Publisher interview: Anna Hughes at The Pigeonhole

Recently, I spoke with Rajeev Balasubramanyan about his new novel, Starstruck, and in doing so found out about the exciting digital publisher, The Pigeonhole. I love the idea of returning to the serialisation of novels for the digital age and providing an experience around them, so spoke to the founder and editor, Anna Hughes, to find out more about it.

Anna, can you tell us what inspired the idea of serialising novels and providing other content around them?

The Pigeon’s foundations were formed from a desire to bridge the yawning gap between authors and their readers. The plan was to use the dynamism of a digital launch to offer authors a fresh new platform from which to shout about their works and, really, themselves. The serialisation bit actually came from my business partner Jacob. His original pitch to me, over many drinks and a sketch on a napkin, was Dickens done digitally. I was sold. The idea of using delayed gratification to create an online water cooler moment around books, one championed by the great man of English Literature, such an idea.

In today’s world, we are doing so much more. Dickens changed the way that people read books, by giving literature to the everyman. He made printed stories accessible and relevant. Now we are using the same method to help people fit their reading back into their lives, no matter how busy you might be.

Serialisation to an app means that your book is ready for you whenever and wherever you have the time to read, because really, when are you ever without your phone?

The extra content was merely another device to introduce a writer to their audience. What’s evolved from that is multi-media to give a fully rounded look at the book, as well as offering little talking points and rewards for finishing a stave.

How do you recognise when a book will work well as a serial?

I’m not convinced that all books can or should be serialised. The key to what we do is curation. Non-fiction has long been popular on our site. I suspect this is largely because people are used to reading non-fiction on their phones. We love doing it; it lends itself so well to extra content and discussion. We’ve published a wide range from classics such as Art of War, to commissioned travelogues and 3-minute summaries of top non-fiction books in partnership with Blinkist.

When it comes to fiction, we are open to everything, just so long as there is a strong narrative drive and brilliant storytelling. Short stories are obviously a dream for us to publish, and a pet-passion of mine. As is genre fiction. We recently launched a disappearing book with Head of Zeus. Every day for two weeks we released a new stave of Stefan Ahnhem’s extraordinary thriller – Victim Without a Face – and at 5am the next day, we’d steal it away. The readers went crazy with their comments. By the end of the serialisation we had readers yabbering away at each other, and the author as well, it was a joy to see.

You’ve created a global community of readers and writers – can you tell us a bit about how it works for both the authors you work with and the readers that have joined the community?

We began life working directly with authors as a digital publishing platform, though in the two years since our Beta book, we have grown into a support arm for authors and their publishers. The Pigeon’s aim it to make as much noise as we can for all the books on our site, to create a mobile readership and to craft a space for writers to meet their readers and discuss ideas through the pages of a book. We also want to help publishers to understand their market by providing granular data on the demographics behind any launch through our site.

From a reader’s perspective it is all about providing beautifully written books, delivered in a way that can fit into any lifestyle, anywhere; it’s about building a community of people who are brought together through their love of literature; it’s about offering an innovative way to discover hidden meaning in what they are reading, and finally to meet their heroes.

What kind of stories are you looking for if writers are thinking of submitting to you?

At the moment we are collecting submissions for a hugely ambitious project that we’re launching alongside the Southbank Centre’s Festival of Love. From September 1 st our readers will have a little bit of love delivered to them every day in the form of a letter. Our Letters on Love series is going to explore the true nature of this most important of emotions. But we are looking at all themes, all shapes, all colours and sizes that it comes in. The hetero-normative backbone of our society is so passé.

What’s coming up from Pigeonhole over the next few months?

The more publishers and agents we work with, the more diverse and exciting our list becomes. Next month we’ve got our first ever YA novel from Hungarian sensation A.O. Esther and Lost Souls, a story of lovelorn angels. Following that is The Sacred Combe by Thomas Maloney, an exceptional literary debut around a troubled family history within a mysterious country house. In July we’re working with Vagabond Voices to serialise Redlegs, Chris Dolan’s brilliant modern classic set in 19th century colonial Barbados. Then in October we’re launching Home with Valeria Huerta and Niki Barbery-Bleyleben. Our concept of home, our sense of place and belonging within a family, within a community, provides us with our orientation unto the world that we inhabit; this series of essays explores the theory behind place and its purpose in our lives.

We also have a made-for- digital project coming up. We’re currently pulling together a little game of Pass the Pigeon. The idea is that we publish a chapter and every week a new author is chosen to write the next one. Though the direction will be crowd-sourced by the readers. Can’t wait to get that one started. It’s going to be a lot of fun.


Thanks so much for coming, Anna. It’s great to have discovered the Pigeon and I’m really looking forward to seeing these stories and projects.

You can connect with the Pigeon on Facebook and Twitter to keep up to date with what’s coming next. Find out more about submitting to them on the website.

Author interview: Rajeev Balasubramanyam

Delighted to have author, Rajeev Balasubramanyam, here today talking about his new novel in short stories, Starstruck. It’s darkly funny, surreal and touching; and one of the best books I’ve read so far this year. It’s being published on Monday 16th May by The Pigeonhole, which is an innovative new digital press that publishes serialised work.

Rajeev, can you tell us what inspired you to dissect the modern celebrity worshipping culture through 10 interconnected short stories rather than a novel?

I like to think of it as a pantheon of celebrities, each symbolising different aspects of the human experience, attracting or repelling different people for different reasons. It seems unlikely that one individual could encounter all 10 of them over the course of a novel, but most of us have had one celebrity encounter in our lives, however oblique, so individual stories made sense.

Despite how scathing the treatment the cult of celebrity is in the stories, I was left with the feeling that you believe even those caught up in it have the insight to see through it. Is this something you really believe, and if so, why do you think this cult exists?

I’m not sure if people need to see through it, exactly. I think celebrity is a social need that, and that need is unlikely to disappear. It’s an ancient need, the need to worship, the need for devotion, and also the need for archetypes, for  visible symbols carved in our own image. Sometimes they become symbols of hate, but they always embody something we find in our own psyche.

I think the wisdom lies in making our peace with this need rather than dismissing it, because I’m not sure the cult of celebrity is something anyone has truly transcended. You might meet a traditionalist who looks down on vulgar celebrity culture but is an ardent worshipper of the royal family; or an intellectual who is equally scornful of it but who looks upon Derrida or Marx as a god; even children who become quite starstruck when they go to Disneyland or think they’ve met Santa Claus. The reverse is also true – a great many people have a celebrity they hate. I was in a school a while ago, doing some readings, and every member of the class had a hated celebrity. Miley Cyrus’ and Justin Bieber’s names came up a lot.

How did you choose which celebrities to encounter in each story?

Some of them chose themselves. I had a dream about George Bush Sr., which was where the first story came from. Some came out of admiration, Freddie Mercury, obviously, and Sarah Ferguson because I saw her documentary ‘Finding Sarah’ and loved it. She was so open and honest about her emotions, so free of airs and graces. Tony Blair came out of hatred. That one was disturbing to write. Prince Harry was in the middle. He’s made these silly, racist comments, and often behaves in a thuggish manner, but he is oddly sympathetic in spite of it all. On one level, he seems to be aware that being a hereditary celebrity is quite unhealthy. It’s as if he’s groping for the humanity which was denied him from birth.

I can’t remember why I chose Beckham. Maybe because he seemed such an unlikely figure for the sort of politicisation I was writing about, and yet he’s so likeable, seems so straightforward and kind, that you feel it could actually happen. He’s the sort of person who might wake up one morning and say ‘I’m done with this’. Tyson and Bjork were also expedient: Tyson was useful for a story about the pitfalls of aggressive masculinity, and Bjork is Icelandic so she fitted in well into a story about the financial crisis. Her personality was perfect too — a radical individualist in a world of mass conformity.

The Steve Jobs story came out of an actual Facebook post by me. I thought the reaction to his death was over the top, but the reaction to my post was even more ridiculous. Obviously it wasn’t anything like the reaction in the story, but it was still bizarre. The transformation of a consumer brand into a religion is very, very worrying. That’s perhaps the point where I become scathing. With individuals I understand, but I have a lot less tolerance of it when it’s a machine or a brand.

As for Michael Jackson, he’s the king of celebrities, the head of the pantheon. But I took a different tack there and wrote the story about his devotees. I’ve met Michael Jackson fans before and found them to be very sincere and sweet, and of course after his downfall and death they became an anguished, heartbroken bunch. I don’t see much difference between them and the twelve disciples really. They worshipped Michael, saw him as the embodiment of love.

Even if you disagree with this, it’s hard to fault their motives. I really wanted to write a story that was fair to them, while showing how bizarre such fandom may seem to others. In one of his interviews Prince said he didn’t like the word ‘fan’ because it’s short for fanatic, but that’s how devotees often are. Some walk on fire to prove their faith, others whip themselves with thorns; in the Philippines there are those who actually nail themselves to crosses using real nails. This has been going on for a very, very long time, and it continues in the modern era via celebrity.

If you could have dinner with one celebrity, who would it be and why?

Given recent events, Prince. He was my idol since I was ten, and it was only after he died that I realised my feelings towards him were religious in essence. I think I’m still in shock after his death. I think most of us have a celebrity like this in our lives.


Thanks very much for coming, Rajeev, and giving us this insight into the creation of Starstruck.

You can sign up on the Pigeonhole website to read the stories as they are released and connect with Rajeev on Twitter.