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PG 12 nic esposito of the head & the hand press in philadephia explains how book publishing is a lot like community farming. and junk food vending.

pg 15 The Malayan Emergency is a war that no one has ever called a war and went largely ignored. Finally Christopher Hale Writes the Book on it.

pg 23 matt cain is a broadcast journalist giving up time in front of the camera for a career behind a desk. His new novel comes out this spring.

NEW EDITION CONTEMPORARY

PUBLISHING

MAGAZINE

#MSWL Literary agents take to the internet to tell writers what they want to see in their submissions inboxes.


NEW EDITION, NOVEMBER 2013

This Month Uh-Oh!

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CONTEMPORARY PUBLISHING MAGAZINE

Welcome to the     November     issue of New Edition.

This month,  we examine publishing industry Twitter trends and how they’re helping agents and editors

communicate directly with authors. Our trend watch continues offline with users who increasingly want

to pay less (or nothing at all) for the content they consume, and common self publishing mistakes that are almost all avoidable.   We talk to author Jenna Blum,  broadcast -journalist -turned-novelist Matt

Cain,  and the founder of The Head & The Hand Press,  Nic Esposito.  And if you’re looking for

literary gifts to give this holiday season,  consider

our stocking-stuffer book ideas,  Christopher Hale’s political and historical non -fiction,  which we

review, or Morrissey’s controversial autobiography. Contributors: Oren Berman,  Jaime Burns,  Louis Dresner,  Katy Garland,  Jordan Koluch,  Hayley Radford,     Diana Rissetto,  Chris Sansom and James Wharton

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Book

Blunders Authoright’s Katy Garland cautions authors against the potential pitfalls of self publishing. Getting these things right is the key to producing a professional-looking book.

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Self publishing is suddenly being lauded (in some circles, at least) as the answer to the industry’s prayers. While large publishers are struggling to make ends meet, improvements in technology are allowing authors to forge their own way and produce professional looking books with access to the same global distribution networks as those major publishers. But just because self publishing is easier to do now than it has been in the past doesn’t mean it’s not without its challenges. Whilst publishing is currently in a dynamic state, where going it alone has nearly— but not quite—lost the negative stigma attached to it, self publishing is a route that every author should consider in great detail before venturing forth, because it is a complex one. Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t just self publishing that’s a complicated process. Making mistakes in the traditionally published world is just as common—as we all saw last month when copies of Helen Fielding’s eagerly-anticipated Bridget Jones follow-up was accidentally printed with sections of David Jason’s autobiography, My Life, inside. But when you self publish, there’s no one else to blame for the mistakes. A writer needs to accept from the word go that the responsibility for the whole process lies solely with the author, and that there are some things to consider before getting started in order to avoid mistakes further down the line. Then any mistakes that do happen won’t come as so much of a shock to the system. Self publishing takes drive to succeed—if you don’t believe in your book and stand by it every step of the way, who will? But there are some easy ways to avoid the most common mistakes and give your book the best chance of success. Before you even get started it’s crucial to create a schedule and a budget. Your schedule needs to take into account when the book will actually become available to readers online and in store, and whether there is a specific date, season or holiday when interest may be stronger. If the book ties in with a specific

date then choosing a release date is essential—people are unlikely to buy The Miracle on 34th Street mid-July. Rushing steps or taking shortcuts is a sure-fire way to fail and make costly mistakes; and in the end, the expenses will come out of your pocket. Creating, editing, laying out, printing, distributing, marketing and promoting your book all need to be factored in. Careful budgeting and anticipating the expenses you may incur during each stage of the self publishing process helps you best utilise the money that you have available. It’s incredibly common for authors to forget about one part or another, in particular marketing—you may have a bestseller on your hands, but potential readers need to know about its existence. The process of marketing is also not as simple as it seems—but that’s a whole other kettle of fish… So make sure your plan takes into account the right amount of money and time for each equally important step. A well-written book contains absolutely no grammatical errors, spelling mistakes, inaccurate information, misprints or incorrect details. You can imagine that horrific sinking feeling in your stomach and the flush of burning in your face when someone who intends to give a brutally honest review of your book picks up that ‘embarressing’ is actually spelt

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‘embarrassing’. Ultimately, these mistakes can affect how credible you are as an author. It’s important to consider your audience when checking for mistakes. If your book appeals to readers in the USA and your first language is English, perhaps it would be wise to consider writing to American-English conventions. A second pair of eyes is invaluable in so many ways. Going over and over the same writing time and time again not only becomes tiring, but it can also subconsciously switch your brain off, and before you know it, you’ve gone through five pages and not actually read any of it. This is a job best left to a professional. Fact-checking, however, is something you can do yourself—you know the story back to front so it will be you that knows every little detail. “The lack of directives from agents and editors, giving you the opportunity to create your very own definitive work of art, can be reason to stall. To sit in a state of inactivity created by fear,” said Michaela Day, a recently self published author. “The fear of being judged and held to account and judgement for just that: your own ideas. Your own structure. Your own cover, blurb, layout and manner of publishing. You wanted your own book. You got it.” When the book is converted to eBook files mistakes creep in. That’s a fact. I can’t tell you how many authors I’ve worked with who have gone back and forth with the eBook file picking out new mistakes with each new version. Self published author Maria Constantine experienced this first hand: “Proofreading the Mobi and ePub files was exhausting because I knew that if I missed an error it would transfer to the published eBook, so I felt a tremendous amount of responsibility.” It’s definitely wise not to assume that your content has just been added word for word to the electronic version. Whether you do one proofread or fifteen, this part is crucial and definitely takes

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dedication, and a whole lot of patience, to see it through. “If you have got it right, it’s a moment to celebrate,” said Michaela, “instantly forgetting the pain you endured to get there. The seven versions uploaded. The delays. The proofing costs. The disappointment of margins too wide, or type too bold. But this is nothing beside the injustice of the proofing process accompanying the production of the ePub file. Why would you expect to lose 30 pages from your manuscript? I didn’t.” And it’s not just what’s on the inside that counts. That old phrase ‘never judge a book by its cover’ may stay true when choosing new friends, but it definitely doesn’t have the same impact when actually choosing a book. The book cover is what’s going to lure in the reader and subconsciously persuade them to pick up your book over the other 20,000 titles that have also just come onto the market that week. Getting this part wrong can have a direct impact on sales, so unless you’re a graphic designer or your best friend is one, it’ll always be wiser to pay a professional. But it’s not all doom and gloom. “My self-publishing journey has been full of highs and lows,” said Maria Constantine. “The highs are many because you are at the centre of the publishing process and involved at each stage; receiving the cover design was certainly a high point as was receiving the congratulations email that my book was available to purchase.” Self publishing can be one of the most satisfying, empowering things a writer can do. And what’s more important, it means not only have you fulfilled your dream, but you’ve done so all by yourself. “The positive part about self publishing is the freedom to do what you choose. The negative part is the freedom to do what you choose,” Michaela said. “However, there is no feeling on earth like holding your own paperback. Would I do it again? I already am.”


CONTEMPORARY PUBLISHING MAGAZINE

An Interview Jenna Blum Authoright’s Diana Rissetto talks to friend and author Jenna Blum about out-of-office messages, literary crushes and seeing people reading her book in public. Jenna Blum is the kind of author all little girls who dream about being authors want to be. She has worn a tiara to her own book signing. A terrifically brilliant and versatile writer, she was listed as one of Oprah’s Top 30 Women Writers, she’s hilarious and beautiful (a dead ringer for Jane Krakowski!), and she’s approachable and warm to all of her readers. When I read her novel Those Who Save Us several years ago, I had one very specific question about the book (I was hoping I had picked up on a twist), so I emailed Jenna to put it to her, accompanied by a long, rambling message about how much I loved the book. (Those Who Save Us tells the story of an American woman uncovering the truths about her German mother during World War II. At the time, I was writing a musical about Anne Frank’s forgotten sister, Margot. I told Jenna about this in my email, and, miraculously, she didn’t think I was crazy.) I still remember that Jenna responded with the loveliest of thank yous to my email, and then sent me another email right after because she had been so happy to get mine that she had forgotten to answer that one question I had asked. (I really did pick up on a twist!) Jenna and I soon realized we were kindred spirits, bonding over bad Lifetime movies and comparing writer’s notes. About three years after our first email exchange I finally got to meet Jenna at a book signing in a little independent bookstore that I had no idea existed. That day, Jenna also wrote the best inscription ever in my copy of The Stormchasers. I caught up with Jenna to dish about writing and life. I loved your essay at working at a bookstore so much! I worked at a bookstore for years, too. What are some other jobs you have done? Do

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you think most writers aren’t suited for a typical nine to five life? Thank you for your kind words about the Borders essay. I’m so glad you enjoyed it. I still actively mourn the loss of Borders. Every time a bookstore closes, a light goes out and I personally feel as though I get stupider. What a loss of resources!…I have no idea about other writers, but I’ve never been able to sustain a nine to five job. I had one once right after college— once. For one day. Then I called and told them I had mono. For several years, in order to feed my expensive writing habit, I worked as a waitress. My dad called it ‘waiting on’. I worked in New Jersey diners, best in the world, and greasy spoons. I have smaller hair now but can still balance plates all the way up one arm to the shoulder. I liked waiting tables, the camaraderie, the oddly stressful challenge of making sure people got what they ordered in a timely fashion. I keep the idea of waiting on as a card in my back pocket in case I ever need to supplement my writing career once again. After I got my M.A. in Creative Writing from Boston University, I worked as an adjunct professor of creative writing and communications writing at B.U., which introduced me to my great

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love of teaching and was joyous, if extremely ill-paid. How often do you base characters on people from your real life? I know I do it all the time! Has it ever gotten you into trouble with any of your friends or family? Yes, and I plead the Fifth. I don’t base all my characters on real people, but when I do, I siphon what I perceive as one emblematic trait—nobility, honesty, rationality, lack of self-awareness—from that person and plug it into the character’s situation. What happens is a magical alchemy: the character takes off from that hybrid starting point and becomes his or her own person. Nobody’s called me on my siphoning except one friend who, I believe, was mildly insulted by my physical description of her character, which is too bad because I made the physical description up to suit that character (and primarily used that friend’s kindness as her character’s defining trait). She didn’t believe me when I told her this, but why should she? I’m a fiction writer. Other character models have remained generously silent. I know you have turned Those Who Save Us into a screenplay


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(yay!). Do you have a preference over screenwriting and novel writing? I know that I prefer writing plays because I love writing dialogue so much. Do you plan on having a producing/directing/ consulting role in the film or will you be handing the script over? If so, how difficult do you think that will be? I thoroughly enjoyed writing the screenplay for Those Who Save Us—a year-long self-taught endeavour that involved reading novels adapted for the screen, reading their screenplays, then watching the movies with the screenplays on my lap. It was a tremendous learning curve, and I’m grateful to my producer for giving me the chance to do it. I greatly prefer writing novels and short stories to screenplays, however. I like the power of detailed description. I’ll have a consultant’s role when the time comes, including location scouting and casting (!), and I’m grateful for that, too. The whole movie thing, while it’s something I dreamed about nonstop while writing Those Who Save Us— especially when blocked!—is icing on the cake. For me, it’s both miraculous and essential that readers read and love the novel the way they do—that was all I ever aimed for, really. Who are some of your dream literary boyfriends? I have no literary boyfriends—I prefer to date real men (and then write stories about them)! My partner, Jim Reed, is my ideal boyfriend. If Jim weren’t available, my character Kevin from The Stormchasers is pretty much my ideal man. You have an auto response email set up when you’re in the middle of writing that explain that you’re going to be harder to get a hold of for a while. Are your friends and

family understanding of this? Yes. I am blessed with understanding friends and family. While I was writing Those Who Save Us, they endured three straight years of my babbling about Nazis. While I was writing The Stormchasers, I was often MIA because I was out in the field, chasing storms. Consistently, I’m inconsistent: I love my friends so dearly and am there for them 1000% when I’m there, and when I’m writing, I’m down the rabbit hole. I did lose one friend over not being able to see her while on a deadline, and that was sad—but I can’t change my lack of availability when I’m working. Rather, I can be more honest up front and say, “I’m sorry, I’ll be in lockdown from x time to y time” instead of making promises and breaking dates, as I used to do. Honesty is very helpful. How do you feel about the changes that are happening in the publishing industry? Is it upsetting or exciting? Do you prefer an eBook or a print book? I infinitely prefer print books, what I think of as real books. I know intellectually that what matters is the content, not the medium. As long as readers are reading my words, I’m happy. However, there is nothing like a real book. A book is a work of art. (And to those who say they’re too hard to schlep through airports, etc.—how do you think I got my super-strong biceps? I routinely travel—and I travel about 250 days a year—with at least three books in my bag at all times.) I have to ask…did you ever speak with Alec Baldwin? Yes! I stalked him at a Borders (see what we miss not having Borders anymore?), where he was signing his own book, to entice him to play the Nazi Obersturmfuhrer in Those Who Save Us, the movie. Here’s a description of how that went, as

published in The Boston Globe: bo.st/Husb5t Five favourite books of all time? Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell Lonesome Dove, Larry McMurtry The Stand, Stephen King Shining Through, Susan Isaacs Sophie’s Choice, William Styron What are you working on right now? Are you allowed to tell? I just finished a novella called The Lucky One that will be published by Penguin in July 2014, in an anthology called Grand Central. All the contributors are bestselling WWII female authors, and all the novellas are set at least partially in Grand Central Station on the same day in September, 1945. We got to cross-pollinate each other’s novellas, which was much fun! I was initially surly about having to return to the WWII era—once I’m done with a topic, I’m done—but I surprised myself by falling deeply in love with my own story, and I hope readers feel the same way. Have you ever seen somebody reading one of your books in public and approached them? Yes, while waiting to deplane once, I saw a lady reading Those Who Save Us about five rows ahead of me. I accosted her by the luggage carousel and said, “That’s my book!” She looked at me askance and said, “No, I paid for it.” I said, “No, no, I wrote it!” She walked away as quickly as possible. I’ve always had the dream of sidling up to somebody reading one of my novels and just saying, “What part are you on?” but I have discovered it’s often easier to make things turn out the way you want them in fiction. Jenna Blum is the author of two novels, Those Who Save Us and The Stormchasers. Find her at jennablum.com.

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A Hard Day’s Write Over the past decade, consumers have become less willing to pay for digital content. Authoright’s Oren Berman explores the reasons the book industry has avoided this trend so far, and what will happen when it catches up. In his book Free Culture: The Nature and Future of Creativity (Penguin Books, 2005), Lawrence Lessig describes the way that media corporations exert control over the creation, distribution, and use of creative content. Free Culture is available on the site of a large online retailer for $14.40, and the eBook version ranges from $10.99 to $12.99 across a few different eBook platforms. This is all rather amusing, since Free Culture is copyrighted under the Creative Commons licence, a flexible licence that Lessig himself helped to create, which allows others to freely share and build upon a creator’s work. Some authors under the Creative Commons License choose to allow all non-commercial uses of their text, while some allow any use, as long as they are credited with creating the original work. In all cases, Creative Commons work is available for free. Free Culture is available for free as an eBook in multiple formats (www.free-culture.cc/remixes/), for non-commercial use with attribution. Now, it makes sense to me that the physical book would be available at a competitive price, since there is a cost to Penguin to design, print, and distribute it, and they have every right to turn a profit for their work. But I was bit concerned that eBook sellers have electronic versions of the book on sale for a relatively high price when the exact same digital product is available for free just a few clicks away. Whom does this benefit? How many

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readers have paid for this content without realising that they could have gotten it for free? In a notable recent article in New Republic, Evan Hughes argued that the publishing industry should really be proud of the fact that readers are still willing to shell out $10 for an eBook, whereas in other areas of the entertainment spectrum consumers either expect free content or rarely spend more than one to three dollars on, say, a song download, mobile app, or streaming a movie. He claims that “the book itself is hanging on and even thriving. More than any major cultural product, it has retained its essential worth.” As people get more used to free and very cheap content, will this privileged status of the book-length text hold out? As Porter Anderson aptly stated in a recent Ether for Authors column, “The battle is not between self-publishers and traditional publishers. It’s between books and the rest of the entertainment array, most of it digitally powered long before books were.” Of course, for self publishing authors, it’s a simple choice to price their books ultra-competitively (or free), or to use a Creative Commons licence. And in fact, profit is cited as a top-three goal by a surprisingly low percentage of self publishing authors. Alongside the ‘rest of the entertainment array’, and with legions of such authors flooding the market with selfpublished work, is there still room for professional


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writers to make a living? The literary world seems to be split at the moment between those who equate writing for free to a form of indentured servitude and those who see it as a noble pursuit, simply a form of volunteerism. There’s a certain nobility in being willing to spend time and effort on creative pursuits and share them with society, with little thought of material profit. As David Byrne so boldly sang in the Talking Heads song ‘This Must Be the Place’, “Never for money, always for love”. At the same time, many believe that the best writing will often come from those who have the opportunity to hone their skills by working full-time at their craft, without a day job getting in the way of fully realising their potential. If we engender a culture where creative work is expected to be a hobby or a volunteer activity, given freely rather than for profit, does that mean we no longer accord value to the products of that work? I think neither side really quite captures the whole picture. The middle way, and one that has worked well for many artists, writers, and musicians, is the pay-what-youwant model. The book or album or image is made available freely, and people who enjoy or reuse it are encouraged—but not required— to acknowledge the creator’s commitment and effort with a gift payment of their choice. With a digital product and digital payment systems, this is a relatively simple system to implement. Of course, its main drawback is uncertainty—you

simply don’t know how much you’ll be rewarded for your effort. For an established artist (a traditionally published author, for example) this may seem like a silly risk to take when the alternative is to get a reliable five- or six-figure advance. But for many less-known artists still developing their work, the pay-what-you-want model can be a great way to reach more people

and create a stronger connection with them. The music industry has adopted this ethos much more fully than publishing has so far, with many musicians and bands offering free downloads of all their music, with CDs, vinyl records, or other merchandise available to fans at a reasonable price. But even parttime, less-than-famous musicians

can also earn money by performing live, whereas only ‘known’ writers get paid for speaking engagements. For the rest, readings and talks are opportunities to share ideas and get exposure, but their daily bread comes either from freelance writing, book sales, or a ‘regular’ job, and the expectation of earning a meaningful sum through either traditional or independent forprofit publishing is no more certain than with a pay-what-you-want system. The common wisdom goes that the book publishing industry is ten years behind the music industry on matters like digital distribution, independent production, piracy etc. Digital distribution and independent production have arrived and are here to stay; for the time being, piracy of eBooks has not become a major problem as it is for music. But if it does, it will only serve to speed up the impulse to make eBooks cheap or free (since people will just pirate them otherwise). Even without piracy, my prediction is that sooner or later eBooks will lose their ability to sell for $10, as print books—we’re already starting to see this—retain their value as objets d’art, valued based on their production quality as much as their content. I also predict (or hope) that we’ll see the pay-what-youwant model become commonplace for independently published eBooks, perhaps with a Creative Commons licence or a similar designation as the go-to model for rights protection.

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A PRESS GROWS IN PHILLY

Philadelphia was the birthplace of American publishing, and craft publisher The Head & The Hand Press wants to renew that legacy and make Philly a hotbed of literary culture once again. Founder Nic Esposito talks to Authoright’s Jordan Koluch about urban farming, Benjamin Franklin and vending machines.


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With so many large publishing houses struggling to adapt to the rapid changes in the industry, it has fallen mostly to small presses to take big risks and test out different business models. In what most consider to be a failing industry, The Head & The Hand Press opened its doors and changed the model for how content is produced and distributed. What inspired you to make the switch from urban farming to book publishing? It hasn’t been a complete switch. I still co-manage Emerald Street Urban Farm with my wife, which she founded six years ago. But my aspirations for creating sustainable, for-profit urban farming, or even a nonprofit urban farm organisation, have certainly waned. Emerald Street is a completely community run farm, without any formal designation and we want to keep it that way. Along with being an urban farmer, I’m also a writer and after publishing my first novel, Seeds of Discent, the opportunity to start The Head & The Hand kind of fell in my lap. And as I started to build the structure of the company, I knew that I wanted to make this venture a more formal organisation and I saw an opportunity to do that. When did it occur to you that the communitysupported farming model could work for books? So when I wanted to make that formal, viable structure, I organised it as a for-profit. I did this first and foremost because I was pretty burnt out with nonprofits after spending so much time in that world. But a close second was that my ultimate intention was to publish books and provide writing services for adults. And we feel that if these adults value these books and the services, then they should pay for them. But as we’ve come to realise, that’s easier said than done, especially in distribution and sales streams that really put small presses at a disadvantage. We knew we had to appeal directly to our readers and after spending so much time in the farming world, and seeing how the CSA model saved so many small, independent farms, we thought that our own version for books would work. How has the response been from writers and readers? The most amazing part has been how many people had a built-in understanding because they already knew what a CSA was. One of our big worries was that the CSA community would be a very small, niche demographic. It still is, but we were pleasantly surprised, both for farmers and for our purposes, by how many people understood our structure. And for those who didn’t know what a CSA is, they completely got it, and the response has been overwhelmingly

Nic Esposito The Head & The Hand’s community supported publishing initiative has been wholeheartedly embraced by the Philadelphia literary community.

positive. You emphasise that The Head & The Hand is a ‘craft publisher’. What does that mean and how does it inform your day-to-day operations? We were most informed by the Craft Beer movement. The resurgence of craft beer has been led by companies taking chances on unique flavours and really focusing on the quality of the ingredients and brewing process by doing smaller batches and really knowing their consumer. Craft publishing is the same thing. We do fewer books, which allows us time to really focus on a writer’s work rather than stretching ourselves too thin. And we keep our staff small so we can have a lot of collaboration across the production and marketing processes. Day-to-day, we are able to interact very intimately with our writers and we get to all work together to produce a book rather than compartmentalise the process.

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Why did you decide to hold a writing workshop in addition to operating the press? So the limitation of the craft model is that we have a very limited capacity for how many writers we can work with. But being that everyone who works here comes from a community building background or mindset, it was important for us to help grow and support the literary community, primarily in Philly. So we wanted to open the workshop to give more writers access to a creative space to work, but also access to other writers and our staff to find more publishing opportunities and feedback on their work and the process. A lot of your initiatives focus on engaging the Philly writing community at large. How did that become part of the press’s mission? That became part of our mission because it’s a huge need. Philly is a really great city that is being rebuilt and reimagined. We are increasing our green spaces, small business community and most importantly our art community. But as Philly has once again become a place for great music and has produced many great bands, or has created these great art districts full of lofts and galleries, our writing community is still understated. This is crazy because Philly was the birthplace of America’s publishing industry and it has some great contemporary writers and organisations. And we want to be a part of the push to put this back on the national scene. You’re trying to bring the almanac back. What interested you in curating that kind of work? Well, being part of that history I spoke of before, the almanac played a huge part in that. And since it was all the rage in the 18th century, why not the 21st? Again, we wanted to promote more writers, so we knew we wanted to do an anthology. But to be honest, I always feel like I get a little lost in anthologies and have a hard time finding a connection between stories. So the almanac seemed like a perfect way to curate information, art, creative writing and essays. And since we have themed them in areas such as food (Corn Belt Almanac), science (Asteroid Belt Almanac), religion (Bible Belt Almanac) and urban redevelopment (Rust Belt Rising Almanac) it allowed us to explore these themes in a unique way. Once our editorial director, Linda Gallant, suggested we go to the Rosenbach Library in Center City Philadelphia to look at almanacs, and we read our first one, we knew that was the format we wanted to use. Tell us about your chapbook series. Where do you find a vending machine that will distribute books?

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The Head & The Hand’s writer workshop I was at my uncle’s wedding and was talking to my cousin who is now running his father’s vending machine business that has been around for sixty years. He was venting about how he is sick of the business and peddling junk food. So almost as a joke, I told him that I had seen people sell books in vending machines. He stared at me for a second, and then told me that selling books, if only in one machine, would restore his sanity. He told me to find the location and make a book the size of a bag of chips. I told him I would and that’s how the idea came about. Do you have any projects in the works right now that you’re particularly excited about? We’re really excited about the next book we are putting out, Lion and Leopard by Nathaniel Popkin, partly because it’s our first full novel we have worked on as a staff, and partly because it has a Philly theme. But I’m also really excited about the epistolary war memoir Afghan Post by Adrian Bonenberger. I have been an activist for some time and have my own opinions about the war. But the way Adrian shows the reader what combat, basic training and war is like creates a voice that I’ve never read in any other war book. It’s really incredible. What’s next for The Head & The Hand? We have the two novels and The Asteroid Belt Almanac coming out, so editorially we’re busy. And we are trying to recruit more members for the workshop and for the CSP. So we are trying to stay sustainable while creating some really great books. That’s what our next year looks like. The Head & The Hand Press seeks to create equitable relationships between authors and the tools they need to craft a book. Find out more at theheadandthehand.com, and submit work for publication at theheadandthehandpress.submittable.com.


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The War Without A Name When the documentary maker Christopher Hale was in Malaysia producing a film for National Geographic, he was moved to investigate Britain’s longest war of the 20th century to finally reveal the truth about Commonwealth involvement in a bloody, clandestine conflict. Authoright’s Hayley Radford investigates. 15


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Of the many wars which blighted the 20th century, some have been seared into the public consciousness more deeply than others. Almost regardless of our age and education, we know of the painful wounds inflicted by The Great War, World War II, Vietnam, and the Balkans. We know their legacies only too well. All too few of us will have the same understanding of The Malayan Emergency, a bizarrely forgotten ‘war without a name’ which in fact holds the dubious honour of being the longestrunning military campaign in which British forces were involved during that turbulent century. Almost immediately after the horrors of World War II had begun to subside, Britain and the Commonwealth were again entrenched in battle; in fact, the global war that had ended just three short years before was in part responsible for what would happen in Malaya, which is now part of the larger federation of Malaysia. Between 1948 and 1960, Britain would send 35,000 troops into the heat of Southeast Asia, following initial provocation by the Malayan Communist Party. The withdrawal of Japan at the close of World War II had quickly brought Malaya to its knees. Poverty, high inflation and unemployment were rife. Britain’s efforts to repair the Malayan economy came under fire when it was revealed to be exporting tin and rubber from Malaya’s industrial heartland to aid its own post-war recovery. Between 1946 and 1948, numerous strikes and protests were sparked; protesters were dealt with harshly, arrested and often swiftly deported. In turn, protesters became increasingly militant. On 16th June, 1948, the first overt act of the war occurred when three European plantation managers were murdered at Sungai Siput, Perak. Spurred on by Soviet international strategy, The Malayan Communist Party began to attack. British and commonwealth troops responded with substantial

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British tactics in Malaya involved massive resettlement programmes, ethnic cleansing, indiscriminate aerial bombing, and the brutal exploitation of aboriginal forces. force. Like the conflict in colonial Kenya against the Mau-Mau, British tactics in Malaya involved massive resettlement programmes, ethnic cleansing, indiscriminate aerial bombing, and the brutal exploitation of aboriginal forces. America was known at the time to have studied the British campaign in minute detail, using it as a blueprint for its own war in Vietnam. Military commentators were subsequently bewildered by Britain’s eventual success, which lay in stark contrast to America’s half a million-strong commitment in a smaller territory, although in reality the two conflicts were fundamentally different. But unlike Vietnam, which permeated and pervaded the cultural, social and political landscapes at the time and since, the Malayan Emergency was all but concealed from public view. More than half a century on and no charges have been brought against the British forces involved; requests for transparency and review have been repeatedly dismissed as propaganda by successive British governments, despite evidence suggestive of a cover-up. Even in Malaysia, the truth has been something of a rare commodity.


CONTEMPORARY PUBLISHING MAGAZINE

Christopher Hale has long held Asia in affection; his affinity with the people and his journalist’s desire for the truth is palpable in his arresting new book, Massacre in Malaya: Exposing Britain’s My-Lai, recently published by the awardwinning History Press. A former BBC television producer and author of the acclaimed Himmler’s Crusade—which revealed the true story of the German SS’s sponsored expedition to Tibet—draws upon recently released files from the British National Archives as well as first-hand accounts compiled during the months Hale spent living and working in Malaysia, slowly but steadily canvassing testimony from those who experienced the ‘war without a name’ for themselves; government forces and Communist fighters alike. Hale is the first writer to properly tackle the Malayan

Emergency, during which the term ‘war’ could never be used because the rubber plantations and tin mining industries lobbied against it; damage caused by a ‘war’ would not have been covered by Lloyd’s, their insurers. So in spite of more than 10,000 deaths, a brutal occupation, and a twelve year-long insurgency we still cannot call the Malayan Emergency anything but. Christopher Hale gets as close to the truth as is possible, exposing the notorious massacre of villagers at Batang Kali, then part of the British Crown, in December 1948, the event now grimly known as Britain’s My-Lai. Twenty-four unarmed villagers were rounded up and shot, their village burnt to the ground. Malaysian victims unsuccessfully petitioned Queen Elizabeth to re-open an inquiry into the massacre in 1993 and again in 2004. After a last ditch effort in 2008, they finally received a response from the British Government some three years later in 2011, when the High Court agreed to review the case. But in May 2012 the judicial review on the British Government’s position was held; on 4th September, 2012, High Court judges again upheld the Government’s decision not to hold a public hearing into the massacre, ruling simply that, “There is evidence that supports a deliberate execution of the 24 civilians at Batang Kali.” Thanks to Christopher Hale, we can at last gain new and compelling insight into a previously clandestine period in British military history, seeing British tactics in Malaya for what they were; more ruthless than historians have so far conceded. The Malayan Emergency was a devastating and bitterly fought war that continues to haunt the present. Thanks to Hale, we have moved a step closer to transparency and, perhaps, accountability. Massacre In Malaya: Exposing Britain’s My Lai by Christopher Hale is published by The History Press, £20, hardback. www.thehistorypress.com

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NEW EDITION, NOVEMBER 2013

The Digital Pitch Authoright’s social media maven Jaime Burns breaks down new literary Twitter fad #MSWL and demistifies all of those hashtags.

You wouldn’t think that an industry propelled by hefty collections of words would submit to 140 characters, but the literary community and the Twitterverse combined into a succinct and active community. Publishing professionals drive the community by sharing the events of their work days and making strong efforts to interact with peers and writers. Twitter pitch parties and Ask Agent sessions amplified the Twitter interactions between agents, editors, and authors. However, each event offered only a temporary Twitter conversation. Once pitch parties ended and participating writers submitted their query letters, the hashtag fell off the feeds. Ask Agent sessions fade out after a day of active tweeting. So #NewEdition, what is #MSWL? Why is it Different?

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CONTEMPORARY PUBLISHING MAGAZINE

The four-letter hashtag stands for ‘manuscript wish list’ and has now carefully infiltrated the common Twitter language of literary agents and publishers. On June 27, anyone already following literary agents found huge blasts of ‘manuscript wish list’ tweets, tagged with #MSWL, describing the kinds of submission they would like to be receiving. Writers tweeted enthusiastically about the new event and scrolled through the feeds to find the agent that would most appreciate their manuscript. Tweets were curated into a Tumblr page dedicated to the hashtag by KK Hendin (@kkhendin), author of Heart Breaths (November 2013), who also heard “stories of agents requesting partials and fulls, and possible sales to editors” as per her blog (http://bit.ly/1hcOU3a). Like many Twitter events, the phenomenon occurred again. On September 24, #MSWL once again crowded feeds (much more this time, due to the wild success of the late June event). Jessica Sinsheimer (@jsinsheim), from The Sarah Jane Freymann Literary Agency, repeated her role as organiser of and the brains behind #MSWL, going so far as to gather videos of agents pitching their wish lists. However, there is one crucial difference between #MSWL and Twitter parties: the hashtag survived after the event. When agents are suddenly inspired, whether by a query, a favourite movie, or even a book fair, they type out a tweet and add the hashtag, whether other agents are actively doing so or not. At any moment, a prospective author can find the agent who will cherish their work and work to give it the literary spotlight authors desire. All thanks to #MSWL. The #Do and #Donot List As with much of social media, there is a certain etiquette to Twitter hashtags. Such goes for #MSWL. Here’s a comprehensive list of dos and don’ts for agents looking to use the hashtag and authors following it:

@penumbralit: A voice that makes me take notice. The old verities, love, belonging, but told in a fresh & modern way. Snappy dialogue always helps. #MSWL #Do add #MSWL to your lists, agents. If you are using Hootsuite (it’s free, so why not?), you can add up to three keywords on one stream. #RelatedTags offers some other keywords to include in your streams. #Donot use the hashtag to send out queries, authors. In general, #donot submit your queries through Twitter. Instead, #do submit in accordance to guidelines on agency websites, and #do highlight the components that match their wish list tweet. After all, they tweeted their wish list because they want to see a manuscript with those elements. If their guidelines are not clear, replying to their #MSWL tweet with necessary questions could only help. #Do query finished and polished manuscripts if you find a #MSWL match. An agent cannot invest time into even the best book idea if there will be an excessive amount of work to make the manuscript fit for publishing. #Donot submit to editors or agents who are closed to unsolicited queries, or any queries, even if they did a #MSWL tweet. They will not accept if they are closed. However, you can politely tweet at them saying you saw their #MSWL and that your manuscript may work. If they respond back to submit, or they update their website to accept new queries, then you can send your query. #Do look at the wish list compilation on Tumblr: http://bit.ly/19ADD8T. The dedicated people behind the blog might not post exactly when the tweet goes out, but their list serves as a comprehensive and uncluttered resource for your needs. If you miss out on a major #MSWL session, this list could be easier to use than the Twitter feed. If you do not use Twitter, the blog can keep you connected to the latest wishes. #Donot think that matching a literary agent’s #MSWL will mean you automatically get a deal. Between the many factors that can go into a query submission—as each literary agency has different guidelines—any one reason can call for rejection. Even with a perfect query letter and beautiful work, the agent must feel they can make a commitment to the queried work and achieve a book deal. #Do participate in related events, such as #pitmad and #adpit (adult pitch). For these events, writers tweet their pitches, coupled with genre/ category hashtags if those details are not obvious. Literary agents open to submissions search the hashtag, read through the approximately 140-character pitches, and favourite the story ideas they would like to see in their inbox. Many bloggers have offered their own extended #do and

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NEW EDITION, NOVEMBER 2013

#donot tips for these events. #Donot worry if your manuscript is not on anyone’s wish list. As long as you follow their submissions guidelines and your work fits within their genres/categories, you are making the right steps towards getting past the slush pile. Some #RelatedTags and How to Interact with Them #askagent Users: Any Audience: Any Interaction Potential: High This hashtag can be used in reference to an article shared on Twitter or tweeted agent advice. It can also indicate a period of time in which an agent is answering questions from writers or others interested in the industry from the literary agent perspective. Writers then use the hashtag to attract the agent’s attention to their question. Writers who need a quick question answered on Twitter can also use the hashtag and hope for a response. However, the hashtag is mostly followed during agent sessions. #subtip Users: Agents/editors/publishers Audience: Writers Interaction Potential: Low Short for ‘submission tip’; industry professionals will use the hashtag to offer advice to writers who wish to submit a query. Sometimes these will range from agent-specific to general advice. Use your best judgement. This is also very similar to #pubtip, which was established in June 2009 by Rachelle Gardner, from Books and Such Literary Agency. They both offer tips relating to the publishing industry and share the same user-base and audience. However, #pubtip offers a broader scope, including tips throughout the publishing process. #queries Users: Agents/editors/publishers Audience: Writers

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@AKA_Terrie: Thinking about #MSWL, I’d like to see better illustrated or designed #commercial #nonfiction projects. Hit me with your best shots. Interaction Potential: Low What else would be on agents’ minds as they wade through their slush piles? This hashtag works in a similar fashion as the tip tags to inform writers of what to not do in their manuscripts or query letters. Sometimes, tweeters will simply comment on the query in their hand, pointing out their flaws and wishes for it, or they will openly express advice for or against what occurs in the manuscript/query. Variations include #tenqueries, when agents comment on ten queries consecutively, or #querytip, which gives query-specific tips to writers in the same fashion as #subtip and #pubtip. #rbwl Users: Anyone and everyone Audience: Writers and industry professionals Interaction Potential: High This up-and-coming hashtag meaning ‘reader/blogger wish list’ offers diverse engagement from the whole book-lover community. In the same way that agents and editors use #MSWL to say what they want to see in their inboxes, readers tweet with the hashtag to express what they want on their bookshelf. The hashtag offers many functions. First, anyone can suggest books that fit a tweeter’s wish list. Second, writers who see a #rbwl that matches their potentially unconventional manuscript can gain the necessary boost of confidence to submit queries. Third, agents and editors can recognise what their audience wants and realise the potential for a matching manuscript when it shows up in their inbox. Agents to #Follow Many literary agents are actively invested in engaging with potential authors online. Often, these agents interact with each other across agencies and countries through the cyberspace as well. Through many recognisable hashtags, these agents will offer great advice and information on the publishing process from submission to release. Here are some of many agents who participated in the major #MSWL event on September 24, which included uploading videos of themselves discussing their wish lists, all found at this Tumblr blog post: http://bit. ly/1dnxTmV


CONTEMPORARY PUBLISHING MAGAZINE

Article Authoright’s Chris Sansom weighs in on the artist’s latest controversy: an aptly named autobiography that redefines the term ‘instant classic’.

For myself and many peers, our university years wouldn’t have been quite the same without Morrissey, or, more directly, his towering cultural achievements with The Smiths. His was a band that, alongside other notables, truly cemented the UK’s love affair with post-punk during the ’80s—and they continue to sell records in multitudes to this day. They’ve soundtracked the angst-laden early adulthood of millions with their irresistible jangly pop sound and melancholy lyrics, and will continue to do so for years to come. Even now Morrissey’s solo career sprawls behind him with a steady stream of successes since the band’s less than amicable split in 1987. But far from a universally accepted figure of genius, he’s sought to position himself as one of music’s most polarising figures, and never more so than in recent years. He’s blasted The Guardian, BBC and Daily Mail for their partisan coverage of the Thatcher memorial, directed his ire at Beyoncé (gasp) for her questionable rhinoceros skin handbag, and lambasted late night TV sweetheart Jimmy

Kimmel. He’s even successfully sued the NME for defamation after a misinterpreted interview painted him as a racist right-winger, and the magazine’s former journalist Julie Burchill (“I shall be honoured to attend her funeral, and I might even jump into the grave”) felt the full force of his melodrama. Now in the wake of his suitably self-absorbed memoir release (the imaginatively titled Autobiography is quickly becoming the fastestselling music biography of all time) people are outraged once again. They aren’t necessarily angered by his trademark misplaced miseries or never-before-read tales of his journey to worldwide notoriety, or even by his poetically delivered disillusionment with the music scene that’s treated him so gracefully over the years. No, they’re angry because his long awaited book has been released through the Penguin Classics imprint, alongside *cough* similar titles Moby Dick and Pride and Prejudice, which makes him a (perhaps unworthy) contemporary of James Joyce and Thomas Hardy. Not content with dividing opinion

in the world of music, he’s moved in on the literary world to promote his ubiquitous brand of journalistbaiting, and he’s never been better at it. Worse still from the perspective of his many detractors, Moz actually insisted that the book be released on the imprint, among various other demands which probably included his wearing some sort of ornate crown. All of which contributed heavily to the slew of delays which marred its release, which is ironic, given that former Smiths bandmate Johnny Marr also caused him a great deal of misery during their fleeting partnership. Penguin’s decision to acquiesce has been met with puzzlement at best and, at worst, downright contempt. “Penguin Classic? Not in a month of rainy Mancunian Sundays”, snorts Boyd Tonkin in a recent Independent book review, which placed him firmly in the camp of someone who genuinely loves the artist’s output, yet actively loathes the man who produces it. His piece goes on to include the admission that the book is in essence not a terrible one, though

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NEW EDITION, NOVEMBER 2013

stunted irrevocably by Morrissey’s narcissism and unjust mewling: “An editor with nous and guts could probably carve a ‘classic’ 200-page testimony of northern upbringing and early music-business days from this material. Look at Patti Smith’s Just Kids to see how it could and should be done.” You needn’t look much further than an internet comments section to mirror my sentiments on the book, however. Cue the otherwise anonymous ‘JohnVF’ on pop-culture site Daily Beast, who says, “I would be upset if his autobiography were anything unlike this. Who would want to read an autobiography of Morrissey where he was revealed to be anything but Morrissey?” Though JohnVF is clearly a fan of the artist, it’s hard to deny that for a man who’s forged and prolonged a highly successful career through contrarian eruptions, Autobiography would have alienated those who love him for, not in spite of, his arrogance. At the time of writing, the book has sold over 34,000 copies according to The Bookseller, no doubt thanks in part to the suspiciously timed press statement clarifying assertions on his long questioned sexuality: “Unfortunately, I am not homosexual. In technical fact, I am humasexual. I am attracted to humans. But, of course…not many”, which of course we’re all very grateful he’s cleared up. Autobiography sits at number one with all the confidence and smugness the beaming self-portrait cover exudes. But irrespective of sales figures, the many thousands exhausting bookstores of their supplies on the day of release prove that love or hate Morrissey, he remains an intensely fascinating individual. To the usually devoted, sometimes fanatical few, Morrissey is of unquestionable demigod status. For them he’s capable of doing no wrong, despite straying dangerously into the realms of insanity through his almost

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monthly spats with celebrities. In his home city of Manchester, the Smiths/Morrissey club night (playing nothing but songs from their back catalogue and his solo hits) still sells out monthly to obsessed fans dressed as the man himself. This partly salacious new book isn’t likely to call their love of the man into question; perhaps quite the opposite. But for everyone else it’s further confirmation that the star is unmatched in selfabsorption, and isn’t likely to win himself many new supporters. What does all of this mean for the publishing world, though? The internet and its many unofficial

spokespersons have been eager to label it the downfall of Penguin, or have at the very least called it a sacrilege, for which they ought to feel somewhat ashamed. It’s doubtful that Penguin’s executives will suffer any sleepless nights given its astonishing commercial success, though the worry is that this could open the floodgates to other pushy prima donna artists bent on sullying the brand’s stellar lineage. Unquestionably, the continued coverage is certain to elate the man himself; just don’t expect him to express this joy in public any time soon.


CONTEMPORARY PUBLISHING MAGAZINE

Matt Cain is a man on the move. After a long and successful career both in front of and behind the camera, Matt is trading in TV for a career behind a writing desk to live out his novelist dream. Authoright’s James Wharton catches up with author and broadcast journalist Matt Cain about how one job informs the other and what his ideal career would look like.

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NEW EDITION, NOVEMBER 2013

After a decade as a producer on ‘The South Bank Show’ (ITV) and three years as Culture Editor at Channel 4 News, Matt has retired from TV to focus on his novel writing, with his debut to be published by Pan in spring 2014. “I never had a burning ambition to be a TV news correspondent,” Matt tells me over a coffee at the Ivy; “I always wanted to write fiction but for years was fitting this around my day job whilst struggling to land a publishing deal. Now I’ve done that, I don’t want to dedicate the fag end of my time and energy to doing what I really want to do. So from now on the TV journalism will have to fit around the writing. If that means it dries up, that’s fine. But it’d be nice if I could keep it going. And I’m exploring some documentary projects at the moment, which are very exciting.” When asked about future ambition, and if writing novels is something he’d like to do forever, Matt is quick to emphasise a desire to have a career he loves. “If I can write fiction for the rest of my life I’ll be a very happy man. Although I do have an idea for a play and a couple of non-fiction books I’d like to tackle at some point in the future, too.” I asked Matt whether, as the writer of a regular column, his background made him better prepared to take on the task of writing a novel. “I’m not sure we’re ‘better’ prepared to write a book but we’re at least used to working with words and telling stories and having to sometimes ruthlessly edit our own work. Whilst I was at Channel 4 News I obviously had to work with pictures as well as words, which can be a wonderful creative challenge but also very restricting when you need images to illustrate an often non-televisual story, such as HMV going into administration or the merger of publishing houses Penguin and Random House. I’m so glad I don’t have to try and make that kind of story look good on camera any more and have no

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restrictions on the words I want to lay down on the page. And so far I’ve experienced it as something of a liberation!” Favours certainly help, too… when asked about publicising his forthcoming debut, Matt isn’t shying away from the fact he has something of an upper hand: “… journalists usually know lots of other journalists, which can come in handy. I’m hoping to call in a few favours when my first book comes out from some friends.” And that’s not the only way Matt has benefited from having famous friends. Coming from a culture journalistic background, Matt has had direct access to some of the most successful writers in modern times, and plenty of inspiration to draw upon: “When I worked at ‘The South Bank Show’ I made films with Claire Tomalin and Carol Ann Duffy, both of whom I found hugely inspiring. Whilst at Channel 4 News I was always keen to cover the Orange/ Women’s Prize and was lucky enough to interview Madeline Miller about The Song of Achilles and Kate Atkinson about Life After Life, two novels which affected me profoundly. Other than that, I read everyone from Alan Hollinghurst

to Jackie Collins—and love them all! And I’m currently judging the Costa First Novel Award, which is introducing me to a whole raft of new authors—many of whom are equally inspirational.” While discussing the excitement of the coming months, I get the sense that his career change has placed him in a happiness within himself that probably not even a million sales could outshine. His dream has been to write, yet along the way, he has had a career that most can only, indeed, dream about. Is it everything he expected? “Well, I was looking forward to tapping away on my laptop with my cat sitting on my knee and purring contentedly. But unfortunately I’ve discovered that she tends to spend most of the day asleep on my bed—and steers well clear of my writing room. Which has been a crushing disappointment! I need to think of a way of enticing her to join me at my desk. Any ideas, please let me know!” Matt’s debut novel, Shot Through the Heart, is released next year. Follow Matt on Twitter @MattCainWriter


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Our  Literary   Wish  List Looking for the perfect stocking stuffers for your bookish friends and family? The Authoright team has picked some of our favorites to make your holiday shopping easier. Jaime: The Golden Compass, by Philip Pullman Random House Kids, Paperback, £7.99 / $7.99 Every Christmas, my brother and I can expect the best books under the tree from my elementary school teacher aunt. Out of all the gifts in over a decade, the series ‘His Dark Materials’ stays very close to my heart. In The Golden Compass (Northern Lights in the UK), the first part of the fantasy trilogy, Lyra Belacqua leaves her sheltered life at Oxford University’s Jordan College to live with the worldly Mrs Coulter, only to realize that the latter leads a child-stealing organization which Lyra believes kidnapped her friend Roger. She flees head-first into an epic adventure full of magic, science, religious undertones, and romance that transforms her from a playful, immature trickster into an independent, strong, humble young woman. Inevitably, her journey pulls the reader into the alluring multiverse full of transforming animal companions (dæmons), armoured polar bears, and much more. Philip Pullman goes above and beyond to ensure the young fantasy fan undergoes a transformation and at least one good sob session towards the end. Against the snowy backdrop of an ideal Christmas Day, the trek towards the Northern Lights with Lyra will excite, delight, and inspire awe. At least that happened to me. Diana: Wendy and the Lost Boys, by Julie Salamon Penguin Books, Paperback, £10.50 / $17.00 To the many theatre aficionados on my list, I would give Wendy and the Lost Boys by Julie Salamon. Wendy Wasserstein was the first woman to ever win the Tony Award and Pulitzer for Drama. She was fantastically brilliant, hilariously funny, yet painfully insecure, and seemed to share so many personal parts of her life in her plays and essays. However, as this beautiful and meticulously researched biography shows, nobody quite knew the real Wendy. The book is not just a great gift for Wasserstein fans (myself!), but for anybody who would love a ‘crash course’ on the New York City theatre scene in the ’80s and ’90s. Louis: Autobiography, by Morrissey Penguin Classics, Paperback, £8.99 / $not yet available Seasonally-themed books are always great to read before December 25th. I’ve been known to read Dickens’ A Christmas Carol whilst simultaneously watching The Muppets movie adaptation of it. In fact no Christmas Day would be complete without the admittedly odd ritual. But by the big day you’re no longer looking forward to the festive season; you’re wistfully looking to the year ahead with a renewed sense of hope and joy. With that in mind, I’m going to wholeheartedly jump on the controversial bandwagon that is Morrissey’s Autobiography. Much like the great lyricist, singer and poet himself, I like a good dose of irony, so what better gift to give at such a celebratory time of year than a book written by, and all about, the King of Misery? Also I like the idea of his monotone face watching over all of us as we eat our turkey and stuffing, making sure we don’t get carried away with the whole ‘being happy’ thing. As he’s a massive Smiths fan, I think my dad would probably appreciate this gift the most.

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NEW EDITION, NOVEMBER 2013

James: Bonkers, by Jennifer Saunders Viking Paperback, £20.00 / $not yet available This year I will be sending Jennifer Saunders’ new book, Bonkers, to my mother as a gift for Christmas. At home, there’s a family tradition of gifting a prominent current book, and I have already earmarked this new title as the ideal autobiography for her to enjoy over the festive period and into the New Year. This time of year so many (generally speaking) famous people release life stories—we’re spoiled for choice. You only need to look at the list of current bestsellers on Amazon to get a feel for the celebrity book market in the run up to December 25th. In the past I have been excited to receive autobiographies by the likes of Stephen Fry and Julie Walters for Christmas; I’m hoping this year to receive Sir David Jason’s recently released life story. Mum, if you’re reading this, take note!

Katy: The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak Alfred A. Knopf, Paperback, £7.99 / $12.99 In the hope that I’ll get to read this book after the person I buy it for, I’ll be handing over the novel The Book Thief as a gift this Christmas. The movie is due to be released in the UK in January, and I strongly believe that, where possible, one should always read a book version before it’s adapted into a Hollywood blockbuster. The book is set in Nazi Germany and is narrated by Death, who notes that it’s a place and time in which he is incredibly busy. The story follows protagonist Liesel as she begins to steal something she cannot resist— books. With the help of her foster father, she learns to read and begins sharing the stolen books with her neighbours—and with the Jewish man who is hidden in their basement— during bombing raids. It’s guaranteed to be a real tear-jerker.

Jordan: This is How You Lose Her, by Junot Díaz Riverhead Books, Paperback, £7.99 / $16.00 This collection of short stories is the third of Junot Díaz’s books about his recurring protagonist Yunior. After Drown and The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Yunior is all grown up in This is How You Lose Her, but still struggling with the difficulties of being a first-generation American. Continuously haunted by abusive family dynamics and cultural expectations defined by a desire to maintain his heritage while assimilating to a new country, Yunior still finds it near impossible to connect. This book is not at all uplifting. You can’t even really like Yunior. But Díaz’s prose propels you story by story through This is How You Lose Her, painting a picture of how the sad-butproud young boy who hid the government cheese in his fridge while trying to impress a date grew into this defeated-but-resilient man. Even non-literary types will be entertained by Yunior’s escapades, or, at the very least, the way Díaz crafts them.

Hayley: Letters to a Young Poet, by Rainer Maria Rilke W. W. Norton & Company, Paperback, £7.99 / $9.99 All good creatives need a patron; someone who believes in them, champions them and who’ll indulge, nurture and support their talents. I know Rainer Maria Rainer, the Pragueborn, German-speaking, mystical poet pretty intimately, having made a documentary for the BBC on him and his nefarious relationships with women. Rilke was something of an emotional vampire, flitting from one relationship to the next, absorbing what he needed from muses and patrons alike, often leaving them poorer—or with child—on his departure. And yet with this pathologically selfish behaviour in mind, Rilke spent six years tenderly writing to another, much younger, poet who had sought his advice. Their correspondence, compiled in Letters to a Young Poet, is a gloriously pretentious yet profoundly inspiring selfhelp series that remains a must-read for anyone who, in Rilke’s own words, strives to ‘go into yourself ’ and make great work. And that’s why I end up buying it for people I know who are trying to do the same thing.

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