Hugh Barclay’s One Day Wonder

A week or so after the Press Gang gathering here in Merrickville, Hugh Barclay, the indefatigable proprietor of Thee Hell Box Press in Kingston, emailed me with a proposition: gather a number of letterpress printers and writers in his workshop and produce a book in one day. He said it would be a One Day Wonder (1DW) and warned me to: “use your good mind to tell me how to do it rather than employing your good mind to tell me why it can’t be done.”

So I signed on immediately, and two other Ottawa Press Gangsters jumped in, along with two other printers and three writers on Hugh’s side. Nine of us met in Kingston on August 17 about 9-9:30 am to write the story, set the type, print the pages and bind up a few copies. It could have been hilarious, and truth be told, it didn’t quite go as planned: it just took a bit longer than expected. The exhausted workers dispersed between 10 and 11:30 pm instead of the anticipated 6 pm. What was originally a one-colour job became a 3-colour job, requiring press change-ups on the fly. A last minute illustration was also included. Otherwise, it went off without a hitch.

My morning was quite leisurely, lining up the writers for their turn at the single computer, writing their piece cold, based on the previous, the first one contributed by Hugh himself. He tormented me by insisting I be the last contributor — the one to tie it all together. I got to bring the finished paragraphs to the press room to further terrify the typesetters, and once came out with a change to the title of the piece, which left me in fear of my life (riled pressmen!) By mid afternoon, the typesetters had run out of type and had to wait for a backed-up press to print page one. As soon as that happened, four of us gathered around the single tray of type and began dissing the type, while another took it out again to set the balance of the story. By dinner we finished that, and the balance of the evening was spent proofing and printing the final pages.

The story, titled A Beautiful Day to Be Dead, is a comic-noir absurdist time warping tidbit about a dead woman (or is she?) named Daphne, who seems to become more and more lively as the narrative progresses, the narrator and a detective named O’Hanlon. In ending the work, I eschewed the obvious vampire angle, choosing instead to finish with a surreal flourish in the last paragraph.

At the end of work, Hugh brought out a bottle of single malt scotch, and we all raised a glass to madcap printing adventures.

Hugh, Peter, Rick, Gina and Jason.

Typesetters at work. L-R: Hugh, Peter, Rick, Gina and Jason.

Kelsey doing her part in the writing.

Kelsey doing her part in the writing.

A Beautiful Day to Be Dead

The One Day Wonder: A Beautiful Day to Be Dead

Soft block illustration

Soft block illustration

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4 Comments on “Hugh Barclay’s One Day Wonder”

  1. donald kerr Says:

    dear one dayers
    where do I get a copy from, for our private press collection downunder at Otago University?
    looking forward to hearing from you with price and availablity.
    donald kerr
    special collections librarian
    donald.kerr@otago.ac.nz

  2. Jeff Macklin Says:

    Wow, this sounds like a great day – count me in next time you decide to do something dangerous. Cheers

    Jeff Macklin


  3. […] Hugh, a fiesty young guy in his early 70’s, is not a man to be daunted easily. With his own press, Thee Hellbox Press, he’s printed several books and pamphlets, and cajoled those of us in the letterpress community to conspire together on collaborative projects. (See Hugh Barclay’s One Day Wonder). […]


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