Sunday 14 September 2014

Newsletter rules, okay!

I've done "Newsletter" three times to service three of the braided threads that make the cord that ties the zygote to the scythe of my life.  Firstly during my time as a roving population geneticist; then while I was pushing the frontiers of molecular evolution and most recently for the Irish Home Education community.  I was never a very good research scientist - I lacked finish and would drift off onto another exciting project when my summarising papers didn't get accepted first time.  So my career is littered with unpublished material - I found at least one unprocessed rejected ms <shame, red face> in a file in my mentor's cellar in August.  All too often the next exciting project was another edition of the newsletter, which my European co-editors were sensibly regarding as peripheral to their work, but got rather too much front and centre for me. At sometime in maybe 1997, it seemed to me that I was the only active editor (there were six under the mast-head), the only contributor (a book review, an interview, a handy computer tip, the catalogue of upcoming events, the editorial) and the only reader.  The last because, after all my work for the community, nobody ever said thanks: so for all the feedback I got, my carefully constructed prose was being whisked to oblivion by a burning desert wind - harrrumph!

Later the editor of the Home Education Network (HEN) Newsletter resigned or retired, and I volunteered my family to take the task on.  For the next 3+ years I chivvied our friends&relations for copy and when they failed to deliver wrote it myself - more book reviews, shared experience, advice, inconsequential essays, the Editorial.  Because of who I am we were quite religious about copy deadline and close to every equinox and solstice we sat around the kitchen table stuffing envelopes to mail out a print run of about 120 copies. One year, with the encouragement of my friend the treasurer, I got light-headed and pushed out a bonus 5th number immediately after our annual conference. We live in a remote corner of Ireland but just round the mountain is a print-shop who cut us what seemed to be a very good deal - certainly cheaper page-for-page than the bill before and after our time.  I'd print out the newsletter so that it filled a multiple-of-four pages, pair off the pages 1+8, 2+7, 3+6, 4+5 and take it down to Noel-the-Print and he'd print it out A3 back to back, fold and staple it into an A4 booklet.  The turn-around took a couple of days.  It was black&white with grey-scale illustrations, but I used to choose a different coloured paper for the cover, so it didn't look too drab.

I invested a lot of time and emotional energy in this production. Our pal Lulu used to live close by and often came visiting, so one issue we saved postage and handed her the newletter when she next dropped in for a cup of tea.  As we chatted away she folded the newsletter in half and oooff half again and stuffed it into the back pocket of her jeans.  Or she started to do so until she saw my face aghast at how casually she was abusing my baby.  I knew then that not everyone looked forward to reading the newsletter as much as I did.  And that helped me to the realisation that the newsletter didn't need to be read from cover to cover by everyone, or at all by anyone, for it to be a source of pride and joy for me.  In the doing was the satisfaction.  A bit like The Blob, eh?  Another source of pride was the tuthree instances when I'd be chatting with someone about home education or children and say: that's really interesting; would you write it up for the newsletter?  And it was so: someone's self esteem had crossed a threshold to be heard.

The other brilliant outcome from those years was that Dau.I, then aged about 12, launched her career in journalism by announcing that the HEN Newsletter was too boring and adult-centred and there should be a kid's supplement. And it was so, eventually coming out as Chick Lit (H.E.N. chick, geddit?).  Eventually we the editors retired in our turn and other members of our community took up the baton and ran with it in their own distinctive way.  I must admit to being just a little harrumphy when the first copy of the new look newsletter came through the door in full colour on glossy paper. But I came to realise that if the new style wasn't necessarily better then it was different and that, in itself, was good.  On mature reflection (it's taken many years to get off my high horse), I accept that the glossy illustrated version was probably better for most of the readership - less wordy, less pompous and much more colourful for wrapping birthday presents.

I undertook a promise to subsequent editors to write a page for every edition of the newsletter because my experience was that getting copy from people is like pulling teeth.  I gave that up more or less when I started The Blob - which contributes far too much "TMI! TMI!" to public discourse as it is.  Newsletter rule: everyone has 500 words in themselves which will be read with interest and attention by people who share some of their values: so contribute. I can't really think of a valid excuse for not doing so.

1 comment:

  1. We probably have every edition that was published in the house (bar one which we through out for a specific reason) thanks to Dame (in the regal exalted sense) Ciara Webster. As a consequence we have had the pleasure and the wisdom of some excellent articles down the years. Some years back at a conference a new dad was discussing his fears about socialisation. We had a good chat, but I followed up with a promise of an excellent piece on the topic by HE dad Ian Wilde. When I got home I rooted it out, reread it, photocopied and posted it off. Still stood up as it was written from the heart, and made perfect many other pieces in the newsletter down the years. Thanks for your efforts