5 brilliant indie books on Independence Day
In a recent blog post, Bookseller editor Philip Jones wrote that ‘independent publishers keep the bigger publishers honest’. In an industry dominated by a clutch of multi-national organisations and heavily dependent on one monolithic online retailer, the independent sector is where publishing’s soul resides. Independence – whether of financial status or artistic ethos – has always been a cherished commodity in the world of books, where a trade is built upon the stories and visions of individuals.
Some independent publishers, like Faber and Bloodaxe, are well known and long established companies that regularly upstage their more resourced counterparts. Many others are tiny operations run on shoestring budgets by one or two dedicated people, often for miniscule material rewards. While Faber’s lovely Bloomsbury offices are a part of the fabric of London’s literary heritage, many other independents are run from barns, spare rooms, sheds, attics and kitchen tables across the UK, including Salt in the village of Cromer, Sandstone in Dingwall in the Highlands, Route in Pontefract and Comma in the heart of Manchester.
Here I’ve listed five books from independent publishers that I’ll be reading in the coming months. There are many, many more out there on the edges of the mainstream, awaiting discovery.
Alan Spence, Night Boat (Canongate, Edinburgh)
Alan Spence’s books include several collections of haiku, where his insight, wit and lightness of touch are beautifully condensed into short form. I’m looking forward to reading his fiction when his next novel is published in the late summer. Night Boat is set in eighteenth-century Japan, beginning with a young boy called Iwajiro sitting at the foot of Mount Fuji. The novel follows Iwajiro’s life as he becomes Hakuin, a teacher of Zen, and embarks on a quest for truth.
Rebecca Goss, Her Birth (Carcanet/Northern House, Manchester)
Rebecca Goss’s first collection, The Anatomy of Structures, was richly engaging and filled with surprising, sometimes shocking, narratives and skilful twists of language. Her Birth, published this summer, is different - a memoir in poems charting the short life and death of the poet’s baby daughter. These beautifully crafted, tender poems bring us intimately close to her grief, revealing the depths of love and loss.
Linda Cracknell, Call of the Undertow (Freight, Glasgow)
Linda Cracknell has won awards for her short stories, but this is her much anticipated debut novel. Call of the Undertow tells the story of a cartographer who relocates from the south of England to a village in the far north of Scotland, where her life intertwines with that of an offbeat young boy. Linda worked on her mysterious and crisply written novel during a period of mentorship facilitated by Scottish Book Trust. The book will be published in the autumn.
Russell Jones (editor), Where Rockets Burn Through (Penned in the Margins, London)
Penned in the Margins is one of the most forward-thinking of the emerging UK independent publishers. Last year’s Adventures in Form was an innovative and lovingly produced anthology, while this new book casts an equally fresh eye on contemporary poetry. Edited by Edinburgh-based Russell Jones, Where Rockets Burn Through gathers together poetry infused by science, including contributions from the great Edwin Morgan, WN Herbert, Kelley Swain and Ron Butlin. The anthology includes a preface by Alasdair Gray.
David Almond, Nesting (Iron, Cullercoats)
Iron, an indomitable publisher operating from a house in Cullercoats, a village on the coast close to Newcastle, celebrated its 40th birthday this year. David Almond is today one of the UK’s leading writers, especially loved for his children’s fiction, but his first two books were actually Iron publications. It’s fitting then that in this landmark anniversary year, Iron are publishing Almond’s Nesting, a collection of short stories for adults that draws partly on the Tyneside estates of the author’s childhood.