By Dan Hiscocks
I’ve always taken the view that the more you put into life, the more you get out of it. I started Eye Books more than 20 years ago, when the publishing world was becoming increasingly driven by celebrity. My aim, by contrast, was to focus on ordinary people doing extraordinary things. I wanted to champion people who were living, as opposed to simply existing.
I’m a traveller by nature – I had backpacked through 40 countries by the time was twenty-six – but I did not want to focus on geographical journeys alone. I was interested in people who had found themselves at a crossroads and deliberately chosen a harder path.
It was never my specific intention to focus on women, but many of the most extraordinary stories in those early days did involve remarkable women.
At around the time I started publishing, a good friend from my childhood called Victoria Riches became part of the world’s first all-female expedition to the North Pole. She was to be joined by her mother Sue, who had just had a full mastectomy after breast cancer.
They knew their story was of interest, and they had already been inundated by approaches from publishers and agents. These people were offering far more money than I ever could, but they also wanted to sensationalise the story. Victoria and Sue felt (as did I) that it was sensational enough already, and it would be better and more powerful if it were told with humility, humour and authenticity.
We decided that both of their voices needed to be heard, providing a balance and insight into their mother/daughter relationship as they faced challenges on the ice as well as in the aftermath of cancer.
My artist mother is a friend of Sue, so we decided to make the whole process a family affair, with my mother drawing the original front cover cartoon. The title Frigid Women – suggested by Victoria’s clergyman godfather – was a light-hearted take on the polar challenge. An added bonus came when Dawn French, who had been a patron of the expedition, was keen to write the foreword.
The book is now in its fourth edition and still in print more than two decades on.
Since then, we have published the stories of many more remarkable women:
- the grandmother on a mission to promote word peace who took part in a televised race to the South Pole, where her opponents included James Cracknell and Ben Fogle;
- a ballerina who ditched her pointe shoes and tutu to cycle across the isolated northeast of India in pursuit of love;
- the mother taking her dead son’s ashes to scatter them in Peru;
- the blind woman travelling alone across India learning about essential oils and holistic healing;
- the Canadian hippie who was one of the first foreigners allowed into Tibet (with a foreword by the Dalai Lama, no less);
- the GP who helped rebuild and run a hospital in war-torn Sierra Leone; and many more.
For many of our authors, the writing of the book was an extension of the challenge. Finding ways for non-writers to tell their stories with authenticity was, in turn, the challenge for us. We were learning as we went along and we made mistakes along the way; we have revisited and improved most of the books since their initial publication. But there was no mistaking the passon and energy we all gave to the process, which worked magic in lots of ways.
‘For many of our authors, the writing of the book was an extension of the challenge’
The media loved our stories about ordinary people doing extraordinary things, and we got lots of coverage. This was enough to persuade retailers we would drive footfall and they should stock our books. As a result, we are able now to make the prosper investment to make sure that the many corners we initially cut are no longer cut.
What we have cut, for this weekend only, is the prices. Check out this wonderful array of stories, from twenty years of Eye Books, each as an ebook for only £1. Happy reading!
Click on the link to go straight to the Kindle store – as well as to get a full description of the book. The offer ends at midnight on Easter Monday.
Walking Away, Charlotte Metcalf
Walking Back to Happiness, Christine Palmer
Junkie Buddha, Diane Esguerra
Green Oranges on Lion Mountain, Emily Joy
Riding with Ghosts, Gwen Maka
Prickly Pears of Palestine, Hilda Reilly
Jasmine and Arnica, Nicola Naylor
Touching Tibet, Niema Ash
Zohra's Ladder, Pamela Windo
Tea for Two (with No Cups), Polly Benge
Frigid Women, Sue & Victoria Riches
Cold Hands Warm Heart, Tess Burrows