Spring, 2008 – I’m doing proofreading and editorial work for Merlin Unwin Books, a publisher based in Ludlow, Shropshire. They publish a small number of highly illustrated books each year, all on matters devoted to the countryside.
I’ve done a number of odd jobs since I’ve been living in Shropshire, including adult education work and clandestine work as a mystery shopper, but they’ve all been short-lived and with limited prospects. I’ve had a number of interviews for academic posts, but the last was in 2003. A multidisciplinary PhD has been difficult to market. Computer science people see me as a humanities person, while humanities people see me as a computer science person. Meanwhile, higher education is turning into a business proposition, with research and the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake taking the back seat. I can’t stir up enthusiasm when I have an interview for a lecturing post and find out that they want me to teach computer programming, and it shows.
Working for Merlin is a pleasure however, even with a tight deadline, and it makes a change from fiction and academic writing. I’m working on a book by Maynard Davies, called the Manual of a Traditional Bacon Curer. Maynard is dyslexic. His words are recorded by his wife and typed up into something that resembles a manuscript. The content is there, but the result needs re-writing and re-structuring, as well as great care so that the tone and distinctive voice of the author is preserved. I’ve worked on a previous book by Maynard, that one being an autobiographical narrative. This one is more technical, giving lots of information about traditional methods of bacon curing, with tips and recipes (including many for other pork products such as sausages) and guidance on practical aspects such as how to design a smoke house.
The book is published in 2009, and when it emerges I’m delighted to see that the local Waterstones are showcasing it as recommended reading. The drawing of the pig – “a ketch of huge proportions” – is taken from A General View of the Agriculture of Staffordshire, written by W. Pitt and published in London in 1796. I came across the picture many years ago and put it aside, thinking it would have a use at some point. Twenty years later, Merlin uses a copy as the frontispiece to Maynard’s book.
[Publisher: Merlin Unwin Books.]