Back on the soap box by Quentin Bates

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Now, where was I? It’s almost exactly a year since my last regular offering appeared here. I’ve missed the regular opportunity to pontificate from the virtual soap box here at the Reality Check.

This last year has been a busy one. There was one ebook novella (Summerchill, 99p) that was published last spring and a full-length novel (Thin Ice) that’ll be out soon on proper old-fashioned paper.

Then there were a couple of translations of Ragnar Jónasson’s books that took a fair amount of time. Snowblind has been remarkably successful, published by brand-new publisher Orenda Books, run by the mighty Karen Sullivan.

In fact, the Orenda story has been quite a tale. When Karen’s job came to an end, she counted her pennies, did the sums and worked out that she could set up as a publisher, figuring that there was a gap there for someone to publish some carefully selected books, and publish those books as well as possible.

Ragnar was one of her first signings and I was brought in as the translator, demonstrating a huge amount of faith on Karen’s part in a debut author from the far north and an untried (at least in literary work) translator. As well as being a courageous publisher and a tireless promoter of her authors and translators, Karen is also a rottweiler of an editor, leaving nothing to chance in making sure the manuscript is up to scratch – and it all paid off.

Snowblind inched its way stealthily up the chart and finally landed in Amazon’s number 1 slot towards the evening of the day it was available as a 99p daily deal download. That’s my first number one bestseller. It even pushed the Girl on the Train off the top of the list, which was short-lived but sweet while it lasted.

In a little more than a year, Karen has made Orenda Books into something of a phenomenon in publishing terms. From half a dozen titles to start with, half of them translated, Orenda is already making waves with an impressive stable of writers from around the world, attracting even a bunch of respected and established authors such as Gunnar Staalesen. It begs the question of how a fledgling company can achieve things established publishers aren’t able or inclined to. My guess is that ignoring many of the less palatable modern business mantras may be part of the reason for this success, as well as a combination of sheer energy, enthusiasm, determination, a liberal dash of midnight oil and leading from the front.

Ragnar’s next novel, Nightblind, is out on Kindle already and the paper edition is published in January.

Oddly, the books are being published out of sequence. It’s one of the oddities of publishing translated fiction in that often an author’s perceived strongest title is chosen first, regardless of where in a series it is, with the others following later. So Ragnar’s Dark Iceland series is being published in a 1-5-2-3-4 order.

Confusing? Maybe. But it’s down to the editor and translator to insert a few odd lines here and there that explain any details that might otherwise be lost. It’s rare for anyone to complain about the books being out of order, and what the hell? It didn’t do Jo Nesbø’s sales any harm when his first books were translated from Norwegian in a thoroughly confusing order, and the same happened with Gunnar Staalesen’s outstanding Varg Veum books.

It goes without saying that I’m hoping Nightblind will be just as successful as its predecessor, if not more so. This is not least because I’ve signed on the dotted line to translate another three of the Dark Iceland novels, Blackout, Broken and one more, the English title of which is still being mulled over.

So with a busy 2015 just ended, roll on an even busier 2016.

Oh, and it’s good to be back.

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