Paddling Towards the Doldrums

I’ve written elsewhere of the horrors of finalising a book (see and the flurry of posts August-November 2007 with ‘end’ or ‘finished’ in the title). I’d forgotten how difficult it was to bring The Rebirth of Venus to an end until, converting my original blog from Blogger to WordPress, I came across it again. It so mirrored what is going on now that for a moment I thought I’d been trying to finish A Gift for the Magus for even longer than I’d supposed.

First edition, picture chosen by me, designed by them. Attractive but straightfoward.

I can see now what happened with Venus. I obviously sent it off too early to the typesetter. This is the one downside to publishing your own work, and it’s quite offset by all the good things, artistic control not least of them. But without doubt I miss having an editor, someone who stands between me and the printing press. I’m an editor myself for other people, and I do try and self-edit, but it takes phenomenal brain power to be objective about your own work. I nearly engaged an editor this time but baulked at the cost, not just because I’m parsimonious (I am) but because I could not stomach paying someone to work on a project on which I’ve laboured for over three years and for which I’ll probably earn nothing. Authors don’t have wages or earnings, they have royalties – which sound like one-off payments at the whim of a monarch – or profits. And what a small publishing business demands is that you plough back any ‘profit’ to fund the next publication.
One of the reasons for going the self-publishing route was that it offered greater financial reward. My ‘proper’ publisher had given a paltry advance and would never tell me how many copies of A Tabernacle for the Sun he’d printed, so I could never say, ‘Royalties must be due.’ I never did get any royalties and when it came to publishing Pallas and the Centaur we thought, hell, it can’t be harder to do it ourselves. And it wasn’t. Not then. In fact we covered our costs in the first three months. But since then Amazon have made it very hard indeed and on Monday we’re signing a contract with the distributor, Central Books, to try and shake off the anonymity which Amazon have thrust upon us (basically if you don’t accept their 70% distribution terms – they call it ‘Advantage’ – they make it look as if your books don’t exist).
Godstow edition, designed by us. David's offsetting of the picture makes the young man more enigmatic.

But enough of all that! I have a book to finish and cannot, must not, paddle idly into the doldrums steered by thoughts of the publishing industry. So, I didn’t hire an editor, I hired my husband. In the evenings, after turning off the TV at 9pm (and recording what we want to see at 7pm the next day), we retreat to my study so small and crowded that you practically have to walk sideways to get to my desk. I sit at the computer and read out loud, David makes objections or asks questions. If he is quiet too long, he is either finding nothing to say or he’s asleep. I love it when he laughs at the jokes. (He has a great sympathy for Fra Filippo Lippi).
After a troubled, hiccoughing start where much fault was found, it’s all going well now and I have practically nothing to do in the following morning’s session, which is why I’ve taken up blogging – to keep the writing elbow flexed – and walking – to keep diabetes under control. But I’m wandering into dark places in the mind because I don’t know what to do next. I know what I’m up to, I’ve been here before: I’m panicking.  After Venus, I filled a whole bookshelf with stuff on Philip Sidney. Last year, anticipating going back into the 12th century, I filled another shelf with books on cathedral building.
Yesterday I ordered two books via Amazon (note the via). One will take me forward into the 17th century and one will keep me in the period to which I am wedded: the Italian Renaissance. It was recommended in an email from a Botticelli scholar, most wonderfully named John Dee, who said, ‘this one is asking to be turned into a novel, but I bet you’re annoyed when people tell you that’. No, I’m not annoyed, especially when I’m so desperate for something to do. And what I’m always waiting and looking for is some celestial prompting. Well, an email from someone called John Dee on the very day I’m in the pits about the future is as celestial as it comes. I love serendipity (or ‘coincidence’ if you’re prosaically inclined) – it puts a twinkle of fairy dust on things.
A Gift for the Magus effectively turns ‘The Botticelli Trilogy’ into a quartet. Am I headed for a quintet? What do I feel about that? Well, I suppose I shall wait until the book arrives from The Book Depository (note) before I get too excited. Because, because … it would be another book about Botticelli – a little cul-de-sac of a story I’d overlooked.
We have a lot to thank The Book Depository for, by the way. When I found that Godstow Press books (not just mine) were shown not to exist on their database, I got in touch to ask why (you can’t do that with Amazon). A very, very nice man sympathised and said all would be cured if we had a distributor and he recommended Central Books. Thanks to BD and to Bill Norris at Central, our invisibility cloak is about to be withdrawn.

This Post Has 23 Comments

  1. Ohhh, my sympathies – I’m about to launch my own next book, this time through the teensy firm that I am a partner in. The senior member is a wickedly good and exacting editor, and loves my writing – so that’s all to the good.
    As an existing publishing firm, we were able to set up an account with Lightning Source, and get distribution through their affiliate, Ingram. Having a distributor is as key as having an editor!

  2. We’ve heard that distributors in the US charge 70%. Is that true? It makes us think it’s financially non-viable which is a great shame since most of our customers are in the US and we have to charge them a lot for postage.
    Good luck with your latest! What is it?

  3. Checked the Book Depository – all your books are out of print they say.
    Cheerz Frae Scotland

  4. Thanks for doing that, David. I hope once we get stock to Central Books and they get notices out, the situation will change at least with the Book Depository. If not, I shall want to know what we’re giving 55% discount for!
    It would help if people, when looking for my books, thought to go direct to the publisher, but they don’t, and neither do I when I can’t find what I’m looking for with the big guys.
    It’s just old-time thinking.
    Hope the wind is dying down now. Gusty, eh?

  5. I’m glad to hear that you are persevering with the next book and thinking about following the same storyline. I for one have made quite the effort to search out your books and enjoy them over and over again. Because of this, I will always seek your writing out. I think of Dorothy Dunnett and others who wrote numerous books along the same lines and those of us who enjoy them thoroughly and are saddened when there is no more. As long as you enjoy it, keep going!
    All the best!

  6. Well, here I am on a wet and blustery Monday morning, sipping at a mug of hot water, with nothing to look forward to today other than the gasman coming to fix a leak, and I get this message. Thank you so much! Compliments evaporate like fine perfume while criticism sticks around like dog muck on your shoe, so it’s wonderful to get a couple of dabs behind the ears.
    I’ve just looked at your blog and I’m drooling. I’ve saved it so I can go back to it later. Definitely coffee break reading. Tell me, as an expert – or learned amateur, which is even more exacting – was Maria’s lacemaking in Pallas and the Centaur convincing? Or was it full of holes?
    And thank you for the vote to continue with Italy.
    All the best.

  7. Thank you for your kind words about my blog!
    I know very little about pillow-laces but I remember being startled only by the timeline in “Pallas”, the earliest record that I know of that refers to bobbin-lace is right around the time of your story – but you made me look it up! 😀
    What else you wrote of it made sense to me – I’d say you did very well. The best info I can recommend to you would be Elisa Ricci’s Old Italian Lace Vol. 2 (1913). To this day, there has been no Italian needlework expert as informed as her and both of her husband’s careers afforded her firsthand information. Out of copyright now, you can download the text at the “On-Line Digital Archive of Documents on Weaving and Related Topics”. Double check dates and titles before quoting however, as the *English translation* leaves a little to be desired.
    Were you aware of Botticelli’s connection with Italian Needlework? I believe the Poldi Pezzoli Museum in Milan has a couple of pieces designed by him but let me know if you wish to know more (I can’t tell if your eyes are glassing over!).

  8. Oh! I didn’t know that Botticelli designed lace (or is it embroidery?) Tell me more! This must be yet another pointer to the direction I should be taking.

  9. There are two books (neither of which I have and both of which are in Italian) which mention Botticelli and his embroidery designs. When I was at the Poldi Pezzoli museum in Milan in 2009 they did not have the restored work on display and you had to make an appointment to see it. I didn’t have time unfortunately. However, it is on display right now during the Museum’s “Botticelli nelle collezioni Lombarde” exhibit which goes until Feb. 28/11. I don’t know if this show has a catalogue or not.
    Botticelli e il ricamo del Museo Poldi Pezzoli
    Storia di un restauro
    Amilcare Pizzi (Milano), 1989.
    This book above talks about the restoration of a gold and silk embroidery of the Coronation of the Virgin done on a design by Botticelli for the hood of a cope c. 1480s. If you do a google search for: Un cappuccio botticelliano
    you should find 3 closeups from a messageboard called I Nostri Avi. (Email me privately for links if you don’t find any of this stuff, I don’t want to put links in your comments and upset your spam filter.)
    The cope may be part of a collection of liturgical items commissioned by John II, son of King Alfonso V of Portugal, for the Church of San Miniato al Monte in Florence, which had received the remains of his uncle James of Lusitania, the Cardinal of Portugal. I have downloaded the documents from the Poldi Pezzoli website which talk more about it. If you do okay with Italian, go to the page called “Ufficio Stampa” on the Poldi Pezzoli Museum website. Otherwise let me know if I can help you.
    Then there is this book which talks about Botticelli, Pollaiuolo and Bartolomeo Giovanni and their embroidery designs:
    Il ricamo nella attività artistica di Pollaiolo, Botticelli, Bartolomeo di Giovanni.
    Published 1973 by Editrice Edam in Firenze.
    Pollaiuolo is responsible for the goldwork embroideries kept now in the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo in Florence (if you’re interested, check out “goldwork” on my blog or go to tuttoricamo and read my article on Italian goldwork – it’s under the Techniques section and is called Metal Thread Work).
    I hope to be in Italy in April so I’ll inquire some more on this.
    Oh dear, this post is getting long. I’ll stop now but encourage me if you want to know more.

  10. Jeanine, a message from you transports me into a haberdashery shop in Sansepolcro, or to the Textile Musem, Prato, and I have such a wonderful time, virtually. I’m delighted that il Museo Poldi Pozzoli actually celebrated Botticelli’s quincentenary – I’m not sure anybody else did, except me, who toured the UK – OK, SE corner of – talking about Botticelli to anyone who would listen.
    Have you been to Prato? Include it in your itinerary for April if not. It’s a monument to textiles, and full of Lippi paintings which themselves celebrate the art of textiles. It’s a tragedy that the textile industry there is now in terminal decline, and maybe the city with it.
    Your clues to links worked and now, thanks to the wonders of One-Note, I’ve imported those pages, and your information to a place where I’ll know to find it.
    Now I must think up a character who embroiders the hood of a cope in metal thread. Male or female do you think? (I haven’t read your article yet – you may say). There’s an altar frontal at the textile museum in Prato so exquisite that I can’t believe a man did it (how sexist can you get?). I asked a curator and she looked like she’d never considered the question.
    I wonder about all those nuns, embroidering shirts. Did they develop their skills further?
    Thanks! Keep it coming – I love this stuff!

  11. I have only been to Prato one afternoon and only really to pass through, I will make the effort in the spring – thanks for the suggestion!
    If you haven’t already seen it, I left you some comments on the Botticelli cassone on my blog which may interest you.
    I have found out that there is indeed a catalogue for the Poldi Pezzoli Botticelli show which is available through for 20 euros.
    Botticelli nelle collezioni lombarde. Catalogo della mostra (Milano, 12 novembre 2010-28 febbraio 2011)
    It is in Italian.
    Sansepolcro is on my list of places to visit too, one of these days. I’d love to visit during the lace biennial.
    If I remember correctly there are some Lippi sketches at the Poldi Pezzoli too. Anyway with regard to the embroidery: professionally it was a man’s career but of course when you have a family business, everyone helps out. So it is completely possible that a woman could have worked on the cope depending on who was commissioned to do the work. Obviously less possible if the monks at the Church did the work themselves! It is also unlikely that only one person worked on it. In those days, not only one person executed embroideries but instead many people did the different parts which were their specialty. When you had a specialty that was usually all you did so in this case, laying the gold threads could have been done by a few people but perhaps the silk shading was only done by one or two people, some were experts on embroidering faces, etc. During this period in Florence gold embroidery with silk shading was in its “golden age” – no pun intended! So there were a few workshops who might have done it, there would be records as the high costs would have to be accounted for. I wonder if the museum catalogue could point you in the direction of this info? I will check a few sources and see what I can find out.
    Failing that on your next trip to Italy you could request an audience with a curator and the piece at the Poldi Pezzoli and get all the info you can.
    Let me dig around for the info on the nuns, I think they did do some goldwork too but I wrote that article in 2004 so the sources and info are not fresh in my mind. I’ll get back to you.
    Have a great weekend!

  12. Thank you again, Jeanine. My question as to the sex of embroiderers was really in the context of the altar frontal that blew me away at Prato’s textile museum, which uses silk thread. Perhaps because of a lifetime of knowing men who grow pale and look helpless when you show them a needle, I have presumed that the male of the species is genetically incapable of fine work in thread. But I’m still mulling the gold work, and just mulling in general really, waiting for a new project to land on me like an albatross on a fish.
    By the way, I’ve been looking at portraits of Giovanna Albizzi-Tornabuoni, such as Botticelli’s Villa Lemmi frescoes, and Ghirlandaio’s fresco cycle in Sta Maria Novella, and she is always carrying a linen handkerchief or somesuch thing. Do you know what this is? See Web Gallery of Art>Ghirlandaio>Frescoes in the Tornabuoni Chapel>Visitation (3rd figure from right).

  13. It is most probably a handkerchief, very fashionable in the period. The history of the hanky is long (mentioned in texts in Roman times) and interesting. There are many books on it, you’ll find lots on the internet too. Handkerchiefs had their own vocabulary and were passed between lovers with secret messages and meanings in the days of constant chaperones (symbolism in plants, flowers, allegory, etc.). For a more Italian point of view, check out the article on the Tuttoricamo website under “History” – Handkerchief, a protagonist in decline or The Handkerchief by Paolo Peri (in English).

  14. Thanks, Janine! You are SUCH a fund of information. I found the first article easily but couldn’t find Peri’s. Is it on the Tuttoricamo site?
    Giovanna’s handkerchief must have had great symbolic value to be immortalised in fresco, either that, or she was particularly associated with carrying a piece of linen in her hand like a baby comforter! I’m wondering if it may be a favour which a lady awards a knight in a joust. Her husband, Lorenzo, was a keen jouster and I think favours were sometimes linen.

  15. The text by Peri is actually a book – sorry I didn’t make that clear, I hope you didn’t waste too much time looking for it! One forgets that not everyone is inside one’s head!
    There are many handkerchiefs depicted in Renaissance Paintings held by men and women and I understand that favours given to be carried in jousts were in fact hankies, but I’d have to research where I read that. If you do a google image search for “handkerchief” or “fazzoletto” with the names of painters like Raphael (Julius II at the London National Gallery), Botticelli (Smeralda Brandini at the V&A) there are some good images that come up to give you some ideas.

  16. Dang! I was looking at Smeralda face-to-face on Thursday, and failed to notice the hanky! I’m ashamed…

  17. Ah, well, you can always go back!!
    Just a note to say that the Botticelli exhibit at the Poldi Pezzoli museum in Milan has been held over until March 24/11.
    You’re closer than me!

  18. Oh, if only I had the energy and wherewithal to take advantage of my closeness! Ten years ago I’d have gone there and back in a day. I’ve had to cancel a week in Lucca at Easter, but I have my dreams, in which modern Italy, airports and autostrade are carefully edited out.

  19. Sorry to butt in on this conversation more than a year later but I just wanted to say thank you to both of you for loads of leads. I’m embarking with much trepidation on writing a story inspired by the founding of the Irish lace schools of the 1800s (in particular Carrickmacross and Clones,both poverty relief projects started by Protestant ministers’ wives who brought back Italian lace patterns from their honeymoons). I stumbled across your blog, Linda, while googling to follow up a mention on a documentary of Botticelli as a lace designer. I’ll be combing it further for advice now, and seeking out your books!

    1. Your work sounds fascinating, Eleanor. Put the trepidation aside! (See ‘Do the Work’ by Steven Pressfield). I’d never heard about Botticelli designing lace and would be grateful to know of what you’ve discovered. If you can’t find what you’re looking for on this blog, but think I might know, just ask. Jeanine, of course, is your gal for the needlework.

  20. Thanks Linda, for the kind words and the recommendation- I’ve been over to Steven Pressfield’s site and it looks very interesting. I haven’t discovered anything at all about Botticelli and lace I’m afraid, it was literally just a throw -away remark in a dvd about traditional crafts: they were making the point that owning fine lace not only demonstrated wealth but also patronage of the arts as the designs were often by well-known artists – Botticelli was even said to have done lace designs. That got me googling and I’m very glad to have found your blog, but nothing more as yet about Botticelli!

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