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Boo Books

8 July 15 words: Robin Lewis
Alex Davis set up sci-fi shop in 2013 and now it's time to whack on a lit fest at the Quad in Derby on Saturday 11 July
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Photo: Lazy Pineapple

Tell us about Boo Books and how it all started.
I set it up about eighteen months ago with a view to publishing as many great regional writers as we could, and we've been lucky to combine a host of East and West Midlands talent with some well-known national and international names. We've published four anthologies and one novel, all of which we're really proud of, but we want 2015 to be even bigger and better than last year.

What have you got lined up?
So far this year we've confirmed three titles: the paperback of Andrew David Barker's The Electric is next up, we sold out of the hardback so it seemed the eminently sensible thing to do a paperback version. The author summed it up as, “the cinema screening films made by ghosts, for ghosts” and that's a fantastic hook for what is a gorgeous coming-of-age tale. Our second book for 2015 is We Can Improve You, which is a fascinating anthology on the theme of augmentation – it has a science-fiction flavour, but there are definite darker tones and humour within the book too. The final confirmed book is a Wodehousian comedy, A Dip in the Jazz Age, which is an absolute stitch of a book that genuinely made me laugh out loud. It's by a Derby author, Carl Robinson, which makes it great to be able to put it out there. We're more about great story than any particular genre.

You've been involved in publishing for a while now, and were heavily involved in Games Workshop's Black Library publishing imprint for a while. Give us a potted history of your love affair with books.
I spent two years at Black Library, and also worked for a while on the Solaris imprint at Games Workshop. It was a fantastic couple of years – such a great team, a really enjoyable environment, and a superb education in publishing. I was there as Desk Editor, which meant that I got a grounding in a lot of aspects of the industry and did a lot of work I'm still really proud of, especially in co-editing my first anthology.

Books have always been a source of fascination for me, and as a teenager I was a voracious reader, starting with the Fighting Fantasy gamebooks – remember those? – before moving on to some of the great genre writers such as Stephen King, James Herbert, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C Clarke, Michael Moorcock. I used to buy all my books at boot sales or charity shops, so I could make my limited cash go a fairly long way. I've wanted to be a writer since then, and probably beforehand. If I could jump back twenty years and tell the thirteen-year-old me where I'd be now, I'm not sure he'd believe me.

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Photo: Lazy Pineapple

Your website bio says your first ever story was about Count Duckula's tropical holiday. What happened on this holiday? And why was your first story not about the far superior David Jason-voiced cartoon character Dangermouse?
To be honest, for a story, it was pretty short of conflict and drama. Count Duckula went to the Bahamas for some payapa – yes, that was how I spelt it – and mango, has a dance on the beach and comes back home to Castle Duckula. And, as a future goth and an active horror lover, it was inevitable I should prefer the vegetarian vampire duck to the rodent adventurer. Duckula also had so much more scope for all kinds of adventure – that castle could go anywhere, whereas Dangermouse was always a bit more limited.

You've got a pretty busy summer ahead of you. What is Edge-Lit 4 and why should I buy a ticket?
The summer sure is looking absolutely crammed. For a lot of freelancers in my field it's a quiet time of year, but Edge-Lit 4 will be keeping me more than busy. It's the fourth instalment of a science-fiction, fantasy and horror day taking place at – and with the phenomenal support of – Quad in Derby. First off, the range of events is a real draw – in one day we're bringing panels, writing workshops, readings, book launches, our renowned raffle and quiz plus much more.

I can't quite believe the Guest of Honour line-up I've managed to rustle together this year. We have six headline speakers, including the phenomenal Joanne Harris, the hugely entertaining John Connolly and a range of multi-award-winning authors and bestsellers in the shape of MR Carey, Paul McAuley, Claire North and Samantha Shannon. If I might say so myself, I think it's the most intriguing line-up anywhere this year, as a lot of those authors bring wider writing credentials beyond the genre as well as their undoubted quality within it. Finally, you are bound to go home loaded with books – we have goodie bags, spectacular raffle prizes and a packed book sales area with seventeen booksellers on top of our official event bookstall.

I'd also say it's an ideal 'gateway' event for anyone who has a passing interest in the genre, or just fancies checking out what it's all about – we're friendly, we're welcoming and it's very much about the books and nothing else.

You've also got your own first novel out this year, The Last War. What's it about and, more importantly, is Count Duckula in it?
Of course I wanted Duckula in, but there were copyright issues involved. The Last War is at its heart an origin story for an alien species called the Noukari. It's the start of a science-fiction trilogy, but is pretty low-tech sci-fi, and is more about how you can build a society and the tensions that can grow from that. It's ultimately religion that causes the first rift between the Noukari – there are those who want to worship their creators, the Animex, as gods, and there are relative atheists who believe they’re simply a more advanced species. Add into this a latent gift of telepathy – one with incredible and unexpected powers – and you have a powder-keg that threatens to go off and destroy this new civilisation before it has truly begun. The publisher described it as 'biblical', and that's a term I liked for it – it has a lot of those real blood and thunder elements to it. The second and third books will be forthcoming over the next year or so, and will see the Noukari facing dangers from around the wider galaxy. But that's all I can say for now...

Is this the first novel you've written, or are there lots of unpublished manuscripts in your attic?
Yep, a fair few unpublished and probably many of those unpublishable. The media love to cover 'overnight successes' in the world of writing, but there's simply no such thing. I've been writing since I was tiny and have been working in the field of writing in its wider sense for the last decade – every first novel is the latest in a succession of efforts that have gradually got better and better. It's a matter of practice, and learning from the mistakes that you make in each book. It's all about working to your own strengths – The Last War is ideal for me, in many respects, because one of the things I can struggle with is strong and realistic dialogue. When you jump to an alien civilisation in its earliest days in another galaxy, you are sort of resetting the rules for how characters talk to one another.

Edge-Lit 4, Quad, Derby, Saturday 11 July, 10am - 10pm, £30

Boo Books website

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