Thursday, 28 June 2012

The book is launched!

Last night was the big night. It was time to see whether all the planning and preparation would result in a successful launch for Breastfeeding: stories to inspire and inform. In the run up to the event I found myself engaged in a number of tasks not traditionally associated with book launches: ironing tablecloths, baking (frankly mediocre) boobie fairy cakes and cutting out circles of fabric to top jars of chutney and jam. More WI than wafty literary-type stuff. (The cakes and jam were for the stall held at the event by BEARS, the breastfeeding peer supporters I volunteer for.) After that I finally sat down and finished my talk about the book. I certainly left it until the eleventh hour - I must work better under pressure.

The venue for the launch was the Strutt Centre in Belper, Derbyshire: it's an amazing place. A former school, it's been saved from being turned into flats and is now a community venue staffed entirely by volunteers. We had a large, airy room, with drinks and nibbles laid out along one side, and plenty of space for us to set up tables for BEARS and, most importantly, the books.

I'd found myself fretting about whether anyone would actually turn up: I needn't have worried. More than thirty guests soon arrived and things got underway: our lovely author Alison Blenkinsop was there to promote her own book, Fit to Bust; people got chatting to each other; a start was made on the food and drink, cakes and crafts were purchased. And we all cooed over the three nursing babies, without whom it wouldn't really have felt like a breastfeeding event. Then it was time for the talk. I'd been dreading it slightly, it having been some time since I had to stand up and address a room full of people, but I had practised in front of the mirror and I think I pulled it off, despite a tendency to say 'um' too much, and to laugh (or giggle nervously?) at my own jokes.

You can read what I had to say here.

After that I tried to get round to talk to people - it was great to have a wide range of people with a common interest in the room, and it was fascinating that so many people already knew each other in some capacity or another. I made some valuable new contacts and picked up a list of follow-up work that will keep me busy for the next few days, and I was immensely flattered by the number of people who asked me to sign their books. Like a real author! In the background my husband did a sterling job selling books, taking photographs and keeping people supplied with drinks.

All in all it went very well. Here's to the continued success of Breastfeeding: stories to inspire and inform! And watch this space, because some great future projects were discussed, including Twin Births: stories to inspire and inform, and Water Births: stories to inspire and inform. If you'd be interested in being involved with either of those, contact us.

Susan Last's talk for the launch of Breastfeeding: stories to inspire and inform

Talk delivered by Susan Last at the launch of Breastfeeding: stories to inspire and inform on 27 June 2012, during National Breastfeeding Week.

Good evening ladies (and token gentlemen), and a special welcome to Ivy and Emily, our nursing babies. Thank you very much for coming along tonight to help celebrate the launch of Breastfeeding: stories to inspire and inform during National Breastfeeding Week. It’s really great to see so many of you, and from so many different backgrounds - we’ve got mums, contributors to the book, peer supporters, IBCLCs, NHS health professionals, independent midwives, doulas… all with a common interest in breastfeeding and supporting women.

I thought I’d start by saying a few words about how the book came about. When I had my daughter Evie, back in 2006, I didn’t give much thought to breastfeeding. I intended to breastfeed and I assumed that it would be easy enough. As it turned out she had silent reflux which went undiagnosed for nearly six months and feeding was a struggle throughout that time. I did a lot of learning about breastfeeding to try to sort it out and it was while I was doing that research that I thought it might be useful to write up my story so that others could benefit from it. A friend of mine, then a student midwife, had put together a book about Home Births, and I asked her if she thought a similar approach would work for Breastfeeding. That’s how the idea  got off the ground, but the book was a long time in the making. I invited contributions and conducted interviews in snatched moments over the next few months  - and the months stretched into years as I had two more children, moved house, trained as a peer supporter… life was very busy! Then in 2010 a friend and I set up Lonely Scribe, our own publishing company, and I became determined to finish the book so that Lonely Scribe could publish it to sit alongside Home Births, and our other breastfeeding book, Fit to Bust. (I must just say at this point what a pleasure and an honour it is to have the author of Fit to Bust, Alison Blenkinsop, here tonight!)

So here it is [holds up book]. It’s a book that I hope adds something new to the breastfeeding literature. I think the approach, giving women space to discuss their breastfeeding journeys at length,  is very powerful: these stories, peppered though they are with breastfeeding challenges, are overwhelmingly practical and positive. I hope that they are, as the book’s subtitle suggests, both inspiring and informative. When I explained the book to my neighbour, a former midwife, she exclaimed ‘Oh, it’s like a group session in a book!’ And it is, in a way, except that with a book you can pick it up and refer to it again and again when you’re in need of a boost. I very much hope that the book will be read by pregnant women and new mothers, because the women who contributed are such fantastic role models for breastfeeding (although they probably don’t think of themselves that way!). It’s great to see so many of them here tonight. Thank you again, ladies, for making the book possible.

While my initial motivation for putting the book together was to help other mothers, since I began the project I have become more of a political campaigner for breastfeeding. I had my eyes fully opened by Gabrielle Palmer’s book The Politics of Breastfeeding, and I now hope that this book can, in its own small way, be part of the campaign to support breastfeeding in the face of the aggressive promotion of formula milk. We live in a society where breastfeeding is often undermined, whether that’s by advertisers in magazines that influence editorial content, by big business lobbying government, or by your Aunty Sheila telling you that you’ve got to drink milk to make milk and your baby should be on four-hourly feeds.

My own firm belief is simply that the more babies that get breastmilk, the better, and the more breastmilk those babies get, the better. So I’m trying, in a very personal way, to make that happen - I’ve breastfed my own children conspicuously in public, I work as a peer supporter, and my book aims to normalise breastfeeding and really make it seem possible for women. In some ways an awareness of the political landscape of breastfeeding has made me a better breastfeeding supporter, because I now realise that mothers are not only struggling with breastfeeding on a personal level, with whatever problem they are presenting us with, they are struggling in a society that can at times be downright hostile to breastfeeding. However, I don’t want to overstate the political side of things! When it comes down to it, this is a very gentle book that leaves most of the political debate to one side.

This isn’t meant to be a long speech, and there are many people in the room more expert than me when it comes to talking about breastfeeding, but I would like to draw out one or two threads from the book that might be of interest to us all when we are talking about and supporting breastfeeding in the community.

I’ll start by reading you a quote from the book, from Laura’s story:
‘Having reached my lowest point I went to BIBS, a local breastfeeding group, in the hope they could tell me what I was doing wrong, but it turned out I wasn’t doing anything wrong. Newborn babies are meant to feed a lot, and when someone said that as long as she was on my breast the tigers wouldn’t get her, it somehow made sense to me. At that group for the first time someone told me I was doing well. I’d breastfed my baby for four weeks.’
I think we can all recognise this new mother’s struggle - it’s one we see a lot as breastfeeding supporters.

Also, I was talking to my husband’s grandmother last weekend. I was telling her all about the book and the aim of it, and she said ‘I never had a word of encouragement from my mother-in-law, or my husband. They said I should use a bottle to see how much they were getting.’ That was in the 1950s - Ray’s grandma is well in her 80s. It reminded me again just how important breastfeeding is to mothers: these memories are still clear even after so many years. What these two examples show is how vital words of encouragement are, and how easy they are to give.

The women in the book talk about lots of different types of support - NCT, La Leche League, websites, health professionals, friends and family, peer supporters. It’s clear that a supportive environment makes all the difference in moments of doubt. And all of us in this room are doing our best to make our society more supportive of breastfeeding, which is something we can all be proud of.

An idea that became clearer to me as I worked on the book was that breastfeeding is both a practical and an emotional experience, and new mothers learning the ropes need support on both fronts. Examples of the practical side might include techniques for position and attachment, how to disengage by means of a finger in the corner of their mouth a baby that is not latched on comfortably, how to feed in public and knowing how to tell that breastfeeding is working well (all those pooey nappies!). On the emotional side are the sometimes overwhelming feelings of new motherhood: being the one responsible for nourishing your child, and keeping them safe, and having to rejig your family life and relationships to take account of the new baby. The stories in the book are a fascinating insight into the way that these two aspects of breastfeeding interact. It’s why as breastfeeding supporters we learn about the importance of asking open questions and listening, because it’s then that you can work out how best to support someone on both a practical and an emotional level.

Another idea that I mention in the introduction is something that becomes clear when you look at a wide range of people’s experiences of breastfeeding in some detail. The differences between babies, and people’s situations, are enormous, and people’s expectations of breastfeeding are also often badly skewed. Many expect that there will be breastfeeding answers, when in fact there can be a frustrating lack of them. There are just so many variables, and each mum and baby pair is unique. One of the strengths of breastfeeding support, and of this book, is that it offers mothers a range of suggestions to try: these may solve the problem, or may allow the time required for the problem to solve itself. We need to remember that new mothers’ expectations of their babies behaviour may not match with the reality, even when technically the breastfeeding is working fine, and to support them accordingly. Women need to understand how their experiences can vary significantly from those of others but still be very valid. I hope that this book will help with that kind of understanding.

I’d like to just finish off by saying that I hope you will all read the book, and enjoy it, and find it helpful when talking to new mothers, either in a personal or a professional capacity. I’d love to have any feedback about it, so by all means email me about it! If you like the book, do tell your friends, family and colleagues: we are a tiny company with tiny budgets for advertising so we rely on word of mouth. If you can, get online and post on Facebook, or review the book on Amazon, or blog about it… anything that helps spread the word. There’s also the possibility of a second edition in the future, so if you or someone you know has a story worthy of inclusion, let me know. I’m also beginning work on a new book, Water Births, in the same format, so if you’re interested in that project, I’d be pleased to hear from you.

That’s it from me now, I hope you enjoy the rest of the evening. Do see Alison Blenkinsop about her book, Fit to Bust - it’s a great resource for anyone involved with breastfeeding and it’s very funny. BEARS have their stall over there and are happy to talk to anyone who’s interested in the work we do as peer supporters in Amber Valley, and they are also doing a Breastfeeding Millionaire quiz - I expect you all to get full marks!

Once again, very many thanks to you all for coming, and I hope to get around to speak to everyone. But I need to have a glass of wine first. Thank you!

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Editorial advice

Leafing through a folder of old paperwork I found this, which was given to me by my managing editor when I started my first job as an editor of non-fiction. It's unattributed, and a quick Google didn't uncover the source, although some of the comments would appear to be those of William Safire (author of a column in the New York Times Magazine called 'On Language', and may be in his book: How Not to Write: The Essential Misrules of Grammar (Norton, 2005). Editors, and authors, take note! The list is funny, but a reminder of the importance of accuracy and good style.

1. Verbs has to agree with their subject.

2. Prepositions are not words to end sentences with.

3. And don't start a sentence with a conjunction.

4. It is wrong to ever split an infinitive.

5. Avoid cliches like the plague. (They're old hat.)

6. Always avoid annoying alliteration.

7. Be more or less specific.

8. Parenthetical remarks (however relevant) are (usually) unnecessary.

9. Also, too, never, ever use repetitive redundancies.

10. No sentence fragments. No comma splices, run-ons are bad too.

11. Contractions aren't helpful and shouldn't be used.

12. Foreign words and phrases are not apropos.

13. Do not be redundant; do not use more words than necessary; it's highly superfluous.

14. One should never generalize.

15. Comparisons are as bad as cliches.

16. Don't use no double negatives.

17. Eschew ampersands & abbreviations, etc.

18. One-word sentences? Eliminate.

19. Analogies in writing are like feathers on a snake.

20. The passive voice is to be ignored.

21. Eliminate commas, that are, not necessary. Parenthetical words however should be enclosed in commas.

22. Never use a big word when a diminutive one would suffice.

23. Kill all exclamation points!!!

24. Use words correctly, irregardless of how others use them.

25. Understatement is probably not the best way to propose earth-shattering ideas.

26. Use the apostrophe in it's proper place and omit it when its not needed.

27. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, 'I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.'

28. If you've heard it once, you've heard it a thousand time: resist hyperbole; not one writer in a million can use it correctly.

29. Puns are for children, not groan readers.

30. Go around the barn at high noon to avoid colloquialisms.

31. Even if a mixed metaphor sings, it should be derailed.

32. Who needs rhetorical questions?

33. Exaggeration is a million times worse than understatement.

34. Proofread carefully to see if you any words out.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

The book is here!

You couldn't make it up. I just sat down at the computer to blog about the advance proof copy of Breastfeeding: stories to inspire and inform that I got over the weekend. I wrote one line, then a UPS van pulled up outside the house to deliver three boxes of finished copies, all ready for the launch of the book during Breastfeeding Awareness Week.

There's something magical about opening a box full of books straight from the printer. At that moment, everything is possible: the book might be a bestseller, it might be critically acclaimed, it might spark debate or eventually be televised... it's a moment full of promise and expectation.

As an editor, normally at this point I have the satisfaction of a job well done. I will have spent months working on the book, shaping the contents, proofreading every line, meticulously checking the jacket for errors. To see that box full of attractively bound books is a moment of real pride - we've created something worthwhile that will be handled, read and shelved by others, who will hopefully be inspired (and informed!) by the contents. I like to pick up the top copy and leaf through, to satisfy myself that everything is just as it should be.

Sometimes, of course, it isn't. Memorable disasters from my editorial career include the author's name spelled wrong on the spine of the jacket, the football club manager's name spelled wrong on the inside flap of the jacket, and a book in which half the pictures were not printed, leaving blank picture boxes scattered throughout the text. The fact that these days our books are print-on-demand has at least simplified the correction of errors - it is now a matter of uploading a corrected version of the file to the printer. There is nothing worse, as an editor, than realising that an error that has been made by you is apparent for all to see on every copy of a 3,000 (or more) print run. And you can bet that the worst errors are made on those books with the tightest deadlines, where there is absolutely no way of obtaining corrected finished copies in time for the publication date.

Happily, I can see no problems with Breastfeeding: stories to inspire and inform. This isn't the end of the story for me, however. This time, as editor and publisher, it's very much my responsibility what happens next: I need to get cracking on the marketing side to a far greater extent than I normally would. I need to send out review copies, identify places where the book might be sold, prepare press information and think about related articles.

There's so much to do, and no guarantee of success. But at the moment, with my box full of books, it feels like anything could happen.