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Not the Booker Prize review

After a nervous wait of a few weeks, we’re really pleased with the review for PIG IRON by Benjamin Myers for The Guardian’s Not the Booker Prize. We’ve added it as it appears on the Guardian website, written by Sam Jordison.

Since the Not The Booker prize is all about openness, I think you should know right away that I like Ben Myers. Is this a conflict of interest? Arguably. But if it is a conflict, it's one that is played out across the books pages every day. The only difference here is that I'm being honest about it.

As I'm sure you already realise, friends review friends all the time. And if they didn't, literary journalism would have a few problems. Reviewers often become chummy with the people they write about. It's human nature. I became a reviewer because I like books; it follows that I'll probably also like a few of the writers of those books. Should I then refuse to read their books because of that affection? Well, we can have it out in the comments, but first, a bit more explanation:

I first came into contact with Ben years ago, because I liked his sweary prose, as this article (containing the wonderful question "Has anyone ever seen an e-book?") witnesses. I read Ben before I knew him. But since then, we've regularly corresponded, met once, and frequently laughed at slowed down versions of Metallica songs on Facebook. Does this alter the way I'm going to review Pig Iron? Possibly. The thing that gives me pause is wondering whether I'd have been able to write a review for Pig Iron like the one I wrote for Paint This Town Red. I think it would have been difficult. Perhaps I'd have managed it. Perhaps…

Happily, I didn't have to explore that dilemma this time around. I liked the book. And I don't think knowing Ben has influenced my opinion. Not too much, anyway. Maybe I warmed to it more quickly than I might have otherwise. Possibly, also, I felt extra pangs of sympathy because John-John Wisdom, the unfortunate main narrator, is a weird short northerner who's fond of Jack Russell terriers and therefore reminded me of Ben himself. But it was the writing that mattered. The writing.

One more quick personal note before I finally stop talking about myself. I spent part of my early childhood in County Durham, not so far from John-John's home in Pig Iron, and Myers' prose, rich in "mebbes" and "marrers", "nees" and "nowts", "haways" and "shite", tickled my memory. Importantly, it seemed real. John-John and his co-narrator (whom I can't name, since to do so would give away one of the book's successful surprises) speak in a stylised and sometimes strange way: "And that was when I got the weakness on me and I did faint." But it never seems forced or inauthentic.

Better still, I barely registered the unusual voice, after a while. It became part of the texture of John-John's world. Every now and again I was conscious of an appealing bit of yakka: "I've shat bigger jobbies than that lad." Also, a few lovely rhythms: "He began to treat me differently. I was a mother now. A mother who had endured one miscarriage and two births. I was a body that fetched the water and gathered the wood and kept the fires going and cleaned the clothes and the van and scolded the kids and kissed them better and worried about her husband when he disappeared for nights and days." Most of the time, though, I was too immersed in the story to notice what was happening on the surface.

It's hard not to make this story sound like a cross between Snatch and Fight Club. John-John is the son of the bare-knuckle King of the Gypsies, Mac Wisdom, whose life we hear about in retrospect from the second narrator, and whose influence weighs heavy on the protagonist as he attempts to rebuild his life after a long stretch in jail. But there's no Brad Pitt here. No Hollywood. John-John's world is ugly. The fighting isn't about pleasure. Or even escape. It's just savage men knocking bells out of each other: blood, guts and pain described in visceral detail:

Mackem's neck tasted warm and bitter and metallic… I loosened for a second then went at him again, nearly dislocating me bloody jaw. There was a crunching sound and me teeth nearly met in the middle and I must have hit some veins or summat because the blood started pouring out of his neck. Human flesh doesn't tear easily. It's noisy stuff.

Things aren't much prettier for John-John when he isn't scrapping. He's forced to live in a pokey, ugly flat on a dangerous estate, where he knows next to no one, and is hounded by a gang of "charvers" whose charm is well-demonstrated in their leader's announcement that "I'll put you in the fucking ovens where you and your lot belong."

Even so, there are moments of relief. John-John is consistently amusing, a master of the sardonic aside ("'I bet you like hearing the old tales, lad'. Like a punch in the cock, I'm muttering.") He's also big-hearted and warm. Some of the book's best passages come in the descriptions of the quiet fun John-John has tootling around the countryside ("the green cathedral") in an ice-cream van, falling in love with a very unsuitable local girl and fussing over his pet dog Coughdrop. John-John is a winning presence. And of course, that makes his catalogue of misfortunes and persecution all the more upsetting; his attempts to right those many wrongs all the more gripping.

Caught up as I was, I did wonder sometimes if Myers pushed things too far. Towards the end, especially, things went a bit nuts. Imagine Hunger Games with an uglier cast, genuine violence and less chance of redemption – but also fewer loud bangs to distract you from the essential daftness. Now and again, I had doubts, but was always carried through by John-John's force of personality and righteous anger at his and Coughdrop's oppressors. What's more, just when I thought things were about to go right over the top, Myers swerved away gracefully. The ending came in a sudden flash of gold and beauty. To say more would be to give it away; suffice to say, you'll like it when you get there and it's a journey worth making. This is another quality entrant on our shortlist.

NOD by Adrian Barnes

NOD by Adrian Barnes, our new book, arrives into the Bluemoose warehouse today and we’re all very excited!

Ben Myers, author of PIG IRON says about NOD, ‘Think WARRIORS, the film, scripted by JG Ballard with excerpts from Ray Bradbury.’ KING CROW author Michael Stewart says the first chapter of NOD is one of the best openings of any book he’s ever read. He went on to say he loved every single page of it.

I know they are both Bluemoose authors, but we haven’t paid them anything and they have their own minds; that’s why they came to an Indy in the first place. Just think if Mr Amis hadn’t pursued the dollar, he’d have won the Booker by now! Heaven forfend.

We’re flying Adrian Barnes over from Vancouver for the launch and a series of events and signings at Independent booksellers and Waterstones. Adrian will also be giving lectures at a couple of Universities too. More of that nearer the time.

Now its time to send off review copies to the great and supposed good of what was FLEET STREET. The broadsheets in the Metropolis. Scott pack, ex chief fiction buyer at Waterstones and now publisher and blogger at meandmybigmouth, said of one of our previous titles, THE ART OF BEING DEAD, that it wouldn’t get any reviews in the literary press because ‘The lit editors don’t look further than the ends of their noses.’ THE ART OF BEING DEAD is now a set text on the MA course in Contemporary literature at Leeds Metropolitan University.

Now that there are three books from small independents on The Man Booker shortlist, perhaps they won’t bin all books from publishers whose colophon they don’t recognise. Hopefully they’ve learned their lesson and realise that all the exciting literary fiction these days is coming from small Independents.

Tired of McEwan, Barnes, Faulks et al. and all those sixty-something males that get all the review coverage? Yep, me too. The Indies are coming “darn sarf” to rattle the cages of the literary establishment and in NOD by Adrian Barnes I really believe we have a title that will stir things up a tad.

Moose loose in a book shop

This morning I am to be let loose on the unsuspecting book buying public of Hebden Bridge. Gillian and Ross, the proprietors of The Hebden Bridge Bookshop have left the county for the day and have given me the keys.

Now I have been a sales rep for myriad publishers from pension stealing and spy Robert Maxwell to the Earl of Donoghmore’s son, Tim Hely Hutchinson, but I have never sold books directly to readers. I’m also a publisher at Bluemoose books and the simple deal is that we publish great stories that engage and inspire. Well today, I’ll find out how inspiring our books are. I have threatened to turn the bookshop into a shrine to the Moose, and I may. Photographs will follow.

The great thing about bookshops is the browse factor. You can’t get that with your Amazon online brief perusal nonsense. You have to pick up a book, feel it, smell it and read the first page. At Moose Towers we pride ourselves on production and our jackets. We have noticed that potential purchasers when picking up one of our books find themselves stroking it. You can’t stroke online, well you can but it is an arrestable offence.

Well, I’m Off to put some Eau De Biblio on, that should entice the book buyer public into the shop. That and shouting at them should do it.

Moose at large

It’s really important for us as a small independent publisher to get out and about as often as possible and spread the word. We like to meet as many readers and budding writers as we can. We do this for several reasons. Obviously, we want to make people aware of Bluemoose books and the brilliant titles we have to offer, we may also be lucky enough to find our next author, but equally we want to let people know about what we are trying to achieve with Bluemoose Books, our experience as an independent publisher and the state of the publishing industry as a whole.

We were recently invited by the Lincoln Pheonix Writers to talk about the Bluemoose “way” and had a great evening meeting enthusiastic readers and writers and sharing our experiences with them. Thanks to everyone there for the warm welcome!

On 22nd September, Kevin is attending another event at Macclesfield Library. This is Cheshire East Libraries’ annual celebration of books and reading. There is a full programme including talks by writers and other publishers. Kevin will be talking about his experience as a publisher but also exploring the issues regarding new technologies versus traditional methods of publishing.

More information can be found on the Cheshire East website [Updated July 2014, the page no longer exists], or follow @CEClibraries.

The event starts at 12.30pm on Saturday 22nd September. I will be talking from 3.30 – 4pm.

For more information and tickets, contact Macclesfield Library on 01625 374000.

The Hardest Climb - Kindle edition

We published THE HARDEST CLIMB by Alistair Sutcliffe in 2011 and it got a great response from a varied readership. Hardcore climbers, adventure seekers, appreciators of extreme sports as well as those who love a true story about hope against adversity and persistence (or is it stubbornness?) in seemingly impossible situations and the human instinct for survival, all loved this book.

If this book were only about Alistair’s climbing achievements it would be fascinating in itself; conquering the highest peaks on seven continents on the first attempts is certainly a feat of human endurance. But Alistair is also a medical anomaly. He suffered a life-threatening brain heamorrhage, but his high-altitude hobby had stimulated the blood vessel network in his brain in such a way as to save his life.

Part adventure story, part tale of returning from the brink, the hardest climb being the return to health, this is a story of remarkable human achievement and perseverance. We are delighted to be able to offer our readers this book now in digital format for Kindle.

Worldwide hit

Since Leonora’s interview on Radio Netherlands worldwide we have seen sales of her book come in from the United States of America and Australia. That’s the beauty of stories. You find them, or they find you, you polish them up with a bit of editorial shine, wrap then up in great covers and send them out into the world all on their own, and then wait. And you know you’ve succeeded when people email you with great comments.

One lady, a vicar, has said that ‘The book has changed her life’. Another from Australia can’t believe that the authorities in this country have behaved in such a draconian fashion. Neither can I. The truth has a way have catching up with those that have manipulated a system for their own means.

Watch out officials, the story is coming to get you.

Not the Booker Prize nomination

Can we possibly do it two years in a row?

PIG IRON by Benjamin Myers has been shortlisted for the 2012 Not the Booker Prize run by The Guardian. We had outstanding success with this prize last year when our book, KING CROW by Michael Stewart, won the prestigious mug / trophy. Here is the full list of shortlisted books:

  • The Notable Brain of Maximilian Ponder by J W Ironmonger
  • Paint The Town Red by A J Kirby
  • Life! Death! Prizes! by Stephen May
  • Tales From the Mall by Ewan Morrison
  • Pig Iron by Ben Myers
  • The Revelations by Alex Preston
  • The Casablanca Case by Simon Swift

One of the books is reviewed each week and at the end of the process voting is opened to Guardian readers who have previously left a review of the book they are voting for. We’re not yet sure when voting will start, but will keep you up to date. The winner is announced on 15th October.

Pig Iron is due to be reviewed some time during the week commencing 17th September. Watch this space for more information.

Big thanks must go to all our readers and supporters of Bluemoose Books who took the trouble and time to vote Pig Iron onto the shortlist. It would be amazing to win this prize again, a great feat for a small publisher like us, but let’s be honest, it is a fabulous book, even if we say so ourselves!!

Pig Iron by Benjamin Myers

Pig Iron by Benjamin Myers was published at the end of May and has had a great response from critics and readers alike. For an outline of the story see our previous post below. Here’s a flavour of some of the write ups the book has received:

Myers’s poetic vernacular brims with that quality most sadly lost in the Thatcher years – humanity.
Cathi Unsworth in The Guardian

This is yet another singular portrait of an outsider from Myers. And delivered through authentic characterisation, a monstrously compelling plot, and frequent humour – a rare combination of such successfully crafted elements – Pig Iron deserves to find itself on many a reading list, if not the National Curriculum.
Declan Tan for 3:AM Magazine

Benjamin Myers’s influences are clear — David Peace’s northern brutalism is evident and there are suggestions of Salinger and Golding but Pig Iron’s savage vision is his alone. Pig Iron is an utterly compelling book because the twin desolations of blighted sink estate culture and the emotional alienation of the main character are evoked unrelentingly and the grim conclusion is almost inevitable.
Steve Ely for Morning Star

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