When you hear the phrase ‘Best of British’ what does it make you think?
Foamy pints of English ale on a summer’s afternoon while watching cricket on the village green? Drinking Pimms and eating over-priced strawberries in a South-West suburb of ‘that London’ on a patch of mud that used to be call a ‘hill’ but is now, apparently, a ‘mound’? Clipped vowels and words like ‘spiffing’?
Well, we don’t really think that’s covering all the bases here at Byker Books so last year we came up with the idea of an invitation-only, ongoing series of novellas set in the grimy underbelly of our fine country that are designed to connect with people who actually live in the real world.
The real world in our case being the one where Britishness is burning bits of meat in the drizzly garden while drinking cold tins of lager. The one where you laugh maniacally at the rain as you spend a bank holiday Monday on the local beach with the kids trying to forget about your crap job and wishing you could afford a proper holiday.
Or even the one where you live on a dodgy estate populated by spivs, chavs, dealers and immigrants that put ‘Chocolate Box’ villages and their petty politics to shame with constant examples of community spirit and laugh-out-loud humour.
So far our novellas have been about bored teenagers thinking about killing people for kicks (Things To Do Before You Die), a hitman with a penchant for fine literature, poetry and classical music (One Day In The Life of Jason Dean), a young lad fresh out of prison and determined to turn his life around – only to find that his mates won’t let him (Bang, Bang You’re Dead), a man with everything to live for whose life flips 180 degrees in a heartbeat (18 Days) and two very different comic crime tomes about a Cockney caper gone wrong (Guns of Brixton) and a Geordie bouncer who thinks he’s James Bond (The Spy Who Bluffed Me).
With the success of the ‘Radgepacket’ experiment we wanted to expand on the idea of getting ‘normal’ peoples’ work ‘out there’ and see if we could give them a chance to show people what they could do in a longer format. The authors involved jumped at the chance to parade their wares (in a manner of speaking) and some of them had this to say:
“It felt like it was a deliberate stretching of the writing muscles. Set in Hull, it tells the story of Sam, a young man released from prison. He returns to the area he was brought up in to find there’s nothing there for him and before long he’s knee deep in trouble with his mate, Jonno. Some of the early feedback has been more than generous, comparing the writing to the likes of Ray Banks and Allan Guthrie. I’ll definitely take that.”
– Nick Quantrill on ‘Bang, Bang, You’re Dead!’
“I have never viewed myself as a writer in the conventional sense, I don’t plan anything, or ‘brainstorm ideas’, or write storyboards. I don’t do any research, or travel to some phantasmagorical place in my imagination to dream about wild fantasies, I just write about what I know and what I’ve seen. And I’m told it’s not very nice.”
– Allen Miles on ‘18 Days’
“When Byker Books asked if I was interested in writing a novella for the Best of British series it seemed like too good an opportunity to miss: there are some great books in the series from some cracking writers.
While I was pondering what to write, an old gangster character of mine ‘Mac’ popped into my head. He was getting on in years and I wondered who the new players might be, what might happen if Mac was out of the game…and so Cutter was born.
While Mac is a proper old-school gangster with an underlying (if extreme) sense of morality, Cutter is relatively new on the scene, a sociopath with big ambitions who cares about no one but himself. Mac has standards but Cutter doesn’t even have limits. When his world collides with that of a decent, hard-working – but financially struggling – working-class family, it’s only a matter of time before somebody gets hurt.”
– Julie Morrigan on ‘Cutter’s Deal’
Using the Kindle medium has allowed us to keep prices down and maximise the chance of exposure for the authors (and also the artists we asked to do the various covers). It won’t be invitation only for much longer either as, once we’re in a position to do so, we’ll be throwing the submissions door wide open (metaphorically speaking like) to see what gems we can find.
If you get the chance then take a look: we’ve made one of them – Cutter’s Deal – FREE on your kindle from January 20 to 24 so please download it for nowt with our compliments and let us (and Amazon) know what you think.
By Andy Rivers, editor of Byker Books
For more information about Byker Books, click here www.bykerbooks.co.uk