Friday, 21 December 2007

Conference Notes

Last week was our company sales conference, which we have two or three times a year. The point of these is for editors to present the sales force with new and upcoming titles, so they are suitably enthused and briefed before they go out and sell the books into the shops. This particular conference was for May-August 2008, and as The Bromley Boys is down for an August publication date, it was down to me to talk the talk. I think the presentation went well with the sales reps in particular extremely keen, and asking to read material as soon as possible. Which is always a good sign. Anyway, this is what I said...

Picture the scene. It’s 1969. The Beatles and the Stones are doing battle at the top of the charts. A new TV series called Monty Python’s Flying Circus has just started. And England are world cup holders, officially the best team in the world.
Dave Roberts, a teenage boy in a sleepy south London suburb has been bitten by the football bug as so many of his generation. But rather than supporting the high-flying likes of West Ham or Arsenal, he has instead opted for a lifetime’s suffering in supporting his local non-league team, Bromley football club. And far from being the best team in the world, Bromley are the exact opposite. In 1969, Bromley suffer their worst ever season, finishing bottom of the bottom of the non-league league. Officially the worst team in England, the only saving grace is that they can’t actually get relegated, for the simple reason that there’s nowhere else for them to go.
The Bromley Boys is Dave’s funny and heartwarming story of a football club at rock bottom. Bromley are a club where the attendance is always given at 400, because no-one can bothered to count the crowd. They’re a team who let in so many goals that the taunting opposition fans actually lose count of the score. They’re a team who play in the bizarre Kent Floodlit Cup, a cup competition exclusively for clubs in Kent with floodlights, and get beaten by a team from Essex.
This is a personal coming of age story too. Dave’s obsession with the local non-league team does not exactly make him many friends, and that’s before he is sent to a local boarding school, where the only sport they play is rugby. In one particularly disastrous episode, Dave runs away in order because he can’t bear to miss Bromley play Ilford, buys an egg sandwich at half time by mistake, which means he has no money left for the bus back, and ends up walking across the fields of Kent at 2 in the morning, while the school, the police and his parents are all out searching for him.
There’s one final twist about The Bromley Boys, which is the blog that accompanies the book. Since Dave began writing the book in the summer, he and I have been blogging the book’s progress at The subtitle of the blog is ‘The Story of A Book From Start to Finish’, and that’s exactly what it is. Dave is writing about writing, I’m writing about editing, and then, as the book progresses and more people get involved, I hope that other people, including your good selves, will also contribute, to give a unique account of what is involved in putting a book together. I think this is the first time this has been attempted, and I hope that you’ll be keen to get involved.
To sum up, The Bromley Boys is funny, touching and extremely well written, the sort of universal football story that will appeal to fans everywhere. It taps into a long standing tradition of successful books about sporting failure. It also takes advantage of the nostalgia angle too – the 1960s setting will appeal to the many thousands who bought the recently anthologies of You Are The Ref and Buchan’s Football Monthly.
And if you remember nothing else, here’s your five second sound bite to remember, The Bromley Boys is a non-league Fever Pitch.

A Change Will Do You Good

I've now read Dave's revised version and I'm really pleased with it. He's done everything I asked him to do, and think it flows a lot better and has that all important shape that was lacking a little in places before. The end still gives me a little lump in my throat, even though I've read it several times.

In fact, the only thing wrong with it is something that I asked Dave to do. His original prologue to the book focused on Bromley's pre-season friendly with West Ham, but I asked him to expand it back to him falling in love with football at the 1966 World Cup. Having read the start again (again), I now feel as though Dave was right and I was wrong -- it's as if the book has too many beginnings, and the start has lost its original impact. So I've made a suggested cut myself, moving the World Cup story stuff into chapter one, where Dave talks generally about football and his love of the club. I wonder if Dave will like my change to his change?

Like Capello and Beckham, I'm big enough to admit when I got it wrong...

Monday, 17 December 2007

It could only happen to Bromley...

Bromley's manager, Mark Goldberg, has left the club so he can manage his daughter Lauren's singing career. She is described as "Bromley's answer to Britney Spears" and is, according to her website, tipped to take out the Christmas Number One spot with her recording of Hava Nagila. This is apparently news to all the bookies sites I went to, none of whom mentioned her.
Goldberg said he could not do both jobs justice so quit Bromley to help his daughter.

Wednesday, 12 December 2007


I've now worked through all of Tom's changes and sent the manuscript back to him. I'm quite pleased with a lot of the new material - there's even a mention of Bromley's (even though he was born in Brixton) favourite son, David Bowie as well as a story about Jacob's Club Biscuits that I had totally forgotten.
Altogether, the book has grown by around 8,000 words, and it now feels around the right length.
At least Tom should be in a good frame of mind when he reads it. His team, York City, have embarked on a two-match unbeaten run since parting company with their coach. Bromley, meanwhile, have reverted to type after a promising start to the season and are now drifting down the table.

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Whatever happened to the Bromley Boys?

Now that the book's end is in sight, I needed to do a "follow-up" chapter about what became of the various characters involved in the story. I contacted one of the local Bromley papers and they agreed to run the piece shown above. So far, so unexciting. But when I woke up on Tuesday, one of the most exciting emails I have ever received was waiting in my Inbox. It was from Alan Stonebridge, my all-time hero and the greatest player ever to wear the famous Bromley shirt. Although he had moved to the west country, his brother had seen the article and passed on my details. Honestly, I had difficulty getting to sleep that night...

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Getting Better

I've been working on incorporating Tom's ideas into the book and have to admit, it's already making it a better read. I've re-jigged the chapters and covered off the specific points. I've added more of the "wider context", including bits about the Eurovision Song Contest, Pele's 100th goal, John Lennon returning his OBE, the stylophone (yes I really did have one) and the lovely Una Stubbs.

It's also good having someone take a fresh look at your work - my wife would normally read through it and give me feedback, but her interest in non-league football circa 1969 is surprisingly low.

I see York City lost again over the weekend. I think Tom is beginning to find out what it was like for me supporting Bromley back when they were monumentally awful.

Friday, 16 November 2007

The Curse of the Bromley Boys Part Two

Obviously, the fact that I’ve been working hard on The Bromley Boys can have no direct effect on the results of my own team, York City. However, it should be noted that in the course of writing these notes, York conspired to lose at home in the first round proper of the FA Cup to Havant and Waterlooville, a club who (with no disrespect) are so small they need two separate places to combine to make up their team. Harumph. Out of the FA Cup, dead and buried in the league, the season is over and it’s not even the middle of November…

Reading a Manuscript Part Two (Part Four): That’s All Folks

Asides from these general comments, I have also given Dave a set of specific notes – about fifty or so – on particular sentences/ phrases that needs a tweak. And that’s it. I always think these notes sound a lot in one go, but (I hope) that once digested, they all make sense and don’t seem half as much work as they might do initially.

How do these compare to other editorial notes? I would say that they’re broadly representative of the kind of comments I normally give, though certainly at the upper end of things: Dave is an experienced writer, having written a novel before, so I know I can challenge him on a technical level that newer writers might struggle with – and also, that he’ll have the confidence to take it. Every book is different – I’ve had manuscripts come in at almost double the right length, and have had spent weeks deleting and editing down; I’ve had others where I’ve picked up the pen myself and got stuck into the rewriting. So it all varies. But Dave’s book, from an editorial point of view, is one of the nice ones: there’s 60,000-odd words that only require tweaking rather than rewriting, leaving space for us to play with and bring out some of the book’s best bits.

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Reading a Manuscript Part Two (Part Three): Sick as an ex-parrot

My next comments to Dave are some suggestions as to where the manuscript could be added to, to make the book even better. These are partly to do with presentation, and partly to do with things that Dave has already touched upon and I think that he could make more of.

The first of these concerned Results and Memorabilia. This book is, essentially, a nostalgia football book, and I want to Dave to think about what he could add here to bring this out. Here are some of my thoughts: the inclusion of league tables at the end of each match to emphasise Bromley’s downward spiral (a similar device was used in David Peace’s The Damned United); team sheets, perhaps laid out in formation, or with Dave’s ratings of each player; Programme comments, such as a few juicy quotes from the chairman’s editorial.

My second thought is for Dave to add a little bit more about the wider culture of the time. There’s a brilliant bit where Dave describes watching the first ever episode of Monty Python and turns it off thinking it rubbish… only to go to school the next day to find everyone quoting the sketches at each other. I’ve asked him to do more of this, whether it’s about TV, film, music or, indeed, football – the contrast with what is happening at the top of the league will, I think, only heighten the Bromley story.

My third thought is for Dave to put a little bit more of his feelings and emotions in to some scenes. There are places where Dave describes what has happened but doesn’t give his response to it. The more emotion he is happy to put in, the more the reader is going to be able to emphasise with him.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Reading a Manuscript Part Two (Part Two): Stitching Dave Up Good And Proper

My other general point about Dave’s writing concerns what I call ‘stitching’ – in other words, how the manuscript links together, and in particular (to continue the analogy) to make the narrative as seamless as possible. My previous point on the chapter structure is, in a way, stitching on a macro level: my other stitching comments are far micro.

The first of these is to do with the way Dave sometimes lays out his sentences. There are occasions where there are a succession of single sentence paragraphs. It’s a powerful tool – it’s saying to the reader: this sentence is important – but using it too much can dull its impact. So I’ve asked Dave to have a look at this and, on occasions, add the stand out sentences to neighbouring paragraphs (as an aside, I noticed a similar thing with another author recently, whose book is based on a blog: is the internet influencing how people write?)

The second stitching point concerns how Dave moves between sections. Sometimes, it feels as though sections begin a little suddenly, with no nod to what has gone before – for example, ‘The coach to Erith and Belvedere for the Kent Senior Cup was full’. We’re just bang into the action. Far better, I think, when they link together. Here’s another example: ‘The next day, after a restless night’s sleep…’ Dave’s giving a sense of time, and the restless night’s sleep is to do with his anger in the previous section. These sort of tweaks might not sound like much, but over a book can really make a difference.

Monday, 12 November 2007

Reading a Manuscript Part Two (Part One)

I’ve finished my editorial notes for The Bromley Boys and have emailed them back to Dave: my next few entries will be a general summary of my main points. They’ve taken me longer than I would have liked, which is mainly because I’ve been pinging around from one book project to another and haven’t had the headspace to have a real think about Dave’s book. There’s been something nagging me about the manuscript and it took me a while to work out what it was.

What was nagging at me was this. Although Dave’s book is ostensibly about the worst season in Bromley’s history, what I realised on reflection was that it wasn’t actually about Bromley’s worst season in history after all – it was really about Dave. It’s the coming of age story of a fourteen-year-old football fan who goes from being an outsider to one who belongs. The football stuff is important, but it’s a backdrop to the real narrative, which is Dave’s personal journey. The fact that we know from the start that the season is Bromley’s worst means there is little plot 'pull' in this storyline. Essentially, they started badly, and stayed bad. The only dramatic tension is whether or not they can avoid being really, really bad. So the structure has to be shaped around Dave.

Once I’d worked this out, I went back through the manuscript to mark down where the plot points were in terms of Dave’s personal journey. I then had a look at Dave’s original chapter structure, and worked out how to reshape it in accordance with these plot points. The chapters in which the main points were football ones, I folded into the ‘Dave’ chapters. From the original 34 chapters, I’ve reshaped into 22. It’s worth saying that in doing so, I’ve haven’t suggested any cuts – it’s all been to do with moving the chapter markers to (what I think is) their rightful place. Chapter breaks, for me, are signposts as to where the narrative is going and as in real life, unclear signage can lead to people getting lost.

Friday, 26 October 2007

Reading a Manuscript Part One

There’s lots of rubbish that goes with being a publisher, but there’s two bits of the job that always remind me why I put up with the gubbins. The first is that moment when a completed manuscript arrives on your doorstep, or, in this case, inbox. And when it turns up like Dave’s book has, unexpectedly early, it’s a double bonus. The Bromley Boys has been sat on my desk for a couple of days, mouthing ‘read me…’ while I’ve been having to go to various meetings and waiting for a chunk of clear time to read the book.
When a manuscript comes in, I like to read it twice – the first time, quickly, as I would read normally for pleasure. I am, I suspect, not the world's greatest reader: my wife describes me as possessing ‘summit fever’ – that urgency to get to the end of the book to find out what happens, without taking a breath to stop and look at the view on the way. And it’s true – I do have a tendency to hurtle through the pages. But I think that it’s important when a book comes in to try to read a manuscript as I would read a normal one – to have my natural reaction as a reader in the back of my mind as I edit. Once I’ve got the reader's ‘feel’ of the book, then I go back to the beginning and read for a second time, but this time at a slower pace and far more thoroughly.
My initial reader’s reaction to The Bromley Boys? I loved it. There’s bits I’ll want Dave to work on, and I’ll tease these out on my second read, but the big picture is that it's funny and sad and hangs together as a proper book, which is no mean achievement -- Dave should be really proud of what he's done. There are certainly manuscripts that come in and leave you thinking, 'Blimey, I don't even know where to start with this one'. But this is one of the good ones -- now it's time to read it again, and my second favourite part of the job: working with the author to make a good book even better.

Good Football 0 Bad Teams 2

I’ve been thinking about The Bromley Boys in the last couple of weeks, having been back up north to watch my own less than wonderful team, York City, play Stafford Rangers on a cold and deserted Tuesday night. York aren’t doing great at the moment – symbolised by the fact that Yorkie the lion managed to come last in the annual football club mascot’s race – but still somehow managed to win 2-0 (celebrated with ‘Getting Better’ by Shed Seven pumping out over the tannoy). Basically, York were bad, but Stafford Rangers were even worse – to the point where I decided they were the worst team I had ever paid money to watch (£14 to stand on the terraces, but that’s another story). The fact Bromley in 1969 must have been even worse than that, could only leave me the deepest sympathy for Dave. And it was with this feeling that I opened and started reading the full manuscript.

Sunday, 21 October 2007

A nervous wait

I've finished the first draft of the book and have sent it to Tom. It's now a matter of waiting for his comments. This HAS to be the worst part of the process - I think what I've done is the best I could have made the book.
The only thing I couldn't decide on was whether to put a "where are they now?" bit at the end, describing what became of the main characters. On one hand, there was the temptation to leave them all innocently looking forward to a bright future and keep the whole story in 1969/1970. On the other hand, would readers prefer to have all the loose ends tied up? I'll be interested to see what Tom thinks...

Monday, 24 September 2007

The Curse of the Bromley Boys?

Now I'm not superstitious. Actually, that's a lie -- of course I'm superstitious, I'm a football fan. And I can't help noticing that since taking on The Bromley Boys, my own football team, York City, have started taking on Bromley Boys type characteristics. Having narrowly failed to reach the Wembley play-off final back in May, they're now down among the dead man of the Conference (I can't bring myself to call it the Blue Square Premier). Their record so far this season reads

P11 W2 D2 L7 GD-9 Pts8.

I would say that if this goes on, they'll be playing Bromley themselves next season. Except that regional differences means that York would be relegated to the Conference North division. And besides, Bromley, currently lying in 6th place in the Conference South division may well be promoted in their place.

Next time, I'm doing a book on Manchester United...

Read All Abaht It

The latest edition of Writers' News has landed on my desk and I'm delighted to see that Dave's book has made the front page. Under the heading 'Subscriber Shares Terrace Tales', the piece is all about Dave and the story of this story of a book. I'm particularly pleased because Dave first contacted me because of a previous interview I'd done with the magazine a year ago --which just goes to show that unsolicited books do get bought. I'm slightly embarrassed about my mug shot on page 2, but at least it should stop too many submissions heading my way.
It's an excellent magazine, by the way, and I'm not just saying that because they've printed a nice story about Dave. I do think that publishing can sometimes feel a little daunting, but there's lots of good advice and ideas here that I wish I'd known about when I was starting out. Very much worth a read for would-be (and actual) writers everywhere.

Half Time Team Talk

It's taken me longer than I would have liked to have got round to reading Dave's 'story so far' material -- see my other blog, for the boring details. But it was very much worth the wait. There's about 170-odd pages, down, so in footballing terms, we've pretty much hit half-time. Continuing my tortuous analogy (it's a football book, so I think I'm allowed), I would say Dave has gone in at the break in front, and in terms of the second half, my tactics talk is almost Sven like. More of the same, no complacency, your game to lose, hello Ulrika. OK, so maybe not the Ulrika bit.
My one serious point to Dave was over the structure -- at the moment the material isn't really divided down into chapters, and at some point this needs to be addressed. But because the writing is flowing so well, and Dave is clearly enjoying writing it, I'd rather he got to the end, and then we can sit about shaping the book once the whole manuscript is in.

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

The original synopsis

This was the synopsis I sent to Portico in early February:


it's a true story about supporting Bromley, a perennially underachieving non-league team during their infamous 1969-1970 season which was one of the worst on record.

The results of their first 5 games were 0-5, 1-4, 1-6, 0-8 and 1-6. The last 18 games were lost, apart from a draw in the Kent Senior Cup. Bromley lost the replay.

It's about shifting hopes and expectations, which were constantly revised downwards. Eventually, a defeat by less than 3 goals was considered a triumph.

Throughout these dark days of appalling football played out to ever-decreasing crowds, two fans were ever-present. Me at 14, full of passion for the team which had done nothing but let me down, and a solitary figure in his mid teens, who was always on his own behind the goal, cup of tea in one hand, cigarette in the other.He was immediately identifiable by his trench coat and long ginger hair and was known only as The Grubby. Eventually, The Grubby and I would form an unlikely friendship.

This book is about how football prepared us for life by teaching us that if you expect the worst to happen, you won't be disappointed.

It's about how failure was such a part of our lives that a Sunday league team formed by a core of Bromley supporters was even worse than the team they supported. Losing a game 21-0 to 10 men was a game I still remember vividly.

It's about flirting unsuccessfully with football hooliganism.

It's about being the only Bromley supporter in a school full of Arsenal fans.

It's about total obsession with my team - like trying to persuade my dad to move to Downham, so we could have our mail delivered by Pat Brown, the star centre half whose day job was postman. And always taking my boots and shin pads to away games in my duffel bag, just in case a player or two got lost on the way or had a car crash.

I saw all but two of those 47 games league, cup and friendly games that season - starting with the pre-season West Ham fixture, where I slightly overestimated the interest in the game and turned up at 8 am to be sure of a seat. No-one else arrived until 1.25.

Bromley weren't just bad, they were awful. They were locked in a perpetual struggle with Corinthian Casuals to avoid bottom place. Casuals were a bizarre team. Not only were their shirts pink and chocolate quarters, but they stuck to a charmingly outmoded ideal of playing the game for the love of it and were resolutely amateur. As you'd imagine, this didn't help them attract the best players.

This is the opposite of Fever Pitch. This is about being cursed with a local team of relentless ineptitude, yet being unable to stop loving them.

It should particularly appeal to the baby boomers who are fed up with big money Premiership prima donnas, and the greed and cynicism which has become part of the game.


I'm Dave Roberts, a 51 year old advertising copywriter who worked in Leeds and Manchester, before moving to New Zealand in the 1980s.
I have written two books - the first, an "as told to" cricket book, and another called ' e-luv- an internet romance' ( published by Friday Books ) , which is currently part of the Waterstone's Valentine's Day promotion.

Wednesday, 5 September 2007

A sense of time and place

I never really realised how much research would be involved in writing this book. Apart from all the Bromley programmes and match reports for the season, I've had to get hold of boys' football magazines from 1969 and 1970, ads for football boots from the same time, music charts, TV listings, find out what sweets were popular at the time, find articles on hooliganism and look through the big news stories from the years in question.
The most valuable resource for getting a sense of time and place has been a DVD of the BBC's "The Rock'n'Roll Years". This is basically just news footage set to music from the year in question, but triggered all sorts of memories - many of which have ended up in the book.

The latest chapters have been sent.

I have now sent Tom the next 30,000 words of The Bromley Boys and am taking a break to recharge the batteries. Also, I need to make sure he's happy with the direction I've taken before I carry on. While the latest batch sticks fairly closely to the chapter outlines I showed Tom originally, some story lines have disappeared and others taken their places. In many ways, this part is even more nerve wracking than waiting to hear if a publisher is interested. I don't think you ever really know if other people will find the same things as funny as you do.

Tuesday, 21 August 2007

What kind of writer am I?

In a previous post, Tom mentioned that he wanted writers to feel good about and therefore enjoy working on the book. I'm definitely one of those who needs to hear praise alongside the criticism, however constructive, so was pleased to see that he was liking the general direction the book was going in. I veer wildly between being reasonably confident about my writing and then, a short time later reading exactly the same words and thinking that they're rubbish.
That's why I've decided to just write the thing, warts and all. I'm aiming for 65,000 words and then plan to flesh some of the earlier sections out to take into account Tom's thoughts.
For now, I just want to get the first draft done, which should be about 8 weeks away. The final manuscript is is due at the end of December
The only thing I've gone back to is the prologue. I couldn't help myself - there was a dramatic incident involving the 14-year old me on a ferry to Sweden that had to be told. It was also a nice lead-in to why my passion for football came about.

Thursday, 2 August 2007

Dave's thoughts on Tom's editorial thoughts

It was exactly the kind of guidance I was hoping for, because I want this book to be as good as it can possibly be. And even though I've had many years experience in writing ads, there's a lot I don't know about writing books. Structure is the thing I have most difficulty with and knowing I'll be getting help with it is quite a relief. As for the other things I need to put in - sense of place, more backstory, building up the other characters more - these are things I can do once I've finished the first draft, although I did a bit of work on it today, particularly the prologue. I have now added a bit more about this West Ham team - the one I was expecting to see line up against Bromley.
Since I sent Tom the early chapters, I've written a further 7,000 words, which I'll send to him next week. Watch this space....

Editorial Thoughts on Editorial Thoughts

Those, then, are my initial editorial comments to Dave. How do they compare to other editorial notes? Every book is different, and every writer has their strengths and weaknesses to tease out and tighten up. I think Dave has that natural writer thing going, so I'm seeing these comments as more general pointers about shape, rather than about any specifics that need tackling. I always find these notes a bit of a balancing act -- you need to give the writer constructive criticism, but at the same time don't want to knock their confidence. That last point is crucial -- you want the writer to feel good and enjoy working on the book: if they're worried about small details, they (and the book) are never going to get the benefits of writing in full flow. It's very easy to emphasise the negatives and forget the positives, so here's a couple to end with: it's already funny -- the material really made me chuckle; and it's already poignant -- I could relate only too well to the insecurities of being a teenage boy and supporting a lousy team. I'd say it's the writing equivalent of being one up after ten minutes. I'm looking forward to the next instalment.

Editorial Thoughts # 4: Characters

My final thought to Dave is about characters. Although the book is based around his experiences, it is important to build up a bunch of other main characters too. I think he has started doing this in the early pages, but wanted to flag up for him to keep doing so. As well as Dave as the narrator, we need half a dozen or so main characters in the text too. Dave needs to decide who they are, and keep their presence up in the book. My last preliminary comment is more of a question – who does the title the Bromley Boys refer to? My assumption (and it may be wrong) is that it refers to the small band of die-hard Bromley fans he falls in with. If so, this needs to come out strongly, to make sure the book is about the Bromley Boys, and not just the Bromley Boy.

Wednesday, 1 August 2007

Editorial Thoughts #3: Structure

The difficulty in doing a book like this, when it’s the story of the season, is to let the chapters become defined by the football matches. I think Dave should watch this: as an overall arc, the football season works perfectly, as you’ve got a built in beginning and end: in terms of one match following another, they give you a narrative in a chronological sense, but not necessarily in a plot one. So Dave should make sure he is shaping chapters around plot points, as for example, in the chapter where he runs away from school to watch the match. My advice is this: work out the main plot points, and group the matches in chapters accordingly. Also, he shouldn't be afraid to miss a match, or talk about a couple together if it helps the flow of the narrative. Finally, on this point, his sections within each chapter can sometimes be quite short. Short sections can work well in places, but have more effect when used sparingly. On the whole, I’d aim for longer sections, and ‘stitch’ some of these together.

Tuesday, 31 July 2007

Editorial Thoughts #2: The Set Up

I love the opening prologue and think that the pre-season friendly with West Ham Dave has chosen a perfect contrast for what is to come. I actually think he could make a bit more of it – really big up the Hammers, talk about their world cup stars, deciding whose autograph he is going to ask for first, etc. I also think that what the book needs at the beginning – and I don’t know whether this should be in the prologue or the opening chapters – is a little more ‘locating’ the story. Firstly, in sense of place. This is the first time we visit the Bromley ground, and although it is familiar to Dave, needs bringing to life for the reader. Secondly, in terms of Dave's support for the club. Why is he a Bromley fan? Is there a family connection? Why is this his first match, when he has supported them for a while, etc? A memory or two of the World Cup in 1966 (must have had a big impression on a ten year old boy) wouldn’t go amiss. My instinct would be to give a bit more about the ground in the prologue, and flesh out the fan stuff in the opening chapter.

Monday, 30 July 2007

Editorial Thoughts #1: More Dave, please.

It’s a funny thing to say when someone is writing a personal story, but I think that the narrative needs a bit more ‘Dave’ in there. Firstly, a bit more backstory, especially of the non-football kind to flesh out the character. Secondly, a bit more emotion: there a few points when I want to know Dave's reaction, rather than just what happens in the football match. As a fan, you must be happy, gutted, etc. Although it’s the story of the season, it’s also Dave's story too – the more the writer gives the reader, the more they’ll respond.

What Kind of Writer is Dave?

Dave has sent me the opening couple of chapters of The Bromley Boys for some early comments. They’re an advance on the material I bought the book on, though I do have some thoughts (of course) which I’ll post up here. I always find it interesting how authors respond to initial comments: they tend to fall into two categories in my experience – the ones who want to tinker with the opening chapters until they are perfect, and the ones who want to finish a complete first draft before even thinking about rewriting. There are pluses and minuses to both approaches: the danger with the former is that you spend so long fine-tuning, you never get the whole thing finished; the danger with the latter is that if you start with bad habits, they can run throughout the book and take longer to unpick. In this case, my advice to Dave here would be to carry on – the writing is in more than good enough nick here to do that – though if he feels he’d rather take stock, I’d more than understand.

Monday, 23 July 2007

Just when everything seemed to be running smoothly... computer screen has turned blue, making it slightly difficult to see what I'm typing. Apart from that, I'm on schedule to finish the book by the end of December as long as I can stick to my current pace.
The trick, I've discovered, is not to think in terms of writing, say, 70000 words, but breaking it down into less intimidating chunks of 500 in the morning and 500 in the evening.
Thanks to Bromley Public Library's research and information service, I now have the match reports for every game in the 1969/70 season and reading through them has revealed the kind of stories you couldn't make up. In my memories, Bromley were a superb team, playing dashing football. The reality, it appears, was somewhat different. They were almost comically inept.
But just as importantly, today's playlist while writing. A lot of Cast, a bit of The Shins, some Fountains of Wayne and THIS song by Johnny Boy (their only song as far as I know).

Tuesday, 10 July 2007

Progress report

I've been planning out the chapters of the book in more detail and apart from the realisation that I have another 60,0000 words or so to write in just over 5 months, I'm quite happy with the way it's going.
But why these pictures? Well, they're all people whose paths crossed with mine as a 14-year-old back in 1969/1970, and they'll all be appearing in The Bromley Boys.
The only one you might not recognise is Judo Al Hayes, who left Bromley to find fame in American wrestling as the stereotypical English toff, Lord Alfred Hayes.

Saturday, 30 June 2007

What This Blog Is About

Does the world really need yet another blog? True, there are a lot out there (and I'm sent links to many by would-be writers) but this one I think is a little bit different.

This blog, simply, is the story of a book from start to finish. From Dave writing it to me editing it, we're going to log our progress, so you can see what it really takes to put a book together. And as the book progresses, other people will contribute too -- designers, publicists, reps going out to sell it and so on -- to give a unique record of a book's life, the whole journey from the writer's imagination to the shop shelf. We hope you enjoy it and that you'll comment along the way.

Why I Signed Up The Bromley Boys

I've been a commissioning editor for many years, first at Little, Brown and now starting up my own list, Portico. I've bought and edited many books, and read many, many, many more submissions. At a rough estimate, I've commissioned about 50, and rejected projects into the thousands.

The Bromley Boys came in unsolicited, which at many publishers means straight in the reject pile/ work experience person's laps. I do try to at least look at unsoliciteds, however, as here to me is what publishing is all about: the joy of discovering something new and different. The Bromley Boys had two things going for it before I started reading it -- firstly, it's not everyday you receive a submission with your name in the title; and secondly, my own football allegience. A lifelong sufferer, sorry, supporter of now non-league York City, I could relate very strongly to what Dave was writing about.

And as I read the material, I slowly fell in love with it. Firstly, it was clear Dave could write. And I mean really write. I was reading it on the train back home and was getting looks as I laughed my way through it. It was warm and smart and poignant and as I read on, I knew I just wanted to buy it and publish it. And I liked too the fact that the subject matter was almost perversely uncommercial -- a non-league football team? In 1969? And yet what Dave was writing about was so universal -- growing up, being a fan and so on -- that somehow it just worked.

The Bromley Boys is what publishing is all about: great writing that deserves to be published. I hope you'll join us on its journey.

Wednesday, 27 June 2007

Why I'm writing a book on a non-league football team's worst season ever.

I saw an article in a writer's magazine about Tom and his plans for Portico, where he mentioned he wanted to publish football books which were from a "different angle". This seemed the perfect description of my true story about teenage obsession with Bromley, my local non-league team, during their abysmal 1969/70 season. No matter how bad things got (and they got incredibly bad, with one disaster following another), my irrational belief in the team never faltered.

I got the idea for the book while watching the World Cup in 2006 and realising that I just didn't care about whether England won or lost. The gap between players and supporters seemed enormous. Can anyone apart from Cheryl Tweedy really feel passionate about Ashley Cole? I felt nostalgic for a time when it was possible to feel as though you were really a part of your team and the players were approachable.

The other thing about non-league teams like Bromley is that they attract a different kind of crowd. You'll always find the uncool, the misfits and the anorak-clad obsessives. People who simply wouldn't have fitted in at the Manchester Uniteds and Arsenals of this world. I wanted to pay tribute to these people as their stories were often a lot more interesting than what was happening on the pitch.

I'd sent the synopsis to four publishers - one turned it down flat, two wanted to see more and the other said he'd have a read when it was finished as "this kind of thing is notoriously difficult to write". None of these approaches came to anything and then I saw the article.

And no, I'm not having to rely totally on memory - I've got match reports from the library and a fellow Bromley Boy kindly lent me the programmes for the entire 1969/70 season, which he'd collected and filed away in chronological order, together with notes on scorers and major incidents. He also sent me his collection of tickets to get into the grounds.

Luckily for me, that's exactly the kind of fan Bromley has always attracted.