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New Writing is an imprint whose founder, Michael Barnard, wanted to create a springboard for talented, unpublished writers with work that might be overlooked by the more behemothic players.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.

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Ian Hocking

Writer and psychologist.

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