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Artyness columnist Barbara Henderson is buying a second copy of one of the most important books for writers which proved a vital marker for her in her hopes and dreams of being published

By Barbara Henderson

Another Sunday afternoon in Waterstones Inverness.

Pete, the manager, is climbing through the window to fix something in the display.

Barbara Henderson.
Barbara Henderson.

I head straight for the counter.

‘Can you point me to the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook please?

It isn’t where I would have expected it, tucked into a literary criticism section at the end of the fiction shelves. But ah, there it is, its bright red and yellow cover, reassuringly chunky with its 816 pages of every piece of information anyone could possibly need on the path to publication.

The go-to-source-of-all-knowledge for writers to be.

I vividly remember purchasing my first copy, more than a decade ago.

At the time it felt like a foolishly extravagant and expensive indulgence.

But I was putting down a marker: I was serious about writing, and about getting published, and about being a writer.

Writers' & Artists' Yearbook.
Writers' & Artists' Yearbook.

The yearbook under my arm proved it.

I annotated that first copy furiously: every submission to literary agents and independent publishers was carefully marked in the margins.

I highlighted relevant sections and folded down pages – yes, I am that kind of reader.

Books, for me, are not to be sacredly preserved.

They are to be interacted with – and as I am a visual kind of person (with a brain like a sieve), this often means writing down my responses.

My daughter was delighted when I presented her with my own annotated copy of Othello. Not only did she not have to buy it, but she probably imagined that my literary insights may save her some effort in her studies. Until she realised that around half of my comments were things like ‘Oh, get a grip, Desdemona!’ and ‘Nooo, don’t do it Iago!’ – a fact not lost on her amused classmates.

Back to the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook. Why would I buy another copy now, when I am already working with publishers and when I already have an agent? Surely, by now, I should understand how it all works.

Ah, but you see, it’s not for me.

The best boss I have ever worked with, my headteacher at Cradlehall Primary School, has just retired. His speech had us all in stitches and it occurred to me that a man who loves words as he does, with a head full of hilarious anecdotes, and now – finally – with some time on his hands, may just become the James Heriot of primary teaching.

He has a book in him, of course he has. I can see it plain as day! And by presenting him with the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook, I hope he will see it too.

On it, I fixed a note: ‘We both know you are a natural raconteur.

‘Do us both a favour: USE THIS.’

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