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Posts tagged ‘Red Button Publishing’

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

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

Johnny Rich, author of The Human Script

Johnny Rich, author of The Human Script

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are you working on next?

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

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

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

human-script-final

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

Introducing Red Button Publishing

I am extremely excited to share with you all my interview with Caroline of independent publishing house Red Button Publishing. She has kindly taken time from her busy schedule to share with us insights into the independent publishing world, information about their upcoming titles and a wealth of knowledge and experience gained over her years working in the publishing industry…

Caroline Goldsmith, one of the lovely ladies behind Red Button Publishing

A shelfie from Caroline Goldsmith, one of the lovely ladies behind Red Button Publishing

Please introduce our readers to yourself and to Karen Ings. What are your backgrounds and career journeys?

I met Karen nearly fifteen years ago when I started in my first job in publishing at Aurum Press where she was Commissioning Editor. We’ve been close friends ever since. We both moved through various roles over the years. Karen curated her list at Aurum Press for ten years before moving into a freelance role and working for companies like Penguin, Macmillan and Quercus. I worked my way through various departments including sales, rights, marketing and publicity for companies like Tate Publishing and finally DK where I worked in International Sales.

Tell us about Red Button Publishing. How and when did the company begin?

One of our regular conversations, usually over a glass of wine, over the years has been about how we would run our own publishing house. In 2012, Karen was freelancing and I was in the process of leaving my job in International Sales and moving from London to the countryside. We had both taken a keen interest in how digital technology was changing our industry and we saw opportunity. We had little funding but we had nearly three decades worth of experience between us and a lot of energy. We drafted a plan for Red Button over lunch one hot August day and decided on a name the following day. Red Button Publishing was born.

The big guys still rule the roost, but this is really the age of the independents.

What kind of literature do you focus on? How successful have you been so far?

Our aim has always been to give a voice to really outstanding fiction that might be overlooked by the mainstream. This idea was encapsulated in our first publication, The Human Script by Johnny Rich, a poignant story of a doomed love affair and also a mind expanding journey through philosophy, science, art and religion. Johnny had written the novel over a decade ago whilst on the acclaimed Creative Writing MA course at the University of East Anglia. It had been heaped with praise by writers like Ian McEwan and Tom McCarthy and was signed up by one of the top London agents. The book continued to meet with praise from commissioning editors at the major publishers but never quite made it past the commercially minded sales departments. As a sales person, I knew that a lot of good writing was deemed too risky and never saw the light of day. This was what had happened to The Human Script. We read it, we loved it and we published it in April 2013 as an ebook. It’s again been met with almost universal praise from people who’ve read it and we hope that when we publish it as a paperback later this year it will be discovered by even more readers.

Since then we’ve published three more titles and they’re all very different. The Anchoress by Paul Blaney is an exquisite novella about Maggie, a woman who locks herself in her wardrobe. As the story progresses you find out why Maggie has really decided to escape the world. It’s a very moving story about memory, childhood, grief and acceptance.

We followed this with Home by Rebekah Lattin-Rawstrone, a powerful and dark novel about a caretaker at an old people’s home who discovers something horribly disturbing about his workplace. It’s a compelling and chilling novel that asks questions about how we treat our elderly and what it means to be forgotten.

And then we published Mockstars by Christopher Russell which is a comic, coming-of-age novel best summed up by author Alex Marsh as “The Inbetweeners meets Spinal Tap’. It’s a brilliantly funny story about a group of friends trying to make it as a band, based in part on Christopher’s own tour diaries with his rock band.

Red Button Publishing's upcoming paperbacks.

Red Button Publishing’s upcoming paperbacks.

Your website states that you publish ‘fantastic fiction.’ What, for you, constitutes fantastic fiction?

We’ve often said that we’re looking for fiction that really jumps off the page, stories that are just crying out to be published. When we read a submission we’re looking for something that we would recommend to others. We both have to be completely on board to make it work. We have similar tastes in many ways but we also differ. I am a sucker for a horror story and Karen has still never quite understood my distaste for Jane Austen. We challenge each other and that’s a good thing for the list. I think it means that the books we publish are really special.

What has been the most rewarding part of the Red Button Publishing journey? Just how difficult (or indeed easy!) has it been carving a way for yourself as an independent publishing company when the competition in publishing is so large and dominating?

It’s always going to be hard for smaller companies to make their voices heard. We don’t have the marketing budgets that we were used to working with in our previous publishing lives. I think there’s an appetite for something a bit different though. People seem to like what we’re trying to do and we’ve been really overwhelmed by the support we’ve received from readers and publishing colleagues. The big guys still rule the roost, but this is really the age of the independents. We really take inspiration from other independents like Galley Beggar Press, Salt and And Other Stories who are out there doing great things for fiction.

Writers are very much front and centre of the publishing industry today, in a way that they haven’t been before.

What upcoming titles (that you’re allowed to mention!) are you really excited about?

Currently we’re working on bringing all four Red Button titles out as paperbacks. The Anchoress and Home will be published in paper on April 9th. The Human Script and Mockstars will follow over the summer. We’re big advocates of digital reading but the paperback remains a strong format for fiction and we want our books to reach as many readers as possible. We’ve also got another book from Paul Blaney lined up later in the year. It’s another challenging piece of writing that will raise questions about parenthood and biology.

Do you find that you receive a lot of submissions? If so, why do you think more and more people are looking to get published?

We read every submission that comes into our inbox so yes, it sometimes feels that we do receive a lot. I don’t think that there are more people looking to get published than before though. I just think that there are more options open to writers than there ever have been. They are very much front and centre of the publishing industry today, in a way that they haven’t been before.

You also offer consultancy services. How successful has this been?

Writers have a lot more choice in how they publish their work these days. Essentially you don’t need a publisher to get your work out there. We’re grateful that some writers still prefer to work with a publishing team but we’re also aware that many writers prefer to publish independently. But good publishing still requires work, it’s not, as some commentators have suggested ‘simply pressing a button’. And that’s where we can come in. We offer a range of services including editorial, typesetting, ebook formatting, book cover design as well as guidance through the publishing platforms. We’ve worked with some lovely writers and it’s always a good feeling to know you’re helping someone achieve their dream.

The online book community is huge and if you’re not engaged with it you’re missing out.

What do you feel are the most important skills needed for independent publishers who do all of the work for their companies themselves?

Adaptability. Things never stay the same in any industry but the pace of change in publishing has really accelerated in recent years. I have learned more in the past five years than at any other time in my career. You have to keep taking on new ideas, learning new skills, challenging your preconceptions and trying new things.

And lastly, how important is having an online presence for publishers today and why?

Hugely important. It’s not just about book discoverability either, it’s about being part of the publishing dialogue. 

Red Button floating logo

Discover Red Button Publishing online:
Twitter @RedButtonPubs
Caroline and Karen are also on Twitter (@goldcaro and @ladykarenza respectively)

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