Witch of the Week #2: Grotbags

When I was six, Grotbags was terrifying.
Stalking through children’s TV throughout the eighties, Grotbags (played by Carol Lee Scott) was originally the witch-nemesis of Rod Hull’s anarchic bird creation/companion Emu (a large bird puppet with an anger management problem*):

But back in the day, she used to be everywhere: she’d turn up on Crackerjack, in pantos… you name it. She was loud, she was mean, and she was bright green; her weapon of choice was the seldom-effective Bazzazzer, a severed arm painted gold and with an umbrella handle sticking out of the elbow end.* (She worked it by pointing it at things and shouting “BAZZAZZZ!”)
Here’s Grotbags getting into a pickle over a horoscope.

I mean, obviously she could never win. She was on a kid’s TV show, trying to catch kids in a “Brat Trap” for some unspecified magical reason, and dead set on gaining possession of Emu himself, for another nefarious purpose (presumably; no one ever really explained). But she was glorious, and, as with all good villains, you ended up secretly wishing that once, just once, she could catch a break—and at the same time being eternally grateful that she didn’t.

*And people wonder why I say I have trouble explaining British pop culture to North Americans.

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A Frank Post about Checking Paragraphs

My task for this evening is checking (not reading) my typeset pages, comparing the top and bottom lines of each paragraph to ensure that none of the paragraphs fell into the ether during typesetting (rare, but it does happen) and looking for formatting infelicities. I am not reading the pages (I’ve asked someone else to do this for me) so that I resist the temptation to fiddle with the text, which at this stage would be annoying and expensive. So: checking paragraphs it is.


This is time-consuming and, let us say, “non-optimally engaging,” so I’m listening to Frank Turner’s album England, Keep My Bones while I’m doing it. I really enjoy this album, and it’s one of the reasons that I have a book in the first place, because it sort of (as the reviewer from the BBC put it) “comfortably wrestle[s] with such notions as what it is to be English – English, mind, not British – without being caught on the defensive,” which made me start wrestling (mentally) with the whole notion of the quaint English village and how it appears in books and on the telly and… you get the idea.


Anyway, here’s Frank singing about English rivers (in a boat, on an English river).



Aaaaaaaaand back to checking paragraphs.

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Witch of the Week #1

Screw vampires. For me, witches have always been the best monsters. (There’s a witch in my book.) They got to do more fun stuff than princesses, and they generally know a lot more useful things as well. So I thought I’d write a bit about my favourite witches, starting with Griselda (“She of the Evil Eye”) from the 1955 Danny Kaye comedy, The Court Jester.

Griselda (played by Mildred Natwick) is the personal lady-in-waiting of the Princess Gwendoline (essayed by a very young Angela Lansbury), whose protection is pretty much the only thing keeping her from a short walk to a hot bonfire. So Griselda’s pretty invested in keeping Gwendoline happy – and when Danny Kaye shows up, and Gwendoline falls hard and fast, Griselda isn’t taking any chances…


Further proof that Griselda’s powers are awe-inspiring: this spell never once worked for me in elementary school, no matter how many times I tried it.

(Update: I did just learn a new-to-me piece of Internet magic, though: the video should now be embedded. I am disproportionately excited about this.)

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I don’t make these things up, you know.

Weird stuff really does happen in small English villages. (I mentioned I’m from a small English village, right?) This happened in my village a couple of weeks ago:

Jogger Attacked Five Times by Dive-Bombing Buzzard

My impression was that buzzards tend to go after things that are generally not quite as lively as joggers, but there’s always one, right?

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Interior Design: Things That Martha Never Considered

When I was in copy editing school (which is actually A Thing), my instructor pointed out that, since Gutenberg first slapped his moveable type on the press and started churning out copies of God’s perennial bestseller (my words, not hers), the publishing industry has, over time, honed the book so that it represents a piece of perfect technology – essentially, it’s only when things go wrong that the fact that people had to think about them in the first place becomes obvious.

Having a solid interior design for your book, if you’re making a print version, helps things not to go obviously wrong. It not only makes your final book look professional, it also helps readability by ensuring that there aren’t an inconsistent number of words on the page, that the leading (the spacing between the lines) doesn’t make the text look smushed, that the margins aren’t disproportionate. It takes care of a host of details that you may not even have considered, but which stop your physical book getting in the way of your story.

I am not a designer, so I don’t really have any tips on making the inside of your book look top-notch, but I can give you a list of things I was thinking about when I was preparing to work with a designer to make sure we covered all the stuff I needed and didn’t end up creating a ton more work for her and becoming a footnote on Clients from Hell. So here are some things you might want to consider:

  • What are your specifications? What will be the trim size (i.e., the final dimensions) of the printed book?
  • How many words do you want to appear on a page? This is a really tough one to calculate, and to be honest, I ended up pulling books that matched the trim size I wanted off my shelves, finding pages that contained no dialogue, and counting the words myself. (Never let it be said that self-publishing is not a barrel of laffs.) Remember, this will impact the final total of pages in your book (and possibly therefore your print costs).
  • What do you want your running heads/feet to be?
  • How many colours do you want to use? (This is not as complex as it sounds, as the number is usually “one” (for books that only print in black and white), “two” (obvious), or “four” (full colour productions.)

You also need to think about all of the different elements in your manuscript. Do you have chapter numbers (Chapter 1, Chapter 2, and so on)? Do you have chapter titles? Have you included block quotes anywhere? Is there anything that’s going to need to look a bit different than a basic paragraph, in other words? (Even basic paragraphs need a bit of thought, as they’re usually set flush left after a heading or title, and only indented after that.) Does your story include letters? Emails? Text messages? Poetry? These are all things you should talk to your designer about, because you need to figure out how you want them to look. “Normal” is fine – but you need to define what “normal” is…

Also, be nice when you’re working with designers. They’re creative people too.

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Alphabet Soup (Self-Publishing Flavour)

So I’ve been dealing with two key ingredients in publishing’s alphabet soup: the ISBN and the CIP data. Before I say anything else a quick reminder: I’m doing this whole exercise in Canada, and if you’re based somewhere else, the rules are probably different and all I can tell you — until someone invents a functional Time Turner — is that Google is your friend. Sorry about that.

Also, this (as will become clear very quickly) is not a comprehensive guide to Obtaining an ISBN and CIP Data, but it is basically part of the Giant List of Things I Had to Think About, so I thought it would be worth posting a (very) brief introduction.

Essentially, here are some things I learned:

The ISBN is the International Standard Book Number. This is the descendent of a code called the Standard Book Numbering code, invented in 1965 by a professor called Gordon Foster working at Trinity College, in Dublin (alma mater of Bram Stoker and Oscar Wilde. Ireland is awesome.) In Canada, you can get one for free when you create an account as a publisher with Library and Archives Canada. (I work with ISBNs on a daily basis; I tell you, when you get one that’s got your book’s name next to it, it’s a good feeling.) You go to https://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/isn/041011-1000-e.html, fill out the form, and they set you up and send you the number via email fairly promptly. One thing I will say, though: they do ask for a lot of data about your physical book, so if you’re doing a print run, you’ll need to have a fair idea of your trim size (i.e., the physical dimensions of your book when it’s printed), binding (paperback? hardcover?), and prospective date of publication, or you won’t be able to fill out the form. ISBNs are free in Canada, to encourage Canadian culture, so if you’re a Canadian writer who’s been putting things off for a bit – well, you have no excuse: you have officially been Encouraged.

The CIP — Cataloging in Publication — data is also available for free from Collections Canada and is the apparently incomprehensible collection of letters, names and punctuation marks that you find on the back of the title page, starting with Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication. If you want to go and have a look to make sure I’m not making things up, go ahead. I’ll just wait here.

<makes cup of tea while waiting>

See? Not making things up. This data is written in Librarian, and is very much of concern if you are a Librarian (bless ‘em all) trying to figure out where the book in your hand should go on your shelves so that the Readers (bless ‘em all!) can find the book that the Author has sweated blood and tears over. The CIP program is also, to quote their website,

a voluntary program of cooperation between publishers and libraries. It enables the cataloguing of books before they are published, and the prompt distribution of this cataloguing information to booksellers and libraries.

This is Not A Bad Thing. Again, you assemble all your info – author details, print run, and so forth – fill in the form, and you’re away (although they can take a while to get back to you, so if you’ve applied, it might be good to make a note of them and follow up before you publish, because you don’t want your CIP data to arrive when you’re already sitting there on a giant pile of money with your last remaining copy of the print run in your hand*). Three things to note here: 1) CIP data is only available if you’re doing a print run; 2) your print run has to be more than 100 copies; and 3) if you submit your application and then change your details (such as your title) before you publish and don’t let the nice CIP people know, you will ruin the lives of librarians everywhere. Don’t do that. Be nice to librarians. They deserve it.

My tea is getting cold. Back in a bit.

*I’m told authors do this all the time. Especially the self-published ones.

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I think the door to this blog is stuck.

<sound of splintering wood>



<sniff, splutter>

<looks around as dust cloud settles>

My goodness, it’s been a while. I just checked the date on my last post and discovered that it had been a full two years since I last put anything up.

Where does the time go?

Actually, that’s a totally disingenuous rhetorical question. (I’m not sure what the emoticon is for “crazyexcited about this thing I’m working on; dying to talk about it, can’t think of a good segueway; who needs words when you’re a writer anyway?” If there’s a word for it, it’s probably German.) I wrote a book!  I’m really excited about it! It’s set in a small village in the heart of England (total coincidence: I’m actually from a small village in the heart of England, albeit a different one, that I maintain would have been a lot more interesting if it had had magic and monsters in it.) And it has witches! (well, one.) And monsters! (lots.) And British-made cars! (of variable quality.) Seriously. I’m so stoked about this thing.

I’ve decided to self-publish it (why? Whole other post; it’s a-comin’), and given that this is going to involve a lot more self-promotion than I’m generally used to, I’m going to change the focus of the blog a bit and use it to track my adventures in the hitherto uncharted (by me) scary dark forest of self-publishing. Will my story and I be swallowed up by the darkness, never to be seen again? Eaten by ferocious Marketing Dragons? Mutilated by the terrifying Social Media Hydra? Beset by ghoulishly deformed running heads, spiky stacks of hyphens, and pagination that defies not only the laws of mathematics, but also of sanity? Or will we survive and emerge bloody, embattled, and psychologically scarred, but ultimately victorious and ready to fight another day?

Wanna find out? Stay with me. Best pack a lunch.

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