A Quick Update

As my late mother was fond of quoting slightly inaccurately, “The best laid plans of mice and men are want to go astray”. When I set this blog up, I had every intention of posting on a far more regular basis but to quote another famous and sadly-no-longer-with-us bard, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

Life is certainly  quite challenging for me at the moment for reasons I won’t bore you with and as a result, I haven’t managed to blog for a while. However, I have made a concerted effort tonight (despite being nearly deafened by fireworks) and so here I am to bring you a quick update on where I’m at with the ongoing quest to get my collection of Ethel North’s fascinating letters to my grandmother into print.

Well, not a great deal has happened since the story was given lots of coverage on my local radio station a few weeks ago. If I was expecting a posse of publishers to come knocking on my door as a result, I was sadly disappointed. I did have a call from someone who was interested in putting the letters onto an audio CD which got me quite excited for a few days, until I discovered that because I don’t own the copyright to the content of the letters (only the letters themselves), I would be breaking the law if I recorded them without the copyright holders’ permission.

Incidentally, the current copyright situation is one of the reasons why there are very few, if any, quotes on this website from the letters themselves and also why I’m holding out for a “proper” publisher, rather than looking to “self-publish” them.

Since the Radio Leicester interview, I’ve been working hard on re-writing the proposal and sample copy in the light of some of the critiques I’ve received, ready to try it with some more literary agents.  Also, as well as working on publicising this website, I’ve started typing up and researching some more of the actual letters which is the bit I enjoy the most.

I recently made contact with someone who used to be one of my editors at The Guardian newspaper when I was a freelance journalist. She is now a “celebrity” journalist and writer in America and helpfully told me about the Duchess of Devonshire’s book of collected letters In Tearing Haste, which apparently sold “like wildfire” over there. It’s not the first time I’ve thought about trying the American market so at the moment, my plan is to send the proposal for My Dear Elsie to a few more agents in the UK, then set my sights on the US.

I can’t close this post without a quick mention of the fact that there is only one more new episode of Downton Abbey left to be shown on UK television, assuming you don’t count the Christmas special. How will we survive? I watched the penultimate episode tonight and was quite tearful so goodness knows how many tissues I’ll get through next Sunday!

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Radio Leicester Comes Calling

It’s a very strange sensation lying in bed at 6 a.m. and hearing yourself on the news but that is what happened to me today and it wasn’t just the 6 a.m. news, either. Every half an hour from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. I was a “news story” on BBC Radio Leicester or at least the Ethel North and Lady Burghclere letters were.

It’s all thanks to a Press Release I sent out last Monday to a selection of newspapers and radio stations, in an attempt to get some publicity for Ethel’s letters to my grandmother and to try and drive traffic to this website.

Radio Leicester, my local radio station, contacted me within 12 hours of receiving the release and on Wednesday morning, I did an interview with Jo Hayward, one of the Breakfast Show presenters. It was aired three times on this morning’s show along with lots of additional coverage in the news bulletins (which I hadn’t expected) and several plugs for the website and my desire to find a publisher for the letters.

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My living room after Radio Leicester’s visit with Ethel’s letters and memorabilia scattered around.

It probably helped that the sixth and final (sob,sob) series of Downton Abbey begins on ITV in a couple of days so they had something topical to hang the story on but even so, it was far more publicity than I could have hoped for.  I was able to read some brief extracts from Ethel’s letters (with the incredibly atmospheric Downton theme tune playing in the background!) including a small section of the one from her visit to Egypt where she and Lady Burghclere were shown round the Tutankhamun excavations by Howard Carter himself.

Apparently BBC Online have also shown an interest in the story and are hopefully going to publish it, together with a link to my website.

So not a bad start, especially as I was competing with some pretty major news stories today including the Syrian refugee crisis, the latest FIFA scandal and the start of the Rugby World Cup.

The interview is currently available on the BBC i-player and if I can work out how to do it (any help gratefully received!) I’ll try and embed it into the website.

Here is the link, so why not have a quick listen if you have three and a half minutes to spare? There is a photo of my hand holding one of the letters there, as well!

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p032tfhq

A Very Strong Link To Downton Abbey

OK, so I know the thing about how you shouldn’t assume that your book is the best thing since sliced banana just because your mother/best friend/ neighbour/neighbour’s dog thinks it’s the best thing since sliced banana but do you know what? I really, really thought I had something here with my proposed non-fiction book ‘My Dear Elsie’, based on the letters I inherited from my grandmother. I mean, how many books are out there which satisfy all the following criteria?

1. A very strong link to Downton Abbey, the highest rated UK drama series of the last decade across any channel and estimated to have been watched by 120 million people in 220 countries, although probably not all at the same time.

2. Anecdotal and often amusing stories that no one living now is likely to have heard before concerning leading figures of the 1920s and 1930s including King George V, the Prince of Wales (later Edward Viii), Sir Winston Churchill, Lord and Lady Carnarvon, Evelyn Waugh (author of Brideshead Revisited) and the Archbishop of Canterbury.

3. Detailed descriptions of being shown round the excavations of Tutankhamun’s burial chamber by the very man who had discovered it a few years earlier, Howard Carter himself.

4. Fascinating glimpses into what it was like travelling all over the world to some very exotic locations with the gentry in the days before commercial air travel was possible and it took weeks to get anywhere by train or ship.

5. A remarkable story of the extremely close friendship which developed over a period of 14 years between a high-ranked member of one of the leading British aristocratic families of the day and a dressmaker, born in a butcher’s shop in the back streets of the provincial city of Leicester.

6. Fact rather than fiction as the book is based entirely on a large collection of old letters and postcards discovered in the back of a wardrobe and not having seen the light of day for over half a century.

7. A parallel story running alongside the letters which explains how the letters were discovered and everything which then ensued, a story which one reader described as “Very inspiring. Moved me close to tears.”

So how come no literary agent, apart from the first one I sent it to who said that he thought it would probably become a bestseller but didn’t want to represent it, has done anything other than a) Tear the sample copy to pieces (not literally of course) b) Reject it with a standard rejection email c) Ignore it?

Your guess is almost certainly as good as mine. In the meantime, I’ll continue to work on this website and maybe add another page or two. Then I might send the proposal and sample copy out to some more agents. There must be one agent out there who loves the book (and wants to represent it) just as much as my neighbour’s dog does.

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This is the first post on my blog for the Lady Burghclere and Ethel website. In future posts, I’ll be bringing you updates on where I’m at with my mission to try and get Ethel North’s letters to my grandmother into print, as well as adding any extra information which might be of interest.

I look forward to reading your comments.