|Sue in Usk|
Before she died, Sue self-published a book set in the near future in the Welsh border country where she lived. She'd been writing it for several years but kept quiet about the story, most of our discussions being about how she might find a publisher. When she was diagnosed with cancer, she decided she couldn't wait any longer for publishers to say 'yes' and took the book to a local printer. After her death, her daughter kindly sent me a copy.
Reading this book has been an emotional experience. My friend comes alive again through the words, perhaps more so than if she'd gone the traditional publishing route and worked with an editor to shape the story. The book can probably be described as Welsh dystopia, set in a fictional town called Wyton not all that far removed from Ross-on-Wye, where I used to live. Floods have cut off the community, and the batteries of the title are precious currency to power up the otherwise useless technology that survived the floods. The novel follows a girl called Hope as she makes her way through the lawless feudal border country in search of a home she can call her own. With an underlying Pandora's box theme, there are poems and songs written by Sue mixed in with the prose, and the opening verse seems particularly appropriate for this time of year:
Long ages past trees took the land, men ran from them afraid.
What creatures prowled the shadowland, what terrors stalked the shade?
So in the days before the books when the first songs were made
they hunted in the open plains and shunned the forest glade.
And when they learned to farm the land they set the woods to burn
and felled the trees to make their walls and warships in their turn.
But now the trees are marching back the land is quiet again,
and we must take another way after the scouring rain
and we must find another way to live our lives again.
I have to admit I cried when I read that last line, because of course my friend does not have the luxury of finding another way. It has made me question some of the the things I've been putting off for the future, and in particular made me wonder about all those stories I too have stashed away that, for one reason or another, were deemed not commercial enough for publication. My friend's Welsh dystopia fell into that category, so if she had not published it herself the book would no doubt have been lost forever on some computer disk cleared out with the rubbish, and I'd never have been able to read it and remember my friend with such bitter-sweetness. Sue had many friends from different walks of life, so I'm sure I'm not the only one to be glad she produced this book before she died.
|Taking a break on the Three Castles walk.|
I suspect that in (traditional) publishing's quest for instant bestsellers, we have lost some of the original reasons for writing and publishing our stories. In Sue's case, it was obviously appropriate to self-publish. But for those of us who still have the time to choose whether or how our words should reach readers, here's a thought you might like to take away for the new year: How many potential readers does a book need before it is worth publishing?
If you want to read some of Sue's work, her short story QUEST is in the Mammoth Book of Seriously Comic Fantasy edited by Mike Ashley.
*Katherine Roberts writes fantasy and legend for young readers. Her latest book is Prince of Wolves - the first in a series of novellas for YA readers about Genghis Khan, being published independently because we can never know how long we have left in this world.
Find out more at www.katherineroberts.co.uk