Unbound is a new way to connect authors and readers. Authors present a pitch, you pledge, and when the goal is reached the book is written. It's really that simple.
Unbound wouldn’t exist without Terry Jones. Back in 2010 it was just an idea that three authors had been throwing around in a pub. We thought it was a good idea but how could we ever persuade authors to take a chance on us and how would we ever get any publicity even if they did?
The answer rode up, like a mediaeval knight errant. I’d worked for years with Terry before Unbound and, sharing a love of mediaeval history and beer, we’d often meet up in Highgate for a pint and muse. So it was during one of those musing that I mentioned, rather off the cuff, that we’d had this idea for a new type of publishing company. I rather hoped Terry might agree to give us a quote saying it was a neat idea. Instead he offered us our first book.
Terry has always liked breaking the mould. He set up the first micro-brewery in Britain, Penhros, at a time when it looked like real ale was on its last legs. He didn’t make a fortune out of it – I think he made a loss – but he started a trend and now you can find real ale everywhere. He liked the idea of Unbound for similar reasons – a move against the bland, mega-corporation bestseller machines. And so, when I explained the plan, he just impishly said ‘I’ve got a book you can have’.
That book was Evil Machines, a brilliant, funny, charming set of short stories and I can remember how proud I was when we got the manuscript and I could read it to my seven-year-old daughter – the first child to hear the tale! And Terry did so much more than just let us publish his book. He appeared on every TV show and radio spot we could find, talking not about his book so much as Unbound itself. He had dinners, gave readings and signed endless copies, all because he thought this was a idea that deserved to succeed.
And thanks to Terry Unbound has become a success, and I wanted you all to know how important he’s been in that. We still go for beers in Highgate, although they’re not as raucous as they once were, and at Unbound we’re still doing out best to live up to the faith he placed in us.
Shoppers cut across their path to duck under awnings. Carmen carried a fluorescent yellow umbrella and the two of them continued, stepping over puddles, Graham’s leather shoes darkening at the toes. He described his minimally furnished apartment in Amsterdam: a bed, table and chairs, with the walls left intentionally blank.
“I’m anti-art,” he told her. “I prefer the sun and shadows.”
“How did you end up in Amsterdam?” she asked. Her voice was muffled by the shushing of water under the wheels of cars.
“Why Amsterdam?” she shouted.
Graham slowed. “Well, after you left…”
“Oh right, I see.”
When they turned into a narrow side street and Carmen stumbled on a cobblestone he reached out to steady her.
“I’m okay, thanks. Damn shoes,” she said and looked up to see strands of his wet hair stuck to his cheek.
“I got a placement from Toronto to work with Greenpeace.”
“Look at you – you’re soaking wet,” she said and stepped ahead of him, squeezing between boutique windows and parked cars. “I was surprised when you called,” she yelled back to him. “That you were coming to Paris. I had no idea you were here.”
Graham grabbed for her arm. They were in front of a watch shop and the sparkle of light on silver was blinding. The rain drenched through his thin coat turning it dark blue. He held fast to her arm. “Is that true?”
“I didn’t know you were here in Europe is what I meant,” she said and walked on again.
A crowd had gathered under a shop’s awning to wait for the worst to subside and they stopped again too, looking out at the sheets of rain and pressing closer together with the others taking shelter. Carmen told him about the Eiffel tower light show projected every night onto her ceiling, and how it was better than any painting she’d seen in the Louvre or Orsay. Even better than the Impressionists.
“Are the lights for a celebration?” he asked.
“Well, the city was lit up for the millennium New Year’s Eve party, but people liked it so much, they made it permanent,” she said.
“It is. It starts at dusk and sparkles every hour on the hour for ten minutes until midnight.”
She didn’t tell him she normally fell asleep at ten or that she rarely went out in the evenings, having cut her social life down to an occasional coffee date.
The Eiffel tower lights were predictable in her Chambre de Bonne – a maid’s room under the roof. She’d prop the skylight window open on its iron rod and stick her head out when it got too claustrophobic. The view was of hundreds of red brick chimneys jutting out every which way. And at night, with this light show, the structures would shift; what was once stable became fragmented. No wonder she felt dizzy most of the time.
Her friends back home thought it exotic she lived in a Parisian apartment, even though she explained over and over that it was only a tiny room under the roof with ten flights of stairs. They couldn’t comprehend, those Canadians, a shortage of space, or the concept of living in a closet.
In France, nine square meters was deemed the legal minimum for each person; it was a state-given right, held over from Napoleonic law. But even then some landlords found a way around the rule, based on overpopulation and on the numbers of naïve foreigners flooding in.
Her room was eight square metres; she supposed maids never had, nor would have, the luxury of space. Carmen’s friends didn’t understand why, with a degree in French literature, she was teaching English grammar to business students who would one day make triple what she earned.
Her friends imagined a different reality for her: eating cheese and pastries, drinking wine, walking up the Champs Elysees with a French boyfriend. Being a flaneur.
That’s what they would do they had told her blatantly. In assuming that living in Paris was about finding your fortune they offered Carmen suggestions:
–Become a writer.
-Go to cooking school and learn how to make soufflés.
-Become an art historian.
-Give tours of Paris to English visitors;
-Learn French design, or if you’re serious about making money, take photos of the metro entrances and scan them onto t-shirts;
-Become a film maker. Think: Agnes Varda!;
-Study cheese as a cheese connoisseur;
-Or a sommelier, yeah, then you could educate us while we get smashed;
-Be a nanny in the 16th, but hey, don’t let the kids put you off;
-Find a French boyfriend and get your papers.
Her closest friend offered the last suggestion on a regular basis: “Get yourself one of them. They know how to open the door for a girl. Not like Canadian hockey fanatics who only know how to open their beer.”
Because her friends lived vicariously through her, she felt obliged to tick off some of their boxes and she honestly couldn’t say she didn’t enjoy herself. But when the dizzy spells started in the classroom, and she had to hold onto a desk and look at the floor until they passed, Carmen went to a doctor.
“I’m not pregnant.”
“Are you absolument positive?”
“Perhaps you forgot the protection?”
“I’m positively, absolutely sure that didn’t happen. I promise.”
Then there was a beat, a pause, while he looked at her face, her chest, her clothing.
“Alors,” he said. “You have an iron deficiency. We do the blood test.”
The nightmares where she leaned over Escher-esque staircases running up, down, and sideways, like an interminable roller coaster ride returned. Other times, she was pushed by an unseen hand down a mountain, to trip over boulders and tree branches, never reaching stable ground which reminded Carmen of her girlhood when she’d balance, knees bent, on the centre of a see-saw. Just waiting to flinch and fall.
“Here we are,” she told Graham when they arrived at the tiny bistro: Les Temps Perdu. Carmen thought eating would be a distraction, but he went and brought up the topic of children even before the waiter arrived.
“My girlfriend doesn’t want kids,” he said, picking at wax from a candle. “She thinks the world is overpopulated as it is.”
“What about adoption?”
“No. She wouldn’t. Most people have to adopt abroad and she thinks that taking a child away from its heritage is just another form of colonization.”
He sipped a mouthful of red wine and savoured it. All the while staring at her.
“Oh, I see.” Carmen flushed and looked down. “She’s certainly thought a lot about it.” If Carmen had stayed behind with him, there would be a child sitting between them now, in a restaurant somewhere in Toronto.
Babies were not political to her, but a natural part of life. She only had to find a boyfriend to make that happen again. When she was good and ready. Or just ready. She wondered how socially conscious Graham’s girlfriend was and if she actually donated to Oxfam or Save the Children or any of those other organisations.
Did they have a good relationship? Did they have good sex? Did she have perfect shiny hair?
Outside the café, the windows were streaked with rain, and inside they were fogged with breath as if in a greenhouse. Carmen patted down her frizzy hair and Graham used his napkin to wipe a circle on the window so they could watch people passing by. He drank the wine, served in globular glasses and smelling of strawberries and freshly chopped wood, and she copied him because it gave her something to do. Every time he raised his glass, she looked at the backs of his hands with their broad fingers, strong knuckles and ropy veins. The hands that had once held her warm breasts.
The waiter appeared with steaming bowls of French onion soup and she dipped baguette into the salty broth. Then came generous portions of Quiche Lorraine with crisp green salads covered in lemony vinaigrette.
She kept her hands busy with knife, fork, spoon, napkin, water and wine, to stop her from reaching out and putting a hand on his cheek. But then she ate too quickly and burned her mouth. For dessert, she ordered a Tarte au Cerise with vanilla ice cream. He drank two espressos and she tried to remember if she’d ever seen him drink coffee. An elderly man at a nearby table lit up a cigarette and blew smoke rings which wafted above them and dissolved over their heads.
“Do you still smoke?” she asked.
“I quit a couple of years ago,” he said, looking up at the next cloud of smoke headed their way.
“Congratulations.” She hoped that came out sincerely.
“Yeah, I took up jogging. Now I’m running marathons.”
The corners of his lips were stained with wine.
“That’s amazing. You must be in great shape.”
“I am,” he said placing his hand on his chest. “Doctor says I have a healthy heart.”
Carmen noticed the hand was a bit off target and then she was getting up, pushing her chair back and wrestling into her coat. She threw twenty Euros on the table.
“Don’t you want your change?” he asked, but she was already at the door.
Outside, the fog blanketed the buildings in an undulating curtain of grey. Her mouth was getting tired from smiling whenever he looked at her. The arch of his long neck and the way he scratched his tousled hair made her want to run fast to a museum or a movie.
They spent nearly two more hours together and as long as they were walking, she didn’t have to look at him and could relax a bit. The heavy rain turned into a light drizzle as they made their way along the Quai de Tuileries to Pont Neuf. Daylight faded and the city became illuminated in the greenish fog, light by light, jewel by jewel.
On Pont Neuf, they peered over at a passing Bateaux Mouche full of tourists with open umbrellas. Those with rain jackets were hunched over with their hoods up, all except for one man who stood tall with a foot up on the stern, one hand holding a small hat down.
“Check out this guy with the beret,” Graham said and leaned over the rail to wave back. “He’s probably from California.”
Her laughter came out unexpectedly and she took a deep breath to stop it.
“I don’t meet many French men who wear berets,” she said. “The Americans appropriated that one.”
“Sibling rivalry, don’t you think?”
Carmen tried to imagine how she and Graham looked to others, while they leaned over the bridge with their shoulders just touching.
Before the dizzy spells had started again, she spent Sundays going for walks in the city, planning a new route each time to explore the various neighbourhoods. She watched people together, guessing at their relationships, and by studying their body language and how they carried themselves she made up imaginary lives for them. She tried to look into their eyes before they passed her by, hoping to discover something secret: an emotional state, an essence. To find out what happiness looked like. To see it reflected on a face. Maybe it would be contagious? But most of the time she only caught irritation or annoyance, and occasionally when men looked back, flirtation. Quite often she saw the expressions of dumbstruck awe in tourists who were more interested in man-made structures than in the French people around them. She watched them crane their necks at the Eiffel Tower. Or pose for pictures under the Arc de Triomphe, as tiny dots framed by that overwhelming war memorial.
Carmen looked over at Graham who was staring at the Seine. “Do you like asparagus?” she asked.
“No way, I hate it. Why?”
“The French just love asparagus,” she said a little too loudly. He looked over at her. “I was just wondering if I remembered little details about you.”
“Well, I remember something about you,” he said. “You were wracked by nightmares when we.”
She felt the cold metal railing through her gloves. How, out of their five-year relationship could he pick such a negative remembrance and bring it up, flaunt it to her? Yes she’d had nightmares while they were together. All of her life though. Did he think he inspired only bad feelings?
Behind them, a woman yelled at her boy, who was dressed in a suit jacket with a bow-tie and mini patent shoes. The little man pulled at his mother’s arm, whining to go back, and not forward, along the bridge. He’s just like her, she thought, living for what has passed.
“I didn’t have much time for nightmares. If you remember, we didn’t sleep all that much,” she said. She had to sit on a bench because her head whirled. Why was she flirting?
Back then, her parents went out of town most weekends and there were lazy days in bed with cigarettes and smoke ring competitions, video marathons of foreign films, take-out food and liquor. And Kama Sutra sex.
They threw costume parties in which their friends would appear as gangsters and molls, movie stars, politicians and ghouls. Some of the themed parties had mysteries to be solved, or an ethnic dish to be tasted. After graduation, she confided her travel plans only to her parents and then packed her belongings into boxes to store in their basement before leaving the country.
When Carmen got word that he’d followed her to France, she changed her backpacking route to Spain, travelled around the countryside, staying in remote hostels. She stopped checking email altogether, but when she arrived in Paris, there were poste-restante letters waiting; letters telling her he would have to return to Canada. She had ripped them up and tossed them into the Seine, where pigeons swooped down, expecting her confetti to be food.
“I know what you mean,” she had said aloud to the anxious birds. “Not very tasty.”
It was only a week ago that she answered her cell phone to his baritone voice.
“Your parents,” he admitted. “I practically had to pay them for your number.”
He lived in Amsterdam now and would be in Paris on business. Could they get together for an afternoon?
The rain started again, this time as a fine mist, and the spray crept under her scarf and down her collar.
“I’d better go. I have to teach early tomorrow,” she said.
They retraced their steps over the Pont Neuf to the metro station. When he gave her a quick hug goodbye, the handle of the umbrella knocked her in the face. He apologized, for the umbrella or for the relationship she wasn’t sure, but she would surely have a bruise on her cheek.
“It was great seeing you again,” he told her, his voice seeming a pitch higher.
“You too, it was really great. You haven’t changed a bit.”
“Actually, I like to think I have,” he said and handed her his business card. “Don’t lose it.”
He watched her descend the concrete steps into the deep underground tunnel.
Over the next few weeks Carmen thought about emailing to thank him for his visit, but she couldn’t find the right words, and anyway she didn’t hear from him either.
One night, when she was getting ready for bed, her best friend Joanna called from Toronto. This is how she learned that Graham had remained single, and the girlfriend
he’d told her about at lunch didn’t exist. Joanna thought he wanted to suss her out and see what she had been up to all these years, if she was married with kids.
Carmen took the receiver and lay on her bed; she watched the Eiffel tower lights illuminate her room. It had been three years since she left – wasn’t that enough time? When Joanna asked if she was over him, Carmen sat up and hit her head on the sloping ceiling.
“Are you okay?”
“Yeah, yeah.” She rubbed the palm of her hand into her forehead. Now she’d have two bruises. There was a silence on the line and Carmen lay back down. “I’m a bit jumpy because I’ve been having the dizzy spells again.”
“I’m sorry; I shouldn’t have told you that.”
“No, no, it’s okay. I’d rather know.”
Somewhere in the building a child wailed. “Just a second.” Carmen held the phone against her chest, and listened to the sound of little lungs laden with grief or fear or even terror. She went back on the line. “I’d better go, but thanks so much for calling.”
“No problem,” Joanna said.
“I appreciate it.”
“Good, then don’t forget I’m here. If you ever want to come home.”
When Carmen hung up, she watched the shifting patterns on her ceiling: diamonds and dots and slashes. Like a flashlight shone into a jewel box.
Her head throbbed as if she’d been drinking; the child’s wails pierced the thin walls. She closed her eyes but the spinning got worse. Lying on her narrow bed she took long deep breaths, one after the other, but couldn’t get enough air. After all those nightmares, she thought, and I’m still falling.
Published: Tinge Magazine, Temple University, USA, Spring 2016.
A Short Story by Unbound author, Elena Kaufman, from her upcoming collection, Love Bites. Read more and support the book here.
There’s a general assumption that publishers sit in their offices waiting for authors to send them manuscripts. They read them, make a few tweaks and then send them on to the printer. That sounds perfectly reasonable, but, in truth, it happens very rarely. Most books, particularly novels, require months of wrangling, of to-ing and fro-ing and re-writing to get the story, the characters, the tone and rhythm right. It’s a more collaborative process than most readers realise. So, when a near perfect manuscript does land, there’s always a miraculous quality about it. A feeling that here was a book you were meant to publish. For me, it happened three years ago when Paul Kingsnorth sent me his novel, The Wake. And now it’s happened again.
I met Sarah Marr in the most auspicious of spaces – the Medicine House at Blackden where the great British novelist Alan Garner has lived and worked for nearly sixty years. She had pledged to attend the storytelling supper Unbound had organised there to celebrate the publication of First Light, the collection of pieces honouring Alan and his work, edited by Erica Wagner. In the course of the evening, Sarah mentioned she had written a novel and wondered if it was something Unbound might be interested in. We were – we usually are – but nothing could have prepared me for the beauty and intelligence of what arrived a week later.
I won’t dwell on the book here – I want you to pledge and read it for yourself – a except to say it is remarkable: a rich and lyrical novel in which a woman’s investigation into a Victorian painting guided by discovery of the diary of one of the woman models featured in it takes us on a journey filled with insight and revelation. Anna, the narrator, is an emotionally troubled art historian who has a near mystical gift for inhabiting the inner world of the paintings she studies. The writing is memorable and assured – astonishingly so given it is Sarah’s first novel. There will be editing (there always is) but there won’t be much. All the Perverse Angels has the assurance, the feeling of just-rightness, that very few books achieve.
I hope you’ll read it and feel the same astonishment. I was too gripped by the story to think this as I read it, but on reflection it struck me that if we founded Unbound to do anything, it was to allow stories such as this – the ‘quiet books’, as one of our authors calls them – to find the sensitive and intelligent readers they deserve. Join us and help make that happen.
A guest post from Zosh Barton as she explores the history of subscription publishing
Subscription publication was an established form of publishing in the seventeenth century. It involved a relationship between a writer and their future reader in which the writer was sponsored to create a particular book. Subscriptions included one guinea (£33.78 approx.) for a basic subscription, up to five guineas (£168.90) for subscription by a friend of the writer and twenty guineas (£677) to receive a copy of the book when it was finished.
Within this new system women writers thrived. Frances (Fanny) Burney was an early heroine in the history of subscription publication. Fanny had no formal education; she taught herself and began writing when she was ten. Her first novel Evelina, which she wrote in secret, was published in 1778. It was an instant success, praised for its comic qualities and unique narrative style. Evelina opened a new category of fiction that focussed on middle-class women’s lives and it secured Fanny Burney a place in the publishing world. However, she soon learnt that in order to sustain herself financially she would need to find a more lucrative means of writing. Fanny turned to subscription publishing for her third novel Camilla. Her list of subscribers ran to thirty-eight pages.
Some of the subscribers listed in these editions include Jane Austen, Hester Thrace and Edmund Burke, all of whom were influenced by her writing; and so those inspired by her work were also supporting her writing career.
In 2010, a few hundred years after subscription publication died out, Unbound was founded. Like Burney before them, its founders – Justin Pollard, Dan Kieran and John Mitchinson – were dissatisfied with the conventional publishing industry. They noted the lack of publicity for new books being published and the steadily shrinking advances made to writers. So they revived subscription publication, combining it with the sponsorship seen in the modern music industry.
Unbound works by writers putting ideas for books on their website where the public can view them. This revival of subscription publication has attracted established writers such as Kate Mosse and Terry Jones. Established agents for writers have not opposed this revived form of publishing.
Unbound are keen to support young and upcoming writers. This is an exciting prospect for someone like me, particularly since Unbound regards Fantasy, my favourite writing genre, as marketable. Books in this genre such as Jennifer Pickup’s Unbelievable and Hilary Boyd and Barbara Roddam’s Solstice were published in 2012 by Unbound. And I couldn’t help noticing that Unbelievable is intended for a similar age bracket to my current pet project.
Unbound offers women writers a means to pitch, fund and get their books published. Unbound is the modern descendant of subscription publishing, providing a platform for women writers within a largely male-dominated system.
Help us build The Paper Time Machine
Today marks an important milestone. Over five years have passed since I first met Wolfgang Wild. At that first meeting he told me he was building a time machine. Even in the hyperbole-friendly world I inhabit, this was quite a claim. But there was a seriousness and intensity to Wolfgang that made me pause. And then he showed it to me: a very early version of the site that would become known as Retronaut. And I knew then that I wanted to publish the paper version of that site, the souvenir album of his journeys back in time.
Many of you will know the Retronaut site. It is one of the very best things on the internet, a unique collection of photographs and films that present the past in a way that makes it seem unfamiliar and vivid – put simply, it makes the past feel present. To do this Wolfgang has raided the archives of photographic collections all over the world. Amazing colour photos of 19th century rural Russia sit next to English Victorian portraits in which the subjects smile; catalogues of American child labourers from the early 20th century run alongside scarcely believable sequences about the construction of the Statue of Liberty; crisp photographs from the Crimean War in 1855 balance unseen pictures from the Walt Disney archive. All of them make you look; all of them make you think differently about the past.
As the Retronaut site has grown (and been visited by millions of people), Wolfgang and I have met regularly to see if we could dream up a book. And then in December, he rang to say he thought he’d made the breakthrough. He came over the next day, buzzing with excitement. He had found, he told me, a genius, someone who could add colour to black and white photos that was so accurate, so realistic that it looked like they had been taken in colour. His description of the effect these images had us both was perfect: ‘It’s like that moment when someone enters a dark aircraft hangar, throws a switch and a long row of arc lights turn on, flooding the space with light.’
Suddenly, Wolfgang’s black and white images – already stretching our sense of time – were transformed into something unimaginably vivid. The opening of Tutankhamun’s tomb looked like stills from a CNN news broadcast. Every piece of clothing, every skin tone had the ring of truth and authenticity about it. This was our book – the past in colour, a time machine made from paper.
The genius was Jordan Lloyd, and his company Dynamichrome have transformed the craft of colour reconstruction into an art. He breaks each image down into a grid and adds colour as carefully and lovingly as you might in restoring a medieval wall painting. Each detail – a piece of clothing, a make of car, a bill board sign – are researched for accuracy and then cross-referenced with the time, conditions, light level and capabilities of the camera on which the original image was taken. The result is haunting. The picture of a ten year-old mineworker from North Carolina suddenly carries the face of a real child; Howard Carter is no longer just ‘the man who discovered Tuthankhamun’ but a working archaeologist, with dust on the knees of his tweed trousers. The Retronuatic effect of collapsing time is given its most vivid and memorable expression: looking at these images it as if you are standing behind the camera.
The book will have 150 of them, many from the amazing archive at Getty Images, who are enthusiastic supporters of the project. It will be lavish and beautiful coffee table book, much like Unbound’s other time-travelling project, Letters of Note. In fact, Letters of Note and Retronaut were the two blogs I most wanted to turn into books when we launched Unbound back in 2011. Another reason why today is special. I bloody love my job!
As well as all the physical options – signed, boxed deluxe edition, special prints – there’s even the chance to have one of your own images coloured and the research process made into a film. We need to raise £60,000 to make it but, with your support, we are confident we can do it. Unbound is about finding ways to make the impossible, the unthinkable, happen.
The Paper Time Machine is our biggest challenge yet. Please help us build it.
In September last year, we published PURE, a mental health memoir with a difference. For over ten years, author Rose Bretécher experienced a rare and often misdiagnosed form of OCD known as ‘Pure O’, with devastating consequences. If you pledged for PURE, dear reader, you may well share our sense of pride at its hefty contribution to the national debate on mental health in general, and OCD in particular.
On Saturday afternoon Rose was interviewed by Sky News as part of a wider focus on Pure O. Even if you’re familiar with Rose’s story by now, the documentary that accompanied her interview features yet more incredible stories of people who have suffered in silence with intrusive thoughts for years, not knowing what they meant. A primary school teacher, who wished to remain anonymous, nearly lost his job after discussing his obsessions with a mental health professional. A new mother was so gripped by the fear she’d somehow harm her young baby, she retreated from life altogether.
Mental health isn’t quite the taboo it used to be. Ongoing research, tireless campaigning and good literature on the part of charities, and a renewed focus on medical and social approaches have meant that our understanding of certain anxiety and depressive disorders is becoming broader and more nuanced. I like to think we’re much more alert to signs of struggle in those around us. But Rose’s story shows us we’ve still got a long, long way to go.
Sharing our stories has always given us the best chance for growth, healing and change. It’s partly why we love publishing books – and it’s absolutely why Rose’s heartbreaking and triumphant tale has resonated with so many.
Watch Sky’s documentary on OCD in full here:
So we’ve started a podcast. It’s called Backlisted and the simple premise is that every fortnight we choose an old book we think everyone should read. Unbound are sponsoring it and it is hosted by me and Andy Miller, an old friend and former colleague from the early (glory) days of Waterstone’s now better known as the author of the wonderful memoir The Year of Reading Dangerously.
Each episode also features a special guest. The first three are Lissa Evans on J.L. Carr’s A Month in the Country, Linda Grant on Jean Rhys’s Good Morning, Midnight and Jonathan Coe on David Nobb’s It Had To Be You. There’s also a ‘tenuous link’ cameo by Unbound’s Mathew Clayton. We intend for it to be warm, enthusiastic and cheerful – rather like the atmosphere of Waterstone’s staffroom in 1992, only with better drinks and (marginally) less swearing.
Backlisted is not about promoting new books, either by ourselves, Unbound or anyone else. The decision to do it sprung out of two related observations: one, that people keep asking us what they should read; and two, that almost all the existing book podcasts are driven by what is new rather than what is good. If nothing else, if you do acquire the books we recommend you’ll have a pretty interesting bookshelf to dust and share pictures of on Instagram.
Franz Kafka once wrote that a book was ‘an axe to break the frozen sea within us’ which perhaps goes a little too far (a Haynes car manual comes in useful when you’re trying to install a new alternator) but we do think, in Andy’s words, that books ‘represent the best that human beings are capable of’. We also think that the act of reading a whole book – in a world too often dominated by snap judgements and borrowed one-liners – actually makes us wiser, more tolerant human beings.
So, give it a listen and let us know what you think. It has its own Facebook page: Backlisted Podcast and you can download it from iTunes here (we’re currently no 15 in the Literature charts, so do give us a nudge).
As this year draws to a close, here in the Unbound office we’ve been talking a lot about books. (What did you expect? We’re publishers). In particular, we’ve been talking about our favourite books of 2015 and now we want to hear from you.
Help us decide which book will be (unofficially) crowned our favourite book of the year. We’ll be sharing our suggestions on Twitter.
If you want to throw your hat (book) into the ring, all you have to do is use the hashtag #bookoftheyear and we’ll create a shortlist and announce a winner on Monday 7th December. There are only two rules:
1. Be completely honest. No trying to impress anyone with an obscure title you haven’t read, or one you think makes you sound clever
2. The book has to have been published in 2015. Otherwise it can’t be ‘The Book of 2015’
Think of it as the Oscars, but with less glitz and glamour, and hopefully less crying. We’re looking forward to hearing your favourites!
On publication of Pure by Rose Bretécher
Every publisher sets out to do two things: to find stories that change the way we think and to make books that will be read for years to come. It’s rare to do both simultaneously, but Pure does just that.
In a way, it’s a miracle that the book exists at all. A writer tells a story from within his or her consciousness, giving shape to experiences or creating new ones. In Rose’s case, it was consciousness itself that was under attack, constantly undermined by intrusive sexual thoughts of shocking and humiliating intensity. And yet, somehow, over ten long years, she found her way out of the labyrinth and was able to tell her remarkable story.
And, here again, Pure is special. Millions of people suffer from OCD and other mental illnesses. Very few find ways of writing about it and almost none do so with the wit and the brilliance of Rose Bretécher. Her condition makes Pure an important book. But it’s her skill as a writer that makes it a great one: Pure is a rich and terrifying roller-coaster ride through the weird and mysterious workings of her mind. But by the end you are not only cheering her on, your sense of your own consciousness is extended and enriched. You look at yourself and other people differently, and with more compassion. As she writes, ‘happiness is staring down the insurmountable fragility of life and daring to acknowledge the certainty that everything which makes us who we are could, at any second, and without warning, be obliterated in the beat of a hummingbird’s wing.’
From Homer onwards, human beings have lived, loved and made great art inspired by that self-same thought. It’s a huge privilege to add one more to their number.
And we couldn’t have done it without you.
In many ways, Pure is the perfect Unbound book. Rose’s courage and skill combined with our enthusiasm and experience matched by your generosity all add to make something properly valuable. Something that might otherwise never have seen the light of day.
We hope that makes you feel as proud as we do.
John Mitchinson, Co-founder Unbound
Click here to read more and order a special edition of Pure