When you really care about something you want to get it right. Right? And I do care about Heroines & Harridans. The shared relish and enthusiasm for great women in history has been a secret pleasure of Sandi Toksvig and illustrator Sandy Nightingale since they first worked together on The Travels of Lady ‘Bulldog’ Burton a few years ago.
Observing their exchanges was bit like watching a tennis match. I sat by the net as fabulous females, wonderful women warriors and some real oddballs (sorry) flew back and forth between The Two Sandies. Convention usually dictates a finished text for the artist to illustrate. This gestation was far from conventional. Candidates were served up from both sides of the court. Wholly undignified peals of laughter signalling a point scored. A puff of Wimbledon white smoke and a winning woman selected. That mash-up has to count as mixed-doubles meets mixed-metaphors, methinks.
Now I should declare that Sandy is my wife. And believe me, art directing ones wife’s artwork is not for the fainthearted. And renaissance woman, Sandi Toksvig, has become a trusted friend. Talented and charming she is also very smart, super-busy and a true professional. I treasure both enough to want to make them blush. But not here.
All sounds a bit intimidating when you are designing a book – but actually it was great fun. Sandi dubbed us the Three Musketeers as we hunkered down to bring the book to life. And print. Despite the sling and arrows . . . well you know the rest of that one. Fact is, and I have been fortunate enough to find this before, professionalism and mutual respect mean a project can overcome almost any obstacle. But if you have ever wrestled with sub-editing text that runs around an irregular shaped image then only you will know the glissando bliss of doing it live on Skype with an author with the silky skills of Sandi Toksvig. Sound fun to you? Then you would find beating a deadline while bobbing about on a boat simply beezer. Boy, can she write text that flows . . .
Being a moddy bugger I often find things an exercise in futility amid chaos. If gardening is an attempt to control nature one wonders if graphics and project management is similarly doomed to end up throttled by weeds.
Mistakes do happen. Let’s be honest. And it is fair to say the mark of a good pro is how you deal with the, right?
Summer and autumn months last year have seen the War Room that is my studio knee-deep with Heroines and Harridans. I should like to portray the War Room like a Battle of Britain nerve-centre. Skilled minions moving key features across a vast table-top map. Banks of observing experts overseeing the manoeuvres. Uniformed cohorts micro-managing detailed deployments of disciplined components. Well, not exactly but one tries.
In short we know our jobs, respect each other and are always up for a giggle. And that is the alchemy we tried to keep in the final book. All sorts of things tried to blow us off-course but we battled through and now it’s out. And lots of nice people bought it for Christmas. Huzzah!
Yet Mr Cock-up did pay a small visit to our pages. One of the featured Heroines & Harridans is Eleanor of Aquitaine (imagine Liv Tyler), wife of Henry II (try Ray Winston). Their royal court favoured a jester and flatulist called Roland le Fartere whose tour de force was to perform “Unum saltum et siffletum et unum bumbulum”. Discretion compels me not to expand beyond telling you that this designer was prompted to distort and move the folio (page number) out of position as if, erm, blown across the page. A small visual gag. However on press, in the wee small hours, a diligent, attentive technician at the printer, Butler Tanner & Dennis, spotted the corrupted folio, thought it was a mistake. And fixed it!
Now I have to say Butler Tanner & Dennis are a great outfit and did a wonderful job but, with publisher economies removing a full set of proofs from the process, the first we saw of this section (others were seen) was finished books. The Robson Press tracked down the source of the ‘correction’. At first I was very irritated but, after a cup of tea (and a brief lie-down), I thought of the printer thinking he was doing the very best for us. I talked it through with The Two Sandies and we concurred, in a collective fit of giggles, to see the funny side and not to make a fuss out of a fart. Collective sighs of relief despite the loss of a small puff of wind.
Yet all’s well that ends well as literary wordsmiths might opine. The second print-run is almost sold out (again huzzah!). And one part of this digital age is that printing plates are not kept but recycled so change is more viable than in the past. More copies are now available and the flatulent folio is restored.
And that sound is now a sigh.