Simon was one of the first people I followed on Twitter. When I learned that he was producing a book about his photographic safari in Kenya, I was fascinated, partly because I was fortunate to spend two days on Safari in Kenya myself a couple of years ago.
I asked Simon if he would share a little of the experience with us and he has kindly agreed.
The idea for the book was spawned from wishing to record what is, for many, a once in a lifetime experience – a safari holiday in Kenya. I’m a semi-pro photographer, so I would be taking huge numbers of photographs and I was sure I’d have enough to make a reasonable photobook for myself. I’d invested in a netbook so that I had a low-cost way of copying images from memory cards and it proved to be ideal for note-taking too, so each day I would sit by the lodge pool and write up a few notes. I soon had enough notes to make a small book without photographs and so the idea evolved.
I’d make an illustrated book, identify all of the animals, make it a travelogue and add a few photography hints in there as well for the geekily minded reader.
We arrived back from the safari in early October and after a couple of weeks, I started getting the text into shape. In early November I was ready to start layout using Adobe InDesign, in fact ready to start learning how to use Adobe InDesign! Progress was slow and pretty much stalled, as I could never find large enough chunks of time to make an impact in the production of the book, but a change to my work travelling in April of 2009 was to come to the rescue. I live in Farnborough, and have worked in, and driven to, Basingstoke for many years, but our office was to relocate to Reigate. Rather than drive every day and endure what used to be a twenty minute drive each way becoming an one hour drive, I would get the train. This not only is quicker than the car, but it gives me 34 minutes in the morning and 38 minutes in the evening to whip out the MacBook and make progress. It wasn’t long before I was making great progress, but hit upon some other hurdles. So, from this low point, and almost six months of non-progress, the book would suddenly start to take shape.
My typography skills were non-existent. I couldn’t understand why all the pages looked like I’d thrown the text and pictures at them. That was probably because I had. In desperation, I gave in and asked my cousin Vanessa of www.foliotypo.com for some advice. She’s been designing and laying out brochures, flyers and all sorts of promotional material for years, and she gave me some simple guidelines that made everything so easy. “Use three columns” she said. “Make the text flow over one, two or all three, and the pictures to fit the columns too”. Some pictures would be full bleed, but pretty much these were the only exceptions. Now, where I had struggled looking at a page, everything just flowed, and by the end of May I had a manuscript ready for my proof readers.
Vanessa would take a copy and a final look at the layout and a good friend Linda (formerly a teacher, now a jeweller, but a fully paid up member of the English Language Police) would read another copy. They found most (maybe all) of my typos, lazy mistakes and schoolboy grammatical errors and by early June, I had the final proof.
So, now to lulu.com, my chosen print house and publisher. I’d made the book a square format, seven and a half inches square. Now I read the small print, I discovered that for some reason, this format was not compatible with the distribution models I wanted to use. Lulu offer an “expanded distribution” package where you get an ISBN and a listing through Amazon and other book sellers this was what I wanted to use, so I reformatted to a compatible size, now eight and half inches square – another week of train journeys just for this!
Lulu takes two PDF documents, one for the main book itself, and another for the cover. At this stage I wanted to get a printed proof, so I went ahead and ordered one. After just a week, I received this copy, looking just like the real thing. This was the real high point of the whole project. All of a sudden, the book was real, tangible and in my hands! However, the print process leaves some of the pictures a little dark and I spotted a few more mistakes. Another revision, but this time, I’m more confident, so I order the expanded distribution package. I duly receive an ISBN number, modify the document to include it within the book and on the cover, and upload once again to Lulu. Now you MUST order a proof before accepting the book as done and ready to publish. Another few days go by, I receive the final document and there it is, done! – click the â??Accept Proof’ button in Lulu and it’s all ready to go. Another six weeks or so, and it should appear in all good bookshops…
Writing a book is something many people say they would like to achieve in their lives and having now done it, I must say the excitement has gone away. It’s such a long process, that at times it felt impossible, I wondered if it was worth it, but one of the things that kept me going was the intention I had for the dedications in the book. It is nice to leave a statement in such a profound way. Having passed the finish post though, I can say that I’ve done it and have learned what’s needed if I want to do it again, or need to do it commercially. I’m sure the next one will be bigger, better and easier to produce. If I did do one commercially, I would use Vanessa’s help at a professional level.
I’m not planning anything else yet, I don’t believe this sort of project (for me anyway) is something you can just say “oh, I’ll write a book”. I need a subject about which I’m knowledgeable and can confidently write. Content is King, I’m not writing a novel after all (nor I expect will I ever write a novel either). If I do something else, it will be based upon experience and most likely illustrated with my photography. It could even be based on some of my stranger photographic creations, or even about the rise of my local rugby team (for who I am the photographer) to the national leagues. Honestly though, we might have to wait for that one!
What are my expectations of sales of “Kenya Safari”? If I’m honest, zero. It’s a project for myself to document the holiday and to share with family and friends. I’ll order a batch of 25 for this purpose, maybe I’ll sell a few copies to some other people, but we will see. Maybe a few libraries will order copies for their shelves! I doubt I’ll be touring the UK doing book signings! – but I can imagine a few talks to societies, camera clubs and the like happening before long.
At least now, I can look up the local bookshop in the Yellow Pages, call them and ask “Do you have a copy of Kenya Safari by Simon Taylor”. “Oh my name? Simon Taylor…”
“Later in the lodge we watched as a crocodile, a large beast, estimated to be some seventeen feet or so (and part of the tail was missing!), fed on scraps left out for it.
The local cat would dodge in and out, braving the creature’s jaws to steal the occasional morsel, and I crept forward to get a few shots.
Crouched down so I could get as close to an eye level shot as possible, I was taking a few pictures when the crocodile lurched forwards. I nearly fell over backwards as my reactions took me away from the crocodile, now probably only about two feet away. This was one of those life defining moments when you realise how quickly these lumbering giants can actually react, and possibly how foolish I had been to trust the low three course brick wall that separated us. Had the crocodile not been quite so well fed, it might have tried just a little harder.”
“Our landing, as warned, is likely to be a “tip and drag” one, where the leading edge of the basket comes into contact with the ground and the inertia of the balloon pulls the basket over and along the ground. In preparation, we stow our cameras into their bags (except for me of course, as, by carrying two cameras, I have more camera than bag space), and we lower ourselves down into the basket onto bench seats we have previously been standing on. Gripping handles inside (and clamping my un-protected camera), we wait for the bump. Sure enough, it comes, we bounce, and a second bump makes harder contact. All goes quiet for a moment as the basket teeters slowly and tips over, and now, lying on our backs, the whole balloon and basket assembly slides along the ground for ten or fifteen seconds. You can’t see anything from inside the basket, so it’s a trusting experience – that this has happened many times before, and all will be OK – and that the lion we saw only a couple of minutes earlier won’t be standing outside as we scramble out, looking for breakfast!”