Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Entry # 61 - WRITERS TALK - David Stewart White - Nonfiction Author

Background Notes: 

Just in time for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, David Stewart White is the author of Let’s Take the Kids to London (4th edition) and co-author with his wife Deb Hosey White, of their just released newest publication, Beyond Downton Abbey: A Guide to 25 Great Houses.  Published as e-books and paperback on Amazon.com — Amazon "Prime" ---  members can read it for free as part of their membership.
In addition to these books, Dave has also published travel articles, on London and other locales, in magazines like AAA World and AAA Traveler; online in BootsNAll.com and TravelMuse.com; in the Washington Post; and he also writes a European travel column on Examiner.com news service.

Available from Amazon.com
Jan:     Dave, you and your wife, Deb, are both “Writers in Common” as you’ve referred to yourselves, and you’ve made major career shifts in order to dedicate time for writing and publishing. Tell our readers about your newest venture, Beyond Downton Abbey: A Guide to 25 Great Houses
What inspired this book? What will readers particularly enjoy about it?

Dave:     To say that we were inspired by the Downton Abbey television series is at least somewhat correct, but the series reminded us of just how many great houses there are in Britain and how many we've enjoyed visiting.  What we've learned from those visits is that each house has at least several stories: the "official" version of history, and architecture that appears in the printed house brochure, but often there is a much more fascinating back story about the people who lived and worked there. So the Downton Abbey TV series is just the tip of the iceberg in a country filled with great houses and great stories.

We say that Beyond Downton Abbey is a book for serious travelers and armchair tourists alike. So it will appeal to readers who are planning to visit Britain or to those who just want more background after watching the Downton Abbey TV series. I might add that I am the co-author of the book; the concept, much of the research, and the bulk of writing credit goes to Deb.

Jan:     So tell us about the research and photographs for this book.  When did you begin it?  How did you select the manor houses? Were you able to interview people who had lived and worked in these houses?   

Dave:     Deb and I have visited many of the houses on past trips to Britain, so we started with a pretty good base of information on those properties and the whole subject of great houses in Britain. We're also members of the Royal Oak Foundation, which is the US affiliate of Britain's National Trust; they own and operate many of the houses that appear in our book. So, we've been visiting and reading about historic British properties for many years. 

We did extensive online research and emailed questions to the press offices of some of the properties, too. The public relations contacts either answered questions directly, or relayed them to the lord/lady of the manor for us.  I took a number of the photographs during past visits, but we also included pictures that professional and amateur photographers were kind enough to allow us to use.   

There are hundreds of great houses in the United Kingdom—England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland. We chose properties from England and Wales for this edition of Beyond Downton Abbey.  We plan to write a second book soon, but for this project, Deb narrowed down the list even further, selecting properties to epitomize the best of something:  best ghost stories, most romantic gardens, most beautiful ruin, or best art collection.

Jan:     I’m sure you ran into some interesting stories of people and events in all of these amazing houses, but is there a particular story or event that was so powerful that you can’t forget it?

Dave:     I was a political science major in college. So I was fascinated to realize that one of the houses in the book, Cliveden, just outside of London, was the setting for one of the biggest political scandals of post World War II British history. Cliveden was owned by American billionaires, Waldorf and Nancy Astor. The estate became a social hub during the 1920s and 1930s, with guests ranging from Charlie Chaplin to Winston Churchill. After serving as a hospital during World War II, the house returned to use by the Astors and their friends. In 1963, scandal erupted at Cliveden when British War Minister John Profumo chased after an alleged prostitute whose boyfriend was a Russian spy. The spy’s target was a top-secret plan for a British nuclear missile system. The Cliveden scandal caused the fall of Prime Minister Harold Macmillan. Cliveden is now owned by the National Trust, which operates it as a luxury hotel.

Jan:     You recently released the 4th edition of your book, Let’s Take the Kids to London.  How did you find your publisher, and convince your publisher, Roaring Forties Press, that a new edition was needed? What types of things did you need to change when you updated this edition?

Dave:     Life is sometimes a series of coincidences, and finding a publisher for the latest edition is certainly a good example. In 2011, I was selected to attend a conference sponsored by British Airways. We began in New York with speakers and workshops, then continued networking at 30,000 feet across the Atlantic, and finished with conference sessions in London. The conference was interrupted by a winter storm in the US that kept some attendees from reaching New York and flying with the group to London. Among them was Deidre Greene, co-owner of Roaring Forties Press in Berkeley, California. Because of the snow storm, we didn’t met at the conference, but Deirdre learned about my book and contacted me later to ask if I was interested in working on a new edition.

It's probably not typical for a publisher to contact a writer about a project, but I'm certainly glad Roaring Forties Press showed interest in Let's Take the Kids to London. Using a traditional publisher, I was able to work with their editors, proofreaders, mapmakers, indexers, and designers. That was a huge benefit.  The fourth edition was released in early April, 2012.

London is a dynamic city, but in 2012 the changes are particularly extensive—the 2012 Summer Olympic Games are taking place in London this July. That's caused a tremendous amount of change to information on hotels, transportation, and tourist attractions.

Jan:     Getting into the publishing business in 2009 was a nightmare for most people, because the traditional industry began to unravel, and older ways of operating fell by the wayside, but new technical advances are bringing a sea change.  What did you see and what advice would you offer to those who are just beginning to explore the power of the individual writer to alter market habits of readers? 
Dave:     I've often said that writing is easy, but book publication and publicity are incredibly challenging.  That's not one hundred percent true, since writing isn't always easy.  Some of the online tools available to writers today allow them to publish their works directly. But what can go missing in this process are the important roles that a traditional publisher provides:  editing, proofreading, publicity and more. I've seen many "published" books that are very poorly written, full of grammatical, formatting, and factual errors. 

So, while the self-publishing tools are wonderful for aspiring writers, they aren't the complete answer for producing quality books. My advice:  don't give up on using a traditional publisher, but if that does not work out, be certain to find a good editor for your self-published books.

As far as publicity, that's a role originally filled by traditional publishers and agents.  If you aren't lucky enough to have a publisher, or an agent, then you face the task of trying to get your book noticed in a sea of competing publications. Social media certainly is a tool that aspiring writers can use to help promote their books. And there are companies that offer book promotion packages, too.  But I'd be very careful before paying for book promotion—I'm sure some promoters are wonderful and effective; others are just out to make money.

Jan:      Dave, you’ve been on the front edge of e-book design and production.  What have you learned the hard way and what do you wish you had known earlier? 

Dave:     Years ago, I took a short course on HTML programming — the computer language that originally allowed webpages to display graphics.  
When eBooks first came along, there was a real shortage of people who knew how to convert books from paper into electronic formats.

 I had an earlier paperback edition of Let's Take the Kids to London available from a print-on-demand publishing company. They offered to convert the paperback to an eBook.  Unfortunately, they did not know what they were doing and they made a mess of the project. I pulled the eBook from sale, sat down and dusted off my HTML programming skills, and taught myself how to create an eBook (the formatting language behind many eBooks is similar HTML).

What did I learn? One more bit of evidence to support my theory—writing is easy, publishing is a challenge.  By the way, there are now many individuals and companies that offer quality book-to-ebook conversion, for a price, and there are  software tools that some technically-savvy writers can use to do this themselves.
Jan:     Are you more optimistic now about the changes in publishing now than you were four years ago? 
Dave:      Like many writers, I'm concerned about the recent events in eBook publishing—legal questions about who sets the price for eBooks and who gets the profit.  We read a lot about the rights of publishers and eBook sellers, but very little about the rights of authors.  So while I'm more optimistic that the tools for publishing are getting better, the marketplace for books is still in an uproar. We'll have to see how this all turns out...like a good novel.
Jan:      Deb had mentioned that your next joint project is likely to a book with the promising title, The Kids Are Grown: We’re On Our Own in London.  Tell our readers about this project.  I think a lot of retirees would like to read it. Will it be a travel guide complete with reviews of hotels and restaurants or will it take readers off the beaten path a bit more than most guides? 

Dave:     I like the idea of an experience-oriented guide to London for adults. We all know that traveling with children is vastly different than traveling as adults.  So in writing the new  The Kids Are Grown book we will be liberated from finding Paddington Bear and Harry Potter related adventures in London. We'll stop worrying about finding family-friendly meals and locating hotel rooms to accommodate mom, dad and two kids. 

London is a great city for walking and exploring the architecture of neighborhoods, visiting small galleries and museums, having drinks in amazing pubs, and other activities enjoyed by adults, but not necessarily family-oriented. So our Kids Are Grown book will expand to include these aspects of London and, as you note, we will wander off the typical path followed by visiting families.
Jan:      I understand one of your true passions is point-to-point long distance hiking and that you’ve done quite a lot of this in Europe?   I have a friend in Maryland who loves to do this; she’s hiked all over Scotland, Ireland, and England. Seems like there’s a book in here somewhere.  Tell our readers about this type of travel. How long have you and Deb hiked and where have you gone? Will you be writing about this in the immediate future?

Dave:     Our favorite hiking experience in England has been a 60 mike trek along the Cotswold Way. That's an idyllic countryside, dotted with tiny villages, stone walls, churches and country pubs ---the latter being quite welcome after a long day's hike!---  To simplify logistics, we used Sherpa Expeditions, a walking support company, that transported our luggage from B&B to B&B, so we simply carried daypacks during our walk.   We started in tiny Broad Campden, south of Stratford-Upon-Avon, and hiked south to Painswick, south of Cheltenham. Hiking in late September, we had wonderful weather and no crowds.  Bottom line: A highly recommended, not too strenuous, walk through central England.

Next up for us in the hiking department is a trip later this year to Austria's Dachstein Alps, not too far from Salzburg.  Again, we're using a walk support company and we are hiking a seven-day circular route through the mountains. And while that sounds challenging, there are less strenuous routes available even in the Alps.  I hope to write a series of articles based on this experience.

Jan:     What question do you wish I had asked?  Ask it and give the reply that you think it deserves or if you don’t like that one, how about this one?  What have you written that has pleased you the most so far?  Or  - Why do you write?   

In my pre-travel writing career as a government budget director I had ample opportunities to write long, detailed publications on the riveting subject of local government finance. And while I strove to write in plain English - which is rare in that field - I can't say that my job met my lifelong goal to be a writer.

Travel writing combined my childhood-inspired love of travel with my desire to write creatively.  In Let's Take the Kids to London, for example, I've woven passages from British children's literature into the facts and descriptions that you normally find in a travel guidebook. That pleased me as a writer. My newest book, Beyond Downton Abbey, was collaboration with my best friend (and wife) Deb Hosey White. Writing as a team was also very rewarding.

 More Information for Readers:

Our websites:
Beyond Downton Abbey (www.BeyondDowntonAbbey.com)   

also on Facebook  as BeyondDowntonAbbey)
contact authors:  mail@beyonddowntonabbey.com
Let's Take the Kids to London  (www.KidsToLondon.com)     
Facebook as Let's Take the Kids to London
contact authors:  mail@kidstolondon.com
and on Twitter  @KidsToLondon
publisher:  Roaring Forties Press
Pink Slips and Parting Gifts (www.PinkSlipsAndPartingGifts.com
Facebook search for Pink Slips And Parting Gifts
contact authors: mail@pinkslipsandpartinggifts.com
Our books:
Beyond Downton Abbey: 
eBook edition on Amazon.com
print edition on CreateSpace and on Amazon.com
Let's Take the Kids to London
eBook edition on  Barnes & Noble and online retailers
print edition on Amazon.com , Barnes & Noble, and in bookstores, other vendors, etc.
Pink Slips and Parting Gifts 
eBook edition on Amazon.com
print edition on CreateSpace and on Amazon.com

More About Dave:     Dave writes … my introduction to overseas travel started when I was a child—my family lived in France and Germany for several years. I had the opportunity to tour much of Western Europe. I never lost the travel "bug.” My wife and I took our kids to London when they were young, going back many times, adding trips to the British countryside, France, and Scotland. After our trips to London, I began to answer questions from other families about travel. Someone suggested that I compile my answers and write a book. The first edition of Let's Take the Kids to London was the result; the fourth edition has just been published. 

Jan Bowman’s work has appeared in Roanoke Review, Big Muddy, Broadkill Review, Trajectory, Third Wednesday, Minimus, Buffalo Spree (97), Folio, The Potomac Review, Musings, Potato Eyes, and others. She won the 2012 Roanoke Review Prize for Fiction. Her stories have been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, Best American Short Stories and a story was a finalist in the “So To Speak” Fiction Contest. She is working on two collections of short stories and currently shopping for a publisher for a completed story collection. She has nonfiction work pending publication in Spring 2013 Issues of Trajectory and Pen-in-Hand. She writes a weekly blog of “Reflections” on the writing life and posts regular interviews with writers and publishers.   Learn more at:

No comments:

Post a Comment