A conversation with: Tony Roberts

A conversation with: Tony Roberts

In this short interview, we speak to Tony Roberts, the bestselling author of the Alfie and the Dragon series and Redstart Publishing’s Managing Director, about his experiences as both an author and publisher in Wales and how the roles influence each other.

Whilst it is commonplace nowadays to encounter a huge number of self-published writers, you took it a step further and started a company. As an author, what prompted you to build Redstart instead of publishing your first book through more conventional methods?

The key turning point in my journey from author to publisher was the inherent unfairness of the system. An author can toil away for years creating a beautiful book, a process which is full of roller coaster emotions and self-doubt, only to encounter traditional publishing methods which undermine the creator of the work at every stage. This was the experience I had when publishing my first book Alfie and the Dragon.

Subsequently, as a publisher, we have had to help authors who have signed restrictive contracts that stifle creativity and have scant regard for the authors’ efforts, offering little monetary reward for years' worth of hard work.

At Redstart, we have “Author Partnerships” and graded payments which increase with sales—authors are part of the journey and their creativity is allowed to flourish to its fullest extent. We provide creative assistance and publishing support without cramping an author's style and offer industry-leading returns for successful authors which rewards and encourages our writers, something which was sadly missing when I started my journey in the creative industries.

Having a more personal approach to the author-publisher relationship seems to be one of Redstart's top priorities; Redstart publishes with authors in mind. As the author of Alfie and the Dragon, which shares so much of (and with) the culture and people of north Wales, did you approach your books from the same angle? Do you write with the reader in mind?

One of the things I noted when developing the Alfie and the Dragon series was the impersonal and transactional nature of the publishing industry which sometimes treats authors as commodities, not people. This led me to conclude that the only answer to this problem was to change it myself—this is the primary reason for starting Redstart Publishing.

The house’s name is synonymous with Wales as the Redstart is a beautiful, small bird which is found in Wales and has a wonderful Welsh name, “Tin Goch”, which literally translated means “red arse”. The local flavour and language behind this name and its associations are vital to Redstart’s mission as a publisher.

The same can be said of the integration of the ancient Welsh language and customs into my writing. Within the series, the dragon is closely associated with Welsh folklore and Holyhead Mountain (“Fire Mountain”, “Mynydd Tan”) is no exception—it has deep Druid and Roman connections. And Anglesey has the moniker, “Mon Mam Cymru”, meaning “Mother of Wales”, which is a wonderful backdrop for a writer seeking a basis in rich cultural history.

I always try to see the book through the reader’s eyes as well as letting my imagination run with an idea, no matter how wild it seems. The relationship with the reader and empathy for the audience is vital in immersive fiction.

I love the idea of a local publisher on a global mission, a tale David and Goliath, solving the problem from the inside-out. The global nature of what you’re trying to achieve in publishing and the locality of your writing is an incredibly interesting mix.

Alfie and the Dragon has sold thousands of copies worldwide and has been a bestseller at some of the UK's biggest bookshop chains. How do you imagine the rich culture and environment of the Alfie books being perceived by readers abroad? Could it perhaps add something extra to the mystery and magic of it all?

The culture and mystery of Wales, an ancient land full of legend, magic and mystery, is the perfect backdrop for mythological storytelling. I purposefully reference Welsh history and culture, especially Celtic and Druidic lore and language, as a base for weaving the Alfie and the Dragon tales. I intend to develop this theme with my first young adult fiction book, which will be published in 2023.

Exciting news! The fantasy genre has always been a continuous force in storytelling, from myth and folklore all the way through to the biggest and most widely known TV series to arrive on our screens. To round up this short Q&A, could you share a little more on what this first new book will be about? And could you let some readers in on what they can expect from the third Alfie and the Dragon title being released later this year?

Welsh is one of the purest and most ancient of the Celtic languages and lends itself perfectly to folklore, myth and legend. The Druids were synonymous with Wales and Anglesey in particular. The treasure hoard discovered at Llyn Cerrig Bach lake on Anglesey is an example of the historic significance the Druids had on Welsh history. The interaction with the earth, the sun and moon is of particular significance as is their rituals and culture, all of which will be utilised when developing my two upcoming books in young adult and adult fiction.

Watch this space.
Back to blog