From the moment Ben Chapman ( 'Hoodie' to the other Shady Boys) crashes out of school, determined never to return and, incidentally, seeking his revenge on the school's drug dealer by stealing and concealing his stash in his trousers on the way out, you know that this is a boy to whom caution and reticence are alien concepts. Outwardly, he maintains that all he wants is a job, his own money and to follow his heart towards the girl of his dreams, Isabelle. But, underneath that concealing hoodie, Ben has a rich inner life, fed by dope, wine and the belief that he is someone special. During his 'summer of love', we follow his attempts to engage with the real world with frustration and compassion. His adventures cause him to question today's competitive, consumer-based values, eventually challenging his perception of reality and prompting him to reflect upon who and what his purpose in life is before finding himself faced with the definitive test of resolve and bravery. Hoodie's blend of up-to-date realism, dream-like escapism, fast-paced, hard-hitting action, wistful musings, humour and tragedy, all while the story navigates its way on a magical mystery tour of Ben's mind, ensures an enjoyable read. It provides the perfect antidote to alarmist Daily Mail reporting of youth issues, exploring the problems facing modern day Britain from the perspective of a disempowered, disaffected teenager. On a deeper level, there is a moral/spiritual sub-text, fed by Ben's belief that he has a secret weapon; the simian lines (fused head and heart lines) on the palms of his hands. These are extremely rare and noted as being a genetic abnormality shared by drug addicts, mass murderers, scientific researchers and religious fanatics (and, by sheer coincidence, Tony Blair). Could these lines hold the key to his future?
It’s hard for debut novelists without connections to get published. I’d almost consigned my (blood, sweat and tear-stained) manuscript of Hoodie to an early retirement in the loft, when I read a small article in a Sunday newspaper championing the concept of self-publishing.
Being a slightly cynical soul, I initially dismissed the idea as being too close to what used to be known as ‘vanity publishing’. Besides, I had naively hoped a mainstream publisher would take on my raw manuscript give it a polish, put a shiny cover on it and give it a big marketing push while I spent my days lounging around in a velvet smoking jacket quaffing wine, creating characters and plots for my next bestseller while the cheques ker-chinged their way to the bank. Self-publishing wasn’t part of my plan.
But I also understand that all first novels, whoever they are written by, often struggle to sell as readers shy away from trying new material and – rightly or wrongly – gravitate towards authors and publishers they know and trust. The paradox is that mainstream publishers are no longer the stamp of quality, yet equally we know that they say something: their books have been signed off by a professional literary agent, publishing director, copy editor and proof editor. Whereas, unfortunately, many a self-published title continues to let down and taint the reputation of a sector where many gems lie hidden.
As a reader, I struggle to find books that appeal to me. I’m not the slightest bit interested in reading bland mediocre novels that get published because of the author’s name or connections. So I write instead. It provides a welcome escape into a pleasurable world of self-indulgent fantasy, where I can enhance, create and delete whatever thoughts and feelings I have. Where no rules exist other than those I choose to follow.
‘We’ve all got a book in us’ is a often used mantra and I had reached a point in life not so much that I wanted to write a story, but that I had a story in me which needed telling. And so Hoodie was born.
Although not in any way biographical, it draws on my experience growing up in West London and tells the story of disempowered, disaffected teenager Ben and his struggles to come to terms with himself and the challenges in the world around him. It’s a mix of contemporary realism, dream-like escapism, fast-paced, hard-hitting action, wistful musings, humor and tragedy, all while the story trips its way round a magical mystery tour of Ben’s mind.
I completed the first draft in an obsessive 3 months of manic wide-eyed late night drafting, followed by a further 6 months of editing and redrafting. Many rejections and a couple of near misses from mainstream publishers later, I pitched my own belief in my material against the risk I was asking publishers to take and decided to put Hoodie out there myself (if only to obtain a bound copy of Hoodie to shove in the loft). Also, the idea of total creative control of design, artwork, storyline, ownership of rights and not having to answer to anyone but myself appealed. It was going to be fun!
The most exciting moment was when my first proof copy of Hoodie arrived from Authorhouse. At that point, I was so satisfied to hold a physical copy of my own book anything which followed would have been a bonus.
And the bonuses did follow...first in the form of positive coverage in The Westminster and Paddington Times and then my local paper. Next, a favorable review from ‘Hot Gossip, Hot Reviews’ who gave me four out of five ‘hots’ and said ‘…a flare of teenage realism mixed with slang, palpable dialogue and interesting characters…’ and ‘Everyone will be able to relate to some aspect of the flawed personalities.’
The main drawback of the whole self-publishing/print on demand process is the price. At £13.49 on Amazon and £8.99 from Authorhouse for the paperback, I realize Hoodie can’t realistically compete against known authors. So, with the help of Smashwords, and to make Hoodie more widely available, I’ve just published a variety of ebook versions at 99p.
And the bonuses continue to roll in! Within the past month I’ve been lucky enough to receive further 5 star reviews saying things like ‘a true rising author’, ‘What a read!’, ‘such an inspirational book’ and ‘superbly authentic’, an indepth review on Fiction-books.biz (http://www.fiction-books.biz/reviews/my-thoughts-about-hoodie-by-brendon-lancaster/) and, to top it all, being listed in itunes book store ‘new and notable’ category.
So, at 99p, what have you got to lose? Just don’t forget to let me and your friends know if you like it!