Thursday, 16 June 2011

Blackstaff Press - 40th birthday celebrations

Before taking to writing, and with almost twenty years in the furniture business behind me, Mark Twain's advice to writers on the chances of publication always sounded close to home:-

"Write without pay until somebody offers pay. If nobody offers within three years, the candidate may look upon this circumstance with the most implicit confidence as the sign that sawing wood is what he was intended for."

For me, somebody offered just in the nick of time. Late in 2004, I was painting the walls of a stable belonging to my sister, when my mobile rang. I couldn't get down from the ladder fast enough, and I missed the call. But the caller had left a message, so I wiped my hands on my shirt-tail (a bad habit I acquired doing odd jobs in school holidays), sat with my back against a tree and dialled my voicemail. It was Rachel McNicholl of Blackstaff Press, and she said, very matter of fact, that she would like to speak to me about publishing my book the following summer. It may have been matter of fact to her, but any writer will tell you that there is something very sweet in that moment when you discover, for the first time, that someone likes your work enough to publish it - and I got up and wandered aimlessly around the tree several times, my heart beating wildly and a stupid grin on my face.

I had submitted the manuscript to Blackstaff Press months before, having decided not to bother with anyone else for two reasons: first, in a casual conversation years previously, the then managing editor and director Anne Tannahill had told my mother that if she ever wrote her memoirs, or a biography of my father, Blackstaff Press would be receptive; and second, I was pretty sure my father would approve, as Blackstaff had a reputation for non-partisan publishing, and in fact in 1992 had received a citation from the judges of the Christopher Ewart-Biggs Memorial Award for 'producing books which have genuinely added to a greater understanding between the peoples of Ireland and Britain'. It sounds bizarre, but it would almost have felt disloyal to look elsewhere, especially as there was so much of my parents in the manuscript.

I called Lynn, then my mother, then the lovely Rachel at Blackstaff Press - and to cut a long story (made even longer by the intervention of family crisis) short, my first book The Blue Cabin was published in October 2006.

Well tonight, as part of Belfast Book FestivalBlackstaff Press celebrates forty years as Northern Ireland's foremost publisher with a party at Crescent Arts Centre in Belfast, and although sadly I'm unable be there, I would like to say:

and Cheers!

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