Richard House, The Kills, and the Macmillan permanent archive

11 November 2013

However successful and however available Picador’s books are, their component stages are, at least to the interested reading public, ephemeral, disposable, and not usually available. But that’s not entirely true: our parent company, Macmillan, has long had a permanent archive of exactly this material, and since 1967, tranches of it have been sold to an institution suitable for a permanent deposit, to date the University of Reading and the British Library.

Once a month at Picador towers we sort through the complete publication material for our most recently published books: manuscript, correspondence, and page proofs, bookproofs and publicity material, original artwork, and all the marginalia that a book accumulates as it moves towards publication. Original material is returned to the authors, if they want it, but page proofs and their revisions remain the property of the company.

From all that material we select a few titles to send to the permanent archive whose course from brain to book we think will be particularly interesting to later readers and researchers, whether they’re interested in the title, the author, the company, or the history of publishing. Most recently, we came to archive Richard House’s Man Booker prize-longlisted The Kills. The Kills is a story of crime and conspiracy that was first published as four separate ebooks: Sutler, The Massive, The Kill, and The Hit. Part three, The Kill, had an unusually complete paper trail from the moment Richard House submitted the final draft to his editor. It began with a strip of Sellotape, a coin and a simple instruction:

Richard House's cover letter for the manuscript of The Kill


Heads or tails decided whether we read the narrative chronologically, or from the point of view of each character in turn. As well as recording this moment in the archives, we wanted to recreate the experience for readers of the ebook by giving them the same choice that Richard House gave Kris. So, at the beginning of the ebook, they can select heads or tails. Heads to read it chronologically and tales to read it by character.

It’s appropriate to think that a coin first minted during the French Revolutionary Wars of the eighteenth century is still the agent for revolutionary change and will be waiting in the archives for new researchers long after we’ve ceased to read, or to write.

Search the Macmillan Archive at the British Library

Find out more about Richard House, The Kills, and being longlisted for the Man Booker Prize

Richard House is currently writing a story on Twitter. Follow @wewereok.

 

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