Tuesday, 25 February 2014

In which there are calls for my book to be banned, and my dad is even more annoying than usual. (Possibly a minor exaggeration re the book.)

"The product information should warn that this contains politics," says Greg, reading from his computer screen.

"I quite agree," I say, only half-listening. I am otherwise engaged in reading an email from Dad, who's back in Thailand for the umpteenth time. In it,  he says he's split up with Porn-Poon but there's "no need to worry" as he's already fallen in love again. 

"With a much older woman this time," he adds, which is a big relief. Maybe he is capable of ageing with dignity, after all. 

I send a reply asking, "How old?" just to double-check. 

"You're not listening to me again, Molly," says Greg. "Which is particularly stupid on this occasion, given what I'm trying to draw your attention to. This review goes on to say that politics shouldn't be allowed in books. If you're not careful, you'll end up as the Salman Rushdie of chick-lit and all copies of your book will be burned in public."

"What?" I say, nearly having a heart attack. "What the hell are you talking about? Why would my book be burned – other than by The Boss, if he found out about it? And why are you reading the reviews anyway? I told you I didn't want to know about them in case they were terrible."

I walk over to Greg's desk, feeling slightly sick, and peer over his shoulder at the screen. 

"There," he says, jabbing his finger at a review that gives my book one star. One star! I've never even given a product that failed to arrive one paltry star, just in case it was the Post Office's fault and not the seller's. 

"Oh, my God," I say, sitting down heavily on the corner of Greg's desk and knocking his coffee over a letter to the Treasury. " I am doomed. And all my efforts have been for nothing."

"Don't be so dramatic," says Greg, dabbing ineffectually at the coffee stain and then putting the letter into an envelope anyway. "I'm only reading the worst reviews, as they're by far the funniest. Quite a lot of people really like the book, though I'd be tempted to assume they were all your friends and family, if I didn't know you hadn't told anyone about the book. So I suppose even the good reviews must be genuine, however unlikely that might seem."

"Thanks for that resounding vote of confidence," I say, heading for the corridor. I need a cigarette – and urgently. 

Honestly, how stressful is this book publishing business? It's worse than working for an MP, and that is really saying something. As if to prove that point, I'm still sitting on the wall outside the office, smoking and fretting, when Mr Beales shows up, looking even madder than usual. His glasses make his eyes look almost as large as his enormous ears.

"Hear about the police giving that nutter his shotguns back?" he says, by way of introduction. "He only went and shot his family with them, didn't he?"

"Allegedly," I say. Innocent until proven guilty, after all. That's the defence I'll be using if there are any more calls to burn my book.

"Pfft," says Mr Beales. "The police are bloody idiots. Only responsible people should be allowed to hold licences for guns. Talking of which, mine needs renewing. I'll leave the form with you, for Andrew to sign when he's next in the office."

I'm still so stressed about the book, that I just take the form without making any attempt at protest, which seems to surprise Mr Beales even more than it does me. Then I make things worse by rushing inside the building so fast that I accidentally let the door slam in his face. (I know it's only Mr Beales, but I'm not normally rude, even to him. I don't know what's wrong with me, which is exactly what Greg says when I finally arrive back in our office after walking up one too many flights of stairs and then having to walk back down again.)

"What did Big Ears Beales want?" he says, closing the window he's obviously been using to spy on me while I've been gone.

"He wants Andrew to sign his shotgun licence renewal form," I say. "I didn't have it in me to argue with him about it today."

"Are you mad?" says Greg. "It's MPs and their staff not handling this sort of thing properly that gets politics a bad name in the first place."

"Well, clearly the public don't care one way or the other," I say, "if they think politics is so irrelevant to their lives it should even be banned from being in books." 

"Now you're sulking," says Greg. "And all because of one little review. Don't be so pathetic, Mol. Imagine what Andrew's Amazon ratings would be like, if MPs ever got reviews."

"Well, abysmal, of course," I say. "But that wouldn't bother The Boss, would it? His ego's indestructible. Mine isn't. Think of a way to cheer me up, quick, if you want me back to my usual responsible self."

It takes Greg quite some time to come up with something, but finally he says he thinks he may have succeeded. 

"See this?" he says, gesturing at the video clip I took of the machine Clays the printers used to deal with the pallets on which my books were stacked. "Imagine this being installed above the entrances to MPs' constituency offices."

"Ye-es," I say, not entirely sure where he's going with this, but quite intrigued all the same. 

 "Well, then the machine just sits there, minding its own business – almost invisibly," says Greg, "until someone like Mr Beales walks in."

"And then what happens?" I say. It's still far from obvious to me where this is heading, but then I'm still distracted by the fear of being at the centre of a book-burning controversy.

"The automatic nutter sensor activates, of course," says Greg. "The one I'm going to design to make the machine suddenly drop down over the heads of the usual suspects – at which point this will happen:"

I feel much more cheerful now I've envisaged Mr Beales being silenced by a whirling roll of opaque plastic. Who cares if my book ends up being burned? Or that Dad replies to my email asking how old his new, "much older" woman is with this highly-complimentary response: 

"About the same age as you are, Molly." 

I shall just get Greg to programme the nutter sensor to shrink-wrap annoying fathers, as well as shotgun-wielding constituents. Then almost all my problems will be over.


PS Thank you  – sincerely  – to everyone who has read and reviewed the book so far. I'm genuinely grateful to you (as long as you didn't call for my book to be banned). 

Greg says I should start "shamelessly posting good reviews, like other authors do", so I may take his advice, if I can get over my grandfather's no boasting rule. If the whole thing becomes too nauseating, do feel free to tell me to stop.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Peel me a grape, or how Greg plans the saddest book launch ever known to man – or woman, i.e. me.

God, I'm so stressed. It's publication day, and here I am – not luxuriating in a bubble bath and ordering minions to peel me grapes – but sitting at my desk and listening to Greg telling me how useless at book marketing I am.

(I don't know why I assume other authors lie in baths with grapes flying at them in all directions on the days their books are published, but I just do. That's exactly the sort of delusional thinking that got me into this mess.)

Anyway, now Greg's going on about what he calls my "utter failure" to organise a launch.

"How the hell can I have a book launch, when you're the only person who knows about the bloody book?" I say. "It'd be even more poorly attended than whatshername's was - you know, that poet you were in love with last year?"

"The name of that poet, as you call her," says Greg, glaring at me,"was Jessica, as you very well know. And she was an exceedingly good poet – and masseuse. Her particular form of poetry was just too specialised for the masses to appreciate."

That's one way of putting it – and Jess could be an excellent masseuse, for all I know – but she also encouraged Greg to write everything in rhyme for the six months they were together, so I shall never ever forgive her for that. I doubt any of the usual suspects will, either.

Anyway, I decide not to wind Greg up any more – on the basis that it's unwise to fall out with the only person who'd still be talking to me if news about my book ever got out – so I make him a coffee without being asked, in an attempt to maximise his loyalty.

I even make Joan a cup, as faffing about in the kitchen stops me fretting, for all of five minutes. I've been on tenterhooks ever since I woke up this morning, especially whenever an email or a text arrives – in case it's from Max.

It'd be just my luck if he suddenly decided to take up reading, and went to Waterstones at lunchtime  to browse for books. (Then he'd be bound to notice mine and go ballistic, not least at the suggestion that he'd ever wear pyjamas like the ones on the cover.)

Or The Boss might spot a copy in WH Smith when he buys today's papers (to check he's made it into all of them), and then he'd sack me on the spot – and mean it, too. And what about if Johnny sees it – or Dad? Or Dinah? Oh, my God.

I'm having one of those anxiety-fuelled hot flushes now. Honestly, if I keep this up, I shall be in a right state by the end of the day, even if no-one's found me out by then.

"You already look like a madwoman, " says Greg, when I tell him why I'm so agitated. "You need to calm down, and enjoy the experience of being a published author."

I raise my eyebrows at the total impossibility of that suggestion, but Greg just sips his coffee (which he hasn't even bothered to thank me for), and then adds:

"I know, we'll hold an event ourselves – just me and you. I'll phone the Star of India and see if they've forgiven us yet."

He's the only one they need to forgive, but they haven't, anyway – somewhat unsurprisingly, given what happened last time we went – so now we have a booking at the Jewel of the Orient, for 7:00pm.

I love Chinese food, but I bet I'll be starving again by the time I get home – that is, if I can go home. I could be the first MPs' staffer to live at the YWCA, if Max is the one who catches me out.

"Doesn't the "YW" stand for 'young women'?" says Greg, who urgently needs a refresher course in handling the vulnerable.

I can't get him a place on one today, though, despite the fact that it's an emergency – so now I'm going to swig Joan's entire bottle of Rescue Remedy and then have a lengthy lie down.

I'll be on the sofa in the Oprah Room if anyone wants me – anyone who doesn't want to talk about the book, that is. You can tell them I've left the country.

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Dave from the bindery does his thing, or "how my book was made, part two".

Thank God for that. I've sent The Boss off to the Silverdale Tracheotomy Club for the rest of the day so now I can get on with part two of how my book was made.

I'll have to send Mona (who runs the club) a giant box of chocolates for letting me foist Andrew upon her at such short notice. I don't think she's had a tracheotomy herself, so I hope I won't be committing an horrendous faux-pas, though I can't guarantee Andrew won't make up for that when he gets there.

Anyway, back to my arrival at Clays. After a lovely cup of tea, I was given a high-vis jacket - which would have sent Mr Beales into a semi-orgasmic state, but did absolutely nothing for me – and then it was off to see around the factory, with Dave from the bindery in charge of explaining everything. (This is where I get a bit hazy about the order of things. Greg says my brain's turning to mush, but I say it's because there was a lot to take in, all at once.)

The factory's quite noisy in places, but nothing like as noisy as I'd expected it to be, and it's immaculately well-ordered. We had to walk along a fairly narrow track painted onto the floor which is there to keep people from endangering themselves and others, (and which I kept forgetting about and stepping off.)

There were giant rolls of paper everywhere, like these behind Dave from the bindery. (You'd think he'd get fed up with being called that, but he genuinely didn't seem to mind.)

Anyway, first we went through a series of smaller areas, and looked at things like how a check is kept on the colours being used, which is done by an extremely fancy machine I've completely forgotten the name of, but which is pictured below:

Then it was on to seeing how the layout is done for the printing plates (This isn't the one for my book, but for one that mentions Sherlock Holmes, so it should really please all you Benedict Cumberbatch fans. I don't know what you see in him.)

Anyway, after that, we went out into the main part of the factory where the big print runs are done – which was where I started getting totally over-excited, when Dave (from the bindery) showed me this: 

I once took a simple book-binding class (thinking I might be able to change career and tell The Boss to stuff his job) but I hadn't realised that all books aren't made like hand-made ones. On a larger scale, the way they're put together is mind-bogglingly complex, especially to a layperson like me.  

"Here's your book now," said Dave, as we approached a big conveyor belt and I looked across to see long thin sections of the book rolling past me:

I didn't dare go anywhere near them as they were moving so fast, but Dave reached over and pulled one off, then put it into my hand. It was the front page of my book!

The sections were quite thick, by which I mean they contained a number of pages already fixed together. It obviously takes quite a lot of separate sections to create a whole book, though. (Please note that I am now saying, "obviously" like the expert I have so suddenly become.) God knows how they get all the sections in the right order.

"I'll turn this section over," said Dave, "and then you'll see." 

So he did – and so did I.

See the marks along the sides? Turns out they aren't just grubby splodges of ink, as I assumed, but have a very important purpose: to give a visual clue as to whether the book's being put together in the right order, once all the sections are put together. When they are, they form clear, diagonal lines, so any deviation should be obvious.

That's probably as clear as mud, but hopefully it'll become clearer as we continue our virtual tour – which is taking so long, I'd have another tea-break if I didn't think The Boss might come back at any moment after doing something stupid like suggesting they hold a singsong at the Tracheotomy Club. (He did that last time he went, but he never learns.)

I'm even more hazy about the next bit of the printing process but, somehow or other, the sections then end up on huge conveyor belts like the ones below, which are holding the sections of my book.

That's when things started to get really exciting (as if they weren't already exciting enough): I was about to see the last stages of Molly Bennett's random ramblings becoming a book. A book that might even be in a library one day!

"That's if the ConDems don't get rid of all the libraries before then," says Killjoy Greg. "They're having a bloody good go at it." 

I'm ignoring him, as I'd rather show you a video of what happened next. 

Someone must have pressed a button somewhere, because the line suddenly jerked into life, and everything started moving forwards towards where I was peering through a glass box-type construction that ran along the front of the line.

Dave (from the bindery) started explaining what was happening – as you can see in the clip that's coming up, but can't hear, so I'll have to explain instead, which won't be half as accurate. 

Anyway, the sections basically move forward along all those production lines you can see above – somehow or other getting put together in the right order – and then they shoot along sideways while glue (at an unbelievably-hot temperature) is applied along what is about to become the spine of the book. 

Then at some stage they get compressed, really hard, by someone wielding a big red tubular thing, which I was desperate to have a go at but didn't dare ask if I could.

Watch what happened when the next stage occurred: if you wait until I turn round, you'll see why I nearly fell over.

There was my book – with a cover on it for the first time – but it was a double book: with each half facing in opposite directions. (Does that make sense? Greg says not, but he's being awkward.)

There were so many of them, too. I couldn't believe it: thousands of "double" books all heading off to the next stage. (Warning, this one might make you feel dizzy: I know it did me.)

They were trimmed next, and finally, chopped in half with what Dave described as a "wood saw"...and then, all of a sudden, proper single books were moving along the production line.

"Look up there," said someone, and "Over there, too" said someone else.

There were books rolling along conveyor belts everywhere I looked: my book. 

I'm so short I couldn't really see them properly while they were overhead, but then they started rolling along a lower conveyor, at which point someone said, "Smile". This lunatic gurning was the result:

"What the hell are you watching, Molly?" says The Boss, who's just reappeared from nowhere. (Well, the Tracheotomy Club, actually, but you know what I mean.) I suppose I'd better go and find out what he's done to upset them now. 

The bit about what happened next at Clays will have to wait for yet another post – unless you all tell me to stop showing off now. My grandfather would have done that ages ago, so I wouldn't blame you at all.

In the meantime, thank you to everyone from HarperCollins and Clays, especially Dave from the bindery – who I think should take a bow:

The Boss, Wendi Deng and a serious shortage of lipstick. Oh, and how my book was made, part one.

Thank God for Wendi Deng and her (alleged) "thing" for Tony Blair.

Greg's so distracted by the note she apparently wrote about Tony's physical charms that he's spent all morning forging versions addressed to The Boss – which has kept him so quiet that I'm finally able to concentrate on writing a proper post about my book being printed.

"Quite right, too, Molly," says Greg, when I tell him that's what I'm doing. "You need to get on with marketing that book, otherwise you won't sell a single copy and then you'll be stuck working for Andrew – for the rest of your life."

Greg's tone makes that prospect sound even less pleasant than it normally would, but I'm not following his logic at all.

"Well, that's what you'll probably end up doing as well," I say. "So I don't know why you're going on at me about it."

Greg gestures at me to wait while he scrawls "Wendi" at the bottom of his latest draft love-letter, then walks up to me and shoves it against my lips. Hard, so he almost knocks me off my chair. When I push him away, he inspects the results, then rolls his eyes.

"You've worn all your lipstick off eating that bloody croissant," he says. "And when I expressly told you not to, too."

I didn't have any lipstick on in the first place, which shows how much notice anyone ever takes of me and, anyway, I needed to eat that croissant, fast. The Boss has just called to say he's on his way in.

"My mouth's nothing like the shape of Wendi Deng's," I say, "so Andrew wouldn't have been fooled by kisses I'd done, anyway. And talking of him, you still haven't answered my question about why you're warning me against being stuck here forever, when you're just as stuck as me."

"Well, that's where you're wrong, Molly," says Greg, drawing a large heart on the letter, then adding an arrow. "I have youth on my side, so the world remains my oyster. Whereas in your case..."

He doesn't finish the sentence, but then he doesn't need to, does he? I seriously hope someone's going to buy this bloody book.

Anyway, talking about that, I can't believe how complicated books are to produce. Just wait 'til you see what the process involves! I couldn't believe my eyes.

So, without further ado: here is how a book is made. My book, in fact. (I may have got the various processes a bit out of order, though, so don't even think about trying this at home. I was a bit over-excited, which is not a feeling with which I'm over-familiar, so the adrenalin went straight to my head.)

To re-cap, the printing was done at Clays, which is in Bungay, in Suffolk (though only just across the border from Norfolk, which apparently matters a lot). 

It employs hundreds of people, and is miles bigger than I realised. It's also been responsible for printing the books of some very important people (obviously not including me), and you realise this as soon as you walk into the building and are confronted by this wall of famous names:

I shouldn't think my name will ever be added to the wall but, even so, I was treated as if I was pretty famous myself, despite what I looked like – and there were some very important people from Clays and HarperCollins there to greet me. They were nice people as well, which is much more important than being important, as I'm always trying to tell The Boss. 

Here are some of them, anyway:

(Left to right: Dave from the bindery, of whom more later; Vicky Ellis, Account Director at Clays; Steve Jones, Account Controller at Clays and Charles Light, Production Director at Avon/HarperFiction at HarperCollins.)

I didn't get to talk to Steve Jones much, which I feel a bit bad about as we only met very briefly and I got distracted when I was introduced to him, but the others all came round the factory with me. 

Charles Light was rather handsome (though don't tell him I said that), and Vicky Ellis was absolutely lovely – but the star of this show's going to be Dave from the bindery, of whom much more in part two. 

I'm doing this in two parts because I'm thinking of your eyes, which will cross if I write one very long post, and anyway, The Boss has just arrived, so now I've got to go and pretend to listen to one of his entirely pointless "briefings", while Greg hides the Wendi Deng love-letters somewhere safe. 

He's refusing to give them to Andrew until he's found someone in the building who's wearing lipstick. Good luck with that, seeing as they're all men apart from Joan – and I shouldn't think she's ever worn lipstick in her life. It would ruin her resemblance to the bus driver from South Park, which would be a tragedy as far as I'm concerned.