Is Publishing Perishing?

October 26, 2013 at 5:59 am (books, jasna) (, , , , , )

Leafing thru “drafts”, I found this interesting entry, evidently written in September 2011. It deserves to see the light of day. Take “last evening” and “last winter” with a grain of salt, though!


kemblesLast evening, as a reference for my paper on Austen’s Sense and Sensibility (to be given at JASNA’s AGM in Fort Worth this October), I was on the look-out for a book I knew I had — but wasn’t sure among which “topics” I had put it. It is a 2001 biography of sisters Fanny and Adelaide Kemble (Adelaide was an opera singer; Fanny followed in family footsteps by acting). Thanks to my also owning Fanny Kemble’s memoir about her time in the US on a southern plantation, the book was on the bottom shelf, with other “American” biographies. It took a while to find, because I just couldn’t understand why it wasn’t with other MUSIC books?!

But the search was a blessing in disguise. I don’t have a lot, lot, lot of books (though my mother would claim otherwise!), but there are a good handful of shelving units, in a couple rooms, plus those currently being perused and therefore in a pile in the bedroom, the living room. Plus some library books stacked on the fireplace mantel.

But I get off the subject…., which is not collecting books per se, but reminding myself about a few books I knew I wanted at one time — but didn’t quite recall picking up (usually used books, sometimes in shops, sometimes online). A for instance, in a frenzy to read more about the Spencers (Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire was born a Spencer) I got books of letters, biography, and recall The House (about Chatsworth; nice photos and some interesting manuscript extracts) being taken out of the library. But when did I purchase the book? from where? It’s on the shelf….

Another book, No Voice from the Hall, I plucked off the shelf to see if there might be ANYTHING about Erle Stoke Park (Wilts). No; but instead I did come across mentions — and a photo! — of Richings Park (also spelled: Ritchings). This was the Buckinghamshire estate of John Sullivan — father to dear Georgiana Vere Gosling.

Obviously, I *adore* books – travel, history, biography, letters, diaries are among my top choices. On the second-hand market I look for dust jackets almost always; I keep them in pristine condition; and, yes, have a bit of a system for storing them; and, yes, need more bookshelf space!

 No, not my home library! Monroe Street Books, in Middlebury, Vermont

And, finally, to the crux of my post: As a book-lover, I’ve only ever thought of a world filled with books. There on the shelf; read them any time; add to them; leaf-thru-them. In the end, though, they were always there. Until lately.

Now, I would be the first to admit that I LOVE digitized books. How else can you find some totally obscure book that only two libraries in the world have, and there it is online! (I am less enthralled with missing pages or bad scans; not super-crazy about plain text books either, although I used to provide typescripts for A Celebration of Women Writers).

But, as someone who has given up a lot and gone into debt while researching this project, I find myself asking: Can money be made in publishing? My problem is, with a full-time job I have little time to write or research, but am years away from producing anything substantial — and even then (1) will I find a publisher and/or agent, (2) will it sell, (3) will I make enough to clear the debts incurred?

Last winter at Monroe Street Books, I picked up a copy of a biography of Elizabeth von Arnim (The Enchanted April and Elizabeth and her German Garden are two of her best known publications). She could get a book through press to public in a matter of months. Doesn’t happen that way any more.

I wish readers would share their thoughts about the dissemination of research – and making ends meet.

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The Diary of Mary Hardy 1773-1809: a 25-Year Task

June 11, 2013 at 9:00 pm (books, diaries, history) (, , , , , , )

Today I’m in conversation with Margaret Bird, of Kingston upon Thames, England, editor of the delightful series of Mary Hardy diaries. Margaret “stumbled by chance” across my blog “Georgian Gems, Regency Reads & Victorian Voices” and found her own book under discussion!

Margaret Bird: In the small hours I found myself watching a delighted reader across the Atlantic turning the pages of one of the four weighty Diary volumes. I saw you confiding to viewers what you found appealing about the content and, just as importantly in these days of e-books, about the look and feel of the book. Within hours Kelly and I had exchanged a series of e-mails, and with permission that YouTube video was featuring as a link from the Mary Hardy websites. As the editor, designer, typesetter and photographer I instantly warmed to someone who so obviously revelled in the visual and tactile quality of the volumes.

Please fill us in on who Mary Hardy was.

MB: I need not take long to explain who Mary Hardy was, as she features on these websites:

Briefly, Mary Raven was born in 1733 into a shopkeeping and farming family in a remote village in central Norfolk, a county on England’s North Sea coast. She married an excise officer, William Hardy, in 1765. They had three children, to whom both were devoted. Her husband turned to farming, malting and brewing in 1772. She died in 1809; her husband in 1811.

None of that suggests anything out of the ordinary. What is really extraordinary is the document she left us: a 36-year daily diary recounting the world of work, of farming and manufacturing, of the drinks trade, distribution and transport, and of family and religion. It is not a literary affair. In their trademark terse style Mary Hardy and her young nephew, the brewery apprentice Henry Raven, have left us manuscripts which in word count (573,000 words) amount almost to the length of the Old Testament of the Bible.”

mary-hardyWill you tell “Two Teen” readers about your “25-year mission” to bring Mary Hardy to the public?

MB: In September 1988 Ronald Reagan still had some months left to him in the Oval Office. The Berlin Wall was to stand for more than another year. Margaret Thatcher had two years more to serve as Prime Minister. It was in September 1988 that I took on the task of working on these manuscripts, which were—and are—still in the hands of Mary Hardy’s descendants.

I was drawn to the texts for many reasons. Although I live well over four hours’ drive from where they are set I knew the fields and waterways of the diarists’ villages very well as all my life I have gone boating on the rivers of Norfolk. Our family boat was berthed in the same village where the Hardys had lived and where they launched their own sailing wherry to carry their produce to the port of Great Yarmouth.

In 1980 some Norfolk friends told me about the brief extracts already published by one of Mary Hardy’s descendants, and I immediately set about reading the book in a library in Norwich. Eight years later an article by a wherry skipper who drew on those extracts made me resolve to transcribe and publish the diary in full. I now know that well under 10 per cent of the text had by then reached the public domain. I had not the slightest idea it would take me 25 years of continuous research and striving to accomplish the initial part of my mission.

A daunting task under any circumstances, did you do your own transcriptions of the diaries?

MB: Yes, throughout it was the joy of feeling myself in the much-loved landscape and waterways as I transcribed the photocopied manuscripts at home that sustained me through the quarter-century.

Having the project take so many years of intensive work, was there any downside?

MB: It was not all unalloyed pleasure. Compiling the 460 pages of index was testing in the extreme. I had to do it the moment I started transcribing the text in 1988 as I needed the navigational aid of an index. This I referenced not to page numbers (the final pagination then of course being unknown), but to the fixed point of the date of the diary entry. As that method of indexing proved such a useful database in its own right I retained it in the published version, so the reader can now draw useful conclusions just from a search of the index without looking up the actual entries.

The index is very impressive – and especially useful in this age of limited indexes in books and the easy ability to “search” online texts. How has technology impacted your ongoing work with the diaries?

MB: By far the most difficult task was keeping up with changes in computing technology. The eventual 2500 printed pages were first transcribed on an Acorn Archimedes, with a dot-matrix printer.

Ten years later I transferred to a completely new system: a Dell computer with laser printer, into which I scanned the whole book from First Word Plus into Adobe PageMaker. No electronic transfer was possible. It was all from hard copy, requiring tens of thousands of corrections to the resulting corruptions.

Eleven years later I acquired an HP computer and mercifully was able to complete an electronic transfer into Adobe InDesign—which nevertheless took nearly three years.

You sound dedicated not only to the material, but to a certain presentation of that material. Can you elaborate?

MB: Much remained constant. Right from the start I vowed to set the book on A5 pages as I liked to handle small books. Coffee-table tomes I find unmanageable. This is a book which can easily be read in bed.

Also right from the start I vowed to have one or more illustrations on every double spread, to draw the readers’ eyes onto the page. The long captions are designed to entice readers so that they can keep going when the laconic style of the diary text seems difficult to fathom. At times an image can shed light more clearly than a note.

Right from the start I elected to have sidenotes (in which the editorial annotations are placed not at the foot of the page but in the outer margins). This is laborious as there is no automatic way of setting and numbering such notes. Instead they have to be “embroidered” onto the page, and I often felt I was creating a cross-stitch sampler or a gros point tapestry rather than a printed spread.

Being immersed in the life of people long dead sooner or later takes on a life of its own; you want to talk about them, share “finds”. I imagine family and friends have greatly supported your project?

MB: My wonderful family have given me enthusiastic support and help throughout and have joined me in exploring the ground in Norfolk and beyond. They consistently applauded what I was doing. But when I explained to many other interested people the principles behind the book’s layout their reactions ranged from bafflement to ill-concealed scepticism.

In this day of publication “wariness”, was it important to bring out a full diary? And you’ve plans for a 4-volume companion set!

MB: These long, long manuscripts are now published in full. The four hardbacks contain Mary Hardy’s abridged text, and her nephew Henry’s full text. Again right from the start I realised I had to abridge. The dross of the dullest entries would drive out the gold dust of the more interesting ones; and the thought of having to index the 160,000 words which I have instead consigned to a separate paperback publication The Remaining Diary of Mary Hardy was not one I relished. Some of the website pages set out my decision-making process. By publishing the dross, however, I have enabled database-compilers to access the complete text.

Lastly I always knew that bringing out the Diary was not enough. As a result four volumes of commentary and analysis will follow, explaining the background in 39 chapters and highlighting what is significant about the Diary. There is no room in the Diary volumes for graphs and tables.

You’ve published a set of four diary volumes, plus the “Remaining Diary”; have you been pleased with public reception of Mary Hardy?

MB: Yes, very. The volumes of Diary came out at the end of April 2013. The book launch in Norwich Cathedral proved a really happy evening, with nothing but smiling faces among the many who had helped me. Our thoughts that evening also strayed to those who had not lived to see the launch, but who had been steadfast and unwavering in their support.

To my delight the readers have responded warmly and very positively, and I am getting heartening feedback. This sometimes centers on the very aspects of page layout and indexing which had seemed so controversial in the preceding 25 years.

And I think that aspect of my reaction is what attracts you to the YouTube video!

MB: Yes, I was entranced. Here was someone who had sought the book from across the ocean; who delighted in the pictures, layout and index; and who wanted to share that delight with others.

May all my other readers experience something of your joy, and my own, in a project which in its physical form represents the creative force I have put into it during the past 25 years.


March 2019 UPDATE: a new website has launched for the Mary Hardy project – Margaret Bird says, “The new website is compatible with all devices, including smartphones…. It should now be much easier to navigate through the 42 pages and 58 news items.”

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