Behind the Scenes with The Counties of England


Behind the Scenes is a new feature of Charlotte Mason Beehive. Walk with me while I open my heart—raw, uncensored, and authentic—and tell the stories behind Charlotte Mason Beehive, our books, and our family.

Rachel North

The Counties of England, by Charlotte Mason.

This is the book that started it all.

There was no plan behind it, or any grand ideas. I was lying awake in bed one night—a sleep deprived, first time mother who’s suckling child never, ever, seemed to take a break!—when I came up with the brilliant idea to effectively transcribe a book.

Yes, because that’s exactly what every sleep deprived mother should be doing . . .

I’m fun like that, you see.

She looks peaceful, doesn’t she?
What you don’t realise is the little booby monster will be crying out for food very soon . . .

I’d been interested in reading Charlotte Mason’s third geographical reader for some time but I don’t enjoy reading books on screen—articles and short bite sized chunks is okay, but a whole book is just too much—but I was aware that some people were beginning to republish books by Charlotte Mason, or books she had used in her programmes. This intrigued me but I had no hope that Counties would be republished anytime soon. Most books being republished were catering to a distinctly American audience at the time, or were following existing Charlotte Mason curriculum programmes as a guide on what to publish. This makes sense, of course, but as Counties is a book about the geography of England I doubted very much that it was on anyone’s radar to republish.

It wasn’t on mine either.

So, I tried to figure out how these people even did it—transcribe and format the text for republication.

The project I embarked on was meant for my eyes only—and potentially for my children when they are older—so it wasn’t very organised at all. It became a little hobby on the side, which I usually worked on at 1 or 2 am when my eyes were tired and my breasts ached but I couldn’t sleep, while the little perpetrator of my present condition snoozed peacefully beside me, bum in the air, foot in my mouth!

This is the comfy spot where I used to do all my writing in the early days. Always in the very early hours of the morning, always with a warm baby body snuggled up against me. Sitting at a desk to write is a bit of a luxury these days but I do miss the comfort of the bed at times.

As a rare, hard-to-find book, I located The Counties of England on archive.org—that wonderful depository of glorious books and journals from days gone by, what a treasure trove it is—and so that was the base of my project. It was also my first introduction to OCR technology, a magical process which has the mind-blowing ability of turning scanned text into editable text. Who knew?

I learnt a lot working on that project. It was fun, perhaps frustrating at times, but on the whole it was enjoyable. It had to be or I wouldn’t have stuck with it, right?

With OCR, the text is not always converted accurately. You get a lot of incorrectly spelled words or random special characters. This is why if you buy a cheap, badly transcribed print edition of a classic book you can tell when it’s just been put through OCR and then placed inside a book with no care whatsoever, as it is just full of these kinds of errors.

True story—Several years ago I bought Stepping Heavenward, by Elizabeth Prentiss on kindle. I’m not sure why I bought it, whether I’d heard it mentioned online or whether it just looked interesting, but nevertheless I bought it. And I loved it. I read the whole thing. The problem is it was full of errors like the ones I describe above. Absolutely full. I didn’t understand why at the time and I genuinely couldn’t wrap my head around why it had been published without a proper proofread. But I read the whole thing like that! I still need to get my hands on a proper edition to read it again.

So, it takes a lot of work to get a manuscript like that up to scratch. But it was a great feeling once it was done.

Now what, you ask.

Well, nothing.

I didn’t know how to actually print the book once it was done, so it just stayed on my hard drive for about three years until I dug it out again to give it another go.

And let me tell you, the work I put into transcribing the book was really only the beginning. Formatting the manuscript for the purposes of publication was another thing all together. I learnt so much and made so many mistakes in those early days—hours and hours I wasted doing things a certain way only to then realise there was a much easier way! Page numbers for instance—I wrote the table of contents out manually and so every time I had to change something I needed to redo it! Can you imagine how frustrating that was? Oh my goodness, if you only knew the ridiculousness of how I went about some things.

But that’s how we learn, right?

By this time I had already started working on some of my other projects and so things were a lot more streamlined and efficient by now. It’s not nearly so much of a headache as it once was but I do continue to learn and grow with every new book I work on.

At last it was ready but this time rather than keep it to myself I thought I should share it. I’m an introvert by nature and tend to keep to myself so this was actually a big step for me but it gave me the opportunity to step outside of my shell and embrace the community that I have come to deeply love and care for. My talented husband who dabbles in graphic design as a hobby helped me with the cover and then we were good to go.

So I took the leap and I’ve never looked back.

With Counties, if I could do it all over again—and perhaps someday I will—there are some things I would change. I didn’t know how to keep the pagination the same like other publishers have managed to do with Miss Mason’s other books, or to add a different header on to each page—some of my latest books now have this feature—and so it is what it is.

I’m glad I did it. I’m pleased people like it. But it was only the beginning. I will always be willing to learn, to grow, and to try new things. I hope you’ll stick with me while I do.

You can download a copy of The Counties of England for free, or purchase it in hard copy, here.

For further reading on my republication of The Counties of England, please view the article I wrote for Charlotte Mason Poetry, The Story of the Counties of England.

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