Tuesday, 15 January 2013

The incredible story of An Anthology of Hope

One of the things I love about working in publishing is the feeling of being on the verge of a discovery - always thinking that one day I may stumble across a book that no other publisher has heard of, that is so special that it will make a difference to the lives of hundreds of readers. Lonely Scribe's newest publication, An Anthology of Hope, compiled by Campbell Steven, is just such a book: it has a remarkable history and, I hope, an equally remarkable future.

"This remarkable collection of writings sheds light where there is darkness: all those who have suffered, whether through bereavement, illness, depression or other difficult circumstances, will find comfort and help in its pages."

I've blogged before about Lonely Scribe's relationship with our lovely author Maisie Steven and her delightful memoir The Heart is Highland. Maisie's husband Campbell died in 2002, shortly after the company I then worked for published his own memoir Eye to the Hills (now out of print). In that book he tells the story of a project that was part of his life for over twenty-six years - the compilation of an anthology, of verse and prose, religious and secular, born out of his grief after losing his first wife. When Eye to the Hills was finished, Campbell sent me a copy of the Anthology, which he'd self-published, as a thank you. I am not religious, but I am endlessly fascinated by the power of writing, so I leafed through it with great interest, pausing often to read passages that caught my eye, some old favourites and many I'd never come across before. Over the years I pulled the book out from time to time to look for inspiration in its pages - a quote for a book jacket, words for a wedding or funeral, or just something to spark a new train of thought.

Time passed. One day, Maisie rang me. She was getting enquiries - slowly but steadily - from people trying to get hold of An Anthology of Hope. Copies of Campbell's last self-published edition had long since run out. Could I offer any advice about creating a new edition? It seemed entirely natural that Lonely Scribe should publish the Anthology; I'd been involved with Maisie and Campbell, and their books, for so long that they felt like part of a family. The book would also sit happily alongside our other titles: Maisie's The Heart is Highland, of course, but also our lesser-known volumes A New Heart and A New Spirit, and A Thankful Heart and a Discerning Mind.

So we began work. There was plenty to do: we had only the last printed edition to work from, no electronic files. We arranged for the text to be scanned in, and then began a painstaking process of proofreading for the errors that can introduce. A particular problem is the running together of letters; I chuckled over 'burn' being printed as 'bum' in a childish way, but had nightmares about any such mistakes slipping through the net! There was also the question of a new jacket image: there was no record, or copy, of the image that had appeared on older editions of the book, so we had to source a new one. Luckily I came across the perfect image on Shutterstock.

We're all delighted with the new edition of the book and are hopeful that it will find many new readers. It's been fascinating for me, while working on the book, to reflect on the interconnectedness of all things. Lonely Scribe has another project in the pipeline: a biography of Peter Scott, son of Robert Scott of the Antarctic and the founder of the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust. One of his father's last letters appears in the Anthology; it begins: 'Dear Mrs Wilson, If this letter reaches you, Bill and I will have gone out together. We are very near it now and I should like you to know how splendid he was at the end...' Immersed as I have been in editing the story of the son, to read this letter from his father seemed to add another dimension to the tale. And, preoccupied as I often am these days with my work in the field of parenting, birth and breastfeeding, and reading the book anew as a mother, the Anthology tugged often at my heartstrings and gave me much to reflect on and reconsider. (I just lost half an hour trying to pick an example - there is just so much that is thought-provoking to choose from!)

"A shower fell in the night and now dark clouds drift across the sky, occasionally sprinkling a fine film of rain.
I stand under an apple-tree in blossom and I breathe. Not only the apple-tree but the grass round it glistens with moisture; words cannot describe the sweet fragrance that pervades the air. Inhaling as deeply as I can, the aroma invades my whole being; I breathe with my eyes open, I breathe with my eyes closed - I cannot say which gives me the greater pleasure.
This, I believe, is the single most precious freedom that prison takes away from us: the freedom to breathe freely, as I now can. No food on earth, no wine, not even a woman's kiss is sweeter to me than this air steeped in the fragrance of flowers, of moisture and freshness.
No matter that this is only a tiny garden, hemmed in by five-storey houses like cages in a zoo. I cease to hear the motorcycles backfiring, the radios whining, the burble of loudspeakers. As long as there is fresh air to breathe under an apple-tree after a shower, we may survive a little longer." - Alexander Solzhenitsyn

I'm proud to think that by publishing the Anthology Lonely Scribe has played its part in a much bigger story. It's truly a book that can 'shed light' - whether in a religious sense or a secular one - and I hope that readers find their own treasures in its pages.

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