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Alien creatures battling with a nuclear submarine crew may seem a world away from Oxford nuns’ reflections on the spiritual life. But a new publisher has found its niche by cornering the market in Christian ebooks — as well as gory science-fiction.
Andy Severn and his wife Pinky run a company called Oxford eBooks, helping a growing number of authors and small publishers to make their work available for electronic readers such as Kindle and iPad as well as smartphones.
It is a role they fell into almost by accident.
Mr Severn said: “I started as a games programmer, working in my back bedroom on a Spectrum, in the classic way. I spent 20 years writing and producing games for software publishers.
“From the 1980s I was involved in everything from spaceshooters to the Harry Potter game. My most recent game was Alien vs Predator for Rebellion in Oxford.
“As a programmer, I was leading teams for various publishers. Then I moved over to the 'dark side' as a producer, running teams of up to 150 people.”
As the recession hit, at first the industry seemed to be thriving, perhaps because people thrown out of work had more time to play games. But then turnover dropped and Mr Severn took a redundancy offer from Rebellion, based in Osney Mead.
Now running a successful business from his home in Kennington, he believes redundancy was a blessing in disguise.
He said: “The computer games industry is exciting. Working long hours and meeting expectations gives you a high when you are in your 20s and someone sends out for pizza as the evening turns to night.
“When you are 44 with two children and a wife, it is different. I was offered redundancy from Rebellion in 2010 and I am lucky, because it is a move I would not have made by myself. It was a lucky break, because it forced me to do something different.
“I am pleased that I did it. I have had a lot of fun and I have been exploring new technology. It is just like the 1980s when we were breaking new ground with games. A lot of the games that we were making recently were derivative, so it's nice to do leading-edge things again.”
While at Rebellion, he set up the company’s publishing imprint Solaris, which publishes print and ebooks, alongside the company's other imprints Abaddon and 2000AD.
Now he is hoping to tap into Oxfordshire’s rich sci-fi tradition, with Brian Aldiss and CS Lewis, having founded the university's speculative fiction club in 1960.
Solaris’s current authors include Witney fantasy writer Juliet E McKenna, one of the founders of The Write Fantastic, a group which grew from a meeting at St Hilda’s College.
Mr Severn set up Oxford eBooks with the help of his redundancy money, plus a publishing contract with Rebellion.
He now has his own band of authors, including Oxfordshire writers such as Dave Reynolds-Moreton, Mike Amos and Mike Philbin, and a sideline in comic sci-fi.
In search of more customers for ebook conversion, he visited the London Book Fair, looking for small publishers who had not yet made the move.
“I was hoping to pick up some work and I now have a number of customers, much of it involving content for Christian organisations. It started because a group called Christian Focus were wanting to do it, but had had their fingers burnt by a company in India. I was able to reassure them I would do a good job for them.
“Now, for some reason, we seem to have cornered the market in Christian e-publishing, almost entirely by word-of-mouth recommendation. They are coming to me.”
He has so much business that he is taking on an extra staff member, with more recruitment planned if orders hold up. One of his customers is the Convent of the Incarnation, a contemplative order in Fairacres Road, East Oxford.
"They are a nice quiet bunch,” said Mr Severn, perhaps thinking of the blood and guts spilt in the fantasy battles he also publishes.
Now books of prayer and meditation jostle alongside his company's scifi-cafe.com imprint.
One of his most successful titles also happened by accident.
Shackled to My Family, Samina Younis's account of her forced marriage, attracted hundreds of orders after the story featured in the Daily Mirror and on the BBC Asian Network.
Mr Severn said: “The manuscript arrived by e-mail — I think she found us by Googling. It needed a bit of editing, but I knew it would work, although it is a different genre. She is using her experience to try to help other women who have been through the same thing.”
As a writer himself (he publishes his own work), he relishes the variety of his epublishing venture, and the range of content he is converting into ebooks, including scanning old volumes to make them available online.
“Reading and writing is one of my many passions, so I was intrigued by the technology of ebook readers, and it has been a real challenge.
“When I make a book for someone, I make sure it is readable in all formats — Kindle, iPad, iPhone and Android. I have also been talking to a Christian group about producing a newspaper for e-readers. That could be our next challenge.”