Last week we spoke with Jo Fletcher about her brand new imprint, Jo Fletcher Books. We’re back with Part II. If you missed the first part then not to worry, you can find it here – Jo Fletcher Interview Part I.
JF: I can tell you about every title I’m publishing this year – and as it’s not just very hard but almost impossible for an editor to pick just a couple of titles (and it makes the authors not picked really upset!) I’ll give you only a couple of lines on each. What I’ve been trying to achieve is a real mix, and I’ve been exceptionally lucky in the authors I’ve found. I’ll do it in rough order (again, so as not to hurt anyone by implying anyone else is better – authors are fragile creatures, you know)!
So I started the year with Alison Littlewood’s debut novel A Cold Season, which is a horror novel about a mother faced with unimaginable choices to save her child from harm. Cold chills ran up and down my spine while I was reading this on a gorgeous early summer day: Ali’s got wonderful descriptive powers. I’m going to be completely honest here: I wanted the author; I thought the book might struggle, because horror’s still only just crawling back on the shelves – but God bless Richard and Judy, because they picked this for their Book Club, which they run in conjunction with WHSmith – this is my first ever Richard & Judy book in XX years of publishing (where XX is a number that can’t possibly be right and so I won’t admit to it). That boost will make the world of difference to a debut author, and I’m thrilled for Ali.
So after that astonishing start, the pace gets ramped up with Rod Rees’ explosive Demi-Monde: Spring, the second in his SF/steampunk/high adventure quartet, and we’ll have Summer later in the year. Rod does things with history you will never forget! Karen Lord was shortlisted for the World Fantasy Award, amongst others, and won several prestigious prizes for her first novel, a quirky and entirely delightful retelling of a Senegalese folk tale, Redemption in Indigo (and that’s another first for me: Karen is my first Caribbean author!). Everyone knows anthologies don’t sell – except when they do, of course, and as I’d taken on Stephen Jones’ A Book of Horrors (paperbacked this autumn, with a brand new Stephen King story, and the first John Ajvide Linqvist story ever written for an English-speaking market), there was no way I was going to turn down Charlaine Harris and Toni L.P. Kelner’s books: the first on JFB is Home Improvement: The Undead Edition, and it’ll be followed by An Apple for the Creature – and as well as brand-new Sookie Stackhouse stories in both, they’ve got some cracking authors lined up.
My next is my first sculpter (turned-writer): Aidan Harte was studying in Florence when he got the idea for his amazing alternate history Irenicon, the first of three set in a very different Tuscany (finished copies just came in and they look wonderful!). Stephen Jones and I always wanted to do M. R. James as a Gollancz Black Book, but the timing was wrong. Luckily for me, it’s the 150th anniversary of Britain’s greatest teller of ghost stories this year (check out the stamp! And I believe there’s going to be an M.R. James gargoyle at Eton too), so Steve’s put together a really phenomenal collection for my all-new leatherbound Burgundy Books, including some rarely seen fragments, making Curious Warnings the most complete ‘Complete M.R.James’ ever – and the icing on the cake is the wealth of illustrations by Les Edwards, some of the best I’ve seen.
Into the summer, and Australian writer Will Elliott, the highly imaginative author of The Pilo Family Circus, has a very dark fantasy series, The Pendulum Trilogy. The Pilgrims is going to be followed by Shadow and World’s End. I have always loved Lisa Tuttle’s writing, so I am really happy to have The Silver Bough on the JFB list – I’d call it urban fantasy, except that it’s set in a little town on the edge of Scotland and about as far removed from urban and yet still remains as torn as you can get. It’s an adult fairy tale, really, a cross between Hope Mirrlees and Angela Carter, and I defy you not to fall in love with it. Where are we? Ah yes, I mentioned the help of friends-of-friends: Tom Pollock’s agent was just about to start submitting The City’s Son when, thanks to a timely tip-off from one of his best friends, I rushed in and nabbed it. It’s the first of an urban fantasy trilogy – but again, urban fantasy doesn’t come close to describing this gritty, fantastical London where Reach, the King of the Cranes, and his minions, the Wire Mistress, Scaffwolves and all, are up against Filius Viae, the son of the Goddess, his human friend Beth, and an army of magical beings. Tom’s influences include China Miéville and Neil Gaiman, but this book is all Pollock, and it’s already attracting a lot of attention. I published Ian McDonald when I first started at Gollancz, so you can imagine how very happy I am to have him back under my thumb for his highly lauded YA series Everness – the first book, Planesrunner, is about as much fun as you can have . . . I’ll leave you to fill in the rest! It’s high-octane multi-world adventure of the very best sort: Indy’s got nothing on young Everett Singh. We launch into autumn with the second of Lynda Hilburn’s highly entertaining Kismet Knight: Vampire Shrink series, with a down-to-earth, entirely rational heroine trying to cope with the discovery that not only are vampires real – but she’s ended up dating one! Blood Therapy follows The Vampire Shrink. I was in New York when I was told about Evie Manieri’s debut, Blood’s Pride, about revolution, revenge and the consequences, pitting two very different races against each other, and was lucky enough to get the agent’s attention – she’d only submitted it in the US, so I got in there before anyone else in the UK even knew about it (as I said: lucky!) Frank P. Ryan’s a scientist and a thriller writer, but he’d started self-publishing his YA series The Three Powers. It’s the sort of quest fantasy saga that works for all ages, which makes it a perfect addition to JFB. David Hair is a New Zealander who’s lived all over the world, and his different experiences have really informed his epic fantasy quartet: Mage’s Blood is a huge, sweeping novel chock-full of magic, politicking, great armies – in fact, everything a reader could possibly ask of an epic fantasy.
And the year rounds off with a little clutch of horror: as well as the previously mentioned A Book of Horrors, I have a third horror novel from Tom Fletcher (no relation, but a great addition to the JFB list): The Ravenglass Eye forms a very loose trilogy with The Leaping and The Thing on the Shore. Tom’s in at the start of the horror revival, and he’s been getting a lot of attention – as has Mazarkis Williams, whose Knife-Sworn is a follow-up to The Emperor’s Knife, which was part of my launch list: an exotic world that combines Asian and Middle Eastern cultural references with subtle intrigue and unsubtle politicking! And then we’re into 2013 with Naomi Foyle’s cyberthriller Seoul Survivors – but no, I must stop!
As an editor how important is it for a story to grab you early on, either with plot or characters?
JF: It’s absolutely imperative. Of course there are books where the writing is so wonderful that I’ve been carried along, even though nothing much happens, but that’s a rare talent. And even in those cases, I have to want to turn the page, otherwise the book’s not doing its job. With the understanding that yes, there are exceptions to every rule, telling me, ‘Oh, but wait till you get to Chapter Ten, when it all takes off’ is not very helpful, especially if you are submitting an unagented novel. I look for either the plot to drag me onwards, or the characters to make me care so much (either to love or hate them) that I need to know what happens next. These days both attention spans and free time is shorter, and there are many, many more calls on what little spare cash anyone has, so most readers want to get into the story at once.
If you receive a manuscript which doesn’t feel right for the imprint but you feel the author has the talent to write a publishable book, will you ask them to submit something else instead?
JF: Always. And it’s paid off, as well: there are a number of writers where I’ve turned down one book but ended up publishing something else. And if I think it’s a good book but it isn’t right for me, for whatever reason, I’ll either pass it on to colleagues within my own group, or suggest where they should try. I don’t think I’m alone in believing that the fantasy/sf/horror genre is a family, and we’ve become an important part of mainstream publishing in part because we’ve stuck together where it matters. And each imprint or company has difference in what the editors there like, and what they can publish well. There’s no point being dog-in-the-manger about anything, is there? I’m always thrilled to see someone I wasn’t able to publish making it, even if it’s with another imprint.
JF: My first thought was what a really good question this was, and one that I didn’t think I could actually answer. I loved Winnie the Pooh and Madeleine, and I can remember Mrs McGarry, my fourth-grade teacher in Wakefield, Québec (I lived in Canada for six years) reading A Horse and His Boy (C.S. Lewis) to us, and being so thrilled when I found a copy in the library and was able to take it home and finish it myself…and actually, now I’ve started, it turns out that of course I can remember the first book I fell helplessly, hopelessly in love with: Elizabeth Goudge’s The Little White Horse – which my mother read aloud to me and my sisters – I must have been about six. It was just before we moved to Canada, so I might even have been five. But I loved that book, and it led to a life-long love of all of Elizabeth Goudge’s books, some of which are fantasy, some of which are historical, or modern-day, and all of which are beautifully written, with the most compelling characters you could ever hope to meet. And now I’m smiling at the thought of Maria, and salmon-pink carnations, and Sir William Merryweather, a Sun Merryweather if ever there was one, and Loveday Minette and her son Robin, Maria’s imaginary playmate, and the valley of Moonacre, and I’m shivering at the first meeting with William Coq du Noir, and wondering, if I head through the park, whether I might just catch a glimpse of Merryweather Bay in the far distance, where the white horses ride . . .
And now you’ll have to excuse me because I have to go and get my much-read copy, with those wonderful, perfect illustrations by Walter Hodges.