An insight into the publishing world…

Archive for the ‘Blog Tours’ Category

RED DOOR PUBLISHING – LOVING THE LIFE LESS LIVED BY GAIL MITCHELL

Here is my 7th book review for my #52Booksby52Publishers 2017 reading challenge, in time for #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek.

This cause is very important to me, as an editor of mental health self-help and non-fiction books, so I was very pleased to be contacted about this book.

Today’s publisher is…

 

RedDoor-with-text-e1425904255497-1

RedDoor is a genuinely innovative publishing house, home to some of the UK’s most exciting authors.

Our list is strong and focused, comprising brilliant fiction, commercial non-fiction and thought-provoking business books. We’re extremely selective in what we take on, and – once a book is with us – we work very, very hard for its success.

 

The brilliant book they’ve given me to review is:

Book review

 

The literary world needs more books like these. Simple as that. (Thankfully, I’m working day in, day out at Trigger Press to make this a reality!)

Loving the Life Less Lived is about Gail Mitchell’s life story. But more specifically, it’s about her story with severe anxiety and depression, and the ups and downs that these conditions have brought to her life over the years.

This book is categorised as a ‘self-help book’ on the back cover but actually fairly early on in the book Gail Mitchell admits that it isn’t. It’s not a self-help book; it’s more an educational story of one woman’s horrific battle with severe anxiety and depression, interspersed with tips, ‘toolboxes’, and life lessons that she’s picked up along the way. She isn’t pretending to have the solution; she isn’t trying to be a doctor or claiming to be able to solve your mental health issues. She’s simply a woman who’s been through some of the worst things mental illness can throw at you, and wants to share coping mechanisms with you now that she’s on the other side.

She’s also very honest in this book: she doesn’t pretend that she’s completely free of anxiety. In fact, she does something far, far more valuable – she advises you to embrace your anxiety. The crux of it all is that things were far harder for her for a long time when she didn’t accept who she was and what she suffered with. When she tried to run away from anxiety, all it did was catch up with her and knock her down. When she embraced it and accepted herself for who she was, she was able to face the anxiety head on and get to know herself. As a result, she learned what helped her and what didn’t; what helped keep anxiety at bay, and what exacerbated it. She learned to discuss it openly and live with, and around, her mental illness. And only then did she realise that not only could she Love the Life Less Lived, but she could teach others to love it too.

A lot of people who suffer with anxiety struggle to put the experience into words: thankfully Gail has no trouble with this and her descriptions of her anxiety attacks are so vividly depicted that I could easily climb into her mind and understand what she went through (I’m unsure if this would need a trigger warning: I suffer with anxiety myself and it didn’t make me feel anxious; it just made me feel like there was some kind of unspoken understanding between me and the author, and because these scenes are quickly and effectively counter-balanced with tips for feeling calmer and happier, I didn’t feel triggered whatsoever. But I’m just one person.)

Gail also comes across as incredibly wise, not just in an intelligence sense (though, as an ex-accountant and successful professional, she is clearly very intelligent) but in an emotional sense. And she takes us through her journey and teaches us, as readers, how she became emotionally wise and how we can be too. She makes us realise that the simple things in life can be the most rewarding, beneficial, and healthy. She makes us reevaluate ourselves and our priorities and reminds us to feed our souls and creativity, rather than just our corporate ambitions (though of course this is important to many people too).

I’m not going to pretend that the tips in this book are brand new or groundbreaking, as I’ve read a lot of them before and a lot of them are just general good practice for life (but, to be fair, I work in mental health publishing, so maybe they’re not as familiar to others as they are to me!) but they are pretty smart and founded in research – they discuss having a good diet, the importance of sleeping well, picking up hobbies, giving CBT a try, etc. Many of them do, admittedly, feel like a little bit of basic common sense but it’s only when you really stop to think about it when you realise that actually, you’re probably not as great at sticking to these healthy life habits as you think you are.

What I liked about Gail is that she isn’t arrogant or preachy (she does discuss her faith a little bit, which isn’t relevant to me as an atheist, but not once did I ever feel uncomfortable with this part of the book) and she admits fully when she doesn’t always follow her own advice. In order to feel human, I think, we need to know that it’s humans, warts and all, that are advising us. That way, there is no holier-than-thou attitude within the pages to balk at – just holistic, intrinsically kind advice to help us through the dark days.

Many times in this narrative stigma is all too well depicted, as we all know it exists, especially in the workplace. But there are some very touching scenes within this book that prove the strength and effectiveness of kindness and understanding. Actually, a lot of this kindness and understanding in Gail’s life has come from strangers (in the street, in the shops, at work) but it always helped her enormously.

Gail’s writing is honest, frank, funny, and enjoyable to read. It also doesn’t sugar the pill, and that is what society needs right now. We need to be open and honest about mental health, and we need to try to help one another. Red Door Publishing and Gail Mitchell do this very well in this book.

I very much enjoyed this book – four stars from me!

To buy the book from Amazon, click here.

 

four stars

*Blog Tour Stop* End as an Assassin Author Interview

I’m very pleased to be hosting an interview today with the author of the book I’m currently enjoying, End as an Assassin. I must admit, I don’t often read thrillers (although I do occasionally) so I’m grateful to the publisher for offering me the copy of this book. It’s good to read outside of my comfort zone, and this is also a great opportunity to get to know the author behind the novel, Lex Lander.

So, here goes! Enjoy!

EndAsAnAssassin_FrontCoverFinal

 

Hi Lex! 

Hello, thank you for having me!

Your new book – what’s it all about?

END AS AN ASSASSIN is about André Warner, a hit man who, at the start of the story, goes into retirement. He then finds he is at a loose end and his life has lost purpose and meaning. He becomes something of a lotus eater – drink, drugs, loose women, etc. Then his violent past returns to bite him and he finds himself under surveillance by persons unknown. Around that time he meets a woman, divorced, defensive, suspicious of men, and they fall in love. She gets dragged into whatever is going on with him, and ultimately they both come face to face with death. Warner solves the problem the only way he knows how – at the point of a gun.

Why do you choose to write thrillers?

Quite simply, they’re my preferred reading – and therefore my preferred writing!

Why did you choose to start a book series rather than writing standalone novels?

I didn’t.  END AS AN ASSASSIN was meant to be a standalone book. But when I finished it I decided that the character of Warner had ‘legs’ and that I had so much more of his story to tell. This led to a follow up, and now to Volumes III (completed, being edited) and IV (75% complete).

Sell your main character to me – why does he or she deserve the spotlight? What’s unique about them?

Warner is a hit man with a heart! He used to work for the British Secret Service, and killed a couple of bad guys, though only in shootouts, not assassinations. When he left the Service under a cloud, with his much loved wife murdered, he was ripe for any interesting line of work that came up. He kills for a living, but wants out, wants normality, a wife, kids, and a home, but he can’t get off the treadmill.

What difficulties do you face as a thriller writer?

A lack of time, which of course is not specific to writing thrillers. Writing thrillers does not pose many challenges for me, apart from the obvious one of sticking at a story until it’s finished. Research is enjoyable, and I only locate my stories in places I have lived in or visited.

Kaybec publishing – who are they? What’s been the best thing about your publishing experience so far? 

Kaybec is a small company based in Montreal and run by Stuart Kay, who also had a publishing business in the UK in the 1990s. They do not intend to acquire a large stable of authors. They have 2 right now, and will probably never have more than 6, giving the company more time to nurture each one. The best thing about my publishing experience so far is having someone believe in me and my work.

Have you ever been published before? If so, when, and have things changed much since then? If not, how has it been different to how you imagined it might be, and how is it similar?

I have written a few books that were never offered for publication.  My first published title was ANOTHER DAY, ANOTHER JACKAL, published by Kaybec in 2014. I had no imaginings about what publishing would be like, because I thought that getting published would be a longshot. I only landed with Kaybec because a member of my family knew Stuart, and that he had been a publisher (and a writer) previously. I felt lucky that he might was prepared to read it and offer constructive criticism. I never thought he would return to publishing just on account of my book!

Do you have any motivation/resilience tips for when things get difficult, either with writer’s block, difficulties getting published, etc.?

I’ve never suffered with writer’s block. Words are easy, I just keep setting them down on paper, without worrying too much how they flow until I get to the editing stage. As it happens, they usually do flow. The first edit is equally as important as the last. Stuart does the second, and sometimes third, edit, and is very ruthless. Regarding the resilience needed to get published, I am not the one to ask, as it more or less dropped into my lap through the family/friend connection. I am one of the lucky few. I do believe that it’s hellishly difficult to get someone in the trade to even read your work, but if you have the determination, you will get there eventually.

You have to believe in yourself!

 

You can buy the book here on Amazon.

BLOG TOUR GUEST POST – Tindog Tacloban by Claire Morley

Today’s blog tour stop is an incredibly important one: it’s about a book which tells the story of Typhoon Haiyan that devastated the Philippines in 2013. Here author Claire Morley discusses her knowledge and experience of the disaster and her reasons for writing her important book.

Author small

Guest blog with Words Are My Craft

Thank you to Words Are My Craft and Stephanie for giving me the opportunity of a guest post as part of my mini virtual book tour.

In the aftermath of the fiercest typhoon on record to hit land, banners bearing the words Tindog Tacloban started to appear all over the city. Meaning “Rise Up Tacloban”, they were a testament to the determination and resilience of the Filipino people as they tried to rebuild their shattered lives.

For many, things would never be the same:

Izel Sombilon watched in horror as two of his children were ripped from his arms and swept away by the huge storm waves.

Eleven year old Lika Faye was plunged into the sordid underworld of Webcam Child Sex Tourism.

For Helen Gable, volunteering in the typhoon-ravaged area was a chance for her to come to terms with her own personal tragedy.

Making things real

Tindog 3

Tindog 3

I’ve often thought I would like to write a book. In my mid-thirties I spent 15 months backpacking around the world and I had always thought it would be something non-fiction, based on that experience, which would be the basis for my novel.

I had never credited myself with enough imagination to write fiction. I’m a practical, logical person, not a creative one. So it is still with some surprise I find that not only have I written Tindog Tacloban, but people have found it a good story. However, like most authors, I have drawn on my own experiences and those of others for inspiration. In the book there is a background character called Ian and I loosely based him on the founder of the charity I volunteered with, Andy.

I had spoken to Andy about Tindog Tacloban. I told him it was my plan for all profits to go those organisations I had worked with while I had volunteered and I asked him if he would be happy to help promote the book on his charity Facebook pages. He agreed, but asked if it would be possible to have an advance preview. Well, I could hardly refuse!

At this point in the life of Tindog Tacloban, it had only been read by my beta readers and my mentor, Anne Hamilton. Now it was going to be read by someone who ‘featured’ in the book and who had been through a similar experience to the characters I had written. I felt very vulnerable and emotional as I emailed him a mobi file of my ‘baby’. I waited nervously for this opinion and hoped that he wouldn’t be offended by my borrowing bits of him for my book. So it was with huge relief and much gratitude that I read the review he posted on Amazon:

Tindog Tacloban is a great story in its own right but deserves extra credit for handling two incredibly difficult subjects at the same time, and for doing so incredibly well. I’m a survivor of the 2004 tsunami and the opening chapters of this book, which describe the impacts of typhoon Haiyan (called Yolanda in the Philippines), are accurate enough to be quite harrowing at times.

 However, the description is never gratuitous and it’s necessary for the reader to understand the typhoon’s wrath to fully appreciate the context of the subsequent issues of exploitation.’

help

The account of the typhoon taking place was drawn from the stories told to me by survivors. Several of them mentioned being spun around and around as if in a washing machine as the storm surges caught them unaware. The people of Tacloban are not strangers to typhoons, they get them every year, but never had they witnessed anything with the power of Yolanda and they had never experienced storm surges before. Many lost their lives by staying in their home to protect it and their belongings from looters once the typhoon had passed, only to be swept away by the water.

living conditions

I wanted to portray what it was like to be caught up in a typhoon and then try to give the reader an idea of how people survived the mayhem it left behind. Many of those who did are still trying to rebuild their lives and I hope my series of posts over the past five days has made people think, and perhaps buy Tindog Tacloban, so I can continue to help them do so.

Twitter: @clairemorley15

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/clairemorleyauthor

Buy Tindog Tacloban at Amazon: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B014JGI0H0

You can watch the television interview with Claire about how Tindog Tacloban came about at the following link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M3tQbyPVpNw

Typhoon Haiyan, known locally as Yolanda, decimated parts of the Philippines on 8 November, 2013. Two years later, the people of Tacloban continue to rebuild their lives, many of them still living in tented cities with no electricity and no running water. All profits from the sales of Tindog Tacloban go to help the organisations Claire worked with while she volunteered in the Philippines.

Her mini blog tour is in memory of those who lost their lives and to remember those still rebuilding theirs.

*Blog Tour Stop* TARGETED AND TROLLED BY ROSSALYN WARREN

Targeted and Trolled (1)

I am very proud that Words Are My Craft is a blog tour stop for Targeted and Trolled by Rossalyn Warren.

A feminist campaigner is sent death threats online at a rate of over fifty-per-hour. A woman who shares on social media her experience of rape, so that others might feel brave enough to speak out, is bombarded with abusive messages. More than a hundred female celebrities have their personal nude photographs stolen and published by hackers. The victims of these stories of trolling and internet crimes have just one thing in common: their gender.

Most of us use the internet every day, but we rarely stop and think about the way we are received there and whether the treatment of women online differs from the treatment of men. As a Buzzfeed journalist, Rossalyn Warren has first-hand experience of the sexism and misogyny targeted at women online – the insults about their appearance, the rape threats, and in some instances even stalking.

In Targeted and Trolled, Warren exposes the true extent of the global problem. Informative, empowering and inspiring, this book is both a shocking revelation of the scale of the problem and a message of hope about how men and women are working together to fight back against the trolls. [Synopsis taken from Goodreads]

This book is an absolute essential read for any man or woman in this day and age, especially those who are very active online or with social media. So many people have no idea what is going on in the online world – how dangerous and damaging it can be, and just how many women, both high-profile and not, suffer at the hands of trolls and abusers on the internet.

The book offers examples and case studies of inspirational and influential women who have suffered needlessly for being outspoken or even simply for having a presence on the internet. Brilliantly, it also provides examples of abused women from different countries, including Pakistan, a country in which this problem is not widely known amongst the public. It shines a light on the fact that women all over the world and in every kind of community are facing this abuse and that it should not be something that women can’t talk about or seek help for.

It also tackles the stereotype that online trolls are isolated young men. In fact, as the book states, “The reality is, those who commit online abuse can be of any age, race or gender.” The book explores the consequences of there being almost a relaxed sense of morality online. There seems to be a perception amongst trolls that the internet is lawless and that things that are not OK in the real world are fine in cyberspace. People do and say things online that even they themselves would not find acceptable in the physical world. The book also explores other reasons as to why people behave the way they do to women online and whether there are any common character traits which cause people to do so.

It does not discount the fact that men are also subject to trolling and online abuse; rather it effectively outlines the differences between that abuse that women face and that that men receive.  The abuse women receive is gender-centric, whereas when men are abused it is rarely because they are men:

“I really want women to know that when they’re called a slut or a bitch for sharing a comment online, that is very different to a man being called an asshole because somebody didn’t like his opinion.”

Targeted and Trolled backs up its every argument and example with scientific research, case studies and facts and figures. It is both shocking and empowering for women at the same time. It shows us we are not alone and it gives us suggestions as to how we can tackle the problem, and how it is already being tackled by inspirational women all over the world. It is a sobering and fascinating read and is very much needed in today’s society. Whether you’re a man or a woman, read this book and let your voice be heard against this despicable abuse.

A fantastic book. Well done and thank you to Rossalyn Warren for speaking out for women everywhere.

Blog Tour Q&A: Johnny Rich, author of The Human Script

I am delighted to host a blog tour stop today for Johnny Rich, author of The Human Scripta book I enjoyed immensely and which is now available in paperback by Red Button Publishing. Below, Johnny discusses the book’s journey from writing to publication and his fascination with the major themes within the story…

Johnny Rich, author of The Human Script

Johnny Rich, author of The Human Script

Please introduce yourself and give our readers a brief overview of your career.

My career has been more checkered than a tweed chessboard. It’s ranged from publishing to politics, from television to technology and from educational charities to entrepreneurship. Through it all, I’ve tried to piece together a living based on communicating. With words, mostly. 

Fifteen years ago, I quit a well paid job in the media to go back to university to study Creative Writing. I was lucky enough to get a place on the celebrated masters course at the University of East Anglia where, among many other wonderful teachers, I was tutored by such great names as Sir Andrew Motion, W G Sebald and Lorna Sage. A steady stream of writers also dropped by: Ian McEwan, Martin Amis, Malcolm Bradbury, Doris Lessing, Ali Smith, Louis de Bernieres and many other luminaries. 

That year made me recognise two things. First, writing fiction was not something to be ashamed of. Second, it was something I was able to do with at least some skill.

My debut novel The Human Script was something I started writing that year. I had no idea then how long it would take to reach the printed page.

Your book The Human Script has just been published in paperback by Red Button Publishing. Can you tell us a little bit about your book?

I’m not good at summing it up, especially without spoilers. If I could, I probably wouldn’t have felt the need to write it in the first place. For that reason I’m grateful to one reviewer who provided me with a snappy description: ‘a philosophical thriller’.

Obviously, I worked hard to ensure that the story is as engaging as a thriller while, at the same time, deep questions emerge about what it means to be human.

The narrative involves Chris Putnam, a junior geneticist at the turn of the millennium, working on the Human Genome Project, which was the global effort to write down the DNA code that makes us human. It was, literally, the largest scientific endeavour our species has ever undertaken. Chris, however, is no more than a tooth on a cog in the machine.

Against this backdrop, the story begins with the death of Chris’s estranged father. This sets in train a series of events exploring nature and nurture, science and faith, art and celebrity, sexuality, truth and literature.

It’s also a love story, a tearjerker, and occasionally it’s funny too. Or that’s what I hope.

As a triplet, I am always interested in books and literature about identicals and multiple births. What drew you to this subject matter?

Going back to Shakespeare and beyond, twins are a classic literary device. Not only do they provide great scope for plot twists based on confusion (most of which I avoided as they often come across as contrived), but they’re also a sort of natural ‘what if?’ What ifs are central to the theme of The Human Script.

For the same reason, twins are critical to the study of human behaviour and genetics. If identical twins – who share the same genes – behave differently, how do you explain the difference? The simplistic answer is that it’s down to their environment: their nurture rather than their nature. (As it happens, it’s more complex than that. It’s the chaotic interplay of genes, upbringing and whole lot else besides.)

Hidden within this nature versus nurture debate though is the assumption that nothing about a person can be outside those influences. If that is the case, we can never be free of our background, of who we are. We are creatures of fate. So where does that leave free will?

To me this question becomes even more fascinating in the context of a novel. The characters act for reasons that they can’t control and, as readers, we have to believe in their motivations, their sense of choice and in the reality of their suffering, even though, deep down, we know it’s all just puppetry on the part of the writer.

Why was it important for you to address some of life’s big subjects such as reality, mental health, religion and philosophy?

These big subjects appeal to my natural curiosity as, I hope, they will to any intelligent reader. But no one wants to wade through a treacle-thick philosophical tract. A good story, with human emotions, turns these big issues into a deep blue pool that it’s fun diving into. And, I hope, occasionally the reader will fish out a few pearls – or at least emerge feeling refreshed.

Having said that, I don’t see big subjects as separate from little ones. Yes, you could trudge through life with great human tragedies played out before your eyes without ever taking notice. Or you could see a universe in the smallest thing. The way a person takes their coffee, for example, might say something profound and important about that person, about all humanity, about existence itself.

I used to be a keen photographer. I always felt that you could point a camera at any object or scene and a talented enough photographer would always find a way to create art from it by seeing it afresh. I now feel the same about writing. A thrilling story can be dull if told badly, but even the most mundane event can be elevated into a tale of epic scale by a good storyteller.

What motivated you to write in a less conventional and more experimental form of writing? i.e less structured punctuation, etc.?

Getting the voice right is utterly non-negotiable in good writing. It’s something I worked hard on and in The Human Script, there are basically two voices.

There’s Chris’s first person narrative, which recounts events as he experiences them. I wanted to avoid that awkward feeling you can get as a reader when a character is telling you the story, that sense of ‘why are they speaking to me like this?’

That’s not how thoughts run in our heads, so I wanted to avoid that for my main character. Instead, I used a variety of styles of stream of consciousness writing. It’s important that the reader is inside Chris’s thoughts because the story turns on him becoming aware that not everything that goes on in his head can necessarily be trusted.

The other voice is a third person narrator. This voice is authoritative, authorial, almost godlike in its omniscience. It’s somewhat portentous and sometimes even pompous. As the novel progresses, the reader should be asking those awkward questions. Why is this narrator speaking to me like this? How do they know? Who are they?

How did The Human Script get picked up by Red Button Publishing?

When I completed The Human Script over a decade ago, it was snapped up by one of London’s top literary agencies. In fact, three agencies were competing for it, which was very flattering. However, at the time, if a book wasn’t about a boy wizard or written by a celebrity, they weren’t interested. Over the next couple of years, just about every publisher turned it down.

Most literary fiction loses money anyway and this novel in particular is hard to categorise, which makes it hard to market. I don’t blame the publishers for not taking the gamble. However much the agents and editors were raving about it, commercially it looked too tough to justify a publisher’s investment.

My manuscript was confined to a box under the bed. Ten years passed, during which publishing changed. The introduction of eBooks and small-run printing meant lower commercial risks for independent publishers. That allowed them to take bigger literary risks.

One evening, I got an email from a friend asking me if any of my arty-farty friends had unpublished novels kicking around. A friend of his was starting up an independent imprint with the specific aim of discovering great books that mainstream publishers had overlooked. My reply email was barely more than an attached file.

Three days later Red Button responded saying The Human Script was the book that been looking for to launch their imprint. They asked for some small changes, which reassured me they knew what they were doing, and the support they have given the book is probably more than I might have hoped for from a bigger operation.

What have you found to be the biggest benefits of publishing with an independent publisher?

Red Button publish books because they love them – books in general and the books they’ve chosen in particular. What more could a writer ask for?

In practice, this means that they’ve spent far more time listening to my views on everything from marketing to cover design than I think would have been the case with a major publishing house.

Of course, it would have been nice to have a publisher with more marketing and distribution clout, but not at any price. I’ve heard tales from friends who’ve been published by the mainstream and whose books have vanished without trace because they’ve been sold as chick lit, horror or historical fiction, when they simply weren’t. When they haven’t sold big in the first few months, they’ve been dropped like a lead jellyfish as soon as their contracts allowed.

Meanwhile, the slow steady burn has worked for The Human Script. Recently, one website called it a “whisper hit”, a reference to the way that, despite the lack of hype, readers have found the novel, loved it and just spread the word.

What have been your favourite reviews of the book to date?

The reviews have all been so generous, it’s hard to pick a favourite, although of course the Words are my Craft review was especially insightful and wonderfully written. (Enough crawling?)

If I have to pick one though, it would probably be the review by book blogger Book ’em Stevo – mainly because it was the first. Among many other kind words, he wrote, “To say I enjoyed The Human Script would be an understatement. It provided me with the long forgotten thrill of not knowing how a novel will conclude, and for that I am grateful. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys clever, well written fiction.”

I read that and thought, “That’ll do.”

So far, there hasn’t been a single bad review, but I suppose it will happen eventually. When it does, I’d like to think I’ll see it in the context of wider praise and I’ll remind myself that literature is highly subjective and a book that everyone likes probably has no real conviction. Probably not, though. It’ll haunt me.

What are you working on next?

I like to range widely, not just in fiction. I’ve recently written a semi-academic paper on an aspect of education. I’m toying with the idea of turning it into something more popular.

Meanwhile, I’ve got two kids and sometimes I tell them stories. Occasionally I think, hmm, that’s got legs. I’ve written a couple down, but not done anything with them yet.

In terms of adult fiction, there are a couple of ideas I’ve been stewing for a while. One is a sort of postmodern retelling of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Another centres around Baron Alexander von Humboldt. I’ll just have to see which one develops first into enough of a plot to demand to be put on paper.

human-script-final

Johnny Rich is the author of The Human Script, published by Red Button Publishing, available now in paperback (£9.99) and eBook (£2.99) formats. To celebrate the launch of the paperback the author will be reading extracts from the novel followed by a Q&A on 17 November 2015 at the Betsey Trotwood, 56 Farringdon Road, London EC1R 3BL. To find out more and to book tickets, visit: http://bit.ly/humanscriptlaunch.

Blog Tour Q&A: James Hannah discusses The A to Z of You and Me!

The a-z of you and me pb

Hello and welcome to Words Are My Craft for today’s stop on James Hannah’s The A to Z of You and Me blog tour! This is such an honour, because as you already know, the book was a wonderful read. Today, James and myself take part in a Q&A, discussing the book and how it came to its brilliant existence. Enjoy!

James Hannah (c) Claire Cousin 1

There is a lot of excitement about this book already, with media attention and nominations for literary awards. Can you describe how it feels to have your first published novel become so successful in terms of acclaim?

Does it go without saying that publishing is not a straight meritocracy? It does in my house. My bookshelves are packed with reminders of that.

What I see when I consider the critical response to The A to Z of You and Me is a small number of passionate people who have taken it and embraced it and worked both persistently and enthusiastically to put it in the hands of the people they would most like to respond to it.

Certainly I worked very hard to make it a successful piece of work on its own terms, but it takes (often other people’s) dedication, creativity and wisdom to persuade readers to choose that work, to bring it towards the top of their teetering reading piles, to open it and to read it.

So the feeling I’d describe is one of surprise, relief and gratitude. Surpriefitude.
(Also: luck.)

How did the idea of setting out the narrative in an A-Z format come about?

I was having a sit and think about constants in life. What are the things that we are all subject to before gender, before nationality, before society impinge? What is common to everybody? Well, in basic terms, everybody has a body of some kind. And everybody has a language of some kind. And it was a short hop from there to begin compiling those kinds of stories that occur in everybody’s body.

If, for example, you have ten digits on your hands, you have the whole reason for the decimal numeral system. Did you know an inch is based on the width of the thumb? Carpenters are thought to have developed it as a way of getting a relatively stable and entirely portable unit of measurement. Hence ‘rule of thumb’.

I could go on, but you get the idea: there are a lot of good stories in anybody’s body. So the absolutely pure and long-distant starting point for this book was the notion of trying to develop a set of stories that would mean something to everyone, and would coalesce into a single character.

It becomes clear from early on that Ivo is dying in a hospice. How did you go about tackling the challenge of writing those fantastically written passages in which Ivo is slowly slipping away and in and out of consciousness?

The main task in those latter passages was to work and work at the language until it was reduced to its essential parts. Early drafts started out with Ivo being unrealistically communicative so I could at least get the shape of the action, and get the dynamics right. Then I pared it down over many drafts until he was almost completely silent, but the shape of the established action remained. They’re the shortest lines in the book, but they inevitably took far and away the most time to get right.

Despite its often-upsetting subject matter, the book is also consistently funny throughout the story. How difficult was it to balance the two extremes within the same narrative?

It was never my intention to turn the screw on the gravity of Ivo’s situation. The interest is not for me in the extremes of his illness or even his dying; indeed, I kept his condition to a minimum, and didn’t have him lose limbs or go blind, as many in his situation do.

There is of course plenty of darkness in his back-story, so it could have been prohibitively miserable.

It was important to me to realise the whole thing in as light and expansive a way as I could. Humour and hopeless situations are not mutually incompatible, so I gave the book the working title of ‘The Body Comedy’ as a reminder to myself that I needed to keep it light. It’s interesting though that I’m often surprised by precisely what people laugh at; laughs often arrive because the rhythm is right, rather than simply because a line is some kind of zinger.

Ivo has many flaws and has made a lot of mistakes throughout his life, and yet he is still inherently likeable and, at least for me, manages to rouse sympathy in the reader. How important was it for you that he didn’t come across as the ‘perfect’ protagonist? How do you personally feel about Ivo?

I’m really pleased you think he’s likeable; let’s be honest and say some readers don’t. They think he is too passive and entirely responsible for his own sorry situation. Personally, I think he’s a kind, gentle, thoughtful character who wants to better himself, but simply doesn’t have the tools or support to do so.

There’s a prevailing opinion among certain sectors of certain societies that you can succeed at anything, as long as you try hard enough. But I don’t believe that always to be the case. I think Ivo really does try to get himself out of a situation that is not his fault, and he makes your average number of mistakes. Who among us has not decided to eat that whole packet of biscuits, open that second bottle of wine, or do something extreme just because? It’s not like he develops an addiction, but rather has a pattern of low self-worth.

I found that this book addressed the notion of social influence throughout. We witness Sheila, his carer, attempt to positively influence Ivo’s mood on a daily basis; we see Mia trying to keep him on the straight and narrow; we watch Kelvin try to get him to make amends with certain people. Ivo, in turn, influences how Amber deals with her mother’s death. Was this an intentional theme or something that came about as the story progressed? Do you feel that Ivo listened to himself more than others?

There is the old phrase ‘you can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family’, which keeps returning to me as I think about The A to Z of You and Me. I don’t think the phrase is true. I think sometimes you end up with friends from the people who remain, and these friendship groups can become toxic or self-defeating.

The difference between past Ivo and present-day Ivo is that, late in the day, he is surrounded by people with a little more ambition for themselves and for him, and that frees him up to make progressive choices. And he has a lot of good to give, and a lot of kindness to realise.

If you like, the entire subject of the story is of Ivo striving to better himself and falling tragically short.

You have been writing for a number of years now, although this is your debut novel. In what ways did taking a creative writing course aid the writing of The A-Z of You and Me? What were some of the biggest lessons you took away from that course?

The A to Z of You and Me was perhaps three-quarters finished when I started the Curtis Brown Creative novel-writing course, and perhaps two-thirds finished when the course ended. It wasn’t cheap or easy, but it represented a big effort to say, well, at least I gave writing a proper go.

I’d been writing for 18 years by that point (autumn 2011), and had always resisted the idea of going on any kind of course (I’m your quintessential autodidact). However, I felt the time was right for me, and I managed to establish how best to communicate with agents and editors, and understand what they are – in a very general sense – looking for.

Sometimes all you need is to know that a thing is possible, and that keeps you going.

You have an MA in Samuel Beckett studies. What appealed to you to do this and in what ways do you feel Beckett has influenced your own writing?

Perhaps the main thing I could say about Beckett is that I relate to his work in a completely instinctive way that I don’t really understand. Even now I’ve read all of it, published and unpublished, he remains unknowable. The forgivable temptation is to try to explain his work, but I don’t find that helps; it just limits it. I only desire to experience it; I come away with an interpretation so personal as to be worthless to explain.

My response is visceral, not intellectual; I am drawn to it, and when I am reading or hearing or seeing Beckett, I feel at home. It’s in the rhythms for me, and is as soothing to me as the rhythms of Nick Drake’s guitar playing or Alan Wren’s drumming.

I suppose Beckett’s (and Drake’s and Wren’s) influence is in a sense of trying to maintain an absolutely disciplined approach while staying loose enough to retain essential warmth.

But then, you know, I have a vexed relationship with Beckett. After all, I have about as much in common with him as I have with my own great grandfather, which is to say on the one hand nothing whatsoever and on the other absolutely everything.

I’ve always been clear though that I never wanted to imitate him. I don’t want to be some kind of Samuel Beckett tribute act. What would I call myself?

What was the most enjoyable part in the journey of creating this novel – from writing to publishing and promoting – and why? Is there anything you would do differently in hindsight?

It really took me by surprise when people became emotionally invested in what I’d written, which is a bit stupid of me, because that’s precisely what I set out to achieve. To hear some of the deeply personal and moving responses to the book is hugely rewarding, and somewhat unsettling. As for what I’d do differently, well, when I gain a bit of hindsight, I’ll let you know.

Lastly – will we be reading/hearing more from you in the future?!

I should probably start thinking about that, shouldn’t I?

I’d like to extend a huge thank you to James, and the publicity team at Transworld Publishers (Penguin Random House) for offering me the opportunity to play host in such an exciting blog tour.

The A to Z of You and Me by James Hannah

I am very honoured that Words Are My Craft is going to be a stop on James Hannah’s The A to Z of You and Me blog tour this September! I adored the book and was flattered to be contacted by the Transworld Publishers (Penguin Random House) publicity team about the tour.

AtoZBlogTourTwo (2)

On 2nd September James Hannah will stopping by Words Are My Craft for a Q&A with yours truly. In anticipation of this exciting event, I am posting a review of the brilliant book here. Be sure to get a copy and read it, and stop by the blog next Wednesday to see James Hannah discussing the book!

The a-z of you and me pb

I’m lying here in a bed, my head full of regret, with only a little bird flitting through a tree to comfort me.

Friends want to visit, but I refuse them. So my carer Sheila has given me a task to keep me occupied.

An A-Z list. Think of a part of my body for each letter. Tell a little tale about it.

When I reach H for Heart, what will I say?

How we loved to string crocheted hearts in trees? How our hearts steadily unravelled?

So I begin with A. Adam’s apple.

Will you be there to catch me when I fall?

This novel is deeply emotional and captures the heart and the mind. Ivo is a 40-year-old ex-addict who is dying and slowly deteriorating in a hospice. James Hannah is very clever in that he managed to create such a dynamic and colourful story with a narrative that mainly involves the protagonist spending every day in bed and remembering scenes from his life. The book manages to be active and action-filled and yet gentle, no doubt engaging a wide range of readers.

Ivo has made a lot of mistakes in his past, and is a deeply flawed character. But that’s simply what makes him so appealing. He becomes real, tangible, someone believable – in whom the reader can really invest their feelings and attention. He has abused his body, abused the trust of his ex-girlfriend, and has lost both control and the respect of those around him. And yet, somehow, he never quite cuts the connection between himself and your heartstrings.

Hannah has filled the book with complicated and richly developed characters. His carer Sheila is a wonderful woman, and a real rock for Ivo. We’ve all met someone like her. She takes no nonsense but has time for everyone. She is a constant for Ivo in a terrifyingly lonely existence. Until he meets Amber, an incredibly strong and yet at the same time vulnerable young girl who is slowly losing her mother to cancer. Here we witness Ivo make a positive impact on another person, influence her for the better, when for so long his influence has had a negative affect on those he loves: his ex-girlfriend Mia, his sister Laura, his old best friends Mal and Kelvin. But that’s what this book is about: how one human being can affect another. Mia is the voice of reason in her relationship with Ivo and often manages to steer him in the right direction; Kelvin and Laura try their hardest to get him to talk to Mal again before it’s too late; and of course, Mal has had a bad influence on almost everyone from the start. How can things be made right when time is running out? Is it even possible, considering who Ivo and Mal are?

The concept of Ivo going through the alphabet and telling a story about a body part starting with that letter gives a clever justification to the non-linear narrative, and the non-linear narrative allows the writer to give us certain information only when it will make the most impact to the reader’s experience. At the beginning of the book, we know that Ivo’s ex-girlfriend is gone…but where? Where did she go, and why? What happened? Why is Ivo so ill, so young? And why isn’t he talking to his sister and his former best friend? We can only find out by following Ivo’s numerous stories and let the alphabet lead us to the answers…

For this reason, the novel is well paced, and it has both the appeal and success of commercial work while featuring the beauty of literary writing. It is quite unique in its style. It is breathtaking, it is artistic. It is more than just a bunch of words on paper.

Of course, I bawled like a baby in the last few scenes, but this is testament only to how heart-wrenchingly brilliant this book is. There is such power in every word, none misplaced or ineffective. The novel was a long time in the making and development but this shows in every glowing syllable. You’d be insane not to give it a go.

Be sure to stop by for the blog tour stop on 2nd September!

James Hannah (c) Claire Cousin 1

Tag Cloud