What’s been the main takeaway for you from these three years?
Victoria: Two main things, the first has been the friendships I’ve made with the other eds. We’ve been a great team, scarcely a cross word exchanged in all this time, and we’ve all really thrown hearts and souls into the magazine. The other thing is a healthy respect for UK publishing. I was definitely guilty of saying that it was dumbing down and favouring vampires and Fifty-Shades-alikes, but in fact the range and quality of books being produced is outstanding.
Harriet: Here and throughout I’m going to have to second what Victoria says. It’s been wonderful working with three such dedicated and delightful people. Publishers have been terrific too. It’s also been interesting to be working under rather different conditions – meeting deadlines, proofreading others’ work, commissioning reviews are things you don’t need to do for a blog, and I’ve found them surprisingly enjoyable.
Annabel: This will become a refrain – all of the above. But also: I’ve been overwhelmed by the quality, consistency and depth of the writing by all of our reviewers, some of whom are old friends, some of whom we approached and have become friends, and some of whom found us and are too, now friends.
Simon: Of course, I will agree! The main thing has been deepening friendships with three such lovely co-editors, with such a passion for books. I’ve learned a lot more about modern fiction than I knew before, even if I’ve tended to read far more reviews than I’ve written for that section – and I’ve discovered how much is going on in UK publishing every year.
What’s been the best thing about editing Shiny?
V: The books! I’ve never been a blogger to get sent many review copies, and compared to the other eds, I still don’t think I get that many. But it has been a treat to have books arriving that I would never have read otherwise, and to fall in love with them.
H: The books have of course been a huge bonus, but I’ve also loved the way it’s forged relationships with our team of reviewers. Some have been people I’ve worked with in the past, and it’s been great to re-establish contact with them and make use of their considerable skills, but there are others I’ve never met in person and who now feel like good friends. I’ve been so impressed with their talent and willingness to contribute!
A: The books and their reviewers are at the heart of Shiny. I do most of the work putting all our pages onto the web, and once they’re scheduled, the other Eds proof-read. I adore seeing each issue come together as the reviews arrive and the wide variety of books we’re able to cover.
S: Feeling genuinely very proud to be a part of a really good magazine. In each issue, we have truly exceptional reviewers offering a service that isn’t really available anywhere else online or offline. I can say this because I have only been a cog in a much bigger wheel – but Shiny New Books has three years’ worth of wonderful overviews of the best of publishing.
And what’s been the worst thing?
V: The books! Now of course I realise why I never encouraged publishers to send me masses of books because I feel so guilty when I don’t get around to reviewing them. I even feel guilty when they send me books I will never read in a million years because they are so not my type. I donate them to the local library, usually, but even so.
H: Yes, I suffer from the same guilt as Victoria, but I try to suppress it – I do sometimes end up reviewing things that I probably wouldn’t have read by choice just because some nice publisher has sent them. Also, living in France I have a problem disposing of the books, whether read/reviewed or not. I give lots away but they do rather pile up!
A: I’m very guilty at assigning more books to myself to review than I can possibly manage every issue and, ever the procrastinator, I tend to leave my own reviews until the last minute.
S: Deadlines! On my own blog, I can let a book slip to whenever I fancy reviewing it. Even with months between issues, I always seemed to be writing my reviews at the last minute… and is this issue is no exception.
Any particularly memorable or iconic moments from the time?
V: I don’t think I’ll ever forget what a resounding success our first issue was. I watched the stats graph climb higher than I ever knew it could go! That was a very special moment – particularly as it occurred after the skype call we’d held to press the button with some ceremony. It was all very magical.
H: The most memorable moment for me was getting that phone call out of the blue asking me to join the team. I was so touched and overwhelmed that the other three had thought of me, and quite nervous to start with that I wouldn’t be any good at it. So it’s done a lot for my confidence to find I can do it.
A: It was getting the email from Victoria after I’d left a comment on her blog saying I’d be up for starting a review website! That was the birth of Shiny – thank you Victoria, and Simon and Harriet for joining in so wonderfully.
S: Yes, it’s a toss up between that lovely first email and seeing our first issue go live, after we’d worked so hard for it. And I’ll always be grateful for the opportunity to interview Helen Oyeyemi.
And anything you wish we’d done differently?
V: I was really sorry that we couldn’t make a success of our book club. I’m not sure what we did wrong but we never managed to stimulate a decent discussion and I always felt bad for the authors of the books we’d chosen (not that Sarah Waters was going to worry too much!). I would definitely go about it differently in retrospect.
H: Yes, it was a shame the book club didn’t really take off, but we did our best and I don’t know how we could have changed things. I do rather wish we had found some way of making the project more financially rewarding – not that we hoped to get rich, but it would have been nice to find some way of getting a trickle of money coming in. We tried, but no go.
A: Luckily, the financial costs of running Shiny are small, but even so, it would be have been lovely to cover the web-hosting and raise some cash for more fun competitions. Publishers have been very generous with some prizes for our infrequent comps, but can’t always send abroad – so it’s difficult. However, we decided from the start that we didn’t really want to clog the sidebars with ads. We’ve generated less than £20 from our Book Depository affiliation so far – not even enough to trigger a first payment!
S: Well, I got in trouble once for including translations in with reprints, so I might have tried to find a way around that…
What were the best books you read and reviewed?
V: Oh so many. Well, I adored Richard Benson’s The Valley, an extraordinarily moving account of a century in a mining family, and Five Came Back by Mark Harris, the story of five Hollywood producers who saw action in WW2 in a way that changed their filmmaking forever. In terms of fiction, I loved Black Water by Louise Doughty, and the Hundred Years Trilogy by Jane Smiley, The Wolf Border by Sarah Hall and ooh lastly Tom Barbash’s short story collection, Stay Up With Me.
H: I’ve read some wonderful books, too many to list here. I loved The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert, and Donna Tartt’s much discussed The Goldfinch. I was bowled over by Neverhome, Laird Hunt’s story of a girl who cross-dresses and fights in the American Civil War. Kate Atkinson’s A God in Ruins was great, and more recently those Costa shortlisted books, Maggie O’Farrell’s This Must be the Place, Rose Tremain’s The Gustav Sonata and in this issue Sebastian Barry’s Days Without End.
A: This year, Marcus Sedgwick’s Little Toller monograph on Snow and Golden Hill by Francis Spufford. Last year, The End of Vandalism by Tom Drury and The Last Pilot by Benjamin Johncock. The year before, Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel and discovering the strange fiction of Robert Aickman. From the very first issue, Tracey Thorn’s memoir Bedsit Disco Queen, and Into the Trees by Robert Williams. These are just a few that come to mind.
S: Now you’re asking! I’d definitely include the stunning reprint The Lost Europeans by Emanuel Litvinoff, which is probably going to be my book of 2016. Then there’s Helen Oyeyemi’s Boy, Snow, Bird, Alan Melville’s crime classics, A Curious Friendship by Anna Thomasson, Charlotte Mew and Her Friends by Penelope Fitzgerald, as well as reading almost every book Slightly Foxed have published since Shiny started.
And what happens next for you and Shiny?
V: Sadly it’s time for me to leave the crew. I’ve had a fantastic time, but after all the problems I’ve had this year with my eyesight, it’s time for me to go. I’ve hardly been blogging much lately, either, so after ten years of devoted dedication to the book world on the web, I’m probably taking some time out. I don’t doubt that eventually, I’ll be back.
S: Like Victoria, I’m stepping away from official editorship. It’s been such a glorious experience, and I’m honoured to have been there at the start, but it’s time for me to concentrate on other projects. I am very confident that Harriet and Annabel will continue to make a wonderful success of Shiny.
H: Annabel and I are going to press on with Shiny in its new format and hope we can keep up the good work, though we’ll miss Simon and Victoria a lot!
A: What Harriet says! I will miss Victoria and Simon on the team hugely, but they will remain ‘Editors at Large’, having been integral parts of Shiny.