Tuesday 1 May 2012

Picking up the Quill

As Ian Shaw scrambles to prepare for the official launch of Ottawa’s newest small print press, Deux Voiliers Publishing, he pauses to recount the genesis of his adventure into the world of fiction and publishing.

I was sitting in the Boulangerie aux Deux Frères in Aylmer a little over a year ago when I noticed the most beautiful painting on the wall. It was an acrylic by local artist Sasha Barrette. Two sailboats were crossing some very stormy waters. The first was taking the brunt of the waves and the other was following steadily in its wake. It evoked an image of human solidarity – something that I had been working on in my own art.”

Shaw shot off a quick e-mail on his Blackberry to a Vietnamese-Canadian friend, whose childhood tale of escaping Vietnam by sea to Malaysia he had recently tried to capture in a small painting. Having taken up the brush, Shaw was ready now to pick up the quill to write an endearing tale, partially based on his friend’s experience.

Deux Voiliers is more a cooperative of writers and artists than a traditional small print press, explains its founder. To date, four authors are publishing under the Deux Voiliers label for a total of six titles. All are Canadians and have ties to Ottawa. And creativity and enjoying what they are doing are always kept in the forefront as the small initiative begins to take on the trappings of a promising publishing initiative.

DVP has opted to become a general fiction publisher, focusing on the quality of the stories more than the genre. Half of its current offering is in the area of historical fiction. The Marching to Byzantium Trilogy by Brendan Ray, who spent the better part of a decade in Istanbul, book-ends nicely with Stephen Lorne Bennett’s the Last of the Ninth. The first novel chronicles the last days of the Eastern Roman Empire as the Ottoman Turks prepare their final assault on Constantinople in 1453. Bennett’s novel takes place thirteen centuries also in Asia Minor when a Roman Legion mysteriously vanishes and Rome’s Secret Service sends an agent to investigate. Author Chris Turner is pioneering Deux Voiliers’ fantasy and sci-fi series with his anthology of short stories, Tales from Other Worlds. Finally, Shaw’s Soldier, Lily, Peace and Pearls is a classic story-teller’s narrative of literary fiction.

Deux Voiliers is as much about reviving traditions as anything else,” says Shaw. “Many of the great authors in the early twentieth century, including Hemingway, began by publishing their own books or setting up their own publishing companies.”

Many other famous writers also opted to write under a nom de plume as Shaw has in signing off his first novel with the humourous nickname Con Cú, Vietnamese for “owl.” “Apparently, I have the personality of an owl, and I certainly kept the hours of a nocturnal creature in order to write the novel,” jokes Shaw.

A third tradition is personal art – something that Shaw has drawn on in illustrating the book covers and more recently producing booktrailers. A graphically enhanced version of his acrylic painting - Arrival at Pulau Bidong illustrates the second edition of his novel.

Deux Voiliers is actively looking for Canadian first-time novelists with a good story to tell. “Most of our writers not only have great potential, but they are tenacious. Stephen Bennett took ten years to craft his Last of the Ninth. It was a journey that began when he sat in the tower of a small Roman legionnaires’ outpost in the Jordanian desert. The ghosts of that Roman fort took hold of Bennett and would not let him go until he had finished the last line of his 140,000-word story.”

Brendan Ray’s Marching to Byzantium Trilogy, a whopping 240,000 words, was inspired by the frequent guided tours that he gave to family and friends visiting him in Istanbul where he worked as an English teacher. Always a great fan of history, Ray began to realize that the story of the fall of Constantinople had never been told in a non-partisan or entertaining way. “Given the sensitivities of the Turks and Greeks to the history behind my novel, it is certain that nationalists on both sides of that divide won’t like aspects of Marching to Byzantium, even if it is a work of fiction,” smiles Ray.

Chris Turner’s forte is definitely fantasy. Like Shaw, he began by self-publishing. He has also published on Amazon the fruit of twenty years of writing - a total of seven novels – under his own Innersky label. “Becoming a Deux Voiliers author was almost accidental. Both Ian and I were putting our books on consignment with Solstice Books in Wakefield, Quebec and the owner, Jeannette, suggested that we get together. After a two-hour lively discussion about writing and publishing, I was sold on the idea of joining forces.”

Deux Voiliers focuses primarily on on-line distribution through Amazon, Lulu.com, the Book Depository and several other internet platforms. This enables readers to order Deux Voiliers books in paperback and e-book format in 111 countries, and at very reasonable prices.

In parallel, Deux Voiliers is pursuing distribution to brick-and-mortar bookstores and libraries, and is now negotiating national distribution with Red Tuque Books in Penticton, B.C. “Red Tuque is on its way to becoming a Canadian institution in a market, which is increasingly less Canadian-owned and operated,” says Shaw. “Its mission is to ensure Canadian readers literary diversity. And that is something that Deux Voiliers also stands for.”

For the US market, Shaw intends to explore the possibility of distribution through Small Press Distribution in Berkeley, California. SPD, which has been around for forty years and specializes in literary fiction, is the only non-profit book wholesaler and distributor in the US.

The barriers to entering the publishing industry are dropping, but producing and marketing a quality book remains a real challenge,” says Shaw. “Deux Voiliers needs not only new authors, but also volunteer copy editors, graphic designers and book reviewers. There are a lot of people out there, who have creative talent in these areas and we would love to hear from them. That is one of the reasons that we are doing an official launch of Deux Voiliers on June 1 from 7 to 9 pm at the Collected Works bookstore. It should be a fun evening. After the book readings, there will be a little info session with wine for prospective contibutors. Everyone is welcome.”

Deux Voiliers Publishing can be contacted through deuxvoiliers@gmail.com . See its website www.deuxvoiliers.com

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