Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Files and proofs: producing the new edition of The Birth Machine



In the last three weeks or so I've been working on the reissue of The Birth Machine.http://www.amazon.co.uk/Birth-Machine-Salt-Modern-Fiction/dp/1907773029/ref=ntt_at_ep_dpi_3 First, I had to retrieve the file from the old computer on which I typeset the second edition which I published myself. It's amazing to switch it on now, that computer: it takes about five minutes to come on, groaning as if in agony, and you hold your breath thinking it's just not going to make it but die instead. And when it finally gets going, it's so slow you just want to tear your hair out, and every so often it does that groany thing again and you wait with your heart in your mouth... And it doesn't read CDs any more and sometimes gets a bit confused about floppies. Needless to say I don't use it now, but it sits on the landing next to the even older one on which I did the typesetting and, with Ben, the design for the short-story mag Metropolitan. Every so often John has tried to encourage me to get rid of them. But something made me cling on to them, and I'm so glad now that I did. Although everything on those computers had been backed up, the media on which they were backed up are simply not compatible with our modern laptops, and when Salt said three weeks ago that it was all speed ahead with the reissue of The Birth Machine, I would have been quite unable to present them with a file without typing the whole book out again - or having it OCR'd, I guess - if I hadn't had that groany old friend to turn to, to churn me up my Pagemaker file and allow me turn it (admittedly painstakingly) into a transmittable RTF word file which would go into my Macbook.


It's an interesting lesson in the speed with which our technology changes, and the ease with which archive material can thus become lost - an issue with which I understand the Welsh Academy is concerning itself, warning its members to constantly back up their files.

The computer on the right is the one I'm talking about. The one on the left I really probably should get rid of: it's not possible even to turn it on, as the On button has fallen in! But, you know, I'm sure a simple mechanical thing like a button can be fixed, and, can you see, on that computer there's a Syquest drive!! A Syquest drive, you ask? What the hell is that? Children, babies, let me tell you: a Syquest disc was the most marvellous invention in its day, the mid-nineties! It meant that we could save a WHOLE ISSUE all in one place! Before that we had to save the zipped file across several floppies - the graphics on separate discs! And what does it mean, the fact that I have a computer with a Syquest drive? It means that (if I could get the button mended) those Syquest discs in the attic carrying the later issues of Metropolitan could be brought back to life. Must say I can't think at the moment why I might need them, but then you just never know...

Anyway, once I got the file emailed off to Salt, the speed with which they came back with proofs was amazing (sometimes I think those guys aren't human!), and before I knew it Chris had emailed me a proof cover - a stunning cover which really makes you sit up - conjured up as if out of nowhere! He's tweaking it at the moment, and as soon as it's done of course I'll put it up here.

All of this in a matter of three weeks or so. Pretty good, eh?

2 comments:

BarbaraS said...

Pretty good is right - I love the story behind it too. Makes me wonder what gems I've left behind on other machines too...

Elizabeth Baines said...

Barbara, I do hope you've not lost any of your lovely poems for good!!