Spotlight on Northern publishing

Next weeks’ Northern Short Story Festival will bring a selection of award-winning Northern publishers to our Festival Hub area (open all day on Saturday.) Ahead of our big festival weekend, festival intern Beth Lenderyou looked a little more in detail at some of the presses which will be with us all day.

It can be easy to believe that the publishing industry is inaccessible and all but confined to London, but that is not the case. In fact, there are many fantastic presses here in the North, that showcase writers from outside the capital.

Notable examples include Valley Press. Based in Scarborough, the press has been a lifelong passion project for director Jamie McGarry. Valley Press has overseen the publication of over a hundred books since 2009. I had the pleasure of meeting Jamie at Fictions of Every Kind, selling books in person. He is a very driven, passionate individual with a love for writing and that attitude is reflected in the press itself. They believe in publishing for everyone, and that every book they publish, and every writer is equally important. This belief is clear in their 2017 anthology Verse Matters, edited by Helen Mort and Rachel Bower. It is a collection of poetry and prose, award winners and first time published writers, with a range of styles, language, and subjects. They are all brought together through everyday stories. This anthology is truly a representation of Valley Press’ ideas of treating all of its writers equally, whether they are big names or unknowns, novelists or poets. They also worked with the David Oluwale Memorial Foundation, Leeds Big Bookend and The Northern Short Story Festival to produce Remembering Oluwale, an anthology of excerpts, poetry, and art. It is an important work for keeping the memory of David Oluwale alive as well as highlighting the issues that led to his death. The anthology won its category in the Saboteur Awards 2017.

Comma Press are a Manchester-based not-for-profit press committed to showcasing the potential of the short story, launched in 2003. These anthologies include Protest: Stories of Resistance and Resist: Stories of Uprising, anthologies of British activism retold through fresh eyes. As well as publishing short story anthologies, they have also translated fiction from Europe and the Middle East, bringing it to British audiences. This championing of diversity within short story publishing is also shown with Iraq + 100 and Palestine + 100, an anthology dedicated to asking Iraqi and Palestinian writers what their countries would look like a hundred years in the future. As well as this, they have the Comma Press Single Equality Scheme to directly combat inequality. The organisers also run Comma Film, which adapts short stories into short films. Comma Press also lead the Northern Fiction Alliance, alongside And Other Stories, Dead Ink, Peepal Tree Press, Valley Press and several others. The goals of the alliance include bringing Northern fiction to a global audience and cementing the North as a creative hub and strong contender to the rest of the world. Many of Comma’s publications have an emphasis on place, such as anthologies centring on Northern and worldwide cities, which reflects this ethic. Comma Press will also be previewing their new Resist: Stories of Uprising anthology at the festival, a sequel to their acclaimed book Protest.

The aforementioned Peepal Tree Press is a Leeds based press founded in 1985. They specialise in Black British and Caribbean writing and have a focus on the longevity of the works over the profits. They have an impressive collection of over 300 published works and publish a an average of twenty titles a year, and are a multi award-winning press. Their output includes well established and new writers, as well as reprinting past work with their Caribbean Modern Classics series. Closure, a Black British short story anthology, was published by an imprint of Peepal, Inscribe. It had been the first of its kind since IC3 fifteen years prior. This proves the need to give platforms to Black British writers and highlights the important work that presses such as Peepal do. I am particularly fond of Come Let Us Sing Anyway, where fifteen years of work by Scottish-Jamaican writer Leone Ross cumulates into an imaginative anthology.

These are only three examples of presses in the North, and a reflection of the calibre of the publishing landscape here. These are presses with drive and a strong ethic when it comes to the work they publish. There is also an emphasis on short stories as the form of fiction. It is reminiscent of the form taken by ancient folklore and myth, the stories told long before the press existed. They are excellent platforms for local voices, marginalised voices, and for people to write on both important issues and their everyday lives. These presses are the heart of Northern creativity.

All three presses mentioned, as well as Confingo Press, Nightjar Press, artist Si Smith, and Strix Magazine, will be selling in our Festival Hub in Carriageworks Theatre’s main bar on Saturday 1st June. Entry is FREE (so you can spend more money on books!)