I began this blog nearly three years ago, in April 2020. And before I go any further, I’d like to thank all of you who’ve been reading these blogs, whether regularly or occasionally. It’s a real privilege to know that they’re of interest. Whether Dartmoor or alchemy, Welsh fruit loaf or Huguenot refugees, there is, I hope, something for everyone. When I set up this website with the help of a professional web designer, we talked about drawing in an audience for this. However, when he heard the range of topics I’d be writing about, he was somewhat baffled. ‘If this blog appeals to one kind of reader, then the next might be for a different kind…’ And he didn’t quite know where to go from there. But as it reflects my own genuine range of interests, then we would just have to go with that, we agreed. I could hear the doubt in his voice!
A note about the images: Most of these are from the blog posts mentioned here – and it shouldn’t be too hard to work out which is which, if you’re so inclined!
Thank you, readers! I hope you’ll stay with the blog and I’ll just be running it month to month, seeing what comes up and what I might post. It may not be a ‘forever’ blog, as keeping up the quality is really important to me. But I hope that the posts will still have a presence on the net so that those interested in, say, embroidered samplers or Silk Road travellers or the goddess Kuan Yin or a recipe for a Twelfth Night cake, can still find my posts for these. And by the way, please do make use of the ‘Search Bar’ on the home page. You can enter any relevant keyword for the blog and it should show you the one(s) available.
A little later, I’ll be coming onto What the Stats Reveal – which posts are popular, and where do you all come from. In fact, if you’re going to be bored by the next section about my own writing history, skip on past….
The writing compulsion
I started writing books in my twenties (quite a long time ago!), and in the fifteen years prior to 2020, I was producing a book about every two years. I was caught up in a rhythm, of researching ideas followed by canvassing publishers and then writing the book itself. I was proud to have had a steady sequence of books published, but it was becoming exhausting. Starting Cherry’s Cache was a way of breaking the addiction. Yes, really –a blog, I thought, would be a harmless and rewarding way to channel the urge. No dependency on the whims of editors or the business (mis)fortunes of editors – and a chance to use pictures. Lots of lovely pictures! I’ve always relished matching images to words, which I could do in my talks and lectures, but rarely in books.
You may be sceptical as to a) the demanding nature of writing and b) its addictive qualities, so let me fill in the background.
The cycle of madness
Writing a book involves a cycle of madness. I say this a little tongue in cheek, but it’s not far from the truth. My book ‘Russian Magic’) includes this dedication to Robert:
I would like to thank my partner Robert [now my husband] for putting up with a writer who had her head buried deep in books while researching this project, and who went round muttering about Russian wizards and wolves, and frogs that were really princesses, whenever she came up for air. His loving support and kindness was a life-line to me!
The first phase of writing a book is not quite so extreme, since I relish the quest and seeing the identity of a book emerging from this. The research stage is exciting. Heady, full of promise and possibilities. I have a wide field of interests, and in the 2000s, the books I produced thus included family history, writing life stories, Russian folklore, feminine archetypes and traditional Tarot symbols. I was also tasked with updating my now classic history of alchemy.
But then reality bites, writing up of an outline, often chapter by chapter, and producing all the back up info without which the publisher won’t offer a contract. (Who are the potential readers? What other competing books are out there in the marketplace? Do I know, and do I care?) It can be a grind, but it’s also reassuring afterwards to know that there’s a solid framework for the book.
I usually write to a publisher’s contract. And I don’t mind deadlines – indeed, I love them. In my opinion they are a writer’s best friend, a great incentive to keep going, providing you’ve agreed a realistic delivery date, and you’ve a contracted commitment from a publisher. Nevertheless, the outcome isn’t always rosy. Several times during my career I’ve been badly let down when publishers go bust, leaving work unpaid, and a contract is suddenly no more than a useful fire lighter. Projects can also be cancelled after the months of preparation but before the signed deal. And once I had a script rejected, which is definitely a blow to an author’s pride. (It rankles, even now!) It happens, even with the best agents, which I’ve been fortunate enough to have. ‘You cannot force a publisher to publish,’ is the sum of it. I therefore advise all prospective writers to be philosophical, because there will be stones on your path as well as pretty flowers.
The writing phase itself can both inspire and drain you. It’s like a slow wave building up that you must sustain, carrying its momentum forward. The book is always there in your mind, even on days off. And when the text is finally drafted, it’s time to turn to the editing stage. I try to have a short break between the two phases if I can, because it does help, to come back fresh to your deathless prose and see that it’s not quite so perfect as you thought. By the time my final draft has landed in the editor’s in-box (thank goodness for electronic submissions these days!) I often feel exhausted and empty, rather than exultant. It takes time for the well to fill up again, for energy to be restored.
But my final draft isn’t theirs, of course. Then follows what may be a long stage of working with a desk editor (the ‘ideas’ department) and a copy editor (the style and clarity monitor). Finally, with everything ready there’s usually a further waiting stage to get the book printed, unless you’re a celebrity author being fast-tracked for the Christmas list.
And now it’s out! But you’re still on the case, even if you’re longing to start on that next book or (probably better) lie down in a sunny place for several months. There’s promotion, social media posts (groan), and possibly talks and articles and book signings. The author is expected to be very actively involved now in marketing, and often the onus is on us to fix up events and create a social media whirl.
A new venture
This is not really an author’s moan, as I’ve loved the process overall, and the delivery of my book children into the world. Editors and agents have become close friends, and I’ve also been part of a couple of wonderful writers groups, in Stroud and in Exeter (link). But in the last few years, obviously older than I once was, I feel that I won’t embark lightly on that process again, of conceiving, preparing, writing and promoting a book. (Unless you want to make me a good offer, of course?)
And then the idea was born to start Cherry’s Cache, and fledged through attending a blog-writing course with ‘The Gentle Author’ in Spitalfields, in March 2020, something I’ve written about in an earlier post.
The occasion remains eerily clear in my mind because it was the last weekend we were all allowed out before the lockdown. Our course was a kind of safe space, whereas outside drinkers spilled onto the pavements in unusually warm weather, shoppers crowded the markets, with an eerie semblance of normality. In Cheshire Street market I picked up a Folio Edition of Daniel Defoe’s ‘Journal of the Plague Year’. It seemed fitting.
Back at home, totally at home for the duration, I was able to make contact with the Gentle Author’s recommended web designer. With his expert skills, we played with names and themes, and the blog itself was launched remarkably fast in April 2020. I put up three opening posts, so that readers would have something to delve into. And it became a constant delight for me to work on it during those long months of successive lockdowns, without the pressure of a given brief or the extended effort needed for a whole book.
Cherry’s Cache has thus been my main writing focus for a while, but instead of the once-a-week post of the pandemic, which I maintained for about two years, I’m now posting once every two or three weeks. It melds well with some of my other activities, such as volunteering as an Exeter city guide, working on esoteric subjects (see our Soho Tree blog), and rounding up memoirs and musings. In the last year, I’ve also returned to teaching creative writing online for Oxford University.
Below: so who am I really?
L-R: as painted by Robert Lee-Wade, in a floppy hat reading a book, ‘Grandma’ by Martha, or donning a gown for teaching at Oxford Summer School of Creative Writing?
All and none, perhaps.
Loving the Stats
One of the great things about running a WordPress blog is the ease of checking out your stats. I can prove that as of today, I’ve published 93 blogs – yes, really! I’m surprised too – and this is no. 94. And my word counts show that I’ve just hit the 200,000 word output for all of these. That could have made two whole novels. (But not quite ‘War and Peace’.) It seems that I haven’t switched from books to blogs to reduce my output.
I can also peer behind the scenes and find out who has read what blog and when. Well, not who exactly, but how many readers. And roughly where they came from. On the day my last blog went out (December 18th) I had over 100 from the UK and the USA, but also from Canada, Nicaragua, Ireland, Spain, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Kenya and Australia. Previous visitors were also from Bhutan, Japan, and Finland. Today is still young – but hello there, Sweden and Vietnam! (I hope that most of you do actually look at the blog, rather than harvest my info for future selling or scamming.) In June 2022, there were just under 2,000 visitors from the United States and 75 from Spain.
I can even see some of the search terms used, which luckily are mostly harmless, if often misspelt. One or two are incomprehensible: ‘south african jazz artist wearing zobra colours suit’ for instance. What did they find – and did they enjoy it? I can also work out which the winning themes are. As compiled recently, the all-time favourites have been ‘Pangur Ban and the Old Irish Cats’, (which seems to find favour especially over the Christmas period) followed by Enoch and Eli – Black Country Wit, and Mick Jagger and the Cigarette Butt. Other animals do well, since Dartmoor Ponies is in 8th place out of 90 posts, and I’m happy to see that my various blogs on our home town of Topsham are in the top twelve.
Sometimes, a tidal wave of views sweeps in, perhaps triggered by a referral from elsewhere. My account of the artist Anna Zinkeisen and her connection with the Whitbread Zodiac Calendar, something I researched at length and was proud to present, was little studied until suddenly, between March and May this year, she had nearly 1000 views. I’d love to know why. Perhaps it was a link on a study course? (Below: Anna Zinkeisen’s self-portratit and a page from her Zodiac Calendar)
And some posts – like Enoch and Eli, for instance, take a while to find their audience and then they seem to roll on merrily ever after.
Aynuk and Ayli were fishing in the canal:
‘Me mate’s fell in the canal !’
‘Owd it appen?’
‘I just took a bite ov me sanwich an me mate fell out.’
However, some of my very early posts, while building a readership at first, have ebbed away out of sight.What indeed is wrong with ‘Seduction, Sin and Sidmouth – an Ancestor’s Scandal’? Nothing, in my view! I may bring wicked Gt Uncle Edwin back to feature again on a future date.
Until then, here’s thanking you all once again, and wishing you a very Happy New Year!