Thursday, 12 May 2016

The slow and often painful birth of a revolution

Today's blog is from Robin Daly, Chairman & Founder of Yes To Life, who shares the story behind the new book, The Cancer Revolution.

One thing that parents will tell you is that there’s pretty much no way to explain to someone who hasn’t ‘been there’ what all the fuss is about. It all seems straightforward enough, especially to would-be parents. I’ve come to realise that, in this at least, creating a complex book shares some common territory.

As long ago as 2010(!) we started hatching a plan for an incredible book about Integrative Medicine that was going to be the No 1 resource for people with cancer who want to look ‘outside the box’. I could already picture it in Waterstone’s shop window, with a beautiful Yes to Life logo proudly adorning the front cover. Slowly, slowly the pieces of the jigsaw fell into place: Patricia Peat was the obvious choice of author due to her unparalleled overview of the territory, and many other clear candidates for contributors were identified as Patricia and I honed the structure of the book. Then began the long task of asking for contributions and slowly piecing together the first rough draft.

Throughout this journey, we have been beyond fortunate in the generosity the project has attracted from writers, designer, proofreaders, editor, researchers and more. These beneficial relationships that have made the project a possibility, have also had an effect on the pace of the project, as you can’t afford to be too precious  or demanding about your deadlines when you’re dealing with busy professionals who are  going out of their way to help!

With a little string pulling, we were lucky to have a respectable publisher on board very early on, but by the time the book started to take shape, they seemed to evaporate. One more concerted attempt to go the ‘proper publisher’ route did result in an offer from a top publishing house… but we had to turn it down as they inexplicably wanted to print it in black and white (if you’ve seen our book, you’ll know that it’s a riot of colour, and the design is an essential ingredient of its appeal and its functionality). So we opted for ‘assisted self-publishing’, which seems to be working out well so far.

A couple of years in, and it was starting to look like we had a book, or the contents at least. I had worked on most of the contributions to ‘detech’ some of the more sciencey pieces - changing ’47.2%’ to ‘almost half’ and such like - so that they looked less like papers for a science journal, and equally ‘teching-up’some of the more homely pieces. It was quite a challenge to mould so much disparate content such that it would all be digestible to a single reader.

We assembled all the photos and the bios for the ever-increasing list of contributors, weighing in eventually at 38! We started assembling the 40 pages of resources for the back of the book, and we began the arduous but important task of collecting the scientific references.

At this point, it was time to get the look and feel of the book together. I was put in touch with Bina Tarulli, a brilliant designer and generally lovely person, who said an unhesitating yes to the project. I can’t really believe that she could imagine what she might be in for, but when her first designs came in, we were completely stunned and pretty much just said ‘yes please’.

And if that wasn’t enough, she inadvertently made another major contribution. One of the things we had really struggled with was a title for the book, so much so that when I sent the draft to Bina, we didn’t have anything close to one. Just so she had something to put on the cover design, she threw in ‘The Cancer Revolution’, and as soon as I saw it I thought ‘wait a minute… that’s brilliant!’ and it stuck.

Starting around 2013, I existed in a constant ‘it’s almost there’ state of mind. Like the proverbial pot of gold at the foot of the rainbow, ‘there’ moved ahead relentlessly, however fast I went at it.: book retreats in the country, more and more helpers, less and less sleep… a ‘hamster wheel’ experience. The ever more desperately desired conclusion always seemed so near, but somehow always out of reach.

Embroidery buffs will understand if I say that the trajectory of the book was not unlike backstitch - two steps forward and one back. This comes of having painfully little idea of how to ‘do’ a book - a ‘fools rush in’ scenario, that had led us to embrace a ridiculously complex concept at the outset and that in turn meant a consistently elevated level of ‘learning on the job’. It’s all excruciatingly reminiscent of a starry-eyed young couple’s romantic notions of parenthood.

One massive, but fortuitous loop around this time resulted from being introduced to Ruth Thackeray, a professional editor with a lifetime of heavyweight projects under her belt, such as the Grove Dictionary of Music. She embraced our project with startling zeal, simultaneously assuring us of the great promise of the book and its desperate need for her attentions. Agonising as it was to dissect absolutely every single minute detail of the book again, I now realise what a huge leap this was. The Cancer Revolution may be a self-published book, but, unlike may other well-intentioned tomes out there, there is nothing aside from the unknown publisher’s name to indicate this.

Eventually, for my own sanity if nothing else, I had to set a stake in the sand - the book was going to be at the printers, ready to print, before Christmas 2015. Well, you know that thing about cupboard space - that you fill it up, no matter how much you have? You probably won’t be surprised to hear that, as the deadline loomed, the hamster wheel became a frenzied blur; confronting and dispensing with the increasing and relentless tide of obstacles became a nightmarish game of whack-a-mole; until finally… at 8.01 pm on Christmas Eve… I pressed the Send button.

Fast-forward to March, and I am having the surreal experience of actually holding one of the two advance copies in my hands. This is something I have imagined for years, and it’s hard to believe that it’s actually happening. What is amazing to me is that, in so many ways, it is exactly the sort of book I first imagined all those years ago, only better - thanks to the extraordinary help and expertise we garnered along the way. The birth of The Cancer Revolution, like many a birth, was tough and long, but here I was holding our baby. Long after pallet-loads of copies have arrived in the UK, much to the amusement of my colleagues, my copy is still tenderly wrapped in bubble-wrap, a precious and delicate miracle of creation.

Onwards into April and beyond, and our baby is out in the world, under the scrutiny of a growing number of cancer novices, experts and everything in between. And it’s extremely heartening that it is being well received by all and that sales are encouragingly brisk.

Just as many a babe-in-arms has soothed away the painfully jagged memories of a tough birth, so too the years of pig-headed persistence are looking increasingly like a price worth paying for the birth of a revolution.

Crowdfunding the Book

We have just launched a crowdfunding campaign to help The Cancer Revolution reach the widest possible audience. Please take a few minutes to watch our short film and find out how you can be a part of this cancer revolution:

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