October 2018: Words not written on water
I’m beginning this letter as the US Senate gathers for their cloture vote on Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the US supreme court. I’ll spare you my thoughts. Regular readers of this letter will probably already know that I’m not likely to feel good about a blotivating rage-filled sexpig and... Oh! I gave you my thoughts, didn’t I? Sorry about that. Here’s something better: Lucy Ellman’s thoughts. This article in the Baffler has some very fine advice - and makes Elly and me proud that we're going to publish her next novel in July 2019.
Anyway, it’s hard to imagine that the world will have changed for the better by the time I get to the end of this newsletter. But... hmm. I’ll try to provide some distraction from the hell out there - and maybe even a smidgen of hope for humankind as I go along...
FRANCIS PLUG IS IN THE HOUSE
First up, here’s a scene to warm the heart:
Francis Plug: Writer In Residence is out in the world. It’s a wonderful thing. I’ve been very happy working on it with Paul and Elly for the past year or so. I know I sometimes give the impression in these letters that publishing is difficult and stressful - but it’s also joyful. Thanks to Francis Plug: Writer In Residence I’ve spent a lot of time giggling. And alongside the belly laughs, the novel bursts with insight and emotion and sadness. It’s made me feel alive, in short. It’s every bit as good as you’ll have been hoping for if you loved the first Francis adventure - and then some more. Paul has been inspiring.
Don’t take it from me, though. Take it from actual people out in the world.
In The Guardian, Nina Stibbe says the book is “Glorious… In Writer In Residence, Ewen has pulled off another outstandingly funny book.”
Nina’s review also recognises the depth of the book too, ending with: “Hints of [Francis's] loneliness and fragility add poignancy, and his gentle, persistent commentary on issues such as housing, poverty, library closures, terrorism, plastics, alcoholism and talent-show tears make him a character for our times, not just for the LOLs.”
And how about this for a pull quote:
“A Wetherspoons Wodehouse, a dole-queue Defoe… The saviour of comic fiction.”
Yes please! Those come from the mighty Benjamin Myers in The Spectator - and the whole review is a delight.
Jackie Law on Never Imitate has called the book " “a comedic triumph”, too. Thank you Jackie!
A good start, I’d say. Especially given that Writer In Residence was only published yesterday. Francis is doing well. He may not fit into the world very easily, but he is a gentle, determined and well-intentioned soul. He deserves this moment in the sun - as does his friend Paul Ewen. Now, we just need to sell lots of copies of the book for him to help him feel safe - and encourage him to write more. So please get hold of a limited edition or one of our lovely purple paperbacks.
(On that note we did the first BIG post run the day before yesterday. So if you’ve ordered already - thank you, and look out! The next batch of precious signed editions go out on Monday, so don’t panic if yours hasn’t yet arrived. It will!)
In the meantime, more reviews are scheduled – and we’ll be sure to shout them from the rooftops, both on Twitter and in next month’s newsletter. If you also want to shout from the rooftops, please do... Though if you see Francis on the rooftops, call the emergency services.
BOOKS ARE MY BAG
Our author Preti Taneja continues to flourish. We're very happy to say that We that are young has just today been shortlisted for the Books Are My Bag Breakthrough Author Award. This means a great deal to us and Preti. It’s proof of even more people loving this superb novel, and it’s a fantastic way to reach yet more readers. And it’s really quite moving. We’ve always believed in We that are young as a pioneering, honest, heart-breaking and damn-well-beautiful tour de force - but it would never have come as far as it has without the love and support of some passionate booksellers, reviewers, and a whole world of readers who have picked it up and run with it.
So from us, and from Preti: thank you.
When you pre-order our books, when you read them, when you review them, when you place them on your shop tabletops, when you sing their praises on social media, wax lyrical on Goodreads – it makes a difference. And this kind of thing is the proof. So as I keep saying, thank you.
One more thing. Books Are My Bag is a reader award - and at this stage, there's a vote. If you’ve already read Preti’s book, and you love it as much as we do, please consider going online and voting for her: https://www.nationalbooktokens.com/vote.
(Just to help, when you vote, you’re also automatically entered into a competition to win £100 of book tokens. Not bad.)
Talking of prizes, submissions for the Galley Beggar Press Short Story Prize closed at midnight on Sunday. There were almost 1000 entries this year (a record!); just under 100 of these were free low-earner submissions (70 from GBP, and the remainder from some very good people who donated entries). THANK YOU so much to everyone who has taken part. The process now begins where we’ll be downloading the entries, stripping any identifying names or contact details (it’s very important to us that, up until the long-list announcement, the stories are judged anonymously) – and then we’ll be drinking coffee, munching toast, and reading. From what we’ve seen so far, the quality is again wonderful, the range – from subject to form – tremendously diverse, and we’re in awe again of just how many amazing writers there are. The longlist will be announced at midday on 11 January 2019 – so stay tuned until then.
(... Forgive some more soppiness, but there was a moment on Sunday night, as the cascade of entries continued to come in, when we felt quite emotional. We know that each submission is an act of trust – that every single story has taken time and thought and care. Taken work. We hope we can honour that trust. And we’re really looking forward to crowning this year’s winners.)
I told you about the BookBlast Norwich event in the last newsletter - but the time is getting close and it’s worth repeating. Please come! It’s important that we can prove that literary events work outside the Great Wen - and it’s important to listen to our wonderful authors. So: We’re doing an event in Waterstones at 6pm on 11 October. That’s real soon. Alex Pheby will be there. Paul Stanbridge will be there. Paul Ewen will be there. Francis Plug might show up if he can get past security. And I'll be there too. The theme is despair, emptiness and futility. I won’t actually be talking. Instead, I intend to project Bela Tarr films from my eyes right onto the back your brain. (Actually we’ll be talking about Modernism, not-Modernism and, you know, writing.)
You can book tickets here.
There’s going to be wine too.
(The event is part of a big tour organised by BookBlast. There are some fantastic publishers involved, so even if you can’t get to Norwich, you might find something good near you... Have look at their website.)
Well, as I close Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination is still undecided, but the senate has just voted to move things forward to a final vote. So things aren’t yet worse. But they’re getting there... There are a lot of bad things in limbo at the moment. But the struggle continues. We'll keep fighting. And I’m already looking forward to boycotting Theresa May’s Festival of Brexit:
One last thing! On the way back from Paul Ewen’s launch last night, my car got a puncture. In the car with me were Alex Pheby and Elly. Two avant-garde publishers and a literary genius. Imagine how bad at changing tires we were. Imagine our fear on the edge of the motorway. Imagine us looking at the time, looking at each other and realising we weren’t getting home any time soon. Then imagine a lorry driving past dropping cones - and stopping just in front of us. Imagine three guys getting out, coming over, clocking how hopeless we were, grinning and then changing the tire in a matter of minutes. It was like that scene in the film where the hopeless arty person meets a real functioning adult. I didn’t get their names. I didn’t get their numbers. They brushed off my thanks... But boy was I grateful. They were kind to us and wanted nothing in return. I thought I’d share the story, because I’m still in a daze. And because it makes me think that maybe things are never all bad.