I began working in the Pre-Press department here at Boydell & Brewer in March with little experience of publishing. My colleagues were patient and generous with their time, answering a million and one questions and guiding me through the various steps needed to ensure a submitted manuscript becomes press-ready on time. Of medium length, well-prepared and containing 6 images, John McTague’s Things that Didn’t Happen was selected for me as an ideal ‘first book’.
Over the next three months or so I prepared the files and had the volume copyedited, typeset, proofread, corrected, proofread again, corrected again (you get the idea) until it was finally finished. Things that Didn’t Happen is the 4th volume in a relatively new series called ‘Studies in the Eighteenth Century’. It not only provided me with the opportunity to learn the ropes, but also offered a veritable smorgasbord of fascinating insights.
Tit-bits and teasers flitted by as I performed the various checks needed to ensure the images would all reproduce well and the text itself was free from error. When checking through the corrections and ensuring that the chapter titles matched those given in the contents page, I encountered tantalising phrases such as: ‘before the conspirators could gather either wits or blunderbusses’ and ‘What looks inevitable – the end of civilisation, of time, the dawning of chaos and night – is the consequence of inaction, inattention, accidents, releases, and precipitation’. I also experienced flashes of recognition as Absalom and Achitophel, Dryden’s political satire through biblical allegory, was discussed, causing me to search my memory for any residual knowledge of it gained during my undergraduate degree course on seventeenth-century propaganda.
A close encounter with an entry for E. coli in the index had my interest well and truly piqued. What have bacteria got to do with the political narrative of 1678–1743? You will have to read the introduction to find out but it will suffice to say that a biological experiment is used to explore theories of time, the implications of the counterhistorical, and how sequences of cause and effect result in the probability of things happening or not happening. I have always enjoyed sci-fi and time-travel narratives but this book, as it appeared to me, is an academic exploration of the concept without the need for a TARDIS or modified DeLorean. I am fully aware that all writing has an agenda. The documents that we now rely on for our understanding of the past are no exception. Problems of unreliable narration litter the foundations of our understanding of history. Most of my history lessons at school consisted of historical events, figures, facts and happenings, so I was intrigued by this book that focuses on non-events, failed happenings, fake news and their impact. Who would think that things could not happen with such intense drama and far-reaching consequences?
As a little entertainment always brightens my day, I have begun collecting the little nuggets of interest or amusement that arise during a book’s journey through Pre-Press. I must thank Things that Didn’t Happen for providing the best correction I have seen to date. See if you can spot the slight slip that provoked a chuckle in the index entry for Aphra Behn’s Congratulatory poem to Her Most Scared Majesty on the universal hopes of all loyal persons for a Prince of Wales…