Did you want to work in the publishing industry from the start?
No, I only started my career in publishing twenty years ago; previously I spent most of the time in the film industry.
Has your vision from when you started HopeRoad 7 years ago changed?
No, in that I still want to continue to publish authors and writings from Asia, Africa and the Caribbean. It’s a big, rich vision that will last my lifetime.
How do you balance originality and profitability?
Our remit is to publish books of quality – to add a third word – that would otherwise not see the light of day. Profitability is something one can depend on when selling shoes, for instance – but book sales are mainly a gamble. Perhaps most publishers would agree with this! However, I believe in every single title we publish and gain great satisfaction from seeing these books in print and also from working with talented writers. We are still looking forward to that “big win”, but in the meantime, with occasional help from Arts Council England, along with grants for our translations, we are able to keep going, and to keep our standards high.
Your views on writing? What books have had a lasting impact on you?
Books that have stayed with me are Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, Go Tell It On The Mountain by James Baldwin, The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky and Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Márquez.
What makes you decide to publish one writer, and not another?
When the language and the style make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up – and when I am still reading the manuscript at 2 a.m. – that is when I know that I must publish that writer! And that is also when I know I’ve found a book that our readers will enjoy and which will make a difference to their lives.
Before you take on a manuscript, how much consideration do you give to the writer’s willingness and ability to promote the book?
The short answer is: “This is a key part of the deal.” Writers are very clued-up these days about the need to push their books by all and every means, so it’s not usually a problem. Before a contract is signed with HopeRoad, it is made clear that an author must be proactive, willing to suggest ways that they can promote their book themselves. We will support them every inch of the way, while doing our part by utilizing the connections we have built up over the years. Even shy authors, unused to the spotlight, can catch fire when talking to an audience about their work. They will surprise themselves and grow from the experience. Frankly, any writer who won’t join in this process with a good heart and total dedication won’t get far with me and my team.
Picking winners is not easy . . . which titles have sold better than your predictions?
No one can truly predict a winner. If it happens, that is the icing on the cake. Becoming a winner is a mysterious event, but must be related to the last question about publicity and promotion. By the way, I still believe in the old-school “word of mouth” phenomenon. At HopeRoad The Silent Striker by Pete Kulu, about a deaf fourteen-year-old footballer, has been well received.
What are some of your recent releases?
Our latest publication, The Ghosts & Jamal by Bridget Blankley is a beautifully written story of a naïve, thirteen-year-old epileptic boy who is the sole survivor of a terrorist attack on his village in Nigeria. Despite never having been out of his compound before, he sets off on a journey and experiences many trials and adventures that will keep a reader on the edge of their seat.
Sugar, Sugar by Lainy Malkani is an entertaining and sometimes challenging collection of short stories, based on historical fact and focused on the migration of Indian indentured workers to sugar cane plantations in the Caribbean in the 19th century. Lainy brings to life her characters from the distant and recent past and allows their voices to be heard once again.
The Warehouse by S.S. Mausoof is a stunning crime thriller set in unfamiliar territory – on the dangerous borders of Afghanistan and Pakistan; this is a powerful read.
Finally, An Ounce of Practice by Leo Zeilig is focused on a group of students fighting against Mugabe’s dictatorship. Set in London and Harare, it has a flawed hero who sometimes flounders in a world of domestic upheaval whilst clinging on to his integrity in a dangerous political arena.
Do you enjoy reading ebooks? Will the physical book die away eventually?
I don’t enjoy reading on a small screen. The printed book will always be with us.
Your views on marketing and distribution? And on social media?
Our marketing budget is not as generous as we would like but we do as much as we can. We do try to tie our books to events, and to important anniversaries or organisations. Here is an example: our new Young Adult title The Ghosts & Jamal by Bridget Blankley is linked with the National Autistic Society as the author herself has an autism spectrum disorder.
How important is funding?
Hugely important. Vital! Independent publishers – especially the smaller ones – are always searching for funding and it doesn’t get any easier.
Your favourite qualities in a person?
Honesty, a sense of humour, punctuality and kindness.
Who are the five people, living or dead, you’d invite to a party?
Both sets of my great-grandparents and grandparents, Zora Neale Hurston and Louis Armstrong!
Your chief characteristic? And chief fault?
Optimism and determination are my watchwords; impatience is my chief fault.
How do you relax?
Music always relaxes me, and most mornings start with a walk through my local park. It’s a pleasure to buy fresh ingredients at farmers’ markets, then I will cook for family and friends.
Your greatest achievement?
Still working at it . . .
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