Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise. – Proverbs 6:6
“It was mesmerizing to watch the ants hard at work, marching in an impressive, choreographed routine, some carrying leaves weighing up to fifty times their body weight!”
Every book has a story, many stories, and this one certainly does. Katharine’s book begins with a description of a busy worker, the ant, and how our daily grind can feel as full and busy as the little life of that tiny invertebrate. She goes on to tell us how Covid, and the pause that lockdowns brought, gave her a chance to see a life lived differently; at a slower pace, with time to be thoughtful and deliberate. Katharine realised she wanted to be like the lioness: “resting and yet fully alert, attentive to the moment, ready to jump up and go the distance at a second’s notice. Attentive. And yet completely still. Attentive stillness.”
The rest of the book lays out the ways and means of becoming more “attentive to God’s presence in the midst of the demands of the day … [allowing] activity to flow from that place of stillness, love and peace.” Katharine has written Born Free beautifully and many people – at Care for the Family, at the publisher and elsewhere – have worked extremely hard to bring this book to life.
But I’d like to tell you about one of the unsung heroes, the printer. Bell and Bain are a wonderful book printer in Glasgow – they really go the extra mile to get every book just right. If you were to visit you’d see a swimming-pool-sized shed with vast stacks of paper, shelves of printing inks of all kinds of colours, metal plates almost the size of a dining table for printing the pages, book blocks queuing for the binding machine, machines folding and gluing and binding and trimming, and many lovely shiny finished new books coming off the binding line with someone stacking them into boxes and loading them onto the backs of lorries. It’s a noisy, busy factory spinning out thousands of books every hour.
And if you worked there, you might well sometimes feel like the proverbial, industrious ant.
At Muddy Pearl, we try to take care about the design and spec of our books. With this one, we felt it was extra special and pushed the boat out – the paper is creamy, 90gsm Muncken, it’s burst bound, which means extra care has been taken to make sure it lasts. The cover is fine linen wibalin in olive green over boards, gold blocked on the spine with printed endpapers reflecting the jacket design. And the jacket has the title picked out with spot UV.
We really were quite excited to see how it would turn out. The delivery was on time, or even early. And the books were lovely.
And then came the call. Katharine had been signing the books, and someone noticed there was a blank page. Randomly in the middle. Not at the end of a section or chapter, so it might seem deliberate. Blank, apart from a running head and a page number.
How could this have happened? And what could we do?
“When we feel as if our backs are against the wall, when life throws us a curveball, it is understandable that we want all to be well. But … even if our prayers go unanswered, even if our worst fears come true, that will not be the last word … We will still trust Him.”
There’d been a late change, the page layout somehow slipped, and none of us had noticed. Importantly, I hadn’t spotted it when I approved the final proofs on the printer’s online portal.
But it was done. What to do? Pulp them all and start again? How could we possibly justify all that waste? Could we just put in an erratum slip? If so, what would it say?
Sharon at Bell and Bain came up with the plan that we could try and tip in a page. I said, ‘What is that?’ Well, now I know.
The pallets of books were collected from all the distributors. Katharine wrote exactly one page of new text – good and important text – and David typeset it so that it would flow exactly. We proofread very, very carefully. Bell and Bain printed the page. And the team sat around a table, painstakingly cutting out one page, and sticking in a new one. The books were boxed back up, packed on pallets and into the backs of lorries and shipped back to the warehouses. All done.
A couple of weeks ago our account manager was over in Edinburgh and asked to have coffee. He told me they’ve had a lean time lately and he’s having to work hard to fill the time of the hungry printing machines. And so, even though we’re small, they’ve been glad of the work we’ve sent them recently, of several reprints, and Born Free, and the tip in (which, painfully, cost the equivalent of a paperback print run).
“The Bible uses the Greek word kairos to mean an extraordinary moment or appointed time in the purposes of God that invites a response.”
As we drank our iced coffees, he told me that doing the tip in had been a significant time for them, something along the lines of this: doing hand work; skilled, careful work, everybody sitting around a table, quietly cutting 5000 pages out of 5000 books and carefully sticking 5000 new pages in, it felt a bit like the old days. It seems, as they quietly sat and cut and stuck over several days, they had time to talk. And, although he didn’t say this, it sounded to me like a kairos moment. A kairos moment when they had time to be attentive – if not directly to God, then certainly to the work they were doing, and to the book Katharine has written, which tells of her faith. Attentive to the page which they were sticking in, which as it happens, is about Jesus, and the cross, and how, even in our darkest times, our lives are in his hands.
“The digital age means we are more connected than any other generation yet, at the same time, many are more lonely and isolated than ever before. In a culture that encourages fierce independence, we need community and relationship. It was what we were made for. Rugged individualism and doing life on our own are not part of God’s design for humans to flourish.”
And so, when you buy your copies, if you run your finger around the edge of the page, you’ll feel a little ridge. A slight unevenness. I’m very sorry about that. But bear in mind, it’s the mark of a kairos moment for a printing team, when they got to be attentive to the story of the cross. And every single book will be different. Unique. Because a page has been tipped in by hand. A page about Jesus, and the cross, and how he’s with us even when things seem dark.
And that is one of the stories behind this book. My prayer is that as it goes out, it will reach many others in ways that we might never plan or expect or imagine, and that it will be a blessing to every one of you.