A phone call from the publisher in the morning. He told me he'd been to the printer's. The book was gone.
It had been a nightmare. The college that had commissioned the book - an oral history of its relatively short seventy-year history - had pulled the launch date for the book back from August to May. This year. That was last December. The manuscript was still in my computer in January. I had read it on-screen, printed it out, read it on paper, cut and pasted the chapters from their cyber birthplace into word documents, and sent these to the publisher in late January. He commenced design and layout in February. He got the typestyle in one. It was perfect, but I was just about beyond arguing. Having built the body, he poured in the text and let it flow like treacle - warm treacle so it would flow faster - into five hundred pages organised into a preface; a contents page; an acknowledgment, disclaimer, NLA cataloguing details and copyright page; and seven neat chapters. That's it. No index. Five hundred and twenty-four pages. Thirty-five black and white illustrations.
That took March. March flew. Then he flung them back at me, chapter by chapter. I read them on-screen, as real page images. Then I printed them out and read them again on paper and marked up changes and typos and factual errors and omissions, and emailed the chapters right back to him again. The days were flying away like desk calendar pages in a bridging scene from a 1940s B-grade movie. Without the dramatic music. I didn't think we'd make it.
Then the last, most horrible, part. Getting the college to sign off - approve for printing - the book at proof stage. Anything can go wrong here and often does.
First, a forwarded email from the lawyers about the disclaimer, sent from the college without comment.
"It's fine as far as a disclaimer goes," wrote the lawyer, smugly, "but of course it will not prevent an action in defamation if any of the material is offensive to an aggrieved past student/teacher."
Of course. He's a lawyer. He could never preclude the chance of an action. (And I love the slash in place of 'and/or'.)
On he went, thoughtfully, as if he had just returned from lunch and a good red at Caterina's in Queen Street, "You need to be sure that where names are mentioned there is no likelihood of defamation. If individuals are mentioned and you even remotely think there could be a problem you should try to have the material signed off."
A hundred contributions from staff, students and associates all writing in varying degrees of fondness about seventy years of the organisation and people within it and he wants every one, writer or writee, to sign it off? Well, at least, where I 'remotely' believed someone could sue.
I fired off a return email to the college. The college replied next morning.
"Relax," it read. "He's just being a lawyer. The disclaimer is fine."
I took the proofs to the college in a box. Five hundred pages fitted perfectly in a half-dozen wine case (Mt Alexander 2007 Shiraz). I gave the man at the college the weekend to read it. He was going to the football on the Saturday. "Take it along and read it at half-time," I joked. "I will," he joked back. I love it when you can joke something dangerously important all the way through without making a serious comment. You joke it into submission. "Just don't go out into a windstorm with it," I continued. "It's the only copy." He promised.
The launch is less than two weeks away. How fast does digital printing print? I've got no idea. The publisher didn't seem overly concerned. Why doesn't anyone tell me anything?
I took the ANZAC Day long weekend off and we went to the beach house to relax, but I kept having nightmares about the pages flying out of the spines of the finished books when you opened them - all of them - like desk calendar pages in a 1940s ...