Michelle Cooper's Blog
November 20, 2017
The arrival of ebooks has made it much easier for self-publishers to get their work into the hands of readers, but I always knew I wanted to see Dr Huxley’s Bequest as an actual paper book that I could pick up (and be able to read, because I don’t own any kind of ereader). But how does a self-publisher on a limited budget, expecting to sell only a few books, go about turning their work into printed books?
At first I assumed I’d have to do it the way that traditional publishers print books, just on a much smaller scale – that is, pay a printer to produce a limited number of copies using a traditional press. But this means working out how many books you want and paying for all of them up front. I did consider using a crowdsourcing platform (such as Kickstarter) to fund a small print run, but the more I researched, the less attractive this option appeared. These companies take a significant percentage of the money raised and have all sorts of unappealing conditions attached. Anyway, I doubted I’d attract enough contributors to make it worthwhile. And even if I myself paid for a print run, where would I store all the books? How would I sell and distribute them to readers?
Then I did some research and discovered the amazing world of digital Print on Demand (POD) publishing. This means that you print only the copies that have been ordered, when they’re ordered. You can order just one book for yourself or hundreds of books. The POD publisher will print them in a couple of days and send them to you – or, even better, send them to the bookstore or library service that ordered them, charge them the price you’ve chosen for your book, deduct the printing and distribution costs, and pay you the remainder.
This is how it works. You, the author/self-publisher, send the POD publisher two pdf files – one pdf of the inside of the book, laid out the same way any printed book is, and one pdf of the cover art, with front, back and spine art fitted into a template that the POD publisher supplies. They store these files in their computer and whenever a book is ordered (either by you or by booksellers), this happens:
Isn’t that cool? You can choose from a wide range of book sizes. You can print paperback or hardcover copies with a range of binding types and jackets and types of paper. I can confirm that the printed paperbacks look just like the trade paperbacks you can buy in a bookstore. The only issue I noticed with the particular POD publisher I used (Lightning Source/IngramSpark) was that some of the colours on the cover were lighter than I expected, which I’ve heard isn’t uncommon with digital printing-on-demand. And you can’t do really fancy things with cover design, such as cut-outs and embossed lettering. It’s also more expensive to print per book than if you printed a thousand copies at the same time using traditional off-set printing. However, for a self-publisher, print-on-demand is an affordable and practical way to produce print books. You don’t have to pay warehouse costs and you don’t waste any paper if your books don’t sell.
The other good thing about IngramSpark, for Australian self-publishers, is that they have printing facilities around the world, including in Australia, and they can deposit your book sale earnings directly into your Australian bank account. That’s one of the reasons I ended up going with IngramSpark rather than Amazon Createspace, the other big name in the self-publishing world. I also thought IngramSpark would work well for me because they’re connected to dozens of online bookstores and library suppliers around the world. If you choose to distribute through IngramSpark, you give them information about your book (cover image, book summary, author information and so on) and they send it to all their affiliated booksellers, who then sell the book through their websites and catalogues. If you choose Amazon Createspace, the book is only sold through Amazon sites – which do reach a lot of bookbuyers, but not everyone wants to buy their books from Amazon.
For ebooks, a similar process occurs. The file is uploaded to IngramSpark in a different format (epub rather than pdf) and it doesn’t have to get printed, but it’s still listed and sold through a range of international booksellers, including Kobo, Apple iBooks and Barnes & Noble. However, if you want your ebook to be available for Kindle readers, you need to format it as a mobi file, set up an account with Amazon, and sell it through them. I had no idea which ebook format was likely to be more popular with Dr Huxley’s Bequest readers, so I’ve made it available in both formats. I’ll be interested to see the sales numbers and how much I earn from each.
I have skimmed over a very important step, though. You can’t upload a Word document, no matter how pretty it looks, to a POD publisher. So how do you turn your edited manuscript into formats that will look good when they’re read in either print or ebook form? You either do it yourself, which requires a fair amount of technological and design skill, or you pay a professional to do it for you. Now, remember back when I started this series and I said it could end up being a What Not To Do? Yep, this is the bit where I made All The Mistakes. That’s coming up in the next post.
Previously in Adventures in Self-Publishing:
November 16, 2017
Dr Huxley’s Bequest is about two Australian teenagers, Rosy and Jaz, who live in Sydney and speak Australian English. I think most of their Australianisms make sense in context. However, when I uploaded the Kindle version, Amazon.com was VERY CONCERNED about terms such as ‘esky’ and ‘ute’. So, for those readers who aren’t Australian, here’s some additional information about the Australian terms and cultural references in Dr Huxley’s Bequest.
Firstly, an esky is a portable cooler or ice box, usually made of sturdy polypropylene. Inside is ice or those freezable ‘ice’ bricks, which keep your freshly-caught fish, barbecue meat or canned drinks nice and cold. Eskys are usually big enough to use as a picnic seat or, if your boat sinks, a flotation device. Apparently in New Zealand, they call them CHILLY BINS! New Zealanders have the best slang.
A biscuit is a cookie. I’ve talked about this before.
Australians, including Rosy, are very fond of putting slices of pickled beetroot in their salad sandwiches and hamburgers. We also put canned pineapple on pizza.
A ute, or utility vehicle, is a pickup truck with an enclosed cabin for a couple of passengers and an open flat-bed platform at the back. According to Wikipedia, the Australian ute was “the result of a 1932 letter from the unnamed wife of a farmer in Victoria, Australia asking for ‘a vehicle to go to church in on a Sunday and which can carry our pigs to market on Mondays’.” Traditionally, Australian utes have a couple of hay bales and some cattle dogs bouncing around in the back. In Dr Huxley’s Bequest, Jaz’s dad keeps his gardening equipment in his ute.
A eucalypt is a eucalyptus tree or a ‘gum tree’, native to Australia and to other parts of the world. You already know that, don’t you? I don’t know why Amazon.com had a problem with the word. Anyway, there are hundreds of different types of eucalypts, all beautiful and usually home to a lot of interesting and extremely noisy wildlife. Some of these animals are extremely possessive of ‘their’ gum tree:
While on the topic of big bullies, Ned Kelly was a murderous, racist thug who is inexplicably worshipped by many contemporary Australians. He was born in 1854, the son of an Irish convict, and started his criminal career at the age of fourteen when he bashed and robbed a Chinese-Australian farmer. He spent the next ten years stealing cattle and horses, robbing farmers and shops and banks, and killing people. He’s best known for his decision to make body armour and helmets out of old ploughs. This, he asserted, would be bullet-proof. It was, but it was also extremely heavy, which made movement difficult, and it didn’t cover his legs. So when Ned Kelly was finally cornered, the police shot him in the legs and he fell over and was captured, and later hanged. Captain Moonlite is another bushranger mentioned in Dr Huxley’s Bequest.
Finally, Rosy makes a brief reference to ‘Slip, Slop, Slap’. This was a very successful advertising campaign in the 1980s, devised by the Cancer Council of Victoria to encourage Australians to protect themselves from the sun. That’s because Australia is a very hot place and contains a lot of fair-skinned people vulnerable to deadly skin cancers. In the ad, a singing, dancing seagull tells people to Slip on a shirt, Slop on some sunscreen lotion and Slap on a hat:
If I’ve missed anything and you find something confusingly Australian in the book, feel free to ask about it!
November 13, 2017
My new book, Dr Huxley’s Bequest, is out this Wednesday, 15 November. I just received my author copies of the paperback. It has a very nice cover:
And there are illustrations inside:
It’s also available in various ebook formats.
Which type of book should I buy?
The paperback has illustrations, author notes, a bibliography, a comprehensive index and a pretty cover.
However, the font is fairly small, so if you prefer large print, I recommend choosing an ebook edition, which you can resize to suit your reading needs. The ebooks are available in two formats. There’s a Kindle (mobi) version for Kindle readers and other devices that have the Kindle app installed. There’s also an epub version, for iPads, iPhones, Nook readers, Kobo readers, and pretty much every other sort of ebook reading device. The ebooks don’t have the illustrations or the index, but do have a search function if you want to find keywords.
Where can I buy the book?
Here are some of the online stores where you can buy Dr Huxley’s Bequest. I’ve listed stockists according to geographical region, because delivery costs are cheaper and you won’t have to pay currency conversion fees if you buy locally.
You can pre-order now and they will send the book to you on Wednesday.
Will it be in my local bookshop?
Maybe, if you ask them to order it for you! But possibly not even then. Bookshops don’t usually stock self-published titles.
Can I borrow it from my library?
Maybe, if you live in Australia. If it’s not in your library’s catalogue, you can ask your librarian to order it. The book is listed with ALS Library Services and it has a National Library of Australia catalogue number.
If you’d like to know anything else about how to purchase Dr Huxley’s Bequest, ask away! (I am planning on continuing my Adventures in Self-Publishing series of blog posts so you can find out more about How Not To Make The Same Mistakes I Made.)
Oh, and Dr Huxley’s Bequest is also listed on Goodreads, if you feel like leaving a rating or a review.
November 6, 2017
I’ve updated my website with an excerpt of my new book, Dr Huxley’s Bequest.
There’s also a virtual tour of the real places explored in Dr Huxley’s Bequest, but it will probably make more sense after you’ve read the book. Teaching resources will be available for download in January.
Dr Huxley’s Bequest will be available in paperback and in ebook versions (epub and Kindle) later this month. I’ll put up links when it goes on sale.
October 22, 2017
The first piece of advice most self-publishers hear is that there are two areas in which they must get professional help: editing and cover design. I’ve previously discussed how useful a professional editor was in preparing my manuscript of Dr Huxley’s Bequest for publication. Now I’m going to talk about cover design.
A book’s cover is a vital part of selling the book to readers, so it’s important that it conveys the book’s ideas, genre and audience in an efficient but attractive manner. There was no way I was going to attempt to make my own book cover, because I have no design expertise whatsoever. I am, however, able to recognise bad book covers and I could see that a lot of self-published book covers were absolutely terrible. Most of the companies that offer services to self-publishers include reasonably-priced cover design, but cover samples on their websites are universally awful – cheap-looking, genre-inappropriate fonts, ineptly Photoshopped across generic images. I really think this is one area where you get what you pay for.
I wanted my book to look professional, so I searched the professional directories of Australian book designers and eventually found Nada Backovic, who had lots of experience working with Australian publishers, was willing to work with a self-publisher and could fit into my publication schedule and budget. My first task was to prepare a design brief for her. This contained technical specifications (for example, the width and length of the book and the text that needed to go on the front and back cover and the spine) but was mostly about the information that the cover needed to convey. I sent Nada a one-page synopsis of the book, a sample chapter and a description of who the book’s buyers and readers would be. My book, Dr Huxley’s Bequest, involves the characters embarking on a quest to identify thirteen objects, so I gave Nada a list of these objects and included photos of those that might look good on the cover. I included some of the illustrations from the book, photos of the real-life setting, and some book covers that had appealed to me, for books about similar themes or for similar readers.
This was the stage when I began to understand the concerns of traditional publishers about marketing this particular book. It wasn’t that I’d doubted them when they said it would be too difficult to market (presumably, they knew more about book marketing than I did). It was just that I didn’t fully comprehend all the practical implications back then. I have to admit, Dr Huxley’s Bequest is a weird book. It doesn’t fit neatly into one marketing category, the way a Regency romance or an action thriller or a paranormal horror novel would. This meant that I ended up with a design brief full of contradictory statements. It’s non-fiction, but it’s a mystery story so it needs to look entertaining and fiction-y! But it’s full of history and science and ethical questions, so the cover needs to convey thoughtfulness! But also humour! And it should appeal to teenage girls, but I don’t want it to look all pink and glittery and stereotypically feminine! Oh, and it also has to appeal to parents and teachers! And I hate yellow covers! Don’t make it yellow!
It is a measure of Nada’s professionalism that she did not run screaming into the night when she received this brief, but instead quickly produced eight attractive, appropriate, non-yellow cover roughs. Four of the covers featured lots of images, effectively conveying the idea of thirteen historical objects. But these covers looked a bit cluttered and the book’s theme was already being conveyed by the subtitle, A History of Medicine in Thirteen Objects. So I concentrated on the other four covers, which were based around a single illustration of a cross-sectioned skull, with a pink tongue sticking out. It was a really good, strong image that related to the book’s themes, but I worried it might look a bit too serious and gory and put off some potential teenage girl readers. Then I noticed that some of the other covers included a composite image of two of the thirteen objects, a stone bust of Hippocrates and a skeleton illustration from Vesalius. Nada had cleverly combined them so that the Enlightenment skeleton was leaning upon the Classical bust, looking down on it with fondness and some amusement. That was it. That was the image I wanted for the cover.
But there was also the font to decide on. It’s amazing how the lettering for a title can convey so much information about the book’s readership. In the end, I thought an elaborate Victorian-style font would fit the title best, once some of the flourishes had been removed to make the lettering easier to read. The subtitle and author information would be in an old-fashioned, slightly wonky typewriter-style font that helped to convey the non-fiction nature of the book. I considered fonts that looked more ‘junior readership’, but ultimately, I didn’t think they worked. Readers drawn in by a wacky, zany title font would expect a light, fun, super-easy read and that’s not really what the book is like. It does have jokes and pictures, but it’s also fairly long and aimed at thoughtful readers.
Then came a series of small tweaks to the placement and colour of the images and text. For example, at one stage the bust of Hippocrates was staring off the page, which I thought drew the reader’s gaze away from the title, so Nada tilted Hippocrates slightly on his base, which also made the image look a bit more dynamic and amusing. I’d initially wanted the colours to be plain red, white and blue, but Nada correctly pointed out that the cover would look warmer with a cream background and more red. (We even experimented with pink text and then a pink background. It didn’t work.)
Then there was the back cover. There wasn’t much space once the text was in place, but it needed some pictures. I wondered if one of the medicinal plants mentioned in the book might suit and fortunately found a lovely red opium poppy from a historical botanical collection, as well as some vintage bee illustrations (honey also makes an important appearance in the book). Nada had the good idea of adding the poppy to the front cover, weaving it through the beard of poor long-suffering Hippocrates, then she stuck some bees on the book spine, and then we were done!
One thing I forgot to mention, which is important for self-publishers on a tight budget – if you want to use fonts or photos or illustrations, you may have to pay licence fees, unless you’re very careful and clever about your choices. In the case of Dr Huxley’s Bequest, I was able to locate appropriate historical images that were in the public domain or covered by Creative Commons licences (that is, free of charge but I needed to acknowledge the licence holder in the book, which I did). The only image I paid for were the vintage bees, which cost $36 from iStock. It’s important to note that some photos, even historical ones, can cost thousands of dollars to use. I have no idea how much it cost my American publishers to usethe beautiful Frances McLaughlin-Gill photograph on the cover of The FitzOsbornes in Exile, but I’m sure it was a lot. (It was totally worth it, though. That gorgeous cover was responsible for a lot of readers picking up the book and then reading the whole series.)
Oh, so I guess I’d better show you the cover of Dr Huxley’s Bequest. Here’s the front:
And here’s the back cover:
Previously in Adventures in Self-Publishing
September 22, 2017
I did the illustrations for my new book myself, mostly because I was on a limited budget and couldn’t afford to pay illustrator fees. These illustrations definitely don’t look like the work of a professional, which is okay because they’re supposed to have been done by the thirteen-year-old narrator. But as I was working on my less-than-perfect illustrations, I remembered how much I used to enjoy drawing when I was a teenager. I did art as an elective subject at high school and proved to be spectacularly untalented at most artistic endeavours – painting, sculpture, pottery, screen printing – although I was okay at drawing. Maybe the idea of perspectives and vanishing points and so on appealed to my nerdy maths brain. Anyway, I had so much fun doing my recent book drawings that I decided I wanted to do a bit more guided practice and eventually found this book by Mark Kistler, who apparently is famous in the US and used to be on TV.
This book was a great introduction to basic drawing techniques. It’s designed for absolute beginners with no confidence in their own abilities, so it was ideal for me, given I’d barely picked up a pencil in thirty years. There are thirty lessons, which you could do in thirty days, although I didn’t have time to spare every day for a month and so I stretched the lessons out over three months. The lessons teach the fundamental ‘laws’ (foreshortening, placement, overlapping, shadow and so on) that make pencil marks on a page look like three-dimensional objects, but it’s done in a simple, easy-to-follow manner that provides quick success and builds confidence.
I zoomed through the early lessons on spheres, cubes, spheres inside hollow cubes, pyramids and textures, coming unstuck only when I hit cylinders. Something about the combination of curved and straight lines did my head in. But the book gives lots of practice in each skill, over multiple lessons, and so I persisted, valiantly producing wonky tins of tomatoes:
And wonky tubes:
And wonky mugs with wonky handles:
Then came interiors and exteriors of buildings in one-point and two-point perspective. Phew, mostly straight lines again, what a relief:
Mark Kistler is a cartoon illustrator, so he also provides instruction in some basic cartooning skills, such as 3D lettering and cartoon whooshes and cartoon planets consisting of volcano craters and levitating boulders. Then in Lesson 28, we suddenly had to draw faces. This seemed an enormous leap to me, but once I started, I realised I was using the same principles and skills I’d been practising all along. Admittedly, my first face was only vaguely face-like, but I kept going for a few days and my face drawings got better and better:
The final lesson, though, was to draw your own hand. You know what fingers are? CYLINDERS! It’s also pretty difficult using your right hand to hold the pencil while you draw your own left hand. I am definitely in need of more hand-drawing practice, ideally using someone else’s hand as a model.
The good thing about drawing is that you don’t need anything except a pencil and some paper. Kistler provides suggestions for a few other useful drawing tools, but they weren’t expensive. I ended up spending less than twenty dollars in total on a nice thick sketch book, a smudging tool, some pencils and a nifty retractable eraser. Kistler is also a fan of tracing as an instructional method and he recommends a complicated arrangement involving a transparent clipboard, erasable markers and an easel. I couldn’t be bothered with that and honestly didn’t think tracing was going to help me develop my skills, so I ignored all the tracing instructions. The lessons also have optional ‘bonus challenges’ to extend your skills – sometimes I did them, sometimes I didn’t, depending on how enjoyable or interesting they looked. But by the end of the book’s lessons, I definitely felt more skilled and confident about drawing. I found I really enjoyed relaxing over a sketching activity for twenty minutes at the end of a long, stressful day and I plan to keep on drawing. If you want to learn to draw, but lack confidence and don’t want to shell out for expensive drawing lessons, You Can Draw in 30 Days is highly recommended. Two smudgy thumbs up!
September 18, 2017
Summer holidays are nearly over, but first there’s the gymkhana. (I have never had to write that word before and I’m struck by how weird it is. What have horses got to do with gyms? According to my dictionary, ‘gymkhana’ was derived in the 19th century “from Urdu gendḵānah ‘racket court,’ from Hindi geṁd ‘ball’ + Persian ḵānah ‘house’ … altered by ‘gymnasium’ via Latin from Greek ‘exercise naked,’ from gumnos ‘naked’”. Maybe related to polo?)
Anyway, Nicola is riding Mr Buster, Patrick’s pony, in various ‘fun’ events like Potato Races and Musical Poles, which she’s only doing because she needs to win some money to pay for Sprog’s upkeep. When she arrives, there are a lot of Serious Pony People doing horsey things (“Nicola didn’t often feel shy or out of it, but she did now”). Worse, there are death glares from a girl who turns out to be Wendy Reynolds, the girl Lawrie accidentally imitated at the elocution competition and who mistakes Nicola for Lawrie. Uh oh…
Ginty turns up to watch, because the other Marlows are all busy killing wasps at Trennels. Ginty, it turns out, is what Nicola calls “a Pony Club type”, although maybe Ginty gets it from her mother (“Mummy was talking about hunting this winter”). So, Mrs Marlow must have had a fairly posh country upbringing, to have grown up hunting? Wendy Reynolds and her brother Oliver have TEN horses and win just about every event. But Wendy gets her revenge on the Marlows by barging Mr Buster, telling Nicola the apple in the obstacle race has a wasp on it, and worst of all, riding her horse at Mr Buster, causing him to hurt his leg and Nicola to fall off.
Patrick is quite rightly furious about Mr Buster (although, of course, doesn’t even check to see if Nicola’s hurt) and tells off Oliver. But then Peter and Lawrie arrive with a dramatic account of how the wasp-killing in the attics turned into Trennels nearly burning down and it was ALL ANN’S FAULT:
“…and there was Ann, holding a candle, exactly as if she wanted to start a fire and the beam smoking away like mad … Ann went completely and utterly mad and called the fire brigade! … And Daddy was livid and Ann couldn’t say anything, ’cos it was her fault …”
I must be missing something, because wasn’t it a good thing to call the fire brigade? They couldn’t be sure they’d put the fire out and it was a wooden roof. Unless they have to pay lots of money for the fire fighters? Is this meant to show that Ann subconsciously wants to destroy the family home? Or is this simply another dig at Ann’s well-meaning but useless attempts at helping?
Lawrie also learns about Wendy’s revenge and goes off to recite the poem again to Wendy. So there is some sort of justice for poor Nicola.
Rowan and Patrick then compete in a tense show-jumping event, which is extra-tense for Nicola because Rowan has promised to share her prize money if she wins. But alas, Rowan’s horse falls and Patrick wins! What will happen to poor Sprog now? Except then Oliver Reynolds comes up and offers Nicola all of his and his sister’s prize money. I think this is meant to present an ethical dilemma, but of course Nicola refuses the money, just as she refused to report Wendy’s cheating to the judges. I’m not really sure what this says about Marlow morality. It’s important never to make a fuss? Leave judgement of others to God?
Nicola miserably contemplates how to tell Patrick to let Sprog go, while Patrick gloats all the way back about his win. At home, he unkindly tells his father “the entire Gymkhana consisted of Marlows lying in heaps in the ring”, but then his father hands over a cheque to Nicola from selling The Boke of Falconerie. It’s for eighty-seven pounds! Nicola is rich and Sprog is saved! Hooray! Good has triumphed, courtesy of God or the Fates (or Antonia Forest).
And that’s the end of Falconer’s Lure. There was a lot to enjoy in it, but I do think my favourite Marlow book so far has been Autumn Term. I am really looking forward to getting back to the Kingscote girls in End of Term, which I’ve ordered from Girls Gone By.
You might also be interested in reading:
‘Falconer’s Lure’ by Antonia Forest
‘Falconer’s Lure’, Part Two
‘Falconer’s Lure’, Part Three
‘Falconer’s Lure’, Part Four
‘Falconer’s Lure’, Part Five
‘Falconer’s Lure’, Part Six
‘Falconer’s Lure’, Part Seven
September 16, 2017
I’m sorry for the lengthy delay in blog posting, but I’ve been caught up in a flurry of self-publishing tasks (SO MUCH TO DO). Anyway, on with the reading.
Chapter X: High Diving
The Sprog is not doing well at the whole learning-to-hunt thing, so Patrick loses his temper and says they must abandon the sweet little merlin to the wild, even though he “probably wouldn’t survive the winter”. Nicola is horrified and offers to take over all his care, but Patrick refuses:
“Jael was dead, Regina had abandoned him, and The Sprog (regarded as a hawk) was useless. He didn’t want him hanging round, a reminder of better things, and, in an unhappy, dog-in-the-mangerish sort of way, he didn’t want Nicola to have him either.”
So they leave poor Sprog in a field – but he flies after Nicola and lands on her shoulder! So she is going to look after him through the rest of the holidays and then take him with her to school. Awww! I like Sprog. Even though I’m not really sure how keeping a hawk at school is going to work.
The rest of the chapter is about the family at the beach doing various sea-related activities, in their own unique Marlow ways. Nicola, for once, is merely a spectator. Lawrie forgets her swimming cap, comes spectacularly last in Beginners’ Swimming, cries about it, has to be coaxed into her diving event, performs creditably, throws a tantrum when Peter steals her wishbone at lunch, then goes off happily to her tea party with the actress-judge. As Peter astutely observes, Lawrie “might be two years younger than Nick sometimes, instead of only two hours.”
Rowan effortlessly wins her swimming and diving events. Ginty, also a good diver although she lost her last school competition, didn’t even want to come to the beach, but was forced along by the family. She decides to disappear after lunch, so she can be all special and sorrowful in solitude. She is, at least, aware that her ‘friend’ Unity is ridiculous and that it’s all posturing. I do have some sympathy for Ginty in this chapter, because if you can’t be a bit emo when you’re a fifteen-year-old girl, then when can you? Unfortunately, she hasn’t told anyone where she’s gone, which worries Karen and prompts Ann to walk all the way to Trennels and back in the heat, searching for her. Mrs Marlow is the most annoyed she’s been so far when she finds out about this, snapping: “Another time, if someone wants you to do something you don’t want to do, say so.” Except Ginty DID say so, and no one paid any attention to her! She was forced to enter the events and forced to come along! Anyway, she does end the chapter resolving to drop Unity, so that’s one good thing.
Apart from spending hours looking for Ginty, poor Ann has to put up with constant condescension from her siblings. Peter and Nicola are so blatantly rude that Rowan tells them off for being unkind, which shocks Nicola. But even then Rowan is patronising, saying “those sweetly pretty thoughts [Ann] gets are quite genuine” and “she’s a kind girl, after her fashion” and that Ann just can’t help being “sloppy”. If I were Ann, I’d leave home as soon as I possibly could. She could train as a nurse and then go off to work in Africa or somewhere else that’s far, far away from her family.
However, this chapter is mostly about Peter’s holiday finally improving. He wins his sailing race by ten lengths and his father is observed looking “surprised but very pleased” (for once). Mind you, Peter’s a Dartmouth cadet and a Marlow, so he’s had far more experience and training than any of his competitors. Nicola cheers loudly when he wins and is instantly hushed because even though Marlows are expected to win everything, one mustn’t ever celebrate that in public. Then there’s a long, tense high-diving contest between Peter and Patrick, in which Peter has to battle his fear of heights:
“He started up the ladder, thinking, as he had so often thought before, that once he’d done this, he’d find himself on the other side of fear, like jumping through a paper hoop. And then he knew he wouldn’t. There would always be more paper hoops.”
Anyway, he triumphs. But then, when Patrick goes to congratulate him, Peter snubs him! And then Patrick apologises for calling Peter a lily-livered loon and a murderer and Peter oh-so-graciously deigns to forgive Patrick! Can I just point out that Peter has NEVER apologised for putting Patrick’s life in danger on the cliffs or thanked Patrick for holding him safely in place till their rescue or said sorry for killing Jael. If anyone deserves to feel injured, it’s Patrick!
Right, that’s it, I’ve had it with Peter. He’s so awful, he makes Patrick look good.
Next, Chapter XI: The Jump-Off
September 4, 2017
I wasn’t familiar with the song Nicola performed in the previous chapter, so I looked it up and found this beautiful version by mezzo-soprano Sophie Macrae:
It’s so sad. No wonder people kept bursting into tears when they heard it. Anyway, on with the reading.
Chapter IX: Lost Hawk
Patrick and Nicola go chasing off after Regina the peregrine falcon, who was startled into flight by Tessa. Hours later, they track Regina down to where she’s settled on a church tower in a village the other side of the Crowlands. Patrick decides they have to stay there until sunrise, but it’s okay – they can spend the night with his cousin, the local vicar. First he goes off to phone his mother, who is in a panic because she thinks the children have disappeared because they’ve been on the cliffs again. This seems a perfectly reasonable fear to me, but Patrick is “distinctly injured” by her assumption that he’s done something thoughtless and dangerous.
Then he goes off to talk to his cousin, who turns out to be away, replaced by an unfamiliar locum vicar with “absolute hordes of strange children”, all being “dreadfully friendly”. Oh, the horror! Patrick runs away, pursued by a bemused Nicola:
“… here was Patrick still flushed with embarrassment, his hands still shaking as they held the reins. Suddenly Nicola remembered something he had said that very first morning: I can’t meet eight perfectly strange people before breakfast. And he never had been to Trennels, either. It came to Nicola that Patrick, more than anyone she had met so far, was genuinely and painfully shy.”
I would usually have deepest sympathies for a shy character, but Patrick isn’t just shy. He’s also got a massive superiority complex, is completely self-centred, and seems to have very little interest in understanding other people’s motivations or emotions. But I do think this scene demonstrates how empathetic Nicola is – that she feels for him, even though she has almost no fear of anything herself.
Nicola is also happy that she’ll get to sleep under the stars for once. Patrick sends her off to get milk from a farm (“You go. You look younger and more in need of milk.”), and they find a river to water the horses and have their own Famous-Five-style picnic supper on the grassy bank (but draw the line at whittling themselves toothbrushes out of twigs, as people do “in books”). Then they find a haystack to sleep in, which means actually burying themselves neck-deep in the hay. I like all these little details, including Bucket the dog looking “mildly surprised” when he’s told the hay is his kennel for the night. I did find myself thinking, “But … snakes! And spiders!” until I remembered this was tame English countryside, not the Australian bush, so there was unlikely to be any deadly wildlife lurking about.
Patrick and Nicola also have a philosophical chat about death. Patrick discusses what he wants to do with his life, “provided one really got one’s three-score-and-ten” and Nicola, remembering Jon, says, “I suppose one ought to do all the things one most wants to first, just in case.”
Patrick also reveals that an invisible ghost walks up and down the corridor outside his bedroom, and that one night he went out to meet it:
“ … then it – got awfully cold suddenly. I’ve always thought it must have walked through me, but it may just have been me being petrified […] But – well, I’ve never told anyone this before, because I don’t really believe it myself. But the next day I fell off Leeper’s Bluff.”
Spooky! (Except possibly he talked himself into a state of anxiety before and after the ‘ghost’ encounter, which meant his sleep was disturbed, and it made him so distracted and fatigued that he fell off the cliff the next day. Which is how you’d interpret this episode, if you were a boring rationalist like me.)
The next morning, Regina flies off and Patrick seems calm and resigned about it, to Nicola’s surprise. He admits that it was “madly stupid” to expect anyone to keep Regina at school, and that he’d only chased after her yesterday because “you know how one goes on with a thing, until you’ve simply got to stop because it isn’t there any more.” But luckily, they find her caught in an old wartime camouflage net, so they’re able to remove her bells and jesses and then off she flies, completely free, not even recognising Patrick any more.
Now there’s only sweet little Sprog left in the hawk-house. Nicola wants to keep him, but Patrick is adamant – Sprog must learn how to hunt properly and then he’ll be set free, too.
August 31, 2017
Chapter VII: Jael in the Evening
Honestly, Peter is the absolute limit! First, he agrees to go cliff-climbing with Patrick and Nicola, even though he’s terrified of heights and knows he has panic attacks. Of course, he freezes on the cliff face, so Nicola has to go off for help and Patrick has to stay with Peter and try to calm him down and stop him falling off. I’m no fan of Patrick, but he behaves very sensibly when the crisis hits. He does call Peter a “famous clot of a lily-livered loon”, but Patrick says worse to the hawks and Nicola. The coastguard eventually rescues them and Nicola feels everything’s fine now:
“…they’d had all they needed in the way of a row from the coastguards; there was no reason to tell their parents, just for the fun of another; there they all were, safe and sound, and the fewer people who knew, the better.”
Nicola has reckoned without the local newspaper, which only a few hours later is screaming “LOCAL M.P.’S SON IN CLIFF DRAMA”! (Almost as fast as Twitter, that newspaper.) Captain Marlow hits the roof, which is not unreasonable given that the three children could have been killed. Patrick very nearly was killed on that same cliff a couple of years earlier. But Captain Marlow’s not just furious at Peter – “he blamed Nicola quite as much for not telling Patrick Peter simply wasn’t safe on heights”. How is that Nicola’s fault? Certainly she should have told her parents what had happened afterwards, but it’s understandable that she didn’t, given she’s been brought up not to complain or make any fuss or talk about traumatic experiences. The real blame, in my opinion, lies with Peter, Patrick and Captain Marlow, in that order. Peter is fourteen (I think?), certainly old enough to take responsibility for his own actions and to be able to come up with some face-saving excuse when asked to do something he’s incapable of doing. Patrick is even older and knows the dangers of that cliff. And Captain Marlow is the reason Peter is so determined to prove himself in ridiculous displays of manly courage and is so unable to admit to any weakness. Nicola, being the youngest and a girl, had no real influence on Patrick and Peter’s decisions, even if she’d wanted to tell Patrick about Peter’s fear of heights.
Anyway, Nicola goes off to meet Patrick the next morning and discovers his father had gone off “like an A-bomb”. Mr Merrick doesn’t seem to hold it against Nicola, though, and says The Boke of Falconerie is valuable, perhaps even worth five pounds, and he offers to sell it for her.
But then, a few days later, Patrick and Nicola take Jael rabbiting and Peter happens to be there, being irresponsible with his shotgun as usual, and he KILLS JAEL. That beautiful hawk, ready to be released into the wild, dead! And Peter doesn’t even apologise! He just loudly insists that he didn’t do it deliberately.
“Patrick said nothing. He did believe him, really. But he felt so hurt and sorry over Jael’s death, he wanted to make sure someone else was hurt too. And it couldn’t be Nicola, with that white, quivering look on her face.”
At least poor Jael was killed instantly, so she didn’t suffer. But I think Patrick would be well within his rights never to speak to Peter again.
Chapter VIII: Lawrie’s Sort of Day
Lawrie is just as ridiculous as Peter, but at least her ridiculousness is much less likely to be lethal. She does have some sympathy for Peter, telling Nicola he’s having a “fairly mouldy holiday”:
“Seeing Cousin Jon’s plane thing. Getting stuck on that cliff. Shooting Patrick’s hawk. I expect he minds, don’t you?”
Well, the last two of those were Peter’s fault. He’d better do something worthwhile by the end of the book, or I’ve had it with him.
Anyway, Lawrie, Nicola and Ann go to Colebridge for their festival competitions. Ann and Nicola have stage-fright, but Lawrie is her usual egomaniacal self, so much so that even placid Ann snaps at her. None of the Marlows seems to like Ann much. She’s just there in the background, being quietly helpful and kind and good, while they make fun of her. Her mother doesn’t want her to be a nurse and makes vague noises about Ann being a music teacher and Lawrie suggests being a concert pianist, but Ann says she’d hate being famous:
“I could understand it if what you wanted was to give pleasure, and–and interpret really great work. I think that would be a reason for being a concert pianist. But even then, I think being a nurse, if it’s a thing you can do, is better.”
This makes Nicola want to be sick from the sentimentality of it, but I don’t see what’s wrong with wanting to do good in the world. (Also, it turns out Ann is religious. Maybe she’ll end up a missionary. Or a nun, except I don’t think the Marlows are Catholic.)
Nicola goes off alone to her singing competition and is suddenly shaken by her song’s lyrics about death, because they remind her of Jael. Even then, with all that bottled-up grief, she tries to be sensible:
“You couldn’t, you simply couldn’t go in for a singing comp, and begin to cry in the middle of it because of the sadness of your own song; in spite of herself, Nicola gave a little shiver of laughter; because it was funny, the notion of Nicola Marlow boo-hooing loudly while everyone waited respectfully for her to go on.”
She pulls herself together, sings beautifully and would have come first if she hadn’t had to stop in the middle of her song. Well done, Nicola (although it’s okay to cry about death, even if you are a Marlow).
Then Lawrie, who hasn’t bothered to rehearse her poem, accidentally imitates her previous competitor and is disqualified by the semi-famous actress judge, who thinks Lawrie was being facetious. Lawrie runs off crying and poor identical Nicola is told off by the judge. At least this makes her father think Nicola’s been punished enough, so things are friendly again and he gives her ten bob as a reward for her singing. Which makes Lawrie cry again, although later Lawrie does have “one of her unexpected moments of looking at herself objectively, and finding the sight awfully funny”.
Then Lawrie hatches a ridiculous scheme to make things better – she will track down the actress-judge, so Lawrie can recite her poem properly and thus be discovered as an exciting new theatrical talent. Nicola, feeling “unusually helpless”, is dragged along. Unfortunately, the scheme works and Lawrie is not only driven back to Trennels (with Nicola invisible in the front seat), but invited to tea with the actress. Lawrie will be unbearable now…