The decision to leave my job as managing editor of Arcadia was difficult; the decision to start up Orenda Books was not. In fact, within 24 hours of hearing the news that a scaled-down list would make my previous job untenable, the seeds of the new company were sown and three weeks later, my first list was almost complete. Yesterday my very first ‘finished’ book arrived – Paul Hardisty’s stunning thriller, The Abrupt Physics of Dying – and next week marks my first sales conference. It took more than a few things to set this company in motion, but they dovetailed so neatly, it was clear that it was not just the right time to create a little independent publishing company but the right thing to do.
I acted upon my ‘snap decision’ immediately, and after a few scrambled-together meetings, I arranged the ebook distribution side of things with Faber Factory, and with the help of my husband, some much-needed funding. The word ‘Orenda’ loosely translates as the ‘mystical energy that drives human accomplishment’, its provenance a First Nations tribe that settled near to a place where I’ve spent every summer of my life and also the title of one of my favourite-ever books The Orenda, by fellow Canadian Joseph Boyden. It was a natural choice for the company name, and when designer James Nunn came up with the beautiful logo and colophon, clearly quite perfect!
As soon as the idea of the company was formed, I made a wish list of authors. My first major meeting was with DHH Literary Agency, where I would pitch to Broo Doherty for Paul Hardisty’s The Abrupt Physics of Dying, and David Headley for Ragnar Jonasson’s Snowblind and Nightblind. I’d read Paul’s debut novel when I was at Arcadia and it is one of the most beautifully written, page-turning and evocative thrillers I’ve ever read. His potential is scary, as the early jacket quotes have already confirmed.
I’d had the pleasure of meeting Ragnar at CrimeFest and then again at Bloody Scotland (where we also played football for ‘England’ against a bunch of ‘bloody Scottis’ crime writers), and dutifully watched avid book buyers queue up after every one of his panels to buy books that had never been translated into English. I left Bloody Scotland with sample translations from the Icelandic under my arm, and two days later arranged to meet David.
I was brimming with excitement and plans, and then, about 10 minutes from Goldsboro Books, blind panic struck. What kind of idiotic confidence led me to think that I could persuade seasoned agents to hand over their crown jewels to a company with one member of staff and no track record? But my fears were ill-founded. The support was magnificent and humbling, and Broo and David loved the idea of their authors making their debuts (in Ragnar’s case, in English) with a new, enthusiastic and hopelessly passionate new publisher! A two-book deal was secured for Ragnar’s gloriously atmospheric crime thrillers, and Quentin Bates was contracted to translate. The first draft is in, and it is very clear that my belief in this author (and translator) was not misguided! Part of the Dark Iceland series, Snowblind (book one) and Nightblind (book five) share the setting of Siglufjörður, in northern Iceland, a town accessible only by a single tunnel, with young, flawed policeman Ari Thor leading up the action. Since rights were acquired (also via Monica Gram at Leonhardt & Høier Literary Agency A/S) Ragnar has been invited to new fewer than six literary festivals this coming year, and Snowblind will be published in June, with books available for Newcastle Noir and CrimeFest in May.
Paul Hardisty has the honour of being the first official Orenda author, and he’ll be visiting the UK at the beginning of March to launch the first title in the Claymore Straker series of thrillers. So mesmerized was I by the quality of his writing, his extraordinary ability to produce a readable, highly literary novel set in (as he puts it) ‘the most beautiful and cursed places on earth – Yemen – that I put in an offer for the sequel halfway through the editing of The Abrupt Physics of Dying. The Evolution of Fear will be ready in ebook in November, and in print in early 2016.
Joining Paul and Ragnar are David F. Ross, with The Last Days of Disco, a gorgeous authentic, heartwarming and hilarious tribute to 1980s Ayrshire, published in March and already out on ebook; one of the fathers of Nordic Noir, Gunnar Staalesen, in an ‘acquisition coup!’ – a three-book deal for We Shall Inherit the Wind, Where Roses Never Die and None So Safe in Danger, all translated by the inimitable Don Bartlett and published in March; and, finally, Finnish author Kati Hiekkepelto, with the second in the Anna Fekete series and sequel to her fabulous debut crime thriller The Hummingbird, The Defenceless, translated by David Hackston and out in September.
If I’ve made this all sound very easy, please forgive me. I haven’t slept a wink since starting up Orenda Books, and it’s possible that I will suffer death by drowning in administration. My to-do list is four A4 pages long, and expanding by the moment. But, but … this is one of the most rewarding, challenging and exciting things upon which I’ve ever embarked, and I know that I can do it justice. The crime community has been extraordinarily welcoming and hugely supportive; the IPG have been worth their weight in gold, as have the bloggers, my sales and distributors here (Turnaround, plus Faber Factory for ebooks), in Australia (Australian Scholarly Publishing) and in the USA and Canada (Trafalgar Square), and the agents, booksellers, designers, festival organisers and other publishers who have given so freely of their time and did not call even one of my stupid questions stupid.
The website is now up (www.orendabooks.co.uk), with a short story from every Orenda author, some writing outside their genre and two translated by newbie translators. Ragnar wrote his own in English! Things are definitely coming together and I know that when that first book hits the doorstep tomorrow, every bit of hope and hard work will have been so worthwhile. Now about that sales conference …
Follow Karen on twitter: @OrendaBooks