An author’s angst

UNTIL NOW I HAVE been self-publishing my books satisfactorily using a print on demand company called ‘X’. I typed the manuscript on Microsoft Word using one of X’s many templates and then uploaded it to the site. In the past, X convert the uploaded document to a .pdf file. As conversion from Word to ‘pdf always results in changes in formatting, I have always had to make modifications of my Word manuscript, often several times, before I am happy with the proofs provided by X. It was always a little time-consuming but, in the end, I produced a printed book that was, if not perfect, always satisfactory.

Now, all has changed. X will no longer accept manuscripts uploaded in Word. Instead, authors are required to submit their manuscripts in the .pdf format after fulfilling extremely detailed formatting specifications, which I must admit are beyond my technical abilities at present. I discovered that a well-known on-line trading company offers a self-publishing process, which permits authors to upload their manuscripts in the Word document format on their downloadable Word templates. I tried this, but the proofs generated by the company’s publishing system looked disastrous, to say the least. Maybe, I could have tried modifying my manuscript’s layout, but there did not appear to be a facility for doing so and, I could foresee hours if not days of frustrating work ahead.

I have spent several months writing my latest book, and even longer researching it, and now I would like people to be able to enjoy it and, I hope, comment on it. So, as many people often say in India: “What to do?”

Well, here is my current solution. I am going to upload my manuscript to one of my personal websites and make it downloadable for anyone who cares to read it. It will be downloadable free of charge because I write for pleasure rather than for profit and I value the thought that people might find what I write of interest. It is more important for me that my writing gets read rather than gets sold. Eventually, I hope to be able to produce a satisfactory paperback version of my latest work, but in the meantime, watch this space!

If anyone can offer me a simple solution to my problem, I would be grateful to see your suggestion!

Anti-slavery in London’s Fitzrovia

GIGS KEBAB SHOP has been in Tottenham Street near to London’s Goodge Street station for over fifty years. Frequently, during the twelve years that I studied at University College London, I used to purchase a pita filled with lamb shish kebab from Gigs and then sit on a bench in the open space next to the nearby American church opposite Heal’s furniture shop on Tottenham Court Road. While I enjoyed the snack, hopeful pigeons used to wander around my feet, hoping for crumbs from the student’s pita. In those far-off days, I had no idea that Tottenham Street had once been the home of an important figure in the movement to abolish the slave trade. It was only this month, March 2021, that we noticed his house at 37 Tottenham Street, which is close to the northern end of Goodge Place, and used to bear the number ‘13’.

Olaudah Equiano, also known as ‘Gustavus Vassa’ (c1745-1797) was born in what is now Nigeria (see https://equiano.uk/the-equiano-project/ for a useful timeline of his life). In 1756, he was kidnapped by slavers and sent to the Caribbean, where he was sold to a British naval officer, MH Pascal. Between 1756 and 1762, he served with Pascal in the Royal Navy during the Seven Years War with France and was baptised in 1759 in London. From 1763 to 1766, he was ‘owned’ by Robert King of Montserrat. During this time, he made money ‘on the side’ and was able to purchase his freedom in 1766. The following year, we find him in London, from where he set sail to Italy and Turkey. In 1773, this intrepid man set sail on an expedition to the Arctic. Its aim was to find a new passage to India. After more adventures in the Caribbean and Central America, Equiano informed the abolitionist Granville Sharp (1735-1813) about the Zong massacre of 1781, during which more than 130 enslaved Africans were murdered on the Zong, a British slave ship.

After a trip to New York and Philadelphia in 1784-85, Equiano returned to London, where he became involved in the relief of the plight of ‘black’ people in London. After another sea voyage to Sierra Leone, we find him back in London in 1788. In his book “The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, The African. Written by Himself” (published in 1789), he recorded:

“March the 21st, 1788, I had the honour of presenting the Queen with a petition on behalf of my African brethren, which was received most graciously by her Majesty”.

The Queen was Charlotte, wife of King George III. Part of his petition was as follows:

“I presume, therefore, gracious Queen, to implore your interposition with your royal consort, in favour of the wretched Africans; that, by your Majesty’s benevolent influence, a period may now be put to their misery; and that they may be raised from the condition of brutes, to which they are at present degraded, to the rights and situation of freemen, and admitted to partake of the blessings of your Majesty’s happy government; so shall your Majesty enjoy the heartfelt pleasure of procuring happiness to millions, and be rewarded in the grateful prayers of themselves, and of their posterity.”

Although Equiano might have begun writing his “The Interesting Narrative…” in London’s Baldwin’s Gardens (number 53) near Grays Inn Road, from where he sent the petition to the Queen, he had moved to the house in Tottenham Street by the 25th of June 1788, according to an interesting article by Gene Adams, published in “Camden History Review Vol.29” (2005).  Tottenham Street is near Warren Street, where The Committee for the Relief of the London Black Poor was founded in 1786. It is also close to the former Tottenham Court Chapel founded in 1756 by George Whitefield (1714-1770), an American founder of Methodism, who had inspired Equiano. The chapel stood where the American church stands today. By 1774-5, Equiano was already a ‘Calvinist-Methodist’ Christian.

The house on Tottenham Street, which bears a plaque recording his stay there is undistinguished architecturally. Around the corner from it on the east side of the north end of Goodge Place, there is a fading mural, painted by Brian Barnes in 2000, which depicts Equiano with other local celebrities, all in 18th century attire. This is next to another mural depicting the nearby Post Office Tower and four women, two of whom are wearing Indian saris.

Equiano married an English woman, Susan Cullen, in 1792 from Soham in Cambridgeshire. They had two daughters, Anna Maria (1793–1797) and Joanna (1795–1857), who were both baptised in Soham i (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olaudah_Equiano#Marriage_and_family). The family lived in Chandos Street in London, where his youngest daughter died.  Susan died in 1796, aged 34, and Equiano the following year.

For many years after his death, it was not known where Equiano was buried. Eventually, it was discovered that he had been buried in the churchyard of Whitefield’s chapel, on the site of the present American church. Unlike many of the other corpses that had been buried there and then later shifted to a cemetery in Chingford in 1898, Equiano’s was amongst those which were not shifted and therefore must lie within the churchyard of the former Whitefield’s Tottenham Court Chapel (https://equiano.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/EQUIANO-Campaigner-MP1.pdf), probably near where I used to sit on a bench eating my kebab from Gigs. Looking at an old map, I found that the graveyard was a little to the north of where I used to munch my lunch.

Which?

oxfam BLOG

 

The Oxfam secondhand bookshop in London’s Portobello Road is one of my favourite haunts. It has a great stock of books on a variety of topics and the people who work there are very friendly.

Recently, I entered the shop ad headed towards the ‘History’ shelves. Near them, there was a male customer speaking with a female shop assistant. They were standing next to a cardboard box filled with dictionaries.

“Which of these dictionaries do you reccommend?” the customer asked, “the Collins or the Oxford?”

“It’s a a matter of taste. Both are good.”

“But which do you prefer?” asked the customer.

“I prefer Oxford.”

“But why?”

“I have always used Oxford. I like its approach to spelling. I used it a lot when I used to work in a publishing house,” responded the lady, edging away to escape her persistent questioner. He turned to me.

“Which do you prefer?” he asked me.

“Oxford.”

“And why do prefer that?”

“No good reason, ” I replied,”it was the first dictionary we were given at school. Maybe, that’s something to do with my preference.”

“And which authors do you think are good?” he asked me, adding, “I have just given away my television.”

I could not reccommend the books I have written, as that would be immodest and likely to prolong this conversation.

“Thomas Love Peacock,” was the first author’s name that entered my head.

“And?”

“You could also try John Buchan. You know the chap who wrote the Thirty-Nine Steps,” I suggested.

“Never heard of him.”

“Balzac is also good in translation,” I added.

“Hmm. What about this one?” the customer asked me, holding a novel by George Orwell.

“He’s also good.”

At that point, I was ‘saved by the bell’. My fellow customer’s mobile ‘phone began ringing at a very high volume. It sounded as if a fire alarm had gone off. He rushed out of the shop.

I went to the cash desk to pay for my latest purchase. When I had finished, my new acquaintance came back into the shop, and said to me:

“Sorry about that. You are real gent. It was nice talking with you.”

I left the shop and will probably not visit again for a long time as viral considerations are forcing it to close indefinitely.

Renaissance

COVER SMALL

 

Last year, I published a book about an almost forgotten but important aspect of Indian history that began to interest me after visiting an almost completely unknown memorial in western India (Kutch, to be more precise). 

Since then, I have shown the book to various knowledgeable readers and also revisited the memorial. 

Those who have read the book have made valuable suggestions on how to improve it, including changing the title so that its subject matter is far more obvious to a potential reader, adding a preface and a time-line, and re-ordering the subject matter.

When I re-visited the memorial in Kutch, I met people, who showed me things I had not seen or even been aware of on my first visit. They also gave me new information. In addition, I have done further reading of source material, some of which I had not known about earlier. In addition, I have obtained photographic images that I did not possess before.

I felt that since I published my original text, a new expanded and, I hope, much improved version was necessary. My ideas needed a renaissance, so to speak.

I am now awaiting a proof of my new book, and will keep you informed of developments.

 

A flight of pigeons

I FOUND MY COPY of “A Flight of Pigeons”, a short novel by Ruskin Bond (born 1934), amongst a collection of books about birds in the gift shop at Sanjay Gandhi National Park just north of Bombay. The book has little or nothing that would be of interest to ornithologists and other nature lovers.

The novel is about some English ladies during the First War of Indian Independence (‘Indian Mutiny’; 1857-58). They are some of the only survivors of an attack by Pathan forces on the town of Shahjahanpur.

The ladies are first given refuge by a Kayasth family, and then by various Pathan families. Having some Indian ancestry and a knowledge of Urdu, these English refugees were more or less successfully accepted into the Muslim Pathan families.

The young daughter, Ruth, becomes the object of the amorous intentions of one of the Pathans, who wants to marry her. Ruth’s mother has to try to prevent this from happening. I will not reveal what happens because I do not want to spoil the enjoyment of the reader of this simply told, compelling short book.

This is the first book I have read by Ruskin Bond. If it is typical of his writing, then I want to read more. Like the Albanian novelist Ismail Kadare, Bond skilfully manages to pack much into his book with great economy of words.

A suitcase of memories

Memories of childhood. Here is the introduction to a travel book, “CHARLIE CHAPLIN WAVED TO ME”, which I published several years ago:

charlie

The attic of my parents’ house in north London contained a number of old Revelation suitcases. These were plastered with ageing colourful paper stickers bearing the names of shipping lines and also of places such as: Cape Town, Southampton, Harwich, New York, Montreal, and Rotterdam. Had they been animate and able to speak, what tales they would have been able to tell!

If, as a child, I had become a suitcase, I too would have been covered with an exotic assortment of stickers including some of those mentioned above. But, I did not become a piece of baggage, and the stickers that I carry are not made of paper. Instead, they are memories stuck in various compartments of my brain. Unlike the inanimate objects in the attic in the eaves of our house, I am able to speak: to divulge my impressions of the places that I visited in my childhood; to describe the remarkable people I met in those places; and to reveal the unusual experiences that resulted from travelling with my learned father and my talented mother.

This book contains my memories of the holidays and trips that I took with my parents, mostly during the first eighteen years of my life. They are worth relating because they differed markedly from the kinds of holidays that most people took during the 1960s and 1970s. Rather than exposing their children to the sun on the beach, my parents preferred to expose my sister and me to cultural experiences that, they hoped, would benefit us in the future. This was due to my father’s great interest in the history of art, which resulted from my mother being an artist. Whereas now I appreciate what they did for me then, I did not always do so at the time.

Please join me now as I examine the stickers in my memory – the souvenirs of many years gone past. Let them reveal to you how interesting school holidays can be even if they only include the rarest of glimpses of the sea and an almost total absence of ‘child-friendly’ activities.

These memories of my childhood travels are illustrated with photographs, all of which were taken by me or with one of my own cameras unless otherwise stated. I was given my first simple camera when I was about 6 or 7 years old. It was not given to me by my parents, who never took photographs, but by my uncle Sven who was a keen photographer. His grandfather had been a pioneer of professional photography, as I will describe below. I will begin my narrative by choosing a label that could have been pasted on to my suitcase of reminiscences during the late 1950s or any time in the 1960s. It bears the name “Soho”. I have chosen it amongst all of the others because it provides a good introduction to my mother, who affected so much of what we did as a family and what will be related in this book.

 

CHARLIE CHAPLIN WAVED TO ME

(ISBN: 9781291845051)

is available at:

Amazon, bookdepository.com, lulu.com , and on Kindle

Bachelor of Arts

booknarayan

 

Rasipuram Krishnaswamier (‘RK’) Iyer Narayan (1905-2001) was born in Madras (now ‘Chennai’) in southern India. He was a prolific writer of fiction and non-fiction. Many of his fictional works are set in the imaginary southern Indian town called Malgudi. Until recently when I bought a copy of “Bachelor of Arts” (first published in 1937 when India was ruled by the British), I had never read any of Narayan’s works. 

“Bachelor of Arts” is a delightful simply told tale about a young man, Chandran, whom we meet while he is completing his BA degree. We follow his life’s strangely interesting path after he graduates until he … well, I won’t give away the story. Despite the simplicity and clarity of the story telling, Narayan subtly changes the mood of the story as it progresses. I liked the way he did this. Another interesting aspect of this novel is the gentle way in which the author criticises the British imprerialistic attitude. I was also excited by the way Narayan, an Indian, portrays the ‘Indian-ness’ of his characters. As Grahame Greene wrote of Narayan in the introduction to the edition I read:

Without him I could never have known what it is like to be Indian.”

I agree wholeheartedly with what Greene wrote. I plan to read more of Narayan’s works as “Bachelor of Arts” has whetted my apetite successfully.

Creation and correction

My latest book, whose subject I will not yet reveal, is almost but not quite ready for publishing.

 

ancient blur calligraphy czterolinia

 

I have reached the stage with my latest book where I am looking out for things like: putting commas where full stops ought to be and vice versa; checking spelling; replacing a word or phrase with a more suitable one; making sure that names start with upper-case letters; and so on. In other words, I am trying to edit my text prior to publishing it. I read my manuscript over and over again, hoping to spot errors. However, frequent perusals of a familiar text can cause errors to be missed. So, I will ask someone else to proof-read my work. Even then, one cannot be sure that all ‘blemishes’ have been identified, but two sets of eyes are better than one when it comes to spotting ‘typos’ and other mistakes.

Even when it has been proof-read, there is still much to do before the book can be published. I will need to choose some illustrations and decide where to place them. I will also have to re-format my text so that it conforms to the publisher’s requirements. And then, when the book has been published, the really hard part begins: marketing my work!

 

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

So near, but so far

WRITING

 

I have been working on the manuscript of my latest book, about whose subject I will write sooner or later.

I have reached a stage at which I keep reading through the whole text, trying to put myself in the place of a potential reader, and from that position I make modifications, which I hope will improve the quality of the book. Each time I look at it, I make more changes, many corrections, some additions, and many more deletions to eliminate my natural tendency towards verbosity. So, my book is nearing completion, but has far to go before publishing it.

Soon, I will be ready to show my manuscript to some kind volunteers to get their candid (I hope) opinions, comments, and criticisms on what I have produced so far.  If I do not do this, I will become self-satisfied and the book might begin to suffer. Also, I need to know whether what I have written is, in priciple, likely to be worth reading! Then, it will be back to the ‘drawing board’ to modify my work in the light of what my test readers tell me.

Finally, I will need to proof-read my book, format it properly, and add a few illustrations before publishing my ‘oeuvre’. From conceiving an idea to finishing a book based on it is a long process, frustrating at times but largely enjoyable.

A few words

 

For the past few months I have been working on the manuscript of my latest book. I am not telling you what is going to be about. You will have to wait to find out!

I was reasonably happy about the way it was going, but a little worried that I was including too much about matters distant to the topic on which I was planning to focus. Some of the less relevant material might easily have been considered controversial and possibly hurt the sentiments of some of my potential readers. This worried me somewhat.

A couple of days ago, an old friend, whom we had not seen for a few months, came to dinner at our home. During the meal, I told him what I was writing about. Immediately, he reacted that what I feared was controversial might easily get me into trouble if my text was read by a certain type of person. 

For a couple of hours, I was downcast. I thought that maybe I should just abandon the project, which has taken up so much of my spare time during the last few months.

Next morning, I woke early, feeling inspired. I turned on the computer and removed the ptentially ofensive material from my draft text. Then, I read through what was left of it, and realised that by trimming it down, my text was far better than it had been before. It had become tighter and more focussed on the subject I want to portray.

I am always amazed how important a very few words of advice can be.