Well, it's not every day that The Mail on Sunday runs a double-page spread about the book you are writing. This is what happened to me last Sunday, and I'm still recovering from the shock.
It was about three weeks ago that I received an email, completely out of the blue, from the paper's chief reporter. Apparently, he had been researching the issue of copyright on unpublished letters for something he was working on and had come across a blog post that I had written about this very subject.
The post in question was about my own copyright issues concerning the large collection of letters and postcards I have inherited from my grandmother. These are not just any old letters and postcards. They were written to my grandmother by her close friend, Ethel North, who was lady's maid and companion to Lady Winifred Burghclere, elder sister of the 5th Earl of Carnarvon, between 1919 and 1933. During this period, Ethel travelled all over the world with Lady B, as Ethel calls her in the letters, mixing with the great and the good, picking up fascinating snippets of gossip about everyone from Sir Winston Churchill to the Queen Mother and describing everything she saw and experienced in the most extraordinarily eloquent style.
|One of Ethel's letters to my grandmother|
I've been trying to get Ethel's letters published as a non-fiction book, called My Dear Elsie, on and off for the last seven years. There have been many twists and turns along the way, the problem with the copyright being one of them. On several occasions, I've been convinced that a particular event was "the key log", namely the thing that would finally secure a book deal and get Ethel's amazing letters out into the world. So, of course, when The Mail on Sunday wanted to do a double page feature on the letters and my proposed book, I fell into exactly the same trap again.
After being interviewed by the reporter and providing all the material I was asked for, I started to get seriously anxious about several things. What would I say if Hollywood came calling? Who would play me in the film of the book? (Meryl Streep, hopefully.) What on earth would I do all day if I never needed to work again? My concerns were fuelled by the fact that the reporter, a seasoned journalist of many years experience, was incredibly enthusiastic about the letters and no, I really don't think he was spinning me a line to get the story, as I had already practically bitten his hand off in agreeing to let him use it.
When I saw a proof of the feature, a few hours before the paper went to press, I practically had the vapours. Because of The Mail on Sunday's readership, the feature was understandably slanted towards the angle of the letters being connected to the incredibly successful television series Downton Abbey. The piece flagged up Ethel's letters as "the REAL Downton diaries". I wandered round the house in a daze, wondering what on earth I'd done and envisaging the world's media camped out on my front lawn the following morning.
I needn't have worried. Apart from one literary agent, who contacted me at 9.15am on the day that the paper came out, the publishing industry has not exactly beaten a path to my door. I do realise it's still early days yet and I do have one or two irons in the fire as a result of The Mail on Sunday becoming involved, but I don't think I need to be getting in touch with Meryl Streep's agent, just yet.
So, it's back to the mundanity of typing up the letters, researching the footnotes and trying to earn money from other aspects of my writing. Meanwhile, I continue to wait for someone other than a very astute reporter on The Mail on Sunday to realise that there really is an amazing story here, and that it definitely needs to be told.
If you would like to read The Mail on Sunday feature online, here is the link:
You can also find out more about Ethel, Lady Burghclere and my proposed book at: