Monday, 30 July 2012

Treasure Quest: The Book

Today, I’ve decided to carry on my recently-adopted and doubtless soon-to-be-abandoned practice of writing a post about something I mentioned during the previous one. Most of the pieces on here so far have concerned failure in one way or another – projects that were never published, and my writing career to date in general. So I thought I’d cheer things up a bit by telling the story of the one book I have so far had released into the wider world – Treasure Quest: The Book.

All right, so it’s not a novel. It’s quite small. And I wasn’t actually paid for it, given that it was done for charity. But it’s a book that was properly published and was written for the BBC, no less, which I think is something of which to be proud.

When not working on trying to become a professional novelist, I am lucky enough to have a day job working for BBC Radio Norfolk, based in Norwich. Among other roles, since May 2008 I have been the producer of a Sunday morning programme called Treasure Quest. Those of you who remember the 1980s Channel 4 television programme Treasure Hunt with Anneka Rice will find the format familiar – we have a radio car presenter and driver who have to travel around Norfolk solving four or five cryptic clues, with each clue leading to where the next one is located. The listeners at home phone, text, e-mail and Facebook in with their suggestions for how to solve the clues and where the radio car should head next, and the team have a little under three hours to crack all the clues and find the treasure envelope.

Some of the Treasure Quest team in November 2011. Studio presenter and station Managing Editor David Clayton, me, presenter Becky Betts and broadcast assistants Alexajain Wills-Bradfield and Lauren Tyson.

I plan the route each week, set-up the locations, write the clues, produce the programme in the studio every Sunday morning and have an on-air role as ‘the Questmaster’, explaining how each clue worked after they’ve solved it and occasionally going on to give them extra hints and supplementary clues if they’re lagging behind! The show is tremendous fun to produce, and very popular with the audience. We frequently beat every other station in the county in the slot, including the national ones, and we’re one of the station’s most popular shows of the week. We have something of a cult audience too, with a popular Facebook page and even a fan website set up by some enthusiastic followers of the show.

The fact that we have this popularity has allowed us to use it to help raise money for the BBC’s Children in Need Appeal every November. Since 2009 we’ve held an annual Treasure Quest Live! stage show at the Norwich Playhouse, with all the team engaging in various games and features. Being both a writerly type and also something of an anorak who likes to have the history of things written down, when we came to do the second stage show in 2010, I pitched the idea of us producing a printed programme people could purchase at the show. It would have a history of the programme, profiles of the team, photos, etc, and we could sell it in aid of Children in Need.

I wrote a few bits for this to pitch the idea to my boss – and Treasure Quest studio presenter – David Clayton. However, I found out that he had already started the ball rolling on a Treasure Quest 2011 calendar, for people to buy not just at the show but also online and in the shop next to the BBC Radio Norfolk studios in The Forum. Obviously it would be a bit beyond our resources to produce two pieces of merchandise – BBC Local Radio stations not really being set-up to produce tie-ins for the shows, and most of this being done in our spare time – so my printed programme idea went on the back burner, although David did say he liked the bits I’d written for it.

The calendar went well and managed to raise a fair bit of money for Children in Need. So early on the following year, sometime around March or April, we started thinking about what we could possibly do as a piece or merchandise to sell at the 2011 show. David and I had a chat where we discussed various possibilities, and the idea emerged that we should do a book. He knew that I was keen to do it, and I knew that I could write it and write it well. We left it open as a possibility, and I decided I was going to grab this opportunity – possibly the only one I will ever have – to get a book published. I decided to write it, print some copies and show them to David as a template for the sort of thing we could do.

It’s arrogant, perhaps, but I never had any doubt I could do it well. I knew it had to be quite a short book, no more than twenty or thirty thousand words. I knew the history of the show inside out, and had all the old programmes and my notes available to me to check any details. We had hundreds, possibly thousands, of photos taken along the way each week. And I knew that I was a good writer of non-fiction. I can write prose that, while not sparkling, can be clear, concise and engaging.

Most importantly, like many Doctor Who fans, I’d grown up reading behind-the-scenes and ‘making of’ books, and I knew exactly what the tone of the thing had to be, and what had to go in it. I was immensely pleased at the idea of being a part of something that could have its own ‘making of’ tome, and of celebrating all of the achievements of my friends and colleagues on the show. So I wrote a first draft in about a week in April 2011, and used the self-publishing site Lulu to create five dummy copies, to show David what the finished thing might look like.

My dummy copy of the Treasure Quest book idea, which ended up impressing people enough for us to go with it as a real project.

I have to admit I was pretty pleased with it, and David also seemed quite impressed. He quickly agreed that a book would be a good thing to do, and brought on board a wonderful lady called Elsje Stocker. Elsje used to work at the BBC in Norwich and sometimes comes back to manage special projects for us – she stage-manages the stage show, and ran the production of the Treasure Quest calendar. Elsje was able to find all the right people to talk to higher up at the BBC and at Children in Need to enable us to do the book, and also found the equally-wonderful Norman Macintosh and his company Charity Goods to publish it for us.

Norman’s been putting out merchandise to raise money for Children in Need for many years, usually in partnership with BBC Radio 2, and he was absolutely brilliant. Without him and Elsje and their tireless efforts the book would never have happened, but one thing that quickly became apparent was that we’d need to hand over the book to Norman for publishing as ready-to-go PDF files. Meaning whatever we sent him would be what was printed – we’d have to do all of the design and layout in-house ourselves.

I hadn’t expected this at all, and was a little daunted given that I have absolutely no design experience. On the plus side, however, I was rather pleased that it gave me almost complete control over the project, in terms of being able to constantly tinker with it over the summer months of 2011, refining it and fixing it and getting it right, and checking over and over again for mistakes and typos. I spent many, many hours poring over it, before by September it was finally ready to go to print.

(Incidentally, my not being in any way a designer meant that the interior of the book was all laid-out in Microsoft Word, and the cover in Microsoft Publisher. Not tools a professional would ever use, and if a proper publisher ever reads this I can imagine them wincing at the very idea. But I flatter myself to think I managed, with Norman’s help, to get both cover and interior looking, if not great, then more than good enough to pass muster).

One little coup I was able to pull off during all this was to get BBC Radio 1 DJ Greg James to write an afterword for the book. Greg did work experience at Radio Norfolk during his time in Norwich at the UEA, and in August 2011 he played – for the third time! – on his “Best Bit of the Radio” slot a famous clip from Treasure Quest of our clue hunter Becky Betts having to go up in a helicopter. Taking advantage of his cheekiness in having used the clip yet again, I dropped him an e-mail asking if he’d like to write a piece for the end of the book, and he said yes!

That nice Greg James from BBC Radio 1 wrote us an afterword for the book.

The book came out in October 2011, and I couldn’t have been more proud. When I got my hands on a copy, I couldn’t stop looking at it, holding it in my hands and flicking back and forth through the pages. A real, proper, actual book with “by Paul Hayes” on the front. (This, incidentally, was down to David – I’d assumed we’d put it out without a name, but he said I should have the proper credit for writing it). I was so enthralled by having a proper book out that I even memorised the ISBN number, rather pathetically! (9780956077714, since you asked).

When the shop next to our studios put out their large display of the books, I was so taken with it that I took one of the online team’s cameras down to take a photo. In reception I bumped into my colleague Jacqui Burgoyne and waylaid her to take a photo of me posing with the books – fortunately she’s also an aspiring scribbler, so she well understood my excitement!

 Me, shamelessly posing with the copies of the book on display in The Forum shop in October 2011!

Our news online team did a piece on it, there was an article in the local paper and even our TV colleagues at Look East gave us a quick mention. We did a book signing in the BBC Radio Norfolk reception in early November, which was extraordinary, especially seeing so many people queuing up to meet us. They were there to see Becky and David, of course, but I was there too and actually signing copies of my own book. Extraordinary.

“Sorry, who are you again...?” A bemused member of the public gets her book scribbled in by me, after she'd got the signatures she really wanted from David and Becky!

At last year’s Treasure Quest Live!, which I produced, they brought me down from the theatre’s production gallery at the end of the show to present me with a framed copy of the book’s cover on stage, which was very flattering and touching. And then earlier this year, a group of listeners were invited in by David to surprise me during an edition of the spin-off show Treasure Quest: Extra Time (which I present), to give me a copy of the book they’d all written in, in celebration of the 200th Treasure Quest.

I know I’ve gone on a bit about this, but I am very proud of Treasure Quest: The Book. I think it’s a good behind-the-scenes book, and I’m very glad it’s there as a record and celebration of the programme and those who have worked on it. We sold out all the copies we had printed, 2000 of them, and raised over nine thousand pounds for Children in Need.

Being presented with a framed copy of the cover at Treasure Quest Live! in November 2011.

And on a personal level, I will always know that, come what may in my efforts at a writing career, I at least had a taste of publication, once. I did it. I had a book out, with my name on it, and people bought it and liked it. There are many people who want to write just as desperately as I do, even more desperately perhaps, and never get that opportunity. Everything fell into place and I took the opportunity, and I’ll always feel fortunate at having been able to.

But that said, I would still prefer it not to be the only book I ever have published!

My book!

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