Tag Archives: Society of Authors

The dreaming writer at the royal garden party

Lots of creative teachers talk about the importance of taking time out from your normal routines and doing new things, to refresh your creative energy. It’s commonly called ‘going down to the well.’

I was way outside my normal routine last week at the Buckingham Palace garden party – frocks and fascinators are not really my thing! In case you’re wondering, my invitation came through the Society of Authors – I’ve been a member for most of my writing career and taught several creative blockbusting workshops for them.

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The afternoon progressed like a well-oiled machine. The queues moved very quickly through the gates, despite the huge number of guests.


The National Anthem announced the Queen’s arrival and, while the band played and everyone was upstanding, she came out onto the steps, flanked by Beefeaters.

The Beefeaters accompanied her as she walked among the crowds so, although we couldn’t see her, we knew where she was by the tips of their pikes.

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The cakes were divine! After tea my friend and I had a stroll round the gardens, coming back to find staff moving among the guests with trays of lemon barley water and little tubs of ice cream.

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It was a brilliant opportunity to enjoy that most favourite of writerly pastimes, people-watching. A clutch of Bishops, a pair of robed academics, a scattering of groups in African dress, a gaggle of jovial mayors.

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Even the Ladies’ Lavatories were an experience, set as they were beside the big lake, and attended by a woman who checked each cubicle as it became vacant, presumably to make sure the bowl was clean and there was plenty of toilet paper, before personally ushering the next person in.

Very few people actually got to speak to the Queen yet the surprising thing, for me, was that it felt quite personal. Buckingham Palace didn’t feel like a massive public building, but somebody’s home, and the party was just in their garden.

I realise I may be sounding like a royalist, but I’m not. I’m not a republican either.  I think there are good arguments both for and against having a monarchy.

But as a dreamer, it seems to me that kings and queens, princes and princesses do something quite extraordinary. They are like living archetypes, symbolising for us universal qualities, even though they may not, in their own personal lives, be any less complicated, flawed and human than the ordinary person in the street.

I was first struck by this in the outpouring of grief when Princess Diana died. It was so surprising and disproportionate, I felt we were not grieving the person she was but what she symbolised – a quality of caring kindness that seemed to be slipping away in the post-Thatcher era.

It’s the same with the royal wedding last week. We don’t know what Prince Harry and Meghan are like as individuals, whether they row and bicker behind closed doors – but thousands of people enjoyed their wedding because there they stood before a nation as the representing the romantic Hero in all of us, the perfect Princess and the possibility of lifelong romantic love.

Seeing the Queen standing there on the steps of her home, I was really aware of the strangeness of her existence. Through the doors behind her lay her domestic life, where she is just a person like the rest of us, but as soon as she steps outside she is no longer a woman; she becomes absolutely her role, as Queen.

The dreamer in me, like the writer, found the whole experience intriguing.


When do authors need to seek permission, and how do you go about it?

Copyright is an important protection for authors’ creative property but the rules are hard to fathom, especially in the internet age. I’ve been doing some research…

The first task I’m having to tackle in self-publishing ‘Writing in the House of Dreams’ is gaining permission to include quotations from other books.

I’ve only had to do this once before, when I wanted to use a sentence from the work of CG Jung in my book for adults about bullying. Permission was granted, but there was a fee of £40 to pay, and this was a decade ago. Other authors have approached my agent for permission to use extracts from my books and the fees we have charged have been between £75 and £150, but these were for quite sizeable chunks.

The only permission I've sought before now, for my book, 'Your Child: Bullying' back in 1998
The only permission I’ve sought before now, for my book, ‘Your Child: Bullying’ back in 1998

My dream book includes forty-seven quotations of varying lengths, so having whipped out my trusty calculator and updated the likely fees to take into account inflation I considered abandoning the idea of including quotations at all, or at least cutting the number right down.

But the quotations I’ve chosen are all wonderful and I didn’t want to lose a single one of them, so I did some research. It seemed to me that perhaps copyright laws might be less rigid now with the internet, where loads of people use quotations freely in blogs and fb pages. I asked several of the most high-profile bloggers and fb pages I follow whether they sought permission for the quotations they use, but not a single one of them replied.

So I looked up copyright permissions in the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook, and discovered that here in the UK you don’t need permission to quote from someone who has been dead for more than 70 years, although the cut-off time may vary in other territories. That straight away meant I could take eight of the quotations off my list. I felt encouraged!

One of the quotes I can use freely, being outside copyright (Rilke died in 1926)
One of the quotes I can use freely, being outside copyright (Rilke died in 1926)

Unfortunately, most of the rest of the information felt frustratingly vague, so I then emailed the Society of Authors with a list of questions. Since most of my quotations were very short, I thought I might not need to seek permission at all because a big issue seemed to be how much you wanted to use, and there was something called ‘fair use’ for little snippets.

I’ve since discovered that different publishers have different interpretations of the term ‘fair use’, and there’s no actual rule about how many words you want to use before you have to seek permission.

My agent advised me to seek permission for everything, even if it was only a few words, and hope that publishers would not charge me a fee for quotations that were barely more than a name-drop for their authors.

When you seek permission, you have to contact the first publisher of the book you want to quote from. I found this wasn’t always easy especially when the publisher had gone out of business or the author had died and I couldn’t easily find out who owned their copyrights. But everyone I contacted was very helpful, pointing me towards agents or in some cases individuals who might be able to grant the permissions I was seeking.

It’s felt like detective work – long-winded but rewarding. I’ve sent dozens of email enquiries, one postal enquiry where I couldn’t track down an email address and another one where the rights-holder didn’t possess a computer or use the internet.  I’ve had to fill in complicated forms for larger publishers and send  sections of my book to publishers who have wanted to vet it before granting permission for their authors’ work to be included. Sometimes I’ve had to contact separate rights-holders who hold different rights in the same work, say e-book rights or paperback rights, world rights or only certain territories.

Straightforward it is not. But so far, thirty or so rights-holders have granted my request and only six of them have charged me a fee, so it looks as if I’ll be able to include most of the quotations I want to use in ‘Writing in the House of Dreams.’

There have been unexpected bonuses in having to seek all these permissions, which initially seemed such a chore

  • because I’m a scribble-in-the-margins kind of reader rather than an organised note-taker, it’s meant flicking through some books I haven’t read for years in order to track down quotations and realising how deeply their wisdom has since affected my life
  • it’s drawn my attention to related organisations and further reading that I now want to investigate
  • it’s meant I’ve had interesting email exchanges with lots of different people, including one of my all-time dream-heroes, Patricia Garfield
  • one publisher I sought permission from has asked to see my whole MS

Have you ever had to seek or grant permissions? Can you add to my understanding of copyright?