Author, self-publisher, and Modernist. I think it’s high time we had a chat with Mod author Jason Brummell.
I’ve known Jason for some years now, going back to the early days of the Modculture forums, He’s always been a positive influence in the world of Mod (which is what the Mod scene should be about) as well as a talented writer in how own right.
Jason is also the man behind the Suave Collective publishing company too, which is well worth checking out if you are in need of some Mod-ern literature and if you want to purchase any of Jason’s books – stock levels permitting.
With all of that in mind, I thought I would catch up with Jason to discuss his past and present, as well as the world of Mod books and publishing.
First up Jason, how and when did you become aware of Mod? Has it effectively been a lifelong affair?
Hi David, Hard to define exactly but I’m guessing around about the age of 11 or 12. Which would be ’81/’82 and so Mod was there and a visible option in the playground fashion stakes. My cousin Steve who is three years older than me was also a Mod and I used to love seeing his latest purchases both sartorially and musically.
Up to this point I had been a Beatles obsessive, but that obsession turned to Mod pretty quickly. Neither of my parents claimed to be Mods, my mum had records by The Beatles, The Kinks and the Stones, etc and my dad was a fan of Ray Charles, Blues, and Jazz. It was a few years before I realised his record collection was distinctly more Mod than my mums!
Were you a keen reader as a youngster? Which books inspired you, Mod-related or not, at the time?
I have always enjoyed reading. The library was at the end of our street and my parents (both card-carrying Socialists) always considered libraries as proof of Socialism working, so we went weekly. I suppose at this point I should apologise to the Surrey County library for me pulling out all the pages of their books that had reference to Mods.
The first author I was obsessed with was George Orwell – I was fortunate that my mum was a cleaner to a former Governor of Burma, who knew ‘Eric’ well and he was always passing books via my mum to me. To this day, Keep the Aspidistra Flying and Coming Up for Air are two of my favourite books.
It’s obviously one thing to read books but shifting to writing is quite a jump. When did you first seriously pick up a pen? Or should that be hit the keyboard? I used to dabble in fanzine writing (and reading for that matter). Was it the same for you?
My first novel (All About My Girl) came about initially as an article I wrote for a Southcoast Modzine called Enjoy Yourself. I didn’t know what to write so was told to simply write about a song I was interested in. I was at the time on a big Hammond Jazz trip so wrote a very short story of a Mod having an epiphany whilst blocked and listening to AAMG at the Scene club in 1963.
Everyone kind of said ‘Wow! you can write!!!’ so from there I expanded it to the novel it became. At the time it was largely the first piece of Mod fiction since Mod Rule by Richard Allen… and to be fair he’d set the bar pretty low!
You have kind of answered this already, but what was the thinking behind going down the route of writing the full novel? Was it something you thought about doing purely for your own enjoyment or was there always an intention to release it in some form whilst writing the article?
Buoyed by the feedback I had from the small article in Enjoy Yourself, I decided to expand on it and see how far it went. I then tried to recall all the other bits of Mod stories I’d read or heard and then meld them together into one story.
It also contained a number of characters of the era albeit in a fictional setting. I did know however that I wanted to produce a book that was a proper ‘paperback’ size and shape (EXACTLY the same as all those Richard Allen novels via NEL), the type that could be read over a week’s commute or a week-long set of lunch hours.
All About My Girl is an excellent read and very ‘on point’ in terms of historic/1960s references. You obviously weren’t around back then, so how easy was it to paint the picture without going down the road of Mod cliche?
Growing up in a working-class home in the ’70s, the ’60s really weren’t that different. I’ve always wanted to write in a visual way. I want the reader to be fully immersed in the scene and so I try to include the sights, smells, sounds, etc to help formulate that.
Little bits like the Dad complaining about his tea being ‘bleachy’ as the Mum hadn’t rinsed the spoons properly are from home. The clothes I knew from my wardrobe and Mod nights out, likewise the ‘spiritual feel’ of the music and the effects of amphetamine on you (Method-writing?)
Obviously, the Devil is in the details and details make the Mod, so I knew these had to be right. I also wanted to set it in 1963 to avoid the ‘ModsnRockers’ (all one word) cliches. The main protagonist isn’t named, and the book is written in the first person (a la Absolute Beginners) – I think that also helps the reader immerse themselves into the story and perhaps imagine themselves in the lead role. It was reviewed at the time as ‘there are many books on the look of Mod, this is the first on the feel of Mod’ and I liked that a great deal!
How did you manage to print and promote a book with limited resources? Was there a plan or was it more luck than judgement?
Right from the start, I knew I wanted to print my own book – I didn’t once consider sending the novel to a publisher. I just wanted to make it happen and being on the fringes of the print industry as a media buyer I knew the people who would be best to call upon.
They did it at ‘better than mates’ rates’ and I’m eternally grateful. In terms of the promotion, I initially took them with me to Mod dos and sold them in person. I was also a forumee on the Mod Culture website and it was soon well known on there. From there I built a website and started promoting via Facebook as well as having them available on recognised selling sites like E-bay and Amazon (a necessary evil insomuch as they lend legitimacy to self-published books, but man do you pay for the privilege!)
A follow-up (of sorts) appeared sometime later in the form of All Or Nothing. Was that easier to write and promote in light of the earlier success or did you find it tough to carry on down that particular literary road?
With the proceeds to All About My Girl, I bought a laptop. Up to that point I’d only ever had a PC at work, so I could then write both at home and at work. I had the idea (plot-wise) for the second book quite early on – one of the inspirations was a comment from a review in Natalie Baillie’s Double-Breasted fanzine.
I also decided to make it a semi-follow-up and as such, there is an overlap of characters between the two novels. All or Nothing (with a more ‘what it says on the tin’ title and cover) is very much a caper movie in style and I think it would make a great film.
Again, I printed it myself using the same printers who’d helped me with AAMG. Both novels have since sold out their 1,000 print run and again through the same channels as before. Your review David, by the way, was my favourite. You said, ‘It’s like a movie tie-in novel for a film that’s not been made yet’ and that was exactly the feel I wanted.
Writing books is one thing but setting up your own publishing company is another. Was the move done out of a practical need or did you see the viability of a ‘Mod’ publishing label? In fact, would you even call it a ‘Mod’ label?
I got made redundant leaving with three months of money to show for 15 years’ service (cheers then mate!!) and was out of work for about 5 months. I had to sell my Lambretta and we moved from London to the South Coast to try and reduce our mortgage.
Signing on is a singularly miserable experience. They process you like a tin of beans (tins of baked beans on toast?) and don’t actually help you get a job at all. What they did do however is pay you to go self-employed (with a view to you no longer signing on). I took the money, set up Suave Collective Publishing, and promptly found paid work – thus, a nice flick of the V’s in the direction of the DHSS!
My original idea was simply ‘niche’ publishing and I thought keep it small, keep it simple, keep it targeted. I soon learned though that it’s better the niche you know. I know Mods, Mods know me, so the Mod ‘friendly’ books I produced sold well. In the case of Ready Steady Girls exceptionally well. The George Best book (I figured Man Utd a sizeable niche) sold badly.
Is it actually paying its way? I know publishing is a tough thing to crack at any level, never mind as a small self-publisher.
It keeps me in vinyl and books without having to raid the joint account (… too often). I don’t really intend for this to be a living. More a means of getting my work and those of others out there.
The chief aim is to not lose money. Most publishers give between 4 and 8 percent of sales to the authors. Advances, unless you are JK Rowling, are not viable either. Once I have paid my print/distribution costs… the rest is profit.
I have a 30-day window for when my print bill needs paying – so far, on each book, I sold enough in the first month to meet the outgoings. The other authors I publish get 50% of these profits. The designers of the covers also get a percentage too. These aren’t big sums though, so it’s really for those who want to see themselves in print. I carry the risk of the print bill however if they don’t sell sufficiently.
The self-publishing approach has since been taken up by other authors and there is a definitive Mod-Lit crowd now who are going out there and making it happen.
The Ready Steady Girls book was a phenomenon and sold out all 1000 copies in a month. This one, as it was a bigger risk financially, was crowd-funded via Kickstarter. Again me, Ian Snowball and Mark Baxter (the RSG co-authors) were the first to really utilise this facility and it’s been used to great effect since; most recently with the exceptional Soul Deep, the Style Council book co-authored by Snowy, Stuart Deabill, and Steve Rowland.
Interestingly enough, when I interviewed them at the book launch it was universally agreed that it was due to the amazing success of the Kickstarter campaign (it reached the target in 8 hours and went on to make nearly three times the break-even over the course of the campaign) that they could then reinvest that into the book and make it the stunning finished article, something that a standard publisher wouldn’t have done. They have raised the bar massively for the rest of us!
Both My Generation and Seven Day Fool are well worth a read. Were the releases a success and have you got plans for further releases? Are enough people still buying books in 2021?
Both releases were a success. Seven Day Fool by Jason Disley has sold out and I’m down to the last dozen or so copies of Dave Dry’s hilarious Mod memoir My Generation. Releasing two titles at the same time and offering a bundle deal also helps recoup the production money so as and when I get round to doing more, I’ll definitely do the same.
Absolutely people are buying books still. I think the digital ‘threat’ of kindle has gone the way of CDs (amid the vinyl resurgence) and people want that tangible and tactile item. I run a Facebook page called Our Favourite Shelf and it’s been hugely popular in bringing in exposure to a wide range of books, both old and new. Some are explicitly Mod in content, others are more aimed at other youth subcultures, but we also embrace pop-culture, Art, and film, and tv novels too. It is, however, a constant drain on the finances with seemingly irresistible books coming up daily.
Anything else in the works either from yourself or from Suave Collective?
I am writing two novels simultaneously. One is another Mod fiction work, with a working title of THE YOUNG MODS FORGOTTEN STORY. It’s a multi-generation tale that is set in the current day, the Mod revival, and on the beaches of Brighton in 1964. It’s kind of a who-dunnit, but more of a ‘did he do it?’ as the original Mod (grandfather) has dementia.
The second is a comedy in the same vein as the Full Monty but set around the time of the miners’ strike. Its original working title was Soul Deep but in light of that being used by Messr’s Snowball, Deabill and Rowland it now has the working title of A STONE’S THROW AWAY. I’m desperate to get these finished, but sadly life seems to get in the way.
Most of my writing is confined to small pieces such as articles for Claire Mahoney’s excellent Detail magazine, Blogs for Andrew Lindsay’s ModShoes.com, liner notes for CD’s, reviews as well as various pieces of content for Mark Hynds amazing SubbaCulture project, which to be fair is much more a labour of love than any considered ‘brand awareness’ planning on my part.
I have a pipedream of working with Smiler (Paul Anderson) on producing a Coffee table book of Mod in the Media as we both (and a few others) have a huge collection of print ephemera and I think it would be a commercial success, if (big if), we can get around any copyright issues. I am also toying with the idea of making AAMG and AON into a combined single hardback as both titles are now sold out and I still get regular inquiries for both.
How important is it to buy direct from a small publisher? I’m sure it must help the bank balance getting it from you rather than via a large multinational.
Very much so, eBay seems to have a bizarre way of their fees differing every time even on products costing the same. Amazon, however, I hate – it has its uses and as I say adds legitimacy to your books, but they take pretty much all the profit. I make about 5p on an Amazon bookselling for a fiver, buying directly from me gives me a couple of quid. I probably pay more in tax than either business too! Postage costs have also risen sharply especially into Europe (Brexit) and the US (basic greedy profiteering).
Please try and buy direct from the publisher where you can. It’s their work you’re buying. Treat an author to a beer, not a billionaire to another space rocket!
If someone was at home writing a book, whether that fiction or a memoir, or even just had the idea of writing something, what would be your advice to them?
In terms of writing, I would recommend thinking about your story as a visual image you want the reader to picture. Describe the surroundings, the smells, the colour, the sounds – assault the senses and place the reader into that image. This also stops the writer from finishing his story too soon. I recently helped Paul Davis with his successful Mod fiction novel Out of Time with similar advice.
On a personal level, I like circular writing; whereby something mentioned at the beginning of the chapter is referred to again at the end of the same chapter – it makes it feel complete. Be imaginative with descriptions ‘a blood-red sky’ could be ‘the sky screamed a bloody red’ which I think is more vivid. I also keep (in my case on my mobile) a log of phrases or ideas or snippets of dialogue that I can call on to add to the story. Also, if you know your ending, but not the beginning or middle, write what you can and fill in the gaps later. It doesn’t have to be written start to finish in order.
In terms of getting your book out there, I still say self-publish. If you have a good social media presence look at getting crowdfunding via platforms such as Kickstarter. You’ll need to know your total outlay (print costs, postage costs, promo costs, etc). If you have the money to invest it’ll speed up the process, but you’ll need to be confident you can recoup your outlay quickly, and again an online presence is invaluable.
Most of the Mod-Lit scene are happy to help and give advice. The likes of myself, Stuart Deabill, Mark Baxter, etc are always happy to point people in the right direction. Above all, don’t let anybody tell you, that you can’t do something. as PW once said, ‘Belief is all!’
I know you’re a keen reader, so if I was to pin you down, which five books would you recommend to anyone new to the Mod scene? And that can’t include your own…which are obviously worth picking up.
So Mod-related… I’d say, Absolute Beginners by Colin MacInnes (ditto all the London trilogy); Mods! by Richard Barnes (& Johnny Moke); Smiler’s Mods The New Religion (the New Testament to Barney’s Old Testament); Baron’s Court All Change by Terry Taylor… and I think just as it shows you what is possible via self-publishing Soul Deep by Snowy, Deabs and Steve Rowland which is an incredible thing of beauty, and one that truly matches the style of the subject matter.
Finally, if someone wants to know about yourself or your books, where should they go?
Huge thanks to Jason for his time.