Review | Wrestliana, Toby Litt | Book of the Week

“I decided to write a book about William, and to pay tribute to him by calling it Wrestliana. By doing this, I would explicitly take William on, on his home ground. Because all of this ‘being a man’ stuff was something I needed to wrestle with. To be a better son and to be a better father. To be a better man.” — Toby Litt

The author of over fifteen books, Toby Litt continues to be effortlessly experimental as he moves skilfully between genres, from a thriller set in high-octane Media London (Corpsing), a coming-of-age tale which turns disturbingly murderous (deadkidsongs), and a parody of chick lit in Finding Myself; to a Henry Jamesian portrayal of bereavement casting a blight over life (Ghost Story), facing the male midlife crisis as a Canadian rock band goes on tour in I play the drums in a band called okay, and a superb collection of twenty-six essays on a diverse range of subjects (Mutants). At times he combines a variety of forms in one book. Continue reading Review | Wrestliana, Toby Litt | Book of the Week

Spotlight | The seemingly unstoppable boom in indie publishing & The Republic of Consciousness Prize

Indie Publishing vs. Self Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing

With commissioning editors at mainstream publishers increasingly under the corporate cosh, any literary submissions calculated to sell less than 5000 copies are turned down regardless, which leaves the field open for independent publishers to come in and have a go at the roulette table imagining winners that might come their way.

An experienced commissioning editor may be able to spot high-quality writing and know their target readership, but s/he is no less a gambler than anyone else playing the publishing game. Their gut instinct counts for little in the corporate boardroom nowadays, even though the way in which advances are calculated is an inexact science, and tales of legendary rejections make for juicy water-cooler chat. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was rejected 12 times before being picked up; Gone with the Wind got the thumbs down 32 times; Under the Frog 22 times; Dune 20 times; and The Tale of Peter Rabbit was rejected so many times it was self-published.

Smaller publishers generally avoid formulaic writing for the genre market, provide greater personalised support, and as opposed to a vanity press do not ask the author for money. Added to which crowdfunding has become a more than viable option, not only to raise funds, but to develop a community of readers ahead of publication (Peirene Now! No. 3, Shatila Stories was recently successfully funded with 327 backers pledging £13,350 via Kickstarter). Best not confuse authors self-publishing their own books only generally via a digital platform such as Amazon or Kobo with indie publishers; the term indie authors would be more accurate.

According to a recent report in The Guardian, “Independent publishers have unleashed a boom in sales,” and “turnover across the Arts Council England-funded portfolio surged above its budget by almost £100,000 this year, reaching £277,930.”

Continue reading Spotlight | The seemingly unstoppable boom in indie publishing & The Republic of Consciousness Prize

Interview | Heidi James | Author of the Week

Where were you born, and where did you grow up?
I was born in Chatham in Kent and grew up in the surrounding towns – called the Medway towns – so in and around Rochester, Chatham (on various estates), Gillingham. I left when I was seventeen and moved to London, but even though I’ve not lived there for a long time, Medway remains a potent influence.

What sorts of books were in your family home? Who were early formative influences?
My mother and grandmother were avid readers, and I was taught to read and love books from a very early age; but they were busy, working class women who’d left school early so the books in our homes tended to be Catherine Cookson and romances, Mills and Boon etc. Having said that I had lots of classic children’s books and I had a couple of teachers who were pretty amazing in encouraging me to read widely. When I was teenager I skipped school to go the library in town and would read anything and everything curled up in a chair by a window that looked out over the River Medway. I read a lot of Dickens, Daphne du Maurier and Stephen King. I used to read any of the Penguin Classics, because that seemed to be a foolproof method of reading; I was hungry to learn, but hated school. I suppose my earliest influences that I was consciously reading to learn to write were Angela Carter, Plath and Sexton and John Steinbeck. I loved his work.
Continue reading Interview | Heidi James | Author of the Week

Interview | Sam Mills, Dodo Ink | Indie Publisher of the Week

Are (were) your parents great readers? Tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m unusual in that I’m from a working class family – not many of us working in publishing, or getting published, for that matter. My parents weren’t great readers. My mum did notice and nurture my love of reading, however, by returning from jumble sales with bags of dog-eared books – Enid Blyton, Anne Fine, Roald Dahl. She was a wonderful mum.

Did you want to work in the publishing industry from the start?
I think ‘work’ is the wrong word. None of us are earning any money from Dodo. I’m a writer (I somehow earn my living from writing) who moonlights as a publisher. I guess it’s an unusual reversal: writing is my day ‘job’, though I love it so much I don’t regard it as a job. We’re running Dodo out of passion for the books which publish. Continue reading Interview | Sam Mills, Dodo Ink | Indie Publisher of the Week

Interview | Ra Page, Comma Press | Indie Publisher of the Week

Are (were) your parents great readers? Tell us a bit about yourself.
Absolutely, both of them. My parents hoarded books, and they read to us every night as kids. My mother is a voracious reader of novels (although she never allows herself enough time to read them). My dad came from that great working-class tradition of self-betterment, investing in his own education throughout his life. He stock-piled political and historical texts, was a huge fan of EP Thomson and Eric Hobsbawm in particular, and loved Strachey’s Eminent Victorians so much he named one of my brothers ‘Lytton’. He left behind a library of books about Nasser and Middle East history that none of really know what to do with. Dad was more of a history and non-fiction reader, Mum more fiction. There were some writers they both agreed on though: Lawrence, Hardy, Orwell.
Also, I have to say, in the context of our new release Protest, that this book is effectively my ‘thank you’ to my parents for the extraordinary political education I got from them. I was privileged to grow up in the eye of a whole cluster of political storms. As kids we stood on pickets lines outside coalfields in North Derbyshire and South Yorkshire, took day trips to Greenham, were greatly involved in the 1984 Chesterfield by-election that returned Tony Benn to parliament, marched with the country-long anti-Apartheid march that culminated in the two Free South Africa concerts; and saw a newly freed Mandela address the world at second of these. We were beyond lucky.
As well as being a thank you to them, this book is also a potted journey of protests that Mum, Dad and two grandfathers I never knew were involved in, as well as much earlier ones that I heard mentioned in hushed reverence. Mum and Dad got to know each other on an Aldermaston march; both were linked with the Hornsey sit-in, both were at the anti-Vietnam demo in Grosvenor Square, 1968 – where Dad was wrongly arrested and defended himself in court. My grandfather also marched with Jarrow marchers as they entered London in 1936, and fought against the blackshirts on Cable Street the same year. That’s the thing about this book, it’s not just me, scratch the surface and everybody has a connection to not one, but multitudes of these stories – because it’s our history, not theirs. To quote my friend, Dinesh Allirajah: “It’s political, but it’s always been personal.”

Continue reading Interview | Ra Page, Comma Press | Indie Publisher of the Week

Interview | Jen Hamilton-Emery, Salt Publishing | Indie of the Week

BookBlast™ catches up with Jen Hamilton-Emery, fiction editor and director of independent Salt publishing, based in Cromer, Norfolk.

Are (were) your parents great readers? Tell us a bit about yourself.
Yes, both my parents were (and still are) readers. Every week my mum would take me to the library and a treat was a trip to a bookshop. I’ve always had books in my life.

Did you want to work in the publishing industry from the start?
I’ve always loved books and reading, but working in publishing never entered my head when I was looking at career options. I left school in the early 1980s in Glasgow and knew no-one who had any involvement whatsoever in publishing. There was less of it about in those days!

Has your vision from when you started Salt 18 years ago changed?
No, not really. Our vision was always to publish interesting and brilliant books that were that bit different to the mainstream.  We may have shifted genres from poetry to fiction, but our aims haven’t changed.

Continue reading Interview | Jen Hamilton-Emery, Salt Publishing | Indie of the Week

Interview | Kevin Duffy, Bluemoose Books | Indie of the Week

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.

Continue reading Interview | Kevin Duffy, Bluemoose Books | Indie of the Week