I was pleasantly surprised recently to discover that my first book shared a publisher with Sherlock Holmes (ie Sir Arthur Conan Doyle).
George Newnes also published Tit-Bits (don’t go there!) whose occasional contributor, Alfred Harmsworth, founded The Daily Mail. It’s amazing what you turn up when you start digging.
My book — stifle that yawn — was on technical writing and was the first thing I did after university. Like most hopelessly dedicated writers I find I can scribble some thousands of words on any subject that I know nothing about, say, botulism.
Of course, one prefers the topics closest to one’s heart, in my case, psychology and mysticism. So why write a book on technical writing, which I didn’t even know existed as a separate subject? It was a bit of a misunderstanding actually, a pattern that was to repeat itself in later years… often to my considerable advantage.
The first job I did was advertised as “Writer Wanted”. Great, I thought, just up my street.
At the interview the first question I was asked was “Do you know Atlas?”
I replied, “Yes, I’ve got one at home.”
“You clearly don’t then! Never mind, we’ll soon teach you. It’s only got a thousand words and they are all in the Oxford dictionary.”
It was explained that Atlas was a drastically cut down version of English comprising mainly technical terms strung together with the bare minimum of connecting tissue. Shakespeare it is not.
I was intrigued, so accepted the offer. The work itself was so boring, I decided to write a book in the intervals, of which there were many. Hence my first published title was Technical Writing, which was commissioned by Newnes. Hi Sherlock!
I couldn’t resist adding some purple passages to the book which must have confused the engineers trying to make sense of it. The section on style of writing quite perplexed a few of them. Here’s part of it:
Despite that, they have made impressive strides lately among those who believe that technology and its implementation is enough to guarantee human happiness. They have certainly struck a chord with the stereotypical engineer who is “a whizz with wires and things” despite his semi-illiteracy. The reply to this tendency lies in a statement by the French historian, Renan: “La verite consiste dans les nuances” — “Truth consists in shades of meaning”.
It went down a treat and I was soon looking for a new job. Life just isn’t fair sometimes. But at least I was now a published author.
PS: And, yes, I know the title should be “Sherlock and me”, but “I” sounds a lot grander, even if grammatically incorrect. Grammar isn’t everything!