With a sole focus on digital publishing, Cheshire Cat Books was established last year by longterm friends Tony Hutchinson, Paul Jones and Garry Willey – all passionate believers in the power of words and each committed to giving talented new writers across the region, and beyond, the platform they deserve.
‘We think it’s really important that as many opportunities are created in the North East as possible,’ explains Paul, Head of Publishing for the business. ‘There’s a great wealth of talent in the North East – a lot of people here are writing, there are a lot of famous authors either from the region, or basing their writing here now, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. I’m sure there will be other talented writers out there just waiting their turn, and we were keen to offer something that was firmly rooted in the region. There are lots of opportunities in other areas of the country, but not as many in this part of the world.’
One of the driving forces behind the creation of Cheshire Cat Books was former Detective Superintendent Tony’s new career as a crime-writing novelist. Having brought more than 40 killers to justice throughout the course of his 30-year career in the police force, and with the inimitable experience of leading the worldwide manhunt for fake-death canoe man John Darwin under his belt, Tony, who is Executive Director of the publishers, found himself perfectly poised to create authentic and gripping police dramas.
‘Don’t get me wrong, it’s not easy,’ Tony reasons. ‘But I don’t have to spend loads of time researching because I know how to investigate crimes. I know how police officers speak, because I was immersed in that culture for 30 years, and I understand the lengths that offenders will go to in order to avoid detection because I’ve interviewed thousands over the years.
‘I’m not writing a manual on how to investigate, but I do try to make my books as real as possible. I certainly understand the culture of the organisation, I understand the pressures that the police are under, but I also understand the devastation that a murder causes to the victim’s family. So I hope I’m able to bring all of that across in my writing. My starting premise has always just been: had this crime occurred, how would I investigate it?’
While criminal mysteries may be where Tony feels most at home, it is little wonder that his transition from policeman to author has come so easily to him when you consider that writing is somewhat in his blood – Tony is distantly related to Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland author Lewis Carroll.
‘There is a tenuous link!’ Tony laughs. ‘When my father retired, he and his brother got into tracing their family tree. They found we had a relative called Lutwidge Little. His mother was in service in a house over in Cumbria, where someone called Walter Lutwidge lived. What it would appear is that one of Walter’s brothers got this servant girl (my distant relative) pregnant. This was probably about 150 years before Lewis Carroll was born but, of course, his real name is Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, and he is a descendant of that same Lutwidge family.’
With a ready-made name for the enterprise inspired by the revelations of his family tree, Tony first suggested starting up Cheshire Cat Books to Paul and Garry over a pint of beer. The three had first met some 15 years ago, when Paul was still running the award-winning Press Association Training Centre in Newcastle, at which court reporter Garry had also joined as tutor, and Tony occasionally visited to deliver guest lectures to their students. When Tony first turned his hand to writing crime fiction, the two former journalists had assisted him with the editorial side of proceedings, and from the challenges that the trio experienced in publishing Tony’s first two novels from their North East base, as well as their shared desire to help other aspiring authors, the idea for Cheshire Cat Books seemed to provide the perfect opportunity to establish the region as a more prominent destination on the literary map.
‘I think we all know that, as a region, we can be overlooked at a national level,’ says Tony. ‘That was a big thing for us when we decided to start up. Don’t get me wrong, we’re not local-specific, but I think it’s important for would-be authors in the North East to know that there’s a publishing company right here. We’re not London-centric, and nor should we be.’
One important step for the emerging publishers has been to pledge their support to the North East's only crime and mystery fiction festival: Newcastle Noir. Set to return to the city in May for its sixth consecutive year, the festival has become something of a beacon for crime fiction fans all over the North – offering a wealth of opportunities to hear from some of the region’s, and the world’s, most gripping and celebrated writers, with past speakers including best-selling authors Ann Cleeves, Val McDermid, LJ Ross, Stuart McBride and Mari Hannah, to name but a few.
‘We were really impressed with Newcastle Noir when we went along to it, and it was so useful for us because we met so many authors and other publishing houses,’ says Paul. ‘What we found was that the people who came along were amazingly helpful. It’s just a great forum for either published authors (who can be in a lonely business) to come together and talk to like-minded people, or for aspiring writers who want to break through, who are perhaps in the audience and thinking: how do I make that next step? So for an emerging publishing operation, we thought aligning ourselves with Newcastle Noir would just be a great opportunity. It raises our profile, but it also gives us a chance to support an event which we think is really important for the region.’
Having sought official sponsorship for the first time this year, Newcastle Noir are also set to relocate to Newcastle’s City Library for 2019’s event, having previously been based in the Lit & Phil. In the hope that both changes will help to widen the appeal of the already-popular literary weekend, festival organisers also believe that aligning themselves with local businesses will help to strengthen our region’s sense of local pride, with regards to the national and international talent the festival is able to attract.
‘You always want to be financially ok, but getting official sponsors allows North East businesses to say: this is our festival,’ explains Dr Jacky Collins, Lecturer in Literature, Film & TV, and Spanish Language & Culture at Northumbria University, who has spearheaded the festival since its launch in 2014. ‘It’s not anybody else from outside the region who’ve set this up, it’s ours, and we’ve invested in it because we want it to stay here.’
‘I think Newcastle Noir has already proven to be so popular because of the genre: crime fiction is a very accessible kind of writing. There are lots of different styles in there, so it can appeal to a wide-ranging audience. Also, the area really lends itself to crime fiction – and I’m not saying the North East is criminal! – but I think ours is a region where good storytelling is appreciated.’
Newcastle Noir will be held at Newcastle City Library
from 3rd–5th May. For more information, visit
To find out more about Cheshire Cat Books, visit www.cheshirecatbooks.com