Author Corner – Mike Hardwich

MIKE HARDWICH is a dedicated vet who has worked with wild and domestic animals for over thirty-nine years. He assists whenever the need arises and has an extraordinary rapport with all living things.

The Lion and Lamb – Memoirs of a Vet is Mike’s first book (originally published by a ‘self-publishing company’ and later picked up by a traditional publisher) and his second collection of stories is The Rhino and the Rat – Further Memoirs of a Vet.

1. From first draft, to published book, how much editing do you do?

From first draft to the published book we, Cathy and I, probably edited the draft six times and then gave it to Pegasus who promised a professional edit. The latter proved a total disaster – they asked us to sign-off a copy that had blatant errors and questions we had asked them (still there, written in red!). That sent us back to the drawing board but when we then finished it we told them NOT to change a single thing!

Subsequently both Cathy and I have learnt a lot and The Rhino and the Rat took only half as long to complete before we handed it to our editor, Alison Lowry, to work on.

2. Why did you decide to write your veterinary memoirs?

My memoirs were written many years back and left in a dusty drawer. A British company offered to publish my book, provided I doubled the length (this I never got round to doing). Then, after many, many years, Cathy contacted me and mentioned that her daughter Joanne was a journalist and the dusty files were taken from the bottom drawer, sent to Cathy and the entire process started.

How I came to start writing is that many of these stories started as fireside tales and there was immediate general interest. I had also, as a schoolboy, won several prizes for literature – probably not based on the quality of the work but more on the story.

3. Before getting a South African publisher, you self-published The Lion and the Lamb – what advice can you give other writers on their own self-publishing journeys?

When we had finished The Lion and the Lamb we looked around for a publisher and as was to be expected we received more letters of rejection but three ‘publishers’ expressed interest. We carefully looked at all three and certainly the best offer was from Pegasus – they asked for very little from me and offered an extraordinary amount in return. Their letters were well drafted and encouraging. In addition they have three companies and as a ‘first’ timer we had to start on the lowest rung and then they offered upgrading, dependent on sales.

The frustrations only came much later (as mentioned above). Their assistance regarding editing was non-existent but we did feel that the layout was good and they did get the book published on time. Then came the major problems.

They made absolutely no effort at all as far as sales and promotion was concerned and kept saying to us that we needed to trust their tried and tested ways and that we should be patient.

They would not give us sales figures and all enquires were met with complacency and avoidance.

Eventually I had no option but to break the contract based on their not keeping to their side of the bargain.

At this stage I had sold 500 copies out of my veterinary practice and we were getting interest from book-sellers but had no way of meeting these requests.

The problem is however that we all want to get our books published and by this stage there was a sizable investment made.

4. Cathy Leotta helped you with writing your books – explain how the two of you worked together (especially considering that you are based in KZN and Cathy in the Cape).

Cathy and I had been friends at university 40 years ago. I think that we have very similar views and definitely similar standards – maybe she is a little more particular than me and is definitely a huge amount neater!

I sent Cathy my scripts and initially she merely read through them and expressed an interest. We then had the lot scanned – they were typed, initially, on an old style typewriter.

From there we got on with the work in our separate offices and would meet for three days on a monthly basis – I would fly to Cape Town and there we would get stuck in. Bearing in mind that I have a busy practice I found this monthly trip a very pleasant relief, although extremely demanding mentally.

5. How many words do you write, on average, per day?

A lot depends on a person’s mood and there are plenty of off-days. Another very significant factor here is that with memoirs it is relatively easy as the stories are extremely vivid and need little, if any, researching. This is very different to a book Cathy and I are now busy with – The Green Desert – this is a story of the effects of agricultural chemicals and is extremely exacting as it needs be readable but factually correct. I am sure the chemical companies would love us to make a mistake with this one!

In general, on a good day, I can easily do about 5000 words of memoirs.

6. Explain your writing process – do you write an outline and fill in the story, or do you write from Chapter 1 and let the animal stories lead you?

The planning of my books has been simply to write down the title of each chapter and then fill it. Fortunately after 40 years in veterinary practice there are still many stories to be told. Once I have the heading the stories just roll out and often one has to put on the brakes a little as one tends to get carried away.

This is certainly not the case with The Green Desert where timeline is critical. As the subject was very well covered by the press I have put a lot of reliance on the paper-cuttings to get the timeline right.

7. Is there anything you find particularly challenging in writing, and if so, how do you overcome it?

I enjoy writing and I am sure that I would not do anywhere near as well if I never had a very enthusiastic team. My staff and family are very supportive and I have a few friends and practice clients that are helpful. Further, I know that in having Cathy, a retired scientist, the possibility of me making scientific mistakes is greatly reduced and that she will check anything that she feels may be controversial. And don’t try and be politically incorrect with her!

8. What are you busy writing at the moment?

At the moment I am busy with The Green Desert – this book is extremely challenging as it is based on my farming experiences and the effects of collusion between the government of the day and the major chemical companies. In such a situation Joe Farmer is unfortunately a mere pawn in a huge chess game. Unfortunately a game the farmers in our situation lost! However, I do feel that public awareness is growing rapidly and people are not just accepting their positions.

My third book of memoirs, The Tiger and the Tortoise, is also underway but in a very foetal stage currently.

9. What advice can you give aspirant writers?

* Do not expect financial reward – this is a labour of love.

* And I believe that there are four legs to a good book:

  • Leg one – a good story.
  • Leg two – a good editor who is not partisan in any way. One needs be practical about what is being written and if it is rubbish bin it.
  • Leg three – a good illustrator.  One can but admire the illustrations for example in Jock of the Bushveld!  The type-setting and layout is included here, as is the cover. Can anyone pass by Marguerite Poland’s book Taken Captive by Birds without stopping to take a look?
  • Leg four – perhaps the most important of all is the publisher/marketer. I cannot believe the difference a motivated publisher has made for me. With the previous publisher one was pushing a piece of string and unfortunately the journey was uphill!

* And finally, if you believe in it then DO IT! Nothing is ever achieved by being too cautious or too pragmatic.

Click HERE to visit Mike’s blog (where he will keep you entertained with his animal stories), click HERE to like his Facebook page, click HERE to follow Mike on Twitter.