An insight into the publishing world…

Posts tagged ‘literature’

Introducing Nathan Connolly, Publishing Director at Dead Ink Publishing

I was very happy to bag an interview with Dead Ink books, a publisher I’ve been following for a few years, since I met publisher Wes Brown at a Society of Young Publishers event, when they were an innovative new digital publisher. Here his partner at Dead Ink, Nathan Connolly, gives us an overview of the publishing house and how they went about building a community around their company…

Nathan Connolly Headshot

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

I’m Nathan Connolly and I’m the Publishing Director of Dead Ink. I started in Publishing when I began The Night Light, an online literary magazine, after graduating from University. I’ve worked with The Big Issue in the North, Crécy Publishing and The Society of Young Publishers.

Tell us about Dead Ink Books – how did the company come about? What’s its premise?

Dead Ink started towards the end of 2010 and it was set up with funding from Arts Council England as a digital-only press. This was around the time that ebooks were really just starting to blow up and there was a lot of both panic and optimism in the industry. With Dead Ink we were experimenting with what a book could be – at a time when that really did seem to be a valid question.

As the industry started to come to terms with digital, Dead Ink released its first print titles. When Dead Ink began, it was the medium that we thought was revolutionary. As we developed it became clear that the biggest opportunity presented by digital technology wasn’t in restricting ourselves to solely digital books but in connecting readers to them.

Our focus now is based on two strands. The first is to develop the careers of new literary authors and the second is to do that through experimentation with digital technology in publishing.

What challenges did you face setting up Dead Ink Books?

The challenge of setting up a small press today is that the industry is becoming increasingly concentrated and homogenous in terms of both publishing and retail. We’re fortunate in that we are represented by Inpress books who fight our corner, but overall I think the industry is becoming harder and harder to survive in. I wouldn’t be surprised to see further concentrations taking place in terms of partnerships and mergers.

I think this challenge is also an opportunity, though: publishing needs challenging small presses and I think readers enjoy them too. Hopefully the tide will begin to turn in the next few years and the independents will win back some influence and breathing space. Maybe it’s already begun?

What kind of literature do you publish?

We’re interested mainly in literary fiction. Specifically, we want fiction that is challenging, brave and confident. I try not to define the specifics of what I’m looking for too much. I worry that I will put someone off who would otherwise have been great. I think all the books that I have published so far have surprised me. I wasn’t looking for them and I didn’t expect them.

What achievement to date are you particularly proud of?

We work almost exclusively with debut authors and I think that is something that I’m particularly proud of. We take a huge risk on every author that we publish and put all of our resources into making their book, and their career, a success. Receiving a manuscript and taking it through the long road to publication isn’t an easy process and there is a lot that can go wrong. When we finally receive those books from the printer and we get to give them to a writer who has spent years of their life trying to reach that point then it becomes obvious that all the sweat and tears were worth it. Each time we reach that point we’re reminded of why we started Dead Ink in the first place. Despite our commitment to author development and technological innovation we’ve always been motivated to take a risk on people that nobody else will. That’s what I’m proud of.

How have you managed to build a community around Dead Ink Books?

This is a huge question and one we still don’t have the complete answer to. In fact, this is one of the major questions that we have to ask ourselves every single day in order to make the press work.

I think that we’ve been lucky in that readers seem to get what we’re doing and completely engage with it. There are a lot of safe decisions being made in the industry and I suspect that they find it refreshing to see a small press based entirely on the concept of taking a risk. Authors frequently commit years of their life to working on a book which may never see the light of day. They’re innately risk-takers and when they see a press with that same conviction I think it is refreshing.

On the other hand we commit a great deal of resources to building that community. We get out there into the world and interact with writers at readings and events. We also try to treat our readers as a community not just customers. They’re the reason that we’ve got this far and every time they do buy a book they are having an impact. I think people appreciate that connection. We’re very much not faceless.

Why is it important to have a range of both digital and print books?

This question plagued us when we were digital-only and we always wondered if we were doing the right thing by focusing on a single medium. Eventually we decided that we weren’t. What is important about digital technology isn’t the end product. People want the option to choose whatever they individually prefer. The important part is how we connect. When we were creating just digital books we were holding ourselves back.

The success of that time was the community we had built. When we transitioned to paper books that became apparent and we’ve been growing steadily since. Readers want options and they want to feel involved.

What lessons have you learned about marketing books – what works and what doesn’t?

I still don’t know the answer to what makes a book sell. I only know how we have made it work for us. We don’t have unlimited reach or resources. There’s very little that we can do to actually market the books in a traditional sense.
What has worked for us is to build a community and reward everyone involved for the contribution that they make. I think early on we realised that we couldn’t just treat someone like a customer and forget about them. We really owe everything to the people who buy our books, so it didn’t seem right or fair to just market to them. If someone buys a Dead Ink book then they are taking a risk – just as we are in publishing it – and I think that sort of commitment deserves recognition and reward. That’s what I’ve tried to achieve with the community aspect of Dead Ink and I think that is what keeps us going.

What are you looking forward to for 2016?

2016 is going to be a big year for us with a lot happening. We’re already looking for next year’s authors and hopefully it will be our largest list yet. There are a few authors that we’re already interested in.

There are also going to be further developments in terms of our organisation and technology. I’m still thinking about the relationship between all of the elements of Dead Ink, and in 2016 that should not only grow but also develop to include something completely new.

Readers should expect more books as always, but also a new way to engage with a new type of literature. That’s all you’re getting for now though. We have to maintain an air of mystery.

You can follow Dead Ink on Twitter @DeadInkBooks

Find out more about them at http://deadinkbooks.com/

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Introducing Hull Author Nick Quantrill

Nick Quantrill has become a good friend of mine from Hull and is a big name in the literary scene up North – which is how I came to meet him. He is author of the Joe Geraghty trilogy published by Caffeine Nights Publishing and runs and attends a number of literary events in and around Hull. He’s successful and always likes to help others around him – me included – find opportunities to become more involved in the literary scene. He is the man who helped give me the opportunity to work on the BritCrime online literature festival. He is a lovely man and a talented writer. Below he discusses Hull, literature and crime writing…

NQ photo

Please introduce yourself and give a brief overview of you career.

I’m Nick Quantrill and I’m the writer of the Joe Geraghty trilogy, a series of crime novels set in Hull. Geraghty’s a former rugby league player turned Private Investigator and the books see him deal with a variety of issues. “Broken Dreams” is about the way the death of industry is still being felt in the city, “The Late Greats” sees him babysitting a reforming Britpop band and “The Crooked Beat” takes him into the murky world of smuggled cigarettes. May 2016 sees my fourth novel, “The Dead Can’t Talk”, published. It’s a Hull set crime novel, but with different protagonists.

What motivated you to move away from your previous job and into writing?

I only gave up my day job to write because of the birth of my daughter. After fainting at the price of a nursery place, I thought I’d combine looking after her with writing. How hard could it be? Turns out it’s pretty testing, but also a great opportunity. Of course, writing is my passion and what I want to do even though it’s incredibly difficult to build a career. Maybe I’ll have to get a day job again at some point, but it won’t stop me from writing.

You’ve become very popular and active in author and book events. Why is doing this so important? How has it helped you with your own career and networking?

Unless you’re with a large publisher and a priority for them, it’s all about being visible as an author and discoverability. Getting out into the real world is a great way to achieve that. It’s helpful in many ways, mainly because I’m directly connecting with readers. Beyond that, events and festivals are a great way to meet fellow writers and professionals. It feels like a snowball effect. Once people know your name and face, the more likely it seems you are to be asked to do more things. Lastly, and certainly not least, talking to real people is thrilling when you spend most of your day chained to a laptop!

How did you come to be involved in the BritCrime Festival and what was the most enjoyable part for you? What do you think we can learn from the experience?

I was lucky BritCrime was such an open and welcoming festival. Helen Smith, the organiser, sent a message out to see if other writers wanted to join her and I replied, realising it had the potential to be really interesting. Helen put in a huge amount of work and led the way, but it become a collective effort with the writers involved getting stuck in the promotional side of things. I really enjoyed taking part in my allocated panel, “Crime in the City”, but running the Facebook page for a spell was an education. What I took away from it was the power of the internet. It’s great to go out to festival and libraries, but readers may have many reasons for not wanting to attend such events. This was free and accessible in a different way. I think we’ll see a lot more of this in the future, as writers and readers use different technologies to connect.

Tell us a little bit about your books – how did they come about? Have they been well received?

As a crime writer, my first instinct when I decided to write a novel was to invent a police officer. It’s an enduringly popular way of doing things, but I quickly learned from a failed novel that it wasn’t for me. We have writers like Eva Dolan, Sarah Hilary and Luca Veste who are pushing that sub-genre in interesting directions, so I invented a Private Investigator and immediately felt more comfortable. My take on it was that he couldn’t be anything like the American archetype. He doesn’t have a string of femme fatales walking into his office and nor does he wise crack his way out of difficult situations. I also decided the crimes he’d investigate would have to ring true in an isolated an unloved northern city. I hope I can say my novels have been well-received by readers and peers, but as a writer I’m satisfied that each book shows a progression and more skill.

The latest in the Joe Geraghty triology.

The latest in the Joe Geraghty triology.

Why do you choose to set your books in Hull? How important is it for you to establish a literary scene in Hull?

Simply because it’s my home city and I want to understand it. When I started writing in 2006(ish), it felt like very few people were exploring the place on the page. At the time it was the country’s reigning ‘Crap Town’. Since then, the city has transformed to the point it’ll be UK City of Culture in 2017. It’s an amazing backdrop to have as a writer. I think the rise in the number of writers active in the city has been both organic and engineered. The council have put money into things like ‘Head in a Book’, a monthly literature night which allows a local writer to interview a high-profile guest. It deserves credit as it’s really built an audience and helped people like me develop new skills. I certainly want to be an active member of the literary scene in the city and that means giving as well as taking. I’ve been fortunate to receive help when I’ve asked, so I want to pay that back if I can.

What do you enjoy most about being an author, and what are the challenges?

I enjoy it all. It’s a privilege to be published, it’s a privilege to be invited to places to talk, but most of all it’s a privilege that people choose to spend their time reading my work. It’s mind-blowing, really, when I stop to think about it. The biggest challenge is finding readers, that sense of discoverability when there are so many other good writers out there. It’s not easy, but being generous and enjoying being part of the crime writing community (writers, readers, bloggers etc) goes a long way.

What are the benefits of publishing with a small press?

I think the major benefit is the closeness of relationship you enjoy, the sense that you’re fully involved in all the important decisions. A small press has to be nimble and lean, but they can’t afford to make mistakes. Their titles have to succeed and that means you’re all on the same page. It’s not the only way, of course. I know of writers with big publishers and their experiences range from terrible to excellent. Also, I know writers who have embraced self-publishing. It’s about what works for you.

What is it about crime writing that attracts you the most?

I’ve always been a big reader of the genre. I love the fact it’s such a broad church, but for me, it’s a brilliant tool for exploring contemporary society with. I’m a big fan of writers like Graham Hurley, George Pelecanos, Ian Rankin and Ray Banks. They’re all very different, but what connects them (in my opinion) is a curiosity about people and the way they interact with their surroundings.

And finally, what are you working on next?

The Dead Can’t Talk” will be published May 2016, so I’m currently working on edits. Here’s the blurb:

How far will Anna Stone, a disillusioned police officer on the brink of leaving her job, go to uncover the truth about her sister’s disappearance? Approached by Luke Carver, an ex-Army drifter she’s previously sent to prison, he claims to have information which will help her. As the trail leads from Hull and the Humber’s desperate and downtrodden to its great and good, an unsolved murder thirty years ago places their lives in danger, leaving Stone to decide if she can really trust a man who has his own reasons for helping.

You can follow Nick Quantrill on Twitter @nickquantrill

Find out more about him here: http://www.nickquantrill.co.uk/

Introducing Helen Smith, Author and BritCrime Online Literature Festival Founder

The lovely Helen Smith

The lovely Helen Smith

A couple of months ago, I was extremely lucky to be asked to be part of BritCrime, an incredibly successful online literature festival which saw 45 crime writers come together on social media to discuss their work and writing crime fiction. I made a lot of new friends at the festival and feel privileged to have been part of something that is part of a growing phenomenon – the online festival. These are growing in popularity – see my interview with Sam Missingham – and I was so lucky to be involved in such a successful one. Here Helen Smith, Author and BritCrime Founder, discusses Britcrime and its successes.

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

My name is Helen Smith and I live in Brixton in south London. I had my first book published in 1999. Since then I have written poetry, plays, children’s books and screenplays, but at the moment I’m making a living writing novels. I’m currently writing a mystery series featuring an amateur sleuth called Emily Castles. It’s a lot of fun to write.

Can you explain what BritCrime is?

We are 45 British crime writers and one American who are collaborating to put on free online crime fiction events to connect with readers around the world. Our first event was a three-day festival in July 2015. Our next event will be a Christmas Party. We have another festival planned for next summer.

How did the idea of BritCrime come about?

The authors involved in BritCrime love attending crime fiction festivals, but we often hear from readers who are disappointed they can’t attend. I offered to set up an online festival to see if it would be a good way to connect with readers around the world while protecting our writing time.

How did you go about marketing BritCrime and generating interest for it?

I set up a Facebook page, a Twitter account, a website and a mailing list. Our publishers were very generous about donating books as prizes so I set up several giveaways to promote the the festival. We also held a draw for a Kindle Paperwhite for new subscribers to our newsletter. Interestingly, the buzz began as soon as the website, Twitter and Facebook pages went up as people in the industry speculated who was behind the idea. Once we shared the idea with readers and book bloggers, there was a lot of enthusiasm for the festival. We gained a lot of new followers very quickly.

What was your method for getting authors on board? Did you already personally know the authors, or did you have to approach them to get them on board?

It was self-selecting. I put up a post on Facebook saying that I planned to set up a one-day online crime fiction festival and needed twelve writers to join me. A couple of minutes later my friend Alex Marwood responded with an enthusiastic yes… and we were off! I tried to cap the numbers at 30, then 36… Within about 24 hours we had 41 writers involved and the date set for a three-day festival. I liked the serendipity of it. Had I approached writers individually, it would have taken weeks to set up. Also, as everyone involved had approached me and asked to join, it meant they were engaged with the project and they were fun to work with. As time went by, we were approached by various creative partners and I said yes to all of them for the same reason, and the partnerships were productive because they were all so keen to be involved.

BritCrime-Logo

What were the challenges of hosting an online festival? How much work goes into the logistics of hosting an online festival?

It was all quite straightforward, really. We used the free platforms that were available. There was a quite a bit of of work involved in planning and programming the festival – which I enjoyed – and a lot of admin involved in getting the information for 41 authors and their books up on our website and blog. The other authors helped out promoting it and running the Twitter and Facebook accounts, but I worked non-stop for six weeks, 15-19 hours a day to set it up and make sure it worked properly.

For the festival itself, we hired two assistant producers. One of them, Stephanie Cox, is asking these questions. I wanted them to be involved in the creative/logistics side of the festival and to have fun while they were doing it, so I kept them away from the admin and gave them clearly defined creative roles that were challenging and interesting and took advantage of the skills they had to offer. It was really useful to have a dedicated resource to help me that weekend.

What were the highlights, for you?

The creativity and the collaboration: I loved creating the virtual world where our online festival would be held, including The Slaughtered Author pub and the BritCrime Readers’ Cafe. Making the opening ceremonies and thank you videos was fun. I loved the “Our Authors Prepare” and “BritCrime Writing Dens.” photo galleries we created on Facebook. Working with the other authors was wonderful. If you get 41 creative people collaborating on a project, something exciting is going to happen.

Do you see the online literature festival as a concept that will grow in popularity?

Yes!

What were the biggest lessons or insights learned from the experience?

I was reminded how much fun it can be working on a creative project for the hell of it, with no expectation of any financial reward. I knew there would be a lot of work involved in setting this up, but I hadn’t appreciated how much love I would get back, from authors and readers – and publishers, too. I got a lot of love for doing it. It was humbling and gratifying.

Have you received positive feedback from it?

Yes! The readers, bloggers, authors and publishers involved have all been really enthusiastic. We surveyed everyone who participated. The feedback was all positive. As soon as this festival ended, people started asking when we were going to do the next one.

What’s next for BritCrime and the BritCrime team?

We’re currently planning our Christmas party, the BritCrime Ball, which will take place Sunday 13th December, with a Twelve Days of Christmas Treasure Hunt in the run-up to it. It will be completely different from the summer festival and should be fun for everyone who participates! There will also be a festival next summer, with more authors involved.

Helen Smith is a novelist and playwright who lives in London. She’s the founder of BritCrime.
Website: http://helensmithbooks.com
Blog: http://emperorsclothes.co.uk
Twitter: http://twitter.com/emperorsclothes
Facebook: http://facebook.com/authorhelensmith
BritCrime website: http://britcrime.com
BritCrime blog: http://britcrime.blogspot.com
BritCrime Twitter: http://twitter.com/britcrime
BritCrime Facebook: http://facebook.com/britcrime

Do you have any questions for Helen? Please post them below and I’ll make sure she gets back to you!

Introducing Head of Publisher Relations Karen Brodie

Today’s People in Publishing interview is with the very successful and impressive Karen Brodie, Head of Publisher Relations at The Reading Agency. I am such an admirer of the work that they do at The Reading Agency, and I’m very jealous of Karen for playing such a huge role in it! She’s worked extremely hard for what she’s achieved, and has been recognised for this hard work as a BookSeller Rising Star. Below, she discusses her work and her career journey in publishing.

Karen Brodie

Please introduce yourself and give an overview of your career so far.

I’m Head of Publisher Relations at The Reading Agency. I started in publishing in Edinburgh and then worked at HarperCollins and Penguin in the rights departments. I expanded my international experience at the British Council, working on literature projects overseas to strengthen cultural relations for the UK, including the first literature festival in Kurdish Iraq, a language-learning radio programme where I interviewed authors for broadcast across Africa and an Arabic-English translation conference. I moved to Istanbul to manage the Turkish partnerships and programme for Turkey Market Focus at The London Book Fair and stayed a second year in Turkey as Head of Arts, extending my arts experience to work on film, fashion, visual arts, music and digital projects. I returned to London with the Iran team to develop the British Council’s UK-Iran programme. Nine months ago I took the job at The Reading Agency. I’ve been extremely fortunate to have had such interesting experiences and have met lots of inspiring people.

How did you come to work for The Reading Agency?

After returning to the UK, I was keen to reconnect with publishing. The role at The Reading Agency was a unique opportunity to bring together my literature background in both the private and public sectors. It was a challenging interview with stiff competition and I was so pleased to be offered the job.

Can you explain a little bit about your role and your responsibilities at The Reading Agency?

The Reading Agency is a national charity which specialises in inspiring more people to read more and encouraging them to share their enjoyment of reading with others. There’s a strong body of research to show that reading for pleasure improves wellbeing and empathy, and develops skills to support people throughout their lives. As Head of Publisher Relations I work with an excellent team developing and managing relationships with publishers and the wider industry to help us deliver The Reading Agency’s programmes for adults, young people and children.

We work with a huge variety of partners in the publishing industry and it’s my responsibility to identify and agree mutually beneficial partnerships across our programmes. The Reading Agency has a unique relationship with public libraries and I work to build and strengthen relationships between publishers and public libraries to reach more readers and find creative ways to promote authors. It’s a hugely varied role which includes managing commercial relationships and CSR relationships with publishers, developing our reading groups network, and contributing to the Radio 2 book club selection panels.

How did it feel, after all of your hard work, to be named a BookSeller Rising Star?

It was hugely encouraging and rewarding to be recognised by the industry for the contribution I’ve made to The Reading Agency in such a short time. And there’s still so much I’d like to do.

What would you say is the most rewarding about your job? What makes you feel like you’ve really made a big impact?

There are so many things! We have compelling evidence from participants in our programmes that The Reading Agency’s work has prompted attitudinal and behavioural change. It’s motivating to hear personal stories from people who have completed our Reading Ahead challenge or received a book given out on World Book Night. There are some examples here

I really enjoy finding ways to reach non-traditional audiences. I’m always excited about working with diverse partners and creating unique opportunities to reach new readers. It’s fantastic to get feedback from librarians, publishers or readers when a promotion has made a real impact.

Equally, what is the most challenging and why?

It can be a challenge to balance the needs and priorities of publishers, libraries and reading groups who operate in very different contexts. My role is to help our partners understand each other and facilitate meaningful collaborations. Although not all partnerships are straightforward, we all want to get more people reading and it’s this shared agenda that always prevails.

Once we get people reading we want to keep them reading and empower them to choose their own books, share their ideas and inspire others to read.

In what ways do libraries and publishers innately differ in terms of how they operate and how do you work to bridge that gap between the two? What would you say is the key to successful partnerships?

Although publishers largely have a commercial focus and libraries a cultural one, the two approaches are not mutually exclusive and both partners complement each other’s strengths. Both bring creativity, expertise and resources to every project. At The Reading Agency, we provide several opportunities throughout the year for our library and publisher partners to meet, exchange information, share ideas and plan promotions. The most successful partnerships develop when both partners are clear about what they want to achieve from the project, and are communicative and committed.

 What would you say are some of the key ways in which you and your company help attract people to reading?

 We work with public libraries, schools, colleges, workplace and prisons across the country to take reading into different places and help people find a way into reading for pleasure. Once we get people reading we want to keep them reading and empower them to choose their own books, share their ideas and inspire others to read.

We work with publishers to design and deliver fun, imaginative activities which encourage people to engage with books in new ways, discover new authors and genres, and make reading social so it becomes something shared with friends and family. Through our programmes we create promotions and events in the heart of communities and encourage volunteers to act as reading ambassadors, sharing their passion with others.

How can we, as people working in the book industry, help attract a wider audience?

We are all familiar with bookshops, libraries and the variety of stories and information available to read, but many non-readers feel overwhelmed by these.  We’re all passionate advocates for reading and are in the perfect position to support non-readers to find the right books to inspire them, and give them the confidence to talk more about books. For information about how individuals or companies can get involved in our work and reach new readers email info@readingagency.org.uk

As always, please leave questions and comments in the box below and we will get them answered for you!

Nutters by P.J. Davy

This was one of the books I bought from the Book Sale at the Hull Central Library. I got it at a bargain at £1 – especially since I later found it for sale at W.H Smith at around £8. Definitely couldn’t grumble at that!

I do love finding and reading books by independent publishers. They prove to me time and time again that the indies can publish just as well as the Big Five and bigger companies.

So, today’s review is about this book:

20150426_205742

Nutters by P.J. Davy is published by Snowbooks.

Mental illness is extremely topical – now more than ever, as society tries to find more effective ways to increase awareness and understanding for those who suffer. It’s for this reason that this book caught my eye. It looked to address an important subject but in a light-hearted and comical matter, which made it more appealing. Not to say that I’m not open to reading more serious books on the matter, but that was part of why I was interested in buying the book.

Rufus Waters has had enough of being labelled a loon. Enough of medication and therapy. Enough of the pitying looks and nervous changes of subject. Enough of being stood up and turned down. Enough, in short, of being a nutter.

‘I choose sanity,’ he informs his erstwhile girlfriend, bi-polar Kate. Rufus shrugs off Kate’s misgivings and forges ahead with his plans for the New Improved Rufus Waters. He bins his medication, sacks his glamorous psychiatrist, and quickly acquires both job and new girlfriend in a matter of days.

This promising start is, however, a false dawn. Soon his re-invented self, in his freshly-picked sane world, is falling apart and it takes the wisdom of a drug-addled Latin professor to bring some sense into his world once more.

The strongest attribute of this novel is its wonderful array of interesting and flawed characters. Because, let’s face it, they’re what keep life interesting. Rufus, the main character, is from a middle-class, well-off family, and is a brilliant representation of how mental illness can befall anyone in any circumstance, not just those who come from disadvantaged backgrounds. When he first meets his future girlfriend Kate, a girl who comes from a more modest working-class family, he has to fight hard against her stereotypes. They meet at a support group and she gives him a hard time for being there.

‘Depression my arse. What have you ever had to be depressed about? He’s had everything, all his life. Posh school, posh house, shed loads of money. Skiing every year, shouldn’t bloody wonder. Doesn’t even have to get a job.’

Rufus found his voice. ‘Excuse me for not coming from a sink estate and being the product of a lesbian mother and an alcoholic father,’ he said. ‘I suppose you’d prefer that.’

‘It’d make more bloody sense.’

Rufus raised his eyebrows with some effort. ‘Well, well, who’d have thought it. Nutters can be bigots too…I thought, and this is must prove how mad I am, that a person who knew what it was like to be a nutter from personal experience might possibly have the teeniest bit of insight into what it was like for someone else. But no, how wrong I was. Everywhere I go it’s the same. Priveleged plus posh, plus depressed, equals whingeing failure. Dragged up in a high rise by parents with a combined IQ of room temperature, plus packs of feral children to play with, plus any fucking psychosis you like, equals poor unfortunate deserving of our sympathy. Now I know what they mean by the NHS being a postcode lottery.’

This works so effectively at demonstrating the attitude of many people today. This scene is a microcosm of what happens in society, and what genuinely needs to stop if people are to get the help they need.

Rufus’ friend Teach is another example of this. Once a well-respected and top professor in his field, with a good reputation and strong intellect, Teach has succumbed to the pressures of society and spiralled into pit a of hopelessness, homelessness, drug abuse and depression. Despite this, he continues to talk, and think, like the professor he once was. He talks with an intellectual flair and formality, but his subject matter is far removed, and he often quotes Latin and poetry incorrectly, as though he’s a slightly broken and off-kilter version of his former self. This makes him even more charming and loveable. The contrast between his filthy appearance and his speech is very funny yet very sad all at the same time.

‘In point of fact, I have indeed been aboard that conveyance of the sober and the clean. Naturally, I see the benefits of a brief period of abstaining from recreational drugs and alcohol. I stand before you evidence of the efficacy of that system. However, I am with Monsieur Descartes on this one. Cogito ergo sum – which loosely translates as “I drink, therefore I am.”‘

P.J Davy balances the humour in the book with a stark and sobering depiction of the realities of mental illness. In this way, the author doesn’t cheapen or trivialise the subject matter. Counterbalancing the kind of humour that features in the above quotation, comes brilliantly written passages such as this:

He turned to lean over the rail, the flaking paint on the rusting ironwork gritty beneath his palms. He gazed down at the angry water below. Deep, fast, deadly water. His hands tightened on the rail, his grip whitening his knuckles, his jaw set, his breath held. Then, suddenly, the fight went out of him. As if a switch had been thrown. A plug pulled. He felt such a draining of energy, such a lack of power that his legs could barely support him. He staggered back off the bridge as if under a weight so tremendous it might press him into the ground. He might lie there, suffocating beneath it, too spent, too flimsy, too insubstantial to move.

The writing is therefore honest but makes mental illness more accessible, which is definitely no mean feat.

The third protagonist in the novel, Rufus’ ex-girlfriend Kate, suffers with bi-polar disorder. She has a beautiful singing voice and such a strong passion for the choir in which she performs. When she isn’t feeling low, her zest and energy and enthusiasm for life shines through. The real tragedy with Kate is that often her medication dulls this, and often affects her performance in the choir. She finds herself in a constant battle between staving off the depression which compromises her classical music career and embracing her talents while risking real mental decline.

What is wonderful about Kate is that despite her inner demons, she always remains loyal to her friends and is never afraid to give her opinions to them straight. She wants what’s best for them and often she recognises that this involves tough love and hard truths. But ultimately it comes from love and wishing to the right thing. She understands the limitations that people like her and Rufus face.

The only thing I will say that I wasn’t too impressed with in the case of Kate’s character was the overuse of the word ‘chuffing.’ Kate is originally from Pontefract and so uses this expression a fair bit. Now I live just outside of Pontefract and so have probably come across this expression before. But in this book, whenever Kate is prominent in a particular chapter, the word ‘chuffing’ features up to and probably sometimes more than four times per page. I know different dialects feature different words but I’m just not convinced that, no matter where you’re from, anyone actually uses a regional word so often. It’s almost constant. It even appears mid-way through a particularly energetic sex scene. By the end of it I think I developed a physical tick whenever I read the word. If I never read or hear that word again, I’ll be a very happy woman!

Rufus, Kate and Teach are examples of how many people with mental illness struggle and fight the often doomed battle against their demons by themselves. The stigma attached to their problems and issues puts pressure on them to deal with things alone and ‘pull themselves together’. Kate faces discrimination and bullying at the hands of her peers who see her as a nutter and crazy rather than simply a talented girl who struggles with bi-polar disorder. Rufus faces adversity even from his own mother, who fails to understand his issues and sees him as a failure. Teach’s character, among many others in the book, provides the reader with an insight into what can derail a person’s life, often through no fault of their own.

This book is an entertaining eye-opener and an enjoyable read. The book industry needs more of this kind of book. Thank you to independent publisher Snowbooks and P.J Davy for tackling such a subject so bravely and successfully.

Introducing YA Author Kerry Drewery

I met published author Kerry Drewery at a Head In A Book event last month. (If you haven’t had the chance to check out Head In A Book, I urge you to do so. They are fantastic literary events held at the City of Culture for 2017 – Hull!) I found her to be so engaging, charming, and approachable, and of course it’s lead me to go back to reading Young Adult Fiction, namely hers! She was very kind to undertake this interview with me, and I am so pleased to share it with you guys. Here she discusses her books, her writing technique, and the categorisation of literature…

The lovely Kerry Drewery!

The lovely Kerry Drewery!

 

Please tell me a little bit about yourself and your career.

Although I’ve always made up stories in my head (even as a child) it was never something I thought I’d be able to do as a career – at school the idea of being a writer certainly was never an option. (I did learn to touch type at school though and I actually enjoy the physical act of typing, which I suppose is a good job!). I’ve had a multitude of different jobs including legal secretary, bank clerk, shop assistant, faculty clerk in a university and learnt a lot about what I don’t like doing! When my youngest son started school, I was looking at returning to work. I’d written a novel in the evenings while he was young, had sent it out to agents and got nowhere, but it had got me thinking that if I didn’t really strive for it then, then I never would. I returned to uni, got a first class honours degree in Professional Writing and wrote another novel on the course. That wasn’t taken either, but I did rewrite it into script and submitted it to a BBC writing competition which I was shortlisted for. Following the degree, and working part-time as a BookStart co-ordinator (which was a great job!) I wrote another novel (my third now), which turned into A Brighter Fear – my first to be published. The funding in my area for BookStart was taken as I was offered my publishing deal.

I don’t believe an author’s job is to answer questions, but rather to raise them.

Your writing is categorised as YA fiction. Why did you choose to write for young adults? Was it a conscious choice or did your writing develop that way as you went along?

It wasn’t a conscious decision to write for young adults, it was more that the story I wanted to write was better with a teen protagonist which then led me to think of what an important and exciting time in your life your teens years are. It’s a time when you’re making all sorts of decisions, when you’re actually under a lot of pressure from all angles, and when everyone else seems to think that they know best for you. I’ve stayed writing for them because of this. I’m not sure I entirely agree with categorising books – it’s handy for publishers, yes, and booksellers, but I strongly believe you should read whatever you want to read, and not be put off something because it’s ‘too old’ or ‘too young’ for you. Reading is for enjoyment, it should be encouraged whether it’s comics, picture books, horror, literary, teen, or whatever.

I strongly believe you should read whatever you want to read, and not be put off something because it’s ‘too old’ or ‘too young’ for you.

Your books, A Brighter Fear and A Dream of Lights, deal with difficult, upsetting, and often tough subject matters. Why do you feel it is important for young adults to read and learn about adversity and harsh political circumstances? Do you feel that literature should educate young people from these kinds of subjects rather than shield them from it?

I didn’t chose to write A Brighter Fear or A Dream of Lights because of difficult or upsetting subject matters, I chose them because I was interested in the situations around them, and thought if I was then other people would be too. With A Brighter Fear I was trying to manage my own feelings about us being taken to war, which led me to think about the people actually living it, which led me to read about it, which eventually led to the novel. A Dream of Lights was about being nosy, I suppose. I knew a little about North Korea and wanted to understand why and how people live in those conditions, why some people chose to try to escape and others don’t. I don’t believe an author’s job is to answer questions, but rather to raise them. To put to the reader – hey, what about this? – and leave them to ponder their own thoughts. I do think it’s important to be honest with readers, whatever age, but that doesn’t mean you have to shove the ‘upsetting’ stuff in their faces. I don’t think it should ever be gratuitous, especially in these cases where they are based on reality, but there are ways you can write about something without it being.

How easy was it for you to find the right voice for your young female protagonists? Would you consider writing from the point of view of a boy in the future?

Lina very gradually appeared from out of the research. From planning what would happen to her and her family, her personality came through, her strengths and weaknesses etc, then it was just a case of being consistent in the way she spoke and faithful to what she would do and think. Yoora lived in my head the entire time and it felt like she took me through her story rather than the other way round! The only place I struggled with her was at the very beginning when she’s still of the mindset she’s been brought up with. As she learns more, she becomes that strong person who was hiding just below the surface. Yes, absolutely I’d consider writing from the pov of a boy. I have a teenage son, I’m sure he’d correct me if I got it wrong!

What’s the biggest difference you’ve noticed in your life between now as a published author, gaining more and more popularity, than before?

There aren’t really that many differences to be honest. I suppose the biggest is people’s reactions if you tell them what you do because they tend to make assumptions such as – you have a lot of money, you are very successful, you book will be on the shelf in Tesco!! The best difference is that I can legitimately say ‘I am an author’, which after so many rejections is a lovely thing to be able to say.

What do you find the most difficult about being a novelist? What is the most rewarding?

The most difficult thing is self-doubt. Sending your work out, people reading it, wondering what they’ll think is still as nerve-wracking as it ever was. The most rewarding is positive reviews – knowing that someone has enjoyed your work. I’ve had a few reviews of A Dream of Lights where people have said it’s made them think of what they have and how lucky they are, or how it’s changed their outlook on life – I don’t think I could ask for more than that.

A big topic of discussion in the Publishing world right now is how the author can best promote their own work. What do you find has helped you the most and been the most effective in promoting your novels? What hasn’t worked quite so well?

This is tricky. I’m not sure what one thing has helped the most, but if I was advising someone else I’d probably say how important it is to reach out to other authors. Not only can this provide you with a lot of support if things are tough or you’re having worries (I’m sure all authors are nervous wrecks!), but you can both gain a lot from cross-promotion and joint events. There is a great on-line community for YA, especially UKYA, and the vast, vast majority of people in the business are just lovely.

The most rewarding is positive reviews – knowing that someone has enjoyed your work.

Are you a reader of Young Adult fiction yourself? What else do you like to read in your spare time?

Yes and everything!! When I’m writing I tend not to read as I find it can influence what I’m working on. This means that when stuff goes off to my agent, for example, I devour books! I’m not a very faithful reader in terms of sticking with one author, I tend to jot around to whatever piques my interest. Over of my author facebook page I’ve just done ‘Five Favourite Books in Five Days’, with a brief note on all of them. Apart from those, I’ve recently read and enjoyed The Visitors by Rebecca Mascull (a Victorian, deaf-blind, ghost story), The Lodger by Louisa Treger (about the writer Dorothy Richardson and her relationship with HG Wells) – they’re both ‘adult’ books (but there we go with categories again!). For YA I’ve just finished ACID by Emma Pass (a dystopian story, a girl accused of killing her parents while an all-powerful police force run the country), and now onto 7 Days by Eve Ainsworth (about bullying but from the pov of both girls involved).

How do you feel we should be encouraging more young adults to read?

As I touched on before, there needs to be less of ‘you should/shouldn’t read that’ and the snobbery that comes with it. Instead we should encourage people to read whatever they enjoy.

And finally, what’s next for you?

I’m very pleased to now be represented by the lovely Jane Willis at United Agents, and have a new manuscript off on submission. I’m also working with fellow author Emma Pass on the next UKYA Extravaganza (a celebration of UKYA talent with authors, readers, books and cakes!), which is being held in Nottingham this time, in October (check out ukyax.com). After a very busy time, I’m now planning on getting into my Patron of Reading school in Lincolnshire a bit more to work with the students there. Fingers crossed, exciting times!! (pulls a hopeful face).     You can follow Kerry Drewery on Twitter @KerryDrewery Find her on Facebook here. You can also follow Head In A Book @hiabhull

Introducing Library Assistant Rebecca Morris

Today I’m interviewing Rebecca Morris, a fellow Hull University English graduate and currently working as a library assistant near Cambridge while studying for a Masters degree. I lived with Becky for a year and her love and passion for reading and books rivals mine – and that’s saying something! I’m very excited that she’s attending this year’s London Book Fair with me. Here in this interview she discusses her love of literature and shares her experiences and views on how libraries are coping in this challenging and ever-changing industry…

Showing off her knitwear!

Showing off her knitwear!

Talk to me about your background in English and writing.

I’ve enjoyed reading books and writing stories ever since I was a child. English was always my favourite subject at school although I hadn’t originally planned to do it for my degree. At first,  I was planning on studying law at university as I felt it would set me up for a future career but when I started my AS levels and ordered some prospectuses I couldn’t help reading the sections about the English courses and my instinct told me to go for it. Looking back, it was definitely the right decision. Even though I wasn’t entirely sure what I would do with the degree, I felt it was important to do a subject I genuinely loved, and I would advise others to do the same.


What made you come to Hull University for your degree?

Choosing universities to apply to was a very difficult task especially for my course as you could do it at about 120 institutions so I couldn’t possibly read every single prospectus. I asked family for advice and I found out one of my aunts had gone to Hull University. After checking the English department’s website, I felt reasonably confident that I could achieve the grades they asked for and I liked the look of the course as I had the opportunity to choose all my modules in the second and third year. I loved that aspect of it because I was able to choose several interesting modules from the Victorian period and twentieth century. I did have to do some pre-1800 modules but I enjoyed the ones I took. I am pleased I made the decision to go to Hull.

A library provides an extremely valuable service and can be a lifeline for people who are lonely or might not have a lot of money.


What do you most enjoy reading?

I am prepared to give anything a go. As I’m studying children’s and young adult literature, I do feel it’s important to read books from that genre. I’m currently reading Cassandra Clare’s Clockwork Angel, a fantasy novel set in Victorian England. I’m quite into historical fiction, particularly texts set in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, though I tend to vary what I read a lot. I think the most important thing for me isn’t necessarily the genre but if there is a character I can strongly empathise with. When I was reading the last Harry Potter book, I remember getting very emotional and not wanting to read the end because I was convinced Harry was going to die. I practically begged my sister to spoil the ending for me just so I knew but I was glad I was brave enough to read on in the end!


Talk to me about your MA, and why did you choose to study that subject?

I was in my final year as an undergraduate and had to decide what to do after finishing. I actually came close to opting for law again as I found out I could do a conversion course for a year after finishing. However, I felt that it was a shame to leave studying English behind, as despite doing it since school there still seemed to be a lot to learn so I decided to apply for an MA course at the University of Hull. I had a choice of different programmes but because I wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted to specialise in at that point I chose the generic English Literature MA. The modules I took were in my favourite periods of study, the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. I even developed an interest in art, as one of my modules examined the relationship between Victorian art and literature. My favourite module was Modern Children’s Literature and that inspired me to start exploring girls in children’s books for my PhD topic.


You are now currently studying for a PhD. Did you always want to stay in academia?

Whilst doing my first degree, it hadn’t really occurred to me that I would stay in academia but after starting my Masters, I thought that I would like to continue to PhD level and see if I could get into lecturing afterwards. For the first year of doing my PhD, I had been looking at potential conferences and journals to apply to so I could get relevant experience and I still do so now but I think I’ve changed my mind about academia. I don’t regret starting my PhD and will continue to study afterwards but I am hoping to pursue other career options.

What do you love most about being a PhD student?

Definitely being able to revisit old books from my childhood and read ones I missed out on! I’ve written two chapters so far. The first one compared Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan and the Wizard of Oz and the latest chapter analysed Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women series. I particularly enjoyed this chapter and I hadn’t read the sequels as a child so it was lovely to get an opportunity to read one. I also learned more about Alcott when reading her diary and letters which was fascinating. Aside from the studying aspects, I enjoy the fact that I’m doing it part-time as it makes it easier for me to work, volunteer and pursue my hobbies. It means it’ll take longer but I feel the extra benefits make it worthwhile.

There is no substitute for a physical book


You currently work at a library. Tell us more details about this.

After finishing my MA I decided to do my PhD from home as I felt I would have more opportunities to work and still spend plenty of time with my family. I went onto a volunteering website and saw that my local library were looking for volunteers so I sent an application in. My role was a Self-Service volunteer and I was responsible for shelving returned books and helping customers find books or use the library equipment. Eight months ago, I acquired a paid Saturday job there. I have more responsibilities on the front desk and I am getting more confident using the library’s circulation systems. I still do my volunteering there as I love my job so much. There is something really special about being around books and seeing customers with huge armfuls to take out.

What do you most enjoy about working for a library?

That’s actually a really difficult question to answer because I love all aspects of my job. I like being able to interact with the customers and I find it very satisfying when I am able to help them find the books they’re looking for. I also enjoy the shelving, as I’m really interested to know what other people are borrowing and it’s given me a few reading ideas. My to-read list has become very long since working at the library!

Is there a real community atmosphere there?

I would say so. We have a lot of regular customers who come in to borrow books, use the computers and attend activities, which is lovely to see as you get to know people and what their interests are.


What do you feel a library needs to do to keep the interest and involvement of the local community?

I think it’s important to ensure that customers are aware about the services libraries have to offer. The system we have at our library is excellent as we are able to order books from other libraries in the county free of charge if a customer is unable to find them on the shelf. Stock displays are useful to help people find inspiration. I have recently organised one in the children’s section to do with witches and wizards. We also have several regular activities for the children including a Rhyme-time session for toddlers and babies and a Summer Reading Challenge for those in primary school. For people over 50 we have an Engage talk once a month and there have been discussions on a wide range of subjects including local history, health and crafts. I am a regular attender of the knitting group and we usually have a large number of people particularly in the evenings. I think all of these things help to encourage people to come to the library, as they have opportunities to meet people and the activities are free unless people choose to make a small donation for tea and coffee.

Do you find that there is a particular kind of literature or publication that is more popular than others in your library? Why do you think this is?

Crime and adventure seem to be the most popular genres with our customers at the moment. Not having read a lot of crime myself, I can’t really comment as to why but I imagine that the novels have a very gripping plot. Our cookery and craft books are also frequently borrowed. I think people have been inspired by programmes like The Great British Bake Off and Sewing Bee. Our knitting books in particular are always appearing on the returned books trollies which is always nice to see as I’m a keen knitter and I like to think other people enjoy it too.

It’s important to ensure that customers are aware about the services libraries have to offer.


Where do you stand on the debate that is currently raging on whether or not prisoners should be allowed books in jail? Do you agree that books/education/reading can be vital to to a prisoner’s rehabilitation, or do you believe that they, as criminals, should not have access or the rights to books?

This is a very difficult question as I know that this subject divides opinion. I believe that prisoners should be treated humanely but I think there does need to be restrictions on privileges such as televisions and Playstations. However, I do feel that they should have a right to an education and to work whilst inside, as the vast majority of prisoners are going to be released into the outside world and there is a chance they could end up reoffending if they have no purpose once they come out. I believe that having educational opportunities could potentially provide rehabilitation to criminals and if they had something to do in prison it might stop them from committing other crimes whilst inside. I appreciate this wouldn’t work with everyone but even if it only made a difference to one person’s life, I’d still be in favour of prisoners having books.


Where do you stand on the argument that libraries are becoming obsolete in the current market?

I don’t feel that is the case with our one as the people in the town make use of it but I know that libraries in other areas of the country, particularly rural ones are having difficulties as I have seen several petitions about saving them on social media. I strongly believe that a library provides an extremely valuable service and can be a lifeline for people who are lonely or might not have a lot of money.


Tell me about your thoughts on borrowing/lending e-books and how this might affect libraries moving forward?

Our customers have the option to borrow e-books e-audio and e-magazines if they own a Kindle Fire, iPad or tablet. I own a Kindle myself and find it is useful for my studies as I have saved money on classic texts and been able to read books that are no longer in print. However, I feel that there is no substitute for a physical book and I’m sure that a lot of customers would share my belief so I think the digital books will help the library to move forward, as it will give people more opportunities to borrow books and they can have them in any format they prefer.


What are your goals for the future?

I still have three years to go on my PhD so I will be spending a lot of time focussing on that. I hope to pursue a career in librarianship once I finish it so I probably will start applying for courses once I’m in my final year. I have also had a novel idea for ages but I haven’t started writing yet so I think I’ll probably try to make some time for it and at least get something written this year!

Becky's display at the library - encouraging children to read!

Becky’s display at the library – encouraging children to read!

You can follow Becky on Twitter @xBecki_Morrisx

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