The final countdown

With only three weeks to go until the launch of Liminal Ink’s second title, I can barely wait. In case you’ve forgotten, Life Is Elsewhere / Burn Your Flags is a novella by Scottish author Iain Maloney, who now lives in Japan, which makes for an interesting zig zag of emails across time zones.

When Paul and I came up with the idea of Liminal Ink we intended it to be a one off to publish my book during lockdown. We loved the community-feel of crowdfunding and enjoyed the alchemy of turning words on a page into books on a bookshelf. What we hadn’t appreciated was that the difficulty would not be in releasing the book but in getting it into the hands of readers: those all important people who turn writers into authors, a subtle but magical transformation.

A little bruised by our dealings with distributors, Paul and I reassessed our thoughts on what Liminal Ink meant to us. We were intrigued by the idea of softening the boundaries between writer and publisher. Of collaboration and exploration. As a musician, Paul was particularly interested in the fact that indie musicians are celebrated, yet indie writers often seem to be regarded as lesser somehow; unable to secure a ‘proper publisher’. Yet it wasn’t always so in music, nor is it always the case with writers. Things evolve. Move on.

At the same time as we were having these conversations, Iain contacted us to ask if we would like to consider his latest novella for publication. No stranger to working with indie publishers, Iain’s writing is eclectic, ranging from haiku to memoir and fiction, his novels roam over a variety of genres. He also shares our enthusiasm for experimentation and was open to approaching publication as a collaboration (and as I mentioned in a previous blog, his novella wowed us).

Over the last six months I’ve taught myself to typeset and Paul’s learned the delights of book design. All decisions have been passed back and forth across continents, and are agreed collectively. Our first Zoom meeting was a wee bit disconcerting, while Paul and I slurped coffee and blinked into the morning, Iain was kicking off his shoes and slipping into his evening gin and tonic. And yet it worked. 

We were intrigued by the idea of softening the boundaries between writer and publisher

For me, the highlight of the process so far has been watching the cover emerge. Paul mocked up several versions. Comments were exchanged, opinions sought. We agreed our favourite, and slowly it morphed into something we all loved. 

There are many sayings to contradict collaborative ways of working – too many cooks and all that – but in this case, the phrase that springs to mind is ‘more than the sum of its parts’. By that I don’t mean the words, they’re all Iain’s and deserving of the commendations he’s had so far; more the experience.

Of course there were challenges, one of the biggest being we all have other commitments, other work, other claims on our time. Some of the stages have taken longer than I or any of us would have liked. As for my attempts to make an e-book, I threw in the towel and enlisted help from another small, indie publisher north of here. 

Overall I’ve loved it. There’s a generosity that comes with this kind of working – a generosity of time, of humour, of experience. Perhaps we got lucky. Perhaps another combination may not have worked so well. Who knows? For now I’m delighted the book is safely at the printers. Soon we’ll have it in our hands. Very soon! And when we do, you’ll be among the first to know.

Life Is Elsewhere / Burn Your Flags by Iain Maloney is released on Thursday 16 September, and I’ll share details of the launch event as soon as they’re finalised.

In the meantime, you can preorder your copy via the Liminal Ink website or through your local bookstore. 

The joy of collaboration

A year ago, Paul and I set up Liminal Ink as an experiment – to publish My Heart’s Content and blur the lines between publisher and author. It’s been a steep learning curve for both of us and we realised we only wanted to coLnsider publishing again as a collaboration, and more importantly, if something wowed us. Well something did! 

We’re excited to announce that Liminal Ink’s next title will be the novella Life Is Elsewhere/Burn Your Flags by Scottish author Iain Maloney.

Iain Maloney, author of Life Is Elsewhere/BurnYour Flags

Originally from up the road in Aberdeen, Iain now lives in Japan and is a seasoned author with four books and a poetry collection under his belt. His most recent book, The Only Gaijin in the Village is a critically acclaimed memoir about his efforts to settle into his new, rural community, including his unusual approach to growing vegetables (at least according to the locals) and a penchant for reading beside an outdoor fire in the snow.

Life Is Elsewhere/Burn Your Flags is also set in Japan, but that’s where the similarity ends. It’s Christmas Day 2020 and at the start of the novella, Cormac is headed for the hills. In the midst of the pandemic, the bar he runs is closed and his marriage to Eri is falling apart. A phone call from his doctor could change everything.

Meantime, Eri has locked herself in the spare room, with too much alcohol and a box of old video tapes. As a teenager in late 1980s Tokyo, Eri documented the rise of a legendary female punk band. In the wake of its demise, she shrugged off her identity and ran. Thanks to an unexpected email she’s about to unearth long-buried memories and confront her past.

A beautiful, brutal meditation on love and death and the death of love … compelling, tense, gorgeously-drawn and perfectly-paced. This seemingly slight novella travels worlds and light years in a few thousand words. Eri and Cormac, and all the things they say and leave unsaid, will stay with you for a long time.

Kirstin Innes, author of Scabby Queen

It’s hard to say what moved me most about Iain’s novella. Eri’s struggles to reconcile her paid up, buttoned down life with the untethered, disordered mayhem of her youth, certainly resonated. Reading it reminded me of the out of control feeling of my younger days; the sensation of being spun round and round, the disorientation, the stumbling, the waiting for the world to right itself before doing it all again. The need for more. For those endless nights of vodka-flavoured freedom. Though in my case those days are recalled without Eri’s accompanying feeling of dissatisfaction and regret.

Cormac’s story is more introspective; measured. A wander rather than a hurtle. It’s the fleeting insights that held me. The playful use of Haiku. The laconic rhythm. I loved the feeling of uncovering new information, as if I’d stumbled across the fact by accident. As a result I no longer see snowmen in my future – it’s snow buddhas from here on in.

The book covers a lot of ground, both geographically and metaphorically, in a relatively small number of words. There’s a kaleidoscopic landscape of snow-covered hills, tight-lipped public schools, the punk scene of downtown Tokyo, bands and temples and squats and a yellow Gibson guitar. 

A raw yet compassionate take on a couple trying to deal with their fears and frustrations, both with themselves and with each other, in the time of Covid.

J. David Simons, author of An Exquisite Sense of the Beautiful

In a previous blog I mentioned that during my MLitt, we were told by a well-known Scottish literary agent that when we were writing we should consider where the book would sit in a bookshop. In other words, to be aware of the boundaries. That’s what I love most of all about Iain’s novella, it could fit into several categories; or none at all! Iain let the story dictate its length and style, unabashed, which for me is its greatest strength. 

Now I’ve got you all excited, here’s what you need to know so you can add it to your bookshelf. 

Life Is Elsewhere / Burn Your Flags is released on Thursday 16 September 2021.

We’re printing a limited run so add the date to your diary to make sure you don’t miss out. Better still, head over to Liminal Ink to pre-order and be among the first to receive a copy.

For more about Iain Maloney, have a look at his website: iainmaloney.com

Aye Write! 2021

The email asked if I would be interested in taking part in this year’s Aye Write! book festival, to talk about My Heart’s Content. I read it three times to be sure.

What you grinning at? Paul asked. I read him the email.

Well are you interested? he said. I nodded vigorously and asked if he wanted a cup of tea. He raised an eyebrow.

I’m playing it cool, I said. Don’t want to appear too eager.

Half way to the kitchen, which in our flat is around 10 steps, my coolness, such as it is, dissipated and I rushed back to send my reply, fully expecting to see a message telling me my window for responding had expired and I’d missed the opportunity. Or dreamed it.

Let me set my excitement in context. For those of you who aren’t aware, Aye Write! is Glasgow’s annual book festival. As with the city in which it’s based, it is big, bold and friendly. And this year, it was online, which means you could buy a pass for the whole festival and watch at your convenience.

There were sessions about dealing with grief, and the healing power of nature. Rock stars talked about memoirs and authors talked about fiction being the new rock n roll. There were authors talking politics and politicians, including Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, talking books.

Participating authors included big hitters Andrew O’Hagan, Douglas Stuart and Maggie O’Farrell, alongside those less well known but equally brilliant, such as Helen McClory, Ruth Thomas and Jenni Fagan. And there were those just starting out, like me!

Scottish Debuts: Aye Write! Festival 2021

The Scottish Debuts, of which I was one, opened the festival, with a flurry of Tweets and a dance around the living room (in our house at least). The event was pre-recorded, which given my nerves, was just as well. We were each allotted a few minutes to do with what we wanted – read from our book, talk about our writing, grin inanely. I opted for all three.

And so, on Friday 14 May, there I was, reading from the book I had written, to an invisible audience (which would have included my mum, if she had been able to get the link to work on time) as part of one of the UK’s biggest book festivals.

Just another ordinary day then: aye right!

*Although the main Aye Write! festival is now over, you can watch the events online for up to three weeks from the date of their release. Check out Glasgow Life TV to find out what’s available.

The Scottish Debuts event is free and still available to watch for a couple more days.

To buy a copy of My Heart’s Content: A Journey to Transplant, visit Liminal Ink.

Putting it out there

On Thursday 22 October, My Heart’s Content was officially ‘released’. There was no event, as such, but a number of those who supported the Kickstarter campaign and had read pre-release copies, took part in a literary flash mob – a fancy way of saying they shared pictures and encouraging words on social media. It may not have been grand but it was special. It laid down a marker: my first book was officially out there. Now there was the simple matter of bringing it to the attention of potential readers.

When Paul and I decided to set up Liminal Ink and publish my book ourselves, we weren’t without some experience in the area. Paul has a PhD in Publishing and we both have MLitts in Creative Writing. Further, as my book had originally been signed to a publisher, we had a wee bit of insight into how the process worked, and as a former press officer, I had some idea of promotion. However, there were a couple of things we hadn’t factored in: potential difficulties with distribution, and my mum going into hospital.

Undeterred we enlisted some help with promotion and decided that for now, we would handle the distribution ourselves. During a week off from work, fully masked and maintaining an acceptable social distance, we drove around Scotland, delivering books to our Kickstarter supporters. We hadn’t seen most of our friends for at least six months and despite partially obscured faces and muffled voices, being able to stand on a doorstep, or in a garden, or out on the street, and see people in ‘real-life’ was disproportionately exciting and emotional. The ‘you look great, have you done something different with your hair?’ jokes never grew tired; the urge to grab each of them and hold on for a very long time, never lessened.

Our mini-tour reinforced my belief in the value of community. It also reiterated my idea that the book was already a success. Sure the words ‘bestseller list’ and the title of my book were unlikely to feature in the same sentence any time soon (never say never), but the tingle of excitement I felt each time I handed over my book to someone would be hard to be beat, a sensation that would be amplified as people gradually began to give me their feedback. And yes, I do realise that those who didn’t like it would be unlikely to say so, or at least unlikely to say so via an email / phone call / text / WhatsApp message to me, but hey, don’t burst my bubble quite yet.

Back in the world of trying to reach other readers, Paul contacted some of the independent bookshops: a couple took it, others mentioned how they ordered their copies through a certain distributor. We applied to be included with said distributor and sent off our sample copy. It takes up to six weeks to be added to the stock list. If the distributor likes it. And so we wait.

Meantime we keep drip feeding social media. And leaving messages for book shops. Of course I’d love it to find its way into the hands of someone with a larger presence, a louder voice. Someone who, should they like it, could influence others. Act as a champion. At the same time I fight shy of actively seeking to get it to such a person. Why? Well that’s a question with no simple answer.

Perhaps because I love the thought of my book being discovered. Passed on by a friend brimful of my words. The story alive in their enthusiasm. I would be delighted if each person who reads my book would tell one or two others. That they too would like and share it with another. And somewhere along the way, my whisper of a story would become a raised voice and then a shout. On merit.

Or maybe it’s my unease with marketing, which developed during our MLitt, when a well-known literary agent visited to talk to us about the industry side of writing and publishing. One of the main pieces of advice was that writers should always be considering their potential readers, as well as where their book would sit in a bookshop – which genre; under what label. To make it easier for marketing. There was also talk of the ‘elevator pitch’ – the ability to succinctly describe (or sell) your book in the length of time it takes to ride in a lift, although it wasn’t clear how many floors you would be ascending and whether it would call at intermittent ones along the way. I find this element of writing hard. It seems cynical. Contrived. And yet I know that to make a living from writing, it was, and is, sound advice.

At the end of the talk, my perturbed expression attracted the attention of the speaker. I explained my disappointment that writing should be bound by an invisible audience; defined by a slot on an imaginary, commercial bookshelf. My naivety was audible even to myself. But it was more than that. For me, writing constantly evolves. And what I’ve discovered is that even after the book is written, the ‘story’ isn’t fixed.

When I wrote my book, I imagine my elevator pitch was along the lines of ‘firsthand experience of waiting for, and receiving, a new heart. Of what that means in real terms – an insight of how it feels to be suspended between life and death.’ I know, not terribly snappy but you get the gist. And the thing is, it is that. And it isn’t. What I discovered from early feedback is that some readers consider it a love letter: to family and friends; to our amazing NHS; to the kindness of strangers. To Paul. To the human spirit and the will to survive. And it is that too.

So if you do stumble across it, if you read it and like it, tell someone. Share why it moved or challenged or annoyed or fascinated you. What the story means to you. Because whatever you get from it, however you read it, that’s the book it was meant to be.

My Heart’s Content: A Journey to Transplant – available from: Liminalink.com