It’s been an intensely busy summer for me as a publisher, but one in which there have been some very memorable times and some notable successes. It’s not left much time for writing, so I am hugely behind schedule with my current projects, but hoping to steal some time away to write soon.
It was very gratifying to see Joe Abercrombie’s wonderful novel HALF A KING hit the Sunday Times bestseller list and stay there for a month, all the while garnering great reviews, my favourite of which was one from the Sun: ‘Another great tale from a master. His medieval, post-apocalyptic land is full of such brilliant banter it would find a laugh at a funeral. It is macabre, menacing and Machiavelli himself would have enjoyed the way half-handed “hero” Yarvi triumphs.’ We launched the book at David Headley’s wonderful first editions shop in Cecil Court, Goldsboro Books, and while it may look as if I’m addressing an audience of three, there was a good crowd gathered.
A few weeks later George RR Martin arrived to headline the Edinburgh Book Festival to sell-out audiences and despite arriving from the US just a day before managed to stay up till 3am and still beat me down to breakfast. I do find it grimly amusing that fans agonise over his health and worry he won’t finish A Song of Ice & Fire: he has immense stamina.
I flew down from Edinburgh in time to attend Robin Hobb’s signing at the Forbidden Planet (300 books signed) and her publication dinner. It’s extraordinary to note that this is our 27th year working together, ever since I published her as Megan Lindholm with THE REINDEER PEOPLE. The new book is a return to her most beloved characters, Fitz and the Fool, as has been evident in the outpourings of love from hordes of fans at her tour events and the wonderful sales of FOOL’S ASSASSIN, so beautifully packaged with artwork from the brilliant Jackie Morris.
It is so pleasing to see it sailing away on the hardback bestseller list and receiving such plaudits from the critics. Jane Shilling in the Sunday Telegraph: ‘Groping for comparisons, you ﬁnd yourself in the company of the great compendious literary novelists. As the best writers do, Hobb shows us ourselves in her characters. Their longings and failings are our own, and we ﬁnd our view of the world indelibly changed by their experiences. That is the ambition of high art. The novelists in any genre are rare who achieve it with Hobb’s combination of accessibility and moral authority.’
The next day at Waterstones on Kensington High Street we saw another sell-out crowd arrive for the Grim Gathering, a unique event celebrating Joe Abercrombie, Peter V Brett, a rare outing for Mark Lawrence (whose marvellous PRINCE OF FOOLS I published in June) and Myke Cole.
The next day (what a ridiculous week!) we celebrated 19 years of the Voyager list, with a wonderful party at the top of the Gherkin, a spectacular setting, and I was surprised when the speeches turned into a celebration of my 30th year in publishing, and suddenly there was Jackie Morris, come to see me given her beautiful painting of Robin Hobb’s wolf, Nighteyes, as my gift from HarperCollins. More of which later…
Ten thousand fans converged upon the ExCel Centre in London’s Royal Docks for this year’s WorldCon, for which Robin Hobb was the author Guest of Honour (and worked very hard for that privilege). Five immensely busy days for the Voyager team and our authors – including Joe Abercrombie, Peter V Brett, Robin Hobb, Emmi Itaranta, George RR Martin and Peter Newman. I interviewed Robin Hobb on stage.
And immediately after that was over came the biggest event of the year: those fantasy titans onstage at the Freemasons’ Hall, with me interviewing George RR Martin and Robin Hobb in front of a live audience of 1300. But first, time to take the chance to pose on a throne, because you don’t often get the chance, do you?
Preparing for the event was especially nerve-wracking since George had told me earlier in the week how bored he was getting with the same old questions in interviews (since fame hit him, he is fielding interviews about GAME OF THRONES day in, day out) so I had to try extra hard to come at things from a different angle. In the end, since I am the UK publisher for both authors, and also write, I decided to go for a fairly intimate interview that went to the heart of their inspiration and practice, for the art and mysteries of writing, and in the end I think it turned into a very illuminating discussion.
The event was sponsored by Blinkbox (Tesco) and they also enabled a global audience to watch the event across the internet by livestream. There’s a link to the whole event here:
It was deemed a triumph (not my word), and for me an immense relief: all had gone as well as could ever have been imagined. There now remained a final special day: a trip to walk with wolves at the UK Wolf Conservancy Trust with Jackie Morris and Robin Hobb (and the painting of Nighteyes in the boot of my car). Megan (Robin Hobb) and I seen below with Jackie’s magic dragon-van (which also contained a Tibetan singing bowl and a gigantic tiger).
Jackie has been illustrating the Hobb book covers ever since a weird bit of serendipity. I had been sent by a friend a Christmas card during my first December in Tafraout (2005) with Jackie’s artwork on it and at once had said to Abdel: this artist would be perfect to do the new Hobb covers. After a lot of detective work I tracked Jackie Morris down.
But when I asked her if she illustrated book covers she was adamant. “No,” she said. “Never.” There was a short pause. “Unless it was for Robin Hobb!” “It is.” Thousands of miles apart, we both stared into our telephone receivers disbelievingly: what an absurd coincidence. And the rest, as they say, is history. Her artwork (and life) is magical: check it out here http://www.jackiemorris.co.uk/blog/
Now her beautiful gilded Nighteyes adorns my kitchen wall: what better view to inspire dreams while you’re washing up?