Karen Sullivan from Orenda

Orenda Books was founded in 2014 by Karen Sullivan, the former managing editor at Arcadia Books.

Sullivan left Arcadia following a strategic review of the company, which led to Arcadia’s publishing list being reduced from fifteen books to only three. In its first year of operations Orenda published six titles, increasing that to sixteen titles in its second year. Sullivan has stated the name Orenda Books was inspired by the title of the Joseph Boyden novel The Orenda and Sullivan’s Canadian heritage: “The word itself – which loosely translates as ‘the mystical power that drives human accomplishment’ – is a nod to my Canadian heritage and a First Nations word whose provenance is a tribe that settled in a part of Ontario where I’ve spent every summer of my life.”

You are possibly the most passionate person I’ve met in the publishing industry. Can you tell me where your love of books came from?

I am one of four children, born close together, and our household was busy! One of my earliest memories is my mum reading to me, and she continued to do that until I could read for myself. I taught myself to read at age three, when my aunt came to visit and read snippets of the Nancy Drew novel The Secret of the Old Clock. Cliffhangers killed me, and I actually remember following my mum, asking her to say the words in the book! My parents moved a lot when my dad was transferred, and books were a comfort. Although she was not  a big reader herself, my mum took me to the library every week and I took out as many as I could. They were my saviour! I’m not exaggerating when I say that I read about 11 a week. Books have always been my friends. And you treat friends well, huh?

Can you tell me more about Orenda, your authors and their books?

We are new! An independent publisher, and we focus on literary fiction, with a heavy emphasis on crime thrillers and about half in translation! We have some beautiful aberrations, too!! The beauty of running your own company is that you can publish whatever you like, and I REALLY like debuts! Giving a wonderful author a start on their publishing career! Authors include Ragnar Jonasson, author of the award-winning, fabulously atmospheric and bestselling Dark Iceland series, which is translated by Quentin Bates (Snowblind, Nightblind, Blackout and Rupture … with more to come); Paul E. Hardisty, who writes the most amazing literary, action-packed thrillers with a deep social conscience (Claymore Straker series: The Abrupt Physics of Dying, The Evolution of Fear and, soon, Reconciliation for the Dead); Finnish crime writer Kati Hiekkapelto, whose exceptional, socially conscious, page-turning and award-winning Anna Fekete series includes The Defenceless and The Exiled from Orenda (The Hummingbird from Arcadia Books, all translated by David Hackston); one of the godfathers of Nordic Noir, Gunnar Staalesen, whose fantastic Varg Veum thrillers are translated by Don Bartlett (We Shall Inherit the Wind, Where Roses Never Die and, coming soon, Wolves in the Dark); and Louise Beech, who writes the most exquisite novels, and was a Guardian Readers’ Pick last year: How To Be Brave and The Mountain in My Shoe will be joined by Maria in the Moon next year! And then there is the hilarious, fabulously heartwarming Disco Days trilogy by David F. Ross. We’ve sold rights to Random House in Germany, and also stage and (soon) TV (The Last Days of Disco, The Rise and Fall of the Miraculous Vespas and, soon, The Man Who Loved Islands).

And of course there is more: Amanda Jennings’ GORGEOUS, twisty, beautifully written psychological thriller In Her Wake; Matt Johnson’s fabulous, gritty debut thriller Wicked Game (and Deadly Game coming soon); Yusuf Toropov’s absolutely stunning, harrowing, eye-opening Jihadi: A Love Story, ‘King of Helsinki Noir’ Antti Tuomainen’s The Mine, a chilling, literary, dark thriller (translated by David Hackston, as is The Man Who Died, coming next year); the dark, gritty, funny and intelligent Detective Kubu series, set in Botswana, by Michael Stanley, including Deadly Harvest, A Death in the Family (and soon Dying to Live); and, of course, the award-winning The Bird Tribunal, an outstanding psychological thriller by Norwegian author Agnes Ravatn, which is expertly translated by Rosie Hedger. It’s a bit like Rebecca, but set in the Norwegian fjords, and it is BEAUTIFUL!

Michael J. Malone produced one of the most exceptional, moving and important psychological thrillers of the year with A Suitable Lie, and we’ve got another, more Gothic, thriller coming next year, tentatively titled The Lettered Cage. And debut author Michael Grothaus produced one of the most original thrillers I’ve ever read, the darkly comedic, beautifully written, disturbing Epiphany Jones, and this one has achieved EXCELLENT reviews.

You’ve had a tremendous year bookwise – what have been the highlights so far?

There have been so many, it’s going to be impossible to list them all! On a personal level, being shortlisted for Best Newcomer in the IPG Awards was an incredible honour, as was my Bookseller Rising Star! The authors have gone from strength to strength, with exciting review coverage, TV and film rights sold, alongside international rights. They’ve almost all been shortlisted for awards (or won them), including very prestigious reader awards. We took the Orenda Roadshow out there, and, alongside festivals, such as CrimeFest, Newcastle Noir, Bloody Scotland, Edinburgh International Book Festival, Iceland Noir, Harrogate, Henley, Aye Write, Deal Noir (and more) there were fabulous launches, all of which added up to a total of 242 author events across the year! This year, we’ve got even more! Other highlights have been the amazing blog tours supported by this fabulous community of bloggers, whose reviews have often reduced me to tears! We’ve had six number-one kindles, and two authors in WHSmith’s Fresh Talent (Amanda Jennings and Agnes Ravatn, with more to come …) too! My authors are incredibly hardworking, and they have earned every bit of success they are now achieving!

What plans have you got for 2017?

We have the MOST exciting list! Apart from the second and third books by existing authors (noted above), we’ve got LOADS of great books!

We kick off with Steph Broadribb’s kick-ass action thriller Deep Down Dead, first in the Lori Anderson series featuring a single-mother Florida bounty hunter; there’s the next installment in the Henning Juul series, Cursed, by Norwegian crime writer Thomas Enger, which is quite simply breathtaking (translated by Kari Dickson), and another Norwegian crime thriller by the brilliant Kjell Ola Dahl, Faithless. Translated by Don Bartlett, this picks up the unputdownable Oslo Detectives series. And my debuts, oh WOW!

We’ve got Icelandic Lilja Siggurdardottir’s brand new series of thrillers kicking off in the Autumn, starting with The Trap (working title), translated by Quentin Bates; the unmissable Block 46 by Johana Gustawsson (translated by Maxim Jakubowski, this is French Noir at its finest and most terrifying); Exquisite by Sarah Stovell, a dark, compelling, chilling psychological thriller set in the Lake District; and, The Other Twin by L. V. Hay, a dark and sexy psychological thriller set in Brighton. I’m also VERY excited about Su Bristow’s beautiful, moving retelling of the Selkie Legend, Sealskin. Expect to see some awards for this one … many of them! My other incredible debut author is Matt Wesolowski, who was my choice at Bloody Scotland’s Pitch Perfect event, with Six Stories. This is an absolutely terrifying and clever thriller structured around six podcasts, as an elusive online journalist returns 20 years after the death of a teenager in the Northumbrian fells to find out what really happened. Think Serial, but better! And there is more …

We’ve got LOADS of festivals and events lined up, including several tours with the Orenda Roadshow. Watch this space. And of course blog tours galore, some TV stuff … really cool things going on with Audible. It’s going to be great!

You are well known for going that extra mile for your authors – what would you draw the line at… is there anything you wouldn’t do?

Anything naked. That would just be embarrassing. Otherwise, I’m up for everything!

How do you choose which authors to take on and which ones to pass, and how would someone who has written a book approach you for advice or support?

I know this sounds ridiculous, but there is really an instinct. I’ve bought books just because I was blown away by the sound of them (i.e., The Bird Tribunal, which will be a Radio 4 Book at Bedtime in January). It’s often the case with international authors in translation; I can’t read the books, the sample translations are often pretty rubbish. It’s gut instinct, and so far it’s paid off. Otherwise, I swear that books call out to me! Louise Beech’s How To Be Brave was in a massive pile and one day I had an overwhelming urge to go and find it. Let’s just say we haven’t looked back. The same was true with Amanda Jennings’ In Her Wake. Amanda’s mesmerising prose and stunning imagery basically sold the book to me in about 20 seconds. I love GREAT writing, and that’s critical. You can fix a plot; you can’t create a writer. So that’s my starting point. An author has to be able to promote their book, and has to be enthusiastic and keen on every level, without any sniff of arrogance. So that’s part of the equation. I’ve turned down very good books simply because my list is small and full! I’ve also turned down authors because I didn’t think we’d get on, and here at Orenda, you are pretty much stuck with me as  your PR, your editor, your tour guide, your chivvier … so it’s critical that we can not just work together but even become friends.

My advice would be to hone your pitch. Grab my attention in a paragraph, and I’ll consider it carefully. Don’t send me stuff we don’t do … like Science fiction, non-fiction, YA or fantasy, and make sure you send a draft that you have perfected. Listen to your early readers and take on board all feedback you’ve had from agents or publishers.

Have you ever wanted to write a book yourself and if so, why haven’t you?

So here’s the thing. I was an author for many years, and probably wrote (under various names, and as a ghostwriter, too) about 100 books; however, those books are non-fiction. What my authors do is something entirely different, and while I can ‘fix’ books, I wouldn’t even flatter myself with the idea that I could write one of them. Great fiction is very difficult to do well, and I’m in awe of those who achieve that!

Can you describe a typical day/week in your life?

OMG, every single day is different! I am the only employee of Orenda Books, and although I have some astonishingly brilliant people who help on a freelance basis, I am ultimately responsible. I get up in the morning to get my youngest son to school, so I’m at my desk by 7.50. I generally check rankings of the books, ebooks sales, that sort of thing, before I start. Then the emails. I generally get 300+ a day, and it’s a nightmare to keep on top. I spend some (a lot of) time on social media. We have an AMAZING team of bloggers who do the books proud, and I really want to get on there and support. It has to be said that we could NEVER have achieved this level of success without bloggers! I do everything from feeding metadata, writing jacket copy, sending stuff to the printer, editing, sorting PR, planning and attending events, sorting our big Orenda Roadshow tours and launches, sorting promotions, doing sales conference presentations, pitching for festivals. I’m at my desk till late every day, too, but that’s my choice. I travel a lot, to events, festivals, launches, international book fairs and sales conferences, and sometimes that’s tough. I am sick of the sight of my suitcase, which is always full of heavy books and samplers! … I can’t even tell you how much there is to do … sometimes I am overwhelmed and feel like crying. Most times I am just thrilled to be doing this job.

What is your favourite alcoholic drink and what are you like when you are really drunk?

Well, as most of my authors will tell you, I am the QUEEN of Chardonnay … totally low rent, I know. But I love it! I can handle some frozen vodka, too! When I’m drunk? Gosh, probably more affectionate and enthusiastic than I am usually, which would worry a lot of people! I try never to reach the stage where my words don’t come, and when that happens, I go home! FAST!

If you were one of the Seven Dwarfs which one would you be and why?

Happy! I am almost always happy!! And thrilled and excited. The mistress of hyperbole. Which might actually bore people to death J

Finally, Happy New Year and have you got any New Year’s Resolutions? 

Oh yes … to stop smoking. I love it, but I am SO aware that I’m an idiot to do it. I’ve got kids, and they deserve better!


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