III. Bettany Press

The publishing project which became Bettany Press developed as a result of a meeting between myself and feminist academic Rosemary Auchmuty in January 1993. At this point Auchmuty's study of girls' school fiction, A World of Girls (The Women's Press, London, 1992) had recently been published. During the course of our meeting, Auchmuty revealed that part of her book had been cut by the publishers, in order to keep the price as low as possible. The missing chapters, about the roles of girls' organisations in girls' school stories, were not substantial enough to be published on their own, but nonetheless would be of interest to anyone who had enjoyed Auchmuty's book.

For my part, I had completed an MA thesis (part-republished here as 6. The World of the Chalet School), also entitled A World of Girls (but subtitled Schoolgirl Fiction: Genre, Femininity and the Chalet School), in March 1992. This had remained unread - except by its examiners and by various members of the academic staff at the Universities of East London and Kent - until I had come into contact with the girls' school story fan network in late 1992. However, I was now receiving regular requests from fans to borrow, and sometimes to copy the thesis. Although, at 50,000 words, it was almost book length, I did not believe that it was strong enough to stand alone for publication, but I did believe that part of it could be edited to form a chapter in a collection.

At the same time, Auchmuty and I had recently come into contact with a number of fans who also had an academic interest in girls' school stories, and we were interested in breaking down the traditional divide between those studying and those reading popular fiction. We felt that this was an artificial divide, sustained by the widespread use of academic language and by the lack of access by women outside the academy to the academic framework which characterises many Cultural Studies texts. We therefore decided to produce a proposal for a collection of essays about girls' school stories, which we would introduce and edit ourselves, and each contribute a chapter to based on the aforementioned material. We would draw the contributions from women whom we knew to be fans, whether they were part of the fan networks or not, and we would look specifically at the Chalet School series, to link in with the planned celebrations of Elinor M. Brent-Dyer's birth centenary in 1994. The title we chose was The Chalet School Revisited, to reflect the fact that we were taking a fresh look at a genre which had been widely ridiculed since the early part of the twentieth century.

We sent this proposal to a number of publishers with academic and/or Women's Studies lists, but the initial response was unenthusiastic. This, we believed, reflected a wider attitude to girls' and women's popular culture which was, at best, dismissive. In any case, we were concerned about the fate of the book in the hands of an unsympathetic editor, and about the pressures which might be put on us by publishers to change or to dilute our original vision. We therefore explored the possibility of publishing the book ourselves. On the basis of printers' quotes and discussions with fans, we decided that it would be viable to print 1,000 copies and sell them for £9.99 each, principally by mail order. We set a publication date of December 1994, so that the book became the last "event" in the calendar of centenary celebrations. We had already discussed the possibility of holding a conference that month; now the conference could also be used to launch the book.

(Auchmuty and I were, of course, both published writers, although the bulk of my experience was in journalism. I had also worked extensively as an editor, although, as I was to discover, this required different skills to book editing. Perhaps most importantly, I had a background in DIY or "covert culture" publishing, and my first two professional jobs had involved founding and editing magazines with very little support. Had it not been for these experiences, we may not ever have considered "smallpress" publishing.)

Once we had decided to go ahead, we confirmed the final list of contents. This was:


We also issued contributors with a series of guidelines on content and style. We emphasised that:


The first stage in the production process was editing the copy. This was a two-stage process. First, we edited for content. Auchmuty and I worked collaboratively with the other contributors, taking primary responsibility for three writers each (we also acted as each other's editor). Initially, we discussed the content and direction of each essay with the writer, trying to avoid being prescriptive whilst still conveying an understanding, where necessary, of what a "critical" essay might offer. Following this, we worked through a number of drafts with each writer, after discussing these with each other first.

The second stage of the editing was copy editing, and here we were fortunate to receive an offer of help from Joy Wotton, one of a number of fans working in book publishing. Since copy editing involves putting text into "house style" - making spellings and so on consistent - as well as checking for grammar, readability and accuracy, Wotton also helped us to decide just what this style should be. Should we hyphenate boarding-school? Should Headmistress be capitalised or not? Was "Elinor" an acceptable way to refer to Brent-Dyer? (Some fans wrote simply of EBD, as they did in their newsletters.) Having made these decisions, Wotton also helped us to restructure and rewrite the essays further.

The third stage in the production process was designing and typesetting the copy. In order to implement this, I used Quark XPress 3.31, the industry standard "desktop publishing" (DTP) software, with Photoshop 2 to manipulate the illustrations. Since the book "revisited" the series, I decided to "revisit" the first books published, with the aim of producing a tribute design. These first editions consist of a hard cover, in red or blue, with the title stamped between narrow rules in gold, surrounded by a full-colour paper dustwrapper. Inside, opposite the title page, is a black and white frontispiece illustration. The original dustwrappers and frontispieces were illustrated by Nina K. Brisley, who is generally accepted as being the most popular of the Chalet School illustrators.

We could not afford to print a book with a hard cover, which in any case would have increased its weight and thus the costs of postage and packing. I therefore decided to produce a paperbacked book, measuring 198mm deep by 129mm wide. I retained the width of the original text, at 93mm, but decreased the size of the margins and extended the number of lines of text from 34 to 37. Since we could not afford to print a full-colour cover, I decided to ignore the dustwrapper, which was after all the most ephemeral part of the book and the least likely to have survived into the 1990s (this, of course, makes them highly prized by collectors). In addition, we were featuring photographs of dustwrappers and other Chalet School illustrations from throughout the century in Clarissa Cridland's chapter. Instead, I decided to retain the red colour of the original hard covers, together with the use of the gold title and rules, but to increase the size of the book title, author's name and the rules.

I also decided to place a black and white illustration on the front cover, as if the reader was seeing through to the frontispiece (although in fact this would have had to be reversed, since the illustration in the original edition was on the left-hand page). With the help of contributor Gill Bilski, I chose a black and white illustration from The Chalet School and Jo (1931), since the incident it depicts is easily recognisable to any generation of Chalet School readers. (The illustration also has a timeless quality which enhances this recognition.) The design of the back cover was copied unashamedly from the design of Auchmuty's A World of Girls (The Women's Press, 1992), using black type to enhance readability.

Moving on to the typeface, I decided to use New Century Schoolbook, a modern and easier-to-read version of the Century Schoolbook typeface which had been used for the first editions (the name was also apt). I used 11pt text on 12pt leading for the body text, and 12pt capitals for the chapter title and 8pt capitals for the author's name, mirroring the first editions. I also used a running head and pagination system which was similar to that used in the first editions. Because of the increased number of lines of text in the Bettany Press book, though, I decided to centre the body copy vertically, using the running head to give the illusion that there was more space below the text than above, as is book style (this is because the eye is believed to drop the text in the frame and thus perceives it as still being centred).

In retrospect, there were a number of problems with this design, which were exacerbated by the fact that "The Chalet School Collection" eventually grew to four books, all using the same basic design. In general, the reality of using gold ink meant that the lettering was difficult to read. This was exacerbated in The Chalet School Revisited by my use of a horizontal title on the spine, to reflect the original design and to allow space for an illustration. In fact, the lettering and rules would have had to have been embossed or stamped on to the cover for the design to have worked properly. However, the gold was more effective against the gentian blue of the second book cover, Visitors for the Chalet School, and on the advice of a fan, Marie Hrynzcak, I replaced it with silver for the following two books.

The size of the book also proved to be problematic, in that its height fell between the capacities of two different types of binding machines (we were not, however, informed of this by the printers). As a result, the following book, Visitors for the Chalet School, had to be retrimmed, since it was originally trimmed 6cm too high, and the fourth book, Jean of Storms, had to be completely reprinted as it was too short. (By this time we were constrained by the need to produce books of at least approximately the same size, since fans could be expected to want to place them together on their shelves.) The problems caused by the books' size were exacerbated by the use of rules, which meant that any diminution in the height of the book placed the rules too close to the edge of the cover to be aesthetically pleasing.

The use of the rules also meant that the covers had to be placed on the books in exactly the right position, since the rules were placed equidistantly close to the top and bottom of the cover and any error was immediately noticeable. The use of running heads, meanwhile, meant that the book needed to be folded perfectly, in order that the text lined up exactly on facing pages, since the running heads had the effect of drawing the reader's attention to any differences. Equally, centring the body text vertically, rather than allowing more space at the bottom of the page, relied on the binders following the design exactly. In fact, what happened with The Chalet School Revisited was that the covers were not placed correctly by the binders, so that the rules were not equidistant from the top and bottom. "Correcting" this problem when trimming the books then meant that the body text was not centred vertically but had more white space left at the top of the page than the bottom, in a reversal of correct book style. This meant that The Chalet School Revisited also had to be partially reprinted.

Aside from the use of gold ink, all of the problems which resulted from the design were due to inefficiency during the print process, and were - sooner or later - accepted as such by the printers. However, a clearer understanding of the print process and the level of competence of the industry generally means that I would not knowingly have produced a design which relied on a perfect job being carried out at every stage, and would advise discussing design with printers during the editing stage to prevent similar problems from occurring. I would also warn women that printers are almost entirely male-run businesses; and that a sexist atmosphere is very common, for example the widespread use of pornographic pictures for "decoration". This is not an easy atmosphere in which to discuss any problems which have arisen.

Despite these difficulties, though, The Chalet School Revisited was duly published on 3 December 1994, launched at our conference Studying Girls' Popular Fiction. It was later to receive reviews in The Independent on Sunday (The Sunday Review, 2 April 1995, p38), Evergreen (Spring 1995, p134) and Folly (July 1995, pp17-18). We believed that this was the natural end of the Bettany Press project, but then, in February 1995, I was approached by Elinor M. Brent-Dyer's biographer, Helen McClelland, and was asked if Bettany Press would publish a full-length manuscript which she had written in the 1970s to entertain her teenage daughters. This manuscript, Visitors for the Chalet School, was intended to fill a "gap" in the series within the books written at the end of the 1920s. Although McClelland had already found a publisher, he could not publish the book until 1996. She wanted it to be published in 1995, as this would be exactly seventy years after the publication of Brent-Dyer's first book in the series, The School at the Chalet.

As Auchmuty was agreeable, I decided to go ahead, since this would allow me to develop my publishing skills further. It would also allow me to explore further a phenomenon already apparent from the fanzines, where readers were making up their own stories about the characters. The project could not have been completed successfully, however, without Joy Wotton, who worked extensively with McClelland to rewrite the manuscript. Visitors for the Chalet School, illustrated with line drawings by fan Anne Thompson and with a gentian blue cover (the colour of the school uniform in the later books, as well as the colour of the boards of some early issues), was published on 19 June 1995, with a launch party held at The Wheel women's centre in London.

Visitors for the Chalet School was also reviewed in The New Chalet Club Journal (Autumn 1995, pp30-31), while Helen McClelland was interviewed on a number of local and national radio programmes.

This again appeared to be the end of the Bettany Press project. However, McClelland then asked if Bettany Press would be interested in publishing a revised edition of her 1981 biography, Behind the Chalet School. This book had been vital during my MA research, and I knew that McClelland had uncovered a great deal of new material since it was originally published. Working with her would allow me to find out more about both the biographical process and the life and work of Elinor M. Brent-Dyer, extending my understanding of the books and of the relationship between the text and the author. It would also allow me to develop my publishing skills still further. Managing the distribution, had, of course, by this time become problematic, but my sister agreed to take over this side of the project from us.

Behind the Chalet School, with the original pictures and a rich brown cover (the original Chalet School uniform being brown), was eventually published in July 1996, although production delays meant that its publication had already been heralded at the second Bettany Press conference, A Celebration of Girls' School Story Writers, on 9 December 1995.

Behind the Chalet School was also reviewed in Story Paper Collectors' Digest (October 1996, p30) and The New Chalet Club Journal (Summer 1996, pp38-9).

With three related books published, this again appeared to be the natural end of the project. However, in late 1995, centenary organiser Polly Goerres contacted me with news of "an amazing discovery". Previously it had been thought that Elinor M. Brent-Dyer had never written for adults - although McClelland believed that she had wanted to - and had never written about her birthplace, South Shields. Now Doris Johnson, a librarian in South Shields, had discovered an adult novel, Jean of Storms, set locally, which had never been published in book form, but which had been serialised in the Shields Gazette in 1930. Goerres, like many of the fans, was anxious for the opportunity to own a copy in book form. Initially this seemed problematic, because of doubt over who owned the copyright. Eventually, however, with advice from the NUJ and permission from Brent-Dyer's heir, the actress Chloe Rutherford, we were able to go ahead.

Jean of Storms, illustrated with contemporary photographs of South Shields and folk dancing and with a jade cover (this being the heroine's favourite colour), was published on 21 September 1996, launched at the first Annual General Meeting of the New Chalet Club at South Shields Town Hall in the presence of the Mayor of South Shields.

The publication of Jean of Storms was also reported in The Shields Gazette (17 September 1996); The [Newcastle] Journal (17 September 1996); The Times (18 September 1996); The Daily Telegraph (18 September 1996); on Sun City Radio, BBC Radio Newcastle, Moray Firth Radio and Tyne Tees Television; and Helen McClelland was also interviewed on the BBC Radio 2 John Dunne Show (1 September 1996). As with Brent-Dyer's Chalet School series, we had had no idea of what we had begun when we first conceived of the project as a one-off book proposal.

Go to: Bettany Press website
Next: IV. The Chalet School Conferences
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