An insight into the publishing world…

Posts tagged ‘publisher’

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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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.

Introducing Darren Laws, Founder of Caffeine Nights Publishing

Time for yet another Publisher interview! This time with the publisher of the amazing Abide With Me by Ian Ayris. Here the founder Darren Laws, with whom I connected on Twitter, explains the origins of his innovative publishing company…

Darren Laws

Please introduce yourself! 

My name is Darren Laws, I am the founder, owner and managing director of Caffeine Nights Publishing.

 

Can you tell us about the origins of Caffeine Nights Publishing? How did it all begin? 

Caffeine Nights began life as an online site in the late 1990s, 24/7 Caffeine Nights, publishing short stories and other works from unpublished authors. This stemmed from a writing group I founded in Maidstone Kent, when I realised there was a huge amount of unpublished quality writing. In 2007 we moved into Print-on-Demand and eBooks and I spent a few years researching the market before we published Nick Quantrill’s Broken Dreams in 2010.

 

What kind of literature do you publish and why did you choose to specialise in this field? 

We specialise in crime and horror fiction, both genres that I love and have read avidly since I was young. James Herbert’s The Rats was my introduction into adult books at the age of 12.

 

What would you say has been your biggest success so far? 

Every book is a success on one level. Publishing is an extremely competitive business and it’s great seeing many of our titles get in the various top 10 charts at Amazon. Caffeine Nights was shortlisted for The Bookseller Awards last year for Digital Strategy for our free app. That was special!

 

What are some of the challenges you’ve had to overcome? 

Every day in publishing is a challenge. From gaining the attention of the buyers in book stores to finding ways to market and advertise books on a tight budget.

 

What can you give to your authors that other, bigger publishers can’t? 

A personal service! Caffeine Nights work with authors to help them develop a career. We realise that few authors become an overnight success and that there is a nurturing stage.

 

How does the ebook format benefit independent publishers? 

eBook are another sales channel and an important one. The advent and popularity of eBooks cannot be ignored as a significant factor in the democratisation of publishing.

 

What do you look for in a submission and what is it that shines through in the slush pile? 

I don’t call it a slush pile, every submission has had a lot of effort from the author, regardless of how good or bad it is. Good submissions really do leap from the page and from the introductory email or letter from the author. Bad ones are sloppy, error prone and usually over-sold by the author who thinks they have written the greatest book ever. Arrogance always rings alarm bells.

 

What books are you particularly excited about publishing?

I wouldn’t publish any book I am not excited about. So the simple answer is all of them!

Find Caffeine Nights on Twitter @caffeinenights

You can find out more about their digital app, titles and more at http://caffeine-nights.com/

Introducing Karen Sullivan, Publisher at Orenda Books

I am so honoured to host an interview today with Karen Sullivan, publisher and founder at Orenda Books, a fantastic independent publishing company based in London. Orenda Books published one of my favourite books this year, How To Be Brave by Louise Beech and in less than a year has achieved great success. Karen is a wonderful person and clearly a talented publisher. Here Karen discusses her journey into becoming an independent publisher and what independent publishing can bring to the industry…

karen sullivan

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

I’m Karen Sullivan, publisher at Orenda Books. I moved here from Canada when I was 21 (ostensibly to travel around the world) and worked for a small publishing house for a couple of years, before leaving to forge a career as a health editor and writer. I wrote quite a few books about raising children, emotional health, discipline, bullying, nutrition, and that sort of thing, while having three children of my own, and did some TV. I unexpectedly arrived back in publishing when I took a part-time job in a small independent, which soon became full-time. That move was more about a need for change than anything else, but I realised how much I’d missed ‘front-line’ publishing. When a restructuring of the list took place about a year ago, I decided to set up my own publishing house, and the rest is history!

Orenda Books is just under a year old. How did the company come about and how many staff do you have?

The company came about when the shareholders at my previous job (where I worked for about 18 months) decided to undertake a restructure of a list in which I had not only an enormous amount of faith, but a personal sense of responsibility. I chose this time to go out on my own. It was a long-held ambition, in fact, dream! I have no staff, as such. My husband looks after the contracts and finances in his spare time. I have a brilliant freelance editor, West Camel, who works alongside me on some of the titles, doing second reads of submissions, helping with structural and copy edits, and generally covering when I am away, which is frequently the case. He knows my taste completely, which makes things much, much easier. Liz Wilkins (Liz Loves Books) helps to arrange blog tours and provide feedback on potential titles, as well as other useful things. A wee girl, Emma Clifford, has helped out when she can to chase up publicity things. The community in general has been amazingly supportive, and that is the reason why things have gone in the right direction.

orenda letterhead red

 What kind of literature do you publish?

I publish literary fiction, with a heavy emphasis on crime/thrillers, about half in translation. Having said that, I have two books on my list this year that fit in neither category. They resonated and I loved them, so I put them on the list! Next year I have a couple more, and you’ll see why I bought them. Great books deserve to be published, and that’s what I’m aiming to do.

 What would you say has been your biggest success so far?

I would love to narrow it down to one book, but the truth is that every single book has exceeded expectations. I have four debut authors on my list (of six), and the reception has been astonishing. My first-ever book was Paul E. Hardisty’s exceptional thriller, The Abrupt Physics of Dying. Not only was it shortlisted for the CWA John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger, but it’s gained over 150 five-star reviews online, and hit the ‘best book of the year’ spot for a number of bloggers and hopefully also reviewers. I don’t think that I’ve read anything like it, and I don’t think I could ever forget it!

David F. Ross’s wonderful, music- and politics-driven debut novel The Last Days of Disco, has not only been a massive bestseller north of the border, but he’s been called the most ‘exciting new Scottish voice’ and compared to John Niven and Irvine Welsh. Rights were almost instantly sold to Random House in Germany. Funny, sad, heartwarming, it’s just amazing – coming of age cum humour cum WOW.

Snowblind, by Ragnar Jonasson (translated by Quentin Bates) has been our bestselling title this year to date. This unknown, completely amazing Icelandic crime writer managed to hit the number one spot on Kindle, knocking off The Girl on the Train, for the first time, and selling brilliantly in all markets. He blends Golden Age crime (a la Agatha Christie) with the modernity if Nordic Noir, and it’s created a storm!

And then there was Gunnar Staalesen’s We Shall Inherit the Wind, translated by Knausgaard and Nesbo supremo, Don Bartlett. Gunnar is not only one of the fathers of Nordic Noir, but an internationally famous author whose time for recognition in English has come. I breathe a sigh of pleasure when I read his books! We’ve had brilliant reviews, and very strong sales, and his festival appearances and the tour we took in September were sell-outs!

The autumn brought Kati Hiekkapelto’s stunning crime-thriller The Defenceless (translated by David Hackston)Not only did this win the Best Finnish Crime Novel of 2014, but Kati is also up for the coveted Glass Key (previous winners include Henning Mankell, Stieg Larsson and Jo Nesbo) for a book that is scarily timely. This book takes crime fiction to a higher level, and I am so proud to publish Kati, whose distinctive voice has already earned her a spot on the Petrona shortlist!

My final book of 2015 is another aberration. A compelling, moving, astoundingly evocative debut novel called How To Be Brave, by Louise Beech, which weaves together the contemporary story of a woman struggling with a seriously ill child and a true story from the author’s own past (think survival on a lifeboat for 50 days during the Second World War). Just out two weeks ago, we’ve had dozens of online reviews and, more importantly, many bloggers calling it their book of the year.

Everything has gone better than I could ever have dreamt.

What book are you particularly looking forward to publishing?

That’s rather like asking me who is my favourite child! I am looking forward to publishing them all, and my 2016 list and the beginnings of the 2017 list are simply brilliant!

I’ve got second novels for all of my existing authors (The Evolution of Fear, by Paul E. Hardisty; Nightblind and Blackout by Ragnar Jonasson (trs Quentin Bates); The Rise and Fall of the Miraculous Vespas, by David F. Ross; Where Roses Never Die, by Gunnar Staalesen (trs Don Bartlett); The Mountain in My Shoe, by Louise Beech, and the third in the Anna Fekete series, by Kati Hiekkapelto (trs David Hackston).

 As well as that, we’ve got Deadly Harvest and A Death in the Family from the magnificent South African crime-writing duo Michael Stanley (the Detective Kubu mysteries, set in Botswana);In Her Wake, a gorgeous, chilling psychological thriller based around an abducted child from the inimitable Amanda Jennings; an unputdownable, exceptional Homeland-style thriller from debut author Yusuf Toropov, entitled Jihadi: A Love Story; a page-turning, gritty and authentic thriller by ex-Met Police officer, Matt Johnson; Epiphany Jones, an extraordinary thriller cum dark comedy by journalist Michael Grothaus – simply amazingly written, it’s got sex trafficking as its theme, but some fabulous humour and a deeply moving emotional core; Norwegian author Agnes’ Ravatn’s absolutely exquisite, Rebecca-esque The Bird Tribunal (trs Rosie Hedger)which has been a massive success in her own country and put her on every ‘author to watch list’ there is; TWO brand-new Nordic Noir thrillers (Coat of Arms and Mortal Wound) in the Henning Juul series by bestselling, talented Norwegian author Thomas Enger; an absolutely stunning retelling of the Selkie legend, Sealskin, by newcomer Sujata Bristow, and a couple more up my sleeve that will be announced soon. I love every single one of them, or I wouldn’t be publishing them.

What were some of the risks you had to take into consideration when starting your own independent publishing company?

Starting any business is a risk, particularly in an industry that is in a state of flux, with many independent publishers being swallowed by conglomerates or closing their doors completely. I was aware of my responsibilities to my authors, whose blood is in their books, to their agents, to my distributors and sales team, booksellers, to everyone, and worried that an unknown company with a fairly unknown publisher and a host of debuts on the list, could fail to make any impact at all. I also have a family, and had to be sure that I wasn’t going to end up homeless and penniless because of my determination to follow my dreams. More than a few people said I was mad, but a lot more than that believed it could be done. Ultimately I reckon that people always read great books, and if I could find them, publish them and market them, then I stood as much chance as anyone else. It’s a difficult business, with tiny margins and many nail-biting moments, but I have fantastic authors who work so hard to promote their books and ultimately, as I suspected, good books will sell! And the truth is that many big companies are struggling in a market that is ever-changing, and I might as well throw in my lot with them.

 What does Orenda Books have to offer that others don’t or what do you feel makes your company unique?

The nice thing about being an independent publisher is that we can probably take risks that other, larger companies can’t. While we have hopeful sales targets, they aren’t deal-breakers, and we can invest in authors while they find their place in the market (and the bestseller lists!). In many larger companies, an author needs to reach a certain level of sales or risk being dropped. Our overheads are low, and we can take a punt where other companies might not. More importantly, we can do something different and create or cater to a niche community. I love publishing translated fiction, for example. It’s hugely expensive, with the cost of the translation to take into consideration before you’ve even edited, jacketed, printed, marketed or sold a single book, and on paper it doesn’t look very promising; however, there is a community of avid readers out there and I take huge pride in bringing to English some of the finest international authors there are. We can cherry-pick from the very best! Every publishing company differs according to who is buying the books, and what you get at Orenda is my taste. I always worry that people won’t see what I saw, but so far that has not been the case. There has been resounding enthusiasm and support. So I guess the answer is that we just publish good books. We take risks with debut authors, with translated fiction, with books written in Scottish vernacular (for example), with sensitive themes, with authors who have been rejected in lots of places before finding their home on a team. We are growing together as a company and I think that harmony, that shared belief, is what will shine through. Well, that and the great books!

Why do you feel that independents are good for the publishing industry?

For most of the reasons above, really. Bringing something different and new to the market, taking risks that bigger companies can’t accommodate because of accountability to shareholders or targets, and publishing passionately. This might sound odd, but in larger companies, the enthusiasm, excitement and commitment of a great commissioning editor will get a book commissioned, but by the time a book heads down through various departments, even the greatest energy can be diluted. Here, as in many independents, a few people (in our case, just me) do everything from commissioning and editing to pitching for festivals and reviews, marketing, selling rights and even accompanying authors on tours and to events. The initial excitement is always there, and that helps. I can’t tell you how many authors from bigger companies have approached me. They aren’t after bigger money; they are after a continuing relationship, personal care, continuity, and the belief that their book will have more than a week in the sun.

Independents also tend to cater to niche markets, which are rich and vibrant communities, with avid readers who appreciate the different things we bring to the market. There should be books for all types of readers, and in an industry increasingly dominated by conglomerates and chains, with the obvious repercussions, it’s nice to offer something new and to give perhaps less catered-for markets what they want.

dark dayshow to be bravein her wake

death in the family

You can follow Orenda Books on Twitter @OrendaBooks

Find out more about their company and their books at http://orendabooks.co.uk/

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.

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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.

Introducing Kevin Duffy, Founder of Bluemoose Books

I am incredibly honoured to feature Kevin Duffy of Bluemoose Books, an independent publishing house, on my blog today. I first met Kevin at a Society of Young Publishers event a few years ago now, and since then I have been a big follower of the company. Bluemoose Books have enjoyed enormous success in their short time of publishing. Their book Gabriel’s Angel is a particular favourite of mine. Read on to find out more.

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Kevin and Hetha Duffy with author Ben Myers, winning The inaugural Gordon Burn Prize with PIG IRON.

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

My name is Kevin Duffy and I started Bluemoose Books with my wife Hetha after re-mortgaging our house. I have been involved in sales and marketing in publishing over the last 30 years with commercial, academic, fiction and non – fiction publishing companies

How did Bluemoose come about and how many staff do you have?

We started Bluemoose as a result of me winning a national writing competition, being whisked down to London, wined and dined at The Ivy by the directors of Macmillan and an uber agent from Curtis Brown. However, they didn’t want my book. I then read in The Bookseller that all the big money was being given to Irish writers, so I changed my name to Colm O’Driscoll, sent off the first three chapters to Darley Andersons, agents to Martina Cole and Lee Child. I had to be Irish for a year, even lied to my children telling them that if a posh man from London rings and asks for Colm that is me, your dad. Confusion reigned but after sending the finished book I got a contract. He sent it out to all the big publishers and all the editors loved the book but the most important people in publishing, and that remains the same today, the commercial directors didn’t think they could sell 20,000 copies, so they didn’t publish. After twelve months I got the book back. We re-mortgaged our house in Hebden Bridge, started Bluemoose and the first two books we published were my book Anthills and Stars by me The Bridge Between by Canadian author Nathan Vanek. We made enough money from these two books to continue and we’ve published 25 books since.

I am full time and we have four freelance editors.

What kind of literature do you publish?

We publish cracking stories which are beautifully written that engage and inspire readers.

Many of your books have now received awards/sold film rights/been translated into numerous languages. What would you say has been your biggest success so far?

I think all our books are successes. The beauty of Independence is that we don’t have the acute economic imperative that the big corporates have. In their world if a book doesn’t succeed economically straight away, the author is dropped. We’re here for the long haul. Books we published five years ago like GABRIEL’S ANGEL by Mark A Radcliffe, still sell really well. NOD by Adrian Barnes has sold incredibly well, and has just been published in North America. PIG IRON and BEASTINGS by Benjamin Myers have won awards and been short listed for others too. KING CROW by Michael Stewart still sells and we published that in 2011. Our biggest seller was the non-fiction book THE HARDEST CLIMB by Alistair Sutcliffe. The story of how he overcame a life threatening brain haemorrhage after being the first man to climb the highest mountain on each of the seven continents at the first attempt. He was on BBC Radio 4’s midweek programme and the sales went doolally tap.
What book are you particularly looking forward to publishing?

Our list for 2016 is stunning.

IF YOU LOOK FOR ME, I AM NOT HERE by Indian writer Sarayu Srivastra in January. The second novel by Anna Chilvers, TAINTED LOVE in March. The debut, THE LESS THAN PERFECT LEGEND OF DONNA CREOSOTE by Dan Micklethwaite in July. The CODEX EPIPHANIX by David E Oprava in September and the debut, THE HANDSWORTH TIMES by Sharon Duggel in September too.

What were some of the risks you had to take into consideration when starting your own independent publishing company?

Losing our house was the biggest issue. Getting it hopelessly wrong and not being taken seriously. Marketing, sales and building a relationship with booksellers on the high street and with libraries too.

What does Bluemoose Books have to offer that others don’t or what do you feel makes your company unique?

We are the delicatessens of the publishing world. Our books are honed and polished and made the best they can be. We spend an inordinate amount of time in editing and working with our authors. After all, they are the most important people in publishing, because they create the wonderful stories we want to read. As a family of readers and writers with differing reading tastes we know that once we’ve agreed to publish an author, our passion and individually tailored marketing and sales will get our books into reader’s hands.

Why do you feel that independents are good for the publishing industry?

I think Independents are actually in a different publishing industry than the corporates. We are the only ones taking risks with new writers and promoting new voices. We are to some extent the R&D departments of the corporate world. It is interesting to know that 4 of the last 8 winners of The Man Booker have come from the Independent sector. Our publishing decisions are made on the quality of the stories. The economic imperative is first and foremost the main consideration for the corporate publishing world. Great stories are not made round the committee table, great stories are created in the minds of authors. We give our writers time and space to create these stories. If literature is about anything it is about new writers and new voices. As the books editor of The Guardian recently said, ‘It is the independents that are driving innovation in publishing.’

You’re a big voice for publishing in the North and often discuss class and region in terms of publishing. Why is it so important that we continue to promote publishing up North?

Geography shouldn’t dictate what is published. I get that historically the publishing industry has been in London but with internships alienating so many creative people entering publishing in London, we are limiting the creative and talented pool of people which will make publishing more dynamic. Having a Northern Power house of publishing in the north will enable wonderfully creative and talented people to get jobs in publishing without having to go down to London. Publishing needs diversity, people who have different life experiences and backgrounds not just the homogenised group of people who come from the same educational institutions and dominate what is being published today. We are justly proud to be a publisher based in the North but we are just as proud to have published stories that are sold in over 42 countries around the world.

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You can follow Bluemoose Books on Twitter @ofmooseandmen

Find out more about the company here. http://www.bluemoosebooks.com/

Introducing Author Howard Kaplan – on the Hollywood adaptation of his novel

I am very excited and privileged to host an interview with Howard Kaplan, author of The Damascus Cover, a novel which has been adapted into a film starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers and John Hurt! Here he discusses his experiences writing a novel, what research such a novel requires, and the processes behind transforming his story from the page to the big screen.

Author Howard Kaplan

Author Howard Kaplan

Please can you introduce yourself and give us a brief overview of your career? 

I’m the author of four novels, three published and one to be released around the time The Damascus Cover film will be in theaters in early 2016. I was born and live in Los Angeles always seem to return here as a home base but travel greatly. In my 20’s I lived in London for a time and had close friends in the East End. I learned a lot from them and used them as prototypes in my novels. My Gants Hill friend used to battle the National Front blokes, or geysers as he would say; he was a gentle soul, a lay veterinarian who loved animals and standing across from you with lightning speed could buck you flat with his forehead.

Tell us more about The Damascus Cover. How did the book come about?

When I was 21, I flew to Beirut with a friend and took a shared taxi to Damascus. We stopped in Marjeh Sqaure, where the Israeli spy, Eli Cohen, had been hung. I loved the city, the oldest inhabited city on earth, rung by apricot groves as underground rivers rise there from Lebanon. So I created my own spy story about a high placed Israeli spy, as Eli Cohen had been, in Damascus. Many of the professional and blog reviewers remark about the great detail of Damascus. An Amazon reviewer recently wrote:

The book is fast-paced, with more twists and turns than Monte Carlo. At times I could hear the muezzin, taste the olives, so beautifully does Kaplan describe the Damascene backdrop.” The book was written long before the Syrian Civil War so what’s happened is it’s became an artifact as to what Damascus was like before the destruction.

How was the novel picked up for a film adaptation?

Sometimes you just get lucky. The director was looking for a Middle East book to adapt and it turns out we have a mutual friend. She gave him The Damascus Cover, he read it and we met for coffee. No agents. The project began to take off when he brought on the producer of Gosford Park, so this is a British production so not a great coincidence that we have Jonathan Rhys Meyers as the lead and Sir John Hurt as the head of the Israeli Secret Service who is the puppet master of the novel and film. The novel is in its heart a book about reconciliation, in this case between Israel and the Arab countries, so the topicality seems perennial.

How much input do you have in the film adaptation?

I saw an early draft of the script and made some small suggestions all of which they liked and took. Unexpectedly, I’ve had greater input in post production. I’ve seen several edits and made a number of suggestions, mostly cuts to streamline the plot. A sesasoned novelist knows that no matter how good a scene is, if it doesn’t advance the story and character, it needs to go. They were extraordinarily grateful for my notes and actually used them all. I have a close friend who is the estate attorney for Michael Jackson and a large number of Hollywood people, including many writers. He tells me the novelist never gets such input but I was in Casablanca for a week during shooting in March of 2015, and I’ve kept close relations with the film team, though all the post production work is being done in London. I see the director every time he’s in Los Angeles and as I’m writing this he’ll be here later this week.

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How did you go about researching for the book? What is it about this genre that calls to you more than others?

I spent some time in Damascus as I mentioned. I then read everything written about the city. And God bless the British travel writers, they’ve been everywhere and written about it. I had a large map of Damascus up on my wall to plot the action. My favorite writer is John Le Carre and I’ve always loved the opportunity to write a great suspenseful story, with deep characters and a political message. Nobody anywhere does it better than LeCarre so I think I was drawn to the genre, the chance to write serious suspense, through reading his books, and I’ve read them all, which isn’t always easy as some are verbose.

Do you find that the book is gaining traction due to its topicality?

The book and I, to my great pleasure and amusement, are suddenly getting a lot of attention. I think the topicality is two fold, one, that it is really about the need for the Middle East countries to get along which has never been more apparent than it is now. And secondly, the obvious, Damascus is now on everybody’s radar. It doesn’t happen often in life, but I seem to be in the right place at the right time.

What was particularly challenging about writing this book, and how did you handle this?

The Damascus Cover was my first novel and the real challenge was believing in myself, that I could write a book. I had a father who told me in general how wonderful I was, and in specific what a loser, you’ll never amount to anything slacker I was. He had a great facility to make money but none to see himself. So I was more the kind of person who thought, I don’t think I can do that, but I SHOULD try. The good news is that I generally after a period of great sloth push myself and indeed I did. Once I get going I’m like a locomotive and I just barrel forward.

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What excites you most about the upcoming film?

The cast has been mind blowing. Jonathan Rhys Meyers is beyond a fabulous actor. He gives his all to every scene and I was on set for a week of 10 hour a day shoots. His cover is a German businessman, Hans Hoffman, and hair dyed blonde he does the entire film in a German accent. They brought in a language coach from Berlin and the two of them were zealous that none of his Irish brogue bled into his German. The German actor, Jurgen Prochnow (Das Boot, the DaVinci Code) told me at breakfast in the hotel that the accent is flawless. Olivia Thirlby, best known as the sidekick in Juno, is a delight. She’s young and where Jonny, as he likes to be called, hits his lines perfectly each time she experimented with different takes until she found her spot. It was exhilarating. There are some great scenes too with her and Navid Negahban (Abu Nazir in Homeland). Navid was at my house for a barbecue last month and we talked about how great Olivia is. John Hurt was not on set in the week I was there so I missed meeting him.

What has been your favourite review for the book so far?

I have two, the Los Angeles Times and the American Library Association:

Los Angeles Times
“In the best tradition of the new espionage novel.  Kaplan’s grasp of history and scene creates a genuine reality.  He seems to know every back alley of Damascus and Cyprus.”

American Library Association (starred review)
“A mission inside Syria, a last love affair, and the unfolding of the plot within a plot are handled by the author with skill and a sure sense of the dramatic.”

What do you think of the current schemes going on right now, where authors/readers/libraries/publishers are providing books for Syrian refugees? How important is it that the book industry supports those in need due to war and terrorism?

I think this is fabulous and important but alas in the cold hard world, money talks. A British Young Adults writer, who happens to be on my twitter feed, Patrick Ness, offered 10,000 pounds this past weekend for refugee help and tweeted to writers to help. By the end of the weekend he’d raised 400,000 pounds. It was vastly impressive and moving.

Do you have any advice, as a successful author, for up-and-coming writers?

Don’t be afraid to take risks. There’s no way to know if a scene or an idea works until you actually write it and see. I think it’s vital to know the end before you begin, where you’re going so that all roads have a destination and none are side trips, albeit brilliant ones.

What new work do you have coming up?

The Jerusalem Spy Series initially will be comprised of 3 novels that share a common theme: reconciliation and hope. Between Israel and the Arab countries in The Damascus Cover and between Israelis and Palestinians in Bullets of Palestine and the forthcoming To Destroy Jerusalem. Bullets is about an Israeli agent and Palestinian agent challenged to work together to hunt down and kill an extremist Arab terrorist, Abu Nidal, who is killing both Jews across Europe and moderate Palestinians. It’s the most historical of all my novels and is set often at real events, for example the massacres of women, children and old men in the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatilla in Lebanon by the Christian Phalange party. To Destroy Jerusalem will tackle the nuclear terrorism threat. I’m finishing now and expect to bring out in early 2016.

You can follow Howard Kaplan on Twitter @kaplanhow

See the author in conversation about his works on Youtube:

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