Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Final part of the inside story of writing Blood and Bandages - fighting for life in a RAMC Field Ambulance 1940-1946

So there I was, paralysed with writer's block with a deadline looming.
     Up until then, I thought you got writer's block when you ran out of ideas. Not so. It's when you feel an overwhelming sense of helplessness and a complete loss of confidence. You can only think of one thing, that you were a blittering idiot to think you could do it in the first place. Thoughts unlikely to help you succeed.  Yet again, a friend came galloping to the rescue. Leia Vogelle, another screenwriter, suggested that I mix things up by tackling odd numbered chapters first or working backwards. It was a simple and brilliant idea and gave me enough oomph to leap back into the saddle.  With my confidence restored, it was time to revisit the TLC manuscript assessment in ernest.
     In his assessment, Karl French suggested four areas for improvement:-

1.     the chronology. He suggested starting with a flash forward in time to create a good hook and then flashing back to fill in the gaps. It was a more sophisicated approach than I'd intended and I had insufficient time to think it through properly. I therefore passed on that advice.

2.    the context. He advised that I needed much more and it had to be written in a clear and vivid way so the reader always knew when and where they were. He also confirmed what I already knew, that I had to move between the personal to the slightly wider context of the 214th Field Ambulance and Black Cats to the much wider context of the Fifth and Eighth Armies and World War Two. In short, the writing equivalent of playing a squeezebox. I accepted this advice.

3.      William's account. Mr French advised that all gaps in action and information should be filled with additional interview material where possible. I accepted this and there was one big gap, the reason for William's compassionate posting home at the end of the war. William had always glossed over this, but now I pressed him and discovered that it was due to highly sensitive circumstances at home. William did not want any of that information to appear in the book but some had to in order to explain the compassionate posting. After many days agonising over the right wording, we concluded that it was best told in subtext. 

4.      the edit. Mr French identified places where there was an inbalance between the space devoted to personal recollections and that to context. To correct this, he suggested that some of William's letters and stories could be reduced or condensed. He was right.

More research on context. 

    While I followed Mr French's advice, Ian Bayley of Sabrestorm Publishing worked on the book's front cover, title and price. 
     The book's front cover was crucial so Ian and I met at the Museum of Military Medicine and trawled through their photographs. One showed a nursing orderly's role at an advanced dressing station so we chose that. Ian chose other images which could illustrate the text while I asked the ever helpful Mr McIntosh, one of the curators, if he could do a technical check on the final manuscript. He agreed. 
     Next, Ian came up with two possible titles - Death without Glory or Blood and Bandages and he  decided on the book's price, £19.99. Blood and Bandages would be produced in hardback with a dustsheet and an initial print run of 1,500-2,000. With those details in place, Blood and Bandages went on pre-sale with Amazon.
     As the first deadline approached, the 'final' draft was sent to Rob McIntosh. It was nerve-wracking sending the manuscript beyond the inner sanctum of me, my closest writing friends and Sabrestorm. His response was cautiously awaited. When it came it was incredibly positive. Not only was it technically correct it was also succinct, excellent and astute. I was relieved, perhaps I really did have the ability to create the book I'd always imagined. Nevertheless, I still felt that it could be improved and Ian's patience began to wear thin as deadline after deadline slipped. 
     I finally handed it in a week after the final, final deadline. Ian gave the manuscript to his designer and shortly afterwards I received an e-version of the book. Seeing my text and William's photographs incorporated into a book was incredibly exciting. Moreover, Ian had clearly spent a considerable amount of time sourcing generic shots which were thoughtfully dotted around the text. It looked marvellous and I was comforted to know that my publisher cared about the book as much as I did.  My job now changed from being a writer to a proof-reader. 

Proofing - a ghastly job.

     It was not a natural fit and unfortunately, I went further than checking for typos and changed some of the text too! I made so many changes that the layout had to be altered and we missed the printing deadline. I could tell that Ian was not happy. While he re-submitted the book to the designer and negotiated a new printing date, I realised that I had created a problem for myself too. More amends meant more potential mistakes and when it came back, I had to weed out every single one of them. Checking every single dot, coma, hyphen, dash, capital letter, abbreviation and footnote was the most soul destroying, monotonous and exasperating part of the whole lenghty process. Despite days and days of checking, it later transpired that some typos had still managed to slip through to the final proof. 
     Unaware of this, I submitted it to Ian and once securely in his hands, things moved fast. First, I received the banner. 

William and I toasted it with a bottle of fizz.

     Next we received the first copies of the book.

 That was something special.

     There was a brief pause in action before it was time to organise the book launch. Sandra Clark, (who had been so intimately involved in the book from the outset), offered to read the script I'd based on the book with former EastEnders star and friend, Paul Moriarty. 
     
 Paul Moriarty and Sandra Clark rehearsing the script of Blood and Bandages for the book launch.

     Ian 'sold' tickets, while I organised the catering, helpers and programme. Eventually, all was set for the book launch on 28th April. 
    Over 140 people came, including representatives from the Italy Star Assocation, Surrey Infantry Museum and Mr McIntosh from the Museum of Military Medicine. Spirit FM and Juice FM sent a reporter and it was also covered in the Shoreham Herald.

 It was a joyous and moving occasion.

     After the launch, there was a flurry of media interest. William and I were interviewed on BBC Radio Surrey and Sussex, Forces TV and for a special report for BBC South East Today. I was asked to appear on The Whole Nine Yards with Roy Stannard on Seahaven FM to talk about my life and career on 8th June from 7-9pm.  Waterstones are now stocking the book. On Amazon reviews have included comments like, 'This book is fantastic', 'I couldn't put it down,' 'Rarely do you discover a book that explains wartime facts in an easy to read style without overlooking the human element of the subject.'  Movingly, strangers have contacted Bill and I to ask if William may have helped their father or could have known him. I was delighted to tell one gentleman that not only did William know his father, he appears in the book! The response has been thrilling and my next aim is to sell enough books to get Blood and Bandages onto the Sunday Times bestseller list. So, if you've already read the book, please write a review on Amazon. If not, you can buy the book here and here.
     Marketing aside, it's now time for me to put Blood and Bandages on the back burner and dust off the stories which have been languishing in my bottom drawer for almost seven years. It's been an incredible journey but I'm looking forward to returning to the world of fiction. I'll break myself in gently though by starting with a radio drama... based on Blood and Bandages.
     Thanks for dropping by and see you in a couple of weeks, when I'll be featuring another Shoreham Writer, Patrick Souilijaert, author of Stairs for Breakfast. 
     

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