Saturday, 2 December 2017

The Bridge Is Crossed

It is done.

224 pages of text, 26 of notes, 44 pages of references) and 15 pages of hard-wrought index (WARNING: may contain elephants) of my latest tome have been corrected, primped, preened and finally sent back to the publisher.

The past fortnight (that's two weeks, you know) have been spent correcting the page proofs and compiling the index, an activity almost but not quite as bad as pulling teeth, but which after a while exerts its own austere pleasure, at least for dentists.

I broke ground on this project 28 months ago. I didn't really want to write it, but was eventually backed into a corner and ran out of excuses. Now it's done, I think it might have some value, despite several possibly unavoidable mi$takes, eccentricities and at least three genuine jokes.

But that's not for me to judge.

I couldn't have done it without the constant nagging chivvying encouragement of certain members of the academic community (you know who you are); my editor at the University of Chicago Press, Christie Henry, who saw this into production before she departed for pastures new; and most of all the support of my wife Penny, my children and our numerous pets.

It should come out early next year, and it is now available for pre-order.

Friday, 3 November 2017

Across The Bridge is Covered

Here as promised in September is the cover art of Across The Bridge: Understanding the Origin of the Vertebrates. I received this in my inbox an hour ago or so, and half an hour later got permission to show it to you. So you are among the very first outside the publisher's offices to see it. It's so new that, as I write this, the image isn't even on the publisher's own website. The ink isn't even dry yet.

It's always a special moment, seeing the cover art for the first time, rather like opening a gift - it is something you can't wrap up again, can't unsee once seen. This is an image that'll be on my mind a lot over the next few months as I prepare to work on the proofs and the index.

The arrival of the cover art means - to me - that the book iis more than a pile of paper or even a collection of ideas. It's a real thing, out there, in the big wide world.

It's also helped that the book has had some very encouraging pre-release blurb, too, from Dr Neil Gostling, who says some very nice things about it, which you can see when you preorder your copy!

Friday, 15 September 2017

Crossing The Bridge

You'll be aware (both of you) that I have for some time been writing a scholarly book about the origin of vertebrates, entitled Across The Bridge, which was submitted to the publisher earlier this year. Well, this post - which is more of a way-marker for me than anyone else - reports that I have been through the copy-edited text and returned it to the publisher; I have filled out the author questionnaire sent me by the publisher's marketing department; and the catalog copy is now online. Time for a breather before the next bit.

People talk an awful lot about the craft of writing, but perhaps less is said about what happens to a book after you have finished the draft. After you have written 'The End'. So, if you'll allow me, or even if you won't, I am going to share my experience for the general edification.

I am assuming that you have an agent handling the business side and a publisher all agog for your peerless prose. If you do not, I expect there are many other places where you can get advice on these topics. In this case I had a publishing deal all set up before I even started. Which is nice. Also intimidating. Nothing like a deadline staring at you down the tracks to concentrate the mind.

I managed to send the draft text to the publisher by the deadline, more or less. This being a scholarly tome, the publisher then sent the text to three anonymous referees. While this was happening I sent the text to a number of readers for their comments.

In the meantime I uploaded a draft to a print-on-demand site, made it available for my eyes only, and had them make up a nice A4-sized, double-spaced, double-sided bound copy of the draft I could carry around with me and use to as a scribble pad for any corrections or suggestions. This was immensely useful and beat hauling around a pile of loose sheets.

Time passed.

Reports came in from near and far, and I set to work taking over comments and editing the text. I found that that most of the editing was concentrated at the beginning. Writing this book has been a voyage of discovery. As I wrote, ideas came to me I hadn't thought about when I started, and in the process of assimilating a great deal of information I began to formulate more definite conclusions than I thought I'd have. So I had to go back, condense a lot of random ramblings, and 'signpost' the ending more clearly. Having said that, I fluffed the ending - my conclusion was far too rushed, probably because I was dying to finish the thing. I think this is quite a common syndrome. A reader pointed this out to me and offered guidance - as I have been able to do since, as a beta reader for someone else's book. When finishing a book, take your time!

When that was all done I got all the files into the publisher's approved format (I cannot stress enough how important this is) and sent them a large pile of paper, and, under separate cover, the same thing but on a memory stick. Why both? Well, the publisher works from the memory stick, but needs a separate printout in case the digital files have s0mehow be£ome &+*^ZQ3(*pted.

The book was approved by the publisher's editorial board and sent to the copy editor, and while that was happening, the publisher's marketing department sent me a questionnaire to fill out. Authors usually groan at these, but this is one's opportunity to try to condense the concept of the book into a few pithy lines that a sales force can use to pitch the book to booksellers. Nobody knows your book better than you, so it's worth taking time to do this properly. The questionnaire also asks for names and addresses of people you think might be prevailed upon to write nice things about you and your book for the jacket copy.

By the time I had done that the text had come to me from the eagle-eyed copy editor, who had elegantly rephrased sentences that didn't work, got the text into the house style, and did frankly amazing things such as check that all the references in the back (more than 700 of these) were actually referred to in the text. Despite the microscopic attentions of the copy editor, there were still a a couple of mi$prints. The typos that got away. It is a Law of the Universe that there will always be at least one of these. As any published author will know, the joy of seeing the finished product for the first time is always - ALWAYS - tempered by the discovery of misprints that evaded the repeated scrutiny of author, referees, beta readers and copy editors.

Still, I shall have one more chance to intercept any typographical miscreants, for in due course I shall receive the page proofs. That is, the text as laid out on numbered pages, as it will be printed (though quite often there are gaps where the pictures would be.) I shall use this document to compile the index.

First I shall go through the text with a highlighter, noting terms that require indexing. Then I shall use these highlights to make up, by hand, a document that will become the index. For this purpose I shall be guided by the chapter on indexes in the Chicago Manual of Style, which, while it is not the most fun I have ever had with my clothes on, is a fascinating document in and of itself.

Compiling an index can be seen as a chore, and there's no denying it's hard and painstaking work. I can usually only index about ten pages of text at a sitting before my eyes start to ache. But I'd rather compile my own index. Only an author knows which topics to emphasise in an index, in that they'll receive several subcategories - and which do not deserve a mention. I know this to my cost, for in books of mine indexed by others, I have found it hard to recover the information I want, even though I know it's in there ... somewhere.

But the thing I am looking forward to most is a first look at the cover art. Authors usually get to approve cover art, but I find in most cases that artists have a better idea of how to translate my text into a pithy design than I do, so I rarely have useful comments to make. When the cover art comes (and I promise you'll see it on this blog, when it does), I finally feel as if I am in sight of the finishing line.

Sunday, 27 August 2017

Traveling Light

I have been traveling on business (I work for the Submerged Log Company) for almost 30 years, and have been doing a lot more lately. In the past twelve months I have been to Sweden, Italy, Israel, China, Indonesia, Australia and the U. S. and A. I write this on my tablet in the departure lounge of an airport in Canada; next month I pop over to the Netherlands, in the next couple of years I hope to visit Japan, in addition to one or more of the countries above mentioned, and possibly some other ones. Although I sometimes venture off-piste into remote areas, most of the travel involves the airport-hotel-office-conference centre axis familiar to most business travelers. So, if you don't mind, or even if you do, I shall present my accumulated wisdom about packing for travel.

The one-sentence summary is this - pack as little as you can possibly manage.

The longer version (with materials, methods and results) is as follows.

Before you go, collect everything to intend to take and spread it out on a large flat surface such as table or bed. Divide it in half. Divide it in half again. It's amazing how little you actually need to take with you. In all but the most remote areas there are shops for buying essentials you can't take in carry-on baggage (razors, toothpaste, insect repellent) and larger hotels have laundries, so you don't need to take clothes to last your entire trip. On the subject of laundries, hotel rooms also give out useful plastic bags for taking your dirty clothes home.

I have a horror of checked-in baggage not emerging from the carousel at the other end. Especially if my trip includes a lay-over, which is almost always. If at all possible I pack carry-on only. If it doesn't fit in my backpack, it doesn't travel. I prefer a backpack to roll-along luggage as you can keep it with you at all times and still have both hands free for passport inspections, check in procedures etc. a rucksack is also easier to squish into overhead bins in aircraft. In a trip to Indonesia and Australia I took 15 flights in 18 days, so waiting around at carousels would have occupied a great deal of time as well as causing unnecessary stress and exposing multiple hostages to fortune.

Flying clothes - wear loose clothing that doesn't demand belts, and shoes that don't need laces. This will make security inspections much less irritating. Wear sweatpants rather than trousers. Take a sweatshirt or sweater that can fit over a basic tee shirt. I recommend the kind of hi-tech sweater that weighs very little yet magically keeps you warm or cool depending on the weather. Also take the kind of raincoat/anorak/slicker that can be scrunched up into a small space. For footwear, and unless you need to look smart, or need boots for hiking or trekking, I wear sandals or crocs without socks. This means that you needn't take socks with you, and your footwear slips on and off easily for security inspections. Or just to stretch your toes. A sun hat is good. I have a great Australian bush hat (courtesy of Mike Westaway) and a baseball cap (courtesy of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology).

Tech - I carry a power adaptor suitable for most countries and which also has two USB sockets. I carry an extra European socket, as I have discovered that there are two types of two-round-pin Euro socket, one slightly smaller than the other. To these I add at least one USB charging lead for my smartphone and tablet. I do not carry a laptop due to the weight and find a tablet suitable for just about everything. To pass time I have a Kobo Mini e-reader preloaded with a variety of books. This fits in a pocket and beats taking a stack of paper books. On the other hand, it's the work of a moment to download compatible books to ones phone or tablet.

For the plane, take good-quality earbuds for use with the plane's onboard entertainment system. The ones provided are rarely of high quality and can hurt your ears at high volume, which is what I need to drown out the aircraft noise. Some people like noise-canceling headphones, but I find them cumbersome and may require batteries.

If you are going to take a poster to a conference, consider planning ahead with a print shop at your destination to see if they can print it off from an email attachment/ dropbox or similar ahead of time, or accept a USB stick or other very tiny media when you get there, obviating the need to take a poster with you.

So, here are my essentials for packing for a business trip for ten days in addition to the clothes I'm standing in, which comprise T-shirt, long-sleeved sweatshirt, sweatpants, crocs.

- Tablet, phone, charging cables, adapters, earbuds.
- Five cotton T-shirts (dark).
- Eight-ten pairs underpants (colour irrelevant).
- Dark trousers and (if necessary) a belt.
- Toothbrush.
- Any necessary prescription meds for personal use, with doctor's note if you feel it necessary.
- Passport; credit and debit cards; health insurance details; printouts of e-tickets, electronic visas, hotel details and so on.
- Business cards.
- A small amount of cash, say no more than US$100 or local equivalent. Most services these days, including cabs, accept plastic - and if you need cash, many places including airports, hotels, shopping malls have ATMs.
- Something small, useless and nonmetallic to remind you have home. I have a very small plush toy penguin Mrs Gee gave me many years ago.

For the more formal kind of business travel, wear a dark suit. Get the best you can afford. A dark suit fits all occasions and doesn't show the dirt. A good quality suit will be cool in the heat, and warm in the cool. And most of all you can wear your main item of apparel, which means to don't need to carry it as luggage. If, however, you intend to hand-carry a suit, roll it up tightly in plastic, and do the same for the accompanying smart shirt. To the list above add socks, slip-on black shoes, and a tie.

If your trip involves anything adventurous, wear a pair of good quality hiking boots as your main footwear (on your feet, not in your luggage), in which case you'll need suitable socks. Having to take the boots off in security is a price worth paying for the weight saving. You might also need to pack a pair of short trousers.

DISCLAIMER - The above reflects my own experience as an adult male solo business traveler in the kind of business where I don't need to look smart. Different folks have different stokes. Each person has their own needs.

Monday, 14 August 2017

Trust Me, I'm A Zoologist

Returning to chez Gee late one night after playing with one or other of the beat combos in which I feature on electronic harmonium, I decided to kip out on the drawing-room sofa, so as not to wake Mrs. Gee sound asleep upstairs in the Marital Chamber.

It was completely dark, so imagine my surprise when I woke up the next morning to find, on the adjacent coffee table, a bowl of girrafe eggs.

I learned later from Mrs Gee that these had been a gift from a friend who was convinced that they were not girrafe eggs, but zebra eggs. No, I replied, zebra eggs are stripey, not blotched. (If, on reading this, your reaction is to pooh-pooh the idea that either zebras or girrafes lay eggs, all I can say to you is Ex Ovo Omnia, old son.)

Our friend remained unconvinced until a few days later when the eggs started to hatch.

And from the evidence of this picture I'd say not only Ex Ovo, Omnia but Quod Erat Demonstrandum.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

What I Did In My Summer Holidays

The Gees have just returned from our first family holiday in six years. Thanks to some very, very good friends, who looked after our menagerie, and whom I won't embarrass by naming, we managed to get away mob-handed - to remotest Northumbria, where we rented a lodge overlooking Kielder Water, which is miles from anywhere very much, in a deep dark forest a midge's crotchet from the Scottish border. Just the place to get completely off the grid and relax, with a box of food, a box of books and a bottle of Pimm's. As Gee Minor (19) says - Pimm's is not an Addiction, it's a Commitment. And - oh yes - there was a hot tub. Bliss!

Although remote and peaceful by modern standards, the region is richly steeped in ancient and bloody history, being close (possibly) to the Battles of Degsastan (603CE: Scottic Dalriata 0, Northumbria 1) and the return match at Otterburn (1388CE: Scotland 1, England 0) and only slightly further away from the Battle of Heavenfield (633 or 634CE: Gwynedd 0; Northumbria 1). The victor of this last was Oswald, whose short reign as King of Northumbria (634-642) was followed by a much longer career as cult hero and saint.

I got all this from my holiday reading, The King In The North: The Life and Times of Oswald of Northumbria by Max Adams, which brought the Northumbrian landscape to life and illuminated some otherwise dry recent reading: the authoritative English Settlements by Myres and the thoroughly magisterial Anglo-Saxon England by Stenton.

Those who know me will understand my deep fondness for Tolkien and anything Tolkienian such as Beowulf and the darkest parts of the Dark Ages in which Men were Men; Monsters were Monsters; Contemporary Records were as Unreliable as they were Sparse, and anything at all that has come down to the modern age Extremely Fragmentary (much like palaeontology.)  

The King in the North is unashamed in its contemporary hooks. The very title is a phrase used repeatedly in A Game of Thrones (a popular televisual emission); and the map in the frontispiece is a blatant rip-off of the style used by Christopher Tolkien in his maps of his father's own Middle-Earth. No matter. It's a great book - and ends with a stinging message about the balance of rights and responsibilities that make you think about the rise and fall of societies right down to our own times.

Digging into my favourite part of the Early Medieval period - roughly from 410CE, when the Roman legions left Britain, to 793CE, when the first Northmen to visit England brought in the Viking Age by ravaging Lindisfarne - one is struck by how little we'd know if it weren't for the early Church, especially Bede, whose Ecclesiastical History of the English People never fails to call a spade a spade, and which I have read several times with much pleasure.

It is Bede who tells of St Cuthbert, who reportedly spent time in his hermitage on the Farne Islands preaching the gospel to the puffins - an image I find utterly charming. We saw the Farne Islands quite clearly from the imposing rock at Bamburgh, the near-impregnable coastal fortress of the Northumbrian kings.

Slightly further away to the north is Lindisfarne which King Oswald gave to St Aidan, thus founding a tradition of peerless scholarship in which the best of ancient Irish and (then) modern Latin traditions was combined. If the best and worst of the Latin tradition found expression in a single person, it would have been St Wilfrid, whose love of Roman bling (a marked contrast to Irish asceticism) led to his founding of (among others) Hexham Abbey, with its (then) all-mod-cons of a stone crypt. The crypt is the only part of the original Northumbrian building that yet survives, and is one of only two Anglo-Saxon crypts known. (The other one is at Ripon - another one of Wilfrid's creations.)

The very helpful person who allowed Gee Minor and me into the crypt at Hexham Abbey, and who told me some of this stuff, shared my enthusiasm for The King in the North and also informed us that our visit happened to be on St Oswald's Day.

Thus enthused, Gee Minor and I resolved that when we got back to Kielder Water we'd raise a toast - which we did, in the hot tub, in the rain. Having gotten through our first glass of Pimm's we realised that we'd forgotten to do the toast. Our glasses refreshed, we toasted (in this order) St Oswald; St Wilfrid; St Cuthbert; the Puffins to which St Cuthbert preached; and the Manatees.

I am not sure whether St Cuthbert actually preached to any Manatees, though I guess he'd have disapproved if they were Manichees, but after two large glasses of Pimm's we were past caring.

Monday, 17 July 2017

Doctor, Doctor

Many years ago (okay, it was 1994) I was on a plane on the tarmac at Benito Juarez airport Mexico City, waiting for a flight to London. I'd been on assignment and had travelled around that eye-popping country for a fortnight (by day I work for the Submerged Log Company.) I was, frankly, exhausted, and looking forward to a restful flight home. The omens were not auspicious. I was seated in the middle of a bank of five seats, with the bulkhead directly in front of my knees. To make matters worse, to my left was an anxious young couple with a fractious infant.

This, I thought, was going to be a long eleven hours.

Just then a stewardess hove into view. "Doctor Gee! Doctor Gee! Are you Doctor Gee?" Oh. Brother. Just when I thought matters couldn't get any worse, the co-pilot had had a cardiac arrest and the stewardess had assumed that I could possibly revive them. Which I wouldn't be able to do, as my doctorate is in zoology, specifically palaeontology, and although I am pretty hot at anatomy, my expertise is confined to skeletons. Of cows. Dead ones.

Braced for an explanation as I was, the stewardess continued "Doctor Gee, would you like to sit in this seat over here, so this couple can have a seat for their baby?" I accepted with gratitude and found myself in aisle seat, with the space between me and the window occupied by an engaging young classical guitarist from Germany who told me all about her successful concert tour of Mexico. The hours flew past.

The reminiscence was occasioned by the recent announcement of the next actor to play Dr Who, a popular long-running televisual emission. The fact that a female person has been chosen to play the role has occasioned some controversy. To my mind, this marks a refreshing change to what has become a somewhat staid formula. And given that the Doctor is actually an alien from the fictional planet Gallifrey, the part could just as well be played by a talking dog as a human being.

(In any case, those who find themselves surprised by the gender of the latest iteration of the peripatetic Time Lord haven't been paying attention. For some time now the show has featured Missy, a female avatar of the Doctor's old enemy, another rogue Time Lord called The Master: and in a recent episode the Doctor admitted to his companion that Time Lords could switch gender between transformations. But I digress.)

I do, however, have two questions.

First: what did the Doctor do to gain their appellation? In what subject did the Doctor gain their doctorate? We are often puzzled by the Doctor's apparent lack of a name - the status of the qualification is less of an issue.

Second: Why did the BBC feel it necessary to reveal the identity of the actor so far in advance (the first episode with the new Doctor doesn't air until Christmas), even making it national news, making it impossible to avoid? What happened to good old-fashioned suspense? Why do people have to know everything about everything before the show is actually aired? How much is that doggy in the window? What becomes of the broken-hearted? Why do fools fall in love? Who put the benzedrine in Mrs Murphy's Ovaltine?

Questions, questions.