A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
Excitement is in the air at Bluemoose Books. They now have a film agency signed on to sell their authors’ work, which is fantastic, especially as it is the same agent who represented Slumdog Millionaire, according to this article. Film agent or not, who could fail to be charmed by a publisher whose website declares “I can’t play football, my chest is my own and I haven’t won a reality T.V. competition so I’m damned sick of the corporate, celebrity fuelled, football crazed, quick buck mentality of the British Publishing world these days. That’s why we started Bluemoose Books…”
Lisa Glass: Perhaps you could start by giving us a potted history of Bluemoose Books? When did you start up? What prompted you to form your own press?
Kevin Duffy: I started Bluemoose in 2006 because I was angry and dismayed at what was on offer in the bookstores and as a rail against the gatekeepers to publishing in this country, the agents. I won a national writing competition and had an agent, Darley Anderson, and Hodder were going to publish my book, Anthills and Stars. However, when the commercial director got to it, he decided he couldn’t sell 20,000 units and so they didn’t publish. I started to rant and whinge, so Hetha, my wife told me to stop moaning and do something about it. We remortgaged the house and started Bluemoose books and the first two books we published were my novel, Anthills and Stars and The Bridge Between by Nathan Vanek. We have published two further titles, Gardening with tortoises and our latest novel, The art of being dead by Stephen Clayton. We have two more titles for 2010. Falling through clouds by Anna Chilvers which we’ll publish in January and Gabriel’s Angel in July 2010. Two fantastic stories, beautifully written by two outstanding writers.
LG: What are your aims for the press? How is Bluemoose different from other small indie presses? Do you have a mission statement?
KD: The aims for Bluemoose are quite simple. To promote and publish great stories that engage, challenge and inspire readers. We involve the writers in everything we do and promote ourselves as a small press who are a family of readers and writers, dedicated to the written word. No grand mission statement, we just publish great stories.
LG: Could you tell us how you choose the books that you publish? What would you like to see in your submissions in-tray?
KD: We publish those books that grab us as readers. The story is everything. As a reader I have to be propelled by both the narrative and characters, whose insights compel me to finish the story. Anything that transports me from the daily grind and excites me is in with a chance.
LG: What kind of problems, if any, are you experiencing as a result of the current publishing climate?
KD: The problems of selling books are many. The high street stranglehold Waterstone’s has means without money you can’t get your titles in the front of store but with innovation this can be sidestepped and was with The art of being dead. It became Wats Leeds bestselling non promotional fiction title last year because a passionate bookseller loved the Mss and gave us a window and dumpbin free of charge. Fantastic. With publishers obsessed with Celebriture, we are receiving some great Mss from writers who are not being offered contracts.
LG: How do you think the publishing industry could be improved?
KD: Once the gatekeepers are removed (the agents) then we will see truly great writing published. When the only criteria for an agent to offer a writer a contract is how much money they, themselves will make, then we are being led by the nose. I can see the publishing business model of offering large advances as a thing of the past. Smaller regional publishers are taking up the creative slack left behind by the big five, whose obsession with celebriture publishing will see further international mergers over the next ten years. It is up to the likes of Tindal street, Myrmidon, Canongate, and dare I say it Bluemoose to challenge the generic and formulaic publishing that we see today. In times of crisis, creativity always proves its worth and great publishers will emerge and I don’t think the ebook is the answer. Where is the soul in a Kindle or a Sony reader? There is a place for ebooks, education and storing knowledge, but the written, printed word will forever be the choice of entertainment to those who read books for pleasure.
LG: Do you have any advice for writers, aspiring or published?
KD: My only advice to writers is to read as many books as possible, work constantly on the craft of writing and always listen to a good editor.
LG: What have you learnt since starting the press in 2006, and if you could start over would you do anything differently?
KD: Don’t worry what the supposed Metropolitan elite of London think about regional presses. They are not doing anything earth shattering and their arrogance is leading them down a very, very dark avenue of celebriture. They are becoming generic, formulaic adjuncts of Tesco and Walmart and shame on them. Start locally. Get the the local and regional press excited and passionate about what you’re trying to do. As always, London will eventually catch on and want a bit of the pie.
LG: You’re passionate about only publishing truly great writing and you say that ‘the story is everything’. To what extent do you suggest revisions to your authors’ manuscripts? And would you ever, for instance, ask an author to alter the ending of a story to make the book more marketable?
KD: We advise revisions if we think the pace or the narrative is impeded by clunky prose or inappropriate characterisation. Anything that doesn’t add to the overall arc of the story is cut. Harsh but sometimes necessary. I would hope I wouldn’t change the ending of the story because someone from Asda wanted a Hollywood ending, but no, we’ve advised on rewrites but not to change the overall ending.
LG: What advice would you give to someone hoping to do as you have done and start up their own press?
KD: If you can find great writers and know about marketing and selling the books, then do it. If you can’t sell your books, you become a vanity press and you will soon be found out. Don’t just set up a press because you like the idea. It does become your life plus we seem to have acquired bank managers who either don’t read or can’t.
LG: I was very impressed with The art of being dead [which I have reviewed here] and it reminded me of some of the classic existential European novels I read at university. However, it seems quite different to the books put out by the bigger presses, like Hodder, for example. Is there such a thing as a ‘typical Bluemoose book’. What kind of books would NEVER make it onto your list?
KD: I don’t think there can be such a thing as a Bluemoose Book, other that it will be a great story beautifully written and will engage, entertain and inspire the reader. The Bluemoose family is an eclectic one and long may that be so. Once you go down the same as, same as route, you lose your soul. Branded Celebriture books will never be a part of what we’re trying to do. Plus, Science fiction, children’s and poetry. We don’t have the editorial or marketing expertise.
LG: How has starting Bluemoose Books affected your own writing?
KD: I still write but not as often as I should. Of course when you’re in the middle of a publishing campaign it does mean time is limited and you have to concentrate all of your efforts on the author and the book in question.
LG: Finally, what should we go out and read this summer? Please recommend five of your favourite books.
KD: Read whatever takes your fancy. I’m reading some short stories by Raymon Carver called ‘Cathedral.’ Fantastic.
Five books I recommend for no particular reason other than they are great stories.
1. A Kestrel for a knave Barry Hines
2. Scoop Evelyn Waugh
3. Sprouts of wrath Robert Rankin
4. The third Policeman Flann O’brien
5. Gods in Alabama Joshlyn Jackson
And two you should read next year are: Falling through clouds, by Anna Chilvers and Gabriel’s Angel, by Mark A Radcliffe. And I don’t apologise for promoting Bluemoose books, because I’m sure you won’t be disappointed with what you read.
LG: Just one more thing, why the name “Bluemoose”?
KD: The Bluemoose name: There is a pub in Hardcastle Craggs called The Blue Pig, near Hebden Bridge and at the same time I was thinking of starting an indie publisher I was reading Sweet Soul Music, by Peter Guralnick, which is a history of Soul and R&B and in there is a biog of BullMoose Jackson, a great Sax player, so the name Bluemoose is a mix of the two.
Kevin Duffy is 48 years old, lives in Hebden Bridge with Hetha, who runs an editorial team at Sweet and Maxwell and his two boys Leo is 18 and Cal, 15. He is a sales rep for Anova books in the day time and has sold books for the past 23 years for various publishers from commercial houses like Headline to Academic like Maxwell Macmillan. He went to grammar school in Manchester and he has a degree in English and History. His working history is myriad and he has worked in Burger King, a jigsaw factory, in pantomime with Les Dawson and sold Boilers. In 1998 he won a national writing competition and was wined and dined at The Ivy in celebland with an agent and the editorial director of Macmillan. Darley Anderson was his agent for his first novel Anthills and Stars and Hodder were going to publish but after passing all the editorial tests the commercial director felt they couldn’t sell 20,000 copies so they didn’t publish. Comic novels weren’t in vogue, so after 2 years with Darley he got the copyright back for Anthills and Stars. He started to moan and whinge so Hetha told him to do something about it, so they started Bluemoose Books in 2006 with Anthills and Stars and The Bridge Between being their first two publications. Since then they have published Gardening with tortoises and The art of being dead. Kevin rants in a daily blog about bookselling and publishing called The Moose That Roared www.Bluemoosebooks.blogspot.com
Bluemoose Books website is at www.Bluemoosebooks.com
Anthills and Stars has just been selected by Exclusively independent to be showcased throughout indie bookshops in the UK and libraries.
Scott Pack has reviewed both The art of being dead: ‘A brilliant novel by a significant author who should be hailed as such,’ and Anthills and Stars: ‘A warm and beautifully observed comedy that is very funny indeed. Kevin Duffy has Alan Bennett’s fine ear for dialogue.’
As to submissions. If any writer wants to send Bluemoose the first three chapters and a synopsis electronically, then we will have a look. We will reply within 12 weeks.
For more information about Bluemoose Books, click here.