13 May 2015

The making of How to Skin a Lion: part 2

By nonfictioness

In the run up to the 14 May publication of my book How to Skin a Lion, I thought I might blog here about how the book went from a one line idea to a finished book. Last week I published my blog on how I came up with the idea and the research process and in this blog I will explain how I crafted the research into a finished book.

Writing up

After months of research and numerous library trips I finally had enough content to begin to fashion my extracts into a book. Each ‘how to’ needed a short introduction and then the extract needed to be trimmed and sectioned up with extra explanations inserted to make the text flow. Sometimes a funny introduction or interjection naturally popped into my head but other times I would agonise over how to frame the extract to its best advantage.holding image pencil

To make the book easy for the reader to follow and understand I also tried my best to footnote or explain in brackets any strange terms or unknown ingredients, of which there are many.

Once I was happy with the introductions I spent a long time juggling the entries around. I decided early on that I wanted the book to be fairly random in order as I imagined a reader would dip in and out rather than reading it from start to finish. This meant I needed to make sure no two entries from the same book or on similar subject areas were too close to each other. This was harder than it seems and I changed the order many times before I finally felt like I had it right.

I then spent a long time reading, tweaking and polishing the book onscreen. Once I was happy with it I then printed out three copies – one for me, one for my husband and one for my mum. We then all read through the book highlighting errors, inconsistencies and passages that needed clarifying or rejigging.

I find it really helps to look at my work on paper as errors you can miss onscreen are often clearer on paper. It was also really good to get feedback from two people whose opinion I really valued and between us all we found quite a few typos and it really helped me to tighten the writing up.


Once I was happy with the final text it was time to send it back to the British Library for my editor Rob to have a read through and for it then to be sent on to a copy-editor. Once the copy-editor had been through the text it was sent back to me with a few queries for me to resolve.scissors-lots-x600

As a copy-editor myself I know how the process works and am always nervous to send an author their copy-edited manuscript in case they take issue with all my changes and disagree with my author queries. Fortunately the copy-editor had done a great job and the queries were all very sensible and easily resolved.

The copy-edited and approved document then went back to the British Library team who sent it on to a proof reader and a typesetter. It is at this point that the wonderful pictures (which had been sourced from the British Library collection by their fabulous picture researcher) were inserted.

The pictures

At this point Rob and I agreed that we would like to include as many pictures as possible as it brings the text alive. However I had strayed somewhat over the word count (why say something with one adjective, when you can use five fabulous adjectives?) and to fit in as many pictures as we needed I was going to have to cut some content.

I read back through the book and somewhat reluctantly highlighted sections which could be cut, it was hard to choose but I did feel like the book would ultimately be better for having more pictures.

Once these cuts had been made the final pictures could be inserted and the typesetting fixed. It was then just a case of waiting for the books to be printed and my advance copies to arrive.

The final bookHTSALx600

The cover had been designed quite early on in the process so I already knew what it was going to look like, but it really was such a thrill a few months later for a parcel to arrive and to hold the finished book in my hands.

It was a long journey to create this book but so fun. I am really proud of the finished product and I really hope that people will enjoy reading How to Skin a Lion as much as I enjoyed writing it!