Historical novel set in the Spanish speaking world. Plus QA with Maria Dueñas
Thriller set in Yemen (and an interview with Karen Sullivan, the publisher)
9th March 2015
The Abrupt Physics of Dying by Paul E Hardisty, a thriller set in Yemen. This is the first book to be published by Orenda Books and at the end of our review we bring you an interview with the founder of Orenda Books, Karen Sullivan.
Petro-Tex is a giant oil company that has an oil processing facility in Yemen. Is it coincidence that the local people in Al Urush and especially the children, are suffering from a desperate illness?
Claymore Straker is trying to move on from his violent history. He is an engineer employed by Petro-Tex and early in the book is hijacked at gunpoint, together with his driver Abdulkader. His captors want him to get to the bottom of the illness – they release him and keep his driver hostage. As he carries out his researches he meets Rania, who is a troubled journalist and she joins in him his quest to discover the truth.
This is a gritty, sometimes grim story, that brings the reality of life in an oil rich country to life, it vividly describes the machinations of the powerful interlopers and overlords who hold sway over the poorer members of society, all set against civil strife and terrorism. And Claymore is one man who is prepared to take on the whole situation, at considerable cost to himself. It is a powerful story, that has ‘big screen’ written all over it.
It is set against the harsh terrain that is Yemen “the flat stone strewn uplands, the hogback mesas, the thermal blur of the edge of the world…” This book is a sensory and gripping read. Enjoy.
And over to Karen Sullivan, founder of Orenda Books:
TF: You have recently set up Orenda Books. How did that come about? And how did you choose the name?
KS: I worked as Managing Editor at Arcadia Books and there was a decision taken by the shareholders to perform a strategic review of the list. In the interim, most books were either postponed or cancelled. My great love is finding and creating great books (and then going on to market and publicise them) with wonderful authors, and without the chance to do that, it seemed exactly the right moment to launch out on my own with Orenda Books. It was something I’d been thinking about anyhow, and the situation was the nudge I needed to put things in place. The name was, at the outset, difficult. I toyed with loads of ‘impressive’ Latin names until my husband finally said, ‘Choose something that means something to you.’ Instantly, I thought of Orenda. Not only is fellow Canadian, Joseph Boyden’s The Orenda one of my favourite books, but the name, which stems from the First Nations tribe that settled in the part of Ontario where I have spent every summer of my life, loosely translates as ‘The mystical power that drives human accomplishment’. It suddenly defined everything.
TF: What particularly caught your eye about The Abrupt Physics of Dying by Paul E Hardisty, the first book you wanted to publish? How did you know this was ‘the one’?
KS: My Arcadian colleague Gary Pulsifer first saw this book when Broo Doherty from DHH Literary Agency sent it across. He loved it, and sent it on to me. I had to read only three chapters before I was completely hooked – drawn into the story not only because it was an unusual setting, but because I have never before read such an action-packed, page-turning thriller that is so exquisitely written. Paul has managed to create the most extraordinarily creative descriptions using terminology I had never before come across. It’s an exceptional book. The early reviews have all confirmed my belief – and that is not to be dismissed. As you mention, it is my first book published, and I was very, very nervous about how it would be received. I had no doubts whatsoever, but would everyone else share my passion? It has, thankfully, proven to be the case! Orenda Books will be publishing literary, beautiful books, about half in translation, and with a heavy emphasis on crime/thrillers. I didn’t have to think twice about signing The Abrupt Physics of Dying and, it should be mentioned, that halfway through reading it, I bought the sequel. I am that convinced.
TF: How long has it taken from manuscript to publication? Did the process go smoothly?
KS: This was a super-speedy transition! I started Orenda Books in mid-October 2014, and we got this into ebook in December, with print books ready for the press and our amazing blogger team by the beginning of January. It was completely smooth. I did the editing myself, which took about two weeks, and Paul Hardisty was very quick to work on areas that needed attention (very few of these, I might mention), and confirm that he was happy with the suggested changes. We had a jacket sorted within weeks, and I have probably the fastest typesetter on earth! Three of us checked the proofs in a week and then it was off to the printer! It’s been one of those fabulously wonderful, painless editorial processes. Books are released on Monday for 9 March publication. I could not be more excited!
TF: How did the title of the book come into being? Is that something the author will choose, how much do you advise?
KS: The title – The Abrupt Physics of Dying – is very much the author’s own and I could not even imagine wanting to change it. It’s eye-catching, intriguing and intelligent. In fact, the sequel (the second in the Claymore Straker series) is called The Evolution of Fear, which I think is equally fabulous! Everyone has mentioned the title. Titles draw your attention, and this one could not be better. I would not hesitate to change a title; in fact, I am just about to buy a terrific book from a debut USA author and I’m not 100 percent sure that the title works. Sometimes titles grow on you; sometimes they don’t. Either way, it has to shout ‘read me’ and if it doesn’t do that, then we discuss options. Sometimes a shoutline helps to dilute or make more powerful the name of a book. We explore all the options!
TF: The cover is striking and really captures the feel of the book. How did you choose the kind of image, what did you have in mind initially?
KS: Ironically, this is exactly what I had in mind! I briefed our amazing designer Mark Swan from Kid Ethic, and this was one of his first roughs. I asked for an oil-processing plant somewhere remote – something thrilling but atmospheric, with a literary but commercial feel. I normally give a little blurb from the book and sometimes even a sample of the text. Sometimes I email images that might work – just to help give a feel for what we want. Paul, his agent Broo and I all loved this one. Mark also tweaked the design when we got the quote from Peter James (things like this definitely sell books), and it looked perfect at every stage.
TF: Where does Orenda go from here?
KS: This is such an exciting year! From here, we move on to David F. Ross’s brilliant nod to 1980s Scotland The Last Days of Disco – think Roddy Doyle meets Irvine Welsh (at a disco). Gorgeously written in the vernacular, it’s funny but also heartbreaking. It’s getting a lot of attention, and I could not be happier for this debut author. Next up is the father of Nordic Noir, Gunnar Staalesen, whose We Shall Inherit the Wind (trs Don Bartlett) is undoubtedly one of his most compelling and topical Varg Veum thrillers yet! At the same time, we’ll be publishing Icelandic crime author’s Ragnar Jonasson’s superb Snowblind, the first in the Dark Iceland series of thrillers (trs Quentin Bates) that have attracted attention from around the world! The translation is in and it is absolutely perfect. In September, we’ve got Kati Hiekkapelto’s The Defenceless (trs David Hackston), the sequel to The Hummingbird, which I published at Arcadia. Kati has won the most important award for crime fiction in Finland for this book and we are expecting great things. Finally, I’ve just signed a beautiful book called How To Be Brave by Louise Beech, which neatly weaves together the contemporary story of a mother trying to help her seriously ill daughter with a tale (a ghost?) from the Second World War. In fact, in the latter case, it is the true story of Louise’s grandfather’s extraordinary ordeal at sea in 1943, when his ship was torpedoed and he survived for 50 days on a lifeboat in the south Atlantic. It’s haunting, moving and so compelling! As for 2016, you’ll have to wait! I’ve got almost 400 submissions in my pile, and I think I know what I want! The lovely thing about publishing debut authors is that there is more to come. They may not know it yet, but I’m scheduling one every year from them until the foreseeable future!
TF: What are you reading at the moment?
KS: The submissions pile is dominating right now, but there are some gems. A New Zealand crime writer has caught my eye, and something South African, too. I love the idea of publishing books from writers around the world, and it’s proving easier than I thought. On my personal list, I’ve got Luca Veste’s The Dying Place, The Liar’s Chair by Rebecca Whitney, Eva Dolan’s Tell No Tales, the new Anne Tyler, Evie Wyld’s All the Birds Singing, James Carol’s Prey and the new Peter James. I’ve got some in the sitting room, one on my desk, one beside my bed, one in my handbag – always a book to grab and read. I normally get through two or three a week, sometimes more! My BIG favourite at Christmas was The Miniaturist. I would say that before starting Orenda I would head more towards the translated/literary fiction shelves, but I’ve had a whole new world opened up for me and I’m loving it!