High-Powered Publishing

Now that Charlie and I actually have his book at the printers (we were going to order one book, but in a bold move we doubled the order!), I can tell the story of The New York Times Best-Seller List. Hold on to your seats, it’s a roller-coaster ride.

In the two years we’ve spent writing this best-seller-to-be (well yes, Charles wrote, but someone had to supervise, and OK, yes that was mainly Barbara, but someone had to edit. OK, so Rory was chief editor, but only cos he had experience and has actually published a book himself. Jeesh, I can prove I was there!). As I was saying before I was pedantically interrupted, while the author and I were in our office at the publishing house week after week except during lockdown, which knocked out a few months, and not while Charles was away on multiple adventures on mountains, beaches and kloofs, we casually discussed the New York Times Best-Seller List from time to time.

Did I say office? We actually used the boardroom, so we could spread out our plans and drafts and photos and things:

– the boardroom – someone should clean the pool –

Over coffee and stone scones freshly-made by Barbara – who would phone to check they’d been delivered and not secretly scoffed, they were that delicious – we would casually throw around NYT BS List numbers. That’s New York Times Best-Seller List for those who aren’t as aux fait with these things as we are. Various numbers were thrown around and eventually we settled on these: Fifty or One Hundred. It’s a big decision. We haven’t decided yet. But then came trouble: I started reading about the NYT BS List.

I know why people warn against reading. Reading is dangerous. You find out things. I too sometimes warn against reading certain stuff. Not our book! No, you must read our book when it comes out to great fanfare, but other stuff you must be careful, cos if you read, you find out stuff.

Like how to get on to the NYT BS List. Here’s how:

There are “marketing consultancies” which specialise in getting books onto bestseller lists. For clients willing to pay enough, they will even guarantee a No. 1 spot. They do this by taking bulk sales and breaking them up into smaller, more normal-looking individual purchases, thus defeating safeguards that are supposed to make it impossible to “buy” bestseller status. In other words, they’ll cheat for you.

It’s not cheap. Here’s an example from 2013: If your book is listed at R400 retail, it might cost you about R336 a copy. To ensure a spot on the (lesser) Wall Street Journal bestseller list, you’d need to commit to a minimum of 3000 books – about R1 000 000. A million Ront. Multiply these numbers by a factor of about three to hit the more desirable New York Times list. We’re at THREE MILLION RONT Sterling. Plus there’s the crooks’ “consultancy fees” for cheating and lying and manipulating on your behalf. That was around R300 000 in 2013.

Authors who do this often reach the required pre-sale figures by securing commitments from corporate clients, who agree to buy copies as part of speaking fees, and by the authors buying copies for themselves to hand out to friends and family and to resell at public appearances.

It’s a laundering operation aimed at deceiving the book-buying public into believing a title is more in-demand than it is. People in the industry don’t like talking about bestseller campaigns, as they know any detailed discussion exposes the fact that they simply allow people with enough money, contacts, and know-how to buy their way onto “bestseller” lists. Appearing on the New York Times Best-Seller List increases sales by 13 or 14 percent on average, but first-time authors’ sales increase by 57 percent! We could sell 157 books here!

Right, so that’s what we’ll do.

Sure, we might need to sell our houses and Charles his 1979 shark-gilled Mercedes, but he says he’d get a good price for the Merc cos of the gills in the bodywork which he says are actually functionally necessary, not just babe-catchers. Myself I wonder, but I spose when one is catching older, more sophisticated babes the mating call of a loud exhaust note alone won’t cut it?

~~~oo0oo~~~

2013 story in Forbes magazine

more from 2017. And info on wikipedia

In an interesting example of how, once you start lying you have to keep lying, and then when you’re caught lying you just say, “Well, I didn’t mean it to be taken seriously, and no-one believes I’m serious anyway,” when The New York Times was sued for $6 million by an author who claimed that his book had been deliberately excluded from the list, The Times countered that the list was not mathematically objective but rather was “editorial content;” that it’s just “free speech,” and thus protected under the US Constitution. Holy guacamole! They’re saying “Yeah we lied, but we’re allowed to lie.”

So, seeing that the famous list that everyone wants to get onto is not objective factual content, the Times assumes the right to exclude books it doesn’t like from the list! So, the august ‘paper of record’ is saying something like: “Well, this IS a ‘best-seller’ list (more or less) IF we think the book should be a best-seller. It has little to do with whether or not it actually has ‘sold best.'”

And talking of cheats, Mitt Romney crassly boosted his book’s sales figures by insisting that his book tour hosts buy at least $25,000 worth of copies of his book before he would speak at their gatherings!

~~~oo0oo~~~

Muscle Memory

Finally! I paddled on moving water for the first time this century. I had often thought about it, I mentioned it a few times (I’m good at the talking side of things); I even bought a new boat in anticipation, years ago. Then yesterday, finally, I dipped my little toe into the nicely-flowing water of the wonderful Umkomaas river.

I was going to paddle with four other guys. Between the five of us we have about 371 years of life experience and 171 Umko canoe marathons; the “1” being mine.

I was going to paddle / drift the 12km with three of them, but Jess joined me and I didn’t want to leave her alone, so Charles, Hugh and Rob set off from Nyala Pans camp below the old No.8 rapid on their sit-on kayaks, while Chris, Ron (Hugh’s side-kick from PMB) and I drove to the takeout point at Josephines bridge.

– I paddled up a bit, then down to just above Wake-up rapid below the bridge and back –

I’ve often pooh-poohed the concept of ‘muscle memory.’ It’s your brain that remembers, I’d growl. But yesterday my muscles remembered that I hadn’t done any training for decades; and they remembered that paddling upstream is hard work and they don’t like it. Downstream was wonderful; whattapleasure drifting on the current. Brought back many happy memories.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Writing A Book

I think people should write down their stories. In particular I thought Charles Mason should write his as he has paddled one particular crazy-ass canoe marathon every summer for fifty years in a row! Insanity like that should be noted and recorded for posterity. Psychologists should be looking into it.

I mean he won the Dusi twice, paddled one Berg – and coined the now well-known law “Anyone Doing The Berg More Than Once Is Certifiable”; Started, then won the very first Umko; Paddled all the other races and multi-day marathons, sailed to Seychelles and wrecked the yacht on the beach, got a 1st-class degree, married a lovely lady and raised two sons. And some other stuff. But notably, amazingly and astonishingly, he made the Umkomaas River Canoe Marathon – the most feared of all South Africa’s river races – his own.

Here he is doing what some paddlers call ‘Taming the Umko.’ He’s in front wearing the yellow helmet:

Umko Dutton pics 2005 (594)

Ah! There it is, a pale yellow helmet:

Charlie Geoff.gif

So I said ‘Listen, you should write your story. Your kids may not read it but your grandkids will.’ So Charles said/asked ‘Ja?’ in that quizzical, half-serious half-amused way of his and suggested we meet for tea at Rosie’s Tearoom. Which made me think it was actually now quite urgent that his story get written. Charles Mason thinking ‘meet for a drink’ meant ‘meet at Rosie’s Tearoom’ got me worried. He was obviously getting old. The project had taken on some real urgency.

At Rosie’s doiley-covered tea table his very first sentence was ‘You Know Peter, this is Quite Opportune. Next Year is the Fiftieth Umko,’ and promptly turned the focus away from himself and on to the iconic race which he had been instrumental in reconnoitering, starting, winning, keeping going and participating in. Did I mention every single one of them for fifty one years IN-A-ROW? He broke his boat and walked out in one of them, so fifty finishes in fifty one starts.

So the book title changed from Charlie Mason Fuckin WildWater Endurance SuperHero to ‘UMKO 50 years‘ and he became the font of Umko knowledge and wisdom and proofreader extraordinaire. So although I am responsible for all mistakes, I didn’t really know what I was doing, so we should actually blame him. Except we can’t – he didn’t get to proofread everything. Damn.

So we wrote a book, me and Charlie. Charles in longhand! On paper made from gumtrees by both Sappi and Mondi. He made a copy typist out of me. No wonder I made some mistakes. I took typing as a matric subject in Apache Oklahoma in 1973 and peaked at a blistering nineteen words a minute with ten mistakes. Also, while Charles has done fifty, and ten other okes have done over thirty, with 42 and 39 finishes being the next craziest after Charles, this half of the author-duo had done one. ONE. One Umko. So I did need some help in knowing what I was on about.

In my defence, I wrote the bloody thing cos it NEEDED DOING. Somebody had to do this! Anyway, between Charles and I we’ve done 51 Umkos and experience like that is not to be sneezed at.

The way we did it was to ask all paddlers who have ever paddled the Umko to send in their stories. Then we asked them again. And again. The emptiness of my inbox was deafening. An American paddling scribe – and paddling scribes are, in Charlie’s own description of rarity, As Rare As Rocking Horse Shit – wrote ‘paddlers are notoriously lax at recording their adventures.’ Correct. Bill Barron used to say ‘ka-rreck.’

So I had to go out like a roving reporter and fetch the stories that were not being sent in.

With Paul Chalupsky it was coffee in Durban North. After a wary start and quite a few questions, the floodgates opened. Five hours later I left with notes scribbled in my notebook, on the till slip, and on my phone. When I wrote him seeking clarity I got the usual ‘I’m not-so-email’ response. Thank goodness his new wife jumped in and sent clarifications and some lovely new tales.

With Herve de Rauville it was two quarts of beer and two bottles of quota red wine from his estate in the winelands. He’s not anti-quotas, our Herve. Seven hours later we had done the Umko plenty times with much steering back away from the inevitable topic if you’re talking to SA paddlers: The Dusi!

I nailed down Pete Peacock by going to PMB and meeting him at Owen Hemingway’s Pope’s Canoe Centre. Owen himself was a fountain of info and scandal! At that stage I was relieved to meet a paddler with verbal diarrhoea, instead of the communicative constipation I had been experiencing! While I pumped him for Umko info he sold me a boat. A beautiful orange plastic Fluid Detox. I must paddle it one day.

Like many, Kenny Reynolds agreed absolutely that he would write. Every time I saw him at KCC he would FOR SURE be sending me some stories. Soon. But it was only when I was with him scribbling in longhand that I got any scandal. Same with Ballie Roets and Tony Botes. I had to go to Crusaders – the drinking club with a canoeing problem – clubhouse for their tales. It looked like a bowling club. No?

I began to think this was a multi-year project for a patient, persistent saint, of which I am none of the above. Then a breakthrough! Some ancient pre-rinderpest okes had been forced to learn email from being in Australia. So Robbie Stewart and Rory Lynsky sent stirring tales. Their endeavours were re-doubled when a Viking character entered the fray and goaded them into having to defend their honour. Now we were cooking thanks to Rowan Rasmussen! Ally Maynard had to set the record straight, Porky Paul got his secretary to write, Rob Bourne-Lange had Leslye fire off his missives. Geoff Caruth was slow, but he has written a lot about the Umko over many years, so I could plunder his early writings, scanning the old Umko programs, then editing the OCR errors, then copy and paste.

Now the accusations started flying thick and fast. Especially thick. Everyone was the hero of their story and the furious howls of ‘That’s MY story you’re telling!‘ got the creative juices flowing. The introduction now needed the caution ‘Please take all the stories with a hefty pinch of iodised cerebos.’ The reason for the hyperbole, of course, is the river itself. The palpable fear before a race causes great excitement and nervousness – and garrulous relief afterwards. Charles summed it up pithily many years ago with another famous truth: ‘There’s No Better Laxative Than A Full Umkomaas!

Kingfisher heavies contributed aplenty. From the outset the project had the backing of the club. Travis Wilkinson, Terry Drummond and Ross Poacher helped out. Rob Davey actually saw that the idea became a reality. We all spoke and wrote; Rob brought the money in. Ernie Alder didn’t say no, but fokol forthcame until I met him at Circus Circus for a lengthy meal when his floodgates opened. He was no typist, our Ernie.

Rumblings from behind the boerewors curtain erupted and colourful lava spewed forth once Bruce Clarke, Brian Longley, Meyer Steyn and Colin Wilson started lying singing. These interlopers regard the Umko as their own and some Umkos there have actually been more Vaalies than modest, well-behaved paddlers! We may in fact need to look at the Donald Trump solution to keeping them out with a wall at van Reenen. Spoiling a good story with the truth is not their style. Swims which had been Natal-long became epic swims lasting ‘months underwater,’ and even this was topped by ‘eons holding my breath.’ Nicknames are a big thing in the hinterland, so I liked that and tried to get nicknames for as many paddlers as I could. Hopefully a few guys were annoyed at seeing their worst, most forgettable name in print. I decided from the outset not to censor any submissions. Customary Paddling Language was used as spoken, but even I chose not to put some unsavoury nicknames in the book!

I wanted recognition for the ladies who have quietly and without fuss done what us okes did. Much serious shaking of male heads kept the ladies out for years, in the sure knowledge that no woman could – and then, OK, should – ever do a race as challenging as ‘our Umko’ and anyway, out of the kindness of our hearts we shouldn’t let them into our remote valley. For their own good. Also, how would they possibly handle having to sleep in the big marquee with all the guys? By telling better fart jokes than the guys, it turned out. As far as I could tell, Colleen Whitton was the first lady to paddle in an Umko and Marlene Boshoff and sis Jenny were the first to finish one without a male in the boat. They were followed in random order by Antje Manfroni, Patricia Stannard, Lorna Oliver, Debbie Whitton-Germiquet, Diana Rietz. What’s more they wrote good stories and sent them in on time and electronically. Thanks ladies!

The breakthrough with the ladies came via Hugh Raw. His terrific MCP stories (he wrote of paddling with TWO ladies and making them carry the boat) needed responding to and challenging. And the ladies did just that.

PROCESS

Back and forth, checking and re-checking. Re-writing causes layout headaches, all well handled by Rob Davey and Jon Ivins, paddler, photographer and book putter-together-er. All the while badgering okes to send in their stories, with mixed success. To their credit every one of the paddlers I phoned cheerfully agreed to send their tale. Then they didn’t. Amazingly, some okes can win the race multiple times but writing a story defeats them. If I had a story about them, especially if controversial, I would send that to them and that often elicited a response, but not always. At least Robbie Herreveld was a great help with the results. He kept records and helped us complete the list of winners.

AT LAST!

The proofs arrived! We checked through half-size black-and-white proofs then the full-size, full-colour proofs:

20160223_154420.jpg

Then the books themselves arrived, happy day! Just in time for the race, where Rob Davey handed them out to paddlers in 2016’s goodie bags! They were pretty well received, I thought, warts and all!

Umko 50_2016 (1).jpg
– Nigel Briggs also wrote for the book – he wrote a book of his own on That Other Race –

The UMKO 50 years – The Story Of A River Race And The People Who Made It Happen can be read here. Don’t tell me of any errors, thank you! Actually, do. We’ll build your bulldust into UMKO 60 years.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Brief Power and Glory on the Umko

I was an Umkomaas Canoe Marathon Official once. Kakhuis Field Marshall for the start of one Umko. Appointed by the uber-command of KCC, it was my job to reduce the toilet-paper-in-the-bush syndrome around the start near the Hella Hella bridge. I had relayed farmer Barry Porter’s unhappiness at the phenomenon to the heavies, they were of course aware of the issue, so they roped me in to help solve it!

Lines of green mobile flush toilets were stationed at the start, and for kilometres before the bridge, starting up at the bend that drops you down into the valley proper, I lined the road with large neat signs exhorting paddlers to “Go Now”, “Use the toilets as soon as you get to the start,” “Avoid the rush,” “Don’t do it in the bush,” and other thoughtful and helpful suggestions.

Mindful of Umko Master Charlie Mason’s wise and thoughtful maxim, “There’s no better laxative than a full Umkomaas” my signs got more urgent the nearer you got to the bridge.

But I was handicapped.
– Firstly, my request for a suitable uniform and hat befitting my high station had been turned down.
– Secondly, my request to have full access to the public address system was denied. Would Billie-Boy Barron hand me the microphone? No.

I was going to thoughtfully say: 
“Attention please! Aandag asseblief! Especially you Vaalies and Dabulamanzi ous: KAK NOU!!”
I know for a fact that Meyer Steyn – most Umko finishes of anyone ever, while based inland – would have appreciated the reminder . .

Umko start - toilet.JPG
– Hella Hella toilet –
– just something modest –

Barry said to me later, he thought that year was the least mess he had seen in recent times! Making the local farmers happy is a big part of the success of river races, so I was very chuffed! Of course, if they’d given me free reign to wear the right uniform and exercise my full powers it would have been even better . .

~~~oo0oo~~~

An Idea Was Born

From: pete swanepoel home
Sent: 16 December 2014
To: Allie Peter
; Greg Bennett; Doug Retief;
Subject: Deepdale – Hella Hella

Hey Allie, Greg & Doug
I just posted this story about an Umko trip with Bernie Jamludi The Jet.
Thought you might like to check it out:

Cheers – Pete
PS: I’m licenced to scribble:

poetic bullshit licence.jpg

~~~oo0oo~~~

Hi Pete

Great, and a very personal story to be shared with the “old boys”.

Pete, I have now worked out what you MUST do and that is start putting together an anecdotal account of the famous canoe stories from way back then. We would have to do a chapter on the Tarka Canoe Club and some of the other trips, the Whisky canyon episode etc. etc.

You will have to be the scribe and we can then get the fellows together with a small supply of cold tea in order to refresh memories — remember ‘n man praat altyd die waarheid na ‘n paar doppe !!

Allie

~~~oo0oo~~~

Well, ex-Chairman Allie Peter started a small seed growing; in March 2015 ex-Chairman Charles Mason and I sat down to write the Umko 50 years book. We finished it just before the fiftieth Umko in March 2016, where Rob Davey handed out 300 copies to all who took part in that memorable race.

~~~oo0oo~~~