I love books. No surprises there. But what I love about them is not just their stories or even the writer’s way with words. It’s the physical thing. The words set in ink or pixels, the weight in my hands, the breath as I start a new page. There is something marvellous about books, they hold a kind of magic.
I also love to write. Again no surprises. But as everyone knows, writing books takes a bit of time, determination, and usually some serendipity in finding an agent and publisher. Writing, after all, is easy compared to seeing your words turned into a physical creation.
And so, this Christmas, despite in years past telling people not to try and fulfil my wishlist, this year I’m asking for something slightly different. I would like anyone interested in ‘gifting’ me something this year, to consider funding a book on Unbound. To spread a little bookish joy by helping authors to see their work in print.
Don’t worry, I’m not suggesting you do this just for the warm fuzzies.
You’ll get something in return too (karma works that way). For every pound of support you’ll find yourself rewarded by the Unbound system (through books, access to the writer’s ‘shed’, and if you’re feeling very generous you might even end up at the odd launch party, rubbing shoulders with an author you’ve made happen, with a signed first edition tucked under one arm and your name in the book you funded).
Many of you will have heard me talk about Unbound before. And even those of you who haven’t literally heard me talking about it, might have seen it mentioned here on the blog or across my various social media channels.
In summary: Unbound are a privately held international publishing house. They’ve adopted crowdfunding as their business model and are run primarily online. Allowing readers like us to choose what is published, Unbound offer a very simple solution to the struggle many writers face: finding someone to represent them.
This means it’s super easy for readers to get involved in projects that intrigue us. Because through Unbound, the reading public come to represent the writing. If the book has enough backers to fund it through publication then it’ll be published.
In my opinion, Unbound is one of the more exciting introductions to the publishing landscape in the last ten years. It’s simple, innovative, and it’s already seeing some impressive results (Paul Kingsnorth should be on all of your To Read Lists).
Below you’ll find the books I’d love to see crowdfunded this Christmas – it’s all non-fiction but maybe you’ll find something you love. And if not, why not skip on over to the website and find something you do.
Books are now in your hands.
The House of Fiction
— Unbound (@unbounders) November 17, 2015
Phyllis Richardson’s ‘The House of Fiction‘ comes top of the list for books I’d like to see funded for Christmas. And it’s also the inspiration for this post, so I’m going to give it some TLC.
Summarised as a cultural exploration of Britain’s most influential houses in literature, there’s umpteen reasons for me wanting people to fund it.
For one, I would like to read it.
For two, the idea itself is lovely. Even the title goes back to one of those extended metaphors that resonates all the way back through literature, though perhaps most famously in the preface to The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James, who built fiction into a house for the first time:
The house of fiction has in short not one window, but a million —a number of possible windows not to be reckoned, rather; every one of which has been pierced, or is still pierceable, in its vast front, by the need of the individual vision and by the pressure of the individual will. These apertures, of dissimilar shape and size, hang so, all together, over the human scene that we might have expected of them a greater sameness of report than we find. They are but windows at best, mere holes in a dead wall, disconnected, perched aloft; they are not hinged doors opening straight upon life. But they have this mark of their own that at each of them stands a figure with a pair of eyes, or at least with a field-glass, which forms, again and again, for observation, a unique instrument, insuring to the person making use of it an impression distinct from every other. He and his neighbors are watching the same show, but one seeing more where the other sees less, one seeing black where the other sees white, one seeing big where the other sees small, one seeing coarse where the other sees fine. And so on, and so on…
This is one of those insights into literature that stuck with me for the longest time. In part, no doubt because James Wood paraphrased it and then upturned it in How Fiction Works, the first book of literary criticism I used like a Holy Grail (oh, I know, lower your eyebrows ye Realism skeptics).
However, perhaps the biggest reason is just personal curiousity. Whilst most people think of houses in fiction as places like Satis House and Pemberly, as I finished my MA at Durham, one of the classes I took focused on literature and the supernatural. My interest, which was primarily oriented towards the medical humanities, was curious about the way physical and mental conditions underpinned many of ghost stories throughout history. Studying the links between science and supernatural, fact and fiction, lead me to Robert Louis Stevenson and The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. In the story, there is a curious fascination with the interior and exterior of buildings.
Jekyll’s front door sits on a street that shines out in contrast to its dingy neighbourhood. The backdoor, Hyde’s entrance to the house, is an intrusion: ‘a certain sinister block of building thrust forward its gable on the street. It was two stories high; showed no window, nothing but a door on the lower story and a blind forehead of discoloured wall on the upper; and bore in every feature, the marks of prolonged and sordid negligence. The door, which was equipped with neither bell nor knocker, was blistered and distained.’
Like the difference between the Jekyll and Hyde, the house reflects duality. It emphasises the mirage of success and the reality of squalor. Yet, of course, it also conveys that whilst there might be two men in appearance, they must inevitably share the same interior world.
Just from this one rushed and vaguely superficial reading, I hope you can see how the buildings are integral to the novel. How the house replicates something of the central conflict of Stevenson’s novel.
If not, then you should probably invest in Richardson’s book. She’ll have much better insights than me.
The Sussex Devils
— The1971JB (@The1971JB) October 31, 2015
Fully funded and now in production, I would love to contribute more to this intriguing work of non-fiction.
The Sussex Devils by Marc Heal tells the story of The Satanic Panic of the 1980s. Part memoir, part mystery, it looks at the ‘court case of a man named Derry Mainwaring Knight. He claimed that he was a senior member of a secret Satanic group operating at the highest levels of British society. Helped by a local priest, John Baker, vicar of the Sussex village of Newick, Knight had raised large sums from wealthy local gentry on the pretext of destroying powerful items of Satanic regalia and subvert the cabal from within.’
Heal, who some might know from his 1990s rock band Cubanate or the BBC World News series, Changing Fortunes, grew up in Sussex during the rise and fall of the ‘Devils’. In fact, he was intimately connected to him, having been not only witness to the contemporary hysteria but subject to an attempted exorcism after his anxiety and drinking convinced several ‘charismatic’ Christians that he was possessed.
Small Town Noir
“In 2009, I bought a set of six mug shots. What made me interested in these particular photographs was that they came with criminal arrest records attached. Only very rarely do mug shots contain any information about the criminals they feature.”
It might seem peculiar, but Diarmid Mogg, the writer of Small Town Noir, has collected over 1,500 mug shots from the long-forgotten Pennsylvanian town of New Castle. Described as ‘an extraordinary collection’ they cover one small American town from 1930-1960 and offer a rare and wonderful insight into ‘the stories of grifters, drifters, the unlucky and the insane’.
As someone who has always found photography just that little bit eerie, and mug shots just that little bit fascinating, I really hope that more people move to fund this work-in-progress.
You can read more about some of the stories in the book over on Mogg’s wordpress too!
— Unbound (@unbounders) September 16, 2015
Rebel Rebel: How Mavericks Made the Modern World is number four on my list. Written by Chris Sullivan, one of those self-styled mavericks whose been everywhere and done everything, I’m definitely drawn in by the blurb but mostly by his background.
So for the blurb, know that this is a book about otherness. About outsiders. Or atleast about people who thinking they’re outsiders and ‘others’. They’re the people who self-ascribe weirdness and have somehow got away with it. Like Caitlin Moran.
But outsiders or not, I think the book sounds like the sort of romp through music, art and literature that I’d probably enjoy. And my dad. And probably my uncle. Plus, many of you will have heard of The Wag Club in Wardour Street. Sullivan was founder, host, director and DJ for 18 years at this place – one he calls ‘a true home for outsiders and rebels – everyone from Prince to Lee Perry played live there.’ So it’s a book we could all enjoy.
Want to know more about Unbound?
Interested in crowdfunding a book? Head on over to the website now!