Rock stars! The Beatles on a balcony at the Palace Court Hotel in Bournemouth, 20 August 1963. Photo by Harry Taylor © Dave Robinson
Nick Churchill has been sticking words together professionally for more than 25 years. Currently he is a busy Journalist and has undertaken a wealth of celebrity interviews and human interest features to writing speeches, generating web and media content and production scripts. His first book, Yeah Yeah Yeah: The Beatles & Bournemouth – was met with great and considered reviews from the grass roots bloggers, to mainstream media circles and beyond. He has also provided copy for three books published by the Daily Echo and worked on projects for Duncan Bannatyne, Harry Hill, James Caan, Scott Mills and Peter Dickson, the voice of The X Factor. His obvious passion for words and natural genuine integrity is most refreshing. Dave showplug Taylor caught up with him recently.
01. How did you get started in the world of words?
As soon as I could form letters on a page I started to write things down, I loved the shapes the letters made. Before long I was writing stories about magic dragons, brave knights and the things my family did, on little pages, which I’d then fold and staple together in book form.
Years later I wrote music fanzines and poems that I was never sure if anyone read – although I did get a letter from Dave Waller at Riot Stories, Paul Weller’s short-lived publishing company. (Not long after, Waller died of a drugs overdose and Riot Stories ran out of steam.) I used a hand-cranked Gestetner duplicating machine to make copies of ’zines, which I’d then leave at gigs or put between the pages of other magazines in WH Smith.
After trying my hand at retail management, learning how to gut fish and size up cheese, by the late 1980s I was writing for The Catalogue, a trade magazine for The Cartel distribution network headed by Rough Trade. Eventually I opted for some formal journalism training on a weekly free newspaper, got swept up by the cottage industry, everyone-does-everything vibe and sold my soul to regional print journalism. Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time…
02. Where did you see the first piece you had written in print?
It was most likely something I’d printed myself and then stuffed inside someone else’s publication. Other than that, the first thing I’d written that made it into print was a report about a local Labour Party meeting – I was 16 years old and ready to start the revolution from a market town on the Isle of Purbeck. Bless him, but the editor of the Purbeck Mail encouraged me to send in reports and eventually he started printing them. It was the early 1980s.
03. Was it a struggle getting your first book published?
Depends how you mean. As a working journalist I prevaricated for years about putting fingers to keyboard and starting work on a book. As much as anything, it was largely to do with never being able to settle on the right idea for a book. That problem was solved for me after I jumped ship from newspapers and started working freelance.
An old contact acquired a set of largely unseen photos of The Beatles (and others) taken in and around Bournemouth. Over the years I had written many stories about The Beatles’ connections to the area, the gigs they had played in the town, tapes of their concerts, the With The Beatles cover photo being taken in Bournemouth, George writing his first song for the group in a Bournemouth hotel, John’s aunt Mimi living nearby at Sandbanks etc. A book seemed to be the logical next step so the ideas that became Yeah Yeah Yeah: The Beatles & Bournemouth then took shape.
Lacking the funds to self publish and distribute the book in physical form – and without a literary agent acting on my behalf – I approached several smaller, regional publishers all of whom were keen to take a book about The Beatles. Without question, Natula Publications felt like the most comfortable fit and the relationship has been (and remains) entirely positive.
The struggles, such as they were, came as the book went through the editing process when every word has to earn its keep. It is one thing being consistent over the length of a 1500-word newspaper or magazine feature, but maintaining continuity of language and style over 60,000 words was a whole new ball game and I remain in absolute awe of the editor and their attention to detail.
04. Can you remember how you felt the first time you picked up your book fresh from the printers?
I didn’t pick it up from the printer, the first completed copies I saw were at the launch event.
Before that I’d seen umpteen printed pages and was heartily sick of the sight of it. I’d read it so many times it had stopped making sense, I was blind to the photos, knew all the stories inside out and couldn’t even work out if the words were meant to be read left to right.
But getting a printers’ proof as a bundle of folios was a total buzz. It looked like a book – hell, it was a book, it just needed assembling. It gave me chance to calm down before I saw the final version at the launch.
05. How do you deal with potential rejection from publishers?
If a quarter of a century in newspaper offices teaches you anything it’s that this game is no place for the thin-skinned!
I don’t care what anyone says, journalists are all prima donnas, each and every one of them. Their rampant egos really would run amok if they could. They’ll all take issue with the sub editor who cuts their purple prose, or pens a headline that they don’t consider worthy of their story. They’ll lambast readers that phone up and dare to complain; they’ll defend every drunken misquote; they’ll tell you left is right if it serves their story.
But all of them know what it feels like to have a story rejected, or replaced, or passed over in favour of another. At the end of the day there will always be tomorrow’s story, another chance to shine.
The difference when you’re trying to place a book of course is that you’ve put your all into a single entity. There may be other books in the future, but they take time to work on. For now, the sum total of your creative energy is that book and no matter how kindly rejection is communicated, however good it is for character building, it’s still rejection and you’ve just got to get over it.
06. What type of writers excite you?
Ones I can read. Much as I love stories, I love the way they’re told even more.
Every story needs a good delivery system, which puts the writer in a very powerful position. Sometimes I just want to get the story and I don’t need the words to get in the way of it, other times I want to be seduced/entertained/surprised/delighted/revolted/excited by the language.
I’ve just finished David Peace’s Red Or Dead, his novelisation of the managerial life and times of the great Bill Shankly. Peace adopts a ruthless, unerring, almost hypnotic style that brilliantly serves Shankly’s equally unstinting approach to his work. It takes some adjusting to, but once you’re in it’s completely mesmerising.
I had a similarly immersive experience with A Clockwork Orange, Will Self’s Book of Dave, or even Colin MacInnes’ Absolute Beginners.
07. As an author how do you feel about reviews and the industry mechanics?
I’m not sure what you mean by ‘industry mechanics’, but reviews are absolutely essential, particularly when they come from informed sources. I found the reviews I got from Beatles fan sites the most pleasing, even at their most critical.
For instance, the chapters in Yeah Yeah Yeah: The Beatles & Bournemouth all take their names from Beatles songs – something the most brilliantly named Hey Dullblog site took exception to. I tend to agree with the review.
08. What’s a typical working day like for you?
There’s no such thing.
09. What would be the title of your autobiography?
Now that’s something I can’t ever see myself ever having to worry about.
10. What do you do aside from writing, where do you seek inspiration yourself?
Inspiration comes from within and without.
I live in beautiful rural Dorset and feel blessed to be here every day. I’m fortunate in that I’ve (so far) managed to turn whatever talent I have into a living of sorts. I have the love of a wonderful woman and am as proud as can be of my grown up son. I’m not in yoke to pointless aspiration, acquisition or the pursuit of ‘stuff’.
There’s music wherever I turn, great films, art, literature, some tidy shoes and a couple of well tailored suits. Human beings are capable of the most amazing things, not least the ability to recognise the wonder in what Nature gives us seemingly for free.
That’ll do for inspiration.
11. What book do you wish you had written?
My next one.
12. How has the internet changed what you do?
As a confirmed Luddite (I’m mindful that some of Dorset’s Swing Riots happened just down the road from me) the internet has been both a blessing and a curse. It has made all kinds of unexpected connections possible, but I’m still struggling to see social media as anything other than a giant consumer of precious time.
The people who know me stay in touch with me if they want to; those that don’t know me but want to get hold of me don’t have to try that hard to do so; and the rest of the world isn’t remotely interested in what I’m doing. I like email; I still use the telephone.
On the other hand, the internet has made delivering the work I do so much easier. It has also meant that work can be distributed far more widely and made publishers of us all. However, it has also devalued quality content as the written word has increasingly been considered only in terms of quantity. I’ll sound like a right old bread head, but authors’ royalties are a major issue as are freelance fees… and musicians reckon they’ve got it bad!
We’d do well to remember the internet is not the universe and the sum knowledge of human understanding and experience is not contained within the internet, there’s much more out there. Even in terms of my book, proper research means talking to people, expending shoe leather and looking things up in print, very little of the content was previously available in digital form. Since the book’s publication though the internet has brought many other stories to light and I’ve heard from some incredible people with wonderful tales to tell. Obviously it would be great if the book went to reprint and those accounts could appear on the page, but if not they will still enjoy a life online.
13. Do you have any advice for wannabe authors?
Whatever you do, keep writing. Try to write something every day. It’s really very simple – if you want to be a writer, be one. Write, right?
14. What projects are you planning for the future and please plug your latest book?
The work goes on. I’ve no wish to scotch any prospects by talking about things that have yet to be confirmed, so I won’t. If anyone wants to read more they can find my stuff at:
Yeah Yeah Yeah: The Beatles & Bournemouth can be ordered at a special price from www.natula.co.uk/BournemouthBeatles.html
Nick Churchill is hosting an illustrated talk about The Beatles and their Dorset links for Purbeck Literary Festival on Saturday 22 February 2014 at Swanage Legion from 7.30pm. A screening of A Hard Day’s Night will follow.
More info at www.purbeckliteraryfestival.info