Interview with Alistair from Books on the Hill

Books on the Hill are running a Kickstarter to launch a series of books for Dyslexic adults. I spoke to Alistair who runs the shop and asked him all about it.

Tell us a bit about Books on the Hill and the Kickstarter

We are an independent bookshop that is dyslexic friendly, based on a beautiful street of independent shops/restaurants, called Hill Road, in the historic seaside town of Clevedon, North Somerset. We set up in 2014, with my partner Chloe, and my mother Joanne. The town itself has great travel links from Junction 20 off the M5 and is just 13 miles from Bristol and 10 miles from Weston-Super-Mare. But we don’t stay just at the shop, we have also been around the country on the fantasy Con circuit, going to Eastercon,  Bristolcon, and Edge-lit (when we’re able ). We did though partake in the ambitious digital Eastercon this year.

Check out our website.

The Kickstarter will enable us to publish and print 8 dyslexic friendly books for adults. Our long term goal is to continue publishing good quality adult fiction to produce a wide range of books for people who have challenges when reading.

We have been so lucky that many great authors have agreed to participate in this project. Not least the great friend of mine, Stan Nicholls who has supported me since my university days examining archaeology and fantasy and writing fictional narratives for my PhD.

Joining Stan in this project is Steven Savile, another bestselling author, whose father lives in Clevedon and is a customer of the bookshop.

Then we have the horror duo that is Thana Niveau and John Llewellyn Probert, both well established and engaging authors, who also happen to live in Clevedon, and be customers of the shop.

The Arthur Clark Award winning author Adrian Tchaikovsky joins us, who I have known for many years at Conventions across the country.

This introduction was the same with Steven Poore, who I met on my first fantasy convention in Scarborough.

We finish the Magnificent Seven with Joel Cornah, who is also has dyslexia, and joined us on our on podcast on dyslexia for the Clevedon Literature ‘Festival in the Clouds’.

Last we checked we had nearly reached our advance base camp of £6000, which will unlock the 6th book, The Clockwork Eyeball, by Steven Poore.

We have two more targets reach and at each another book will be unlocked. At 7000, John Llewellyn Probert, At Midnight  I will Steal Your Soul and at 8000, we will publish the classic, The Man Who Would Be King.

Among the normal rewards of Books, we have some unique rewards form the authors. They are running out quickly. 

Check the Kickstarter here:

Why Dyslexic books for adults?

Books are an important part of life even though I was diagnosed as dyslexic when I was 10 and I struggled to read properly until I was 13.  However I have gone on to get a PhD, have two academic papers published and now run an independent bookshop.

Dyslexia doesn’t go away when you become an adult, it is for life and dyslexics develop different coping strategies to manage.  I have days where reading and writing is a real challenge and I know a lot of dyslexics feel this way. 

Although there is now a great range for children with dyslexia, the publishing industry has not addressed adult dyslexics and this is what has spurred me on to launch BOTH press where we can bring really great books to the market that are adapted to the needs of those with reading difficulties.

What is a Dyslexic-Friendly format?

This is a question we get asked a lot. And one of the reviewers of the books (read anchor point) before reading thought we may have made the language simple and so was not expecting to enjoy reading it. But this was not the case. The reviewer in question really enjoyed the book and said how it defied her expectations.

Check it out here

We are not changing or simplifying stories. What we are doing is changing the format of the books. We did research in working out the best way to do so and the brilliant Chrissey Harrison formatted each book.

  • Cream paper, which is thicker than normal
  • Larger spacing between sentences and paragraphs
  • Lager Font size
  • Using Verdana font

Tell us about the books

So we have 8 books we want to publish with the help of the Kickstarter.

We have Ultrasound shadow, which is a thoughtful treatise on pregnancy wrapped up in a bloody body-horror bow. Thana Niveau brings the ordinary into the supernatural. 

After checking the test twice, there’s no doubt about it; Molly Landor is pregnant.

She’d always imagined having kids – someday – but she’d hoped it would be her choice. Planned. Not… an accident. Somehow she just knows – she has to keep it.

As the pregnancy progresses Molly’s behaviour grows increasingly erratic – she pushes her friends away, isolates herself and refuses to see a doctor. Eventually, even Molly begins to fear there is something unnatural growing within her.

There is Anchor Point, where  Stan Nicholls brings a note of nostalgia of Heroic fantasy, with his signature storytelling, a tale of heroism and personal growth. One that can be read and re-read, always bringing a smile at the finish.

The village of Catterby is beholden to no lord or lady. No one believes Lord Salex Nacandro, a sorcerer from far to the north, could be a threat.

They’re wrong.

Young warrior Kye Beven lacks confidence. Everyone – except Kye’s friend Dyan – questions how he was ever selected to join the ‘Band’, the elite protectors of the village.

But when Catterby is menaced by an emissary of Nacandro, Kye reaches for his bow and steps up to the mark.

Next up is Steve Savile, with Four Kings of Sweden, and who hits the perfect note in this homage to Sherlock Holmes. Those who are familiar with Conan Doyle style of prose and storytelling are in for a treat.  

How can one man be in four places at once?

Lecturing to a carefully selected audience, Dr Watson recounts the unravelling of this impossible riddle after he and The Great Detective are summoned to Stockholm.

The King of Sweden has been spotted in several cities on the same day, many miles apart. Threats of blackmail hint at some dark purpose behind this deception. As Holmes and Watson dig deeper, they uncover a convoluted plot of murder, mummery, and mesmerism.

The House on the Old Cliff, an imaginative mystery to be solved, which Adrian Tchaikovsky, a master of the unexpected, manages to entice  and string you along, until you don’t want, but need to know the answers.

Pseudo-historian Doctor Hendry is missing. His employers want answers. 

Paranormal investigators Michael and Walter join the search party to Hendry’s remote Scottish cliff-top home, accompanied by two unscrupulous mercenaries and a deeply sceptical history professor.

Among the doctor’s research they find more than they bargained for or can even comprehend, and the rescue becomes a fight for survival.

We have The Breath, where Joel Cornah, creates an intriguing science fiction story that slowly peals a layer upon layer of rubble to expose myth and science combined.

The planet Wanda V has been abandoned ever since the Gates collapsed, generations ago.

Scraping together funding and borrowed equipment, scientist and archaeologist Hala ventures into the ruins. Alone on the desolate planet, Hala finds there may be more truth in the myths of invading gods than anyone suspected.

Can Hala escape? And what does this self-proclaimed deity want?

There is The Clockwork Eyeball, which is Reminiscent of masters of the spy genre, Steven Poore tells a tale of derring do in a world of intrigue, with his usual flare and immaculate writing. 

1958. An alternate Marrakesh. The Cold War wages on and with the launch of Sputnik, Russia is conquering space at last.

Young Saif’s mission; escort an undercover British agent to the Deputy Security directorate. Evading high tech Russian surveillance devices, Saif borrows a grand taxi and heads to the pick-up point. But the agent – aka “The Lighting Rod” – is the one man guaranteed to make a dangerous situation more perilous. 

The race is on to escape the Russian secret service and deliver the spy safely into British hands.

With At Midnight I Will Steal Your Soul,  John Llewellyn Probert certainty delivers a quintessential horror. Building on its atmospheric setting the mundane descends into madness.

Searching for a new creative outlet, just for herself, Lynda joins Dr Sampson’s choir at the local psychiatric hospital.

As she approaches the gates of the gothic monstrosity on a rain lashed evening, she tells herself it’s just her imagination setting her on edge… right?

She keeps telling herself that, until she finds she is a prisoner. Something doesn’t want her to leave.

Last and not least, we have the classic that is The Man Who Would Be King, by Kipling and is arguably the best and certainly the last story that he wrote while living in India.

Why Quick Reads?

Here is what I’d call a dad joke, others may call it a crap joke 😉 — but it has relevance — BOTH press is for both.

What I mean here; it not just for people who have trouble reading, i.e. dyslexia, but also those who want to read something really good, but it won’t take much of their time. So if you are on a train and you need a quick read before getting to your next stop, I’d see these books being perfect for that. It also I feel really nice for authors to have one story in print, rather than in an great big anthology. This may also be great for readers who love that one story that has been in anthology and want to read that specific story.

How did you choose authors and commission books?

One of the joys and privileges of a being a bookseller is you get to know authors. And so when I started this project, I began by  basically asking authors I know if they would be happy to contribute. Some were really busy and couldn’t at the time, some were novel writers only and didn’t do short stories. So we quickly filled out the amount we needed, seven authors, and we knew we wanted to do at least one classic, which brought it to eight.

We then went through the process that all publishers go through. We read the stories, checked that they were right for us. We then gave thumbs up and created contracts for the authors, and they then went to be edited.

In the future, we still plan on asking authors we know, but also looking into get the rights to pre-existing stories, having open subs at specific times and of course doing some more public domain stories.

Were there any editing challenges to make the books Dyslexic Friendly?

Generally there wasn’t really any editing changes in the books that were specific to dyslexia. We just want to make sure they were the best stories we could to publish. And so we involved two great editors, Joanne Hall and Vicky Brewster, who both did a fabulous job. The formatting was the crucial thing for us in regards to dyslexia.

The books look great, how did you go about sourcing the art and doing the design?

Thank you. We are really proud of how the book covers have come out. It has been a process between myself and Chrissey Harrison.  Most of the covers  start with me playing around, creating concept designs, then feeding them to Chrissey with her more polished design skills. We have a chat, and she goes away to play with it too. Some of my concept-work didn’t gel, where I struggled a little find the right tone, and Chrissey pulled them out of the bag, such as Steven Savile’s Four Kings Of Sweden; while on others the final cover has not changed at all from my original concept, such as Thana Niveau’s Ultrasound Shadow.  In the end I had the final say on the cover, but it was a collaborative process between two of us, where Chrissey in the end made the covers look pristine and what you see now.

What’s the future of the range? Do you have more books in the pipeline now you’re funded?

The future I feel is bright. There is certainly a want and a need for these books. We are not yet fully funded for the eight books. With a few day to go I sure we will have at least 6 book funded. Hopefully we will have a mad last day and get us over our £8000 need to do all eight books.

Yes we do have more book sin the pipeline if we get over the target and reach 9000 and the 10.000.  One of these will be a historical crime fiction by J.M Alvey otherwise known as Juliet McKenna. We are planning on doing a number of out of copyright stories, such as The Yellow Wallpaper, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, amongst others. We are of course taking to more authors, so let watch this space.

Many thanks to Alistair for answering my questions and if you’ve not yet checked it out please do go and pledge to the Kickstarter


Published by suttope

Pete W Sutton is a writer and editor. His two short story collections – A Tiding of Magpies and The Museum for Forgetting – were shortlisted for Best Collection in the British Fantasy Awards in 2017 & 2022 respectively. His novel – Seven Deadly Swords – was published by Grimbold Books. He has edited several short story anthologies and is the editor for the British Fantasy Society Horizons fiction magazine.

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