Tariq Goddard was born in London in 1975. He read Philosophy at King's College London, and Continental Philosophy at The University of Warwick and the University of Surrey. In 2002 his first novel, 'Homage to Firing Squad' was nominated for the Whitbread (Costa) Prize and the Wodehouse-Bollinger Comic Writing Award. He was included as one of Waterstones "Faces of the Future", and the novel, whose film rights were sold, was listed as one of the Observer's Four debuts of the year. In 2003 his second novel, 'Dynamo', was cited as one of the ten best sports novels of all time by Observer Sport's Magazine. 'The Morning Rides Behind Us', his third novel was released in 2005 and shortlisted for the Commonwealth Prize for Fiction. In 2010 he was awarded a development grant by The Royal Literary Fund and 'The Picture of Contented New Wealth', his fourth novel, won The Independent Publishers Award for Horror Writing. He lives with his wife on a farm in Wiltshire where they run zer0 books and an organic herb farm. 'The Message' is his fifth novel and he is currently writing his sixth, Nature and Necessity.
Mark Thwaite: Tariq, please tell us how zer0 books came about and why you started it?
Tariq Goddard: Launching the imprint meant persuading a publisher, John Hunt, to provide the the practical infrastructure and capital necessary to move into an area he had no experience of. He then had to trust the judgment of an amateur on titles from mainly first time authors writing about their personal enthusiasms. Meanwhile the authors needed to be encouraged to write books for an imprint that existed only in name, backed by a small publisher whose existing stable bore little relation to their interests or outlook. I was fortunate to work with a publisher who, despite the occasional crises of confidence, kept faith in the project and a talented and hungry core of authors who provided the list with a strong foundation. My experience of the industry had, until zer0, been that of a novelist which left me interested in how I would fare in a job others had previously done for me. And as fiction is a often a self regarding and selfish activity, being brought out of my milieu into a less narrow one seemed a worthwhile thing to try at least once.
Mark Thwaite: You obviously think Zer0 fills a 'gap in the market', so why do you think that gap was there in the first place and how then does zer0 fill it?
Tariq Goddard: zer0 had to create it’s own market so far as existing publishing was concerned as with the exception of Verso and one or two others we weren’t moving into a crowded field. What I found astonishing was how many quality non fiction authors were writing online, not one or two talented individuals but a rump large enough to show that publishers were missing the boat, either because these bloggers didn’t think of themselves as writers or because the editors at major publishers didn’t. Exploiting that gap between journalism and academic writing, first through essays that would not fit with either, and then longer titles on idiosyncratic and singular subject matter would, I hoped, appeal to a large minority who read the Guardian and NME not because they love either, but through lack of anything better.
Mark Thwaite: With the rise and rise of all things internet, is it really a good time to be publishing paper-based books? Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future of the book?
Tariq Goddard: If other publishers are cutting back their lists, becoming less adventurous or even giving up on the medium its all the better for us. There will always be a kind of book people want in hard copy, whether for the pleasure of ownership, to show others what they like or to give as presents, we publish books like that, though I also think some of our more topical stuff is suited to e-books that people may not wish to have in hard copy or display.
Mark Thwaite: You write on your website, "zer0 books knows that another kind of discourse - intellectual without being academic, popular without being populist - is not only possible: it is already flourishing. zer0 is convinced that in the unthinking, blandly consensual culture in which we live, critical and engaged theoretical reflection is more important than ever before." This is a wonderful manifesto, but if you can perceive an appetite for "engaged theoretical reflection", how come so little of such is published!? How do you go about successful radical publishing?
Tariq Goddard: I’m not pretending that every book we’ve published lives up to the rhetoric of the publishers statement, but I think they have all tried to. Publishing is lemming like, several publishers don’t, in the last instance, trust their own judgment, so if one proposal is turned down by one house it’s likely to be turned down by them all, and a similar story if it’s accepted by one. The key is often whether the book is simple to categorize or summarize in a pithy sentence or two. That doesn’t exactly let oxygen into the room so far as taking anything qualitatively new on board is concerned, particularly if you’ve written a book on slime dynamics or ambient metal.
The reason radical publishing isn’t giving Random House any nightmares is that if you’re going into publishing as a career you’re safer off flogging home improvements books to Waitrose than “Combined and Uneven Apocalypse”, which hasn’t made it’s author or us its first million yet. Zer0 is a part time venture that provides a very small income, I and my fellow editors are helped by a few individuals who work on a voluntary basis, we publish what we want but accept the financial returns are small. Success is measured by our influence and ability to keep going. If we can compete with publishers who enjoy greater resources and deeper pockets then its a plus. Unfortunately that may not be enough to appeal to or inspire the opportunistic or ambitious, which explains why ventures like ours aren’t more common.
Mark Thwaite: What have been the Zer0 highlights so far -- both your own favorites, and those that have sold best and/or been critically well-received?
Tariq Goddard: Our flagship title in terms of sales and showing that a work of contemporary theory can be a big seller is Mark Fisher’s “Capitalist Realism”, followed by Nina Power’s “The One Dimensional Woman”. Amongst my personal favorites are Graham Harman’s “Circus Philosophicus”, David Stubbs “Send Them Victorious” and Owen Hatherley’s “Common”. And of our upcoming releases this year I’d recommend Adam Kotsko’s “Why We Love Sociopaths” and Carl Freedman’s “The Age of Nixon”.
Mark Thwaite: A lot of zer0's books are essays. What are the strengths, do you think, of the essay form?
Tariq Goddard: Essay’s encourage a writer to argue a point and, from an aesthetic point of view, tease out a level of artistry that a newspaper feature may not have the space or inclination to afford.
Mark Thwaite: Tell us about your own writing...
Tariq Goddard: I began twenty one years ago when I was fifteen because I couldn’t help it and continue today for the same reason. Though zer0 has become a big part of my life my life, fiction is still my great meaning giving activity and would be whether I was able to sell books or not. The only thing common to any of my five novels, as far as I can see, is that I wrote them all.
Mark Thwaite: How has your latest novel The Message been received?
Tariq Goddard: With mixed feelings, between those that regard it as an unpleasant airport novel parody and others who read it as a well written entertainment that attempts to engage with some abstractions and tell a fast and necessarily ugly story. In other words the usual mix between those that get it and those that don’t want to.
Mark Thwaite: What are you working on now - both personally and for zer0?
Tariq Goddard: I’m writing my sixth novel, “Nature and Necessity”, about a mother/daughter relationship set over thirty years, and looking to see whether any of our more perceptive critics are up for publishing books with us.
Mark Thwaite: What are you currently reading?
“The Last Valley, Dien Bien Phu and the French defeat in Vietnam”, Martin Windrow
“Sodom and Gomorrah”, Marcel Proust
“In Defense of Dogs”, John Bradshaw
“The Islandman”, Tomas O Crohan
Mark Thwaite: Any tips for a would-be zer0 authors?
Tariq Goddard: Be fearless in your choice of subject matter no matter how esoteric, those books that have done least well are the one’s that were close to the kind of book that’s already out there.
Mark Thwaite: Anything else you'd like to say?
Tariq Goddard: That I miss the empty mornings I enjoyed when I wrote full time, but that being involved in a collective venture takes the guilt out of napping after lunch, whenever possible.