Doug's Book Chapter Three
A Cast of Thousands
When the Russians and Americans were locked in rivalry over their space efforts through the late 1950’s into the 1960’s, the Soviets had one genius above all others on their side. Sergei Korolev was their main rocket scientist, a brilliant man who was responsible for much of the development and design that went into the big rocket propulsion systems. Partly because they were afraid of him being personally identified by the Americans, partly because it served the secretive nature of the Soviet system, Korolev was kept in the shadows despite the crucial part he played. He was simply referred to obliquely and enigmatically as The Great Designer.
Simon Bishop is Freeze Frame’s Great Designer. The man has a quietly magic feel for the page. Not for him the messy layouts that can all too often dominate a book that’s using lots of pictures. I remember an early brainstorm session about the book – we decided there would be three criteria we’d try to fulfill. We wanted it classy, and elegant, but also friendly. Simon grabbed that concept and immediately began to refine it. Each spread was a challenge to him, he had a knack for making each subtly different, playing to the strength of the individual pictures so that the end result had a uniqueness but was also clearly a page that belonged in the brotherhood of the book.
Roz Kidman Cox is a long standing friend. I’d written articles for her when she was editor of BBC Wildlife. Now she’s freelancing, with a string of BBC books to her name. She had faith in my ability to write the stories that my book now needed, and that was always her mantra. “Just write them like you’d tell them” she advised me. She also reassured me when I was thinking very early on about how to break the book into chapters. I was asking how about “Antarctic – Arctic?” “Year by Year?” “Animal Stories here, People stories there?” Roz just said not to get bogged down, just get the words on the page, the divisions would suggest themselves later. “And” she added “Doing them down the line will mean we come up with ideas a lot more novel than these ones on the table from you now.” She was dead right. We were both on the same wavelength right from the start over the style. I could usually come up with a first draft that was 90% ok, but we’d go through many fine tuning rewrites, wrangling the phrase or the grammar to the ground then kicking it around some more until we were both satisfied. Hackles were raised (and then just by a few millimeters) only over hyphens – I was a minimalist while Roz was a perfectionist. You can judge for yourself when you read the book.
We made a good trio - similar sense of humour, lots of mutual respect, minimal egos. I sensed from the start that this was going to be a book where the eventual whole product would be greater than the sum of its parts. It immediately felt like the process of making a film, but with a small number of like minded people compared to a big series. I’m not at all knocking my involvement with the big series but it’s simply that their huge scope and ambitions mean big all round scale. One off films I’ve done like Life at the Edge, Polar Bear Special, People of the Sea or A Boy Among Polar Bears give a different buzz, a bit more intimate. Small is beautiful sort of thing. This was the feeling of the book.
Right from the word go, I also had the vision for the final product – all those false starts over the years weren’t wasted – and to have involved a publisher would have slowed up things up, would have meant somehow immediate compromise with that vision. It just would have been hassley. We also had the figures for Sue’s Cold Places which had been self published a few months earlier. I could see the encouragingly brisk sales coming in for that. That gave me further confidence.
So with all the experience of 35 years in the poles, and all the naivity of a second time self publisher, in April 2011 we hit the road.