LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, BOYS AND GIRLS... welcome to the big top blog of Douglas McPherson, author of CIRCUS MANIA, the book described by Gerry Cottle as "A passionate and up-to-date look at the circus and its people."

Saturday, 13 May 2017

How to write about the circus and get published!

Ever wanted to write about the circus? A memoir of your life in the big top, perhaps?

Many people have a notion to write a book... one day. Others nurture a dream of writing a best-seller... in the same way that they dream of winning the Lottery. That is, without any real hope of it ever happening. Which of course it won’t, if they don’t buy a ticket. But writing isn’t something that anyone needs to put off. Nor is success limited to best-selling novels.

The fact is that anyone with something to say can start writing today and realistically be published in the very near future. Your first success may not be a best-seller, or even a book, but it will be a step towards growing a writing career with no limit on where it will end.

Based on a series of articles in Writers Forum, Start Writing Today, will show you how to take that first step and many others. The twenty-five chapters show you how to write, and most importantly how to sell, magazine features, reviews, news items, short stories, memoirs and books.

Start Writing Today reveals the three-step trick to selling any article or book, and how to nurture professional relationships that will help you earn for years to come.

Everything in this book is based on my personal experience of being a full time writer for more than twenty years, and at every step of the way includes examples from my own work to show how the techniques, tips, cheats and hacks worked for me and how they can work for you.

Most of all, this book will show you how you can start writing today.

Click here to buy Start Writing Today.

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Interview with Circus Mania author Douglas McPherson

What inspired Circus Mania? What are my favourite circuses? How do I see the future of circus? Click here to find out in this interview with My Weekly.

Blame the Daleks!

"Buy Circus Mania or be exterminated!
Obey! Obey!"

What have Dr Who's arch enemies got to do with the circus? Not a lot, except that while I was wondering what to call my circus book I found myself gazing across the office at my Dalekmania calendar, and suddenly it came to me: Circus Mania!

Soon afterwards I wrote a short story set in the era of Dalekmania. It’s called My Dalek Days - a Dr Who-dunnit on a film set in the swinging 60s. It was published by My Weekly and they generously gave me a nice plug for Circus Mania at the bottom of the page. In case you haven’t seen it, here’s the story. (Read it from behind the sofa if you wish...)

"Seek, locate... and buy Circus Mania!"

A Dr Who-dunnit in the swinging 60s

by Douglas McPherson

Everyone wondered how the Daleks moved around. Some people thought they were remote controlled. But it was a lot less complicated than that.

Someone like me had to sit inside on a little bench, with my feet sticking through the bottom, and push the thing around on casters - all the while remembering to wiggle the eye stalk and the arm with the sink plunger on the end.

It was very cramped and dark inside, and could get pretty claustrophobic during a long day’s filming. Especially as you knew you couldn’t get out. It took two men to lift the top half into place, so once you were in, you were trapped.

Visibility through the wire mesh grill was very poor and communication was difficult. You could hear what the actors and director were saying, but nobody could make out what you were saying unless they put their ear right up against the grill.

We didn’t do the voices, you see. All those shouts of “Ex-ter-min-ate!” were done by an actor by the side of the set, with a funny little gadget to change his voice. We just had to remember to press a button that made the lights on the top our heads flash while he was talking.

It was a fantastic break for me, straight out of drama school in 1966. The Daleks were almost as big as The Beatles. Dalekmania they called it, and everyone was saying the metal monsters’ second big screen adventure was going to be the biggest film of the year.

Peter Cushing as Dr Who
Peter Cushing was playing Dr Who with Bernard Cribbins as his sidekick, and it was a wonderful opportunity to work with such great actors - even if no one was ever going to see my face!
On the posters, the Daleks were given a bigger billing than Dr Who. But on set, it was a very different story. Us humble operators were at the bottom of the pecking order.

Not only did we seldom get to socialise with the stars, once we were inside our Daleks everyone seemed to forget we were there at all.

At lunchtime the cast and crew would wander off to the canteen and I’d be trundling after them, waving my plunger and desperately trying to make them hear my muffled cries of, “Hey, let me out of here!”

During the breaks between scenes, people would stand around chatting right next to me as if I wasn’t there. Sometimes they’d even lean on my casing as if it were just another piece of scenery.

At first I thought it was a bit rude. But after a couple of days, I realised I was overhearing more studio gossip than I would as an ordinary extra.

Most of it was spread by Ruby, a mother hen of a wardrobe mistress, with a huge beehive hairdo, who had worked in the studio for years. Whenever you heard her click-clacking across the studio floor in her high heels and skirt that was far too short for her age, you knew you were about to hear some piece of salacious news.

Even when Ruby was on her knees adjusting an actor’s costume between takes, a mouthful of dressmaker’s pins didn’t stop her expressing her opinions.

Most of Ruby’s news bulletins during the first few days’ filming concerned a young make-up assistant called Tina.

The Daleks invade the big screen
Tina was a shy little thing with a Cilla Black haircut - one of those girls who don’t seem to know how pretty they are. But I’d noticed her right away. Well, you couldn’t miss her, really. She came right onto the middle of the set, between shots, and stood on a little stool in her mini-skirt so she could reach Peter Cushing’s head and make sure his shock of white hair was properly teased up for the mad scientist look.

She didn’t notice me, of course. I was inside my Dalek and by the time the day’s filming was over, she was gone.

Generally, Tina tended to stay in the make-up room. And, unfortunately, us Daleks didn‘t need make-up.

In any case, Tina had a boyfriend, a bit-part actor called Steve, who was playing one of the Daleks’ semi-human accomplices, the Robomen - although, if Ruby was to be believed, their relationship was far from happy.

“That poor girl!” Ruby said in a particularly shocked voice one morning.

Twisting around inside my Dalek, I saw through the grill that she was talking to Alf, the burly foreman in charge of building the sets.

Glancing over her shoulder to check no one else could hear her - and clearly assuming my Dalek was empty - Ruby added in a lower voice, “She told him she was expecting, and you know what he did? He laughed in her face and said he wanted nothing more to do with her!”

Alf made an angry noise and put his fist on top of my dome with a heavy thud.

“It’s time somebody took that young man to one side and told him a few home truths,” Alf said forthrightly.

"Daleks are the supreme beings in the circus!"
During the second week, we filmed on location around some abandoned warehouses. It made a change to be working outside but created some problems.

On rough pavements, the Daleks wobbled and shook like shopping trolleys, and in cobbled alleys we couldn‘t move them at all. Alf had to lay plywood tracks for us to roll smoothly along.

While we waited for Alf to complete the task, I watched Steve clowning about as if he were the star, rather than a bit part. He took particular delight in flirting with a slinky-looking continuity girl right in front of poor Tina.

I noticed that Alf was watching him, too, and seemed to hammer in his nails a little more forcefully.

When I arrived for work the following morning, a real-life drama was in full swing. As well as the usual trucks full of lights and cameras, the road to the warehouses was blocked with police cars and an ambulance.

One of my fellow Dalek operators spotted me and said, “I don’t think we’ll be needed today. One of the Robomen was found dead in an alley. It looks like he fell out of a loading bay - from two floors up.”

At the catering van, Ruby had a different theory.

"I'm green with envy!"
As I stood behind her and asked for a mug of tea, she told Alf, “I reckon Tina arranged to meet him up there - then gave him a push. I certainly wouldn’t blame her.”

“It could have been anyone who shoved him off,” said Alf, between bites of a bacon sandwich. “I heard he owed a lot of money - some of it to some pretty nasty people.”

Looking around, I saw Tina on the other side of the road, a check coat hugged tightly over her mini-dress. She looked distraught, and utterly alone, as if nobody knew what to say to her.

There wasn’t much I could say myself. But my heart went out to her.

On impulse, I took my untouched tea over and held it out to her.

As her pale blue eyes flicked up to meet mine, Tina looked surprised, but then grateful as she accepted the steaming mug.

"Whoever put disco lights in here
will be exterminated!"
As it turned out, there was no time to say anything because two men in trilby hats and dark coats had arrived meaningfully by Tina’s side.

“Morning, Miss,” said one of them, “My name’s Inspector Jewel. I’m afraid I’ll have to ask you a few questions.”

The next day, I was back in my Dalek. Steve’s part in the film was too small for his death to threaten the picture and, having already lost a lot of time, the director wanted to press on.

The atmosphere on set was tense, though - and the rumour mill was working overtime.

“They kept her at the police station all night,” Ruby told Alf, as he dusted down my Dalek shell. “But they had to let her go because she had a watertight alibi.”

“Well I never believed it was Tina,” Alf said gruffly. “But I’ll tell you this much, Ruby, whoever did it, did her a favour. She’s better off without that wrong ‘un.”

“You’re right there,” said Ruby. Then, more distantly, she said, “I wonder if she’ll keep the baby?”

Don't worry readers
- it's only a toy!
Well, she did, and now he’s in his forties with two lovely children of his own.

They’re both mad about Dr Who, of course, and they could hardly believe it when they found out their granddad used to be a Dalek.

“Did you exterminate loads of people?” they asked enthusiastically.

“Loads!” I laughed.

Well, one, actually.

But even Tina doesn’t know that.

New edition
coming soon!
Douglas McPherson is the author of Circus Mania - The Ultimate Book For Anyone Who Dreamed Of Running Away With The Circus.

Click here to buy Circus Mania from Amazon.

"Circus Mania is a brilliant account of a vanishing art form."
- Mail on Sunday

And you can read more fiction by Douglas McPherson in comedy crime book The Blue Rinse Brigade. Click here to download the ebook from Amazon.

Monday, 1 May 2017

Circus week in The Stage

It's circus week in theatrical bible The Stage this week, including this piece by yours truly on what happens backstage at the Circus of Horrors...

Click here to read it online.

You'll also find my pieces on the history of Sir Robert Fossett's Circus, and the reasons circus directors give for wanting or not wanting animals in their rings, along with a whole tent-load of other circus articles.

Pick up a copy and tuck it under your arm with the title on view and people will think you're an actor!

How to organise a book launch and create a media circus!

The story of a launch party
as it originally appeared
in Writers' Forum.

With the updated new edition of Circus Mania out now, here's the story, at it appeared in Writer’s Forum, of the behind-the-scenes juggling for the book’s original launch party at Circus Space - now the National Centre for Circus Arts

I planned the launch party before I wrote a word of Circus Mania.

In my proposal to Peter Owen Publishers I said, “Just picture the launch party, in a big top, with horses, clowns and acrobats...”

I sent an author photo with myself and an elephant and made up a cover quote: “A jumbo read!” - Sonja the Elephant, who promises to be at the launch.

That may sound forward, but I believe enthusiasm is contagious. Circus is a colourful, larger-than-life world. I wanted to get that spirit across to the publishers, reviewers, retailers and book-buyers - and I wanted a launch that would set the tone.

Circus Space
- the circus school where
Circus Mania
was launched
Circus Space
Although we discussed launching in a big top, we eventually opted for Circus Space, the UK’s foremost circus school (and now the National Centre for Circus Arts), which is located in a former power station in the trendy, media-friendly London borough of Hoxton.

One reason was accessibility. A big top show would have meant a trip out of town and as Michael O’Connell, the marketing manager, pointed out: “It’s hard enough getting literary editors to a bar in soho.”

Just as pertinently, Circus Space’s publicity man, John Dix, was excited by Circus Mania (which has a chapter on the school). He suggested we hold the launch as part of their open day on World Circus Day and promised to publicise it to Circus Space’s huge database of past students and circus folk.

This created possibilities for advance publicity. Theatrical newspaper The Stage ran a special circus issue and included a half-page article on the launch. I was also able to write an opinion piece on whether circuses should have animals for the Daily Telegraph’s website. They ran it on the day of the launch, giving Circus Mania! a huge plug.

Star attraction
How The Stage
reported the Circus Mania launch
with Gerry Cottle (L)
author Douglas McPherson (C)
and Dr Haze from the
Circus of Horrors
I wanted a celebrity on hand for photo opportunities and because getting the book signed by a circus star would be an added draw to circus fans.

Here I must pay tribute to the best known circus man of the past 30 years, Gerry Cottle. Knowing Cottle would be the most meaningful name to provide a cover quote, I emailed him some chapters and he sent a fantastic quote the next day: “Circus Mania is a passionate, up-to-date look at the circus and its people.”

Having already helped me so much, I didn’t expect him to travel to London from his Somerset home, but within five minutes of inviting him to the launch, he phoned and said, “I’ll be there and give you all the help I can.”

At that point it didn’t matter if any other circus ‘names’ turned up. We could tell the press and fans we had the big one.

Roll up, roll up!
While Michael concentrated on inviting literary editors and critics, I emailed an invitation to everyone in my address book. Some were editors and journalists I hoped would give the launch advance publicity, even if they didn’t attend. And I got a plug in some surprising places, such as a quarter page in car magazine Classic American, which has nothing to do with circuses or books, proving that editors tend to support their writers.

I also invited contacts in PR firms, people I’d interviewed, general acquaintances and people I barely knew. After all, who knows if some of them might be circus fans, or spread the word to a friend who was?

Proving the ‘you never know’ theory was a PR whose most recent communication had been to berate me for writing “the nastiest article I’ve ever read” about her client. Not only did she promise to come but she added, “You probably didn’t know I used to be a clown...” I wondered if she was going to bring a custard pie.

Inside Circus Space
It was heart-warming to get good luck messages from people I wouldn’t have expected to care less about my book - and to reconnect with old friends, such as Roger Foss, my former editor at What’s On.

“I’ll be the one in the sparkly tights!” Roger emailed.

“As long as they don’t clash with mine!” I replied.

What I didn’t realise was that Roger had a guest spot on LBC Talk Radio. A few days later I got an email from a friend: “I’ve just heard them talking about your book on the breakfast show...”

The new edition
out now!
We announced the launch on the day I received the page proofs. They came with a schedule arranged with military precision: Proofreader’s Qs to author 25 Feb; Queries answered by 1 Mar; Second proof for indexing 10 Mar; Index by 17th; Final Qs by 23rd; To print 25th; Delivery 9 April - a week before the launch, so not much margin for error.

“It’s always a nail-biting race to the finish,” said overseas rights manager Simon Smith. Michael said he’d attended launches  where they didn’t have the book ready. He assured me we’d be OK, but his words came back to me as I waited for the proofreader’s queries and realised we were already a week behind.

Two days before the launch, with no sign of the book, I asked Michael if it was back from the printers. “I know we’re cutting it fine,” he replied, but assured me the printer would deliver copies direct to Circus Space in time.

Gerry Cottle to Dr Haze: "It's not a
rock'n'roll show!"
And so on the big day  found myself driving from Norwich to London with no idea if the books would be waiting for me. What a relief, then, to walk inside and see piles of freshly minted Circus Mania paperbacks laid out like a feast on a crisp white tablecloth.

Having spent a year writing, researching and publicising the book it was wonderful and quite moving to finally hold one in my hand. Flipping through the pages, I felt another wave of relief, as editorial director Antonia Owen had told me she’d known launches where the printer had put the wrong book in the cover.

Our hosts at Circus Space did us proud, with uniformed waitresses serving drinks against a backdrop of people swinging on the trapeze and walking the tight-wire. On the sunny terrace outside, students strolled about, juggling with balls and clubs.

I didn’t perform myself - the relaxed mood was more suited to mingling than a formal reading. But Gerry Cottle made a nice speech and said he thought Circus Mania would give a good boost to the circus industry. Dr Haze, the charismatic ringmaster from the Circus of Horrors, graciously signed books for the fans, as well as posing for publicity pictures with me.

Tha late publisher Peter Owen
who was awarded the OBE for
services to literature
With plenty of people from Peter Owen manning the book stall, I was free to meet and greet, shake hands and sign books. The three hours passed in what felt like a third of that time, and as the tables were cleared away I felt it had been a huge success.

I particularly enjoyed the opportunity to meet and thank all the people from Peter Owen - and to discuss future strategy with them, such as which were the most circus-orientated countries to target for foreign rights.

The most rewarding part of the day was, of course, seeing the readers who’d come along to buy a copy. I’ll never forget the beaming face of the young American lady who bought the very first book. She looked so excited I thought she was going to faint. She made me feel like the biggest star in the world as I inscribed her copy with the traditional big top salutation: May all your days be circus days!

Click here to grab the new edition of Circus Mania! - and may all your days be circus days!