Books and Music at the Heart of Independent Publishing

Mick Jackson on Reading Fiction for Vinyl

March 20, 2013 | by Faber Social

Tags: Mick Jackson, Vinyl

From my early teens right through to my late thirties I spent an unholy amount of money on records, lugging them with me from one end of the country to the other before finally landing, exhausted, in my current home. It grieves me to admit that those records now sit, boxed and sealed, in my attic – all 3,000 of them. I sometimes lie in bed and study the cracks across the ceiling and worry that my entire family might be flattened in some sudden, joist-busting vinyl downpour. It’s the kind of thing that preys on the minds of men my age.

I’d heard whispers that the world of publishing was undergoing some sort of transformation (have you heard this?) so when I was approached by an organization known simply as ‘Underwood’ and asked if I’d consider reading one of my short stories to the accompaniment of a string quartet for release on vinyl I gave it serious consideration. I was assured that I would make precisely nothing from my involvement but decided to embrace the sheer audacity of the enterprise.

Thus, last week I found myself sitting in an art gallery in St James, central London, attending the record’s launch, beside Michel Faber whose story ‘Fish’ takes up the other side of the disc. Listening to a recording of oneself can be an embarrassment of buttock-clenching proportions but last Wednesday I got to hear myself read ‘The Lepidoctor’ in the company of a sizeable audience. It was very odd – the whole gallery sat in silence as the record played on the turntable, illuminated by a single angle-poise lamp.

The first few minutes were about as excruciating as expected but, weirdly, as the evening wore on I began to feel first cheered, then exhilarated. I once met the sound artist Aleks Kolkowski who told me how, in the early 1900s, there were public performances of air-powered gramophones. Thousands gathered round bandstands in municipal parks as this most modern of inventions pumped out recorded music through vast horns. Last Wednesday’s recital was perhaps a little like that.

Towards the end of the evening I was introduced to the man who underwrites the whole Underwood exercise. During our brief exchange I enquired whether he had some sort of ‘marketing strategy’. He stared blankly back at me, as if he’d never previously encountered these words – either in conjunction or on their own. In retrospect, I take this as a good sign. It confirms for me that his intentions are as quixotic and perhaps even as benevolent as I’d suspected.

I was on my way home when it occurred to me that I may well have seen The Future – a future in which vast audiences sit and listen to vinyl recordings of contemporary authors reading their stories, accompanied by string quartets. Outside, the crowds who couldn’t be accommodated are getting restless. The organizers take pity and open the windows and the perfectly-turned prose drifts out on the balmy air and calms them …

Underwood produces limited-edition audio books on vinyl. Each record features short stories by leading contemporary writers.

Follow Mick on Twitter @mickwriter.