20. August 2013 · Comments Off on Books, books, books… (part 1) · Categories: Uncategorized

Byre Books (buy our books)? Buy MY book…


Passing by this bookshop in Wigtown on the Solway Firth in southern Scotland – one of 20 or more in the vicinity, with an annual book fest in October – I had to smile at the play on words. Byre Books. Buy our books. Which made me think about my books. Over the years I have contributed to any number of titles. Sometimes my name was listed along with other contributors, sometimes not. As a freelance editor and writer since 1973, struggling to raise a family, I was hardly in a position to argue. It means however that the list of books with my name on the cover is limited –  and varied – to the point of confusion.  I mean what do rug rags,  knitting, Japan and a trip to South America have in common?  This is what visitors to several online sites, including Angela Jeffs’ Amazon Author’s page – my latest attempt to self-publicise Chasing Shooting Stars as published through Create Space – must be asking. The answer is nothing really except perhaps that they pinpoint certain stages of my career. In the 1970s – and by accident rather than design – I was pretty much the leading editor of craft books in the UK.  Rugs from Rags, published by Orbis in 1977 (Trasmatter, in Swedish),  represented my first attempt to write under my own name, but in collaboration with the artist-craftsman John Hinchcliffe. Wild Knitting (Mitchell Beazley, also 1977) – my goodness, was I busy in those days!  – was another collaboration, and to be honest it’s grossly unfair that it has become associated with my name alone. I was the consultant editor, meaning that I was hired to swan into the office three times a week, make decisions, issue orders and then leave the editorial team to do all the hard graft.  It is a mark of their goodwill that I remain close to Sandy Carr (who was the technical backbone to the project), Louise Egerton (now an author in her own right in Australia but who as secretary /junior sub kept us all organised), and designer Debbie Bliss, who today leads the international field with two original pattern books a year, her own range of yarns and a magazine. Insider’s Tokyo (2001) was a commission from Singapore after reinventing myself as a journalist in Japan. It was one in a series of world capitals and – the city being the size it is, a bit of a nightmare… I still wonder if the reason it made an initial impact but then quickly disappeared was because I broke the rules of etiquette on certain subjects in Japan. The first print order flew off shelves, but the Japanese distributor failed to re-order, for whatever reason, and that was that.  Four years of hard work down the proverbial drain. And so we come to Chasing Shooting Stars (published in paperback in January this year, Kindle in June). A ten year project in the writing. Looking along bookshelves here that are slowly filling from cartons still being unpacked, I see many other titles that I can be proud of, starting with two titles co-packaged with designer Jill Leman under the name Overall Publications in the early 1980s: Machine Knitting to Suit your Mood (Joanna Davis), and Decorative Dressmaking (Sue Thompson). Not so sure about Courvoisier’s Book of the Best (1986), Edited by Lord Lichfield, in which I am listed under Acknowledgements. How on earth did I get mixed up with that? It was soon after that I decided to change my life completely… hence Japan. Which is why I have so titles from that subsequent period, including many guidebooks… I remember doing a lot of unacknowledged research soon after my arrival for the consultant editor of The Economist Business Travellers Guide (1987).  Five years on I was busy creating a niche of my own in the market, culminating with Dorling Kindersley’s Eyewitness Travel Japan (2002) for which I revised and wrote sections and introductory pages in subsequent editions. There is also the Discover Asia annual of 2001, to which I contributed chapters on Kyoto, Nagoya, Sapporo and Tokyo. These had originally appeared in Asia Magazine, published in Hong Kong, and for which I was the Japan stringer from 1989-1995. Also Tokyo Voices , a collection of 17 interviews from the pages of Tokyo Journal, at that time the city’s oldest and best respected English-language magazine. One of my interviews was included: with the wonderful actor Tsutomu Yamazaki (November 1994). Such a privilege. All in all, a pretty strange career, but only because I kept stirring things up, reinventing myself…  Maybe this has meant losing out in some respects  (if I’m not rich and famous there is no-one to blame but myself) but it has certainly kept things interesting and lively. John Hinchcliffe did pretty much the same. He died aged 61 in 2011, described in obituaries as a weaver, potter, printmaker and designer. So he too moved around within the parameters of his chosen profession.  He made things to use and look at, I wrote things to read. He did not think much of me a writer when we worked together – gave me a pretty hard time in fact –  and it’s only now that I realize why: we were both young but he was younger than me and desperate to be represented and taken seriously. And I had been thrust upon him by the publishers – an unknown and let’s be honest, pretty inexperienced wordsmith. I am better these days. With literally thousands of magazine articles, newspaper, features and profiles, books and blogs over the last 40 years plus, I can in all honesty say I have put in the work – 10,000 hours and more for sure. I’m not sure you can’t do something for that long and not get better. First take a look at John’s site that shows the variety of his work over far too short a span of years: http://www.johnhinchcliffe.co.uk/ ecoverThen go to ABOUT on this website, click on the cover image of CSS, and BUY MY BOOK.

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