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Reading Diary

In which our editor rambles about things he’s read recently. Also a catch-all for random posts.

It’s time to reveal the winners and shortlist of the 2016 Fiction Desk Newcomer Prize.

This year, there’s a shortlist of twelve stories, including the two winners. All shortlisted writers will receive a year’s subscription to our anthology series, and there’s £500 for the first place, and £250 for the second. Let’s start with the shortlist:

  • Positional Asphyxia by Lucy Apps
  • The History Lesson by Kate van der Borgh
  • Gardening Leave by Dan Brotzel
  • Stay by David Frankel
  • An Internship by Todd Van Horn
  • The Song of Stephen by Frances Knight
  • Watching a Girl You Might Have Loved Get Dressed to Work the Bars by Elias Lindert
  • Two Pounds, Six Ounces by Hannah Mathewson
  • Renaissance Man by James Mitchell
  • Memento Mori by Richard Newton
  • Splitting Miles by Claire Parkin
  • Slice by Imogen West-Knights

And the winners are:

  • In first place: Renaissance Man by James Mitchell
  • In second place: Splitting Miles by Claire Parkin

Congratulations to all of the above winners, and thank you again to everybody who took part in the competition. I’ll be contacting the winners and shortlistees over the next two weeks to arrange prizes, and the two winning stories will appear in the next Fiction Desk anthology.

The Newcomer Prize will open again for entries towards the end of the year. Our annual ghost story competition is open now, and you’ll find more details of that one here.

A while ago the website Love Books Love Travel (then known as Buena Vista Book Club) made a film about James Benmore, in which he wanders around London, talking about his relationship with the city and its role in his novels about the continuing adventurs of Charles Dickens’ Artful Dodger.

The film is well done, and has been split into easily digestible chunks of about six minutes each. Here’s part one:

For the other two parts of the film, and to find our more about Love Books Love Travel, visit their website here.

You can also read James’s guest posts for us about the writing of Dodger: Part 1 & Part 2. And finally, James’s excellent short story ‘Jaggers & Crown’ appeared in our anthology All These Little Worlds.

Ghost story competitionHot on the heels of our Writer’s Award announcement, it’s time to reveal the winners of the 2014 Fiction Desk Ghost Story competition.

This year, we have one first prize winner and ten runners-up.

All of the stories listed below will appear in our autumn anthology.

The runners-up, who will each receive £100, are:

  • Alice Adams, for ‘Watching Kate & Gustav’
  • Die Booth, for ‘Twice a Day with Water’
  • Lucinda Bromfield, for ‘The Time of Your Life’
  • Bernie Deehan, for ‘Hell for Leather’
  • Tamsin Hopkins, for ‘The Table’
  • Matthew Licht, for ‘The Bear Got Me’
  • Amanda Mason, for ‘Incomers’
  • Miha Mazzini, for ‘Armies’
  • Matt Plass, for ‘Next to Godliness’
  • Melanie Whipman, for ‘End of the Rope’

And the winner of the £500 first prize is:

  • Jane Alexander, for ‘In Yon Green Hill To Dwell’

Congratulations to all of the above. It was another great year for the ghost story competition, and once again we’ve found ourselves handing out more prizes than expected.

We’ll be sharing more news about the autumn anthology over the coming weeks. Next month will also see the launch of a new competition (one we’ve not run before), so keep your eyes out for that.

This summer is going to be a busy one for our authors, with new novels and other bits and pieces coming out. Here’s a round-up of what to look out for:

Miha Mazzini: Crumbs (Out now)

crumbsSlovenian author Miha Mazzini‘s stories have appeared in two of our anthologies: Crying Just Like Anybody and New Ghost Stories. He’s written several novels, although only a few have been translated into English. The German Lottery (published by CB Editions) is well worth a read, and this year Freight Books have published a translation of his debut novel, Crumbs. Here’s the blurb:

The best-ever selling novel from the former Yugoslavia, this is a hilarious, anarchic, irreverent black comedy about national aspirations and wanting things you can’t have, re-published in the year that Scotland votes on independence.

Egon is an amoral but charismatic writer, living on the breadline in a grim, unnamed communist factory town in Slovenia prior to the break-up of the former Yugoslavia. With little evidence of his real literary ambitions, he makes ends meet by writing trashy romances under a pseudonym. When not searching out sex with as many women as possible, or slagging off the literary establishment, Egon is full of schemes to feed his pathological need for the ruinously expensive aftershave, Cartier pour L’Homme.

Around him Egon has gathered a motley crew of friends and acquaintances, each of whom also has an equally obsessive, unattainable ambition. Poet is desperate to have his verse published in a leather bound volume, Ibro is in love with Ajsha, a factory girl to whom he cannot utter a single word, while Selim is convinced he’ll marry Nastassja Kinski, the world-famous actress. As Egon’s attempts to secure more perfume become ever more degenerate, his grip on his own identity loosens. The consequences are messy, as grim as they are hilarious, and allude to a nation undergoing radical change.

Crumbs is not only a ribald, dirty realist satire – a modern European classic – but also a fascinating and utterly unique commentary on the pathology of self-determination. It’s publication in the months before Scotland votes on independence lends a surprising, alternative but authoritative perspective on the debate.

James Benmore: Dodger of the Dials (Out now)

dodger-2This is the second book in James Benmore‘s series of novels revisiting the Artful Dodger from Oliver Twist. Written in the Artful’s voice, these novels show off James Benmore’s talents as an impersonator, and the stories feel as much performance as literature. (For the performance of another, very different character, see James Benmore’s story ‘Jaggers & Crown’ in All These Little Worlds. Here’s what publishers Heron have to say:

Two years on from the events of Dodger, Jack Dawkins is back as top-sawyer with his own gang of petty thieves from Seven Dials. But crime in London has become a serious business—and when Jack needs protection he soon finds himself out of his depth and facing the gallows for murder.

The evidence against him seems insurmountable, until a young reporter by the name of Oliver Twist takes up his cause. After freeing Jack from gaol, the pair must bury their past differences and join forces to hunt down the men who framed Jack and stole that which he treasures most.

Charles Lambert: With a Zero at Its Heart (Out now)

9780007545513This short novel is constructed of 240 paragraphs, each of 120 words, forming a semi-autobiographical narrative. There are always tensions in Charles Lambert‘s writing between structure and emotion, and the personal and political, and I’m particularly excited to see how those tensions resolve themselves in this new book. With a Zero at Its Heart has already been well received by the Guardian. Charles will be launching the book in London next week. Here’s what publisher The Friday Project says:

24 themed chapters.

Each with 10 numbered paragraphs.

Each paragraph with precisely 120 words.

The sum of a life.

In his beautiful and haunting new book, Charles Lambert explores the fragmentary nature of memory, how the piecing together of short recollections can reveal a greater narrative. Through chapters tackling elemental themes such as Sex, Death, and Money, Lambert assembles the narrator’s moving life story. Executed with all the grace and finesse of his previous acclaimed work, this is an incredible artistic achievement, breathtaking in its simplicity yet awe-inspiring in its scope.

With cover and text design by the renowned designer Vaughan Oliver, With a Zero at its Heart is as beautiful to look at as it is to read.

William Thirsk-Gaskill: Escape Kit (Out now)

escape-kitThis is a short novella from William Thirsk-Gaskill, whose story ‘Can We Have You All Sitting Down, Please?’ appeared in Crying Just Like Anybody. It’s available as a limited edition paperback and Kindle ebook. Here’s the blurb from publishers Grist:

Bradley is a fourteen-year-old school boy who escapes his troubled home life to visit his grandparents in Stevenage. On the train there, he is held hostage by a deluded gunman who thinks he is an escaped PoW from WWII and that Bradley is a member of the Hitler Youth. Now Bradley must try and escape using his mobile phone. William Thirsk-Gaskill’s novella is a gripping and beautifully told tale of innocence and experience.

Richard Smyth: Wild Ink (June 2014)

wild-inkRichard Smyth provided the title story for Crying Just Like Anybody, and a supernatural tale to New Ghost Stories. He’s published several books of non-fiction, but Wild Ink is his first novel. Here’s what the publisher (Dead Ink) says:

Wild Ink is a blackly comic story of friendship and envy, love and memory, booze and uproar, secrets and scandal. Albert Chaliapin is dead – or at least, he feels like he ought to be. He lives in a world occupied only by the ghosts of his former life (and his nurse, who can’t even get his name right). Then, one day, his past – in the form of a drunk cartoonist, a suicidal hack and a corrupt City banker – pays a visit, and Chaliapin is resurrected, whether he likes it or not. He doesn’t, much.

Someone’s sending him some very strange cartoons. Someone’s setting off bombs all over London. Someone’s been up to no good with some very important people. This is no job for a man wearing pyjamas. Will Chaliapin make it out alive? And is being alive, when it comes down to it, really all it’s cracked up to be?

Jo Gatford: White Lies (July 2014)

white-liesJo Gatford, who won our 2014 flash fiction competition, is also celebrating the publication of her debut novel from Legend Press. White Lies takes a look at the way a family’s secrets are exposed when the father develops dementia. Here’s the blurb:

When Matt’s half-brother Alex dies, his father refuses to hold onto the memory of his favourite son’s death. It was hard enough the first time, but breaking his dad’s heart on a weekly basis is more than Matt can bear.

Peter, Matt’s father, is terrified his dementia will let slip the secrets he’s kept for thirty-five years. Unable to distinguish between memory and delusion, he pursues one question through the maze of his mind: Where’s Alex?

Faced with the imminent loss of his father, Matt is running out of time to discover the truth about his family. Tortured by his failing memory, Peter realises that it’s not just the dementia threatening to open his box of secrets, but his conscience, too.

charles-lambertOur regular readers will be familiar with Charles Lambert, whose work appeared in our first two anthologies. He’s also the author of several novels, and his latest, With a Zero at its Heart, which was published last month by The Friday Project. Some of his novels, like the new one, are literary fiction, while others are thrillers that explore power and corruption in his adopted country of Italy.

Charles will be coming to London for a couple of events to celebrate the publication of his new book. Having been to his launches in the past, I definitely recommend going along to one of these if you can.

As ever, event details can change at the last minute, so be sure to check the websites below for any updates.

Monday, 9th June: Waterstones Piccadilly

Charles will be at Waterstones Piccadilly from 7pm for ‘An Evening with Charles Lambert’, which is sure to be fun. The event is free, but they’d like you to reserve a place by email to

For more details of the this event, visit the Waterstones website.

Tuesday, 10th June: Belgravia Books

Charles will be at Belgravia Books on Ebury Street from 18:30 to 20:30 on the evening of the tenth to celebrate the launch of With a Zero at its Heart.

For more on this event, see the event page on Facebook.

Charles Lambert in The Fiction Desk

There are short stories by Charles in the first two Fiction Desk anthologies: ‘All I Want’ appeared in Various Authors, and ‘Pretty Vacant’ appeared in All These Little Worlds.
Both books are still available, either direct from us, or to order from all good bookshops (including Waterstones and Belgravia Books).

The View from the TowerIf you’re in Rome on 12th February, Fiction Desk regular Charles Lambert will be launching his new novel, The View from the Tower, at the Almost Corner Bookshop.

Charles Lambert is a fine author, and the Almost Corner is a fine bookshop, so it’s well worth going if you can make it. It starts at 18:30, and you’ll find more information on the Wherevent page. There’s more information on The View from the Tower at the publisher’s website here.

(And if you’re in the mood for some Charles Lambert shorts, you’ll find his stories in our anthologies Various Authors and All These Little Worlds.)

James Benmore’s first novel, Dodger, features the return of the Artful Dodger from Oliver Twist. Last month, he wrote for us about the appeal of the Dodger and why he chose to bring him back. This month, he talks about creating the voice of Dodger, and how the character might have come to write a book in the first place.

Cover of Dodger by James BenmoreWhenever Charles Dickens wrote in the first-person, he tended to employ a particular type of narrator. These are often virtuous, seemingly middle-class voices who begin their own stories with an account of an impoverished upbringing blighted by some atrocious adult. This can be a cruel step-father perhaps, or a bullying older sister, and this dark parent-figure makes their very childhood, and often the first few chapters of the book, a bit of a misery.

Such hard luck stories — or what Holden Caulfield from The Catcher in the Rye bluntly described as “all that David Copperfield kind of crap” — invariably mark the start of a rags-to-riches plot. The narrator describes how, through hearty Victorian resilience, honest labour and a few well-timed coincidences, they manage to escape from this unfortunate start in life and enter into a higher, more genteel social spectrum form which they are now writing their own history.

Often the narrator will be a stand-in for Dickens himself, like the semi-autobiographical Copperfield who shares many of his author’s life experiences as well as his reversed initials, or Pip from Great Expectations whose descriptions of his own youthful snobbery and self-centeredness can sometimes be read as though Dickens is taking himself to task.

Occasionally Dickens may adopt the voice of someone very different from himself, such as the modest, female perspective of Esther Summerson in Bleak House. But all his major narrators have something in common: they are all, at their hearts, morally pure. They possess flaws certainly but it is impossible to conceive of Dickens handing the bulk of any novel over to a scheming, unrepentant rotter to narrate. He may give a rough criminal like Magwitch a few pages of contained narration nested within Great Expectations but even Magwitch doesn’t seem so bad by that point in the story.

No, if we want to read a novel narrated by a classic Dickensian villain then we just have to write it ourselves.

This is the main idea behind my novel Dodger. I tried to write the book that I wanted to read: one in which Jack Dawkins, a very different type of character from the Dickens canon, is allowed to put pen to paper and tell the story of his own life with as much freedom as David, Pip or Esther would. I was interested in what such a book would sound like, in what dialect would be employed and what different moral perspective Dawkins could bring to the familiar Victorian surroundings.

I did not want Dodger to spend much time relating his own account of the events of Oliver Twist and this was largely because as a character he is present at too few of its key scenes. Instead I wanted him to tell us about what happened to him next, after he was transported to Australia, and to describe his discovery at what fate befell Fagin and company upon his return six years later. Unlike those other narrators I did not imagine that Dawkins would be inclined to present his early childhood as a sob story. In fact, I suspected that he would look back upon his old life with Fagin and his large gang of boy pickpockets as having been a very happy time, a perversely idyllic childhood, and one that was rudely interrupted by the cruelty of the law.

The principal challenge in writing any first-person novel lies in getting the voice right, and casting Dawkins in such a role presented immediate difficulties. How literate would someone from his background even be? Dickens shows that the criminal contingent of Oliver Twist are all avid readers of The Newgate Calendar, a cheap periodical that detailed the arrests and executions of various villains throughout the capital, so we can safely assume that Dawkins possesses a decent enough level of literacy to build upon. He then spends six years in an Australian penal colony where, I like to imagine, he would have been given access to a large enough library that could have inspired a love of words and storytelling within him. Dawkins is a thief in all things and he is someone who, when he encounters the possessions of rich men, itches to take them for his own. This compulsion would extend itself to reading — or so I reasoned — to the books, stories and words of wealthy society as much as to their valuables.

James BenmoreThis of course does not mean that he would speak in the same pure-bred English that Pip masters after his years of education away from the forge. Nor do I truly think that Dodger would want to speak like that. Instead the voice that I developed when I began writing the first chapter is a mixture of the sort of literary language that I feel he would have met in fashionable novels, the archaic slang of Victorian London and a persistent bad grammar that he would wear as a badge of his class.

Dawkins the narrator is perfectly capable of mimicking the language of the middle-class when writing their dialogue so it follows that his own use of cockney could be a deliberate choice he is making. I have always known that the Artful Dodger is someone who covets the comforts, possessions and privileges of the high-born Englishman, but that doesn’t mean that he wants to be one himself. He does not aspire to be accepted into their world in the same way that David Copperfield or Pip do. Dodger just wants to steal what rich people have and keep it for himself, and I needed him to speak in a voice that communicates that difference.

Another aspect of writing this first-person novel that concerned me was the question of why exactly the Artful Dodger would be scribbling all this down in the first place. Throughout my book and its upcoming sequel he admits to all sorts of pickpocketing, burgling and other shameful behaviour and there is hardly any of the usual contrition in his narrative voice that you might associate with a reformed sinner like Moll Flanders. Dodger isn’t sorry for his crimes at all, in fact he’s boasting about them.

I often imagined when writing the book that Dawkins the narrator wasn’t much older than the Dawkins in the story, as if he’s composing his autobiography just a few short years later in his mid-twenties and not wanting to apologise for any of it. I never have Dawkins explain in the novel why he would be writing a book that could incriminate himself so disastrously because I want the reader to wonder about that themselves. But one thing is certain; this is not a work he can ever publish within his own lifetime.

But why should that stop him? Sometimes people write just for the joy of it or because they have a story in them that needs to come out. And just because Dawkins is barred from enjoying any real literary success while alive does not mean he isn’t subject to that same storytelling impulse that we find in those other Dickens creations like David Copperfield or Pip. Perhaps Dawkins, despite occupying a very different moral space from those other characters, has as much as in common with his creator as they do.

— James Benmore

Read James’s first post about writing Dodger here.

Dodger is out now, published by Heron Books and available in hardback from all good bookshops, as well as the usual range of ebook formats. (Read the first chapter on Amazon.) James Benmore is already working on a sequel.

You can also read James’s award-winning story ‘Jaggers & Crown’ in our anthology All These Little Worlds.

James BenmoreThis month we’re celebrating the publication of the first novel from Fiction Desk favourite James Benmore. Dodger (published by Heron Books) revisits the character of the Artful Dodger from Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist, seeing him return to a much-changed London six years after transportation to Australia. But he’s not yet a free man…

Dodger is a hugely entertaining book, combining 21st century storytelling with a genuine passion for the original books. In the first of two posts for The Fiction Desk, James Benmore writes here about how he was drawn to the Artful Dodger in the first place, and why he feels there is more to say about the character.

I’ve always envied Dickens’ earliest readers. The ones that discovered him back in the early 1830s when he was still writing journalism and sketches under the pseudonym of Boz. The ones who read The Pickwick Papers in a time when it was first being published in shilling instalments — not because it was written by some grand old man of literature but because it was fresh and funny and someone fashionable had recommended it to them.

Those hip metropolitans who would have been dropping the name of Charles Dickens — the sparkling young author who you simply must read — all over town and quoting his choicest bits to each other while their less literate friends listened on glumly because they weren’t getting any of the references to Sam Weller, Joe the Fat Boy or Dingley Dell. I’m talking about the long-time fans, the ones who were there at the the start and liked him even before he went all mainstream with The Old Curiosity Shop a few years later. Because, lets face it, if you didn’t know who Charles Dickens was back in 1836 then you probably weren’t someone worth talking to. You were, not to point too fine a point upon it, a bit tragic.

For these early readers — the first Dickensians we’ll call them — then the summer of love must have taken place between the February of 1837 through to the November of that same year. This was the magic period when Dickens, still only 25, was serialising his first two novels simultaneously as the final instalments of Pickwick overlapped with the opening chapters of Oliver Twist. These two novels could not be more starkly contrasted, the first being all lightness and comic fizz while the second is an angry, murderous melodrama, and they must have struck the first Dickensians as a stunning one-two punch.

One of the great pleasures of reading early Dickens is the wonderful show-offery on display: it’s as though the new author is even impressing himself with how talented and wide-ranging a storyteller he can be, and by what brilliant things he can make words do. Neither is a perfect book — Pickwick keeps spinning off down random narrative byways and Dickens is clearly making the plot of Twist up as he goes — but there is a joyous free-wheeling energy to both and this is something that fades a little in his subsequent work. Literary scholars may correctly identify later novels such as Bleak House and Great Expectations as more technically accomplished, important and mature but, as any first Dickensian will tell you, there is just something cool about the early stuff.

Illustration of the Artful Dodger from Oliver Twist

Which brings me to Jack Dawkins, or the Artful Dodger as the criminal community insist on calling him. For me, Dawkins is the very epitome of everything that is great about early Dickens. He makes his first appearance in chapter eight of Oliver Twist, right in the middle of that golden period, and in just a few short pages he steals the whole scene out from under Oliver’s virtuous nose. He is the very voice and swagger of a young urban London with his cockney slang and streetwise savvy and he is not someone I can imagine the author creating later in his career. Dickens went on to present his readership with an array of criminal grotesques and middle-class bounders but the Dodger represents something not commonly found elsewhere in the Dickens canon: attractive lower-class rebellion.

We aren’t invited to be disgusted by Dawkins in quite the same way that we are with Fagin and Noah Claypole; in fact there are aspects of his character that we even find ourselves drawn to. After all, what reader hasn’t fantasised about how they would fare if Dawkins was to take them out on a pickpocketing spree as he does with Oliver. About how artful we would prove ourselves to be, and whether or not Dodger would like us.

Dickens seems to have been inspired to create the character back when he was working as a court reporter. He had already written a non-fiction scene which can be found in the ‘Criminal Courts’ chapter of Sketches by Boz in which a lad of thirteen is shown being tried at the Old Bailey and proceeds to creates chaos in court with his accusations of police corruption, unlikely alibis and calls for imaginary witnesses. This clearly inspired Dodger’s final scene in Oliver Twist, when he is himself sentenced for stealing a silver snuff box from an unnamed gentleman.

Like his real-life model from ‘Criminal Courts’, Dawkins doesn’t sniffle in the stand and beg to be spared: he’s far too mischievous and unrepentant a character for that. Instead he performs for the benefit of the spectators and grins in the faces of the officers who drag him away for transportation. And it is this irrepressible comic spirit which makes Dawkins such a light relief in an otherwise dark novel. He isn’t punished for his criminality as severely as Fagin, Bill or Nancy are. Neither does he undergo an unconvincing change of heart like his friend Charley Bates does when he suddenly informs on Bill Sikes in the final act. Dodger is just allowed to be Dodger and — by mid-Victorian standards — he pretty much gets away with it.

Except of course he doesn’t, and all because of that sticky snuff box. After his sentence Dodger is removed from the action of Oliver Twist just before things turn really nasty for the criminal contingent. Perhaps this is because Dickens wanted to spare the child from the bloody end he had in store for the rest of them, or maybe it was because he didn’t want Dawkins upstaging Twist any further. Either way, I think most of Dickens’ readers — be they first Dickensians or those of us who have read the book 170 years later — must have felt disappointed that Dawkins is never mentioned again.

There’s a real sense that there was more fun to be had with the boy thief if only Dickens had wanted to have it, and I’ve often wished that the Artful Dodger could have been like Falstaff: a disgraceful yet lovable recurring character. I like to imagine him crossing over from the pages of Oliver Twist and into those of the author’s other novels, especially The Pickwick Papers during that time when they were both still running. Imagine what a surprise it would have been for those first Dickensians if he had suddenly appeared picking Mr Pickwick’s pocket in an installment of that book and then was next seen back in Oliver Twist being tried for that very crime, before continuing to show up at some point in every other Dickens novel that followed. It would have blown their Victorian minds.

Cover of Dodger by James BenmoreAnd it was this thought that inspired me to write my first novel Dodger, in which Dawkins narrates what happened to him next in his own crooked, unapologetic voice and even interacts with people from other Dickens works. I wanted him to be our guide around the fascinating city to which he returns six years after his transportation, the world we are still calling Dickensian London. I don’t know if literary scholars will like my book; in fact I very much doubt it. But then I don’t think I really wrote it for them. I like to think that I wrote the book for the real fans, the ones who were there at the start. I like to think that I wrote the book for the first Dickensians.

— James Benmore

Dodger is out now, published by Heron Books and available in hardback from all good bookshops, as well as the usual range of ebook formats. (Read the first chapter on Amazon.) James Benmore is already working on a sequel. The novels are written in the first person, and in another post on our blog, James talks about reconstructing the voice of Dodger himself.

You can also read James’s award-winning story ‘Jaggers & Crown’ in our anthology All These Little Worlds.

charles-lambert-smallI was delighted to hear that Fiction Desk favourite Charles Lambert has secured publishers for not one but three new books.

It’s been almost three years since the publication of Lambert’s last novel, Any Human Face, making him the author equivalent of a city bus (you wait years for one, and then…).

Two of the new books are thrillers, which will be published by Exhibit A, the crime imprint of Angry Robot Books. This is exciting news in itself: Angry Robot are a terrific publisher, and I’m a fan of Robot Trading Company, through which they sell ebooks direct to readers.

The other book, described in The Bookseller as ‘a series of 120-word texts, arranged by theme, adding up to a picture of one man’s life,’ will be published by Scott Pack at The Friday Project. I know Scott’s a fan of Charles Lambert, so this intriguing book is in safe hands.

Good news all round, then!

(You can read stories by Charles in our anthologies Various Authors and All These Little Worlds.)

Like many people, I first noticed Roast Books when they published A.C. Tillyer’s collection of short stories, An A-Z of Possible Worlds. It was a highly entertaining read, but also an exciting piece of publishing: the elaborate production, involving a boxed set of 26 booklets, was both eye-catching and perfectly suited to the material.

While An A-Z… might be Roast Books’ most elaborate volume, it’s be no means the only one: they started with a series of paperback novellas and short story collections called Great Little Reads, and more recent publications include Nik Perring’s collection of flash fiction, Not So Perfect. Their most recent book is Dogsbodies and Scumsters, a quirky collection of short stories by Alan McCormick with illustrations by Jonny Voss. Here’s the trailer:

With such a diverse and interesting selection of publications, I decided it was time to find out more about Roast Books and their plans, so I got in touch with their publisher Faye Dayan…

For a young publishing house with relatively few titles, you’ve managed to create a wonderfully diverse range: from the Great Little Reads with their textured covers, to the simple square of Nik Perring’s book, through to the extravagant A-Z of Possible Worlds, I’m not sure that you’ve tackled any two projects in the same way. What made you decide to take this approach?

Each book of short fiction Roast Books has published has deserved its own approach because we try to match form to content. I think it’s important that the shape and character of a book can reflect and relate to the stories inside.

Will you be revisiting the Great Little Reads series?

The novella is such a great genre, and often overlooked I think, so I would love to revisit the Great Little Reads series, although for the moment Roast Books is focused on short story collections.

Is it challenging to create a strong identity for Roast Books when you’re using a variety of formats? As opposed to, say, Peirene Press, who have one very distinct look to their titles.

You are right, this presents a challenge in creating an image for Roastbooks, but it is the philosophy of production, rather than the production itself which is consistent across all our books. The creative process of working with an author and collaborating on the design is very rewarding and something I would like to believe that our readers acknowledge and appreciate.

I’m sure they do. Your list is very focussed on short stories and novellas—a focus I can strongly identify with! I can see how short stories would be a logical choice for an experimental publisher like Roast Books, because the reading experience of shorter works can be more flexible than that of longer novels, where the book perhaps needs more to disappear more behind the writing. What’s the attraction for you in publishing short stories?

The genre of short stories is extensive, and there are fewer accepted publishing traditions associated with them. So firstly, as you said, as a new publisher, it gives more flexibility to experiment. Secondly many short stories are appreciated as they provide light bites of entertainment and stimulation, and the book format can be something which enhances this rather than detracts from it.

An A-Z of Possible Worlds on Display

Do you see Roast Books moving into ebook publishing, or would you prefer to focus on the physical reading experience?

It’s interesting because the physical aspect of the book is intrinsic to Roast Books, so we will not release digital books without their physical counterpart. Having said that, we are developing an exciting little e-project which will give users the ability to self publish and distribute.

That’s interesting. More traditional publishers seem to be getting involved with self-publishing projects these days. It used to be very much a no-no, causing issues with credibility and conflicts of interest, but that certainly seems to be changing. How do you plan to reconcile the two very different types of publishing with Roast Books?

I agree it is changing. The type of self publishing where publishers put out a physical book in return for a hefty fee isn’t the only model any more. With ebooks, authors can create and distribute their own book online, in a speedy and cheap process, and this is something which part of our e-project will facilitate. Aspiring authors can bring their ebooks to the attention not just of potential readers but also potential publishers. There won’t necessarily be any overlap between this and our physical books at all.

How have you found the experience of entering the publishing industry? Do you think it’s a receptive world for new independents? Have you had any particular frustrations or pleasant surprises?

As you know things are changing very rapidly in the book industry and there is a lot of speculation about where it’s headed. But i have been certainly met some people within the industry who are extremely supportive and genuinely want new independents to succeed. It’s undoubtably tough, but you just have to keep going and see what’s around the next corner. We have just sold the film rights to My Soviet Kicthen by Amy Spurling, to Tailormade productions, which was an unexpected but welcome development.

What kind of team do you have? Do you work with a lot of people, or are you largely self-sufficient?

I work with the same designer, editor and publicist on each book, so its a very small operation, but I think this has its benefits! We work quickly, and it’s a lot of fun.

Are there any other emerging independent publishers that you particularly admire?

lol The Fiction Desk! Various Authors introduces a really interesting spectrum of new talent and I’m really enjoying it.

Thank you! I wasn’t fishing, I promise… Finally, what’s next for Roast Books?

We have some great projects planned for 2012, all collections of short stories, and also the development of our self publishing platform.

Find out more about Roast Books at their website,

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