Light Reading

ZZ091F6152.pngMacmillan New Writing is an imprint whose founder, Michael Barnard, wanted to cre­ate a spring­board for tal­en­ted, unpub­lished writers with work that might be over­looked by the more behemoth­ic play­ers. When MNW was cre­ated, there was sig­ni­fic­ant broo-hah-hah and palavery. Hackles were raised and tea cups rattled home to their sau­cers through­out London. “It’s the Ryan Air of pub­lish­ing!”

Barnard wrote a very slightly odd but inform­at­ive book on his battle to cre­ate the imprint, which I reviewed on my blog here. (Note Michael Stephen Fuchs’ com­ments to that art­icle.) I’ve also reviewed both of Fuchs’ MNW efforts, The Manuscript and Pandora’s Sisters, as well as Taking Comfort by Roger Morris. To make mat­ters more com­plic­ated, Aliya Whiteley, a MNW author, served a stint as an edit­or for the UKA Press. There she edited my first book, Déjà Vu, for which Herculean effort she will forever be in my good books — or at least the one that is good.

Last Thursday, Aliya launched her second MNW book, Light Reading, at Goldsboro Books. Is Macmillerati a word? No? Good. It would be silly. (Macmillistas?) But it was nice to see a good turn out from Aliya’s fel­low authors, as well as oth­ers in the loose net­work that has sprung up around her. Aliya gave a little speech and we all bought cop­ies of the book. Goldsboro Books did a fine job of the host­ing. The shop, on Cecil Court just off Charing Cross Road, seems to be part of a col­lec­tion of spe­cial­ist and curi­ous book shops.

(As we were leav­ing the do, my coha­bitu­al over­unit spot­ted a tour group enter­ing the road. Before I could stage whis­per, “Stop! We haven’t paid!” she had skipped over to join the back of the throng. Directly we over­heard that Cecil Court had been used in the Diagon Alley sequence for Harry Potter and Philosopher’s Stone. One lives; one learns.)

It was great to catch up with Aliya. One of the curi­ous things about meet­ing people that you’ve only pre­vi­ously known elec­tron­ic­ally is that, while you know them in the sense of hav­ing lots of inform­a­tion about them, you aren’t really famil­i­ar with they way they talk, their man­ner­isms and so on.

For example, few people expec­ted me to look like such a scruffy bas­tard.

A big shout out to Matt Curran, whose writ­ing is going strong. He’s the author of The Secret War. We chat­ted about the per­ils of writ­ing full time — i.e. I get all excited with the post­man comes, and some­times dis­cuss plot points with my ger­bils. Matt some­what con­vinced me that Lulu might be the way for­ward for one of my nov­els (that gets lovely feed­back from edit­ors and then a couple of lines about how full their lists are). Roger Morris was there, too, and he’s every bit as per­son­able as his plog sug­gests. As he has men­tioned on said plog, we’re both strug­gling to write St Petersburg nov­els (though Roger has two in the bag already). Roger has always been quick to answer my quer­ies on eso­ter­ic Russian things, like the name of the equi­val­ent ‘detect­ive’ rank in the Russian police force.

Also bumped into David Gardiner, who is now help­ing out at the UKA Press (the pub­lish­er that put out my first book, Déjà Vu) and the troubadour Jon Stone (and his girl­friend whose name, I’m afraid, I didn’t catch). Neil Ayres and his girl­friend (mup­petly, I’ve for­got­ten her name as well; memory like a) were also there, and it was great to meet Neil, finally. Back in the day, he pub­lished an early short story of mine called Afterlife in his online magazine, Fragment. Neil wrote a very inter­est­ing book called Nicolo’s Gifts and is now co-writ­ing an epis­tolary sci­ence fic­tion nov­el with Aliya, which I look for­ward to.

This industry. Nothing hap­pens for long peri­ods. You’re on your own when you write a book. The sense of point­less­ness is some­times over­power­ing. Even if you write some­thing that you’re happy with, the fic­tion pub­lish­ing busi­ness is so small that you need a good dose of luck to get the bloody thing actu­ally out there. As we were mak­ing the two-hour trip back to Canterbury, my girl­friend remarked that I should try to write some­thing really main­stream. I had to sigh. She was say­ing this for my own bene­fit; she knows that I’m los­ing the will to engage in the pub­lish­ing game and wants me to get some motiv­a­tion back. Well, I got some motiv­a­tion back from talk­ing to Aliya (she’s a good writer; pub­lish­ers will buy her stuff; she illus­trates that the route is pos­sible) and the oth­er Macmillan New Writers.

I was struck by their esprit d’corps. They are quite unique, I think, in being a group of writers pub­lished more-or-less sim­ul­tan­eously with­in the same list. They rep­res­ent a cohort whose mem­bers are at the same point in their careers; there are no egos (in evid­ence) and the sense of a team is palp­able. They have not been selec­ted because they are journ­al­ists with media con­nec­tions; or because they’ve trav­elled around Moldova with a min­i­bar; or they have a tie-in series on Channel Four. No; the books they sub­mit­ted for pub­lic­a­tion were just good, that’s all. MNW, for all the broo-hah-hah, is ana­chron­ist­ic­ally mer­ito­crat­ic.

You can buy Light Reading from any book­shop, or online. Aliya has a web­site, a blog (co-authored with Neil Ayres), and even a book trail­er.

Author: Ian Hocking

Writer and psychologist.

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