Zelda Rhiando is a writer from Dublin who has spent most of her life in London. Her first novel, Caposcripti, was self-published in 2012, and went on to win the Kidwell eBook award. Described as ‘brilliantly chilling,’ Caposcripti sold out four print editions.
She is back again with her second novel, Fukushima Dreams, which, being published by Unbound, presently has a live crowdfunding campaign. The Fountain spoke with Zelda about her new novel, her inspirations and her publishing decision.
TF: What is your new novel about?
Fukushima Dreams is set in post-tsunami Japan, where a missing child continues to haunt his parents long after the waves have receded.
In 2011 a devastating tsunami hit the North-eastern coast of Japan causing a major meltdown at Fukushima – the worst nuclear disaster in the world to date. 16,000 people died that day, and tens of thousands more were displaced – their homes destroyed, their villages contaminated.
Fukushima Dreams is set against the backdrop of this event. Sachiko lives with her husband and infant son Tashi in a small coastal village. They are both struggling to adapt to life with their new son. When Sachiko’s village is hit, she awakes to find her family are missing. After a fruitless search she, like many others, is forced to leave the area due to radiation fallout. She moves to Tokyo, and a different life. Harry had already planned to leave. He uses the disaster as cover, and flees to a mountain refuge. He lives there, hovering on the border of sanity and haunted by the spirit of their son. Winter sets in. Eventually he is forced to return. They must both confront the ghosts of the past.
Fukushima Dreams is a book about human frailty, about imperfection. It questions the reader ‘how would you behave if everything you knew was destroyed’ and asks them not to judge protagonists’ weakness. It combines elements of romance, travelogue, and psychological thriller.
TF: What about Fukushima inspired you to centre that at the core of the story?
I had always been interested in Japan – its literature, culture, people – and had a very personal reaction to the 2011 Tsunami. I’d already been thinking about a story where one of the main characters makes the decision to abandon their former life. And I wanted to tell the story of the survivors. There’s a general lack of awareness on the impact of the Tsunami on Fukushima, and on the wider environment – and I wanted to talk about that too.
Writers like Haruki Murukami, Ryu Murukami, Banana Yoshimoto and Hideo Furukawa inspired me with a love of the culture and philosophy. And I loved the darkness of them: they weren’t afraid to look human frailty in the eye. I spent a month traveling around Japan, researching the locations in the novel. It was a sometimes lonely and intense journey through the devastated Japanese countryside. Researching the book took me to places I wasn’t expecting – mentally and physically. It is a testament to the strength, resilience and determination of the Japanese people that they have reconstructed so much, but there is still a lot to do.
TF: Now this is not your debut, can you tell us about your previous title, Caposcripti?
My first book was self-published in 2012. An 1850s explorer discovers the Caposcripti – an Amazonian tribe who have recorded their history for countless generations on the shrunken heads of their ancestors. Many years later his descendant, a photographer, tries to reconstruct the original language, lost in the destruction of Babel, by replicating their practices in modern London. At times terrifying and gruesome, at others a window into indigenous Amazonian life, it was researched in Peru and Columbia, including living with a head-shrinking tribe on the banks of the Yanamono river.
TF: Being published by Unbound, your new book is being crowd-funded and there’s a live campaign. Why did you opt for this route to being published and why should we fund your title?
I learnt many things publishing Caposcripti. I had already been working in digital publishing, producing Ebooks and apps for the likes of Penguin and Tate Publishing – so the actual production was pretty easy. I found a good printer for the physical copies, had the book proofread, and Caposcripti sold out four print editions and lots of digital copies. I recorded an audio version, which has had fifty thousand plus listens, from people around the world. I discovered I had an audience.
So far so good. But what happened when I tried to send review copies to the mainstream press? Or get the book into bookshops? Or enter it into writing competitions? The answer was the same: self-published books not eligible. Distribution is hard!
Unbound has a fairly unique model: demonstrate that you have an audience, that people have an appetite for the book, and they’ll nurture your work – provide an editor, expert cover designers, pr…and crucially access to mainstream shops and press once the book is published. You also get to build a real and passionate audience as you get to know your readers during the crowdfunding process. And that’s crucial to the success of any book.
TF: It is interesting to note that with books like 404Ink’s Nasty Women and Nikesh Shukla’s The Good Immigrant it certainly appears that the publishing industry is using this funding model more and more. What are your opinions on this?
Publishing is a risky business. With traditional publishers, a very tiny percentage of authors sell a lot of books, and the profits from those in a very real sense subsidise the the rest. This means that things can be very skewed in terms of the resources that editors, publishers and marketers can put into projects where the authors aren’t stars. And inevitably, with less resources to get books out there in front of potential audiences, many books don’t make it past their first print run.
We live in an attention economy, and books are competing for an ever-smaller chunk of the pie. Genre books find their niche, and their audiences are easier to market too. Literary fiction is a different proposition – and risk-averse publishers don’t always have the resources to track down the right readers. Books like The Good Immigrant have been successful, because the authors were able to connect with their audience from the start. And that audience, due to the nature of crowdfunding, are far more invested and connected to the book than someone who’s picked it up in a library or bookshop.
A publisher like Unbound turns the traditional publishing model on it’s head. Instead of giving the author an advance, Unbound sets them a crowdfunding target. There is no set time limit, but there will be an estimate of how long it should take to reach the target. The author takes on the responsibility of producing all the initial materials around the campaign – book trailer, information about the book, about themselves, and of finding an audience to share it with them – and of course persuading that audience to help them reach the initial target.
Once that target’s reached, the book goes into production – structural edits to the manuscript, cover design, proofing, typesetting, etc. The book is ready to be released to reviewers, bookshops and the public. That early audience will hopefully recommend it – and a lot of the early legwork will be done, with the book well-launched on it’s publishing journey. It seems like a fairly high-risk strategy for an author – and it is. When the book has launched, this risk is reflected in a fairer distribution of loyalties: it’s a 50/50 split.
I haven’t reached those heady heights yet…I’ll let you know how it goes. Meanwhile, please help if you can.
To assist with the publication of Zelda’s second book or find out more click here.