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Route Interview

Posted on 25 August 2005. © Copyright 2004-2024 WriteWords
A longer version of this interview is available to WriteWords Full and Community Members.
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WriteWords talks to Ian Daley, editor of Route, publisher of contemporary fiction

Tell us all about Route...whoís who, history, ethos etc

Route is a publisher of contemporary fiction based in the north of England. We started life inside an arts organisation that was predominately concerned with the use of story telling. We became fully independent two years ago. We publish novels, short stories, performance poetry and will soon begin a non-fiction programme. In addition we run a new writing programme, with a series of books drawn exclusively from open submissions.

We are made up of a loose network of writers, editors, performers, artists, translators and readers, all driven from one small office. We tend to publish what we think is right at the time.

How do you find writers?

It depends on what kind of project we are working on and whatís in front of us at the time. Essentially we are an organic beast, with writers at the very centre of what we do. At the moment we are looking at our open submissions to put us in touch with new writers. We are experimenting a little with the themes of the books to spread the net a little. It is important for us to have a good working relationship with writers, this process allows us a good excuse to make introductions

What kind of writers do you work with?

This is a pretty much impossible question, how do you categorise? The answer is probably - interesting ones. Iím aware that is not the ideal answer, but itís the honest one, and Iím sure any editor worth their salt would tell you the same. When you read book that you enjoy, one of the reasons for your enjoyment is that the writer has somehow reached out to you, articulated something in a way that pleases you, caught your interest. Often youíd be happy to get to know that person better. Weíre lucky that we do get to know these writers quite well, and get great insight into the back-story to the texts and to play a part in how those texts are presented. This is the joy at the heart of it all, and an important part of the overall motivation.

Ultimately, the only reasonable way to discover in any meaningful way what kind of writers we work with is to read the books and decide for yourself.

Who are your favourite writers and why?

Again, another tricky one. Iím very fond of a lot of writers weíve worked with, and continue to be intrigued by writers relatively new to us and I look forward to getting involved with them if and when the opportunity presents itself. Outside of the press, I read an eclectic range of books Ė commercial, literary, popular, obscure, old, new, fiction, non-fiction, British and international. Having the biggest book shop in the world on my desk is something that still excites me, that I can browse, see something I like, and a few days later a man rides up to my house on a bicycle and puts the book through my letterbox is something to celebrate. This keeps me away from the narrow front-of-store titles thrown at us in the major book chains.

I suppose the question is put so that we give an insight into the kind of work we like so that writers can identify with that taste or not. Weíre aware of this idea and try and counter it, to some extent. Weíre blessed with a staggering range of reading choices and preferences from our editors and readers. We have a pool of people who we talk to on a regular basis and seek feedback from on the texts we are working on. At a stroke we can raise honest opinions and reactions from lovers of classic texts or commercial fiction or reluctant readers or obsessive readers and appraisals in the context of linguistics or critical theory or whatever we need to help us finalise texts and select writers. So in many ways, we are a broad church of taste and we bring all that down to serve the particular publication we are working on at any one time.

What excites you about a piece of writing- what keeps you interested?

I think everyone can answer this question for themselves. I could trot out the standard pitch, but itís not really fair, nor worth it. Kurt Vonnegut wrote eight tips for writers in the introduction to his book Bagombo Snuff Box. Rule one is, ĎUse the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.í At least that isnít my pitch, but I think itís a good way of looking at it.
For a recent book - Wonderwall - we had over 200 short story submissions, we short-listed twenty and ended up with a balanced thirteen in the book. These stories leaped out at us. The writers had considered the theme and dealt with it in a measured and controlled way, each holding the element of magic we were looking for. There were several other good pieces of writing in the pile, but they had little to do with the book that we were looking to put together. I recommend to anyone wanting to get to know the secret of a good short story to sit down and read 200 in one go. If that seems a little like hard work, then read Wonderwall.

and what makes your heart sink?

Opportunism and self-indulgence are difficult ones for us. I think the creative writing infrastructure in this country is quite diverse, but a lot of it is concerned with writing as a form of therapy, a very useful tool in putting your life in a broader context in order to understand it better, and I applaud that. The difficulty arises when these workshop stories are hawked around for publication, thatís when it becomes messy, especially as we tend to attract them. Itís as though publication of someoneís inner turmoil becomes a necessary form of giving validity to the experience. Rejection of these stories can often be received as rejection of the person themselves, and this is the hardest part of the job.

There are also the opportunists who hawk their work indiscriminately, work that has no relationship to anything that we are looking for. Theyíve pulled our details out of the Writers and Artists Yearbook, they know nothing of what we do, never read our books and get aggressive with us for not considering their work. I understand writers have a strong urge to be published, but itís good advice to understand the needs of publishers, to be ignorant of this is to reveal a broader ignorance on how life works in general, which doesnít reflect well on what is likely to be in the writing itself.

A longer version of this interview is available to WriteWords Full and Community Members.
Click here to learn more about becoming a member.

Comments by other Members

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