A lovely, quite diffident, Scotsman called Hamish Porteous turned up to our first seminar and stated up front that he was very unsure if this was something for him. He’d seen the advert in one of the local papers and had turned up ‘just in case’. He hadn’t bought a ticket because he wasn’t online. He later told us that he had never used a computer and even email was a mystery to him.
Not wanting to take his money under false pretence we explained that the seminar was all about enabling authors to publish their own ebooks. He explained that he wasn’t a writer but he’d written a few stories over the years and they were just lying in a drawer doing nothing. He seemed to be almost on the point of leaving when he decided to stay, just in case.
After the event, which he seemed to enjoy, we took his phone number and we thought that was that. However, Kathleen and myself found that we couldn’t help thinking about Hamish’s plight. At the time we were considering what support we’d be offering authors as part of our business and we agreed that this might be a good, if quite extreme, test case. We therefore contacted Hamish and we met. He brought along some stories, all typewritten, and gave them to us. We felt quite a sense of responsibility as these were the only copies.
Firstly we had to see if it was possible to turn the words on a sheet of paper into a digital version. We scanned each story as a different PDF file and then our designer used some OCR software to turn the PDFs into Word documents. A fairly time consuming process so we thought, however, it turned out to be the shortest part of the process. By the way OCR stands for Optical Character Recognition and aims to produce a digital document capable of being edited from a scanned document. We downloaded a free version that had been highly recommended.
What took most of the time was turning the Word document the OCR software produced into a story. It wasn’t just a case of indents, table of contents, margins, fonts and justification, although they took time too, it was the fact that the Word documents were literally all over the place. Where the OCR software couldn’t recognise a character (which happened lots as any written amendments, spots on the paper or even creases would throw the software off) it would insert something random and, on several occasions, it had disintegrated whole pages so they had to be re-assembled like a jigsaw puzzle.
In the end we did this for ten stories and produced a book of over 45,000 words. Our designer produced a cover that reflected some of the themes of the book, the forest and the gradually fading light as old age overtakes us all.
I must admit that it was something of a grind and kept us all going for quite a while. It was only once we’d put a PDF copy on a Kindle to see what it looked like that it hit us. We’d actually managed to turn a stack of typewritten pages into a digital artifact that could be published and downloaded anywhere in the world. From a dark drawer in Hertfordshire it would now be available to readers the world over!
So what’s the book like? I must admit that I found it slightly strange at first, as Hamish definitely has his own voice, but the stories gradually draw you in and you begin to really feel for the characters he describes. You not only see their frailties but their humanity too. Many of the stories are set in the post-war decades and you get a real feel of a time gone by. I must admit that the stories have stayed with me and have really made me think. While they appear quite simple on the surface I think there is a lot of depth to them. I would honestly recommend the book if you like short stories or are interested in the period.
So in conclusion we now feel that the exercise was more than worthwhile as we’ve learnt so much but even more so because a work that hadn’t seen the light of day for many years was now available to just about anyone in the world who wants to read it.
So it’s now published and Hamish has told me that his dark drawer has many more stories languishing there so this may not be the end of this particular story.
Finally I’d like to say to Hamish that there was one thing that you were absolutely wrong about.
You are a writer and now you’re a published writer!