by GF Newman)
Tell us about your previous work and why you choose to self-publish your next book
I created the original Law&Order in 1978 and it stirred up huge controversy and caused questions to be asked in Parliament about the state of criminal justice. I'd written several novels about police corruption, featuring a bent detective, Terry Sneed, and in 1982 I wrote a stage play for the Royal Court called Operation: Bad Apple. This also caused a furore and briefly stopped a trial at the Old Bailey where two corrupt policemen were in the dock.
I chose to publish Dark Heart as an ebook for several reasons: I believe electronic publishing is a huge part of the future and I had what is nowadays called 'creative differences' with the publisher, who commissioned and paid for it, over content and electronic publishing. Having built an ecological house and having driven a hybrid car for years, I'm concerned about swathes of trees being brought down for paper (electronic has environmental problems too, but less dramatic). Physical books are getting too expensive for mass readership and with an ebook I could deliver at a lower cost and still make a living from it. I like to believe that ebooks level the playing field, where everyone with imagination and effort gets a shot at reviews and publicity.
Tell us about Dark Heart
Dark Heart, hopefully, is a dynamic page-turning thriller, which, as Tony Garnett said, '... is about something' with a central character, Jake Mann, a Jesuit priest who is a sexual obsessive (women are his weakness). Jake is also an exorcist who gets drawn into some dark encounters with 'demons' as he is chased by his own personal demons. But it deals with some of the issues that concern me and I believe will resonate with a lot of other people. We seem to become more and more obsessed with sex at all levels of society, mostly outside a loving relationship. The book deals with the voracious consumption of oil and the despoliation of the Niger Delta and corruption from Big Oil; it explores sexual exploitation of minors in the Catholic Church, which Jake confronts when he is forced to return to England. Then there is exorcism and possession, which touches many people in surprising ways, not just head-spinning devils as in The Exorcist.
Can you talk us through how you're publishing and promoting Dark Heart? How you are pricing it? Do you have an editor and someone to help market the book?
I'm publishing Dark Heart through my company One-Eyed Dog Books, who will happily publish other authors using the same criteria as physical publishers, ie story, characters, quality of writing. We're publishing on every electronic site around the world; we're approaching all the usual review channels, but there is resistance from conventional reviewers to ebooks. We're promoting it through YouTube; Facebook; Twitter, through crime bloggers; with the help of a publicist (Ruth Killick); using reader quotes; with the help of George Clooney on the cover, my image of Jake Mann and everyone else's when he plays Jake in the movie. We put the book on at a reasonable and accessible price of £2.99. I had a strong editor working on the book. (Editors tend to have a problem working with an author with a reputation because they are nervous about giving their notes. The books of some of the biggest-selling authors are often poorly edited – not for want of trying. I've always taken the view that if someone has something better to say about my work, go with it). I had two proofreaders – and still one finds typos! But then I find them all the while in my physical books. Maddening. They must grow themselves overnight!
Can you give us a short example of it?
Feeling depressed and guilty in equal measure at this open declaration of war, Jake knew it wasn't the impending war that made him feel this way – the outcome was easy to predict - but what would happen to the people caught up in it. Nigeria was a country of young people, most of them under twenty-five, a huge number of whom in the Delta were ready to follow Simone to her death. As many, if not more than the Islamists in the north were as ready to die for their misguided cause. There was nothing he could do about that, but here he knew what he must do to help Simone: bait the trap.
"What are you thinking?" Sean asked as they rode downstream, away from the havoc that was about to erupt.
"It's depressing that I've made so little impression in the years out here."
"Isn't that vanity?" she said, startling him. "What can one man do?"
"Change the world – it's what I always believed. Jesus did."
"Some say his pretty impressive father gave him a hand."
Jake turned in the canoe to look at her. "Are you teasing me?"
"Isn't feeling guilty about what the West's done out here some sort of vanity, too? Are we to feel guilty over what the Chinese are doing?"
"We should. China's the new West."
"We don't stop buying their cheap goods."
"Doesn't make me feel any less depressed and guilty."
"You tried, Jake. At some risk. Now can we get to that plane?"
He looked at her for a long moment. "You can. We'll try to get you a Google-map and some reliable transport."
"What are you going to do?"
Again he waited. She read his thoughts.
"You know he'll be waiting – that murderous fucking police captain won't let you go without something to say."
How he would bring himself to do what he knew he must do, he still wasn't sure. All he knew was he must at least try. He might find living with himself easier for having tried and failed than just walking away.
How do you think your existing fans will react to you taking the self-publishing route? Do you think you'll reach new audiences by self-publishing?
I don't believe regular followers of my work, whether on the page or the screen, will have any problem with this. They had no problem with the self-produced Judge John Deed. The concern is always about story, characterisation, quality of writing. In Dark Heart, I hope the quality of the writing is better than it's ever been and the story is engaging, yet addresses some serious concerns, which readers expect from me. Throughout my writing career one of my main themes has been injustice to ordinary people, often at the hands of powerful vested interests or branches of government acceding to the demands of these interests. My latest novel deals with this theme too. Provided the reader is ready to read on a Kindle or a similar device, and many are, there won't be a problem. A law lord who follows my work told me the other evening that he now reads for the most part on Kindle. Problems only arise when there is a need to refer to back pages for maps, diagrams, footnotes etc. I know we're reaching new readers. There are of course some who are loth to give up paper. We may relent and do a print-on-demand version for those people.
Do you have any thoughts about the future of publishing and reading?
There are huge changes coming to the world of publishing – a revolution that will make the ground almost unrecognisable. The end of physical books is not yet in sight, but the inroads ebooks are making into the market will penetrate deeper and deeper. More and more established writers will turn to ebooks, whether self-published or through their agents. Book agents will all but disappear, turning themselves into electronic publishers and working as editors in order to survive, with their clients getting 50 or 60% share of the 'cover' price instead of 10%. The middle strata of published writers are currently earning less and less, despite the cover price going up, because of the heavy discounting going on by the big booksellers and supermarkets. The sad part of these changes is that we are losing so many local bookshops, which were often friendly, personal community centres. Further, there has been increasing pressure on review space for some time now in the pages of physical newspapers, with fewer books getting reviewed. This is curious as they have such a vested interest in the printed word. (Maybe newspaper owners see the writing on the wall!)
But the good news is that new ways of marketing are opening up all the while. For some writers the opportunity to get their work out will be no more than that of the storyteller around the camp fire of the social network pages. Real storytellers don't need to reach 9,000,000, as Judge John Deed did, but it is very gratifying when you do.
Have you read any self-published titles recently, you'd recommend?
I'm currently dipping into John Bloom's biographical work, Full Bloom. The old Rolls-Razor entrepreneur from the 50s, when he revolutionised the marketing of washing machines with direct selling from the factory, did more for women's liberation by getting rid of those old copper boilers than a lot of feminists. In his 80s, he's still as loud and colourful. He featured as a character in my recent radio series, GF Newman's The Corrupted.