. It would have been a much taller order to gather up the courage to commit to spending this sort of money without this support and I am incredibly grateful. The latest donor has been from one of the companies mentioned in the book. In August 1915, Charles Bartlett wrote to his wife to ask her to send him ‘a supply of Keating’s – I have tried every shop in the place, & the powder we are served out with, well, the lice and fleas just grow fat as butter on it’. The motto of the product he asked for was ‘Keating’s Powder Kills with Ease, Bugs & Beetles, Moths & Fleas’. The story of that company is an incredible testament to the will to survive through human ingenuity. I’ll leave it for you to read in the book but you can get an idea of how far they’ve come by the fact that their parent company is now called Terahertz – and I’m very grateful that they should have thought to contribute. 

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: 
Both achieve what I hope comes through from my book in that they warn of what can happen if we don’t pay attention and don't act soon enough against the evils of the world, and show that simple acts of kindness and love can reverberate through the ages.

'I Shall Not Be Away Long' is available via 

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.


  1. Well done Andrew. I love the care and attention you give to this project and the detailed updates that demonstrate your commitment and attention to detail. You deserve to succeed. Every success to you!

    1. Thank you, Derek - very kind of you to say so - it makes such a difference to know that it's appreciated.

  2. Hi Andrew I do enjoy reading your updates. Its good to know things are going quite well, in all respects, despite all the current circumstances you have to contend with. The reviews so far are amazing and an accolade to you, deservedly so. I am so looking forward to receiving my copy. Stay safe.
    Best wishes Carolynn Oakley.

    1. Thank you, Carolynn - great to have you cheerleading me on.

  3. Hi Andrew. I'm looking forward to receiving my pre-ordered copy in the next week or so. We have a collection of letters here written by my wife's grandfather whilst serving in France in 1918, continuing into 1919 whilst he was a member of the army-in-occupation. They're all written in pencil and very difficult to decipher. I appreciate the difficulties you must have experienced in the preparation of this book. You signed my copy of A Group Photograph following a presentation in Newbury. Hopefully a similar opportunity will arise at some time in the future regarding the new book. Best wishes Malcolm Martin

    1. Thanks, Malcolm - I was really lucky that Charles Bartlett's handwriting was so easy to read even in the cases where he was writing in extremely trying circumstances. Yes, I hope the opportunity comes to visit Newbury again - though who knows when that might be!