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Books

I try to keep my posts to all things plant related, whether it’s walking in the countryside, reading gardening books, growing plants or, even better, eating them. Now I can add writing about them to the list.

I could never have imagined last autumn when a publisher said they loved my idea for a book what it would have involved. Of course, at the time I thought I did. But isn’t that always the case with something new, because if we did fully understand the process we’d probably never do it in the first place. Instead we fall into things with differing degrees of naivety, discovering along the way whole new worlds that had previously been off our radar. For me writing this book has been a pretty steep learning curve. Previously I hadn’t had anything to do with the world of book publishing. I’d had some experience of research and writing long documents when I was at university but, other than that, nothing. Over the last few months a plethora of new words and phrases have appeared in documents and emails that I have never come across before and gradually the realisation has dawned on me that writing a book is not just simply getting some words on to a screen.

I’m developing a whole new appreciation of the work that goes into producing the books I love to read. It becomes a slightly obsessive process, partly because it’s not the sort of job that you can leave in the office on an evening and go home and forget about it. Ideas crop into your head whenever and wherever. As a result I have pieces of paper with frantically scrawled notes to self dotted about the house which, invariably, I can’t understand by the time I get round to looking at them properly. Because the book is about gardening and I’m growing all the plants for it, my usual, pre-book plant obsession has only multiplied. As the months progress this will be matched only by my increasing preoccupation with the weather.

This time last year I had no idea about the complicated world of rights and permissions. That means trying, and generally failing, to secure the OK to use material, be it a photograph or text from another source in your own book. Just trying to track down who owns the rights to a particular book or photograph is a task in itself and I’ve spent whole mornings in email conversations on the elusive trail of a particular sentence. All of which so often ends in frustration.

I have had to come up with a list of photographs I’ll need. So a rough draft of the text so far is covered in red pen indicating where I think a photo is needed and although I’m writing this with the benefit of spell check, it is, of course, not foolproof. For some reason my fingers insist on typing ‘form’ when I mean ‘from’ but as the former is a correctly spelt word spell check is useless. It’s surprising how many of these little things slip through. It’s crazy now to think that all of my university assignments were hand written and my 10,000 word dissertation was typed up on an electronic typewriter with a tiny screen that only showed four lines of text at any one time. There was more than one occasion when ‘Boris’, as the typewriter was known, was nearly launched from my bedroom window with sheer frustration.

Then there has been the quest for prop materials for the photos. I’ve discovered that spending several hours on cold, wet Sundays wandering around flea markets and reclamation yards is a surprisingly absorbing pastime. And there was the serendipitous introduction to a local builder on one of the aforementioned sorties which resulted in us following him along country roads to his farm. There was much consternation and amusement that I should want something he was going to get rid of as scrap. But when I explained he very kindly gave me just what I was looking for, a sheet of corrugated iron, and we spent a while chatting about his farm and his late wife and her love of gardening.

By the end of this summer I will have discovered what ‘box prominent’ and ‘box recessive’ mean, I’ll have proof read around 45,000 words and I’ll have worked out how to write an index. Apparently, there are some people who write indexes professionally. Another fact I hadn’t come across until recently.

I’m loving the whole process, though. I’ve always wanted to do something that was even just vaguely creative. I did once crochet a hat for Wellyman which he still wears today but I was still frantically finishing it one Christmas Eve and had developed repetitive strain injury in the process and so never really went any further with that. I also have no musical ability whatsoever and have no real skills on the drawing/painting front to speak of. But, for once, I feel like my creative juices have found an outlet and it’s brilliant.

So, if I disappear from the blog occasionally over the next couple of months you know where I am. I’ll be buried in my study, surrounded by illegible notes trying to find the ‘en dash’ symbol. How could I reach my mid-thirties and have never come across an en dash before?  It’s a longer hyphen for all those who are as mystified as I was.

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