October Event: London Month of the Dead

October, once again, will be the London Month of the Dead. It was for London Month of the Dead that I made my very first visit to Brompton Cemetery. I had been to five of the magnificent seven and it was a shame I hadn’t been to Brompton. It is beautifully kept compared to some of the other Magnificent Seven, but it kept that beautiful hint of ivy and moss, just enough to be wearing away with time.

Some of the talks were about death and dying, I remember particularly the future of dying, and realising I was one of the few people there with my personal corpse plan already worked out and in writing. It wasn’t morbid or gothic so much as honest and even fun. There were gothic moments, especially if you walk through Brompton, but I was carried away by the reality of it all: the talks were fascinating, and real. these weren’t ghost stories in the night, this was real death, real life. It was also for the love of London

Two years later I get to be a part of London Month of the Dead, and I cannot wait. I’ll be giving my Chills of Chelsea horror walk, where I’ll take you through the beautiful village-like Chelsea to see why it was a hotspot for horror films in the late 1960s and 1970s. I’ll share with you stories of satanism, revenge, Peter Cushing and Boris Karloff. We can find the dreadful delights of London together.

Tickets: Chills of Chelsea Horror Walk. 11 October 2020.

Moving

I have loved London. I’ve lived here for a total of ten years now, given dozens of horror walks throughout it’s various neighbourhoods, I got my MA and my PhD here. But, life and time move on and I am excited to say that mean’s I’ll be moving too!

I’m excited to be moving up to Scotland which offers so many new professional and personal opportunities, and will hopefully lead to its own set of unique horror walks. As I move things will change and grow but I’ll keep on writing and giving talks around the UK, and I’ll keep you updated.

London will always have a special place in my life and my heart, and it’s also the centre of my upcoming book, so while London may no longer be my home, it’s still in my heart.

The work of writing: Publishing process for a collection of essays

The final book, on a shelf or in a hand, represents fractionally the what was put into it. Even before it gets bound, a cover is designed, and it goes to press, thousands more words have been written than appear in the final manuscript. The writer has expanded, whittled, tweaked, editing, excavated, and redrafted his or her manuscript enough to ensure the final draft is a close cousin of the first – a slimmer, more articulate cousin.

On top of this, there are hundreds, even thousands of words sent to and exchanged with the publisher and editors. I’m in the middle of this process at the moment and, when explaining it to a friend (who is in the wholly unrelated field of accounting), she mused “I thought your job was just the mansucript?”

For established writers, we know this is far from true, but for new or aspiring writers, perhaps they have a similar starry-eyed belief. The manuscript is certainly essential – you can’t publish without it – but for a working writer, the manuscript is also just the beginning. For anyone out there not familiar with all the other writing you will need to do, this post is here to tell you more.

Right now I am contributing to a collection of essays, and the process for this is slightly different than for a monograph (single-author work). I’ll take you through the process of this as a writer, but try to highlight what points are also relevant to a monograph.

  1. If you want to edit a collection of essays you would start with a proposal and finding a publisher. In my current case, it began with a call for contributions. Two colleagues sent out the pitch for an essay collection, which had already been accepted by the publishers. The call outlined the kind of essays they hoped to collect. This included word count and formatting as well as topic and theme. As they requested work from around twenty people, but were only including a dozen essays, they asked us to write a proposal first.
  2. The proposal. This is a stage writers go through for anything from contributions to monographs, to essay collections. Fiction and non-fiction alike, in addition to writing your essay/book/poetry you need to write a proposal. A good proposal should:
    • Include the title, word count and any technical information they ask for. This may include illustration information, or simply sticking to formatting requirements.
    • Summarise the argument or your work without going into too much detail. For longer books you can give examples, but with a short proposal I stuck to the core argument in one sentence.
    • Express why your writing is a valuable contribution to the existing work. Yours is not likely to be the first or only book/essay on the subject; rather you may have a new approach or new evidence. Think about this thoroughly: what about your work is new? Who does it appeal to? What other writing or research it like, but also what makes it unique?
    • Meet any other criteria the publisher asks for. Many ask for an author biography, indicating the other work you have done; others may ask for a one-sentence elevator pitch of your book, or an explanation of how you plan to promote your material. Carefully ensure your pitch answers their requirements.
    • Keep it short. How do you feel when you get a three-page email in the middle of a busy work day? Good proposals grab attention and then keep it short and simple. This will keep the publisher/editors interest.
  3. The Manuscript. If your proposal is accepted, you then move on to the editing phase. This begins when you send in your manuscript. For first-time writers, it’s wise to have the manuscript in a good state before you send in a proposal. In the case of this contribution, I had a vague outline of the essay I wanted to write, but chose to wait until my essay was accepted before I began to write it. This was possible because the editorial deadline was months after the proposal acceptance. For monographs, I advise that you have a rough draft containing two or three chapters thoroughly edited by the time to send in your proposal. This is because they may ask you for a sample chapter or two in the proposal or between the proposal and a formal decision. Once accepted, though, they expect a manuscript free from typos and clerical errors. I cannot stress this enough: put your best foot forward.
  4. Sign a contract. For a book this stage will likely come before edits, but for contributors it may come during the editing process. Always have someone look over your contract for you. I joined a writer’s Union here in the UK – Society of Authors – who offer this service free to members. Even if it’s a small contribution contract, it’s important to make sure someone takes a look at details that extend beyond the publication of the book – like reproduction rights, copyright, etc.
  5. Edits. Even if you are a best-selling author, you will have an editor to make sure your book comes across clearly and consistently. In the case of contributing to a book, the editor(s) also ensure that your chapter works well with the overall themes of the book and the other contributions. This may mean a lot of back and forth, and certainly means more writing work for you. If you have questions, though, don’t be afraid to ask. They want the book to be at its best.
  6. Finally, you will contribute to PR. You’ve written a pitch, an outline, a manuscript – which you have also rewritten – and there is even more writing ahead. Different publishers will have different levels of contribution for their authors with regard to the PR campaign. This makes it hard to know exactly what to expect, but it should be laid out in your contract. They may have you write or contribute to the back of book description, PR materials, and text for social media and print media campaigns. In addition, it’s wise to do some of your own PR. Mention your publication date on your blog or to your followers. If you choose to have a mailing list, write a few emails to lead up to the launch and one announcing the book launch and where to purchase it. Once it is published there may be even more to come, including anything from school visits to interviews!

Above I’ve offered a basic pathway to publication which I followed in contributing to a collection of essays. Depending on publishers there may be variations, but you can rely on five of these six stages existing in any publishing process: proposal, manuscript, contract, edits and PR.

I think it’s so important for new and emerging writers to be aware that in addition to the manuscript or essay, there is a lot of other writing involved. In addition to the text, you will spend a great deal of time “pitching” your material. Even though it can feel exhausting, or even repetitive, put the same passion into it that you did your manuscript. The real secret to getting something published is to believe in your work. Edit it ruthlessly, and promote it passionately and honestly – and do both because it’s a book you would love to read.

If you are new to the process and want to know more, or perhaps learn more about your writer’s union, do feel free to get in touch on my contact page. As always, happy reading!

Truth in Portraiture: Nairn Book & Arts Festival

Thank you to everyone who came to the Nairn Book & Arts Festival this year. I always enjoy this festival, and find some of the most engaging audiences. This year I was considering the narrative of ‘truth’ and authentic identity across the history of portraiture. We had some really fantastic discussion and looked at portraits from the earliest days of photogrpahy to Planton’s recent portrait of Mark Zuckerberg.

An interesting area that came up in conversation it the tradition of family Christmas portraits and the myth of the family that this perpetuates. I’ve always found the idea of what family should be, and how it is culturally preserved to be fascinating. This was also of interest in my thesis, which drew on Marianne Hirsch’s book, The Familial Gaze. As described by Hirsch, the familial gaze encompasses ‘the conventions and ideologies of family through which [the family unit] see themselves’. We understand in this definition that family photographs reveal not realities but ‘ideologies’ or beliefs by and about the family.

Outside of the family, the familial gaze lingers, though it becomes compounded with additional gazes relating to the social, cultural, and political contexts in which ‘the family’ and individual designations within that family (such as mother or sister) are viewed. Hirsch argued: ‘the camera has become the family’s primary instrument of self-knowledge and self-representation – the primary means by which family memory is perpetuated, by which the family’s story is told’. This suggests that photography can serve as self-definition for the family as well as encourage identification between the viewer and the familial tropes within the photograph.

After the festival I returned to my own photo albums and looked back over family Christmas photographs. I came across one of my mother and her siblings when they were young – 1962. The blonde sisters with matching haircuts and dresses and the two boys – one in a white onesie and the other a tiny suit. They looked very much like an ideal family from the fifties. It was interesting to think how different they would become. One would be a poet/surfer/tech salesman who fit the California beach vibe in every way, another would go on to be an award-winning marathon runner, another would help secure and protect the forests of Northern California and establish most of the public transport system. They were rebels and entrepreneurs and people who pushed and changed the world they lived in, yet in that photograph they looked conservative, simple, ordinary. Sometimes there is joy to sending out these family images of smiling children in the idea that the family will always remain happy, but that myth also eliminates the independence, the unique realities of these individuals and their lives.

I invite all of you to look at your family portraits, and consider what message they send, but also what they leave out, the colour of our lives.

PTI Summer session: Rethinking Medical Photography for the classroom

This weekend I led a session at the Princes Trust Institute Art Enrichment Residential on Rethinking Medical Photography. It’s always a fantastic experience to work with the PTI, because you get to work with teachers and consider how to get students engaged at all different year levels in the history of art.

For this summer session I brought Medical Photography to Art teachers and talked about the relationship between medical photography and art from the earliest days of photography. One of the great lessons for pre-GCSE students is that photography was originally conceived of as a scientific tool and it developed alongside art as a way to present the world in a ‘factual’ and ‘neutral’ way rather than through artistic interpretation.

While my main focus of study now is horror film, my background is in the history of photography, with a particular interest in the influences of medical and forensic photography on art. This talk is a good overview that I’ve given to a variety of audiences, but today I was able to adapt it to include ways that the lessons of medical photography can be brought into the art classroom. This included looking at specific artists who respond to medical photography. These artists open up possibilities for photography projects and demonstrating how history informs photographic practice.

The best part of the session though was what came next: a chance for the teachers to dive in and try some of the techniques discussed in the lecture. We drew on over a dozen artists who intervene found medical photographs and encouraged teachers to do the same on some found photography of our own. The goals were to see how different techniques like paper fold, cutting, collage and embroidery could alter or enhance the images and also to reflect our own reaction to the photographs. We also encouraged them to focus in on the idea of the body and personal identity.

As you can see, they did some really amazing work:

If you are a teacher or a school and are interested to know more about the Summer Residential for Teachers, visit the PTI website. It is a truly unique opportunity and there are so many opportunities to enrich your classroom and your career.

If you would like to talk to me about doing a history of photography session with your school or organisation, please get in touch.