Thursday, 23 June 2011

Headline's Very First Blog Post!

Welcome! We’re very excited that we now have somewhere to air our news and views on all things publishing and beyond. Think of it as a work in progress for now: it will, before we know it, be a slick and well-oiled machine. Until then, be kind…

Anyway, it seems a timely moment to being launching a blog, for tonight is the very night of our 25th birthday party. Yes, Headline is officially a whole 25 years old. As well as the giddy excitement that always consumes Headline towers whenever a big old knees-up draws near, we’re also indulging in a little misty-eyed reflection as we look back over the last quarter decade. And, my goodness, could we tell a few stories. Over the years we’ve known some legendary agents, some incredible booksellers, and of course some amazing authors – from James Patterson to Hillary Clinton to Andrea Levy to Gazza, and everything in between. We’ve waved a heartfelt goodbye to those great bastions of the past: the net book agreement, all-day boozy lunches, our old friend the fax machine. We’ve issued a cheery hello to the innovations that are shaping the future: the ebook, print-on-demand and of course AMAZON. And we’ve flirted with some seriously dubious fashions along the way: the power suits of the '80s, the Rachel cuts of the '90s, the harem pants of, well, now. How far we have come since we started life as a mere twinkle in Tim Hely Hutchinson’s eye.

Seeing as we’re in a nostalgic mood, we thought we’d ask a few long-serving members of the team to tell us about the Headline book that’s most stood out for them over the years. We also coerced them into declaring the length of their service. Here’s what they said.

'For me it’s SMALL ISLAND.  Not only because it’s so good (and THE LONG SONG is even better) but because Andrea Levy was so courageous to write it.  Also I was at the Whitbread (now Costa) book awards when she won, and heard her give an unforgettably brave and moving speech about Enoch Powell’s ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech and all those who have ensured that it never became a reality.  She’s one of those people herself, though she’d never acknowledge that, and one of the most interesting and admirable writers I’ve ever met.  Oh, and her own reading of the novel on audio is a knockout.

Headline has published so many fantastic novels but SMALL ISLAND will always have my heart.'
Charlotte Mendelson, Editorial (12 years)

'I've picked Alex Higgins, EYE OF THE HURRICANE. I don't know if the book that I've picked is particularly 'special' to me in terms of its content, although I heartily recommend it to anyone who wants an insight into the extremes of sporting fame, but I couldn't really think of anything else that has been quite so significant to me personally. At the very least it has given me an unending supply of party chat, plus I feel like I've added answers to some crucial points to the publicist's manual: 'how to deal with a stolen bag that randomly appears in your car', 'where to get a whole new outfit in Dublin when your own bag has been lost by Ryan Air', 'what to say when an author lights up and the driver describes the car as 'smelling like his son's bedroom', 'how to assertively decline your author's offer to pretend to be his girlfriend.

Without wanting to sound too much like a self-help book,  there is nothing quite like a good challenge, I think it reminded me of a tougher side to my character that sometimes isn't always apparent, my determination to stick with things once I've started and that I can really get people to do what I want when I need them to. It also reminded me what an amazingly supportive group of people the Headline team can be: whilst on tour I had so many nice emails from people keeping me chipper and everyone was there for me when I needed them ( particular thanks go to Publicity Director Georgina Moore on a transatlantic line from New York and Publisher Bob McDevitt on the streets of Edinburgh whilst we search for an awol author…) '
Helena Towers (10 years)

'I'd read a few of Martina Cole's novels before I picked up her first book DANGEROUS LADY, the novel which I knew had been sitting under her bed for a long time before she'd had the courage to approach the legendary agent Darley Anderson, and which catapulted her to instant literary fame once Headline published it in 1992. I remember reading one scene from the novel on the train to work and literally feeling my skin go clammy and stomach churn - it had such a visceral effect on me and it was one of the most powerful pieces of writing I've ever read. I've never forgotten it.'
Sherise Hobbs (10 years)

'Commissioning and publishing fiction can be an emotional roller coaster for an editor. Publishing Harry Thompson’s first novel THIS THING OF DARKNESS brought with it more than its fair share of triumph and tragedy. 

I commissioned the novel on the basis of just two chapters, something quite risky nowadays.  Those two chapters gave a hint of the narrative richness and historical breadth to come.  However, it was not just my desk that groaned when 250,000 words arrived two years later.  But as soon as I started reading this epic account of Charles Darwin and Robert Fitzroy, I was smitten. 

It was an extraordinary story of two great friends, an explorer and a naturalist in the nineteenth century, thrilled by their journey of discovery, of big ships and big seas, of Darwin constructing a whole new theory of mankind’s origins that shook to the core the fundamental assumptions of the Western world. Fitzroy could not countenance an attack on his beloved church, his principles of human decency, and subsequently their friendship foundered.  It was a novel of meticulous historical detail as well as heart-pounding suspense and intellectual daring. It captured a pivotal moment in our cultural history: the certainty of a benevolent god died with Darwin’s Origin of Species and only the survival of the fittest remained.

The novel was infused with the energy and love of life that so characterised the author Harry Thompson.  He was charming and mischievous, a natural storyteller and hugely ambitious for his fiction, but always with a twinkle in his eye.

And that twinkle never lost its sparkle even when, approaching publication of THIS THING OF DARKNESS, he complained of being unwell.  My constant reassurances seemed to keep him buoyant, but just before publication he was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer.  He was 45, had never smoked in his life and always ate organic food.  Ironically, a keen sportsman, his fitness masked the growing cancer.

THIS THING OF DARKNESS was published on 6 June 2005. It received glowing reviews and was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize.  It was a commercial and critical success.  On 7 November 2005, Harry Thompson passed away, marrying his partner on his deathbed.

If you discard Darwinism, perhaps he’s in a better place, away from the slings and arrows.  But there were many more narrative journeys that Harry was ready to embark upon and we can now only mourn the passing of a colossal talent.  He left the legacy of a great novel and for that we can always be grateful.'
Martin Fletcher, Editorial (10 years)

'The book that has stayed with me the longest from Headline’s list is AFTER YOU’D GONE by Maggie O’Farrell. I read it at a time when I had got through a bumpy patch in a relationship, and was happily out the other side. The poignant story of Alice and her relationships with those around her really struck a chord with me. The ending is not clear-cut, and can be interpreted differently according to your point of view, and I choose to believe it’s a ‘glass half full’ kind of thing. This book made me very grateful to be in a loving, healthy relationship. It’s the first book that made me cry on public transport too!'
Claire Bentley, Creative (9 years)

'Over the last twenty-five years (or, more accurately in my case, twenty-one years) there have been so many books and so many memories... 

I remember the first Headline book I ever read: THE DIETER by Susan Sussman – I bought it from the Pan Bookshop just before my interview and fell in love with everything about it (I particularly liked the cover: a beautifully manicured hand clutching a sugary doughnut – my kind of diet!).

After my interview I went away with a copy of WATCHERS by Dean Koontz – a terrifying horror novel featuring a gorgeous, genetically modified dog – and BUTTERFLY by Kathryn Harvey – a hot and steamy blockbuster about an exclusive club for sexually frustrated women.  I’d just graduated at the time and had been reading the likes of Muriel Spark and Martin Amis and I began to wonder what I’d let myself in for!' 
Clare Foss, Editorial (21 years. She definitely wins.)

Posted by Leah Woodburn, Editorial

Monday, 13 June 2011

Welcome to the Headline blog

We are currently working on our new blog and will be launching soon. Watch this space!