As small independent presses in the UK fear whether they can ride out the effects of the pandemic on their businesses, there’s no better time to show our love for these bastions of creativity and originality. Thanks to the initiative of two bloggers, Karen from kaggsysbookishramblings and Liz from the liddysiddal book blog, we have the perfect platform in the shape of their Reading Independent Publisher’s Month.
Many wonderful small presses have sprung up in the UK in recent years but I thought I’d highlight some from my own part of the world. Though the publishing sector in Wales is tiny in comparison to that of England, we do have a few publishers to champion the cause of authors who might never get a look in with the big corporate publishers.
It astonishes me that Honno isn’t better known. It’s one of the longest-standing women’s imprints in the UK, a smaller sister in a sense to Virago. But crucially it has retained its independent status. Formed as a co-operative in 1986 with an ethos of publishing the best in Welsh women’s writing, Honno has remained true to its roots. Today from their base in Aberystwyth, they publish novels, autobiographies and short story collections by contemporary women writers in Wales as well as out-of-print classics in Welsh and English.
I’ll be sharing more details about Honno in an upcoming post but for now I’ll leave you with a taster of their latest titles. The Heart Stone by Judith Barrow is due for publication on Feb 22 (look out for my review) and Advent by Janet Fraser which I reviewed here a few days ago.
Closer to my home is Seren Books which I hear is based in an attic behind a sandwich shop in the centre of Bridgend. One day I shall have to pay them a visit to see if that’s true!.
Seren specialises in English-language writing from Wales but also has a strong commitment to the Welsh language. Their philosophy is to focus on books that have “a good story told well or an idea or history presented interestingly or provocatively”. Their authors are international, with origins in Poland, Bosnia and South Africa though of course there is a strong representation from Wales. They have an impressive track record of literary awards for their poetry, prose and non fiction works.
I’ve read a number of their books and have plenty more on my shelves including Nia by Robert Minhinnik, a novel about a family in a fictitious Welsh coastal town, that I’m planning to read for the Wales Reading Month in March.
Proving that the publishing world didn’t stop when Covid struck, their latest publication is Lockdown Wales, a collection of stories about the reactions of ordinary people in Wales to the virus and how it has affected their lives. Coming out later this spring are two new poetry collections. February brings Inhale/Exile, the debut collection by Abeer Ameer, a poet of Iraqi heritage who lives in Cardiff, Wales. April will see publication of Still by Christopher Meredith, a poetry collection that meditates on the paradoxes of stillness and motion.
Parthian is a name found frequently on literary award shortlists. Hello Friend We Missed You by Richard Owain Roberts was the winner of the Guardian’s Not The Booker Award in 2020 and another of their authors, Alys Conran won the Welsh Book Of The Year with her debut novel Pigeon.
What’s interesting about this company is that they give strong support to writing and authors from Wales (their collaboration with the Library of Wales has resulted in 50 titles) but also have a very clear international focus. Their series of fiction in translation has included novels translated from Basque, Catalan, Slovakian, and Turkish.
New releases include Hana by the award-winning Czech author Alena Mornštajnová. Coming later in the year is The Hungry And The Lost by Bethany Pope which is set in swamplands of Tampa. I’m intrigued by the blurb which describes it as written in “true Southern Gothic style “, something I’ve never heard of previously. This month sees the publication of a new novel by Stevie Davies, an author who as been longlisted for the Orange Prize and the Booker Prize. The Web of Belonging sees a woman’s peaceful life in Shrewsbury turned upside down, pushing her to question the entire basis on which she has lived.
I hope I’ve convinced you that these companies are well worth keeping on your radar.
I don’t for a second want to leave you with the impression that these companies are in any more of a precarious position than any other publisher. In fact a survey by The Bookseller in summer 2020 found that “A significant proportion of the UK and Ireland’s smallest independent presses say their businesses are at risk as a result of the coronavirus lockdown”.
It’s clear that all independent publishers need our support. Buying books published by these indie presses will help them keep discovering and bringing to light, new, unique and inspiring authors. One thing extra we can all do: buy direct from these publishers instead of a third party.