11.30pm, Christmas Eve, 1996. A man sits in a busted Peugeot on a freezing street that opens onto a deserted square. He’s been watching an unlit window for the past thirty minutes, and he was late to begin with. It’s another half an hour before a dented and dirty red Jaguar pulls up. A man gets out, dreadlocks swinging, and scopes the street. Then he unlocks the boot, and takes out a thin package. Scoping the street again, he heads for a door. Moments later, the unlit window illuminates. This is it, the man in the Peugeot thinks, contract time. Merry fucking Christmas. He gets out and starts towards the door...
This could have been the opening of a standard crime yarn. But there was nothing standard going on. The man in the Jag was Dotun Adebayo, publisher at the X Press. The bloke freezing his nuts off in the Peugeot was me. There was a contract involved, a publishing contract for my first novel, Curvy Lovebox. And that’s what the thin package contained.
It took me years to realise that this wasn’t how most publishers did business, on freezing Christmas Eves in deserted squares in East London. Back then, Hoxton Square had yet to be appropriated by the art crowd, and technology was steam. I’d typed the original manuscript, which eventually had to be scanned page by page into something more meaningful . The scanning obliterated the non-standard language and punctuation, which had to be retyped. For the Kindle edition, I had to repeat the whole process, this time scanning the book page by page, which again knocked out the non-standard spellings, and then retyping it in Word. I had to do this because the publishers weren’t publishing anymore and the files, on floppy discs, had disappeared into the urban night.
The book survived its non-standard birth, its midnight contract, and its journey from typescript to ebook. There are even a few physical copies knocking about for a penny a pop. These days, authors no longer need to meet publishers or vice versa. And words are just ones and zeros. So unless a devastating electro-magnetic pulse sent by mutant lizards wipes out the planetary database, you can just send books down phone lines over really big distances. Crazy shit. Still can’t get over it.