Book Review: Mister Spoonface

perf5.000x8.000.indd

Mister Spoonface, by Paul Blaney, explores what it means to be a father. Set in and around contemporary London it tells the story of Fred Pooley, a thirty-seven year old bachelor who has never wanted children, until one day he realises that he does. He has a gap in his life that is making him miserable. This tale chronicles his attempts to find some means by which to fill it, to give him purpose and make him whole.

It opens with this memorable line:

“A year before his actions won him nationwide notoriety and a prison term, Fred Pooley landed in Heathrow.”

Having decided to give up a lucrative job in Hong Kong, Fred returns to London unsure of what he is going to do next. He finds a flat and makes contact with his ex-girlfriend, Sally. She is now living with her new partner and they have a two year old child. Fred is entranced by the toddler.

Through a writing group at a local library he meets Petra and they begin a relationship. Petra makes it clear from the off that she does not want children, a state with which Fred concurs. Much as he likes Petra though, he is still drawn to Sally and her child. He starts to fantasise about fatherhood, watching children in parks and on the streets around his new home.

Fred has a troubled relationship with his mother who raised him alone. She has never told Fred who his father is, and he now wishes to find out. His attempts at making contact do not provide him with the solace he desired.

Petra works at the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority which sets Fred thinking about a time when he donated his sperm before he went to Hong Kong. He takes pleasure in the possibility that the children he has been watching could be biologically his.

Idle fantasy and casual observation morph into obsession. Fred crosses a line, knowing that what he is doing is dubious but seemingly unable to control his urges. He observes the surly teenagers who shout abuse and litter the streets, questioning the parenting techniques of the families he is increasingly drawn towards.

The tightly written plot oozes an undercurrent of menace as Fred’s obsession takes over his life. He pushes away those who care about him, ingratiating himself with strangers to get close to their kids.

His fall is expertly presented, offering as it does some understanding of why Fred acts as he does. It is still the stuff of every parent’s nightmare. The denouement offers a satisfying conclusion to a disturbing tale.

This is a timely and thought provoking read given the advances in reproductive techniques and the moral complexities introduced when conception requires a third party. Resultant children have a legal right to details of donors, yet can donors be considered parents in any real sense of the word?

Recommended for the quality of the writing and tensity of the plot realisation. The issues raised are an added bonus for those who like to ponder beyond the final page.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Red Button Publishing.

Q&A with Red Button Publishing

cropped-red-button-final-logo2

Today I am delighted to welcome Caroline from Red Button Publishing to my blog. I discovered this publishing house when I reviewed ‘The Human Script‘, by Johnny Rich. Look out for my thoughts on their recently published ‘Mister Spoonface’, by Paul Blaney, later this week.

Without further ado, let us find out more about this independent imprint for fiction.

1. Why did you decide to set up Red Button Publishing?

Red Button was born out of three things. The first was a fifteen-year friendship between two trade-publishing insiders with a dream of setting up our own imprint and doing things our own way. The second was a growing realisation that digital had changed the landscape of our industry forever and that one reaction to a changing market was that publishers were becoming more risk averse. The third was pure circumstance: we both found ourselves in a position where we could take the leap. Setting up Red Button was a risk; we had little to no capital and relied completely on our own experience and our own instincts.

2. What sort of books do you want to publish?

We set out to look for brilliant books that didn’t necessarily fit a genre or a type – books that were perhaps getting overlooked by mainstream publishers for that reason. Our first book captured this idea perfectly. The Human Script was written by Johnny Rich more than ten years ago, as part of the acclaimed Creative Writing MA at UEA. The book was praised by Ian McEwan, W.G. Sebald and Andrew Motion and subsequently Johnny was scooped up by a leading literary agent. Despite more praise from commissioning editors, the book never found a publisher, getting shot down by sales and marketing teams at the last hurdle. Ten years later, Johnny heard about Red Button through a friend. He submitted the manuscript and we made him an offer three days later. Tom McCarthy has endorsed The Human Script as ‘captivating, intelligent and deeply affecting’, while new literary website BookSmoke singled it out as their book of the year.

3. How do you go about finding and signing authors?

We have an open submission policy and we read everything we are sent. We’re open to all genres. We’ve published literary fiction, modern horror and a rock ’n’ roll comedy. The first requirement is that Karen and I have to love it. We’re pumping everything back into making Red Button work at the moment, so we both need to be passionate about what we’re publishing. The second requirement is that we need to be certain that we can do well by the book and the writer. We’re not afraid to turn down books that we think are good but would be better placed elsewhere.

4. There are a good number of small, independent publishers out there publishing some great works. Do you consider yourself different and, if so, how?

We take a lot of inspiration from independents like Galley Beggar Press and And Other Stories. We’re also supporters of the guys at Dodo Ink, who will be publishing their first books next year. These are publishers who aren’t solely focused on commercial concerns and we think we’re a part of that movement. We love reading and we want to contribute to the literary heritage being created for future generations. The more people out there doing that, the richer the reading landscape.

5. Latest trend or totally original – what sells?

In our experience, for the most part it’s latest trends. But that’s not surprising; it’s the nature of the business and it’s not a bad thing because people are reading. It doesn’t mean that’s all that should be published, though. That’s why we’re here.

6. Ebook or hard copy – what do your buyers want?

We started off as a digital publisher, simply because the financial outlay was minimal. We’ve always published in all digital platforms, though, aiming to reach as many readers as possible. As of 2015 we are now publishing in paperback formats too. This has always been in our plans as we think that people should be able to read how they want to read and buy from the retailer of their choice. Right now I’d say that the two formats are existing quite happily together, but I do see a time when the majority of the reading population will read on a device. This doesn’t mean the end of the paper book, though; I just think people will become pickier about the books they buy in physical format. I also hope that leads to a realignment in pricing strategies. Right now, ebooks are overpriced (certainly from the main trade publishers) and paper formats are hideously underpriced, leading to a bit of a stalemate for the reader. It doesn’t do the writer any favours, either.

7. Do you consider Red Button niche or mainstream?

I’m not keen on the word ‘niche’ because it suggests exclusivity. I think most readers would find something on our list of interest and maybe something that would surprise them too. And mainstream? Probably not. We’re going to have to come up with a new word to describe Red Button, I think!

8. Collaborative or dictatorial?

Collaborative with a capital ‘C’. We’re big believers that publishing takes teamwork. Our authors are involved in every stage of publishing and we aim to be very honest and transparent in our dealings with them. I think that’s one of the things that makes independent publishers so different to the Big Five. Authors can be a great resource. We’re very lucky that we have worked with four writers who trust us and I think that is, in part, down to our collaborative way of working.

9. Plans for the future? 

We’ve just published our fifth book, Mister Spoonface by Paul Blaney. It’s Paul’s second book with us and we couldn’t be more delighted that he’s chosen to work with us again. Mister Spoonface is a tale of obsession and longing that raises questions about what it means to be a parent. It’s a great modern tale that will really get people talking. So right now the doors are open for 2016 and we’re looking for the next brilliant submission to fall into our inbox.

.

Thank you to Caroline for taking the time to answer my questions. You can find out more about this small press, including details of their books, on their website by clicking here: Red Button Publishing | Publishing and Consultancy

Keep up to date with all of their news via Twitter: RedButtonPublishing (@RedButtonPubs)

THS cover   perf5.000x8.000.indd

If you are an independent publisher and would like to be included in this series please check out my introductory post: Shout Out to Independent Publishers

Book Review: The Human Script

THS cover

The Human Script, by Johnny Rich, looks at life and what that means. It asks big questions within the context of a fictional tale, pondering how much of what matters to an individual is a construct and how much is real. It explores cause and effect, nature and nurture. It demonstrates that the course of an individual’s life is largely beyond his control.

The protagonist, Chris Putnam, is a biologist working on the Human Genome Project. He is still coming to terms with the break up of his first long term relationship when his brother phones to tell him that their father has died. Chris had not spoken to the old man in many months. He reluctantly returns to the family home for the funeral but is then eager to get away. Over the coming months, as his grief works its way to the surface, Chris encounters problems at work, dabbles in drugs, and neglects a good friend who wishes to help. He also falls in love.

The story is told in 23 chapters, a novel in 23 chromosomes. It offers up the science of what makes a person unique alongside the emotional issues he must face. It took me a few chapters to find the narrator’s voice but I was then hooked on what is a compelling and intelligent read.

A little over halfway through the book Chris reaches crisis point in a number of areas of his life. The reader shares in his thought processes as he struggles with an accelerating downward spiral. Chris is a scientist, a realist who has rejected the religion of his upbringing. He finds the idea that he is unable to determine the direction his life will take an anathema.

The final third of the book is dark in tone. In refusing to be what others want Chris finds himself questioning his very essence. His problems are exacerbated as the science he has relied upon fails him, and the freedom he has fought for becomes his prison. Reality becomes muddied as his perception of life shifts.

The denouement does not offer answers; such answers would be as facile as Douglas Adam’s 42. Instead the reader is left to consider all that has gone before. Chris’s actions influenced events, allowed him to change course, but he could not control the future. Likewise, an author does not control what his reader takes from a book; such perceptions are determined by the reader’s life experiences as much as by what is written down.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Red Button Publishing.