London has been the home to many famous storytellers of literature, Zadie Smith, George Orwell and Charles Dickens to name a few. Those were the days where traditional publishing was the norm and to be honest the only form of publishing. But here we are in 2017, the height of the digital era, weekend getaways are as common as chip and pin and self-publishing is at it’s peak.
Authors such as Amanda Hocking, Michael J Sullivan and the notorious EL James have gained masses of success doing it on their own, that Fringe Frequency were intrigued by the world of self-publishing.
Fresh Air and Empty Streets is the debut novel by Oliver Cable. We follow Felix, 15 years after his father, Alexander, left he and his mother, to pursue the life of an artist in Paris. On a journey through smoky jazz bars, artists’ studios and along the banks of the river Seine, Felix meets the father he never knew, and in doing so, comes to question some lifelong assumptions.
We swapped words with London’s own self-published author Cable to talk books, inspiration and plans for the future.
Hi Oliver, how are you?
Very well thanks.
Tell us, what got you started as a writer?
I wrote my first poem aged 14. For years I didn’t really see myself as a writer. Then I started showing people my work. To my surprise, they liked it, so I wrote more. Aged 23, I followed a summer course at UEA, after which I promised my lecturer I’d keep writing. The book was born a few months after that. Now being a writer is part of who I am.
How much has being a writer changed who you are?
I think recognising I was half-decent at writing has changed my perspective and my priorities.
Is it just poetry and novels?
So far, yes. I’d like to branch out to do some theatre or jazz, but that’ll come later.
Who are your favourite writers? Which authors inspire you?
In English, Jack Kerouac for his flowing language. Ian McEwan for his plots. Haruki Murakami for his sheer weirdness. Laurie Lee for his descriptions. In Dutch, Remco Campert for his embodiment of the artistic life.
Fresh Air and Empty Streets debuted July 2016. What kind of response is it getting?
It was never going to hit the bestseller charts, but then it wasn’t written for that. I’ve sold the entire initial print-run and upped the number of copies printed in the second run. All the feedback I’ve got has been positive, which is nice. It means you’ve impacted their life and their thinking in your own little way.
How has the promotion been?
Good fun. I’ve had to learn a lot: putting on events, getting into bookshops, learning about advertising. The promotion in itself is a full-time job. I could do more.
How is life as a self-published author?
It’s a juggling act, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’ve had to learn about writing, editing, typesetting, cover design, hosting events, distribution, contracts, discipline – the whole thing. Because there is no team, it’s all on me. It’s been a long journey and I’m not even one tenth of the way there yet, I’m sure. There’s plenty more learning to be done.
What advice would you give to novices in self-publishing?
Differentiate yourself by being towards the top of the self-publishing pyramid. Hire a designer, get it properly typeset. Spend a bit more money to get a product you can really be proud of.
Remember you’re playing the long game. What may at first be a casual chat can throw up unexpected benefits a long way down the line. Talk to everyone interested and interesting, sow the seeds of those benefits.
What was the inspiration behind the story?
In the summer of 2013, I took a trip to Paris with two artist friends, and that formed the backdrop of the city and gave rise to many of the scenes in the novel. I was looking for a storyline to hang this rich fabric around, and found it in this plot, which is an extrapolation and an exploration of a fear I had that my writing was being suppressed.
In the future would you ever consider a traditional publishing company?
I would, though I like the creative freedom that self-publishing has offers. Had it been traditionally published, I wouldn’t have had a watercolour painting on the cover. But that makes it unique. I’d want too much to do with the editing, typesetting, design, launch and marketing process.
Do you think there’s more to explore for Fresh Air and Empty Streets? Is book number two on the horizon yet?
There’s loads more to explore – the book has huge swathes of characters’ lives left for the imagination of the reader. Having said that, I’ve written the most interesting part of the whole story, so Fresh Air and Empty Streets won’t spawn a traditional sequel. But I’ll keep writing about art and jazz and human relationships.
I’m 25,000 words into my next book, an exploration into what would happen to a society if art were banned. There’s plenty to explore there.
Image: Em Fitzgerald