Editorial

Hello and welcome to the first newsletter of 2021! It has been a tough year of living with restrictions for everyone, but the progress being made with vaccination provides a ray of hope along with longer days and warmer weather to come.

During lockdown, everyone has had a different experience of productivity – some have reported that increased creativity, along with more quiet time at home, meant that their productivity had reached new heights. Who reading this has been cleaning their homes, baking banana bread and cultivating sourdough starters with wild abandon? Others have experienced the opposite and are feeling disheartened by the ‘evidence’ of boundless productivity on social media. ‘Toxic productivity’ is suddenly a phrase we’ve all become familiar with.

This year has been hard, too, for some authors who have seen the release of their books pushed back and in-person speaking events and launches cancelled. For those this has affected, we hope we can see you talking about your books in the near future – we would love to hear about any plans you’ve been able to make.

Although publishers have faced challenges when it comes to how they operate, some, particularly trade publishers, have reported increased sales. Nielsen has reported that two in five UK adults were reading more books since the lockdown began in March 2020. We’re also spending more time reading per week. But will our new reading habits last beyond Covid?

Likewise, communities seem to be supporting their local independent bookshops as much as they can, and these bookshops have risen to the challenge of supporting their communities through lockdown – often in truly creative ways. We’ve seen books delivered by bike, virtual events and outdoor collection services, to name just a few. Of course, Bookshop.org reached our shores just in time to help support those bookshops who have been struggling to set up their own e-commerce sites.

In our ‘What’s new’ section, we have some exciting news about our new podcast. Our interviews with authors, publishers and independent bookshops – and even Bookshop.org – will be coming to your ears very soon! Follow us on social media and join the discussion through #NewgenPubcast.

The author profile this issue is by Danièle Cybulskie: author, TEDx speaker and podcaster. You will also be able to hear her talk about all of this and her quest to myth bust the Middle Ages in the first episode of the podcast.

Next up we’ve got a rundown of the production process by team leader and production editor Sarah. Before you are involved in it, the production process can seem shrouded in mystery, so let us explain what it entails.

Lizzie, production editor and academic author, also tells us about her experience on both sides of the publishing process as her first book is due to be released in March.

The Book Club recap this time is by senior project manager Doug, who has chosen our latest book. You can share your thoughts about our choices on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram using #NewgenBookClub.

The spotlight on an independent book shop is brought to us by senior project manager Vic. His choice is the Housmans bookshop in Kings Cross, London.

Finally, Renga, managing editor, has reviewed A Clutch of Indian Masterpieces, an anthology of short stories.

We hope you enjoy!

If you are an author and would like to tell us about virtual book launches or speaking events, please email eleri@newgenpublishing.co.uk.

What’s new?: The Newgen Pubcast

Newgen Publishing UK are proud to announce their latest venture – a new podcast for a book-loving audience. From our softly furnished spare rooms (for better sound quality), we’ve had the opportunity to interview a variety people from around the book industry. With this podcast, we’re hoping to go behind the scenes and get tips, tricks and advice from those in the know. The podcast will have an initial release of six episodes and one bonus episode, each based around an interview with an author, a bookshop or a publishing professional.

Our first episode features an interview with Danièle Cybulski, the author of Life in Medieval Europe: Fact and Fiction, who talks to us about myth busting, her upcoming book on being a monk (How to Live Like a Monk: Medieval Wisdom for Modern Life) and the importance of truth in a post-truth world.

Subsequent episodes will feature:

• bookshop owner Ben Moorhouse from Our Bookshop in Tring, whose bookshop has been shortlisted for the Independent Bookshop of the Year;

• commissioning editor for Pen & Sword and Arc Humanities Press Claire Hopkins, who talks to us about her drive to reveal lost stories of extraordinary women and other aspects of forgotten history;

• author, speaker and TV historian Matt Lewis, whose focus is the Wars of the Roses and Richard III;

• Gideon York, one half of the duo behind The Cotswold Book Room, recently refurbished and carefully curated for younger readers; and

• Alison Jones, whose publishing company Practical Inspiration is helping business owners to write their books in order to share their ethos, ideas and best practices to the wider world.

We have also been lucky to jointly interview Nicole Vanderbilt, Bookshop.org’s UK managing director, and Peter Donaldson from Red Lion Books in Colchester. Peter was one of the first independent bookshop owners to support Bookshop.org, and he talks to us about his bookshop has survived the decline of the high street, various recessions and the pandemic, as well as how both he and Bookshop.org are looking forward to new ventures this year. Red Lion Books has also been shortlisted for the Independent Bookshop of the Year. The podcast will be hosted by Newgen Publishing UK production editors Clare and Phil and carefully and lovingly produced by commissioning editor Eleri. The first episode will be released on 10 March and you can keep up by following #newgenpubcast.

Author profile: Danièle Cybulskie

There are some people who know all their lives that they’re going to be writers. Oddly enough, given that I’m currently finishing my fourth book, I wasn’t one of them. But all my life, I’ve loved books and loved sharing information, so maybe it was inevitable after all.

Besides a short stint as a ‘published’ author whose tiny little books were typed up by the school secretary and bound with packing tape when I was six, I didn’t write much for public consumption until I was in my late twenties. At that time, I’d just finished my master’s degree and was at home with my first baby, being slowly driven mad by sleeplessness and routine and by a persistent nagging that I needed to share my deep and abiding love for the much-maligned Middle Ages. Weirdly, mommy groups seemed much more interested in talking about changing tables than round tables, so my then-husband encouraged me to write a blog. I started writing as a hobby and a release valve more than anything else, but it led to my becoming the lead columnist for Medievalists.net, one of the biggest websites on the Middle Ages in the world, and it also led to my self-publishing two books: The Five-Minute Medievalist and The Five-Minute Medievalist’s Guide to Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse.

Like my entire writing journey, my entry into trade publishing was a little bit of fate and a little bit of Toni Morrison: ‘If you find a book you really want to read but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.’ For years, I had wanted to write a book that was a readable, fun introduction to medieval history that gently corrected some of the myths and answered some of people’s most common questions; something between a light read and a reference book. I was at the point where I’d even written a book proposal but hadn’t submitted it anywhere yet, when out of the blue I received an email from Eleri Pipien who was commissioning for Pen & Sword and had had a similar idea. Life in Medieval Europe: Fact and Fiction, my first trade book, came out in September of 2019, and although I didn’t get to have a book launch here in Canada (the book had only just come out here right before COVID-19 hit), I’m very proud of it and learned a whole lot about writing and publishing from it.

Around the time Life in Medieval Europe was submitted, my work as a pseudo-journalist for Medievalists.net had landed me a job on the other side of the publishing table, doing acquisitions for Arc Humanities Press. At Arc, I learned the ins and outs of academic publishing, using my nose for trends to look for the next up-and-comers and my experience as a writer to shepherd others through the process. Although I have since left Arc to pursue other interests – notably, creating and hosting The Medieval Podcast and developing The Medieval Masterclass for Creators (an online course in which I offer tailored content and expertise to support creators of medieval fiction) – I have carried the lessons I’ve learned on both sides of the table to the writing of my forthcoming book How to Live Like a Monk: Medieval Wisdom for Modern Life.

Creating books, to my mind, is in many ways an act of service, so it’s important to figure out how best to serve people and to keep that always in the forefront of the work. More than ever, readers are seeking out non-fiction books that meet them where they are (in terms of both culture and knowledge), that entertain them and that teach them something new or give them a new perspective. Thanks to the very personal style of blogs and social media, they also want to read something by someone who sounds like a trusted friend, so, now more than ever, it’s not only okay to be your own authentic self, it’s pretty much a requirement.

Everything I’ve learned about writing and publishing in my own life aligns with a quote I’ve always found very resonant. A person’s vocation, according to Frederick Buechner, is where ‘your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.’ Many – if not most of us, I think – work with books because sharing knowledge, for us, is not just a job: it’s the place where our gladness meets the word’s hunger for entertainment, for information, for meaning, for escape.

While I may never have expected to become a writer, I have now realized that it is definitely part of my vocation. And how lucky we are, who work on and around publishing, to be part of this powerful, fulfilling, life-changing world of books.

A brief guide to production

It’s been a while since you sent that absolutely final final draft of your manuscript off to your publisher. They’ve confirmed receipt, and everything seems like it’s poised in stasis until finally you get that magical email to say that your manuscript has now entered production.

But what does that mean? What is ‘production’? This is a whole new world and you’ve been told by your commissioning editor that this involves schedules, copy-editors, proofreading – how does this all fit in and what should you expect? I’m a production editor and team leader here at Newgen Publishing, and I work with a wide range of publishers and authors so I know how confusing the world of publishing can be to a newcomer. Hopefully this guide can help to answer those questions!

Production, by and large, constitutes the final editing stages alongside the design for your book. It often runs on a fairly short schedule, which needs to be adhered to so that the book can be printed and ready for its publication date. Production typically has a few different stages:

Cover design. This varies from publisher to publisher. Sometimes you’ll have been asked to supply an image so that it can take centre stage in a cover that fits into a series; sometimes your publisher will already have an idea of how they’d like the cover to look; and sometimes you’ll have been sent a set of designs to choose from. Cover design often decided months before production starts, but sometimes it runs alongside the production process or even directly after it. Check in with your publisher if you’re not sure.

Copy-editing. This is when your manuscript is sent (usually still as a Word document) to a copy-editor. Copy-editors are those people at parties who wince when someone says ‘off of’ instead of ‘from’ and who take being called ‘grammar police’ as a compliment. They’re often subject specialists and their job is to read through your book and make sure you haven’t left any embarrassing typos, check that everything makes sense and make sure that your bibliography and references are in good shape. They’re usually working to a ‘house style’ set by the publisher and so your manuscript might undergo a few small changes to bring everything into line.

Typesetting. This is where your manuscript becomes a book! Typesetters transform your Word document into a PDF that replicates how your book will look when it’s printed. Typesetting design may have been something you’ve had some input on but most often the publisher will have chosen the design of your book based on their knowledge of what works best. Be warned – it will look entirely different from the Word document you’re used to seeing!

Proofreading. The PDF ‘proofs’ of your book are checked for formatting problems and any mistakes that might have slipped past the copy-editor. Often, the publisher will ask for a professional proofreader to look over your book, but that’s not always the case. Any corrections you spot at this stage in your own proofread should be limited to anything urgent – rewriting the text at this stage risks errors creeping in. Traditionally your index is also completed at this stage – check your contract to find out whether you’ll be responsible for compiling it yourself or whether your publisher will be hiring an indexer to do it for you.

Revised proofs. Sometimes you’ll be offered a look at the revised proofs for your book, or you might want to request them if there was something you were worried about at the previous stage. The end is in sight!

Printing. When all the corrections have been taken in, the production team’s job will have ended and it’s time for the book to go to print! Not long until you can actually hold a real, bound and printed copy of your own book. Your publisher might have outsourced the production for your book to a company like Newgen Publishing UK. In that case, you’ll have a dedicated project manager working alongside you, creating a schedule and organising the copy-editing, proofreading and typesetting. Everyone involved in the production process for your book is working towards the same end goal in making your book the absolute best it can be, so sit back and enjoy the journey!

Perspectives on production

I have something of a dual personality at the moment. At work I am Lizzie Evans, academic production editor. I work within the academic department at Newgen Publishing UK, managing the production of titles for clients including Manchester University Press, Goldsmiths Press, the Royal Armouries and Practical Inspiration Publishing, as well as overseeing an online conversion project for SOAS.

After work (I was going to write ‘at home’, but as we are all working from home at the moment that doesn’t seem to be a clear distinction anymore), I am Lizzie Pearson, academic author with my own book currently nearing the end of the production process. Before I worked for Newgen, I was in academia, having completed my PhD in 2016. Now the monograph version of that PhD is due for publication in March, so I am in the unusual position of experiencing academic production from both sides at the same time (although I should add that I am not responsible for producing my own book!).

Dealing with production from the perspective of an author is something I have previously encountered with articles and book chapters – being in contact with copy-editors, reading proofs, working to production’s deadlines. Dealing with it from the production editor’s perspective is now second nature. However, to encounter both at the same time has provided me with some insight that I think will benefit both my work as a production editor and my approach to publication as an academic.

• Indexing – As a production editor, I ask authors to produce indexes all the time. For the presses I work with, author indexing is now much more common than engaging a freelancer to do it. I send out the guidelines and field questions about the process. But having now created my own index, I have a much greater appreciation of just how much time and effort is involved in actually writing one. Identifying terms, finding page numbers, adjusting the terms, deciding what shouldn’t be included (if it’s got its own chapter, it doesn’t need to be included, however much it feels like it really ought to be), final checks for alphabetical order and closing number spans and most of all the endless scrolling back and forth and back and forth. It is hours of work. And I had the benefit of knowing what the final outcome should look like, both as a word document and once typeset.

• Schedules – At work, scheduling is a relatively simple task. I am given a final files deadline to work to. We have expected timeframes for all of the elements of production. Working on many titles simultaneously means the schedules need to fit into a patchwork of other production projects while keeping everything on track. But as an author, suddenly this schedule was being imposed on me. I had to fit the requirements around my full-time job as best I could. My experience at work meant I knew what to expect, but it was still a bit of a shock when the reality came. Academia might be a publish or perish sector where researching and writing is an integral part of the job, but production still feels like an ‘extra’ task.

• My book is my baby – Writing a book is a big endeavour. Writing your first book is even more so, especially if it originates from a three- or four-year PhD project. For me, this has been nearly a decade in the making. So, yes, I am precious about it. I want it to be done right, and I admit to having strong feelings about what ‘right’ means. With my production hat on, this attitude can be a little tricky. I have the same high standards of wanting everything to be ‘right’, but now I am approaching it from a different angle. ‘Right’ can mean something a little different and exists in a different context: grammar not content, typesetting not writing. There is of course overlap and often this can be where some disagreement arises. Now I’ve been on both sides I have a much greater appreciation of that. Ultimately, we all want the same thing: a beautiful book/baby.

Lizzie’s monograph Exploring the Mid-Republican Origins of Roman Military Bureaucracy: With Stylus and Spear is published by Routledge on 23 March 2021.

Book club pick, Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie

My role at Newgen is of senior project manager, overseeing our education accounts at Cambridge University Press and Ladybird. I manage the work that Newgen completes with these teams, act as a point of escalation for production issues, allocate projects and work to ensure our processes and expectations align with those of our customers.

My suggestions for Book Club were fairly diverse, as I wanted to give our members a broad choice when voting. We decided on Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie, which was long-listed for the Booker Prize in 2017 and won the Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2018. I had read the book before, a year-or-so ago, and had nominated it as I was keen to have a reason to revisit its pages. The group didn’t disappoint, and I spent a few evenings reacquainting myself with the story.

The narrative follows a Muslim, North-London family and their attempts to come to terms with its members, for so long bound by hardship, choosing to take fundamentally different directions. It’s a novel about family ties, paternal expectation, love and radicalisation. It also sees characters eschew all of those things to carve different very paths for themselves. The narration jumps from present to past but always forges ahead and pushes the reader along with it, building to the most heart-stopping and memorable of conclusions.

I’m purposefully not giving much away (as I think the less you know before reading the better), but the action is framed by the intolerance of a state that has long been moving towards an anti-immigration and, in particular, anti-Muslim stance. Isma, our first character, immediately experiences this when attempting to leave the UK for the USA, and we find that Home Secretary Karamat (another of our characters) considers his popularity inextricably linked to ideas of cultural assimilation rather than differentiation. This creates a familiar context for the reader, as the story flows across continents and into hearts and minds. Every character is rounded to the point of rolling through the reader’s head for weeks afterwards, and even those from whom we hear more fleetingly are fleshed-out through the accounts of others.

I loved this book, again, on second reading and felt the story hit as hard as it had first time around. It’s a fiercely political book, without the reader ever feeling as though they are being lectured. Shamsie, when being interviewed about Home Fire, stressed the importance of writing that can be political without being polemic. What she has written is startlingly affecting, and I’m sure I’ll go back to it again.

Housmans bookshop

Hi, everyone – I’m Vic! I joined Newgen in December 2020, as a senior project manager – serving as Sarah Bannister’s maternity cover. I’m really happy to tell you about my local bookshop: Housmans. It is an independent bookshop based in Kings Cross, London.

For anyone local to the neighbourhood, Housmans is a welcome and reassuring sight – a bookshop which has been in the same spot for many decades, fulfilling its mission. The shop is part of a not-for-profit organisation whose aim is to promote world peace. As such, the books you will find at Housmans are politically progressive.

There are many reasons why I’ve always been grateful for Housmans, but the main one would have to be its busy schedule of book clubs and events. In pre-lockdown times, these took place in the shop itself and have since successfully moved online. Politics features prominently, obviously – but so do science-fiction titles, graphic novels, short stories, biographies and many more.

The shop premises are closed for the duration of the lockdown, but ordering online is possible. The links to their socials, website, shop and Bookshop.org listing are given above.

It’s easy to feel intimidated by some books, ideas or ways of discussing these; I’ve never felt that way about Housmans. I’m looking forward to visiting again, browsing its impressive bargain basement and discovering that people out there keep writing and reading books and magazines about great ideas.

Review of A Clutch of Indian Masterpieces, edited by David Davidar

Reviewed by Renga, managing editor for Anthem Press, a contract publishing division of Newgen India.

Dostoevsky once proclaimed that all of modern Russian literature came from Gogol’s The Cloak (or The Overcoat in some translations). One can safely say that all of modern Indian literature, especially the short story, came from Rabindranath Tagore, the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913. A Clutch of Indian Masterpieces is a collection of 39 of the best Indian short stories translated into English, starting from the nineteenth century till the contemporary. Some of these stories were originally written in English: R. K. Narayan’s (mentored by Graham Greene) A Horse and Two Goats, Khuswant Singh’s (the granddaddy of modern Indian literature) Portrait of a Lady, Ruskin Bond’s The Blue Umbrella, among others. Most of the translated stories are published in their original translations, and for some new translations were commissioned, the notable among the translators being Amitav Ghosh (whose Sea of Poppies was short-listed for the Man Booker Prize in 2008), Khuswant Singh, A. K. Ramanujan (my favorite Indian poet), Arunava Sinha (whose translations of Bengali literature I simply adore), Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (who translated Jacques Derrida’s De la Grammatologie), among others. Ranging across genres, the collection includes stories written in Bengali, Hindi, Urdu, Malayalam, Odiya, Marathi, Rajasthani, Thamizh, Telugu and Kannada. Although all the stories are quintessentially Indian and rooted in as diverse a sensibility as can be seen only in India, each story evokes an affect so unique yet somehow universal, as the world’s great short stories always have.

Each of the 39 stories merits a review in its entirety; however, I want to write a few sentences about five stories from this eclectic collection capturing their essence. I select these five stories for reasons as varied as (1) randomly summoning the first five stories that come to my mind, (2) structure ranging from well-crafted and plotted stories to Chekhovian slice-of-life stories, and (3) admiring these stories more than the others. A different point in time and after re-readings, I might select five other stories. The first story will be Ishmat Chugtai’s The Quilt (Lihaaf in Urdu) for which the author was taken to court in Lahore in 1942 on obscenity charges, which were dropped as she successfully contested them. Sample this: ‘The next night when I woke up I found a fight being resolved in great silence between Rabbo and Begum Jan on the four-poster bed, and for the life of me I could not figure out what it was all about, and whether it was ever resolved. Rabbo cried great hiccupping sobs and then the slurping sounds of a cat licking a bowl could be heard. Terrified, I went back to sleep.’ Narrated by the young niece of an aristocratic Muslim housewife, The Quilt tells the story of the neglected and stifled housewife and her relationship with her chambermaid while the Nawab Sahib (the husband) had ‘one very strange pursuit’: ‘He only had students staying over at his home – fair, young boys with slender waists – whose expenses were borne entirely by Nawab Sahib.’ The Quilt was then and even now a landmark story in Indian literature for its suggestive depictions of homosexuality.

Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai and Vaikom Mohammed Basheer’s – two of my favorite Malayalam writers – The Flood and The Blue Light follow next. The Flood tells the story of an abandoned mongrel due to rising floodwaters that fiercely protects the humble tenements of its master, Chennan (a pariah or untouchable), from rescuers, thieves, a snake and even fresh-water crocodiles. This story reminded me of so many of Maupassant’s animal stories. No wonder T. Sivasankara Pillai is also known as the ‘Kerala Maupassant.’ ‘The hut collapsed after a while, and sank out of sight. And the loyal animal, which had stood guard over its master’s property for as long as it could, was gone as well. The crocodiles had it now. It was all over, the waters covered everything.’

The Blue Light tells the story of a struggling writer who rents a small house haunted by a female ghost, Bhargavi, who had lived in the house before committing suicide lovelorn. The unnamed writer, in the midst of his writing and listening to records of Paul Robeson, Pankaj Mullick, Bing Crosby and M. S. Subbulakshmi, falls in love with Bhargavi kutty. ‘Blue light! White walls, the whole room, drenched in ethereal blue light. That light came from the lamp, in which a blue flame blazed. Who had lit this blue light in Bhargavinilayam?’ Or is the love the other way around?

Sartaj Singh, the hero of Sacred Games (hugely popular now because of the Netflix series), makes his first appearance in Vikram Chandra’s Kama. Sartaj, about to be divorced from his wife, his college sweetheart, is famous in the Bombay papers for ‘encountering’ (gunning down) gangsters. He is not the kind of the comical and stereotypical Bombay cop caricatured in pop culture, but he is more like the Glenn Ford kind of cop in Fritz Lang’s The Big Heat. Although Kama is a noir story set in the corrupt and criminal underbelly of Bombay, it’s not a story without feeling. ‘She held him and he thought of the other man viciously. Look where she is now. Look. But who is the cuckold, which is the husband … But then he cried out in love, from the scalding oily embrace of her … He knew her pleasures.’

Mahasweta Devi’s Draupadi was set in 1970s Bengal – a time of great sociopolitical upheaval fueled by the Maoist insurgency. Draupadi tells the story of Dopdi (the Santhali name for the Sanskrit Draupadi), a fearless naxal who is wanted by the police along with her husband for killing a local landlord. But unlike the Draupadi of the Mahabharata who is saved by Lord Krishna from being disrobed by the Kauravas, her Dopdi is gang-raped by policeman after her capture. ‘What’s the use of clothes? You can strip me, but how can you clothe me again? Are you a man? … Draupadi pushes Senanayak with her two mangled breasts, and for the first time Senanayak is afraid to stand before an unarmed target, terribly afraid.’

David Davidar, the editor of this collection, in his erudite Introduction, quotes Vikram Chandra: ‘English has been spoken and written on the Indian subcontinent for a few hundred years now, certainly longer than the official and literary Hindi that is our incompletely national language today … If Hindi is my mother-tongue, then English has been my father-tongue.’ It is impossible to learn all the major Indian languages so as to ‘read’ the established literary works in these languages. English being an Indian language too (being around for several hundred years) enables reading these works, thanks to this wonderful and expertly translated collection. I still recommend this book to my friends who read, read as a necessity, and still gift this book to my close ones.