Will the Real Nicholas Flamel Please Stand

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Page from Flamel’s Notebook

Last week was the week of the “great sort out” since I was running out of storage space for files. I came across my old notes for the book “Close to the Edge” and amongst them were the notes I made for the story of the monk and alchemist George Ripley of Bridlington Priory. In the margin of these notes I had scrawled – ‘check out Nicolas Flamel’. I never did check him out…until now.

So who was Nicolas Flamel?

He was a Frenchman (c1330-1418), a scribe and seller of books and manuscripts who apparently discovered (according to 17th century accounts) the secret of the Philosopher’s Stone – although that rather depends on which texts you read.

Nicholasflamel

19th century image of the man himself

His life is well documented…by himself. He had two shops in Paris, married a well-endowed widow and in their later years together they were both wealthy and philanthropic. Like many educated men in Medieval days he dabbled in alchemy and knew of the existence of a book which, once deciphered would reveal the secrets of the universe, how to make gold from base metal and how to live forever as a bonus.

One day, as all good stories go, a man came into his bookshop wanting to sell a book. Flamel recognised it immediately  (because an angel told him about it in a dream the night before), handed over a couple of florins without a quibble and became the proud owner. The  book was that of Abraham the Jew, written part in arcane symbols and part in ancient Hebrew.

For more than twenty years Flamel worked diligently trying to translate the text before deciding that he needed a bit of help from learned men within the Jewish community. At that time Jews were persecuted in France and many had fled to Spain and so, to Spain our hero must go. He dressed as a pilgrim and on his journey met a merchant who, just by chance you understand, was able to introduce him to a venerable Jewish scholar. He recognised the book for what it was and agreed to go to Paris with Flamel to work on its translation.

Three years passed, the old scholar died, but Flamel managed finally to decode the book. He writes of his success in changing mercury into silver and then into gold. Apparently he put his new found skill to good and charitable uses, living quietly with his wife, working in his bookshops and dying at the age of 80. He was buried in the Church of St Jacques la Boucherie in Paris.

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Flamel’s tombstone

He was not allowed to rest in peace though. Treasure hunters from near and far came looking for the red powder that acted as the catalyst to the transmutation. His house was ransacked and many of the sculptures he had commissioned were damaged with inscriptions and symbols torn off and carted away.

And what happened to the book of Abraham the Jew?

Flamel bequeathed his papers and his library to his nephew and for 200 years these were passed down from father to son and nothing more is heard of the book. Then, in the 17th century we hear of an hapless heir of Flamel who was daft enough to demonstrate to King Louis XIII the transmutation process. Cardinal Richelieu, the King’s advisor, took a keen interest and soon after said heir was carted off to prison, tried and ultimately executed. This gave Richelieu the right to confiscate all the man’s property. It is alleged that Richelieu had possession of the book until his death and after that it vanished.

Perhaps one day, some book lover fossicking in the second-hand bookshops of Paris will stumble upon it…or perhaps not

To Market, To Market, To Sell a New Book

I’m back from a whistle-stop tour down the East Yorkshire coast where, with copies of my book about the coast “Close to the Edge” in hand and hope in my heart, I did the rounds of libraries, museums, indie bookshops, tourist offices and (thanks to a brill idea from photographer June Berridge) the large caravan parks.

It was an enjoyable if exhausting experience with lots of learning points to reflect on. So here goes.

1. You can’t prepare soon enough for your marketing activities. I had a rather fixed idea that it would be better to see people in person (and I still think so) but with that wonderful thing hindsight, I should have at least dropped an e-mail to some of the people I wished to meet. As it was, several were on holiday so I made double work for myself in having to contact them on my return. However, I’ve still managed to get the book into the three relevant libraries. I donated a copy to each of them (received with thanks in these austere times) and they will appear in the local history section. Note to self: in future go direct to the Library Acquisitions person based in local council offices.

2. Be as clear as possible about who will be likely to buy the book and think “out of the box”. June’s idea of the caravan sites, packed with tourists was a brilliant one and I was able to leave wodges of leaflets and sell some copies at those I visited.

3. Places that sell books are not likely to appreciate any promo that says “available from Amazon” on it. Doh! I made the mistake of having some flyers printed featuring the front cover of the book with just that written on it. Only the caravan parks were willing to accept them. It’s obvious now I come to think of it but the original purpose of the flyers was a different one which leads me to…

4. I had intended to use the flyers as mini-posters believing that the local supermarkets and visitor centres would let me post them on their notice boards. However, they turned out to be more useful as ‘grab and go’ leaflets so the large box of drawing pins and a wodge of blutack were redundant.

5. Be aware of the space that some potential outlets have for displaying books. The tourist offices I visited were small with little shelf space. However, I have been able to do a “sale or return” deal with one of the larger ones but even so, they don’t want to stock more than a half dozen. They take 10% of the sale price by the way.

6. Check opening times! I would have saved myself time and the price of several lattes, if I’d checked earlier for some of places I wanted to visit.

7. Have some sort of ‘pitch’ ready. I’m really uncomfortable trying to sell anything and found myself gabbling away to some poor soul that I cornered. After the first day, it went a bit smoother and by the last day I had it down pat. I wish I’d thought out what to say sooner. Be upfront about price and not apologetic and squirmy. The price is the price – take it or leave it…in the nicest possible way.

8. Listen to what potential buyers/stockists say to you. I picked up quickly on the fact that although the book covers the whole East Yorkshire coastline, the buyers/stockists wanted to know specifically whether the contents covered their specific town/village and was able to adjust what I said to them accordingly. I also found that they were able to suggest other places and people to contact that I wasn’t aware of (see 1 above) so I came back with a load of new contacts. I also learned more about stockists’ buying process and how that works.

9. This is a point I’ve read a zillion times elsewhere – it’s the cover that counts. Even if you’re doing the whole publishing shebang on a shoestring I would suggest that the biggest and best investment to make is in the cover. My cover features a photo of Spurn Point which spreads across front and back and drew a lot of positive comments – I think because it’s quite striking and a bit intriguing. But it’s the cover that buyers/stockists look at first, last and in between. They’ll riffle the pages a bit but they always come back to the cover.

Photo of Spurn Point - adapted for the cover

Photo of Spurn Point – adapted for the cover

10. Finally, if, like me, you have to travel around to do your marketing bit, have a good friend with a comfy sofa where you can flop out at night.

E-Day for “Close to the Edge – Tales from the Holderness Coast”

Tomorrow the Kindle version of my history/travel book becomes available on Amazon. The Paperback is already out and some lovely people have bought it – more than I anticipated since I don’t really get into the marketing swing until 10 August when I’m back in the UK.

I thought I’d share some of the marketing ideas that I’ve put together and the responses I’ve had to them -bear in mind that this is a non-fiction book and likely to have a limited audience.

1. I’ve had A5 posters made of the cover. I spent ages agonising over the size of these – naturally I thought the bigger the better. However, the posters are going to library, museum, visitor centre and supermarket notice boards in the towns and villages down the coast that feature in the book. The decision about size was taken on the basis that there is always pressure for space and it’s far easier to remove a large poster to make more space.

2. I’ve been fortunate enough to have articles published in a number of regional magazines and I approached the editors to see whether they would review the book. As all have agreed to do so a copy is winging its way to each of them.

3. I’ve used social media to a limited extent mainly because I don’t want to put folk into a catatonic state as I rabbit on. Creative1 publishing – the company that formatted the e-book has offered to do a number of tweets about it for me and of course I use this blog, Facebook and Twitter. In addition I’ve uploaded a number of the photos from the book as well as some that didn’t make it to Pinterest – www.pinterest.com/sheila0661/close-to-the-edge and I’ll be adding to the Board over the next few weeks.

First Spurn Lighthouse later used for storing explosives.

First Spurn Lighthouse later used for storing explosives.


4. I’ve approached the local radio station to see whether they would be interested in running a short piece as well. So far, the air waves are silent.

5. I now regularly follow some of the local newspapers to pick up any snippets of news relating to the area I’ve written about. This enables me to contribute to any debate or news item on-line without overtly touting the book.

I find, like many independent publishers/authors, that marketing is just not my thing. I shrink from banging on too much about The Book and don’t find it easy to “naturally” mention it in both on-line and direct conversations. When I’m back in the UK I’m going to a couple of independent bookshops in the area to see whether they would take the book on and that fills me with some trepidation too…and I’m not normally what you might describe as a shrinking violet. I can’t quite put my finger on why this is just yet so I’ve tried to adopt the attitude – “if you don’t ask – you’ll never get”. I also keep asking myself – “What’s the worst that could happen?” and have (perversely) rather pleasurable moments thinking up the most horrifying answers. It helps to soothe the fears.

So this is where I’m at right now. Saturday 1 August is E-Day for “Close to the Edge – Tales from the Holderness Coast” – it’s also Yorkshire Day so it seems fitting. Breath is baited!

At Last!!

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It’s all over bar the marketing. The paperback is up on Amazon and the e-book shortly follows – “Close to the Edge – Tales from the Holderness Coast” is a reality. It’s taken around two years to get to this point and the final product is not a bit like my original idea. Perhaps that’s inevitable and I’m happy that it’s so.

There are lots of questions to ask myself when I have time to reflect a little; four big ones come to mind:
Was it worth it?
Would I do it again?
What would I do differently?
What have I learned from the experience?

Perhaps in another blog I’ll share my reflections with you. For now, I’m putting my rather sketchy marketing plan in place and I’ll be back in the UK at the end of the month to drum up some interest…well try to at any rate.
In the meantime if any of you kind souls are interested in an eclectic and occasionally irreverent history of a unique stretch of English coastline, toddle along to Amazon and have a peek.

Here’s the link (I hope) and all reviews of whatever ilk will be much appreciated.

Close to the Edge – Tales from the Holderness Coast

The Gentle Art of Indie Publishing

Spurn Head

Spurn Head

Those of you who follow this blog will know that I’ve been struggling somewhat with getting my book “Close to the Edge – Tales from the Holderness Coast” published and available to my eagerly waiting fans (yes all two of you). I have news for you…it’s much harder than I thought! I’m not the most gifted person when it comes to technology and the good folk at Createspace have tried to help me as much as possible but it has still taken 10 uploads of the text to get it right. Mostly the problem has been with the images, photographs in the main, and the complete mental block I have when it comes to pixels, dots per inch and other esoteric measurements. The cover has changed at least five times and the back cover blurb about three times.

However, it’s done; the mss is having its final review at Createspace; cover completed, distribution channels selected, keywords and pricing are settled; it’s been a steep learning curve. I don’t want to raise hopes (!) but I think it’s going to be August before Close to the Edge sees the light of day.

So now I turn my mind (or what’s left of it) to marketing.I must have read half a dozen books and a zillion articles about “how to do it and what to do” and am left feeling that it’s a full-time job. So how does one market a non-fiction, local history book?

At first I thought only in terms of a local niche market – local residents and tourists. This has now expanded somewhat and my “audience” hit list includes ex-pats in Europe who were once connected with/have an interest in the area; emigrants to the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. How do I reach them? The classic answer is through social media and apart from this blog and my Facebook pages I’ve started to explore Pinterest. I think I need to learn how to use Twitter effectively too. I’d be very happy to hear from anyone who has survived their first book marketing project and is willing to share their experiences and tips.

In the next few weeks – if you happen to be out and about in East Yorkshire (and why wouldn’t you be) you may well see some tasteful flyers for the book in indie bookshops, libraries, museums and hopefully in one or two visitor centres. I have yet to discover how to persuade these cash-strapped organisations to actually buy some copies for resale and what sort of a deal can be done between us but I’m working on it.

I’ve also approached some regional and local magazines, newspapers and, when I get to it, local radio stations to see whether they would do a review or give me a few column-inches/air time. So far a deafening silence but I live in hope.

All in all August looks like being pretty hectic but, who knows, it could also be a whole lot of fun.

PS Just got a “Yes happy to review” from the Editor at The Dalesman. Thank you Adrian.

It had to happen didn’t it?

Back from a great week in bonnie Scotland only to find the gremlins are definitely at work. Why oh why did I have to say “Close to the Edge” would be available 1 June? For those of you waiting with bated breath…I’m sorry but there will be a delay. There are problems with the photos which, if said problems can’t be resolved, means I am not willing to publish as an e-book. Looking as it does at the moment, I wouldn’t buy the book so how could I expect others to do so?

I’m gutted really but 18 months of my life has gone into this and I don’t want to turn out a rubbishy looking product.

I’m absolutely not going to predict any more launch dates – but it could be…No! No more predictions! This indie publishing is a lot harder than I thought it would be – perhaps it would be easier if it were all text; perhaps…perhaps. Well I’m not going there either.

So please stay tuned in and bear with me in my frustration. AAAAGH!!!!!!!!

Sneak Preview

Today I thought I’d let you have a look at some of the photos used in my forthcoming book – Close to the Edge – Tales from the Holderness Coast.

For those of you who don’t know the area (or even the country – UK that is) the Holderness Coast is a strip of East Yorkshire coastline that has both a remarkable past and an uncertain future. The problem is coastal erosion which has seen more than 30 villages and settlements disappear or “gone back to the sea” and the erosion continues today.

Close to the Edge is an eclectic and sometimes irreverent collection of tales about people, places and events along the coastline.

Have a peek at some of the photos taken by my co-conspirator in this enterprise – June Berridge.

Ruins of WW1 Fort Godwin at Kilnsea, East Yorkshire

Ruins of WW1 Fort Godwin at Kilnsea, East Yorkshire

Where'd the road go? Aldbrough, East Yorkshire

Where’d the road go? Aldbrough, East Yorkshire

Remains of wartime observation post tipped over the cliff onto Mappleton beach

Remains of wartime observation post tipped over the cliff onto Mappleton beach

Close to the Edge? Close to Meltdown!

Long time no write! Since my last post I’ve been eagerly awaiting a verdict from the publisher about my book Close to the Edge. Finally, after getting all excited and talking turkey with the publisher, I get it kicked back with a comment that as they’re going to publish another book about East Yorkshire, they don’t want to take on a second one until sales figures are in. Did it really have to take eight weeks for them to tell me this? So after a week sticking pins in my voodoo doll, I’ve recovered my equilibrium and am on the move with the first version of the book – a Kindle version.

The Holderness Coast in days of yore

The Holderness Coast in days of yore

The book has a great selection of images both old and new (you’ll probably have to magnify this one to see it clearly) and I’ve learned that copyright is a minefield even for items that are over the prescribed time limits. I’ve spent so much time trying to track down owners, owners relatives, owners best friends and owners dog called Poochie that I’m beginning to think it isn’t worth the candle to include anything other than my own images. Still, ’tis done now as best I could.

I’ll by posting some of the images that didn’t make it into the book over on Pinterest – look for the Board called Close to the Edgeand over the next few weeks I’ll add to it. I’m also going to be making a few short clips for youtube so watch out for those as well.

So lots of final details to deal with whilst at the same time, I’m pressing on with a selection of spooky short stories – four written and three to go…oh and of course celebrating the anniversary of my first year in France (any excuse for a party). Suffice it to say I came, I saw and was conquered. It’s definitely home now.

Labour Pains II

Approaching the end of the editing process for my book Close to the Edge, have my witterings in my last blog been justified?
Emphatically not!

So far, Caroline Chadderton, my editor has combed through my typos, inconsistencies and bits of burbling with tact and zeal. No blood has been spilled; no tears shed. Instead her comments have been both insightful and helpful. What is particularly spooky is how she picked up on points where I felt some unease-such as my predilection for using modern slang and idioms at inappropriate moments. The objectivity she has brought has also increased my ability to see things from the reader’s viewpoint and hence improve my explanations of certain events and issues.

She has yet to do the final formatting and let me have her final comments but all in all this has been a powerful experience and one definitely worth considering if you are going down the self-publishing route.

The next steps are to wrap up the permissions for photos and quotes which so far has been a bit fraught as I struggle to ensure I don’t infringe anyone’s copyright. Then there are the photos to caption, acknowledgements to make and finally uploading it all to Createspace. Oh yes, then there’s a pricing policy and a marketing strategy to work out. In between, there’s a quick trip back to the UK and I’ll try to finish my next Mag. Op. – a collection of spooky short stories. That’s me stitched up for the next three months. Christmas? What’s Christmas precious?

Labour Pains

Prolonged birthday celebrations mean I’ve been somewhat tardy in attending to this blog nevertheless I’ve not been entirely lost in jollity. I’ve started on what I hope will be the last twiddle phase of my book Close to the Edge.

I finally came to a decision about professional editing and have entrusted the book to a pro. How much she will slice and dice is yet to be seen but I confess, I await her verdict with some trepidation. In coming to this decision – to edit or not to edit – I read up on others’ experiences and talked to a few trusted friends and even to a “proper” author who lives here in the village. Opinion was divided but there was one area where agreement was reached –the number of poorly presented, formatted and copy-edited e-book offerings that are out there and that’s before the quality of the writing is put to the test. Even I, a late-comer to reading ebooks , have noticed this. I would say about 10-12% of those I’ve downloaded fall into the category of poor presentation with typos, photos that move from one page to another, confusion over homonymic words and so on.

I don’t want to fall into this category and even though I’ve combed my mss umpteen times I still pick up the odd error or the desire to tweak a paragraph here and there so perhaps professional copy-editing is essential. However, I’ve gone for the Full Monty to include textual/structural editing. It’s a more subjective element and I wonder how and how well I’ll manage the feedback.
Already I’m picking over the one piece of feedback I’ve had so far – and that is only based on a read through of the first and last chapters so that the poor lady could give me an idea of cost.

“You write with fluency and authority” she observed. Like a cat on a mouse I pounced on the words. Is that good? Or does she really mean I waffle on and sound like a bossy know-it-all? I’ve turned her words inside out and upside down to understand her “true” meaning. Why can’t I take them at face value? Shades of my schooldays when Miss Grey, my teacher, returned the obligatory weekly essay, garnished with red ink, with the comment – “Sheila you have let your imagination overrule the necessity for neat hand-writing and attention to punctuation.”
Have I spent the better part of a year only to turn out a pile of goose-poo? Would I be better taking up underwater-knitting? What do I do if I receive negative feedback or suggestions for changing parts of the book? Do I change them?

The obvious answer is…it’s my book therefore it’s my choice…and yet.

I’ve paid a lump out of a limited budget to someone who is well-established in her field with a list of credits a mile long, particularly for non-fiction. How confident would I feel about ignoring her opinions? Answer – I don’t know. In most areas of my life I’m a pretty confident cookie, but with my writing – it’s the opposite. Generally I shrink from exposing the waffling of an over-taxed brain to anyone – it is a miracle akin to the wine and water trick that I’ve had anything published at all. I’m guessing it’s the same for many writers.

So over the next few weeks this blog will be less about adventures in France. Instead, I shall be sharing the pains, the labour pains if you will, of the editing process and hopefully you’ll be in on The Birth of this masterpiece around Easter next year.

Close to the Edge

Close to the Edge