A Cunning Blog

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Ten of the Best


It is a truth universally acknowledged that lists and ‘best of’ posts are de rigeur at this time of year. I was going to do a ‘best of 2016’ blogpost but, frankly, I’ve seen so many round the traps – including some really good ones like this and this — that I’ll spare you my own ravings. Instead, I’d like to throw another list of ten at you.

booksHere are ten books which have grabbed my attention or piqued my interest from the publishing house Unbound. (Full disclosure: they’re hopefully publishing my Dartington book sometime in 2018.) Unbound is three guys’ response to the strange and wonderful publishing environment we find ourselves in in this new century, an environment which is being fought over by two opposing forces: the big companies, blockbusters and bargains brigade, and the seething underclass of independents, self-publishers and little guys. Unbound attempts to combine the best elements of each.

It is a full-service publishing house with editors and designers (so none of the wince-inducing grammatical clangers or woeful purple prose which clutters up the independent scene). However, it works with its authors, using a nifty crowd-funding front-end to its online presence, to pre-sell books to cover the production costs, thereby freeing it from the onus of only selecting sure-fire winners.

Put simply, it has developed a different structure for sharing risk. It puts some of the onus back on the author, but it also allows Unbound to embrace a much broader, much edgier stable of authors. Brilliant but niche non-fiction books. First novels. Quirky memoirs. Books which don’t sit squarely in a genre.

A scroll through Unbound’s current list of projects is a dangerous thing at this time of year. I cannot afford to buy any more books, but that doesn’t stop me from longing. So here’s my list of ten Unbound books which catch my eye.

  1. Letters of Note is one of the first books published by Unbound, and a best-seller. It’s a collection of memorable letters compiled by Shaun Usher. It includes facsimiles of letters from people like Mark Twain, Eleanor Roosevelt and John Cleese – intimate little glimpses into fascinating lives.
  2. I met Lia Leendertz on Twitter, way back in the good old days. I love gardening, and love reading her columns, full of wise and poetic observations on the passage of the seasons. The New Almanac is a modern version of the traditional rural almanac, complete with moon tables, planting guides and beautiful illustrations. I live in Australia so it’s not going to help my garden grow, but I’ve pledged to it because I love the idea. Maybe she can do an Australian version one day!
  3. Lev Parikian’s sort-of memoir, Why Do Birds Suddenly Disappear, is a great example of the sort of book Unbound does really well. It defies description, but the way in which Lev fails to describe it is so compelling that you just want to read it anyway.
  4. Brilliant comic writer, performer and former Python Terry Jones was one of Unbound’s first authors, and a torch bearer for the company in its early days. This is the finale of his medieval adventure trilogy.
  5. When I pitched Sanctuary to Unbound I wasn’t expecting them to know about Dartington Hall, but by a nice coincidence it turned out that they had just commissioned a biography of Dorothy Elmhirst, Dartington’s owner and benefactor by Jane Brown.
  6. Jessica Duchen is a music writer, critic and librettist who already has four novels published. Ghost Variations is a musical detective story with a twist – it actually happened! I’m reading it right now, and immersed in the adventures of violinist Jelly d’Aranyi fighting for the legacy of Robert Schumann in the strange times of 1930s Europe.
  7. Moose Allain is a cartoonist, artist, writer and thinker. I wonder what I’m thinking about is a collection of pictures, stories, doodles and musings which emerge when he wonders. I love it because it makes me laugh.
  8. I’ve pledged to this on the strength of a very impressive rap from one of the Unbound founders, who called it “a near perfect manuscript”. I’ve since met (digitally) the author, Sarah Marr, and if the novel is anywhere as entertaining and insightful as her online postings it’ll be ace.
  9. Not only does Solitaire Townsend have a splendid name, she also has something to say. Something important. Her book The Happy Hero grapples with one of biggest challenges, Climate Change, but she manages to do it in an irresistibly positive and persuasive way. The Happy Hero reached 100% funding in just three days. Which makes me think she’s onto something.
  10. There is no number ten. You’d better go and choose your own. Have fun.

Merry Christmas.

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