“I’ve been a freelance cartoonist since 1992, yet have always maintained ambitions as an author. My breakthrough came with a children’s fantasy novel Lydia’s Tin Lid Drum (begun in 2002). “
Why did you become a book publisher? I’ve been a freelance cartoonist since 1992, yet have always maintained ambitions as an author. My breakthrough came with a children’s fantasy novel Lydia’s Tin Lid Drum (begun in 2002). Liz Cross, a top editor at Oxford University Press (whose credits include Philip Pullmann’s His Dark Materials, & Philip Reeves’ Mortal Engines) expressed an interest in the book as ‘early’ as 2003. This epic labor of love was finally launched at a press dinner in London (in 2009) alongside two ‘national treasures’ of children’s literature, Geraldine McCaughrean and Shirley Hughes. A proud moment for me. Despite this auspicious debut, the book wasn’t a commercial success. My unusual lyrical writing style proved to be a drawback regarding translation rights, and I was unable to convince Oxford to take another chance on my work. So I looked into self-publishing and, under the label ‘Likrish Publishing’ (Likrishka being the homeland of my character Lydia) I made my next two novels available as e-books.
What do you like best about publishing? This year I discovered the CreateSpace platform (or rather it found me, following my links with Kindle), and it’s been very gratifying to see my fiction back in book form - more so, as an illustrator, as it allows me to produce precisely-designed layouts, covers and interior decorations. Self-publishing also means the freedom to produce whichever work I choose, in whatever way I wish, and whenever I am able. I do, however, dearly miss the input, support and feedback of an experienced publishing staff - so now I have to be a writer, illustrator, designer, editor and proofreader all-in-one!
What do you publish? I’ve always written imaginative fiction, and in my younger years enjoyed books by Lewis Carroll, Roald Dahl and Dr. Seuss. (It’s no wonder my style’s so lyrically loose). Later, I discovered such inspirational spirits as Margaret Atwood, Italo Calvino, Angela Carter and Günter Grass; Anthony Burgess’ essays on Joyce and language were important to me too. Thus, my own aspirational offerings include: two ‘Lydia’ novels; The Castle of Desires (mixing Faust, a Bartók opera, and early Hollywood); plus a series of illustrated children’s stories, Jason Rascal’s Seasonal Dreamworlds. The first of these Spring in Time was published in May. Mad Summer Games will follow soon; and the Hallowe’en-themed Autumn Nightmare should be finished by Fall. My next priority will be two new ‘definitive’ editions of my debut novel, including one specially re-written for younger readers called Lydia’s Enchanted Toffee. (An idea that came from a fan who wanted a simpler version for her little sister!)
What is the most effective form of marketing for your press? I haven’t found any marketing channels particularly effective as yet, I’m sorry to say - which is why I joined the IBPA. Now that my books are in print again, and I’ve just published my first new title for two years, I am looking to promote my work more seriously. Recently I heard about NetGalley’s services, and hope to make the most of my membership here. Otherwise, I’ve been improving my profile on Goodreads: posting reviews and PDF previews, running giveaways for each new title, and connecting with a few new readers.
How do you define a successful title? A truly successful fiction title is one that delights, entertains, or proves unforgettable, even meaningful to the reader. I always try to write something of charm and eloquence that has personal meaning for me too. I do think it’s important to give just as much care and attention to the visuals. A book should be attractively presented, and a pleasure to the eye; and, for children especially (though not exclusively), plenty of interior pictures really add to the reading experience.
Tell us about one of your titles about which you are especially proud. I am, of course, immensely proud of my debut Lydia’s Tin Lid Drum. My first ever review said it was “destined to become a children’s classic”; UK broadsheet The Independent called it “mad but tantalizingly different”; and I still find online readers saying that the book is one of their all-time favorites. Yet it is the sequel Lydia’s Golden Drum’ which takes proudest pride of place for me, bringing to a satisfying end this cherished ten-year saga (written in memory of a dear dear friend). Another highly-illustrated labor of love (now in a glossy CreateSpace edition), Golden Drum was largely inspired by the Arabian Nights; thus the book is a tribute to storytelling itself, with my character Sugar in a Scheherazade role; her side stories also enrich the main narrative - an eerie, magical, varied adventure - which gave me a way of expressing my thoughts on mortality and memory in a quirky poetic context.
What has been your biggest challenge in achieving success? Trying to decide on the best way to advertise my work and attract an audience has been my greatest problem. So far, I’ve been content to concentrate on the writing and design side of things, (there’s also the distraction of my illustration career). This is why I will be looking into IBPA’s marketing opportunities, and hopefully spend more time being a proper publisher and publicist.
What advice do you have for newcomers to book publishing? I found producing Kindle versions of my books to be good experience to start with, helping me become more adept at submitting manuscripts for self-publication. Consequently, when dealing with CreateSpace, the greater demands of actual book production proved less daunting. I think it’s important to try to be a meticulous perfectionist when preparing text, layouts and covers; take pride in all that you do, and offer readers the best possible product.
How will you and your company be positioned in five years? When I look back to 2010 (just after my first book was released), I couldn’t have foreseen the changes I had to make over those next few years: establishing a website and a life online, writing and producing my first e-books, returning to freelance illustration after a seven year hiatus … Now, I need to build upon the experience of being back in print, and find a dedicated audience. With CreateSpace, I feel much more like a publisher now, revitalized as an author too with a full schedule of ‘next projects’. In just the last few months, I have doubled my number of available titles. I’d like to think, in another five years, I will have doubled that number again, and attained a genuine sizeable readership.
When you're not fully immersed in publishing, what do you do for fun? Pretty much everything I do ‘for fun’ feeds into my literary work - whether reading books by other authors, listening to classical music, or drawing. And, after the intense preparation and proofing of a new paperback, starting work on a fresh creative project can come as a light relief! Though my book illustrations are all computer-based, I still find time to pick up a dip pen and muck about with ink and paper. My caricatures have graced the pages (and covers) of the Times Literary Supplement, Gramophone, Mojo, and the Mail on Sunday. and I’ve been lucky to have my work featured on CD packaging, and in concert programs (including for the Mariinsky Opera, the CBSO and BBC Proms). I also contribute regularly to the Lebrecht Music + Arts Picture Library, and 2016 will mark our ten year association. A selection of these images, along with book illustrations and exhibition pieces can be found on my website, ‘The Land of Oz’.
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