Charles Fernyhough, who is publishing his book A Box of Birds (a “neuroscientific philosophical love thriller” -as wondrously described by Vaughan Bell) by crowd-funding with Unbound, has written a beautiful blog post about why he writes fiction and considering the relationship between science and story. See below. You can read an excerpt from his book here and also find out how to pledge money to support the publication of the book (in return for your name printed in the back of every single copy plus behind-the-scenes exclusives on the process of writing it, invites to the book Launch Party, two tickets to School of Life classes of your choice and more…)
The Pull of the Story
A few weeks ago I went to London to film the pitch for my novel, A Box of Birds. This will be my first novel for some time (my debut, The Auctioneer, was published way back in 1999), and so it was a big moment for me. I was meeting John Mitchinson, the publisher of Unbound, to talk to him about the themes of the book. We met at Paramount, the restaurant at the top of Centre Point in Soho. The pitch was filmed (by the wonderful and multitalented Laura Kidd) against the extraordinary backdrop of London viewed from 33 floors up. You can see the results here.
It was a wide-ranging, enlivening conversation, as all my chats with John are. I got the chance to explain how A Box of Birds is my way of taking on a fundamental question: how we should live our lives, if we accept (as modern neuroscience asks us to) that we are no more than complex systems of connections. With Yvonne, I wanted to write the story of the first materialist in fiction. That statement probably seems over-bold and certainly needs some qualification, as there are plenty of other novels that touch on themes of neuroscientific materialism. But I don’t think novelists have gone far enough in exploring the implications of this philosophy for their fictional characters. I’ve written more about this debate here, and there’ll be lots more in the weeks to come. If the book is funded, it will be published in the autumn.
In a way, the most difficult question was the last one. ‘What makes you keep doing it?’ John asked me. At an emotional level, I have no doubt about the answer, but it’s hard to put it into words. I have always written fiction—I had a complete draft of a novel at the age of nine—and it’s not too melodramatic to say that I have dedicated my life to it. In one sense it’s the most natural thing in the world for me to do. I suspect that what John was really asking was: What makes you keep doing it, when you could be doing other things? I have a part-time career as an academic, after all: why isn’t that enough?
If I knew the answer to that, I would have solved a basic riddle about human creativity. What makes us want to tell stories? What do the counterfactuals of fiction give us that the realities of science don’t?
There is much to say on this topic, but here’s one idea to start with. Looking for the commonalities between science and writing is not a new endeavour, and people before me have considered this relationship very fruitfully. (Here’s one great example, and an equally interesting response.) When I’m doing science, I’m trying to go from the specificities of data to theories and principles that can apply more generally. Writers do that too. They look for the particular that can speak to the universal, the part that can stand for the whole.
In some ways, though, fiction has more to do with engineering. When you write a novel, you are building a model and then putting it in a wind tunnel. You’re looking to see how the stresses of events impact upon your characters: how they deform them, and draw out their resiliences. You always start with a character, I think, a character in a situation… and then you put your model down on the bench and see how it runs. For me, with this book, that was about saying ‘What if you put a materialist into a story? How would she behave when stuff started to happen? How would her view of the world, and of herself, change?’ I honestly don’t think we can understand the true meaning of neuroscience from within the discipline. We have to look at how it functions in the real world, how it changes our understanding.
So that’s one reason why I do fiction alongside science. In the end, I’m not going to be able to give a definitive answer to the question that John asked me, except to the extent of knowing what these things mean to me personally. That’s the bit that’s hard to put into words, and it’s what I tried to explain to John. I’m less of a person when I’m not writing fiction. Without it, I just don’t understand things so well.
Charles Fernyhough’s blog for more posts like this, and his twitter.
Unbound author Ade Teal's short historical piece for the Daily Mail:
Ade Teal’s upcoming book, Gin Lane Gazette, is a brilliantly illustrated and hilarious 18th century version of a tabloid magazine and it is being crowd funded for publishing by Unbound.
You can read an excerpt from the book here and if you’re interested you can pledge money to support the publication of Gin Lane Gazette in return for anything from an ebook and signed first edition hardback to an original caricature of yourself as a “Georgian Person of Rank & Quality”, invites to the launch party, a walking tour of Georgian London with the author, a Georgian-style pub crawl with the author or even a protagonist in the book named and drawn after you - depending on how much you pledge. And no matter how much you pledge you would definitely get your name printed in the back of every single copy of the book. plus access to the author’s Shed (a behind-the-scenes area on our website where you get exclusive updates on the process of writing and drawing the book).
We’re in the last days of the subscription period for 26 Treasures on www.unbound.co.uk/books/26-treasures. We’re nearly at our target but we still need people to sign up to get the book published. So here’s an offer to treasure….When you pledge to buy a copy of 26 Treasures on Unbound, we’ll give you a free copy of either 26 Letters (the original 26 book, part of the British Library project) or 26 Exchanges (the collaboration with PEN International).
Just let Tom Lynham know firstname.lastname@example.org when you subscribe to 26Treasures on Unbound, and we’ll send you your free 26 book. But you’ll have to be quick – get in before the end of February.
"26 Treasures" on what it's like publishing their book with Unbound
From the 26 Fruits blog by the founder/director of the “26” organisation - John Simmons:
There’s so much about 26 Treasures – the book that is different. I’ll be very proud of it when it appears. It still needs a few more people to sign up for it www.unbound.co.uk/books/26-treasures in the next week or so. But everyone’s now confident it will happen.
The book comes out of four exhibitions at the V&A, National Library of Wales, Ulster Museum and National Museum of Scotland. Originally Rob Self Pierson and I went to the V&A to propose the idea: 26 writers from www.26.org.uk would write exactly 62 words (26 in reflection) about objects from the V&A. The V&A loved the idea, the curators of the British Galleries selected 26 treasures, we randomly paired them with writers from 26, and the words and objects came together for exhibition as part of the London Design Festival 2010.
Last year we extended the idea to the three other national archives representing Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland. The same basic format applied, with interesting variations that reflected the identity of each of the countries. For example, in Wales the writing became completely bilingual: 62 words in English and Welsh for each object.
In ‘curating’ these four projects, 26 had gathered an extraordinary cast list of writers from its own ranks and contacts. Among the famous writers involved are Andrew Motion, Maura Dooley, Gillian Clarke, Michael Longley, Paul Muldoon, Alexander McCall Smith. More than 100 different writers have been involved. And we had invented a new literary form: the sestude. We define it as a study in exactly 62 words.
We felt the project deserved its own book. But how to do it? I knew about a new publishing venture called Unbound, founded by three people including my good friend John Mitchinson. Unbound is a response, by people of great experience in the book world, to the current state of publishing where it’s become so difficult to get unusual books published. Unbound operates on crowd-sourcing principles – through its website it invites interested readers to subscribe to the book. When the funding reaches its full level the book gets printed and published with greater care and panache than authors now expect from conventional publishers. John wanted to publish 26 Treasures through Unbound. 26 wanted to support Unbound too as a new way of publishing.
As I write, the book is nearly 80% funded. The number of supporters needed is now within reach – fewer people than read this blog, for example. Thank you to all who have already subscribed. And thank you to those who will help us hit our funding target in the next two weeks. Subscribers get their names printed in the back of the book’s first edition. So we know the friends of 26 Treasures by name, and I’d like to thank you all for your support. To add your name to the list, and receive a book in June, go to www.unbound.co.uk/books/26-treasures
In case you didn’t already know, we have a fabulous newsletter that we email out regularly to keep subscribers updated with the latest book news, author interviews, competitions etc. You can view the latest issue here, and all the previous issues here- where you can also sign up to the newsletter mailing list if you like it.
I think Kickstarter is one of the best things from the last decade. Recently, many projects had been funded completely in less than 24 hours, meaning the website has provided people with incredible ideas of an easy way to get the economic means they need to put them out for the world to enjoy….
Steven Partridge on Crushed Mexican Spiders (Possibly Forty Ships) by Tibor Fischer
Writer/editor Steven Partridge has posted a brilliant and amusing review of Crushed Mexican Spiders (the collection of short stories by Tibor Fischer published last year by Unbound) in which he discusses Possibly Forty Ships, the usually lesser mentioned but equally fantastic story, in interesting detail. We’ve put the review below, and you can head to Steven’s site for plenty of other great lit-related writing (book reviews, interviews, discussions of literary prizes etc.)
Flipping Tibor Fischer
The end papers of Tibor Fischer’s new book take design inspiration from Greek pottery and the London Underground. The former prefixes a story about the Trojan War, the latter a woman who returns to her London flat to find the locks are changed. The reader can choose which story to read first and then ‘flips’ the volume over to read the next one. As an artefact the book did feel as though I was handling a piece of priceless Grecian Pottery. It arrived bound in dark blue paper, the dust jacket photography is by acclaimed Czech photographer Hana Vojakova, the individual covers are beautiful, there’s a note on the book’s typeface and the endpapers are highly stylised and, according to the press release, finished with a subtle grey wash. Let’s see you do all of THAT on a Kindle. There’s no denying that as an object it’s certainly well considered but are the stories any good?
I read Possibly Forty Ships three times. The first attempt I had one eye on Eastenders and had no idea what was going on (in both the book and Albert Square) but by the third reading I think I had it sussed. A man is being interrogated with the threat of torture to recount his experience and involvement in the Trojan War, that staple of Homer’s Epics. It’s a brief retelling of the myth with a few gags thrown in: ‘Once you’ve had your wife in fifty-six positions, it’s not the same’. Poor Achilles is a trannie, no doubt his thigh high platforms the cause of his infamous podiatry problems; he ends up in the King of Ethiopia’s bed where he’s ‘bummed into madness’ to the extent that ‘you could drop a vole into his rear.’ The writing’s pretty clever: before being written down, Homeric myths were transmitted orally, probably like Achilles’ STIs, and the story is all dialogue. The man being interrogated uses a Homeric technique of repetition (an ancient rhetoric device that helped in the memorising of tales): ‘the truth? How do you define – ‘, ‘How do you define war? What is a – ‘, ‘How would you define a hero?’
Tibor’s style and the themes of failed marriages, sex and un-heroic heroes wouldn’t be out of place in a contemporary celebrity magazine, thus showing that stories in their general sense are timeless, the tales might be different but the human involvement is always recognisable. Likewise, war stories, possibly more so in our own times, are always distorted. The man questions his interrogator’s presumptions, claiming that a fleet was actually just a few ships (possibly forty), that not all the soldiers were heroes, some were blind and had chronic back pain. ‘It’s a pity pleasure can’t, like a stream, flow endlessly out of one person. There would be fewer burning cities.’ Read that in respect to a disgruntled Commander in Chief and the pursuit of war is all down to a lack of leisure time. Anhedonia is a warmonger.
This is a book for Python fans (and non-Python fans) young and old. Whether you choose to read it as a bedtime story for your children, whilst relaxing in the bath, or on your lunch break, Evil Machines is a worthwhile and original novel. Jones has created a true adventure, and you never know where the next page will take you. I will certainly never manage to look at my toaster in the same way again.
by Katrina Diaz
(Publisher’s Note: Evil Machines is a darkly funny set of linked tales about vengeful phones and hoovers by the legendary Terry Jones. It was crowd-funded for publishing by Unbound and is now available to buy. You can read a long excerpt from the novel -about The Truthful Phone- at our main site. Okay, so you can also read that excerpt through Amazon but our site is much more interesting since you get to find out about the many other fantastic books we’re publishing when you go there.)
Hi - I have contributed to Warhorse of Letters and wondered how long it can take from the time full funding is achieved to when a book is distributed.
There’s actually no set time, it depends on how long the book is and how much work needs to be done. But the book Warhorses of Letters by Hudson and Phillips will be sent out to its subscribers in mid-March. Hope you enjoy it!
Competition: Win a signed copy of Alexander McCall Smith novella
This week, we are running a competition for you to win a signed, illustrated copy of Alexander McCall Smith’s Precious & the Monkeys, the charming story of how Precious Ramotswe (later of the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency) solved her very first case while still a schoolgirl.
To enter, all you have to do is pledge for the 26 Treasures book on the Unbound site (the book is a collection of poetry by various writers, including Alexander McCall Smith, inspired by items from UK museums). And once you’ve done that, then use the Promoters button on the book’s home page to encourage as many people as you can to pledge using your link. Not only do you earn a £1 credit for every pledge made via your personalised link, the person who gets the highest number of pledges by 5pm on Friday 24th February wins the signed, illustrated novella.
Graham Smith & Chris Sullivan will be signing copies of the book, reminiscing and playing the best early 80s music from 6.30pm on Wednesday 22nd, at The Sun & 13 Cantons, Great Pulteney Street in Soho. Pay bar. Dancing from 9pm. For more info click here.
Metaliterature's Review of Crushed Mexican Spiders
A fantastic, funny review of the Unbound book Crushed Mexican Spiders, a collection of two short stories by Tibor Fischer, has been posted over at Metaliterature. Check it out: ”Just who Fischer thinks he is, first attacking Martin Amis and then telling me, hi
s earnest reviewer, that “…most books reviews aren’t very well-written. They tend to be more about the reviewer than the book,” is an interesting question, and, frankly, one I don’t care much for. Me. I don’t care. I have other views too, which may or may not come out in the course of this review of a double-header by Fischer from the wonderful, wonderful people at Unbound. Okay, so I’m stuck in 2003, but then it was a nice place to be, with anticipation building at getting my hands on first a proof of Yellow Dog and then a pristine signed copy of Voyage To The End Of The Room. After 2003 it all felt a bit of a letdown, with the bathetic release of both to muted praise and fierce criticism.
Still, I must focus on pastures new and not on muddy old fields.
A quick word (you know what that means) about Unbound. The theory or model is that by securing an agreed level of support from the public, that is you and me and him and them etc, before the book is published, an author and the publisher are able to off-set risks and cover costs, whilst also being able to create a book of rare beauty with a high quality design and, as mentioned in the Guardian, “paper so creamy you long to lick it”. The bonus for us literati is that one gets one’s name printed in the book as a supporter, and if you’re particularly energetic in promoting a particular title or author, by spreading your personalised link to all and sundry via whatever social media site you choose, you may even become a Promoter, earning credits (for use against future projects) for every supporter one convinces to pledge a contribution to a project. Copacetic.
And so on to my first fully formed fiction from Unbound. Depending on which way you pick it up, you may or may not get Crushed Mexican Spiders first, so that seems as good a point as any to start projecting my own insecurities.
I jest, I jest.
In a very short story, barely 14 pages long, Fischer goes after London, a city with which he has seemingly fallen out. In a Guardian interview in 2003 (sigh) he says:
“London has become a much more unpleasant place than it used to be. I don’t think that’s to do with any kind of recent climate of fear, it’s just that nothing works. There are just too many rats in the rat cage now.”
His nameless protagonist struggles no longer against the apathy of the city, and is rewarded with a cold shoulder which borders on the Kafkaesque. Her key doesn’t work, her neighbours aren’t the neighbours she remembers, and there’s a woman in her flat who says she’s lived there for seven years. “
"Funding Books and Falling Apart" (Unbound in The Independent)
NEWS!: we have teamed up with The Independent’s books blog to feature some our best upcoming books. First up: The Elegant Art of Falling Apart by Jessica Jones.
Here’s an extract from the first blog post, in which founder Justin Pollard explains the Unbound way of publishing books and introduces Jessica Jones’ new novel.
The death of books has been proclaimed many times, with digital assumed to be the chief assassin. Print can’t last they say, as Kindles and e-books take a larger share of a market in apparent crisis. The truth is that it’s not the format that dead, there’s room for paper and digital editions – but the business model is looking a bit peaky. In troubled times, publishers become more risk averse, only taking on what’s guaranteed to sell. And that limits the flow of new writing.
So we at Unbound have come up with a new approach to book publishing. We’re flipping the commissioning model – publishers don’t decide what gets published, readers do. It works like this – authors upload their ideas to Unbound and readers then choose the ideas that they like and pledge their support (from £10 to funding the entire book). The idea is to get more and more people involved in the creation of books. If we build a wider community (including Facebook and Twitter), then we can help people find, and create, new writing.
So over the next few weeks, we’ll be parading some of the best projects in front of discerning Independent readers. We’d be interested in your feedback, just as much as your pledges (but don’t hold back).
Written by Jessica Jones, an Australian who has been a long-time resident in London, this about as far away from a misery memoir as you can get. For one thing, it is entirely free of self-pity and very, very funny.
Hello everyone! We’ve now added a submissions page (look to the right…) so if you’ve read an Unbound book and would like to review it in 400 words or less you can send it in via the review submissions page and we’ll publish it on the blog. You can also add photos and videos. Looking forward to seeing your thoughts.
Hattori Hachi is a series of kick-ass action adventure books for kids and playful adults about a 15 year old Japanese girl, Hattie Jackson, from Camberwell who discovers her ninjitsu heritage after her mother goes missing.
"They are books where people have to work for success; where the heroes train hard, face their own demons and have to confront their invisible barriers to overcome their fears and phobias; characters who aspire to achieve difficult goals and learn to accept that sometimes, failure can be just as important as success…"
Written by Jane Prowse (creator of several TV dramas for the BBC and plays that have been performed in the UK, Ireland and America, including one that’s currently in the West End), the first two books of the series, The Revenge of the Praying Mantis, and Stalking The Enemy, have previously been published and are available to download online. And the third book, Curse of the Diamond Daggers, is set to be published exclusively by Unbound, in a bound volume containing all three books in the trilogy. You can read excerpts from all 3 books here.
This is a great way to discover a superbly written series for all ages and for those who are already fans of the series, this is a great opportunity to help get the third book published, by pledging money in return for your name being printed in the back of each book plus an ebook or a first edition hardback and anything else from a whole range of gifts such as a Hattie hoodie and ninja club membership, invites to the launch party, a writing workshop with Jane, and even getting a character in the new Hattori Hachi book named after you. Click here to find out how you can get involved…
Jessica Jones grew up in Australia and New Guinea. After being ‘asked to leave’ high school she ran away to London to drown herself in music and fashion. Life then became a non-stop rollercoaster of what self-help writers often call ‘opportunities for growth’ until, a decade or so ago, it became imperative to ease up on the insanity (although not entirely, as you shall see). Following her diagnosis with breast cancer, she started the blog Chemo Chic – A Guide to Surviving Breast Cancer With Style. With its focus on natural and organic beauty, it was acclaimed by The Times as one of ‘40 Blogs That Really Count’ and was recently chosen by Channel 4’s 4Beauty as one of the best health blogs.
The Elegant Art of Falling Apart is the brilliant, witty story of how her life completely fell apart and how she survived. But it is not a self-help book, as Jessica herself says: "Whilst the book is full of (I hope) useful tips about how to survive serious illness with style, it doesn’t offer medical advice or quacky recovery programmes aimed at saving your life. This book is about saving your sanity."
"I’d done the hard yards: booze; drugs; bad boyfriends. But that was all in the past. Now, my life was almost perfect: living and working in London, a city I adore, in love with a man who loved me back. Then in May 2009, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. With the help of doctors, nurses, friends and family, I stumbled through the horror of surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
I felt so lucky to have survived it all. On Christmas Eve I flew to Sydney to be with Nick, the man who had stuck by my side through all the pain and the fear, only to be told on arrival that he’d been seeing someone else… that he didn’t love me after all. That emotional rejection felt more devastating, and difficult to recover from, than the cancer.
So what is this book really about? It’s about learning to ask for and to accept help. It’s about living in and enjoying the moment. It’s about freeing yourself from our culture’s obsession with romantic love. It’s about how looking good makes you feel good. Above all it is about staggering through the darkness with laughter and with friends.
And you don’t need to get cancer to find yourself on the wrong side of that line…”
Click here to read an Excerpt. And you can find out more about how to support the book here, in return for which you will get your name printed in the back of the book, plus an ebook or a beautifully produced first-edition hardback, and a variety of other things from afternoon tea with the author herself, a cometics goody bag, and even a portrait done by Jessica.
We’re a convivial bunch at Unbound and we like to tell you what we’re up to - what new projects we’re launching, that sort of thing. So we’re setting up shop in various of these new-fangled social media spaces. Unlike Tom Stoppard, we now have a ‘Twitter machine’, and a Facebook gadget and a Google+ fandangle.
But we’d always like more people to hang around with. So to encourage you nice people to get involved …
Follow us on our Facebook page between now and the end of February and you’ll be put into a prize draw to win a copy of the excellent We Can Be Heroes. (If you already follow us, don’t worry, we’ll put you in the draw too). So like us on Facebook, and get your friends to do so too, and you could be a winner.