An insight into the publishing world…

Posts tagged ‘writing’

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 Author Nathan O’Hagan

nathan o hagan
Please introduce yourself and give an overview of your career.
 
I’m 37, from Birkenhead originally but now living in Northamptonshire. There’s not much of a career to speak of as yet. I’ve been writing for several years now. I self-published a collection of short stories, “Purge” a couple of years ago, but had struggled to even get my novel read. After years of trying I found Armley Press and they responded really well to it, and it was released at the end of August.
 
Tell us a little bit about your book The World is Not A Cold Dead Place.
twinacdp
 
I began writing it about ten years ago. The first draft was written in a frenzied few months during a fairly dark period in my life, and was largely a form of improvised therapy. Then, over the coming years, I gradually improved it, edited and redrafted, submitting to various publishers, possibly when it wasn’t ready at times. Each time I did that, I’d get the rejection, work on it some more, then leave it for a while before eventually coming back to it.
Plot wise, it’s a first-person narrative, told through the eyes of a mentally ill, very angry young man in my home town Birkenhead. He’s a man who’s cut himself off from society, struggling to cope with his illness and OCD, but for reasons beyond his control, he’s forced to re-enter society. It’s very dark at times, but also (I hope) funny. Judging by the feedback I’ve had so far, people have really responded to the dark humour, and found an unlikely empathy with the main character.
Stylistically, the writers I’ve most been compared to since the book was published are Irvine Welsh, Chuck Palahniuk and Kevin Sampson.
 
What is it that you love about writing in this genre?
 
I’m not entirely sure what genre I write in, though I suppose literary fiction would be the one I’d pick, though someone recently told me TWINACDP is a picaresque novel. My focus is always, primarily, on the character, and I build everything else around that, which probably does place me in both the picaresque and literary fiction genres. I think that gives me freedom to focus more on the character arc.
 
How did it come to the attention of Armley Press?
 
I had almost given up with submitting it. There’s only so many rejections you can take. Then someone or other retweeted a tweet from Mick McCann where he said Armley Press were on the lookout for submission. He described them as “Northern, punk publishers”. Well, I’m Northern, and I’m a punk, so they seemed like they might be a good fit and I got in touch with them. John Lake, the novelist who is Mick’s partner in crime, read it and instantly responded to it.
 
What value do you feel has been given to your book by being published by an independent publisher?
 
Mick and John have really made me feel like the book is important to them in a way that I doubt a mainstream publisher would. There were times when I had doubts and anxieties, and I was able to just text or phone Mick or John and they were always available. I think Mick’s main motivation is to give a voice to writers who deserve to be heard, but are simply being ignored by the mainstream because they can’t guarantee huge sales. I had a couple of close calls with the mainstream publishers, but ultimately they weren’t interested, but, by wanting to publish it, Armley Press gave the book value.
 
  
What would you say has been your most exciting or satisfying experience about the whole process?
 
Definitely the feedback I’ve had. Hearing from a complete stranger that they’ve not just read it, but liked it, makes all the years of toil worth it. Although, I have to say that simply holding a copy of the book in my hand was a pretty incredible feeling too.
 
 
What have you learned about the author’s role in today’s publishing industry in promoting and marketing their own books?
 
I understood right from the off that there was no way Armley would have the marketing and promotional weight of the big boys, so I knew I would have to do my bit. That means being very visible online, particularly Twitter, and being willing and available to appear at anywhere that might provide any sort of publicity and promotion. The latter hasn’t really come up yet, but I’ve certainly tried to be active on Twitter, and Armley and myself have shared the workload in terms of trying to get the book into the hands of reviewers, bloggers and influential people.
You can follow Nathan O’Hagan on Twitter at https://twitter.com/NathanOHagan
He also has an author Facebook page here.
 

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.

Gabriel’s Angel by Mark A. Radcliffe

gabriels angel

Gabriel Bell is a grumpy 44-year old web journalist irritated by the accumulating disappointments of life. He and his girlfriend Ellie want to start a family, but Gabriels has so few sperm he can name them and knit them flippers. So it’s IVF, which is expensive. Losing his job was bad enough, but getting run over and waking up to find himself in a therapy group run by angels really annoys him.
In Gabriels’ group are a professional killer and his last victim, as well as the woman whose car put Gabriel and herself in a coma. From this therapeutic community, just beneath Heaven, they can see the lives of those they have left behind and how they cope. Will the one hit wonder resurrect his Eighties band for a reunion tour? And can Ellie and her friends retrieve what they need from Gabriel’s comatose body, so that she at least can finish what they started?

If the group do well in therapy they may be a allowed to pass into Heaven, or go back to finish their lives. If not, it’s Hell. Or worse, more therapy.

Have you ever wanted to find a book that is equally hilarious as it is heartbreaking, thought-provoking and moving, gentle and yet action-packed? You need to read Gabriel’s angel. It is a truly unique book.

Part of the beauty of it is just how easy it is to read – I got through this book so quickly and smoothly, like a hot knife through butter. But while it’s easy to read, it’s certainly not because the writing is simple or not trying hard enough, it’s just because the writing style is so crystal clear and yet so inviting at the same time. It has a very original concept at the heart of it, which makes it appealing to me in a literary world swamped with millions of stories that are so similar to each other. The idea of there being a celestial group counselling facility somewhere in the astral plane between life and death is both hilarious and fascinating. How do you go about tackling such a concept?

Mark A. Radcliffe takes this idea and runs off with it, producing a novel full of humour and philosophical messages. At the heart there are a number of very different character types – Gabriel, the main protagonist, who is innately good but is struggling with the stress of being made redundant and going through IVF. Yvonne, a successful but bitter woman who was murdered by the evil Kevin who has no moral compass whatsoever. There is Julie, the woman who accidentally crashed into Gabriel and caused them both to go into comas, who had the misfortune of having to take part in a counselling section in limbo just as she was starting to find real happiness. There is Christopher, an angel who suffers constant internal turmoil as he second-guesses the morality of all of his own actions and decisions. Clemetius, the main ‘counsellor’ angel, shows himself to be a dodgy character more and more throughout the story – showing that even those who are meant to be ‘perfect’ in Heaven can’t pull this off.

There is also a parallel narrative that is going on on Earth involving Gabriel’s bereaved wife and her best friend, and Julie’s ex-boyfriend and his disappointing life and unrealised dreams. Hilarious antics occur both after death and back on earth, with hare-brained schemes to retrieve sperm from a comatose IVF patient to desperate attempts to reform an old 80’s band with has-been old men. With such a wide spectrum of colourful characters and events, this book was endlessly entertaining.

It explores questions such as: Who deserves a second chance or redemption? Has the way you have lived your life been worthy or wasteful? What is right or wrong, and can anyone be 100% good or bad? Does the world owe us anything? Can anything be intrinsic when all we do nowadays is question how everything works? Gabriel’s Angel  completely modernises and rewrites the idea of God and how he works, reflecting the ever-changing nature of today’s society.

‘Think of it like this. A modern God, a God in touch with the nuances and struggles of modern life, would know that the things people do are not necessarily indicative of who they are. That sometimes, quite often in fact, we need to look beyond the actions of a person and see inside them to truly understand what motivates them and who, in fact, they are. Moreover, a modern God would recognise that it is by addressing the inner turmoil that can haunt you all, that one might truly address sin.’

…Finally Yvonne spoke. ‘Oh my,’ she said softly. ‘Someone has killed God and replaced him with a social worker.’

Gabriel’s Angel is published by the amazingly successful independent publisher Bluemoose Books and I enjoyed it so much. There is no question about it: if you don’t give this book a chance, you’re making a mistake.

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