Despite the “any publicity is good publicity” mantra, I have had a hot and cold relationship with the reviews of ‘It’s a hill, get over it’, and the reviews process. When the book was launched (in September 2013) I couldn’t wait to get some unbiased feedback. Encouraging words from friends who have the book are good, but hardly unbiased.
Looking back I am now wondering how much an author should be involved in that whole process. In my case I provided the publisher (Sandstone Press) with a list of possible review sources, from my knowledge of relevant magazines, websites, and newspapers – with contact details and addresses, etc. We agreed that they would offer a free copy of the book to any that replied that they would be prepared to do a review. Is that standard practice? I have no idea, but I was pleased that they prepared to make that effort. Nineteen copies went out to various sources and we waited with baited breath. I tried to track the reviews as they started appearing, and where possible obtained copies or links to digital versions. Predominantly, they were positive even though often quite short, therefore with no room for in-depth feedback. I wondered whether I should I forget/lose the not so good ones? I don’t think so, and have chosen to put them all on the Reviews page of this blog. I had to swallow my pride on reading comments like “writing style is not the best“, and “almost felt like an academic review” in a couple, but I reckon you shouldn’t even put work out there if you are too sensitive to take critical comments.
Some of the best reviews came from unexpected sources. The first of all was from a cycling blog, and a great one from later was by a German blogger. Scottish Memories published a good one, as did several of the regional Cumbrian newspapers. The one by Heather Dawe in TheOutdoorTimes, was interesting as it was from a fellow author in the field. One thing that is perhaps obvious (but not easily quantifiable) is that social media is brilliant at keeping the book in the public eye. If I mention all the reviews on this blog, surely Twitter and Facebook magnify the effect of any review appearing. (There are currently 881 Twitter followers and 72 Facebook followers.) But what is really required is getting the word out to new potential purchasers. It has been a huge frustration to me that, thus far, I have not been able to get any reviews in any of the big newspapers (the ‘heavies’ were all canvassed) or more importantly what I consider the most wide-reaching athletics/running magazines. Athletics Weekly and The Fellrunner have both been approached, both agreed to receive a free copy, and both have so far not printed a dickiebird about it. Now, maybe I should be thinking somewhat like Alan Titchmarsh here. On being dropped by the Chelsea Flower show last week as a presenter he commented “you have to be absolutely sure it is down to ageism rather than the fact that you’re not very good” [Guardian]. Just maybe those mags haven’t reviewed the book because they consider it not up to the mark. But in the same way that I felt the reaction from the FRA Committee to my request for access to The Fellrunner archive when researching the book was so very negative, I do feel that those two mags really should be reviewing books on the sport (there are few enough of them, particularly on fell running). So, have a word someone!
Back in a more positive frame, it was nice to have an email from the editor of Cumbria Magazine to say they had carried a review of It’s a hill in a recent issue (thanks Kev for taking the trouble to tell me and send a image from the proof). The review neatly introduces the current difficulties with safety requirements (referring to a posting in this blog). Then concludes that the book “covers the ground admirably, mixing the sport’s development over the last century and a half ….. and interviews and profiles of the big names … Certainly a book that’s pushing the leaders“.
So, just think Steve, you will probably be putting yourself through all this again in a year or so!
There was a disaster at the running club this Saturday, when we found that the café in Trent Park, where we train, was not open. Since we started having organised sessions in the park on a Saturday it has become the club’s focus, with the café the unofficial clubhouse. Now the contract has changed hands and there will be a short closure while the incomers get sorted. Fortunately, there is a plethora of alternatives locally, but none are nearly so convenient. Just outside the park, and within a very short distance, are three alternatives: Miracles (want customers to eat, as well as drink); Moonlight (a little nondescript); and House Café (part of Christ Church, Cockfosters). In the past we have also frequented Panini’s (by Hadley Wood station), because it has a bit of space and a pavement seating area for a sunny day. On this occasion we had some cake to share for Raj’s birthday, and because there was a temporary ‘burger bar’ serving drinks we decided to stay put, using the outdoor seating. It was IMHO a big mistake. The (instant) coffee was dreadfull, and if this is a measure of what to expect from the new cafe, then a poor start.
It got me to thinking how much I like cafes, and how much time I seem to spend in them, and also what I like about particular ones. When I was researching my book ‘It’s a hill, get over it’ I happened to do several interviews in different cafes around the country, and even commented that maybe I should compile a good cafe guide (p227!). I interviewed Jim Mann in Moonlight (above), Boff Whalley in Leeds Playhouse cafe, and Jeff Norman in a Tesco cafe in Altrincham. There were also two other interviews (that didn’t make the book in the end) in Costas in Kendal, and Zeffirellis in Ambleside. Whilst I didn’t do any interviews there, I certainly spent some time on various research visits in Wilfs cafe in Staveley. Wilfs exemplifies pretty much all that I love in a good cafe – great coffee, interesting homemade food, a variety of rooms, some comfy armchairs, papers to read and a bookshelf you can loan from (oh, and you can get a beer from the Hawkshead brewery – next door, with a convenient connecting door!) – and has orienteering maps wallpapering the entrance to the loos.
What is even better, is that Wilfs is a hub for the local community. They display event notices, sell useful products (like local mountain bike route maps), and have artwork by locals on display, and for sale, on the walls. They have also been very good to me, having me to speak at one of their slide/supper evenings this spring. Following that, they agreed to display a copy of my book and went to the trouble of making up a notice to go with it to share the local bookshops you can buy it in (see photo).
So, while I am on the subject, here are some other favourite cafes, randomly selected as they popped into my mind when writing this. In the Lake District there are two that are just great to come across (planned or not) on a ramble. First, there is Maggs Howe in Green Quarter (Kentmere), which is fairly well hidden but worth a visit. Sitting outside with tea and cakes after a wander round Kentmere fells or valley is a real pleasure – and it is a good destination for a cycle ride, with a stiff last hill to get you really thirsty. Secondly, there is Cote Howe at the eastern end of Loughrigg Terrace, a little before you reach the car park and Under Loughrigg/Pelter Bridge. Both these two have limited and not always predictable opening hours. If Cote Howe is closed there is good coffee to be had at the nearby Badger Bar.
Further afield (for me anyway!) are three memorable Scottish cafe experiences that I remember well. On a grand tour of the islands we were heading up the Road to the Isles one fine day. After a look around (and from) the Glenfinnan Monument – overlooking Loch Shiel in one direction and the ‘Harry Potter Viaduct’ in the other – we had been recommended to stop by the Glenfinnan Museum Dining Car, which is at the old station and housed in an amazing old railway carriage. Later on the same trip we stumbled upon the Skoon Art Cafe on the Isle of Harris, which has a brilliant view and great art on show and for sale. Going way back (although still there when needed) the cafe in Nevisport in Fort William may not seem an obvious choice, but it once provided the best ever full breakfast for 4 starving climbers who were on a serious high after doing the Cuillin Ridge the day beforehand (and were travelling back south and had run out of food).
Finally, and perhaps proving it runs in the family, there is Gertie’s (in South Road, Walkley, Sheffield), which again ticks most of the good cafe boxes – good coffee, range of teas, interesting menu, books, and friendly – and just by chance where son Liam works! Proprieter Julie had a surprise visit from a large Chilton contingent recently when we were up there. Why don’t you give it a try, if in the area.