Dec 16, 2012

Carol’s ‘Close Up’ with Darren E Laws – Author and Publisher who is Trained To Kill!

Carol Bridgestock

 

Today I’m very privileged to interview our very own Santa Claus … Let me explain.

Darren E Laws is not just a fantastic author in his own right and successful in public relations but he is also the CEO of Caffeine Nights Publishing. Three years ago Bob and I submitted our second novel in the Dylan series to his publishing house and let’s just say the rest is history. Caffeine Nights publish fiction for the Heart and the Head and any of their readers will know they do just that.  We feel honored to be amongst their stable of authors.

You will read very little about Darren E Laws on the web or anywhere else come to that. So come with me and let’s try to find out what makes this very private man tick…

Darren E Laws

 ’Sir’.

Darren looks at me with a raised eyebrow and a quizzical smile on his lips.  I grin.  

Tell me about life your life before you started working. What did the young Darren E Laws get up to?

As a teenage I was trained to kill and have subsequently used that skill numerous times to good effect. :) It was training which stood me in good stead as a fiction author who dabbles on the darker side of life’s psyche. I was mad enough to join the Territorial Army and foolishly chose the Royal Marine Commandos. I learnt how to dismantle and reassemble a SLR (Self Loading Rifle) blindfolded. A strange skill but one which I could manage quite ably. I lasted about six months before sense took over and I decided that the world would be a safer place without my soldering skills. I remember a lot of running with backpacks, wading chest deep in frozen lakes on Salisbury Plain, eating horrendous dried food. I think my Chicken Supreme with Chocolate Custard is still remembered to this day. In my defence, it was pitch dark, we were soaking, had not eaten nor slept in 20 hours and were no too choosy.

Who gave you your inspiration to write your first novel? The person who gave me faith in myself is Natalie, my wife. Having someone who believes and supports you is a great motivator.

I believe you wanted to be a writer since you were a teenager, is that right? A couple of days before my first novel was published I was rooting about in our loft and came across a diary I don’t even remember writing. Inside it said that one day I would love to be a novelist. I always used to scribble and write stories so the seed was sown early I guess.

How has life experiences affected your writing? Life influences everything a writes puts down on paper in some way or another. If it doesn’t then there is something wrong. For me, growing up in London’s east end it meant using your imagination in so many ways. We were written off and forgotten by society and to escape and make something of your life you had to be autodidactic, adaptable, ambitious beyond academic, resolute or a criminal.

‘Turtle Island’, a crime thriller was your first published novel that was picked up by an American publisher. When will we see the second in the trilogy ‘Dark Country’ published? It’s been a long time coming due to my work with setting up and running Caffeine Nights. I have been writing it for over five years and its 97% there. I expect it to be out in 2013 though I haven’t set a date yet. I dread to think when the third book will be out, especially as there will be another leftfield novel in-between.

‘Tripping’, the second novel published is a surreal black comedy described as ‘chick noir’. What reactions expected or otherwise did you get when that was published – being so different from ‘Turtle Island’? I like confounding expectations, especially my own. I know people are intelligent enough to take a book for what it is and the world is big enough to find new readers in different genres.

How has your perception of publishers changed since being one yourself? Totally. Sadly many of the things which I thought were wrong with the industry were confirmed pretty quickly and continue to be reinforced on a daily basis. There are many great people out there working to move things forward but the industry is sown up by a cartel intent on keeping it an old boys club. Caffeine Nights is there to irritate the hell out of them every now and then.

Tell me a little about bit about your publishing company? Caffeine Nights is dedicated to becoming a platform and outlet for authors who have great books but been neglected by the industry. Our goal has never changed. We published fiction aimed at the heart and the head…

Why did you want to be a publisher? I ask myself that often in the wee hours when I can’t sleep or when I run into the same old class driven BS that permeates the business. However, the simple answer is to show the publishing world what it is missing.

How do you decide what titles to publish? It’s a simple criterion; do I like the books, do I like the authors, do I think we can work together? The novel has to grab me at some level. I have to engage with the characters and care about them. If that doesn’t happen it’s highly likely that it won’t make it onto our list. Even if it does that is not the end of the story (pardon the pun), there are at least 3 books that I would have loved to have published but I found for one reason or another I could not work with the author. I guess I can be difficult.

What do you look for in a good submission? I look for passion in the submission itself. Anyone who sends me an email saying ‘when are you open for submissions’ or ‘will you please look at my novel’ has little chance or inspiring me to read their work. I had one submission that simply said ‘spread the love’…I love the delete button on my computer.

Is the synopsis, letter or blub the real ‘breaker’ as our creative writing teachers tell us? The approach is as vital as the quality of the work. I have little time for people who waste my time. I want your passion, talent and commitment.

If you could work with any author in the world who would it be? There are a number of authors I would love to sign and work with in that sense, but writing is a solitary process for me so in terms of writing with anybody it just wouldn’t work. There is an artist I would love to work with in the sense of publishing, and that is Ben Drew, better known as Plan B. He is a great story teller and comes from my neck of the woods and I am sure that he has a great novel in him.

EBooks and digital publishing is the future but do you wonder if the industry is losing its roots in the high street or is there room for both? The industry is going through a revolution and will continue to be affected by the impact of digital for another 5 to 10 years. What will be left of the high street by then will be anyone’s guess. Bookshops may go the way of record shops. Many do little to help themselves, sadly.

Where do you see yourself/the publishing industry in five years time? Bookshops need to radically rethink their offering to survive and open up to change. They also need to embrace local talent and see the benefits of how the community of readers and writers can bring added value to their business. In five years time digital will be the established norm but paper books will still be with us. Publishers need to know who their readers are and use social media to talk directly with them. Where do I see myself and Caffeine Nights in five years? I may be close to completing my Georgina O’Neil trilogy and Caffeine Nights will go from strength to strength. It would be great to have a few bestsellers by then, some film and TV deals and be respected in the industry.

Darren Laws is a workaholic, I know, you give to your authors 110% of yourself and we in the Caffeine Nights stable are very lucky to have that personal touch and contact with you. How on earth do you manage your time to fit in the writing, publishing and your work as a public relations professional? I’ll sleep when I’m dead :-)

How much difference do you think a good cover makes? This is an interesting question as clearly many very successful self-published titles have covers which really suck but sell really well. For me, it is important to have something which relates to the story and looks great. I am very proud of the quality and standard of covers we consistently produce and have Wills to thank for being able to interpret my ramblings so darned well.

What about the title? A good title is as important and works in relation to a great cover. It’s the authors hook. The blurb is your elevator pitch, your sixty second sell.

What do you think makes a good book sell? I could be cynical and say heaps of money and a slick marketing plan which is true for the big six, but us wee minnows have to be prepared to play the long game and continue to build an audience over a period of time. This doesn’t interest the larger publishers. I would love to say great writing, but many great books are overlooked and many crap ones with huge marketing budgets become million sellers.

What makes you angry about the current publishing industry? Running into greed, apathy and unrealistic attitudes especially from book stores. Many book stores complain about their lot since the advent of digital and eBooks eroding their bottom line but still refuse to stock books, even on a sale or return basis, or host book signing events. This is the only industry where the supplier takes all the risks and still we are met with apathy on many occasions, and sadly independent book shops are the worst offenders. We had one store recently tell us that they could not host a book signing with one of our authors unless we could guarantee 80 sales. This attitude will see them go the way of the dinosaur pretty quickly. This was a local book store that should be encouraging (at no financial risk to themselves) local author events and promoting them to their community. It is a sad indictment on the industry today. Pretentiousness is another of my bug bears. There is a heck of a lot of it. People who strive to think they are above other people through class, position or social standing. I also have little time for people who act as though the world owes them a favour or have a complete sense of humour bypass. Give me talent, graft and sheer bloody minded determined ambition any day.

How important do you think social media is? Vital for all publishers but more so for small publishers. It’s great being able to engage with people who buy and read our books. We have much to learn from them and if we listen, we can be the sort of publisher they deserve.

www.caffeine-nights.com

www.facebook.com/CaffeineNights

http://uk.linkedin.com/in/caffeinenights/

www.twitter.com/caffeinenights

What are the biggest problems facing publishers these days? There’s no real bogeyman lurking that we don’t know about; we all face different challenges. I think the majority of the industry has got to grips with digital and is quite savvy with its social media offering. For smaller publishers we can be at an advantage as we can react to change and adapt quicker. For instance our back catalogues are invariably much smaller, so converting to new formats or platforms is easier. Caffeine Nights biggest challenge is getting wider distribution into stores and it is something I will be working hard to rectify in 2013.

What do you consider your best accomplishment? Waking up.

It’s nearly 2013. If I could grant you one wish what would it be? I would ask for it to be given to my wife, Natalie.

Ten books you want to read/re read on your desert island before you’re rescued?

I could easily list all our books on Caffeine Nights and many of them should be there but it would be like picking your favourite child. So I have ignored this and returned to books which formed me as a reader. I have many books I have enjoyed reading and rarely if ever, returned to them so being stranded would give me a chance to re-visit old friends. I would love to have a list of many literary classics including Shakespeare, Hardy, Austen and their ilk but these are all books I thoroughly enjoyed. In no particular order.

  • The Rats – James Herbert. I read this when I was about 12 and it thrilled me. Primarily because some of the book was set in east London and it was a good, bloody horror. I subsequently read all of James Herbert’s books and met the man at a few book signings. I still have the books.
  • Fight Club – Chuck Palahniuk. I read this before seeing the film and thought it was un-filmable and a great book.  A very funny and a biting satire on the consumer age and the fragility of man. David Fincher produced a fantastic visulisation of the book that is near pitch perfect. Palahniuk is tremendously funny and often stretches his readers by adopting challenging writing styles but he is always worth reading.
  • Heart of a Dog – Mikhail Bulgakov – Written in 1925, the language of the translation I read really sizzled and totally engrossed me in a very dark satire of communism. It’s not the sort of book I normally read but was recommended to me and I was blown away by it. I am sure much of the satire shot over my head but the story was truly fascinating.
  • Jaws – Peter Benchley – I read this after seeing Spielberg’s wonderful film which still stands up. The book I recall was quite different from the film adaptation and is sitting less than a foot away from me on a pile of books to re-read. Benchley died young and I think was haunted by the success of that bloody shark.
  • Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow – Peter Hoeg  – This novel introduced me to Scandinavian fiction. It’s a great read. Part detective fiction, part cultural observation and definitely Scandinavian. The pervading atmosphere conjured by Hoeg is something which many authors from the region seem to excel in. I love Smilla Jaspersen. She is a cold character who distances herself from life and is absorbed by her work as a scientist specializing in snow. Smilla is drawn into an investigation of the death of a young boy she befriends. The Boy’s mother is an alcoholic Inuit and his death leads Smilla to discovering a conspiracy by a large drilling company which has contaminated water with a lethal parasite. This also led to the death of the boy’s father. Hoeg is not afraid to let the reader try to work out what happened and it is a book which makes you think as you read it.
  • Casino Royale – Ian Fleming – I recently picked this up and read the first page and was immediately drawn in. Fleming paints with words and the book seemed as fresh and vibrant as the recent remake starring Daniel Craig. It’s on my list of books I want to read.
  •  The Man Who Smiled – Henning Mankell. More bleak Scandinavian fiction featuring Mankell’s lead detective Kurt Wallander. A man with more flaws than a high-rise apartment. I found this a slow paced burner but definitely worth sticking with. A little too bleak at times and I do wonder what even the smallest injection of humour might do to this sort of psychological thriller.
  • Dreamcatcher – Stephen King – A simply wonderful and barkingly mad book. I love King’s writing in this. Although King aficionados probably don’t rate this book, it kept me enthralled on a number of journeys to London about 10 years ago.
  • A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens – The ultimate ghost and redemption story. Although only a short story usually found bundled in a selection of Dickens short story collections, this story grabbed my attention as a boy and I try to read it every year at Christmas.  Dickens is another author that captures atmosphere and creates scenes while passing on social comment with biting comment on the times of the day.
  • American Psycho – Brett Easton Ellis – Definitely a book for the X-Factor generation. A savage satire written so skillfully to entice and engage you in the action of Ellis’s protagonist, Patrick Bateman. Ellis poses many questions about modern society that are still pertinent, even though this book was written over 20 years ago. The pace of the novel make it a real page turner and stomach churner, however it is a must read.

If should you want to read more Darren’s blog site is him having a rant about publishing: http://darrenlaws.blogspot.com

 Thanks Darren. You’re a pleasure to work with and great to interview! Have a lovely Christmas and we’re looking forward to a very exciting year with Caffeine Nights Publishing.

Watch this space everyone for the new titles! :-)

Carol x

 

 

2 Comments

  • Briliiant, Darren and Carol. So honest but you didn’t ask him who he’d have at his dinner party?
    Wishing the Laws and the Bridgestocks a wonderful Christmas and of course a prosperous New Year.
    Thank you for a great year Darren. You’re the best.

  • A fantastic interview from one of the best talents in publishing. A really great read.

Leave a comment