In the run-up to World Book Day, it’s great to be able to discuss a brand new book for teens that Solopress products have helped to promote. The book is called Out of the Smoke, and we spoke to author Matthew Wainwright about his experiences writing, publishing and promoting a new novel in the booming Young Adult category.
Matt was only a child himself when he started writing, and his ambition was always to become a children’s author. His ambition became more serious, in his early 30s during which time he completed three novels. Excitingly, one of these titles, a sci-fi novel for young adults, got picked up by an independent publisher in the US.
At the same time that Matthew and his US publisher were developing his novel, Matt began working with deaf students in secondary schools. Being around teenagers naturally led him to take an interest in the kinds of fiction that might appeal to them:
“Being a teenager is a fascinating time – so much is changing, practically every day, and it’s a period of our lives when we’re deciding what kind of person we’re going to be.”
Sadly, Matthew’s US-based publisher folded, leaving his young adult sci-fi novel without a home. After making the decision to shelve that particular project, Matt decided to look closer to home – for both subject matter and a publisher.
Out of the blue – Out of the Smoke
The idea for ‘Out of the Smoke’ came from a suggestion by a friend. Up until then Matt had been interested in sci-fi and fantasy, but this friend suggested he try his hand at historical fiction, perhaps writing about lesser-known historical figures.
She gave him the name of Lord Shaftesbury, a Victorian politician and philanthropist who campaigned for the rights of child workers, and chimney sweeps in particular. It’s a name largely forgotten, except perhaps in the names of Shaftesbury Avenue and the Shaftesbury Memorial in Piccadilly Circus. Matt was sceptical at first:
“Initially, I was doubtful – I preferred making up elvish languages and writing about battles at the walls of ancient cities! After some vague research and a hesitant attempt at a first draft, I put the whole project in a drawer and forgot about it.”
But ten years later when his publishing deal had fallen through, Matthew remembered Lord Shaftesbury, and decided to take a break from sci-fi to explore Victorian London.
Getting the story straight
Now with an added decade’s worth of writing experience in the bank, Matthew felt better placed to do justice to Lord Shaftesbury’s philanthropic record. But instead of focussing on the man’s campaigns and speeches themselves, Matthew struck on the idea of bringing the issues to life through characters:
“I decided to focus on a child who might benefit from Shaftesbury’s campaigns. This led me to the character of Billy, a chimney sweep (or ‘climbing boy’) who gets mixed up in the street gangs of Victorian London. Gradually other characters came into view: Billy’s best friend, the red-haired, happy-go-lucky Tosher; Clara, the feisty barmaid at the Eagle & Child; Archie Miller, boss of the bosses of the West End gangs; and many more besides.”
By following the fortunes of this distinctive cast of characters, Matthew was able to weave together the narrative that was to become Out of the Smoke. With a cracking yarn under his arm, it was time to find a publisher.
An unlikely publisher
Despite the fact that The Wakeman Trust has traditionally been a publisher of non-fiction, Matthew had a hunch they might take an interest in ‘the Shaftesbury book’, to use the novel’s working title at the time.
While Wakeman’s usual content was non-fiction Christian interest books, often reissuing older books that have long since gone out of print, Matt felt that there was a shared area of interest given Lord Shaftesbury’s record as a passionate evangelical Christian, and the fact that his Christian convictions provided much of the motivation for what was able to do for children:
“It was a VERY long shot, as the book was completely different from anything they had published before, with its pitched street battles, explosions and midnight heists! But I sent them an early draft, and they expressed an interest in seeing the whole thing.”
After some meetings, and some tweaking of the more lurid passages, Matthew and the Wakeman team settled on the title Out of the Smoke, and decided to move forward with the project.
Matt found working with the small, tight-knit team at The Wakeman Trust to be a nurturing and productive experience. The collaborative relationship Matt enjoyed with editor Jaime allowed him to follow the editing, revising and publishing process closely. An unexpected benefit of their collaboration emerged from Jaime’s talent as an artist, as she was able to draw fantastically evocative chapter illustrations, which add an extra dimension to the book.
The cover itself was actually designed by Matthew. After the team at Wakeman saw the mock-up he’d put together, they liked it so much, they urged him to develop it further. The result is the striking artwork that now appears on the cover of Out of the Smoke.
So while the relationship between Matthew Wainwright and The Wakeman Trust represented a leap of faith for both parties, the chance paid off for both sides in the end.
Spreading the word
With a brand new, original novel written, edited, designed and printed, time came to promote the book. Matt looked to print some materials to help him make an impact at public appearances. For the school visits he had scheduled, he decided Roller Banners, Postcards, Stickers, Bookmarks would give his appearances the boost he needed:
“A quick Google search took me to Solopress, who had good prices and excellent recommendations from their customers. I decided to give them a go.”
We’re so glad Matt did, as it’s been a great experience working with him as well as learning about his experiences as an author. As his cover-artwork skills attest, multi-talented Matt is a pretty good graphic designer too! He decided to take on the artworking for his marketing collateral, with help from the resources available at solopress.com:
“I wanted to produce my own designs, but I’m by no means a professional – thankfully Solopress made everything incredibly simple, with easy-to-use Photoshop templates and an online proofing tool.”
A few clicks later and Matthew’s Banner order had been placed, for less than half of what he thought it might cost:
“They delivered bang on time, and when I unfurled the banner for the first time I was delighted with the quality of the printing and materials.”
Matt has since ordered some bookplates (stickers for him to sign and send to readers, to put in their own copy of my book) and plans to replenish Bookmarks, Postcards and other promotional materials over the coming months:
“Printed materials are a must for authors doing promotional visits and workshops; It gives children something to take away after an event, and ensures the word-of-mouth marketing that’s so vital to a book’s success. It’s been a relief to find a reliable, reputable company I can work with. Here’s to a long and fruitful relationship!”
Amen to that, Matthew Wainwright, we couldn’t have written it better ourselves!
Out of the Smoke and into the future…
As for his next steps, Matt is currently working on a second book set in Tudor England when the Bible in English was a banned book and possessing it or even reading it was against the law.
Matthew’s also working in partnership with Greenwich Libraries to run a free monthly creative writing course for teenagers:
“My main aim is to give as much back to society as I can – and if I can manage to sell some books at the same time I see that as a bonus!”
If you can’t wait for Matthew’s next book you can find out how the characters from Out of the Smoke spent Christmas in a two-part short story that you can read online for free! You can also keep up-to-date with Matthew’s activities at matthewwainwright.co.uk.