Kevin Duffy lives in Hebden Bridge with Hetha, co-founder of Bluemoose Books, his two sons and their dog, Eric.
Are (were) your parents great readers? Tell us a bit about yourself.
My dad wasn’t a big reader, never read fiction, nor non -fiction for that matter. My mum read a lot, Georgette Heyer and Jean Plaidy, but there weren’t that many books in the house. There was a mobile library that came to our village every Monday evening and that’s where we got our books. My parents were both very religious so we had two sets of encyclopedias, Butler’s Lives of the Saints and The Encyclopedia Britannica.
Right, now for the Miss World answers: I’m fifty five, married to Hetha, with two grown up sons and live in Hebden Bridge. I’ve worked in publishing for 30 years, 25 of those in sales and marketing, for various publishers, fiction, non-fiction and academic. I started working life in a bakery, worked in a jigsaw factory, was in a pantomime with Les Dawson and became a team leader at Burger King in Hounslow for 12 months too.
As a school governor we stopped the local authority from closing the school my lads went to and a few of us curtailed Whitbread’s ambition to demolish a 13th century coaching Inn and turn it into a Karaoke-in-a-basket fun pub.
Did you want to work in the publishing industry from the start?
No not really. I knew it existed of sorts because I read books, but it wasn’t on the radar as something that I would or could do. I worked for a library wholesaler in Hounslow and met lots of sales reps for publishing companies and then applied for a sales job at Headline books in 1987 when they had just started, got the job and it progressed from there.
Has your vision from when you started Bluemoose Books 11 years ago changed?
No. Our vision from the start was to find great new writers, nurture their talent and publish them, and that’s what we’re still doing.
How do you balance originality and profitability?
We always go for originality and then find the readers. Of course we’re not a library but because we’re a family of readers and writers with such divergent reading tastes, if we all like a book, we know we have a good chance of finding enough readers to make it all worthwhile.
Your views on writing?
For me it is all about stories and characters, writing that grabs me with the first word and doesn’t let me go until the last.
What books have had a lasting impact on you?
Kestrel for a Knave by Barry Hines and The Loneliness of a Long-distance Runner by Alan Sillitoe, plus the book that got me back on the straight and narrow was The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff.
What makes you decide to publish one writer, and not another?
When the writing just grabs you by the scruff of the neck and won’t let go.
Technology and the rise of Kindle and iPads etc have revolutionised the publishing industry. How well have publishers adapted to industry changes?
I think the (fiction) industry panicked a tad and threw billions at something they didn’t really know enough about. Of course technology will help reader’s access content in differing ways but there for literary fiction I go by the rule of sufficient technology. The spoon is at the apex of technology if you want some sugar in your tea. The paperback is sufficient technology for the reader and yes, if they want to carry several books on holiday or on business there are content providers out there. It is interesting to note that ebook sales have plateaued, and hardback and paperback sales are increasing. That isn’t to say for other parts of the industry, academic, educational and business publishing, technology is paramount in the delivery of information.
Do you enjoy reading ebooks?
Will the physical book die away eventually?
I don’t think so. We use different synapses when we’re holding and feeling the pages of a book. Cold steel and Jeff Bezos staring over your shoulder all the time doesn’t do it for me.
Your views on marketing and distribution?
The most difficult part of publishing. Finding readers is the alchemy we’re all looking for and the fight for bookshelf space when you’re competing with multi-billion dollar operations is always fun.
And on social media?
I always use to say nobody bought a book from a single tweet, but I was proved wrong when Benjamin Myers did just that for his new book The Gallows Pole, and we sold loads from the Bluemoose website. So I may have to finally buy a mobile phone.
Nearly 80% of the UK’s publishing industry wanted to remain in the EU. In the wake of Brexit, what are the implications for book publishing and translation in your view?
I read that Penguin Random House were looking into the whole International copyright issue and seeing if they would move their ‘rights’ to Gutersloh in Germany because of IP. Of course we don’t have VAT on books, yet, so it’s all in the mixer with selling rights in other territories. Let’s hope Theresa May reads books.
How important is funding for independent publishers?
Imperative. Without grants, subscriptions, smaller independent literary fiction publishers wouldn’t exist and you wouldn’t have all the brilliant new writers out there being short-listed and winning a lot of the major literary prizes. We are the R&D of the literary publishing world.
How do you relax?
I read or watch Coronation Street.
Your favourite qualities in a person?
A sense of humour, and an ability to see through all the shite that’s out there.
For what faults do have you most tolerance?
Impatience and over-enthusiasm.
Your chief characteristic?
I like to laugh.
Your chief fault?
Your bedside reading?
Always a P.G. Wodehouse on the go and at the minute Anthony Burgess’ Earthly Powers. Ryszard Kapuscinski’s Shah of Shahs. Emmanuel Carrère’s The Kingdom. Patricia Highsmith’s The Cry of the Owl.
Your favourite prose author?
Your favourite heroes in fiction?
Don’t really do heroes bit if push comes to shove I’d say, Billy Casper in Kes.
Your favourite heroines in fiction?
The Brontë sisters’ heroines.
Your heroes in real life?
A mate of mine who started his working life as a bricklayer, has a stammer and became a college lecturer.
Your favourite heroines in real life?
My maternal grandmother who had a child out of wedlock in the 1920’s.
Who are the five people, living or dead, you’d invite to a party?
Mel Brooks. Alan Coren. Bette Midler, Malcolm X, Nina Simone.
Don’t let the bastards grind you down.
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