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Monday, 19 March 2012

Day 1 - Introducing Elizabeth Leaper

This week I would like to introduce Libby (Elizabeth Leaper) prolific small stoner and poet. She has recently had a collection of poetry published; Collecting Cobwebs, Gathering Brambles.

How did you come up with the title for the book?
I had been planning to produce a collection of my own poems for some time and calling it ‘Collecting Cobwebs’ as this is the title of one of the poems, and I thought it would make a catchy title for the book. Once I had decided that the book would combine poems by both my late uncle, Jack Williamson, and me the problem was to come up with a title that included Jack’s poems as well. One of my favourites amongst his poems is one called ‘Blackberries’ and this inspired the other half of the title – although of course ‘Gathering Brambles’ doesn’t strictly speaking quite equate to blackberry picking!

What gave you the idea to put two poetry collections under one title?
When Jack died at the end of 2007 I assisted with clearing out his flat and we came across a bundle of poems. We had known that he had written some poems many years ago but no-one in the family knew that he had been writing more recently. As I was the ‘writer’ in the family, the one interested in poetry, I was given the file full of poems and asked to produce them for distribution among family and friends, to be paid for by his estate. I did this simply and cheaply as photocopied sheets with a simple cover and slide binder. At the time I had thought that it would be a nice memorial to Jack if I could produce them as a proper book but there were insufficient poems to make anything more than a chapbook sized publication. Also I had very little idea of how to go about it and I thought it would be too costly. One of my cousins suggested I set up a website for the poems, a real challenge as back then I was fairly Internet ignorant! After several abortive attempts I finally settled on a Blog at http://jackspoems.wordpress.com/. This was a very steep learning curve for me and to date I still haven’t put all his poems on there as other projects have taken over much of my time. However I still dreamed of publishing Jack’s poems in a properly bound book so, since it would be sometime before I had sufficient of my own poems for a complete book, I decided that the best way forward was to produce a book in two halves, combining my own poems with Jack’s.

 How long did it take you to write the book?
On the face of it I thought this was going to be a hard question to answer but in fact it is relatively easy as I always date my poems when I write them, often including revision dates as well. I was quite surprised myself when I checked and realised that all my poems in the book were written within the last three years. The earliest of my poems is in fact the last poem in my half of the book, a villanelle called ‘To Jack’ written in February 2008, this was my own tribute to him and was included in the original booklet produced for the family. The most recent poems, ‘Sutton Hoo’ and ‘The Old Songs’ were written shortly before the book was published. (‘Sutton Hoo’ had in fact first appeared as three ‘small stones’ on my Wobbly Dum-Dum Tree ‘small stones’ blog at http://bythewobblydumdutree.wordpress.com/)
Whilst I haven’t got exact dates for Jack’s poems I have a pretty good approximation for most of them. The book contains all the completed poems that we found and the earliest of these, ‘The Spider’ and ‘The Race’, were written probably in the late 1960’s or early 70’s. They first appeared in a poetry collection called ‘Poetry Kingdom’ published in 1972. The rest of his poems seem to have been written in the 1980’s and 90’s, so I think it safe to say that they were probably written over a 10-15 year period with his total output spanning some 30-40 years.  I often wonder if he wrote other poems over the years that have got lost along the way. During the 80’s and 90’s he belonged to an organisation called The National Poetry Foundation but I can find no evidence of its continued existence. Members could submit poems for criticism and the approximate dates I have for many of the poems come from the critiques he received. Selected poems would be published in their member’s magazine and his poem ‘Blackberries’ was first published in this way. Several others were accepted towards a collection that they would publish on his behalf but this never materialised and I wonder if the organisation folded around the time that Jack apparently stopped writing. After his death I submitted one of his poems, ‘A Picture’, to Countryside Tales magazine where it was published in 2008.

Will you be bringing out another collection in the future?
 I certainly hope so though it may be some way off, as I haven’t got anywhere near enough new poems yet! It is possible that I may produce another collaboration, this time with my son Chris (you can read some of his work at http://hatsofftotheinsane.wordpress.com/) but so far this is all up in the clouds somewhere.

My previous collection was a book of fun poems for children called ‘Barking At Nothing’ which is being sold to raise money for a local charity, the Donna Louise Children’s Hospice Trust based in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, UK, which provides hospice care for children with life limiting conditions and support for their families. These poems span a much longer period of writing time than those in ‘Collecting Cobwebs’, some having been written when I was still at college in the 1970’s. They are light-hearted poems reflecting on nature, family life and relationships from a child’s point of view and also make enjoyable reading for parents and grandparents who may have grown up familiar with the verse of Robert Louis Stevenson and A.A. Milne. The aim of the collection is to try to encourage children to enjoy poetry and there is a final section to the book with ideas and suggestions for children to write their own poems based on their own experiences.

What kind of people have you aimed your book at and why?
Oh dear. As writers we are constantly being told to identify our audience and yes, I do believe that if you are writing for a specific outlet then of course what you write must fit with the ethos of that outlet, but I do also share the views of people like C.S. Lewis who believe that you should write what you want to write. Consequently I do not consciously ‘consider my audience’ when writing poetry, but tend to write for myself and hope that others also enjoy it. Of course once it is written you can identify a likely audience when deciding what to do with it! As I said before, ‘Collecting Cobwebs’ was originally planned as a volume in its own right and I had intended it to be a collection of what I consider my more serious poems. I also had it in mind to produce a separate volume of what I would perhaps describe as my ‘Pam Ayres’ type of verse, although it is often a thin line that divides the two styles. Once I decided to combine my work with my uncle’s I had to consider the most likely audience for his work too and so decided that a mixture of serious and light-hearted was the way to go. Many people are put off by poetry, considering it inaccessible, too academic, and this is something I try to avoid even when writing my so-called serious verse. Jack’s poems are certainly very accessible, he was just an ordinary man who happened to write poetry and you don’t need a degree to understand his poems. That is not to say that they are overly simple, in fact they often have hidden depths that make you sit up and think. I’m also quite sure Jack was writing for himself, not for any specific target audience. The resulting collection therefore is offered in the hope that your ‘average man in the street’ will find pleasure in reading it and feel a connection with the sentiments expressed.

Tell me about your road to publication
It is really down to Jack that I embarked on self-publishing at all. When we found his collection of poems after his death it saddened me that these poems were hidden away unread. Then I realised that I too had a stash of poems hidden away unread and decided I should do something about it. I had inherited a small sum of money from Jack’s estate, more than enough to consider publishing and I thought that if I could recoup the expenditure I would be able to fund further projects in the future.

When I set out to publish ‘Barking At Nothing’ I had very little idea about the publishing process. It seemed a good idea to do the children’s collection first as I had written more poems for children at that time so I was more likely to produce enough poems for a book fairly quickly. I decided that I would like to donate any profits that I might make to charity and since it was a children’s book it should be a children’s charity that benefited, so after some deliberation I approached the Donna Louise Trust to get them on board early. I have to say they were rather luke-warm at first. No doubt they get many such approaches that come to nought, however once they realised this was actually going to happen they were very supportive.

My first idea was to use a self-publishing services provider but I soon realised that this was not only quite an expensive way of doing things but also that it was highly unlikely that I would make any profit at all, so then I began to consider how much I could do for myself. I had word processing and desktop publishing skills and was reasonably artistic so I came to the conclusion that I could probably manage most of it. I felt it was important for a children’s book to be illustrated and contemplated doing this myself as well but decided it would take me far too long to produce the necessary drawings, so I approached a young illustrator friend of my son Chris, who offered his services free of charge. Unfortunately, doing this in his spare time proved to be taking him as long as it would have taken me, plus there was the added problem of getting him to interpret what it was that I wanted – not always an easy thing to do, so to speed things up I started to do some of the simple drawings myself. I eventually ended up doing about half of the total illustrations. I also designed the cover but since I did not have access to or know how to use Photoshop I was a bit stumped as to how to produce it as a print ready file.

I was quite clear early on that I wanted an ISBN number and bar code so that the book would look as professional as possible and could be sold both on-line and through bookshops, but if I was doing the work myself I would need to obtain my own number and as you have to buy a block of ten numbers this isn’t cheap. There I had a bit of luck. My daughter-in-law’s father had bought a block of ten a few years earlier when he published a book of his own and he did not need the other nine numbers, so it was relatively simple to set up my own Publisher’s Imprint – Silverburn Publishing – and arrange to transfer the spare numbers into my name at considerably less cost than buying a complete new block of numbers!

After a lot of research on the Internet and by phone I found a firm to do the printing and bookbinding at a reasonable cost, based on the campus of Keele University not far from my home, so I was able to visit them to discuss my needs and look at samples of other books they had produced. If I wished they could provide the complete cover for me at extra cost but I went for the cheaper option of having them produce print-ready files from my own design. They also provided the bar code to go with my ISBN number. Overall I was very pleased with their service and with the resulting book. I have since pretty well recouped my expenditure and have so far donated £500 to the charity.

When I came to do ‘Cobwebs’ there was no doubt in my mind that I would again do it all myself, including doing all the illustrations from the outset. I had decided to use the same printing firm that I had used for ‘Barking’ and formatted the book to their own rather distinctive requirements, but when I approached them to check out the cost I discovered that the firm was closing down within a few days. So it was then back to the telephone and the Internet to try to find another printer with such reasonable rates. Eventually I came across a firm on-line called ‘Inky Little Fingers’ and decided to go with them, partly because I liked the name! Unfortunately they required the book to be formatted differently and as this also affected the layout it rather set me back a few weeks – and my planned book launch at a local Book Festival was fast approaching. This time I needed to produce the cover entirely myself or pay them to do it – no halfway house, and I still couldn’t use Photoshop! Here my eldest son Adam and daughter-in-law Alison came to the rescue, producing the cover for me to my basic design. The books duly arrived with a couple of weeks to spare before the launch. I was again very pleased with the resulting book and would not hesitate to self-publish using the same printing firm in future.

Tomorrow Libby will be talking about what inspires her to write and at the end of the week she will be giving away a copy of Collecting Cobwebs. If you would like to read more of her work, please visit Libby To buy her book please visit Silverburn Publishing

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