The Days of Birmingham’s Tindal Street Press

Alan Mahar, former Publishing Director of Tindal Street Press (1997-2012), writes about his involvement with the press and the challenges facing small presses today.

Alan MAhar BMI2 Sep 08

Alan Mahar, former Publishing Director of Tindal Street Press (1997-2012), writes about his involvement with the press and the challenges facing small presses today.  Alan will will be speaking at Reading & Being Read: Birmingham at Ikon Gallery on 27 June, along with writers Gaynor Arnold and Alan Beard.

I must talk historically because I am an ex-publisher, no longer associated with the imprint of Tindal Street Press, which in 2012 became part of Profile Books, under the wing of Serpent’s Tail. Just to be clear: I have no current connection with the imprint and can only speak of a period of adventurous publishing in Birmingham between 1997 and 2012.

Tindal Street Press was characterised within the hegemony of London’s publishing world as a feisty indie from Brum which punched above its weight. We aspired to be more than a small press. Because, with three listings for the Man Booker Prize (Clare Morrall shortlisted in 2003 for Astonishing Splashes of Colour; Catherine O’Flynn in 2007 and Gaynor Arnold in 2008) and two Orange Prize listings, two Costa First Novel winners (What Was Lost and Raphael Selbourne with Beauty in 2011), plus Commonwealth Writers and Desmond Elliott prize listings, we felt ourselves worthy to sit alongside indies such as Faber and Canongate. We were as serious about prize-listings as we were about consistently glowing reviews in metropolitan newspapers and magazines. It was an exciting time.

The Blair era was probably the golden age of public arts funding. The National Lottery got us started with a one-off project: a collection of short stories from Alan Beard, whose deserving manuscript Taking Doreen Out of the Sky (several respected magazines had published his stories) had been turned down by mainstream publishers – we thought unjustly, so we decided to publish it. The outcome was impressive reviews and an offer of re-publication by a mainstream publisher. We thought: QED. It’s possible to publish quality fiction in Birmingham and get national notice for it. Alan will be reading at Reading & Being Read.

We began by producing two new titles annually and graduated to twelve a year, altogether sixty-five works of new fiction: novels, short story collections and anthologies, a third of them garlanded. Our regional fiction focus beginning with the prizewinning Pig Bin by Michael Richardson and the crime anthology Birmingham Noir, then covered Black Country literary titles such as Anthony Cartwright’s Afterglow and Heartland and branched out fiction from other provincial cities Liverpool, Hull, Bristol, Manchester, Nottingham – but definitely not London; that was for the mainstream publishers. We published the BME anthology Whispers in the Walls and later three distinguished Caribbean writers: Austin Clarke, E.A. Markham and Lawrence Scott and a provocative anthology Too Asian, Not Asian Enough. I have happy memories of the summer success of Girl in a Blue Dress by Gaynor Arnold (who will also read at the Ikon).

After the financial crash of 2008 UK book sales faltered, the bookstore chain we relied on, Waterstones, came close to closure in 2011, a Tory coalition had different ideas about the arts, Amazon began changing the rules of discount and sales altogether, ebooks threatened the end of the printed book, newspaper review space began to shrink inexorably – they were tough years for publishing. 

Rollercoaster, maybe, but we had a good ride. We had an office in the Custard Factory and a regular presence in London. I can’t list all the people involved in the achievements of this team, but I should mention Penny Rendall as the originator, and the most meticulous editor Emma Hargrave; and also my colleague, Luke Brown, a greatly talented all-rounder.

I have the greatest respect for contemporary small press fiction publishers such as And Other Stories, Fitzcarraldo, Salt, CB Editions and many more. In our heyday we tried to emulate imprints such as Serpent’s Tail and Arcadia. It’s heartening to see that the Arts Council is still supporting small presses to take risks with unknown authors and challenging works.

Small presses need the very best creative and editorial talents, plus ambition, determination, energy and business nous. A clear vision for their brand. And to take risks with every single title. Some things may have changed since I was Publishing Director of Tindal Street Press but I hope on June 27th at the Ikon Gallery (in company with my two Tindal authors) I can offer encouragement to other publishers, writers and readers.

 

READING & BEING READ: BIRMINGHAM – Ikon Gallery, 27 June 6-9pm.  Tickets £5 / students register for FREE.

 

Poetry in Good Hands

Emma Wright from The Emma Press will be speaking at Reading & Being Read: Birmingham at the Ikon Gallery on 27 June.

Emma Wright from The Emma Press will be speaking at Reading & Being Read: Birmingham at the Ikon Gallery on 27 June.

Recent winner of the 2016 Michael Marks Award for Poetry Pamphlets, The Emma Press publishes a range of poetry anthologies, pamphlets and e-books.  Here’s Emma’s acceptance speech (reproduced with permission), and you can find out more about the Award and the thriving small press publishing scene in Birmingham on The Emma Press website here.

Emma Wright delivering her speech at the British Library (© Tony Grant)

Emma’s speech at the Michael Marks Awards

I’m Emma Wright and I started the Emma Press just over four years ago, after quitting my job at Orion Publishing Group. I never thought I would start my own company, let alone a publishing house, but then – in 2012 – I got tired.

I got tired of seeing men’s surnames in the names of the imprints I was working on, and I got tired of looking around the publishing industry and seeing women pretty much everywhere other than at the very top. And I was tired of waiting for other women of colour to rise up the ranks and show me that it was possible, and that this wasn’t exclusively a white man’s club.

I needed representation in a way that’s hard to understand when you’re already represented everywhere. I was tired of waiting, so I moved back to my parents’ house in Reading, I quit my job and I decided to try and be part of the change.

And now I’m here. I’ve published 33 poetry books, with 17 more due out next year. I’ve run two Arts Council-supported poetry tours and, though it’s always a financial struggle running an unfunded press full time, my developing sense as an entrepreneur has allowed me to keep the press – and myself – afloat in my new home city of Birmingham.

Rachel Piercey and Emma Wright, after the awards dinner

I’ve worked with my good friend and brilliant poet and editor Rachel Piercey to champion writers we believe in and produce books which appeal to readers beyond the usual poetry book-buying audiences. We work hard to develop our authors and bring them opportunities, and we’re especially proud of our three pamphlet series: the Picks, which are themed and have black and white illustrations; the Pamphlets, which include introductions from other poets as another way in for the reader; and the Art Squares, which are lavishly produced, with full-colour illustrations.

And it’s hard. Of course it’s hard. I’m running an unfunded poetry publisher, putting books out into a wider cultural conversation that is dominated by vocal, entitled white men, voicing their opinions often without a clue about the toxic state they’re contributing to. It’s dispiriting, but I’m hopeful that things are changing. Other people are tired too, and I’m seeing more movement now to tackle publishing’s lack of diversity.

So, recognition like this means a lot. It’s wonderful to be here tonight amongst other poetry-lovers, celebrating the poetry pamphlet, and I want to thank the Michael Marks Awards team for drawing attention to this small but vital part of the poetry ecosystem. Being here tonight, I’m feeling positive about the future.

* * *

 

Reading & Being Read: Birmingham

Reading & Being Read Birmingham with The Emma Press and Alan Mahar, former Publishing Director with Tindal Street Press.

Reading and Being Read heads to Birmingham for our final Arts Council funded event of 2017.

LOOKING FOR SOMETHING NEW TO READ…?

READING AND BEING READ

Emma Wright, Editor of The Emma Press 

Alan Mahar, former Editor at Tindal Street Press

IKON GALLERY

1 Oozells Square

Brindleyplace

Birmingham

B1 2HS

Tuesday 27 June, 6-9pm

Tickets £3 before 12 June / £5 after

FREE tickets for Midlands-based MA and PhD students – Register here

Twitter hashtag: #ReadingBeingRead

The last few years has seen an explosion of new small presses and independent publishers around the country, publishing new and exciting fiction and poetry. If you are a keen reader and want to know more about the difference being a small press makes to how they work and what they publish, come along to hear from local independent press The Emma Press, and former small-press editor Alan Mahar.

Join us for this informal discussion on challenges related to small press publishing. A roundtable conversation with Alan Mahar, former editor of Tindal Street Press, and Emma Wright, editor of The Emma Press will be followed by readings from authors Alan Beard, Gaynor Arnold and others published by The Emma Press and the former Tindal Street Press.

READING AND BEING READ: BIRMINGHAM

Reading and Being Read Newcastle: Review

On 18th February 2017, Newcastle City Library hosted the latest Reading and Being Read event from the Contemporary Small Press.

On 18th February 2017, Newcastle City Library hosted the latest Reading and Being Read event from the Contemporary Small Press.  The day included talks from two local publishers Red Squirrel Press and Myrmidon Books, readings from two local writers Ellen Phethean and Valerie Laws, and an afternoon workshop on the material aspects of book design with Frania Hall from London College of Communication’s MA Publishing course.

The Contemporary Small Press’s Leigh Wilson welcomed guests to the event, commenting that it’s often been the case for poetry to be published by small presses, but there has been a recent rise in small publishers of fiction which the day’s event was designed to explore.  Sheila Wakefield from Red Squirrel Press and Ed from Myrmidon Books gave fascinating and insightful talks about the workings of a small press, what they’re looking for from their writers, how to make a successful submission, and more.

Both Sheila and Ed suggested that sales and marketing are vital for keeping small presses in business; while Sheila suggested that her writers play an important role in that process and Ed spoke about the role of bookshops and online retailers, it was clear that small presses’ survival is dependent on the small profit margins involved with book sales.  Ed admitted, ‘on every ten books you publish, you’ll lose money on seven, maybe break even on two, and hope that one makes enough to cover that cost’.  However, both Myrmidon and Red Squirrel are thriving examples of small press publishers based in the North East, with Sheila publishing her 180th title next month.

rbr-newcastle
Ed from Myrmidon Books, Dr. Leigh Wilson from The Contemporary Small Press, Sheila Wakefield from Red Squirrel Press

Reading submissions is an enjoyable part of the work for both Ed and Sheila, although it can get overwhelming – when Sheila first opened up Red Squirrel Press for submissions her postman had to get a bigger van to deliver all the manuscripts she was sent!  Ed reflects that he feels like ‘the Grim Reaper, destroying people’s dreams’ when he has to turn down a submitted manuscript, while Sheila shared the extraordinary and unsettling lengths that some writers will go to when desperate to submit, saying that ‘publishers can get stalked by writers’ – which probably doesn’t increase the chances of clinching that book deal.

‘it’s all about the writing, craft, skill. The whole production of book, paper, fonts. I’m a book geek.’ Sheila Wakefield

When making a decision on whether or not to publish a book, Ed needs to know if it’s going to sell and if it’s going to make it onto the table at Waterstones.  He says, ‘if we like it, if it turns us on, it’s probably going to turn other people on too.’  For Sheila, ‘it’s all about the writing, craft, skill. The whole production of book, paper, fonts. I’m a book geek’.  Ed remarked that ‘by taking open submissions, [Myrmidon is] doing what the big publishers can no longer do’, highlighting one of the key differences that being a small press makes to the way that they are able to engage with new writers.  Sheila’s ringing advice for anyone wishing to submit to a small press publisher was to get as much feedback from supportive peers and groups as possible before making your final submission, and most importantly reading the submission guidelines for your chosen press.

Two writers, both successfully published by Red Squirrel Press, Ellen Phethean and Valerie Laws, spoke about their experiences of writing and publishing with small presses and gave readings from their books.  Ellen commented that great small presses will develop a personal one-to-one relationship between the editor/publisher and the writer, enabling the writer to publish the book they want to write.  Valerie praised small presses for giving writers the freedom to write differently every time, thus experimenting with new styles, forms and genres.  Both highlighted the importance for a writer of having a complete manuscript to send to publishers, rather than just a ‘book idea’.  Ellen said, ‘a writer is somebody who finishes.  Getting to the end of the book, redrafting, submitting, publishing.  Once upon a time publishers might be interested in the “idea” of a book or the first three chapters. Now it has to be the finished manuscript.’

‘a writer is somebody who finishes.  Getting to the end of the book, redrafting, submitting, publishing.  Once upon a time publishers might be interested in the “idea” of a book or the first three chapters. Now it has to be the finished manuscript.’  Ellen Phethean

ellen-phethean
Ellen Phethean, reading from Ren and the Blue Hands

The afternoon session was a hands-on workshop with Frania Hall from LCC’s MA Publishing, who spoke about the material aspects of book design and production, and got everyone involved with creating new book cover designs for the eight titles on the Republic of Consciousness Prize short list.

Look out for our next Reading and Being Read event coming to a UK city near you soon.

Reading and Being Read events are supported using public funding by the Arts Council England.

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Sheep & Skulls: Valerie Laws

Valerie Laws and Sheila Wakefield from Red Squirrel Press will be speaking at Reading & Being Read Newcastle on Saturday 18 February, 11-4pm.

Valerie Laws and Sheila Wakefield from Red Squirrel Press will be speaking at Reading & Being Read Newcastle on Saturday 18 February, 11-4pm.

Valerie Laws is a Northumbrian poet, crime novelist, science-poetry installation artist, playwright and mathematician/physicist. Her thirteen published books represent several genres and publishers.

From Red Squirrel Press, they include two crime novels The Rotting Spot (‘a darkly intriguing debut’ Val McDermid) and The Operator (‘gripping from the very first scene’ Ann Cleeves) set in the north east and two of her four full-length poetry collections: The Facebook of the Dead, and All That Lives, which arose from funded residencies with pathologists, neuroscientists and anatomists researching the science of dying and the ageing brain.

Valerie devises new poetic forms for installations and commissions including the infamous Arts Council–funded Quantum Sheep, in which haiku were spray-painted onto live sheep. She featured in BBC2’s Why Poetry Matters with Griff Rhys Jones and performs worldwide live and in the media. She has had twelve plays commissioned for stage and BBC radio. She has won numerous prizes and awards, including a Wellcome Trust Arts Award and two Northern Writers’ Awards.

To find out more visit valerielaws.com

author-photo-valerie-laws
Valerie Laws

 

Red Squirrel Press is an independent publisher based in Northumberland, founded by poet and Editor Sheila Wakefield in April 2006, has published over 160 titles to date which includes poetry, crime fiction, literary fiction and non-fiction. Red Squirrel Press has never had Arts Council England or any other funding and was shortlisted for the Callum Macdonald Memorial Award in 2010 and 2015. Postbox Press, the literary fiction imprint of Red Squirrel Press was introduced in 2015.
Red Squirrel Press publications for sale will include
Breath, Portrait of the Quince as an Older Woman (poetry) and Ren and the Blue Hands (Young Adult novel) by Ellen Phethean.
The Tyne & Wear Poems by Ian Davidson.
The Operator (crime fiction) by Valerie Laws.
My Wild Northumbria (non-fiction) by Mike Pratt.

 

For tickets and more information please click below:

 

READING AND BEING READ

NEWCASTLE CITY LIBRARY

33 New Bridge Street West

Newcastle upon Tyne

NE1 8AX

11am to 4pm, Saturday 18 February 2017

Tickets £5 / NE Students register for FREE

Twitter hashtag: #ReadingBeingRead

Ellen Phethean & Red Squirrel Press

Ellen Phethean and Sheila Wakefield from Red Squirrel Press will be speaking at Reading & Being Read Newcastle on Saturday 18 February, 11-4pm

Ellen Phethean and Sheila Wakefield from Red Squirrel Press will be speaking at Reading & Being Read Newcastle on Saturday 18 February, 11-4pm.
Ellen Phethean is a novelist, poet, playwright, editor and co-founder of Diamond Twig Press. Her first full poetry collection, Breath, published by Flambard in 2009 and reissued by Red Squirrel Press in 2014, was shortlisted for the London New Poetry Award in 2010. Portrait of the Quince as an Older Woman (Red Squirrel Press, 2014), her second poetry collection, was a New Writing North ‘Read Regional’ selection in 2015. Ellen’s Young Adult novel, Ren and the Blue Hands (Postbox Press, literary fiction imprint of Red Squirrel Press) was published in November 2016, an early draft was longlisted for the Times/Chicken House Children’s Fiction Competition is 2012. She also teaches creative writing and runs workshops.
author-photo-ellen-phethean
Ellen Phethean
Red Squirrel Press is an independent publisher based in Northumberland, founded by poet and Editor Sheila Wakefield in April 2006, has published over 160 titles to date which includes poetry, crime fiction, literary fiction and non-fiction. Red Squirrel Press has never had Arts Council England or any other funding and was shortlisted for the Callum Macdonald Memorial Award in 2010 and 2015. Postbox Press, the literary fiction imprint of Red Squirrel Press was introduced in 2015.
Red Squirrel Press publications for sale will include
Breath, Portrait of the Quince as an Older Woman (poetry) and Ren and the Blue Hands (Young Adult novel) by Ellen Phethean.
The Tyne & Wear Poems by Ian Davidson.
The Operator (crime fiction) by Valerie Laws.
My Wild Northumbria (non-fiction) by Mike Pratt.

 

For tickets and more information please click below:

 

READING AND BEING READ

NEWCASTLE CITY LIBRARY

33 New Bridge Street West

Newcastle upon Tyne

NE1 8AX

11am to 4pm, Saturday 18 February 2017

Tickets £3 before 4 February / £5 after

Twitter hashtag: #ReadingBeingRead

Reading & Being Read : Newcastle

Our Reading and Being Read event is on the road again in 2017. Next stop, Newcastle City Library 18 February.

Our Reading and Being Read event is on the road again in 2017.  Next stop, Newcastle City Library 18 February.

LOOKING FOR SOMETHING NEW TO READ…?

READING AND BEING READ

with Ellen Phethean, Valerie LawsRed Squirrel Press, Myrmidon Books

NEWCASTLE CITY LIBRARY

33 New Bridge Street West

Newcastle upon Tyne

NE1 8AX

11am to 4pm, Saturday 18 February 2017

Tickets £3 before 4 February / £5 after

FREE tickets for Newcastle-based MA and PhD students – Register here

Twitter hashtag: #ReadingBeingRead

The last few years has seen an explosion of new small presses and independent publishers around the country, publishing new and exciting fiction and poetry. If you are a keen reader and want to know more about the difference being a small press makes to how they work and what they publish, come along to hear from two local independent presses, Myrmidon Books and Red Squirrel Press, and writers Ellen Phethean and Valerie Laws.

Small presses are often able to give much more attention to the physical characteristics of the book, and the day will include discussion of this. If you think it’s fine to judge a book by its cover – and typeface, paper and page layout! – this is the event for you.

READING AND BEING READ: NEWCASTLE