I met Felicity Fair Thompson of Wight Diamond Press at the Isle of Wight Weekend Writers’ Conference, which she ran from 2000 to 2005. The conferences were held in Sandown.
I also met Gill James, later of Bridge House Publishing, at one of these conferences and she became the publisher for my first accepted short story, A Helping Hand in the anthology, Alternative Renditions. Wheels within wheels so to speak…
Like Gill, Felicity, started up her own publishing firm – Wight Diamond Press – through which her novels, Cutting In, Hold Tight and The Kid on Slapton Beach, are published.
This interview will focus on Felicity’s experiences as life as a small publisher. Future posts will look at her life as a creative writing teacher and as an author. And, as a bonus, due to some of the areas where Felicity has produced videos, there are also some good days out ideas. (I can recommend Sandown Bay for one thing!). More later…
Allison: Felicity, I’ve put similar (sometimes the same!) questions to Gill James and it will be interesting to compare your responses. Hopefully it will give insight into the problems and joys of life as a small publisher and encourage writers and readers to support firms like Wight Diamond Press and Bridge House.
First, why start a small publishing firm in the first place? In your case, you’ve published more than just books so perhaps you can tell us something about that.
Felicity: I feel as if I have been publishing for years! In 1989 I made a film of the Isle of Wight. I’d worked in West End Cinema, and in the theatre as a dancer, so I knew something about presenting an idea to the public, but I’d never made a film!
I wrote a voice-over script, hired a camera from Radio Rentals (that dates me!) and filmed the places I had written about. Then I kidded Radio Rentals into lending me a VHS recorder and happily edited my film into shape in my sitting room, adding my own voice. There was no budget!
I was stumped when I wanted to add background music. A local Video Production company laughed at me. “There just isn’t a third track on VHS!” They transferred my work onto U-matic tape and let me loose with their sound equipment. Hey presto! I was finished. I asked them to duplicate one hundred VHS tapes.
I called myself Video Fair, found appropriate packaging, printed the boxes, and went to three shops asking them to try selling the videos on sale or return. I sold a hundred in a week!
Over ten years, and improving my work all the time, I sold 147,000 videos of the Island, Portsmouth and Southampton, Bournemouth and the New Forest and Brighton. Later as F*F Productions, I progressed on to The Waverley Paddle Steamer, Ventnor Botanic Gardens, and A Feather for the Crown – the Swan Upping voyage on the Thames.
I shall be marking Ventnor Botanic Gardens on my Days Out to Do List.
Magnolias are just one of the Garden’s many lovely plants, which also has a tunnel (I’m not sure just how common that is for Botanic Gardens!), a Visitor Centre and often stages exhibitions.
You may want to find out about Waverley Paddle Steamers. They also run off the Scottish Coast and, ironically, I have come across them there when on holiday rather than here at home on the South Coast!
Allison: Felicity, who works with you when filming? What was your most recent work?
Felicity: From early on I have worked with David Banks, who is a cameraman and amazing editor. I research, write the scripts, organise actors and interviewees, gather the necessary equipment, plan what we will film, and the running order for shooting. Once we have the film, we edit in the evenings – often seven nights a week!
Our most recent full length film was Carisbrooke Castle, covering 1000 years of history. Big subject! Big time commitment!
Allison: Carisbrooke Castle is probably best known for temporarily being the prison of King Charles 1. This is another one I shall be putting on my Days Out to Actually Do list!
And, Felicity, while carrying out all this filming, you were writing other materials too? I believe this fed into how Wight Diamond Press became what it is today.
Felicity: Yes, all that time I was writing other materials too, including a children’s story, scenic travel features and personality profiles.
In the late 90s four members of the writers’ group, now called Wight Writers, talked about publishing books together. Using my production experience we went ahead. I had a novel ready. Anne Lewington had one nearly ready. Mine came out. I went all out for promotion and Cutting In ended up under spotlight at the London Book Fair. Anne’s book came out next but later she withdrew, and published it again separately, and went on to publish another book herself. The other girls fell away too. I was left with Wight Diamond.
I was still writing and by now I was teaching too. Apart from my work, I thought I could help the young people I work with set up their books and combine my video enterprise and promote my DVDs. So that evolved into Wight Diamond Press.
Allison: Who else works with you at Wight Diamond Press?
Felicity: David Banks helps part time with film and film publicity, including on-line ads for books. Alexandra Thompson is our part time graphics designer. Hugh Griffiths does our accounts. As well as my own writing, I help produce books for others, edit anthologies, given advice to writers, and two of my students have benefited. One wrote about having Asperger’s syndrome and the other has written a novel.
Allison: What are your biggest problems in running a small publishing firm?
Felicity: Costs are always the big consideration. I know I must invest time and money into whatever we take on. Imagine what we could all do if we won the lottery and could afford ads on TV, radio, and the big circulation newspapers! But there is the internet! It’s a huge time commitment of course, but well worth the effort.
The story that made readers cry
Allison: What have been the stand-out moments?
Felicity: The sales of the videos and DVDs of course.
Filming A Feather for the Crown was amazing. For four days we accompanied the Queen’s Swan Marker, the Watermen, the Vintners, and the Dyers along the River Thames. The counting and careful checking of the mute swans on the river was a magical experience.
And for Carisbrooke Castle we had an ‘opening night’ at The Medina Theatre in Newport on the Isle of Wight to show our film and on the same evening it was shown on Sky TV.
I’ve had some lovely reviews for my novels. It’s so nice that people enjoy reading my stories. With The Kid on Slapton Beach I did a D-Day Anniversary evening at Waterstones in Newport on the Island. A lady brought along a handmade quilt to show me. “It was made for my stepfather by the Canadian Red Cross,” she said. “He’s the farmer in your book who has to leave his land.” I found it really touching she had found my characters so real.
People have been in contact to tell me their wartime experiences. Others say they were amazed to find out the rehearsals (for D-Day) happened, and in such a peaceful place. When we have been to Devon, the Dartmouth Tourist Board staff say how excited they are to sell the book. At Dartmouth Community Book Shop where the paperback sells really well, they said the story made them cry.
The best way to support small publishing firms
Allison: How can readers best support firms like Wight Diamond Press?
Felicity: Buy the books please! Visit small press websites. Look on-line for updates about authors and their publishers. Write a review on social media. If you have liked a particular book, tell people. Suggest to a book club they read the book and discuss it. Ask in your local library to see if they know the book.
Order small press and small publishers’ books through your favourite book shops. I supply some wonderful book shops – Dartmouth Community Book Shop is a good example – it is run by volunteers who love books. Titles ordered through shops like that keep small publishers – and the book shop – successful. While many people buy e-books, others love the feel of a real book. We need our book shops – and in this age of print on demand, it is possible for book shops to get the book you want to order within a couple of days.
Allison: Is there anything you know now that you wish you had known when starting Wight Diamond Press?
Felicity: If we knew how hard it is to do most things, would we ever start? There are always pitfalls, but the sense of satisfaction gained is worth all the effort. I like that saying the harder we work, the luckier we get.
Allison: How do you publicise Wight Diamond Press in terms of getting the media interested in your press releases and so on?
Felicity: It’s worth sending your books to reviewers. See who might help you establish your lists. Advertising is costly – makes sure it goes in the right direction and you get the best value for money.
The Book Fair is a useful event. Go along to it and other similar events – but take publicity with you. It’s one thing talking up what you do, but you want people to remember what you were saying. I have a postcard and sometimes a bookmark printed. It’s a nice easy handout, and it has a picture of the latest cover on it. I also include any reviews for our books – and the most vital thing, the contact details.
Allison: Yes, The Book Fair is a major part at the Winchester Writers’ Festival, where authors can sell their books directly and where publicity, such as bookmarks, postcards and so on can be shown as well. The Festival is very encouraging to writers here (and especially those with local links).
Felicity: From the Independent Bookseller you can get lists of bookshops. Work out a nice email with the book title, ISBN, publication date, genre, any reviews you might have, and a short precise paragraph on what the book is about – often the blurb, but you might even shorten that. Include your contact details and how they can order the book. Attach a cover picture, and thank them for their time. Keep it short!
Book signings help, and library talks. You have to be publicity officer as well as running a small publishing business. And then of course there’s the huge world of social media…
Allison: Felicity, thank you for your insights into life as a small publisher.
It’s not an area I could go into but I admire anyone who can make it work.
I am, of course, more than happy to continue to be published by small presses.
I agree wholeheartedly with the comment about hard work and luck and have found that the more I write and get out there, the more acceptances I receive.
Persistence is such an important part of the writing life from both sides of the fence and your role with Wight Diamond illustrates that beautifully.
Finally, I’m planning to write a future article about The Kid on Slapton Beach and the associations with D-Day. Very briefly Slapton Beach was the venue for the rehearsals for D-Day and while preparing this interview, I looked into some of the forgotten history here. This future article will look at that and how Felicity’s novel ties into it.
Felicity has also received wonderful reviews for this book from June Brown (best known as Dot in EastEnders) and Michelle Magorian (probably best known for her book, Goodnight Mister Tom. John Thaw took the lead role in the TV adaptation).
Felicity’s other novels can be found on her blog too. Receiving wonderful reviews like that is a fantastic experience for any writer.
Note: Don’t miss Allison’s next post on Friday 29th May 2015.
Visit Allison Symes’ website: Fairytales with Bite
Read blog posts by Allison Symes published on Chandler’s Ford Today.