Mad Cows Saga

Brian J Ford

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From abattoirs, aluminium and Alzheimer's disease, to wine gums, yoghurt and Zantac; I am finishing an index. This one has 361 entries. It is for my BSE: The Facts book and the courier is sitting outside, finger on the start button, ready to be off to the printers.

They say the book sets records for scientific publishing. If so, that's incidental. My idea was to set down the facts in a readable form, and to interpret them openly and directly. The speed came because the diary was already full.

Since BSE hit the headlines I have spoken about it many times. Six years ago I chaired a meeting on the subject in London, and was recently on a TV programme with the infamous Stephen Dealler and Richard Lacey. When I mentioned how the public needed the facts, there was a storm of applause. So by 21 March 1996, when the Evening Standard rang from London to ask for 1,000 words (`within an hour, if that's all right') I took it as a chance to set out the essentials, as far as one could.

It's amazing how many people saw it. Next Monday I sketched out some ideas for a book on the subject. Odd how I didn't manage to do it at a sensible time (like two months earlier). The following morning my publishers said it ought to be quickly done, and they couldn't handle it so fast. My book for them is already taking shape anyway.

I had been asked about some book ideas by Jonathan Cape, so faxed the idea to them on Wednesday. They turned it down, too, because of the speed, and I was on the point of leaving the subject when I left a message for Corgi books. They had published one of my paper-backs years ago, and came straight back with a request for a proposal.

By midnight I had a 12-page summary faxed to them. Next day they wrote out their cheque. I was in London at the Institute of Biology. `There ought to be a public source of information on all this', the new President was saying to me.

On the Monday I lunched with the publishers, and agreed to finish the writing by 30 April. Tuesday I was in London (with the Mensa youngsters on the Big Breakfast, among other things), so started work on 3 April. The book took six and a half days to write. It was edited by the weekend, with the index done on the 17th. Corgi were terrific, and set a date for printed and bound books on 29 April - just 26 days from starting on the text. Stephen Dealler's Lethal Legacy was already written, and still took 28 days to print, his publishers told me.

In the end, it took Corgi three days longer to return the countersigned contract than it took me to write the book. It was contracted at 50,000 words, or a little more. I had to assemble the separate chapter files into continuous manuscript for the index, and had the word count displayed at the end. It was 50,043. I hope that's all right.

See also: the BSE book details page, and the bibliography since publication. There is a diary of the project which gives the 'landmark' dates.

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