Will We Never Learn?

Just recently I’ve been working on the script of our audio book Private Rawson’s War, checking the printed words against the audio. This is because we will shortly be publishing transcripts of most of our titles as we are getting an increasing number of requests for them. As far as I can tell this is because some people just like reading scripts but some are using them as aids to improving their English by listening to the CD or MP3 download and following the script as they go. This means that the script needs to follow the audio exactly with any amendments or cuts made in the studio duly removed – hence the script work I am doing.

Tony Rawson in Iraq

Tony Rawson in Iraq

Anyway, back to the point. Private Rawson’s War is a collection of letters written home to his mother by a private soldier who served in Iraq, Persia (Iran), Syria, Lebanon and Palestine during the Second World War. His poor eyesight prevented him from fighting, so initially he was a fitter of army vehicles but by the end of the war he had become an instructor in the Army Education Corps. Tony Rawson only had a basic education but he had an enquiring mind. He used his free time to learn French and Arabic, to study the history of the areas in which he was stationed, to meet and talk with local people and to find out how they lived. In the light of events in the Middle East in the last 10 years or so, (to say nothing of yesterday’s news about an American soldier shooting 16 Afghan civilians) some of his comments really strike a chord.

“Persia, 17th October 1942. Dear Mother, you say I am very lucky in my choice of friends but I don’t think it is so much a matter of luck as the way in which you treat people. When I was in Iraq I used to treat the natives and anyone with whom I came in contact as I should like them to treat me and I found kindness was always returned with kindness.”

“Iraq, 21st March 1943. Taking the Iraqi people all round and taking into consideration the fact that we had to fight them and forcibly occupy their country, I find them remarkably friendly people and always willing to chat with you. The fellows who dislike them judge them by Western standards which cannot be done. It is necessary to mix with the people of this country with an open mind and learn about their Eastern ideas and methods of living before judging them.”

“Tripoli, Syria, 13th December 1943. I am slowly learning about the Moslem religion and I think it is every bit as good as Christianity. I was surprised to discover that in the Koran there is a description of judgement day and Satan is also mentioned in it but as Shaitan. I found in Iraq that a true Moslem, who tried to carry out his faith as Mohammed wrote it down in the Koran, was every bit as much a Christian in the broad sense of the word and much more than some folk I know who attend our Parish Church.”

And how about this one? Ironic or what?

“Damascus, Syria, 8th January 1945. Dear Mother, there is no need to worry about anything happening to me as everything is quite peaceful in Syria and I have many friends in Damascus.”

Tony Rawson (left) in Baghdad

Tony Rawson (left) in Baghdad

He could be a bit priggish at times, could Tony Rawson, but he was interested in people and had an open mind, something our present day politicians only pay lip service to. Although he came to love the Middle East and its people, after the war Tony returned to the family home in Watford. After the death of his mother in the mid 60s, he retrained as a teacher and taught for a while in Zambia. He died in Suffolk in 2005.

The letters used in this audio book – beautifully read by Paul Panting – were rescued by chance from the rubbish pile when Tony Rawson’s house was cleared after this death. To me they are priceless, telling as they do the story of 5 years in a man’s life, 5 years in which a young man conscripted into the army found unexpected opportunities to expand his mind and experience in a way that would probably never have happened in peace time.



We Planned To Shake The World Together, You and I

It is Remembrance Week and television is full of programmes about war. Perhaps some of the most moving are the memories of old soldiers from the 1914/18 War, The Great War, or the 1st World War as we now call it. The horrors of that war have been well documented, horrors that are somehow made worse by the fact that the survivors talk about it in such a matter-of-fact way. Most of the stories concern the men and sometimes the women are overlooked. And yet they too were caught up in the war, suffering the loss of husbands, brothers, fathers while at the same time seeing opportunities opening up for them in the workplace.

The selection of poems and prose in our audio book War Girls shows these two extremes. The title to this Blog is the opening line of the poem Lamplight by May Wedderburn Cannan. As the poem painfully makes clear, the dreams this couple had before the war will now never happen:

We shall never shake the world together, you and I,
For you gave your life away;
And I think my heart was broken by the war,
Since on a summer day
You took the road we never spoke of…

This air of sadness, common to many of the pieces in this audo book is set against anger…  as in the poem Jingo Woman by Helen Hamilton which begins…

(How I dislike you)
Dealer in white feathers,
Insulter, self-appointed,
Of all the men you meet,
Not dressed in uniform,
When  to your mind
(A sorry mind),
They should be.

… or there is a feeling of jubilance as in the opening of the poem Munition Wages by Madeline Ida Bedford.

Earning high wages? Yus,
Five quid a week.
A woman, too, mind you,
I calls it dim sweet.
Ye’are asking some questions –
But bless yer, here goes:
I spends the whole racket
On good times and clothes.

Sad, angry, jubilant, all these women were affected by the War in one way or another and, like many of the men, they wrote about it and about their feelings. However, unlike many of the men, their work is less well known. This is a pity.

I hope our audio book, available as a CD or as an MP3 download, will go a little way towards redressing the balance.





“I Tried To Stop The Bloody Thing”

The new Crimson Cats audio book title, War Girls, an anthology of poems and prose by women in the 1st World War, is published this week. The CD costs £10.99 plus p&p and the MP3 download is £6.98. The collection begins with a quotation from the journalist Evelyn Sharp who, in response to the question posed in the English poster, “What did you do in the war, Daddy?” said “I tried to stop the bloody thing”.

It has taken us nearly a year to track down all the copyright holders of the various poems and pieces of prose in this collection but it has been worth it. It has been quite a task though. Many of the better known poets of the 1st World War  (the men…!)  died so are out of copyright.  Many of the women lived on. We found most of them but by the end of it we could have given lessons to Hercule Poirot.

The material in this collection ranges from the tragic – loss of husbands, brothers, sons – to the joyful sense of the new freedoms which many women experienced at this time. And there are some surprises too. Poems like Jingo Woman, an attack against the women who handed out white feathers, or the story of a lady who was recruited into MI5. Then there is the poignant poem Lamplight which looks at a couple’s planned future that now will never happen or the comic verse The Scullery Maid’s Song about a woman doing menial work with the VAD.

And there is irony, of course. One piece talks about the work women did in the 1st World War and says at last women will have equal pay with men. Wonder what happened to that then?  The real puzzle is how so many of these excellent women poets remain unknown. A treasure trove of material waiting to be discovered.

The music consists of songs of the period, Roses of Picardy, If You Were The Only Girl in the World, Oh Oh Antonio and so on. They are all played on the piano by Bill (chicken keeper and civil servant) Byrne far away in his little family nest in Jersey and emailed to us. Ah, the wonders of modern technology. And there is another first for Crimson Cats – a recorded interview with Ruth Sillers, the actress who put the collection together and reads the various pieces. She talks about the material, how she chose it and how the project came together. For those who buy the MP3 download that interview is part of the package, but it is also available to listen to on the War Girls CD page on the Crimson Cats web site.

We are sometimes asked how long it takes us to prepare and publish an audio book but there really isn’t an accurate answer. Our anthology of cat stories and poems, How To Own A Human, was assembled recorded and published in about 6 weeks. War Girls has taken just over a year.

Maybe it could have been quicker but, as the old song goes, “Work can only be done one way”. The right way – and sometimes that means taking time.


Bath Time for the Cats

We had a great gig in Bath in mid-September. We were invited to do our talk about how we produced the audio book “The Beautifull Cassandra” as one of the Jane Austen Festival events and we were offered the small auditorium at the Theatre Royal in Bath as a venue. Oh, yes please. A couple of rehearsals to get back in the swing and we were on our way.

The Egg at the Theatre Royal is wonderful. It is primarily a childrens’ theatre with a very imaginative range of shows. Downstairs there is a cafe with lots of toys and while we were there it was packed with parents and children just popping in for a coffee and juice (and no doubt to pick up a schedule of events).

For us it was great to have a proper stage with a technician to play the CD tracks for us. So often on these occasions we have to rely on a borrowed CD player which we operate ourselves except at the crucial moment you forget where the Play button is.

We had a good audience in Bath, some of them in costume. It really added a zing to our talk to look out across the audience to see people in Regency frocks and bonnets.

The whole Jane Austen Festival had a wonderful range of events, a real tribute to those who put it all together.

There was something deeply satisfying about paying tribute to Jane in Bath. We had a great time and a very warm reception.


Nice To Have A Success, Isn’t It?

When we first launched Crimson Cats back in 2005 one of our stated aims was to try and “rescue” out of print books and make them available to a new audience through audio. We have managed to achieve this several times with titles such as “My Life And Times“, “Everyman’s England” and “Authentic Narrative Of The Death Of Lord Nelson” to name but three.

Now, however, we have had an additional success. “Everyman’s England“, the book of travel writing by the thriller writer Victor Canning as he travelled round England in the 1930s, is about to be published again as a book in hardback form.

It happened like this. We were chatting to a friend who has worked in publishing all his life and we mentioned “Everyman’s England“. He liked the sound of it, bought it, enjoyed listening to it and suggested it to Summersdale who are one of the UK’s top independent publishers. They also liked it and it will be pubished on 1st August this year. I do not know exactly when the last edition went out of print but it has certainly not been available in book form since the War.

The first story in the book begins:   “I travelled from King’s Cross to Berwick-on-Tweed in a sleeper on the night-express for no other reason than that I like to read in bed and, at the same time, feel that I am being rushed forward at a tremendous speed.”

This piece and the others in the book are a series of pen-portraits of England, commissioned by The Daily Mail in the 1930s, where Victor Canning vividly conjures the pattern and colour of the ‘great fabric of English Life’ from Cumberland to Cornwall. His heartwarming, humorous and often irreverent observations of sleepy villages, pastoral scenes and busy industries provide a delightful insight into life between the wars.

Nice, isn’t it? A lovely piece of writing now has a second life in print as well as in audio. The reader on the Crimson Cats audio book is Charles Collingwood (aka Brian Aldridge in “The Archers“). Charles has also written the introduction to the Summersdale book.

Faithful readers of these Blogs – whoever that person may be – will remember the one back in February called “Never Knock Luck” in which I described how we managed to produce “Everyman’s England” in the first place and the link with Charles Collingwood.

Just shows, doesn’t it, you start this publishing lark and all sorts of things can happen.

If you would like the book then it costs £9.99 and you can buy it from the Summersdale web site:  http://www.summersdale.com/book/5/506/everyman-s-england/

Don’t forget the audio book as well. The CD costs £10.99 from: http://www.crimsoncats.co.uk/13-everymans-england.html

Or it is available as an MP3 download costing £6.98 from: http://www.crimsoncats.co.uk/downloads/37-everyman-s-england-download.html

One of my favourite lines in the book comes from Chapter XIX entitled “Somewhere In Cornwall“. Here Victor meets and talks with fishermen in a tiny Cornish village and comments on the decline of their industry. The lines I like come towards the end of the chapter:

In some villages the change is nearly complete, fishermen have become landlords and their wives landladies, and their living is made during the Summer by catering for the visitors. Soon all the Cornish villages will be seeking to catch the visitor and make his fortnight by the sea feed them during the winter.”

That was written in 1936. Victor certainly got that right, didn’t he.




To Blog Or Not To Blog? That is the Q.

Not one that bothered Hamlet, obviously, (he had other things on his mind) but it is a question that I ask myself from time to time. When I first began writing this Editor’s Blog for Crimson Cats I set myself a target of one a week. That seemed plenty. In practice it has proved impossible to live up to, partly because of the constant need to fit 48 hours into every 24, but more so because I just don’t think there is enough to say.

Don’t misunderstand me. I could write a piece each week without any trouble but why would anyone want to read it? This is meant to be a Crimson Cats Blog and so it is fine when we launch a new title, come up with a new idea, have an interesting anecdote to tell, but after that there is a danger of “padding” and, as every good radio playwright knows, padding is the cardinal sin.

Sometimes when I am surfing the net I come across blogs that are outstanding for their sheet banality.

“A lovely morning today, a pleasure to be alive, so I took the dog for a walk and after that baked an apple pie for supper. The sun glinted off the china ducks above the mantelpiece so I decided to go the whole hog and clean the car as well. 

To be fair, I made that one up but there are lot like it out there and, although I am pleased that he/she is happy, my only response is “So what?” It’s a bit like those Christmas letters, usually from people you haven’t seen for years, which inform you in excruciating detail how the guinea pig has been having violin lessons this year and that their 2-year old is all set to take their A-levels by the age of 7.

Am I being unkind? Well, perhaps a little. I guess at one level it is good for people to be able to put fingers to keyboard and to express themselves but why would I want to read it? 

I work on the assumption that people who read the Crimson Cats Blog are people who are interested in audio books, in how a small publisher like us works, what we do and how we do it. It’s possible you might be interested in our views on the audio book market in general or even – let’s stretch a point – printed books, maybe even the theatre and a broader arts spectrum.

But the fact that we spent several days turning out the cellar to try and find a dead mouse which our noses told us was there – and failing. No. The need to get the garden ready for our village Open Gardens Day in June, the Parish Council elections which are coming up, the Siskin we saw on our bird feeder this morning, the mist over the Norfolk fields at dawn, our plans for going for lunch in France…  No, no, no.

Why would you, as an audio book buyer in Salisbury, San Francisco,  Sutherland or Sydney be the slightest bit interested in any of that. You wouldn’t, so I may have to continue to fail to produce a Blog a week.

“Don’t open your mouth unless you have something useful to say,” my mother once told me and I think the same applies to the written word.

Nevertheless, keep reading. When I have something interesting or relevant or even just funny to say about the world of audio books, then there will be a new blog. And if you have any aspect of this industry you would like to know about – or our views on it – then email me at editor@crimsoncats.co.uk and I’ll see what I can do.

You could argue that most of this Blog is padding, couldn’t you, so I’ll end on a positive Crimson Cats note. A fortnight ago we gave one of the live presentations about our audio books – explanation of the process of audio book production mixed in with readings from some of our titles – at the Guildford Institute in Surrey. This went down well and was a nostalgic trip for us. We lived in Guildford for 22 years and it was there, in 2005, that Crimson Cats was first launched. Nowadays we would rather live in Norfolk (where you know it’s rush hour if you need both hands to count the cars) but it was good to go back, travel those familiar streets, see a few old friends. And have some fun – perhaps that’s the most important thing of all.


Never Knock Luck

We are often asked how we choose the titles we publish as audio books and, as I have said before, there is no easy answer to this. The main criteria are that we should be excited by an idea and that we feel we can sell it. One of those on their own is not enough. We must have both and even that is only the starting point.

There are occasions, of course, when you feel the stars are fighting for you and that was certainly the case with the fourth title we published. Everyman’s England is a collection of travel writings from the 1930s by the thriller writer, Victor Canning. I first met Victor in the early 1980s when I was the Editor in charge of the then Afternoon Theatre slot on BBC Radio 4. This was a storytelling drama slot so I hit on the idea of contacting a number of popular novelists and asking them if they fancied writing a radio play. A few days later I had a call from Victor’s agent saying that, yes, he was interested and would I like to have lunch with him in the Fly Fisher’s Club to discuss it further? I am not a club man but I greatly enjoyed that lunch and, more to the point, Victor and I liked each other on sight. He went on to write me several radio plays but we also became friends and Dee and I spent several weekends with him and his wife, Adria, at their home in a Herefordshire village.

A few days before one of these visits Dee found a copy of Everyman’s England in a second hand book shop so she bought it and we took it with us. Victor was amazed when we showed him. “I thought that had vanished long ago,” he said. He signed it for us “To Michael and Dee, with some surprise, Victor Canning.”

Everyman's England

Sadly, Victor died in 1986 but when we were looking for a travel book to publish as part of the initial list for Crimson Cats we remembered Everyman’s England and had another look at it. Basically it is a collection of writings – essays really – about various places in England during the 1930s. We never asked Victor why he wrote them but I strongly suspect they were commissioned articles for a newspaper. They are warm, human, interesting and very perceptive and they were just what we were looking for. The only problem was that the book was still in copyright as it was considerably less than 70 years since Victor’s death. However, the book had been out of print since the late 1930s so I reckoned there was a deal to be done and I contacted the agent who looks after Victor’s estate. She was somewhat taken aback on two counts. First, she had never heard of this book and second she was slightly bemused by my suggestion that I did not intend to pay anything for its use, only a royalty on sales. She asked me to write and make a formal request and that she would pass this on to the current copyright holder.

A week or two passed and then one morning the phone rang. When I answered it the voice on the other end said:  “Hallo, Michael, it’s a long time since we last met.” The owner of the voice was the actor Charles Collingwood, who plays Brian Aldridge in The Archers. And it was indeed a long time, over 20 years in fact when we had last met in my office in Broadcasting House in London.

“I bet you don’t know why I’m ringing,” he said and he was right, I didn’t know. Actors do contact us from time to time in case we can offer them any work but I could not believe that Charles was in that position.

“I have a letter of yours in front of me,” he said, “about Everyman’s England. You probably did not know that I hold all the copyright in Victor Canning’s books.”

He was right again. I didn’t know that either and I was amazed. To cut a long story short, Victor had died before his wife, Adria, and left the copyright in his books to her. She in turn had died and left the copyright to her godson who just happened to be Charles Collingwood. Unlike the agent, Charles did know about Everyman’s England, liked it as much as we did and fortunately was quite happy for us to produce it as an audio book in return for royalties.  Ever the opportunist I then had a bright idea and said: “Well, why don’t you read it as well?”

There was a pause and then Charles said: “Would that be on a royalty only basis as well?”

“Of course, it would,” I said cheekily. Another pause and then Charles said: “Oh, go on then. Why not?”

And that is how, through two pieces of good luck, we came to produce the audio book of Everyman’s England with Charles Collingwood of The Archers fame reading it for us. And it has proved to be one of our best sellers all round the world. You’ll find it here for the CD:  http://www.crimsoncats.co.uk/13-everymans-england.html and here for the MP3 download: http://www.crimsoncats.co.uk/downloads/37-everyman-s-england-download.html

Never knock luck.


Crimson Cats Cuckoos

Cliff Morgan

When I first began drafting this Blog I read the above title out loud and our cat (who is not crimson, but black and white) muttered something about mixed metaphors. Not for the first time I wondered about the wisdom of having an educated cat, but I ignored her as the title seemed right for what I want to talk about. 

When Crimson Cats first began, the idea was to find interesting out of print material and give it a new lease of life as well as developing some original ideas of our own. On the whole that is what we have done but somewhere along the line some cuckoos crept into the nest. I am referring to the set of Sporting Legends interviews where Cliff Morgan, the one time Welsh rugby player and BBC broadcaster, talks to various sporting personalities from the past. This is fascinating stuff – Cliff is a superb interviewer – but not exactly main stream Crimson Cats which has made it harder to market them. Another problem was the economic necessity to pair them off and put two interviews on each CD.  That made sense in terms of production costs, but not necessarily in marketing. Someone might be interested in the interview with Stirling Moss without necessarily wanting the one with Ted Dexter.

Ted Dexter


Stirling Moss

However, once we were able to offer all our titles as MP3 downloads, as well has ‘hard copy’ CDs, that problem was solved. All 6 of the Sporting Legends interviews are now available individually as downloads, together with some of the pictures we took during the recordings, which were made in 1999 by the way so you have to remember that when listening.

We’ve had a spurt of sales for these recordings recently, though whether that is due to the download option or just a general sense of sport in the air, we do not know. Maybe that’s it. As England celebrate their Ashes win in Australia, perhaps it is good to listen to Ted Dexter talking about the early days of one-day cricket. As we move on from the year when England was kicked out of the football World Cup and failed to win the staging of the event for 2018, perhaps it is salutary to listen to Tom Finney talking about his first appearance for England in 1946 (and how little money he received for the privilege) or Walter Winterbottom describing what it was like to be the first English football manager, a job which in those days (1950s) had responsibility but no powe

Tom Finney

Walter Winterbottom

It won’t be long now until the Six Nations Rugby gets underway so you can get in the mood by listening to Cliff Morgan describing his early rugby playing days in Wales, resisting the temptation to transfer to Rugby League, playing in the British Lions team in their cracking victory in South Africa in 1955 before becoming captain of Wales the following year. Stirling Moss, once described as “the best driver never to win the Formula One World Championship”, talks about the changes in motor racing he has seen, and, although the Olympics are still a year and a bit away, listening to Mary Peters describe her feelings when she won a Gold for the Pentathlon in Munich in 1972, is inspirational.

Mary Peters

Come to think of it, perhaps these Sporting Legends interviews aren’t really Crimson Cats Cuckoos after all. They may be conversations, rather than readings from books, but they describe a way of life that has gone for ever. Across the room our cat shakes her head and solves the argument the way every cat does. She curls up and goes back to sleep.


To see the information about Sporting Legends downloads go to: http://www.crimsoncats.co.uk/18-sporting-legends-dl

Increase in Prices in the New Year

Yes, it’s true. For the first time since Crimson Cats was launched in 2005 we are having to raise our prices. This is partly due to the increase in VAT from 4th January 2011 and partly due to the fact that, although we have kept to our original prices for the past 5 years, our own costs have been steadily creeping up.

So from 4th January 2011 the price of a single CD will rise to £10.99 plus post and packing (or ‘shipping’ as our American cousins always call it) and the price of our double CD pack will go up to £15.99 – again plus p&p. There will be no change to the price of downloaded titles.

Another thorn in the flesh that is not far off is the cost of postage. Royal Mail have announced that they will be raising all postage costs – some by quite a large amount – from 6th April 2011 and once again we will have to pass this cost on. Our p&p costs aren’t just postage, of course, there’s the natty little cardboard sleeves in which we pack our CDs to stop them coming to harm in transit, there’s the labels to stick on said little natty packets, (not a huge amount individually but when you are shipping hundreds of CDs then these costs add up). Then there’s also the printer consumables most of which cost more than my complete summer holiday when I was a child. Yes, I know that’s a pointless comparison but there’s something suitably sadistic about comparing prices now and then. Sometimes when I hand over a pound coin I can’t help thinking back to me, age 7, lusting after a Dinky Toy Transporter Lorry which cost 17/6d (that’s 87.5 pence for those who can’t remember pre-decimalisation currency). I couldn’t afford it but then my pocket money was only 6d (2.5 pence) a week.  Aah!

Anyway, let’s look on the bright side. The future’s bright, the future’s Crimson. We have several new titles planned for 2011 and we will keep you fully informed.

RADIO 4:  By the way, some of you will know we were expecting to have a mention on the Radio 4 programme Open Book on 12th December. Well, it didn’t happen. Nothing sinister, it was just that the reviewer, Sue Arnold from The Guardian, had lost her voice. She will now be appearing on Sunday 9th January instead – so please try and listen in.

Happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year to you all from all of us at Crimson Cats.


Hallo, Norfolk, Crimson Cats has landed…

Well, we’re back. Our world tour is over, we have spread the word about Crimson Cats audio books (and audio books in general), sold lots of copies, distributed lots of brochures, caught up with a lot of old friends and made a number of new ones.

Nice to be home though. Fun though travelling is, it can get tiring living out of a suitcase for 7 weeks.

We arrived home to a snow-bound Britain. Quite a contast to the heat and humidity of Hong Kong and the warmth of a Australian and New Zealand spring. All was well back at the Crimson Cats Corporate Headquarters though. The cat (a real one, only black and white, not Crimson), was well and healthy, though somewhat cheesed off at us for abandoning her. The day to day routine of the business had been efficiently dealt with by our friends, Cathy and Richard, which just left us with the paperwork. Just…! Seven weeks worth of invoices and accounting information for the sales from home while we were away and the sales we had made on our travels. Can’t complain though, business is good and already the Christmas orders are starting to trickle in.

We’ve brought several good ideas back with us. One is a possibility for a new audio book which we will now explore further. Another is the suggestion that we might publish the scripts of the books on-line so that anyone with an interest in the text could download them. This was suggested by someone who teaches English as a second language so that students could listen to the audio while following the text. We will be exploring this suggestion further and approaching the various writers to see how they feel about it.

As anyone who has ever watched a cat washing itself knows, cats are very flexible and Crimson Cats is no exception. In these difficult economic times it is vital that we explore every possible way of increasing the range of goods and services we can offer – there is no other way in which we can stay in business.