Tuesday, 4 May 2010

To Hell With...Blogging

Don't worry, I'm not throwing in the towel, I just couldn't resist the title when writing something about a relatively new independent publisher called To Hell With Publishing. Some jokes bear repetition and as you read on you'll see that each of their separate ventures uses the To Hell With... template which still raises a small smile at the corner of my mouth.

To Hell With Publishing aims to emulate the past successes of Black Sparrow and Olympia Press and current ones like McSweeney's, and was inspired by Lawrence Ferlinghetti's City Lights Bookshop in San Francisco. Run out of their bookshop, To Hell With Books, in Bloomsbury it is an opportunity for book lovers to meet, chat with the publishers in person and of course purchase a selection of fine books. As well as producing special editions they have two lists: To Hell With Classics and the recently launched To Hell With First Novels. They have a journal, To Hell With Journals; a literary award, To Hell With Prizes; a monthly literary party night, To Hell With The Lighthouse, and you can even follow their publicist Emma Young on Twitter, @tohellwithemma.

One of the founders, Lawrence Johns explains a bit more about the ethos behind it all.

To Hell with Publishing - Laurence Johns from Emma Young on Vimeo.

I had my own first-hand experience when I attended the inaugural To Hell With Prizes ceremony. Far from the glitz and glam of the Booker it was held in a suitably derelict warehouse space (complete with single functioning toilet, which unfortunately didn't come with a functioning light). The purpose of the award is rather ingenious. Recognising the gap that exists between an author getting a literary agent and then finding the right publisher for their work, UK literary agents were asked to submit a single manuscript that they felt truly deserved the readership it had been denied so far. A panel of judges (journalist India Knight, playright Kwame Kwei-Armah, Canongate editor Francis Bickmore and Waterstone's online editor Greg Eden) whittled submissions down to a shortlist of six and were unanimous in their decision to make Bed by David Whitehouse the winner. His prize of £5000 was, he said in a hilarious acceptance speech, the exact amount he owed his mum. One hopes that after the special edition printed by To Hell With... his book will be picked up by a larger publisher and go on to great things (STOP PRESS - it has been snapped up by Canongate (World) and Scribner (US and Canada)). Before that though you can read an extract of the book here.

It'll be interesting to see what happens with the enterprise. There are certainly a lot of influential names throwing their weight behind it. Andrew O'Hagan, Hanif Kureshi and DBC Pierre all read from their new works on the prize night and David Vann has already made a reading appearance in the shop. It's that kind of support that has helped them to get where they are now; what happens next of course will depend on the quality of the work produced. India Knight took the opportunity to exhort publishers to 'try harder' in getting riskier work into print. Part of the joy in being a book blogger has been getting the kind of feedback and conversation that allows you to identify authors and work that you would never otherwise have come across, so it all seems entirely in step with what I'm trying to do more of this year. Therefore next week I'll be letting you know my thoughts on the first release on their To Hell With First Novels list: The Cuckoo Boy by Grant Gillespie.

(to hell with waiting that long to find out whether it's any good or not though - it's really good)


Tom Cunliffe 4 May 2010 at 08:34  

Yeah, the Cuckoo Boy is coming to me as well. It looks good from the blurb and I expect great things. Seems an interesting initiative.

William Rycroft 4 May 2010 at 09:09  

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did Tom. Although perhaps enjoy isn't the right word.

Rob Spence 4 May 2010 at 11:05  

What a great idea! I shall watch this with interest.

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