Spotlight VI: Small Presses | British Book Awards Special 2020

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Jacaranda's Twenty in 2020 at the London Library

The London Magazine has long been a champion of emerging writers and independent publishers, stretching back to the 1950s and 60s, when young writers like Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes found a home in the pages of the then newly re-launched volumes of the magazine.

This is a tradition we seek to continue in our aim to promote the best of innovative contemporary writing across the UK and beyond.

With publishers big and small struggling through the current crisis, it is important for us to shine a spotlight on small presses, the work that they do and the books and authors that they publish. Recently recognised among the nine regional and country winners in the Small Press of the Year Award at the 2020 British Book Awards, today we spotlight four of the best small presses currently publishing in the UK and Ireland: Jacaranda Books, Sandstone Press, Comma Press and The Lilliput Press, looking at what makes them different, and how you can support them.

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Jacaranda Books

Who are they?
London winner Jacaranda Books is an award-winning publisher of adult fiction, non-fiction and YA. Founded by Valerie Brandes in 2012, with the aim of publishing a broad list of underrepresented voices from many different cultural backgrounds, Jacaranda Books has quickly gone on to become one of the most exciting new UK publishers in the last decade.

What do they publish, and why are they different?
Jacaranda’s push to publish underrepresented voices is undoubtedly one of the things that makes their existence so important in the contemporary publishing landscape. After raising £25,000 last year, Jacaranda Books launched their #Twentyin2020 campaign to publish 20 books by Black British writers in the current calendar year. Since then, Jacaranda has also partnered with writing charity Spread The Word to launch the #InclusiveIndies campaign along with fellow independent Knights Of, in which they seek to raise £100,000 together with a percentage of additional funds being shared across independent publishers in the UK. More on that here.

Like many other publishers, Jacaranda Books has had all of their events and festival plans cancelled and are looking into digital replacements for the summer.

Recommended books
Irenosen Okojie’s 2015 novel Butterfly Fish received a Betty Trask Award, and Tram 83 by Fiston Mwanza Mujila, a brilliant critique of neo-colonialism that was nominated for the 2016 International Man Booker. For non-fiction, War to Windrush by Stephen Bourne, a history of the Windrush generation through the eyes of Black British women. Of their most recent books (from their Twenty in 2020 campaign), the novel LOTE by Shola Von Reinhold, an experimental literary novel that follows present-day narrator Mathilda’s fixation with Hermia Druitt, a forgotten black Scottish modernist poet.

Find out more at Jacaranda Books, and follow them on Twitter: @JacarandaBooks.


Comma Press

Who are they?
Manchester-based Comma Press (North of England winners in the 2020 Small Press of the Year Award) is a not-for-profit publisher specialising in short story collections and fiction in translation. Something of a trailblazer among UK indies, Comma Press has been at the forefront of radical literary publishing in the UK since they were founded by Ra Page in 2003. For more from Ra, read our interview with him here on the culture of British protest.

What do they publish, and why are they different?
Comma Press are unique for their unapologetically international outlook, as well as their (well ahead of the curve) championing of the short story form over the last two decades. Comma Press are also unique for having published a truly remarkable number of books during that time – with over 70 short story collections alone. While in recent years short story collections have made a comeback, featuring in shortlists and even winning major awards, it’s not to be forgotten that as a form it was, along with literature in translation, an incredibly overlooked form in this country for many years; and as such, Comma’s commitment to both is extremely commendable. In short, it is difficult to imagine the landscape of UK independents without Comma.

As with all other publishers, Comma Press has had their plans for this year deeply affected by the current crisis. They moved their writing courses online, are offering discounts on all eBooks, and are currently looking at the different ways of sharing their authors and books with readers digitally, over the summer and beyond. Follow @CommaPress and visit their website for latest news and many great books.

Recommended books
From their back catalogue, the exceptional The Iraqi Christ by Hassan Blasim, winner of the 2014 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, and the 2017 anthology Protest: Stories of Resistance. Last year’s Resist: Stories of Uprising brilliantly mixes fiction based on historical moments with accompanying essays from some of the best fiction writers and commentators of the moment, and of their latest collections, Europa 28 (a timely collection of 28 female writers on the theme of Europe) and The Book of Shanghai (new translations of some of Shanghai’s greatest contemporary writers) are not to be missed.

Read Julia Bell’s short story ‘Fear In Your Water’, extracted from Resist: Stories of Uprising and available in full at The London Magazine online.


Sandstone Press

Who are they?
Sandstone Press are a prolific small press based in Inverness, Scotland, founded in 2002 and led by founding directors Robert Davidson and Moira Forsyth. Publishers of a wide range of literature from literary fiction and crime fiction to non-fiction and memoir, Sandstone Press was the Scottish winner for Small Press of the Year in both 2019 and 2020, they were also awarded Saltire Society Scottish Publisher of the Year 2019.

What do they publish, and why are they different?
Sandstone Press are notable for their internationalism, the diverse range of genres that they publish, and the beautiful design and production of their books. This internationalism, in particular, has garnered Sandstone Press a reputation for uncovering writers and books that other publishers might have missed, like the hugely successful Celestial Bodies, by Jokha Alharthi, translated by Marilyn Booth, which won the 2019 International Man Booker.

Much like Comma Press, Sandstone has become a mainstay in the Small Press of the Year Awards in recent years, and this is surely down to the consistent quality of their ever-expanding list. In recent years, their books have been nominated for the Man Booker International, Man Booker, Commonwealth, Arthur C Clarke, Creative Scotland, Green Carnation, Saltire Society, Petrona, Sunday Times Barry Ronge Fiction Prize (SA), Bill Rollinson Prize for Landscape and Tradition, Boardman Tasker, Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction, Betty Trask Award, Not the Booker, and Desmond Elliott awards. This consistency develops a trust with readers, as with all good small presses, so that when you see the Sandstone logo, chances are it’s going to be a very good read.

For more on Sandstone Press, including latest news, competitions, the Sandstone shop and content from their authors, visit sandstonepress.com and follow them on Twitter @SandstonePress.

Recommended books
International Man Booker winner Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi is a great starting point, as is German thriller writer Volker Kutscher, whose books, set in Weimar era Germany, have been adapted into the TV series Babylon Berlin. Also notable is Norwegian crime writer Jorn Lier Horst, as well as exciting homegrown Scottish talent such as Daniel Shand.

Of current books, just published this month is Blasted Things by Lesley Glaister, which is set around a tragic relationship that occurs in the aftermath of World War 1, and has already received critical acclaim from Hilary Mantel and the Sunday Times among others. Coming next is Negative Capability by Michèle Roberts, an intimate and wry account of rejection, loss, friendships and literature.


The Lilliput Press

Who are they?
Irish winners The Lilliput Press – named after the fictional island in Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels – are one of the veterans of the Small Press of the Year Award, having celebrated an incredible 35 years of publishing last year. Based in Dublin, the press was founded in 1984 by Antony Farrell, and since its formation has published over 600 titles encompassing art, music, memoir, literary criticism, philosophy, drama and poetry, from authors including James Joyce, J P Donleavy, Rob Doyle and Elske Rahill.

What do they publish, and why are they different?
The Lilliput Press has long been at the heart of Ireland’s literary scene, with a strong reputation for unearthing new writers, such as Booker Prize longlistee Donal Ryan, as well as Rob Doyle and Elske Rahill More generally, alongside being one of the leading publishers of fiction in Ireland, The Lilliput Press specialise in biography, historical non-fiction and memoir, as well as having a knack for recovering and republishing titles which were groundbreaking at the time of their first publication, most recently the powerful Fathers Come First by Rosita Sweetman. Whether fiction or non-fiction, titles published by The Lilliput Press tend to carry links to Ireland; and as such, the press continues to maintain its strong sense of identity.

Like many presses, The Lilliput Press’s plans have been drastically altered by the events of this year, but they are regularly updating their blog with news, extracts and more. Follow @LilliputPress to find out more.

Recommended books
One of the great things about the longevity of Lilliput is the remarkable back catalogue that they have, and we heartily recommend browsing their extensive bookshop for more. For those in search of a place to start, you would be hard pressed to find a better place than some of their bestsellers, including excellent books from Donal Ryan, Else Rakhill and John Moriarty, as well as the historical study Terror in Ireland 1916-1923 from the Trinity History Workshop. From recent lists, we recommend Oona by Alice Lyons, a literary novel about adolescence and alienation set in suburban New Jersey.

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2020 Small Press of the Year Award – Full list

Comma Press, North England winner

Firefly Press, Wales winner

Jacaranda Books, London co-winner

The Lilliput Press, Ireland’s winner

Otter-Barry Books, Midlands winner

Really Decent Books, South-West England winner

Sandstone Press, Scotland winner

September Publishing, East and South-east England winner

Tiny Owl, London co-winner

The overall winner of the 2020 Small Press of the Year Award will be announced at the British Book Awards on June 29th 2020.

For more information on the British Book Awards, visit The Bookseller, and for any media enquiries, please contact robertg@fmcm.co.uk.


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