After more than thirty-six years as an elected councillor in the City of Westminster, at the heart of London, the establishment and political life, I retired from politics having held some of the most important and influential jobs in local government. These included my ten years as Deputy Leader, my seventeen years as political head of the planning department and an amazing year as Lord Mayor of Westminster, which included my meeting most members of the Royal Family including Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and even spending time with Nelson Mandela on his State Visit in 1996. Added to this, my late partner had been Chief of Staff and Senior Deputy Mayor of London to Boris Johnson as Mayor of London, and I had therefore got to know our future Prime Minister well. In essence, there were many stories and experiences to tell.
Talking to a friend one day, I discovered that he toured the world lecturing on cruise ships and in return for two or three lectures, the cost of the cruise for he and his wife was met by the cruise company. Now retired, after having lived a busy and hectic life, I was keen to see the world and tell my story, particularly about the adventures and experiences of my mayoral year. So, I spend some time in the early days post retirement, preparing a lecture series entitled ‘A year in the life of a Lord Mayor of Westminster’ with a full power point presentation comprising dozens of photographs.
After months of preparation, I was ready to start selling my services to the various cruise companies. And then disaster struck. Covid arrived and all ideas of cruising were put on hold indefinitely. Added to this was my confinement at home alone (I am a widow) during the first lockdown.
Sitting alone in isolation, with little to do following my recent retirement, it was not long before the idea came to me, to turn my speech, which I had spent so much time working on, into a book.
I then spent the next six months of lockdown, writing the first draft. People asked me whether I had kept diaries or notes, but the simple answer was that it just all flooded back from memory and a few documents I had retained over the years. Added to this were the thousands of photographs and memorabilia I had kept, that helped trigger the thought process.
I started by writing hundreds of separate pages or just paragraphs of incidents and stories I could remember. Once I felt I had sufficient for the backbone of the book, I put them all together like a jigsaw piece. I then asked a couple of friends to read the first draft and give me their opinion.
By coincidence, I was staying in my holiday home in Mallorca when I was invited to lunch by a friend who also had a home on the Island, namely famous novelist Jeffery Archer. Over lunch, I mentioned my book and asked him for some advice. Jeffery responded by advising me to get someone to read it, who did not know me. He emphasised that all my friends, despite assuring me that they would give honest ‘warts and all’ comments, would not do so, as they would not want to hurt my feelings.
Only an independent reader, who did not know me, would be totally frank. He then added that no stranger would do so, without payment. So, on a recommendation I approached a company who specialised in this and within six weeks, I received a critique of my first draft. It was not a line-by-line critique, but just an explanation as to how the manuscript could be improved. For example, I was told that I was not open enough nor did I advise the reader of my true feelings, in particular about those closest to me, such as my parents and partner. I immediately went away and re-wrote the manuscript, talking on board everything that had been suggested to me, to the extent that people who have read it, say how open, honest and frank I am, about myself and my feelings and personal life.
I then spent a further year, writing and re-writing the manuscript until I was happy with it. Added to this was my search through boxes of thousands of family photos for the appropriate one to illustrate the book. I wanted a photo or two, on every page, to visualise what I was writing about.
As I was undertaking the processing of editing, I started to consider who would publish it? I sought advice from the web and soon discovered that The Self-Publishing Partnership offered the opportunities and service I was looking for. I contacted Douglas Walker at SPP and after a detailed discussion as to what was involved and how SPP could help me, I knew that this was the correct route for me.
By the time I was off to my home in Mallorca for Christmas 2021, I had completed my final draft and sent it to SPP. They in turn checked it for spelling and grammatic errors and began the design process. This included setting up the pages for printing and designing the layout to incorporate all the 450 photos that I had selected. Then came the complicated task of indexing, which SPP handled for me and the design of the dust cover, which although I had designed in rough form, needed to be professionally laid out and designed for publication.
Within a matter of weeks of finalising the designs and layout, the book was off to the printers and just six weeks later the finished books arrived in my home. And what an amazing feeling, that was! After two years hard work on the book, here was the finished article in my hands. I was very proud.
I then organised five separate book launches for all my friends to attend and coax them into buying a copy. Sales have gone beyond my expectations, and I have had many lovely comments about how much my friends enjoyed reading the book. I now need to think of something else to write about!