Indie Fiction Subscription #4: Introduction DEAD INK
Based in Liverpool since 2016, Dead Ink are underground superstars. If you haven't read a Dead Ink title yet, then authors such as Naomi Booth and Gary Budden, author of our December subscription title London Incognita, are a surefire guarantee that you will – and then you'll be recommending them to everyone you know. As Dead Ink say:
"We see it as Dead Ink’s job to bring the most challenging and experimental new writing out from the underground and present it to our audience in the most beautiful way possible."
We were lucky to catch up with Dead Ink's publisher Nathan Connolly as 2020 winds down and he celebrates the publication of London Incognita. You can see Gary Budden in conversation about the book on our YouTube channel.
You can get in on December's subscription title by ordering your subscription here before December 17. Over to Nathan to tell you why you don't want to miss this top title from a top press.
1. London Incognita… Exit Management… Is it fair to say that 2020’s been quite a dark year for Dead Ink, book-wise? Dark and clever and eerie and compelling. What is it that draws the press to a title/author and an author to the press?
Nathan Connolly: We had a showcase event last year and after all our authors read from a preview of their work another publisher commented how the one unifying factor of all of them is that they are somehow about things coming apart. I’m not quite sure what that says about me as the commissioning editor!
I think there’s something about Dead Ink that draws out authors who like to cross a boundary or two though. I think that holds true for something obvious like the climax to Naomi Booth’s Sealed as it does for Karen Havelin’s Please Read This Leaflet Carefully. Neither book has much in common except for the degree to which they are willing to stick to their convictions and push past the point of comfort. I think that holds true for all of our titles in some way and it might be anything from their adherence to form to the place that their narratives are willing to go.
2. London Incognita is Gary Budden’s second novel with Dead Ink after Hollow Shores (and Exit Management is Naomi Booth’s second novel with you too). How do you work with authors to get to that “difficult” second album? What’s it like watching them grow?
NC: Although a cliché, I think there really is a lot of pressure on authors when it comes to following up on their debut. My approach has always been to just be there to be supportive when I can and step away when I can’t. The book belongs to the author and writing it is a journey that they have to complete on their own, but as editor you can make sure you’re there ready for them at key points with the help that they need. I think what helps is an understanding between publisher and author that you’re both trying to achieve the same thing – a good book.
There’s always something exciting about a debut author, but working with Gary and Naomi on their second books has been incredibly rewarding. I think building those long-term relationships across multiple books takes a lot of trust from both parties, but the reward is incomparable. I think they both stay with Dead Ink because of that trust that we have developed, and they appreciate that we understand them and their work.
I hope that we have a lot of fun together too and even though we haven’t been able to meet up in person this year we’ve kept talking regularly. Both Gary and Naomi take as much interest in my own life and the progress of Dead Ink as I do in publishing their books. There’s a solid relationship between all of us that backs up the work we’re doing. I hope that sort of thing comes through in the finished product.
3. We’re thrilled to have London Incognita as part of our Burley Fisher subscription: we’ve found subscriptions to be a vital way of connecting with readers and celebrating indie publishing, especially in (deep breath) 2020. Dead Ink are masters of making those connections with audiences – how important has the Dead Ink Patreon scheme been for you?
NC: Being a small press is actually quite scary a lot of the time. You’re swimming in waters with much bigger fish in what is already a very difficult market. Those subscribers help us feel a bit less lonely really. They give us confidence and they allow us to take more risks. In fact, I think the subscribers are all there because they want us to take risks. They’d much prefer that we don’t make safe creative choices and instead we’re free step on toes.
As a subscriber you’re investing in us with your confidence and that confidence gets passed along so we don’t have to make conservative decisions when it comes to creativity and ambition. We know that you believe in us.
4. How’s your beef with Influx?
NC: Sadly, the famous beef with Influx was squashed earlier this year when we launched our collaborative imprint, New Ruins. The saddest thing about this is that I don’t know what to do with my time now that I can’t just insult them on Twitter. In the past, if I was having a bad day I could always just take it out on them, now what do I do – insult And Other Stories? It just doesn’t feel the same.
We’ll look back on the days of the beef very fondly in years to come.
5. Dead Ink are the second member of the Northern Book Alliance to take a starring role in our subscription list. What’s happening with the NBA? What are the plans to sustain the publishing and book community for the next couple of years, especially after the terrible Tier 3 hit in the second half of this year?
NC: At the end of 2019 we had some really big plans.
After 2020 I’ve no idea.
But maybe that’s good. Maybe we can come back to it fresh. There will be big plans for change in the future, I’m sure, but for now maybe we have a chance to really radically rethink how this industry could be.
What’s really astonishing is that after we at NBA published our Eight Steps for Change at the London Book Fair in 2018 people were dismissing it as fanciful. We’ve achieved so much on that list already!
This is the North, we will have new ideas and we will achieve them.
6. As you say, 2020 has been completely fucking unpredictable. What are your (un)predictions for 2021-22, based on what you’re planning/hoping to publish?
NC: More killer books to start with.
And we’re also going to be shaking things up at Dead Ink quite drastically. We’re investing in a bit of a new direction that we should be able to begin working on once we’re all allowed to meet in person again.
One thing that we learned in lockdown is how well digital events work [catch up on Burley Fisher's online event with Gary Budden hint – ed.!]. We’re now committed to keeping them going past this year’s horror show and making them an integral part of our operations. Accessible digital content is something that we’ve neglected in the past and I know that we’re not going to get it all right straight away, but there is so much more we could be doing. 2020 showed us that.