Book Review: At the Edge, edited by Lee Murray & Dan Rabarts

Available in selected bookshops nationwide.

cv_at_the_edgeAt the edge of reality, the edge of sanity, things get darker, grimmer and a little bit strange. This is a collection of such tales from a selection of New Zealand and Australian authors. Beautifully, lyrically written, these are not stories for the faint of heart. From the realistic to the surrealistic, within these pages you’ll find a mix of horror, science fiction, dystopia, post-apocalyptic; stories to keep you reading far into the night, stories to haunt your dreams.

Here are a few of the stand-out tales, in my opinion:

‘Hood of Bone,’ by Debbie Cowens, is a tale that borders the realms between reality and horror, and sent shivers down my spine. Decidedly unsettling; a women drags her dog away from a rotting fish and is confronted by a madman. But is it merely dementia, or something far more horrifying?

We also have ‘Crossing,’ by Anthony Panegyres, a ghost story with a difference. Poignant, bittersweet and something of a lesson in letting go of the past, it tells of Jane Self, separated by a cruel twist of fate from her husband and desperately seeking closure.

The lines between reality and unreality become very blurred in ‘Narco,’
by Michelle Child. A woman is unable to stay awake on a train through the night. What is real and what is a dream? What happens when awake and asleep blur into one? This is a chilling short story that will make you think twice before travelling alone.

Although still quite brutal, there is dark humour in ‘Street Furniture,’ by Joanne Anderton. Have you ever wondered why furniture gets left out on the street? Well, goblins are real, and they can grant wishes – particularly those requiring unpleasantness – if paid accordingly. Wishes, such as the removal of an unpleasant step-father. But such debts are not to be taken lightly…

‘Call of the Sea’ by Eileen Mueller is beautiful and tragic. Reality and surreality merge in this tale of loss, as a child is snatched away by the ocean. Heart-breaking, haunting and eloquently written.

The odd, but engaging, ‘Responsibility,’ by Octavia Cade is the tale of two sisters – one who brings life and one who brings death. What happens when the life-sister must look after her death-sister’s house and collection of zombie critters? With all the bleakness and tragedy, it’s nice to have something that feels a little lighter, even if there are still shadows of decay creeping around the edges.

This is a well-compiled collection of memorable tales, and well worth the read for anyone who enjoys the many facets of speculative fiction and likes their stories dark and, yes, edgy.

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

At the Edge
Edited by Lee Murray & Dan Rabarts
Published by Paper Road Press
ISBN  9780473354152

Book Review: Pisces of Fate, by Paul Mannering

cv_Pisces_of_fateAvailable in bookshops nationwide.

I laughed out loud on public transport thanks to this book. Like its predecessor in the Drakeforth trilogy, Engines of Empathy, this book is set in a later world than our own, with a few important differences. First, Arthur is (a) God, and the predominant religion that was used as a colonising force was Arthurianism. Secondly, electric devices work by power of empathy. To turn on your car, open your drawers, or operate your toaster, you have to talk nicely to it. Also, things that you don’t think are capable of rational thought, may well be.

Ascott Pudding is Charlotte Pudding’s brother. He is a fish enthusiast. A fish scholar. He is writing an encyclopaedia about fish like no other, discovering powers of perception to assign to each species that they probably weren’t aware they had. Ascott lives on an island in the Aardvark Archipelago, where he fled after the death of his parents to finish his life’s work. His friend Shoal lives in the nearby town of Montaban, and on the ocean. She brings Ascott supplies of frozen pizza, and they are friends, of a sort. Vole Drakeforth is um, well – Vole Drakeforth is Arthur. He turns up when he feels like it. Oh, and there is a talking, drawing parrot called Tacus.

The story here is one as old as time. There is a mystery, some buried pirate treasure, a magic doorway, and some real baddies trying to steal Pudding’s parrot. There is also whale-racing, over the back of the pod of whales which are migrating. Oh, and an extremely intelligent octopus, who is excellent at scrabble. “A braver man might have told himself that there are certainly worse ways to die than being drowned and eaten by an octopus with a killer vocabulary.”

Paul Mannering’s plotlines can be a bit like Robert Rankin’s – just a little too silly – but at his best moments, he writes like Douglas Adams. His characters are alive from the moment you begin reading their stories to the end, and they are all extremely lovable. Even the evil ones are sort of sympathetic.

Treat this book as a sherbert for your brain, between heavy books. Or take it on holiday on a tropical island. Perhaps you’ll find some buried treasure.

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

Pisces of Fate
by Paul Mannering
Published by Paper Road Press
ISBN 97804733353353

Book Review: Shortcuts: Track 1, speculative fiction by Paper Road Press

shortcuts-track-1_front_draftbAvailable in selected bookshops nationwide.

From indie publishers, Paper Road Press, we have the first in what will be, hopefully, a series of anthologies: Shortcuts: Track 1. This installment offers up a collection of fine speculative fiction from a selection of New Zealand authors. The tales are diverse and engaging, long enough to immerse and engage the reader, but short enough to devour in a single sitting.

We begin with ‘Landfall’ by Tim Jones, a chilling near-future tale. New Zealand has become a distant haven for refugees escaping a world altered by climate change. However, it is not, truly, a haven, for the beaches are patrolled, and outsiders − and those who aid them − are greeted with guns and hostility. Nasimul is one such refugee, fleeing his homeland of Bangladesh. Donna is a soldier, trained to hunt and kill, but there is compassion amongst the cruelty.

This is followed by the somewhat more fanciful, ‘Bree’s Dinosaur’ by AC Buchanan. Deformed banana cake, a science project, a family secret and a meteorite, all converge into an explosive conclusion.

Grant Stone’s ‘The Last’ is a more haunting, fantastical tale, with folklorish elements. The narrator, Rachel, is a reporter − one of the last true rock reporters − sent into the countryside to interview the enigmatic Katherine St. John, singer and songwriter. But there is more to the woods than meet the eye, as Rachel is soon to find out.

Lee Murray and Piper Mejia have teamed together to bring us ‘Mika’. Mika is from Aotearoa, has set out on a mighty journey in her waka (a far-evolved descendant of the traditional canoes) to New York, seeking the cure for the disease that is ravaging her family. What she finds, instead, is a conspiracy, an unlikely ally and a child with a dark past and an even darker future.

Probably my favourite in this collection is ‘Pocket Wife’ by I K Paterson-Harkness. It introduces strange future-tech: miniature replicas of a person that acts as a sort of surrogate for the person, allowing them to see, hear and feel everything that the doll feels. Our narrator may be away on business, but his wife is watching him, through the eyes of her Tiny. When the replica malfunctions, we are thrown into a darkly humorous comedy of errors.

The final tale, ‘The Ghost of Matter’ by Octavia Cade features Ernest Rutherford − but not entirely as we remember him.

Overall, Shortcuts is a fine and entertaining collection, offering a bit of everything: chilling dystopia, nifty future-tech, a harrowing journey, and much, much more. I look forward to seeing what else the authors, and Paper Road Press, have to offer.

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

Shortcuts: Track 1
Edited by Marie Hodgkinson
Published by Paper Road Press
ISBN 9780473336486

Book Review: Murder and Matchmaking, by Debbie Cowens

cv_murder_and_matchmakingAvailable in bookstores nationwide.

A delicious concoction of Austen meets Doyle. From the opening sentence: “It is a truth universally known that a pug in possession of a good appetite must be in want of a biscuit,” it is clear that you are in for a delightful read, and this proved to be the truth, indeed.

Now, call me a heathen if you will, but I have never read either Pride and Prejudice (not even the zombie version) nor Sherlock Holmes, although I have a fairly decent understanding of both. Pride begins with a young woman of no great beauty, who meets with a quarrelsome, disagreeable man – it is pretty much the basis of the “hate (or, at least, dislike) turns to love” romance trope. Cowens’ take on it is no exception to the rule. Mr Sherlock Darcy proves to be most infallibly irksome, with his lack of social etiquette and the way he looks down his nose at those of a feminine persuasion. Why, I just wished to slap that superior expression from his face – as I am sure did Miss Elizabeth Bennet. However, not only did Miss Elizabeth combat him with her sharp tongue, but also her perception and analytical mind, combining with her stubborn determination to prove him wrong.

There is very little suspense here – from almost the beginning you know who the murderer is – nor do you feel particularly for the safety of the Bennet sisters. However, you are drawn into this tale: by the desire to see the murderer brought to justice, with hope that Elizabeth will solve the case before Darcy and thus prove him wrong and because the prose is just so utterly engaging that you cannot help but be compelled along with it.

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

Murder and Matchmaking
by Debbie Cowens
Published by Paper Road Press

Island-styled success with Mākaro Press

I asked three new publishers five questions, in an effort to understand why you would decide to start anew in the current publishing environment (see feature article in The Read last Thursday.)  These are the answers from Mary McCallum from Mākaro Press. Here are the answers from Paper Road Press, and the answers from Pip Adam and Emma Barnes from Cats and Spaghetti Press.

  1. Why did you decide to create your own publishing company?
    I have been involved with books in almost every way except for publishing for years. I am a writer myself, as well as a writing mentor, creative writing tutor and reviewer, and I have worked as an organiser of literary events, a bookseller, and a trustee of a literary residency. I have always supported NZ literature and had thoughts – on and off – about I would go about publishing local fiction and poetry.At the start of 2013 I was working as co-editor on an anthology of Eastbourne writing and we were looking for publishers, at the same time my son Paul (below on the left) had completed an Honours degree in film studies and was looking for work. We employed him to do some work on the anthology and found he was great at what he did, and then it occurred to me that he and I could take the book through to publication ourselves. With local publisher Steele Roberts mentoring us, and generously offering us an office, carpark and computer, Mākaro Press was born. pp_paul_and_mary
  2. You have had some success already – what is your aim with the company? What constitutes success for you?
    We started with a vision but without a plan. We wanted to show New Zealand writing at its best, including those books that might not otherwise be made due to larger publishers contracting, and to make all efforts to get those books into the hands of readers. There is definitely a niche in this country for smaller publishers, and we’re still finding out the size and shape of that niche, but so far we’ve enjoyed exploring it.Eastbourne_pileUnlike some other small publishers starting up at the moment, Mākaro Press aims to be a self-sustaining business that eventually brings an income and makes some kind of profit. The cost structure in this industry and the shift in book-buying practices make that very difficult, but we’re looking at ways of making them work for us. Some things we’re doing are: trying to make our books fit a format to keep costs down, looking at different ways of funding books and marketing them to the communities that will support them, and collaborating with other publishers e.g. ebook publisher Rosa Mira Books. Who knows if we can manage it in the end, we’d like to hope we could.

    Success for us is holding a book in our hands that wouldn’t look as it does, might not even be a book at all, if we hadn’t taken it on, and that feeling is doubled if the reviews are good and people buy the book.

  3. How are you selecting your titles? Have you got a MS pile yet?
    Yes, we have a pile already and I feel guilty about how long it takes me to get through it because so many other things call on my time. We are being sent manuscripts at an increasing rate now that writers have us on their radar, and we go looking for writers, too. We approach poets for our HOOPLA series, and approach other writers we think are writing books we could publish.It takes so much longer than I thought it would reading and assessing manuscripts, thinking about them, and talking to the author before the editing process even begins. I keep in front of me the patience and encouragement of Geoff Walker of Penguin who published my novel The Blue in 2007 after having shown an interest in the manuscript three years earlier, the openness and flexibility of Julia Marshall of Gecko who allowed me two goes at convincing her with Dappled Annie and the Tigrish (published this year), and the respectful but firm approach that editor Jane Parkin — who edited both novels — shows authors. I am also influenced by the personal hands-on approach of Roger Steele and his crew at Steele Roberts.
    Hoopla_series
  4. How are you going with distribution? Is there anything you would like to see booksellers doing?
    I distribute via PDL, with the wonderful Paul Greenberg and Joan Roulston of Greene Phoenix marketing the books to bookshops and libraries. Paul is pragmatic, hardworking, enthusiastic, supportive and fights for our corner. I could help him more by getting our publishing information out earlier than I do i.e. three months before publication, but that’s a bit hard for us to do at the moment. Indie and certain Paper Plus booksellers have been amazingly supportive, and others are coming on board as they get to know our books, but I’d love to see the same support from Whitcoulls. Not just for us, but for New Zealand writers as a whole.It would mean a lot for our business if returns from book sales could make their way to us more quickly than they do (we can wait four months) – this feels like a complex industry issue to do with sales and returns etc rather than something booksellers can sort but they could perhaps contribute to the discussion. It would also make a huge difference to us if booksellers could see their way clear to dropping their cut for NZ books from 40% to 35 or 30%, but as a former bookseller I can understand their position.
  5. I would imagine with a small list, you are easily adaptable for new realities. How are you dealing with future technologies for distributing/publicising your books?
    Yes, we are adaptable. We print a number of our books using print-on-demand, so that means smaller print runs and less outlay all at once, and we have worked out a way of publishing poetry titles by doing them as a bunch (e.g. as a series of three) to keep printing costs down. We are also building a relationship with Rosa Mira Books who are making an e-book of one of our titles. We hope this relationship will lead to more such collaborations.

– Sarah Forster, Booksellers NZ

Getting creative with Cats and Spaghetti Press

cats_and_spaghetti_logoI asked three new publishers five questions, in an effort to understand why you would decide to start anew in the current publishing environment (see feature article in The Read from yesterday.)  These are the answers from Emma Barnes and Pip Adam, who founded Cats and Spaghetti Press. Here are the answers from Paper Road Press, and we will post Mākaro Press’ answers on Monday.

1. Why did you decide to create your own publishing company?
Pip and I spent a lot of time talking about things we’d like to see getting published. Books aren’t always the easiest format to get creative with and the vagaries of publishing in this climate mean that what gets published can sometimes end up being larger manuscripts that are easier to make into books. We really liked the idea of doing weird things or little things or things that might not otherwise see the light of day.

2. What are you hoping to achieve in your publishing ventures?
We’re not in it to make money. But who is with poetry and short fiction! Even fiction! We are just wanting to make room for the unusual. I think that sums us up best.

3. How are you selecting your titles? Have you got a MS pile yet?
I came across Magnolia’s work and thought it was a natural fit for us and Pip agreed! So that was great. We’re going looking. If you’re only accepting submissions, you are often bound by that in that maybe you don’t know what you’re missing! I want to go out and find diverse work, both from different backgrounds and work that will challenge us to produce.
Pip_Sugar_Emma
4. How are you going with distribution? Is there anything you would like to see booksellers doing?
A few weeks ago, Cats and Spaghetti launched its first publication − Sugar Magnolia Wilson’s long poem Pen Pal. It was not a conventional publication and we didn’t want to distribute it in a conventional way. We decided to give all the copies of the first edition − which was a beautiful object − away for free. We organised an event, several writers read work which reflected some of the themes of Pen Pal (Magnolia gave them a brief to think witch-craft and the occult), then we let people know through social media that this would be the only chance to get a copy of the first edition of Pen Pal. In this way, we gifted the publication back to the poetry writing/reading community. We also tied the publication to the event, so it was sort of a record of the event for people who came and heard and read. We wanted people to read Magnolia’s work and we’re not totally sure ‘sales’ equal readers as unproblematically as we assume. By distributing Pen Pal the way we did (at the launch event), people paid for it through effort and participation and love and joy and support of the writer and the event, which we hope means that their relationship with Pen Pal will be different to what it might have been if they had paid money for it.

I hope that maybe when they pick it up or read it or see it in their bookshelf they’ll remember the night and the readings and the people they talked to and that will kind of commit them or tie them to the community around them. We were lucky to find a writer who shared our kaupapa.

As you can see, this makes it tricky to think about how we might work with booksellers, but I do think booksellers are an important part of the community that I’m talking about. I’m really interested in how a bookseller might fit with a gift economy kind of project.

5. I would imagine with a small list, you are easily adaptable for new realities. How are you dealing with future technologies for distributing/publicising your books?
I feel really lucky because neither Emma, Magnolia or I had money as a base criteria for publication. This is a ridiculously privileged position to be in, but I think that this, more than anything gives us scope for experimentation in distribution and publication. We were, and I imagine will be, mainly working in a self-funded model. This has two advantages, one of them is obvious − we please ourselves − but the other advantage is that we need to be creative and I think that is also very good. For instance, with Pen Pal, we had enough money for a small run of beautiful things, so we needed to find an exciting way of getting this small run into hands that would love it like we did. Our next project is a collection of a lot of writers’ work which has been rejected from other publications, and yeah I find it quite exciting not to have to think of it as a ‘literary journal’ as such or an ‘anthology’, it feels like there is so much room for it to become.

– Booksellers NZ

Paving a Paper Road to success – Paper Road Press

marie_elizabeth_paper_roadI asked three new publishers five questions, in an effort to understand why you would decide to start anew in the current publishing environment. These are the answers from Marie Hodgkinson of Paper Road Press. (Left, with publicist Elizabeth Heritage) Over the coming two days I will post full answers from the other two publishers covered in this feature article, Mákaro Press and Cats and Spaghetti Press.

1. Why did you decide to create your own publishing company?
I’ve always been interested in working with books and words. During university I ran Semaphore Magazine, an online publication that focused on short stories and poetry, and my experiences working with authors and a mixture of online and print publishing made it clear to me that this was a field I could really enjoy. After I completed the Diploma of Publishing at Whitireia Polytechnic in Wellington, there weren’t many jobs available that offered the breadth of publishing activities I enjoy, so I started up Paper Road Press in addition to working as a project administrator at another publishing company in town.

2. You have had some success already – what is your aim with the company? What constitutes success for you?
cv_baby_teethOur first book, the charity collection Baby Teeth: Bite-sized Tales of Terror, sold out soon after it launched. It’s now available as an ebook and via print on demand. I’d say it’s done really well, for an admittedly niche book (scary stories about, but not for, children − difficult!).

We released our first novel in May − Engines of Empathy, by Paul Mannering. Obviously, a movie deal and Scrooge McDuck-style rooms of gold would be an ideal level of success, but keeping things within the realm of reality, it would be great to see the book be well received in NZ and overseas, and sell well enough that we can finance publishing the second book in Paul’s series.

3. How are you selecting your titles? Have you got a MS pile yet?
Paper Road Press currently has a completely open submissions policy − writers send in the first 5000 words of their manuscript, and if I like what I see, I ask for the full manuscript to review. I do my best to keep on top of the pile, but I admit there are a few in there at the moment that I really should get back to! I may move to a ‘reading period’ submissions policy at some stage, where I only accept submissions in certain months of the year (and can plan ahead to put time aside for reading and assessing manuscripts), but for the time being, open submissions are working for me.

4. How are you going with distribution? Is there anything you would like to see booksellers doing?
I did the distribution for Baby Teeth myself − never again! Our current distributor is Greenecv_engines_of_empathy Phoenix Marketing, with Paul Greenberg, who’s a well known figure in the book trade. The book’s only been out for a couple of months, so it’s a bit early to know how that’s going, but I’m very pleased with what I’ve seen so far.

5. I would imagine with a small list, you are easily adaptable for new realities. How are you dealing with future technologies for distributing your books?
All of our books (all two of them!) are available both in print and as ebooks. We’re also working with a Scottish audiobook producer to create audio versions for digital download. I do my best to keep up with new technologies in the publishing industry, and keep an eye out for new distribution systems − but there’s certainly a risk in jumping on every shiny new idea before it’s been market tested.

– Booksellers NZ