Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Eccles Cakes’

How I’ve Come to Love Manchester

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 23rd November, 2017

8619AE8C-F0AC-4C09-990D-BE3BBA7078DBI spent the first 18 years of my life in Manchester, the last eight of which involved a one-hour term-time daily commute from the (adopted family’s) house in which I grew up in Eccles right across the city to school. Hating both “home” and the school (as described in my childhood memoir Eccles Cakes), I endured a very dark period in my life, so seized the opportunity of leaving school early and heading off to Asia to find a different world. Some years later, after I had emptied the house in Eccles and driven the last van load of furniture down to London, I bid Manchester farewell for the last time — or so I thought. Quite apart from the bad personal memories I had of the place, the city at that time was suffering from serious post-industrial depression, the buildings were black and whole districts of back-to-back houses, Coronation Street style, were physically decaying or being knocked down. I vowed never to return. But fate had other plans. The school, with which I had had absolutely no contact since I walked out of the door in March 1969, suddenly wrote to me asking if I would speak to the sixth form about Politics and this coincided with the extraordinary reunion with my birth family, as recounted in an episode of BBc2’s Family Finders. So I started coming back to the city from time to time and found what has become a favourite hotel, where I am now staying. Manchester has changed to an extraordinary degree over the last 50 years, fundamentally for the better. Not only is it cleaner and blessed with an excellent public transport system these days but it is also vibrant. The huge student population has ensured that there is a lively club scene and without a doubt people are friendlier than down south. Of course it still rains a lot — though today there is a brilliant blue sky, as I prepare for the AGM of the Authors Licensing and ollecting Society (ALCS) that will be taking place in the Midland Hotel this afternoon — but whereas I used to wander the streets in gloom now I savour the vistas of grand 19th century buildings as I walk with a spring in my step. I don’t regret the fact that I now live in cosmopolitan London, but it is a wonderful feeling to have come to love my home town.

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Nostalgia for Brussels

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 27th July, 2017

Grand Place Brussels smallEncouraged by some heartening reviews of my childhood memoir, Eccles Cakes¹, I have embarked on a new volume of recollections, this time covering the years when I was based in Brussels, initially working for Reuters news agency, covering the European Economic Community (precursor to the EU) and NATO, then subsequently freelance, writing books, magazine articles and carrying out various assignments and commissions in Africa and the United States. The period concerned is 1974-1981 and it is sobering to think that for young people today that is effectively history. However, what may be surprising to many readers, when the volume eventually sees the light of day next year, is the great affection I developed for the city of Brussels. It’s not just that it boasts one of the most magnificent city squares in Europe, or that the food is scrumptious. The quality of life in general is high and I loved the fact that so many Belgians (and indeed foreign resident) had real art in their homes, not just cheap reproductions. I also grew to love the Belgians themselves, both Flemings and Walloons, for their zest for life and originality. They are so very different from the caricature that comes over in jokes about their nationality, not least from the French. And, yes, I was converted to the European project, having arrived in Brussels as a young Eurosceptic but gradually understanding the extraordinary potential of the European endeavour. My nostalgia for Brussels, as I write my current memoir, is thus not just about the place and the people, but for being part of the EU — a situation now seriously in jeopardy thanks to Britain’s Conservative government and complicit Labour Opposition.

¹ https://www.amazon.co.uk/Eccles-Cakes-Odd-Tale-Survival-ebook/dp/B01II737EM/ref=sr_1_2?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1501177046&sr=1-2&keywords=Jonathan+Fryer

 

 

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Why I Wrote “Eccles Cakes”

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 6th February, 2017

Bradburn'sLast summer, my childhood memoir, Eccles Cakes: An Odd Tale of Survival, was published and a number of people have asked me why I waited so long to write it. After all, I had produced 14 volumes of biography, history and other non-fiction since 1975, so why wait until I was in my mid-sixties? The simple answer is that I just wasn’t ready, emotionally, but of course, as Oscar Wilde famously said, the truth is rarely pure and never simple. The fact is that I could not have written the book until two important things happened (not that I realised that in advance). First was that, following a recurrence a few years ago of the panic attacks and blackouts that I had experienced as a child, along with depression and total lethargy, I was referred to a psychologist who rightly diagnosed the problem as being that I had not processed the period of sexual abuse I had suffered between the ages of about seven and 12. I had shut memories of this away in the deepest recesses of my mind, hidden behind a wall of metaphorical cotton wool, but now they had escaped and were starting to bite me. As a result of the daignosis, I underwent six months of counselling, culminating in several sessions of recovered-memory therapy. No drugs or hypnosis were used, but I was transported back to my childhood self and relived in graphic detail, technicolour and with smells and sounds, the episodes in which my adoptive father had sexually interfered with me, leaving me feeling confused, unhappy and eventually guilty. I then, through therapy, as an adult revisited my childhood self, and tried to come to terms with what had happened. As part of the therapy, I had to write short passages after the sessions, including a letter to my abuser and his wife.

However, I knew I would only get any meaningful level of closure if I extended these scraps of writing into a full-length book. The therapy sessions had retrieved all sorts of memories in graphic detail, and I still had copies of the diaries that I wrote from the age of 18 onwards. It took me 18 months of quite intense and often emotionally stressful work to produce a manuscript I was happy with. Yet I doubt if that would have been possible without the second, unexpected, factor, which was being reunited with my birth family, or at least two sisters and a variety of nieces and nephews. This happened two years ago following a letter out of the blue from my older birth sister after the younger one had tracked me down through a Google search. This reunification was the subject of a sensitively-produced documentary in the BBC series, Family Finders. Now they had become part of my life after a separation of more than half a century I had found some missing pieces of the jigsaw that completed the picture for Eccles Cakes. That memoir only goes up to shortly past my 19th birthday, but in it my unseen birth mother is a real presence, as she was in my mind as a child. The incidents recounted in the book where she watched over me, without my knowledge, are based on fact, as is, naturally,m everything else. So now it is out there, and I am indeed now able to achieve a form of closure.

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Memories of Copeland

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 21st December, 2016

img_1801Copeland is a UK parliamentary constituency that I still associate in my mind with Jack Cunningham, MP, rather than his successor, Jamie Reed, who has resigned, thereby triggering another by-election. Mr Reed says he feels he can serve people better working in the nuclear energy sector, where he has headed. Ah, yes: Sellafield. Not a choice I would have made, but it’s a free country. Meanwhile, the name Copeland has conjured up a couple of memories for me. The first was a day trip to Whitehaven with a scout troop from my school, Manchester Grammar; I think the scoutmaster must have had some link with the place, as I can’t think why else he would have organised a visit there, on a Sunday, no less. I remember wandering around the town, under a grey sky, finding little to appreciate other than a rather striking church. Much more attractive was Keswick, added to Copeland constituency under boundary changes. As described in my childhood memoir, Eccles Cakes, I went on a week’s camping trip to the Lake District in my first year at MGS, and discovered that me and camping did not mix. But I did enjoy visiting Keswick, and bought my one and only souvenir from there: a tiny, kitsch, fold-out book of photos, which I presented to my adoptive mother, who didn’t seem very impressed. Anyway, depending on when the by-election is called, I hope to renew my acquaintance with the place after half a century — and will encourage others from London to come along.

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Self-publishing: Pros and Cons

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 30th October, 2016

business-of-being-an-author-1As I had 14 books published by a variety of “traditional” publishers, I was quite surprised when my literary agent suggested that I should self-publish my latest book, the childhood memoir Eccles Cakes. It was so different from anything that I had written before that it did not sit neatly with my back catalogue (six of which books had in 2014 been reissued as paperbacks and ebooks by Thistle). He wasn’t sure there was a ready market for the memoir, but added cheerily that I would have complete control of the content and the cover, if I wished to go down the self-publishing route — and would earn proportionately more money if the book took off. It is worth pointing out that the days of generous publishers’ advances are over, unless one happens to be the latest hot new thing (preferably a young and attractive, and therefore promotable, female novelist). And as one gets 10% royalties at best on mainstream books, writing really does not make one rich, unless one is extremely lucky. In fact, according to a survey of writers’ earnings published last year by the Authors Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS), on whose Board I sit, average writers’ earnings have fallen sharply in recent years to a measly £11,000 a year. That’s nearly 30% down on a decade earlier. Moreover, publishers’ and media contracts are getting more and more tricky, often asking writers to surrender all their rights for a pittance — or even for nothing at all.

Eccles Cakes cover 1So, is self-publishing the answer? Like many people, I had been wary of the so-called Vanity presses, which charge authors thousands of pounds for producing a set number of copies of a book which may be nicely bound and printed on glossy paper, but won’t have been edited, and may well for the most part sit in boxes in the writer’s garage until he or she leaves this life. But, I was assured, as I made enquiries, things aren’t like that anymore. And indeed they are not. Of course, there are still some shady operators out there who are ready to fleece a lot of money off poor sods who are desperate to see their thoughts in print. But these days there are other, less expensive and more attractive options. As I am not confident in my technological skills I decided to plump for a company in England, PublishNation, that, for a set fee of £235 would format Eccles Cakes from a Word document and design a cover using a photo that I supplied. In a surprisingly short period of time I had a proof copy to correct, from the printer Lulu (who physically produce a lot of self-published books), and once I had OK’d some small changes (mainly typos; we all make them), I was then able to order as many or few copies of the paperback as I wish — and can continue to do so. The orders are fulfilled in a matter of days, with delivery to my door. The cost ensures that I get a respectable margin when I sell copies personally to readers. Others can buy online from Amazon, which also did a kindle version of the book (all part of the original PublishNation package). The kindle version is particularly attractive to authors as one gets 70% royalties as long as the book is priced over a certain limit (mine is, at £3.99). The biggest surprise of all, though, was that these royalties start straight away, on a monthly basis, as people buy one’s book. So although I only “published” in mid-July, I got my first payment direct into my bank account from Amazon at the end of August and another one just now.

eccles-cakes-book-signingDoes this all sound too good to be true? Well, of course there are certain disadvantages. One needs to be a competent editor and proof-reader, or else be ready to employ someone to do that, otherwise your book is likely to be full of errors (though these can be corrected in all future copies). The biggest problem, though, is distribution and marketing. Mainstream publishers often still have reps, who tour the bookshops, promoting their wares. As a self-published author one has to do that oneself. Be brave, is what I say; I was delighted when I approached one bookshop that had stocked some of my earlier books when they came out and they agreed on the spot to take six copies. But particularly with memoirs, one needs to target people who know you or know about you. In my case, that meant Liberal Democrat activists (I did a signing at the Brighton autumn conference last month) and both my old school and university college, as well as my freshly-located birth family and close friends. A couple of reviews have appeared in linked publications, as well as diary items. Significantly, good reviews have appeared on Amazon and Goodreads; authors are well-advised to join and engage with the latter; the more such reviews you get, the better your book is likely to do. But the real challenge is to master social media: to let people out there know your book is available — and why they might be interested to read it. I mention it quite frequently on twitter (with a link to the Amazon order page) and I have created a dedicated Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/eccles.cakes.2016 (which has a shopping button). It’s still early days, but even if I have not yet made a fortune from self-publishing, my experience has been overwhelmingly positive to date, and I did have total control of both cover and content.

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Why I Wrote “Eccles Cakes”

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 17th July, 2016

Eccles Cakes cover 1This week, my childhood memoir, Eccles Cakes: An Odd Tale of Survivalwas published and a number of people have asked me why I waited so long to write it. After all, I had produced 14 volumes of biography, history and other non-fiction since 1975, so why wait until I was in my mid-sixties? The simple answer is that I just wasn’t ready, emotionally, but of course, as Oscar Wilde famously said, the truth is rarely pure and never simple. The fact is that I could not have written the book until two important things happened (not that I realised that in advance). First was that, following a recurrence a few years ago of the panic attacks and blackouts that I had experienced as a child, along with depression and total lethargy, I was referred to a psychologist who rightly diagnosed the problem as being that I had not processed the period of sexual abuse I had suffered between the ages of about seven and 12. I had shut memories of this away in the deepest recesses of my mind, hidden behind a wall of metaphorical cotton wool, but now they had escaped and were starting to bite me. As a result of the daignosis, I underwent six months of counselling, culminating in several sessions of recovered-memory therapy. No drugs or hypnosis were used, but I was transported back to my childhood self and relived in graphic detail, technicolour and with smells and sounds, the episodes in which my adoptive father had sexually interfered with me, leaving me feeling confused, unhappy and eventually guilty. I then, through therapy, as an adult revisited my childhood self, and tried to come to terms with what had happened. As part of the therapy, I had to write short passages after the sessions, including a letter to my abuser and his wife.

However, I knew I would only get any meaningful level of closure if I extended these scraps of writing into a full-length book. The therapy sessions had retrieved all sorts of memories in graphic detail, and I still had copies of the diaries that I wrote from the age of 18 onwards. It took me 18 months of quite intense and often emotionally stressful work to produce a manuscript I was happy with. Yet I doubt if that would have been possible without the second, unexpected, factor, which was being reunited with my birth family, or at least two sisters and a variety of nieces and nephews. This happened two years ago following a letter out of the blue from my older birth sister after the younger one had tracked me down through a Google search. This reunification was the subject of a sensitively-produced documentary in the BBC series, Family Finders. Now they had become part of my life after a separation of more than half a century I had found some missing pieces of the jigsaw that completed the picture for Eccles Cakes. That memoir only goes up to shortly past my 19th birthday, but in it my unseen birth mother is a real presence, as she was in my mind as a child. The incidents recounted in the book where she watched over me, without my knowledge, are based on fact, as is, naturally,m everything else. So now it is out there, and I am indeed now able to achieve a form of closure.

Bradburn's

ebook: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Eccles-Cakes-Odd-Tale-Survival-ebook/dp/B01II737EM/ref=sr_1_6?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1468756457&sr=1-6&keywords=jonathan+fryer

paperback from Lulu books: https://www.google.co.uk/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwjLhvm01frNAhVFSBQKHaPmCZEQFggeMAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.lulu.com%2Fgb%2Fen%2Fshop%2Fjonathan-fryer%2Feccles-cakes-an-odd-tale-of-survival%2Fpaperback%2Fproduct-22780714.html&usg=AFQjCNFwlxg9Yjx9oJ6mMkVnDwZYX7aGqg

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