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Posts tagged ‘writing’

DODO INK – Dodge and Burn by Seraphina Madsen

Hi guys. Slowly trying to catch up with reviewing for my 52 books by 52 publishers reading challenge. Here’s number 4, and the publisher is:

 

 

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Dodo Ink is an independent publishing company based in the UK. Founded by author Sam Mills (The Quiddity of Will Self, Corsair, 2012), digital publishing and marketing specialist Alex Spears, and reviewer Thom Cuell, Dodo Ink will publish original fiction, with a focus on risk-taking, imaginative novels. We are looking for books which don’t fall into easy marketing categories and don’t compromise their intelligence or style to fit in with trends. We are passionate readers, and we believe that there are many more who share our appetite for bold, original and ‘difficult’ fiction. We want to provide a home for great writing which isn’t being picked up by the mainstream.

Find out more about them here.

 

The book I’m reviewing is…

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We were told that our mother’s life was terminated by killer bees while vacationing in San Marcos, Mexico with Dr Vargas at his family home.

 After her mother dies in bizarre circumstances, heiress Eugenie Lund is abducted by Dr Vargas, a charismatic Svengali-like figure who educates her according to his own philosophy, an esoteric blend of anthropology and psychiatry. Isolated from outside influences, Eugenie’s life is spent on the run across North America and Europe, existing on the fringes of society, always trying to keep one step ahead of her past. 
Taking in Mexico, Las Vegas, and the underground rave scene, Dodge and Burn is a psychedelic road trip recounted in beautifully crafted prose that pulses with frenetic energy.

Inspired by the likes of Carlos Castaneda and Hunter S Thompson, this is an exciting, iconoclastic debut novel from a remarkable new voice. 

Well. Where do I start with this one? It is quite frankly nothing like I’ve ever, ever read before!

When it says ‘psychedelic’ in the blurb, they’re really not kidding. This story is all about one girl’s mission to find her missing sister and to make sense of the universe around her, and is written as a series of notebook/diary entries interspersed with the narrative and point of view of an outside character who is trying to track her down. Eugenie’s universe is quite different to many other people’s: she relies on heavy psychedelic drug use, Wiccan rituals, tribal practices, meditation and all manner of other things to make sense of her own world and access modes and forms of perception and existence that are completely alien to most of us. It leaves you wondering, quite often, what is real and what Eugenie is imagining or hallucinating. Often you’re left to decide that for yourself. For this reason the writing is lyrical, poetic, surreal, and quite ground-breaking. It is truly a reading ‘experience’ and quite unique.

This doesn’t mean it’s hard to read. On the contrary, I read in Seraphina’s essay on the writing of Dodge and Burn and she stated that she wanted Eugenie’s voice to sound “scholarly, yet popular in a generally even tone” and she’s achieved that perfectly. I did have to read a few passages a couple of times over, but that’s not because of the writing style, it’s because the concepts that were being described were so new to me that I had to try to understand them as much as I could in order to understand Eugenie. You get a real sense of who Eugenie is under the surface and you yearn for her missing sister along with her; you are endlessly curious about the world and alternative ways of living, just like she is. She pulls you into her bizarre reality along with her, and it’s a lot of fun.

I loved Ben, Eugenie’s husband. He is calm and collected most of the time, and only really aggressive if he perceives a threat towards Eugenie. You can feel the love between the couple radiate off the page. The way he doesn’t altogether understand Eugenie and what she talks about, but humours her and supports her and goes along with her rituals and things anyway, is truly adorable and lovely. He isn’t perfect and he has a fairly dark, criminal past, but Ben’s sole purpose before meeting Eugenie is to travel the world and take part in dance raves, and afterwards it seems to be protecting Eugenie to the best of his ability. And I like him for that. He is not averse to violence but doesn’t indulge in it for the sake of things.

Dr Vargas, Eugenie and her sister’s captor, reminded me a little bit of Count Olaf from a Series of Unfortunate Events. I guess this is probably an annoying comment for the author to read as obviously Count Olaf has never had any bearing or influence on this character, and in fact Seraphina’s own stepfather was the influence there. But just to give you an idea of what it’s like if you haven’t read the book, the circumstances are similar in that he makes the children’s lives miserable by kidnapping them and exercising his sheer dominance and power over them in an almost magical way to keep them under his thumb for years and years. He is dangerous and evil and conniving and greedy and, quite unlike Count Olaf, he should be taken very seriously indeed. He really is quite an unpleasant character.

The mystery of Eugenie’s sister Camille and where she’s disappeared to is truly fascinating. The ending of the book just utterly took my breath away; I did not for one second expect it to happen and yet it makes so much sense. Then, of course, you have to decide if you believe the twist to be real. I personally do believe it, but that’s up for you to figure out for yourself. I’d love to hear your interpretations of this book.

Books like these are the reason I love indie publishing companies: Penguin Random House or Hachette probably wouldn’t have looked at this twice and that is a massive, massive loss for them. Read it! Four big shiny stars from me.

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Introducing Crime Author Michael Knaggs

As explained in this book review, I met Michael Knaggs at Waterstones in Hull, where he impressed me with his willingness to engage with the general reading public without ‘hard-selling’ his book. I have since got to know him more and he is an enthusiastic and charming author. His third book in the Hotel St Kilda trilogy is about to be published and I seriously enjoyed Catalyst, the first book in the series. Find out more about this Hull-born author in the interview below, in which he demonstrates that there is more than just one way to become a successful author…

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Please introduce yourself and give us a bit of background to your life and career.

I was born in Hull in 1944 and lived there until just after my 22nd birthday. During that time I attended Hull Grammar School where I wrote a short story for a school magazine which, 55 years later, turned up again as the opening scene in my first book!

After attaining a Higher National Diploma in Chemistry at Hull Technical College, I moved to Thurso, Caithness, in 1967 to work as an Experimental Officer at Dounreay Atomic Power Station, and relocated to Salford to complete a degree in Chemistry two years later. There at the University, in addition to getting my degree, I got a wife as well – Carol, who worked in the laboratory there.

From there up to my retirement in 2005, I worked for Kellogg Company – the global breakfast cereal manufacturers – latterly as HR Director with responsibility for Pay and Benefit policy across the Company’s European area operation.

I live in Prestwich, Manchester, with Carol, my bride of 45 years! Our great passion is hill-walking and we do at least one long distance walk each year. This year we are undertaking the West Highland Way for the second time and later in the year will be tackling the Wolds Way in East Yorkshire – close to my home. We have two children and two grand-children, all of whom live close to us.

How long have you been writing, and why did you decide to publish a novel?

I began writing after I retired at the end of 2005. But long before then I had the story very clearly formed in my mind and the first thing I did before starting on the manuscript was to set it out in full in abbreviated form. And although I had never written a book before I must have produced the equivalent in length of about ten or fifteen over the years in the form of reports, employee policy documents and communications, presentations, talks, speeches, training courses, etc. So at least the process of stringing words together was a natural one for me.

It was never my intension to write a trilogy. I simply had a story I wanted to tell which was too long for a single book, so I ended up with an accidental trilogy!

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My copy of Catalyst – as illustrated by Michael Knagg’s wife Carol

Tell us a little bit about Catalyst- ‘sell’ your book to our readers!

Catalyst is a crime/political thriller dealing with street crime and, more specifically, how to tackle it in the context of the wider issue of law and justice.

When three brothers, leaders of a brutal street gang, are lured to an isolated cul-de-sac and shot dead by a mysterious stranger, the subsequent euphoria on the estate where they lived is picked up by the national press. Tom Brown, a Member of Parliament for the Opposition Party, whose constituency includes the estate, seizes the opportunity to exploit the story by leading a crusade to implement a New Justice Regime which would include uncompromising methods for tackling street gangs.

The book follows Tom’s efforts to win support – assisted by a local campaigner, George Holland, and a freelance reporter, Tony Dobson – along with the parallel story of the hunt for the killer. When the killer is eventually caught and sentenced, the two storylines come together in dramatic fashion. At the same time the gang sets out for revenge, targeting George and descending in large numbers on the quiet village where he lives, armed and ready to kill.

Meanwhile, Tom’s Party leader, Andrew Donald, is pursuing his own agenda….

I believe the book will appeal to a wide variety of readers of all ages. It features heroic characters of all types and vintages who I hope people will readily identify with.

What research did you undertake for the book? How did you manage the capture the voice and tone of the various environments within the story – the gang culture, the political and policing environments, the court room?

Researching the book was one of the most fulfilling parts of the whole experience – and in some ways, it was very easy. Through Wikipedia and Google you can find out every bit of information that has ever been discovered, recorded, collected, hypothesised or anything. This created a temptation for me to include a mass of technical, factual data which added nothing to the story, but made me sound very smart and knowledgeable. I’ve learned my lesson, though, and only the essential bits go in to the stories now!

I also met with a number of people – political representatives, lawyers and members of the police – who helped me a great deal and to whom I shall be ever grateful for their time and interest, as well as the great incites into their areas of work – and without the attendant extraneous information I’d got from other sources.

I see that your wife is also the book’s illustrator – it captures the book perfectly. What was your experience working together creatively? Was there much trial and error?

Carol is a water-colour artist whose preferred subject matter is pastoral landscapes and pet portraits, so the cover images were well outside her normal comfort zone. Working together on the cover designs was really great and all credit to Carol for producing exactly what I had envisaged for both books. It must be difficult enough for an artist getting onto paper or canvas what is in their own mind. It’s a step beyond that producing what is in someone else’s mind. Yes, there was a lot of trial and error – though perhaps ‘error’ isn’t the right word. And with the second book – Heaven’s Door – after we had seemingly wrapped up the artwork, I realised the image was the wrong way round to how I had described it in the book – so Carol re-drafted it, with – I have to admit – amazing patience and calm!

You clearly love crime writing – so, why this genre?

Up to when I retired I didn’t read much at all, but what I did enjoy mostly was crime fiction. But the main reason is the nature of the story itself which had been growing in my mind for a couple of decades, stemming from the short story I wrote at grammar school and expanding into this substantial saga. That story was about street crime so that’s the genre where it fitted. I didn’t choose to become a crime writer, as such; it just happened that’s where the story fitted.

I met you at a book signing in Waterstones – why do you think it’s important to engage with readers face-to-face, and what do you enjoy about marketing your work? Is there anything you feel that authors need to do more of?

Because of my virtual anonymity in a genre which is saturated with books, authors, and manuscripts waiting to become books, I have to get to people as best I can to persuade them to try my work. Meeting them in book shops is the best opportunity to do that. In fact, I sell the majority of my books at the sort of event where we met in Hull. If I had an agent and full PR behind me out in the market place, then I would not need to reach out to potential readers in this way. And whereas it would be nice to have someone out there promoting my work – I’d certainly relish that situation – I would miss out on one of the things I like most. That is the opportunity to share with people the journey that has brought me face to face with them in Waterstones or WH Smiths, or wherever. (Incidentally, I am exceptionally grateful to the store managers at all the branches of those stores where I have been given the opportunity to raise the profile of my books)

In so far as what authors should do more of, I’m not sure I can answer that for the whole spectrum of practitioners, but I would certainly encourage new authors to try what I do. It’s amazing how interested the reading public are in hearing about the process that turns an idea for a tale in someone’s head into a finished book or e-document. And also how prepared they are to try someone new.

Anything you feel that you’d like to learn more about?

 I guess the simple answer is anything that will help me reach a wider readership. And I’m finding out more about that all the time through meeting people like you who are kind enough to take an interest and help me move forward.

Why did you choose to self-publish your work, and why did you choose to go through a self-publishing imprint of a traditional publisher? How did you come across them, and what have been the benefits of taking this route? How have they supported you?

In this genre and increasingly in others, publishers will not accept manuscripts directly from authors, only from literary agents. So to get ‘traditionally’ published an author needs to persuade an agent to represent them, and the agent must be engaged enough to feel they can persuade a publisher to take it forward.

The decision is based on risk – ‘will the book sell?’ – and not on quality, although obviously there is a quality threshold. I was advised from the beginning that I would have very little chance of getting an agent – who is someone looking for a career writer with whom to establish a long-term relationship which would need a lot of work at the start to raise the author’s profile. An old guy writing recreationally in retirement is not a good bet.

So self publishing was the only way forward if I wanted to fulfil my ambition. I chose Matador because they are the self-publishing arm of Troubador who are mainstream publishers, and also because they are recommended regularly by independent sources on self-publishing, e.g. the Writers’ and Artists’ Year Book. I have never regretted the decision and they have provided excellent support and advice throughout the production of the three books.

Why did you decide to tackle a controversial political subject in your book?

I’m afraid there’s a lot of me in the New Justice Regime and its provisions for dealing with people who set out to make other people’s lives a misery for no other reason than the fact that they are easy targets. I guess I’m into my Grumpy Old Man stage, but it goes further than that. I firmly believe that more should be more done to protect the victims and potential victims of street crime and less to understand and embrace the motives of the perpetrators. (This is where I could go on for several pages) Suffice to say, it could have been me making the speeches at the Old Bailey and the 3AF meeting.

Which characters do you particularly love in your books, and why?

That’s easy – my favourite characters are the two police colleagues, DCI David Gerrard and DS Jo Cottrell. They are close colleagues oozing respect for each other but also share a deep mutual affection. They are great vehicles for me to include all the light quips and comments that true friends will share and they serve to provide a lighter side to the darkness of the overall plot. I enjoy writing dialogue – which my editor thinks is my main strength – and have always thoroughly enjoyed putting together their exchanges.

What’s next for you and your books?

I promised both myself and Carol that I would retire again after completing the third book, which takes my original story to its conclusion. However, during the course of my writing I have had an idea for a fourth book – a sequel to the trilogy – which includes what I believe is a great twist and would provide a very satisfying conclusion to the whole saga. Whether I do this or not will depend on the reaction to my third book – which I, and my editor, believe is, by some margin, the best of all – and how I settle back to life without writing.

In so far as the three completed books are concerned, then I expect much of the same – introducing and promoting my work through book signings and through the numerous talks I have been invited to give to reading groups, creative writing groups and other organisations. Something else I enjoy very much.

We’ll see. But whatever happens, I have enjoyed the whole experience immensely and am quite proud of what I have achieved at a time in my life when I could have been excused for taking things easy!

Find out more about Michael Knaggs here.

*BLOG TOUR STOP* THE WACKY MAN BY LYN G. FARRELL

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My new shrink asks me, ‘What things do you remember about being very young?’ It’s like looking into a murky river, I say. Memories flash near the surface like fish coming up for flies. The past peeps out, startles me, and then is gone…

Amanda secludes herself in her bedroom, no longer willing to face the outside world. Gradually, she pieces together the story of her life: her brothers have had to abandon her, her mother scarcely talks to her, and the Wacky Man could return any day to burn the house down. Just like he promised.

As her family disintegrates, Amanda hopes for a better future, a way out from the violence and fear that has consumed her childhood. But can she cling to her sanity, before insanity itself is her only means of escape?

Ever wondered what it would feel like to be punched in the gut, hard, by a poet?

No, me neither, but once I’d finished reading The Wacky Man, I knew exactly how it would feel.

Wow! No book has ever quite had such an emotional impact on me whilst reading it. This novel was not only incredibly moving and powerful to read, but it made me re-evaluate a lot of things I thought I knew. It moved me to tears a lot, but also made me gasp with the beauty of it.

I don’t know how Lyn G. Farrell does it, but in The Wacky Man she manages to shape brutal, terrible subject matters – domestic violence, insanity, social unrest, fear – using the most stunningly beautiful language. When she writes, she doesn’t try too hard to make the reader understand what’s happening: she just writes what is and as a result, it feels like you’re living the story rather than reading it. She doesn’t tell the story, she shows it. For that reason, it spoke to me on so many levels.

She screams, an astonishing noise that explodes into the silence to send the night things rattling away and then hangs in the sky like a flare. The scream unpins Amanda’s frozen limbs like a magic spell and she scrabbles down the lumpy ground through high grown weeds that knot around her ankles like snares.

For me, the front cover perfectly reflects that of the writing inside: truly gorgeous artistry, with an upsetting but important subject matter within.

Seamus and Barbara are a young couple about to get married. Seamus comes from a big Irish family, Barbara from a quiet English background. Unrest and violence at the hands of the IRA are a growing problem, and Irish/English relations are at breaking point. Seamus seems to be kind, funny, friendly soul to the outside world, but behind closed doors hides a monster and the consequences of his actions will reverberate throughout both his and his children’s lives. Barbara does her best to protect their twin boys, Tommo and Jamie, and their daughter Amanda from his terrifying rages, but slowly the violence and fear begin to take their toll. The Wacky Man explores the consequences of such traumatic experiences on the lives of those who are domestically abused.

The story moves along in two narrative strands: the first is written in Amanda’s voice, talking in the present and sharing her childhood memories and her current predicament. She has locked herself in her bedroom and her sanity is slowly unravelling. The second narrative explores the past: both the early days of her parents’ marriage, and Amanda and her brothers’ harrowing childhoods. This is so effective because the book answers questions as it raises them without being overly transparent. It allows the reader to understand Barbara’s story, as well as Amanda’s. It keeps you invested in the family’s story and keeps you moving through the book, all the while hoping that things get better for them and they find a way to escape this hell.

What I loved most about the book is its authenticity. I don’t know if any of the things that happen in the book ever happened to Lyn, but I tell you, if they didn’t, she got her research spot on. What resonated with me in particular were Amanda’s experiences of being bullied and overlooked in school. When I was reading, I became Amanda while being simultaneously transported back to the old me, a desperately unhappy girl who is bullied and afraid. Having been that bullied girl, I can tell you right now that Farrell gets it absolutely spot on. All of the emotions; the erratic thoughts, the feeling of losing control and losing self-esteem: it’s all so expertly written.

For me, this isn’t a book you can afford to miss. So, it’s not the happiest of topics: but that’s what makes it work so well. It is honest, it is raw, but it is beautiful, and a truly magnificent read.

 

About the author:

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Lyn G. Farrell is the winner of the 2015 Luke Bitmead Bursary and The Wacky Man is her debut novel.

Lyn grew up in Lancashire where she would have gone to school if life had been different. She spent most of her teenage years reading anything she could get her hands on.
She studied Psychology at the University of Leeds and now works in the School of Education at Leeds Beckett University.

Follow Lyn on Twitter @FarrellWrites

Follow the publisher Legend Press @legend_press

Buy a copy of the book here.

 

Written in Red by Annie Dalton

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Shortly before Christmas, Professor James Lowell is found brutally attacked in his rooms at Walsingham College, where Anna Hopkins works as an administrator. Baffled as to why anyone would wish to harm such a gentle, scholarly man, Anna discovers that Lowell had a connection with her fellow dogwalker, Isadora Salzman, who knew him as an undergraduate in the 1960s, a co-member of the so-called Oxford Six. It turns out that Isadora has been keeping a surprising secret all these years. But someone else knows about Isadora’s secret: someone who has sent her a threatening, frightening letter.

Could the attack on Professor Lowell have its roots in a 50-year-old murder? And who is targeting Isadora and the surviving members of the Oxford Six? Anna, Isadora and Tansy, the dogwalking detectives, make it their business to find out.

Written in Red is the second in the Oxford Dog Walkers Mystery series, and such an enjoyable read. This one kept me up late at night, and cost me a few hours’ sleep, due to my reluctance to put the thing down when it was time to go to bed.

Anna has become a million times stronger, mentally and emotionally, than she was at the beginning of the first book, in which she was tormented and haunted by the horrific events of her past. Isadora, Tansy, Jake and her other friends and family all help her heal, slowly but surely. She becomes a much more stable and happy individual. Throughout the two novels, Anna’s friends help her realise that life is worth living and that it IS possible to keep moving on without forgetting those that she has lost.

However, what I think makes Anna’s story all more the realistic is that she isn’t completely ‘fixed’: she still struggles in certain social situations; still gets scared and claustrophobic and still has troubles lurking beneath the surface. Anna isn’t managing to develop a more quiet, settled life; instead, violence and crime seems to be following her around more often that it ever was. But this time, she’s managing to fight it without completely falling apart. To me, this makes Anna more of a 3D character, and gives us the promise that more character development is yet to come in subsequent books.

I also think that it’s the need for Anna to support others in their times of crises that help her get through things. In Written in Red, it’s Isadora’s past that comes back to haunt her and it’s down to Anna and Tansy and their friends to help her get through it and discover the truth behind a series of killings and threatening letters. A wide range of strange, compelling, colourful characters come out of the woodwork from Isadora’s youth: the dangerous and sinister Tallis, who single-handedly ruins the lives of many of her friends; Catherine, the enigmatic born-again Christian with a big secret, and Professor James Lowell, racked with pain and regret about his actions of his past, to name just a few.

Now, since I was a young girl, Annie Dalton has been teaching me about history through fiction. In her Agent Angel books, the main character zoomed throughout history and I learned so much about various civilisations and events of the past from all over the world. She didn’t stop there: I learned a lot in terms of war and the fight against communism in this book. Annie expertly intertwines a modern-day narrative with diary excerpts and tales from a troubling political time in British history, showing how business, politics and international relations can affect the home lives of normal, innocent citizens.

Another brilliant aspect of this series is that there are also a lot of twists and turns within the books that aren’t necessarily linked to main crime story. These twists build upon the underlying and continuous story of Anna and her world, parallel to the individual murder mystery within the novel. I won’t give anything away here, but I was just as surprised and intrigued by these as I was by the many surprises thrown in my direction by the crime aspect of the story. If you think you know Anna and her life from reading the first book, think again! And if you haven’t read the first book yet, then you are most definitely missing out.

The truth about the killer, and other mysteries, is not revealed until really quite close to the end of the book, and what I particularly loved about it was that it isn’t a straightforward, black-and-white, morally simple case. I defy you to read this book and come out of it thinking that there is only one side to every story.

I seriously loved this book; lovers of crime and mystery will adore it, but it will also appeal to lovers of literary fiction, romance, and even chick-lit alike. Well, well worth a read!

 

 

Exciting news from author Daniel Pembrey

Today’s interview is a catch up with my friend and author Daniel Pembrey, author of The Harbour Master. He’s dropped by Words Are My Craft to share with us some exciting news…

Daniel, what’s new since we last worked together on the Britcrime Online Literature Festival?

Hi Stephanie! Nice to be here … I just released a short story as a Kindle Single (Amazon’s curated, short e-book programme). The Lion Hunter was inspired by a combination of Cecil the lion, a recent trip to Tanzania and my re-reading of Hemingway’s African short stories. It’s about a newly married British couple who meet a Texan trophy hunter at a remote game lodge. The lion hunting turns out to be less morally straightforward than the husband bargains for. It really is short at approximately 40 pages. I loved writing it, and I love the creature it’s based around.

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You can buy The Lion Hunter: A Short Adventure Story here if you live in the UK and here if you’re in the US …

You seem to like novellas and short stories …

I really do – both as a reader and an author. I love nothing more than being gripped by a story during the course of a plane or train journey. Also I feel so lucky to be living in an era when there is a viable market for them. Before e-books, novellas were the realm of Hemingway and perhaps Stephen King; now, with programmes such as Kindle Singles, they are flourishing.

The Lion Hunter is in fact my fourth Kindle Single; the previous ones are a standalone espionage story called The Candidate: A Luxembourg Thriller and the first two instalments of the Harbour Master series.

Speaking of The Harbour Master, which I read and reviewed earlier in the year (click here to read); what’s going on with that?

Well, thanks to the success of the Harbour Master Kindle Singles (the first became the No. 1 Short Story on Amazon UK), I got a picked up by a great agent, and between her and the visibility I received at our BritCrime Festival this summer, I ended up receiving two offers from traditional publishers. I went with No Exit Press, who have built up a terrific crime list. The Harbour Master e-book novellas are now being withdrawn from sale in preparation for the launch of two, novel length books. The first should be out next year.

How exciting! So what else can we look forward to from you?

I’m working on a novel set in Berlin and the screen adaptation of my standalone spy story The Candidate, which has been optioned for a film in Luxembourg. I’m also working on the new Harbour Master stories, and of course there is the BritCrime Christmas Ball on Sunday December 13th to look forward to!

That will indeed be a ball! Thank you for taking part in this interview.

My pleasure! Thanks for having me, and see you on December 13th if not before!

Before you rush off, can you tell us where our readers can find you online?

Good catch! I am active on Twitter, https://twitter.com/DPemb, and also present on Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/DPembrey … You can view my latest news on my website too, http://www.danielprembrey.com, and also sign up there to receive my quarterly email newsletter with offers of free exclusive content. See you soon!

 

Kingdom by Russ Litten

It’s books like this that make me wonder…just how much pure literary gold is hiding out there that I might not stumble across? Kingdom is published by Hull publishing house Wrecking Ball Press and it is absolute magic. Many many people need to discover this and read it.

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“My name is Alistair Kingdom and I was born a ghost…”

A stranger appears in a prison library and assaults a guard. Locked in solitary confinement, he tells the story of his life and death.

Kingdom is the dark, achingly grotesque and somewhat third novel by Russ Litten.

This is such a unique book, with a concept that I’ve never seen tackled before and a flawless narrative that sweeps you along with the main character as he goes through an emotional and fascinating journey.

Alistair Kingdom wakes up in a dirty, dilapidated house one day with no memory of who he is or where he is. As we follow his story throughout the book, he slowly begins to realise that he has no physical presence and that no one can see him or hear him. What follows is his emotional AND physical quest to remember who he is, what’s happened to him and how he can escape this Hell in which he’s found himself.

The writing style is emotive, it is very funny, it’s chatty and, remarkably, it made me relate to the character despite his baffling situation. You never lose that hunger to find out what his story is and it keeps you gripped throughout the book. When you do find out who he is after a series of suggestions and hints and revelations throughout the book, you are taken completely by surprise, and my God is it a powerful realisation! You think, ‘I should have known this all along.’ The assumptions I made throughout, which seemed so obvious at the time, were suddenly blown to pieces by the truth of it and that’s why it makes such a lasting impression.

One quite interesting aspect of the writing style is that it jumps from present tense to past tense from paragraph to paragraph. For example:

“Door. I could not remember it. I groped about for it. Door, door, door. The word wouldn’t come. It bothered me. Other words had come, like wall and snake and sky and grass and roof. Why not door? Why the gap?

I can’t work it out and I can feel the frustration building inside…so after a time I give up, I abandon the mental quest and I’m wandering around the garden, restless, trying to distract myself, trying to fasten on to anything familiar.”

This really worked effectively in my view, in that it a) managed to convey that sense of confusion and lack of time perception that plagues Alistair, and b) feels more realistic in terms of how people actually speak in conversation. They don’t stick religiously to one tense in story telling, especially of this nature, and as the whole book is Alistair relaying his story in conversation with a prison officer, it just makes the novel feel so much more authentic. It’s a real demonstration as to how writing “rules” could often hinder rather than help, as there would be many who would say that this book breaks narrative and writing rules. But to me, it’s a big success on the part of Russ Litten.

It is such a bright and vibrant piece of writing and every description is so rich and brings the image so clearly into the reader’s mind. It really is talented writing. It allows us as readers to rediscover the world again just as Alistair does, through a new pair of eyes that haven’t seen everything already.

I also love the characters in this book. Gemma, the girl Alistair inadvertently falls in love with; the small vulnerable boy Ryan who he grows attached to, the various men he detests on moral grounds. Each character conjures a new human emotion in Alistair and makes him a little bit more human with each new experience or interaction. As he slowly becomes more material and gets his senses back, humans and other ghosts continue to affect and influence him in a number of different ways. It is fascinating to see how people have such an effect on one person and it is very expertly done.

Mr and Mrs Reader, you MUST pick up this brilliant book and read it. You won’t have another experience quite like it.

 

Introducing Literary Agent Sherna Khambatta

Today’s interview is another international one, with a literary agent based in India. Here Sherna Khambatta discusses her role in the industry and the books and publishing landscape in her country.
SKLA Profhimalaya
Please introduce yourself and give a brief overview of your career.

I started the Sherna Khambatta Literary Agency in 2007 after gaining a Msc. in Publishing. The publishing system in India at that time didn’t have many agents and I thought it would be a good way to bring in a certain amount of structure into the industry and help authors get their work sold.
 

What were some of the challenges in doing so?
In understanding how the system worked/ works. The main challenge in India is distribution / visibility of books and marketing so for me, once the book has been published, that’s more of a challenge than getting a book sold.

Your website says “Literary agents are a new concept in Indian publishing.” How has the system worked previously and what do you feel your company brings to the indian publishing landscape?

There are a very few agents in India still, some publishers such as Hachette India now only work through agents so I think in a miniscule way we’ve been able to bring in some structure into the system. Previously authors could directly send in work to publishers by mail and now by email.
 

In what ways do you work as the liaison between the author and publisher?

I negotiate the contract, help out in editing the book, and if there are any issues whilst the publisher edits the work then I step in sometimes as a moderator between the two. I also help out in social media marketing, making sure the books are in store, sending out media copies, arranging interviews, organising events/book signings and with Literary festivals.
 

What is particularly exciting you about Indian publishing right now?

I think India is a country ever changing and there are so many stories to be told and so many individuals with a lot of talent so it’s always exciting!

How many submissions do you receive a month on average and what is it that you look for in a manuscript?

I receive about 70-100 manuscripts a week on average. I prefer working with non-fiction as I believe that no two people have the same experience and so that’s very interesting for me to see something written with a different perspective. I’m in search of well written narratives which I feel should be shared.
 

What’s been your biggest success so far?

I’m very proud to have worked on the newest book that we’ve released –  Himalaya Bound by Michael Benanav –  on a tribe in the Himalayas. It’s published by HarperCollins India and has been a very fulfilling experience.
 
The book The Nanologues by Vanessa Able, published by Hachette India, has had its rights sold in the UK & US by the publisher Nicholas Brealey and re-named ‘Never Mind The Bullocks.’ I feel this has been one of my biggest success stories so far.
You can follow Sherna on Twitter @ShernaKhambatta
Find out more about her company here: http://www.shernakhambatta.com/

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