Thee Avid Reader Interviews Sean-Paul Thomas

Image courtesy of Goodreads.com

While similarly named as my weekly comic column, Thee Avid Reader is, obviously, much more sporadic in posts. This is largely because I read a lot of books and I have increasingly less time to write about anything, so the idea of writing a piece about everything I read is simply impossible. Every now and again however something finds its way to me that I feel I need to add my voice behind – whether it’s the new book by a favorite author or something on the independent side that I feel I could maybe help turn people onto, the goal of this column is basically to tout what I like and help the readers find great stuff, experience something they might have otherwise not, or in the case of today’s installment, give a glimpse into the inner-workings of the independent author. This has been on mind recently as I read more and more about the new age of benefits stacking up behind digital self-publication; the stigma behind the self-published author is waning as the technology has made it a much-easier route for many authors to take compared to schlepping through the insanely-overstuffed traditional publishing methods. If you have, as I myself know from first-hand account, written something you are proud of and think other people will dig, why should it be held against you that you were not able to adequately woo a prospective agent or publisher for one of a very limited and ever-shrinking spots on their ‘professional’ roster? Why indeed, especially when with the internet and resources such as the Kindle, Goodreads, should you not grasp your own destiny and make your work available?

Early in 2013 I added an installment to this column that talked about Irvine Welsh’s then newest novel, Skag Boys. As a result of this earlier this year another Scottish author, Sean-Paul Thomas, contacted me. Sean-Paul introduced himself and asked if I’d be interested in reading his newest novel, Cafe Independence. Excited, I agreed.

The initial version of the novel I received was in a digital format, which to be honest, despite all of I’ve said here, I still have some trouble with. I’m getting better at it, but I find it hard to even go back and read over my own prose in a digital format, let alone try and experience a novel that way. And that is how I read – I want to experience a novel. Eventually Sean-Paul – who has digitally self-published two other novels that can all be found found on his Goodreads’ author’s page – found a home for Cafe Independence at New Dawn Publishers and wrote me to say he very much wanted to send me a paperback copy of the book. Once I had that in hand I ended up charging through the book in fairly short order, as it is very good. Definitely an experience. There are things about it, mostly editing and not anything with the story per se, that show that Sean-Paul has a lot of room to grow as an artist, but if you take all that in stride the book really is an enjoyable read, especially once you get to the end (the final line of the book wraps everything up so tightly without even the faintest trace of contrivance that it retroactively makes the entire piece incredibly rewarding).

After reading Cafe Independence I was able to send Sean-Paul some interview questions and he promptly replied. Here then, is a window into the world of an independent author in the burgeoning age of self publishing as a viable tool for the serious author.

……….

Set on September 18th, 2014 – the eve of Scotland’s vote for independence from Britain – Café Independence is obviously a very politically oriented novel. However, it is also very socially oriented. At first the social aspect is merely a way in which to convey ideas and interpretations of the changing Scottish political attitudes. Scores of characters come and go from the Café, conversing on the momentous precipice of change before them. As the reader we are privy to many of these and it sets the aforementioned political tone. However, at some point a more leisurely social tone comes into play, centered primarily on Richard – the newly hired cook at the Café – and Toni – a regular shift waitress – and their budding attraction to one another.

SCB: Sean, when you wrote Café Independence was your goal to merge these two tones or was this something that arose naturally dealing with the characters in the book?

SPT: I actually had the idea for a long time to write ‘Cafe Independence’ but with the title ‘Cafe – with a twist’ which focused upon the same crazy, weird and wonderful customers and workers at the cafe, but without the political element. It wasn’t until the referendum became more of a talking point last year that I began merging the two themes together. I remember the exact point it happened too. I was sitting having a relaxing coffee with a friend of mine in an Edinburgh Cafe when I overheard a couple of teenage ‘Neds’ (Scotch slang for Non Educated Delinquents’) talking about their version of what an Independent Scotland should be like. Well I nearly spat my coffee over my mate’s phone. I couldn’t tell if they were serious or just joking around. Especially when they insisted upon the rebuilding of Hadrian’s wall and changing all the English road signs back to Scottish Gaelic just to confuse the hell out of all the English tourists – to name but a few of their many mental independence suggestions and policies. After that I began interviewing friends and talking amongst various different acquaintances to get their own opinions on Independence before blending those ideas into the minds of my already established characters.

SCB: Without giving anything away, was the unexpected but exceptionally well-executed tonal shift at the end of the book something you had always planned on for the book or again, did it just happen on the characters’ own accord?

SPT: No, I always planned to have that Tarantino style of ending. It was kind of the main seed for me while writing the original rough draft version. I just love writing like that. Taking something in another direction and shaking the whole story up. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. There were other scenes too which have been cut out. One was when God and the Devil came into the Cafe to have a coffee and a chat, but the publisher asked me to take it out, as they felt it didn’t fit right. But I have it as a short story instead. And it will be included in a ‘strange and unusual short stories’ book I’m going to release later this year.

SCB: I can not wait to read that! Please do not feel obligated to answer this one: based on the political topic can I ask what your position is regarding Scotland’s potential independence?

SPT: Of course you can lol.

FREEEEEEDDDDDDDDDOOOOOOOOM :)

I’m kidding. I think it will be very close, but I’m sure the yes vote will edge it in the end :) A lot of people in Scotland (And the rest of the UK I reckon too) are fed up of these overly privileged and educated back bench politicians. They want change since most Politicians these days who lounge around Westminster ‘oh yahing this and oh yahing that’ are so un-relateable, unrecognisable and completely out of touch to the common, working class person’s way of life – And common working people who dominate the population of this island might I add.

I think the working class and poorer people of Scotland see this as their chance to shake things up a bit. And as Boris Johnson would probably say – ‘Give these bloody bigwigs in charge of the country a bloody good fright’ when we vote yes.

I always wondered too if even half of these MP’s in London could locate Scotland on a world map if asked to do so. They probably all think Glasgow is just another tube stop on the London Northern line on the way to Edgware.

SCB: I’ve begun reading one of your other novels, The Universe Doesn’t Do Second Chances. From the small cross section of your writing I’ve been exposed to between that and Café Independence I see that you write a lot about romantic relationships. I’d go as far as to say it appears to be one of your central themes. Is this a fair observation, and if so, do you have any insight into why romantic love plays so strongly in your stories?

SPT: I don’t know. I just enjoy writing about relationships. I’ve also been fascinated for many years now how relationships begin. And I’m usually the first person to ask how a couple met, or who asked who out, etc. Some of the stories I’ve heard over the years have been absolutely fascinating. Especially from older people. Just a freak/chance encounter of fate, being somewhere at a certain point in time and making something happen by having the courage to start a conversation with a cute girl or guy :) And then boom! Ten years later you have a whole new family tree. In fact the one question I love to ask most of all is – ‘So how did your parents meet?’ Then be amazed at how lucky they are to be here right now. And that’s all you need really for the start of a great novel. An answer to that specific question from any couple, happy or sad. Although I am a sucker for a good tragic love story and don’t really have too many happy endings in my work.

SCB: You are one of the few independent authors I’ve come across lately who I think of as writing literary fiction. To paraphrase author Robert Dunbar, who recently stated in a discussion on Goodreads that, “People don’t publish Literary Fiction anymore.” Now, while that is obviously a bit of an exaggeration for effect, I think anyone currently writing and trying to find a publisher for literary fiction – as I have been for several years – can attest to, this is true. I’ve had Literary Agents compliment my work only to say it doesn’t move fast enough or isn’t a page-turner. What has your experience been in finding homes for your novels? Conversely, Café Independence was published through New Dawn Publishers, ltd. How did you find New Dawn Publishers and what did they offer for you as a writer of largely non-genre work?

SPT: To be honest, not that many publishers were interested. And even some established authors like Alasdair Grey, had a few hiccups trying to get his novel published regarding the Scottish referendum. But as for choosing New Dawn Publishers, they seemed very friendly and enthusiastic about the project when I approached them at the beginning of the year. In fact they were just as excited as me to start working on it. They didn’t offer me any money up front etc. But they did pay for all the advertising. Helped with editing and proofreading and gave me ten paperback copies of the book.

SCB: As an author with quite a few novels published independently, what do you find are the best tools to market your work? How has publishing in the digital age affected your output? IE do you write more than you did before, or does marketing/promotion eat into your writing time?

SPT: Oh yeah, Marketing and promotion take up so much of your time, that I haven’t written anything new in ages. It’s like taking up a whole new career when sending out so many e-mails to book bloggers, advertisers, publishers, social network. It takes a lot of time and dedication. And you get zero pay for it too. But as long as you still have hopes , dreams and goals, then those dreams can help you struggle through all the boring secretarial and admin shite you have to do. It’s that wee holy grail of hope sitting in the distance that keeps me going – this could be the one…

As for the best tools to market your work. I find that researching bloggers who have reviewed similar themed work to your own before helps a lot. And also just getting out there into the city streets, handing out a couple of thousand cards made up, promoting your book. Plus you get to meet some pretty interesting people that way too. And giveaways are a great tool too.

SCB: Aside from Café Independence being published by New Dawn Publishers, ltd. I believe you have – and please correct me if I’m wrong on this – four self-published novels: The aforementioned The Universe Doesn’t Do Second Chances, Sarah Smiles, Alone and Ugly Beautiful. Talk a little about the world of digital publishing. Recently author Rachel Aaron wrote a guest post on the Civilian Reader Blog where she talked about her decision to self-publish her latest novel, benevolently side-stepping her publisher, as an experiment. Ms. Aaron speaks beautifully about how digital publishing, especially with Amazon’s Kindle Direct, has changed the landscape of publishing and that the stigma that has long mired self-publishing is now slipping away. Also, if you could please take a moment to talk about your experiences in self-publishing. Do you prefer the immediate reach of the digital format? Are you looking to publish another book through a ‘tactile’ publisher such as New Dawn, or are you focusing again on marketing your writing directly to the burgeoning internet readership you’ve begun to amass via sites like Amazon and Goodreads?

image courtesy of Tirgearrpublishing.com

SPT: Alone, Ugly Beautiful and Sarah Smiles are all self published titles. The Universe Doesn’t Do Second Chances was published last year by Tirgearr publishing. I do love self publishing, but it can be costly if you want to do it right and you haven’t made too much money from your writing before. I mean just getting a cover designed for your book so that it looks slightly professional can costs a couple of hundred quid, unless you’re lucky enough to know someone who will do it for free. Then you have proofreaders and light editors charging anywhere between £400 and £2000. It can be a big gamble to take for some new writers with little income. For my first two books for example, Ugly Beautiful and Alone I didn’t take that gamble and did all the editing and cover designing myself. Looking back it was a big mistake and I was very naive, and looking now at the early reviews the books suffered greatly for that. Some of these reviewers don’t give a shit that they paid a dollar or even nothing for your book. If there were spelling or grammar mistakes in there somewhere then they will be as sure as blue hell to let you and the world know about it. But hey ho, you live and learn dude.

………….

Great interview sir! Ladies and Gentlemen, you can learn more about Sean-Paul Thomas on Goodreads and you can buy his books digitally online at all the local shopfront or from New Dawn Publishing or Tirgearr.

Shawn C Baker

Shawn C Baker

Shawn lives in Los Angeles where he co-hosts Drinking w/ Comics, writes screenplays and fiction and has been known to drink quite a bit of beer. Good beer.

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